On the Road Again #ILoveWillie

I recently watched an old Willie Nelson movie, “Honeysuckle Rose,” about Willie’s infamous road trips he took with his band. They kept playing his song, “On the Road Again,” and I can’t get it out of my head. I’ll probably be singing it next week when I get on the road again for another leg of my spring book tour. Where to this time?

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Next Tuesday I’ll be headed down to Fairhope, Alabama, where I’ll have a reading/signing at Page & Palette (4 p.m. April 4) for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s. My hosts will be my author friends, Suzanne Hudson and Joe Formichella. I love Fairhope and April will be a beautiful time of the year to be there!

Emma w ASB and customerWednesday I’ll drive from Fairhope to New Orleans for an event at Garden District Book Shop for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (6 p.m. on April 5). I’ll be joined by my hostess, New Orleans resident and contributor to A Second Blooming, Emma Connolly, and two contributors from Jackson, Mississippi—Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman. Emma’s essay is about her “second blooming” as a shopkeeper on Magazine Street, where she owns Uptown Needle and Craftworks. Here’s Emma (on the left)  selling a copy of A Second Blooming to one of her customers in the shop. (Can you tell this was during Mardi Gras?)

Thursday I’ll head back up I-55 to Jackson, Mississippi, for another event for A Second Blooming, again at Lemuria (5 p.m. on April 6). I’ll be joined by Jackson residents Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman, who will be sharing their stories of second bloomings after loss.

Two weeks from tomorrow I’ll drive up to Dyersburg (Tennessee) for the Dyersburg State Community College Women’s Conference (April 18) where I’ve been invited to speak about my journey as an author. I’ll talk about my writing and publishing career, and have an opportunity to sell copies of both Tangles and Plaques and A Second Blooming. This event usually attracts about 80-100 women from the Dyersburg area, and includes a luncheon and fashion show. I’m so happy to be included!

And that will wrap up my April book tour. Stay tuned next month to hear about the five events I have planned in May, with travels to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, another event in Oxford (Mississippi), and two local events in the Memphis area. I’ll keep all of these posted on my EVENTS page (just click the link at the top of the home page of my web site) so you’ll know when I’ll be in your area.

I’ll close with a picture of me with the Memphis contributors to A Second Blooming, at our event at Memphis Botanic Garden yesterday. It was a beautiful day and lots of folks came out for the event (we sold 50 books!) and we had a great time. Thanks so much to everyone who came and purchased a book. I hope you LOVE it! And thanks to Chapter 16 for getting a review into the Commercial Appeal yesterday morning, just in time to bring in some more readers.

Susan Cushman, Jen Bradner, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Sally Palmer Thomason, and Suzanne Henley

Susan Cushman, Jen Bradner, Ellen Morris Prewitt, Sally Palmer Thomason, and Suzanne Henley

As always, thanks for reading. I can hear Willie strumming that guitar again….

The Iris: Heralding the Transcendent Self

ASB CoverThis morning I’m reflecting a bit about the image of an iris on the cover of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. Sally Thomason, my neighbor, friend, and mentor, who has an essay in the collection, emailed me some information about the flower:

Iris was Zeus’ messenger who traveled to the underworld to gather water from the River Styx, the boundary between Earth and the Underworld (in Jungian and modern psychological understanding, between the conscious and the unconscious mind)—meaning that one must confront the unconscious demons in order to bring forth new or renewed life.

And this, from a book of symbols:

On a golden Japanese scree, the irises are perpetually alive, a vivid reminder of springtime’s renewal….the diverse exquisite hues of iris …represent the integration of all qualities in the Stone.  Just as Iris heralded the approach of the gods, so, psychologically, the show of many colors [within the blossom] heralds the transcendent self in which the many facets of the personality, once opposing each other, are brought into a unity.

irisHow wonderful that this meaningful image adorns a book about second bloomings, about women finding themselves as they move into (or continue in) the second half of their lives with newfound creativity, wisdom, and maturity. Most of these women have confronted demons (conscious or unconscious) in order to “bring forth new or renewed life.” They have also discovered their “transcendent self” and have in many cases brought the many facets of the personality into a unity. What a perfect image for this book!

I looked up more about irises and loved what I found on the Teleflora page:

The iris’s mythology dates back to Ancient Greece, when the goddess Iris, who personified the rainbow (the Greek word for iris), acted as the link between heaven and earth. It’s said that purple irises were planted over the graves of women to summon the goddess Iris to guide them in their journey to heaven. Irises became linked to the French monarchy during the Middle Ages, eventually being recognized as their national symbol, the fleur-de-lis.

The February birth flower, the 25th wedding anniversary flower and the state flower of Tennessee, the iris’s three upright petals are said to symbolize faith, valor and wisdom.

irisesIt’s like icing on the cake that the iris is the state flower of Tennessee, since four of the contributors and I (the editor) all live in Memphis.  Faith, valor, and wisdom. Yes, these women are models of these virtues, and I’m so proud to have them in this incredible book. The five of us (Tennessee authors) will be at Memphis Botanic Gardens(fitting, right?)  for an afternoon (3 p.m.) reading and signing on March 26. I’m thinking I need a vase of irises for the punch table….

So Y’all Think You Can Write

Y'all notebookFour months ago today I queried University Press of Mississippi for an anthology I wanted to edit—So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing. They jumped on it and we signed a contract right away. They asked me to have the complete manuscript to them by April 1. Today I sent them the completed 73,984-word manuscript, with 26 essays by southern writers (women and men) from ten states: Alabama, Washington, DC, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. (I’m kind of proud that Tennessee has 8 contributors, the most from any state, with Alabama having 6 and Mississippi contributing 5.)

Y'all insidePutting this collection together was so much fun. Alan Lightman wrote the Foreword! The essays were so polished that my work as editor wasn’t difficult. I had a great time grouping them into sections with themes, finding quotes to go with each section, writing an essay myself, and writing the introduction. SNEAK PREVIEW: Here are the contributors. If you aren’t familiar with their work, just Google them, buy one of their books and get to know them. They’re all amazing writers. We even have a few poets in the group.

Julie Cantrell

Katherine Clark

Jim Dees

Clyde Edgerton                                                                                               

W. Ralph Eubanks           

John Floyd                                               

Joe Formichella                                   

Patti Callahan Henry

Jennifer Horne                                   

Ravi Howard

Suzanne Hudson                                   

River Jordan

Harrison Scott Key                                                                                               

Cassandra King                                                                                   

Sonja Livingston

Corey Mesler                                               

Scott Morris

Niles Reddick

Wendy Reed

Nicole Seitz

Lee Smith                                                                                    

Michael F. Smith                                   

Sally Thomason

Jacqueline Trimble                                   

M. O. (Neal) Walsh

Claude Wilkinson

It’s gorgeous outside! I think I’ll go for a walk before heading out to dinner with a friend, followed by my first ever experience attending an opera—“Pirates of Penzance” is playing at the Germantown Performing Arts Center. Have a great weekend, everyone!

A Man’s World… and A Second Blooming

Adobe Photoshop PDFLast week I received a copy of the 2017 Spring/Summer catalog from Mercer University Press. Although I had already seen a PDF of the page with my anthology on it, it was so exciting to see it in this prestigious collection—on the third page!

The catalog leads with Steve Oney’s A Man’s World: Portraits—A Gallery of Fighters, Creators, Actors, and Desperadoes. Sounds like a great book:

A Man’s World is a collection of 20 profiles of fascinating men by author and magazine writer Steve Oney, written over a 40-year period for various publications. As the catalog page says of Oney’s book:

… he realized early that he was interested in how men face challenges and cope with success—and failure…. His agent, an ardent feminist, urged him to collect the best of his article in a book. “A Man’s World” is the result.

Turn the page and you’ll see a collection of essays by Stephen Cory, editor of The Georgia ReviewStartled at the Big Sound: Essays Personal, Literary, and Cultural.

ASB CoverAnd then your eyes will land on page 3: A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be:

“A Second Blooming” is a collection of essays by twenty-one authors who are emerging from the chrysalis they built for their younger selves and transforming into the women they are meant to be. They are not all elders, but all have embraced the second half of their lives with a generative spirit.

The catalog continues with more wonderful books from Mercer University Press coming out this spring and summer. Click here to see the catalog… I’m sure you’ll find something you’ll want to buy!

So Y’all Think You Can Write

a246a2cd0ad0d04274d89e2735814011A couple of months ago I announced that I am editing another anthology, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi, 2018). With a foreword by Alan Lightman and essays by 25 Southern writers, this collection is going to rock. I’m like a kid in a candy store, thrilled as the treats (essays) arrive in my email box. And what a joy to edit these pieces by such accomplished authors. (Not much editing needed!)

The essays aren’t due to me until February 1, but I’ve already received and edited eight of them, and written “one-liners” to save for the introduction. So today I’m sharing those one-liners (sometimes two lines) as a teaser for the collection. If any of them interest you, Google the author and buy one of their books!

Clyde Edgerton brings his teaching skills to bear in his didactic essay, “Three ‘One Things’,” encouraging writers to use craft to make their fiction work.

The prolific mystery short story author John Floyd writes about the South he loves as a place of contrasts, with a rich oral history that offers much fodder for writers in “In the Land of Cotton.”

Harrison Scott Key invites the reader to “sit in the cockpit of my soul and soar through the atmosphere of me” as he discovers the need for humility and transparency in “The Meek Shall Inherit the Memoir: Then and Now.”

Corey Mesler writes about how agoraphobia informs his work ethic—spurred to creativity even as he is chained to his desk and a solitary lifestyle.

In “A Life in Books” Lee Smith reveals what she calls “the mysterious alchemy of fiction,” declaring that writing fiction—living in someone else’s story—healed her grief after the death of her son.

Mississippi author Michael Farris Smith attributes his initial inspiration to Barry Hannah and Larry Brown, and later William Gay, Richard Yates, and Harry Crews. But he shares that it was ultimately perseverance and hard work that got him published in “Keep Truckin’.”

Sally Palmer Thomason counts Maya Angelou and Willie Morris among the gifted Southern authors who helped her gain a greater appreciation for her chosen homeland after leaving California for Memphis, Tennessee in “How I Became a Southerner.”

In “On the Baton Rouge Floods of 2016 and My Nostalgia For the Half-Gone,” M.O. Walsh muses on whether Southern writers have a stronger bond with place and a greater sense of loss.

Can’t wait to read the rest of these essays, and to put them together into a collection.

Literary Events in 2017: A Work in Progress

I’m excited to have 11 literary events scheduled for 2017 so far, in Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and North Carolina. More events pending in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina (and more in Tennessee and Mississippi). If you live in or near these cities, please COME and SPREAD THE WORD!

Click on the EVENTS button on my web site to see updated schedules, as I will be adding events regularly. As of today, January 11, here are the scheduled events:

 

Tangles and Plaques cover artMarch 2, 2017 (5:30 p.m.)

Burke’s Books/Memphis, TN

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 3, 2017 (5:00 p.m.)

Square Books/Oxford, MS

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 4, 2017 (3 p.m.)

Lemuria Books/Jackson, MS

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 16, 2017 (6:30 p.m.)

Private Salon/Harbor town/Memphis, TN

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 18, 2017 (10 a.m.)

Wordsworth Books, Little Rock Arkansas

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

March 26, 2017 (3-5 p.m.)

Memphis Botanic Garden

A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Susan (editor) will be joined by Memphis contributors Jen Bradner, Suzanne Henley, Ellen Morris Prewitt, and Sally Palmer Thomason.

 

ASB CoverApril 5, 2017 (6 p.m.)

Garden District Books/New Orleans, LA

A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Susan Cushman (editor) will be joined by contributors Emma Connolly, Susan Marquez, and NancyKay Wessman.

 

April 6, 2017 (5 p.m.)

Lemuria Books/Jackson, MS

A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Susan (editor) will be joined by Jackson contributors Susan Marquez and NancyKay Wessman.

 

May 4, 2017

Lake Logan Retreat Center/Lake Logan, NC

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

October ? (DATES and VENUES TBA)

Memphis, TN and Jackson, MS

Cherry Bomb (a novel)

 

October 13-15

Southern Festival of Books/Nashville, TN

Books/events TBA

 

November 6, 2017

Women of St. John Orthodox Church book club/Memphis, TN

Tangles & Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s

 

November 9, 2017

Friends of the Library/Starkville, MS

Cherry Bomb (a novel)
Thanks so much for your support!

“Second Pages” for A Second Blooming

I just drove home from Atlanta today, excited to be greeted by a package from Mercer University Press—“Second Pages” (also known as galleys) for the anthology I’m editing, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be!

ASB Title Page

 

It looks like a book!!! (Can you tell I’m excited? I rarely ever use more than one exclamation mark at a time.)

ASB ISBN Number

 

And it has an ISBN Number, so it’s official! (using more reserve with the exclamation marks now)

About a month ago I wrote a post about the terrific job the press’s copy editor did with “First Pages.” Previously I wrote about the publishing process and defined a few terms, so if you missed that post, it’s here. And now, this is my last chance to go over every word with a fine tooth comb. I’ve got two weeks to proof it.

The writing/publishing business is a bit like the military. Many stages of the process feel like “hurry up and wait.” I’ve been through weeks and months at a time with no deadlines on any projects, and now I’ve got three projects working at once and I’m in heaven. On the 400-mile drive home from Atlanta today I brain-stormed on my next project, which I’ve been doing for several weeks now. I might have hit on something exciting—more will be revealed. I guess this is just how my brain works—the busier I am the more energetic and productive I become. Boredom isn’t an option.

Just had to share the news. Stay tuned as the journey continues!

 

Writing on Wednesday: All the Way to Memphis… and More!

Suzanne and me at The River's Edge Media "cabin" at the 2013 Louisiana Book Festival, where we were signing copies of "The Shoe Burnin': Stories of Southern Soul"

Suzanne and me at The River’s Edge Media “cabin” at the 2013 Louisiana Book Festival, where we were signing copies of “The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul”

Last Wednesday I did a post about Joe Formichella, one of two authors I’ll be hosting for a literary salon in October. Today I’ll feature his wife, the author Suzanne Hudson, who will also speak at the salon. Like Joe, Suzanne has several books to offer at the salon, but I’d like to focus on her collection of short stories, All the Way to Memphis (2014 Rivers Edge Media). There are ten stories in the book, but I’ll only comment on a few of them here.

The first time I read Suzanne Hudson’s short story, “All the Way to Memphis,” I didn’t actually read it. I witnessed it performed as part of a musical and literary show performed by an amazingly talented group of writers and musicians, all contributors to the anthology, The Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul. I was at the 2013 Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, there to sign copies of this stellar collection to which I was honored to be a contributor. 22914444I already knew that Suzanne was a brilliant writer, having read some of her earlier work a few years ago. But this story explains a lot about why she has garnered comparisons to Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty. I was enthralled watching Nashville singer/songwriter/actress Lari White play “Savannah” to Suzanne’s “Clista” in the show:

She pulled to the shoulder of the road and watched in the rearview mirror as the girl gathered up hr things and bounded toward the waiting vehicle, then, catching her own eyes in the reflecting oval of silvered glass, saw a shadow of the emotion and primal fear that had captured Clista in the pre-dawn hours this morning, when she shot and killed her husband of forty-something years.

As Nashville musician and writer Marshall Chapman says, “Suzanne Hudson writes about what Southerners do when faced with dire circumstances. It ain’t always pretty, but sure as hell is readable.”

Hudson’s story, “Opposable Thumbs,” is filled with as many or more captivating turns of phrase, and her characters come to life on the page as she breathes her magic into them. Like Grandemona:

Grandemona’s deft white hands carved at a tomato, unwinding its skin into one languid serpentine strand.

And like Kansas and Pinky:

Kansas’ kinship with Pinky grew out of penetrating black nights in the aftermath of her mother’s death, when Kansas crept from the big house to Pinky’s bed, nestling against the old woman’s flannel gown in a curled, soothing sleep.

‘You ingrown, child. Ingrown like a toenail, into me,’ Pinky would laugh, ‘because I tended your mama, all through her growing up, put my soul into her when she just a baby. Then her soul go into you….’

An equally colorful cast of characters peoples her story, “Yes, Ginny,” which circles around the disappearance of six-year-old Ginny’s stepfather:

Ginny’s relatives, a collective noun of arms and legs and faces, whose conversations writhed in and around one another’s like reptilian snarls in a pit of stranded snakes, offered theory after theory about where Johnny Lee Fowler had got off to….

Suzanne at home in Waterhole Branch, Alabama

Suzanne at home in Waterhole Branch, Alabama

“The Thing With Feathers” is a short (only seven pages) but powerful story—my favorite in the collection. There’s nothing unique about its theme. Sadly, childhood sexual abuse is all too common in many parts of the world, including 1950s rural Alabama, where Hudson sets this story. But it’s Hudson’s voice—and her amazing language itself—that holds the reader almost in a trance from the first line to the end. We are this little girl, age six, and now ten, and later twelve or thirteen, and we experience her most devastating assaults on her innocence over and over again, but each time always through her eyes. Nothing about the ending of the story surprises the reader, but it’s the darkly beautiful description of the journey that wows us. And in the end, “She would get him and reclaim herself, take herself by her little girl’s hand, dimpled and unscarred, to the place where her soul was hidden. And then, finally, the two of them would blend into each other, into the notes of the music, notes in chromatic half-steps and notes of modulation… where the thing with feathers could sit unabashed on its perch, and reach into its sweet, sweet depths, and sing.”

I hope I’ve teased your appetite for some seriously good Southern short stories. BUY THE BOOK to read them all!

Writing on Wednesday: Waffle House Rules (and more)

41lvCqt31LLI just finished reading Joe Formichella’s wonderful book, Waffle House Rules. I’ll be hosting Joe and his wife, the author Suzanne Hudson, for a literary salon in October, and I suddenly remembered that I never read this book from 2014. What a jewel of rich Southern fiction and exemplary writing! First of all, it’s set in one of my favorite places—the eastern shore of the Mobile Bay, mostly in the towns of Fairhope and “Penelope” (which I take to be a fictionalized version of Daphne) Alabama. This intrigued me because I visited Daphne many summers in the 1950s and ’60s with my best friend’s family. They had a house on the Mobile Bay, so those vacations are filled with great memories of crabbing and boating and skiing and all-night poker games.

Visiting with Joe at his home in Waterhole Branch, Alabama, in 2013

Visiting with Joe at his home in Waterhole Branch, Alabama, in 2013

Fast forward fifty years and there I am again, visiting the area for literary events and making friends with the good folks of Daphne, Montrose, Fairhope, and Waterhole Branch, where Joe and Suzanne live on the Fish River. I first met Joe and Suzanne in 2008 during the magical weekend known as Southern Writers Reading, which culminated in a lovely Sunday brunch at their home before driving back to Memphis. I learned more about Fairhope and knew I would be returning many times.

Joe has several books, which will be available at the salon in October, but I’m going to mainly talk about Waffle House Rules in this post. It’s a delightfully funny study of life and death as seen through the eyes of Dr. Jimmy Ryan and other loveable, eccentric characters along the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. I love this review, which I read on Goodreads:

Southern from the top of its head to the tip of its toes, this book feels like home. It is a beautiful Sherwood Anderson-esque look into the life and times of those living in Penelope, Alabama. The subject matter was southern enough, but the style was the most enchantingly southern part of this thoughtfully-crafted story. The story moves from dialogue to narrative to an entirely different conversation as seamlessly as your grandma did at a church potluck.

Yes! Joe’s style is unique and keeps the reader enthralled with his characters through his deft arrangement of their stories. Just when you think you’ve figured the story out, it takes another turn, and you’re holding on like a passenger in a car that corners on two wheels. William Cobb (Harper Lee Award winner and author of seven novels) says it better:

I haven’t had so much fun with a novel since I first read Slaughterhouse Five. Formichella’s iconic Dr. Jimmy Ryan is unforgettable, and his hilarious tale is tinged with the same poignancy as the best Vonnegut; the reader is constantly coming upon moments in the humor that signal deeper significances. Waffle House Rules is innovative, original, complex, yet always accessible and a delight to read. This brilliant and luminous novel is like one character’s smile: it makes the grass grow.

Joe has several other noteworthy books, which he will talk about at the salon. I’ll mention them here:

A Condition of Freedom (which I reviewed here) is about the legendary Prichard Mohawks.

Murder Creek (nonfiction/true crime) is an award-winning book about the mysterious 1966 death of Annie Jean Barnes, a resident of East Brewton, Alabama, the “wrong side” of Murder Creek.

S Maxim coverThe Shoe Burnin’: Stories of Southern Soul—short fiction, essays, a few poems—and a music CD featuring some Grammy-winning songwriters. (My essay, “Eat, Drink, Repeat,” was published in The Shoe Burnin’, and I loved working with Joe as editor.)

And his latest:

Schopenhauer’s Maxim (fiction)—part thriller, part comic novel, all parody of all things. “What Primary Colors by Anonymous did for the Clintons, this book does for the entanglement of the religious right in American politics.”

I can’t wait to visit with Joe and Suzanne next month. Watch for my review of Suzanne’s book, All the Way to Memphis, soon!

Writing on Wednesday: Sculpting Myself into a Character

"Despair" Auguste Rodin

“Despair” Auguste Rodin

A few days ago I came across a piece in The Writer that was so good I read it twice. In “Essay is the New Black,” Keysha Whitaker shares nuggets she collected at a panel at the American Society of Journalists and Authors 2016 Writer’s Conference called  “Getting to the Heart of the Personal Essay.” The three panelists were Philip Lopate, author of many books of essays and editor of The Art of the Personal Essay, a personal favorite of mine; author Pamela Paul, the New York Times Book Review Editor; and Ada Calhoun, an author and essayist with two “Modern Loves” and four “Lives” columns in the New York Times. (I have great respect for Calhoun, since I’ve had a half dozen submissions to the “Lives” column rejected over the years.)

Georges Kolbe 1947

Georges Kolbe 1947

Back in April I wrote a post about my renewed efforts at penning a personal essay. In “I’m Trying” I quoted from Lopate’s anthology and shared my journey with writing another essay, which I sent to a journal for potential publication. (Haven’t heard anything yet.) And now, three months later, I’m trying again—this time to begin what might become a collection of essays circling around my lifelong love/hate relationship with food and drink.

Two years earlier—in April of 2014—my post about markets for personal essays drew a reader comment that I believe is worth sharing here. Kathryn S. is responding to my words about writing (contemporary) essays while reading and learning from the (historic) essays in Lopate’s anthology:

The Lopate book is indeed a great anthology of essays. But the vast majority of the essays in there would not likely appear in any of the seven “major markets” mentioned here. Part of the difference, for me, has to do with what we consider an “essay.” The stuff in Modern Love or Lives tends, in my view, to be personal stories, not essays (the more ruminative and/or exploratory and/or digressive stuff in Lopate, most of which is probably not “quick” to write) — though of course there are exceptions in which the lines are blurred. They’re all good — I don’t mean to make a judgment, and I’m glad for the major markets list. But they do tend to serve different purposes and satisfy different reading desires.

Kathryn brings up a good point about what we consider an essay. And Whitaker ends her article in The Writer with a great quote from Ada Calhoun, who has had so much success writing for the “Lives” and “Modern Love” column in the Times:

“I think personal essays are a public service,” Calhoun said. “When personal essays are good and really honest, they make other people feel less alone.”

Flavia Robalo

Flavia Robalo

So there’s the rub—to make them “good” and “really honest.” I don’t have a problem with the honesty party, as I’ve been doing “confessional writing” for many years, not only in essays but also here on my blog. It’s the “good” part that most writers struggle with and strive for all of our lives. The essay I’ve just penned for consideration as the opening chapter of my new anthology on food—“Yeast Rolls, Fried Corn and Frozen Custard”—is extremely honest, as I bare not only my soul but a painful experience from my childhood in Mississippi. But after tweaking it a few times and trying to decide whether or not it’s complete at just over 2100 words. I might submit it to my writing group in a few weeks and see how they respond. I might ask the members of my group to keep Calhoun’s words in mind as they read the essay—will it help other people feel less alone?

I return again to Whitaker’s article as I consider this series of personal essays I’m beginning. Again she quotes Lopate from the panel:

“One of the tricks is that you have to sculpt yourself into a character. If you write one personal essay, you can’t tell your whole life in it. You have to take a good look at yourself and work with some elements of your character but not everything.”

I love that, because each of my thirteen published essays contains some elements of my character. Some reveal my relationship with religion; some reflect on the importance of art in my life; others delve deeply into the dark realms of abuse and addiction; and my most recent attempt shares my joy in adopting three children in the 1970s and 80s. Until I read Lopate’s words, I hadn’t thought about the big picture of my work penning essays. The artist in me loves the word picture he shares—I am, indeed, trying to sculpt myself into a character.

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