Are you there, world? It's Me, K.
back in the saddle
Hi, friends! Things have been wild of late—my family moved, we survived the holidays, and I launched Read Appalachia’s podcast—but I finally feel like I can breathe a bit. Between my half-finished drafts and some fun updates, I should have more newsletters hitting your inboxes soon. And as always, thanks for reading. - K
A couple years ago, I decided that 2023 would be the year that I finally wrote for myself. Because I’m a sucker for over-preparing and excessive background research, last year I began reading books about writing personal narrative. These books enveloped my tired mind and gave me a place to hide in their pages. But, Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative, one of my favorites, forced me to face my looming fears about my writing.
For over six months, I’ve had Melissa Febos’ Body Work staring at me from my side table. As I worked on anything and everything except my own writing, I heard the book’s whispers reminding me of why I’d stashed it in my side table in the first place. So several weeks ago, I looked over at its bright yellow cover and thought, okay, let’s do this then.
In her opening chapter “In Praise of Navel-Gazing,” Febos says:
“Writing about your personal experiences is not easier than other kinds of writing. In order to write that book, I had to invest the time and energy to conduct research and craft plot, scenes, description, dialogue, pacing—all the writer’s jobs. I also had to destroy my own self-image and face some unpalatable truths about my own accountability. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It made me a better person and made my book a better book.”
Reading this chapter, I kept picturing the men—teachers, family members, friends—who had dismissed my writing as little better than keeping a fuzzy, pink leopard-print diary. They described my work as “sweet,” “cute,” and “nice” while my face burned and my fingers itched to snatch back my work from their hands.
My life, my stories, are precious, a fragile thing I rarely show others. How could I create a way to share my constellation of memories, the very moments of my life that make me, me? Recently I interviewed the author Shawna Kay Rodenberg, a delight of a person who wrote a memoir, Kin, which follows her experience growing up homeschooled in a conservative sect of Christianity. Her family moves back to their ancestral home in Eastern Kentucky, and Rodenberg eventually makes it to college, finding a new way through the world outside of the faith her family used to belong to for all of those years. During our meandering conversation, I told her a little bit about my memoir ideas, and at one point, she said something along the lines of, That sounds interesting! I want to know more!
It was a passing comment, but it was the first time I thought, People might actually read my book?
Near the end of Body Work, Febos writes, “Memoirs begins as a conversation with the self. Our first confessions must be this internal witness.” And as I’ve pulled my folders of notes together, I haven’t been able to stop thinking of this quote. It echoes around in my mind as I confront my memories, trying to better understand the world where I spent my childhood.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I began to sketch out a project that I couldn’t quite sense the edges of as I wrote. I knew vaguely that I wanted to write about the mountains where I came from and the deep loss I experienced when my grandfather died. But none of the ideas would fully manifest, and I just poured out my heart and put it on a plate for folks to read.
But after furiously trying to work through my idea, I took a small essay from my project to a small writing conference. I read my piece out loud for half-drunk people in a college bar, and at first I felt proud that I had gone out and done the thing. But when I got home, my revisions stalled, and I failed to wrap my brain on the changes I needed to make. After my gazillionth attempt to make sense of why the essay did not work, I shoved the pages in the drawer and walked away.
Fast forward to the summer of 2021, six years after I first started thinking about what I think of as my Appalachian essay collection, and I am sitting in front of my computer again. A Corgi puppy jumps at my toes with her sharp teeth as I hold a dried rose in a ziplock bag. I had attended my grandmother’s funeral via zoom, but my mom wanted me to have something from the service. While staring down at the flower’s dried petals, I didn’t know how I would manage it, but I knew it was time to pull my dusty project out of its drawer and get to work.
Last year while I wrote here about my melting mental state and fragile emotional state, I was also researching my family history, creating family trees and reading old letters. I submerged my aching brain into my family’s past, searching for the answers to all the questions I didn’t get to ask my grandparents while they were still alive. In 2022, I drowned in my feelings, with no chance of writing anything productive. But I wanted to make sure that, when I was ready to finally sit down and sketch out my story, I’d be prepared, with piles of research in hand.
A few weeks ago, I signed up for a summer writing class. I guess it’s time to finally pull out those notes and get to work.
Around the Web
“Read Appalachia and the Power of Literature” (Appalachian Firesides)
Things I Made Recently
It’s finally here! After working on getting Read Appalachia’s podcast up and running, the first episode went up in February. I’ll share more about the project later. But in the mean time, you can check out all the episodes here.
Behind the Mic (AudioFile Magazine)
I’ve recorded SO MANY episodes for Behind the Mic, recommending audiobooks like Hijab Butch Blues, House of Cotton, and The Book of Everlasting Things. Subscribe to never miss one of my audiobook recs!
“Better Than Nothing Is Not Enough: A Disabled Person’s Perspective on AI-Narrated Audiobooks”
“‘Better than nothing’ is not equitable access. For disabled people to truly have the access to books that we deserve, the audiobooks available shouldn’t be stripped of all of the humanity that narrators bring to their performances.”
“Why You Should Start Reading Regional Literature”
“Regions like Appalachia and the South contain a wealth of literature just waiting for new readers to find them. That’s why it’s important to support regional authors, indie presses, and indie bookstores, all of whom champion these kinds of books. Everyone should have the opportunity to read books about where they are from and explore parts of the country they may never be able to visit. That’s the joy of reading.”
“More Than Hillbilly Elegy: The Vast Wealth of Appalachian Literature”
“I want the region, and its incredible literature, to be understood and appreciated for all of its incredible diversity and complexity. I want other people from Appalachia to feel what I felt that night in that theater: the power of being seen.”
Read or Dead
Last fall, I became the new co-host for Book Riot’s Read or Dead podcast. It’s about all things thrillers and mysteries. I’ve recorded several episodes now, and I’ve enjoyed exploring this genre.
I write two newsletters for Book Riot: True Story, and Read This Book. You can subscribe to them here.