I Had a Dream

How is it possible to have a dream come true and not even realize it at the time?

I was talking to a library group yesterday about writing and my novel, The Trouble with Grits, when it hit me. Let me explain.

You see, I have always loved words. I learned to talk early and to read early, and I just adored books. Somewhere along the way, I discovered I also loved to write.

In the fourth grade, I wrote a short story and decided it was pretty good and I just knew it deserved to be published. I set about finding a publisher, certain that I was about to become the world’s youngest rich and famous author. I sent my manuscript, handwritten in pencil, to the only publication I could come up with at that tender age, and awaited my coming fortune.

What actually came was my first rejection letter. The Times Picayune very gently and kindly informed me that they were a newspaper and did not publish fiction. Although they wished me well in my writing career, I took it hard. I was not discovered; I was rejected. So, I swore off writing.

After a bit a wallowing in abject misery, something a dramatic artsy-type child revels in, I rallied. You can’t keep a good nine-year-old down, after all.  To make my comeback, I sent a quarter and the back of a Kellogg’s corn flake box off in the mail to get a set of watercolor paints. I would be the world’s youngest rich and famous artist.

Well, that didn’t work out either, so I just accepted my fate as an average kid in elementary school and played Barbie dolls and climbed trees.

I did maintain my love of reading, however. One day, as a young teenager, I was in the Hattiesburg Public Library, where I spent a lot of time, and I looked over and noticed a volume of Mark Twain sitting on the library shelf. A light didn’t shine around it and a chorus of angels did not sing, but that book did somehow stand out. Something rose up in me and I thought, That is what I want. One day, I want a book of mine to be on a library shelf. I wasn’t dreaming about fame and fortune, I just wanted something I wrote to impact someone like Mark Twain’s writing impacted me. I wanted someone to read my writing and laugh, or cry, or smile, or just be provoked to thought.

Now, I was not writing anything at that time, and I didn’t pursue fiction writing for many years. In truth, I completely forgot that moment until I was talking to the group in the library at Mount Olive, Mississippi. As I was getting ready to read from my first novel, I realized that my dream from long ago had come true. I had a book on library shelves. And I hope someone reading it is moved to laugh, or cry, or smile, or think.

#ing,Tweeting and Posting? I just got comfortable with cut and paste!

Okay, the truth must come out. I am a bit of a technophobe. This is not new, just not something I freely divulge. In today’s digital, instant world, admitting to technophobia is akin to the Biblical leper running around yelling, “Unclean! Unclean!”

I remember when microwave ovens began to become common place–yes, that is an age giveaway. After turning one dinner roll into a landscape stone because I thought I had to heat it a mere 10 minutes, not 10 seconds, I began to wonder if such potent laser beams could escape the oven and microwave my brain. Turns out I wasn’t so far off the mark, but back then I was just viewed as an old fashioned, lily livered anti-progressive.

A couple of years after that, I bought a word processor. Now that one I was all for because it meant the end of carbon paper, correction tape and endless do-overs when editing my writing. I do love cut and paste. Now, however, I approach the latest generation of computer with fear and trembling because it auto-corrects, auto-updates and auto-improves itself to the point I can no longer even use it, much less understand it.

Case in point: I am charged with maintaining a website for an economic honor society. That may sound made-up since I just confessed my lack of computer saavy, but it is true. That has gone reasonably well until now. NOW is when the distant webhost said he had to move the server. I am advanced enough to know he didn’t meant it would look better on the wall by the window, but “moving the server” could have meant transferring the files to a flash drive or to an intergalactic orb far far away.

Whether new computer or new galaxy, I was notified that the move went well and I could update the site at my leisure. Ha! None of my log-on credentials worked, so I emailed the webmaster. I was told I just needed to set up a new website connection with FTP. He might as well have said I just needed to jot over next door and perform a frontal lobotomy. At least I know what a frontal lobotomy is.
This came at a time when I had just learned at a writing conference that successful book marketing is done primarily online these days. The website is the new business card and marketing tools are blogs, Instagram, Facebook posts and Twitter. Last I knew, twitter meant the sound birds make. Although you could be excitable and get “all a twitter” over something. Pretty sure neither of those are the Twitter I have to get to know.

The upshot is that I, who have been known to turn off the electricity and read by the light of an oil lamp to protest the screeching rate of “progress,” must now learn not only to navigate FTP, but to do Facebook posts, post boosts, FB ads, hashtag stuff and tweet somewhere to promote my books.

Maybe I will light the oil lamp and then jot over next door and talk about that lobotomy instead.

Grits on the Road

Today marks one calendar month since The Trouble with Grits was officially published. Our first post-publication step was to move onto the shelves of our hometown book store, Page and Palette in downtown Fairhope, Ala. Page and Palette is also the hometown bookstore of Fannie Flagg, one of my favorite authors. The official book launch party is set for July 26 at the self-same book store’s Book Cellar, their venue for such fun events. Page and Palette is also the traditional launching point for all of Fannie’s books since she wrote Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man (first published as Coming Attractions), sitting by the bay in our very own Fairhope. Did I mention that I love Fannie Flagg?

The second step was to take Vangie and Grits on the road. So we packed the car and lit out. There is a chapter in the book about the MacRaes of Kintail and since there was an official McCraw family reunion (the US descendants of the MacRaes of Scotland –we think– and MacGraiths of Ireland – we know) taking place in Mount Airy, NC, I was able to get a place on the program to read the chapter and sign some books. Mount Airy, the inspiration for Mayberry of Andy Griffith fame, also has a lovely indie book store/coffee shop called Pages Books and Coffee and they were gracious enough to offer me a signing there the Saturday following the McCraw event.

Both events went really well, and Vangie and I did a little sightseeing while we were traveling. Of course, we had to see the Andy Griffith museum. And since Vangie’s daddy just loved the Hanks, Hank Williams and Hank Snow, we stopped in Georgiana, Ala. to visit Hank Williams’ boyhood home. We spent a little time on the porch just chilling.

There are readings, signings and radio shows already scheduled and more in the works. Keep up with Vangie and her adventures right here and on our Facebook page, Phyllis Pittman, author, while we take Grits on the road and see some stuff.

Grits are Bubbling

The Grits are hot and bubbling — well, The Trouble with Grits is published, available in book stores, and on its way. I have found that the trouble with getting a book out and going is the same as the trouble with grits, there are going to be some lumps to work through.

Right about the time I heaved a big sign of happiness and relief that the manuscript was done and uploaded and in the proof stage, a great big lump came bobbing to the surface. I had corrected the paperback version, duplicated the correction for the hardback, and went to do the same for the Kindle version, only to discover that the un-proofed manuscript had gone live on Amazon with all its inglorious errors. Worse yet, someone had purchased a copy, read it, and reviewed it. They said it was “a good read,” but that it had problems and left a loft of questions unanswered.  I’ll say! It was a fairly early version and was a typo minefield. Not only that, it was missing the last two chapters. Talk about unanswered questions. I can only say thank you for the good read assessment and apologize for the glitch.

This all came together the night before I was to leave on a long-planned vacation. But finally, all the bugs were worked out, the corrected — and correct – versions were in place, and hard copies were ordered. Another big sigh here.

Things seemed to have smoothed out– for a week anyway, until today when I hit the road for the first official TTWG events. I was making my way toward Mt. Airy, NC for my first book signing when, near Montgomery, Ala.,  I saw a Hank Williams Museum sign. My enthusiasm for the historical site was enhanced by the fact that a gas station was promised on the same road sign and I had enjoyed a good bit of coffee before leaving home, so I took the exit.  Vangie’s daddy (Vangie is the main character in Grits) just loved the Hanks — Hank Williams and Hank Snow, so I figured it was only right to take her by there and kill a couple of birds with one stop, so to speak.

Georgiana, Ala. is not right off I-65 and neither was the gas station or the Hank Williams Museum. I traveled along, reasonably patiently, until I finally got to the town. It unfortunately has seen more prosperous days and I was worried that I had made a wrong turn somewhere and ended up nowhere near any Hanks that I would recognize. After a few twists and turns, I no longer saw signs for the museum or anything else that looked promising. I have a handicap; I was born without a sense of direction, so I could well have been on my way to Atlanta, Georgia instead of Georgiana, Alabama. Google Maps had no signal out there either. I finally did find the gas station, or at least A gas station, so I killed one bird and asked about the other one. I was, indeed, in Georgiana, and a very nice lady directed me toward the museum. I got there just fine and let Vangie take a rest on  the porch with Hank’s wooden Indian, and then proceeded to lose my way again hunting I-65. God loves me, so after a few scenic detours and some wild guesses, I was back on the road, with no more lumps. Well, Waffle House was out of Bert’s chili to top my cheese omelet, but I made the best of it. After all, as Gator says, “You cain’t never git ALL the lumps out.

Grits and Livermush

Anyone who has known me for very long knows I just love adventure. They don’t have to be big adventures. I can make an adventure out of finding a cantaloupe. I am also a huge fan of Jan Karon, the author of the Mitford series.  I make it a point to revisit Mitford once a year, reading the whole series.

I discovered that Mitford is patterned after Blowing Rock in North Carolina, so when I came up to see my sons and vacation near Blowing Rock this week, I made it a point to visit. (I call Blowing Rock the Mountain Fairhope, the lovely little town where I live). Walking around there, I remembered how much Dooley Barlowe’s grandfather, Russell Jacks, loved livermush. It was apparently a favorite in Mitford, and in North Carolina for real. They also seem to put down a lot of Cheer Wine around there. So I loaded up in the car and set out on a quest to see what all the fuss was about. An adventure, you know.

I scored Cheer wine at Mast General Store, a historic old timey authentic general store outside of Boone, NC. Those Mitford folks know their stuff. I like Cheer Wine. I might see if there is a Cheer Wine Club and get a crate delivered once a month. That left livermush. I know. Livermush. The name does not elicit  confidence. But Russell Jacks sure thought it was mighty fine.

Today we stopped for breakfast in Chesterfield, NC, at the Chesterfield Family Restaurant, and what to my wondering eyes did appear on the menu but livermush. It had to be done.  We ordered eggs, biscuits, gravy, and livermush, with steaming cups of coffee. I was pleasantly surprised. I smacked it down and called it a mission accomplished. I might stop short of  joining the Livermush of the Month Club, though.

The Grits are Ready

TTWG! The Grits are ready and bubbling on the stove. Well, actually, the new novel, The Trouble with Grits, is ready and coming to bookstores near you. I will be heading out for a summer tour to bookstores all over, but it is available for purchase right this very minute in my bookstore on this site right here. You can get a Kindle, paperback , or hard cover copy at Amazon.com. Or, you can go to your favorite bookstore and have them order a hard copy for you.

I am planning the first book store stop in my hometown of Fairhope, Alabama at the Page and Palette book store. I’ll keep you posted on details.

Well, that is all the news that is the news today. Catch you later.

 

 

 

Boldly Go Where No Grit Has Gone Before

Who’d a thunk it? Just when you think it can’t get any better, you find out there are whole avenues of better, and different, and just as good.

Photographer Greg DuPree, Food Styling Torie Cox, Prop Styling Mindi Shapiro

For years, I thought I was a forward grits thinker because I added cheese an

Photographer Greg DuPree, Food Styling Torie Cox, Prop Styling Mindi Shapiro

d bacon bits to a bowl of buttery grits with a sunny side up egg smothered underneath.  Then in recent years, I discovered some people added shrimp and crawfish gravy and called grits a dinner entree.  I didn’t necessarily think it was a good idea, but, hey, to each his own, right? I quickly found out there is a definite following for grits thus arrayed. Then last week I tried shrimp and gouda grits at a local Fairhope eatery and my eyes were opened. I would never be a grits purist again.

Even so, I thought Grits Nirvana, once reached, could not be surpassed.  And maybe it can’t, but it can sure be expanded. Today, while I was waiting to get my “do” did, I was flipping through an issue of Southern Living magazine and to my wonderment I saw a recipe for peppers stuffed with grits and sausage. It’s like once having seen the light, the Universe is delighting in presenting new grits vistas never before imagined.  I read the recipe with delight.  This I had to try.  I got a copy of the page and went home to share on this blog.  I don’t want to step on any copyright toes, so I will just direct you to Google Southern Living grits stuffed peppers and see for yourself (Photo from Pinterest).  I will be trying these.

My mission is to explore strange new grits recipes, to seek out restaurants with above average grits creations, and, if I ever exhaust those, to boldly go where no grit has gone before.

Make Your Grits Special: A Life Lesson

Have you ever heard the truism, Don’t wait for anybody to bring you flowers; plant your own garden?  (Now that is a valid and valuable viewpoint, but be sure to have faith that someday there will be someone who will bring you flowers. You don’t want to get bitter and disillusioned.) I learned a similar lesson today while on my ever-widening search for exemplary grits.

I ate shrimp and grits at a Fairhope, Ala. eatery called Locals downtown on Fairhope Avenue. Locals’ claim to fame is really good food made primarily from ingredients obtained from local farmers, ranchers, and dairies (thus, the name). I am pretty sure the water buffalo on today’s menu was not obtained in Alabama, but who knows? There is an alpaca farm here, so why not a water buffalo ranch? Right? Anyway, the shrimp and grits were guaranteed to be the BEST I ever had — it said so right on the sign outside — so I went inside to see if this was so. I ordered them, and a beautiful bowl of the aforementioned gustatory delight was placed before me. One taste assured me that they were, indeed, the best I have ever had. However, I have only had them one time before at a restaurant far away from here and they were very heavy on some kind of brown gravy stuff that did not appeal to me.

The Locals variation was subtle yet rich, with a creamy sauce and an optimal amount of cheese. I know it is hard to believe, but, unlike chocolate, you can actually overdo cheese.  When the chef came out to ask how everything was, I said, “delicious,” and asked if he used special grits. Now, I was meaning like stone-ground grits from a monastery or something, but what he said was filled with meaning. “We make our grits special,” he said. He then explained that he uses broth instead of water so the grits start out flavorful. That was interesting from a culinary perspective, but profound on a deeper level.

I will continue the exploration of all things “grit,” in coming weeks, but for now I want to go ponder the unwitting advice given by an excellent creator of grits extraordinaire. If you have something devoid of color or flavor in your life, don’t think you have to start out with special. Make it special.

Until next week, may the grits be ever in your favor.

I Can’t Get No Grit-satisfaction

The biggest trouble with grits is not being able to score a bowl of them.  I was recently at a well-known hostelry and thought a steaming bowl of buttery grits would be a mighty fine addition to the scrambled eggs and bacon proferred. There was no hot pot of said corn ambrosia to partake of — it was a hotel, after all, not Mama’s kitchen table.  All that was to be found was a two-tiered wire basket containing little packets of instant grits in the top tier and instant oatmeal in the bottom.  At least they tried.  Mentally singing the old commercial for Aunt Jemima’s pancakes without the syrup . . .  the takeaway being that some grits was better than no grits at all . . . I poured a couple of packets into a bowl and, to follow the directions on the packet, looked around for a microwave.  I am sure there had to be one, but for the life of me I couldn’t locate it.  Pancake maker, check; cooler with milk and juice, check; coffee pots, check; microwave, nope. There was, however, a vacuum pot of hot water.

After some mumbled questioning as to the intellectual processes of the management of this hospitable establishment (i.e., what were they thinking!!), I added the hot water to the bowl of instant grits, and voila, instant watery corn gruel.  This stuff was an absolute insult to the integrity of the eggs, so I dumped it in the trash and ate the eggs sans ambrosia and returned to my room.  Whereupon, what did my curious little eye perceive? A microwave.  A microwave I had noted upon settling into my room the night before and placing my dinner leftovers in the fridge right alongside it. While the further cooking would have most certainly improved my corn gruel — at least to the point of edibility — it would still not replace a properly cooked bowl of grits.  The lesson learned here, I guess, is two-fold. The first is for the MacGyvers — don’t give up until you have explored all possibilities; if necessary invent a cooking device out of sunlight and Coke bottles.  The second, more applicable to folks like me, is the same as for relationships — never settle for less than.  If the grits are substandard, just eat the pancakes.

Don’t Eat Lumpy Grits

Life is too short to eat lumpy grits. That is the first rule of thumb if you are new to gritsdom. People who have tried grits and came away with, shall we say, a bad taste in their mouth, almost surely consumed substandard grits. If there are clumps to be found, the grits should be stamped null and void and trashed. The other possible textural resons for a bad grits experience are too much water, rendering the grits soupy, or too little water, resulting in a grit brick that separates into little clumps — different from lumps but still undesirable. Beyond that, the only reason I can imagine for bad grits is lack of proper seasoning. Grits need plenty of salt, pepper, and butter.  Ah ha! you might say. I knew it. They are bland, tasteless bowls of nothingness.  Not so! Imagine, if you will, a fresh hot loaf of bread. Heavenly, right? But it began as a bowl of flour, ground wheat. You could have put water in it and made a pot of hot paste, called it bread and served it to bread neophytes and had them thinking that is what bread is supposed to taste like. Newbies need to go to a bakery and eat a warm croissant before forming an opinion of bread. Grits initiates should probably go to Natchez, Miss, and breakfast on some Mama Dot Grits at Dunleith Historic Inn for their first venture into the wonderful world of grits.

For those living in LA (Lower Alabama to those not fortunate enough to reside here), a terrific starting point is the East Shore Cafe on Main Street in Daphne.


This photo of East Shore Cafe is courtesy of TripAdvisor

This charming cafe built in a former schoolhouse has an impressive menu, and their breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings are sure to please the pickiest palate. The menu proclaims the grits to be famous. I am not sure how far their fame extends, but I do know they taste just like they are supposed to. I breakfasted on their Cafe Plate, and the grits were seasoned and buttered to perfection and the consistency was just right. Not a lump in sight. I was told the cook is a Yankee, so it is a fair assumption that you don’t have to be born down in these parts to have grits in the blood. My compliments to the chef. Those of you who already know your grits will not be disappointed, and neophytes will have an excellent introduction to the basics. Grits 101, as it were.

Do yourselves a favor. Go have some good grits, and come back here next week to see what Grits have got going on.