Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Voice of Black Mountain

Beginning tomorrow April 30th my selected Black Mountain Stories will be featured in The Dead Mule. I’ve been asked by several people what is your process? How do you sit down and write everyday? How do I come up with the Black Mountain characters? This is as close as I could come to answering those questions. 

For a decade I spent my energy outrunning my southern upbringing. I wanted no part of tall tales, superstitions, and folklore. I think some of my attitude stemmed from my grandmother, who was the first in her family to move from the country to the city. But mostly I was like a lot of others in Atlanta. My goal was to erase the old south out of my life and become chic and worldly.  Gees!

I published my short stories in a variety of small literary magazines, but these pieces never rang true. There was nothing about these creations that reflected me, that reached way down to the bone. In May of 2004, my husband took me on a long weekend trip to a small mountain community, where they just happened to be celebrating the area’s 150th birthday. The weekend was filled with storytelling, bluegrass music, and art. Something about the whole trip seemed familiar. 

And then I thought of those Sundays once a month spent at my great aunt’s farm in the country. We’d sit in the living room with its high ceilings and homemade furniture and sip syrupy ice tea in jelly jar glasses from the depression era. I’d find a corner next to one of the large potted plants and sit quietly until I became part of the rose wallpaper. Soon the women—there was always a roomful of grown cousins—began to cast their spells. My great aunt would pull out her spittoon and offer my grandmother a dip of snuff, which she would take to my fascination. The talk would turn to the real stories. One of my favorites was how my great grandfather brought my great grandmother home from a trip to Atlanta not feeling well. She felt so bad she went straight to bed at two in the afternoon. Two days later her whole head turned black, and she died. Folks believed my great grandfather had a spell placed on her so he could marry a new wife, which he promptly did three months after my great grandmother’s death.

The celebration in the mountain community jogged me to connect to my past.

A few days after returning home from our trip, I stood at the stove cooking hamburgers, and a voice shot through my head. I know it sounds crazy.

“Mama warned me against marrying Hobbs Pritchard. She saw the future in her tealeaves, death.” 

Thank goodness for writing notebooks. I grabbed mine—I keep it with me all the time to angst of my family—and wrote down what I heard. I knew instantly that this character’s name was Nellie, and she did marry Hobbs Pritchard, whoever he was and even though taking this character serious went against everything I was trying to do in my writing, I was hooked on her.

Nellie showed up in my dreams. She spoke to me on my day job. She told me all about her childhood while I attempted to write in my journal. Finally I gave in and wrote her story, Ghost on Black Mountain. This piece poured out of me in one sitting during my lunch hour at work. What would we do without laptops? I knew it was something special. I had found what many writers call their ‘voice’. You could have knocked me over with a finger. This southern, rural mountain girl had shaken my writing upside down.

In a matter of six months, more characters than I could count had popped up. All of them not only had a story to tell, but lived on Black Mountain. Eighteen stories were born. Black Mountain had become a subtle character in the background in each of these pieces.

The stories attracted an agent at a writers’ conference. I signed on with her in late 2006. She is currently shopping my novel, Ghost on Black Mountain, starring non other than Nellie Pritchard.

So have I developed a process in which to invoke new characters and their stories? Does a southerner use bacon grease to cook with? Thanks to some decent successes with essay publications and a wonderful husband, Jack, who said go for it, I write fulltime, a luxury I value.

Each morning at eight I begin with my iced cappuccino. I answer all emails and do what surfing on the internet that I need to do. Promptly at eight-thirty, I turn off my wireless router downstairs so I’m not tempted to check email and begin my writing time by journaling. Much of what I write is whining about the day, year, or decade, but with this out of the way, I address my expectations of the workday. Then I dive into my current project. Right now that would be my second novel, Beautiful Wreck.

I write until 12:30 without a break. This writing can involve keying into the laptop or writing in my notebook. I will write in longhand when I can’t get my hands around what the character wants to say. Longhand always works. It takes me closer to the character, kind of nose to nose. Before I break, I pick up my journal again. I spend some time writing about what was accomplished during the writing session. Many times this reveals where the next section is going or what problem has me stuck.

After lunch I go back and enter the longhand from the morning into the computer. I then take a long walk. Long walks are one of the most important tools I utilize. A walk allows me to meditate and most often many solutions and ideas appear. This is the only time I don’t have my writing notebook with me, but I do carry an index card and pen.

Why do I use both a journal and a writing notebook? My journal is a beautiful book that holds my thoughts and allows me to take myself seriously as writer. My writing notebook is the opposite. It is always a spiral notebook with different designs on the cover. I don’t take my writing life too serious in these books. They are invaluable to me. First drafts often pop up here.   

My writing takes place most of my waking hours. I might write a first draft while my daughter takes her bath. This way I capture the idea as it enters my head. Writing is more than a career for me. It is a way of life. Thank goodness my family loves and supports me, offering all sorts of advice. Ella, my eight year old daughter, says I should write a children’s book about Black Mountain and its ghost. Maybe she’s right. You never know what I might get myself into next.


Ann Hite

Monday, April 28, 2008

Visiting The High

I'm not much on blogging about what I'm doing, but this was too good to pass up. Yesterday, I had a day out with my dear friend Maria. We lunched at Cheesecake Factory and then went moved on to the High Museum of Art In Atlanta. If you haven't been, you must! Louvre Atlanta is worth the ticket alone. One must stand in front of the huge sculpture of The Tiber (Rome 74-125 AD) to understand how awesome artists are to the world. 

But the whole reason for visiting the museum was the Georgia O'Keeffe and the Women of the Stieglitz Circle exhibit. While I went thinking that Georgia O'Keeffe's work would be all I wanted to see, I was struck by the photos of Anne Brigman. I'm still left to think of how she molded her body in the exposed roots of a huge tree. She becomes part of the tree, her long hair mingling with the fine roots. I found her work inspiring. You can watch her progression in life through her photos. 

O'Keeffe's work is overwhelming in person. To stand in the room with her paintings is surreal. There were old favorites and paintings I had never seen. One Painting, Morning Glory with Black, moved me deeply I thought I would begin to cry. Maria asked me why? At the time I didn't know. But now I do. I was moved to tears because she's gone and while her paintings are left with us for apperciation and inspirtation, there will never be anything new. 

I strongly suggest if you get a chance to visit the exhibit before it leaves Atlanta you would!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Teacher And A Mentor

Check out this blog post. My introduction is also been posted at The Dead Mule

All this is fun and exciting, but something even better happened yesterday. While I was doing research on a school, I happened upon the name of a writing teacher that I had in 1991. I couldn't imagine it was really her. 

This wasn't just any teacher. When I first heard her read from her novel Picture Makers at a writers conference in Atlanta in 1990, I felt legitimized for the first time as a writer. I then met her again when she moved to the small town I lived in. I eventually took an advanced writing class with her, where she did take an interest in my short stories. I shudder to think about those horrible stories, but she saw what my writing could be. And she infused in me, a newly divorced mother of three, a confidence in my abilities that I would not have had otherwise. 

When I realized this was the very teacher from so long ago, I wanted to contact her and say thanks. But should I do that? Would she just think I was some crazy trying to get her to promote my writing? She has gone on to start The Atlanta School For Girls and is now the president and director at Literacy Action in Atlanta. Would she remember me? Why would she? 

The idea was crazy. But I couldn't put it out of mind. So I contacted her.  Not only did she remember me, she was thrilled I got in contact with her. She wanted to know if I had any success with my writing and invited me to visit and speak at Literacy Action. My head is still spinning. 

So sixty published short stories and ten published essays later, life has come full circle. In the last year I have reconnected with both that one special teacher and my writing mentor. Both women who helped me see that every time I got knocked to my knees I had to come right back up fighting. 

Both of these women were there when I reached out both in the past and now. Emily Ellison is the teacher/author's name. Becky Wilke is my writing mentor's name. Both have gone on to make literacy their life. 

Thanks to both of you for helping me see the passion in my life. I am trying my best to pass it on. 


Friday, April 25, 2008

It Is Done

I have finished the introduction for The Dead Mule! When I really sat down to work on it, I found the job fun. But I must say every time I have to write about myself or my work, I procrastinate. All this begins to happen next week. It's a big deal for me because the mule has never featured a fiction writer before. Yeah! 

Here's a tiny preview of the introduction:

Often I feel I’ve channeled the Black Mountain Stories from several of my eccentric relatives from long ago. I was born in Georgia and raised everywhere but Georgia until I was ten years old. That’s when my mother brought my brother and me back to live with my grandmother. It was then I began to absorb both wonderful and eerie tales told by my extended family. One of the first stories I heard upon arrival at my grandmother’s home was about a fighter pilot—an air force base was nearby—had crashed into the house down the street. The eighty-year old home was owned by two old maid sisters: one who had spent her life in a wheelchair and the other looking after her. The whole street ran to watch the fire. Some claim to have seen the pilot in the front seat of the jet trying to get out. Others claim to have heard one of the sisters screaming. The only survivor was the sister in the wheelchair. 


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Standing In Line At Wal-Mart

Well, my publication of selected Black Mountain Stories in The Dead Mule is almost upon me. I've been asked to write an introduction to the stories. I'm not big on introductions unless they really provide the reader with information vital to the work. I thought it might be fun to give the reader some insight on how the stories came into existence. Some invented themselves in line at Wal-Mart. I carry a writing notebook with me everywhere I go to the angst of my family. And let's face it standing in line on Saturday afternoon is the perfect place to write. 

Working with Valerie, the editor, at The Dead Mule has been a fun experience. The Mule  has been around since 1995. It is one of the best places to find good southern literature and wonderful poetry. I'm honored to be a feature writer. I did finish the blog post for Valerie. It's so weird writing about yourself. I kept thinking who cares? 

I also have a new goal. I want to get into the Artist Residency Program at The Hambige Center. This goal is set for the distant future. First I have to ween myself from my daughter and husband. Two weeks sounds like forever to leave my family. Plus, I want the writing project I am currently working on to be completed. But the thought of staying in one of their studios for two weeks with nothing to think about but writing is all too appealing. We shall see. Who knows what the future may bring. Someone said that. Who? 

My writing workshop for Smyrna Library will be held in June. I'm putting together an outline now. Helping kids to love words and writing is another goal I have. 

So, I'm off to work. The novel should be finished in the next month. Then I can polish. Gees now I sound like a shoe shine person. 

Writer Woman (Ann)


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mother's Day Give Away

Okay! Melissa, my daughter, is giving away a $25 gift card to Barnes and Noble. Yep, you heard right. This for mothers only. Sign up mothers at:


Good Luck because I'm playing too. It's books! I have to.


Friday, April 18, 2008

More Time and Ramblings

We've only had two comments on last week's reading, so I'm going to give it some more time before I post on the this week's reading. I have finished the book and found it one of the best books I've read. I had to read this in school, but I didn't recall any of the book as I read it again. I guess being an adult and a write puts a whole different spin on the read. That's all I'll say. 

I've been busy with several small projects, meeting deadlines, and of course working on my novel. Nope, I haven't worked on the memoir. I have put it to the side until I finish my second novel. The second novel will be completed in the next month. Yeah! It's title is Beautiful Wreck, so use your imagination. Sometimes I'm so sure of this work's message and on other days, I question the whole effort. Normal stuff for me. 

My Black Mountain stories, Life on Black Mountain, will be published in the next issue of The Dead Mule. The editor is a beautiful person to work with, and she really believes in these stories. My blog post on my writing process will be live on April 28th or there about. The magazine issue will carry eighteen of the original Black Mountain stories. One of these are brand new and being published for the first time. I've since written a new story called Wiggle Room. It features new Black Mountain characters, three sisters: Barbara Jean, Carley, and Ida Tee. This story sprang from my effort to discover more about sister relationships since I don't have a sister. The voice in the story emerged in a writing practice exercise in my online writing group. I hope to find a home for this piece soon. I have only sent it out to one place. I've been so consumed with novel writing. 

I finally received my copy of The Last Lecture. This book has sold out everywhere. If you listen to Randy Pausch speak, you will understand why. He has a powerful message. I strongly suggest all of you to order the book. 

Today is Friday so I have to go write now. I don't get a lot of writing in over the weekends. Would I write on the weekend? I'd write all the time if I could get away with it. Do something creative today! 

Writer Woman
better know as

Friday, April 11, 2008

Chapters 8-15

Post on Chapters 8-15

My favorite scenes are grouped together here in this second section. Of course the whole book is my favorite scene. I can't begin to discuss all of what is wonderful about these chapters. There is just too much. So, I'll hit the high places. Forgive me if I miss your favorite quote. You'll have to post your comments too.

Winter finally comes to Maycomb County, Alabama. Scout's reaction is perfect.

(My screams brought Atticus from his bathroom half-shaven.

“The world's endin', Atticus! Please do something--!” I dragged him to the window and pointed.

“No it's not,” he said. “It's snowing.”)

Jem's idea of making a snowman was hilarious. I love how they go to Maudie's to borrow snow.

(“Yesum!” called Jem. “It's beautiful, ain't it, Miss Maudie?”

“Beautiful my hind foot! If it freezes tonight it'll carry off all my azaleas!”)

The fire that destroys Maudie's home is both serious and comical. Imagine pushing the fire truck to her house and then the hose busts.

We as readers finally get the satisfaction of Scout's realizing Boo is behind the gifts in the hollow tree when a blanket is placed on her shoulders as she watches the fire.

(Atticus said, 'Whoa, son,' so gently that I was greatly heartened. It was obvious that he had not followed a word Jem said, for all Atticus said was, 'You're right. We'd better keep this and the blanket to ourselves. Someday, maybe, Scout can thank him for covering her up.'

'Thank who?' I asked.

'Boo Radley. You were so busy looking at the fire you didn't know it when he put the blanket around you.'

My stomach turned to water and I nearly threw up when Jem held out the blanket and crept toward me.)

My favorite quote in this chapter comes from Maudie.

('Only thing I worried about last night (the night of the fire) was all the danger and commotion it caused. This whole neighborhood could have gone up. Mr. Avery'll be in bed for a week—he's right stove up. He's too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford's not looking, I'll make him a Lane cake. That Stephaine's been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I'll give it to her just because I'm staying with her she's got another thing coming.')

The shooting of Tim Johnson (the mad dog) will always be my favorite scene both in the book and the movie. Atticus' age is finally redeemed with his marksmanship. His children are left speechless.

(“What's the matter with you, boy, can't you talk?” said Mr. Tate, grinning at Jem. “Didn't you know your daddy's--”

'Hush Heck,' said Atticus, 'let's go back to town.')

Then we meet Mrs. Dubose, the old lady with the civil war pistol under her blanket. In my opinion, Ms. Lee out did herself with this character. The dialogue is brilliant. The scene where the children are reading to Mrs. Dubose in her bedroom comes alive with all the senses. I love Mrs. Dubose never loses her sense of winning. The camellia in the cigar box is an excellent touch.

(In the corner of the room was a brass bed, and in the bed was Mrs. Dubose. I wondered if Jem's activities had put her there, and for a moment I felt sorry for her. She was lying under a pile of quilts and looked almost friendly.

There was a marble-topped washstand by her bed; on it were a glass with a teaspoon in it, a red ear syringe, a box of absorbent cotton, and a steel alarm clock standing on three tiny legs.

“So you brought that dirty little sister of yours, did you?” was her greeting.”)

The conflict between Calpurnia and Lula lent credence to this novel. The deep message of this book for me is: We're all basically the same. Period. Never assume you are above any train of thought or action.

The description of the cemetery in at Calpurnia's church makes me think of an old graveyard I saw a couple of years ago. The things that had been placed on the graves suggested visitors spent a lot of time visiting.

(“The churchyard was brick-hard clay, as was the cemetery beside it. If someone died during a dry spell, the body was covered with chunks of ice until rain softened the earth. A few graves in the cemetery were marked with crumbling tombstones; newer ones were outlined with brightly colored glass and broken Coca-Cola bottles. Lightning rods guarding some graves denoted dead who rested uneasily; stumps of burned-out candles stood at the heads of infant graves. It was a happy cemetery.”)

And we close this section with the men who have come to lynch Tom Robinson. They've arrived in four dusty cars with attitudes of justice, their justice. This is not so different than Lula's thought process of white children coming to a black church, of course minus the intent to do harm. But isn't that how all harm or so-called justice of this kind begins? With a thought that the person really does not belong or deserve to be treated the same, that somehow above the other?

One little girl saves the day doing what her father taught her to do, stepping into someone's shoes.

(“Entailments are bad,” I was advising him, (Mr. Cunningham) when I slowly awoke to the fact that I was addressing the entire aggregation. The men were all looking at me, some had their mouths half-open. Atticus had stopped poking at Jem: they were standing together beside Dill. Their attention amounted to fascination.)

I look forward to your comments on these wonderful chapters.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Questions To Ponder

Here are some questions to ponder on the first seven chapters. Please feel free to comment. I will blog my post on 8-15 tomorrow. Hope you're enjoying this book as much as me.

1. Atticus tells the children several times that they need to walk in someone else's shoes before judging the person. Describe times when Atticus, Scout or Jem walk in someone else's shoes during the first seven chapters. How does this change how they view the situations? What role does this advice play in sympathy and compassion?

2. Who is your favorite character so far and why?

3. In Scout's account of her childhood, her father Atticus reigns supreme. How would you characterize his abilities as a single parent?

Love to hear your answers.

Writer Woman

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Chapters 1-7 Only

Chapters 1 through 7

When is the last time you sat and watched a sunset? I’m not even commenting on this. The scene below is one of my favorites because I remember lazy evenings, when I was kid, sitting in the front yard of my grandmother’s house, watching the sky come alive with orange, red, and yellow. It was so hot—most houses didn’t have air conditioning—the cooler evening air was welcomed, even to a young girl with tons of energy.

“In the summertime, twilights are long and peaceful. Often as not, Miss Maudie and I would sit silently on her porch, watching the sky go from yellow to pink as the sun went down, watching flights of martins sweep low over the neighborhood and disappear behind the schoolhouse rooftops.” (This comes from chapter five).

Can’t you just see that sunset and feel the air? It’s too hot to do anything but just sit on the porch and be silent. I love it. And it’s enough.

The first seven chapters of To Kill A Mockingbird remind me of an easier time, even though in reality it was one of the worst times in our country. The book is set in the south during the depression, but Harper Lee’s approach in the first seven chapters is to build a vivid place in the reader’s mind, a place that they feel comfortable and at home.

The characters in this book are real to life for me. I’ve met them all. Some of them are part of my family. I love Maudie. Isn’t she wonderful? I see her working in her garden, baking cakes, and calling the children over for a treat. All the while she is a woman with an opinion and drive, but she presents it in a way that is nothing but a Southern Lady.

“Miss Maudie stopped rocking, and her voice hardened. ‘You are too young to understand it,’ she said, “but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of—oh, of your father.’” (also from chapter five)

The description of Scout rolling in the tire made me feel dizzy. I knew where she would stop, but still I hoped for a different outcome because it is here that the children’s relationship with Boo begins. Some might argue it’s when Jem touches the house, but I beg to differ. The author’s use of description in this scene is once again so vivid she brings me into the story.

Jem’s dialogue is particularly real for me. I grew up with people who talked like this and told stories just as wild. My favorite:

“’What’s a Hot Steam?” asked Dill.’
‘Haven’t you ever walked along a lonesome road at night and passed by a hot place?’ Jem asked Dill. ‘A Hot Steam’s somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads an’ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one too, an’ you’ll go around at night suckin’ people’s breath—‘” (from chapter four)

When Ms. Lee’s art reveals itself in chapter seven. The reader sees everything through Scout’s eyes and thoughts. While we remain with Scout, we watch Jem’s reactions after he’s gone after his pants late at night. We know like Scout that he is bothered, but we begin to guess why. Then as the children find the hole in the tree filled with cement, we understand that Jem suspects Boo as the gift-giver. Steadily, Ms. Lee has Jem evolve in front of our eyes. He views Boo as a real man; instead of the legend in the Radley house. We see this through the eyes of Scout, who has not put two and two together. She is still trying to guess who has been leaving the gifts. One guess is Miss Maudie.

I can’t wait to read more!

Comment this week on chapters 1-7 while reading chapters 8-15. We will begin comments on week two on April 11th.

Happy reading
Writer Woman

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Are You Reading?

Is everyone reading there books? I have finished my seven chapters and written my post for Friday. I must confess I had to do this because of my workload. Wow! I am enjoying this book. I have decided when I was assigned this book in school, I must have cheated by watching the movie or using cliff notes. No more comments on the book before Friday.

Good news this week.

My selected Black Mountain stories will be featured in The Dead Mule, out April 28th. I will be following poetry month featuring Virginia's Poet Laureate. Scary stuff. Hope I can live up to that one.

The editor for The Dead Mule has asked me to write an essay for The Mule's Blog about my writing process. So, guys I feel like I've finally reach some bar. (Not sure which one) I've been asked as a writer to describe how I write. It is both the most dreaded and anticipated question for a writer. It does point to the fact that readers do see you as a writer. Wow! Now I just have to describe how I do it :), which is totally crazy on most days.

And finally, I've received my review copies of books to be reviewed for The Feminist Review, and this is the reason I read my seven chapters and wrote the Friday post. I'll be reviewing Ursula K. LeGuin's new novel Lavinia to be released this month and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Collected Novellas. Lot's of good reading and writing. And of course there is always the current project.

And if that wasn't enough books, I'm reading a wonderful book called Pen On Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett. Barbara is the host of Writers on Writing, a radio show that features Writers talking about their process and books. Excellent.

See you on Friday.
Writer Woman

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Start Reading

It's time to begin reading. You may comment on chapters 1-7 April 5th and forward. Can't wait to see your comments. I will post my comments on the Chapter on the 4th.

Writer Woman