Talkin’ Business with The Queen
by Beth Ward
I have had the pleasure of keeping Lauretta Hannon’s company exactly two times, and both of those times she was sporting fire-engine red lipstick, with leopard print sunglasses perched on top of her head. Nothing about this look was contrived; in fact, she was The Cracker Queen personified – right down to a laugh that bellowed out of her in loud, unapologetic waves, causing her head to tilt back as if to make room for its sound. It is a rare thing to be in the company of someone so utterly authentic. Fans of her memoir have responded not only to its brash, down-home humor, but also to its warmth and honesty. For many of us adoring fans, it is not a stretch to place ourselves right within its pages, living out scenes of our own lives.
Perhaps it is these things that can be credited for “The Cracker Queen”’s success; perhaps it is Ms. Lauretta herself. Either way, we have all fallen in love with her and her joyful, jagged life.
I had the opportunity to pick The Queen’s brain a bit in lieu of her Crossroad’s appearance this year, and as always, she left me laughing and aching to write.
BW: To begin, when did you know writing was what you wanted to do?
LH: I’ve always had a hungering to write, but I didn’t always know that I was “good enough” to do it well.
BW: I think that’s the main problem emerging writers struggle with – just getting over that fear, because there’s always someone in your ear telling you that you can’t make a living that way. How did you handle the people around you that thought, “don’t quit your day job?”
LH: Like I always treat such folks: I ignored them and listened to my gut. I realized that I’d have to choose risk over security if my book was to have any chance of success. The book market is like a blood sport, and I knew I’d have to hustle to keep The Cracker Queen alive. Actually, I think dog fighting is more humane than publishing.
BW: So to say you need a thick skin and selective hearing would probably be a bit of an understatement then. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of writing, what is your process like? How do you tackle the blank screen and the big messy desk?
LH: My process is a hot junky mess. I’m not one to rise at 5am everyday and write 500 words. Instead, I’ll go on marathon writing jags on a weekend after not doing anything for days. I like to write at Waffle House in the morning, but it has to be the right Waffle House, know what I mean? And I find that I’m productive when traveling–in hotels, airplanes, and such. Too much structure in my writing routine makes it seem like drudgery, so I have to toss things up. That said, I keep in mind how much I need to accomplish and see to it that it gets done. I set goals and deadlines, but I don’t have any rules about how I get there. Caveat: there are times when I have to be that 5am writer, such as when I was on deadline to finish The Cracker Queen. Sometimes the situation demands that kind of process, and I obey it when that’s the case.
BW: I’ve had many nights holed up at Waffle House myself actually, haha. It’s funny how personal the process is for everyone. It’s the beauty of a creative life. But what about those mornings at WaHo where the words just don’t come and the fear sets in? How do you get through bouts of writer’s block?
LH: I used to freak out when I couldn’t write! I’d become convinced that I had no future as a writer, and this would plunge me into great dramatic moments of despair, curtain-clutching, and consumption of Ruffles with sour cream and onion dip. After many years I’ve finally learned that the so-called blocks aren’t blocks at all; they are a necessary and vital part of the writing process. Accept them instead of fighting them. Your brain needs them.
BW: What about your reading life? What types of things do you read when you’re waiting in line at the DMV or the doctor’s office?
LH: I typically use that time to jot down ideas or notes about whatever I’m working on or thinking about doing next.
BW: Let’s talk a little about your illustrious memoir for a second. At last year’s conference you talked about “The Cracker Queen”’s beginnings some 20 years ago. The story sat on your chest for so long and when you finally wrote it down, it was in a tiny shed in your back yard. Since then, it’s been critically hailed as a manifesto for strong, southern women, with it’s own almost cult-like following. What has “The Cracker Queen” meant to you as you’ve seen its success grow?
LH: EVERY DAMN THING. Next question
BW: Do you think you’ll stick to writing non-fiction?
LH: My next book is non-fiction, but a novel is definitely on the horizon. It’s inevitable that I’ll write fiction in the future; it’s just too much fun to play in the land of unfettered imagination! I like the notion of making up a story in order to tell the truth.
BW: As an aspiring non-fiction writer, that notion has always intimidated me. But it’s one of the most beautiful things about reading and writing. Now, I heard the unfortunate news that you won’t be able to hang out with us at Crossroads this year. I can almost hear the collective sighs of sadness. Had you been able to go though, what would you have liked to cover?
LH: First of all, I’m mad that my schedule won’t let me be at Crossroads. I relish the chance to return to my Middle Georgia stompin’ grounds and hang out with fellow writers. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about writing as a spiritual practice, so I would have liked to cover that this year. I’m also surprised by how few writers understand platform, so I might talk about that next year.
BW: I’ll be adding that session to my schedule for sure. It’s a bit of a hot point among published authors though, whether or not writing groups and conferences are really as beneficial as the money you pay to attend them. What do you think the benefits are to attending conferences for beginning and seasoned authors?
LH: I don’t care if you’re a neophyte or a bestselling author, you benefit from being in the company of kindred spirits and from keeping writing front-and-center in your mind. Writing is complicated business, and others have a lot to teach us–regardless of our level of experience or acclaim.
BW: Now that is something I can personally attest to. There is a creative and spiritual energy unlike anything else when you are in the company of people sharing your passion. For me, that alone makes the trip worth it. A couple more questions though. I’m sure throughout your career you’ve gotten your share of wise words and advice from people who claim to know it all in terms of making yours a writing life. How would you sum up the best writing advice you ever got in one sentence?
LH: Copy the masters.
Pick a literary masterpiece, and spend 15 minutes a day copying it, either in longhand or at the keyboard. I was doubtful about this exercise when Terry Kay advised me to do it, but you’ll learn more about craft than you could get from years of classes or conferences. I hand-copied The Grapes of Wrath. Anna Karenina will be next.
BW: And finally… What has writing meant to you and your life?
LH: EVERY DAMN THING. Next question
Well. I’d say that just about sums it up.