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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I think it turned out fantastic. I admit to still being slightly stung that the writer never contacted me. And I have nits to pick. Like, she certainly came closer to Franklin’s net worth when he died than I did, but Franklin had to have owned more than 600 slaves when he died. He had Fairvue, which could have easily kept 600 people busy and five more industrial plantations down in Louisiana. Those Louisiana plantations must have had a thousand people each on them.
I guess the Louisiana plantations could have already “belonged” to his minor children?
I don’t know. But I like the story a lot anyway, even if I wish I’d been a part of it.
Is it ugly to be jealous in public? I guess so, but fuck it. If more people had been ugly in public in the past, I would know how to deal with these feelings, because I would have seen it done.
I read this blind item the other day obviously about Dwight Yoakam, about how other famous guys were befuddled because whenever he showed up for a Hollywood doodad, all the women would gravitate toward him and the other famous dudes would be left talking to each other.
I don’t know what Yoakam has going on in terms of bedroom skills or if he planted that blind item just for fun or what, but I thought of it while getting edited by the Post. Like, oh, lord, yes, I am grateful for the opportunity to experience this and I wish others could also experience this. Come on, girls and boys, let’s go flirt with the Post and see what it can do.
I wrote a thing, as I do, in the way I do. It was about 1000 words long. They took my thing and cut it down to 890 and made me sound smart and engaging and, I mean, I feel like I write like the Mississippi River. I have a lot of power, but I’m going to wander. There are going to be some back channels. I might run backwards for a while. I might leave some parts miles away from where I’m going now.
The Post edits you like the engineers that messed with the Chicago River. You will be navigable. You will run the other way all the time. You will delight people. And most people will not even notice that that’s not how you used to be.
Edited to add: It’s up!
I kid because otherwise I’d have to sit with my pleasant feelings and just enjoy them and we all know how bad I am at that.
There’s no guide for this shit, you know? And I have friends, now, whose friends appear in the New York Times, who see the names in that paper and know those people and have their whole lives.
But my whole life, the New York Times was… I mean, if a small-town Midwestern girl ended up in the Times, either something very, very shitty had happened to her or she’d become famous. It just wasn’t otherwise a possibility.
I had dinner Saturday with some people who wanted to talk about being a writer and I realized that all the advice I had was insufficient, because you also have to be really, really lucky.
I am, in many ways, really, really lucky.
And I’m proud, too, that I’ve been working hard and trying to do good work and people have noticed.
I still had to clean the litter boxes last night, though.
Like with all formulations of “when x, then I’ll be happy,” the truth is that there’s no “x” that can do that.
You just have to figure out how to be happy independent of all the x-es.
This is wild and delightful. I’m quoted in the New York Times.
I’m not sure what happens now. Like, does someone send me a cake?
Ha ha ha. It’s so ridiculous and nice.
Some things are happening that I can’t yet talk about. But I find it interesting that I have moved, in some cases, from having imposter syndrome on a personal scale to having impostor syndrome for the world.
Like, sure, I am a better writer than I was ten years ago (though sometimes I read my old stuff and I’m blown away by how much better I was at it back then), but a lot of stuff has happened to me because I’ve been ready, yes, but ready and lucky. Like, I was just as good at the things that have gotten me opportunities before I got my lucky break as I was after I had that lucky break.
And I wasn’t alone in the pile of people who are talented and ready but haven’t gotten the opportunity.
I spend a lot of time feeling both very grateful and like, oh, a lot of this shit is also nepotism. Friends hooking up friends because that’s who they know. The deck is stacked.
And I have to figure out how to do a better job of helping other talented, ready people I know get a foot in the door.
My chapbook has been pushed back to late spring. I’m actually relieved. My dad is having his knees replaced–one this month and one next month–and I intend to go sit up there for the surgeries.
But more than that, I wanted to do a book trailer, but I need to find a place I can get fifty blue clawed rubber crawdads, and with the holidays and the kidnapping, I just lost track of wanting to do that.
But now I have time!
So, here’s what I know. It’ll be out early next year. It’s a chapbook–part of Third Man Book’s new chapbook series–containing three stories. The title is also, therefore, a loose table of contents. “Jesus Has Forgiven Me. Why Can’t You?” about Jesus and professional wrestling which originally ran in F&SF, “Mother of Crawdads” about a woman who gives birth to some crawdads at Walmart, and “Little Sister Death” about dogs and sadness and literary influence and St. Francis and stuff.
The chapbooks are inexpensive. The first two are both $7. They’re available at Third Man’s stores and on their website. So, that’s all exciting.
I’m toying with the idea of doing a book trailer that would be just me singing the death verse of “All Creatures of Our God and King” while dropping a luchador mask and a crawdad on the ground. Like, so the video would be shot at floor level. You hear singing, then feet enter the frame. The mask drops into the frame and then, oops, the crawdad.
I have to figure out where to get a stunt crawdad, though…
So, yeah, that’s happening. Me on the same bill as Kiini Ibura Salaam and Pinckney Benedict. That distant noise you hear is me laughing for a million years.
Why would Third Man put me on the same bill as those two? I think it’s okay for me to say that there is a reason and that reason is the exciting thing I haven’t yet told you about, but which you may now have enough information to give a good guess at, and which will become public knowledge very soon.
It’s weird to have good things when everything is so shitty. I mean, I know everything is always so shitty, but sometimes we’re able to meet the shittiness with grace and love and sometimes, like now, we stand here looking at each other in horror not sure what to do.
I’d like to get back to feeling like I can act and my actions make a difference. I’m tired of not reading fiction and not writing fiction, because I’m overwhelmed by the need to know facts and state facts loudly and clearly and repeatedly hoping someone will hear them and know what to do with them.
I would like to tell you a story or a bunch of stories, like I do every year in October, but I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t have them.
I’m just here, nodding when people ask me to tell them old stories, hoping that, if I do that, someday, the new stories will come back.
Edited to add: Oh shit! They announce it in the press release. The news is loose.