Even if you don't live near one of my book tour stops, you can still join me on the Dear Hank Williams Blog Tour. Just sit back in your comfy chair with a nice glass of iced tea and meet up with me in Blog Land. Here's where you can catch me:
I know, winter doesn't seem as if she wants to leave, but it's never to early to make your summer plans. If you love young adult literature, this is one event you'll want to have on your What I'll Do This Summer list.
The LSU YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE CONFERENCE is a fun inspiring conference that will give you plenty of time to meet and learn from authors and educators. I had the honor of speaking at the conference last year. You won't believe who that had the good fortune to book for this year. Click on the link above and find out.
When my heart is breaking, please don't play me an upbeat tune. I want Hank Williams. No one can make me feel like they understand my pain like him. Before I started writing DEAR HANK WILLIAMS, I knew my main character, Tate, would experience some heartbreak, but I didn't know what exactly. That's kind of how writing in the early stages of a story goes for me. While driving down I-20, heading toward my grandfather's home, I only knew this--Tate's mother was going to be a Goree Girl (a singing group made up of women prisoners) and that she would live in a house across from a cemetery.
On that road trip I listened to songs from the Louisiana Hayride. The music stirred with my thoughts about what could possibly happen to Tate P. Ellerbee. Somehow I thought the Louisiana Hayride might play a part. When Williams' Lovesick Blues came on, an idea for my story was starting to form. Tate was going to choose Hank Williams for her pen-pal. The letters would unfold her story.
What I didn't realize then, but learned later, through research, was that Hank Williams became famous during his time in Louisiana. Paralleling Tate's story with Williams' climb to national recognition, gave me a timeframe for my book. Not to mention, that his songs fit with Tate's own life soundtrack. At one point she writes in a letter to him, "I guess that's how we're different. I can't sing because my heart is breaking and you sing because yours is."
Cemeteries have never been eerie places to me. As a child, I loved going on cemetery walks with my grandfather. He knew everyone or about everyone buried there. Each headstone meant a story. So in an odd way, cemeteries represented life more than death.
A few years ago I visited my grandparents' graves in Butter Cemetery. When I was leaving, I looked up across the road at Pat Tarpley's house and wondered, What would it be like to live across from a cemetery?
Driving away, I knew one day I'd learn the answer to that question. What I didn't realize then was that answer would merge with the Goree Girls and help form Tate P. Ellerbee's story. There was one more important seed of inspiration that would help sprout this tale. His name was Mr. Hank Williams. I'll tell you about that next week.
Most people would probably assume the original inspiration for a book called Dear Hank Williams would be tied to country music. And they'd be right, but the first seed for my story wasn't the famous singer/songwriter from Alabama. Even though I was a Hank Williams fan, I didn't think of the role he would play in the book until much later. The country music angle came from the Goree All-Girl String Band.
In 2003, I read an article by Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly Magazine. "O Sister Where Art Thou?" told the story of a group of women prisoners from Goree Prison Unit in Huntsville Texas who formed a band. They sang at the prison rodeo and at the warden's home. Their radio performances caused their fan base to grow. Even so, most of the women didn't pursue a musical career after they did their time.
After reading Hollandsworth's article, I filed it away, hoping some story would surface one day. Right off, I thought it would be interesting to write about a character with a mother who becomes a Goree Girl, but that's just a situation. I didn't have a story until two other bits of inspiration joined in and gave me what would eventually become Dear Hank Williams. I'll tell you about one of those in my next post.
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.
For a writer, life can be a case of extremes. Today I'm working on a new novel, one I've been working on since last spring. It still feels very fresh and I know there's much work ahead before it's redeemed worthy for your bookshelf. Most of these days, my companions are paper, pen, and laptop. The only people I see daily (besides my husband and daughter) are the baristas at my local coffee shop. (Did you ever wonder why writers hang out at the coffee shops?)
In April my forthcoming book, Dear Hank Williams, launches and I go on the first of two tours. The first will be a national tour and the other one (in May) will be in Louisiana. My quiet days will be on hold as I keep a busy pace and meet lots and lots of people. I'm looking forward to every minute. Will I be in your neck of the woods? To find out click here.
The Chinese edition of Whan Zachary Beaver Came to Town!
but a freeze is expected tonight. Instead I spent the morning in the kitchen garden. Anyone have recipes for green cherry tomatoes?