Join Broadleaf Writers Association for a “Write Now” Event Thursday, August 18th, 2022, 7 PM EST. This program will be virtual via Zoom. To join us, please follow this link.
With any manuscript, writing must eventually give way to editing. Editors then make their notes, recommend changes, and then return the manuscript to the author for review and discussion. However, when the work is posthumous–taken from unfinished writings or incomplete manuscripts–how does an editing team proceed?
Join us as we welcome editor, Dawn Major, and editor, lead archivist, and William Gay biographer, Michael White, for an in-depth conversation on the process of discovering and bringing the late William Gay’s work to life in a discussion about William Gay’s final collection, STORIES FROM THE ATTIC, and much much more.
PURCHASE YOUR COPY OF STORIES FROM THE ATTIC:DZANC BOOKSOR Stories From The Attic is also available at Atlanta Independent Bookstore, A. Cappella: PURCHASE HERE.
DM: The cicada is such a wonderful working symbol. For me, the cicadas connected the past with the present and exposed the dark secrets in The Cicada Tree. And of course, the muse! What drew you to this incredible creature?
RG: You are spot on. Within the novel, cicadas do represent the bridging of the past to the present. For the novel, I created a cicada mythology, the sense that they consume secrets through the years, later bringing them to the surface to shine light upon them—right wrongs. For me, cicadas also represent reinvention and renewal. I am rather taken by the idea that a person can transform—have second chances.
DM: I specifically heard the voice of Truman Capote in your novel, but will you share your other influences?
RG: Dawn, thank you so much for the comparison to Truman Capote. You are too generous, and I take that as an immense compliment. His debut novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, is a favorite, and was a bit of a boyhood obsession. Another childhood obsession was Charles Dickens’ character, Miss Havisham, from Great Expectations. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that I am a disciple of the Brontë sisters. As you know, I reference Charlotte Brontë’s, Jane Eyre in The Cicada Tree. And Anything by Tennessee Williams sets me on fire. On occasion, for a boost of inspiration, I obsessively re-read the prologue to Michael Cunningham’s, The Hours. I also possess a fond affection for Shirley Jackson’s, We Have Always Lived In The Castle. The opening sentence of Robert Goolrick’s, A Reliable Wife, often ticks through my head like an incantation: “It was bitter cold, the air electric with all that had not happened yet.” And Pat Conroy. His writing moves me to tears.
DM: The setting is stunning and quintessentially Southern Gothic. Was there a particular location in Georgia you used to base The Cicada Tree on that you’d like to share with the reader?
RG: The Cicada Treetakes place in Southwest Georgia within the fictitious town of Providence. When building the world of my novel, I took inspiration from my hometown, Cairo, Georgia, a place named after the capital of Egypt. Mistletoe, the estate of the wealthy Mayfield family, is also a fictitious place, but the name is taken from an actual plantation close to Cairo, Georgia. My great greatgrandfather once owned a farmthat was sold many years ago and folded into Mistletoe Plantation, so I have a personal connection to Mistletoe.
DM: Music plays a huge role in this book to the extent that the reader can hear it while reading. Will you talk about how music or any other art form helped shape your novel?
RG: Music absolutely plays a significant role in the novel and in my writing process. Lyrically, The Cicada Tree is inspired by Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, popularly referred to as Moonlight Sonata. The sonata consists of three movements: Adagio,Allegretto, and Presto. The pacing of the novel is inspired by the tempo of each movement, each movement an act within the novel.
Along with music and art, I draw inspiration from fashion, specifically the designs of Christian Dior which were used to dress Cordelia Mayfield.
DM: The Cicada Tree is a tribute to strong female characters. The male characters aren’t weak but are secondary in my opinion. What inspired you to write about such empowered females?
RG: I grew up surrounded and fascinated by strong Southern women. Always, I have possessed an emotional connection to women much more so than men. When I was a boy, wherever women congregated, I was there listening—the kitchen during family gatherings, eavesdropping on Mama’s garden club shindigs. I have always admired the grace, strength, and resiliency of women. Women possess great gifts, and I let that inspire me with the extraordinary talents I bestowed upon the female characters within the novel.
DM: Although I would classify The Cicada Tree as literary, you did some genre-bending here. How are you promoting it?
RG: When I set out to write the book, I had one goal, to write a novel I would want to read. I knew from the beginning that the novel would be Southern with gothic tendencies and elements of magical realism. What I was surprised to learn is that some consider it historical fiction. When promoting the novel, it will be categorized as Southern fiction, literary fiction, Southern Gothic, and historical.
DM: I appreciate your time answering my questions and wish you the best of luck with your new novel, The Cicada Tree.
RG: Dawn, thank you for being an early reader of my debut novel, and for such an in-depth review of my work. I am grateful for your support. I look forward to seeing you at my book launch on February 26th.
WHERE TO PURCHASE:To purchase your copy of The Cicada Tree, attend the author’s book launch on February 26th, 2022, from 7PM – 9 PM at the Easter Seals Office located at 815 Park North Blvd, Clarkston, GA 30021-1904. Click here to RSVP to: BOOK LAUNCH PARTY: THE CICADA TREEOR Support independent bookstores like one of my favorites, FoxTale Book Shoppe.
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR:Robert Gwaltney, an author of Southern fiction, resides in Atlanta Georgia, where he is an active member of the local literary community and serves as Fiction Editor for The Blue Mountain Review.The Cicada Tree, published by Moonshine Cove Publishing, is Gwaltney’s debut novel. To learn more about Robert Gwaltney, visit his website at robertlgwaltney.com and follow Robert on FB and IP.
Hordes of nymphs clawed their way free from the deep down, all of them desperate for a place to molt. To every trunk, shrub, and post they clung, hail battered branches drooping from the weight. They clicked and skittered up the house, gambling on bowing shards of paint. No other place to claim, the cicadas relented, glittering beneath the mottled light of a half-woke moon, accumulating quick and dangerous as fast falling snow.
I finally met Robert Gwaltney at a local author’s book signing, but we’d become virtual friends during this never-ending pandemic. Robert is a writer and book advocate like me, so it was only a matter of time before our paths crossed. Gwaltney is also the editor for Blue Mountain Review and is highly active in the literary scene promoting authors, helping them get their names out there—something most authors do not enjoy doing themselves. I look forward to seeing the latest book he’s reading as he sets up the scene on his social media pages as one would imagine a display window would appear in the good old days when Rich’s Department Store was thriving in Atlanta. Now he has authored a stunning novel, The Cicada Tree, and though it’s his debut novel it feels more the work of an old soul author.
Dark secrets lurk beneath the town of Providence, secrets of obsessions and betrayal, secrets that must be unearthed. Donaldbain, in Shakespeare’s MacBeth, said, “There’s daggers in men’s smiles. The nea’er the blood, the nearer the bloody.” The Cicada Tree, published by Moonshine Cove Publishing, has its share of Shakespearean betrayals, some perceived, some real, but crueler still for the one who draws the knife, or lights the fire is family in this novel. Analeise Newall, the young protagonist, has set her mind on exposing those secrets—her family and town be damned. Set in segregated 1950’s Georgia, it requires something biblical to unearth these secrets, something like a swarm of cicadas.
Analeise isn’t the easiest protagonist to champion. She’s self-centered, jealous, impetuous, conniving; essentially, she’s the epitome of a girl entering her teenaged years. She’s diametrically the opposite of sweet, naïve, orphaned, Etta Mae. Grace Newall, Analeise’s mother, and Miss Wessie, Etta Mae’s Granny, scrape by as single mothers raising their two girls in the same house and Analiese and Etta Mae act more like sisters. Though the women in the household don’t share the same skin color and outside the home, Miss Wessie and Etta Mae aren’t treated equally, inside the home the relationship is more modern. One thing these two girls do share in common is an innate gift for music; Analeise can play the piano by ear and Etta Mae has an operatic voice. Neither have the formal training the small-town aristocrats—the Mayfields—have. Yet, the Mayfields have more than just talent, money, and stature; they possess the power of enchantment. Reminiscent of the Latin magical realists, the speculative elements in The Cicada Tree are simply part of the everyday and the characters take these unusual abilities and events in stride. Grace, a master seamstress, can read fortunes in her stitching. Her gift isn’t overly explained, other than she received the gift of second sight after being bitten by a rattlesnake. Analiese and Etta Mae’s “power” is untapped, but that all changes when Analeise begins piano lessons and Etta Mae starts voice lessons. It’s enlightening reading about characters whose value is based on talent and artistic expression rather than brute strength or an improbable superpower.
As antagonists, Marlissa Mayfield and her mother, Cordelia Mayfield, meet the mark. You can’t help but admire Cordelia’s impeccable taste, and Gwaltney’s description of the Mayfield’s home, Mistletoe, is captivating. Cordelia has instilled her style into Marlissa, along with wrath, pride, envy—basically, the seven deadly sins. Marlissa has learned from the best, her mother, and is always three steps ahead of Analiese. Bewitched, Analiese walks into Marlissa’s spiderweb again and again. Marlissa, also a talented pianist, isn’t used to competition; she refuses to share the limelight with Analiese. The town’s talent show becomes a battle royale. On the surface, it may appear this is a novel about good versus evil, rich versus poor, but it isn’t as black and white as that because there are flaws on both sides. What’s compelling is watching “good” characters make “bad” decisions. Gwaltney’s characters are multidimensional. His plots and subplots are compelling, pushing the narrative towards an epic conclusion.
In Greek mythology, cicadas were once believed to be humans who so inspired by song, sang all day and night forgetting to eat or drink and eventually dying. The Muses, moved by their dedication to music, turned their spirits into cicadas. The Cicada Tree pays homage to the muse and the love of art, for sure, but symbolically cicadas have deep roots across cultures, religion, and art. This idea that an ugly history has seeped into the earth and now the characters are living above a cursed land, haunted by a past, is a common theme in Southern Gothic literature and is present in Gwaltney’s novel. But cicadas, along with their darker representations, can also bring hope. With all the biblical references in The Cicada Tree, the theme of resurrection is the most predominant, especially at the end. It’s 1956 in the deep South where churches and schools are segregated. Through the power of music, a white and black girl, together, expose not only the sordid past of one powerful family, but the town’s, and society’s as well.
The language in The Cicada Tree is ornate and lush, and reminded me somewhat of Truman Capote. In a largely visual society, it’s refreshing to read a novel where all the senses are explored. Oftentimes, authors neglect these opportunities, leaving it to the poets. Gwaltney’s language is rich in metaphor and simile; the poetic elements are balanced and appropriate, always reminding the reader we are in the South: “Another shower of applause rose up, the sound of sizzling bacon grease,” and, “There was no use in trying to break free, her grip tight as a canning jar lid.” As both protagonist and antagonist are musical rivals, it makes sense that the narrative includes music and loads of sound imagery. Cicadas make their own special music. There are multiple allusions to song titles as well. The Cicada Tree is so rich in sound imagery, you feel as if there’s a symphony around you: “I imagined Miss Wessie’s boom boom hips as I listened to the crinkle of the grocery bags. I hummed the sound of her walk to myself. It calmed me—helped me think through the fear. Boom Boom. Crinkle,” or, “A cluster of lightening bugs flashed in quick succession. I imagined the quick firing of their lights to sound like the ping of quarter notes. A clumsy “Chopsticks” playing in the night.” What is uniquely Gwaltney, is how he merges the senses together, layering his imagery: “Still, I played, hungry for what might come next. For the first time, I taste my own music, swallowing down the sweet peony-flavored notes, the rapid accumulation of saliva clotting and forming a knot in my throat.” Allusions to art, literature, poetry, and music are fitting and add a richer element to the story. These allusions function as stories within stories if the reader chooses to go down that rabbit hole.
I wonder what shelf in the bookstore The Cicada Tree will settle on. It’s definitively Southern Gothic, but Southern Gothic writers tend to walk the line between speculative, horror, literary, magical realism, and popular fiction. And as such, Gwaltney’s genre-bending novel will appeal to a multitude of readers. The speculative elements build tension but also suggest something deeper at hand with the cicadas working as an extended metaphor. Put The Cicada Tree on your 2022 Must Read List. And if Gwaltney’s debut novel is any indication of what’s to come, we’ll be fortunate to be reading his works for years.
Come celebrate The Cicada Tree’s book publication and meet the author, Robert Gwaltney, at his book launch on February 26, 2022, from 7PM – 9 PM at the Easter Seals Office located at 815 Park North Blvd, Clarkston, GA 30021-1904. Click here to RSVP:BOOK LAUNCH PARTY: THE CICADA TREE
WHERE TO PURCHASE:Get your copy of The Cicada Treeand support independent bookstores (like one of my favorites) by ordering online or visiting FoxTale Book Shoppe.
Robert Gwaltney, an author of Southern fiction, resides in Atlanta Georgia, where he is an active member of the local literary community and serves as Fiction Editor for The Blue Mountain Review.The Cicada Tree, published by Moonshine Cove Publishing, is his debut novel. To learn more about Robert Gwaltney, visit his website: robertlgwaltney.com
I let my eyes fill with the innocence of green. I hear our right to speak in tupelo leaves and I hear dignity in water dripping off my paddle. I see freedom in the sandy-bottomed water. I hear justice in dragonflies as they clack and buzz. I feel on my own bare arms the forgiveness of the yellow sun.
What better nature could one have?
“What better nature could one have?” seems like such a simple question, asked by author, poet, naturalist, activist, Janisse Ray, in her latest collection of essays, Wild Spectacle: Seeking Wonders in a World Beyond Humans (Trinity University Press/2021). It’s a question I think she lives by. Asking herself daily, how can I help? What can I do to ameliorate the destruction caused by others? How can I lessen my own impact? Wild Spectacle answers those questions. By sharing her lifetime experiences, adventures, and knowledge actively living in the wilderness Ray has contributed something invaluable. I travelled to the Yaak or gone birding in Belize, but Ray’s shared experience made me feel as if I had. And though while Ray’s essays equally honor and exalt in nature, she points out, quite poignantly, what we have already lost, and cautions the reader about losing even more.
Sometimes, Wild Spectacle feels as if you are reading an ode. Other times, especially times when Ray writes about friends she’s lost, the tone sounds like an elegy, a tribute, though her grieving isn’t just reserved for humans. In “Snapshots of a Dark Angel,” she laments a teenager’s cruel treatment of a lizard: “I cry if a single tree falls. I feel the tree speaking through my body. I feel actual pain. The image of a crucified lizard, its tiny eye winking in the brokenness of its body sticks in my mind. I cry as if tears are all I have to speak with. How can we be so careless of life?” Expecting to witness the splendor of the Monarch butterflies during their migration to Central Mexico, Ray and her husband, Raven Waters, visit a Monarch sanctuary. An epic snowstorm hits and an estimated eighty percent of the Monarch butterflies freeze to death at the El Rosario Butterfly Biosphere Reserve they visit: “The butterflies were deep enough to wade through, deep enough to drown in.” Ray and Waters did get to witness the Monarch’s spring flight, though much diminished. Later in “Las Monarcas,” Ray describes their flight and the opening of their wings to the sunlight as a “Halloween party.” And quite poetically observes their flight—”the live butterflies dance and dabble, now thousands of them filling the atmosphere like confetti, like tiny balloons.” Wild Spectacle is an emotional teeter-totter and the juxtaposition of nature’s grandest moments coupled with reckless human waste and behavior—oil spills, clear-cuts, pollution, extinction, the effects of climate change—is heart wrenching, but needs to be said.
I love when poets write fiction or non-fiction, something other than poetry, because poets pay attention to diction, or word choices, how words sound together, the order. At the heart of Ray is poetry and out in her essays; she hypnotizes her readers simply by naming the birds, flowers, trees, and the places she’s visited. In “I Have Seen the Warrior,” Ray layers the names of flora and fauna like a list poem:
The day was feverishly gorgeous. Carter Prairie was popping with water lily, spatterdock sticking up its yellow bonnets, swamp iris in amethyst and plum, golden club like birthday candles. In shallower places carnivorous plants were going crazy: yellow bladderwort, purple bladderwort, and both the hooded pitcher plant and the golden trumpet, blooming their happy flowers. Hatpins were everywhere, like tiny marshmallows on sticks or white balloon on strings or little flags on delicate poles. All the metaphors I can think of for hatpins are happy.
I initially thought Ray was someone who viewed the world through different lenses, but after reading Wild Spectacle I find the opposite is true. It’s us who wear the lenses, lenses separating us from the natural world, the indoors verses outdoors. I recently read that prison inmates in the U.S. get more outdoor time than school children and that the average child spends four to seven minutes per day outside. I wonder if we knew the flowers—spatterdock, swamp iris, hatpins—by name, like Ray does, if we would respect, honor, and nurture the planet more.
Though there’s a fervent lyrical romanticism throughout Wild Spectacle, Ray reminds us that there’s danger in wildness. Ray recognizes the fragility of life while encountering a group of elk in Montana (to listen, click title“Exaltation of Elk”), while boating in freezing waters in a cave in Sitka, Alaska (“Dinner Party”), or nearly drowning in Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica (“The Denude of Cabo Blanco”). Probably the closest she gets to death was when her friend’s son, Zack, mistakes lamp oil for Gatorade in “I Have Seen the Warrior.” This happens to be one of my favorite essays. They’re miles deep in the Okefenokee Swamp when the poison hits, miles from help, from a hospital, and Ray must become something other than her human self, rowing back through the “primordial gunk” for help. Ray describes this scene, moving from first person to third person, articulating an out-of-body experience with mythic allusions:
The woman was becoming bigger and bigger until she was archetypal. She was a warrior, teeth and claws and strings around her neck, bangles rattling on her wrists. She was transforming into one of the matriarchs pictured on a tarot card. Her torso grew into a lioness’s, horns sprang from her head, and in her hands she wielded a lightning bolt…I birthed Zack and I birthed myself. I birthed too the power of any woman to not be afraid, to not let the fear of death stop her from doing what was needed.
There’s something utterly Pagan about Ray’s work. I hunted this goddess down, even asked my friend who knows all the gods and goddesses, all the mythical figures, to help me identity this deity, but we never could quite put “Her” together. The deity Ray describes is part Astrape, part Sekhmet, part Kali and the rest is a deity Ray surely created within herself. Whatever Ray invoked that day gave her the strength to paddle her ass off out of Okefenokee Swamp. I was practically yelling for her to paddle faster. I couldn’t read fast enough! But I was also struck by the power of motherhood and Ray’s call to women to recognize where to draw inner strength.
Good writers can time travel—flashforward, flashback, move in and out of time and land in the past, present, or future with ease, without jarring transitions, without the reader noticing these narrative leaps. I poured over “The Duende of Cabo Blanco,” “In the Elkhorn,” and “The Dinner Party,” hoping to absorb Ray’s method. In “The Duende of Cabo Blanco,” Ray moves in between the actual place she visited—what she did, what she learned, who she met—grounding the essay with information about Cabo Blanco itself, along with her understanding and the poet, Federico García Lorca’s, interpretation of duende. There’s an element of stream of consciousness at play as well. I often thought of her essays as a musical score. The narrative breaks create a rhythm, a tempo, much like a chorus, and is a space for the writer and reader alike to reflect or meditate. Sometimes the narrative voice is piano, sometimes forte, but always building, building to the crescendo of her message.
I love Ray’s fearless honesty, lush poetic language, amazing adventures, the people she remembers, how she glorifies nature. What I found most remarkable was how she articulated these elements so fluidly, organically. The book is an intimate account of Ray’s life living and writing around activists, artists, teachers, biologists, botanists, nature writers, farmers, and even arachnologists (or spiderwomen as Ray refers to them); the list is exhaustive. Wild Spectacle is prayer to Mother Earth, and like prayers Ray both exalts and grieves Her. This book will surely mark your soul.
TO PURCHASE Seeking Wonder in a World Beyond Humans: Wild Spectacle and support Indie Bookstores, visit Eagle Eye Book Shop. Eagle Eye is also hosting a reading with Janisse Ray and the non-profit, Trees Atlanta, on Saturday, November 6th from 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM. For more information about this free event & to register go to: EagleEyeJRTreesATL. There will be signed hardcover copies available as well. OR, PURCHASE directly via the publisher at Trinity University Press.
For a complete list of Janisse Ray events, visit JRBookTour.
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?
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.
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 forgoing 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.
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!
AVAILABLE ON A LIMITED BASIS, HARDCOVER FIRST EDITION COPIES OF FUGITIVES OF THE HEART SIGNED BY SONNY BREWER AND J. MICHAEL WHITE AT: ALABAMA BOOKSMITH
FUGITIVES OF THE HEART BY WILLIAM GAY, reviewed by Dawn Major
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 ofHuckleberry 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
DAWN MAJOR INTERVIEWS J. MICHAEL WHITE ABOUT WILLIAM GAY’S FUGITIVES OF THE HEART
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
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—likeSamson 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:Ihave 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—orjust 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!
TO PURCHASE TROUT AND OTHER MYTHICAL BEINGS:
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, March 24, 2021 Keynote 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.
Southern author, Scott Gould, talks to me about writing and his latest novel, Whereabouts…
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.