Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different

Kristin O’Donnell Tubb read from her almost-released middle grade novel at the Cool Springs Barnes & Noble Writers Night last Wednesday. She shared her experience of having chapters critiqued at an SCBWI conference and getting interest from the editor who did the critiquing and then requested the entire manuscript. Once she got it, the editor asked for major revisions, and Kristin complied. The editor wanted her to ratchet up the tension and build the secondary characters. A very pregnant Kristin finally got the contract call while she was at an OB-GYN appointment. Of course, she answered the phone!

Kristin reading from her new book

Kristin reading from her new book

The manuscript went through two revisions and then through a team of copyeditors who found terms like “potholder” and told Kristin the word wasn’t in use at the time the story took place. Kristin brought all the stages of her manuscript to the writers’ group, including the First Pass Pages and the Second Pass Pages, for all in attendance to share in the process of going from those first scratched-out words to a polished and perfect product.

Kristin showing her marked-up manuscript

Kristin showing her marked-up manuscript

Kristin writes historical fiction, and Autumn Winifred Oliver Does Things Different is set in East Tennessee at Cades Coves at the time it was being made into a national park. Here’s the annotation:

“Autumn Winifred Oliver prides herself on doing things her way. But she meets her match when she moves in with her cantankerous Gramps. The Oliver girls were supposed to join Pop in Knoxville for some big-city living, but Gramps’s recent sick spell convinced Mama to stay put in Cades Cove. Folks in the Cove are all aflutter about turning their land into a national park, but Autumn’s not sure what to think. Loggers like Pop need jobs, but if things keep going at the current rate, the forests will soon be chopped to bits. And Gramps seems to think there’s some serious tourist money to be made. Can Autumn’s family and friends save their homes from the chainsaw by partnering with the slick Colonel Chapman and other park volunteers?”

The girl on the cover, named Amber, is actually from Knoxville and what an exciting opportunity for her! This book to be released October 14 by Delacorte Press brings “15 minutes of fame” and fortune to two East Tennessee girls, Kristin being one of them…before she moved to other spots and Auburn and ended up in Nashville/Franklin/Arrington. Of course, she could never go wrong with a name like Tubb, as in Ernest.

Kristin was in my CAPS writers group when she began this book, and we got to nudge it along from its earliest stages. Kristin’s enthusiasm and her energy in writing have always been inspirational to me. I sense she has learned way more in a short time from the publishing process and working with teams of editors than in all her years of reading and writing and submitting. I know her writing future is bright.


Little Pizzas?

Two Blastocytes

Two Blastocytes

No, this is what “They” look like on Day 5. Interesting, huh?


Little Winston and/or Lucy?

So, it happened! Today. Eight fertilized eggs became five, and then the two healthiest ones were selected for implantation on Day 5, which took place this afternoon at two.

We’re talking BABIES!

No, not me. It’s my son. Well, not my son. My daughter-in-law. They are going through the process of in vitro fertilization. So we are in hopes that it all “takes” and we will soon be welcoming a little bundle of joy in this world that has been very harsh lately. Or two bundles. But for now, I guess you can say we have two blastocytes or embryos or babies!

BABIES!


Mississippi and Me and Kate

A few weeks ago, I heard from former high school classmate JPH, who sent me a CD by Mississippi singer / songwriter Kate CampbellSongs from the Levee. I have now memorized almost every song and find her work honest and haunting and memorable. My friend said in his letter, “In addition to enjoying her singing, her words and songs invoke many of the same kinds of memories as do your writing.” That delights me, since Kate’s lyrics have drawn repeated comparisons to the works of Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor.

Kate, like I, grew up in the Mississippi Delta during the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s. She and I both explore complex topics in our writing, like race, religion, history, and human relationships. Her words are set to R&B, gospel, country, and folk sounds. I just write memoir / essays.

Early in that Decade of Change, we heard the inaugural message of Governor George Wallace. Kate begins her song “A Cotton Field Away” with words from the governor’s charge: “Let us rise to the call of freedom-loving blood that is in us and send our answer to the tyranny that clanks its chains upon the South. In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny … and I say … segregation today … segregation tomorrow … segregation forever.”

Then Kate adds a quote of the same year by Martin Luther King: “Segregation is wrong because it is a system of adultery perpetuated by an illicit intercourse between injustice and immorality.” Then organ music plays before the song breaks into a pop chord and piercing lyrics about a black child and white child who still stand a cotton field away.

Ah, the contrasts, complexities, and contradictions of the Mississippi Delta. We sat in our Baptist pews back then and prayed to our Baptist God and closed the doors to our churches and hearts and sang, “Blessed be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love,” accompanied by organs that filled our segregated sanctuaries with melodious sounds. Some of us who sat in those pews saw the hypocrisies and they haunt us even today.

I’m going to make a leap here and say that Kate’s path and my path crossed at a midpoint in that Decade of Change. Kate spent her early years in Sledge where her father was pastor of the Baptist church.

“Daddy was a preacher in Sledge
We were living on Gospel and beans
Every Sunday night Deacon Jones
Would give a silver dollar to me
On the way home my poor momma
Would pry it from my hand
And say it fell from heaven.”

Sledge is a cotton field town 13 miles east of Highway 61 and Moon Lake, between Clarksdale and Tunica, on Highway 3 north of Marks where the cotton boll water tower is. It’s an hour’s drive from Cleveland, where I grew up.

On a Sunday night in 1965 when I was 15, my youth choir from the Baptist church in Cleveland sang at the Baptist church in Sledge.

After the service they hosted a “fellowship” for us. We’d just been to Glorieta Baptist Assembly in New Mexico the summer before, where the staff told us to be sure to go back to our home churches and schedule youth fellowships every Sunday night, though our church never did. It was supposed to be all about food, fun, and games in a wholesome atmosphere.

I was picked to be the victim of the first game that Sunday evening in Sledge. In Fellowship Hall they lined the four rectangular walls with rickety metal chairs, and people sat on them and ate cookies and chips. I was told to go out into the hall and wait. My heart thumped and my breaths came shallow. I didn’t know what they were going to do to me. Finally, a man — maybe the preacher? … Kate’s daddy? — opened the door and said, “You can come in now.”

I walked into that big room and scanned the crowd for a friendly, familiar face. I got to the center of the Fellowship Hall and turned in a tight circle. Everybody was laughing at me. I didn’t know why.

“What do I do now?” I said.

Everybody laughed harder, so hard they rocked the chairs. My face burned red, my knees felt weak, I wanted to fall into a crack in the floor and hide. I held out my arms and let a pained expression cover my face.

“I don’t know what to do, where do I go, do I sit down now, somebody tell me what to do.” I kept turning in dizzying circles until my gaze landed on my friends. “Y’all help! What am I supposed to do?” I begged in desperation. They looked at each other, holding tight to their common secret, and squinted their eyes, opened their mouths wide, and laughed hard. I became irritated at them.

Finally, the man who let me into the room came to my rescue and the crowd quieted. “This is what you said when you got your first kiss.”

My face got redder and the thought came that No, it was not. The first time I got kissed was in ninth grade after my boyfriend Charles took me to a picture show at the Ellis Theater, where the smell of popcorn filled the air and beach movies played often. We’d dated every weekend that fall — his mama driving us to the show, my dad picking us up and taking us to my house where we had cokes and cookies and chips and watched TV or listed to records. My first time was in my Piano Room after listening to hit songs like “Sugar Shack,” “Midnight Mary,” “Surfer Girl,” and “Then He Kissed Me” and I didn’t say a thing. (And I still have those 45’s.)

I wonder if Kate Campbell was in Fellowship Hall that night watching me make a fool of myself. Whether she was or not, we still have the same tie that binds us together:

“Way down in me a river runs deep
Reminding me just who I am
Good or bad, it’ll always be
Mississippi and me.”


Saturday at Nine

Still eight, still on schedule, and this morning at nine is when it happens!

Fingers crossed, toes crossed, eyes crossed…

Wow, it’s all remarkable!

Update: It is all fluid and things change and as of 10:00 CST it should happen on Monday … now, we wait … and pray.


Eight!

A continuation of yesterday’s post…

Phase One happened today. Eight is the operative word! Eight. That’s a good thing. Phase Two happened also. Tomorrow, I’ll know more…

Meanwhile, send good mojo! This is an exceptional day.


Little Blessings!

The most exciting thing in the world is happening Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It’s happening in stages. I can’t say what it is because it is only happening to me indirectly. But everybody out there in the blogosphere … EVERYBODY! … get ready … and please send good mojo and good prayers and good energy down south, way down south, for safety, for success, for perfection! For little blessings that become big one(s).

Sorry to keep you in suspense! Just smile and think positive! and wait with me.


Writerly Advice

“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.” — Mark Twain


Branded

A company’s “brand” is “the sum-total of their consumer’s experience with them. It’s how the consumer remembers them…the emotions they associate with the company, the images they think of when they hear the company’s name, that knee-jerk reaction when the company comes up in conversation.” (MojoLoco LLC)

And with that, I would like to say that I’d like to kick that blue-and-white striped AT&T ball to hell and back. I got branded by AT&T with a hot sizzling iron. The letters are still raw and bleeding on my rump. I won’t ever forget their company brand, and I’m sure they spent a lot of money to create it.

What you need to know, if you don’t already, is that when you sign up with AT&T for a 12-month term or a 24-month term or a 36-month term, that term automatically renews for another 12, 24, or 36 months every time it expires. In other words, your contract never ends. Even when you die. Unless you take action and sit down and write AT&T a letter 180 days beforehand and tell them you don’t want the contract to renew. The burden is on you. Of course.

What I didn’t know is that my husband was going to die. It happened suddenly.

We were probably the last business in the country to cling to our ISDN line, simply because we did not want to enter a contract with AT&T. We called on at least three occasions to add DSL and change our service plan, but backed away because we did not trust the salesperson to deliver. Hmmm. Prophetic. Then when we finally negotiated an agreement with Mr. Ruffin, we made sure to ask that it was a short-term contract (I initialed 24 months) and we could move the contract if we moved our business to another location.

“So this contract will be over in 24 months?”

“Yes.”

Not!

Our business signed the 24-month contract 30 months ago. We did most of our negotiating up front. Unfortunately. Somehow the word “renewable” slipped into that contract. The salesman neglected to explain it, and in the course of business and busy-ness, all was overlooked. Boy golly, how stupid we were and how we were duped into thinking we had covered the bases and gotten what we’d asked for and wanted! What in the world ever made us think that could happen?

No problem. We’d been loyal AT&T customers for 19 years in that business and longer than that with home service. We weren’t planning to leave them. E-ver.

But it all came back to bite. My husband died.

When I called to cancel the phone lines, the representative said she didn’t see any contract on the account, and I agreed that it was signed well over two years ago. She also said if they did pull up one and charge a termination fee, she didn’t see any problem with them releasing me from that because of the death of the business owner involved. Extenuating circumstances, you know. Just call back, she said, if that happens. I’m sure there won’t be any problem.

Prob-lem!

We didn’t count on death. When death comes suddenly and takes away the person whose name is on the phone bill, the contract remains in place and must be honored by the dead person. When death comes suddenly and shuts down the business, the contract remains. The dead person must pay a hefty fee to cancel his phone service.

I got a bill for breach of contract in the amount of $360 from AT&T because my husband died and can no longer run his business or answer his phones. Total with taxes: $394.38. Yes, I must pay taxes on the penalty for death.

AT&T said they were sorry their customer died, but he still had to pay the penalty for canceling his service early. They couldn’t help it, couldn’t do a thing about it. A contract is a legal and binding document, after all, and even though he is dead and his company doesn’t exist, he has to pay that contract termination fee. AT&T said they have no provision for extenuating circumstances. It’s just too bad. Make payment arrangements, they said. They didn’t care.

I have had to make dozens of calls since my husband died to cancel this or that because it wasn’t needed any more. Big companies have been gracious and quick to deal with the situation and have resolved it with professionalism and compassion and have treated me like a human being, as well as a respected customer. Thank you: Chase (the best!), Bank of America, Globe Life, Verizon (over and above the call of duty!), State Farm, Auto Owners, Holiday Inn, Social Security Administration…and the list goes on and on.

AT&T is not on this list of companies trained to handle a death situation. They are cold and hard and unreasonable and they do not care about their customers. Nor do they care about their own brand and what their customers think about them.

If you have service with AT&T, write them in your will because you will be paying. Set aside a chunk of money to cover your contract after you die. After all, a contract is a contract. People die. Contracts don’t. And contracts are important. People aren’t.

I won’t be showing loyalty to any company any more, whether I’ve been with them 3 years or 30. It’s a dog eat dog world. And I certainly won’t forget the image that sickening blue-and-white ball conjures up in my mind.

UPDATE: [September] AT&T reconsidered and wiped out the contract termination fee. My balance is zero. There is a little heart in that circle after all. Thank you, AT&T.


Barney’s Car

Nancy and I went to Leiper’s Fork last Saturday and ate the world’s best hamburger at the city market on the edge of town. Then we ate homemade carrot cake at The Back Porch. After walking around browsing in shops, I tried to get inside the Mayberry patrol car sitting by Puckett’s Grocery. It was locked, but it looked just like my old 1960 green Fairlane 500 that I drove all through high school.

Barney's Car

Barney's Car

On the back of the car is Mt. Pilot Ford, Mt. Pilot, North Carolina. I can almost see Barney and Thelma Lou in the front seat. Or Andy and Helen. Or Gomer running after Barney yelling, “Citizen’s arrest, citizen’s arrest!”

Mt. Pilot Ford

Mt. Pilot Ford

I am hooked on Andy Griffith reruns. I watch two in a row every night at 10:00 and 10:30. I’ve seen each one at least forty times. Barney was brilliant, and his character never grows old. I’ve memorized almost every line and I’ve oft quoted his famous “Nip it, nip it, nip it in the bud.” It’s a light experience at the end of a hectic day.

Besides, the dog knows when she hears that familiar whistled melody that it’s time for her to go to sleep.