A Conversation with Author of Drowned Town, Jayne Moore Waldrop

Jayne Moore Waldrop, photo taken at Lake Barkley

DM: How did you research this subject? Do you have any personal history with drowned towns?

JMW: I grew up in Paducah, which is about twenty miles from Kentucky Lake, Lake Barkley, and Land Between the Lakes so I know the area well but didn’t have any personal or familial connections to the drowned towns or the land formerly known as Between the Rivers. I’ve always appreciated having the lakes and the LBL recreation area right in my backyard, so to speak, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I began to consider the enormous environmental changes that happened in western Kentucky with the damming of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers in the mid-twentieth century. Kentucky Dam was built long before I was born as part of the New Deal projects for rural electrification and flood control. Lake Barkley and LBL were created when I was a very young child. They were just part of the landscape for people like me.

Flooded Eddyville, Corps of Engineers Archive Photo

But my perspective changed in 2003 when my husband and I bought at auction one of the remaining original homes in Old Kuttawa, a beautiful old Victorian where we spent time in the summer and on holidays. We owned the house for twelve years, and that period corresponded with the time I worked on my MFA in Creative Writing at nearby Murray State University as well as when I started these stories. As I researched the history of the house, I dug deeper into the history of the town as it once existed before Lake Barkley. Kuttawa had been a small but bustling river town, and that was hard for me to envision. Fortunately, there are several photographic archives from multiple eras that exist through our library system, as well as the Lyon County Museum at Rose Hill in Eddyville. At the museum, I found a picture of our house in its heyday. It was surrounded by lush gardens. There were young women with Gibson Girl hairstyles in the upstairs windows. I was smitten by the house and the history, but that came with a recognition of what was lost when the lakes were built and Between the Rivers was purchased by the government to create the recreation area. In speaking with individuals displaced by the projects, I heard a familiar and shared yearning for home, all these years later. There’s a melancholy despite the natural beauty of the region.

DM: Some of my favorite writers have written linked narratives (Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Olive Again, or Alice Munro’s Runaway). Do you have any advice for writers who are interested in writing linked narrative collections? AND, what made you settle on linked narratives as opposed to a traditional novel?

JMW: As far as advice to other writers, read as many linked story collections or novels-in-stories as possible to see how other authors have used the form. In addition to the ones you mention – Olive Kitteridge is my all-time favorite – I recommend Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, and Munro’s The Beggar Maid. That said, writers should know that publishers generally favor novels over story collections, so I think they’re a little harder to sell. In fact, I’ve noticed that some books that read like linked stories are labeled as novels or perhaps not labeled at all to be more marketable. Maybe the description “novel-in-stories” solves the issue. As a reader, books like Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips and News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt seemed like interconnected stories but are called novels. So, at submission time, maybe an author shouldn’t set a fixed label of where the manuscript fits on the fiction spectrum.

Old Kuttawa, Kentucky–Corp of Engineers Archive Photo

I love a linked narrative because it allows for broad storytelling from multiple points of view, which is why I chose the form to tell these stories. It allowed the narrative to flow back and forth in time and setting, which I thought was important to connect the history to a modern-day story. It also provided space for an ensemble of characters from around the lakes and Between the Rivers. Each told a distinct perspective.

DM: I recently read that current Land Between the Lakes residents are protesting the government’s management of the property, i.e., clearcutting, neglect. What are your thoughts about this?

JMW: LBL should be funded and managed in ways consistent with the promises made to the former residents, that the area will not be commercially developed and that roads be maintained to allow the descendants of the former residents to reach family cemeteries and other significant landmarks. Personally, I wish LBL could be part of the National Park Service to better emphasize the recreational, historical, cultural, and natural elements of the area, instead of part of the U.S. Forest Service.

DM: I identified with Margaret Starks character more, so maybe that’s why I think this is her story. It’s actually both Margaret and Cam’s story as well as the townspeople’s story. What are your readers saying about who the main character is?

Flooded Eddyville before the town was torn down- photo by Gar Pursley

JMW: I hope readers see that Margaret and Cam’s friendship is the thread that runs throughout the story. They’re quite different–different backgrounds with personalities that tend to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Sort of a yin and yang friendship that sustains them through their lives. They become chosen sisters. In many ways I also identify with Margaret because she’s the outsider who comes to know the lakes and LBL without any of the associated personal loss or grief for what existed before. As she learns more about the past, she comes to understand the depth of their loss.

Low lake levels reveal stairs–photo by Jayne Moore Waldrop

DM: At any point did you think you were finished with Drowned Town and then decide to add a story? Or, the opposite, did you remove a story from the collection?

JMW: “Signs” was one of the last stories I wrote. The manuscript needed more of Rose’s story, which culminates with “Mint Springs,” one of the first ones I wrote. There were a couple of stories that were cut from the final version that still lurk somewhere on my computer.

DM: If you could decide on the essential takeaway from Drowned Town for your readers, what would that be?

Bricks from Old Kuttawa–photo by Jayne Moore Waldrop

JMW: I think readers will have a better understanding of Western Kentucky and its history, but I hope the essential takeaway from the book is a recognition of the profound grief that comes from loss of home and place, whether it’s of our own making or outside our control. The yearning for a home is a shared universal experience.

DM: Writing about real towns can be risky because they’re full of opinions. Has the feedback been positive? What’s the funniest remark someone has made about Drowned Town that you would like to share?

JMW: Yes, writing about real places can be risky. To give myself a little more freedom from the actual history, I created the fictional town of Sycamore. The drowned towns of Eddyville and Kuttawa are real, as are the “new” relocated towns that used the same names. I wanted to signal early on that, while based on historic events, this book is fiction. Eddyville and Kuttawa have an old rivalry, one that’s in some ways bitter. I decided to avoid that issue completely by creating a fictional new town.

The funniest remark about the book I’ve heard was from a woman who said she didn’t like some of the words in it. She didn’t elaborate.

DM: Are there plans to redevelop the Land between the Lakes?

JMW: Not to my knowledge at this time, but there’s always that fear. There was a movement with support from elected officials to commercially develop the area in the 1990s but due to public outcry, organized by the former residents and their descendants, the plans went nowhere. There has since been federal law put in place known as the Land Between the Lakes Protection Act, which transferred management of the area from TVA to the U.S. Forest Service. The unfortunate part is that there has been reduced funding for educational and cultural programming, which is important in keeping the history alive.

DM: What’s next? Are you working on another collection or novel?

JMW: I am working on a continuation of the story with these characters as they hit deep middle age. My next three books, though, are children’s picture books to be published by Shadelandhouse Modern Press. The first one will be released later this year. It’s a biography of the artist Ellis Wilson, who was born in western Kentucky and became one of the first African American students accepted at the Art Institute of Chicago. He was an acclaimed artist of the Harlem Renaissance and a two-time recipient of the Guggenheim Award. Nashville artist Michael McBride is currently working on the illustrations, and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see the story come to life in Michael’s watercolors. The second book in the series is about Kentucky outsider artist Helen LaFrance, and the third is about a child noticing the similar life patterns of humans and birds on a lake.

DM: Thanks for the opportunity to learn more about Drowned Town. I wish you all the best with your new novel!

Jacket Design-Hayward Wilkirson


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jayne Moore Waldrop is a Kentucky writer and attorney. She is the author of Retracing My Steps, a finalist in the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Series, and Pandemic Lent: A Season in Poems, both published by Finishing Line Press. Her linked story collection, Drowned Town, was published in 2021 by University Press of Kentucky through its Fireside Industries imprint, a partnership with Hindman Settlement School. Waldrop earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Kentucky, and her MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) in 2014 from Murray State University’s low residency program. She is a former book columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal and literary arts liaison at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. She was a writer-in-residence at Rivendell Writers Colony and has attended the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop at Hindman Settlement School, Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Workshop, and the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Waldrop was appointed by the governor to serve two terms on the Kentucky Arts Council and she’s an Art Meets Activism grant recipient from the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

Photo by Tim Webb

To learn more about Jayne Moore Waldrop and for author events, visit her author website: JAYNE MOORE WALDROP | AUTHOR

Interested in discovering the history of the drowned towns of Western Kentucky, read Jayne Moore Waldrop’s article in Kentucky Monthly: “Lost Places of the Western Waterland.”

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“Drowned Town” by Jayne Moore Waldrop

Jacket Design by Hayward Wilkirson

Through the government’s power of eminent domain, entire towns were taken. People lost homes and farms that had been in their families for generations. Old-growth forests were leveled. The sight of a mountain-sized stack of downed trees had caused Elmer to grieve for days, but that was the way of progress, even if it hurt to look. When the dam was finished, Lake Barkley would fill and flood the land, forever altering the place. There would be no going back.

Jayne Waldrop Moore

As a teenager I moved near Allatoona Lake in Georgia, a lake that was one of many lakes that destroyed towns in North Georgia, a town perhaps like the one Jayne Moore Waldrop wrote about in Drowned Town. It wasn’t until much later in life I understood the costs living near a beautiful lake had on those who came before me. Back then, my knowledge of underwater towns was largely based on James Dickey’s Deliverance—the movie—not the novel.

If you’re unfamiliar with the New Deal programs that swept the country during the Depression and the impact those programs had on Americans, Drowned Town is an excellent foray into a lost history. Comprised of interlinked short stories from varying perspectives— characters who lost family farms, homes, businesses, as well as characters who gained employment and grew up enjoying the beauty of Land Between the Lakes—Drowned Town simultaneously celebrates the natural beauty of lower Western Kentucky while honoring and grieving all drowned towns.

In the opening story, “Dry Ground.” Waldrop reimagines the now submerged town of Eddyville, Kentucky from Camilla Wetherford’s point-of-view. Cam, who was a child when her town was flooded, returns home to get fitted for her mother’s wedding dress. Her return stirs up memories of her family’s relocation to the new town of Sycamore when a young Cam discovers the plans for her family’s new home: “She analyzed the cover photo, which showed a family of four, dressed up like they had been to church or a funeral, except they looked too happy to have come from the graveyard…The full-color family walked toward a fine example of a ranch-style home…Cam knew her own family didn’t look like those people or dress like them, even on Easter Sunday. Their clothes weren’t as fancy and their car was old, but they were getting a new house.” Even a young child like Cam can see through American commercialism. The image of this picture-perfect family trading in generations of memories to be on higher ground, struck me as rather Warholian–a celebration of 1960’s consumerism culture. The trade-off for construction jobs and rural hydroelectric power was loss of land and tradition. Southerners, even today, are portrayed as backwards, and so it’s easy to imagine Washington selling what was considered to be a better way of life and believing Eddyville should be grateful.

Later, Cam and her friend, Neville Burgess, explore the evacuated old town though ironically, they could get in trouble for trespassing on land that was once theirs. At the vacated home of Miss LaClede’s, Cam’s now deceased piano teacher, Cam discovers a photograph of Miss LaClede’s brother in his casket. Miss LaClede was the last of her family; she didn’t want to leave her home and died before anyone had the chance to remove her. Cam keeps the photo, a macabre souvenir: “The dead boy was Cam’s only connection to her [Miss LaClede], the surviving proof that Miss LaClede and her people ever existed.” The contrast between these two images, the perfect American family and last link to the LaClede family, sets the tone for themes Waldrop later delves into in Drowned Town: loss, death, grief, new beginnings, family, memories, and preservation.

Drowned Town is about what the title suggests, but it’s also about people and their lives in this complicated setting. Subplots and character development occur within the body of the composite novel, sometimes called a short story cycle, but the overall feeling is that the subplots and character growth is integral to the central themes and ideas Waldrop explores here as a whole. Waldrop should be commended on her craft. Her stories are straightforward and accessible as standalone stories, but together create a portrait of a lost community.

And though these stories may be read on their own, if read chronologically there are two main characters, Margaret Starks and the aforementioned Camilla Wetherford, with Margaret standing out as the primary protagonist. The structure is cleverly constructed, and I cannot imagine that a traditional novel format would have worked as well as the one Waldrop chose. In addition, Waldrop needed to address two sides of the coin–those in favor of the dam and lake projects, and those opposed to the projects. This format allows Waldrop to move back and forth between the characters childhood memories to the present time as adults while being able to make larger narrative leaps through time. The structure allows the author to explore other characters perhaps not as central to the main plot but who affect the tone, subplots, and provide another look into setting and theme. An example of this is Waldrop’s story “Drift” where secondary characters are the main characters. Or, in “Thanksgiving,” the reader can dip into Neville’s headspace. It’s very enjoyable to get the male perspective here as Neville is dating Margaret at this point in the narrative. Neville is also a hometown boy, a history professor, and lectures about the impact the projects had on the town. Some readers may find this jarring or want to cling onto one character and then find themselves reading about a secondary character, but for the story to be told properly, this structure feels right. The remaining ambiguity of whether the projects were warranted or if people were robbed is always going to exist, and so being able to look inward from all sides is as good as it gets.

As for the main character, Margaret Starks, the only child of Harvard-trained physicians, she grew up amongst the bluebloods of moneyed Louisville with a family mantra of “nothing but the best.” Although she comes from a privileged background, in college she becomes best friends with Cam. Cam is down-to-earth and every bit a lake person in faded jeans and Western Kentucky accent. Margaret discovers sister in Cam and a genuine family in Rose and Lowell Wetherford, who treat her like a daughter. Of course, the Starks don’t approve of Cam. They also don’t approve of Margaret’s future husband, Robert McKinley, who grew up poor in Appalachia. After tragedy hits and Margaret loses Robert, the one person other than the Wetherfords who kept her grounded, she slips into grief and loneliness. She also falls back into her snobbish ways. Margaret buries her authentic self in a successful law practice she’s liking less and less and in a false idea of fulfillment—designer labels, personal trainers, and spa days; all are hollow substitutes for companionship and family. Initially, Margaret comes across as uptight and pretentious, but she’s a very relatable female character who feels she must maintain a level of perfection that’s exhausting.

Land Between the Lakes, photo by Jayne Moore Waldrop

Margaret’s character is ideal for addressing the division. As an attorney Margaret should be able to objectively view different opinions. It’s not always so easy. In “Weekend Visitor,” Margaret is torn between her loyalty to the Wetherfords and her own fond memories of Land Between the Lakes: “For years Margaret would listen to their stories, but she never understood the depth of their bitterness. She viewed the area with the eyes of a weekend visitor who arrived long after the dams were built, the towns were flooded, and the last resident moved out to make way for LBL…as a tourist she didn’t see beyond the scenery.” Also, Margaret wasn’t around for the initial demolition and enjoyed LBL as a young woman where she created her own positive memories. She’s caught in the middle, but as her character grows, she doesn’t stay there long.

Waldrop constantly flips the coin so that around the time the reader fully sides with the disgruntled landowners, another story offers an opposing idea. “For What it’s Worth” is written from the perspective of a land appraiser, Elmer Newby, who stays gainfully employed facilitating property transfers during this time. He’s the go-between between the townspeople and TVA. At first, he views the projects as progress; the projects brought jobs and electricity as well as a recreational area that would stimulate the economy. Later, Elmer admits he didn’t understand the scope of the projects and how destructive they ended up being: “Elmer’s view of the property shifted, and he began to see the land through its owner’s eyes, not as a collection of objective facts and figures…The generational labor that had built the place made his numbers feel thin, his own new house cheap by comparison.” The physical and environmental destruction these projects had on the land as well as emotional impact the demolition and relocation had on the people is unfathomable.

Protestors of Tennessee Valley Authority, Corp of Engineers Archive

Another compelling perspective can be found in the story “View from Within.” Lester Elliot is serving life in the Kentucky State Penitentiary and from his cell he observes the Wetherford’s farm: “This was the time of day that he loved, and his favorite view in a foreign place that had become his world. For twenty years Lester had watched the house as the setting sun cast its warm light over the landscape. It was a fine old home, surrounded by pastures, fields of crops, and acres of forest beyond.” Later, Lester has a front seat ticket to the demolition of the farm, a place that offered him a beacon of hope; it was close as he’d ever get to a real home: “The water inched closer to the house. Its back wing and its double porches were gone, and he spotted a pile of rubble dumped on what had been its gravel drive. Giant trees were uprooted and on the ground. The barns were down, too. The house, his oasis, was surrounded by bulldozers and tractors.” Today, the news blasts images of towns destroyed by war or by natural disasters caused by climate change and viewers watch from a distance, much like Lester. The farm became a constant for Lester, the one good thing in his daily life. Waldrop subtly crafts symbols into her narrative, like the limestone prison standing above the town. The prison represents the government or the powers that stand safe from a distance and make decisions with far reaching consequences, regardless of the harm those decisions have. Lester, who was convicted of a crime he didn’t commit, is stuck in a system, a literal fortress, without a voice. He is similar to those early protesters of the dam and lake projects, whose voices were ignored as well.

St. Stephens Chapel, photo by Jayne Moore Waldrop

It’s interesting what survives the flooding. In addition to the castle-like penitentiary, the small chapel of St. Stephen’s survives, but barely. It’s up to the former residents to restore the chapel and the town comes out in droves to preserve their past. The chapel acts as another wonderful working symbol for Waldrop. Cam and Owen get married in this chapel and the circle of life turns again. The chapel is a holdout from the past, something former LBL residents work hard to preserve; it represents the merging of the past with the present and heals old wounds. It’s the perfect place to gather to fight the latest project—the redevelopment of land into condominiums and resorts. At this point, Margaret is fully connected to LBL, not just because she’s now a resident and has remodeled one of the surviving Victorians, but because she has found a true home, what she’s been seeking all along. The town is her family; she won’t go down without a fight.

It’s not so easy to erase a town and even today when the water level is low, the foundations emerge in old Eddyville. Some memories can be erased, though. Waldrop’s story, “Signs,” is a brave, heart wrenching piece about Rose Wetherford who is starting to feel the effects of Alzheimer’s. This story is the perfect vehicle to express the fear one must experience when he/she comes to realize something isn’t right and Waldrop uses Alzheimer’s as metaphor for the town of Eddyville. In “Mint Springs,” Cam drives her mother out to where her mother’s farm would have been had it not been destroyed. Rose is in a constant state of confusion and this setting brings her peace. There’s a final message of hope in the hymn Rose sings of her lost town: “O they tell me of a home where my friends have gone, they tell me of that land far away.”  Rose’s memories are blurred, out of order, misrepresented, misunderstood, and are becoming harder and harder to hold onto; she’s much like the lost town of Eddyville. It’s melancholy, yet Alzheimer’s proves a fitting analogy for what happened to Eddyville.

Drowned Town was long overdue, and hopefully the people from these lost towns and lakeside communities, whether in Kentucky or somewhere else, are proud of Waldrop’s fictional depiction of their landscape. Waldrop wrote about a very specific topic with a very specific setting which can be risky. One can imagine the people who lived in this area during the time of these projects, now reading Waldrop’s stories, have something else to add. That’s part of the point of this collection, however, to bring those voices to the forefront and stimulate new conversations around preservation and history. Drowned Town is written with activism in mind, and Waldrop has provided an immeasurable amount of dialogue for future conversations about submerged towns and this area of Kentucky. And though Waldrop’s book is a wonderful tribute to underwater towns, this book pays homage to anyone who has lost their sense of home and it looking to recover it.


Photo by Tim Webb

MORE ABOUT AUTHOR: Jayne Moore Waldrop is a Kentucky writer and attorney. She is the author of Retracing My Steps, a finalist in the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Series, and Pandemic Lent: A Season in Poems, both published by Finishing Line Press. Her linked story collection, Drowned Town, was published in 2021 by University Press of Kentucky through its Fireside Industries imprint, a partnership with Hindman Settlement School. Waldrop earned undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Kentucky, and her MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) in 2014 from Murray State University’s low residency program. She is a former book columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal and literary arts liaison at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. She was a writer-in-residence at Rivendell Writers Colony and has attended the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop at Hindman Settlement School, Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Workshop, and the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Waldrop was appointed by the governor to serve two terms on the Kentucky Arts Council and she’s an Art Meets Activism grant recipient from the Kentucky Foundation for Women.

To learn more about the author, Jayne Moore Waldrop, and for author events, visit her author website: JAYNE MOORE WALDROP | AUTHOR


Revival, Lost Southern Voices Presents: William Gay, Southern Author, Southern Painter by Dawn Major on You Tube

William Gay at his cabin in Hohenwald, TN with painting that became the Wittgenstein’s Lolita and The Iceman Cover

Revival: Lost Southern Voices, is a festival for readers that celebrates historically excluded, erased, or marginalized Southern voices. During this annual conference, invited presenters discuss Southern authors or artists whose works are out-of-print or otherwise do not receive the attention they deserve. The festival invites the public, scholars, students, writers, and inquisitive readers to join the conversation as we continue to discover and revive these Lost Southern Voices.


Jim Clark: Don West, poet and social activist
Caroline Herring: Hedy West, musician
Dawn Major: William Gay, author and painter

TO FOLLOW: Revival: Lost Southern Voices on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, or sign up for the newsletter here.

If you enjoyed this panel, please consider sharing on your social media.

LOST SOUTHERN VOICES VIRTUAL FESTIVAL presents William Gay, Southern Author, Southern Painter by Dawn Major

Thursday, March 24, 2022
Panel 1 – Literature, Art, and Music from Lost Southern Voices
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Moderator: Josh Russell
Jim Clark: Don West, poet and social activist
Caroline Herring: Hedy West, musician
Dawn Major: William Gay, author and painter

Register here.

The sixth Revival: Lost Southern Voices is March 24 – 26, 2022. Revival: Lost Southern Voices is a festival for readers that celebrates historically excluded, erased, or marginalized Southern voices. During this annual conference, invited presenters discuss Southern authors or artists whose works are out-of-print or otherwise do not receive the attention they deserve. We invite the public, scholars, students, writers, and inquisitive readers to join the conversation as we continue to discover and revive these Lost Southern Voices. The conference will be virtual again this year, and we have six truly exciting panels. There will be two Zoom panels each day of the conference, one at 1 p.m. ET, and the other at 4 p.m. ET. Several are themed on specific authors or events in Atlanta’s past.

We do want to take a moment here to remember our dear friend Valerie Boyd, who we lost recently. We will be dedicating this conference to her and honoring her memory throughout. Valerie was a brilliant author and scholar, bringing to the fore the voices of Black women authors, and championing the literary arts and literacy. Valerie’s Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston gave voice to a pioneer of African American literature. Boyd also focused her scholarship on the life and work of Alice Walker, exploring lesser-known aspects of the author’s oeuvre, such as her poetry and short stories. She was the senior consulting editor for the Bitter Southerner and an editor-at-large for UGA Press. Her last two books are forthcoming: Gathering Blossoms Under Fire: The Journals of Alice Walker and Bigger Than Bravery: Black Writers on the Year That Changed the World. Among Valerie’s many, many accomplishments and projects, she was a longtime supporter of this conference, where she has presented her research on Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston, and was set to moderate a panel on Toni Cade Bambara this year (which she’d organized). Valerie’s authorship, scholarship and mentorship are a huge loss for the literary community. She was a fearless and formidable voice in our literary heritage. Our thoughts are with all those who knew her, all who read her, all who learned from her. You can read our full statement here if you’d like. You may also read Tina McElroy Ansa’s lovely tribute to Valerie in the AJC here. Tina will be presenting on John Oliver Killens at this year’s conference.

Thursday, March 24, 2022
Panel 1 – Literature, Art, and Music from Lost Southern Voices
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Moderator: Josh Russell
Jim Clark: Don West, poet and social activist
Caroline Herring: Hedy West, musician
Dawn Major: William Gay, author and painter
Register here.

Panel 2 – Rediscovering Frank Yerby
4 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Moderator: Eli Arnold
Valerie Matthews, Yerby scholar
Veronica Watson, Yerby scholar
Matthew Teutsch, Yerby scholar
Register here.

Friday, March 25, 2022
Panel 3 – “It’s Never Been Over”: Generational Trauma and the Atlanta Child Murders
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Moderator: Jessica Handler
Maurice Hobson, historian
Calinda Lee, historian
Vern Smith, journalist
Register here.

Panel 4 – These Bones Are Not My Child: The Life and Work of Toni Cade Bambara
4 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Moderator: Beverly Guy-Sheftall
Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Bambara scholar
Linda Holmes, Bambara biographer
Louis Massiah, Bambara filmmaker
Register here.

Saturday, March 26, 2022
Panel 5 -The Life and Work of John Oliver Killens
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Moderator: Matt Dischinger
Tina McElroy Ansa, novelist and Killens devotee
Register here.

Panel 6 – The Day Atlanta Stood Still: Atlanta and The Legacy of the Orly Plane Crash
4 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Moderator: Jim Auchmutey
Baxter Jones, arts philanthropist
Chris Moser, documentary director
Register here.

As part of this year’s conference, there will be raffles! More information on those is coming soon. Follow the festival on Facebook at @RevivalLostSouthernVoices, Twitter (@RevivalLost) and Instagram (revivallsv) for updates! You can also watch last year’s conference on the Georgia Center for the Book’s YouTube channel here.

A Conversation with Southern Author, Robert Gwaltney, about his Debut Novel, The Cicada Tree

DM: The cicada is such a wonderful working symbol. For me, the cicadas connected the past with the present and exposed the dark secrets in The Cicada Tree. And of course, the muse! What drew you to this incredible creature?

Headshot by Robert Kim

RG: You are spot on. Within the novel, cicadas do represent the bridging of the past to the present. For the novel, I created a cicada mythology, the sense that they consume secrets through the years, later bringing them to the surface to shine light upon them—right wrongs. For me, cicadas also represent reinvention and renewal. I am rather taken by the idea that a person can transform—have second chances.

DM: I specifically heard the voice of Truman Capote in your novel, but will you share your other influences?

RG: Dawn, thank you so much for the comparison to Truman Capote. You are too generous, and I take that as an immense compliment. His debut novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, is a favorite, and was a bit of a boyhood obsession. Another childhood obsession was Charles Dickens’ character, Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I am a disciple of the Brontë sisters. As you know, I reference Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre in The Cicada Tree. And Anything by Tennessee Williams sets me on fire. On occasion, for a boost of inspiration, I obsessively re-read the prologue to Michael Cunningham’s, The Hours. I also possess a fond affection for Shirley Jackson’s, We Have Always Lived In The Castle. The opening sentence of Robert Goolrick’s, A Reliable Wife, often ticks through my head like an incantation: “It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet.” And Pat Conroy. His writing moves me to tears. 

DM: The setting is stunning and quintessentially Southern Gothic. Was there a particular location in Georgia you used to base The Cicada Tree on that you’d like to share with the reader?

RG: The Cicada Tree takes place in Southwest Georgia within the fictitious town of Providence. When building the world of my novel, I took inspiration from my hometown, Cairo, Georgia, a place named after the capital of Egypt. Mistletoe, the estate of the wealthy Mayfield family, is also a fictitious place, but the name is taken from an actual plantation close to Cairo, Georgia. My great great grandfather once owned a farm that was sold many years ago and folded into Mistletoe Plantation, so I have a personal connection to Mistletoe.

Robert Gwaltney’s Writing Space

DM: Music plays a huge role in this book to the extent that the reader can hear it while reading. Will you talk about how music or any other art form helped shape your novel?

RG: Music absolutely plays a significant role in the novel and in my writing process. Lyrically, The Cicada Tree is inspired by Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, popularly referred to as Moonlight Sonata. The sonata consists of three movements: Adagio, Allegretto, and Presto. The pacing of the novel is inspired by the tempo of each movement, each movement an act within the novel.

Along with music and art, I draw inspiration from fashion, specifically the designs of Christian Dior which were used to dress Cordelia Mayfield.

To listen to Gwaltney’s playlist, visit: The Cicada Tree Playlist.

DM: The Cicada Tree is a tribute to strong female characters. The male characters aren’t weak but are secondary in my opinion. What inspired you to write about such empowered females?

RG: I grew up surrounded and fascinated by strong Southern women. Always, I have possessed an emotional connection to women much more so than men. When I was a boy, wherever women congregated, I was there listening—the kitchen during family gatherings, eavesdropping on Mama’s garden club shindigs. I have always admired the grace, strength, and resiliency of women. Women possess great gifts, and I let that inspire me with the extraordinary talents I bestowed upon the female characters within the novel.

DM: Although I would classify The Cicada Tree as literary, you did some genre-bending here. How are you promoting it?

RG: When I set out to write the book, I had one goal, to write a novel I would want to read. I knew from the beginning that the novel would be Southern with gothic tendencies and elements of magical realism. What I was surprised to learn is that some consider it historical fiction. When promoting the novel, it will be categorized as Southern fiction, literary fiction, Southern Gothic, and historical.

DM: I appreciate your time answering my questions and wish you the best of luck with your new novel, The Cicada Tree.

RG: Dawn, thank you for being an early reader of my debut novel, and for such an in-depth review of my work. I am grateful for your support. I look forward to seeing you at my book launch on February 26th.

WHERE TO PURCHASE: To purchase your copy of The Cicada Tree, attend the author’s book launch on February 26th, 2022, from 7PM – 9 PM at the Easter Seals Office located at 815 Park North Blvd, Clarkston, GA 30021-1904. Click here to RSVP to: BOOK LAUNCH PARTY: THE CICADA TREE OR Support independent bookstores like one of my favorites, FoxTale Book Shoppe.

MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 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. The Cicada Tree, published by Moonshine Cove Publishing, is Gwaltney’s debut novel. To learn more about Robert Gwaltney, visit his website at robertlgwaltney.com and follow Robert on FB and IP.

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“The Cicada Tree,” by Robert Gwaltney

Hordes of nymphs clawed their way free from the deep down, all of them desperate for a place to molt. To every trunk, shrub, and post they clung, hail battered branches drooping from the weight. They clicked and skittered up the house, gambling on bowing shards of paint. No other place to claim, the cicadas relented, glittering beneath the mottled light of a half-woke moon, accumulating quick and dangerous as fast falling snow.

Robert Gwaltney
Design by Ebook Launch

I finally met Robert Gwaltney at a local author’s book signing, but we’d become virtual friends during this never-ending pandemic. Robert is a writer and book advocate like me, so it was only a matter of time before our paths crossed. Gwaltney is also the editor for Blue Mountain Review and is highly active in the literary scene promoting authors, helping them get their names out there—something most authors do not enjoy doing themselves. I look forward to seeing the latest book he’s reading as he sets up the scene on his social media pages as one would imagine a display window would appear in the good old days when Rich’s Department Store was thriving in Atlanta. Now he has authored a stunning novel, The Cicada Tree, and though it’s his debut novel it feels more the work of an old soul author.

Dark secrets lurk beneath the town of Providence, secrets of obsessions and betrayal, secrets that must be unearthed. Donaldbain, in Shakespeare’s MacBeth, said, “There’s daggers in men’s smiles. The nea’er the blood, the nearer the bloody.” The Cicada Tree, published by Moonshine Cove Publishing, has its share of Shakespearean betrayals, some perceived, some real, but crueler still for the one who draws the knife, or lights the fire is family in this novel. Analeise Newall, the young protagonist, has set her mind on exposing those secrets—her family and town be damned. Set in segregated 1950’s Georgia, it requires something biblical to unearth these secrets, something like a swarm of cicadas.

Analeise isn’t the easiest protagonist to champion. She’s self-centered, jealous, impetuous, conniving; essentially, she’s the epitome of a girl entering her teenaged years. She’s diametrically the opposite of sweet, naïve, orphaned, Etta Mae. Grace Newall, Analeise’s mother, and Miss Wessie, Etta Mae’s Granny, scrape by as single mothers raising their two girls in the same house and Analiese and Etta Mae act more like sisters. Though the women in the household don’t share the same skin color and outside the home, Miss Wessie and Etta Mae aren’t treated equally, inside the home the relationship is more modern. One thing these two girls do share in common is an innate gift for music; Analeise can play the piano by ear and Etta Mae has an operatic voice. Neither have the formal training the small-town aristocrats—the Mayfields—have. Yet, the Mayfields have more than just talent, money, and stature; they possess the power of enchantment. Reminiscent of the Latin magical realists, the speculative elements in The Cicada Tree are simply part of the everyday and the characters take these unusual abilities and events in stride. Grace, a master seamstress, can read fortunes in her stitching. Her gift isn’t overly explained, other than she received the gift of second sight after being bitten by a rattlesnake. Analiese and Etta Mae’s “power” is untapped, but that all changes when Analeise begins piano lessons and Etta Mae starts voice lessons. It’s enlightening reading about characters whose value is based on talent and artistic expression rather than brute strength or an improbable superpower.

As antagonists, Marlissa Mayfield and her mother, Cordelia Mayfield, meet the mark. You can’t help but admire Cordelia’s impeccable taste, and Gwaltney’s description of the Mayfield’s home, Mistletoe, is captivating. Cordelia has instilled her style into Marlissa, along with wrath, pride, envy—basically, the seven deadly sins. Marlissa has learned from the best, her mother, and is always three steps ahead of Analiese. Bewitched, Analiese walks into Marlissa’s spiderweb again and again. Marlissa, also a talented pianist, isn’t used to competition; she refuses to share the limelight with Analiese. The town’s talent show becomes a battle royale. On the surface, it may appear this is a novel about good versus evil, rich versus poor, but it isn’t as black and white as that because there are flaws on both sides. What’s compelling is watching “good” characters make “bad” decisions. Gwaltney’s characters are multidimensional. His plots and subplots are compelling, pushing the narrative towards an epic conclusion.

In Greek mythology, cicadas were once believed to be humans who so inspired by song, sang all day and night forgetting to eat or drink and eventually dying. The Muses, moved by their dedication to music, turned their spirits into cicadas. The Cicada Tree pays homage to the muse and the love of art, for sure, but symbolically cicadas have deep roots across cultures, religion, and art. This idea that an ugly history has seeped into the earth and now the characters are living above a cursed land, haunted by a past, is a common theme in Southern Gothic literature and is present in Gwaltney’s novel. But cicadas, along with their darker representations, can also bring hope. With all the biblical references in The Cicada Tree, the theme of resurrection is the most predominant, especially at the end. It’s 1956 in the deep South where churches and schools are segregated. Through the power of music, a white and black girl, together, expose not only the sordid past of one powerful family, but the town’s, and society’s as well.

The language in The Cicada Tree is ornate and lush, and reminded me somewhat of Truman Capote. In a largely visual society, it’s refreshing to read a novel where all the senses are explored. Oftentimes, authors neglect these opportunities, leaving it to the poets. Gwaltney’s language is rich in metaphor and simile; the poetic elements are balanced and appropriate, always reminding the reader we are in the South: “Another shower of applause rose up, the sound of sizzling bacon grease,” and, “There was no use in trying to break free, her grip tight as a canning jar lid.” As both protagonist and antagonist are musical rivals, it makes sense that the narrative includes music and loads of sound imagery. Cicadas make their own special music. There are multiple allusions to song titles as well. The Cicada Tree is so rich in sound imagery, you feel as if there’s a symphony around you: “I imagined Miss Wessie’s boom boom hips as I listened to the crinkle of the grocery bags. I hummed the sound of her walk to myself. It calmed me—helped me think through the fear. Boom Boom. Crinkle,” or, “A cluster of lightening bugs flashed in quick succession. I imagined the quick firing of their lights to sound like the ping of quarter notes. A clumsy “Chopsticks” playing in the night.” What is uniquely Gwaltney, is how he merges the senses together, layering his imagery: “Still, I played, hungry for what might come next. For the first time, I taste my own music, swallowing down the sweet peony-flavored notes, the rapid accumulation of saliva clotting and forming a knot in my throat.” Allusions to art, literature, poetry, and music are fitting and add a richer element to the story. These allusions function as stories within stories if the reader chooses to go down that rabbit hole.

I wonder what shelf in the bookstore The Cicada Tree will settle on. It’s definitively Southern Gothic, but Southern Gothic writers tend to walk the line between speculative, horror, literary, magical realism, and popular fiction. And as such, Gwaltney’s genre-bending novel will appeal to a multitude of readers. The speculative elements build tension but also suggest something deeper at hand with the cicadas working as an extended metaphor. Put The Cicada Tree on your 2022 Must Read List. And if Gwaltney’s debut novel is any indication of what’s to come, we’ll be fortunate to be reading his works for years.

Come celebrate The Cicada Tree’s book publication and meet the author, Robert Gwaltney, at his book launch on February 26, 2022, from 7PM – 9 PM at the Easter Seals Office located at 815 Park North Blvd, Clarkston, GA 30021-1904. Click here to RSVP: BOOK LAUNCH PARTY: THE CICADA TREE

WHERE TO PURCHASE: Get your copy of The Cicada Tree and support independent bookstores (like one of my favorites) by ordering online or visiting FoxTale Book Shoppe.

Headshot by Robert Kim

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. The Cicada Tree, published by Moonshine Cove Publishing, is his debut novel. To learn more about Robert Gwaltney, visit his website: robertlgwaltney.com

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Book Review: “Intentional Fallacies” by Edison Jennings

Book Review: “Intentional Fallacies” by Edison Jennings

— Read on jonsokol.com/2022/01/29/book-review-intentional-fallacies-by-edison-jennings/

Wonderful review by Jon Sokol. This is the type of poetry I can really get behind and so needed.

“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


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.


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


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.


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.


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.

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