Archive | June 2017

Idabel Allen~Southern Storytelling

idabel allen photo color

If you love “home cooked Southern Literature in the tradition of Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, you will fall in love with Idabel Allen. 

Thank you for visiting with us today. I am excited to hear about your new book and learn more about you.

Your book Rooted, tell me the story behind it, why did you write this story?

There were several reasons I wrote Rooted. One was the setting. I liked the idea of telling a story from a rural Southern perspective not tied to Memphis or Nashville or the outside world for that matter. It is very much a regional story in this way, complete with the customs and values specific to its place and time. Adding a New York punk rock character, Slade Mortimer, to the mix illuminated the Southern rural experience. Another reason I wanted to write Rooted was to allow the burdens of the fractured McQuiston family to fall on the patriarch’s shoulders. During the 1970’, the man was the head of the household – he made a living and set the rules for the family to abide by. And yet, it was the wife who managed the family and home life. I wanted explore what happened when outcomes of the patriarchs’ rules fall back on his shoulders, and not on the wife’s. Rooted is very much a story about taking responsibility for one’s actions – not just the patriarch’s character, but his descendants, as well.

Where did you get the idea for the cover?

rootedRooted is a Southern book with an edge perhaps not often found in the genre – something I wanted to capture on the book-cover. Bits of cotton grace the front and back of the book, a nod to the South’s agrarian heritage. The cow on the cover is Lucy, the last of Grover McQuiston’s grandfather’s herd. Lucy represents a connection to the past, something Grover and the South are quite keen to hold onto. On the book cover, the cow has blue hair and a nose ring, letting readers know there’s a bit more going on with this story than meets the eye. Rooted has been described as Southern grit-lit and I believe the cover conveys this message. 

Did you do research? What was the most memorable information found?

Most of my research for Rooted centered on music. With a New York punk rocker in the mix, I needed to understand the origins of the punk movement, its key players and their motivations for breaking away from traditional rock music standards during the 1970s. Turns out, punk as we know it today with the piercings and mohawks and shocking behavior bears little resemblance to punk’s origins. Fed up with mellow hippie folk rock and bloated stadium rock, a core group of poets and musicians in New York rejected music industry rules and with a do it yourself attitude created music and art that changed popular culture forever.

Does coincidence sometimes play a role in your books? If so, what is the strangest coincidence you’ve experienced and did you use it in this book?

The premise of Rooted is based entirely on coincidence. The unexpected death of Slade Mortimer’s estranged father sends him South to the town of Moonsock in search of an inheritance. Slade’s arrival, on the heels of a family scandal, sets in motion a series of unexpected events that resurrect questions regarding the mysterious of his mother’s disappearance twenty-five years before. Rereading Rooted recently, I realized it took a character with punk sensibilities to kick down the protective wall Grover built to guard the terrible secrets that had devastated the McQuiston family for decades.

I know I’ve experienced many coincidences in my life, but I cannot think of what the strangest one might be, nor have I used personal coincidence in any of my stories that I know of. But things have a way of working themselves into my work without conscious effort on my part. Only after the fact, am I able to recognize that something personal has crept into the picture.

What do you like most about writing? What do you like least?

I most like when my characters are developed to the point that they are telling the story, and I’m hustling to get it all down on the paper. When the writing is going well, I hear the characters voices in my head as if a live person were talking. That’s when the story has taken on a life of it’s own.

The opposite of this is what I like least. When the characters are not driving the story, or if I’m trying to force the story in a certain direction, the writing is cumbersome and stiff. It’s like trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. When this happens, it’s a good indication to take a few steps back and regroup. Usually, this is what is needed to get things flowing again.

Are you working on the next book?

I am releasing a middle school book this fall entitled, Cursed! My Devastatingly Brilliant Campaign To Save The Chigg. It’s about an overly dramatic eighth-grade girl, Ginny Edgars, friendless after one too many trips to the principle’s office, who decides to help class Freakazoid #1, Carrie “Chigger” Larson, uncover the devastating truth behind the Larson family curse – whether Chigger likes it or not!

I am also wrapping up edits on a historical fiction novel entitled, Strange Agonies In Some Lonesome Wilderness. In this story, a group of ex-slaves hoodooed to a Mississippi river island, turn to an anthropologist to help them pass on to the after-life, challenging what she believes about herself, her life and the one that lies beyond.

How long did it take you to write this book?

There’s a million ways to tell a story, finding the right way always takes me a little time on the front end. All told, I believe I have about five years invested in writing Rooted. I spent a bit of time experimenting with narrative and voice. I tried to write the book entirely from Sarah Jane’s point of view, and then Slade’s, and finally Grover’s. The story never really gelled for me until I landed on using all three points of view. The opening line of the book, “It all comes from the root,” was something my son once said to my grandmother. I used this line to anchor the separate narratives to the story and to let the reader know Rooted is a story about belonging to a people and a place.

Where do you think your story telling ability came from?

I’m not sure where it came from as far as my family. There’s an artistic streak on mother’s side, but not so much on either side in the literary vein. More than anything, reading everything I could get my hands on at a young age, and being born in the South where the oral storytelling tradition is still very much alive made me the writer I am today.

Listening to stories gave me a good ear for dialect and for gauging reactions. A good story gives the reader a reason to laugh, be shocked, even outraged. Too, I learned a lot from my favorite writers: passion from Faulkner, compassion from Welty and Steinbeck, possibilities from Woolfe, and fearlessness from O’Connor. Reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved is like studying a blueprint for how to construct a perfect book.

First and foremost a storyteller, Idabel’s books are all grounded in the same character-driven reality that holds the reader’s attention long after the story is finished. When not burrowing in the written word, Idabel says she is generally up to no good with her family, dogs and herd of antagonistic cows.  So visit her website and blogpost.

http://idabelallen.net/

idabelallen.net/blog

 

 

Janie Dempsey Watts Turns Curiosity Into Writing Career

janie dempsey watts photo

A Chattanooga native, Janie Dempsey Watts grew up riding horses at her family farm in Woodstation, Georgia. Her curiosity about most everything steered her to journalism and a writing career.

She was just chosen to be “Author of the Month” for June by Barnes and Noble, Chattanooga.

Her novel “Return to Taylor’s Crossing” (2015) earned an Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion and won first place in the Knoxville Writers’ Guild novel excerpt competition. Her first novel, “Moon Over Taylor’s Ridge,” was a Georgia Author of the Year Award nominee for a debut novel and nominated for a S.I.B.A. Her newest book is a collection of her short stories, “Mothers, Sons, Beloveds, and Other Strangers” (Bold Horses Press, 2017)

.mother sons

Hi Janie, welcome to Authors Visits. Tell us about this new collection fo short stories.

It’s fifteen short stories set in the South, California, and Europe. One of the stories, “Erice,” was a Faulkner Pirate’s Alley finalist. These stories feature characters facing inner and outer journeys that often do not go as expected. Why did Sadie’s mother run away? And when will she return? Must a teenage girl learn the truth about her daddy the hard way? Why must a bride’s rehearsal dinner feel like a Hatfield-McCoy moment? Can a widow escape loneliness by commiserating? On a train ride in Belgium, can a mother and son trust a postcard salesman they meet? At a laundromat in Rome, Italy, what kind of trouble can a restless wife find? In these tales, some humorous and some edgy, characters discover they do not really know those who are closest, yet a stranger may offer the gift of hope.

Oh this sounds like a must read for sure.

I also wanted to talk to you about your book, Return to Taylor’s Crossing. This book earned an Indie B.R.A.G. Medallion and won first place in the Knoxville Writers’ Guild novel excerpt competition. Tell us a little about this book.

.Return

The summer of 1959 in a small Georgia town, dairy worker Abednego Harris, 19, not only stands out for his skillful handling of bulls, but because of his color. When Lola James, 17, arrives to do day work for a nearby family, Abednego is smitten. As the young couple falls in love, racial tensions heat up, threatening their world. A violent attack tears them apart and spins their lives in different directions. This is their story, and the story of four others whose lives are forever changed by violence. One of them will return to Taylor’s Crossing seeking answers.

What drew you to writing?

My parents gave me a diary when I was eight or nine.  I started writing life events in short, newspaper style. A winter storm, the death of a newborn colt, for example. I also read constantly–-horse books, biographies, any book I could get my hands on.  In 8th grade I read “Catcher in the Rye.”  Our Civics teacher asked us to write a paper on what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I knew I wanted to be a novelist, like J.D. Salinger.

How long was it before you wrote your first novel?

The short answer is 28 years from the time I wrote my first short story in college. The long answer is this. In college, I studied English, then journalism, graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, with a B.A. in journalism, and later, an M.A. in journalism from the University of Southern California. I wrote for newspapers, magazines, and TV during my journalism career. When my children were little, I used my time as a stay-at-home mother to study screenplay writing at U.C.L.A. Writing five screenplays (never produced) taught me the craft of long-form fiction writing.  All throughout the 28 years, I wrote short stories and also short non-fiction pieces.  Many were published in anthologies and literary magazines, anthologies. In late 2012, my first novel was published.  I guess you could say I’m a late bloomer––and persistent!

 

What do you think made your book Moon over Taylor’s Ridge stand out above all the others to win  Georgia Author of the Year Award nominee for a debut novel?
Readers of this novel have told me that the Cherokee history, folklore, and Trail of Tears connection is why they were drawn to the story. I spent many hours researching to make sure my fictional story rested upon a solid base of facts.  The legend of the Cherokee silver mine in the area where the novel is set was passed down in my family and recounted in a history book by my late Aunt Mary. 

moon over

In your speaking engagements, do you take your book and do you sell many of your books? 
I always take about a dozen copies of each book, more if a big crowd is anticipated. I usually sell five to six copies, but I have sold as few as one and as many as 52 at an event. It’s very humbling, and you have to check your ego at the door. Many times those attending will buy my novels later in e-book format, or check it out at the library. From a marketing point of view, the best part about speaking at an event is the publicity generated.  If the event is mentioned in the media, it draws more attention to your book, and hopefully brings in more sales from those unable to attend.
Janie, you’ve been in Southern Writers Magazine a few times and we are so pleased you joined us on our Authors Visits. I know your fans will enjoy this new book that released.
Please come back and visit, and let us know the when you are ready to release another new book.

Growing Up in 1956! by Thomas Conner

3. Current Photo

Meet Thomas Conner, known to some as Tom, others as Tommy, and TC by friends and family. Although born in Florida, two miles from the Alabama state line, he spent most of his early years living on the Alabama side and went to college in Florida. 

He graduated from the University of West Florida in Pensacola with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities and since 1980  has resided in Central California’s Big Valley, where he has worked in higher education at a prestigious private university in Student Life.

Tom, welcome to Authos Visits. I am excited to talk to you about this book, Goodby, Saturday Night.

goodnight saturday nightYour book, Goodbye, Saturday Night, is very interesting, and for us who are older brings back a lot of memories.

Tell us a little about the book.

Well it’s early  May 1956 in the small South Alabama town of Farmington, and eleven year old Bobby Crosby’s life is about to change forever. He’s still anguishing over the death of his father even though it’s been five years, and he’s come to despise the life centered around his mother’s cafe, a place that turns into the revelrous hot spot of the community when the sun goes down. Bobby escapes his real world by sitting every night in the local movie theater, third row left down front. There, alone in the dark, he leaves Farmington far behind and melts into the world of the silver screen. Bobby’s best friend is Hucker Nolan, a twenty-two year old drop-out from the swamps across the tracks who drives a taxicab in the daytime and works concession at the movie theater at night. Now, Bobby’s world seems to be collapsing and there’s nothing he can do to stop it; his mother has a boyfriend Bobby desperately resents and his feelings for Hucker are confusing and ever changing, often filled with anger and jealousy Bobby doesn’t understand. Then, the worst thing possible happens to Bobby— he’s betrayed by the person he trusts the most.

Was your book research intensive? Did you find some fun facts?

Yes, definitely. The book is set in 1956 and required a lot of research because I give lots of details in my writing. My character paid 5 cents for a soda. The Western Flyer Super Deluxe bicycle he dreamed of cost $75 and was unobtainable. I also used movie and music references throughout the book, so I had to research the release dates to make sure I wasn’t using titles that hadn’t been released in May of 1956. A good example of this is Saturday night television line-up in 1956. I really wanted one of my characters to be watching Gunsmoke on T.V. when he was called away for an emergency. Well, the show didn’t air at the time I needed him to be watching it, so I had him watch “The Jackie Gleason Show” instead.

Did you find not so fun facts while researching your book?

Yes, and some very disturbing. This book is based very loosely on my childhood growing up in the Deep South. My main character has a close friend who is “colored” but they cannot sit together in the movies. My character lives in a racial bubble, just as I did at the time. When researching racial tension in Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s, I was made aware of much more racially related violence than I had previously known. I knew of the Selma marches of 1965 but I had no idea of the violence and brutality involved until I began my research. It was played down in my area and among my family and friends.

Does coincidence play a role in your book? If so, what was the strangest coincidence experienced and did you use it in your book?

Yes, most definitely. In the past, we have had two Sunday services at my church, St. Anne’s Episcopal. I always attended the 10:00am service. Early last spring our services were combined into one at 9:00am. That offered an opportunity to meet folks from the other service I didn’t know. One Sunday, I struck up a conversation at coffee hour with a woman who had just published her second novel with a small publishing house. I told her about my book, that I was planning on self-publishing because I didn’t want to go through all those hundreds of rejections until I found a house that would take my book. She suggested I submit my work to her publisher. After mulling it over for a few weeks I did and they immediately offered me a publishing contract. My friend and I had been attending the same church for many years without knowing each other or that we were both writers. Now, we are authors with the same publishing house because our church services were combined

What is the story behind the creation your book?

When I read Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show in the mid 1970s, I realized I had a book in me about small town life in Alabama in the 1950s. I met Larry McMurtry at his rare and collectible bookstore, Booked Up, in the Georgetown section of Washington, DC. When I discussed my idea for a book with him he said write it, it will tell a good story. I went home and wrote the first draft. That was in the late fall of 1979. I moved to California a month later and brought the hand-written manuscript with me with the intensions of polishing and rewriting. However, it got pushed back for 35 years.

What do you like most about writing? What do you like least?

Hanging on and following where the characters take me. Some people might say I’m not telling the truth, but my books seem to write themselves. I have a beginning and an idea of an ending and I just start writing. The characters take over and the book comes to life. Sometimes, I am totally amazed that we took the turn in the road we did. Recently, in my new book, one character asked the other where they are going as they climb into the car. I had no idea as I wrote those words. The main character made a choice and the direction they took opened up the plot with a major new twist. I was amazed.

And the least?

I like promoting the book the very least. I wish I could just write and the book would sell itself. That’s not the case. I spend at least fifty percent of my writing time promoting.

Are you working on the next book?

Yes. My work is always based very loosely on something I’ve done or I’ve lived. I just make characters and a story out of it. The first book was based  loosely on my childhood. The new book is based on my first quarter in college in 1965. It’s the story of an 18-year-old freshman who is totally smitten with his single 27-year-old English professor. They become fast friends due to mutual interest and need. Soon, the friendship begins to develop into more. I am obsessed with the story and at the present time have over 52,000 words down.

Tell us how long it took you to write your book.

I wrote the first draft of the first book in three months. I wrote it in longhand because my old typewriter had keys that stuck and I could write faster than type. It was put aside as I said for 35 years. I pulled the old manuscript out and began transcription and rewrite last year. I spent nearly a year on the final book. So, the answer is 37 years in total time and a year and three months of actually writing time.

Whats next for you in writing?

To continue with the new book until it’s ready to send to my publisher. I also plan to pull out some old short stories and see what I can do with them. I spend a tremendous amount of time promoting the book and finding readers.

Thank you for visiting with us today. Can’t wait to hear about your next new book.