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They're Alive

October 02, 2012

I was typing away about my upcoming trip to Nashville for the Southern Festival of Books, telling the story about how I’ve transitioned from a trembling laliaphobe into a confident public speaker (well, mostly) over the past 11 years and six novels, but, and this is going to sound crazy, I could NOT get certain words to quit playing in my head.

The first words that refused to be quieted are some things Berenice tells F. Jasmine in The Member of the Wedding; “I’m not so old as some peoples would try and make out. I can still ministrate. . . ” Next are words Tom Wingo says in the opening of The Prince of Tides; “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call. I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton . . . I carried the sunshine of the lowcountry inked in dark gold, on my back and shoulders.” Last are some powerful words spoken by Queen Esther in the Old Testament book of Esther, when the King had signed an edict to annihilate all the Jews. She’s a Jew, and she makes a plan to intercede for her people. She says to Mordecai, her uncle; “Go, assemble all the Jews . . . and fast for me; do not eat or drink for three days . . . I will fast in the same way. And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

These stories, these characters, these words, plus untold more, are alive inside of me. I love to read and I love to write stories, and I drink my morning espresso out of a mug that says, “Inspire others to inspire others,” and when I teach writing workshops, I make it a point to share certain words that have shaped my writing. Here are three I keep at my computer.

“I am not afraid that the book will be controversial, I’m afraid it will not be controversial.” Flannery O’Connor

“A novelist must wrestle with all mysteries and strangeness of life itself, and anyone who does not wish to accept that grand, bone-chilling commission should write book reviews, editorials, or health-insurance policies instead. The idea of the novel should stir your blood, and you should rise to it like a lion lifting up at the smell of impala. It should be instinctual, incurable, unanswerable, and a calling, not a choice.” Pat Conroy.

“These novels change us because their authors are willing to draw upon their deepest selves without flinching. They hold nothing back.” Donald Maass.

Amen, Donald. In one memoir writing workshop, I assign an exercise on childhood fears. My students are to pull up repressed material, write about it, and then read their stories aloud. Grown men cry when they release certain things. But here’s the beauty - many times it’s cathartic. Putting those words down on paper is a healing thing for them.

When I began writing Twang, I wanted country music singer/songwriter Jennifer Clodfelter to show how cathartic it is for her to dig up some unmentionable stuff from back home. I wanted to show how a wounded country music diva can use her pain to create powerful songs that touch others’ lives. My prayer is that this novel shows how the seemingly unredeemable things in life can be used for good.

Please tell me what you think. I’m sure you’ve had a few bumps and bruises in your life. Do you find it empowering to share stories of how you survived? Does this help give meaning to your pain?

Truly, Julie

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