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Saturday, June 30, 2012

THE VINE THAT ATE THE SOUTH


Posted by Linda Swift
 
Kudzu photos courtesy of http://www.jjanthony.com/kudzu/

If you live in the South, Kudzu needs no introduction but in case you’re not a Southerner, let me introduce you to this climbing, coiling, trailing vine that came to the US through the Japanese pavilion at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. It was welcomed in southern states to stop soil erosion and has been used as animal feed, medicines, and for making baskets. Kudzu can grow as much as a foot in a day and measures to eradicate it have failed miserably. In spite of efforts to mow it, burn it, and poison it with herbicides, it continues to devour the countryside. Just so you know, it now covers over seven million acres in the Southeastern part of our country and devours another 150,000 acres every year. In his poem, Kudzu, James Dickey warns us to close our windows at night to keep the kudzu out of our houses.
 
My morbid fascination with Kudzu began on a family vacation with my husband and two children several years ago. We took a shortcut on state roads from Kentucky to Florida and found ourselves in a very creepy (literally) situation as we drove through Mississippi. Trees, buildings, even utility poles were totally covered by the creeping vines. Nothing could be seen but green for miles. The image took root in my mind but lay dormant like kudzu until years later when I was taking a creative writing class at a North Alabama University. Did I mention that I am a nomad?

I decided to write a story about the vine. This required characters and Billy Ray Warren came into being. I wrote a few pages and when it was my turn for a consultation with the instructor, I shared them. He said he would like to read more and at this point gave me the best writing advice I’ve ever received. I was narrating the story about a good ‘ole southern boy in my best post-graduate voice and he said the narration should always be at about the same intellectual level as the characters. I took his advice and the story was off and running as fast as kudzu grows. I became a recorder and experienced for the first time a story that evolved into a life of its own.

That summer I submitted the story to Indiana University Writers’ Conference. I had entered three categories the prior year and been rejected in all three so I couldn’t believe it when I was notified that it had won the Fiction Skills Scholarship for the week’s free tuition. The director told when he called that I was a true rags to riches story. Then he said the winners of the four divisions would read their winning entries at the conference opening night and mine, being longest, would be last. The story was thirty pages long, over 7,000 words, and took more than half an hour to read aloud. And so, in front of more than two hundred authors and instructors from all over the US, I put my creation, my heart and soul, on the line. I finished and there was dead silence. I held my breath. And then the crowd gave me a standing ovation. It was only one of three times I’ve ever felt truly validated as a writer.

All week I basked in participants’ praise and fantasized someday joining the ranks of my idols, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Conner. At the suggestion of my judge and conference leader, I submitted the story to Saturday Evening Post when I got home. It wasn’t long until a letter of acceptance came—with one small stipulation. I had to cut the words in half. Cut off Billy Ray’s arms and legs? Impossible. I sent him out a few more times to have doors slammed in his face. And then I buried him in a dark closet where he has remained until now. As the IU judge remarked about Billy Ray when she gave me the scholarship certificate, “Poor  bah-stard, he never had a chance, did he?”     

I had begun to think her observation was true. But there is a time and place for everything. And this story has found its niche in speculative fiction.


Linda Swift divides her time between her native state of Kentucky and Florida. She has 10 ebooks (also in print) and 5 short stories available from six publishers. More books and short stories are scheduled for release in 2012. 

Get more info at www.lindaswift.net



 



Newest Release:  Winner Take All

Billy Ray Warren returns from Detroit to claim the old family homestead but first he will have to destroy the intruder who has taken it over. He comes armed and ready to do battle with his hated rival for possession of what is now rightfully his but an unfortunate accident leaves him a helpless prey for his ruthless enemy. With grim determination, he fights for his life knowing there can only be one winner. 

You can find Billy Ray now at  AmazonSmashwords, and Monkeybars  for .99 

8 comments:

  1. First, let me congratulate you on that fantastic standing ovation. That must have been quite a moment.
    I, too, live in Kutzu territory in North Carolina. There is another side to Kutzu--it's edible. Yep, we can eat the stuff. Another positive aspect is that it has fragrant purple blooms that can fill the air with purfume. Sometimes it's good to have vines covering some of the ugliness. And I kind of like the creepy effect in rural areas where the Kutzu has proliferated. eeekkkk!
    A very cool blog.

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  2. Hi Sarah. Thanks for stopping by and adding omore information re kudzu. I knew about it being used for food in Japan but hadn't heard of anyone here eating it. I haven't seen it bloom but I'm sure that would be very striking to see miles and miles of blooms. And yes, some of the rural scenery can look better covered!

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  3. HI Linda,
    Such an interesting tale you've created using Kudzu... Who woulda thunk it??? LOL
    I have seen some beautiful baskets and woven mats created from the Kudzu vines. Don't think I want to eat it, though...
    Have a great weekend and stay cool if that's possible.
    Becca

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  4. Linda,
    I really enjoyed this post! Being from Oklahoma, I didn't know what the name of the vine was, but have, of course, seen it when we'd go back to WV through Tennessee and Kentucky. Oh, that must have been such a thrill for you--that standing ovation. I would have felt validated too, if I'd been you. Congratulations on all your successes. This story looks like another one!
    Cheryl

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  5. Rebecca, thank you so much for taking time to comment on this story. And thank you for gtting it on the page as well. You're the greatest. Linda

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  6. Thank you, Cheryl. Yes, that standing ovation probably cemented my determination to be a "real" writer. A little taste of success goes a long way! This is a story that is close to my heart for all the reasons mentioned. And kudzu, it is relentless. It dies out in winter and in spring just pops out on the dead vines and continues on from there. When burned or chopped down or poisoned and presumed dead, its seeds can sprout as late as ten years afterward.

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  7. A fascinating story, Linda, and how wonderful to get that standing ovation. Must admit I had never heard of kudzu, but it seems kind of worrying that it can grow so fast abnd be so difficult to kill off.

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  8. Yes, Paula, kudzu is the stuff nightmares are made of. And Winner Take All depicts one man's effort to reclaim what belongs to him. But the plant is relentless in its steady progress in taking the South. It is costing utility cocmpanies a fortune to keep their power lines free of it.

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