After forty years of satisfying careers in teaching, marketing and public relations, I decided to follow my body parts and head south into retirement. I’d always imagined living in a log cabin in the mountains, so I unleashed my inner Heidi and drove to southern Appalachia where I’ve lived for ten years. It’s been an adventure, one that I had to document in my first book, Real Country: From the Fast Track to Appalachia. A fellow writer who is a native of the North Carolina mountains warned me not to put my picture or real name on the book because, “Them boys will burn you out.” I’ve since learned she’s prone to hyperbole, but I used a pen name.
I was born and raised in New Jersey and lived in the Washington, D.C. area for twenty years before this latest, and what I hope will be the last, move. My spouse and I live in a log cabin in a mountain holler surrounded by the best that nature has to offer. Most of our immediate neighbors are also transplants. The local residents down the dirt road are pleasant but rather reserved. We wave and occasionally chat about weather, but it’s clear we’re regarded as ‘foreigners.’ There’s a clear delineation between the ‘been heres’ and the ‘come heres’ in this part of Appalachia, but we share a love of the mountains.
Our urban backgrounds weren’t much help when we arrived. Despite three years of bluegrass banjo lessons that I’d hoped would help me adjust to this part of the South, I still faced challenges with the language, food and customs. But now, I’ve become so accustomed to this bucolic rural life that I dread going back to the metropolitan areas where I used to live. Being retired certainly accounts for some of my new relaxed state, but the slower pace of life in the region plays a major role. I’ve pretty much gotten over ignoring strangers and charging into stores intent on getting out without having to speak to anyone. Once in a while I still grow impatient when someone takes twenty minutes to get to the point of what they want to say, but I’ve learned to wait politely and smile. Depending on what they finally say, I might even reply with a heartfelt ‘Bless your heart.’
At age seven I penned a newsletter that antagonized half the neighbors in my New Jersey neighborhood, and writing has been part of my life ever since. I’ve been a columnist, speechwriter, ghostwriter and anything else that allowed me to earn a living. I still write because I need to, but now it’s for my own satisfaction and enjoyment. That’s so much more fun. Since moving to the Southern mountains I’ve found my muse. I’ve written three novels and several essays that appear in a variety of anthologies. I’m honored to have received awards for my books and am certain that I could not have written them in any other place. I use my real name now. http://www.lissabrownwrites.com
Queen Sugar is an intriguing new novel about Charley, an African American woman who unexpectedly inherits a sugarcane farm in Louisiana. http://nataliebaszile.com/book/. The author, Natalie Baszile, is not a Louisiana native. Her father was born in southern Louisiana, and much of his extended family still lives there. But while she often visited on vacations and holidays, Natalie grew up in Southern California and currently lives in San Francisco. She comes to writing as a scholar, the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, having studied at UCLA and Warren Wilson College. So even though she writes about the South, she is not a “typical” Southern woman. When I asked if she considered herself a Southern woman, she replied, “I have a Southern Heart.” Indeed she does. And at the end of the day, that Southern Heart is what unites us as Southern women; that spirit not defined by zip code, politics, race, religion, socioeconomics, or any of a number of other tiresome labels.
In Queen Sugar, Ms. Baszile portrays the South as She really is. She has no truck with stereotypes and plows deliberately through to the underlying truths about the lives of her characters. Through Charley’s eyes, we experience the outlandish beauty of the South as well as its senseless injustices. We feel the gravitational pull of Southern family bonds and the joys of unexpected friendships. We are outfoxed by the seductive Southern charm that blankets pain with an illusory veil. We confront our unrecognized prejudices. And through Charley’s trials, we witness the outrageous persistence of Southern women in the face of hardship.
Here is one of my favorite passages from the book: “Because life should be as simple as a bucket of fish caught a few miles offshore and a van full of produce bought at a roadside stand. It should be as sweet as a cube of melon the color of your heart.” (Ch. 6)
This is not a book review. But Queen Sugar goes on my list of favorites. If you’re looking for a beautifully written story with an engaging plot that presents an authentic picture of the present-day South, here it is. It’s an honor to claim Natalie Baszile in the sisterhood of Real Southern Women.
Many of you have shared with me stories of inspiring women in your lives that shatter the stereotypes of the “Southern Woman.” Beautiful, capable, and strong women, funny, eccentric, sometimes a little crazy, and in every size, shape and color. Such great stories! And I know there are so many more out there and I want everyone to hear them! So, I’m inviting you to be part of my blog by joining the Cameo Project.
Here’s how it works. Email a one-page double-spaced story about an important Southern Woman in your life to me at email@example.com, along with a one or two sentence profile of yourself. I will post them exactly as you send them, so please make sure they are proofread for spelling, grammar, and accuracy of facts. Accompanying pictures must be in the public domain or be something you own.
Submission of your story, profile statement and image serves as your permission for me to post them on my website. however, you will retain all copyright to your work.