Today we welcome Susan Lindsley.
Book ‘Em: Tell us about you and your life outside writing.
Susan Lindsley: When I am not writing, I often get swallowed up by the day-to-day routines of living until I can escape to my farm, about 100 miles away from my usual residence. I was reared there, and grew to love the outdoors as a child. Now 81 and with a bad ankle, I can no long walk the miles I did in my younger days, when I hunted deer and wild turkey in their seasons and fished year-round. I still enjoy photographing wildlife on the farm and on trips across the southeast. Writing, however, is my greatest enjoyment. And adding my photographs to my books and short stories enhances the pleasure for me.
Book ‘Em: Which books have you written? What are they about and why did you choose to write them? Do your books have a message? Are they fiction or nonfiction?
Susan Lindsley: I have twelve published books—two novels, two collections of short stories, two memoirs, and two collections of poetry and a biography. I have also assembled and edited three books of literary works of others. I have also been published in local, regional and national publications, from my local newspaper to Southern Living.
O Yesterplace and Other Poems was my first published book. My knowledge of publishing was limited to in-house printing from my for-hire work, and I simply prepared the layout and took camera-ready copy to a local printer. I printed 1,000 copies, went to various events and basically sold out in six months.
My second collection of poetry, Christmas Gift is not just for children. I collected poems I had used for Christmas cards over the years. They include “Too Much Christmas,” “The Deer with Funny Feet,” “Why Reindeer Fly,” and many others.
My novels are placed in a small middle-Georgia town and are both based on events from my youth, in the days of racial division in the 1940s.
The Bottom Rail centers around the girl-child in a family of migrants from the mountains. The family advances from making a living by moonshining to cattle rustling, barn burning, murder and politics. The girl, angry at her white boyfriend’s running around with another girl, gets involved with a black neighbor. This novel placed second in the Georgia Author of the Year for first novel. The title is taken from an old Southern expression “the bottom rail has moved to the top,” which itself is based on the po’ white trash farmer who replaced the rotting bottom rail of his fence with the top rail and moved the rotting rail to the top.
When Darkness Fell is also based heavily on events in Milledgeville, Georgia. The story is told in part by a white teenager who is friend of both the black soldier and the white girl who are lovers. It is also told in part from the omnipotent viewpoint—a format I picked up from the Alex Cross novels by James Patterson.
Because I used both dates and weekdays as headers, I had to pull up the calendars for the months involved in 1946. In Darkness, my main character attends the funeral of a man who was a victim in the Moore’s Ford Bridge lynching in 1946 (investigated by agents sent by President Truman, and never solved, these were the last mass racial-based lynchings in Georgia). I therefore had to search the internet for information, and also purchase a book about the incident. I was delighted during that research to discover that the Northern Lights that I remember seeing in childhood had appeared on the eve of the funeral. The lights gave me an added dramatic effect for the chapter.
Darkness won first place in the Independent Book Publishers Book Awards for Regional Fiction and second place in the Florida Writers’ literary contest.
My basic message for these books was to show that we are just people, and all of us have the same dreams and desires. Love between two people, no matter how different, is love and should be respected. I also hoped to stir up a bit of ire in my local community which I still see as bigoted and politically controlled by a few, without regard to the will of the people. Time has not changed it.
I wrote Susan Myrick of Gone With the Wind: An Autobiographical Biography after a heart attack warned me that it was “write now or die without another book,” the other book being the collection of Yesterplace poetry. Susan was my aunt, and I had access to her letters to Margaret Mitchell (her close friend), her diaries before and during her stay in Hollywood, and many of her newspaper articles. I did, however, make numerous trips to the Macon, Georgia, library to research her fifty years of writings for the Macon paper. I also had access to her scrapbook of photographs she herself took while in Hollywood and included many of her pictures in the biography. This book was released the year of the 75th anniversary of GWTW and won a lot of attention from the GWTW fans. It was launched at the GWTW Museum in Marietta, Georgia. I was invited to speak at many events around the south during that anniversary year.
Whitetails and Tall Tales and Emperor of the United American States are collections of short stories that have been compared with the works of Flannery O’Connor, Stephen King, O. Henry and Edgar Allen Poe. Most have a weird twist. Some are improbable. The stories in Tales include: A man dreaming of fishing in Alaska who wakes up to find salmon in his fridge; a woman without good sense because no matter what she says no one listens until a poacher says the same thing; a man who turns himself into a bird feeder; and a magic shovel that tilts Stone Mountain.
The title story in Emperor is narrated by the man who turned the United States into an empire. The cover shows the emperor standing tall and the Statue of Liberty upside down:
Other stories include Bill and Hillary’s reservations at a rural run-down motel, a DEA sting that isn’t, a young woman’s meeting with her mother’s dying lesbian lover, the horrors of everything that can go wrong for travelers, and limericks, including one of my raunchy ones.
Many of these stories have won awards at writers’ conferences and workshops. My goal with these stories is to entertain, but with the Emperor story to warn the reader of the potential for the decline and fall of the United States.
I edited three books. One is a collection of my father’s writings from his college days and in his later life. As a college student he was class poet, class orator and voted the most intellectual by his fellow students. A work of love, for my favorite poems as a child were the ones he wrote. The limited edition book it titled Luther Campbell Lindsley of the College of William and Mary. I provided copies to the college personnel who helped me and to their special collections library. My goal here was to ensure that future generations in my family would know about his literary works. I am working on a family history that will include his scientific contributions to the South and the nation.
For Myrick Memories I collected nonfiction stories about my home town written by my mother and her siblings, all born before 1901. The book portrays town and country life during those years and also shows the devotion between the black and white families of the period when segregation was “normal.”
My aunt Susan Myrick wrote newspaper columns and magazine articles about her friend Margaret Mitchell and some of the people she met in Hollywood, which I collected into a booklet. As a bonus, I also included three feature articles she wrote about survivors of the War Between the States. The title article answers the book title question: Margaret Mitchell: A Scarlett or a Melanie?
My two memoirs are vastly different. “Blue Jeans and Pantaloons” in Yesterplace takes the reader into the life of a country girl on a 2,500-acre plantation and an ante-bellum mansion. Childhood was horses and cattle, playing games on horseback, driving cattle to market and hunting for missing cattle. Neighbors were cattle rustlers, bootleggers, and Flannery O’Connor. School was six miles away by car, but thirty miles away by school bus. All was not fun. For example, we had no firemen, so when the moonshiner’s fire “got out,” everyone in the family worked to put it out—our only tools a pine limb.
Sometimes, however, I had a chance to be myself at school on “play day” and play at being Roy Rogers. Horses were not allowed on campus, so I had to leave all seventy-six of those in the pasture.
My second memoir Possum Cops, Poachers and the Counterfeit Game Warden is the story of a young woman venturing into the world of hunting in the 1960s when the sport was dominated by men who looked askance at women hunters. The book covers forty years and carries the reader into the woods to learn to hunt, into the courts to support the “possum cops” (game wardens) to prosecute the poachers, and into the halls of the state’s Game Management to bring about changes in game regulations. It includes battles with an “iffy” judge, facing armed poachers, and the love of sharing success and providing guidance to new hunters. The book covers the learning experiences and the later turn-about teaching others, often men, the skills needed to scout the woods, to hunt, and to process the venison. Ironically, men came to a woman for help when poachers invaded their hunting leases.
Cops is heavily illustrated.
My state representative purchased 200 copies of Cops to provide one to each member of the State House since my interest in game management continues although I no longer hunt.
Book ‘Em: Do you have a work in progress?
Susan Lindsley: My works in progress include a massive family history which will be a limited edition of fifty copies for the immediate family and the libraries of the colleges wherein my parents were students and/or professors. My father worked with Charles Herty on Herty’s research to develop paper from pine pulp, which resulted in the pine industry in the South. He also taught chemistry for a number of years, and before the Second World War, before the atom was split, he taught his students what procedures were necessary to do so. Some of his students were recruited to work on the research for the atomic bomb. My mother’s research topics included insulin and also the effects of low iodine on goiters.
I am also working on another collection of short stories. Both books should be competed in 2018.
Book ‘Em: What was the most difficult section/piece you ever wrote? What made it difficult?
Susan Lindsley: The most difficult piece I ever wrote was about my heart attack. I waned to share with other women the symptoms that led me to understand what happened. But it was six months after the event before I was able to write about it. The story is posted on my web site yesterplace.com.
Book ‘Em: What sort of research do you do for your work?
Susan Lindsley: Research has been different for each book. The family history sent me to many web sites, colleges and out-of-state attorneys to find old deeds and dates of some events. I am fortunate that my family had saved many letters from ancestors, some from as far back as the 1850s. I also dug through my local county deed books and court records for the family history.
For fiction, I have searched dates of real events and details of these events. The sesquicentennial celebrations of my home town were interrupted by a double murder and suicide, and although I remembered some details, I had questioned a friend/witness to clarify the sequence of events to use in my book When Darkness Fell.
Book ‘Em: Which books and authors do you read for pleasure? Is there an author that inspires you?
Susan Lindsley: I read a variety of suspense novels—the Kellermans, Patterson, Sanford, Stuart Wood, and anything that looks suspenseful at the book store, where I work my way down the shelves labeled mystery and suspense.
Book ‘Em: Was there a person who encouraged you to write?
Susan Lindsley: Although my aunt Susan Myrick was a successful author, as was my father, I think I received the most encouragement from a neighbor/friend, Flannery O’Connor. My family read her stories as soon as A Good Man Is Hard to Find was released, and we all laughed at her characters who were based on our neighbors, whom we could recognize, and events that were just as familiar. Her use of local people inspired me to use local people and events in my stories—but not to duplicate her usages. Flannery and my Aunt Susan both encouraged me to write about what I know, which for me is the South, especially Georgia, and her people, the good, the bad and the politicians.
On many visits between our families, Flannery always encouraged me to write and shared some of her literary books with me after our home burned and we lost our family library.
Book ‘Em: What would you say are your strengths as an author?
Susan Lindsley: I think my greatest strength as a writer is dialog/dialect. I grew up in a world of three English languages, that of the upper, gentrified class, the white tenant farmers (many of whom were migrants from Appalachia), and the rural blacks who also worked on our farm.
Book ‘Em: How often do you write, and do you write using a strict routine?
Susan Lindsley: I write whenever I can escape the horrors of the mundane chores of life—laundry, grocery shopping, mailing books, paying bills and all such.
Book ‘Em: Five years from now, where do you see yourself as a writer?
Susan Lindsley: Since I am now 81, I hope to be around in five years and to be still writing. I hope to continue to improve my writing skills and to continue to compete for awards and hope for greater sales.
Book ‘Em: If you could offer one piece of advice to a novice writer, what would it be?
Susan Lindsley: Advice? I would suggest the novice find a nearby writer’s group and join. Go to conferences, get into a critique group, and above all WRITE. Do not “think” about writing—write. It has been said that writing is 99% sweat and 1% inspiration. Making mistakes and recognizing these errors will lead the novice to better writing. Be willing to listen to advice, but remember that one person’s opinion is not the only answer to a question. Several people told me, “You can’t do that,” about the opening of my novel The Bottom Rail. I did it anyhow, and it worked.
Book ‘Em: What would you consider the best compliment a reader could give your book?
Susan Lindsley: I think there are several great compliments we all seek. One of course is receiving high scores on the review sites and winning awards when we enter literary contests. But just as important is for the reader to love the book so much she will want to keep her copy and buy another one for a friend as a gift.
Book ‘Em: Provide an excerpt of your writing that you would like to share with our members.
Susan Lindsley: This is a short story from the book Emperor of the United American States.
She spent three weeks making the list of everything on the farm and inside the house and typing it into the computer. At eighty, arthritis mangled her fingers, but she had managed to master the key board and had learned the magic of moving copy from a word document on the hard drive into a word document on a flash drive and not lose the copy.
“A wonderful way to make carbons,” she told her daughter.
She did not know the computer offered a way to alphabetize the list or to sort it in any way. So she sat before the screen, the mouse on a lapboard because she couldn’t keep her arthritic hand up on the tabletop for long.
Item by item, she slid them from the hard drive onto the flash drive into a file carrying the name of one of her four children. Tractor went to Sally, who wanted to farm. Lexus went to her youngest son who since he was seven had washed her car every Sunday afternoon. Family Bible to the eldest, a family tradition. Besides, he was the only one with children.
The work went rapidly, faster than she had believed. She had expected to spend weeks splitting the items among the four, but having decided who got what as she made her list, the job moved along as fast as she could slide the items across the screen.
As she moved each item to the thumb drive, she deleted it from the master list on the hard drive. The first time she forgot and had to back up to delete three, she was glad she had learned how to hold down the shift key and move the cursor over the items to highlight them. She pictured the three items in her mind, clenched her teeth and pressed delete. She fisted the air and whooped her success.
Her final entries were the house and the portraits. Parental grandparents to Rick. Maternal grandparents to Sally. Great-grandparents split between Nate and Janie.
Her portrait, me? She pondered. That massive full length portrait her father had commissioned when she was fourteen was her horror. She wanted to dump it, but the kids liked it. And the house. What about it? Sally wanted it. Wanted to live here and farm her portion of the five thousand acres.
She slid house to Sally’s file and turned her attention back to me.
“Make Sally have it,” she snickered. “Punishment for getting the house.” She slid the portrait me into Sally’s list.
“Oops, forgot to delete house.”
She highlighted both house and me.
When she hit delete, she deleted herself and the house as she had everything else, and the land lay bare.
THE ESTATE INVENTORY
Web sites yesterplace.com
Susan is on facebook and invites you to join her.
All books (except O Yesterplace and other poems) are available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
For information on autographed copies, email Susan.