Flashback: Passing Notes in High School

This is part two of a series on letter-writing in literature.

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The days of passing paper notes in school are fading from our culture. When I was in high school over twenty years ago, we used notebook paper and created elaborate folds, code words, and nicknames. We knew where to pass notes between classes, when to pass them during class, and even who could be trusted to pass a note without reading it. Now, most students simply send texts and emails to one another with their phones.

In her novel, The Mosquito Hours, Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo reminds the reader about these changes in communications and letter writing. The epistolary novel doesn’t have to be a book about letters mailed and received through the post office. DeLorenzo shows how friends write notes in school, and she shares the correspondence between best friends Vivian and Raine in high school. DeLorenzo allows the reader to see Vivian and Raine’s code words. This reveals the slang and cultural trends, but it also makes the reader feel intimately involved in the relationship between the friends. Showing the letters expresses their relationship in a way that we wouldn’t have understood without the notes. We can see Vivian as a high school girl, even though she is a young grandmother during the current time of the story. The notes act as flashbacks to reveal a different time in her life. Thus, the notes show us their relationship rather than a character telling the reader about their past.

To read more about The Mosquito Hours by Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo, a novel suggested as a Best Summer Reads of 2014 on OnPoint Radio, visit www.thorncraftpublishing.com

Next week, I’ll continue writing about letter-writing in literature. See last week’s post on the Confessional Letter for part one.

The Art of Letter-Writing: the Confessional Letter

IMG_9508Writing letters is an art that I value, and in Thorncraft, we enjoy seeing the practice within stories. How about all of you, writers? Is letter-writing part of your practice? There’s nothing like receiving someone’s handwritten thoughts in your mailbox.

I love when letters show up in books, even if it’s for a moment, as in Grace Among the Leavings by Beverly Fisher. One of the reasons I loved this novella, other than the young, inquisitive narrator Grace, was the confessional letters that were written during the events of the book. The letters reveal the central conflict and show depth of character where the readers might otherwise easily make judgments to disregard characters who commit a violent crime.

We, the readers, gain further insight into the people living in the rural south during the US Civil War by watching how they receive letters. Grace is the only member of her family who can read, and she is still in the process of learning, so the family must send for the preacher to read any letters aloud to them.

We see the dependence of the community on the preacher and those who can read and write in order to communicate for them. The novella reminds how important it is to cultivate the ability to read and to write, to correspond via letters and wait patiently for a response.

I’ll be sharing more about letters in books in the coming weeks in a series about the importance of the art of letter-writing.

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Visit thorncraftpublishing here to read more about Grace Among the Leavings by Beverly Fisher. The book has been adapted to the stage by Kari Catton and Dennis Darling. It has been performed as both a one-act and a two-act play.

When Daydreams Build Foundations

Amazon Cover-01 Most of my ideas don’t materialize. Probably 85-95% of them are only daydreams and nothing more. I daydream constantly. This can be overwhelming for people who don’t know me well…I’ll start building immediately. That’s the way it goes with my writing, too. So, many stories never make it far until they are deleted or made into paper balls for the wastebasket.

My latest novel, just released, Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel, began as a short story in Barry Kitterman’s graduate fiction writing course. I was writing from my daydreaming head all of this surrealist drivel, trying to emulate writers I thought were considered cool by people who knew these things. Barry invited a guest author, and she asked, “How many of you are from Tennessee?” A few of us raised our hands. For the next assignment, she asked us to write about our place in the world–to consider what we have experienced, and then to write the fiction story for the next class session. I started “Family Medicine Wheel” with the main character, the country midwife Zona Ballard, who was mysterious, witchy, and creative. That was in 2003. Barry encouraged me to revise the story and put it through the workshop with the class. Instead of listening, as a student will who thinks they have a better plan, I chose a different story to put through the workshop, and experienced something like a battle with my peers over this new story. Later, my wounds healed. An experienced professor who works from awareness and kindness won’t let you down. Barry breathed life back into that story and submitted it to the Languages and Literature Department for consideration in the Dogwood Award. The story won Best Graduate Fiction in 2004.

I graduated, started a family, taught college classes in English, and then a friend recommended that I submit the story to a journal, The Round Table, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. To my complete surprise, not only did they publish it, but they also chose it as the winner of the Robert Penn Warren Award in Fiction. That was 2009.

In the meantime, I had other daydreams, and they were becoming another book. A book that I considered my first, as pieces of it were written in another creative writing course taught by Barry Kitterman. So, the book, Multiple Exposure, became Thorncraft’s publishing debut in 2012. I forgot about “Family Medicine Wheel.”

My daydreams for Thorncraft began to grow, and I wanted to help other women authors get their work out to the world. I learned about publishing from my experience as an Editor for Her Circle Ezine, an online magazine that focused on women’s arts and activism around the world with a heavy emphasis on literature and visual arts.

Thorncraft grew with Beverly Fisher’s novella Grace Among the Leavings (2013) and Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo’s novel, The Mosquito Hours (2014). A good daydream doesn’t remain in that realm–it leaves a paper trail.

My friends and family who read “Family Medicine Wheel” long ago, or knew about it, continued to ask if I would ever build anything substantial out of that daydream. Last year, I returned to that world and made a novel out of it by merging it with Poke Sallet Queen, a NaNoWriMo novel draft I wrote in 2011. From its beginnings on paper, that dream has taken 10 years to materialize. Finally, we are here, and I invite you all to celebrate with us at the book launch.

BOOK LAUNCH: FREE & open the public. PARNASSUS BOOKS, Nashville. May 9th, 2 p.m. Click here for Parnassus website: http://www.parnassusbooks.net/event/author-event-shana-thornton-author-poke-sallet-queen-family-medicine-wheel

Book will be available for purchase from Parnassus Books at the book launch. The author will read and sign copies. The author will also donate a minimum of 10% of her royalties from the book launch to Clarksville-based food bank and shelter, Manna Cafe Ministries. Also based in Clarksville, Thorncraft Publishing strives to consider our impact on the world and make it a better place.

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Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel advanced praise:

“Reading Shana Thornton’s highly original novel will make you want to get your own family stories to the page. You’ll meet larger-than-life characters like Hoot and Zona, Aunt Cora and Jane, Miss Emy, and Nenny, the matriarch, who rolls her own cigarettes and knows all the secrets of the family medicine wheel. You may even find yourself signing up for a writing class like the one that sets the narrator, young Robin Ballard, to interviewing her aunts and grandmother, tracking down her homeless father, and digging out the family secrets, lost journals, and recipes that make Poke Sallet Queen & the Family Medicine Wheel a most surprising and satisfying fictional family history. (At least, I think it’s fiction!)” –Mary Helen Stefaniak, author of The Turk and My Mother, and The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia

When Robin Ballard takes a writing course in college, she goes searching for answers about her homeless father and wanders into the secret lives of her relatives as they gradually reveal their personal histories. Set in Nashville and the surrounding rural towns, Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel offers a look into the superstitions and changes of a middle Tennessee family from the 1920s to the 21st century. Based on novel events, homework assignments, old magic recipes, drunken revelries, senile remembrances, midnight songs, some tall tales, some folk tales, and the lost journals, Robin Ballard tells a “true” Tennessee family history.

“When I’m given a book to review, I like to open it up at random and see if what’s on the happenstance page resonates at all. This time I found the heroine Robin Ballard singing Mother Maybelle Carter’s ‘Wildwood Flower’ at a beauty contest she does not expect to win. She is someone I recognize, who trips over a cord as she’s leaving the stage, whose family’s knowledge ‘comes from the dirt’ not from ‘parchment scrolls and crests that open doors.’ This character is humble and honest, and the book refreshingly natural and just different enough. I like it….” -Rheta Grimsley Johnson, author of Enchanted Evening Barbie and the Second Coming

“Vibrant in detail! Meet and fall in love with the characters of Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel and along the way, learn the secrets of great story-telling.” — Bud Willis, author of Marble Mountain: A Vietnam Memoir

“Shana Thornton has a fresh, unique voice and talent. Poke Sallet Queen and the Family Medicine Wheel is a lyrical tale of love in the lush Tennessee hills, of generations gone by, of people appreciated for simple things as much as the passing on of their history. There is mystery, sorrow, laughter and knowledge in these unforgettable characters. Shana writes a magical story that stays with you long after the final page. As with one of the characters, ‘She knows real magic.'” -Virginia Brown, author of Dark River Road and the Dixie Diva mystery series

Visit Thorncraft Publishing to read more advanced praise and to browse all of our titles and events.