New Bern, NC – Marjorie Hudson's description of how she writes may give you the wrong idea about what you're preparing to read.
"Writing for me often comes in a gush, in an outpouring and it's a big mess. I do a lot of sweating over it."
Once the "gush" passes though comes the revisions, something she says doesn't happen one, two, three or four times but more likely in the 20-to-30 times range. That meticulousness is evident in her new short story collection "Accidental Birds of the Carolinas" where it's apparent that every word was carefully considered before being shared with you.
Reads from page 1
Marjorie Hudson reading from "The Clearing," the opening story of her "Accidental Birds" collection. It's the story in the book that is most autobiographical still fiction but trying to capture an experience the Chatham County resident shared with the story's lead character Elizabeth Enfield of falling in love with place.
"I think when I moved here in the autumn of 1984 and I was living in a farmhouse at the end of a dirt road and I became rapturous in response to the beauty after living in the city and being kind of burned out and I noticed things. I felt the pull of place at a molecular level. I really feel that. I sort of noticed that. There's something in the air after rain. There's something in the air when it's dry. There's a certain magic in the scent of a place and in the sound of birds. So that was really enraptured and mystified and kind of put in a magic spell by the place that I lived."
That particular place is celebrated throughout the bulk of her stories. Most of the stories take place in the fictional North Carolina county Ambler County which in description sounds much like the Chatham County where Marjorie Hudson resides. The stories also feature brief "guest appearances," if you will, by characters from other stories, so while "Accidental Birds" may be a collection of stories, it's a collection that builds an impression of place in particular a place for those starting anew.
Reads from page 53
An excerpt from the story "Providence" featuring the tale of a woman leaving an abusive relationship and deciding on a whim to settle in the rural south. It's not the only story where someone "escapes" to the South "The Clearing" also features a refugee from the North while "The Outside World" tells the story of a mid-western teen who comes to North Carolina for college and ends up married and living on an Ambler County farm. Hudson herself was an "escapee," saying she came to North Carolina "burnt-out" from working in Washington D.C. and found the rural South to be a good destination for those seeking a new beginning.
"I have found where I live to be a very welcoming place to the newcomer. There's something about kindness to strangers. Its one of those things where you get used to telling the story of your life because that's what people do here. They take the time to talk and then you go back to your city friends and they think you've gone crazy. There's something kind of cherishing about a community. A community is easier to identify in small towns and rural places. If you want them you can have them."
Not all the stories have characters enchanted by the simple life. The book's title story "Accidental Birds of the Carolinas" recounts the tale of a retired Army officer who plots a somewhat macabre escape from North Carolina living. While Hudson spends so much of the book telling the tales of people escaping to the South, "Accidental Birds" takes almost a Hitchcockian twist to tell of a man who now must find a way to adapt to his surroundings.
"It is kind of a haunted story. I do see that because my character is very kind of self involved and is very disconnected with his new surroundings. He hates his retirement village. He loathes that his wife has fallen in love with it so for him to be left in a community where he doesn't feel a community is really one of the hardest circumstances a person can live through."
The story is the one comparatively dark moment of the book. While the bulk of the book isn't always "happily ever after" or redemptive there does seem to always be a way forward. And in Hudson's experience and in her character's experience that way forward can be found in a simple act of recognition endemic in the South.
"They have this thing in Chatham County we call the one finger salute and its not the finger they use in NYC. It's just the index finger goes up on your steering wheel as you pass and people just kind of know that they know who you are, and if they don't know who you are it doesn't matter, they're just saying hello. I really see it as kind of a connection that goes deeper, it's a way of saying I see you. It's almost a Namaste."
"Accidental Birds of the Carolinas" is written by Chatham County author Marjorie Hudson and is published by Press 53 of Winston-Salem. I'm George Olsen.