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.
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.)
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.
I’ll be joining several book clubs in the Memphis area during December. TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE makes a great book club selection. Memorable characters. Intriguing plot. Life wisdom. All leads to a lively discussion.
If you’re in the general Southeastern United States, and you’d like Lucinda and me to visit your book club in 2019, use the contact form to give me a holler. We’ll jump on the train and be there. 😉
When I decided to be my own narrator on TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE, I had no idea what I was getting into. The process has about worn me out. I thought I’d let you, my loyal followers, know what’s going on.
TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is now available for sale on Audible! That’s the good news. Really good news. And, if you’re not a current Audible listener, you can listen for free with a 30 day trial. (That sounds like an Audible commercial, but I like my work to be available to everyone, even those who can’t pay).
The bad news is that, at some point along the way, I chose exclusive distribution with ACX. I can’t have exclusive distribution with ACX because I’m using the audio content as Season 1 on the podcast ELLEN’S VERY SOUTHERN VOICE: NOVELS TOLD WRITE.
I confirmed that this use—even though it’s not an audiobook—requires non-exclusive distribution. Fortunately, I realized this mistake within 45 seconds of the book being approved for sale on ACX. (Yes, 45 seconds; the ACX rep, Jessica, said, “I see where it’s just gone up today…right now.”) So, as we speak, sweet, kind Jessica is switching the distribution to non-exclusive, and we will delay the launch of the podcast for a week or two until I get a confirming email from Jessica that all is back to where it should be.
Despite the hype, no podcast launched on Friday. 🙁
TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE is also still available on Amazon in regular ol’ print book or ebook. You can also get to the audiobook using this link (because ACX/Audible is an Amazon product).
I feel like I have learned soooooo much with this venture. And it is cool to see that audiobook button next to the ebook and paperback buttons on Amazon. But I will be glad when I can go back to writing. 🙂
I alternate between super excited and terrified. That’s because it’s both hilarious and super embarrassing, this new podcast I’m about to release.
I mean, a print or e-book is one thing. The reader is safely tucked away in the privacy of their own home, curled in an overstuffed chair, giggling as they read.
With an audiobook, I’m talking to them. My voice is saying things out loud. I am present as they experience my words. They know how I sound. They know ME. It is so personal. That is the mortifying part.
At the same time, the podcast makes me giggle, and I already know the joke.
Season 1 of Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write launches Friday September . Season 1 features Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure. Each episode has 3-5 minutes of deep background on Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc. The actual chapter follows. So: me introducing a chapter, followed by the chapter itself. Like an audio book with benefits. Some writer talk. Some truth or fiction? talk. Some random outtakes. Lots of Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints.
And, most amazingly, the podcast features an original musical theme written and sung by the incredibly talented Corinne Alexander Sampson. “Get That Chicken Off the Tracks.” If you can’t stand my writing, if humor in a book makes you wanna barf, if you’ve hated me since you first laid eyes on me in the 5th grade, you need to listen to the podcast to hear this theme music.
Season 1: Tracking Happiness: A Southern Chicken Adventure. Join single-again Lucinda Mae Watkins as she takes off on a wild—if slightly ribald—cross-country train ride to clear her dead daddy’s name from a drug scandal erupting at the local fried chicken joint. Hopefully along the way, she’ll discover the secret to happiness. Spiced with Fun Chicken Facts and Helpful Train Hints. It’s all good.
See, hilarious and also I might die of mortification (which is kind of redundant, since mortification is death).
But there’s no stopping it. We’re gonna do this thing. Ellen’s Very Southern Voice: Novels Told Write will be found on the Oam Network, iTunes, Stitcher, and other fine places. I’ll share the URL Friday.
Kind folks keep congratulating me on the release of my novel TRACKING HAPPINESS: A SOUTHERN CHICKEN ADVENTURE and inside myself I think, I self-published it—where is the congratulations in that? I did successfully get an agent for the novel (a long time ago), but he wasn’t able to sell that half-baked version. Later I had another agent extremely interested in it (“you have the makings of a literary star”), but I wasn’t able to revise it the way she wanted. Finally, I gave up and revised it myself and published it myself. The novel is the making of lemonade out of multiple failed lemons.
Then I remember.
I remember the first time I was able to add a second sentence after the first, and it made sense.
And I remember the first time I strung two paragraphs together, rather than writing a series of images bumped up against each other that asked the reader to narrate the white space between.
And the first time I wrote a whole page that flowed—a whole page!
And the first time someone (my sister—I’m telling you, I vividly recall these moments) referred to my work as a “story” rather than a “piece,” because I —finally—had learned to write a narrative arc. Which means “this happened, which caused this to happen, then this happened.” A beginning, middle, and end. A plot.
From my earliest scratchings, I had description out the wazoo; my characters were unique; dialogue was a breeze. But plot? Message? The “why are we here?” of it seemed so self-evident to me, I couldn’t understand why the reader didn’t see it too. But I came to accept they didn’t; I had to write it. So I sloooooooowly learned how.
This was the trajectory for me, a college-educated, well-read lawyer who wrote big, fat applications for a living. But my creative writing began with the creation of descriptive images that had to grow tendons of narration before they accomplished more than leaving folks scratching their heads (which I must admit, they sometimes still do: people ask, where do you come up with these things? The only answer I can give you is, that’s my brain.)
And now I’ve published a 300-page novel, which is the word we use for a long story that starts and moves forward and ends (I hope) satisfactorily. So, okay. Given where I started from, I’ve come a long way. Truth is, my having published a cohesive, entertaining novel is sort of a minor miracle.
So thank you for your congratulations. I much appreciate it.
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!
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.
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?
Two weeks ago, this bed was fill dirt. Before that, it was a driveway, a leftover scar from Hurricane Katrina.
The storm, which hit in 2005, decimated the community where we built our beach house (yeah, I know—it’s a calculated risk.) Waveland, Mississippi was “Ground Zero” where the Category 5 hurricane made landfall. We’ve been here for two years and recently bought the lot next door on the beach side of the house (we’re about 800 yards from the water—I was willing to take a risk but unwilling to build right on the Gulf.)
I used an old Coleman cot as the trellis for this vining plant. Only after I placed it inside the cot did I realize it was a Passion flower. 🙂 They say it’s heavenly to butterflies. If so, that will make me happy.
Here’s a close up of the Dragon’s Blood ground cover I’m using in the bed. It did well for me in Memphis so I’m trying it here.
When the temperature drops in the fall, I will transplant some Asiatic and Oriental lilies into the bed; I was using them to demarcate the lots, which doesn’t make sense now. We’ll put sod around the bed where the driveway and former house foundation were. That is, if the grass doesn’t grow into the bare spots all on its own—it’s trying. The soil here is TERRIBLE. Not as bad as the red clay that I encountered in the hills of North Alabama, but pretty bad. Heavy white clay. The plants I used in the bed are said to live in clay. As always, we will see.
Oh, and the bed has advanced my being in community. As I was working, my down-the-street neighbor came by. He stopped to talk. I wound up with an offer of three new plants I’ll pick up tomorrow. This winter, I’ll give him a cutting from my fig, which I’d already bragged to him about (from my Morris family’s State Championship Fig Tree, which I’m sure I’ve also bragged to you about—I’m a braggart). He requested a cutting, thankfully—sharing only works if it goes both ways. He said, post-Katrina, he could stand at his house at the far end of the street and see all the way to the beach, not a tree in sight. The devastation is hard to imagine.
Still to do in the bed: mulch around the recently planted day lilies and liriope and put up an iron gate that I’ll be buying in New Orleans. I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, here’s a photo of Mr. Potato Head taking on the chickens. Story to be continued.