#PimpMyBio for #PitchWars 2017

This is my first time participating in #pitchwars. I’ve done #pitmad, though, and I always, ALWAYS do #NaNoWriMo. I always say to myself, “You are too busy – do not add another contest, bloghop or open-entry period into the fray!” And then I’m up to my elbows in queries and synopses and forgetting to wear matching socks and leaving the oven on and have spilled coffee down my shirt and I wonder how I got here.

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HAY!

I have already submitted to #pitchwars, so I’m just (im)patiently waiting to hear if I’m going to get a shiny new mentor to guide me through the realm of the amateur and into the white-light of professional writer-dom. Nah, I’m not at all nervous, anxiously awaiting my fate, or anything like that. I’m chill af.

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And now it’s time to #pimpmybio!

I’m a thirtysomething quirky nerd who lives in the boonies of north Georgia, where I was born and raised. Talk about your culture shock: when I was 21 I moved to New Zealand on a bit of a whim and ended up going to University there and living in the land of the long white cloud for 5 years. Needless to say, I’m a little bit country and a little bit antipodean rock and roll.

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Not saying I’m HER or anything but that resting bitch face looks awfully familiar. I’m just missing one Eric Northman.

Things about me you might find interesting:

  • All my animals are named after literary characters
  • I have thirty five pairs of Converse shoes, and no, I don’t need help for my hoarding problem, thank you
  • I am descended from Eleanor of Aquitaine
  • But I’m also descended from some guy named Etheldred who discovered gold and then gambled it all away in like a year, so
  • I have a David Bowie tattoo
  • I have synesthesia  
  • I still wear Love’s Baby Soft

 

And onto the writing:

I’ve written two novels, both of which are available via Amazon. Check ’em out! In addition to fiction, I write poetry and non-fiction, and I’ve also been known to fire off a few salty emails to lucky recipients from time to time. I’ve been writing since I was literally 8 years old, when I won a competition at school. I wrote about a Princess who didn’t need no damn Prince Charming, and saves herself. It was published in the local newspaper and I thought my short-lived fame tasted better than double-stuff Oreos. I’ve been chasing the dream ever since. I’ve been writing professionally (as in boring things like marketing copy, transcription and SEO posts) on and off for about ten years. My day-job is at a nutritional supplement company, which is actually more interesting than it sounds.

In addition to writing, I love cycling, genealogy, playing bass, baking, hiking, and sewing pillows. No, really. I watch way too much Golden Girls, I’m always trying to find different ways to make nachos, and I’m obsessed with dead rock stars. I have an eight-year old brilliant kid and my partner is a talented musician.

I gotta be honest – my fiction is ALL over the place. I write women’s fiction, historical fiction, the odd bit of fantasy, some comedy, and even a little bit of erotica from time to time. I have this big ol’ chip on my shoulder when it comes to authority (blame it on being the only-child of two Tauruses) and I really just loathe rules. I love so many genres, so I write in all of them. Historical fiction is what really gets my gears pumping, because all that glorious, glorious research! Immersing yourself in another time and space is so rewarding; finding the lessons that the past seeks to teach you. Which brings me to the.book.

And now onto what you’ve all been waiting for, the novel I submitted to #pitchwars:

Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree is set in the late 1920s/early 1930s, just at the start of the Great Depression, in Georgia. The story follows a simple cotton farmer named O.T. Lawrence, who just before Black Tuesday, loses everything he holds dear. Crazed and sinking into the bottle, he embarks on an odd journey – to find a young woman he hasn’t seen since he was 16 years old, the mysterious Sivvy Hargrove, who has been tucked away in the Milledgeville Asylum for over a decade.

I did extensive research for this novel, visiting the asylum on more than one occasion (an ancestor of mine was a patient there for two decades), as well as heavy research into the time period, politics and cultural atmosphere of the time.

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The novel is hist fic, more specifically, southern gothic. The asylum in Milledgeville is the quintessential southern gothic locale, after all (and the major inspiration for Flannery O’Connor!). It also explores themes central to the time period – racism, sexism and abuse, poverty, class warfare, and stigma against mental illness. It isn’t heavy-handed in its politics, but it does touch upon these issues. I’ve set out to write memorable characters, featuring especially strong women, and a couple of whom are laugh-out-loud funny.

This book has been a journey, a real work of heart. I interviewed my grandparents for this novel. I traveled to the mountains. I read all the Erskine Caldwell I could get my hands on. I just love every aspect of it. I’m so proud the story came through me.

And there you have it, folks. That’s me in a nutshell. Oh, and if you’d like to take a journey through my deranged brain, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@LillahLawson), Facebook (facebook.com/LillahLawson) or right here on this blog, which I update SUPER regularly (sike).

Kia Ora, till next time,
Lillah
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Summer of Love (Personal Issues)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been querying my book. For me, querying usually follows four phases:

Phase 1: OMG my book is finished! I wrote a BOOK! And now I’m going to put it OUT THERE! Everything is going to be amazing. I shall get an awesome book deal and become established author and finally my dreams will be realized! I love everyone! Query all the agents!

Phase 2: My eyes are crossing from this long-ass list of agents, all of whom have totally different and very specific criteria, but I’ll just finish this list and then I’ll go to sleep. I deserve it. It will pay off. Query all the agents!

Phase 3: So I have ten rejection letters. At least they are all polite. Most aren’t even form letters. That’s progress, right? Don’t give up! Query all the agents!

Phase 4: * maniacal laughter * there are no more agents in the universe, I’ve queried them all. What even are words. What even is my book. Eat all the chocolate.

Because I am lightning-fast at everything I do and have ZERO chill, usually it only takes two weeks (if that) to go through all four phases and then its time for a break before I start over. I am nothing if not diligent (read: overzealous).

Pitching has been easier for me this time, though, because I knew what to expect going in. I’ve done this before, have walked the tightrope of rejection and come out on the other side, relatively sane. Pitching is a marathon, not a sprint. So they tell me.

Pitching time comes at a good time for me. Most normal people have their “revamp” phase sometime around the new year, or maybe the Spring, but since I’m a weirdo I always pick the beginning of summer to suddenly decide to change my life. It is usually around the time my kid gets out of school that I’m latching on to some new interest or deciding to embark on some crazy lifestyle change (what, you say this has to do with the passage of time, watching my kid grow up and feeling the hand of mortality curl itself around my neck? No, it can’t be!). This year is no different. This summer is the summer of pitch, but it has also become the summer of bass.

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I have tried to become a bassist like three times now. I had an acoustic bass a few years back that was gorgeous and had the most beautiful tone, and I even took lessons and they all fell out of my ears in a puddle, so I gave up. I’ve bought books, I’ve taken online courses and they were all a giant fail. But somehow, a month or so ago, I just picked the thing up, pulled up a song I was obsessed with, looked up the tablature. And I learned it. In a day. OK, so it was an easy-ish song, and I played it over and over for hours until I got it, but I learned it. And that was that. I now know a dozen songs and am working on like eight more. I’m going about it totally backwards; no lessons, no real technique, just playing by ear and from tablature, trial-and-error until it sounds right. I have to practice each song every day or I’ll forget it. I’m doing this all wrong. And I love it!

It could not have come at a better time. Things are so bleak in the outside world right now. So muddled and confused. The news comes at us so fast, right at our faces, like the crack of a whip, and it starts to sting after a while. There’s just so much to digest at once. And me, a social-media butterfly since wayyyyyyy back, well, I was starting to crumble under the pressure. I started to notice how people handle these current events, how we talk about them, how we present them through our various feeds and timelines. And it was stressing me out. We care more about breaking the news than discussing it. More about proving our worth than doing worthy things. The pretense of concern over the action. I am, just like so many others, addicted to the cult of personality, to the 24-hour news cycle, the Twitter “breaking news”, the blending of celebrity and politics like a delicious froyo topped with too many conflicting-but-somehow-delicious toppings.

All those talking points, all those “breaking” stories, but nobody really talking or hearing each other or finding solutions, just endless thinkpiece-ing on a loop. Including my own. It started to ache a little, in my bones.

Social media, for some, is a comfort, a system of support, where you can find a hive of helpful bees eager to buzz you back to a good place. I’ve had that in the past, but it doesn’t feel that way anymore. I’ve never been the type to share the intimate details of my life on social media, anyway (even in my most frenzied, frequent posts, you’ll find me ruminating on current events or music less than telling private details). When I was younger, I tried it, but it always made me feel vaguely nauseated. I have never been one to air my laundry or appeal to the “hivemind” for advice, at least not in public. A private group, maybe. And that isn’t to say that people who *do* that are inherently bad or somehow less better at coping than me. It’s just not my thing. It makes me feel exposed, like I’m pandering for attention, and despite being a weird ass extrovert with a penchant for words, I’m also a socially awkward, sensitive person who doesn’t feel comfortable putting it all “out there”. There’s a reason I’ve never run for office, even though I’m one of the most political people I know.

I took a Facebook “break” of sorts (meaning I’m still on there and share pictures and the occasional article, but the endless posting of news stories and liveblogging current events as they happen had to stop for a while) because it was just bringing me down. I could feel the ennui happening, the dread – not just in me, but in everyone around me. It felt like an echo chamber, like nothing was being said, just an endless regurgitation and it was contributing to my already ugly mental state.

Of course, it backfired, because when I stopped posting about politics on Facebook I started tweeting twice as many things on Twitter. But for some odd reason – and I think I’m in the minority here – Twitter doesn’t stress me out as much as Facebook.

A few days ago, I found myself on the verge of an anxiety attack like I’d never had before. I’ve always had it, coped with it my whole life, and it comes and goes at different levels of intensity, different symptoms at different times. The triggers vary, it all varies. I had a good run of at least six months with almost NO anxiety, and I was gobsmacked. It just…left. Okay, to be fair, it was replaced by some pretty grim, gray depression that made me feel like I was living in a perpetual state of monotone, but compared to the vein-burning frenzy of anxiety, I was cool with it, for the most part. Then the anxiety came back last week. No warning, no real trigger, it was suddenly just there. Life came barreling around the corner and slam! it hit me full in the face. Literally. I found myself at work with shaking hands and the sensation of grape slushy running through my veins, big, fat itchy red hives breaking out under both of my eyes. I had to sit down for a moment and remind myself to breathe, because tunnel vision was coming on and I thought I would faint.

I found myself wishing, for the first time, that I was the type of person who felt comfortable just dishing on Facebook about my struggles. Just put it all out there, the pain, the fear, the nerves, and see what happens. See if it helped, to just say it. Would it all go away? Would I feel immediately lighter? Would I have to stop being comfortable in order to feel better?

But then I thought about it some more, and I decided not. We live in a world where we share it all, and I’m okay with that – I share what I want, when I want, and dog knows I’ve been on a social-media soapbox since Al Gore invented the internet back in the days of JNCOs. Nobody can say I haven’t used the platform. But I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable talking about “My Shit” (and yes, that’s what I call it) out loud and proud for the masses. It might give a bit of comfort, but it’s cold comfort to me, because it doesn’t last. The attention of social media, is, to me, a quick fix, but it doesn’t treat the real issues deep down. A quick scroll and a “like” or a heart emoji and then they’re onto the next thing, and you’re still sitting there, waiting.

Then you’ve got the well-meaning but often patronizing and/or tone deaf advice from people who just want to tell you what to do, without any awareness of whether or not you can actually accomplish their suggestions. The “bootstraps” people. The folks with good intentions who wonder if you’ve ever thought about essential oils? Or had you considered just buying a new car if yours is giving you trouble? Feeling bad? Why not just try yoga? Can’t you open a savings account? Depressed? Anxious? It’s all in your head, just get over it! A brisk nature walk will soothe your ills!

Actually, it does, for me. But I’m not that asshole who will EVER tell you to take a fucking walk to cure your depression. Take a walk because walks are nice and you deserve to brush your fingers against the mottled bark of a tree and smell wet leaves and see sunshine and breathe crisp air. Because those are nice things and you deserve them. I will not try to fix your problems because that’s presuming I am qualified (and I’m definitely not), plus you didn’t ask to be fixed. Fixxers can eat a butt.

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I’m working towards talking about my anxiety and depression, because I think it helps, but more in spaces that I feel are wholly mine, on my terms; like in my writing, whether its books or this blog, in spaces with friends who I know won’t judge me or belittle my experiences (because those of us who don’t talk often about our struggles are usually the first to be dismissed when we get up the courage to – and that’s an unfortunate truth), and by taking part in things that give me joy. Creative outlets. Artistic expression. Becoming lost in another world with a book. Plucking strings to play shitty bass. Watching the Golden Girls while eating M&Ms by the fistful (don’t judge me).

It may be the summer that it all comes crashing down, this house of cards we’re living in. But it’s also the summer Love. Loving what you do. Loving yourself. The summer of bass. The summer of pitching. As many songs and books as I can fit in my brain. The summer of doing things to cultivate a better, more well-rounded self. Sometimes I roll my eyes at terms like “self-care”, even while realizing the need for it, but I think that’s what it is. To take time for you, amid the chaos, is kind of a revolution in itself. That old adage, “you can’t fill from an empty cup”, I guess, rings true.

This afternoon my kid was dancing in weird circles around the room and making some unidentifiable guttural noise. His friend asked him, “What are you doing?” and my mini-me replied in a gleeful tone, “I dunno. I’m just dancing. I have personal issues!” Then he proudly shook his butt.

So that’s what I’m up to. You can find me plucking the bass or ripping out my hair while pitching this damned book that I never want to look at again.

Ah yes, and it is also the summer of hard cider. I found this great one from the blue ridge mountains that tastes like fresh apples. * Raises glass * To summer, both the fun and frustrating, and to our personal issues!

Poncy Poetry Thursday: Homage to a Tumor

Well, I’m all out of excuses. It’s been such a ridiculously, inexcusably long time since I updated my blog. But, alas, for the two of you that actually keep up with this thing, I did warn you.

I’ve been quite busy with my latest piece of writing, a novel that I’ll just call Monarchs for short. I wrapped up writing around February, then spent the entirety of March editing it into oblivion. I revised and re-wrote and finished the second draft a few weeks ago. Now it’s in the hands of test readers, and I’ve already started sending out a handful of pitches. The book takes place in the late 1920s/early 1930s, and focuses on two people: O.T. Lawrence, a poor cotton farmer whose sparse but idyllic family life is suddenly, tragically cut short; and Sivvy Hargrove, a touring tent revival singer who ends up in the Milledgeville Asylum with no hope of being released. That’s all I have to say about them right now. *winky face emoji*

A couple of people have asked when it’ll be “out”, and the short answer is I don’t know. This one is different. With Aroha, I decided to self-publish after a very small window of pitching (nine months or so) and Ka Kite was always intended to be self-published, as it’s a sequel to the former. Monarchs, however, I intend to pitch and try to publish the traditional route. I’ve had offers from a couple of vanity presses, but I’ve never understood those. Educate me if I’m ignorant on this, but it seems to me that if you’re going to sink your own money into the publishing of a novel, that’s essentially self-publishing. So you might as well do it yourself, and omit the costly middle man. But that’s just me.

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So yeah, “Monarchs” is floating through the wires of the interwebs, hoping to find its home with a literary agent who has a taste for a southern gothic/historical fiction hybrid. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

As for this post, I’d considered writing a think-piece of sorts about the state of things at the moment, my frustrations with the current political climate, and my thoughts on poverty and health. I have a lot to say on the subject, a lot of what I hope is wisdom and insight. I started and stopped a couple of times, but ultimately I abandoned the idea (and not just because Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was on and that’s my favorite book/movie of the series). Do we really need another think-piece? Probably not. We’re all distraught, we’re all stressed, we’re all thinking enough for the lot of us. What can I say that hasn’t been thought, felt, said already?

So let there be poetry.

I recently stumbled upon a treasure trove of old, angsty poetry from many years ago. This was one of the more recent of that lot, but it’s still a good eight years old. I always liked it, though please know that I never take myself too seriously when it comes to my prose. It’s as self-deprecating as I am.

As you might guess, it’s an ode to a shitty former lover. As you do.

 

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O.T., Walt, and some Butterflies

Pfew.

It has been a month, or thereabouts, since I’ve posted any content on this blog. I feel bad about that, but I did warn you all…

I haven’t really been in the spirit of self-promotion or blogging lately, and haven’t written much, to be honest. I did manage to win NaNoWriMo this year, rounding out at 50k words somewhere around the 18th of November. And I’ve been steadily plugging along on the novel, doing a tad of editing and revising here and a good bit of writing there. I’m nowhere near done. I’ve written 103 pages and I’m halfway through the novel (and that’s being generous). I do this. I know I shouldn’t, but I do it anyway. I am much too wordy, I write far too much, and then when it’s time to cut, I scream and rail against it.

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Well, I earned it, so I may as well show it, eh?

I do very much enjoy what I’ve got so far, though. It’s drastically different than anything I’ve ever written, so much more so that it makes me incredibly nervous, far more nervous than I was while writing Aroha – which is weird, because that was a work from my heart that was ten years in the making, and due to the subject matter, really should have given me fits. It did, but not like this novel does. I want so desperately to get this one right, to really say something with it. I suppose I want it to mean something. I feel a tad overwhelmed, and out of my element.

My beloved David Bowie, who I will quote every time when given half a chance, always said that when you’re just out of your depth, that’s when you produce your best work. I hope that applies when it comes to me. I’m treading water in the deep end right now, and those words are my floaties.

For the past couple of days I’ve been trying to think of what to write, what sort of post I could do that is relevant to what’s going on in the world right now, how I’m feeling about things, the holidays, etc. But I’ve come up blank. All I’m working on creatively is this, and I’m not much in the headspace to write thinkpieces right now. We’re all just so tired, aren’t we? So I decided instead, as my little holiday gift to you all, to post a tiny snippet from the prologue of my novel. This is likely the only excerpt I will post, as I’m holding this one a lot closer to my chest than my other writing. It is still becoming.

I give you O.T. and Walt, twin brothers from Five Forks, my brain babies, for whom I have very high hopes. And I would love to hear your feedback.

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“Daughter of Farmer who will be Resettled – Wolf Creek, GA 1935” by Arthur Rothstein. I snapped this photo out of an Erskine Caldwell book because I fell head over heels in love with her (it was mainly because of the shoes, but also – her expression slays me).

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Growing Up With You.

Here it is, the end of October in Georgia and it finally feels sort of like Autumn. I’ve got my cup of Earl Grey, a raspberry linzer cookie, and I’m wearing a pair of white chucks that I bought over the weekend – now orange is the only color I lack in my ever-growing collection of Converse All-Stars, because I am a madwoman who collects things. I’ve started my new novel, a week before NaNoWriMo kicks off, because true to form, I always start things early. So far I’m liking what I’ve written. It may be short-lived, but I am breathing deep and just enjoying right now.

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Told ya. #obsessed

I’m in heavy music-listening mode right now, too, which always happens as the seasons change. You can find me driving, music blaring, singing along and dancing badly, on any given day of the week. Music is my life-force…that and reading. When I’m doing both, you know I’m heavy in creative mode and that my brain is working overtime, trying to absorb every little bit of inspiration and sustenance it can. It’s kind of like expecting a child – a weird analogy, I know – but your entire body is involved in this creative process, forming a new life, limbs, heart and eyelashes, and it takes all the nutrition, sustenance and mental stamina you have to produce that perfect thing. So is writing to me. Many writers need the quiet, for everything to be focused solely on their work, but not me. I need background noise, a cacophony of music and books and life tumbling at me from every direction, to singularly focus on my work. It’s a type of mania, and I welcome it, after long years of trying to hide my quirks and double down on a more organized way of thinking. Once I embraced it, I started to bloom.

I’m pretty much exclusively listening to Daniel Johns at the moment. You’ll know him as the blond baby of a frontman for Silverchair, or perhaps the enigmatic and mysterious singer in the Dissociatives. Yeah, I’m showing my age. And when I sat down to write this post, I thought, “Really Lillah, another post about a musician you admire? They all know – you’re obsessive about your music, it influences your writing, blah, blah blah.” After all, I’ve been down this road before – Dwight, David and so on – but the truth of the matter is, music is inexplicably knitted into my writing and vice versa (and so it is with books, with reading, too) and I cannot separate the two. When I’m in creative mode, I’m listening to my tunes. And when I’m listening, I want to sing back in praise, in thanks, to the artists who have helped me along the way.

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If this picture of Johns doesn’t define the mid-to-late 90s, I don’t know what does.

It freaks me out to think that I’ve been a fan of Daniel Johns for the better part of my life (to be fair, they came on the scene when I was just an adolescent, and they weren’t much older themselves). But it’s true and I owe the guy a lot. It sounds stupid, but I honestly do. Just by pure coincidence, or maybe it’s me projecting my experiences onto someone else’s art (likely), but for every major turning point in my life, he has been there. A song always seemed to fit at just the right time. He has got me through some times. And while I haven’t followed his career with the same fervor as I have say, David Bowie, I have looked in on him from time to time with interest, always eagerly consuming his latest work and finding comfort and meaning in it.

I think the reason I love Daniel Johns (and Silverchair/the Dissociatives) so much is because I grew up to it. As he navigated his journey into adulthood, through pain and trauma, illness and wisdom, so did I. He’ll never know me, but he’s a kindred spirit all the same.

As a goofy 14 year old, already showing the beginning signs of anxiety, I listened to “Frogstomp” and wished I could be so profound and in tune with my feelings. When I was a young teenager, subsisting on nothing but diet coke and energy pills, trying not to gain a pound back after a lengthy illness in which I almost died, I found “Ana’s Song”.and discovered I’d like to be healthy again. After my Grandfather died and I thought I’d never climb back out of the grief (it was the first death of a family member I’d experienced, and because I wasn’t able to see him much as a child, I mourned the relationship we’d never have), I found “Miss You Love”, which helped me through. As I found myself in the beginning of an abusive relationship, in my early twenties, just having moved to New Zealand and having no idea what to do next, I listened to the “Neon Ballroom” album and knew I wasn’t the only one feeling the way I did. I recall long nights, holding in tears but letting Daniel’s haunting falsetto cry for me instead. As I began to get up the courage to leave my abusive partner and go back home to a place I wasn’t sure was home anymore, the “Diorama” album gave me some strength.  Home, feeling guilt for leaving and the fear of the unknown life I wasn’t sure I even wanted anymore, Daniel’s new project with the Dissociatives seemed to bolster me with its lyrics about the loss of love but carrying on in a new medium. “Straight Lines” talked of embracing yourself, and the things necessary to make yourself whole. And now, embarking on this journey as a writer, putting my stuff out there even when I’m terrified to, I’m loving listening to Daniel’s solo album, a far cry from anything he’s ever done, laughing at his butt-hurt diehard fans who hate it, and feeling so proud of him for doing the damn thing on his terms. God, I love it when artists push out of their comfort zone and do something wholly unexpected (I think I just found common ground between Dwight, Daniel and David – the three D’s who are not so unalike, eh?). And hey, my 7 year old kid and I have jammed out to the reworked Beatles tunes on Beat Bugs (which Daniel works on ) more than once together, so we’re finding that common ground. And so it goes.

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Growing older gracefully and eyeliner on point – I could use some tips, man. I’ve got the hat part down.

You guys, my eyes often glaze over when people write about music. I don’t read album reviews that much, and I only flip through the pages of Rolling Stone every so often. I don’t kid myself that anyone is interested in my musings on Daniel Johns any more than they are about Dwight Yoakam or Patti Smith or Bowie or Ma Rainey or anyone else I love and hold dear. I don’t write this to preach to the converted (who my age doesn’t like Silverchair? C’mon.) but just to further reiterate that music is so important. And that I’m grateful for it, for the artists who inspire me. It took me way too long to start honing in my skill, and actually start putting words to paper; I found every excuse. And I still do, if given half the chance. But when I listen to a song like “Forever and a Day”, I literally can’t stop myself from sitting down and putting my feelings somewhere, you know? The feelings consume, they overwhelm, and when that happens, I count myself lucky to do what I do. I have the tools to express myself right here, and endless inspiration coming out of my earbuds.

I get nervous talking like this, afraid my obsessive personality will show, that people will know how deeply I feel every little thing, how deeply I love. But it’s about pushing out of that feeling, swimming in the deepest waters, and showing who you really are, that makes the artist.

Thanks, Daniel, and all the rest.

Happy Autumn, and may you find your favorite album again, as beautiful and relevant to your life as you left it.

Lillah

Charlatans, Demagogues and History Repeating

For the past several months I have been submerged in the world of 1930s rural Georgia. My brain is currently residing somewhere between the blue tinged mountains of North Georgia and the shaded, gothic slope of Milledgeville. I have loved every minute of this research, and I am in such a screaming hurry to start on my novel that I can barely stand it.

It has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience, immersing myself in the writers of the day – Flannery O’Connor, Erskine Caldwell, and writers like Alice Walker and Olive Ann Burns, who did not grow up during that time period but still capture it so well. I have to say, though, that after you’ve read a good deal about the time period, about the plight of rural farmers during the Great Depression and the various issues that plagued them (exploitative sharecropping/tenancies, pellagra, strained race relations, extreme poverty, mental illness, to name a few) it can start to wear on you. The bleakness of the literature from this time period is so heavy, so starkly realistic, that it is an ache in your gut. There are no heroes here. No redemption. No hope.

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Five Forks (Colbert) GA, 1922. Photo courtesy Ancestry.com/Rootsweb

The brilliant satire and dark parody of Flannery O’Connor and Erskine Caldwell work so well because of the utter depravity and hopelessness of the time. It seems grotesque to laugh at a scene in which a starving family fights over a stolen bag of turnips, and the chuckle that escapes your mouth does so behind your hand, because you’re ashamed. Both authors, Caldwell especially, were ripped to shreds by the public and often had their works banned, because of the light it shined on the shameful truth that so many wanted buried and forgotten.

One of those shameful truths that we’ve seen whitewashed, spit-shined clean and presented as something else entirely is the legacy of one Eugene Talmadge, the former Governor of Georgia (1932-1946). Most people, even native Georgians, barely know who he was, other than the fact that a road or two was named after him. The history books attempt to paint him as a charismatic and noble figure, or at the very least, a neutral one.

It isn’t the case. Talmadge was at best, a charming demagogue who played on racial and economic tensions of the time to rise into power. At worst, he was a dangerous white supremacist who actively tried to keep his foot on the neck of the African Americans (and poor whites) whom he governed.

During his tenure as Governor, Talmadge stoked fires of racial tension by jailing those who dared to assemble in protest, actively courted the KKK (they sent flowers to his funeral), prevented the University of Georgia from integrating and admitting black students, favored low wages and cheap labor, and went out of his way to denounce anything “socialist”. He was an outspoken opponent of FDR and was adamant against Government programs like Social Security. He spoke often of how poor people should “pull themselves up by their bootstraps”, and was in favor of tenant farming and sharecropping. He also meddled in the affairs of Central State Hospital, one of the locales of my novel, to the detriment of the patients who were already forgotten and abused members of society.

In addition to being racist, he was also ableist, often mocking President Franklin D. Roosevelt for his wheelchair and suggesting that a President with a disability could not competently lead.

“[People cannot] respect a man who can’t walk a two by four.” – Eugene Talmadge, on FDR.

Talmadge was well known for his sweeping, genteel manner of speaking, for his bluntness (“he tells it like it is”), and for his ability to charm even those who he was actively campaigning against. Known as “the Wild Man of Sugar Creek”, he took great pride in his popularity and used it to his full advantage. He Governed for well over a decade with an iron fist.

In reading about the time period and this man in particular (and finding out that members of my own family were avid supporters of his), it isn’t particularly shocking that he would rise so quickly to success. The Great Depression was a time of desperation and madness, with whole families so deep into poverty, literally starving and succumbing to disease, that they eventually became apathetic about their own futures. The future was an abstract concept, a dire possibility if possible at all. Talmadge was wily and smart enough to play on this desperation, to understand that hope wasn’t enough – he had to play on fear, also. Fear of being “licked”. Fear of being the lowest common denominator. He used the deeply-buried hopes of people that their lives still meant something, and convinced them that the only way to get back to “glory” would be by stepping on the backs of blacks and poor whites and taking back what had been stolen from them. It worked.

I see this same sort of thing playing out today, and I shake my head. Watching history repeat itself when we’ve learned these lessons so many times before (after all, Eugene Talmadge is just one small pebble in a bucket full of them) and yet still fall for the same old thing. We let our heads be turned, we fall for the lies, the propaganda, the bunk. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, said the Great Wizard of Oz.

I didn’t set out to write this new novel as allegory, but I guess I’ll go where the tobacco road takes me.

Untitled (Ghost)

Today I’ve decided to share one of my rough short stories, part of a series I’m writing called “About a Girl” (tentatively titled – not sure I’ll be able to keep that working title for obvious reasons). In “About a Girl”, I take songs that I love from talented male musicians that are written about women, and turn them on their head. I interpret them myriad ways, many of them with a feminist spin, some of them funny, some of them dark, but all of them interesting and challenging. I have written eight of these stories so far, and this is by far my most dark to date.

I was inspired by “Untitled (Ghost)” by Neutral Milk Hotel. If you’re a fan of NMH you know that much of that album was inspired by Anne Frank. As a young girl I read her diary so many times I had it memorized. Her legacy and tragic story has stuck with me throughout my life, just as it has with so many others. It’s a very small consolation how she has inspired art throughout the decades since her death.

This story isn’t really about Anne Frank, though. I’ll leave it to your interpretation.

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