There's nothing like it. Being on the road. Being on the road for book tour and then being on the road with Mama for miles and miles. Her telling me stories. I thought I blogged about it but realize now it was a Facebook post. About the air in the car going out. About her declaring with the windows down, the wind in our hair, her feet on the dash where they belonged - "This is just like being back in the cotton fields" and me saying - "Now Mama! You know this is NOT cotton field hot!" Like I have picked cotton all of my life. I have never stood in the middle of the hot, blaring sun of the south in the dirt of a cotton field in my life. But you wouldn't know it by the way I KNOW Cotton field hot because I have listened to the stories of my people all of my life. Like an introvert. Like a quiet child. Like a writer. We are always listening. Absorbing like a sponge. We are the witness to life and and the keeper of story.
Mama was a trooper. Broken air and all. We made it to Panama City where I got to read and speak to people that included friends from Bay High school. And past board members of the Children's Advocacy Center where I used to be the Executive Director once upon the time in another life. From the Books Alive history of work at the Northwest Florida Library Country Library. From my writer days in Panama City. Friends. My Cousin. My Mama. My life. And man - did they not all honor and surprise me. Every single one of them.
I have not properly captured - anything. Much. I mean to take photos. I mean to ask someone to take photos. I don't do either one. I gather a few here and there but they are rare. I thought I'd finish my novel on the road. Hahahaha. No. I have not. I thought I'd blog everyday to share the wonderful experiences of meeting readers on the road. I have not.
But I can tell you this. I believe more than ever in the power of story that sustains and connects us. I believe that Confessions of a Christian Mystic in all it's glorious strange title has touched lives here and there and everywhere. I've continued to be blown away by your notes and comments on Facebook and privately about what the book has meant to you. It means I'm still breathing for a reason. Still writing and that words in our lives are so important. A special thank you to readers who have driven two hours or more to get to an event. Some who have read my books previously and others who just caught news and were captivated and came as if on pilgrimage.
I'm so thankful for every minute and mile and for your time. I want to wander in your lives and share the mystical moments that have happened on this tour. I want to revisit my moments on the beach, to write about Panama City and the rebuilding after Hurricane Michael. To write about the retired Episcopal Priest who came last night to the signing and a man who also attended, came in early that day - bought my book and read the ENTIRE thing- before the event. Then they saw each other.- He happened to be in her parish 30 years ago as a single dad with his sons and they hadn't seen each other for 30 years until - last night. At my book event. And I will not lie. I live for these moments. I mean, I travel a thousand miles for these moments. I count all won and lost in these moments. The value of human life and this power of story. Of us being together.
In the midst of tour the Notre Dame Cathedral caught fire. Burned. The cross hung untouched. Glowing in the ashes. The world stopped. Watched. Prayed. My heart went sick and heavy. I wrote on Instagram that sometimes something happens where you feel the gravity of the earth shift, an important piece of the puzzle of us fall away. This was one of those moments. One where we didn't know something was so important to us until it was in flames. Smoke. Ashes. No longer there. Then the photo that captured my heart the most. The one of the firefighters staring at the cross that remained. It's the heart of humanity connecting with the Divine that changes the equation to me. It makes it - everything.
Today I've been held up in Fairhope, Alabama after a great event last night at Page and Palette. I'm working my way to New Orleans. To Garden District Books tomorrow night. They say A storm is brewing. NOLA has seen a few storms, some hurricanes. They say - come on. We are ready for you and waiting with open arms. And I say- alright. I'm coming. Headed on down the road.
Right now, Frankie is playing on the speakers, a woman just said - I'm so out of it. I just rolled in. And the customer said - Rolled in with some stories I take it.
And I wanted to say - Amen. Rolled in with some stories. Gonna share some stores. Listen and collect some stories.
I so hope to see you out there on the road. I'll be in NOLA at Garden District Books tomorrow night and next week at Novel in Memphis, TN. Please come visit. You rock my world when you do.
Peace and Love from out here. Wishing you traveling mercies in all that you do
And so it has begun. The road trip. The book tour. The seeing people on the road. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook their are more photos than I can post here but I am moved by every single soul I meet along the way. That includes the strangers, the surprises.
I grabbed Little Miss Sunshine and hit the road. (She's pictured here at a writer's hideaway in Oxford, MS before my visit to Square Books. Can you tell she's smiling. Well, she is. ) For those who haven't followed years of road trips and book tours Sunshine is the name I gave to a carry-on bag I purchased years ago for a book tour. It was me going very against type because I normally wear black on black with a side of black. Carry a black bag. And a black suitcase. I was in a professional luggage years ago preparing for book tour and had decided I would invest in a piece of luggage that would survive the miles ahead of me. Something with those magical 360 wheels that glided and rolled and zippers that refused to be broken. A hard case worthy of a few hard miles. I was checking out with a black bag when I turned and looked up and saw this multi colored case on high display in the corner of the store. "Wait!" I said - "I think - I want to see that one." They took her down, I rolled her around. Contemplated color. That wild splash of color. And thought - yeah, she's going with me.
My journey with Little Miss Sunshine as I named her started and we went coast to coast to coast. Airline security smiled when they saw her coming. Passengers commented. Hotel clerks. She brought sunshine wherever she went. Eventually, the metal started sticking out of the edges of the handle, her paint peeled off. She got battered, worn, weary. Just like me. It took years but I finally put her in the back of the closet. Ordered a set of three white metal cases one Black Friday super sale on line. They arrived. I looked at them suspiciously. They didn't even blink at me. I thought - well, I'll just cover them with travel stickers. Places I've been and others I've longed to see. I took them on one trip to Residency. Crammed with too much stuff, too many books, things to stay warm. Their wheels drug a little bit. They didn't have the - dare I say it - magic of Little Miss Sunshine. And they didn't smile at me from the corner of a hotel room when I went to bed at night in a strange city miles from home. They. Did. Not. They also turned out to be the bane of my existence when I had to end up on a Greyhound Bus in between cities that was delayed for a day and that is another travel story entirely. One I've written but not published. You cannot spend days in a Greyhound Station or on the bus with three white suitcases, a laptop bag, and a purse. If only I had just little Miss Sunshine and My Backpack we would have been in fine shape.
BACK to - the moment at hand. It was time to hit the road for Confessions of a Christian Mystic Road trip. I pushed those white suitcases to the corner of the room, reached far back into the closet and drug out the battered, metal baring, paint peeling old friend. Little Miss Sunshine rides again.
THE MAGIC OF THE MOMENT
Amazing things happen on the road. Surprising things. People come into your life that you weren't expected. With it, they bring their stores. There is the conference of crossing lives that doesn't happen unless we are out on the road, out of comfort zones, our normal agenda's. It brings to mind so many stories after so many books and so many years. Taxi drivers in New York who told me stores about how they arrived, where they came from. About what they read to their children. Sherlock Holmes comes to Mind. A taxi driver told me of reading the series to his daughter when she was young and for the rest of their lives he called her Sherlock and she called him Watson. Those are the kinds of stories you pick up on the road. The power of real lives.
I stopped at a rest stop to use the rest-room and get right back on the road but when I was walking to my car an old man was standing outside is car, maybe he could have been my Daddy's age if he'd be living now. He had a metal arm, wore a cap that showed he was a Vet, been in the service, served maybe more than just a few years for certain. He still had that air of military on him. Of having served. And as I tried to walk right past him and hurry to the car my feet pulled up to a sudden stop. I mean, full on stop. I sort of just stood there looking at him and said So, how are you doing today? The sun was shining, the sky blue, the miles ahead of me piling up by the minute and me - as is my usual - already falling behind. Already with more to do than time and space allow. He was smoking a cigarette and paused and smiled, surprised. What I didn't say was thank you for your service. That might have been implied. He said, What brings you out on the road on a pretty day like today? So I told him. Book tour. Got a book. Doing a thing.
So you're a writer?
That I am, sir.
Is that a fact? My, my.
And then we talk a bit. He's waiting on his daughter. She just had a baby and they were coming back from Nashville headed home to Memphis. The baby had been premature he said. Not but a few pounds. But now - "He's all the way up to twelve pounds. Just had his checkup. He's doing fine."
So glad to hear it. I dug around in the car. Found my reading copy of Confessions. Signed it for him and passed it on. Then headed on down the road. Because. We have one life, our stories, this Divine moment of compassion and consideration and a moment, just a moment to reach each other. To whisper those words, All is well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
And we are not alone.
Peace and love to you and yours. Me and Little Miss Sunshine got to get on down the road.
Late Reflections during Lent in Real Time. Tis still the season.
From my Instagram this week -
Spring descended on Nashville. I did a live interview on the Drew Marshall show which ran long so I missed an appointment. Realized Percy Warner was a block way, dug out my old sneakers from the car and went - walking. The parking spots were filled to overflowing. There were people reading in the sunshine on the green, little kids wading in the creek, dogs smiling in abundance, people jogging-walking-loving being alive and then someone had the presence of mind to bring BUBBLES! They filled the air, floated across the park and for a minute - we were all free.
Ruminating on Authors
One of my favorite authors, Markus Zusak did this same thing when he presented at Parnassus Books for his new book release, Bridge of Clay. Not only did he have a great smile at the ready - he had that charming Aussie accent. But the single, cutest thing about him, the heart-endearing kind of cute, was that he kept telling stories to a standing room only crowd who would have followed him to Australia to hear him tell just. one. more. And that's what he kept saying - Wait, wait, let me tell you just one more story. That's a writer's writer right there!
Out on the Ledge - Days till Book LAUNCH!
Another writer's writer par excellence is southern author Silas House, Southernmost. He's as great a man as he is a writer, one of the group of guys I call my Mud Brothers. So, when I was informed he'd be doing a guest author Interview with me for Musing, the Parnassus Newsletter I couldn't think of anyone I'd rather have a heart-to-heart with about the upcoming release of Confessions of a Christian Mystic. You can read the interview in full here.
Reflections on Reviews
Another surprise and wonder was the review of Confessions that was just released yesterday by Chapter 16. As I told someone - Wow! You don't really see yourself or your words until these reviews roll out from behind the curtain. Did I say all that? Did I show that? Did I reveal that private thing? Yes, It seems I did. Now, - gotta take the show on the road and get up, stand behind those words in this world. Here's the link to the Chapter 16 review if you'd like to read.
Everything now is coming down to the moment this new collection comes out into the world. I have moments of panic, moments of peace, a strange longing to runaway and hide coupled with a desire to stand on a mountain and tell the truth. My writer friends stay - just breathe. My non-writer friends say - just breathe. The Pulpwood Queens International Book Club (who chose Confessions as their April Book of the Month) say - just breathe. It's the kind of advice I do well to give other people. And as I write these words Sara's playlist from Spotify is playing in my ears and a new song by Elliot Root comes on and he is singing - Don't forget to breathe.
Please check my events page for the cities I'll be visiting which is being updated weekly. Also, verify the time via the bookstores website. In other words - don't trust me to get it right in the middle of this wonderful madness. I do so hope to see you soon and on the road.
First up is the sneak launch party at Parnassus Books March 29 in Nashville. Music by the incredible Ross Holmes and Sara Masat begins at 5:45 so come early to enjoy. I'll be reading and sharing beginning at 6:30. Wine, story and song. It's going to be a great time!
Then I'll be heading south to Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS for the official Launch DAY event April 2 and meeting up with the Pulpwood Queens of Jackson!!!! Yay! And followed by a visit to Southern Literary Mecca of a city, Oxford, MS at Square Books in Oxford (their event location is Off-the-Square).
Words and stories to follow but in the meantime. Look up at that sky. Soak in the blossoms. And remember - just breathe.
I have witnesses. Let’s establish that fact. Most of my major oh no moments have had someone in the wings to say no. She did that. She really did. This woman is obviously not me. But I don’t have a photo of the day that I blew part of my hair off from lighting a gas oven after I had let the gas build up a litttttle to long while talk to my sister. We were telling important stories. She was listening until she heard an explosion and a scream and then. Silence. I was living in Pensacola attending the University of West Florida and studying Theatre. It was the morning for Dr. Yolanda Reed's Playwriting class which always made things more interesting. My sons were so young they weren't in school yet. They hung out with their gypsy mom and went to rehearsals with me and went to daycare when I was in class and when I was studying for midterms or finals they went to Panama City to hang out with Nana and Pawpaw at the creek. They ate a lot of Ramen Noodles and PBJ's. To their credit, they rolled with it.
And they got to witness on more than one occasion their Mom doing dumb things. Every family has it's stories. I've given them material for a lifetime long after I'm gone.
My sister and I can not have conversations that are a result of both of us being to tired to speak and our plates too full. We've gotten pretty primal with it. Down to a few grunts that we understand. A shorthand for communication. We understand one another. But back in the day we had looooonggg conversations on the phone catching up and telling stories. In detail. When I lived in Kansas City we once talked through an entire episode of some mini-series - for three hours. This was back when there were such a thing as long-distance charges. Then our Daddy got the bill. My younger sister was still living at home and the phone bill of course was still a Daddy thing. Then he went through the roof. But we took our storytelling time seriously. Which was really just us having a nice, long visit. Frequently. Catching up. With what had happened just the day before. In detail. Now when I hear Mama telling me a story that includes all the - And he said, and then she said, and then he told her and she said - I think - and people ask me where I got inspiration as a writer. We are made up of story. Completely. I find it odd when I get stuck somewhere and people are actually managing to have a conversation that doesn't include a story about something.
And on this day I was in the middle of a story when I started the gas on the stove to light the oven and since the pilot light was out I had to strike a match and stick it into the oven where the little flames would ignite. Only being in the mid stream of a story I kept talking after I turned on the gas. And, talking. And, talking. Then I lit the match and opened the door. This is where my sister heard the explosion, my scream, and the sound of the phone flying across the room and hitting the wall.
It's a few minutes before she hears anything else, she keeps calling me, yelling hello, wondering if she needs to call 911 and I pick up the phone and in an exasperated voice say - my hair.
FORGET ABOUT YOUR HAIR!! Are you burned? Are you alright???? She was screaming at me in that kind of frustrated I just thought my sister was dead but she is just complaining about her hair kind of voice.
Yes, I was ok. No, unbelievably I was not burned. But I did have a new-do. The distinct smell of singed hair all around my face. I had bangs where I didn't have bangs a moment ago. A shag where I'd been unlayered.
It was just a stupid thing. A human error caught up in a story kind of thing. No loss of life or limb or eyesight. But there had been a moment.
I"m just fine," I told her. The hair continued falling around my shoulders.
"Jesus, sister. Just, Jesus," she said.
Yes, I inspire people to pray. But not always for reasons you might imagine.
I went on to class, made it almost on time, and declared I blew up my hair. The smell alone as a witness.
My advice for the day - Don't stick your head in gas filled ovens - with or without a match.
It's most important that you keep living your story. And that you survive to tell it.
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.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.