A Smattering of Scattered Thoughts and Appreciations
The long, noisy weekend - the dancing and laughter, readings and connections, have all fallen to the quiet of a Tennessee morning on the hill. We are engulfed in a cloud of grey. Skeleton trees stretch out their limbs. I long for Spring. Or snow. Mostly, Spring. Sunshine, beaches. That old smell of Panama Jack that came with a warning: Must have a Dark Tan before you use this product. I did. It was glorious. Now just grey skies. Forever.
Yesterday morning Mama had a bad dream and I went running down the stairs cause I heard her call out.
I said, "Mama?"
She said, "I'm ok,"
Bad dreams find all of us sometimes. Waking from one can leave you as empty as those trees. Just as lonely. But if there's an old dog nearby or someone that says, "You ok?" that cares about your sleeping and waking hours it can make a difference you can feel. Like a rock that has weight and drops down to a place where you feel like someone or something solid and forever anchors you to this world. Waking up from a bad dream to an empty bed, an empty house, empty arms takes all the substance away. Like you could just float away and nothing in this world would save you 'cept Jesus.
I came home from my trip and rolled up my sleeves to finish this novel. No matter what. The days the hours, the obligations, schedule, promotions and road trips coming. Now, I bring this story home. Going into the deep end, out there, where those characters live and breathe inside of me. And, it's fixin' to get real. My good friend, crazy man, writer, Pulitzer finalist, Charles McNair says writing is something like controlled schizophrenia. Yeah, something Just like that. When you get it right.
On the Air
Did Clearstory Radio yesterday just playing some tunes and sharing a few stories. Next week - the Montage - Live from Jefferson: The Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway Weekend. Please tune in and share. Wednesday, January 30, 1:00 Central. Special appearances with authors from the week and a great shout out to my #1 man Adam Green for running sound, plugging in his equipment, filling in all my gaps and making it all seem just like the greatest jam session of all time. (And - folks, that boy can dance!) You know you have the right recording partner when you can say, Let's do this! Do some interviews and then yell, Let's DANCE! and take a break. Much fun and Great Love!
Confessions will be out there before I know it. I'll be back on the road, visiting readers at bookstores and bookclubs across the country but right now -
It's Thursday up on this hill. Mama is a late night bird. Always has been. So she's still sleeping and I might get another chapter in before she wakes. But no matter. No matter the hours - morning or midnight - I've dedicated hours every day to this novel set in Nashville that has some surprises up its sleeve. I promise. I've been saying since last summer I was just 2 weeks away from finishing. Something Mr. Clyde Edgerton calls the sweet place. The sweet space just got sweeter 'cause this is the real deal. The last two weeks. It's the time your story possesses you and you just got to get lost in it and let it drive the train. If you see me and my eyes look a little glazed over it's cause I'm not really living in this world. I've got Black Crows playing in my earphones and these people are talking to me, all I hear is them running through my brain. There's a girl sitting in a bar drinking bourbon and talking to ghosts. She's trying to stay out of jail on a murder charge for a night she can't remember and she's about to play a winner take all poker game that has universal implications. If she loses, there goes the farm. And if she wins? Well, she doesn't think about that much. Bad luck don't you know.
Wishing you all the best luck this world has to offer today, angels to guide you, and your heart clear and pure as a clear creek, sun bouncing off that water as you skip a pocket-full of stones, watch them scatter, jump, take flight, and dissipate below the water, like heart-born wishes in the summer heat.
Your friend, River
Well, it's happened again. Over the years I've had this experience of attending the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway weekend as an author and presenter. I wish I had time to tell you what the FIRST year was like. (later, promises) And, now, I am a Pulpwood Queen - it's just that simple. That's the difference. I went from being shy, introverted, wearing all black and no costumes - to showing up in pink and leopard, jumping out of the car and screaming PULPWOOD QUEENS FOREVER!
Like, just last night I was dancing with a cow. Seriously. No, seriously. The cow had udders as cows tend to do. Author Patti Callahan Henry was screaming - STOP STOP don't do it. Don't ruin your life. (because there were photos being taken and video being shot and special people reading this - you can politely NOT PUT THOSE ON FACEBOOK OR YOUTUBE FOR ME) But the thing is I think Patti was smiling and laughing the entire time I was dancing with the cow. And so was the great author Paula McClain who came with wigs, boots, fringe, cowgirl boots (and I'll find photos of her and Patti as the Judd sisters to share later) - but she was laughing too. Or maybe she was in shock that an author was being so - udderly ridiculous. Yes we were doing some kind of up close rock and roll rumba. What's a girl to do but throw herself in all the way. Not an inch but all the way. Pulpwood Queens - It's an attitude.
Last night author Nicole Sieitz said, "River, you just got to own getting all up in the udders. That's all. Own it - before it owns you."
This is me owning it for this reason. These ladies spend all year buying books, reading books, supporting authors - and . . . taking care of their families, protecting abused children, caring for the elderly, rescuing animals, praying for the world. This one weekend they get to come have FUN! To put on a wig, put on the dog, be the cat's meow, turn back the clock and howl at the moon. I have learned to howl with them.
Late last night, as they were trying to sweep the dance floor and I was still dancing two Pulpwood Queens came up to me to have a serious talk. They said -
"River, you need to do more of this."
And they were in serious advice mode. They meant it like a word from God. They weren't talking about speaking on a panel about Southern Writing. They weren't talking about reading from my new book Confessions of a Christian Mystic. They weren't talking about me sharing stories about my new friend author, Claire Fullerton coming into my room to teach me thigh-sliming ballet moves at 6:30 am or stories about my old friend, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson and our 21 city 14 day road trip book tour. They were talking about me DANCING and dancing and dancing. Laughing and laughing and dancing some more.
My answer to them?
I looked them dead in the eye and said - "I don't know how to do this without you."
And, that's the truth. Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway Weekend is when I thought of it this morning - a safe place.
I can't say it's that kind of sin city what happens here stays here kind of place. Cause Lord knows from all the facebook posts - that's not true. But still, it's a safe place. Like a church should be. Where your sins aren't being tallied but your life is being celebrated. Where words still matter but your heart is what is worth your weight in gold. It's where people hug one another and say how are you? How are you, really? How can I help? And then go celebrate all weekend long - having as I call it the 'we of us.'
On a recent facebook photo that showed up I wrote -
"How did I get so lucky to live this life with these people? To have this moment on this planet as the stars whir and spin above us. God knows how I love you all. You bless my boots clean off!"
That's my take on it all. How did I get so lucky to fall in love with all of you? Let's just call it Divine Providence. And there's nothing silly about that.
Love to Jefferson and all the Pulpwood Queens in the whole wide world as I turn this body homeward. May you all find a safe place and dance till your hearts and souls fill to overflowing with the passion that is ours for the taking in this wild, wonderful life.
People look at all the crazy photos from the event known as the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Getaway Weekend. This is the 19th year. Something wild is going on. It's the bizarre magic known as relationship.
I've tried a few times to get a handle on how many friendships I've built through this event with both readers and writers. I cannot. The list scattered and spread like trying to capture the trail of fireworks as they explode in the sky. There are authors who live in Nashville with me that I've never met until coming all the way down to Texas. And those relationships are now 19 years rich and will only deepen in the years ahead.
As much as I've wanted to blog FROM the Pulpwood Queen event about the Pulpwood Queen event - it will be when I return to the hill that I'm able to do that with the richness and respect it deserves.
In the meantime - I love you guys. I am here. This is happening. This afternoon I give a keynote on the upcoming release of Confessions of a Christian Mystic which is the Pulpwood Queen book of the month for April. And I do so wish you were all here to celebrate this amazing thing we call life.
Mama had a gorgeous photo on her phone and I asked her where that was? She said - the porch. Ahh, yes. The memories. Only a few short months ago and the bug lanterns were lit, the trees were green, the ferns were green and we were in our Summertime mode. Painting and planting. Dirt smells and cricket yells. Now the fog has rolled in and as Mama says we look like we are in old London Town.
Yesterday it hit 69 up on the hill. A stormy tropical balm settling in. Which meant I was pulling things out of the closet under the stairs and putting Momma's camp chair in there while the weather channel forecasted Tornado weather. That's my total prep. Mom's camp chair. (for her) Two old pillows. (for me) And a gallon of water. I had an emergency light with corroded batteries and began taking the batteries out and one got stuck and then I was off working on something else. So - that's about as far as I made it on my Emergency plan. Glad the storm passed or it was about to cozy. And dark.
The Charmings came over and spent the night. They were perfect right up until the time they weren't. We cooked pigs in a blanket mini style. They told school stories - which cracked us up because the four year old only answers questions with an angry the cops are questioning me mode tone. In other words he answers in ALL CAPS!!! The boys read books, watched puppy pals, and rocked with Nana. They called Kevin who ran up on the porch so happy they were here and rushed to get inside. Only Kevin had found something really SPECIAL to roll in that was strong enough Damon started gagging and saying, WHAT IS THAT SMELL??? And I said - that's a dog's happy place. And then we ran inside and locked the door in case he developed thumbs. They brushed teeth, put on pajamas. Got into bed. And then started cracking up and laughing and rolling out of bed, and changing places, until - ZAZA said - ENOUGH! And Happy New Year. Go to sleep! This morning we had pancakes and they had very, sleepy eyes. Their sleepy eyes do not compare with MY sleepy eyes.
When they went home I tried to go back to sleep. For the day. But I started thinking that the PULPWOOD QUEENS GIRLFRIEND GETAWAY WEEKEND AND BIG HAIR BALL book club event of the season is basically TWO WEEKS away and that I will be headed to Jefferson, TEXAS because they have made CONFESSIONS OF A CHRISTIAN MYSTIC as their April Book Club of the month. Ok, that's the official sounding reason. BUT I also get to be on a panel that is like a wish list before I die panel on Thursday (if you want to call it a panel because we are the entertainment) for one of the greatest events known as the AUTHOR DINNER. But get this - it's where the AUTHORS serve the BOOK CLUB MEMBERS AND Attendees DINNER. Imagine looking up to see Pat Conroy pouring your ice tea. Yes, this is the kind of event it is and so I will be there as a contributor to the Southern Writers on Writing Anthology and as the April book club author and more than that as a friend to the Pulpwood Queen book club members who have been with me since my very, first novel, The Gin Girl. It's an honor to be in the company of such great readers, the writers they support, and Kathy Murphy the wild woman who founded the whole thing. I hope if you have a way to clear your schedule and check on remaining tickets and treat yourself to a way to kick off your New Year in one of the most memorable ways possible.
All that to say - I got excited about Texas and thinking of the million things I needed to do before I got there and I couldn't go back to sleep. Perhaps, at some point today - a nap.
SIDENOTE SPIDER RANT: I just killed a spider the size of Texas in my kitchen. I THINK I brought him in on Kevin's food bowl. BUT - it is not a good thing to have a spider the size of TEXAS within five miles of your house much less in your kitchen. On the counter. I was on the phone with a good friend who was in Nashville for the night and apologizing for being ZAZA wiped out and that I couldn't meet her which is really just a crying shame and then suddenly I went crazy sailor on her began to explain at least she was safe from the spider. I could not find a sledgehammer to kill this massive beastive so I found an old can of RAID that had a smidgen of ant killer in it and then I sprayed it till it coughed twice. And picked up speed. Which is when I dropped the can and ran and found that old deep woods off from the porch summertime days and let go of a cloud that is still hanging around the kitchen downstairs as I write this. (Mama had managed to go back to sleep so she has been safe in her room during this entire show-down) I suspect that I will go down the stairs and the spider will have come to life and crawled away the way that sneaky scorpions do pretending to die but they do not so you have to cut them into little pieces. I am sorry if this offends you but if you have never been in a cabin that has become infested with scorpions when you are trying to complete a novel under deadline and have woken up with a scorpion ON YOUR PILLOW STARING AT YOU and one UNDER YOUR PILLOW WAITING FOR YOU - then you will not know the depths of my anti-scorpian behavior. You may be able to possibly search this blog and find reference to this chilling moments. (For the record. I stayed. I became Ramboette. I slept with my shoes on. Tied my hair in a scarf. Moved the bed to the middle of the room. And I killed Scorpions by the dozen daily. When you are a writer and you are serious about your deadlines you will do these things. ) Back to the spider. I once had a wolf spider walk under my arm while I was holding a hammer. He was just asking for it. This spider was asking for it because he came in my house. I have forty thousand acres of woods around my house. They can live there and I have no problem with them and their lifestyle choices. They may NOT come to my house and eat my grandchildren. End of story.
Everybody has been reflecting on the past year And I have been sick. When you are sick you are not good at reflecting. You don't care. I was so sick I didn't even watch tv. Watching tv when you are sick is a good thing because you don't feel like doing anything else. It gives you an official card - I CAN WATCH TV IF I WANT TO AND OLD EPISODES OF THE TWILIGHTZONE ARE JUST FINE. I just laid in bed and thought about how being sick was not fun. And that I was an immense admirer of all the brave strong souls that are fighting terrible diseases and overcoming cancer and carrying on in their lives to the best of their ability every single day. You guys are all awesome. And for people who are depressed and have trouble putting on both their shoes and walking out the door and they do anyway. All the people in the world who keep carrying on in the middle of what they are going through - this moment's for you. You deserve someone to say - atta girl, atta boy, - and Happy New Year to you to. I hope you get well, get healthy, get something special just for you.
Reflection: I kept Mama busy with those plants for awhile this summer. Well, really, that's the other way around. That was a lot of flower boxes and water and dirt. Mama says keeping stuff alive is not easy. I wanted to tell her yeah, well all this digging feels like it's killing me but it didn't and was probably a healthy thing in the long run. Except now. I don't have a green house. And I keep dragging plants in and out, in and out, and covering things up and I need grow lights and the ferns are looking puny and sad and like they wish I would just buy them a ticket to the south of somewhere. (PS - I have learned that I can grow ivy. Probably this means anyone can grow Ivy but me learning I can grow Ivy and not kill Ivy is a major surprise.) So this experience stands out to me.
Reflection from this year: My native hometown of Panama City was hit hard by Hurricane Michael and is still on the long road to recovery. My heart was heaviest this year over that loss and the burden its put on the Panhandle and so many friends and family. But it has amazed me to watch how they pulled together down there and without thought of political party or church affiliation - set out to be true neighbors. Showing up, sharing food, rescuing people from trapped houses. Making new friends for life when they didn't have power or water. What one writer called 'the new normal.' having a true view of the priorities in life that changes everything. That's something that I'm carrying with me into the New Year. Deciding what my 'new normal' will look like. Not accepting the limitations of my own preconceptions and prejudices to keep me locked in where I don't belong. Out there. We all belong out there. Helping each other.
News from the HILL: Cousin Deb of Cousin Deb fame was just here for Christmas. I was supposed to be happily selling books when she showed up so son picked her up from airport but I was home sick in bed. Ho Ho HO. Not a fun way to start your vacation. She picked up the mantle and took on the Christmas shopping and cooking. (There was a method to my madness of NOT telling her I was sick before she got on that plane) And Deb said - WOW - you can grow IVY!!!????
Then suddenly Christmas turned into New Years Eve and Reflections were in order. This past year a lot of great things happened. They happened one at a time, a little here and little there. One day rolled into the next without me counting them. Sometimes, my blessings snuck up on me while I was busy with something else. When I wasn't looking. Or I was focusing too hard on the wrong thing. Looking hard at where the glass was half full. Where my deadline wasn't finished. Funny that. And all the time here is the rain pouring down of blessing upon blessing upon blessing.
Confessions of a Christian Mystic was completed, edited, put to bed, and soon - and very soon - will find it's way to bookstores and readers. The advance praise has been astounding and I thank every single person who gave it an early read endorsement. You can now preorder the book here at all of your favorite stores. Hachette has tapped me to do the official audio and we begin recording next week. (I'm so excited!). That new novel set in Nashville is nearing completion finally! And a new top secret project is underway that I can't wait to announce to you in a few weeks. In the world of writing 2018 was a grand year but just a whisper compared to what's to come. (And TO ALL OF YOU who have been reading my words for years, cheering me on and waiting for more I LOVE YOU LIKE HAPPY CRAZY!!)
Reflection: Another year of teaching writing in small groups brought some great, new friends into my life by way of students. They have wowed me with their work, their love of the written word and their energy. It has been one of my greatest pleasures in watching them grow and succeed. It's something I love doing and as time and space and writer conference opportunities open up I'll continue to do more.
Reflection: So Many great things happened that it's only in listing them I realize how I've waisted a lot of time to the nonsense of worry, toil and trouble. My oldest son married his partner in time and I was able to travel with the youngest son (who showed his Mom a whole lot of patience on that trip) to celebrate the marriage in style on the beach. I was able to vacation with all the family as they hit PC (before the Hurricane) to visit with Nana. Most of all - this past year I counted my blessings of family and friends being safe and healthy and being able to spend time with them. (I've lost a few loved ones due to illness, I've cried over the loss of so many strangers to the fires of Paradise, California- but it does bring to mind to be thankful for our days - all of our days.)
I think it has a good ring to it. I think it holds some promise. Something good to come. This year I'll be on the road again, traveling to stores, meeting readers where they live and I hope to see you out there. In the meantime, my prayers are for you and all that hold dear. For all of us overcoming, growing, holding onto each other in process of our everyday lives and challenges. And remembering what it means to be human. In our most glorious, moments. I must leave you here with the words that Author Silas House posted on his Facebook page:
So, excerpts from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” to usher in the new year.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching...
For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice...
May we each find the voice we were gifted at birth, the one we need to use to carry into a New Year and in doing so bring a much needed light into the world.
Wishing you a year filled with Peace and Love,
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.