Even when the devil took control – Confederate Railroad. I love stories and I love country music because it tells stories, and if I had to pick a theme song for my stories, it would be that one. When I was in Nashville doing research for an upcoming novel, Twang, I read a quote by Conway Twitty that said, “A good country song takes a page out of someone’s life, and puts it to music.” I believe the same is true for a good novel.
Don’t ask me why I put Jesus and Mama Always Loved Me on my I-pod because neighbors probably think I’ve got a screw loose as they watch me walking along Dogwood Hill, literally sloshing through puddles of my own tears. I’m 49 (and my Daddy still calls me Gal) and I’ve always lost myself in a good story, and this particular one comes alive for me in vivid Technicolor every time I hear it. As the song begins, the protagonist may be a male teenager, but I am him. I feel what he feels – his yearnings, his lust, his pain and his subsequent remorse, then his wonder that someone could still love him despite everything. My heart knows the veracity lacing those lyrics, especially the chorus. He and I both strayed, and yet, when more than the usual feeble human love was needed, there came a surge of supranormal love – the kind you get only from Jesus and Mama.
I burst out into this world in 1962, and I grew up down South, a land of red clay where it’s not uncommon to see roadside signs reading ‘Jesus and Tomatoes Coming Soon.’ My folks carried me to church every time the doors were open, but I’m afraid the gospel did not take a hold. I did not follow the narrow path. I went from fun to fun, not caring about a thing in this world but Julie. I didn’t steal a car like the fellow in the song did, but boy did I walk the wide road, and it took great tragedy, several in fact, for me to hit that proverbial rock bottom. When I did, it was a transcendent love that lifted me.
I think the key to making a story come alive is being willing to rip a page from your own life, to draw upon your deepest pain without flinching. The mysterious things I’m seeking to understand when I write have nothing to do with religion or long-faced self-righteousness or sentimentality. They explore what I call ‘the irrational kind of love.’
Twang is about a country music diva who uses her pain to create songs, songs that pull meaning out of life’s chaos, that redeem the seemingly unredeemable. Lest anybody think the heroine’s pathetic parents were modeled after my saintly folks, I’ll name a country song that would make a good title for my memoir – I’m The Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised) – Johnny Paycheck.