Home Street Home: The Virginia Beach Chronicles by Georgia Saunders
" At 60, Ella Migliore, a gentle soul from a middle class background, finds her security wiped out by the 2008 market crash. Long estranged from her nuclear family, she is thrown into the brutal world of homelessness - a shadowy hell that swallows people bit by bit, even in the well-manicured streets of the Virginia Beach Oceanfront.
Bravely trying to make the best of a bad situation, she downplays the dangers until she learns firsthand just how vicious street life can be. Menaced by ex-cons at a free dining hall, bedding down on drenched church steps after a Tidewater tornado-watch storm, and terrified by lawless men in a homeless camp, she digs deep to find strength to carry on.
Her terrors are compounded when Ella is physically attacked by much younger campers while onlookers refuse to get involved. Her fear of being beaten to death drives her into the arms of a predator who takes control of her camp and her life. When he asks the unthinkable, she escapes, only to battle the worst threat of all - the thirst for revenge that twists her soul as she plans violent reprisals against those who've bullied her." From the back cover of the book.
So many people walk past homeless people on the street. They have preconceived notions as to why they are there, but if these same people took a closer look at their own finances, they may see that they are not that far away to being in the same situation. This book is the first in a series that focuses on the lives of the homeless community in Virginia Beach, by a woman who has been there herself.
The story is so well written; there are many characters and they all have their own individual voice. They are so well developed that you expect that these are real people telling you their story in their own tone. There are moments where the reader may need to stop for a minute because the situation is hard to take ... but you keep on going because you know that these are situations that people are truly dealing with on a daily basis. What really hits home is that this group of people are a community like all others. There is gossip, love triangles, and those who are better off than others!
The story has a quick pace and engaging storylines that make it hard to put down. I really enjoyed this book and I think everyone should read it for both for the enjoyment of the story and education value of the book.
Georgia was kind enough to do an interview with me about her, the book, and self-publishing! She has an amazing story to tell .....
Sure. I was homeless for over three years in Virginia Beach. Before that, the only writing I’d done was in my personal journals, though I’ve always been an avid reader of good literature. After I became homeless, I found I could endure being cramped up in a small room with up to 100 feisty and sometimes drunk people, if I concentrated on trying to accurately describe interpersonal dynamics I was experiencing or observing. It was really just an escape at first. Not satisfied with my work, I began to check books from the library about how to write better, and revisit works by favorite authors such as Steinbeck , London, Twain and Dickens to name just a few, to inform my own scribbling. Everything was hand-written in a notebook at first and was completely for my own education, amusement and sanity.
During most of my homeless experience, I was living in a car, then a van and I was in and out of hotels with my then boyfriend. He had some issues with substance abuse, but tried to keep me off the street most of the time by working at construction jobs. They were usually short-term projects, anyway, but it didn’t help that he would binge and lay out of work every so often. I was also working part-time, cashiering, but that was really just enough for gas and car expenses. It’s difficult to pay the large deposit on top of the first month’s rent, and the rental properties in this area are tightly controlled by credit rating. When I became homeless, I wasn’t able to keep up with credit card payments, so I was like that short guy in the Hannibal Lecter mask picking his ears on the freecreditscore.com commercial.
Even when we had money, we couldn’t get housing except in hotels. It was a really unstable situation for me and I often despaired there was just no way out.
Tell us about your writing experience.
Imagine trying to transcribe notebooks worth of handwritten text to a word doc in two hour increments at the library. Can’t tell you how many times I would lose myself in my typing towards the end of the two hours and neglect to save that last bit of work. The computer would suddenly go off and I would lose some of my work. And I do hate typing. Very uncoordinated, I am.
Anyway, when I got the idea to turn my writing into a novel, my first obstacle was selling my BF on it because he couldn’t understand why he was out working every day and I was sitting around comfortably in the hotel room filling notebook after notebook with text and lists and outlines and character types. I had to do my first promotions, so to speak, to convince him that I could actually make some money doing this that would translate into more. Never mind the fact that I had to convince myself. Talk about false bravado!
I must have done a good job of convincing him, because he actually bought an old computer for me to start writing directly to Word. That was when I really started gaining ground. Trouble was; he would get jealous because I was on-line (starting to get my social networking accounts lined up for future promotions) and/or writing all the time, and I didn’t want the TV on so loud. Remember, we are in one room, when we are not in the street. And not being together for compatibility but survival, his taste in TV (which could not be turned off even at night) ran to World Wide Wrestling and such ascetic horrors, where mine ran to Shakespeare, Faulkner, Steinbeck and Hemingway and La Santa Paz (the Sacred Quiet). Irritation, jealousy and plain old-fashioned need to control the female, would lead to him taking away the computer in the middle of a writing flow! Not to use, mind you - just to hide out of reach so I could see who the big papa bear in the establishment was.
What lead to you coming up with the idea of this book?
You know that old adage about necessity being the big mama of invention? When I thought how my minimum wage job worked part-time was NOT going to get me off the street, and when I realized that above mentioned BF was only going to keep driving me insane, I thought about where my best opportunity for using my talents lay. Big AHA moment – turn your love of literature and writing into a book about all the difficulties of being homeless. After I got that idea, I researched and found there were a huge number of books about homelessness already on the market. And every last one was non-fiction: either documentaries or memoirs. Reading some of the “look inside” excerpts, I thought they seemed to almost vie with each other for increasingly shocking and horrific details of homeless life. Sadly, these kinds of details are never lacking in street life. But, honestly, I thought, “how can so much literature be available on the terrible experience of homelessness, and the public still mostly pigeon-hole homeless people as some kind of “other” species of human – who somehow want to be Willy and Wilma the hobos?”
I thought this over and came up with this answer – fiction! Examples such as Grapes of Wrath, Oliver Twist and Uncle Tom’s Cabin flooded my brain with inspiration. Abolitionists sent out non-fictional information about the horrors of slavery for decades, but it wasn’t until the fictional story of Uncle Tom and little Eva touched the public’s heart that an outcry was achieved. Why is that? I can only suppose that there is a deeper empathy with a character by the reader, because of the illusion of being inside the head and experience of said, than can be achieved with a non-fictional rendering of a story of suffering, no matter how horrific. Maybe it is the sheer volume of the suffering portrayed in these (excellent) non-fictional accounts that numbs readers, like overworking produces blisters.
What led to your decision to self-publish?Quick answer – three months’ worth of queries dutifully hammered out in the Virginia Beach Oceanfront Library while I was staying in the winter shelter. The first rejections politely mentioned the absolute impossibility of reviewing a first novel of – gasp! – 275K words. Followed months of teasing apart the four main characters journeys into three novels of more reasonable length – then another round of queries ensued for volume I, Home Street Home – The Virginia Beach Chronicles, now down to 100K.
“A strong project, but, unfortunately, doesn’t answer our current needs…” and such the like comes rolling in. Why don’t they just come out and tell me that the only thing selling in the current market is soft porn bodice rippers and blood curdling vampire sex? I say to myself in sour grapes despair and anguish. Winter shelter will end in two months. I’m desperate. Then I found out about Createspace at Amazon. After reformatting my text, I approve the sample and now I’m a published author on Amazon! Now I’m donating a copy to the very library where I wrote most of it! Now I’m sending a promo copy to the Virginian Pilot. Now I’m featured in the Sunday review column as the “Homeless Scribe” http://hamptonroads.com/2011/08/homeless-scribe-writes-what-she-knows. After that, I received more notice and my books were bought for all the local libraries. Soon after that, I was able to move into an apartment.
What obstacles did you come across in the process?
Homelessness was a pretty big obstacle – just having the place to write. I had to learn to tune out a lot of my environment to concentrate. I carried a notebook and wrote wherever I happened to be.
Would you / are you planning to self-publish more books in the future?
Amazon’s low-cost self-publishing saved my life. You can bet I’ll be publishing more books. As you can see, I’ve got a whole lot to say!
I already have the two other volumes of Home Street Home out. You can check them out by clicking on the pictures here or going to my website. http://homestreethome.yolasite.com