- Glen Hansard, Iron City, Feb. 2, 2015
- Triumphant Trumpet: Tamberg Trumpet Concerto, Haydn Trumpet Concerto and Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 4, Alabama Symphony Orchestra with conductor Carlos Izcaray, Alys Stephens Center, Feb. 13, 2015
- Punch Brothers, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, Feb. 27, 2015
- Authentic US presents an evening with Josh Vasa and Sanyasi, Desert Island Supply Co., March 21, 2015
- Wye Oak with William Brittelle, Alabama Symphony Orchestra Classical EDGE series, Alys Stephens Center, March 26, 2015
- The Music of John Williams from the Movies of Steven Spielberg, Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Wright Center, Samford University, May 2, 2015
- Garth Brooks with Trisha Yearwood, BJCC Legacy Arena, June 13, 2015
- The Watkins Family Hour with Secret Sisters and Buddy Miller, City Winery, Nashville, Aug. 1, 2015
Whitesnake might not be exactly the best soundtrack for this moment, but I’ve got that refrain running through my head just the same. Today is one year and two days since the publication of my first book–and four days shy the publication of my second.
This moment snuck up on me. How, I’m not sure. I began research for “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” days after I submitted the manuscript for “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music.” And to be honest, it’s not a path I would recommend! Perhaps that’s not something I should admit in such a public forum; I think it’s been a worthwhile experience. But it means the past couple of years have been a whirlwind.
Earlier this week I received my first media request for this new book, and realized it was past time to update my media kit and add a “Birmingham Beer” page to my website. Two days later, and I’ve already seen three media appearances.
I’m lucky, I know. Yes, I work hard, but I don’t think hard work alone results in these opportunities. My first book fell into my lap, and the second came along while I was in the midst of writing the first. When people ask what’s next, I get to respond “taking a break!” I never could have dreamed that taking a break from writing books would be a treat.
So here I go again. I say it’s on my own, and in some ways that’s accurate. Writing is a solitary endeavor, and I’m the only person sure to show up at every one of my book signings. But I couldn’t do it without the people who lived the story of Birmingham beer. This community has been eager to share its story with me, and I had a ridiculous amount of fun writing it. This–and so many other things!–also wouldn’t be feasible without my community of friends and family. That was the best part of my first book, and I’m excited to celebrate with these people once again.
I spent much of the past year researching and writing the history of Birmingham beer. Time and again, people have said to me, “That must be a pretty short book. Birmingham didn’t have beer until, what, 2008?”
And there’s some logic to their inquiry. Of Alabama’s current breweries, the oldest is Good People, which sold its first beer on July 4, 2008. But—as the owners and staff would be quick to mention themselves—they are standing on the shoulders of so many who went before them. —Read more “Five things you probably didn’t know about Birmingham beer” at AL.com.
The book is a part of The History Press’ American Palate series and explores the history of breweries in the Birmingham area, from 15 years after the city’s founding to some of its newest craft breweries. –Read more “Birmingham Beer history book to launch at Alabama Booksmith” at thehomewoodstar.com.
Carla Jean is one of the first people I approached about being on Birmingham Shines because I know how much she loves Birmingham.
We decided to time her appearance on the show to coincide with the release of her new book,Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City, which will be available for purchase starting July 27, 2015. –Read more “Carla Jean Whitley: On writing, on Birmingham” and listen to the podcast at birminghamshines.com.
One of the beautiful things about my job is the freedom to work from home. But I’ll be honest: When I choose that option, I don’t exactly optimize it ergonomically. I’m usually sitting on my couch or in an arm chair, bent over a laptop. My head droops to meet my computer screen, and my shoulders roll forward.
I know better.
A few minutes of yoga can bring my attention back to my posture while working out some of the kinks created by this setup. During a writing frenzy Friday, I stepped away from the computer and onto my mat for a few minutes to address those very issues. This super simple sequence takes three to four minutes and offers significant relief.
… it’s available in hardback!
Alabama Booksmith will offer an exclusive, limited-edition hardcover book when “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” debuts this summer. The hardback will be $27.99, and is available for preorder now.
If paperback’s your preference, opportunities abound. That edition will be widely available, including preorders from Church Street Coffee and Books and Little Professor Book Center, both here in Birmingham. The paperback edition is $21.99, and both editions are set for release July 27.
First, the big stuff:
And now, the rest of the story.
Here’s something you may not know about book covers, unless you’ve written one: Unless he or she is self publishing, the author may not have much say in a book’s appearance.
And in most ways, that’s been my experience. My publisher asks authors to submit potential cover photos when sending interior photos. But from there, it’s in the design team’s hands. When the cover for “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music” arrived, I was over the moon. The publisher ultimately acquired rights to the photo, and so the cover was a very pleasant surprise to me.
“Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” is another story. Because The History Press has published a number of beer books, the team wanted my cover to reflect the others in the series. I knew the finished product would include a skyline and a pint glass.
The skyline is the exciting part (besides seeing my name in print–let’s be honest, that doesn’t get old). When my editor requested Birmingham skyline shots, I turned to my friend Rachel Callahan.
Last year Rachel launched PictureBirmingham.com, a site from which she sells photos and photo products, mostly of Birmingham sunsets. All of her proceeds benefit The Wellhouse, an organization that fights sex trafficking in the Birmingham area. (You can read more of Rachel’s story in this Birmingham magazine article.)
The design team and I went back and forth a bit on fonts and which photo they would use, and I’m thrilled that one of Rachel’s images, “Autumn Comes to Birmingham,” graces the cover of “Birmingham Beer.” It depicts my favorite season (football!) in my favorite city (obviously)–and it’s also available for you to purchase from PictureBirmingham.com.
There’s plenty more “Birmingham Beer” news on the way, and I can’t wait to share the city’s fascinating brewing history with you.
Last year I shared why I (finally) joined the Society of Professional Journalists. Last month, I became vice president of my local chapter. This is the text of my “acceptance speech,” which I sent to chapter president Meredith Cummings via text message. Want to get involved? Learn more on the chapter website and like the chapter on Facebook.
I, Carla Jean Whitley, do solemnly swear to uphold the bylaws of the Society of Professional Journalists Alabama chapter and the powers invested in me as Vice President. I will write all emails in AP style, and will fight with autocorrect but eventually give up when it insists on capitalizing things like Vice President. I will fulfill the duties of the office to the best of my ability, even if it means emailing from bed while running my essential oils diffuser and drinking herbal tea to stave off allergies. I will let Meredith know if we need to dial it back because we’re overextending ourselves, and I will discourage her from taking on any additional Twitter accounts. In the names of Pulitzer, Bernstein and Woodward, Strunk and White, amen.
You may have noticed that my “what I’m writing” posts have dropped off. I’m not going to catch you up on everything I’ve written since (although I’ll offer a few highlights), but there has been a lot happening since my last such post in November.
First, I wrote another book. “Birmingham Beer: A Heady History of Brewing in the Magic City” releases July 27. Although it’s available for pre-order via Amazon and I always appreciate your support, I’d love for you to wait and buy it from your (or my!) local bookstore. Keep more of your money in your local community. I’ll certainly update as the publication date draws near.
Since late February, I’ve been a features reporter for The Birmingham News and AL.com, two of the magazine’s sister publications at Alabama Media Group. That’s probably the biggest reason I won’t link you to everything I’ve published since we last spoke–there’s simply too much of it! I’ve gone from planning, managing and editing a talented team of freelancers to chasing down stories of my own, and I couldn’t be happier.
This return to reporting has allowed me to follow up on a Reddit post that led me to an Alabaster resident’s weekly depiction of Birmingham and write a thank-you letter to one of Birmingham’s beloved music venues. When we received a press release about an architecture art exhibit, it sparked a trip down memory lane to Birmingham’s Terminal Station. I’ met the youngest musician in the Alabama Symphony Orchestra and learned how the organization is working to attract millennial patrons.
I also expect the future to include many stories in Birmingham magazine, where I most recently wrote the January cover story.
Of course, I continue to freelance a bit, which always results in something worth talking about. January’s Paste magazine story allowed me a mental field trip to Seattle, where I’ve enjoyed the city’s many delicious breweries, and Boston, which is high on my to-visit list. BookPage offered me the chance to interview Judith Claire Mitchell, author of the hilariously dark “A Reunion of Ghosts.”
And February brought my most popular article ever, “The Promise of the $20,000 house” for The Atlantic’s CityLab.
Y’all, I’m living the dream. And I suspect there’s still more to come.
Want more? I try to keep my “What I’m Writing” Pinterest board up to date even when I’m not sharing it here.
It’s possible I’m too honest with my students.
Before I handed back graded assignments tonight, I addressed a common error throughout. But even as I explained why it’s so important to keep an eye out for this issue, I offered a confession: “I suspect some of this is a result of end-of-the-semester busyness or laziness. I get that. I would do the same.”
The truth is, I was a mediocre college student. My grades weren’t bad–I was an A/B student and would have lost my scholarship if my GPA dropped too low. But I wasn’t particularly concerned about my grades, I skipped as many classes as possible without academic retribution and I often thought I knew more than my professors. (Oh, the ego.)
So I can understand where my students are coming from when they get a little lax with AP style. But if I had it to do over again, I’d try to be more like the kids I teach:
I’d show up to every class and ask tons of questions.
I’d stick around after class to show the teacher my resume and ask how I could improve it.
I’d ask professors with experience in my field about how they built their careers.
I’d figure out whose career path looked most like what I wanted, and I’d study his or her work.
I’d use my class assignments as opportunities to further those end goals.
I figured a lot of that out by the time I entered grad school (and the fact that I was bankrolling that degree didn’t hurt). But the kids I work with are several years younger, and they consistently impress me. They’ve got their strengths and weaknesses, sure, and not everyone is taking each of these steps. (Then again, not everyone wants to follow my career path.) My goal as a teacher is not only to impart knowledge according to the class syllabus, but also to encourage my students to get as much as they can out of their college careers.
But if I had it to do again, there’s at least one thing I surely wouldn’t change: I’d still prioritize life experience over grades. After all, no one cares now about my GPA.*
*If you’re wondering, I finished my bachelor’s with something like a 3.4, and my master’s with a 3.6. But if I, the girl who can still rattle off her SAT and ACT scores and takes pride in her GRE logic score, am not confident in those numbers, it probably says something about how much your GPA matters down the road.
Nearly three years ago, I responded to a post in a Facebook group from a woman seeking a copy editor for her memoir. Although I didn’t yet know this woman, I knew of her; Amy Bickers and I had several friends in common and I read her riotously funny blog, Vodka Cranberry Clooney. I jumped at the chance to edit her book, largely because I badly wanted to read it.
I knew it wouldn’t be an easy story. Amy’s memoir is an account of witnessing her ex-husband’s suicide and how she processed the darkness that followed. She writes beautifully, powerfully about mental illness, addiction and the sorrow of those left behind. Although the subject matter is dark, the book is ultimately hopeful.
Since she entrusted me with her words, I’ve been convinced that Amy must share her story with the world. Many agents said kind things, but ultimately passed on it because they believed the subject matter would be hard to sell.
At last, Amy has taken matters into her own hands.
Today she launched a Kickstarter to fund “The Geography of You and Me,” which was the best book I read in 2012. In fewer than 24 hours, Amy is $246 from her funding goal.
Let’s push her over the top. (Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to see this project funded in less than a day?)
Amy has written beautifully on the campaign page about what you’ll find in the book and why it matters. I encourage you to spend some time with her words. But I also urge you to consider this: Reading someone else’s story helps us better understand the world. That’s why I believe “The Geography of You and Me” must be published. Regardless of whether you see yourself or someone you know in this story, I believe it offers valuable insight into an all-too-common struggle. Understanding one another helps us embrace our humanity.
As I wound my way through rows of bodies bending and waving through a non-pose called ninja lunges, I reminded 16 yoga students that this shape wasn’t supposed to look like anything in particular. “Perfection is a myth,” I told them. “Seek the stretch and benefit your body craves today.”
That’s the deeper truth that calls me back to my yoga mat, day after day. When I’m moving through the postures, I’m acutely aware that today’s crescent lunge isn’t as deep as yesterday’s, or that my tree may not be as stable tomorrow. Yoga stretches my expectations and pulls me away from my normal OCD, to-do list mentality.
And then I quickly return to my type-A, follow-the-rules career. Journalism appealed to me over fiction because the rules are well established and the stories are there for the asking. I love the blend of science (the rules) and art (the telling).
I often let the rules–or a fear of not following them to a T–keep me from taking challenges with the art. Please don’t mistake me, guidelines help us refine and focus. But a story without heart isn’t much of a story at all.
I invite my yoga students into the release of perfection I’ve found. My journalism students, however, need the same freedom.
“Both require a commitment to practice rather than perfection; reward risk-taking rather than hesitation; flourish with timely but limited suggestions that encourage rather than frustrate; are active all-at-once activities that are learned by doing; and remain difficult no matter how long you’ve been doing them.” —Megan Fulwiler, “On Yoga and Teaching Writing,” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education
It’s not as though I can abandon grading rubrics and expectations, deadlines and AP Style quizzes. Those are requirements of the job for which I’m preparing them, and this is a college class, after all. But as I’ve spent more time practicing yoga, my desire to share its benefits with other writers has grown. These aspiring journalists, especially, crave encouragement and guidance. Even while I cover their work with red ink, I hope I can bring some of my yoga practice to the page.