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:

To contact C.L. Tolbert:

Live the story you want to write!


Books in the Time of Quarantine?

KidThe Bookmobile is Here (OR NOT)!

When I lived in rural Missouri about twice per year our teachers would remind us to bring money for the Bookmobile. The Bookmobile–for those who are unfamiliar–provided kids in remote areas a place to purchase books. As the name implies, it was a travelling library. Nowadays, you may have come across PopUp Libraries at your local farmer’s market.

The Bookmobile was a beast and sat for hours pumping out exhaust fumes while the various grades had their turn. I vividly recall the sound of the hydraulic bus door opening (swoosh), and then it was three steps into subzero air-conditioning and the utter joy of being surrounded by books. Ahh…Library Eau de Perfume. If someone bottled up the aroma of books, I’d buy it.

This was a time when my family was not financially sound, well, let’s just be honest, we were pretty poor back then. I had mixed feelings about the Bookmobile. First, I would have to ask my mom for money I knew she didn’t have. Two, I really, really, really wanted the next adventure story. Finally, all my friends would leave with a stack of books, making me ashamed that my stack of one book (or sometimes none) would appear meager.

Don’t start crying for me yet. I have more than made up for my desire for books and am now running out of space. Do I have deep-seated book trauma and count myself as a book-hoarder? Probably. Also, keep in mind the school had a small library and I had access to larger libraries. It wasn’t that rough.

During the summer while my mom was attending nursing school and my father was working out of state, mom dropped us off at our local library and picked us up after her school let out in the afternoon. I’m not suggesting you use your local library as free daycare (sorry mom for calling you out), but the point is you have to take kids to the source. In this time of quarantine, my library is closed and while the library has tons of online options for kids and adults alike, you cannot check out actual hard copy books. This has got me thinking…

What if you don’t have access to an e-reader or even an online connection? We did a Zoom family Easter brunch this past Sunday and my cousin who is a teacher in a low-income school district in California mentioned that she isn’t currently teaching her kids because many do not have access to computers and/or the internet. It’s hard to imagine that this exists in America today, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, these kids stopped learning. She misses them terribly! My son, by contrast, was given a portable hotspot device to access free WIFI and has daily online classes. When the pandemic hit, Atlanta Public Schools responded quickly and he didn’t miss one day of class. I started wondering about kids in situations like this and began researching alternatives. This doesn’t solve the teaching issue, but perhaps, offers something else to those who don’t have what we consider to be the basics. By the way, I believe reading is an essential–a right we all should have!

You can easily find options to access free online books from non-profit resources to the library, but there are few options for kids who do not have online access. I hope that anyone reading this post will comment with more alternatives, but for now, here are a few I found (literally a few):

First Book:  Partners with non-profit organizations, corporations, and individuals to deliver high-quality books to low-income families.

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library: Mails free books to children from birth to age five residing in participating communities in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and the Republic of Ireland. Another reason to love Dolly.

Reading is Fundamental: Provides new books to children across the U.S.  Children are allowed to choose age-appropriate books to build their own library.

PJ Library: Mails free books monthly to Jewish families around the world ages 0-12.

Please share this post with librarians, educators, friends, and family who may know of other alternatives for the delivery of hard copy books. Also, please consider donating to these organizations either financially and/or with book donations to help support these causes.

Happy Writing AND Reading!






Literature of the Rough South

christopher-windus-j5eKUqUt83I-unsplash (1)GRIT LIT PART III: Guest Blog with Author, Clay Anderson

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with Clay Anderson these past three weeks on this Grit Lit Series. Hope y’all have as well and now have a better insight into the genre and into Anderson and his own work. Here are some final thoughts from Anderson regarding his journey into Rough South Literature. 

I was first introduced to Grit Lit my sophomore year in college. I took as an elective a Modern South English class. One of the books we read was Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree and I was immediately enthralled with his portrayal of the underclass. The dark and complicated characters mixed with his elegant prose had me hooked. I read through his whole canon by the time we reached the end of the semester. During a discussion with the professor about my new obsession, I was introduced to the “Grit Lit.” I’d never heard the phrase before and my professor described it as the underbelly of Southern Literature.

I was given a list of authors and began reading everything I could by them. Starting with William Gay, I moved on to Harry Crews, Dorothy Allison, Breece D’J Pancake, Chris Offutt, Dale Ray Phillips, George Singleton, Ron Rash, Daniel Woodrell, David Joy, and Ann Pancake.

As I continued along this literary journey, I learned new phrases to describe several of these authors: they were writers of “dirty realism,” trailer-park Gothic, and country noir. I didn’t know at the time that even within the category of Grit Lit that was one even coarser: Rough South. It has been said that Southern Literature is Mint Juleps, Grit Lit is Jack Daniels, and Rough South is Natty Light and crystal meth. Rough South is defined as “mostly poor, white, rural, and unquestionably violent – Grit Lit’s wilder kin or Grit Lit with its back against the wall and somebody’s going to get hurt” (Brian Carpenter).

It is in this latter column that I throw my hat in. Not out of some obsession with violence or shock value, but because I am obsessed with realism and anything less is lying to the reader. When asked what that looks like, I describe a fist fight. Unless one is a trained boxer, the character won’t knock out their opponent with one punch. Realistically, it will take four or five punches with lots of blood and teeth and tears. For me, it’s that demarcation that separates Southern Lit from Rough South. And it’s that realism that I’m drawn to.

For those wanting a crash course in Rough South, I’d encourage you to read:

William Gay’s Provinces of Night

Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God

Harry Crew’s Feast of Snakes

David Joy’s The Line that Held Us

Chris Offutt’s Kentucky Straight

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage

Ron Rash’s The World Made Straight

Michael Ferris Smith’s Desperation Road

Frank Bill’s Crimes of Southern Indiana

And, with the shameless plug, Clay Anderson’s The Palms

More About Author and Guest Blogger, Clay Anderson: 

About Clay Anderson:

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



Instagram: @bearbookmarket

Twitter: @bearbookmarket

Happy Writing!

Interview with The Palms Author, Clay Anderson

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you briefly describe your writing process?  

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

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

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

To purchase a copy of The Palms on Amazon.

About Clay Anderson:

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



Instagram: @bearbookmarket

Twitter: @bearbookmarket

The Palms, a Novel by Clay Anderson

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

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

The Palms

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

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

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

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

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

To purchase a copy of The Palms on Amazon.

Clay Anderson Bio:

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






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

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

IMG_1528 (2)

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

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

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

Attendee Registration: Revival: 2020 Lost Southern Voices Registration

Full Schedule: LSV 2020

Hope to see you there!

Villain Themed Poems on melodically challenged

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

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

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

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

Happy Writing!

Questions For A Poet, An Interview with Sharon Wright Mitchell


Q&A with Georgia Poet, Sharon Wright Mitchell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes a poem a success? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Sharon Mitchell: 

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

Short Story by William Gay published in the James Dickey Review



Fans of William Gay can read a previously unpublished short story, “The Dream,” in the latest edition of James Dickey Review. I wrote the introduction. Yay! There’s also a poem from William Gay’s biographer and archivist, Michael White. Please consider supporting the literary arts by purchasing.

You may purchase a copy of the James Dickey Review, 2019 Volume 35 on Amazon. 

To learn more about William Gay, visit the William Gay Archive, where you can view more of his paintings as well as some of his works written in longhand.

Also, I am a guest panel presenter this year at the 2020 REVIVAL: LOST SOUTHERN VOICES FESTIVAL at Georgia State University where I will be discussing William Gay’s painting and prose, and I am bringing an original William Gay painting there for viewing!

ABOUT the 2020 Revival: Lost Southern Voices Festival directed by Georgia State University:

The festival is a two-day celebration that honors southern writers who have faded into obscurity and are currently not receiving the attention they deserve. I will be presenting during the 1:30-2:30 panel on March 28th, but I encourage you to go to all of the panels if you are able.

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

Attendee Registration: Revival: 2020 Lost Southern Voices Registration

Finally, don’t forget to pick up a copy the latest edition of Five Points Review where you can view additional William Gay paintings, an essay by me about the paintings as well as a previously unpublished interview between William Gay and Michael White. The cover shown above features a common pastoral setting of a dilapidated shanty, subject matter Gay explored endlessly in his prose and his paintings. Inside, you will find seven images of his paintings and an image of a map which includes both his fictional and non-fictional settings.

Happy Writing!

Writing Through Metaphor

Metaphors: The Heart of Writing

As writers, metaphors are the air we breathe, right? They’re the ground beneath our feet. They’re our bread a butter. Metaphors are our lifeblood. Should I keep going? Probably not.Metaphor Blog by Justtin

          Though I’m being flippant here, my sentiment is serious. Metaphors are at the heart of all writing. In fact, I would go as far as to say that all language is metaphor. When we ascribe a series of sounds to an object, we are allowing one thing to stand in place of another. The sound is the meaning. Or, as Aristotle put it in his Poetics, a metaphor is “the application of a word that belongs to another thing.” Therefore, since the word, say “torpedo,” is not the thing itself but is rather simply a representation of the thing, proven by the fact that I can drop a page with the word “torpedo” on it from the top of the Empire State Building and not create an international incident, the word stands as a metaphor for the concept it represents.

          Though this argument may seem a bit specious on the surface, I make it because I want to assert that writers need metaphors the way reality tv stars need poor decision-making—they’re the foundation of our means to success. I don’t intend to argue that every writer must craft esoteric comparisons the way that Cormac McCarthy does, nor do we have to write beautiful conceits in the vein of John Donne. But the ability to see the world through metaphor opens us up to descriptions and situations that we might have otherwise overlooked. In a scene from Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, the pitifully comic protagonist, Snowman, asserts that “[he is] toast.” For us, with our long history of cliched and hackneyed lingo, we understand his meaning immediately—and perhaps we even roll our eyes at the outdated comparison—but as he is confronted with explaining the comparison to the Crakers, beings who are absent of any knowledge of bread, butter, electricity, or cynicism, an explanation is impossible. If we recognize that a metaphor is formed by a tenor (the subject that is being compared) and a vehicle (whatever the subject is being compared to), then the Crakers lack any conception of the vehicle, and in truth, they perceive the subject (Snowman) in similarly alien terms. What we can see in this example is that metaphor is an essential way in which we make sense of our world—when trying to survive in an unfamiliar landscape, we look for correlations to aid in our understanding. Ever speak to someone when you don’t share a language? What do you do? You listen for cognates, and failing that, you look for gestures or facial expressions you recognize. Since metaphor is so essential to communication, it is likewise essential that, when crafting them, we are certain that the metaphors are embedded in the reality of the narrative voice. A stuffy Victorian lady would not likely describe herself as toast, and if she did, she would come across sounding more like Mrs. Doubtfire than as a dignified dowager. She would be a caricature. If your character were a semi-literate high school jock, he likely would not wax poetic on the significance of the Oxford comma. What would the jock see the world in terms of? Not astrophysics. Not macramé. When he sees triumph on the face of an actor in a film, to him it would be like winning the marathon or nailing the perfect sack. He would not say the actor looks like he won a Nobel Prize.

          Metaphor has been part of literary style since Gilgamesh first sought immortality. We see it in ancient Greece when Homer describes Achilles’ pursuit of Hector as being like “when a hawk in the mountains… / makes his effortless swoop for a trembling dove” and when Sappho explains the beauty of a woman by saying, “Awed by her splendor / stars near the lovely / moon cover their own / bright faces / when she / is roundest and lights / earth with her silver.” What romance! The subject of her poem is so gorgeous that other beautiful women fade into nothing when she is near. In the Scandinavian, Germanic, and Anglo-Saxon sagas, poets used kennings, compound poetic phrases, in place of nouns to add beauty and majesty to their language. In Beowulf, warriors must face “the sleep of the sword” and sail along the “whale-way.” In one of the riddles from the Exeter Book, the chain that connects an anchor to its ship is a “guardian tail.” These examples show us both universality and specificity in their presentation. In any culture that recognizes beauty and where there is a moon, one could embrace Sappho’s description of a beautiful woman, but not every culture would see death as “the sleep of the sword.” Still, both serve their purposes, whether they be to carry an experience beyond the here and now or to embed the reader in the culture of the story.

          Metaphors should not only appear in the mouths of poets. They should populate fiction as well, and within fiction, some may appear in description or in the mouths or minds of deep-thinking characters. However, just as in real life, in fiction characters should speak in metaphor regularly. When you take the time to look at it, slang is very often metaphorical in shape. Consider the newscaster who speaks of soldiers as “boots on the ground.” This type of metaphor, synecdoche (when one uses part of something to represent the whole), is present in a lot of speech. The same newscaster may report that Washington announced something important. This is metonymy (when a related concept represents something else) as the reporter really means the administration in Washington. Less formally, listen to teenagers speak, listen to their idioms, and you will hear metaphors all the time. As a high school teacher, I hear new metaphors each year. Last year, everyone was “spilling the tea.” This year, everything that’s good is “lit.” When I was a kid, “I was rubber and you were glue.” Remember? Litotes, a form of understatement where you say the negative of the opposite of what you mean, permeates common speech. That actor is “not ugly,” and if I say the right thing, I’m “not wrong.” Metaphors fill common dialogue.

          If you’re looking to work on your own skill with metaphor, as with every other aspect of writing, study the experts. Read Shakespeare. Jealousy is “a green-eyed monster that makes fun of the victims it devours.” Or consider, “Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.” More contemporarily, study Cormac McCarthy. In The Road, he describes the sky of his characters’ post-apocalyptic world as “a cold glaucoma dimming away the world.” The beauty of a metaphor like this one is the way that it also alludes to one of the major themes the novel develops: does a loss of resources necessitate a loss of moral vision?

          Altogether, I would urge fiction writers not to overlook the value of metaphor. Don’t disregard its promise, and when you are writing, consider the sorts of comparisons your characters would make or the idioms that would develop in the world and the culture they inhabit. Though writing good metaphors may not be as easy as the ABCs, give it a shot. What you come up with might just be a whole new kettle of fish.

About the Guest Blogger:

Justin Jones has taught high school English and Creative Writing in Canton, GA, a northern suburb of Atlanta, for over twenty years. 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, a MS in Educational Curriculum from Walden University, and a 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 Publications Magazine, and Sanctuary.

Interested in Guest Blogging Here?

If you are a writer with something to say about a particular element of writing or the craft of writing in general, please contact me at I will be happy to consider your guest blog post on my site.

Happy Writing!