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Category: Writing

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 12

This is CHAPTER 12 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Last we left off: Lucinda had suddenly realized that she herself might have led folks to believe her dead dad was involved in the drug scandal. She did NOT spew mashed potatoes all over the Gminsky’s dining table, but she almost did.

You might wonder in reading this chapter, how the word “quest” came to be in a modern fiction novel. Truth tell, it’s from Don Quixote. During the LONG period when I was writing this novel, I read Don Quixote. Don Quixote, the total title of which is Don Quixote: The Ingenious Nobleman Mister Quixote of La Mancha, was published by Cervantes in 1605. That’s 400 years ago. And there I was reading about Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho (who is lots smarter than poor old Don) and laughing like the thing was written yesterday. I find that amazing. That humans have changed so little in 400 years that I still find the same durn thing funny that Cervantes did. 

Critics have said Don Quixote is a work of nihilism (this is in the Wikipedia description that I’ve included in the footnotes below), which is really interesting because critics say the same thing about Celine’s novel Journey to the End of the Night. This is the novel I gave to Lucinda to buoy her spirits right after her daddy’s death because I found it full of exuberance . . .  and it’s known for its unrelenting pessimism. Oh, well. We all see the world in our own way. Let’s move on. 

Here, we get to some train talk. A tip: Don’t talk about riding the train unless you’re prepared to have people look at you like you’re a talking porpoise. “You rode the train when?” “Do they still have trains?” “With passengers on them?”

This may only happen in the South where, thanks to line closures, it’s almost impossible to get from here to there on the train. I understand the train is much more common on the Eastern Seaboard. They’re more sophisticated on the Eastern Seaboard. Here in the South, you talk about riding the train, folks look at you like you’ve just admitted you enjoy role-playing The Lone Ranger. With cap guns. My advice: talk about riding the train only amongst friends or people you know very well.

Okay. That’s enough preliminary information. 

Helpful Train Hint: An idling train may or may not blow its whistle before it moves again. If you for example, are lifting your bike and shoving it between the train cars because you’re impatient as hell to get to the other side, you may get no warning you are about to be squished. Please do NOT mess around with trains.

Now go read Chapter 12 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES SECTION for Chapter 12

Don Quixote: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Quixote

Celine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journey_to_the_End_of_the_Night

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 11

This is CHAPTER 11 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Last we left off: Lucinda had just had sex with Augie Green, the stranger she met on the train. It went well, physically, but the experience left her wanting the emotional serenity she sees in Augie. As our current chapter opens, Augie is telling Lucinda a story from his childhood, and Lucinda is trying to sort through the underlying message he’s sending her. 

I could talk about how difficult we make life by encoding our conversations with hidden points, particularly between men and women, but I’m gonna give you a hint instead: this chapter has chicken names in it. Pay attention. They become important later on. 

This chapter gives you the low-down on barbecue contests, important information, particularly if you’re from the Pacific Northwest where they NEVER have barbecue contests. Which, by the way, in Memphis is called “BBQ” or simply “the Q” for short, even though the word “barbecue” has no Q in it. I didn’t know this until I moved to Memphis. I thought it must be spelled with a Q, or why not call it BBC? Life. I’ve included in the footnotes the link for an application to enter the Memphis in May World Championship BBQ Contest, if you’re interested.

Speaking of moving to Memphis, in this chapter we encounter firsthand what we’d been forewarned about: Erick’s mom doesn’t like Mississippi OR people from Mississippi. This is not that unusual. When I used to live in Mississippi and I’d travel, people would ask where I was from, when I answered Mississippi, they’d give me the stink eye. Or the cold shoulder. Or the open-mouthed, “Oh, really?” Then I moved to Memphis, and I answered the ‘where are you from question’ with ‘Memphis,’ and people loved me. They’d start gushing. I LOVE Memphis. I LOVE Elvis. Memphis is my FAVORITE CITY. I am undyingly grateful to Memphis for making it easier for me to travel. 

Okay. That’s enough preliminary information.

Fun Chicken Fact: Breeding chickens for single selection factors has really messed up roosters. I’m not gonna say any more than that because it’s really, really sad what breeding has done to them. Just know that if you’re raising chickens and your rooster acts TERRIBLE, it is not normal. Blame it on genetic manipulation, and keep him away from your hens. You can research the rest of it yourself. 

Now go read Chapter 11 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES SECTION to Chapter 11

MIM BBQ contest: http://www.memphisinmay.org/events/world-championship-barbecue-cooking-contest/team/

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

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 10

This is CHAPTER 10 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

OK. Last we left off: Lucinda had completed a romantic interlude with Augie, including dancing in the moonlight to the song “Moon River.” Very romantic but with hints that hearts might be broken in the future.

There’s a running joke in the novel that’s included in this chapter about the Polish Women’s Association. It might be considered offensive, because it’s a joke based on country of origin. The only thing I can say in my defense is that a Polish woman suggested I use it. Please don’t laugh if you don’t find it funny.

Speaking of which, my aunt has a squirrel coat. In this chapter, I give the coat to Lucinda’s mom. In real life, my aunt wore her coat during our Groundhog Day’s parade, which we held on the Pearl River levee in the morning fog of Groundhog Day’s right before the sun came up, because the point is where the shadow’s gonna fall, right? My aunt—who would probably be mortified if she read this book—was born on Groundhog’s Day, so, even though she was over 75 years old, she joined in the parade, marching down the levee in February at the crack of dawn wearing her squirrel coat and carrying a beachball, for the summer/winter thing. I come from a great family.  

Also in this chapter is a reference to Big Blue. That’s Lucinda’s mom’s blue Cadillac. I stole that too, from my Bigmama’s big blue Cadillac that we call Big Blue. (I didn’t even change the name to protect the innocent.) We cousins loved Big Blue so much, we asked Miriam Weems the famous Jackson, Mississippi artist to paint a portrait of three of us and Big Blue. You can read the link at the footnotes to tell you more about Miriam. It’s a little morbid because it’s her obituary, but it’s a great write up about her and her work.

In this chapter we also have a scene about killing mice in the club car. Normally, I do NOT advocate violence, and I don’t even have anything against mice (ask my husband who was forced to shoo a teeninsey white mouse into a paper bag with the broom so I could set it free in the yard.) But I needed an “interlude,” and the surreal scene in the club car seemed appropriate. 

Which brings us to the hardest thing of all: this chapter has a sex scene. (Of course, nothing at all that I’ve been talking about brings us to sex, but I’ve got to address this one way or another so we’re pretending it just naturally flows.) Y’all will feel me blushing as you read this scene.

So this chapter has offensive jokes about the Polish Women’s Association, a squirrel coat, a big blue Cadillac, mousicide, and sex. Bet you’re raring to go, right?

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information.

Helpful Train Hint: Be prepared to meet foreign tourists riding the train. They’ll ask you questions. If at all humanely possible, be kind and helpful. You are the train ambassador for all us Americans. 

Now go read Chapter 10 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES SECTION

Web site on Miriam: http://obits.dignitymemorial.com/dignity-memorial/obituary.aspx?n=Miriam-Weems&lc=7249&pid=153245529&mid=4785287

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 6

(We have had a slight glitch in the rollout of the chapter-by-chapter lowdown on the novel, which is I skipped a chapter (blame it on the Torpedo Grass) So this is slightly out of order. Please accept my apologies. I’m wondering if you actually skipped from Chapter 5 to Chapter 7 like I told you?)

This is CHAPTER 6 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

OK. Last we left off: Lucinda was falling asleep—I know, I know: you’re never supposed to end a chapter with your character falling asleep. Experts say the reader will put down the book and NEVER PICK IT UP AGAIN. Which is ridiculous because we all wake up in the morning and start over again, right? So the last chapter ended with Lucinda falling asleep. But right before she did, she thought she saw the stars winking at her.

Our current chapter introduces a new word: Scofflaw. I know this word from reading. Yet, because I narrated this story for audio book, I had to say it out loud. And saying it correctly would be helpful. So I looked it up. There’s a site online that pronounces words for you. This is an extremely helpful tool for one who doesn’t hear people around her much saying “scofflaw” and isn’t sure exactly how to say it. I am CONSTANTLY mispronouncing words. It’s genetic, by which I mean, I’m from the South which pronounces lots of things its own way.

Anyway, in this chapter, Lucinda arrives in Chicago. Me, I’ve never been to Chicago other than to ride through on the train (I told you, I do research for my writing), but Chicago is my mother’s favorite city. She and my dad used to go there for the Wholesale Grocers Association Convention. They’d always return home with party favors. For some reason, their party favors tended to the personal hygiene variety (think a four foot square box of toilet paper), but when you’re little, a huge box of TP is pretty impressive. So, yes, Lucinda Mae is also attending a convention in Chicago. 

There is a reference in this chapter to Natasha, the character in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. If you haven’t seen this Saturday morning cartoon in a while, I urge you to go to the footnotes below and click on the link. Y’all, this stuff is FUNNY, in a sophisticated, subversive way. Kind of like Trailer Park Boys. Just kidding. It’s more like Flight of the Conchords

Finally, after hearing about Lucinda’s amazing adventure so far, I’m betting you’re saying to yourself a train ride might not be such a bad idea. Perhaps you’re wanting to get on the train yourself and ride. Do it. Every year, Congress threatens to kill Amtrak train service. When they finally get their way and halt the trains, a huge chunk of what makes America great will be ripped right from country’s the heart. Millions of dollars go to highways so we can tool along in our automobiles, but heaven forbid we help out train service. Killing the trains isn’t right. It isn’t good. But what is right and good does not always win. Ride the train while you still can. I’ve included a link to the Amtrak website so you can buy your ticket now. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

Fun Chicken Fact: Did you know that, “Running around like a chicken with its head cut off” is a real thing? My mother has experienced the headless chicken running amok in her backyard. She says it is NOT funny. More like a raw-neck, blood-spurting, zombie chicken chasing her. Apparently, what seems funny in the imagination in reality often is not. 

Now go read Chapter 6 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES

ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hTzuO24i-YA

Amtrakhttps://www.amtrak.com/home.html

TRACKING HAPPINESS: Chapter 9

This is CHAPTER 9 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Last we left off: Lucinda and Augie had actually de-boarded the train. Earlier, I promised you wouldn’t get claustrophobic reading the novel because they would get off the train and have adventures. Now you know I don’t lie. 

One more word of advice: in this chapter, Lucinda wears a jacket she bought in the teen department at Target. I have occasionally thought, given how small I am, I could wear clothes from the children’s department. Why would I want to do that? They’re cheaper. But what I consistently found was that shirts from the teen department are too small under the arms. It’s not that I’m too big around; my trunk is too long. So the armholes just about strangle my arm pits. In other words, don’t try this at home. It’s not safe.

Referenced in this chapter is a very famous Milwaukee beer joke. My cousin told me this joke when I was a teenager because he liked puns and so did I. I researched to confirm it is a real joke (it is).  I then spent an inordinate amount of time reading the other jokes on the website. I’m including the url to the site in the footnotes below, but it’s not my advice you go visit it. You will waste precious moments of your life that you will never get back.

I have also included in the footnotes some information on Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which the characters talk about in this chapter. This is one of my favorite movies, and it is a TERRIBLE movie. The plot is fixated on drunken cocktail parties. The movie features a terrible racist stereotype by the worst actor of all times—Mickey Rooney. The heroine, Holly Golightly, is a 100% gold-digger trying to catch a rich man and, in pursuit of this goal, keeps hooking up with older, unattractive men. The movie features Jed Clampett in a serious role, child marriage, and, worst of all, it takes Holly the ENTIRE FILM to notice how gorgeous George Peppard is. It won 2 Oscars. It features Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” which is my mother’s favorite song. I named my dog Lucy Gardenia after Holly’s mob connection, Sally Tomato. I own a rhinestone necklace and earrings EXACTLY like Holly’s necklace and earrings. I would kill to look like Audrey Hepburn. The movie is a comedy. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

Fun Chicken Fact: Chickens will eat lizards. They’ll eat mice. They will eat tin foil. They’re what’s called omnivores. They will eat anything, though I haven’t put this statement to a scientific test, particularly the tin foil part. 

Now go read Chapter 9 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES SECTION for Chapter 9

Milt Famey joke http://research.udmercy.edu/find/special_collections/digital/cfa/index.php?term=6677.1&field=boggsNum&start=80

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
https://www.vogue.com/article/audrey-hepburn-birthday-breakfast-at-tiffanys

TRACKING HAPPINESS: Chapter 8

This is CHAPTER 8 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Last we left off: Lucinda is about to prance off on a grand adventure with Augie Green, the stranger she met on the train. Drinks are being served in the club car, and Lucinda is going to the party with Augie.

One very particular action triggers EVERYTHING in this chapter. The train stops. It won’t go forward. Why? Because someone laid down on the tracks to take a nap. THIS is a true story from when I first started practicing law many years ago. In that case, a man died. (Okay, this part isn’t funny, but it’s true.) He died because he lay down on the tracks and went to sleep. He’d been drinking. I think that affected his judgement.

We also have returned in this chapter to the Billy Goat Curse. I’m not going to talk about it. If you want to know more about the Billy Goat Curse, go to the footnotes below. More interestingly, in this chapter there’s a conversation about boudin. Boudin is food. You eat it. Augie, who’s talking about boudin, is from New Orleans, but boudin isn’t really a New Orleans dish. (Augie’s dad who cooks the boudin is from Lafayette, LA). I’m not a particular fan of boudin. It’s sausage with rice, basically. But it’s a good word. I’ve included in the footnotes a video from the Eater series that features boudin at Cochon and Cochon Butcher, two restaurants in New Orleans. Big Disclaimer: Cochon and Cochon Butcher are sister restaurants to our son’s Peche Restaurant, also in New Orleans. So I like Cochon Restaurant. The video shows boudin being prepared, and you can watch that, or you can turn off the video and just listen if you don’t want to, literally, see sausage being made. The video also shows you how to eat boudin so, if you’re in New Orleans and order boudin, you won’t make a fool of yourself. 

I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

Helpful Train Hint

If you ride the train, don’t arrive too early at the train station. It’s not like the airport where a two hour advance time is needed. If you do that, you’ll likely wind up standing outside a closed station that’s not even open yet. On the other hand, make your reservations as early as possible. You might think no one rides the train anymore, but you’d be wrong. Particularly if you want a sleeping compartment. Particularly if it’s around a holiday. Really, call ahead.  

Now go read Chapter 8 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES SECTION

Billy Goat Curse. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_the_Billy_Goat

Eater video on boudin.https://www.eater.com/video/2017/1/11/14238084/boudin-cochon-butcher-new-orleans-meat-show

TRACKING HAPPINESS: Chapter 7

This is CHAPTER 7 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

OK. Last we left off: Lucinda had stepped into the Great Hall of Union Station in Chicago. 

I’m gonna include photos of the Great Hall in the footnotes ‘cause it’s impressive, y’all. I want you to go look at the photos and then think of a young woman who has been outside the state of Mississippi exactly once in her life. Think about her stepping into that space. Even though I’ve been all over Europe. England. Scotland. Into the Caribbean. Mexico. Canada. The Middle East. Still, when I walked into the Great Hall, I was mesmerized.

In this chapter, Lucinda talks about the oyster on the chicken. It’s a real thing, and I went on YouTube to find y’all a video on how to locate the oyster (and also, you know, to prove it’s a real thing). But after looking at a few of those videos, I decided NOT to do that. There’s cut up chicken parts ALL over those videos. The novel you’re listening to is about being KIND to chickens. You don’t need to see dismembered chickens strewn all around. Nope. No video. Y’all are gonna have to trust me: there’s two small, dark meat “oysters” on the backside of a chicken. They’re considered choice.

What else do I want to tell you?

I have a pair of silver lame pants. That’s all I’m gonna say about that. When you finish reading this chapter, you’ll know why I felt compelled to tell you that. 

I think that’s enough preliminary information. Now go read Chapter 7 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

Fun Chicken Fact: Did you know that each chicken has her own personality. A calm, relaxed chicken lays more eggs. That’s the goal: calm, relaxed hens with lovely personalities.

NOTES SECTION

The Great Hall: https://www.architecture.org/experience-caf/tours/detail/union-station-icon-of-a-great-age/

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 5

This is CHAPTER 5 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Last we left off: Lucinda is in the dining car with Erick and the Bruised Magnolia, a new train friend. Lucinda has drifted into a pensive mood. She’s reminiscing about home and wondering if she needs to go back to Edison and make sure her mama is doing okay in the face of an ever-growing scandal.

This, Chapter 5, contains a description of homemade fig preserves. You might need to know the most salient fact about my Jackson, Mississippi, Morris family is we own the officially-certified, State Champion Fig Tree of Mississippi. That means it’s the largest fig tree in the state. This tree, at its high-point in life, was 50 feet across, 20 feet deep, and 15-20 feet tall. My sister nominated the tree; the Mississippi Forestry Commission certified it; we have bragging rights. If you, too, have a HUGE tree, you might want to check into this program. Then you’ll have bragging rights.

Chapter 5 ends on a serious note. Most of my writings are humorous, but they always deal with something that’s kind of hard. Sometimes really hard. Like your daddy dying. Lucinda Mae’s father died almost two years prior to the start of our story. If you read—or listen to—much of my work, you’ll begin to notice a pattern: the father is often dead. Now, you could conclude from this that I don’t like fathers, and I’m constantly killing them off, but that would be incorrect. My own dad died when I was three. A train hit his car. Yep, I’ve written a novel where our heroine is riding across country on what was, in fact, the instrument of my father’s death. Maybe later I’ll tell you about my history with trains, but all you need to know for now is that, though I had the best stepfather a girl could ask for, grief is a topic I wrestle with. It’s a topic Lucinda wrestles with. Let’s hope, before the end of our story, she’s wrestled it to the ground and won. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

HELPFUL TRAIN HINT: When riding the train, never take off your shoes. The area between train cars where coupling occurs (the train kind, not the human kind) does not totally meet. It has a crack. Your toes can get caught in the crack—right, this is a terrible situation. If one person hears this Helpful Train Hint and forgoes padding around barefoot on the train, it will be worth it. Wear. Your. Shoes.

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 4

This is CHAPTER 4 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Chapter 4. Last we left off Lucinda Mae had made it to Yazoo City on the train. 

Stop here a moment and repeat after me: “Ya-zoo City. Ya-zoo City.” NOT yah-zoo city. As a Public Service Announcement, I’ve included in the footnotes below a pronunciation guide to certain often-mispronounced Mississippi cities. I’ve chosen to offer the local pronunciation so that if you visit these cities, you won’t be walking around talking about, durn, you didn’t know Elvis was born in Two-pellow. Go read it. You’ll thank me later.

In this chapter Lucinda returns to talking about sex. There’s a lot of talk about sex in this novel because it’s a humorous novel for adults, and sex can be really funny . . .  or not, but most of the time it makes us giggle. There’s also some actual sex described in this novel, which I know you’ll be reading, which will be embarrassing, but you must sacrifice for your art. The point being, if you are squeamish about sex you might want to stop following along right now so that you don’t get all involved in wondering what’s gonna happen to Lucinda, and if Erick’s gonna win the Mall of America Your Idea Can Save the World contest, and what about the poor chickens who are being abused under the new Chicken Palace Emporium fried chicken management philosophy, and then you’re put off by the sex talk and you have to give it up, forever left hanging. Better to give it up now. It’s not graphic sex. I’m not a graphic person. But sex is sex. You can’t make it anything else.

There’s also a reference in this chapter to the Chicken Dance which is a a famous polka song, which if you’ve ever been to an Octoberfest anywhere, you’ve probably seen. In case you haven’t, I’ve included a link to a couple of YouTube videos, because we’re developing a chicken dance theme in the notes. They’re thousands of these things, y’all, and I’ve curated them for you, including a  disco remix. You’re welcome. 

Finally, Lucinda makes a disparaging remark about the dinner she and Erick are served in the dining car on the train. This has NOT been my experience riding the train. The food I’ve gotten has always been wonderful. But, you know, that’s why a novel is called “fiction”: most of the stuff is made up. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

Now go read Chapter 4 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE (I know, I know—no Helpful Train Hints or Fun Chicken Facts today. Come back later.)

NOTES for Chapter 4:

Biloxi: Bu-LUCK-see (not Bi- lox-see)

Tupelo: TWO-pah-low (not Two-PELL-o)

Lafayette County: La-FAY-ette (not La-fay-yette)

Tishomingo County: tish-a-MING-go

Yazoo City: YA-zoo (not yah-zoo) City

Belzoni: Bell-ZONE—ah

Waveland: WAVE-lan

Monticello: Mon-ta-CELLAR (this is my grandmother’s pronunciation, you’re going to have to accept it)

Coahoma: Ca-HOE-ma

Corinth: CAR-inth

D’Lo: DEE-lo

Natchez: NA-chez (not Na-chaay)

Iuka: I-YOU-ka

Kosciusko: Coz-ee-ES-ko

New Hebron: New HEE-bron 

Tchula: CHEW-la

CHICKEN DANCE

TRADITIONAL

DISCO REMIX

CHILI WILLY

Tracking Happiness: Chapter 3

This is CHAPTER 3 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in now or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

Ok. Chapter 3. Last we left off:

Lucinda Mae had been touring the train’s dining car, when she stepped into the passageway that ties the cars together. This is truly an odd space. It’s enclosed, but very wiggly. Here, Lucinda finds herself with a man she immediately dubs “the Movie Star.” Their eyes lock, and the new chapter opens. 

This chapter has lots of true stuff from my own life in it. I’m not gonna tell you what the true bits are because, you know, it would be embarrassing. We also get into Lucinda Mae’s fashion sense and how it plays in her small hometown. Of course, I have no sociological degree that qualifies me to offer opinions on the psychology of small towns. Ok, I do have a sociology degree with an emphasis on urban sociology. Still, my opinion on small Southern towns and fashion is my own. BTW, we will wait and see whether Lucinda’s experience of her hometown as an albatross around her neck evolves. If you want to read more about my own fashion sense and how I turned one of the most devastatingly mortifying moments of my life into a published essay, go to my website and read “The Dress” which was published in Skirt! Magazine. The url is in the footnotes.

A very small aside. Katharine Hepburn brownies make their appearance in this chapter of the novel. A dear friend at my church brought Katharine Hepburn brownies to a church event. They were the best brownies I ever put in my mouth. I’ve included the recipe from the New York Times in the footnotes. I am not a cook (my husband keeps us alive every day), yet I could make these brownies. The skill level is low, the product good. 

Finally—because I know you’re getting antsy to get on with the story—in this chapter, we begin to understand how important chickens are to our tale. Yes, the novel’s tag (“A Southern Chicken Adventure”) is a clue, but you might’ve thought I was just being funny. Chickens are funny, but they’re also under siege. I mean, commercially under siege. I’m sure you’ve heard all about the hormone-induced lives of the modern chicken. What we are doing to chickens these days is not something Lucinda Mae’s dad would’ve condoned. Bill Watkins’ chicken-raising motto was “No One Here Is Mean to Our Chickens.” Remember that. It becomes important. 

Okay, I think that’s enough preliminary information. 

HELPFUL TRAIN HINT: Trains might seem like something out of the Old West, but they aren’t. On Amtrak, which is the amazing US passenger train, you can use your PHONE to board the train. Just show the conductor your ticket on your phone, and he’ll wave you on board. At least that’s the way it works in Memphis. The conductor does wear one of those little hats, though. Not all train things are modernized, thank goodness. 

Now go read Chapter 3 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES for Chapter 3: 

For Katharine Hepburn Brownies:I got my Katharine Hepburn Brownies recipe from a friend. I lost the recipe. Fortunately, there are many recipes for KHB online, including this one from the New York Times. https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/10782-katharine-hepburns-brownies If you want to search for your own recipe, note she spells her name: Katharine. 

For more on my devastatingly mortifying fashion moment, read “The Dress”:

TRACKING HAPPINESS: CHAPTER 2

This is CHAPTER 2 in our series offering gossip, novel backstory, and personal confessions about TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. We’re working our way through a novel here. If you’re just now discovering us, you can jump in or go back to the first entry and catch up. If you jump in now, I can’t promise you it won’t be confusing, but it might be interesting too.

OK. Chapter 2. Last we left off:

Lucinda Mae Watkins was getting settled into her berth on the train. Unfortunately her very pleasant berth brought back very unpleasant memories of her brief marriage to her childhood sweetheart, Stirling Kenny. Y’all know how that goes. Lucinda is recently divorced, so EVERYTHING brings up unpleasant memories of her ex. Fortunately, before Lucinda could get all wound up talking about Stirling, Erick knocked on the door, ready to go sightseeing.

Now, at this point, if you’ve never ridden on a train before, you might be thinking to yourself, what kind of sightseeing can you do on a train? Isn’t it just one long line of boring cars, one after the other? In fact, you might be wondering how on earth I wrote an entire novel set on a train without it being boring as hell. Let me reassure you. A train has all kinds of different cars. Club cars and scenic cars and dining cars (Pay attention: at the end of today’s post there’ll be a test on train cars. Ha, ha. Just kidding.) Also, Lucinda Mae gets off the train from time to time and has adventures.  That’s why the novel’s called Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken ADVENTURE. 

In this chapter, we’ll also get into Lucinda Mae’s body perception issues. Lucinda Mae is skinny. I’m gonna let her tell you exactly how skinny, but she’s little bitty. My fondest wish is for all Americans to have a 100% healthy view of their bodies, but Lucinda Mae is one of those struggling to accept how she is made. Bear with her, please. 

Ok. We also get a whole new plot point in this chapter that involves Erick entering the “Your Idea can Save the World!” contest at the Mall of America in Minnesota. As you’re hearing about this contest, perhaps you’re thinking about an idea you have that you’d like to enter in such a contest—for example, you’ve got a great idea for an anti-migraine device called the Mufflehead, which is a big ol’ modified football helmet that blocks out all light and sound so poor migraine sufferers don’t roll around on the kitchen floor in agony (it’s a real idea, but it’s my idea, so don’t steal it.) You might have an idea as good as the Mufflehead, and you’re thinking a train trip to the Mall of America to win a million dollars might be worth it. So you’re wanting to know if the contest is an actual real contest. Not that I know of.  But I’ve included more info on the Mall of America in the footnotes in case you want to see for yourself what they might have to offer. 

Okay. I think that’s enough preliminary information.

FUN CHICKEN FACT: Did you know that chickens dance? I mean, they actually dance. Apparently, the male chickens (AKA roosters) have their own special chicken dance they do when they’ve found a tasty morsel (I’m not gonna get into what’s tasty to a chicken.) They do the dance to convince the female chickens (AKA hens) the morsel they’ve found is great and the deserve a “reward” for it. You must go to the url in the footnotes to get the whole story. (And imagine the chicken dancing story being told in a British accent—it’s a BBC site.)

Now go read Chapter 2 of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

NOTES for Chapter 2:

What Mall of America has to say about itself: https://www.mallofamerica.com 

My essay on a train trip to North Dakota (from Memphis—that’s a LONG way). The essay first appeared in River Teeth (along with an essay from Philip Gerard!)

The Hart Women Step Out

This Saturday April 27th at 5:00 Central time in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, my family saga novel THE HART WOMEN will make its public appearance.

THE HART WOMEN was created by Marisa Whitsett Baker and me. I wrote the story (and revised it and re-wrote it and re-revised it, but that’s what “wrote” means.) Marisa created the books that hold the story.

The bone folder to fold the pages and thread to sew the binder

Both the story and the hardbound book are integral to the creation of the reader’s experience. The story is of elderly Emily Hart Fielding wandering through the decrepit family home, trying to decide whether to renovate the house to its past glory or give it up. As Emily struggles to forgive the choices she made during her life, she writes her memories and reflections in her journal. THE HART WOMEN is that journal.

Some of the novel covers will feature handwritten excerpts from the story

The reader will be holding in her hand the book with its soft cloth binder. She will slowly turn the pages, enjoying the feel of the book as much as the unfolding story. From time to time, she will close the book, marking the page with her finger, and study the photo on the front.

She will wonder how life would have turned out for the woman in the mirror if different choices had been made. She’ll ask herself if her own family might have made choices that crippled the chances of a family member. She will slowly continue reading, savoring the sentences even as she’s eager to hear how Emily decides to handle the future.

Each novel will have its own look. “The Hart Women touches on generational Mississippi families, its women, tradition, and life in The Deep South.” Janice Hall, Central Station Bistro

You can read a (tiny) bit about the launch here in the Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, community newspaper, the Shoo-Fly. After the launch, we’ll be taking individual orders for the novel. I’ll share the images, and you can decide which exquisite one you’d like to own. 🙂

Have You Eaten an Alligator Gizzard?

Today we start a series offering funny commentary on TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. You’ll enjoy the gossip, novel backstory, and personal revelations whether you’ve read the novel or not. If you haven’t read it, this “one chapter at a time” approach might just suit you to a T. Every Monday, I’ll give you the skinny on the chapter, you’ll be laughing, then you go read that chapter. On Wednesday, we do it for the next chapter, easy-peasy. I’ll also be offering FUN CHICKEN FACTS and HELPFUL TRAIN HINTS with each twice-weekly entry. Each entry will be one chapter at a time. We are wisely starting today with Chapter 1. As with the novel itself, some of what we’ll be covering here is “ribald,” to use an old-fashioned word. Don’t read this at work unless you giggle very quietly.

Ok. Chapter 1. Let’s get started.

The TRACKING HAPPINESS story is told through the eyes of Lucinda Mae Watkins, who lives in Edison, Mississippi. Edison Mississippi is not a real place. I made it up. You might ask yourself why an author would make up a town when there are plenty of good towns in Mississippi to use. I don’t know about where you live, but in Mississippi, if you’re talking about a small town, everybody in the town is gonna think you’re talking about them. Of course, I AM talking about folks. But you don’t want people to know it’s exactly them. So I fictionalized the little town of Edison, MS. Edison is NOT Edwards, MS, though—like Edwards—Edison is about 45 miles west of Jackson towards the Mississippi River. And it’s tiny. 

On the other hand, Mississippi is an actual state. And Lucinda Mae has some things to say about her home state. But as far as I know, no court has ever allowed a state to sue an author because the state got its feelings hurt. I pause a moment to add that my family has been from Mississippi since God was a toddler. That makes it okay for me, through my character, to poke fun at the state. But. It’s like talking bad about your mama. It’s perfectly okay for you to do it, but let someone else chime in, and they’re likely to draw back a nub. So don’t be emailing me with your “bashing Mississippi” stories. It won’t end well.

Right. In this chapter you learn immediately that Lucinda’s best friend Eric came to Mississippi via the International Ballet Competition. Now of all the weird facts I made up for this book, this, the oddest fact of all, is true: the International Ballet Competition is held in Jackson, MS every four years. It rotates with places like Helsinki and New York and some other cities. I could tell you how it came to Jackson, but it’s kind of a boring story, so just know it’s true. If you’re interested in learning more about the IBC—what days it runs in June, whether you might want to buy tickets or, you know, apply to compete—I’ve included footnotes (footnotes!) below.

I think that’s enough preliminary information. At this point, we bring you a Fun Chicken Fact or a Helpful Train Hint. This is your first chapter, so you’re getting both. After this, you’ll get one or the other but not both. Don’t be greedy. Enjoy today’s lagniappe. 

FUN CHICKEN FACT : Did you know that chickens eat rock? Apparently, rocks help the chicken’s gizzard digest its food. And, yes, in our extra, extra fun fact for the day, chickens have gizzards. Gizzard is a real word. Alligators have gizzards too. Some people eat chicken gizzards. I’ve never heard of anyone eating an alligator gizzard.

HELPFUL TRAIN HINT: When riding the train, bring a pillow. This hint is helpful only if you will be riding the train for an extended period of time. You do NOT need a pillow if you’re going from, say, Memphis to Greenwood. You DO need a pillow if you’re going from Memphis to Williston, North Dakota. Better yet, reserve a berth. Your poor, cricked neck will thank you.

Now, go read (or listen to) Chapter 1 of TRACKING HAPPINESS. We’ll be back twice a week to yak about each chapter of the book. Enjoy.

FOOTNOTES for Chapter 1: 
For more on what the International Ballet Competition has to say about itself: usaibc.com
For the 7 important facts about me, see the slide show on the Home Page of: ellenmorrisprewitt.com 
To see Elvis performing “Jailhouse Rock”: youtube.com/watch?v=gj0Rz-uP4Mk

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


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