The road on the cover of Conjure Woman’s Cat is an artist’s conception of an unpaved piney woods road and yet, I have driven down that road hundreds of times.
For most children in my growing-up world, nothing of consequence happened inside a building. Play, and the imagination that fueled it, was our true reality. Authors and other artists tend to hold onto that belief longer than most, often for a lifetime.
So, when I write, I’m sitting in a time machine that takes me back, as all country roads do, to the roads of my coming-of-age reality, a world outside the claustrophobic confines of the house where I lived in a middle-class white neighborhood to the great freedom of the woods, rivers, swamps, and Gulf coast far away outside the front door.
Life actual, the consensus reality inside the buildings, featured me dutifully sitting in a classroom or church pew, doing homework and chores, taking tests, and in every way that mattered to the establishment, acting like a normal kid en route to becoming a drone when it came time to go off to war or go off to the office.
Life in truth, where imagination is more important than cold, hard facts, is the fabric of my books, coming from a world where I camped and hiked in the piney woods, sailed between Florida’s barrier islands, and drove hundreds of miles a week along unpaved roads in my unreliable 1954 Chevy. In this world, I learned who I was as opposed to life actual where I didn’t want to be.
Writing the books in the Florida Folk Magic Series takes me back to the part of my childhood and young adult years where the “real me” lived and breathed and learned the magic that would sustain me (even inside buildings).
Some say you can’t go home again. What a crock. I go home every time I write. Home is like that picture with the egret in it. I knew every nook and cranny of the Florida Panhandle because I hiked, drove, and variously wandered through it when I escaped from my house and my schoolroom. The events in the stories are “fiction.” Nonetheless, I was there to the extent that even to this day I find the world of piney woods and conjure more real than my life in school, home, and church.
Writers are often hard to get to know because of their split personalities, 10% based within consensual reality and 90% based within the realm of dreams. In general, we prefer the world of dreams, dreams that include our stories and the characters that appear in them. We’re not easy to know or to live with because we’re always somewhere else and because we think consensual reality is an illusion.