Field Notes

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 10

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter.

This is Chapter 10 (day 38):

“ELEANOR RIGBY”
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Performed by the Beatles
Recorded at EMI/Abbey Road Studios, London, England, 1966
No percussion

It made no sense to Molly. “Aquarius” was just a song. You grew up, you went to college — or not — you got married — or not, but most likely you did, and you had kids — or not, but most likely you did — and you lived in a house where you had your own dishes and your own neighbors and your own backyard and friends and cookouts and parties and birthdays and years and years of things you did in that house, with your family, until you grew old, and you were happy — or not — and that was how it worked. Right?

The Beatles figure prominently in the chapter heads for ANTHEM, partly because they were so important to the development of American music in the sixties, and also because these particular song selections highlight the chapters they head and help tell the story. 

As Molly and Norman sit down to supper with their great aunts, who no longer recognize them, Molly is introduced as Eleanor Rigby, and Norman as Father MacKenzie. The song “Eleanor Rigby” serves as a poignant way to characterize Molly’s encounter with her aunts, whose memory is failing, but also to think about how Molly’s self-righteousness is isolating her on this trip, and how she will be lonely, traveling across this country, until she lets go of her perceived notions about life and embraces the road ahead.

And she’s likely to find a lonely person or two on the road ahead as well. I loved exploring how music helps us tell a story.

Chapter 10.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 9

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter.

This is Chapter 9 (day 39):

“LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS”
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Performed by the Beatles
Recorded at EMI/Abbey Road Studios, London, England, 1967
Drummer: Ringo Starr

The girl rapped her wooden spoon on top of the pot, laid it across the lid, and looked Molly square in the face. She had brilliant blue eyes. Norman stared at her and swallowed.
“My name is Lucy,” she announced.
“Lucy who?”
“Lucy Inthesky.”
“Inthesky?” Molly sounded out this strange last name in her head. Inthesky.
“With Diamonds,” the girl finished.
Molly’s eyebrows arched in astonishment, then sank to murderous levels. “Are you kidding me?” She put her hands on her hips and leaned in. “Listen, sister…”
“Oh, brother,” said Norman. He gave his head a brisk shake to break the spell he’d been under. “I’ll go check on them.”
A warble came from the top of the wide staircase by the front door.
“Norman! Is that you, dear?”

I laugh every time I read this passage. hahahaha. This entire Atlanta section of Norman and Molly’s trip makes me smile. It’s such a trip for them, and for me as a writer. It was probably the most fun to write, although there are lots of places and people who were fun to write about. 

This is where I started thinking of the story as a sort of Forrest Gump for young readers. And this album cover is the one I’ve shown to students in schools for many years now, when I tell them about how much I loved the Beatles, how I loved them with abandon, even when they got older and “went around the bend,” because I got older, too, and I, too, went “around the bend” for a while. :> 

But that’s a story for another time. 

Chapter 9, in Atlanta, with the kooky maiden aunts…. and a few other colorful humans

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 8

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter.

This is Chapter 8 (day 40):

Good Golly Miss Molly
Written by John Marascalco and Robert “Bumps” Blackwell
Performed by Little Richard
Recorded at J&M Studio, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1956
Drummer: Earl Palmer

The arguing started early.
“We are not going to Macon! It’s miles and miles out of our way!”
Norman kept driving, kept silent. Molly tried listening to Saturday’s Top Forty on her transistor with her earphone, but the engine was too loud, so she gave it up. Five hours later, after they’d driven to Macon, Georgia, and found no Allman Brothers in City Park or anywhere else, they stopped at the H&H Restaurant for an early lunch.

Things are not going as Molly planned. :>

Little Richard was born and grew up in Macon, Georgia. He grew up singing in the Pentecostal Church; one of his early influences was Sister Rosetta Tharp, who is mentioned in a later chapter of ANTHEM — we’ll get to her, but in the meantime, listen to her sing “Didn’t it Rain?” in 1964 in Manchester, England. It’s hilarious, it’s fabulous, it’s amazing. 

Also in this chapter you can hear the jukebox play “Grazing in the Grass” sung by the Friends of Distinction. Norman, of course, loves the percussion. It’s worth listening to South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s jazzy instrumental version as well. Norman would have been all over that cowbell. 

If you are teaching ANTHEM in the classroom, you’ll be able to use these blog entries, chapter by chapter, to help tell the story in music. Each song is chosen to highlight that particular part of the story, and to tell the story of American music, alongside Molly and Norman’s journey across the country in 1969.

Tomorrow, out of Macon and into Atlanta, Georgia — stay tuned.

ANTHEM is coming: chapter 7

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter.

This is chapter 7 (day 42)

Good Morning, Starshine
from the musical “Hair”
written by James Rado, Gerome Ragni, and Galt MacDermot
Performed by Oliver
Recorded at unattributed studio, 1969
unattributed percussion

“Can you even drive this thing?” were Molly’s first encouraging words.
“We’re gonna find out,” Norman replied. Then he cursed under this breath.
Molly crossed herself, even though she wasn’t Catholic.
“Hail Mary full of grace!”
“Shut up!” Norman shouted. He reached for the gearshift with one hand and turned the giant steering wheel with the other. His body bounced on the seat and his legs pumped as he released the clutch and the brake and pressed on the gas. He was a marionette suddenly free of his strings. The bus jumped forward three times and then smoothed into a roll that took them out the driveway and into the wide world.

And they are off!

Tomorrow: first stop along the way. 

I listened to the 45rpm of “Good Morning, Starshine” on repeat, on my blue Zenith record player, in 1969. Also “Hair” by the Cowsills and “The Age of Aquarius” by the Fifth Dimension. That was living. :> Like Molly, I was an innocent about to be plunged into the heady days of the late sixties/early seventies, without a clue how to navigate the changes. 

Far out.

ANTHEM is coming: chapter 6

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter.

This is Chapter 6 (day 42):

“I’m a Believer”
Written by Neil Diamond
Performed by the Monkees
Recorded at unattributed studio, New York, NY 1966
Drummer: Mickey Dolenz (concert); Buddy Saltzman (studio)

MOLLY:

“What’s this?” I pick my way over the spilled tools and follow him out of the bus and around to its opened hood.
“It’s an underground newspaper. Printed in Atlanta. Barry hooked me up with it.”
“What’s it for?”
“What it’s against is more like it. It’s anti-establishment.”
“What?”
“Nevermind,” he says. He begins jimmying the hood. “Live music, that’s what it’s for.”
“Where?” This could be bad.
Norman lets the hood fall and then slams it shut with a bang. He looks me in the eye.
“Everywhere, cuz. Everywhere.”

The Monkees made music videos before there were music videos, as part of their Monday night television show. This one is pretty straightforward, but watch some of the others and you’re in for a treat. Madcap silliness was their trademark.

Chapter 6: packing and preparing the bus, arguing through the whole thing, getting ready to go.

Tomorrow, chapter 7 — launch day. Leaving Charleston behind and going out into the world.


call IN instead of call OUT

This is a screen shot of a piece in the New York Time this week about call-out culture by Loretta J. Ross. I’m putting it here to remember it and share it. It’s full of critical thinking and long experience, as well as thoughts on how we move forward in our national debate (and the debate in children’s literature) about call-out- and cancel-culture.

Here’s a link to the piece, which is well worth your time.

And here’s a snippet:

Call-outs make people fearful of being targeted. People avoid meaningful conversations when hypervigilant perfectionists point out apparent mistakes, feeding the cannibalistic maw of the cancel culture. Shaming people for when they “woke up” presupposes rigid political standards for acceptable discourse and enlists others to pile on. Sometimes it’s just ruthless hazing.

We can change this culture. Calling-in is simply a call-out done with love. Some corrections can be made privately. Others will necessarily be public, but done with respect. It is not tone policing, protecting white fragility or covering up abuse. It helps avoid the weaponization of suffering that prevents constructive healing.

ANTHEM is coming: chapter 5

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter.

This is Chapter 5 (day 43):

“Come Together”
Written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney
Performed by the Beatles
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios, London, England 1969
Drummer: Ringo Starr

“Norman shoved his hands into the pockets of his khaki slacks. Maybe Mr. Harter would reschedule. Maybe Mr. McCauley would understand. He could work on the drum notation on the road. Biff Burger would not hold his job, but he didn’t care about that. He hated that place, and he could get another job when he got back. // ‘I want to salvage some of my summer,’ he said, finally. // ‘You will,’ said Molly. ‘I promise.'”

Chapter 5, in which the deal is struck. Sort of.

The ANTHEM audiobook is in production right now. We have three performers/readers; one for Molly, one for Norman, and one for the chapters that are narrated, like this one. Our narrator is Blair Brown. So exciting!

There are more developments to share about the audiobook, too… forthcoming!

Tomorrow: Chapter 6, and back to Molly.

ANTHEM is coming: chapter 4

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter.

Here is Chapter 4 (day 44):

“Bad Moon Rising”
Written by John Fogerty
Performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Recorded at Wally Heider/Hyde Street, San Francisco, CA 1969
Drummer: Doug Clifford

“Molly throws her tote bag into the booth and flounces onto the seat after it. Her ponytail swishes wildly left, then right, as she faces off with me at Shakey’s Pizza on Highway 17. She’s wearing a yellow and orange paisley skirt, a solid orange top, and a whole lot of rage.”


(Which we thought was “There’s a Bathroom on the Right,” for the longest time… confused about it, too. :>)

Chapter 4: Negotiations Begin. Or not.

ANTHEM is coming: chapter 3

ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter.

This is Chapter 3 (day 45):

“Windy”
Written by Ruthann Friedman
Performed by the Association
Recorded at Western Recorders, Hollywood, CA 1967
Drummer: Ted Bluechel, Jr. (concert); Hal Blaine (studio)

MOLLY:

” The first time I heard ‘Windy’ I wanted to change my name. I love the Association. They are my favorite band. I love the way they harmonize and all the feeling they put into their songs. // Barry looks like their leader, Terry Kirkman, with the same blond hair, long sideburns, and crooked mouth with the gap between his two front teeth. And that smile! Just like Barry’s.”

“I want to ask Mom what planet we’re from, if she thinks I can get away with leaving home to find Barry, that Dad would allow it, or that Barry would even come with me, if I could find him. It will never happen. But Mom thinks it will.” 

The plot begins. :> A girl who loves the Association, and her cousin who loves Iron Butterfly, and an old school bus between them — their chariot — awaits.

Back to Norman — who knows this trip is a terrible idea in every way — in chapter 4.

remembering the king

Elvis Presley playing Las Vegas in 1969. Photo Getty Images.

Elvis Presley would be 84 years old today, had he lived past August 16, 1977 to today. He was 42 years old when he died, way too young. I’ve had a fascination with Elvis ever since a summer in Mississippi, visiting my grandmother, when I was eleven years old. I went to the movies with my summertime-friend down the road, to see Viva Las Vegas at the Lyric Theater in Bay Springs.

I’d heard of Elvis but he’d been off my radar; the Beatles had come to America that year, and my life would never be the same. My friend, however, who was a couple of years older than I was, was rabid about Elvis Presley, and cried in the theater during the movie. Cried. I thought she was nuts. I didn’t know her that well. And I didn’t know Elvis at all.

And really. Viva Las Vegas?

Over the years, though, my appreciation grew, to the point that I’ve visited Elvis’s birthplace in Tupelo twice (same for Graceland), have read Peter Guralnick’s great biographies, have watched the movies and documentaries, and have listened to Elvis’s music on repeat — especially the later hits, like “A Little Less Conversation” and “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds.”

I’m not rabid, but I am definitely a fan. I appreciate the man so much now, as well as the child that became that man.

Which is why ANTHEM includes more than an Elvis sighting, when Molly and Norman get to Memphis on their cross-country trip. It includes an Elvis encounter. Elvis is about ready to leave for his career “reboot” — two weeks in Las Vegas. The New York Times wrote a good piece about it last week. “Elvis Presley Needed a Reboot in July 1969. So did Las Vegas.

You’ll have to wait until Chapter 24 of ANTHEM for more on this, including the research behind the Elvis chapter, but in the meantime, you can click on the songs above to remember the singer who changed American music. The Beatles were so nervous to meet Elvis, they called it hero worship of a high degree. (Paul, in Anthology.)

There was something about Elvis, a boy from rural Mississippi, that spoke to a rural Mississippi summertime-friend of mine, that she tried to convey to me, through her excitement and tears in that darkened theater in 1964. She knew what the Beatles knew, and what I didn’t yet know, that here was one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. From Mississippi! Her Mississippi. Singing “Today, Tomorrow, Forever,” just to her.

Viva the King.

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World’s Best Zinnia Grower

World’s Best Baking Power Biscuit Maker

World’s Worst Piano Player (but I play anyway)

2014 National Book Award Finalist for REVOLUTION

2015 NAACP Image Award nominee for REVOLUTION

2015 Jane Addams Peace Award for REVOLUTION

2005 National Book Award Finalist for EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS

E.B. White Award Winner (Speech)

Ezra Jack Keats Award Winner for FREEDOM SUMMER

Bank Street College/Josette Frank Award Winner for EACH LITTLE BIRD THAT SINGS (Speech)

PEN/Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Working Writer Fellowship Winner

Thurber House Writer-in-Residence, Columbus, Ohio

MFA in Writing, Vermont College, I have taught teachers at Towson University (“Writing Techniques for Teachers,” ECED 422), and have taught in the MFA programs at Lesley University and Vermont College.

Pioneer of the Documentary Novel containing scrapbooks with primary source documents — photographs, song lyrics, newspaper clippings, etc., and opinionated biographies alongside the story/narrative, mixing fiction, non-fiction, and biography in one book/story in a trilogy about the 1960s. COUNTDOWN 1962; REVOLUTION 1964; and ANTHEM 1969 (to be published fall 2019)

* * *

I’m a Southerner born in Mobile, Alabama, where I lived until I was five years old. My parents were Mississippi born and bred, and I spent most of my childhood summers there and grew up in Mississippi and all around the world as an Air Force dependent.

I’ve lived in:

Mobile, Alabama
Jasper County, Mississippi
Honolulu, Hawaii
Washington, D.C.
Prince Georges County, Maryland
Charleston, South Carolina
Clark Air Base, Philippines
Northern Virginia
Cherry Point, North Carolina
Millington, Tennessee
Frederick, Maryland
Atlanta, Georgia

After living in the Washington, D.C. area (Frederick, MD) for 25 years, where I raised a family, I moved to Atlanta 14 years ago, and now live in a little house with a purple door in a little woods. I married musician/composer Jim Pearce 12 years ago. You can hear Jim profiled by Susan Stamberg at NPR right here.

Where to find me online:

I use Pinterest as a visual resource for my books. You’ll find primary source material for my books archived here, including playlists for COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION.

Talking with Michele Norris of All Things Considered at NPR, about THE AURORA COUNTY ALL-STARS and writing with and for young people.

Visiting Spring Ridge Elementary School (video).

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