Peak performances atop Mount St. Angelo

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts...my studio is at the far left

The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains was spectacular. The setting, high on a hilltop called Mount St. Angelo, set way off the highway connecting Lynchburg, Va., and Charlottesville, Va., was perfect, complete with a bluebird and cardinal who appeared outside my studio window every morning to flit and flutter in the first weekend’s snow, complete with a freight train which rolled through the valley every few hours (complete with beautifully haunting train whistle in the silent moonlit Virginia night).

And I managed (despite those happy distractions — and many more, including one or two that were even more happily distracting) to add a big chunk of words (more than 10,000 words during my two-week stay) to my novel-in-progress, “City of Gracious Living.”

Even though I’m glad I left just in time to avoid the devastating snow storm which paralyzed that part of the country, I wish I could have stayed forever in my beautiful little studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

Two of the highlights of my visit: Encounters with artist Melora Griffis and jazz trombonist J. Walter Hawkes. Melora’s paintings are provocative, haunting and beautiful. Plus she’s nice, interesting, smart and unpretentious. Walter’s soulful and skillful solo jazz and blues performances on the trombone and the ukulele are a sight to behold and sound to be heard in person to truly appreciate his rare talent.

The highlight among highlights for me during my stay with a few dozen other VCCA “fellows” had to be the next-to-last-night of my stay, when Walter and I collaborated on a reading/performance, with me reading a chapter from “City of Gracious Living” and a chapter of another of my novels, “Half Moon,” while Walter expertly improvised jazz and blues and big-band riffs before, during and after my readings. It was a true honor and a certifiable thrill.

Thanks, Walter. Thanks, Melora. Thanks to all of the other talented artists and writers I met at the VCCA — sharing excellent meals and excellent conversations. And thanks most of all to the VCCA for giving me such a wonderful two weeks.

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