I love the above quote by Anne Lamott. In fact, I came across it about seven years ago, and I actually printed a tiny copy of it and carry it around in my wallet. It serves as a reminder that when I write, I need to tell the truth. I need to be honest. I need to be transparent. I need to be real.
And I’m being honest, transparent, and real when I say that I was a nervous wreck when my first book “Mockingbird Moments” came out. There were some things that I wrote about that worried me. I didn’t want to upset anyone, but I had to include the information because it was a part of the story. Fortunately, it wasn’t really anything too bad or awful, and if anyone was upset, they didn’t let me know.
I never envisioned myself as a writer of fiction. My mother always said, “Write about what you know.” I took that literally, and then boxed myself in, and defined and limited myself, believing that I could only write about things that happened to me. But over the last couple of years, I have figured out what she meant. She wasn’t speaking of only writing about the people I knew, she meant the places, and experiences, the feelings and emotions. When I realized this, my world as a writer instantly got bigger. So once again, I can credit my very wise mother for this incredible discovery.
I’ve also realized since publishing “Mockingbird Moments,” that the depth of sorrow, pain, and grief that I felt after losing my dad, as well as when I wrote and shared his story, can be a source for writing. It can be from that place that I understand, empathize, and personalize those feelings: loss not only of a person, but of oneself. And it is in that very place that Abigail Anne Winchester (Abbie), the protagonist of A Southern Girl Re-Belles was born. She emerged from the ashes of my grief, and immediately began “raisin’ hell,” pardon my salty mouth.
As I’ve mentioned before this idea came to me in a dream. And as crazy as this sounds, the title of the book came to me out of the blue one day as I was driving home. I had the title, When A Southern Girl Re-Belles, (and eventually, I dropped the word “When”) before I wrote a single word. Before the dream, I had actually started writing about a girl who was running away, but she didn’t know where she was going, and I didn’t either. Again, I had no idea who the girl was, or why she was “re-belle-ing,” but I knew that it would center around the “belle” part of the word. And that led me to the obvious plot line. The main character would go back to her roots, find herself while fighting against tradition, and history, and her very troubled past.
And that’s where I began. Abigail Anne Winchester was running away. And once I figured out where she was going, and to whom she was running, I had to write about the event that caused her to leave. I wrote three chapters and read them aloud to my husband, and that’s how it all began. I would write a chapter, and read it to him, not knowing at all where the story was going. But after each chapter was done, somehow I knew what would come next. I sent the manuscript in for editing, and actually had a full edit, which wasn’t only for grammar and context, but was also for content. The editor checked for holes in the story, and gave suggestions for areas in which I needed to elaborate, or delete, and also suggested developing certain characters and situations more. The re-write was exhausting, but in the end, the story is better and stronger and I couldn’t be more pleased.
So I will now introduce you to Abigail Anne Winchester. This is her back-story. Most of this information isn’t in the book–but this will let you know a little about her family before her life changed forever.
“My name is Abbie Winchester. I am the result of a Bicentennial year celebration trip. My parents, who loved our country, the culture, the history, the music, the art, the melting pot of people, the politics, the good, the bad, and the ugly, kicked off the year 1976 by going on an epic road trip across the U.S. They drove their VW van (how cliché) through the southern states and then curved up the East Coast, stopping in Virginia, Maryland, and of course Washington, D.C. It was in between semesters, (my father was in grad school, and my mom worked in the college library as she finished her degree in Art). They decided on a whim to get in the car and drive.
You may wonder how poor young adults who lived in married student housing, could afford such a trip. My father was a “trust fund” kid. My grandfather died when my dad was in early thirties, and since he was the only child from an affluent family, it was known that he would always be taken care of financially. My father hated the wealth. He worked his way through college and did well enough to receive funding for grad school. But greater than his disdain for money was his desire for adventures. He wanted to see the world. He wanted to take my mom to all the places he had gone as a young child, places she had never been, as she came from a poor, but proud family, who were believers in education and rising above your situation through hard work and discipline.
Obviously, my dad came from a very conservative family, but in his early college days, when he met my mother, his free spirit began to emerge. My mom was an artist, a virtual renaissance-woman. She could do anything she tried and do it with flair and style. She could sew, and draw, and cook and write. She found joy in the tiniest things; lady bugs, and fireflies, and rainbows and books. She loved art and longed to travel and visit museums and create, and love, and sing, and exist. She was a gypsy, and a fairy, and a princess, and the kindest most beautiful woman I ever knew. She was a vision of grace, and elegance; an all-American girl who believed in freedom and equality and rights and honor and goodness. My dad couldn’t help but fall for her, and he literally spent his entire life celebrating her and the beauty she added to everything she touched. He loved her in a way very few people ever love. Completely, and unconditionally. I once read an interview that Johnny Cash had given. The question asked by the journalist was, “Describe your perfect day.” His response: “This morning, with her, drinking coffee.” While Johnny and June may have shared an epic love story, so did my parents, Dan and Katherine. This morning, with her, drinking coffee. That’s how my dad felt about my mom. It was that simple. He just loved her. He lived to make her happy. She didn’t demand anything, nor did she require much, but he wanted to give her the world, not by showering her things, but by giving her experiences. For her, he would tap into his funds, for her, he would go to the ends of the earth.
I was born nine months after their Bicentennial trip, on September 11, 1976. My mother had chosen the name Rhiannon, if I was a girl, a tribute to Fleetwood Mac, and her fellow gypsy, Stevie Nicks. My Nana, my dad’s mother, was horrified at the thought of giving a child a name from a top 40 hit. It was common and in poor taste and didn’t represent the Winchester family heritage. My sweet mother, decided to give in. Her intrusive and insistent mother-in-law had worn her down. Mama agreed to use the family name, “Abigail” to appease my grandmother. She did however, insist on Ann as the middle name. Even if she only got part of the name, in her heart she would always think my name was Abigail Rhiannon Winchester. On the birth certificate questionnaire completed by my mother only hours after I was born, my middle name was spelled “Ann.” My grandmother, who was nervously hanging around, wanting to be sure she didn’t have a grand-daughter with an embarrassing name that she would have to explain to all her socialite friends in her clubs and study groups, volunteered to return the paperwork to the proper place and a funny thing happened on her way to the information desk—she added an “e” to Ann, because it was just too plain the other way.
I ended up being an only child like both my parents, but I was never lonely. My room was filled with books, and art, and music, and I was completely happy entertaining myself. I started first grade when I was five. I attended a private school that was in our church (Kindergarten-2nd grade) which didn’t have to follow the age guidelines that were pursuant to public schools. If I had waited until the next year, I would have turned seven right after school started, and been one of the oldest kids in the class. My parents decided to let me be the youngest in the grade. Girls mature faster, and I was becoming increasingly bored at home. I was given a test and it was determined that I was academically ready for first grade. No need for Kindergarten for this girl. The plan seemed well and good, until I entered high school and then being the youngest sucked. During my sophomore year, I watched all of my friends turn 16 and get their licenses. I had to wait until junior year, and to be honest, it absolutely pissed me off! I finally got my license, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t have a car. I used my mom’s when she wasn’t busy, but on many days I found myself hitching rides with friends.
And then, in December of my junior year in high school, my entire world changed. In. Every. Single. Way. And as a result of the ‘tragedy of which I cannot speak,’ the life I knew was gone, and I would never be the same. It was on that single day that I began my long, dark, and lonely path of self-destruction…”
What happened to change Abbie’s life? And how did she get a second chance, (or third, or fourth) to turn her life around?
I wish I could spill the beans, but I also want you to READ my book, A Southern Girl Re-Belles, so my lips are sealed.
Stay tuned for more information about Abbie, and how she “Re-Belled.”
Through this work of fiction, not only have I been able to write about the things I know: life in the south, the human condition and relationships, I have also been able to create vivid characters, based on interesting people I’ve known or met, camouflaging them in a way that envelops the spirit of the Anne Lamott quote.
Disclaimer: all of the characters are combinations of people I know, and have met, with many added embellishments that were created to make the character more interesting and believable. Not a single character is solely based on any one person.
Abbie was created in that same spirit, and since the story is told from her point of view, it’s as if she’s a version of me…but unplugged, without rules or worries about any consequences of her actions. In order to write about her in a honest, real, and transparent way, I had to create the back-story I shared, and imagine her through every stage of her life, even if I wasn’t including that in the story. I imagined some of the worst situations a person might be found in, and applied some of those to Abbie’s life. Again, coming from that hole in me that is a part of who I am, I was able to feel the depth of Abbie’s sadness, as well as the spirit in which she fights her way back and redeems herself with the help of some very special people.
Many of you may have had an imaginary friend when you were young. After writing
A Southern Girl Re-Belles, I guess Abbie Winchester is my new imaginary friend. And I’m excited to say that her story isn’t finished.
As I have immersed myself in this project, and read the final manuscript, I have been changed, and I know in many ways, Abbie will always be a part of me.
In many ways, my name is Abbie Winchester…
Until next time…