Local Jeweler Reflects on a Half-Century Immersed in Art and Business.
A 47-year career might seem like a life lived by design, but Tricia Ruppersburg, 70, says she discovered her passion by accident.
“I fell into it,” she says of her UGA bachelor of fine arts degree in jewelry and metalworking. “I needed electives, so I signed up for an art class and just waltzed in. Today, you have to apply to get into the art department. You can’t do what I did.”
One elective then led to another until Ruppersburg earned her art degree in 1974. Within a year of graduating, she was part owner of Aurum Studios, a downtown business that has been an Athens staple for designer and quality jewelry for nearly five decades.
In the beginning, Aurum was a three-person shop, and the owners made everything that went out the door. “As we grew,” says Ruppersburg, “we bought from other makers who had our aesthetic.” By 1993, Ruppersburg became sole owner.
“Over the years I had more and more jewelers on staff. All had been designers with a particular niche, but they all could do custom or repair work.” One of the elements of her success, she says, has been this stable of onsite craftspeople. “Most stores are lucky if they have one bench jeweler. We had as many as six at a time. Some were with us for more than 30 years.” In the industry, a bench jeweler is defined as an artisan who uses a combination of skills to make and repair jewelry.
As a custom designer herself, Ruppersburg typically featured pieces made in her shop, “We came at it from jewelry school, from the art design end,” she says. This allowed her shop to cater to changing trends and meet the differing tastes of her customers.
“The Aurum style has evolved over time,” says Ruppersburg. “We started out doing very asymmetrical design, but the public wanted symmetrical, so we went to more of that.”
When talking about the longevity of Aurum, Ruppersburg says that she doesn’t really have an answer for how the store survived the ups and downs of the economy. “We just plugged away. I can’t even tell you how. I’m not a planner. I deal with what happens that day and try to figure it out.”
What she’s dealing with these days is the transition of Aurum from her ownership to Lori Slayton Davidson, a former employee of 10 years. Davidson began working with jewelry in her 20s and Ruppersburg says she has plenty of experience to continue to offer customers the unique designs and service they expect from Aurum.
After some renovations, Davidson will reopen the Athens store in July although the Lake Oconee store closed permanently. Ruppersburg says she will be on hand to see that the change of ownership goes smoothly and expects that Aurum will move into its next 50 years without a hitch.
“Initially, I will be helping her out a good bit, but as time goes on, she’ll need me less and less.”
After working six days a week for decades, with limited time off, Ruppersburg is looking forward to spending more time with her family, working on her house and garden, and traveling. As she reflects on a half century of experience, she offers this advice to would-be entrepreneurs: “Make sure it’s what you want to do. You’ll work all hours. It never ends, and it’s hard work. You’re never caught up. You see your business associates more than you see your family. Know what you want to do and go for it. Do a good job and treat people right.”
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it,” she says, nothing that Aurum isn’t just merchandise. “It’s people. All the people I know come here. We made their wedding rings. I made their kids’ wedding rings, and now we’re making stuff for their grandkids.” It’s somewhat ironic that Ruppersburg doesn’t often wear much jewelry. “I love the gemstones and the metalwork. I love the art, but I’m not a bedecked and bejeweled girl.” But, she adds, “I’m glad many people are.”
Kelly Capers is a homesteader who lives with her family in Oglethorpe County. She is a 1984 graduate of the University of Georgia and recently finished her master’s degree in English from Georgia College.
While the movies might have us believe that left unattended, pets joyously live a life of wandering adventures, a la The Secret Life of Pets, pet sitter Janann McInnes has other ideas. She believes every pet deserves top notch care, and no fur babies or feathered friends will be running amok on her watch.
McInnes, 78, is a native of Florida where she studied communications, literature and criminology at Florida Southern College and the University of South Florida. She has had careers as diverse as clown for the Ringling Bros and Barnum Bailey Circus World and State Investigator for death penalty cases in Florida and Tennessee. At one time she interviewed serial killer Ted Bundy.
But today McInnes is a much in-demand pet sitter who cares for animals as diverse as her various careers, including dogs, cats, bearded dragons, ducks, and crows. “I get energy from working with animals,” says McInnis.
Employed by Melinda Walker, owner of Athens Pet Sitter, McInnes is often specially requested by clients to watch their homes and animals. In fact, she has become almost like a member of the family with some pet owners who designate their guest rooms as hers. “I spend time loving the animals and touching them. I give them extra care while their owners are away,” says McInnes.
One regular client that she serves has an aging dog who counts on sleeping with her at night. Knowing that McInnes doesn’t like to deal with stairs in the dark, the family surprised her with the installation of an elevator that opens into her bedroom. “I mash a button,” says McInnes, “and there’s the bedroom.”
Walker says she was thrilled that her clients would be so generous. “They didn’t want her to be in danger,” she says. “It was one of the wildest gifts we’ve gotten over the years.”
When asked why McInnes is in such high demand, Walker says that it’s largely because she has a lot of patience and goes the extra mile. For instance, when she sits for ducks, she often must wait until they are ready to go into their pen. “She will just sit and wait, she’s not eager to be done and leave. She has patience,” says Walker.
Walker says that older adults she has hired have a different approach to pet sitting. Unlike younger workers who thrive on multi-tasking, Walker says older employees are usually willing to go slower and are very conscientious with their assignments. “They have a very strong work ethic,” she says.
Likewise, they have a different relationship with electronics. “They will call and talk to me instead of shooting a text. Plus, they will stop and chat with a neighbor, which can build the business, instead of listening to ear buds. They just give a little extra.”
There are other advantages, too: “They don’t have to ask permission to work on Christmas morning,” she says.
She began the pet sitting business when her daughter was born in 2005 because she didn’t want to go back to work. She had no idea that it would grow so fast.
“Back then pet sitting wasn’t a thing, so I always had to explain what I was doing.” By the time the economy crashed, her business had grown enough that she and her husband made the decision to make it full time. “We had about two dozen clients, so we decided we’d try to turn this into something.” Serving Clarke and Oconee counties, and Statham, Athens Pet Sitter currently has 18 employees and makes 12,000 pet visits a year, including day visits and overnight.
Walker, who has three employees over 50, says that when her pet sitters are on the job, they are required to take care of the home as well as the pet. She tells them to wipe up splattered cat food; take out trash; water plants. We notice little things that aren’t on clients’ list of instructions.” Older employees, she remarks, take feedback well. “They want to get better.”
Because of the nature of the business, the Walkers were completely shut down during the pandemic. Luckily, during that time, some clients donated money to keep the business open because they wanted reliable pet care when they began traveling again. To adapt to the restrictions, Athens Pet Sitter allowed customers to prepay for future travel. “We’ve created a community,” says Walker, “not just a business.”
Along with her regular routine visits, McInnes has been called upon to be a dog nanny for a wedding, which required her to transport and supervise the pet for the ceremony. Recently, she has been hired to go into a memory care facility to provide pet care.
“Janann goes into this facility to care for a cat,” says Walker. “It requires a special person, and we hope it will inspire others. Having a pet in a facility can have many benefits for residents and their families, says Walker. “It can open up a whole new world to them.”
The dedication McInnes brings to her work opens the world to all her clients because they can travel with the confidence that their pets are in good hands. What makes it worth it for McInnes? “It’s the animals… all the different animals.”
Kelly Capers is a homesteader who lives with her family in Oglethorpe County. She is a 1984 graduate of the University of Georgia and recently finished her master’s degree in English from Georgia College.
An ancient religion and a historic congregation focus on the future.
You’d never notice the Congregation Children of Israel temple tucked away in a residential neighborhood in Athens were it not for the sign at the end of the driveway. The modest stone building was dedicated in 1968 after the historic 1884 synagogue downtown at Jackson St. and Hancock Ave. was razed to make way for a new federal building.
Now, following a significant renovation and expansion, which was completed in 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, the congregation has only been able to use the new space occasionally and with safeguards during the last year and a half. Unfortunately, the recent High Holy Days (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur) had to be observed both online and in-person with masks and proof of vaccination.
The renovation, though, made a difference that is “like night and day, literally,” said Joel B. Katz, current president of the temple. The mid-century structure had no windows in the sanctuary and thus no natural light. Now there’s a wall of windows and a door that opens onto a small garden area, a skylight, a larger, wheelchair-accessible bimah (a raised platform where services are led), a new sound system, flexible seating for 200 instead of the traditional pews, and a renovated social hall.
Most striking are the impressively tall, stained-glass sliding doors that protect scrolls of the Torah (the five books of Moses in the Old Testament, handwritten in Hebrew), which are in the ark (cabinet) behind the doors. In the upper right corner of the panels is a lighted, yellow glass design element that represents ner tamid, a term in Judaism that means eternal light. This light, in some form or another, is above the ark in every synagogue worldwide, and is perpetually lit.
“The light of Torah should always be in us,” explained Rabbi Eric Linder, 47, who says the Jewish people live by the concept of tikkun olam—the repair of the world. “Not only in good times, but also in bad, we should be the light, seek the light.”
There are three branches of Judaism, including Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform—CCI is associated with the Union for Reform Judaism, the only such congregation in northeast Georgia. Reform congregations strive to bridge tradition and modernity.
“The renovation goes back to being Reform and constantly adapting what is meaningful and inspirational,” said Linder, who was drawn to CCI nine years ago because of its intense community involvement and the synagogue’s respect in the community.
Relevance in a changing world
Staying relevant is the key for the many Boomers in the synagogue who want to connect the generations and thrive. They aren’t resting on the virtue of tradition for tradition’s sake, but are looking instead for ways to meet the challenging needs of the 21st century.
Helene Schwartz, 73, has been a congregation member for 50 years and was excited about the new renovations.
“We needed more flexible space, and we wanted more light.” Beyond that, attracting new, young families were essential considerations in the renovations.
“As the rabbi, making Judaism relevant is different for a kindergartner than a 90-year-old, and I take that seriously,” said Linder, who continues to guide his synagogue into the future by continuing to bolster its community presence. He is a founding member of the Interfaith Clergy Partnership of Greater Athens, an organization that includes more than 60 faith leaders from religions as diverse as evangelical Protestant denominations and Islam.
Linder also records a weekly podcast called REALigion. Partnering with his friend and fellow clergyman, Rev. Joel Tolbert, formerly of Oconee Presbyterian Church, Linder discusses tough questions about faith and spirituality. The two collaborate on REALigion where, “A Rabbi and a Reverend walk into a podcast… and talk REAL about religion.”
“Judaism is a 4,000-year-old religion, and we owe it to our ancestors to carry on, but ultimately that can’t be the only reason,” Linder said. “The beauty of our religion is taking the thousands-year-old text and finding that there is still relevance in the words.”
To that end, congregants are dedicated to inclusion and elevating the quality of life for all of Athens regardless of faith, political affiliation, or social standing. Outreach programs include participation and support for Family Promise of Athens and Our Daily Bread. Temple programs, such as Holy Cohen—a night of Leonard Cohen music—and support of the Athens Jewish Film Festival, are part of their ongoing interaction with the community.
Judaism is based on values such as kindness, loving one another and social justice, Schwartz said, and she believes CCI has done a good job of bringing those traditions into the contemporary world by both supporting families in the home and through education at the synagogue.
“We have a phrase, l’dor v’dor, which is Hebrew for ‘from generation to generation.’ That’s our tradition to carry forward, not just our religious practices, but our values such as education.”
In addition to a religious school and Hebrew School, CCI engages its children through the Athens PJ Library Program, which delivers Jewish books monthly by mail to participating children from birth to age 12. The national program, funded by a foundation, is coordinated locally by Marilyn Gootman, who also organizes gatherings and connects with those served by the PJ Library.
“Children and young families are our future, and it’s important to connect and welcome them into our community,” Gootman said, program coordinator. “The Jewish people are known as the ‘People of the Book.’ We place a high value on reading and education.”
Member Lizzie Zucker Saltz, 59, credits Gootman with drawing her family into the congregation in 2001 when her first child was born. Saltz is president of the CCI’s Sisterhood, an organization of women in the congregation, which recently published a cookbook representing multiple generations of the congregation’s women.
Food is an important part of Jewish tradition and heritage. “This cookbook,” Zucker Saltz said, “has a recipe from every Sisterhood president since the ’40s. By including stories that chronicle the community, we are honoring the generations of our families.” (See cookbook review.)
Passing the Torch
Emily Honigberg, 84, has been a member of CCI since 1964 and has decades of fond memories of the synagogue, where her children all grew up participating in religious activities. She felt an aura of comfort and holiness in the old sanctuary. “Now, the new sanctuary gives me feelings of energy and renewal.”
Florence Schwartz, 97, the congregation’s oldest member, has supported the synagogue’s progress.“It’s my temple—young people have to keep it up and keep it growing.”
It’s every generation’s responsibility to build for the future,” Katz said. “We like younger people to be groomed for leadership positions and that’s one of our goals. Training young leaders is critical for ongoing success so we don’t age out.”
Fortunately for CCI, there is a new generation ready to accept this challenge. Zachary Friedman, 38, has been a member for four years and is new to the temple board. Looking into the future, Friedman said, “I think the temple must continue to connect with the Athens community in a way that aligns with the principles of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tzedakah (acts of loving kindness). I think this also aligns with the social justice component of Reform Judaism.”
Like many other religious groups, CCI has faced challenges in the 21st century. Hostilities toward Jews and anti-Semitism have plagued congregations across the country, and the local temple has had to acknowledge these challenges with heightened security and surveillance cameras.
“These are unstable times,” Katz said. “All congregations are concerned, not just Jewish ones. My hope is for the temple to connect with mutual aid efforts that support marginalized populations, the homeless, and individuals with substance use and mental health issues. We must look deep into our shared communities and support each other.”
Katz “sees the light of hope” in the ner tamid gracing the ark of the rejuvenated sanctuary.
“We feel a responsibility to pass the torch, if you will,” Katz said. “Many synagogues are relics of a bygone era. We don’t want that to happen. CCI is going in the opposite direction, and the renovation proves that. We want to stay vibrant.”
The one certainty in life is that it never stands still. Events and seasons always move forward, and aging is the inevitable byproduct of a world in motion. While some get swept away in the current of time, those who aim to live with purpose and passion find a way to create a life of beauty. Like any worthwhile pursuit, the art of aging takes effort, but those who make a well-crafted life a priority are rewarded with joy and fulfillment.
Chip McDaniel, 84, has spent decades perfecting the art of living. A naturally creative person, McDaniel will dabble in anything that catches her eye. Taking what she calls a “leap of faith,” McDaniel retired at 52 from her position as Communications Coordinator for Westinghouse in Athens. Her intention was having freedom to do the next inspired action.
“I wanted ‘living itself’ to be an art form,” says McDaniel.
From building to blogging, McDaniel creates and recreates. She has composed music on her Yamaha electric keyboard, and designed album covers to depict them. Her artistic tools include everything from saws to computers. There is virtually nothing that McDaniel will not look at with a creative eye and the delight of an artist.
McDaniel says the art of aging isn’t about pursuing greatness but finding contentment. “I think it’s about a style of living that’s fulfilling. I’ve been drawn to the ‘art of living’ as a philosophical approach.”
When it comes to putting together the composition of a well-lived life, McDaniel says she asks herself three questions about every endeavor: Is it satisfying? Is it fulfilling? Is it meaningful?
“Also,” she says, “do what you love and that will be enough.”
Don Hunter, 72, has found that what he loves doing is photographing nature. A natural extension of his 33-year career as an environmental scientist with the U.S. EPA in Athens, taking pictures of southern flora during Nature Rambles at the state Botanical Garden led Hunter to specialize in capturing images of local pollinators for documentation by UGA.
Like most people, Hunter had taken pictures all his life, but he says it wasn’t until after he retired that he got interested in the art aspect of photography. While he finds beauty in nature and satisfaction in the creativity of photography, it is really the science that drives Hunter’s craft.
“There is a personal satisfaction in knowing my work is useful and appreciated. I get a range of quality. Sometimes I get photos that are barely good enough for documentation.”
However, there is an enthusiasm for the art that ignites a spontaneous joy.
“But I’ve also come up with blow your mind from a beauty standpoint. The plant and the bug are lit up so well I just think ‘My, gosh, I couldn’t have done it if I’d tried!’”
A sense of worth and the spark of discovery motivate him to continue photographing every day.
“The diversity and beauty of the different critters inspires me. Not knowing what I’m going to find when I walk into a meadow… it’s exciting to me to come across a new beetle or a new bee. And to get a really good picture.”
See more at facebook.com/don.hunter.56/photos.
Rosemary Woodel, 80, says her initial interest in photography was born of necessity.
“After my divorce, I needed to fill the walls!”
Although not a trained artist, she says she has always had an eye for composition and design, but as an office manager at the university, art was mostly peripheral in her life.
Now, without art, says Woodel “there is no way this would be any kind of life worth living. I’m so glad I have paintings and photographs and that I can enjoy hearing and listening to music and singing.”
Although she loves and values beauty and creativity, she says, “I didn’t take it seriously as an artist until ten years ago.”
That’s when she began taking classes in writing, photography and alcohol ink at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina. She found that she loved digital photography classes and that she had a knack for capturing a moment.
“I’ve gotten into art shows and I sell my work,” Woodel says. “It’s nice to know you have photographs worthy of other people seeing.”
Another advantage to Woodel’s art she says is that it documents life and provides a canvas for reflection.
“I don’t have a great memory so photography and making movies are my external hard drive. If I forget—I know when; I know who; I know where. It’s a great memory bank.”
Recently, eye problems have affected her life and her art, but Woodel continues to adjust and enjoy her artistic pursuits.
“I still take the pictures I can and make them the best I can.” Lately, she’s pivoted from still pictures to video. “When I discovered the creativity around me [at Talmadge Terrace Independent Living] – music, writing, decorating—I started making a series of movies to document that.”
“It’s all about experience and just trying it,” she says of the community’s ukulele band out serenading the rescue animals at Sweet Olive Farm.
“I hope when I make movies it inspires others to be more creative, and I hope my movies make people feel better. I want them to bring joy and to emphasize community.”
See Rosemary’s other movies on her YouTube channel.
Watercolorist Par Ramey, 71, finds refuge in her community of fellow artists. She had enjoyed many diverse occupations, but when she was widowed in 2004, she turned to art for comfort and community.
“The Lyndon House staff was so welcoming I basically moved in down there. It was a way to adjust to widowhood.”
A native of Athens, Ramey was influenced by her grandmother who had moved to New York during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s. As a girl, she spent summers there where she had freedom to explore art and was exposed to the work of successful black artists. She recalls it was a respite from the segregation she experienced at home.
“In Athens you didn’t hear about black artists. They were around, you just didn’t hear about them because they weren’t publicized. I lived for the summers when I could go there. It was like Harriet Tubman had taken me to freedom.”
Ramey settled in Athens in 1979 and raised her family here. When she lost her mother, her sister, and her husband in the same year, she was faced with devastating loss and a difficult transition.
“I had to do something to deal with that. The Lyndon House [Art Center] was a sanctuary for me. I went there to heal. Seeing, hearing, eating art, I wanted to be a part of that world. I’d just gone through the saddest times, but I found a place to be happy, and I’ve managed to stay happy.”
In the beginning, says Ramey, “I just wanted to paint a pear.” Now, however, she has turned more to self-reflection.
“I love painting nature, fruit, animals, weather, trees, but now I want to do more abstract and go deeper into the emotions. I want someone to look at my paintings and be captured by them, not to just move along. I want them to see something. I want them to stay there and figure out what’s going on. That’s what I like about abstract—it’s not just flinging paint but flinging emotions.”
Life is like art, says Ramey. “When I started this journey, I was 55, and there has been a lot learned. I became this artist and new experiences came with it. It was empowering.
Jack Eisenman, 79, recalls a defining moment when he discovered power in words. A retired Army colonel at his junior high school scared him to death. That is until he started quoting poems.
“He would do that about once a month. I always remember that and credit him for first exposing me to poetry.”
During his education and subsequent career as a member of faculty at Palm Beach Atlantic University, Eisenman says he wrote no poetry. Once retired, he knew he wanted that to change and was committed to writing the best verses possible.
“I joined a group and attended workshops.”
Not only does Eisenman create poetry with words on paper, but there is poetic beauty and graceful humor to his style and habits. In the fashion of a 19th Century poet’s garret, Eisenman outfitted a writing room where he steals away to create.
“Everyone needs a private space no matter what they do,” says Eisenman. “You have to climb a ladder to my poet’s garret. It’s where I come to be creative.”
Eisenman says he is a firm believer in the power of the muse. Interacting with a yellow pad before he goes to a computer, Eisenman allows words to flow directly from his hands to the page.
“I don’t necessarily have a topic in mind, but before you know it the muse takes over. Sometimes the poem writes itself, but there are other times that I am intentional and philosophical.”
However, he says, “Every poet wants to be read. I hope those who read my poems can say ‘I get that’ or ‘I experienced that.’
Eisenman says he never considered himself an artist before becoming a poet, but after 15 years he believes he’s found his groove.
“I think I’ve found my voice.”
POEMS BY JACK EISENMAN Box of Toys Whose hands packed the arm-less doll, Ford truck with rust-locked wheels, Bag of marbles, broken crayons, coloring books Where dogs are blue, lines irrelevant? Judy’s Swing The entire Bailey Street 300 block had swing envy of the girl two doors down from 319. Kids came from as far away as 387 to stand in line for a one-minute float through the sky, soaring so high toes brushed leaves on the lowest maple limb which must have been twelve feet from the grass but seemed Jack in the bean stalk high. Every kid anticipated the grand climax, the jump. The jump, a leap of faith that between letting go, flying through the air, and hitting the ground eight-year old’s lives would not flash before them.
Cheri Wranosky’s artistic voice finds expression in three-dimensional form. Found objects spark her fancy. As art director for the UGA Alumni magazine, it was natural for Wranosky, 74, to enjoy artistic activities in retirement.
“It just gives your creative mind something to do besides thinking about the world and your own problems. It calms you. It’s something to concentrate on and lose yourself in.”
Classes at Good Dirt launched her into sculpture. Inspired by found objects and things that she has collected, her art often reflects what life brings her way.
“I used toys from my mom’s house on the head of one of my pieces ‘Toys in the Attic.’”
Wranosky hopes that her pieces will influence others by giving them something to ponder.
“I hope they puzzle over it. Some people love it, and some people hate it, but I hope they take away some fun—a lot of my art is whimsical.”
In some ways, Wranosky’s art mimics the progress of life.
“I started just doing little figures,” she says. “I had to learn how to make an ear. Some sculptures were just figuring out how to do it.” But now she says, her art is about more. “Now they need a message.”
Having successfully learned “how to do it,” Wranosky’s art has had significant exposure locally, around Georgia, and out of state. Her work has been featured in magazines, a textbook for young students, and the book, Best of America: Sculpture Artists and Artisans.Recently Wranosky has taken her art to a new level making paintings of her sculptures.
“I’m shifting a little to 2D. In that format you can add a background that you think the sculpture should have been in. I think it changes the message a little, I really do.”
See more of her work at www.cheriwranosky.com.
Using fabric as a medium, quilter Scott Mason makes art that blends two- and three-dimensions.
He says of his art, “I’m in it for the unique things you can do with cloth. Sewing is engineering with soft materials.”
Mason, 78, who retired from a career in marketing research, says he sees fabric as another medium for building.
“You can hang it, put it on the bed, cover your lap. It’s a very practical art.”
Fabric is more accessible too, says Mason. It’s readily available and easier to manipulate than wood or metal. “Quilts can be easy,” says Mason, “They are cloth, but they can also be high art.”
Inspired by the expansive and active quilting community in Bend, Ore., where he had a seasonal home, Mason was inspired to take a quilting class. He confesses that he was a difficult student, insisting on creating designs from his own imagination.
“I push myself and try to do more creative things, my creative things, and not to be happy with what other people have done. I find that so much more fulfilling.”
Did he ever feel self-conscious about taking up a traditionally female craft?
“’Women’s hobbies’ and ‘men’s hobbies’ seems a pretty artificial distinction. I do what interests me, and there’s a lot about quilt art—design, technique, and possibilities to keep a woman or a man engaged for a lifetime.” More than that. “There is pleasure in the peacefulness of assembling quilts and the real art to life is how at peace you are with yourself.”
Retired health care consultant Beth Warner, 65, has become a master at crafting a peaceful life. She is determined to find beauty.
“You can choose to seek out beauty wherever you are,” says Warner. “You just have to see it.”
Now a farmer and shepherdess, Warner says that she has always been a nature lover. She admits as a child she wore her mother out with her enthusiasm.
“I would rush into the house begging my mom to ‘come see!” some exciting thing I’d found. When she’d get out there it would be a leaf.”
Although Warner is skilled at drawing and painting, her desire is to use the bounty of her land to create. One skill Warner plans to sharpen is felting the wool she collects when shearing her sheep. As a student at the John C. Campbell Folk School, Warner learned about eco-dying.
“Wool plus plants, plus mordant, plus water, plus heat, plus time, equals magic,” she says.
Much of Warner’s art is never seen. “Sometimes when I walk, I create art at the base of a tree. I know no one will see it but God. It’s sort of an offering.”
She will collect leaves and arrange them in patterns on a table knowing they will soon be swept away. Fortunately, Warner has embraced social media to preserve her transitory art. A skilled writer and photographer, she journals on platforms like Facebook to share and connect.
In the last year, Warner has lost six friends to circumstances as diverse as accident, Covid and suicide. A quote from her journal explains how she moves forward through grief.
“I find myself longing to create. To give life to the ideas that are simmering inside. To bring forth beauty from nature.”
Like life, much of Warner’s art is temporary and many of her creations will fade away. But she wears the graceful flow of age comfortably like a hand-felted shawl, and her example of living beautifully is an inspiration that will linger.
Growing old takes no finesse. It happens without any interference. But aging with flair is an act of art and requires attention to detail. The one thing Boomers who understand the art of aging have in common is that like a watercolor, poem, quilt, sculpture, or photograph, they bend life to their vision. They seize every moment and capture joy.
Kelly Capers is a freelance journalist who enjoys the art of aging by writing for Boom Magazine.
MORE ART! Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation (OCAF) regularly has annual members’ only shows which guarantees submissions will be exhibited. The 2021 Members’ Show is open to the public through July 16. Jack Eisenman has organized a senior group called Poets of Winterville, which will have its first in-person meeting of 2021 on Thursday, Aug. 5 at 1 p.m. at the Winterville Center for Community and Culture. Adults over 55 can join before the end of July and have their first-year annual membership fee waived. For information, email email@example.com. With the help of a grant from the Athens Cultural Affairs Commission, local artist Shirley Chambliss interviewed and recorded interviews with four local artists, including Abraham Tesser (wood), Caroline Montague (clay, sculpture), Mary Mayes, Clay and Cameron Hampton (various). Enjoy the “Getting to know you” interviews.
** Editor’s note: Since we wrote this story, other media have been talking about the positive impacts of art and creativity on healthy aging. A recent Washington Post story features retirees who’ve entered a much different second act. Matt Fuchs writes, “Ongoing research suggests that creativity may be key to healthy aging. Studies show that participating in activities such as singing, theater performance and visual artistry could support the well-being of older adults, and that creativity, which is related to the personality trait of openness, can lead to greater longevity.
And the current AARP Bulletin includes a story about retirees who’ve become successful artists and found that the “creativity and the passion to express it were always there; they just lay dormant, waiting for the right time to emerge.”
The Athens Choral Society, a diverse group of volunteer singers, will celebrate its Golden Anniversary in May 2021.
“The Athens Choral Society started in 1971 with just a handful of singers mainly from the university, and here we are 50 years later with 90 singers,” says director Stephen Mitchell.
Members credit Mitchell with turning the singers into a serious community choir. The music director for First United Methodist Church in Athens, Mitchell took on the chorus in 2005 during a time of transition.
“I’ve always been a proponent for community singing and volunteer singing so I was very much attracted to a community chorus,” says Mitchell.
Pianist Sara Lorusso joined the ACS as accompanist only weeks before Mitchell. She recalls meeting him for the first time. “He walked in and that was the first time I ever saw him, and I thought to myself, ‘What is he going to be like?’ And then he started conducting and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, He’s wonderful!’”
The duo has been together for 15 years and has taken the choir to a new level of organization and cohesiveness. Mitchell credits their teamwork for bringing unity to the chorus of many people with various abilities and talents.
“My favorite thing definitely is watching people from all walks of life who just love to sing come together,” says Mitchell. “There is nothing worse than the first rehearsal and there’s nothing better than the concert—just to see what happens in those 15 weeks is really, really rewarding for everyone.”
Over the years the chorus has fluctuated in membership but currently has approximately 90 singers who perform regularly. Two of the original members, Mary Hutcherson and Sara Braucher, are still singing with the ACS five decades after its founding.
Historian and founding member, Hutcherson has kept scrapbooks from the beginning, recording concerts, musicians and singers over the years. However, she hardly needs the reference recalling directors and compositions from memory.
“In the winter of 1971, I saw a poster saying they were organizing a community chorus. The founders were Bob John and Jewel John, Albert Ligotti and his wife Arlene and Dr. Daniel Politoske. Mr. Ligotti taught trumpet; he was late of the Metropolitan Opera. Our first concert was in May with choruses from the Messiah and Brahms’ Neue Liebeslieder Waltzes, which we did in English,” remembers Hutcherson.
The ACS boasts an impressive musical pedigree of faculty from the University of Georgia music department. The relationship between the ACS and UGA has been important to the success of the chorus. The university’s music program has evolved into a full music school with a state-of-the-art concert hall. Mitchell, who maintains good relations with UGA, says that the growth of the music school has benefited musicians and singers in Athens, and the ACS regularly performs its concerts at UGA’s Hugh Hodgson Hall.
Hutcherson says before the formation of the ACS, the only place for an amateur to sing was in a church choir. The founders expected about 30 people in the beginning, but the number rose quickly to 75.
“There were that many people in this town who wanted to sing larger works of music.”
Braucher says of the early meetings that, “When we got there, it was overflowing, so many people that we were not really counting on, and we were thrilled.”
Hutcherson and Braucher also have seen the ACS through a variety of venues, including schools, churches and theaters. The choir has rehearsed in almost every denomination’s sanctuary in Athens and has performed at the Morton Theater, the Classic Center and Seney-Stovall Chapel.
Regarding his success with the choir, Mitchell says he keeps singers challenged and motivated by selecting works that are different and new to Athens. “There’s a fine line between working them too hard and just hard enough,” he says. Mitchell also recognizes that relationships and community are important to keeping the group strong.
“The break we take is as important as the music rehearsal because they get to know each other, and the relationships make them want to come back,” Mitchell says.
For some members like past president Jim Evans, ACS relationships take on a new meaning. “One of the tasks of the president is to welcome the audience to each performance, and I decided I was going to make a point of telling the audience at every performance that I met my wife in the Choral Society. I like bragging on that. It’s a nice way to meet somebody, I think.”
Braucher agrees that it’s the people that keep her coming back. “Friendships,” she says when asked why she stays with the Choral Society.
Both the relationships within the choir and the relationship with the community keeps the ACS thriving. Every year the ACS performs two concerts without charge.
“It is important,” says Mitchell, “that we offer concerts free to the community to make it accessible.” The only show that requires a ticket is the summer fund raiser to support local charities.
“People love the summer show. It’s a real change from the other two shows,” says Mitchell. After the exhaustion of 33 back-to-back concerts over a decade, Mitchell brought in Greg Kirby, who had Disneyland experience, to direct a summer show with Disney music. He was clearly the natural choice. Five years later, Kirby is still at the helm. “He did a great job. It’s been a great team.”
Many people think that being a skilled singer is a necessity for joining the ACS, but the only requirement is enthusiasm and a love of music. The choir is non-audition and all volunteer. Everyone is welcome.
“I think there are a lot of people in Athens who are still looking for a place to sing and just don’t know about us or are not sure if they’d be good enough for the Athens Choral Society,” says Mitchell, “and my answer is ‘Yes, you are.’ Anyone who can talk can also sing. The community we’ve built is a really safe place to come and sing.”
This year promises to be an exciting year for the ACS as it marks its half century as a voice in Athens. Mitchell says that the community can participate in the celebration with ACS by joining the chorus or just coming to the 50th anniversary shows.
“We’d love for people who have ever sung with us to come back and sing with us. We’d love to have people who have never sung with us sing for the first time for our 50th,” says Mitchell. “They can certainly contribute financially to the organization, and for a non-singer they can just attend a concert. Nothing pleases us more than a full audience.”
At 50, the Athens Choral Society is as strong as it has ever been, and the ACS is poised for another 50 years of bringing music to the Classic City. Braucher says, “I hope it continues. I hope it continues to be a friendly group. I hope it continues to be a welcoming group.”
Says Mitchell, “I am so proud of the Athens Choral Society.”
Silks, ribbons, jugates, and campaign torches
In this 2020 political season, the landscape abounds with yard signs and bumper stickers, but campaigns from the beginning of the republic have included many more ways that candidates got the attention of voters. Collector John Gingerich, 71, has spent a lifetime searching and saving that political memorabilia, which at one time was one of the largest collections in the Southeast.
Each item is a snapshot of time gone by, and Gingerich can interpret and tell a story about each one. With a passion for the tale and the lure of the storyteller, Gingerich unravels a fascinating look at America.
While buttons may be the first thing to come to mind when talking campaigns, according to Gingerich, that doesn’t even scratch the surface. Political paraphernalia has taken many forms over the centuries since George Washington’s inauguration when supporters wore GW pins. Crockery, postcards, parasols, china, books, and even stoves have been marked with a candidate’s likeness at one time or another. Almost anything imaginable has found a place on the campaign trail, and Gingerich has sought them all.
His fascination with collecting and his career as an antique dealer were sparked by his mother who had a fondness for antiques. “My mother was a collector and our home was always full of unusual stuff. I’ve always been a collector, and I wanted to specialize in something. I was interested in history so in the fifth grade I decided on political items.” Although a native of Michigan, Gingerich says falling in love with a Georgian eventually landed him in Athens.
The first pieces of political history Gingerich acquired were from the 1960 Kennedy/Nixon presidential campaign when he was 11, but the first truly historic piece he collected was an 1868 Grant/Colfax jugate ferrotype (tintype) he found in a junk bowl at a flea market for about 50 cents. A jugate is a piece with two portraits side by side to suggest the closeness of each to the other. Typically this would be a presidential and vice-presidential candidate although sometimes a state or local candidate is included with the presidential candidate.
Despite the variety of items he has collected over the years, “I love the old silk ribbons,” he says. Unfortunately, these are treasures that are among the hardest to preserve. The delicate fabric is much more prone to deterioration than hardier items so finding old ones intact is difficult, especially in the South. Heat and moisture contributed to very few surviving.”
Even with collectors seeking out and preserving these items, some pieces only exist in photographs such as memorabilia from Henry Clay’s 1844 campaign in Georgia. “Because of the fragility, says Gingerich, “none or just one or two are left.” He possesses the only known existing silk ribbon featuring Martin Van Buren and his running mate from 1840.
Among the most interesting items he has owned is a musket with a campaign torch that would have been used in a post-Civil War parade. Popular from the 1870s to 1900, these events were exciting spectacles, he says. “In torchlight parades, veterans would march in uniform holding banners for their candidate.”
The oldest pieces he has ever owned go back to the age of the Founding Fathers and included two Washington clothing buttons from that inauguration. Although he sold a portion of his collection in 2006, he still has 1830s and 1840s tokens along with his 1800s ribbons.
Gingerich has conducted his searches at estate sales, auctions, antique shops, Craigslist, and collector shows. His two most valuable pieces include a Van Buren jugate ribbon and an 1840 William Henry Harrison silk campaign flag, which sold for quite a bit.
For people who are interested in political memorabilia, Gingerich recommends looking at Ted Hake’s Encyclopedia of Political Buttons. He also recommends the American Political Items Collectors website. The APIC is a non-profit organization, dedicated to collecting, preserving and studying political campaign materials.
Founded in 1945, the organization has several chapters across the country, including the Dixie Chapter in the South. Among other activities, the APIC works with the Smithsonian and other museums to promote the education of American politics using campaign artifacts. Several specialty chapters cater to specific interests including the political parties, individual presidents and even topics such as women’s suffrage.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Gingerich’s collection is the knowledge that he has amassed with it. Each item sparks a history lesson, and he can recall each party’s candidate from every election, even those of third parties. Platforms and issues that have formed America from slavery to suffrage are catalogued in his memory.
Ever the inveterate collector, he still pines for a few items. In 1920 and 1924 very few pieces were produced, he says, making memorabilia from these campaigns hard to find. One that has eluded him is a jugate from a convention in Georgia.
“It’s a button picturing James Cox and Roosevelt produced in Muskogee County. I’d like to have that,” says Gingerich. And from 1924 John Davis and his running mate Charles Bryan are featured on a tintype from a Utah state convention. “It’s another jugate that’s rare. I’d like to find one of those!”
Suddenly, everything is different. Normal changed overnight and people are adapting to new ways to communicate, to acquire supplies, to work. For some Boomers, the challenges of isolation and social distancing aren’t just about self-isolation, it’s about hunkering down with adult dependents with special needs.
Adjusting to the new normal of buying online and telecommuting for work presents a steep learning curve for all of us. When caregiving for adults, the changes can be even more stressful.
Typically, the caregiver is managing medications, healthcare equipment, and regular outings to doctors’ offices. A consistent supply chain is mandatory for those dependent on life supporting items. For others with special needs, the challenges are emotional or intellectual, and disruptions to routine are excruciating. Individuals who thrive on schedule and structure can react adversely to even slight changes, and upheavals like sheltering at home are painful and hard for them to understand.
Depending on the situation, some caregivers have found isolation to be a burden, while others are finding the forced slow down a relief, and plan to make it permanent.
Mary Jean Hartel provides care for her 32-year-old daughter with Downs Syndrome. Ruthanne, who is normally very active in the Athens area Extra Special People programs, has had a difficult time understanding why she can’t see her friends. Before Covid 19, she would bowl, swim, and work a job during the week.
“She used to go out every day,” says Hartel. “Now she asks, ‘Mom, am I stuck at home today?’”
This spring, Ruthanne was anticipating the release of movies and several birthday parties. Every day is a challenge for Hartel explaining why, once again, some event was canceled.
“She lives in the present so it’s hard for her to understand. She misses her friends and her activities,” says Hartel. “There was a look of pure joy on her face when she understood that everyone is stuck at home, not just her.”
Fortunately, Ruthanne enjoys posting on Facebook and that has provided some contact for her along with some Zoom get-togethers. Around the house, Ruthanne is independent and finds ways to occupy herself, but with such an active lifestyle, Ruthanne misses her daily outside-the-home world.
In the past, Ruthanne liked keeping up with current events but her mother has stopped reading her the headlines because the virus has made her fearful of going out. Explaining complex information to Ruthanne is an ongoing challenge – “I try to stay calm and explain the best I can why things have changed.” Hartel deals with her own stress by walking more – a habit she hopes to make permanent
Less stimulation – More peace
For some the shutdown has been a positive experience. The mother of a 19-year-old son with autism says the confinement has decreased the stress in her home.
“I had already started working from home to save money and to be around more because I felt like he wasn’t getting enough attention. I have more time to spend with him, and when he comes knocking on the door, I try to relax, keep calm and accept the interruptions. Overall, the shutdown has been a positive a thing for us.”
Likewise, says Linda Thompson who is the primary caregiver for her ailing husband Perry, a former helicopter pilot and Vietnam war veteran. Almost a decade ago, Perry was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, an umbrella term for a group of uncommon brain disorders.
“Staying at home has reduced Perry’s anxiety. He’s calmer with less stimulation,” says Thompson. “Perry is a true hero. He sacrificed a lot and saved lives. There are people who would not be alive today if it weren’t for him. He’s a good man and deserves the best care I can give him.”
But that care involves a lot of sleepless nights and because it’s a condition that alters quickly, staying on top of behavior changes is a full-time job. One unexpected benefit of the shut down is that Thompson has been able to communicate with Perry’s physicians more directly online. She believes this technology has helped his doctors better understand their situation at home.
Thompson says that although she misses the opportunity to meet with friends, she is adjusting well to the slower pace.
The extrovert suffers
For others, the slowdown hasn’t been as beneficial. Often the caregiver’s lifeline is community support and during these times of isolation, much of that support has disappeared. Whether it’s in-home help or regular meetings with friends and family, caregivers rely on the emotional bolstering they receive from others. Finding new outlets for reaching out is not only a challenge, but for some it’s absolutely vital.
Isolation has been hard for Susan Brown while taking care of both her brother, who has dementia and her sister who has multiple physical issues.
“I don’t get to see my friends. I’m an extrovert so after I saw one of them, I felt so much better,” says Brown. Now she relies on infrequent visits outdoors to meet her need for community.
During social distancing Brown had to weigh the option of continuing with the in-home assistance she receives from two caregivers. Before isolation, Brown says saved her sanity. “I could leave, go to the gym, do shopping. It was a big decision and risk to bring in the germs,” says Brown, but the need outweighed the risk.
Life has gotten easier for her brother. “He didn’t understand why he had to get dressed and go to the doctor for prescriptions. Now they can see him and prescribe online,” says Brown.
Brown’s sister is not as happy. She lost her weekly bridge game and with the library closed, Brown could not bring her the usual stack of books on a regular basis. Luckily, the library has begun to partially re-open and books can be picked up outside.
For the long term, Brown expects to be taking precautions for a while. “You just have to bear with it. You have to take care of yourself so you can take care of the people you take care of.”
“I’m also walking the dog a lot – he thinks it’s wonderful!”
Following their passions and learning the book business
Writing the Great American Novel may be a pipe dream for those of us in later life, but for boomers with a message or a mission, publishing a book can be a satisfying and realistic endeavor. With the technology available today, writers can reach a public audience in myriad ways — self-publishing, e-books, established publishing houses and small presses. From hiring agents to building websites to networking with fellow writers, Athens area boomers are embracing the writing life, and engaging with the business side of publication.
When writing her first book, Cathy Payne, 66,was totally driven. Saving the Guinea Hog: The Recovery of an American Homestead Breed,is the result of three years of on-the-job research. After she and her husband decided to try farming in retirement and bought a farm, they relied on the internet to learn the ropes. Payne soon developed a passion for heritage livestock, specifically guinea hogs.
“I wanted a book about them but there wasn’t one. I found the same couple of paragraphs everywhere I looked. I knew if I wanted to read one, I’d have to write one.”
Farm-related contacts and Facebook helped Payne spread the word that she was writing a book and looking for information about the hogs. After researching, interviewing, and collecting stories of this under-documented species, Payne has produced an award-winning book for anyone interested in farming, heritage breeds or preserving the planet.
Payne says for those who have a burning interest and curiosity about a subject, writing a book about it can be very satisfying. Payne chose to self-publish her book and was involved in every aspect of the work from editing to marketing. She has sold more than 1,000 copies of her book since its publication in March, and she’ll pick up a silver medal award from Readers’ Favorite Reviews and Awards in the Nonfiction/Animals category at the Miami International Book Fair in November.
For novice writers like herself, she recommends finding a group of writers for community and linking up with an accountability partner. She also recommends establishing a routine of writing every day or doing related activities like marketing, editing or blogging.
“When I was teaching, I gave it 100 percent. When I was farming, I gave it 100 percent. Now I’m doing that with my writing.” For boomers who may be considering the writing life, Payne says, “It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Most of all, have fun!”
In March 2010, Noel Holston, 71, woke up one day, completely unable to hear anything.
“It was very scary,” he recalls. “My wife turned over and thought I had had a stroke because I was talking but I thought I was thinking silently.” Thus, began a four-year odyssey to try to recover that most fundamental sense. The journey involved numerous physicians and therapists; medical tests, strong medications, speech therapy, counseling, and finally a cochlear implant, which, a year later, would require a seven-hour do-over operation at a renowned institute in Los Angeles. And that was after his insurance company required seven different specialists in Georgia to sign off that the operation was too complicated for them to perform.
“I tried every therapy short of drinking,” says Holston, who was the public relations coordinator for the Peabody Awards at UGA.
As a former newspaper reporter and columnist, Holston was urged by many of the professionals he encountered to write a book, given that there were none except for the most technical. That, too, became a subsequent four-year odyssey. While he had posted a half-dozen blogs during his experience, writing a book took much, much longer, from extensive research to reconstructing his journey. Luckily, he had kept his calendars.
Holston says he queried around 100 literary agents and while many liked his book, most didn’t think it had a market, although he notes “40 to 50 million Americans have a hearing impairment.” He persevered and in 2018, he had an agent and a publisher. It took another year of re-writing and getting various written permissions for illustrations, quotes and song excerpts. “Every source has to be footnoted or acknowledged,” he explains. And since quoting just a snippet of a song can cost minimally $300, he chose to paraphrase most of the ones he used.
“I no longer expect the cure I hoped for,” he says, “but I’m not bitter or angry. My motto now is ‘that which doesn’t kill me makes a good story.’” Life After Deaf: My Misadventures in Hearing Loss and Recovery,” is out now.
Patricia McAlexander sailed into her first novel on the deck of a 200-year-old ship the Jane E. Williams. Researching family history, she discovered the passenger list of a ship that carried her German ancestors to America. So intrigued by the list of names, she was compelled to tell their story in her first work of fiction, Second Wives, due to release in 2020.
“I found out as many facts about my ancestors as I could – their names, births, occupations, marriages, deaths. Then I filled in the blanks with my imagination.”
A former UGA professor, McAlexander, 77, had written for several academic publications. But the academic chapter is now over, and she is finding fiction a new challenge. “It’s a whole new world,” says McAlexander, who is using Goodreads and Twitter to build a platform, publishing jargon for having a forum, a pulpit to promote books to a ready-made potential readership. It’s an ability to sell books because of who you are or who you can reach.
McAlexander says she was fortunate to find a publisher relatively quickly but cautions new writers to be ready for hard work and rejections. “You have to be thick-skinned and continue to send your work out.”
Poet Dana Wildsmith, 67, also finds inspiration from family and life experience. Residing on an 1880s farm acquired by her family in the early 1970s, Wildsmith is following in the footsteps of her parents. She’s preserving the original buildings and a variety of native plant species to connect with nature and a fading way of life.
It is from this place and her memories that Wildsmith draws the images and emotions that are embedded in her work. One Light,a collection of poetry, recounts her experience of caring for her mother during the six years she declined from dementia. “Her one desire was to stay here,” says Wildsmith. “She did until her last 24 hours.”
Finding satisfaction in self-expression, Wildsmith encourages others to do the same. It’s never too late to start, she says, “As soon as you have something, start submitting. You need to build a history of publishing. Follow a publisher’s directions closely and do exactly what they say.”
One of the biggest mistakes a novice writer can make, says Wildsmith, is failing to use an editor. “Everyone needs an editor even if you self-publish. You can’t see your own mistakes.”
She also recommends conferences and networking. “You learn so much from conferences. There is a huge exchange of ideas and a synergism that comes from other writers.” Networking, she says is invaluable. “Don’t be afraid to call on anyone you know.”
Fellow poet Clela Reed, 72, agrees that workshops and conferences are great places to connect and test drive your writing. “Find a group in your genre. Great critics can make suggestions that lead to better publications.”
Reed is experiencing an impressive year, publishing three collections of poetry with three different publishers. Her latest is the award-winning Silk, a group of poems that explores the history, function and essence of the versatile fiber. Considering herself a poet with missionary zeal, Reed believes everyone needs poetry, “It enriches your life,” she says. The immediacy, brevity and intensity of poetry are what attract Reed to the genre. “It’s like a little jewel.”
She says it’s the point at which you connect with a reader that makes writing satisfying. “You’re crafting for someone else to get it, to resonate with someone. Success to me is if they get it.”
A former teacher, Reed began submitting and publishing poetry collections as a second career after retirement. Her first collection, Dancing on the Rim, was published in 2009 during a time when she was dealing with the loss of several people dear to her.
Reed encourages new writers to read constantly in their genre. “Read what is being published. Look at writing similar to yours. Research where things are being published.” Like Wildsmith, Reed agrees writers must follow the rules. “Pay attention. Editors get thousands of submissions. They are looking for ways to disqualify you.”
Sheila Hudson, 71, is the author of several books of both fiction and nonfiction, including 14 mysteries from the Thursday Club Mysteriesseries and the Ministry Can Be Murderseries. Hudson, who has been involved with the Southeastern Writers Association (SWA) for 25 years is a great believer in networking.
“Get a writer friend/buddy to help you edit. Find someone who will support you, not one who will tell you how great your work is – someone who will tell you, ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ Join a writing group,” Hudson says. “Not all of them are good but find one where you can get some constructive advice.”
As a seasoned author she offers new writers the same advice she was given about networking: “Start small and local and enlarge your circle.”
Hudson says that her writers group, the SWA, is a lot like a family and their conference an annual reunion. Held each year at Epworth by the Sea on St. Simons Island, the SWA is one of the most well-respected writers’ conferences in the region. “It’s like camp. We eat together, stay together, hang out. It’s about access to other authors as well as classes.”
A recent endeavor for Hudson has been publishing with ACX, which is Amazon’s audible arm. Audible, says Hudson, offers authors and editors many options.
“Audible has really been good to me. I’ve met a lot of friends through them. I signed up and interviewed narrators for my books. I was given choices as to sex, ethnicity, and traits that I wanted.” Currently, Patricia Porter from San Antonio is narrating Hudson’s works.
Hudson’s success is the result of hard work and she urges writers to persevere and have realistic expectations. “You have to be thick skinned. I won an award once for the most rejections in a year.” Hudson is making up for those rejections. This summer she has two releases, Bright Ideas to Make Your Writing Sparkleand Murder in the Classic City. “You’re not going to get rich unless you’re a biggy, but you can have a good time and enjoy it.”
Mystery writer Hal Schick, 71,wanted to have some fun when he wrote Dime Detectivea story set in 1944 Los Angles, which released in June.
“My plan was to write an original novel using the clichés, slang and vernacular of the era. I wanted to have fun with the detective genre. I wanted to create a character that makes mistakes.”
Schick confesses that the publishing side of a novel involves a lot of tedious work that is anything but fun. Beyond the hours researching and writing, Schick found publishing to be a long, difficult process.
“A lot of time is spent editing. You have to establish a routine and the difficult part is finding a publisher and marketing.”
Schick echoes the thoughts of fellow writers when he says dealing with rejections is also a hazard of publishing. “It’s discouraging but you can’t give up.”
When he hits a roadblock in his writing, Schick says he finds inspiration in reading his favorite writers. “If I wake up and find it’s not a good day for writing, I read other detective stories to get back into the rhythm. There’s nothing better than reading Raymond Chandler to get back into the rhythm of a detective story.”
Schick agrees that finding a fellow writer to help is important to improving the craft. Howard Berk, Distinguished Writer in Residence at UGA, was a mentor to him, “giving me advice on how to weave subplots into the story, introduce more mysteries and incorporate a surprise ending. Following his suggestions, I improved my novel in countless ways, but he died before learning he’d helped me get published. I couldn’t have done it without him. The novel is dedicated to his memory.”
Fellow mystery writer, Betty Jean Craige also got some encouragement from a distinguished writer. Although Craige, 73, had a successful career at UGA, and had published in academic journals and later, newspapers, award winning author Terry Kay suggested she try her hand at fiction. Following his advice, Craige wrote the Witherston Murder Mysteryseries set in a fictional town in the Georgia mountains. The fourth volume in that series, Saxxons in Witherstonis releasing this month.
Not a frivolous pursuit, Craige uses each mystery as a backdrop for an issue that is important to her. The environment, civil rights and Native American heritage are all themes that appear in this series.
Inspired by her African Grey parrot, Cosmo, Craige wrote a newspaper column explaining the bird’s education and the human/animal relationship. This experience, she says, taught her to write for a broad audience so that more people could understand her message. She transferred that skill to novel writing.
On the business side, Craige advises writers to always submit a manuscript that is in excellent shape. Having a submission that is not only creative and well-crafted, but also technically accurate and in good form is important to “getting in the stable. Once a publisher trusts you to write a good book, then it’s easier to get accepted.”
Craige also recommends that writers understand the amount of work involved. “You need to be totally compelled. It takes a whole lot of hours.”
An agent’s advice
“Because of modern technology,” says literary agent Caroline George, “writers have countless options for publication. They can self-publish, collaborate with indie publishers or go the traditional route—query agents and hope to eventually sign contracts with publishing houses. However, not all of these options guarantee that books will reach store shelves.”
To help authors have the best chance at success George recommends building a platform as a first step to marketing.
“Platform is vital to an author’s success, especially for nonfiction authors. Your writing matters, but to capture an agent’s or editor’s attention long enough to show your skills, you need a development platform, i.e. social media, speaking events, organizational connections, endorsements. They want to sign authors who show potential for career growth.”
While most writers view writing as a craft, George says writers must be involved in the business side.
“To sign with a large publisher, authors need literary agents, which requires them to either query or pitch at conferences. Along with an increased timeline, traditional publishing also requires authors to participate in and often lead marketing endeavors.” More tips: Develop a personal brand; have a website and mailing list; use social media.
“Do your research! Professionalism will help you stand out. Know the current market.”
The term book club often conjures thoughts of grandmothers and spinsters of yesteryear, chatting over tea and cookies. Popular movies have promoted it as a “woman thing.” But the truth is, the Athens area is rich with book clubs for all ages, all interests, and both sexes. In fact, book clubs have evolved over the last couple of decades into quite the trend, with one estimation that some 5 million Americans belong to one or more book clubs. They are a popular way to socialize and meet a wide variety of people.
One place to start is the public library. Currently, the Athens-Clarke County Library sponsors five book clubs. The clubs’ interests range from African American culture to post-apocalyptic chaos. Most library branches have at least one club that meets there.
While each library club has its own specifics, anyone is welcome at any time, and joining is as easy as attending. Most book clubs discuss a specific title that all members read in advance of the meeting. However, others are more topic and genre based.
Trudi Green, assistant director of public services for the Athens-Clarke County Library, says that they are always welcoming new members to their variety of book clubs. “Book clubs are a great way to get reading outside of your comfort zone. You’ll read books you might never read on your own,” says Green. It’s a way to stretch your mind and stay sharp.”
Currently, the Library is participating in The Great American Read, an eight-part television series and multi-platform initiative sponsored by PBS that celebrates the joy of reading and the books we love. Athens is one of 50 libraries nationwide to be selected to receive a grant to host events related to the program.
Each of the library’s five book clubs will lead discussions based on titles featured on The Great American Readlist. Later in the fall, the library will partner with local nonprofit Rabbit Box for a special storytelling event associated with the series. Members of the community are invited to the library to vote on their favorite books, and The Great American Readwill culminate with a finale that reveals America’s best-loved novel as chosen by the American public.
Bookstores host clubs too
Libraries aren’t the only place to join other readers. While a newly opened book store on Prince Avenue may be Normal, it’s anything but ordinary. Normal Books is interested in more than just selling covers and opens its doors to a variety of book clubs and activities. They sponsor four book clubs and invite people to bring in ideas for new genre-based groups.
“Book clubs build a great sense of community and comradery,” says owner Mary Eaton. “In the last decade, we’ve gotten out of touch with being face-to-face with people – meeting to discuss books is grounding.”
Eaton, who opened the store with her husband Chris, strives to create a welcoming atmosphere. “Our building has character and it offers great ambience for people who love being around books. It’s a great place to come together and get together. And I just enjoy having people come here.”
Normal also offers a few twists to the typical read and discuss platform. Open Mic Night, in cooperation with the Athens Writers Association, provides a platform for writers to socialize and share their work. Likewise, Reading Between the Wines, is as much a social gathering as a book club.
Those who want to start a new club can call or come by the shop for more information. Normal provides the space and advertising for the clubs. Joining an ongoing club is as easy as showing up. The shop is also pet-friendly.
Avid Bookshop is a well-known and popular store for booklovers, and in fact, just won the Chamber’s 2018 Small Business of the Year. Opened in 2011 and now with two locations, Prince Avenue and Five Points, Avid currently hosts five book clubs that are open to all, ranging from the Hot Fiction club to the Social Justice club.
“Book clubs are a great way to make friends and hear different perspectives. People draw on their own life experience so discussing books is a lesson in empathy and listening as much as it is about sharing,” says Avid’s Will Walton.
“It’s also a good excuse to read,” he says. “You’re not reading in a vacuum. You know you’re going to be sharing, so even if you don’t like a book it keeps you going.”
Not just for women
If you’re a guy and joining a book club sounds a little tame, maybe starting a Literary Domination Society is a better option. Touted as book clubs for tough guys, a PBS Newshour commentator suggests first, not calling it a book club. Tongue-in-check, he outlines seven special rules. Google Literary Domination Society and get a chuckle.
Athenian Dick Hudson is a member of an all-male book club that’s been reading and discussing books since 1999. Its monthly selections focus on non-fiction works about history, science, literature, the arts, and government.
“It allows us to broaden our perspectives and understanding of the world, both through the variety of books chosen and the discussions that follow,” says Hudson. Some of our members have expertise in a book’s subject so they can lead discussion, which often prompts input and added insights from the others.”
Beyond the social aspects of the book club meetings, Hudson appreciates that it is one more way to keep his mind sharp and active. Amen to that!
Joining a book club is easy and if there’s not one to suit, starting one is simple, too.
Here are the existing clubs at the main Athens library: African American Book Discussion Group; Talking About Books; Last Monday Book Discussion Group; After the End Adult Book Discussion Group; For the Philo of Philosophy. Other branches have clubs also.
Kelly Capers is a freelance writer living in Oglethorpe County