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OUT LOUD! Spotlight: A Bunch of Questions for Local Writers Charlotte Holmes and Cate Fricke

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133 North Allegheny Street Bellefonte, Pa 16823

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By Serge Bielanko

There is something almost ethereal about being in a smallish room when someone is standing there reading a piece of fiction they've written. In many ways, it is the penultimate show of vulnerability. It's way more one person and an acoustic than a full on band, if you know what I mean. The air will get sucked out of the room if the writer is engaging enough. Things click, their voice is loud enough but not too loud, the people in the metal folding chairs are all in....paying attention....open to hanging out and hanging on every single word, and before you know it the 4th wall swings open like a transcendental barn door.

You walk right in to a parallel dimension, smack into the exact words taking over the world at that moment.

And there is nothing quite as sweet as a bunch of living breathing humans riding the crest of a walk through the make believe together, if you ask me. You wash up on the same beach when it's all said and done, wringing your knuckles, smiling nervously, looking around to see if you're the only one who is smiling at what just happened.

If you're not, if the writing was on time and the writer nailed it with the perfect tone, the perfect timing, reading that thing out loud like magic jazz, then you probably will be among the happiest people on Earth for at least the next minute or so. And that's a thing, you know. You gotta take happiness where you can find it these days. Writers reading their very own words can sometimes be just the ticket, too.

It comes to pass then that I ought to let you know that Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association's next Out Loud! event is happening this Friday, Jan. 17th. And that it looks damn promising. The featured writers, Charlotte Holmes and Cate Fricke (who will each be reading some of their own selected pieces of short fiction beginning at 7:30pm at the Bellefonte Art Museum,) are both Penn State University staff members. And we both know that that little nugget- around here anyways- usually comes with at least a little dash of bona fide Centre County street cred.

Anyway.

The writers, then.

Charlotte Holmes, is a Peach State native with deep Dixie roots.

"I was born in Georgia, where ten generations of my mother's family farmed," she tells me. "And like most military kids, I grew up in a lot of wildly diverse places."

These days she lives here, the Director of Creative Writing, Professor of English as well a Professor of Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at PSU. She is also a supremely accomplished writer who has had her fiction and essays published in just about every literary magazine you could ever think of, as well as in a whole bunch of regular magazines as well. Her short fiction collection, The Grass Labyrinth, published in March 2016 by BkMk Press, received both the Gold Medal for the Short Story from the Independent Publishers Association (the IPPY) and the Gold Medal for the Short Story from Foreward magazine.

But perhaps most important to note is that every single reader who decided to review this book on Amazon really loved it. I aways think that says a lot about a book, probably more than any pro critics can offer up. Holmes is currently honing a new collection of essays for release.

Cate Fricke, who works full-time in book publishing, as Associate Marketing Director of Penn State University Press, earned a MFA in Fiction from the Ohio State University. Outside her day job she is a devotee of her real craft: writing fiction, drama, and essays.

"I’m always writing on the side," she explains. And much of what she writes, uniquely enough, is born up out of the distant past. "My work is mainly focused on fairy tales," she says. "I’m incredibly passionate about them; I love writing about them and writing new versions of them."

Fricke is currently finishing a collection of short stories as well as compiling a collection of essays on fairy tales and culture that she's been writing for on-line magazine, Catapult.

Together, these two women, who have- believe it or not- never met one another, are going to show up in downtown Bellefonte on a Friday night in the middle of winter, the night before a snow storm (well, that's what they're saying, but you know...) and they are going to read pieces they've written with one collective thing in mind.

To take you- and whoever you're sitting next to- on a brief but beautiful ride.

Local poet and writer, Julia Spicher Kasdorf, who is also the Out Loud! events coordinator, paints a pretty convincing picture of why these nights of readings are so special

"Remember grade school when the teacher read to a hushed classroom after lunch?," she reflects. "Remember how the sound of the human voice and language created pictures in your mind? That is the pleasure of a literary reading! Plus, it is our practice for folks in the audience to ask questions, so we get to hear the artists speak of their work and process. Afterward, there’s a little reception and more visiting for those who like to linger. We never know who or how many will show up for these readings, but it’s a good time, a little light in these dark nights."

With all that in mind, I reached out to Friday's featured authors to pick their minds about the power and magic of words, of writing, and of reading it out loud.

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What attracts you to pubic readings like Out Loud!? Are they thrilling for you... or nerve-wracking... or both? Do you ever feel like you're having an out of body experience when you're up there reading your work to a crowd?

Charlotte Holmes: I generally feel like I write into a void--that the stories are out there somewhere, having their own lives. They're my adult children, so to speak. A reading allows me to share the stories. Sometimes people are bored, or indifferent (I don't write funny stories), but sometimes people are moved. A few times after readings, people have come up to me in tears, saying the story really touched them. An out-of-the-body experience is almost always part of it--hovering at the fringes, watching myself and others, the way I sometimes do in dreams.

Cate Fricke: I did theatre in school, so I don’t necessarily get stage fright, but it is very nerve-wracking to read something you’ve written out loud. You can always tell if the audience is enjoying it, or if they’re bored stiff. But it does give you a chance to get away from the computer screen and hear the story in a different way—if you’re revising, it’s a wonderful opportunity. If it’s already published, then you’d better hope you don’t hear something that sounds wrong.

Do you generally dig reading alongside other writers, Cate? Why/why not? / Do you know Charlotte's work? How has becoming a mom affected you as a writer?

Cate Fricke: I love reading alongside other writers, because writing is such a lonely vocation. My first baby was born in March, and her birth has pretty much exploded my world. Meeting other writers keeps me tethered to my writing, and that’s all the more important to me now, since I never want to say to my daughter, “I used to write.” Writers need community in order to keep creating work. Because I work full-time and don’t have much contact with the Creative Writing community at PSU, it’s events like this that give me the chance to meet other writers and be inspired by their work, and to potentially build that community. That’s another reason I’m so pleased to be reading alongside Charlotte, since I haven’t met her yet or been introduced to her writing.

And you, Charlotte? Do you enjoy reading alongside other writers? Why/why not? Do you know Cate's work?

Charlotte Holmes: I think I'm supposed to say I find it lovely and energizing to share the platform with another writer, but in truth it causes me a lot of anxiety. I'm always afraid my story will be too long, and this will have a negative impact on the reading/the other writer/the audience. Double-features are good for poets, but for fiction writers, not so much. Sorry to say. Too many words to read in too short a time!

I don't (know Cate's writing). I'm looking forward to meeting her on Friday and to getting to know her work.

Charlotte, you've been the Director of Creative Writing at PSU for close to seven years now. How does working with aspiring writers still honing their craft on a daily basis influence or affect your own writing?

Charlotte Holmes: I'll say one thing. The fact that students are willing to share the intimacies and intricacies of their lives with me in their essays and stories is overwhelming. It's an incredible act of trust that I'm grateful to experience. Sometimes it's an emotional overload, but I think I've learned more about people through teaching than I could ever have imagined. I can't help but draw from that in my own work. Why would someone do that? How would it feel to...? Because I read a lot of stories written because they're assigned in a class, I want to only write stories that seem necessary--not because I "have to," but because they bubble up out of a need to be told. As a result, I experience some long silences. Those are difficult to get through.

Three books that have your heart forever and why. (One sentence each).

Cate Fricke:

- The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, a collection of retold fairy tales, is transformative and raw and it completely opened my eyes to what fairy tales are and do.

- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle was one of my earliest favorite books and the bravery of its protagonists has always stuck with me.

- I am a huge fan of Maurice Sendak, and his book Dear Mili, the text of which is taken from a letter Wilhelm Grimm wrote to his niece, is sad and beautiful, and very precious to me.  

Charlotte Holmes:

- The Waves by Virginia Woolf: deep immersion into the emotional landscape of six characters from childhood to death, told with minimal (but mesmerizing) scene-setting and relying on the self-talk of the characters to move the story forward.

- Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald: the story of a journey into the self disguised as a quest to find the parents who perished in the Holocaust, managing to capture not only the loneliness of the child but the heartbreak of the parents who surrendered him.

- I can't think of this book without its mirror image, Beloved by Toni Morrison, a story in which a mother makes what she thinks is a just sacrifice, only to find that the daughter she sacrificed really did not want to be--that the daughter would've preferred any life, no matter how circumscribed, maybe a lesson for all of us, parents as well as children.

- The Golden Apples by Eudora Welty: the Greek myths recast in a small Southern town, where the mysterious behavior of social acceptance gets eviscerated with a delicate, razor-edged scalpel. That's four books.

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Out Loud! Presents Charlotte Holmes & Cate Fricke (reading their own Short Fiction)
Friday, January 17th, 7:30pm.

Bellefonte Art Museum, 133 North Allegheny Street.
Sponsored by Bellefonte Historical & Cultural Association

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