Friday, July 24, 2009

Cracker? I Don't Even Know Her! (But I'm Going to Email Her Anyway)

Last week, MathMan and I popped in to our local library to borrow some dvds to watch as we drift off to sleep. Nothing soothes the savage beast of my inner voices like a good British murder mystery. I'm trying to learn to go to sleep to the calming sounds of babbling brooks and panflutes via the Spa Channel on Sirius/XM, but I'm like an addict. I need my Brits bonking one another over the head with random objects or pushing each other down ancient wells.

MathMan and I are currently working our way through the Rosemary and Thyme series, having viewed all the available Poirot, Hetty Wainthrop, Mrs. Bradley Mysteries and Midsomer Murder collections available in the library. And although PBS has been kind enough to provide us with a couple of new Poirots and Miss Marples (delights each), they are not enough to chase away the nightly parade of hobgoblins and worries so that I can finally escape into my dreamworld.

So there we were, whispering our way through the stacks when a book title struck me and I just had to pick it up. I'm very predictable in how I select books to read. I read the first page first, then I flip around for some dialogue. Bad dialogue will chase me away in no time flat. To me, bad dialogue is like watching a bad performance. I'm embarrassed for the writer.

Never mind that I'd just told MathMan that I wasn't going to check out another book. I had a stack of them already waiting to be read and I was finishing up the Wolitzer book I told you about last week that irritated me for reasons hard to explain.

None of that mattered after I read the title of the first chapter and started laughing. "Everything You Need to Know, I Learned in a Single Wide." A few paragraphs in and I was hooked. Now I didn't grow up in a trailer, nor did I grow up in the south, but a three bedroom brick ranch on the edge of a southeastern Indiana river town is pretty dang close. There's a reason why I've found it easy to blend in here in Georgia.

In her book, The Cracker Queen, Lauretta Hannon, describes her roots, her life, and the lessons she learned along the way to becoming what she calls a Cracker Queen. I'd never considered the idea of being a Cracker, much less a Cracker Queen, but by Hannon's description, it's quite possible that I have the makings of being one.

Hannon writes in a way that made me just gobble the book up like a grilled cheese sandwich. I do not nibble grilled cheese sandwiches at the edges. I take big bites and enjoy the heck out of them because they are a rare, simple treat that remind me of my own childhood. Although Hannon's story isn't reflective of my own, I grew up in the same timeframe, in a place not unlike where Lauretta came up. Through her writing, it's easy to feel like you know her.

When I picked up the book that day at the library, I expected to be entertained and perhaps touched, but I didn't expect to be inspired. But let me tell you, as I've been dinking around with this blog and it's earlier incarnations for a few years now, kept journals and started doing some memoir-writing exercises, I never really thought that the stories I tell here could make a book. I just thought of them as my stories.

But reading Hannon's wonderful work has made me look again at the things I write. Last week, I wrote this lament and my friend Utah Savage left a comment that sent a shiver up my spine:
Here's what I think. I think you're writing the book right now. THIS IS THE BOOK! Yes, it's that good.
Now, I'm not one to take compliments well, but this compliment from Utah was just what I needed to hear. I connected that with the stirrings of inspiration I was feeling from Hannon's book. Then last Sunday I was lolling about on the deck with MathMan and The Dancer, having breakfast and reading the last chapters of The Cracker Queen. When I came to the section where Hannon listed the reasons why she'd never let herself quit her day job to be a full-time writer, I read the list aloud. There was much fingerpointing and guffawing. It was all too familiar.

In the book, Hannon quotes Eleanor Roosevelt. "Do one thing every day that scares you." I read this aloud, too, because this is something that The Dancer needs to hear and often. Like her mother, she's a bit of recluse in her own comfort zone.

So I did something that scared me. Something I have never before done. I emailed Lauretta Hannon and told her how much I enjoyed her book. To share your happiness and gratitude with someone who has given their art and story to the world seems like such a simple gesture, but I have never been one to be a screaming fangirl. Now, all bets are off.

I've embraced, as Lauretta says, my inner Cracker Queen. To continue to laugh with my mouth wide open, to go for what I want and to do what scares me, at least once a day. No one but me could tell Lauretta how her book touched and inspired me and so I wrote. And she wrote me back and I was the screaming fangirl all over again. Okay, so I didn't scream, but I whooped and called MathMan in from the other room so he could read the message and validate that I wasn't seeing things.

You're laughing at me right now, aren't you? That's okay. I don't blame you. What a simple thing to do and what results I got in Hannon's lovely, encouraging message back to me. And how silly the me of a week ago would have been to hold back from emailing an author of a book I enjoyed because I felt inadequate or inconsequential or .......heaven a fan? How many times did I not get an autograph or share my pleasure about something becase doing so, scared me?

So now I'm going to go buy this book because (1) I have to have it and (2) I want to see if Lauretta will sign it for me when she comes to an event at our local library next Friday. I'll try to not act too goofy, but I make no promises.

Read the book, y'all. Be entertained, touched, inspired. And whatever you do, be sure to do something that scares you. And then come back and tell us about it.


  1. And I thought you'd just laugh off my comment that what you have been writing all along is your book. You are THAT GOOD! Thank you for that linky love. I so appreciate it.

    Now I have to go searching your recent posts for the answer to the question about your new "job." I'm thinking your new job is to take yourself seriously as a writer.

    Thank about this. I've been posting poetry for a long time and then just adding it to the poetry blog at my place, never going back to check for comments, or to see if I'm ready to rewrite the poems I toss off as an expression of pain or frustration that just doesn't lend itself to a blog post. And to my surprise my poetry site has followers. Yes, followers. I was shocked. I had no idea that anyone read poetry, let alone my poetry. So now that I have a small group of poetry followers I feel I owe them the respect of writing more poetry and making the poetry that's already there better.

    And I finally got off my ass and put the novel back online. So, my dear writer friend, when are we going to start sending out our work for publication in the real world? Huh? Shall we make a deal? This year. And this year is galloping along at a frightening clip. Let's do it.

  2. I'm all over that book. Want. My library doesn't have it, so I ordered one.

    Write. DO IT.

  3. OMG!!! know? CAN YOU HEAR THAT I"M SCREAMING!!!!????? OMG!!!

    Go for it girl!!! ANd if you me a book and have her sign one for me, too!!!! I'll pay you back!!!!!!!! Really I will!!!!!

    And then, you write!! DO IT!! Even when it scares you...... YOU are the one who got me into this mess.... take responsibility!!!!!


  4. I love BBC things. I do.

    I agree, that lament was the best I'd read of you; I wrote something similar in the comments....loved it.

  5. Oh MY GOD, I want to read that book!!!! :)

    And yes, you are so totally writing your book with your blog posts! :)

  6. OMG, I cannot WAIT to READ YOUR BOOK!!!! *grins* and I know you are going to do it as you are already doing it so how about that??

    when I come to read your blog, I feel like I need a cup of tea and cookies and a place to put my feet up because I know I am in for something good, entertaining, insightful, funny, witty, thought-provoking---you are THAT good, woman, hear me?? and don't forget it and what are you waiting for and now I need to buy her book too... :)


  7. There's just no price you can put on that kind of inspiration. I'm pulling for you!

  8. You know, Lisa, you've written a book on your blogs already. Just noting.

  9. The Cracker Queen must be getting great word-of-mouth. There are 10 people ahead of me in the queue in the DeKalb library system.

  10. The book sounds like a really fun read. Some of the characters remind me of some of my relatives (like my grandfather and his brother, who lived in Lithia Springs, not far from Austell, and my grandfather's sister who lived with her husband in Austell.) I think that moonshining may have been part of their life too, only wa back in the 30s and 40s.

    I agree with the others, you are writing your book. Now all that's left to do is bind it.

    By the way, before there was the Atlanta Braves, the AAA team in Atlanta was......The Atlanta Crackers.

  11. Ok, so I'm doing something right now that scares me and that's commenting! I've been a long time lurker but have never commented because of a great fear of sounding like an idiot! But what you write drew me in and keeps me in and makes me feel like I know you and that is something special. What you write is as good as anything I bring home from the library every week. Write a book already so I can say I read you before you got famous!

  12. I watched nearly 60 seconds of Lou Dobbs last night. I was scared that Lou Dobbs was hiding underneath my bed with a plate of Taco Bell.

    That's enough scary for now. Just write your book. We'll buy it, trust us.

  13. Oh, I was wanting a book to listen to while I'm working on some projects and would have gotten this one, but audible wouldn't take paypal where I have a paltry sum from writing, so I figured I'd blow some on a book. Had to go with iTunes, so I went with Larry Brown's Fay which I heard is good and of a similar genre.

    Maybe there's literary hope for me yet. I usually avoid fiction like the Hooters..., or something like that.

  14. Read this earlier, but computer refused to cooperate and let me leave a comment.

    A couple years ago, I emailed the author of a massive, three-volume history I had just completed. I was surprised and pleased to receive a long, personal email response from him. I grok the near-hysteria, because I've been there. That was the first, and only, time I've ever done anything like that.

    Keep writing, and someday you might realize that US was right - your book is already written.

  15. Lisa, Your friends have no idea how happy I am for you and that you have reached that point. The point of no return so to speak, which is allowing you to mentally and physically to do what you have always wanted. It makes me grin when I see you, I will have walk back to your office now. Seriously, a grin I had when I first met you all those years ago, knowing that you are an amazingly talented and special person. In ending, I quote a comedy that we watched years ago "or something", "a writer writes, always".

  16. That would be a difficult book for me to read, especially since the word "cracker" was affixed to my Father's side of the family and I had absolutely no desire to end up like them, thankyouverymuch.

  17. I'll add it to my list of must reads.

    I highly recommend "A Girl Named Zippy" and "She got up off the couch" by Haven Kimmel...and anything by Laurie Notaro.

    Brilliant, both.

  18. Fuck. You have become one of the voices in my head. I jettisoned a whole barge of bullshit after reading this post, and I am taking courageous steps such as blowing off my volunteer work in order to get going with this opera career. Way to go on encouraging people. Did I mention that I can't cuss in front of the baby? Sorry for overswearing, which is infinitessimally better than oversharing and involves less booze. Also I edited out some swears.

  19. oh, wow, you just completely described how I pick out a book, and I never even knew that I did...I just knew that the blurbs on the backs of books do nothing for me. But yes! I go for the dialogue, and if it's not ringing for me, that's that.

    also, awesome on the leap from the comfort zone! I'm drafting my fourth novel now, all unpublished, and your post inspired me to send a round of query letters for my polished baby number three! :)

    (I pop in here every so often from CDP's blog, btw...)

  20. Lisa; I say jump right in there. You have what it takes. I know when I read what you have to say, there is always a connection; a laugh, a tear, or some sort of an "Ah-hah!" moment. One way or another, you always make me think.

    Thank you for that; because once we stop thinking, we may as well throw in the towel. :)

  21. A few things: first, while you are gathering writing steam for your own memoir, do read A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. I've been meaning to recommend it to you for awhile.

    Also, I read your lament . . . and I feel all kinds of empathy and identification with you. I hope you can clear away everything standing in your writing path and make it happen for yourself. You are a wonderful writer and you most definitely have something to say.

    Funnily enough, just this year I've plucked up the courage to let a few writers know that I admire and enjoy their work. Without exception, they have all written me back and seemed both glad and grateful to get the feedback.

  22. Hurrah for you! I am trying to figure out how to get a life (as advised by someone near and dear). You will be one of my muses.

  23. I'm done procrastinating, I'm going to put it on hold right now! Did it! Wow, after your review I am surprised there aren't 144 holds on it! I'm #4. Maybe it will come in time for the annual Club Med vacation (Wisconsin style) in 2 weeks.

    I have gotten into the habit of sending fan emails, and it is always a thrill to get an answer back. I even had an email from Clare Short, the British MP who vocally opposed Tony Blair's love affair with Joji Bush and ended up leaving her cabinet position in protest.

    Thanks for the review. I look forward to the book. And to YOUR book. <3


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