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
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
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,
Lots of news from the road and now that I have finally found a plug and set up somewhere that Seattle security will probably ask me to LEAVE and stop acting like I work at the airport -so I'm down to - fast and furious. Expect errors and detours. Gotta talk fast before their on to me.
If you saw the last few posts on Instagram or Facebook you know that I'm up to something. That something is what part of The Thread I'm holding onto. For many years, many, many years actually I have desperately had the overwhelming and powerful desire to get my MFA. But circumstances of various orders and gremlins and minions kept me off that path. VERY SPECIFICALLY - I have desired for ten years to get my MFA from the Seattle Pacific University Low-Residency program.
Last year as I was teaching one Saturday for the A Novel Idea program one of the incredible students showed me his recently published novel. When I opened to the dedication there was my name and some of the most beautiful words anyone could ever write about me and my teaching creative writing. Something about it hit my like an inspired rock. That day I picked up that thread that is my true life and applied without any knowledge of what to do but take the next step. And the one after that.
My acceptance into the program was one of the happiest days of my life and one of the defining moments of my life. The continuation of me taking the next step and the following one has been the result of a tremendous outpouring of support of all kinds from my family and special friends. (And more on that later and back to that special student in another blog.) And a shout out as well to my Parnassus Books 'family' for your enthusiastic support and understanding.
On other fronts some people have asked, River, when you're already a published author, have received accolades from readers and blessedly from some reviewers ( I tell my Mother all the time, 'You know, some of those novels were called 'masterpieces' by reviewers and that's not easy come by. (I jokingly add that she is not impressed but she has made this part of my life possible in more ways than one.) So in spite of that and Because . . . because . . . there is this thing, the thread. That cannot be ignored. Call it intuition. Call it spiritual inspiration. Or just call it the itch that will not be denied.
Let me offer the words of William Stafford as my greatest response.
The Way It Is
There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of that thread.
So that's my answer and I'm sticking to it. (Just had to answer some questions about baggage claim as I am potentially breaking some rules by setting up behind the unmanned info desk and airport model so that I can bogart power for the laptop from the only available plug in. The trick is to act like you belong, know what you are doing, and are very busy. Wearing glasses helps too. )
So - here comes that shuttle and I want to share with you a lot of things. I want to talk about the nice people I have met on this journey and the people on the plane and the mother in front of me that I wanted to hit with a magazine because she might just have gotten frustrated with her daughter and pinched her lips together to make her quit talking. Since I couldn't see through the chair in front of me I just leaned forward and asked if I could offer her a pen and paper for her daughter to draw or show her pictures. And she said - NO, she's just tired and should be asleep. - Then she loudly told the little girl that she was being a DISTURBANCE and bothering everyone on the plane and I decided I didn't like that woman and I haven't prayed for her but that might be a good thing to do. I did lean forward again through the crack and say NO, SHE is not being a disturbance. SHE is not bothering me.
And I prayed for a different lady on the plane who was nice (without her knowledge) and another (ditto) but - - (had to just stop and give out some information on shuttle locations. I'm getting really good at this. I could be Airport Answer Girl. PS - you can just make up anything. It makes people happy to get an answer from anyone.)
Update sidetrack - I stayed at a cheap by the airport kind of hotel for the night. I must! Share my hotel room view with you but it is on my Instagram if you check. The people at the desk were delightful in spite of the room or my lack of sleep. I made it to a Thai restaurant next door for dinner last night and brought the rest back to the desk clerk and asked her if she had had dinner or liked Thai food. She said she had never tasted Thai food. So, I gave her that food (I hadn't eaten off of for the record) and said you are in for a treat! And the reason for this is that as the world seems to get increasingly crazy, as politics in this country seem to be dividing us at the rate of insanity, I have determined my only way to combat this is to perform extra acts of kindness everyday of my life. To operate from a place of being absolutely determined to become more human, more understanding, more accepting. To offer to hold a screaming toddler for a mother to do her banking, or help someone load groceries when I'm already sick of dragging my bags around. I'll let people in in traffic and do a million other things that might normally cross my mind that I am too busy to do. The only thing I know to do to combat this tidal wave of hatred is to step up my kindness game.
So - off of rant and back to the moment -
She was still on duty this am and said it was one of the best things she has ever tasted. it was yellow curry chicken and potatoes.
Gotta dash. More soon as I can but I want you to know I started the day out celebrating the journey by doing Elaine's dance to the tune of Patti LaBelle's Neutron Dance. :)
Keep it real. Hold fast to your thread.
A little fast and furious news from the Hill.
Three wonderful things happened yesterday. Ok, more than three. But these particular three I want to jot down for you.
Our very own Parnassus Peter Taylor returned from South American from his gap year abroad. I don't have time to do the before and after pics here but he left very clean cut and clean. He returned with a big grin and wild hair looking like a man of the world. AND because I screamed OH MY God and basically went running to him he gave me one the best hugs ever. Like a real hug. Like a I JUST GOT BACK FROM SOUTH AMERICA hug not one of those weak fish tiny pats on the back that says geez I wish you wouldn't hug me. Way to go Peter on all good and wonderful things. I can't WAIT to hear about his stories, his writing, his reading, and all about this totally life changing experience. So much so I want to invite him to come on Clearstory Radio and share them with all of us.
A three year old little girl yesterday that was cuter than pie approached me on the sidewalk in front of whole foods to explain she was looking for a blue car and had I seen it. I got a real kick out of this because I was wearing shades and cowgirl boots and don't know why out of all the people she smiled and waved to me and decided I was the person to ask. But I'm glad she did. Her mother was right there with her so she wasn't lost. But obviously was hot and a little over the lines and crowds and ready to find the car and get the heck out of there. I felt Charmed. Chosen.
Friend Silas House had an exquisite reading with musical guests last night at Parnassus to a standing room only crowd. His words were pure honey. They always are.
I'm entering into final edits for Confessions. Excited to be at this stage of the game where we get to wrap up this odd, quirky little book about faith and fiction and fast rides through the lightning storms of nights in the high desert of New Mexico. My deep thanks to awesome Ms. A. and the mighty Grace for bearing with me through my process. Can't wait to get on the road to visit readers, see old friends and make new ones when the book finally arrives in March. Before that you can find me in a few places and I'll be back for more on that later.
TODAY - I'll be live with Clearstory Radio, a literary show with soul - at 1:00 Central on 107.1 and 103.7 in Nashville or streaming through radiofreenashville.org So excited that author Joy Jordan-Lake will be joining me in the studio today to talk about her most recent novel and all things writing, reading, and living in a creative space. Please Join us!
Hope you are living this day with arms wide open and celebrating the light wherever you find it.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.