Field Notes

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 23

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. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969

This is Chapter 23 (day 25):

SUSPICIOUS MINDS
Written by Mark James
Performed by Elvis Presley
Recorded at American Sound Studio, Memphis, Tennessee 1969
Drummer: Gene Chrisman

Birdie grabbed the last piece of bacon from the plate in the waitress’s hand. “Thank you, Dottie!”
Dottie stiffened. “We have customers waiting.”
“Right,” said Norman, his own embarrassment showing.
“Let me out!” Molly snapped.
“Whoa!” said Birdie, as she stood to let Molly by. “You and Mags would be great friends.”
Molly managed to get out of the booth without touching Birdie, who, she was convinced, had something living in her hair. She snatched the paper out of her cousin’s hand. “Give me the check, Norman. I’ll pay it.” She stalked to the register.
“I’ll pay for the Cokes,” said Margaret. “We’re not that broke.” She followed Molly to the register — but not before she said to Norman, “She’s not always like this.” Then she reconsidered. “Well, yes, she is.”
“Lucky you,” said Birdie. She trailed after Margaret, calling back over her shoulder, “Don’t just sit there, Norman!”

“Suspicious Minds” — that’s just where Molly and Norman are as they meet Margaret and Birdie at the Arcade Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee. 

“What do you want?” asks Norman, and Birdie answers, “We want a ride to this address.” Which happens to be American Sound Studio, which was located at 827 Thomas Street, and where Elvis did record in the summer of 1969. 

How to write about Memphis and American music in the Sixties without mentioning Elvis Presley? It can’t be done. So Elvis must make an appearance, no? We shall see…

Margaret and Birdie were first born as characters in a novel I started in 1995 called “Hang the Moon.” I’m still working on that novel, 25 years later. I put it away for long periods of time, haul it back out again (yesterday, as a matter of fact), and putter with it, play with it, try to figure out how to make it work.

In “Hang the Moon,” Margaret and Birdie are two 13-year-old cousins who don’t like each other and find themselves on a trip from Mississippi to Memphis — in 1966 — to find Elvis Presley, who one of them is convinced — with some reasonable proof — is her father. 

I love “Hang the Moon.” I tried to use it as Book 2 of the Sixties Trilogy, but my editor didn’t like it — at all — and I was unwilling to make the changes he suggested. (The biggest change he requested was “Can the Tennessee Williams.” hahahaha!)

But I realized, as we talked it through, that this novel was not Book 2 of the Sixties Trilogy, after all, that “Hang the Moon” would need to be its own story one day (please), and that Book 2 of the Sixties Trilogy would need a whole new story… which became REVOLUTION

And thank goodness. Sunny and Gillette and Ray’s story of Freedom Summer is the perfect one to represent the civil rights struggle of the Sixties, and REVOLUTION is the story that was meant to be born then.

But. When writing ANTHEM, I remembered that loud-mouthed, uncouth, big-feelings girl, Birdie June, and her cousin Margaret, and I thought… they would be three years older now. Did they ever get to Memphis? Did they ever find Elvis? IS Elvis Birdie’s father? How did that all play out after “Hang the Moon” ended? 

So I gave them a walk-on in ANTHEM — and I laughed and laughed at their shenanigans as I wrote the Memphis section of this book. I hope they make you laugh as well. And sing along with some Elvis, in both this chapter and the next. 

As Birdie puts it at the end of Chapter 23:

“Elvis and my mama had a thing, back in the day, I’m telling you, long story… but he is no longer available, of course, because of Priscilla, but he and my mama are friends again, and Priscilla is fine with it, and he invited me to come up anytime and I knew he’d be here today because he told Mama he would and so here I am.”

Chapter 23.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 22

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. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969

This is Chapter 21 (day 27):

TIME IS TIGHT
Written by Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson, Jr., Donald “Duck” Dunn,
and Steve Cropper
Performed by Booker T. and the MGs
Recorded at Stax Records, Memphis, Tennessee 1969
Drummer: Al Jackson, Jr.

“What a good time!” said Estelle. Molly nodded. “That’s what to remember,” Estelle said. “None of us stays the same. Music reminds us of the journey, of where we came from, and it even shows us where we’re going. You’ll see.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Molly. She didn’t see.
“Listen to those songs again,” said Estelle. “Let them bathe the sadness away, so you can see the gifts it brings you.”
“I will,” said Molly, and as she said it, her sadness softened.
Estelle pulled a bag from behind the counter for the records she and Molly had listened to. “One day I’ll be gone, too,” she said. “One day I hope you’ll play these records and remember this day, remember me. Let me send you on your way with a little bit of Stax.”
Molly smiled at Estelle. “Thank you, Lady A.”
Estelle handed Molly the bag. “You are so welcome, dear girl.” 

So we stop at Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, on an early summer morning. Estelle Axton was one of the first women to own a recording studio in the Sixties. She co-founded the label, along with her brother, Jim Stewart, and they recorded mostly black artists, although the two of them were white.

They converted the Capitol Theater, in a black neighborhood in Memphis, into a recording studio and record shop — Satellite Records — and it became a beacon to not only the neighborhood, but to kids like Steve Cropper who had to go to the local Sears to hear records before Satellite Records opened, and who was interested in more than Pat Boone and Bobby Darin. 

Cropper became part of Booker T. and the MGs, the integrated house band at Stax, who backed so many artists and helped make their records hits.

I wanted you to hear Booker T and the MGs, with Booker T. on that Hammond organ. Their most famous tune is “Green Onions,” but since I used that song in COUNTDOWN, I decided to go with another one here, especially as “Time is Tight” is also what’s going on with Molly and Norman right now — they’ve got to get going, to make it San Francisco in time to find Barry and bring him home. 

I also wanted to use this chapter to give you a flavor for Memphis, Tennessee — and the American South — in 1969. I give it to you through the history that Lady A talks about in this chapter — the loss of Otis Redding and what that meant to Stax Records, the murder of Martin Luther King and then Bobby Kennedy in 1968… and then, of course, the music.

Music highlighted in this chapter: “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” by Otis Redding; “People, Get it Together,” by Eddie Floyd; “Soul Man,” by Sam and Dave; “Abraham, Martin and John,” by Dion; and “A Hard Day’s Night,” by the Beatles, which Molly uses to tell a story that unlocks a little more about her brother Barry, for her (and us) to think about. 

You can tour Stax Records and the recording studio when you’re in Memphis, and get a feel for the magic that was created there in the Sixties. I’ve been several times now, and I love it as much as Graceland, actually… and there ain’t much I love as much as the mythology that surrounds Graceland. Stay tuned…

Chapter 22.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 21

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. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969

This is Chapter 20 (day 28):

BROTHER LOVE’S TRAVELING SALVATION SHOW
Written by Neil Diamond
Performed by Neil Diamond
Recorded at American Sound Studio, Memphis, Tennessee 1969
Drummer: Gene Chrisman

Ray gave Norman his fiery stare. Well?
Norman sighed and opened the bus door, clambered down the steps, and waved at the girl, who was still far away. “How far you going?” he shouted.
The girl looked behind her, then back at Norman, stunned, then scared. 
Ray hopped off the bus. “That’s not how you do it! You all lily-white and tall and got a bus and calling to this girl. You’re in Mississippi, Man!”
He strutted to the girl and had words with her that Norman couldn’t hear. He pointed to the bus. They talked and the baby played with his hands. The girl smiled. Molly stood on the bottom step of the stepwell, at the folding door, and watched.

I *loved* this overwrought, ebullient, gospel-roots song when I was a teenager. And now, it’s perfect for this chapter, where Molly and Norman — and Ray — pick up Emily and her baby. 

The song is a perfect metaphor for where we are in the story, and it works, too, because Neil Diamond recorded it at American Sound Studio in Memphis. Memphis is the next destination for our travelers. Little do they know they will encounter not only the studio but the man who is recording there on this day… and it’s not Neil Diamond.

You can read more about the genesis for this song (a revival in Jackson, Mississippi!) in Neil Diamonds words, here. A snippet: “This song was written about a revival meeting I was at in Jackson, Mississippi. I went there because I was curious, and also because I was a college kid who had all the answers – no one was going to teach me anything and I could lay a few answers on them. I sat in the back of this tent meeting and I got really caught up in the music – clapping, the singing – tremendously exciting. After a while I felt something about the people – there was a tremendous yearning, looking for answers. Trying to ease a very hard burden of very rough lives. After a while the music stopped and a preacher walked out. I remember thinking that all the education I had, all the books, all the words, all the learning I went through at college didn’t mean anything to these people, I had nothing for them. So I found myself pulling for this man who was about to give them something that I couldn’t even begin to give them.”

That’s a theme of this section of ANTHEM, a search for meaning and a way to figure out what you really believe and what it means to be human… all the things that a formal education can’t teach you.

Chapter 21.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 20

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. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969

This is Chapter 20 (day 28):

IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR
Written by Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper
Performed by Wilson Pickett
Recorded at Stax Records, Memphis, Tennessee 1966
Drummer: Al Jackson, Jr.

Our second supper together, thought Molly. She had found a can of beef stew in the box and they’d added it to their feast, splitting it three ways after warming it on a grate over the fire.
“Bus didn’t sound too good over those hills last night,” said Ray.
“I know,” said Norman. “It struggles with hills.”
“Are we all right?” Molly asked.
Norman shrugged. “We’ve got to be.”
 The sun painted the sky with its oranges, yellows, pinks, and reds.

Another Wilson Pickett song, this one, “In the Midnight Hour,” recorded at Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee. So maybe you can figure out where our small band of travelers is heading.

“In the Midnight Hour” gives me a chance to highlight how those late night conversations — like the one Molly, Norman, and Ray are about to have — can reveal truths we couldn’t contemplate in the heat of the day. 

So. A significant turning point here for Molly, in her thinking about her place in the world, as compared to others’. And a new direction for Molly and Norman to explore, both internally and externally.

The plot turns.

Chapter 20.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 19

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. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969.

This is Chapter 19 (day 29):

THE ROAD OF LOVE
Written by Clarence Carter
Performed by Clarence Carter with Duane “Skydog” Allman
Recorded at FAME Studios, Muscle Shoals, Alabama 1969
Drummer: Roger Hawkins

“Hey! Come in! Come in! All of you, come in!” said Rick Hall as Norman, Molly, and Ray stepped into the lobby. “We got collards and sweet potatoes, sliced tomatoes, fried chicken. You hungry?” They were.
Introductions were made all around. “These gentlemen are my house band, the Swampers,” said Rick. “Roger Hawkins on drums, Jimmy Johnson on gee-tar, Barry Becket on keyboards and David Hood on bass. Say hey, boys! And Spooner! Get in here, Spooner!”

FAME! The mythology that surrounds FAME Studios and the Muscle Shoals sound is romantically linked with some of the most southern of southern rock. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and of course Rick Hall himself.

When I discovered that Duane Allman had recorded at FAME with Clarence Carter (that’s Duane, above), I knew I had a vital connection for Norman and Molly, to help propel them across the country; now I just had to make the narrative make sense, to get them there.

It was so much fun to research FAME and Rick Hall and the Swampers (here’s Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” where the Swampers are named — the song was recorded at the rival Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, when the band split from Rick Hall and opened their own studio), and to get into Roger Hawkins’ drumming style, for Norman, as the two of them play along with Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1000 Dances,” which was recorded at FAME:

“Cymbals!” shouted Roger. Norman jumped in his chair but hit the crash cymbal. “Now straight-ahead,” hollered Roger as he played along with himself on the recording and with Norman in the studio. “It don’t get much simpler than this! Fours on the snare, a little help from the cymbals, don’t forget the kick drum.”
A red light glowed in the control booth and colored dials on the sound board twinkled.
“Recording!” Rick announced. “Take one. Rolling.”
“What?” Norman panicked.
“Keep playing,” said Roger. “You’re doing fine.”

Chapter 19.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 18

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. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969

This is Chapter 18 (day 30):

AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH
Written by Nikolas Ashford and Valerie SImpson
Performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell
Recorded at Motown Studios, Detroit, MI 1967
Drummers: Benny “Papa Zita” Benjamin and Uriel Jones

Performed by Diana Ross and the Supremes
Recorded at Motown Studios, Detroit, MI 1969
Drummers: Uriel Jones and Richard “Pistol” Allen of the Funk Brothers 

“Norman!” Molly shrieked from the back of the bus as she struggled to get up. They must have had an accident. She had to wake up, had to get to her cousin. “Normaaaaan!”
“Stay there!” screamed Norman as he tried to stop the bus from swinging wildly back and forth and skidding off the road into a ditch. He was horrified to realize they could smash into a telephone pole and burst into a fiery furnace with a full tank of gas.
“Go!” the stranger urged once again. “Get away before he can come after you!”
Norman yelled at the stranger. “Who are you?”
“Norman!” Molly wailed. She had grabbed onto a bus seat and was finding her footing. “Turn on the lights!”

A two-fer of the same song this time, above by Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell, and below by The Supremes. Listen to how different they are, recorded in the same studio, two years apart, percussion by the Funk Brothers both times, but two very different acts, with very different approaches, different purposes, and in part, different audiences.

Welcome to ANTHEM, Motown.

I love both versions. I’m partial to Marvin Gaye’s, but the ending of the Supremes version is awfully inspiring, eh?

In researching these songs, I was most pulled to the story of Tammy Terrell, and her battle with cancer, and how, when she lost that battle, in 1970, Marvin Gaye was lost as well. He would come out of that time with the album “What’s Going On?” which is a testament to a new way of approaching the power of music for Marvin Gaye, as an activist against the war in Vietnam and against racial profiling and much more.

I use the single “What’s Going On?” in KENT STATE, my book that publishes next spring. ANTHEM serves as a springboard into the ’70s as well as a hard look at the mountain we climbed in order to get ourselves out of Vietnam and bring our troops home.

Plus, as Molly says in ANTHEM: “A night drive through the North Alabama mountains is inadvisable.”

Chapter 18.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 17

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. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969

This is Chapter 17 (day 31):

COLD SWEAT
Written by James Brown and Alfred “PeeWee” Ellis 
Performed by James Brown and the James Brown Orchestra
Recorded at King Studios, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1967
Drummer: Clyde Stubblefield

“A night drive through the North Alabama mountains is inadvisable.” Molly used a flashlight to read the warning in An Adventurer’s Guide to Travel across America.
“They’re just hills,” said Norman, although he was already white-knuckling the steering wheel in the dark.

An unfortunate encounter awaits them in Alabama (talk about a cold sweat), along with a very fortunate (for them) new character showing up, the first of many to ride in the bus with Norman and Molly.

Norman’s newly-installed radio keeps him company into the night, as this chapter flirts with the “race records” that Duane Allman listened to on Nashville’s WLAC 1530AM, “the Nighttime Station for Half the Nation” as disc jockey John R. sells chickens, Bibles, hair pomade, and everything in between while he plays Sonny Boy Williamson, Aretha, and Muddy Waters, all of whom are mentioned in this chapter, as well as B.B. King’s “Lucille,” Louis Jordan’s “Caldonia,” and Sister Rosetta Tharp’s “Didn’t it Rain?”

But when “Cold Sweat” comes on the radio, Norman has to pull over. He’s never heard anything like it.

“It was the beat, he told himself. What was that beat? He tried to tap it out on the steering wheel. The drummer was hitting the snare on the two and four, but missing that fourth beat by an eighth note and playing between the beats — or was it instead of the beat?”

All very thrilling for a budding drummer who is on his way to the heart of the South’s musical beats, in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He just has to survive his stop for gas in Anniston in the middle of the night. 

Chapter 17.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 16

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. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969

This is Chapter 16 (day 32):

THERE IS A MOUNTAIN
Written by Donovan Leitch
Performed by Donovan
Recorded at CBS Studios, London, England 1967
Percussion: Tony Carr

MOLLY:

I shake him and call out “Norman!” but he doesn’t budge. The band is so loud and the guitars are screaming at each other and the drummers are trying to see who can be the loudest and there is no song!

“He’s okay!” shouts Marvin Gardens, who is standing there over Norman, weaving and bopping like a lunatic. “He’s diggin’ it. He’ll be back.”

“Where are his shoes?”

Marvin Gardens shrugs. “Somewhere.”

I cover my ears. “I’m going to the house!” I shout. Marvin Gardens waves a loopy hand in acknowledgement and I pick my way around all the hippies and find my way out of there. I see a short kid in blue jeans wearing Norman’s shoes — they are way too big for this kid. But I keep walking. I am not the keeper of my cousin’s shoes.

If I live to be a hundred,  I will never understand this music.

It definitely helped me with coming to love “Mountain Jam” to know it was a riff on this Donovan song that I listened to on my record player dozens of times in the Sixties. 

British musicians were a fascination to American girls (this one, anyway). We fell readily in love with them, including the Beatles, of course. The whole British Invasion beginning in the early sixties was heady and exciting, and composed of not just music, but fashion and make-up and movies and television (“The Avengers,” “The Saint,” “Secret Agent,” and we got David McCallum in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”).

We were growing up against the necessary noise in our own country, the confusion of the Cold War, and the backdrop of the Vietnam War and everything that bewildered and scared us. We hung on to Donovan, and the Troggs (“Wild Thing” and “Love is All Around“), Peter and Gordon (“Nobody I Know” — my favorite), Herman’s Hermits (“Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat?“), Gerry and the Pacemakers (“Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey“), and the Nashville Teens (“Tobacco Road” which was so risque :>).

It was fun and it was pop, and it was all very “white” music in the early-to-mid sixties, very straight-ahead, something most of us didn’t register at the time — or I didn’t, anyway. It would be years before 1969 showed me that there was so much more richness to American music than I had realized, that it had blossomed into soul, R&B, funk, folk-rock, almost heavy-metal, and it was there for me as I began to navigate the end of the Sixties.

We’re heading there, in ANTHEM.

ANTHEM is coming, chapter 15

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. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969

This is Chapter 15 (day 33):

MOUNTAIN JAM
Performed by the Allman Brothers Band
Live at Piedmont Park, Atlanta, GA 1969
Recorded at Fillmore East, NY, NY 1971
Drummers: Butch Trucks and Jai Johany Johansen (Jaimoe)

NORMAN:

When they’ve hinted at the melody just enough, the fans start screaming for it — screaming like they’re on fire. They clap in time, one-one-one-one, every single note, until Duane breaks into the full melody and the whole band follows. A cheer rises up like Moses has just parted the Red Sea. The organ wails and the Allman Brothers Band takes us to the Promised Land.

It’s Donovan’s song “There is a Mountain” — I recognize it. But it’s theirs, too, their own interpretation, a mountain jam. It’s tight. It’s in the pocket. They are locked into one another like they share one nervous system, communicating like they’re all part of the same body, like nothing I’ve ever imagined was possible.

“It’s all about listening,” Mr. McCauley always tells us in band. “You can’t jam if you can’t listen.”

We’ve left the Association far behind, eh? They were definitely not a jam band, and the ABB definitely was. And therein lies the difference between Molly and Norman. She likes order. He likes jam. 

But there IS order in the jam. I just had to learn to listen for it. My jazzcat husband has helped me learn to listen, and I wanted Molly to come to appreciate the jam, too — life is jam, after all, there is precious little predictable order, even though we may think there is or wish for it.

But right now, Molly isn’t having this jam, as you’ll see in Chapter 16, when we hear the Donovan original song.

I love “Mountain Jam,” all 33:41 minutes of it. It’s got a killer (double) drum solo (at 13:00), which was important to me for Norman, since Norman is a drummer. I’ve listened to “Mountain Jam” dozens of times since I started researching ANTHEM. It helps (me, anyway) to know the history of the band, the story of Duane and Greg and Berry and Butch and Jaimoe and Dickey.  

And it helps to go there. I went to Macon a couple of years ago, to research, and to pay my respects at the Rose Hill Cemetery. Greg had just died. They laid him next to Duane and Berry. People left tributes all along the path. There is such power in the music that has moved us, and in the memory of those who created it.

I have a 22-second clip of driving past “the Big House” in Macon two years ago, while researching ANTHEM and blasting the ABB’s “Ramblin’ Man,” but it won’t load today. Bummer. You can listen to “Ramblin’ Man,” though, and that’s even better.

Chapter 15.

field trip: back in time, the lost cause

I ran off into the wilds of Georgia yesterday with a friend — a day off. A day to revel in and catch up on our friendship, and a day to take off work, before the Labor Day weekend hit. My plan is to work through the weekend (with a few lovely family breaks) in order to finish a proposal I’ve started about the Lost Cause of the Confederacy… a story that’s confounding me when it comes to finding a way “in” to telling it.

So of course this lovely day-trip with my friend Marianne ended up delivering to me some research and insights, without my even looking for them. Isn’t that the way of asking for help with story? “You create your reality with your intentions.” I read that somewhere. And somehow, when we focus so intently on something, everything seems to be about that.

Or maybe, when you write out of your life, like I do, everything ends up being personal-narrative fodder for a story. Here is our trip to Molena, Georgia yesterday, and what we found on the way there and back. 

First up, we stepped back into the imaginary Aurora County, Halleluiah, Mississippi territory, Emma Lane Cake’s bakery, and Ruby Lavender’s hometown (actual photos of my Halleluiah, Mississippi here)…

Later I spied a Confederate Monument at the old courthouse in Newnan, Georgia:

…which is research for the book I want to write next, about the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. I’ve been taking photos of Confederate memorials for years now, and maybe soon I’ll be ready to write. 

We drove past some of the filming locations for “The Walking Dead” as well, quite by accident, but it was fun to see:

… and it came to me as I drove home yesterday, that I write about the past, and those who came before us, in all their messy glory, whether it’s my childhood or the sixties or the Civil War… even yesterday’s “walking dead” locations held some story truth for me. 

In my writing life, certainly, I walk among ghosts, hoping to tell their stories; stories that are so intertwined with mine that I can hardly separate them out, in the geography of the heart.

xoxo Debbie
PeeEss: I’m doing two entries in a row for ANTHEM’s chapters next, days 15&16 — sorry to spam your inboxes. I’ll get back on track.

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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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