Bad Weather? Blame an Author

There are some folks who seem to think my writing contributes to natural calamities.  There may be some truth to that.  The evidence keeps piling up.


As I look out my office window, there is a foot of snow in my back yard and on the golf course just beyond the hedge.  Kids on sleds are having great fun barreling down the twelfth fairway while some of their parents are slipping and sliding along the roadways in our area.  It’s the biggest snowfall in North Carolina in a decade.  For those who consider anything more than an inch of snow a calamity, I’m afraid they may start blaming Cooper Lanier.

Cooper is the heroine of my latest novel, The Governor’s Lady, newly-elected governor of her southern state.  On the second day she’s in office, the state is hit by a blizzard which paralyzes everything, and the snow serves as a backdrop against which a test of wills plays out between Cooper and her husband Pickett (former governor and now presidential candidate).  Will Cooper be a figurehead, a stand-in for Pickett, or will she be a dynamic decision-maker in her own right?  How she deals with the blizzard sets the stage for what comes after.

When ill-prepared Atlanta got flummoxed by snow a couple of weeks ago, several readers suggested that the honchos there should have read The Governor’s Lady to see how to handle things.  So far, no one has suggested that my inclusion of the blizzard in the story was a portent of Atlanta’s calamity.  But with a foot of snow in my back yard today, and folks slipping and sliding, I’m a tad concerned that rumblings will begin and Cooper and I will get the evil eye.

Nonsense, you say.  But it has happened before.  I grew up in a river town in Alabama, and during my youth the local lore was rife with stories of the Great Flood of 1929, when the river got out of its banks and inundated the town.  My grandmother and her four kids had to escape their home in a rowboat.  While I was growing up, the river behaved itself.  Then in 1991, I published Old Dogs and Children, set in a southern town much like my own.  One of the major events is a flood.  My heroine, Bright Birdsong, escapes with her small child in a rowboat.

The novel had barely made it into print when – you guessed it – my hometown flooded.  The river, calm all those years, went nuts.  Local folks are invariably nice people, and no one said to my face that the book was to blame for the calamity, but for years after, I got jaundiced looks whenever I visited, even in church on Sunday.  I think most folks have finally forgotten and forgiven.

I would like to share the blame for any natural disaster with my fellow storytellers.  We may all be complicit in this sort of thing, whether we write of calamities or not.  The computer age has a lot to do with it.  I sit at my keyboard typing away and constantly mashing the backspace key or even highlighting and deleting entire sentences – nay, paragraphs – of slovenly prose.  By definition, it is bad stuff, not worthy of human consumption.  Where does all that bad stuff go when I zap it from my computer?  I wonder if it may be floating around out there in the ether, roiling the atmosphere and contributing to floods, hurricanes, forest fires, sun spots, and other assorted natural maladies.  Who knows, it may even be contributing to the dysfunction in Congress.

But if any of this is the case, my fellow storytellers and I will just have to live with it.  We scribble on, employing imagined disasters as grist for our tales.  All we ask is, the next time a blizzard hits your locality, don’t run over your local author with your sled.

Always, Always, Follow The Money

One of the most intriguing characters I’ve had the privilege to imagine in my career as a novelist is a woman named Mickey Spainhour: a crusty, profane, hard-nosed political operative (if you’re casting the movie, think Shirley Maclaine).  Mickey has nurtured the careers of politicians for years and in The Governor’s Lady, is – near the end of her life – providing advice and wisdom to her daughter Cooper, who is the newly-minted governor of her southern state.

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Cooper, despite having been the daughter and later wife of a governor, is somewhat naïve about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the political process.  Now, having taken office, she’s struggling to establish herself in the treacherous world of good-old-boy male-dominated politics.  She and Mickey have been estranged for years, but now, she needs help.  She needs Mickey, and Mickey needs a last political hoorah.  Across the chasm that divides them, mother and daughter have an opportunity to re-connect.  Mickey’s experience and savvy can become Cooper’s best resource.

My friend D.G. Martin, the host of “North Carolina Bookwatch” on the state’s public television network, reviewed The Governor’s Lady and, with his keen eye for nuggets of political wisdom, zeroed in on one particular piece of advice from Mickey.  D.G.’s review is entitled, “Always, Always, Follow The Money.”

Mickey’s advice comes as Cooper is considering whether to approve a land transaction – a piece of state-owned land, swapped for another privately-owned tract.  Cooper says it doesn’t appear any money is involved.  Here’s Mickey’s take on it: “

“Don’t be sure.  Money, real money, is quiet.  So quiet you have to listen hard to hear it.  The noise in politics, it’s mostly about what people call ‘issues.’  Folks at opposite ends of the spectrum yelling at each other: the gun nuts and Bible-thumpers over here, the bleeding hearts and tree-huggers over there.  Smoke and fire, thunder and lightning.  But back in the shadows, being quiet, are the people with the big money, people who stand to make a lot more money, depending on who holds office.  And they don’t really care which bunch it is, gun nuts or tree-huggers.  They can do business with either, or anything in between, or both at the same time.  Don’t get me wrong, money people have ideas and opinions, but they rarely let them get in the way of their money.  So always, always, follow the money.”

The debate about big money in American public life goes on – the buying of influence, the stacking of decks, the inside trading.  Some believe that using money to sway political decision-making is simply the exercising of free speech; others think that big money drowns out the free speech of the little guy.  Make up your own mind.  But while you’re doing so, consider the wisdom of Mickey Spainhour.