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Category: Writing

Ruffles in the Front

I have been a fashion maverick ever since my three-year-old self tugged on her ruffled panties, backwards.

“Your panties are on backwards,” my mother said, pointing at my britches as I examined the cascading layers of beautiful white ruffles. “The ruffles go in the back.”

“I can’t see them in the back,” I responded and marched confidently into the fashion world, ruffles forward.

Not everyone appreciates my unique sartorial presentation. Some do. Like the man who walked up after church to tell me that he’d noticed me earlier. “I don’t know what it is,” he mused, “but you stand out.”

It was the gloves. And the vintage clutch clasped demurely in my hand. And the fire-engine red, needle-toed, patent leather pumps.

“Costuming,” a friend once called it. “You come close to costuming.”

She’s right. I like a theme when I dress, even if others don’t immediately recognize the tune I’m playing. My dressing remains, as it was with the ruffles forward, purely for my own entertainment.

What I don’t do is dress according to someone else’s theory of correctness. I’m referring to the standards that leave you with all that stuff in your closet that you never wear but bought because someone said, “Well, with your shape, you should wear bright colors on top and dark colors on bottom, not the other way around.” As a result, unloved clothes hang dispirited in the closet, and every morning as you swipe dark skirts and billowy tunics down the rod you wonder why is it that you never seem to have anything to wear.

My dressing standards are simple: I buy what I love. 

I admit that my way of shopping does not necessarily lead me to dress in what is currently accepted in my world as “good taste.”

“You’re not from Memphis, are you?” That’s what people ask when they’re trying to say basically, you wouldn’t dress like that if you knew better.

Some are more direct, like the waitress at a restaurant where I eat lunch. “You wear the oddest, most interesting clothes,” she said. Then added, “That skirt looks like something I’d wear.”

Of course it does. She always wears the cutest things.

I must admit: it makes me happy when someone likes what I have on. “I love the way you dress,” my conservative-dressing friend says, even though she’s quick to add that she’d never do it herself. I am her dressing alter ego—she looks, she enjoys, she moves on. I am inordinately pleased when someone much younger than I am compliments my dress. 

So, as I roll through life, I will continue to wear my rings and bracelets with their emblems facing me. I will be the only one in church sporting a flowery hat. I will forever be the one who zips on a floor-length skirt, then tugs a short skinny dress over the skirt and voila! an outfit that people say, “That dress is beautiful,” never knowing it is something I cobbled together that very morning. As long as I am able, I will continue to wear clothes the way I want to wear them, which is not always the way they were intended to be worn.

Ruffles in the back? 

Let’s wear them in the front, see how it goes. 

If you enjoyed this essay, take a look at MODEL FOR DECEPTION. This Southern mystery features a fashion model as an amateur sleuth. It’s a fun, fashion-forward, rollicky good read. Hope you enjoy it!

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.

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 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!

My Words this Fall, in Summary

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! 

My Best Writing Learnings

Books written by my grandmother’s grandmother, Ellen Hebron

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.

 

My burl wood that looks like a 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?

What I’m reading right now


The Yellow Line

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.“

The Yellow Line short story in Storyboard Memphis

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.


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 Best Writing Advice I’ve Ever Gotten

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

My Very Southern Voice business card

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

Reading to a real audience at the book signing for TRACKING HAPPINESS

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.

Looking for your own way in the world

  • 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.

Me, when people tell me to write a way that doesn’t work for me.

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?

BOOK CLUBS!

BOOK CLUBS!

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. 😉

Lucinda Mae takes off on a cross-country train trip to, among other things, escape from the goings-on back in her hometown of Edison, Mississippi

 

(Title Censored)

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.

The story is called, “A Nun and a Baller Walk into a Bar.”

It’s the first story in the issue. It’s illustrated with a graveyard. The journal cover is beautiful.

The story is about grief (well, that’s familiar.)

It has a lot of profanity in it. Grief does that to you.

Please click on the link for the story and give it a read.

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.

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

 

Adolescence

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. 

So, Yes, It Really is Coming

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.

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

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.

So.

Despite the hype, no podcast launched on Friday. 🙁

Despite the lack of hype, an audiobook launched on Audible. 🙂 Annnnnnnd. It’s free with a 30 day trial.

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. 🙂

Lucinda Mae takes off on a cross-country train trip to, among other things, escape from the goings-on back in her hometown of Edison, Mississippi

 

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.

ALL ABOARD!

The podcast is coming! Get on board for ELLEN’S VERY SOUTHERN VOICE: NOVELS TOLD WRITE! Arriving at a station near you this week!

 

 

WOO HOO!! WOO HOO!!! WOO HOO!!!! WOO HOO!!!!! WOO HOO!!!!!! WOO HOO!!!!!!!!!! WOO HOO!!!!!!!!!!!!

Talking Creativity/Creatively Talking

Early on in my writing career when my mom read something I’d written, and she didn’t know quite what to make of it, she would graciously say, “You are sooooooo creative.”

Well, now it’s official.

I’ve been included in Sandie O’Neill’s conversation on creative women. You can read the interview on Sandie’s Licence to Create website here. The website’s tag is “weaving together the threads of a creative life.” Which I love because she’s a weaver. 🙂

Wander around while you’re there. Her fibre sculpture is amazing. Check out the other conversations too. You’ll be inspired. Reading how others navigate creativity reminds us that the way we do things is, in fact, unique.

Oh, all this cyber talking is taking place clear across the world in Australia. So, yeah—if you follow the link, you can read “spruik” in a sentence,

peace in creativity, y’all

Sandie and I “met” when she read my book Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God

Step Down, Facebook

Facebook, I don’t like your tone. You’ve taken to sending me messages declaring, “The (insert current number here) people who like Ellen Morris Prewitt: My Very Southern Voice haven’t heard from you in a while. Write a post.”

Note the arrogance. Not “Perhaps it’s time to write a post” or “Are you interested in connecting with your followers today?” but an imperative order: “Write a post.”

The very idea.

I don’t need this kind of bullying from an inanimate program.

What, one might ask, is it to Facebook if I post or not? Well, when I do write a post, they bombard me with suggestions that I boost the post. How do you boost a post? Buy a paid ad. $. Yep, that’s the root of this intrusive, commanding nonsense.

If I don’t immediately buy an ad, the FOMO psychological tactic is released. “OTHER people are boosting posts like this,” Facebook whispers. “Why don’t you try it?”

When I ignore the enticement, FB turns its back and saunters away. “Oh, well. Don’t blame me when every other author on FB has millions of sales and your poor literary baby lies neglected, crying and starving for attention.”

FB is tough, tough.

Though at times it can choose flattery. “Nice work!” it chirps, reminding me of my response to the grandson’s pooping. “Your post is performing well.” Then the veil of sincere congratulation is ripped away, and the knife of cold, crass profit is thrust into my soft flesh: “Boost it to reach more people.”

To repeat: Boosts are ads. They cost $. They make FB $. It’s all about the $.

FB bullies me about “Likes” on my page too. “So-and-so reacted to your link but doesn’t like your page yet. Send him an invite.”

Send him your own damn invite.

Plus, I don’t think they know what the hell they’re talking about. I guaran-damn-tee you some of the folks they’re telling me to invite already like my page. But I can’t actually tell you because they provide me aggravated data, not names. (If you know this to be incorrect, please tell me, ’cause then I’ll find out who really likes my page and harass the hell out of those lollygaggers to get with the program. Kidding.)

Oops, erase that last rant. Sooner or later, FB is sure to do exactly what I’ve said: automatically send an invite to anyone who reacts to a post but hasn’t liked the page yet. Unaware it’s an automated program harassing them, the recipient will assume I’m a needy, grasping person, and then I’ll blame FB, and then they’ll think I’m not only needy and grasping, I’m a whiner person who shirks responsibility too.

So, yeah, I’ve spent the last two days drafting a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of Model for Deception: A Vangie Street Mystery, the next novel I’ll be releasing, and it’s an exhausting task that demands you jump from details to big theme analysis, and I’m taking out my frustration on Facebook.

Sniff. Might not do it if they were nicer to me.

Enjoy this great chicken swag a friend sent me in response to TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

Given Where I Started From

Kind folks keep congratulating me on the release of my novel TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE and inside myself I think, I self-published it—where is the congratulations in that? I did successfully get an agent for the novel (a long time ago), but he wasn’t able to sell that half-baked version. Later I had another agent extremely interested in it (“you have the makings of a literary star”), but I wasn’t able to revise it the way she wanted. Finally, I gave up and revised it myself and published it myself. The novel is the making of lemonade out of multiple failed lemons.

Then I remember.

I remember the first time I was able to add a second sentence after the first, and it made sense.

And I remember the first time I strung two paragraphs together, rather than writing a series of images bumped up against each other that asked the reader to narrate the white space between.

And the first time I wrote a whole page that flowed—a whole page!

And the first time someone (my sister—I’m telling you, I vividly recall these moments) referred to my work as a “story” rather than a “piece,” because I —finally—had learned to write a narrative arc. Which means “this happened, which caused this to happen, then this happened.” A beginning, middle, and end. A plot.

From my earliest scratchings, I had description out the wazoo; my characters were unique; dialogue was a breeze. But plot? Message? The “why are we here?” of it seemed so self-evident to me, I couldn’t understand why the reader didn’t see it too. But I came to accept they didn’t; I had to write it. So I sloooooooowly learned how.

This was the trajectory for me, a college-educated, well-read lawyer who wrote big, fat applications for a living. But my creative writing began with the creation of descriptive images that had to grow tendons of narration before they accomplished more than leaving folks scratching their heads (which I must admit, they sometimes still do: people ask, where do you come up with these things? The only answer I can give you is, that’s my brain.)

And now I’ve published a 300-page novel, which is the word we use for a long story that starts and moves forward and ends (I hope) satisfactorily. So, okay. Given where I started from, I’ve come a long way. Truth is, my having published a cohesive, entertaining novel is sort of a minor miracle.

So thank you for your congratulations. I much appreciate it.

Not content to simply exonerate her dad, Lucinda wants to reinstate his “Be Kind to Chickens” philosophy of chicken management.

 

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