March 21, 2014

UNDER MAGNOLIA: A SOUTHERN MEMOIR

Dear Friends,

On April Fool’s Day, my coming-of-age memoir will be published by Crown. What a marvelous team helped bring this book to reality! The physical book is beautiful. I love the spray of images and the bold lettering that gives heft to the background blue.  I’m there, at eighteen, looking blindingly innocent, with my gorgeous parents, my maternal grandparents’ house that burned, and a pure white magnolia, the flower I loved most as a child.

I grew up in Fitzgerald, Georgia after World War II and on the cusp of the civil rights movement. We were the last isolated generation–before widespread TV–and a small town deep in South Georgia seemed a world unto itself. For me, a marvelous world. I loved the land, the flat horizon, the fragrant nights, the rain that “walked” across the fields, the sun that could melt gold. Like many southern families, mine had it’s share of wild, eccentric characters.  They were full of love but flailed about in preposterous ways, unable to figure out how to live. I grew up. And thrived. And that green, green world still exists whole in memory, that vast terrarium.

It’s not a casual undertaking to write a memoir about growing up in a difficult, loving, often funny family. For one thing, the act of writing pulls up more and more memories from the primordial layers of the past. Another caution is that you involve other people who may not want to be involved. But beyond that, there’s a wonderful alchemy that occurs in the process of arranging memories into narratives. Your life begins to make more sense as a continuum. And those sharp memories that have barked at you all those years tend to lie down and sleep. Also, you experience your life all over again. Those long gone rise up whole with all their demands, passions, and gusto. The places you lived in and visited flash forward vividly, allowing you to smell the narcotizing scents of ginger lily and to see the four-paned square of light that hit the wall every morning of your childhood. The writing is a lively pleasure, with painful revelations at times, and over all, the writing process makes you appreciate the startling gifts of everyday life.

I hope you will like taking this journey with me back into the deep South. If you’ve read my (mostly) sunny, happy books about Tuscany, you might be surprised by my early life. Oddly enough, I was always confident of my happiness. I never doubted it! The best thing writing a memoir might do for the writer is to reveal that you were always exactly yourself, inevitable as a planted seed, regardless of circumstance. I see that I started out writing my life.

In April, I’ll be on a book tour and I’d love to meet you. The blog comments are such a thrill for me. I feel that I know many of you who’ve written in. So check the TOUR heading soon and if you’re near where I’m traveling, please come. And please do let me know what you think of the book!

My publisher, Crown, will randomly choose five people from those who respond with comments here, and mail them a signed book. So just write in, even just to say CIAO!

If you are nowhere near where I’ll be traveling and would like a personalized book, please order one from Purple Crow Books in Hillsborough, NC, my home town, and tell Sharon how you would like it personalized. Her email: purplecrowbooks@gmail.com  She will mail it right out to you.

Here’s the opening:

At a few times in my life, I’ve not been aware that I’ve just stepped onto a large X.

Change might not be on my mind. Why change? I’ve always admired lives that flourish in place. The taproot reaches all the way to the aquifer, the leaves bud, flourish, fall, and grow again. I like generations following one another the same house, where lamplight falls throughout the windows in squares of light on the snow, and somebody’s height chart still marks the kitchen doorway. But there I stand on the X, not knowing it’s time to leap, when, really, I’d only meant to pause. In Oxford, Mississippi, one chance weekend, the last thing I expected was a life-changing epiphany.