Category Archives: Green River Writers
V. S. Anderson always been a horse nut, and as a young person, was a rabid horse-racing fan. So it’s no surprise that her first novels were about horses: the Kentucky Derby and the glamour of a Thoroughbred breeding farm—but with a little mystery and mayhem thrown in! For King of the Roses and Blood Lies, she drew on her years of working in the horse world, teaching riding, showing hunters, moonlighting on the racetrack, and for a while, owning and galloping her own racehorse.
Since then she has used her doctorate in English to teach writing at a regional campus of a Midwestern university—right across the river from Louisville and the Derby, in fact! She lives in New Salisbury, Indiana, where she gardens, watches birds, writes mystery/suspense (three novels in progress!), and rides Paddy, her sweet, sweet horse.
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This is the second post in the story of Green River Writers, a long-lived, successful writers’ group based in Louisville, Kentucky. In my last post, I introduced the president and founder, Mary “Ernie” O’Dell, and shared a little of her writing journey. Today I’m sharing the story of Green River Writers: how it started and why it’s thrived so long.
The group was born shortly after Ernie met her second husband, Jim (she calls him her “real husband”).
We were both writers; he was living in North Carolina and I was living in Louisville—and there were no writers in my life except him and a few people that I met at writers’ conferences, so I thought, by golly, I need some other writers. So I called up a few of the people that I knew that wrote, and I said, let’s get together. Jim came up from North Carolina for a four-day weekend at Rough River State Park in Kentucky. We decided to have a real retreat in the summer of that year, 1986, I believe, and we couldn’t find housing cheap enough for all us poor people, so we rented a girls’ dormitory at Campbellsville College in Campbellsville, Kentucky, for a week at $5 a night per room. We changed from Rough River to Green River because the Green River flows right through Campbellsville.
At that time, we had 12 or 15 members. Campbellsville College (University now) was fairly conservative; they frowned upon us having men and women in the same building, much less on the same corridor. I went into the office and said, “I need to make something clear to you. When we come here, we no longer have men and woman, we have writers, and there are times when are up all night, there are times we need to consult with a fellow writer, and we don’t want to have to go down a floor or to a different building, so please put us all on the same corridor,” and they did. But they were watching us carefully. I got called on the carpet because downstairs in the public restroom, someone had left a beer can. I said, “Are we the only people in this building?” and they said, “Well, no,” and I said, “Well, we didn’t do it.” Another time someone went outside to smoke and came back and exhaled smoke into the hallway and they called me on the carpet for that. So I had to be righteously indignant many times while we were there.
Today: Ernie’s Writing Journey
If, like me, you go through stages in your writing career where you feel isolated and in need of connections with other writers, you may have sought out a writing group–or perhaps even considered starting one. Of course, online resources let us share our writing and collect tips from a plethora of experts. But these tips can be generic, not specific to our needs, and even strong online critique groups can suffer from the limitation of all online “teaching”: the loss of body language and verbal cues and the difficulty of eliciting immediate responses when we have questions about a comment or need follow up.
Recently I’ve read and shared several posts about writing groups, and I’ve written before about my group and how I value it. Some commenters have mentioned joining groups that folded or that didn’t work for them. I realized that my group, Green River Writers, based in Louisville, Kentucky, is an example of a group that has held together for decades. What exactly does make for a successful, long-lived writing group?
One important factor in the group’s longevity and success is its founder and president, Mary “Ernie” O’Dell. I cornered Ernie to learn about how the group began and why it has succeeded.
Today’s post introduces Ernie and her journey as a writer—a journey many of us can identify with in some ways.
A little about Ernie
I immediately asked about one thing I’d often puzzled over: where “Ernie” came from.
It comes from Mary Ernestine O’Dell. Dad’s name was Ernest Forbis Houck. I was named after him and his friends called him Ernie, so when I got in junior high, and was asked what my name was, I said Ernie. So that’s where that was born.
Three of Ernie’s novels have been published by Turquoise Morning Press in Louisville: Cyn, The Sweet Letting Go, and Banger’s People. I asked Ernie about the settings and ideas that fed into her books.
I grew up in West Virginia and the southern and eastern Kentucky region. All the books have the flavor of that region; two of my books involve the West Virginia coal-mining industry: Cyn and the one I’m working on now, which I’m calling “Hope” for the time being. [Hope is one of the main characters, a high-schooler who lives with her older sister Lily and their parents and siblings in a coal-mining town just at the outbreak of World War II.]
Cyn takes place in the neighborhood of little row houses where my daughter became friends with the next door neighbor when they were seven or eight. The opening scene, the little girls in the elderberry bushes getting elderberry stains on their clothes, that was me: I would play in the bushes behind our house with my little cousin and get stains on me and my mother would not like that.
The interesting thing about Cyn was that I wrote in five different points of view. When Sheri McClaren, my mentor, read the first draft, she loved all these characters except the little girl’s father. She needed to know why the child loved him, because she wouldn’t have loved him if he had been her father. So I had to go back and rewrite the little girl’s father, and in doing so I had to figure out where I found him, who he was, and why he was so judgmental and vindictive. I discovered that he was my first husband who was a minister for some years. Then I had to find out why this fictional person would be this negative. I made him the son of an alcoholic and youngest son of three brothers, two of whom were alcoholics; they all made fun of him the time. I had to really deepen his character so he wouldn’t be such a bad guy that no one would care about him.
I wrote The Sweet Letting Go a few years after my second husband (my real husband) died of lung cancer. I was his main caretaker, but I didn’t want to make it autobiographical. I turned the whole thing around to make the female the one with the serious illness with the male as her caregiver.
Ernie’s Writing Journey
Ernie’s writing career began during her career as an elementary teacher in Louisville. Continue reading