There’s nothing like a good old peanut butter sandwich followed by a big glass of sweet tea. It’s pure heaven. I should say ice tea because here in Georgia the sweat part is assumed. Now, I drink mine with a slice of orange. Yes, my granny would just roll over in her grave if she knew I polluted my tea with such a thing. She’d also roll over if she knew I had written a novel filled with stories I heard her tell. And Lord help that it was published.
There was a time in my life when I only drank unsweetened tea, and I would have rather died than admit I ate peanut butter. These were what I now call my smart years; the years I spent trying to outrun my southern roots. I wanted no part of tall tales, superstitions, and folklore. I think some of my attitude came from my granny, who was the first in her family to move from a rural area to the big city of Atlanta. I stripped all traces of an accent from my words. I spoke only proper English. When I wrote stories, I never allowed my characters to speak as true southerners. Nope, these stories were the most intelligent pieces you ever read. I even got quite a few published. But they never settled well with me. Something was missing. I sure didn’t have a bit of fun while writing them.
And then one day I found an old photo of Granny and my great aunt. I thought of those Sundays once a month spent at my great aunt’s house in Appalachia. We’d sit in the living room with its high ceilings and homemade furniture and sip syrupy ice tea from jelly jar glasses leftover from the depression. I’d find a corner next to one of the large potted plants and sit quietly until I became part of the rose wallpaper. Soon the women—there was always a roomful of grown cousins—began to cast their spells. My great aunt would pull out her spittoon and offer Granny a dip of snuff, which she would take to my fascination. The talk would turn to the real stories. One of my favorites was how my great grandmother came home not feeling well from a trip she made to Atlanta with my great grandfather. She felt so bad she went straight to bed at two in the afternoon. This was unheard of in her days. The next day her whole head turned black, and she died. Folks believed my great grandfather had a spell conjured on her so he could marry a new wife, which he promptly did three months after my great grandmother’s death.
It became plain that my southern background held enough characters to last me a lifetime if I’d only embrace their stories and allow them to speak. So I allowed Nellie Pritchard onto the page and Ghost On Black Mountain was born. I’ve never regretted coming to know the strong women in this novel. Sometimes their tales are so vivid I’m driven to believe in ancestral memory.
So, that’s why you won’t catch me teaching my characters from Black Mountain how to use proper English or grammar for that matter. I found there is a lot of ways to express what we as writers and storytellers have to say. Getting caught up in the perfection of it all has too high of a price. You see I’ve spent way too much time eating dry, stringy roast beef at a fancy set table when I could have had a peanut butter sandwich and been happy as pie. My lesson was creativity and a long sought after writing voice. Now, when I get a hankering for fried corn, green beans seasoned with bacon grease, or hot buttery cornbread, I dive straight into the pleasure. It’s a lot more fun. And, I always drink my big glass of ice tea, sweet.