from the covers

Somehow it got to be Friday. Again. Last Friday I was sick. I'm still sick. My voice is shot and so am I. In the moments I've been able to sit with my story, I've not been able to write fiction. So I've played with research, with note taking, but even that is hard right now. No concentration.

So I'll settle for showing you one pomegranate from our California trip.
When I started this blog, over three years ago, I said it was about the stories we hold inside ourselves, and I likened the pomegranate to us: So many stories/seeds inside each fruit. Ha. But it's true. It's also true, as I said at a school visit on Tuesday (Don't ask; I thought I'd turned the corner. I hadn't), every moment we live contains our story, and the stories of others.

These stories are interconnected. This is what I tried to show in Countdown. We are connected to every choice we've ever made, as well as to the choices of others. Every breath changes the world. Even these struggling breaths I take now. They are leading me back to wholeness.

Back to bed for me. Peace, peace, peace.

setting characters in place

Humble soup for humble work. Atlanta has been iced in for days. Nothing has moved. Almost five million people in a city with ten snow plows. Add in arctic air that won't let up, and you've got a cozy space of time indoors in which to write, to contemplate, to stoke the fire, to rummage through the pantry and find cabbage, potatoes, onions, and a bit of cream with which to make a meal you can eat by the fire.

 You may remember that I had a full draft of book two of the sixties trilogy which was set in 1966 Mississippi. After meeting with my editor in June last year, I made the tough decision to ditch that draft completely (I will save it for another book, another day), and begin again, this time in 1964.

Even though I have written a picture book that takes place in 1964, I struggled with setting this novel in 1964 -- I had done so much research into 1966 and so loved that story. But I knew, in the way that you know when you meet your true love, that Freedom Summer was the perfect setting for book two. So, in service of my story, I traveled once again to Greenwood in August, this time for research, and walked the town, gathered what I could.

It took me four months to find a beginning I was happy with. I was on retreat, with other writers, upstairs, alone in my room with this story, when it came to me, like a gift. I worked all day and read out loud that evening -- I had two sketchy chapters -- and knew I was on to something. I had found my way in. What a relief.

What have I done since October? I have continued to research Freedom Summer and Greenwood in 1964. I have tried various ways forward with book two, but have met with dead ends. Still, I have saved everything I wrote because I know it may be useful later -- thousands of words, several different chapters.

I have put together an outline for the story. It follows the events of Freedom Summer. I have gathered to me the details that crop up in my everyday life (and that may seem totally unrelated) that I know will inform the story -- little acts of grace I stumble upon. These are so important -- a song, an overheard snippet, some conversation, the structure of a movie I watch, and more.

I ventured back to Greenwood, armed with questions, friends who knew more than I did, and much more knowledge about Freedom Summer and my main characters. There are three. Sunny, her older brother Gilette, and a boy I do not know yet, but have met. I'm not sure of his name yet. Raymond, I think. I'm trying it on and playing with the sound of it, the feel of it. I am anxious for Ray to talk to me. I am waiting. Every day I ask him if he's ready, and I coax him toward the page.
 And while I wait, I try putting my people in place. The trip to Greenwood helped so much with seeing how Sunny would get from home to the pool. Where would she live? What neighborhood? How would she get around? What streets would she use?

I needed to know that about Raymond as well. I visited possible neighborhoods for Ray -- and now I can see how he would get from home to downtown Greenwood. Now I need to know who his parents are, who is in his family? What does his father do? His mother? I want him to have a mother and father who live together and are raising their family together.
Because I'm writing historical fiction that centers around a real event -- Freedom Summer -- in a real town, Greenwood, Mississippi, I need an authentic place for Ray's father to work, for his mother to work, if she has a job... so much is unknown.

I think baseball plays a part in this book. I needed to see the ball fields and figure out how kids got around. Where were the churches, the drug stores, the places of employment, the courthouse (where so much action took place)... I need to place my characters in their day-to-day lives.

So that's what I've been up to while the snow has fallen and the ice has crusted on top of the snow so that all of Atlanta looks like it's coated with seven-minute frosting.

This morning I am laying down my pen and paper, though, and going to sunnier climes. We managed to get out of our neighborhood in the dark this morning, are sitting at the airport, and waiting to board a plane to Los Angeles.

No work at all... this trip is all play. My son Zach lives in Trabuco Canyon these days, and we are going to see him there. Three days of 70-degree weather and the good company of Zach and his friends. I've got my camera. We're staying here tonight. And here the next two days. It's a new adventure for us, and for Zach.

While I'm gone, I'll let Sunny and Gillette roam over Greenwood, and I'll let Ray alone so he can feel safe enough to peer around the corner of this story and begin to whisper to me. I hope he does.

greenwood parting thoughts

It's hard to choose just a few photos that encapsulate our last full day in Greenwood. But these will have to do. They ask questions and tell stories, so I will just be quiet, and let them speak.

Not far from Robert Johnson's grave is Bryant's Store in Money. It's just a shell now, as you can see. This is the store Emmett Till visited before he was killed. We arrived there as the sun was beginning to set. I was beginning to set as well. Two packed days of so much rich history in the Delta. It will inform my work on book two of the Sixties Trilogy, and perhaps today I can get back to it.  As we arrived home Sunday night, I was officially overwhelmed.

We did indeed scoot home before the storm -- we ran through it in Tuscaloosa and spent a hairy hour threading our way through snow and ice. Then we got out ahead of it and came home to Atlanta just before the storm dropped five inches of snow here. I spent yesterday in a soft white eddy of snow-covered thoughts, spinning my mental wheels, going back to bed here and there, with so much of this story to hold in my head it was impossible to process it all.

But today is a new day. I'm up and atem. Hotlanta is not equipped for snow. The entire town is shut up tight. I have a fire and a pink chair and snapshots and fiction to keep me company. I'm going to work on telling Sunny's story today.
 So much thanks to Marianne Richardson who drove and kept me company and put up with my quirks and answered all my questions, and shared with me her Greenwood, Mississippi. Thanks to Mary Carol Miller and her aunt and uncle, Gray and Tricia Evans. Thanks to Allan Hammons, Carolyn McAdams, Sylvester and Mary Hoover, and, as always, my good friends at Turnrow Books, who always make me feel welcome and who bend over backwards to help me find my story.

Thanks, y'all.

Now it's time to get to work.

greenwood, day 2

We are scooting home this morning, before the predicted snow and ice in Atlanta. Here are some photos of yesterday, with few words --

Gray Evans was the City of Greenwood prosecuting attorney during Freedom Summer. Pull quote: "I knew things in Mississippi had to change. So did some other key people on the police force. As long as we could find out what was going on, we were able to keep many incidents from becoming much worse than they were. I was at the courthouse day and night..."
Pull-quote from Tricia Evans: "Gray came home from a meeting at church and said, 'We may be ostracized at church!' because he had refused to be part of a contingent that would rotate standing at the church doors on Sunday mornings and keeping blacks from entering.

What amazing people, people.

"And we knew a lot of other people felt like we did but didn't speak out," said Gray. "It was such a frightening time," said Tricia.

Hospital where Silas McGhee was brought after he was shot in August 1964:
Where I want Sunny to live on River Road. hee.
Where she likely lives, on River Road, close to the hospital:
First SNCC office in Greenwood, on 616 I Street:
Friendship Missionary Baptist Church where the black community gathered after Silas McGhee's shooting:
Chairs that were removed from the old Greenwood Public Library after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now black citizens could use the library, but no one could sit down.
The Wade Plantation, where Mary Hoover grew up:
The commissary, owned by the plantation owners, where sharecroppers bought their goods. The plantations were just over the Tallahatchie River and outside town.

Pull quote from Mary Hoover: "Boss man would buy each of us two pair of shoes every year, one for school, and one for church. If your shoes didn't fit, you'd swap with somebody 'til you found some that did. There were 60 families on the plantation, and probably 250 kids. There were eleven of us kids in my family, and we lived in two shotgun houses, back to back. We'd take off our socks and shoes and take off across the cotton fields for church on Sunday, then dust off our feet and legs at the church door and put our socks and shoes back on."

Mary and I realized our maiden names are both Edwards, and we are both from Mississippi. Hmmm....

More from the other side of this ice and snow -- some really amazing finds. Stay safe, if you are traveling through these southern storms. Stay safe, no matter where you are. xoxo

greenwood, day one

 Know what's under here? Yep. The Greenwood Pool. Now it's a parking lot for Greenwood Utilities.

Mayor Carolyn McAdams went to school with my friend Marianne Richardson. Here they are outside Giardina's Restaurant.

Carolyn was elected in 2009. She was mayor for one hour (yes, hour) before a six-alarm fire broke out in Greenwood, destroying three old buildings...

 But not this one. Greenwood Junior High. Sunny would go here in 1964 for every town event that required a stage (it has a huge auditorium and even an orchestra pit) -- recitals, plays, the Jackson Symphony which visited, any kind of ceremony (graduation, etc.) -- so I needed to see the auditorium.
 The original chairs are still there.
 We ate lunch at the Crystal Grill, which became a private club in 1964, with the passage of the Civil Rights Act...
..and which today is open to people of all shades of all colors. Marianne said the thing to do in the early sixties was come to the Crystal Grill after church. You took a packet of melba toast out of the cracker basket and slathered it with butter while waiting for your veal cutlet, french fries and lemon icebox pie.

 And still serves the best pie in Greenwood.
 I ate some of this. No calories when you are sampling the specialities of the house from 1964.
 Marianne and I went to Baptist Town, a Greenwood African-American Community in 1964, and now.
 Robert Johnson died in Baptist Town.

Sylvester Hoover is the proprietor of Greenwood's blues history as well as a convenience store and the "Back in the Day" Museum. He and Marianne would not have know each other in 1964 Greenwood, but they met yesterday.

 Folks were so generous with their time. Sylvester locked up his store to take us to the "Back in the Day" Museum next door, then had to scoot back to the store to let folks in, so they could claim their laundry and shop.
 Back in the middle of downtown Greenwood, here are Bobby, Mike Nix, and Johnny Young who work for Greenwood Utilities. They are standing on what was the pool in 1964. Thanks for letting us into the old pool house, guys.
Lusco's never closed or became a private club in 1964. It's still open today, still serving from the same menu, and still full of the same colorful atmosphere. Sunny's family might have gone here for a special occasion.

Yesterday was a day full of conversation, too. Allan Hammons opened his archive to me, and Mary Carol Miller once again lent her voice to "how it was" in Greenwood in 1964... we had a full day. Today will be more of the same. I'm documenting the trip in photos here, and will have time for more thoughts later. Off we go into the day --