By: Ivy Lee
Julie Cannon, a member of the Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation and the author of “The Homegrown Series” published by Simon & Schuster, moved to Clarke County from Tennessee as a child.
“The girl in me still carries the memories of shelling butter beans out on the front porch during those hot, humid months, listening to an endless stream of bizarre and fabulous family stories,” she said of her storytelling education. “My mother saved all my little books.” Cannon would be the first to admit that the world of her book “Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes” portrays childhood memories of her grandparents’ farms. Her latest book, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” is a love story set in the 1940s and starts out at the Varsity in Athens. Her own recollections provide the spot-on descriptions of the food and Budwine soda in her tale. “Write what you know, and I don’t know anything else,” Cannon said. For her next book “Twang,” set in Nashville, she gives her childhood ambition of being a country singer an outlet by writing several country songs to weave throughout the book. “They’re probably not that good, but I had a ball,” she quipped. She likes country music, because, as Conway Twitty, the late country music artist, said, “A good country song takes a page out of someone’s life and sets it to music.” Cannon writes full time and periodically teaches workshops to show others how to write a page out of their own lives. At places like the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, she helps aspiring writers “find their stories and can their memories.” Childhood fears, she explains, are generally fertile ground for compelling narrative. “I was afraid of the Rapture,” she offers as an example. It’s understandable; she saw a lot of “WARNING: In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned” bumper stickers growing up. Her mother had warned, too, that the trumpet would sound when we were all unaware, and only the saints would rise. Cannon, whose gentle voice is the first thing you notice when you meet her, had a sense even then that she was no saint. One day when the neighbors called everyone in the house next door for some pie, little Julie didn’t get the word and just knew the Rapture had come and she’d been left behind.
“I didn’t think they’d go without leaving a note,” she said. Adults have fears, too. It’s said that people would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy, and Cannon — who brushed the casket in a near fatal bike wreck on South Milledge Avenue as a young college student — categorizes herself as one of those people who fear speaking in public.
“When I began this journey, I pictured writers living in gray sweat pants writing stories,” she said. “Little did I know writers (spend their time writing), and authors speak.”
She credits two things — prayer and practice — for carrying her through her once-debilitating laliaphobia. A typical pre-speech prayer might go, “Give me a calm spirit, and help me be what these people need.” “Then, the pressures off me,” she said. And onto God, one can presume. Cannon’s stories are known for having what she calls “an organically spiritual slant.”
She attends Watkinsville First Methodist, but said, “I hate religious stuff! I try to show a relationship between the Creator of this universe and His creation, whether it’s a human or the soil.” Like many Southern writers, Cannon is inspired by Flannery O’Connor who wrote, “My subject in fiction is the action of grace in territory largely held by the devil.” Cannon is more Southern than gothic, though.
“As I get older, in each book I write I try to uncover those truths with a capital “T,” she said. “People want something to hope for, something to stand on.”