A few months after the release of Dogwood Blues, a book club connected to a Friends of the Library group from a county a few hours from my hometown asked me to speak at their July meeting. The president of the group had started reading my book and was thrilled. Even though he hadn’t finished reading Dogwood Blues, as he read, he emailed me numerous times, praising my writing style, expressing his love of the characters. I agreed to speak to his group, marked the date off my calendar, and spread the word. Days later, I received an email from him, telling me he had no choice but to cancel my visit. While reading Dogwood Blues, he had come across some scenes that were disturbing. The content was offensive to him, and he could not support me in any way.
I moved on, let it go, but first, I made sure the library in his county received a free copy of Dogwood Blues. Others might not find it offensive.
In the months to come, a steady trickle of invitations arrived, invitations to speak at book clubs, to speak to readers who enjoyed the story I had told, to answer questions about motifs and symbolism and themes, to sit among those who had questions about my writing process, to speak to those who wanted to share the book with others. Readers were eager to talk about music in Dogwood Blues, about the blues and old spirituals. They brought up themes of birth and rebirth. We examined themes of betrayal and forgiveness. Talks centered around homosexuality and prejudice. Bridge players wanted to discuss the bridge game where Trampus plays with the women. Conversations dealt with reliable and unreliable narrators. Many took the Alapaha River to be its own character. The beauty of the South, the love of land and soil and nature, found its way into every discussion. And the topic of gossip, the nastiness of gossip, the fury and pain behind gossip brought out many emotions.
My schedule tightened to the point that I could slip in little time for writing my next novel. I taught workshops, signed books, discussed my novel, read my poetry, talked about my short fiction and nonfiction. I gave radio and television interviews, participated in online interviews, sat on panels at writing workshops. I gave readings. My life sailed through a storm, a strange and overwhelming storm, taking this woman who tends to be an introvert into deep water.
And here I am today. Book clubs continue to ask me to visit and speak. I’m publishing short works in online journals. And I’m trying to write my second novel.
I was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year; I didn’t win.
I was nominated for a Willie Morris Award for Southern Fiction; I didn’t win.
I didn’t deserve to win either award, yet I was thrilled to be nominated.
Yesterday, I received three emails from readers praising Dogwood Blues. It amazes me that two years after its publication, people are still reading the story of Dogwood, Georgia. The book hasn’t sold millions, but it continues to find its way into the hands of new readers.
I want to thank those of you who have told others about Dogwood Blues and those who have written reviews and sent me emails. Thank you. Thank you.
Who cares that I was fired from speaking to a book club associated with the Friends of the Library in a county far from where I live? Not me. I feel loved.
I am grateful for readers, for my husband, for my children, my family and friends.
I’m thankful for the friendship and support of Janisse Ray, an acclaimed poet, author, activist, and environmentalist. In the middle of a busy schedule, Janisse came to my aid. After recognizing my love of place, she gave me some words of praise to use on my book cover. Everybody knows that Janisse loves this southern land like a baby loves her mother’s milk. She wasn’t about to support writing without depth. If she couldn’t detect the scent of soil and pines and river in my words, she wouldn’t put her name on my book. Thank God, she inhaled when the magnolias were blooming in Dogwood and when Boone smelled of an acre of soil.
Elizabeth Jennings, author of The Button Collector, offered words of praise. I had read her book and loved it. She is a talented and kind woman.
I’m grateful to Janice Daugharty. Her writing captures the ways of the South in intimate detail. A bestselling author, she has written and published numerous novels and short stories.
I’m grateful to Barbara Lipe and Cheryl Hilderbrand, who corrected mistakes and were brave enough to tell me when something didn’t work. I’m grateful to my writing group: Women’s Words on Record.
Now back to my husband. He encouraged me. He let me work long hours. He took me to the woods in the mountains for solitude. He listened. He is the love of my life.
And my children? They never stepped back from their support.