Retiree writing group tells stories from the foothills

Amena Matcheswala, Reporter

Hidden within the hills of North Carolina lies a rich history of stories often untold. However, a writing group composed of retirees from counties across the foothills region with a love for storytelling have been uncovering these tales through their new anthology of short stories. 

For the third year in a row, the group, named the Foothills Writers, put out their anthology of short stories, “Our Foothills III.” The book was published through Kindle Direct Publishing Aug. 1. 

Their third anthology is a collection of responses to prompts centered around nostalgic reflection of the state’s foothills. Chapters explore topics ranging from the history of the foothills, such as Gretchen Griffith’s “From Flanders Field to the Carolina Foothills,” a memoir of a fallen WWI soldier, to a recount from Michael Fitzgerald, writer and veteran, of his experiences as a truck driver through the region.

“I think the anthology is the foothills. We try to be regional in either drawing or focusing on things within the region or things we think will be of interest to people in the region,” Fitzgerald said.

Foothills Writers was not always intended to turn into the successful alliance of published authors that they have become. The group’s roots lie in supporting one another’s interest in writing simply for themselves. They began in 2018, with members at various levels of expertise meeting once a week to present lessons to one another on writing techniques, explore prompts and introduce each other to new writing styles. 

“It’s amazing how we can take one simple prompt and come up with so many varied stories that are not even related to each other,” Griffith said. “You’d think everybody would come up with the same story, but we’re so different, our minds think differently. I’ve learned so much from this group with just the way that they put words together, and that helps with my writing too.” 

Some of the writers come from a background of writing, such as Griffith, who is the author of 12 published books and self-titled “storycatcher.” For others, the group is an opportunity to explore a new interest and their first chance at being published. Take Karen Downs, a retired nurse who recently discovered her love for writing and used it to journal throughout the pandemic. 

As time went on and their writing became more focused, the group made the decision to collect their responses to weekly prompts and publish through Amazon Publishing. While the first two anthologies were broader, more eclectic collections of writing based on a more wide ranging variety of prompts, the third anthology reflected the groups combined growth with a more focused topic. 

“Some of the stories I’m more content with than others. Some stories are just filling a requirement, like a writing assignment, and some were real stories that I wanted to write someday and share with people and the anthology gave me the opportunity to do that,” Fitzgerald said. 

The process of writing the anthology reflects very closely with how the group initially organized their meetings for those looking to improve their writing. Back when they first began, members met every week at a public library in Caldwell County, where they would share a topic on improving their writing that each member was assigned to research the previous week. 

The group also used this time to share short stories they wrote based on various prompts they created, exploring styles ranging from haiku poetry to fiction and prose. Now, after they transitioned to writing with the intent of publishing, the group uses their weekly meetings to read each other’s short stories and peer edit. This review process they do completely on their own with the help of other writers from the group. 

“I’m a beginner, and this is the first time I had anything published. I had written things, but I hadn’t shared them. To have my work critiqued throughout the group, and have it passed — it’s good, that was rewarding to me,” said Kathy Lyday, retired Caldwell County teacher and a writer for the group. 

“Our Anthology III” can be accessed through its Amazon storefront, as well as through various independent bookstores throughout the foothills region.