Well-Fed Writing

by Vicky Dickson

For Joyce Allen, writing is like breathing. In more ways than one, actually: Writing comes naturally to the longtime Carrboro resident, since her mother was a freelance writer and she’s been writing herself for as long as she can remember. But Allen also sees writing as fulfilling her need to deal with experience actively, to “take it in, shape it, return it to the universe with something added of myself … like breathing out after you’ve breathed in.” It’s a need she thinks all humans have, “to take in the world and do something with it.”

Carrboro resident Joyce Allen wrote her most recent novel, Those Who Hold the Threads, as the first book in a trilogy for young adults based on myths about the Fates. Photo by Alicia Stemper

And though humans can address that need in a thousand different ways – by playing music, painting, cooking or growing things – Allen also sees storytelling as fundamental.
“We cannot not tell stories,” she says, because stories help us understand the world around us.

Perhaps that helps explain why Allen wrote her most recent novel, Those Who Hold the Threads, for the young-adult market.

“That’s where the stories are,” she says. It’s her first time writing for that age group. It’s also her first fantasy novel, though she’s been reading the genre for years.

Those Who Hold the Threads is book one of a trilogy-in-progress. Based on myths about the three (or sometimes four, depending on which tradition you follow) Fates, it has a thoroughly modern young protagonist who must come to terms with a destiny that is both ancient and timeless. In order to write Threads, Allen spent a lot of time studying myths, which she then recast, in the way that storytellers have always done. For one of the book’s scenes she studied astronomy– and then found, to her chagrin, that though the stars seem timeless, what’s known about them changes significantly from year to year.

As do computers, which gave Allen her hardest challenge, requiring her to seek out answers to scores and scores of technical questions in order to accurately portray her characters’ computer mischief.

Luckily, the writer has been blessed with a long list of friends and relations who’ve been able to help her, from the four young granddaughters who alerted her to problems with dialogue and school descriptions in the first draft to the tech-savvy colleagues from the job she held for many years as manager of the student program in the Department of Epidemiology at UNC. And the writing student she had years ago, who inspired a couple of the young male computer geeks in her novel.

That particular writing student was just one of many who Allen has taught over the past 20 years, at Carrboro’s ArtsCenter as well as Duke University’s Continuing Studies program. Though her teaching duties mean that she rarely gets a full day just to write, Allen appreciates the way that teaching has enhanced her own writing. It “feeds everything else,” she says.

Those Who Hold the Threads is evidence that Allen’s writing is well fed indeed. It’s a book that should enthrall young adult readers (and probably their parents as well), and leave them hungry for the next book of the trilogy. Which hopefully will arrive before too long – Allen’s finishing up the first draft right now.

Literary Notes
To learn more about Those Who Hold the Threads, come to The Joyful Jewel, 44-A Hillsboro St., Pittsboro, on June 3 at 3 p.m. Allen will join her daughter Anna Crawford, the artist who created the book’s cover, for a reading and discussion of her novel.

In other young adult news, Hawbridge School freshman Sierra Bradshaw-Kreimer has won a gold key in this year’s Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Bradshaw-Kreimer’s essay “My Lexa” was selected for national recognition in a contest that received 200,000 submissions from high school students across the country.

Bradshaw-Kreimer and approximately 1,500 other young writers and artists will be recognized at a June 1 ceremony at Carnegie Hall and will participate in showcase events at Parsons The New School for Design.

Presented by the Alliance for Young Writers and Artists, the Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards date back to 1923. The program has a history of noteworthy past winners, including Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, Robert Redford and Joyce Carol Oates. Congratulations, Sierra!