Writer’s Block, Writer’s Flood

You’ve got to be ready.

As a writer, you never know what’s going to hit you!

 Kaaaaaaa-boom!

You were minding your business, quietly writing padding peddling along. Then BOOM! an asteroid came and threw you off your trajectory. It could have been a wonderful asteroid like in my case the birth of my daughter, or it could be something awful like when my friend’s father died.

It could be something totally boring like the onset of just plain wooden block.

No matter how, it’s happened. You’ve been thrown off your path, the one that your fingers tapping on your keys kept you tied to, and now you’re floating in space. You are catapulted up and then down, landing with an “AHHHHRGH” flat on your butt. You look around and the world’s shifted. There’s no GPS out here. Even if you’ve been lost in this maze before, that is far from comforting. You remember how hard it is to find your way back. There’s no way to snap your fingers or click your heels. You’re stuck searching for any guidepost, a sign you can use to get back.

It has to be said that sometimes, when you’re lucky, the wandering is not sucky at all but another adventure! You’ve derailed onto another fulfilling or fun path. Bravo! At least when you’re not writing you’re doing something else you love.

I tried that, I spent over 5K of my own savings to go back to school to become an interior designer. However, once out I realized that having a young child and a husband who was also self-employed was not—very much not—conducive to building a design practice. I quickly realized my job choice, at least at this time of life, was not doable.  And, worse, going back to school pulled me even farther from writing than I’d been when my daughter was born.  Then, time moved on my girl was turning 4, and I saw the truth: I was so far gone that I had no idea how to find my way back.

you’ve come to the corner of…

  and 

But I’m not easily deterred. I set my vision far ahead and put on my proverbial hiking boots. First, I did one thing I do best: Read. I paged through book after book about people’s transformation, growth and writing. I was inspired and I was moved. But still no sign back. Then in December 2012, the stars aligned, I took the right medicine, and I found the book at my local library’s New Book Shelf. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. Each chapter I was transported closer and closer to my destination, until by the end of the book I found myself there again, this flowing threshold of creative possibility.

I was ready to write again, but darn if the whole world had changed. In the 5 years since typing my last period, there’d been a revolution in social media. It wasn’t going to be like the old days. Doing my diligence and trying to find writing gigs, there are a million blog jobs out there. I was overwhelmed and not a little confused. So, I decided to start simple with a little blog.

I started here reviewing Cheryl’s book and put my shoulder to the task, learning, studying, until after three faithful months of blogging SHAZAM! it hit me like another asteroid—the words, dreams, visions just started coming. Gushing. Flowing. All the while I had been hiking through the trees and all of a sudden I came to that gorgeous clearing ,the overlook where the sky opens before you and the horizon fills your eyes, and you want to cry “Hallelujah!”

  Fluttershy knows what I”m talking about.

So that’s the wonderful place my creative mind has been for the past two months. Writing in my cave, watching the dust bunnies pile up around me, trying to give my family enough time and, yes, missing my blog.

I don’t know about other writers, but I’ve found it very difficult, in fact terrifying, to try to do my creative work as well as this blog. Every time my mind has wandered to a blog piece, I’d jealously wrench it back to my book, unwilling to give one iota of creative energy to something else. I’m hyper-aware that block can rear up again.  I scan the trees for it every time I look up from a page, wary, belligerent. Stay away! I pray to the Muses, “Please let me finish my book!”

I’m so paranoid that I struggle with the superstition that even admitting this will somehow juju me with a malevolent, sapping spell.

And yet here I am writing my blog again. I’ve looked for sneaky ways to have my cake and eat it too, and I’m tip-toeing behind my book to write this. I pray that tomorrow, when I finish and publish this, I am rewarded and not turned into some creative pillar of salt. Ye of all faiths, pray for me too!

I want to keep up with you out there in social media land. I like our connection. Maybe if this one works, I can continue to sneak away from my book periodically, until I finish it. Finish it. I can’t wait to type those words at the end: FINI!

For now, Hello again. I’d love to hear from anyone who writes more than one project at once. I’d love to hear how you manage it.

Cheers,  bllu

Diary of a Messy Writer

Was there ever a writer writing within a neat house?

Was there ever a writer who looked over their screen or typewriter or notebook onto a smooth expanse of wooden floor that gleamed freshly mopped? I imagine that expanse of floor easy to test for cleanliness because it is free from toys and shoes, bags and bins of laundry. That floor contains only the furniture it needs and fresh, fluffy rugs. I imagine all surfaces dustless, which is easy to see because there are no items plopped there and forgotten; no piles of unfolded clothes, no stacks of magazines that are half folded back to the articles that were read and halted midway.

There are no backpacks slumping full of stuff that has to be sorted and emptied. There are no matchless gloves waiting to find their mates, no Lego squares swiped from the corners they fell into, and definitely no cards from holidays months past that still haven’t been put away.

No. That writer looks out over thriving plants still sparkling with the dew of their watering. That writer can enjoy the view to their backyard through clear, fingerprintless glass.  There are no dishes blocking the sink and no laundry piled almost to the ceiling. That writer has found a way to meet and enlist the aid of the writer fairy. The one that those in the know pray to exchange the dirty sock they leave beneath their pillow for an overnight zing of a cleanup. I’ve heard tell of such a fairy, but remain skeptical about making such a pact. Are all fairies good, as we tell our children? Or are there some who’ve fallen from grace, looking to make a bargain? So far I’ve resisted finding out.

Instead, I communicate to the world over my laptop that needs a dusting and a good wash cloth. (New yellow sticky: Clean laptop!) I look out over rooms that no one on a good day who loves me to bits could call clean. My husband insists that we are clean, that is, not dirty. Ok, but why doesn’t that distinction comfort me?

I can choose a small hideaway to close off the clutter. Or I can brave the airy main room that affords a panorama of every jumbled and messy pile. Either way, the collective muddle calls out: ha ha! We’re staying another day!

I’m not one of those ostrich types who can pretend it’s not there—the tissues my daughter threw on the floor crumpled into delicate balls after a night of sneezing, the kitchen floor on which I can distinguish at least 3 strange colors, the table I promised myself I would give a good scrub after the latest playdate with markers that didn’t make it onto paper.

You would never guess that I am naturally a very neat person, and that I hate clutter. I even have problems with things out of place. Something as simple as a disorganized room gives me vertigo. I’m a spatial thinker and my mental picture of my home is something that is ready for a photo spread in Architectural Digest. I’m a designer and I could create that space.

But alas I don’t. Not when I’m writing, that is, and since I want to write more than I want to do anything, I have learned to put showroom quality—or any quality above ‘not dirty’—away. It’s not easy. My second most happy thing to do is design. But I’ve got to adhere to priorities or I have learned that I turn into a semi-happy and often depressed designer who can’t find time to write.

Right now I’m settling for a happy most days writer with a pinch of weekly clutter anxiety. Top of list when I become successful is a cleaning person who can do all the things a writer fairy does, minus any suspicious pacts.

Right now I trade being a clean and frustrated writer for a messy and actually writing writer. If you are a clean writer with kids, all I can say is WOW. Excuse me while I close my jaw.

Right now, like most of us writers writing out there, I’m just winging it. I’m a five minute sort here, a ten minute scrub down there kind of person. A 10 at night food shop and 11 pm making lunch for the next day kind of person. A water the plants with bathwater kind of person. A try not to trip over the recycling and not put away boots kind of person. A filling up pages with thoughts and stories and dreams kind of person.

Here’s a great list I’m inspired by

25 ways to be a Happy Writer

Weave Me a Tale, Sing me a Song

Game of Thrones Season 3

THE HBO SERIES, A GAME OF THRONES, BASED ON GEORGE RR MARTIN’S EPIC SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, RENDERS A BRUTAL, PASSIONATE, FEROCIOUS TALE.

Now a third season is launching on March 31st, I’m reviewing the past two seasons.

In the ancient heroic tradition, this is a juicy yarn woven into fire-lit air. The crowded room listens enthralled as the story is revealed through the long night. The air is misty with cold, a veiled tent, or a campfire circle.  Or…We could stare rapt from cozy couch, electric blue illuminating our faces.   These tellers paint with bold colors that captivate.

  Tell us a Story O Great Martin

We have:

  •  Remarkable characters,
  • Exciting heroes, Intriguing villains,
  • Prowess, Exotic lands,
  • Call to battle,
  • Strands and depths of conflict,
  • Oaths, A love story,
  • Vendetta, Old wounds, Forbidden love, Betrayal,
  • Family unity and unrest,
  • Inner turmoil,
  • High born and low born,
  • Sex,
  • Intrigue
You wonder: Is there nothing that this story does not encompass?
I’d say that all-encompassing is an excellent description of this tale.

Scenes from Seasons One and Two:

Long-seated power is vanquished and three powerful families are placed on the board: The Starks of the North, the Lannisters of the midlands, whose daughter is the Queen, and the Baratheon clan, whose middle son is enthroned at Kings Landing.  The throne is composed of fused swords.

When safety vanishes, the Royal youngest flee across the water to grow. The Old Gods breathe in the Northern air at Winterfell. Seven Stark children grow, five trueborn, one of another mother, and the last a hostage.  Beautiful Lannister twins shine like yellow stars. They stand above their dwarf brother whose birth killed their mother. One twin is a Queen, the other twin the most formidable knight in the land who guards the King.  Kingslayer, Kingmother.   Three dark Baratheon brothers sit beneath the Stag’s banner: stern, robust and blithe.

Summer is long but…Winter is coming. A long Summer heralds an even longer Winter. Most alive cannot remember and have never seen Winter.

Secret and proud, the love of two siblings grows into a red knot that spreads outward in a bloody stain.  The gods flip a coin when the deposed kings were born—one side for madness, the other for greatness. Often it seems that all is lost.

Aptly named “The Wall”

A young girl, her father and protector beheaded, poses as a poor boy to wend a precarious way home. The Crows guard the North beneath the shadow of a mammoth wall—against what, few know. The world spins and children are flung from their roots. No one is safe. Roads choke with the lawless and delinquent. It is difficult to know who protects what.

King’s bastards abound and are found. Yet one eludes. A small man can prove a tall shadow. Brothels reveal shells of pearls, which are shiny covered sand. The least likely people can prove the most powerful; Some are obliging, others ruthless. Maesters dispense their ancient wisdoms to wary, leery and devoted ears.

 Mama’s Little Darlings

In a fiery grave 3 Dragons are born into a world that believed them extinct. Their orphan mother wills herself to grasp an ancient claim to the throne.

A new flock of crows plod through the barren North of the Wall, a world without color or sun.

Now that the King is buried, his two brothers vie for their right to the throne. The rosy glow of the South radiates on new king, whose maliciousness reveals himself petal by poisonous petal.  A bold woman dares to become a great knight. While the city waits in a fearful hush, the Little Bird perches captive; She is a riddle no one can decode.

The honorable King of the North cannot lose.  To be Iron-born is to be truly bereft.

The Red Witch leads one brother and a wily would-be Queen comes out of the South for a place.  A night of alliance and sound-intent: One will be King of the South and One will be King of the North. But tragedy is inescapable. The bereft knight whispers that a mother is brave with not the bravery of knights—but a worthy bravery nonetheless.

Wildfire lights up the sea and decimates a hostile fleet. Thankful cries ring in the air, “Half-man, Half-man!” A pat of mud is hurled at the new king’s head, symbol of his subjects’ scorn. Tensely, we wait atop the wall for a Victor.

 Evil or just Utterly Frustrated?

Kept cornered below, The Queen is bitter, patting her captive bird between her paws.  A mother’s wisdom: Kings don’t marry for love.  Is a Wildling a friend or foe? Who is the captive, the woman or the Crow?  Some women are viewed by some as a collection of profitable holes.  There is an abundance of bared breasts. This is a lusty story—too bad it’s mostly for + from a man’s point of view.

..—..

Magic grows and is readying for return to Westeros.

But on this day…
The Goddess of Mercy has left this land.  The Seven are burned.   Children hang black-charred.   Prostituted women are slung up.

Dragons call for their mother, grow. A foreigner pays his debts with three names. Warlocks and Lords practice their tricks, blinded by a sweet heard and silver hair. The Kingslayer is loosened and the Northern dominoes fall.

We mark the players moving.

Reeling from loss, the red witch whispers to her champion that he’s wrong.  There is still much loss and blood to be borne. Almost everything will be lost.

It’s a small scene, but perhaps the most relevant. It is the prophesy for the future of our heroes. There will be far more than what we can guess now. What seems important now might prove illusion.

Because already, those who are great have been felled.

While…Babes who hide in unused rooms, tree tops, beneath skirts and behind innocent eyes move across the board as well. We’ve had the privilege of watching their hatching onto this game board.

 We’ll get to watch this one grow up

The epic group of books are bound to unfold like a scene where the focus changes as you move across the picture. First, you see what is in the foreground. But then there is a shift and the camera moves into the background. The characters in the front disappear while those who’d been hiding in the shadows resolve. Shift focus, time moving, that which was a seed becomes a giant. We will watch the innocent grow and blossom into their own menaces or protectors, or both.

For now, we will get a new chapter of song. The first half of Book Three will be played for our enjoyment. Pick out your seat early, bring a big glass, and prepare to be beguiled.

Why I Can’t Write

It’s looking like I could dedicate a blog to writing about why I can’t write. For now, I’m going to concentrate on the simple act of writing about writing about why I can’t write.

Whew! Confused yet?  Just stay with me!…

When I teach conversation or brainstorming, I say, “If you’re stuck, just talk or write about why you can’t.”

In other words, if you can’t think of anything to say, talk about why you can’t. Even if you have to write, “I can’t write, I can’t write” over and over. Even if you have to keep repeating yourself. Just keep going. Sooner or later, almost always, something new will emerge. Some new words will begin tumbling out.

So here I am. I can’t write, and yet I’m obviously writing… Because once you get started writing about what you can’t write, it works! You’ll be getting ideas out. Maybe not Shakespeare or Toni Morrison, but I doubt they began with perfect thoughts either.

We all know many legitimate obstacles than can keep us from writing. Not writing is so bloody easy and writing, even if it’s our favorite, most beloved past-time, can prove so damn hard to do.

Sometimes we have not nothing, but too much to say. This takes the form of information overload, the kind where you catch yourself at 2am bleary eyed from delving the webiverse that you’ve been surfing for—OMG—the past six hours! There was a commercial—for what I do not know—where a zombie-like person kept randomly spouting Wikipedia factoids. My brain can certainly feel like that.

A related problem, we’re presented with choices everywhere we look. There are news, features, ads, happenings. How to know which one to follow, which one is relevant? How to let the flow of information to gush past, blessedly unnoticed, while magnetizing the important bits to us? Wouldn’t that be gorgeous? Advertisers, unfortunately, are trying to accomplish that all the time—as if their product is the necessary part.

Because of this, we need the opposite help. We need a magic scientific algorithm to understand our unique needs and point of view. Then we could use that tool to bar what is static to us, while allowing what is useful to us onto our front page. Problem: half the time I’m not sure what I need to hear.

I often get caught up in the presentation of previews or posters for a show, or a summary of a book. I try very unscientifically to descry from the wording what I will like. Sadly, I’ve learned that is an unreliable method. There have been many times where my sketchy impression was proven wrong.

For example, there was the documentary about origami. In no way is folding paper interesting to me or in my life. But as I watched, I became captivated. Presently, I happen to be reading a whole book about being plastic free. I’m interested in the topic, but I was skeptical about the size of the book. How many ways can a person talk about reducing plastic? Yet so far I’ve enjoyed every page. Then there was the one about the sushi chef. Why—I asked myself—should I care about the life of a sushi chef? Interestingly, I found out why.

Did I enjoy this information? Yes. Is it something my grey matter should be storing? The answer, so far, does not compute.

Luckily, I have found a couple of places where I can find information that I’ve consistently appreciated. Rotten Tomatoes tops that list. The way that they throw all critics into a blender to form one number on a spectrum is brilliant. That clear simple computation is so comforting. I know that it represents many intelligent, cogent voices. Ah.

That is also to say that in any other part of life except movies (movies .5%, other life 99.5%) I still have the time consuming job of sifting information. It’s like a swarm of gnats on a hot summer night. We get more mail now in a week, I’ve read, than people used to get in a year. You can swat the information gnats, but it’s a waste of time.

Ah, time…

The modern favorite: Not enough time. Well of course not! When we’re spending so much time swatting gnats.

Now here is the good news. In all cases, writing about why we can’t write is an excellent start to writing.

This is because, one, I am putting pen to paper, or fingers to keys. Two, looking at obstacles is in itself very helpful. Thinking about what’s stopping me in my life gives voice to often unquantified issues that nag but aren’t clear. Diving into the why of why I can’t write allows me the space to study myself in a way that I often don’t, or can’t. It’s a doorway into studying –even recognizing things—thoughts, feelings, pressures—I might not have realized were there.

Ironically, by studying why I can’t write, I begin to write! Every word I find, every realization, even repeated, represents words on paper.

The gnats swarm, the information beckons. Time cruises by and people interrupt. But, if I take the time to, at worst complain and at best, set myself on a course for brain opening and revelation, I give myself that sacred time where I communicate with myself, and hopefully, my thoughts communicate with others’. This blog entry is evidence of that undertaking. Complaints, revelation–writing.

Celebrating Girls: Nurturing and Empowering Our Daughters

  by Virginia Beane Rutter

Important and nourishing, for any caretaker who wants to connect more deeply with the girl in their life. I have a few friends who are adoptive parents and when I read this book I couldn’t help think of a couple of the men who are raising daughters. These pages offer a well of insight into what it’s like to be a girl and a daughter.

Celebrating Girls: Nurturing and Empowering Our Daughters  Dig those 90s outfits!

This short book of 187 small pages needs to a new edition! Published in 1996, a lot has happened during the past fifteen years that a revised version could incorporate. I say this because this book is a keeper. Cover to cover provides thorough advice on how to celebrate your girls.  Via personal stories and anecdotes, as well as studies and historical evidence, rutter highlights important fundamentals about the feminine as well as means to recognize and celebrate them in your lives together.

The chapters follow key changes as girls grow into young women, focusing on simple traditions, inviting us to recognize their hidden depth. Everyday actions such as bathing, hair care, dress and choosing adornment that we all undertake are revealed as important doorways of connection that, when shared consciously, can become lifelong treasured traditions. This book was written when feminists and scholars were engaged in exploring the feminine journey. Under this intensive investigation, female history, literature, and mythology confirmed troves of new understanding and wisdom about human history. Steeped in this environment, Celebrating Girls emphases feminine symbol, myth, and historical tradition. Whether discussing the importance of jewelry boxes, sports, or body awareness, a mood of respect is ever-present. Each page and chapter permeates with respect for the way of girls, respect for the feminine and respect for the parents who make the commitment to honor the process of growing up a daughter.

Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman ArchetypeThis book embodies women’s writing in the 90s

The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future This one too… on every  Gen X college girl’s bookshelf

Books about children are picked up because we wish to become more effective parents and care-takers. However, the best books about children—indeed about any subject—allow the reader to recognize their self in the text. Rutter recognizes that part of raising a child is knowing what nourishment you did or did not receive while a child yourself. Understanding that the caretaker’s fulfillment—or lack—is handed down to the next generation, she includes rituals for mothers and elders, as well as daughters.

I’m not going to lie and say this book was written for everyone: it’s implied audience is mainly mothers of daughters. However, one significant gain of fifteen plus years working towards women’s equality is a greater sense of inclusion. At the time of publication, writing a book solely for women, and specifically mothers, was a powerful act in itself. But how amazing and quickly the times have evolved so that a powerful act today would be to write for care-takers of all stripes!

 Such an adoptive father…

link to story here …http://projects.ajc.com/gallery/view/living/braids/

That being said, the information about girls in this book could and should be used by any caring party. As it stands, caretakers of all stripes will find rich fare. Adoptive fathers, for example, might find this a treasure trove of insight into a girl’s childhood that they did not experience. If you are hoping to gain insight into the ways of girls, whoever you are, Celebrating Girls will give you much to ruminate, explore and, above all, enjoy.

The Author’s web pages, go: http://www.daughters.com/article/?id=202

For more books by Rutter, go to http://www.amazon.com/Virginia-Beane-Rutter/e/B001IXNYLA

My Favorite January Book: The Salt God’s Daughter

The Salt God’s Daughter by Ilie Ruby offers a dream-scape that thrusts us out of logical thinking into emotional thinking. Upon entering the first landscape, we find ourselves at an edge. To walk through the first paragraph the reader must make a choice to step in and have brain waves re-patterned, or kindly leave.

The Salt God's Daughter  The Salt God’s Daughter

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13584821-the-salt-god-s-daughter

http://www.ilieruby.com/the-salt-gods-daughter/

The waves here are volatile, dense with invisible traces. Narrative is rent from its usual unity and suspended around us, particlized into fragments of knowledge. Strangely, these impart more information than such unified knowledge as chronology, exposition and sentence structure. Phrases trace and jab and provoke. People are glimpsed. Memories are also the future. The main characters are self-destructive mother Diana, her two little girls Dahlia and Ruth, and Ruth’s beloved daughter Naida. Their stories intertwine half-known, half-formed, laced like a ribbon in the Santa Ana wind.

The moon, the sea, the desert, vines and flowers are all colors that Ruby swirls onto a room of canvases, stacked up to the ceiling, against each other, backwards. The scenes hum with colors that wander in and out, in and out, ululating through the years beginning in the early seventies. The images of little girls imprint in the waves, in the dust, along highways and strawberry fields, lungs filled with California brush fire and skin soaked with flood. Sea animals appear and disappear as omens, as friends, as sisters. The back seats of the station wagon stick to our legs. We taste homelessness and wandering, and we are left alone. We are abandoned and our fear settles in our lap as our mother soaks herself into unknowing… lies… follows the moon. Diana of the Moon.

   Home for the Gold girls

This is a sad tribe of women, women who’ve lost more than was treatable, containable. We might never know why. We only know more than that; we know how these losses score right into the skin, into the soul. Beauty is a buoy, a picnic blanket among wreckage. But beauty can also herald violent betrayal to the unprotected: Ruthie, Naida. No voice, just quiet and the sea to salt the abrasions.

There are safe havens. Dr Dagmar B. is the haven and the keeper of the haven, Twin Palms, then Wild Acres.  The elders keep watch. Ruby offers: those who need saving the most often began as rescuers. Daughter, mother, daughter, sister—what is the texture of these connections? Here, in the Salt God’s Daughter, they are layered dream upon dream upon dream, a stack of pages written with tears, enigmas, thumbprints, and notes in the margin.

  Diana’s Guide to the World

The Wanderer, the Wanderer, written repeatedly. Who is this Wanderer? And who is the Salt God’s Daughter? Clever us, we think we know. Always wanting to make things reasonable, we think we have it mapped out even amidst the floating particles, the waves, and the maze of lacing. What I knew by the end of this book was that I’m still capable of knowing a story without it being told; I’m capable of holding a picture in myself that was created by the traces between words.

Finally, there is solace. Stability can take root and love can flourish amidst abandonment. You, just like Mr. Takahashi, can cut all the blooms away but they will grow again. What do we need to know about a person? For all that we don’t know or can never know, they are a part of us. Our never met fathers. Our secret-holding mothers. Our guarded children. When we can accept their touch on our lives, we can move forward instead of all the other ways sad people move. We can bury their books, we can let them go, we can fulfill the dreams they had for us that we never knew they dreamt.

  The bougainvillea – Naida’s Escape Route

We know we are the most beloved thing in our mother’s life, we are her lodestar. Even as we are lost into the sea she guides us home. We are guided to the wing that covers us after every escape, every flight.

As with all good poetry, the lives shared in these pages gave more than reality, more than what can be predicted or assumed. We drank it and breathed it and were given a lovely dream.

January 2013 Book Review: American Ghost: A Novel by Janis Owens

This prose is rushed and hard-scrabble. This is a hidden, receding history, full of the unknown and unattained. Backwoods harsh and cold and desolate and yet with a hidden quiet flickering. The writing style doesn’t match the story; there is little poetry in the austerity. The sentences are as terse and wiry as their subject.

This story follows a cast of modern Floridians over the period of a dozen years, with oft-repeated references to the past, to a history of violence and poverty, of silence and secrets. We follow two young Hendrix girls as they reach puberty in their tiny back-swamp, back woods hamlet in West Florida. Hendrix, a town of less than 300. A population less than 3% black, and no admitted Indian blood. A twilight zone of brash lies, lies about lies, and forgotten lies. A fuzzy dot on the verge of fading from the map. Here we find hidden woods and impenetrable swamp with a drowned history. Cleared fields, train tracks and concrete foundations lie buried in moss.

Teens Lena and Jolie are contrasts, talkative and quiet, coaxing and recalcitrant, hopeful and morose. As we learn about the girls, we are led into the greater world of Hendrix and Cleary, Florida, the po’ and the dandy side of the river. Lena’s family is not from Hendrix. She lives there but will always be unhampered by its history. But not Jolie. Jolie’s family defines Hendrix. Her family blood runs through every pine and river and every speck of dirt. Hendrix for her is a perpetual penurious embrace.

As we follow the girlish friendship, the great Scotch-Native Hoyt Clan is painted, first with outlines, but as the book progresses, with more detail until we are in the rotting shacks and ratty chairs and peeling linoleum kitchens. We are eating fried shrimp and sitting on falling down porches looking over the spectral verdant swamp. We can see the sun on the boat launch and smell the pork and beans. Our author knows this land and gives us a hearty taste of Cracker.

Doled out with a crooked tin ladle are these: Cracker pain and silence, despondency, machismo and covert sweetness. Hoyt cousins crowded and wise-cracking in camo, rifles and cans in toe. Shanty thanksgiving and old lady tea time. And always the poverty, the forcible receding into dust, into untreated ills and unspeakable emotions.

We peek into this destitution where things that happen, important things like murder and lynchings, love, hysteria, escape and sweetness, go unvoiced, shoved down into skinny bodies never soothed, never smoothed. And so they both fade into fragile spider-web dust and linger. And linger.

In this poor fading place, all emotion is suspect, is cautioned. We trail Jolie’s melancholy trajectory. In this place a young un-mothered girl like Jolie has only flickering motes as guides. She senses their whispers; she listens to their hush and knows that she is doomed. As we follow we can sense the netherworld of this vanishing corner of history, where tragedy beats beneath the visible.

Jolie has learned to step warily in to good times, good spaces. She is beloved and spoiled by her older Minister father, loved by her blithe brother, befriended by the most popular girl in town, Lena. Jolie is given a magical first love, and later, material success. Her beauty is handed down from a long line of trashy, something on the side Hoyt women before her who lived, and dreamed and were demeaned. Although good does live in this Hoyt home, luck has little power in the faded gloom.

Ghosts hover in every corner of the Southern Gothic landscape, crowded in, unwavering. Wherever Jolie goes, they follow, uneasy, restless, never exorcised. The corpses still hang from the Cleary town tree, even with the limb cut off decades since. The bodies still lie bloated on the ground, tricksters and unborn babes and innocent grandmas and brothers alike. Smug white men stand over them in preening, ghastly ignorance. Who were these people who won’t rest? Owens’ tale slowly unravels them, delicate flowers dried in a crease of Floridian memory. She drops their remnants into our consciousness so that we can weep and wonder over them.

If only there were more doorways into this guarded world. If we could pull the portal further open to better hear the thoughts and memories, the anguish and joy. I would have liked to know more of these people, more of their meanings and considerations. I wanted to unbolt and unfasten. I wanted to unseal these souls to hear Ray and Hugh’s talk, to know how Travis’ heart beat when he pulled the trigger, to feel Jolie’s solitude and ageing. I wanted to sit with Ray at his metal desk bent to task, and when he looked at his daughter. I wanted to hear his mind, and Ott’s, record the dread on that youthful murderous day. I wanted to listen to the memories of the elder Sisters, especially Sister Wright.

Through all the revelation of this little known world, I couldn’t help feeling that important layer fragmented and incomplete. My trip was hasty, my comprehension shallow. I left Cleary and Hendrix a trivial observer, unable to inhabit this hidden waning world before its tales shiver into the mossy air. This powerful story gave me dust and half-open doors.

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