Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday Dinner: After Thanksgiving

Elizabeth and her Daddy (Dennis)
Thanksgiving has always been about being thankful for family. I am one of the lucky ones because I do have a wonderful family. Although my parents divorced when I was ten, I always knew that they loved us. My Mom would always tell us to act like we loved one another, which meant we needed to quit fighting and bickering. I have three wonderful brothers and I am thankful for each of them. And now our family has grown with relationships, marriages, and children. It is so strange to see characteristics of my parents, brothers, and sister in the next generation.
Ethan with his Mom (Danielle)
Thanksgiving day was beautiful and warm enough that nobody needed big jackets. We spent quite a bit of time outside, the trees still clinging to a few colorful leaves before winter arrives.

Ryan, Casey, James, Daniel, Amanda, Murph, Ellen
The family is so large that there is no way we could all fit at one table. We have two kids tables, one for the older kids and the younger kids.

Ellen, Murph, Randall
It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without a little target practice afterwards. We're not really that redneck, but   it is fun to fill aluminum cans with water and watch them explode when a pellet hits them.

Typically Sunday dinner features leftovers from Thanksgiving, but since we went to my Dad's house, there weren't enough leftovers to serve today. I thought everybody might enjoy a nice change, so today is a Mexican fiesta. I'll serve seasoned ground beef and chicken, tortilla chips, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, and cilantro where the family can make their own version of nachos or taco salad. And dessert will be a store bought cake that had four different kinds: raspberry, orange, chocolate, and apple.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The River Witch - Interview with Kimberly Brock and a Black Friday Special

Kimberly Brock's novel, The River Witch is a beautifully written story about a young woman, Roslyn Byrne who is faced with the realization that the life she imagined and lived as a renowned ballerina will never be the same again. She seeks seclusion on a Georgia island by the Damascus River. The only thing Roslyn truly wants is solitude.

She rents a house that the locals know once belonged to the island conjure woman. She also meets a motherless child, Damascus (named after the river) and her handsome father, Urey who is haunted by his past.

She listens to Sacred Harp music, which is sentimental to her because of the grandmother she recently lost. Roslyn soon becomes fully involved in the lives of the characters of the island and this also includes an albino alligator.

You'll laugh and you'll cry. Just wait until you read the part about the Damascus feast. If you've ever been to a Southern dinner, it will resonate with you. And even if you haven't, you'll enjoy it. Dinner is not about the food as much as it is about the company.

As Roslyn begins to help the islanders, she also begins to find herself again.

And on Black Friday the novel will be at a special Kindle price on Amazon.

The The River Witch was the June selection for the online book club at She Reads.

Here is an interview with Kimberly Brock:

What exactly is a River Witch? 

Throughout history there have been tales of women who turned into mermaids or serpents or sirens. But I was far into the writing of The River Witch before I realized I’d incorporated such long-standing mythology into my contemporary work. In particular, after the book was finished, I discovered shocking similarities between The River Witch and the enduring myth of Melusine, a cursed maiden living on a lost island who took the shape of a serpent when bathing. This dual feminine nature – the idea of a beautiful woman with a terrible secret, an unfortunate lover, a woman with a wailing song, one who bridges the gap between known and unknown realms, who has lost her children and wanders in exile because her darker nature has been revealed - applies not only to the main character, Roslyn, but to all the women in the novel in various ways. Inadvertently, I crafted the same old myth, incorporating my own culture and environment of the Appalachian foothills and the Georgia coast. I love that! I think it stands as proof that our stories are timeless. But I leave it up to the reader to decide who they think the River Witch might be in this story, and what they think that means.

Do you consider yourself a superstitious person?

I am a deeply spiritual person, an intuitive person. I believe in a higher power and I wonder at the universe. I think all people and cultures are superstitious simply because our understanding of the world and our own nature are so limited. Superstition is a reflection of those limits and of our yearning for the divine.

How did the story of The River Witch first present itself to you?

I read this article about a couple of women who decided to open a pumpkin farm. They were holding a weekend celebration for the harvest. The pictures were gorgeous, with this long table laden with food. And everywhere, there was this beautiful, round, sumptuous fruit; these gourds and pumpkins, round and full and smooth. All these warm colors. I couldn’t stop looking at the pictures. I pulled the article out of the magazine and kept it, going back to it often. I couldn’t stop thinking how much I wanted to be there with those women. I could hear the music from the fiddle and the open-throat sound of the singers in the photographs. I could taste the fried chicken and grilled corn on the table. And it was all wrapped up in the shapes of their harvest, such a compelling illustration of the feminine divine, of sensuality and fertility and sustenance. I knew that I was going to tell a story about it somehow. In my mind, it was set in a very isolated place, a mountain or an island. I knew there was a river. I started looking into all of that and researching, learning what it takes to grow those monster pumpkins, and sketching scenes with a woman longing for her childhood home and sacred traditions wrapped up in music and stories and a bountiful table. This was Roslyn. But I couldn’t bring the ideas together cohesively.

Then one day, about a year later, I saw another report. This time they were showing people floating down a river inside giant pumpkins that had been rigged up as boats. I got excited. I saw the element of water, the continuity of cycles and the ecology of a Sea Island with its rivers and marshes and the hold-outs from a disappearing culture. What would it be like to crawl inside one of those giant pumpkins on the river? Would I feel free or like I was losing everything? And then I thought, if I felt the way I felt when I looked at the women in the magazine with all their pumpkins, what would I see if I was a little girl without a mother - or a mother without a child? And then, Damascus started talking to me.  

You tackle the grievous matter of a miscarriage in River Witch. What do you think are some of the most egregious misconceptions about miscarriages?

That they ever end, that the grief isn’t as potent or that the child isn’t known. That grief for a baby you didn’t raise is any less than that of losing a live child. We understand grief for a loved one who has lived a life and we can find ways to come to terms with that cycle, life followed by death. But when that cycle is broken, people don’t know how to approach that kind of disappointment. We don’t know how to comfort the bereaved. We belittle or discount a life that ended before or shortly after birth to try and make the scales balance with the way we expect life to operate. In The River Witch, this incongruity is also evident in the aftermath of the young death of Damascus’ mother, and the devastation of the Trezevant family. But in specific regard to miscarriage, I tried to examine the idea that life is cyclical in ways we may not even perceive, that the soul’s journey moves beyond our understanding.

Roslyn has a complicated relationship with her mother but an endearing one with Granny Byrne. Was there someone in your life that you modeled Granny after?

Mainly, Granny Byrne is based on an idea rather than a person, but she does bare resemblance to a mix of my own mother and grandmother. Even a little of my father is in there. I think Roslyn’s relationship to her grandmother is more of an idea than a reality, even for Roslyn. Had she been allowed to grow up in the cove with Granny Byrne, I wonder if her memories would be the same? A family is a complicated mess at best, and I think the way Roslyn and her mother struggle is much more true to life. But we all have our mentors and we idolize them, that’s what gives their influence strength in our lives.

Do you have a writing mentor? How did that relationship develop?

I’ve been lucky beyond imagination to have so many accomplished and gracious authors coming alongside me at different stages on this journey. I’ve met other authors at writing conferences and through social media and been amazed that they’re almost always willing to lend their advice and a moment of encouragement to a fledgling. I am very aware of the precious value of their time and I think that is part of the beauty of the writing community, that we value one another and each other’s stories in a way that is noncompetitive and supportive.

Not only writers, but many others in the publishing industry including agents, editors and independent booksellers, have played the role of mentor and friend. The fact that they accepted a writer before publication and showed enthusiasm and continued interest in the work simply because they respected the process was an act of faith that carried me a long way. I try to find ways to pass that along every day.

Now I’m sticking my neck out to start visiting bookstores for signings and readings, I’m overwhelmed by the welcome attitude of booksellers and the generous wisdom and helping hand of veteran authors. This book would have never seen the light of day without them.  

Your single best writing advice?

Trusting the process. That’s kind of like trying to convince a woman she doesn’t really want an epidural because the natural process of labor is beautiful and rewarding, but seriously, it’s true. I keep trying to read something or watch some presentation that will give me the secret, but that’s just stupid. No one writer’s process is the same just like no two books are the same. There’s no use rushing it. I’m a global thinker and I have this broad idea, a kind of amorphous vision of a work and I want to get to the finished piece in this neat, controlled way that never happens. I have to force myself to relax in the bog of my imagination until something floats to the top that I can latch on to. And all that time, I’m convincing myself I’m not crazy. I have to know that I’m going to come full circle, and that I am an idiot kind of writer who is going to do it all the hard way. And then I have to hope I’m eventually going to be smart enough to write the book of my dreams, because when I’m writing I always know I’m not smart enough. I have to let the book teach me something first. 

What are you working on now?

Another southern mystical piece involving an authentic but forgotten and discredited piece of American history about a woman whose voice has been lost for centuries and the man whose love made her story immortal. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Sweet Potato Soufflé

Sweet Potato Soufflé
                6 large sweet potatoes, baked, peeled, and mashed
                3 eggs
                1 1/4 cup milk
                1 1/2 cups sugar
                1/2 teaspoon salt
                1 teaspoon cinnamon
                1/2 teaspoon allspice
                2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix all ingredients well; beat well, until light and fluffy. If needed add a little more milk. Spoon sweet potato mixture into a buttered casserole dish; bake at 350° until set, about 20 to 30 minutes. Garnish with marshmallows and bake until marshmallows melt and just begin to brown.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Southern Cornbread Dressing

In preparation for Thanksgiving, I thought I would give you my grandmother's recipe for cornbread dressing. In the South, this is a staple on every Thanksgiving table.

Of course with my grandmother, it was difficult to get the recipe exactly right since she rarely used actual recipes, but after years of adjusting, I think I finally have it just right.

Be extremely careful with the sage, too much and it will throw the taste off. If you're only making half this recipe, you might want to reduce the sage just a little. You would think half is half, but for some reason it isn't. And of course some people forego the sage all together.

Instead of one big pan of dressing, my grandmother always made two smaller pans. One day as my mother took one of the pans from the oven, she was going to place it on the counter, but the potholder was a little worn and the heat hit her fingers. The dressing slipped from her hands and right into the sink, which she had just filled for washing dishes. (My Mom always had this thing of clean as you go, and of course I do too. I wish my daughter did, but she'll learn one day).

And anyway half of the dressing was ruined that day and of course everyone was there for dinner. My grandmother being the practical woman she was, cut the dressing into small squares rather than having everyone spoon it out - this insured that everyone got a little taste.

Cornbread Dressing
                2/3 cup chopped onion
                2 cups chopped celery
                2 quarts of day old, grated cornbread
                1 quart of day old, grated biscuits
                1/4 cup dried parsley flakes
                2 tsp poultry seasoning
                2 tsp ground sage
                1 tsp coarse ground pepper
                4 ounces margarine
                1 quart (32 ounces) plus 1 (14 ounce) can chicken broth
1 quart = 4 cups
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 
Mix onion, celery, grated cornbread, and biscuits, parsley, poultry seasoning, sage, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add melted margarine to mixture. Stir until well blended.

Add chicken broth to dry ingredients and mix well. The dressing should have a wet but not soupy consistency like a quick bread batter (banana bread or cornbread).

Divide mixture evenly into 10 x 13 pan sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake uncovered for 1 hour until lightly brown on the top.

Check back tomorrow for how to make sweet potato souffle.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Write Now: Review of Juliette Fay's The Shortest Way Home

In Juliette Fay's latest novel, The Shortest Way Home, Sean Doran has spent his adult life working as a nurse in third world countries. He has a 50% chance of having Huntington's Disease, a terminal illness that deteriorates the body and mind often striking a person during the prime of their life.

Knowing of this possibility, he chose a profession where he thought he could do the most good and this has been his life. But at 43 suffering only from the usual middle age ailments, he begins to realize that maybe he might not have the disease after all.

He returns home to find his Aunt Vivian suffering with early stages of dementia. His sister, Deidre has been caring for her as well as their nephew, Kevin, who is their deceased brother's only son.

Sean is at a crossroads in his life. Where does he go from here. At 43, he has no symptoms of the disease. Could he be one of the lucky ones? Does he want to return to nursing in foreign countries?

He reconnects with old friends, including some of the characters seen in Fay's earlier novel, Shelter Me. He reestablishes relationships with his family. And then the father who abandoned him returns hoping to be part of his life again.

The Shortest Way Home is a family drama dealing with the affects a debilitating disease has on a family. Fay gives her characters wonderful voices, especially Kevin, who at 11 is no longer a child, not yet a teenager, and has his own issues that he has managed to mask quite well.

My best friend, Lisa lost her mother to Huntington's, which meant she was at risk. I thought Fay's portrayal of what a person facing this possible death sentence goes through was right on target. I can't wait to hear what she has to say about the novel.

Sean is at a crossroads in his life, and so is every other character in the novel including the dog.

The Shortest Way Home will make you laugh and cry, but most of all it will warm your heart.

On Wednesday I was fortunate to get to meet Juliette in person at a luncheon hosted by Fiction Addiction. We've been on Facebook and Twitter, but it was really nice to get to meet her in real life.
Me with Juliette Fay

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sunday Dinner: Thankful

Grandmother, Me, and Mom
Thanksgiving will be here soon and it is a time when most families get together and enjoy a big meal. Thanks to my Grandmother and Mom's legacy, my family does this just about every Sunday. It isn't so much about the food, although they do enjoy that. It is about being together.

Everyone is so busy during the week and Sunday is the time to take a break and spend a couple of hours together.

This weekend, there will not be an elaborate meal, at least for me to prepare. I'm doing something today that I know would make Grandmother howl will laughter and probably tease me about being lazy. I'll still prepare the usual vegetables and macaroni pie (macaroni and cheese), but I'm resorting to buying a couple of roasted chickens from the grocery store.

On Thanksgiving, I will be cooking most of the morning so I plan to take it easy today.

Today's menu: Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, macaroni and cheese, Brown and Serve rolls, and orange cake. I'm expecting my kids and their families, my brothers and their families, and my Dad.

I am so thankful for the legacy my Grandmother and Mom have left to our family.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Write Now: Out of my Element

I am taking two journalism classes in school right now and after this semester, I am a mere 4 credit hours away from graduating with a BFA in Professional and Creative Writing. WooHoo is an understatement.

I love writing classes. They are my absolute favorite, but I am out of my element. One of my professors is Lyn Riddle, an award winning journalist, adjunct professor at Converse and Furman. She is also an editor but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say where. She has written numerous books and articles. I am in awe every time I walk into that class.

But I am struggling. I love to write fiction and that is difficult when you're telling the truth. You have to stick with the facts and keep digging for that story. And quite frankly after being raised in the South, it is hard to ask the questions that pry too much in the lives of others. I'm keenly observant, but I find it difficult to ask the tough questions.

But I am learning so much too. Professor Riddle said to take the knowledge we have from fiction writing and apply it to our stories. And when I began to do that, it became a little more comfortable for me.

And there is also the problem that out of the 9 students, I am the only one over twenty-one. And most if not all have been involved with school papers and other venues where they have gathered some experience.

But the beauty of being out of my comfort zone is that it expands my horizons. I think about things a little more differently. Now when I read a news story, I think about the questions I wished they had answered.

When you write, you have to take chances. It is scary, but the results are amazing.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Widow's Walk: Thankful

This is the last post that I will be writing officially for the Widow's Walk.

Mike will always occupy a dear space in my heart and a wonderful time in my life. When we married, Mike once said that I would be the last chapter of his life while he would be a middle chapter in mine. We both hoped for more time, but we had to accept what we had. And we had some glorious times in those 336 days God gave us.

I will be forever grateful for the time we spent, the laughs we shared, the trips we took, and the beauty of the ordinary days. I learned to trust God more. I learned to accept the good and the bad. For the first time in my life, I had a mature romantic relationship.

Mike encouraged me to go back to school. He encouraged me to write – not for money, but because I love it so much.

Sometimes in life you run across those people that are truly wondrous and amazing people and Mike was definitely one of those. I've heard so many wonderful stories and comments over the years about him.

Widow is no longer a major defining factor in my life. It is hard to write about the pain because I have moved to that place where there is more appreciation and gratefulness rather than hurt. I can't say I'm healed. I still have the occasional bad day. I still miss him and I know I always will. I would love to hear his laugh or the way he said his pet name for me.

I know Mike would not want me to wallow in grief. He loved me and wanted the best for me. He did so much to help me through losing him and he always reminded me that he wasn't afraid for where he was going – he was just sorry to be leaving us behind.

And I am comforted knowing that he would not be upset that my life is moving forward, but I will always honor and cherish the memories of the love and life Mike and I shared.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What My Grandmother Taught Me About Voting

My Grandparents with five of their children
My Grandmother took her right to vote seriously and perhaps that was because she was born in 1918 before women could legally vote in this country.

She and my grandfather ran a small restaurant. Grandmother never participated in the political jargon, but she listened. She formed her own opinion.

When I married, she cautioned me about politics and marriage. It seems one of the worst arguments she and my grandfather had was over politics. He told her how she should vote. They went to the polls. She cast her vote based on her own opinion rather than his. Later when he asked, she told him the truth and he was upset with her for days.

"From then on when Isham (my grandfather) and I voted, I listened to what he said and then most times I cancelled his vote with my own," she said laughing. Political discussions only strengthen marriages if you have the same opinion.

My Grandmother also lived two blocks from the church where ballots were cast. She lived on the corner and candidates often would put signs at the edge of her yard. If she didn't like them or agree with them. She would pull them up and leave them on the ground. One candidate watched her do this and told her of his first amendment right. She countered with the fact that she had the same right and it was her property. He put his sign up across the street.

When I turned 18, Grandmother encouraged me to register to vote. I did and I have voted in every Presidential election. Voting is just one of the many legacies she has left with me.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review of Michael Morris' Man in the Blue Moon

"Michael Morris is a wonderful writer with a unique gift – he can break your heart and mend it, all in the same sentence."
 ---Patti Callahan Henry, author of Coming Up For Air
Ella Wallace is the heroine of Michael Morris' Man in the Blue Moon. At thirty-five, she is just beginning to show her age. Her life is not the life the young school girl Ella imagined. She used to feel sorry for Neva Clarkson, her friend turned rival for the affections of Harlan Wallace. Now Neva is the schoolteacher and Ella finds herself wishing that Neva had been the one to win Harlan's affection. His heart was certainly not available. 
Harlan has disappeared leaving Ella to raise their three sons. The only thing she has is the commissary, where she sells goods to the townspeople. Of course she also has to deal with their lack of respect. Everyone knows Harlan has run off and Ella must be at fault.
Ella must also deal with Clive Gillespie, who once wanted her affection but now he is only interested in the land her Daddy left her — the same land Harlan mortgaged heavily to Clive. Ella's father made her promise to hold onto that land, it is all she has left of her family.
Ella has only one friend, Narsissa, a Creek Indian who came to Dead Lakes, Florida looking to earn money for passage to Brazil, where she was to join her husband. After six years, she is still there helping Ella raise her sons.
Ella goes to pick up a package from the Blue Moon Clock Company. She hopes it is a clock that she will be able to sell and momentarily appease Clive Gillespie. But Ella is surprised to find Lanier Stillis, Harlan's cousin, who is running from his own past.
With Lanier's help, Ella, Narsissa, and the boys set about to cut the lumber from the land and sell it.
Lanier has a bigger secret than what he is running from. He has a gift and people begin to notice.
Man in the Blue Moon is a mesmerizing page turner with wonderfully complex characters. I read that Michael draws from stories he used to listen to his grandmother tell, and her storytelling legacy continues through her grandson, Michael.

Artist's rendition of Ella's land in MAN IN THE BLUE MOON
Man in the Blue Moon is the November selection at She Reads. Pop over to their website to join the discussion. There are also some wonderful giveaways throughout the month.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Write Now: NaNoWriMo

Yesterday marked the first day of NaNoWriMo. What is that? November is National Novel Writing Month. The challenge is to write 50,000 words in one month. You just start and keep going. Your word count is your only goal.

I wrote 807 words yesterday and I was proud of myself.

But this morning in the shower, a new character appeared. She will not fit in my current novel in progress. I tried to make her, but she is just so unique and different and she has a story all her own. I'm not sure if there is enough there, but I'm going to move forward and see. I'll give her a few days and concentrate on her, which means my current novel in progress may go back in the box for a few days.

I just have this image and she keeps coming to my mind. I'll see if she makes it through the month or maybe she'll go in the box with other characters that are waiting to emerge in my work.

Each Friday, I will include my total word count for the previous week.

And for those of you participating, I would love to hear from you.