Updates from My Small Corner of the Writing World

Once again, it’s time for me to check in and say I need to blog more often and then disappear for a while only to resurface months later and say the same thing all over again. It’s frustrating, but also kind of comforting in a way. (It’s mostly frustrating when I get my annual bill and realize I’m not getting my money’s worth. And there’s no one to blame but myself.) Anyhow, enough rambling. Summer goes on here at the compound. Veggies are plentiful, as is the virus in our area, unfortunately. We’re back in semi-isolation here, which is borderline maddening. I’ve been feeling a lot like Sisyphus recently. There were two wonderful months of getting together and not wearing masks and gathering for family meals, and now it’s all been shot to pot thanks to the Delta variant. We are all vaccinated, but several members of my household are severely immuo-compromised and unfortunately breakthrough infections happen even if you’re vaccinated. I feel like this giant rock has rolled back down hill and crushed me, and there’s nothing I can do but shove it over and start pushing it back up the hill again. Will it crush me all over again? I don’t know, but I do know I can’t be the only one feeling this way.

There are still work events to do, despite the surge. Money has been invested, and it’s very hard to throw the brakes back on once they’ve been completely released. Most of my events are outside, thank goodness, but I can’t do that forever. Once again I am questioning my fall and winter events and wondering what the future months hold.

In other, non-virus news, we welcomed a new cat to our household this summer. His name is Jacob. I rescued him from work, just like I rescued Duncan 11 years ago. They’re both named after people who owned the old house I work in. Unfortunately, Jacob caught an upper respiratory infection, which he shared with Duncan. They were both sick. Duncan had had his second tumor removal surgery, which was more involved this time, and he was struggling to heal from that. He does have cancer, and the virus knocked him for a loop. He was hospitalized for two nights. He is still recovering, but he is doing much better. All of this happened the week we were supposed to go on vacation. We did not go anywhere. Maybe it was for the best? I would like a do over, though, because that was a very stressful way to use my vacation hours. (First world problems, I know. I know.)

#EternalMood
Jacob in all his glory. He’s about seventh months old. We’d forgotten what it was like to have a kitten.
Duncan is very clingy in the recovery ward that is our bedroom. He is still quarantined from the other cats. I’m very happy he’s still with us, but I would appreciate less cat snot on my face.

I’m not doing a whole lot of new writing right now. I probably should. It might help my funk. We’re having record breaking attendance at work, though, and at the end of the day I’m just tired, so I don’t write. One of the bright spots this year, though, is my original, history-based play Nancy about Elihu Embree’s enslaved woman. It’s been my goal for years now to tell her story so that she’s known as well as Embree. Embree wrote The Emancipator in 1820, which is the first publication dedicated solely to the abolition of slavery. It only had seven editions, because he died in December of that year, but you can read them all online here through the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. I encourage you to read it.

While he was writing the paper, Embree was also an enslaver. He owned Nancy and her five children. The historical record is complicated. At one point, Embree owned her, sold her, and then brought her and her children back. Once he brought them back, he claims to have educated the children, provided them with a place to live, and paid them for their labor. He was certainly concerned about what would happen to Nancy and her children when he died, and the first two pages of his will are about them. It’s still not clear whether or not they were manumitted after he died. I am still actively searching for that answer. I had the honor of working with area actress Ubunibi-Afia Short to bring Nancy’s story to the stage on Juneteenth at the Embree House Historic Farm. (Elihu spent part of his childhood on that farm.)

Actress and playwright after three, sold out shows.
Afia in action. Photo by Mark Larkey.

This is only part one of getting Nancy’s story out there. We will be performing the play again at Washington College Academy on November 13th. We will also be performing the show on November 19th as a part of the NAACP’s annual banquet. It’s an honor to be able to share her story and to do so with such an accomplished actress. I’m also working on a museum exhibit Nancy, and I’d love to figure out a way to get her story into the public/private schools. (Of course, all of this depends on Covid, but I hope we’ll be able to do it.) My whole job as a historian and writer is to find these stories that have been overlooked and bring them to the light. I have never felt more accomplished in my job, and that’s a good feeling.

In other writing news, I’ll be a guest on Dan-A-Plooza’s Facebook livestream with Dan Hawkins on Friday, September 10th. I worked together in the theatre with Dan, and he’s become quite the entertainment streamer. I’ll be talking about my eBook Comes in Threes which is a collection of short stories available on Amazon.

Maybe I should write another short story for the blog? It would probably be depressing and dark. Most of my short stories are depressing and dark. Does anyone want to read that kind of stuff right now?

#writing #blogging #catmom #overthispandemic

#WIPpet Wednesday Number 1 Voices of the Chester

I apologize for my absence from this blog. It has been a busy time at work and home. Last week I got the opportunity to perform my newspaper-based play “Things Are Changing” with my spouse for a National Youth Summit Woman’s Suffrage. We’re also rehearsing for my newest piece of museum theatre, Voices of the Chester. This unique experience will lead guests all around the Chester Inn State Historic Site and Museum and share the stories of the people who lived there, worked there, and stayed there during the building’s long history. (FYI, the building has been standing since the late 1700s.)

It’s my first time doing a play like this, and I’m excited about the possibilities. I also have a stellar cast that is working so hard to bring my vision to life. I’ve included an excerpt from one of the stories below.

This week (5/29/2019) I’m 29 sentences from the story of Sarah Roberts, an orphan who was bound to Dr. Chester to work at the Chester Inn. She was bound along with her brother James Roberts. Unfortunately, I don’t know much about her story, except that she was bound to Dr. Chester until she reached the age of 18. After that, she disappears form the written, historic record, but I based her story on what I knew of the building and town at that time.

Sweeping, that’s all I do, and make beds. Mornings come early, most days before first light. The mattress is small, especially now that James is all legs and arms. It’s safe, though, and warm enough, so I don’t complain too often, except when I wake up with a foot in my face. First thing I do is get dressed and then check the fires in the rooms, make sure they’re still alight. Once the guests begin to stir, James and I tend to the chamber pots. It’s our job to empty them and scrub them, put them back under beds.

Dr. Chester’s place has five bedrooms. There’s a great big chimney on either end and a small front porch that always needs sweeping. There are lots of houses in town, James says nearly 30, and there are more being built every day. All the people and the horses are always kicking up dust.

The days are full of tasks, from helping with the cooking and cleaning in the kitchen, to washing linens, to mending clothes, to tending to the horses, and always, always sweeping the porch and the main stairs. Days when court is in session are the busiest. There’s people coming and going, in and out, with their dusty, dusty boots. Some days I think I should just sew the broom to my hand.

Sometimes we help Dr. Chester in his apothecary shop. When we’re down there, he’ll read the bottles to James, teach him his letters. I know my letters, too, but James gets more time with it. A family came to call the last time we were working. They needed some medicine for their sick daughter. I could tell they loved her; by the way they were talking about her. James says it doesn’t do us any good to remember our parents. Maybe he can’t remember them. I remember, a little. I remember someone loved me, and she was warm and soft. They loved us enough to give us names, Sarah and James Roberts. That has to mean something.

I know I should be grateful for what I have, and I am. We’re not out in the streets.

Voices of the Chester will be performed on June 14-16.

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*WIPpet Wednesday is a blog hop hosted by Emily Wrayburn wherein writers share excerpts of their latest WIP. All genres and levels of accomplishment are welcome. The only stipulation is that the excerpt must coincide with the date in some manner. For example, on 10/8/14 you might share 10 lines from page 8, 8 paragraphs from chapter 14, or perhaps 18 sentences by doing WIPpet math and adding the day to the month. We’re flexible like that. 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! 2018 was quite the ride. My first novel The Summer Between was released on October 1, 2018. I’ve been extremely pleased with its reception. Check out some reviews here and order a copy through Amazon today!

Play wise, my full length play With These Hands had its second performance, this time hosted inside at the McKinney Center. Also, my cemetery play A Spot On the Hill celebrated its fifth year and continued to raise money for cemetery preservation and museum programming.

I look forward to 2019, to continuing to share history through various mediums and to publishing the first novel I ever wrote, Flying Upon One Wing!

Summer Between Cover

SUMMER BETWEEN FLYER ROUGH

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My book release at the Corner Cup in Jonesborough! I have the great fortune of living in the most supportive community.

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A family business. We started Mountain Gap Books this year! Showing off some of our titles at Fine Art in the Park.

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The cast of A Spot On the Hill sporting our serious faces.

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The cast of With These Hands prepares for the last show.

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Sharing The Summer Between and some writing exercises with the teen group at the Bristol Public Library. This was one of my favorite moments of the year.

Here’s to 2019! Thanks for following along on this journey with me!

#HappyNewYear #yafiction #TheSummerBetween #FlyingUponOneWing #WritingGoals

(Photo by Cristian Escobar on Unsplash)

#WIPpet Wednesday A Spot On the Hill Number 2

My cemetery play A Spot On the Hill opens this Friday. We have three shows this weekend and then two shows next weekend. Once again I am blessed with an amazing and stellar cast. If you are in the Northeast TN area, we still have tickets available for the 2:30 matinee this Sat, Oct 20 and the 2:30 matinee next Sat, Oct 27. You can get tickets online here.

Seeing as this will no longer be a work in progress come Friday, I’ve decided to share one more story from A Spot On the Hill. These stories are about real people who are buried in the Old Jonesborough Cemetery.

In this cutting you’ll meet Robert Dosser, local merchant extraordinaire and his wife Laura who was quite the fashionista. You’ll also meet their son. Here is a picture of their grave site with the actor who portrays Robert Dosser.

ASOH 11

For my WIPpet math we have 21 paragraphs (10+17+7-1=21) for 10/17/2018.

ROBERT D

I know what it’s like to have a family name to live up to. My name is Robert Dosser. My father was James Dosser, merchant extraordinaire. He established his mercantile store at 117 East Main Street. In that store he sold a little bit of everything, including the latest fashions. My father built a local empire, an empire I inherited alongside my brothers. When he died in 1891, he left the store to Albert, Frank, and me. I put my heart and soul into that business, just as I’d watched my father do. My brothers married and had families, but I was too busy traveling, making contacts, expanding the business. My father had once advised me that I couldn’t love both, family and work, with my whole heart. It was family first and then the business. It could never be the other way. And for a long time, at least for me, it was just the business. She was my mistress.

Finally, in 1889 at the age of 33, I married Nellie Fain. She became the love of my life, and we had four beautiful children. But then tragedy struck, and Nellie died in 1901. I retreated into my business; sure my heart would never know that kind of love again.

(Laura D steps forward.)

LAURA D

My name is Laura Brunner, and I did not have a family legacy, or an empire. I only had myself. In Jonesborough, I lived with Mr. and Mrs. L.H.Patton. I had to contribute to the household, so I worked for R.M. May and Sons. I would usually see Mr. Dosser in the store, talking with Mr. May. Everyone knew of Mr. Dosser and his great knowledge of clothes, but he didn’t know everything.

ROBERT D

Excuse me, ma’m. Does Mr. May carry this Chevron pattern in a darker shade?

LAURA D

That’s Herringbone.

ROBERT D

Pardon?

LAURA D

That pattern is Herringbone.

ROBERT D

I’m certain it’s Chevron.

LAURA D

And I am certain it is not. See here, the break is at the reversal, which makes it Herringbone.

ROBERT D

How much does Mr. May pay you? Come and work for me, and I’ll double it.

LAURA D

I did go and work for him. We spent more and more time together. And what began as a disagreement over patterns, quickly turned to love. In 1904 we were married in the Patton family home. The Herald & Tribune announced our wedding, writing –

HERALD & TRIBUNE

“These people are too well known to our people to need an introduction from us. They are well and thoroughly known to all, and are fully deserving of all honor, and are sure to receive the congratulations of all. They go to St. Louis on a bridal tour. May peace, prosperity, and happiness accompany them all through life.”

LAURA D

We went to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Lois. It was like traveling to the future. After that, we returned to our home in Jonesborough. Life was suddenly a fairy tale that had come true.

ROBERT D

In 1908, my brothers and I sold the business in Jonesborough. We had a new business in downtown Johnson City. That’s where the future was. That was the legacy I was going to leave to my children. That same year, Laura and I had a son. I knew that one day he would join his siblings in the family business.

(Dosser Boy steps forward.)

ROBERT D

Now, what has your father always told you?

DOSSER BOY

It’s family first and then the business. It can never be the other way.

ROBERT D

Good lad.

DOSSER BOY

But I never helped in the store.

LAURA D

No, and I never lived to see what it would become. The two of us died in 1908 in childbirth. We’re buried in the Dosser family plot alongside Nellie Fain Dosser, the mother of your half siblings.

(to Robert)

It was a beautiful story, Robert, while it lasted.

ROBERT D

Yes, my dear, it was.

 

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(Picture above Joel VanEaton, Jeremy Reeves, and Kellie Reeves)

*WIPpet Wednesday is a blog hop hosted by Emily Wrayburn wherein writers share excerpts of their latest WIP. All genres and levels of accomplishment are welcome. The only stipulation is that the excerpt must coincide with the date in some manner. For example, on 10/8/14 you might share 10 lines from page 8, 8 paragraphs from chapter 14, or perhaps 18 sentences by doing WIPpet math and adding the day to the month. We’re flexible like that.

#WIPpetWednesday #workinprogress #ASpotOntheHill #playwriting #realstories #reallives #realtombstones

#WIPpet Wednesday A Spot On the Hill

I’m taking a momentary break from The Summer Between on this Work in Progress Wednesday to share a bit from my upcoming play A Spot On the Hill. The Heritage Alliance sponsors A Spot On the Hill every October in the Old Jonesborough Cemetery. The performances help to raise funds for the tombstone restoration and preservation in the Rocky Hill and College Hill cemeteries. This is the fifth year we’ve done A Spot On the Hill. It is one of my favorite parts of my job. Every year we try to feature nine-ten new stories of people who are buried in the cemeteries. The play is heavily researched, and whenever possible, I use quotes from the person or directly about the person. Our tagline is “Real stories. Real lives. Real tombstones.”

Below is the story of Lucinda Jackson (9/26/1843 – 6/27/1898). To help with the reading, stage directions are on the right, character names are in the center, and dialogue is to the left.

For my WIPpet math we have 40 sentences (9+12+19=40) for 9/12/2019. Note, stage directions do not count in the total, only dialogue.

LUCINDA J

I’m here because of laundry, and my husband. My name is Lucinda Jackson, but most people know me as Cynthia. My husband is Giles Jackson, but most people called him Jack. Giles belonged to the Colored Peoples Cemetery Society of Jonesborough. He was one of the trustees who helped establish College Hill Cemetery in 1890. I was buried there just eight years later. Giles was a character, loved to talk. He was always talking. He was a barber, said it was part of his profession. Everyone knew Jack and his stories, especially the one about how he’d been kicked in the head by a horse. That story always started the same . . .

ALL

Let me tell you how I got these scars!

LUCINDA J

Sometimes I wish that horse had kicked him a little harder. But I loved Jack’s stories. That’s part of what attracted me to him. I was his second wife. We married in 1894. Jack had his barber shop in the basement of the courthouse, and I had my laundry in our house on Woodrow. Jack was always complaining that I was too quite. “Look at you, just standing at that tub and saying nothing.” But I was thinking, always thinking. Jack was used to everybody telling him his business in his chair. I knew everything about everybody, too, but they didn’t have to say a word to me.

(Carter D brings her a bundle of laundry.)

LUCINDA J

This shirt is not her husband’s size.

(William M brings her a bundle of laundry.)

LUCINDA J

That’s a lot of blood, and it ain’t hog killing time. Someone needs to check on that.

(Jennie R brings her a bundle of laundry)

JENNIE R

Would you mind, uh . . .

LUCINDA J

(finishing her thought for her)

Destroying that awful shirt of his so you never have to see it again? Don’t worry, laundry accidents happen all the time.

JENNIE R

You’re a good woman.

LUCINDA J

Laundry’s not as solitary as you’d think. But I liked the peace, when it came. I liked to stand at the tub and look out the window and think about how much had changed in my lifetime, and how much would change in Nannie’s lifetime. She was Jack’s granddaughter, but I like to think of her as mine, too. What would the world look like outside her window?

(pause)

Then Jack would come in and tell me I was being too quiet. What he didn’t know, though, was I was solving all the world’s problems.

LAURA D

“Cynthia Jackson, wife of Giles Jackson, dropped dead while at the wash tub Monday morning. The doctor pronounced the cause of her death, apoplexy.”

LUCINDA J

If only I’d lived to solve those problems, or see the world Nannie got to see. But at least I got a break from that horse story for a while.

Cem After

(The picture looks pretty bleak, but it was taken in the winter. That is the view of College Hill from Rocky Hill. Rocky Hill was the traditionally white cemetery and College Hill was the traditionally African American cemetery. They were segregated by society and nature. Thanks to programs like A Spot On the Hill, we’ve been able to break down that natural barrier and share both cemeteries as part of one whole. Lucinda Jackson is buried in College Hill.)

If you’re in the Northeast Tennessee area and want to see A Spot On the Hill, we have performances on Oct 19, 20, and 26 at 6:30 and Oct 20 and 27 at 2:30. Find out more about the play and how to get tickets by visiting the Heritage Alliance’s Facebook page

*WIPpet Wednesday is a blog hop hosted by Emily Wrayburn wherein writers share excerpts of their latest WIP. All genres and levels of accomplishment are welcome. The only stipulation is that the excerpt must coincide with the date in some manner. For example, on 10/8/14 you might share 10 lines from page 8, 8 paragraphs from chapter 14, or perhaps 18 sentences by doing WIPpet math and adding the day to the month. We’re flexible like that.

#WIPpetWednesday #workinprogress #ASpotOntheHill #playwriting #realstories #reallives #realtombstones

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Talking The Summer Between with Marcello Rollando on Charlottesville This Week

My first radio spot for The Summer Between! I had the privilege of chatting with Marcello Rolando about The Summer Between, history, playwriting, and much more on Charlottesville This Week. Marcello directed my ten minute play Stealing Lincoln a few years ago. He is one of the best directors I have ever worked with, and I hope we can work together again in the future. The show is broken down into three, six minute segments. Happy listening!

 

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