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Farm stand, sky and coffee. Pretty great trip!

June was fast-paced with pockets of slow. It’s a busy month at work, so of course I took a week and a half off, because I enjoy full mailboxes. It was a week well spent, though.

This was the first year I got to go to Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s writer’s retreat, and I am hooked. It was so refreshing. It was fun to meet people in person whom I’d only met online, and we got to drive through some beautiful scenery (note bottom left photo – Virginia is freakin’ gorgeous). I also got to spend lots of time with a couple of good friends on the way there and back since we drove from Texas.

No matter how busy it is, though, summer is always a heavy reading time for me. I picked up Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking and Susan Hermann Loomis’s In a French Kitchen, both of which I liked. I loved Meagan Spooner’s Hunted. It may be my favorite retelling of Beauty and the Beast. My favorite thing I read this month, though, was Fredrik Backman’s novella called And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. You can read it in one sitting, and if you have someone in your life who is losing their memory, I recommend reading it someplace private where you can ugly cry.

I am growing tomatoes! I have two plants, and they have actual, real green tomatoes on them. I have spent more time on my porch watering and talking to them this month than I have spent on my porch the rest of the last year.

Speaking of the last year, today is my apartmentversary. I have officially been here one year in this great neighborhood where, for the first time in a long time, I did not wake up to fireworks still going off at 4:00 in the morning. Do not ask me if I have finished unpacking yet. It would be a shame for me to be forced to lie to you.

What are you into this month? I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – drop over there and join the fun!

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charlotte

I received an advance copy of Andi’s new book, Charlotte and the Twelve: A Steele Secrets Story. I am so grateful for this new chapter in Mary Steele’s education as an advocate for those whose voices have been silenced or stolen.

As with Steele Secrets, where we first met Mary and her friends, this book deals with race relations and the uncomfortable conversations surrounding them. More importantly, it emphasizes that these conversations are absolutely necessary if any kind of justice is ever to happen. Some of the characters wrestle with their privilege and their guilt. Some of the characters bury their anger, and some of them embrace it. People say the wrong things. They call each other out. It’s helpful to see the tension in these conversations, and I appreciate that, although it’s written for a young audience, Andi didn’t try to mask the tensions.

The parts I loved the most were when old friends and family were unexpectedly reunited. The writing of that peculiar mix of joy and anguish was exquisite. Andi has a gift for holding multiple experiences – anger, grief, relief, guilt, love, discomfort, hope – in the same hand and honoring them all through her words.

Another thing I love about Andi’s writing, particularly with these characters and this ongoing story line, is that there were no tidy bows tied on the ending. It is an admission of all the work left to do and a firm exhortation to do it.

Charlotte and the Twelve releases today, and I encourage you to buy it. Enjoy!

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Steele Secrets

I met Andi Cumbo-Floyd by joining the online writing community she leads. She has helped me with my work and has taught me a great deal about making time for getting it done. I am very excited for you to get the opportunity to read her first novel, which comes out February 9, so I invited her to talk about it here today. Enjoy! And order her book!

  1. Tell us about Steele Secrets.

Steele Secrets is my new YA novel, and it tells the story of Mary Steele, a 15-year-old girl who finds herself unexplainedly in an abandoned cemetery.  While she’s there, she meets the ghost of a slave named Moses and has to fend-off a bulldozer sent to destroy the cemetery.  In the course of her fight to save the cemetery, she learns a great deal about her small mountain town, about her neighbors, and about herself.  And not all of what she learns is good, and all of it challenges her sense of history and self.

  1. What prompted you to write it?

Over and over again, I have read about – and personally witnessed – the destruction of historic African American places, particularly slave cemeteries.  As a country, we do not value these places as they should be valued, and so we let them be destroyed because of our apathy. Sometimes, we destroy them with malicious intent or because of shame.  None of those reasons is acceptable.  So Steele Secrets comes, in part, from that experience and is my way of working through why we don’t care to save these houses, cemeteries, and other historic sites as much as we do, say, a presidential mansion.

I also wrote this book because I wanted to investigate my own heritage – note, small spoiler ahead – as a woman who identifies as white but is a direct descendant of African Americans.  I wanted to study my own thoughts and feelings about that identity, of which I am very proud but still unsure of how to wrap into myself fully.

Finally, I wrote Steele Secrets because at our 200-year-old farmhouse, I often feel the presence of a woman who was enslaved here.  I call her by the name Judith, but I do not know her real name; it’s not recorded anywhere.  So in these pages, I wanted to explore this idea of slave hauntings as beneficent gifts to us in the 21st century.

  1. Describe the research process that went into writing this story.

I actually didn’t do any particular research for this book, BUT I did draw on the research about slavery that I did for my previous book, The Slaves Have Names.  I also used a lot of the knowledge I’ve gained as a member of the Central Virginia History Researchers, a group of professional and independent historians who have worked to save a local African American cemetery and who strive tirelessly to recover the stories of African Americans and their communities in our part of the world.  Plus, I was able to draw from the work I’ve been honored to do with local historical societies; in fact, one of my characters – Shamila – is based loosely on my friend Elaine, who directs the Louisa County Historical Society.

  1. From which character did you learn the most?

What a great question! Without a doubt, Moses taught me the most. . . about what it might feel like to be enslaved, about what it is to forgive but not forget, about what family means.  I don’t want to say too much more because I don’t want to give away too much of the book, but Moses was my favorite character.  I fashioned him after Primus, a man who was enslaved at the plantation I call home.

  1. Which character frustrated you the most?

Oh, Mary, the protagonist.  In many ways, she and I are alike, so her foibles and failings are much like my own. . . and so when she messes up, I get frustrated because I do the same things.

  1. After reading Steele Secrets, I wanted to know more about how burial grounds and other sacred historical spaces of slaves are treated in our culture. What resources would you suggest?

Another great question.  The first resource I’d suggest is Lynn Rainville’s book Hidden Histories: African American Cemeteries in Virginia. The book is chock full of advice about finding old cemeteries, tips on preserving them, wisdom about how to understand the gravestone carvings, and an array of insight about historic preservation.

I’d also suggest that if you live in a place where there are plantations – i.e. most of the East Coast and all of the South – check with your local historical society. Ask them what places of import to African Americans are in danger.  Talk to property owners and see what they know about burial sites, slave quarters, etc., are on their land.

But honestly, we simply don’t have enough resources going into this work.  Every day, historic cemeteries are destroyed.  Every day, houses and other buildings that relate to enslaved people and their descendants are torn down.  So our best resource is ourselves – we can learn about these places and gather people to save them. . . we can take Mary’s lead.

Andi

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer who – with her husband – runs God’s Whisper farm at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where they have 4 dogs, 4 cats, 6 goats, and 23 chickens.  Her books include The Slaves Have Names, Writing Day In and Day Out, God’s Whisper Manifesto, and the forthcoming Steele Secrets.  You can learn more about her at andilit.com.

 

 

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This was originally going to be the background to my 31 Days icon. I look sneaky. I like that, but I couldn’t get the right color of text that would show up in front of the books and the dark space. The writing group at Andilit helped me in my hour of visually challenged need to pick a better picture, a better font, and better spacing.

Large Icon With Text 2

Ah, yes. Much better.

I also received a lot of encouragement from my other online writing group, the Coterie at Awake the Bones. We had several people participating in the 31-day challenge, so we had a thread every day to help us keep up with each other’s posts.

I am thankful for my friend Michelle, my librarian friend and star of my Fandom Friends post. She will read anything I hand her, and she’s done so for as long as we’ve known each other. I need to clear out a place on my shelf where her books will go someday. You’re all going to love them. Also, I am pretty sure I got the idea of taking shelfies from her. I distinctly remember a picture of her with library shelves in the background, and I thought, “Shelfies. That would be a cute series.” So I’m officially giving you credit, Michelle.

Dear Maggie – here is another post where you are mentioned. It happens so often because, even though you are far away, you are still one of my main sounding boards for rants and stories, and a lot of those turn into longer rants and stories of book-ish length. Thanks for loving my rants and reading my stories and for being my partner in crime for NoHoNoPro (No Honor, No Problem) that one time.

I love being friends with Margarett, and I love that this series is sprinkled with stories from our friendship, from our one shelf of sanity to our obsession with Ethiopian food to our compulsion to acquire large numbers of books in a single bound. Thanks for never telling me I have too many books.

This month has made me especially grateful for my parents. My earliest memory is my mom reading Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer to me. She took me to libraries, encouraged me to read anything I could get my hands on, and made me look up answers for myself. My parents insisted that I go to college, and that experience was instrumental in forming me into the person I am today.

Thank you, dear readers. Thanks for your likes and your comments and your emails and your encouragement. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. You make me make this face:

Excited party face

I wrote 31 Days of Shelfies!

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Let’s Dish

Our prompt this week in the writing community at Andilit was “your favorite dish.”

My favorite dish is not actually mine at all. It’s Mel’s. And it’s adorable:

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I kept it for her after we shared an apartment for a couple of months before she got married. She was downsizing to move into her apartment with Adam, and I was happy to look after her peas-in-a-pod serving dish.

This dish is not merely a dip holder; it’s a conversation starter. Prompted by this dish, guests in my apartment have discussed:

  • Decorating
  • Entertaining
  • Weird dishes our families pass down (and the stories behind them)
  • How adamantly one of my friends hates peas (which I do not understand at all)
  • Gardening
  • The importance of color-coordinating food and dishes (there may have been an excess of wine involved here)
  • Gift-giving (or specifically, how if someone gave her something lovely like this, she wouldn’t have to work so hard to pretend she liked it)

A good dish or a good recipe is one that sparks commentary. While I find compliments unnecessary in other parts of my life, there is not a quicker way to my heart than to compliment my cooking, my coffee, or my presentation. I put a lot of care into creating a good dinner experience for guests, and cute crockery makes it easy.

When I’m alone, I still like festive dishes. Aunt Gale gave me part of her old school Fiestaware set, and I love them.

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(Not pictured – cream and sugar set and gravy boat)

I swear that everything I eat off these plates tastes better. The colors are vibrant and cheerful. These plates are also sturdy. I dropped one of them on the kitchen floor once, and it remained intact and didn’t even chip. They remind me of my family – strong and stubbornly optimistic.

These pieces are little artifacts of my life. Ideally, I would like every item in my kitchen to tell a story or serve as a reminder of a loved one. Perhaps one day, they all will.

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Fishbowl

Andi, our fearless writing group leader, prompted us this week to think about what our book would look like when it is published.  She also asked what the movie would look like. So I thought I’d take a break from my word frenzy on Feast and dream of Fishbowl’s future.

“What size will it be? What weight? What color will the cover be? Hard or soft? What images? What type of font?”

I’ve always pictured Fishbowl in paperback and in blue. I like to imagine people adding it to their laptop bag or their backpack to read on the bus or in coffee shops, so it has to be easily portable. Of course, there will be e-copies of it as well, but I like to believe the majority of my readers still prefer the feel of a real book in their hands.

I am stumped on the picture. It seems ridiculous to put a fishbowl on the cover. Too easy. Their story spends a lot of time in coffee shops or drinking coffee or tea, so the picture could be hot-beverage-related. But that also seems to be a bit of a yawn. I’ll have to think about it some more. And by “think about it,” I do mean, “ask other people who are more visually oriented than I am to give their input.”

“Then, consider this, if your book was turned into a movie…who would play whom? What actors would you cast for what roles? Would it be a documentary or a feature film? Where would it be set, or what would the set look like? Would you make a cameo?”

Ahaha! I would so make a cameo. I would be the girl who gets attacked by the bird when she walks down the street.

It would be set in Denton. Because $$$ for Denton. Also, because it takes place here (currently…that may change in edits if it becomes problematic. I’m willing to negotiate.).

As far as actors, I don’t have a lot of people chosen. Here is a working list…

Bob – Adam Brody is my top choice, but I would be happy with Zachary Levi. Maybe Adam Scott. I love Adam Scott. He’s got to be in it in some role.

Jenny – I really love Olivia Wilde in this role. Maybe Zoe Saldana. I like her in anything.

Mrs. White/Caldwell – The reason I named her Mrs. White (not the final name – just a working name) is because I see Betty White when I write her.

James (the jerk) – Someone beefy. I don’t know yet. I’m open to suggestions.

Stephanie – Emma Stone? I actually picture late-twenties Janeane Garofalo, but you can’t go back in time.

Those are the only ones I have a face in mind for.

Now I need a Pinterest board for Fishbowl…

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Rooster

Yesterday, I was planning today’s invitation post and put out a casual call to my fellow writers in the Coterie and the Andilit community for suggestions of books on entertaining/hospitality or cookbooks written by people of color, and they delivered. So now I’m buried in books and having the best time, and I’ll get back to you on that next week. Today, the group prompt from Andilit ties in nicely to invitation.

Somewhere in my neighborhood there lives a rooster.

He crows every morning between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. He might crow at other times, but I live around ten thousand college students who think they have to yell any time they’re awake (apparently), so if he does I don’t hear it. But at 6:30 in the morning, it’s blissfully quiet, and that’s when I hear him.

During the week, I’m already awake by the time he crows, but on Saturday and Sunday, he wakes me up. On those days, I lie in bed with my eyes closed and pretend that I live on a farm.

I imagine first that the hint of sunlight-to-come teasing the edges of my curtains is coming to me from across a field or a grove of trees instead of fighting its way over the top of the monstrosity of a building next door.

I imagine that my bedroom is in a farmhouse and look forward to having my morning coffee on the back porch.

I imagine what the view from that back porch would be. It’s a conglomerate image of my parents’ farm and vineyards and friends’ gardens and maybe it would look a little like this:

Suzanne-49

And once I had finished my coffee, I would go back inside, and there would be my favorite thing about living in a real house with real space and room to entertain.

My dining room table.

This is the best part of my morning dreaming.

I picture elaborate meals I could serve. I see people sitting around the table.

I see myself dusting off all my serving platters to host parties again. I remember times when I met some of my favorite people for the first time at one of my own parties. I picture the get-togethers I used to have – having as many people as I could cram into the space available – encouraging guests to bring their own guests, because there was plenty to go around.

I miss throwing parties.

I miss having the space to welcome a lot of people.

I miss my guests having somewhere to park.

I miss the peace and quiet after they all left.

It would be easy to forget how much I miss living in a place better suited to my soul.

It would be easy, except for the rooster. He thinks he is inviting the morning, but he’s also inviting me to make some space to welcome people in again.

I am still taking submissions for my Invitation to the Table series. Email me your thoughts!

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