Good Newses!

1. The yarn to finish up the Hill House afghan is on its way.

2. The editor loves the Isaac Franklin piece.

3. I sold “The Four Gardens of Fate” to Apex magazine. Yes, there’s a Borges reference in there. And yes, I’ll have more details as I know them.

Strange Things

One thing about “Ashland” is that, even as I’m daydreaming about it, I feel like it must have been done a hundred times. A million. Everything seems so cliched. Of course X. Which lead to y.

Which is why it keeps weirding me out that I can’t find any Southern haunted house stories.

It’s my favorite grad school phrase! “Always already!” It seems like there always already had to be a story like this.

Its absence is eternally confusing to me.

Corduroy Roads

Last night I went out to OZ, which is this huge artistic event space out by the Tune airport. It used to be a cigar factory. It’s pretty ordinary looking from the outside, but it’s extraordinary inside. Wow.

I was there to see William Tyler’s “Corduroy Roads.” It was fantastic. Ha ha ha. You can tell I’m just writing this for my own blog. Saw this. It was amazing.

But so the deal is that Duke University has opened its library’s special collections to artists and commissions works based on the things in it. Which, damn, man. I wish there was some way to make happen here.

So, Duke has these two old books of Civil War images. And William Tyler is a guitarist who’s worked with Lambchop and Will Oldham who is a Southerner. And the piece was… well, there were two movie screens that showed Duke’s photos and moving images made from Duke’s photos. Tyler moved around the stage playing music and ruminating on what it means to be a white Southern man who feels some great desire to make sense of the Civil War but who isn’t one of the boys Faulkner describes as dreaming it’s… I can’t remember… the second day at Appomattox or whatever.

It was really interesting to hear him talk about how even Shelby Foote seemed to not quite get at what Tyler needed someone to try to get at. He had a great quote from Robert Penn Warren’s “The Legacy of the Civil¬† War, 1961.” But mostly he played music, incredible music, while these pictures moved in the background.

I guess because when scholarship can’t scratch your itch, you turn to art to try to get at it.

The part I found most amazing and moving and discombobulating was that, since so many of the images were old photographs, there were a lot of “ghosts,” people or animals who had moved during the exposure time. And so there was a whole portion of the show devoted to looking at those “ghosts” in the photos. It had this effect of making you feel like you were looking at pictures of dead people.

Which, of course, you are.

It was so amazing and the people at OZ were really lovely.

But, for all my talk of what a small town Nashville is, I only recognized one person there. Which is nice and humbling. Here are all these people with interests similar to mine who do things I might be interested in and I don’t know any of them. Not quite so small-townish after all.

Anyway, I think they said it’s touring, so, if you get a chance to see it, I highly, highly recommend it. I’m glad the Butcher insisted I go.

I Have Long-Standing Artistic Concerns

This morning, I was rifling through my documents folder to see if I had “stupidly” made a file containing my gmail password. I had not. But I did find a file entitled “What makes things scary?” It was pre-A City of Ghosts.

Maybe I’m not any better at figuring it out.

I’m really excited about The Wolf’s Bane. My head says to be cautious and to expect at least one more disaster. My heart says, “A month, a month. It’s out in a month!”

It’s even getting a real review, which I am completely nervous about.

Time to Write

I feel like it’s time to get started on the book. But I have about two weeks worth of other stuff to do instead.

Yesterday, my co-worker brought her puppy in. A poodle. He immediately ran over to me, fought with my shoe, and fell asleep at my feet.

I felt like Sonnyboy had given me a pretty awesome gift, because, certainly, the reason I seem puppy friendly is that I smell like a friend to dogs.

I’d like to put that on my resume–friend to dogs.

The Grid

I started a grid for “Ashland.” A spreadsheet that maps out each characters’ crises and the things leading up to them. I’m going on a model of “build-up,” “scary thing,” “crisis,” “new circumstance,” with each character experiencing roughly four crises of various intensity. This should, I think, give me a lot of scary things happening.

It already gave me a good idea of the kinds of things that need to happen in the middle of the novel.

Plus, my goal is not to have everyone hitting their plot points at the same time, but to make sure that they’re hitting them–that they have their own narrative arcs and aren’t just interactive scenery for the main character.

The thing I’d like to figure out is how to leave them in the grid so I can be sure I like each character’s arc, while also somehow ordering them so that I can see what has to happen in what order. Like, the church lady can’t come to the house to help one character until the other character goes to church and meets her.

I’m thinking about some kind of color coding, I guess? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just number things?

Anyway, the thing that I’m still wrestling with is how to plot to ratchet up the creepiness.

I don’t really know what I’m doing, I guess I what I’m trying to say.

Mud

I walked the dog this morning, since it seems unlikely that we’ll get to walk for the rest of the week. And we made it the whole way just wet but not muddy. Until the end, my driveway maybe ten feet away, when I stepped in a huge mud puddle. Up to my ankle.

Our neighbor has planted some trees in the wettest spot between our two yards. I wonder if it will help. At the least, it should help dry the yard up more quickly after it gets all boggy like this.

Meanwhile, our lawnmower is in the shop and our grass needs mowing and I am at a loss as to how to make that happen. I know no teenagers. I don’t know who else you hire to just mow your lawn once.

Reading the Tea Leaves

–I think my Isaac Franklin piece is pretty good. I’m curious and nervous about the editing stage. I don’t know if they’ll let it stand or if they talked me out of it, but I didn’t use the term “black people” in the piece at all. Just “people” and then, when needed, “white people.” That’s the one thing I came away from the Ben & Sue project most firmly convinced of. Who just get to be “people” in a story is who the reader identifies with. The [adjective] people always seem like someone other than where the reader’s sympathy is expected to lie.

–I’m keeping my fingers tightly crossed that everything stays on track for The Wolf’s Bane.

–The trick with needing more yarn at this point in an afghan is that there’s always the temptation to revise the plan, to change the idea behind the afghan. Like maybe the rest of the squares should just be solid colors? But you can’t change horses mid-stream. Well, you can, but it’s a bad idea. The chaos of the Hill House afghan must carry us through.

Hill House Afghan Update of Doomish Not-Badness

I have, indeed, run out of yarn. If the afghan is going to be 6×8, which it needs to be unless C&M are planning to shrink themselves down to half their original sizes at some point in the near future, I need 48 squares. I have 29.

So, fine, I need more yarn. Which I knew this weekend and I didn’t bother to take care of business.

My own fault.

But that means that, in order to keep moving forward on the afghan while we watch TV, I am… I can barely bring myself to say it… tucking ends on the 29 squares.

Yes. Willingly tucking ends ahead of time.

I don’t even recognize myself.

Fallen

I watched Fallen this weekend, which I hadn’t seen in a million years and, wow, is that a well put-together story. One thing they do a really good job of is suggesting bigger stories that you’re only seeing a part of. We don’t know why Jonesy is so loyal to Hobbes, but we see that he’s loyal to and protective of him. We infer there’s some big backstory. I also felt like, this time through it, something had happened to Art–that he hadn’t always been disabled, but that his situation, his frailty, an absence of a wife, that he had custody of his son and that his son was not utterly surprised when he died, seemed to suggest something had happened to him. A car accident maybe? I don’t know. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

And I felt like they laid a lot of groundwork to suggest that the kid might have some kind of story of his own later.

It’s something to remember–that you don’t always have to explain what your characters think is normal and not worth commenting on.

I Do Not Have Enough Yarn for the Hill House Afghan

Which, obviously, I kind of knew this weekend, but I did nothing about it. And now I’m a little aggravated with myself. I’m really nervous about this Isaac Franklin piece. And I have a rash all over my hands, on my neck, on my stomach, and my feet itch so much I can only assume it’s about to pop up there.

But my seeds are planted (except the hollyhocks) and my plants are in. And I spent a bunch of time out in the glorious sun. So, I think it’s worth it.

Hill House Afghan Update

From this picture, we learn two important things--the afghan needs to be six squares by eight to be a good size. I don't know if I have enough yarn to get it to that size, but we shall see. The other is that you can't always predict what's going to be important. I really thought it was going to be the tan yarn, but my eye really searches for the blue and the pink.

From this picture, we learn two important things–the afghan needs to be six squares by eight to be a good size. I don’t know if I have enough yarn to get it to that size, but we shall see. The other is that you can’t always predict what’s going to be important. I really thought it was going to be the tan yarn, but my eye really searches for the blue and the pink.

Perennials, I Roll My Eyes

I think the Isaac Franklin thing is in good shape. As is the thing for the Scene.

I have planted a climbing rose and some foxgloves and planted all my seeds. I chased the dog around and now I am exhausted. Which is good because I haven’t been sleeping well this week.

So, I think this means I’m justified spending the evening listening to podcasts and working on my afghan. I was booking along on it and then I got distracted by all this writing stuff.

I’m giving the stripey afghan to S. on Sunday and I am both excited and a little bummed. I don’t know what exactly it is about that afghan, but it’s a favorite. I think both because it was super easy and looks super great. I will miss you, stripey afghan! But you go to a place with a porch and some still cool evenings ahead.

You know, I just realized that, if I had had coffee with a friend this morning, I would have spent my day doing all my favorite things.

The Zoo

This morning, Lesley and I had a meeting with the Zoo about our kids’ book. It went really well and they seem really excited. So, I’m excited. And I was glad to get the chance to talk to Lesley about her art and her creative process. She was telling me that, sometimes, before she starts a piece, she writes a statement of intent so that she feels like she opening herself up to the feelings she wants the work to have and opening herself up to the power of coincidence and unintended things.

I’m pretty eager to think about that in terms of my own work. And she said such kind things about The Wolf’s Bane and it made me excited for it to finally get out in the world.

George Featherstonhaugh

George Featherstonhaugh is a racist, no doubt. In his book, he warbles at length about the calm and placid nature of untroubled Negroes, who only revert to savagery when provoked. But it’s because he’s so biased and so biased in a way that should be sympathetic to the likes of Isaac Franklin, that his revulsion at the slave coffles stands out. How gross does it have to be if someone like Featherstonhaugh is “What the fuck is this motherfucking bullshit evil?”

Anyway, I had been struggling to figure out how to write about Isaac Franklin, but I decided to just go with him being a villain and the white people of Nashville as willing to overlook his villainy I cannot tell you how much I want there to be the word “villainry” which would have a slightly different meaning than villainy. Villainy, in my perfect world would be the actions taken by a villain–plunder, rape, burning down houses, befriending cats, etc. “Villainry” would be the act of being or becoming a villain, adopting the persona of a villain. A peerson’s first act of villainry would, therefore, be to go out and do acts of villainy. Because what bothers me is not so much Nashville missing out on Franklin’s acts of villainy. I mean, yes, he kept sex slaves at Fairview and yes, his neighbors knew, and yes, it did not go unnoticed that he shipped one of his sex slaves and her child off from Fairview right before he married Adelicia. But the raping and the leaving dead bodies in the swamp, he mostly did on the road or down in Natchez.

What bothers me is that white Nashville completely missed his villainry–his transformation into a villain. Because his victims were slaves, white Nashville could not see Franklin’s villainy for what it was and thus missed that he was, in fact, becoming a villain.

But think about it this way. Isaac Franklin loved to rape women. We know this from his letters in which he discussed it. We know that he especially loved to rape enslaved women who, by his measure, looked “white.”

No matter how racist you are, no matter how sure you are that people of African descent don’t deserve better than the depravities the white South unleashed on them, when you hear that a white man has such unabashed enthusiasm for raping “white” women, would you marry your white daughter to him?

Oliver Hayes did. He put his daughter in bed with this monster.

Note

One hard thing about this year, for whatever reason, has been weird class stuff going on. Or, I don’t know. That may be too strong a word for it. I guess I just notice more and more that I, say, could use $100 to replace my wheel cover or the front of my oven and I kind of feel proud because I could put $100 toward either of those things, if I had to.

But there’s always something else a little more necessary in the house, so I haven’t gotten around to it.

I’m constantly aware of how big a change that is from the days when there’d be no money for anything, necessary or not.

But lately there just seems to be a lot of stuff where the people I’m talking about talk about $100 the way I talk about $10.

And sometimes it makes me feel like I’m among strangers whose customs I don’t understand.

It’s tough.

Unbreak My Dog

The dog is on thirty days of anti-worm medication, which we were supposed to give him in cheese. It’s been ten days, I think. And you know, a dog can’t eat that much cheese, even a big fat dog.

So, in an effort to unconstipate him, we’ve switched to sandwich meat.

He also seemed to think that it would be nice if I rubbed his nose while he napped and farted.

And who among us does not want that from the people we love?

Isaac Franklin and All His Stuff

So, I read the one biography of Isaac Franklin. It was written back in the 30s and purports to be scholarly. But it’s the kind of book where, whenever the guy quotes someone in the 1830s being viscerally disgusted upon seeing what Franklin was up to, he has some footnote about how that person is obviously ignorant and we all these days understand that people are complex. And even this biographer, smoother-overer of all things unseemly about Franklin, says he had “mulatto mistresses” at Fairview, up in Gallatin, before he married Adelicia Hayes.

Sex slaves.

He had literal sex slaves and it was so well-known that even the guy who’s devoted himself to shining up Franklin’s reputation can’t leave it unmentioned.

Here’s a list of things we have thanks to Isaac Franklin’s money: Belmont University, the University of the South, Beersheeba Springs, Angola Penitentiary, Gallatin Road, Metro Center (yes, a whole fucking neighborhood because Franklin liked horse racing, which made it reasonable to try to keep that part of town from flooding); the Fairview subdivision, Ledbelly… I mean, maybe you could argue we have the Blues and thus most forms of American music because of Franklin, since he moved so many people into Mississippi in bondage.

Things Happening

1. As previously noted, The Wolf’s Bane is out May 22nd and there will be some kind of party and I would love to see you there.

2. I also have a story in this anthology, and though I don’t know a lot of people with $100 to throw around, if you are and this looks like fun, here you go.

3. I have a big non-fiction thing in the works. I just found out last night that my pitch was accepted and it’s due next Wednesday. I am really excited and also kind of want to throw up. But woo!

I’m the Man

I always have such mixed feelings about going back to Illinois. The Butcher was telling me about how he was poking fun at a girl from Gallatin recently for her claims that she’s a country girl. And then he had a list of things that make a girl a country girl and I scoffed at his list because, by his standards, I was a country girl. And he said, “Yeah, you are a country girl.”

I don’t feel like a country girl. But I kind of blame that on “Nashville.” I remember standing around this guy’s shed while he worked on his car and he probably had a Confederate flag with Bocephus’s face on it. I know he played Junior’s music loudly. And I remember listening to “Country Boy Can Survive” and feeling like it was saying something about me, about my people, even if they were my people only uneasily. But moving here, I’ve learned the hard way that the flag was right–“country” and “Southern” are the same thing to people like Hank Jr. So, all that music I thought was for me, because I did want to spit some chew in that dude’s eye, really wasn’t. I wasn’t, as it turns out, from the right “country.” I still like country music, of course, but I never don’t feel like an interloper now.

Back before that, when I was in junior high, my friend C., lived near a kid who was a year older than us, who had an older brother who was in high school. I am positive we were in junior high, though we may have been freshmen. The guys lived with their dad, who I guess was an asshole, but I never remember him being around.

This one time, we went down there and they were listening to Anthrax, the “I’m the Man” EP. The boys were smoking cigarettes and drinking their dads’ beer. I don’t think they have this genre of kid now, but they were kind of gangly and underfed looking, with longish hair that might have looked “surfer-dude”-ish in other circumstances, but at that time just meant that they wanted to head-bang but too long hair would have caused them trouble with their dad. They always wore black t-shirts and jeans–almost always Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, or Slayer. Sometimes Dio.

Guys like this were often my friends, often my secret, unrequited crushes. They seemed to have this way of slouching through life that suggested that, even if everyone else was willing to act like everything was okay, they knew it sucked and they wouldn’t pretend otherwise, which made me feel less alone and crazy. Other than C., I don’t think I knew a girl who was willing to say that we were living in a hellhole and, mild as it may be, it wasn’t a place a girl ought to live. I missed her when she left. Her mom begged me to make her to come back, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it (if I could have done it).

Anyway, there we were, all sitting around listening to the same song over and over. They offered us beer. I declined. I can’t remember if C. did or not. They offered us cigarettes. We said yes. I think C. had smoked before. I hadn’t. The older brother sat right next to me and helped me light it. He smelled like stale beer, but pleasantly, and smoke, obviously. And, more than anything, I wanted him to kiss me. But his hair hanged in his face and I couldn’t read his expression.

Notecards

I have purchased some notecards, so that I can plot and arrange my plot and rearrange it.

I think I told y’all about the time we went to Rhode Island and I woke up because I hear someone calling my name and then I heard a clock strike 2, but there was no clock and the room the person was calling me from was just an old boiler room?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how unscary that was while it was happening. Nothing seemed unusual or out of the ordinary. It was only upon learning that there was no clock, no person, that it became unsettling.

So, somehow reflection has to be involved for a ghost to work, I think. Somehow you have to know things are out of the ordinary. Otherwise, how would you ever know it was a ghost?

Simple

I’ve been thinking a lot about The Haunting of Hill House and The Red Tree and what strikes me in both is that the stories are simple. Not simple in the sense of “stupid” or “easy” but in the sense that they’re not convoluted. People arrive, explore, discover, and are surprised.

I’ve been sitting around mulling over my characters, developing elaborate histories and convoluted plots. But I think this is the wrong way to go. I need something simple myself. In a narrative where you’re using confusion as a plot device in order to build discomfort, you don’t want your readers to be inadvertently confused.

Anyway, I’m waiting to hear back about a big non-fiction piece. If I have to work on that after Easter, I won’t be starting on this. If not, then I’m going to get on this.

Good Job, Tan

See how your eye is all "This is a square." and the tan says "No, something's wrong."?!

See how your eye is all “This is a square.” and the tan says “No, something’s wrong.”?!

The tan makes it uncanny, confirms that things are not lying up right.

The tan makes it uncanny, confirms that things are not lying up right.

This may be my favorite square in the bunch just because of how it gives me the heebie jeebies.

This may be my favorite square in the bunch just because of how it gives me the heebie jeebies.

Anti-Euclidian Farm

I’m now four squares into this afghan (though it’s still not clear how many squares I will need) and it is tickling me. It’s very landscapey, like each square is a small farm. But, since none of the lines are straight, it’s also a little disquieting. Like the crop rows lie along a hidden geography.