Saturday, April 12, 2014

Little River

“The Withlacoochee River narrowed, and then branched. We stayed to the East of the water and followed the smaller split before Henry Lee stopped the carriage.

“This is Little River, Miss Katherine.”

It was small and still, greenish and amber hued yet clear and crisp. Three men could lie boot to hat and bridge it in the area selected for our fishing festival. I know I must have looked unimpressed with the quick way in which Henry Lee went on to defend the spot.

“It's been raining, all them fish are gonna come through here looking to eat up all the washed out bugs. It's a good spot, Miss.”

His smile forced my surrender, he was clearly pleased to be out on such a task.”

-excerpt from 'Before Bed, Monday, August 19, 1861' in Diary of Mimosa Creek. 
(Despoina Publishing/ E.M.K. 2012)  

Photo: Little River, April 6, 2014. E.M.K.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Cowardice of Stereotyping

As a writer, I focus much of my attention on the flaws of the human character, and by extension, the bleaker bits of the human condition. The fragility of the human mind is my forte. It is my gluten-free bread and farm churned butter. It is, as they say, my wheelhouse. Every writer has a method of character development. Every writer has particular aspects of the character development process at which they particularly excel. For me, the mind of the character will often reflect a haunted spindle from which carefully woven woe may be expected. Much beauty resides in the phantoms of the mind. It is my wheelhouse, and I am very good at my craft.

But this isn't just another blog update detailing how much genius fits into my little mortal mind. This is something deeper and more significant to the umbrella under which we all huddle. This is about cowardice, ignorance, the easy path, and a general lack of wit, sense, taste, and finesse. This is about the epidemic of little tiny minds collectively creating myths and monsters out of everyday people. This is about character development and how the reading of characters, the writing of characters, the viewing of other humans, and the treatment of other humans, when rooted in wide accusations of social stereotypes is proof of one lacking in self-awareness, frankly hateful, and not very clever at all.

Let's run some field examples:
1: Girls in pink. Boys in blue.
2: Black male = Enraged criminal. Drug dealer.
3: White male = Upstanding citizen. Family man. White-Collar criminal.
4: White female = Excellent mother. Now or in future.
5: Black female = Prone to fits of unintelligible rage. Poor mother to many children only related by her genetic profile.
6: Fat = Lazy. Gluttonous. Disgusting. Undereducated.
7: Thin = Vain. Self-absorbed. Approval-seeking.
8: "Seeing a therapist" = Weak and fragile to the point of distrust and suspicion.
9: Homosexual male = Woman hating flower.
10: Homosexual female = Man hating thug.
11: Wealthy = Trustworthy, moral.
12: Impoverished = Scheming opportunists.
13: Christian = Correct in every aspect.
14: Atheist = Evil in every aspect.

I could go on.... but who with a functional mind would want to?

We see others, characters in the stories of our own worlds, in either our own way or the way we're told to. It is a stark and necessary choice. You could have possession of your own intellect or you could sneer or smile when it seems socially acceptable to sneer or smile. You could enslave yourself to the whims of hatred, the fleeting pointless extension of a collective wrong if you wished. But who would want to? Why should this happen if it serves no purpose beyond the ease of not thinking for oneself?

Does it affirm something? Is the distance placed between the person who believes "fat is gross" magically made greater by that sorry weak implanted thought and the thinker's own image problem?
It's a placebo loaded down with hatred.

It is my business to create characters and populate tales. It is not just my business, many others tread this path, but it is a part of the job that I very much enjoy. That said, there is little more that infuriates me so quickly as the thoughtless and careless use of stereotypes. (This is specifically a focus now on literature, although many deep examinations have been made of music, film, and society at large by more eloquent sources than me.) When a writer uses a stereotype as the sole basis of character explanation to a reader, it is an act of unmitigated perpetuation of prejudice. It is vile. It is dangerous. It shows their readership no respect. It lacks in every noble aspect of creativity and honestly, it is simply poor form and bad writing.

Black, gay, atheist, fat, or poor are not character flaws.

It's a rambling rant, I grant you that. But there is meaning here. There is no greater value in all the world than to see people as who or what they are when they are permitted to exist as themselves. There is treasure, vast and waiting to be claimed, in tolerance. People are characters, Love. They are characters which occupy your story. What you deem “wrong” in them does not make all those things you see “right” in you more real. And you, symbiotically, are also a character in their story.

A character beholden to some arbitrary expectation of what they ought to be, based on some overarching view of definition, is a failure. So too is a mind and a life.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

3 1/2

I'm just terribly private, you see? Everything about the process seems like such an unavoidable hurdle. It isn't like I dislike people.
I like people.
I like what makes people people.
The ticking and the tocking.

If that feels as if you've just stepped close enough to overhear some nugget of a conversation which was in no way aimed in your direction, then you understand. I feel that way all the time. I started you off on the same foot I'm usually standing on.

And it isn't as if people don't like me. Contrarily, people often find some part of me worth gravitating towards. Usually, it's some part that is a stranger to me. It's fascinating, flattering, and more-often-than-comfortable, unnerving.

See? This is my 'unnerved' face. (actually, it was taken while we were on holiday in Atlanta in July. The lights in the bathroom at Hotel Indigo (fantastic place) made my eyes look weird.)

Don't wrap this gift in the gaudy paper of ungratefulness. Or please, at least, do not read it as such. I am thankful for interactions, although it may force me to seem like a new-born doe on ice. I'm doing my best. Between the unfairly neglected Official Facebook page, the even more neglected blog, and the criminally neglected Twitter feed, it may not seem like it, but I'm doing my best . . .and you matter.

That's a conundrum, isn't it? The whole thing. This whole thing. It's a tennis match with my ego. I'm sorry to drag you through this, but it's part of the deal. If you read this blog hoping to learn about me, then you get to have the unadulterated insight that I do not have the patience (or energy) to perform as a persona. I could dress it all up as pleasanter or easier to digest, but why? If you've read this far, you're in on the deal. We're in this together, and the person to which I would like to direct the sentiment, “you don't get to be disappointed that I'm not who you thought I was” has either already left or is reading on in a huff. Either suits me just as well as the other.

Now, let's talk about the hard stuff.

My family (biological, step, in-law, & Soda Ash) aside, I could fit in the palm of my hand all the people who I have called 'friend' in all of my life. It's a muddled concept, 'friend'. It's a simple word, used often, filled with meanings which differ from one to the next. I'll drive it home: I have five friends. Five extraordinary human beings to occupy their own little sections in my life. One of them is married to me. The other four don't know each other. That is the honest, dark, deep depth of it all. It's purposeful. It's deliberate.

Obviously, I should probably address the fact that I've likely just annoyed scores of people. I don't mean to betray or humiliate: If you know me, and feel hurt by what I just admitted, I'm sorry. I care about you, Poet. About you, Mom-of-three-one-adopted-but-three-well-loved-children-in-total. And you, quiet-yet-well-loved illustrator. All of the rest of you wondering if you're on the fence, I do care for you. I really do. The only difference between you and The Five is that The Five approach me like a medicine which could harm if taken improperly. I'm getting off-track...

The point is (finally) that I've opened myself up to a vast world of connectivity. Part of me wants the contact with readers, while part of me stumbles all over myself in the attempt. I never re-read these blog posts as I know I would delete much of what I typed, so - no edits (lucky ducks). I simultaneously get the most bizarre messages on FaceBook, as one would ask about 'the underlying symbolism' in my work, while the other asks if I've seen the latest 'The Voice'. Nine times of ten the legitimate questions have answers that I really can't share with someone who hadn't read it yet. So, my relationship with readers, a relationship I would truly like to learn to foster, is still greatly one-on-one. I'm trying to suss out how to remedy that.

This has taken 3 hours. I could write about the smallest little hidden sliver of a memory lodged in the deepest recesses of a haunted mind …. thousands upon thousands of words, in 3 hours. This is very difficult for me....worth it, I think, but difficult.

I think what caused all of this is that someone felt closer to me than she was. A reader, I never met her, connected through Facebook, read my books, sent me messages, she wanted me to be something she invented, she got angry, felt hurt, I kept hurting her. She kept getting hurt. She said that I'm a disappointment. I said it didn't concern me. She called me 'condescending'. I agreed.
Had it gone another way, it could have been a lovely conversation.

In summation and conclusion: I'm trying. I am really really trying.
Very few people are 'close' to me.
You don't have to be 'close' to me for me to care (deeply) for you.
Reading my work is the highest praise.
Being able to give me a dissertation on my own work, while flattering, does not mean you suddenly own me... or my intangible 'disappointing and condescending' intellect.

3-and-a-half hours now.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On the Lull.

The last update to the blog was in October. October. 

This isn't October. Neither November, nor even December. It's January, and only barely that anymore. So, the assignment here before me is to update you on the glorious whirlwinds of these months past.

October was damn fantastic. After toying with the notion that I could allow myself time away from the Asylum work-in-progress, I took to the rest of the month with great enjoyment. Absolutely spectacular memories were made here with my little family, and as Sprout had just turned 2 in September, everyday was a new and exciting event of exploration and adventure. She dressed up as a 'Butter-vi' (Butterfly wings, black and white striped pants, purple dress, bear-ear hat – she picked it all.) for Halloween, I rocked kitty ears, & Mike was adorable. We strolled about downtown Nashville, GA … drank in the sweet community: the love, smiles, cheer. Visited with my family before and dear friends after. Halloween was pretty great. Sprout made friends with a gargantuan chicken.

November was its own beautiful monster. I was honored to participate in Downtown Nashville's 'First Thursday' event in November. The first Thursday of each month has a fine festival to promote local love and support, arts and business. So there I was: seven days removed from the beginning of NaNoWriMo's start pistol, and doing my absolute best to keep it out of the mind for the evening. My distracted psyche aside, it was really cool and I got to hang out with my youngest sister, Syd, as well as some of my favorite ladies of Nashville. Later in the month (much later, nearly the end) I had an author event at the library of Nashville. Standard readings, Q & A, light refreshments, reconnecting with an incredibly important person to my life, terror, terror, terror, & terror. I was told that I came off as 'charming and engaging' which is the best evidence of my excellent acting ability... as I was as frantic as a kitty dangling over a full bathtub. I was so giddy and grateful for the event and the kindness of the attendants, that I went a little loopy. It's alright, no one got hurt.

And in November, Iona... More on that later.

December was sickness. The three of us were passing some nefarious virus thing back and forth for the bulk of the month. As it eased, we had travel on the horizon and ventured out to the great icy mid-west to spend sometime with Mike's side. It was beautiful there to the end of the month, but the virus was a devourer of time and mind. It was grueling.

I have no excuse or explanation for January. I just realized January is now... a few days ago. That's going to be my bad. That's on me. My fault.

Now, about November's Iona & the aftermath Asylum:
November is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) – I participated this year because I needed a vacation from the Asylum novel & because I promised involvement to a few pallies.
That first week of November (First Thursday Event) – I had no idea what I was going to do. I lie, I had an idea: I had a rough idea of a thing and the direction of the thing and the direction I didn't want the thing to take and blahblah... I was winging it.

'Winging it' started to pay off and things took shape in a nice fortuitously organic way. By the time the library event happened, (November 25), I had a plump head o' steam. I wanted to finish the story. I did, and I'm very proud of the results. Iona is now available for your own library.

January is being addressed by the Asylum. Progress has been made. More on that later.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Rituals of Work

I fancy myself as neither superstitious nor predictable, but this little ball of insight may suggest otherwise. I have odd little rituals which are somewhat vital to my personal work process. It's a little weird, and a little silly, but here are a few things that I would notice were missing if I somehow forgot. (I would likely, seriously, honestly never forget any of these things)

– An obvious disclaimer: What works for one person, in writing, communication, fishing, cooking, and pretty much everything, may not work for everyone. Everyone has weirdness, but it's 'weirdness' because it's individual. Individual is beautiful. Never be ashamed of being an individual or your weirdness.

1: Every project has it's own notebook, and in that notebook, everything is handwritten. I've tried to skip this step and just sit and let the words fly from my brain to the computer and listen, – No. There is something about the tempo of the hand-written word for me.

2: I talk to myself while writing. I talk to myself while writing a lot. By 'a lot' I mean I'm mumbling all the time. Several work sessions have ended with my being hoarse and utterly exhausted. Dialogue and description and the whole of it. I think it relates to the tempo again, but another aspect is that I can think of loads of times that I've revised on the fly because the dialogue is simply not how the characters would sound or the way a room was described was completely absurd.

3: I prefer to work at night and alone. I wait until everyone settles in for slumber-time and I close myself off in the location of choice to whip up the words. . . which leads us to #4:

4: More often than not, projects happen one-at-a-time, and each project has it's own little base of operation. Mimosa was written in a garage. The Asylum WIP (on hold) was 99% born at the desk in the office here at the house. A story about Auraria Georgia's gold rush was developed and tinkered with in the home office of the Covington house. And the upcoming NaNoWriMo 2013 project will likely be a thing of the barn or the quiet little solarium. Honestly, if it's mostly dark, why would it matter, right? No clue. I just treat my work arena like a little raven's nest. I like to keep trinkets around that keep me working. I like to perch. I've always been a nester.

5: The most driving ritual is that of scent. I always have a candle or oil burning while I write and the fragrance-per-project does not vary. The unreleased fantasy series of the early 2000s was bamboo/passion fruit combo, which makes little sense, but we had band rehearsal in the same room and everyone liked it, so why mess with a good thing? The Asylum WIP is Thieves Oil (which makes far more sense). Auraria was a very earthy sandalwood, and Mimosa was a spiced cocoa/hazelnut mix which made me think of firewood and really wasn't as sweet as it sounds.

(The candle I burned every time I worked on Mimosa and the completion date (11-25-12).) 

A 'ritual' type tip which really could apply to anyone interested in writing (or, you know, anything else) is committing to knowing and trusting yourself. Know when too-much is too-much. Know when a good thing is a good thing. Trust in your ability to do that which you've set yourself to do. Complete self-disclosure (which is kind of the point of a personal blog. So, that was redundant.): That Asylum WIP is on the back burner based on the fact that the manuscript had begun to eat my brain. I set a particular deadline to the work, and I stopped being able to separate the more melancholic aspects of the story from my daily life. I had to step away. My relationships were suffering. The story was suffering. My psychological and physical well-being had begun to suffer. I had to take a break. No problem, no shame. Know yourself.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The House of Mimosa Creek

When I decided to heed the loving advice of my trusted word-smithing colleagues and open a blog I had two simple stipulations. The first was to give myself the permission and time to not only do it, but allow it to be a sort of organic therapy. Humans like to convince themselves that they're 'just too busy' to 'bother' with doing those very things that are strenuous, yet right. I am a good-life house-cat that just decided to step outside. Walking through the door was hard, but the crickets' song... and the scent of the breeze... and the promise that other cats are around out here somewhere, happy and free, it fills me with a sense of liberation. Outside is foreign. Outside is beautiful. Blogging and possibly connecting with people that I hadn't hand selected into my life is foreign. Blogging and possibly connecting with people that I hadn't hand selected into my life is beautiful. It's an incredible feeling.

The second (and more to the point of this post) stipulation was a promise I made to my own mind. If I were to commit to a blog, I had to commit to authenticity. I would love to put on a mask of loft and claim that 'I owe it to those who read thisblahblahblah', but this is a choice I had to make for me. I feel like my root issue with the self-promotion and connection with others is a problem of expectations. I feel like I don't want others to expect anything from me. It's an unfair sphere. But it is a sphere in all it's roundness and never-ending form. Now, I will happily give to others. I want to give to others. But, I hate to disappoint, so I recoil. I can't allow that sphere (which is very much a part of who I am) taint the point of committing to a blog. I have to be honest and just give those things which I, were I an outsider, would appreciate to receive.

Let's move on before this unravels into something too esoteric to ever see the light of day. The points are there for the record, and surely, will have individual blog entries all unto themselves at some point.
I want to tell you a story. It's a tale that I've only just shared for the third time today, over coffee, at the house of someone who I feel will be in my life until life leaves me. She means that much, so I sat and spoke of this strange and deep thing. And she said to me, “You have to tell people what you just told me.” I cried, and I don't quite know why. So, let me tell you a tale of Diary of Mimosa Creek.

I had in my mind, a thing. A little tiny gem locked in the box of a child's memory. My family, on my father's side, for many generations, have been concentrated in population to the Wire Grass region of South Georgia. Every place has an essence. A spirit, or soul, for lack of a better construct. It is that thing that pulls at you to go, or leave, “Home”. I had a memory that lingered and watched me like an ancient ghost. I knew Troupville mattered to my heart.

I knew embarrassingly little of the place. It had been a distant point in time from those old when I was young. But, I had a memory of a strange stretch of land, just beyond which, pine tress, as old as time tickled the clouds while smaller pine children gathered in clusters in an opening. Bricks, no more than a foot high,whispered secrets that something alive had been breathing there. The Little River ran into the Withlacoochee River there behind it. Someone lived, and had breathed, right there. I wanted to give that phantom a body, and in that body, I wanted to fill that heart with the heaviness and reverence I felt. And the isolation. And that sorrow and loss. That bright, burning love and that vacuum of loss.

With NaNoWriMo 2012, I decided that, for better-or-worse, I had my Frankenstein on the slab, and I so loved my monster and toiled and fretted at giving it life. We lived in Covington, hours from the Wire Grass and soft winds of that place. As it was November, it was chilly, but I set myself up in the garage of our home, in a lawn chair (which, coincidentally, I am sitting on whilst I type this), with my laptop and hand-written manuscript atop an old dresser. I needed to give Mimosa Creek a place all to itself. I had my candle* (*More on that in a future post) and my fingerless skeleton gloves while bundled in a red hoodie. I was the modern image of absurdity, shivering and deep in thought and consternation. That absurdity is my reality.

I wrote and wrote and stressed on word-count and the deadline. I sent little messages to a dear friend, and NaNo participant, Kirstin, as well as Martha, an avid reader of all things, brilliant mind, and close friend who maintained the most steadfast and loving 'you can do this' sentiment that anyone could every wish for. Yet, I began to crumble. I would weep at Katherine's mind. That mind, I created for her. That twisted, sweet mind: that was my doing. I would stare at the words I gave her to express her world, my world, Troupville, and just walk along with her. I could smell the snap-peas and the perspiration of Henry-Lee's diligent presence. I had given that phantom a life.

My research, as I mentioned, was badly lacking. I sent off for archive books, specifically something that could give me an idea of Troupville's layout. Nothing arrived in time, and armed with little more than my comprehension of how towns ought to be arranged, I constructed the place the best I knew how. I knew where I wanted to place the house of Mimosa Creek, and from there, the rest grew. The events which set the pulse were less of an issue. I let that horrible war and the documented birth of Valdosta set the pace. That tree, that lichen covered tree with 'Ichabod' carved into the body, is a real thing.

I finished it in late November and decided to go back and insert a section that I withheld initially. It had been the only thing that didn't come over from pen-and-paper to typed while working. It was a late entry in the physical book. February 9, 1854. I don't even have to look that up. I had been sleeping with my own daughter in my arms, and a voice in my own mind just kept pressing me with 'please don't forget me'. I held my daughter tightly and gave honest consideration to just forcing myself to sleep. I watched her sleeping face. I felt a mother, completely external to who I am, begging me to feel her maternal presence. I don't want to paint a picture of an actual, physical, textbook ghost haunting me. This was my mind pulling itself apart. ….'please don't forget me.' February 9, 1854 had me in a ball of physical pain and unwavering, unrelenting sorrow on the filthy ground of a garage, gripping at the side on an old dresser while trying to catch my breath from the hyperventilation of absolute attack of mournful tears. “I didn't forget you.”: actual words came from me. I spoke to the air and used those actual words to calm myself. There is some measure of madness and melancholy to the craft. Without it, we lie.

A couple weeks passed. (Here is the tale I have told very few. That which you read before this, specifically February 9, 1854, I've told no one before now). I was feeling very fancy about all I had accomplished. I was proud of it. I am proud of it. I was in the phase of writing where, having completed it, release it to the world and just breathe in the calm of a job well done. It is not unlike nursing a broken wing on a small bird. It could fly and your love and care gave it what it needed to do so.

And then the mail came.

It was a bundle of books bought specifically to research the finer point of Mimosa Creek. What were the trade routes? What was the cost of coffee and cotton? How was Troupville situated: what did it look like? And then, again, something odd. I looked down at this map of the town. The thing, the one thing that seemed like the most valuable treasure that I could never find. The town was as I built it. It was a little busier, building concentration-wise than my plans had been. But, there was Little River, running into the arms of the Withlacoochee.

And there had been a house there where I placed Mimosa Creek. It belonged to my grandmother's father's mother's line of people. Let's soak that in. Counting me, that (at very least) is six generations deep. That house. That place to which my mind fixed itself, is my story. All those layers of time and the grit of memory pulled at me until noticed. It isn't about any actual claim, mind you. But that patch of dirt that I had Katherine stand, I know not how many times, is part of me. It was, until now, a secret I held onto very tightly. A little gem.

                                    (From Michael O. Holt's Images of America: Valdosta. 2011)

                              ((Close-up) Here is Joshua Griffin's home. There where the rivers meet.
                                            This is where I built the house, Mimosa Creek, in the book)

To be fair, and to be clear, one can not throw a rock in the air without striking my kin down around these parts. I say 'these parts': we recently moved rather close to old Troupville. A twist of coincidence. We're stacked deep and thick and have been for a long time. It really is a game of statistics, and I know how statistics work. The meaning is not diminished to my heart, though.

It is something that would be unfair to not share. It's unfair to keep my secret. I understand now.

'….please don't forget me....'... How could I? I could just as soon forget my own hand and call it a thing unrelated to it's function. To forget is to see a eggplant at the end of my arm. I could not forget my heart. It's all very 'Hamlet gazing into the eyes of his father's ghost' isn't it? Luckily, I am no stranger to Hamlet and know how to avoid the complete destruction of the court.

Now, being a honest teller of tales, I'm admitting that I won't go back and re-read this for edits. I know myself well enough to know that I'll sweet-talk my own mind into deleting the whole of it and offering 'tips on writing regarding the concept of external motivation' or somesuch.... This time, I will just let it be.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A hello of sorts.

What a strange time we live in. Connecting to everything.

I'm a writer. I'm a nice, deep thinking, pensive, quiet, calm, confident writer. I believe in the work I do. I feel it has meaning and use. Truly, all writers ought to feel that sense of pride. It isn't an extraordinary notion. I am a writer who loves to write and I absolutely adore readers who love to read. To come across a writer who loves to read or a reader who loves to write and forget it. All bet's are off. I'm in blissful happy-land with all of my fond thoughts of thinking and reading and writing.

However, I am absolutely ghastly with a very particular and sticky aspect of the writing process: self-promotion. It doesn't matter how much I love the work I've done. When it comes to the point at which most people can spit out the sting of words, “....and I think you ought to read this thing I wrote...” I can normally find some alternate statement of diversion.

“Have you read this (other person's) book?”
“How has your cat been?”
“Have you heard the new Arctic Monkey's album? Wow, right?!”
“Is that normally how you stand?”
…..It really can get pretty weird and awkward awfully quickly with me. I don't even understand it. I don't know where that comes from. I'm a writer who loves to write and I really do absolutely adore readers who love to read.

SO. Here I am. Here I am with a Blog with all sorts of fancy buttons and gadgets (on which I really have worked). Here I am with my introduction and my promise.

Hello, I am E.M. Knowles. I care about you and super-pinky-swear to always try to be less distant than (previous to this very moment) has been expected. I appreciate every interaction with every reader, writer or beautiful culmination of the two than I've ever been very sound at expressing.

Let's launch this bloggiety bloggy blog!

It's very nice to meet you. Stay a spell.