Monday, November 4, 2013

EditorialLee Speaking

Peggy Mercer will be doing double duty at our 2014 Southeastern Writers Association Workshop next June. Like most writers, she doesn't have tunnel vision about writing (although most publishers would prefer that their successful writers possess that trait). Unlike most writers, she is indeed uniquely qualified to teach both Writing for Young Readers and Poetry classes.

It was not by chance that I first met Peggy. We knew about each other before meeting. It was in the summer of 2009 that we had our first face-to-face meeting in the unlikely (but prearranged) venue of a newspaper in Douglas, Georgia, The Douglas Enterprise. There I met Peggy, who wanted me to meet her friend J.D. Lankford. J.D. had written a book about his military life, an ugly-but-true saga about war entitled Walk With Me. Although Peggy didn't know me, she knew of me through Paul Dunn of nearby Fitzgerald. I had published Paul's successful A Stroll Through Fitzgerald, GA, in the Forties.

Since that time, Peggy and I have kept in touch. Four years later we collaborated on a book she wanted to do, a collection of her songs and poetry entitled, Grew Up Loving Elvis. It's now in print as well as on Kindle and Nook. The reason she came to my small independent publishing company were dual: her traditional publisher loved her children's books but, predictably, wasn't interested in trying to sell her poetry. This is the credo of the industry: Authors must write what the publishers' sales people know how to sell. The other reason: she knew me and my reputation for doing good work without ripping people off.

Peggy and I beat the heck out of each other (verbally, mostly through email) while assembling her book. The results show. Two professionals beating each other up doesn't result in perfection, but it comes close. Grew Up Loving Elvis is professionally done in every way.

Raised in rural Georgia, Peggy started writing "because the farmhouse walls were blank." She has continued because, she says, "Writing is my purpose in life. It is the vehicle I use to share my thoughts and carve out my niche and infuse it with inspiration for others to follow their dreams. Words are my tool, and there's so much power in words."

So why is Peggy qualified to teach two classes? For starters, Her Peach: When the Well Run Dry won the GAYA (Georgia Author of the Year Award) for children's writing in 2011. She has authored two other children's books and has another due out soon through a New York traditional publishing house. Her personal favorite of her children's books is There Come a Soldier.

As to poetry, Grew Up Loving Elvis is her first published collection. But she has seen her poetry published in literary magazines and journals, including Gusto, Driftwood East, and a few others. She also studied poetry and taught a class in poetry in college. She has been writing poetry since her school days. She also teaches songwriting. "I teach the proper professional art of songwriting after having studied with professional hit songwriters for a very long time. This takes me back and forth to Nashville, Tennessee, where I assist young songwriters in getting their songs put to melodies and professionally demoed. I also guide them through the publishing maze into the world or professional songwriting."

Peggy has friends in the music industry. Country star Taylor Swift has a blurb about her poetry on the cover of "Elvis," and she regularly rubs elbows with country stars in Nashville and other places. "Elvis" contains a number of songs she has written.

So when she has time for herself, what does she do? "My favorite book is The Bible," she said when asked what she reads. "I also read great poetry by Browning, Brecht, Tennyson and more.  . . and biographies about the lives of the Saints. I also enjoy reading humor." Her other very limited spare time ("What spare time?" she laughed!) is spent rearranging her books and manuscripts. She also collects antiques, especially vintage scarves. "I 'ooh' and 'ah' over this stuff."

Peggy's history with SWA goes back a long way. "I believe I was a charter member to the Dixie Council of Authors and Journalists, and I think that was the start of Southeastern. I studied in classes with Doris Buchanan Smith, Becky Weyrich and many more well-published authors at summer conferences. It was one of those great experiences I had as a young writer, and this is what made me a professional writer. It helped launch me toward professionalism and getting published."

She eagerly looks forward to returning to St. Simons in 2014. "I am returning to teach, which means I followed the process laid out before me by the early conference leaders and teachers, paid my dues, honed my skills and -- drum roll, please -- now have been asked to share my wisdom and knowledge on how to write for children along with poetry with others. Sharing is my biggest joy. It is our legacy as published authors to build the dreams with those who are where we once were and to help them move forward toward making their own writing dreams come true."

"Writers helping writers" is SWA's motto. Peggy is a perfect fit. And she has a few words of advice now, before you get the chance to meet her next June: "To aspiring writers, don't just write, LEARN and then perfect your craft while protecting and shining your style like the marvelous work and wonder that it is. Use your gift. You are never too young to get started and never too old to begin again."

Should be a great 2014 Workshop. Hope to see all y'all there!

~~ Lee Clevenger

Lee is the current President of SWA, an author and co-founder of ThomasMax Publishing in Atlanta, GA.

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