IMG_0765So, I’m comfortable with being unusual. In June, 2014, there was a move to that island where we used to spend summers, where I would write and revise while my kids ran barefoot and swam and caught tiny fish with their bare hands. But living there? That was not the same as a summer there.  Living  on an island with no bridge, only accessible by boat, with two teenage boys and a 10 year old girl for a year?  That was different.

The kids made use of the Florida Virtual School program, a computerized version of home school, one where I was not the teacher, thank goodness.  While living on the island, my daughter and I started a book together. It’s got fantastic potential, but has sat untouched for months. Work meant nursing jobs at two facilities specializing in care of psychiatric, detox and substance abuse clients. Early on, a coworker asked me how the shift was going and I said it was like being paid to go to a family reunion.

But, as I became more involved, I saw more. Living in an isolated environment while caring for those the every day world is incredibly uncomfortable discussing at Chipotle was incredibly draining. Always observing, I absorbed new people, their  mannerisms, tics, what they tried to hide and could not, their grammar, body language, their lies, their undercurrents, reactions to other clients and to the staff, all this new information flooded me and I absorbed it like a sponge. But by the time I got home, I was dazed. Journals wouldn’t hold my new understanding of human behavior. I needed sleep, but there were children. Learning personalities of staff at two facilities, which soon became three, exhausted me more.

My writing friends keep saying, this will show up somewhere, everywhere. I did not have time to review books; I did not have the brain space, or the emotional bandwidth. All the synopses sounded too close to home or far too unrealistic. I turned requests down, one after another, out of fear I’d critique too harshly.

We left the island for the big city of Sarasota once school started again, because… socialization. Which sounds minute compared to Atlanta, but Atlanta is made of thousands upon thousands of suburbs and not many people who say they are from Atlanta LIVE in Atlanta. Moving from suburbia to island to city has changed conversations in our family considerably, but it is also a combination of my kids’ maturation, their increasing awareness and my job. Nine days into the school year my two younger kids were pulled to a TAG school located  around the corner from one of the facilities where I work. Across the street from them is Planned Parenthood, the Salvation Army and a cemetery where some  homeless clients sleep and pass the time.

One morning walking them in, I spotted one of my regular clients, running through traffic in cut off shorts and a yellow t-shirt, leaning into every SUV and Audi, shouting, “Hey Mister! Anything you want for a 20.” This is not something my kids were exposed to in Alpharetta, Georgia. Also fantastic book title: HOW TO SPOT A HOOKER ON METH. Send me that for a book review and you have my attention.

With all this activity, I have been creatively drained, or should I say, my creativity has been diverted to other areas for quite some time. I’ve been actively navigating new territory and giving quick, neutral, humorous or encouraging responses on the fly, keeping my cool when threatening clients act out. I’ve found that psych facility staff offer creative and fun friends that write, draw, paint, sing, and make music. We make jokes faster than I can blink while holding a psychotic man down and giving him a shot in the ass. With the sadness and the sadsacks, the environment needs a turn of phrase, a laugh as often as possible. And what is storytelling, if not plunging into psych? The reasons why we all do what we do? Yes, my writing friends are correct. Something will come out of this.

 

Man in the Blue Moon

Author: Michael Morris
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414368429
ISBN-13: 978-1414368429

 Book Description:
“He’s a gambler at best. A con artist at worst,” her aunt had said of the handlebar-mustached man who snatched Ella Wallace away from her dreams of studying art in France. Eighteen years later, that man has disappeared, leaving Ella alone and struggling to support her three sons. While the world is embroiled in World War I, Ella fights her own personal battle to keep the mystical Florida land that has been in her family for generations from the hands of an unscrupulous banker. When a mysterious man arrives at Ella’s door in an unconventional way, he convinces her he can help her avoid foreclosure, and a tenuous trust begins. But as the fight for Ella’s land intensifies, it becomes evident that things are not as they appear. Hypocrisy and murder soon shake the coastal town of Apalachicola and jeopardize Ella’s family.

What I think:

If you like Southern Fiction, there is a great deal to like about MAN IN THE BLUE MOON. Set in a Apalachicola, a coastal town of cypress trees and Spanish moss, the characters face financial hard times and a war that has everyone on edge. Morris’ blends suspicious town gossips married to quiet men who say the right thing at just the right time, self-righteous know-it-all’s nosing around, loyal friends who don’t speak for years and evangelical pastors straining for a buck. He parades them before you with wonderful timing, a familiar step through turn-of-the-century north Florida. Morris brings up many captivating questions about faith, miracles and mysticism – reserving judgment or explanation. That’s an interesting turn for Tyndale, which typically publishes Christian fiction. Can I get an AMEN?

The main character is single mom, Ella Wallace. Due to her no -account husband, Ella is stuck with debts she can’t pay. She tries to run a commissary and raise three very different sons in the middle of a war, holding fiercely to the one thing her Daddy told her to never let go of – her land. Ella’s character is completely relate-able to today’s times. Though I cocked my eyebrow at the Snidely Wiplash description of her husband, wishing he and the “bad guys” had been given as much depth as other characters, the premise and story were so intriguing, I had no trouble continuing.

The GUY (there’s always a GUY): He arrives in a completely unexpected fashion, setting the gossips a-dither. He’s the opposite of the louse-like husband, offers to help right and left, and doesn’t even realize he’s filling the immense void Louse Husband left behind. Dream guy, right? He’s very mysterious, creating more trouble and town speculation than Ella (and her teenage son) can handle. She’s caught between the need for his help and gossip about him helping her and feelings, nothing more than feelings.

Meanwhile, there’s a power-grab for Ella’s land between a scurvy banker and an evangelist who turns local Indian beliefs about healing waters and Scripture on it’s ear. Ella’s is torn between her promise to her father and her debt. How will she survive? Money goes this way and that and Ella struggles to maintain her dignity, her family and her land. The murder described above is a huge slam-bang affair, written powerfully well. I was surprised how Morris, who obviously loves Apalachicola and knows it in and out, quickly turns to a well-drawn action scene that had me guessing.

Also amazing is that Morris pulls pieces of this story from his own family history. A man actually did arrive to his family farm in the same manner as Ella’s visitor to work for awhile before Morris was born. Interesting how family history contributes to authors stories, isn’t it?

If you like MAN IN THE BLUE MOON you may enjoy-

For the Southern aspect, Florida author – JANIS OWENS My Brother Michael, and American Ghost

A Christian, Southern author – CHARLES MARTIN The Dead Don’t Dance

For a Historical & Florida author – MARJORIE KINNAN RAWLINGS South Moon Under

MAN IN THE BLUE MOON is the SheReads.org online book club November read.. You can visit Shereads.org to read more reviews.

The anthology is out! Not just the ebook, but the one where you physically turn pages and smell that booky smell and set it on a shelf and say, “Hey! See that book there? I KNOW someone who contributed to that!” So, yea! It’s out there, folks. Like a plate of fried chicken, waiting to be devoured. I stopped by my favorite tea room downtown the other morning to drop off a complimentary copy to the owner and someone asked how long I thought about the characters before I wrote the story.
How long? Hmmm…
“Do they pop onto the page or what?”
Miles did. Lexie, I’ve thought about for years. Aunt Blanche & Mimi I’ve known all my life.
So, it depends.

I think if writers were honest, we’d say some of those characters walk with us every day. We’re schizophrenic that way. When we slice tomatoes, we wonder how our main character would do it. If we smell our nasty trash can, we wonder if our villain cleans his/hers on a regular basis or if he/she just lets it stink up the garage.

All those movies and books that thrill you and you think, ‘Ah, that’s how it should happen!’ We want to give you that. It’s our goal and it takes work. (Some of us want to disturb you, but that’s another form of entertainment) All the time normal people think we’re off in a dreamy floating state — hint — we are. We’re writing 24/7.

For today’s interview I am excited to introduce my good friend, Kimberly Brock, and her debut novel, THE RIVER WITCH, a Pulpwood Queens Official Selection book and the SheReads selection for the month of June. Joshilyn Jackson calls Kimberly’s book, “One debut you should not miss.”

So, Kimberly. How do you feel about THE RIVER WITCH’s amazing success? 

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about success. I don’t look at numbers. Really, I’m pleased with the good reviews, but I haven’t spent time reading them myself so much as I’ve been told about them. I’m focused on writing the next book, on responding to readers on blogs and at readings, scheduling appearances and festivals. Success for me will be that I get to keep writing and sharing stories.

But I will share this special experience: a reader contacted me after finishing the book to tell me that she’d suffered the loss of a stillborn child years ago. She’d never been allowed to grieve or to honor that child with a memorial or even a name. As an adult with other grown children, she was very moved by THE RIVER WITCH. She finally allowed herself to grieve, to memorialize and name her baby. To me, that is the story’s success – that it touched someone where they live. I don’t know if that’s got much to do with me, but I do know that it means the work has inherent worth. I’ll never forget that.

When did you first get the writing bug?

I’ve been a storyteller all my life. Ask my family, who endured many hours of reenacted Disney films or impromptu plays. Ask my childhood friends and teachers, who swallowed tall tales and ghost stories whole on the playground and paid the price later, afraid to sleep in their beds. They believed I had descended from an angry Cherokee Indian Chief. They believed I was going blind like Helen Keller. I was in trouble all the time for inventing and embellishing. And then, around the age of five somebody gave me a crayon and that was that. That’s when I became a writer.

Can you tell us how you went about research for The River Witch? Which part came first and how did you go about gathering what you needed from there?

Horribly. That’s how I went about research. Honestly, it’s not a very good process. I do it all the hard way, pulling articles out of magazines or printing them or bookmarking them on my laptop. Eventually, I had this pile of unrelated facts, stories and reports that grabbed my attention. Some of it came as I was writing – like the alligators. I read a lot about them and listened to recordings of their roaring. Other times, I went in search of a thing, like the Sacred Harp music. I watched documentaries and reads books and listened to recordings that I downloaded onto my iPod. Eventually, it’s a matter of having the knowledge in my head, the essence of a thing, so that when I write a scene, those facts and details appear there naturally. At least that’s what I hope happens – that the things I’ve learned and obsessed over will translate in the writing as setting and character and metaphor, give the story momentum and depth, but not sit there on display or seem like a regurgitated report on a subject.

How is your next project going?

Slowly. It is a story that began to take shape for me years ago when I stumbled across an obscure piece of history in my home state of Georgia. A lot of research has gone into this project, including some travel. I’m still fascinated with this idea and in the frustrating stages of waiting for it to take shape on the page. But I’m in love with it and eager to see what it becomes in the next few months.

As a writer, what is your greatest challenge?

I’m a writer, but I’m also a mother and wife and daughter. Time is always the challenge for any writer, finding a balance between living a full life and writing. I am impatient to go from the germ of an idea to a finished project and I want everything else in my life to fall in line so I can devote myself to that goal. But life doesn’t operate that way, and neither does the creative process. And by the way, unless you leave the writing long enough to live a full life, you find there’s nothing to write about. You have nothing to say. So, for me it’s always a challenge to leave the writing and know that when I come back to the desk, I’ll be better for it and so will my work.

What is your greatest victory?

My family – my marriage to my best friend and the home we’ve made with our three children. With the publication of my first novel, I saw my kids witness the fulfillment of a dream after years of dedicated work. That single moment, seeing their faces, was my greatest victory. Knowing that long after I’m gone, long after anything I have written is forgotten, they’ll have that memory to pass down to their children for courage.

THANKS, KIMBERLY!!

You can visit Kimberly Brock at kimberlybrockbooks.com. Her list of books signings and appearances are listed there.

You can find THE RIVER WITCH on Amazon.com and these other retailers:

When I was asked to write a dedication for the anthology, SWEETER THAN TEA, I knew immediately who, why and what. But there’s another thing they asked for: Recipes. And that took on a whole new meaning. Because I wondered, did they want a dedication for Granny’s pound cake?

Surely not, but I could easily give them one! This is the woman whose stories are so good, I used to play possum and sneak around just to hear her talk. I followed her everywhere. The house was just a 1950’s ranch with the garage converted into a family room, but it was magical to me. Granny had a clothesline out back and muscadine vine growing in her yard – I would eat until I was sick. She had a plum tree and often asked me climb to the top and toss her the fruit she couldn’t reach. And then, there was the oak tree where I read Helen Keller five times. There was plenty to do at my Granny’s, aside from eat her buttery biscuits (according to my Pa-Pa, they only turned out good if she was nervous!)

My mother was pretty serious about us going to bed IN our beds, but when we were visiting, sometimes I would take advantage and “fall asleep” on the sofa while Granny and Pa-Pa were talking to aunts and uncles who had stopped by. Oh, the things I’d learn!

Also, the house didn’t have central air for a long time. The air conditioner sat in a window just over the dining room table, which kept the main part of Granny’s house cool. When she went to the trouble of putting a table cloth down, my red-headed cousins and I would get a plate of fried chicken and potato salad, and some lemonade and sneak under the ivory table cloth to enjoy the air conditioning and the story-telling. I learned about long dead aunts and uncles dueling in the front yard, (Granny had to call THE LAW) moonshiners, dead babies and  war heroes. We had it all and no one thought any of it was fit for my ears! They didn’t know what a good secret keeper I was. They just didn’t know.

After and hour or so of talking some one would say, “Where’d them kids go?”

“I reckon they’re outside,” Pa-Pa, would say. “Prob’ly climbing the oak tree again.”

“They better not hurt themselves before dessert.”

Then, they’d start up again. By late afternoon I realized our family was one BIG soap opera.

My Granny would tell me a lot of these stories, in her own way, as I aged, but they were never as good as the first time, with her hushed whispers and laughter and me in my hiding place. She sold that house and moved five miles away, she has a lovely view of cows in a nice pasture, but no plum trees, no muscadines, and no oak tree.

I was most sad about the oak tree. I spent hours there, re-reading Helen Keller, Caddie Woodlawn and all the Little House on the Prairie books. My mother, my aunt and Granny would call me for dinner through the open windows. Id’ know what we were eating before they even said. You could smell roast, collards, wild rice and fried apple pies.

“Where’s Misty-ree?”

“Up in that tree again – with her head in a book,” Granny would say. “I hope she don’t fall.”

When my Granny moved, I had married and moved to a house on two acres and was just discovering the wonders of the property. One day in late August I was walking with my sons and was slapped with a scent I hadn’t come across in years, something I’d only been able to buy in the grocery store for awhile.

“NO WAY.”

“What, Mom?”

I walked around the corner of the woods and found it – a muscadine vine, easily 16 feet high and forty feet across, arching over the path, and bursting with firm dark purple grapes. I knew in another week, I would introduce my boys to the muscadine-eating process of popping the grape between your teeth, sucking out the pulp, and spitting seeds on the ground – just like my Granny taught me.

It is great fun, although out of all my kids, my daughter is the great muscadine-lover. We use a 12 foot ladder, but still can’t reach them all. The deer can’t get enough of them, so we have to be quick!

Granny is 87 now and still drives, still makes her own pickles and with four gallon-sized bags of my muscadines – the best muscadine jelly you ever tasted. She still loves to pass on stories, but she says there are some things she’ll never tell. “You just don’t need to know everything,” Granny says.

“Yes, ma’am.”

And then she starts talking. I know how this goes. If I stay quiet long enough,she might forget I’m here.

It starts small.

Like a breeze in the fold of your mind as the snow clouds gather.

“I need something cool and fruity. Let’s stop by Whole Foods. I heard they have Costa Rican pineapple this week.”

Hmm. You wonder what the weather is like in Costa Rica. You check the Travel Channel. Nice. A catalog with a preview for Spring Clothes  ARRIVES IN YOUR MAILBOX.

You’re not the cruising type, but isn’t that water pretty and clear? You can see all manner of sea life, Honey. And my, what a blue sky.

Jimmy Buffett comes on the radio. He’s in Margaritaville, which you know is fictional, yet consistent with the sandals on page 34 of the catalog. You schedule a pedicure and consider songwriting.

Other people – those that enjoy cold weather and believe snow is an opportunity, make plans for skiing and snowboarding.

But not you. You debate the difference between Chilly and Downright Unnecessarily Freaky Cold. You fill your bath tub and pretend you’re in Aruba.

Your significant other inquires after your thyroid. Perhaps you need to have it checked. The red flags for low thyroid are Extreme sensitivity to cold and Lethargy. It sounds like you, but you know what would fix all of this… Salt Water. Buckets of it.

You decide that you next article, short story, etc, has a warm locale. In fact, a trip will be written off on the research & time spent near the equator. It’s not Europe, but hey, look at Randy Wayne White,  Gabriel García Márquez and even Mark Twain. Research under the new electric blanket is not the same.

Freelancing jobs can be scarce. You buy more pineapple. More listening to Jack Johnson. More Jimmy Buffett. You grill out in the freezing rain and laugh at the absurdity.

You check the internet for deals.

Soon enough,You have your story outlined, more or less, about a heart broken girl, unhappy with her life in _(cold environment)__ who finds satisfaction in _(warm environment)_ through _(discovering her life-long dream/herself)_ after her conflict with _(her psychotic mother, neglectful father, faithless boyfriend/husband)_.

Blah, blah, throw in some history that ties into the subplot and the internal journey and “HONEY! Don’t we have some Sky miles somewhere??!! I have to go to BRAZIL.”

“Brazil?”

“Or maybeArgentina,” you say, throwing back the electric blanket and ripping open you dresser. “Where is my bikini? I have a story to write!”

He frowns as if something is wrong with you. Like the winter is just doing it’s NORMAL thing. Like this happens every year.

“Did you make the appointment to get your thyroid checked?”

Nothing is wrong with your thyroid. You simply hate winter from the bottom of your soul. Snow is for looking at. In a picture. And for the life of you, you don’t understand why people have paintings of snow scenes hung on their walls, just looking at those makes you cold. If seasons are metaphors for life, and winter is death, why would anybody hang that on their wall? Might as well be a picture of a casket.

So, with that incredibly sane argument, a trip is made. Because you threatened never to make pound cake again. Because you love one another and have something to celebrate. Because he’s tired of hearing it. Because you’ve both been working hard and need to reconnect.

And quite suddenly, you feel better about the world. The story will be killer because you already lived it.

If just for one cold January afternoon.