When I thought I'd lost my love of writing, I knew if anyplace could heal me it would be Forest Hill, Louisiana. Growing up, it was my emotional home and to this day, it remains an important touchstone for my work. The summer I was going through this serious case of writer's block, I asked my grandfather if I could stay and write at his house. He'd recently moved to the Louisiana War Veterans Home in Jackson so I wasn't sure what his answer would be. I will always be grateful for the gift of that "Yes."
The first day there I remembered how I'd come from a family of storytellers. Spinning tales was in my blood. I owed it to my family to carryon with the family tradition. Each day, the comfort of being surrounded by memories fueled my writing. I would look out the kitchen window at the tall trees and remember when they'd been so small my sister and I accidentally rode over them with a lawn mower. I'd play records on the turntable and recall my cousin and I marching across the living room floor in our go-go boots, listening to Nancy Sinatra sing These Boots were Made for Walking. I left three weeks later with the first draft of Dear Hank Williams.
There's a funny thing about developing characters--sometimes they tell me where they want to live. The morning I started writing Tate P. Ellerbee's story I knew what house she would live in. I knew the magnolia tree where she practiced her songs, the exact window where she sneaked Lovie into her room. And even though there isn't a cemetery across the road from my grandparent's house, I can see one. Swear to sweet Sally, I can.