After a broken ankle immobilized her in 1926, Margaret Mitchell began developing a manuscript that would become Gone With the Wind, ultimately published in 1936. The success of Gone With the Wind made her an instant celebrity and earned a Pulitzer Prize for Margaret Mitchell, and the famed film adaptation released three years afterward. Over 30 million copies of Mitchell’s Civil War masterpiece have been sold and translated into 27 languages. Tragedy struck in 1949 when Mitchell was struck by a car, leaving Gone With the Wind as her only novel.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Mitchell experienced tragic twists and turns; with the loss of her mother in 1918 and then four years later and four months after her wedding, her first husband abandoned the marriage. She wrote nearly 130 articles for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine during that troubled time. By 1925 with her first marriage officially annulled, Mitchell married John Robert Marsh who encouraged her writing during her recovery from a broken ankle in 1926. By 1929, she nearly finished her thousand page Civil War and Reconstruction era story – A romantic novel, written from a Southern woman’s point of view, steeped in the history of the South and the tragic outcome of war.
Rest of the story lies in what happened next…
However, the grand manuscript remained tucked away until 1935 until she reluctantly out of fear showed it to a traveling book editor, who visited Atlanta in search of new material, and the rest is history.
What motivated the book editor to leave his ivory-tower office in New York City?
Southern authors during the decades since earned a warmer reception from the dominant publishing houses as the appeal for Southern stories grew.
What Southern stories rest on your bookshelves at home as a testimony to their lasting imprint on our lives?
Out of utter humility and embarrassment, I want to share with you a story of how hilariously hazardous writing can become. I pray for your mercy and understanding as you read this story.
REAL-LIFE STORIES ADD LIFE TO OUR FICTIONAL STORIES
I learned I should never dump swept up fireplace ash into a cardboard box.
On a cold wintry afternoon a couple years ago, Connie scooted out on some errands to give me an undisturbed afternoon to work on my latest story. I got tunnel-visioned as I often do but I managed a quick break when I got up to refill my coffee mug to remove the ash from the fireplace, as my wife had requested before she left. I shoveled the dusty, dark gray remains of the split oak logs that I had burned to cut the chill from the front of the house that morning. I placed the new ash atop the damp old ash from the previous day occupying the bottom half of a frozen cardboard box I kept on the back porch. When I reopened the door to complete my chore, the blast of bitter chill air caused me to tuck the box posthaste beneath the nearest metal chair on the porch. I ignored the fact a couple days earlier I had draped a neatly folded old grill cover over the top of the chair–a new grill cover now protected our grill from the weather.
I scooted back to my writing desk situated just across the den from the back door. Minutes later, I’m banging away on my keyboard once again with my back to the door entranced by the creative flow of words racing across the screen until a whiff of unfamiliar smoke catches my attention—I wondered who would burn anything on such a cold winter’s day, especially emitting a burning plastic smell. I turned my head to look out the windows beside my desk towards the woods out back but noticed nothing. I attempted to refocus on my writing frenzy but my eyes noticed flickering on the computer screen. I spun around to discover flames rising from the metal chair on the porch. Flames and black smoke from the burning plastic grill cover ignited by the cardboard box now on fire beneath the chair thanks to the resurrected-from-the-dead embers I obviously swept up amongst the ashes.
Move to the scene of me racing from my chair, yanking the door open, and racing onto the porch in my flip-flops and shorts. I flung the flaming grill cover into the grass and then kicked the smoldering cardboard box into the nearby winter-barren garden. Suddenly I realized the smoldering grill cover lit the dead grass in my backyard. The flames spread like a prairie fire (slight exaggeration). Wearing only cheap flip-flops, I frantically stomped at the growing flames to no avail. I hurried to the side yard and reattached the garden hose—removed for the winter from the covered spigot. A long minute later, I doused the sprawling flames that scorched a sizeable chunk of my dormant rear lawn, and then for good measure, I soaked the charred remains of the cardboard box in the garden. At this point several things became profoundly clear to me: I fought these oh-my-god flames in shorts, t-shirt, and my cheap flip-flops in bone-chilling, damp cold air; thankfully, none of my neighbors appeared to be home to witness my comical calamity; the black metal chair on the porch would require a good wire brushing followed by some Krylon spray paint; and, some of the moss green vinyl siding on the porch wall had buckled from the heat and would need replacing. While I mumbled and grumbled and shivered assessing my utter stupidity, the sound of the garage door opening announced Connie’s return. That’s when the real horror swept over me!
The initial shock on Connie’s face turned to belly-laughs as I recanted the story of how I rescued the house from my carelessness. A week later, I replaced the vinyl siding (thankfully I had extra stored in the garage) and added some nice new cedar window trim for good measure, winning a cynical smile from my wife. This story finds new life, every so often, whenever Connie finds the urge to expound stories about her ding-dong husband. I gleefully point to the red metal ash bucket beside the fireplace as my trophy for my heroic rescue that day.
Regarding, Dana’s compelling Lexie Montgomery thrillers, her firsthand knowledge and past personal engagement as an undercover FBI agent stirs the reader’s imagination unlike other crime novels you may have read. I personally have read all three of her novels and know why they have all won multiple literary awards. I dare you to begin reading the first, Behind the Mask–it won’t be the last! T. M. Brown
Don’t forget: April 12th is the 6:30 PM Virtual HNN Writers Meeting with Angie Gallion. April 24th is the 11:00 AM In-Person HNN Writers Newnan Meeting with Mike Brown at Corner Arts Gallery & Studios.
Are you a writer who aspires to collaborate with other writers to improve your writing? Writers write in isolation but writers need not be isolated from opinions and advice along the arduous task of writing your story to reach your desired audience.
Locally, author collaborative/critique groups will be available to meet on a monthly basis beginning in February. Share your latest scene or article with other writers for feedback and advice. Talk about editing, story elements, queries, publishing, event planning, etc. Share ideas and links to helpful websites to help one another become better writers.
There is no cost other than your investment in becoming the best writer you can be.