The full Wolf moon rose so close you could touch, it but it burst a vessel and bled red.
The little boy, thinking about the 5 acts of kindness he has been commissioned to do today on Martin Luther King Day, drew a picture of the tents beneath the interstate on Claiborne Avenue that he drives past in his city where “the people have no homes.”
This is a voodoo daffodil bulb drying in the hidden chambers of the Morris Ice Company, which my family sold at the end of 2018.
A small press loved The Bone Trench enough to say “We are fans,” and even though it didn’t fit their list, they recommended other, subversive presses—perhaps I misperceive my writing: me, subversive?
My husband is the best grandfather ever, which is what he intended to do when he retired: be a grandfather. He’s doing a really good job with it.
I think of the specifics we wish for each other at the new year’s beginning—good health, loving family, dreams fulfilled—and I know it can’t be. Because this is Life. Even now, those I care about are facing health challenges, overwhelming obligations and anxiety while fighting rolling fogs of unknown troubles.
So what do I wish for?
Unexpected gifts. Pleasant surprises. The discovery of new skills and appreciation of old talents. Awareness of happiness as it creeps into your life.
A slowing down of the grinding pace of life. Relief. Bursts of joy. Contentment. Pride. Satisfaction of accomplishment. Acceptance of endings and beginnings. A calming of fears. The determination that you, not circumstances, will define your peace.
In this spirit, last night, after a wonderful dinner at Peche and a pleasant New Year’s Eve, when the neighbor (predictably) cranked up the music, my husband said, “Well, he’s due,” and I said, “Let’s take these blankets and sleep in the living room.” So we drifted off to sleep, back-to-back, him on the sofa and me on the futon, awoken only once by the fireworks booming from Crescent Park in a splendiferous display of light.
And, because it can’t hurt to ask, let us wish that I sell a manuscript, the Saints win the Super Bowl, and WordPress quits fooling with its format. 🙂
After 3 WEEKS of being sick, I’m feeling better and lifting my head to realize Christmas is barreling down the calendar. So up went the improv nativity
who is a great successor to Space Alien Jesus from 2014, a real hit
and out came the Mardi Gras hat repurposed as a Christmas hat
and during a brisk walk through the Marigny a quick snap of my favorite Christmas decoration among all the lively New Orleans decorations.
which is a perfect compliment to my traditional blue and pink Christmas peacock
And, yes: I love the Christ in Christmas and that my religion celebrates the physical incarnation of God into this world, thereby rejoicing in a world suffused with the Spirit and that no matter what I put in my nativity set or on my body or plug in during the starry nights, God is there in all the Spirit’s flashing, illumined, humorous glory.
I hope the Christmas Spirit or whatever activates your soul during these long, lonely winter months (or happy summer months for the folks down under) fills you with joy!
This fall, I got back into the submission game (no, this isn’t a sex post). My head has been buried in novels for so long, my submitting of shorter work fell off the cliff. Something clicked, and I wanted to re-up. But I wanted to do it differently this time.
I wanted newer, more interesting journals. Less staid grandfathers of literary excellence and more online ambitious journals. So (you know the drill) I researched, I paired work with journals, and I sent the suckers out.
In two weeks, the “fall” submitting period is pretty much over. I’ve yet to hear back from several journals (some of which I’ve got my fingers crossed for) but I’m soooooo happy with the results so far. Here they are.
“A Nun and a Baller Walk into a Bar” appeared in Crack the Spine. I was thrilled the story led off the issue (probably purely random), and the issue itself was lovely. The journal is very active on Twitter, sharing the work of its contributors, which I much appreciate. Here’s the opening:
The family is gone. My car is parked two blocks from the cemetery. I’m walking the gravel paths trying to make my brain remember what important thing happened, but I’m high on drugs. Legal, but still they mess with your mind.
Have I told you this story already?
I’ve already told you about “The Yellow Line” which appeared in the December issue of StoryBoard Memphis. It was a delight. I had strangers contacting me about the story. 🙂 And old friends who read it reconnecting. 🙂 Fun, fun. For those of you not in Memphis, you can read the online version at the StoryBoard website. It’s the Magic Issue. The story starts at page 19, along with an Author Introduction and an interview of me.
“Atomirotica,” an essay, will appear in Literary Orphans. I can’t include an excerpt as that would blow the tension building as the literary world eagerly awaits the debut of the shocking essay (okay, I’m the only one eagerly awaiting, but still.) Stay tuned.
Finally, “Never, Never, Never” will appear in 2019 in Connotation Press, an Online Artifact This story is an excerpt of sorts from THE BONE TRENCH (the characters in the story cycle through the novel until we realize who they are and the role they’re playing.). Since I lost my agent on THE BONE TRENCH, I’m particularly happy these words will release into the world. A while back, Ron Rash judged “Never, Never, Never” the winner of the Tennessee Writers Association Fiction contest. I got to meet him. He, the author of Saints at the River, said in “Never, Never,”Never” the Mississippi River is a character. That made me proud. I’ll let you know when it’s out in the world.
So that’s the round up for today. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas and winter solstice looming. I’ve been sick FOREVER, so Christmas gifting will be hit or miss this year. I’m leaving you with my gift from my talented photographer sister, my new one-hand head shot. 🙂 Happy, happy to all!
In my recent blog post I detailed how many, many writing classes I’ve taken and shared the best writing advice I’ve gotten. If you haven’t read it, jump over there and take a look. Be sure to look at the comments where others have offered their advice too. Today, I’m going to share what I’ve learned from writing for the last 17 years. Self-given advice, if you want. I’m inviting you again to leave your own hard-learned advice in the comments below. Maybe our sharing can keep others from having to learn it the hard way.
If the title doesn’t fit, it means the story isn’t finished
This is backwards from most folks, but if the title to one of my pieces doesn’t make sense, I don’t need to pick a new title. I need to rework the story so that the point of title becomes clearer, to bring out this primary point. Only once or twice have I continued to work on the story and picked a different title. Never have I combed through the story for a different title and declared it finished as is.
Beginning a sentence with a conjunction seems necessary but seldom is.
My first drafts always have tons of sentences opening with “And” or “But.” It seems essential at the time to string the prior thought into the next. It isn’t. Good revision of one or both of the sentences usually makes that clear.
You can overdo “Show don’t tell.”
The reader needs some telling. It’s called exposition. Exposition gives the reader a rest. Unlike scene, exposition does a lot of the reader’s work for her. After all, the writer is telling the reader what’s happening rather than asking the reader to live it/figure it out via scene. I had so absorbed the “Show don’t tell” maxim that I frequently told zilch. That was a mistake.
What seems like a normal amount of text on a typed computer page can be very dense on the printed page
For spacial reasons I’m sure, large paragraphs look more normal on the computer screen or printed page than they do when printed in a book. On the printed page, they look overblown, run-on, unnecessary. I believe editors know this, which is why they’re always trying to get authors to trim, but no one has ever actually told me this. But it is my observation.
If I have a sudden, brilliant insight on a word that will work in a sentence, it’s usually because I’ve used it in a nearby sentence
This has happened more times than I care to count. I’m casting about for a good word. I have a sudden epiphany on the perfect word I need. I put it in, then I look up the page and down. Yep, there it is. Like my brain saw that word and said, “Hey, I know a brilliant word you can use.” Lazy brain.
Learn your writing/revision cycle and work around it
My first draft I underwrite. Always have. Next drafts, I overwrite, mostly trying to explain everything that’s not clear in the first draft. Final reviews, I ease back on the throttle, trusting the reader to do some of the work. It cycles like this every time. I know to look for it now, the explanations that need to be added in early rounds, the fat to be cut in later rounds. The biggest mistake I make is believing the fat rounds are the final product. Yeah, it makes sense, but usually those are the most boring versions. Give it a bit more time. Make the fat sizzle.
Which brings me to my final, most important learning:
Writing takes a long time
I have recently discovered that I write a lot of novels (7 to date) to a point where I think they’re finished then move on to the next novel, which I write until I think it’s finished, and so on. But the novels aren’t finished (I had an old agent make this same mistake with Tracking Happiness, believing it finished when it wasn’t.) When I realize this, I go back and revise the old work while also working on the new novel. I wind up juggling 2-3 novels at a time. (Right now, I’m polishing HARBORING EVIL and doing one final round on THE HART WOMEN while readying MODEL FOR DECEPTION for publication.) I read a marvelous interview of Deborah Eisenberg by Erin Bartnett in Electric Lit wherein she said:
When you sit down you write, I don’t know a page or whatever you write, two pages, a paragraph, and you think “Ah! Isn’t that marvelous. I’ve expressed myself so utterly and beautifully.” And then you look at it the next day and you can’t believe what an idiot you were! I mean you just can’t believe it! It’s so mortifying. But I think it’s very very important to develop the confidence through experience that you can make things almost infinitely better than they start out being. If you keep working on it, it’s going to get good. And the fact that it’s bad at first doesn’t mean that you’re ill-suited to do it, it just means that it takes time.
This quote was very comforting to me, especially the mortifying part. 🙂
What about you? What have you learned along your writing journey?
I spent eight years assisting those who were experiencing homelessness to get their voices into the world. So I am acutely aware that in my short story, The Yellow Line, I am writing in the voice of a woman whose experiences I cannot actually know. But Leroy Scott, one of the authors of Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness, once told me, “Ellen, you’ve been with us every week for years. You can do that.“
So, Memphis folks, go pick up a copy of Storyboard Memphis. Read The Yellow Line. Then say a silent thank you to the men and women who joined the Door of Hope Writing Group and let me be a part of their lives, if only for a little while.
He stopped me in the stairwell of the yellow brick church on Monroe. It was our first session of the Door of Hope Writing Group held at the church. The church was temporary. We’d moved there from the backyard of Manna House where I teetered across the gravel in my high heels and June Averyt flung out her arm and said, “This is Ellen Prewitt. She’s going to teach us how to be a writing group.” In the church, we wrote in the kitchen, but at least we were inside.
I didn’t know him. I didn’t know anyone yet, though Leroy Scott and Tommy Payne had already lodged themselves in my memory. I don’t know if I even recognized him from a prior session—was his beret familiar?—or if this was our first time going from strangers to a person. He wanted to know, “What was that word you used about my writing?”
We talked about craft in writing group. We talked about it a lot. Each time a member shared their writing, I commented on something craft-driven in what they’d written. He had written a story about his time working on Beale Street and, to describe the impact the glittery African-American street in Memphis had on this small-town boy, he included backstory on his life.
“Backstory,” I told him in answer to his question. “When you include something that is necessary to understand the point you want to make.”
He repeated it—”Backstory”—like I do when I wanted to stick something in my brain.
Gradually, I came to know him as Roderick. Roderick Baldwin. I wasn’t clear if he was a guest at Door of Hope or in charge, but that was a decision I made early on, not to differentiate between staff, who often joined us writing, and guests who were experiencing homelessness. Over time, he became the manager of the Door of Hope support center where we moved shortly thereafter.
Roderick—along with Leroy Scott, Tommy Payne, Robb Patton, and William L. Hogan, Jr—was a founding member of the Door of Hope Writing Group (not me, because—and this is basic—one person can’t start a group; I was the instigator, trigger, grit in the oyster, but not a founder.) He was at the first organizational meeting of what became The Bridge, the Memphis street newspaper started by the Rhodes College students. He because its vendor liaison. He became one of the authors of Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness. He became my mentor, guiding me along the path of interacting with those who were living on the street. And he became a friend.
Unless Roderick was out of town or had a doctor’s appointment, I think it’s safe to say he attended every Door of Hope Writing Group meeting we ever had. We met for 8 years. Weekly.
Roderick passed last week, and we will be having his funeral Saturday. We talked on the phone whenever I was out of town. We visited whenever I was in town. One of the last things he said to me when I told him I was stopping by with something for him but not coming inside because I had a bug and might be contagious was, “Oh, you and me, we’ll be okay.” Of the Door of Hope Writing Group founding members, only Tommy remains.
In 2001, I quit practicing law and decided to learn to write. That was 17 years ago. I’ve taken all kinds of writing instruction—continuing ed at local colleges. Audited classes in real MFA programs. Writing conferences in town, out of town, and out of state. Day workshops, weekend workshops, week-long workshops, and one marathon 16 day workshop. (Thank you, Sewanee). I’ve been a member of 3 long-running writing groups where writing was discussed and shared. And here, on this very blog, is a distillation of the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten.
What about you? Please offer your favorite advice in the comments below.
Write the sentence so that the reader has to read to the end to get the needed information
This one is hard to explain, but it’s invaluable. For example, don’t write, “The cat vomited up a big hairball when I turned my back.” The reader is going to stop reading at hairball. Instead write, “When I turned my back, the cat vomited up a big hairball.” So, yeah, there were probably better examples, but I hope you get the point, which came from the very talented Richard Bausch.
Write each scene as if you were sighting through a camera lens
I really love this advice. It keeps you in the proper point of view. It insures you include enough (and the correct) details for the reader to visualize what’s going on. It must be working, because one of the recurring comments I get on my writing has to do with readers being able to see the story as if it were a movie.
Read your drafts out loud
The friend who gave me this advice read her drafts to the teddy bears lined up on her bed. I have upgraded this advice to where the mechanical voice on my computer reads the manuscript to me. It is THE best tool for finding typos and eliminating repeated words.
Cut extraneous prepositions
This is a subset of the general advice to know your personal tics and revise for them. The problem is, I’m from the American South. We Southerners consistently add prepositions when they’re not needed. (“out of the window,” for example). This advice not only streamlines my writing. It also keeps me from sounding like a rube.
Have a non-word-based creative hobby
This advice came from the writing instructor who told me I needed to get a book published while I still did “good book jacket.” Missed that deadline. But her advice about having a 2nd, physical creative outlet was genius. She made hats (I know, crazy lady in hats.) I’ve done various things, but my latest involves making weird dolls from broken and found objects. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Write what you love
I got this bit of advice after a looooooong period of writing about the difficult things in my life. It was an amazing release, a long sigh of relief, a big hallelujah of joy. Writing has been a lot more fun ever since.
Do whatever works for you
This sounds so simple, but for a long time when I first took up writing, I got very rigid, “you have to do it this way” advice. Make outlines. Diagram your plots. Use storyboards.
My worst experience of giving into the didacticism was when an editor said we needed to do “rounds.” I knew that process of breaking revision into character, plot, theme, etc., wouldn’t work for my brain, which needs all the material out there at once so I can see how it fits together. It was a disaster. That sealed my determination to do it my way.
So what writing advice do you find yourself going back to over and over again?
As you, my faithful readers, know, I am an amateur neuropsychologist. A student of the brain, as it were. An untrained student, but surely that only leads to freedom of thought. Because of this interest, as I go through my days, I consider brain issues. Thus, when I was listening to the Tanis Podcast (which is excellent by the way, if you don’t mind frequent tangential asides that have nothing to do with anything) and they were talking about mass hysteria, it occurred to me the brain might be to blame.
Here’s my thought. I’d like your (amateur) opinion. Unless there are actual qualified neuropsychologists out there in reader land, which, if so, please chime in. The theory being as follows:
We have fears. Some are of our own devising. Others are manufactured, such as an occult movie that watchers believe will make them lose their mind if they watch it (this, the Tenebras Occulta, was the subject of the Tanis episode, and, in fact, has its own podcast). Such fears are often persistent or, though of limited duration (such as with the movie) intense. The fears pound and pound the brain, assaulting it. The brain knows the fears aren’t real—for example, nothing indicates we are going to catch ALS and lose the use of our limbs—yet they persist. And persist. The brain wards them off for a while, often for a long, long time.
But what if the brain finally gives up? What if it says, okay, you idiot. I know this is just a fear. But if you insist, I will make it so. And whatever we’re afraid of becomes reality. We watch the movie and actually do lose our mind. We fear we will get ALS, and, in the most ironic twist of fate, we do. Or is it irony? Perhaps it’s the brain that eventually mistakes fear for directive.
I shared this theory with my husband as we rode in the red Mustang humming down the highway listening to the podcast (but paused so I could voice my amateur neuropsychiatry theory.) I asked him, do you think that’s possible?
No, he said. If it were a legitimate theory, all the true, professional students of the brain would have discovered it.
But I am a stubborn amateur. And I continue to believe it is a possibility. Do you?
I’ll be joining several book clubs in the Memphis area during December. TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE makes a great book club selection. Memorable characters. Intriguing plot. Life wisdom. All leads to a lively discussion.
If you’re in the general Southeastern United States, and you’d like Lucinda and me to visit your book club in 2019, use the contact form to give me a holler. We’ll jump on the train and be there. 😉
So it’s cold in New Orleans, or at least cold for New Orleans. We got a cold weather alert from the weather alert service that usually concerns itself with hurricanes. But this time it was a “it’s gonna be cold-as-hell, y’all” warning. The Citywide Freeze protocols are being activated. When I get such warnings, I have to respond that, yes, I received the warning. It’s gonna by 29 with wind chill tonight. I responded: got it.
Last year when I was in New Orleans during a cold snap, I looked all over the place for gloves. Couldn’t find any. So yesterday when I saw a pair of gloves in Walgreens, I snapped those suckers up. They seemed kind of stylish to me, in a post-modern, chainmail weaponish sort of way. (A little voice in my head told me this might not be correct, but I forged ahead, certain my fashion sense could carry it off.) I wore them over to the kids’ house last night. I showed them off to my daughter-in-law. She immediately said, “I think you have them on backwards.”
It took me a while to confirm that she was right—they could be worn the other way around—because my sense of direction knows no test it can’t fail. “See?” she said. “They’re gripper gloves.”
I wanted them to be avant-garde textured gloves.
I’m sticking with my approach. Paired them today with the dorky shoes I bought right before my hip surgeries because during that time I needed something I wouldn’t trip in. I fell in love with the shoes. Now I wear them even when I don’t have to.
Orthopedic shoes and gripper gloves.
Tom says, “You make your own style.”
Here’s a better shot of the gloves. There is no better shot of the shoes.
Wait until I show y’all my gold chainmail earrings and post-modern go-go boots, the beginnings of this year’s Mardi Gras costume. You’re gonna love it, I just know.
Over the years, my work has been in the grandfathers and godmothers of journals (Brevity, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Image, etc). Then I took a hiatus (I stepped into that quicksand known as “writing a novel.”) A couple of months ago, I decided to jump back into short stories, and—ha!—I got a story accepted for publication. I am giddily happy with my story appearing in this month’s issue of Crack the Spine.
It was a sad day when the Magic girls left town. The three—a brunette, blonde, and redhead—brightened every party, enlivened every boring Sunday afternoon, skipped every brunch, and danced on every unoccupied table. They were fun girls, the Magics. Each born within twelve months of the other—brunette first, blonde second, redhead bringing up the rear like the bright caboose—they were distinguishable only by their hair.
Plus, the redhead wore less clothes.
She showed her midriff, a no-no in a small Southern town.
The aunt commented on it, the bare tummy. The Magic girls were orphans, you see. No papa and no mama. The aunt fulfilled the mama’s roll, lax as she was, only surfacing every so often to lazily comment on her wards’ inability to comply with social mores. The blonde, arriving at the aunt’s house to request a recipe for cheesy popcorn, heard the aunt’s midriff complaint uttered to the librarian who’d come to reclaim an overdue book. The blonde did not defend her sister. She did not object at all. She pondered and, as the complaint marinated in her brain, it led to a competition. After all, the relationship among the sisters was built on nothing if not extravagance.
The blonde created an excuse to appear in public in a very low-cut ball gown. The redhead, suddenly aware that a contest was afoot, entered a karaoke contest in a sleeveless, backless romper. The brunette, worried where this was headed, began wearing ruffled granny blouses, trying to derail the vibe. It didn’t work. When the local Memorial Day parade rolled around, the blonde appeared perched on the backseat of a Mustang convertible, waving her pale hand, nothing on but a swimsuit. When she smiled, she channeled the ghost of her dead mother, whose head had been bald as an egg.
I forgot to mention. The Magic girls all had the same smile. Imprinted since birth, identical. And, on each one, a crooked left incisor.
One was a pharmacist (the men said “You wear fewer clothes than any pharmacist I know”) and one was a farmer (she grew prize-winning sweet potatoes) and one was a driver long before there was anything known as Lyft or Uber. An entrepreneur in a small town where everyone drank excessively and the local police made the budget off DUI arrests. The tipsy town folks loved the redhead. When their annual festival rolled around, they named her the muse who married Poseidon (the town spread along the Gulf Coast) and crowned her with a seaweed crown. Which she wore with a nude body suit. She looked like a wild naked mermaid.
The blonde seethed with jealousy. The brunette, mourning the closeness that had been, began wearing black funeral attire. A tight black suit with a satin jacket. Black pumps. Half veil. She looked really sexy.
The worm turned.
The blonde and the redhead realized they’d been left behind. Mystery had reemerged. There is nothing worse than being caught without enough clothes on.
The two ignobles decided there was nothing left for them in the small seaside town. They packed their bags. The aunt made arrangements to send postcards. The brunette, so newly enthralled with her ascendency, could not imagine life without a foil, or two. She stuffed black lingerie into an overnight bag and hightailed it to the airport, driving her own car because the town’s only faux-Lyft driver was already at the airport. The three bought tickets to Memphis. New territory to conquer. Bigger but not too big. Land of Cotton Carnival. And a pig festival.
When the plane’s wheels lost contact with the runway’s asphalt, the town shuddered in abandonment. The jet engines roared, and sucked all that had been glamorous right out of their lives.
Not quite all.
For back in town, in a park hosting the world’s largest live oak, on a green-slatted bench, sat a girl with legs as long as that elusive ribbon of highway. The fourth Magic sister. A sleeper. Ready to dominate. She could tap dance the varnish right off a stage. She rose and walked toward the center of town, her raven hair swishing like fireflies. When she smiled, her crooked incisor glittered.
So, men and women showed up to my book signing with chickens on their heads. They sat in the audience while we conducted the heart of the signing, a “True or Fiction” poll. I read excerpts from TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE and the listening audience voted: Fact or Fiction. If the excerpt was actually true, my DJ husband let loose a train whistle (for ‘You’re on the right track’).
If the excerpt was a pure product of my imagination, the expert DJ let loose a chicken clucking (for ‘You’re clucked.’)
One of the excerpts I selected was a sex scene. Yep. I went there. I read it, then the audience had to vote if it was true. The scene had to do with taking off your silver lame britches before climbing a ladder into a treehouse. As I read, the room got quieter. A collective sigh of relief rippled through the audience when the scene turned comic.
(ps It was Fiction, though as an audience member pointed out, the bit about the silver lame pants was true.)
Also, an audience member asked me during the Q&A, given how totally funny and hysterical the book was, had I been the class clown growing up? Y’all. I was quiet as a mouse. Totally shy. Extremely self-conscious. I told the woman in the audience I am very introverted…as I clowned around on stage. It gave me pause. When had I gone into comedy? So, right there in front of a room of people (half of whom I didn’t know), I worked it out. I told her I got divorced. I’d been uncomfortably repressed in that marriage. After the divorce, I sprung up like a Jack-in-the-box.
Good Lord. Doing public therapy at a book signing.
Then the audience members in chicken hats did a mysterious chicken dance and an improv on a chicken’s reaction to reading the book, which ended with a reference to chicken’s singing during sex.
Early, early in my writing career, I attended a writers’ conference in Oxford, Mississippi. It was full of writer panels. The writers were serious, full of themselves, dare I say pompous? I thought, get over yourself. You haven’t cured cancer. You wrote a damn book. After an accompanying cocktail party, I was walking back to the hotel with my ever-supportive husband and I said, “Please, if I am ever lucky enough to get a book published, dear God, don’t let me turn into a turd.”
I have a wonderful life. My loves, my cities, my writing, those who support me through all my tumbling around. Oh, and hedgehogs—I got to pet a hedgehog at Boo at the Zoo last weekend. Honestly, I could not ask for more. And I also have periods of runaway anxiety and fear.
It’s not Mental Health Awareness month that I know of. Nor have I ever been diagnosed with a condition. I have no reason for posting this and telling y’all about my difficulties, except a need to say it.
Partly, it often feels as if social media insists on unrelenting happiness and beauty. (I know this is an old thought, but it’s a continuing issue). Maybe our public mirrors are so upbeat because when joy hits our world, our human reaction is to share it. We are social creatures, more so than we give ourselves credit for. Sharing joy with another person exponentially increases it, almost as if we get to re-live it each time someone joins in. For joy, for ineffable joy.
But sharing sorrow? Fear? Despondency? Where is the joy in that?
As a result, we can get the message that we are the only ones who struggle. The only ones who have no reason to complain—and don’t—but who lie awake at night fearing the crumbling of our world. (Right here I feel the need to tell my mother that I’m okay; it’s just the way it is; you don’t need to worry about my worry.)
A new friend was telling me recently about her eye condition that left dark spots in her vision. She began taking eye vitamins and—lo and behold—the spots disappeared. Similarly, the dark spots in my life are purely a product of the way I see the world. They float into my consciousness and, before I realize it, they are blotting out all the goodness. I understand this, and yet at times I can’t evict the dark spot from my brain.
These times pass. I return to the land of light. If you follow the Enneagram, I am a six. Sixes are fear-based people. Richard Rohr thinks there are more sixes than any other type. Fear is verrrrrry common. So, in a way, rather than viewing my dark troughs as failures, I could view my default position of happiness as an ongoing, uncelebrated victory.
In closing (how formal is that?), if you have moments, afternoons, days of overwhelming fear, you are not alone. And, to paraphrase a church I visited once upon a time, “The Universe loves you, and so do I.” Let love prevail.
Practice makes perfect. Okay, not perfect. But better.
Second time around, the formatting and uploading and approval of the novel went SO MUCH SMOOTHER! A proof copy of MODEL FOR DECEPTION is winging its way to me as we speak. That’s the print version. I’ll take a look at it, and hopefully it will be as expected. Then I’ll send it out to review services to see what they think about it. If they like it, you’ll hear about it. If they don’t, I’ll bury the reviews, and we shall never speak of them gain.
The BIG PLAN is to release MODEL FOR DECEPTION Valentine’s Day 2019.
MODEL FOR DECEPTION is a cozy mystery. Here’s the back cover blurb:
Vangie Street is older—thirty-two to be exact—when she takes up modeling in the “big city” of Memphis. She loves showing the fabulous clothes almost as much as she loves her pound-puppy Retro, her cute if slightly decrepit Midtown cottage, and her hunky new boyfriend Nash. Life is perfect—until an expensive earring shown by Vangie’s modeling partner Heather Jackson disappears at the Memphis spring fashion season kickoff. When Heather herself disappears, Vangie must use her “clothes whisperer” intuition to puzzle out the truth of what’s going on….and keep her own self out of trouble.
Model for Deception is a cozy mystery featuring fashion model Vangie Street who reads people by their clothing choices. Vangie’s sleuthing insights leave us wondering: what exactly do our fashion choices reveal about us?
I fed the plants with fish food today,
and my hands smell like fish gunk.
I turned my back for one second,
and the dog who won’t eat her expensive food
was lapping up the gunk.
I read on the internet she wouldn’t die.
I wrote a novel and gave the hero my
dereliction of housekeeping duties
(my sister once said, “Marcee keeps a cleaner house than you,”
and I silently huffed, she’s a full-time homemaker, I practice law.
But that was the hit dog hollering.)
An old friend told me this week
she remembered my husband from when we stood in the front of the church
and I recited “Ode to Puppy Tongues” while he held my 3 Yorkies.
It was a talent show.
I am so proud of my crazy younger self.
Who needs housekeeping skills
Approved the final back cover for MODEL FOR DECEPTION, my next and second novel I’ll be releasing, and worked with the graphics person on formatting its content and taming a Table of Contents that, when properly formatted, ran on for 5 pages….sheesh.
Finished the final manuscript revisions to THE HART WOMEN, the third novel I’ll be releasing, which I pared down to 127 pages.
Researched how a novel is actually supposed to be formatted (then re-formatted THE HART WOMEN to meet those standards) and began a conversation with the extremely talented artist who will be transforming this story into a book.
Visited with a bookseller to see if my THE HART WOMEN idea is crazy or brilliant (and exactly how much does a bar code from Bowker cost?).
Filed HARBORING EVIL: A COOT LONG MYSTERY with a small press, after tackling the thankless job of revising its synopsis.
Touched base with another small press that was considering HARBORING EVIL to see if they’ve made a decision (no response yet).
Filed THE BONE TRENCH with a small press, this being the novel that was agented until my agent dropped me to join the Foreign Legion (actually, to sell foreign rights) which, incredibly, required 4 trips to 4 different stores/post offices just to find a damn envelope.
Reviewed my Bio for Crack the Spine Journal that will be publishing a short story (which I didn’t know would be used as my contributor’s note so the bio contains NONE of my publishing credits and makes me sound like a dork), only to realize how OLD I am compared to the other contributors.
Revised and filed 5 short stories with literary journals, which includes cross-checking to make sure I haven’t already sent these stories to these particular journals and researching to make sure none of them have bitten the dust since I last submitted on a regular basis about 4 years ago (some had).
Revised 2 outtakes from JAZZY AND THE PIRATES (that became orphaned after I deleted the Jean Laffite narrator from that story) and filed them with 5 literary journals that hopefully will not die before they can read my work.
Set up 2 additional book club appearances for TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE—yay! You can listen to the TRACKING HAPPINESS AUDIBLE sample here.
Mailed 2 copies of TRACKING HAPPINESSto a review service (which, I know, is wayyyyyy late, but I decided to see what they had to say about it and maybe I can use it to the good) and submitted it for an award, I’ve forgotten which.
Worked with ACX to get the right distribution on TRACKING HAPPINESS so the podcast can go forward (because even if you’re using ACX as the exclusive audiobook distributor, if you’re using the audio content in your podcast, that’s a non-exclusive distribution—okay?)
Worked with the podcast producer of ELLEN’S VERY SOUTHERN VOICE: NOVELS TOLD WRITE to get a promotional video going.
Drafted an email to send to my friends begging them to come to the TRACKING HAPPINESS book signing at Novel Memphis in 3 weeks so I won’t be mortified when 4 people show up, but if 4 people show up, they’re gonna get to take home punch and nuts.
Researched audio capabilities at said signing and food/punch at said signing and created a vignette for said signing that will physically represent the theme music from the podcast, “Get That Chicken Off the Tracks.” (I have a sick, sick sense of humor).
Arranged to go to a book event this week with the Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Gulf, which inspired my next novel on which I am currently reading and researching, MOSES IN THE GULF (which spellcheck, for some reason, thinks should be MOUSE IN THE GULF).
Began planning for a talk at a creative retreat in March of 2019 that I want to participate in to be around other writers.
The above is in addition to the endless IG, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads postings that seem to be necessary to keep TRACKING HAPPINESS alive.
All of this is to say that being a writer is so much damn work. And I know I’ve made my job that much harder by deciding to release these novels myself (and in ebook, print, audio, and podcast). And I feel like I’m involved in a marathon, one I set for myself and, of all things, it has an end, which is called MOSES IN THE GULF. I will write this final novel and get it out there one way or another. Then that will be that.
At least that’s how I feel now. Get the 4 old novels out there (TRACKING HAPPINESS, MODEL FOR DECEPTION, THE HART WOMEN, and HARBORING EVIL). Then get the 3 new ones published one way or another (THE BONE TRENCH, JAZZY AND THE PIRATES, and MOSES IN THE GULF). Then call it quits.
Or maybe return to short stories.
But there will be a stop, maybe a soft one, but definitely a stop.
As if any of us are truly able to plan our futures. <3
It is the beginning of time when we were green and transparent as tadpoles. Water moves through our bodies like sand in the hands of the wave. Tendrils of hair—delicate as the feathery gills of fish—flutter in the swaying sea while our legs, the muscles small and tight as pearls, stretch behind us. Plants open and close in the waves.
Alone in the quiet world of shadow and light, we glide, glancing to ripples above. If in play we break the surface, our bodies mix with foam, shining white in the air. Linger in the churning spray and the skin pales, just for a moment, before we dive back into the green. Our hearts beat with tiny clumps of blood. The sun wavers overhead and is worshipped.
In time, you see the child forming in your womb. Born clear, the baby swims on its own. Watch carefully, for the transparent child is easily lost. Air lurks above, waiting to dry out the little one, leave it floating on the swell. Flat, like a painted-on surface without a soul.
The men fight, bored. They play war games, breaking through the glass mirror to encounter the danger of air. Their bodies harden, and our babies are born whiter, firmer, their genes knowing sun and heat.
Our world begins to change. The sea feels heavy, a weight on our arms. The small tail kept since birth disappears. We breathe, deep and labored. The slow, languid turns through the water are a dream of another time, slipping in and out of memory like smoke.
We move onto the earth, dragging babies by their arms. Afraid of the air, we curl on the sand and learn to burn fire in the night. Slowly, we move from the shore to escape the haunting call of the sea. We sleep in fields where tin noises play in the dark. The cool, soft, water life is remembered only when we cry out in love and salt water once again runs through our bodies.
Away in time, the ocean pounds the shore. Dark waves forever lift silt from the ocean bed and pour on shore while earth’s plates crack and ooze. The land lives, but our babies remember the sea, floating in the midnight ocean of our wombs.
I’m sitting in church this morning, and I’m getting madder and madder. How much longer am I going to have to listen to that secondary, pitiful account of creation (“poor ol’ Adam—wah, wah, wah—all by his lonesome needed a helper”) and ignore the primary story of creation: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea….So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number…” (Genesis 1:26-28).
Why would my modern Episcopal church choose the wah-wah Adam story over the story of God’s creation of “them” “in our likeness”? The church has a choice, and by choosing the wah-wah story over the “in the image of God, male and female” story, we refuse to proclaim from the pulpit that women were created in the image of God exactly like, at the same time as, and with the same blessing as men. Instead, we validate and continue a story where women were only created because of some man’s needs.
I thought of walking out. I truly did. I felt complicit sitting there. (Was this life-long reaction to male-dominated storytelling exacerbated by the recent stamp of legitimacy on devaluing women as evidenced by the Kavanaugh hearing? You tell me.) But I didn’t want to leave my husband’s side, a man I love dearly who would fear I wasn’t feeling well. So I sat in the pew, and, finally, Jesus entered the scene.
The Gospel reading was the admonition against divorce found in Mark 10 where Jesus does the extraordinary thing of extending the right to divorce to women as well as men (“and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”) This was a radical departure from the belief at the time that women were property to be treated as men decided. Then, whoa, along comes Jesus and says, guess what? Women can divorce too. As a woman who divorced a rotten husband, I don’t like the admonition, but Jesus recognized I had the same right (and same responsibility) to divorce as my rotten husband did. How did Jesus get there? Well, he started with the primary creation story: “But at the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” He had to start there because you can’t get to equality starting with the wah-wah Adam story.
Now, I am fully aware that those who are against same-sex marriage and even same-sex love quote this “male and female” language to say, see: it’s only supposed to be male and female. But Jesus wasn’t asked, can same-sex couples marry? He was asked, can men divorce women? And Jesus said, yes, with consequences. And guess what? Women can too.
This is why Jesus was an ally of women. He found every opportunity to say, you blind men, quit judging it only from your point of view. If you want to divorce, understand women can too. If you’re without sin, throw your stone at this woman (this John 8:3-11 story isn’t the generic “don’t be a hypocrite” story it’s been turned into—it’s a specific story about men wanting to control and judge the sexuality of women while letting their own sexual behavior go unchecked.)
Further more, Jesus says, by the way, you women who have co-opted yourselves into the patriarchy? You open your eyes too. Quit telling other women they have to follow traditional homemaker roles (how many specific stories about women’s equality like Luke’s Mary/Martha story have we turned generic so we don’t have to hear the message?). And don’t call my mother blessed because she was a baby-maker; she was blessed because she followed God (Luke 11:27).
Jesus heard the devaluation of women in the question, in the comment, in the action. And, when he heard it, he called it out. That’s what an ally does. He stood up for the equality of women. The church has spent hundreds of years running from and piling dirt on top of this truth about Jesus, and it needs to stop.
As I said to my husband as we exited the church, “The only reason I’m a Christian is because of Jesus.” Literally, thank you Jesus for that.
I didn’t use my clothes dryer for two years because of Kristin Fox-Trautman. At the time, I was actively taking Memphis School of Servant Leadership courses. Though much younger, Kristin was further along than I, the leader of classes where I was a student. Kristin did things I so admired, like tracking her carbon emissions and making deposits into a carbon bank when her family took trips. Because of her leadership, I strung drying racks down my hallway in Harbor Town for years, letting my clothes dry naturally, because the clothes dryer is an energy hog.
Back then, Kristin had a dream (don’t we all?) of creating a new commercial venture that upended capitalism. Unlike most of us, she kept at it. She began with a food truck before moving to her long-term goal of a bricks-and-mortar site (a Rhodes College grad who has worked in the nonprofit sector for 20 years, Kristin is going to do anything the smart way.) In a few months, Inspire Community Cafe will open at Binghampton Gateway Shopping Center (510 Tillman Suite 110 at Tillman and Sam Cooper) in Memphis, TN. I asked Kristin to tell us more about it.
Can you describe Inspire Cafe in a nut shell?
Kristin: Our mission is to provide living wage jobs, hearty and healthy foods, and inspiration for a more just and compassionate community.
And what types of food will the cafe be offering?
Kristin: We’ll do breakfast, lunch, and dinner with an eclectic mix of fresh, healthy, and hardy food. We’re specializing in gourmet gluten-free pancakes at breakfast and quesadillas, fresh salads, and homemade soups at lunch. We’ll have a full coffee bar and fresh fruit smoothies. Homemade pineapple salsa on the quesadillas.
We’ll be working with Carpenter Art Garden to offer a variety fresh ingredients. The garden is a local community garden around the corner in Binghampton with 20 teenagers and local residents managing it. Lettuce, kale, tomatoes, herbs, that type of thing.
And how does the Cafe meet your mission of inspiring a just and compassionate community?
Kristin: We’ll have opportunities to collaborate for economic and racial justice: shared learning, regular panel discussions, book discussions, and community meetings. We’re focusing on hiring those who have struggled to find jobs. We’ll split about 20 percent of the restaurant’s net profits. 10% to neighborhood-based, goal-aligned organizations that we build relationships with over time and 10% into an employee profit-sharing model.
To return to how we met, how does your Christian faith guide what you’re doing?
Kristin: It is so core. As a person who strives to follow in the way of Jesus and other wise teachers (Gandhi and other great leaders of faith), I think it’s essential to my faith to be a part of creating a community where every person can experience their belovedness and their value. For employees and guests, it’s about creating a space where people feel valued. I connect with God though all these people I interact with.
How did you move from concept to actually doing something, when so many of us don’t do? What was the impetus for that?
Kristin: Seeing people I love dearly being devalued, especially in the economic sphere. They weren’t appropriately compensated for their gifts.
What else can we look forward to?
Kristin: We’ll be offering fresh family meals to go. Our location is a good place for folks headed home from work to stop and get meals for their families. We’ll also have “Pancakes and PJs” on Saturday mornings as an intentional family gathering with kids in their pajamas and live music.
How can people help you in this wonderful venture?
Kristin: Patronize the cafe. Tell friends/spread the word. If you have a business meeting or lunch with friend, come eat and be with us.
But also, I really consider the Cafe a learning lab in many ways. So I want people to come and have questions and curiosities—“What if you tried this?” Whether that’s a food item or working with a nutritionist, for example. I’m open to and passionate about people finding their own sense of call and gifts and feeling free and open to come and share those in our space. How might their own gifts and passions intersect with the Cafe? We want to be an employee-friendly company. Do you have opportunities for employees to grow in wellness and financial literacy—come lead workshops for our staff. Pitch your own idea for a panel or book discussion in our space.
Is there anything I haven’t asked that you would like to share?
Kristin: I have a new appreciation for what it takes for any entrepreneur to create a business. Finding the cafe space. Exterior signage. Now when I see the signs, whether hand-painted or whatever, the passion and audacity it took to get that sign up, I think, “That was a lot of work!” And to know how many are so quickly boarded up, it pains me. I can just feel the energy that went into opening their doors, hanging that sign, and I know the failure rates. It has led to a passion: as I figure out how to do this, I want to be an advocate for what persons of color and women entrepreneurs need to get open and stay open. With this massive learning curve, I’m working to cultivate a spirit of gratitude to not be so down on my self for not knowing what I’m doing.
(N. B. When I expressed my great admiration for what she is doing, Kristin demurred.)
Kristin: I want to name my own economic privilege that has given me the privilege and space to pursue this project with room for error and taking risks that most people don’t have the privilege to make. As part of a two adult household with potential for earning good wages, I have the space to take on a venture like this, fail, pick myself up, and try again. There are plenty people with a vision, but through no fault of their own, can’t pull that off.
If Kristin’s story is inspiring you to consider your own food venture, check out an upcoming seminar on food entrepreneur training offered by Co. Starters. Kristin will be a guest speaker at this 9 week course for food entrepreneurs.
Ps When I told Kristin so many of my followers were from out of the country, she said, “That’s great! They can come to Memphis to see Elvis and visit the Cafe!” (You know you love this woman 🙂 )
Inspire Community Cafe Days and Hours of operation
When I decided to be my own narrator on TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE, I had no idea what I was getting into. The process has about worn me out. I thought I’d let you, my loyal followers, know what’s going on.
TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is now available for sale on Audible! That’s the good news. Really good news. And, if you’re not a current Audible listener, you can listen for free with a 30 day trial. (That sounds like an Audible commercial, but I like my work to be available to everyone, even those who can’t pay).
The bad news is that, at some point along the way, I chose exclusive distribution with ACX. I can’t have exclusive distribution with ACX because I’m using the audio content as Season 1 on the podcast ELLEN’S VERY SOUTHERN VOICE: NOVELS TOLD WRITE.
I confirmed that this use—even though it’s not an audiobook—requires non-exclusive distribution. Fortunately, I realized this mistake within 45 seconds of the book being approved for sale on ACX. (Yes, 45 seconds; the ACX rep, Jessica, said, “I see where it’s just gone up today…right now.”) So, as we speak, sweet, kind Jessica is switching the distribution to non-exclusive, and we will delay the launch of the podcast for a week or two until I get a confirming email from Jessica that all is back to where it should be.
Despite the hype, no podcast launched on Friday. 🙁
TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is also still available on Amazon in regular ol’ print book or ebook. You can also get to the audiobook using this link (because ACX/Audible is an Amazon product).
I feel like I have learned soooooo much with this venture. And it is cool to see that audiobook button next to the ebook and paperback buttons on Amazon. But I will be glad when I can go back to writing. 🙂