Ash Wednesday

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

When the priest makes the sign of the cross, with ashes, on my forehead, I find these words, this reminder of my mortality, not morbid, but comforting. I am dust. I am earth. I came from the stuff of the earth and to the earth I shall one day return. I am made of the same elements as my fellow human beings, my fellow non-human beings, my fellow cats and trees and sunflowers and stars. I am connected to the Whole. I am earth, and fire, and water, and air, and spirit. 

As I receive the Eucharist, the sign of the cross newly imprinted on my forehead, I feel my spirit remembering my connectedness to God, my sacred origin. The opening words of the Ash Wednesday prayer, “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made,” remind me that the feelings of self-hate I sometimes feel, those moments of self-denigration when I forget my origin in the Divine Beloved – those moments do not come from God. God hates nothing God has made.

As children of God we all have what the Quakers call “the divine spark” within us. We are all connected to God. We are all connected to God’s creation. We are all connected to each other.

Cathedral Stained Glass pic

Playlist for Ash Wednesday:
Harry Connick Jr.: Ash Wednesday (jazz instrumental)
Grateful Dead: Throwing Stones (“ashes ashes all fall down”)
Mumford & Sons: Dust Bowl Dance
The Low Anthem: I’ll Take Out Your Ashes
Matisyahu: On Nature
Rage Against the Machine: Ashes in the Fall
David Bowie: Ashes to Ashes
Steve Earle: Ashes to Ashes
Bruce Cockburn: Lord of the Starfields
Leonard Cohen: Anthem
Kansas: Dust in the Wind
The Byrds: Turn Turn Turn

Photo: Sunlight through stained glass window at The Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip, Atlanta 

 

Author Interview: Christopher Martin

Chris Martin Paradise Garden

What’s new and exciting in your life as an author? 

My debut book, This Gladdening Light: An Ecology of Fatherhood and Faith, came out this past summer with Mercer University Press. It’s kind of a memoir/essay collection/spiritual journal hybrid. It won the Will D. Campbell Award in Creative Nonfiction and has been featured in ArtsATL and the AJC, and is the subject of a recent Literary Atlanta podcast. I was just nominated for a 2018 Georgia Author of the Year award in the essay/creative nonfiction category for this book.

As for individual pieces, I have some fairly recent essays published at New Southerner.

I’ve got plenty of other irons in the fire. My full-length poetry collection is done and I’m just trying to find a publisher for it. I might be self-publishing a chapbook soon. I’m working on a book about R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction. And I’ve always got individual poems or essays or satire pieces floating around.

And while this isn’t publication news, I’m excited to share I’ve been invited to lead a monthly writing workshop at Reformation Brewery in Woodstock, Georgia. The first one, which will focus on creative journaling, is set for February 11 at 3:00. It’s free but space is limited to 30 participants, so anyone interested can reserve a spot here, and the FB invitation is here.

What is your connection to the American South?

I’ve lived in Georgia all my life. I’m originally from Gwinnett County, spent a short but significant time in Newton and Jasper Counties, and ended up in northwest Cobb. Both sides of my family have been in this general Georgia piedmont area for a while. My wife is from Washington County so we also have a deep connection to rural east Georgia. My sisters now live in Atlanta, which has become a meaningful place for me, as well.

In her essay “Home,” the late Melissa Walker writes, “To most Southerners, home is the place where they were born and grew up. Like many people my age in the South, I lived in one place until I left to go to college, and that place is the center of a larger geographical area extending from the Georgia Sea Islands and the Okefenokee Swamp in the south to the Appalachian Mountains in the north.” She goes on to call her house in the Atlanta area “only one of many linked elements that all together comprise home.” While I didn’t live in one place growing up and don’t feel rooted to any one particular location—even for the relatively small range of places I’ve lived, we moved around a lot between parents and grandparents within that range—I get what she means and more or less feel the same. The northwest Georgia piedmont is about as close to home as it gets for me—places like Kennesaw Mountain and the Etowah Mounds make up my spiritual terrain. But places like Jekyll Island and Blood Mountain inform my sense of home and my connection to this region, too.

It’s hard to think of any one place as home but I’m always haunted by the idea of home (which is a somewhat redundant thing to say given the etymology of haunted). The suburbs, often soulless, probably have something to do with that, as well. I guess the title of your blog got me thinking along these lines. But I’ve always been here in Georgia, and my family has been here for a long time, and this is the American South, so…

How has that connection to the South informed your work as a writer? 

I like thinking about open-ended questions but I’m not that good at answering them. I start to ramble. Though I am a Southern, place-based writer, “Southern” isn’t a label I’m particularly interested in claiming or reclaiming, though I don’t disown it, either. I just let it be what it is. It has too many associations—positive and negative, romanticized and demonized, documented and caricatured, and everything in between—that vary far too widely to meaningfully talk about in a general sense in a short space. I guess the best answer to this question is the work itself. I could say, for example, that the Confederate flags flying in downtown Kennesaw inform my work as a writer, in the sense of making me angry, and I wouldn’t have that basis anywhere but here. But I could also say the diamorpha on Arabia Mountain informs my work as a writer, in the sense of giving me peace, and I likewise wouldn’t have that basis anywhere but here.

What can we expect to see from you in the future? 

I mentioned the poetry book and the book on R.E.M.’s Fables of the Reconstruction. I have tons of poems in progress; I’m particularly proud of two unpublished drafts called “My Daughter Refuses to Smile” and “Crawling Out of Christian Psychology.” Maybe they’ll be out soon. I’ve got some notes for children’s books. I try to get a piece of satire into McSweeney’s once a year (I guess my time’s run out on 2017, though it happened in 2015 and 2016). I’d like to write some kind of manifesto on Christianity and unicorns. That sort of thing.

My book is available at all the big online outlets, though I encourage folks to order directly through the publisher, Mercer University Press, or to ask your favorite local indie bookstore to get a few copies for its shelves (and maybe hit me up for a reading or signing while they’re at it).

My website is christopher-martin.net. Anyone interested can find most of what I’m up to through links at the site, which I try to keep updated as much as humanly possible.

Author photo (above) by Cannon Martin (7), taken at Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden 

This Gladdening Light

How Jesus Became a Republican

Gospel of Self coverIn the American South, evangelical Christianity is a looming presence. Drive through any small town in the South and you’ll see more churches than restaurants. And it’s not just churches: many of us have relatives who watch televangelists and other Christian programming on a regular, sometimes daily, basis. It’s almost impossible for a politician to get elected, even for a minor office, without at least doing lip service to evangelical Christian beliefs (even if their actions do not match up with their words). What Flannery O’Connor said back in 1960 still rings true today: “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”

That continued haunting is due in large part to the influence of televangelism. One of the early pioneers of modern televangelism is Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), whose daily TV show, The 700 Club, broadcasts in 138 countries and claims a million weekday viewers and 11,000 daily callers to its prayer line. A new book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP, is by Terry Heaton, who worked side-by-side with Pat Robertson for several years during the 1980’s, becoming the executive producer of The 700 Club. This is a fascinating inside look at the inner workings of CBN during a time when Pat Robinson and others made a conscious effort to move evangelical voters closer to the Republican Party – and the GOP itself further to the right.

Continue reading

Author Interview: Nicole Givens Kurtz

Nicole Kurtz profile pic

Nicole Givens Kurtz is the author of the cyberpunk/SF Mystery, CYBIL LEWIS Series. Her novels have been named as finalists in the Fresh Voices in Science Fiction, EPPIE in Science Fiction, and Dream Realm Awards in science fiction. Nicole’s short stories have earned an Honorable Mention in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest, and have appeared in Crossed Genres, Tales of the Talisman, and numerous anthologies such as Baen’s Straight Outta Tombstone, and Onyx Path’s V20: Vampire the Masquerade Anthology.

What’s new and exciting in your life as an author? 

My latest fantasy novel, DEVOURER: A MINISTER KNIGHT NOVEL, was recently released.

What is your connection to the American South?

I’m a born and raised Tennessee Volunteer! I graduated from the University of Tennessee, and I prefer driving while barefoot and eating fried deliciousness. All of my childhood friends have nicknames and I put salt in my grits. I love being a southerner.

How has that connection to the South informed your work as a writer?

In my horror work, the parts of the south that are deeply horrific — racism, radicalized violence, and the ramifications of slavery and Jim Crow linger in the veins of most southern African-Americans. That horror is in our genes, in our veins, and blood so when I sit down to write horror, it pumps out onto the page, anchoring me to the present by way of the past.

What can we expect to see from you in the future? 

My latest review is available in the latest issue of Skelos. I have an upcoming release from Falstaff in the Spring.

You can find my books online at http://www.nicolegivenskurtz.com or via online bookstores.

Author Interview: Valjeanne Jeffers

Valjeanne Jeffers author pic

Valjeanne Jeffers is a graduate of Spelman College, and the author of ten books, including her Immortal and Mona Livelong series. Her novella, The Switch II: Clockwork (Books I and II combined) was also nominated as the best eBook novella of 2013, by the eFestival of words.

Her writing has been published in numerous anthologies including: 60 Black Women in Horror Fiction; Steamfunk!; The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South; Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology; and most recently, Fitting In: Historical Accounts of Paranormal Subcultures; Sycorax’s Daughters; and Luminescent Threads: Connections to Octavia Butler. Her stories (Awakening and The Sickness) have been published as podcasts by Far Fetched Fables. Valjeanne is also one of the screen writers for the horror anthology film, 7Magpies (in production). 

What’s new and exciting in your life as an author? 

Late last year, I released the second novel of my newest series: Mona Livelong: The Case of the Powerless Witch. It’s a steamfunk/horror series and it’s become quite popular, which makes me happy. I love it when my readers dig my offerings. I had three stories and an essay published in 2016-2017. Also, Quinton Veal, my fellow author and cover artist, and I published Scierogenous: An Erotic Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy (2016). This is an anthology which brings together both new and seasoned authors’ unique take on erotica and science fiction, and we’re very excited about it.

What is your connection to the American South?  

My parents, Lance and Trellie Jeffers, were both English professors and writers. My father (now deceased), was from San Francisco. My mother grew up in a little town in Georgia, Eatonton, about a hundred miles from Atlanta. I grew up listening to her stories: she is a most certainly a griot. My whole family enjoyed her stories; I guess now they would be called folklore. My father, wrote over a dozen poems to her and her Southern roots. Most of my mother’s family still lives in Georgia, and as a child, I often spent my summers in Eatonton. This is where I had some of most memorable experiences—both good and bad. And all of this has found its way into my writing.

How has that connection to the South informed your work as a writer?

When I wrote my Immortal series, I drew heavily from my experiences as child of the Civil Rights era, and of the beautiful “Make Love not War” zeigeist of this movement. This 1960s-1970s flavor is part of the mosaic of my Immortal series; in fact I think it binds together the synergy of Afrofuturism, sorcery and shapeshifting of these novels. But when I wrote my third novel, Immortal III: Stealer of Souls, I embraced both this era and my roots. “Annabelle” the newest main character, is definitely a Southern. She is a powerful, conflicted, dangerous meta-human. She brings both the beauty and the terror of her (my) Southern heritage to the series.

When I began writing Mona Livelong, I dusted off some of the memories of the gritty urban novels I read as a child to create something new. Again I returned to my roots. I returned to my mother’s stories, to that little town in Georgia, to some of my experiences that blur the lines between reality and fantasy. They are the stuff of dreams and of nightmares. The beginning of Mona Livelong III was actually inspired by an experience I had while visiting relatives in Eatonton.

What can we expect to see from you in the future? 

I just released an audio book of Immortal III: Stealer of Souls. I read and produced it myself, and it was a lot of work. But I had fun working on it. Readers can purchase the MP3s (listen online or download) at www.gumroad.com/valjeannejeffers. The CDs are available at www.vjeffersandqveal.com. I’m going release Immortal IV: Collison of Worlds, which I also plan to read myself, in the near future. I’m writing Mona Livelong III: The Case of the Vanishing Child as we speak, and I plan to release it in 2018. Quinton and I are also planning to release a sequel to Scierogenous in 2018.

Readers can purchase the novels of Valjeanne Jeffers at www.vjeffersandqveal.com or at Amazon (click here for her Amazon Author Page) or at Barnes & Noble. You can purchase her ebooks at www. Smashwords.com.  Free stories are available at Smashwords:  Grandmere’s Secret and Outcasts.

Immortal I and Immortal II: The Time of Legend are also available at Audible.com.