Tuesday, August 24, 2010


I've been writing like crazy for the past few weeks. Thankfully, freelance assignments have been streaming in, so hopefully I'll be able to pay some bills, including Joe's tuition, and possibly help with Nicole's rent until she starts bringing in some income with her motivational speaking career.

In between writing, I have been doing a little reading. Our bookclub selection this month was TAPS by Willie Morris. I have read several Willie Morris books, and I've seen the movie My Dog Skip more than once.

Willie is a legend around Mississippi. I never met him, but I know plenty of people who did. He was a mentor to my friend LeaAnne Brandon. She told the story in our bookclub meeting about how he would make her jump through all kinds of hoops, but there was a method to his madness, and because of his guidance, LeaAnne is a wonderful writer today. (She and I will actually be rooming together at the Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference at Ole Miss in October. I hope some of what she knows rubs off on me!)

I heard a story by Kitty Cook Ramsey over dinner recently about how Willie told her she had what it took be a writer. He was her professor at Ole Miss. It was a one-on-one class, so they would meet at a local bar and sip on cocktails while Willie read over Kitty's assignments.

All that being said, I was happy that Pulpwood Queen Kathy Patrick suggested we all read TAPS. I was excited about reading the book.

Until I actually started reading it.

Oh my goodness...it made me feel downright stupid! Willie Morris had a great love of the English language, particularly words that no one seemed to know, let alone use in every day conversation! At first it made me mad. I was looking up at least two word on every page. But the more I looked them up, the more I realized that he had chose the perfect word. I came to like the challenge of reading the book, and the education he was treating me to as I looked up each word.

So I was excited to hear that Willie Morris' widow, JoAnne Prichard Morris, (who is now a Facebook friend of mine now, by the way!) would be a special guest at our bookclub, thanks to Kay Rhett. Joanne was Kay's English teacher many years ago at Yazoo City High School.

Of course, being the nosey curious person that I am, I wanted to know how she met Willie, how long they were married, etc. Anyone who knows anything about Willie Morris knows that he was married several times. But his last wife, and the one I believe he truely loved the very most, was Joanne. She told the story of how they met at the school when he came to speak at National Library Week back in the 1960's. At the time, Willie was living in New York, where he was the youngest editor ever for Harper's Magazine. They became friends, and saw each other over the years. They were married about six years before he died (1999).

SIDE NOTE! JoAnne said that while New Orleans may have Mardi Gras, Yazoo City has National Library Week, and it is a HUGE celebration! There are receptions, readings, and all kinds of goings-on all week long. I'm thinking it could just be a road trip! Just so you know...it will be held April 10-16 in 2011!

JoAnne said he told her about TAPS the first time they met. Years later, he wrote the book, and his editor said it needed more sex and conflict. So Willie rewrote it, and according to JoAnne, was very unsatisfied with the book. So, he shelved it. On his deathbed, he told JoAnne to finish TAPS for him. So, for a couple of years, she maticulously edited the book. She told us about how she checked every detail for accuracy, including references to songs on the jukebox to make sure that song was truely out at the time.

The book was finally published in 2001, after JoAnne, working from notations that Morris made on the original manuscript, released it to Houghton Mifflin for publication. There was no doubt Willie cherished his memories of growing up in Mississippi, and he always did a great job of creating the atmosphere her remembered so well. The story takes place in early 1950s Fisk's Landing, Mississippi, and is told through the eyes of Swayze Barksdale, a young high school student who finds his life forever changed by the Korean War.

The beauty of our bookclub is that we have women of all ages, many of whom grew up in that time. They all agreed that the book was true to the era and they enjoyed the memories it brought back to them. Being a late baby'boomer (born in 1957), I have fringe memories of that kind of life.

OK, so back to those WORDS. I had to ask JoAnne about his use of words. She said that Willie was fanatical about choosing the exact word for what he was trying to convey. He loved the thesauraus and constantly dug through it until he found just the right word. However, JoAnne did tell us that Willie didn't have a problem making up words if he couldn't find one that suited him!

TAPS was the last love letter from the South by Willie Morris. It was a story loosely based on real-life experiences (he really did play Taps on his trumpet at the funerals of local men killed in the Korean War). So it was fitting that it was his last novel, which I have to wonder if that was his plan all along? Having JoAnne talk to us about the book, and about Willie, was a real treat. Word has it she wants to join our bookclub! We'd love to have her.

(Final note. I don't guarantee every single fact in this blog is 100 percent accurate...I wasn't taking notes and I was having a glass of wine. And it was a week ago. But for the most part--which I believe my bookclub pals can back me up on--what you just read is true!)

Blessings to all who read this!

(As always, I appreciate your comments. If you feel so inclined, read my other blog,
Every Step of the Way)


  1. Well done as usual Susan. JoAnne was so much fun, I do hope she will join us on a regular basis.

  2. My first read of THIS blog, and I'll keep up now. Good job capturing the experience of READING Willie Morris and of VISITING with JoAnne Morris. Lovely people, both -- and so are our BB Queens! Good blend, Susan.

  3. Shared you blog Susan and I have read everything Willie Morris. Last of the Southern Girls was personal favorite and all of his books would make incredible films! Long may Willie Morris's books live. Read them everybody!