Mule Skinner Blues

 

I knew when I wrote the scene in CENTIPEDE where Willie runs through the tall grass along the waters of Muscle Shoals that this would be the song the air carried!

 

 

Excerpt from CENTIPEDE:

In the following weeks, Willie found there was something mystical about Florence and Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Here, further north, she found the mountains more craggy, the Tennessee River powerful and strong, streams teamed with wildlife. Green grasses grew in clumps along the river banks; in the surrounding fields the grass blades were so fat they had to be double the size of any she had ever seen. And, the breeze that lifted, drifted out across the river brought back strange exotic smells that played rich upon the nose, an odd scent that smelled both dirty and clean at the same time.

Willie paused in her walk, noticing that she felt something similar to how she had felt before losing her family. At first she couldn’t put her finger on it. But, as she moved through the tall grasses and raised her face to the gentle breeze, she understood it was the feeling of being part of nature. For this, she was thankful. She knew she would never be the same again but at least she didn’t feel as broken. Just lonesome and sorry that she no longer had Cotton and her mother. Missing them was the hardest part. But the deep, restless worry that had plagued her was losing its hold on her mind and she was learning to once again see the things around her, appreciate nature and the comfort it contained.

Slowing, she tilted her head, listening intently. The low melodic winds blowing across the river blended with the sound of its gurgling urgency; together they seemed to sing. Willie took flight, running through the woods before her, beneath the tall pines and evergreens, over the mounds of deep, tall grass, trailing her fingers against the blades. The faster she ran, the louder the music and enchanted singing hummed against her ears.

There is magic here, she realized.

At the middle of the field almost hidden from the tall razor edged grass, Willie came to a sudden halt and squatted down on her haunches. She gazed steadily toward the wood line and listened intently to the katydids clattering in the distance. They seemed to rise and draw closer as if they were moving toward her. She closed her eyes and heard them draw nearer. Opening her eyes she noticed the dense growth of trees around her. They too had come closer! A sly smile spread across her face. Indians are here, shiftin’ on quiet feet behind the trees as they watch me, the blonde girl, interloper in their woods!

A gathering of crows, their dark bodies frenetically moving, flying among the uppermost branches suddenly lit and began their raucous squawking. She stood very still and sniffed the air, sucking in the clean freshness of it. Like fuel, it lit her from within and she set off running again, her movement liquid like a too-full creek, like water forced between smooth stones, movement tunneled too long and then freed to rush up and outward, directionless.

Run! Run! Run!  The shoals called across the fields. So Willie did, and the shoals rewarded her with a song…

“Well, good moooornin’, Captain. Good moornin’ to you, Sir –Hey heeey yeaah. Oh, do you need another mule skinner, Down on your new mud run? Hey heeey yeah. Yodel –a-eeeee-he-he, He-he-he-he-he-he…”

Willie reached out and grabbed the song as she ran, made it her own. She might not know about mule skinning but she knew all about running free.

 

Dolly Parton, “Mule Skinner Blues”. https://youtu.be/Fwc1FkkWulc

 

Dear Romania,

It is 8:50 a.m. here in Alabama and it is a warm morning with clear blue skies.  Up early, I went for a long walk and along the way began working over in my mind exactly what I want to share about growing up here in the southern United States when I get to Romania.

     There is so much.  If I am to expound on the power of storytelling here in our region, I will have to first describe the area’s earliest settlers and how they were shaped by both their heritage and the terrain of the South as it once was.  And there is the melding that comes with the influx of even more settlers, their customs, beliefs, foods…
      …and our history.
     See?  There is so much to explain before the sharing of stories even begins!
     But isn’t it the same everywhere?!
     Of course it is!   WE are shaped by our elders and their teachings; the land and our attachment to it; our beliefs and the fundamental ideals of which we are comprised.
     Nearing the end of my walk, I acknowledged that while I can share so much, it would be helpful if I understood your interest in our South- what is it YOU want to know?
     I would greatly appreciate your response.  I so look forward to my days in Bucharest, and to meeting you all and learning something about each of you!
     Share with me something YOU love about your country, memories of the area you grew up, your stories!
See you soon!
Elizabeth Mozley
woman in field

On Writing CENTIPEDE

Several years ago, when We Share the Same Sky came out in paperback, my students asked, “Why haven’t you written anything for us?” And I realized, I needed to; after all who can resist the sweet request of so many kids? Not I!

 

So- I began working on a novel for them. I got about five chapters in and was really beginning to warm up to the book when the idea for CENTIPEDE hit me. I don’t remember now what sparked the idea, but I remember clearly how quickly it took hold and how it expanded and grew almost on its own. It was the same way with the characters; immediately they were there, and just as quickly they seemed to take control of the novel.

 

I— I had wanted to write a lovely little happy book for my kids. That is not what I ended up with. (The happy little book is the one I set aside for later.) What I ended up with was a Young Adult book that requires a note to parents that it contains adult content, i.e. the book description on the back – Willie survives a murder.

 

When my students asked me this past week if they could now purchase it on Amazon, I said “yes” and proceeded to remind them that they needed their parents to look it over first. (These kids are eleven and twelve year olds.)

 

One of my boys, T.P. spoke up and asked, “It’s got some cussin’ in it, don’t it?”

 

And I had to say, “Well, just a little but only in the beginning, T.”

 

– “So you cuss, Ms. Mozley?” 🙄

 

“No, T. but a couple of the characters do at times. It is necessary for them to speak as they really would,” I tried to explain.

 

T.P. then laughed and told me he was “just tryin’ to get me”.

 

Oh, these kids today! They do make me smile.

 

Although the story of CENTIPEDE seemed to write itself, it was difficult at times because I’d never written for kids. For example, when two of my girls first read it through, they came to me and explained they didn’t understand a few things. So, I had to go back and re-write sections, adding hints that were not necessary for a more mature reader. They just didn’t intuitively grasp what I assumed they would.

 

I tried to get the novel right for my middle school and young adult readers, and still create a story that held the ideals I wanted the piece to express: the importance of nature to the human psyche, love of family, the necessity and importance of security for a child, a child’s inherent resilience, their sense of wonder and the steadfastness to ideals they retain a firm grasp on – and I wanted to include God’s wondrous gift of imagination and the true love of life that kids remain close to.

 

Willie is my girl. And, I am very proud of her.

 

I hope the students will love her as well.

 

ELIZABETH