Tuesday, August 24, 2010

HOT GRANNY PICTURES

Julie L. Cannon

As I was pondering telling the story about how I became a writer, I went to my own website, to see what I’d written so long ago I hardly remember writing it. This picture of my two grannies standing with me in front of the fireplace made me smile because after my husband put it onto my site, I began to attract lots of visitors who aren’t my usual readers. Seems I had the words ‘hot’ and ‘grannies’ and ‘pictures’ all on one page and so when Google found these 3 words together, it lured folks to my website who were looking for some photos of hot grannies. I don’t really think Geneva Lewis nor Nell Lowrey are what these folks were looking for, but attracting new readers is a big part of this writing life. (Speaking of attracting readers, there’s a reason I had to make my middle initial so big up there in the by-line. If you go to my website, http://www.juliecannon.info/, and click on the link that says ‘What the L?’ you can read a story about a story in this crazy world of publishing.)

Still, I have to give my hot grannies some credit for my writing career. It was spending summers at their farms that inspired my first three novels. I grew up literally crossing off the days till summer when we’d head to my Granny Lewis’s farm in Monticello, Georgia, and my Mee-maw’s farm in Armuchee, Georgia. In Armuchee, there were tons of cousins and we’d ride horses bare-back through the fields, bale hay, shuck sweet corn, pluck blackberries, and hunt arrowheads along the banks of the Oostenaula River. In the evenings I’d listen to aunts and uncles and grandparents indulging in that wonderful southern tradition of oral storytelling. Their stories were truly stranger than fiction. At the same time my jaw was hanging open in amazement, I was also wanting to write them down. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was collecting memories for the time when I was ready to write about them.

My family likes to remind me that as soon as I was able to string words together, I was telling stories, and in grammar school I began writing them down into crude little books fashioned from construction paper. All my English teachers put encouraging notes on my report cards, and for me, a particularly nerdy child (all knees, elbows, eyeglasses, and braces) it was a way to shine. To hold my head up a tiny bit even if I was picked last for teams at recess and P.E. Basically anxious in social situations, one of my favorite things was to crawl off into a private nook and immerse myself in fabulous adventures, where there were no risks other than the hours flying by and my math homework left undone. A natural off-shoot of this voracious appetite and my love of story telling, I began to write even more, filling reams of lined paper with poems and short stories. In high school I became a contributor to a school sponsored literary magazine. I’m fairly certain that my social life was not enhanced by all my ceaseless reading and writing.

"Don’t worry, Julie," I consoled myself, "you can write books for a living." But then, for one of those reasons that is never quite clear, except to say that I was a good little southern girl who listened when folks told her you couldn’t make a living writing books, I entered the University of Georgia’s Journalism school to earn a degree in Advertising.

After graduation I landed in a string of torturous sales jobs, but I was a closet writer, capturing my ragged bits of history long-hand and then stashing it underneath the bed in Rubbermaid gift-wrap containers. Years passed and I married, and soon the first two kids came along. There were many part time jobs, with money and time always a scarce commodity, but perhaps the hardest thing was that my insatiable need to create stories did not subside.
I stole little "pockets of time" between chasing toddlers and dust balls to write. I wrote children’s books, as well as a novel. Impassioned, I began sending things off willy-nilly to publishers.

The first time I got a fat manila SASE back in the mail with a rejection form letter, I was just sure there had been some mistake. I did not yet realize that there is a lot of homework to be done before you submit anything, both on the writing itself and on how to write a query-letter with a synopsis of your novel. After four rejections, my dreams of publication faded.

Then, in October of 1998, my husband noticed an ad in a local magazine for a short story contest. It was co-sponsored by a small publishing house and had a cash prize. I fished a story out from my vast reservoir, dusted it off, and carried it in. One morning not long after that, the phone rang and an enthusiastic voice told me that my story had won. The first thing I thought of was the hundred bucks. I’d never received a penny for my writing! He asked me what else I was writing and I said I was writing this particular novel, when what I actually had on paper from it was a scene about an older widow who was on a man-hunt just months after her beloved husband was laid to rest. I had her cruising the frozen foods aisle of the super Kroger, looking for bachelors filling up their buggies with Hungry Man Dinners.

Now, here I’ve simply got to pause and give author Susan Gambrell Reinhardt credit for inspiring this scene (yep, she blogged right here on August 10th ). Susan and I were sorority sisters at UGA, and Susan is the one who discovered this particular venue for hunting men, way back in, oh, probably 1982.

Back to my story: my idea was to break my poor widow’s heart and let her find consolation and healing in her vegetable garden. I pictured Mee-maw’s garden in Armuchee, Georgia as I wrote the story. Mee-maw had been an avid gardener who worked out a lot of life’s troubles outside in the dirt.

Soon after they printed my winning short story along with the little bio, I ran into the president of Hill Street Press. "Bring us that novel you mentioned, Julie," he said. "We’d like to take a look at it."

"Fine. I sure will," I said calmly. But inside I was screaming "WOW! Here’s my chance!" I flew home and with the memories literally screaming through my veins, I spent every spare minute I could find writing in one corner of our tiny kitchen. I scoured my memories about time spent at my grandparents’ farms.

Happily, Hill Street Press published Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes in the spring of 2001. It became a southern best seller and they sold the paperback rights to Simon & Schuster, who released it in 2003. Simon & Schuster also bought my second novel, ‘Mater Biscuit, and then Those Pearly Gates. These three books, called the Homegrown series have become for me a celebration of the gifts of my rural southern heritage.

My fourth novel to be published was a stand-alone tale called The Romance Readers’ Book Club (Penguin-Plume, December 2007). Then came the Recession. The market plunged and so did book sales. I kept on writing diligently, finishing two more novels which I put in a drawer while I found some paid speaking gigs, taught some writing classes, and did free-lance editing. One day an agent in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) approached me, telling me my stoires were ‘Organically spiritual.’ I knew that Christian Fiction was a very quickly growing genre.

A week ago today a FedEx truck pulled into my driveway and the driver lugged three boxes full of my new novel, I’ll Be Home for Christmas up the steps. This book is the first in a series that Summerside Press is calling 'When I Fell in Love.' I fell in love as I listened to Bing Crosby’s 1944 rendition of this classic song while I was penning a love story set during WWII. In addition to I’ll Be Home for Christmas, I’ve just signed a contract for a book set in Nashville, Tennessee, tentatively titled Twang. Twang combines the CBA with the CMA (Country Music Association).

You can read my story about changing genres in an article called Crossing Over on my website. I hope my hot grannies are looking down from heaven with smiles on their faces...



Julie Cannon makes her home in Watkinsville, Georgia, where she smiles when she sees this phrase embroidered on a little green pillow; ‘Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.’ Her newest book I’ll Be Home for Christmas is now available. Visit her on the web at
http://www.juliecannon.info/

6 comments:

The Pulpwood Queen said...

What I love Julie about reading all of the posts is how similar our lives play out. Me too, the last kid picked for the team at recess. So great to know that all our hard work through writing is paying off. And I had some HOT GRANNIES too, on who loved vegetable gardening the other flower gardening. It sure was HOT hoeing and pulling all those weeds! Great blog and checking out your latest books!

Karin Gillespie said...

Julie,

That is such a cute picture of you. I've heard this story before but you always add some fresh detail that makes me smile.

Miss you!

Peggy Webb said...

Love those hot grannies! And your story, too!

The Word said...

I love the hot grannies! I am drawn to your stories, Julie, because, I, too, am a southern girl with a few stories to tell. It's always interesting to hear how a writer chooses her profession. As an assignment for my Master's in Professional Writing program, I am to blog along with others about writing... why we do it, how we write, and what got us here in the first place. The love of stories is a common thread. We spend so much of our lives collecting memories, as you said you were doing while listening to your aunts and uncles share a few. So many times in life I've made a mental note about a character, place, thought or situation, and filed it for the future, only to reveal it as I sit at the computer and struggle for words.
I also began as a journalist and have been doing writing for the corporate world for many years, but want to move into more fiction writing. When you say “tortuous sales jobs,” I can certainly relate to that. There is nothing really creative about selling. I don’t care who you are. It is with a different part of the brain. Sales people may disagree. I’m sure they have “creative” ways of approaching, presenting and closing the deal. But it is totally different than creating something from scratch: a story, a song, a painting, a photograph, or an apple cobbler, something to leave behind. As artists, we notice the details – visual and otherwise – that give character and meaning to our creations.
Another blog post I ran across this week discusses why we write: to preserve our mortality. I thought that was a good point. Maybe we want to leave a legacy behind. I think that is true motivation for many of us. We have so much to say and we hope that after we’re gone, folks can look back and remember a time and place that no longer exists. We won’t be here always, but our thoughts and stories can be passed down forever if we put it down on paper (or in cyberspace).
I love reading good fiction (Southern family dysfunction is my fave), and I believe that reading is a big part of becoming a good writer. So as I try to make the shift into fiction, I will take note of your story (and others) on how you started and hope that I, too, can pull up some of the quirky (and almost gothic) characters in my life. There are plenty of them!
Congratulations on your success and I'm looking forward to reading your books. If they are half as good as your little blog here, I'm sure to enjoy! Thanks for sharing!

The Word said...

I love the hot grannies! I am drawn to your stories, Julie, because, I, too, am a southern girl with some silly family stories to tell. It's always interesting to hear how a writer chooses her profession. As an assignment for my Master's in Professional Writing program, I am to blog along with others about writing... why we do it, how we write, and what got us here in the first place. The love of stories is a common thread. We spend so much of our lives collecting memories, as you said you were doing while listening to your aunts and uncles share a few. So many times in life I've made a mental note about a character, place, thought or situation, and file it for the future, only to reveal it as I sit at the computer and struggle for words.
I also began as a journalist and have been doing writing for the corporate world for many years, but want to move into more fiction writing. As artists, we notice the details – visual and otherwise – that give character and meaning to our creations.
Congratulations on your success and I'm looking forward to reading your books. If they are half as good as your little blog here, I'm sure to enjoy! Thanks for sharing!

Keri said...

LOL.. That's great.

Keri