Profiles by Danielle Jackson
They write about what they love, whether it’s the world of historical fiction or the beauty of baseball. And they all do it locally.
There’s no shortage of published authors in the Triad. Here, we scratch the surface, talking with area writers about their inspirations, as well as how the region plays a role in the stories they tell.
LeAura Alderson and Jill Coleman
Their inspiration: Coleman, a certified personal trainer with more than seven years of personal training experience, is a group exercise coordinator for Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. Alderson is an investor and mother of two who was able to resolve her chronic back pain and reverse bone loss through exercise and resistance training. The duo’s decision to write the “My Gym Trainer” series of books evolved out of a desire to share with others what worked for them.
Their published works: Three books in the “My Gym Trainer” series have been published, with more than 30 titles planned. The books are designed to be fitness tools, with tips and information to empower readers to become their own knowledgeable personal trainers.
Local influence: Alderson and Coleman are both longtime Triad residents, and the models and gyms used in the book’s photos were of local people at local facilities.
His inspiration: Cryan’s mother was a librarian and a voracious reader and his father was a college professor, “so the house was always full of books,” says the Burlington resident. “I read ‘The Hobbit’ when I was in third grade, and I was completely hooked,” Cryan adds. “I still read constantly, although I’m now most likely to be reading John Grisham or some other thriller.”
His first and only published work: “Cradle of the Game: Baseball & Ballparks in North Carolina” was published in 2008. The book tells the story of baseball in the state, city by city, with travel information like hotels, restaurants, attractions, and historical information on the people, ballparks, and notable players who make North Carolina such a baseball hotbed.
Local influence: “The Triad is loaded with great baseball and has a history in the game that stretches back almost 100 years,” Cryan says. He has interviewed former players and managers like Jack McKeon, who lives in Elon, and Durham Bulls founder and Greensboro native Miles Wolff. Even Cryan himself is tied to the game, once serving as general manager of the Burlington Indians. “It’s one of the strongest baseball regions in the country,” he says.
Her inspiration: Dowda, a licensed professional counselor in private practice who also frequently lectures on domestic violence and victimization, was raised in a verbal family “where expressing yourself effectively was expected and valued,” she says. Her father was an attorney and an inspiration whose own mother was a published author. “Four years ago, I lost my remarkable father and gained an amazing grandson,” she says. “Something about those experiences made me feel that it was time to fulfill my dream of writing the book I had in my head.”
Her first and only published work: “Invisible Scars: How To Stop, Change, Or End Psychological Abuse” was published in April 2009. “It’s a compassionate look at abusive behavior and the options we all have to deal with it,” Dowda says. “I’ve worked with abusive relationships for more than 30 years and have lived through some of my own, which are relayed in the pages of my book without identifying which situations were autobiographical. Each experience is shared to help illuminate and understand our similar circumstances.”
Local influence: Dowda moved to Greensboro 34 years ago after growing up in the Washington, D.C., area. Her work with victims of domestic violence locally provides the backdrop for most of the book’s stories. “I work with individuals and couples in the Triad who struggle with their relationships,” she says. “I am continually impressed by their courage, compassion and desire to make changes in their lives.”
Emily Herring Wilson
Her inspiration: As a child, Herring Wilson — a graduate of UNCG and Wake Forest University — was encouraged by her two grandmothers, one of whom gave her a leather journal for her poems and the other whose published short stories in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution “inspired me to want to see my name and words in print,” she says.
Her first published work: In the 1960s, a single short poem was published in The Pilot, a Southern Pines paper. Her first book of poems, “Down Zion’s Alley,” was published in 1972 by Drummer, a Winston-Salem literary press.
Her latest creation: Herring Wilson’s latest, “Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence: Discovered Letters of a Southern Gardener,” is her third book about Lawrence’s life and work. “These letters to a friend and mentor, Ann Preston Bridgers, amount to Lawrence’s ‘autobiography,’ mostly recording her youthful apprentice years in Raleigh in the 1930s and 1940s,” she says. The book was released by Winston-Salem publisher John F. Blair.
Local influence: Winston-Salem — and Wake Forest University in particular — have a great influence on the author, who’s lived there for the past 40 years. “It has given me many resources, friends, and opportunities to write and be part of caring communities,” Herring Wilson says.
Rhett Iseman Trull
Her inspiration: Greensboro resident Iseman Trull’s biggest inspiration has always been reading. “I read far more than I write,” she says, citing childhood books like “The Fox and the Hound,” “Where the Red Fern Grows” and “The Yearling” as longtime favorites. “All of my writing is an attempt to recapture the kind of feeling that runs through me when I’m struck by the power of words.”
Her first and only published work: “The Real Warnings,” a book of poetry, was published last fall by Anhinga Press. “The poems are about a variety of subjects — love lost, love found, superheroes, mental illness — but the overall theme that I hope comes across is that life, despite its suffering and heartache, is wonderful and that love is always worth the risks,” she says.
Local influence: “With a rich literary history and an active literary scene, the Triad is a wonderful place to be a writer,” Iseman Trull says. “I continue to be amazed by how many talented artists live here.”
His inspiration: Kent, a Wake Forest University graduate who still lives in Winston-Salem, grew up in a house filled with books. And while his seventh-grade English teacher encouraged his creative writing talents, it was his high school English teacher, Julie Wilson, who provided the springboard. “She provided both the tools to become a better writer and the inspiration by introducing me to Hemingway and Steinbeck,” he says. “My last book was dedicated to her as a way of saying thanks for bringing out the writer hidden in me.”
His first published work: “Make Me Disappear,” a young-adult novel, was published in 1994. “It’s a story about magic, specifically of a young boy who runs away to the land where everything goes when it disappears,” Kent says.
His latest creation: “The Road to Devotion,” a work of historical fiction set in North Carolina just before the Civil War, revolves around an unlikely friendship between a farm woman and a runaway slave. “More than anything, it’s about how I believe we should treat each other, starting with the realization that we all have much more in common than we do differences,” he says.
Local influence: Kent’s latest book is set in both Winston and Salem in 1860. “I wanted to incorporate as many local landmarks into the storyline as possible so that even though it’s fiction, the reader can genuinely believe that it could happen in our own back yard,” he says. “We have a rich history here, so it’s as enjoyable to research a historical novel set here as it is to write it.”
His inspiration: Drew Perry didn’t always know that he wanted to be a writer. But after signing up for a creative writing course in college, the Greensboro resident inexplicably felt right at home. “It was in my second or third class that a teacher finally told me I’d better start reading if I was going to care about this kind of thing,” he says. Since cracking open a book, Perry has found inspiration in writers ranging from Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor to Rick Bass and Wendy Brenner.
His first and only published work: “This Is Just Exactly Like You,” his debut novel, was published by Viking last spring. “When I joke around, I say that it’s about karaoke and dogs and fire and mulch and putt-putt and partner-swapping,” Perry says. “All that’s true, but the more serious answer is that it’s about one man trying to figure out how to parent his autistic son and be a better husband.”
Local influence: The book is set in Greensboro and Gibsonville, as well as in a fictitious version of Elon. “I’ve lived here for almost 14 years, so this is what I know,” he says. “The Triad plays a huge part in my being able to imagine the things I write about.”
Alice E. Sink
Her inspiration: Sink, who teaches writing courses at High Point University, can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t write. “My Aunt Mabel had published a few pieces, and I thought that was the most wonderful thing in the world,” she says. When she was accepted into UNCG’s MFA in Creative Writing program, Sink knew that’s where she belonged.
Her first published work: “The Christmas Phoenix” was published in 1977. “It’s out of print now, and when I see a copy online for an unbelievably expensive price, I’m amazed,” she says.
Her latest creation: “Hidden History of Hilton Head,” her fifth book, was published by The History Press in May. The book features everything from poems written by locals and songs that guided slaves to freedom to original photos and Lowcountry recipes. “It’s a lively array of historical tidbits and tales focusing on people, lifeways, believe-it-or-not snippets, and beloved local places,” Sink says.
Local influence: Research for her latest book reintroduced Sink to the region, “where I uncovered those out-of-the-ordinary historical truths that rarely appear in books,” she says.
Danielle Jackson is editor of Triad Living, Wake Living and Fifteen501 magazines.