Especially for a former tomboy who could transform a smidgen of dry bread coupled with a drop of spit into an siren’s call for an unsuspecting brim.
Why was I spitting into a tube?
Let me back up.
Our two youngest are ours by adoption. An amazing, incredibly complicated journey for the adoptive parents, it’s even more so for the adoptee. Who never really had a say in the whole thing in the first place.
When we received our babies years ago, I didn’t know anything about how adoption might affect the baby through child, teen or adult years — but I’ve become quite the expert by book knowledge and experience.
One thing is clear. Though those of us raised by birth parents have our issues, we also take things for granted.
Such as how both my children admitted extreme anxiety when faced with the standard elementary school introduction into genetics.
Questions like — What color are your parents’ eyes? Is your parents’ hair curly, straight? Blonde or brunette? — led one child to stare at the blank page asking how do I know? And that child became more distressed when the unknowing teacher innocently marked the paper incomplete.
How can I answer questions I don’t know the answer to?
Finding and communicating with birth parents is a private family issue and one we discuss openly with our children — but as this past Christmas rolled around, I thought of another more general way for them find out more about their genetic roots.
Back to why I spit into a tube.
I ordered everyone in the family a DNA ancestry kit for Christmas. I researched the most popular companies and ultimately went with the one that had a $10 off Black Friday sale.
Now it’s obvious why my children would find tracing their ethic past fascinating. But why would I?
A lot of my ancestry has been researched and passed down.
A paternal great aunt traced my father’s family to the Minorcans from the Spanish isle of Minorca. In 1767 a Scottish physician, Dr. Turnbull, sailed to Minorca to find a labor force to build his settlement — New Smyrna Beach, Florida. My ancestors left their beautiful island in the Mediterranean to provide something close to slave labor for Turnbull’s New World venture. When my ancestors became sick of their indentured servitude to Turnbull, they slipped away to the beach and walked north to join the Spanish settlement in St. Augustine.
My mother has traced her family back to the Mayflower. I’m genetically connected to two of those smartly dressed Pilgrim passengers.
British Puritans and Spanish. Or that’s what I’ve always thought based on family members who have researched.
But what about my paternal grandmother whose maiden name was Camp? Seems Camp can be traced all over the place . . . British, French, Dutch even way back from the Old Germanic Kemp.
What if all the while I’ve secretly attributed my scattered undisciplined creativity to my warm weather, Mediterranean genetics and it turns out my DNA is over 50 percent Germanic? Old Germanic at that.
How will I now excuse an unmade bed at 11:30 in the morning?
The other day I placed my tube in the pouch and mailed it off.
I’ll share my results in a few months.
So Adios for now.
Got to go wash the baseboards and dust the root cellar.
At one point, the discussion turned to obstacles writers face.
I mentioned my need for stillness and how it is the opposite of our world today. Even when sitting, we flip through phones filling our brains with the chatter of news or social media.
Looking to the woman who asked the question I said,
“If I wanted to get to know you, we’d go out for coffee. Spend time talking. To find out what makes you happy or sad — and how through life’s journey you arrived at what makes you happy or sad — I’d take time to listen. That’s the way it is with our characters. We need stillness and time spent writing so they can tell us who they are and how they got there.”
That’s my problem with finishing these last two scenes.
I’ve put a Southern character briefly in Chicago in the 1950s. She’s young; she’s African American. I’m getting to know her, having her tell me what those years were like.
Code for time spent researching and not writing the important scene that comes when she is an adult back in the small Southern town — many years after she lived in Chicago.
I’ve studied on the Great Migration and the history of African Americans moving from the South to places like Chicago, New York and Philadelphia. Her time in Chicago is necessary to move the story but I don’t need to get bogged down researching the history of the Chicago school system and desegregation because she was of school age at that time.
I want to get to know her. I need to get to know her.
But I also want this flippin’ thing finished in 2016. Because it’s year’s end and that would be symbolic. I’m a writer and we live for symbolism like starting edits of a first draft on January one.
Sick bastards we are.
That’s where my first year Contracts final comes in. Way back in my law school days, Contracts was a four hour class (most classes were three hours) and its grade was weighted as such.
There was only one four hour test at the end of the semester with three questions.
Ten minutes before the exam was over, I was reviewing and refining my wonderful answers. Then I turned a page and saw . . .
an entire question that I had missed.
HOLY MOTHER OF BATMAN. There were FOUR questions.
Ten minutes left in a four hour exam and I found a question I should have allotted an hour to complete. My brain misfired so I couldn’t read the words.
Channeling every great drill sergeant in movie history he barked, “OUTLINE. OUTLINE. OUTLINE.”
Which I did.
Got a 73 on the exam which was okay considering my answer for a quarter of the grade was an outline. My law professor understood the basic points of the fully-developed answer I would have written had I taken more time.
I figure the same counts for finishing this draft. Outlining the scenes, leaving a structure to develop when there is more time.
Deadlines are friends. Property lines. Destination points. Managers. And voluntary.
When I first started writing for publications, I took deadlines as literal lines in the sand. You cross one late and your laptop drops off a sheer cliff into the Bering Sea. And no one hires you again. Ever.
As the years went by and life’s obligations kept increasing, my line in the sand attitude shifted to one where deadlines were more of a suggestion. A time frame. Until your editor sent a panicked email.
I wasn’t terribly late. At least not every time.
Reading Jean and Stan’s thoughts made me again see that deadlines are good things. Goals to keep us on track to accomplish things before we find ourselves 89 years young.
So what am I doing differently?
Getting up at 4 a.m. on weekdays. I used to get up at 5:16 for coffee and quiet time. That’s when I decided if I got up an hour earlier, I’d still have my quiet time, then an hour to write.
With the house dark and quiet, I focus better and can usually get 500 words done by 6:00. Then it’s time to awaken the rest of the house.
Except the cats and dog who have been up with me since 4 a.m.
Members of my writing group — would be novelists like moi — are using NaNoWriMo the same way. To spur them on to finish their first drafts.
So here’s to deadlines.
May they keep us writing when:
We don’t want to get out of bed to turn the alarm off in the bathroom. But of course I have to get up and turn the alarm off before it wakes up my husband.
The real struggle is standing in the dark in the bathroom fighting every fiber of my being that wants to rush back to bed.
There is laundry that you could do later when the kids come home. Errands to the store that can be done after 1000 words. Bills can be paid after the daily word allotment done.
You stare at a blank page to start a transitional scene and it would be so much easier to start a load of laundry than suffer through a halting, stop and go, fretting that this isn’t any good 30 minutes.
A deadline for first draft means screw it being perfect. Start writing even when your muse is still asleep (the lucky sob). You’ll figure out something. It might be just the thing. It might not. Anything can be changed in revisions.
Above all — keep that story moving to cross the finish line.
Gina’s post about her beloved Cubs going to the World Series triggered memories of those exciting years in the early 90s when the Braves went from worst to first.
John and I had been married a few years, were childless and lived 10 minutes from Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.
I commented to Gina that I should have one of those early Braves’ World Series tickets somewhere.
Here’s what I found in my bedside table. Not a World Series ticket, this was for a playoff game against the Pirates. They lost this game but Game 7 was one of the all time great Brave finishes with Francisco Cabrera’s two out bottom of the ninth hit scoring David Justice and Sid Bream.
Hence, the Braves made it to the 1992 Series against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Dad came up for a game. The one clear memory I have of that night was looking down and thinking something is not right with the maple leaf on the Canadian flag.
But why wasn’t the World Series ticket crammed in the back of the drawer to my bedside table?
You see Gina, World Series tickets are big and very fancy. Just the kind of sentimental keepsake a reformed Pack Rat such as myself couldn’t bear to throw away.
Then I remembered.
Upon entering the stadium in the crush of folks, I went to the bathroom. (Some women tend toward paranoid at the notion of being trapped in the middle of a long row of seats at important sporting events and having to excuse themselves over and over to the bathroom.)
I went to the bathroom, waited in a very long line of women, took care of business, washed my hands, came out, met dad and up we went. Arriving at our section in the upper deck, we pulled out our tickets.
Alas I had no ticket.
Blood rapidly drained from my face through my throat — pooled in my stomach — and I became very sicky.
My dad had driven seven hours. We stood inches away from our seats. And I had lost any proof that Seat 113, Row 14, Aisle 312 was my very own.
No one in the universe felt worse than I did at this moment — with the possible exception of the person who attached the Canadian flag to the pole upside down.
No memory remains how we talked our way to our row.
Once seated, I constantly checked the entrance to our section for a character clad in dark leather wearing a grimy, bent-to-hell New York Yankees cap. The specter who was sure to march up to our row, motion at me saying, “Hey, missy get your @** out of my seat.” Then Braves’ Security would arrive to escort dad and I in the walk of shame back down the ramp to probable arrest.
I didn’t relax till the seventh inning. If that.
Thankfully nobody in the crowd coursing through the cement ramps of Fulton County Stadium found a trampled ticket face down in a sticky pool of Budweiser.
And messed with my World Series memory.
So hold on to those tickets all ye Cubs and Indians. And enjoy the show.
The Lord has his eye on the sparrow —
and those of us scattered-of-mind at the most inopportune times.
After first seeing the Facebook announcement for my 35th High School Reunion, I looked at it. Then I looked at it again.
The passage of 35 years was so hard to conceive and my arithmetic so weak, I took out paper and pen and subtracted 1981 from 2016.
Gag me . . . it had been 35 years.
I vowed to lose 5 pounds. Take every yoga class for the next four months. Pick out a dress. Face lift. Butt lift. Skin-on-my-legs-especially-the-skin-above-my-knees lift.
Months passed and it was two weeks till the reunion. I weighed about the same. I’d made it to three yoga classes the month of August. Nothing had been surgically lifted, so I packed some make-up, a pair of Spanx and rubbed self-tanner on my legs. Though I did think it the perfect excuse to get a facial.
Reunion photo credit to Ricky Silva. Can you find me?
Random thoughts on attending your 35th High School Reunion.
— Commit to going. Don’t think about it. No one ever gives birth or adopts children, signs up for a marathon or goes to a class reunion if they ruminate on it.
— Note to the venue. For the love of Mike, when most party-goers are over 50 — dim the lights on the dance floor.
— Try on the dress you decide to wear before the night of the party. I bought a dress last spring and never once had it on again until the night of the reunion. Whatever mojo I felt in the dressing room wasn’t there reunion night. Didn’t like it. At all. Thankfully, I did bring another dress. But logic says to try the dress on before leaving your closet in the rear view mirror six hours down the road.
— To those who went to high school in Florida and haven’t lived there in a while. HAVE A BACKUP PLAN FOR YOUR HAIR. I completely forgot about the Florida humidity. It was raining as well. My hair went up in a coated rubber band.
— Your mother can show up at the party before you, talk to people, and you laugh about it. If my mother would have shown up to a high school party 35 years prior, I’d have dropped out of Winter Park and enrolled at Edgewater under an alias.
My 83-year-old mother dropped by the party before I arrived. (She was eating in the adjoining restaurant.) She walked in and started talking to all my high school friends, and some of their children. When I arrived my friend Ann said, “Did you know your mother was here?” She laughed saying, “I looked up and thought that’s Jamie’s mother . . . this is wild.”
This photo is Facebook credited to Ann who is in the middle of this pic. Ann who talked with my party-crashing mom. (I think her husband must have had the phone.)
High School Reunions are wild in a Twilight Zone sort of way.
Facebook is for cowards. Nothing can substitute the authenticity found in a face-to-face conversation after 35 years.
I heard a great phrase today. Out having breakfast in Madison, we were approached by an acquaintance we hadn’t seen in a while. He asked the standard “How are things?”
We gave the standard reply, “Things are great.”
To which he said with a smile, “Things are great with us too . . . with an asterisk.”
By the time you’re heading to your 35th High School Reunion, everybody can say, “Life is great . . . with an asterisk.”
Asterisks don’t discriminate. They are equal opportunity offenders in the form of losing loved ones, of divorce or divorces, children heartbreak. Financial struggles or collapse. Job traumas. Battling illness as if our lives depended on it. And the universal of challenge of experiencing our young selves — becoming not so young at all.
We’ve have lost the urge to play the comparison game to feel better about ourselves. If I asked you what you’ve been doing the last 35 years, I was truly interested in finding out your journey. Not to boast on my superstar decades headlining as wife, mother — and writing a blog.
On Facebook you get a bunch of amazing photos. Ones people post after they deleted the first fifteen they took.
It is a great way to keep up but,
With Facebook you can’t throw your arms about somebody’s neck in a squeeze or learn how fun life can be with a sugar monkey. Or giggle with friends you giggled with 35 years ago.
Thanks to Michelle for this snapshot.
So as Nike said back in the day,
Just do it and go to that reunion.
What’s to lose? It was quick. Just a few hours and then done.
The first rule of blogging is immediacy. Or is it frequent posting? Then there’s good content.
Lately, I haven’t done much of anything with my blog. So I’m going to invoke the Erma Bombeck Rule.
To be fair, this is my personal Erma Bombeck Rule. One that resulted from something I heard she said.
Later in her writing career when asked if she made notes of possible column ideas while on an extended trip with her husband, she replied no. Whatever was interesting enough to write about would be there — without notes — when she got home.
That idea intrigues me. Does it work with blogging? So many posts never get posted if I’m not able to write immediately.
It seems old news.
Who am I kidding? Old news?
That applies to CNN not my blog.
So I’m invoking Jamie Miles’ Erma Bombeck Rule on future blog posts for a while. Especially, since my WIP takes the majority of my writing time these days.
Things that happened yesterday, last month or last year — events that I wanted to write about and should have blogged about — I’m going to post about in an untimely manner.
It will be interesting to see the stuff that stuck with me without referring to notes to jar my memory.
First up . . . my 35th High School Reunion last August, which I should have written about last August.
This isn’t my first rodeo raising money for Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC), so you wouldn’t expect a rookie mistake.
Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Two years ago, my son Joe (then 11) and I joined TeamRMHC to raise money for the RMHC of Central Georgia. We trained for the RunDisney Princess Race Weekend with approximately 200 other runners from around the country. Joe and I ran the 10K on Saturday and I ran the half on Sunday. We raised $1,8oo for the RMHC in Macon. Here is our group at a meet-and-greet in 2015 at the Walt Disney World McDonald’s, of course. The group raised over $165,000 to be used when families with children receiving care at Children’s Hospital Navicent Health cannot afford the $15 per night fee.
It was a lot of fun and a great experience. So when I received an email this July about joining again I asked Joe if he was up for it in 2017.
“I’ll think about it,” he replied.
Joe is my gamer. This would be a good way to get him outside as he prepared for 6.2 miles in February and hopefully reinforce the need to help out others experiencing tough times.
Have to say, I was a little surprised when Joe came to me a month later and said he’s ready to run and fundraise. This time, we talked Dad into joining our Running Miles for RMHC team.
So back to how I started this post.
Having been a part of the 2015 team, I knew each team member needed to raise at least $750.
No problem, right?
Last time, one of our more successful efforts was a Lemonade and Sweet Tea stand. So, while it was still warm we planned the same on the one weekend in September we all were available. I dropped the tea and since a few batches of cookies last time were very popular — this year I made tons of them.
No matter that the Georgia game kicked-off at 12:30.
Build it and they will come.
Well, come showtime — our now 13 year old wasn’t thrilled with standing out on the street, saying that last time kids at school said they had seen him.
Joe in September 2014 reeling in the donations.
Two years later, this is how the Lemonade Fundraiser went down.
Give us a half a point for effort — but John and I agreed — something looks a little odd about grown-ups with a Lemonade stand. So whether it was the University of Georgia game or the creepy adults-asking-for-donations-with-cookies factor, business was slow.
Where’s Rent-a-Kid when you need it?
I did the next best thing and texted my neighbor to ask if her son could help.
With a buddy by his side, the reluctant Running Miles for RMHC team member hit the streets.
And what started as a trickle. Got a little less tricklely.
A few of our fabulous donating folks.
Yoga instructor Shawn.
Our daughter woke up and donated money for a cookie breakfast.
Young lads after playing their first football game.
Mary, yoga instructor. And an amazing artist. She uses her hand and paint and a brush to do these things called paintings. I do too occasionally . . . Only difference is that hers are amazing and mine more kindergartenesque. (Not that I’m jealous, cause I’m totally going for that kindergarten vibe.) Lots of folks are into it. Granted, the vast majority just display paintings by their own kindergarteners. But I’m confident with time, the stigma associated with adult kinderart will erode and I will sell a painting. Or maybe my husband will agree to hang one in the shed with the lawnmower?
Good neighbors stopped by on way to Georgia Tech game.
With the boys pulling them off the streets, and me clogging my Facebook feed with photos, and begging — it ended up being a very successful outing.
But we did have lots of cookies and brownies leftover.
So I bagged them up and team member Johnny Miles took them to his Sunday School class the next day, and his Tuesday morning Men’s Bible Study.
Guess the total amount received for all those cookies.
Four hundred seventy dollars and seventy-eight cents — $470.78.
Do you believe it?
A huge success!
It sure didn’t feel that way when I was doing my best Johnny Carson impression.
Johnny Carson. That’s what I think when I see this photo. Maybe David Letterman. I’m not going to lie and say this photo makes me think Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon. I’m old and remember staying up late when I should have been asleep and watching Johnny.
Too old to be sitting at a stand asking for donations, but where there’s a will and a most excellent cause — the good Lord will provideth a generous Sunday School class and Men’s Bible Study — as the way.
While John and I sat there watching the grass die, we talked about new money laundering raising strategies in light of the changing Miles RMHC team dynamic — two middle-aged adults and one soon-to-be teenager.
So be on the lookout for ways to join the giving.
One last thing.
Look beyond the dead grass (we are having a drought here) and see the balloon.
The balloon I bought last Friday, the day before our event, in hopes of attracting attention our way.
That’s why I’m doing this again for Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Or the story behind the balloon. I’ll get to that next post.
And as long as I have your attention, any fundraising ideas?
I used to lie every now and then, like at show-and-tell. Because what I did in my mind over the weekend was a lot more interesting than sharing what I watched Johnny Quest do on Saturday mornings.
So this lying thing comes naturally. If no one gets hurt. And I believe it in my heart.
Okay. That’s stupid.
I’m very content with life right now so I don’t feel the need to lie — even about age. But if I’m tagged by another blogger, why not rise to the challenge?
What was the falsehood in my last post on why I haven’t been blogging?
True. I have been writing on my WIP. I figure it takes me 90 minutes to write 500 words. Three hours for 1000. I hate that there is only so much creative time and energy the good Lord provides me with every 24 hours.It still is my goal to post at least once a week — and set aside time to read other bloggers. But I’ve fallen short of late. I do miss the community of blogging and I’ll be back.
Between the other two, becoming a yoga instructor or falconer — seems most folks think I’m on the road to certifiable yoga.
Not that I am not enjoying the flush of new love with yoga. I just have no interest in leading anybody anywhere.
I check my responsibilities at the door. Lie on my mat and leave the driving to Mary or Shawn or Grace — or Elise. I’ll get to your class someday.
Anyone. But me.
Yesterday, during savasana after Mary’s intense Vinyasa class, I fell asleep. I can’t do that if I’m making sure everyone else relaxes. Or massaging their temples like Shawn, or singing like Grace.
I want to exert and check out mentally. Yeah, I know. Concentrate on my breath, keep my heart higher than my hips, try not to fall on my neighbor during anything . . . but
A girl’s got to know her limitations.
I would not be a good caring yoga facilitator.
I’m selfish with my yoga.
On the other hand, the thought of spending hours on end with a hawk, a dead rodent and traipsing in the woods excites me.
A girl’s got to know her limitations. I know.
The eagle has always been my favorite animal on those stupid personality quizzes, except age 14 — 18 when I went through a dolphin is my favorite animal phase.
I know Auburn’s mascot is a Golden Eagle. War Eagle VII is named Nova. There is no reason on God’s green SEC turf that I would know that (or post a photo on my blog) except that I love, love birds of prey. And he’s the George Clooney of birds of prey. Gorgeous.
Writer, blogger, photographer — all around great person and friend Julia Munroe Martin challenged me to a two truths and a lie blog post after completing the same. I met Julia online many years ago. Happening upon her blog, I became spellbound by her weekly video reports from a perch overlooking a beautiful bay in Maine. Through sun, wind, snow and freezing cold, I got to know her along with her legion of writing friends and fans. I’ve read advance copies of her novels and cried when she lost her dear black lab, Abby. She’s completed novels and keeps a WIP forever on her laptop. Be sure to check out her blog and follow her photos on Instagram. Someday I will make it to Maine, to the coffee shop where she writes. We can peck away on our laptops while sipping our favorite hot beverage (what is yours Julia?) and my standard — coffee, black.
Two truths and a lie why I haven’t been blogging.
1. I’ve fallen in love. With yoga. Finally, a way to stretch out the knots and kinks three decades of running inflicted on my muscles and tendons.
I love it so much that I’ve decided to become a certified yoga instructor. When I informed John of my desires, my plan, he rolled his eyes and said, “Another endeavor of yours that will take lots time and money and result in little or no income to our household. Go for it!” I’ve been able to work on my novel by dictating while on the drive to my classes. The mental toughness acquired by twisting my arms into a pretzel hath unleashed abilities to multitask that for most of my life remained dormant. As I concentrate on the higher mental and emotional aspects of warrioring and downward-dogging, my mind relaxes and my creativity expands.
2. Thenthere’s theever-looming WIP. As I inch toward a finished first draft. School started August 1. You’d think I’d have gotten more done, but finding time to sit and write has been scarce. Other than the dictating I’ve done on my way to yoga, nothing much has found it’s way out of my brain. I have the story’s end wrapped up in my head and it needs to get out on paper. Trying to make that happen by Labor Day.
I did have a productive word count stint with my writing group on Friday. Now to leave the dishes undone and the beds unmade and find consistent, disciplined butt-in-chair, fingers-on-keyboard time in the next two weeks. Once the first draft is done, I’ll set it aside for a month or so and start ruminating and outlining novel number two. Because that’s what would be novelists do to take up lots of time and effort and result in little or no income to their households.
3. And there’s my bird thing. Blogging has taken a backseat to my desire to be a falconer. Okay that’s a teensy untruth in this truth. I’m not allowing myself to go full throttle on the falconry gig till I complete the first novel. Notice I didn’t say until I get the first novel published. Unlike my new passion of becoming a yogi, my falconer evolution requires a daily commitment of seven years. On the short end. Yes, 365 days times seven.
And no, I don’t mean I’ll actually transition into a falcon. Why does it take seven years of mentoring to become a person to whom a majestic bird of prey trusts to return to for food? Guess it’s not like getting a dear parakeet to light on your finger. A hungry hawk might decide to take the finger off. Falconry is another massive project that will take resources that I haven’t earned and time that I don’t have and result in no income to the household.
My husband is behind this falconry thing one hundred and ten percent. That’s not a lie. It’s sarcasm.
Which one is the lie?
And . . . I challenge Kenya Johnson to try her hand at Two Truths and a Lie. I’ve been reading Kenya’s blog for many years and I love her no nonsense humorous look at her life. Her book, The Christopher Chronicles, written about her son and his unique look on life, brings me smiles every time I pick it up. Soooo, let’s see if she’s game to try and fool us. I’ll post my follow-up reveal-the-lie post in the next few days and link to Kenya’s blog. And Kenya, you need to select the next blogger to carry on with their two truths and lie.
In her memorable debut novel, My Sweet Vidalia, Deborah Mantella explores the supernatural symbiotic cord tethering mother and daughter.
Above is the first sentence to my Goodreads review of My Sweet Vidalia. For me it sums up my friend’s first published novel.
I used it to start this post. No use spending a half hour trying to come up with a better sentence.
Because writing — writing what you want to say, struggling over the best way to present an idea — is hard work.
That’s why I’m so proud of Deborah Mantella and the success of her baby, her novel My Sweet Vidalia. And thrilled with the boatload of literary recognition it has received. Set in 1955 rural Georgia, Mantella’s story has spirit-born child, Cieli Mae, narrate the turbulent life of her young mother, Vidalia Lee Kandal.
Mantella graciously agreed to answer some questions to inspire writers and hopeful novelists such as myself. A look into a writer’s mind for anyone who loves the crafted written word.
You’ve lived so many places and been exposed to lots, how did you decide on writing this story? And in the Southern gothic style?
Mantella: This story, or a version of this story, has been with me for some time. I’ve always been fascinated by the intense nature of mother-daughter relationships, be they good or bad. Water rarely runs lukewarm when it comes to anything parent-child, particularly of the mother-daughter variety. Most folks don’t seem to notice how often the child is called upon to raise the parent. This was the scenario I’d wanted to examine from an omniscient and otherworldly point of view.
As well, I grew up in the Northeast. Attended a catholic elementary school where we didn’t know what segregated meant. Where the effects of what was going on in the world outside of our own didn’t affect our interactions. We just were. My friends, my best friends, were of every hue. I was as traumatized by news of the Sixteenth Street Church bombing in Alabama, the assassinations of those four little girls, as I was by the murder of JFK. Maybe even more so because of what they represented. They were me, or as my character Ruby Pearl says of her relationship with Vidalia, “a different wrapper is all.” They were my besties. Someday, in some way, I will pay homage to them. Thus seeds of another fascination took hold for this strange era, that tragic moment in time.
As to the voice of Cieli Mae? Once I decided upon message and that the story could be best conveyed via this particular style, spirit child Cieli Mae’s voice with her impractical yet pragmatic presence and her no-nonsense approach to what it means to be human, just came to me. Organically. As for the rest, I opened my mind further and the voices poured in. Or would it be out…?
Having lived in the Atlanta area for several years, I’d already become enamored of all things southern, particularly those stories which appear simple on the surface but lend nicely to larger messages.
I’m a first-born, and a practicalist. And a bit of a skeptic. I believe in common sense and common courtesy. I also believe a story well told has the potential to change another person’s POV.
Did you find that you write a first draft quickly, then take time with subsequent drafts or do you labor intensively on that first draft?
Mantella: I labor over every draft. I liken it to my inability to leave a room where a picture hangs crooked. If I am inviting a reader into a world of my making, my creation, I am responsible for that readers experience. I need to get it right. Which may go back to that oldest child thing. I work hard so that, hopefully, my reader won’t have to.
Domestic violence and poverty are the only life Vidalia knows. How did these difficult subjects help the theme (themes) unfold?
Mantella: We are the sum total of the choices we make in this life. Coming by way of a relatively sheltered, middle-class, supportive, and fairly stable family, and the protections that combination enabled I took much for granted. Working with at-risk-youth as a college co-ed shed a different light on the value of my privilege. I saw first hand the effects of some type of support, be it from a family member, a teacher, a religious person, a neighbor—just the belief that someone, somewhere, has your best interests at heart, really is that important. It is something Vidalia never had before the nature of Cieli Mae entered her life, soon followed by Ruby Pearl Banks with her own enlightened version of advocacy and comfort. And common sense. Sometimes all that is needed to free inherent strengths long-denied is a prompt from a proper source.
That some women tolerate domestic abuse, endure endemic poverty, unaware of their choices was as foreign a concept for me as it was for spirit child, Cieli Mae, and in need of further consideration and exploration.
A favorite Harper Lee quote is posted over my writing desk, “You never really know a person until you consider things from his point of view.” I consider crawling around in someone else’s skin an author’s biggest perk. That we get to be that other person. As a writer yourself you know that process, that getting to know your characters, giving up all pretense of self, immersing in another’s psyche, one with a different background, different innate personality traits, different life experiences, is as intense an experience as parenting, as giving birth, as anything I’ve come to know. In many ways, even more so.
Any current projects?
Mantella: Well this whole social media thing is a game changer so I am working on that as well as making myself more available for presentations and local book clubs. As far as current writing projects, I am working on a collection of short stories and a new novel, another mother-daughter saga though the relationship involved is very different, quite manipulative, and far less loving, than those portrayed in My Sweet Vidalia!
Thanks so much Deborah. Excited for you and the well-deserved success of My Sweet Vidalia. Can’t wait to hear more about future works-in-progress.
Mantella: Thank you Jamie.
My Sweet Vidalia is available from your favorite bookstore or online retailer. In metro-Atlanta, the book is stocked at FoxTale Book Shoppe, Eagle Eye Book Shop, and many Barnes & Noble stores– including Northpoint, GA Tech, and The Forum.