GRACED LAND–the novel celebrating Elvis, his life, his music, his significance–is reincarnated today, January 8th, Elvis’s birthday, as an ebook!
GRACED LAND first appeared with Grove Press in 1992 to rapturous reviews applauding the novel’s humor, energy and depth. It won the Pacific Northwest Bookseller’s Award. The London Observer selected the British edition as one of the Best Books of the Year.
GRACED LAND explores the swath of the King’s career, not as a conventional biography would, but as Elvis and his music echoed through the lives of people who never met him, the
passionate fan, Joyce Jackson, and the young, untutored social worker, Emily Shaw.
I fashioned this novel out of a chance conversation with my mother one afternoon, reminiscing about a shrine to Elvis that she used to drive past on her way to her job at the County Hospital, and from shards of my own experience. I was once a social worker. All my English major friends were social workers; it was the only job they could get. So I tried it too. I lasted six months, and after that I went back to graduate school in history. Those six months were but a blip in my life, a tiny detour that, had I been writing a memoir, I would not have mentioned at all.
But once I started the novel, the whole experience came back to me! Such clarity and vivacity: the florescent-lit office with acres of metal desks, the punitive supervisor who enjoyed cruelly slashing clients’ budgets, the clients themselves, an array of humanity I would never otherwise have met. Writing Graced Land salvaged that whole episode of my life.
Unlike any other novel or story I have written, Graced Land connected me with readers in those pre Facebook days. Chief among these is my friend Cindy Hazen of Memphis who, for a time, lived in Elvis’s Audubon Drive house, the first house he bought for his parents. I saw the house with Cindy before it was sold, an experience I won’t soon forget. And visiting her in Memphis later, I slept in Elvis’s bedroom. Not too many writers can claim that!
In some ways, writing the novel also gave me Elvis. I see him as a tragic figure with an indelibly American story. The novel throbs with music and humor, but its central thematic core is the relationship between story and history.
That is, history is cruel and random, messy, inefficient, finished off only by death. Thus, humans always grace or drape their histories with story. Story may be cruel, but it is not random; stories have form and shape denied to history. Stories have beginnings and endings, and within those confines, stories have meaning. On the day Elvis died in 1977, Emily, in Italy stumbles on this very epiphany.
“History is so unbearable it must be dignified with story. That’s why and how people dignified battle with bravery, dignified lust with love, dignified digestion with cuisine, dignified sleep with dreams and death with Last Words. In a story, no one ever dies without Last Words. Oh, they might die gruesomely, but it is always to some dramatic purpose; without dramatic purpose, they would not die at all and you know that from the beginning. But in history, people just croaked. Look at Elvis. What did the morning paper say? Emily fought to remember what she had thought merely trivial. Elvis had been found on the bathroom floor, fallen ingloriously off the toilet. The King fallen from the throne. The man who could move and touch so many disparate lives, could he truly be found mute, face down on the bathroom floor? Not in a story, he couldn’t. But that’s how real people died. That’s why Carlo raced to get here, knowing that justice and Last Words are only guaranteed outside of history, in that storied catholic country where imagination reigns and rewards gallant gesture.”
My family and I have loved Elvis now for more than twenty years. (See October 29th blogpost, Revisiting Graceland.) So it is fitting that we should release the ebook version of Graced Land on his birthday.
Graced Land as an ebook is available on Amazon, Kobo and at Barnes and Noble.
Readers, I would love to hear from you, either on Facebook, Goodreads, or here at this website.
Oh, and one other important lesson I learned from Graced Land? As a verb, rock-and-roll cannot be past tense. It’s always present.