Contest Winners

The Little Truths Writing Contest – Who Won?

by Susan Henderson on March 14, 2008

Oronte Churm has posted the winners of the Little Truths Writing Contest over at his superblog. Click through and see if you’ve won! Churm and I want to thank all of you who entered the contest and visited to read over the last two weeks. It was great fun!

Here is a photo of the Little Truths judge, Steve Davenport:

litpark mcsweeney's little truths writing contest steve davenport

Many thanks, Steve, for all your work and the great, quirky comments you left on the winning entries! Again, to all of you, you rock, and it was a pleasure to read your work!


Oronte Churm (and a CONTEST)

by Susan Henderson on February 20, 2008

Agents and publishers interested in contacting my guest or reading his manuscripts:

My guest today is not the only one hanging around LitPark who goes by a pen name. But today he is stepping out from behind the mask.

If you are a regular reader of McSweeney’s, you know Oronte Churm as the author of “Dispatches from Adjunct Faculty at a Large State University” – an anatomy of being a teacher, writer, husband, father, and son. In short, it’s about a whole life’s education, which never ends. Churm is also busy writing for Inside Higher Ed, where he keeps a creative nonfiction superblog called The Education of Oronte Churm. He’s been a contributing editor for Adjunct Advocate, writes for World’s Fair, a Seed Media science site, and has a piece in Mountain Man Dance Moves (McSweeney’s Books).

So what’s the story of the guy behind the pen name? Well, if you click over to McSweeney’s, you can read the beautiful essay in which he reveals his true identity. It’s an essay that made me tear up again and again because it touches on almost everything I’ve been struggling with these past many months as I’ve tried to edit my book. That he manages to weave stories of ghosts, his dying father, porn star Ron Jeremy, and salvation into this one story shows why he’s my kind of writer and my kind of friend. I hope you’ll find the time to read it.

But first, while you’re here, I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Churm, who is also my friend, John Griswold.


What made you use the name, Oronte Churm, to begin with? Why didn’t you want to use your real name?

John Warner, the editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, asked me in 2005 to write a column about being an adjunct lecturer at Illinois. He said I could use a pen name, since I’m not on the tenure track and don’t have that job protection. Neither of us knew, I think, what I might have to say, or whether anyone would frown on it. But I was also trying to finish a literary novel and wanted to keep humorous bits separate from the rest of my intended writing life. As it turned out, I’ve tried to do more with my dispatches than I think John expected from me—never waste a good publishing platform, my mother always said—and he’s been terrifically supportive of their oddity.

The pen name is a combination of two characters’ names from the Henry James story “The Real Thing,” which I was teaching at the time. I liked the sound of them together; Oronte is floral and Churm is muddy, a comical combination. The story questions who or what is “real” in art and life, and those questions seemed pertinent to my situation as college teacher and writer.

You allude, in the McSweeney’s piece, to some people being angry about the pen name. Can you say more about that?

In a dispatch called “On Apophasis,” I revealed that an editor at a big-time publication told me, nearly apropos of nothing, that if I wrote for them I couldn’t talk about the Iraq War. I heard later that her boss, the editor-in-chief, was quite upset with me and felt it wasn’t cricket to hide, as he viewed it, behind an assumed name. It made me wonder what satisfactions he imagined having, if only I’d used my real name. Duel at dawn? Trying to get me fired? Standing in my front yard yelling epithets? He and his shop all knew my real name anyway.

To me, a pen name can easily be the same as a surname, even if it doesn’t speak to geography. If the writing is clear, thoughtful, or even frequent, the “real” aspect of the writer’s being will out. Besides, even pseudonymous writers can be denounced, and most have e-mail. Writers have never been as accessible as they are now.

Talk to me about how it feels behind the mask.

It feels great. It feels like bunnies, like lilacs on a spring night, like good whisky and smiting one’s enemies. It feels like the 1938 Carnegie Hall performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing” with the tom-tom beat of Gene Krupa and an unexpected and miraculous piano solo by Jess Stacy. Step back here a minute, Friend, and I’ll show you what it feels like.

Any downside to wearing a mask?

We all wear masks and change them according to the social situation. Usually we feel each to be “true,” even when one contradicts the one before it. A pen name is no different. I see nothing unusual about being Churm; it’s simply my persona for a certain context and is invisible to me at that moment.

I guess you won’t truly be able to answer this till you’re officially outed and start getting feedback, but do you expect you’ll feel free? Naked? Like Oz when he’s discovered behind the curtain, and people think, Oh, I thought he’d be bigger?

I’m actually a giant of a man, lewd and bulging, but comfortable in my existential skin. If someone can’t handle my nakedness, he can always avert his gaze.

Why now? What has happened or changed in you that you would rather be John than Oronte?

As Churm, I’ve amassed considerable nonfiction work, and I’m proud of it. I want to unify my two writing lives, if only to aid in further publishing and getting a tenure-track gig. Anyway, I’ll continue to write as Oronte in several venues, including at Inside Higher Ed, where I’m signing on for another year. Churm, c’est moi.

Come on over to my place, The Education of Oronte Churm, and read more on pen names in the Digital Age.

Want to say anything about McSweeney’s, or some of the other folks you’ve written for?

I can’t say enough about the impeccable taste, keen intelligence, and boyish good looks of Internet Tendency editor John Warner. Also, I had dinner with Dave Eggers once, and I’ll just say this: The man can eat the hell out of some chocolate cake.

I’m very grateful to McSweeney’s for everything, including introductions to some great good friends and opportunities for other work. The dispatches led to my being a contributing editor at Adjunct Advocate, and a year ago Inside Higher Ed hired me as their first Blog U. writer. (There are now five of us.) IHE’s editors, Doug Lederman and Scott Jaschik, are incredibly supportive and have also let me try anything I wished, from an interview with a Special Forces chaplain to long essays about my emotional connections to Vietnam, where I was born. Somewhere in there I talk about teaching, too. Lately I’ve been hanging with the scientists at The World’s Fair, a Seed Media science blog. I ask them if they intend to blow up the world, and they tell me I’m funny.

I’ll put it out there that I love McSweeney’s, too. There’s a good many people over there I consider to be like family. But let’s get to the contest because I know my readers want to win this money so they can buy more books.


The Little Truths Writing Contest:

Your submissions to the contest go right here in the comments section. Enter as often as you like!

In honor of Oronte Churm’s revelation of his real name and previously undisclosed location, his online friends are sponsoring a short writing contest with big-time prizes.

Write a creative nonfiction story or essay, 75 (seventy-five!) words or less, in which someone reveals something, is unmasked, or comes to a new understanding. (This is most of literature, by the way.) We call these “little truths.”

Our friends at Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction permit submissions ten times longer, but we like their standards for our contest:

Clear, concise, vivid prose—memoir, journalism, or lyric all welcome. Memoir and narrative are best told with scenes and detail, not explanation, and even the personal essay form benefits from image and sensory language. Bernard Cooper suggests that short nonfiction ‘requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.’ We agree.

Here is a little truth, exactly 75 words long, from Somerset Maugham’s notebooks:

We were sitting in a wine shop in Capri when Norman came in and told us T. was about to shoot himself. We were startled. Norman said that when T. told him what he was going to do he could think of no reason to dissuade him. “Are you going to do anything about it?” I asked. “No.” He ordered a bottle of wine and sat down to await the sound of the shot.

Mr. Maugham is currently dead and therefore ineligible to win this contest, so send your own little truth along. Enter as many times as you like! Post entries as comments to this posting by midnight, Friday, March 7, 2008. By entering the contest, you agree to allow Inside Higher Ed to re-post and archive your entry at their site, though all rights revert to you.

Entries can be funny, sad, ironic, hip, morose, hopeful, or anything else you want them to be, but they should be both true and True.

The judge:

The judge will be Steve Davenport, Creative Nonfiction Editor of Ninth Letter, and Associate Director of the Creative Writing Program at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Steve’s first book, Uncontainable Noise, won Pavement Saw Press’s Transcontinental Poetry Prize. More importantly, he may be the basis for the character-foil “Rory” in Churm’s dispatches and blog.

The prizes:

Grand Prize is a $100 VISA Gift Card, courtesy of Inside Higher Ed, your online source for news, opinion and jobs for all of higher education, and the proud home of The Education of Oronte Churm.

First Prize is courtesy of McSweeney’s: A $50 gift certificate to the McSweeney’s store, where you can find everything from magazine subscriptions to books to tattoos to the original circus t-shirt.

Second Prize is courtesy of featherproof books, a young indie publisher based in Chicago, which publishes perfect-bound, full-length works of fiction and downloadable mini-books. Get two featherproof novels of your choice and one of their “reusable, rewritable, rarely regrettable” letterTees.

Third Prize (two to be given) is the debut album of Les Chauds Lapins, Parlez-moi d’amour, courtesy of the hot little bunnies themselves.

Winners will be announced at The Education of Oronte Churm the week of March 10th.

Good luck!


Bio for the man behind Oronte Churm:

John Griswold’s short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in journals such as War, Literature & the Arts, Mediphors, Palo Alto Review, and Natural Bridge, which nominated his story “Transcript of a World War I Veteran’s Narrative” for the 2001 Pushcart Prize. A piece on the Midwest will appear in the next issue of Ninth Letter, and an appreciation of poet John Balaban in the next issue of War, Literature & the Arts.

John was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and grew up in Southern Illinois. He served as an Army deep-sea diver, earned a BA in English and philosophy, and worked as a corporate writer for several years. His MFA is from the University of Miami, Coral Gables, and since 2000 he’s taught undergrads creative writing and literature at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

His novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a collection of essays based on the dispatches are under submission to publishers. He’s currently working on a memoir, tentatively titled How We Become Men.

Agents and publishers interested in contacting my guest or reading his manuscripts:


David Habbin, Robin Lerner

by Susan Henderson on January 9, 2008

Today I want to introduce you to David Habbin, a tenor with one foot in opera and the other in pop, and Robin Lerner, a songwriter who stuck with her notebooks full of poetry and lyrics until she found herself writing for singers like Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Luther Vandross, Bette Midler, and Patti LaBelle. These two combined their talents (along with music composer, Tommy Lee James) to create the beautiful and haunting “Morning Song,” which will be the focus of this interview.

Right now, the song is only a demo, but you can listen to it by clicking the link beside the photograph. And, FYI, the more you click on it and give it high ratings, the sooner it will be available!

david habbin robin lerner morning song litpark Click here to play “Morning Song” on YouTube.

I find collaboration a fascinating business, and I hope you will, too, as you hear about the origin of these lyrics, the way one artist impacts another, and the power of the internet to bring these two together.

Now, if you’re a regular here, you know very well who I’m going to talk to first… the writer! Behind most of the actors and singers you love is a writer with a drawer full of rejection slips and a many-decade journey to become the unknown that (s)he is today. Time to bring Robin into the spotlight!


(c)Robin Lerner all rights reserved

When you write a song, do the words come first, or the music?

These days, the music usually comes first. When I first started out, it was more lyrics and then the music. But since I collaborate with other songwriters so much now, we always start with the music. Sometimes I’ll have an idea for a chorus, a title or a phrase – or maybe even a sketch of a verse – and we’ll weave a chorus around that – but for the most part, it’s music first.

Describe your life as a songwriter before you made it.

It depends really how you define “made it.” It took me twenty years to be able to make a living by songwriting alone, which is how I define it. Before that I always did other things to earn money. In the early days, I had many “day jobs” when I lived in New York City. I worked mostly as a production coordinator for music (jingles) or film production companies. I’d do my songwriting at night, after hours, or on the weekends. It was what I’d look forward to every night after work. Sitting at the piano and writing songs into the wee hours. I’d get home from work at around 7:00 or 8:00 pm and work on music until 1:00 or 2:00 am. Then back at my day job by 9:00 or 10:00 the next morning. And lots of late nights at the music clubs in New York when I wasn’t at home writing – which were always inspiring.

When I moved to LA in 1986, I worked mostly as a screenwriter, writing animated musicals for kids for different film studios (which I often got to write the songs for as well). I’d gone to film school at NYU so that was my background. And in the early, early, days in New York I worked as a waitress, typist, secretary, receptionist… Anything I could to earn money. I even drove a horse and carriage in Central Park one summer for a week. My rent and expenses were very low (believe it or not) when I lived in New York. I had it down to a science, how to survive on $1200 a month.

What doors were opened for you that changed your career, that took you toward success? And did you recognize the change that was coming?

Really, the most important door that opened for me was when my good friend Doc Pomus encouraged me to pursue only songwriting and give up singing. I had never really separated the two before, and he very kindly, at the beginning of our friendship, indicated that I might be better served, pursuing a career solely as a songwriter for other singers, whereas before that had never occurred to me. He had, at a certain point in his own career given up singing (although he was actually a very well known and revered blues singer for a long time before actually stepping into his songwriting shoes, and had been performing and recording for quite some time, unlike me), and I took his advice to heart. He turned me onto my first publisher, Marv Goodman, at ATV music in New York, who in turn, hooked me up with his many staff writers, and before long, I was getting cuts with other artists.

Did that originally feel like a blow to be told to give up singing and only focus on songwriting? Was there a period of loss or of fighting his advice to you? And what has happened to your singing? Did you find an outlet for it, even though it’s no longer a career focus?

Regarding the singing, it was a bit of a blow, actually. It wasn’t something I was really trying to pursue professionally. I didn’t perform in clubs or anything. I wasn’t trying to get a record deal. I was mostly just writing and singing my own songs in college (writing end titles to friend’s movies as favors, as I was in film school) and things like that.

My voice had always been a vehicle to showcase my songs to other people as it was very expensive in those days to record demos and hire singers, so I was always singing and accompanying myself on guitar or piano. It was before everyone had computers and pro tools. You actually had to go into a studio and record with a band to tape! (What a concept…) The unfortunate thing was, I did become incredibly self-conscious about singing in public for years. To this day I don’t perform in songwriter in the rounds, or if someone asks me to get up at a club, I won’t do it. It’s really stupid as I sing all the time while writing with other songwriters and my singing doesn’t bother me (or anyone else) at all, for that matter. Plus, I sing all of the rough vocals for all of the singers I hire to sing my demos in the studio, and it’s still really my primary songwriting instrument for writing melodies.

But to be honest, I’m not a great singer. And I think, by telling me to forget about the singing, Doc was trying to save me years of pain. As a singer, he’d been incredibly let down by the record business and I think he never really recovered. He must have thought that being a singer was something I was pursuing and he tried, in his own way, to spare me the indignity of it all.

How does a song go from your notebook to a singer? How do you present a song to a singer? And what happens to those songs you love that are still in the notebook?

Lyrics in a notebook become a song in the songwriting process. The song then gets demoed, and that said song gets presented to a said singer through a publisher and an A & R person at a label, or perhaps, a manager. The songs you love that are still in the notebook have the opportunity throughout time to become incorporated at any given moment, into another song.

I have a stack of books that I lug around with me to every writing appointment to this day with notes, and lyrics, from up to 10 years ago. My baggage, my luggage, has become a standing joke amongst my peers. That I cannot travel without this heavy load of books. We always joke that my Indian name is “Walks with Baggage.” One would think in the age of computers I could somehow import it all onto a disk or something but no… I have to have the tactile… The actual notebooks at hand… Always… While writing… I flip through them as if an idea will leap forth. And the funny thing is… It does… I have some ideas from a long time ago, and others from not so long ago, and it doesn’t matter. Everything gets used eventually.

Do you notice any trends in the songs you’ve written that have had the most commercial success?

Well, I guess one could say I’m best known for my “unusual” lyrics. Songs like “This Kiss” and “She’s My Kind of Rain” were a bit off the beaten path for country music at the time. “It’s centrifugal motion, it’s perpetual bliss, it’s that pivotal moment”… I don’t think country music had ever seen that many syllables strung together like that in a country chorus before… We definitely started a trend. And in some hardcore country music people’s minds, it wasn’t necessarily a good trend.

She’s the sunset’s shadow… she’s like Rembrandt’s light… she’s the history that’s made at night.” That’s pretty different for country music, too!

It was really a miracle that the song ever got on the radio at all. And, of course after that, there were lots of imitators. Martina McBride recorded a song straight after Faith, called “I Love You” that tried to replicate what we had done in “This Kiss.” I think it went to number one as well. I think because I started as a poet in New York I tend to be a poetic lyricist. The songs I’ve had the most success with were all unique lyrically. Also I love lots of syllables. My very first single on the radio in 1983, by Jermaine Jackson, was called “Sweetest Sweetest.” It was an R & B song with lots of syllables.

Tell me about Morning Song. How did this song come to you? Show me a little bit about the process of writing it. Did an image come first? A particular line? The chorus?

I was in Nashville writing with one of my favorite collaborators, Tommy Lee James. We’ve been co-writing for around ten years and have had lots of cuts together. Even a # 1 with Tim McGraw (“She’s My Kind Of Rain“). Anyway, we’d been asked to write something for Josh Groban and so we were messing around on the piano with some ideas. Tommy wrote this bit of music which eventually became the music to “Morning Song“. I’d been watching the news coverage of the Natalee Holloway disappearance in my hotel, and being a mother of a teenage girl at the time, I was riveted. I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Tommy had two daughters as well, and I just identified so much with Beth, Natalee’s mother – the lyrics just poured forth – I wanted to give her something. Something that would make her feel better. A coping mechanism. A ray of hope. Some solace. And that was the best I could come up with. Tommy and I have a very unique writing process. He rarely questions me. We sit in the room together while he runs through a litany of musical ideas, all of which I assiduously tape. I then go back to my hotel room, light a ton of candles, and see which bit of music inspires me. Then a lyric, usually presents itself in its entirety (over the course of an afternoon) at which point I run back to Tommy and say, “what do you think?” He almost never asks me to change one word (which probably accounts for my repeat business with him) and then we just demo the song and have our people run with it. “Morning Song” was really another way of saying “Mourning Song”. But I thought it was too sad to call it that.

Do you know if Natalee Holloway’s mother has heard this song? And if so, has she responded?

I don’t think Natalee’s mother has heard “Morning Song“, no…

Hmm. Maybe she’ll stumble across this interview and get quite the surprise.

I’d love to hear about the first time you and David came together with this song.

David and I have actually never met. He lives in England and I live in Los Angeles. It was through his representatives that the song was presented to him.

Any words about David’s interpretation of your song, and how it is to hear him sing it?

David sings it beautifully and I love that he was moved enough by the music and lyrics to tackle it. Obviously, it is a song about loss, and resonates on that level with anyone who has experienced profound grief around that particular subject.

Do you strictly write for individual singers now? What happened to that original interest in screenwriting?

The last screenplay I wrote was called “Princess of Thieves” and starred Keira Knightly. It aired in 2001 on ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney.” It was the only screenplay I’d ever written that wasn’t a musical.

For the last two years I’ve been working on a musical for the stage, based on the movie “Officer and a Gentleman.” We just had our first staged reading of it in April of this year in New York and it went very well. We plan to workshop it in Melbourne in the fall of 2008 and open in the fall of 2009.

As for country and pop songwriting, I tend to write more with artists for their albums these days. I wrote a lot of Jennifer Hanson‘s new album with her in Nashville (it’s being released early next year on the universal south label) and also some songs with an artist from the UK named Ben Montague that I have hopes for.

I’ll look for them! Any inspiration for struggling artists and writers?



Wow. I sure do like Robin! And I hope my LitPark readers will join me in paying more attention to writers behind the songs we love.

Okay, so now we have lyrics (and a melody by Tommy Lee James). Let’s meet the (dare I say, delicious?) singer and see what happens on his end.


(c)David Habbin all rights reserved

After being a part of a successful group like Amici, what part of being a solo artist is the most exciting or appealing to you?

After being one of a group there are so many ways that the whole process would differ but I think one of the most appealing to me would be that the whole body of work on an album represents you and you alone. What I mean is that there is nowhere to hide – you are solely accountable for every song choice and every performance. It’s a more vulnerable feeling, of course, but ultimately I think it’s a more invigorating and satisfying feeling.

Any trepidation about being alone on stage or recording alone?

No, I don’t have any feelings of trepidation about being on stage alone and I love being in the studio so I relish not having to go for a ‘tea-break’ during someone else’s vocal session.

Any areas specifically that you want to pursue?

As a music fan I am still moved by so many styles of music from Led Zeppelin to Vivaldi so there’s no shortage of inspiration. That said though, I don’t want to be weird and wonderful for the sake of it. It’s a case of finding material that sits well with the voice. All I really hope for as a singer is to make a recording that takes a listener on an emotional journey.

In answer to your question though, I look forward to exploring the ‘pop’ genre as well as re-interpreting music from the classical canon. Original music is the lifeblood of the industry so I would love to record an album of entirely original material, and to tour, of course. The interaction you have with the audience when performing a live concert is extraordinary and exhilarating, and I love that. But I also want to continue to pursue my acting on stage and in film and television. I am planning a visit to the States in the near future to continue to explore further avenues.

Tell me the process of people bringing songs to you, and how you go about choosing them?

When choosing a song I simply let a piece run by me a couple of times and, if I begin to feel a connection, it’s an obvious call to make. It may sound over simple but I just have to ‘like it’. At this stage it’s not just a case of people bringing songs to me, it is also me and those working with me, seeking out material that I think may suit my delivery and then asking the songwriters if they would allow me to make a demo of their song. Songs have also been presented to me by songwriters at varying stages in their own careers. The remarkable thing about having Internet these days and being contactable through sites like MySpace and YouTube is that you can be in touch with so many varied artists around the globe and information can be transferred in a matter of seconds. So the whole process of sourcing new material is so much easier than in the past.

I understand that you and Robin have never even met.

No. We haven’t. But again, that’s the great thing about the Internet. The tracks were sent to me “electronically.” I have recently done a demo of another lovely song that Robin wrote the lyrics to, that we will be putting up soon, where I did the vocal in London, and the producer Stephan Oberhoff, who is also one of the co-writers along with another great American songwriter named Marsha Malamet, is doing the final mix in his studio in Los Angeles.

Fascinating how the internet has facilitated such an international collaboration! Can you tell me something about how you take something as personal as a song and someone else’s lyrics and make it your own?

This process only really happens for me when I begin to demo a song. Sometimes you may like a song but when you try to sing it, it just doesn’t happen for you with your voice so you may put it to one side. As far as “making it your own” is concerned, that’s one of the ‘magical’ parts of the process for me. The voice responds and moulds itself to the words and the tune and you find yourself thinking, “Oh yeah, so THAT’S what I would bring to this song.” To use an overused phrase, I guess it’s an “organic process” in this respect.

What was it about Robin’s song that first struck you?

That’s easy to answer. The first thing that struck me about Robin’s song was the melody of the chorus. It’s got desolation… it’s got yearning… it’s got pain… it’s got resignation. It’s poignant and sparse and beautiful. I initially thought it was a guy singing about losing a partner.

I know you have your own story of grief, having lost your infant sister. Do you remember anything about your family’s grief and how they moved through such an unimaginable loss? I also wonder if you have a sense about how you are different because of what your family went through?

By the time I was cognizant of what my family had endured through losing a child some years had passed so the rawness was over. I imagine that having two other children was a help to my folks but my mother often says that, despite being a cliché, it’s really only time that heals.

I think my life has been affected by what happened by making us a close-knit family. I have an older sister and I think that both she and my mother have been highly protective of me as the younger sibling. On a more ethereal level I perceive that feeling that my sister is “out there somewhere” has given me some sense of spirituality that I may not otherwise have felt.

To see David Habbin sing with Amici, click here, and then, if you’re so moved, leave a comment!

How did the idea for the “Morning Song” writing competition come about that Charles Shaughnessy is sponsoring?

When I first put this rough demo of “Morning Song” on my MySpace page, I loved the song, but wanted to see how my fans would react to a different musical direction than what they were used to from me. After learning what Robin’s intention was behind her beautiful and moving lyrics, I very much wanted people to not only hear the song, but to know the story behind Robin’s lyrics.We then thought about taking the demo of the song into one more dimension of media, just as a test. Photography is a hobby of mine, so we decided to do a slideshow interpretation of the song, with mostly photographs of mine, as a combination of my memories, and the story behind Robin’s lyrics, done as a backdrop to the vocal. Then we put the video up on my YouTube page and waited to see what happened.People began to write to me to tell me how the song, the lyrics and the photos had affected them and how they were relating in different ways from experiences in their own lives.Charlie is a friend and has been an avid supporter and proponent of my music and my venture into solo projects. I had told him about this, and he decided to write about the video on his MySpace blog.He has held writing competitions on his website for many years. We were all getting such touching and heartfelt responses, that he decided to take this idea one step further.What he felt was that “The greatest gift that we do get from loss is that it leaves us looking for and finding the good, the positive, the strength and the ability to move forward in spite of everything. When we lose something or someone valuable in our lives, that often results in being the one thing that inspires us to recommit ourselves to living life to the fullest.”

Morning Song” is haunting with a very sad subject matter, so we were honoured that he wanted to use the video I did of “Morning Song” and the story behind Robin’s lyrics, as an inspiration for a writing competition on his website, that emphasized how we do turn sad things around in our lives, how something positive can come from loss.

I’d very much like to include my readers in the writing contest inspired by “Morning Song.” What are the rules and when is the deadline?

That would be great, Sue. Thank you and thanks for your interest and the interview. It was a pleasure to be here. You can find all the written rules here and watch a little video explanation that Charlie and I did “together” about the contest here. The deadline to enter is Sunday, 17 February.


David’s bio:
(c)David Habbin all rights reserved

Though DAVID HABBIN now calls London home, this critically renowned tenor hails from Ringwood, England. David’s musical career began with him performing and writing in rock and pop bands. That came to an end when he went to study musical theatre and acting at the Mountview Theatre School in London, while simultaneously studying vocal training with International operatic tenor Jon Andrew.

David received critical acclaim when he performed over 600 times in the role of Tony in West Side Story, directed by legendary librettist, playwright and co-creator of West Side Story Arthur Laurents, in the original West End UK revival and on the tour.

He then continued his operatic training at the Royal Northern College of Music. He has performed as Marius and Combeferre in Les Miserables at the Palace Theatre, acted in a British feature film and performed with various opera companies in the United Kingdom in roles such as Alfredo in La Traviata, Ernesto in Don Pasquale, Almaviva in The Barber of Seville, Alfred in Die Fledermaus, Fenton in Falstaff and Lt. Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly.

In 2002, David became a founding member in the internationally acclaimed classical pop crossover group Amici Forever. This multi platinum, multimillion selling group, that have enchanted people from around the world with their inspiring and unique sound, scored phenomenal success with their debut CD The Opera Band and their follow up CD Defined, along with impressively received tours in Australia, New Zealand and the UK.

With Amici, David has performed in many charity concerts including “The Prince’s Trust” for HRH The Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle, “The Make a Wish Foundation” at Blenheim Palace, and appeared on “The Jerry Lewis Telethon for Muscular Dystrophy” in Los Angeles. They were invited by the Queen to sing at the Royal Albert Hall for ‘The Festival of Remembrance,’ performed in front of 500 million viewers at the Champions’ League final at Old Trafford, supported Dame Shirley Bassey on her 50th anniversary stadium tour, performed on the live broadcast of the Miss World 2006 finals which was broadcast to over 2.5 billion people worldwide and sang for Prince Harry at Berkshire’s Prince’s Polo.

To celebrate the return of The Olympic Games to Greece after 100 years, BBC TV commissioned a new piece that was used throughout the entire BBC Sport coverage of The Olympics called ‘Olympia: Eternal Flame‘ recorded by Amici and performed before 70,000 in June of 2004 in The Mall to close the Athens Olympic Torch Ceremony.

Amici was also honoured to be the act chosen to perform at the World Premiere Party of the film, Phantom of the Opera for 1800 VIP and celebrity guests including Andrew Lloyd Webber and the cast of the film and headlined the ‘Luciano Pavarotti Tribute’ British Red Cross Royal Gala Ball. In 2005, with Amici, David recorded a PBS Television Special at The Harvey Theatre in New York City that was later released on DVD called ‘Amici Forever – in Concert.’

For further information on David Habbin:

Robin’s bio:
(c)Robin Lerner all rights reserved

A native of New York, ROBIN LERNER graduated from NYU film school and moved west, to pursue her songwriting and screenwriting careers in sunny Los Angeles. Merging her love of musical theater and film, she created numerous animated musical features for Disney, Amblin, and Warner Brothers, working with composers Galt MacDermot (“Hair”) and Frank Wildhorn (“Jekyll and Hyde”), and producers, Steven Spielberg, and Cameron Mackintosh. As her songs found success in the pop world with Sheena Easton, Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Patti LaBelle, Jermaine Jackson, Take 6, and Luther Vandross, Lerner signed with Maverick Music in 1996 and started traveling back and forth to Nashville.

In the past 10 years, Lerner’s songs have been recorded by great country artists such as Randy Travis (“Out Of My Bones,” #1), Tim McGraw (“She’s My Kind Of Rain,” #1) and Faith Hill (“This Kiss,” #1) . In 1999, “This Kiss” was awarded single of the year at the 1999 Academy of Country Music Awards, and was named ASCAP Song Of The Year. “This Kiss” was also nominated for a Grammy and went on to win Song of the Year at the 2000 CMA‘s.

In 2002, Lerner returned to her film roots penning the screenplay “Princess of Thieves,” which aired on ABC’s “Wonderful World of Disney” and starred Keira Knightly. Since then she has collaborated with Nashville artist Jennifer Hanson, on her new album for Universal South, which is being released in early 2008. Her song “Safest Place To Hide” appears on the current Backstreet Boys album, and Bette Midler performs her song “September” (a ballad which reflects on the actions of 9/11) every night in her ongoing “Kiss My Brass” tour. She is currently writing a musical for the stage, based on the film “Officer and a Gentleman,” which had it’s first staged reading in New York in April, ’07. It is being workshopped in Sept. 08 in Melbourne, and opening in Sept. 09.

Robin has her own publishing company, Massabielle Music, and is represented by Whitney Daane at Mighty Isis Music in Nashville and LA.

For additional information on Robin Lerner please visit:


Thank you Robin and David! You’re both lovely, and it was great to have you here! Thank you Charlie and Janelle for providing amazing support behind the scenes! Now, enter that contest, everyone – and good luck!


Question of the Week: Loss *CONTEST ALERT*

by Susan Henderson on January 7, 2008

What have you learned from losing something or someone important to you?

This question covers the whole gamut from death of a loved one to being dumped to losing your belongings in a hurricane to losing family members to mental illness to having your doctoral dissertation disappear because of a computer virus. Loss. And more specifically, I’m looking for stories in which you’ve gained something positive – whether it is about hope, strength, or a lesson learned. Surprise me.


This week is a little different than usual. You can answer here, as always. Consider this your brainstorming. Your rough draft. But if you want to be a part of the contest, you’ll have to answer over here, at Charles Shaughnessy’s place. Charlie is going to give you more detailed rules:

Please enter! This is a great opportunity to find a whole new realm of readers and exposure for your writing. And remember, to be officially entered in the contest, you must send your answer to Charlie and not to me – good luck!


Wednesday, I have two special guests, singer David Habbin and songwriter Robin Lerner. Together, they will discuss their collaboration on Morning Song. Please stop by and join the conversation!


*To read or add to the 160 comments on this post, click here. And thanks for visiting.*

Steve the dog on summer vacation.

LitPark goes on summer vacation beginning today, and I have a few things to wrap up before my link-to-Tommy-Kane contest winner, Laura Benedict, gets a moment to shine.

Some interesting end-of-the-season stats: The single search phrase that brings the most people to LitPark is “Daniel Handler.” And if people didn’t spell and mispell his name in so many ways, the winner would be “Peter de Seve.” The photo that brings the most people to LitPark is Josh, half-in-drag. The highest number of clicks to LitPark come from my MySpace page and second from Neil Gaiman’s blog. Some of the creepiest people find LitPark in their search for Ritchie‘s street address. And the spam filter has bagged over 4,000 porn links.

Oh, right, my answers to the Questions of the Week (I’ll keep it short today): My phobias are snakes and very small spaces. This seems to include sleeves, which is why I’m almost always in a tank top, even in the winter. Favorite Hendrix tunes are Crosstown Traffic and Little Wing.

Thank you to everyone who lurks and plays here, and particularly to those who answered the Question of the Week: Simon Haynes, Nathalie, lance reynald, Colin Matthew, amy, Lauren Baratz-Logsted, PD Smith, Michael D. Williams, Alexander Chee, Richard Cooper, Lori Oliva, Betsy, Aurelio, Nicole, Kimberly, Rachna Vohra, Alexi Lykissas, Robin Slick, Anneliese, Laura Benedict, Lee, Ric Marion, Michael, Stephanie Friedman, Gail Siegel, A.S. King, bruce bauman, james spring, Mark Bastable, Sarah Bain, billie, Carolyn Burns Bass, and Jody Reale. And to Tish Cohen for hanging out with us.

I’m off for the summer – to Montana (to see my brother) and France (just because). Mostly, I’m finalizing my book for St. Martin’s while Mr. Henderson is building me the coolest office ever – you have to go through my wisteria tunnel to get to it! I’ll leave the comments open so you guys can hang out here or post announcements as you like. Have a great summer. Write lots. And play lots. xo

Okay, here’s Laura. Her piece is brilliant, but you’ll find that out soon enough. (And thanks to Pinckney for doing the html on this one. And then thank you even more hugely to my O. Henry award-winning webmaster, Terry Bain, for translating that code to something Mac-friendly!)




Meet Howard Richard Baugh, my grandfather. Born in 1904. A civil servant, stamp collector, constant reader, diabetic, yellow-dog Democrat. Certainly not a murderer. I wont say that he was a peaceful man because I remember him angry, often, mostly over baseball and politics or the lateness of dinner. Though he was always gentle with me.


I never set out to write about anyone in my family. They are too tender, too charmingly insecure, and I dont want them angry with me. Maybe I thought that my grandfathers being dead made it okay. Maybe.



Amanda Cockrells spring writing workshop at Hollins University a few years back was about writing from place, something Id done frequently, but unconsciously. So I wrote about the first place I knew: the house I was born into, where I lived the first two years of my life with my mother and grandparents while my father was overseas.



This is how the house lives in my dreams: I dream of its basement, of the shelves and shelves of canned goods stacked behind cracking window shades hung to keep the dust from them, of the well-swept concrete floor where my mother said she roller-skated as a child, though I can hardly imagine anyone wanting to play down there, of the off-season clothes hanging like human shadows in zippered bags from the ceiling. I dream these thingsreal things that I knewbut there is something else, a dream-thing: the secret room at the bottom of the stairs.


I was, perhaps, ten the first time I had the dream. My grandmother leads me down the stairs to show me the door, and though she doesnt say anything, I know that its important. There is a hallway behind the door, and three rooms. The rooms are identical, painted a peaceful blue, each with a single, white bed over which hangs a large crucifix. My mother is in one room, lying on the bed with her eyes closeddead or sleepingand my grandmother shows me herself lying in the second room. Neither of us is afraid, and I am unsurprised. But I know what is waiting in the third room: the bed is empty, but I know it is for me.


Is it any wonder that I would write about this house that lives so vividly inside me? My grandfather is a part of that place, inseparable from it. My grandmother, too.



They puzzled me. They ate almost every single meal together. But they slept in separate bedrooms and spent most of the day apart: he went to the library, the post office, the grocery or to whatever discount store had something useful on special. When he returned, he would write down every single penny spent in a ledger. My grandmother? She cooked, she read, she watched soap operas, she cleaned. Sometimes she went to bingo, taking me with her (beginning when I was five or six) to the smoke-filled church hall where she would give me a single card to play.


But there was tension, and isnt it always tension that motivates us? There was a distance between them, something that went unspoken. I didnt find out until I was in my thirties that my grandmother had been married before, to a young man who died when his appendix burst after being sent home from the doctors office, undiagnosed.


Everything Id ever wondered about my grandparents fell into place with this piece of information. I cant know what their relationship was really like. Perhaps they had resolved her past between them, early on. Perhaps they were just exhausted from my grandfathers raucous snoring. Perhaps it was the lack of air conditioning in the house. Perhaps it was all in my head. But the tragic/romantic explanation appealed to the drama queen in me.



What better way for me to make sense of their story than by making it my own? My first efforts at fictionalizing that ineffable tension were weak. Im not good at literary nuance, that artful play of language that telegraphs emotion rather than broadcasting it. I need the broad stroke: nascent fears become murderous impulses, small irritations become grand jealousies. And so, H.R. Baugh, a man who liked control and who lived an ordinary existence filled with everyday frustrations, became a murderer. My grandmother, a smart, reticent woman became the repressed romantic heroine who was so desirable that she incited violence. I love that juxtaposition of reality and fantasy, the inherent conflict. I dont think my grandfather was truly capable of murderbut the anger and conflict I witnessed (or imagined) as a child lodged somewhere deep in my brain. A writers brain makes some startling rationalizations.


It took six major revisions before In A White House, a story of domestic discomfort written for a literary workshop, became The Erstwhile Groom, a story of broken hearts and multiple murders. It was a turning point for me, an acceptance of my vocation as a thriller writer. It is a gentle pieceas murder tales go. As I wrote in my regular myspace blog recently, my current writing is populated by rougher characters: the angry heroin addict with a thing for his sister, the childless woman whose grip on reality is tenuous at best, the twin succubi, the faded rock star who slides, effortlessly, into murderous madness. But I think I would have to draw the line at putting twin succubi in the same scene with a character who bears even a slight resemblance to someone I loved with my childish heart. The Erstwhile Groom will appear this summer in Ellery Queens Mystery Magazine, a wonderful magazine of short stories featuring mystery and murder, but very few incest-driven heroin addicts.


I dont think Im finished with my grandparents, or their house. I sure hope they dont mind.


Laura Benedict’s debut novel, Isabella Moon, will be published in September by Ballantine Books, with a second thriller to follow in 2008. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queens Mystery Magazine and a number of anthologies. In October, Press 53 will publish Surreal South, a short story anthology she co-edited with her husband, Pinckney Benedict. For the past decade, she has also reviewed books for The Grand Rapids Press (Michigan) and other newspapers. She lives with her family in rural southern Illinois, a lonely, enchanted sort of place that offers excellent inspiration for writing thrillers. Visit her at, or read her regular blog on her MySpace page.