When I realized that writer/illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba had illustrated The 12 Days of Christmas in Georgia, I asked her if she would write a guest dispatch on her home state. I learned that her ties to the South’s landscape, and its influences, run much deeper than that one book. Here’s what Elizabeth had to say about living in and around the southern Appalachians:
Author Janni Lee Simner (who I interviewed on my main blog recently) asked me to guest post on her blog about the South and how where I live affects my writing. I am happy to oblige, because where I am has had a very strong impact on my work over the years.
Most people don’t think of mountains when they think of the South, but north Georgia and the states touching its northern border are home to the southern Appalachians – the gateway to the mountain chain which runs all the way to Maine. My love affair with the Appalachians began at camp in Mentone, Alabama each summer. Wild hydrangeas, mountain laurels, and rivers that ran from muddy brown to deep green twisted into my subconscious and never let go. I still find pressed flowers in the books I treasured during that time.
During college I learned about the Jonesborough Storytelling Festival in Tennessee. I used to chug up to the tiny town in my ’78 Land Cruiser and camp behind a B&B, using their shower for $6 a night. I’m so glad I never stayed inside. From my tent I experienced the fog rolling into the valley, creating a green and white wall around me as the sound system for that evening’s “Haunted Tales” was tested by playing the theme from the Exorcist. It was creepy and magical at the same time.
As a young adult, I moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee (home to Lookout and Signal mountains) to pursue hang-gliding, hiking, and rock climbing – anything to keep me in those woods. There’s a rolling gentleness to the Appalachians that begs exploration – unlike the brown crags of the younger Rocky Mountain range. Summer would enclose me in green stained glass as the sun attempted to penetrate the forests. While winter… ahhh winter. I could enjoy long views through the skeletal trees, listen to rain tapping on the leaf littered ground, and be alone. Blessedly alone.
Then I met my husband and we moved to a log cabin near the tri-state area of Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. There I learned how trees are more like grass – the wind makes them sway and knock against each other like enormous wooden chimes and made me feel very, very small. I learned that creeks flood, and I lived through a cicada swarm – where the song that usually lulled me to sleep became more like a sawmill. Mother Nature fought us there, making it clear she would quickly reclaim our land if ever we stopped trying. But she also gave us blackberries to make my annual summer pie and jams.
Through it all, I learned the stories that grew in these underdeveloped regions – Jack Tales mainly, and about their hero teller, Ray Hicks. Two of my books are Jack Tale adaptations: Paco and the Giant Chile Plant (Jack and the Giant) and Soap, Soap, Soap. My first novel (still unpublished) is about the closing of the copper mines in Copperhill, Tennessee. There, history is so thick, stories go on and on and on.
Now I’m in Atlanta again, returned to my urban southern roots, and my latest work in progress novel takes place in the neighborhoods of downtown during the height of Spring blooms – azaleas and dogwoods which turn our world temporarily pink and white like an enormous Easter parade. Yet we still maintain a family cabin in the mountains – I can’t stay away.
If a soul can have a magnet, the North Georgia mountains are it for me.
But my South isn’t just about the mountains. There are the marshes off the Georgia coast which I’m only just discovering, the Gulf of Mexico where I spent many summer vacations on sugar sands, the city I now call home which has grown into a major metropolis while maintaining its small town hospitality (and hosts the Decatur Book Festival – one of the best in the country). I had the pleasure of rediscovering my state while illustrating The 12 Days of Christmas in Georgia (part of the series by Sterling Children’s Books). We have so much here and I’ve become fiercely proud of my home.
We have a mystique in the South which percolates into my work both consciously and subconsciously. I’m proud to think of myself as a Southern writer, the legacy I carry, and the place that I’ve come to love in all its variations.
p.s. – And yes, I say “y’all.”
Elizabeth O. Dulemba is author and illustrator of Paco and the Giant Chile Plant and Soap, Soap, Soap (published in both English and bilingual editions). She’s illustrated several other picture books, including The Twelve Days of Christmas in Georgia and the Ready For … series. She shares her art with readers through her weekly Coloring Page Tuesdays. Visit her web site at dulemba.com and her blog at dulemba.blogspot.com