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After four weeks of writing, last night I made the final revisions to my latest short story, Samuel’s Wife. This morning, I sat in my study drinking a cup of coffee, my dog at my feet, my family still asleep, and read the story one last time. When I finished, I held the thirteen sheets of typed, double-spaced paper in my hands and thought of how much time I put into each short story I write. When I say I wrote for four weeks on Samuel’s Wife, I don’t mean I wrote off and on, now and then, a few minutes here and a few minutes there. I wrote eight hours a day at least four days a week while laundry piled up, while dog hair accumulated on the red oriental rug and in the corners of the hardwood floors. While my family slept and went to school and spread straw in the garden and bought groceries and watched television, I was locked in my study creating conflict and struggle between two strong women. My medical appointments were postponed, invitations declined. Many nights, I’d still be researching life in southern Georgia during the 19th century until well after midnight. I studied the Trail of Tears and my own family history involving Indians. Interruptions from the outside world caused me considerable stress. For three days straight I had to drop my writing in order to complete end-of-year reports for a women’s club. If you are a writer reading this, you know how difficult it can be to abandon a manuscript and focus on other projects. When writing, I tend to become reclusive with an urgency to control the door that leads to me. But it is never possible to control events beyond my study. Life goes on and pulls me into it, like it or not.
Samuel’s Wife is written in first person present tense. Some say this is one of the most difficult and limited formats for writing, yet for certain stories I prefer the sense of immediacy that comes from first person present and the distinctive voice it demands from the narrator. The opening line of Samuel’s Wife is “Here comes Bess.” To be sure, I tried retelling the story in first person past and third person past, but the story fell flat.
When I wrote Sleeping on Paul’s Mattress there was no other point of view and tense that would work. It needed a strong voice and first person present pulled the narrator’s anger and hurt to the surface where it pulsed with life. Sleeping on Paul’s Mattress starts with, “From my crouching position under the house, I watch a hearse back into the yard and stop right short of the front porch. It’s late in the day, and the sun is bleeding red across the sky for as far as I can see. Four men with fleshy faces climb out of the hearse, straightening their ties, flipping imaginary hairs from their dark suits. They look like white sugar frosting on a shit-pile if you ask me. You can’t dress up poverty like ours. No, you can’t color our house anything but ugly no matter how many polished shoes walk up its decaying steps.”
I don’t always write in first person present tense. Most of my stories won’t accept that limited format, yet I’ve learned to be true to myself and buck off the rules of writing whenever I need something fresh and alive. By doing so, I often open myself up to criticism, but if I am afraid to plow new ground, then I have no business planting words.
Today, I placed Jimmy's marbles under my Christmas tree.
My maternal grandmother gave birth to a son in January 1934. She named him James; they called him Jimmy. As the Great Depression and the boll weevil ate through the pocketbooks of southern farmers, Jimmy's health declined. After a long, dry summer of dying crops and dying dreams, he took his final breath surrounded by family on a hot day in September 1936. My own mother was fours years old at the time. He was two.
As a child who loved to plunder among my grandmother's things, I'd often plead with her to take me to the silence of her bedroom and lift the lid to the old sea trunk, the coffin and crib of her memories. It was always a treat when she'd kneel before the trunk and pull out faded black and white photos from her past. She'd finger the edges of yellowed envelopes stuffed with handwritten letters and show me arrowheads, drawings, report cards, and other items of interest.
While we looked through the trunk, I'd listen for the sound of my grandfather's truck pulling down the long dirt driveway. When it came to the past, my grandfather, who spoke with anger baked on his lips, wanted no resurrections. At the first sound of his truck, my grandmother would slap the lid to the trunk shut and we'd rush from the bedroom. It wouldn't do for him to find us digging up graves.
One summer day, while my grandfather was gone, my grandmother knelt before the trunk and reached beneath the many layers of treasures, all the way to the bottom. With hands reflecting a lifetime of hard work, she fished out a small canvas bag approximately four inches long. She sighed deeply, closed her eyes, and held the bag to her chest. When she spoke, I could feel her heart pulsing on the syllables. "These were Jimmy's."...
He's a big guy who sports a smile true to his heart and shakes with belly laughter that erupts with little urging. In Brackish, a recently released book of poetry, that big man I call friend takes us to the gulf marsh where he digs, revealing entire stanzas buried alive, pulsing under mud and peat, thick and heavy with the past, and spreads the words before us like the day's catch of fish, not yet cleaned, hearts still beating. It is a feast for the soul. Revealing not one thing, but everything, his words drip of brackish water as he writes to and about the gulf ghosts that breathe down his back. Freshwater of the future meets saltwater of the past. His poems reek of home and fish; stagnant pools and marsh; a mill town coughing up sulfur; a father's cigarettes. Jeff Newberry has something to say that is worth saying, and he refuses to wash the marsh and mud from his poetry, dress it up, and spray it with fine cologne. It's a saltwater mouth in Brackish. Good Lord, I smell it.
Dr. Jeff Newberry is a native of the Florida Gulf Coast. His work has appeared in too many print and online journals to name. He teaches at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia. His students adore him.
Brackish is available from Amazon.
I used to write magazine articles for a financial planning firm based in one of the northern states. The CEO was a man who lived his life spiced with exclamation points. He started his days spitting out exclamation points and speaking in capital letters. He’d arrive at the office and say, “HOT DAMN! It’s colder than hell out there!” Later, he’d stop at my desk, open his mouth wide, and exclaim, “I love the way you changed this article! This is AMAZING!” Before the day was over, he’d throw a stack of papers on my desk. “See if you can work your magic on this one! Don’t worry! I don’t need it until tomorrow!” I’d immediately spot a sentence screaming at me from the papers: HAVE YOU DIVERSIFIED YOUR STOCKS!!!!
See what I mean? I always imagined his first cry at birth: “WAAAAA!”
My father was a period man. He never cursed or yelled or screamed even under stress. When he was upset, he’d simply take a drag on a cigarette, blow the smoke out into the night like a nicotine spirit, and say something like, “Umm.”
Yes, my father was a definitely a period man. When his father was dying of cancer, the two of us showed up at the hospital for a visit. We walked into an empty room, the bed made, and no sign of my grandfather. A nurse strolled in, saw us staring at the bed in confusion, and told us that my grandfather had been moved to the funeral home. It was one of the few times I saw my father lost and confused. He said under his breath, “Oh. Oh.” Any possible exclamation points were buried under his sorrow as he pushed from his heart a barely audible period. I imagine my father whimpered as an infant: “Huh. Huh. Huh.” At birth, he was nothing more than a period waiting to grow into a man and live a life filled with punctuation.
When I worked at Bradley University, a student often showed up at my desk wanting to talk. She was undeniably a question mark. She’d crash through the door and say, “I guess you’re having a busy day, huh, Miss Brenda?”
“Yes, it’s busy today.”
“Well I don’t guess you’ve got time to see why the change machine won’t work, do you?”
“Give me just a minute and I’ll take a look at it.”
“I don’t guess you’ve got a few dollars in change I can use until then, do you?”
I would dig through my desk and count out some quarters. She’d continue questioning me. “You know I waited until the last minute to study for my finals, don’t you?”
Everything that came out of that girl's pretty little mouth arrived attached to a question mark. One day, she'll be dressed in a wedding gown when she looks into her handsome groom's eyes and asks, "Will I?"
I knew a man in Washington who loved semicolons: "Brenda, some people will be wearing jeans, khakis, or even shorts tonight; others, those who like to dress up, will be wearing formal attire."
I never heard him speak in a fragmented sentence. Never in run-on sentences. He was a brave man who always chose the dreaded formal semicolon: "It snowed heavily all night; however, I was able to shovel enough snow to get the car out of the parking place."
And then, there is the ellipsis. . . .
It is sometimes difficult to hold a conversation with an ellipsis person: “I believe we’ve met before, Mrs. . . .”
“Yes. It was at the. . . .”
“Oh yes. You were . . . .”
My son has a friend who doesn’t believe in periods or commas under any circumstances: “Patrick I ran all the way over here cause you wouldn’t answer the phone and nobody’s answering my calls and I sent you a text but you didn’t answer it and then finally I got your mother on the phone and she said you were asleep but I knew you’d be awake by the time I got here and I wonder if you want to run up to Starbucks and get some coffee and maybe we can call some of our friends to go with us but only if you feel like it do you have any coke in the fridge I’m thirsty (huff, huff, huff) oh God all you've got is diet coke and you know I don't drink diet coke what are your thinking man (huff, huff, huff) and what the heck is that don't tell me it's Pepsi since when did you start drinking Pepsi don’t you know coca cola was invented right here in Georgia!”
If I had to describe myself in terms of punctuation and sentence flaws, I’d say I’m a comma and a comma splice and a run-on sentence and a sentence fragment. All those things.
This blog post emerged from my struggle over the punctuation of one sentence. I was writing a sentence in a short story and couldn’t decide if it needed an exclamation point.
I guess it does! Maybe it needs three or four!!!! Even better, in CAPS!!!!
Puget Sound 1990
I was taking the ferry to Bainbridge Island, Washington when someone spotted whales in the water. Some of us gathered at the rails to watch. Moments later, the prayerful sound of a violin filled the air. Standing opposite me, an elderly man had brought the instrument up to his face and was playing as though he had no audience. At first, the music came as soft as a snowflake as the whales showed off for us. Then the musician looked past the whales, across the cold water of Puget Sound, and the music swelled, ethereal and haunting. He closed his eyes and played, his body swaying, as he pulled salvation from the heavens and the ocean, from above and below. Tears trickled down his face, leathery and wrinkled, rusty and deep. He took a journey into his soul and allowed those of us on the ferry to travel with him and hear the cries of his violin. The experience was so magical it felt like a miracle.
By the time I reached Bainbridge Island, my fingers ached to write and record the beauty of the day as seen through my own eyes.
Seventy percent of the individuals accosted by an aneurysm bursting within their head will slip into a coma and then pass away that particular day, without realizing what has burst within them. As I got ready for a full day of writing fiction on Tuesday, March 27th this spring, I felt an odd sensation within the frontal left of my head. I told myself that it'd be wise to sit down for safety. Roughly an hour later, I found myself lying on the floor and unable to get up and walk at that moment. I crawled across a small room until I could grab a phone. Having called an ambulance, I then waited, still aware but feeling odd and vulnerable.
By the end of that day, I'd been delivered to a highly credentialed and enormously gifted neurosurgeon in Atlanta. Fortunately, he turned attention toward surgery and advised my wife and family that I seemed to be within the thirty percent standing a better chance of getting through alive.
I spent two weeks in intensive care, recovering well. The most important part of recovery involved my own awareness of my ability still to write. The pieces of characters began coming together within the context of the story I had been ready to begin on March 27th. They began coming together within the friendly home of my head, a head seemingly repaired.
It normally takes a year for full recovery after delicate surgery such as this. I seem to have progressed at a faster pace than that, according to comments from the surgeon. Now I can sit and continue the creative work I had planned for March 27th...and for other days. I can focus as sharply as ever on the drudgery involved in the art and craft of writing fiction, concentrating on keeping that fiction alive and well.
Each and every day when the writer is able to take on another blank page, or set of blank pages in any way, is a gift...appreciated more than ever....
I am the Real Housewife of Douglasville. I know because I have a wine glass engraved with the title. I've written for the Douglasville Patch a little over a year. Here is the latest blog.
One would think that I had learned my lesson years ago. My first transgression was a cold, winter morning in Powder Springs. I’m going back to when the traffic light in front of Johnny’s was a 3 way stop. My brother, Mark, called from a repair shop near where Martin’s is now. He’d taken in his car and thought he could wait for it. Turned out it would be awhile before they could get to it so he wanted me to come get him and bring him home. We were both teens at the time still living with our parents on New Macland. I got up, got in the car and headed out. Literally. Maybe I grabbed a cup of coffee in the kitchen, but that was it because I was still wearing an ankle length flannel gown. I was driving a 1975 Mustang and I got to that 3 way stop sign and my little car started to sputter. I was out of gas. At a major intersection. In a flannel granny gown.
I remember just sitting frozen in my car. Someone startled me out of catatonia knocking on my window. This gentleman, and I’m ashamed to say I never got his name, pushed my car into the gas station on the corner and put gas in my car. Where ever you are, kind sir, there are no words to thank you for sparing me the shame of getting out in the full daylight of a Saturday morning in my granny gown.
For years after that, I would make sure that no matter where I went, I was at least dressed, preferably made up too....
Just a little under a year ago I made a decision I was sure would impact the rest of my life for the better. I was only a year out from graduating college with a degree in English, but I had another passion: weather. I decided that I would finish my English degree and then proceed immediately to Georgia Tech to study Earth and Atmospheric Science. From there I would get a good job working at the Weather Channel and somehow – somehow – find a way to pursue my passion out onto the Great Plains each and every spring for storm season. I was set. I was excited. My future was fresh and promising.
In the midst of my excitement, though, I had to face reality. Quiet evenings which were spent reading Shakespeare one hour and studying physics and calculus the next were often interrupted by ambulance sirens and long stays in the Emergency Room. My mother was ill. She’d never been particularly healthy, but things were getting worse now. She’d always been there for me and I was determined not to leave her side, even if it meant lugging a bag full of books up to the hospital day after day. Finally she told me that she and my stepfather had decided to move back to England so that she could be with the rest of her family.
“Will you go?”
“No.” I answered immediately, looking out at the horizon where a particularly beautiful cumulonimbus cloud was alight with the setting sun. “No I won’t.”
But the thought of being left alone in a country which had never quite felt like home became more than I could bear. And then there was always the writing. Even when I was determined to be a meteorologist I was still adamant that writing would be a large part of my existence. After weeks of soul-searching, I decided that I would always have a passion for the weather, but my passion for the pen and for my family was much stronger, and they were both passions which could be more actively pursued across the pond....
I've decided to start a blog which will chronicle my journey as a college graduate while I try to slide into the professional publishing and writing community. It will follow my escapades from the sticky, kudzu-covered fields of Georgia, to the busy, ruthless streets of London, England. You can follow my blog on wordpress.com, by following the link below.
You can also read the blog here:
A Single Snowflake in the Flurry of Life:...
...I was in line with all the other Twilight fans at 11:00 PM waiting to watch the newest release, Breaking Dawn, Part 1. At this point, these films are catering to the fans of the franchise. I can appreciate the books because I began reading them when Twilight was first released in 2006. As a sophomore in high school, I was very interested in fantasy teen fiction specifically "Twilight" and James Patterson's "Maximum Ride" Series. These books catered to my imagination, fed my infatuation with myth and fantasy, and created characters that I probably will never forget.
As an English major with a little experience with film adaptations of novels, I can appreciate the industry's efforts to bring to life the "Twilight" novels. Although actors specifically Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner aren't necessarily A-listers, I appreciate that they are roughly the same ages as the main characters (or were when filming began). What little experience they've had in the acting realm isn't quite enough, but it makes them more realistic that way. At some point you get tired of seeing 28-year-olds pretending to be 19-year-olds in high school dramas. Like the actors in Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" (my favorite adaptation of the Shakespearean play), those actors were between the ages of 15 and 16 when filming began.
However unimpressed most are with the casts' overall performances, the directors of the third and fourth films knew what they were doing: feeding the franchise. Like other "twi-hard" fans, I will be eagerly waiting for the release of Breaking Dawn: Part 2 November 2013, and will continue watching the movies between now and then. These movies weren't made to be brilliant, and critics are judging them too harshly. The cast is happy making their millions, and the fans are eagerly waiting for the next installment.
Yes, I am a fan of Twilight. If you don't like it, bite me....
A professionally edited version of Somerset, a novel by J.P. Cunningham, is now available for purchase at amazon. The new Kindle version will be up for sale within the coming two or three weeks. ISBN 9781453839515. The first edition placed within the top 20% of contestant entries within the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. Cunningham was also one of six nominees for GA Author of the Year in the category of First Novel for 2010.
Look soon at amazon for The Emerald Amulet, a novel by J.P. Cunningham.
One question I am often asked (as an academic historian who writes a YA/MG time-travel series) is "Are your books historically accurate?" It always makes me clench my teeth.
Let me put it this way: The Snipesville Chronicles are more historically accurate than Mel Gibson's movie The Patriot. Or, in fact, any Mel Gibson movie you care to name. But let's pick on The Patriot, shall we?
The studio publicists made a great to-do when The Patriot was released because of the much-vaunted historical research on which it had been based. When they listed the Smithsonian as their principal consultant, however, a little bell went off in my head. The sort of "accuracy" they had in mind, I suspected, was the kind that insists on getting the shirt buttons right, but rather misses the point otherwise.
Alas, I was right. My favorite moment in the movie is a toss-up between the scene in which the Brits murder an entire town's folk by locking them in a burning church (er, thanks for associating eighteenth-century Britain with Nazi atrocities, Mel) and the scene in which free black tenants (!) in South Carolina (!!!) (sorry, snorting here) beg the meanie Brit officer to let them stay with kind Master Mel. There's historical fiction, and then there's outrageous misrepresentation of truth.
I like to think that my books, unlike The Patriot, fall into the former category. But because they are fiction, after all, I do make things up. My characters aren't real, and neither, of course, is the time travel. I'm determined to write about obscure settings and everyday life, so I invent fictional towns like Snipesville and Balesworth.
But I like all my historical material to at least be plausible: My rule of thumb is that It may not have happened, but it could have. I am particularly concerned that my historical characters don't speak in anachronisms or express attitudes and ideas that actually come from more recent times. This means not only checking idiomatic expressions in the Oxford English Dictionary, but also developing the best possible feel for the period, by reading the experts (social and cultural historians), and by immersing myself in the primary sources, the documents that make up the raw stuff of history.
You will forgive me, I hope, for assuming that Book 3 (which is set in 1752) is the book of the series I am most qualified to write. After all, my PhD specialization is early American history, and I'm a recognized expert on eighteenth-century popular religious culture.
Yes...Well. Pride before a fall.
The book is almost done, so it was with great dismay that I learned from Georgia historian Dr. Jon Bryant (a friend and former colleague) that in fact, no, there is no evidence that any convicts were ever sent to Georgia. That's a myth that first appeared in the 19th century, and it has been repeated as gospel truth ever since, including by professional historians who rely on other sources. I had bought it, hook, line, and sinker.
This is a problem, to say the least, since my plot depends on that very assumption. My first inclination was simply to forge on with my plot regardless of the consequences (I know you don't want spoilers, so I shan't give details), and simply explain in the back of the book. Jon was as relaxed about this as I was, because we know that the best that historians can ever hope for is to piece together evidence in the right direction. And, after all, I am writing fiction.
But, being a good historian, I was still bothered. That's when I realized that ships can get lost: And, Jon assured me, there is precedent for at least one transatlantic eighteenth-century ship unexpectedly detouring to Georgia after a storm. (Go back a century, and we meet the most famous lost ship in colonial history, the Mayflower. But I digress.)
The lovely thing about history and the plausibility test is that there is always another story to tell. And as I am fond of saying, nothing I can make up is as interesting as what actually happened. Assuming, of course, we can figure out what happened.
At the suggestion of Kristen Lamb, (she of the We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media (indispensible IMHO), I just read James Scott Bell’s book “Plot & Structure.” It was a little scary reading it since I was more than half way done with the novel I’m writing, so much of the plotting had already been done. But with some helpful tweaks, I learned I was, more or less, doing it right and since I was right in the middle, was able to weave in some “ratcheting up” moments in intensity and conflict.
But the point of my post today has to do with the section in his book where he talks about the two different kinds of writers there are: the ones who live and die by the outline before they start writing and the ones who fly down the mountain letting spontaneity and fate have their way, largely, with the direction of their trajectory. Basically, he calls them No Outline People (NOP) and Outline People (OP). The NOPs, as he points out, have the advantage of spontaneity but they’ll labor longer in rewrite and probably waste some time going down blind alleyways. The OPs, on the other hand, can feel secure in their journey through the book that they know where they’re going…after all, they have a map…but they’ll likely sacrifice some surprises if they don’t fit the outline as written. Mr. Bell suggests the possibility that the sweet spot may be a variation of the two.
I discovered this for myself this week. I’m at the part of my book—maybe the best part—where it’s all coming together. I know where I’m going (I have an outline to go by) and I know what’s coming. I think about the coming showdown in the book before I go to bed at night, I ponder it as I’m washing dishes. I’m at the point in the book where all of if is a little bigger than life for me right now. I know who’s going to get killed and when and why. It’s been all carefully mapped out.
Which is why it surprised the crap out of me this week when I sat down to craft out Seamus’s murder scene only to discover that the man wouldn’t die.
Seriously! I sat there looking at my outline where it clearly said he needed to die to reinforce what a bad guy Finn was and to raise the stakes for Ellen as a setup for the next scene. It was right there in black and white but when I started writing the scene, I felt a physical resistance to killing him off! What was going on here? I got up, took a break, watered the garden and came back. Nope. I could virtually see my character cross his arms and look at me with defiance....
When it comes to writing or reading ghost stories, what better time than the weekend before Halloween? This is a re-blog from the University Press of North Georgia and should totally put you in the mood for some scary weekend reading!
If you’re looking for something good to read in the mystery genre, I hope you pick up copies of my books Little Death by the Sea, Toujours Dead, Murder in Provence, and Walk, Trot, Die. And, if you do, I would love to hear what you thought.
The leaves were changing, the barbecue was spicy, the air was nippy. It was the perfect October day for an outdoor literary festival up in the mountains. Whenever I attend or present at a writers conference or book festival, I always leave with a smile on my face at having met so many awesome writers and readers (the gas that makes us go!) Last weekend was no different. But what was different, was more than one author talking, unhappily, about their publisher. What was different about it, was that almost all of these disgruntled writers were referring to their indie publishers.
Most of us Indies know the drill of publishing to Amazon or Smashwords. It can be a pain in the ass and often takes forever to get it perfect, but it is NOT, as I’m always reading all over the net and can personally attest to, rocket science. So when I heard author after author complain about three and four month time lags before they could get up on Amazon, I was astonished. Furthermore, every one of these authors was giving 50% or more of their e-book royalties to their publishers—their indie publishers. What the heck is going on?
Every one of these Indie authors were selling paperback books for well over $12. For a paperback!! When I gave a local bookstore owner a few copies of my book, Toujours Dead, to sell on consignment, she couldn’t believe I was selling them at the literary festival for $5 a piece. I shrugged. “I make a profit on them,” I said. How? Easy. My Indie publisher (who happens to be ME) does not charge me $10 a book after paying for full production on a print on demand book. These authors had shelled out over $1,000, some of them, to get a print on demand book made—and that didn’t even include the cover design! (Which will bring up another blog topic down the road. The covers were generally pretty awful, about what you’d expect from a writer who’s an expert at writing but less so with the whole design thing. I quake to imagine what they would’ve paid to have their publisher create a decent cover for them!) Then they bought copies of their own book at prices that made it prohibitive to re-sell!
In more than a couple cases, I was told by happy authors (at least they were happy until they talked to me!) that putting their books up on any of the online distributor sites like Smashwords or Amazon cost extra! I told at least five writers that it was free to publish a book to Amazon. One of them actually blurted out: “You lie!”
The ones who had gone totally the other way with a free or bone-cheap digital content provider, like CreateSpace, were happy with their results. Me, I like Create Space for a proof copy or to hand out for reviews before a launch, but have been less than impressed with the quality of their books as compared to a product from Lightning Source. But even there, the few writers who were canny enough to ferret out CreateSpace to publish their books were computer literate enough to design and create their own pdfs. One of them, however, got a little over his head and admitted he had to “upgrade” to get the help he needed. The price shot up like the Titan 1 booster rocket on a clear day....
Most of us have some idea of what a British courtroom looks like, thanks to PBS: Bewigged lawyers pleading their cases before a judge dressed in the mother-of-all-wigs and a red bathrobe; the anxious defendant wringing his hands in the dock; the jury with its obligatory knitting granny.
When I came to set a scene in an eighteenth-century courtroom, I wrote the story first. Only now, on the fourth draft, am I checking my facts. And despite a PhD in early American and British history, I realize that I know very little indeed.
The wigs and robes, the all-male jury: They panned out. But the barrister for the defense? Not in 1752. Only later did the poor accused get an attorney, and even then, only if he or she had lots of money to pay for one, which was unlikely.
I knew eighteenth-century trials were short, so I envisioned mine as lasting an hour. In reality, I learned, the average trial took eight and a half minutes. You read that right.
In the mid-eighteenth century, the law was firmly stacked against the defendant, who had no counsel, and no opportunity to prepare a case. Pretty much, my accused thief would have to make up her defense on the fly. Her best bet was to bring along a character witness, but, unfortunately for her and fortunately for me, the story had already dispensed with the one qualified person who could speak to her good character....
I have lived at 35 different addresses in my life. 13 of those addresses were before I turned 18. The 22 apartments and houses since then are the legacy of an ex-military dependent who spent the bulk of her childhood moving, saying goodbye, saying hello. My husband, who spent his entire childhood and adolescence in one neighborhood and in one house, is resigned to my relentless restlessness (eight of the 35 moves were with him.)
It’s my belief that the feeling of belonging and travel are not mutually exclusive. I think, to a certain degree, we travel in order to feel like we belong. Not only does travel give you a glimpse of the rest of the world, and therefore a snapshot of your place in it, it also helps you to see that we are all a part of one large human family.
In fact, the expatriate experience—one that you’d typically think of as apart or separate from the collective group—is really a definitive exercise in belonging. Nowhere is the feeling of belonging more strongly felt than when you live abroad and happen upon a fellow American. This could be someone you might not bother to cross the street for back home, yet in this context—say one where they are the only American besides yourself in a room of foreign nationals—they are met with real pleasure and enthusiasm.
Think of all the expatriate clubs and organizations in Paris, for example. First, there are an astounding 165,000 Americans living in France today (50,000 in Paris, alone) so they have no problem getting a taco party together to watch American gridiron or feeling like “they belong.”
Then, of course, there’s the technological revolution and how it’s affected the expatriate. When my husband and I lived overseas—he in the late seventies and me in the mid-eighties—contact with family and friends was expensive and slow. A letter to New Zealand from the States could easily take two weeks to get to me. The phone calls—expensive and infrequent—had serious quality issues, (like a humpback was squatting on the cable that threaded along the ocean floor from Jacksonville, Florida to Auckland, New Zealand.) My husband and I often remark how much easier it would be to live in a foreign country today, with skyping, and the instant gratification of cell phone contact. During the decades that he and I lived overseas, we felt truly and completely separated from our support group of friends and family back home....
My name's Annette Laing. I was born in Scotland, raised in England, and came of age in California. So, to ask the question that everyone asks me, what am I doing in South Georgia?
The truth (I was hired as a history professor at Georgia Southern University many years ago) is waaaay less interesting than anything I could make up, which makes a change. So maybe I should dress it up a bit: I was sentenced to live here by the Karmic forces that dictate such things.
What I DO here in South Georgia is a lot more fun than, well, living here. Starting in 2003, I began running tons-o'-fun history workshops for kids, earning myself a bit of national recognition in the form of an Associated Press feature. Inspired by my work with the kids, but with no great ambition for literary success, I self-published my first novel (DON'T STOP READING) as a what-the-hell midlife crisis thingy. Four years, one more book and lots of interesting developments later, I am a full-time writer and presenter. I actually get fan mail. Fan mail!
My series, The Snipesville Chronicles, follows the adventures of three kids from America's most boring town, which just happens to be in South Georgia, who are unwilling travelers in time. In Book 1, Don't Know Where, Don't Know When, they find themselves in England in 1940, right in time for the Blitz, and dealing with the many horrors of wartime Britain (bad food, hideous underwear, Hitler's bombs, etc.) To get home, all they have to do is track down some guy called George Braithwaite, which is harder than it sounds five decades before Google. Meanwhile, one of our time-travelers vanishes. He's in the same town, just 25 years earlier, during World War I. Book 2, A Different Day, A Different Destiny, is set in 1851, and Book 3, Look Ahead, Look Back (coming soon!) in 1752.
I also write stunningly boring academic history on early American religion, but I bet nobody wants to know about that....