Laurie McQueen will present An Erotic Alphabet ($9.95) at Book Passage on February 7 at 7 p.m.. This book of rhymes celebrates eroticism in all its forms, from silly to sensual, playful to to x-rated. Laurie reveals the surprising joy she discovered by liberating her “dirty mind” and embracing sexuality … and invites you to join her in the gentle sport of rhyming. This book will be printed in a very limited quantity; please pre-order for Valentine’s Day.
For a short spell in April of this year a small group of Left Coast Writers became part of the world that inspired Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner and Harper Lee. Their hosts, Martha Greenway and Mary Brent Cantarutti, both South Carolina natives, invited them to visit the rural South and write about it—definitely “Roadwork” as we see it. Here is a collection of excerpts from works-in-progress.
— Linda Watanabe McFerrin
God only knows what they thought when they saw us coming. There were five of them. Five country boys with farmers’ tans dressed in worn t-shirts that advertised whiskey and motorcycles. They wore Wrangler jeans—the kind that George Jones wears. Smokes protruded from their back pockets. They wore baseball caps too, and work boots. Each had driven there to meet us in his truck, each truck towing a small boat, not much bigger than a canoe, and fitted with an outboard motor.We looked like ladies from another time and place—possibly from another planet. Since most of us were from California, we might as well have been from some other planet—or Disneyland, a place that most good old boys would not have visited because it was in California.
There were eight of us: eight ladies who didn’t know what we were getting into, so we had prepared ourselves for the worst. We were dressed in long-sleeved shirts, full length pants. We wore wide-brimmed hats to ward off the sun. Evelyn’s was huge and had a yard of fine netting that draped around her face. She looked like a beekeeper. A couple of us wore scarves around our necks to protect them too. From what? We didn’t know.
When we arrived at our meeting point we slathered on the sunscreen. And then we applied mosquito repellent. Lots of it. Less is not more when it comes to mosquito repellent. As a final step, before approaching our young, country guides, we placed Jackie O. sunglasses underneath our hats and above our scarves to protect our oh-so-sensitive eye areas from any kind of assault. Then, as ready as we’d ever be, we departed the parking lot and toddled towards our destiny.
They sized us up quietly and dutifully dressed us in life preservers. We gingerly stepped into the waiting boats, tucked our purses, cameras, binoculars and journals between our knees, took deep breaths and one last lingering look at the shore, then pronounced ourselves ready to enter South Carolina’s Sparkleberry Swamp.
There’s only one way to skin a chicken, but in the South there are thousands of ways to prepare grits. One cup coarsely ground corn meal—yellow or white—to four cups liquid is the basic recipe. Everyone seems to have his or her own way. However they are prepared, Southern grits are smooth as a South Carolina accent. Smooth as the accent that explains how grandmother taught her daughter and her daughter taught her daughter that grits are best made with chicken stock instead of just water. That the liquid should be brought to a rolling boil and the pot taken off the burner just as the grits are added. That they should be left to plump and soften in the residual heat. That a grating of cheese into the pot just before serving never hurt anyone. That the perfect grits begin not in the kitchen, but at the mill—preferably a stone grist mill because it keeps the temperature of the corn lower than any other milling process and results in a more flavorful meal. Yes, at the mill, that’s where good grits begin.
As we turned up a narrow channel I finally saw it: a very round, brown, dappled creature, almost the color of the branch, coiled around one of the tree limbs. It was a poisonous cottonmouth snake.
I had started out on a perfect spring day at high noon, on a jewel of a waterway, known as Sparkleberry Swamp in South Carolina, south of Sumter near the town of Pinewood. Named for the Sparkleberry bush that grows throughout the area, Sparkleberry Swamp is also know as Upper Santee Swamp. It’s part of the Santee Cooper Lake System comprised of Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. The South Carolina Public Service Authority created these lakes between 1939 and 1942 as a hydroelectric project.
On this particular afternoon the bright light was harsh. It pierced through the lacy canopy of tupelo, ash and giant bald cypress, their great trunks submerged below the liquid surface, and reflected against the water in the midday sun. Just staring at where the dark shade met the light was hypnotizing. My eyes wanted to hold on to the cool, dark shade, but were forced into the light as the boat maneuvered through the trees. Over and over my eyes held … and then released. It was then that I realized I could get lost in the swamp. Not just turned around. There were no identifiable bright orange markers or bold, arrowed signs pointing out the watery path. The order of the swamp is random, disorienting. Time slows down. Familiar sounds are replaced with wild quiet, and the light plays with your eyes.
Spanish moss drips
from oak and elm,
hangs like gray veils
on a ghost bride.
through the branches
while they cry.
Some say spirits
live in trees.
I think the moss
who lost their lives
before their innocence,
like the orange blossom bride
buried in her wedding dress
The gray moss
wraps each tree in a web
but unlike a victim,
the tree welcomes its invader
and wears the long, tangled threads,
as if floating down the aisle,
while Carolina breezes swirl
its ancient silks,
© 2007 by Elizabeth Weaver
- Do pregnant whales get morning sickness?
- How do you protect yourself from writing scams?
- Androgynous hermaphrodite pronoun?
- Useful websites for writers?
These are some of the thousands of questions asked and answered by fellow writers on NaNoWriMo forums. While NaNoWriMo may sound like a tiny rhinoceros, it’s actually short for National Novel Writing Month, which happens each November through www.nanowrimo.org.
I’m all over the place as a writer: poetry, short stories, children’s fantasy and picture books, essays, plays, novels—several novels, each a decade in the works. And since poetry is my foundation as a writer, I choose each word and comma with a surgeon’s precision, a meticulous and exceedingly slow process. While ideas strike with the frequency of summer lightning in the Canadian Rockies, their manifestation is more like tracking the exact moments and influences that shifted the genetic code from protozoa to bald eagles.
However, NaNoWriMo offers an opportunity to approach writing like a drunk skunk weaving its way through manzanita and spraying at every twig snap. The goal in joining NaNoWriMo is to produce at least 50,000 words in November, an average of six and a half pages each day. There’s no cost. Just log in and participate in whatever way feeds you as a writer.
I learned about it four days before its start and viewed this as an opportunity to complete the second half of the novel I’d been working on for the past year. However, one of the rules is to begin a new piece of writing. At first I reasoned that new is new; however, the website explains that writers are too attached to plots and characters already in process for this focused period to do its magic. While the site encourages writers to outline in advance, the first word of one’s novel does not touch paper until November 1. It made sense and, of course, lightning struck immediately so on the first of November I began writing a novel that I hadn’t even imagined four days earlier.
NaNoWriMo’s site provides fantastic forums that enable writers to network so they can ask others for specific information regarding obscure historical periods or grammatical rules, or play games to relax from the task of generating 1,700 words a day, or discuss the balancing act of jobs and children during this highly productive month. Even though the organizers refer to how tiring this process is, I was undaunted. I’m a writer. I write almost every day and have since I was twelve so I was in it to see what neural connections would shift and develop in a month of releasing my editorial eye in favor of the fun of zipping down the ski slope of who-the-hell-knows-what-I’m-writing-as-long-as-it-totals-at-least-fifty-thousand-words!
Of course I made my 50,000, but it was exhausting, and also exhilarating, demanding, and one of the best things I could have done. It enabled me to find ways to generate work more quickly. More importantly, I found that remaining focused on one project deepened my writing. For example, my character is obsessed with bones so I read everything I could on bones and observed bone connections everywhere—it didn’t hurt that Halloween and Day of the Dead were at the beginning of NaNoWriMo—and metaphors arose that normally wouldn’t have because I was so immersed in osteology. I discovered the benefit of having a unifying theme/obsession in a novel-length work and of really digging in at the beginning of that first draft.
NaNoWriMo brings together an international network of people focused on producing the first 175 pages of a new novel. It enables participants to connect with and support one another, cheer each other on, share excerpts if we choose, or simply write in our normal isolation, perhaps peeking into forums, and finally getting credit for those first 50,000 words that often remain uncelebrated at this stage. NaNoWriMo even enables writers to meet and continue as groups beyond November, by interest or location. It’s a lot like Left Coast Writers, without Izzy’s or those great Salons.
If this weren’t enough, participants receive a signature halo if they donate at least twenty dollars, tax deductible, to defray the cost of running the NaNoWriMo site. Half the money donated beyond 2006 costs will build children’s libraries in Vietnam.
And if novels aren’t your thing, or if, like me, you work in multiple genres, you may want to consider signing up for Script Frenzy, which will launch June 2007. Same organizers, new genre. In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, no matter what, just keep writing!
Elizabeth Weaver will read an excerpt from “bonegirl,” her NaNoWriMo manuscript, at the LCW reading series at the Ferry Building on September 10, 2007. Please come and hear what 1,700 words a day inspired. She’ll also be reading poetry April 9 for this same series in celebration of National Poetry Month.