I am a child of the book. No more than five books from the children’s section of the library—what’s to be done? Not enough money to buy more than one book from the Book Mobile, thank God for Little Bear gifts from loving aunts. Summers spent in air-conditioned rooms lazing on beds, reading one Faulkner after another Welty after another, all in diamond-patterned or green-backed or crackly plastic covers. I grew up to discover paperbacks— The Bluest Eye and the Right Stuff: all right!—and when I got money practicing law, hardbacks.
So why record?
I loved the brown-edged pages, the stiff spines, the thick square paperbacks. I picked which Austin I wanted by which cover I liked. I opened the books and sniffed. I wanted to own that which I loved and I made shelves to hold them in my house.
So why record?
Why turn traitor?
Why abandon the book?
What’s fun is fun and what’s done is done. The stories are fun; the recording is done. The stories had been in print—literary journals, I know, right?—so take a Mulligan. Try something new, you’ve got nothing to lose.
But, seriously. I want the work OUT THERE. Even if that means no book.
Would I be sad if the world continues to change and by the time I finally get a novel ready to launch, the written book is gone, poof! Hell, yes.
Until then, you can go on-line. Hear me read, hear me roar.
And who knows—if the stories get popular enough, maybe I’ll put out the collection in a book.
Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love . . .
“I started with Lucky Critters and your reading reminded me for all the world of the cadence of Larry Brown reading from his works years ago, one of his first, at a Jackson literary festival. It was when Larry was getting to be noticed.”
Lynn Watkins, journalist, lawyer, Mississippi reader
LISTEN: “Lucky Critters” :
Terra firma info:
Launch date: Thursday June 27th
Time: 6:00 pm
Location: The Booksellers at Laurelwood
What it is: collection of award-winning short stories written and read by the author (me) and made available on CD
Launch date: earlier than June 27th
Time: anytime I choose
Location: on the ethernet
What it is: a collection of award-winning short stories written and read by the author (me) made available on iTunes, YouTube, my blog, email links, podcaster sites, my website – wherever sound is found.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .
Thank you to Susan Cushman for including me in this The Next Big Thing Blog Roll project. Susan has been an inspiration to my writing career in many ways, the primary one being her graciousness in inviting me into the writing community. To me—who is so focused on community—her immediate welcome has meant a lot.
Like so many participating in this blog roll, I have multiple projects to choose from: the novel an agent is waiting to re-review once I complete some editing work; the short story collection I’m preparing to podcast; the memoir whose excerpt will be workshopped at the Creative Nonfiction Conference in May in Oxford, Mississippi; the Katrina novel I’m currently writing; the Door of Hope book forthcoming from our weekly writing group of men and women with a personal experience of homelessness; or, the novel that made it to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Because it’s my blog roll, I’m gonna talk about the Amazon novel. So, even though I feel a bit like Jimmy in The Commitments interviewing himself in the mirror (“Tell us about the early days, Jimmy. How did it all begin?”) here we go:
What is the working title of your book?
The Bone Trench
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Two sources. My first published short story, which appeared in The Pinch, featured Mother Mary (as in the Mother of God) and her guardian angel, Little c. I wanted to return to these two characters, and one day I saw an image of Mother Mary standing beside a trench, peering in. At the bottom of the trench lay eleven skeletons, neatly arranged. This forms the central image of the novel.
What genre does your book come under?
Christian fantasy? This was a hard conclusion to come to (hence the continuing question mark), because the plot line is not going to appeal to those with a more traditional take on Christianity, yet it features Mother Mary and her son, Jesus. Based on the recommendation of Phyllis Tickle, I’m owning it as fantasy.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? ’
I am not much of a moviegoer (see above, quoting a 1991 movie) but Johnny Depp is the acerbic guardian angel, Little c. (When my husband reads this, he’ll say, “Of course he is. You’d say Johnny Depp even if the novel was about nothing but hedgehogs.”)
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Mother Mary and her son, Jesus, return to modern-day Memphis where they bring together the Black and white descendants of an exploitive plantation owner to foil a controversial private prison project and save the world, again.
Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency?
None of the above. I’m focusing on contests for this book. I started with the granddaddy of them all, the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The manuscript made it into the second round, based on the following pitch:
The Second Coming isn’t turning out like anyone expected. Jesus, arriving in Memphis, Tennessee, can’t remember why he returned to earth. His Mother Mary, instead of cooperating with God, flies from heaven to save her son. There she learns that the fate of the world depends on an old Delta family with its finger in every economic atrocity from slavery to sharecropping. Oh—and Jesus’s lone disciple is an Elvis fan.
Jesus and Mary arrive to a city split down the middle by a private prison, made worse when bones from the South’s exploitive past are discovered at prison construction sites. The controversy sucks in Jesus and Mother Mary. Of course, Jesus gets arrested. Unexpectedly, he’s pregnant. The Black and white branches of the Delta family—descendants of an exploited sharecropper and the crooked plantation owner—must somehow unite to thwart the prison project. When an earthquake rumbles and lightning flashes, Mother Mary must trust that her son is birthing a new way for us to stay connected in love.
The Bone Trench is a novel that features Jesus, but is hardly religious. The main character is a fantastical Mother of God, but her desire to be a better mother is universal. The circumstances are imagined; the historical truths are all too real. My desire to explore in The Bone Trench America’s repeated willingness to use prisoners for profit was triggered by my own family’s involvement in prison management.
Using a colorful host of characters—living, dead, and everything in between—The Bone Trench offers a message of our redeeming connection to one another. With the irreverent humor of Christopher Moore’s Lamb, the spirituality of Mitch Albom, and the historical accuracy of Roots, The Bone Trench is a wild ride of humor, wisdom, and heart-breaking sadness.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote the first draft of The Bone Trench sitting on the veranda of the Gibson Inn in Apalachicola, Florida. We were there for two weeks. Each afternoon, I’d write, then read my husband what I’d written. When we packed our bags, I was about two-thirds finished with the first draft.
While this is a lovely anecdote (and true) it fails to reflect the unrelenting revisions the manuscript has endured, most of them generated by the comments of amazingly generous volunteer readers who have guided the book from a rough, too-told story (I was reading it out loud! It sounded terrific!) to a fully-realized, socially-conscious novel. I hasten to add that I hold none of these readers responsible for the final product—I have written a controversial book.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
That’s the problem, right? It’s too funny to be C.S. Lewis (she says modestly), too political to be J.R. R. Tolkien. I’m open to, and welcome, suggestions.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I alluded to it in the pitch: my ancestors were on both sides of prison labor issue. One held the management contract for the Arkansas State Prison. In a later generation, my great-grandfather, who served as President Pro Tem of the Mississippi State Senate for 20 years, introduced and championed the legislation outlawing convict leasing in Mississippi. What caused that generational change? I don’t know, but I’ve written a novel in which such a conflicted family holds the key to the future of the world.
What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
The Memphis Pyramid turned into a private prison, Mother Mary hovering over the city of the Blues, Jesus pregnant—what else do they need?
Check out the next participants in this very interesting project, The Next Big Thing Blog Roll:
(1) Emma Connolly
I met Emma in Richard Bausch‘s Moss Workshop at the University of Memphis. We’ve stayed in touch, in part because we share a passion for taking writing to those whose lives don’t have the luxury of waiting for writing to come to them. I can’t wait to read about her Next Big Thing!
(2) Elaine Blanchard
Elaine and I met at a Trinity Institute Conference. Since then, she has three times (!) led workshops at the Door of Hope Annual Community Writers Retreat. I have been a guest in her Prison Stories project wherein I’ve had the pleasure of talking with a prison-based writing group of women, facilitated by Elaine. Elaine is a professional story-teller; I want to hear what she has to say.
(3) Marisa Baker
Marisa and I met through her work with those who have a personal experience of homelessness. She is a wonderful, creative, funny writer. She also makes beautiful handmade books. I have so enjoyed reading her blog; I want to hear which of her many projects she will choose to share with us.
(4) Rick DeStefanis
Rick is one of my long-time gracious readers. He’s guided me through the “I know she’s trying to say something, but dang if I know what it is” phase. He is multi-talented: a wonderful writer and skilled photographer. I’m sending you to his FaceBook page where he’ll talk about his soon-to-be-released Vietnam sniper novel.
These four writers will be sharing with you next Wednesday their upcoming projects, so stay tuned.
peace in creativity, Ellen
At Beth’s Bookstore, I slipped a paperback from the shelf. I read the first line. That’s how I chose a book: the first line, then the first paragraph. Sometimes if I’m unsure, I continue further down the page. Then I either buy the book or I put it back.
I’ve been burned using this method—occasionally, a book doesn’t live up to the opening—but not often. This time, “The Revolution of Little Girls,” proved to be a very funny, poignant read.
After I finished reading, I went on-line to learn more about the author and the book. Because the book was published in 1991—pre-on-line dominance—the Amazon reviews were sparse. Of the 9, 3 were negative. On Goodreads, the majority were 3 or below. The novel received enthusiastic reviews when it was released; it won awards. Many on-line commentors, however, did not like its “Southernism,” its structure (“jumps around too much”), its resolution. To me, the major flaw of the novel occurred about 2/3s of the way through when it actually became too linear, after the author had taught us to expect discreet, non-linear chapters. Still, I thought it wonderful, as so many did not.
I am so glad I had this experience. As a woman considering hiring an editor to get my novel into the marketplace, I needed to see the negative reviews of a novel I thought was hilarious. Earlier, in the course of evaluating potential editors, I’d looked at Amazon reviews on work they’d edited. One author in particular had screechingly negative reviews. I thought that relevant. Now I’m not so sure.
More importantly, this experience has made me comfortable with something I knew intellectually but now embrace: some will like my novel, many will not.
The main thing, therefore, is for ME to like it.
So, in choosing an editor, the question is not, which one will be most likely to get me published? The determinative question is, which one will help me create a novel I love more than Christmas? Which editor can take this work—which many will not care for—and make it the best the work can be? If I accomplish that, wedging my work into the cadre of writers whom I love, appealing to the readers who like what I like, then I will have been successful.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .
As irrefutable proof of my ingrained belief that the problem must be mine, I retained the title, description, and target audience given to me by a former agent whom an editor said was not marketing my novel correctly. That period is over.
Old Title: Trouble at Big Daddy’s Chicken Palace Emporium
New title: Don Chickote: Or the Strange Adventures of Lucinda Mae Watkins on the Train
Old Description: a Southern “train trip” novel
New description: The daughter of a fast food chicken magnate hits the rails in a wild ride across America to restore her dead daddy’s rightful place in fried chicken lore.
Old Audience: Fannie Flagg lovers
New audience: Those who mourn the demise of “The Flight of the Conchords.” Who think Darnell was the funniest character on “My Name is Earl.” Who follow Bubbles on “Trailer Park Boys,” who sing along to Beck’s “I’m a loser, baby, so why don’t you kill me?” Anyone who thinks the funniest movie ever made was the one where Johnny Depp wore the fake arm. Readers whose favorite hardback is, “All My Friends are Dead,” who can quote Douglas Adams by heart. Those who don’t understand when you call it “quirky”—it’s just funny.
New secondary audience: devotees of all things chicken
OK. I”m still working on it. The point is, it will be mine this time. Rise or fall, sink or swim, give or take—it will be my sensibilities. Such as they are.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .