Saturday, June 30, 2012

June Author in the Spotlight Wrap-up + Giveaway

June Author in the Spotlight Wrap-up + Giveaway

The Healing Giveaway Ends tonight at midnight!

 It is the end of June already.  June is my favorite month of the year and parting is such sweet sorrow.  June, I hold fond memories of you in my heart.  What a beautiful month June has been and so it is time for me to wrap-up the month of June by highlighting Minnesota author, Jonathan Odell.

Today is the last day to enter the contest to win a copy of The Healing.  The contest ends at midnight tonight.  The contest is open Internationally and you can win an ebook or a hardcover copy.  Good Luck and as always thanks for following Booksnob!

Click Here to Enter:  The Healing Contest 

 Please check out my book review of The Healing  Odell has created a cast memorable characters, a realistic look at a Mississippi plantation in the pre-Civil war era, through the eyes of 13 year old Granada.  It will entertain you and make you remember the importance of your family roots and story. 

The Healing Book Review

Be sure to check out the author interview where Jonathan Odell tells us he just got married in NYC.  Jon answers important questions about his book The Healing and explains why he became a writer at age 46.  It is a great interview.

Jonathan Odell Author Interview

You need to read Jonathan Odell's guest post.  It is the copy of a speech he gave a St. Joan of Arc's Catholic Church in Minneapolis and he talks about the importance of women in his life.  It is long but well worth the time to read. 

Jonathan Odell Guest Post

As June comes to a close I would like to thank Jon for being the June Minnesota Author in the Spotlight here on Booksnob.  He is a excellent, creative writer and a I am glad I got this chance to work with him.    I am seriously looking forward to reading his next book.   Please visit Jon at his website to check out his interview with a 92 year old midwife whom he based The Healing on at:

A Farewell to Arms Read-A-Long

A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway Read-A-Long-Week #3

I am participating in A Farewell to Arms read-a-long in conjunction with the World War I Reading challenge I am doing with the blog, War Through the Generations.  You can visit their website here:

It's Friday and I am a week behind on this read-a-long. UGH. I must face the facts and accept that I am perpetually behind lately.  June is just so busy this year and since I have written last I have turned another year older. 

Read:  Chapters 21-30
Pages 133-225

Beware that these discussions could contain spoilers.

1.  “The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave but one” is a statement made by Henry, and he and Catherine enter into a discourse about bravery.  Do you think either character is brave and do you think Catherine is right when she says the brave die more deaths but just don’t talk about it? Explain.

I think Catherine and Henry are both very brave.  They both volunteered of their own volition to participate in the war and that act alone makes them brave in my book.  They both see wounded people and work tirelessly to help the sick and dying.   

I do think Catherine is right when she states that the brave die more deaths but don't talk about it.  War is horrible and the brave and the cowardly die a little bit each day as they face uncertain challenges and death.  The constant state of stress alone must cause your soul to die a little bit everyday.   I think the world is made up of many brave people.  Brave people don't think what they are doing is brave, the think what they are doing is right and necessary for the greater good.

2. What do you think about Henry’s reaction to Catherine’s pregnancy announcement?

Catherine and Henry are weird.  I mean, who talks like that?  Their conversations make me uncomfortable because they are so odd.  I think, initially Henry is shocked by Catherine's pregnancy announcement and it renders him silent.    I think Catherine is happy to have a part of Henry growing inside her.  Frankly I am shocked they didn't get married right away before Henry left as was the norm.  Henry hasn't told a soul about it and he hasn't shared his personal thoughts with readers.  I wonder why?

3.  Why do you think Catherine suddenly feels like a whore rather than Henry’s wife?  What does that say about her character?

First of all I think Catherine is mentally unstable.  The death of her fiance, the war and the unstable relationship with Henry has taken its toll.  She feels like a whore because he bought a hotel room to sleep with her before he left and they didn't buy the room as man and wife.  The manager walked up to the room with them and he knew they weren't married which is probably why she felt like trash.  Henry is clueless as to why she felt like a whore.  Maybe she was trying to get a marriage proposal out of him and so he could make her an honest woman.  

4.  When Henry is debating the feeling of defeat with the priest and the possible end to the war, Henry says, “‘They were beaten to start with.  They were beaten when they took them from their farms and put them in the army.  That is why the peasant has wisdom, because he is defeated from the start.’”  How is this statement true or not true? 

I don't agree with the statement that the peasant is defeated from the start.  I do agree that the peasant has wisdom.  The wisdom of a peasant is different than the wisdom of a king or of the middle class.  The fighters of a war are typically uneducated, poor people because they have little options and war offers a steady wage and a chance at glory and making history.  Many are conscripted in the army against their will but I believe most will fight to stay alive with the hope to see their families and home again.  

5. What do you think about the way Hemingway describes the front? 

I enjoyed reading about the front and the retreat.  I would have liked a map included in the book so I could refer to the many places Hemingway mentions.  Hemingway does a good job of accurately describing the Italian retreat of the war.  

6. What do you think about the shift in the story from Henry’s therapy and his relationship with Catherine to the front and the retreat? 

I was so glad the book took a turn away from Henry and Catherine's relationship and went back to focusing on the war.  Although, I did wonder why Henry doesn't ruminate more on his relationship but maybe the stresses of the war and the bare act of survival, kick most of his thoughts of Catherine to the curb.

Next, I will be reading chapters 31-41 and completing the book.
Since I am behind on the posting schedule I will post as soon as I finish.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Jonathan Odell Author Interview + Giveaway

Jonathan Odell Author Interview + Giveaway

Jon is the June Author in the Spotlight here on Book Snob and I would like to invite you to read the story behind his book The Healing.  You really need to read about how he chose to be a writer and learn about his Mississippi and Minnesota roots.  I am proud to announce that Jonathan just got married this week and I would like to Congratulate Jon and Jim on their nuptials. I hope you will have a long and happy life together.

    1. Tell us a little bit about yourself? 

      I grew up in Mississippi and came to Minnesota as a VP of HR in 1980. I ran my own consulting company until I decided to write at age 45. I’ve been fortunate to have two novels published, which were both inspired by the social insanity of the land of my birth. I got married in NYC this week to the love of my life, Jim Kuether, who is an award winning watercolorist and my best editor.

   2.  What inspired you to write to The Healing? 

       Mississippi has been my wondrous monster. No matter how far I flee, she tracks me down and whispers into my ear, “Explain me or I’ll drive you crazy.” So I write to reconcile myself with the insanity of Mississippi around race, sex and religion.
3.     Can you tell us why or when you decided to become a writer?  

      I was making mucho bucks as an organization consultant and leadership trainer, but was very depressed. I gave it all up at 46—shut down my business, broke up wiht my partner, sold my house, gave away my dog, and left the country to shake up my thinking. I spend 3 months in the jungles of Costa Rica, not speaking the language, trying to find my inner voice. When I did, it reminded my of my childhood dream of writing. I knew that I would either keep that dream of mine or die. So I began to write.

4.  Usually an author puts some of his own life experiences in the book.  Did you do that?   

All the characters were based on personalities and dilemmas that I came across in my research. My first novel, THE VIEW FROM DELPHI, is directly taken from my remembrances of my family, especially my mother. Polly Shine, in THE HEALING, is the voice and personality of Mrs. Willie Turner, of Midnight, Mississippi, an African American midwife. She was 92 when I interviewed her and had “caught” 2063 babies. An audio of the interview is on my website.

5.     Do you like to read?  What authors or books influence you? 

      I’m glad you asked that. Most people assume you must be an avid reader to be a writer. I’m not. I read as a way of research. Faulkner, Welty, and O’Connor explain the south to me the best. The WPA archives which contain 1000 pages of interviews with former slaves in the 1930’s  influenced the setting and plot of THE HEALING more than any other source.

6.     In The Healing slaves die from a disease called the Black Tongue.  Is this a real disease and can you tell us more about it? 

      In the 1900’s it was named pellagra and was discovered to be caused by a vitamin deficiency. Victims were those who usually had a diet consisting mostly of corn and animal fat. No lean meat or fruits or vegetable. This was the diet of the slave, so it became known as a slave disease. As Polly said, the master “saw the slaves as field animals so he fed them like field animals.” Polly saw them as people and fed them like people.

7.     In The Healing you mention Little Lord dies young and yet the reader never finds out how that happens.  Can you tell us how Little Lord died? 

       Yes, I cut that chapter out. But in my mind, Little Lord spends the war years in a military academy, went on to college in the Northeast. He was a frail boy, and died soon after he returned home from college of influenza.

8.     I’m curious to know more about Granada’s father.  He is barely mentioned in the book.  Is this intentional and why didn’t Granada want to learn her father’s story?

      It was intentional. The focus of this book was on the feminine, and the vital role mothering has in the healing of the world. My next book is on “fathering’.

9.  In one sentence tell readers why they should read The Healing? 

      Bottom line, I believe it’s a wonderful story. If readers pick up any other deeper meaning or lessons, that’s great. But a good book, above anything else, needs to be a good read.

 Thanks Jon!  

If you would like to win a copy of The Healing please click the link:  The Healing Giveaway

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

The Healing by Jonathan Odell

When the mistress of the Satterfield plantation loses her daughter to the cholera epidemic, she loses a piece of her mind.  She copes, by taking the daughter of one of her slaves and raising her as her own, much to her husbands chagrin.  Granada grows up straddling two worlds, companion and make-believe daughter to the mistress and house slave.

When Granada is 13, in 1860, there is a new disease spreading in the slave quarters so the master decides to buy an old, wizened slave woman for 5000 dollars, who happens to be a healer.  Polly Shine heals the people and instills a sense of community and hope.  She inevitably turns the plantation upside down and she chooses Granada as her apprentice against her will.  Granada has the gift of sight and healing she just needs to believe in herself and remember her people.  "Choose for the people, Granada and God will be on your side.  Choose for yourself and you'll be walking alone." Pg. 167.

The Healing is told from Granada's point of view 75 years later as she recites her life's story and remembers the people who were a major part of her life.  The Healing illuminates the transformative power of story.    Odell states in his author's note, "If you want to destroy a people, destroy their story.  If you want to empower a people, give them a story to share." Pg. 340.

Polly Shine talked to Granada about freedom but since she had never left the plantation, the word Freedom held little meaning.  Granada thought Freedomland was another plantation.  Polly told Granada "You got to remember Freedom before you can grab it." Pg. 219  The Healing is about remembering who you are and where you come from.  It is ultimately about hope and freedom.

Odell has created a novel that encompasses the power of healing, women and story.  He extensively researched African American midwives and listened to the oral histories of hundreds of slaves.  Odell has created a vibrant, memorable cast of characters, rich in the African American tradition.  As a white male writing from the black female point of view, he has created a believable, authentic historical novel. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Miles made a life changing decision when he decided to enroll at Culver Creek Boarding School for his junior year.  The only thing he left behind was his parents as Miles had no friends and zero possibilities.   He felt stagnated in Florida and wanted to venture into "The Great Perhaps". 

Miles is a witty, intelligent narrator who loved to read biographies and memorize famous last words.
"Francois Rabelais.  He was this poet.  And his last words were 'I go to seek a Great perhaps.'  That's why I'm going.  So I don't have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great perhaps." Pg. 5.

At Culver Creek, Miles earns himself the nickname, Pudge, because he is so skinny.  His roommate, the Colonel, is a intelligent, short in stature, teen who hates rich people.  Down the hall lives the most beautiful elusive girl, that Miles has even seen.  He falls instantly in love with Alaska, who is a train wreck waiting to happen.  Alaska teaches Miles "Pudge" how to love, get to 3rd base, smoke, create fabulous pranks, celebrate life and more.  Alaska is essentially, a life changer, a force of nature, and a whirlwind of emotions. 

Green has created a fabulous cast of characters who will make you laugh, cry and ultimately capture your heart. Once you start reading Looking for Alaska it is hard not to get caught up in the labyrinth.   Looking for Alaska is a philosophical look at the turns you take in life and how twisted the labyrinth is.  One of the teachers creates a final exam where students must ask themselves what the most important question facing people is and answer it according to the three religions they studied in class.  Alaska's questions is:  "How will we ever get out of this labyrinth of suffering?"Pg. 158

Looking for Alaska is a intelligent, brilliant novel for teens and adults alike.  It is a coming of age novel that is unique, daring and downright enjoyable to read.   From the first page to the last word, this book will have you quickly turning pages and savoring the unique moments.
Once you meet Alaska you won't ever be the same.

My last words in the blog post will be one of the Colonel's cheers because they made me laugh.  Enjoy! 

Hip Hip Hip Hooray!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Enter to win: Movers Dreamers and Risk-Takers

Enter to win:  Movers Dreamers and Risk-Takers.  Unlocking the Power of ADHD by Kevin Roberts

The publishers along with TLC Tours have graciously decided to giveaway one copy of this book to BookSnob followers who live in the U.S. or Canada.  The contest will end at midnight on July 9th.  If you know anyone who has ADHD or works with kids (a teacher, perhaps), this book will be beneficial to read or to give as a gift.

Here is the synopsis from Barnes and Noble:
An inability to focus, impulsiveness, misbehavior, frequent daydreaming, and a predisposal to addiction are frequently referenced traits of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But what about the gifts of ADHD? In Movers, Dreamers, and Risk Takers, Kevin Roberts, author of Cyber Junkie, takes a fresh approach to this much-written-about topic to help those with ADHD—their parents, teachers, and friends—to tap the hidden strengths and actual advantages inherent in the ADHD personality.
Those with ADHD have a predisposition to confronting the challenges of life and a deep preference for perceiving the world creatively. Roberts helps readers appreciate how the perceptual, interpersonal, and cognitive differences of “ADHDers” like these can be translated into unique skills and talents that can enhance their ability to be successful socially, academically, and in their careers.
Roberts combines the latest research with personal stories, as well as insights born from his work with those with ADHD. He shows readers how to get past the stigma of this condition to eventually turn what have been seen as “symptoms” into character strengths and creative ways to make life richer and more interesting for themselves and the people around them.

Here is my book review:  Movers Dreamers and Risk-Takers Review

Contest Rules:
Leave a comment please (this way you will know you entered)
Must be a resident of U.S. or Canada
Must be a BookSnob follower
Contest Ends July 9th at midnight
Good Luck!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Movers Dreamers and Risk-Takers by Kevin Roberts

Movers Dreamers and Risk-Takers.  Unlocking the Power of ADHD by Kevin Roberts

Seven percent of the world's population has some form of ADHD.  ADHD is the acronym for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.  There is no complete set of criteria as ADHD manifests itself differently with each individual but there are commonalities.  Most ADHDer's are easily distracted, unorganized, and seekers of fun.  Traditionally they don't perform well in school because they dislike mundane tasks and sitting still for long periods of time and schools are not set up for the ADHD learning style.

Most ADHD individuals are highly creative, impulsive, intelligent, thrill seekers.  Yet many suffer low self esteem and a lack of motivation and follow through.  If you have ADHD, or are a parent of children with ADHD or a teacher, Movers Dreamers and Risk-Takers will be beneficial to you. 

Roberts grew up in a ADHD family.  He grew up to become a teacher, a comedian and an ADHD coach with a degree in ADHD studies.  He wrote this book based on his experiences with teens.  It is a funny personal look at his life as well as tips and ideas on how to respond, react and get results from your under achieving child.  This is a positive, powerful approach to (quoting the title) Unlocking the Power of ADHD.

Several parts of the book resonated with me, as my kids and I all have ADHD.  Obviously, it runs in the family.  Once I started reading Movers Dreamers and Risk-Takers, I couldn't stop as I was so inspired and my brain was going crazy with joy that someone in the world understands what my kids and I go through on a daily basis.  So much of my day is spent avoiding negative criticism (from certain people) that it is refreshing to read a positive approach at looking at ADHD.

Here are two of my favorite quotes and words to live by from the book.

"Play, excitement, and humor energize us, making us more powered-up to then tackle work that needs to be done.  Lack of these things, on the other hand, drains us.  Pg. 115

 "We have to be careful that we don't put creative people into the straight-jackets of conformity.  We live in a world that, in many ways, teeters on the brink of disaster.  The creativity so common among ADHDers is something the planet desperately needs." Pg. 119

My favorite bumper sticker and mantra sums it up nicely:  WHY BE NORMAL?

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

On the evening of April 14th, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head at Ford's theater in Washington D.C.  He was with his wife and they were celebrating the end of the Civil War.  It was Good Friday.

Chasing Lincoln's Killer details the events leading up to Lincoln's assassination as well as the conspiracy plot to kill Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State, William Seward.  The book follows Lincoln's killer, actor James Wilkes Booth and his conspirators as they led the authorities on a 12 day manhunt from Washington D.C to Maryland to Virginia.

President Lincoln died early the next day in a boarding house room across the street from Ford's theater.   As the nation learned the fate of their President, Easter Sunday became known as Black Easter, the day the nation mourned.  Twelve days later Booth was dead and almost all conspirators caught.

Chasing Lincoln's Killer is the young adult version of James Swanson's book Manhunt.  Chasing Lincoln's Killer is engaging and has photos, newspaper articles and announcements as well as a detailed map of the places where Booth sought shelter.  It is easy to read and understand and would be of interest to anyone who loves to history.

I'm a big history geek and I have visited Ford's Theater and the death bed of President Lincoln as well as the jail on Tortuga Island in Florida where they kept Doctor Samuel Mudd and other conspirators.  I read the book in two days and enjoyed learning all the facts from that fateful night in History.  Reading about a historical event and then visiting there makes history come alive.  Thank goodness for authors like James Swanson.  I might just need to read Manhunt!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Infidel begins with the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh.  Stabbed to his chest is a five page letter addressed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali.  In her page turning memoir, Ayaan takes the reader on a geographical and religious journey through her past, detailing her life from the girl she used to be to the woman she has matured to today.

Ayaan grew up with an eccentric grandmother, an erratic mother and she is the eldest of three siblings.  Her father drifts in and out of her life as the family moves from Somalia to Saudi Arabia, to Ethiopia and then to Kenya.  Ayaan details the traditional life of a Somalian Muslim woman from her earliest memory.  Ayaan has created a engaging memoir that takes you in the house and heart of a Muslim woman and her radical change that leads her to deny Islam's control of her life and become an Infidel.  

Ayaan escapes an arranged marriage in Germany and seeks asylum in the Netherlands.  She changes her name and lies to gain Dutch Citizenship.  She undergoes a cultural shock and a personal transformation as she figures out that she has been tricked by religion into complacency.
Ayaan attends college, earns her political science degree and runs for political office. 

Infidel is amazingly powerful book written by an extremely courageous woman.   I read this book aloud to my World History class and all of us were enthralled from the very first page.  We learned about Somalian history and why there are so many Somalian immigrants in our community.  We learned and had great conversations about the final days of Said Barre regime, female genital mutilation, the dangerous plight of refugees and refugee camps, arranged marriage, unstable countries, honor killings, the Muslim Brotherhood, child abuse and so much more.

Infidel states, that of the three monotheistic religions only Islam has not been through a reformation and that for women, a reformation is essential for human rights.  Women suffer through arranged and forced marriages as young as 9 years old as well as honor killings by husbands and brothers.  If a woman is caught bringing shame to her family or committing adultery she will be killed by the male members of her family and no one prosecutes the men because it is their god given right.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali called for a change in Islam and is a crusader for Muslim women and their human rights.
If you have not read Infidel yet, I suggest you get a copy and start reading now.  This is one of the most important books of the decade and is extremely timely as governments must find a way to incorporate new religious doctrines into their democratic societies and maintain human rights for all.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tutored by Allison Whittenberg

Tutored by Allison Whittenberg

Two African American teens living two totally different lives cross paths in a GED center.  Hakiam wants a better life, he is unemployed, uneducated and down on his luck, living a day to day existence with the help of his cousin Leesa, who has a newborn baby.  Hakiam is two steps away from being homeless because Leesa is erratic.  Wendy is a star student living in an almost all white suburb and is tutoring teens in the "bad" part of town, much to her father's chagrin.  She wants to attend a traditional all black college but her father is against it.  Wendy only has one friend at school and feels separated from her true identity.

When Hakiam and Wendy meet, their distaste for each other is evident.  They constantly annoy each and yet an invisible force draws them together.  Opposites attract and eventually an awkward romance develops between them.

Wendy and Hakiam are fairly stereotypical versions of the African American teen at opposite ends of the social class system.  As a teacher in a urban school, I see kids who are versions of Wendy and Hakiam everyday.  Some kids struggle more than others regardless of race.

I love the cover art on this book and while the book is called Tutored, their is not much traditional tutoring going on in the book.  The tutoring is actually real world advice, like how to get a job and take care of a newborn baby, to how to study and deal with your parents.  Tutored has an interesting storyline with characters you care about and want to succeed so they can find their way in the world.  I believe most teens would enjoy this book and recognize the value of what we can learn from each other if only we take the time to listen.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Farewell to Arms Read-a-Long

A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway Read-A-Long

I am participating in A Farewell to Arms read-a-long in conjunction with the World War I Reading challenge I am doing with the blog, War Through the Generations, you can visit their website here:

Well I am late with my post again this week.  Fridays in June are so busy for me.  Last Friday, June 15th, I flew home from College Park, Maryland where my students competed in the National History Day competition.  All of the girls from South High were awesome.  Tasha placed 3rd in the nation for her paper, Abby placed 7th in the nation for her paper and Becky, Frances and Grace (BFG) placed 11th in the nation for their group documentary.  It was an awesome experience and I still had time to read the required chapters of A Farewell to Arms.  Yahoo!

READ:  Chapter 11-20
Pages 68 -132

Question #1:  There is a lot of talk about being tired or the priest looking tired in this section.  What do you think Hemingway is trying to get at?
I think the war is taking its toll on the priest and wearing him out.  Hemingway is a writer who does not really provide the reader with an adequate idea of what is really going on so I think the priest fears the war will last for a long time and is not sure if he can sustain himself and others any longer.  The priest is probably one of the busiest people in Italy during the war as he must administer last rites, preside over funerals and give mass weekly as well as absolving people of their sins.  I think Hemingway is trying to say that war makes people see and do things they wouldn't normally do and the priest is not exempt from the frustrations of war.  

Question #2:  The relationship between Henry and Catherine is heating up.  At one point she talks about how there is no separate her and that she is Henry.  Please explain what you think she means.

To start out with, I still hate Catherine and I was really hoping she would grow on me a bit.  In my opinion, Hemingway has not really created a strong character in Catherine and he probably believed that women must give up who they are to conform to man's ideals and that idea infuriates me.   I believe Catherine is talking about the fact that she and Henry are married in their hearts and have become one.  She is no longer just Catherine but her soul is connected and intertwined with Henry's forevermore.  She has given up her identity and melded into Henry's so hence she is no longer separate.   

Question #3:  What are your impressions of Henry so far given his reaction to the war, being wounded, falling in love, and his relationships to others?

Henry seems to be the most memorable character and getting wounded has been the most interesting part of the book so far.  I am sort of anxious for him to get back to the front and ambulance driving.  I definitely think he believes he is in love with Clara as he has asked for her hand in marriage more than once.  I find their midnight escapades in the hospital romantic.   I can't really decide if this is a novel about World War 1 or a novel about a romance between a wounded soldier and a nurse.  

Question #4: What do you think of Hemingway’s writing style and the story itself so far? Are you enjoying it?

The story is actually starting to get interesting for me and Hemingway's writing style is being tolerated for now but I think I am starting to get used to it.  I actually read this week's pages in one sitting.  

Next week I will be reading chapter 21-20


Sunday, June 17, 2012

Jonathan Odell Guest Post

Jonathan Odell Guest Post

Jonathan Odell, author of The Healing, is the June Minnesota Author in the Spotlight and he has written a guest post titled Catching Babies and Rooting Children.  He gave this talk at St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis.  On Father's Day, this speech is an ode to parents everywhere and a path to finding our stories.  It is the answer to the question on why Jonathan Odell writes about women in his stories.

Catching Babies and Rooting Children

Where I come from, you ask a man, you get the facts. You ask a woman, you get the story. That’s why in my novels, the women, the mothers, always have the starring roles.
Lord knows I’ve tried to create leading characters that were male. I’m all for equal opportunity, but it just doesn’t work. They are serviceable enough, but lack that snap, crackle, and pop a truly memorable hero requires. They don’t have the inner depth to carry the book. It’s like digging through rock.
But put me in the head of a woman, white or black, and I just can’t shut up.
As a child in Mississippi, my relatives ritually got together for reunions and holidays on my grandparents’ farm. Inevitably, the men wandered to the front porch to smoke while the women went to the kitchen to cook. My cousins charged out to the barnyard to play war with corncobs and chinaberries.
I was no fool. I hung out with the women.
 I had tried sitting with my father amongst the men, but they did little to keep me entertained. They would grunt a few words about the crops or the weather or their pickup trucks.
 The action was back in the kitchen. As pots boiled and potato peelings piled up on newspapers spread beneath their feet, the women pooled their information about the extended family—the births and who the babies favored, sicknesses and deaths, triumphs and tragedies, that ongoing drama that they believed to be the most interesting thing on God’s earth. 
They even swapped stories about their husbands, those serious mumblers on the front porch, each woman offering up her man as a loveable object of amusement, harmless and good-intentioned, but fallible.
When they were all up to date, they told their memories of growing up with each other. There were twelve children in my mom’s family, so everybody had a different slant on things. These were stories I had heard over and over, but they never lost their magic. Like the time my granny was out hanging clothes and the boar hog got loose. He supposedly ran between her legs and then rode her around the yard, Granny all the time trailing a bed sheet behind her like a flag. These women laughed until they cried and cried until they laughed.
Such voices never die.
In our own home, Daddy was in charge of the checkbook, making sure the bottom line balanced to the penny. Mother, on the other hand, was in charge of the picture box, a tattered Buster Brown shoebox stuffed full of family photos that spanned five generations. I’d pluck them at random and say, “Tell this one, Momma.”
When my mother narrated a snapshot she didn’t just say who was in it. Each photo was a vital thread in an intricate web of stories that revealed the essence of who we were, indeed, why we were.
Depression-era dirt-farm poverty, then the first family automobile, shiny and new; skeletal, half-starved girls who later show up beautiful and buxom, with beauty parlor perms. There was direction to our story and it leaned toward hope. No single event was so burdensome or shameful that it could not be redeemed. The women who preserved my family’s history taught me early the truth in that old saying, “facts can explain us, but only story can save us.”
At mid-life, I was reminded of this again. I was living in Minnesota, convinced I had overcome my Mississippi heritage. I was a successful, hard-nosed businessman, committed to learning the “how to’s” of gaining money, power and position. But there is another old expression. “True sadness is getting to top of the ladder of success and realizing it is propped against the wrong wall.” The way my life was heading, all that was left to do was more of the same. I came up against the paralyzing realization I was long on how, but short on why.
It was about that time the voices came to me at night when I lay awake in bed. Women’s voices, strong and southern, tempting me with stories, calling me back home.
Looking back, it should have been obvious what was happening. Tom Wolfe once said you can’t go home again. What he didn’t say was, you can’t totally leave either. It seemed I had escaped Mississippi in body, but not in soul.
In time, I knew what I had to do. I returned to Mississippi and sought out the women behind these voices. I was once again ready to listen.
I started with members of my own family, my mother and aunts, those women who had raised me. 
First they told me the familiar. Then seeing that I was ready, they shared the darker stories that filled the gaps: tales of violence, abuse, loss, shame, desertions. Family stories that, even though I had never heard them, shaped me.
I can’t overstate the impact these insights had upon me: that hidden stories, the ones which we have no conscious knowledge of, can mold our lives, determine our fates, even shape the character of a people, without our consent. That’s when I decided I wanted to write a book that rooted out these stories, not just of my family, but of my people.
When you open yourself up to the complex weave of story, and you diligently follow the threads, you can’t predict where you’ll be led. It’s out of your hands. The story of Mississippi is the story of race. You can’t get around it. Every thread leads there.
And so I interviewed African American women, those women who were ever present in my childhood, but whose voices I rarely heard due to the poison of segregation. 
 “You have no reason to trust me,” I told them, “but I’ve got a feeling that your stories helped to shape who I am.” These women, my fellow Mississippians, graciously opened up to me.
I was introduced to an older generation of people who had challenged Jim Crow and ushered in the Civil Rights era, and I learned once again that the true story was hidden from sight.  I discovered that the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi was originated, supported, and led, not by the preachers and teachers written about in history books, but by the women--maids, fieldworkers and “Saturday night brawlers,” as Fannie Lou Hamer called them. Mothers, who had nothing left to lose but their lives.
These voices, black and white, filled my first novel.
But the story didn’t end there. After completing the book, there remained a thread of story I had not followed. The more I pulled at it, the more it promised to be a much larger story of motherhood.
When I thought back over my interviews I recalled a phenomenon that had occurred repeatedly among African Americans, when they spoke of a certain kind of woman. The midwife, or granny doctors. Their voices would warm, their faces soften, and they spoke with reverence, a nearly spiritual regard. This stumped me.
In THE HEALING, I decided to focus on these healers and midwives. I first had to overcome my own prejudices. White historians and noted medical authorities treated the work of “granny doctors” as something to be ridiculed, an uncivilized business steeped in superstition and ignorance. Yet when the subject came up with the African American women I interviewed, I they vehemently disagreed. They regarded these women with great reverence. I had stumbled upon a mother’s story, larger than any I had imagined.
My breakthrough came while I was doing research at a Mississippi College and happened to strike up a conversation with a professor of Southern gender studies. I mentioned that I had come across many stories about midwives who practiced until the 1940’s, when public health services began replacing them. I guess she noticed the dismissive tone in my voice. I may have even referred to them as granny doctors.
She said, “You realize there was an orchestrated campaign to discredit these women, don’t you? They were seen as an obstacle by the medical establishment. They were vilified as dirty and barbaric and pushed aside.”
I told her I had not heard this, but that I really didn’t see it as a great tragedy. After all, I countered, didn’t midwives do superstitious things like bury placentas in the backyard? And they weren’t professionally trained or licensed. They claimed to have been called by God. Surely the medical model was a better alternative.
She firmly let me know I had missed the point. “You’re talking about black women at a time when they had less authority in their lives than anybody. Many were illiterate. When one chose to be a midwife, it was a challenge to the power structure, to the established order of being subservient not only to whites, but to black men as well. The vocation took them out of the home, away from their families and out of the domestic control of their husbands, and into the homes of other men, at all times of day and night, mothering an entire community. How were they to obtain consent for such an undertaking?  Black women had no voice.
To do this under their own authority would be futile. But to say, ‘God told me to do it,’ was a way of taking the decision out of the hands of those who normally regulated their lives. It was not sentimental to say God chose you. It was defiant.”
As for those superstitious practices like burying the placenta or putting a knife under the bed to “cut the pain”, she challenged me to look deeper for cultural explanations. She  said, “The midwives tended not only to the physical wellbeing of the woman, but to her place in the community, and in a larger sense, to the soul of her people.  For four hundred years, the message of slavery was that a black man belonged wherever a white man told him. He could be sold the next day. Or his children. Jim Crow, wasn’t much better. Imagine a midwife, who takes the placenta and buries it, emphasizing the message, or perhaps the prayer, that this child is rooted in this world, in a greater web of community, with his people. That he indeed has a place. Can you imagine the power of that?”
It was like a veil had lifted. I had found the book I wanted to write. A book about belonging, about the women who knit us into the world.
During my research I learned that during and after slavery, these women, actively subverted the messages of white supremacy. The slave master and the architects of Jim Crow derived their power by reinforcing the belief that God and scripture placed African Americans on the lowest rung of humanity.  By treating their patients as deserving children of an inclusive God, the midwives challenged that message. They proved to young black girls that women could occupy powerful roles in the community.
They demonstrated that black mothers were worthy of admiration, respect and emulation. These midwives were part of a resistance on whose shoulders stood King, Abernathy and Malcolm X stood.
I was privileged to interview several elderly women who had “caught” thousands of children in their communities. Over their lives, they had bonded their people together with a common sense of history, pride, and belonging.
I remember the words of Mrs. Willie Turner, of Midnight, Mississippi, nearly 91 at the time. I can still here her advice to me. “Jonathan, don’t forget God, ’cause He is the Head of the Heaven. In your work with that book, put God in front and you’ll make it. That’s what I did and I done made it to 90 years old.”
In fact, she made it to 99, and I’m sure God was in front all the way.
 Before I left, I asked her what it had meant to her to be a midwife. She looked out of her window, and succinctly gave me the theme for my novel. She said, “I caught 2,063 babies in this county alone and they all call me Mother.” The she said,  “And you know, they everyone still my child.”
 Thanks, Jon!