Amy BlackmarrSouthern Author Amy Blackmarr Going to Ground Audio “Georgia, Kansas, beach, and mountain; cabin, pond, tree house, prairie. I am a pilgrim following paths, I am a pilgrim always coming home.”  House of Steps: Finding the Path Home

“Lovely.  Blackmarr finishes her pieces with understatement rather than fanfare.  That keeps the electricity humming.  And when she reaches for some universal truth, she does it with a dart throw.”
-Chicago Tribune

“Blackmarr gives us the kinds of twists and turns we might otherwise expect to find in a mystery, and also passages that will make the most stone-faced reader laugh out loud.” –Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

“One of Blackmarr’s most endearing traits is a sense of her own contradictions.  [She] is a natural at spotting humor in the mundane battles of life.” –Kansas City Star
“A pleasure to read.” –Washington Post 
“Elegant . . . the graceful pieces are imbued with a sense of calm and delight in nature.”
-Publisher’s Weekly

Ingenious . . .  Blackmarr’s personal insights represent universal themes that most of us ponder every day.” -Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Southern Writer, Amy BlackmarrDescribed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a writer with “a self-deprecating wit and an uncommon grace,” Amy Blackmarr became a familiar public radio voice when she left her paralegal business in Kansas to move into her grandfather’s fishing shack beside a South-Georgia pond and turned to writing full-time.  Her collections of personal essays — Going to Ground, House of Steps, and Above the Fall Line — relate wrenching tales of her experiences with the natural world while living in rustic hide-outs tucked far back in the woods.  Her tales of ghostly experiences in Dahlonega, Georgia, Dahlonega Haunts, has also become a favorite.  She wrote the book “on a lark,” she says, while leading a psychic around local haunted buildings in the old gold-mining town.  “The psychic talked to the ghosts, and I wrote down what he said they said,” she says, laughing.

A Pilgrim Progresses

Amy Blackmarr’s Essays About Her Latest Stay In The Midwest

August 22, 1999|By Chris Petrakos. Chris Petrakos reviews regularly for the Tribune.

HOUSE OF STEPS: Finding the Path Home By Amy Blackmarr
Viking, 192 pages, $22.95

In Amy Blackmarr’s first book of essays and observations, the well-received “Going to Ground,” the author wrote with emotional precision of her return to her native Georgia from the spare plains of Kansas. Blackmarr, who settled into her family’s old fishing cabin, had given up a successful paralegal business and moved home to be closer to her grandmother. That debut volume combined a Thoreau-like manner of description with a lyricism that was refreshing and compelling.

In her new book, “House of Steps,” Blackmarr returns to the Midwest, where she has been offered a doctoral fellowship at the University of Kansas. Leaving behind her beloved family, as well as “a bad Southern Gothic novel . . . and a collection of purple meditations that now make me blush with embarrassment” she takes up residence 15 miles outside of McLouth, Kan.

Given Blackmarr’s iconoclastic temperament, it seems fitting that she winds up in a funky house built by a former hippie, the house of steps of the book’s title, resembling an “M.C. Escher graphic that actually exists in all three dimensions and encloses a whirlwind of drafts.” The house is entertainingly described (one room has six or eight walls, depending on how Blackmarr counts), and she eventually settles in with her dog and books and begins to readjust to life on the plains.

Like Thoreau, Blackmarr comes across as most comfortable living a solitary existence. Family and several ex-husbands are mentioned in passing, but for the most part, Blackmarr is content with being absorbed into the slow rhythms of surrounding nature. She is even a bit of a crank, calling the police when some loud teenagers frighten her by wandering too close to her house and exhibiting what to most readers would be typical and harmless adolescent high-spiritedness.

Blackmarr is at her best when she writes about exploring the natural world that surrounds her homestead, taking in stray dogs and carrying on a never-ending battle with spiders and wasps that plague her rooms. The essays are short–some no longer than a page or two–and all have a light, meditative quality to them, as if the author’s bonds to the earth are being slowly broken and she is rising up into the air, observing all that is around her.

But the life of solitude is not always an easy one, as is made clear in one of the more-humorous essays, “Hawk,” in which Blackmarr, bored by the monotony of her days, decides to sit in her front yard and fast until she receives a vision:

“Instantly I was miserable. I was hot and thirsty and all I could think about was air-conditioning, Mexican food, and the work I wasn’t doing. . . .

“I struggled to keep from dozing. My bangs were plastered to my forehead, and all over me were bugs–flying bugs, creeping bugs, zinging bugs, biting bugs. . . .

“I thought: Life’s too short to be this uncomfortable. Whatever is wrong with me, I’ll get over it.

“After an hour, I went back in the house, turned on the TV, and ate the Girl Scout cookies I’d been saving in the freezer.”

This willingness to confront and poke fun at her own impatience and weirdness is part of what makes “House of Steps” an engaging collection, despite its sometimes-thin content. And Blackmarr ends it on just the right note, offering readers a small, Zen-like epiphany in which she reflects on her travels through the world:

“Georgia, Kansas, beach, and mountain; cabin, pond, tree house, prairie. I am a pilgrim following paths, I am a pilgrim always coming home.”


21 Responses to ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  1. Brigette Barker says:

    Hi Amy,

    I just read Dahlonega Haunts and as a long time resident of Dahlonega found it wonderful and enlightening! I am a part of a Leadership Lumpkin Class this year and we are working on a project that we were hoping you would like to be a part of. We are looking at making a Ghost Tour for Downton Dahlonega using barcodes and smartphone technology along with a brochure. We would upload details to a webiste that the barcode would link visitors too. We would love to talk with you over a phone conference to tap into some of your expertise and advice! Also, if you would be willing we would love to use some of your experiences with direct quotes from your book! We would be very appreciative and of course would allow you to preview anything before it went to print! Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you!
    Brigette Barker

    • Amy Blackmarr says:

      Of course I’d be delighted to help you, Brigette, and Dahlonega and its less . . . visible . . . residents, any way I can. Just be in touch as you get things together — and hooray for your Leadership Lumpkin class.

  2. Hi Amy, my brother and I were discussing what to do with our beloved two storey farmhouse and I suggested having it made available for 2-4 week residencies for writers. Might you be interested? It’s beautiful, of course, and the surrounding fields, ponds, etc. would be at your disposal. We would ask that you give a reading and visit some classrooms, but otherwise, you would have most of your time free to write.
    I suggested you as our first resident. We would need to get central heat and air set up first. Let me know, xx, K

    • Amy Blackmarr says:

      Kathryn, how kind and generous of you to think of me. I’m beginning a new project and would love a retreat into creative and beautiful space — I’m looking at your Mountain Woman blog. Admirable!

  3. Leon Ault says:

    Amy…let me know where I may send you a DVD of the Documentary I now have
    running on PBS stations nation wide….

    • Amy Blackmarr says:

      Wonderful news, Leon! What’s the documentary about? — and I assume you’re doing the camerawork. I’ll write you from my email address. Congrats and great to hear from you.

  4. Martin Castillo says:

    Hey Amy, I recently visited Dahlonega and found your book in one of the local stores. It was signed by YOU which is one of the reasons I bought it. Anyway, I read your book Dahlonega Haunts and was very much intrigued with the stories of the local haunts. I have to ask you.. what ever became of Brian Keith, and does he still have an office in Dahlonega? Please don’t tell me he joined the spirit world. j/k

    • Amy Blackmarr says:

      Hey, thanks for reading about Dahlonega’s haunts. I’m sure they’re glad about it; I am. As for Brian, yes, he’s still in the land of the . . . living. He’s around on the web, although because he shares a name with the famous actor Brian Keith he can be hard to find. Here are urls for his blogspot (http://www.marcusreveals.blogspot.com), which includes contact information in his profile; and here’s another link about his counseling services for those interested in an appointment (www.briankeithcounsel.com). Last I knew, he was still traveling to Dahlonega for regular sessions with clients there. My best — and happy haunts — to you.

  5. Wrote to you a few years ago when I was so moved by your “red-haired step-cousin,” and went on to read the earthier books, too. :-) I think what grabbed me the most about the Dahlonega book, besides the subject matter, was your gift for punchy and vivid dialogue. Anyway, I’m so much looking forward to more! Am a half-Italian northerner, basically, but follow and am very touched by your (and Rosemary Daniell’s, although very different) work. There’s something in it that makes me feel less alone in the world of women, somehow.

    • Amy Blackmarr says:

      What you say about feeling less alone in the world of women, those words really intrigued me, Carol. I’ve been sitting here half an hour editing and re-editing this post in order to answer you — and in the end all I really have to say is that I was in middle-age before I let my long-nurtured distrust of “women,” Woman, whatever, fall away. Now I find I thoroughly enjoy them, especially in groups. I’d love to hear more about this from you –

  6. Kate says:

    What beautiful words you write! Thank you for sharing Going to Ground with the world. What are you writing these days? I hope to read more of your insights as time goes on.


    • Amy Blackmarr says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Kate. But sharing Going to Ground with the world? Ack! I forgot! — that when, as a writer, you discover your voice seems to sound most true in the genre of the personal essay — my own genre — and you write all this stuff about your crazy self — and then one day with the help of a lot of people and a stroke of good fortune that stuff is published, well then suddenly, not just your words, but your own whole crazy self is, indeed, shared with the world. And then one day out of the clear blue, at a book signing or in an email or a classroom, someone asks you a question about your personal life that you thought no one knew but you. THEN you remember.

      But honestly, Going to Ground was only the first-birthed. Then came House of Steps and Above the Fall Line. And oh — Dahlonega Haunts, a side-track. You ask what I’m working on now? Well, other manuscripts in various permutations lazing around unpublished (thank God, I think) on my desktop, I’m adding another, a book about coming back to life. I’m embarrassed to mention that it’s set in the context of gardening — hence the clever provisional title DIGGING. With the help of the master-gardener next door, the huge back yard at the house where I’m presently living in Savannah is now an enormous garden: angel trumpets, blue morning glories, white four o’clocks, tomatoes and rosemary and banana peppers and two eggplants so far, giant sunflowers, a banana tree, a eucalyptus, a mimosa, half a dozen crape myrtles in various colors and sizes, wild gingers, scads of wild blooming grasses, forget-me-nots, yellow verbena, (I’m a Southerner: there must be verbena), lavender lantana, coral-colored salvia, gardenias (the Southerner ditto), pink and purple and white azaleas, a butterfly bush, eighteen palms (well, not quite eighteen), elephant ears, yews, bamboos, daturas, ivies, honeysuckle, magnolias (ditto ditto), and so many more things — all planted with my own hands (and back and shoulders) since March and most of which aren’t listed here because I can’t remember their names. Anyway the metaphor is so obvious I’ve decided to put a disclaimer on the cover of the book else I’ll never be taken seriously again. Seriously!

      My very, very best to you, Kate — and thanks for being in touch.

      • Kate says:

        I am so pleased, Amy, that you have found such joy in DIGGING! The title is wonderful. I have found that sometimes a good writer can put everyday experiences into such clear images that those who read recognize their own unspoken insights in the writing. So I expect that what you say, although written about your own experiences, will touch a chord in a lot of readers. Maybe one result will be a proliferation of gardens all over the country, but perhaps an even more lasting effect will be a deeper appreciation for that digging and renewal you describe in planting all those growing things with your own hands.

        It will be great to read more of your work!

  7. John says:

    I stumbled across your book, “Dahlonega Haunts,” while looking for some research material, and very much enjoyed reading it. I lived in Dahlonega for 11 years, and for eight for those years, in the very house you have the picture and chapter about on Park Street. (“I See a Ghost on Park Street.,” p. 129) It was indeed a creepy place, I can’t believe that we stayed there for so long, and yes, we had some interesting things happen to us and to some of our friends while we were there. Drop me an email if you’d like to hear about some of the stories!

    • Amy Blackmarr says:

      John I’m SO intrigued that you lived in that house. It was such a mystery to me, always had a quality of sadness or loneliness about it. I’d be delighted to hear about your experiences there. Glad you liked the book, and thanks a million for taking the time to write.

  8. Amy Blackmarr says:

    I’m always amazed when real people write to me here. It blows my mind when I find an honest-to-God personal note among the lines upon lines upon lines upon lines of bizarre spam weirdness I see every day.

  9. mary says:

    I just found one of your books at the local library, look forward to reading it. I will make an effort to buy the next book! I live in a city with a big back yard which I pretend is the country. I admire your lifestyle and your independence.

    • Amy Blackmarr says:

      And I admire your imagination, mmmarysmail. By all means, a yard is a yard is the country. Imagine making a roof garden in, oh, New York. You could surround it with potted bamboo and grasses and — oh heck. Just cover the whole thing with garden soil and make a yard. Only you’ll need a very big watering pot. Cheers, and thanks for writing!

  10. Amy Blackmarr says:

    A note: the background on this home page is an actual photograph of the South Georgia pond featured in Going to Ground, where I lived with armadillos and cats and dogs and blue herons and lizards and, and, and . . . those few beautiful years. We’ll have up info about House of Steps: Finding the Path Home (book 2, set in a wonky sort of house in rural eastern Kansas), and Above the Fall Line: the Trail from White Pine Cabin (book 3, written in a 13-by-16-foot cabin at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, near Dahlonega, Georgia). I’ll throw in book 4, Dahlonga Haunts: Ghostly Adventures in a Georgia Mountain town, a sort of red-haired step-cousin to those first three . . . earthier books, as soon as I can figure out what I’m doing here. Take good care, all of you, wherever you are.

  11. Joan says:

    Greetings, Amy – Just read “Going to Ground” & wanted to thank you for it. I am from WV though I am not living there now. I sent it on to Mum (90yo!) for her to enjoy.

    Hope all is well w/you.

    Peace -

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