Buckets of coal,
cast iron stove,
the palm of my hand.
Firing the blood
that runs in my veins,
the vein of descent
from coal mines.
Black dust lined
Long winter nights
around the stove,
the cracking of coal
Frost rimes the trees like the Queen Anne’s Lace that grew alongside the holler roads in June,
on the hazy afternoons when we had no place to be, no ends in sight, on the winding one-lane, old paved roads where we took flight.
Bike pedals slapping shin bones when we hit the hills just right,
free descent, lungs too strained for our squeals of delight,
we have always been wild and strange
creatures who wandered the Appalachian hills but sought a broader horizon.
My 2018 Goodreads Reading Goal was set at 20 books. I have to this point read 23 books and I am *hoping* to read another 2 before the ball drops on January 1st.
I have started to think about what I want to set my reading goal for 2019. As a working mother, reading can be a super difficult thing to carve out time for. I found myself sneaking in pages during bath time, after bedtimes, and during breaks at work. That equaled about 23-25 books for me in 2018.
Granted, I did not prioritize reading over certain other areas of my life, like Netflix binging and social media which can seriously eat up huge amounts of your free time without realizing.
My greatest obstacle ended up not being a mother of a toddler or a full-time academic librarian, but rather a general disregard and disrespect for reading over non-soul fulfilling activities.
With all that in mind, I am hoping to increase my reading goal for 2019 from 20 books to 30 books coupled with a New Year’s Resolution to watch less TV and spend less time on social media and my smartphone.
My specific reading goals include reading more microhistories which are non-fiction books which focus on a very specific historical topic like Salt: A World History.
This is in connection with my writing goals for 2019, which include completing all drafts of my WIP, Changeling, which I have written about and shared pieces of frequently here in the past, get through the second draft of another WIP, Foxface, which was my 2018 National Novel Writing Month project, and write the first draft of at least two more story ideas I have been incubating the past year, an adult literary fiction novel titled The Gospel of Eve and a YA Fantasy tentatively titled Daring based on the myth of Virginia Dare and the Lost Colony of Roanoke.
I also want to read more writing reference type books, obviously to compliment my writing goals. I have many in my TBR pile I have stocked up on over the last year so I really want to get through all of those.
That list will undoubtedly grow as I buy/check out other writing references through the year. My favorite writing reference author is James Scott Bell and I have read at least two of his other references in the past year, he has many more, which I will probably add to this list soon.
I think, and this is certainly not an independent thought, that setting goals and intentions is the best way to ensure you achieve those goals. These are concrete titles, numbers, and deadlines. There is accountability in that and that is so important for adult-type learners (Hello, twenty-nine, I see you creeping up on me).
What are your reading/writing goals for 2019?
Do you prefer to set goals/resolutions each year or do you set non-traditional time frames (two years, six months)? Do you set time-frames at all?
I have been MIA lately and I am not ashamed.
Between work and the projects I have going on and having a toddler, husband, and household to run blogging is pretty low on the totem pole of importance.
What I have been doing, however, is working on the second draft of my Camp NaNo ’18 project, Changeling. That is an experience. I have been carving out an hour or so every few days to work on it.
After my first read through of the first draft I made notes and the second draft is implementation of those notes. This is essentially just me deleting large chunks of the first draft and writing entirely new scenes to make things connect and make a little more sense than it did before. Besides some glaring plot holes in draft #1, I am also changing place names (turning real place names into fantasy names to give myself more creative license in future drafts), and fixing obvious grammatical errors.
So that has been an experience. I am not done with the edits and I am already marking places where I need to return in the 3rd draft and do some major revisions.
Overall, progressing though slowly.
I am hoping to finish the edits before November 1st so I can begin a new project with slightly less guilt.
As always, the new project is shiny and I am itching to move on. But I think Changeling is worth suffering over so I am committed to the revisions.
The shiny new project is a little different of a vibe from Changeling. For one, the shiny new project is steampunk so right away the time and setting will be vastly different. Tech will play a big role in it which is a challenge.
I also think the characters I am writing are vastly different and it will be interesting to get inside this new creation’s head and soul and see what I can find there. Foxface has suffered much more than Viviane and Rose (Changeling‘s main characters) and she has a score to settle. From my preliminary visits with her, she doesn’t seem content to let anything go.
Foxface, like Changeling, requires a lot of research into the historically relevant aspects of the story. Its heavily inspired by the politics of the Scandinavian region during the 1800’s-1900’s and the oppression of the Samí people in Norway. But its steampunk so its alt-history and I can take a few freedoms with some of the details.
I obviously like challenging myself with these history inspired stories. I think the context of certain events in human history just adds such an interesting significance to fiction. I like grounding my dreams in reality, I guess. Not even sure that means anything.
Anyway, that is the short of my creative projects. I have been sneaking in some reading time where I can. I think since my last review (Girl, Wash Your Face) I have finished seven more books:
I should have been writing reviews for these books but honestly my mental health has not lent itself to a desire to do that. Taking anti-depressants regularly keeps me sane but it puts a noticeable damper on my ability to write, or write something I feel comfortable sharing.
But I am currently reading three books and I am hoping I will be able to write some meaningful reviews for those. Check my Goodreads if you’re interested in what I’m currently read.
Enough of that, back to work!
This book, Girl, Wash Your Face, brought me to tears so many times.
I have been absent from this blog for a bit. The reason for that is I felt burnt out and discouraged when I didn’t get the feedback I wanted from my past blog posts. I had also taken a step back from writing my novel (draft two) for the same reasons. I recognize that that is not productive or conducive to establishing a career as a writer. If I want to pursue that path I need to push through.
Rachel Hollis was an integral part of that motivation during this period.
Hollis writes her truth and is unashamed of doing so. I love that. Sure, I could not relate to everything she spoke about or the way she approached certain topics but she openly acknowledged that her truth may not resonate with everyone. She offered her stories anyway, knowing she might experience pushback or complaints of alienation. This book is not about prioritizing her beliefs above others but offering her perspective so others experiencing similar things can take what they want and apply it to their own lives.
Hollis delivers several instances of advice that hit so close to home to what I was (and am) struggling with. There are other personal things she hit on that I struggle with but the most impactful impressions were those relating to my professional goals. As a working mother, I felt like the advice she gave meant so much more. Had anyone else delivered these specific messages, I may have ignored it, scoffed even. How could someone who didn’t understand the pressures of my life tell me how to accomplish anything in my limited free time?
Hollis shares so many experiences with me as a working mother. She struggles with guilt for choosing to spend any time away from her children, she’s a small-town girl who grew up in a conservative environment. She’s a wife. I could connect with her and believe that the advice she gave was meant in earnest. Not only that but if she could accomplish all she has maybe I can do it too.
The biggest takeaway from Hollis’ book was the idea of giving myself permission to pursue my dream. Permission to fail, to rise, to face criticism and keep going anyway. Trying to do anything big, working towards a goal, these are scary and uncomfortable things. Its always going to be easier to not pursue them. But you are giving up the potential for so much happiness and fulfillment. Hollis demonstrated how that bravery paid off in her life. She gives me hope. I feel this atmosphere of support in her narration and in the community she has created online.
Rachel Hollis runs The Chic Site, a lifestyle type website where she shares recipes, fashion inspiration, travel blogs, and general advice for women. The site combines her experience as a mother, wife, and Boss so make sure to check that out and get to know this fantastic author.
In 2016, headlines declared Appalachia ground zero for America’s “forgotten tribe” of white working class voters. Journalists flocked to the region to extract sympathetic profiles of families devastated by poverty, abandoned by establishment politics, and eager to consume cheap campaign promises. What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia is a frank assessment of America’s recent fascination with the people and problems of the region. The book analyzes trends in contemporary writing on Appalachia, presents a brief history of Appalachia with an eye toward unpacking Appalachian stereotypes, and provides examples of writing, art, and policy created by Appalachians as opposed to for Appalachians. The book offers a must-needed insider’s perspective on the region.
Elizabeth Catte is an East Tennessee native, with a Ph.D. in public history, which she received from Middle Tennessee State University, and co-owns a historical consulting company. Not only is she professionally suited to write about the state of the Appalachian region today in relation to the history that fed our current issues, but she is a native and is intimate with the struggles of the residents in the poor, coal region of the Appalachians.
This book was short, a quick read, and that is really my only criticism and the reason this book is 4 stars instead of 5. I would have loved a longer book so she could go into greater detail on some of the topics she discusses. However, I understand the need to publish her book quickly on the tail of Hillbilly Elegy so that she could capitalize on its success and the conversation it ignited. It is incredibly difficult to get the mainstream media and average American to care about subjects such as this or be receptive to correcting inaccurate and painful stereotypes that Vance invoked in his disturbingly bestselling memoir.
As a historian and history consultant, Catte knows her history of the region and is a credible source for relaying that information to her readers. She takes the responsibility, where Vance negligently fell short, of setting the stage of Appalachia as it was developed through the years. Catte talks about the industries that took from the region, the evolution of local workers’ rights and struggles through this time, and most importantly, the assertion that Appalachia (as an immense region) is not wholly Scots-Irish or white.
She accurately describes the diversity of the region. Catte aligns Appalachian needs with modern issues. She shuts down the notion of Other that so many paint Appalachians, that they genetically differ from the rest of the nation. We don’t. To paint us that way, Catte explains, is to promote eugenics (“the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics).”-From Dictionary.com). The idea of preventing the breeding of Appalachians through sterilization was promoted by prominent spokespeople from the area and beyond during the 1960s-70s. Eugenics was a favored idea of Nazis, FYI.
Catte’s book is obviously a direct and scathing rebuttal to J. D. Vance’s Hillybilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. That is critical in understanding her position while writing this book. I felt similarly enraged and misrepresented after reading Vance’s “memoir.” When reading his memoir, I felt somebody local to the region needed to step up and refute his claims. A better person could not have stepped up to the plate. I will thank God every day for women like Elizabeth Catte and her little (enormously important) book.
The historical perspective she frames in this book is so important. She discusses Appalachia, coal mining, employment in the areas coal mining has left economically destroyed and/or stagnant. She references the greater discussion of white insecurity in America at the moment. So often you hear the cliched phrase, “Those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it.” Nowhere is that phrase more chilling and pertinent than this book. Catte exposes the similarities in moments in our local history that do seem to repeat themselves and will continue to do so while these images and beliefs about Appalachians exist.
Catte explores the role of activism in Appalachia. She studies the tactics corporations and politicians used to undermine those activists and their message. Catte is honest about race in the region. She discusses the history of racism white Appalachians played a part in. Vance tried to absolve us of any blame which is grossly historically inaccurate. She relates several documented instances which inform her position on this. But Catte does absolve the region of its accused blinding whiteness. People of color do occupy Appalachia. POC share the history of the region. They struggled alongside white Appalachians in the coal mines, on the railroad, farming. Diversity exists here where outsiders insist it does not. They subsequently try to erase the ownership of the region of people of color, the lives they’ve built, and the inroads of progress they’ve made.
Vance excludes people of color from his memoir when discussing his beloved “hillbillies.” He repeatedly refers to the Scots-Irish ancestry of the region. He falsely claims Appalachians have retained that genetic heritage more than any other community in the nation. Catte astutely accuses him of racist generalizations by erasing people of color from the region and culture. She also references the settlement of French, German, English, Swedish, Scandinavian, Dutch, etc. in the area. She shreds his tendency to favor the eugenics theory. He implies that the shortcomings of Appalachians are a result of shared, flawed genetics.
His book, when viewed through this lens, should scare the shit out of us. We are not genetically different from the rest of the nation though the notion is so widely shared by outsiders. Eugenicists from the outside considered forced sterilization to limit our population in the past. Because corporate interest is such a powerful force with our government at all levels.
Catte goes further in her accusations against Vance’s theories. She calls out his preference for sources favored by white supremacist and nationalist individuals. Vance references eugenics theory and practice, “brain drain.” He praises the proud Scots-Irish genealogy. These should all be viewed as red flags for his priorities. Especially as there is no doubt he will run for a political office in the next five years.
Overall, her authority shines through and makes Vance’s novel and theories pale in comparison. Vance lacks viable research. Vance lacks insight into the sociopolitical structure of the Eastern Kentucky area he references repeatedly. His insistence on their (consequently his) genetic purity really expose him for what he is. Vance is a politically ambitious, pseudo-intellectual with white supremacist tendencies.
Even more stark after reading Catte’s response is the insincerity of Vance’s assertions. Vance claims writing his memoir did not mean he intended to be a spokesperson for the poor, white working class. Yet he continues to tour and speak on the topic. He published a book on the subject knowing very, very little of the truth behind the struggles in the region. Vance intended to capitalize on national insecurities using Appalachians to justify white insecurity and nationalist trends. This attempt is glaringly obvious when read in conjunction with Catte’s rebuttal.
In short, read What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, not Hillbilly Elegy.