Monday, March 18, 2019

#25 Inside The Emotion of Fiction's "BELOVED MOTHER" by Laura Hunter

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****Laura Hunter’s Beloved Mother is the twenty-fifth in a never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? Beloved Mother is my first novel. There was a time when I considered titles that would be related to the setting. 

I started out with Gray Mountain, changed to Turtleback Mountain and settled on Beloved Mother because, as the novel took form, I realized it is about people and their relationships rather than a particular place. I do admit that place plays a significant role in the novel. Some might say that the mountain Turtleback is a character itself.

Fiction genre?  Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella, romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy,  etc.  And how many pages long? 

Beloved Mother is fiction.  In some ways, it could be classified as historical fiction in that each statement that relates to history is closely researched. It depicts an accurate picture of lifestyles of the times. It covers a three-decade span. Length is 285 pages.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Beloved Mother is published by Bluewater Publications. 
Copyright date is April 1, 2019, but I have copies in hand now for Sneak Previews and Signings.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? The basic idea for the novel began as a short story that never fully developed. The year was 1994-95. I continued writing short stories, freelance articles and memoir excerpts for about ten years. 

I wrote a biography of my father during this time, as well.
Someone then suggested that I try my hand at writing a novel. The idea was daunting, and I procrastinated for a time. But the idea of women isolated by belief and/or geography refused to leave me alone. In 2010, I began the first draft, a mega-epic that included what would have outweighed a copy of Moby Dick. The draft incorporated a town of people and a mining camp of people and a mountainside of people. 

I wouldn’t have considered purchasing such a tome! How could I ask someone else to do so. I cut out the other two novels and settled on one story line. I wrote and rewrote the draft for four years. I then found Beta readers who encouraged me to search for a publisher.  
I found a publisher Bluewater Publications for the novel in 2017. The publication date is 2019. The overall process took approximately seven to eight years.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? The novel was written primarily in two locations: my office at home in Northport, AL and at writers’ sessions in Sweetwater, Tennessee.  The office is cluttered, as many are. Books surround me as I write. A little music system plays whatever I need to get me into a particular frame of mind. I always have one or two glasses of ginger ale or water nearby.  A four-inch fan and an overhead fan keep me cool. I am in Alabama, after all. Writing tips and word lists are push-pinned or taped on most flat surfaces I can see.  I have pictures of old barns that I’ve photographed in East Tennessee over the year. They hang above my monitor and help me set myself in a place other than my office.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I found that using different writing implements led me to different characters. 

I wrote with pencil, ink, computer and laptop. I drink – still – the entire time I write.  Let me clarify - I drink water or sports drinks while I write. I admit I was in a stupor while I wrote this novel, but not one induced by spirits! I did often listen to music as I wrote Beloved Mother. I listened to old tapes of mountain ballads, banjo and fiddle music to help me set the tone and visualize the setting. Mountain ballads proved most helpful. Readers will realize their impact when they meet Eli O’Mary, a character who speaks using only nursery rhymes and mountain ballad lyrics. 

I had no set time to write. I still don’t. When a phrase or sentence came to me, I would stop whatever I was doing and write it down. I found that these served as strong prompts to get the story line and characterization going.  I would incorporate the words into the draft and let them lead wherever the characters wanted to go.  Ideas would wake me in the night. I kept a pencil and legal pad by my bed so that I wouldn’t lose the idea by going back to sleep. 

I often wrote as a friend and I rode up the road while she drove me to and from Tennessee. I kept a notebook in the car so that I could pull off the road and write something down that I needed to remember. I still follow these practices. One of the most helpful experiences I had during the development of my writing the novel was the interaction among fellow writers at Learning Events on Orr Mountain outside Sweetwater, Tennessee. 

Our facilitator would begin with a specific goal – a lesson. We would write and then critique each others’ works. The events were invigorating and productive. I attended session Novel 5. At our “graduation,” we all wore tee-shirts that read “I survived Novel 5”!

What is the summary of your fiction work? Southwestern Virginia, 1923. A young girl’s spur-of-the-moment decision to run away with a stranger impacts two generations for forty years. Abuse, rape, love, abortion, and murder take two sisters and a niece on different paths that eventually braid into one. Cherokee spiritually and an Old Testament God battle for the sisters’ spirits, until the young niece’s love for Turtleback Mountain and its creatures breaks the patterns that have controlled their lives. Because each belief is painful, yet beautiful, the conclusion is not what the reader would necessarily expect.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? Lily’s mother Anna has died during the month of December.  A blizzard covers Turtleback in three feet of snow, then ice, then snow. Lily preserves her mother’s body by putting her out in her coffin on the front porch in the freezing air. 

This scene is the burial of Anna in early February when the ground has thawed enough to be shoveled. Lily’s friends from down the mountain, Gabe and Seth White, help with the burying. This scene, which leaves Lily with a tremendous sense of loss, is only the beginning of her true loss, Turtleback Mountain.

Please include excerpt and include page numbers as
reference.  The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.
       Pages 224-226

            The burying had been those few days in February when false spring appeared and then vanished, killing all leaf and bloom it had duped into coming out. Lily buried her mother in the middle of the road. A stretch, more track than logging road, abandoned when the mine on the face of the mountain played out, created the only strip of land suitable for burying without climbing to Flatland. She had decided early on that she would bury her mother there. Her daddy had never been a part of their lives, so no need to take her to Breakline. She had no idea about her Covington folk.
       The ground, brown from last season’s leaves and musk, lay soft from rains that had beaten trees naked after the blizzard and melted ice. They stood, no more than stark grey shadows, barren of winter ice and its weight for one more season.
       Morning of the first February break in the weather, she walked the road to Breakline Camp, the road soggy by melted snow. At the top of Turtleback where the road dipped into Breakline, she saw in the distance the open hole of the mine’s black mouth. She wondered about life in tunnels that had at one time been little more than burrows. Tunnels that bent men double under their low ceilings. She wondered if her father had walked with his face to the ground like so many others. Dark miners moved about the camp like impatient insects, as they manipulated massive yellow machines that would soon eat away at what had once been an underground mine.
       At the commissary, she found Gabe and Seth White. She brought them back, offering to pay twenty-seven dollars, all she had left from her father’s pension, if they would put the body easy in the grave.
       Lily took her long-handled shovel and helped dig the grave, while her mother lay on the front porch threatening to thaw. Because her mother had been a slight woman at her death, they dug the grave shallow.
       Gabe and Seth lifted the coffin, each supporting an end, and set it down feet first, before positioning it straight in the trench.
       "Ought this hole to be a mite deeper?" Seth asked.
       "It's deep enough to keep varmints away," Lily answered and turned her back to them.
       "These ruts that old mining road?” Seth asked. “Seems the old mine used to run right nigh here."
       "No matter,” Lily said. “I won't have my mama buried on slope. I want her steady in the ground. Not where she’s standing on her feet through eternity. Here's where she'll lie." Lily stood with her legs slightly apart, in lopsided comfort, with one foot in a rut, one slanted on the loose dirt. Turtleback Mountain stood behind her. The town of Covington below to the south and east; Breakline Mining Camp, north and to the west, she stood in the center of all that had been her life.
       "Reckon this'll do then," Seth replied, and he shoveled dirt and rock in on the coffin. The sound muffled itself against the wood like rain on shingles too long on the roof.
       "Wait.”  Lily set out for the porch. "Stop your shoveling,” she called back. From the edge of the porch, she picked up a pint fruit jar, its ring at a cocked angle, its lid flat against the glass mouth. Inside dead fireflies stuck to the bottom, stiff, their once vibrant ends the color of dried wood. Lily placed the jar of insects in the grave, next to the coffin’s head, and stepped back.
       "Now. Do what you're here to do." Lily walked back toward the house in step with the thuds of dirt as each hit against the coffin. "Don't you break that jar, Gabe Shipley." She spoke without turning.
       From her mother’s old chair on the porch, Lily stared past the scene in the side road, leading up the Turtleback.  Beyond, a band of blue opened from between skeletal white clouds.  Lily sat on the porch and wailed a chant-like dirge neither of the men had ever heard. She took three or four notes from one of Kee Granny’s old minor scales and worked them back and forth, weaving a lament that reverberated off the mountain wall, a nagging melody that rivaled a whippoorwill's sorrow:      
              Bring me a fruit jar and fill it with light
              of fireflies and wonder to stave off the night
              no spirits born evil dare enter the door -
bring morning - not darkness –
for fireflies no more
              gleam bright in the moonlight - not fireflies -
              but wonder will outlive the night
       Gabe and Seth never looked up. They patted the filled grave with the back of the shovel and stood the tool against a sycamore trunk.
        The burial would not be worth the telling in Breakline. They would not be remembering words. They probably thought burying the fireflies was something else again. They had not seen lightning bugs since cool weather had set in. The power of fireflies to ward off sinister spirits lay in their glow against a black night. Dead bugs don't shine. But all that had not mattered when Lily had gathered the insects.
       Two weeks of heavy rain and ditches full to the brim with gushing water, a low rumble from the earth signaled a change Lily had not expected. Gabe would later tell her that the mouth of the abandoned mine between Boone Station and Covington had collapsed.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this
specific excerpt? This scene is one of the saddest in the novel, in my opinion. Lily  is now alone on the mountain where she grew up. Neither her best friend Gabe nor the older man Seth who has watched her reach young adulthood understand Lily’s connection to nature and the land. Her isolation is complete. She accepts the fact that no one would understand the song she composed for her mother, and she doesn’t question the loneliness that realization brings her.

I almost cried when I wrote it. I almost cry when I reread it. One of the saddest aspects of this scene is the interconnection of losing her mother and using the love of the mountain she has learned from Kee Granny to produce a poignant song of her own. She is both mother’s daughter and Granny’s daughter at this point.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt.  Deletions from pages 224 to 226 are highlighted in blue:

Her daddy had never been a part of their lives, so no need to take her to Breakline to bury her next to Clint Goodman

Morning of the first February break in the weather Lily walked the road to Breakline Camp, the road soggy by melted snow.

Gabe and Seth never looked up.  When Lily’s funeral song ended, they patted the filled grave with the backs of the shovels and stood the tools against a sycamore trunk.
       Lily thought the uniqueness of her mother’s service unimportant.  The burial would not be worth the telling in Breakline. The men would not be remembering words.
Other works you have published? Since 1994, I have
published sixteen stories and nine poems, as well as numerous free-lance articles. In fact, I considered myself a short story writer until I wrote Beloved Mother. My stories and poetry appear in anthologies and literary magazines. Anthologies include Belles’ Letters, Climbing Mt. Cheaha, Motif and Belles’ Letters 2. Magazines that contain my works include ALALITCOM, Crave Magazine, Explorations, Birmingham Arts Journal, Marrs Field Journal and Pithead Chapel. I also have a story collection Hard as a Rock ready for editing.  My writings reflect the perseverance of the downtrodden; those who refuse to give up, even against extreme odds.

Anything you would like to add? One of the issues I worked most diligently on was being certain that I wrote nothing that might offend the Cherokee Nation. Theirs is a people I highly respect. I spoke with members of the Nation and did extensive research on what is and what isn’t acceptable in their beliefs. The one character who denigrates the Cherokee beliefs does so through a warped sense of self and the use of mind-bending herbs, not through any personal animosity toward the Cherokee. In fact, the one person she most loves is himself Cherokee.

Writing Beloved Mother was a spiritual experience for me. The setting and the characters came to me complete, even the spirits. Once I accepted them, they began to move through my mind while I wrote as if I were watching a movie. I did little to rework the plot other than add specific details such as sensory triggers and tie-ins to previous events. The experience was almost surreal. These characters still live and move through my mind. They are dear friends I don’t want to set aside.

I was born in 1942 on Pest Hill near Cordova, a small mining and mill town in North Alabama. I grew up in the country among hardscrabble workers, most of whom farmed or worked with their hands. An acute awareness of local speech and minute detail to place reveals my insight into experiences of the oppressed Southerner. Mine was a society that, when a family member’s erratic behavior could not be explained or controlled, the individual could be put in a car and dropped off at Bryce Hospital, formerly the Alabama State Hospital for the Insane, in Tuscaloosa. 

These neighbors returned with less ability to think than when they left, or they returned not at all. Raised in Alabama hill country on what has been called the “toenail of the Appalachians,” I now live in rural Tuscaloosa County.

         I describe myself as a bread man, a dogman and an educator. My father, Jodie Barton, delivered bread to small country stores throughout Walker County and part of Cullman County. Summers I rode with him to deliver bread, cakes and buns. Such exposure sealed unique individuals in my unconscious, individuals who would reappear in some form once I began to write. 
A dogman, always. My father was a dogman who killed nothing, ever. He often took me on Saturday night hunts to hear the dogs tree their coons or rabbits. We sat with other hunters listening to the dogs bay, only to call them off when they became too frantic. Never without a dog, my husband and I have a partz-mix cocker spaniel who decides in her own doggy-way what can and cannot be done at home.

An educator, I am certified to teach history, English and music.  I hold an Educational Specialist degree in Secondary Teaching Methodology from the University of Alabama, as well as eighteen hours in journalism and eighteen hours in creative writing.  I have done extensive studies on the history of West Alabama and the Civil War and serve as an historical re-in-actor. I taught in four school systems and at the University of Alabama before retiring.

I am an insatiable reader. During my fourth-grade year, I was bedbound for over two weeks with a vicious case of mumps. 

My mother had ordered a red set of World Book Encyclopedias from a traveling salesman. The books arrived the same time as the mumps. I spent weeks reading encyclopedia after encyclopedia, even hiding under the cover with a flashlight to avoid having to sleep. 
I learned there was another world outside my own and it was fascinating. Such knowledge sparked a flame that burns today and still sets me upon the road.
      Following graduation from the University of Alabama, I married Tom Hunter who, before retirement, designed and built research instruments for the College of Arts and Sciences. 

As we raised twins, I found no time for writing. I was too busy teaching our children to grow and others to write. The academic and artistic atmosphere surrounding Tuscaloosa continued to fuel my imagination and desire to become a part of the arts community.
It was not until I retired and my husband asked what I most wanted to do that I began to write in earnest. “I want to go to school and learn how to write stories,” I said. And I did. I had looked jealously on the Creative Writing program at the University of Alabama when I arrived but cast the idea of enrolling aside. 

My parents would not have approved. They had, after all, refused to let me become an airline hostess! (too-worldly, you know) Too, as a female, I needed an education that would support me and our children were I to find myself needing to do so. Writing did not guarantee income. 
My studies in creative writing and journalism include these published authors: Michael Knight, University of Tennessee, Knoxville; 

Aaron Smith, Leslie University, Massachusetts; Darnell Arnoult, Lincoln Memorial University, Tennessee; Michael Martone, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; and Rick Bragg, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

 I began by writing short stories and a few poems. Each one I have had accepted has been awarded an international, national or local prize and/or been published. The idea of writing a novel seemed daunting, but the work began to materialize as the events of Beloved Mother marched across my mind. The characters and their actions refused to leave until the work was finished.
My work in progress is a novel about actual experimentation on and sterilization of young women of color in mid-20th century Alabama. It is told from the point of view of a fictionalized twelve-year-old patient.
       In my spare time, I work with a small writing group in Tuscaloosa. I garden and read, primarily Southern and Appalachian authors.


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