Writing is in the Kentucky Air

Perhaps it's just because I'm working on writing more, but doesn't it seem that Lexington is just ripe for fostering writers? Between great book stores, lots of published local authors, inspiring scenery and places for improving your craft, all signs point to Lexington being an incredibly wonderful place to embrace writing. Here are some resources to get your writing mojo flowing:

  • Carnegie Center: I attended my first writing event at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning earlier this year and have been really impressed by the wonderful workshops they offer. Not only is the instruction from wonderful, motivating writers, but the environment is open to novices and published authors alike. They also have writers spaces where you can work without interruption. To learn more, visit their website
  • Lexington Public Library: The Lexington Public Library has a lot of workshops - some in conjunction with the Carnegie Center, and some that they produce by themselves. Their calendar always has something going on, and anything I've attended there has been wonderful. They also have great meeting spaces you can use if you want to find a place for your writers group to meet.  I must also give a shout out to their online systems and hold services. I reserve everything I want online and pick it up at the location of my choice, labeled with my name. Insanely convenient. Learn more here. 
  • Morris Book Shop: The Morris Book Shop is an independently owned bookstore that is just a place you want to explore and spend time in. I stopped in a couple of days ago to pick up a new book from one of my favorite authors and I had to drag myself out of there. They also have a wonderful seating area with pretty chairs. (Really, they're Pinterest-worthy). I love that they have over 20,000 titles but feel like a neighborhood place you could drop by daily and not get overwhelmed at the shelves. Here's their website. 
  • Joseph-Beth Booksellers: Pre-Barnes and Noble, there was Joseph-Beth Booksellers. The founders lived across the street from me when I was a teenager and I just thought they were the coolest people ever for creating this beautiful store with SO MANY BOOKS! Roam around as long as you want, grab a treat from the cafe, and if you ever have a question, ask their insanely educated staff. It's transferred to new owners, but still retains the charm of old. Visit their site. 
  • Keeneland: So I know this doesn't really seem to fit into the list (although they do have a wonderful library with everything Thoroughbred). Every time I step into Keeneland, whether it's for horse racing or for a community event, I get a million story prompts in my head. Some examples: Unrequited love story in the 1940s between a farm hand and the daughter of the trainer; the young adult novel including a girl having her first taste of bourbon in the Keeneland parking lot; the story behind the group of 6 widows that sit in the clubhouse every Thursday in near silence... it goes on and on! If you can't get there in person, at least check out their website for photographic inspiration.
What are some other local literary resources or inspirations?

Interview: Kentucky Author Gwenda Bond

Gwenda Bond is a Lexington author whose debut novel, Blackwood, launched in September. I had the pleasure of meeting her when I went to her launch party at Morris Book Shop, and she was nice enough to let me interview her for my very first HerKentucky post! First, here's a little info about her book: 

On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundred of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.

Miranda Blackwood, a misfit girl from the island's most infamous family, and Phillips Rawlings, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can't dodge is each other.

Doesn't that sound GREAT? (It is. I personally vouch for its awesome-ness, as well as that of its lovely author. I mean, it combines one of my favorite American mysteries with 1. young adult audience, 2. alchemy, and 3. KISSING. Because of course.) If you're interested in grabbing your own free, signed copy, I'm giving one away this week on my blog

And now, eight questions with Gwenda!

1. Where'd you get the idea for Blackwood? How long did it take from the time you came up with the idea to the time the book made it to the shelf?

The Lost Colony story had been rattling round in the back of my head ever since I first encountered it in elementary school. It’s a tantalizing bit of history that you breeze past in a few minutes, moving on to less mysterious topics. I’ve always loved unsolved mysteries, strange historical topics, etcetera. My husband and I were on a road trip to visit friends in Raleigh and passed a sign for Roanoke—Virginia, of course, not Roanoke Island, but something about seeing the word brought what was an almost fully-formed idea into my mind. I asked Christopher is anyone had ever done a story where there was a disappearance like the original one, but on modern day Roanoke Island. Neither of us could come up with one, and so when we got back home I started developing the idea.

And I managed about 50 pages before I stalled out, because I had no clue how I was going to link the modern mystery with the historical one. I didn’t know what solution the book would propose. I put the manuscript away and worked on other things for several years, finally returning to it a couple of years ago. This time around, I encountered a mention of John Dee, the famous (or infamous) alchemist and advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, early in my research and that brought everything together.

2. I've always been fascinated with The Lost Colony, and I love that you found a way to tell a story that feels like it COULD have happened. Did using such a well-known American mystery make things easier or harder for you? How much pressure did you feel to stick to the facts?

This is an excellent question. I definitely wanted to know enough that I knew where the leaps were being made; I wanted there to be a sense of history infusing the book, and to incorporate some little-known facts. So I did do a great deal of research and reading. This being such a well-known subject made it very easy to find vastly different approaches to the history, and being a tourist destination made doing research on modern Roanoke Island easier as well. But I also was aware that by proposing a supernatural solution—by bringing fantasy into the mix—I’d be departing from reality, obviously. So that was freeing. Many of the leaps I make in the book involve the fantasy elements. And there’s a long and grand tradition of people riffing on the Roanoke Island story, using history but also speculating. The most famous example is the long-running The Lost Colony production, which made it perfect to include in the book.

3. I love Miranda and Phillips (and of course, Sidekick), Blackwood's main characters. Do you have a favorite character in the book?

So hard. I love all three of them, too. Sidekick is based on our sadly departed golden retriever George the Dog, so I have a completely sentimental attachment there. But I think Miranda ended up being my favorite to write, because it took me a while to get under her skin and figure out what she was about. And it was fun writing a character who’s into lots of nerdy things.

4. If you had to pick a theme song for Blackwood, what would it be?

Probably “Devil’s Playground” by Gram Rabbit, for reasons that will be obvious to those who read the book.

5. Tell me about your favorite writing spot. Do you have a certain routine to help you get in the mood for writing?

The closest thing I have to a routine to get me in the mood is lunchtime walks, where I listen to the playlist for whatever I’m working on. Other than that, I do most of my writing early in the morning, during lunch, or occasionally in the evenings in the back yard. The back yard is actually my favorite place to write—especially when I’m stuck, since there’s no wireless—but I don’t do it nearly often enough.

6. What's been the most rewarding part of your writing career so far?

I would definitely have to say getting to know so many wonderful book people. This includes other authors, writers of other types (bloggers, reviewers, reporters), and readers. Both YA and science fiction/fantasy have such active and enthusiastic communities. It feels very tight knit and supportive. Meeting so many wonderful new readers and booksellers and librarians (and other authors) has been the most fun part of having a book come out.

7. What's it like being an author in Lexington? 

Lexington is a secret literary hotbed, I think. We are tremendously lucky to have such a vibrant scene. There are many wonderful writers of diverse styles around here, and lots of readers to boot. I believe that Kentuckians truly value storytelling and support it, in a way that’s unusual. And just look at our thriving bookstore scene! In a time when many places are losing their independent stores, we have the venerable Joseph-Beth Booksellers and the new and just as exciting Morris Book Shop, not to mention an even newer entry The Wild Fig (owned by fab author Crystal Wilkinson), plus a Barnes and Noble, and a host of good used bookstores. Our libraries are fabulous, and the Carnegie Center is an excellent hub of literary activity. I have been completely overwhelmed by the level of support for Blackwood locally. I pause to blow kisses at Morris and Joseph-Beth and the Carnegie Center, in particular.

8. What's next for you? I know Blackwood was a standalone title. Can you tell me about the book you have coming out next year?

Happily! The Woken Gods is a bigger book than Blackwood in many ways, and should be out in July of next year. Here’s the set-up: Ten years ago, the gods of ancient mythology awoke, all around the world. Now, in a transformed Washington, D.C., that has become the meeting ground for a no-longer-secret society and a council made up of the seven tricksters who are the gods’ main emissaries to humanity, a 17-year-old girl must find a mysterious missing relic and navigate intrigue involving dangerous gods to save her father. I have been known to describe it as Raiders of the Lost Ark meets American Gods, but with more teenagers.

Thanks so much for the interview!

Gwenda Bond's debut novel, Blackwood, was released in September as a launch title for the new young adult imprint Strange Chemistry. She is also a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly, regularly reviews for Locus, and guest-edited a special YA issue of Subterranean Online. She grew up in Eastern Kentucky--Jackson County, to be precise--and did her undergraduate work at Eastern Kentucky University. She also holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ program in writing for children and young adults. She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe (an Adair County native), and their trio of pets adopted from local rescue organizations.