I woke up too early this morning. It’s Saturday, and I desperately tried to keep my eyes squinty to avoid activating the wake-up signal in my pineal gland while I emptied my bladder, hoping to shuffle back to the fluffy-warm abyss of my bed and sink down to comforting darkness and stolen early-morning sleep. But maybe my pineal gland is like a frog’s, which is shielded from the light only by a Saran-wrap-like film of skin on its head, so when the photons pass through, well … it’s get-your-ass-up time.
So I lay there, thinking about culture. I’m sure the reason for this is somewhere drifting below that pesky pineal gland, where my ideas muck about with each other until a few of them coalesce into a square-dance that becomes my particular brand of story. Also, my back was aching — I’m approaching middle age, and anyone over the age of 35 will understand when I say that, in this stage of life, lying down too long leads to a baffling amount of discomfort.
Early morning thoughts on culture:
Increasingly, our times are becoming an era of wiping out individuals in favor of generalization. Of fitting people, or ideas, or, yes, books into sorted, exclusive camps or teams or genres. If you pay attention to social media or television or podcasts, you know what I mean. You might be wondering, at this point in my meandering, “Where the hell is she going with this?” Just this: what if it doesn’t have to be that way? (It’s not. It’s not that way. None of us is only one thing.)
People are complex. Cultures, and sub-cultures, and sub-sub-cultures are complex.
Books are complex, too. In fact, my very favorite books are complex, and hard to place. Ok, some books, like Harry Potter, are pretty cut-and-dry in the old genre placement, but the ones that tickle that sub-pineal spot and won’t let me go are the stories that surprise me. For example, in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series — sci-fi, fantasy, horror — there is tucked in a love story so poignant that I cried each of the first two or three times I read it. I’m told Mr. King actually published Roland’s youthful love story for the first time in Playboy … so maybe some dudes really did read it for the stories. (hehehe.)
The people in my book know all about cultural mash-up. The Whitts have a complicated genealogy: Indigenous, European settlers, obscure intermingling of different branches of the human family tree. They live as neighbors to folks of all kinds of beliefs — most of which would seem to condemn the homespun witchiness of the Whitt family to a fiery fate. The Whitts are purely spun from my imagination, with the people I saw around me in childhood as my inspiration-spark.
But I got them right.
A sweet reader contacted me through Facebook (which you can do, too, if you want: @megpalmerwrites) to tell me her family was just like the Whitts: mixed Black Dutch and Cherokee, plus European ancestry. She can remember her mother’s superstitions, and wondered if I hadn’t researched her own, actual family to write my book.
I didn’t. I’d never heard of her family; I had chosen the names based on common Appalachian names, and I had spun the tale from that primordial goop that dances with the glitter of moments and impressions that sparkle and map out constellations of story. If I sound enamored with the process of writing … wouldn’t you be? How is this kind of reality-fiction crossing not a form of magic?
There is a piece of wisdom in the world of advertising and marketing, where I have my day job: cast too wide a net, and you’ll catch no fish. Counterintuitively, the more general your target audience, the fewer people are interested in your message. Get specific with your writing. Get detailed, and individual, and don’t worry about which “camp” you’re trying to appeal to. Write to an audience of one. Write to yourself, to your lover, to that little kid you were best friends with twenty-three years ago, back in the old neighborhood. You’ll be surprised at who is touched by your story, even if it seems too specific, or too weird or cross-genre. Because, ultimately, human beings really do have more in common than it seems, and it’s the small details that sometimes bring us together.
Buy Haints: through BookBaby, bookshop.org, Amazon, through your local bookstore (ask them to order Haints by Meghan Palmer.) If you’re local to Knoxville, buy Haints at Ijams, Tonya Rea’s Tea Shop, Union Ave bookstore, or Whimsy and a Dream.