Writeaway

Writeaways Workshop Leaders Mimi Herman and John Yewell

by Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito

She views the world through the eyes of a poet. He constructs scenes with the curiosity of an investigative reporter.

He is a master of time and can plan a 500-mile drive down to the minute. She is a superhero of space and can get two suitcases, fourteen boxes, seventeen bags, and a stationary bike into a Honda Fit.

As coleaders of their signature Writeaways workshops, Mimi Herman and John Yewell balance differing viewpoints and teaching styles to shepherd a community of writers away from the real world into the worlds of their imaginations. Their personalities and writing backgrounds appear so complementary, the pairing seems purposely orchestrated. But their serendipitous relationship is eighteen years strong and growing.

The story of how they met depends on whom you ask.

“We actually met twice, but John only remembers the second time,” says Mimi. Her first memory: John—the new editor-in-chief of a local alternative weekly newspaper—was the guest of honor at a gala event, “all duded up in a tux and surrounded by a lot of people.”

A week later at a winter holiday party, they officially met when John stole Mimi’s beer. “If you ask him, he put it away for safekeeping, because it was his favorite brand and he was afraid people who didn’t appreciate it properly would drink it,” Mimi says. What followed was “much flirtation, staring wickedly into each other’s eyes, and sassy conversation, which led to our first date, when we talked about writing fiction—which led to eighteen years (so far) together and Writeaways.”

At the time they met, Mimi was a fiction writer, poet, and teaching artist, and John was a journalist, specializing in investigative journalism and commentary. Today, they are life and business partners, living in North Carolina, leading a myriad of impressive writing, editing, and teaching endeavors. “Together we’ve been adopted by Guy the cat, who pretty much runs our lives.”

Mimi is the 2017 North Carolina Piedmont Laureate, a Kennedy Center teaching artist, and director of the United Arts Council Arts Integration Institute. The author of Logophilia (Main Street Rag Press), The Art of Learning (NC Arts Council), and numerous poems in literary collections, she has performed her poetry and fiction at venues ranging from Why There Are Words in Sausalito, California, to Symphony Space in New York City.

John’s work has ranged from investigating reporting, technical writing, and business communications to short stories and novels. He is the author of The Land of Sunshine, a novel set in Southern California a century ago.

Both hold Masters’ of Fine Arts degrees in Creative Writing (Mimi from Warren Wilson in 1991 and John from San Francisco State in 2014).

Growing Up with Strong Influences
Both Mimi and John grew up with strong family influences that impacted their life trajectories as writers.

Mimi Herman sees the world through the eyes of a poet.Mimi was raised by artists—photographer parents who also worked in medical fields—and was fortunate to be brought up to believe that the life of an artist is a viable one.

She grew up reading—even while walking to school and eating meals. “I sometimes think I became a reader before I could talk or walk,” she says. “Since then I rarely go a week without a book or four in my hand. I used to wish I could find a job in which all I had to do was read.”

John, on the other hand, was not always an avid reader. “I was not particularly encouraged to read or write growing up,” he says. John’s mom encouraged him to become the person he wanted to be, starting with earning his pilot’s license at age seventeen. “I wanted to be an artist and bronze sculptor (now a hobby). Writing and languages generally came to me later in life. After discovering the joys of the perfectly crafted sentence, I was hooked.”

Mimi credits Ms. Stephens, her fourth-grade teacher, for getting her started writing poetry. When Mimi was growing up, her babysitter was David Sedaris (now a bestselling humor writer). “Since then, I’ve had amazing teachers,” says Mimi, “including Doris Betts and Max Steele at the University of North Carolina; and Robert Boswell, Rick Russo, C. J. Hribal, Charlie Baxter, Heather McHugh and Tom Lux in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.”

John Yewell has expertise in investigative reporting, fiction writing, and editing.John also has an interesting personal connection. He is third cousins on his mother’s side with Nathaniel Hawthorne. “So I have a formidable family tradition to live up to,” John says. “Both of us [Mimi and I] wrote first books that rounded up our ancestors into novel form, so having interesting characters in our families has been useful in our writing.”

When asked about other influences, John says, “I have been blessed to know many fine writers in my life, but I’m especially fond of Snoopy’s Guide to the Writing Life [by Barnaby Conrad].”

Mimi adds, “One of my favorite books, which I reread every few years, is William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition.

The Writing Life
Mimi and John travel all over the world and are involved in many diverse and interesting writing endeavors.

One of Mimi’s favorite experiences was in 2008, when she was invited to spend six weeks at the Hermitage Artist Colony on Manasota Key on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Writing. For six weeks.

Despite the fact that she generally tried to arrange her work schedule to include a week each month devoted to writing, this was a tremendous gift: the chance to spend six weeks doing nothing but writing.

Another favorite has been this past year, which Mimi spent as the North Carolina Piedmont Laureate, offering workshops, readings, and writing opportunities for other writers. Her offerings ranged from a day of poetry writing and science exploration in kayaks to a workshop on “Flirting with Your Reader.”

Some of John’s best writing moments were as a journalist, “chasing stories that changed people’s lives and shining a light on the bad guys. There is nothing more thrilling than telling a story to the world for the first time,” he says.

Since then, he has enjoyed writing mostly fiction (he’s polishing his second novel), editing for private clients, teaching fiction craft classes, and helping young people get into graduate school as a writing coach for personal essays.

When not traveling or leading a workshop, Mimi can be found writing poetry or fiction, renovating their 1926 house, and lesson planning for her local and national teaching artist work, which includes Kennedy Center workshops and teaching at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.

They both enjoy “drinking mug after mug of tea, staying in our pajamas for as much of the day as possible.”

John Yewell and Mimi HermanSince they’re both involved in multiple teaching, writing, and editing projects, in addition to Writeaways, sometimes their own writing time “seems to get swept out to sea.”

They both affirm that “Butt in chair is our favorite writing technique.”

John likes to write in his office chair. He used to like writing in cafes, but finds them too distracting now. Mimi likes curling up under a throw in the big comfy armchair in her office or on the living room sofa. They both write on computers now, but Mimi still writes first drafts of poems longhand on legal pads—and used to write novels that way, too.

“We do read each other’s work and each of us considers the other an extraordinary editor. From what we’ve seen of writing couples, we think that may be unusual,” says Mimi. “We don’t collaborate on writing projects, but we have collaborated several times as professional editors, which has been quite successful. John brings an unerring eye for plot to the process, while I am passionate about character and imagery—and we both are strong on dialogue.”

Mimi hopes to create an emotional connection for her readers. “As a writer, I hope people who read my poems and novels will find them useful in understanding how the world works, and how they themselves work,” she says. “My favorite compliment as a writer is when someone says, ‘I’ve always felt that way but have never known how to say it’ or when someone brings out something I’ve written in times of pain or joy.”

For both Mimi and John, their work is also about helping others find their story. “I have always hoped my writing, teaching, and editing would be a positive influence and help others find their own stories and voices,” John says.

Mimi adds, “As a teacher, I want to help writers find their voices and say the things they’ve always wanted to say. Our goal in Writeaways is to help each writer’s work become what it wants to be when it grows up.”

Mimi Herman
Web: MimiHerman.com

John Yewell
Web: JohnYewell.com

Writeaways (Writing workshops with Mimi Herman and John Yewell)
Web: Writeaways.com
Facebook: /Writeawaysinfo
Twitter: @Writeawaysinfo

Photos courtesy Mimi and John.

Karen Pavlicin-Fragnito is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction books for adults and children, and publisher of Books Make a Difference magazine.

Books Make a Difference magazine and Elva Resa Publishing partnered with Writeaways workshop leaders Mimi Herman and John Yewell to provide a full scholarship for a military-connected woman writer to attend a 2018 Tuscany Writeaway.

This article was first published in June 2018.

One Comment

  1. Mimi,
    This was a pleasure to discover—this information on the interesting things you and John are doing. I retire from my practice next month and hope to look into your travel-write program. Meanwhile, what a terrific solution to some of life’s challenges about how to write/travel more.

    Warm wishes,
    Your Wally friend,

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