I’m excited to announce a new feature on the Intersection!
Every Friday, I’ll post a photo, most likely one of my own. I may simply comment on it (or I may not; I may leave it to you to consider); or I may spin a story or a memoir piece. I hope you’ll respond with your own thoughts.
Last spring, I attended a family reunion, a gathering of distant cousins who were mostly strangers, all linked to my great-great-grandfather who settled in middle Tennessee in the early 1800s. We cousins are a diverse group–all ages, many different professions, some with strong genealogy interests and knowledge and some, like me, more or less novices. I am an only child. Until the last few years, when these cousins surfaced, I’d felt isolated and wished for a big, extended family. Now I have one. We swapped a lot of stories that day.
For the reunion, my husband and I stayed in Corinth, Mississippi, the nearest town of any size to Selmer, Tennessee, where my father’s family roots are. We visited the Civil War Museum in Corinth, a museum that doesn’t glorify the war but portrays its heartbreak and deprivation. We also discovered the little railroad museum built beside the tracks that, as in so many little towns, run right through the heart of things.
The rails in the photograph mark where the east-west and north-south railroads crossed–a significant crossroads for both North and South, thus the battles nearby for the control of that area. Those railroads and the nearby Tennessee River were major conduits for goods and soldiers.
At the war’s end, my great-grandfather reached a crossroads of his own. His oldest son had been killed at the Battle of Corinth. (My father was named for that soldier.) A younger son was arrested for passing himself off as a Confederate soldier and commandeering a horse and a mule. My great-grandfather posted bond for him, using his land as collateral, and when his son failed to show up in court at the appointed time, my great-grandfather went on the run, too, taking his family, including the wayward son, with him.
I imagine him rushing into the house, the door banging shut behind him, telling his wife to hurry, throwing things into the wagon–a feather bed, a chicken crate, pots and pans, maybe my great-grandmother’s travel trunk she refused to part with–settling in the children, and setting off into the night. Leaving much behind: house, land, family, friends, debts, a dead son. They moved to Mississippi, and that’s where they stayed. My grandfather, the youngest child, was six years old.
Colorful stuff, this. The stuff of story.
Think about your parents’ or grandparents’ crossroads. Whose choices have shaped your life?
Now, on to the topic for this blog tour: Writing Process. The challenge is to answer three questions about my work:
What am I working on?
Several things at once.
I just returned from a week in Denver at The Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a terrific community of writers that sponsors a summer Lit Fest—two weeks jam-packed with craft seminars, workshops, and readings. (Look for a separate post about my Lighthouse experience soon.) This week, I’ve been revising the story I submitted to Antonya Nelson’s fiction workshop. Besides that revision, the novel start I’ve struggled with for the last year keeps rearing its unruly head and demanding my attention. I think I may be on to something there, at last, in part because of some insights I had in Denver.
There are a couple of new story ideas floating around, too. I’m keeping a notebook beside the bed these nights in case some inspiration strikes (as it did, briefly, last night). I’m also looking for dreams that might be significant.
So see? The writing and the learning are like dominoes: one idea begets another.
Why do I write what I do?
Ah, that’s an interesting question.
I started out writing poems. Mostly bad poems, I’m afraid. The turn to fiction came in a writing teachers’ workshop at Bard College some years ago where I was required to write a short story. That little story came so easily (I wish they all did!), and I fell in love with the form. So mostly, I’m a short story writer. My husband is responsible for the turn to novels. He kept telling me I could write a novel, and I kept protesting that I couldn’t. Finally, I think the challenge got to me, and I took it on. “A novel is just a long story,” he kept reminding me. That’s true, but there’s a lot more to novel writing than that. I find novel-writing challenging and hair-pulling hard, but I’m hooked, and I’ll keep at it.
As for subject matter: stories can come from anywhere. Many of mine stem from autobiographical material, but they also arise out of observation: a person in a restaurant or on the street, another person’s trauma or desire or fear can provide the spark.
How does my writing process work?
I wish I could tell you that I have this immaculate way of doing things, that I rise at five every morning and write for two hours before I have my oatmeal. Or I write eight hours a day. I’m retired, after all; I should be able to do that, right?
I’m afraid that’s not the case. I’m as likely to sit with my laptop in front of the TV (with the TV on; yes, I know that’s terrible, but I do it sometimes) as I am to go off by myself. I like to write with music in the background, especially if I find music that fits the tone of what I’m working on. I write notes by hand when I’m just playing around, toying with ideas, and then I tend to write long, messy first drafts and revise, revise, revise.
I’m indebted to a few good and faithful readers who keep me honest (and often humble).
I read–mostly fiction but also poetry, memoir, and other nonfiction.
I research. A lot. It seems most stories require some special knowledge or background to flesh out their worlds with specific details. I like that about the process; I’m always, always learning.
I do wish I were more disciplined. That’s a worthwhile goal.
The tour moves on!
I’ve asked the following writers to come aboard the tour. Do hop over and see what they’re working on and what wisdom they have to share:
Marsha Blevins lives in WV with her boyfriend and four fur-children. After long hours of reports and complaints at her “day job,” she unwinds in front of the keyboard writing short stories, novels, or just random rants. After being published in her college literary magazine in the late 1990′s, she took a nearly 15 year break from the pressures that type of fame brought into her life. Better able to cope with being in the spotlight now, she is back . . . and better than ever! Marsha’s blog: Marble’s Words.
Jane Ann McLachlan taught writing and professional ethics at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, before she took an early leave to write full-time. She has published two college textbooks on professional ethics through Pearson Education, a short story collection titled Connections, and a science fiction novel titled Walls of Wind. She has written two
other books which are on offer with her agent, Carrie Pestritto of Prospect Agency in New York, is currently editing her science fiction YA novel, The Malemese Diamond, and researching for her next historical fiction novel. Visit her at http://www.jamclachlan.net or at http://www.janeannmclachlan.com.
Born and raised in Montreal, June Bourgo lives in the beautiful BC interior surrounded by ranch lands. Her debut novel Winter’s Captive has been picked up by Fountain Blue Publishing for re-release with a new cover, to be followed by Chasing Georgia,Book 2 of The Georgia Series. Information about publishing dates and book availability is forthcoming. June is currently working on A Missing Thread, Book 3 of The Georgia Series. To learn more about June and her work, visit her blog, Losing Cinderella.
I have never “reblogged” one of my own posts before, but here I am, on the eve of Mother’s Day, thinking I should write something about my mother, and I just ran across this post I wrote back in 2012. My mother is long dead; the women I write about here were still around at the time this piece was written. One of them, Mother’s best friend, Eleanor, died not too long ago, which makes this piece, especially the ending, all the more poignant for me. So Mother, this is for remembering you: your beauty, your fortitude, your laughter, your sadness. Your love for my dad and for me. Your sacrifices. Your truth.
Enter a room
with four elderly women–all in their nineties–in various stages of infirmity and alertness. They are sisters, and all of them grew up with my mother in a small town in north Mississippi. This means they were all born within a few years of 1920. They were girls during the Great Depression, young women around the time of World War II. I’m visiting with them just before Thanksgiving. They are having a grand reunion, and I’m grateful to be included for a little while.
I have driven to the family farm on a gorgeous late fall day, caught up in my own memories, a little apprehensive, not sure what to expect. One of the sisters, the one I see frequently and have stayed most connected with over the years, has Alzheimer’s and is declining. I’m relieved to see that the others–Julia, Eleanor, Genevieve (what beautiful names!)–are in fair…