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Susanna Daniel Transcript!

Tyler

Today we are going to be talking about the novel Stiltsville by Susanna Daniel, and then we are going to be interviewing her. I can’t wait. When we were thinking about books that we wanted to read. My G\grandma said that, oh, I have a Florida book lying around somewhere in the house.

Gramel

Yes, but I didn’t say it exactly like that. I said, you have a book that might be and I found it. I knew right where it was. And it was by somebody who had been born in Florida and it was about Florida. And then it’s about a marriage. It’s about love. It’s about loss. It’s about all of these things. I know I’m just gonna love her because I love the way she writes.

Tyler

The book is set in Miami and it follows a character through the decades of her life when she first meets the person who will become her husband to the rest of their life together, essentially. And the book gets the title from Stiltsville because one of the characters owns a house in Stiltsville, which is a water top community. So they have these structures, these kind of houses on pilings out in Biscayne Bay. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the book.

Gramel

It was about love, acceptance, patience and friendship and growing with each other, not just one growing. They love their child more than life. I found it very interesting because it was about the mechanics of being married. Having a friendship, raising children. And it was just carried out in a wonderful, not a methodical way but a way that made this story start and continue on a great foundation. And I think it would make a perfect chick flick, which I think is the best movies you can go to Hallmark movie maybe? Well, no, there’s some sex and, and, and these kind of chick flicks. I don’t think there was that much sex in the book, dice. No, but then they let you know that sex does exist. In fact, it’s one of God’s pleasures for us. It wasn’t gratuitous and no, no, no, they didn’t go into you know, diagrams or rules and regulations or how to do this, that and the other. It was just the joy of having a good meal.

Tyler

I did a little research on Stiltsville I went through some archival newspapers and other sources and I have a brief history that I’ve put together something. As the story goes, in the late 1920s, a man named crawfish Charlie set up a seafood and bait shop on a sunken barge in Biscayne Bay. Later, a man grounded to barges and set up a bungalow for vacations. Another guy built a place to gamble. There’s always gambling back in the day. Right interesting. And the 40s locals heard they could lease parts of Biscayne Bay for only $1 an acre, the community started to take shape. At one point, the community counted about 14 structures built 12 feet over the water on pilings driven 18 feet into bedrock. They stretch for about two miles across the outer edge of Biscayne Bay. At its peak in the 1960s. There were 27 structures on the flats. Then hurricane Betsy hit in 1965. This was one of the worst hurricanes recorded in Florida history. After the storm, the state implemented strict rules for the buildings. There had been some talk to expand the community in the 80s. But the state decided to instead expand Biscayne National Park and it included the area’s still spill, so all the leases weren’t renewed, which is something she brings up in the book as well. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, only seven structures remain. And then in 2003, a nonprofit was put in charge of maintaining the structures and now people can rent them for the day. Unfortunately, they were damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Only one or two houses are able to support a public use event at this time.

Gramel

Can you imagine just living on the water and in storms and sleeping and being pregnant and sick? They just lived on the water. I loved it. She had to adapt more than him cuz he’s the one that kind of grew up on that. And not only his home or their home, right, Francis is here we’re talking about the main character. Yeah, she’s from Georgia. And then she comes down to Miami for a wedding, and then basically stayed, kinda. And what I liked about the book is how Florida was to me how it was so sensuous with the details, and it really felt like this was a book by a Florida and talking about life in Florida. Yeah, the food, the sunsets, plants, it was like somebody was talking about things without even breathing.

Tyler

And according to Suzanne has biography, she, I guess her family owned one of the houses or she went out to Stiltsville. And regularly she did.

Gramel

She’s an awesome writer, nothing is predictable. And I like that in a story in a movie in a book that you know, it’s not predictable keeps you thinking and kind of on your toes and trying to figure out where it’s gonna go and get you more involved in a in a book or story when it’s not so predictable. It’s like being at a movie that’s foreign speaking you have to watch the words to be able to know what’s going on, you get more focused in a story that is not predictable. I liked it when she started talking about her child and the way they let that child be herself with some restriction but they celebrated her being unique and smart in some areas.

And other areas and the way they just both love that child. Like you were saying this book really does revolve around a family and parenting and a marriage. The other day you were talking about some advice for people who are married, what would you say to folks who are just getting married, I was married 47 and a half years. I know this is very cut and dry. But from what I have learned, things I have gleaned that if this person is rotten after 10 years, they’re not going to change and you need to get on with I should have gotten on with my life. Because life is so special. And there’s so many adventures and so many ways to grow. That’s very important. Now, I am a believer, but in those 10 years with me, I had attempted so many ways of being of changing and being different.

And after, that’s my outlook. Sorry, after 10 years if people aren’t willing to change, you both have to change because you’re going to grow Of course, or hopefully, and that’s it. cut and dry.

Tyler

Something in the book that I noticed too is they spend a lot of time together outside Francis and her husband, Dennis. Dennis is from Florida. He’s from Miami and he likes to go fishing swim. He’s the one that owns the house, instilled spill basement a lot of time together outside our his family owns the house and a lot of their life surrounding having a boat now they never had a luxurious boat, but there to get around to the places and things they like to do involved having a boat, and they involve that child with learning how to drive the boat or pilot the boat, whatever. And teaching the shower how to fish, teaching the child how to you know all about the water life. It was just through, you know, way of doing things. Didn’t y’all have a boat at one point?

Gramel

Yes. We had a big, huge thing and it with salt water, they require maintenance. I think they always had a little boat. It’s like a little dog is easier to take care of than a big dog. Even though big dog has a lot of wonderful qualities, little dog is just easier to take care of. There’s that old Florida saying, you don’t ever really want to own a boat. You want to know someone who owns a boat a man say you don’t have to take care of it. And there’s also that saying that two happiest days of your life is when you buy a boat. And the other Happiest Day is when you sell about right? But at least this character he likes taking care of the boat, the boat fixing the engine. He liked doing all of that kind of thing. He liked working outside period. He was always doing something to the landscape.

Tyler

So every chapter is a new year, and which I thought was really cool because it gave history bits and bits and pieces of history throughout during that so it didn’t go into real a lot of depth about the history, but it was, you know, it was there to kind of guide you through Florida history like the hurricanes, the Miami riots from the 80s and there was one particular section about the Gainesville river in 1990. I kept the on the edge of your seat, I really didn’t know what was gonna happen. Now chapter a little bit of background on the Gainesville river in the fall of 1995 Gainesville students were murdered by this guy named Danny Harold rolling, who’d become known in the media later as the Gainesville Ripper. The victims ages ranged from a first year us student who was 17 to a 23 year old and rolled at the local community college. The murders traumatize the college town. And UF is one of the largest universities in the country and it’s also one of the most well known popular state schools here.

I really like Gainesville though. I think it’s, it’s got springs, it’s got nature. It is a college town, but it has a lot of that old Florida nature that I really like it doesn’t not beat you like where we’re at necessarily. Yeah, right. You don’t want swimming down their waters. After nine days of testimony. And Alachua County grand jury issued an 11 count indictment charging him with five first degree murders, three counts of sexual battery and three counts of armed burglary. He wasn’t from Florida. He was what I read, described as a Louisiana drifter. And so drifted down.

Gramel

I remember the happenings. And I remembered, you know, he became almost a household word. I just don’t remember that Ripper name didn’t sink in.

Tyler

I also think to maybe that the local media because something that I was finding in the newspaper archives, specifically from the independent Alligator, which is one of the best collegiate papers in the country, they were saying how a lot of the media and stuff like that was they were getting some of the details wrong to kind of push out the narratives because of the true crime aspect of it. So in 1994, the independent alligator ran and opinion section and they said, Gainesville student murders the Gainesville river and beyond murder. were two books that had been written pretty quickly after the murders happen and this opinion piece as each one was filled with errors as the authors rush to get the book out in time to catch the interest of readers.

And I thought that was really interesting because I had read that these murders had inspired the movie scream, which was a huge movie. Tell them who starred in that movie. Courtney Cox, right. And Drew Barrymore was in it in the first scene, a really famous scene, where she’s running from, she’s running inside and the guy calls her on the phone and asked her What’s her favorite scary movie?

Tyler

You think that’s funny? Have you ever seen scream?

Gramel

No, I don’t think I have but I mean, I used to like of course, murder it and call you on the phone and say have you ever seen such and such movie? Right? It was kind of it was kind of campy and that kind of thing.

Tyler

I have always said that scream is the scariest movie to me horror movie that I’ve seen. It’s not even the most, it’s not even the scariest or the bloodiest or anything like that, but it just always really freaked me out because I always thought, well, this could really happen and kind of true to life as we know it now. Right? You know, and it always freaked me out and I never liked horror movies. You’re not a really big fan of horror movies either. I didn’t see them until I was an adult.

Gramel

Yeah, the basically the only ones I’ve seen is the blob. That thing and this was very early like in my almost my teenage years, and then psycho. Oh, and but from then on, they became too bloody and graphic and if that’s real life, I don’t really care for real life all that much period. I like fantasy. so on so forth. Fluff fluff and eat a T shirt that says fluff.

Tyler

I never really liked watching horror movies when I was younger just because they scared me. But then when I got older, I started watching, I was really interested in American Horror Story, people were talking about how good it was and all that kind of stuff. So I got into watching that. And that kind of dipped my toe into the waters. And then I started opening up to watching more horror movies and all of that kind of thing. But anyway, this movie had always really scared me even before I knew that it was inspired by true events. I never knew that until much later. And so when I found out it was actually based on or not based, but it was inspired by these murders. It really made me feel really weird that these were inspired by actual people that had been murdered. And in scream, the movie doesn’t take place in Florida, or anything like that. So I didn’t, I didn’t connect those dots until now. And it also just really weirds me out because the movie came out in 1996, while he was still alive, he was in prison. So he saw all of the things that he did become popular media, you know, from prison. And while he was on death row, he was one of those people that became infamous and had a woman write to him and fall in love with him, you know how that that can happen? And then they became married in prison? I would say it helped him become more narcissistic. Right? He was. I think that’s the thing, right? It’s like, people want these serial killers and murderers want to be known. And the fact that he was known, must be really is really sad to me and really weird. Yeah. And then the woman that he married helped him write a book. And the book was called the making of a serial killer, the true story of the Gainesville murders in the killer’s own words and I looked it up on I think Amazon or Goodreads and there were like over 100 reviews. I don’t know. I mean people really like the true crime.

Gramel

Yeah, I like fluff.

Tyler

But Scream became a really popular movie. It made over 100 million dollars domestically and didn’t they have sequels to it? They’ve already had screen 123 and four, and there’s a screen five slated to come out in 2021. And so rawling had been convicted of his crimes in 1990. And then he was executed by lethal injection in 2006. I think it’s really difficult to write about true crime stuff like that and do it in a respectful way. And I think that’s something that Susanna did. I wouldn’t I mean, she talks about the murders, because one of the characters is that us while it’s happening, but she doesn’t and she does give details but she doesn’t go into the whole Gainesville. Ripper infamous kind of stuff about the murders, but I thought that she did that in a really respectful way. And it really made an impression on them that stayed with them for the rest of I think their life, how dear life is and always be aware of people are healed one day and gone the next sometime. So nothing. And the book does take about the last third or a couple of chapters. The book does take a pretty dramatic turn. But I think we can probably talk about that with Susanna because I want to get her viewpoint on making that choice for that character.

Gramel

And that part of it makes it one of the best books ever written. And that recommendation needs to read this book. It’s got everything

Tyler

In the last segment we talked about Splitsville and now we’re going to get to talk to Suzanna. She’s going to tell us about growing up around spilled spill her writing practices, what she’s working on now how she goes to a nunnery to write that’s really an interesting detail. And what it was like starting her own writing program, I’m gonna drop us right into the conversation.

She’s wearing the cutest shirt today to just I don’t think you can see it, but there’s like a flower growing out of the pocket.

We decided to read books by Florida authors. And we were like bouncing the idea around and she was like, I think we have a book in the house that fits the bill. And it happened to be still so. And also it was kind of cool that it was the 10th year anniversary, I noticed of the publication.

Susanna

Yeah, I guess it was oh my gosh, I should really be writing. The second one is called Sea Creatures and it has some of the same characters but not a lot. And then the third one is not published yet.

Tyler

So where are you currently?

Susanna

I’m in Madison, Wisconsin at my house. I’ve lived here for 20 years. I’ve lived here since 9/11. So well, that’s 19 years ago. What brought you from one end of the United States to the opposite. I Well, I went to college in New York, and then I stayed there for a little bit and then I went to graduate school in Iowa, and I could not have found Iowa on a map. Like just did I didn’t no idea what my mind I mean, there’s there had never been any reason to. So my brother came to visit me once he and his partner has now has been live in San Francisco. And they, like my brother made the reservation.

And then they got on the plane and his husband was like, um, what airport are we flying into? and Craig was like the Iowa airport. And Stephen was like, there are more. There’s more than one airport in Iowa. They ended up five hours away from my house.

But that was us. We didn’t understand about the middle of the country. So I I left Iowa for a graduate postgraduate fellowship here in Madison, and it was just a one year fellowship, and then I ended up staying on his teaching. No, you know what, I was a teaching thing for two years. I was one year and then I got one year extended, but then since then, I have worked in tech. And then in 2013, I opened my own private, Creative Writing Studio, and we’re the largest Creative Writing Studio in the city. We’ve had something like 500 students come through, and now we’re on zoom. So that stinks, but otherwise, it’s been great. Just working for myself and slowly writing my books.

Tyler

So now is doing zoom folks from out of state might be able to sign up.

Susanna

Yeah, actually, we’ve been sort of wondering how to get the word out about things because I really value the in person experience I teach, like I teach several classes, but the one that I really love is a yearlong book writing class, you sit down in January, and you’re with the same group, once a month for the whole year. And by the end, you have random pages, ideally. And that’s just you know, there’s no real substitute for that, that three hours at the table. I mean, it’s just really intense. It’s so supportive. It’s a great connection, but because we had already been a group before we started on zoom this year, I feel like it did translate pretty well. But I hope that I won’t have to start next year’s group.

Tyler

Is your family still in South Florida?

Susanna

My father and stepmother are in Miami. They  live like half a mile from where I grew up in Coral Gables. Yeah. So I usually visit twice a year. I love going down to Florida with my kids and just spending days at the beach and eating a lot of fish and I just love it. I love the humidity. I love everything about it. But I mean, every time I step out of the airport, I feel better. I love South Florida. I always take them to the Everglades. And what he kind of like to do out in the Everglades like arounds and neck counts. I have little ones it’s pretty little one so we count them alligators and gawk at them and you know that we always go to the beach in the Everglades and then we’ll talk to the people. We talk to the people who I know who live there and they’re like, you did what you went when I was like Miamians don’t go to the beach and they don’t go to the Everglades.

Tyler

I think I read in the back or maybe on your website or something that your family had some kind of house out there you had access to Stiltsville. Can you talk to us a little bit about what it was like growing up in such a cool part of the world?

Susanna

Yeah, my grandfather was in construction like in early Miami like he had been born and raised in Miami. My father was born and raised in Miami. And he is was one of the first people to go out and basically just ram a boat into a shoal and they call that spell. And then one of the Hurricanes I don’t remember if it was that same 54 I think they eliminated all of those. So they went back again, and they built up like major houses like it was probably as big as our house in Miami, maybe a little smaller, you know, two bathrooms, fed by a big rain tower generator.

And it took about maybe 20 minutes to cross the bay to get there. And we grew up going there because by the time I was around my grandfather and my grandmother was they were in the Carolinas, and they weren’t really using any more. So it fell to my family. And we shared it. This isn’t in the book, but we shared it with another two families. So we only got like, every third weekend, you know, as a kid, it was like, our mind is still like, there’s no TV, there’s no friends, all you do is read play cards. And he said, You know, it was always such a pain and my father would always lose his temper around the boat, you know, and docking the boat and all that. But then again, it’s like my whole childhood is filled with these memories of being on this little island with my family. And you know, you cannot replicate that now. I could try but I can’t do anything like that. Yeah, there’s nothing like that. No, no.

And then it stayed it was continued to be our, you know, sort of second home until Andrew. I was a senior in high school and ours was almost completely demolished and then we had to have the pilot the last of the pilings removed.

Tyler

I was gonna say that’s a moment. That was a really tough, tough moment in the book.

Susanna

Yeah, yeah, I my father and Dennis are really different people. I feel like I sort of took the best of my father and put them in Dennis and elaborated but uh, I felt for him that he was, you know, he realized that his life was going to change now, and I think that was true of my dad too. I do think that he felt like he was old enough that he couldn’t really kind of keep it going. There are still seven houses out there. It’s at least sunsetted and then Florida took possession and they

They couldn’t keep them up. And it was like a mess for a few years. And so they gave the the original owners back the keys and they call them caretakers. And so the original owners are now 100% responsible for the houses, but they don’t belong to them anymore. Wow. Yeah. So they can go but other people can go to

Gramel

Oh my goodness. Yeah. Oh, well, I gotta get ask you. How did you come up with that idea about the eel?

Susanna

There was an eel that lived in a toilet bowl under the dock.

Gramel

So you know, they say truth is stranger than fiction. It’s I wondered if that was real. And did you actually go under the water and swim around that thing?

Susanna

No, my mom always told me not to get anywhere near it. So I don’t even think I ever saw it.  I mean, people will talk about it and like, you know, my brother’s friends would come and they would kind of swim near it, but I never got anywhere near it. Now I think in the book, somebody killed it, right? Yes. And that’s true in real life. Some guest killed it. And that was not okay with my parents. Like, you left it alone and it left you alone. And then somebody came along and killed it. trophy kill.

Gramel

I bet nobody else had a pet l in their book they wrote.

Susanna

I’ve never thought of that. I bet not, you know, because I’ve been reading since I was a little girl. I never read any reading thing about it. But yeah. Well, you know, people always say, how did you know you could write a book about a happy marriage? They don’t say How did you know you could write a book about a pet deal but they

Tyler

What I think was so, so interesting about the protagonist was Yes, she was very happy. But she was often like, questioning things. And she had kind of some distance. So she was kind of in her head about things. So I do see it as being happy. But it wasn’t like uncomplicated, the way her feelings were, you know. And it gave us a lot of talk about like, what actually makes a healthy and happy marriage, too.

Susanna

Oh, did you figure it out? Because you could make some take some notes for me.

Gramel

I’m a very Merry Widow. But I was married 37 and a half years. Mostly, she said if someone’s not going to change within 10 years, they’re not going to change period. Because her what she told me right now, you know, if you don’t like it, what they are, they’re not in they don’t change into 10 years. I do not say stay with somebody. I’m very Merry.

Tyler

Something that I found really poignant about the writing was that how you were able to mix history into the writings you and you were talking about the Miami riots, too, which makes you know, it feels like a very relevant conversation about what’s going on currently the summer and, and before the summer. So I’m wondering, what was your process for including that historical kind of element into the book?

Susanna

Um, it’s a good question. I mean, I, I remember that period, so well, and I remember Christos pink islands so well, and I think what I did was try to try to get in those really, those parts of my childhood that were not similar to parts of childhood and somebody growing up in Amherst, or New Jersey or something.

But those things really stood out to me like the way that the whole city became scary. I kind of overnight. And yet my parents, we lived in this kind of like little white enclave, you know. And then the way that my friend’s parents would talk about the riots versus the way my parents talked about the riots that was very obvious to me even as like a little kid, but there was a big difference. So I wanted that in the book, you know, I wanted that message. And now I even said this recently on Facebook, I think the message would probably be very different again, but my father’s message at the time was, you know, writing isn’t like some ethical wrong that makes you know, that is only done by bad people writing it’s his desperation and he and it’s anger, and it’s not a conspiracy.

I think that has stayed with me. And I brought that to the most recent stuff, you know, and that’s how I talk to my kids.

Tyler

And it seems like Dennis is kind of like, these are the facts. This is what’s going on. It seems like a really healthy way to talk about tough things with children.

Susanna

Yeah, he was very straightforward about it. It was great to have both of those. No mother and the father just love their child period. There was no conditions on it. They just loved her. I grew up like that. But when I became a parent myself, it was harder to let your children be themselves. When you see us all things that you know you didn’t know about.

And then the third book, Francis is the narrator. And with her kind of bouts of depression.

Tyler

Oh, okay, so the book that you’re currently working on or that’s in publication process is a sequel or like a continuation. It’s not it just like Margo is in it was the best time in France, his best friend and still fell. She’s in it. But the main character is named Kate

Miami is a really small town in some ways like white, Miami, you know, is a really small town. And that’s kind of how I grew up, like everybody knew everybody. And that’s sort of just how my books have turned out too.

In fact, I’d really love to write something in which, you know, I use sort of a different location, but that location is so, like, deep in my blood, I don’t know if I ever will.

Tyler

And that’s one of the things I you know, as a Floridian too I’m reading these scenes and there’s so much detail that, you know, really painting what’s going on and it makes you know, it’s very Florida, the scenery and the descriptions, which is I wanted to ask you something about the way you handled the UF, the university, the murders that in there, the University of Florida.

Susanna

Well, once again, it you know, I was in high school and it happened. So, I saw I was maybe in like, 10th or 11th grade. And so I knew tons of people at us. But I, I’m more kind of knew my parents friends whose kids were at us. And I just remember thinking like, what is it like to have your kid us right now? That’s just terrifying. And it was, you know, it was a slow burn, right? Like one murder, another murder, two murders like it. It went on and it was like what’s gonna happen next? and tons of people came home from us, you know, that they emptied out. And that’s I mean, I did ask myself that question as a child and then I worked it out as an adult, you know, what is it like to have your kid on a campus where this is happening?

Gramel

I don’t know if I could have been that wise as a parent and say, Oh, well, if that’s what your decision will back you up because that was heavy duty stuff.

Susanna

Yeah. Well, that was also like, I think the point in their relationship where they were realizing they’re not going to get to control her anymore. You know, and that’s so I don’t know if I could do that as married either. Remember, I wrote all of this before I was even met. And that’s the that’s the challenge of the college years, right? So you send them off and you’re kind of like, okay, make good choices.

Tyler

And so I know the book has this is a 10th year anniversary, so it’s not necessarily spoiling what happens but their book takes a turn health wise. How did how did you write those scenes in and kind of what was that turn?

Susanna

Oh, you know actually I have a good answer for that, you know, I started it I gave him this is just the hubris of a young writer. I gave him Parkinson’s. And then you know what book was so big while I was writing this at the beginning of me writing this, which took 10 years, so that’ll tell you something, um, was The Corrections. Jonathan Franzen’s first big one. Yeah. And it was it was all Parkinson’s, so I decided to change it. And what I found was that and I mean, that’s absurd. Of course, you can write about Parkinson’s even if you’re, you know, like, it’s a particular fire to fancy but, but I’m so glad I change it because what I found with ALS is that because it is, your mind stays so sharp for so long. And because the the disease follows the same pattern and everyone although it’s faster in some people and slower and others, it still goes in the same. It’s so it’s really it’s very well plotted, you know, I mean, it’s, it’s sort of right ripe for fiction, because you just go from one stage to the next. And then the other reason that it was a good choice. And it sounds a little mercenary, but it’s because people keep their, their soul sharps for so long as I’m deeply into the disease, people who are only like a month away from death are still writing blogs. So I would read all these blogs, you know, from beginning to end and get like that personal experience of, you know, the first failing, the second failing, the third failing, you know, that the to deterioration and like what people were doing in, you know, 1993 or four to communicate with each other, when they lost this, you know, ability to speak that all that stuff was in those blogs. So you mentioned earlier about writing this book, and while you were in grad school, before you were married, and all of that kind of thing.

Tyler

Now that you’ve had some time from it, how is your writing approach to writing change?

Susanna

Um, well, I think you know, the first book, you know, they say, it’s your whole input your whole life into your first book. And then in the second book, you only have like, you know, since you wrote your first, and I do feel like that’s true. I mean, I felt like I wrote that book, to keep my Florida roots alive, for instance, Francis is not my mother, but there’s some things about my family that I kept alive in the book. Like my childhood family. And then in my second book, after I had had, I was still married. I sold my first book when I was pregnant with my first child and I sold my second book when I was pregnant with my second child. You know that as a writer, that’s a big deadline. So um, I was still you know, in a happy marriage and but I still felt like I had more marital experience. I couldn’t write another book about happy marriage like I really needed to write a book about.

I wanted to take a harder look at monogamy and what it does to people in an unhappy marriage and whether or not it’s fair to ask that of them. And that’s something that’s sort of true in the second book. The second book is about a woman who’s married to a man who has extreme sleep disorder and parasomnia. So and that’s because I had heard this thing in NPR about this guy who was parasomnia and I thought, what would it be like to marry be married to this guy, you know, his highest suicide rates among like any, you know, disorder. I mean, it’s just a really terrible thing. And I thought, that’s what I’m gonna write about. I’m gonna write about, Well, two things I wanted to write about a woman married to a man is parasomnia, a parasomnia and what that does to the marriage and then I also wanted to write about the hermit who was featured in Stiltsville. He’s based on a real person, my parents really would like stand at the kitchen window with binoculars and watch like naked women come and go. And he was always naked. And we never knew his name or anything.

And once I was, I’ve been sort of wrestling with the idea of writing about him. And I was at the Miami book and this woman came up, she waiting in line to have a book signing that she came up and she had me a bunch of Polaroids. And they were of like, a young version of her in a bikini on a dock. And I was like, What is this? You know, who is this? And she was like, Oh, that’s Robert such and such. He lived full time. I was like, Okay, I’m definitely going to write about this guy who goes and looks like that.

Tyler

With everything going on in quarantine, how has your writing practice change? Are you writing or what’s your kind of relationship with writing right now?

Susanna

I went ahead and finished my last draft in quarantine. So now I am waiting to sell that book. And I have been writing a few short stories that might make it into something. But I find that stress and writing don’t go very well together. I don’t I’m not a writer who sits down and waits for the Muse to call but I, you know, the kind of anxiety we’re all experiencing is not conducive to creative work. And that’s why we really have to support each other and give each other like a lot of space and be really gentle with ourselves, I think right now. But I mean, summer is never great for me for writing.

Tiffany & Yuki Transcript!

Tyler

In the first segment we’re going to be chatting with Wordier Than Thou founder Tiffany. Wordier Than Thou is a nonprofit dedicated to supporting writers and readers in the Tampa Bay area and throughout the state of Florida. We will talk to Tiffany about literary haunted houses, supporting local writers and getting over a fear of public speaking. In the second segment, we will be talking to a recent wordier reader Yuki Jackson. Yuki is a poet and also the founder of the battleground which mixes poetry and martial arts. We are going to be talking to her about poetry, Buddhism, and drag queens, of course. I mean, why not? Always?

Gramel 

On my birthday I went to see remember the boom boom room.

Tyler

The chicka boom room? Yeah, I forgot that was your birthday?

Gramel 

Yeah, it was your mother’s. His mom was born on my birthday. So we both went.

Tyler

So we’ll be talking about that. Well, not about going to the room. This is a really, really good episode.

Gramel 

It’s so great that she’s working with young people and she’s did she should be admired.

Tyler

In the first segment, we are going to talk to Tiffany about developing a literary community, her experiences as a working writer, and what’s next for this nonprofit.

Tiffany 

I’m a native New Yorker. I’m from Long Island. Now, I spent most of my life there. I was living in Riverhead. And I was working at a newspaper in the Hamptons I worked for it was called Dan’s papers out there. And it was, it was kind of cool. It was one of those like, very quirky Hamptons kind of institutions sort of things. And it was founded by by Dan, on his, you know, kitchen table when he was like 20 or 21 years old, something like that, about 50 or so years ago at that point. So, you know, everybody knew Dan and everybody knew that, you know, knew that publication and I just remember one time we were, we had an editorial meeting in our building. We were talking about whatever Dan’s talking about, and then we get a phone call. The assistant at the time answering the phones was like, Alec Baldwin’s on the phone for you. And he just sort of like, very annoyed and leaned back arm behind his head, like, ah, Tell him I’ll call him back. Come back two minutes later, she’s like, he wants to know if you have his phone numbers. And he’s like, fine, I’ll take the call it. He just goes and like takes his phone call from Alec Baldwin who wanted extra copies of the paper because his daughter was in her school play and we had pictures in there somewhere.

I couldn’t even afford to live in the community that I was covering. Actually, I lived in like, a trailer park on the outskirts of the Hamptons with like, mostly like Eastern Europeans living in it. It was a very interesting kind of place to be living, but I was always like, Where am I living and who am I covering?

And I moved here to Tampa Bay area about 10 years ago. My parents came here first so my dad is in Spring Hill. My mom is in want to say like new port, Richey Port Richey, oh, I always mix them up. So when I first moved here, I was living in Spring Hill and it was awful. When I first moved down here, I didn’t really have anything going on and I was kind of doing that thing like, Oh, I guess maybe I’ll be here for a little bit and then I’ll leave. And I honestly thought I’d go to somewhere, you know, I’d go to like Asheville or something. So I worked a few different places to be about two years to get to the newspaper. Just there weren’t a lot of newspaper jobs. So I wrote for Creative Loafing for a little bit just to kind of keep active in journalism and I was there LGBT blog editor for a little bit. I worked for HSN as a copywriter for a couple of years that worked for the Nielsen company for a little bit to overnight their company that they sent that like box into your home to like, record what you’re watching the weird things in Florida, but I think everybody has.

Tyler

So that’s really interesting, because I mean, cobbling together work as a writer in this area. It’s a difficult path for a lot of us.

Tiffany 

And at that point, I also didn’t know anybody didn’t have I don’t know, I was just like, I’ll take what I can get. I’m just here doing what I’m doing, trying to make it work. So there was a brief period of time where I worked for Nielsen overnight. And then I worked for HSN part time as a copywriter, product descriptions and stuff like that and all the content that the show hosts would use on the air and all the web descriptions and stuff like that. And I started out writing like jewelry of all frickin things. Seriously, I really don’t understand how I got that job. And, you know, I would work overnight at Nielsen, I’d get out at four or five and then I’d go like sleep in a parking lot. And then I’d go work part time at HSN a few days. Eventually, friend of mine, their newspaper for hiring, and I started out part time editing their Pinellas Park paper and then eventually I took over the seminal Seminole Beacon. So I was there for about eight years.

Tyler

And then so where did you find time to start Wordier Than Thou?

Tiffany 

I’m not very good at you know, downtime, I think is what that is. And I am a very bad public speaker. I hate it. I mean, you’ve seen me. I used to like cry. I used to just delay, delay, delay, delay, delay, and then we’d get started like hours late and people would be like, what are you doing? Or I’d get just very drunk. I really think part of the reason why I started it was because I was so bad at public speaking that I wanted to get a little bit better at that, especially being maybe invited to speak in front of different I think, had been invited to talk to like a group or rotary club or something like that, and, or even like a children’s classrooms a couple times and those were fairly torturous for me, even how low stakes those are. It was like agony and like anxiety, like forever leading up to it. So I’m like, Alright, well, let me do this thing that maybe helps me get a little bit. It was just very selfish. You know, sometimes things start from a very selfish space, I think.

Tyler

So what kind of events were you first starting to do?

Tiffany 

We were just an open mic series at that point. I think we started out every other every other month and pretty quickly went to a monthly format. You know, there were a lot of open mics going on around here at that point, but nothing that was really the for a format that fit like prose, stories, storytelling. You know, there was a lot of open mic, comedy open mics, a lot of poetry, slam poetry, open mics, a lot of comedy, music, but there really wasn’t anything for longer narratives. And so we kind of were a little a little different in that form. And then eventually we were we were hosting open mics and other cities around the state too, because again, I didn’t know a ton of people here even though I mean it did but I didn’t so I had no problem just like taking off in the middle of the week and going to drive up to Orlando to host an open mic once a month. So we were we were hosting regular events in Sarasota, Orlando and St. Pete for a while Tampa for a little bit to posted stuff up and Gainesville, we’ve gone down to Miami and done stuff before. So now we do most of our stuff in St. Pete, but we’ll go wherever people feel like, feel like that’s cool.

Tyler

It was like a statewide kind of initiative at one point.

Tiffany 

Yeah, a little bit. And it was, it was fun. You know, I didn’t know much about the state at that point. So it’s a good way for me to just go wander around and explore a little bit too. And so now what are some of the events because I know you’ll have a big schedule, what are and you have a conference and stuff like that. So you can can you update us on what you have been doing more recently? And obviously, a lot of this has changed just because of the pandemic, but non pandemic times, like we typically have a publishing conference that’s kind of on the business side of things. You know, I think people know their craft or they know where to find help for that already. But I think what I’ve found is that a lot of writers aren’t that great at, you know, promoting themselves, taking those steps to find an editor or a publisher or you know, anything like that. So, I think I think that’s an area that more information is useful to them. So we kind of try to focus that whole event around the business side of books.

For our read no more haunted house, we rent out a house and go for it. And we staged a short play in each room of the home. So you’re touring like a series of short plays. We just had our fifth year of that one and we launched a haunted Christmas one as well. It’s probably one of my favorites. It’s grown into one of our most popular events. That’s the thing we try to do things that get people out supporting writers in ways that they maybe don’t even stop to think that they’re I know that sounds terrible, but it’s kind of like sneaking vegetables in to like tomato sauce is how I liken it sometimes for the haunted house. We give the stipend to each room to each author. They write their own play the cast throne play and then we on top of them. The stipend we give a portion of ticket sales to each room as well. Try to you know, we’re not making a million dollars here ourselves, but we try our best to always compensate people when we can.

We did a murder mystery for New Year’s Eve. We wrote that and rented a mansion in Tierra Verde. A Gatsby inspired roaring 20s sort of murder mystery. We’re supposed to do another one in September. Who knows if that’s going to happen. I’m hoping it might it’s going to be like an homage to like 80s slasher and some we rented a couple of cabins. I think we might be able to do it just because of the outdoors nature of it. But we’ll see. You take on a character and you play the game in person. We write clues. We write a script we write little staged moments throughout the course of I mean, if it’s something we haven’t read it yet, but I’m assuming it’s gonna be similar to New Year’s Eve. Where we you know, stage different moments. We had some characters of our own that we you know, threw out there into it and Otherwise, people were our guests. You know, they bought a ticket, they received a character upon arrival. And that’s who they were for the night.

Gramel

I went to a private party one time, that you get something like that, now that, you know, I’m thinking back on it, you had to kind of come in costume person that you’re, I have a script, and you kind of make your own script up as you go. But I was thinking, if you did it on zoom or something, it wouldn’t matter. You know, I walk with a cane. But I mean, now people could watch something like that on the computer.

Tiffany

We’ve been thinking about doing something like that over zoom. Just because, again, we don’t know when we can get back to meeting in person anyway.

Tyler

And then I know you all are starting an imprint. You’re publishing some work.

Tiffany

We’re trying to it’s a it was one of those things where I think it just really brought everything we do full circle, in our whole goal has been, you know, working with Florida writers and helping them get their work out there into the world. And, you know, it’s kind of amazing. We’ve seen people come to us with nothing published and, you know, eight years later have, you know, several books out, make moves to, you know, writing fiction full time. And it’s really cool. And obviously, we’re always meeting new writers and having new people kind of come into our world and fall into our fold. And so we started a Florida Writers Project. And that’s kind of going to be our publishing arm of things.

Tyler

Are the opportunities are going to be really very specific to Florida writers or folks who, you know, are Florida connected, like if they lived here for a certain number of time?

Tiffany

We’re not I mean, we’re also not super nitpicky about stuff like that. So we have a few anthologies coming out in the fall. I think you read at the South of the South the last time we posted that event right now. We’re putting an anthology out under that name as well, kind of Florida writers writing about Florida and we expanded it. So it’s not just nonfiction. It’s fiction, poetry and nonfiction, Florida writers just telling Florida stories. Also, we are putting out the debut novel of Heather Jones. She’s a USF instructor, and a good friend of ours and an award-winning playwright here in the area. So it’s funny because she lived up in North Carolina for a long time. So it’s actually like in a Civil War Appalachia story, called Tennessee Murder Ballad. So we’ve been working on that and just trying to figure things out, because I hate fundraising. And I hate asking people for money. But we’re at a point where like, any of the big events that we would have hosted to bring in a little bit of funding to put towards these projects are just not even, you know, we can’t even do we can’t do them. So we’re trying to figure out kind of more different ways to fundraise and promote.

it is supposed to come out in November. We put a book out a while back, the Donald book, it’s hard to do satire now. Reading back and it all sounded so over the top and ridiculous, but it’s not that far off from the, you know, from reality. So, we are, we’re sort of talking about putting out a second, you know, we do have an open, you know, call for submissions right now, for a second version of that. I think it’s probably a little hard to put something like that out right now, though. So I think South of the South and the Heather’s novel are going to be our main priorities.

Tyler

You all have been have made yourself such a presence. I mean, with all these different events and supporting all these other writers. It’s been really necessary.

Tiffany 

I appreciate that. I mean, I think this stuff is kind of like, a little bit like playing for me, it’s fun, it’s creative. It’s my creative work, you know, producing these weird things that, uh, you know, get people excited about supporting local writers at the same time. I feel like all like the best people I know I met through Wordier. So I get a lot out of it. It’s very gratifying, you know, and we’re able to help people, we’re able to help get, you know, readers excited to help get writers feel a little bit reinvigorated about their work and find new ways to, you know, to reach an audience who maybe otherwise wouldn’t go out to a book event, then cool, then we did our job. And, uh, you know, I think the biggest thing has been lately are these Zoom events that we’ve been doing because, you know, we didn’t want to, you know, lose sight of our mission and what we’re trying to do, even if we’re not able to see each other And so I’m awful at technology, but all you do is click a button. So I can handle that.

We’ve been hosting events. I’m gonna say at least six days a week, there was a little while there where we were probably doing it seven days a week. Um, virtual events. It’s been a nice way to reach people. We’ve done everything from like, we did like, tell us about your quarantine program. We’re it’s quite literally like we’ve asked writers to be like to tell us about what they’ve been working on in quarantine. It’s funny, sometimes they turn into little like, just like very earnest conversations and like many therapy sessions, you know, kind of thing. We do these quarantined story times and that’s evolved to originally I was imagining, you know, we’ll just do a reading we’ll get in we’ll get out but it’s really evolved into like, you know, Q&A and people wanting to talk So it’s kind of kind of turned into a little bit more than just like a simple reading. So, you know, I’ll have some questions our readers or listeners will have some questions. We do these home Virtual Library tours when people just show us their books. I think people really like that call it literary voyeurism read people really like snooping a little bit.

Gramel 

I would love somebody to see my bedroom.

Tiffany 

If you want, you’re welcome to do this one weekend if you want.

Gramel 

My bug man one time told me, Margie, you really need to get rid of some of these books. I looked at him like he told me to kill my grandsons or something. Really? No.

Tiffany 

Yeah, no if you want to if you want to do a library tour, let me know.

Gramel 

I get nervous when I’m almost to finish a book. If I get to the last say six chapters. I start searching for the next book that I’m going to read because I want to have one ready to go. I have books that I’m reading now that I never thought I’d be reading, because they were kind of in the back of the stacks.

Tyler

It’s really fascinating to me how the community has adopted and how these events have become so well attended, and also just that people are really needing that space.

Tiffany 

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. And we, you know, I think we did it pretty early on, like, mid-March, people want it, people want to be connected. Yeah. And then I think it’ll make life a little easier. When we are able to go back and person it’ll make that transition easier for us. Having kept that connection going the entire time. And then we’re doing, we’re trying to put together a few like digital reading festivals. So we’re doing, you know, nerdier than now we’re doing a virtual version.

Gramel   

It’s great that, you know, you’re the way you’re going with the punches. People are looking for outlets, and so forth. I appreciate that.

Tyler

Well, thank you for your time.

Tiffany 

Thank you and really, let me know about the library tour if you want to do one down the road. Okay, sounds fun.

Tyler

In the last segment we talked to Tiffany about Wordier Than Thou. And now we’re going to talk to Yuki Jackson, about her poetry, rap music, inspiration, the battleground, mixing poetry with martial arts, working with youth, so much good stuff in here, and she will be giving a reading of her poem and we will be talking about different performance strategies. Oh, and drag queens, how could I forget? It’s about to be that time.

Yuki 

So my summer I am hard at work at my own writing. I’m off this summer. So, you know, I’m teaching at Ringling over this past year, they don’t have classes and you know, usually, for the summer, I would have a bunch of gigs that I would do and like summer teaching for different kids programs and things like that, obviously, right now, that’s not an option. So yeah, I’ve just been kind of taking advantage of this time to do a lot of reading, a lot of writing and, you know, during the pandemic, ironically, I’ve been taking care of my health more in terms of like, you know, usually I was like, on the go, you know what I mean, and then the quarantine sort of is forcing us to be stay put. And so I’ve been like, cooking more and eating more like vegetables and fruits and stuff.

But ironically, also, during this time, where I’ve been more health conscious, I’ve been experiencing some health issues that have surfaced. I’ve been going to the doctor’s few times over the past couple weeks and like radiology appointment the other day and then I’m going back in a couple weeks to follow up and I’m also Like taking the cue from my own body to just like, kind of make it my job right now to take care of my body and my wellbeing during quote unquote normal times, like so hard to kind of focus on our own wellbeing. So that’s my thing right now.

Tyler

And I think you mentioned that in the piece for Creative Loafing. Yeah. Because I think it was talking about meditation practice.

Yuki 

Yeah, so I do a daily practice. It’s like a vocalized meditation. It’s like a phrase that really sort of encapsulates, just like the universal law. You know, it’s like the eternal law of the universe, right? Like, kind of, it’s like the Haiku right of our existence. So yeah, so I chant that in the morning and in the evening, every day. And that just sort of really helps me remember who I am, like, just kind of really helps me to focus especially through using the voice right? I know there’s like silent meditation which I know can be helpful, but to me, there’s something about speaking out because it’s like a physical vibration that you can feel like when you’re saying it over and over. And so that vibration is vibrating, you know that same frequency, everything you know all existence, right? That’s like always vibrating. So there’s something about it that I feel really invigorated by and just sort of helps me to focus on my goals and what I want to accomplish every day.

One of the main goals I have, you know, one is of course, my health and wellbeing but also I’ve been really focusing on my self-esteem. So when I’m chanting I’m consciously also focusing on that and other things as well more concrete, physical things as well but that practice has helped a lot and then in addition to that, a lot of it has been food based. So I’ve been eating more like vegetables and I bought it like a little like a blender making like little green smoothies. You know stuff like that

Tyler

Something that really helped me is getting a slow cooker so I can just put a bunch of vegetables in there with some like olive oil or balsamic come back in a few hours and I have all of this. It’s so easy to prepare During the semester just because things are so hectic, I would literally just buy cauliflower, brussel sprouts, kale, carrots, I just buy whatever any vegetable throw it in there and then put balsamic vinegar on it. But that way I knew that I was getting at least some vegetables every day because with this semester going on, it’s so hectic. It’s hard to cook for yourself sometimes so slow cooker has definitely helped me.

Gramel 

Has the meditation and the eating more healthfully affected your poetry?

Yuki 

Yeah, no, I love that. It’s all connected right? I think so. For me, and probably for a lot of people, it comes in waves in terms of, so I experienced my creativity in like bursts. So I practice it every day, you know what I mean? So like, regardless of whether I’m like, feeling it or not, I will write and there will be things throughout the day that inspire me that I’ll jot down and, you know, take note of and stuff like that. I realized also my brain kind of work maybe as like a fiction writer. So I don’t know, because I, you know, not that I know what that would be. But it’s like, of course, there’s like individual poems that come to me, but largely, I think in terms of story, even if it’s out of my own life, right, like I see it as the narrative arc, I just see that plot diagram you know, so I write poems, narrative columns, largely now, you know, that helped to tell one narrative arc I would say with my health right now, so it’s ebbs and flows.

So right now, it’s sort of a stage where I am reading a lot kind of aware of my own feelings and thoughts. So I think with this effort to take care of myself, I’ve become more immediately conscious of what it is that I’m thinking or feeling at any moment. And like respecting it, where before when I’m like, you know, kind of ignoring myself, in a sense, I would have these delayed reactions. Like for example, there was like a relationship I was in before like a romantic relationship. If he would say something that hurt my feelings or offended me or what I didn’t do something or whatever it was right, something that hurt me, it would take two or three days for it to even register within myself that that hurt my feelings. You know what I mean? And, I need to say something about it. So then it would be three or four days later I’d be like, Hey, remember what you said three or four days ago that rather and he’s like, oh, why don’t you just say to one, what’s his delayed reaction? And so I think now, you’re right, Margie, like now that I’m more conscious of my, just like respecting myself and conscious of myself. Yeah, it’s like in that moment when I feel like ooh, that little red light, that little siren, that little ticker insides going off even slight disrespect, you know, even if that other person didn’t intend it, but just that it’s something that’s bothering me or I feel is sort of crossing my sense of dignity in any sense. I’m able to in that moment, nip it in the bud.

Gramel 

Amen, amen. I like that. I like that because I think it’s good to be aware that maybe the person doesn’t realize it a little bit. A lot of things roll off with me, but if it’s something really important, I’ll say, Are you not feeling well today? Then they’ll say, oh, okay, then I think as you realize Just what you said. And you know, there’s some people, I’m not gonna say what, they’re kind of thick.

Tyler

You know, it also makes me think about, there was a book about the difference between confrontation and conflicts, and like confronting someone that is being disrespectful to you for your own preservation also builds communication. When we don’t confront things, that’s when conflict happens, because then we’re upset about 20 things. So it can feel uncomfortable to call someone out. But that can help your future relationship, I think, yeah, that really stuck with me about how there’s a difference between confronting someone and actually having a conflict.

Gramel 

Well, I noticed in your poems, which you’re very passionate that you mentioned religion quite a bit. Not, you know, not a lot. Yeah, at some point you don’t get you know where that comes from.

Yuki 

Yeah, I mean, I’ve always been just aware of the profundity or just the fact that our spirit is all tied together, just from like a young age, I’ve always felt very spiritual. Basically, I felt very connected to it, I attribute it to my mother, who it’s interesting because she never forced it upon me. But she would read a lot. And then when, you know, we would go about our everyday lives, she would just always kind of point out certain principles and things that were connected, you know, and made it like made me see how everything is tied to Universal Law and this interconnectedness Something about like how electricity works, you know. It could be anything like even seemingly mundane, but she would always just let this very kind of nonchalant way. Just kind of highlight the spiritual nature of it. To me that way of looking at things is very natural. It doesn’t seem so extraordinary to me. Definitely through my mother, you know, it’s based on my Buddhist practice, which I see the lens through.

And then it’s interesting because in terms of like, I find people usually curious of like, why do I reference Christianity a lot when I’m a practicing Buddhist, they’re like, it doesn’t seem like it connects. But again, for me, it’s through this, you know, this chanting and my Buddhist practice that because it’s focused on the interconnectedness of life, it’s helped me to see and also experienced many things where I see it’s actually all connected. You know, it’s like human beings that have divided right, like, what spirit is, you know, and so anyway, so I just, I see how it’s all connected, and so I’m unable to even separate it on many levels.

Gramel 

I think people try to compartmentalize thing. I think spirit things don’t fit in a box.

Tyler

I noticed that like she was saying religion is a theme. Also, pop culture is a theme and a lot of your work. And I noticed drag race reference in some of your poetry. So what is it about pop culture that you’re speaking to? Or that moves you to kind of use that as a subject?

Yuki 

Yeah, it’s like two levels always. Right. So there’s the subconscious level of how we’re operating. And then the conscious levels, I feel like on a subconscious level, I’m naturally moving to show the interconnectedness of all things. I’m like, these things that seem so sacred or how, you know, maybe some people have put them on this like pedestal, you know, essentially, like marrying the divine and the profane. And for me, it’s like, not even so much in marrying them. It’s like they’re already married. Just like showing that they’re married. It also speaks to the paradox that poetry explores: something that seems so mundane like pop culture and you know, something that could even seem superficial to some people. To me, it’s like, oh, but there’s actually depth and relevance and connection to spirituality. So for me when I watch RuPaul’s Drag Race,

Tyler

We’ve watched it together.

Yuki

Oh, my God, that’s awesome. Yeah, I mean, I’m obsessed. I’m like, I don’t know if I’m categorized as a superfan or whatever.

Tyler

Who is your favorite queen?

Yuki 

I guess who first comes to mind?

Tyler

Same!

Yuki 

I think as a woman and a black woman, as a mixed Asian woman, there’s something about drag queens and culture that is so empowering, you know, to anybody who’s ever felt like disempowered or slighted or you know, in any way or marginalized. To me, the fact that it’s men, you know, men who are celebrating and reveling in femininity, is so revolutionary and so powerful. So I just really attached to that, that whole cannon.

Tyler

So can you describe the battleground – kind of what it is and how long you’ve worked with it?

Yuki

Yeah, so the battleground is something that started back in 2017. And so I was working part time at the Public Library in that neighborhood called Sulphur Springs. I don’t live in that neighborhood, but I was just assigned to work there. And immediately I was really captivated by the neighborhood because even though it’s a, you know, a rough neighborhood in the sense there’s a high poverty rate, there’s a high crime rate. I don’t know, there’s just like something really like magical about that area with there’s like this, this mysterious tower that’s there and this park and these landmarks and this theater, I don’t know, it’s just like super cool, you know. So anyways, I was just working part time at that library was going to grad school, and then, you know, became very attached to the children. Ironically, I didn’t like children before I started working at this library, which is wow, yeah, I did not like kids. I was like, if somebody showed me their kid, I’m like, okay, like, it’s a small human like, I was just never like googoo. gaga. Like, I just developed this very intense love for these children, which was strange for me because again, like I said, I don’t like kids. I think we have a connection. I think there’s just some people of course, I respect every person. But I just, there’s just certain people that you are very, very strongly connected to more than others. Right off the bat. That was my experience with the children.

And then one day, actually over a course of five days in April of 2017, there were three gun shootings right outside our library. Each time we had a lockdown. And each time the person who was shooting and the people getting shot up, were boys under the age of 14. During actually the first lockdown. Yeah, I just had this experience where in my mind, I was planning to have a youth program. You know, it was just like, as it was all happening in my head. It was like, you know, you need to start a youth program name it the battleground. You need to have martial arts, you need to have poetry, it was just all very clear. And immediately after the lockdown stopped, I was like, I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m gonna do it, I have to do this. And I went online started researching, you know what to do and started asking for help from advice from different people in the community who already, you know, did programs and whatnot. So yeah, that was the inception, you know of it.

Tyler

And how has it changed since 2017?

Yuki 

Yeah, I mean, in 2017, we weren’t fully going. So it was it’s been going in phases. So first, we had like community support, and I was starting to work on the poetry part with some of the kids. But then we didn’t find the right martial artist until 2018. And he came and you know, he’s perfect for it. So yeah, so we’ve been in full operation since September of 2018. So it is a year and a half or so. When we’re running. Yeah, we had almost 200 kids that have at least come through the program. You know, not regular, all of them but there’s a core group. So I would say the program sort of evolved as my own evolution, as I evolved as a teacher. So it’s honestly, I think, with a lot of teaching in general or and, you know, it’s kind of an experiment. I didn’t know what I was doing. In a sense, I just cared, right, I just cared, I wanted to do something. So, in the beginning, I’m just trying, you know, just different lesson plans, and some of them, some of them didn’t work and whatnot. So I just kept trying different ideas. I just always take note, you know, and I’m just paying attention to the reaction of the kids. And so when the kids are very honest, so they’re like, this is boring, or you know, like, what are you doing, you know, so I’m like, Alright, thanks that helps.

Tyler

What have they responded well to?

Yuki 

They respond well to the poetry pizza party. That’s a big hit, of course, anything with food, right? At the beginning I didn’t have snacks, and then I learned Oh, I need to have snacks. So, for the weekly sessions, we have like popcorn, cookies, and stuff like that. And then once a month, I started having a poetry pizza party, which is basically, you know, gathering kids to create these like poetry stations. And then so there’s like a theme every month. And then there’ll be like, one little station where they can play on the vintage typewriter and then they type certain words that are poetic words that are related to the theme or another one where they you know, write a poem, you know, or another one where they do an arts and crafts on which they can paste their poem, you know, anyway, so it’s all kind of interconnected. And based on the theme for that month, that’s been fun.

Gramel

How does the martial arts come into play then?

Yuki

Yeah, so for the weekly sessions, we do it for two hours. So Garrett was the martial arts teacher, He will teach for about, you know, the first 45 minutes at the end of it, he leads them you know, he’ll do like a silent meditation and then that sort of then shifts them you know, into like a poetry mode and then we have like a little break and then we do the poetry session.

The whole idea of martial arts and poetry kind came together for me was that I see them as very similar in a way where one is you’re kind of mentally being an emotionally being able to learn how to express yourself in a constructive way. Release you know a lot that you may be holding emotionally or mentally and then the martial arts part you know, similar I would say kind of expressing yourself physically in a you know, kind of moving your body in like an artistic and discipline way.

Gramel

Have you got some young people that have really blossomed in both?

Yuki 

I would say for the poetry. There was one student who came consistently for the first couple months of doing it. He’s a lion, you know, and it was so interesting. Oh, he’s like, He’s incredible young man, super bright, such a leader. And so he’s amazing. I don’t know, he’s like doing work with like, the mayor’s office and like, they’re, you know, Urban League and all kinds of like, he’s just like, very active.

The way I view these kids, It was almost like, I’m putting this here, right like this tool here. But it’s for kids who want to use it. And the thing is the nature of this program, it’s not a type of this is not the kind of neighborhood and program the situation is not where like, the parents are super involved, right? Like a lot of these kids are on their own. They’re very independent. It was like these, the kids who come to the battleground are coming on their own. And so they are kids who have initiative anyway. And so I just see it as I’m serving them, who are like already capable. So I feel that the program in itself is helping to like nurture that ability and that tendency and helping them channel their energy. To me their greatness or their capability is something that was already like inherent So yeah, so you know, definitely in kids like either that young man I mentioned in terms of poetry and then there’s a whole group of them who consistently come in poetry.

I’ll hear from other people like, oh, did you hear like so and so is like speaking at the school board. There’s like a group of them who’ve been consistently participating in the poetry and they have enrolled themselves and like this, like young businessman’s club, and they’re like learning how to, like continue to utilize, you know, these like kind of community resources to like develop themselves. So, yeah, there’s some of the little boys who’ve been doing martial arts who are a big part of the martial arts interestingly, and though, it’s like really learning how to master their discipline, their patience and like a lot of them with their emotions. You know, so I see that in terms of martial arts.

Gramel

It must be gratifying for you. And then it sounds like it’s even a learning experience for you. And it is exciting working with kids or young people when they get excited. And you see a change in them.

Tyler

And I wanted to ask you, so you work at Ringling now. And so which area of Florida do you live in? And how what is kind of in like, your path to Florida?

Yuki 

Yeah, so I live I live in Clearwater.

Tyler

Oh, Largo over here. I didn’t know you were that close.

Yuki 

Yeah, I live in Clearwater, but it was a drive, you know, working in Sarasota Ringling, and then I would you know, and then the battleground program in Sulphur Springs and Tampa, Sulphur Springs, so driving quite a lot.

Tyler

And how long have you lived in Florida?

Yuki

I have lived here, on and off. Whoo. So I lived initially in Jacksonville, we moved there when I was about 12. And then, you know, we lived there for about a year and also at another point in my earlier childhood. So you know, my dad was in the military in the Navy. So we were like moving around a lot. But yeah, we’ve been in Florida permanently since I was 12. And I lived in Jacksonville until my early 20s. And then the way I came to Tampa was through a at the time, it was a romantic relationship. Yeah. Oh, sorry. But yeah, we were Long Distance Actually, he lived here. And then I lived in Jacksonville, but then we, you know, we had met in person, and then we’re doing long distance thing. And then, and then one day I came to visit him and My car broke down, like totally died. And then I was just like, You know what? I guess that means I’m here.

Gramel 

You’re a great storyteller. I’ve never been so quiet. Your voice changes every now and then when you really get excited. Yeah. I love that.

Tyler

So in the Creative Loafing article that was recently published, you mentioned that you finished your first full length collection. Can you talk to us a little bit about those poems?

Yuki 

Yeah, so it’s called record. That’s the name of the collection. And it’s sort of, I guess, a nod. Also, because I’m a really big hip hop fan. I feel like I’m a poet because I can’t be like, I can’t rap. I don’t sound like a rapper.

Tyler

I want to be a rock star, but I can’t sing so..

Yuki 

You know, so, and kind of have that attitude, right, like in, in our writing. So yeah, so that’s how I feel about it sounds like I can’t have a record or an album, I’m gonna like, call my book of record. But also, it also has other meanings. It’s also the idea of the shape of a circle is also what was prevalent to me. And that’s sort of also how this collection goes. So once you get to the last poem in this collection, the last line leads into the first line of the first poem in the collection. So yeah, and you know, what’s, you know, it was one of those things where it’s like, saw that, I was like, Oh, that’s cool. Yeah, you know, but so it’s cyclical the theme, it’s basically most of it’s exploring a relationship I had a few years ago. Um, you know, sort of this experience that I had with like really coming to awaken to my past lives and my, how it ties into my current life and, you know, that has the themes of me really living as like this divine feminine, you know, historically, right? It was like Mary, was also the way for the Buddha life of Jesus, you know, and just like really tying awakening to the fact that all of those figures are tied in through my life. That’s told through a series of interactions I’ve had with that guy.

I have some poems where I talk about then my experience with the kids in Sulphur Springs. And then the middle section I, you know, I’m talking about my experience where I’m heartbroken. You know, he breaks my heart and then I’m from, you know, really lack of valuing my life, I had come very close to ending my own life through that heartbreak and I ended up Baker acting myself, um, a few years ago. And so the middle section is where it there’s like a series of about like maybe 15 to 20 poems like short poems, where it’s just about those 72 hours of me being in the baker act facility, because that was a very, very interesting experience. But it was also like this, like super profound and beautiful experience, you know, which it doesn’t seem on the surface. And so that’s what I experienced in that Baker Act facility where it’s like on the surface, it looks like all of us in all of us are obviously there because we’re suffering, except for the staff, even though some of the staff were like struggling with the same things we were, which was interesting, right? Because they’re like, anyway, but yeah, so on the surface, it just looked like a hell. But it was this really, really enlightened experience that I had in there. And so I talked about that and then you know, towards the end I’m, you know, just kind of like ending it with like talking about more of where I’m at now in terms of like, coming from a place of a higher sense of self. And, you know, just kind of moving forward with like, new relationships, a new idea of what it means to be a person.

Gramel 

I bet your family is proud of you. I think so I think you’re just amazing. You know, you’re smart, you’re willing. You got a heart of love, and you’re willing to change it. As a mother, I will be very proud of

Yuki 

Oh, thank you. I appreciate you saying. Yeah, it’s hard because especially as a writer, because now especially with me kind of coming to terms with some things from my childhood, I’m like, you know, I’m a writer, so I, like I’m writing about it. And I have a feeling I’m going to get even more explicit about it, in, you know, future works, that I’m going to hopefully be able to share publicly. You know, I also I’m also nervous, right? Because it’s like, as much as I have this tremendous gratitude for my family, you know, for like, so many things like even you know, the good, bad and the ugly, you know, I’m grateful for all of it right? Because it’s enabled me to experience what I needed to, but at the same time, I also, you know, I get nervous too, you know, like, what, yeah, they know I’m gonna put it all in there. It’s kind of I’m kind of in a weird place with my family right now. So you, you saying that like, really really helps me to remember that like what ultimately, you know, kind of at play,

Gramel 

You should never hide who you really are.

Tyler

Do you have any poems that you might want to read for us or a poem from your new collection?

Yuki 

Yeah, I can pull something up. Let’s see…

“So Fly”

I can hear
my roommate’s birds
get aggressive
with their bell

I ring mine three times
and sing a mantra
to free myself

my feet, no longer laced up

when I Baker-Acted myself
they made me unlace my sneakers
so I wouldn’t hang myself

the ties are removed,
so I’m free to move forward

As I pray
I think about the phrase

you’re preaching to the choir

does this mean
we consider those who sing
to already possess
spiritual knowledge?

in the chapel is a capella,
a choir, a body of singers
who perform
led by a conductor

the Central
African Republic
Aka pygmies’
vocal musical tradition
mastered by all community members

the songs perpetuate
essential knowledge

like my friend
the soprano
who studies music
so she can heal others

and I think about how we awaken
to bird sounds

Nichiren writes:

This is what is meant by ‘Buddha’

when a caged bird sings,
birds flying in the sky
are thereby summoned

Sensei’s last lines
in The New Human Revolution:

In his mind’s eye,
[he] had an uplifting vision

majestic young eagles
bathed in the dawning light
of the third millennium

before the musical performance
on the top floor

I notice
the two headed eagle pattern
surrounding The Attic

I tell Chael it reminds me of
Nichiren’s instruction
to a couple

the Buddha preaches
on Eagle Peak
after the Ceremony
in the Air

he is my favorite MC
so I place his photo
next to my favorite poem
about birds being men
and men being birds

in his rap video,
he’s on top
of a parking garage,
palms spread wide,
facing up

he tells me
he did poetry
because he wanted
to take a flight

in today’s Hey Qween,
the queen known for being high
talks about the time
she went sky-diving

McGovern says to her,

I appreciate
an intersectional jump,
thank you very much,
for representing
femininity where it lives,
even if it’s in the sky
hurtling to earth

Tyler

Wow, wow. One of the reasons I have to say that I wanted to interview you and have you on besides all the great work that you’re doing is because of the way you perform your poems. And to me, that’s something I really look for, and a poet, and that I really respond to and respect I think you’re such a good reader.

Yuki 

Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. Do you practice like performance?

Tyler

Oh, yeah.

Yuki

Okay. I need to do that more, I think but yeah, because I really admire poets who are able to memorize their stuff because I haven’t gotten to that point. Do you have any tips as far as like performance?

Tyler

Not for you, you’re already good. I think for me, I guess but like on a, I guess a tip that I, what I really respond to, is a poet who figures out what their style is, and then owns that, like, it doesn’t all have to be loud or whatever. But it can be weird and quirky, but as long as they’re owning the space and the time, because sometimes I’ll see poets that are kind of like reluctant to be up in front of people and it doesn’t seem like it’s respectful to the work. So whatever you’re going to do, just own it. That’s how I feel because for me, there’s I don’t love my voice. I don’t love how I sound but I know that If I’m going to be giving a reading that I have to make it worth people to be enough that moment with me.

Gramel 

I love karaoke. Ah, that’s, and I owe that song. I sang it for a while, and then I start making it mine. And yes, and then I apologize for, I guess saying it like, I feel it.

Tyler

That just reminds me because definitely, she and I sing karaoke together. But something that reminds me of is that back in the day, I would do this thing before reading where I would. I’d be like, I’m gonna sing a little song for you guys before I start, and then I would sing I Dreamed a Dream, but only like the first like, two sentences and be like, Oh, I forgot the rest. I don’t know. It was so corny. But it just I always made people like crack up. And after that, it was like, okay, we’re gonna have some fun.

Yuki 

I love that, like music and songs have such an ability to like open people’s hearts.

Tyler

I love that and like catching people off guard at the beginning of a reading I think is always a good tactic.

Yuki

That is that’s very ninja.

Gramel 

We’ll have to go out to karaoke again.

Yuki 

I used to do karaoke not regularly but I you know, I would do like parties and stuff when I was younger but I haven’t done it in years. But you know, I’m, I’m open to it.

Tyler

Well, that would be so much fun. We should.

Gramel 

Yes, it is a lot of fun.

Yuki 

Yeah, with our masks.

Tyler

Well, before we kind of sign off, is there anything that You know, you would like to say or that, you know, you have coming out that you want to kind of let people know about our any final words?

Yuki 

No, I’m just like, you know, super grateful to be able to talk with you guys like, you know, especially in this, I mean just said, like have opportunity to like chat period, you know, especially in the time where you’re kind of very isolated, you know, I just love, you know, being able to like, mix with some genuine people. So, I’m just grateful for this conversation. And, you know, as far as my work right now, I’m in a stage where I’m incubating and, you know, coming up with things So, hopefully, you know, later this year, there’ll be more things coming out. Oh, I’m writing another article for Creative Loafing. So then that’s going to be in the poet’s notebook section.

Tyler

That’s great! Congrats on that.

Gramel 

It’s been a real delight and education talking to you and I have a kind of a total different way of looking at poetry now to I’m from the school that roses are red, violets are blue. But that’s not the way poetry is anymore. My mother wrote a lot of points and just write one when she would send a greeting card to somebody for their birthday or whatever. You know, poetry has really evolved. But I think it’s a great way to express yourself. It’s honest, and it’s great for your youth that you’re working with to be able to have a safe way to express themselves.

Tyler

Well, thank you for taking the time.

Yuki 

It’s been such a delight. Thank you guys. So yeah, we’ll go karaoke soon.

This is our outro

Tyler

Don’t let me forget that when we go to karaoke. I want to sing Jolene by Dolly Parton. Just I really drawn to that song in this moment of time.

Gramel 

It’s a good song.. It’s a hard song. It’s very high and very fast. Yeah, you’re very fast. I can sing it but it’s hard and I don’t think it well.

Tyler

Okay, so, come back to the pod next time. We’ll have a great chat for you subscribe, subscribe to our newsletter, email us, AFloridaThing@gmail.com. Tweet us, pigeon, mail us, snail mail us, Turkey mail us all the animal mail

Gramel   

Or you know US mail.

Tyler

Who does that anymore?

Gramel

I do. I send greeting cards regularly all the time.

Tyler

She does greeting cards, Christmas cards. She will send Christmas cards to someone for a decade, even if they’re not sending them back.

Gramel 

That’s not the purpose of sending cards.

Tiffany Razzano & Yuki Jackson!

We chat with Wordier Than Thou founder Tiffany Razzano about the literary community, then talk with poet Yuki Jackson about drag queens, The Battleground, performing, and much more. 

Full Transcript

More from Tiffany:

Florida Writers Project

More from Yuki:

Her Website

Yuki’s poem “So Fly” in Cosmonauts Avenue

“Tampa poet Yuki Jackson steps forward to reclaim her body and amplify her voice” in Creative Loafing

Notable Quotable

“I respond to a poet who figures out what their style is, and then owns that. It can be weird and quirky, but as long as they’re owning the space and the time.  I’ve seen poets that are kind of like reluctant to be up in front of people and it doesn’t seem like it’s respectful to their work. So whatever you’re going to do, just own it. I don’t love my voice. I don’t love how I sound, but I know that If I’m going to be giving a reading that I have to make it worth it.”  – Tyler

“I couldn’t even afford to live in the community that I was covering. Actually, I lived in like, a trailer park on the outskirts of the Hamptons with like, mostly like Eastern Europeans living in it. It was a very interesting kind of place to be living, but I was always like, where am I living and who am I covering?” – Tiffany

“I really think part of the reason why I started Wordier Than Thou was because I was so bad at public speaking that I wanted to get a little bit better at that.” – Tiffany

“It’s my creative work producing these weird things that get people excited about supporting local writers. I feel like all like the best people I know I met through Wordier. It’s very gratifying, and we’re able to help get readers excited and to help writers feel a little bit reinvigorated about their work.” – Tiffany

“I think we did [virtual events] pretty early on, like, mid-March. People want it, people want to be connected. And then I think it’ll make life a little easier. When we are able to go back in person, it’ll make that transition easier for us. Having kept that connection going the entire time.” – Tiffany

“In April of 2017, there were three shootings right outside our library. Each time we had a lockdown. And each time the person who was shooting and the people getting shot up, were boys under the age of 14. During actually the first lock down, as it was all happening, I was like I need to start a youth program and name it The Battleground. I thought, you need to have martial arts, you need to have poetry. It was just all very clear.”  – Yuki

“There’s something about drag queens and culture that is so empowering to anybody who’s ever felt disempowered or slighted or in any way or marginalized. To me, the fact that it’s men who are celebrating and reveling in femininity, is so revolutionary and so powerful.”  – Yuki

“I didn’t know what I was doing. In a sense, I just cared.” – Yuki

“I’m a really big hip hop fan. I feel like I’m a poet because I can’t be like, I can’t rap. I don’t sound like a rapper.” — Yuki

Friends!

In this episode, we talk about the ban on greyhound racing (for our furry friends), making human friends at different life stages, and we chat with the bff about being a single mother to white passing kids.

Full Transcript

My article for on greyhounds: “At ‘ground zero’ for dog racing, Florida moves toward change” (Salon)

Notable Quotable

“In the 90s, greyhound racing constituted a multibillion-dollar industry, which was another reason why it was so hard to ban greyhound racing because the state was getting money from that. From the reports that I found, since 1931 this state made at least $4.38 billion from pari-mutuel wagers.” — Tyler

“Cocaine? Did they have cocaine in 1960?” — Gramel

“I actually went on a date to a greyhound track down in St. Petersburg before I graduated from high school, and they were mind boggling.” — Gramel

“I don’t like to gamble. I like to keep my money.” — Tyler

“Greyhounds are not used to walking on a leash, and they don’t know how to walk on tile or up the stairs. So they’ll slip on the tile and they can’t get up the stairs. That broke my heart when I heard that.” — Tyler

“With a with a dog, you should not show any fear. I’m not saying you’re supposed to be stupid and getting their you know, their territory, but you can’t let them know you got it. You know, it’s like anything, you know, they can smell fear, and they say, we’ll have fun with this guy.” — Gramel

“I love dogs, but I don’t want to pet your dog if I don’t know your dog.” — Tyler

On texting: “long story short, I went wild. And my first bill had $76 extra on it, but I loved it. I loved it. So then I called and now I have unlimited talk and text.” — Gramel

“I’m somebody that’s never afraid of being turned down. If I text you, and you don’t text me back, well, that’s fine. I’ll probably forget about it because my forgetter works very well.” — Gramel

“He taught me about vaping.” — Gramel

“If I washed my hands with non-antibacterial soap, like if I just did it with like scented soap, I feel like you would spiral.” — Jessica

“I go outside and I see this black racer come out. And then another minute later, there was another one. And then another minute later, there was another one. And then another one. Like they were just following the same path. There was probably like 25.” — Jessica

“I’m trying to think of a catty response to that. And I have none because honestly, yes, like from day one, we were kind of kindred souls. Like, I love you. And I love everything about you. And we had so much fun.” — Jessica

“My Bible professor was like, Hey, I was like you I was from the hood. And you know, I had to tell this man, like, I live on Indian Rocks. Just because I’m half black and agnostic does not mean you can put me in a pocket.” — Jessica

On telling a former boyfriend she was using a sperm donor to have a kid: “his reaction was your kid is going to be a psychopath. Like, he had a really negative reaction to it. And I was like, you know, do you think that’s gonna change what I’m gonna do moving forward? And he was like, No, and I was like, Well, why would you say something negative like that, you know, so that was pretty much the end of our relationship.” — Jessica

On raising white-passing children: “One of the first times I ever brought out my son was to a bank. And the bank, person was like hey, it’s so nice to meet you. Are you babysitting? Are you a nanny? So she gave me those two options. You know, because my son is so white passing. You know, like I said, he’s blond hair, blue eyes, white skin, like he does not look like me. That was definitely a weird, you know, moment in my life, but that kind of set off like a chain reaction, you know, that was the first time I’ve ever brought him. And after that, you know, it’s just kind of progressively just been the same. — Jessica

Friends Transcript!

Tyler

In this segment we’re going to be talking about friends, specifically our furry friends and dogs. So back in 2018 in November, voters voted to ban greyhound racing and about 70% of voters favored that and it would be phased out but COVID hit so now the some of the tracks are closing even sooner than expected. And so, there are all these dogs that need to be adopted. The vote to ban greyhound racing was a really big deal because greyhound racing had been in Florida since 1931, who was the first state to allow pari-mutuel wagering on dogs. I found an article from 1939. I’m going to read a little bit about what they say. And the article is titled dog racing is a doggy business.

Gramel

That’s original. Oh, I think maybe it’s a dog eat dog business.

Tyler

Right or a dodgy business, but it says doggy here. Okay, so it starts its dog racing time in Florida again. The sport is big business down here and in many other sections of the country now with four major tracks operating nightly through the December-April season in Miami alone, there’s several hundred dogs. They received care comparable with that of the top-notch thoroughbred horse. Top hatted, red-coated stewards lead the colorful procession from the paddock where betters have made their pre-race inspection of the streamlined animals.  The barrier goes up and the Greyhound streak out after a mechanical rabbit, which they never catch. Greyhounds are valued at 50 to $1,000 each, a few at several thousands.

So, in the 40s that was a lot. I saw from one of the newspapers was 20 cents to get into the track. And then it says rusty the rabbit leads and merry chase as the racers hit the turn. Racing dogs cost about $7 a week for upkeep much less than horses, but their money winning days are usually limited to only two years occasionally three. So they really don’t have a long time. And then after they’ve been done racing, oftentimes, not the best things happen to them. Sometimes they go to farm sometimes they’re killed historically.

Gramel 

Do they get a lot of injuries?

Tyler

Some of them break their leg. Well, in the 90s, greyhound racing constituted a multibillion-dollar industry, which was another reason why it was so hard to ban greyhound racing because the state was getting money from that. From the reports that I found, since 1931 this state made at least $4.38 billion from pari-mutuel wagers. This was back a couple years ago, but some of the bad owners started to give the dogs drugs. Cocaine.

Gramel

Cocaine? Did they have cocaine in 1960?

Tyler

 I don’t know when it came to the world, but I mean they you could go out or in any street corner and buy it. I don’t know. I wasn’t alive then.

Gramel 

What you can it do to them besides kill a baby?

Tyler

Kill a baby?

Gramel 

Kill them maybe?

Tyler

Oh, yeah, definitely don’t give cocaine. Don’t do drugs. Yeah, this is not a pro-drug, cocaine podcast. Yeah, I think it gives them more energy and it can make them run faster. They will start giving them cocaine, they would start giving them some kind of steroids. And they would train the dogs and then they would, some of them would keep them in cages for a long time. I want to say that that’s not everybody, but that was definitely some owners because when I wrote this article, I got some people pushing back on like, not all dog owners are bad and I got some strongly worded mail. Someone wrote to me and I wrote back well, okay, like, let me talk to you because they offered and then I never heard back but anyway, so there was some shady stuff going on with the dogs. in 2013, Florida started mandating tracks to report Greyhound deaths. There were 400 deaths reported from 2013 to about 2018.

Did you ever go to any of these tracks?

Gramel 

I actually went on a date to a greyhound track down in St. Petersburg before I graduated from high school, and they were mind boggling. They were I couldn’t believe how fast they were. It was very interesting. I paid a lot of attention to the dogs. At first, it was exciting. They were so fast. But then it got kind of sad to me that they ran and never got anything. They didn’t get a reward that I could say because they never caught that artificial creature and,

Tyler

And they were never going to be able to catch it.

Gramel 

And I thought that got really sad to me after a while.

Tyler

I remember going to the dog track, I want to say Derby Lanes. Yes, that’s the same one. So, I remember going there. I don’t I must have been in either high school or a little bit. Maybe 19. A friend’s family used to like to go to the dog track and they took me.

Gramel 

It is amazing. The people that are interested in it.

Tyler

Right. And I never understood. I don’t like to gamble. I like to keep my money. Yeah, you know, that’s not something that I want to just be given it away. I mean, I’m not against gambling for other people. I just don’t like to gamble. Remember that time we went on that gambling bus trip?

Gramel 

We’ve been on two cruises together that we never bet a penny.

Tyler

Right. But the one trip that I’m thinking about they gave us a voucher.

Gramel 

Oh, yeah. Well, that was Yeah. And we sat there. I remember sitting there I think with a it was hot. So we had a lot of Coke.

Tyler

All of the people that were there were probably senior citizens. And they all love to gamble. They wanted to do the slots. Yeah, and at least with card games, there’s some kind of thought process and I don’t know about the slots, but that just doesn’t seem fun to me.

Gramel 

And with card games, you have interaction between all the people playing cards.

Tyler

More power to that. Well, I don’t know. There’s also a gambling addiction. So I’m not sure I’m Pro. This is a pro gambling podcast. I don’t know. Live your life.

Gramel  

I know a lot of people that set a limit on what they will spend. Yeah, especially on cruises, and that’s all they’ll spend. And when that’s gone, then it’s gone. And I think that’s, you know, life is chocolate and it’s gone.

Tyler

I think that was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at a gambling trip because I never liked the dog track. I remember they had a great buffet.

Gramel 

Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. Yes. And my friend, my friend Bernie and I, we really liked the buffet.

Tyler

They had a really good buffet. I don’t even get to it was just big. It had so much stuff on it. I mean, I know this as whatever is the sounds. I think when I was younger, I didn’t really think about the dogs racing as I mean, I thought it was sad, but I was there for the buffet.

Gramel 

Well, it took me a while to figure out how sad it was because they would ever catch that creature.

Tyler

And I think that it had been happening for so long. And you know, Derby Lane was just a thing that we knew about. It took me a while to realize that, hey, racing dogs is not something that everybody thinks is okay.

Gramel

And actually, if they won, they didn’t really win that much.

Tyler

I don’t know. I think the people I was with, they didn’t really win that much show. And I think that I remember my friends, I don’t even know if I bet or If I helped someone pick because they have all kinds of wild names. Yeah, you know, so I was just picking based on the names that I you know, like Barbie’s dream house, or whatever, like go go razor fast as you can or whatever, you know. And then you’d have like, all of these wild like long names and then you’d have like, Claire, yeah. Right or something like that. It was kind of hard to figure it out a bit. I only went a few times.

Gramel

I only went once.

Gramel 

Plus, I was still in high school. So I didn’t have any money to bet

Tyler

After becoming aware, I think just becoming more aware of the dogs. How they keep them cramped up. It’s like how, yeah, that’s so sad. I started to really care about the greyhounds. I had always been interested in them, but my boyfriend adopted a greyhound. He initially went to a farm to play with the greyhounds and pet them because they need love. And that’s good therapy.

Gramel 

People that do that.

Tyler

They’re not used to walking on a leash, and they don’t know how to walk on tile or up the stairs. So they’ll slip on the tile and they can’t get up the stairs. That broke my heart when I heard that. They do learn but they just have been in cages and racing. They hadn’t been in the house and they often walk into sliding glass doors or step right into backyard pools or body of water. They learned but these are just some of the things that when they come straight from that track.

He was just gonna go play with some dogs for a while. And then this, his dog came over and sat right on his lap and would not move. And yeah, and the person was like, I guess, you know, he chose you. And you know, if a dog chooses you like that, it’s really hard to say no, I think no dogs ever chosen me. I don’t know. I guess I’m more of a cat person. But anyway, I just thought that was a lovable story.

And then I’ve been around that dog a lot and his name is Jet. And so that was the name of the dog at the track hat and he was a champion. Now he sleeps about 20 hours a day. The greyhound does not like to be awake, I guess. I mean, like he’s just leisure. He’s worked a lot. I feel you know. I want to say he’s like six or so. And I want to say they live to about 15. I think I don’t have the data in front of me. So Jet is super lovable. And my favorite thing about jet is that he will go to the door when he has to use the bathroom and then we’ll come in, he does not love to be outside in the Florida heat. And then he just likes to be pet and just sleeps a lot. And I had thought about adopting a greyhound when I was living with you.

Gramel 

Did you know that Hallmark has been providing funds backing these places to take care of old greyhounds? Hallmark has been working on that for a couple years really. And they talk about it on their shows a lot. And then what lovable wonderful pets they make.

Tyler

I love that and you’re huge Hallmark fan. I mean, one might even say an expert.

Gramel 

Yes, yes, one might say that I know one person say that.

Tyler

But so I know that I’ve watched some of it. I know that they’ve been adopting dogs on Hallmark. But so you’re saying specifically greyhounds?

Gramel 

Well, they did have segments that they, they mainly do. They concentrate on getting good homes. And they’re all it’s all over the United States that they know about all these homes in different states. And they’ll show them and it’s very, very heartwarming what they do.

Tyler

Because the dogs, they are super lovable, and they’re just really good dogs and they’re clean to take care of and they’re super well, I don’t know if they’re super easy to take care of.

Gramel 

Right, friendly, and so on, so forth.

Tyler

But you and I had talked about adopting a greyhound and what was your thoughts on that? Do you remember?

Gramel 

Well, the only thing is that I walk with a cane. Bigger dogs seem to be more gangly, and they don’t mean to, but they can walk by and not get over with their tail. And then I wanted a dog that if the dog got sick, I could actually pick it up and take care of it. If I needed to take it to the vet or just take care of it at all, I needed a dog I could pick up.

Tyler

right and I think that they are great dogs but they’re very skinny, but they still weigh about I think Jet weighs about 100 pounds

Gramel 

A lot of times that those kind of dogs are the skinny dogs don’t get around in smaller areas.

Tyler

So talk to us a little bit about your experiences with dogs. I’ve know you’ve had some over the years and what have you learned about taking care of them?

Gramel 

We, at least I learned from animals, you know, because they are, they teach you things, and they are very, very dependent on you. And so it’s a kind of a blessing to have one and it’s a precious relationship. Aggravating sometimes.

Tyler

What’s that, Roxie?

Gramel 

And the Bible talks about unconditional love. And I haven’t personally known people that possess that very much.  Dogs do. And I think that’s just amazing that you observe that and they don’t stay mad at you, or they don’t even get mad at you. They don’t hold a grudge. You can say give me your tummy and they’ll give you their tummy. I would be mad at my husband half the time and he’d come home from work and I wouldn’t even leave the kitchen to come out and say hi, well, the dog would get up in the window, bark and carry on and jump on him and kiss him and lick him and all that. So, I learned that they do give you unconditional love, which is a wonderful, wonderful gift. And then I’ve learned also that when you have a dog, you’re very responsible for him. You need to take not as good a care of him as you do a child. They need a lot of care, a lot of attention, a lot of love, but they also need to, especially this day and time to be taught rules and regulations. You know, if they get away from you, they could get hit by a car and a second. And so, I think you’d have to just like with children, you have to give them discipline with love. But no, there’s no boundaries on that discipline. This is a way it’s got to be

Tyler

You’re not afraid of dogs. And I say that because I’m not necessarily afraid of dogs. I’ve recently learned I’m more of a cat person, but we don’t need to get into that. I don’t pet dogs that I don’t know.

Gramel  

Which is probably very wise.

Tyler

A lot of people thing that’s weird though, or like not friendly.

Gramel

I think you need to ask their permission right or let them come to you when you don’t know like john every time he sees a dog he’s going over to pet the dog and he’s got his face down at the dog. He loves dogs.

Tyler

I was thinking about this because when I was younger, I was bit by a little dog I have a scar on my thumb. And I just remember crying.

Gramel 

Once upon a time, cocker spaniels were known as vicious dogs.

Tyler

Ever since then, I was just been kind of you know, wary of dogs and I have had dogs that I’ve loved and that I like to be around but I have to have trust in the dog and the dog has have trusted me before I want to pet it.

Gramel  

With a with a dog, you should not show any fear. I’m not saying you’re supposed to be stupid and getting their you know, their territory, but you can’t let them know you got it. You know, it’s like anything, you know, they can smell fear, and they say, we’ll have fun with this guy.

Tyler

Well, that’s tough because remember when I was younger, like Rottweilers or something where we roaming around in this neighborhood.

Gramel

I learned with rottweilers and any big dog, they seem to be very well trained, disciplinary, wise. And I had to run at me one day and I was walking – didn’t have anybody with me or anything in my hand. And all I did was say, stay and they got their little rumps or their good size rubs right on the ground and they stopped. You have to just have a cool head. Don’t do anything. Like put your hand down to pet them. Let them come to you. They’ll tell you when they’re ready, ready to come smell your hand. But you know, my life is not ruled by fear, I think and my husband used to say Margie, you’re gonna find it, a dog someday you cannot Buffalo, but that hasn’t happened yet, even though I have dogs in my life.

Tyler

I’ve come to realize the dog has a lot to do with the owners more so than the dogs because I mean, I think dogs generally at the default are loving, friendly creatures. I think it has a lot to do with the breeding, breeding the owner so I’m not holding anything against dogs. I love dogs, but I don’t want to pet your dog if I don’t know your dog.

Gramel 

My niece that lives in Atlanta had a pit bull. And her name was Daisy. She was the most lovable dog and when she got to know you, she’d come sit on your foot where you couldn’t get up because she wants you to stay right there and play. You to throw her ball and I mean, she was a lovable thing. She and her master weighed about 95 pounds, but she had her totally under control.

Tyler

And pit bulls are often known to be aggressive. I think they have that reputation. But Daisy and was other dog Bella. Then people get such a bond with their dogs because I think you know who you’re talking about, she would choose her dog over a lot of people.

Gramel 

well and she was very tough you know she was a babe in total control of herself. So I think it has a lot to do with the raising of the dogs and I’ve learned you know, you could learn from people that give them you know, their territory where they feel like they know you then and then better.

Tyler

So I think that’s a great place to end for us.

Gramel

I have learned a lot from this, and it’s brought up good memories and it almost – I do have a nice big backyard.

Tyler

Has it made you want to adopt a greyhound?

Gramel

I didn’t say that, but you know, I do like dogs. And I do like Hallmark.

Tyler

There are a lot of greyhounds that needs to be adopted Jets, brothers and sisters are out there. And a lot of people might not think that they could have a greyhound because it is a bigger dog, but it is a good apartment dog. They’re very chill. They’re very loving. They’re not grouchy, you know, and they need to get adopted as quickly as possible. And they’ve worked hard, done their best given their bodies up for it. So, we got to give them a good home.

Gramel

It’s just wonderful to adopt senior dogs because that’s what I’ve done the last three dogs, they’re not so active so I can keep up with them. And they deserve good, golden years just like we deserve good golden years. I agree. And I think that is a great place for us to end.

Tyler

In the previous segment, we talked about furry friends and dogs. And now we’re going to talk about human friends, how to make them at different stages of life and how to keep up with them during quarantine and also the value of having friends who don’t necessarily think in the same ways that you do.

You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about making friends when you’re at different points of your life. I’m in my mid 30s, not in my mid 30s. I’m in my early –

Gramel 

first third.

Tyler

A lot of folks have children, or they already have their friend groups. So I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you were able to make friends when you’re a bit older at different stages in your life, and then maybe talk about what you’ve been doing in quarantine. I know you talked about the book club that you started.

Gramel

I now text.

Tyler

So I was happy that you got a cell phone, then you weren’t really using it. You didn’t have text message on it because you got jitterbug, which is geared towards senior citizens, and there was no texting. But then why don’t you tell them why you started texting?

Gramel 

Well, I kept getting texts every now and then. I would get something from my veterinarian, and I thought well with businesses they must have something they can send you messages other than the phone and so on so forth. But on Easter, I got like 20 photos, and I’m going okay, now what is this all about? And it was from my friend that lives in Ohio’s granddaughters and I think they said something to me, meaning isn’t something to her, make a long story short, I went wild. And my first bill had $76 extra on it, but I loved it. I loved it. So then I called and now I have unlimited talk and text.

Recently I was showing a lot of my friends how my hair is grown out, and then they would text back pictures of all their haircuts and so forth. And I find there’s a lot of people that will text that aren’t crazy about emailing or aren’t even crazy about a telephone call. You increased your audience by about a third. And so now I’m hearing from people that have maybe heard have heard fun, three times a year or something, but I like talking on the phone.

Tyler

I do, too.

Gramel 

One of the nicest things is a cousin of mine that calls me. She has these twin grandchildren and she sends me pictures. They’re now like 14 months old. And I feel like I know those children, right. And they live in Virginia. And I’ve never even met their mother. And now I have seen pictures of her. And she, I think she’s an awesome mother, just by the way, she takes so many pictures of them doing all these awesome things. And so I have a feeling in my heart about those children.

Tyler

And so what I think I’m hearing is that you have to be able to communicate with your friends in the ways that they want to communicate. If they’re more into texting, then text those people yet don’t call them or whatever, and try to figure out what that friend wants out of the communication.

Gramel

Now, I have two or three friends that prefers emails, and especially prayer requests. And that’s good because I can keep up with them and know what’s going on the good and the bad, and, but you’re right, everybody has a different form of communicating. And I have a friend that sends me stuff regularly and I send her stuff regularly. Because, you know, we’re kind of sitting around to a certain extent, people have figured out these things. And then I’m, I’m somebody that’s never afraid of being turned down. If I text you, and you don’t text me back, well, that’s fine. I’ll probably forget about it because my forgetter works very well.

Tyler

So you make the first move, and you don’t get offended if they don’t text you back. I think that would solve some problems for people because we do get caught up sometimes like, Oh, he’s not calling me or he’s not texting me or she’s not texting me back or whatever.

Gramel 

Everybody has a bad day. And they have them regularly. Sometimes, you know, more than their share. I’ve never wanted anybody to be left out when I go to a gathering. If I see somebody up against the wall and not chatting, right over there. If you don’t want to be bothered, you don’t want to be bothered, but I’ve had some wonderful experiences with people that don’t sound like they want to be bothered.

Tyler

Right. And they do. Off the top of my head. You’ve met made friends at Walgreens,

Gramel 

Insurance companies.

Tyler

Restaurants. Someone walking past the house.

Gramel 

One of my best friends has a dog and she’s in her 40s. She would walk by and I’d say hi up. She had a doggy Violet and I have a dog Roxy and we became friends. We exchanged telephone number, so on and so forth. Then when this pandemic started, she was up in North Carolina with her family. And when she got back, she called me and she said, Margie, I am 40 years old. I was in the army. I haven’t been sick but maybe twice in 20 years and I would like to do your grocery shopping. And it almost made me cry because a lot of my friends don’t want to go to the grocery store either.

Tyler

And that made me feel better because was still in Mississippi all the time.

Gramel 

Right and my niece, cousin that calls me in Margie. She lives in Georgia. She wants to thank all these people because I have another friend that I met in karaoke one goes to Publix for me and when the other one goes to all days for me, another person lived across the street said we go to Sam’s anything you need you let us know. And I said, Well, I need bleach and I need alcohol, rubbing alcohol. And she came over with her little son who’s precious and brought it to me right then I met this lady named Janet. I met this lady named surely and we’ve just talked and talked and never met had known them before.

Tyler

And I think that’s something that I try to take forward to is just you know, reaching out to people because if people sometimes that I think I’m going to be closest with the turns out I’m not. And some people who I’m like, Oh, we don’t have anything in common ended up just being fun, good people that I like to be around.

Gramel 

Yeah, I’ve got a new friend that is just awesome. And she has a different religion. Now I have several new friends that are different religions, which is a great thing to be. We’re supposed to be kind to one another and be willing to listen to one another. And this was all before the pandemic. I have a friend from Egypt. I like having different friends. I like having guy friends, different religions. That just makes life way more interesting.

Tyler

It makes me think of one of my close friends. We’re on different ends of the political spectrum.

Gramel

The one we went to her wedding. Oh, wow, we had a blast.

Tyler

I mean, she’s amazing. And she’s so funny. She’s super into the Second Amendment, of course. And I always supported her because she knows how to use a gun. And she’s smart.

Gramel 

And you want somebody in your corner that knows how to use a gun who will use it in the right way.

Tyler

I mean, whatever I’m not trying to get like into anything, but I felt comfortable with her knowing that if anything were to happen, she would know how to handle it. And we would just have really good conversations about everything because we were on different ends of the political spectrum, but we still cared about each other. She would always bring food because we would work these long shifts and she would like make meat and bring me some. She, you know, was so sweet. We just didn’t agree politically. But I learned a lot from her too because she was a veteran. And she has a different lifestyle than me, but we didn’t judge each other.

Gramel 

Yeah, when you have friends like that, not the people that go to the same church you do. They’re much more interesting and much more exciting.

Tyler

It kind of really made me think something. Everybody else was very liberal in that situation. And so she felt like they wouldn’t like hear her out. They just assumed she would be a certain way. And you know, I’ve been in situations where people will assume I’m a certain way and they won’t give me a chance to be friends with them or whatever. But then I was the only person from work that she invited to her wedding. And you know, like you were saying, you talk a lot to people and we were at a table where nobody was trying to talk to us. It gets awkward. We don’t know anyone. But you and I will both strike up conversations because we’re sitting with people for two hours. But no one was trying to talk to us. But then you started talking to that guy.

Gramel 

Yeah. He taught me about vaping.

Tyler

Yeah, he was in his like, mid or late 20s or something.

Gramel 

I told him about karaoke. He was really, really neat, even though he was really really tipsy, but he stayed seated. I think when somebody is tipsy, they should kind of stay seated.

Tyler

No one wanted to talk to us there. But anyway, we had a good day. We ended had a very good time.

Gramel

She was the first bride I knew that had a tattoo. Really. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a wedding that if they had a tattoo, it didn’t show.

Tyler

Kind of circling back to what we were talking about, you were married for a long time. And then you’ve been single later in life. So how has making friends and maybe what are your strategies? How have they changed throughout those seasons of your life?

Gramel 

I was married for 47 and a half years, I’ve been actually a widow for about 12 years, I guess it is now. I’ll let y’all Guess which one I liked the best. But anyway, first of all, I don’t push it. I don’t push relationships. I’ve learned to let God fight a lot of my battles, and I just don’t push it. Now. I can tell you when I left my husband and when stayed in that apartment complex, I lost about 10 friends.

Long story, I’m not even going into it. But as time went by, I got 10 friends. Ten new friends, it was funny. And what I mean by pushing it. I’ll say hi to somebody. And if they are friendly, I’ll be right friendly back. But I don’t know. See, I don’t say I’m gonna make friends with that person. I may say I would like to make friends with that person. To me that’s different than pushing it not. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with pushing it, because you might get some of your best friends by pushing it.

I’m just saying I’m too old to push it is like, okay, I’ve lost 12 pounds in these three months or whatever. But I eat everything I want to because I’m too old to do without, but the Bible talks about balance. If I’m going to have two Hershey bars, that’s great. To be my meal, but I think your life should be balanced. And if you want to do something if it’s not against the law and it’s not against God’s law, do it but do it in balance. I don’t down at people that smoke. I don’t look down at people who drink because I overeat. I don’t think we should ever judge anybody.

Tyler

We just had a great chat about friendship over the years and stuff like that. And now we are going to talk to my BFF about friendship and motherhood. And as you’re about to hear, you know, we had some fun.

Now we’re going to talk to you my bestie – my ride or die. She knows where the bodies are. There are no bodies, but if there were any, she would probably know. I was thinking about it though. I feel like we’re at the point of our lives now where if there actually were bodies, I don’t think you would actually tell me because you wouldn’t want to implicate me and I don’t think I would actually tell. I mean, I actually would tell you because I would need help.

Jessica

I don’t think you would actually tell me. If I had a body which I don’t, I would not tell you.

Tyler

Because you know, I would like spiral.

Jessica

I’m not good at first. If I washed my hands with non-antibacterial soap, like if I just did it with like scented soap, I feel like you would spiral.

Tyler

Only if you tried to touch me. What you do with your body is your choice but not when you try to come into my space.

Gramel 

Well, getting back to bodies. At 77, you forget where the bodies are. So It’s not a problem anymore.

Jessica

Maybe I’ll share the body’s locations with you.

Tyler

We are here with my bestie Jessica and she is in her new house, which I have not been able to visit yet because we are practicing social distancing. But I want to come see soon. So before we get started, I was hoping you would regale us with a story that you told me last week. I need an update about the snakes at your house.

Jessica

Oh my goodness. Okay.

Tyler

Well wait, I want to preface this if you want to leave the room because I know you don’t like snakes. This is a pretty intense story.

Gramel

Can I eat my chocolate?

Tyler

Yeah, and I’ll come get you when the story is over. So I think last week you were telling me this wild banana story about the snakes and I still can’t get over it. So remind me what happened.

Jessica

I go outside and I see this black racer come out. And I’m like freaking out but like not really because I’m not scared of snakes but like one comes out and then kind of goes through the brushes and then goes around. So I’m like, okay, whatever, there’s this thing. And then another minute later, there was another one. And then another minute later, there was another one. And then another one. Like they were just following the same path. There was probably like 25. It was a lot. So I went to see kind of where these snakes were coming from. So I went closer to the action, and they just like, came and snapped at me, but like not really me because it was in my son’s helmet like his bicycle helmet. So like it snapped at the bicycle helmet, which is weird behavior for black racer. Based off you know what I know about black racers. They’re kind of like a really chill race of snakes. So like, it was really weird that it was like so coming at me, you know, because like I’ve owned several snakes in my life and like I haven’t had except for one snake. I haven’t had any snakes. Like really lunged at me. So like, it was definitely a weird experience. And that’s when I went inside and started watching from out the window. And then I just got bored. So I stopped watching but there were like a ton.

Tyler

Well, the weird part to me, as you were saying they were each following like a very specific path, one after the other, but not together.

Jessica

Not together. Like it was like a one minute two minute gap between each snake. But they were coming under my fence and kind of going around the bushes and then going around the house but all following the same path.

Tyler

And so this happened for about an hour if there was like 25 or 30 snakes,

Jessica

Snake after snake, and then I got bored. And then I went back out and there were still more so God knows how many, you know total.

Tyler

but I think there are a few logical explanations to what was happening. A) there’s a curse somewhere. Maybe I’m not saying on your house because they weren’t stopping at your house, but there’s obviously a curse somewhere, too. It’s the apocalypse or three, they were going somewhere to mate or they had just come from mating and they were smelling each other.

Jessica

I did not think the third if we’re gonna be real, like I didn’t like some sort of meeting. So I definitely would go for the first to being more logical. Yeah, this is some curse that’s happening around here.

Tyler

that was like, what a week or two ago so what is the update? Have you cleansed your house? Have you burned Sage? What have you done?

Jessica

I ended up talking to my neighbor who was like, Yeah, man, I saw a snake in my garage and I sprayed snake repellent. And I was like, oh, okay, so then they were leaving your house.

Tyler

So there was actually a logical explanation.

Jessica

There actually was like I fully anticipated there being a curse on my house and on my land. But I was like, this makes way more sense.

Tyler

So you don’t have to burn down the new house that you just moved into. So I’m happy about that. I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of snake repellent though. That seems weird to me.

Jessica

It’s weird to me too. But I also just moved to Polk County and I’m like, nothing’s out of the question.

Tyler

They have some of their own remedies for things.

Jessica

Like snake repellent whiskey. We don’t know what it actually was. But like I’m here for I support it. And now I have a reason.

Tyler

So I’m glad that there’s an update and I can rest easy knowing that your house does not have a curse once I come to it. So I’m gonna go tell my grandmother, it is safe for her. I think she’s eating chocolate, so she might not come right back, but I’m gonna let her know.

Okay, so you and I have met at the southern Baptist school that we were both attending. So we’ve known each other for more than half our lives at this point.

Jessica

Wow. My gosh. Yeah,

Tyler

And we’ve been pretty, I mean, I think we were been close since day one.

Jessica

You know, I’m trying to think of a catty response to that. And I have none because honestly, yes, like from day one, we were kind of kindred souls. Like, I love you. And I love everything about you. And we had so much fun.

Tyler

You said something interesting to me. You said that you think one of the reasons why we became so close was because you were one of the only students of color at the school and I was one of the only closeted at the time. Gay students.

Jessica

For sure. I think you know that we were two unique individuals. I don’t even have a word for what was happening at that school, but everybody kind of molded into almost like if you’ve ever watched Stepford Wives. It was almost very that.

Tyler

I had gone to school with those folks since kindergarten, because it was one of those schools that’s like K through 12. And so I think at that time, I was thinking about my identity and realizing that I didn’t necessarily fit in with these folks that I had gone to school with my whole life and I guess that we gravitated toward each other. While I was interrogating my identity, you came along.

Jessica

And I think, you know, on that point, you know, I was one of the people who hadn’t known you your whole life, I was able to take outsider’s point of view like, Hey, man, you’re actually really cool outside of this identity. Obviously, it was more broken up and more rough around the edges, then, you know, kind of simplified into that sentence, you know.

Tyler

I think that’s a good thing. It’s like finding someone who you can just be yourself with and that’s not going to make fun of you. Like, we think the whole RENT soundtrack one night just being stupid.

Jessica

I did that last night,

Gramel 

I knew it a school teacher there. She was actually a substitute. She thought Christian kids were meaner. But she said maybe it’s because they don’t do drugs and they don’t drink to take the edge off. Whatever that was a real eye opener. He shared the good stuff a lot more than he did that not so good stuff, because I guess that’s how you treat a grandmother. Except I’m not a typical grandmother.

Tyler

I should probably say that this school had these kind of morality contracts where if I would have come out, I would have been expelled. And that was one of my biggest fears at the time, because I was like, I won’t ever get into college. But I do think those schools can be good for different types of students. And I think it was good for me for a while, until I was realizing this part of my life and I could keep it hidden and kind of away whereas, you know, as you were saying, as one of the only students of color at the school, you were on a different visibility

Jessica

Being half black, I can’t be like no. I’m also a very strong personality. Me my color plus me, you know my voice and how I express myself and my hand movements and everything like that was something that could not be expected by anybody who was going to that school and just being so like by the book and just almost military, like definitely oppressive. Like if you express yourself in any sort of way, that wasn’t the norm. My Bible professor was like, Hey, I was like you I was from the hood. And you know, I had to tell this man, like, I live on Indian Rocks. Okay. Just because I’m half black and agnostic does not mean that I’ve like had this you know, like, you can put me in like the pocket just because I’m, I’m biracial, like, Okay, so we’re all from the hood. I’m not saying shit about the hood. I’m just saying like, I’m not from that.

So just to bring that to me was just such a weird, like, I feel like that was like my first kind of inclination like, Oh, this is racism that I’m dealing with –  just like a really revealing moment like, oh, okay, now everything else makes sense like and think that was my first picture of Oh, this is about my skin color. Like this isn’t about my beliefs or how I behave or anything this is just like about my skin color like he’s basing all of my actions off of that. It was just a very eye-opening experience. You know, I was expelled from the school because they told my mom I was on drugs, which I was not.

I was I was absolutely not. I had never even tried to drug at that point. And they did not test me. They just told my mom that I was on drugs. So then I got kicked out of my mom’s house. I think, you know, we definitely met each other in that moment of life.

Tyler

For us, we’ve been friends for very major points of our lives. But we haven’t always been in the same city. I know, it’s been messy. We’ve made it here this day,

Jessica

You know, like on a broader scope, I just think, you know, like, you’ve always been here like, for me personally, and I haven’t left Florida so like, you’ve always been here for every monumental moment of my life. You’ve been here for my kids’ birthdays, you know, you were here, you know, when I was pregnant and you know, visited me, I was there when you graduated. I was there, you know, through all these like milestones. So like, I feel like that it just kind of keep touch with the milestones, you know, it’s really important for you to be there. And, you know, I don’t really know what’s kept us strong. Honestly, I have no idea how we made it this far, because you and I had completely different paths.

Tyler

And I mean, you know, we don’t really have that much in common either. No shade to either one of us, but we just like different things.

Jessica

I literally hate poetry and you have made a career of it. And you don’t like business and like I love it.

Tyler

So I don’t, I don’t like spreadsheets

So you have two kids and you had your second child via artificial insemination. Is that what it’s called? Is it called like, what is it? Hmm? In Vitro? What is the term?

Jessica

Well, it’s not in vitro because in vitro is like IVF which is like you’re having fertility issues or anything like that. But it was just a sperm donation. So like, it wasn’t, you know, anything kind of inserting into my egg or anything like that. They would just insert the sperm into me, and then you know, I would create the babies so there was no fertility issues with my process.

Tyler

So then what led you to the decision to go through that process?

Jessica 

I had wanted to do this for a while. I was just like, this is really important to me. I do want to have another kid. I’m not dating somebody. I have a dad figure for my son. And it’s been a nightmare. So yeah. No. So I don’t want to repeat that whole thing of like broken promises. And could I have gotten married? I never met anybody who I was like,tThis is who I want to be with for the rest of my life. But I knew that I wanted to be a mother and I want to be a mother of more than one kid. So I didn’t feel like my lack of relationship and lack of wanting to kind of tie myself down to one person to the impact that. So I called my mom just to make sure that she was on the same page as me because you know, I am a single Mom, so I need to make sure you know if I’m saying somebody else can take care of the kids. It’s not fair. It’s kind of just like a husband. You can’t rely on this other person, you know, for taking care of your kids without involving them in the situation. So I called my mom and just to make sure it was okay with her. And it was finally because I had brought this up before but she was like, no. And finally, she was like, Yeah, for sure. Part of you know, the sperm donor process is, you know, choosing whether or not you want your kid to ever be able to have the opportunity to meet the Father, and I did choose that option. So she will meet him when she’s 18. And she does have at minimum 32 other siblings.

Tyler

That’s bananas. I didn’t know that. 32.

Jessica

Yes, he had 32 other families. So one family is consisted of one person buying the sperm so if one person had five kids from them, that was still be considered one family. So at minimum, she has 32 siblings, but God knows how many she actually has. Because there’s no limit on how many times you can purchase from the same donor. I don’t really understand why men do it. But I do appreciate the opportunity. Like, I wouldn’t have my daughter, you know, and she is amazing. Honestly, I think they’re gonna have like a group chat when they get older. I think it’ll be really cool for her. But I definitely didn’t want to take away her ability to meet her father. You know, when the time comes, if she wants to, it’s totally her choice. It’s not mine.

Gramel 

You’ve done a great job, I’m sure. And it is an education and it’s something you wouldn’t want to live without.

Tyler

I always really respected your decision. And I just thought it made sense for you and where you were at to have another baby the way you did, but what were some of the responses that you got from other folks about the decision?

Jessica

Well, like the guy who I always say would just be, you know, he was my back burner. And his reaction, you know, when I told him I was going through with this, his reaction was your kid is going to be a psychopath. Like, he had a really negative reaction to it. And I was like, you know, do you think that’s gonna change what I’m gonna do moving forward? And he was like, No, and I was like, Well, why would you say something negative like that, you know, so that was pretty much the end of our relationship. You know, the other reactions that I’ve had are just like, why didn’t you go to a bar? Why didn’t you just do it?

Tyler

Race is a topic that you and I have spent a lot of time discussing. So what is it like being a biracial mother raising, as you’ve said, white passing kids.

Jessica

So that’s been an interesting journey. I will tell you know, kind of based on like, one of the first times I ever brought Sam out, my son was to a bank. And when you know, the bank, people are like, hey, it’s so nice to meet you. Are you babysitting? Are you a nanny? So she gave me those two options. You know, because my son is so white passing. You know, like I said, He’s just, he’s blond hair, blue eyes, white skin, like he does not look like me. If, if you saw me, I am clearly biracial. I have brown skin. I have brown eyes and they have dark curly hair. So I say clearly by race But a lot of people think I’m Puerto Rican. You know, that was that was definitely a weird, you know, moment in my life, but that kind of set off like a chain reaction, you know, that was the first time I’ve ever brought him. And after that, you know, it’s just kind of progressively just been the same but at least you know, I knew what to expect from white people. And I’m not trying to be racist when I say that, but like, anybody of color can clearly see that that’s my son, anybody that’s Hispanic can see that that’s my son, but it seems to be a real barrier for white people to be able to see that that’s my son, you know, and even when he was in public school, you know, as we got older, like I went to go pick him up for a mother son lunch, and I was taking him and his best friend who is Vietnamese, he’s dark skinned like me, but he is Vietnamese. They were letting me take him out, but they stopped me from taking my son. They were like, you need to show proof, you know, of being this child’s mother, which was so weird to me, but expected and that, you know, I understood what I was doing when I went in there, you know, and it’s really sad to say, but that’s to say the world right now, which needs to change. As being a biracial parent to white passing kids, it’s very difficult. it’s very disarming. It’s very invalidating. I love, you know, my kids, but it just, you know, whenever we go in public places, you know, I’m aware of my surroundings. So I see it and it’s awful.

Gramel 

Well, I’m sorry, you have to go through that, Jessica. That’s not fair. It’s not it’s not okay. Good people need to be aware of things period, just have an education, and just be kind. Just be kind. You don’t have to just blurt out any thing you want to say or just have a smile on your face and not be looking at somebody with a negative look on their face. One thing I always remember from my, in my childhood was mama started me in church. And we all went, my brother and I and my mom. Daddy stayed home and made these two unless it was Christmas. We sang the song Jesus loves little children, all the children of the world red and yellow, black and white they are precious in His sight. And I always just grew up with that. I was just alarmed when I met people that were unkind about it is just, you know, that’s not the way God would have been.

Tyler

I wanted to ask with all of the experiences that you’ve had and raising your kids, how are you talking about race with them? Or how do you plan to talk about race with them? Especially considering the Black Lives Matter movement and some of the other social justice issues that’s been really prevalent this summer?

Jessica

Super interesting question. And, you know, I think, with my kids being white passing, it’s a little bit more of a difficult conversation to have, you know, and I understand that black women and black men have to have the conversation with their kids about how to be in public, and I will never compare what I’m going through to what they’re going through like at all. I don’t think it’s comparable. You know, I just have to teach my kids at this point to be aware of the social and injustices that are happening, you know, and to be supporters of equality. And, you know, it’s been really difficult to even approach that conversation because I don’t have to have it because my kids are white passing been kinda difficult to kind of pinpoint, you know, where, you know, you don’t want to take their innocence away. And I understand that black people don’t have that privilege to not take their kids innocence away because that just is. So it’s really kind of embarrassing even to say, you know, as a bi racial person, it’s embarrassing to say like, I don’t have to deal with that with my kids, but I don’t. So I haven’t really broached the subject.

I wanted to take him to the protests. I wanted to definitely be a part of that and just kind of have him engage with the black community and understand he’s a part of it. I think that that’s really important, but I haven’t had the opportunity to do that and honestly, and no shade on Cops I think cops are, you know, fantastic. And I love what they do. And I, you know, call the cops when the time is necessary. And I think there are a lot of good ones. But going to the protests, like I was more scared of what the police officers would do, then, you know, people of color, which was a really frightening place for us to be because, you know, I don’t ever want my kids to be scared of the police, which again, is a privilege because you know, black people with their black sons, you know, and black daughters need to almost essentially teach their kids at this point, Hey, be cautious. That’s not something that I want my son to feel like and that’s a huge privilege and I get that I totally understand that.

So it’s kind of trying to find that middle line of, you know, understanding your heritage, understanding who you are, while having the privilege of not being put on the ground. If you are pulled over. Not being, you know, taken out of the car, not having to put your hand, you know, and ask the officer for every move that you’re trying to do. Like, I can’t even put into words how awful it is to kind of just be in the center lines, if you will. Just, I don’t know how to talk to my kids about this.

Gramel 

To me when I get asked, then they’re ready to hear him. He hasn’t asked.

Jessica

I mean, he did make a couple comments about, you know, not really being black, which really threw me for a loop. So like, I think it’s really important for him to meet his black family, or the black side of my family to kind of just like reinitiate himself to the roots, but he hasn’t asked about anything yet. So I’m just gonna kind of wait. But again, on the other side of that, you know, a lot of black parents don’t have that leisure to be able to wait till their kids asked.

Tyler

I’m sure you will handle it, how it needs to be handled. Yeah.

Gramel 

You know, it’s like, kind of simplistic, I guess. But have your daughter or your son, either one asked about babies or whatever.

Jessica

Sam has asked, you know how babies are born? I keep it very scientific though.

Gramel 

But like with a little girl, you have to prepare her about menses and so on and so forth. But I just found that basically with my kids, because if you tell them stuff before they’re ready for it, that you’ll have to tell them again. They don’t happen to be ready to hear that. Maybe they’re ready to hear all kinds of other things.

Tyler

Thank you so much for talking with us. I know you have a lot to do. You put your one kid to bed and now you got to go find where your other kid is great off to. We will talk to you soon.

Jessica

I love you both.

Tyler

That is our episode on friends. Thanks for being a friend – traveled down the road and back again. Your heart is true.

Gramel   

Call a dear friend today or contact them and say, Hey,

Tyler

Do that and subscribe to the podcast. Yes. Send your friend the podcast.

Gramel   

Oh, that would be wonderful. They would love it.

Tyler

Send your grandmother the podcast.

Gramel 

Especially your grandmother.

Colette Transcript!

Tyler

On today’s episode we’re going to be talking about Tampa Bay Noir a new collection edited by Collette Bancroft, who is also the book’s editor at the Tampa Bay Times. Then in the second segment, we’re going to actually get to talk to Collette. We are going to interview her about the collection, about the Times Festival of Reading, about writing this kind of crime fiction because she has a piece in there. I think it’s gonna be a great conversation. I’m excited about that.

Gramel 

And, you know, when you were a little boy, the same friend that I’m having a book club with right now, got me to go to the first Festival. She had never been. From then on as the story goes, I took Tyler every year. And he ended up being a speaker at the festival.

Tyler

We will talk to her about it because I think they’re going to do virtual events this year.  

Gramel 

We’ll have to do that. That would be fun because I walked with a cane. So that’ll be helpful.

Tyler

In your understanding what is noir?

Gramel 

It’s all about Mystique.

Tyler

According to Google, noir is a genre of crime film or fiction characterized by cynicism, fatalism and moral ambiguity. So there’s a lot of criminal elements to all of the pieces in this collection. It’s broken into four different sections, based on geography of the Tampa Bay area. The first section is this suburb sinister and it has folks like Lori Roy and Tim Dorsey. Then Part two is blood in the water with Lisa Unger. Sterling Watson. Part Three is grifters paradise –

Gramel 

With the story “Tall, dark and handsome.”

Tyler

Written by Ace Atkins, “The Midnight Preacher” by Sarah Gerard, and “Jack Knife” by Danny Lopez. His story took place in Gibsonton, where Carnival folks used to reside, which I knew a little bit about, and I’ve been really interested in that so it was interesting to see how this writer took that into consideration. And then part four is “family secrets” with folks like Gale Massey and Collette Bancroft. There are other stories in there too, but you’re gonna have to buy a copy and see who else is in there.

How about we talk about some of the stories that spoke to you. Since there are a good amount of stories in here? Why don’t we just highlight a few that spoke to you?

Gramel 

I loved the one that was written about Pinellas Park. And that was by Gale Massey. It goes in the story of a young little girl’s life. That was very, very sad. But she had people that loved her, like her poor mom and dad, it really got into the relationship with her and her grandfather, her and a coach and these were all sweet relationships. She was a good girl that got dealt a bad hand and the way she coped with it was off the wall, but a very interesting story.

Tyler

It kind of aligns itself with that old writing rule is if there’s a gun, the gun has to go off. But who is a gun going off toward? And does the gun hit anything? Those are questions. Yes,

Gramel 

The hitting someone that is usually up in the air.

Tyler

And I think that in this collection, there a lot of guns hitting things. There’s a lot of interesting and creative ways of dying. So let’s now talk about the one that you and I were talking a little bit about last night, called “Tall, Dark, and Handsome.” And that piece is by Ace Atkins. It’s grouped in part three, the grifters paradise, and grifter means someone’s trying to scam you. Somebody’s trying to get money..

What was it that you drew you to this one?

Gramel 

Well, the name of course. But I see another vein going through these noir stories. People don’t have a lot of self-confidence. They don’t think highly of themselves. They don’t set boundaries. And this is what happens in “Tall, Dark, and Handsome.” And I’m a boundary setter, and that wouldn’t happen to me.

Tyler

So essentially, this woman moves from I think it was Detroit. I She moves to the West Shore area, she gets out a job at the mall.

Gramel 

And she’s very preoccupied with shaving men.

Tyler

That’s her job. And then she meets this man who I don’t think is tall, dark and handsome. She kept keeps talking about how old and saggy. I think probably at one point, maybe. Hmm. I guess.

Gramel 

And he has a prescription problem.

Tyler Gillespie 

Blue pill. Yeah. I think that’s I don’t know if that’s a problem. I think that anyway, let’s just skip past that. So she meets this man and she goes on a date with him and he’s very charming to her. She finds him charming.

Gramel 

Except –

Tyler

He forgot his wallet. The classic Oh, I didn’t bring my wallet I forgot it. So she meets this man who doesn’t pay and the bill is like $300 and like almost $400 because their data is expensive. So that for you is a red flag that’s where you would just definitely not be going on a second date. So if you were in her shoes, what had happened would not happen.

Gramel 

Because I have standards.

Tyler

Well, she kept talking about you know, she was feeling lonely and she would the man was very charming all of these kinds of things.

Gramel

When you get lonely, read a book. If you read regularly, you won’t have time to get lonely. Read noir – that will make you not want to go on a date.

Tyler

Is there another story you’d like to talk about?

Gramel 

Well, of course Sarah’s. And that was about this off the wall preacher named Buck. Sarah’s protagonist was a journalist. And she really knew how to go after a story and not back down or back off and she was brave. She had her standards. And she was smart.

Tyler Gillespie 

Her story is called “The Midnight Preacher.” And it is about a kind of he’s like a televangelist kind of person, but kind of a bootleg version. And he does it on the internet. And he’s shady and he’s a grifter. That’s why they’re in the grifter section. And we actually got to talk to Sarah about her writing that story on another episode. And she said, I won’t give too much away. But she said that it started from her own interest in someone who was actually like the character that she wrote about in this fiction. I just think some televangelists, it seems like they’re really ego driven. And they are collecting a lot of money and stuff like that. I like Joyce Meyer, even though, she does push a lot of books and stuff like that. Anyway, I liked Sarah’s I pieces because it was a really like she was finding clues as she was going out going along. And it had a really good pace. We, you know, we can check back with Sarah’s episode to hear more about that story. One piece, I liked a lot of the pieces in here is they have a lot of good pacing. They’re very fast paced reading.

Gramel 

I would advise not skipping around, because if you start at the beginning, you’re like, questioning everything. But as you read the stories, you kind of get with the pattern. And you start not wondering as much as just immersing yourself into the story.

Tyler Gillespie 

I agree. I think that’s a good idea, a good way to approach it. The piece that I want to talk about is called “Only You” and that’s by Lisa Unger. And it takes place in Clearwater Beach. And essentially that story is about a guy who moves away from Clearwater gets rich moves back and is trying to get back with the love of his life. I like this because it really reminded me of being at the beach. The descriptions really put me back in to Clearwater Beach. I could see myself there at some of these places that I’ve been to the parts of the beach and stuff like that. It was really nice and made me want to go to the beach.

Gramel 

And yes, he got rich by doing what.  

Tyler Gillespie 

He created a video game.

Gramel 

And why was he back in town? Besides the love of his life.

Tyler

because he was rich, and he wanted to build a house.

Gramel 

A mansion. So, he was quite successful.

Tyler

Yes. And the video game aspect was cool, too, because there were some parallels in the writing. They would kind of discuss the video game, which I thought was cool.

Gramel 

Is that what they would do? I didn’t grab that.

Tyler  

That character was trying to get home and he was trying to get home and it was.

Gramel 

That makes so much more sense! I’m 77 very smart, but –

Tyler

You’ve never played a video game.

Gramel 

I think maybe I might have done one of those things that you shake the machine.

Tyler

A pinball machine.

Gramel

I think I’m on I’ve done them. One of them, maybe one time. And I did not see the point of it. So, you know, I did read a book.

Tyler

I’m not a big gamer either. I’ve definitely read more books than played games. Is there anything else that you’d like to say about this book?

Gramel 

It’s an eye opener. I would recommend it.

Tyler

There is some crime, there’s death murder, the blood. But it’s fun. We will live to read another day.

//

Tyler

in the last segment we talked about Tampa Bay Noir, the edited collection. And now we are going to get to talk to Collette, about the book about her writing about Noir. And about the time specificall of reading, which is a huge event and it’s always a lot of fun. Here we go.

So can you talk to us a little bit about how did the book come to be from initial thought to publication?

Colette Bancroft 

Well, the noir books are a series, they’ve actually done more than 80 of them. As a matter of fact, they started doing them about 15 years ago, and there’s Miami Noir and Boston Noir, and then they just expanded from there. They had never done Tampa Bay, and I had some sort of connections a little to the publisher, and I was familiar with the books, I’d seen them. And so we connected and I wrote a proposal for it, and I started working on it about two years ago. The first step is recruiting the authors. You know, I had to find people who were willing to do it. They’re all new stories. They’re not you know, they’ve never been published in other places. So they had to agree to do the stories. But fortunately in Tampa Bay, there are a lot of really good writers. So I had a good field to choose from I really I, you know, I told someone else I could have had an anthology with 50 writers in it, but their limit is 15. So, I recruited those authors and they turned in the stories, we went through the editing process, and, you know, production and all that. And it was a lot of fun. It was interesting to work with. These are all authors that I’ve met in the course of my job, but at the time since the book editor there, and I’ve reviewed the books by most of them, and it was interesting to be involved in the editing process – it was not very hard work. They’re all really good writers and very professional and you know, so it wasn’t heavy lifting to edit them. But still, it was interesting to have that kind of back and forth. process with them.

Gramel 

They were very well written, I don’t know how you choose, because I mean, there’s so many to choose from, and how you chose down to 15? Because there’s a lot of talent.

Colette

Yes, there is. It was hard to choose. There were, you know, people I wish I could have included that I couldn’t. The publisher likes to get diversity into the books. I had to choose writers who were both men and women, I had to have some writers who were people of color, I had to have some writers who were LGBTQ people. And so that was kind of putting a puzzle together, you know, to think about those things as well as just wanting to get really good writers, but I think it worked out.

Tyler

What had been your connection to noir is it something you’ve been very interested in reading and writing? Or what’s your relationship to it?

Colette

Yeah, I’ve always been a fan of noir of crime fiction in general and especially of noir writing. Before I was a journalist, I got a master’s degree and did PhD work in English and when I was working on my PhD, focused on crime fiction. The dissertation I never quite finished is about the crime fiction writer Raymond Chandler, he’s kind of one of the founding fathers of American crime fiction and he’s not exactly a noir writer himself, but he often kind of moves in that direction. And, so I like the style of a lot of noir writers, to the kind of dark way that they look at the world.

And, and so I was I’ve always been interested in it. I like that. I like the style of a lot of noir writers, to the kind of dark way that they look at the world. So yeah, I’ve been a fan for a long time. It was kind of a natural fit me.

Gramel 

Now that’s what the movie Gaslight was.

Colette

Yeah. There are a lot of film noir as a whole, you know, kind of, I think the books came first. But then film noir became a whole genre on its own. But yeah, that’s certainly one of them.

Tyler

And so you have a piece in there. Can you talk to us a little bit about your writing of the piece in your inspiration and in your work on it?

Colette

It was unusual for me in that I made my living as a writer I have for, you know, most of my adult life. But I’ve been a journalist for over 30 years. And I haven’t written fiction since I was in graduate school since I was in my 20s. And this is the first story I’d written in a fictional story in a very long time. But as I was working on the book, they gave me the option. Each of the books in the series has an editor that does the job I did of putting the book together. And the editor always has the option of writing his or her own story or not. And at first, I thought, Oh, I’m not going to write when I have so many good writers. But the more I worked on their stories, I thought this little bit of, I had an idea for this story that had been in my brain for a while and I just thought, Oh, I’m just gonna write it, you know? And if it’s terrible, they’ll tell me, you know, it’s terrible. Don’t put it right. So So I wrote it, and it actually, it didn’t take me that long to write it. I wrote it and rewrote it over about a month. And, some of it is it’s based in a neighborhood in Tampa called Rattlesnake and I lived there when I was a kid. I mean, the setting of the story comes from my own background – little bits of the story come from my own experience, but it really is fiction. I’ve had a couple of friends read it and say, That’s terrible that that happened to you. The most autobiographical thing in that story is the mother, the snake killer. That’s my mother. That’s okay. That’s the most autobiographical thing, but it came out of you know, some things that I knew about that it happened to other people, but I really did make most of it up. It really is fiction.

Tyler

I wasn’t familiar with Rattlesnake as an area.

Gramel 

I don’t think I was either. I thought you were talking about the town in Florida.

Colette

Yeah, it’s a neighborhood in Tampa that it’s not people don’t usually call it that these days. But it used to be called that it’s the area right around West Shore Boulevard and Gandy. If you come off, the bridge coming into Tampa. Right at the Tampa end of the Gandy bridge, that used to be called Rattlesnake, there was a rattlesnake post office at that intersection. And it was named that because long ago, there was actually a rattlesnake canning plant located there and that’s in the story to where they would catch rattlesnakes and cook them and put the meat in cans and sell it at tourist stops along the highways.

And, and so it was called that and when I lived there as a kid in the 1960s it people still called it Rattlesnake. People don’t call it that much anymore. Although if you google map, Tampa, often that neighborhood will show up as rattlesnake on a Google Map. It’s interesting that that somehow Google picked that up I don’t know how. But that’s where it came from. But the stories the other stories are, as I said, they’re all over they range from like, The North End of Clearwater Beach down to Gibsonton and –

Gramel

Largo.

Colette

Yeah, it was interesting that we asked the writers to each pick a neighborhood and to avoid overlap. Before they began writing, I got each of them to tell me where they wanted to set their stories, so that they wouldn’t, you know, write about the same neighborhoods. And I was a little bit afraid that a lot of writers would pick Ybor City, just you know, because it has kind of a history of crime. And none of them did – not one person. That surprised me.

Gramel 

That proves that authors are unpredictable.

Colette

Yes, they are. They’re their own their own people.

Gramel 

I have a cousin that was born in St. Petersburg. When she got married, she got a home in Pinellas Park. And I want her to read that story, which was one of my favorite, but I think I have about 10 favorite.

Colette

Oh, good. I’m glad you have so many favorites.

Gramel 

Well, you know, I just love variety in life period. And I have a usually my favorite book is the book I’m reading right now I know that gets boring for loved ones to hear. No, but yeah, that’s the way it is. I just, I say I love words.

Colette

I feel that way too. And because of my job, people often ask me what’s your favorite book? And I hate that question. I can’t pick a favorite book – probably give them a list of the hundred best books I’ve read, you know, but I’m sort of like you – often it’s the book I’m reading right now, unless you ask me my least favorite book that happens once in a while, but most of the time, you know, it’s the one I’m right in the middle of.

Gramel 

Your job just sounds special.

Colette

I’m very lucky to have it.

Tyler

Something that I also liked about the book, like she was talking about was, and you were saying there’s a diversity and people writing and there’s a diversity of narratives as well. And they’re specifically dealing with some issues of gender and sexual orientation and stuff like that. So, I thought that was a really cool element of the book.

Colette

Yeah, I think so too. And I was glad that was something that I didn’t have to ask authors to do. You know, that’s something that those writers did on their own. And I was I was glad to see that diversity just sort of come naturally.

Gramel 

Yeah, I like that too. I always think it’s, you know, real to have a hurricane mentioned because we have hurricanes. That’s part of our life in Florida.

Colette

That’s right. Well, when that story came in, that’s the story Jackknife by Danny Lopez. And it starts at the strip club, the Mons Venus strip club in Tampa with a stripper and an ex-cop falling in love. And then it ends in Gibsonton you know, the circus town with a hurricane and I wrote him back and I said, you have the Mons Venus, Gibsonton and a hurricane. That’s the trifecta of noir.

Tyler

You touched every base. It was. It was really fun to get that story. It’s a good story and after writing the short story that you have in the collection has that kind of reignited maybe more work from you? Or how do you feel about the writing fiction moving forward?

Colette

I’m sort of, I’m not sure. I’m kind of waiting to see what kind of response it gets. It was fun to write. But I’m not sure whether I want to write more fiction or not.

Tyler

I thought your story was really strong. And you know, it had a lot of interesting elements in it. And especially like ending the collection, too, I thought it was an interesting place to have that story because it deals with – without giving too much away – it has some exploitation, some trauma involved in it that some of the other stories had, but in different ways.

Colette

Yeah, thanks. And I wasn’t sure about putting it last, although I felt that was a good place for it. The publisher really liked having it in that position. He felt that way too that it was a good endpoint for the collection. I also liked one of the advanced reviews that the book got in Kirkus Reviews; it said that my story was perhaps the most disturbing story in the collection. And given what the kind of literature this is, I was really proud of that.

Tyler

The most disturbing of the disturbing stories.

Gramel 

But one of the sweeter stories if you can use the word, was the one about the little girl that came from Colombia.

Colette

Yeah, and there and certainly bad things happen in that story. But that character herself, you know, the character who narrates the story –I really like her. You know, I like that character. And I liked her. How she felt about her family about her parents, you know, I yeah, it that story does have a kind of sweetness to it.

Tyler

And so I know you have you all have an event coming up with the bookstore in early August. How has what’s going on changed your events? And what other events are you kind of thinking of doing for this?

Colette

Oh, it’s changed everything about, you know, book events for me. And for everyone else, you know, I had hoped to, I’d hope to do you know, book signings and have some of the other authors, contributors to the book join me and because a lot of them live here, and that was what I was thinking all along as I was working on this over a year and a half. But we can’t do any of that. So we’re doing a virtual book launch with Tombolo in St. Petersburg, on August 4, and that will be me and Lisa Unger and Sterling Watson and Gale Massey. And then on August 9, I’m going to do another event with Oxford exchange bookstore in Tampa. The same sort of thing, and I’ll have three different contributors with for that event. I’ve done some interviews, this one of course, and I’ve done a couple of TV and radio interviews about the book.

And then in November, Tyler, as you know, because you were there a couple of years ago, we do the Times Festival of Reading, and that too is going to be virtual this year. We just thought it probably wasn’t a good idea to get 5,000 people together, you know, at a live book event, so we’re doing everything virtually and recording interviews with authors. But we’ll be doing something for this anthology, too. I don’t think I’m going to put all 15 of us on screen at the same time. I don’t think that’s going to work awfully well. But what I may do is do like three groups of five, you know, authors, and then people can watch online that conversation online. And, and by

Gramel 

That sounds very exciting!

Colette

Yeah, I think it’ll be fun. We’re, we’re doing this festival like from the ground up, you know, as a virtual festival. So we’re figuring it out as we go along. But I hope it works out.

Gramel 

Well, I walk I walk with a cane when I when I’m out, so it is right up my alley, it would be very hard for me to cover that much ground. I can cover that much ground sitting.

Colette

And also, every year when we have the festival, you know, it’s on one day and we have about 40 authors. And every year people complain to me, why did you put my two favorite authors at the same time? And I had to pick one. I couldn’t see them both. Well, now you can see everybody.

Gramel 

Every year, I took Tyler and he started when he was just about seven or eight. So I have a real tender spot in my heart for this festival. Is there going to be a way for people out of state to watch it?

Colette

Yeah, I think it’s going to be hosted on YouTube. So we’ll have a website for the festival and you can go to that website and say, you know, I want to see you know, Laura Lippman’s interview. Most of them will be interviews with the authors or panels. So you can just click on that, and the video will come up and you can be anywhere, you know, you can do it from anywhere.

Tyler

And can you talk to us a little bit about your involvement with the festival, when you first started and how it’s evolved over the years.

Colette

I was the second person to sort of work on it. The previous book editor got it off the ground. This will be its 28th year and I’ve been doing it for 13 years. So it was already kind of established. You know, when I took over the job, the first couple of years were crazy, because I’ve been trying to figure out what I was supposed to do. I don’t do everything myself, thank goodness, because that would be impossible. I work a lot with our marketing department at the Times to do a huge amount of work on it. And we have volunteers who work on it. And some of the other time staff helped me with it. So it’s definitely a group effort. The main things I do are recruiting authors, you know, inviting authors to be at the festival. And that’s up until now that’s been a big part of the job because you’re competing for authors and when we were doing the festival as we’ve usually done it live, that meant you had to try to get an author to come to St. Petersburg on a specific day. And the biggest thing that kept us from getting every author we wanted, we’re scheduling because we were always competing with other book festivals. And other venues and you know, you’d, you’d say, I want Carl Hiaasen. And they’d say, Sorry, he’s already booked for that day, or he’s going to be in Seattle the day before, and we can’t send him all the way back. It was always a scheduling, you know, puzzle.

What I’m finding another silver lining to do it to doing it the way we’re doing it is that it’s easier to get people because I’m not asking them to be here on a certain day. I’m just asking them to come online for an interview sometime between August and October. And I’m getting people I’ve wanted for years and haven’t been able to get before. So I think we’re going to have a really great lineup this year because of that.

And the other part of what I do for the festival is, is write about the books. You know, we try to get every one of our festival authors into the paper. Before the festival, we book reviews or interviews or excerpts or whatever. And I do almost all of that. And that’s a lot of work, too.

Gramel

You’ve probably already thought about this, but since it is going to be online, have you got the word out to people with special needs.

Colette

We’ve announced that it’s going to be online without a whole lot of details, but just that it’s moving online. We’ll do a bigger sort of announcement and more details, probably late August or early September. And I think for a lot of people with special needs, as you were saying, you know, if you have mobility problems, this will make it easier for you. And we probably need to look into closed captioning the videos.

Tyler

And YouTube’s a good platform for that too.

Colette

Yeah, I think it’s not very difficult to do. I think it’s just a matter of adding that so.

Tyler

Is there anything else you might want to touch on that we haven’t kind of discussed about the book or the book fair?

Colette

I don’t think so. I think we’ve covered most of it. I I’m very happy that you all asked me to talk about it. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been an interesting experience for me the last couple of weeks because I’ve spent so much time interviewing authors, you know, being on the other side asking the questions. So it’s a different experience for me to be the one answering the questions. And it’s a little weird, but it’s fun.

Tyler

It’s funny, because so I’m used to giving interviews on by myself, you know, I’ve given them for so many years. But working as a team is a new experience for me. It’s a lot different than doing it on your own.

Gramel 

He does the mechanics, and I add color whether he wants it or not.

Tyler

That’s why we’re kind of a good, good team.

Colette

Yes, I think so. I think so.

Tyler

Well, thank you so much. And if you know if there’s anything else that you want to say just, you know, shoot me a message. We also interviewed Sarah Gerard and Gale Massey, who are both great in the collection. We read their novels and then we also talked to Sarah about her story.

Colette

I’m glad that you did. That’s terrific. Good. I look forward to listening to those.

Tyler   

Awesome. Yeah, thank you so much for your time. If there’s anything else just reach out, you know, we’re around. We’re not going anywhere. Like I said in that message. We are at home. So we’re here.

Colette

It is a pleasure to meet you, Margie.

Tyler

Have a great rest of your day.

Colette

Good to see you again. Tyler. Take care.

Tyler

So that’s our show. We talked about Tampa Bay Noir. And then we got to interview Colette. We got to hear all about the Times Festival.

Gramel 

I’m excited about the upcoming big festival. Being on the internet. And I think I’m starting to appreciate noir a lot more.

Tyler

I mean, tonight’s a good night for it. It’s Thunder storming, it’s raining. So who knows what could happen next?

Gramel

Well,if monsters and criminals have any sense, they will be inside.

Tyler

Check back. We will update our website with the information for the Times Festival reading when it comes out. So check our website, subscribe to the podcast, email it to a friend check out the festival, which is cool like you were saying. Now folks that aren’t even In Florida can check out all the events is always a great time. They have amazing authors. All right, well, we hope you have a good rest of your day or night or whatever. And we hope that tomorrow is sunnier than it is right now. It’s raining.

Gramel 

And thank you for the ones who have contacted us that you like what we’re doing. That means more than you’ll ever know. We appreciate that.

Tyler

All right, signing off. Bye bye.

Author Chat w/ Colette Bancroft!

On today’s episode, we talk to Colette Bancroft, editor of the collection Tampa Bay Noir, which contains new stories from Lori Roy, Tim Dorsey, Lisa Unger, and other great authors. Colette is the Tampa Bay Times book editors, so we also chat about the upcoming Times Festival of Reading.

Full Episode Transcript

More from Colette

Times Festival of Reading will go virtual for 2020” — Tampa Bay Times

Author Bio

Buy Tampa Bay Noir from the Akashic Books website

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Notable Quotable

Tampa Bay Noir Chat!

When you get lonely, read a book. If you read regularly, you won’t have time to get lonely.” – Gramel

“In this collection, there are a lot of guns hitting things. There’s a lot of interesting and creative ways of dying.” – Tyler

Colette Chat!

“In Tampa Bay, there are a lot of really good writers. So, I had a good field to choose from. I could have had an anthology with 50 writers in it, but the press’s limit is 15.” – Colette

“Before I was a journalist, I got a master’s degree and did PhD work in English and when I was working on my PhD, focused on crime fiction. The dissertation I never quite finished is about the crime fiction writer Raymond Chandler, he’s kind of one of the founding fathers of American crime fiction and he’s not exactly a noir writer himself, but he often kind of moves in that direction. And, so I like the style of a lot of noir writers, to the kind of dark way that they look at the world.” – Colette

“Right at the Tampa end of the Gandy bridge, that used to be called Rattlesnake. There was a rattlesnake post office at that intersection. And it was named that because long ago, there was actually a rattlesnake canning plant located there and that’s in the story to where they would catch rattlesnakes and cook them and put the meat in cans and sell it at tourist stops along the highways.” – Colette

Gramel

I always think it’s, you know, real to have a hurricane mentioned because we have hurricanes. That’s part of our life in Florida.

Colette

That’s right. That’s the story “Jackknife” by Danny Lopez. And it starts at the Mons Venus strip club in Tampa with a stripper and an ex-cop falling in love. And then it ends in Gibsonton you know, the circus town with a hurricane. I wrote him back and I said, you have the Mons Venus, Gibsonton and a hurricane. That’s the trifecta of noir.

“One of the advanced reviews that the book got in Kirkus Reviews; it said that my story was perhaps the most disturbing story in the collection. And given what the kind of literature this is, I was really proud of that.” – Colette

“The Times Festival of Reading is going to be virtual this year. We just thought it probably wasn’t a good idea to get 5,000 people together, you know, at a live book event, so we’re doing everything virtually and recording interviews with authors.” – Colette

“I’m finding another silver lining to doing the festival [virtually]. It’s easier to get people because I’m not asking them to be here on a certain day. I’m just asking them to come online for an interview sometime between August and October. I’m getting people I’ve wanted for years and haven’t been able to get before. I think we’re going to have a really great lineup this year because of that.” – Colette

Food! Transcript

Food Chat!

Tyler

Welcome to the same time so we’re just gonna say reporting. Welcome to Florida. I’m your host Tyler with my grandmother from out on today’s podcast, we’re gonna be talking about Florida food, eating it, serving it and writing about i.

Gramel   

I like the eating part.

Tyler

In the first segment we’re gonna be talking about eating specifically Florida food. We’re going to be talking about our Aunt Annie’s alligators and what they and then we’re also going to be talking about white trash food.

In the second segment, we’re going to be talking to my mom, your daughter about what it’s been like to serve food in Florida. One of the reasons we wanted to highlight her besides the fact that she’s amazing is that during COVID I haven’t really seen a lot of stories from the perspective and voice of servers.

Then, in our third segment we’re going to be talking to author, editor and food journalist Janet Keeler. We’re going to be talking about what she’s been eating and quarantine what Florida food is because we know what it was – bbut now what it is, and then she’s gonna be talking to us about writing about Florida food and some really big food stories that are on her radar.

Gramel 

She’ll tell us some neat things I’m sure that we don’t know. And maybe we’ll tell her somebody.

Tyler

In this segment, we’re gonna be talking about one of our favorite topics, Florida food. Before we get this underway. I wanted to read something to you. Actually, it’s something you wrote. So earlier in the summer before a podcast was even a glimmer in our eye, I received a text from your number. It says: it’s great having Ty here. He helps with the chores, especially Roxy. He eats all the time. I’m jealous, but I put out a ham to thought and the refrig that should keep him a few days. He’s not eating sugar, just everything else. But at least my Magnum bars are safe. Do you remember writing this text? Did you mean to send it to me?

Gramel

Yeah, it was the truth.

Tyler

Oh, really? Were you putting me on notice that I’m eating too much? You think a ham can keep me a few days? Yeah. If you’re lucky.

Gramel 

Yeah, maybe you could be gone in a 24-hour period. But you do sleep. I don’t know. You know, there was one time I heard you in the kitchen at night.

Tyler

Okay, we can just leave it at that. Let’s get into the segment. There have been a lot of good home cooks in our family. I didn’t necessarily pick up that trait. Why don’t you talk to us about what you ate growing up in Florida.

Gramel

I grew up eating fish a lot because my uncle Tommy went fishing all the time and his family could only consume a certain amount and he shared them with everybody. And so daddy would clean them and Mama would cook him and my brother and I would eat the tail when I grew up eating was mullet. It’s a freshwater fish. That tail doesn’t have bones in it. That’s why mama started us with that. And then she made hush puppies from heaven. She made it in a cornmeal batter. And we always had baked beans, grits, and coleslaw. Now that was what she was supposed to have. And of course, iced tea which is the house wine in the South.

Back then – and I think now is because the stretch the meat – she would put green peppers, onions and celery in almost anything spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, potato salad. You name it. She added those things to it. Of course, not banana pudding, but Sunday’s were just a sight to behold after how she did all that we went to Sunday school in church religiously. And she made the best fried chicken. Colonel Sanders just don’t hold a candle dinner.

My daddy usually made the roast and then she always made a wonderful dessert. Then, we would have dessert during the week up until about Tuesday night it was, we had already consumed it all. Growing up, we went to Lake Butler which is called Lake Tarpon now and my aunts and Mama would all bring the most delicious food you can imagine and put them together they would bring all their best.

Tyler

I spent a lot of time with granny. And you when I was younger because mom was working as a waitress, so she had to be up early. So, I spent a lot of nights there. And I just remember granny cooking all the time and telling me all these stories about living on the farm and she was such a sweet person. I mean, I know a lot of people think they know sweet people, but she was a sweet person out of the sweet people.

Gramel 

Right? She was number one sweet person.

Tyler

Church lady, everybody liked her super friendly.

Gramel

No one ever had a bad word to say about granny.

Tyler

And I always make that joke because people wouldn’t be able to say that about me, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve just never known anyone like her who unanimously everyone couldn’t say anything bad about.

One of my favorite stories that I remember granny telling me is that she used to have to chop the heads off the chicken back in the day before they were plucked and then fried.

Gramel 

And I remember smelling scorched feathers because after she did all that she would boil them. And that is not a pleasant aroma, but the frying of the actual results of all that was a heavenly scent.

Tyler

That must have been nice for her when she didn’t have to kill the chickens and she could just buy them. I can’t imagine her chopping up a chicken head, but also I can because she did what she had to do. She always worked.

Gramel 

Her mother died when she was a young 16-year-old. She had brothers at home and a dad and she took over that being the mistress of the home.

Tyler

Tell them how her mom died. This is a famous family, true story.

Gramel 

My mom was coming home from that county fair that was always held in Largo for like 30 years, at least. Her mom and dad was ahead of her. And she was talking with a friend behind and she knew they weren’t walking as fast. And Bertha would turn around and say, Come on Lula. And she got hit by a car; it was a hit and run. And she got her leg just mangled. You gotta realize this was 80-90 years ago, they never found the person they had their suspicions, but nothing ever panned out. Four months after the accident, they had to amputate her leg and she died of infection.

That’s when mama took over cooking and cleaning. Her father and brothers were all helping with the farm and they got up early and they had a big breakfast and a big lunch and a big dinner. There was three of the boys And she told me that sometimes she felt responsible for what happened to her mother because she felt like she might have been looking back at mom and saying Hurry up Lula.

Tyler

That must have been really traumatizing for her to have her mom died that way. And then she always felt somewhat responsible for it.

Gramel 

My mother had a gift of gab, I don’t know where that would come from. Why did my grandpa let her walk on the side of the road?

Tyler

Well, I just can’t believe that happened in broad daylight and nobody stopped or anything like that.

Gramel 

And you know, is a small town everybody knew everybody and so yeah, like how could they not find the car and my uncles had an attitude. They were wonderful but nobody pushed the around but they never found out.

Tyler

I would guess that not many people had cars.

Gramel  

They were walking home from the fair, which meant they did not have a car. They probably had some type of tractor, but they didn’t have a car.

Tyler

And then granny started to work in the cafeteria.

Gramel 

She started that year I started to kindergarten and all the way up until I would say I was out of school because I used to date one of the boys that was on her bus she, she also became a school bus driver, but she could do both. She would drive to a school stop work in the cafeteria that started more like after my dad died, and she needed more money than just the cafeteria. So she did both.

Tyler

I know I wish I would have been able to talk to her more about working in the cafeteria because I feel like that’s such a big job cooking so much food every day for the kids.

Gramel 

It’s the hardest job I ever had. I kept a job and after three months.

Tyler

What kind of food were they serving back in the day?

Gramel 

Well, they had a reputation county wind for the peanut butter cookies they made and if I had a nickel for every time I was asked, Did I have the recipe for those peanut butter cookies. I would probably be at the Riviera, and not in my dining room, and back then you always had either tuna or macaroni and cheese on Fridays.

Tyler

What kind of meat were they serving?

Gramel 

Macaroni and cheese with hamburger on top. They must have put paprika in a sauce and had that over the top. And then they had was way before the days of fish sticks. But they did have some kind of fish once in a while.

Tyler

Well, I just know granny was such a good cook. I bet like those meals were pretty awesome.

Gramel 

I couldn’t believe it when my children started in elementary school and I told them, they’re going to have the best food ever. And they would come home, and I’d say how was your food? And they would complain how horrible it was. Because I figured their experience with that cafeteria food was going to be the same as mine and it wasn’t and never was. Back then, they could bring food home leftover food. That’s against the rules regulations now. So probably at least two nights a week, we had leftovers from the school cafeteria. And she’d bring them home and these great big tin cans, probably five- or 10-pound things.

Can we talk about Aunt Annie?

Tyler

Sure.

Gramel

Aunt Annie used to get the scraps leftover from the food she made in the cafeteria and put them in tin cans and take them home to feed her dogs. And her alligator. She probably fed her dog, first. OK, well, she’d feed her family first. Then, she would go out to the end of her little wooden pier. She would hit these cans up against those boards, and here would come usually just one or two alligators. She would throw the contents of those tin cans into the water, and they would eat and have good time and leave.

And she had three boys and my brother that swim in her pond, which later became a lake because it got bigger and bigger. Thankfully, the gators never, ever bothered anybody. And they never bothered the dogs. I’d go down and visit with my Aunt Annie because we only lived a half a block from her. It would be dark before I got done talking, and I would leave to go home. She’d say, now, Margie, just shuffle your feet to scare the alligators. And you won’t even hear or see them. And I’d say I don’t think so Aunt Annie. She’d yell for her husband Frank to come walk out with me. So, alligators were a part of their life. And there was never a bad scene.

They tell you do not feed alligators. But I think since she fed them every night, seven days a week, basically at the same time – and she fed them wonderful cafeteria leftovers. They were content. They didn’t have to be hungry. They weren’t probably ever hungry.

I never swam in the pond, and neither did her daughter Sissy. We didn’t want that pond water in our hair. I didn’t want squishy dirt in my feet. And I was not into sharing my swimming space with alligators.

Tyler

A lot of people might not be able to readily recognize what Florida food is. What is Florida food to you someone who has lived in Florida their whole life?

Gramel 

Well, it’s fish, and I love swamp cabbage.

Tyler

What is that for those who don’t know?

Gramel

Swamp cabbage is cabbage, and they have a leaf of cabbage and then they put a helping of some type of sherbet usually green, and then peanuts on top of it. And then they cover the top of it with a bunch of shredded cabbage and then that all males it’s more of a desert. And you can only get these at places like Homosassa .I went through a period that for probably 15 years, whenever we went out – about every other time, we’d go to someplace that had it and it was always a fish place that would have it.

Florida food is also turkey and dressing. My mother’s dressing and it was nothing like people that were coming from the north. They had stuffing, they didn’t have dressing and my mother utilized fruit a lot. She would have peach turnovers and blueberry cobbler. They were good, good, good. She used peaches a lot in our desert. My mother made hoecake which I think basically is the same batter used for biscuits, but you fry it in a cast iron skillet and you turn it like a pancake but it’s about an inch thick, hoecake when it was leftover became a part of dessert that you would put a fruit on top of or you dip your hoecake into the fruit juice that cooked out.

Tyler

Because there were a lot of orange groves.

Gramel 

Yes, back then we had oranges a lot. My mother made a great Ambrosia and mother made Apple salad. Back then, you had more fruit and vegetables and legumes than actual meat. Meat was a specialty They had to do little tricks because they didn’t necessarily have the money to buy as much meat as they wanted, or they were getting stuff off the farm.

Tyler

And this is in our part of Florida, which is central, in the middle of the state on the west coast. The farther south you go, there’s more Cuban influence, Caribbean, there’s a whole different cuisine there. So, you know, I think each part of the state has its own kind of thing. So, this is where we grew up, and what you grew up eating.

Gramel 

Eating was an event, and we everybody had to be there for a meal, and that’s when you fellowshipped and if nothing else, we ended a meal with some kind of bread. And so she made biscuits, she made cornbread, she made corn muffins. Daddy like to have a little sweet at the end of his meal. And my mother did too, but then she’d have to have a little meat or something to take away the sweet. Then she’d have to have a little more sweet; it was kind of cute.

Oh, this is one of the most important things, when my mother had any leftover bread period. And if we didn’t need it that way, she would make what we called egg bread. And nowadays is known as French toast. But mama would make it out of any leftover bread. A bread became bread pudding on the weekend. What I make it out of mostly is when we go out to eat, and they serve bread, and we don’t need all the bread. Sometimes we don’t eat any of it. And I take it home and I’m making bread out of it. And my boys know about egg bread.

Tyler

One of the dishes that I remember granny making that you make that’s really simple, but that I really like is the tomatoes, the saltines, and mayonnaise.

Gramel 

Yes, called cracker salad.

Tyler

I was going to a potluck one day and I was talking about making this because I really like it. It’s really good. And one of my friends I was talking about it and she called that white trash food.

Gramel 

There’s poor white trash and white trash is fine. That’s poor but honest and clean people. Poor white trash is richer people that just have bad manners. It’s okay to be called white trash.

Tyler

It caught me off guard because it was something that I grew up eating, but also that it’s just really good. So who cares?

Gramel 

Yeah, there’s hardly ever any leftover cracker salad, fresh tomatoes and saltine crackers. Some people use Ritz crackers. I like the saltines period, and you crush the saltines at the last minute where they don’t get soggy. I sliced my tomatoes, you just kind of cut them up in chunks over a paper towel with a lot of the juice runs out of it. That’s kind of important. That’s the only thing you have to be exact about.

Tyler

That story just sticks out to me because it was one of the first time that I was really thinking about Oh, you could like a dish, someone could have some kind of weird stigma about it being white trash or some kind of class thing. Basically. I ended up not making the dish for the potluck, but I really wish I did. I was in a different place back then. Now, I would have.

Gramel

Yeah, you’re not supposed to let the way people feel about something interfere with how you feel. Cracker salad came from my Mary, mom’s one and only sister and I think that was a way to stretch a meal they would say stretch a meal or stretch the meat is farmers usually always add tomatoes. And after a certain decade, you always had mayonnaise in the refrigerator. And it was a great way to use up maybe older saltine crackers. She also would take cottage cheese and sprinkle it with a package of jello. That was a staple and almost always had those fixins as she called them around.

Tyler

I know we could talk about food all day. Yes. Is there anything else you’d like to end on?

Gramel 

I love Christmas time and the special food we had Daddy once a year would buy one of these great big huge peppermint sticks and he made Christmas so much fun. The anticipation the stories you would tell in the peppermint stick. My mother did all the work the cleaning because she was always a busy bee. But dad, we’d all come around the kitchen table and eat take a great big huge butcher knife and whack a piece and my brother and I would always hope that our piece would be a bigger piece. We grew up happy, healthy and satisfied. I’m gonna say it was the love that the people I knew put into their food to that made it special and they cook from the heart. It was not a job to them it they look forward to doing it.

Tyler

So, what are you going to make us for lunch then?

Gramel 

We are going to have fried potatoes from a leftover baked potato and probably some tomato and okra. Oh, but the main thing is going to be onions and baked potato. Well fried potatoes. I don’t know they won’t look pretty.

Mom Chat!

Tyler

In our last segment we talked about the food that we have eaten growing up and, in this segment, we are going to hear from my mom who has been a waitress in Florida for several decades. My mom is so impressive to me with her work ethic. She was a single mother while I was young, and she always worked. So much to say about her, but I think I’m just gonna let her speak for herself.

Tyler

When did you start being a waitress?

Mom

When I was 25. It was called Maria’s Kitchen. Tiny little family restaurant. It was fun. I was young, I liked it. I liked the quick cash stuff. The boss was really a bad man mean to his mother.

Tyler

So, then what made you leave that restaurant?

Mom

A guy had been trying to get me to work at his restaurant and he gave me a good schedule. And I took a leap. And then I worked there for five years. I liked it there. I made a very good friend there. A sister friend. I went to work one day and didn’t have a job, because they didn’t tell me. So, then I got in my car and I thought, well I have to work, I’m single mother. And one of my friends was working at a restaurant and I went interviewed there. I did take a week off. And then I went, first place that went when they hired me, and I’ve been there ever since. Twenty-three years. I get up at 5:30 and I am at work at a quarter to seven. We just changed hours. We’ve opened it seven for 22 years

Tyler

What do you think makes a good server?

Mom

Remembering a person’s name means a lot to them, it really does not. I have tricks with myself, so I remember a person’s name.

Tyler

What is it like being a waitress?

Mom

It is mostly good, but there’s bad, too. Rude customers. Some bosses don’t care. Sometimes they sell the restaurants without telling. Customers are ugly 20% out of time. Well, and it just takes one rude customer to set your day like that. Seems like that’s the day that everybody’s gonna be rude.

Tyler

What are some of the weirder things people have asked in their orders?

Mom

Just the way people order breakfast. They just want their eggs with no brown on them. I don’t want my toast dark. The cooks act like we’re eating it. I mean it, they give me a hard time. Many of the problems at work are customers. I try to leave it right there. I have made many very, very good friends.

Customers have been angels. I have run into a lot of generous people generous to my boys generous to me. We have regular customers that I see every day, but a lot of them are dying off and we’re getting new customers. With the COVID, they’re not coming out and they shouldn’t; I’m glad they’re not coming out for their health. But I miss them.

Tyler

Being a waitress is physical work. I don’t think maybe some people don’t understand how physical that is. Actually is

Mom

Yes, it is very physical – lifting the plates, putting them on your arm and using a tray. I’ve had to have back surgery. I’ve fallen. I’ve busted my head. I went down on my knee, which I had knee surgery. So yes, very physical down on your body. But it’s kind of good that I move around a lot too, because I don’t know now at my age what to do with myself as far as job goes, because I need to move around. I can’t sit.

Tyler

So when COVID came your boss shut down the restaurant for six weeks and what was your experience like trying to apply for unemployment in Florida?

Mom

I spent two weeks in a row at least 40 hours a week and you would get almost there and then kicked out.  You have to start all over. It was just the worst. Like you’re just hitting your head against the wall. Now, it was really hard and then it took time. I finally got my paperwork through and you know, then then they tell us stay home and get used to stay at home and all of a sudden after six weeks, it’s like we’re opening back up. Even though the pandemic is still there, you know, you got to go to work. I think we opened too soon. I think we should have waited a little bit a couple more weeks.

Tyler

Because not too many people were coming in. You weren’t getting your full time hours because of it.

Mom

I’m still not getting my hours from my full-time work, or the money is very bad now to the lack of people coming in. There’s been several days that I haven’t. I’ve made shockingly low Money Never in my entire working.

Tyler

He was one of the first people right when they could open back up.

Mom

He went right back up. But then they’re saying, you know, it’s time. It’s time. You got to listen to what people want, especially when you work like I do. I didn’t have any, any break, I had to go back to work. And it was just like, you know, my boss wasn’t letting us know what was going on during that time. And if he was even going to be able to open up that restaurant back up, but then we got part of the cares package. And so we learned like Friday before we went back to work on me Tuesday.

Tyler

How do you feel now wearing a mask and all of that at work? Because you said there was no air conditioning this week?

Mom

Yeah, the air it’s been it’s been broken. And just so hot and just really, I don’t mind wearing a mask. You come in contact with people. But it’s just hard to get used to moving around trying to breathe in sweat, perspiring, glistening.

Tyler

Well, I know how hard you work and it’s a really tough job being a server. I’m concerned for you having to be at work. But I’m glad that you’re taking precautions. And unfortunately, you have to do what you have to do when it comes to work and everything, right?

Mom

I do. If anybody could help me figure out what to do for another job, I’d really appreciate it. Because my body is wearing out every day. I say, I don’t know how much longer I can do this. And I think that’s something that you were saying earlier is you’ve been a server for a long time now and it can be hard to think of doing another job.

Janet Keeler Chat!

In the last segment we heard from my mom and her story about being a waitress and what it’s looking like for her during COVID and now we are going to chat with Janet Keeler. About what she’s been eating and quarantine major food stories that are on her radar, and we’re going to be talking about her cookbook. I love cookbooks.

Gramel

I love I get a cookbook. It’s to me. That’s one of my biggest entertainments and I love to watch cooking shows, but then I make them my own after making them their way.

Janet

I was saying to my husband the other day, I don’t think our pantry has been so low because I’ve been cooking so much more since we’re home all the time. I’m like, oh, here’s a can of beans. Here’s the thing that you’re not I kind of had a lot of stuff in that pantry. That was like not being used. So, I feel a little bit more resourceful. I guess it’s forcing me to be more resourceful.

Tyler

What kind of stuff have you been cooking recently?

Janet

You know, it’s so funny to think about like my mother who didn’t really like to cook but she was a stay at home mom and that’s what she did. So, she cooked every night and we always had some sort of meat, a vegetable, and a salad. She had these chubby kids, so we didn’t get a lot of mashed potatoes or anything like that. If it was mashed potatoes, it was really turnips or something awful. I always in my mind, even still, if it’s not three things, it’s not really dinner. So, I’ve been making a lot of stuff like that baked chicken, a vegetable and salad, all that kind of stuff. And so I’m trying. Right now, I have been doing a thing on my Instagram where I’m making recipes from cookbooks written by African American authors.

There’s actually a hashtag out there called Black chef’s matter. I think I’ve made maybe like four of them, just kind of drawing attention. I’m waiting for someone to say how come you’re not sharing the recipes and then I’m going to say because I want you to buy their cookbook. I’ve been making more fish than I usually do a lot of shrimp. I’ve been on this hummus kick. I’ve been making a lot of hummus. I’m trying not to do a ton of carbs.

Tyler

You didn’t make any homemade bread when people were doing a sourdough?

Janet

Oh, actually, you know what I made it several times. I made bagels when I could find yeast. I was panicked because I couldn’t find yeast. I did that about three times. And I thought, Okay, that’s good. I haven’t done the sourdough, though. Because then I just eat it all. My son lives with his girlfriend down in Lakewood Ranch. And a couple Saturdays early on, I made stuff and we went down there with masks on and handed it to them through the car window. So, I gave some stuff to them. But I just don’t have many people to give stuff to.

Tyler

We were talking about cookbooks earlier. And I know that you have one. What was that process like for choosing the recipes?

Janet

It was a cookie book and that that grew out of a project that we did at the Tampa Bay Times. At that point, it had been going on about 10 years. We had a Christmas cookie issue every year, and we put a call out and like in August, and readers would send in their favorite recipes. So, we would pick maybe 30 of them to test and we’d run a couple dozen in the paper. So, the cookbook was really a collection of those recipes. And I added more to it. So that’s what that was about.

And it was, it was a really fun process. But it took a long time. I mean, most of the recipes had already been tested because we tested them for the paper. And I gave the people credit, you know, where we got the recipes, even though I knew some of them were like all over the internet. They weren’t really their original recipes. And that’s okay. I mean, people understand that. So I did go through every recipe, I think there was 150 and wrote what they call headnotes. So I wrote something about each recipe, just a little bit of like a tip or something like that. And that took quite a long time to do.

They say if you’re gonna write a cookbook, you better be in love with the topic because it’s going to take a couple years. By the time it was tested and edited and you know, produced everything it takes a while.

Gramel 

I didn’t realize you did that because I looked forward to that every year and sees in the paper guys, they really some basics, but then there were some you had never thought to put those ingredients together. So I was a fan.

Janet

Good. I’m glad to hear that. You know, I suppose we specifically looked for recipes that you couldn’t find anywhere. But it was like I wasn’t gonna run snickerdoodles or, you know, something like that or just a plain peanut butter cookie because that’s so you know, it’s everywhere.

Gramel 

But I always liked that dried fruit ones.

Janet

You know what, I like those two, but I wouldn’t think I would. We were like this cookie tastes better than it should with the dried cherries.

You know, it’s funny how that whole project started. My very first year that I was the food editor was 2000. And around the fall of that year, I got a call. Maybe it was closer to Christmas. I got a call from an older man whose wife had had died. She’d been gone a few years, and they had made a cookie together, which were just really like little fruit cakes. They had all those dried fruits and nuts and stuff in them. And he couldn’t bring himself to make them for the several years after she died because it was just, it was just too sad for him. So, he decided that he was going to he was going to do it this year. And he had a question for me. This was in the days, we used to get a lot of phone calls from readers, you know, once the internet came along, they went there to get their questions answered. But you know, for a long time, we were always settling, you know, bar bets in the middle of the night and stuff, too.

He wanted to know something about cookie sheets, what kind of cookie sheets should he make? But we kept talking about this, you know, he was going to finally do it by himself. And then he was sort of crying on the phone, and then I was crying. I mean, it was a really, really beautiful conversation. And I gave him whatever information he had and a few weeks later I got a package in the mail and he sent me some cookies. Oh, like six or seven of them in this little box. It was so sweet. And it was just at that point, I kind of knew this somewhere, I guess. But it really hit home that the cookies were just more than sugar, flour eggs.

I know that from things like Christmas cookies and things, how special they are to people. That’s when that project started. It was him that started that and on that we would talk every now and then over the next years because he would have a question about some casserole or something. And then I didn’t hear from him anymore and I was kinda like, Oh, you know, because he was an older guy and he had died but when we did the cookbook, I tracked down his daughter or something in Tennessee to make sure she got a copy of it. He was the start of that whole tradition at the time.

I remember my colleague that was sitting, we sat in a pod so we are always real close together. She kept looking at me like are you crying? What’s going on? We’re just having a good cry here over, because it was really sweet and it was it was very emotional for him.

Gramel 

I’m a chocoholic, though my favorites were chocolate chip cookies and m&m cookies. And then my friend gave me this recipe for fruit cake cookies. Now, I love fruit cake, but I didn’t know how that would translate into a cookie. I mean, we’re better than anything with chocolate in it because it’s just so unique and very rich. And there’s a lot of people in this world that don’t care for a fruit gate. They say it’s dry.

Tyler

She loves fruit cake!

Gramel 

I may have a piece later left in the refrigerator. They last forever, right?

Tyler

We were talking a lot about Florida food because you know, that’s what she grew up with and what I grew up with, but I’m wondering for someone who’s never been to Florida, how would you describe Florida food or what is Florida food to you.

Janet

Well, it’s interesting because the state is so varied. I mean, you could say Florida food is, black beans and rice and you know, Cuban food from South Florida for sure.  I guess we think of Florida food as a lot of citrus and more light kinds of things, even though like you mentioned that you know, that chess pie is kind of heavy, but I do think of it as more light. I certainly think of it as a lot of seafood because they’re just surrounded by water. So I know friends that I have like in Michigan, they love to come down here because of the seafood and we’re always like, well we can’t get any good seafood but when you’re from Michigan, you’re getting Lake perch, and all kinds of frozen stuff you know, so I think for sure seafood. There’s a really strong melding of flavors here too, because you get like that North Florida very southern kind of stuff, grits, you know, greens, those kinds of things. But I think down here, we don’t, I don’t feel that as much here, the strength of that. So a big melting pot in a lot of ways.

Gramel 

I would call this that I was raised on rustic, which is nice, simple. I know one of the things Tyler likes that my Aunt Mary used to make all the time, I’m sure came because it was leftover. She had this and she had that and she didn’t have much else. We call it a cracker salad, and it’s cut up tomatoes, bite size, and at the last minute you crumble with your hand some saltine crackers, and you add mayonnaise. I always say my mother good corned beef and make a banquet out of it with delicious onion gravy, brown onion gravy, and rice. Or if she had extra time, she always made mashed potatoes.

We never knew we were poor. I figured it out because we had credit down at the local grocery store. You know, we were clean and we ate good. And back then we ate legumes a lot. Mm hmm. And then when I joined Weight Watchers many decades later, I found out they were very, very good for you.

Instead of calling our food simple, I’d call it rustic – connotation is a little bit better.

Janet

You’re right about that, about words – how we kind of oh it’s cracker or it’s poor people food. I don’t think of Florida food as fancy, you know like sauces or French or something. It’s interesting, the state is so geographically spread, so if you look at like from where we are south, the growing season is upside down here compared to the north. I mean we’re not growing tomatoes in August here the way there are New Jersey. So I think when so many people have migrated down here that’s been difficult for them to get used to. I used to get calls you know, in the middle of the summer from readers who would say I can’t go to find any good tomatoes. But it was not tomato season here. It was mango. So I think that’s been kind of hard for some people to get used to.

Southern Cooking, which is more typical in North Florida, is very much dependent on what’s in the garden. Lots of fresh stuff. People grow things in their gardens there. We’re a little different. We have maybe an orange tree or avocado trees. There are gardens but it’s a little different here.

Tyler

That reminds me of a story that a student worked on about the mangoes and St. Pete – about the development in the area.  

Janet

Yeah, in Midtown. I think she did that story on sort of the last mango trees or something in Midtown. I noticed in Midtown St. Pete, there are a lot of restaurants that sell crab and crab in general in my mind is kind of an expensive food. You know, if you go to the grocery store and you get that little container of lump crab, it’s like 14 bucks. Crab is kind of expensive, but then I realized you know, seafood is free food. If you’ve got a fishing pole or you know, you see people at bridges I mean, that’s free, that’s free food. So I think there’s a tradition in that in the African American community, especially in Midtown of seafood, because it could be you could, you could eat pretty good if you knew how to fish. So, there’s fewer places to do that now. So it’s interest, different time for sure.

Tyler

We kind of have these debates now about what is and what isn’t Florida food, but for a lot of people their regional food, to them, is what they ate growing up. Here, there seems to be more arguments.

Janet

I think it’s because we’re such a state of transients. So many people have come here from other places, and that’s what built it. I mean, you know, from where we are probably south for years and years, there were no people because there was no air conditioning, you know, once air conditioning came, and that sort of changed Florida big time because people would come, but they would come from up north, even for the winter like they do now. But people with money would bring their cooks with them, so they were still eating that same old stuff that they were eating up north.

Yeah, I think it’s a different I think you’re right. I think you’re right it was what you ate as a kid. And so if you are, you know, a Cuban family that grew up in South Florida, you’re going to have a different idea of what Florida food is. I first came here from California to visit a friend in the 80s. I had my first Cuban sandwich. And I thought, wow, this is something else. I mean, it was so good. It was like the pressed one. It was so good. So, I always think of that as Florida food to me. Cuban sandwiches. I would say most Floridians know the Cuban sandwich I know it’s spread throughout the country. But to me it seems very, you know, Floridian and then you get here and you find out what was maybe invented in Ybor City or maybe it was Miami. That wasn’t totally Cuban because it’s a mixture of Cuban things, but also Spanish. So, it’s interesting, but it’s such a mishmash of food here and people would definitely debate about that.

Tyler

The Cuban sandwich is a point of pride.

Janet

Yeah, for sure. But even now, if I go somewhere and I see it on a menu, and I look at it and it says tomatoes and mayonnaise I’m always like, as a real Cuban no Cuban sandwich has tomatoes and mayonnaise on it.

Tyler

So, where’s your favorite Cuban from them? An insider’s tip.

Janet

I’m a big fan of the Cuban at Bodega on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. I think that’s a really good one. My thing with the Cuban is I don’t like a lot of meat on it. I don’t like them when they get really thick because it’s you know, here anyway, the more Cuban has roast pork salami, and I guess just like kind of ham on it, just you know, so if that gets too thick to me it’s too salty and too much. I don’t want that much on there. Theirs is nice and flat and they press it really good. So, I think they have a great one. They have a really good one there. That couple that owns that just opened a restaurant down the street called Baba which is Mediterranean. And that’s really yummy too. They have a good touch on things, but I like that one. The bread is everything. All right, that Cuban bread.

Gramel 

The one at Columbia is delicious. At a place I used to work, they all swore by the Cuban sandwiches at Publix.

Janet

I have to say I bought a couple of Cubans there that were in there, kind of grab and go. So I’ve just kind of moved pressing myself. So I opened it up when I got at home because I’m like, Where’s the mustard? So I put some mustard in it. I put an extra piece of Swiss cheese which you know, isn’t very Cuban, but they have Swiss cheese in them. So that’s another – the Cuban is kind of a mixture of all kinds of things. And I pressed it, it was pretty good.

Tyler

Publix does have some good sandwiches; I have to have to give them credit there sometimes. I wanted to ask you for folks that may not know all that food writing entails. What does food writing encompass?

Janet

I think most people look at it right away as it’s about recipes, and it’s about cookbooks or it’s about cooking. I look at it more as really writing about the way we live but also the intersection of politics and health and the economy and culture and all that kind of stuff. In my food writing class, we look at what I call a reported food story, meaning it has to do with food, but it also has to do with news, what’s going on in the world and that kind of thing. The Associated Press won a Pulitzer a few years back for a series of stories they did, they found that people that were harvesting shrimp in Southeast Asia were being kept in cages, and you know, that seafood that they were harvesting, basically, as enslaved people was winding up on our on our dinner tables here in the United States. So to me, that’s a food story. That’s a you know, it’s not your classic Oh, Christmas cookies or anything like that. But it’s important, important information.

It’s really a really broad topic. So, I think that that you know, can be extremely serious, because think of it, there’s not much more intimate out there than what we put in our bodies and what we eat. When you think about, you know, the FDA and the regulations and who’s like the, you know, people in the field. There were a lot of stories after Trump was first elected and the immigration, anti-immigration, talk of farmers in all over the country that we’re leaving food in the fields, because so many immigrants and so many farmworkers were afraid to – even if they even if they were in the United States legally, and they had the proper documentation or the legal documentation –  they were really afraid to show up at work because they would get snared in one of these roundups or something.

So I look at as a really broad spectrum. I would say my lane when I was at the Tampa Bay Times – I did a lot of home cooking stories. I don’t have any professional cooking training, I have taken cooking classes here and there, but I have no degree or you know, certification in anything. So, I would say my lane was really home cooking. I did a lot of stuff on home cooking. And I very much like to write about when things went wrong in my kitchen. Because I thought there was just too much writing about hey, look, it’s a beautiful cake you can make and look at all these things. And then I would try it and I thought I, you know, I’m like you I can’t do this. This is crazy. So that was kind of where I came down in teaching food writing in it. We really look at a lot of different kinds of right.

Tyler

You were talking about the shrimp and the food chain and how it made me think of I spent time with some cattle ranchers to talk about how that their industry has changed. And one of the Cowboys told me a story of people who drove on to the property wanting to buy a cow to kill it there and have the meat because they wanted to know where their meat was coming from. They wanted to see it being cut.

Janet

And what did he say?

Tyler

He said that’s not how that works. You can’t just chop up a cow right here.

Janet

Right because they don’t have a slaughterhouse, and there’s fewer and fewer slaughterhouses in the United States, and which is why if they get hit, one of which they have been hit by this virus and people can’t work, it kind of shuts things down. Remember, there was that panic that we were going to not be able to get bacon. So that goes back to that idea of people don’t really understand where their food comes from how it works. You know, when people say, I don’t want to buy fruit from you know, Mexico anymore, and you’re like, Well, okay, then you’re not getting a lot of fruit. I mean, if you start looking at those little labels, we want cheap food. And that’s what’s happened. That’s what’s happened. You know, if we really had to pay the price of things So that’s fascinating, though, that someone came onto the property and said, buy that cow. Can you fix it up for us?

Tyler

And the way he told the story it was it was so you know, engrossing, but it made them think about changing their business model. Because I think, you know, farm to table became a really popular thing. I guess, still pretty popular. So they actually then started keeping the cows in Florida because they had to ship them to feed yards. They invested in a feed yard in Florida and they kept the cows in the state because people wanted locally sourced food. So, their agricultural model changed a little to meet the demand of how people’s food habits have changed.

Janet

Yeah, yeah. That’s interesting. That’s interesting.

Tyler

And these are like 70-year-old, you know, cowboys.

Janet

Yeah. And they know the business so intimately. It was probably shocking.

Gramel 

People used to eat cattle from their backyard. Mom and dad would go up to North Mart. I had cousins and my sister and this that and the other They’d come home with fresh meat. But you don’t do that anymore. Anyway, it would probably cost you three times as much.

Janet

People don’t want to pay for stuff like that. Sometimes I think when my, my mother grew up on a farm in South Utah, and she absolutely hated it. My grandfather grew sugar beets and they didn’t ever have any money. And again, it’s like kind of like what you were saying she didn’t have any idea they were so poor. Until like years later. They always had food. You know, I think when you grew up in a rural area, we grew stuff, you had food, so you didn’t go without that way. But she used to say on Sundays, my grandmother would say, you know, Peter, will you go, we want to have chicken on Sunday dinner. So you go get a chicken and he’d have to kill it and do all this stuff for dinner. And he hated to kill anything. He was a very gentle guy. And he really didn’t want to do that. He used to always say, oh, couldn’t we have something else to be like, no, it’s Sunday, we’re having a chicken, but he’d have to go out and kill it. So, I mean, can you imagine like, that probably tasted great. You know, and I knew that they knew what it was eating, and it was right outside the door. Now, so many people, I think the fad has slightly faded of the backyard chickens. Like a few years ago, I was getting chickens and chickens. I don’t think people realize that they eventually they’re just like, ladies, they don’t have eggs anymore. They run their course.

Gramel 

I was talking about my mother, who didn’t have a mean bone in her body. And she would go out and ring a chicken’s neck and come in and then chop it off. My mother would go like this have like a lasso over her head. My mother never said, you know, damn. But she would ring a chicken’s neck. I don’t think I could do that.

Janet

I have no idea how you do that I would do that’s how you know and you think I’m just like a generation removed from somebody who knew how to do that.

Tyler

Granny was doing that when she was like a teenager too, you know? Yeah.

Janet

Probably not only do you know where your food comes from, but you understand kind of, I don’t know if this is the right word, but like this, the sacrifice are in a way, right that you know, the animals were raised and you know, they’re feeding you and you kind of understand that lifecycle.

Tyler

And so I know you’ve been covering Florida food for a while. What are some Florida food stories that you’re really interested in or that you think maybe more people should know about?

Janet

Well, the one I’m most fascinated with, I would say is the story of the mango in South Florida. So Florida doesn’t have any commercial Mango groves anymore. There were many here at some time but you know, Hurricane Andrew in 92 sort of wiped them out. They didn’t really come back because there were so much competition from Mexico and some other places that it was kind of dwindling anyway. But there’s a place in Coral Gables called the Fairchild tropical garden. And they have the world’s foremost authorities on mangoes there, and they propagate a lot of mangoes and they study mangoes around the world. They have actually propagated a lot of kinds there and have created these hybrids. So there’s a lot of mangoes, like if you think of like the famous mangoes or Tommy Atkins, the Hayden mango, they’re all named after people that lived in South Florida. So there’s a long connection. There’s one called the Fairchild which is named after David Fairchild, who was kind of a fruit and spice hunter that went around the world. And they’re all named after people that lived in South Florida. I think that’s amazing story. The Tommy Atkins I think is the most widely grown commercial mango in the world mostly in Mexico, but it’s named after a guy who is from Miami.

I don’t think people know the history so much of the mango, thousands of varieties of them. We go every year they’re not this year because unfortunately was cancelled. There’s a international mango festival at this tropical garden in July. And we always go there and there’s just people because Miami is such a such an international city. There’s people there from all around the world looking for their you know, looking for their special mangoes from their countries and stuff. So it’s fascinating. That’s a really interesting Florida story to me that has some just strange twists and turns. I know that mango festival I want to go there that sounds fantastic. So much fun.

It’ll also be interesting to see how Orlando might change course there’s a lot of interesting things with Orlando right now with the theme parks, you know, shutting down and all the jobs that have been lost there. But they also had a big influx of people from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. They already had a pretty healthy Puerto Rican population there. So I’ll be interested to see like, how many more restaurants kind of pop up with that cuisine, how that might change things there. That’ll be interesting.

There’s a lot of immigrants in our fields and getting food, food to our table and not living in the best conditions and about having health care and stuff. And that kind of goes back to you know, health care in this country and how we don’t look out for people. As much as we should, with all that we have helped people. I think that’s a really scary thing. And I think COVID has definitely, I mean, it’s been there for a while, and I think people are paying attention to that. But it’s really it’s really laid bare some inequities. When you see in what populations it’s really affecting and people that you know, don’t have money because like some of us that are working at home, well yay for us. We’re lucky enough fortunate enough kind of jobs, we can work at home, there’s plenty of people, like you were saying your mom working in the restaurant, you can’t do that at home or you’re you know, working at Publix or something, you can’t do that at home. There’s a lot of people that are in that situation that don’t have the luxury of working at home. So we have to remember that

Gramel 

you are a very interesting person. And you’re, into so many different things there.

Janet

It was nice seeing you guys. We’ll talk soon. Keep in touch. Thank you look forward to it.

Tyler

All right, so that was our episode. We talked about food, which is our favorite

We hope that you get to cooking or eating or whatever brings you comfort. And if you have any recipes or any stories that you want to send us you can email it to us at AFloridaThing@gmail.com. Subscribe to the pod. We also have a newsletter. We hope that you have a happy and satisfied day and we hope that it’s sunny.

Gramel 

Or rainy. We need the rain.

Food!

In this episode, we discuss family food (and gator food), talk with my Mom about being a waitress in the time of COVID-19 as well as discuss Florida food, quarantine cooking, and cookies with Janet Keeler — a journalism instructor, 35-year newspaper vet, food writing teacher, and freelance food/travel writer.

Full Episode Transcript

More from Janet

Cookielicious: 150 Fabulous Recipes to Bake & Share (University Press of Florida)

She’s a cookbook reviewer at The Zest.

Check out her Instagram, especially the #blackchefsmatter posts she talks about in the episode.

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* If you have any recipes or any stories that you want to send, you can email us at AFloridaThing@gmail.com. Subscribe to the podcast and our newsletter.

Notable Quotable

Food Chat!

My mother didn’t have a mean bone in her body, but she would get a chicken and swing it like a lasso over her head. She never said, you know, damn, but she would ring a chicken’s neck and come inside and chop it off. I remember smelling scorched feathers. After Mama chopped of the chicken’s head, she would boil them. And that is not a pleasant aroma, but the frying of the actual results of all that was a heavenly scent. – Gramel

I grew up eating mullet. It’s a freshwater fish. The tail doesn’t have bones in it. That’s why mama started us with that. And then she made hush puppies from heaven. She made it in a cornmeal batter. And we always had baked beans, grits, and coleslaw. And of course, iced tea which is the house wine in the South. – Gramel

Swamp cabbage is cabbage, and they have a leaf of cabbage and then they put a helping of some type of sherbet usually green, and then peanuts on top of it. And then they cover the top of it with a bunch of shredded cabbage and then that all males it’s more of a desert. And you can only get these at places like Homosassa .I went through a period that for probably 15 years, whenever we went out – about every other time, we’d go to someplace that had it and it was always a fish place that would have it. – Gramel

“Aunt Annie used to get the scraps leftover from the food she made in the cafeteria and put them in tin cans and take them home to feed her dogs. And her alligator. She probably fed her dog, first. OK, well, she’d feed her family first. Then, she would go out to the end of her little wooden pier. She would hit these cans up against those boards, and here would come usually just one or two alligators. She would throw the contents of those tin cans into the water, and they would eat and have good time and leave.

And she had three boys and my brother that swim in her pond, which later became a lake because it got bigger and bigger. Thankfully, the gators never, ever bothered anybody. And they never bothered the dogs. I’d go down and visit with my Aunt Annie because we only lived a half a block from her. It would be dark before I got done talking, and I would leave to go home. She’d say, now, Margie, just shuffle your feet to scare the alligators. And you won’t even hear or see them. And I’d say I don’t think so Aunt Annie. She’d yell for her husband Frank to come walk out with me. So, alligators were a part of their life. And there was never a bad scene.

They tell you do not feed alligators. But I think since she fed them every night, seven days a week, basically at the same time – and she fed them wonderful cafeteria leftovers. They were content. They didn’t have to be hungry. They weren’t probably ever hungry.

I never swam in the pond, and neither did her daughter Sissy. We didn’t want that pond water in our hair. I didn’t want squishy dirt in my feet. And I was not into sharing my swimming space with alligators.” – Gramel

Mom Chat!

We have regular customers that I see every day, but a lot of them are dying off and we’re getting new customers. With the COVID, they’re not coming out and they shouldn’t; I’m glad they’re not coming out for their health. But I miss them.  – Mom

Janet Keeler Chat!

On the start of the annual the Times Cookie issue: My very first year as the food editor was 2000. And around the fall of that year, I got a call close to Christmas. It was from an older man whose wife had died a few years earlier. They had made a cookie together, and he couldn’t bring himself to make them for the several years after she died because it was too sad for him. So, he decided that he was going to that year. And he had a question for me about cookie sheets. But we kept talking about how he was finally going to do it by himself. He was sort of crying on the phone, and then I was crying. I gave him whatever information I had and a few weeks later I got a package in the mail. He sent me some cookies. It was so sweet. At that point, it really hit home that the cookies were just more than sugar, flour, and eggs. That’s when that project started.

#BlackChefsMatter: There’s actually a hashtag out there called Black Chefs Matter. I think I’ve made maybe like four of them, just kind of drawing attention. I’m waiting for someone to say how come you’re not sharing the recipes and then I’m going to say because I want you to buy their cookbook. – Janet

On Cuban Sandwiches: I first came here from California to visit a friend in the 80s. I had my first Cuban sandwich. And I thought, wow, this is something else. I mean, it was so good. It was like the pressed one. It was so good. So, I always think of that as Florida food to me. Cuban sandwiches. I would say most Floridians know the Cuban sandwich I know it’s spread throughout the country. But to me it seems very, you know, Floridian and then you get here and you find out what was maybe invented in Ybor City or maybe it was Miami. That wasn’t totally Cuban because it’s a mixture of Cuban things, but also Spanish. So, it’s interesting, but it’s such a mishmash of food here and people would definitely debate about that.

Insider’s Tip: Janet’s favorite Cuban is from Bodega on Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg.

On Food Writing: I think most people look at food writing as it’s about recipes, and it’s about cookbooks or it’s about cooking. I look at it more as really writing about the way we live, but also the intersection of politics and health and the economy and culture. In my food writing class, we look at what I call a reported food story, meaning it has to do with food, but it also has to do with news, what’s going on in the world. The Associated Press won a Pulitzer a few years back for a series of stories they did. They found that people harvesting shrimp in Southeast Asia were being kept in cages. The seafood they were harvesting – basically, as enslaved people – was winding up on our on our dinner tables here in the United States. So to me, that’s a food story.

On Writing about Being a Home Cook: At the Tampa Bay Times, I did a lot of home cooking stories. I don’t have any professional cooking training, I have taken cooking classes here and there, but I have no degree, or you know, certification in anything. I did a lot of stuff on home cooking. And I very much like to write about when things went wrong in my kitchen. Because I thought, there was just too much writing about hey, look, it’s a beautiful cake you can make and look at all these things. And then I would try it and I thought I, you know, I’m like you – I can’t do this.

On Mangoes: Florida doesn’t have any commercial mango groves anymore. There were many here at some time but you know, Hurricane Andrew in 92 sort of wiped them out. They didn’t really come back because there were so much competition from Mexico and some other places that it was kind of dwindling anyway. But there’s a place in Coral Gables called the Fairchild tropical garden. And they have the world’s foremost authorities on mangoes there, and they propagate a lot of mangoes and they study mangoes around the world. They have actually propagated a lot of kinds there and have created these hybrids. So there’s a lot of mangoes, like if you think of like the famous mangoes, they’re all named after people that lived in South Florida. So there’s a long connection. There’s one called the Fairchild which is named after David Fairchild, who was kind of a fruit and spice hunter that went around the world. And they’re all named after people that lived in South Florida. I think that’s amazing story. The Tommy Atkins I think is the most widely grown commercial mango in the world mostly in Mexico, but it’s named after a guy who is from Miami. I don’t think people know the history so much of the mango, thousands of varieties of them.