Boogie, Man!

Last night, I went over to the East Side Storytelling which was Sara Harvey reading and Bill Davis performing. Sara, though sick, was great, as always. Bill Davis was a hoot and his music was fun and his voice was lovely. He’s got a cool Halloween song, which he played acoustically, but which you can hear in it’s full, silly, wonderful glory here.

The venue is another story. Everyone’s food was not good and they basically abandoned our server to handle thirty people who all sat at once. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad for a server. And there were few people inside. They could have sent another server outside to help keep order.

The weirdest thing, though, is that it smelled like a horse barn. Like horse poop and hay. Which seems like a weird smell for a restaurant.

That place is in a good spot and I know people go there and love it and never have any problems. But every time I go there I end up wishing they could get their acts together so that I could go there more often.

Nathan Bedford Forrest

He’s the section I’m working on tonight. I want to keep his section short, because my goal is to write about the kinds of stories about Nashville we don’t tell about Nashville, though it’d be handy if we did because some shit would make sense and there are already A LOT of really good, thoughtful books on Forrest. The world does not need my prolonged thoughts on him.

But I think you’re missing something about how Forrest worked in the Southern imagination–why he was not used effectively by the Confederacy–if you don’t see how he plugs into that “scary man in the woods who’s going to kill you” myth.

I have no idea who’s going to publish this book when I’m done. I’m not even sure what done will look like. Right now I’m just trying to vomit up a first draft so that I can see where I need to do more research. But I am really enjoying writing it.

Pre-October Huddle

1. “All Heart, No Brains” starts tomorrow at 6 p.m. and will run weeknights throughout October, except for the 31st, when I hope to have a special treat for you “Allendale” fans.

2. I’ll be doing a reading from A City of Ghosts over at East Side Story on the 11th at 6, I think? Not sure about the time. I will find out.

3. It appears that “The Wolf’s Bane” aka Project X will indeed be ready for pre-order this month. We are planning a party. I will have more details about that, too.

Woo.

Ha ha ha ha ha

Oh, you guys, I almost wish the October thing were starting tonight. But no, you have to wait until Wednesday! It’s funny and sad and there’s a buzzard Andrew Jackson and a lot of other weird, surprising things. There is a dog in peril, but he doesn’t know it and no one dies, well, except for a dragon, but he totally has it coming. I just couldn’t stand anything too scary or sad this year, so it’s an adventure instead.

My Thing

I really enjoy reading my stories to people. That’s mainly what I came away from the book festival knowing. I don’t mind being on other kinds of panels but the truth is that no one knows anything about publishing right now. If you want to know who’s full of shit, just look for who’s making declarative statements about who’s the bad guys or who’s doing it right or what. So, I feel weird about saying anything in those kinds of panels other than that everyone here is trying to make their best, educated guess at a time when guesses fall short.

But standing up in front of a crowd and reading them something I wrote? Oh, with my whole heart, I love that. I love the silence and the feeling like we’re all experiencing something together.

It’s good to be reminded of that, since so much of being a published writer is being rejected. Which sucks. But being able to read to people? That is awesome.

The Mid-South Book Festival

So, I went over on Friday and I had the book of the woman who did the first panel with me, Laura Cunningham’s Haunted Memphis, and I started to drive around to as many places in her book as I could, but when I got to the Elmwood Cemetery, I was sunk. It was amazing. I was there for almost two hours when I finally noticed there was an audio tour (it was well-marked, I just was an idiot) and I was like, argh, why didn’t I take the audio tour?!

Then I went to my hotel and got ready for the opening reception. That was down at Berke’s Books and was awesome. I got to talk about ghosts, my friend, Claire, introduced me to everyone, and I had a really lovely talk with a country music DJ about Lefty Frizzell. I also got invited to one party and threatened with being kidnapped off to another party. But I went back to the hotel and slept like the dead.

The Festival itself was at the Botanical Gardens. The weather was beautiful and the surroundings were really lovely. Plus, they had a green room! You went and hanged out in there before your session and they gave you drinks and cookies and donuts and answered all your questions. And then, when it was time, they took you right to your session! It felt so fancy and weird. The ghost story session went really well, I think. Laura is really lovely and incredibly smart about Memphis history and we had a lot of common approaches to things, even though she ended up in non-fiction and I ended up in fiction. And the audience asked really, really good questions.

So, we finished up and I had a couple of hours until my next session. I went outside and ran back into Steve Steffens–who came to my session!–and he took me over to his friends’ food truck so that I could grab some lunch. He warned me ahead of time that they were out of bratwurst, because Midwesterners know to prepare each other for the lack of bratwurst. It’s basically how you can spot us in any situation where we aren’t carrying a casserole around, looking for a church basement to set it in. “Careful going to the Quad Cities this afternoon. There’s an accident on I-80 and the traffic’s backed way up. Plus, there are no bratwursts to be had in the traffic jam.” “What?! Thank you for the warning, friend! I will go over to the Walmart before I leave town and pick some up.”

Anyway, since they were out of bratwurst, I had what was ostensibly a hot dog. It was like a hot dog. I mean, I could see how it and hot dogs are in the same family. But hot dogs are like your high school boyfriend. This was like when your high school boyfriend’s hot old brother comes home from college and you spend all day acting a fool trying to get him to notice you. This hot dog was the college brother of regular hot dogs. It had a texture more like a sausage than a long tube of bologna and it had some kind of chunky fat bits like a bratwurst. And then put this sweet pepper relish on it that complimented the flavors of the hot dog so well, which only highlighted that the hot dog had flavors, mild flavors, as you’d expect from a hot dog, but flavors. It was the kind of hot dog you eat and then immediately lament that you can’t share it with loved ones.

But then it was time to go back to the green room to get read for my next session. I met two more authors, both who had been at SIBA the year that my place of employment experienced a great SIBA related embarrassment and was banned from ever returning. And, I’ll be damned if they weren’t talking about it! So, that was weird and funny.

My other session was really interesting. My other panelist was a guy from Memphis who started this company. I was immediately like “Coble could spend a lot of time here.” I learned a lot in that session and again, the audience asked such good questions.

I had a really great time. It was well-organized, friendly, and fun. The People at Literacy Mid-South were just fantastic. The only thing I’d do differently if I had to do it again would be to stay two nights and get to take in some of the other panels.

Project X, what?

You know I’ve almost given up hope. but we had a meeting last night and they seem to think that they’ll be taking at least the limited edition to the printer next week. What?! And that we’re in a position to soon start taking orders for the less expensive edition.

The cover they’ve proposed for the less expensive edition is so awesome and terrible I can’t wait to show it to you. I was like “Can we put a pentagram on the cover?” and then I was like “Well, it’s supposed to be cursed and the Devil is a character…”

Anyway, cautious optimism.

Isaac Franklin Haunts My Dreams

I felt like I came home from Gallatin with something clinging to me. A bad memory that wasn’t mine. All night long, I dreamed about lost little girls. Sometimes I had lost one, sometimes I was the lost girl.

Do you guys read this blog, That Devil History? Today he’s talking about the urban/rural divide. Here are the people mentioned in the text as articulating the rural, supposedly more moral, side of the debate: Thomas Jefferson, James Henry Hammond, the Agrarians, and Sarah Palin. Lumping the Agrarians all together as one and not looking into it/their lives, that’s 50% rapist.

The thing that’s interesting about Hammond–aside from all the gay sex he had–was that he raped his nieces.

In my Isaac Franklin section, I’m arguing that one of the reasons for the slave traders to invite all planters in an area to the “fancy girl” auctions, where the women were stripped and auctioned off in a sexualized way, was that it was both about bonding–that to be a rich, successful planter meant you could just buy your own whore and have her around instead of having to go to the brothel like a normal man, so you and the rest of your cohorts were celebrating that you all had so much money that you could “waste” it on a slaves whose primary labor was sexual–and about hierarchy–the most desirable women at these auctions had the lightest skin color (Franklin even calls one of them “white.”). So, obviously, they all knew they were buying and raping the daughters of other planters. Which meant that they were standing there, in a group, admitting that they desired to rape the daughters of other planters. That the only think keeping them from raping another planter’s daughter with his wife (his white unenslaved daughter, as opposed to his daughter that Franklin might describe as white, but who was enslaved) was the steep social cost.

But the fantasy had to be that the man with enough status could rape another man’s unenslaved daughters and get away with it.

Hammond had that kind of status. He raped his nieces and got away with it. Got elected to the Senate after the scandal blew over.

Their lives were ruined.

I think about Adelicia Acklen, surrounded in death by her children with Franklin, none of whom lived to adulthood. And I wonder what it must have been like to be married to a man like that. Did he stop raping women after he retired? Did he only rape women in Louisiana on those plantations when he was down there without her? Did she sit in her room, watching him walk down the path to the slave quarters, knowing what he was going there to do? Did he rape her?

I have this desire to read some kind of justice into the fact that none of Franklin’s children lived long enough to have children–that he was such a blight on this world that his line ended with him, or that some old witch cursed the fuck out of him and this is that curse playing out–but that feels like a sick way to think about dead children. And it also feels like a convenient lie. We don’t know how many of Franklin’s children lived long enough to have children. We don’t know how many men raped Franklin’s children like he raped their mothers.

But you can go play golf at one of the sites of Franklin’s atrocities. And I guess I don’t know what I’d want us to do instead. My fear is that we’d tear all these buildings down–because their history is so horrid–except a few we’d leave as museums and then we’d get to pretend the problem wasn’t that wide-spread.

The Laundry Never Ends

I tell you, that I didn’t have my parents do some laundry–at least towels–while they were here is a sign of my idiocy so sure I almost can’t believe I have the gall to sit around and complain about how stupid the dog is. Pot, meet kettle.

All I have been doing all day is laundry and writing about Isaac Franklin. I don’t know if it’s very good, but I found it plenty disturbing to write. I’m not trying to write a scholarly book. I want to write a kind of popular history that is well-backed by scholarship. I don’t know how that’s going. But my hope is that it will be fairly short. Because I want people to read it. Ha ha ha.

But I think one thing that I’m kind of displeased about when it comes to the scholarship surrounding Franklin is that, since Franklin and his cronies left such a detailed accounting of their rape-fest approach to life, I feel like their voices become the definitive voices of rapists of slaves. I mean, Edward Baptist writes so fucking brilliantly about how slavery is both a sexual fetish and the fetishization of commodities, but it’s all about raped women and powerless men.

And the thing is that, I think, there’s two things going on here, in part. One, it’s just fucking soul-crushing to look too long at this. I could not not imagine what it must have been like to be those women, raped and stolen from your family and, if you got sick and died, left in a swamp in rural Mississippi, with no grave to even mark your passing. So, of course, with the soul-crushing-ness of it, your brain grasps, just as a defense mechanism, at any kind of shield, makes for itself places you will not go. And the other thing is that other proclivities were probably not going to be so forthrightly discussed.

But of course children and men were raped. There’s very little discussion of it, but of course it happened. It’s what makes Hannah’s story of being purchased as a young girl along with her mother by Jackson and her recalling how Jackson doted on her and let her ride on his horse and on his shoulders. Why would a grown white racist man in a slaveocracy dote on a child he owned?

Now, I’m not saying that Jackson molested Hannah. I’m saying that, when you read about this ubiquitous social evil long enough, all recollections of kindness start to seem suspicious. Like grooming.

It’s hard enough to think of the planter class passing around women like party-favors. To think of them in charge of children separated from their families? With no moral or social boundaries they were willing to abide by?

I mean, at one point, Baptist talks about how Franklin has ended up with a pen full of “small fry,” children unpurchased and separated from their mothers. What happened to them? Who buys a child not yet big enough to do an adult’s work? And what for?

I don’t know. It’s sad and it makes me sick to my stomach, but I feel like pretending like all the rape victims were women lets us avoid thinking of the children and men who must also have suffered that way.

Let Me Tell You a Story My Dad Told Me About a Girl Who’s a Bird and a Dad Who’s a Tree

Oh, you guys, a while back my dad brought me a faded print-out of a story he had written for me when I was a little girl. As far as I know, it’s the only copy. He wanted me to have it because of Flock. And it’s the story of a little girl who’s a bird who goes around to an alligator, a toad, and a tree and asks if they’re her father.

I can’t be sure, but I feel fairly confident this is the kind of story a man writes after about the 24th time through Are You My Mother? and he decides it’s not nearly weird or charming enough, so he’s going to write something better.

And I kind of love that all the things my dad imagines himself to be in the story have similar coloring.

Anyway, he brought me this story and I was just blown away. And then I lost it! I couldn’t find it anywhere in the house and I was just heartsick about it.

But last night, as I was brushing my teeth, I began to wonder if I was smart enough to have stuck it in my closet “for safe keeping.”

And thank the gods, there it was.

Hurray for Stories

On my walk this morning I was thinking that seeing your story in someone else’s formatting really is one of the nicest things in the world. I fret a lot about whether my stuff is any good, and then, there it is, in someone else’s formatting and it lets me finally see if I like it or not.

One thing that I really like about “Zilpha Murrell” is that I can see how I’m becoming a better writer in it. I don’t know what all my own writing shortcomings are (maybe you don’t until you learn how to fix them?), but I’m definitely getting better at holding the reader’s attention how I want it held for as long as I want it held. Pacing, I guess. I’m getting much better at pacing.

I’m also lately, and obviously, if you’ve been trudging along here, obsessed with which stories get told and passed along and why.

But I feel like I should say that, I now feel pretty confident that Zilpha Murrell wasn’t ever a prostitute. I don’t think we can blame that part of the myth on Virgil Stewart–it seems to have come a little later–but it’s from that same made-up vein. But it is kind of cool to see that, in some versions, Zilpha is the one actually running the Mystic Clan, not her son. Which, I guess, explains how it went on even when he was in prison.

1835

Keeping in mind that John Murrell gave this kind of speech to people he later murdered, if Stewart was telling the truth, or didn’t give this speech at all if Stewart was a big fat liar, liar pants-on-fire, it still fucking blows my mind. Here’s what Murrell was going to say to slaves as he attempted to incite them into a nation-wide rebellion:

We find the most vicious and wicked disposed ones, on large farms and poison their minds by telling them how they are mistreated, and that they are entitled to their freedom as much as their masters, and that all the wealth of the country is the proceeds of the black people’s labor; we remind them of the pomp and splendor of their masters, and then refer them to their own degraded situation, and tell them that it is power and tyranny which rivets their chains of bondage, and not because they are an inferior race of people. We tell them that all Europe has abandoned slaver, and that the West Indies are all free; and that they got their freedom by rebelling a few times and slaughtering the whites, and convince them, that if they will follow the example of the West India negroes, that they will obtain their liberty and become as much respected as if they were white, and that they can marry white women when they are all put on a level. In addition to this, get them to believe, that the most of people are in favor of their being free, and that the free States, in the United States, would not interfere with the negroes, if they were to butcher every white man in the slave-holding States.

I remain stunned to see someone so clearly articulate that the wealth of this country comes from black people’s labor in 1835. Even if they meant it to be evil and ridiculous.

Chapter Three May Do Me In

Chapter Three is divided into three parts–the Harpes, John Murrell, and Isaac Franklin and John Armfield. Basically, if you ever cut open someone’s belly and dumped them in a creek, I have room for you in this chapter.

But Franklin is just such a sick fuck it’s kind of ruining the fun of the chapter for me. The research is just grueling. UNC has some of Franklin’s letters scanned in so that you can read them yourself without having to travel to North Carolina and, good god damn, it’s just so fucking… Like I was relieved when I couldn’t make things out, because his handwriting is so crappy.

And, on a more minor note, I swear, there’s no way to do even a tiny bit of research into John Murrell before you start to suspect he was framed. Not very well, but framed. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure he was a “thief of horses and negroes,” but to the extent people claimed he was? No, that was a frame-up job by a guy I think was a great deal scarier in his own way. No one can put a body count on Murrell, but his “biographer” leaves a trail.

Historians, Hear My Plea

So, I’m working on the third chapter, which is now called “In Which Quite a Few People Get Sliced along the Belly, Stuffed with Rocks, and Thrown in Creeks.” And the point I want to make is that, while Indians did attack Nashville and while the Harpes were really evil and really did bad things, we also can’t ignore that their stories all start to have a certain shape–and not just the Harpes, but on into John Murrell and Isaac Franklin and Nathan Bedford Forrest. I’m trying to trace a narrative trope across historical (and, in John Murrell’s case, semi-historical) events in order to make the argument that there’s this kind of “ur story” that Nashville loves, which goes something like this:

Out there in the woods are some scary-ass people. You could be just minding your business in your own home or walking along the road or out on vacation and you’re going to run into a small band of them. They’ll seem fine, if very different than you, but you go a little further and you’re in deep shit. More of them are going to appear. They’re going to attack you and your group. People are going to get raped, killed, and, likely, you’re going to be assaulted with a blade, stuffed with rocks, and tossed in a river (hence the title). If you luck out, you may escape and may have some sort of revenge.

How powerful is this story? Ask yourself this–how closely does the plot to Deliverance hew to it?

But is it cool? I feel like it is–that you can say, “Yes, these things really happened” and acknowledge that the way they got told, what elements were played up and which were played down, is to give the incident the right shape so that it fits a preferred and expected narrative structure. And that I can then trace that narrative structure a hundred years or so.

But some part nags at me that maybe it’s unfair to facts to do this to them.

It’s Going to Hit 100 This Weekend

Which means, if I procure a shower curtain, I can block the Kool-aid afghan out in the back yard. I really hope it doesn’t run.

I have done my first row of broomstick lace on the red afghan. I really, really like it. I’m going to do three rows. I love the color of this yarn, but I’m not really digging the yarn. It’s a little too stringy, too cotton-feeling, even though it’s mostly acrylic, wool, and nylon. So, I’m glad I got something lovely, but, eh, now I know I don’t like that.

I finished a draft of this year’s October thing. It’s not really scary. It’s just weird and funny. And it doesn’t take up all thirty-one days, but I’m hoping I might have something special on the 31st, just for y’all.

So, well, fuck. I guess I’m about wrapping up everything I need to have wrapped up before the surgery. I wish that made me feel better, but it kind of doesn’t.

Dates, Upcoming Dates

September 13 is the Proto-Pulp show in East Nashville. We’re going to try very hard to have copies of the children’s book. Did I try the name out on you? I had been leaning toward “Granny’s Ghosts,” but that was stupid, so we settled on “Tom, Under the Tree.” If the book isn’t there, there will at least be some art.

September 26-28 is the Midsouth Book Fair in Memphis. They’re telling me to bring fifty copies of A City of Ghosts and to have some in the trunk of my car if they burn through those. Holy shit. If I sell fifty copies of A City of Ghosts in Memphis, I will fall over.

October, perhaps pre-sales of Project X? We’ll see. My fingers are crossed.

And, also, in October, I’m going to have print copies of “Allendale” which you should buy because weird things have been done to it.

It’s a Big Pine Forest, With Room for Lots of Sleeping People

You guys, I spent a lot of last night listening to different versions of “In the Pines/Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” and I feel a little like my mind is blown. This is the best thing. Not best song. But I am completely enamored by the song’s ability to completely transform meanings just based on what gets left out or added. In some versions, the singer is a man whose woman is being unfaithful in the pines and he’s heartbroken and calling her on it. In other versions, she appears to be a woman who has to prostitute herself because her husband has died in a train accident and the singer is just someone observing her plight. But in other versions, it’s the woman who loses her head in the train accident and her body has never been found and it is her loved one who is desperately asking her to reveal the location of her body.

I want to write a story like that. I’m not sure how or what it will look like, but, oh, damn, that’s some good shit.

Taste the Rainbow

Taste the Rainbow

Here’s what each of the squares in my afghan will look like. I’m really pleased. I love this yarn so much. I know I say that. I wish I could get a picture that would capture just how beautiful it is, the way the plies wrap around each other is just about the most pleasing thing to look at. I can’t decide why. I like my cheap-o acrylic yarn, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something about wool that just feels more magical.

I am completely drained from yesterday. My meeting with the artist went great. I worry that I don’t seem excited enough, when really, I’m just kind of overwhelmed that this is even happening at all. Like my needle is buried in “excited.” I can’t really seem more excited, even though I’m really thrilled. When she starts putting the prints together, I’m going to go get to see her studio! And she’s going to make sure that there are crows tucked in the book. We’re hoping to have books ready for the Proto-pulp show in September, but, if not, we’ll at least have some prototypes to show people. And, holy shit, you guys, of course I want you to buy my book, but if she sells the art separately, some of you are going to fall over for the spread that’s poor Tom, just a skeleton entwined with the roots of a tree.

The reading went very well. I think the other guy who was there and I were both kind of on the same page, that we were there to support Sara and to make her day go well. And I think she felt that it did go well and that she was well-loved and I feel like that’s also about all you can ask of a book signing. I did laugh, though, as I was coming home because all of Sara’s people are people I think C. and his wife would really enjoy and I’m was like “maybe my job here is just to try to figure out how to make these people run into each other.” I mean, we had an awesome argument over Hamlet. I can’t remember what about, but people toasted at some points and slammed their fists on the table emphatically at others and what more do you want in a fight about Hamlet?

I said the truth about how I felt about Project X as true and straight-forwardly as I know how to be. I don’t know if it will make any difference, but I have now done everything I know how to do.

Now I need to come up with a grocery list.

Stress

The Butcher is grouchy. It started before our parents got here, but it continues. And I’m grouchy, too. Tomorrow, I need to get my oil changed, which means getting up before the birds or being there all morning. Then I have to go meet with the artist for the children’s book and see what’s going on with that. Then I have to run to the store and get things for the 3-6 thing (but seriously, stop on by any time during that time and eat some of the cookies I’m bringing). Then dinner with folks from said event. And then home I hope.

Some things in my fiction-writer life have just been dragging on so long that I think I’ve lost the ability to feel excited about them anymore.

But you keep on keeping on. What else is there to do?