Sunday, November 24, 2019

#101 Inside the Emotion of Fiction: "Protecting Elvis" by Charlotte Morgan

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****Charlotte Morgan’s Protecting Elvis is the #101 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? Protecting Elvis; this novel never had another name.  Titles come late, after all the research but before I actually finish/fine tune the novel.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Published by KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing); available on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.
What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I started writing this novel when my 35-year-old daughter  (Miranda) was a senior in high school.

We took a trip together to explore colleges in Tennessee, then visited Graceland (Left Bottom) in Memphis and the Elvis birthplace (Left Top) in Tupelo, Miss.  Miranda claims that this was the REAL reason for the trip. That’s when I began my research. Research always takes me about as long as writing; I’m slow at both. I’m fascinated by the way people want to connect with “celebrities” to enrich their lives, when often, for women, the internal emotional landscape is somewhat barren.
Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? I write in my basement study, but I can write anywhere. Research is usually “out in the field,” travelling or interviewing or going to libraries. I’m quite slow at the writing stage.

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 do research in a notebook, dedicated to that novel. (I’ve written four novels, one memoir, two collections of short stories, and one poetry chapbook).
    When I actually begin to write, I “spiral”—write two or three pages a day, begin the next day reviewing/revising/editing what I wrote the day before. I always do this, whether it’s fiction, poetry, or non-fiction.  By the time I’m actually “composing” (not researching), I’m using the computer.

What is the summary of this specific fiction 
work? “In Protecting Elvis, meet three women whose lives have been inextricably influenced—some might say dominated—by Elvis Presley.
     Velis Emerson is an agoraphobic who grew up in Tupelo. She’s corresponding secretary for Elvis Presley Tupelo Fan Club.
     Priscilla Jane Johnson, a nurse at the Durham Diet Clinic, meets Elvis when he checks in to prepare for the Special from Hawaii.
     Notary Pettiford Midgette is a domestic at Graceland.
Over all hovers the voice of Gladys Presley, the mother who tries to guard Elvis, even from heaven.
     How can each of these women protect the image of Elvis Presley, a man who has meant more in their lives than the ordinary men they know?”

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? Growing up the “middle child” and only girl between two brothers, I always fantasized a twin sister. When I found out that Elvis had a twin brother, stillborn, Jesse Garon, I was fascinated. Had he experienced that loneliness, too?

Please include just once excerpt including page numbers as reference.  This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

She hadn't opened the front door in almost three years.  No one had.  The problem was too big for her to deal with at that moment, she was too wrung out.  Too tired to even walk to her own bedroom.  Clearing a place on the daybed Velis stretched out, her breathing slowed.  Exhausted, she fell asleep as soon as her head hit the mattress. 
            The dream, the one she always has, the one that’s more real than any actual day she can remember:  They're both on stage.  She’s standing in the wings, holding their capes and extra silk scarves, white and orange and black, watching and waiting while they're singing the last number of the encore.  Sometimes it's "Unchained Melody."  Tonight it's her all-time favorite, "How Great Thou Art."  In minutes they'll come off and she'll hand them their dark glasses and they'll look at her and Elvis will ask, "How'd we do?"
            She waits and watches, the scarves floating out over the audience.  Floating, like slo mo, the audiences’ arms stretching toward them.  E & J are frozen onstage, arms above their heads.  E is smiling, natural, loving the audience loving him. J makes himself smile, waits just long enough before he can bolt offstage.  She watches them from the wings, thinking: They're my babies, like I’m their Mama or big sister.  Elvis will ask "How'd we do?"  Jesse won't.  He's moody as all getout.  Elvis is her secret favorite, but she still loves Jesse despite his own sourpuss ways.  The first born is always the moody one, they say.  She doesn't blame Jesse.  In many ways he's smarter than Elvis, truth be told.  He's better at making business decisions, that's for sure.  He's the one who fired the Colonel, for which she thanks her lucky stars.  Elvis goes on gut feeling; Jesse uses his head.  All this flitters through her mind while she watches them, arms lifted, singing that last sad song.
            She swells up inside, watching them, so proud she could pop.  The Presleys: anybody who's drawn breath the last twenty years knows them.  That's what the lights in the backdrop spell out, The Presleys.  She stands in the dark wings, listens all the way through this number, watches them stretch out their white winged capes, claps, says to herself, "Way to go, E and J."  She’s the only person who can tell them apart, with Gladys gone; it's their little inside trick.  Their buddies will say, real stunned-like, "How in the world can you do that, Velis?" cause those brothers are alike as two nickels.  It's easy. 
            They sprint from the stage, sweat pouring, coal black hair soaked.  She hands them fresh white towels.  "You think we gave them their money's worth, Little Vel?"  Elvis asks, that half-curl on his lip that means he's teasing.  That look still drives the women wild.
            "Money couldn't buy it, E.  You know that.  You two gave the fans a piece of heaven tonight.  A pure piece of heaven."
            Elvis smiles; he can never get his fill of compliments.  He's like a kid about that.  Now Jesse don't care a bit what people say.  Or the press either, for that matter.  She ignores all that dirty talk the papers and movie magazines print.  She hasn't ever thought about them being sexy one way or another, except when they're considering new stage costumes or making a movie.  Then she has to evaluate how they look, their sex appeal, in a strictly businesslike way.  So to her that curled lip is no more than a typical Elvis tease.  Part of his boyish magic.  She smiles back.
            "Want some juice, J?"  He shakes his head no, doesn't even look at her.  Jesse's voice isn't what it once was.  Elvis says maybe they should give up performing, but Jesse claims they can go on forever, long as they pack the house, long as his voice don't get no worse.  See, with two they can cover up a lot.  Elvis carries him.  With twins it balances out.  She’s never seen two people closer, not even other spittin-image identicals.
            "Y'all ready?" she asks, throwing Jesse's black satin cape around his shoulders.
            Elvis winks and puts on his glasses.  "Ready as we'll ever be," he says, striking a dramatic pose.  "TCB, Little Vel."  That's just E. 
            The three of them pass through the stage door, single file, to the waiting limousine.  It's dark, so dark she can't breathe, so dark she thinks she must be dead.
            When Velis woke in a panic the room was pitch black.  For an instant she thought she was in the limousine, inside the dream, that she hadn't even opened her eyes yet.  She had this dream a lot, at least once a week, and it was always twice as hard when she woke up like this, in the dark, with them both gone. 

Note: This dream was initially published as a stand-alone short story in "E & J,"  The International Journal of Elvisology and the Elvisian Era, Vol. l, 1993,  Jacksonville, Florida.  So this whole idea of Elvis as a lonesome soul had been percolating for quite some time!

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? I picture Velis alone and scared. I think this scene captures that human loneliness fear, but this is exaggerated both by her illness (agoraphobia) and her sense that Elvis “needs” her in some way. Velis feels quite real to me.
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. As I said, I write in “spirals,” so my mark-ups occur on the computer as I revise. I searched my files but only found old “clean” copies or pages I’d shared with the three other women writers I trust to read my works in progress. They always provide invaluable insight.

Other works you have published? One short story, “What I Eat,” is published in the Pushcart Prize collections.
My first novel, One August Day, was nominated for the Library of Virginia Fiction Award.
     I have published about 15 short stories in literary journals as well as poems.

Anything you would like to add? I never saw Elvis in concert, thought I’ve seen The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, twice.

All my writing teachers gave me gifts:
Lee Smith:  Kill your darlings; never condescend.
Paule Marshall:  The work must be done.
Tom DeHaven: Edit, edit, then edit.

      Charlotte Morgan has published poetry, fiction, and nonfiction since the 1980s. She holds an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University (where she won the Fiction Award her second year!) and is writer-in-residence at Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program. A VCCA Fellow, she formerly served on the Board of Blue Ridge Writers. Her novels (One August Day and Protecting Elvis) can be found on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble. Morgan credits her lifelong love of reading and writing as well as wonderful writing teachers and friends for encouraging and stimulating her writing life. She lives in Lynchburg with artist husband John D. Morgan and their two standard poodles, Jackie-Oh and The Drifter.


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