Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The perils of writing "faction"

...Sometimes the facts get in the way of a good story.

Take, for example, the case of author Tom Franklin, who has a psychotic dislike for armadillos — so much so that he pledged to include at least one armadillo death in each of his books.

He was frustrated in the writing of a novel set in 19 th century Alabama, however, by the fact that armadillos had not yet migrated to the Heart of Dixie in that era. Likewise, a coyote scene had to be rewritten to feature a pack of wild dogs instead.

Franklin was one of the featured authors at Books Alive, the annual festival of writers and readers at Gulf Coast Community College on Feb. 7, 2004. It’s a fund-raising event for the Bay County Public Library, and it attracts hundreds of people from the Panhandle to meet, listen to, pick the minds of, and buy autographed books from some of the best writers out there.

Mark Winegardner, recently selected to continue Mario Puzo’s Godfather saga, was the keynote speaker. Other breakout sessions featured Brad Strickland (Star Fleet Academy and other young adult novels); Franklin’s wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly; Panama City native (and Nashville resident) River Jordan; and several others. Numerous local writers also filled the conference hall, which had been converted into a bookstore.

But back to truth and consequences:

Franklin was paired with Tom Piazza in an early-morning session in which they compared and contrasted their approaches to fictionalizing real life events.

In Franklin’s case (Hell in the Breech), it was the story of an outlaw family brought to vigilante justice; in Piazza’s case (My Cold War), it was re-examining his experience growing up in the nuclear shadow of the early 1960s — "duck and cover" drills in the elementary school, memories of his mother’s reaction to the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, images of the soulless ranch houses of the suburbs and their bone-thin trees.

Franklin’s armadillo fixation was hilarious, and his run-in with the descendant of one of his fictionalized characters was a lesson for all writers — "I’d change the names, if I had it to do over," he said.

But perhaps the canniest of comments came from Piazza, who, by the way, won a Grammy last Sunday for liner notes he wrote for a jazz CD last year. (Yes, they give Grammies for liner notes).

Asked by a member of the audience if writer’s work had revealed the truth behind the old axiom that "there’s a book in the life of every person," Piazza responded:

"Yes, there probably is a book in every person — but it will probably take somebody else to write it."

And if you do, change the names.


(This column originally appeared as my weekly "Undercurrents" column in The News Herald, Sunday, February 15, 2004. It seemed appropriate to the subject of writing about my hometown in a fictional fashion.)

Monday, September 27, 2004

Measuring the human debris in Ivan’s wake...


You can go home again — but in the wake of Hurricane Ivan, you might not recognize it.
In the land of my roots, there are forests of broken trees, acres of pines snapped or twisted off at 10 or 15 feet. Houses and mobile homes bisected by centuries-old oaks. Tin roofs peeled back. Gravestones disturbed. Cars smashed by a collapsed garage roof or metal shed. A city park, no longer shaded, but rather decimated by the pines dropped all across it.
We made a 5½-hour trek via detours through Alabama to reach northern Escambia County last weekend. Many miles of road were reduced to one dangerous lane, skipping around fallen trees that protruded into the roadway. A plague of love bugs swarmed.
We carried generators and ice, gasoline and nonperishable food. We had family in the area with whom we had managed only spotty communication since Ivan had crushed the earth underfoot.
It’s a world with no power or phones, no ice or clean water. People were living off of Meals Ready to Eat and ice supplied by the National Guard. Those who didn’t have a generator lay in their sweat at night and listened jealously to the humming sounds carrying through the night from elsewhere in the neighborhood.
And then there was no gas to run the generators. Tempers flared. People lost hope. Cars and trucks of every description were abandoned on highway shoulders, where they had run out of gas while driving in search of gas.
"We heard they had gas here," said a woman who pulled up to a Guard supply post in an SUV. She was downcast when she learned the gas was for emergency vehicles only.
The stories were frightening. My dad rode out Fredrick, but he said the next time a hurricane came within a hundred miles, he would be headed a thousand miles in the other direction. Never again, he said, looking out his window at massive magnolias that fell just inches from his house. Never.
My uncle described seeing his car levitate in the back yard, then settle back into place.
And there were strange blessings: More than once, we saw tiny wooden houses unscathed in the center of a ring of gigantic fallen oak or pecan trees, any one of which would have destroyed the home.
And others: Hummingbirds swarming around a feeder on Saturday afternoon; spiced apple dessert in a chemically heated MRE; the hug of a school friend’s mother when she recognized me after 20 years.
You can go home again. Some things never change.


(This column originally appeared Sunday, Sept. 26, 2004, as my weekly "Undercurrents" column in The News Herald, Panama City, FL.)

Friday, September 24, 2004

People get together...

...and good things can result.

We survived Hurricane Ivan and traveled to Escambia County to help my folks and other family members last weekend. Look here soon for my column about that trip, which will bear a Century dateline. (I won't post it here until it has been published in the paper.)

Upon our return, Michael contacted me about meeting with him and Lynn to talk about a publishing effort. We sat at TGI Fridays (I had the Jack Daniels bacon burger) and talked about contracts, print-on-demand and other options. We settled upon Pottersville Press publishing both of our books (I have not read Lynn's -- it hasn't been proferred to me yet), and we talked about group signings, readings and other promotions.

I have in mind a debut party for Century at the Century High School cafeteria, or maybe at the Alger-Sullivan museum.
I'll post more here about the discussion and plans soon.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Imagine my embarrassment...

...when, watching television this weekend, I see part of the movie, The Runaway Bride, starring Julia Roberts, and see that the name of the hair salon in her quaint little town is none other than "Curl Up & Dye." I have to go back and change that part of the manuscript now.

I saw the movie on video when it first came out. I've heard that there's a common memory problem in which people see something or hear something and years later come up with the same thing and think they've invented it. I never meant to use something from another source like that. I could have, upon seeing the movie again, claimed to have named the salon thusly as an homage to the movie, but please. It was nothing of the sort.

Somewhere in trying to come up with a name for the salon in Century, that name popped up in my brain and I used it. I thought it was damn clever. It was clever, but it wasn't my original thought. Now I'll have to be even more clever and rename the salon. All I can say for sure is that it won't become "Century Beauty Shop."

And the tribulations continue...