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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Writer's Inspiration - Living and Writing in Woodstock, GA

Excuse the often reviled opening phrase, but it truly was a dark and stormy night several weeks ago when Mary Hood, the award-winning writer, formerly of this locale, came to revisit Woodstock. Despite the raucous weather, we had fun. Her talk engaged us as easily as her short stories with characterizations done in the most original, Southern ways that her readers can't help but grin and want to preserve the woman's quirky, dead-on expressions for later conversation. One of my fellow-attendees at FoxTale Book Shoppe commented to me that she was new to town and was surprised to learn so many residents are busy writing. Don't I know it. There must be something in the drinking water that activates writing genes. In reality, I think Woodstock, itself, plays a role in stirring inventive and visionary tendencies. Only a theory!
Why the bias? After spending my early years on the outskirts of three large cities, Miami, Jacksonville and Atlanta, the smaller and more alluring area of Woodstock, Georgia, earned the favored spot of home in my heart. My husband and I built our lives here.
You may question whether Woodstock is as wonderful as portrayed in my novels. Yes and no. In the short span of the three most recent decades, the slow-paced town and agricultural community adjacent to  a rural highway, forty minutes north of Atlanta, transformed itself into a bustling, vibrant scene. Expansion brought its own set of problems, although soon mastered. Within area history, there are some sad stories, just as in any place where human beings interact. On the positive side, our city is blessed with many appealing features such as: a tree-filled environment that is lush and hilly, native residents who hold their arms open to welcome newcomers from all over and, finally, a boundless spirit of energy and creativity resulting in more layers of charm. These numerous aspects of inspiration can keep a writer's fingertips dancing on the computer keys.
Why novels? Well . . . I've always loved story. As a little girl I listened to my grandmother's tales, like the ones of her growing up as the oldest of eight children on a turn-of-the-century farm in Chipley, Georgia. Not exactly a girlie-girl, she often drove the team of horses while corn was loaded in the wagon. Every morning, she rose at 5 a.m. to run to the dairy barn, turn the hand-cranked creamer and clean the device, all before school. When she first married and the cotton market crashed, her young husband's frustration grew until one day when he shoved the plow against the barn and quit the crop ravaged by boll weevil and a fallen market. The couple learned of work in hotel construction, although they'd have to leave the familiarity of Georgia and be situated in a drained-swamp settlement with an Indian name--Miami. That leads me to another of my grandmother's chronicles, the hurricane of 1926. As a Georgian, she probably witnessed the quickly spun-out anger of a tornado or two. Like most early Floridians, however, she was not prepared for the frightening novelty of home-imploding gales that continued for hours. Her husband was on an important trip, many hundreds of miles to the north. The strange storm ramped up its power and battered the southern end of Florida like nothing ever seen. Seeking safer shelter, she trudged head-down with her toddler through ripping winds and sideways rain, grabbing palmetto after palmetto to stay on course. Her daughter, my mother, was blown from her grasp but found, and they made it to sturdier surroundings. Filled with dread, my grandfather raced southward, helping authorities collect dead bodies along the way. He knew nothing of his own little family. In a Red Cross shelter, he eventually found his baby girl babbling contentedly next to the cot that held his wife who battled pneumonia. She survived.
From the Spanish side of my family, we heard accounts just as harrowing. My grandfather, Manuel, was only six years old in 1892 when his father succumbed to yellow fever. One year earlier, the family of four had left Spain on a sailing vessel and spent most of those twelve months in Mexico City watching their brief business venture fail. On the return trip to Spain, they docked in Cuba where the mosquito-borne disease raged, and the family was torn apart by death. Manuel, stranded with his destitute mother and sister, forfeited schooling to begin a lifetime of work, initially as a lonely, mistreated house servant. Later, he learned to play the mandolin and eventually made it to Tampa where he rolled fine cigars for a living. Each day, a person seated on a platform read literature to the large roomful of men cramped over their delicate work. I imagine that great storytellers like Cervantes, Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens chased away the tedium contained in the room and soothed the ache radiating from each worker's crooked neck and upper back. Their diversion also included the daily newspaper, front to back. Such was my grandfather's education in the school of hard knocks. Naturally, with his offspring, he gave academics a position of importance. In a reversal of fortune, his six children (the WW II generation) received post high school training or college, which resulted in successful careers. The two daughters became teachers. The males also flourished: a business executive, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force who later served at the Academy, an electrician and a science teacher.
Those kinds of family stories laden with personal struggle and resolve never left me. When I came to this place that became "my town," new stories reached my ears and filled my heart. My narratives begged to be set in Woodstock--hence, my novels.  
In this blog, I hope you've enjoyed hearing about Woodstock, Georgia, history and especially about the people who left their stamp on the attitudes, structures and direction of a locale. Thank you for your interest over the months. Visit us! There is so much to see and do. For me, I'll be taking a break from posting blog articles. Other writing projects call me.
For now, this writer, plans to keep her pen inky and her keyboard letters worn and fading. I wish you many of your own intriguing tales in the future, and I hope you never lose sight of those meaningful stories from your past.   Your Woodstock friend, Patti Brady

Photo of Woodstock Public Library--Our spacious library with a modern design reminiscent of a turn-of-the-century train terminal is the perfect place to meet, browse or get lost in a book. The building is centrally located and relatively new in a series of four versions popping up through time. A striking prominence with a background of poplars, oaks and sweetgums, the land was donated by a Woodstock benefactor from the Johnston family. In our city, reading has been valued since early times. The former, small population produced some scholars, mathematicians, a physicist, a doctor, businessmen,  engineers and even a statesman in Federal government to name part of the array.

Photo of the interior of FoxTale Book Shoppe - This establishment is a favorite addition to Woodstock, starting in 2007. A constant stream of well-known authors mesmerize the audience that flocks here, even from so far away as Big Town. The serene decor will make you forget the summer heat or winter bluster outside. The owners, three women oozing individual talents, will have you laughing at one of their anecdotes or will gently guide you to a new treasure on the shelf. Don't miss this reading spot, located next to city park and the gazebo!