Excerpt: Lynna Williams’ “Personal Testimony”

In yesterday's post I wrote about Lynna Williams' story "Personal Testimony." Here are the first three paragraphs of the story.

“The last night of church camp, 1963, and I am sitting on the front row of the junior mixed-voice choir looking out on the crowd in the big sanctuary tent. The tent glows, green and white and unexpected, in the Oklahoma night; our choir director, Dr. Bledsoe, has schooled us in the sudden crescendos needed to compete with the sounds cars make when their drivers cut the corner after a night at the bars on Highway 10 and see the tent rising out of the plain for the first time. The tent is new to Faith Camp this year, a gift to God and the Southern Baptist Convention from the owner of a small circus who repented, and then retired, in nearby Oklahoma City. It is widely rumored among the campers that Mr. Talliferro came to Jesus late in life, after having what my mother would call Life Experiences. Now he walks through camp with the unfailing good humor of a man who, after years of begging hardscrabble farmers to forsake their fields for an afternoon of elephants and acrobats, has finally found a real draw: His weekly talks to the senior boys on “Sin and the Circus?” incorporate a standing-room-only question-and-answer period, and no one ever leaves early.

“Although I will never be allowed to hear one of Mr. Talliferro’s talks—I will not be twelve forever, but I will always be a girl—I am encouraged by his late arrival into our Fellowship of Believers. I will take my time, too, I think: first I will go to high school, to college, to bed with a boy, to New York. (I think of those last two items as one since, as little as I know about sex, I do know it is not something I will ever be able to do in the same time zone as my mother.) Then when I’m fifty-two or so and have had, like Mr. Talliferro, sufficient Life Experiences, I’ll move back to west Texas and repent.

“Normally, thoughts of that touching—and distant—scene of repentance are how I entertain myself during evening worship service. But tonight I am unable to work up any enthusiasm for the vision of myself sweeping into my hometown to be forgiven. For once my thoughts are entirely on the worship service ahead.”

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Yesterday I wrote that the narrator of “Personal Experience” is eleven years old. When I discovered the excerpt, I was reminded she’s really twelve. I’ll correct my error. My narrator, however, continues to be eleven.

September SinC-Up: Lynna Williams’ Gift of Voice

Bible Witness Camp sign

Bible Witness Camp sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

On my way home from work one night in the ’90s, I heard actress Judith Ivey on Selected Shorts, reading “Personal Testimony,” a short story by Lynna Williams.

The narrator is eleven-year-old Ellen Whitmore, a preacher’s daughter from Fort Worth, who is at Southern Baptist summer camp in Oklahoma. At evening services, when campers are expected to witness to their experiences of sin and repentance, Ellen demonstrates a talent that catches the attention of fifteen-year-old Michael. Although he’s reputed to be most spiritual boy in camp, Michael has what Ellen’s brother calls “Jesus Jaw”– he has plenty to say but can’t complete a simple sentence: “I just–I mean, it’s just so–I just . . .” He tells Ellen he wishes he could speak about his spiritual life as easily as she can speak about hers, so, following her mother’s example, she offers to help. Within days, she has a thriving business writing personal testimonies for older campers, a gratifying popularity, and a fat stack of bills stashed in her Bible at John 3:16. Her adventure in capitalism ends at the summer’s final service, when she sees her father in the congregation, realizes he knows, and makes one last and very public attempt to avoid his wrath.

 

I’ve heard that people don’t laugh aloud when alone. That’s not true. I sailed down I-35 guffawing and then quickly broke out in tears.

(I hate it when writers manipulate me like that. It’s just one more skill to covet.)

I’d been writing off and on for a few years but hadn’t produced anything even marginally successful. A small circle of friends and family liked the pieces I showed them, but they also liked me– most of the time–and they weren’t seasoned critics anyway. The writing was bad. I was frustrated. Not knowing what was wrong, I couldn’t make it right. Classes and workshops didn’t help.

The night I heard Judith Ivey read, all that changed. I didn’t experience an epiphany, per se, but there was a definite moment of enlightenment: My best work was bad because it had no voice. I had no voice. The nearest I could manage was a small-time literary critic in love with semicolons.

Listening to “Personal Testimony,” I heard Lynna William’ voice and knew what I should do.

My work should sound natural to my ear. Informal. Fluid. First person narration by a self-absorbed eleven-year-old girl with attitude, precocious in some areas and in others absolutely clueless. That comprised Enlightenment, Part I.

Then came Enlightenment, Part II: I’ve been hearing that voice most of my life. It’s the one I think in. I didn’t have to worry about copying Williams–it’s my voice, too. I’d just never recognized its potential.

Not long after hearing “Personal Testimony,” I allowed the eleven-year-old in my head to dictate a story while I wrote. Then she dictated another. And they worked.

My inner child is different from Ellen, as is only right. Mine is sharper, has more attitude. I have no idea why.

A year ago, my eleven-year-old suddenly morphed into a forty-year-old woman. She has so much attitude she’s scary. Now there’s a third voice, very different from the other two, stronger and scarier even than the forty-year-old. The third voice came as a relief. I’d wondered whether the pre-teen was all I had. What if everything I wrote came from the same source and sounded just like what had come before? The child is fun to listen to, for a while, but after a time, she can become wearing. I spend enough time with her as it is. Readers would soon get their fill.

There are some things that can’t be learned in a classroom. An instructor might have told me my work lacked voice, but he couldn’t have said how to find the right fit.

I’m indebted to Lynna Williams for helping me to hear a girl’s voice, and to recognize its value. She inspired hope. She showed me that if I listen, the eleven-year-old in my head will tell me what I need to know.

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Lynna Williams teaches creative writing at Emory University. Read excerpts from “Personal Testimony” at Google Books. The story also appears in Texas Bound: Stories by Texas Writers, Read by Texas Readers. This book comes with an audiobook on cassette tape featuring Judith Ivey’s reading.

Several sermons that appear online refer to “Personal Testimony.” Read one of them here.

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Do you like dark and compelling mysteries? That’s how a reader describes Elizabeth Buhmann’s first novel, Lay Death at Her Door. I’m tagging Elizabeth. Click here to visit her blog and read another post in Sisters in Crime’s September SinC-Up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! is for Publish

[Links are scattered throughout this post. If you slide your pointer across the screen, you'll see where to click. In the meantime, I'll choose a theme that makes finding links easier.]

 

Yellow-Corvette-Again

Yellow-Corvette-Again (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In yesterday’s abbreviated post, I promised an announcement to end all announcements.

Confession: Kaye George was quicker than I. She made the announcement on another blog, whose title and URL I will display later in this post. I’d hate for  readers to click on that link and forget to come back here.

The Announcement: “Murder on Wheels,” an anthology of eleven short stories written by members of Austin Mystery Writers critique group and two of its friends, has been accepted for publication by Wildside Press.

It’s occurred to me that we might be sending out this news prematurely, that we should wait for the book to appear. But yesterday the contract, and self-restraint, went the way of the dial telephone.

I doubt we’d have had the energy keep the secret anyway. We’ve been on the verge of dancing in the streets ever since receiving word that Wildside would publish. When one AMW member heard the good news, she broke into song. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology and a husband who knows how to make an .MP3 file from a voice mail, I have a recording. I would share it, but I value my life.

The next question, of course, is WHEN? 

English: Old wheels

English: Old wheels (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (By Thomas Gilmore (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

We don’t know. There’s a lot to do between now and the launch date. Before Wildside’s final acceptance come edits. The others have informed me it’s gauche to tell a publisher that your stories are already perfect. So I imagine compliance with the editor’s requests won’t be an issue.

I promised I would display the address of Kaye George’s official announcement. An Agatha-nominated author, Kaye has published a number of mystery stories and novels. Although she’s no longer around attend AMW’s meetings, she’s still our leader and our guide through this new territory. She writes about how the idea for “Murder on Wheels” came about. Her account of this Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee! experience is more detailed and more interesting than mine.

Read Kaye’s version of the story at Judy’s Stew.

 

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English: Austin A110 Westminster MkII. The MkI...

English: Austin A110 Westminster MkII. The MkII had smaller wheels and a slightly longer wheelbase (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (By Redsimon at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons)

Kaye George blogs at Travels with Kaye.

Read more about Kaye and her books at http://www.amazon.com/Kaye-George/e/B004CFRJ76

 Find other AMW members’ blogs at–

 VP Chandler

 Elizabeth Buhmann

 Gale Albright (Crime Ladies)

 Scott Montgomery

 Laura Oles (Austin Mystery Writers)

 *

 

Find other contributors to “Murder on Wheels” here:

Reavis Z. Wortham

Earl Staggs

 

We Need To Talk By Eden Mabee

Originally posted on A Round of Words in 80 Days:

Our fabulous sponsor Eden Mabee is giving us a twofer this round.  Given a lot of what I’ve seen flying around the interwebz, I think it’s well timed.  Particularly as we’re approaching the end of Round 3 and some folks won’t have made their goals and will take that really hard.

~*~

 I want to bring up one of those “we’d rather not think about it” topics: depression. Given that the word “depress” as in to “press down” is right in the name, it should be no surprise that it can stop us dead in our tracks, keeping us from achieving not only our writing dreams but also almost anything. Depression is a serious concern, and it’s important to know how what to do about it when it happens.

Writing is a generally solitary craft. Except for the rare conference or critique group, much of our community contact…

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The Scottish Referendum a Day Late & Assorted Rambling

 

It’s one p.m. Texas time. I’m in a coffee shop, procrastinating, and I can’t think of a better way to procrastinate than to google Scottish Referendum and check on how things are proceeding.

I thought the results might have already been announced, since Scotland is several hours ahead of us, but so far they haven’t. Further googling pulled up news that numbers will start trickling in about one a.m. Friday. The final result might be announced much later on Friday.

In Scotland, one a.m. is drawing nigh. I’d like to stay up to watch the exit polls, but getting a full night’s sleep at night is more important than watching coverage of a Scottish election, especially when I avoid most election coverage here in the U. S.

I read–or maybe heard on NPR–that if one votes Yes, he’s supposed to go directly to the Yes lady and report how he voted. It’s expected to be more accurate than exit polls.

If a large number of citizens vote like my father did, however, the Yes ladies could get it wrong. My

 

President Johnson meets with candidate Richard... father did not discuss his vote, either before or after an election. His political leanings were his business, and he didn’t even engage in political discussions. I know he discussed issues with my mother, but she was about the only one. I’m pretty sure he voted a straight Democratic ticket, but I can’t swear to it.

My mother was more of an Independent, at least in 1960. She preferred Richard Nixon for president, but she liked Lyndon Johnson for vice-president. That required her to vote for men from opposing political parties for the top two positions. She said she was going to split the ticket. At the age of nine, I imagined her taking a pair of scissors into the voting booth and cutting the ballot into two strips.

If enough voters had followed her lead, we could have ended up with Richard Nixon and LBJ governing the country together. How I’d love to have seen that partnership.

I just realized that the phrase split the ticket still conjures up a vision of Mother holding her sewing scissors.

I guess it’s like Bringing in the Sheep and Jesus the Cross-Eyed Bear. And Up on the housetop, reindeer paws. No matter how hard you try to banish them, some things just stick.

 

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It’s nearly one a.m. in my area of the United States. I’ve been home for about twelve hours. The writing is slow (a fact that shouldn’t surprise me). That could pose a problem.

This post is time-sensitive–it won’t have much oomph after the results have been announced. And if the world already knows, I’ll have to go back and change all my tenses.

  But for the past twelve hours I’ve neither turned on the television nor googled.  I know nothing about what’s happening outside this room. And if I know nothing, my tenses can stay the same. Where ignorance is bliss, etc. Now back to the referendum.

English: Greybeard Heather Dew Scotch Whisky

English: Greybeard Heather Dew Scotch Whisky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Both sides have concerns about the future of an independent Scotland. CNN Money lists five reasons to worry:  the currency mess; the debt debate; oil rights; the effect on the financial industry (the Royal Bank of Scotland is threatening to move headquarters to England [If it does, will it have to change its name?]); and the country’s relationship to the European Union. Or, to condense things a bit, one reason to worry: money. The Scotch Whisky Association expresses concern about financial repercussions of independence, but so far there’s been no indication whisky makers will move south. (If they move to England, will it still qualify as Scotch?)

My concern is less weighty, but I’ve been obsessing about it anyway. If Scotland leaves the UK, will the Union Jack have to be redesigned? That’s a beautiful flag, “the Cross of St. Andrew counterchanged with the Cross of St. Patrick, over all the Cross of St. George.” Each country is represented. It means something. The designer was a genius.

 

 

 Back to the referendum. Actor James McAvoy, who, for the good of his career, kept his opinion to himself, expressed the gravity of the choice:

 

“This is the first time in years a developed country has talked about splitting up and it’s a massive thing,” he said. “If you vote for a president or a prime minister based on political or economic issues and they don’t deliver, that’s not so bad – you can protest four years down the line and vote them out. If you vote for continued unification or independence there is no protest vote – that’s it. And that could be it for decades, for centuries.”

 Centuries. That’s what makes this such a grand process. Scotland has been part of the Union for hundreds of years. Today’s decision will affect that it and the countries it separates from far into the future. And the question is settled not by soldiers on a battlefield but peacefully, by individuals at the ballot box.

   I don’t want to descend into the mire of sentiment. I’m best at detachment, standing a safe distance from the subject, letting irony handle things.

   But, putting irony aside, isn’t what happened in Scotland today remarkable?

   Not as remarkable as the 1994 election in South Africa in 1994, the first in which citizens of all races were allowed to take part.

   But remarkable nonetheless.

  And not just Scotland. The other countries behaved remarkably, too.  After all, the English could have dressed up like Birnam Wood and marched right up the hill to Dunsinane and put a stop to the whole troublesome business.

 

Birnam Wood, MacBeth, Scotland.

Birnam Wood, MacBeth, Scotland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are probably laws and ordinances in place to prevent the English from doing any such thing, but if you’ll suspend disbelief for the length of the previous paragraph and, for the sake of the post, just imagine Birnam Wood marching up that hill . . . It could happen . . . There’s precedent. It wouldn’t be the first time Scotland was invaded by trees.

  I should have published this well before midnight, but because I set my own deadlines, I’m free to shuffle them around as I please. Blogging should generate pleasure, not stress.

 

 

 I’ll end by saying I’ve always been fascinated by the British Isles, and especially Scotland. I’ve said dozens of times, and will continue to say, that if my ancestors had just stayed put, I might be living–and voting–there now. My one visit there was too brief. I love the weather. I was not designed to live in Texas heat and drought. I dream of going back and seeing more of the country, standing in the mist and the rain, eating haggis (I liked it.), and listening to the beautiful, musical brogues.

 

 And when I’m a rich and famous author, I shall pack up the cats and my husband and fly over (all of us first class) and while the cats are in quarantine, I’ll find and purchase a croft with some pigs and chickens and sheep and a pony and some dogs and central heating and A/C, because you never know when the weather will turn, and learn to dance the Highland Fling, and sit amongst the heather and write more best sellers and rake in the dough and get a flat in London and every year go to Bloody Scotland and sit at the bar hobnobbing with other famous writers and drinking Scotch. Unless I discover I don’t like Scotch. I haven’t tried it yet.

  But I’m not going to get rich and famous or anything else but tired, sitting up till five a.m. to indulge myself by composing rambling, stream-of-consciousness blog posts.

  The end.

Scones, Shortbread, and Structure

Kathy Waller:

Blogging today at Writing Wranglers and Warriors . . .

Originally posted on Writing Wranglers and Warriors:

0kathy-blog

Posted by Kathy Waller

When did you last attend a genuine English afternoon tea?

English: An Afternoon Tea

English: An Afternoon Tea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I helped host one yesterday at Sisters in Crime ~ Heart of Texas Chapter in Austin. The program focused on the life and work of English mystery novelist P. D. James, who recently marked her ninety-fourth birthday. Ms James’ latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, will be aired on PBSMasterpiece Mystery later this fall. All things considered, this seemed the proper time to celebrate the author’s contribution to literature. What better way than with a tea?

Here I must insert a disclaimer: When I call it a genuine English afternoon tea, I really mean a genuine Texas-style English afternoon tea. Dress was admittedly casual–very few hats or tea dresses–and I forgot to take the table linens. And the Earl Grey was made with teabags…

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Gmail Password Leak Update

Kathy Waller:

In case you missed it . . .

Originally posted on WordPress.com News:

This week, a group of hackers released a list of about 5 million Gmail addresses and passwords. This list was not generated as a result of an exploit of WordPress.com, but since a number of emails on the list matched email addresses associated with WordPress.com accounts, we took steps to protect our users.

We downloaded the list, compared it to our user database, and proactively reset over 100,000 accounts for which the password given in the list matched the WordPress.com password. We also sent email notification of the password reset containing instructions for regaining access to the account. Users who received the email were instructed to follow these steps:

  1. Go to WordPress.com.
  2. Click the “Login” button on the homepage.
  3. Click on the link “Lost your password?”
  4. Enter your WordPress.com username.
  5. Click the “Get New Password” button.

In general, it’s very important that passwords be unique for each account. Using the same…

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The 5 Top Regrets of the Dying

Kathy Waller:

Thanks to the Change Your Life blog for this post. Something to think about and to act on.

Originally posted on the ChangeYourLife blog:

Old lady's hands

Photo: Algo

Hiya,

One of my Ponders group sent me this a while back and it’s a real show stopper…

The 5 Top Regrets of the Dying

1. I wish I had courageously lived a life true to myself and not one that others expected of me.

2. I wish I had not spent all my life working

3. If only I had gained courage to express how I felt.

4. I wish I had remained in touch with my friends

5. If only I had allowed happiness into my life

 

To read the entire article about the palliative nurse Bronnie Ware go here: http://bit.ly/16X5cLK

(Thanks again for the headsup Louisa)

 

Strive to thrive

Stu

:)

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