“Nativity,” a Classic Christmas Story full of Mirth by Dawn Major

Writers are always attuned to sources of inspiration. A word, an expression, or even the smallest shared story works its way into an author’s headspace and becomes the basis of stories, poems, novels. The chapter titled “Nativity” is a collage of two real pieces of inspiration that came together in my novel, The Bystanders. It may be read on its own as a story, or as a chapter from the novel.

When my family moved from Los Angeles in the late 1980s—to live off the grid—we found ourselves outside the small town of Lawrenceton, Missouri. It was quite a culture shock. We went from the city to rural living, but it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever lived. And the people were amazing.

At my family’s first Midnight Mass at St. Lawrence Church, I was selected to play the part of Mary in a live nativity. I was in third grade at the time, and I recall being concerned people might think I gave birth to Baby Jesus, so that was kind of funny. But the live nativity element was the first bit of inspiration for this chapter/story.

The second part that influenced “Nativity” was one of my mom’s most precious possessions, a Vatican commissioned nativity scene that cost a fortune. It’s stunning, but it was a pay-as-you-go program and every month a new piece arrived, except the most important character of all, Baby Jesus. For three years mom received, lambs, cows, multiple angels and shepherds, but no Baby Jesus. As you can imagine, she was getting upset. And then one day Baby Jesus arrived, and my dad and sister got to him first. Big pranksters, these two. They wrote an official looking letter from the Vatican apologizing because they weren’t going to be able to send Baby Jesus, they had discontinued the collection, and to please accept a cow in his place. They found one of the many cows in the collection and replaced the cow with Baby Jesus. My mom was livid when she opened that box and read the letter. Eventually, they fessed up and now the nativity scene takes up her mantle during the holiday season.

Mom’s Nativity

With “Nativity.” I wanted to write a classic Christmas story. So many of our modern holiday stories are really new versions of classics. I also wanted to share one of my favorite family memories. I hope you derive some mirth from “Nativity” as my family and I have over the years.

St. Lawrence Church

photo by Linda Bayles Fitzgerald

NATIVITY

Lena and Holda were twins; however, most parishioners didn’t see them as two eccentric hens, but as one big lady who cracked in half. They lived in a ninety-eight-year-old house that once served as the rectory for Saint Lawrence Church. After the last full-time priest passed, the diocese decided the new priest, Father LeClair, should split time between the two town parishes—Lawrenceton and Bloomsdale. Hoping to preserve one of few original structures left in town, the ladies bought the rectory, and moved in. In turn, the parish supplied them a tiny income to keep up the church. They attended every Sunday Mass, every wedding and Baptism. They were at church for each feast day, every saint day, and most importantly, Midnight Mass—they had overseen Christmas almost as long as Christ. READ MORE…

A Conversation with Co-Editor, Alex Hofelich, about putting together the Georgia Gothic Anthology, Stories from the Dark Side of the Deep South

We need stories where we can smell the grease from the Varsity onion rings while we enjoy a frosted orange, where we can hear the muffled thud of bass from the Old Masquerade, where we can see the hand-scrawled roadside sign for BOILT P-NUTS and smell the fecund rot of the swamp swirled by an ocean breeze. Stories that did this and leaned into the gothic…

Alex Hofelich

I met Alex Holefich and the other individuals who helped put the first volume of the Georgia Gothic Anthology together through the Atlanta Chapter of the Horror Writers Association. HWA Atlanta Chapter is a group of very talented and supportive writers and artists who have accepted me into the fold with open arms. They get my strange! I’m so pleased to have discovered this wonderful group and to be part of the Georgia Gothic Anthology, a collection of horror stories and poems set in some of the darkest realms of Georgia.

DM: What was the impetus to create the Georgia Gothic Anthology?

AH: 2020 was a heck of a year and it ruined our opportunities to have our monthly Atlanta HWA chapter meetings in person. So we decided as a chapter we needed a group project to help make sure we continued to learn and develop skills and be able to spend time together. Since we have a fantastic selection of authors, artists, and editors in our chapter we arrived at a consensus to try our hand at an anthology.

This was also the impetus we needed to form up critique groups so writers could run stories past each other before submitting them to the editorial team. The two critique groups are still going strong and we’re looking to assemble a third. And the editors could learn from each other since I’ve got a decade of experience with a short fiction market and Peter Adam Salomon started the HWA Poetry Anthology project. Peter had the toughest job trying to teach two very technically minded folks to get in touch with feelings and flow.

DM: What were some of challenges you discovered putting this anthology together? AND were there any surprises you can share?

AH: One of the tightest knots we needed to unsnarl was revenue. We wanted to showcase the work of a number of our chapter members and have something available to sell at any event that we attended as a group. We did not relish the option of pitching this book to agents or publishers during a time of uncertainty, nor did we want to consider an angel investor. If one person as an individual registers the book in their name, they would be responsible for taking in the revenue and then splitting it up among the contributors while also covering any taxes on the income.

We found PubShare which, for a nominal cut of the proceeds, will handle the intake and sharing of revenue among all the participants. Several members have had positive experiences with the service in the past, so we decided to give it a shot. We did our best to develop an equitable percentage breakdown and this model has a lot of promise to handle similar future projects. This might allow for a self-publishing approach to producing anthologies that others may be able to consider as a viable alternative to producing token-payment anthologies.

DM: As an editor, what submissions stand out? What do you look for?

AH: As a group we created a poll to decide on the anthology’s theme, and Georgia Gothic won by a comfortable margin. There’s not enough fiction that really shows off the richness of the South, and especially the richness of Georgia. People don’t think about much when it comes to horror in Georgia. When we’re lucky, they think about a woman who would have been good if there had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life. When we’re less fortunate, they think of banjos and bad canoe trips.

Georgia is a too-infrequent setting, so we were looking for these stories to fully inhabit Georgia, from the cities to the swamps, the mountains to the shore, from Buford Highway to the roadside barbecue stand. We need stories set among the kudzu that is working to reclaim the buildings of Central State Hospital, an asylum that was later converted into a notorious prison. We need stories about how Atlanta burned in 1864, and how we have been continuing to burn the city every forty years or so while we try to forget our past. We need stories about Atlanta’s specific brand of white flight and how that manifests in the perennial ITP vs OTP skirmishes. We need stories about the anger against carpetbagging pillagers, who moved the capital and set the development pattern that remains in effect along the rail headed back to the north. We need stories about how one of the major motivations for prohibition was the number of businesses that had fraternization among the races, and how prohibition was enforced largely by the Klan. We need stories where we can smell the grease from the Varsity onion rings while we enjoy a frosted orange, where we can hear the muffled thud of bass from the Old Masquerade, where we can see the hand-scrawled roadside sign for BOILT P-NUTS and smell the fecund rot of the swamp swirled by an ocean breeze. Stories that did this and leaned into the gothic were ideal for inclusion.

DM: How varied in terms of skill, background, and diversity are the contributors for this anthology?

AH: This anthology shows off a full range of writing talent, from new writers to those with Stoker nominations, and as mentioned above, our editorial team has a comfortably solid resume. Part of the goal of this project was for all of us to get to learn from one another, as well as some of the more seasoned members of the team to help mentor and lift up those with less experience in the creation and publishing of short fiction. We have good gender and LGBTQIA representation. As a chapter, we have some additional recruitment needed to grow from a couple writers with multiethnic backgrounds. With the massive multi-generational immigrant population in Georgia, we have an opportunity to show off an exceptionally wide range of experiences and perspectives.   

DM: How did you decide on the final design for the cover art?

AH: We have some incredibly talented artists in our group. Lynne Hansen does a ton of amazing covers. One of my personal favorites of hers is the 2020 collection Halloween Season by Lucy A Snyder. Lynne graciously volunteered to make a cover for this project. Much of the cover was inspired by the collective mood with particular details drawn from Persephone Justice’s “The Old Meadow House.”

DM: Will there be opportunities next year for a volume two? Editors? Cover Artists?

AH: We’re certainly excited to start planning for a second volume of Southern Nightmares. The theme that came in second in the group poll was Smothered, Scattered, and Covered and that provides so many opportunities to consider the interesting characters that inhabit 24-hour diners at three in the morning, the Southern traditions around hospitality and food, while letting us engage in a little more quick and messy spatter that the Gothic did not quite have room for. Kelley M. Frank did the interior art for Georgia Gothic, and she’s excited to return to provide cover art for the next volume. Since these diners specializing in hash browns and waffles are all over the South and we’ve figured out a revenue paradigm, we’re thinking we could open this anthology to a little wider submission pool while reserving a number of slots for our chapter members. We want to hear all sorts of Southern Nightmares while also dancing with those that brought us. There will probably be some sort of official announcement in the next month.

DM: Thanks for spending the time answering my questions and good luck with the anthology.

AH: My pleasure, thanks for the invite.

TO PURCHASE/DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY OF THE GEORGIA GOTHIC ANTHOLOGY: AMAZON, PUBSHARE, APPLE BOOKS, BARNES & NOBLE, OR RAKUTEN KOBO

Meet the editors, copy editors, cover artist, interior design, and layout folks who helped put the Georgia Gothic Anthology together:

Editor

Alex Hofelich is Co-Editor of Pseudopod, a weekly horror podcast magazine. It is part of the pro-paying Escape Artists network, which has been delivering weekly short fiction in multiple genres since 2005. He has been involved with PseudoPod since 2009, and edited the anthology For Mortal Things Unsung, which celebrated the first decade of PseudoPod. 

Editor & Copy Editor

Vicki Greer is an editor who specializes in horror, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction and romantic suspense. She welcomes new, unpublished and self-published authors as well as more experienced writers! Target ages include YA to adult. In her spare time, she also edits technical articles, primarily in computer science and related disciplines. She’s a Microsoft Word geek, and is always happy to help with formatting issues as well. She’s a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association as well as the HWA. When she’s not editing, she reads (naturally), builds websites, does cross-stitch, and attempts to herd her four cats.

Editor

Peter Adam Salomon’s second novel, All Those Broken Angels, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award® for Young Adult fiction. His poem ‘Electricity and Language and Me’ appeared on BBC Radio 6 performed by The Radiophonic Workshop. He founded both National Dark Poetry Day (Oct. 7) and the Horror Poetry Showcase for the HWA and was the Editor for the first poetry collections released by the HWA.

Cover Artist

Lynne Hansen is a horror artist who specializes in book covers. She enjoys using her 20 years of book marketing and promotion experience to create art that tells a story and helps publishers and authors reach the audiences they deserve. Her clients include Cemetery Dance Publications, Thunderstorm Books and Bloodshot Books, as well as folks like New York Times bestselling authors Christopher Golden, Rick Hautala, and Thomas E. Sniegoski. For samples of her work and information on how to commission her, visit LynneHansenArt.com.

Interior Design

Kelley M. Frank is a horror artist and author. She writes film and book analysis reviews, and has appeared in a number of anthologies including Slice Girls and Flesh and Bone: Rose of the Necromancers. She specializes in creepy illustration, as well as abstract work expressing her emotional states. She’s also an asexual witch and an outspoken advocate for the strange and unusual.

Copy Editor & Layout

Melissa V. Hofelich is the copy editor at Nightmare Magazine and an extended family member of the Escape Artists podcast network. Originally from South Jersey, she now lives in Atlanta with her husband Alex and their four cats. She’s worked for both The Man and The Devil over the years (though generally not at the same time), trying her hand at jobs such as accounting, professional box-slinging, fraud detection, and lingerie sales. Her true passion is the care and feeding of books and libraries. Melissa holds a BFA from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia and is a ravenous reader, gamer, and crypt creeper.

Layout

T.S. Dann is a raving jerk from Atlanta who wasted a decade of his life in law enforcement. Through uniform patrol, robbery/homicide investigations, and a stint at the medical examiner’s office, he lost what little faith he had in humanity. He has seen more corpses than you have friends, and probably prefers their company. 

Do you write horror? Interested in joining the Horror Writers Association? Visit HWA for membership information and everything horror related.

A Conversation with Author, Janisse Ray, about her latest Book, Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonder in a World Beyond Humans

Southern author, poet, naturalist, activist, Janisse Ray, has been busy during the pandemic. I recently reviewed her latest collection of poetry, Red Lanterns, and now, months later, have had the pleasure of reviewing Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonders in a World Beyond Humans (Trinity University Press/2021), and interviewing Ray about her homeland, ecotourism, women empowerment, and much more…

DM: Some say writers are always looking for a homeland. Do you think your experiences and travels have led you back to Georgia? If so, how?

JR: Dawn, thank you. To describe this homecoming in terms of being “led back” isn’t entirely apt. More accurately, I could not shake the place. In my childhood the stories of family and land were drilled deep, and I felt that I was abandoning my people and my place when I left. Ultimately, I returned. The sad part is that as I was changing, my place was changing, and we were distancing ourselves from each other, so now I live in a place I sometimes don’t recognize. I think this is a global problem. So, yes, in many ways we all continue to search for a homeland.

DM: In “The Duende of Cabo Blanco,” you wrote about duende. As it relates to writing, I interpret duende as possession by a muse. Do you think the duende enjoys making writers suffer? Why must it be fatal?

JR: Sometimes we’re on earth to do a job. It’s that simple. The ancestors, the land, the spirits of the land, or the mystery needs us to do it. It doesn’t mean to make us suffer. It means for us to do our work.

DM: The imagery of clear-cuts depicted in “Opening the Big W” reminded me of surgeon amputating limbs. But some claim clear-cuts would help prevent the spread of forest fires. What’s your opinion on this?

JR: Great question. Thanks for allowing me an attempt at an answer.

If a fire is running through a forest, then certainly cutting it and clearing out underbrush would keep the fire from spreading, by removing fuel. Clear-cuts quickly become tangles of undergrowth and new growth, and these can drive fires even more quickly than forests do. Even a grassland drives a wildfire. So if we’re talking about an individual forest or area, yes, a recent clear-cut might help prevent the spread of fire.

However, an increase in wildfires in the West and elsewhere is caused by the climate crisis, not by forests. The atmosphere is hotter, and this heat dries out ecosystems at a faster rate. We have longer periods of deeper drought, which dries out forests. Then a fire gets started, and it races through forests, towns, suburbs, grasslands, lawns, homes. We have created an atmosphere conducive to burning. In essence, the earth is burning up.

Clear-cutting forests releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere, so in the end, clear-cutting only buries us deeper into the tragedy and catastrophe that is climate change.

To prevent forest fires, we need more forests. We need a huge tree-planting campaign, a trillion trees. We are not going to solve the climate crisis by switching to alternative fuels alone; we need more forest to store carbon and thus do their part in stabilizing the climate. I want to make sure I’ve answered your question very clearly: clear-cutting a forest for any reason, in the long run and in the big picture, only creates more forest fires.

Bryce Canyon

DM: In my review of Wild Spectacle, I stated that writers are time travelers, flashing forward, flashing backwards, moving into the present all in the same piece. Can you talk some about your methodology in terms of narrative time?

JR:  I took a lot of liberties with narrative time in this book because it’s a collection of essays. I was attempting a structure based on a movement through idea instead of through time. However, ultimately, I think chronological order is a wonderful order—easy to understand, natural, sensible. It’s just not part of the narrative arc of this book.

DM: When I was very young, we often traveled through Death Valley, California. I wanted my son and husband to experience the isolation of the place, but when he visited the salt flats a few years ago, it was absolutely covered up with people. In “Snapshots of a Dark Angel,” you stated that ecotourism “allows nature to compete in the market economy.” Is there a solution?

JR: The solution is more natural areas. More of us living lives that are closer to the land, so that we don’t have to go away to get to nature. More ticketed reservations at natural areas, less of a free for all. More areas closed so that they can heal and be restored.

Recently, I visited a natural area in West Virginia, Dolly Sods, that is being loved to death and I mean “to death.” I would not be the one to make this call, because outdoorspeople will be very disappointed, but that place needs to be closed to humans. Closing natural areas or limiting the numbers of visitors is part of the solution.

DM: I live in the concrete jungle and though I purposely go outside or garden, it’s different than connecting with true wildness—what you captured in your book. What advice would you give to city dwellers wanting to connect or reconnect with nature?

JR: Make the time for it. Make reservations. Have good equipment. We’ve all been in the tent that wasn’t rainproof and that’s miserable! Bugs can make an outdoor experience miserable too, so plan for those. A good bug shirt (net zips over the face) is a great investment for an outdoorsperson.

DM: I could be making this up, but oftentimes I felt like your essays were musical, like songs. Do you play any instruments? Do you “compose” your essays like a musical score?

JR: Thank you, Dawn. No one has ever said that, and it means a lot to me. I play guitar very badly. My ignorance about musical composition is a regret I carry.

Doctors Creek off of the Altamaha River

DM: Wild Spectacle champions woman empowerment. Was that one of the points you wanted to make, or is this an element that’s simply part of what makes up you?

JR: For a long time, the empowerment of women was a banner I flew. I knew it in a way that an academic would know it. I knew to keep my own name when I married, for example. I knew to choose how I wanted to dress, whether to use makeup or not. I knew about choice. But the older I get, the more I see the multitudinous, insidious, horrific—sometimes very small but very damaging—ways that women are held down and held back. In Wild Spectacle I am not trying to make a point. Feminist, women-empowering, equal-rights thinking is a part of who I am. Thanks for asking that.

DM:  You no longer fly for travel. But…if you could travel without the concerns of fossil fuels affecting the climate, or any environmental concerns, where would you go?

JR: I would go to Scotland as soon as possible. Also Cuba. I wouldn’t mind visiting Europe about twice a year! I’d love to see the eastern European countries that continue to be mostly agrarian. And wouldn’t it be nice to experience Africa and Antarctica and Iceland? I may fly again one day or figure out how to get around the globe by boat. But at the moment I’m enjoying staying put, because I know that’s what the earth needs and because I think that travel can be a form of colonialization.

DM: Thanks so much for the interview. It was a joy to read Wild Spectacle and I wish you all the best for your book and in life.

JR: Thank you so much, Dawn. You are so kind to do this. Thank you for your smart and beautiful questions and for loving stories the way you do.

TO PURCHASE Seeking Wonder in a World Beyond Humans: Wild Spectacle and support Indie Bookstores, visit Eagle Eye Book Shop. Eagle Eye is also hosting a reading with Janisse Ray and the non-profit, Trees Atlanta, on Saturday, November 6th from 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM. For more information about this free event & to register go to: EagleEyeJRTreesATL. There will be signed hardcover copies available as well. OR, PURCHASE directly via the publisher at Trinity University Press.

For a complete list of Janisse Ray events, visit JRBookTour.

Okefenokee Swamp

MORE ABOUT JANISSE RAY: Janisse Ray is a naturalist and activist, and the author of seven books of nonfiction and poetry, including including Red Lanterns, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River, and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, which won the American Book Award. Her work has appeared widely in magazines and journals, and she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Nautilus Book Award, and numerous other honors. Ray lives on an organic farm near Savannah, Georgia.

If you enjoyed this interview please share on your social media!!!

“Seeking Wonder in a World Beyond Humans: Wild Spectacle,” by Janisse Ray

Cover by Derek Thornton, Notch Design

I let my eyes fill with the innocence of green. I hear our right to speak in tupelo leaves and I hear dignity in water dripping off my paddle. I see freedom in the sandy-bottomed water. I hear justice in dragonflies as they clack and buzz. I feel on my own bare arms the forgiveness of the yellow sun.

What better nature could one have?

“What better nature could one have?” seems like such a simple question, asked by author, poet, naturalist, activist, Janisse Ray, in her latest collection of essays, Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonders in a World Beyond Humans (Trinity University Press/2021). It’s a question I think she lives by. Asking herself daily, how can I help? What can I do to ameliorate the destruction caused by others? How can I lessen my own impact? Wild Spectacle answers those questions. By sharing her lifetime experiences, adventures, and knowledge actively living in the wilderness Ray has contributed something invaluable. I travelled to the Yaak or gone birding in Belize, but Ray’s shared experience made me feel as if I had. And though while Ray’s essays equally honor and exalt in nature, she points out, quite poignantly, what we have already lost, and cautions the reader about losing even more.

Sometimes, Wild Spectacle feels as if you are reading an ode. Other times, especially times when Ray writes about friends she’s lost, the tone sounds like an elegy, a tribute, though her grieving isn’t just reserved for humans. In “Snapshots of a Dark Angel,” she laments a teenager’s cruel treatment of a lizard: “I cry if a single tree falls. I feel the tree speaking through my body. I feel actual pain. The image of a crucified lizard, its tiny eye winking in the brokenness of its body sticks in my mind. I cry as if tears are all I have to speak with. How can we be so careless of life?” Expecting to witness the splendor of the Monarch butterflies during their migration to Central Mexico, Ray and her husband, Raven Waters, visit a Monarch sanctuary. An epic snowstorm hits and an estimated eighty percent of the Monarch butterflies freeze to death at the El Rosario Butterfly Biosphere Reserve they visit: “The butterflies were deep enough to wade through, deep enough to drown in.” Ray and Waters did get to witness the Monarch’s spring flight, though much diminished. Later in “Las Monarcas,” Ray describes their flight and the opening of their wings to the sunlight as a “Halloween party.” And quite poetically observes their flight—”the live butterflies dance and dabble, now thousands of them filling the atmosphere like confetti, like tiny balloons.” Wild Spectacle is an emotional teeter-totter and the juxtaposition of nature’s grandest moments coupled with reckless human waste and behavior—oil spills, clear-cuts, pollution, extinction, the effects of climate change—is heart wrenching, but needs to be said.

Devil’s Tower

I love when poets write fiction or non-fiction, something other than poetry, because poets pay attention to diction, or word choices, how words sound together, the order. At the heart of Ray is poetry and out in her essays; she hypnotizes her readers simply by naming the birds, flowers, trees, and the places she’s visited. In “I Have Seen the Warrior,” Ray layers the names of flora and fauna like a list poem:

The day was feverishly gorgeous. Carter Prairie was popping with water lily, spatterdock sticking up its yellow bonnets, swamp iris in amethyst and plum, golden club like birthday candles. In shallower places carnivorous plants were going crazy: yellow bladderwort, purple bladderwort, and both the hooded pitcher plant and the golden trumpet, blooming their happy flowers. Hatpins were everywhere, like tiny marshmallows on sticks or white balloon on strings or little flags on delicate poles. All the metaphors I can think of for hatpins are happy.

I initially thought Ray was someone who viewed the world through different lenses, but after reading Wild Spectacle I find the opposite is true. It’s us who wear the lenses, lenses separating us from the natural world, the indoors verses outdoors. I recently read that prison inmates in the U.S. get more outdoor time than school children and that the average child spends four to seven minutes per day outside. I wonder if we knew the flowers—spatterdock, swamp iris, hatpins—by name, like Ray does, if we would respect, honor, and nurture the planet more.

Though there’s a fervent lyrical romanticism throughout Wild Spectacle, Ray reminds us that there’s danger in wildness. Ray recognizes the fragility of life while encountering a group of elk in Montana (to listen, click title “Exaltation of Elk”), while boating in freezing waters in a cave in Sitka, Alaska (“Dinner Party”), or nearly drowning in Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica (“The Denude of Cabo Blanco”). Probably the closest she gets to death was when her friend’s son, Zack, mistakes lamp oil for Gatorade in “I Have Seen the Warrior.” This happens to be one of my favorite essays. They’re miles deep in the Okefenokee Swamp when the poison hits, miles from help, from a hospital, and Ray must become something other than her human self, rowing back through the “primordial gunk” for help. Ray describes this scene, moving from first person to third person, articulating an out-of-body experience with mythic allusions:

The woman was becoming bigger and bigger until she was archetypal. She was a warrior, teeth and claws and strings around her neck, bangles rattling on her wrists. She was transforming into one of the matriarchs pictured on a tarot card. Her torso grew into a lioness’s, horns sprang from her head, and in her hands she wielded a lightning bolt…I birthed Zack and I birthed myself. I birthed too the power of any woman to not be afraid, to not let the fear of death stop her from doing what was needed.

There’s something utterly Pagan about Ray’s work. I hunted this goddess down, even asked my friend who knows all the gods and goddesses, all the mythical figures, to help me identity this deity, but we never could quite put “Her” together. The deity Ray describes is part Astrape, part Sekhmet, part Kali and the rest is a deity Ray surely created within herself. Whatever Ray invoked that day gave her the strength to paddle her ass off out of Okefenokee Swamp. I was practically yelling for her to paddle faster. I couldn’t read fast enough! But I was also struck by the power of motherhood and Ray’s call to women to recognize where to draw inner strength.

Okefenokee Swamp

Good writers can time travel—flashforward, flashback, move in and out of time and land in the past, present, or future with ease, without jarring transitions, without the reader noticing these narrative leaps. I poured over “The Duende of Cabo Blanco,” “In the Elkhorn,” and “The Dinner Party,” hoping to absorb Ray’s method. In “The Duende of Cabo Blanco,” Ray moves in between the actual place she visited—what she did, what she learned, who she met—grounding the essay with information about Cabo Blanco itself, along with her understanding and the poet, Federico García Lorca’s, interpretation of duende. There’s an element of stream of consciousness at play as well. I often thought of her essays as a musical score. The narrative breaks create a rhythm, a tempo, much like a chorus, and is a space for the writer and reader alike to reflect or meditate. Sometimes the narrative voice is piano, sometimes forte, but always building, building to the crescendo of her message.

I love Ray’s fearless honesty, lush poetic language, amazing adventures, the people she remembers, how she glorifies nature. What I found most remarkable was how she articulated these elements so fluidly, organically. The book is an intimate account of Ray’s life living and writing around activists, artists, teachers, biologists, botanists, nature writers, farmers, and even arachnologists (or spiderwomen as Ray refers to them); the list is exhaustive. Wild Spectacle is prayer to Mother Earth, and like prayers Ray both exalts and grieves Her. This book will surely mark your soul.

 Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

TO PURCHASE Seeking Wonder in a World Beyond Humans: Wild Spectacle and support Indie Bookstores, visit Eagle Eye Book Shop. Eagle Eye is also hosting a reading with Janisse Ray and the non-profit, Trees Atlanta, on Saturday, November 6th from 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM. For more information about this free event & to register go to: EagleEyeJRTreesATL. There will be signed hardcover copies available as well. OR, PURCHASE directly via the publisher at Trinity University Press.

For a complete list of Janisse Ray events, visit JRBookTour.

MORE ABOUT JANISSE RAY: Janisse Ray is a naturalist and activist, and the author of seven books of nonfiction and poetry, including including Red Lanterns, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, Drifting into Darien: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River, and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, which won the American Book Award. Her work has appeared widely in magazines and journals, and she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize, the Nautilus Book Award, and numerous other honors. Ray lives on an organic farm near Savannah, Georgia.

Next week look for my interview with Janisse Ray!

Remembering William Gay with Michael White, Rick Bragg, Ron Rash, Sonny Brewer, Suzanne Kingsbury, and Tom Franklin

Southern Festival of the Books is offering a virtual panel October 9th at 12:45 PM on southern author and painter, William Gay. From the comfort of your home listen to wonderful stories told from some of those who remember William Gay best and learn more about William Gay’s last posthumous novel, Fugitives of the Heart. To watch this panel, please visit this link: William Gay Panel and scroll down.

For more about the authors, panels, and full schedule visit: SFB SCHEDULE & AUTHOR LIST

Get your hard cover copy of William Gay’s Fugitives of the Heart, signed by Sonny Brewer and J.M. White by visiting the link to: The Alabama Booksmith. It’s the same price as on Amazon, is signed, and you will be feeling warm and fuzzy by supporting independent bookstores.

Please consider donating to Southern Festival for the Book. Gifts of $50 or more are eligible for some cool gifts. TO DONATE VISIT: SFB Donation. You may also help support Tennessee Humanities by purchasing super hip stickers for your laptops, tees, journals, and much more at: SFBShop.

Hear Your Fortune From Zoltar!

Zoltar predicts you will follow the link to Southern Nightmares Reading Series on September 23, 2021 between the hours of 8 PM to 9 PM EDT. You will attentively listen while I read from my short story, “Walking With Strangers,” AND you will also listen as my horror writing friends read from their pieces. Failure to fulfill the prophecy will result in many curses from Zoltar.

The Southern Nightmares Reading Series” is a monthly online event presented by the HWA Atlanta Chapter spotlighting Atlanta Horror Writers Association members and non-chapter members from around the world.

The September 23, 2021 event will be moderated by Atlanta HWA President Alex Hofelich, co-editor of Pseudopod the world’s premier horror fiction podcast, and feature the following guests:

  • Dawn Major
  • Mathew W. Quinn
  • EV Knight
  • Kitty Sarkozy

Click this link to view the live video of the event airing on September 23 at 8 pm to 9 pm EDT. (The video will stream on the event’s Facebook

It has also been predicted that you will be so captivated by my reading you will be compelled to purchase a copy of Summer Slasher Horror Anthology Vol. I so that you may read my story and others in their entirety.

What Do Small Press Publishers and Ghosts Have in Common?

Cover by Royce M. Becker

It may sound like a joke but there’s actually a punchline: Joe Taylor

Mark your calendar! On September 21st at 6:30 PM, Kennesaw State University M.A. in Professional Writing Program presents a Literary Reading and Publication Workshop with Author of Ghostly Demarcations and Livingston Press Director, Joe Taylor.

As for the small press part…on September 22nd at 6:30 PM, Joe’s offering a small press workshop. What is this about? Participants should be prepared to engage in a discussion about the procedures and requirements of small press publication. How long? About an hour and a half for each event.

Where? Kennesaw State University Convocation Building Room 1056 590 Cobb Ave NW Kennesaw, GA 30144.

Yes, this is free! No, you don’t have to sign up.

Quirky, clever, and humorous, with Ghostly Demarcations, Joe Taylor lifts the veil subjecting his protagonist, Galen, to one oddball situation after another with every variant of ghost—haints, poltergeists, revenants. Here’s a sample:

“She’s a good ghost. She’s warning me about—”
“I saw her and that hellhound. Spirits interfering with God’s Providence cannot in any way or form be good.”
A rustling took place. The rose disintegrated into white petals on the sidewalk and slowly fashioned the name, ‘Janet.’

Who is this Joe Taylor character?

Photo by Angela Brown

Joe Taylor is the Director of Livingston Press at West Alabama. His stories have been published in over 100 literary magazines and he’s had three short story collections published, including Ghostly Demarcations. He’s the author of Pineapple, A Comic Novel in Verse, and Let There Be Lite, OR, How I Came To Know and Love Godel’s Incompleteness Proof. His novel, The Theoretics of Love, is forthcoming. Oldcat & Ms. Puss: A Book of Days for You and Me, was published several years ago by the now defunct Black Belt Press and reviewed in Publishers Weekly. FOLLOW JOE TAYLOR ON HIS AUTHOR WEBSITE OR FACEBOOK. Read an interview Southern Literary Review.

TO PURCHASE YOUR COPY: VISIT SAGGING MENISCUS PRESS FOR SEVERAL BUYING OPTIONS.

KSU CAMPUS MAP & PARKING OPTIONS:

  • Lot V2 (located outside of the Central Deck off of Parliament Garden Way) | Zone number 35101
  • Lot J (located off of Parliament Garden Way) | Zone number 35105
  • North Deck (located at the end of Canton Place NW) | Zone number 35106
  • Student Center Visitor Lot (located near the James V. Carmichael Student Center on University Road) | Zone number 35104

Seven Writers Inspired by One Artist, Raven Waters

Writing is the painting of the voice.

Voltaire
Self-portrait of the Artist Raven Waters

Collaboration is essential to me, so I asked some of my writer friends to use Raven Waters’ artwork as inspiration to write a piece of flash fiction. Waters typically paints his work in what is called ala prima, where the painting is finished in one setting. To me, this suggests immediacy, an artist who’s interested in capturing a moment in time. As a short story writer, I feel there is power in brevity. Consider Alice Walker or William S. Burroughs’s vignettes, for instance, and how their short pieces capture—very concisely—a piece of time, or a mood.

Novels take years and that can be frustrating for writers who want to feel as if they’re creating something new every day. This is why flash fiction is a wonderful outlet. It can be accomplished in a short period of time, and yet, the prose is powerful. In fact, I find “condensed” pieces sometimes more evocative than longer pieces.

All of these pieces of prose are 200 words or under and the contributing writers have also asked questions of Waters. Be sure to read those responses as well!

If you’re interested in buying a particular piece of art, either an original or in print, his artwork is very accessible and available for shipping. For more about Raven Waters and to view his artwork, visit: Raven Waters – Home (ravensnatureart.com).

Blackfoot River written by Justin Jones

Lifting itself free of the inner darkness that haunted its nights, the sun wrapped its fingers around the violent-hued mountains. Beneath the slopes, Blackfoot River babbled westward, relentlessly seeking those muted colors of nightfall, and between the two, in the netherworld of beginnings and endings, stood the old man. Two flicks, one behind and one before, and he cast his line into the rushing waters, the dry fly alighting on the surface of an eddy to await notice. Amorphous time led the trout to the bait. No need to be coy. The trout, glistening with all the colors of eternity, struck the bait, but when it did, the old man was the one who was caught, trapped between the fulfillment of what is and the siren joy of what was.

JJ: Do you make color choices with symbolic meaning, and if so, how do you ascribe meaning to the colors?

RW: I really don’t choose colors, I may have a theme of colors, and then go from there. It is really more about values than colors. All colors are everywhere if you look hard enough.

Justin Jones teaches high school English and Creative Writing in Canton, GA, a northern suburb of Atlanta. He also mentors young writers in their exploration of writing as a career. His first novel, Forlorn Hope, was released in 1994. Until recently, he has spent his spare time raising children, grading essays, and taming ill-behaved felines. He has a BA in English from Oglethorpe University, an MS in Educational Curriculum from Walden University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from the Etowah Valley Writer’s Institute of Reinhardt University. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in The Blue Mountain Review, Family Life Magazines, and Sanctuary.

A Place Where Nothing Happens written by Robert Gwaltney

The school bell rings, crackling and shattering his bones. Allégro, the boy must travel, one end of the hall to the other. An odyssey of terrazzo tile to be hurried, a gauntlet of bruise and scrape. In his arms he imagines a baby doll.

Abigail, he whispers—an incantation, a protection spell.

The boy conjures sateen ribbon, the smooth crisscross about his ankles, the hug of Sister’s ballet slippers. Abigail and the boy: a pas de deux. Above their stares, he leaps. Rising above them on tippy-toe. Spinning to the room in his mind. To a place where nothing happens.

Robert Gwaltney, an author of southern fiction resides in Atlanta, Georgia, where he is an active member of the local literary community and serves as Fiction Editor for The Blue Mountain Review. His debut novel, The Cicada Tree, will be released by Moonshine Cove Publishing in February of 2022. To learn more about Robert, visit his website: robertlgwaltney.com.

RG: Will you comment on your techniques for capturing motion in your paintings and do you see any similar techniques to other artforms.

RW: There wasn’t a conscious attempt to create motion in this piece. When I try to consciously create motion, I do it by blurring the receding edge, or by placing small blotches of a similar color next to the receding edge. I have seen this sort of blurring in photography and in other artists’ paintings also.

Loup Rouge written by Maria Klouda

Red WolfA heavy, dull, thud shatters the air, louder than the squeal of brakes. The stench of burned rubber lingers in the tread marks tattooed on the curvy North Carolina road. Marking the path where you lay. Feeling your last breath, I gasp for air. I close my eyes and see yours. Golden, glowing in the coming night. Standing, your spirit smiles as if to play, pounce. Slowly you turn towards the burning sun’s last rays taking my broken heart with you. A haunting cry calls warning to only nine that remain. A mortality signal from your GPS collar. Male 2044.

Maria Klouda is a writer based in Ball Ground, GA. Her background and work can be found at: https://www.clippings.me/users/mariaklouda

Learn more about the plight of the endangered Red Wolf at The Wolf Conservation Centerhttps://nywolf.org/learn/red-wolf/
Maria was drawn to Raven’s piece, Loup Rouge, after reading the following release: https://nywolf.org/2021/07/two-wild-red-wolves-found-dead-in-north-carolina-reducing-population-to-9-known-wolves/

MK: Why do you think there’s such buy-in to the “Big Bad Wolf” stereotype? 

RW: In a nut shell fear, fear of something humans cannot control.

Gathering Two written by Alyssa Hamilton

“Behold!” Peter said to the witch. “You have found the shark gathering blood, the death of all prey.”

The witch did not see the red-plume feathering to pale brine. She saw blue and violet cells rolling against one another, forging white caps. “No. This is birth.”

And then there was no foam—from the blood and teeth below, white beaks emerged. Wings rose from the waves and took flight, the forked tails flicking against the breeze, bodies smoothed like clay pulled between the wind’s fingers. The kites flew up and did not return.

AH: How important is selecting a perspective in your work? How does it change the final piece?

RW: I’m not sure what exactly what you mean by selecting a perspective and how it changes the final piece. I am not a photorealistic painter, nor am I a completely abstract painter. The perspective in this piece was accomplished by placing objects behind one another and varying the size of the Swallow Tailed Kites. Generally speaking, I try to create the illusion of distance through size, placement, and color.

Alyssa Hamilton is a writer from New England. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Reinhardt University. Her work has appeared in Stonecoast Review , Springer Mountain Press’ Summer Slasher Horror Anthology, and Page and Spine, among others. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking and reorganizing her library.

Ode to No Woman, No Cry written by Dawn Major

If I want to wear nothing but the silk robe you bought me last year today and red panties to the café, I will. I’ll smoke, drink, spread my legs wide—I spread them once before for you. Nine months later, I’m mother-fucking-mother-earth.

No, I don’t want brunch, flowers, cards, perfume.

I want to sleep until my body tells me to rise, roll out of bed, hunt down my Gaulouise, stroll to the café where a hipster waiter pretends, like me, to be in Paris. Order Dom.

“What are we celebrating today?” He asks.

“Mother’s Day.”

DM: Your pieces often feature images of other artists—dancers, musicians, writers, aerial artists—which in my opinion is a pseudo-collaboration because you honor various art forms. What do you think about this specific collaboration?

RW: I would also add to your list farm workers, cooks, and pretty much anyone who is doing something. I like for a piece to have a story, a different story for every viewer. This particular piece is a “stolen photo.” I say stolen, because I tried to ask permission to paint this photo, but I couldn’t get a response from the photographer, Antoine D’Agata. I can’t recall if he took this photo in South America, or if he is from South America. I was on the other side for this piece. That is, I was interpreting what D’Agata pictured. That’s what intrigued me to paint it.

I was very curious by the project as a whole, mostly because of my art history classes. Art historians will tell you at the beginning they don’t really know why an artist did this or that, and then shortly later tell you matter-of-factly why the artist did something. Also, I know that Janisse’s books have been dissected, so I was very curious as to what people would write about my work, even though the writers were not coming at the writing from a dissection or critique point of view. I was and am honored that my work catches people’s attention enough to put writing efforts into it.

Also, I really didn’t know what to expect from the collaboration, but I would love to do this again. It turned out way better than I imagined. I plan to use this project to interact with my Facebook patrons in the near future.

Listen to Bob Marley” No Woman, No Cry” on YouTube.

Dawn Major thoroughly enjoyed curating this collaboration between writers and the artist, Raven Waters. She is a book advocate and lover of southern literature. Her debut novel, The Bystanders, will be released by Springer Mountain Press, October 2021. To learn more about Dawn Major, visit her website at http://www.dawnmajor.com.

Clearcut written by Jennie Mayes

Okay, I can do this. Focus.

Hold ropes, lower body until shoulders rest on bar. Done. I’m digging the air with my toes, repelling, digging – building momentum.

Words of that therapist merge with those of Yolanda, trapeze instructor extraordinaire. Let everything fall away until I’m nothing but momentum – forward – arch back – backward – arch front – forward – higher. Fighting gravity…surrendering; pushing…letting go.

Forget everything else. Forget. Wipe it all out, every memory cut down, relentless slashing of the past. With each stroke of the body through air another memory is scythed down.

Nothing left except the escape of the backyard swing set. Hours on the swing, pretending, forgetting, pretending, forgetting. Faster. Higher. I’ll get there this time, to that clearcut space where new memories can grow, new childhood. But no. Clearcut leaves the mind wide open, unprotected, rootless. With one careless spark – conflagration, total annihilation.

JM: Will you please comment on the juxtaposition of the trapeze artist hovering over an area of a clear-cut forest?

RW: This came about from a series on trapeze that I did. Both my wife and I took trapeze lessons in Brattleboro, VT. We even tried flying trapeze for an afternoon. My wife stuck with it longer than I did. In fact, as I sit here on my couch typing this, just a slight rise of my head brings me into view of the trapeze we have hanging in our kitchen.

My wife has written extensively on clearcuts; we both feel their destruction deeply. I was doing a photography project and there was a clearcut just down the road from us. I sometimes create art to make a point, and this was one of those times.

My wife is a frequent model in my work, there was a French painter in the late 1800s to early 1900s–Pierre Bonnard–who painted/drew 400 works of his wife. I am chasing Bonnard (that is the title of one of my works also). I am currently at 155.

Jennie Mayes is a former concert and theater manager who currently lives and works in Cobb County, Georgia. She recently received her MFA in Creative Writing from Reinhardt University. Her short story “The Call of the Swan” won the 2018 Driscoll Award for Excellence in Writing and she most recently was a guest contributor to Middle Grade Mojo, a website for Middle Grade authors.

Andy, Have You Heard About This One? written by Amy McGee

At first, I couldn’t even tell he was speaking English for his weird accent from Wherethefuckistan. “Thank you very much for letting me sit.”

I shrugged. “I came here to watch birds.”

Beneath a bushy unibrow, his bright eyes darted back and forth like a shell game. “I like the robins and the St. Louis cardinals.”

Sheesh. “You got baseball on the brain? It’s a northern cardinal.”

“My favorite.” One red bird hopped right to him. The old man scooped it into his wrinkled palm, where it stayed and winked at me. “You know they bring messages from departed loved ones.”

I stood, ready to nope out of there, but I had to ask. “Do you get many messages?”

“I only send them.” He lifted the bird to his lips and whispered. The bird fluttered away, and the man turned to me, eyes crinkling.

I swallowed. “But you’re not—dead?”

“I’m not?” He lowered his voice, lost the accent. “Noooooooo,” he said, grinning like a kid. “For 30 years, it’s my best joke.”

AM: I lived in Athens, GA for many years and I couldn’t help but notice how many of your pieces are titled after REM song titles. What is the connection between the REM song and your piece?

RW: First, let me say that your piece makes me want to paint the scene you described; the others I may too if I go back and look at them. I’m not really a huge REM fan. I think I have one album, and I like it a lot. Ahh… REM, Losing My Religion. REM and many other bands are on my iPod/laptop that I listen to while painting. I had to look up everyone of these pieces because the title usually has no connection with the painting. I have about three ways to title a painting: 1.) I have a title in mind for a piece (very rare); 2.) I translate the image or a thought about the image into French; 3.) the title is whatever song I happen to be listening to while painting.

I actually do not put much effort into titling a piece. When it gets time to title a piece, I am ready to move on to the next painting. Occasionally, I will search out a lyric, based on a thought I had while painting or riding my bike.

Listen to REM’s “Man on the Moon here” on YouTube.

Amy McGee is a 2018 graduate of the Etowah Valley Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. She lives and writes in the foothills of Appalachia in Waleska, Georgia. She also works as a librarian and professor at Reinhardt where her two children attend school. “Andy, Have You Heard About This One?” is an excerpt from a longer piece inspired by Waters’ work. (During the ‘90s, Amy used to spot the members of REM quite frequently in downtown Athens, GA, but is still waiting for Andy Kaufman to phone home. This is dedicated to Jon, longtime fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. You can phone home too, honey).

A little more about the artist Raven Waters…I started working with wood in 6th grade. I turned a wooden bowl and made a book shelf, which after my mother had the book shelf for decades, I now have. I worked with my stepfather in remodeling and I picked up those skills. I built my first woodshop in the early 1980s; it was 8×8 and I had all my major tools on wheels in order to be able to use them. In the ’90s, I moved and built a 16×20 workshop where I built a lot of Adirondack chairs, furniture, and crafts.

Fast forward to the early 2000s when I met my wife. She lived three hours away, so we wrote a lot of letters. My wife decorated her envelopes with poetry and a little drawing. I cut and pasted things out of magazines, until I ran out of clippings. At that time I went to the library and checked out a book on drawing Florida wildlife and I was painting watercolors for many years. About half way through getting my BFA at Georgia Southern, I switched mostly to oil.

Since graduating I have set goals on the number of paintings to do each year; it helps motivate me. I feel that if one wants to be a a world class artist, like a world class athlete, one needs to practice everyday.

Hope you enjoy this interplay between prose and painting. Thanks to all who contributed!

Southern Storyteller, Ann Hite, Talks About her Novel, Going to the Water

Learn about Southern author, Ann Hite’s, inspiration for her latest novel, Going to the Water–the setting, art, and music that influenced her characters and much more….

DM: What made you to commit to a trilogy?

AH: When I begin writing a novel, I have at least one solid character talking to me. In this case, I had four, five if you count Velvet’s letters. Isla, Randal, Dar, and Iris. The first draft contained the stories of these character’s lives and was close to five hundred pages long. My agent read the draft and told me bluntly I had three novels in one. As soon as she said this, I knew she was right. One novel for the present generation, the second for Dar’s story, and finally the story of Iris and Lundy.

DM: How are you structuring your next two novels?

AH: Because I write from the seat of my pants, I never know the true structure until I finish the first draft; sometimes it takes two drafts.

Dar’s novel will be called Beautiful Wreck. It’s told in first person, covering her life from the time of her father’s suicide and her mother’s untimely death until Velvet is born. Paul Watkins, the preacher in Going to the Water, may have a point of view.

Iris and Lundy’s novel will cover the family secrets that set this legacy in motion.   

DM: You’re a writer who puts a lot into place and history. What made you settle on Nantahala, NC?

Nantahala, North Carolina is a magical place for me. I’m a huge lover of nature and my soul is fed when I unplug. When I enter the gorge, the phone loses its signal, my shoulders relax, and I become loose and mellow. There’s nothing quite like standing by the Nantahala River; the melody of the crashing, churning water wrapping around me. Spray from the rapids touching my face. I’ve been there in all seasons and weather. Thunder rolling through the gorge makes me want to curl up on a porch swing and just be.

In the fall of 2016, during one of the worst droughts in the history of the river, yellow, red, and orange leaves lit up the trees. I stood where rushing water should have swept me away. My heart was broken to see the river–my river–reduced to a trickle. An unexpected peace settled on my shoulders, and I knew the mighty Nantahala River would be back. I chose a flat smooth, gray river stone and took it home to sit on my writing desk. When I began to tell the story of Going to the Water, I knew the place had to be the Nantahala Gorge with all her mystery and magic.

DM:You don’t shy away from characters suffering from mental illness and you were forthright about your own family history in your memoir, Roll Away The Stone. Is there something specific you want to convey to readers about mental illness?

AH: I never sit down to place mental illness in my novels, but it always shows up. The saying, “write what you know” really applies here. I lived with two generations battling the disease, and it marked me. Most children with one or more parents afflicted with mental illness battle with the residue. Often, I think my writing of this illness is my way of attempting to find answers that just aren’t there. My writing allows me to work through the past. More than half of my readers have reached out to me because they identify with the mental Illness that my characters battle. Maybe I’m giving everyone permission to own their experience with this disease, especially my own.

DM: Your narrators are compelling. You alternate chapters between Isla in first person point-of-view and Randal in third person point-of-view. But there is another narrator, Velvet, whose story you told through epistolary form. How did you decide on these various perspectives?

AH: There is always trial and error when I begin, but I understood early that Going to the Water was Isla’s story, and that Randal could easily steal the reader’s heart. I knew Isla wouldn’t be likable in the beginning because she exhibits those nasty traits most of us possess to survive trauma. She is in first person to bring the reader close to her, so even when they are hating her, they see why she makes her choices. They see her vulnerability. Velvet writes the letters because I wanted to expose her true emotions, feelings she would never admit to aloud. I listen to music when I’m writing. This is something that helps me to evoke the emotions the piece needs. While writing Velvet’s letters, I listen to Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s Deja Vu and The Band’s Whispering Pines. Isla’s primary songs were Todd Rundgren’s Hello It’s Me, Joe Cocker’s Woodstock version of Just like a Woman, and Judy Collins’s Amazing Grace. Randal was written to James Taylor’s Fire and Rain, Carolina in my Mind and Paul McCartney and Wings’s Band on the Run. Much of the time, the music I listen to dictates the voice and the perspectives.

DM: Were Velvet’s paintings based on specific images from Nantahala?

AH: Art is a large part of who I am creatively. Often, like music, images will influence my writing. My husband is an artist and paints the mountains, but he has not done a work of Nantahala. Velvet’s art was strongly influenced by the artist Mary Whyte. Her book Down Bohicket Road in particular. Ms. Whyte tells stories in her paintings, and I wanted to capture Velvet in paintings. She is such a complex, flawed woman. So, in words, I created the paintings I’d like to see from my Nantahala, the emotions the gorge brings to the top.  

DM: Your stories consistently combine elements of the supernatural, yet I wouldn’t exactly classify you as a speculative writer. Can you explain how your haints and allusions to magic fit into a realist text?

AH: What’s an Appalachia woman without her haints and spells? I was raised by a granny who was well-versed in the Appalachian ways. She could flip a switch and become a well-read southern woman, but Appalachia was her heart. For me, haints (ghosts) were just everyday life. I craved the stories my great aunts told on a Sunday afternoon on the front porch as they passed around a tin of snuff. I learned some useful things; one being haints can look just like they are alive. So you never know if you’re talking to a haint or not. Also, when a love-one visits you from the grave, they are not considered a haint. Folks just see them as being kind enough to check in. Pulling fire and stopping bleeding was deeply believed to be powers passed from one generation to another. I know the plants used to heal before there was modern medicine. I’ve heard stories of spells being sewn into quilts for recipients who had offended the maker.

DM: Thanks so much for sharing your influences and inspiration for Going to the Water. I wish you much success.

TO PREORDER (RELEASE DATE NOVEMBER 9, 2021): FoxTale Book Shoppe or GOING TO THE WATER.

MEET ANN HITE: FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA is hosting a reading and book signing event with Ann Hite on November 13th, 2021 at 2:00 pm. For info, visit: FoxTale/ Going to the Water.

Ann Hite is a wife, mom, grandmother, and book junkie. At age 51, she became a published novelist. Ann’s debut novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, won Georgia Author Of The Year and was a Townsend Prize Finalist in 2012. She is the author of the following novels: The Storycatcher (2013 Simon & Schuster), Where The Souls Go (2015 Mercer University Press), Sleeping above Chaos (2016 Mercer University Press), a novella, Lowcountry Spirit (2013 Pocket Book), and a memoir, Roll The Stone Away (2020 Mercer University Press). Her books have been finalists in IndieFab and Georgia Author of the Year Awards. A chapter from Roll The Stone Away was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her upcoming short story collection, Haints on Black Mountain, will be published by Mercer University Press in fall of 2022. Her novel, Going To The Water, will be published by Firefly Southern Fiction in November 2021. Being a city girl most of her life, Ann now writes each day in her home office that looks out on a decent clutter of trees. 

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ANN HITE, VISIT HER AUTHOR WEBSITE: A SOUTHERN NOVELIST, A STORYTELLER FROM BIRTH

Immerse yourself in the music that inspired Going to the Water:

Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s Deja Vu, The Band’s Whispering Pines, Todd Rundgren’s Hello It’s Me, Joe Cocker’s Woodstock version of Just like a Woman, Judy Collins’s Amazing Grace. James Taylor’s Fire and Rain, Carolina in my Mind , Paul McCartney and Wings’s Band on the Run.

Going to the Water: A Review of Southern Novelist, Ann Hite’s, Latest Novel

Our small group stood by the gaping six-foot deep hole in the little cemetery on Mama’s property. Thunder rumbled in the distance and black clouds thickened in the west. Grass swayed in the wind, brushing at the older headstones, touching the edge of the forest that seemed to have moved closer over the years. I had lived away from the river for so long, my memory of the ebb and flow wasn’t what it should have been. But then, I had never planned to return either.

If you love mysteries and family secrets and an Appalachian setting, you’ll want to get a copy of Going to the Water: A Nantahala Novel by Southern novelist, Ann Hite. Hite, who isn’t afraid to reveal skeletons from her own ancestor’s closet, recently released her memoir, Roll The Stone Away, which dealt with her family’s history with racism. Going to the Water unfolds in a similar way to how Hite uncovered her family history—by digging through records, letters, photos, newspaper articles, visiting cemeteries—and it’s her research that makes the narrative feel so authentic.

In Going to the Water, Hite turns her attention to one of the most magical places in the South—Nantahala, North Carolina. Hite enjoys lifting the veil and it’s not uncommon for her haints to make appearances. Often, her characters take their presence in stride, interacting with them as if they were alive. And there’s always a thread of magic running throughout her work. Perhaps, part of this is her choice in settings, equally as enchanting as her storytelling.

The Nantahala River and the surrounding mountains are Southern jewels—a rain forest nestled between the Blueridge and Smokey Mountains, and literally one of my favorite places in the south. “Nantahala” means land of the noonday sun in Cherokee. The Nantahala River runs through a steep gorge that blocks sunlight and in some areas sunlight only comes through when the sun is directly above it. The main character, Isla Weehut describes it best: “But I believe deeply that God is here, Randal. Right here in all of this true beauty. If we want to worship him, this is the most exquisite church in the world.” There’s a feeling you get when you enter the Nantahala Forest. There’s something special about this place, an energy you simply have to experience to understand. It’s a shadowy landscape, literally and figuratively, which makes it an ideal setting to tell this story of murder and family secrets mixed in with ghosts and superstition.

When Isla Weehut’s sister, Velvet Leech, is murdered in an act of arson Isla is drawn back into her family’s drama. Seventeen years ago, Isla left Nantahala, North Carolina and her family with zero plans to return. She wanted a different life from the wild ways of her sister. Now she is forced to deal with her sister’s murder, her orphaned nephew, Randal Leech, and a mother, Darlene Leech, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s living in a nursing home. Isla would like nothing better than to bury her sister and return to her “real” life of country club committees, the Junior League, and church in Mountain City, but Nantahala and her “ancestral roots” start calling her back to the river.

Isla initially comes off as bossy, uptight, rude, demanding, judgmental, and a little heartless. Yet there are two sides to Isla. The façade of the stodgy Bible thumping conservative who only cares about making a good appearance is at odds with the river girl who fearlessly traveled the white rapids and learned the ways of her ancestors from her half-Cherokee Indian father. She marries into money, but her wealthy, chicken farmer husband, Scott Weehut, stays drunk most days and has had numerous infidelities. Death has a way of unearthing old memories and family secrets and Going to the Water is packed full of deceptions that threaten the lives of the characters, particularly seventeen-year-old Randal.

Randal was born in the gorge, but like Isla, he remains an outsider. He’s bullied for being gay and he wants out of Nantahala as badly as Isla wishes she never came back. With a mother who suffered from depression, a reputation for going on benders and hanging out with a bad crowd, it’s largely left to Randal’s Grandmother Dar to step in. Grandmother Dar loves the boy, but she’s no shining example for motherhood and struggles with dark spells as well, both shocking and disturbing. And Randal isn’t the camo-wearing, good old boy you sometimes find in small Southern towns. He has a flair for fashion, enjoys cutting hair, cooking, and loves Flannery O’Connor. Randall has an old soul and it’s his love for the river and wisdom beyond his years that begins to etch away at Isla’s heart; she comes to love him against all the odds.

Randal’s influence isn’t the only element disrupting Isla’s world. The natural beauty of Isla’s childhood home of Grassy Bald stirs old passions and Isla begins to write, a pleasure she has denied herself, scared if she begins to express herself, she may go too far:

My words turned me into a painter, a visual artist bound to show every vein in a leaf and each minnow in a stream. Small wild violets, delicate and fragile, became my childhood wishes hidden away for years. A worshiping emotion unlike any I felt in church moved me into contentment. When I finally stopped, I sat in stillness, listening to the songs that continued to whistle around me, braiding together something more tangible than all my years of effort could have delivered to my soul. Why had I stopped writing? But I knew the reasons that lined up in my thoughts. I had to control those places in me that wanted to burst open and tell everything, to scream at the top of my lungs.

I read this paragraph multiple times. Hite captured something difficult to convey here—the mutual love and fear that comes with letting go and expressing one’s art freely and I suspect most artists can relate to this.

Deep-rooted grudges and dark secrets between generations of family living in the gorge threaten the future of both Isla and Randal. Isla must uncover the truth to save Randall, but in doing so she risks exposing deceptions she hoped to bury forever. Murder, kidnapping, suicide, infidelities, mental illness, and even love at the end, for a small mountain town, Hite’s Nantahala has a lot of going on. Though Going to the Water has its twists and turns, it’s ultimately a story about family loyalty and healing by forgiving.

TO PREORDER (RELEASE DATE NOVEMBER 9, 2021): FoxTale Book Shoppe or GOING TO THE WATER.

MEET ANN HITE: FoxTale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA is hosting a reading and book signing event with Ann Hite on November 13th, 2021 at 2:00 pm. For info, visit: FoxTale/ Going to the Water.

Ann Hite is a wife, mom, grandmother, and book junkie. At age 51, she became a published novelist. Ann’s debut novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, won Georgia Author Of The Year and was a Townsend Prize Finalist in 2012. She is the author of the following novels: The Storycatcher (2013 Simon & Schuster), Where The Souls Go (2015 Mercer University Press), Sleeping above Chaos (2016 Mercer University Press), a novella, Lowcountry Spirit (2013 Pocket Book), and a memoir, Roll The Stone Away (2020 Mercer University Press). Her books have been finalists in IndieFab and Georgia Author of the Year Awards. A chapter from Roll The Stone Away was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her upcoming short story collection, Haints on Black Mountain, will be published by Mercer University Press in fall of 2022. Her novel, Going To The Water, will be published by Firefly Southern Fiction in November 2021. Being a city girl most of her life, Ann now writes each day in her home office that looks out on a decent clutter of trees. 

TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ANN HITE, VISIT HER AUTHOR WEBSITE: A SOUTHERN NOVELIST, A STORYTELLER FROM BIRTH