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Roy Peter Clark!

In the season finale, we talk to Roy Peter Clark about The Changing South of Gene Patterson: Journalism and Civil Rights, 1960-1968, John Lewis, and Roy sings to Gramel!

Full Transcript

More from Roy!

The Changing South of Gene Patterson (UPF)

Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (Hachette)

The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English (Hachette)

The wings of the bird: Rep. John Lewis and his view of the American press” (Poynter)

Notable Quotable

“This book could change your life, not only changing the status, it was very, very poignant, and made you really think, and I cried.” — Gramel

“He made history come alive, in a Down to Earth way a daily, day, by day way. You just didn’t want to stop you wanted to read the next article, the next column, once I got rolling in that it was really hard to stop and take a break, go eat or take the dog out or anything like that.” — Gramel

“I graduated in the 60s. And by 1961, I had a child in 22 months later another child. So a lot of this I mean, I knew of it all. But when you’re newly married and raising babies, you know, you don’t immerse yourself in them like I do now and politics. So I found, I was very grateful for the book.” — Gramel

from Roy

“I was hired by Jim Patterson in 1977. I was living in Montgomery, Alabama at the time I was teaching from New York. But I got my first teaching job in the south. And I got to meet some Southern progressive editorial writers.”

“So every single day, and this includes on fishing boats, wherever you happen to be, Gene was writing his 800 900 words. I read, I felt like a privilege, I read every single one of them more than 3000. That was the source material.”

“For me ,language moves up like to the top given my interest. I’m interested in words and wordsmiths and, and how people solve problems in their writing, how they create a voice, and what’s most interesting and authentic in their work.”

“Gene could write with criticism of white Southern racism, with a tremendous the passion of, you know, an Old Testament prophet, he could do that. But that wasn’t his primary move. His primary move was conciliatory. And so what you see time and again, is him shining a light on individual, small groups of white Southerners who are evolving towards racial and racial justice.”

“One reason to invoke the past is to be inspired and hopeful by the ways and the ways in which things did change for the better, or, if not permanently, the possibility of changing for the better. And I think that’s the kind of writer that Gene was.”

“Journalism is already facing two, existential crisis. The first I would argue, is, is a problem of resources, based on the collapse of the traditional business model of news brought about by technological change, most powerfully, the internet. So the question of who is going to pay for good journalism? Is there even going to be a newspaper in some locations, in some cities Are they gone was look as local news going to disappear. So that’s crisis, number one, crisis number two, our attempts by political partisans to undermine the credibility of news and to decertify and devalue the work that journalists do. So to ask them, to then ask journalists to become the leaders of a new, revitalized movement towards civil rights and racial equality? It’s a hard thing to ask. But I’m certainly proud of the work that I’m seeing around the country, done by journalists, of all different ethnicities and backgrounds on everything we’re going through right now, from an endemic in the recession, to social protests.”

Roy Peter Clark Transcript

Roy  0:05 

In this first segment, we are going to talk about the book, the changing south of Gene Patterson, journalism and civil rights 1960 to 1968, edited by Roy Peter Clark and Raymond Arsenault. It’s also currently raining. So if you hear our dog kind of breathing heavy, that’s because she doesn’t love rainstorms. Miss Roxy, she’s fine. She’s just got a little anxiety. So gene Patterson was the former editor of the Atlanta constitution from 1960 through 1968. And he wrote a daily column, but every day he would write a column and response to what was going on in editorial. And so this book takes about 120, a little bit more than 120 or so of his pieces. And they selected those pieces out of 3200 columns that he published in those eight years. And so the thing about Gene Patterson, is he was a progressive white southerner, from a very small rural town, in Georgia,

Gramel  2:32 

This book could change your life, not only changing the status, it was very, very poignant, and made you really think, and I cried. I cried. Many, many places, it was really unique the way they presented it too, they presented about 40 pages of fact, about what was in the book. And then they started presenting some of his more stark or so searching or touching articles, the way he decided to write these was to include himself in them. And he would say, things like, we as southerners are better than that. We as southerners can change, we as southerners would not want to hurt anybody. And so he would include himself. And maybe he was really talking to himself also. But he didn’t just fuss at the masses. He included himself in that.

And I think that’s one reason that it could get through to people, that he was fascinated self just as much as he was with some people’s choices and decisions and actions. And that was a wonderful way to him, for him to get through to many people. And it made it very touching to he just add a kind of an educated, good old boy, way to talk that people could understand and relate to.

Tyler 4:24 

The thing about Gene Patterson is he was a southern journalist who was speaking to his folks like his, the people that he grew up with who were more conservative and conservative. They were segregationists, a lot of them less. So his thing was that he identified with the area and he knew those people and he understood what they had been taught and what they had experienced and lived through because he had probably been in similar situations. And he didn’t want to alien Those folks are separating himself, he thought they would be more comfortable hearing the way he was talking to them. Because his idea was that if he didn’t talk to them like that, then they wouldn’t listen. And there were already a lot of them very firmly held in their beliefs. So he was trying to get them to listen, even a little bit to maybe potentially change their thought process. He grew up on a farm, his mom was a school teacher. And then he went off to the war.

Gramel  5:30 

And he learned a lot about life in the war. And he was a very brave soldier, some of the deaths of his comrades really well, all of them really affected him. And then the reason that we were fighting World War Two, really, he felt that and he was changed. It’s so good. When he came out of .

Tyler Gillespie  5:58 

They were fighting literal Nazis. Yeah. So then when they got home, I think it it, he may have already been on his more liberal path. But I think that really showed him about how serious things can get, how serious they already were in America. And so I think that really was a big thing for him and his writing.

Gramel  6:21 

The older I get, it doesn’t seem to be a very large leap to come from thinking, you know, you’re right, to knowing you know, you’re right, and you’re gonna want to better words, push it down other people’s throats.

Tyler Gillespie  6:42 

And what I found really interesting about this book, like you were saying, so the first two chapters are essentially context socially. And then historically, for Gene Patterson’s place in history, because there were other southern writers like him, but he and the Atlanta constitution stood out as being really important for the south, and specifically Atlanta. So we have this context, and then it gets into his daily columns. So there’s a lot of historical elements that are going on, but we’re getting them through kind of filtered through his opinions and through his lens. So we see things happening. And then we’re getting his own ideas and, and comments on it. So in these columns, there are about 750 words each. So they’re kind of pretty short dispatches, one after the other after the other. And the way they curated them, I thought was really nice, because it kept up the pace. And it hit on certain points. And then it would come back to certain points, like when he was talking about Martin Luther King, and the boycott, and stuff like that.

Gramel  7:59 

He made history come alive, in a Down to Earth way a daily, day, by day way. You just didn’t want to stop you wanted to read the next article, the next column, once I got rolling in that it was really hard to stop and take a break, go eat or take the dog out or anything like that. It was just, it was it was like you were back there. And nowadays, we’re kind of there again, right?

Tyler Gillespie  8:34 

This book is so relevant, and I think that was –

Gramel  8:38 

sad, and it was scary. And it was like, This can’t be this can’t be that we’re here again.

Tyler Gillespie  8:46 

In the 60s was a really tumultuous time when people were really fighting. This book talks about Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, President Kennedy, you know, assassinations of really Attorney General, important people to the movement. It also talks about attempted assassination on James Meredith, who was the first African American to go to the University of Mississippi and the riots that were happening on that campus, which I bring that out, because, I mean, it’s important to the book, but that’s also where I currently teach. So it was something I was aware of, but something that I was also focusing on when it was coming up in a text. It was just really one thing after the other after the other.

Gramel  9:36 

I learned a lot more that President Lyndon Johnson because it also was about the Vietnam War. And the protest about the war. So it was a history book, candlelight. These were very important times of history. I’m a war two Vietnam War, civil rights, all those assassinations in such a small amount of time.

Tyler Gillespie  10:08 

And what was so impressive to me too, is so he has to write these columns every day. And that’s hard work to do. And he’s responding to like all of these tragedies that were happening. And always bringing it back to white Southerners, we are the reason why these things are happening to people of color. Like even the well intentioned, folks, we still have to change things for folks, we have to do this, he was all he would always bring it back to that.

Gramel  10:40 

And you would bring out the bad in the good. Cuz there was a lot of good things that happened. And small towns back there, there was a burning down churches, right, which was horrible. But then there were poor people, given even a quarter towards the building fund,

Tyler Gillespie  11:04 

Right, because he wrote a column about it, and then they were taking money for it. And some people would send in money, whatever they could.

Gramel  11:13 

Say a town politician would send in $200, but most than $1 to $5, is what I got the average of. And so that was reassuring, that we poor people can take our quarter and our dollar and our $5 and help rebuild a very simple church. And not only that, the architect, he gave us this time free to build to design those churches.

Tyler Gillespie  11:51 

Yeah, and I think Gene, in his writing, he’s very critical of the way southerners are acting, but certain, some southerners, but he’s very core, he believes in the south. He’s a champion of the Southern spirit, and the southern person. He’s saying we need to act better than this, because we are better than this. And so he really toed the line of being critical, but also, you know, supporting his fellow southerners, which was this, a lot of southerners were not acting right, in the 60s. I support southerners and Floridians. And I will, you know, back that, but when someone’s not acting right, you just got to say you’re not acting right. You cannot beat around the bush.

Gramel  12:40 

As my mother would say, you’re acting ugly.

Tyler Gillespie  12:43 

There was a lot of ugliness.

Gramel  12:45 

Yeah. And by the way, Florida, and his town was real near the Florida line. And he kept coming back to that every now and then. So I don’t know why he did that. But I like that he did that, that he would, you know, revert back to being real close to Florida, right?

Tyler Gillespie  13:04 

And this book covers the sixth from 1960 to 68, he did end up coming down to the St. Petersburg Times, and was an editor there for a while. And he really helped make the St. Petersburg Times now the Tampa Bay Times. One of the best papers, one of the most well known papers in the south. And he had a big hand in that. So we’re very lucky. Yes, I did that.

Gramel  13:30 

I graduated in the 60s. And by 1961, I had a child in 22 months later another child. So a lot of this I mean, I knew of it all. But when you’re newly married and raising babies, you know, you don’t immerse yourself in them like I do now and politics. So I found, I was very grateful for the book that I could read about something I knew about, but understand it much, much better by his writing and that great editing and everything that was done in the book. So even, you could say to yourself, Well, I knew all about that.

I could say that too. But I really didn’t know all about that. And I learned so much from the book and it made history. So come to life. I would just recommend it. I never thought it would be so something up close to my heart from now on is this book.

Tyler Gillespie  14:49 

And I think something too, that was kind of cool, is a kind of very energy like there was a lot of intense stuff, but then they would have they chose a profile of a little boy running a lemonade stand your loved one. Yeah. You know, and about being a 10 year old entrepreneur, and then he, they kind of have this running call back to this guy, I guess who owns a bait shop on the lake, that gene and his wife would fish out. So there are these little moments of daily life that were also interspersed throughout, kind of to remind people that there was a lot of tensions going on, as there are now this summer, but daily life also goes on. And, and that we can get to a place where our daily lives can continue and be be peaceful with each other. The 60s was a wild time. So much happened in American history.

Gramel  15:47 

I know, read the book, you’ll never forget it. Already a better person.

Tyler Gillespie  15:55 

And that’s been our thoughts on the changing south of Gene Patterson, edited by Roy Peter Clark. I’m interested to talk with Roy later about some of their choices for columns because they had so many to choose from.

Roy  16:33 

Hello, Tyler, how are you?

Tyler Gillespie  16:35 

Great. How are you? This is my grandmother, Margie.

Roy  16:38 

Hello, Margie. Margie, thank you for Tyler.

Gramel  16:45 

That’s nice. You can have him.

I really enjoyed that book. It was amazing. I love to read. And that’s just an awesome book. It made me cry. It made me laugh. It made me sob. It made me think it just touched my heart in many, many ways. That had to be a job and you are blessed to have that kind of abilities and stick to itiveness

Roy  17:17 

Margie, you know, it was really interesting the way it happened. I was hired by Jim Patterson in 1977. I was living in Montgomery, Alabama at the time I was teaching from New York. But I got my first teaching job in the south. And I got to meet some Southern progressive editorial writers. And one of them Ray Jenkins mentioned to me that Gene Patterson, who had been an editor in Atlanta, was now the editor of the St. Petersburg Times. So he was also president of the American Society of newspaper editors. And so I was an English teacher. And he hired me for what was supposed to be a yearlong project to come to the newspaper and improve the quality of the writing at the times. And I was going to go back to Montgomery.

But a lot of things happen and one year turned into 43 years. Just love that. I do like it. They came up. I was having lunch with him at a restaurant. I don’t think it exists anymore. It was this dark Old Spanish seafood restaurant unfortunately called happens. Oh yeah, I’ve heard it. Yeah. And then we went, and this is one of his favorite restaurants. And I said, you know, Jane, I’ve read one or two of your famous columns from back when you were in Atlanta. I’d like to read more of them. And he said, he brushed me off. He said, I you don’t want to read those. You don’t want to read those old things. And I said, Well, you know if I can get my hands on them some way. And he said, Well, all right, come on back to the house.

So we drove back to his house on on the on the water. And he opened up a closet. in the closet. He had, let’s say eight oversized albums, and we just looked into one of them. These albums were filled with his columns, which had been carefully glued, want to say pasted his assistant had organized these chronologically so that I think there were nine albums covering the years 1916 through 1968 when he eventually left Atlanta to go to the Washington Post. I took these I put him in my car went back to pointer and I alerted David Shedden, who was the Chief Librarian, and archivist and historian of the Institute, to come out to the car, and when I opened the trunk of the car, and you can see these albums, it was like this scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. When Wow, somebody opens up the Ark of the Covenant in their face melts, you know, I mean, he’s a very mild-mannered person, but he basically took possession of these, I have no access to them for four months. And when he was finished, he had made, we have the originals, and that he made two copies, and crew and recreated in a protected way, every single document, so I got to bring these home.

I didn’t know what at the time. But gene, like his mentor, Ralph McGill, had taken it upon himself as editor of the paper, to write a signed column that appeared in the newspaper every day, for eight years. Now, my assumption, if I wanted to do that, let’s say that I wanted to, in a normal year, not this year, but in a normal year, if I wanted to write 365 columns, what I would do is I would write two on Thursday to on Friday, so he could have, so I could have the weekend free.

Gene didn’t think that way. He thought that if he wrote two columns, on one day, the second one wouldn’t have the energy or insight of the first one. So every single day, and this includes on fishing boats, wherever you happen to be, Gene was writing his 800 900 words. I read, I felt like a privilege, I read every single one of them more than 3000. That was the source material out of which I and Ray Arsenault, the southern historian from University of South Florida, chose the ones that created a little anthology of the ones that we’re most about civil rights, social justice, race relations, and the changing south. As, as he saw now, that book was published in 2002. And to our surprise, and delight, the University Press of Florida, the new paperback edition, which I think appropriately has Gene and his mentor, Robert McGill, who we call happy.

That’s, you know, 18 years later, they decided to publish the paperback edition. Now it hasn’t gotten much attention because of circumstances beyond anybody’s control right now, that said, what an amazingly appropriate moment for the book to be published. Yes. In the aftermath of the death of a toilet and the revitalization of the civil rights movement in its current manifestation. And then the death of Add to that the death of John Lewis, who had a close relationship with Gene. Yes, it was amazing. I got to meet. Gene introduced him to me loud at the constitution at the newspaper. When we were doing the book event up there, the book was launched. And then he was John Lew was the keynote speaker for an event that I directed for pointer in 2016, where we celebrated the centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes. Yeah, I just wrote a column about that experience for pointer and also for the catalysts.

You know, that’s quite a journey. My mom lived until she was almost 96. She was half Jewish and half Italian. And she had this habit, this, this pattern of maternal behavior. I think we Jewish or Yiddish word. And almost to the point of exaggeration. And so, when they both passed, I said what was going about me anymore, you know, maybe you get a Cavell yourself a little bit. Yeah. So my mother said, if it’s true, it’s not remember this right? If it’s true, it’s not bragging. So the only thing I will take credit for is having lunch with Gene Patterson and telling him, you know, I’d really like to read those columns. That casual remark was the launching pad for something I think was very special. And I say that because of the way it reflected back on Gene. Gene was not in Ralph McGill’s shadow. But there are roads, at least in buildings that are named after McGill in Atlanta. I always thought that McGill was Babe Ruth and Gene was Lou Gehrig. So you know. And so what happened is that after the book came out, Gene’s work, got a second life. Well deserved.

Gramel  26:02 

Well deserved, I started to say that. Yes.

Tyler Gillespie  26:05 

So you had so much source material, and you talk a little bit about how you made the choices of which columns to include. But can you talk to us a little bit more about that, especially because you are working with a historian. So I’m wondering if there were conversations about what to leave in and what to kind of not focus on as much.

Roy  26:26 

So probably, Ray might have a different might remember a little differently. Basically, with CO authorship, co authorship or co editor ship, it’s not a partnership of absolutely quality. All the times I’ve done it, I’ve done several times, someone is the lead dog. And then there’s the sturdy dog, and you need both, you need both. So what was really important for me, is to be able to harvest over the short over months, and the columns that stood out to me, as most wordly preserving now, it was clear early on, that gene was most well known for his work. And he won a Pulitzer Prize surprise, for editorials that were about racial equality and the changing south and those kinds of things. He wrote many, many, many other things. He was a military, you know, he was a he wanted to be, he could have been a great general. I mean, he had that kind of stature.

And he was very military. He was very interested in Vietnam. But I think it’s fair to say he was slower than other, editorialists understanding the problems with the war, because he was a product of a World War Two. And it was hard for him to get his mind around the idea that generals on the leaders might be exaggerating on how well we were doing in Vietnam. The causes were not as, as clear cut as they were fighting the Nazis. But he wrote about that. And he wrote about Atlanta, as editorial as you’d expect an editorial writer to do. What about things like the airport in Atlanta, there was a famous incident, I’m afraid of, I’m not going to get any of this wrong. But a group of Atlanta kind of dignitaries, not together on a flight to I think it was Paris, France, and the plane crashed and killed a significant number of key business and social leaders. And so Gene became for a while fascinated with airline safety in those kinds of issues. So I read on those and found them very compelling was kind of like a history lesson. But ultimately, he would return to the big question.

Basically, what happens is when you have 3000 columns, you have to say, Well, how many of those will fit in a book? This becomes very practical at some point. So I said, I don’t know maybe, maybe 200. I’m a cutter inner, thicker outer a man. I need to go check the taking out. One out. I think the first swing and I don’t know how many but I brought, you know, but I brought to Ray, the first batch that I thought dealt with the issues that we were most interested in And, of course, it was great with Ray, because in addition to being a fine writer and a very productive scholar, he was a southern historian and he already knew all of these events. And so he could bring to the table, a sense of history, and a sense of Southern history that I lacked. I was more interested, I have to say, being a writing teacher, Ray’s thing is history. And in language, for me language moves up like to the top given my interest. I’m interested in words and wordsmiths and, and how people solve problems in their writing, how they create a voice, and what’s most interesting and authentic in their work. And I thought it was fascinating to study and I’ve written about this over the years since then, how Genes, rhetorical. That’s called his rhetorical stance.

So who is Gene? Gene is a white southerner. He grew up on a small farm. His mother was a schoolteacher. He went to Georgia schools he was he was educated, well read. He was always he was interested in the military. He joined the military, the army. He was a captain was a tank commander. He saw things in battle. As I said, that later he wished he had not seen them. He risked his life many times. And he came back to the United States, I think, with a different perspective. He was a southerner was a white Southern boy, growing up on a farm, he understood the agony of the South. He understood the mythologies of the South. And he seemed to understand the struggle that white people had to come to grips with the requirements of desegregation, starting in the mid 1950s.

Now, he was very self-critical. Thinking learn that from Ralph McGill. Ralph McGill criticized his own work, his own early work as being pale tea. He said, Yeah, what I was writing is I was writing about these things. But boy, you know, was pretty pale tea wasn’t strong. It wasn’t invigorating. It was slow. And hesitance, the kind of gradualism that Dr. King and others criticized. Now, to their credit, both of them evolved. And they evolved because they were upset and worried and inspired by the young, black activists who they categorize as the real heroes of the people who are putting their bodies on the line. Yeah, it’s really, really interesting to see genes. Evolution, through the encouragement of drought, we’ll develop a much stronger voice now that said, Look, when the Seneca that when that when the Jewish temple in Atlanta was bombed. In the 50s. Ralph would be read, Ralph McGill wrote about that wonderful surprise, I believe, in 1963, when the 16th Street, Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed and 400 girls were murdered.

Gene could write with criticism of white Southern racism, with a tremendous the passion of, you know, an Old Testament prophet, he could do that. But that wasn’t his primary move. His primary move was conciliatory. And so what you see time and again, is him shining a light on individual, small groups of white Southerners who are evolving towards racial and racial justice.

I’ll give me a couple of examples in the from the collection. One of my favorite columns, it’s an early one Gene highlights. He highlights a letter that he’s received From a school teacher was in a little traffic accident, and who was helped by a state trooper, and how polite the trooper was and how helpful he was, and how he got her out of trouble. And how that has not always been her experience with law enforcement, and how she wanted Genene and she won in the state of Georgia to know that a man like this officer existed. At the end of the column, Gene reveals that this woman this woman, is, is a black lady. Now, that was an astonishing. For its time, it was an astonishing move for a white newspaper, to give an ordinary African American purchasing school teacher that platform, but it was also in Genes interest. It’s interesting. The column seems to be about her. But knowing Gene, and now No, no, like the column is really about the officer, what he was doing, was highlighting a law enforcement officer that was not a member of the clan, who was not a bully, who is not in the habit of belittling black people or brutalizing them any chance you got. gene is really saying the moral of that story is like, this is this is what law enforcement should look like in the state of Georgia. So that was one example.

Another example involves the story of a national guard soldier who served with Gene in the war. And he tells the story about how brave this young man was, in, in Europe, how they blew up a bridge to stop the Nazi troops from advancing. And so what happens is, there’s rioting in Mississippi, because they’re trying to integrate the school. And this man in the National Guard, the sense to Mississippi to protect students and create law an honor. And I believe is, I believe he shot and wounded by the members of the racist mob. And what’s interesting is that this man was National Guardsman isn’t some kind of progressive on matters of race. No, he said, another young white Southern man who has his own questions about whether desegregation is such a great thing. And yet, he does the right thing. He follows the law. He’s willing to lay his life on the line. And this man who survives the war against the Nazis, comes home, and was shot and wounded in Mississippi. It’s another example, again, holding up a pattern of virtue for others to follow. And Gene said that makes me laugh when Gene said, somebody came up to them. That means I know what you’re trying to do. Mr. Patterson, you’re trying to make us think we’re better than we are.

Tyler Gillespie  38:40 

I teach writing at the University of Mississippi. So reading those columns about James Meredith, I found really relevant and something that I want to maybe show my students about it.

Roy  38:52 

Yeah, great. That was so interesting. I have to be careful when I when I say this, because one of the things I learned in college was something that happens in literature, but it happens in real life. And it’s called the myth of the Golden Age. And my mother was great at this. I know I do it. Ah, man, if you wanted to hear great music. I don’t know that you really, you really got a man. You didn’t know what it was like when the Beatles arrived when I was in high school, you know? And but and then my mother did the same, Melissa. Oh, yeah, you listen to this rock and roll stuff, but you and the big bands back in the 40s. That’s, you know, Glenn Miller. That’s when music was. So everybody kind of has a tendency sometimes to think about, that. There was this time in the past when things were really really good. And in some cases, that may be true, but in most cases is not true at all.

One of the things that’s hard to talk about is how bad things were in the 1920s. We’re starting to talk about it again with remembering these crimes against African American communities and things like that going back after world war one, and then during the entirety of the Jim Crow era. So it’s, it’s not a good thing to say that it doesn’t seem helpful to say, if you think things are bad now, if you feel like America is a racist country now, man, you should have been living in the days of the Klan, and the Knight Riders and white citizen councils and those kinds of things. But one of the best reasons, yeah, honestly, I’m gonna say for the record that 1968, I was 20 years old, was a bad year for America was a bad year for America are low lighted by the assassination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, riot police riots on the streets of Chicago, people, soldiers dying in Vietnam, all kinds of Mad stuff.

One reason to invoke the past is to be inspired and hopeful by the ways and the ways in which things did change for the better, or, if not permanently, the possibility of changing for the better. And I think that’s the kind of writer that Gene was he understood something about race in America, that he described in a very interesting way. He said something like pain, took the Civil War, to end slavery. And then 100 years later, it took the civil rights movement, to create to move towards equal justice, under the law and in segregation, essentially, America’s version of apartheid. There was a there’s a lot more work to do. He said, I don’t know what the next stage of our liberation is going to be. What he said, I have a feeling it has to be a change of heart, not a change of law. And when people asked him, Well, how do we achieve that? He was not dismissive, but he was. Once again, it was mentioned to him, he said, Listen, hey, I think I’ve done my part. I think it’s your turn to figure that out now. And so we’re trying to do it.

Tyler Gillespie  42:53 

That’s something we talked a lot about, too. But how relevant this book is to our current moment, and the conversations that folks are having?

Roy  43:01 

Yeah, very much. So John Lewis, I thought, you know, in a bad year, the death of John Lewis seemed just cruel. On the other hand, you know, sometimes an artist, paint, they’re great painter, an artist isn’t fully appreciated, the value of the work isn’t appreciated until that person passes away. And maybe his passing is seen as a final blessing of a reminder that the struggle for justice and racial equality, and nonviolence is not something you do and complete. Yeah, we’re washing our hands a lot these days. And once we did that, no, no, it’s something that has to continue.

And I think what’s really interesting is that the leaders of the Civil Rights movement in the south, the great leaders, the ones that we know, from Atlanta, from Nashville, from other places, they recognized and valued white allies in the struggle. And they recognized in people like Gene Patterson and Ralph reveal that their work was enormously valuable to the movement and that they needed to be encouraged, as well. And so there’s a communication letter between Dr. King and Gene Patterson, I think after Dr. King won the Nobel Prize, and Gene was nervous about the leaders of the civil rights movement, stepping forward. in protest against the Vietnam War, and he and Dr. King promised each other then we get together and have a conversation about. I met. Andrew Young became the mayor of Atlanta. And we were in a book event together. And I bought the book he had written. And I told him that I was a protege or that gene Patterson had hired me and I bought this book with Gene, and he inscribed with the gene. And he wrote in it, dear gene, we need your leadership, again.

 And it’s interesting to see their view of themselves, black activists and civil rights leaders, white editorialists sit see themselves, look back at the work they did when they were younger. And as an evolved, having a relationship kind of grew and developed. I think what’s important for people to remember, you know, there was some crazed man a couple years ago, a year or so ago, went into the newspaper office in Annapolis, Maryland, and shot and killed five people. There’s violence all over the world against journalists, among others. Gene was a soldier he was, he was where we around weapons. I asked him if you ever sort of carried a gun for protection? And he said, No, absolutely not. But he said in the top drawer of his desk at the office, he kept a ball peen hammer. And I said, Well, do you ever have to use it? We said, Well, look, you know, we didn’t have any guards or anything. Really. We we never knew who was going to walk into our office, for what reason? And he said, Yeah, he said, twice. He said, I put my finger on the jaw drawer and tweaked it open a little bit, just in case, you know, I needed something.

I would say between 1949 in 1960 to about a dozen white newspaper, editorialists from the south won Pulitzer Prizes for their work, and Little Rock, and Greenville, Mississippi. And Atlanta, of course, twice, really, newspapers in Tuscaloosa. And newspaper offices were attacked, bullets were fired. The windows, people were harassed in the middle of the night. And so this was dangerous work. And the thing that Gene’s greatest admirers say about him, is that Ralph McGill chose him to be his successor, BECAUSE GENE had moral and physical courage. And he can write like an angel. And he felt that that’s exactly what the newspaper needed, what Atlanta needed. The South meeting was American.

Tyler Gillespie  48:50 

So that kind of leads into a question that I wanted to ask you from the piece that you wrote about John Lewis. And he’s quoted in there saying that journalists should get in the way finding a way to get in trouble, good trouble, unnecessary trouble and how journalism should disrupt or disturb. What do you think that means to 2020? The current moment? How can journalism do that?

Roy  49:17 

The best example I can think of, is what the New York Times has been doing over the last year or so. With a I wouldn’t call it a series I call it a movement, a movement or project a continuing project. Under the date 1619 one of the main players Nicole Hannah Jones is an amazing, recorded African American woman who’s written powerfully about public schools and basically is inviting the idea that There’s a way of thinking about the country that suggests that it was founded. Not in 1776. But in 1619, when the first slaves, chattel slavery for slaves came, was now the state of Virginia. And so what’s happening is, I think, a kind of note, it’s not even an image. It’s not a subtle invitation to reimagine our view of American history. But it’s a kind of a urgent demand that forces all of us to think about where we stand and how we act and what our communities look like, how some of us are privileged enough to see a police car, and think, protection, and not have to think, Oh, my God, something bad about to happen to me, based on the difference in colors of our skin.

So I think news organizations are struggling right now, with many things. Let’s take, I would say, if we just hold on the issue of racial equality and justice, just put on the table here just for a second and say that journalism is already facing two, existential crisis. The first I would argue, is, is a problem of resources, based on the collapse of the traditional business model of news brought about by technological change, most powerfully, the internet. So the question of who is going to pay for good journalism? Is there even going to be a newspaper in some locations, in some cities Are they gone was look as local news going to disappear. So that’s crisis, number one, crisis number two, our attempts by political partisans to undermine the credibility of news and to decertify and devalue the work that journalists do. So to ask them, to then ask journalists to become the leaders of a new, revitalized movement towards civil rights and racial equality? It’s a hard thing to ask. But I’m certainly proud of the work that I’m seeing around the country, done by journalists, of all different ethnicities and backgrounds on everything we’re going through right now, from an endemic in the recession, to social protests.

And add to that, the, the kind of the kind of strides we’re taking towards a presidential election. And this is one of the most extraordinary moments of my lifetime. And probably, many of us would say that. I do. Look, my mother was born in 1999 was going on in 1991. The Spanish flu, right.

Gramel  54:11 

That started in Missouri, right?

Roy  54:13 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. The only reason we call the Spanish flu is because Spain, the present Spain was only was one of the only ones allowed to spread the news that there was a pandemic wasn’t censored, and so they got labeled, but yeah, I figured out I wrote on a Mother’s Day piece about how I just figured out that my grandma said he got pregnant in October 1918 had the baby in July, and October in New York City, was the high point of the epidemic in the city. And that among the most vulnerable groups and people who are pregnant women and their unborn children. So look, if that wasn’t good enough, inherit my mom’s lifetime.

Roy  55:21 

She got to experience a decade of depression, and WWII. So once again, she would not have wished those things on anyone else. But the fact that they lived through them. They raise families, they prospered. They helped others, that that gave great meaning to her life. And now talk to her.

Gramel  55:57 

I say one of the best blessings I ever had with being raised by two men, both of my parents went through the Depression and WWII, the values they instilled that live with me to this day. Like just invaluable.

Roy  56:18 

Yeah, that’s me. Oh, God, I totally agree. The only thing I have to say about having parents who grew up in the depression is that my wife, and I talk about this quite a bit is that you can’t make enough money to overcome the inhibitions that are given to you are the legacy of the depression, which is to say, Oh, no, that’s too expensive. What do you mean, I can’t buy those shoes? They’re $35.

Gramel  57:06 

Yeah, I have this automatic thing in my brain, just how much I will pay for something. Exactly.

Roy  57:13 

That’s automatic.

Gramel  57:14 

I look at something I look at the price Nope. And so it’s just like, it’s still there. And it’s something that I did to my self. But it’s that hand me down from my parents.

And when you spoke about a hammer, I laughed, because I think the only last time I heard that expression was 50, something years ago, when my dad was still alive, he would talk about that kind of hammer pretty regularly.

Roy  57:50 

I bought about a dozen of them when the book was published, just get him at the hardware store and getting them out as gifts to supporters of the book.

Tyler Gillespie  58:03 

Was there anything else you wanted to ask about the book or say about it?

Gramel  58:07 

I just wish the book would get back in the main, like, get on Rachel Maddow, or some of those great new shows, because it is so meaningful for right now. And, you know, if people would just read the book and start talking about it, and getting other people interested, maybe it will, it would start some type of a revival kind of movement.

Roy  58:34 

We’re going to do some events. We’re going to do some, you know, the next few months. Good.

Gramel  58:57 

And I’m interested in that paperback. That you were talking about,

Roy  59:01 

Yeah. No, they did a good job. We just changed. We just wrote a short new introduction. Okay, what’s going to remain the same. Now, before I leave you watch, I have to say that it is my habit, always to have. I always have a musical instrument nearby. And I like to take requests from people who talk to me or interview me or something like that.

And so I am pretty good on the music of the 40s 50s and 60s. After that, not so much, but I’ll try anything and you can name a song or you can name a group or a performer or a style and I’ll try to give you something right here before we depart.

Tyler Gillespie  59:50 

I love this so much because we talk a lot about karaoke on our on the podcast because she’s a big karaoke singer and I so we always are talking about singing and she sings

Gramel  1:00:00 

Well, of course, my favorite, favorite \ song is my little Margie. Sung by fat don’t Domino? Well, he actually revitalized it. So if you don’t know, Margie, I’m always thinking of you Margie. Saying Did you play anything by Fats Domino?

Roy  1:00:24 

Oh, I don’t know the song by the way, but you got it.

Ryan Rivas Transcript

Today we talk about the Burrow Press collection We Can’t Help It If We’re From Florida: New Stories from a Sinking Peninsula. Then, we talk to Burrow Press publisher Ryan Rivas about the press, his writing, and the Florida lit community.


Before he was even born. I wanted not to be called grandmother or grandma or granny. So my initials are MEL. And so I decided to go They can grow in front of that net sounded pretty neat.

Ryan Rivas 

Fantastic. I love that you guys are doing this. It’s the perfect thing to be doing amid all this isolation and everything.


So we both read, We Can’t Help it if We’re from Florida. I had the book here. And I think also it’s a good one to read since we are focusing on Florida authors and Florida writers. And there’s a bunch of great folks in there. So I’m wondering if you can maybe just talk a little bit about that book. I know Shane edited it. But how did that kind of come together?

Ryan Rivas   

The whole thing actually came together at Sanibel, the Sanibel writers conference, it was Shane’s idea he kind of loved the title. It may have formed all around the title, which is a borrowed title from a punk compilation from the 80s called we can’t help but if we’re from Florida, it was a bunch of different punk bands from different records. In Florida, so in a way it was its own Florida showcase. And obviously the title is great. It’s, you know, cynical, sarcastic. And so we both share up to that point, we’ve been friends.

And so we both share an interest in people who write about Florida and reading about Florida and literature. He proposed the idea and I was like, Okay, let’s make it happen. And we just made a big list of people, we probably reached out to double the amount of renders that appear in the book. Some people couldn’t do it. Some people didn’t have the time or didn’t necessarily have anything Florida related or the time to create it. I think we landed on a pretty great batch of folks, many of whom have gone on to do great things, you know, aren’t necessarily known as Florida writers, per se but grew up here stays with you, even if you don’t consider yourself a Florida writer. I’m trying to think if any of the writers in the anthology were writing about Florida for the first time, probably not. I know a lot of them didn’t necessarily consider themselves regional and I get that because Florida comes with a lot stereotypes.

And so I think whether or not somebody who grew up here and cherishes growing up here and even maybe writes about it would want to risk even being associated with those stereotypes by saying, I’m a Florida writer. Or I also understand why a writer would want to be pigeonholed any writer, not just a writer from Florida, but why a writer wouldn’t want to limit themselves to a region, I might call myself a Florida writer. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily feel limited to to write about Florida if I don’t want to, even though I might continually do it. And that’s just because I think that the place leaves an impression, I’m of this place, right? And when I say like, for me personally, I’m sure it’s something different from everyone or for everyone. But you know, when I say I’m a Florida writer, it’s because I’ve lived in the States since birth. I grew up here never left for some reason.

And I think it’s the place undeniably leaves a mark and actually, I was talking to Sarah Gerard about this the other day, I’m going to misquote her. Hopefully it’ll appear in an interview. But she talks about how you know, places where he grew up, they leave, they have their own, like architecture and imagery that is imprinted on you. She said, That’s why she writes about Florida and New York, the two places where she’s lived, because those places leave imprints, you don’t necessarily have to do as much or any research on the setting itself too, because you’re, you’re immersed in it, you understand it on an emotional level, as well as like a sort of physical topographical level.


I wanted to ask you, because Shane, in the beginning, they say like, what is Florida literature? And then it’s a big metaphor. I wondered about that choice. What was the conversation was to go with that?

Ryan Rivas 

Yeah. The initial idea, do we want to do an intro? Do you want to write something for this Shane to kind of set the tone I guess, for the rest of the work? He said he think about it, he didn’t necessarily want to do something academic or, you know, essayistic. I agreed with that approach to because I, you know, you just heard my definition of Florida literature, and that’s certainly not anyone elses. The anthology was, as the goal kind of the online journal that we run fantastic Lord is to show the plurality right, and to not impose one kind of definition. So I know that his choice to write essentially like a flash fiction sort of piece about how a sinkhole kind of sucks up a house and you know, and what’s you know, underneath and kind of like layers of history. It’s kind of a metaphorical definition for him of what Florida literature is, and I know it was inspired by similar to Paget pals essay, what is Southern literature, I think there’s a little bit of more of a I’m going to tell you about Southern literature, but I can’t before it goes into like an anecdotal story. I haven’t read it in a while, but I know that that was a direct influence. We were able to make an intro by saying what is Florida literature so people think introduction and then immediately sort of subvert expectations to let people know that it’s ambiguous, but that the people chosen for this anthology You know if you can’t trace their resin river to Florida as Florida writers then they’re at the very least writing about Florida. And so it’s Florida literature. You know, Florida literature is the lens through which people choose to portray Florida. And so we weren’t interested in naming it.

Tyler Gillespie  21:14 

I liked it. I thought that was a good approach.

Gramel  21:17 

Another author we were talking to her, even though she’s lived away now for over 25 years. I guess. Her books are located in Florida, because she was born and raised here. She went to college someplace else, and that’s why she ended up living in that area. When she goes to write, it’s about Florida. What book was it? Yeah, yeah.

Ryan Rivas 

Still Yeah, yeah. Actually Susanna Daniel, we did in an anthology of Miami writers to that Shakira de is approached me about an edited way back in what feels like a decade ago, but I guess there’s only 2014 you’re not in 2015? Yes. Is Anna Daniels in there and those are all Miami based Writers too. So it’s a similar idea. And I remember in his intro, it’s also not about naming, you know, what is Miami literature? What is the one Miami experience? It’s just like the rest of Florida like it’s seen through so many lenses. There isn’t one, you know, there isn’t one necessarily dominant culture or dominant view. There’s just millions of pockets of uniqueness, right.

Tyler Gillespie  22:22 

Oh, when did you start Burrow and what was the idea? And then how did that all start?

Ryan Rivas 

Yeah, so Burrow started in about 2010. I had a co founder January, and we were in a writing group together, we in Orlando, there wasn’t like a writing scene per se. There was a lot of slam poetry, which is great, but it wasn’t what we were doing. And there has been and continues to be that scene in Orlando, which is fantastic, but not what we were doing. And so we thought, well, let’s see who else is writing short stories, for example, in Florida. So the idea to start a press was kind of a whim. We thought we would put together a book of short stories by Florida writers. And so we put a call out, way back then at the time there was a magazine called Ana lemma that was run by this guy, Chris Hefner. And he, he had since moved to New York, and they were publishing all kinds of great writers. They were like an early publisher of Roxane Gay and Blake Butler, and like, they’re doing really cool work. He helped signal boosts kind of our search for Florida based writers. And we ended up finding 10 great short stories set in Florida are not set in Florida by Florida writers. They weren’t necessarily set there. So already from like a marketing and publishing perspective, like this isn’t a great anthology. You know what I mean? Other than that, the stories are quality. It was more like a literary magazine, but we really didn’t know what we were doing.

But it turned out that most of these writers just by chance, not only were from Florida, but were from Central Florida. So we had this book launch and they all came and not only did they all come they all brought their friends and their friends weren’t just there to support them. There. Also writers, and a lot of people at this release party were like, oh, like they under they knew what a small press was. They were into literature, that whole world and a lot of them had maybe graduated from UCF. Some of them were just happen to be writers that landed in Orlando. And from there, we found this sort of need or desire to continue to exist. So it costs money to publish a book. So it was we started to publish local writers on like a blog. And it could be about whatever, but it was people that we’d met through the reading, and then through the book release party. We also met this guy J. Bradley at that book party, and he wanted to start a reading series, and we happen to be able to provide him with a space and we designed a logo. So we basically collaborated on a prose reading series. So and we did that for three or four years. And that was an opportunity that didn’t exist before. We called it closed mic pros because there was so much open mic poetry. Again, nothing wrong with that, but there wasn’t what we wanted.

We helped make that and build that. And we provided a platform for short story writers and prose writers to share their work. We didn’t exhaust ourselves of them after three years, you know, four writers a month, you know, I don’t think we ever repeated we were you know, so it felt like we were doing good there. And then on top of that, I also met Nathan Holic at the at that original book launch. And he led us to our next book, which was also hyperlocal, called 15 views of Orlando. And so we found local writers to write about the city. We did it sequentially. At first we released it online, but then it became a book. And then and that again, that built two sequels. And like Shakira approached us about doing the Miami version. And so we did a Tampa version, or a bay Tampa Bay version as well, that was kind of early burrow. But basically, we continue to do the three the three pillars that originated from there, which is printing books, not as many as a big publisher just two or three year publishing online and doing events. And so as we kind of grew And as we amassed a local following, we then started to venture outward a little bit.

And since then have been a little bit more nationally recognized, I guess, like in terms of a small press, and certainly made connections nationally with other writers and published writers from elsewhere. When we turn the blog into an online journal, we started publishing writers from all over the world. And so that kind of opened things up for us too. And we became and we also started to know what we were doing a little bit more and like, what it meant to be doing what we were doing. And you know, where we are now is kind of a slightly more refined version of where we were when we started always with always with an eye toward what’s going on in at least in Florida, if not in Orlando to.


And I know that with a lot of journals that start there’s a lot of work that people don’t understand. And so they often peter out, you know, after a few years, y’all have done a lot of work and to have these books to a relatively small team.

Ryan Rivas 

Yeah. So the reason why we were able to continue into existence, because shortly after we did that first book, Jana moved to LA and she said, You’re doing great with this, like, keep it this is your thing, keep running it. And I was like, Okay, well, I don’t have any money. And Jana had finance the first book, and she kind of put some around money into it. I was working for a nonprofit at the time that just had one program and children’s program called page 15. And that was the Creative Writing for Kids program. And there is room for more. And so around 2012, I was able to convince that board of directors to move under the nonprofit umbrella. And so from 2012 to today, my role became more and more borough. And so unlike a lot of publishers, or a lot of small press, publishers and small press people I was I was able to be compensated, not a ton, but you know, that’s to be expected. I think, as it became more of a community fixture I was able to spend more of my time doing it so that around 2016 I was just doing burn press and I have been since but yeah, we do have editors, you know, contributing editors who find work for the journal, a poetry editor. fiction editor who helped with the online journal have someone who helps with the live events, who hosts them, Jared Sylvia, he hosts them. He helps with all the tech stuff and helps with the setup. Yeah. And then a handful of other routine. Sometimes MFA students from the University or on pop into help, but otherwise, yeah, it’s kind of a me.


Yeah. And what were the books that you published this year,

Ryan Rivas 

this year, we did two and they’re both out already in April, we published a sinking ship is still at shipped by Ariel Francisco. That is a book of poems all set in Miami and kind of dealing with climate change and environment in a very great conversational sarcastic, clever, depressed, funny tone throughout, has that kind of range to it, sort of as a fluke, Ariel’s also a translator and he when he published a poem in the New Yorker, he connected with someone about translating it and he brought up the idea to me And you know, what if we can do the book? What if we can get the book translated to as like that would be great. So we, you know, it was basically at his behest. And with his connection to the translator, that book now appears in parallel translation. So it’s technically a book in English and Spanish with the language is side by side. So that’s super cool. That’s the first time we’ve done something like that. And that was April’s release.

And then in June, we published a fish growing lungs, which is a collection of linked essays those are great too. There’s a couple of Florida based essays because she grew up in Tampa, but it’s not really a Florida collection, it’s about her discovering that she was misdiagnosed bipolar, and kind of the aftereffects of that. The fallout of that or the real the realization then and then kind of the fallout from that and sort of trying to find her way back toward at a sort of balance and normalcy. So it’s got a little bit of everything mental illness and addiction and medicine and stigmas. Rounding all those things, and it’s told in a kind of style. It’s like, it’s my favorite kind of balance of like, research and essayistic dealing with personal stuff, too.


And so with COVID, and everything, how has that affected your publishing model or just in general, the press?

Ryan Rivas

Yeah, well, since we’re tied to the children’s program and tied to a larger nonprofit, anything that affects the whole effects the parts, so like, our cash flow has been completely screwed up, and there’s been all kinds of changes on that end, but we’re persisting the biggest practical change in that someone would notice would be that we can’t do events anymore. Right. And so we had a whole tour scheduled for Ariel, he was gonna go to Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Gainesville, and probably by the time we were finished booking it to other cities, but it all got scrapped because that was all happening in that was all set to happen in April. And by then, Florida was even officially like sheltering in place. I think to adapt to that. We simply started to do events online. Unfortunately, haven’t done as many as we had planned, but we’re still doing them and honestly, I should say, we’re doing them with by by the saving grace of bookstores with professional zoom accounts, we’ve been able to, you know, find a bookstore partner or another organization to take our ragtag live event and just professionalize it on zoom.

Alicia’s event probably wasn’t even going to be like a bookstore event or even it was going to be something kind of out there. But we ended up partnering up with the rumpus and they connected us with books or magic. And so books or magic basically made that event happen. It brought up sort of other opportunities that we wouldn’t have had. So now that we’re all at home, and not doing events and you know, having events cancelled, Alicia was able to reach out to other people that we wouldn’t have necessarily been able to bring to Florida to do the event with her. So she did her event with Kobe Akbar, which is super cool. Similarly, aerials event that’s happening thanks to white whale books. stores bookstore in Pittsburgh, which is another great independent bookstore. So it’s going to be, they’re going to lead this sort of panel and reading. And so in a way, the adaptation as been reliant upon collaboration and the goodwill of other people. And so because it’s easy for us to throw a live event together here, we’ve been doing it for years.

But I mean, the plan was this year to have and maybe begin a tradition of having a sort of annual big Florida reading party, and kind of go all out. Whereas with other readings will, you know, we can book a theater or book an art space and set up a microphone and the projector and we’re good to go. So yeah, that’s not that’s clearly not going to happen. And I don’t foresee that kind of thing happening until at least the fall of next year for me just because of all the uncertainty and having to cancel things. You know, at the last minute when things spike like who knows, I just that’s not something that I’m gonna spend my time on. But that said, I’m kind of hooked on virtual events now like, yeah, I’m going to more events that they’re virtual. Yeah. And you can like, you know, put it on, I’ll put my laptop on the kitchen counter while I’m cooking and watch the event, you know, or something like that. So,


So how is your own writing going?

Ryan Rivas 

It’s good. Thanks for asking. I have a thesis that is a novel that I was working on for a while but didn’t really click as to what it was until just before the residency is started. About a year and a half ago. I worked on that for two semesters. And then I spent the last semester, my third semester, throwing a lot of rough stuff out for a future project, working on, you know, character development and chapters and voice and wrote for this other idea that’s not fully formed. And now I’m in the middle of my last semester, and I’m returning to the novel to basically give it one more good revision and make that my thesis surprisingly, for The first couple months of this year and even the first few weeks of quarantine, like writing was very productive. Like I, this novella just kind of came out of me. And like this long short story kind of came out of me, and I’m still happy with them.

And you know, they still need some tweaks here and there. Wow. And, but now that it’s time to focus on the ones June came around, that’s the start of the last semester. And so I’ve been kind of paralyzed in terms of motivation to write, etc. So I’m just kind of slouching my way back into the novel to finish it up.


Well, I’m doing a podcast instead of writing so here we are.

Ryan Rivas 

We’re doing random other expressions like a professor of mine was like now’s the time for collage and she’s like taking up collage like great. That’s, I think, maybe I subconsciously saw the clock running out on my brainspace in bandwidth and was just like I was able to crank something out for a few weeks. And now just now I’m just reading a lot better


And can you tell us a little bit about your publishing other people in the magazines still? And so can you talk to us a little bit about fantastic Florida’s and how it’s changed over the years.

Ryan Rivas 

Originally, it was called Burrow Press review. Really, we kind of just changed formats. But we had an online journal since 2011 2012. And that was a traditional typical online journal that published poetry, prose. fiction, nonfiction. Actually, we didn’t publish poetry for a while we just published fiction and nonfiction. The premise which we stuck to, since then, in all formats and iterations is just one new piece every week, because the one thing that I don’t like to do is get overwhelmed with information and that’s kind of impossible. And so even when literary journals do an issue of a reason Well amount of pieces like 10 pieces, it’s still kind of overwhelming.

And certainly an online journal to go and keep a page up with links to all the 10 pieces for a given, you know, issue or whatever. It wasn’t how I consumed short stories online. And so I thought that it would be good to just do one thing a week and have it featured and at the top of the site, share it on social media, and then next week, we move on, and then you can then go to the archive, you know, so if you find one piece in it, you come across a piece on any given week, you know, you have 52 opportunities to see a new piece throughout the year, and you want to learn more than you can go into the archives and do that. It was a format that made sense to me and a frequency that made sense to me, without, you know, becoming overwhelmed.

And then, over time, you know, we had several great editors who worked on that and really, at some point, I wasn’t touching it at all, but volunteer editors, you know, they come and go when they move on to other things and I understand that that’s just how it goes. So at some point when, when the editor As we’re growing weary, I was also kind of growing wary of the journals niche. What made borough press review different from any other literary journal that was publishing short stories and nonfiction and whatever? Not much other than that, hopefully we were one of the one of the better ones. I don’t know. I always had an interest in publishing Florida focused work.

And I developed a network of a ton of writers had published some of them early on like one of the first people we published in bro press review is Lindsey Hunter, like I was a fan of hers from a long time ago. And so she’s always been a great connection. And we just published something again from her recently we had we had her do a collaboration with a photographer, so she looked at the photos and created a short story, based on photos taken around the Space Coast. So anyway, always had this interest. And I thought, well, now’s the time. I don’t want to stop publishing people every year, you know, once a week, I think it’s a great thing to do. So we just around 2018 or 17, I can’t quite remember Changed formats and decided that we would call it fantastic Florida’s and that there would be a focus on poetry, we would add poetry. And we’d do fiction and nonfiction for a little while we did interviews, which I think I’m going to bring back.

And you know, we didn’t look back. That said, we have recently ish tried to communicate a very, very, very broad definition of what we mean by Florida. And it’s something that’s not necessarily easy to communicate succinctly, but it’s something that I’ve tried to communicate especially to writers I reach out to, to solicit. Because when you say Florida literature, for example, we’re open for submissions, we’ll get a ton of, you know, nature writing and poetry, like kind of postcard poetry that’s like, imagery of nature, a lot of it’s beautiful. And, and there’s nothing A lot of it’s really good, but it’s not exactly what I want to always publish. And so in opening the definitions, We kind of went back to the origin of the name right, which is from a Rimbaud poem.

And technically fantastic Florida’s is sort of an alternate translation like newer translations don’t use fantastic. You know, was writing before capital Florida, you know was a thing. And so that specific title speaks to something more than just the geographical space. And so in the guidelines in the revision of the guidelines, we’re at least trying to open it up to different genres that are focused on Florida. We’re trying to reach out to you know, sci fi writers and horror writers we will be publishing a horror piece pretty soon, the fairy tale.

And with that said in Florida are focused on Florida because it’s so I mean, Florida is so weird that it, it lends itself to those genres. And some of that work does exist, and we want to publish some of that too. And then on the other side of things, we’re looking for something also more elusive and this has been even more difficult to Kind of communicate right? This sort of lowercase f Florida work that has a Florida texture or a Florida feel or a Florida soul, if you will, that, you know, a quality you can’t quite name that I would try to name by saying It’s uncanny or it’s strange, or it’s absurd, you know, other adjectives that you could say Florida is that it deals in high contrast, right like rich for manmade natural, unique ecosystems like the Everglades, you know, if there’s a piece set on some other planet where there’s unique ecosystem like, great, Florida has that too. And so, to get that kind of work has been a challenge.

But basically, the message is, if you got something kind of stranger, off kilter, send it anyway and see what happens. We’re still getting mostly like place-based stuff, but there are going to be a few things where place doesn’t really play a role at all, or a few things that also kind of are outside what you would consider literary. What does that even mean anyway, and so that’s what I’m looking for hoping to, quote unquote expand the boundaries of Florida literature, right. In the same way that Shane’s introduction to the anthology isn’t prescriptive and isn’t labeling Florida literature is one thing. I’m hoping that the banner of fantastic Florida’s can be this sort of nebulous a morphus multi valence you know, let me use all the theory words right.

Ambiguous space ambiguous blob that kind of sucks in really great work. That says something about either Florida the state or this Florida or this or creates this alternate kind of universe of Florida. This is more abstract nebulous, Florida.


I think that’s what’s so important about Burrow as a smaller process can be a little bit more experimental historically than maybe some of the bigger presses and so with a thriving small press, the definition can expand has more room. Absolutely.

Ryan Rivas  

I kind of have to seek it out, like people aren’t necessarily seeking out Florida work or doing Florida work. But I’ve been really successful and just asking people, and everybody who’s lived here usually has something Oh, it’s or fiction writers. What I’m really excited about, and I hope to start doing in the, in the new year is not only preparing people for interesting conversations, so trying to think of who are two Florida writers or writers who are from Florida that can have an interesting conversation about it, or maybe just about their own work and let the Florida off to the wayside. But also pairing people kind of like we’ve done a couple times in the online journal to collaborate. So two writers who live in Florida or a writer and a visual artists living in Florida, and see what happens there too. That’s something I’m excited about. And I think people the people I’ve asked so far to do these things are have responded positively. And so I think we’re going to be hopefully seeing more of that. That level of collaboration because even collaborating In itself isn’t something you see a lot in the literary world. It’s just I wrote this. And it exists in this in this one context. Whereas once you introduce, you know, a painting or a piece of music or something, the context and the possibilities for meaning, you know, just they multiply. So I’m interested in that right now, too.


So I wanted to ask one more question before we kind of wrap things up. Since you have so much experience with the small press and just publishing what would be some advice that you might give to someone who wanted to start either a magazine or journal or eventually, you

Ryan Rivas 

I kind of threw myself into this right, and maybe throwing yourself into it without knowing what you’re doing is good for some people, because it’s not it’s certainly not going to bring riches and all that or fame or whatever, but it’s enriching work, right. And so one thing I wish I did differently, was, I wish that there was kind of more preparation before starting we kind of just like I said, I gave you a bit of the origin story. We’re like, let’s let’s Do an anthology, let’s do a book and see what happens. I didn’t really know much about small presses, then I certainly learned a whole lot since I think I would have. And luckily, been brought into the nonprofit and just filtered out and fizzled away because there was some structure there. So one thing I would say to anyone who doesn’t mean certainly isn’t about to incorporate as a 501 c three, or has any kind of resources, or monetary resources would be to create a kind of vision plan of what you want it to be.

And once you get all the great abstract stuff down on paper, then create a sort of program overview, like a more practical, not business plan, necessarily, just the who, what, when, where, why, of what you’re doing. And then as you kind of create that I think you start to ask more of the questions. How am I going to do this? How am I going to do that and figure out what you need to do so preparation in advance, right like having a clear idea. Do what you want to do before you just jump into it. I think that would have been good for me. But, um, personally, but also, um, knowing that you don’t necessarily need a ton of resources to do it, you know, especially if you’re going to do an online journal, you just gotta you know, websites are free.

You just got to host it somewhere, I’m sure some in some cases, you know, you can get hosting for free, really, you just want to, you want to be driven by that passion. And you want to find other people who are like you who are passionate to help as well. And especially with something like an online journal that’s not necessarily focused in Florida, you can reach out all over the country and find people to work with remotely on top of that reaching out, especially before you start reaching out to people like me with specific questions like I actually literally there’s a guy who’s starting a has started a little publishing company, small press here in Orlando, he had a literary magazine, and I think it’s kind of merging more into publishing. You just send me a question today about Paper stock, and I’m happy to answer it.

When I was starting out, especially when I was trying to figure out what a small press was, and you know how to do things, and especially when we were considering, like distributing books traditionally, like doing what the big five do and, you know, trying to get books in bookstores, I talked to publishers at other small and medium sized presses, I was able to talk to the publisher of st books, I was able to talk to the publisher of Feather proof books at the time, I talked to the publicist at 10 house books. A really nicely worded email, respectful of someone’s time, looking for information will often yield positive results.

So if anyone’s listening and they reach out to me, I will get to your email and I’ll read it and I will reply to you as thoroughly as I can, you know, and if there’s time and somebody wants to get on the phone, I’ve done that too. So knowing that it’s a community, and it’s a community of helpful, passionate people who are who will be there to support you. I’m sure there’s a jerk here and there. I was able to have more clarity about going forward, and what burrows should be in the future by talking to others too. So do some research, like know what you want to do, do your research to, you know, read publishing for dummies or whatever it is and do some heavy googling. But then also you’ll still have questions, right? So then reach out to the community, because that’s what that’s what they’re there for. That would be my advice.


That’s great. That’s so generous, too. Is there anything you might want to add that we haven’t chatted about anything of your own work or burrows? I want people to know.

Ryan Rivas  47:29 

Well, yeah, I would love to. I would love for people to look at Fantastic Florida’s more. And if there are writers listening, who have really weird out there stuff that’s not necessarily set in place, but kind of has a very strange texture. Or if there are people out there who are writing about Florida, submit to us, we’re open till the end of August, but we’ll I’m think it’s probably going to be open for the rest of the year. I might just open it up. So yeah, check out the online journal because right now we’ve, we’re done with our books for the year. But when you do check out the online journal, you’ll be on our site. So you poke around and see what else we have to offer. But yeah, that’s kind of been my focus lately.


So expand that boundary and create that strange, pluralistic, nebulous aesthetic of Florida. The journal has such good work published on it. And I love the whole idea of expanding the definition. So send any kind of Florida. I’m excited about this horror piece that you have coming out, or that is coming out. I’m leaning towards the author.

Ryan Rivas 

Yeah, we’re just going through a couple edits. It’s cool. It’s creepy. Yeah, it’s not like body horror or Gore. But it’s real. It’s real creepy.

Gramel  48:34 

And I’m learning at my tender young age, there’s all kind of spooky. It’s not just generic, and all reading doing all this reading even more than normal. It’s made my dreams a lot more at night. Yeah, I’m dreaming more. Do you have a good dream life?

Ryan Rivas 

That’s a great question. Um, sometimes Yeah, I definitely dream and sometimes I’ll remember them maybe once a month I’ll remember a dream. But my dreams are always usually realistic. And as a child, I had like scary dreams, you know, and nightmares and whatever. But now I just kind of have really mundane dreams and I’m not sure why. I’m definitely like working out some very basic, silly thing that happened in the week or something. When something weird or shocking happens in the dream, not necessarily scary. I usually I tend to remember that. So I wake up feeling a little bit shaken but also excited because I like when that happens, because I’m like, What is my mind trying to tell me? Yeah, yeah, what just happened in my brain?

Gramel  49:36 

It’s not really scary. And I try it those moments, if I’m awake enough to write it down. And Tyler when he was a young, say, kid, he got really interested in interpretation of dreams. And I remember buying a book for us. And like, a lot of my books, I don’t know where they are, it is anymore, but I’ve always had a weight problem. So the other night I was dreaming. And everybody in my dream were very slender. And I could still name you a lot of people, my grandson was in it. But I was trying to hide the fact that I was not slender, which is hard to hide that fact. And I was dancing. I was dancing with this guy from school, who’s real slender. And he, he dipped me over and hurt his back. And I can just remember being mortified. You know, I’m having dreams every night right now. And I think it’s from all the books I’m reading.

Ryan Rivas 

But your mind is always busy, right.  And I think it’s something about absorbing the words too. That reminds me though Rebecca Renner who’s a Florida writer, I don’t know if she would call herself that she wrote about the pandemic dreams. That’s it like that’s super that interests me a lot. And so yeah, I that’s why I wanted to say that but that could be a whole episode talking about your dreams.


Yeah, they’re more vivid during the pandemic because I do think I know the article. Talking about and she wrote about like the science behind it. Yeah.


I’ve always also journaled. I find after years of writing, I doodle and I, you know, draw little things, and I’ve never been an artist. And this one year, I’d like to have his doodles taken to a psychiatrist. Not that I don’t think he’s crazy, but I’d like to have them interpreted. You know? Yeah, yeah. And I think as you have one field you’re great in and love it so much and so passionate about it. I think you start getting other areas of art artistic, and I’m sure you know all about that. But these are things I keep learning, which makes life really worth living.

Ryan Rivas 

Absolutely. Yeah, I hope I’m still learning and doodling and journaling and doing all those things to think.


Well, Ryan, thank you so much for taking time to chat with us.


You’re very interesting to listen to. I can tell you love words. And I love words too. I’ve always been a reader. And then as you get older, you can read even more. Okay? You got any books, she wasn’t me sending his books now. But I mean that. And I’ve known that you can change your own world. By the way you use your words, just in conversing. You can say things and get things over. If you just have a nice tone of voice and a smile on your face. And every now and then throw in a word that people maybe don’t understand. That gets their attention, but you know, so it’s been fine. Just a delight to listen to you.

Ryan Rivas 

Thank you, guys, for having me. And thank you, this has been a real pleasure.

Ryan Rivas!

Today we talk about the Burrow Press collection We Can’t Help It If We’re From Florida: New Stories from a Sinking Peninsula. Then, we talk to Burrow Press publisher Ryan Rivas about the press, his writing, and the Florida lit community.


More from Ryan!

Check out Burrow Press

“The Ambivalent Bridge” (Queen Mob’s Tea House)

“South Beach,” Annalemma online | Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012

Notable Quotable

“I would love for people to look at Fantastic Florida’s more. And if there are writers listening, who have really weird out there stuff that’s not necessarily set in place, but kind of has a very strange texture. Or if there are people out there who are writing about Florida, submit to us, we’re open till the end of August, but we’ll I’m think it’s probably going to be open for the rest of the year. I might just open it up. So yeah, check out the online journal.” — Ryan

“When I was starting out, especially when I was trying to figure out what a small press was, and you know how to do things, and especially when we were considering, like distributing books traditionally, like doing what the big five do and, you know, trying to get books in bookstores, I talked to publishers at other small and medium sized presses.” — Ryan

Gale Massey Transcript

In this first segment, we are going to be talking about Gail Massey’s novel The Girl from Blind River. It came out in 2008 teen the book follows a teenager who is living with her uncle and her brother because her mother had been in prison.


It was an awesome book, one I probably never will forget, it was a book that I probably read one night and read about four o’clock slap got up started reading again at eight o’clock and finish that night because it just I couldn’t put it down. It was just very well written. And I just have to tell you, it is great. I love a book or movie or story that everything comes together and clip and sets together prepares you for the next step. I think it should be made into a movie and Fincher action. She uses her brain instead of her body. So it’s not like a Tom Cruise. But it’s more like Julia Roberts would play.

Tyler 1:47 

They play a lot of poker. And Jamie is particularly very good at poker.

Gramel  1:53 

Her brother doesn’t seem to be all that good at it. He’s got all kinds of problems.

Tyler 1:58 

Her brother who’s still in high school.

Gramel  2:00 

Mother’s out of prison as a starting of the book, but they still live with an uncle was very mean and ignorant. And his name is Loyal.

Tyler 2:12 

He’s loyal to one person specifically. He’s loyal to money and greed. Jamie likes to play poker. And have you ever played poker?

Gramel  2:21 

Yes, I think you could put all my poker together. And I could tell you that probably played three hours of poker in my 77 years.

Tyler 2:29 

I’ve never really gotten into poker. I don’t even really know the rules yet. You know how to play the game. I don’t remember though. The rules. How old was I when hen that happened?

Gramel  2:39 

the summertime and we get a change. And you were probably like eight or nine. And we decided that we stayed in our pajamas all day. And when grandpa got home from work, we played poker, and my mother came out and said that I was going to ruin you. And you. And I said Mom, it’ll be fine. And we played poker all night. But then I get time to eat or go to bed or something. And we put all our change in Dixie cups and never played again. So we didn’t learn Tyler

Yeah, I thought that was a gin rummy.

Gramel  3:19 

No, I haven’t ever played around me that I remember.

Tyler 3:22 

I think card players and Loyal their whole life was that was playing cards and making money and cheating people. I think that’s something that I found really interesting because I don’t know the rules of poker. But I think Gail did a really good job. Like I didn’t need to know the rules, I still understood what was happening. And she didn’t explain it in a way that was like too much, or I was getting bored. I mean, it was pretty fast pace with that. And she was talking about like the numbers game and like the math that goes behind it. And they were cheating a lot. They did have some ways to mark cards and all of that kind of thing.

Gramel  3:56 

And I never heard so many different names for poker either, as they mentioned, just in passing, so to speak, but it was a doggy dog career to say the least. And it’s it fanned out to games that were illegal. They’re running an illegal circle.

Actually, it was a very interesting book. And it started out like there was just no redemption in anybody. Mostly, there was nobody she could trust her again, but she couldn’t really trust your brother because he wasn’t stable

Tyler 4:30 

He had a bad temper and his mom being in prison really affected him very deeply. And then their father was not around.

Gramel  4:38 

Yeah, they lived in squalor. And I mean, you know, you would think all the money that passed hands.

Tyler 4:44 

They were constantly drinking whiskey and beer and smoking cigarettes.

Gramel  4:48 

Yeah, I mean, you know, Pop Tarts was their breakfast. They did not eat well at all. did not eat anything that was good for them. So they had no home life, and even Her friends were kind of shady. It was very well written. And it was not at all predictable. I love a book that’s not predictable.

Tyler 5:08 

Well, in one way she did that as she switched perspectives and some of the chapters, those a third person narrator, but she would focus more on one of the characters in this chapter. She focused a lot on Jamie, but then she would also focus on the mom.

Gramel  5:24 

Yeah, that would be where the human interest would come in. The mother started growing on it to all those people were so messed up.

Tyler 5:33 

This book isn’t set in Florida. It’s set in a much colder part of the country. But the thing is, the character sees Florida, Jamie sees Florida as her second chance. She constantly wants to get down to Florida, so she can go to South Florida and play on the professional poker circuit. That’s a common theme that I see a lot is like Florida being the second chance for people and also with gambling. I mean, it’s a big part of the state’s history too, with the rumrunners. prohibition started in 1920. And it lasted until 1933. And then the rum runners would bring the alcohol, whiskey and stuff like that from all over and they would go down to the Caribbean. They’ve used Florida because Florida has a lot of coasts. And there were some famous rum runners. One specifically was named William bill McCoy. They got the term the real McCoy.

So there is a lot of kind of illegal activity. And that has been part of the state’s history. And why some people come down here.

Gramel  6:36 

Well, to me, I saw Florida as her goal. The weather in Florida is so much better.

Tyler 6:44 

While the uncle is a very, there’s really seems to be not much redeemable about him. He’s not a great person. He’s very abusive and all of these things. I’m interested to ask her about his character, because do you think he was a closeted gay man?

Gramel  7:02 

Well, yeah, that’s what they can’t remember he did postcard business, that postcards that he got.

Tyler 7:08 

I think there’s room for debate with that. Because we don’t I mean, I think it’s pretty dependent text. But I’m also wondering if it’s saying, because he was closeted in a small town. That was one of the reasons why he drank so much, and why it’s such an awful person, because he didn’t get to live his out life.

He was mean and abusive, and all of these things. But he had, he thought he was doing the right thing at one point in his life, apparently. Yeah, buddy. Well, that if you want, well, I’m not thinking about it. And but because his whole thing was that he didn’t want the kids to go into foster care, which I think is some people do hold that belief that family, even if it’s bad, that’s your responsibility to take care of those kids. Do you think that decision was left up to him? Or was there a person in his life? Right, that wanted him to make that but why wouldn’t? That was my question, though, why wouldn’t he just go to Key West and with his man friends? Well, what stopped him from doing what period of time was this? They had internet, they were playing online poker.

Gramel  8:25 

And there, I do believe there were questions about different things. But their characters did not have too much loyalty. They weren’t really loyal to their friends. They weren’t really loyal to their mate, to a certain extent. I’m just gonna say it was kind of showing you the underbelly of people.

Tyler 8:53 

I think, too, when you’re having as many vices as these characters did when you’re drinking as much as they are, when you’re gambling as much as they are. Because you could lose $2,000. And a minute. Yeah. Or I don’t know how long it takes, but like, in a hand, yeah. Right. You know, and maybe some of them would go to call in or whatever. So when you have all of that adrenaline and then you’re drinking, and then you have this anger issues, and you’re doing things that are illegal, it’s probably hard to stay loyal to people because your loyalty shifts depending on their circumstances.

Gramel  9:27 

And it showed that people fell into that trap, no matter where they were from, no matter if they were Richard four.

Tyler 9:36 

And so they were mostly poor, except for a couple people.

Gramel  9:40 

I thought it was funny. I kept thinking that. Yeah, I’m a housewife, mother, that’s also had several careers and loved it, but the girl never mentioned doing the dishes, mopping the floor. Yes.

Tyler 9:53 

She was always cleaning up after her uncle. She was picking up trash, right? She wouldn’t do they lived in a trailer. It had broken windows and burn marks on the couch.

Gramel  10:04 

They had to me no sense of home. Right. But that was their home. And that was their family.

Tyler 10:13 

But I think too, I mean, it talks about loyalty, but loyalty can get you sometimes it’s not the best thing. I’m thinking for her for the protagonist, because if she was loyal to her family in certain situations.

Gramel  10:26 

I’m not talking about her. I believe she was loyal as loyal. She did the end. She was loyal. Right. You know, but it was other people. It was such a good book. Because the way that all came about was really good. There was this really good twists and turns that would totally believable.

Tyler 10:49 

Yeah. And I think everything was really set up nicely. Like you were saying, the dominoes were falling, but it didn’t feel predictable. And I was my heart was racing. Oh, yeah, I was concerned.

Gramel  11:01 

And it was like, every now and then the domino didn’t fall. Right. But Gale fixed it that that was fine, too. And it still continued on the track. And she was a good person. And I kind of think there was another couple or two people or three. Oh, yeah, there was several people in there that was there. Yeah.

Tyler 11:23 

I mean, yeah. And I think his circumstances would have been different. Maybe other people would have been able to be good people as well.

Gramel  11:30 

When you have addictions that don’t always leave you with a clear mind. Even if you’re like my addiction to chocolate. Sometimes you don’t have a clear mind when you want chocolate real bad. They had some addictions and that. I don’t want to give it away, because I could tell you all about it, because now that my juices are flowing, but I want you to read it. I want people to read it. And remember, it takes all kind to make the world go round.

Tyler 11:59 

All right, well, that’s a little bit about the girl from blind River. And we will be talking with Gail in a bit.

Gramel  12:05 

Okay, looking forward to it. See, ya know, yeah, see.

Tyler 12:20 

In the last segment, we talked about Gale’s book, and now we’re going to talk to Gail, we’re gonna get into how she wrote about poker, how her writing has changed since quarantine. And we’re gonna get into a really in depth discussion about loyal the character that my grandmother and I were talking about earlier. We also talk about Florida. So you grew up in Florida and Pinellas Park, and then you moved, where did you go after that?

Gale  12:46 

So I spent 10 years in Pinellas Park. And then I spent eight years in St. Petersburg. And then I fled for the big city when I came out and turned the page and went to Atlanta, and spent 30 years in Atlanta, and I recently moved back here. I met my wife at a birthday party in Mexico. And she happened to live in St. Petersburg. So it was sort of like a full circle.

Tyler Gillespie  13:14 

Wow. I love that. Just like a random party.

Gale  13:18 

It was a friend’s a mutual friend’s birthday party. It was my best friend’s birthday party. And my best friend’s partner was liras best friend. So, we all congregated in person, which is a really fun place.

Tyler Gillespie  13:37 

I love that our dog is barking a little bit. So we’ve both read your book and thoroughly enjoyed it. And we do have some questions about the book and your writing. I was wondering if you could start just telling us a little bit about how this book came to be when you first started writing it and it’s kind of path to publication?

Gale  13:57 

Great. Yeah, I was working on a novel for years. And I finally decided that it was just not really going to be viable. It didn’t have a plot. It didn’t. It didn’t work in the way novels are supposed to work. So I put it in a drawer. But by that time, I had gathered a lot of writing skills, and I knew a lot more about clot and novels. I read a couple of books, I read the Queen’s gambit. And then I read Winter’s Bone. And also during that time, I had been learning how to play poker. So at what Yeah, so at one point, this idea for this character, Jamie elders, just sort of popped in my head. And I thought, this is a novel that can go the distance. I think I can make this long enough and a long enough story to be a legitimate novel.

So I started writing on it and it took me a couple of years and I had a friend read it, and I got some feedback and I took out about 100 pages and try it again, that took about two years to get the final first draft. And then then I got a real lucky break and got introduced to an agent and things went forward from there. But I always saw it as a trilogy. I think that my second manuscript is about Jamie elders, too.

And I envision a third one, the second one hasn’t found a home yet, but stay tuned, it will started writing the first one in 2013, and finished it in 2015. And then it’s sad for a while, because my mother had passed away. And I really lost all of my mojo for the project for writing diary. Yeah, thank you. Yeah, it was a tough year, right. It’s always changes your mind about so many things. And it’s something you have to spend a little time metabolizing to get feedback on the ground again.

Gramel  15:56 

And normal becomes a different normal.

Gale  15:59 

Yeah, it sure does. Spoken as someone who has been through that wringer once or twice.

Gramel  16:06 

My most recent was my one and only sibling, my brother. Oh, yeah. But then I didn’t I had a son at 43. That’s still hard to talk about.

Gale  16:16 

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah, I bet it is. I’m sorry. That’s I always go straight there and interviews.

Tyler 16:25 

I mean, it’s also, you know, who doesn’t like a little cry in the interview? What’s wrong with that. But July is just a tough month, because he passed away in July, two summers can be kind of tough. At least July, we were talking a lot about the ending. And we think the ending of the book was really good. And we liked it. But we, you know, we were like, We wanted to know what the future looks like. So I think it’s interesting that you say that you saw it as a trilogy, because that kind of makes me happy to see what happens.

Gale  16:55 

Yeah, the next book, we all come back to Florida. So the whole book is set in South Florida. And I’m still very interested in themes of Uber wealth versus poverty, and male power versus impoverished female power. So those are, I guess, that’s my main interest in life, in writing life is to talk about those things. And I think gambling you know, brings a fun current to it, you know, because so much can happen and so much is left to chance for gamblers.

Gramel  17:32 

Well, I watched this one program on TV, sometimes it’s people become millionaires, and then they want to buy a new house.

Tyler Gillespie  17:38 

Lottery Dreamhouse

Gramel  17:41 

I’m surprised how many of those people are jackpot poker jackpot winners, I wonder if people when they’re young, you know, oh, I want to be a gambler.

Tyler 17:59 

When I think to in Jamie’s situation, she didn’t really have as many opportunities to get out of the situation that she was in. So poker kind of seems like it became that for her.

Gale  18:10 

Yeah, yeah, I wanted a character, you know, how you, you put a character in the worst possible scenario and watch them try and get out. That’s sort of what I had in mind with taking away all of Jamie’s options, and leaving poker as her only viable way to see the future for herself and to pursue a future for herself. So that was that was sort of the premise that I was working on these other characters from as sort of ways to, like, you know, push her down further, because the further you push a character down, you know, the more interesting the story gets, unfortunately.

Gramel  18:51 

In it, it was very interesting and seeing her slow, but sure growth, I think a lot of her challenge was that she was so loyal to her dysfunctional family. And so she wasn’t going to just get out of it. And I found she was actually even kind of loyal to her uncle. So she had to also almost fight against that loyalty to these characters that wasn’t doing anything but dragging her down.

Gale  19:21 

I’m very interested, perhaps even obsessed with family dynamics, and family loyalty and what you’re taught what love is, is love really loyalty or are those different things? And how does some young woman pursue her own future and her own mental health in the face of a very dysfunctional family?

Gramel  19:46 

And then I like the way basically, I would call it our protagonist actually started bringing out the good in her I think, I think she saw the detective as somebody debt, maybe could finally change her path.

Gale  20:05 

Yeah, I like the dynamic between Jamie and Garcia in that she has been taught her whole life, not to trust law enforcement, because they’re the ones that puts the elders in jail. But she has, that’s really kind of the crux of her of her change is when she begins to get an inkling that maybe he’s someone she can trust. Yeah, the development of a little bit of trust there. Yeah, that’s, that’s a nice memory to revisit. Jamie and elder and Garcia,

Tyler 20:43 

I wanted to ask you, so what got you into playing poker you said, because what I found nice about the book too, is there is a lot of poker and there and I don’t know the rules of poker. I mean, I know aces, a good card, Queen, I, you know, I just have never played, but I wasn’t getting lost, because I thought you were explaining what was happening enough for me to understand. So what got you into playing poker? And then how did you manage that in the writing?

Gale  21:11 

Well, my wife is a really good poker player. So when I got together with her about 13 years ago, I saw that I needed to understand what poker was because she loved it. So I started playing with her and her friends and and learning more about it. And I think it’s fascinating to go to a poker room and play, because you’re going to play with 99% men, and they can find ways to be intimidating and sort of gang up, and all of the dealers are male. So there’s this whole other dynamic about being in a poker room or at a poker tournament. And then I started learning the poker language, it’s beautiful. It’s like any sport, it has all these short nicknames for various moves and card combinations. It’s really fascinating. So in my first draft, the book was full of poker language that nobody would understand, except a poker player.

So I had to work on that pretty hard actually, to get it to a point where there was still some of the flavor of poker language in there. But it flowed enough to where, you know, the most of the readers would not understand the lingo, right? So you have to sort of find a way to, like, say what it is, and then use the lingo and then move on without having tripped up your reader to the point that they’re just stuck, or they or they leave the book and they go to Google and try and figure out what a full houses or something. It’s a tricky little thing. It took several drafts several edits, to go back through it and get it as well as it is. And I still had some complaints that people you know, weren’t thrilled with the poker aspect.

Tyler 23:08 

I found it really readable. And I liked that that aspect, because I was kind of learning as I was going about.

Gramel  23:14 

Well, I found it very easy to read Also, my daddy played poker, back in the day. That’s what people did for entertainment. As I got married, and things were tight, you play cards as a cheap way of entertainment. Yeah. And then I’m not in the club now. But I was in they only had meetings, I swear, or they could play cards after.

I mean, they did a lot of good. And I was impressed because they did do a lot of work. But they play cards

Tyler 23:48 

I used to work with love to playing cards. Oh, yeah. They had to like skirt the rules of the gambling because where I was working, you weren’t allowed to gamble. But they had like 50 cents. I don’t I don’t even know what was happening. But they somehow got around those rules.

Gale  24:04 

Yeah, I grew up learning to play ordinary games like spades and hearts and Uno. And my mother loved playing cards. She would just she would just play cards for hours. If she could get someone to stay with her, stick with her for a game. But she liked to make up her own rules as she went along. So you never really knew what the rules were.

Tyler 24:30 

Because she was always winning to probably right they switch to put her in the lease. I just have never had the mind for poker. And I don’t like to gamble. I like to keep my money where I can see it. So I’ve never been drawn to the game.

Gale  24:45 

Yeah, yeah, it’s a game. I think it costs a lot of money to learn how to play poker well, and by the time you’ve learned the game well enough to achieve at it. You’ve spent a ton of money you’ve spent five figures for sure.

Tyler 25:04 

And I really I also really enjoyed the part where they were counting cards and stuff like that, because I know enough about it to know that that’s a thing that happens. And so I thought that was a really cool aspect too.

Gale  25:19 

Yeah, there’s so many really fun, illegal poker stories that actually happen every day and casinos all across the country. And I guess the world but poker players are there a lot of really nice poker players, but they don’t make interesting stories write ones that are cheating and taking bad advantage of other people.

Gramel  25:47 

That’s a more much more interesting story added in that you add the football player in there in the in the way the ring became so important to the story.

Gale  25:55 

My good friend read it. And he gave it back to me. And he said, You need a dead body.

Gramel  26:02 

Hmm. And every story, a dead body.

Gale  26:09 

I was I had never written anything about a dead body before. So but I knew I needed one. And I sat down and I wrote TJ banger and lots of alcohol and that that poker game at the judges house and it was not as hard to write as I thought it was pretty well. It’s

Gramel  26:27 

kind of scary. Yeah.

Gale  26:29 

Yeah, hello, revealing

Gale  26:33 

more dead people.

Tyler 26:35 

I wanted to ask you about the third person narration and how it kind of switches characters at certain points. Where in the writing, did you make that choice? And why did you make that choice?

Gale  26:49 

For me, this was a natural way to move the story along. My first choice was to be devoted to the story more than to any of the characters, but I knew who my protagonist was. And that was Jamie. So whenever I switched up point of view, it was to provide the reader more information that maybe Jamie didn’t have access to. So some people gravitate to writing first person, I find that really hard for a full length piece of work. So switching characters, for me, it was just the easiest access point I had to getting the full story on the page. The characters were organic, her mother, her uncle, her brother, in the well, in the first draft. Tyler, her uncle had a point of view, but that was taken out in the final draft. And then Garcia was somewhat, you know, he I needed him, I needed someone outside the family. I needed someone investigating someone in the law. So he was sort of he fit a lot of a lot of the bill for the fifth character.

Tyler 28:02 

I think it helped us understand the characters and relate to them and feel for them in a way that maybe we wouldn’t have if it was just from Jamie’s point of view. One character we spent a lot of time discussing was loyal. The uncle, she was saying that she doesn’t see any redeemable qualities from him. And he’s just kind of the main bad abusive person. A

nd I was wondering about the kind of queer subtext that we were getting from him and kind of saying, maybe it wasn’t even subtext. Maybe it was text with some of his relationship. And I really saw it as him staying in a town where he wasn’t able to be his out self and how that may have pushed him into some of these more dark places. But maybe that was just me as a queer reader reading into that I was wondering about you writing that character and kind of your thoughts on him. That is there was text and subtext started out as subtext. And then it developed further.

Gale  29:04 

And that’s one of the whew, it’s not quite a regret, but his point of view him speaking from his own mind, yeah, I really regretted losing that, but I feel like I was able to capture most of who he was. And keep that in the book. I wanted to sketch a character who was living the impact of not being able to be his true self, and not being able to pursue the love that was offered to him in this lifetime, through Bobby and Key West. And the impact of that on him, and also the choices that he made to raise the kids you know, what were those choices really based on? Were they based on love? Were they based on pride and I think loyal made his decisions based on pride and the follow through was less than adequate.

Tyler 30:04 

And I think that what was interesting to just about location where we have Jamie seeing Florida as her opportunity and to be on the poker circuit in South Florida and in Key West, which is such an icon gay place in Florida, you know, so it was like interesting how geography was also for specifically Florida has this chance to be yourself or like, some kind of freedom that you might have?

Gale  30:30 

Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great point, Florida does give people a lot more freedom to be themselves, then a lot of other places, especially like a small blue collar town, and mid-state, New York, where you know, you have one high school graduating class of 30, or 40, people who are homophobic and the opportunity that loyal gives up to Botha, Florida, but he stays to raise the kids. And that doesn’t necessarily end up making him a better person. It maybe it makes him a more bitter person. And then when Toby, I wanted to look at the enter the play between generations of homosexuals who got to do what they got to pursue their true identity and versus generations, where people did not have that opportunity, and the anger and resentment that might come from that. It’s, it’s something that’s on my mind. And that was definitely on my mind when I was writing Toby, and loyal.

Tyler 31:35 

So what was the decision to cut Loyal’s perspective then, in what draft stage did that come in?

Gale  31:43 

So the publisher bought it. And one of the agreements we made before we signed the contract was that I would take the point of view characters from seven to five. So that was something that was an external, you know, rule put on put on the manuscript. And when I was going through it trying to do that, loyal had four chapters, and someone else had five. So it was kind of just an economic decision at that point.

Tyler 32:13 

So the publishers were kind of like from a marketing standpoint, or from a readers, they can deal with five perspectives, but six or seven, that’s asking too much.,

Gale  32:25 

Tommy Orange’s book that just one out of one, something huge, has 47 perspectives. But as a debut writer, I was listening to their marketing scheme and their plan. And that’s what they thought. So that’s, that’s how that went.

Gramel  32:41 

And now you mentioned you have a say, you had a second book out, and you’re on your third.

Gale  32:48 

Right. Um, so I have a collection of short stories coming out next spring. And my second manuscript regarding Jamie elders, is finished, and it’s being shopped around right now, looking for a publisher.

Gramel  33:02 

Oh, so it’s not out yet? Not yet. Now? No, see, I had the different aspect with them. lawyer. I only thought he took the children basically, the judge got his hand in it, and had a way of getting the money, add something on loyal or whatever. And so I didn’t come out gleaming that loyal was a good guy at all.

Gale  33:30 

Yeah, there’s that that part of the thread too. He was getting government funding Social Security death benefits for the has for their father. That was woven in there, too. Yeah.

Tyler 33:42 

That’s something that’s kind of cool about us reading the same books is we can have completely different reads because we, you know, have two different points of view. So you said that you have a short story collection coming out in the spring, what theme of collection or do we see any of the same characters or what’s kind of going on with that?

Gale  34:01 

You’ll see Toby.

Tyler Gillespie  34:03 

Oh, yay.

Gale  34:04 

Yeah, love Toby.

Gramel  34:06 

I figured that he had to go into an institution.

Gale  34:09 

Oh, well, he doesn’t,

Tyler Gillespie  34:12 

That’s why I’m really glad to know what’s happening next, because I felt concerned for his well being.

Gale  34:21 

Everybody is concerned about Toby, I really kind of left Toby in a bad spot. People are very interested in you know, what becomes of him. He’s in the second manuscript too. But in the collection of short stories, he’s there and most of the short stories are written from girl or, or woman’s point of view. And it’s about a lot of it’s about mother daughter dynamics and father daughter dynamics. There’s a story in there about racial tension within a family and story about a young woman. going off to Iraq, in the war. So it’s a collection of 13 stories. And I’m, very excited about it. Yeah, I am.

There’s one story, it’s called rising. So that’ll be the title of the collection. Great. It’s a good title. I’m just trying to write as true to my experience of life in the US as I can.

Tyler 35:33 

And I think that’s great to have an authentic point of view and not be kind of worried about what this imagined reader might want. Because then it can be maybe expected or not as true to life.

Gale  35:44 

Well, I think you know, as a writer, you have to find, you have to find your own voice. And if you’re if you constantly have a an audience in mind, I think you’re going to just get blocked. Writing is like alchemy, you’re just pulling thoughts and out of your mind and putting them into words. I mean, some people do really well, with an audience in mind.

Tyler Gillespie  36:08 

And so how has your writing practice kind of change in these past few months of quarantine?

Gale  36:18 

I was going downtown to an office that I loved. Every day I was going down, I was getting five or six really productive hours every day, I gave the office up, and I work at home now. And that’s, that’s really different. I mean, when you find a place that you really love, you know that the energy and the light is just right for you. It’s really hard to give that up. But I’ve given it up until the spiking decreases, and perhaps until we have better treatments and a vaccine. So I’ll be writing from home for the next foreseeable six, seven months, I think.

Gramel  36:58 

I worked at home when I did medical transcription. And it’s a whole different ballgame working at home. And people don’t always respect that. And it’s really so hard. You end up working all the time.

Gale  37:18 

Yeah, that’s true.

Gramel  37:20 

You don’t have a eight hour or like you said you were stayed there for six hours. Yeah. Which is ideal. And I see where you could get much more done.

Gale  37:32 

Yeah, I just I finished my second manuscript downtown. I, it was the most productive environment I’ve ever been in. I’m definitely going to go back as soon as it’s safe. has changed yours?

Tyler Gillespie  37:48 

I’m doing a podcast instead of writing. So maybe I could.

Gale  37:55 

I think the podcast is a brilliant idea.

Tyler Gillespie  38:01 

It is kind of cool, though. Because some of our episodes that we do the author chats, but then we kind of alternate and they’re more storytelling and like what’s going on in the news. So there is a storytelling aspect. And I’m still feeling creative. It just sitting down to write, it doesn’t. This just seems like something I’m more wanting to do.

Gale  38:20 

Follow your heart. Follow your creative spirit. Nothing worse. Yeah, nothing worse than trying to make yourself right When, when, you know, the energy’s not there.

Tyler 38:33 

And I’m kind of in between projects. And the next project I want to work on is going to involve probably a lot of interviews and stuff and being out, going to visit places. So I kind of really can’t do that kind of work that I that I want to do right now. So it’s a time of reflection, reading, hanging out with my grandmother, all of those things.

Gale  38:53 

Yeah. It’s also a good time. I just finished up two classes, two online classes with authors, writers that I really admire. So that’s, that’s been great. You know, I learned some some really wonderful things, just in the last two weeks. So what what’s nice is that you can have access to some of the writers that you really admire because they were traveling the country now they’re at home doing zoom, and that can be a good thing.

Gramel  39:24 

Well, I just I’ll just say, I think would make a wonderful movie, and it would be kind of a chick flick movie, but very action filled.

Tyler 39:35 

We like chick flicks in this house.

Gramel  39:37 

I just found your book was very, very interesting too, and would make a wonderful movie. I haven’t decided who should play the lead yet.

Tyler Gillespie  39:53 

In your message to me, you said there’s maybe some interest or some momentum to maybe seeing that happen.

Gale  39:59 

It’s a shopping agreement with a screenwriter in LA. So she’s putting together an outline and a pitch to take it around to the producers in LA or the production companies. So nothing could come out of that, or, you know, something could happen tomorrow. It’s one of those Hollywood deals where you just never know what’s going to happen, I think hopes the Thank you. I’m pretty, I’ve always seen this as a movie. So that’s how I wrote it was sort of like as though I had a camera on top of my head filming, you know, the things I was making up in my mind.

Gramel  40:37 

Well, that’s interesting. So you saw it as a movie.

Gale  40:42 

I think, my main teacher in like 2013, and 14 is, is a Hollywood screenwriter, and producer. So he had a large impact on how I saw writing, writing and scenes and plot. So yeah, I had that frame of mind when I wrote it.

Tyler Gillespie  41:05 

Well, thank you so much for chatting. I have thoroughly enjoyed speaking and hearing your process.

Gale  41:11 

Thank you so much for having me. This is it’s always fun to set to talk about The Girl from Blind River because, you know, I’ve written two manuscripts since then. And it’s a joy to go back and see people who enjoy those characters.

Gramel  41:26 

Oh, yeah. And I, I’m looking forward to the next book, because I know these guys. Yeah, I’m really excited about it. And it was a really delight to meet you. To meet the author of a great book. You did a great job.

Gale Massey!

In today’s episode, we talk with Gale Massey about her novel The Girl From Bling River, playing poker, and Florida life.

Full Transcript

More from Gale!

The Namesake” (CutBank)

Buy: The Girl from Blind River

Notable Quotable

The Girl from Blind River chat

“They weren’t really loyal to their friends. They weren’t really loyal to their mate, to a certain extent. I’m just gonna say the book was kind of showing you the underbelly of people.” — Gramel

“I’m also wondering if it’s saying, because he was closeted in a small town. That was one of the reasons why he drank so much, and why it’s such an awful person, because he didn’t get to live his out life.” — Tyler

from the convo with Gale

“I spent 10 years in Pinellas Park. And then I spent eight years in St. Petersburg. And then I fled for the big city when I came out and turned the page and went to Atlanta, and spent 30 years in Atlanta, and I recently moved back here. I met my wife at a birthday party in Mexico. And she happened to live in St. Petersburg. So it was sort of like a full circle.” — Gale

“You know, how you, you put a character in the worst possible scenario and watch them try and get out. That’s sort of what I had in mind with taking away all of Jamie’s options, and leaving poker as her only viable way to see the future for herself and to pursue a future for herself.” — Gale

“I’m very interested, perhaps even obsessed with family dynamics, and family loyalty and what you’re taught what love is, is love really loyalty or are those different things?” — Gale

Sarah Gerard Transcript


Sarah is someone who has come up in other pieces that we’ve read. She had a story in the anthology. We can’t help it if we’re from Florida. And she also has a story in Tampa Bay no are both books that we talked about on other episodes. So she’s a Florida writer who’s been in the conversation this summer. I’ll give a little bit of synopsis about what the book is about. And then we can we can go from there. And true love. The book follows Nina, who is a writer, a kind of struggling writer, a definitely a struggling writer, leaving New York, going to rehab and coming to Florida. So a lot of it takes place in Florida where she has some tumultuous relationships with some guys and some some gals.

Gramel  1:53 

I like that part because I recognize the places she mentioned, you know, like St. Petersburg, Kissimmee. And different places that you know, it’s always great to read a book that you are familiar with the towns in the area. She mentioned Ybor City, she probably mentioned at least six or eight places that just get me all interested.

Tyler 2:16 

Right. So Sarah is a Florida native, and she grew up in Largo, which is where we grew up as well.

Gramel  2:23 

I thought it was interesting that she talked about a lot of different musical groups. And the only name I recognize, since I’m older, was Sam Cooke. She said that his voice was alto and Claire like Sam books, but she mentioned probably 10 or 12. It’s sometimes like one was Tree Service. So I asked my grandson, is that a tree service? Or is that a you know, musical group? So I got a real education reading this book. in more ways than one. I found she had a great way of writing she wrote like she made up her own. I think dash words like wake and bake. Abbott.

Tyler 3:13 

Did you know what that was?

Gramel  3:14 

All it means you wake up and you’re in the mood to bake and you want some really good drink with your coffee? Like some sweet like..

Tyler 3:26 

God, I really well and what is it called a scone?

Gramel  3:30 

Yes. Yes, yes. That’s what it means. I can’t have scones. Actually, I actually, I would think of a peanut butter cookie. And one day this past week, I had a cup of black coffee.

Tyler 3:51 

They’re not necessarily awakened bake, but awake and chalk. Better than really awaken chocolate. No. Chocolate. No, I don’t think anything.

Gramel  4:02 

Let me tell you. Black Coffee goes with something really sweet.

Tyler 4:05 


Gramel  4:06 

Really good. You don’t need anything in your coffee. Because the two combinations is just just great. Okay, I had a favorite word. And they’re my favorite word was unbeknownst. I like that word. And that’s three different words with no hyphens. And then I also had a couple of favorite I had a favorite paragraph, which I thought was real, real sweet and poignant. One of the characters said to the main character, I want you to be with me the breath, my child, and she said, You are the closest person to me in the world. Besides my mama, my grandma and my grandma, you are like my sister. And I thought that was that’s a big honor and somebody asked you to be with them when they had their baby. And I like that paragraph.

She used words about the inside I think the encyclopedia like dark web, in the web soap by in chemicals he and his friends mixed into drugs. Now that wasn’t about. But I mean, there was a lot of words she used about. Like I say that computer which you computer nerds out there would probably have a blast here. And all of those words, she said half the tome to me with a CD ROM, and all this invoke words now that even though I’ve taken about four years of computer, I didn’t know what they meant. But I kind of know what they mean now and thank you for that. Remember, when you like to do things with this Sim City? As soon people?

Tyler Gillespie  5:49 

Yeah, I kind of want to start playing the Sims again. So I can go to a party during quarantine. So the main character Nina, she has a lot of toxic relationships. And something that kind of parallels is that she was also mentioning red tide. So I saw a connection between these toxic relationships and the toxic red tide. She didn’t go heavily into these kind of links about she kind of mentioned red tide. And I think Nina may have been writing a story or someone is writing a story about it. So they weren’t like heavy connections. But I saw there being a connection to environment, environmental devastation, as well as human relationship, devastation, because Nina had a lot of that going on,

Gramel  6:32 

And a lot of red died.

Tyler 6:36 

This is definitely not a hallmark book. There were some, you know, sex scenes in there. So there were some moments where I was like thinking, oh, wow, you know, I’m reading this, my grandma’s going to be reading this. I think though, what the sex scenes were doing. I like I’m more prudish about talking about this stuff with you than you are with me. But anyway, I think how I was reading it was that Nina’s very codependent. So I think it was showing us how Nina acted in her relationships and what relationships meant to her.

Gramel  7:11 

I kind of think she had a list in our mind of things she was going to do, you know, on this line of thinking, to make them want her more. Because sometimes it was like, rote.

Tyler 7:23 

And I think too, you know, she is struggling with addiction, or she was in rehab. And so I think that this had to be coming up some kind of another way of using for her right another way to get high another way to get what she wanted, which was companionship, and so she would do anything she could to not be alone.

Gramel  7:44 

That’s, that’s one way of looking at it. Yes.

Tyler 7:48 

I think that Nina, as a complicated character, she is lying a lot. She’s cheating on her partners, I really felt like, anxious for her. You know, because I recognize that kind of behavior. I’ve seen that kind of behavior and people that I know. So I thought that it was a really true to some people to life. So I thought it was a very honest character, for that kind of person. And a lot of those folks in our early 20s, or exists and are probably going through similar situations, or maybe not similar, but maybe comparable situations.

Gramel  8:27 

And she would totally forgive her partner for whatever wrongly he had done. That always surprised me because they had gone over the line period. But that I know, I was with one relationship all my life, and I would forgive but somewhere down the line, I stopped forgiving. Because you there’s just certain things that’s over the line. I just wouldn’t know that this was the end with somebody and then the next page, they were together still.

Tyler 9:09 

And I think that relationships are complicated, especially when you’re a young artist who is struggling with maybe some addiction issues and stuff like that. So I think that it’s complicated. And it’s always hard to be like, Oh, well if I was in your shoes, I would do this because you don’t you can never know what you would actually I mean, I guess you can know what you would do.

Gramel  9:34 

Well, like I say, sometimes if I never walked in your shoes, I’m not going to judge you. And I only walk in my shoes. I felt very sorry for then I get aggravated at her. And then I you know, she had good point she had a lot of good points. She was generous to a fault. She was a hard worker. Yes, she had a great work ethic and would do any piddling little job she needed to do to make a little money to pay her bills, she could do it, she had a great work ethic.

Tyler 10:14 

By doing those kind of things, she stayed well away from being able to do the writing. I’m sure she found a balance. You know, this character. I think Nina is a really modern character. She’s going through a lot of contemporary issues. She’s dealing with a lot of things with the gig economy. She’s going from gig to get to sustain herself and her writing practice.

Gramel  10:40 

You know, some of the latest, newsworthy, she mentioned that Trump won the last the Iowa caucus and like you said, that went red tide and different things. So it was a it was a book that kept you in, you know, interested in it. She touched on a lot of different things that make up a relationship with her father, a mother, and so forth.

Tyler Gillespie  11:09 

That the story takes place in Florida, like we were saying, and then in New York, so there were it’s very a lot of sensory details. Like you were saying a lot of mentions of Florida, and then going to the beach that made me want to go to the beach again, like made me really want to be out on the beach.

Gramel  11:24 

She mentioned karaoke, and that made me want to go you know, because I love karaoke. There’s no way we can social distance and do that anymore. Right? So and then she did this she loved the sun and she loved the way she entertained, be, you know, earn her friends entertain themselves. And my daughter does that a lot by going to the beach. His mom is a self proclaimed beach bum. Yes. And that’s why she gets her entertainment or relaxation, and it’s been good for the beaches, kind of a healthy place to go. Very restorative restorative, that’s a good word.

Tyler 12:06 

Those are some of our thoughts on True Love by Sarah Gerard. In the next segment, we’re actually going to get to talk to Sarah and we’re going to talk to her about some of her favorite places in Florida. Her writing practice writing about love her new hobbies in quarantine, lots of great stuff. So stick around you don’t want to miss that.

In this segment, we are going to talk to Sarah we’re going to talk to her about our hometown about her new love of gardening, about writing about love and Florida. We get into a lot of great topics. So I’m just going to get us right into it.


Hashtag relatable

Tyler 12:56 

Hashtag relatives. Yeah. She by Margot from Largo.

Sarah 13:02 

Oh, cute. Yeah. So we have Largo we have these Largo in common for sure.

Tyler 13:07 

Since you’re back in Florida. You and I went to Skyway Jack’s together. Once this quarantine is over, where are you looking forward to going to like your top three places.

Sarah  13:19 

Loaded grits. First Choice.

Tyler 13:27 

What is their loaded grits like?

Sarah  13:29 

Oh, it’s got it all. It’s got cheese, chives, bacon, all of it. Onions, all of it all the good stuff. And they’re just and sour cream and just yeah, everything you need. Yeah. It’s basically a meal. But I would get probably some eggs inside. And yeah, I don’t know any number of other things on the side. Everything on the menu there probably. I miss the taco bus, St. Pete to miss the taco bus. And I know I’m forgetting because you already mentioned Skyway Jacks. That’s one of my favorite places when you think of someplace down closer to here. Maybe Crabby Bills. Yeah, so probably Bills right now. Because I’ve driven by a number of times and no, nobody’s wearing masks and the place is packed. And the last thing I want is to get COVID-19 over my alligator bites. And in a seafood restaurant of all places, you know? Yeah, except must be like a special strain of COVID. And I also I mean, there there’s a place there’s a there’s a barbecue truck near us on Ulmerton

They have the absolute best smoked chicken and barbecue. Just Like all around barbecue with all the fixings and macaroni and cheese, the collard greens, the corn bread, the yellow cake, all of it and, and we’ve gone there a couple of times because there’s always only maybe one person standing outside. You know. So that’s something that’s been sustaining me. We were actually going to go there today.

You have to get early get together earlier also that arcades gone. But

Tyler 15:27 

OK, so insider tip get there early.

Sarah  15:29 

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And I mean, it’s a it’s a to go window, there’s nowhere to set, you know, and you’re out there in the sun Anyway, you wouldn’t want to sit there in the sun anyway, so it’s only to go. Yeah. And there’s like one person standing outside and it’s so cheap. You know, it’s like some lady in a window has just said always the same lady.

Tyler 15:56 

I’m hungry. So how, how are you as everything on your end,

Sarah  16:01 

I, you know, I’m taking it day by day, I feel fortunate to be living with family right now. Because I have friends who are, you know, who aren’t able to see their family right now. And they’re in far flung places and concerned for one another. And I have friends and you know, who are just alone, and they’ve been alone for a long time. So I feel grateful that I’m not alone. And Patty and I are living not far from you guys. And safe and healthy. So but you know, it’s been a huge adjustment. Our life plans were interrupted. Everyone’s we’re so and we have friends who are sick or whose family members have been sick. And that’s really scary. We’re inching ever closer to November. So there’s like this sort of Damascus hanging over everything that I’m able to write.

I’m like, how am I going to keep myself from going crazy and my dad likes gardening too. And he is very concerned about the pollinators. So we so today we’re going to plant some pollinator plants. And we have we started a vegetable garden. So we’re growing some peppers or pepper plants are going crazy. Right now our bean plants are going crazy right now. They have some tomatoes who are flowering, but they haven’t been fruited yet, but that might not happen until later in the summer. And, yeah, I mean, we’re learning a lot and moving plants around. And you know, I’m out there every day with them. And it’s a good way to get away from my phone and reflect and get outside, you know, without endangering myself or others.

Tyler 17:51 

Yeah. I love that. My mom just went to Wilcox the other day. Have y’all been? Yeah.

Sarah  17:57 

Yeah, yeah. Actually, my were I was there yesterday. And my dad is running for Largo city commission seat three right now, Eric Gerard, Wilcox has one of his signs outside. So yeah, so but for Eric Gerard in November, because he’s been working really hard. I hear him on the phone all day, every day. He’s been involved in politics for a long time via my mother and his own. He was the vice president, or President, I think of the bargain library Foundation Board and is on the city planning committee now and has been, you know, really involved in the city for as long as he’s lived here. I mean, over 30 years, he’s really concerned about the environment to the housing and solar energy, and my dad drives an electric car, and he plants milkweed to attract butterflies and you know, as vegetarian and you know, cares a lot about the environment. That’s a big part of his ticket, as you know, as he’s running, because you can make a lot of difference. Especially in Florida, you know, if you encourage people to plant native, that’s great.

Tyler 19:01 

That’s awesome.

Gramel  19:02 

Who is he running against?

Sarah  19:05 

Commissioner Curtis Holmes? He’s the opponent. Do you know Curtis?

Gramel  19:09 

Would you like to put a sign in my yard?

Sarah  19:12 

Yes. Yes. Good. Thank you.

Gramel  19:17 

Tell me, do your parents be in politics? Does that does that ever come into play in your writing?

Sarah  19:28 

With my mom? Yeah, it has. I mean, because I’ve written about my parents. And not any my nonfiction in Sunshine State. I was writing about my parents’ religion. And, you know, that’s, definitely something that comes up in politics. So I, you know, I was, I was careful about how I wrote about that. And I shared the piece with my parents before I published it, you know, because I don’t want them to be. I don’t want anything I write to ever harm myself. an election or something, you know, if you’re, you know, if you have a close relationship with someone, you know, to the extent that you can be transparent in your work with them, you should be why why would you not be? Otherwise? No, I mean that I’ve never, they’ve never told me not to write about something. And I know that they’re very open about their own pasts. My mom worked the nonprofit sector for a long time helping women who were escaping domestic violence and, and children and families helping them, you know, connect with services. And you know, so her own past isn’t that and I know she’s very open about that and cares a lot about those issues. So

Tyler 20:45 

Oh, we read True Love. We also read, We Can’t Help it If We’re from Florida, and then interviewed Ryan, so we read your story.

Sarah  20:51 

Yeah. Awesome. Ryan is the best.

Tyler Gillespie  20:55 

He’s awesome. And then we also read Tampa Bay Noir,


It was cool to write in that genre, because I don’t usually think of it that way. I think of my writing that way, you know, but like you’re drawing on certain tropes and themes. And, you know, I mean, certainly, it was a way to get something off. It was a fun exercise.

Gramel  21:24 

And I like the title of yours and the “Midnight Preacher.”  

Sarah  21:29 

Yeah, I actually became fascinated with a real person who I base that character on, and he was one of those people who preached at midnight, you know, when you’re falling asleep on the couch. And he and he did get in trouble for I think, tax evasion. And I mean, he was always contrarian and always conservative, but he just became radicalized after Trump was elected. Yeah, and, and I wanted to write a story about him, I kind of started snooping around. And I had found him because he was listed as a hate group on the Southern Poverty Law Center website. And, but it seemed to be just one guy, and he seemed to be, he seemed to have fallen from grace. And there was something really satisfying about that, for me, you know, to see this person who was so terrible doing badly. And I don’t know, yeah, I just started to get in touch with myself. It was easy for me to write in the north genre when I was asked to because one of the tropes is this gumshoe reporter, you know, and then that was me is like, trying to pursue this guy who was like evading me because he was ashamed of himself. And I don’t know, yeah, I was, I became this, like, I was like, kind of terrorizing him. And I became really disaffected with him and or just kind of like, I, I just liked him too much. I think I couldn’t find anything redeeming about his character and in real life, so I just decided to, you know, abandon the project. But I was able to take all that research and like, turn it into fiction.

He was just as awful as you expect him to be.

Gramel  23:37 

My question is, do they mind you, listing them as hate groups?

Sarah  23:42 

He didn’t like being listed as a hate group. Yeah, he, I remember, because he would post like, almost every day on his website, even though nobody seemed to read it. And he would complain about being listed and how that had. That was like, the beginning of the end for him. Basically, it was being identified as such, because he one of the ways that he had been evading taxes was, was hadn’t been listed as a religious group, actually. Right. So yeah. And then that was called into question and how he was using funds to fund his so called church was called into question. So yeah, he I think he owes a few million dollars to IRS now.

Gramel  24:34 

Money probably. How’d you come up with this nickname?

Sarah  24:41 

Well, the real person’s name is Bill Keller. So it was just something that kind of sounded like Oh, okay. Yeah. But also, I mean, obvious connotation having to do with greed and that deadly sin. Yeah, there’s something about the fact that the real midnight pretty That I was in touch with Bill color. His name also means money and also color sounds something like killer and there’s something about that, that as a writer I’m really drawn to stuff like that it’s almost like a sign from the universe that this this is this should be turned into fiction you know it because it already seems to be. Yeah, it was fun piece in that puzzle together as a piece of Noir, because I had to think about like, well, what is the role of the pen fake towel or there was something about the gun that like I knew that had to be the end of the story that there had to be some threat to the narrator’s life or some, some way in which it was made real.

Tyler 25:39 

So your book True Love. So you started writing it in 2016?

Sarah  25:48 

In the end of 2016, I wrote a short story that became this novel, sent it to a friend got some feedback, a lot of questions that needed answering. Yeah, I was going through a divorce, I was reading a lot about love trying to figure out where I fucked up. And where are they? You know, where did I go along? And what is a model of, you know, what is my ideal arrangement, love arrangement? And what do I expect? And what am I expected to give? And three years later, you know, I completed the last draft of it, it’s been a journey.

Tyler 26:31 

Well, I mean, thinking about models for love and everything, like way, you know, what does that even look like? It’s hard.

Gramel  26:39 

It was something like, we’re only compatible, because he doesn’t really know me. And I think that’s a thread among quite a few of your relationships can be like, that isn’t real. You they, you know, they might not, you know, I have a temper. You know, I, like I talked too much. Most people know that. I can’t keep that in, you know, my husband used to say, You’re nicer to other people than you are me. And I’d say, Yeah, well, why do you think that is? You know, but I mean, so I thought that was a pretty simple, but deep revelation that you came up with.

Sarah  27:36 

Yeah, one of the things that we, I mean, learn through love is who we are, because our lover reflects us back to ourselves, too. And I think a large part of Nina is obscure, even to her. And she is attempting to discover it, while avoiding certain unsavory aspects of it, that actually, in the end proved to be unavoidable. I mean, it’s true that we are, in some ways, our worst selves, the people closest to us, because it’s safe to be because I fruit, you know, that I mean, our worst selves, I mean, our most flawed self. And in a way, we’re kind of asking this person to love us, despite our with our flaws. For instance, I have to be a certain person when they go to work, even if I’m having a really shitty day, and like, don’t give a fuck about teaching, because like, I just found out somebody died, I have to make it through that class and be my best self. So that I can go home and fall apart in front of my partner, and scream and cry and say, really irrational things. Because I’m angry and sad. And I know she’ll hold me. You know, and when I’m having a bad day or something, and I’m feeling cranky, I mean, she’s the one closest to me, and she’s the one I’m going to be cranky yet. I know. I know. She’s going to forgive me. And I’m going to try not to be cranky, cranky, but I’m not going to be somehow I managed not to be cranky to my boss or my casual friend. You know, I’m cranky at her because I know she’s going to forgive me now. Or because I just I feel as if I don’t have to perform for her. So yeah. So that’s something that I you know, Nina is saying in that vault while also not in so she knows that there’s a part of her that she has to hide for this person. Otherwise, he won’t love her. I think failing to realize that it’s not really love and less health, love her with all of those things. But it’s really hard to be vulnerable with somebody that way and to show them that you’re not perfect.

Tyler 29:49 

I’m wondering how Nina changed in your writing of Nina’s from 2016 to when you finished the manuscript because you did go through a kind of transition yourself. So how did that writing of the character change?

Sarah  30:02 

Yeah, well, I mean, a lot that. Well, in the beginning, I mean, Nina was and a writer, foolishly I was trying to give her an occupation that I don’t, that I’m not very familiar with. So what if I had to do a bunch of research about, you know, how, you know, a person’s occupation would dictate how they talk, and the kinds of metaphors they use in everyday speech, and how they even think about the world, like, in the beginning, you know, was a seamstress. And so, I mean, all kinds of metaphors come out of that, like, tearing and weaving, you know, whatever, making a pattern, and, you know, so, but it was too clunky for me to write in that way. Because I don’t really know that language fluently. So in the end, I just made a writer, it’s like, I can think about, it’s really easy for me to just make her a writer to think about fantasy, and what is fact and fiction and how would she, what would she be writing? And how would she be working through her issues through her writing? And what kind of story does she want to tell herself? And what kind of story is she telling someone else? And truth and lying and all that we know, honesty? And so it’s just much easier? So that was one thing? You might guess that because I’m a writer, it was the first thing I get I decided to make her but that’s not true. So yeah, and her voice changed a lot over time.

I think in the beginning, I thought that this, that there would be a way to make the story somehow, somehow romantic. But in the end, it’s not it wasn’t, I thought it would actually turn out to be some kind of love story. But it didn’t. In the end turned out to be it was more of an anti love story. It was satirizing mother’s love story is more than it was itself a story about finding love, because she doesn’t really. Except maybe in the very last paragraph, she takes that first step towards it. But I think in the end, I wanted to leave the reader with some kind of hope that maybe she’s learned something or somebody learned something. But yeah, her voice really came together in the last draft. I think it got a lot. I think because her voice is kind of quippy. And she’s a little bit critical and defensive. It needed to be her sentences need to be really short and almost impatient. And the story needed to feel very claustrophobic. And a lot of that came out, came through just combing through the sentences and taking out unnecessary verbiage and just rewriting things on a sentence level to get the voice right.

Tyler 32:44 

Nina is someone that we feel for and we want her to make some choices. And it’s like she’s trying to make choices, but like you said, you know, doesn’t sometimes make the choices that we hope she would make.

Sarah  33:00 

I want to know like, where was the moment where you hoped she would make a different choice. I’m interviewing you now.

Tyler 33:06 

The one that really kind of sticks out to me that, I guess just with her choice in men period. I mean, she falls for them, and I get why. But then it’s like, Come On Girl, like, why are you doing this?

Sarah  33:21 

Yeah. Oh, do you understand what she’s doing? I do. But that’s where

Tyler 33:25 

I’m like, I see her work ethic being strong like that something she’s gigging she’s got a strong work ethic. She’s really into her writing and her art. And it’s like, you know, sometimes she’s not surrounding herself with men that are supporting that. So that’s kind of where I was, like, wanting because I add that out of the sense of care.

Sarah  33:49 

Well, yeah, it’s interesting, because Nina would, I think, described herself as a generous person. And she’d probably be used that as a form of generosity, and she’s supporting her partner, and his ambitions.

Gramel  34:09 

And if she would keep us accepting these characteristics and still be there for them and not walk away.

Sarah  34:26 

Yeah, it’s kind of like remember what we were saying earlier about loving somebody with their flaws. And she sees that these are flawed people, but, you know, loves and accepts them. And here’s them asking for help, I think and because she either because she wants to think of herself as a generous person or because she is truly generous in a twisted way she helps them when they ask for help.

Tyler 34:54 

And that’s something that makes us really real character to me, like, you know, thinking that to focus I’ve done in similar situations in their early 20s. It’s like, you know, yeah, they do make these choices. And this is kind of a thought. So it, it made her really real to me. Mm hmm. Because of the choices that she was making.

Sarah  35:13 

Yeah. And I mean, I think certain readers, I mean, like you just said, Well, you know, I wanted me to make different choices. And by the end, she’s taking care of her husband financially. And an example of a different choice, I guess, would be that she left him right. But would you do that?

Tyler 35:39 

You know, choices that I needed to make in the past and how long it took me to get to that that moment.

Sarah  35:45 

Right, exactly. We put up a lot in relationships for long periods of time. And arrangements that could be seen as exploitative, or abusive, or, you know, but because we’re hoping that they will change, or because we want to extend compassion or forgiveness and, or patience, and we love this patient, right? So maybe she maybe this is a form of love. And maybe her choice not to leave him is actually a loving one in a way.

Tyler 36:16 

And I think when he was initially seeing her, he was really supporting her creativity, and they were collaborating and all of these things, and it’s like, you want to hold on to that moment? And how you felt in that moment?

Sarah  36:27 

And yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly. Why do you think we look at our wedding photos, or celebrate our anniversary? You know, it’s good to remember. It’s because we have to reflect on our journey together. From the beginning. And yeah, hold on to that original Spark. I think it’s heartbreaking for Nina when that when they’re, that spark begins to dim. I think it’s really disappointing for her. Yeah, she even says, you know, we haven’t worked on them the movie for a few months, already, you know? Yeah. Because if there’s no separation anymore between the fantasy in reality, the fantasy of the fiction they were making together, you know, on in more than one way.

Gramel  37:14 

I got to know. Why do you refer to music so much?

Tyler Gillespie  37:27 

playlist for a website.

Gramel  37:30 

And I one time I asked Tyler, is Tree Service a tree service? Is that, you know, because I didn’t know I had no clue. And I’m not up with the bands that I’m still loving.

Sarah  37:51 

That I referenced was a real one. Yeah.

Gramel  37:55 

Which was the fictional one.

Sarah  37:57 

It kind of reminds me of Postal Service.

Tyler 38:05 


Gramel  38:07 

Yeah. But because you love gardening.

Sarah  38:12 

Yeah. And also just seemed kind of twee, you know, the tree thing. Like, I don’t know, I have. I had a friend in college who was in a band called tree wolf. So I don’t know cliche. And I was loving it. And I say that with love, you know,

Gramel  38:30 

After a while I started list listing how many musical groups and unless they’re listed, like 10, or 12, but I didn’t do it right at the beginning. Yeah, I know, music must be important to you.

Sarah  38:46 

I was listening to a lot of music while I was writing. And yeah, I put together that true love playlist that has like 100 songs on it now. And listening to it, like each of the songs just gave me a different entry point into Nina’s subjectivity or another or it was playing over a particular scene in the book and my imagination, or the lyrics were speaking to me in a certain way, kind of about the story and but I mean, in general, yeah, I think of writings, music and I think about the sounds of my sentences a lot and the particular tone that word lends a scene or But then I also think about, you know, the characters in the book as having that same relationship with music, I think or they, you know, they listen to it because it gives them a window on their own mind for you know, tells a story about their family or there’s one of the bands I mentioned, the Beach Boys and Seth in a relationship with that band. It may reminds him of his father, because music carries that emotional messaging. For us. Yeah, I mean, the sound of the sound of a particular song can make the emotion of the song. So it’s a direct experience for me that way, you know? Yeah, he tried to enter a particular mood through a song rather than going directly there with language. I think it’s helpful. Yeah. puts me in a particular world. headspace.

Gramel  40:26 

I love music, and I sing karaoke. I go out and sing it when I can, which now I haven’t been out since the middle of March. But I sing it at home too. I had a friend that was a Kj that said, Margie, when you can’t come on, set, you know, sing at home. And I mean, you could sit down with maybe troubles on your mind and saying, I try to sing five songs a day. Hmm. And get up after those five songs. And be in a totally different mood, maybe ready for bed, you know, which I don’t always get. I don’t always have a good night’s sleep. But that low almost, you know, make sure I do. And then I like to saying, you know, all different kinds of songs like, one of my favorites now is Lady Gaga. You know, sidetrack, but then, of course, my favorite is Patsy Cline. So, you know, I think music is a great big help to get through life. It’s kind of like, having a sense of humor is a big help.

Sarah  41:48 

I think actually, music and having a sense of humor are similar in a way. I mean, it’s all about timing, right? Yeah, it’s, it’s funny. I mean, yeah, I studied singing when I was a kid, I took voice lessons. And I was in choir, and it was really important part of my upbringing. And a lot of fi I think I became a writer too, you know, because I had that really mode of expression. You know, I realized very early in my life, how important it was to express yourself and be verbal and heard right? out Yeah, yeah. So yeah, I, I don’t listen to music as much as I used to. And I don’t seek it out as much as I used to. But it’s, it’s still a really important part of how I write. I’m working on the short story, which might be in the Vela right now to about a friend of mine who passed away and this past January, and I have a playlist for that to then listen to songs that we listened to when we were growing up and songs that speak to like a particular part of our life where I think we were closest. Yeah, so yeah, it’s a it’s a really important part of the process. Do you listen to music while you write to?

Tyler 43:11 

I listened to this channel lo fi hip hop on YouTube with my students. They love it. It’s kind of like weird at first but then at the end they like.

Sarah  43:32 

please send me a link to be Yeah, I want to hear this.

Tyler 43:36 

It doesn’t have any lyrics or anything but it just is like good background. It was making me think to like, how you know certain smells really can trigger memories for you certain songs can really trigger absolutely, absolutely feeling.

Sarah  43:53 

Oh my god, and it’s not always the song that you would think either. There’s um, this song by called better off alone. It’s like this techno song that I get really emotional hearing now because it just reminds me so much of my friend who passed away in January and then and yeah, when I listened to it the first time. I mean, after she died, I just Yeah, I was surprised that it was that song because it wasn’t the her favorite techno song necessarily and it wasn’t one that I ever thought very deeply about. It was just kind of a background song. But then something about the lyrics I think the lyrics are so you think you’re better off alone, and it’s just like, ah, like hit me right in the chest when I you know, when I listened to the first EP for some reason that was that was the first one that popped into my head when I heard that she died. So yeah, music is some. Yeah, it’s, I think as an artist to like, well as a writer, like having access to other disciplines. Working in other disciplines, is, is really necessary and can teach you a lot about writing to like visual art. I have a lot of friends who draw or painters or make collages and working in those other modes to like, I think their writing is very symbiotic with their writing. You know, I have a friend who makes collages and like collage poems, and yeah,

Tyler 45:22 

you had a book of collages, right?

Sarah  45:26 

Yeah, that was a thing that I was doing. I haven’t done it recently, very much. Actually, this thing makes me want to go do it now. But, uh, yeah, I mean, it’s just another way of storytelling and telling the story, right.

Tyler 45:41 

I think that’s something with me is like, I’ll get really into doing some other medium, like, sketching or something like that. And then I’ll just, I’ll do that and be really into it for a while, and then I’ll just kind of fall off, and I’ll go to something else. Because I think for me, I need something creative, that I don’t have to necessarily be good at. Actually, you know, like, sometimes I feel like I need to be good. But then it’s drying. That’s not my thing. I can just do that for fun. And,

Sarah  46:08 

With collage I was like, it’s almost like I became, I felt like too many people knew about, you know, it’s like, eyes on me and I got scared or something. But then also, it’s just not, you know, you don’t have to do everything all the time. You can go in and out of gardening, for instance, you know, I mean, I wasn’t able to do that much in New Jersey, and I loved it when I was living in Florida. And then I moved to New Jersey, and I couldn’t do it, and then back here and doing it again. And it’s not like it went anywhere. I can still play with it when I want to. And get something out of it. And like Yeah, same with like learning, I think learning to do anything new. It’s good for reading anyway. Yeah, you know, yeah, you’re learning vocabulary. You’re learning skills, you know, that you can use even get to your characters. Yeah. On your phones.

Gramel  47:00 

Are you gonna write a new book with your care is into gardening and maybe maybe bear a body out in her garden or something?

Sarah  47:11 

There’s an idea. Can I have that? That’s mine.

Gramel  47:14 

I’m stealing. Oh, yes. Yes, yes. Yes.

Tyler 47:17 

I had a I wanted to ask a couple questions before I forget. One, because we were talking about the political aspects in your novel. And I know that it seems like a lot of folks in fiction, maybe are having the conversation about how to write about the current president and stuff like that. What are your thoughts on that, since you it’s something that you take on in the book,

Sarah  47:41 

I was interested in the personal, and the interpersonal ramifications of 2016 election, because I noticed that it caused a ruckus. People got divorced people’s block their friends on Facebook. And, and when, you know, looking at something like toxic masculinity, or whiteness, or gentrification, you know, how do I not think about it? You know, in the current time, how can I not also think about our government? And what’s happening there, and the kind of message that it’s sending to people about how they can treat one another? So, yeah, I mean, there are writers who can write brilliantly about him as a character, and you know, about someone very Trump, like, as a character, you know, I don’t know if I can write about him directly as a character have him as a character in my book. Or even write very intelligently or knowledgeably about what has happened in the White House, you know, in a nonfiction way, that would require a lot of research for me, even though I read the news, like, so, you know, but what I can write about is how it’s made me think about love and relationships. And, like, choices that I make, day to day in a personal level. I remember I mean, I was married at the time. And my partner and I, my, my former partner and I, Patty, and I do not argue about well, thank God we have, you know, we have identical views about Trump. But, my, my ex and I didn’t have identical views about the election and I was livid. We really argue I mean, it was a huge rupture in our relationship and probably one of the precipitating events and relationships stem Paul. So

Tyler 50:12 

And then I know the character in the book collaborates. And I know that you started collaborating with Patty, there was a piece around recently. Yeah. Can you maybe talk about collaboration? Because I think it’s something people may want to try. But you know, what’s your experience been like with the collaboration?

Sarah  50:32 

Well, with Patty, we take turns contributing to a piece. And then we don’t go back and edit what we’ve written. Or that was in the case of that Burrow piece. And we’re working on other pieces in that same format. And we would take turns contributing. But we’re working on a buckling work together. And have been basically, since we started dating, that we will probably go back and edit in some fashion, although I’m not sure what that will look like, because we haven’t reached the complete end of it yet. Although we’re very close. So. Yeah, but similarly, we would contribute a piece and then Shem contributed in our, I would contribute a piece and then Patty would contribute a piece and then I would and then they wouldn’t. So then we would go back and, you know, read through the whole thing together and decide together what would need to be done. But not everybody can collaborate. Or at least, it’s important to find the right partner, somebody that you can actually work with. Yeah.

Sarah  51:52 

You should both be in agreement about what you’re doing and what the end goal is.

Sarah  51:57 

Yeah, I love that.

Gramel  52:00 

Yeah. Well, I look forward to you writing more and me. I want to get the sunshine book. Yeah. It was the last day. Mm hmm.

Sarah  52:17 

Yeah. I know.

Tyler 52:18 

You said you’re working on. And you said you were getting some writing done recently.

Sarah  52:23 

Yeah. Well, I’ve been working in. Yeah, it’s a short story. That might be a novella. Yeah. And otherwise, just reading a lot right now. in quarantine. So many good books coming out right now. I just read it in cold blood. And yes, yeah, classic. Yeah, so many conversations to be had about that book, too. Yeah, I’ve mixed. I’ve been really mixed feelings about it. As everyone should. What are you reading?

Tyler Gillespie  53:04 

We are reading. So we’ve been focusing on Florida authors. We read. I have them right here. We read the Girl from Blind River. Yeah. Yeah. We read this one is really good. It’s called the changing south of Jean Patterson. It was edited by Roy Peter Clark and Raymond Arsenault. He was a journalism and civil rights writer in the south. Jean Patterson was just really interesting to read that now. Yeah.

Gramel  53:34 

Yeah. Yeah, it was really outstanding. It took you on every emotion. I think you have Sarah between political shows, and reading and doing karaoke. I take my dog out 15 times a day. And cooking gourmet meals for my grandson. Now that was not true.

I journal also and I start my day, saying five things I’m grateful for. And then I tried to end my night by reading the Proverbs. Or my favorite scriptures. In the Proverbs this, if you’re stable is clean. You don’t do good business. In other words, if you don’t have a newer and you’re stable, you’re not busy. In other words, if you’re playing football in your uniform stage playing you’re not in the game right now. And I think what that means.

Sarah  54:48 

God knows my stables messy.

Sarah Gerard!

We chat with Sarah Gerard about her new novel, her favorite Florida spots, gardening, music, and a whole lot more!

Full Transcript

More from Sarah

Modern Nature” (Patty Yumi Cottrell + Sarah Gerard at Burrow Press

Talking to the Dead in the Sunshine State” (NYT)

Buy: Sunshine State (Essays) & her latest novel True Love

Check out Sarah’s True Love playlist on Largehearted Boy

Also, you can learn more about her father Eric Gerard who is running for Largo City Commission:

Notable Quotable

True Love discussion

“I kind of want to start playing the Sims again, so I can go to a party during quarantine.” — Tyler

“Nina had a lot of red tide going on.” — Gramel

“Nina had a great work ethic and would do any piddling little job she needed to do to make a little money to pay her bills, she could do it, she had a great work ethic.” — Gramel

Chat with Sarah

“We started a vegetable garden. So we’re growing some peppers or pepper plants are going crazy. Right now our bean plants are going crazy right now. They have some tomatoes who are flowering, but they haven’t been fruited yet, but that might not happen until later in the summer. And, yeah, I mean, we’re learning a lot and moving plants around. And you know, I’m out there every day with them. And it’s a good way to get away from my phone and reflect and get outside, you know, without endangering myself or others.” — Sarah

On writing the character in “Midnight Preacher”

“I actually became fascinated with a real person who I base that character on, and he was one of those people who preached at midnight, you know, when you’re falling asleep on the couch. And he and he did get in trouble for I think, tax evasion. And I mean, he was always contrarian and always conservative, but he just became radicalized after Trump was elected. Yeah, and, and I wanted to write a story about him, I kind of started snooping around. And I had found him because he was listed as a hate group on the Southern Poverty Law Center website.”

“Our lover reflects us back to ourselves.” — Sarah

“I think actually, music and having a sense of humor are similar in a way. I mean, it’s all about timing” — Sarah

“I listen to this channel lo fi hip hop on YouTube when writing with my students. It’s kind of like weird at first but then at the end they love it.” — Tyler

“I was interested in the personal, and the interpersonal ramifications of 2016 election, because I noticed that it caused a ruckus. People got divorced people’s block their friends on Facebook. And, and when, you know, looking at something like toxic masculinity, or whiteness, or gentrification, you know, how do I not think about it? You know, in the current time, how can I not also think about our government?” — Sarah

Jennifer Webb Transcript

Jennifer Webb 

Hi, Tyler. I was reading your poetry this morning. Oh.


Now he will follow you anywhere.

Jennifer Webb 

So, we have two bookcases full of poetry. We like books, we build libraries wherever we live. So probably poetry and southern what are our biggest two.


I think I see Confederacy of Dunces.


Yeah. There’s just room for a bed in there. Even my bug man that said, Margie, you need to get rid of some of these bugs. And I said, bite your time.

Jennifer Webb 

Even though we keep giving books away, we’ve there’s certain books that you want to hold on to, you know.


I kind of live to read.

Jennifer Webb 

Well, okay, so what are you reading right now? Since you live to read now I need to know what.


Right now, I’m reading Hillary and Chelsea Clinton. And I’m reading Rodham by Curtis somebody.

Jennifer Webb 

Oh, I heard about this on NPR. Yeah, in the morning. Yeah, I’m gonna write this down.


So part of our podcast is we read books by Florida writers. And then we interview them. So one of the writers that we read her name is Susanna Daniel, and her really good friend is Curtis. And so she sent us that book Rodham.


She knew I was reading a book about the Clintons.

Jennifer Webb 

So you’re onto something, create a podcast about books, people in Florida writers and people will send you what you love most, which is books.


So we have a few questions for you. So our podcast is about Florida. So can you tell us a little bit about your life in Florida?

Jennifer Webb 

Sure. So I got recruited to the University of South Florida. I’m an anthropologist by training. And during the recession, and the early or mid 2000s, I guess, early 2000s, I was doing workforce and economic development up in Massachusetts. And I knew that I wanted to go back to school in that. And I wanted to be an anthropologist and use kind of the best of our thinking paired with really the best of our action to help create change. And so I was looking for graduate schools. USF had the top public anthropology department in the country at the time, and they flew me down here and I looked at the campus and fell in love with the, with the department. Well, some friends of ours from Provincetown, we were living in Massachusetts at the time, and two of our friends from Provincetown said Oh, all the girls live in Gulfport.


Yes, good. You already knew you are all the girls.

Jennifer Webb 

We all have houses during the offseason of the cape. So why don’t you come on down? Like just check it out. You’ll love it. And so we did we rented a car and drove across the bay, but it seems like an eternity away. And I was really nervous about going to grad school. And I also had was going to help start a new office there the Office of Community Engagement and partnerships, and so I didn’t know what everything was going to entail. And so I lived in lutes we lived in loops for the first months which is right like bike camp, but like the closest part to campus, did not really love Tampa did not really love lutes basically at the end of my first semester, I was like it’s worth it. I know what I’ve gotten into now. So we packed up everything.

We got this amazing little apartment. So you know, Beach Boulevard in Gulfport near the Peninsula Inn is right across the street. It was where we first lived. It was magical. It’s bright green building with purple doors and a magical little garden on the side. All of the restaurants would deliver to our apartment, like from the strip. It was closer for me to go next door to get coffee at the time than it was for me to walk back to my kitchen. And it was just exactly what we need it like we needed a lot of community because graduate school is so isolating. And it’s so kind of, you know, you’re so focused on your own work and what you’re doing and so we basically Situated that my doing that within the middle of this small town where people just love to connect, and it worked out really well. And I loved it. And I just fell in love with Florida. And so I spent a lot of time since I’ve moved here.

Well, the first seven years after I graduated from grad school, I stated USF I think they say USF stands for you stay for life. Or you stay forever. Oh. And, and I, you know, stayed there and got their department up. I was the Director of Community Partnerships for the Office of Community Engagement and partnerships. And so I would pull together faculty, grad students, upper level undergraduate students, and community partners to like, solve issues. So only when I first moved to Florida, the look, the area around USF had the same infant mortality rate as BangladeshOne of the first projects that on the university really, that we poured our resources into partnering with the community to raise the decrease the number of babies who are dying in infancy. I mean, that’s unbelievable to me, right around Moffitt, USF med school, I mean, there’s so much medical expertise or nursing school in that area.

We did projects to understand why different channels are filling up with sand over in Pinellas County, how to attract the tech industry to Florida like what supporting an industry looks like what kind of educational institutions we need. And so I helped put together Oh, how to decrease hunger and food insecurity and kids throughout the Tampa Bay area. So I helped pull together those partnerships. And USF won an award for the most engaged campus. And I decided I had run for office once and decided I knew that the next time I ran, I wasn’t going to be able to stay at USF because my job was really couldn’t be segmented down into a part time job. And so I started my own firm and went into the private sector kind of doing the same thing that I was at USF but just instead of connecting University people, I would be the researcher on the project. And I yeah, it was a lot of fun. And I did that and I and so that’s what on the public is I have a firm and my, my partner Cesar Hernandez, he pretty much holds the he holds it holds the reins for the most part, because I’m kind of I love governing so much and helping people and like helping to problem solve, and especially right now with the COVID-19 crisis.

I mean, I spend all my time helping people get their unemployment and fighting for people and connecting them to resources so they can get food. Yeah, but you know, I’ve even though I didn’t move here until 11 years ago for graduate school. My whole childhood I spent, I mean, I’m from Louisiana, and so Oh, yeah, originally, so like the Gulf self is my home. And that’s why I love I was reading like there’s some of your Gator poems.


What part of Louisiana?


Baton Rouge. My spouse is actually from New Orleans. Cynthia is from New Orleans. Awesome. Yeah, she went to high school there. And my entire all of my best memories are on the beaches in Florida. The last picture I have of me and my dad, um, a week before he died, was on the beaches him like holding me in the surf on the beaches and in the panhandle. Yeah. Oh, wow. I know. So, it’s a special place. And when we moved here, I had a feeling that we were going to stay. Yeah, yeah. And I just I love Gulfport, I love the people.


That’s really interesting when you were saying that you were connected to the community because Gulfport is kind of a gem that you kind of, not everybody really is turned on to so it’s cool that you got plugged in there. And what else have you kind of found about those community networks and making them in Florida compared to maybe other places you’ve lived?

Jennifer Webb 

Massachusetts was the hardest place I’ve ever lived. I mean, I even did a slightest study abroad and France and it was more similar culturally to Louisiana that Massachusetts was because people are very, like you have to show up a place forever before people tell you Hello. Absolutely not this out there. But here there’s enough of like, even if people have moved here from them Last for from, you know, Massachusetts or New York, the cultural expectation is that of community. And so people kind of do what’s expected of them even if it’s not what they’re accustomed to from based on where they moved, you know. And so even though there’s this like, interesting, melting pot here and mixing of different people from different backgrounds, it’s like, the sense of community, people love where they live.

My district has 12 different cities in it. I have more cities than anyone else. I go all the way up to Seminole and North Redington beach and all the way over my district goes all the way over to Kennedy. Pinellas Park. So it’s huge. I mean, it’s just sprawling, and it’s really cool because people like pick where they live. They don’t pick like a neighborhood necessarily. They pick a city, you know, like people who live in Gulfport love that. We love that we live in Gulfport. Yeah, even and we want to keep both port weird and we can appreciate that Kenwood is equally quirky and weird, but we don’t want to live in safety. We want to live in Gulfport and it’s like people who live in Treasure Island love that they live in Treasure Island, even though hard like I it’s right across the short Bridge Jump to Madeira beach, they don’t want to, like they chose Treasure Island. That’s where they love to live. And I think that’s super unique. And in each and because of that in each little city. There’s their own network. S

o we got pulled in by the lesbian connection from a from province town. Apparently, back in the 70s they were going to set up Gulfport as an intentional lesbian separatists community isn’t that wild? And there was also one in Arkansas. And like in this like very, I don’t know, I guess it’s like the remnant of like what was happening of their attempts in like the 90s to set up like to have safe places for, for lesbians to gather that artists started coming here. And then in turn, you know, Cynthia and I ended up in Gulfport.


When Tyler started this podcast, we traveled to different library. Then we went all the way down to Gulfport.

Jennifer Webb

I love our library. When we first moved to Gulfport, I immediately packed up and moved to Costa Rica to do research, and left Cynthia my spouse and Gulf War. And then when I came back, I was writing up my research. And instead of driving all the way to Tampa to the library, I would just go to go forth library, and I made my first friend and go for this little 10 year old Ariana, who’s now 21. And so like, every day, she would expect me because I would I would show up every day. And so she started to expect me. And like the second day, or third day that we found ourselves chatting a little bit and writing and she was reading I was like, Where are your parents? Can I meet them? Because I mean, I didn’t want to be like the weird adult who has like a 10 year old friend brought me to like, Oh, my dad works at the automotive repair store, right across God. And, and so I went and met him.


I think maybe a year or two ago, they had a pride month open mic and it was the best open mic that I’ve been to in a long time.

Jennifer Webb 

Yes, yeah, we are so fortunate. So we won a national award for our LGBTQ section of our library and for the work that our library has done in community programming. It’s the only small library in Florida that has a dedicated area for a public library that has a dedicated area for LGBTQ subject matter authors. Also we have a Russian section.

We have a really huge Russian section and we have a lot of people from former Soviet satellite nations who like settled in this area to introduce and talk about fun stories to tell. But actually Goldie is one of the people who he and his sister have lived in Gulfport for many years and they’re originally they’re not from Russia, but they’re from one of the Turkish down are Catholics Donner Goldie is now 91st moved down and he was at into our apartment our refrigerator broke. He is the one who carried the refrigerator a full-sized refrigerator off Like for stairs and put it into place for us, like he’s the person that my landlady like called to help out. He would every day from Gulfport to Tierra Verde across the Boca Ciega Bay. Grab a knife to his thigh so that he came, he came into contact with a shark, he could flash them and then tethered a little inflatable blow up ball to his ankle so that voters would be able to see him. And he did that he swam that every morning for I mean, he probably still does


Sounds like a character and a half.

Jennifer Webb 

The other thing why I knew that we were going to stay in golf for it is we have we bought we always adopt dogs. And um, I was walking our dog basil down the street when we first moved to go for it. And it was like 10 o’clock when all the storefronts are opening and the shopkeepers are like opening their doors. And there was a guy in front of me and you could tell that he had probably substance use and maybe like mental health issues going on. He was scraggly, he normally was in the same dirty shirt, and have like a scraggly beard and you know, just kind of sunburn always. But he had changed the shirt this morning. And when I was walking maybe like, I don’t know half a story behind like 10 yards behind them. And every time he would pass in front of a new shopkeeper people were like, they would say like, You’re looking good this morning. Oh, I can see changed your shirt. Good job, way to go feels good to look all nice and, and put together. Right? And they were so lovingly encouraging that this individual who like like, there was no shame. It wasn’t like oh, about time you changed your clothes. Like it was all like meeting people where they were and encouraging them just to be their best selves, their best version of whoever they were, you know, and it was so precious. Yeah, it was it was so precious. And I thought this is where I live. I love that. I love it. I mean it because that’s really community, right? It’s demanding that everybody be the same. I mean, that’s what it looks like and homeowner associations, everyone has to have the same mailbox, the same yard, blah, blah, blah. But in real communities, it’s just meeting people where they are, and loving them and hoping that they’re their best selves. You know, it’s not letting people fall through the cracks. Like when, there’s another guy who is also, you know, all small towns have they’re in small towns, people know who they’re who the people on the margins are. And this guy was close on the margin and probably also had substance use issues and mental health issues. And he hadn’t been around for a few days and people, like, started calling. I mean, I called the police. And the police said, Listen, you were like the 10th person who called we’re looking for them, we’re not going to let them like, get hurt. We don’t know where they are. If he’s anywhere in Gulfport, like, we’ll know it and we’ll make and we’ll let people know. But that’s the kind of concern that people show for like, people just pay attention and know their neighbors. It’s, it gives me chills I love.

He was okay. Oh, good thing. I walked out the club. Yeah, he Um, well, you know, I said that he was, he was like, decided to go drinking in St. Pete beach and got into a little trouble and then made up made his way back to go for it.


So you were talking about communities? And so since you’ve been so active in the communities, and how is the issues in your district that you are in? How has that changed since you first been here to now pre COVID? And then maybe you can talk a little bit about now during COVID?

Jennifer Webb 

Well, the short answer is, I’ll go with the short answer. I’m lucky most of the people in my district their number one concern is protecting our beaches, our waterways and our wild spaces people really aren’t the champions of the environment. Like at their core. Yeah, and that’s what brings people I think, to this area because we’re surrounded by water. I mean, I have Boca car on one side of my district and the Gulf on the other side, and I’m in people move here because they they love the beach. They love the seabirds they love the nesting turtles, they you know, I mean, they just, they love the wild spaces in Florida. Um, that has always been everyone’s number one issue. Making sure that we’re investing in education, you know, kind of the normal and workforce development doing that. Investing in mental Health and making sure that people have, you know, access to affordable health care. Those have all been kind of big issues in my district. And they still are, but in different ways.

So now it’s how do we put people to work, protecting our environment by building up our infrastructure, you know, like, so that people can have a spotlight can learn a skill set can make a living wage, and can also help protect our environment. So how can the state and vector moves programs moving forward, making sure that we’re giving people the opportunity to retool their their skill set, a lot of people are in the service industry. And not everybody who is in the service industry, like wanted to go and stay in the service industry, some people thought this will be like a stopover on the way to something else. And for those people, making sure that they have access to training, we have a ton of like manufacturing jobs in Florida, even before COVID they were going to, they were struggling to find a workforce. And so I had been pushing to make sure that we were connecting people to like apprenticeship programs and these apprenticeship programs, you get paid while you do it. You get money into your 401k you get health insurance, some of them are unionized. I mean, they’re good. We have some good jobs that are in desperate need of workers right now. All of our building trades, they’re all of the people in the building trades. They’re phasing out, we’re gonna have a dearth of people who can go and work projects already. construction projects are get delayed because they don’t have enough workers. And those are jobs that you can do during COVID. But is there outside, you’re essentially just does your math, all of that stuff. And, and it’s hard work. But it’s also ironworkers, you can make six figures.


I heard several years ago, where certain, like carpenters and things like that were becoming very scarce in the construction business.

Jennifer Webb 

That’s exactly right.



Jennifer Webb 

That’s what I’m talking about. And so the and so now I’m encouraging people to use this time. Um, I don’t know about you, maybe, um, three weeks ago, I got tired of hearing myself say to myself, Oh, well, if this was before COVID, I would be fill in the blank. I mean, I just, I was tired of depressing myself. And like, and sewing disappointment, and so I thought, you know, what, I’m gonna figure out how to use this time to its highest and best purpose, you know, like, what can I best? Do in my house? So like, I built these, this bookshelf, right?


Oh, nice.

Jennifer Webb 

Yeah, thank you. I know, I put more floors down to like doing things like that to help. Um, to, that I wouldn’t normally have time to do


When I get up every morning, I try to remember and I do, I’ve been doing it a couple years now, to write down five things I’m grateful for. So I start the day, you know, in a good in a good mood. And that does help. And when the when the COVID started, and there was so many things, we have no control over anymore. And I said, Alright, I’m gonna have control over being organized, which actually only means putting on a bra in the morning. Yeah. So I think we ought to always realize the things that are things we can control, and the things that are good in our lives.

Jennifer Webb 

Yeah, and I’m in control of my mood, and whether I choose to be grateful or dissatisfied, and that and I love that I do the same thing in the morning. Um, I started that, probably 10 years ago, I was like, I would get overwhelmed in the morning because as soon as I woke up, my dog would be begging to go outside, they would be meowing at my face, the bird would be like, feed me, my spouse would be sleeping, and I had to like do everything. So I just like, get really, I would just get in a kind of a foul mood. And I thought this is so silly. These are all things. I welcomed all of these little creatures into my life and I love them. And this is like, what putting love out in their life looks like it’s walking the dog. It’s feeding the cat, you know, all of those things. So I would in the morning, as soon as I woke up, I would stay perfectly still and just say a little gratitude prayer and, you know, and thank God for all of the little blessings in my life. I I love that you do that too.


But this morning, I thank God for bananas. Cuz I have kind of fell into the discovery of bananas at night. The last thing is helping me sleep. And it works. And last night I couldn’t sleep. I said, there’s one banana out there on the dining room table, and I came in, got it. And in less than 20 minutes I was asleep.


So, what would a day for you and your position look like? For those who may not know like, what it is that you do? What would a day look like for you?

Jennifer Webb 

Yeah, so I wake up at six in the morning, and I curate the news. So I read through the Tampa Bay Times I read through St. Petersburg sources, morning blog, where he kind of does a digest of all the news, they read through the New York Times. And I pull out things that I think are important for my constituents to know and I scheduled them throughout the day on Facebook, I share that information with people. And then I also read up on what’s going on, of course, then I have coffee with my dog, I have been a member of Intel sent me for a long time. And so I go to my meeting, I put 21 years sober. So I do that every morning, I’ll take care of. Yeah, and that has given me a lot of structure. So it’s, it’s outside, which is awesome. We are way socially distanced, I still wear a mask. And do that. Every morning, I get home at 830. And then I jump into reading my emails and making sure that I’ve gotten back to people, I try to get back to everyone, within 48 hours, I have a staff meeting with my staff. And they bring any pressing problems to me. So if somebody has been, let’s say, someone has an unemployment issue that hasn’t been resolved, and they’ve tried, and they’ve done their bit, they’ve submitted the paperwork, but it still hasn’t gotten resolved, and it’s been a week or two, then they’ll escalate it to me. And then I’ll call the Legislative Affairs Director or do or for the office that manages unemployment, and try in and say, Hey, you know, and basically try and fraud them to get it going and to get the claim moving so that people can get their mind, right, I look through all of the resources once a week that we have available in the community to make sure that I have an up to date list. So you know, right now we have the COVID cares program that will help people pay their utilities and their mortgage and their rent. And just in the criteria had been changing a little bit. So I like I do that, I will reach out to business owners who are struggling, the Brewers and bar owners have been contacting me a lot. And I’ve been, you know, connecting them to the Department of Business and Professions that regulate them secretary of the shears and so coordinated a meeting between them. So he’s coming on Monday to talk to them and to talk about what what we need to do to ensure people’s health then like, and just to play through different scenarios of when different businesses may open.

I make a lot of phone calls on behalf of constituents, right, a lot of emails I’m trying right now, to put pressure on the executive office to help small businesses so that they don’t have to pay their taxes all at once. So they can be put on a payment plan. The problem is, and this is the thing that I think people don’t really get it. Things are they’re kind of complicated. So you think, Oh, I pay my taxes to the government, to the government can control when, like they can decide whether to put me on a payment plan or not or whatever. Well, Florida sells everybody’s debt to a private company on June 1. And so instead of and they’ve already done that, they do it every year on June 1. And so it’s not just Hey, Florida government, like the kind of business now it’s asking the governor to ask a private business to work with business owners on collecting the debt, which is a harder thing to do. Same thing.

At the beginning of the crisis, we only had one place where families who were needy could go and fill out their applications for WIC which be mothers and babies can app which is food stamps can happen food stamps is one location for the entire Millis County. And so I had to figure out how to get them help and go, I needed to call and what Undersecretary and so it’s a lot like everything that’s not working. And this is I think back to your earlier question. Um, what I think people are seeing now is how our state isn’t working for Florida, like for families, and how it’s not working for normal Florida businesses. And so normally, people aren’t very interested in fixing the state, they, they think fixing the state just means making the state smaller and letting business and private industry do with private industry and business do. But during times like this, you need a state that functions like we need.

We need a government that we can count on. And we don’t have that. And it’s so apparent in every different way possible. I mean, it’s, um, we’ve got a lot of work to do. And it doesn’t mean spending necessarily a lot of money to fix it. It could mean streamlining processes, or not having so many like unemployment, there’s no reason why we need to have so many. Why do we have to have people jump through so many hoops? To expand? Like, you have to prove that you worked 80 hours a month? Or were working looking for jobs or volunteering? Well, there’s not jobs right now.

So why, you know, why would we require people to do that at this time, that’s unnecessary. And for every requirement that you have, you have a person who has to check to make sure that the requirement is done. Or you have to have a customer service representative helping people to figure out, like, why their job search requirements that they put in, like, why they still got denied, and all of that, and it’s like, No, just make it easy, you know, and you’re saving money. And we can move that money into other areas when we need it, you know, like maybe into the people who are in the Department of Business and Professions who are working with small businesses to help them reopen, like, if we had a lot of people there, who could and small businesses could could submit a reopening plan that was checked, and that there was somebody in the government actually working with them to make sure that they are maintaining the donor, the public’s health and, and keeping people healthy and safe, then we could not have just a blanket one size fits all, we could be more nuanced, you know, like, we can make policies that make sense instead of Yes, closed open, it’s like whack a mole. It’s so much. That’s what and I and I do that until about eight o’clock at night.

And I call people back I call constituents back. I do things like this, I give weekly updates. Um, you know, I, I go to a lot of virtual meetings. Um, yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting at an academic conference for a plot for people in the public health profession, because I do a lot in public health and my academic life. And, um, and so I got to present on health disparities policy and COVID-19 and how to reduce the health disparities there, which is pretty cool.


That’s amazing. And it sounds like your background has really prepared you and for this moment in a way that maybe other folks weren’t.

Jennifer Webb 

Oh, that’s really kind. I do feel um, yeah, yeah, absolutely. Actually, that’s accurate.


I’d like to put your sign in my yard.

Jennifer Webb 

You know that Largo is my adopted city. And I actually have a Largo I’m picture in my office because your city commission brought it to me, and they all your mayor and your city council members visit me every time they call. So I joke and I say Largo is my adopted 13th child.


And so this is an election year, how has the current moment changed your plans or how you’re, you know, getting out there with constituents.

Jennifer Webb 

So, um, safety first, we’re not knocking on doors. So just leaving something for people to read because what research has shown is that there’s actually minimal transmission, negligible transmission through surfaces, and we’re doing a lot of phone calling, which is challenging because even with phone banking, when you have a group of people together, they can spur each other on and encourage each other to stay and call for just 10 more minutes. Um, but Because we’re not getting together, trying to make sure that people are doing it from their homes and following through and still excited in that. And so I have, you know, we kicked off our virtual phone bank last night, we actually are going to start our first phone bank today at 11. And, and, and what we’re doing is really calling and checking on people and making sure I did this a lot at the beginning of the crisis, just me and my staff calling people asking, Are you okay? And so we’re doing it. Again, now at having those follow up wellness calls, and just a light, like, just about, you know, this is an election year. And I think that’s important. I think if it wasn’t COVID-19, I would just go into a hard pitch like, Hi, my name is Jennifer Webb, and I’m running for reelection to be your state representative. That seems really false. And this climate? I mean, it was, it seems absolutely inappropriate to start there. The conversation right now should always start with, how are you?


People are lonely, and people are scared.

Jennifer Webb 

Yeah. And so that’s where it needs to start. And so retraining volunteers who have worked on my campaigns in the past to, to, this isn’t the hard. Also, campaigns like, currency as excitement and like, I don’t know, it’s excitement and joy, and like, rah, rah, x not appropriate. I mean, I think genuine, genuine caring is what needs to come through, not excitement for the candidate. And so it, you know, my concern for you, is a manifestation or a reflection of representative labs concerned for you, and your well being? How are you? Can we help Just so you know, she is running for office for reelection, she was able to get a lot done as a freshman, and that’s why she wants to go back, so that she can fight for our families during recovery. You know, and that’s really the, that’s the biggest changes that in the messaging. Um, and for me, personally, I had to decide to buy during this crisis, and I’m blessed. I know, I can think of 1000 different ways to give back to my community. I don’t have a lack of imagination when it comes to how can I best be of service at the beginning of this crisis, especially because we were sidelined. And the unemployment system was working so terribly. I had a conversation with Cynthia, my spouse, is that is the legislature the best place for me to be right now? Is this the is this where I can be most useful? Or do I need to go and jump in and help out the numerous nonprofits that are doing important work, the county is picking up a ton of slack. And so I actually had those conversations first with me, with my wife, and then with the county administrator with city, people. It’s about giving back. It’s really about helping community and, and I decided that this was the best place for me to be because I mean, and that’s why it was so wonderful to hear you say, Oh, you have the right skill sets for this was I had to get my footing and figure out how to be effective in this new normal. And luckily, I have the time and ability to figure things out quickly, and to dedicate the time to figuring it out. And so I was able to do that and mobilize that knowledge for, you know, everyday Floridians. But um, it was, it was tough, because this has been really challenging to see our state fail so terribly and to be part of a government that’s just like, been really ineffective.


Okay, I think that’s, I think that’s really refreshing to hear that you kind of reevaluated, how can I be the most effective and it seems like sometimes politicians or people in power, don’t take that kind of self-reflection, and they’re just kind of doing whatever.

Jennifer Webb 

Well, and I think that you know, politics attracts people who are ambitious. The trick is to discern, and the people who are elected to represent you or to serve you. Are they ambitious for the good of the broad public? Are they personally ambitious? My ambition has always been to, on behalf of Florida, it’s not about like, I don’t need to be a state Rep. It’s not about personal ambition, if I think somebody else can do the job just as well. And I can do something else better than I’m going to go and do that something else because at the end of the day, I want to leave Florida better than I found her. I want real families in Florida stronger, I want to make their day just a little bit easier. Each and every year that I pass legislation and our local businesses too, because it’s a misnomer that Democrats aren’t good for business, we’re actually very good for small business. And what we’ve seen there, Florida is that the majority party, the republicans have really left small businesses behind. We didn’t we only funded 1000 businesses, through the Small Business bridging Loan Program, which is our major program for providing small businesses support your increases, we totally cut the budget. And by we I take responsibility, even though I don’t have the power, because I’m in the minority party, but like VISIT FLORIDA got slashed to a $5 million budget. So they’re normally an organization that steps in for our mom and pop tours, businesses, and they weren’t able to, to offer grants, not even loans, just here’s money, we know that you are hearted.

And they couldn’t do that, because they hardly have an operating budget. Um, all the SBA programs, the weight, just selling small business owners selling that for small business owners, and the taxes to a third party. Knowing that small like our government, our Executive Office should have known that small businesses would need help. Yes. And they should have known that they should have been Yes, I’m a small business owner. I know that I mean, it’s not. But they just took their eye off the ball, they were more worried with the larger corporations and all these other things. And it’s like, there’s they absolutely should not have sold that debt in June 1, they should, or they should have said we’ll sell it to you contingent on you working out payment plans with all of our small business owners. You know, I mean, that makes sense to me. Um, and, and so now I’m getting more back into the year of, okay, I’ve identified all these problems. Once we are convened in the legislature, like, I’m going to figure out how to pass legislation to make sure that we are supporting families and small businesses. When I was feeling really ineffective at the beginning of the crisis, I was taking calls, but I also started expanding a feeding program that would actually bring food to children throughout Pinellas County whose parents didn’t have transportation, and they couldn’t get to the school lunch site that they set up. And so I started doing that. It’s like, there’s a, because it is about being helpful. And being abused. It’s not just about taking up space or ambition for personal gain.


and that kind of leads in to my last question, thank you so much for your time, I know you’re really busy. And I just kind of also wanted to make a note that I’ve had politicians dodge me not give me any time of day, you know, reporters, historically, they’re not in love with. So we appreciate your time. And I wanted to ask, since you had a lot of things on your website, it said two thirds of your policies were passed into law. So maybe if you could speak to something that you are very proud of being able to pass and then in the future, hoping to be able to get in, get in there.

Jennifer Webb

I’m going to talk about my mental health legislation, because I’m actually after this conversation, leaving to meet my family up in the panhandle. It’s the anniversary of my sister’s birth, my sister who actually took her life A few years ago, because she got addicted to opioids. And my first term, the governor executive ordered my bill to recreate the Office of drug abuse and prevention. This is an office that is half tasked with using evidence-based research, to create programs and to roll out programs across the state to help people you know who are addicted. It’s the agency that is responsible for, you know, for reducing drug abuse and dependency across our state. And I think that’s important because you can’t say that we have a drug crisis and not have somebody who’s responsible for like the Really getting in there and figuring out how to how to help Floridians and how to reduce this crisis. And so that I was very, very powerful. I had called, the State House wouldn’t hear the bill. The committee chairs wouldn’t hear my Dell until I got word from the governor that he supported the bill, because it was creating government. And that’s not something that Republicans tend to want to do, is creating a whole new office and a whole new whole new deal.

And so I, every single day, I called the governor’s office and the governor’s people and we’re like, where are you? Have you brought this up? Have you brought this up? And finally, um, his policy, one of his policy, people called me back. And, you know, Jennifer, the government, the governor likes this bill so much that he doesn’t even want it to go through the process. He’s going to executive order, and it’s done work on your other legislation.

And it was, um, it was like, right in the nick of time, because time is what we’re up against. And we’re in Tallahassee, since we’re only there for two months. And you have to get every bills are three, three committees or two subcommittees, a committee and then to the floor on both chambers. So a lot has to happen. And those two months, and I was very proud of that. And I thought that, um, and in last session, what I worked on was reducing the number of juvenile Baker Act, because we know in Florida that we have this school like that, we we have Baker acted 7500 children in the Tampa Bay area. And just in the last few years, it’s increased by 35%. And for kids who don’t need to be Baker acted, which is putting you Baker Act, people who are a harm to themselves or others due to a mental health issue, um, for people who don’t need to be Baker acted, it can be something that traumatizes them for the rest of their lives ever, forever.

I worked with Senator Harrell, a Republican legislature from across the state to create a process that would reduce the number of Baker acts and we got the first portion of the bill passed. Unfortunately, we didn’t like we got part one of a three part bill passed. And so I want to keep working on that. That’s something that I’m looking forward to working on in the future. And then, really, for this day and time, I’m eager to take on the unemployment system, to really revamp the state and make it work better for businesses and for families. And that’s what a lot of my policy this coming year is going to be focused on. So


That’s amazing. And I think that’s very powerful. Because I don’t think people realize how mental health in Florida we rank really low consistently on funding and stuff like that.

Jennifer Webb 

And so we’re already consistently low and this COVID, as I’m sure exacerbating a lot of people’s anxieties and depressions, absolutely nothing, violence is increase, we would assume that child abuse would increase increasing. Teachers are really worried that when they go back in the fall, they’re going to be seeing children’s homes in the background, like you’re seeing my and what they do. They’re like, I don’t I’m not trained to know what to do with that information. Right? And what I’m going to be seeing and hearing and do we have enough support, supportive services to wrap around these families who are going to need help? And I think all of that is, I mean, it’s just so important. We’re 49 or 50. Every year.

Isn’t that unconscionable?


Yeah. It’s like people. Everyone’s like, oh, Florida. It’s such a happy place, you know, and everything like that. But then the mental health funding and it’s so low, you’re saying behind the sunshine?

Jennifer Webb 

Absolutely. Absolutely. There is some darkness behind the sunshine. And, and it’s so interesting, whenever I could go out and talk to crowds, I would be giving my stump speech and I would talk about things that you think would be really boring, like investing in infrastructure and you know, like making sure that we’re not dumping waste into our water, and people would cheer and then I would talk about and then I would talk about mental health and, and suicide and addiction and the room would go quiet. But as soon as I stopped off, it stepped off the stage and out of the limelight. That’s the only thing that people need to talk about. And every single I have not met a family who has not been impacted by Either mental health issues or by substances, I mean, either within their family or close friend circle. And I tried to pick issues when I ran in 2016. No, I did pick issues that united all of our district, a lot of them are really positive, often things like investing in early childhood education and career and technical education. But the one thing that also connects us all as is this crisis. And so this coming month, every week, I’m going to be doing Facebook Live with mental health professionals talking about how to know when you’re like, how to know when just your blues have become depression, or your anxiety, like your coping strategies are no longer helping, you know, like all of this, because I think we not all of us got into good coping strategies like making sure that we’re practicing gratitude.

I talked to people and they’re like, I started drinking. I’m have a bottle of wine at night. But I’ve been doing it every night now for four months. And I don’t think that’s good. And I’m worried about it. And like, just things like that of like how, you know, I mean, we don’t have a lot of models for how to appropriately deal with stress. People aren’t getting out of their house and exercising, which is a great way. Yes. And that’s so important for reducing stress and elevating your mood. So you know, we’re going to be talking about that. I’m going to be talking with professionals about that.

People want to be good neighbors, and they don’t want to overreact. And so how do you know what to do. And then the third week will be adolescent health. Kids are been really negatively impacted emotionally by being home, and not being able to socialize with their friends and with the uncertainty with schools. And then finally, health, mental health for parents and caregivers, during school.


And I think that’s so amazing. I mean, to like being open about your recovery. Like, for me, as well, like, I’ve been in recovery for nine years. And people at my readings, they want to talk about it with me, either recovery or alligators.

Jennifer Webb

That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to


Thank you so much for your time. Is there anything that we didn’t we talked about a lot, but is there anything else that you wanted to touch on that you think people might should know?

Jennifer Webb 

Oh, so I, right now I’m ending everything with, if you need help, give my office a call. It doesn’t just have to be with unemployment insurance. We have tons of resources, we update them all the time. We will maintain anonymity will give you the resources so you don’t even have to give us your information. But give me a call my personal cell phone is 727-320-6275.My email address is Jennifer je and n i s er dot web, w e B as in boy B as in boy at my Florida And reach out to me there, we’ll get you connected. I know that the times are tough right now. But I know that we have amazing community to bring it back to the beginning of the conversation. What I love most about Florida outside of the wild state, almost as much as the wild spaces is the community and how people stick together and they really come through for one another. And so consider me somebody that will help come through for you.


You are a real eye opener. That’s great. I have a I have a love hate relationship with politics, though. You made me love it more today.

Jennifer Webb 

Oh, thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for spending the morning with me.

Jennifer Webb!

In this episode, we talk to Jennifer Webb about the work she’s been doing during the pandemic, Florida politics, books, and a little bit about alligators.

Full Transcript

More from Jennifer 

“Elect Jennifer Webb” website

Jennifer Webb rolls out massive list of support for reelection” of Florida Politics

“Children are our future and deserve every opportunity to learn and reach their full potential.” — Twitter, @jenniferwebbfl

Notable Quotable

“We were living in Massachusetts at the time, and two of our friends from Provincetown said Oh, all the girls live in Gulfport.” — Jennifer

“[During the pandemic,] I spend all my time helping people get their unemployment and fighting for people and connecting them to resources so they can get food.” — Jennifer

“In real communities, it’s just meeting people where they are, and loving them and hoping that they’re their best selves. You know, it’s not letting people fall through the cracks.” — Jennifer

“When I get up every morning, I try to remember and I do, I’ve been doing it a couple years now, to write down five things I’m grateful for. So I start the day, you know, in a good in a good mood. And that does help. And when the when the COVID started, and there was so many things, we have no control over anymore. And I said, Alright, I’m gonna have control over being organized, which actually only means putting on a bra in the morning.” — Gramel

“We need a government that we can count on. And we don’t have that. And it’s so apparent in every different way possible. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” — Jennifer

“I want to leave Florida better than I found her. I want real families in Florida stronger, I want to make their day just a little bit easier.” — Jennifer

“At my readings, people always either want to talk to me about recovery or alligators.” — Tyler

“Whenever I could go out and talk to crowds, I would be giving my stump speech and I would talk about things that you think would be really boring, like investing in infrastructure and you know, like making sure that we’re not dumping waste into our water. People would cheer and then I would talk about mental health and suicide and addiction and the room would go quiet. But as soon as I stepped off the stage and out of the limelight, that’s the only thing that people want to talk about. And I have not met a family who has not been impacted by either mental health issues or by substances, either within their family or close friend circle.” — Jennifer

“I’m ending everything with, if you need help, give my office a call. It doesn’t just have to be with unemployment insurance. We have tons of resources, we update them all the time. We will maintain anonymity will give you the resources so you don’t even have to give us your information. But give me a call my personal cell phone is 727-320-6275.” — Jennifer