Category Archives: Writers and Writing
You guys, it was amazing. The other authors Chet put together were fantastic. Sara was delightful. I mean, who tells a ghost story and gets people in the audience nodding and cheering in agreement?
Then Chet introduced me, said something about wrestling being fake, and a wrestler came out and put him in a sleeper hold! And then the wrestler introduced me.
As I read, Death came out and just hovered next to me. It was fantastic. Every part of it was so amazing.
And the book looks so good!
(You’re not allowed to take pictures in the back room at Third Man, so please don’t tell anyone you saw part of their rug back there.)
And look at the cake!
How is this real life? Really.
Or, as it’s known this time of year, Boo-k Launch (tip your waiter, no need to applaud).
Book is up on the Third Man website.
Snazzy, celebratory cake will be ready for pick-up at 2.
I don’t have what I’m going to read picked out yet, but I’m mulling.
Dire, yet humorous, warning posted on Facebook.
I am as ready as I can be. I am nervous as fuck. I am so nervous it won’t sell well and then I’ll be humiliated. I’m worried that my inability to pull my head out of my ass and get over this small depression is going to hurt the book. But I’m also super excited because the stories are good and I saw a copy of the book and it looks so great. So very great.
It has these cards that go with each story that look like… I don’t even know. Like Victorian goth trading cards? And the cover has this gold foil treatment.
It’s so great.
Chapter 16 posted an excerpt from Jesus Crawdad Death. And they knew all the right places to put the links to things.
JESUS CRAWDAD DEATH
You can now pre-order it! Woo.
I am nervous as fuck. But also excited.
The Southern Festival of Books Panel
You guys, it went so well. The room was packed. The Butcher’s family made it in time to hear me read. The panel was amazing. And the audience was really into it.
Sheree Renee Thomas brought a writer friend who had been mostly quiet and reserved before the event. But my god, he sat in the front row and smiled at everyone supportively and laughed when laughing was needed and shouted out when shouting was needed. It was really great. I was so grateful to him.
I think a lot about what makes or breaks a reading and I have long respected Chet’s (the guy from Third Man, who is always having literary events) ability to get the crowd to be open to stuff they might not be familiar with. But Thomas’s friend knew how to be an audience in a way that I now aspire to be for other writers. That kind of open responsiveness is just so great coming from another writer. It’s like if Penn & Teller tell you your trick is good. They know.
I read the first five pages of “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” and it was perfect. I don’t know that I’d ever read it out loud except to myself as I was revising, so I had the fun experience of discovering that it was really great to read out loud as I was reading out loud. It was delightful.
Something is happening to me, or has happened and now I’m just noticing, but I felt completely at home reading that story in front of that crowd. Seeing nm laugh at places I hoped she’d laugh, in one case, wrote specifically based on a conversation she and I had had about what kind of forgiving Jesus would do. Having S. assure me I was dog-hair-less. The gushing text K. sent me later.
I felt beautiful. Like, not on a surface level. No, that’s not quite it. Not only on a surface level, though I looked in a mirror before the event and considered myself not just passable, but cute. But I felt so sure it was worth everyone’s time to pay attention to me. I felt like someone worth looking at.
I never feel that way. I usually feel like “oh, sorry you have to look at me, but I’ll make it worth your time by being funny or charming or knowledgeable or quirky or whatever.” Or maybe I feel like you love me so you’re used to how I look and it’s not off-putting anymore, it’s just how this person you care about looks.
But yesterday, I felt beautiful. And sure of it. And I never want to forget how awesome that was.
Jesus Crawdad Death
And the cover can now be revealed!
I love it so much. It makes me laugh.
Oh, Hey, Remember My Short Story Chapbook?
It appears that it is finally on the verge of coming out. Jesus, Crawdad, Death will make its debut at the Southern Festival of Books and then there will be some kind of local event of some sort and I’ll probably go up to Detroit and do something there.
The cover is hilariously awesome, like what would happen if Judas Priest was all-women.
You’ll be able to order it from Third Man Records, if you don’t live here or in Detroit. I’ll put up a link when I have one. I mean, even if you live here or in Detroit, you can order it online, but you can also go get it in person.
I reread it last night and I was surprised by how much it seems to have been written right for this moment–full of angry women trying to do the right thing. Plus some murder. Plus some refusal-of-murder.
I hope you all like it.
My editor likes Dynamite Nashville: The blah blah blah we’ll figure out the exact wording of later. Me, too, a lot.
And also, I met with the reporter from WPLN and I think it’s going to be fine. She might just interview me about my project.
Okay, What About This?
The Nashville Plot: Dynamite the City, Terrorize the Country, Thwart the Civil Rights Movement
Then maybe with one of the color images of the Hattie Cotton bombing, since those are so rarely seen?
This is the color I got from the indigo dye vat. She said I could come back and dye it darker if I wanted and I was like “No, are you kidding? This is the most beautiful blue I have ever seen.” It’s almost the exact same color as the black bean yarn, which… in fairness… I also thought was the most beautiful color I had ever seen.
I need to go to Birmingham. I have to figure out the dog situation. Like, can I do a research trip in a day? Can I not get bogged down in interesting details that don’t pertain to my question? Or do I need to do it in two days? In which case, who’s going to watch the dog?
Also, right now the book is called “Busy Looking the Other Way: Why Nashville’s Integration Era Bombings Remain Unsolved,” but I’m entertaining “The Rise of the Confederate Underground: Some subtitle I haven’t come up with yet.” The Rise of the Confederate Underground is better, isn’t it?
Words and Me
I haven’t written a word of fiction all year. I have read, maybe, three novels. I am mildly curious if the desire will come back, but I also do think that a lot of my fiction writing was fueled by anxiety and I don’t know how to do it or if I care to do it with my anxiety more under control.
I feel a little like we’re not supposed to admit that–that getting better means losing things that used to be important–because it might dissuade others from getting help.
But I still think it was worth it.
And I think, someday, I’ll learn to work this new wiring for fiction. Or I won’t. I guess. Either is okay, I think.
I love how this is coming together. I feel sort of bad giving someone an afghan that is more art that blanket. She can never put this in the dryer. It’s not particularly soft. But it’s so beautiful. I think it’s worth it.
I finished a draft of my manuscript yesterday. I need to have something to send to the editor so he can see what I’m up to and this is it. Or will be after I let it rest a little and look through it.
But I also heard from the National Archives and they have the Hattie Cotton file–200 pages–which they will send me. And the J.B. Stoner file, which needs to be read through by their legal team, but that can be done.
The whole Stoner file is 2,000 pages. Obviously, I’m not doing that. But Jesus Christ, how do you end up with a 2,000 page FBI file and one conviction? Like, what then was the purpose of keeping a file on you?
I just want his early years, and that also seems like a much more manageable two or three hundred pages. The archivist who is helping me even found that a bunch of Stoner’s ’58 file was in another spot, and made sure I would know to ask for it.
I suspect that’s either his Confederate Underground activity or his run-in with Bull Connor. In other words, the stuff they did actively try to get him for.
It’s really weird compared to fiction–the process of writing this. When I write fiction, I agonize over everything and am convinced I suck as a writer. Rereading this, I’m like, oh, hey, this is really good. This is really engaging. This is really funny. Like, I’m finding the writing part really easy (knock on wood).
The parts I’m struggling with are bigger-picture things: Should I interview so-and-so? Is there another investigative avenue I should be pursuing? Is there something I’m missing?
It’s a really nice change of pace. Also, those questions aren’t killing me. They just seem like stuff worth mulling over.
Am I…am I enjoying this?
Last night I had my first nightmare about the book. Well, it was about how someone was forcing me to watch The Walking Dead and then I got sucked into the TV show, literally, and had to run from zombies. But I’m not dumb, subconscious. I get it.
I’m very worried that I’m going to miss some obvious fact I need. Or that I’m drawing the wrong conclusions because I don’t have a broad enough knowledge.
I have to keep reminding myself that my primary goal is to give someone better than me a framework from which to work. Someone with more knowledge, who knows these people better than I do, who will look at everything I’ve found and sneer about all I missed and how could I not know that this means that.
Still, you guys, there’s so much that I feel is just… like it’s just laying out right there and no one has put it together.
I got all twenty-two doo-dad triangles done and I’ve now started on the first round of dangly bits.
It’s not so bad if you can get into a groove.
I got some good work on the manuscript done yesterday, too, and I’ve been thinking about how, even thought it’s obvious how close together horror and comedy sit in our brains–why we sometimes laugh at funerals and scream in delight–we don’t acknowledge that very well in real life.
Once something is funny, it’s not dangerous. Or at least that seems to be our overarching belief. And you can see how this bites us in the butt with a guy like Bill Cosby who joked for years about drugging women to have sex with them, but it was funny, so we took it as harmless, even though people were being harmed by him.
And, y’all, these racist terrorists are hilarious. I mean, there is not a stupid, fucked up thing they won’t do. Fuck each other’s wives, steal from each other, spend decades as FBI informants narcing on their friends, try to kill each other in the stupidest ways possible, etc. Literally standing there with blood on their hands insisting the Klan is a heritage association and not violent.
And they were also a deadly, evil blight.
Sometimes, I feel like making something funny makes it safe for us. So, I’ve been mulling over whether acknowledging the humor in my story is responsible.
But I do think things can be horrific and dangerous and also hilarious. And I think it is okay to laugh at dangerous things as long as we don’t mistake our laughter for an indication that the thing we’re laughing at isn’t that bad after all.
Which, you know, I often think is Mel Brooks’ position, but I’m not sure people really get that in his work, either.
And I’m no Mel Brooks, so I worry.
How Things Went, So I Don’t Forget
As you all know, a year ago the FBI told me they’d destroyed their file on the Looby bombing. I thought this was weird and sucked and I’ve been frustrated since then in my efforts to find anyone who could explain why they would do that–destroy the file on the unsolved assassination attempt of a sitting U.S. politician.
I thought it was weird, but I assumed someone higher up the food chain than me would understand it. On Wednesday, I ran into Keel Hunt, Lamar Alexander’s old chief of staff. The Looby file and its destruction came up. He insisted I call Hal Hardin, a former US Attorney. Hardin is too young for my bombings, but he prosecuted Gladys Girgenti.
So, I did. Hardin seemed outraged and confused by what I was telling him. And I was like, well, Jesus, if this doesn’t make any sense to a US Attorney…
Long story short, I’ve asked for Jim Cooper’s help in discovering whether the file was genuinely destroyed, and if so, why, or if it was just misplaced. So, woo to that!
Then I went to lunch and they want to do the book! There’s still lots of details to work out and it’s all very tentative so let’s not go to the bank on it or anything. But holy shit. Big day.
Welp, Today’s the Day
Yesterday, I ran into a dude whose father was dear friends with Looby. He gave me some advice in case I need to ask my local congressmen to put a little pressure on various government agencies to get me the stuff I need.
As usual, I was able to tell him some stuff he didn’t know. Seeing the surprise on his face was just confirmation to me that this is a story that needs to be told, that people locally need to know.
I’m still nervous. Keep your fingers crossed for me, please.
I think I have decided that I like to crochet a lot, but not too much. Ugh, that sentence makes no sense. Okay, there are patterns that are just ‘do nothing but crochet in this direction for this long and then come back.’ Eventually those start to bore me. How many more feet of the same color can I stare at?
But the type of afghan like what I’m working on now, which has a lot of small parts that have to be put together, I also don’t necessarily like. I don’t like when the putting together takes as long as the making of the motifs.
A thing I think I have come to realize about this designer is that, for her, the joy is in the putting together.
And I have to tell you, once I realized this was what she loves about the process, it made me less resentful of how long it’s taking to get everything together.
Anyway, on Thursday I’m going to talk to some folks about the bombing book. I am nervous as fuck.
I really want my book to strike the sweet spot where it is conversational and accessible to regular people and also I want historians to find it useful. But if ordinary Nashvillians can’t read it then I have failed.
But I haven’t read a lot of history books written like I’m writing this–with snarky asides and long meandering discussions of whether a person’s literary aesthetic informs their racist violence aesthetic.
So, I guess, if you have read a book like that, let me know. I’d like to compare approaches.
After I complained about the bombing book, I decided that I’m not writing a history paper or a straight-up piece of journalism. After all, I don’t know who did my bombings. I can’t answer the basic who, what, when, where, why, and how questions (though I do have what, when, and where down okay).
So, I thought, just go ahead and muse. Write the things you want to write. Admit your doubts. Say what you wonder.
And that has opened things up for me.
It’s not going to be very long, but maybe I can get some good pictures.
We met and tried to play with a day old lamb. We barked at everything. Something happened in the back room that caused everyone to laugh, but I didn’t see what it was. And then he wrapped me in the leash and jumped through the railing and he thought that was great fun.
And then I had to go get my oil changed and when I got home, he’d pooped and thrown up all over.
So, what I thought had been an awesome, low-stress trip to the vet had apparently not been. But once he got that all out of his system, he napped and now he seems to be fine.
I really love that I get to take him to a vet where they all love him.
Also, I wrote a lot on the bombing book. Book. Manuscript. Whatever. It feels really good to be writing again. And reading. I was reading through this book yesterday and I literally was like “what’s this feeling?” and it was enjoyment. Pleasure.
Which is not a feeling reading has given me since the election.
But here’s the thing that brings me peace about writing. Even if no one wants to publish it, I can give it to the library and a better historian than me can find it and find it useful.
I was driving home from work on Friday and just as I was crossing the bridge, I realized that I have only ever written fiction to save me. And now that I feel saved, I don’t know how to do it.
It gave me chills, that realization.
And I’m still not sure what to make of it.
I was thinking that one of the things I really admire about my friend, S., is that she has a way of strolling into a room and giving people the impression that they were expecting her, that of course she belongs there. Even her writing frustrations are borne from her knowledge that she’s doing good work and belongs in that community.
I have mostly lived places where reading and writing made you an outsider. And I guess, deep down, I still feel that way in some ways.
I don’t know where I’m going with this. I thought maybe writing it out would give me some profound insight into it, but I guess not.
How to live in the world mostly happy? What kind of work to do with this happiness?
I don’t know. Not yet, anyway.
Post Awesome Let-Down
I wrote my last post for the Post and it ran. And now I’m kind of bummed. I like writing for them because I like trying to find things I think are nifty enough to bother them with. I like how saying, “I’m working on this piece for the Post,” gets doors open. I like that there are still editor-editors, and copy editors, and how much better my writing is, I think, for them. And I like seeing my name there.
It was nice and I’m happy I got to do it.
Last night I dreamed I had lunch with an editor from the Scene who had written up a 25 page document about how they weren’t ever going to run my bombing story because they were under too much pressure from a group of businessmen who were bringing the Olympics to Nashville. And in the 25 page document, the editor revealed he knew where John Kasper’s bomb was.
So, what I guess I’m saying is that those two things feel related, though I’m not sure how.
You Can Take the Kids out of the Church, but…
I went to a poetry reading over lunch at Third Man. The boss also attended. Rule one in Nashville is “be cool,” so I tried to be cool.
But I was struck by how much his demeanor was like a minister who’s excited that the youth group meeting is going so well, but also knows they need that room for a board meeting right after.
So, when it was done, I felt this urge to help move chairs. I saw that one of the poets was also folding and moving chairs.
That was 15 seconds before we both learned that our dads were Methodist ministers.
And she also knew that hymn 88 is Amazing Grace, though that was two hymnals ago.
I’m only supposed to write two posts for the Post this time–one this week and one next–but I sneaked in one about Leander Woods. Once you read it, you’ll know why I couldn’t just not try to tell the nation about him.
I feel a tiny bit bad about imposing on them. But I also feel like you have to take your shots when they’re lined up perfectly.
I didn’t have room to put in how he had enlisted at the same time as a William Woods, who died in the war, or how I also found a couple of Williams who seemed to fit the bill enslaved by the Cumberland Iron Works, but that’s out there for someone else to also find.
It’s hard to explain what a rush it is to search for someone and find him. Like, knowing Leander was from Georgia, it gave me a big clue about what types of situations he might be enslaved in in Tennessee and finding a “Leander,” no last name, which people born into slavery farther south often didn’t have, working under a guy named Woods. Well, that was amazing.
But the bigger rush was finding this guy who I could find before the war, during the war, and after the war, a guy with a large chunk of traceable history and Googling him to see what other researchers had written about him only to find nothing.
Whatever I was going to write, beyond that brief mention of him in the archaeology report, that was going to be the first thing written about him since he died.
Whatever happens to his story from here will happen because I wrote some shit and imposed upon the Post to run a third thing from me.
That’s fucking awesome and delightful. That’s some heady shit, right there.