Memoir Series Part II: Interview with Ann Hite, Author of Roll The Stone Away

Memoir Series Part II: Ann Hite Interview

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Illustration by Jerry C. Hite

I’m excited to bring you part two of this blog series. The illustration above was drawn by Ann Hite’s husband, Jerry C. Hite, and provides a wonderful image of the “family” cemetery, also a setting in Roll The Stone Away. Hope you enjoy and stay tuned for a guest blog next week from Ann Hite.

There are quite a few revelations, secret, lies you uncovered about your family. Which one or ones were the most shocking or surprising for you?

Finding out my grandmother’s last name was not really her last name was the crack that caused the dam to burst. Until this point in my life, I was convinced Mother’s “spells” were our family’s biggest secrets. I never saw her having a tangled past. I never gave the cause of her mental illness much thought. She had always been the odd mother. I was used to it. When two beautiful, elegant women approached me after Mother’s funeral, I never imagined they were extended family carrying a truth that would make me question everything I had been told. Had my mother known her name had been changed? What prompted this lie that trickled down to placing a false last name on my grandfather’s headstone? This event suggested I would encounter more revelations. And, I did, many. One being Henry Lee Hawkins—my great grandfather, Granny’s father—murdered Asalee Hawkins—my great grandmother, Granny’s mother.

What advice would you give writers considering writing a memoir, particularly writers that are dealing with trauma?

Early on in writing this book, I took Jessica Handler’s workshop on writing about trauma, Braving the Fire—also the name of her book. She suggested using index cards to write one event that would be covered in the memoir. After I filled the index cards with scenes I wanted to write about, I placed them into an envelope and walked away from them for a week or so. When I came back to the cards, I took a random one and wrote about it. The order didn’t matter. Actually, it was comforting to write out of order. I never do this with fiction. A writer must read. If you want to write a memoir, read memoirs. And, most important, writers of memoir have to be on the other side of the events that drive the book. Forgiveness is of the upmost importance. Remember to forgive doesn’t me you forget. It doesn’t mean you pretend it never happened. It most certainly doesn’t mean you have to love the offender or offenders. You will still get angry. Forgiveness in a memoir allows the writer to look at all sides of the story and people involved. Then the reader can decide how they feel about what happened. Most of all, write your truth even if others involved are still alive. Your truth will differ from theirs. Both are valid. Trust yours.

At your reading you mentioned that while writing your memoir you realized that some of your fictional characters were based on your family members. Will you expand upon that?

I never write a character with the idea of basing them on someone I know like a family member. The similarities happen organically, and I don’t discover this until I’m in the publishing edits. In my third novel, Where the Souls Go, the characters Grace Jean and Pearl are different sides of my mother’s personality. The characters AzLeigh and Grandmother Todd are different sides of my grandmother. The character Mrs. Platte represents the many women in my childhood who tried to help me through complex family dynamics. In my first novel, Ghost on Black Mountain, the villain, Hobbs Pritchard, is actually my mother. Characters that stay with the readers and haunt them long after they finish the book are little slices of us and the people we know.

You mentioned the biblical symbolism behind the title. Will you share the inspiration?

“Roll the Stone Away,” the title, was inspired by the image of the women going to the tomb of Jesus and finding the boulder rolled away from the entrance. They understood the body wasn’t there. Christ and the resurrection were revealed, a new life. Hope in the darkest of times. Revealing each of my stones breathed new life into my existence. Hope. I gained confidence to shoulder the family history and accept members for who they were without sugarcoating their stories.

Your haints and your family spirits are not simply metaphors or characters. Maybe they are in your fictional works, but you admit to seeing them. What has been the reaction to that admission?

I have been surprised by those who wait for me after an event to tell me their experiences with spirits. These readers come from all walks of life. The majority of these experiences have been positive. I have many who want to “give” their stories to me for use in a book. I do explain they have to write their stories. It seems most people love a good ghost story, but I have had one negative experience. When I was on tour for The Storycatcher and Lowcountry Spirit, I did an event in Northeastern Tennessee at a beautiful library. This building was nicer than any in the small town that had a large retirement community. I could tell from the lavish rooms inside the library, the donors loved books. I talked about the writing of The Storycatcher and Lowcountry Spirit. I talked about the ghosts and folklore that populate these two books. When it was over, I excused myself and went to the restroom. The author I was traveling with was approached by an elderly woman, who gave her a wherefore about my ghosts, how the devil was behind them, and I had to get right with God. I found this a strange response. We were in Appalachia, and I was taught by my Appalachian relatives to believe in ghosts, haints, spirits. These great aunts were Godfearing folks with deep faith. While I completely respect this woman’s right to believe what she does, I do not agree with her. My experiences with ghosts can’t be explained away. I have never gone looking for them. And I won’t lie that the surprise of them showing up can be shocking. But I’m not afraid of ghosts. And I love writing about them.

You have found your niche, returning to settings like Black Mountain and Sapelo Island frequently. Do you anticipate returning to your ancestral homeland again, or have you released all of your stones with Roll The Stone Away?

I promised myself I would not write another memoir. But in January UPS dropped off a package from my brother. Inside was all my father’s military records, photos, and memorabilia from us kids. My brother expressed his desire I write the story about Dad. So you never know.

In your memoir you talk about always wanting to write and mention that you were a technical writer? What advice would you give creative writers wanting to make the leap into writing professionally?

A professional writer is one who sends off their work and gets rejections. Stephen King papered his wall with rejections. Write and don’t talk about it until you finish. Read, read, read. Deconstruct the books you love. This will teach you much.

Can you tell us about your writing process?

Because I am the mother of four children—all but one gone to live elsewhere now—I learned to write anytime of the day and night. And anywhere. I begin all first drafts with pen and paper. The connection is different, more personal. When I begin my second draft, I use a software program called Scrivener, written by writers. I love it! The third draft is when I begin reading aloud. I also use music as I write.

I noticed on your author website that you teach writing? What do you offer?

I teach a master class of five or six students with the goal to finish a book project. We work for 8 weeks, once a week, and take off 8 weeks with assignments to complete. Then we meet again. The group is close and have developed a true trust.

Finally, what is next for Ann Hite?

I have a short story collection, Haints on Black Mountain, that will be published by Mercer University Press in fall of 2021. The first book, Going to the Water, in a new series set in the Nantahala Gorge, North Carolina will be published by Firefly Southern Fiction, date TBA. My first nonfiction narrative about Lucille Selig Frank, Leo Frank’s wife, has been contracted to Mercer University Press. And finally, I am very excited about a new series set in Westview Cemetery here in Atlanta. This was inspired by historian Jeff Clemmons’s stories and his book Atlanta’s Historic Westview Cemetery. It’s rare to find a fellow cemetery lover. He is the biggest champion for this series that will be filled with haints.

TO PURCHASE Roll The Stone AwayFoxTale Book Shoppe or Amazon

To learn more about Ann Hite and her literature, please visit her author website: Ann Hite- A Southern Novelist, Storyteller From Birth

Please share and like on your social media and feel free to leave comments on “Memoir Series Part II: Interview with Ann Hite, Author of Roll The Stone Away. Please follow me at http://www.dawnmajor.com.

Live the story you want to write!

Review: Roll The Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse by Author, Ann Hite

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Part I: Review of Roll The Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse by Author, Ann Hite

I have yet to meet Ann Hite, well, I met her virtually, but I’m not sure that counts. I attended her virtual book reading sponsored by FoxTale Book Shoppe. I could see her, but my camera was acting funny, so she never saw me. We share a mutual friend in author Ray Adkins, who suggested I reach out to Ann, that she would be good fit for what I’m attempting to do with my site—to promote Southern authors. Of course, I’ve heard of Ann Hite. Her novels were on my list to read. They just got pushed up to the front after reading Roll The Stone Away, and I jumped down the Ann Hite rabbit hole this month and read both Lowcountry Spirit and The Storycatcher. I’m glad I waited and read her fiction alongside her new memoir; it really added a unique perspective to understanding and appreciating her work. I hope you enjoy my review. This is part one of a series of three posts about the author, Ann Hite, her new memoir, and memoir writing. 

The British measure weight in stones. One pound equals fourteen stones. There are twenty-nine stones or chapters in Roll The Stone Away by Southern author, Ann Hite. By American measurements that is 406 pounds. That’s a lot to carry for one person. Imagine standing on a scale, but rather than seeing your physical weight, you see your mental weight: all the shame pressing down on the scale saying you aren’t good enough, the sins of your family, the secrets you have yet to let go of, your mistakes. It weighs so much more than your actual weight. As I mentioned, each stone is a chapter, but each stone also symbolizes what the young Ann Hite begins to carry as a baby, later through her teens, and finally into adulthood. She carries the weight of what her mother and grandmother inherited, and in turn, they carry what they inherited. I’m not trying to be caddy, but Hite’s family has some Game of Thrones type secrets haunting them and she literally rolls that stone away and reveals them. I’ve read several memoirs and probably my biggest dislike is all the complaining and wallowing. I realize this sounds harsh, but I think the point of a memoir, at least the difference between a memoir and a good memoir, is how the author deals with the truth at the end. For me, a good memoir, and that is what Roll The Stone Away is, must confront, heal, and forgive. Some memoirs don’t get the last two parts, and yes, Hite’s story becomes increasingly heavier and heavier as the truth becomes heavier and harder to tell. However, at the end, Hite releases her stones. She heals and forgives, and reader is left with hope.

The cover features a hummingbird hovering over a flower. It’s lovely. The title itself is a Biblical reference to the tomb of Jesus. Then, your eye travels downward to a statement at the bottom of the cover you simply cannot avoid–A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse–and the book takes on a new hue. You know immediately that tied up in this pretty picture of hummingbirds and flowers is something so ugly you want to cover it up. The cover is quite fitting when you consider the romanticism of the Antebellum South and the ugly history it tried to secret away. Initially, I thought, “I don’t know if I can handle this right now. Abuse is difficult enough, but racism?” That’s the point, though. What do you see when you look racism in the face? You may be surprised to see your own face or your family’s face, as Hite discovers an ancestry not only linked by domestic and sexual abuse but also to racial cleansing and lynching. Her family was present for the lynching of Leo Frank, her great-grandfather served on the jury of Ernest Knox and Oscar Daniels, and was instrumental in segregating Forsyth County. It’s not just a memoir of Hite’s ancestry, but a memoir of the Jim Crow South, the terror of the KKK, and of some of Georgia’s most disturbing acts of violence.

And on that historical note, Hite chose to use footnotes. I thought it an interesting choice in a memoir, but don’t be deterred, because like I said, Hite’s family history is tied up with the South’s history. I could have gone either way, with the text added to the memoir or the footnotes. Do read them. You may begin seeing how your family history it connected to a larger history—politically, culturally, geographically. Those pieces of iconic Atlanta, like Rich’s Department Store, where Ann’s grandmother, Inas, worked have a way of connecting the reader on a deeper level, especially if you grew up in Georgia. I also worked at Rich’s a hundred years ago (sadly now Macy’s), and I lived in Marietta Square, and my sister still resides near the Square. I recognized Joyner Avenue where Ann and her mother once lived in Marietta as well as Holcomb Bridge Road. The landscape has changed over the years, but these road and places still exist, and I can look upon this landscape of strip malls and gas stations and see a little further back now.

One of my favorite quotes from the memoir is as follows: “Each person’s story has a root system that, when examined, unearths more questions than answers.” Hite speculates about how her great-great-grandparents would have felt, constantly questioning, and even forming imaginary stories. In the front of the book there are photographs of various family members, and Hite looks deeply into their eyes, their expressions, and wonders about her great-great grandmother’s, Asalee’s expression: “Little does she know that in twelve  years she will die by the hands of her husband…[her expression revealed] mostly resolve, maybe even surrender, as if she had accepted that her life was as good as things would get. But many women in in the early 1900s were photographed with the same expression. It was a trying time, especially in the rural south.” Sadly, this is the history of many women during this time, trapped in marriages of abuse. And yet, domestic violence is very present today and escalating in this time of quarantine. Hite’s personal story reminds us that while it may be easier to obtain a divorce in moderns days, the economic impact on women and children (even today) is epic. Hite doesn’t elaborate too much about her first marriage, but you get the impression she followed in her ancestor’s footsteps and came out the other side. Again, the reader is prodded to move past and heal.

Teachers of creative writing advise to “write what you know,” and Hite took that to heart in her memoir and in her fictional work. She draws from her environment to create her settings. Her fictional works are placed in locales such as Darien and Sapelo Island in South Georgia, a land bloodied by slavery. Her main characters feature the Geechee slaves and haints (ghosts or spirits usually associated with the Old South, typically the Gullah people or Geechees, descendants of African American slaves that resided in the Barrier Islands and Carolina Coast). The spirits of her family, or her haints, are not merely metaphors, but are literally present. Ironically, I find myself reading her works and sadly reflecting on the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was recently shot and killed while taking his daily jog in Brunswick, Georgia. Brunswick is in close proximity to the settings of Hite’s novels.  Her fictional work is not simply designed to entertain; her haints are as real as her living characters. They recall our sordid past, although with the recent death of  Arbery one must reflect about how far away the past is from our present.

It’s easy to see how Hite developed into a storyteller herself. It started at a young age, listening intently to the family stories, or alone at home with only her imagination: “I began to craft long, intricate stories of a girl—always a girl—on an adventure…Many ghosts were added to the mix. There were the stories my great-aunts told about encountering dead family members…I would work on these stories until Mother’s car came down the gravel drive. She frowned at my “pretending” and said others might think I was imagining things. I was: a whole world.” In her fictional work, the strongest root magic resides in the storycatchers. Hite reminds us over and over again about the power of storytelling; her storycatchers “untangle” stories for others, rectify wrongs, and expose the truth. Hite is the original storycatcher and her words are as strong as any of her characters’ conjure magic, because they have the power to heal.

TO PURCHASE Roll The Stone Away: FoxTale Book Shoppe or Amazon

To learn more about Ann Hite and her literature, please visit her author website: Ann Hite- A Southern Novelist, Storyteller From Birth

Please share and like on your social media, and feel free to leave comments here on “Part I Review of Roll The Stone Away Review” by Dawn Major. 

Live the story you want to write!

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

Post officeIn this time of quarantine, when I cannot see my family or friends unless I sign onto some form of technology, I find myself taking pen to paper. My good friends know I have no fear of stamps nor pens, as I often send random postcards with quotes or cards for no good reason other than I recall the joy of getting something pretty and well-composed in the mail once upon a time. I am a rare species, though. Perhaps one day I will be wiped out, totally extinct. Children on school trips will discover my letters, my cards inked in blue or black, and stare upon my cursive as if looking upon ancient hieroglyphics. The wall text will explain that prior to phones, text, emails, blogs, and discussion forums, that prior to Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Zoom, or Tik-Tok, people used pens, (an instrument for writing or drawing with ink, typically consisting of a metal nib or ball, or a nylon tip, fitted into a metal or plastic holder) and wrote (the activity or skill of marking coherent words on paper and composing text) letters (a written, typed, or printed communication, especially one sent in an envelope by mail or messenger) to each other, and sent them via the mail (letters and packages conveyed by the postal system). It all sounds so old-fashioned, huh?

My stepson sent a Mother’s Day card to his bio-mom this week, and I assumed he knew how to fill out the address. First, he wrote MOMMA in great big letters across the front even though I explained it was going via snail mail, and I had already put a stamp on it. Then, he wrote her address in the top left-hand corner (not centered in the middle, slightly leaning towards the right). Finally, I took over and wrote her address under MOMMA with a C/O inserted. I’m not making fun of him. He was never taught. This was a revelation for me. Perhaps, it was a failure on our part for not teaching him how to address a letter earlier. I recall practicing this ancient craft in school. I challenge you parents out there to have you teenager or child compose and send a letter, and please share your comments on the exercise here.

This is by no means an attack on schools, teachers, or curriculums, but along with the lost art of letter writing, cursive is no longer taught, or at least in the schools my son attends. It’s not necessary. In fact, most of the time kids simply type; it has become outmoded. I realized that it was my job as a parent (not the teachers) to teach longhand. One summer—being the wicked stepmother I am—I bought poor Harry a cursive workbook so he could at least learn to write his signature. I cannot tell you how many times I wrote my name over and over as a teenager imagining the time I would be a famous author and could sign something loopy and extravagant (this was typically during Algebra class). I’m still waiting on that fantasy to come true, but at least I have conquered the signature. My point is, I think part of the issue here is the physical act of writing. Yes, it takes effort to write. Hell, it hurts when you are out of practice. Even when you write “Happy Holidays, Love (Insert Family Name)” fifty times during the holiday season, your hand cramps up and you lament. It’s still fun to put stamps on, though. That part feels like playing with stickers. It’s during these times I grumble and protest, “Why am I responsible for the Christmas cards? It’s sexist. Next year, it’s your turn, boys.” I wouldn’t have it any other way. I even have a special Christmas pen I use to write my cards, which I caught my husband casually using, taking notes on a work call the other day. At these times, I reminisce about Sister Evil–the principal from my middle school who more than once made me write an entire dictionary page. When I put letter writing into that context (an entire dictionary page!), how hard is it really to compose a few kind words about your life to send to your family and friends?

This brings me to the part where I honor those great letter writers that inspired my reflection on letter writing. My favorite letter writer is Uncle Jeff, who is famous for his Christmas cards. Year after year, my family await the pages of travels and tragedies, and snicker at the great detail he puts into stomach maladies. Oh, he goes there, folks. And then, out of the blue, two Christmases ago, Uncle Jeff sent out the standard holiday greeting. No synopsis of the year they had. No dodgy stomach ailments. The whole family complained, “We have been cheated! Uncle Jeff, where is our annual holiday letter?” He explained, “No one else puts any time into writing letters, why should I?” He was absolutely right, of course. We’re all guilty of factory line cards with only our signature to connect us to the recipient. Don’t be this person who simply stamps their name under Happy Birthday, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, or Happy Whatever, but say something. Something quirky about your week, heck, tell them about the bad sushi you ate two months ago. I assure you the reader will find it amusing. It worked for Uncle Jeff, it’ll work for you. Uncle Jeff did bring the letter back the following year, but an abridged version and less candid.

Along with the the exercise of torturing your children with letter writing, I have one final thought and challenge for my readers. Flashback: In an effort to expose students to different cultures and to help kids in other countries practice writing in English, in the seventh grade my teacher told us to select a country and gender; we were getting pen pals. I always went for the Italian boys, by the way. I couldn’t wait to get airmail envelopes, with exotic stamps, filled with the thinnest, sheerest, most delicate paper on earth. You can actually still get a pen pal, but if you go that route, do be careful giving out personal information and certainly don’t wire your pen pal any money. Nowadays, most sites offer cyber pen pals. I’d list the sites I found, but I’m not going to be liable for when your not so “pally” pen pal hacks your email. My years working in financial crime have tainted me. So, to avoid that (sorry pen pal sites), treat your friends and family like your new pen pal and send a card, letter, or postcard. No typing allowed. Just you, your quill (how romantic), and your words. It is time to resurrect the letter writing!

Live the story you want to write!

Please share and like on your social media, and feel free to leave comments here on “The Lost Art of Letter Writing” by Dawn Major. 

Part III, Mystery Writer Series: “A Little Mystery” by C.L. Tolbert, Author of Out From Silence

“Very few of us are what we seem,” Agatha Christie, “The Man in the Mist”

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I hope you all have enjoyed my mystery writer series with author C.L. Tolbert. This is the final post in the series where we get to hear directly form Tolbert, herself, where she demystifies how she became a mystery writer. 

A Little Mystery by C.L. Tolbert

My interest in mysteries began early on, when I was eight, and my younger brother inherited our cousin’s Hardy Boys Mystery library. There were well over fifty books in the collection, and I read the entire series in one summer. I was hooked!

Graduating to Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the eighth grade, I discovered warm and comforting worlds created by these two writers, even though their stories centered around gruesome murders. This was true even for Doyle. The back streets of London might be frightening or creepy, but Sherlock Holmes always returned to 221B Baker Street. I wanted to go back to the environments they’d created and visit them over and over, which was a key to the success of both writers. The murders and intrigue which needed to be solved kept the reader hooked, but the sense of place kept the reader coming back. Louise Penny echoes this style today. Her imaginary village, Three Pines, in Quebec, Canada, is a homespun oasis. This village with it’s shops, restaurants, and quaint characters give solace to the harsh brutality of the murders committed there.

When I first started writing fiction, one of my mentors pointed out that my plot-driven manuscript needed to include more passionate exchange between the characters because “murder is a highly emotional thing.”  She was right. But it has to be done just so, and Louise Penny does it perfectly. I’ve learned that even though not all homicides are motivated by emotion, there must be a motivation for a murder in a mystery novel, whether it is passion, revenge, money, or all three.

Mysteries move at a quick pace. They are about solving problems in layers. Some of those layers are analytical, or driven by logic, and some are emotionally driven. I’ve read a good number of the classics (Tolstoy, Hugo, Bronte, Austin, etc.) and more recent literary fiction, but still find writing an emotional scene more challenging than an action scene.

I have a Master’s in Special Education and a law degree. I taught learning-disabled students for ten years, and then practiced law for thirty years before I retired. I’m drawn to problems. I like solving them and want to help people with them. All of this is reflected in my books.

In my Thornton Mystery Series, Emma Thornton is a single mother of twin boys. She’s created a home for them, which is where they find solace and strength. The first story, Out From Silence, is in the fictional town of Jonesburg, Georgia where Emma is a law student and clerk for a local attorney. She helps represent a young deaf defendant accused of killing his girlfriend. The second story, The Redemption, takes place in New Orleans where Emma and the boys have moved since Emma has accepted a position with the faculty at a law school in the city. She takes on a case where a young boy has been accused of a double murder. Each story has a strong sense of place, as well as gritty realism.

I have a few ideas for the third mystery which will come out in 2021 and can’t wait to start writing it. I love the process of creating the story—the plotting, outlining, writing—until I get to the rewrite! I look forward to all the challenges that lie ahead.

To purchase Out From Silence via Amazon.

Please share and like on your social media, and feel free to leave comments on “A Little Mystery,” by guest blogger C.L. Tolbert.

About C.L. Tolbert:

In 2010, Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of OUT FROM SILENCE that is now the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. OUT FROM SILENCE is Tolbert’s first novel and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category through the Georgia Writers Association. She is currently writing her second novel in this same series entitled THE REDEMPTION, which is set in New Orleans and scheduled to be published in December of 2020.

She has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities before moving on to law school. She spent most of her legal career working as defense counsel at large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. She also had the unique opportunity of teaching third-year law students in a clinical program at a law school in New Orleans where she ran the Homelessness Law Clinic and learned, firsthand, about poverty in that city. The experiences and impressions she has collected from the past forty years contribute to the stories she writes today.

She has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer. To learn even more about C.L. Tolbert, visit her author website at: www.cltolbert.com

To contact C.L. Tolbert:  cindy@cltolbert.com.

Live the story you want to write!

 

Interview with C.L Tolbert, Author of Out From Silence

CLT NEW AUTHOR PHOTOPart II, Mystery Writer Series: Interview with C.L. Tolbert, Author of Out From Silence 

Your main character, Emma Thornton, has a similar background to yourself. What aspects of her life mirror yours? Do you think authors use characters to live out some of their desires? If so, how?

Emma and I do share a similar background, so I believe it’s true that you write what you know. I raised two children by myself, much like Emma. It was also important to write a story about a single mother with a job in a man’s world, which is the life I led for thirty years. There are many successful, single, working mothers. They are strong women. Those days were great, but they could be tough, and I wanted to depict that.

The title “Out From Silence” denotes the struggles of the main character, Adam, who is deaf,  and has issues trusting others and finding his voice. But, it is also a secret nod to my own efforts to find my own voice and write, which I always wanted to do.

Emma is more rebellious than I am. I am more of a rule follower. So, in that way, Emma lives out some of my desires.

While you were pursuing these other successful careers—special education and then law—were you always thinking about writing this novel?

I have always wanted to write a novel, since I was a child. This particular novel has been on my mind since I was in law school.

Had you intended to write a series, or was that a pleasant surprise from the publisher?

I had a series in mind, but was thrilled the publisher also wanted a series.

For emerging writers of the mystery genre, what recommendations would you make in terms of getting published?

I’d give them the same advice my publisher gave me: Join Sisters in Crime, and also a division of that group called Guppies. Join Mystery Writers of America, and join the local groups associated with these groups as well. They offer a wealth of information and support. Also, spend a little money on a mystery conference or two a year. I was scheduled to attend Malice Domestic this year, as well as the Writers’ Police Academy MurderCon. Sadly, Malice Domestic was cancelled due to COVID-19. I don’t know whether the MurderCon event will be cancelled or not. Time will tell. It’s scheduled for August.

How long did it take to write Out From Silence? How far along are you into The Redemption? Do you periodically send pages to your editor, or is it a one-time thing, and then a rework?

In 2010, I wrote a short story entitled OUT FROM SILENCE, sent it to the State Bar of Georgia, and won the fiction award competition, which was published in the Georgia Bar Journal. I began working on the full-novel version of the story that same year. I submitted it to my publisher in June of 2019, and we revised it a few times before the final version was put into print in December of 2019.

Once the first draft is complete, it is sent to the publisher’s editor for suggested edits. After her revisions are made, the manuscript is sent to the copy editor. After those changes are made, it is ready to be printed.

Since we are in workshop together, I knew  you used a sensitivity reader for the second novel? Did you do that with Out From Silence as well? Can you tell us a little about how that process works (with a sensitivity reader)?

I did not use a sensitivity reader for OUT FROM SILENCE. I found a sensitivity reader helpful for THE REDEMPTION, and my sensitivity reader, in particular, is quite insightful. The reader reads and reviews entire manuscript and comments on anything culturally insensitive. For instance, I described a public housing project as being drab and bleak. She objected to that description, and asked me to remember that families live there; there are spots of color throughout the complex. Begonias might live in pots on steps and on those same steps, children might sit and have their hair braided. She brought certain aspects of my story to life, and made me aware of things in a way I wasn’t before.

You are contracted to write three Thornton Mysteries or one novel per year. How has that obligation affected your writing process?

The one novel per year schedule has made me more efficient. Otherwise, there’s no doubt that I’d waste time. I usually write on a daily basis unless something disrupts my schedule. I used to write very early in the morning, but lately I’ve been writing a little later, typically from about 11:30 or 12:00 until about 5:00. Sometimes, if I’m home, I’ll write beyond the 5:00 hour. I try to get at least 5 hours of writing and/or editing/ revising in a day. I also try to squeeze in a little marketing when possible.

Did you combine your experience in special education and law and come up with this scenario about a deaf suspect, or was there an actual “Adam Gannon” situation you encountered while you were working as an attorney or in special education?

OUT FROM SILENCE is a work of fiction, but I’ve drawn on my experiences both from my years of teaching and as a lawyer to develop the characters as well as the scenes in the book. The poor are often at a disadvantage, especially in a legal setting since they typically can’t afford adequate representation. Likewise, anyone with a communication or learning challenge is similarly disadvantaged since they often don’t understand the proceedings and can’t assist in their defense. I’ve included these elements in my stories to help the reader understand their struggles and challenges, and how the simplest of acts might require more bravery than we could imagine.

About C.L. Tolbert:

In 2010, Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of OUT FROM SILENCE that is now the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. OUT FROM SILENCE is Tolbert’s first novel and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category through the Georgia Writers Association. She is currently writing her second novel in this same series entitled THE REDEMPTION, which is set in New Orleans and scheduled to be published in December of 2020.

Ms. Tolbert has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities before moving on to law school. She spent most of her legal career working as defense counsel at large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. She also had the unique opportunity of teaching third-year law students in a clinical program at a law school in New Orleans where she ran the Homelessness Law Clinic and learned, firsthand, about poverty in that city. The experiences and impressions she has collected from the past forty years contribute to the stories she writes today.

She has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer. To learn even more about C.L. Tolbert, visit her author website at: www.cltolbert.com

To contact C.L. Tolbert:  cindy@cltolbert.com.

Live the story you want to write!