Pen On Fire blog

Authors Patrick Phillips and Whitney Terrell on Writers on Writing, KUCI-FM

Poet and non-fiction author Patrick Phillips joins co-host Marrie Stone to talk about his book, Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America.  Phillips shares his experiences in hometown Forsyth County, Georgia, a township that remained essentially 100 percent white throughout most of the 20th century. He also talks about the responsibility of white writers to talk about race, his research process, the factors that existed in Forsyth that made this possible, and the complicated characters that emerged from history to bring this shadowy story to light.

In the second half, novelist Whitney Terrell discusses his latest novel, The Good Lieutenant.  As an embedded reporter in Iraq, Terrell tells the story of one female lieutenant and the forces and decisions that shaped the woman she became.  He tackles several points of view, a complicated structure, and shares his experiences of how it all happened.

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(Broadcast date: October 19, 2016)

Dorland Artists Colony … Pumpkin lattes anyone?

img_3472 img_3333 img_3475 img_3383 img_3319 img_3312 img_8052 img_3403 img_3302 img_8058 img_3409 img_3410 img_8053 img_8054 img_3452I’m back from my week’s stay at Dorland Arts Colony. I kept a Dorland Diary so I’d remember all those details you naturally (or unnaturally forget). Every day I wrote down what I accomplished (not as much as I’d hoped). I wrote about the dark and how we’re not afraid of the dark so much as we’re afraid of the night.

Here’s an excerpt from “Approach to the Night” that hangs on the wall beside the desk, signed by Barbara Horton, Feb. 18, 2001:

“Much human effort has gone into the banishment of night from our lives. …is this altogether wise? Can it be this defiance of nature has a down side?…What if we were to pause as our rambunctious day leaves us gasping? Suppose we held back the impulse to maintain the blazing light? Supposing we allowed the softening color of the world around us to soften our physical tensions and to note the expansiveness of quietness as evening takes over? …In dying away, the sunset may bring contemplation as the light mellows into the soft blues of restoration and renewal. This is the hour of dusk therapy—if we allow it to be….The dark of night is a fact of life which we have treated almost as an enemy. Would there not be a certain wisdom in taking time to find our way into this great reality…? I know of only one place geographically close to that urban social structure where dusk therapy is a ritual, leading into the acceptance of night and the fullness of its restorative power for humankind. That place is Dorland.”

I love that: dusk therapy. Starting with my second night at Dorland, I stood on the front porch or by the front door, and watched the sunset, and then watched the light drain from the sky.  The Temecula Valley spread beneath and around me. Instead of turning on lights (and the cabin had nine in the living room/kitchen combo alone!), I lit two teensy candles and felt the transition from light to dark. The sounds changed, too. Instead of birdsong, the song of the crickets and cicadas began. Lights came on in the valley. The cabin grew dark, except for the candles. I walked through the dark cabin, experiencing the night. I wondered if the nocturnal creatures, the snakes and tarantulas and scorpions, were out now? On walks I saw coyote scat, so knew they were quite present.

I don’t think I’d ever been so alone. I occupied one cabin (with the red roof), someone else (from Iowa State College, so said the side of his/her van) occupied the other cabin, and the caretakers/painters Janice and Robert Willis occupied a trailer, but we were all so far apart sound didn’t travel from one cabin to another. Three hundred acres of nature preserve that the fire swept through in 2004, destroying Dorland’s cabins and trees, taking with it Robert Willis’s paintings.

I loved my week there and hope to return someday in the not too distant future.


We are most decidedly in the early stages of fall–cold mornings, hoodie weather when you walk. What else says fall? Pumpkin lattes. Last week, while at Dorland, I went down the mountain to Starbucks and of course had to order a pumpkin latte. The good thing is, I didn’t much like it. It tasted bitter and strange. So this morning, when I returned from my walk, I sorted through the pantry and found a can of organic pumpkin and I made my own pumpkin latte. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to make one at home.


Ann Hood and Margot Livesey

Novelists Ann Hood and Margot Livesey join Marrie Stone to talk about their latest novels, The Book That Matters Most and Mercury.

Ann Hood talks about book clubs, the books that have mattered most to her at various points in her life, and her mother and daughter coming-of-age story.  She shares what she’s learned over the years, the progress women have made over the past decades, and lots of wonderful writing advice.

Margot Livesey joins in the second half to talk about tackling a different and more complex kind of infidelity in marriage, how an article on gun control sparked this novel, what concerns have haunted and intrigued her over the years, and much more.  (Please note the last few moments of our interview were lost, so it ends a bit abruptly, but you can find out more about Margot and her book tour at her website,

Download audio.

Broadcast Date: September 28, 2016

Novelists Swan Huntley and Affinity Konar on Writers on Writing

Debut novelist Swan Huntley, author of We Could Be Beautiful talks with co-host Nicole Nelson about how writing in the first person allows her to explore the space between what a character is telling us and what we know to be true, how she came to the realization that her original ending wasn’t right for the story, and how she discovered her process as an outliner.

In the second half, novelist Affinity Konar, author of Mischling, talks about how her story grew from hearing dialogue in her head between twins, about going “sound-first” into words, and thus being drawn to the word “Mischling” in spite of its ugly meaning and history, and her writing advice to honor your obsessions.

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[Note: Swan Huntley’s reading selection was cut down due to audio issues; therefore, her reading starts in the middle of her first chapter, not the beginning.]

(Broadcast date: September 14, 2016)

Memoirist Rob Spillman and lit agent Leigh Eisenman on Writers on Writing

Rob Spillman, author of All Tomorrow’s Parties and NYC literary agent Leigh Eisenman talks with Barbara about the art and craft of writing memoir, Berlin, how being an editor helps or hinders being an author, what agents are looking for, and more.

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(Broadcast date: Sept. 21, 2016)