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Books and Beyond

I loved being at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library this morning for the library’s Books and Beyond Book Club. I was pleased they had me, and they were warm and gracious. I had a prepared a talk, but they had questions right out of the gate. We wound up talking for an hour and a half. It was wide-ranging. The ostensible topic was my debut novel,TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. But we talked about everything.

How the grief over the tragedy of 9/11 led me to making crosses and eventually to write Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God.

How a recommendation from a fellow student in a Memphis School of Servant Leadership class led me to start a writing group at the Door of Hope and edit the group’s memoir, Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness.

How Cain’t Do Nothing with Love has been downloaded over 55,000 times worldwide (are those folks in Iran and Poland going around saying ‘y’all’?).

How my fashion model experience led me to write and release my second novel, Model for Deception, a Vangie Street mystery featuring a Memphis fashion model as an amateur sleuth.

And, of course, TRACKING HAPPINESS, the reason I’d been invited.

They seemed to have a good time. I had a good time. We had a lot of back and forth. Talking writing is fun. 🙂

“Never, Never, Never” Goes Live

We interrupt the (ceaseless) sharing of Lenten Beauty to offer an announcement: “Never, Never, Never” is now live at Connotation Press.

Years ago, “Never, Never, Never” was judged by Ron Rash to be the winner of the Tennessee Writers Association Fiction contest. The win did not come with publication. I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Rash at the Southern Festival of the Book in Nashville where the win was announced. In commenting on what he admired about the story, he said, “The river is a character.” It is, the river being the Mississippi (that’s like having to say, “New York City in New York”—is there any other?).

“Never, Never, Never” is a sort-of excerpt from THE BONE TRENCH. The characters weave in and out of the novel until you understand who they are. This is the 2nd excerpt from the novel I’ve had published. (This is the novel with the “had an agent, lost an agent, looking for a new agent” saga.) I would be happy if a new agent would take notice.

Aside from and independent of that, I’m really grateful to Jonathan Cardew for publishing the story in his fiction section of Connotation Press. It’s a Memphis story, through and through. Take a read. You’ll feel like you’ve been down by the river yourself.

The Beauty of Lent 2019

Lent creeps up on us with ashy feet, banishing the revelry and sunshine in favor of introspection and smoky religion. We kneel and stare at the floor, contemplating.

What to do with ourselves? How to spend the 40 days stair-stepping up to Easter and resurrection? Take on, give up. Piety and sacred resolutions. What direction to point in? What brave thing shall I do?

Beauty is the bravest, is it not? The most heartbreaking. To embrace it, call it out, name it as beauty—stopping and squatting, hands on thighs, to observe it—isn’t that the most courageous thing? To admit this is beautiful, and this.

They say that to experience beauty, you must live in the present. But they don’t tell you what to do when that present is gone, and gone again. When the beauty—the sun haloed on the windshield, the tree’s reaching fingers—stabs and moves on. When the brake lights become hanging red lanterns, and yet they still expect you to get to church on time.

Beauty. I have 40 days to practice admiring it, and surviving.

My Lenten practice 2019: to offer one thing of beauty each day to the universe.

The Plates (or chainsaws)

I am a plate juggler. (Or, as my former senior law partner called it, a chainsaw juggler. ) I have a lot of projects going at once. Right now, I’m running as hard as I can after my goal of “getting my work out there.” This gives me five projects in various stages of completion. Here they are. (I don’t expect you to remember this, but some folks are like, wait, what? For them, I give you the big picture.)

Model for Deception: a Vangie Street Mystery
STATUS: published last week; for sale on Amazon in paperback and ebook
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.
“Vangie…is a smart, sarcastic, fashion-obsessed 30-something who has a large metal cutout of Elvis Presley gracing her front lawn. It is just fun spending time with her…A well-paced, offbeat mystery with a healthy dose of snark; fashion statements abound.”— Kirkus Reviews

The Hart Women
STATUS: a handbound novel that will Launch April 27 at Central Bistro in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
BLURB: The house at 1011 St. Lawrence Street once rang with joy. Now, the porch sags, the window panes run with cracks. In one generation, the home that nurtured the wealthy Mississippi Hart family sits abandoned. Did tragedy undo the family, or did the family create its own misfortune? The story begins in 1968 Fairview, Mississippi, when Poppa Sam Hart dies…. 
Told through the eyes of favorite grandchild Emily Hart Fielding, The Hart Women explores the corrupting influences that entangle the human heart. Emily’s discovery of the  forgiveness she seeks will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.

Marisa, working on the pagination of THE HART WOMEN

We R Righting Group: A Pocket Guide to Writing in Groups…and Righting the World
STATUS: Finishing up reader feedback; tweaking cover; release early summer 2019
BLURB:
“We R RIGHT*ING GROUP” 
/wee ar ritiNG groop
/noun
1. A one-hour period when people gather to receive a topic, quietly write for 20-30 minutes, and, if they want, share with the group what they’ve written.
2. A force to change the world.
A vital new way to make connections, We R Righting Group: A Pocket Guide to Writing in Groups…and Righting the World  is the perfect “how to” for those seeking community in today’s difficult world. With humor, directness, and a passionate belief in the sideways magic of writing in groups, the editor of Writing Our Way Home: A Group Journey Out of Homelessness offers a simple guide for anyone who wants to better understand themselves and others.

Harboring Evil, a Coot Long Mystery
STATUS: Got a GREAT editorial review via Black Lawrence Press; final tweaking to follow; I’ll be looking for an agent on this
BLURB: Coot Long would rather throw himself in the river than get tangled up in a murder investigation. Lord knows, twenty years of living on the Memphis streets have taught him that much. But here he is, midnight on the Wolf River Harbor, examining a bag of the murdered man’s clothes. Coot can’t stand to think about how the man died: naked in his car, hands barb-wired to the steering wheel, the Jeep slowly rolling down the ramp into the black water. Coot would never get involved in such mess, but he’s hoping to clear the name of kind Mrs. Manuez whose faith in him led him to get off the streets, get housed, get stable. He’s risking all his hard work to prove she didn’t kill her husband, but what if she’s not as innocent as he believes?
HARBORING EVIL is a 76, 000 word dark mystery featuring a formerly homeless man as an amateur sleuth.

The Bone Trench
STATUS: had an agent; lost an agent; submitting to small presses; being read by a possible new agent
BLURB: THE BONE TRENCH is a literary dark fantasy of 103,000 words that uses religion and humor to explore mass incarceration and the private prison industry. THE BONE TRENCH was a Short-List Finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Novel-in-Progress contest. 
You’ll never find this 2nd Coming in anyone’s Bible. For one thing, Jesus can’t remember why he returned to earth, much less why he came to poor-as-hell Memphis, Tennessee. For another, Mother Mary is crashing the party—frantic to protect her son, she hot-foots it after Jesus without authorization. Much to the consternation of her snarky guardian angel, Mary decides bones rattling up during construction of a devilish new private prison hold the key to protecting Jesus, and she inserts herself into the prison uproar. Meanwhile Jesus, lacking divine insight, gets entangled with the beautiful leader of the anti-prison campaign. Is she part of his plan, or does the boy badly need the advice of his mother?

Jazzy and the Pirates
STATUS: 40 pages from finishing a major overhaul; omniscient narrator changed to 1st person; telling pegged more firmly to the kids’ story; agent search to follow
BLURB: Jazzy Chandler’s ancestors were pirates, Jazzy just knows it. She and her dad spent every Saturday morning combing the French Quarter or paddling the Barataria swamps for clues her great-great-forever-great grandfather fought alongside Jean Laffite the pirate king to win the Battle of New Orleans. But her dad died—drowned in the midnight waters of Bayou St. John—and now the scaredy-cats at City Hall have told them they have to leave the city before Hurricane Katrina hits. Jazzy’s not afraid of hurricanes—she’s survived two already this summer—but she and her mama evacuate to her dad’s Mississippi home where Chandlers have lived since God was a toddler. There, on the banks of the Pearl River where her dad played pirates as a kid, she learns the New Orleans levees might breach, the pumps fail, and her city flood. Bound and determined to do something, she ropes in her new friend Chukwa Humes, and together they magically call forth Jean Laffite from an old ship-in-a-bottle.

Moses in the Gulf
STATUS: haven’t started writing the sucker yet, but that’s the next thing!

I’m not EVEN going to talk about this weird doll project 🙂

I Second a Blooming

Once upon a time, before I ran away from home and got a divorce, but while my marriage was crumbling, I explored Mississippi. I drove all over the state, visiting cities everyone talked about but I had never seen. I went to Columbus and Holly Springs and Corinth where the railroad from the Civil War was a major attraction. I toured gravel pits and rode in horse-drawn carriages. I saw more than my fair share of antebellum homes. I stayed in B&Bs before we knew anything about Airbnb. I ate at tables by myself. I learned and absorbed and enjoyed, and I look back with fondness on what could have been an extremely sad and solitary time in my life.

This feeling returned to me this weekend as I drove into Starkville, Mississippi. The story is that Mississippi’s two state universities were established in the middle of nowhere because the state legislators wanted the students to have no choice but to pay attention to their studies. Oxford, maybe not. Starkville, definitely.

I was driving this familiar-feeling territory on my way to a women’s retreat hosted by Alison Buehler of the Homestead Center and put together by Susan Cushman, the editor of A Second Blooming. I have an essay in the book. Susan asked several contributors to be presenters at this weekend conference. I went because of the caliber of the other presenters – – I wanted to get to know these women. That’s what I was thinking about when I accepted the invite. Of course, it was the conference itself that took my heart by surprise.

A “second blooming” refers to the process that happens in the second half of a woman’s life. When the container of the first half is formed, but the contents begin to change. We had about 14 women participating. I had to leave early to return to Memphis to attend—for joy, for joy—my husband’s 70th birthday dinner. My time at the conference, however brief, was delightful.

I am grateful to Susan Cushman for including me in this group. And I want to thank the participants, who chose to come to this retreat and let me lead them through an intense, proselytization on the joy of creating in groups.


Model for Deception

So, it’s a good news/bad news type of deal.

The good news: I requested a Kirkus Reviews of Model for Deception: A Vangie Street Mystery. This is what I call my “fashion model detective novel.” Here’s the book jacket on the novel:

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 Southern 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?

Kirkus reviewed the mystery. They liked it. Because Kirkus is known for being persnickety, I was glad about that. Here’s my favorite part of the review:

“What raises the novel a cut above the standard mystery is Vangie, the story’s narrator. She is a smart, sarcastic, fashion-obsessed 30-something who has a large metal cutout of Elvis Presley gracing her front lawn. It is just fun spending time with her. Dialogue is fast and edgy…A well-paced, offbeat mystery with a healthy dose of snark; fashion statements abound.”—Kirkus Reviews

I thought to myself, when I’m ready to release the book, I’ll certainly use this review. (You can read the full review here.)

Fast forward to yesterday: I got an email from Kirkus telling my the review of Model for Deception had been selected to be featured in the Kirkus Reviews’ monthly magazine. Less than 10% of indie novels get selected. (Because I’ve gotten more than one faux award— “Congratulations, we’ve selected you for the grand opportunity to pay us money!”—I was glad when research revealed no hidden charges and a grand group of authors who have been featured in the past.)

So what’s the bad news? I wasn’t quite ready to release the novel (y’all know how much I’ve got going on). But to get the punch from the exposure, I need to do it.

I ADORE this cover designed and drawn by my friend Roy DeLeon and rendered into a cover by Novagiant Media

Sooooooooo—here’s the cover reveal!!!!

Model for Deception is available for purchase in print on Amazon and coming soon in ebook.

When the feature appears in Kirkus Reviews in March, I’ll share that with y’all as well.

Onward and Upward!!

The Next Big Thing

I am soooo excited to announce The Next Big Thing. Here are a few hints:

It’s a collaboration.

It’s a novel.

It’s artistic.

It’s the most unique thing I’ve ever done.

(Drum roll please): The Next Big Thing are special edition novels written by me and hand bound by artist and bookmaker Marisa Whitsett Baker.

Is that not the coolest thing you’ve ever heard of? I know, I know—I’m biased. But I can’t tell you how it felt to hold the sample copy Marisa made for me. I’ve had, what, four books published now? But this is super special.

Let me be more specific, because I find that folks can be a bit confused by this concept (who wouldn’t be—I sort of made it up.) I have written a novel. It is entitled The Hart Women. Marisa will hand bind each copy of the novel. Every single copy of the novel. Marisa is a talented and experienced journal maker (and former bookseller—yep, she’s done it all). She will create a diversity of looks from which readers can choose. The novel will then be released at book launches, parties, readings. That’s the hard copies. The Hart Women will be available in ebook as well, but no mass produced paperback or hardback copies.

Before I ran with this idea, I talked to a bookseller in Bay St. Louis. He is typically a phlegmatic man, but he loved the idea. So did a bookseller Marisa spoke to. This was empowering. The concept is the very opposite of trying to sell as many books as possible, and ebooks, and books for .99 each. It’s more like tiring of downloads and going back to vinyl.

Enough of process and presentation. Here’s a summary of the story, which was workshopped at Richard Bausch’s Moss Group, read by members of my RUMP Writing Group, and revised a million times:

THE HART WOMEN

“The Bible teaches us to keep our hearts unattached to places of this earth for, so tethered, they can never fly free; but try as I might, I cannot dislodge from my soul the house on St. Lawrence Street.” Emily Fielding

The house at 1011 St. Lawrence Street once rang with joy. Now, the porch sags, the window panes run with cracks. In one generation, the home that nurtured the wealthy Mississippi Hart family sits abandoned. Did tragedy undo the family, or did the family create its own misfortune? The story begins in 1968 Fairview, Mississippi, when Poppa Sam Hart dies…. 
Told through the eyes of eighty-year-old Emily Hart Fielding, The Hart Women explores the corrupting influences that entangle the human heart. Emily’s discovery of the forgiveness she seeks for a lifetime of choices will stay with the reader long after the book is finished.

Here’s what else you need to know:

Cover reveal (heck, the whole durn book) in March

Launch mid-April

Details on scheduling your own book launch party or ordering your copy to be shared on this very website.

Whoopee!

The Big Head, Part II

Here we are at Part II of making my 2019 Mardi Gras costume. If you’ve joined us now, you can go back to this blog post to catch up with Part I.http://ellenmorrisprewitt.com/the-big-head/

After a period of letting the Paper Mache dry (tick, tock), I added two more layers of Paper Mache, with the final one being copy paper because supposedly that would absorb less paint. I deflated the beach ball (slowly, the instructional video warned, but I’m here to tell you, it won’t deflate any other way), and removed the beach ball.

The beach ball cost me .99. Not bad!

When I tried the mask on, it rolled around uncontrollably on my head. I went back to the instructional video and found their Part II where, unlike the final shot of Part I where the chick was gleefully showing off her big head, they gave instructions for a helmet to stabilize the ball. Fortunately, I had my hard hat! I fixed it inside the ball.

The hardhat duct taped inside the ball.

That done, I painted on a base layer of silver paint and let that dry. (As I write this, it sounds like a lot of drying, but the entire process took 2-3 days). After studying photos for an embarrassing amount of time, I painted stripes of Modge Podge into the mask, and sprinkled the stripes with silver glitter, regular (not super fine—yes, there are 3 different grades of glitter, I’ve learned.)

The final ball girded by a folded duct tape band.

I next made some accessories (yep, accessories), and it is now finished.

I know I said I’d reveal the nature of the costume, but at this point I might want to take guesses as to what this is supposed to be. It seems a little unfair—you will never guess without the rest of the costume. I promise I will model the entire costume on Mardi Gras Day!

Happy Mardi Gras!

The Big Head

My Mardi Gras costume this year involves a big head mask. I knew I wanted to Paper Mache it (I did a LOT of Paper Mache when I was making crosses—I bought the sectioned frames artists use to stretch canvas, put them together for the correct size, then Paper Mached them either as a base to further decorate or with colored tissue, etc as the frame itself) but I didn’t know what to use as the Paper Mache form. The mask must be big enough to fit over my head. It has to be spherical. One of the miracles of nature is how many spheres naturally exist because creating a sphere is bloody hard.

I researched a lot. I had some failures.

Some sites recommended a hardhat as a base. Maybe, but not for spheres. (It took me 45 minutes to “assemble” the hat which I couldn’t use—you must expect failures in new ventures.)

Everyone kept saying use balloons, but, again, it needs to be round, not oblong or pear shaped. Finally, I found a site that recommended a beachball. Genius! I found one to buy locally in February (not a small feat), and I was in business.

The instructions said to put the beachball on a stand so it wouldn’t roll away from you. It still rolled away from me. I wound up holding it in place with one hand while paper maching it with the other.

I gathered my supplies.

If you put salt in the Paper Mache mix, it inhibits molding. I whisk the flour and water mix to take out the lumps.

It didn’t take long to get on the first coat. I’ll do two more then be back to describe the decorating and (Big Secret of the Big Head) what I’ll be when I wear it.

The first coat drying. The tricky part will come next.

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