Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lessons Learned From Livin' Down South Welcomes River Jordan!

Today we continue our discussion about Lessons Learned From Livin’ Down South. I met River Jordan in Texas a few weeks ago. I was amazed at her depth as a writer and her diversity of talents—she’s comedic and hosts her own radio show. River Jordan is a southerner with a global perspective. She began her writing career as a playwright and spent over ten years with the Loblolly Theatre group, where her original works were produced, including Mama Jewels: Tales from Mullet Creek, Soul, Rhythm and Blues, and Virga.

Ms. Jordan's first novel, The Gin Girl (Livingston Press, 2003), has garnered such high praise as "This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath."

Kirkus Reviews described her second novel, The Messenger of Magnolia Street, as "a beautifully written atmospheric tale." It was applauded as "a tale of wonder" by Southern Living, who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006, and described by other reviewers as " a riveting, magical mystery" and "a remarkable book."

Her third novel, Saints In Limbo has been painted by some of the finest fiction voices of today as "a lyrical and relentlessly beautiful book," and "a wise, funny, joyful and deadly serious book, written with a poet's multilayered sense of metaphor and meter and a page-turning sense of urgency."
She writes in a deeply Southern voice. Her writing’s been compared to William Faulkner but I definitely sense some Flannery O’Conner, but also, a style that is distinctively River’s and no one elses. Right now I’m reading her novel Saints in Limbo. The strength of her voice from start to finish is that it never breaks. She is truly a Southern lit author with a wise eye, seeing life up close. Welcome to Words to Go, River!

RIVER: First, thank you for inviting me, Patty. It's really wonderful to slow down and put some of these thoughts on paper.

PATTY: River, this week we’ve been discussing with authors Lessons Learned From Livin’ Down South. Share some of what you’ve gleaned in light of your faith. I remember your reading at the Girlfriend’s Weekend in Texas.

RIVER: When I read from The Deep, Down, & Dirty South – a southern girl recollects – at the Pulpwood Queen Event was a beginning to that answer. That recollection of what being a southern girl meant in light of my faith. The fact of "Jesus running through our veins like pinesap through the trees," that part is something I cling to. I was so aware of the reality of my Grandmother's faith in Jesus. Of her absolute total resolve and no lack of faith in his reality. Surely this took root at an early age in ways that I wasn't even aware until years later.

PATTY: How so?

RIVER: I was also aware of the communal affairs of faith. Of Dinner on the Ground and what it meant to the community to be there and be a part of that.

PATTY: Dinner on the Ground, for initiates to rural church culture, is an outside gathering after church where the women bring food from home and everyone shares and eats together. These rites and traditions permeate your stories.

RIVER: The position of the country church in a small rural community is clearly reflected in the church scenes in The Messenger of Magnolia Street. When I was twelve my mother joined the Episcopal church and as such, I don't feel like that part of my spiritual history is southern but it affects the quiet way I approach God. The way that I find solace in being in an empty cathedral surrounded by evidence of prayers said and left behind.

PATTY: A lot of young people cast off these things. Faith obviously took hold in you. But even that was something you had to make your own, wasn’t it?

RIVER: As I became a young adult I considered my faith and where it came from and maybe the way I didn't automatically carry my personal faith forward was that I felt I had to establish my own relationship with God and that meant searching both the foundation and the perimeters of my faith.

PATTY: In that gleaning process, were there facets you decided not to carry into adulthood?

RIVER: If there is anything I've decided not to carry forward, it would be fair to say that it is the judgmentalism that I find can sometimes be found in the South but then I'm sure it can be found in all faiths to some degree.

PATTY: Unfortunately, it isn’t exclusively a Southern distinctive. But it’s certainly got a sting to it here.

RIVER: That's a personal choice like prejudice really – not one that is faith-based. The older I get the more I realize I'm walking out my faith every day of my life one step at a time. What that looks like, both publically and privately, to me is very personal. So, yes, the older I get – the less I would want to embrace what could have been a judgmental attitude toward other people's progress or journey in their faith and life. That's God's business.

PATTY: Yes, he did not call us out of darkness into meddling. What kind of people have you met down South who you feel have informed your writing?

RIVER: Oh, I guess in sort of wanting to escape some parts of the south most of my life or at least when I became a teenager. It was more like – oh, no, no - I belong in New York or Paris or the hills of Lucca or something.

PATTY: I was guilty of that for a while too. It’s that Looking Glass view that puts the fear in us that the things that make us distinctively southern won’t be accepted by others.

RIVER: Again, age is a great and profound teacher. Like those old stories of those willow sticks that would find water – there is this taproot of my existence that belongs in the South and nowhere else. It's in the love I have for the people of the rural south. Of what they went through and still do. It's a different place and all the good things about it from the heart are the things I want to treasure and keep forever. The part about treasuring a neighbor and having faith in God that goes beyond reason or ritual, the love of fun and story, our peculiarities that other people cock an eyebrow to – those are things that now I'm pretty proud of to say – Yep, count me as one of them.

PATTY: So true. It’s finding that inward confidence as a Southerner that helps us walk side-by-side, arms linked. We know that ugly economies or threats from outside won’t change who we are and how we love each other. River, its such a pleasure to chat with you today on Words to Go.

And we’ve got a treat. We both work with the same good publishing folks at Random House/WaterBrook Press. They’ve agreed to put a winning blogger’s name and address on her upcoming release Saints in Limbo, the novel I referenced earlier. So when Saints releases, a lucky reader will be shipped a copy right off the press.

Do leave your feedback for our Southern authors this week. Each entry (only one per day please) will be entered in the Big Straw Hat for Friday’s Big-Haired Southern Book Give-Away.

Tomorrow, it is my pleasure to invite to our Southern porch gathering a fellow who I met last summer when we were teaching writing up in the Rockies. David W. Pierce struck me at first as a very reflective writer. Then I discovered that reflection was about to be premiered in his newest book release that I’m pleased to announce is here on my desk, Don’t Let Me Go. David also happens to be married to comedienne Chonda Pierce.

Thanks for joining us this week as we chat with authors about Lessons Learned From Livin’ Down South.