From 2004-2013, I worked on my first novel, Mother of Rain (Mercer University Press). It was hard work. I was trying to tackle a lot of things all at once.
Put aside the fact that I had never really written fiction. I’d been a journalist. An opinion writer. A human interest columnist. I’d never even attempted to write short stories, much less a full-length novel. Even so, I knew I had a story to tell that could not be told in a non-fiction manner, especially because the story was inspired by a true-life terrifying event – a dear friend had suffered some sort of mental breakdown. We didn’t know the words for it then, didn’t have access to online, laptops and nobody had ever heard the term Social Media.
The only way we had of getting at the truth of medical mysteries was to ask a doctor, or a voodoo practitioner, which seemed about as practical. This was especially true if you were a woman suffering from a little known ailment called postpartum psychosis. Very few people had ever heard of the term. We knew about the “sads” women sometimes get following childbirth. But women who suffered psychosis were just locked up and put away, deemed not right in the head. We never really tried to understand what made those women go mad.
I wanted to tell a story that would help educate others about the very real and very frightening affects of postpartum psychosis.
A story that would suggest that the thing a person suffering from mental illness needs most is community. To be surrounded and loved and valued.
I wanted to tell that story in such a way that would honor the people who had been community for me during a difficult time in my life. The summer that my father died, my brother and I spent a lot of time in a Tennessee Holler known as the community of Christian Bend. We were cared for there. We were loved there. And for me, it was the place where the storytelling took root.
And, I wanted to tell the story in a language that was being lost – the language of my Appalachian kin. Perhaps you know Appalachian language? If so, you must also be worried about the lost art of that language. I wanted to preserve it for my children and grandchildren.
Then, finally, I wanted to create a strong and independent woman of color – the Melungeon woman Burdy. The healer woman of the mountain. The woman everyone fears and respects. A woman who lives out her faith in a bold and non-conformist fashion.
Those were my goals. I think I reached them well enough. Well enough anyway to garner some accolades and a few awards along the way. (Thank you Berea & Weatherford).
I’m proud of the book. I think everybody should read it.
Then you should buy a ticket and see the stage play, adapted by Paul Pierce at Georgia’s Historic Springer Opera House.
Truthfully, all you really need is music of Kerry Phillips to sweep you up into the storyline.
Hope to see you in Georgia very soon.
Click here to buy tickets. (Hurry. Some nights sold out already).
If you are a Nashville fan, you are going to love this…