Published – Year One

My debut novel, Winter Seedlings, went live on Amazon one year ago today. Today is my 1st Author Birthday!

I look back at the past year and I am overwhelmed with what looks like amazing accomplishments. I published two novels and two novellas (one as only e-book format).

The amount of hours spent on getting those books to publication well exceeds what I would have worked at a “regular” job, not to mention that I invested my own money at every turn. Did I make enough money to warrant all that? Hell no.

Want to be an indie author? You better have another source of income.

But let’s not dwell on the negatives. It’s a celebration! My title of Author is now officially one year old! Winter Seedlings is also one year old! (And if you haven’t read it yet, you can get it at a discounted price until Friday because it’s a celebration!)

I reflect back on how far I have come (or not), and think it might be useful to make a list of what I have learned and the changes which have occurred. I’m curious to see how this list grows and changes next year.

  1. I no longer believe that writing a good book will = having a lot of sales.
  2. Diversity in books is a great movement, but not necessarily a financially profitable one for authors (<— not saying it isn’t worth it for other reasons.)
  3. Stories set in Appalachia very much appeal to readers in Appalachia, not so much everywhere else.
  4. It’s important to have a high quality book cover that reflects the tone of the story, but you’ll be lucky to earn back the money you spent to pay for it.
  5. Being honest and vulnerable when telling a story may mean the story becomes something other than mainstream. Do it anyway. Accessing painful truths is what takes one’s writing from tinkering to art.
  6. Straight people can read and enjoy, with empathy, stories about LGBTQIA characters. Even in Appalachia.
  7. When someone takes the time to tell you they loved your words, whether on a blog post, a poem, or a published work; value them endlessly. Don’t be creepy; but seriously, do not take them for granted.
  8. Know why you write. Type your reason. Print it out. Tape it to the wall so you see it every single day. Without keeping focus on *your* reason, you risk being swept up in other people’s reasons. You’ll start to compare yourself with Stephen King when you don’t even like horror. Stop.
  9. Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, seriously edit. Edit in every single room of the house, on every different device you own, even hang upside down to try to see it differently and then edit the damn thing one more time.
  10. This journey is not about what you get out of it. This journey is about what you give the world. If it’s not saying something new, pushing a little harder than is usually pushed, or offering a better understanding of something often misunderstood… why do it at all?

And with that, I’m going to end this blog post and get back to writing my *next* novel. Look for it in early 2016. Until then, consider buying my other books:

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

Collide, Spin, Wobble, Steady

You might have noticed, or perhaps not, that my blog posts have become fewer and farther between. They have also been pulled closer to my personal life and less about the world around us. This is not only true of my blog posts, but also Twitter and Facebook.

I am an activist at heart, literally being led by my heart to do what I do and say what I say. Do I expect all the cookies? No, not even *a* cookie. But, for those gathering receipts, you should know I was writing about religious tolerance and diversity back when I had to write letters to editors with a pen and paper. I didn’t do it constantly, and I didn’t do it perfectly. But I have always believed that by pointing out the flaws that exist in our society, even exposing my own flaws, I was helping people understand their part in the harm that resulted from them.

Words mattered because they had power to change people’s hearts. Words could show people of different races, religions, geographical locations, sexual identities, etc. that they are not opposites but similar. Words could show you the humanity of those often seen as a only label.

I believed that about words. And then I didn’t.

On June 4th I released a novella entitled Silencer. It was inspired by a man who set himself on fire to try to change the hearts of the people in the racist town where he had grown up. He had done so almost exactly one year to the date I released the book. I took from that real life tragedy a need to address two issues: racism and mental illness. In Silencer, there was also a corrupt police force.

The following day, on June 5th, the McKinney, Texas Police Department was called to a neighborhood pool just a 20 minute drive from my house. There, a police officer was caught on film throwing a young Black teenage girl to the ground and pressing his knee into her back, then drawing his gun on other Black teens.

Social media lit up and I lit up with it. I was so tired of White people claiming they weren’t racist when I heard, with my own ears, those very people saying racist crap. So, I took to Twitter to lay bare every racist thing I’d heard since we moved to this part of Texas two years ago. That caught the attention of someone working for World Have Your Say, a radio talk show hosted by BBC. He contacted me and asked if I’d like to be interviewed on that Monday’s program.

Initially, I panicked and wanted to throw up. I didn’t want to do the show for these reasons:
1) I am from southern Appalachia with an accent often associated with ignorance.
2) I am not an expert on ANYTHING.
3) I am White and did not want to take the place of Black voices speaking on this issue.

But I finally decided to do the program because:
1) I live in the area near the pool and I have insight to how racism presents itself here.
2) There would be a Black lady on the panel, so I was not the only voice.
3) I was an author with a newly published book dealing with racism. Not doing the show would be saying to myself, “You aren’t serious about your work; you might as well quit writing and get a job at a Dairy Queen or something.”

So I did the show, but I refused (and still refuse) to ever listen to myself on it. I *still* feel all the things I felt about not wanting to do the show. And I was still feeling them a week later when Dylann Roof, a young White racist, shot up an historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. He killed nine people.

I talked to my mother the morning after. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs, couldn’t make my body move the way it should, couldn’t not cry. I said to her, among many other things, “I feel like I didn’t do enough. I was silent when I shouldn’t have been. I know I’ve spoken up a lot, but it wasn’t enough. I think we have to do something. We can’t keep thinking it’s just good ol’ boys being good ol’ boys when they say racist things.”

And I could have taken to social media right then and pushed for what was in my heart, because I felt it was FINALLY time for every single White person to examine themselves and realize they were complicit in the murders of those Black church members. In some way, we had all stood by and allowed racism to be part of our culture even when we knew it was wrong.

But then the third strike hit me and rendered me mute. Something I did not expect took place, leaving me feeling so alone and worthless. Most of the people I grew up with, most of the people I knew from the south, began to rally around the Confederate Flag. Soon protecting that flag was all anyone cared about. They cared with fervent hostility and borderline paranoia. In the heat of that melee, nothing I said would have mattered.

What I needed to do to was speak out against systemic racism. What I needed to do in my very core was point out the harm people were doing in a way that would make them want to stop doing it. But no one was listening.

For a while, I simply posted images of beautiful Black faces to my Facebook wall, not only those beautiful physically but also those who had achieved great things. I know my Black friends and those with multiracial families appreciated the gesture, but I don’t know that it had any effect on the overall problem. By that time, I’d already slipped off the ledge.

Speaking of mental illness, there have been many times in my life when I struggled with anxiety and depression. At age 42, I’ve come to be very self-aware about what is going on inside my head chemically. I no longer panic because I’m panicking. I no longer become sad because I feel sad. I just wait it out, optimistic that it will pass. Eventually.

I was so sure it would pass that I didn’t even make it an issue. I was sad. Okay. Fine. Life goes on. Right? I put one reluctant foot in front of the other reluctant foot and I did what was necessary around the house. But I gave myself permission to withdraw from social situations as needed, and that included social media. The world would go on without me, and it did.

Now, I am trying to come back, thoughtfully. I have spent many weeks analyzing my own actions over the years and contemplating ways to prevent similar failures. I have come to accept that I am part of the problem, but to also see that I am trying not to be. And if I am trying not to be the problem, then perhaps I have some value among others who are trying not to be the problem, too. I once again believe my voice matters, in a small enough way to break me out of my silence.

So expect to see my name come up more often on WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook. Expect that I will once again share my observations and thoughts about the ways we treat each other. Expect that I will try to inspire us both to be better people.

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

My Mom Wants to Nickname You and Other Facts

At the end of yesterday’s depressing blog post about the publishing industry (warning: it contains deep sadness and sarcasm), I said I would make my next post about rainbows and unicorns. Well, this post is about something even better: My mother.

Here we are in 1973 in east Tennessee.

JulieandCarol

You will be hearing a lot about my mother in the coming year. She and I are writing a novel together. Much of it will be based on her childhood years after her mother died. I can not wait to get started on this project with her. Actually, she is the creative drive behind it and I am just the one to make it happen technically. My mom has macular degeneration (which came on quickly in 2012 making her legally blind, though she still has some eyesight), and arthritis in her hands which makes typing difficult.

But today, because it is Mother’s Day, I am making a top ten list of things she has done to make me a better person.

1. Mom never judged us or our friends for the clothes we wore, the crazy hair styles, tattoos, piercings, or cleanliness. Mom treated all our friends the same whether they were rich or homeless. She would invite them in and ask if they’d like a glass of tea. Then she would begin telling them stories to put them at ease and make them comfortable to share their own. But she never pried.

2. Mom took us for walks along our dead end road. We carried plastic bags for picking up aluminum cans. We didn’t need the money from recycling. It was just something fun to do, like a roadside Easter Egg hunt. But if we were on certain roads we were not allowed to pick up cans because it was the Potter man’s territory. He needed the money from recycling, so we didn’t take his cans. As a matter of fact, if we were driving down a road where he frequently looked for cans and we had some in the car, Mom would tell us to “toss them out for the Potter man”. This backfired the year my little brother tossed a can out the school bus window believing he was doing something kind. He ended up being suspended from riding the bus for three weeks.

3. Mom was terrible with directions and she wasn’t that great at driving in general, at least not when we were really young. But she decided now and then to take us on vacation by herself. My two brothers and I would climb in the car and she would drive us toward Myrtle Beach with the assumption that one way or another she would find it. Every time we would reach Florence, SC she would point at a car and say, “I bet they’re going where we’re going. I’ll follow them.” And somehow we made it.

4. She used big words we seldom heard anyone else use. She would ask if we knew what the words meant. If we didn’t, she would have us look it up in the dictionary. Mom always wanted to be a writer and has kept journals since the mid-80s. She enjoyed telling us true stories, rumors from her childhood, and superstitions. When I outgrew being read the Berenstain Bears books, Mom and I would read Woman’s World magazine together, take the quizzes, and read each other’s horoscope. She wrote short essays for similar magazines and had a few printed in the sections designated for reader submissions. Words made stories and stories made us live forever.

5. Cake. My mother loves to make cake. When she was a little girl she would have her little brother steal their grandpa’s chicken eggs so she could bake a cake for them. She always had a cake made for Sunday dinner. Before her macular degeneration forced her to retire from her job as a rural mail carrier, she would make cakes for all the other carrier’s birthdays. To her, cake is what you give people to make them happy and there can never be too much happiness.

6. Mom did not just deliver mail to her customers. She listened to their stories, worried about their problems, looked in on them, set them up on dates, and fed their animals if they couldn’t. One elderly woman called her at 6:00 in the morning to ask if mom could please bring her some toilet paper as she came by on the mail route. You may wonder how the woman got my mom’s cell phone number. Well, mom gave it to out to certain customers who might need her. My mom stopped and bought toilet paper and took it to the woman.  She is not afraid to be needed.

7. Thanksgiving is a time for family. Christmas often revolves around the children, but Thanksgiving revolves around the mothers and fathers, grandparents, and cousins. It can be a very difficult holiday for people who have no family. Mom never hesitated to invite people from her mail route or friends of ours who were alone to come share food with us. Not everyone took her up on it, but some did. When there is a stranger sitting at your Thanksgiving table, you see your family through their eyes. It was a gift to be able to do that.

8. Mom nicknames everyone, especially if she loves you and maybe if she doesn’t care much for you. It may be as simple as adding “Lou” to the end of your first name. Her children were “Number 1 son”, “Little Girl”, and “Woody”. Co-workers were Wild Child, Hollywood, Mary-Mary, and others I have forgotten. Sometimes she would use the person’s real first and middle names or create a new middle name. With pets, it went quite overboard. My miniature dachshund, Dorothy, had a plethora of names. Dorothy was Dorothy Diane, Pidy-Tah, Pidy, Pie, and Tah. She called dad, “Chum” and every now and then when I was very little she would say “Chump” under her breath and laugh. Her brothers were Ronald-A, Donald William, Douger, and Rinky-Dink. Whoever you were in all the rest of the world did not matter. Mom saw you as you were to her, and that needed a name all its own. (She may have picked this habit up from her Daddy.)

9. When I was between the ages of 9 and 13, mom would buy things for me and say Dad bought them. I believed Dad had actually bought me an Olivia Newton John record and my very first eyeshadow until many years later. When she told me that she, not Dad, had bought those things and had all but forgotten ever telling me they were from Dad, I was surprised and confused. But looking back on it I remembered how I felt at those times, as if the gifts were proof he really did care about me. She was not interested in being a favorite parent. She really wanted us to have a good relationship with Dad, too. Part of her efforts in bringing that about was to buy me gifts “from Dad”.

10. Mom is a peace keeper, sometimes a peace maker. She calls people Sir and Ma’am. She apologizes when people are upset, even if they are upset at her for things she did not do. We marvel at people who do these things. But as her child, especially as IBooks became her grown child, it is hard to watch. I was not born with her temperament. Justice before peace was my motto. It was difficult to see her hurt by people and know all she wanted was to move on in peace when my entire being demanded I seek justice for her. As an adult I have been known to confront people who have hurt her. I do it in private and shame them mercilessly for hurting her. I leave them with, “All she wants is to be left in peace. If you tell her I talked to you it will just upset her more than you already have, so don’t mention that I came to you.” And because everyone knows my mom is, in fact, a selfless and kind person who does not deserve to be hurt, they would agree not to say anything.

I did not turn out to be a carbon copy of my mother. But everything she is has made me a better person than I could have ever been without her. Growing up knowing my mother had lost her mother to breast cancer when my mom was only 7 years old, I valued her in a way some kids may never think about. I know I am lucky and I never take her for granted.

Our Authority to Remember

I am writing my mother’s book. Rather, I am trying to write my mother’s book.

Whatever genetics are involved in making a person a writer, whether it’s our attention to detail, our love of words, or both combined with a need to preserve history through stories, I got those genes from my mother.

I will not tell you her age, but I will tell you that she is too young to have arthritis and macular degeneration. But she does have them.

She has been journaling since the mid-80’s, about the time she was diagnosed with breast cancer. (She has been cancer free now for 30 years.) I understand why the need to journal arose, and how it eventually became a routine outlet. We want to remember and be remembered.

Even though she still keeps a journal, her physical ability to write and read enough to create a cohesive book is impaired. Add to that these common statements which demonstrate her reluctance:

Mom: “The problem ain’t writing it, it’s finding somebody who wants to read all that.”
Me: “Believe me, people will want to read it.”
Mom: “I don’t remember things like your Uncle does. You should ask him.”
Me: “This is your creation. It’s not a legal document.”
Mom: “I told him you wanted me to write down some memories and you were going to put them in a book. He asked what kind and I told him it was fiction. He said you’d probably write him as a bad guy.” (She laughed.) “I don’t know why he said that.”
Me; “Mom, it’s your book. I’m just helping tie it together and type it out. We’ll do whatever you want. Fiction, non-fiction, fiction based loosely on real life, whatever. But it’s yours.”

I think she’s worried other people will read it and think she got it all wrong. That no matter how much I say, “it’s fiction”, people will read themselves into it. She’s right, sadly, that some people will do that. But she shouldn’t let that stop her from writing it.

Also, Mom doesn’t know yet what she wants the story to be about. Thinking about writing a memoir can be not only complicated, but also triggering. A person’s life is not just a single story, but many joyous and terrible moments. There are many stories that can be told, focusing on the good or the bad or a mix of both. There is enough material for her to write a tragedy. But she could also write the same story as an uplifting account of overcoming the odds. I worry that she is losing confidence by trying to see the entire book before writing the first words.

Honestly, I would love for her to write about her childhood. I have reminded her that she doesn’t have to write about that if she feels uncomfortable doing it. But she keeps bringing it up as if it’s a must, so I think she internally feels it’s necessary. It’s a story she’d like to share. But she questions her authority to share it.

We all have authority to each write our own stories. What people say and do to us can not be controlled after the fact. Different ways of viewing what has happened doesn’t mean that only one of those views is correct. How we experience things has shapes our lives, whether we experience them accurately or not. We own the stories that make up our memories, which make us who we are, and influence what we think and do in the present.

If she decides not to write about her childhood, eventually I will write about it. But if I do it, I will have to write it from memories of stories passed down. I don’t think that’s ideal. I know she has memories she wants preserved. I know she wants to share them. I know she loves to write. She needs to let go of her worries and pick up a pen.

Mom, let’s do this thing.

Winter Seedlings: Jute Confronts Her Mother

I’m sharing an excerpt from Winter Seedlings. This is a small part of Chapter 3 when Jute confronts her mother for abandoning her for four days. Winter Seedlings focuses on the effects of childhood sexual abuse and the difficulty of overcoming them. It’s a journey fumbling toward self-love with a broad range of diverse characters.

In this scene, Jute has been up in the woods behind her house collecting kindling. It is the first week of January and bitter cold. On the way back to the house, she sees her mother getting out of a GMC Jimmy driven by a man Jute doesn’t recognize.

*****

          As long as it takes me to walk to her, she never stops smiling. She is like that when people are around. Even when she shouldn’t be. She makes it hard to stay mad at her.

“Jute, this is Jerry.”

She turns to him and smiles, then looks back at me grinning. She lowers her voice seductively, “We’ve been sleeping around.”

“Momma!” I glare at her. She is trying to be funny but it makes me mad.

“What?” She says, batting her lashes at me and still grinning. “I’m finally free of that asshole. I can do whatever I want.”

She shrugs and walks past me like she’s Marilyn Monroe walking into someone else’s run down shack.

“Momma, I don’t care what you do or who you do it with. Just keep the details to yourself. Okay?”

I follow her up the porch steps and drop the kindling in the cardboard box by the door. Instead of going inside, I head back to the wood pile and pick up two small logs, leaving the largest for tonight. When I enter the house, Momma is in her bedroom talking to me through the door as if I have been there the whole time.
Ignoring her, I open the wood stove door. The heat is heavenly warmth on my face. I grab the poker and jab at the ashes and burned pieces of wood before throwing on the logs. I hear the snapping and cracking and try to focus on that instead of how angry I am at Momma for being gone so long. I can’t keep the door open any longer or the room will fill with smoke. I reluctantly shut it and hear Momma saying, “Jute, are you out there?”

I stand up and take my hat off. Jerry is standing by the couch, rocking on his heels and toes with his back to me. His hands are in his pockets and he’s looking at a picture of Jesus. It’s the only picture in the room, left here by the previous residents. This must be an awkward moment for Jerry. I don’t plan to make it any easier.
Before he has time to gawk at my shaved head, I walk through the kitchen to Momma’s room. She is sitting on her bed in her underwear. Her back is to me, bent slightly forward as she puts one leg into her black pants. Her olive skin stretches over her bony spine. Everything about her is not enough. Even the blanket on her bed looks threadbare. It wouldn’t even keep a dog warm.

A sigh escapes me. “Momma? Momma, what are you doing? We’ve been here a couple of weeks. You can’t run off with the first guy asking if you have change for a dollar.”

She doesn’t turn around. She looks drained. Her voice lacks all the entertainment qualities it had when Jerry could hear her, “If you had been listening to me a minute ago, you would know he isn’t just any guy. I don’t know what I would do without him. I have been a prisoner for too long, married to that crazy man. So, don’t tell me now that I should still think about that psycho before I make my decisions. I’ve snagged a nice man this time. He bought us those groceries, you know.”

My words come out quiet and empty, “That was nice of Jerry.”

Memories of the last week flash through my mind: The day I scraped the mold off the bread and ate it with mustard. I missed the bus Thursday. Missing school meant missing a free lunch. The next day Allie had to pick me up after school so I could make up the Chemistry test. Allie has always made up for Momma’s negligence, but Allie graduated early and is moving to Ohio tomorrow. I don’t say any of this aloud. Momma doesn’t care. If she knew how I felt, she would just use it to hurt me. She didn’t even want me here.

I pick up the hair brush and start to brush through the tangles in Momma’s hair. I gather it in my hand, turn it in a twist, and pin it. She stares at herself in the mirror. I’ve always loved to play with Momma’s hair. It is bittersweet to do it now. She picks up a small mirror and moves it so she can see the back of her head. She kisses the air and snort laughs.

“Oh, my heavens, who is that wretched old woman?” She giggles before pushing up her nose with her thumb and crossing her eyes.

“Momma, you are beautiful. Shut up.” I smile at her reflection, failing again to stay mad at her.

She winks at me.

I tell her, “Now, put on a shirt. And not that red and gold shirt with the clocks all over it. I hate that damn thing.”

I leave the room and find Jerry standing at the fridge with the door open. He’s pulling a container of cottage cheese out of a grocery bag and putting it in with the other items. There’s sliced cheese, bologna, a bag of apples, and a can of peaches. I see bread on the kitchen counter. I pick up the bread box from the kitchen table and carry it to the counter. We can’t leave bread out or mice will get in it.

“Got a mouse trap?” I don’t look to see if he smiles. It was a bad attempt at humor. I sigh.

Finally, after closing the bread box, I look over at him. He’s staring at me, mostly my stubbly hair.

“Is Jute your real name?”

“It wasn’t. But, it is now.” I don’t offer details. I don’t tell him that Momma named me Judy after herself. I don’t understand why she did that. The name Judy is bad enough without it implying that I am also my mother’s replica. I’m nothing like her. When I started kindergarten, I insisted everyone call me Jute. It stuck. We changed it legally when Momma married Earl and he officially adopted us.

“What do you think Judy is doing in there?” I see his eyes land on my tiny scar, then shift around my face trying to find a soft place to land. He gives up and looks away. My face might be full and round, but it isn’t a place to find comfort.

“She has trouble making up her mind,” I say as though I’m not being mean. “I’ll check on her.”

Opening the bedroom door, I see her shoving her folded up blanket into the top of her closet. She’s wearing the clock shirt. There is a suitcase open on the bed, full of her clothes. Her dresser is cleared except for a bottle of baby lotion.

She turns to me and forces a weak smile. She walks toward me as if she is on a t.v. screen. She is just walking toward the camera.

*****

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

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Winter Seedlings / Winter Suns

Without giving away too much of what happens in Winter Seedlings (though a few spoilers are unavoidable), here is the description of the sequel and final book in the series:

Winter Suns

A nameless teenage girl in Eastern Kentucky has been isolated since birth. She experiences her abuse as unquestionably the will of God. She follows the house rules in hopes of banishing her demons and finding redemption. But when she breaks a rule to search for the Bible in order to teach herself to read it, she discovers something more powerful than her faith. A letter written sixteen years ago by a woman named Allie reveals both disturbing and electrifying secrets. The girl feels called to action. She perceives it is the will of God that she find a way to get the letter to Jute, even if none of the maps in the Bible show the way to Nashville, Tennessee.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, Jute has finally decided to clear out the attic to make room for Dawson’s daughter. It has been over a decade since Jute even looked at Allie’s things. She asks her son, John, to take everything to the barn. To him, it’s just a lot of junk. Jute never told him about Allie because it was too painful to tell. But, when John discovers an old photograph tucked inside one of the notebooks, he is instantly drawn into solving the mystery of what happened to the girl. What he discovers is even more devastating than the secrets his mother is hiding. He wants to forget he ever found the photograph, but he can’t.

Winter Suns contains a wide array of characters usually under-represented in fiction. Every letter in LGBTQ is represented here as well as one (or more….?) characters on the autism spectrum. Don’t think this is a sensationalizing story written to be shockingly different. It’s very ordinary and yet unforgettable. I hope to have it published by the first week of January 2015, if all the stars align.

The Edge of Despair – Appalachian Writers

I write about heartache, longing, and despair. These are the elements I love most in stories, songs, and movies. Without an element of sorrow, I can’t relate. I know I am not the only person who identifies most with these feelings. What is the root of this?

For me, I think it has to do with where I grew up. The landscape, culture, history, and experience of southern Appalachia is rich with trials, isolation, perseverance, and longing for times to be just a little better. The people are both dependent upon and at the mercy of nature, beneath the ground and above it. Hearts are pulled to stay and minds are pulled to leave. Staying makes one always wonder about leaving and leaving proves that Appalachia can’t be left behind.

When I was old enough to read adult novels, I struggled to relate to the women on the pages. I knew their lives were ordinary, but not my kind of ordinary. The main character may have been troubled, someone had broken her heart once and she may never trust again. I just couldn’t relate, not that my heart had never been broken. It had. But the women in those novels had it all. They had amazing jobs in big cities. They never ran out of food and their hands were never callused. They were always clean and had the perfect outfit for every occasion, occasions I never knew existed until I started reading. I read a lot of romance novels, trying to figure out what ordinary was supposed to look like. For me, it was like reading fantasy and trying to figure out how to be a unicorn.

I will readily admit that by the time I was born in 1972, times had changed; east Tennessee was nothing like the stereotypical hillbilly culture. Most of the kids I went to school with reviled their heritage. The life we lived was far from the hardship of my parents’ and grandparents’ years. But the stigma persisted and there was no escaping how the world viewed us. By the late ’80’s, strangers stopped asking me if all my family had shoes. By the mid 90’s I no longer engaged with people young and foolish enough to ask me to say certain phrases for their entertainment, but I was well aware of how my speech was heard.

There are exceptions. Not every person in Appalachia likes a sad and lonesome song, nor do they all believe that’s what Appalachia is about. Not every person who likes a tear-jerker novel full of heartache does so because they’re from a place where sorrow abounds. I am only saying this is true for me. Sorrow is the backdrop which gives meaning to joy, magnifies every pleasure, and never allows us to take life for granted. I identified with it early and was drawn to those equally in its grips.

No matter what genre I write, no matter where my characters are born or die, they will inevitably carry this aspect of southern Appalachia with them. My palette for creating them is as diverse as mountain flora, but they all spring up from the soil of heartache.

My first novel takes place in Maryville, Tennessee. The next will take place mostly in eastern Kentucky. They will make you cry, you will feel more alive, and you’ll want to hug someone you love. That’s what it means to me when I say I am an Appalachian writer.