NR Spotlight: East Side Story
by Claire Jimenez and Anne Charlton
Settled in a city famous for its music, a small organization with the goal of promoting Nashville’s literary scene seeks to give writers and readers a place to come together. This is East Side Story—more an idea than a business, more a network than a building.
East Side Story’s proprietor, Chuck Beard, hails from Bowling Green, Kentucky. Though he spent time in central Kentucky, attending Centre College, Beard claims the Nashville area as his “cultural and entertainment education.” East Side Story began when Chuck entered an idea into a contest organized by Nashville’s Proof Branding Solutions, who would assist the winner with getting their idea off the ground. Chosen from over 100 ideas, East Side Story became a reality in August 2012.
Even though East Side Story hasn’t been in business long, Chuck has already impacted his community through this dynamic idea. According to its website, East Side Story “encourages, supports, cultivates, and provides a platform for local writers to tell their best story.” Currently, East Side Story consists mainly of the bookstore itself, a radio show, and readings, with many more events and ideas under way. Claire Jimenez, a graduate of Vanderbilt’s MFA program in fiction, and I sat down with Chuck to talk about what his idea has become.
Claire Jimenez: How did the store start and what were some of your ideas behind it?
Chuck Beard: I have several friends who are writers who are published and self-published, and I married a visual artist, so most of my friends here are musicians and artists. And there’s a ton of galleries and a ton of music venues but there’s no real place, even if you are published, to get your work out—and not only just cultivate your work and progress, to get better and better when you’re out of school, but also to showcase what you do have in the manner that you want, without strings attached. It just seemed like an obvious, necessary good.
CJ: I liked that, in the reading series that you have, you ask questions afterward. How did you think of that?
CB: Thinking of what I’d want to go see. I feel like the readers are kind of like an appetizer for the audience before the music and for a lot of the musicians—when it comes down to it, these are all stories too, just in a different form. So I felt like the interview at the end was a great way to wrap up and have closure and get them all on an equal ground when they’re coming from their different dynamics. There are a lot of similarities; they have that common bond through that rite of passage experience.
CJ: It’s also a really cool way to share craft publicly. You get to have that conversation outside of the classroom.
CB: Yes; seeing how it relates to you in your own life whether you’re doing something creative or just doing a regular job and making it more creative.
Anne Charlton: It makes it a lot more relatable: looking at literature and art as something that people actually do. You don’t already have to be good at it or something like that.
CB: Yes. The featured author for this last [reading], Ralph Murphy, wrote a book called Murphy’s Laws of Songwriting: The Book. He’s a Hall of Fame songwriter and Vice President of the Group of the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers (GASCAP). He’s kind of a big wig with over five decades of experience but everything that he was talking about for songwriting was totally relatable to anything anybody’s doing—artistic or in your job, being more creative. If you’re going to do anything and put forth that common effort and energy into something, you’re going to need to have this system with things to check off, like ‘be happy,’ ‘have fun,’ but then also it needs to be marketable in some way to help you keep doing what you’re doing—and how to apply that to your everyday life.
CJ: Who are your favorite Nashville writers right now?
CB: My number one favorite would have to be J.T. Ellison because she is—she’ll be a New York Times bestseller before long, an international best seller—but she was one of the first bigger names who welcomed this idea and us with open arms. Everyone in here with us has been the same way; her name just came to mind first because she was one of the first.
CJ: What are the qualities of a writer that you really like?
CB: In [Ellison’s], all her [books] are like CSI—not old school detective stuff but fast-paced, almost like Dan Brown, with that kind of pace. Everything’s such great writing; it’s very clear. All of her books have been with a female lead character, and even if you aren’t into that, her style of writing will suck you in like a great movie. It’s great action. It’s crime, like Criminal Minds—a combination of all those things—real life drama.
CJ: Do you think there are certain themes, topics or obsessions of Nashville writers?
CB: No, I think it’s just as eclectic as the full scale of taking a lineup of different people and different things—there’s a plethora, the whole gamut. The fiction is totally off the wall and different from book to book, and even the nonfiction—you’ve got stories of people coming back from the war, people talking to strangers on bus trips, then you’ve got the history of the area. Every single book is totally different, which is great.
AC: What is one of the best stories to come out of ESS since it started?
CB: The day we opened! (laughs) Yeah, one day—I just like bringing other people in from the community—it was around Christmas time. We just had an idea to bring people together from Lockeland Table up the way, and I talked to the owners of the Arts & Invention Gallery, talked to a friend of mine from Bowling Green whose Dad is the quintessential Santa Claus—so we combined all those things. We also talked to the Salvation Army with the Angel Tree—and we had two families doing that, where all the gifts were already bought. So one day, they came over, and we all served them over at Lockeland Table. Then the next day we picked them up, brought them over here, gave them shirts and told them about the bookstore. Then all of the sudden Santa Claus came in, read some stories with them, and they got all their gifts.
So it was just combining different aspects of all that stuff—and we’ll probably do it again next year with another family. The best thing about [East Side Story] is that it’s a blank canvas, a blank literary canvas—for example, Santa told stories, that’s a literary thing. It’s for anyone who wants to share their talent and their time—just making a good idea happen—whether it’s writing a book or publishing or incorporating reading into some other fun activity.
AC: I like how it’s as much about getting groups together and impacting the community together as much as East Side Story having its own specific goals and direction.
CB: Yeah. I feel like you can’t limit yourself, but you have to have direction, which, in this case, is ‘all local’—then you can do everything with it. But if you’re a one-trick pony, then when times are slow, if you change, you’re changing what you started in the first place.
CJ: How do you balance your own writing and working?
CB: I haven’t really written anything creatively since I’ve opened this just because of the time. It’s hard, doing all this other stuff, to feel ‘Okay, I’m going to be selfish’ for something because, in the end, writing is locking yourself up in a certain area or place and it’s a very individual thing. The idea is just finding a way to work it all out.
AC: What are some of the goals you have for ESS in the long term, seeing what you’ve done so far?
CB: I think just expounding on what has worked, making it even better, and continuing with people coming up with ideas and making those happen. The radio show has been building so eventually, hopefully, someone else will pick it up and keep it going. Just trial and error—I’d like to try some book clubs and get more awareness. A couple of months ago, when we first opened, I had a call for writers to come in and submit stories, and that started off great. But after a few months it dwindled, so it’ll just be putting the power with the people and having them respond, so I can see what works. And I’d like to publish a little bit, probably just one project at a time. We have one in copyediting right now, and it’s combining local authors with local artists. It’s in the process of a final edit.
CJ: What’s been the most exciting discovery that you’ve made? Something you didn’t know that you know now?
CB: I think just all the people, whether it’s all the people in these [nearby] stores who work together—it’s almost like family—or the authors. For me, it’s one thing to say “Hey, here’s my book,” and start a writing group. But with this, it’s a big extended family. After every sale, I email [the group] the sale, and if it’s an author musician or artist, I’ll include that link. It’s something that doesn’t take long for me to do, but it means a lot to them, and in turn, it means a lot to me—that connection.
CJ: It makes a community.
CB: Yes. But it’s even more than hitting a like on Facebook but not ever seeing that person—I feel like I’m a part of their life and vice versa, more so than just passing on the street. Sometimes it’s just like clocking into work—these are my coworkers, even though I don’t see them every day. You see them when you’re doing events or talking about ideas, but it doesn’t really hit me until my wife will be here and I’ll introduce her to an author she hasn’t met yet—worlds colliding. You don’t think about the impact until that comes right to your face.
CJ: What are your dreams for the writer scene in Nashville?
CB: I think just that it’s there. For authors, (ESS) is a tool you can use however you want, You can utilize it as much as possible. My hope is that the longer we’re here, the more people get involved, whether it’s just buying a book in here or workshops or events, people taking ownership on their own. That’s why I say proprietor on my card—aside from it just being a cooler name, I don’t really own anything in here—until things sell, I’m just the shareholder, the messenger.
AC: It’s like giving people an avenue to get their work out, a way to do what they’re trying to do anyway.
CB: Yes. This is just the physical thing, and then on the technology side, you can do fresh material, stuff you’re wanting to try that isn’t published. Just have fun with it.
CJ: So how can people get involved with you guys?
CB: Email and come by, just like you all did. With events, if you have an idea, bring it in to me; we can talk about it together, think about dates, see if we can make it even better if that’s possible, and then make it happen. Regardless of its being just a book signing or release party, or if it’s something major like the Salvation Army thing; there’s no real difference. If you get good people invited and involved, it’s not anything to me other than showing up. It’s just people doing what they do anyway. It’s not asking anyone to get out of their comfort zones; it’s just bringing their talents. If you just say ‘I’m going do this and see what happens,’ then nothing bad ever comes out of those good intentions.
For more information about East Side Story, please visit http://www.eastsidestorytn.com.
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