What a whirlwind of a month April was for me! For years, #1 on my bucket list has been a BFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. My journey began on April 7th. I hate flying (though I’ll do it if I must), so I drove from Florida to Vermont in two days. Now the other reason I drove was because I needed to be in Tennessee shortly after my residency ended, to host my daughter’s Senior Recital. As a Music major with a focus on Vocal Performance, this was the culmination of four years of incredibly hard work for Emmy. It is not something you miss. Each recital is devoted to one student, whose parents typically host a reception afterwards. The plan was for my husband to be on vacation at home for one week so he could do some projects he wanted to do AND to keep our little dog Sugar while I was away. We boarded her the first week of my residency and we both worried ourselves sick about her. (She did fine and they loved her!) Anyway, at the end of my residency, I would drive to Tennessee, where Perry would meet me with three boxes of stuff I had packed for the reception on April 22nd. THEN, we would take a few days OFF by ourselves in the mountains. Simple, right? Right. And then THIS happened. That, dear friends, is NOT the Suwannee River, upon which I LIVE. That is the ROAD to my house on the river. Rain in the Okefenokee Swamp feeds the tributaries that connect with the Suwannee and the river rises and falls accordingly. Lots of rain meant lots of rise, sometimes over a foot a day. The weird thing about our neighborhood is that the road floods before the yards, so when the water is rising and you don’t know when it will crest, you have to make the decision to get all of your “ground stuff” out of harm’s way while you still have a road. So, predictions were pointing to a moderate flood with more storms coming. Perry spent the first week of his “vacation” moving lawn tractors, vehicles and other equipment from beneath our house and from outbuildings at ground level (our home is on stilts because we’re in a flood zone) to storage units in town. By the time he left for Tennessee, stressed and exhausted, the water was just starting to creep over the road.
The recital was beautiful – my daughter is amazing and I will include a link on a subsequent post to prove it! The reception went well, though I must say I really needed more help. I didn’t get any pictures of all the hard work I put into table settings and food! Too busy making it happen.
The day after the recital, we made the decision to go on back home. The water was getting deep on the road and I would need to get the camper situated somewhere that I could work because this ain’t my first rodeo. I am NOT boating in and out of our neighborhood ever again. Some neighbors stay, but with my sensitivity to flood mosquitos (they are a breed of their own), it is just not healthy for me. And at this very minute, I have a swollen eye to prove it, but that’s a story for another day. So, this picture is the road the day after we went home. There were a few things, including his 1950 Ford 8N tractor, that he had not gotten out and that I would need to work. I shot this picture over my shoulder as I stood on our flatbed trailer pulled behind aforementioned tractor. I was steadying (or maybe it was steadying ME) a small refrigerator. It was touch and go getting out. The exhaust of the tractor was inches from the water. Had we hit a hole, we’d have been stuck.
Okay, so wait…I titled this The Goddard Experience and haven’t even mentioned that. It was incredible and exhausting and I am in the throes of the resulting work plan now. I’m excited about the program and will surely write more about it later, but right now I need to get back to work. If you want to know more about this college and how it works, check out http://www.goddard.edu.
So, I abbreviated this reader’s name because I didn’t know how to get her permission because I don’t know her, but this is an astounding review and I just had to share it!! Thank you, Alyssa! I am blown away!
Selleck doesn’t just write her characters. She doesn’t just scribble these people down on a crumpled cocktail napkin at the local bar. She builds them with the precision of an architect: imagine blueprints sprawled like king size comforters, crosscurrents of veins running like electrical wires. Every bone is accounted for. Every shimmering cell. They walk right off the paper, their faces a landscape of emotion, their souls sparkling like tinsel. The Pecan Man is reminiscent of Billy Bob Thorton’s character in Slingblade — he is a hapless, reclusive individual with very distinct mannerisms and features. He lives in the woods in a small southern town, emerging once in a while in his sweat soaked clothes, his gaunt legs peddling his rusty bicycle. Ms. Ora Lee Beckworth (the enchanting narrator of this tale) will hire him to mow her lawn and because this book is set in the 1970’s during the civil rights movement the continual presence of this old black man will cause quite a stir. The bigoted neighbors will be terrified and the children will be terrified and you’ll be right there on the porch, looking through Ms. Beckworth’s windows. Looking at a scared little girl with blood coiling her legs and the icy white blonde kid with fistfuls of candy. Fistfuls of candy smattering against Ora Lee’s window like hail.
I have been asked to post some questions for book club readers and classrooms, since I do not include them in the book. This may change soon, but here are a few for now. These were posed by members of a writer’s group in Gainesville, Florida.
SPOILER ALERT if you have not read the novel yet.
•What is the significance of “the lie that never ends” for the story?
•What is the main reason Ora Lee doesn’t tell Grace the truth after her mother dies?
•Why is Ora Lee not able to remember her life with Walter?
•Was Ora Lee really kind to Eddie? Does it matter?
•Does Eddie really think he’ll have to get justice because he’s innocent? Why does he later change his mind?
•Does the friendship between Patrice and Dovey Kincaid’s daughter signify that all is now well between the races in the South?
•Why does Ora Lee believe “we were partially to blame” for losing Grace?
•Why does Ora Lee decide not to bury her lie with Eddie, “no matter what the cost”?
•According to the story, what good does it do to learn right from wrong if we fail to insist on doing the right thing?•Why did Ora Lee let the Pecan Man take the blame for the murder of the rapist when she knew the real killer was Blanche’s son, Marcus?
I lost one of my dearest friends this weekend. The loss is too new and too raw to write much about yet, but I didn’t want another day to pass without sharing a tiny bit about my friend and the impact she had on my life. Suezette and I met when we both worked for the public library systems in our neighboring counties. She was a gifted storyteller, a gatherer of friends and an extraordinary servant to humankind. She taught me much about giving with purity of heart, having passion for the ordinary things and persistence in my writing. She was an encourager, a cheerleader, a beautiful, chirping bird who flitted about adding her cheerful song to all who would hear. Her voice has already kept me from wallowing in self-pity, no matter how legitimate that sorrow and angst may be. “That’s enough of that,” she says. “We are not going to go there today.”
I love you and miss you already, my sweet friend. I can see you now, sitting with the greatest Storyteller of all time, whom you served with love and dedication and the perfect amount of irreverence. It is storytime in heaven, and Jesus is happy to share the stage with you. The proper blessing is Rest in Peace, but I know you too well to say something so silly. You never rested a moment in your life. Don’t forget to tell Him the one about….
I recently had the pleasure of presenting a program on self-publishing at the Writers Alliance of Gainesville. My topic included publishing in both digital and print formats and I basically told the story of how and why I came to publish my novel The Pecan Man through Amazon’s program. While I was careful to include as much technical advice as I could, I had one goal that surpassed all else: I wanted to inspire others to publish their own work, one way or another. So, here is my story and I hope it inspires you as well, whatever your artistic endeavors may be.
I have been writing since I figured out that you could put a story on paper by stringing words together. My second grade teacher Mrs. Miller at Skeen Elementary was the first to tell me I was a writer. I had many other confirmations along the way that I was a gifted writer and storyteller and that I should focus on that as a career. But somehow life got in the way. I thought of writing as a pleasurable hobby, albeit one with certain drawbacks. Written words were permanent, and if I was going to be true to myself and my world view, I was going to offend some people. For many years, I just wasn’t that brave. I raised my daughters, took classes at the Junior College, worked full-time, wrote short stories, started novels and screenplays and the occasional poem, but mostly I didn’t write at all.
I encouraged my daughters to pursue their passions, to choose what they love as a career path, mostly because it was always my biggest regret that I had not done the same. They have all done this with great success and pleasure and I am proud of them, and proud of myself for believing in them. There is a huge spread in their age; my oldest was 17 when Emily was born. In 2001, we moved to North Florida from my hometown of Leesburg and set out to live the “simple” life.
The Pecan Man, which I started in 2001 and then promptly put aside, brewed in my head for the most part while I raised Emily and worked. In 2006, when I had maybe four chapters written, I submitted the first chapter to the 2006 CNW/FFWA Florida State Writing Competition and was astounded to win first place in the first chapter, unpublished category. At the time, I was working for the local public library cooperative, coordinating and presenting literacy programs for youth. I stumbled upon a writer’s group in Gainesville and, over the years, managed to finish my novel with excellent critique and support from those fellow writers.
Off and on, I would search for legitimate agents and publishers and submit my work, but submissions for me were rare. In 2010, Algonquin books read my first three chapters and asked for the entire manuscript. My hopes were dashed when they passed, but I understood why. Their rejection was complimentary and kind and encouraging, but my little novel was just too short. 49000 words. Members of the group encouraged me to keep rewriting, but the fact was, every time I went to add or change the story I had written, I was filled with absolute angst. I just felt like I had told the story I wanted to tell. I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, make myself go back and change it again.
And then, one day, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about a thirty-seven year old attorney who had self-published a novel in digital format and landed on the best-seller lists alongside brand-name authors like Michael Connelly, James Patterson and Kathryn Stockett. Her story was very similar to mine, and she had clearly been successful with her novel, selling over 100,000 digital copies without ever putting the book into print.
In the meantime, Emily had gone off to college, my parents started having serious medical problems and I was feeling my own mortality, to boot. I decided, if I was ever going to stop hearing the burning question from family and friends “When is your book coming out?”, I was going to have to do it myself.
I chose Amazon’s Kindle program, an easy, user-friendly way to publish your work in digital format – e-books as they are now called. My reasoning was simple: I could get the work out there for aforementioned friends and family and maybe a few others, gather a little feedback, test the waters, and PULL IT if it tanked. Then people started asking for a printed copy. Oh, Lord, I thought, make it permanent? I don’t think I’m ready for that. I avoided it for several months.
Then one day, I was admiring a friend’s artwork. She had recently started painting again and was sharing her work on her Facebook page. Her images were stunning. Kathy is incredibly gifted and I was simply amazed. But I noticed that she was painting most of them on plain white paper and it bothered me. So, being the blunt soul that I am, I said, “Kathy, what are you doing? That work will never last! Buy some freaking canvas, for crying out loud!” Yep, I actually said it like that.
And then it hit me. I was doing exactly the same thing. My epiphany: Believe in yourself enough to paint on canvas.
I went to Amazon’s CreateSpace program and put The Pecan Man in print. To date, I have sold well over 12000 copies and the royalties are paying for me to return to college to pursue MY dream – a degree in Creative Writing.
We artists are full of creativity and doubt, that will probably never change. Here’s the thing: Not everyone is going to love your work. It is terrifying to open yourself up to criticism. Do it anyway. It has never been easier to find an audience in today’s creative market. I used Amazon because it was virtually free, if I did all the work myself, and because it was my main source for purchasing books. There are other programs as well.
I had the great pleasure of speaking at the Alachua County Public Library yesterday, for the Writer’s Alliance of Gainesville. http://www.writersalliance.org What a great experience!
I shared my experience publishing The Pecan Man to a very receptive and gracious audience. Check out the link to see some completely animated photos of my silly self. At least I’m not boring!
The Pecan Man is still available on Amazon.com in print or digital format. Sales are GREAT and so are the reviews.
If you know me or have read The Pecan Man, you’ll know that I give a lot of credit to Gainesville Poets and Writers’ group for helping me complete the work. Their feedback and edits were invaluable, especially for the route I eventually took – self-publishing through Amazon’s programs. Recently, GPW member Donald gave a copy of my novel to Don Smith, who heads up a couple of book clubs in Gainesville. Long story short, they picked it up for their April meeting and invited me to attend the discussion. A first for the group and a first for me.
The meeting was held at Books-a-million and the group of approximately 12-15 people gathered in a cozy corner. I noticed as each sat down, they reached over and put slips of folded paper into a golden goblet. These, I learned, were questions the group would use to randomly discuss issues or observations they had with the story.
My job, for the first hour, was just to listen and take notes. I would have time to speak or answer questions later. Have to say, as far as writing goes, that hour was as golden as the bowl of questions on the table. To listen to a group of people discuss the characters I birthed, and the story I wrote, was nothing short of a gift. To say that it was a positive experience for me is like saying the Suwannee River holds a few drops of water.
This is a group of people who read an amazing range of literary works, and have credentials I’ll never touch. And yet, a majority of them connected to the story and the characters and had mostly positive comments to make. Even the negative comments weren’t really negative…especially since it always helps to know what works for some people and what doesn’t.
I came away from the meeting feeling encouraged and motivated and validated. What a blessing I received.
Onward and upward!!