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.



  • 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.

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.


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. 


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.


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. 


Springer Mountain Press Launches Summer Slasher Horror Anthology Vol. I. Read my Interview with Publisher, Clay Anderson, Launch Party Details, and much more

Taylor Knecht – Cover Artist

DM: You opened a bookstore, Bear Book Market, you’re a full-time college professor, you started a publishing company, Springer Mountain Press, you recently published your own book, The Palms. Are you possessed? Joking aside, will you talk to me about what compelled you to publish a horror anthology?

CA: I’ve always been a fan of horror writing. In middle school my parents let me pick out any book I wanted and I chose Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot; I was obsessed from that moment on. Also, I really enjoy reading horror anthologies, because it’s a great opportunity to read some of the new voices in horror. Often the writers I enjoy reading go on to publish books or anthologies of their own. I like to be on the cutting edge and know who these future writers of horror are.

DM: You write both literary fiction and Grit Lit. What drew you to the horror genre?

CA: I love reading Grit Lit because the darkness is what I’m drawn to. The same can be said of horror. I’m reminded of a Stephen King quote, “we make up horrors to help us cope with real ones.” That’s my philosophy when reading horror. I can turn off the news and be comforted with a horror novel that allows me to have a form of dark escapism.

DM: I’m always interested in placement in anthologies. How did you decide on where to place each piece? What was your strategy?

CA: There really was no strategy outside of putting Bonnie’s poem in the middle of the anthology to break it up and Alyssa’s story scared me most, so she went first. After that, we divvied up the stories based on length. Really, no one story was better than the next so it was simple to place the pieces.

DM: Springer Mountain Press is a newer publisher, but already doing great things for Southern writers and writers in general. Was it challenging getting contributors?

CA: No, it wasn’t hard to get contributors. Thankfully I’ve have a good network of authors to get contributions from, especially with my connection with Reinhardt University. A good portion of the submissions were from my fellow RU Alumni. The MFA program is really strong and produces fantastic authors. So, it was very simple to ask and receive contributions.

DM: Is Springer Mountain Press open to horror submissions outside of the anthology? Meaning, are you open to publishing horror novels, short story collections, or novellas by a single author?

CA: Fantastic Question!!!! Yes, we are open to publish horror novels, short story collections, or novellas by a single author. Again, I love everything horror. So, yes, if you are reading this and are a horror author, please submit to submissions@springermountainpress.com.

DM: The cover expletive, expletive rocks! It’s brilliant. Who is the artist? Will you chat about collaborating on coming up with the slasher image?

CA: I love this question! Yes, so Springer Mountain Press employs a graphic designer named Taylor Knecht (Instagram @knecht.the.dots). She worked with us last Spring as an intern and graduated with a degree in graphic design from the University of North Georgia. I loved her work so much that I’ve employed her at the press to be our in-house cover designer. The psycho on the cover was all her idea. He’s going to be our mascot for all of our horror anthologies!

DM: Should we expect another Slasher Anthology? If so, what’s the theme and where can all my horror writing buddies contribute?

CA: Yes, you can! Follow all of our social media accounts to stay up to date on our call for submissions. Right now, we at SMP are going to publish two horror anthologies a year. This next summer we will publish Summer Slasher Horror Anthology Vol. 2. Also, and most exciting, is that we will be publishing A Christmas Horror Story Anthology Vol. 1 this December. So, please stay on the lookout for the call for submissions, and think about writing your winter holiday themed horror stories. And our psycho will make a repeat appearance on all our horror anthologies, so stay tuned!!!!

TO PURCHASE YOUR COPY of Springer Mountain Press Summer Slasher Horror Anthology Vol. 1 visit Bear Book Market, or KINDLE UNLIMTED MEMBERS, download for FREE: Download Summer Slasher Horror Anthology Vol I.

EVENTS: AUGUST 21st 6:00 – 7:00 PM AT BEAR BOOK MARKET IN Dahlonega, GA: Come celebrate the anthology launch, hear one of the contributors (you got it, ME!) read, and meet the cover artist Taylor Knecht. Refreshments will be served. DIRECTIONS


I am an Assistant Professor of History at Reinhardt University where I’m also the Director of the Center for Student Success. In 2019, I opened up a New and Used book store in Dahlonega, Georgia named Bear Book Market. In 2020 we were voted Best Book Store. After I received my MFA in Creative Writing in 2020, I created an Independent Publishing Company called Springer Mountain Press. We are a small press but growing. We have three really amazing books coming out in the Fall: The Bystanders by (the extremely talented) Dawn Major, a short story collection by Scott Gould titled, Idiot Men, and a (currently) untitled collection of prose by the late great William Gay. When not working on those many things, I enjoy reading and watching all things horror. My favorite genre are 1980s campy slasher movies – hence the Summer Slasher Horror Anthology – such as Sleep Away Camp, Friday the 13th, Madman, The Burning, and Don’t Go in the Woods Alone.



Facebook: @springermountainpress; Instagram: @springermountainpress; Twitter: @SpringerMtPress

William Gay’s Last Novel: Fugitives of the Heart Available Now and Much More!

If you a are fan of William Gay, you do not want to miss this post. William Gay’s last posthumous novel, Fugitives of the Heart, was released by Livingston Press this summer and Signed First Editions are Available on a Limited Basis through Alabama Booksmith. Also, don’t miss my review of Fugitives of the Heart and my Interview with J. Michael White about the novel. Watch the Author Spotlight with Sonny Brewer, J. Michael White, and Jake Reiss where they discuss how the novel came to be. There’s some exciting Upcoming Events as well. Read on!

Author Spotlight Alabama Booksmith Owner, Jake Reiss, and guest speakers, Sonny Brewer, and Michael White



Young protagonist Marian Yates doesn’t have much of a chance with the parents he’s been allotted in life. His dad is killed for poaching and his mom is an ailing prostitute and is anything but maternal. She eventually departs the world, leaving Yates orphaned and homeless in rural Tennessee. Yates is a sneakthief, a scavenger, a wanderer, but he’s also a deep thinker and attuned to nature. He’s more at home in the Harrikin than in a warm bed with a roof over his head. Yates loves Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was Gay’s inspiration for this novel. He spends a short time with the Widow Paiton, who introduces him to Twain. Yates, so compelled by the Twain’s words and the adventures, he sneaks in during the day, devouring chapters that had been denied him at night: he read about “Jim and Huck in the flux on the sun-rimpled Mississippi. He could almost smell the hot torpor of the river, seeing the country sliding past, until he was hopelessly snared by Twain.” These passages truly make you see Yates for the innocent he is, despite being thrown into a den of wolves.

Yates’s prized possession is a pocketknife that his friend Black Crowe helped him acquire from Dow Cook’s general store. This negotiation is the inciting incident. Gay followed Anton Chekhov’s theory—essentially, if you write a gun into the first act of a play, it must be fired in the second act. Of course, in Fugitives of the Heart the gun is replaced with a pocketknife. Yates is in love with a girl out of his league who has a bootlegging granny who despises him. Every day is an adventure from hopping box cars heading to Ackerman’s Field to catch the circus, sneaking under the cover of night to beat up the antagonist, Swain, who’s been visiting his mother’s bed, surviving a road trip with a mad iceman (some will recognize the short story, “The Iceman,” which is part of this novel), to saving Black Crowe from a lynch mob and ultimately facing one of life’s toughest lessons—betrayal. TO READ REVIEW IN ITS ENTIRETY VISIT: SOUTHERN LITERARY REIVEW



DM: Michael, I appreciate you doing this interview about William Gay’s last novel, Fugitives of the Heart. Gay describes this book as “a boy’s coming-of-age in a dying iron ore community of Depression era Tennessee,” and says that he was inspired by Mark Twain’s classic, Huckleberry Finn. What are a few similarities between Huckleberry Finn and Fugitives of the Heart?

JMW: William was a life-long fan of Mark Twain. When he was a kid, they had a small library in the school and he loved to go there and he once asked the librarian how much she had to pay for the privilege of working in the library! Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer were readily accessible to him as a school boy and he devoured them. He loved Huck more than Tom and read both books over and over. They were country kids like himself and the books were set in the country and sparked his imagination like nothing had before. In his career as a writer he wrote a book in every genre that he loved to read so doing a homage to Twain had to be part of his oeuvre. The main character, Marion Yates, like Huck, is in his early teens growing up without either of his parents and no home to call his own. His only friend is a black man everyone called Black Crowe. There are scenes set by the Tennessee River and in the end of the book you end up in a cave. William was not one to copy other writers, but this book echoes Twain in many ways, all done in William’s own unique style. TO READ INTERVIEW IN ITS ENTIRETY VISIT: SOUTHERN LITERARY REVIEW


Read Arthur Wayne Glowka’s Experience with Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing and his decision to self-publish his novel, Trout And Other Mythical Beings

To self-publish or not to self-publish, that is the question.

I started self-publishing creative works in 2012. I took that step after three decades of experiences with traditional publishing and with editing of one kind and another. It took ten years for me to publish my first two books with traditional publishers, but work on both books prepared me for self-publishing.

At the age of ten, I heard my father recite the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales as part of a speech for a Dale Carnegie course. In the speech, my father claimed that any time he felt low, he remembered his high school teacher recite those lines in an exaggerated rhythm with her large bosom bouncing up and down. That memory cheered him up. I found Chaucer’s rhythm intoxicating, and right after writing a dissertation on the rhythm of Lawman’s Brut (the first English work to treat King Arthur), I began working on a book on Chaucer’s meter. It took four years to write the book and four years to find a publisher. The small academic publisher I found wanted either a subvention from my institution for printing costs—or for me to provide camera-ready text. As things turn out, my department at Georgia College had begun to make camera-ready copy of The Flannery O’Connor Newsletter on a tiny Mac, and the secretary tutored me in desktop publishing and let me use her Mac to paste up my book. The book was finally published, it is cited in scholarly articles, it is in university libraries, but it never enjoyed enough sales to meet the minimum amount of $35 for a royalty check.

While I was writing my book on Chaucer, I was also developing a collection of essays illustrating various ways of teaching students about the dialects of American English. I convinced the Committee on Teaching of the American Dialect Society to sponsor the collection, and the chair of the committee, a long-time journal editor, signed on as a co-editor since I had no experience with editing. However, at the end of that ten-year process, I had learned more about editing and negotiating with authors and copyeditors than I ever wanted to learn. Although my little Chaucer book never earned a dime of royalties, the dialect book, which was published in a teaching series by the Modern Language Association Press, earned enough in royalties over two years to pay for all the bills associated with the birth of my first child.

To help with the expenses of raising a child, I assumed some duties in administration. My most interesting assignment was editing a faculty research newsletter. Since I knew something about desktop publishing, I abandoned the mimeograph format of my predecessors and produced an off-set publication with interviews and photographs. Soon I had a team of students working with me as interns. Also as part of my duties, I revived a student research journal and produced camera-ready copy for printing at the University of Georgia.

The one thing then led to another. After posting some observations about new words on the new email discussion group of the American Dialect Society, I was asked by the editor of its journal, American Speech, to become the editor of its column on news words, which had been published with regularity since the beginning of World War II. I edited that column with the help of dozens of students for eleven years.

But in the meantime, I had begun working on a verse translation of Wace’s Roman de Brut, an Anglo-Norman verse translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s legendary History of the Kings of Britain. This book was also a ten-year process. It took four years for me to translate Wace into English verse. Finding a traditional academic publisher took two years; getting that publisher to issue a contract took another two years of revisions and additions. In the frustration of dealing with a publisher that kept delaying and requesting more, I threatened to publish the translation on a web site through which I could get $1 per copy. However, my department chair calmed me down and begged the dean for subvention money. Finally, 175 copies of the very beautiful and very expensive book were printed. I won two cash prizes for the book at Georgia College, but I never received one cent of royalties. I am thankful that the translation is frequently used in scholarly articles and books, but the process of getting this book to press soured me on traditional publishing.

And now we get to self-publishing. In 2004, I took a trip to Texas to see family and revisited the Alamo for the first time in nearly two decades. I re-read the very moving letter of William Barret Travis (the young commander of the Alamo surrounded by the sizeable army of the battle-hardened Santa Anna), bought some books about the Alamo, and began writing about the subject in my car one Sunday morning while my kids were in Sunday school. I imagined I was the dying James Bowie telling stories about his life to other Alamo defenders on the night before they all died. I wrote in Chaucer’s rhyme royal stanza. I pecked at this poem for another six years, and when I had nearly two hundred pages of material, I sent out samples to university publishers in Texas. An editor at Texas Christian University loved the sample and the idea of multiple narrators but feared that the press would lose money on an epic poem. She asked me to re-write the book as a prose novel. My crazy lifetime dream had been to write an epic poem. The dream was all but shattered. I froze. I quit writing for months. And then I saw that a local high school student had published a novel in Kindle form for her senior project. I investigated Kindle publishing. It was easy. There was a template for the paperback. At that time, the Kindle version could be published as an html copy of the Word document. All fired up, I finished my epic, The Texiad, in three weeks and got it published in Kindle and paperback shortly thereafter. On the Kindle dashboard, I could see that I had sold 36 copies on the first day. I was going to get royalties at the end of the next month and every month thereafter. I could promote the book with free copies. At one point, over 5000 people had downloaded free copies of my Kindle book. I had become an epic poet.

I then got very busy re-writing may favorite medieval romances as erotic tales with surprising twists. Sir Gawain succumbs to seduction and has to marry the Green Knight’s “wife,” who is actually an old elf woman made to look young by magic. Chrétien de Troyes’ Guinevere is transformed into a dominatrix who goes into ecstasy watching Lancelot bleed. Free Kindle copies of The Humiliation of Sir Lancelot were downloaded 800 times on the first day. I took “Eliduc,” one of The Lais of Anglo-Norman poet Marie de France, and turned it into a much longer and detailed story–and turned the other lais into rhyming songs that Eliduc sings to the accompaniment of the harp. Europeans are fond of these romances.

At about the same time, I got involved in play writing, and I published copies of the short plays that had been performed. Nobody much buys plays, but bound paper copies are very useful for actors and directors who are staging a play–and who might want a great souvenir signed by the author.

In my last years at Reinhardt, President Mark Roberts and I started the Reinhardt University Press by opening an institutional Kindle Direct Publishing account. Through that account, we began publishing Sanctuary (the interdisciplinary arts magazine) and James Dickey Review. We also published a student athlete’s history of Reinhardt University football. Sanctuary and JDR provided my first experiences with editing creative writing. They were time-consuming additions to an already busy schedule of teaching and administration, but they were fun. All of my previous experiences with editing and formatting made the work possible.

So, when it came time to publish Trout and Other Mythical Beings, the decision to self-publish was an easy one to make. I have been self-publishing and self-editing for nearly a decade. But I am trying something new with self-publishing this time. In consultation with a former student of mine who makes his living selling Western romances, I have decided to pay for advertising. I am not much of a gambler, so the principles of advertising make me very uncomfortable, but my wife, who has worked in marketing, has been advising me to have patience with the process and the risk. So, I am on a new adventure in publishing.


Get your paperback copy of TROUT AND OTHER MYTHICAL BEINGS by visiting Bear Book Market at 21 North Grove Street, Dahlonega, GA, via Bear Book Market’s online store at Bear Book Market, from the author by emailing him at a_glowka@yahoo.com, or via Kindle E-book.

Want to meet the author, attend a reading, and hear some banjo playing? You do. You sure do! Here’s your opportunity: Etowah Valley MFA Program Summer Residency Reinhardt University Waleska, GA July 10, 2021, 8:00 pm: Trout and Other Mythical Beings: A Reading from the Arthur Wayne Glowka. Directions

More about Arthur Wayne Glowka:

Photo by Beth Glowka

Arthur Wayne Glowka (born in Weimar, Texas, in 1952) grew up in San Antonio, Texas, in the shadow of the Alamo, and heard heroic tales about its fall from an early age. The Irish nuns who ran his elementary school directed him to books about King Arthur and Robin Hood, and his study of Spanish in high school has led to a lifelong fascination with Latin America and Spain. He studied English at the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., 1973; M.A., 1975), where he fell in love with medieval tales told in their original languages. Before pursuing his doctorate in English at the University of Delaware (English, 1980), he spent two years away from formal study to fish and to plunder libraries and used bookstores for books on fishing and a wide variety of other subjects. His scholarly publications have treated metrics, the legendary history of Britain, Geoffrey Chaucer, dialectology, lexicography, and Flannery O’Connor. He has served as an editor for academic journals, most recently James Dickey Review. His creative publications include an epic about the Texas Revolution (The Texiad), a series of medieval romances retold for contemporary readers, plays, and a novel (Trout and Other Mythical Beings). He was Professor of English at Georgia College (1980-2007) and the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt University (2007-2020). He retired from teaching and administration in July of 2020—but not from writing, woodworking, music, and hiking.

A Conversation with Arthur Wayne Glowka, Author of Trout And Other Mythical Beings

Photo by Beth Glowka

DM: In my review of your novel, Trout And Other Mythical Beings, I mentioned that Harry was on a mythic quest, that he was a sort of mythic hero. What made you use the mythic quest structure for Trout And Other Mythical Beings?

AWG: I have been interested in myth in general and the heroic quest in particular since I was a child. I have been interested in the heroic quest and medieval storytelling ever since a nun handed me a big book on King Arthur in the third grade. In the ninth grade, I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology with a great deal of fascination, and I assigned it in world literature classes I taught until I found a more detailed book for my classes.

I generally use the word “myth” as a story that explains the nature of the world we live in —or wished we lived in. As Harry Mature knows, myths are often not realistic accounts of every day experience. Myths entertain us with imaginative but unrealistic objects or creatures like a bird reborn in fire or a sword that confers superpowers on the rightful bearer. When I hear people condemn a story or a belief as a “myth,” I chuckle to myself. We all “believe” in myths of one kind of another. Myths can scare us; myths can help us understand things. Ultimately, we think we understand very little outside of our favorite myths. I could easily go on about all of my favorite mythical heroic quests in world literature, but let me focus instead on Harry Mature.

Harry goes on a heroic quest to experience things that have been part of his fantasy world. And he discovers that actual experiences with these things have uncomfortable physical and emotional consequences. Alcohol and tobacco can make you sick. Hunting by yourself can be dangerous and is not like hunting on a television show. Fishing is nothing like reading a book about fishing. Serial online dating comes with consequences and experiences not detailed in the old Penthouse letters or the erotic tales of Anaïs Nin. Grief can be sadness, but more likely it is anger, frustration, and fear. The refuge in being “comfortably numb” is ephemeral and ultimately just a trick of the psyche. You can’t hide from your feelings; they will sneak up on you and bite you in the ass.

Harry wants a number of things, but he needs a friend and sense of who he really is. For far too long, his wife, his child, and his job told him who he was supposed to be. At the end, he still doesn’t know who he is, but he has learned who he isn’t. Along the way, there is a string of mythical beings to consider and abandon: the Hemingway hero who drinks without hangovers, the macho tobacco smoker with no health concerns, the mighty stag memorialized on a wall, the lunker trout (and the naiads who put them on hooks), the hot hook-up (Erica Jong’s “zipless fuck” in Fear of Flying), the Valkyries, and Odin. Defying death, Harry finds escape on his motorcycle, but as we all know, a motorcycle can lead to a very gruesome death on a lonesome highway.

DM: Interesting last name you chose for Harry—Harry Mature. Is it because he’s had to act mature, too mature, and almost dead, all his life or he because rejects maturity for the first time in his life? Will you talk about the name choice?

AWG: When I was a kid, the actor Victor Mature was a popular leading man in the movies—like Samson and Delilah. So, the last name, “Mature,” has heroic (and erotic) connotations for me. Ultimately, I chose “Harry Mature” because, as the character Karen humorously notes, it sounds like the name of a porn star. Otherwise, I was searching for a name that would make the main character a “type,” in the 17th-century sense. Harry is a type of old man. He is not every old man, but an old man you might meet somewhere. “Mature” is one of the euphemisms marketers use for “old.” Working with the handicaps posed by aging, Harry tests his limits, trying to see what is still left of himself. I once asked a male friend about when male children reach adulthood and start to make sense. He said, “Around age 31.” I asked a female friend the same question, and she said, “Some of them don’t make sense till age 65.”

DM: Talk to me about the cover and how it came to be.

AWG: Intending to order a proof copy early one morning in March, I published the book by accident with a trial cover that was, frankly, pretty stupid. It featured a yellow caution sign warning of a curvy road. A helmeted man on a motorcycle was flying up the curvy road on the sign, and a trout was leaping out of the sign into the clouds. My friend, with marketing advice, hastily made another cover for me with a helmeted man on a motorcycle riding up a stream out of which a trout was leaping. I republished with that cover, but I did not like it. Then I made a black-and-white cover with a muscle-bound woman dressed up like an opera Viking. Someone I know bought a copy with this version of the cover. It occurred to me on a walk that I needed a photo of a woman with a trout. My search on iStock turned up the startling picture of the young woman emerging from the stream with a fish in her mouth. The iconography was perfect. In the novel, Karen says that the trout resort has kids in the river putting fish on hooks for seminar participants. So, the fish and the young woman are mythical beings referred to by the mythical Karen.

DM: I think some of the Harry’s thoughts about Kat and his grandkids are hilarious, but I could imagine some readers taking issue if some of those inner thoughts were taken out of context. Have you had any comments from your readers?

AWG: People who take things out of context and blow them up on social media or news broadcasts are going to do what they are going to do. In every age, Puritans of one kind or another ban works of art and inadvertently make those works more appealing to curious consumers of art. Some of my favorite books have been banned at one time or another.

Harry Mature and his granddaughters illustrate what people in the 1960s called “the generation gap.” Young boomers grew out their hair, experimented with drugs and sex, tried living in communes, protested a war, and had fantasies of changing the world by putting LSD in the water supply (see the movie Wild in the Streets). The intentions of the young boomers were good, but their assumptions about the nature of the world were naive and adolescent. The boomers grew up and became the parents they hated. They worked, they invested, they voted for corrupt politicians, they tried to stop the sale of music celebrating violence and sex, and they fought their own wars. Now the boomers have grandchildren who, to the boomers, look and sound like creatures from outer space, and the grandchildren think their boomer grandparents are ignorant, immoral, capitalist racists. My grandparents regarded me with horror when I was a teenager; I also regarded them with horror. But we all eventually grew out of this phase. Before they died, we ended up being great friends honoring one another.

Harry Mature sees his grandchildren through the lenses of what he reads in the news about college campuses. The granddaughters see him through the lenses of woke-ism, which they have picked up in over-simplified terms from older adolescents. However, when Harry shows up on a motorcycle, they welcome him, because they want to ride on his motorcycle and because they like rebelling against their mother, who thinks her father has lost his mind. Harry and his granddaughters are allies in their efforts to move past Mary’s death.

One of my neighbors, who is retired and has grandchildren, found Harry’s thoughts about his grandchildren and their thoughts about him as the funniest passages in the book. However, I am sure that some young people will find the book disturbing for any number of reasons besides Harry’s inner thoughts. When I was in my early teens, an older friend of our family lost her husband of nearly forty years and started dating shortly thereafter. My parents would twitter with her about her dating adventures with men at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, and I was viscerally repulsed upon learning that old people might actually be having sex. I did not understand at the time how geriatric sex could be possible, much less desirable for anyone, even the participants. But I was a teenager who wanted some green-and-white striped bellbottom pants, a psychedelic VW bug, and a Summer of Love.

DM: What was the inspiration for writing Trout and Other Mythical Beings?

AWG: I can blame neither a muse or any kind of spirit for the book, but one day after a lot of musing about retirement, the indignities of growing old, and the increasing number of deaths among my contemporaries, I hit upon the name “Harry Mature” for the main character and wrote a version of the first paragraph. I sent it to close friends. One wrote back immediately and said he wanted to read that book. Around the same time, he also confessed about how much he wanted to buy an Indian motorcycle. So, buying a motorcycle was added to Harry’s bucket list of “things he needed to do.” The other friend urged me to write the novel in my upcoming retirement.

And that is what I did. I retired on July 1, 2021, and wrote 12-15 pages every week for the next six months. Before starting, I thought about the fantasies that led me to various kinds of dead ends: thinking a motorcycle would be a chick magnet and glamorizing smoking and drinking as a young teenager; extensive reading about and sizeable investments in trout fishing in my early twenties and late fifties; obsessing about deer hunting in my fifties; imagining I could be a kind of Don Juan or Fabio with online dating profiles after divorces. In reality, I saw my friends get injured on motorcycles. I discovered that trout prefer canned corn to artistically tied flies. Deer hunting resulted in a freezer full of sausage that no one but me would eat–and in a messy divorce. Online dating eventually led to a wonderful marriage, but as my wife is fond of saying, she had to “kiss a number of frogs” to find me. (I’ll take the fifth on that claim for myself.) In short, I structured the novel as a series of attempts to realize fantasies. In each case, the reality is a comic version of the fantasy. With that plan, I knew pretty much where I was going with the book on the first day I sat down to write.

DM: What did you enjoy the most about authoring this novel? What were the challenges?

AWG: I have written a number of plays, and I have always enjoyed writing dialogue. Once I have a sense of who characters are, it is easy for me to get them to talk. I had the most fun writing about Harry’s encounter with Karen on the fishing trip. She’s annoying, sexy, crude, and energetic. She is attractive and repulsive at the same time. Harry is like one of those reluctant men in the stories of D. H. Lawrence. Forces beyond his control take over

The sections on hunting and fishing were the hardest parts to write. I once taught a course on writing concerned with hunting and fishing, so the bar I set for myself in regard to technical details presented me with challenges. However, the two sections that caused me the most anxiety were the Christmas dinner at Kat’s house and the New Year’s Eve party at Harry’s house. It took me months to figure out what would happen when Harry showed up at Kat’s. Finally, it occurred to me that the granddaughters would soften their attitudes in regard to Harry if he had a motorcycle that their mother hated. The motorcycle would be useful to their teen rebellion against their mother. The problem with the New Year’s Eve party was sustaining the celebratory activities beyond a paragraph. Drunk people are funny and interesting when you yourself are drunk, but they are not all that interesting to write about while you are sober. However, I feel that I succeeded in creating enough intensity in the partying to make Kat’s screeching a very significant moment.

DM: You did a lovely job of balancing comedy and tragedy. Most readers will be laughing throughout Trout And Other Mythical Beings. But there were some moments–the Georgia National Cemetery scene got to me–that hit you in the gut. Did you find it hard to balance those two extremes?

AWG: Not at all. Until that scene, Harry has been so focused on his bucket list that he has avoided dealing with his feelings about his wife’s death. The narration did not detail his experience at the visitation and funeral. He had no experience there that I wanted to report. He was focused on that glass of whiskey waiting for him at home. Harry would not have been able to pay attention to the proceedings. He just wanted a glass of whiskey.

However, Harry can finally face death at The Georgia National Cemetery, a place that can have a powerful effect on visitors. The marble headstones in their neat rows are too numerous to count. Each columbarium holds a staggering number of drawers. Heavy reminders of death surround you there. If you try to read the names and dates of each memorial you pass, you soon feel exhausted. The sameness of the headstones and the niches emphasizes the commonality of everyone: we will all die. All things will pass. The marble will melt in the acidic rain. The woods will someday return to those fields. The mountains will be washed to the sea. In that place, at that time, Harry can cry when his new friend cries. A cleansing occurs. Harry allows a friend into his life. He is ready to face his daughter and his granddaughters as a new person with a new costume and motorcycle, a symbol of his freedom and his acceptance of his own inevitable death.

One way or another, he will have to die. Like the two anti-heroes at the end of Easy Rider, he might fly through the air in a fiery blaze of glory—or just ride off into a landscape rife with bluebonnets as he goes off into oblivion.

It is fitting that Harry presides as Odin–the one-eyed Norse god who was hanged on the gallows for nine days—at a party called “Valhalla”—”hall of the slaughtered”—while Shield Maidens dance to “The Flight of the Valkyries”—the winged “selectors of the slaughtered.” The dead warriors in Valhalla fight every day and drink every night until the time when the great wolves will eat the sun and the moon and the Frost Giants will come in a boat made of dead men’s fingernails to destroy the gods and men before a new world arises to replace the old.

DM: What are you working on currently? What’s after Trout And Other Mythical Beings?

AWG: My most immediate concern is cleaning up a paper on the children’s mother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” I am scheduled to read it at a conference later this month.

One reader of Trout has asked for another encounter between Karen and Harry. For the last week or so, I have been thinking of sending Harry to New Mexico to visit with a much older friend whose partner and wife of fifty years has died and left him enough curiosities to fill a museum—and an urn full of her ashes. The last wish of the deceased was to have her ashes cast to the wind from the top of the hill in Los Angeles with the big HOLLYWOOD sign. With Debbie tied up at work with her new job, Harry is free to offer to take his friend to California with the ashes. Along the way, they could visit with old friends whose once starving commune has become a large profitable marijuana farm tended by old hippies. Harry and his friend could stand on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, and have fear and loathing in Las Vegas and Tijuana before they get to Los Angeles just when the sun comes up on the Santa Monica Boulevard. They’ll discover that the Hollywood hill is protected by fencing and then make a mess of themselves and the ashes by miscalculating the timing of waves along Venice Beach. I think I could start writing in July when I normally hide indoors to avoid the heat.

Beyond that project, I would like to make a collection of my plays. I often think of doing something with my boxes of lyric poetry, but they will probably stay in the attic as a problem for my heirs and assigns.

DM: Thanks so much for spending the time answering my questions and I wish you much success with Trout And Other Mythical Beings as well as your other adventures—I know you have many!


Get your paperback copy of TROUT AND OTHER MYTHICAL BEINGS by visiting Bear Book Market at 21 North Grove Street, Dahlonega, GA, via Bear Book Market’s online store at Bear Book Market, from the author by emailing him at a_glowka@yahoo.com, or via Kindle E-book.

Want to meet the author, attend a reading, and hear some banjo playing? You do. You sure do! Here’s your opportunity: Etowah Valley MFA Program Summer Residency Reinhardt University Waleska, GA July 10, 2021, 8:00 pm: Trout and Other Mythical Beings: A Reading from the Arthur Wayne Glowka. Directions

More about Arthur Wayne Glowka:

Arthur Wayne Glowka (born in Weimar, Texas, in 1952) grew up in San Antonio, Texas, in the shadow of the Alamo, and heard heroic tales about its fall from an early age. The Irish nuns who ran his elementary school directed him to books about King Arthur and Robin Hood, and his study of Spanish in high school has led to a lifelong fascination with Latin America and Spain. He studied English at the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., 1973; M.A., 1975), where he fell in love with medieval tales told in their original languages. Before pursuing his doctorate in English at the University of Delaware (English, 1980), he spent two years away from formal study to fish and to plunder libraries and used bookstores for books on fishing and a wide variety of other subjects. His scholarly publications have treated metrics, the legendary history of Britain, Geoffrey Chaucer, dialectology, lexicography, and Flannery O’Connor. He has served as an editor for academic journals, most recently James Dickey Review. His creative publications include an epic about the Texas Revolution (The Texiad), a series of medieval romances retold for contemporary readers, plays, and a novel (Trout and Other Mythical Beings). He was Professor of English at Georgia College (1980-2007) and the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt University (2007-2020). He retired from teaching and administration in July of 2020—but not from writing, woodworking, music, and hiking.

Trout and Other Mythical Beings by Arthur Wayne Glowka: A Review

“He was ashamed to admit he was glad he felt relived that his wife was dead. But he would have been dead if he had shown up on the door step with rife and a full set of camos (“good to-10 degrees Fahrenheit”) and a bottle of deer urine.

Arthur Wayne Glowka

I met Arthur Wayne Glowka (who goes by Wayne) when he was the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt University where I received my MFA in Creative Writing. He’s a former English professor. He also an actor, director, playwright, and woodworker, often found exploring the woods with his wife Beth. He plays too many instruments to list, and actually handcrafts some of those same instruments. He “retired” last year, and I use quotation marks around “retired,” because if you know this man and see what he gets himself into on a daily basis, it looks nothing like retirement. I’m a Generation- Xer and I find his adventures a little exhausting. His energy would compete with the energy levels of my Millennial and Gen-Zer friends. Glowka is a true Renaissance Man. He is someone who ventures down many rabbit holes and now has written an extremely amusing novel about a very dark subject—the loss of a spouse—called Trout and Other Mythical Beings.

At the tender age of sixty-five Harry Mature’s wife, Mary, his wife of forty years, passes away and Harry doesn’t skip a beat. He heads straight to the liquor cabinet Mary locked up twelve years ago. Harry is a lot like Mary’s locked liquor cabinet, though—so much repressed joy and too long neglected needs. He’s been locked away from all his vices, but he promptly makes up for lost time: scotch, cigars, guns, ammo, shooting range, deer hunting, online dating, trout fishing, women, sex, sex, sex, and you better believe it, a motorcycle. Every day is a new adventure in male freedom. Trout And Other Mythical Beings is hilarious with a dry note of sadness. Instead of grieving, Harry fills the void with everything he’s missed out on being in an unhappy marriage.

Readers of the feminine persuasion may balk initially reading some of Harry’s thoughts towards his deceased wife, daughter, and grandchildren. He has a lot of disdain for his family. After he kills a deer, Harry’s daughter Kat leaves him a note on his front door cancelling Thanksgiving and Harry reflects on his two granddaughters: “They made self-loathing comments about white privilege, and planned to attend exclusive colleges in the Northeast, where they would major in victim studies and marry the sons of corporate CEO’s—unless they decided to be lesbians or “men that menstruate.” It’s harsh, but Harry and Kat are both stereotyping each other. Mostly, this is the case because neither know anything about the other; they make assumptions. Everything went through the mother. Plus, in Harry’s eyes Kat, the antagonist in this story, is seemingly more concerned with keeping him on the straight and narrow. She leaves “to do” lists that have to be about the worst “to do” list of all times:

He saw a list of things for him to do: go to the courthouse and change the car title; provide copies of the death certificate to banks; financial planners, insurers, and governmental agencies; liquidate assets to pay what was owed to the hospitals, doctors, labs, the undertaker, and the florist; order a head stone (Kat had circled the one she liked and specified the desired wording); and get the house cleaned up (she had attached a card for a housecleaning service).

I was reminded of when my own father passed away. The day after he died, I was at the DMV taking care of a similar “to do” list for my mother. She didn’t ask me to do this. It was my way of avoiding his death, and I so understood Kat’s position, but reading Glowka’s novel I was also annoyed for Harry. It made me see another side of how people deal with death. Kat treats Harry like a noncompliant child. You’ve got to feel sorry for a guy who has worked all his life, finally retires, and his wife gets breast cancer and dies soon after the diagnosis. My sympathies for him are less about Mary’s death, however, and more about Harry never having a voice or a say in his own life. Though the tone is matter of fact and Harry comes off a little heartless, I think anyone who has been in a relationship—a relationship that should have been killed and buried years ago—can relate to Harry’s feelings. Death has made Harry come to life and he wants to experience everything all at once.

Harry is on a journey of self-discovery pursuing his wildest dreams and even some boyish ones such as hunting and catching that mythical trout. The trout is a very real trout, but it also symbolizes everything that has been denied him. He goes on these mini adventures, and though he’s bumbling through much of it, he comes out on top. In fact, Harry pretty much gets everything he sets out to get—a buck with massive antlers, a beautiful trout, as well as a slew of sex-crazed women throwing themselves at him. Harry is a real horndog and so are the women he meets. Prepare to blush a little. But Trout and Other Mythical Beings has the quality of being a tall tale, so much so, you wonder if the trout he caught is as large as he describes it to be or the woman as beautiful and unable resist him as he perceives. Men have been lying about the size of the fish they caught, amongst other things, since the beginning of time and I suspect Harry is no different than any other man when it comes to sizing questions. Mythical heroes are not ordinary men and while Harry may not seem your typical mythical hero, in his mind he is.

Trout and Other Mythical Beings has all the elements of a mythical quest: tragedy, comedy, irony, and romance. Though Harry completes each quest at the end of each experience he discovers he isn’t completely satisfied. He wishes for a friend, a companion, someone to share in his accomplishments. He never thinks of his wife, though. She wouldn’t approve of any of his new life choices, nor would his daughter who is essentially a replica of his wife. He never really stands up to his daughter. He simply ignores her (much to her chagrin) and does what he wants anyway, piling up adventures and chasing the next dream.

Some of the best and hysterically funny scenes are when Harry discovers online dating. He goes after everything like a man who has been newly released from prison and definitely a man who missed the sexual revolution tucked neatly away in a conventional marriage: “There was hunting, and there would soon be fishing too, and there was something he had not planned on: dating without a purpose When he was young, he dated to pursue a wife.” The sex-escapades are described using hyperbole, purposely overly embellished, and designed to make the reader snicker. When Harry and Debbie finally hook up, Glowka piles on the Norse mythology to describe the scene: “Debbie explored Odin’s chest and stomach and soon found the trunk of Yggdrasil, the World Ash Tree, with its roots and holding together the Nine Worlds with their various wells.” Perhaps, Harry’s life was so dull and routine that anything that comes his way post-wife is super sparkly and new. I’m still pondering that. I mean “mythical beings” is part of the title and just look at the cover. A lady emerging from the water with a fish in her mouth! Plus, there’s an element of satire throughout the novel, so ultimately, the reader will have to decide that one.

It isn’t until Harry meets another widower, Debbie, a 58-year-old, Harley-riding, giant of a woman in an all-female biker club called the Shield Maidens that he discovers what he’s been missing. Harry was covering up grief with his follies, pursuing everything to avoid feeling. He hadn’t mourned his wife, and for all the contempt he seems to have had for her they were still married for forty years. He does have his moment to mourn eventually. There’s a lovely scene where the two journey to the Georgia National Cemetery that hit me a little hard. Trout And Other Mythical Beings is set in North Georgia; Cherokee County was my old stomping grounds as a young adult. My father is interned in the Georgia National Cemetery and the ride Glowka describes up to the to the cemetery choked me up a bit. Harry needed this, but more than anything he needed someone like Debbie who becomes first a friend and then a love interest. That’s what Harry was truly seeking all along–human connection.

Trout and Other Mythical Beings, as all myths should, has an epic ending. The whole novel will make you giggle and some of my favorite scenes are the interactions between the new, leather-clad, motorcycle riding Harry and Kat, who thinks her father has lost his mind. The collision of those two personalities is wonderful. Those are the scenes you start reading faster to discover Kat’s reaction and go back and reread. For all its comedy, the novel does touch on serious subjects—disease, suffering, death, grief. Kat went into overdrive and Harry simply ignored his wife’s death, replacing the void with camo, women, and an Indian motorcycle, and that’s okay. It’s valuable to recognize people react differently. There’s not a right or wrong way to deal with death. In the end there’s a reconciliation between father and daughter that probably never would have occurred if Harry had died before his wife did. I think good fiction ought to say something and send a message, however, it can’t be forced, and it should be cleverly articulated. That’s what Glowka has done with Trout and Other Mythical Beings; he’s used the art of comedy to interpret tragedy in an incredibly unique and invigorating way.

Get your paperback copy of TROUT AND OTHER MYTHICAL BEINGS by visiting Bear Book Market at 21 North Grove Street, Dahlonega, GA, via Bear Book Market’s online store at Bear Book Market, directly from the author by emailing him at a_glowka@yahoo.com, or via Kindle E-book.

Want to meet the author, attend a reading, and hear some banjo playing? You do. You sure do! Here’s your opportunity:

Etowah Valley MFA Program Summer Residency Reinhardt University Waleska, GA July 10, 2021, 8:00 pm: Trout and Other Mythical Beings: A Reading from the Arthur Wayne Glowka (a maybe a little banjo). Directions

More about Arthur Wayne Glowka:

Photo by Beth Glowka

Arthur Wayne Glowka (born in Weimar, Texas, in 1952) grew up in San Antonio, Texas, in the shadow of the Alamo, and heard heroic tales about its fall from an early age. The Irish nuns who ran his elementary school directed him to books about King Arthur and Robin Hood, and his study of Spanish in high school has led to a lifelong fascination with Latin America and Spain. He studied English at the University of Texas at Austin (B.A., 1973; M.A., 1975), where he fell in love with medieval tales told in their original languages. Before pursuing his doctorate in English at the University of Delaware (English, 1980), he spent two years away from formal study to fish and to plunder libraries and used bookstores for books on fishing and a wide variety of other subjects. His scholarly publications have treated metrics, the legendary history of Britain, Geoffrey Chaucer, dialectology, lexicography, and Flannery O’Connor. He has served as an editor for academic journals, most recently James Dickey Review. His creative publications include an epic about the Texas Revolution (The Texiad), a series of medieval romances retold for contemporary readers, plays, and a novel (Trout and Other Mythical Beings). He was Professor of English at Georgia College (1980-2007) and the Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at Reinhardt University (2007-2020). He retired from teaching and administration in July of 2020—but not from writing, woodworking, music, and hiking.

 To follow Trout and Other Mythical Beings on Facebook.









A Talk with The Weight of Ashes Author, Zachary Steele

DM: The beginning and the ending! My God! How long did you work on those sections? Did you outline? Do you write scenes first? What’s your process?

ZS: In many ways, this book was a gift to me. I’ve never had to work so little on a story or so hard to write one. The opening page was the first thing I wrote and sat in a file for a year while I finished another manuscript. It was so good, so perfect, I knew I had the voice and tone in place. The ending went through a few revisions, but the idea of a found family was there all along. I’m a notorious “edit as I go” writer and want to have the best version I can produce done before I move on. It may slow things down, but it helps me ensure good pacing and plot so subsequent edits aren’t as painful.

DM: Did you find it difficult to write from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old?

ZS: Not at all! I’m a child at heart. I find comfort writing from the vantage of the boy who I was. In the end, though, every writer needs to dig deep into the perspective of their characters, no matter the age. A character isn’t alive until you can feel what they feel.

DM: The structure was brilliantly done, and the pacing was spot on—short chapters designed to keep the reading saying to themselves, “Okay, just one more chapter.” How hard was it to maintain this sort of pacing?

ZS: Given that I wanted this book to appeal to teens—to give them a story of grief to potentially help them understand their own—the chapters needed to be short. Too much meandering in the story or in Mark’s head and memories and younger readers would let it go. But I do enjoy encouraging readers of all ages to read on by keeping the pacing swift!

DM: Talk to me about how important music was to The Weight of Ashes. I know you created a playlist (by the way, I’m stealing this idea from you for my novel). Also, where can readers access it?

ZS: Oh, music is vital to me. It awakens my creative spirit. Every story I write begins with a song. For this one, it was Like a Prayer. Scenes evolve out of the music I select. So, it just seemed like a cool idea to create a soundtrack for readers to see what inspired me. The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack can be found on Spotify, through my profile or listen to Steele’s Spotify Playlist: The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack.

DM: Did you read many YA books before writing The Weight of Ashes? If so, what are some examples? Any specific books, movies, TV shows that inspired this book?

ZS: I read anything and everything I can. One of the unfortunate side effects of founding and running a writing organization is that most of my reading is selected for me. Work of speakers, members, Broadleaf board members, etc. I’d say elements of King’s The Body and Pet Sematary definitely inspired the story. It’s hard to miss those. But everything from Harry Potter to Stranger Things to any friendship adventure I’ve read or seen influences me in my writing.

DM: The Weight of Ashes is a work of fiction, but you mentioned the story was inspired by personal events. Do you think you worked through the trauma by writing this book? Or did you stir it up and maybe make it worse for a time? What would you advise to other authors attempting to write about traumatic events?

ZS: Halfway through this book, my 13-year cat companion Maggie died of cancer. Came out of nowhere and it hit me hard. She and I had been through a lot of life and trials together and it made going back to Mark’s journey that much more difficult. And important. But writing helped me process that grief, as well as the lingering grief I’d carried through my life over so many other losses. The only real advice I can offer to anyone attempting to write about traumatic events is to find a quiet place to let it out. Let it happen. Feel everything you’ve been holding back. We repress so much just to endure pain and come out whole. You have to say it. Make it real. It’s the only way to heal.

DM: I mentioned in my review that there was a speculative fiction element to The Weight of Ashes. I loved that aspect! It teetered to the point I wondered how it would end. Will you talk about genre-bending with this novel?

ZS: One of the more important things a writer must do is filter the reader’s knowledge through the eyes of the characters the story is told by. I wanted to make sure the reader only knew what Mark knew. He believes his brother can be resurrected. He believes the witch will do it. His friends are skeptical. The reader has to decide for themselves and I wanted that to be a difficult choice.

DM: What is Zachary Steele getting into next?

ZS: I’ve been working on a young adult fantasy series for some time. The Fallen Hero is the first book in that series and will have a home soon (I’ll definitely announce it!). It’s about a young boy who discovers the world of his favorite fantasy series is real and in need of a hero to save it from a rising darkness. We all want to be the hero of our favorite books.

DM: I so appreciate your time answering all my questions and I really enjoyed The Weight of Ashes. I wish you much success with your novel. Also, thanks for all the work you do encouraging us writers, helping us network, and giving us recourses to become better at our craft. You have a place in writer heaven.

ZS: Thank you so much! I have always believed that writers have to stick together, to support one another. We write alone, live in our heads, and create worlds as a means to escape our own. We absolutely need a community to help us stay rooted in our lives.

TO PREORDER: The Weight of Ashes by Zachary Steele is available from the following Atlanta-based bookstores: A Cappella BooksEagle Eye Book ShopFoxTale Book Shoppe, Little Shop of StoriesTall TalesStory on the Square. Support your local bookstore!

Cover Art by Katie Lynn Photography

To listen to Steele’s Spotify Playlist: The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack.

Want to know more about author, Zachary Steele, including author events and information about Broadleaf Writers Association? Broadleaf Writers Association Founder & Executive Director Zachary Steele is the author of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction and The Weight of Ashes. He has been featured by NPR, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Publishers Weekly, Baby Got BooksShelf Awareness, and was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate Fiction. Currently, he is hard at work prepping The Fallen Hero for release in 2022. You can follow his ramblings on writing and life at http://zacharysteele.com/.

The Weight of Ashes by Zachary Steele, a Review

The sun rises without your blessing. But you can’t face the day until you wake. Sleeping through the light doesn’t mean the day didn’t happen.

Zachary Steele The Weight of Ashes

I haven’t met Zachary Steele in person…yet. He’s the founder and executive director of Broadleaf Writers Association, a nonprofit educational organization made up of writers and designed to help writers from all genres, backgrounds, and levels learn about the industry and improve their craft. I’ve followed the activities of the organization for a while, but recently joined during the pandemic, so I’ve only seen Steele on Zoom. But the writing world in the South is a small circle and once you enter it you inevitably circle back to the same people. That is, you run into those people who put themselves out there helping other writers navigate the mysteries of the industry. Steele is out there hitting the proverbial pavement doing his share, loading up on author karma by hosting authors events via Zoom or overseeing writer’s conferences. And somehow, on top of all his endeavors, he managed to author a book—a very good book—called The Weight of Ashes.

The Weight of Ashes, set in Hogan, Georgia during the 1980s, is a literary fiction novel that would appeal to both a young adult and adult audience. Protagonist, thirteen-year-old, Mark Murphy, is on the cusp of life when he’s hit with the tragic death of his big brother, Mitch Murphy. Mark loses more than a sibling with Mitch’s death. Their father left the family at a young age and Mitch stepped in as Mark’s father figure, protector, and mentor. His mother, reeling from the loss of her son, starts to drink heavily. To make matters worse, Mark’s cousin, Gordon, the villain of the story, caused the car accident in which Mitch was killed. Mark not only wants his brother back; he also wants revenge. And he believes the answer to both of his desires may be found with the witch who lives on Spook Hill. There’s a cost to bringing Mitch back, though. And there’s no way he can make it past his mother and her boyfriend, Officer John, and his police force, or bully/psychopath, Gordon, or the perilous wilderness to get to Spook Hill, without the help of his friends, Mo, Reggie, and Dunk.

Though The Weight of Ashes tackles death, loss, and grief, Steele created a plot that feels more like an adventure story focusing on the power of friendship. Because of the tight friendships between these characters, the novel reminded me somewhat of the 1985 blockbuster movie, The Goonies, or for a more modern reference, the hit show, Stanger Things. The language, tone, and plot suggest an element of speculative fiction. It hovers on the border making the reader wonder if there’s something supernatural at hand.

The story is told in first person point-of-view from the perspective of Mark, but the other characters are well-rounded and have personalities that complement each other and the plot. The chapters are short and tend to end with cliffhangers (though not in an ostentatious way), which is probably why it reminded me of the movie and TV show I mentioned. Steele’s style is episodic; he builds one wonderful scene upon another. Yet, the story isn’t completely linear. The reader isn’t simply led down a straight path wrought with conflict. Steele’s pacing is excellent. He does a nice balancing act with flashbacks, featuring Mark’s memories of his deceased brother and their mutual love for baseball and the Atlanta Braves, which enriches Mark and Mitch’s relationship for the reader and develops very relatable and sympathetic characters.

The Weight of Ashes is a Bildungsroman, or coming of age, novel with fairytale elements where the protagonist Mark enters the woods and comes out wiser, perhaps not quite a man but with a self-awareness he didn’t have before entering the woods. Mark must confront actual obstacles—avoiding the police, Gordon, flooded creeks, dangerous animals—to accept his brother’s death. As I mentioned, he cannot do it alone, which is one of the main issues Mark comes to understand. Here’s a moment where Steele alludes to the classic novel, The Wizard of Oz: “We moved along the drive like Dorothy, the Tin Man, and the Scarecrow walking through the forest. About halfway, between a trio of dangling vultures, I came to a stop.” This is the scene where the teens have finally made it through the obstacles presented by the forest and arrive at the witch’s house. It echoes the journey Dorothy and friends made down the yellow brick road to meet the wizard complete with flying monkeys or in Steele’s novel, “dangling vultures.” Steele also references The Hobbit, which was huge (still is) back in the 1980s for this age group. Authors don’t randomly do shout-outs. Bilbo was an adult when he goes on his adventure, but it’s still a classic Bildungsroman novel and a fairytale as well–like The Wizard of Oz, like Steele’s, The Weight of Ashes. The fairytale structure is a classic way of telling a story; I think it works well for any age group but is particularly effective for this story and for YA readers who may be more comfortable and open to reading a tough topic in a structure they’re accustomed to reading.

Even with an adventurous plot and characters geared for a younger audience, the subject matter—grief—is quite serious and transcends all ages. Mark goes through all the stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The message is the same whatever the age of the reader. You should lean on your friends and your family to help you get through the tough times, and I commend Steele for borrowing from his own experiences to help teens, young adults, and adults realize they’re not alone.

There’s a real sense of nostalgia winding throughout the novel. Remember when you were thirteen? Remember how important your crew was? Well, that’s the peer group Steele created here. If you’re an adult reader, it’ll take you back to that magical age when everything seemed like it was all about to happen. Steele simultaneously captures the character’s childishness and insecurities around entering adulthood, mentally and physically. I think the character Dunk says it best here: “We aren’t kids anymore. We’re hormonal superheroes, fighting the villainy of a sex-crazed world.” These characters are at that age where anything seems possible, and their excitability comes out in a humorous and highly entertaining way.

Readers may become wistful remembering their teenaged years reading this book; The Weight of Ashes is full of pop cultural references from the 1980s that sets the tone. Forty and fifty-something-year-old readers will recognize shows like Family Ties and Star Trek’s: The Next Generation, or Jason Vorhees from the movie Friday the 13th. You can practically hear a soundtrack playing while reading this story with all the musical references to Madonna, The Bangles, Ozzy Osbourne, and Whitesnake, just to mention a few. Music was everything in the 1980s. What you listened to dictated what group you hung out with—the jocks, the skaters, the punks, the metalheads—and this book was reminiscent of my childhood. If you genuinely want to go down memory lane, Steele created a playlist on Spotify that accompanies The Weight of Ashes. Get a copy and tune in here to listen: The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack.

Steele’s, The Weight of Ashes, comes out with a bang, more fireworks, then more fireworks, and ends with another bang. The first chapter took my breath away. And I don’t think I’ve read a more perfect ending to a novel in years. When the beginning of a book doesn’t grab you, you put it down, you never read it. You may say something like, “I just couldn’t get into it.” If the ending sucks, you never forgive the writer, and you may not ever read that author again. I won’t go down the road of Game of Thrones. Just saying…I guarantee you have the best of both worlds with The Weight of Ashes, including a middle full of surprises—tragic, scary, fun, lighthearted—that make you appreciate your friendships and even feel compassion for the bad guy at the end. Steele took a challenging topic and made it accessible for every age. Applaud, applaud.

TO PREORDER: The Weight of Ashes by Zachary Steele is available from the following Atlanta-based bookstores: A Cappella BooksEagle Eye Book ShopFoxTale Book Shoppe, Little Shop of StoriesTall TalesStory on the Square. Support your local bookstore!

To listen to Steele’s Spotify Playlist: The Weight of Ashes Soundtrack.

Want to know more about author, Zachary Steele, including author events and information about Broadleaf Writers Association? Broadleaf Writers Association Founder & Executive Director Zachary Steele is the author of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction and The Weight of Ashes. He has been featured by NPR, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Publishers Weekly, Baby Got BooksShelf Awareness, and was nominated for the Sidewise Award for Alternate Fiction. Currently, he is hard at work prepping The Fallen Hero for release in 2022. You can follow his ramblings on writing and life at http://zacharysteele.com/.

A Conversation with Author and Poet, Janisse Ray about her New Collection of Poetry, Red Lanterns

DM: Your poem “Red Lanterns ” is so rich with symbolism. Because the collection is also called Red Lanterns, I felt a need to get to the bottom of this poem and I looked up various cultural meanings for red poppies (i.e., fallen soldiers, good luck and fortune). Poetry is so subjective, and I still feel this poem is a mystery. I have my thoughts, but will you please talk about the inspiration for this poem? Why red poppies?

JR: This poem started when my now-grown son’s stepmom called me to say he had been gathering poppy flowers. She had found a glass jar of them hidden under his bed. He was a teenager, and I’m sure he and his friends were attempting to experiment with the mind-altering affects of substances like opium, made from poppies. I was not worried. I was thrilled, to be honest, that my son was recognizing the incredible power of plants and the treasure chest that plant medicine can be. Plants have been very powerful in my life, medicinally and spiritually and culturally, and I’d like for that to be true for my son.

Around the same time, my mother (who never smoked) was diagnosed with lung cancer and had a lobe removed.

You’re right that a lot of layers are swirling around in this poem, some more visible and highly developed than others: the beauty of flowers, the use of poppies in marking graves, death, plants as medicine, even western medicine versus alternative medicine, my relationship with my mother, mine with my son, how a family holds together or doesn’t hold, the things we can’t provide each other, the holes in all of our hearts, what we keep looking for to fill those holes. It’s complicated, suggestive, metaphorical, not entirely revealed (not even to me, who wrote it!)

I admit, yes, there’s a strange juxtaposition here even in the title phrase: lanterns mean illumination but the lanterns are red. Red is such a powerful color–it signifies warning, it’s loud and unapologetic, it’s the color of blood. And it’s also beautiful, it repels bad luck.

In a literal sense, the red lanterns are the poppy blooms, and they can be illuminating in the mind-altering sense of the word.  

I’ve never voiced this before now, but probably at the bottom of this poem is a deep grief about the life most of us inhabit, which is one of material possessions, industrialization,  machines, and clear-cuts, versus the one portrayed in the image of my son “at the river, swimming in a silver pool.” Perhaps the poem is seeking something to bridge those two opposites, and the garden of poppies is that. Yes, maybe the poppies are a bridge, between life and death, wellness and illness, the natural world and the built world.

DM: You mentioned that these poems span decades. How did you decide to organize them?

JR: Thank you for asking such good questions. Although I began as a writer of poetry, back in high school, I fell in love with nonfiction in grad school. I knew I wanted writing to be a profession not a hobby, and I was not going to be able to make a living with poetry. So I haven’t published much. This is only my second collection. My first book, A House of Branches, was strictly eco-poetry, and I felt as if some of the poems didn’t fit in it. With this collection I expanded my definition, which is why you see love poems or death poems here. As far as organization, I had no clear reasoning for their placement, except in general themes—the poems about romance are together, for example.

DM: Your poem “Ode to Joy” commemorates Troy Davis, who was convicted in Georgia for killing an off-duty police officer. Even after most of the witnesses recanted their original statements, lack of physical evidence, and pressures internationally, Davis was put to death by lethal injection. I mentioned in my review that odes are meant to be sung, and I loved the imagery around the choir in the church, but why use the term “joy” in the title? Is it ironic?

JR: As an activist—especially an environmental activist—my work is trying to save life and lives. The experience trying to save Troy Davis’s life hit me hard. All my life I have opposed the death penalty. I was taught as a child the Biblical scripture of “Thou shalt not kill,” and I take it seriously. So yes, “Ode to Joy” is ironic. But one day not long after Mr. Davis’s death, I was listening to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” which is the fourth movement of his Ninth Symphony. That section is based on a Friedrich Schiller poem called “Ode to Joy.” Here is a stanza from it: “Gladly, as His suns fly/ through the heavens’ grand plan/ Go on, brothers, your way,/ Joyful, like a hero to victory.” In some ways, of course, the poem is “Ode to Troy,” but when I think about him, I think he deserved the honor of finding joy even in the injustice, even in the brutality.

DM: What poets do you turn to for inspiration? Which ones were the most influential for this collection?

JR: Well, let me start a list here of poets whose work I admire, most of them are earth poets in one way or another, and some of them mystics (in no particular order): Pablo Neruda, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Pattiann Rogers, Rainier Maria Rilke, Walt Whitman, Rumi. I deeply admire the work of Daniel Corrie, who is far too obscure but very much alive and at work today. He lives in southern Georgia as I do and writes geologic, earth-shifting, brilliant poetry. I think he’s the best poet at work in the United States today.

DM: Were any of these poems the result of your earlier essays? Or, vice versa, are one of these poems “expanding” into longer form?

JR: No, the poems come from a very different origin-point and sensibility than the essays.

DM: What advice would you give aspiring poets in terms in terms of crafting and publishing?

JR: I would repeat the same advice that everybody offers, which is to keep reading, keep writing, keep dreaming, keep hoping. I would add that art is about building a culture and a civilization—it’s not meant to be used by attention-seekers. It’s about meaning. Yet, some of the current ethos in poetry is toward flippancy and shock-value and the look of words on the page.

DM: I’ve read articles indicating that poetry readership is declining compared to other literary arts? What do you think needs to happen to change that? Or do you agree with this statement?

JR: I thought this for years, until the day Mary Oliver died. Our nation went into mourning. Oliver was mourned on national news, on millions of personal social media posts, on blogs, in magazines. That’s when I realized how very wide her reach had been, how many people had read and been moved by her words, how beloved she was. It was a transcendent moment.

Dawn, my larger concern is the decline of all literary arts. I recently purchased a newly released novel at a bookstore that I found unreadable. It was well marketed but poorly crafted and poorly edited. This happens far too often in my life. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of writers are publishing beautiful, ground-breaking, transformative work. However, so much of what is touted as literary these days is sloppy drivel. This is unfortunate because it confuses readers. Books are one of the most powerful tools we have for human transformation. When a reader picks up a book that is unreadable, some light inside that person dies. Some first opinion is made that can not easily be changed. We lose a human. There are a number of reasons for this sea-change, and they would take a very long conversation, but some of it is driven by the publishing industry, some of it by our need to be seen and heard, some of it by the movement toward unvetted self-publishing, some by a crazy desire to divorce one’s self from the past, even the good parts of the past.

DM: In “Rant, Wonderfarm,” you used a term “Ecozoic,” which sadly, I had to look it up. Will you explain to the readers who may not know what it means what this term means, and what it means to you in “Rant, Wonderfarm?”

JR: Geologists have given names to eras in the development of life on earth, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic. The extinction of the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago began the Cenozoic era, which has been one of extinctions. Thomas Berry coined this term in the 1980s to change the narrative from one of destruction to a more hopeful one. In the Ecozoic era we humans will have learned to live more sustainable lives on the earth. So it’s a term of hopefulness, of possibility, of restoration, of rewilding, of integration. That’s how I use it in the poem—in this case in honor of so many people who are choosing to spend their lives in careful consideration of the land, especially on the land.

DM: What does your writing routine look like in a day?

JR: If I am free to do so, I write all day every day. In that case I work at a desk in an upstairs study in our old farmhouse. If I am not free, and often I am not, I write whenever I can, jotting ideas or scenes or overheard conversations or notes in my journal.

The pandemic caused a disruption in my writing life because my daughter has been unable to go to school. She does Virtual School at home, and this requires one of us parents to sit beside her. So half the week, these days, I am my daughter’s teacher and tutor.

Your question makes me rueful. For one thing, the answer is informed by the fact that I’m a woman, and women in our society are often assigned caregiver roles. My father died in December 2019 after a long, long illness, and I was one of his primary caregivers. Since his death I have helped my mother get back on her feet. A neighbor became sick last summer, and I was her primary caregiver for the last weeks of her life. My daughter needs a tremendous amount of care. So there’s that.

I am also reminded, in answering this question, of economics. I was born poor, and because I chose writing as a profession, I relegated myself to a certain poverty. Slowly this is changing for me, but I have to acknowledge that often writers cannot accomplish the writing life and routine they desire if they also have to support a family. This was my case. Before the pandemic I traveled a lot to paying gigs, which was a great honor and good fun and intellectually stimulating but which interrupted any kind of writing routine I desired.

There’s that too.

DM: What’s next the big thing for Janisse Ray? Any events your fans need to know about?

JR: This is May 2021. I am in the middle of copyedits for a collection of essays (Wild Spectacle) due out from Trinity University Press in October. I’m excited about this—the essays are exciting. I have one last round of revisions for a piece coming out in Still, and I’m working with Karen McElmurray on that. It’s about the death of my neighbor, and I’m trying to get it right. For a month in July I’ll be in residence at Oak Spring Garden outside DC working on a project on pitcher-plant bogs. I’m putting a book proposal together for another really fun project that I won’t talk about, in order to keep the spirits happy. I have finished a manuscript about writing and craft, and I’m in the middle of revisions with it; I like it. And the last thing—I am working on a novel. I’ve written one other novel that I never attempted to publish because I can tell it’s not good enough. But I think I’m figuring out fiction, and I feel hopeful about this novel. It’s based on a true story of what happened to some children in the 1940s.

DM: Your husband, Raven Waters, painted the image for the cover of Red Lanterns. Is that the first time you two have collaborated on one of your covers?

JR: Living with a painter is thrilling. Raven’s work is a source of constant inspiration to me. For one thing, he is extremely dedicated and exceedingly prolific, as anyone who follows him on social media knows. His studio is in the middle of our large kitchen, so there’s art happening much of the time right in front of me. Right this very moment he is outside building a studio—I hear his hammer. So the time will come when he is painting in his own space, but for now I love watching art materialize on his easel.

Regarding collaboration, I think this is the first cover. Raven drew a map of my grandmother’s farm that was part of the book Wild Card Quilt. He took the photo of seeds that is on the cover of The Seed Underground. One of his paintings of a cowboy illustrated my tribute to William Kittredge that appeared in Terrain magazine (“Hole in the Sky”). He and I worked together on a small anthology about Moody Forest, years ago, which is now out of print.

Collaborating with visual artists is deeply satisfying. The landscape painter Philip Juras did the painting on the first book of poetry. Photographer Nancy Marshall took the art photographs in Drifting into Darien. Johnny Dame’s awesome painting is on the cover of Pinhook. These are artists I personally know and love.

Since we’re talking about collaboration, I’d like to expand this idea and say collaboration with artists has been a lovely benefit. I’m thinking here of co-edited anthologies, and also of the show that the superb musician and songwriter Randall Bramblett and I did together at Word of South this year.

DM: Thanks so much for this opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed diving into Red Lanterns. I always say poets are rock stars and you certainly meet the mark.

JR: Dawn, thank you so much for providing this opportunity. I’ve enjoyed this unexpected collaboration with you. You put a tremendous amount of thought and wisdom into these down-to-earth, inviting, thought-provoking questions. Thank you for giving me the chance to speak.

TO PURCHASE Red Lanterns: Signed copies are available on Janisse Ray’s website: www.janisseray.com/bookshop.

MORE ABOUT JANISSE RAY: Janisse Ray is an American writer whose subject most often falls into the borderland of nature and culture. She has published five books of nonfiction, including Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, a New York Times Notable Book. Her collection of essays, Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonder in a World Beyond Humans, is due out October 2021. Red Lanterns is her second book of eco-poetry. Ray has won an American Book Award, Pushcart Prize, Southern Bookseller Awards, Southern Environmental Law Center Writing Awards, Nautilus Award, and Eisenberg Award, among others. She has been inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. She lives on an organic farm in the coastal plains of Georgia.

Red Lanterns, Poems by Janisse Ray

Cover Art by Raven Waters

Make Art . Live Art. Farm Art. Go Home. Come Home. Savor.

from “Rant, WonderFarm” by Janisse Ray

Janisse Ray—writer, poet, environmental activist, organic farmer—probably doesn’t need an introduction. She’s an award-winning writer with literary achievements too many to list. I met her while I was a graduate student, and everyone, not just the students but the faculty as well, was a little in awe of her. I think writers, and especially new writers, feel insecure in their flesh. We’re still working out our voice and craft, and Ray is the real deal! Yet she was so also very down to earth, such a kind and friendly person.

Ray was the keynote speaker at the commencement ceremony for the students one year ahead of me, and she told a hilarious story about the family mule, Tecumseh, who found his way inside their house in south Georgia. Tecumseh, as mules are prone to do, would not cooperate. This story has stuck with me for years not simply because it was hilarious, though it was, but because how Janisse told this story. Storytelling is not just about this happened and then that happened; it’s about wielding your experience, imagination, memories, and craft in such a way that you engage others, so they feel as if your story is also their story. This is what Ray has done with her latest collection of poetry, Red Lanterns. These poems mutually celebrate and mourn the current state of our world—what we should honor and love, what we stand to lose, what we will never get back—and all captured by one of the most talented storytellers of the South.

Red Lanterns is a mix of love and protest influenced by Romantic and Beat poets and melded with Ray’s special type of word magic. Most of the poems are what you may categorize as eco-poetry. For those unfamiliar with the term, its main emphasis is to bring awareness to environmental issues, looking at the world in a non-anthropocentric manner, with humankind being part of the problem itself.

The Romantic poets are generally known for expressing a deep love for the world and its natural landscape, but even Wordsworth was not all butterflies and rainbows, using poetry, for example, to bring attention the cruelty of child factory workers of 19th century England. When I received my copy of Red Lanterns, it included an invite to a Zoom meeting; Janisse wanted to take a photo of faces of her readers holding up Red Lanterns. She also asked if we would individually read a few lines or a stanza from her poem, “Trees.” She was gathering different voices to later share recorded collective voices on social media. Poems are meant to be heard, to be read out loud, so I thought, what a wonderful project, but also, experiencing this poem in a group-read made “Trees” so much more powerful. Try it yourself and read these lines from “Trees” out loud:

We live among trees, / sleep under them, / pass by and through them, / yet we mostly do not see them. / Mostly we are oblivious // They shade us, shelter us, envelope us, moisten us. / They give us oxygen // They feed us, offering their seeds, their nuts, their fruit, / their pomes, their leaves // They make music for us—percussions, rattles, shivers. // And every day we destroy them. / We cut them, burn them, run over them, / scar them, skin them…

Obviously, this isn’t the whole poem. You need to get your own copy of Red Lanterns! Focus on the tension-building here, though. First, Ray establishes the glory of trees and what they provide. This is followed by almost a question that we must ask ourselves, “Why do we destroy something so valuable to our own existence?”

There’s a dark romanticism about her poetry, as if she’s discussing being in a relationship with an abuser or even someone who takes and takes, never giving back. Many of Ray’s poems explore the same themes as those in the film Mother!—the one-sided relationship we have with Earth. Ray doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Yet, while she pushes readers to consider their relationship with the planet, she does it in manner that celebrates the simple wonders of nature, which is what a Romantic poet does best.

In two of Ray’s “dark romantic” poems, “Rant, WonderFarm” and “Mr. Coal,” she juxtaposes pristine, almost sacred, images of the natural world against environmental destruction caused by pesticides and mining. The devastation isn’t limited to the landscape, however; everything has a consequence, and both humans and animals alike suffer. In “Rant, WonderFarm” the devil is Roundup and the chemical spraying of farms. Even so, there’s a sense of hope at the end of this poem. I love this stanza: “We’re building soil now, / finally building soil: / local soil. Organic soil. Soul soil,” because it reminds me of a prayer— simple, powerful, persuasive. Ray mentions names of farmers—a community of farmers in this poem—and even with the dark side of farming that’s present, the communal sense stands out as the victor. With “Rant, WonderFarm” I had a vision of the farming life depicted by Georgia artist, Mattie Lou O’Kelley. I know farming isn’t as simple and neat as the paintings of O’Kelley, but the recognition and holiness of community stand out in both O’Kelley’s and Ray’s work, which I believe is the message Ray is conveying in “Rant, WonderFarm.”

In “Mr. Coal,” Ray draws from the Southern Gothic and personifies Mr. Coal as a “dirty thief,” a “home-stealer,” the devil, himself:

Right where the blood comes in is where / Massey tore down the mountain. / Mr. Coal lives down there under /ground. Wants to pull us all down with him: / Your people are all sick, what you got to live for? he asks. / Down here, we can make us a bright light, / come on down. /He says with his face dirty, / his teeth black, little halfmoons, / under his fingernails pitch black. / His tongue is black. / His heart is darkest of all, Nothing but a lump.

Though Ray alludes to a specific mining area in Breathitt County, Kentucky, the poem could easily speak for any of the mining communities of Appalachia. This poem is a powerhouse of blended imagery—the deplorable conditions and practices of mining companies, black lung, mountaintop removal, polluted water and land, loss of homeland, and the list goes on and on. What made this poem resonate with me was the narrative voice. Ray uses the vernacular of the miners and mining families, and this is crucial. One of the reasons the marginalized peoples of these mining towns have been dismissed is because of stereotypes around rural people being ignorant, and largely this has to do with how they speak. If you want a better idea about these misconceptions regarding impoverished Appalachians, watch the documentaries, Hillbilly or Harlan County, USA.

“Mr. Coal” is artfully crafted. It personifies Massey (Massey Energy Company) as the devil whispering in the ears of the townsfolk. It gives voice to a people who have had extraordinarily little voice (their health, the rights of their land, their future), as it portrays a no-win situation where people are dependent for their livelihoods on the very thing that kills them.

While many of these poems could be categorized as protest or activism poetry drawing from the Beat poets, one of the most significant poems that addresses our current societal state is “Ode to Joy.” Troy Davis was convicted for killing an off-duty police officer in a robbery gone bad; the poem depicts the hours immediately before Davis was executed. Most of the witnesses against him later recanted their testimonies; no DNA evidence or the gun ever linked Davis to the crime; and he maintained his innocence to the end. He was executed by lethal injection while hundreds prayed outside for him and while international leaders and amnesty organizations sent pleas for mercy. This poem pays tribute the protestors who stood vigil outside Jackson State Penitentiary.

It is an intense poem, perhaps a crossover between flash and poetry, but with more poetic elements, especially the repetition of “I am Troy Davis” threaded throughout that hits you in the chest. The repetition of Troy Davis’s name and the line “I am Troy Davis” gives the poem rhythm, a musical quality (something the Beat poets incorporated), but remember, odes are meant to be sung. “Ode to Joy” describes what it’s like to be part of a movement, of protest, of giving voice to those who are not heard, who need your voice. It honors the spirit of protest regardless of the result.

It’s also about loss. In the poem, there’s a stay in the execution and a sense of joy pervades the crowd. The narrator leaves and enters a church where a choir is singing. The choir keeps singing even with the stay. It was a short stay, however, and Davis was executed. There’s this sublime image at the end of the poem of the narrator’s soul floating over the city of Jackson, “over the church with its doors flung wide and its roof cracked open to the stars.” It’s a paradox. Did the choir with the sheer strength of their voices crack the roof open or is our system so flawed it can even break a church? It’s probably both. The poem is brilliantly crafted and reminds us that we are all Troy Davis.

Along with eco-poetry, dark romanticism, and protest/activist poetry, Red Lanterns is also about grief. There are some very intimate poems; I wondered if they were autobiographical since the narration was so close, honest, and very personal. The collection is well-balanced and approachable. While there are some strong words against humankind and the wounds we’ve inflicted on the planet—wounds we have inflicted against ourselves—Red Lanterns judiciously celebrates the simple pleasures of nature, love, family, friendship, and community, which I’m pretty sure sums up Janisse Ray.

TO PURCHASE A SIGNED COPY (yes, I said signed) please visit Janisse Ray’s website at: www.janisseray.com/bookshop

MORE ABOUT JANISSE RAY: Janisse Ray is an American writer whose subject most often falls into the borderland of nature and culture. She has published five books of nonfiction, including Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, a New York Times Notable Book. Her collection of essays, Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonder in a World Beyond Humans, is due out October 2021. Red Lanterns is her second book of eco-poetry. Ray has won an American Book Award, Pushcart Prize, Southern Bookseller Awards, Southern Environmental Law Center Writing Awards, Nautilus Award, and Eisenberg Award, among others. She has been inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. She lives on an organic farm in the coastal plains of Georgia.

If you enjoyed this read, please share on social media and tell you friends and family. Be on the lookout for my interview with Janisse Ray about her collection, Red Lanterns, next Saturday, May 15th.


If you are disturbed by this image, you should be. But at least we can take images such as this one and use it to create and educate like my friend, Professor Maria Klouda, did when she offered her students extra credit to write a piece of flash fiction using the image of this poor, poor, poor whale as inspiration. Enjoy! My challenge for my writer friends is to use this image to write a piece of flash fiction and submit your piece. Please share with me in the comments as well. I’ve provided three paying markets currently seeking flash fiction. Easy, easy, easy. All you have to do is write, submit, and share.

Thanks to the two students who contributed to this little project!

Although we celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd, let’s make every day Earth Day so we don’t have to be disturbed by images like this one.

I’ve also included three paying markets seeking flash fiction. Get out there and submit!

Fishy Fantasy by Ivey Chastain

The man swallowed his pill before entering the fish market.

“What’s the specialty?” he asked the fisherman.

“Same as yesterday but these are more vibrant than usual,” the fisherman said reluctantly.

He ignored the fisherman’s reactions. He could tell the fisherman hadn’t taken his pill.

The fisherman hesitated, wrapping the fish the man bought.

Later that evening the man noticed his vision fading. He knew he would need more pills soon. He lifted his fork to take a bite of fish and suddenly remembered the fisherman’s hesitation.

Glancing down, the man dropped his fork. On his plate—a rotten fish filled with bits of colored plastic was swimming in black oil.

Plastic Food by Andersson Jaxon

“It’s normal for me to be weak after such a long migration to lay my eggs,” the turtle said to herself. After such an arduous journey the turtle was tired but was still eating plenty. However, as she ate more, she continued to feel worse, often choking on the jellyfish and not knowing why. “It’s all because of the journey and laying eggs,” she lied to herself as she became weaker by the day. She kept lying to herself hoping it would get better. Seeing her hatchlings in the same state she realized too late that those “jellyfish” they had been been eating for so long weren’t jellyfish but plastic bags.

Paying Markets Seeking Flash Fiction

Midway Journal’s -1000 Below: Flash Prose and Poetry Contest for a chance to win the $500 grand prize! Opens: March 1st & Closes: June 1st; Charges a $10 fee. See Submission Guidelines: -1000 Below: Flash Prose and Poetry Contest (midwayjournal.com)

Reflex Fiction– Quarterly international flash fiction competition. Reflex is looking for stories between 180 and 360 words with a choose your own submission fee. See Submission guidelines: Flash Fiction Competition and Print Anthology – Reflex Fiction

The Lascaux Prize in Flash Fiction: Stories may be previously published or unpublished, and simultaneous submissions are accepted. True stories are welcome as long as they’re written in a narrative style. Winner receives $1,000 and a bronze medallion. Finalists receive $100. Winner and finalists are published in both the online and annual print editions of The Lascaux Review. There’s a $15 fee for submissions: See Submission Guidelines: Contest Guidelines | The Lascaux Review

Happy Earth Day!

A Conversation with Author and Activist, Anjali Enjeti on her Latest Collection, Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change

In your essay, “Anger Like Fire,” you celebrate rage. That essay resonated me, because as a woman, and as a Southern woman, rage is, to put it mildly, discouraged. Do you think it’s a Southern issue? Why are men allowed to express rage, but it’s not okay for women?

Unfortunately, we still live in such a misogynistic society, where women’s emotions are either denigrated, minimized, erased, ignored, or judged. And oftentimes, we experience major repercussions for expressing our anger. It’s a problem everywhere, but I do agree that it sometimes feels as if the taboo of women’s anger is heightened in the Deep South.

All of the stereotypes about southern women are that we’re quiet and well-mannered and keep our feelings to ourselves. But we’re not. And I think because anger and rage are associated with power, and power is associated with masculinity, it’s more acceptable for men to express rage.

Women’s rage, though, can be so productive. We raise our voices to demand change. We march in protests. We advocate for our families and our communities. We organize voters. We fight for various causes.

I loved the poetic structure of your essay “In Memory of Vincent Chin, An Elegy in Nineteen Acts.” It’s chilling, heartbreaking; his murder was senseless. It stuck out to me because you leaned on a poetic form to lament Vincent Chin’s murder rather than the essay form. In Act XIX, Afterlife, you contemplated Chin’s honeymoon which is so different than your nonfiction essays, because you added this fictional detail. Will you elaborate on your decision to tell Chin’s story in this manner? Was there any particular elegy you used for inspiration?

The Vincent Chin essay is probably the hardest piece I’ve ever written in my life. In fact, I spent years wanting to write an essay about him, but I couldn’t figure out how to begin. Then I decided I would just try to create some kind of an outline first. It took some of the pressure off of me to not have to think about the piece in strict prose. So, I started with the list of events that’s in the beginning of the essay, which examines, more broadly, the history of Asian Americans.

A dear friend invited me to a reading in Nashville, along with a few other writers. I didn’t have any new completed work to read, so I told them I’d read some notes for an essay I was working on about Vincent Chin. When I was finished, they told me not to change it – that the form was crucial to the function of the piece.

That’s why the entire essay is told in relatively short Acts – it’s essentially a cleaned-up version of the outline I wrote for it.

Initially, I was going to end the essay with the words inscribed on Vincent’s gravestone. But that ending felt so unfair. Vincent was so much more than his death. He was a man who had dreams and was about to embark on starting a family and a new life when Ronald Ebens and Michael Nitz brutally murdered him.

I am an Asian American activist today largely because of Vincent’s life and death, and the Asian American movement that followed. But I wanted to do something more for him. It dawned on me that I could offer Vincent a very small piece of what was so cruelly taken away from him – I could pen a glimpse of what his life could have been. That’s why I end the essay with Vincent and his fiancé Vicki on their honeymoon in Aruba. That last segment is the only piece of fiction in the entire essay collection.

Feeding off my previous question some, I mentioned in my review of Southbound that I clung onto the theme of masks, whether it was a literal mask—the white hoods of the Ku Klux Klan, the mask of Evangelists, or the mask of silence. Was that a theme you considered when putting these essays into a collection, or was just something I embraced personally in Southbound?

Masks are definitely a theme in the book. Masks can be tools for protection. When we are feeling vulnerable, they help us feel safe. But sometimes our masks, while keeping us safe, lead to other people’s pain and trauma. And if we’re hiding, we’re not resisting. We’re not challenging the forces that not only caused our trauma, but cause other, more marginalized folks’ trauma.

This is what I tried to convey in Southbound. That while masks are great for hiding behind, they’re difficult to see out of. If we are spending a lot of time hiding, we’re not necessarily seeing who else is being harmed, and to what degree.

In “Virtual Motherhood” you talk about your experience of new motherhood, discovering a platform and the online parenting community, which led to you blogging and writing about parenting and your eventual journey towards activism. What do your girls and your husband think about you as mother-activist and spouse-activist? I got the sense that motherhood fueled your journey. How in the hell do you manage your time?!

I’ve been involved with activism since I was in college, but yes, parenting has definitely shaped my work and shifted my vision. I worry, all the time, about what kind of world all our children are inheriting from us, and how we can make it a safer, healthier, and kinder place for them.

Activism is a family activity at our home. My husband does this work alongside me, but when we get closer to an election, he takes over the house and the kids so I can meet with voters in person to get out the vote. My daughters are 19, 16, and 13, and have been involved in political volunteer work for many years.

I didn’t push any of them toward it. When they were younger, I’d invite them to join in, but if they didn’t want to participate, I let it go. But they saw how active and engaged I was, and how I made this social justice work a priority in my life. Gradually over time, they started making it a priority in theirs. My oldest daughter now does work for political campaigns. My middle daughter canvasses and attends numerous protests. My youngest daughter spent weeks putting thousands of labels on campaign postcards.

I’m very lucky because I work from home. So, I don’t have a commute, and this gives me extra time. I also teach in a low residency MFA program, and am freelance writer and author, and this affords me flexibility. But I basically end up working all the time and never getting a break, and it’s taken a tremendous toll on my heath. So, I’m desperately trying to find a better balance and rest more. Fingers crossed I have it all figured out by 2022.

You’ve mentioned in conversations and lectures I attended that publishing your memoir, The Parted Earth, and your essays, Southbound, was a struggle. Do you think it was about timing? Were publishers afraid to get behind what you were saying? Or do you have other thoughts on why you work is being published now verses years ago?

It’s really hard to know. Publishing is such a crap shoot in general. Certainly, luck and timely play a significant role.

I did not bother looking for an agent for Southbound because I knew, as a debut author, that I was not going to be able to sell a collection of essays like this one to a big press. I couldn’t even envision it with one of the big presses. So, I only researched small presses and university presses that had a solid reputation with respect to nonfiction. University of Georgia Press was at the top of my list because I have loved so many of their literary nonfiction books.

The very first book I tried to sell 13 years ago was a collection of essays. I couldn’t get anywhere. The second book I tried to sell was an anthology of essays by multiple authors. That book got an agent, but she couldn’t sell it. I love the essay form, and I love to read collections of essays. So, to finally have Southbound out in the world feels surreal!

I’m probably not the first person to ask this, but would you ever consider running for office?

Truthfully, I have zero desire to run for office. My skill set and my passion lie in getting people to the polls. That’s the work I find most rewarding.

But also, I try to be very protective of my creative side, and purposely avoid doing work that taxes my creativity too much. Running for office or serving as an elected official would greatly diminish my capacity as a writer. I need to preserve that creative side of my brain as much as possible and doing organizing work as a volunteer allows me the flexibility to do this.

You mentioned you’ve been in arguments in-person and on social media. Are you prepared for backlash from the Far Right when Southbound comes out?

I suppose I’m never prepared for trolling. It takes a toll, and at the end of the day, I’m human. But I’m also used to it. I write a lot about politics. I put myself out there regularly. I’m prepared for the backlash, even though the backlash can sometimes be cruel.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve recently finished several wonderful books, including two collections—Deesha Philyaw’s The Secret Life of Church Ladies, and Tyrese Coleman’s How to Sit. Next up is Suchitra Vijayan’s nonfiction debut book, Midnight’s Borders.

What can your fans look forward to reading next? Are there any events on the agenda we need to know about?

I’m currently rewriting what was my first novel. It takes place primarily in the 1990s in North Georgia, a place close to my heart, but it does zig zag a little bit to other parts in the world and other decades.

For current events with Anjali Enjeti, visit her event’s page at: Events – Anjali Enjeti

Southbound is available for preorder: Southbound: Essays – Anjali Enjeti

MORE ABOUT ANJALI ENJETI: Anjali Enjeti is a former attorney, organizer, and award-winning journalist based near Atlanta. She is the author of the essay collection Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, and the novel, The Parted Earth. Her writing about politics, social justice, and books has appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR, ZORA, Courier Newsroom, Mic, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, The Nation, and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA program at Reinhardt University and is the co-founder of They See Blue Georgia, an organization for South Asian Democrats.

A Review of Southbound: Essays on Identity, Heritage, and Social Change by Author Anjali Enjeti

The problem with masks is that it’s very hard to see out of them.

Anjali Enjeti, Southbound

I met Anjeli Enjeti during my residency when I was a graduate student getting my MFA in creative writing at Reinhardt University where Enjeti is an instructor for the MFA program. Anjali was exotic to me, not because of her brown skin, her mixed race, or her ancestry that she speaks about in Southbound, not even because she has such an amazing background, attorney turned activist turned journalist and author, but because she’s a non-fiction writer and to fiction writers these folks are captivating but also intimidating. My God! They tell the truth! From that experience, my biggest regret was not mentoring with her, not taking her workshops in non-fiction, but I was quite frankly scared. Then I listened to the graduate student readers, those who she mentored, and I regretted that my fear got in my own way. She taught these students to not only find their voices but to articulate them in a powerful way that still resonates with me today. With all that, I knew what I was getting into when I began to read Southbound. It wasn’t going to be easy. There would be no hiding behind fiction.

At the beginning of this post, I quoted Enjeti’s words: “The problem with masks is that it’s very hard to see out of them.” I clung to these words while reading Southbound. The human mind attempts to find connections and for myself these particular words connected the entire collection thematically. Enjeit was referring the mask of silence here, specifically hiding behind a mask as a child who laughed off racist comments directed at her—a defense mechanism. Yet, those masks appear over and over in Southbound. What I believe Enjeti to be saying is that you don’t have to put on a literal mask like the white hoods the Ku Klux Klan members who shot five Black women in Chattanooga in 1980 wore in her essay, “Treatment.” There are all types of masks. In that same essay the mask assumes Southern Christian morality and righteousness hiding behind religion, preaching against homosexuality and calling AIDS a plague on gays. But the mask probably most familiar to us is the mask of silence. Simply ignoring injustice or remaining silent because I didn’t do it, or it doesn’t affect me personally is a single silence that multiply into another silence until there are thousands of little silences. That’s what resonated with me personally with Southbound because that’s the mask I have worn myself.

Some of Enjeti’s individual experiences really hit home for me. Enejti moved from the Midwest to Chattanooga, TN a few years before I moved from Missouri to Georgia. In her essay “Southbound,” she relates her experience of visiting Confederama, a tourist trap that featured dioramas of miniature Union and Confederate soldiers fighting at key battle sites for the Battle of Chattanooga. A young Enjeti comments on the weirdness of this place to her parents. I was instantly transported to my first experience of Southern weirdness the summer my family moved to Georgia and we visited Stone Mountain. This was the late 1980s. That night my family and I watched a laser show celebrating the big dogs of the Confederacy—Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and Jefferson Davis—chiseled into the mountain and coming to life. Amongst fireworks, rebel yells, and adults waving Confederate flags screaming, “The South will rise again!” I had a similar experience to what Enjeti wrote about in her essay. I wondered if the laws were different here than the rest of the country. Was there a different government? And if they were rising again, now that I lived here would I have to be part of it? Enjeti states Confederama was “jarring for me as a young child” because of how “unapologetic, misinformed, and prevalent this celebration felt. It was if the South had won the Civil War, and the War had ended only yesterday.” I wanted to know more about this Confederama place that reminded me of Stone Mountain, so I searched for images and in the process, I discovered a 2015 post made by an individual who stated that, “Confederama, unfortunately, fell victim to political correctness and now exists farther up Lookout Mountain, I hear, in an altered and watered-down form…as I recall, there was a distinct Confederate bias. I remember thrilling to the tiny red flashes of guns being fired as a somber recording gave the history lesson.” Isn’t that weird? The terms “political correctness,” “watered down,” and “distinct Confederate bias” struck me now as an adult as not just being weird, but as being racist. I didn’t know this place with massive Confederate flags on the front of the building existed, but does it matter? While these places are less abundant in the South of 2021, I still see Confederate flags waving in the air in parts of Georgia and certainly the ideology is widespread, which is really the point of some of these essays.

This is a book for everyone, and everyone should be reading it. In response to the protests of 2020, daily tragedies of Black Americans being killed by law enforcement, and the Black Lives Matter Movement, many corporations and businesses saw the need for dialogue and have created diversity groups who engage employees of different ethnicities to discuss their experiences. They also have readings and book discussions. Enjeti’s essays would be an excellent starting point for companies to launch conversations between these groups. For future and current activists wishing someone would impart wisdom or give voice to the experience of volunteering, protesting, and campaigning for equality and social change, Southbound is waiting for you. There’s a great essay called ““Armchair Activism” In the Real World” that addresses activism in the time of a pandemic for those saying I can’t. These essays are for teachers seeking diverse voices to educate and engage their students. For non-fiction writers, essayists, and memoirists contemplating structure and voice, Southbound acts as pseudo-guidebook in writing; it’s certainly a memoir on how Enjeti found her voice. For white readers wanting to understand otherness, racism, perspectives from people of color, these essays are a wonderful starting point. As a white person, you may find the essays to be an uncomfortable read. That’s okay. I can’t say I have all the same beliefs and political views as Enjeti, but that’s fine too. If you do feel discomfort, ask yourself why. It’s not a bad thing. You can still respect, value, and learn from Enjeti’s experiences.

I could go on and on about who would benefit from reading Southbound. Why not a few more? It’s for mothers, outsiders, immigrants, anyone who has been bullied, experienced chronic pain, has been discriminated against, or have felt a complete and utter sense of rage. “Anger Like Fire” is probably one of my favorite essays because no one has ever told me to be okay with my rage until now.

Southbound will upset you. It’ll enrage you. It’ll hurt. It also educates. It also speaks. If it doesn’t, please check for a pulse. It’s not necessary to read the essays in order, but if I hadn’t, it may not have been as clear to me how Enjeti’s early beginnings led to where she is now. Enjeti compellingly weaves personal accounts in with current events, statistics, research, and history. For me, it wasn’t the type of book I could read in one setting, or even two, three, or four settings. I decided on reading one essay in the morning and one in the evening to avoid imploding. That’s not to say I couldn’t stomach what Enejti was telling me, but I could only process the emotional rollercoaster Enjeti took me on in spells. With Southbound, Enjeti has seemingly left no stone unturned, no topic is off the table; her personal essays are powerhouses with a purpose.

Southbound is available for preorder: Southbound: Essays – Anjali Enjeti

More about Anjali Enjeti: Anjali Enjeti is a former attorney, organizer, and award-winning journalist based near Atlanta. She is the author of the essay collection Southbound: Essays on Identity, Inheritance, and Social Change, and the novel, The Parted Earth. Her writing about politics, social justice, and books has appeared in Harper’s BAZAAR, ZORA, Courier Newsroom, Mic, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Washington Post, Al Jazeera, The Nation, and elsewhere. She teaches in the MFA program at Reinhardt University and is the co-founder of They See Blue Georgia, an organization for South Asian Democrats.

Interested in learning more about Southern Author, William Gay? Join me next week for the Lost Southern Voices Festival on March 26th.

Join me on March 26th from 1 p.m. to 2.15 p.m. ET for the Lost Southern Voices Festival. I’m presenting last in this panel: Condensed Careers: Poetry, Scandal, and Southern Gothic. Two William Gay books are up for raffle for local residents. Registration information is below. This event is entirely online, but you do need to register.

To specifically register for my panel (but consider signing up for more): Revival:Lost Southern Voices 2021: Session 2 Tickets, Fri, Mar 26, 2021 at 1:00 PM | Eventbrite

About the festival: The festival is for readers and celebrates lost or underappreciated Southern writers’ work. Every year, invited authors and scholars discuss writers whose literary voices no longer receive the attention and reading they deserve. The public, scholars, students, writers, and readers are welcome to join us as we revive these lost voices.

This year, the festival is back with a full virtual festival next week, from Wednesday, March 24, 2021, to Saturday, March 27, 2021! Former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey is the keynote speaker, and five additional sessions, complete with Q&As and virtual door prizes, are planned. More information on the raffles is below, but know you must provide your address during registration to be entered, and you must be a resident of DeKalb, Fulton, or Gwinnett. The keynote, which is sponsored by Perimeter College’s Department of English, Honors College, and Student Affairs, and is in conjunction with Revival: Lost Southern Voices, does not include a raffle.

Scroll on for the full festival schedule. You can visit the Facebook event here for the registration links, and you’ll find them all below. You must register for each event separately. For the keynote, you will register through Georgia State University’s website. For the rest of the sessions, you will register on Eventbrite. Again, all the links are available here and below. Once you’ve registered for a session, you’ll receive an email with the link to view that presentation.

Join to hear presentations about William Gay, Ella Gertrude, Clanton Thomas, Alice Walker, Padgett Powell, and so many more. On Saturday, March 27th, the entire session devoted to James Baldwin’s work, and while he may not be “lost” in the traditional sense, this panel will explore the many important ways his work is being rediscovered and taught in modern times. You won’t want to miss it.

Full schedule:

Wednesday, March 24, 2021
1 p.m. ET, WebEx
Natasha Trethewey, former U.S. Poet Laureate
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir
Register here.

Thursday, March 25, 2021
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Art Vs. Artist: Works of Merit and the Controversial Authors Who Wrote Them
Moderator: Gina Flowers
Chip Bell: Augustus Longstreet, lawyer and writer
Janet Williams: Sidney Lanier
Melissa Swindell: Harry Stillwell Edwards, novelist and journalist
Register here.

Friday, March 26, 2021
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Condensed Careers: Poetry, Scandal, and Southern Gothic
Moderator: Joe Davich
Eli Arnold: Ernest Hartsock, poet
Matt Dischinger: Brad Vice, fiction writer
Dawn Major: William Gay, fiction writer
Register here.

4 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Unruly Women in Southern History
Moderator: Kari Miller
Brenda Bynum: Helen Matthews Lewis, sociologist and historian
Caleb Johnson: Kathryn Tucker Windham, folklorist and journalist
Carolyn Curry: Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, political figure
Register here.

Saturday, March 27, 2021
1 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Reading Baldwin in the Twenty-first Century
Moderator: Laura McCarty
Tareva Johnson: The Fire Next Time
Jamil Zainaldin: “Stranger in the Village”
Stephane Dunn: Cinematic Adaptations
Register here.

4 p.m. ET, Zoom Webinar
Reckoning with the South throughout the Twentieth Century
Moderator: Jessica Handler
James Stamant: Elizabeth Madox Roberts, novelist
Valerie Boyd: Alice Walker, novelist and short story writer
Christopher Merkner: Padgett Powell, novelist and short story writer
Register here.

About the Raffles: Books will be raffled at the end of sessions 1-5. Trethewey’s Keynote is excluded from raffles. One raffle for a gift card to Revival (a restaurant in Downtown Decatur), at the end of the festival, will include all festival attendees. Books will be raffled off at the end of each session as well, for attendees of that session. There is no cost for entry. Entrants must be 18 years old or older, and provide a home address for receipt of prizes. Due to the pandemic, prizes will be delivered contact-free to the home address provided, or pick-up may be arranged. Entrants must be residents of Georgia, USA, and must reside in DeKalb, Fulton, or Gwinnett counties. Residents of other metro Atlanta counties will be considered on a case by case basis. One entry is permitted per person, per household, each session.

Follow the festival on Facebook at @RevivalLostSouthernVoices for more updates! You may also follow the festival on Twitter (@RevivalLost) and Instagram (revivallsv).

See you there!

As you know, your Zoom panel takes place Friday, March 26, 2021, at 1 p.m. – 2:15 p.m. ET. If you’d like to advertise the link to your specific panel, you can direct people to register on its Eventbrite page, here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/revivallost-southern-voices-2021-session-2-tickets-144080036267?aff=ebdsoporgprofile&fbclid=IwAR32gkAWb_jBjvZrwjkDv4rWWje4n_IU1U2m-clBOJ5cQ63BQTCMkRKzyIw.

Looking to Publish Your Next Horror Piece?

Springer Mountain Press is seeking ghosts, witches, final girls (and boys), monsters, zombies, clowns, creepy dolls, demons and any pieces guaranteed to cause dread, terrify and haunt our dreams for the Springer Mountain Press’s First Edition of the Summer Slasher Horror Anthology. The deadline for submitting is March 15th and they are looking for your best poetry, flash fiction piece, short story, novel excerpt, or novella with a maximum word count of 10,000 words in any horror genre.

Does that mean psychological horror? Yes. What about slasher horror? Yes! And monster horror? Duh, yes. How about supernatural horror? Of course! Erotica Horror? Nah, let’s get to know you first. Excessive Gore Horror? Ow!! Not so much.

Formatting Your Manuscript: All manuscripts should be in 12-point type, with at least one-inch margins, and sequentially numbered pages. Fiction should be double-spaced. Poetry should be single-spaced. The author’s name, address, telephone number, and email address should be typed at the top of the first page. Your manuscript must be in one of the following file forms: .doc, .docx, .rtf. Contributors are asked to include a brief biographical note with their submissions. 

Email your submissions to Springer Mountain Press at: editor@springermountainpress.com. 

The Lost Art of Liner Notes by Author, Scott Gould

The first two books I published (a story collection called Strangers to Temptation and a novel, Whereabouts) were both set in the Low Country of South Carolina during the shank of the 1970s. I could act all coy and confused and say I don’t know why I chose that decade, but that would be a hefty lie. I know exactly why. In the 1970s—especially the early 70s—I was, for lack of a less clichéd term, coming of age. Those were the years I discovered all the important things in life: how to dodge your parents’ questions, how to fish, how to flirt with crushes, how to paddle a boat one-handed in Black River… and how to read album liner notes.

            Back then, I had a paper route through the streets of Kingstree, S.C., and the only reason I rolled-and-slung the Charleston Evening Post six afternoons a week was to buy records. (Well, records and a daily post-route doughnut at the Kingstree Inn.) When I first started dropping money on music, I was content listening to 45s. I recall buying a lot of Jackson Five and Supremes; the Detroit invasion had arrived in full force in the Low Country of South Carolina. But for those of us with memories that stretch that far back, we know that 45s were simply the gateway drug to LPs—the big vinyl, with the big covers.

            I have to assume the first liner notes I ever took notice of were inside the first album I bought, Sweet Baby James. I remember the afternoon I finally had enough paper route money in my pocket and headed down to Rose’s store to pick up James Taylor’s 1970 release. That was my initial fix in a lifetime album addiction: slitting the cellophane with a thumbnail far enough to peel the package open; sliding the paper sleeve out of the thick album cover almost like you were opening some sort of archeological tomb; placing the album on the turntable; dropping the needle; then, settling in to study the liner notes.

            That was the day I learned something new and vital about myself—I liked knowing who did what. I read the list of musicians like I was studying for a test. With Sweet Baby James, I learned the name of a drummer I would see playing on album after album for the next couple of decades, Russ Kunkel. The guy playing bass, Randy Meisner, would become a founding member of The Eagles a year later. And there was Danny Kortchmar (Kootch), Taylor’s long-time friend from Martha’s Vineyard days, playing guitar. And Carole King, a year before Tapestry, played piano and sang backing vocals. Of course, lying on the floor that day, soaking in the music and liner notes in front of a stereo the size of an adult coffin, I had no clue who these people might become. I only knew it was important to memorize their names and to know the instruments they were connected to.

(Sidebar: when I say “liner notes,” I’m not talking about those things that accompany boxed sets of LPs or commemorative releases, when the record company brings in some hotshot music writer to write something long and flowery and unctuous. Those are the things that win Grammy Awards. Yes, there is a Grammy category for Best Album Notes. I’m talking about the nuts-and-bolts liner notes. Who played what. Who engineered what. Who gets thanked. What kinds of strings were used on the guitars. Who arranged the strings. I’m not interested in a PhD dissertation. I just want to know who gathered around a microphone and made the hand claps on track 6.)

            So, it began with Sweet Baby James, and I didn’t have much time to catch my breath before I bought a Creedence Clearwater Revival album a few months later. It was late summer and my mother drove me and my sister fifty miles to Florence to buy school clothes. (I remember the stiff jeans that were four inches too long, jeans I would “grow into.”) In some store, maybe a Kmart, I flipped through the bin of rock and roll until I found Cosmos Factory, an album I’d read about in Rolling Stone. On drive back to Kingstree, we convinced my mother to swing by a Krispy Kreme store for a dozen glazed, still warm in the box. Back home, again in front of the giant console stereo, I went through my routine: slice, peel, place, drop, and read. Only, this time there was a slight, clumsy alteration. Somehow, I managed to get Krispy Kreme doughnut glaze into a few grooves of the second track on side two, “My Baby Left Me.” I tried, so carefully, to clean the sugar out of the grooves without scratching the album. But I could never clean it all the way. I still own that record, and the needle always hops halfway through the sad story of his baby leaving him. But the good news is, the liner notes were unsmeared. I learned what a family affair Creedence was. John’s brother Tom played rhythm guitar, and his other brother, Bob, did the weird cover design and cover photography.

            I couldn’t help myself. I grew obsessed. I read every word of the notes inside the gatefold of Go For Your Guns by the Isley Brothers, read the personal handwritten messages. At the end, when they wrote, “Y’all shoot your best shot and keep on livin’…Yeah!” I thought they were cheerleading for me. My jaw dropped when I discovered that Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton played guitar on Stephen Stills first solo album. (And I figured Stills wasn’t feuding too much with Crosby and Nash, since his band mates sang background on his solo album.) Earth, Wind and Fire threw me a curve, printing all their information on the paper sleeve instead of the album cover, but I adjusted. I evolved. I got older. I can remember one evening, on the floor of my college dorm room in front of a smaller, better stereo, reading every syllable spread across three sides of the Born to Run cover, thinking, Roy Bittan plays the glockenspiel. What the hell is a glockenspiel? 

            Sure, cassettes killed liner notes for awhile. Nobody wanted to unfold the postcard-sized piece of paper and read the fly speck copy. CDs continued to take the fun out of it. I mean, if you finally figured out how to unleash the poster tucked behind the plastic clips, you had to have a magnifying glass at hand if you wanted to see who played the Hammond B3 on track 4. The crinkle of cellophane was gone. The thumbnail slicing was obsolete. (For lord’s sake, it took an engineering degree and a specialized “tool” to get through the security measures on a CD wrapper.) Simply, cassettes and CDs didn’t have the acreage required for liner notes. Size matters.

            But most good things have a way of edging back into our world. The past few years I’ve been buying vinyl again, though with the price of LPs, I almost need an extra job—like a paper route—to feed my habit. Once more, I’m slicing cellophane and placing records on a nice, new turntable. And I’ve been studying the notes again. Makes my heart warm to see some old friends from the 70s. Russ Kunkel and Leland Sklar are still the go-to rhythm section for the west coast sound. Roy Bittan is still firing up the trusty glockenspiel on Springsteen’s brand new release. And I’m learning new stuff too. Did you know Sturgill Simpson produced Tyler Childers’ Country Squire album? He joined in the hand claps on side two.

Yeah, I guess you could say I have a problem. I still read liner notes like I’m studying for a final exam. I still occasionally eat a doughnut.

TO PURCHASE WHEREABOUTS: Support Independent Book stores and shop Bear Book Market. Whereabouts is also available via Amazon. I also highly recommend his book, Strangers to Temptation, a collection of linked narratives based in Kingstree, SC. If you enjoyed Whereabouts, you’ll love Strangers to Temptation.

Visit Scott Gould, Writer for forthcoming publications, events, and much more!

A Conversation with Southern Author, Scott Gould about Writing and his Novel, Whereabouts

Southern author, Scott Gould, talks to me about writing and his latest novel, Whereabouts…

Author, Scott Gould

You returned to the town of Kinsgtree, SC but moved from a first-person, point-of-view adult narrator reflecting back on his childhood to a young, female third-person point of view. Why not a first-person point of view? Also, did you find it more difficult to write from a female perspective verses a male?

To be honest, I shifted to a third-person point of view as an exercise for myself. I’ve always been most comfortable writing in first person. That’s always my go-to, especially in short fiction. But I remember thinking I needed to get out of my comfort zone a little and try something that made me squirm in the chair a little. Squirming is good for writers, right? Plus, third person gives you a little more latitude with delivering information, although this point of view is so limited through Missy Belue, it’s almost a substitute first-person. But the fact of the matter is, I decided to do it because I wanted to be a little uncomfortable. And as far as using a female protagonist…well, that was a conscious decision for my daughters, who were very young at the time I started the book. I wanted to write a story for them with a strong, independent female character, so it just seemed natural to filter the story through Missy’s eyes. During all the versions of the novel, I worried constantly if I was being true to her character, if I was making her believable. A great deal of the revision process revolved around being true to Missy. (Was I being true as a male writer interpreting her.) And I still worry about it. I guess it was a little bit of a risk, writing a female protagonist. Maybe I set myself up for some criticism, but, I mean, I think I made the decision to have a female protagonist for all the right reasons.

There’s something reminiscent of a fairy tale in Whereabouts. It reminded me of Goldie Locks and the Three Bears. Missy tries out men (not in a slutty way!) like Goldie Locks tries out porridge, chairs and beds. She tries Skyles, then Hassan, but unlike Goldie Locks who eventually finds the perfect fit, Missy rejects the third option and chooses independence. Did you have the fairy tale method in mind when you wrote Whereabouts?

I never really thought about Whereabouts in terms of a fairy tale, but now that you’ve told me this, Dawn, I am going to steal this idea and use it whenever possible. (Do I owe you money?) For me, I was just following the tried-and-true advice my old teacher, William Price Fox, gave me. Dig a decent hole and toss your character in. Let her try to crawl out. When she gets close to the surface, bang her on the head with the shovel and knock her back in the hole. Repeat process. Okay, maybe Bill was too graphic back during those days, but the point is valid. I wanted to keep throwing roadblocks in Missy’s way…and all the roadblocks happened to be the men she encountered on her journey. Missy Belue has an emotional destination. She wants to find an antidote to the boredom and unhappiness and restlessness in her life. On the way to this destination, she faces roadblocks. She keeps getting thrown back down in the hole. (As an aside, if you haven’t read William Price Fox’s stories and novels, you should. Moonshine Light, Moonshine Bright is wonderful book I go back to time and again.)

South American short-story writer, novelist, journalist, Gabriel García Márquez, said in his prologue to Twelve Pilgrims:

…The effort involved in writing a short story is as intense as beginning a novel, where everything must be defined in the first paragraph: structure, tone, style, rhythm, length, and sometimes even the personality of a character. All the rest is the pleasure of writing…and if the rest of one’s life is not spent correcting the novel, it is because the same iron rigor needed to begin the book is required to end it. But a [short] story has no beginning, no end. Either it works or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t…toss the story in the wastebasket.

Do you agree with Márquez? I noticed in the Acknowledgements Whereabouts developed from a short story titled, “Sort of a Prophet.” Did you find it harder to move from short stories to a novel?

Oh lord, who am I to dispute Marquez? I mean, I agree with parts of what he says here, especially about the common intensity between a short story and the beginning of a novel. But I’ve found (and I ain’t no expert, trust me) that beginning a novel requires the establishment of a voice that the reader can live with for tens of thousands of words, a voice that seems to suggest, “Settle in. We’re going on a trip. It’s going to take a while. Just hang with me.” On the other hand, a short story, in my experience, requires a bit more of a desperate quality in the narrative voice. If I had to put a sound on it, the storytelling voice would be a little more pitched, maybe in a higher key, a voice that suggests, “I gotta tell you this story before it gets away, before I forget it.” Oddly, Whereabouts had its beginnings in a story that I placed in the middle of the novel. I decided to write what got Missy to that particular short story, and then write what happened to her afterward. It was almost like the short story (“Sort of a Prophet”) was the peak of a tall hill. And the novel is the process of getting Missy up the slope to the top, then follow her down the backside of the hill. I’m not sure that metaphor makes sense. Hell, I’m not sure it’s even a metaphor.

I kept wondering if the encyclopedia salesman was a younger Skyles, especially when Missy chose an encyclopedia starting with the letter “S.” That remained a bit of a mystery, but some of his characteristics fit and then some not so much. Was it Skyles? Or will you reveal this tidbit?

I wasn’t really thinking about Skyles when I wrote the encyclopedia salesman’s character. What I was thinking about was the time when I was in the seventh grade and I almost knocked my front teeth out, diving at the Kingstree Moose Lodge pool one July. I had to eat through a squeeze bottle for weeks and be careful with my teeth, and stay at home alone during the day while my parents were at work. (I don’t know where my sister was. Maybe off with relatives or something. Or locked in the attic.) Anyway, I’m hanging out bored at home, with orders not to answer the door, and this college-aged encyclopedia salesman shows up, and he’s sweating and nervous. I knew I shouldn’t ask him inside, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go outside and shoot some basketball. Plus, we already had encyclopedias. I hadn’t been allowed to do anything for days. (My mother was trying desperately to preserve my front teeth.) So I end up in the back yard, shooting hoops with a sweaty encyclopedia salesman, and I’m being real careful to keep my loose front teeth out of the way of the rebounds. My parents were not happy with me. Now, combine that with the fact that my father still has that set of World Book Encyclopedias from the late sixties, and the biggest one is the ‘S’ volume. I just kind put those things together to try and set up the idea of Missy Belue wanting to keep moving, just like the sharks she reads about in the ‘S’ volume. (That volume is sitting right here, on my table.) Skyles? Man, he is something altogether different. He should probably have his own entry in the ‘S’ volume. But I can’t see him ever selling encyclopedias. Or sweating.  

Sorry–’m such nerd–but I always try and hunt down the literal meaning of character names. Mona was a bit a whiner or moaner, so I thought her name was fitting. What about the name Skyles? Was that a play on the word “skyless” and yes, I Goggled it! It’s Lithuanian for “holes.”

I love the process of coming up with characters’ names. To be honest, most of the time, I go with the best sounds. I’m really attracted to rhythmic names that make some noise. I had a friend in elementary school named Freddie Belue, and I always thought his last name was so cool, almost like you put an odd, extra syllable in the word “blue.” And I thought, Yeah, Missy spends a lot of this novel being blue. That works. Mona was named for the reason you mentioned. Lots of whining and complaining and worrying in her character. With Skyles, I wanted something that seemed a little mysterious and unique. (But I like your idea better. Lithuanian for holes. You sure I shouldn’t pay you something?) And Asa, of course, is sort of an ass most of the time, so I went with that. I never know if I get the names right or not. It’s something I always look back on and go, “Damn, that doesn’t work.” But maybe these will hold up. Ask me in six months. I’ll probably wanna change Missy to Abigail or something.

I compared Virgil’s The Aeneid to Whereabouts because it seemed to me that the allusion foreshadowed Missy’s journey? Was that your intention or did the allusion stop with Asa Floyd guiding the grief-stricken through their personal hell? It was a hilarious allusion, by the way.

Virgil’s Aeneid…I love this question. Okay, so I didn’t go as far down the Virgil rabbit hole as you did. When Asa says, “In this hell you’ve been thrust, I am your…Virgil,” I was thinking about Dante’s Inferno, and how Virgil was Dante’s guide through the circles of hell. (Also, I wanted a set-up for the punch line, when Mona says, “Thank you so much, Virgil.”) But now that you’ve mentioned it, there is sort of a parallel between Aeneas’s wanderings and Missy’s. I might steal that too. (I swear, I should probably pay you.) But to be honest, I was only thinking of Virgil and how he led Dante through all those circles. That’s part of my problem—I only know a little bit of a lot of things. Gets me into trouble sometimes, especially at cocktail parties with English department faculty.

There were two items that suggested to me, or at least left the door open for a series with Missy Belue. Who was in the casket at the last funeral?! Why did Missy end up where she did at the end? Can we expect more from Missy Belue, meaning can we look forward to reading more Kingstree based stories and characters?

I have not really thought about taking on Missy Belue again, but that’s not to say that couldn’t happen. You know, I ended the story at the place where I thought the circle closed. And I wanted to end with Missy in a place that she had earned, that she could claim as her own. A few days ago, I did a book club discussion with some folks in Chicago, and they sort of hammered me about the ending. (Actually, they hammered me pretty hard. Felt like I was defending a dissertation.) They thought I’d left Missy in a bad place, with few decent options and only hardship ahead. I disagreed, and we had a nice, adult-like discussion about gender and agency and the like. But in retrospect, the interesting thing for me is that they were already writing the next chapter in her story. And the next chapter had some trouble in it. They wanted more, maybe. So perhaps Missy’s story should go on. Maybe I’ll go read The Iliad and get me some inspiration.

TO PURCHASE WHEREABOUTS: Support Independent Book stores and shop Bear Book Market . Whereabouts is also available via Amazon. I also highly recommend his book, Strangers to Temptation, a collection of linked narratives also based in Kingstree, SC. If you enjoyed Whereabouts, you’ll love Strangers to Temptation.

MORE ABOUT SCOTT: Scott Gould is the author of the novels Whereabouts and The Hammerhead Chronicles (forthcoming from University of North Georgia Press), the story collections Strangers to Temptation and Idiot Men (forthcoming from Springer Mountain Press) and the memoir Things That Crash, Things That Fly. He is a two-time winner of the S.C. Arts Commission Artist Fellowship in Prose, as well as a winner of the S.C. Academy of Authors Fiction Fellowship. He lives in Sans Souci, South Carolina and teaches at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities.

A Review of Whereabouts, A Novel by Southern Author, Scott Gould

In Southern author, Scott Gould’s new novel, Whereabouts, Gould quotes Sir Isaac Newton’s second law of motion, the Law of Acceleration, in his epigraph. It’s an unusual epigraph for us literary types who are accustomed to the quotes from Shakespeare, Yeats, or Nietzsche, and it made me pay attention. I take my epigraphs seriously. In Whereabouts, Gould “experiments” with what happens when a motionless body is acted upon by an external force. Or rather, what occurs when one character collides with another character. It’s a simple yet compelling method to view character and plot through, especially for creative writing instructors or writers. Plus, it wasn’t another overdone quote from an overdone author! So, there’s that…

In Whereabouts, Gould returns to the small town of Kingstree, SC, some may remember from his short story collection, Strangers to Temptation, but now with a female narrator and protagonist, Missy Belue. Mere weeks before her high school graduation her father suddenly dies, and Missy finds herself at a crossroads. Missy and her near-catatonic mother, Mona Belue, become inert in their grief. Mona juggles Vodka and religion while Missy goes through the motions, lost and dazed. To feel the void, Mona turns to Asa Floyd, the local funeral director who buries her late husband. In short order, Missy’s father and childhood home are replaced with a new stepfather and living quarters above Floyd’s Funeral Home. At the wedding, Missy’s third cousin, a/k/a road gypsy, Skyles Huffman, appears on the scene and from there the real collision course in humor and heartbreak takes off.

Whereabouts follows in the classic tradition of an epic poem where the hero/heroine undergoes a series of adventures before returning home and/or carrying out his/her mission or quest. It’s both a road narrative and modern-day fairytale, but I’m more inclined towards calling it a modern odyssey because Gould alludes to the Roman poet, Virgil, early on. Virgil also “borrowed” from Homer’s The Odyssey when writing The Aeneid. I don’t believe in coincidence when it comes to authors and allusions. Asa imagines himself as a Virgil guiding the grief-stricken through the “twists and turns” and the underworld of grief. This comic allusion to The Aeneid foreshadows Missy’s epic journey with Skyles. She hits the open road without a plan, yet she finally escapes Kingstree. Ironically, Skyles, who often warns Missy about life’s distractions, becomes her biggest distraction—her Dido to Aeneas. Skyles is as immobile as herself and isn’t her answer. While purposely driving in circles, Missy realizes she’s been figuratively driving in circles the entire time she’s been on the road with Skyles. She abandons him, finds a job as a waitress at the Lil’ Pancake House and a home across the street at the Thoroughbred Motel (that’s anything but thoroughbred). Her new home is a nowhere speck off the interstate, but Missy finally feels like she belongs until she’s dealt another life-changer. Her boss, Hassan, goes into overdrive and takes control of Missy’s life. This is the 1970s when old ideas die hard and Missy is young and naïve—a girl seeking a father-figure or at least the next man who crosses her path to tell her what to do. She’s hits the road again, looking for a sign, and maybe another man. Ultimately, Missy discovers internal strength and independence and leaves the road to return to her roots.

As antagonists go, the men in Whereabouts could be a lot worse. Sure, Skyles is a cheating, aimless, bad-mannered wanderer with a weird philosophy and some may say he took advantage of Missy’s grief and innocence, but he could be worse. The marines she hitches a ride with could have been deadly. Her boss, Hassan is a controlling nut, but he does care for Missy. Even her creepy stepfather, Asa, takes care of her in his own way. My point is the antagonists are not as villainous as I had imagined. So where is the conflict coming from then? It’s mostly internal. In many ways, Missy is her own antagonist. But I still think you must go deeper and ask what does Missy believe to be adversarial? I noticed this in Strangers to Temptation, how Gould used setting, or the town of Kingstree as a character, and he does it again in Whereabouts. On the onset, Gould personifies the town of Kingstree like a (maternal) prison warden: “But Kingstree was one of those small, motherly Southern towns that didn’t give up its young easily. She [Missy] and Angela and all their friends had geography and tradition working against them. Very few escaped.” The only answer is the road, but the road has its challenges. Even after Missy “settles” down at the Lil’ Pancake House and the Thoroughbred Hotel, these places lose their luster. Other readers may say its due the characters that inhabit these settings, but there’s a sense that these places are closing in on her, so she runs. The road becomes her companion for grief and escapism, but nonetheless, a companion which suggest another character.

Onto one of my favorite things about Gould’s writing—his innate ability at language, particularly similes and metaphors. I keep several small notebooks strategically placed around the house, in my purse, or even in my car for whenever I may steal a second to read a book. These notebooks largely house similes and metaphors because I wasn’t gifted with this talent. It’s not stealing, I don’t use them later, but I do study them and sometimes build my own from their foundation. I filled several pages of my notebooks with Gould’s similes before it dawned on me how unfair this was. The god of words hadn’t judicially divided up similes between authors, and I stopped hoarding Gould’s similes. The fact is all you have to do is open any random page in Whereabouts (or Strangers to Temptation alike) and they’re waiting for you. Here are a couple of my favorites: “Asa’s words hit his ears late, like they came on the breeze from a faraway place and needed translating,” and “She wasn’t more than a hundred yards from the mother’s wedding reception, but she was as lost as an Easter egg.” Gould’s similes and metaphors are never heavy-handed. You know when you read a bad one because they stand out like a red light in a one-light town. See what I mean? Even when he layers them, they come off organically, indicating a well-versed, well-read, skilled author who has been honing his craft for some time. This guy may have some poems up his sleeve.

On that same thread, I must mention the compass. You can’t miss it. It’s on the cover and tiny compasses appear at narrative breaks. This may seem cute to some, but I believe it’s more significant than just “cute.” The image serves as a reminder to the reader we are on a journey (or story) navigated by the author. Perhaps, it’s a nod to the actual journey of writing a novel as well, but I’m speculating. Mainly, it acts as an extended metaphor. And I’m reminded of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird—a classic example of a novel where Lee employs this literary trope. Lee’s mockingbird denotes a shattered innocence (simplifying here for the sake of brevity) and like Gould, she thematically places her mockingbirds at pivotal moments. While Missy’s mother is clearing out her father’s odds and ends, Missy discovers her father’s vintage compass collection. It sparks memories of family trips with her dad eyeing the dashboard compass as well as annual displays of his collection and him telling her, “A compass rose is a work of art for directions…The directions always stay the same, but the way somebody points them out, the way somebody gives them more meaning, that’s where the art comes in.” Here, the compass anchors Missy to her father, to her town, but it also points to loss. Further into the novel, the compass represents adventure and Missy’s desire for movement. Towards the end, it signifies how lost she is, a lack of self-awareness and direction. Finally, it denotes her desire to return home. The compass is a rich symbol and Gould gracefully weaves it throughout Whereabouts in such a way that it creates multiple meanings for different readers. This is the art of a good symbol and an excellent metaphor for life’s journey.

Whereabouts, its characters, setting, and plot are super accessible and just about any age of reader would enjoy this novel. Perhaps, I didn’t do Whereabouts enough justice in the comedic arena; I’m telling you it’s dang funny. The heroine, Missy Belue, navigates the South and its absurd environs from the local funeral home, to swamp roads, a roadside motel to a pancake house— filled with a motley crew of regulars and undesirables— and grows up in the process. Whereabouts is balancing act of hardship and hilarity, a feat not easily carried out but when this is well-done, deserves praise.

TO PURCHASE WHEREABOUTS: Support Independent Book stores and shop Bear Book Market or Amazon. I also highly recommend his book, Strangers to Temptation, a collection of linked narratives based in Kingstree, SC.

Upcoming Events: Join Scott virtually for Bookmark’s local author event, 4 on 4th, Feb. 24th at 7 PM.

More about Scott Gould:

Scott Gould is the author of the novels Whereabouts and The Hammerhead Chronicles (forthcoming from University of North Georgia Press), the story collections Strangers to Temptation and Idiot Men (forthcoming from Springer Mountain Press) and the memoir Things That Crash, Things That Fly. He is a two-time winner of the S.C. Arts Commission Artist Fellowship in Prose, as well as a winner of the S.C. Academy of Authors Fiction Fellowship. He lives in Sans Souci, South Carolina and teaches at the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities.

Visit Scott Gould, Writer for forthcoming publications, events, and much more.

Please feel free to leave comments and if you like what you read, please share on your social media!

FIVE POINTS PODCAST VOL. 19, NO. 3. features a conversation with Dawn Major about Southern Author, William Gay

Five Points Review Cover Image-William Gay Painting

TO LISTEN: Back Pages: Fall 2019 Issue

I’m so pleased the team at Five Points Podcast was able to come up with a solution to conduct this interview about Southern author William Gay’s paintings and writing. Like so many events in 2020, this interview was was put on hold due to COVID-19. Thanks to Dr. Megan Sexton, Laurah Norton, and Alexis Weathers for wonderful questions, technical work, their precious time and especially for helping promote William Gay’s work.


January 19, 2021

Five Points is a literary journal of poetry, fiction, essays, interviews and art. The Five Points podcast strives to create discussion beyond the pages of the journal and engage readers with new content.

Our second episode centers on volume 19, issue # 3 of Five Points. We  feature friends and poets Chad Davidson and Gregory Fraser reading and reflecting on one another’s work, and a conversation with Dawn Major about the work—prose and painting alike—of the late William Gay.

Special thanks Chad Davidson, Gregory Fraser, Dawn Major, and GSU’s English department. Episode two was created by Dr. Megan Sexton, Laurah Norton, and Alexis Weathers. Our music is provided by The Skylarks. Engineered by Maura Currie. For more Five Points content, please visit our website: http://fivepoints.gsu.edu/.

Gruss vom Krampus or Greetings from Krampus…

To get you in the mood for the Christmas holiday and to remind some of my naughty readers, it’s not all about Santa Claus, ribbons and bows, and good cheer, my friend, Professor Maria Klouda, assigned an extra credit project to her Reinhardt University Composition 100 students. Using this image of Krampus (a half-man, half-goat creature with a penchant for whipping bad children with birch branches and carrying them away to hell) as inspiration, the students wrote 100-word and under flash fiction pieces. If you know any children (or adults) on the naughty list, you may want to share these stories to them.


by Peyton Williams

“Why are you crying?” the little girl asks the horned black creature with hooves for feet.

Shackled in a corner, the creature turns his head around to reveal his long prickly beard, sharp teeth, and pointed tongue.

“Why I’m just so hungry,” he says to her.

The girl is surprised, but doesn’t hesitate to say, “Well, I just went apple picking, would you like one?”

“Oh I can’t enjoy a meal being chained up like this,” he replies.

“I can help,” she says before releasing him from the shackles.

“I suddenly lost my appetite for the apples,” he grins.

The Krampus Before Christmas

by Alexandro Jean

“Be good,” warned the little girl while her brother continued to steal apples.

“Or what?”

“The Krampus will come.”

“I dare him to.”

The night before Christmas a shadow emerges from the hall.

“What a naughty little boy.”

“Please don’t hurt him.”

“Then how shall I punish this wretched creature you call brother?”

“Don’t. Take me instead.”

“No, don’t take her. She’s good.”

The Krampus enjoyed their fear, but couldn’t decide what to do ’till finally…an idea.


“Yes, in fact he was quite delicious.”

Christmas morning there were no kids…just one red apple.

Interested in submitting your flash fiction stories? Here are a few publishers now accepting submissions:

101 Words is accepting, you guessed it, flash stories that are exactly 101 words. While the word count doesn’t include the title, it does include em dashes and hyphenated words, so do count manually. There’s no fee and if you’re published in their anthology, Flash Fiction Magazine Anthology, they pay $10.00. Also, if you’re into editing, they’re seeking Editors/Volunteers who are able to commit to at least 5 hours per week. Gain experience and add something new to your CV!

50-Words Stories is accepting 50-word stories, not 49-word, not 51-word, but exactly 50-word stories. The best story of the month receives a $10 prize. Also, no fees! If you’re looking for guidance on how to write flash fiction, 50-Word Stories provides a link to the article, The Anatomy of Micro-fiction by Bob Thurber. It’s a wonderful analysis of how to break down shorter fiction. I found it beneficial. Maybe you will too.

Brevity is seeking 750-word and under non-fiction pieces with “vivid detail, strong voice, and no wasted words.” They’re charging a nominal fee of $3.00 per submission. Authors will be paid a $45 honorarium for work selected.


Thanks to the Professor Maria Klouda and her student writers, Peyton Williams and Alexandro Jean, for contributing their work.

Happy Holidays!

Toast Lillian Smith’s 123rd Birthday Friday, December 11th at 7 PM with Revival: Lost Southern Voices: A Festival for Readers, Georgia Center for the Book and Georgia Humanities.

“The human heart dares not stay away too long from that which hurt it most.” Lillian Smith

Raise a cocktail to celebrate Lillian Smith’s 123rd birthday this Friday, December 11th from 7 PM- 9 PM, sponsored by Revival: Lost Southern Voices–A Festival for Readers, Georgia Center for the Book and Georgia Humanities. Due to the pandemic, The Lost Southern Voices Festival was postponed and then eventually canceled for 2020, but all is not lost for 2020. They have reorganized to celebrate Lillian Smith’s 123rd birthday with a showing of Hal and Henry Jacobs’ award-wining documentary, Lillian Smith: Breaking the Silence. If you have already viewed the documentary, and want to discover more about Lillian Smith’s legacy, join the conversation at 8PM ET with Rosemary Gladney, Sue Ellen Lovejoy, Matt Teutsch, Keri Leigh Merritt, and Anna Weinstein. Want to make the event even more festive? Toast with a specialty cocktail called “The Lillian.” Visit Farm2Cocktail for the recipe beforehand and have you ingredients ready to shake it up.

Lillian Smith, author of Strange Fruit and Killers of the Dream, was an activist and educator, and one of the first white Southern authors to publicly speak out against segregation and white supremacy. To view the trailer, click here and scroll down to video. Lillian Smith: Breaking the Silence received the “Best Full-length Documentary” Award at the 2020 Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival and was also the 2020 Winner of Georgia Made Macon Film Festival.

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11, 7-9 PM ET via Zoom webinar. This is a free event! To register and for more information, visit the following link: A Lillian Smith Birthday Celebration. NOTE: You will need to register through Eventbrite first to receive a Zoom link.

Hope to see you there!

The Six Days of Creation With Philosopher/Author, Anthony Blake (and others): December 5-6 and Dec. 20

The DuVersity was founded in 1998 by Anthony Blake and Karen Stefano to further the principle of integration without rejection. DuVersity is member-based non-profit whose mission is concerned with the importance of diversity for the development of human intelligence. It seeks to improve communication in groups, encourage multiple viewpoints on the same reality, understand how thoughts arise, and have insight into the way cultures arise and are shaped by their encounters with each other. DuVersity is a universal phenomenon, beyond questions of race and gender. For more on DuVeristy, membership, seminars and lectures, and publications visit: DuVersity.org.

The DuVersity is offering an online seminar called Six Days of Creation which includes six sessions, three per day, with each session lasting 90 minutes, plus a final two hour session a fortnight later. All sessions will be on Zoom. Anthony Blake will use 30 minutes of each session to explain the theme and one hour will be devoted to an experiential presentation by different contributors specializing in the various arts.

The suggested donation is $100.00. Members of the DuVersity will receive a 10% discount.


Sat Dec 5
Session 1: Universality and Wholeness; Inner Exercises; Anthony Blake/Andrew Moyer
Session 2: Separation and Complementarity; Dance; Anthony Blake/Travis Jarrell
Session 3: Relatedness and Dynamism; Music; Ruben Yessayan/Anthony Blake

Sun. Dec. 6
Session 4: Blending and Formation; Poetry; Anthony Blake/Michael White
Session 5: Individuality and Essence; Art; Leslie Schwing/Anthony Blake
Session 6: Manifestation and Drama; Theater; Anthony Blake/Jesai Jayhmes

Sun. Dec 20
Session 7: The Sevenfold Unity Higher Intelligence Anthony Blake et al. The framework of the seminar relates to Gurdjieff’s fundamental principles of the law of three and the law of seven seen in the frame of the Six Days of Creation. It also invokes Bennett’s book on Making a New World and the origin of musical scales in the first six numbers. The six days lead us to the seventh – the ‘day of rest’ – or the contemplation in which our ‘inner bodies’ can form.

We will start with an introduction to inner exercises and in the next sessions move into the making and assimilation of works of art in the various modes of dance, music, poetry, art and theatre. This is to illustrate the sensuality and pleasure of what is sometimes grimly described as ‘work on oneself.’


Andrew Moyer: Studied Anthropology, specifically Sufism and pilgrimage to Sufi sacred sites. Was Chairman of the Claymont Society. Taught Cultural Anthropology and worked as management consultant, sometimes with Richard Knowles. Student of Pierre Elliot, Hasan Ṣuṣud and Suleyman Hayat Dede.

Travis Jarrell: Teacher of dance – Uzbek, Middle Eastern, and creative. He has performed in DuVersity events for many years. Watch TravisInvocation on YouTube.

Ruben Yessavan: Spanish pianist and composer with roots in Armenia. Has produced CDs of Debussy and other modern composers. Performs music of Thomas de Hartmann and Gurdjieff. More about Ruben Yessavan.

Michael White: Author and traveler. Has books on Tibetan Buddhism, the Beat Generation, the pueblos in the American South West and Paleolithic art in the caves of France plus several volumes of poetry. He is the editor of the posthumous works by William Gay.

Leslie Schwing: Professional artist who has been exploring Systematics with Anthony since 1990. Links to her current work are on Instagram at fletcher_schwing and past work at Fletcher/Schwing Studio.

Jesai Jayhmes: AKA Jeff Burnett, actor, playwright, director and voice coach. See Jeff Burnett on Broadway.

Anthony Blake: Author of books on Time, Intelligence, Dialogue and Systematics. Student of John Bennett. Director of Research of The DuVersity.


Session 1 & 4: 10 AM – 11:30 (EST); 7 AM – 8:30 (PST); 3 PM – 4:30 (GMT); & 4 PM –5:30 (CET)
Session 2 & 5: 12:30 PM – 2 (EST); 9:30 AM – 11 AM (PST); 5:30 PM – 7 PM (GMT) & 6:30 PM –8 PM (CET)
Session 3 & 6: 3 PM – 4:30 (EST); 12 PM – 1:30 (PST); 8 PM – 9:30 (GMT) & 9 PM –10:30 (CET)
Session 7: 2 PM – 4 PM (EST); 11 AM – 1 PM( PST); 7 PM – 9 PM (GMT) & 8 PM – 10 PM (CET)


To register, please send an email to: duversity@gmail.com. For payment, please then go to DuVersity.org and click on the Donate button on the homepage to pay with either credit card or PayPal. You may also send a check made out to DuVersity to: Jeremy Belk 1079 Rocky Lane Monterey, TN 38574. If you are not able to attend the entire event and/or do not have funds to attend the entire event, please make a donation you can afford, or otherwise prorate the costs of the courses.

Hope to see you there. If you know anyone who may be interested, please feel free to share this post on your social media!

An Interview with George Singleton, Author of You Want More: The Selected Stories…

George at his now defunct liquor bottle wall at home in Spartanburg, SC

I had the pleasure of attending one of your lectures where you said, “All beginnings must kiss the end.” I revisited my entire collection of short stories based on that advice. I asked you then if you needed to kiss the middle and you said you’d get back to me.  Time’s up.  What do you think?

Ha. That’s another thing—kissing about each page. It’s not a bad idea to have an echo. Let’s say I write a story about a character who takes one of those Here’s Your Career tests in high school, and it came out, say, ornithologist. The character’s now 50, telling the story. On every page it might be wise to throw a bird reference in there. (Gee, guess what I’m in the middle of writing right now? A tenth-grade teacher decides to offer up every student—in her American history class—their career destination. My guy—now 50 and working for a non-profit—gets “ornithologist,” which the teacher, and fellow classmates, thinks is “orthodontist.”)

There are short stories I reread annually: “Cat in the Rain” by Hemingway for its brevity and what remains unsaid, “How Far She Went” by Mary Hood for tension-building, “The Witch” by Shirley Jackson, because it’s simply wicked. I’ve officially placed your short story, “Four-Way Stop,” in my annual rereads.  What are some of your go-to stories?  And Why? 

Another great question. When I can’t go from Point A to Point C, oddly enough, I go reread some John Cheever. I have exactly zero connection to Cheever’s world—northeastern, lower upper-class people—but boy oh boy can that guy write a story. So, there’s something like “The Country Husband.” If I’m dead in the water for language, I go to just about anything in Barry Hannah’s Airships. If I’m looking at how to write a funny/sad story, it might be Allan Gurganus’s “The Wish for a Good Country Doctor,” which is about to come out in his Uncollected Stories.

As you can tell, I’m a little fixated on your short story, “Four-Way Stop.” I mentioned in my review I felt this story was the perfect balance of comedy and tragedy. Tough question, but how in the hell did you accomplish this?

There’s nothing more fun than to do a reading, and have audience members laughing like all get-out, then the story takes a turn, then seeing people’s faces go, “Uh-oh, should I have been laughing?” It all goes back to Samuel Beckett saying something like, “There’s nothing funnier than human misery.” Right? We might be all “Man, my life sucks,” and then read a story about a character who’s worse off. My life sucks, but it ain’t as bad as this guy’s life…” “Four-Way Stop” starts off with ridiculous trick-or-treaters, but then ends up with two characters’ child getting killed at an intersection. Maybe the saddest story I’ve ever written.

Back in the day, fiction writers would never consider writing novels without first mastering the shorter form.  Now, everyone starts with the novel.  What’s the future of the modern short story?  What has changed since you began your career?

I do everything backwards. I wrote three execrable “novels” before I ever wrote a short story. Godawful. 450 pages, 250 pages, 300 pages. I’d had great professors say, “You’re ready after 1000 pages.” I guess they were correct. I started writing short stories then—after peckering around with novels from 1979-1987 or thereabouts. I don’t get why short stories aren’t more popular, or why publishers and agents pretty much demand a novel. Idiots, I think. Right? With the attention spans of people these days, you’d think that there would be a demand for poetry.

I love linked narratives and Drowning in Gruel spoke to me. Has anyone advised you to “convert” those stories into a novel?  Have you ever felt you had to defend this form against the more traditional longer form of the novel?

So, I was writing a bunch of stories for Drowning in Gruel. I got some pressure from my agent and publisher/editor to write a novel. As a joke, I started a short story called “Novel,” about a guy named Novel. It got kind of long. At the time I was with Algonquin, but my paperback dude was Andre Bernard at Harcourt. He called one day and said, “What’re you working on?” Maybe I had been drinking. I said, “I’m writing a novel, called Novel….” And then I made up some stuff. He made an offer. I finished the novel, then went back to those stories in Drowning in Gruel. What the heck. There’s a story in the collection that mentions a tombstone with a guy named Novel Akers, who dies at sea.

I once took a Business of Writing (not at my MFA program) course and when I introduced myself as a short story writer, the instructor said two things: No one publishes short stories and why don’t you just make your stories longer…meaning into a novel. I literally had a panic attack, and I didn’t take the advice.  What’s your advice for short story writers attempting to break into the industry?

Write what you want. If you’re an electrician, don’t listen to people who tell you to be a plumber. My father—who had a tenth-grade education—asked me in my junior year of college, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I guess I’m going to law school.” He said, “Do you want to be a lawyer?” I said, “Not really. And I hate everyone I’m in classes with who’re going to law school.” He said, “Why would you want to go do something for 40 years that you hate?” I said—and I was a philosophy major, but not smart or committed enough to do a PhD in philosophy—“I want to be a writer.” He said, “Well, go write.” I should mention that my father called me often, like at 5 A.M., and said, “I’m looking at the Want Ads and don’t see ‘Philosopher for Hire’ ha ha ha.” He died when I was 24. Maybe that’s where the funny/sad stuff comes from.

What’s on the agenda of George Singleton?

Who knows? I’m writing a bunch of stories about characters involved in the non-profit sector. Kind of linked stories. My working title is The Curious Lives of Non-Profit Martyrs.

What are you currently reading?

The End of Vandalism, by Tom Drury. It was published about 30 years ago, and I’m just getting to it. Funny and sad.

I saved the most important question for last. Is it possible to write a story about a dog or even a story that includes a dog as a minor character where the dog doesn’t die?

Ha. Well. I got that one story….

TO PURCHASE You Want More: Selected Stories by George Singleton at Hub City Bookshop or via Amazon.

More about George…

George Singleton has published nine collections of stories, two novels, and a book of writing advice that includes illustrations by Daniel Wallace. His stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, One Story, the Georgia Review, the Southern Review, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. He’s received a Pushcart Prize, and has ten stories in the New Stories from the South anthologies. Singleton received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009, and he’s a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

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You Want More: The Selected Stories of George Singleton, a Review

I’m fairly certain George Singleton was a ten-month baby.  This isn’t meant to be derogatory.  God, I hope not—I was a ten-month baby myself.  In the introduction to The October Country by Ray Bradbury, Bradbury says he was a ten-monther, and while in the womb for that extended amount of time, his senses were sharpened; he felt everything, completely aware of everything from the moment he was born. This gave Bradbury an advantage when he later started writing. I’m not going to delve into the science or truth of Bradbury’s statement. My takeaway here is this: to be a good writer you must be an eyewitness, a spectator, pay attention, and you must, must use all your senses.  Clearly, Singleton is paying attention with his latest collection of short stories, You Want More, which captures small Southern towns and characters in all their glory. His characters are what us literary types call round, not rotund, by fully fleshed out. They’re beer and bourbon drinking philosophers, grumpy old men with heads in the gutter, scam artists, miscreants, underdogs, and if employed, have odd occupations like prebouncers which I didn’t even know was a career path.  They may seem deeply flawed, but there’s always one Shakespearean fool in the story spouting truth, and for all their bad behavior his characters are loveable. His stories guarantee to entertain, but underneath the hilarity there’s satire, there’s irony, and symbolism. Singleton uses every tool from the tool shed, and to do that, you must be paying attention.

I met George at my MFA residency a couple of summers ago.  I was driving back from the Dollar General near the campus with a bottle of bleach the salesgirl suggested I use on my poison ivy (another story).  It was Georgia, June, and boiling and from my car I saw a man hitting the asphalt with a determined gait clad in a ball cap that should have been put out of its misery years ago.  I thought, “That’s George Singleton.” I had a copy of Drowning in Gruel and Staff Picks sitting in my passenger’s seat.  I looked on the back of the cover for his headshot and sure enough–George.  It looked like he knew where he was going.  Thirty minutes later when my roomie and I headed out for the nightly reading, George was still navigating the parking lot, but now appeared pissed.  I rolled down the window and said/asked, “You’re George Singleton.” A bunch of expletives about not being able to find the expletive library emerged from his mouth and he jumped in the back of our car.  Rather than telling him how much I admired his work or that I am a short story writer myself and because I was nervous, I launched into questions about another author, William Gay, who I knew was friends with George. I said, “I got to pick your brain for some William Gay stories.” I wrote about William Gay for my critical thesis; he was still haunting me, but I wanted to pick George’s brain about his writing, too. It was kind of rude, seeing George was the keynote speaker and looked like he just exited a Temazcal and Mother Earth or the Shaman kicked his ass, but he took it graciously and later that night walked into our dorm room (where the rest of the residents had gathered) with a case of PBR and those stories. I still have one of those PBRs.

If I’m reading a book I plan to write about, I fill the pages with micro-post-it-notes tagging lines I enjoy and larger sticky notes with comments.  Later, I’ll read through my notes and it all comes together from there.  Pretty common procedure. My notes for You Want More went something like this: A travelling aquarium salesman, forced to attend a motivational conference, hooks up with the speaker’s scar-faced, ex-gangster daughter; A former child-star of a statewide lice documentary returns to his hometown and high school reunion and has an epiphany; Pam, a dog-healer (not a veterinarian, but literally a dog who heals), licks away diseases, illnesses, and infection with her tongue; A Halloween miracle occurs when Jesus Christ and his two thieving companions go trick-or-treating; “The Novels of Raymond Carver” (???? If you don’t get it now, you’ll get the joke when you read the story); Richard Petty, who has written the great American novel, delivers his acceptance speech for the National Book Award, and manages to squeeze in every sponsor. According to Aristotle, “No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.” You see where I’m heading here.  Anyone unfamiliar with George’s type of genius–who perchance read my sticky notes–may recommend inpatient therapy.  Yet, there’s something grander going on with these quirky stories. “Four-Way Stop” is a masterpiece of balancing comedy and tragedy.  In “Richard Petty Accepts National Book Award,” Singleton compares pit-road with the writing industry, which turns out isn’t much of a stretch. And every time I end up in the town of Gruel, like his characters who cannot seem to escape or otherwise get sucked back into Gruel, it’s as if I’m reunited with my own dysfunctional family.  There’s Victor Dees, the proprietor of the Army-Navy store. There’s Jeff, the owner/bartender from Roughhouse Billiards. If you are a short story writer, reader, or maybe just want to read literature that won’t induce you to pen a suicide letter, then get a copy of You Want More.  Hell, get a copy of all of Singleton’s books.  His stories are like the loyal dogs he frequently writes about. They will be waiting for you by the door. If you’re really good, they may fetch you a beer.

Singleton is a first-person point-of-view wonder boy.  His third-person point-of-view feels like first-person narration, because it’s just so dang close. There’s even a second-person point-of-view story in You Want More (“What Could’ve Been?”), and that isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish. It’s both funny and not so funny when you put it in perspective.  Even though his narration is super tight, occasionally the narrator sort of stops and chats about writing.  For any other writer this would come off as an intrusion, but it works and for us writerly folks who ponder the same issues it’s a nod to the craft.

Then there are the classic Singletonian lines that every writer wishes they came up with first: “You’ll have twenty lies, all of which you will recycle the rest of your life.” Or, “My team members stared at me as if I piped up about how Jesus was a gay man and couldn’t decide which of the twelve disciples to date.” I’m not giving away anymore Singleton lines for free. Buy your own copy!  Buy them all!  For what my opinion is worth, Singleton epitomizes what is best in the modern American short story and should be on every syllabus starting in high school. If you’re concerned with language and/or content, I have a friend who teaches “Trombones, Not Magic” from Staff Picks to his AP English high school class. Generally, these are feel-good stories with a moral to the story and it’s never force-fed.

I read an article about how Tennessee photographer, William Eggleston, depicted suburban American life like a John Cheever story.  I see both these masters in Singleton’s works. If John Cheever was the “the Chekhov of the suburbs,” then George Singleton is the John Cheever of the small Southern town.  But if I had to compare Singleton’s stories to another photographer, it would be Chris Verene, who at a young age started documenting his friends and family from his hometown of Galesburg, Illinois.  Like Verene, Singleton articulates honest stories about the everyday person anyone can understand. His stories remind me of flipping through the family photo album. It feels like home, and yes, we want more.

TO PURCHASE You Want More: Selected Stories of George Singleton, visit Hub City Bookshop or Amazon.

More about George…

George Singleton has published nine collections of stories, two novels, and a book of writing advice that includes illustrations by Daniel Wallace. His stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Playboy, One Story, the Georgia Review, the Southern Review, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. He’s received a Pushcart Prize, and has ten stories in the New Stories from the South anthologies. Singleton received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2009, and he’s a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

Write the story you want to live!

Exploring the Beat Generation: A Conversation with Poet/Philosopher, Michael White and Poet/Writer/Teacher, Andrew Smith

If you’re like me and fascinated with the Beat Generation, a counterculture movement of Poets, Authors, Musicians, Philosophers, Visual Artists, Actors a/k/a post war Bohemians originating in the 1950s, who rejected materialism, examined Asian philosophy and religions, experimented with psychedelic drugs and sexuality, and spontaneous creativity, you will want to watch this video interview–Tennessee Beats in Colorado–between Poet/Philosopher, Michael White, and Poet/Writer/ Teacher, Andrew Smith. This interview was done as a lecture for Smith’s English class. What a cool professor and also a treat for the students, huh?! Andrew Smith is an instructor of English and Religious Studies at Tennessee Tech. You may access Smith’s podcast, playlists, reviews and much more at: http://www.teacherontheradio.com/.

MORE about Michael White…

J.M. (Michael) WHITE did graduate study in Phenomenology at Duquesne University and holds an M.A. in philosophy from Vanderbilt.  His short stories, poems, interviews, essays and book reviews have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Sewanee Review, Janus Head, Parabola and The Mirror as well as in magazines and journals in Canada, England, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and India. Michael White founded Anomolaic Press and publishes his own work along with the novels and short stories of William Gay.

Publications include

Future Nothingness Already, 2005 – A novel set in the hills of rural Tennessee.

The Beyond Within, 2008 – A wide ranging collection of poetry.

The Latch, 2012 – A poetry collection written in the non-linear style of “ring composition” where the conclusion comes in the middle  and the ending latches back to the beginning, it includes three chapters of prose providing background on the technique of writing in circles.

Naropa Journals: William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Revolution, 2015 – A memoir of my years studying with Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso and the whole Beat contingent.

The Birth of Death: A Guidebook to Paleolithic Art in the Caves of France, 2016 – A guidebook to the caves and an exploration of why the artwork in the caves was created.

Ports of Entry: Tibet, Peru, Mexico: Journals 1999-2011, 2017 – Journal accounts of a literary pilgrimage to visit the monasteries of Tibet and the ancient sites in Peru and Mexico.

Pulling Down the Sun: The Pueblos, the Great Houses and the Cliff Dwelling, 2018 – Includes accounts from the festivals at Zuni, Hopi and Taos and visits to the ruins at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon offering a glimpse into the indigenous past still alive in the deserts of Southwestern United States. 

Confidential Advice for the Unconventional, 2017 – A bi-lingual collection of poetry with English/Romanian translations published in Romania.

Shoot Out at the Poetry Factory, J. M. White and John Tischer, 2018 – A bi-lingual poetry collaboration published in English/Romania with poems by Tischer and White, matched thematically, on facing pages.

Works by William Gay:

Wittgenstein’s Lolita and The Iceman: Short Stories by William Gay, 2006

Time Done Been Won’t Be No More: Collected Prose, 2010

Stoneburner: A Novel, 2018

Works compiled and edited by J. M. White

The Buddhist Path by Khenpo Palden Sherab Rinpoche, Snow Lion Press, 2006

Safe in Heaven Dead: Interviews with Jack Kerouac, Hanuman Press, 1994

Live the Story you want to Write!

The Poet Philosopher, Michael White, on the Subject of Death, Religion and the Future of Poetry

I met poet and philosopher, Michael White, when I was conducting research for my critical thesis on the author, William Gay. I discovered the archive’s website and was put into contact with Michael. He’s the lead archivist and is a fount of information on all matters William Gay. I consider Michael to be a friend now. He’s been supportive of my writing and pulled me into the editorial process with William’s work which is a great honor, but aside from his connection to William I discovered that underneath this soft-spoken, mild-mannered, philosophizing, hippie poet type there’s a wild child whose waters run deep. This a man who has documented his exploration of ancient sites and festivals of indigenous peoples around the world and was friends with the Beat poets. He’s just really a cool cat. I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael and reading three poems he wrote and contributed on his behalf for this week’s Deathproof show on melodically challenged–a poetry themed radio show, produced by K.B. Kincer, on WRAS-Album 88.5, Georgia State University College’s Radio Station-Atlanta. Deathproof pays homage to death, funerals, animal slaughter, the dead and undead. It’s heavy, but hell, 2020 has been pretty heavy. AND, it’s Halloween so the music is super creepy. Michael’s poems are both contemplative and humorous and you’ll get to hear me put on the poet hat because I got to read them.

Tune in Sunday, October 25th at 7 PM EST. For local listeners turn your radio dial to WRAS88.5 FM. To Tune in Online visit link: WRAS-Album 88

Why are poets fascinated with death?

Ah yes, the unknown country, the final destination, the border land, our ultimate destiny for which there is no escape. I had the opportunity to get to know William Burroughs back in the 80s and if he was in a group of people and the conversation began to falter he would start talking about death, everyone is fascinated by it, that is, if you have the courage to face it. I thought very highly of Burroughs, he was the genius of geniuses in the Beat cadre and once I asked him, “Everyone recognizes the relationship between birth and death, all things that are born must die, but what about the other way, what is the relationship between death and birth?” He replied that death was just the mechanism for getting the old people out of the way, if we continued hanging around the place would fill up, we had to die so the rest of the people could carry on with life. 

You contributed three poems to the melodically challenged poetry radio show on the subject of death. Is death different for a Buddhist compared to other religions? Is is easier? Harder? 

All religions are con games, there was a time in human evolution when, like the animals, we didn’t know we were going to die, then as consciousness evolved and we gained greater cognitive abilities and were able to hold memories in store it dawned on humanity that all things that are born must die. That was the birth of death, as a reflex it was also the birth of religion as a scam to avoid death. They have been devising immortality schemes ever since, heaven and hell, life with the ancestors in the stars, rebirth and reincarnation, all bullshit. Each different religion has come up with a slightly different take on the old immortality scam, Buddhism came up with the Bardos and the six realms, all built around the idea of a karmic accounting system where good deeds get you a better rebirth and bad deeds do the opposite and there are 3 higher realms and 3 lower realms and you definitely want to stay out of the lower realms. This is opposed the Christian/Muslim idea of faith in God where true believers get to spend eternity in heaven and those who are non-believers are condemned to hell fire. How crazy can you get? And people actually believe this?

Did your poetry lead you to Buddhism or did Buddhism lead you to poetry?

In ancient times all literature was poetry, whatever you wanted to write was done in verse and could be sung. We live in a degenerative age, first we devolved to prose and now we are down to tweets. Buddhism has a great history of poetry and even now if the Buddhist want to write something important it is done in verse with a syllable count for each line and an internal rhyme structure. For me, it was just destiny, writing, prose or poetry is a calling, it has to be your destiny, it calls you, you don’t call it. The relationship between Buddhism and poetry for me, is that Buddhist meditation is a technique for moving the center of gravity of awareness out of your individuality into a deeper more common stratum of our humanity, to hit into our basic human nature, and poetry, all art, is the expression of this common ground in humanity, if what you are saying is not speaking to humanity as a whole it is just journalism, just a passing fancy.

What is the future for the modern poet?

It’s bleak, to say the least! Try to make a living as a poet, impossible. You have to teach or have a day job of some sort. But it will continue as a counter-culture, as an underground movement, and will be sustained by people like Emily Dickinson, sitting at her desk, cutting language to the bone, getting to the essence, and expressing it with no expectation of readership or fame or reward, it is its own reward and poets are the legislators of reality, the arbiters of taste and the expression of what is most noble in our human nature.


 J.M. White did graduate study in Phenomenology at Duquesne University and holds an M.A. in philosophy from Vanderbilt.  His short stories, poems, interviews, essays and book reviews have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Sewanee Review, Janus Head, Parabola and The Mirror as well as in magazines and journals in Canada, England, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and India.  

He founded Anomolaic Press and publishes his own work along with the novels and short stories of William Gay.


Future Nothingness Already, 2005 – A novel set in the hills of rural Tennessee.

The Beyond Within, 2008 – A wide ranging collection of poetry.

The Latch, 2012 – A poetry collection written in the non-linear style of “ring composition” where the conclusion comes in the middle  and the ending latches back to the beginning, it includes three chapters of prose providing background on the technique of writing in circles.

Naropa Journals: William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Revolution, 2015 – A memoir of my years studying with Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso and the whole Beat contingent.

The Birth of Death: A Guidebook to Paleolithic Art in the Caves of France, 2016 – A guidebook to the caves and an exploration of why the artwork in the caves was created.

Ports of Entry: Tibet, Peru, Mexico: Journals 1999-2011, 2017 – Journal accounts of a literary pilgrimage to visit the monasteries of Tibet and the ancient sites in Peru and Mexico.

Pulling Down the Sun: The Pueblos, the Great Houses and the Cliff Dwelling, 2018 – Includes accounts from the festivals at Zuni, Hopi and Taos and visits to the ruins at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon offering a glimpse into the indigenous past still alive in the deserts of Southwestern United States. 

Confidential Advice for the Unconventional, 2017 – A bi-lingual collection of poetry with English/Romanian translations published in Romania.

Shoot Out at the Poetry Factory, J. M. White and John Tischer, 2018 – A bi-lingual poetry collaboration published in English/Romania with poems by Tischer and White, matched thematically, on facing pages.

Works by William Gay:

Wittgenstein’s Lolita and The Iceman: Short Stories by William Gay, 2006

Time Done Been Won’t Be No More: Collected Prose, 2010

Stoneburner: A Novel, 2018

Works compiled and edited by J. M. White

The Buddhist Path by Khenpo Palden Sherab Rinpoche, Snow Lion Press, 2006

Safe in Heaven Dead: Interviews with Jack Kerouac, Hanuman Press, 1994


J. M. (Michael) White

91 Vantrease Road Brush Creek, TN 38547 USA

Cellphone (615) 684-2711

Email michaelwhite@dtccom.net

Live the story you want to write!

Ghost Story Writer, Ann Hite, on her Ghosts

Do You Believe In Ghosts?

I do without a doubt. It’s one of the reasons I related to author Ann Hite’s stories. I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Ann Hite’s memoir, Roll The Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse this summer along with her novels, Lowcountry Spirit and The Storycatcher. Ann’s stories are peppered with ghosts and she graciously offered to contribute a personal experience for my October blog. Hope you enjoy it!

1: In the spring of 1969, a young couple placed their one-year-old little girl in their Volkswagen Bug and left their apartment for what one would imagine was an errand. As the driver of the car— I’m not sure if it was the husband or wife—pulled out onto the busy two-lane highway, I always assumed they never saw the eighteen-wheeler barreling over the hill at them. Did they have any premonition of what would happen in the days before? The truck driver did apply his brakes, but the truck didn’t stop. The massive tractor-trailer crushed the Volkswagen, killing the one- year-old girl, who couldn’t even walk on her own yet. The mother and father were transported to the hospital. One died and the other was placed in ICU. The family of the mother came to clear out the second floor two-bedroom apartment not far from the scene of the accident.

2. In the same spring, my mother came home one afternoon and told my brother, Jeff, and I that she had rented a one-bedroom apartment less than a mile from where we lived with my grandmother in her tiny eight-hundred-square-foot house. “We will have to share the one bedroom like here until a two bedroom comes open.” This news was the best ever. The apartment complex had a pool, playgrounds, and kids of all ages. “And we will still be close enough for you two to walk to school. You have to be careful of the highway. It is dangerous. A lot of accidents happen there.” One week before we moved in, mother had brilliant news. A two-bedroom apartment had come available. The items the former tenants left behind in the large room Jeff and I would share were not strange. The light switch cover was a little lamb with a rainbow behind it. “That’s for babies.” Jeff fussed. “It will be fine.” I looked in the closet. Two plastic baby bottles sat on the shelf. “I guess a baby lived in this room.” When I gave the bottles to Mother, a frown formed on her face. She took the bottles and tossed them in the trash can. “Is there anything else?” “No. Just the light switch plate. It is for a baby nursery.” Mother shook her head. “So sad.” “What’s sad?” ​

“The people that lived here were in a terrible accident. The little girl was killed instantly and one of the parents died at the hospital. I’m not sure which. The other parent wasn’t doing well the last I heard.” The thought of a baby dying made my stomach hurt. The thought that we had gained a bedroom because of this accident washed over me with guilt. But just like any twelve-year-old, I soon put the thoughts aside. For the longest time, when I turned on the light, I thought of the dead little girl, but slowly that attention drifted away too.

3. In the spring of 1971, we had been living in the apartment for two years. I was fourteen and at odds with my mother like most teenagers. I didn’t bring many friends home because I never knew what Mother might do. She was a self-medicating bi-polar, but it would be years before we would get this diagnosis. To me she was just crazy, and I didn’t want my friends to know too much about her. I spent all my free time at other people’s houses. Most weekends, I left on Friday night and didn’t come home until late Sunday evening. Our apartment was located at the very back of the apartment complex. The front of the building faced a large lawn with sidewalks that circled the area. To get to our upstairs apartment, one had to enter an enclosed stairwell through a screen door that slapped shut, warning us someone had entered. Sometime during those spring months, Mother began to complain that “my friends” were trying to scare her. “They run up the stairs and turn the doorknob. When I tell them I’m going to call the police, they go back down.” This happened only on the weekends when I wasn’t home. I racked my brain trying to think of who would do this. One Saturday night—the first I had been home in months—I sat with Mother watching television. The days were getting longer, and it was still daylight at eight. The screen door to the stairwell slapped, and the most horrible stomping moved up the stairs. In my memory, the walls vibrated. Mother and I looked at each other. Someone pushed on the cheap hollow front door. The doorknob turned back and forth as if someone was frantic to come inside. The stomping began again, and the noise moved down the stairs. I jumped to my feet and looked out the big picture window at the front stoop below, convinced I would finally catch whoever was stirring up my mother. The screen door swung open. I pressed my forehead against the glass, straining to see someone, to make sure I got every angle. The door slammed shut. “See. You thought your mother was cray. Who did you see?” “There was no one there.” ​

“You’re lying. You heard all that. Someone had to be there.” Of course Mother thought I was covering for my friends, and I wished I had been. There was no explanation for what I had heard. How could there have been no one in the stairwell? In the spring of 1973, we moved to a ground floor apartment. Our old apartment had a succession of people move in and out in a span of a year.

4. In the spring of 1979, I was twenty-two and had left my Mother’s home long before. It was a late summer evening when I ran into a friend who had lived in the apartment below us. We talked and the conversation swung around to what happened after we moved from the apartment complex. A single woman who lived in our old upstairs apartment came down to my friend’s door. In her hand she held a small revolver. She told my old neighbor that someone was stomping up the stairs and turning her doorknob, pushing against her door. She was terrified and had called the police. My friend hadn’t heard anything. This conversation convinced me of what I suspected from the night I saw the screen door open and no one emerged. A ghost? But who? Was it the parent that died? Was he or she angry because we were in the apartment? Why did the ghost take two years to begin haunting the place? Many questions with no answers.

5. Around this time of year, I always think of my very real experience. Off and on I’ve researched in the local newspaper archives trying to find something about the small family. Wouldn’t the death of a one-year-old girl in a horrific car accident make the news? If I ever knew the names of these people, they have been lost in my memory. Yet, their story and the haunting have remained with me for thirty-eight years. This is one of the stories that helped me to become a ghost story writer. What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. I think we all have one even if we don’t tell.

Want to read more ghost stories? TO PURCHASE Ann Hite Books via Amazon.

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

Please share and like on your social media and feel free to leave comments.

Live the story you want to write!

Flash Fiction Horror Stories

Aliens, demons, buried alive, compulsive urges, sounds in the night…Enter if you dare!

Thanks to all my writerly friends who contributed these tasty little morsels of fiction to celebrate Halloween. Flash fiction is a wonderful way to get younger folks writing. It’s not easy, however, the brevity aspect makes it more approachable. To prove my point, two stories here were written by Emma, who is 12-years-old! We start them young down the path of evil. Bahahahaha!


If I had known I’d end up in this coffin, I’d never have gotten my nails done.

D. Major is an author of flash horror stories, enjoys volunteering at cemeteries, and was last seen cleaning headstones at the Oakland Cemetery.

I was so happy the day my son was born. Then he started to feed

Justin Jones is a writer and educator who spends his time dealing with the most frightening creatures this planet has to offer: teenagers.

I knew those things didn’t make noise. So after the thump in the closet, I only felt it sliding across the dark room toward my bed.

–J. M. Williams scribbles in a chair in LaGrange, GA, glancing up occasionally to watch the reality show outside his window.

As the killer clown threw me in the back of the van, bound and gagged, I suddenly remember I left my iron on.

–Tia King is a lover of cats, salty food, and hot sauce.

From the first moment I saw your face, I knew I wanted to wear it. I thought, it will go so well with mother’s pearls.

Amy Puckett McGee is a writer and librarian based in the Appalachian foothills of north Georgia. She can be often found haunting the halls of Reinhardt University with a dusty tome in hand.

“The noises have stopped,” he said. “I’ll take a quick look around outside and be right back. Stop worrying.” 

–Jennie Mayes supports her writing and eating habits by working round the clock and the graveyard shift at the Cobb County Board of Elections.

100 WordS or Less Horror Stories:

True Evil


“Are you shitting me?”


“It’s like you’re not even trying.” The little girl twirled her hair and ignored the closet door when it creaked open. “You used to be so terrifying. Now you’re just…ugh.”

The dejected demon-lord stepped out of the closet. He reared back a hoof and kicked an American Girl doll across the room. “Maybe I’m just losing my touch.”

“No, don’t say that Mr. Goatie.” Evie hopped out of her bed and held the deity’s hand. “I’ll give you some ideas.” She raised the demon’s floppy ear and began to whisper.

Baphomet smiled.

The Happy Wife

James tried stuffing his spilled intestines back inside the gaping stomach wound. The deep gash made by the butcher knife didn’t really hurt that much. No, what really stung was Charlotte’s piercing laugh. But, then again, he’d always wanted to make her happy.

Jon Sokol lives in Northeast Georgia where he collects double live albums and literary rejection letters. He is a member of the Gentleman’s Pipe Smoking Society, the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, and is a two-time inductee in the Century Club (accomplished during Spring Semester, 1994).

In my room half awake, I jolt up to a soft whisper. Paranoia? I tell myself it’s silly to be afraid of the dark. This is the third time I’ve woken up. Hiss… I get up to investigate. “Kitty?” I hope. In the corner I see two glowing eyes. I walk closer. “Kitty?”  Out of the shadows a figure tall and slim emerges and then crouches. Through fangs sharper than blades it hisses, “It’s wise to be afraid of the dark.”

A nightmare. It’s only a nightmare. The space ship, the two scrawny, green, slimy-skinned figures with black eyes dark as the night sky standing over me. A nightmare. I open my eyes. Its finger wipes away the cold sweat dripping down my face. Through a small portal I see…earth. 

-Emma is a 7th grader at the School of Ghouls and a member of the Crawlyball Team.


Many people feel the ever-pressing urge to complete certain actions, and, for most, these actions are one and done, a fond memory: stepping on an extra crunchy leaf during fall, walking in circles during a good phone call, or forcing your arms into the pretty stones in a gift shop. Then why do I find myself repeating these actions long after the initial rush of serotonin, after my legs ache and the cashier has started to watch me with my arms buried elbow-deep? Why can’t I stop?

Krista Shaw is an English teacher at a community college in Kentucky. Her favorite pastime is reading on the couch, curled up with her cat.

Wandering off in the mix of Halloween crowds, lost, I reach for the open hand of a woman who wears the same Drugstore mask my mother put on before we left for the evening, but when she removed it, wickedly smiling, I understood I’d gone trick-or-treating with a complete stranger.

–by D. Major


Apparition Literary Magazine is accepting succinct speculative stories 1,000 words or less between October 1st & 15th and is a paying market.

Apex Magazine is looking for 250 words or less focusing on holiday horrors in the month of December. It’s time to break out your favorite Krampus story folks. This is a paying market open now until November 15th

For those interested in flash fiction not of the creepy variety (depends on who you approach theme), Press 53 publishes 53 word stories (no less than and no more) and their theme for October is “brewing.” They read between the 1st & 15th of the month.

Welter is celebrating 55 years by sponsoring a 55-word contest which is open to poets and non-fiction and fiction writers. This is 55 words EXCACTLY! The winning prize, you guessed it, is $55 and social media accolades. This closes October 19th.

Please share to your social media and feel free to leave comments!

Nonessential words: Tips for Cutting Word Count

Please comment and share via social media!

As a writer of short stories, I find my short stories aren’t short enough. Too many times I get excited about finding the perfect journal to publish in only to read their submission guidelines and discover my short story exceeds the magazine’s word count guidelines. Decision time. 1. Move on from not so perfect journal, or 2. Though William Faulkner usually gets credit, it was was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch who said, “Murder your darlings.” It means CUT! It’s not a big deal to cut a few hundred words, but when you’re over by a thousand words or more it means cutting details, dialogue, and superfluous words. You do need to cut items that do not drive the plot. Here’s a real life dilemma I had with a Civil War speculative novel I am writing. I put these conjoined twin brothers in, gave them two whole chapters, and everyone in my workshop group said while they loved their story it did nothing for the novel. I was rather attached to these men, spent quite a bit of time researching them and imagining their lives, but my workshop was right, so I cut them. They may find their way back into this novel or they may find their way into something entirely different, but for now they went bye-bye.

Also, don’t make the mistake of submitting over the word count guidelines. I’ve lied about word count in the past. I suppose there are worse things in this world to lie about. Remember when you thought you were pulling one over on your eighth grade English teacher by adding nonessential words? Rules are there for a reason. It’s a waste of your time and the editors who upon seeing your blatant word count violation, rolls his or her eyes and tosses your lovely story into Never, Neverland. There are too many reasons to get rejected, don’t give them an easy out.

I’ve listed the various genres next to their word counts below. Please do not hundred percent me on these numbers. I didn’t pull them out of the sky, but I also wouldn’t swear on the Bible or my mother’s life. You may also notice inconsistencies between flash fiction and short story word counts. I’ve seen flash fiction publishers go up to 1,000 words. A big chunk of short story publishers, in my experience, think 2,500 words is magical. Herein, lies the problem (for me). I’ve been experimenting with Nano fiction, Micro fiction, and Flash fiction lately. More is not always better. Don’t believe me. I see a correlation between the tiny house movement and modern writing. I wonder about how popular trends affect readers. Do you see where I am going with this? Social media has given us ADHD. If stories are getting shorter and shorter, could it be that readers do not have the attention span for longish fiction? It could be a time or commitment issue. Either way, publishers of short stories are requesting smaller word counts.

So, you’ve decided to go with option two a/k/a murder. Before you cut a conversation out and/or all your adverbs (do go sparingly on adverbs, though. I made a funny. See? Sparingly and adverb…haha) start cutting superfluous words. I recently cut about 300 words that were taking up white space. Here’s a list of my favorites. Enter them into FIND in Word and kill, kill, kill. It is remarkably satisfying.

Joy-killing Words (plus-ly): all, almost, begin, could, down, from, just, might, may, of, rather, start, some, sudden, that, the, then, up, which, very, and -ly

In addition to cutting your adverbs, be selective with adjectives as well. You can also cut connectives (and, but) and prepositional phrases by looking for prepositions (of, in, from).

If you are writing in passive tense, please stop. No really, stop. My joy-killing word search method will weed out some passive voice issues, but not all. Active Voice: I cut joy-killing words. Passive Voice: Joy-killing words must be cut. While you are only cutting one word, one word turns in two, three, even fifty. Plus, active voice is more immediate.

For those non-writer types who for some reason follow my blog (thanks MOM), if you don’t trust an under 50-word story, here’s a famous six word story accredited to Hemmingway: “For Sale. Baby Shoes. Never Worn.” The reader fills in the blanks. If there’s an arc there’s a story. An arc doesn’t ensure a good story, but you can’t have a story without one. That’s a topic for another day, though.

Nano Fiction: 55 or less

Micro Fiction: 300 or less

Flash Fiction: 500 or less and up to 1,000

Short Story: (starting at 1,000) or 2,000-7,500

Novelettes: 7,500-17,000

Novella: 17,000-40,000

Novel: Over 40,000 (or starting at 50,000*)

*See NaNoWriMo where you can sign up to write a novel in a month. It’s how I wrote my first novel, not that the 30-day version was good, but it was definitely a start.

Live the story you want to read!

A Homage to Cat Lovers, featuring Buddy: My favorite Feline-Based Short Stories

Buddy, missing Since 12/5/2019 and Found 9/1/2020

I am writing this post is to honor charities, rescuers, fosters, adoptees, and all lovers of cats, but in particular to honor my sister, Aleea, who after searching for NINE MONTHS for Buddy, finally brought him home yesterday.

When I started writing this post I wanted to honor writers who figured cats into their stories, but before I finished I received amazing news from a fellow cat lover, Aleea. Some may describe my sister as a crazy cat lady, but regardless of what animal pulls at the heartstrings, Aleea turned that love into something more: she rescues adult cats and kittens at her home, places them with adoptees, supports cat charities, and has even gone so far as to taking in motherless kittens and feeding them with syringes. Five in her bathroom at one time! A couple of years ago, Aleea started caring for a tuxedo cat she affectionally named Buddy. Eventually, she was able to adopt him to a loving family. Shortly after his adoption, however, the new parents called Aleea and told her Buddy went through a vent into their ductwork. Buddy got spooked. No matter how many times they called for him, he never resurfaced. My sister and the family were devastated. Aleea put flyers all over Marietta asking folks to be on the lookout and provided information for his return. We assumed the worst, but Aleea did not give up looking for Buddy. Through a site called LostKitty.com, a kid recognized Buddy and contacted the adoptive family who called her. An elderly lady (with six cats of her own) had been caring for Buddy. The previous family decided Buddy was probably best living with Aleea given his last grand escape and she brought him home yesterday.

This time, I wanted to use my blog to pay homage to Buddy, who certainly used one of his nine lives in the ductwork, and also to support and honor those who care for our feline friends. After nine months, Buddy has returned and is healthy and happy. While Buddy follows in the footsteps of his famous counterpart, Puss-n-Boots, he has yet to reveal his adventures. And for dog lovers, your turn is coming soon. That is, if I can find one story where the dog doesn’t die or the story revolves around revenge for killing someone’s dog. Seriously, I know of only one dog story where the dog actually survives. One, folks!

I hope you all enjoy this collection of my favorite cat short stories and please share Buddy’s story as well as the stories I gathered here as an ode to felines and their devotees.

Hemingway may not have been loveable, but he was a cat lover. His multi-toed kitties still populate his home in Key West, so it’s no surprise that cats influence his stories. “A Cat in the Rain” makes it to the top of my list because of its sheer economy (only five pages long) and it’s one I make sure to reread at least once per year. In a nutshell without giving too much away, a husband and wife are stuck in the hotel in Paris on a rainy day, the wife is bored, the marriage is not all that, and the cat is used to express what is missing from their relationship. Bad marriages, Hemingway, Paris, and a cat, mmm? Sounds like a pretty common Papa story, but boy is it good one. Yes, you do have the time to read it and I’m handing it to you here: “Cat in the Rain”

Oh, Joyce Carol Oates! Need I say more? She is what I consider to be the epitome of a good writer. Her stories stick with you, are haunting, disturbing in the very best way. My favorite feline story of hers, “Miao Dao,” is from Book Four of her Dark Corners Collection and if you have Kindle Unlimited you can download it for free and listen via Audio Books, or you can purchase it for $1.99. Two and a half hours of creepy. One reviewer gave it a one star and wrote “NO!” I was immediately intrigued. In terms of length, it’s more novelesque. I like to listen to Audible before bed and have a bad habit of not putting the timer on. This will scare the crap out of you, so I don’t recommend falling asleep with it pumping in your ears. To read: “Miao Dao”

Of course, I must mention Stephen King. Cats typically factor into his stories. The most famous kitty being Churchill from Pet Semetery, but I’m honoring short stories, not novels here. “A Cat From Hell” from his Just After Sunset short story collection is every bit what the title implies. One of the reasons I was attracted to this collection is because a great deal of the stories are set in Florida and I enjoy reading about southern based locales, so for my southern reader fans, this is also must. Oh! There’s a good dog story in this one, but it does belong in the category I mentioned above. To read or listen: “Cat From Hell”

Angela Carter’s version of “Puss in Boots” from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories is surely the inspiration for the cocky kitty we all love from the Dreamwork’s movie. It’s filled with innuendo and adult humor. I just purchased the 75th Anniversary edition on Amazon. If you are are fan of fairytales, buy this for your collection. She also reinterpreted “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Bluebeard,” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and Neil Gaiman credits Carter for the inspiration for his work. To purchase: The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories

Speaking of Neil Gaiman, I must include this tiny morsel, “The Price,” which proves black cats not only bring luck, they may be the only thing between you and your worst fears. This is another short one you can read in five minutes (2,400 words). To read: “The Price”

This mini-anthology would not be complete without a crazy cat lady story provided by the master of magical realism writer, Italo Calvino. “The Garden of Stubborn Cats” is about a city of humans who once lived in balance with their feline friends, but over time built skyscrapers, concreted over everything, and dominated almost every square inch for themselves, leaving only the garden. Do I think Calvino is commenting on man’s relationship with nature? Yep, but you decide because Calvino is as complex as our feline companions: To read: “The Garden of Stubborn Cats”

If you want to comment with additional stories, a no-spoiler synopsis, and a link to read, listen or purchase your favorite feline-based short story, I will be happy to add it. Dog lovers, do not feel excluded. When I gather enough dog short stories (meaning at least a few where they don’t expire), I’ll put together the canine version of this post.

And, welcome home, Buddy. We missed you mister! Meow!

Writing About Childhood Trauma, by author and guest blogger, Susan Zurenda

My Character Eli Winfield and Childhood Trauma by Author of Bells for Eli, Susan Zurenda


Trauma is a complex word. We associate the term most often with military personnel who are exposed to war trauma and who experience posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Individuals with PTSD suffer such symptoms as flashbacks, nightmares, emotional withdrawal, anger, and fear. My maternal grandfather had PTSD from his service in World War I. Then, the condition was known as Shell Shock. My grandmother couldn’t manage the magnitude of the war’s effects on her husband and also raise her daughters, so my grandfather was sent to live with two sisters.  He misused alcohol, often physically shook with fear, and sometimes seemed to hallucinate when re-experiencing his traumatic events. But exposure to traumatic experiences doesn’t affect only those who are exposed to war. The consequences of repeated trauma have always been part of the human condition.

In my novel, Bells for Eli, my character Ellison (Eli) Winfield experiences another kind of trauma that begins with a devastating accident at age three when he swallows Red Devil Lye from a Coca-Cola bottle.  His father had been using the substance, because it has properties similar to helium, to blow up balloons for his son’s birthday party.  Eli’s calamity generates trauma on top of more trauma until it seems more than a young child can bear. But Eli survives. He is a fighter and by age 12, it appears he has conquered his ordeal. He looks normal on the outside. He has friends. With his tracheotomy gone, he can even swim like other kids do. As a teenager, he develops into a handsome young man adored by girls.  Only, really, he isn’t thriving. Underneath, he’s still in survival mode.

My novel is inspired by a similar traumatic incident one of my first cousins experienced at a young age. I was only a child then myself, so I don’t actually know, but I don’t think in the 1960’s when my cousin Danny’s accident happened that people believed childhood trauma could have permanent consequences.

We aren’t living in the 60’s anymore, and we’ve come a long way in understanding, but I still hear adults say things like, “He was so young when that happened. He won’t remember it when he’s an adult.”  Or, “Those experiences will make her tough when she’s older. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”  In reality, it may be that trauma exposure to a young child is especially injurious. Children and their brains and nervous systems are still developing and being traumatized can negatively affect brain development.

In response to childhood trauma, or trauma at any age for that matter, the body courses with adrenalin and cortisol to help the victim fight or run away. But a child often can’t escape his or her traumatic circumstances. Living this way for a long time can have a big impact on the body and the psyche. Even if later in life the child finds him or herself in a functional supportive environment without pain, the stress response that was so adaptive in the traumatic or abusive environment might be maladaptive for a flexible, connected, and fulfilling life.

As a result, children who suffer trauma might grow up responding quickly and decisively to the smallest signs of threat. As a defense mechanism, they might also suppress their emotions. Such children often don’t want to be quiet and still because if they are, their memories surface. With their high cortisol levels, these children often yearn for excitement that distracts them so that they don’t have to feel anything. In my book, Eli is unwilling to self-reflect, but he develops into a young person with tremendous compassion and caring for others in need because he understands suffering and persecution.

Not every child experiencing repeated trauma will develop PTSD symptoms. A 2012 (Idsoe, Dyregov, & Idsoe) study found that for students who experienced bullying, 27.6% of boys and 40.5% percent of girls had PTSD scores within the clinical range. And anywhere from 12% to 52% of people who had a long term, chronic illness as children will have PTSD or other lingering emotional side effects from what they endured.

My character Eli experiences both situations: a long-term painful medical condition and relentless bullying by his peers. And though no one in the novel seems to focus on a connection between Eli’s adolescent behavior and his childhood experiences—least of all him—he is indeed among those trauma survivors who remain permanently scarred.

Despite his limitations and pain, Eli is an amazing boy. He never quits. Other boys mock him for being a weakling, but what Eli lacks in physical strength he makes up for in spirit. On his first day of school—it’s second grade because he wasn’t yet strong enough to attend public school in first grade—a boy named Willard Timms is the first to react to Eli’s abnormal appearance. Sitting behind him while their teacher, Mrs. Hammell, distributes textbooks, Willard asks Eli about the string running from his nose and behind his ear and secured at the back of his neck. Eli ignores the question. Willard then tugs on the string, causing Eli to gasp and rise up from his seat. Mrs. Hammell harshly scolds Willard who dutifully begins to unpack his school supplies and seemingly forgets about Eli.

But bullies can be persistent. Not long after, at recess one day, Willard retaliates. Following is a short passage illustrating Eli’s torment. His cousin, Delia, is the first-person narrator here and throughout the novel.

[On the playground] I asked Eli what he wanted to do, if maybe he wanted to walk with Nealy, Gloria, and me. 

“Let’s swing,” he said. We walked over to the long line of canvas strap seats. Most of them were empty, so we had our pick. I could see Gloria and Nealy in the distance, walking the perimeter of the playground, but I couldn’t join them. I had to stay with Eli. 

Our legs pumped hard; we were in an unspoken competition to see who could reach the highest point, when three boys stepped in front of us. One of them was Willard Timms. 

“What’s sissy boy doing? Swinging with his girl cousin?” Willard said. He reached out and caught the chains on Eli’s upswing and brought him to an abrupt stop. They faced each other, Eli sitting—his breathing labored from his exertion on the swing—and Willard towering above him. The other boys, Jimmy Watson and Joe Cribb, stood nearby. 

“You’re nasty,” Willard said. “You know that?”

 “You’re the one who’s nasty,” Eli responded. I stopped my swing quickly by lowering my feet and dragging them in the dirt. Every muscle in my body grew tense. 

“Let’s see who’s nasty,” Willard said. He looked over at Jimmy and Joe. Eli stood up from the swing, facing Willard.

I wanted to run for Mrs. Hamell but there wasn’t time. 

Willard swung at Eli’s face. Immediately, a thin stream of blood appeared, trickling from Eli’s nose. But Eli did not fall and he did not so much as whimper. He stood erect, his nose bleeding down his lips, and kicked as hard as he could into Willard’s groin. My heart squeezed with pride when Willard screamed in feral pain. I imagined a phrase Eli sometimes repeated going through his head: All’s fair in love and war. 

Jimmy and Joe stepped up, ready to pounce on Eli, but by then everyone on the playground had tuned in, including the teachers. Mrs. Cousar arrived first and separated the boys. She grabbed Willard’s ear, twisting it until he was forced to lean into her. With her other hand she yanked Eli’s arm and dragged both of them to Miss Crockett’s office.

By early adolescence, all outward appearances of Eli’s accident have disappeared. He wears no string, the tracheotomy is gone, and he breathes through his nose. He exhibits no foul smell because the opening in his stomach has been closed. And after a series of trials, he proves himself to the other boys and is no longer bullied. He possesses a natural brilliance and is gifted with charm and charisma. A talented musician inspired by the sound of bells, nothing lures Eli more than a bell tower, especially the old fire tower with its enormous alarm bell behind his grandmother’s antebellum home.

Eli is a boy full of potential. He is empathetic and has a keen awareness of others’ pain. And it’s stimulating to be his friend because risk does not scare him. But Eli embodies many PTSD symptoms which impair him. He angers quickly; he blocks his feelings; he exhibits self-destructive behavior, and except for Delia, often has difficulty trusting others. And as has been the case since childhood, he is adept at hiding his internal physical and emotional pain.

As he ages, Eli’s persistent need for stimulation to distract him from dealing with his emotions becomes more problematic. He listens to no one. He uses illegal drugs to excess. His need to forget surpasses everything.

Eli is a tormented young man. Yet he is also a young man with a tremendous capacity for love and compassion.  His accident changes the typical relationship he and Delia might have had into one of deep complexity. It grows into an incomparable love, blossoming into an intimacy that cannot be, for they know to love one’s cousin in that way is taboo. Theirs is a world where cruelty and pain threaten two cousins whose extraordinary love prevails.

TO PURCHASE Bells for EliAmazonBookshop.orgBarnes & NobleEagle Eye Book Shop

TO CONTACT SUSAN ZURENDA: susanbzurenda@gmail.com

More about Susan Zurenda:

After teaching literature, composition, and creative writing to thousands of high school and college students for 33 years, Susan turned her attention to putting a novel in her heart on paper, the genesis of which started with a short story that won a fiction prize some years ago. She is delighted to present her debut novel, Bells for Eli, to readers on March 2, 2020. During her years of teaching at Spartanburg Community College and then as an AP English teacher at Spartanburg High School, Susan published short stories and won numerous regional awards such as the South Carolina Fiction Prize (twice), the Porter Fleming Competition, The Southern Writers Symposium Emerging Writers Fiction Contest, The Hub City Hardegree Contest in Fiction, Alabama Conclave First Novel Chapter Contest, and The Jubilee Writing Competition (twice).  Since 2018, she has published six stories in literary magazines. For future events and to learn more about Susan Zurenda, please visit: www.susanzurenda.com.

Please leave comments, like, and repost on social media! 

Interview with Susan Zurenda, Author of Bells for Eli, A Novel: Fiction Series Part II

Interview with Susan Zurenda, Author of Bells for Eli, A Novel

head and shoulders sitting SBZ, credit Anna Beckham

The point-of-view is something I believe writers would enjoy debating. How did you settle on this narrator? Why not tell it from Eli’s perspective? Did you experiment with different points-of-view or was this something you were firm about from the beginning? 

I did debate whether to tell the story from a first person narrator’s perspective or third person limited, but I always knew the story would come from Delia’s heart and mind. After experimenting a bit with both points of view, I decided on first person because it was more intimate, and I wanted the reader to feel close to Delia. Keeping readers out of Eli’s head was a given because Eli is a child and later a young man who not only keeps his feelings to himself, but tries not to examine his own feelings. One of the tragic consequences of Eli’s childhood trauma is his need to escape his feelings by any means possible. Also, Eli is stoic by nature, so instead of knowing any specifics about the physical and emotional pain Eli endures, the reader feels Eli’s pain through Delia. To have the story come from Eli’s point of view would have defeated some of my main purpose for the character.

I couldn’t help but notice that Eli’s name is also found in Delia’s name. It made me think about William Shakespeare’s famous quote: “What’s in a name!” I assume this was not accidental. What is the significance behind your choice in these character’s names?

I chose the name Ellison to connote Southern aristocracy. Ellison is often a surname, and Southerners are crazy about naming their children for last names reminiscent of a family line.  I gave him the nickname Eli because Ellison seemed too heavy a name for a child; plus, Southern children often have nicknames. The name Adeline has a lovely old-fashioned charm, and traditional Southern parents often choose “old” names. I learned the name Adeline suggests a desire for love and companionship as well as a penchant for adventure. My character Adeline fits this description. I gave her the nickname Delia for the same reason I gave Eli his nickname. What I did not consciously realize when I created these names is that the name Eli is literally inside the name Delia. A close friend with whom I taught English for many years asked me about the connection after she read my early manuscript. She thought I had created the names on purpose to fit together, but I did not. Thus, I consider the names Eli and Delia to be an excellent example of how a writer’s subconscious works!

Do you think the bells, especially ones specifically pointing to a certain chime or song, create a pseudo soundtrack to Bells For Eli?

I played the piano for many years and started college as a music major, graduating from college with music as my minor. Maybe for this reason I wanted Eli to be a musician. Who knows?  At any rate, he is a talented musician with a particular love for percussion instruments, especially bells. There’s a lot of music in Bells for Eli, and I like your idea of considering all the pieces in the novel as a playlist that helps to define both Eli’s and Delia’s characters. Whether it be “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin lifting Eli into a sense of peace or “Love Can Make You Happy” by Mercy causing Delia’s heart to ache for her cousin, music underlies feelings and circumstances in Bells for Eli.

Was there anything symbolically you would like to add about your use of bells? Or, John Donne’s poetry that maybe readers haven’t picked up on?

Bells have many meanings in the novel, both literal and symbolic. I’ll name a couple as a teaser, but I don’t want to take anything away from the reader’s own satisfaction in discovering how bells enrich the novel.

As bells are said to herald the arrival of a supernatural power or spirit, to be the voice of the sound of revelations, I hope bells provide imagery to deepen the strong mystical/spiritual element in the novel. Bells often announce momentous occasions, and Eli, with his adventurous and risk-taking nature, is always making an “announcement” of himself in adolescence.

I’d like to leave the connection of John Donne’s bells in his beautiful poem “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to situations in Bells for Eli for readers to experience at the end of the novel.

Is the town of Green Branch and Magnolia Manor based upon/by inspired real places?

Green Branch is typical of many small towns in the South in the 1960’s-70’s, but it is not based on a particular town.  Much of Green Branch is imagination, but there are definitely bits and pieces of several towns I’ve known incorporated into my fictional setting. For example, the model for the town clock that Eli and Delia climb sits on Main Street in Winnsboro, SC. It is the oldest continually working clock in America. Congress Street, where Eli and Delia live, has an eclectic array of houses built over a number of decades, not unlike an old downtown neighborhood in Spartanburg, SC, where I live. The model for Magnolia Manor is my great-grandparents’ home out in the country in Lancaster, SC, my hometown. This home actually has an old bell alarm tower that I climbed as a child. It’s still standing today.

Will you describe the readers’ reactions to the relationship between Delia and Eli?

I have been deeply touched by readers’ responses to Delia and Eli and their relationship. I can’t tell you how many people have told me their relationship moved them to tears. I love the words a reviewer used recently, saying Delia and Eli’s relationship was treated with “such tenderness and delicacy.” Overall, readers have been tremendously receptive to the love that binds Delia and Eli, and I am grateful that my characters have this effect.

What is next on your agenda? Do you have any current events coming up? Have you started writing anything new?

I had over 50 events scheduled among 8 states between March-Memorial Day, most of which were postponed or cancelled as a result of the pandemic. Slowly, I’m starting to do live events again, small or private ones with proper precautions in a controlled environment. I have a dozen or so events coming up from August-October. But people are still cautious, as they should be, as I am.

I have begun writing a second novel which doesn’t even have a working title yet. I’m about three chapters in. The story requires three points of view, and I’ve got to see if I’m up to the challenge of keeping the threads from each viewpoint both connected and separated. These three main characters are a high school English teacher, a privileged, brilliant Caucasian teenage boy, and an impoverished, equally smart (but without the boy’s educational advantages) biracial teenage girl. We’ll see where it goes!

TO PURCHASE Bells for EliAmazonBookshop.orgBarnes & NobleEagle Eye Book Shop

TO CONTACT SUSAN ZURENDA: susanbzurenda@gmail.com

More about Susan Zurenda:

After teaching literature, composition, and creative writing to thousands of high school and college students for 33 years, Susan turned her attention to putting a novel in her heart on paper, the genesis of which started with a short story that won a fiction prize some years ago. She is delighted to present her debut novel, Bells for Eli, to readers on March 2, 2020. During her years of teaching at Spartanburg Community College and then as an AP English teacher at Spartanburg High School, Susan published short stories and won numerous regional awards such as the South Carolina Fiction Prize (twice), the Porter Fleming Competition, The Southern Writers Symposium Emerging Writers Fiction Contest, The Hub City Hardegree Contest in Fiction, Alabama Conclave First Novel Chapter Contest, and The Jubilee Writing Competition (twice).  Since 2018, she has published six stories in literary magazines. For future events and to learn more about Susan Zurenda, please visit: www.susanzurenda.com.

Please leave comments, like, and repost on social media! 


Fiction Series Part I with Author, Susan Zurenda: Review of Bells for Eli, A Novel

IMG_1203Bells for Eli by Susan Zurenda: A Review

There are some books that you enjoy so much when you near the end you sort of panic and force yourself to stop reading. Thirty pages towards the end of Susan Zurenda’s novel, Bells for Eli, I had such a moment and deliberately set the novel on my nightstand to take up the next day. I don’t often pace myself or even cut myself off for the mere pleasure of extending a good read, but I did so with Bells for Eli.

 Bells for Eli is told by an older Adeline, called Delia, reflecting on her years growing up with her first cousin, Eli. More than just a first cousin, he is her neighbor, her best friend, her true (and forbidden) love. Bells for Eli begins in August 1978 and flashes back to 1959 when Eli drinks lye, permanently damaging his esophagus. He undergoes surgeries and extremely painful procedures, and as a young child is unable to even eat—his mother grinds up food and inserts it into his stomach—and then moves forward as Delia and Eli grow up. The narrative has a dreamy quality, beginning with the prologue when Delia falls asleep in the cemetery, wakes up to the Green Branch town clock’s bells chiming, then contemplates herself and Eli while walking home. From the prologue forward, you are on edge waiting for the other shoe to drop. During scenes when Eli drives his new Camaro on Christmas day or when he climbs the bell clock tower, I held my breath. A handsome and reckless young man in adolescence, Eli falls in love and tries desperately to replace Delia with another version of her in Isabel. Despite his tragic accident, Bells for Eli is a celebration of Eli’s life.

The novel’s point of view—told from the point-of-view of first-person observer and protagonist, Delia Green—resembles the point-of-view in The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald—I will say I consulted Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway and mulled point-of-view over, wondering if this was a hybrid between first-person central and first-person peripheral. Is that possible? Who is this story about?  It belongs to both Delia and Eli. Notice the similarity between their names. Is that coincidental? I don’t think so. I think the bells ring for both characters; they are both central to the story. They both suffer, learn, and love equally, but yes, the “I,” or the first-person narrator retelling this story is Delia, and she is the clear protagonist. Eli’s surgeries, the pain, being an outsider throughout his childhood all shape his life, but these events also equally shape Delia’s life. This point-of-view is tricky and masterful on Zurenda’s part. I seriously pondered it, wondered about the choice, and then considered how the point of view creates empathy. Sympathy and empathy are different creatures. This book is about empathy. If Eli told the story, we could commiserate with him, but only to a point, especially if he constantly complained about pain. Having that distance from the actual pain creates a sense of empathy which defines both Delia’s and Eli’s character. Ultimately, this choice in narration works because there is enough distance from Eli so that the narrator doesn’t become whiny; rather, Delia learns and changes and at the same time the reader learns and changes.

The story is a reflection from an older narrator, but when Delia recounts being four-years-old or sixteen-years-old, or whatever age, the voice, imagery, the setting, the dialogue, the action is captured from the perception of that age and time. This is difficult to pull off and shows a level of control not all authors possess. It’s tempting and much easier to speak in the narrator’s current voice. In Bells for Eli, you forget, as a reader, the “I” here is the older Delia and feel like you are experiencing what she felt at age four, at age sixteen, and the narrative supports it via historical and/or cultural references—some of them quite humorous. Though the novel has its tragic moments, it’s imbued with amusing anecdotes that rocketed me straight back into my own childhood and teenage years. I had a vivid sensation of being a child and standing before a rack of Barbie clothes encased in plastic with pure want coursing through my veins when Delia’s friend Gloria boasts about her Barbie’s Executive Career outfit. Zurenda takes you back to a place in time with references to Dark Shadows (a vampire soap opera my own mother watched), Delia’s Ziggy tee-shirt, or Delia and Eli being “placed in the red group, the top group” after reading from “Friends Old and New, Dick and Jane readers.” Oh, I recall this same process in grade school! In addition, some of my very favorite images are from the viewpoint of a very young Delia, describing Uncle Gene’s eyebrows as “caterpillars,” or imagining the white flowers of Mimi’s magnolia trees as popcorn. Thinking like a child, a teenager, a young adult and making the dialogue or imagery realistic for the age while maintaining the narrator’s voice is no small feat.

Now onto bells. Bells, bells, and more bells. As the title suggests, you need to pay attention to bells. One of my favorite literary devices is the symbol. Most organized religions use bells in rituals or services; some say the sound of a bell is the voice of God. Ringing bells are used to warn, as alarms to wake us, to honor people, to celebrate, to announce someone’s arrival, to ward off evil spirits. I could go on and on. Each time a bell appears in Bells for Eli, whether it is the clock bell tower in Green Branch or the doorbell at Magnolia Manor, new levels of meaning surface, and I was reminded of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf’s chiming Big Ben and Zurenda’s bells have the effect of deliberately jarring the reader from the narrative. Woolf is reminding us that time is not linear. We live in the past, present, and future. We live in our heads, like Mrs. Dalloway; likewise, we relive Delia’s past, connecting it to her present, and ultimately the bells reinforce the fluidity of time with no beginning, middle, or end.

The bells also provide an auditory text. When a specific tune or chime was identified, I literally stopped and listened. Eli loves bells, and they play a significant role in his life. Zurenda’s bells are not arbitrary. When Delia and Eli visit Magnolia Manor, for example, “he nearly fell into the hedge jumping out of the car to get to the door and ring the bell.” Not only is this a wonderful example of something a kid would just do (I recalled fighting with my sisters over elevator buttons and doorbells), it says something important about Eli’s character. He is more connected to the divine, closer to it than others, because he faces a near death experience as a young child. He lives his life on the edge because of the mental and physical pain he undergoes. Attempting to escape the cruelty of his childhood, and desperate to fit in, he takes dangerous risks that revolve around bells because they help him escape his thoughts. In adolescence, Eli becomes heavily involved with drugs, simultaneously escaping and experimenting, always looking for something deeper, mapping out his philosophy. When golden bells make heavenly music during an LSD trip, they represent Eli’s need for peace. The bells remind the reader that time is brief, to wake up, live in the moment. In a world largely driven by visual imagery; it’s refreshing to read a novel that relies so heavily on sound imagery.

Thematically, Zurenda questions how love can transcend societal norms, but the book also explores loyalty and the strength of friendships and family. In addition, there is a sense of mystery that surrounds the main plot that keeps you reading which mirrors what happens between Delia and Eli. Bells for Eli is aesthetically pleasurable to read—the cultural imagery, bell symbolism, allusions to John Donne’s poetry—and is a real gem for Southern literature.

TO PURCHASE Bells for EliAmazonBookshop.orgBarnes & NobleEagle Eye Book Shop

TO CONTACT SUSAN ZURENDA: susanbzurenda@gmail.com

More about Susan Zurenda:

After teaching literature, composition, and creative writing to thousands of high school and college students for 33 years, Susan turned her attention to putting a novel in her heart on paper, the genesis of which started with a short story that won a fiction prize some years ago. She is delighted to present her debut novel, Bells for Eli, to readers on March 2, 2020. During her years of teaching at Spartanburg Community College and then as an AP English teacher at Spartanburg High School, Susan published short stories and won numerous regional awards such as the South Carolina Fiction Prize (twice), the Porter Fleming Competition, The Southern Writers Symposium Emerging Writers Fiction Contest, The Hub City Hardegree Contest in Fiction, Alabama Conclave First Novel Chapter Contest, and The Jubilee Writing Competition (twice).  Since 2018, she has published six stories in literary magazines. For future events and to learn more about Susan Zurenda, please visit: www.susanzurenda.com.

Please leave comments, like, and repost on social media! 


Feeling Naughty? Tune into Bad to the Bone, a Poetry-themed Radio Show on melodically challenged

tony-hernandez-JO2ryr8t7f8-unsplashReplay of Bad to the Bone melodically challenged Poetry Show If you missed my Bad to the Bone themed poetry show on melodically challenged with K.B. Kincer last time around, you are in luck because WRAS-Album 88, Georgia State University College’s Radio Station-Atlanta is replaying it this week. Tune in Thursday, July 23rd OR Sunday, July 26th at 7 PM EST. For local listeners turn your radio dial to 88.5 FM. To Tune in Online visit link: WRAS-Album 88


Academic Series Part III: Re: Leora Watts and the Ill-Fitting Pink Nightgown by Author & Guest Blogger Ruth Reiniche

GA CollegePhoto of Georgia College Admission’s Building, Alma Mater of Flannery O’Connor

Re: Leora Watts and the Ill-Fitting Pink Nightgown

Mrs. Watts was sitting alone in a white iron bed, cutting her toenails with a large pair of scissors. She was a big woman with very yellow hair and white skin that glistened with a greasy preparation. She had on a pink nightgown that would have better fit a smaller figure. (O’Connor WB 33)

     Since Dawn has been kind enough to give me this space, I want to talk about a project I have been working on for about a year now. It is an extension of my “sign language” analysis and my working title for the project is Sign Language: Stitching a Landscape. My argument is that telling our stories, regardless of the style of the text, will alter the landscape of our perceptions and of our lives. My project focuses on women’s stories. I believe it is crucial to know the thoughts and desires of the women who lived before us and it will be necessary for the women that follow us to know what we valued, how we faced fear, and how we loved. As evidenced by my work on Flannery O’Connor, the voices of texts that are not the printed word, but are given form by narrative, have long compelled my attention. The texts I am examining in my current research are “hand-made.” When a writer incorporates the construction of a “hand-worked” text such as a weaving, a quilt, or a knitted garment into the plotline of her novel or short story, the fictional work bursts open in a way that could not be accomplished by other means. These kinds of texts are highly gendered. For several years I have been collecting works in which writers have embedded “hand-made” pieces to construct characters and to indicate context by illustrating patterns and motifs from the larger world. Essentially, it is a way of holding the past, present, and future in the palm of one’s hand. My contention is that when these “hand-made” items appear, they speak with a sign language that transcends time and place. It is most often a language of feeling that is expressed in a woman’s voice and by the work of her hands.

       This, strangely enough, takes us back to Leora Watts’s “pink nightgown.” In my work on O’Connor, I referenced how she uses paintings, ads, and films, mostly generated by males, to amplify her narrative. However, it is O’Connor, herself, who assembles the objects that visually define her female characters: the pink nightgown, a nail clipper, a dandelion hair accessory, a chifforobe, a broom. I see O’Connor as the designer and maker and her characters as her creations.  I, now, want to move beyond that work and into the hands and minds of makers and their creations who are embedded in pieces of literature.[1] Why are they there? Do they fit my “world in the palm of the hand” criteria?

      I will now describe two short examples from novels that I am currently analyzing.

     Early on in her novel Northbridge Rectory, Angela Thirkell uses the knitting in a mother’s hands to illustrate the enormity of facing the presence of inconceivable dangers. Mrs. Villars is a young rector’s wife whose responsibility it is to organize the “war work” of her husband’s first parish. We join Mrs. Villars as she discusses the connotation of the word “living” with her parish knitting group, all of whom are working on some war project: knitting garments to supplement the uniforms of British soldiers (WWII).[2]

‘It is quire dreadful,’ said Mrs. Villars, putting down her knitting (which was mittens for her younger son in the Royal Air Force), ‘the way some people behave with words so that you cannot use them. “Living” has almost got out of control’ (6).

This was the tenth novel I had read by Thirkell, so I was accustomed to her way of bringing the outside world into the context of the small English village, but Mrs. Villars’s mitten arrested my attention.  Why was she knitting mittens for a soldier? Thanks to Google, I found knitting patterns officially designed for soldiers’ mittens. Requirements for these mittens included olive drab yarn and the addition of a trigger finger to the basic mitten shape… a trigger finger.[3] Mrs. Villars had probably knitted various sizes of mittens for her son as he grew up and she now sits in her parish knitting group making him adult size mittens that require a trigger finger. No wonder she is obsessed with the slippery connotation of the word “living.” Knitting a mitten, for Mrs. Villars, is a hopeful act of faith that her son will be alive to wear them when she finishes. In this one sentence Thirkell uses this mitten with a trigger finger juxtaposed with the word “living” to open the door to the world war raging outside of this fictional English village as well as in the real world that roiled around Thirkell as she wrote in 1941.

     While Thirkell’s mitten serves as a metaphor for a mother’s wish to protect her son, a quilt serves as a metaphor for a life in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. In the novel, as Baby Suggs is dying, she calls out for color.

There wasn’t any except for two orange squares in a quilt that made the absence shout. The walls of the room were slate-colored, the floor earth brown, the wooden dresser the color of itself, curtains white, and the dominating feature, the quilt over an iron cot, was made up of scraps of blue serge, black, brown and gray wool—the full range of the dark and the muted that thrift and modesty allowed. In that sober field, two patches of orange looked wild—like life in the raw. (46)

An analysis of the life of Baby Suggs, born a slave and living with intolerable loss is too complex to carry out in this space. The two orange patches, however, speak directly to us as readers, reaching out beyond the frame of the work, in the same way that characters in O’Connor’s single panel cartoons did. Those two orange patches impel us to look over the landscapes of our own lives and wonder. What if we knew we would have only two orange patches? Would we go on? Would it be worth it? What are we to do about these orange patches presented to us by Toni Morrison?

     To me, it is the contemplation of these questions that necessitates the need for storytelling in our lives. I know I do not stand alone when I think of Mrs. Villars’s mittens as I make masks for my grandchildren to wear to school or when I consider the patchwork of a valued human life…a life that matters.


Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York: Penguin, 1987.

O’Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1949.

Thirkell, Angela. Northbridge Rectory. Great Britain: Hamish Hamilton, Ltd., 1941.

[1] These are some of the texts with which I am working: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, Beloved by Toni Morrison, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler, The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, In Love and Trouble by Alice Walker, A Single Thread by Tracey Chevalier, The Professor’s House by Willa Cather, Northbridge Rectory by Angela Thirkell, and on and on.

[2] https://www.pinterest.com/pin/155022412145736074/

[3] https://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/soldiers-mittens



July 16: Presentation at a Georgia Center for the Book Event Link 

Eventbrite Attendee Registration Link

TO PURCHASE SIGN LANGUAGE: Mercer University Press or Amazon

More About Ruth Reiniche: 

I have a B.A. from University of Michigan, a M.A. from Grand Valley State University, and a PhD. from the University of Arizona, and I have been a teacher my entire life. I taught GED prep in migrant camps. I spent a career teaching high school English. I have taught parenting to teen-aged mothers. During the recession of the 1980s, I taught resume writing and job seeking skills to unemployed adults. At nights, I taught basic math and reading skills in an Adult Basic Education learning center. To assist students who could not physically attend classes, I went to their homes as a homebound teacher. On the weekends I taught knitting classes. Most recently, I have been a Freshman Composition instructor at the University of Arizona. That was, as I heard someone say on television the other day, in the “before times.” Our world is changing. Social structures are realigning. Educational institutions are now re-examining what exactly it means to be educated and, consequently, what it means to be an educator.

I researched and wrote Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative in the “before times.” I now am reading O’Connor’s work as well as my own, with new eyes. As   O’Connor puts it, a text should enable “the reader to see the whole world no matter how limited his particular scene”[1]  When she said this, I believe she was not just talking about the twentieth century world of her present, but about the world that encompasses the past, present and future: the world as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.[2] Today (in the  “after-times”) , it becomes all the more important to read and interpret O’Connor’s Sign Language.

[1] O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners. NY; Noonday Press, 1969.

[2] https://www.catholic.com/tract/glory-be-doxology


Academic Series Part II: An Interview with Ruth Reiniche, Author of Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative

Relaxed HeadshotAn Interview with Ruth Reiniche, Author of Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative

Why Flannery O’Connor? What attracted you to this project? Are you also an illustrator, a photographer, or an artist of any kind?

While I was working as a secondary English teacher, I pursued many areas of study that led me to this project: child development, psychology, film, the fiber arts, and summer employment with Michigan Council of the Arts. I traveled all over Michigan to take classes from the various universities. When Grand Valley State University, only a ten minute commute from the high school where I was teaching, offered an M.A. in Literature, I decided it was time for me to return to my first and most steadfast love. I began to take every author study class available. Inevitably, I enrolled in a class on Flannery O’Connor taught by Dr. Avis Hewitt. Our first assignment was to read Wise Blood. It stopped me in my tracks. I had never read anything quite like it before. At this point my literary studies had become focused around illustration and pictorial technique and I became obsessed O’Connor’s process. Dr. Hewitt pointed me toward a fellowship that allowed me to read the Wise Blood manuscript in the O’Connor Collection at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, GA. After that I was hooked, and I began to spend summers in Milledgeville reading manuscripts, all in pursuit of solving the mystery of O’Connor’s artistry.

From start to publication, how long did it take for you to conduct the research and write Sign Language?

I focused on O’Connor during both my M.A. and PhD. studies, writing papers and attending conferences while spending part of each summer in the O’Connor Collection reading manuscripts. When I began the research, however, I really did not envision that a book would emerge as the product of my work. I think I was mostly enjoying slipping into the sense of connection and timelessness evoked by directed study. I try to nurture that kind of joyfulness found through research in my Freshman Composition students at University of Arizona. The idea of the Sign Language book began to take shape after I had retired from teaching high school and when I began my doctoral studies at the University of Arizona.

How do you think Flannery O’Connor would have reacted to the adaptation of her novel Wise Blood into a movie? What do you think about the movie?

Most writers are not happy with the movie versions of their books. I would imagine O’Connor would be the same way. I see books and movies as separate creative endeavors unless the author is directly involved in the film production. The movie is John Huston’s marketable construction of O’Connor’s novel.

What else did you want to say about O’Connor’s pictorial texts that perhaps was cut from your book?

I think the most prominent missing element of my book is illustrations or images. These were not cut; I simply could not afford to pay to use them. The images that I discuss are all available online, however. Link to Flannery O’Connor’s Cartoons: VIEW IMAGES

I read a 2011 article in The Guardian  about O’Connor’s cartoons and the writer compared her linocuts/cartoons to Persepolis: A Story of Childhood by Marjane Satrapi. Could you envision O’Connor writing and illustrating a graphic novel if she were alive? 

I thought a great deal about this question. I think O’Connor would be very interested in today’s graphic novels. However, there many variables when considering whether she would actually have done the illustrations for a novel in the contemporary manner. First, the linocut is a very time-consuming process. Second, I think the single panel cartoon was her oeuvre. It really allowed her to frame that “gesture” which indicates “where the real heart of the story lies” (O’Connor in Thompson).

I have been thinking about what kinds of graphics O’Connor might like. How would her iconic characters respond to taking static shapes? How would her message differ? I agree with The Guardian article that the early cartoons have similarities to the graphics drawn by Marjane Satrapi in her graphic novel Persepolis. 

The most striking similarity, of course, is the use of stark black and white ink which in itself is a choice that predicates a certain sign language. O’Connor’s cartoons, however, are fashioned to tell a story in a single panel and using a caption where Satrapi’s formulate a sequential narrative and all that entails.

I, then, began to think about what a graphic novel of O’Connor’s work might look like. What types of illustrations would she like in adaptations of her novels? I chose two examples that, in my opinion might align with O’Connor’s particular narrative. The cover of Octavia Butler’s Kindred by Damien Duffy and John Jennings illustrates the use of gesture in a way that, to me, is reminiscent of the style of O’Connor’s graphic narrative.

I also think the cover of the first Walking Dead comic by Robert Kirkman and Tony More would be in a style that O’Connor would like. Though, the main character appearing as the American cowboy might not be to her liking, but I think that the American dystopic street scene would appeal to her very much.

This exercise was fun, but it probably tells much more about my interpretive analysis than it tells about Flannery O’Connor.

I loved your comments on the comparison of Ruby from “A Stroke of Good Fortune” to Picasso’s “Girl before a Mirror.” Did you discover any other similar pieces of famous art, not mentioned in Sign Language, that you saw in O’Connor’s characters?

As I wrote about O’Connor’s characters, I referred to an actual collection of images I had put together that visually resulted from my character interpretations.

The Wise Blood characters come from a kind of upside-down world where the opposite of what the reader expects happens. They possess a unique amalgam of realistic and bizarre behaviors creating a tension that compels and captivates readers throughout. The WB characters are the most like the characters that inhabit O’Connor’s single panel cartoons. They reach beyond the frame uttering “captions” that upend stereo-types and clichés: “ Momma don’t mind if you ain’t a preacher” (34); “I’m going to preach a new church—the church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified” (55).

I always pictured Hazel Motes as walking dead through a dystopic, postwar, cold war America. Eastrod, the small town that he left to go to war has disappeared and he no longer seems to find a welcome anywhere. He has no home. The memory of his mother’s and grandfather’s warnings reverberates throughout the novel and serves as momento mori underlying each scene. The concept “still life” along with the Vanitas (example) by Barthel Bruyn the Elder embody Hazel Motes in my imagination.

It took a little research for me to formulate a visual image of Enoch Emory. What exactly is his heart’s desire? Enoch is a complex character who functions under the demand of a single emotional directive. He simply wishes to be loved and taken care of like the zoo monkeys he resents. My Enoch image is the gorilla in the movie poster for the 1949 film Mighty Joe Young . That movie marks a movement from the gorilla suit to stop motion animation. When Enoch dons a gorilla suit (now passé), he is not transformed into the beloved ape of the film. That cinematic, movie poster image is upended and we are left with poor Enoch, the somewhat repulsive, unlovable zoo employee, now clothed in a moth-eaten, scruffy gorilla suit.

I have a strong affinity toward Sabbath Lily. Being taken care of by a man seems to be her only way of survival in the American urban milieu that engulfs her. She simply wants a husband, home, and family. Her desire for the potato peeler reveals her desire for a kitchen in which to peel those potatoes. She imagines that Hazel Motes can give her this life which for her has been pictorially constructed by advertisements. Sabbath Lily has obviously studied the images of the domestic goddesses portrayed by advertisers and uses any tools available to recreate herself. I would look at 1940’s Coca Cola advertisements when writing about this side of Sabbath Lily’s character. She attempts to personify the “Coke girls” with no accessories and no means. O’Connor pushes Sabbath Lily’s character development deeper when she creates and frames the “unholy family” portrait in Sabbath’s last scene in the book. I envisioned a dark version of Leonardo DaVinci’s “Virgin of the Rocks” when I wrote about Sabbath Lily in this scene holding the “new jesus.”

I am old enough to remember desiring pink baby doll pajamas. While many O’Connor critics think of Leora’s ill-fitting pink nightgown as a way to laugh at her, I prefer to think of a young Leora that might have desired this nightgown in the first place. I also prefer to think it once fit her figure, but as she aged and as her existence became more difficult to maintain, she turned into the distorted figure confronted by Hazel Motes. In my mind, I always represented this Leora with the picture on the front of a 1950’s Simplicity sewing pattern displaying these shorty pajamas .

Annie Lou Jackson Wickers (Hazel Motes’s mother), Sara Ruth (“Parker’s Back”), Mrs. Greenleaf, and Sabbath of the manuscript are represented very distinctly in my mind by Dorthea Lang’s photos of depression era women.

I poured over pictures of child evangelists to get a vision of Lucette Carmody. I finally decided on Aimee Semple McPhearson. Lucette is the only present female and a pivotal character in The Violent Bear it Away. It strikes me that it would be interesting to do a study of Lucette, the girl in “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” and the girl in “A Circle in the Fire.”

I kept these images in a file on my computer while I wrote. It is important to remember, though, that my visualizations are based on Flannery O’Connor’s sign language coupled with my own experience and perception. This is exactly how she meant it to be, I think.

Sign Language was not written as a discussion of racism, which you clearly state, race and racism cannot be overlooked in O’Connor’s works and I’ve read some controversial letters O’Connor wrote to friends. There is quite a bit of ambiguity around this issue. Do you have a simple answer regarding the issue of racism and O’Connor?

Every day I rise at 5:00 AM. I sit at my table which, at the moment, is piled high with books and papers because I have not had anyone over for dinner since March. There is a soft breeze mummering with sounds from the Sonoran Desert drifting through my open window. These mornings are my time for writing and no matter where I go or what I do in the future, I know I will always think back on my desert house in the mornings. However, If I slightly change my position, I can see the plumes of smoke rising from the Buckhorn Wildfire that has been raging here in Arizona for weeks. Even though my desert dwelling offers solace, it also is a source of isolation from the coronavirus. Daily, on the television, I have watched America rage and burn. My heart breaks as I listen to the plaintive voices that arise with anger, protest, and grief. We do not exist in a vacuum. American literature does not exist in a vacuum. Times change. Perceptions change. Tolerations change.

Based on the current state of flux in America, I feel that there is not and there should not be a simple answer regarding racism and O’Connor. We must move forward, always, in truth. We must listen to myriad voices…voices that will interpret through generational and cultural lenses.  We can take direction from O’Connor’s own words in her 1961 letter to Betty Hester when she wrote, “In the future, anybody who writes anything about me is going to have to read everything I have written in order to make legitimate criticism…” (HB 442). Paul Elie, in his June 22, 2020 New Yorker article evaluates the dilemma we, as O’Connor scholars,  are facing in this way:

After her death, the racist passages were stumbling blocks to the next generation’s

encounter with her, and it made a kind of sense to sidestep them. Now the

reluctance to face them squarely is itself a stumbling block, one that keeps us from

approaching her with the seriousness that a great writer deserves.

How did you manage you PhD project and ultimately decide on it? For others contemplating a PhD what advice would you give regarding the process?  

As I have already noted, my PhD. experience was rather out of the ordinary. When I knew that I was going to retire from a high school teaching career, I began to think about things that I still wanted to do in my life. I had determined that I was going to move from Western Michigan to Tucson, Arizona to be part of my grandchildren’s lives as they were growing up. The next thing on my to-do list was to earn a PhD. in literature. I applied at the University of Arizona and was accepted by the English Department into their doctoral program. One thing that simplified the graduate studies process for me was that I did not intend to search for a tenure track position and leave Tucson. This gave me freedom that I would not have had otherwise. I was able for the first time in my life to study and learn without the pressure of employment. I have continued to work as a lecturer in the Writing Program at UA. This accomplishment has marked one of the best phases of my life.

 Are you planning on doing any writing conferences or speaking engagements about what you discovered in Sign Language? If so, when and where?

July 16: Presentation at a Georgia Center for the Book Event Link 

Eventbrite Attendee Registration Link

TO PURCHASE SIGN LANGUAGE: Mercer University Press or Amazon

More About Ruth Reiniche: 

I have a B.A. from University of Michigan, a M.A. from Grand Valley State University, and a PhD. from the University of Arizona, and I have been a teacher my entire life. I taught GED prep in migrant camps. I spent a career teaching high school English. I have taught parenting to teen-aged mothers. During the recession of the 1980s, I taught resume writing and job seeking skills to unemployed adults. At nights, I taught basic math and reading skills in an Adult Basic Education learning center. To assist students who could not physically attend classes, I went to their homes as a homebound teacher. On the weekends I taught knitting classes. Most recently, I have been a Freshman Composition instructor at the University of Arizona. That was, as I heard someone say on television the other day, in the “before times.” Our world is changing. Social structures are realigning. Educational institutions are now re-examining what exactly it means to be educated and, consequently, what it means to be an educator.

I researched and wrote Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative in the “before times.” I now am reading O’Connor’s work as well as my own, with new eyes. As   O’Connor puts it, a text should enable “the reader to see the whole world no matter how limited his particular scene”[1]  When she said this, I believe she was not just talking about the twentieth century world of her present, but about the world that encompasses the past, present and future: the world as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.[2] Today (in the  “after-times”) , it becomes all the more important to read and interpret O’Connor’s Sign Language.

[1] O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners. NY; Noonday Press, 1969.

[2] https://www.catholic.com/tract/glory-be-doxology


Works Cited

Butler, Octavia, John Jennings and Damian Duffy. Kindred: A Graphic Novel

      Adaptation. New York: Abrams, 2018.

Elie, Paul. “How Racist was Flannery O’Connor?” New Yorker, 15 June, 2020,


Accessed 22 June, 2020.

Kirkman, Robert and Tony More. The Walking Dead Vol. 1: Days Gone By. Beverly

Hills: Image-Skybound, 2004.

O’Connor, Flannery. Collected Works. New York: Library of America, 1988.

—–The Habit of Being. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1979.

—–Wise Blood. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1949.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. New York: Pantheon, 2004.

Thompson, Phillip. “Flannery O’Connor in her Own Words.” Grace & Violence: 23 April,

  1. https://kudzucorner.wordpress.com/2016/04/23/23-april-2016-flannery-oconnor-in-her-own-words/

Academic Series Part I: Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative by Author, Ruth Reiniche


There has been endless critical analysis about Flannery O’Connor, so much that I wondered if there was anything new to say. Well, it turns out there is. Ruth Reiniche’s Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative, provides a fresh and innovative look at Flannery O’Connor’s pictorial visions drawing from her early years as a cartoonist at The Colonnade, her progression from the linocut into living art or tableaux vivants identified in her characters, O’Connor’s symbolism comparted to fifteenth century still life paintings, to a look at her dualistic writing methods where Reiniche identifies elements of photography in her short stories and novels thereby constructing “verbal snapshots.” Sign Language is a study on the evolution of O’Connor’s pictorial text and how it is translates via various art forms that scholars, professors, students, fans of O’Connor, and serious writers could all benefit from reading.

Reiniche first focuses her initial attention on O’Connor’s undergraduate years at Georgia State College for Women where O’Connor worked as a cartoonist on a weekly paper, The Colonnade. O’Connor created linocuts to produce her cartoon images and added amusing captions beneath them. The cartoons are simple flat depictions in black and white and are quite charming. Essentially, this method is a type of printmaking that involves cutting or gouging a design into a sheet of linoleum which is later inked with a roller. It is similar to wood printing except that linoleum is much softer than wood, making it easier to manage. We’ve all seen linocuts, but perhaps were unaware of the technique. For instance, most are familiar with the famous linocut “Don Quixote” by Pablo Picasso. One of the many points I found interesting was Reiniche’s comparison between O’Connor’s cartoons in The Colonnade to well-known New Yorker cartoonists James Thurber, Helen E. Hokinson, and George Price. I particularly liked her comparison of Hokinson’s empty-headed rich society woman to the coed cartoons O’Connor illustrated for the campus newspaper. Reiniche suggests these depictions of Southern womanhood would later emerge in O’Connor’s fictional characters. In the cartoon images of women, O’Connor used clothing to interpret the various social cliques on the campus: “The “Girlie-girls” wear puffy sleeves and pinafores; “smart” girls wear glasses, sensible clothing, and saddle shoes: and WAVES (the woman’s section of the U.S. Naval Reserve stationed on the campus of Georgia State College for Women) are “far-sighted,” serious, and detached from the coed scene that surrounds them.” Unfortunately, Sign Language does not contain the images Reiniche so accurately describes, and I am sure the lack of images had something to do with publishing costs. It is easy enough to locate the cartoon images online which is what I suggest readers do. What is relevant is the cultivation of O’Connor’s flat, black and white linocut cartoons into what would later develop into some of her characters. Writers do not one day simply acquire a style or technique; it takes years to hone the craft. Whether you are an emerging writer or an established author, understanding O’Connor’s pictorial process is beneficial when considering your own development of character and scene and as a writer myself, I found it rather encouraging to see a master of fiction, like O’Connor, develop the flat characters (in her cartoons) and turn them into flesh and bones.

Reiniche contends that O’Connor pictorial text in O’Connor’s novel Wise Blood can be viewed through the same medium as a painter of still life and specifically fifteenth century vanitas. This is a fascinating correlation and I believe a very obscure one. Reiniche compares the scene in Wise Blood where Hazel Motes returns to his childhood home as a “virtual vanitas still life framed by skeletal shell of what use to be his home. Both Hazel’s head and the shell of the house have been described as skeletal or skull-like. In place of the candle, O’Connor has chosen two “twisted” envelopes” [Hazel lights on fire while he traverses his childhood home].” Skulls, snuffed-out candles, rotting flowers, fruit, maps, hourglasses, and gold are common symbolic objects found in vanitas, reminding us of man’s mortality (skulls, rotting flowers) pictured alongside the temptations of wealth (fruit and gold) with Hazel Motes burning letters symbolic of the snuffed-out candles in a vanita. The shell of the house is a skull and even Hazel’s head is also described as skull-like with his mother’s empty chifforobe as the heart of the home acting as a pseudo-coffin. Finally, Hazel leaves a note, what Reiniche likens to his memento mori (Latin for “remember you must die”) on his mother’s chifforobe, threatening to hunt and kill anyone who steals it. I struggled reading Wise Blood, but the vanita connection makes me want to revisit Wise Blood with new eyes. As a reader of O’Connor, I have realized that I only touched the surface of O’Connor’s religious motifs and symbols of redemption and man’s fall from grace. What Reiniche has discovered provides a deeper level between writer and reader. It magnifies O’Connor’s dualistic narrative between the real and the spiritual or the divine. The reader is not simply reading words on a page but experiencing O’Connor’s vision and in that way becomes an observer. Writers are known for their powers of observation, but this manner of observation has the effect of placing the reader before a framed piece of art in a museum.

Reiniche contends that O’Connor’s linocut cartoons evolved into “recognizable tableaux vivants that suggest the work of both classical and contemporary artists.” The tableau vivant which began more as a parlor game later progressed onto the stage, and are live recreations inspired by paintings, literature, mythology, and Biblical stories where individuals are staged to reconstruct an image. There is a theatrical aspect to living art even though the framed models are silent and frozen in time. Like Reiniche, I also saw visions of the characters and scenes O’Connor describes with concurrent images flashing before me as I read. It is quite easy to imagine her scenes framed in a tableau vivant manner. Moreover, the correlation between the tableau vivant and particularly post WWII images of women in advertisements was particularly interesting. We’ve all seen these offensive 1950s advertisements of men spanking women for serving flat stale coffee or images of a pregnant woman being able to resume her breakfast cooking duties now that she is on a morning sickness pill. Reiniche likens these advertisements to the tableau vivant—women being defined and staged into domestic roles of cooking, cleaning, and caring for the family. Although Reiniche explores all the female characters of Wise Blood, my favorite example is the character of Ruby, from the short story, “A Stroke of Good Fortune.” (Note, Ruby is “absent” from Wise Blood. If you read Sign Language, Reiniche provides a wonderful breakdown of the novel’s female characters in the published version of Wise Blood verses the manuscript version, as well as a thought-provoking reason for the “removal” of Ruby.) While Ruby did not make the cut in Wise Blood, her evolution from the manuscript into “A Stroke of Good Fortune” and her pictorial interpretation is fascinating. For those of you who are art teachers or creative writing instructors, this would be a wonderful teaching tool to demonstrate to your students. Reiniche describes Ruby as being “defined by the products advertised daily on television and in women’s magazines” and Reiniche remarks on her resemblance to a cartoon titled “The Crop” O’Connor did for the college yearbook. “The Crop” features a college girl’s head surrounded by groceries, captioned with “Where our pennies go.” Ruby contemplates herself in the mirror before ascending the stairs to her apartment and O’Connor describes her body as a funeral urn, or as Reiniche points out, the momento mori you would find in a vinata. Ruby doesn’t recognize herself in the mirror: “her head balanced like a big florid vegetable at the top of the sack…against her right cheek was a gritty collard green…[and] mulberry-colored hair stacked in sausage rolls around her head.” There is no difference between her and her sack of foodstuffs—her entire body is designed for consumerism and domesticity. I always rooted for Ruby. She desperately wanted control of her own body, her disdain for her pregnancy is palpable. This was before the Pill. Reiniche made me even more sympathetic for Ruby. It wasn’t just her future of child rearing and house duties at stake, but her entire body, constructed into the 1950s ideal housewife—a sort of slavery trapped in her female form.

I’ve often seen O’Connor’s characters as caricatures, over-exaggerated and over-the-top. Ruby’s struggle up the stairs is near annoying as are the internal complaints of the displaced father in “The Geranium,” and am I the only one who was glad the grandmother was murdered in “A Good Man is Hard to Find?” Most writers would say caricature is a bad thing, as bad as a cliché, but the characters in comics must be over-emphasized for effect, because you have a limited time to make a statement with sometimes only one action (think of O’Connor’s single-panel cartoons) and a caption. I find O’Connor’s characters more effective in shorter form and prefer her short stories to her novels. For myself, a little goes a long way with O’Connor’s characters. Yet, the characters I mentioned previously are not caricatures, but (and this is my opinion) only become fully articulated at the end where the reader undergoes a moment of understanding with the character. I think Reiniche sums it up well when she proposes that the difference between O’Connor’s novels and her short stories are that the novels are “virtual galleries of pictorial moments, [while] the short stories showcase one or two signs that reverberate throughout the story as a whole.” She refers to these pictorial moments in O’Connor’s short stories as “gestures” though some use the phrase” “moments of grace.” For myself, these “gestures” have more force behind them because O’Connor’s message is conveyed in the briefest form. Her short stories hit you hard. Reading Sign Language, I now understand how O’Connor became so efficient with delivering her message. She taught herself early on via her cartoons, reworking and reworking those characters into her fiction, designing characters you come back to time and time again, like the misfit or Ruby.

There are so many interesting points in Sign Language. Unfortunately, I can only touch on the ones that resonated the most with me and one of those points is how Reiniche employs the methods of French theorist and philosopher, Roland Barthes. Barthes created a technique for decoding photos in such a manner as to reveal a message. Reiniche uses Barthes’ system first the short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” and later in O’Connor’s novel, The Violent Bear It Away. For brevity sake and because more readers are familiar with “A Good Man is Hard to Find” I will look at Reiniche’s treatment in O’Connor’s famous short story and how Reiniche’s identifies Barthes’ theory of studium and punctum and the effect those theories have on the text. (As a note of interest, Reiniche takes a step-by-step approach, distinguishing what she calls “verbal snapshots” in the novel The Violent Bear It Away and in doing so identifies a “double consciousness” that (and I agree) should be considered when reading O’Connor.) Not to oversimplify, but the punctum is the emotional response that the viewer has with the photo; it is more individual and outside the control of the photographer because it draws from the viewer’s personal experiences, whereas the studium is universal. The studuim may be what initially appeals to the viewer and provides recognizable symbols that reach across culture, religion, history, and affect the viewer congruently. I read “A Good Man is Hard to Find” at least annually and I reread it after reading Sign Language, employing these concepts of photography to the images conveyed. According to Reiniche “the studium of the photographic moment is the historical significance of the child juxtaposed with Stone Mountain. The punctum is the wave. The child’s wave as the family places the scene in the family’s present even though the grandmother tries to freeze the child in the past by calling him a “’pickaninny.’” Reiniche describes Barthes’ punctum as “an element in the photograph rising and shooting out of it like an arrow piercing the view and inflicting a wound.” I am huge fan of the American photographer William Eggleston whose photos of the American South have always translated into an O’Connor story for me. Eggleston is famous for his color photography and his images are of the common man and woman doing common things, much like O’Connor’s everyday person. Yet, they both draw out something much deeper and transcend the mundane. I think Reiniche hit the target here. O’Connor’s writing is dualistic in nature and is much like viewing a photo and uncovering O’Connor’s divine in the ordinary. There is an element of voyeurism in reading O’Connor I had not realized until I read Sign Language, as if I am looking through the camera eye of O’Connor and receiving her messages via her “verbal snapshots.” I’m not a poet, but I imagine this would be an excellent approach when constructing visual imagery, because the snapshots are rapid visuals designed to provoke a response. Creative writing instructors would do well to have their students examine stories through this method Reiniche points out as well.

If you are serious writer, the techniques Reiniche describes will make you want to reconsider your own visual text and methodology. Reiniche was inspired to work on this project when she was reading the unfinished copy of Why Do the Heathen Rage? where she discovered O’Connor’s pictorial method. O’Connor’s character, Walter Tilman, was writing a letter using photos. He arranged and rearranged photos and analyzed his visual message. Reiniche realized she had unearthed O’Connor’s technique via Tilman and recognized it is as a type of sign language, or the “visual metanarrative that coexists with the linear narrative” in O’Connor’s work.  This method reminds me of my own workshop experiences where instructors sometimes use visual prompts and assign writing exercises. What Reiniche has done for me by writing Sign Language and defining O’Connor’s pictorial technique is to provide me as a writer a new way of consuming and articulating imagery from mass media, photography, still life, abstract art, and on and on, a way in which to translate my own fiction, and of course, a much more profound appreciation for Flannery O’Connor’s work.

TO PURCHASE : Mercer University Press or Amazon

Link to Flannery O’Connor’s Cartoons: VIEW IMAGES

More About Ruth Reiniche: 

I have a B.A. from University of Michigan, a M.A. from Grand Valley State University, and a PhD. from the University of Arizona, and I have been a teacher my entire life. I taught GED prep in migrant camps. I spent a career teaching high school English. I have taught parenting to teen-aged mothers. During the recession of the 1980s, I taught resume writing and job seeking skills to unemployed adults. At nights, I taught basic math and reading skills in an Adult Basic Education learning center. To assist students who could not physically attend classes, I went to their homes as a homebound teacher. On the weekends I taught knitting classes. Most recently, I have been a Freshman Composition instructor at the University of Arizona. That was, as I heard someone say on television the other day, in the “before times.” Our world is changing. Social structures are realigning. Educational institutions are now re-examining what exactly it means to be educated and, consequently, what it means to be an educator.

I researched and wrote Sign Language: Reading Flannery O’Connor’s Graphic Narrative in the “before times.” I now am reading O’Connor’s work as well as my own, with new eyes. As   O’Connor puts it, a text should enable “the reader to see the whole world no matter how limited his particular scene”[1]  When she said this, I believe she was not just talking about the twentieth century world of her present, but about the world that encompasses the past, present and future: the world as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.[2] Today (in the  “after-times”) , it becomes all the more important to read and interpret O’Connor’s Sign Language.

[1] O’Connor, Flannery. Mystery and Manners. NY; Noonday Press, 1969.

[2] https://www.catholic.com/tract/glory-be-doxology

Please leave comments, like, and share on social media. 

Memoir Series Part III: Where Do The Stones Come From by Author, Ann Hite

Where Do The Stones Come From?

stonesGuest Blog by Author, Ann Hite

On my desk sits a pottery bowl of stones. One comes from the property where my grandfather was strung between two trees and beaten to near death. Another is flat and smooth and came from the Nantahala River during a record drought that reduced the river to a trickle and allowed me to walk to the middle. An orange smooth rock came from the family plot where my grandmother and mother are buried in a church cemetery, where one of my great grandfathers did the stonework on the chapel that still stands today. We all have stones scattered throughout our lives, weighing us down at times. These days we are aware of this more than ever.

Like a lot of people, I have spent the past few months confined within the walls of home. My “out in the world adventure” is one trip to the grocery store a mile down the road once a week. During these months “Roll The Stone Away” was released into the world. This is a crazy set of circumstances to deal with trying to promote and sell a book. Had you asked me at Christmas if I would be under a stay at home order in a little over three months, I would have thought the whole idea crazy. When COVID-19 invaded my state and life as I knew it came to a standstill, I thought this is the worst. Now we start rethinking a new normal, build a new road map.  Hard work and dedication will pave the way.

Then I watched a young black man shot and killed on a South Georgia street, where he jogged each day not far from his home. Ahmaud Arbery was killed by a father and son vigilante team because they thought he was breaking into homes. For two months or more, the public had no idea who had gunned him down. No charges against the men were filed until the video of the crime was aired on the news. I held my breath. Would the taking of black men’s lives ever stop?

The answer came last week in the form of two videos broadcasted close together on the morning national news. The first showed a black man on the ground with a white policeman sitting on his neck with his knee. Twice the man said, “I can’t breathe.” And more than once the citizen making the video pleaded with the police officers to let him up. I, like thousands of others, watched George Floyd die while the police officer’s knee remained on his neck.

Within minutes another video aired of a white woman, Amy Cooper, holding the collar of her dog so tight it was choking the poor creature, screaming at a black man, Christian Cooper (no relation), to stop videoing her. She goes on to tell Mr. Cooper she is calling 911. He calmly tells her to please do so. Amy Cooper screams that she will tell the authorities that he is threatening her life. Christian Cooper continues to video and tells her to say what she wants. When the 911 operator answers, Amy Cooper changes her voice from angry to one of fear and distress, explaining she is in Central Park and a black man is threatening her. This whole incident occurred because Christian Cooper asked Amy Cooper to put her dog on its leash because they were in a bird sanctuary, where animals are supposed to be leashed.

In the cases of the Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, arrests were not made immediately, and I shudder to think what would have happened to Christian Cooper in Central Park had he not videoed the encounter.

The old familiar shame that wrapped around me like a heavy coat in the winter, weighing me down, making movement forward slow—the same shame that resulted in the writing of “Roll The Stone Away”—reared its ugly head. I grew up in the thick of the Civil Rights Movement with a family that was extremely racist. At the age of ten, the racism in our house was taken for normal. My mother, brother, and I had returned from living on a military base in Germany. While this place was not perfect, it was more diverse than the small Georgia school I returned to in 1965.

What drove me to write this book was my desire to somehow work out my family’s racist history and the role it played in who I would become.

Still today I ask: What can I do to make up for the racist actions taken on black families by my family? How can I shed who my family was? What right as a white woman do I have to say I stand with you against these wrongs? Never once in my life have I been turned away from an establishment because the color of my skin is white. I have never had to worry about my daughters being arrested or killed by the police because they were racially profiled.

In 2015—one year after Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri—my beautiful grandson, James, was born. His father, my son in-law, is black. James is intelligent, handsome, and kindhearted. And when I give him a tight hug, I pray that by the time he becomes the upstanding young man he is meant to be, life will be different, that somehow racism with be eradicated from our land. But this is what my grandmother would have called “pie in the sky.” I have no doubt that racism will still be battled in our institutions, schools, government, and families. This country has had some of the finest leaders, but still racism spreads like a wildfire. As a child of ten, I watched protestors knocked to the ground by fire hoses and billy clubs. Now I watch protestors staring into the faces of police officers dressed in riot gear, ready to teargas them. I see the concern poured out about the destroyed property, but little mention of the young lives taken too soon. The electrical current that runs through these gatherings must be addressed in a calm, loving way. Am I so naïve for believing in goodwill, equality, and love?

What can I do to make this country into a better place for my grandson? A place where he can thrive, create, and build a bridge into the future for generations forward to travel?

What can I do?

Listen. Listen to what the young people in these crowds are saying. Let down my defenses. I don’t have to be the “good white person” forever spending my energy on overcompensating for my family’s racist past. Speak out against those that make passive/aggressive racist remarks in my presence. This kind of subtle racism is more lethal than a bullet in a gun. Be there. Really be there and aware. Stand up for the wronged.

May we somehow roll the stone away and reveal the power of love and acceptance for all.

TO PURCHASE Roll The Stone AwayFoxTale Book Shoppe or Amazon

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

Please share and like on your social media and feel free to leave comments on “Memoir Series Part III: Where Do The Stones Come From? Please follow me at www.dawnmajor.com.

Live the story you want to write!

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

Memoir Series Part II: Ann Hite Interview

for Interview

Illustration by Jerry C. Hite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you tell us about your writing process?

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

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

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

Finally, what is next for Ann Hite?

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

TO PURCHASE Roll The Stone AwayFoxTale Book Shoppe or Amazon

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

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

Live the story you want to write!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Live the story you want to write!

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

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

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

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

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

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

Live the story you want to write!

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

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

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


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

A Little Mystery by C.L. Tolbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To purchase Out From Silence via Amazon.

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

About C.L. Tolbert:

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

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

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

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

Live the story you want to write!


Book Review: Out From Silence, A Thornton Mystery by C. L. Tolbert

OUT FROM SILENCE. book image. 3Out From Silence, A Thornton Mystery by C.L. Tolbert-Book Review (Part I: Mystery Writers)

After graduating with my MFA last year, I was looking for a workshop group and ended up joining Atlanta Writers Club. One of the member perks is access to writing workshop groups. I was super lucky to find a wonderfully diverse group of women writers on the first round and this is where I met Cynthia Tolbert, author of Out From Silence. The group is currently reading her second novel in a series of three Thornton Mysteries she is under contract to write. One per year, ya’ll! I admit, I typically do not read mysteries, other than the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle type, but Tolbert has turned me into a fan of the genre. I am proud to be part of her process for the second novel, The Redemption, and am proud to count her in my group of fellow writers as well as a friend. Look for an interview with Tolbert next week, followed by a guest post from Tolbert on mystery writing the week after. 

Out From Silence is a fast-paced, plot driven, mystery novel that you keeps you turning pages into the late hours. I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. to finish it last Saturday. It opens with a brutal murder, throwing the reader right into the action. The main character, Emma Thornton, is a single mother of twin boys. She juggles going to law school and working as a law clerk. Tolbert portrays the anxieties of motherhood very well, making the reader instantly relate to Emma. With a full plate, Emma doesn’t really have time for romance, but she’s definitely interested in Deputy Ren Taylor. This is a big no-no, too. Emma is working for Silas Steele, III, the attorney hired to defend Adam Gannon on murder charges and Ren is the working the homicide. Although they make a good team, Emma is absolutely running the show.

The setting is small town Jonesburg, Georgia described as a “college town…as charming as a Eudora Welty novel…where daffodils sprouted by the thousands…and drunken writers, poets, and musicians gathered in its watering holes…idyllic…Perfect, almost.” I couldn’t do a better job of summing up this town than Tolbert. Perfect, almost? Everyone knows everyone, and even some of the more famous family feuds. There’s a fifty year old secret that reveals itself in the murder of Jennifer Patrick and Emma is smack in the middle of it, going way beyond her job duties, and taking extreme personal risks to discover the truth.

Adam Gannon, the ex-boyfriend of the victim, Jennifer Patrick, makes for an easy suspect. If you watch enough true crime, it’s always the disgruntled husband, fiancé, or significant other who is the killer. Unfortunately for Adam, what makes him an easy conviction is his disability; Adam is deaf. He also has anger issues, appears uncooperative, and his disability puts him at a great disadvantage, especially when law enforcement comes knocking on his door and he signs off on a search without fully understanding what he is approving or what his rights are. Although this is a mystery with all the elements of the genre, Tolbert’s novel does much more by advocating for people with disabilities. It was eye-opening for me. I never considered the world through the eyes of Adam. This is an quote from early on when the reader is getting to know Adam: “Deaf from infancy, Adam was a lip reader, and although he only understood a fraction of what others said, he’d learned to observe body language and facial expressions. From that, he developed a better understanding of speech, and people’s idiosyncrasies. An expert mimic, he was also an artist, and a quick study in most sports. His skills convinced others that he understood what was being said when he often didn’t. By the time Adam had figured out the context of the conversation, most people had already moved on. He missed subtleties. This disconnect made Adam feel isolated and alone and his parents had little patience with him. He felt as if he was living underwater and everyone else was on top” (21-22). People with disabilities are underrepresented in literature, film, and art in general, so it was refreshing to read a book with a central character who faced these particular challenges. I applaud Tolbert for this. Plus, as you can see she knows her stuff. Before Tolbert became an attorney, she got a Masters in Special Education and worked with disabled children.

Tolbert has an innate ability to capture a character in one paragraph. Any writer, but especially short story writers, would do well to study Tolbert’s method of introducing a character in such a brief and precise manner. It fits perfectly with Emma’s personality as well. Emma is intuitive, curious, intelligent and much like some of her favorite sleuths with mad powers of observation, she makes rapid-fire assessments about the other characters. I could provide endless examples here. Typically, these summations are done when a new character is introduced, which makes sense, but Emma uses her ability throughout. Her desire to get to the bottom of things leads Emma down some dangerous paths, but the story wouldn’t have that thrill factor if Emma was some shrinking violet. Emma is a strong female protagonist with a mission.

Continuing on characterization, I love this particular description of Darcy Gannon, Adam’s mother: “She was as impeccably dressed as before, this time in well-fitted linen pants and shirt tailored to fit her lean body to perfection. She wore the same pearls at her neck and her lustrous hair was worn loosely about her shoulders. But she looked thinner. Even though her creamy-soft skin was unblemished, the hollows under her eyes were lavender-tinged and deeper. Darcy welcomed Emma graciously, but Emma questioned the sincerity of her hospitality. Darcy reminded Emma of the women from the First Baptist Church back home. Her smile seemed strained and insincere, like a beauty pageant contestant who’d been on the stage fifteen minutes too long. Her face twitched with the sheer effort it took to be pleasant. Detached, despite her sunny façade. Darcy didn’t maintain eye contact, and her handshake was a cold and clammy grasp (49).” That’s just good writing right there. Strap yourself in for more of it, because Emma Thornton is coming back in the second novel, The Redemption. I am certainly looking forward to it.

To purchase a copy:  OUT FROM SILENCE (via Amazon)

About C.L. Tolbert:

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

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

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

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

Live the story you want to write!