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Tag: Tracking Happiness

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/

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 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!)

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

In Mississippi, We Pull Over

For all its fun and foolishness, TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is a story of a young woman coping with grief. Lucinda Mae’s dad died two years before the novel opens. Losing her dad threw Lucinda’s life off track, as it were, and the cross-country train trip hopefully will set it to rights. As I’ve shared on this blog, grief is a recurring topic of mine. My dad died when I was three; grief comes up a lot in my writing (even my first book, Making Crosses: A Creative Connection to God, arose in response to the grief of the tragedy of 9/11). I’ve also mentioned I’ve been reviewing old writings and sharing them here with you. Those two rivers converge with this short essay I wrote during the 19 years I lived in Mississippi: In Mississippi, We Pull Over

In Mississippi, when a funeral passes, we pull over. Even if you’re only going on down the road a piece – I’m turning right there, at the BP station – when you see the daytime headlights and the hearse, you ease to the side of the road and wait.

The reaction is more uniform in rural Mississippi. There, everyone remembers: it’s rude to pass a funeral. To keep going like it makes you no never mind. To act as if death is unimportant, as though the passing of one of us doesn’t matter. That’s just not the way it’s done.

While you’re stopped by the side of the road, you count the cars as they pass. If it’s a long procession, you may, deep inside yourself, marvel at how many folks this fellow got to come out for his going-away party. If the line is only three or four cars, rattletraps full of rust and tired looking folks, still: you pull over.

When I was a teenager, away from Mississippi and living in North Carolina, I rebelled. I wanted – fervently desired – for funerals to be held only at night. I did not want to be sucked into the grief of strangers, did not want it flung in my face: this person is dead. Ambulances, too. I wished they would stop screeching their death-and-destruction news, shattering the sunlight with tragedy, interrupting the lives of those of us who had no choice but to listen. I was, shall we say, sensitive to death.

Now, where I live in Memphis, people sometimes give me angry glances when I slow down and pull to the side of the road. Like I’m a nut case. I do it anyway. And sitting there, as the last ride on earth passes by, I’ve been known to tear up. Because all of us pulled over, we anonymous people in our anonymous cars and anonymous trucks, we are stopping our busy modern-day lives to honor the dead. Not because we knew him nor because we admired her. But because they are gone and will never pass this way again.

The special way New Orleans honors its dead

 

All the Way From Canada!

Please enjoy this kicking review of Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure found on Susanne Fletcher’s Wuthering Bites blog. I am thrilled Susanne compared the comic dialogue to P.G. Woodhouse, whose Jeeves collection I long ago fell in love with and read in its entirety (how one gets so lucky as to be compared to a beloved writer, I don’t know.) It’s an extra special bonus when a review quotes some of your very own favorite lines from your book (“…a woman who represented everything I was not: sophisticated, voluptuous, and a really good speller.”) A well-written review is surely a gem unto itself.

If you haven’t discovered Susanne’s Wuthering Bites blog, take some time to look around. She is a great creative nonfiction writer, a true wordsmith who combines spectacular turns of phrase with insights that make you nod in recognition. I have followed her for years and thoroughly enjoy her work.

As an extra special super bonus, if you follow the link below, you can enjoy a haunting rendition of Gordon Lightfoot singing “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” which, yes, is relevant to the review. Happy reading!

“Tracking Happiness”

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

Now, Now, Now!

Today, today, today! Time to buy TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

AUGUST 1st: Time TO BUY TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE has arrived!

E-BOOK

PAPERBACK

BOTH ON AMAZON

For you go-getters who’ve already bought into Lucinda’s antics, TODAY IS THE DAY TO POST A REVIEW!

Join others who’ve found Lucinda’s adventure “uproariously funny” with “gritty Southern determination” and a feel reminiscent of Confederacy of Dunces and Wicked while presenting a story that “truly entertains the reader” and “defines the greatness of the human spirit.” All in all, “perfect summer reading.”

To post a review on Amazon, follow this link and click on Write a Customer Review.

“I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you’re not gonna be nice to them.”
Lucinda Mae Watkins

Single-again Lucinda Mae Watkins—of the “Edison, Mississippi, fried chicken royalty”—learns Big Doodle Dayton is blaming her dead daddy for the drug scandal exploding at the local Chicken Palace fried chicken joint. She takes off cross country on the train to clear her daddy’s name, while hopefully discovering the secret to happiness along the way. Join Lucinda on the most hilarious—if slightly ribald—adventure of her life.

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

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

What Makes a Good Book?

A good book should remind you of another book you really loved.
Ellen’s incredible imagination, keen wit, perceptive knowing, and spoofy style is reminiscent of John Kennedy Tooles’ “The Confederacy of Dunces,” as she captures the delightful craziness of small-town Mississippi life. Amazon review

It should have values you share.
gritty Southern determination
and a particularly strong confidence in her abilities
scoops of endearing drama that spell out what honor, integrity, loyalty, sex, and determination are made of
Amazon Reviews

The writing should be awesome.
The book is beautifully written, with phraseology reminiscent of Gregory Maguire’s writing In “Wicked”. This is a fun story that you will love. Amazon Review

You always want a page turner, no draggy plots allowed.
“Tracking Happiness” kept me turning the pages to see what could possibly happen next to such goofy but very likable characters. Amazon Review
It only gets better from there. Amazon Review

A healthy dose of humor is a must.
Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure is an uproariously funny and refreshingly different look into life in the modern South and beyond. Amazon Review

It really, really can’t be fake or a stereotype.
Author Ellen Morris Prewitt, a Jackson, Mississippi native, utilizes her unerring eye for the real south to bring to life a story that truly entertains the reader with a quirky hilarity that defies description. Amazon Review

You want a deeper message mixed in with the fun times and entertainment.
Ellen Prewitt shares Lucinda Mae’s cross-country, coming-of-age journey that paints not only a picture of the New South but defines the greatness of the human spirit. Amazon Review

It should all come together and work.
Prewitt has produced perfect summer reading. Amazon Review

When you finish, you want to know your time was well-spent.
It’s worth the ride! Amazon Review

So there it is. The reviews are in: TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is all a good book should be. Hope you enjoy it soon.

“I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you’re not gonna be nice to them.” Lucinda Mae Watkins

Single-again Lucinda Mae Watkins—of the “Edison, Mississippi, fried chicken royalty”—learns Big Doodle Dayton is blaming her dead daddy for the drug scandal exploding at the local Chicken Palace fried chicken joint. She takes off cross country on the train to clear her daddy’s name, while hopefully discovering the secret to happiness along the way. Join Lucinda on the most hilarious—if slightly ribald—adventure of her life. 

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

What IS a Goat-Doping Scandal?

Enjoy this excerpt from TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE where Lucinda Mae’s amazing train trip is interrupted by a phone call from her mama Rita Rae and her mama’s boyfriend Clyde Higgenbotham. Turns out, back home in Edison, Mississippi, gossip is flying about Lucinda’s poor dead daddy’s role in the local drug scandal, with the flames being fanned by none other than her daddy’s old business partner, Bennie “Big Doodle” Dayton. 

Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure: CHAPTER 3

Clyde was talking in that nasally voice he used when he wanted to sound important, like at the supper table when he was spouting off Learning Channel wisdom. “Law enforcement are crawling all over the Chicken Palace, looking for evidence on the drug ring. And Stirling’s getting remarried.”

“Don’t tell her that.” Rita Rae was back on the line. “She can only take so much. You wouldn’t believe what they’re saying about your daddy now.”

“Who’s saying?” I asked.

“Newspaper. Online.” Clyde again, a real I-told-you-so tone to his voice. Clyde was at his most obnoxious when the topic was small-town politics. Clyde’s dad had been a state legislator. Never mind that after the man had died, they discovered the old coot had another family over in Jackson. Mother claimed that mortification didn’t count because Clyde “wasn’t from that other family.” 

The Clarion Ledger’s been quoting inside sources saying your daddy was the linchpin king behind a goat-doping, chicken-smuggling scandal.” 

“Daddy? A goat-doping scandal?” I flashed on an image of a goat sitting on a stool, arm braced for the illegal shot that would make him a better mountain climber. “What does that even mean?”

“Focus, Lucinda.” It was my mother. “They’re saying Bill ran a drug ring out of the Edison Chicken Palace, and Bennie Dayton isn’t raising a finger to stop this malicious talk.” 

“Ol’ Bennie practically called Edison a rogue operation,” Clyde added. “‘Whatever the local investors were up to shouldn’t reflect on the good name of the Chicken Palace Emporium,’ blah, blah, blah.” 

“They’re calling Daddy a criminal? Are you sure?” Mother and Clyde had a tendency to exaggerate (“They’re closing the I-20 exit to Edison! Traffic’s being re-routed to Bovina!” When the only thing that was happening was a re-paving). It was best to ask twice. 

“You got your work cut out for you, little lady, dealing with that Bennie Dayton. Your mama is counting on you to clear this mess up. Everybody in town is believing your daddy was a criminal. People’ll believe anything they read on the Interweb.” 

He paused. “The scandal could improve attendance at the museum, though.” Clyde was referring to Big Doodle’s Chicken Palace Emporium Museum located off the highway exit. The museum featured memorabilia commemorating the Chicken Palace story, such as the Ride-a-Rooster—a big, bucking chicken whose name took on a whole ’nother meaning when us kids hit middle school. “That crappy museum might finally outdraw the Tomato Museum in Bovina.”

At that, Mother snatched the phone and launched into a garbled explanation of the “biggest drug ring in the Southeast”—something to do with goats imported from Jamaica, smelly chicken parts, and a tractor-trailer distribution system—until I said goodbye, trying to remember as I hung up: did someone say Stirling was getting remarried?

Hope you enjoyed this excerpt. For the rest of the story, get TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE in print or e-book on Amazon—audio book coming soon!

“I personally don’t see the point of being in business with chickens if you’re not gonna be nice to them.”
Lucinda Mae Watkins

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

 

 

A Snake Snob

These people live down the way from me. They’re from California. They have a pond in their front yard, and every once in a while a commotion breaks out because they’ve seen a snake around the pond. “It’s a cottonmouth!” they yell, eyes bright.

They wouldn’t know a cottonmouth if it jumped up and bit them on the be-hind.

I admit it: I’m a snake snob.

I know cottonmouths from fishing on the big lake at Mamo’s farm. Cottonmouths, what we also called a water moccasin, would lie in wait on the bank. Dark colored like the muddy shore, they hid. Or else they’d hang from the trees, thick bodies swaying in the breeze, mouths open, tongues darting.

Okay, that last part might be an exaggeration. The point being, I was taught as a child to recognize a cottonmouth, so named because its mouth, when opened, looked as soft and fluffy as a pad of cotton.

Deceptive, that snake. 

In a triage that is necessary when you spend long, slow hours wandering in the fields, I knew the copperhead too. Orange and dusty brown, laying perfectly still it could be mistaken for a vine—that was a copperhead. We knew the drill: when near the water, look for the cottonmouth. In the fields, keep your eye out for the copperhead. 

The thing was, the copperhead was pretty tame, not bothering you unless you bothered it. The cottonmouth was a mean snake (don’t believe the Wiki article I cited above when it says their aggression is overstated—that snake is mean.) The snake—a viper—didn’t like us, would bite in an instant, and that bite was the real-deal, deadly poisonous. We’d see the menacing snake out in the lake, swimming with its head held high above the water, the snaky body zig-zagging across the lake’s surface.

That part’s not an exaggeration.

The point is: if you see a nonpoisonous water snake or a king snake or a common garter snake, don’t come hollering and jumping around me. You live on an island. In the Mississippi. That’s where the snakes live. You best learn to tell them apart.

(I’m sparing y’all’s sensibilities and not including a photo of a snake. Here’s a photo of Chompers the alligator instead.)

Chompers the Alligator

Sweet Spot

I’m in a really good place right now, professionally. I have four projects going on.

First, I’m continuing to get the word out on TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. It’s available in print and e-book now, shortly in podcast and audiobook. Soon, I’ll be agonizing and biting my nails over not having enough reviews on Amazon and how on earth am I going to get the word out about this hilarious book with a heart for chickens, but I’m copacetic for now.

Here’s Evangeline looking for readers for TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

Second, I’m working through a (hopefully) final edit on MODEL FOR DECEPTION: A VANGIE STREET MYSTERY. The cover is done for this cozy mystery (with my own peculiar brand of humor), and it is a show-stopper. My goal is to get the book formatted and audio completed while all the team members (cover + formatting; sound engineering; and podcast production) remember how to do what we are doing. 🙂

Third—and most exciting—I’ve begun reading for the new novel, tentatively titled Moses in the Gulf. The story will take place in Mississippi; it will involve a quest to “let my people go;” and it will be funny. In preparation, I’m reading A New History of Mississippi  (lord, I’ve read lots of old histories, and they are SO terrible, I petitioned the Memphis Public Library to remove one or shelve it wherever they offered propaganda, and they removed it). I’m still forming an opinion of this book; it tends toward a traditional telling interspersed with more honesty than was previously found in Mississippi histories. On my bedside table are two biographies of Moses and one each of Malcolm X and Frederick Douglass, which I can’t wait to get into. Many of my books (surprisingly enough) are heavily researched. For me, facts are keys that unlock the imagination, and the resulting stories are my attitude about those facts.

Fourth, and final, I’m waiting to hear back from an agent who is reading JAZZY AND THE PIRATES. Have I even told y’all I finished the rewrite of the manuscript, got good reader feedback, and sent out a query letter? The agent was “very intrigued,” and it’s in her hands now. Steps 1-3 are keeping me distracted from the nerve-racking hope that I get an agent for this story who can sell it and release Jazzy’s rambunctious spirit into the world. But anticipation is not a negative for me; it’s part of the fun.

More to come.

Want Me to Magically Sign Your Book?

Have I told you about the time I was at a book launch for my beloved mentor Rebecca McClanahan where I found myself seated on a sofa and a woman with the most pronounced South Carolina low country drawl I’d ever heard leaned over and said, “My huzzzz-band wrote Riiiiising Tide,” and I realized the man seated next to me was John Barry, the author of the book that was at that moment my most favorite book ever? I was not cool. I erupted into a fit of hero-worship. John graciously offered to sign my book if I mailed it to him, which I did, and he did, and I have loved him even more ever since.

Autographs matter.

Now I’m the one who’s published a book that’s calling for me to sign it for all the lovely people who are buying it. I refuse to be daunted by the geographical distance that separates us. Blame it on my peripatetic life or relationships born on the Internet, but we’re miles apart. You couldn’t sling the book at me if you had the world’s strongest arm. And I WANT to sign it. 

Sooooooo.

If you click here and send me your address using this website’s contact form, I’ll send you a bookplate, a little sticker you can put in the front of your book. I’ll sign it. With my name. And inscribe it to whomever you want (you or a person receiving the book as a gift.) It’s specially designed for TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE and features a shot of the book cover. I’ll send it to you FOR FREE (I mean, it’s an envelope and stamp 🙂 ). It’s cute as all get out.

To make this work, put Sign My Book! in the Subject box of the Contact form and in the Message box tell me:
* how many you need—I’ll send you one for each book you’ve bought
* who you want (each) inscribed to or if you simply want me to sign (them)
* the address where you want me to send it

Then hit Submit. In a few days, you’ll have a book signed by me, the author. It’ll be magic.

TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE Bookplate for Your Book

The Enduring Legend of the Midnight Gardner

When I left Mississippi, I lost the Midnight Gardner.

In the middle of the night, he would arrive. The next morning, on my way to work, when I locked the door behind me, a small brown paper bag with a crumpled neck waited on the hood of my car. Inside the bag tumbled tomatoes. The tomatoes might be a little wormy or spotted with yellow patches, but they were homegrown. They were delicious. I would eat so many my tongue broke out in hives.

The Midnight Gardner did not confine himself to tomatoes. Sometimes a round cantaloupe would bulge the bag. The Midnight Gardener was known to prefer the Ambrosia Hybrid melon whose meat was so smooth it would melt under the knife, the knife slicing through the orange, the slice curving onto the plate. 

I knew the bag was from the Midnight Gardener and not some bomb-wielding terrorist because the M.G. always used Ace Hardware bags. How he got such a large cache of these bags, I don’t know. Sometimes, when special instructions were needed, a typed note would be stapled to the bag and, in a spidery hand, would be the valediction: “Signed, the Midnight Gardener.” Standing in the morning air of my stoop, spying the bag’s brown striped visage, my mouth watered. Jumbled inside would be pods of homegrown okra aching for an iron skillet, calling for buttermilk and cornmeal, eager to be fried in hot oil. 

Or—oh, my goodness—the figs. Purple skinned, shaped like the ball on a court jester’s hat, the figs would be stuffed into a plastic baggie. The baggie steamed from the breathing life of the figs. Rescue the caught figs quickly, or they liquefied. Don’t bother with peeling, wash them off, sink your teeth into their seeded insides. Gulp them down—plenty more where that came from.

How did I know about the unlimited quantity of figs? Because the figs came from my family’s tree, the officially-certified State Champion Fig Tree of Mississippi. That means it’s the largest fig tree in the state. The gargantuan tree produced enough figs to make fig preserves, fig tarts, fig whatever. But because my family is a family of fig purists, mostly just plain, raw figs. Summer rolled around, the tree did its job, and the figs flowed.

Until I moved away, and it all stopped. 

Not right away. For a while the Midnight Gardener took to the post. He couriered the produce between my old law firm in Jackson and my new law firm in Memphis. 

But that didn’t last. 

Law firms aren’t big on couriered produce.

Soon enough, I lost it all. Figs, Ambrosia melon. Silver Queen corn. Banana peppers. The food of the gods offered like manna in fistfuls, sufficient only for a couple of days. More than sustenance, it was essence. The essence of what it meant to live in the South in the summer. To be fed with the land’s bounty, not from a tilled field but from a plot of earth you could identify. Shared produce, gifted from a generosity of seeding and weeding and watering and hoeing and picking before the pods got too large, the worms too destructive, the birds too greedy. Then slipped into a crumpled brown bag by my Uncle Hebron who donned his magical cape and became, for the night, the Midnight Gardener. 

Stepping into my drive, he settled his bounty on the hood of my car. He is still with us, my uncle, but not the produce he produced.

Dear Midnight Gardner,
I love and miss you still.

COMING SOON: TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE

RELEASE DATE: Tuesday June 26, 2018

 

Happiness is Coming Soon (Like, really soon)

For all of you who’ve been following my tortuous path to publishing a novel, I am pleased to announce that TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE will be released this coming Tuesday, June 26. Full and exciting instructions on how to purchase it will be posted right here on this very blog on Monday. Love to you all, ellen

RELEASE DATE: Tuesday June 26, 2018

Running for Dear Life

The summer I went to camp, it rained every day for eight weeks. I was in the eighth grade. It was my first major camp experience. I’d been to church camp (Baptist and Episcopalian) and Girl Scout camp (in Brandon, Mississippi, where we chased a greased watermelon around the lake), but not to a camp where girls traveled from Puerto Rico to attend. We were in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, me and all the rich kids. And every day, it rained on our heads.

I was at the camp on sort of a scholarship. My grandfather had left me and my two sisters trust fund money. Yeah, you might think that made me one of the rich kids, but it didn’t. Our trust fund money was largely unavailable, to the extent I told one of my friends that I had money in the bank, I just could never get to it. My parents couldn’t have afforded to send three girls into the mountains at hundreds of dollars a week for no reason other than to have a good time. “The trust includes education funds,” Mother said. I guess learning to live in the pouring rain was an education.

At the last minute, Mother had gone to Sears and bought ponchos for us to take with us, because ponchos were on the list of required clothing (any hints there?). The other girls’ ponchos were daisy-flowered in soft baby blues and spring greens. The Morris sisters’ ponchos were fluorescent orange like highway workers wear. Every day, head down and trudging to lunch, I could pick us out of the sea of ponchos: me; my one-year older sister; and baby Bettie, bright orange flames in the wavering line of little girl ponchos.

The spots of orange were about it for my interaction with my siblings. Summer camp is segmented: first by age group and then by cabin and finally by bunk bed. I had a great cabin, I remember that. But at the foot of my bunk bed, in the locker we’d bought for the camp experience, my clothes grew moldy from all the rain.

It did not rain the entire day, only every day. Spurts of sunshine appeared, but even then, when your horse passed beneath a low branch, droplets showered you. The tennis courts carried puddles. When you held the bow taut on the archery range, wetness tickled your ankles. We wrote home: “It’s raining.” Back in Charlotte, Mother moaned: “All that money!”

But in the snatched sunshine, on the steeply sloped hills, along the dirt paths, I learned to run. Up and down, swerving to miss grabbing roots, feet pounding—I ran. Looking back, my body may have been overwrought with the need for physical activity. In summers past, I’d spent my time on the tennis courts, every day, all day, smacking the tennis ball. The inactivity of rainy camp chaffed, and my need burst through. 

So I ran. This was long before “jogging” was an activity. And I wasn’t jogging. I was full-tilt running, pausing only when I had to choose a fork in the path. If you say to me today, “Camp Ton-A-Wandah,” this is the memory that rises to the surface: me on the paths, running. At the time, it was the purest form of physical activity I’d ever experienced. Later, I would recognize that physical immersion in sex, but that was a long, long way off.

No, the summer of the eighth grade, my camp nickname was “Stick.” I had yet to get my period. I can’t remember if I even wore a bra. Stuck in a place between childhood and teenage-dom, I was loath to take the next step. I rightly surmised it meant swapping the joy in my body for angst. Too soon, freckles would become blemishes, the smooth front of my soft tennis shirt a defect. Teenage girls, in those days, frequently did not appreciate the way we were built. 

But that summer, on the pine straw paths of the North Carolina mountains, before I began worrying about whether my hair looked stupid or my poncho was something a construction worker would wear, I waited for a break in the rain and, when the sun appeared, I ran for dear life.

A photo from a recent trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains where it didn’t rain every day

The Chick in the Eye Patch

On the flight to Jerusalem,  I watched my Israeli seat mate, a seasoned traveler, do a nifty trick with her contacts, using no water. I followed suit, and two days later I couldn’t see out of my right eye. Of all things, one of the priests on our trip had been an ophthalmologist before taking his orders. “The human eye,” he said, “is the fastest healing organ in the body. But it needs to be covered up.”

Again, in a tumble of coincidence, one of the other priests in our group was blind, the result of a high school accident that severed his optic nerve. He produced a black eye patch. I put it on. Moshe Dyan was reborn.

Of all the sights in Jerusalem—a city filled with extreme costumers—apparently nothing was as odd as a white woman wearing an eye patch. Crowds parted at my approach. Staring abounded, as did laughter. At age forty-eight, I learned what it felt like to be made fun of for a physical difference. A schoolboy spied me in the window of the tour bus and pointed, doubling over with laughter. Then he poked his friends so they, too, could howl. “You look like a model,” one of the women in my group said, because I had cut my hair so very short for the trip. Not to the little boys, I didn’t.

Most surprising, though, was the effect the patch produced on the notorious groupings that make up Jerusalem’s Old City. The city is visually divided into tribes. You can tell who belongs to which tribe immediately based on their clothing. The Palestinian women wore monochromatic pantsuits. Orthodox Jewish men were draped in black with their distinctive beards. Armenians tended toward traditional dress that complemented their blue eyes. We Americans were well-recognizable in our typical tourist attire. My black eye patch acted as a talisman of acceptance, or at least tolerance.

When I misstepped (literally) and bumped into someone, the automatic gesture of annoyance interrupted itself mid-expression and became a hand blessing. Jew, Muslim, Armenian concentrated to figure me out. Who was I? Why was I wearing a patch? I was no longer a Christian, American, Westerner. I was a chick in an eye patch. I will not forget the bright eyes of the Muslim boy who wanted to sit beside me on the stone steps to find out who I was, discover what this new and strange thing might be. 

Within my own group, I shunned the obligatory souvenir photographs. Why did I want a reminder of this? But my friends clamored, “We need you in the picture!” and I relented. Now I have a photo of myself in a limestone café at the top of a hill in the Old City. A pensive look bathes my face, as if I were listening to the far-off call of the city. In the background, the Dome of the Rock gleams in the sun. It is, for me, the image of Jerusalem: a place where God was rendered human.

 

 

 

 

A Life of Belhaven Houses

Last week, I drove through my old Belhaven neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi, taking photos of the houses I’ve lived in. I spent two periods of my life in the neighborhood: from age 3 years to 12; and again through the decades of the 1980s and ’90s.

My life in Belhaven began in a duplex my mother rented when we moved back from Denver, Colorado, after Daddy Joe died. On this street, we ran behind the fog machine that sprayed  for mosquitos and lived to tell the tale. (The house doesn’t tilt; that’s me tilting the phone as I took a photo through the car window.)

When I was in the 5th grade, Mother bought a house (!—a single mom with 3 little girls: the older I get, the more I’m impressed with that feat). We adored the Arlington Street house. It had 7 levels (if you counted landings) and 2 balconies. As you can tell, the balcony over the front porch where we used to sleep under the stars has been removed. Who knows if they still use those French doors to go out on what is now basically a roof. The house is also painted blue where it was white then. And you can’t see the little house in the back which, though it was a real house, we used as a playhouse and where Cheep-Cheep the duck lived for a while. 

We left this house when Mother married, and we moved to North Carolina. I moved back to Jackson in 1982 to practice law and returned to my old neighborhood, kicking it off with another duplex. My unit was the downstairs screen door on the left of this yellow house.

I didn’t last long here before I moved to the Arcadia. I loved this four-plex (that’s my unit with the upstairs porch on the right), but I left it when I married. Doing my drive-by, I noticed it still has window units. 

We (actually me, though I was married) bought this wonderful little house that we extensively renovated. It’s on Pinehurst Street, right down from Eudora Welty’s house. Miss Welty is a famous short story writer. You can hardly see the house up the hill. The sign indicates it’s for sale again. 

For a brief period, I lived in exile from Belhaven. When I got divorced, I returned to the neighborhood and bought my very own house which I loved dearly. The trees around it have gotten so overgrown it, too, is almost hidden. It had a magnolia, fig, redbud, and an oak. When I married again, I commuted a while between Jackson and Memphis. I sold my house (marriage was not good for my house tenures) and rented the Love Shack behind this pink house in Belhaven. That’s an orange trailer of some sort in the driveway. You can’t see the Love Shack, but I didn’t want to leave it out of the chronology. It was tiny. It had 3 patio areas. The heating was terrible in the winter. I adored it. 

When I look at these collection of houses, I see how similar they are. My taste did not change much. As you can tell, the Belhaven neighborhood is lodged in my heart. It formed me. It might be why I’m a writer. I dream of it at night. It’s now a historic district.

Oh, and just for fun, here’s the ditch area where we kids told each other a crazy horse with red eyes reared and stamped in the darkness. We never saw the horse.

Podcasting or Hacking Through the Jungle

I did it. I recorded the podcast that will accompany the release of TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE. The podcast, which I’ve named ELLEN’S VERY SOUTHERN VOICE: NOVELS TOLD WRITE, offers an extended version of the novel. Each of the 26 chapters has accompanying commentary with Helpful Train Hints and Fun Chicken Facts. The whole thing is, as they say, “in the can.” Soon, you’ll be able to tune in and hear my fabulous fiction in my very own voice. And it scares me to death.

Ellen’s Very Southern Voice business card

I considered this fear as I drove to The OAM Network studio in Crosstown Concourse to record. Something about my fear was familiar, this feeling that I was hacking a path though the jungle with a machete.  Podcasts are a thing; everyone listens to podcasts; podcasts are not unusual. But I know no one personally who has created a podcast to support her novel. So, for me, this was new ground. And I realized that this is the way it’s always been. This is the way I do things.

When I was practicing law in Mississippi in the 1980s and 1990s, male lawyers didn’t often make room for women to succeed along traditional paths. So I made my own way—I succeed by hunting for voids. The State Bar Association didn’t have a Health Law Section, so I created one and became its first Chair. The primary health law publication was dominated by a male lawyer, so I pitched a column to a different paper, and they launched a column with me as the contributor. When I hit a ceiling with my law firm—a firm I had dearly loved—I joined a new firm and established its Jackson office with me as the Managing Partner.

These memories helped me, really. To see a bigger picture and remind myself this is nothing new. I have been here before, and by “here” I mean that point when you’re in the middle of doing something you basically made up in your head and you look up and wonder, what the hell do you think you’re doing?

Entering voids, forging new paths, going your own way. Brave sounding, but also a bit like floating in the darkness of outer space tethered to the mothership by the slimmest of cords. Wish me luck on my re-entry.

Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure

 

 

Recording TRACKING HAPPINESS

I’m deep in the middle of recording my novel TRACKING HAPPINESS. My followers fondly refer to this novel as “the chicken novel.” Earlier, I traveled to Jackson, Mississippi where my very talented sister shot a photo for the book cover. Next, my graphic artist transformed the photo into a true book cover (featuring a chicken, of course). And now I’m recording the content . .  . for the third time.

I didn’t know the first two recordings were practice runs, but that’s what they turned out to be. I’m now at Chapter 13 in the re-re-re-recording. I record here:

Looks like a bathroom, doesn’t it? It is a bathroom. The key to transforming this space into a recording studio is the black box in the lower left corner of the photo. Here’s a closeup:

The recording box with the cute little hand-held, bug-eyed recorder on its tripod.

My former sound guy found the recording box on Amazon, a gem of a tool for home recording. It’s portable—it breaks down into a flat rectangle that you can take anywhere—and muffles noises swimmingly. I keep all my ancillary recording equipment in this basket:

The basket with all the goodies including USB cord to download recordings.

After I’ve recorded, I download the readings onto my computer and upload them onto SoundCloud:

The SoundCloud website where TRACKING HAPPINESS recordings are stored.

SoundCloud allows you to share large MP3 files over the internet. I’m sharing the files with my new sound guy, who will be editing out ALL my mistakes and fixing the sound quality and generally getting it ready for you to listen to. In the meantime, the recordings on SoundCloud are private, so the cat doesn’t get out of the bag.

Anyway, I’m about halfway through recording the novel. It’s a total of 303 pages. My greatest take-away from this experience is this: though the total number of pages is about the same as the 14 short stories I recorded in CAIN’T DO NOTHING WITH LOVE, recording a novel is a TON harder. I’m hoping it is equally as successful.

© 2017 - Ellen Morris Prewitt | EllenMorrisPrewitt.com