Interview with The Palms Author, Clay Anderson

Grit Lit Part II: Interview with Author of The Palms, Clay Anderson

Clay

Last week I wrote a review of Anderson’s novel, The Palms, and now we get to hear from the author himself on his influences, process, and much more. Look for a guest post by Anderson next week on the Grit Lit genre. Hope you enjoy the interview!

At your reading you described The Palms as belonging to the Grit Lit genre and you mentioned that you read Cormac McCarthy’s canon every year. Where does McCarthy end and Anderson begin?

McCarthy is my favorite author. I’ve visited his papers at Texas State and wrote my MFA thesis on Blood Meridian. I’ve even visited his childhood home outside of Knoxville. It was almost like a religious pilgrimage for me.

Where does McCarthy end and Anderson begin? Lord, that’s the most difficult question I’ve ever been asked. I don’t feel worthy to even put in the same sentence. My only hope would be to do justice to his prosaic writing style. The man can write a brutal scene where a group of filibusters are being massacred by a group of Apache and it sounds like a poem.

Also, McCarthy can be so “simplistic” with his prose, yet it packs an enormous punch. He uses the phrase “they rode on” a dozen or so times in Blood Meridian and it’s so much deeper than a subject and predicate. Those three words encapsulate (one of) the novel’s thesis over the banality of Manifest Destiny.

If I had 1/100th of his talent, I would die happy.

As a female writer, myself, I am interested in writers that give voice to the disenfranchised which includes characters such as Mary and Clara. That said, there is a lack of female characters in the Grit Lit genre and good luck finding a bad ass female antagonist gracing the pages of Southern Noir novels and stories. Do you agree with this statement? Did you set out–via the characters of Mary and Clara–to change this dynamic?

I do agree and I’m so glad you bring up this point because it’s a damn shame that women are so underrepresented in the Grit Lit genre. Dorothy Allison is the most well-known, but there’s so much more room for women to tell their stories. Why is this? I don’t know. Perhaps the gate keepers in publishing are blocking the content. I’d hate to think it’s that simple, but Occam’s razor and all that.

That being said, keep your eye out for Laura McHugh. She’s brilliant. I would personally place her The Wolf Wants In and The Weight of Blood in the Grit Lit genre, but I don’t know how she’d feel about that.

I came to your reading and you shared a humorous tidbit regarding the cover of The Palms. Will you share that again? 

What happened was, the publishing company had sent me the cover art for me to okay in April (book was published at the end of August) and I hated it. It was a scene of RVs parked at a beach. It wasn’t what The Palms (the park) was at all, so I emailed them back explaining that it’s actually a run-down trailer park. I didn’t hear anything back from them, so I was hoping for the best. The first week of September, I write an email asking how things were progressing and they said “oops, we forgot to email you to notify that it’s been published.” So, I freak out because I hadn’t done the final okay on the cover. Thankfully, I loved it. It’s exactly what I pictured the Palms to be.

I see this as a positive book for addicts and family and friends of addicts and I compared it to what Stephen King did with Doctor Sleep for people suffering from addiction. Did you set out to write a book about the struggles of addiction and offer hope, or did it just play out that way because one of the main characters is a meth-addict?

Drug addiction and recovery is exactly what I was going for in the novel. I’ve had people ask if it was something I’d struggled with as well because it was so realistic. I won’t get into that. I will say that, yes, it was put in there on purpose.

There is a point-of-view shift that has made me curious about how dark you willing to go with the character of Mary. In the last sentence of chapter 31 the narrator directly speaks to the reader: “The disturbing scene that followed was so atrocious that it’s hopefully beyond the realm of your imagination” (268). It is a tough scene to even imagine. Did you originally write this scene and then later remove it? Do you think it would have taken away from the novel or pushed readers away if you described what is clearly a rape of a child? Was that scene just too controversial?  

I wasn’t going to go any darker beyond that sentence. I couldn’t do it. I struggled with actually having Ronnie save her pre-molestation or keep it the way it was. I almost wish I had changed it because a lot of people have had hang-ups about the way I wrote it. I try to be realistic in my writing. She was in a human-trafficking situation and that’s what happens in human trafficking situations. Every single day in the United States, what happened to Mary happens in real life to dozens or maybe hundreds of girls. There are evil people out there who do evil things. If I can draw attention to that, then I’ve done something good… I dunno, ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a different answer.

In my opinion, one of the predominate themes throughout The Palms is healing, but healing only comes by way of struggle. Do you think some readers may miss that element because the novel is so violent? 

I hope not. Everyone I’ve talked to have pointed out that it’s a story of redemption and healing. I don’t really consider it all that violent of a book. It’s just that last portion that is hyper violent. But, then again, I also read violent stuff so maybe I’m desensitized. What I do make a point of, is not being violent for the sake of being violent. I want it to have a damn good reason behind it. I hate shock writers who put stuff in to be controversial. The worst is Chuck Palahniuk in my opinion. Having a teenage boy put wax down his pee hole so he can jack off has no redeeming literary value, but maybe I’m a prude.

From start to finish, with start being the first word and the finish line being published, how long did you work on The Palms? 

It took me three years. 1 to write. 1 to get rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, and accepted. 1 to be in the hands of the editors and get published.

Can you briefly describe your writing process?  

I’m a morning person and spend about two hours from 5-7ish writing. I don’t edit until I’ve finished whatever I’m working on. So, I just write flat out every single day. Sometimes I write 3,000 words, sometimes three. No matter what though, I make it a point to write every single day. I get sick and depressed if I don’t.

You own the Bear Book Market in Dahlonega, GA. So, what are you reading this week?

I make sure than I am reading both fiction and non-fiction at the same time. I am currently reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt and it’s a complete mind f*ck. Also, I’m tackling The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Lawson that follows Winston Churchill’s time as Prime Minister of Great Britain during the Blitz.

To purchase a copy of The Palms on Amazon.

About Clay Anderson:

Clay Anderson is an Adjunct Professor of History at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia. He received his BA in History from Kennesaw State University and MA from Mississippi State University. He has seven diverse publications in fiction and non-fiction. These publications include two non-fiction book reviews in Texas Books in Review and East Texas Historical Journal, one non-fiction article in the Journal of Big Bend Studies, and four fiction short stories in the Fourth World Journal, Adelaide Literary Award Anthology 2019 and 2020, and The Bangalore Review. He is currently an MFA student in Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. The Palms is his first novel and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category. Clay lives in the North Georgia mountains with his two dogs and has recently opened a bookstore called the Bear Book Market in Dahlonega, Georgia.

To Follow BEAR BOOK MARKET: 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bearbookmarket/

Instagram: @bearbookmarket

Twitter: @bearbookmarket

The Palms, a Novel by Clay Anderson

PalmsGrit Lit Part I: Review of The Palms, a Novel by Clay Anderson

I met Clay Anderson through the Etowah Valley MFA Creative Writing program at Reinhardt University where he is a current student and where he also teaches history. He shared a William Gay book with me that summer and I discovered a compatriot of Grit Lit—a genre I had to explain to a New York agent this past summer while describing my own novel. If you have to explain…. well…I’ll say no more. I’m pleased that Clay has continued in a tradition that I so greatly admire and that in my opinion needs more voices. I hope you enjoy this review. Anderson’s The Palms has also been nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category. Make sure to get a copy. This post is part one of three posts. Look for an interview between Clay Anderson and myself next week followed by a guest blog by Anderson on the Grit Lit genre.

The Palms

An unlikely union of the rejected come together in Clay Anderson’s novel, The Palms, to form a dysfunctional family that simply works. Mary is a precocious seven-year-old girl who is largely neglected by her mother, Clara, and way too wise in the ways of the world, yet finds a father figure in ex-con, Ronnie. Clara is a meth-addicted prostitute battling addiction and years of abuse but is seeking redemption. Ronnie, a Vietnam vet who served thirty years for murder, lost his wife and daughter while in prison, becomes both a father to Mary and an ally to Clara. They are connected geographically by The Palms trailer park in Pensacola, Florida—a place inhabited by the downtrodden. While there are no white picket fences at The Palms, Ronnie stands out as a model neighbor, keeping what little he has pristine. These are hardscrabble folk that live on the fringes of society and while they may not live like the majority, they love like anyone else.

The Palms is a Southern Gothic novel, with clear influences from the likes of William Gay and Cormac McCarthy, but Anderson has his own style and the imagery. The prose is poetic and at times layered, yet doesn’t come off as heavy as his predecessors. In this scene, Ronnie “confesses” or reveals his darkest secrets to Clara: “Ronnie kept speaking as if Clara wasn’t in the room. Like he was spilling out his soul to a higher being and she just happened along as a spectator by accident. He spoke like a man imbued with a weighty burden. His words sounded like a benediction. His red eyes rapidly tracing something that wasn’t there. As if he was reading a script against the wall” (85). You could leave off one of these images or sentences, but it’s better with it than without out. In the above example, the concrete image is one of Ronnie confessing and the more abstract images are used to heighten and hone in on that image.

There is, of course, the religious and spiritual symbolism that these images convey as well. These characters are healing—healing and redemption being a prominent theme in The Palms. Ronnie has an almost Zen-like disposition. Even though he’s a man with a past, he has grown and can leave his past behind. Ronnie’s character is enlightened, whereas, the other characters still have room to grow. Unfortunately, this makes him expendable. Ronnie, for all his rough ways is a lamb, a sacrificial lamb and goes to his death, much like Christ, fully aware of what is at stake.

One of my favorite things about Anderson’s novel is his treatment of addiction. I haven’t read many novels that explore the depths of addiction in a pseudo Big Book sort of way. Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep comes to mind: a book for addicts by an addict. Most are familiar with King’s struggles with alcoholism. When Clara hits rock bottom, death becomes a viable option to escape addiction: “She passed waving dunes of white sand on her right. Beyond was the vastness of the Gulf, at times a beauty without measure. With withdrawal taking over, Clara imagined stripping naked and wading out into the cool surf. Letting the endless tide take her away. Like a great anti-baptism that wrought none of the forgiveness. Instead stole her and allowed the internal darkness to settle. Peace, finally anointed in death” (73). Clara cleans up, goes to meetings, works the steps, and falls down again. That is the nature of the disease. One of the saddest scenes is when Clara tosses away her sobriety at Chili’s for a neon icy drink. The problem with her fall is that it has monumental consequences with horrific and even murderous results and takes down more than just herself. Anderson goes on a dark roller coaster with Clara and the reader rides along, knowing her brief recovery is the calm before the storm—and what a storm it turns out to be. There is a clear message here regarding addiction. It’s isn’t suffered alone, and as such, requires more than yourself to combat it. The ending offers hope not just for the characters, but for readers that may relate, personally, who have possibly been down this road and came out a recovered addict, or had a friend or family member in recovery or worse, didn’t recover, or died. That’s the hard truth of the disease. Anderson knows his stuff; it makes you wonder how close he got to characters like Clara, but writers are also great observers.

The Palms has its violent moments, really dark spaces, and is TV-MA for sure. If you are a fan of Grit Lit, Redneck Noir, the “Rough South” writers, or whatever you want to call this genre of Southern literature, this is a novel you will want to read. Although the brutality and pure evil of humanity is explored throughout The Palms, it is balanced by some really touching and poignant moments. You may not like the ending. Anderson mentioned that someone unfollowed him on Facebook after finishing his novel. I actually thought the ending was appropriate. Not everything can be wrapped up with a bow. The ending offered a sense of renewed faith in humankind, but it is a flawed humanity. Perhaps, the best way to describe the ending is to use a term I’m not even sure exists–melancholic optimism.

To purchase a copy of The Palms on Amazon.

Clay Anderson Bio:

Clay Anderson is an Adjunct Professor of History at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia. He received his BA in History from Kennesaw State University and MA from Mississippi State University. He has seven diverse publications in fiction and non-fiction. These publications include two non-fiction book reviews in Texas Books in Review and East Texas Historical Journal, one non-fiction article in the Journal of Big Bend Studies, and four fiction short stories in the Fourth World Journal, Adelaide Literary Award Anthology 2019 and 2020, and The Bangalore Review. He is currently an MFA student in Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. The Palms is his first novel and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category. Clay lives in the North Georgia mountains with his two dogs and has recently opened a bookstore called the Bear Book Market in Dahlonega, Georgia.

 

 

 

 

 

2020 Revival: Georgia State University, Lost Southern Voices Festival IV, A Festival for Readers

Interested in learning more about William Gay’s writing and paintings?

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I am presenting on the “Condensed Careers: Poetry,  Scandal, and Southern Gothic” panel at the 2020 Lost Southern Voices Festival sponsored by Georgia State University where I will be discussing William Gay’s paintings and prose. I’m bringing an original William Gay painting for viewing! In addition, the William Gay Archive has graciously donated two books of William’s, so make sure you enter the raffle for a chance to win.

About Georgia State University’s  Revival: Lost Southern Voices Festival: The festival is a two-day celebration that honors southern writers who have faded into obscurity and are currently not receiving the attention they deserve. I will be presenting on the 1:30-2:30 panel on Saturday, March 28th, but I encourage you to go to all of the panels if you are able.

This event is open to the public and is a free, but they do ask that you register online. You also have the option to add a lunch for the Saturday event, so you can stay all day. The festival is held at the Decatur Library Auditorium at the Decatur branch of the DeKalb Public Library: 215 Sycamore Street, Decatur, GA 30030. Directions

Attendee Registration: Revival: 2020 Lost Southern Voices Registration

Full Schedule: LSV 2020

Hope to see you there!

Villain Themed Poems on melodically challenged

skullWhat do pirates, bankers, ex-loves, and outlaws have in common?

Aside from their villainous qualities, they’re all featured on the latest radio show I wrote for melodically challenged–Bad to the Bone. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this show. One, I got fellow poet and friend, Sharon Wright Mitchell, to read and record. Two, who doesn’t love a really good villain? It’s not just me who prefers bad boys and bad girls. Look how popular The Joker was this past year. There are quite a few villain fan clubs as well. Lately, I find myself rooting for the villain because his or her character is just that much more interesting than your run-of-the-mill hero type. The best stories, for me, include the best villains. I love Flannery O’Connor’s misfit in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Cormac McCarthy’s Judge Holden in Blood Meridian and Granville Sutter from William Gay’s Twilight. Even Disney has jumped onto villain bandwagon. Consider Maleficent. Antagonists unite!!

To listen to Bad to the Bone, on melodically challenged tune in Sunday, March 8th from 8:00-9:00 PM Eastern Standard time on WRAS-ATL 88.5 FM. To listen online, go to Album 88 or listen via Tunein: select LOCAL RADIO and choose WRAS-Album 88.

The program, melodically challenged, is currently seeking writers to write radio scripts. Obviously, you do not need to be a poet to write a script…only an appreciation for the written word and the desire to share that with others. It’s great exposure, another item to add to your CV, and also just a ton of fun. If you are interested in learning more about this opportunity, please reach out to K.B. Kincer at kbk1@kincers.net or myself at dwnmjr@comcast.net.

Happy Writing!

Questions For A Poet, An Interview with Sharon Wright Mitchell

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Q&A with Georgia Poet, Sharon Wright Mitchell

Sharon and I were roomies for two weeks during Reinhardt University’s MFA summer residency in 2019. As part of the program, each student reads in the evening and I was blown away listening to Sharon. Her poems were both accessible and poignant.

Recently, I was writing a radio script for melodically challenged (a poetry-themed radio show that broadcasts from Georgia State University’s Album 88 FM), and I thought about one of Sharon’s poems I heard her read last summer, “Rooting for the Wildling.” Yes! A Game of Throne’s inspired poem! The show is called “Bad to the Bone” and features villains–a topic Sharon often writes about whether due to her choices in men or past love interests, poems forged with equal amounts of  humor and melancholy. We’ve all had those bad boys in our lives.

I also got a chance to ask Sharon about her craft and goals, what inspires her, who she gravitates to and more. Whether you are a poet or not, these are thought-provoking responses for all writers.

To hear Sharon Wright Mitchell live, tune into melodically challenged Sunday, March 8th from 8:00-9:00 PM Eastern Standard time on WRAS-ATL (88.5 FM). To listen online, go to Album 88 and select listen. You may also listen via Tunein: Select LOCAL RADIO and choose WRAS-Album 88.

How long have you been writing poetry and when did you realize you were a poet? 

 The first poems I remember writing were in the 8th grade, and I felt like I had a knack for it, even if I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I still have them, awful as they are! So, I won’t admit exactly how long, but decades.

Is there a common thread or theme, structure, style, or tone you find yourself gravitating to in your poetry? 

I like direct, bold expression, especially of difficult emotions. Some of my poems are about tough subjects like cancer and family conflict. I also have a lighter, more humorous voice. Those are the types of poems I prefer to read out loud. I’d rather make people laugh in person. I write mostly free verse but will experiment with form if it suits the subject. I love organic forms that embody the meaning of the poem somehow, from the strictly concrete to the less obvious. One poem I wrote about the nature of mother-daughter love mentions the Fibonacci sequence, so that’s how I spaced the lines. A little inside joke for the observant reader. I am fascinated by water and all its symbolism and metaphors. So yes and no. I am a person with many sides to my personality, so my poetry reflects that.

What makes a poem a success? 

If I feel that I have said what I want to say in the best words I can find to say it, then it is successful. After that, it comes down to rhythm and flow. While I value the input and feedback of others, I write ultimately to satisfy myself, and I am a hard taskmaster. My goal with every poem is to express how I see the world, what strange things come together in my mind that give me insight and understanding.

Who are your favorite poets, your tried and true that you go back to for inspiration? Favorite collections?

Sharon Olds is my favorite right now. She has so many “truth-telling” poems that just make you say, “Damn!” at the end. I recently read Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, which I loved as a collection. I skim current journals to see what’s out there that I like. My mentor Rosemary Daniell has published several collections I love and has a new one coming out in April. I enjoy Emily Dickinson for her vivid interior world. I am an introvert and feel some kinship with her vision. I fell in love with the Romantics as a teenager and still have my ancient Romantic Poetry and Prose college textbook. I enjoy the wonder the Romantics felt for the natural world even though it isn’t popular now. I’m a promiscuous reader. I love the one I’m with in the moment.

Are all your poems meant to be shared, meaning are there some you keep to yourself or some that you would publish but never read out loud in public? 

Ultimately, I intend them to be shared once I get them polished. I do write some drivel now and then, but I revisit older poems regularly to try and shape them up. When I read, I try to choose mostly lighter poems. I feel that when you read a poem in front of a group, you are asking them to take a journey with you, and that journey needs to be worth it. Some poems just don’t lend themselves as well for reading out loud. Even though I am a poet, I have a hard time sitting through pages and pages of cryptic abstraction or ten haiku in a row. I wrote a very long poem, which I like, for a class project, but I’d probably never expect an audience to hang on with me for eight pages. It’s based on sonata form, so there’s a lot of repetition of themes and images.

A few of my poems are difficult to read out loud, such as the ones about breast cancer, but I didn’t write them to keep them to myself. One in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. In every audience, there will be someone who has it, or someone they love has it or will have it. It is a cancer that has particular emotional complications, and my giving voice to those emotions may help someone who hears me read.

How do you choose the perfect poem to read to the public?

I usually have a tentative list planned based on the expected audience, but once I get to a venue, I might change my mind really just based on intuition or the size and demographics of the audience. I have Google docs on my phone so all my poems are accessible, and I can make last minute changes. As I said earlier, I usually prefer humor over more serious poetry for readings. I have heard some experienced poets say you should save the poem that has the most impact for last, but I’d rather people leave with a smile. If I had to choose just one poem, that would be tough. At most open mics, there’s time to read maybe three poems, so there’s less pressure. I have planned lighter poems and then switched to more serious ones just for practice if there aren’t many people.

What is next for you? Do you make goals for your craft? If so, can you tell us some of them? 

I always have goals for everything…so many goals. I have some specific topics I’d like to write about. I’m working on a set of three poems about breast cancer based on photos from Hiroshima after the bombings during WWII. There is a historic area close to my house I’d like to write a series of poems about. It’s an abandoned mill village and was also the site of the Creek territorial border in the late 1700s. It’s very rich in history. I do best on those kinds of projects when I can completely immerse myself in research and writing. Since I’m a teacher, I’m able to do that in the summer.

Some generic craft goals are to work more on deliberate lineation. I think I can improve my line breaks to build more tension. Also, my grad school mentor is having me work on openings and closings. I would like to incorporate more visual art into my poetry. I am always submitting and sending out conference proposals. I could easily write full time or more, but there’s work, school, parenting, and maintaining sanity to be dealt with, too.

About Sharon Mitchell: 

Sharon Wright Mitchell is a neurodivergent poet and teacher living in Athens, Georgia. She studied English, comparative literature, and education at the University of Georgia. She contributed to the anthology I AM STRENGTH: True Stories of Everyday Superwomen from Blind Faith Books and has had work published in The Wild Word, Independent Variable, Inquietudes Literary Journal, Blue Collar Review, The American Journal of Poetry, and Dream Pop Journal. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. Find her on Instagram: @apoetseyeview