Writers’ Panel: Talking Nonfiction & Incorporating the Day’s News Into One’s Writing


Bay Path University played host to its 16th Writers’ Day this past weekend, as scribes talked about how to effectively read one’s work aloud in front of a crowd (Charles Coe, All Sins Forgiven poet and author extraordinaire!) and how to turn family documents, handwritten letters, and memories into an intergenerational memoir (the fabulous Patricia Reis, Motherlines author).

The final panel was packed with tales from three writers–Kinship of Clover’s Ellen Meeropol, This is How It Begins’ Joan Dempsey, and yours truly–who discussed how we used events in the world and in our own lives to inspire our writing, as well as how we folded current events into existing narratives on which we were working. My presentation focused on the real life events in my town of Southborough that inspired Mr. Clark’s Big Band, and how I worked events such as the Newtown school shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing into my book about a middle school jazz band.

Thank you to author and educator Suzanne Strempek Shea for putting these panels together and for affording us the opportunity to spend an afternoon talking about one of our favorite subjects: writing.

Image credits: Suzanne Strempek SheaSuzanne Strempek Shea via the Bay Path University MFA Program. 

Mr. Clark’s Big Band book to be published May 2017

mr clark hugs

After a seemingly healthy 12-year-old boy died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart ailment on a brisk New England winter night, Eric Green’s small Boston suburb was overcome with sorrow. Its residents closed ranks. Quickly.

Slashes of green duct tape were adhered to mourners’ shirts all over town. Green rubber bracelets bearing his name adorned wrists of the young and old. Emerald grosgrain ribbons were looped through safety pins and affixed to shirts and winter coats. “Green-out” days at the elementary, middle and high schools were organized on social media. In the Trottier Middle School band room, his music stand—with green tape wrapped around its post—stood empty as his bandmates demanded the school formally honor their fallen friend. A committee was organized. A service in honor of Eric’s brief life was slated for 18 months later, where two musical compositions commissioned by the school in Eric’s memory would be played by the children he left behind.

big band room smallerIn the spirit of Tracy Kidder’s Among Schoolchildren, journalist Meredith O’Brien shadowed the Southborough, Mass. Trottier Middle School Big Band during the 2012-2013 school year to witness how making music and working with a charismatic, unorthodox fortysomething music director who looked like Kris Kringle helped this group of 33 children overcome their anguish. Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room chronicles how these children performed well beyond their years, won jazz competitions—in one case, playing just before the Newtown Middle School, another band coping with fresh, searing loss—and mastered the extremely complicated piece written for Eric at his packed, emotion-laden memorial service.

Mr. Clark’s Big Band celebrates the power of music and team camaraderie, of the big heart of a risk-taking teacher, and of a small town which closed ranks to help its children emerge on the other side of grief. Wyatt-MacKenzie will release this book in May 2017.

eric green service2A journalism instructor at Northeastern University in Boston, O’Brien is a former newspaper and investigative reporter, award-winning columnist and blogger. She is the author of A Suburban Mom: Notes from the Asylum a collection of humor columns (Wyatt-MacKenzie 2007), Mortified: A Novel About Oversharing which was a finalist for a ForeWord Reviews debut novel competition (Wyatt-MacKenzie 2013), and a co-author of The Buying of the President which examined the connections between campaign donors an presidential candidates (Avon 1996). She has been published in an array of publications and sites including the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the Baltimore Sun, the Huffington Post, The Nation and the Avalon Literary Review. She is currently working on a memoir.

Visit her web site and follow her on Twitter.

Image credit: Top image courtesy of Karen Travins. Other images by Meredith O’Brien.