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Category: LOVE

One Liners

We, the most Southern couple on earth, are going to Michigan! Mackinac Island, to be specific, which my grandmother Bigmama talked about all the durn time when I was a kid. I’ll share photos.

We’re having a book launch at Novel Bookstore in Memphis this July for The Hart Women! The Hart Women is a different concept (a limited edition hand-sewn novel). I’m grateful to Novel for viewing “different” as exciting.

My mother is about to have a very significant birthday! Y’all have to join me in my joy without knowing Mother’s exact age—I know better than to blurt that out.

Two very fine agents are reading HARBORING EVIL! (A formerly homeless man uses his street smarts to prove the kind woman who helped him get housed didn’t murder her husband—only to discover she might be involved in a deadly gentrification scheme.) Fingers crossed, y’all.

I planted a mimosa tree! Most nurseries don’t carry mimosas because they consider them “trash trees.” Never smelled the honey scent or seen a mimosa blossom twirling in the sun like a tiny ballerina, I guess.

An incredibly talented artist and I led the world-premier of the Stations of the Resurrection at St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Sunday! It was fabulous. It was Dean Laura’s idea. The artist and I made it real, totally from scratch, my kind of endeavor.

And this one is without an exclamation point: I sometimes feel like a small craft on a large, unfathomable ocean. The swells lift me high where I feel myself soaring toward the horizon with the white-winged gulls. Then my little raft rides the face of the wave into a trough that frightens me in its bleakness. I share here with you the buoying peaks. Please know that if you are in a trough, your raft will rise again.

Don’t let the world get you down: read
Or
Books without the K is only Boo

Today, In Memphis

Today, in Memphis, we met a fun new couple who have been leaders in Memphis for decades and live in our downtown neighborhood. How? We went to a coffee shop, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I had lunch where one of the most accomplished, energetic, enthusiastic women I’ve ever met, and we plotted to end homelessness and world domination in general. How? She found me on the internet and we talked on the phone and we had lunch, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I heard a roomful of people praise, weep for, and sing (literally) the praises of a man who introduced himself as “schizophrenic, nonviolent.” Because everyone loved him, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I went to a neighborhood dry cleaners where a man asked me how I was doing, and I said, “I’m well, and you?” And he said, You don’t talk like you’re from the South. And I laughed, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I bought a pair of earrings by an artist whose work is “a modernization of my family’s heritage through a colorful and bold interpretation.” And I will be wearing these fantastic earrings, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I donated to the Black Lives Matter Bail Fund to help those who can’t pay bail get the hell out of jail and back into the swirl of life, in Memphis.

Today, in Memphis, I met a dog named Kobe and proselytized about Makeda’s Butter Cookies until I got converts and was agog that it is snowing where I’ll be going next week and lit candles for those I love and opened doors that were closed and lived my life, in Memphis.

Torpedo Grass

They call it torpedo grass. I thought that was due to its destructiveness. But as I spent three days yanking it up by the roots from where it had invaded the bed, I realized the name is more likely because it spreads like a torpedo. The tentacles shoot out deep underground and burrow through the dark for an incredible length. Then it surfaces. It can run under stepping stones, white as bone, only to emerge alive and green on the other side. It is a tough plant.

You can see the de-weeding job isn’t altogether finished, but it’s a huge bed.

After the weeding, I planted 3 milkweeds. Monarchs have already been spotted in the area. The milkweeds will add to a butterfly-friendly mix of plants I’m trying to establish in the bed. I then laid out 6 bags of mulch.

This antique gate is from New Orleans. I stuck it in the ground with sheer ingenuity and hard work.

Last, I fed Bigmama’s rose bush. This is the bush that I grew from the cutting my uncle gave me from the bush my dad had given my grandmother for Mother’s Day. I planted it in Memphis where it flourished tremendously. Then I cut it back and transplanted it in Waveland (Jackson to Memphis to Waveland—it is an amazingly well-traveled rose). It blooms on—wait for it—Mother’s Day. It’s about to pop out all over.

The famous Bigmama rose bush

This outing, I also planted Mexican Tuberose bulbs. If they come up, they’ll smell divine late summer. And, ya’ll—the geraniums lived all winter long. Outside in pots. It was a mild winter on the Gulf Coast.

The Louisiana Iris I substituted for my beloved bearded iris bloomed earlier this spring with profusion. The nursery I’ve come to rely on for advice and plants is nurturing a giant papyrus for me, which will go with the horsetail and umbrella palm. I’m learning to grow what this land likes. The drift roses are going strong.

Drift roses, which I truly love and which appear to love Waveland too

Oh, and here is a bit of the 100 daffodils bulbs I planted this fall. I love bulbs and being in the dirt. I don’t even mind yanking up the torpedo grass. Though I wouldn’t invite it to return.

A wonderful daffodil from the 100 bulbs I planted to get a drift of them started

Easter 2019: How Did I Get Here?

My Lenten practice wasn’t random. This year, I chose to create one thing of beauty each day of Lent (Lent is 40 days). I might not have articulated it on day one, but I chose this discipline in contravention of the more traditional view of Lent as a time of deprivation, penitence, and “doing without” as a cleansing process preparing us for the rebirth of Easter. The concept of humanity as sinners needing to be washed clean by the blood atonement of Jesus’s crucifixion is not for me.

I’m not alone in this. Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan, says the substitutionary atonement theory of Christ has never been part of his order’s belief. What a relief. Even as a young girl, I wondered who would admire a parent that would send his son to his death for any reason whatsoever; it offended me that my selfishness was supposed to be so great that I thought this sacrifice was okay because it was for me.

So what is Easter to me? It is the mystic moment when we choose not to hate. Choose not to exact revenge. Choose to love inside a sea of hate. When we choose to look for—and find—God in the most terrible of circumstances. This most unheroic of choices, that is the cross and Easter.

It is a view of Jesus I chose to participate in this Lent when I took on adding one thing of beauty to the world each day. It was an act of support and solidarity, you see. God suffuses this amazing world. This is the way Jesus saw the world, as full of God. I want to see it that way too.

HAPPY EASTER!!

They Won

Every article begins with the story of How They Lost. The defeat, the humiliation, the unprecedented collapse. But, last night, one year later, the story was of How They Won.

In another time and long ago, I went to the University of Virginia. I was young when I arrived, only seventeen years old. I wanted to go to a BIG, GOOD school, and the grounds of the University of Virginia were beautiful. I applied nowhere else and got into UVa early acceptance. My first year, Virginia won the ACC Tournament. Wally Walker was a first round draft pick. For a girl who grew up in the ACC in a UNC family, my expectations for Virginia were high. When I graduated, I believed the next year Ralph Sampson would carry the Wahoos to a national championship.

He didn’t. He won every collegiate player award there was to win for 3 years running and took Virginia to the Final Four twice, his final time in 1984. They haven’t been back since. Until this weekend.

We watched much of the semi-finals and the finals with the boys. I had to explain the meaning of “cliffhanger.” When Virginia beat Purdue at the buzzer, I full-throated screamed. When they beat Auburn with .6 seconds left, I could not believe what I was seeing. When they went into overtime with Texas Tech, I left the room (I learned that trick from my dad, a Tar Heel fan who frequently could not stand to watch the games.)

Then they won.

My UVa socks from 1976

Once, when we all still read newspapers, I asked my husband why guys read the sports page the day after a win when they had seen the game themselves the night before. He said something about wanting to read the analysis. This isn’t true. You read the stories of the game the next day to savor. You read to make that moment of winning go forever. You read to assure yourself it was real.

Last year, the University of Virginia was the first No. 1 seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament to lose in the opening round to a No. 16 seed. With a loud, embarrassing thud, the mighty ACC team lost to the equivalent of a community college.

This year, the University of Virginia won the NCAA Tournament.

I sang the Good Ol’ Song at the top of my lungs, head out of the window, belting into an enclosed parking lot that had the acoustics of a cathedral. I think they heard it in Metarie. For a moment, I was once again that too-young girl who went off to college and fell in love with what she found there. The lawn, the Rotunda. The hallowed halls, the friends. The joy of being alive. And kick-ass basketball.

Dogs in the Bed

I have a history of unhealthy, deranged harassment of the dogs in my bed (we’re talking canine dogs, not human ones).

For little Providence—sweet, gentle, patient Yorkie Providence—it was the Middle of the Night Companion Call.

Everyone in the bed would be sleeping. Snore, snore, snore. Except me. My eyeballs shone in the dark. Tick, tock, tick, tock. Bored and alone, I watched Providence’s tummy rise and fall for a minute. Then, “Providence, Providence,” I whispered. “Are you asleep?” If she didn’t respond, I gently shook her. “Are you asleep?” She opened her lids and rolled one eye towards me, staring and asking, are you really waking me up to ask me if I’m asleep?

Providence, escaping to the sofa where she can get some shuteye

For Evangeline, it’s the Butt Push, the Bed Patting, and the Knee Curl.

I no longer lie awake at night trying to determine if the dark behind my eyelids is darker than the room dark when I open my eyelids (blink, open, blink). So my life has improved. But I still harass the dog.

Evangeline needs harassing. Evangeline is a very selfish bed sleeper. Sometimes she sleeps between us. As soon as you get used to that, she escapes and tunnels under the bed to sleep. If it’s thundering or the train’s passing or some microscopic noise even an ant can’t hear is infiltrating the universe, she sleeps on my head.

I don’t feel as badly about harassing Evangeline as I did Providence.

So if she isn’t sleeping exactly where I want, I scoot her around by a (gentle) shove to the butt. If she is at the foot of the bed, and I want her to come sleep by me, I pat the bed incessantly. “Evangeline.” Pat, pat, pat. “Evangeline.” Pat, pat, pat. “Evangeline.” If she is EXACTLY where I want her to be, I curl my knee around her so she can’t escape.

Don’t report me to the ASPCA.

Evangeline, also escaping to the sofa for a nap

Bone Folding

This is what it looks like before it’s a book.

That’s a bone folder. You use it to sharpen your creases.

These are pages of the novel THE HART WOMEN being folded into signatures with a bone folder. If you squint, you can tell the pages aren’t consecutive. That’s because they will be sewn together. At that point, the pages will become consecutive.

Who’s doing this sewing? Marisa Whitsett Baker. She’s the amazing artist who is producing these one-of-a-kind special edition novels.

I wrote the story of an old house, a decision to be made, and the women in a wealthy but tangled family.

Together, Marisa and I are making a book. The book is presented as the journal an elderly woman wrote as she wandered from room to room in her former home trying to understand how the once-beautiful house came to ruin.

The intro page

Here’s the summary:

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. 

Each novel will be different. Here’s a glimpse of my personal copy that Marisa made from old (typo-ridden) drafts of the story.

THE HART WOMEN

We will be offering the novels for sale, one by one. You may want one to hold the beautiful journal in your hand. You may want one to lovingly follow Emily Hart Fielding’s story. You may want a collector’s item. But you’re going to want one, I just know it.

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 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!

And for 2019?

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.

New Orleans in the fog of New Year’s Eve

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.

Our back-to-back futon and sofa where we spent New Year’s Eve

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. 🙂


The Backstory

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 and William who were such good friends

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.

The Day the Magic Girls Left Town

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.

A fancy illustration to a fanciful story

Sex and Public Therapy at a Book Signing

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’).

My infinitely supportive husband DJ

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.)

Chickens had it going on at the book signing.

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.

I got a question about train travel—woo, woo!

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.”

Who knew my friends would turn into chickens?

For Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints, go to Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write podcast.

Dog Musings, Updated

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
anyway?

the fish food gobbler

A Writer’s Work

In the last five days, I’ve: 

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.

I’m not above using my Homeless Champion Award when trying to pitch HARBORING EVIL, which features a formerly homeless man as the protagonist

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).

Me after going to 2 Walgreen’s and a post office and still not finding a usable mailer

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 HAPPINESS  to 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.

Novels coming at you, one chapter at a time . . .  plus extra goodies.

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.

Fluffy chicks for book signing

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).

Reading for Moses in the Gulf, which will be set in Mississippi

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

 

Jesus was an Ally

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.

Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write

I alternate between super excited and terrified. That’s because it’s both hilarious and super embarrassing, this new podcast I’m about to release. 

I mean, a print or e-book is one thing. The reader is safely tucked away in the privacy of their own home, curled in an overstuffed chair, giggling as they read.

Logo for the new Podcast

 With an audiobook, I’m talking to them. My voice is saying things out loud. I am present as they experience my words. They know how I sound. They know ME. It is so personal. That is the mortifying part. 

At the same time, the podcast makes me giggle, and I already know the joke.

Novels coming at you, one chapter at a time . . .  plus extra goodies.

 Season 1 of Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write launches Friday September . Season 1 features Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure. Each episode has 3-5 minutes of deep background on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. The actual chapter follows. So: me introducing a chapter, followed by the chapter itself. Like an audio book with benefits. Some writer talk. Some truth or fiction? talk. Some random outtakes. Lots of Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints.

And, most amazingly, the podcast features an original musical theme written and sung by the incredibly talented Corinne Alexander Sampson. “Get That Chicken Off the Tracks.” If you can’t stand my writing, if humor in a book makes you wanna barf, if you’ve hated me since you first laid eyes on me in the 5th grade, you need to listen to the podcast to hear this theme music.

Season 1: Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure. Join single-again Lucinda Mae Watkins as she takes off on a wild—if slightly ribald—cross-country train ride to clear her dead daddy’s name from a drug scandal erupting at the local fried chicken joint. Hopefully along the way, she’ll discover the secret to happiness. Spiced with Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints. It’s all good. 

See, hilarious and also I might die of mortification (which is kind of redundant, since mortification is death).

Find us on iTunes, Stitcher, and other fine places.

But there’s no stopping it. We’re gonna do this thing. Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write will be found on the Oam Network, iTunes, Stitcher, and other fine places. I’ll share the URL Friday.

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