Mama Knows Best: Julie Wilson

With Mother's Day coming up, we thought it would be fun to ask our writers, friends, and favorite Kentuckians to share the best advice their own mothers ever gave them.

Image via Lexington Herald-Leader
Julie Wilson, the publisher and editor-in-chief of Lexington-based Story Magazine, shared some great advice. Julie is smart, hard-working, and all-around awesome. Did I mention that she recently interviewed The Coolest Kentuckian, Johnny Depp, for Story's Hunter S. Thompson issue? That fact alone makes her my Kentucky Writer Girl Crush.

Here's the sage advice Julie passed along to us:
"My mother told me to never settle. No matter how outlandish my dream might seem to others, I should always go for it. I know my Mom would be proud of me for not giving up." 
 Julie was recently named Business Owner of the Year by the Lexington chapter of NAWBO, was the subject of a KET documentary, and can't keep Story's Gonzo swag on the shelves. That's all pretty impressive for a business that's barely two years old! I'd say her mama's excellent advice paid off!!

{Thanks so much for sharing this fabulous advice with us, Julie!}


{Photo by Heather C. Watson; graphic by Glenda McCoy}

A Decadent and Depraved Derby Present

So, I've been thinking. I believe Derby Presents should become a thing.

Why not? The Kentucky Derby is the greatest day of the year. It's a (usually) beautiful day in May, when people wear their prettiest clothes, drink bourbon, and watch a horse race. It's the day when every major English-speaking news outlet turns a collective eye toward Louisville. And, it comes ready-made with plenty of accoutrements. There are souvenirs to purchase, and keepsakes to treasure. There's a new logo every year. There's... well, a lot of stuff. Why not give a gift on The First Saturday in May?

Now, the Holy Grail of Derby Presents for 2013 (the inaugural year of the Derby Present) is going to be this "Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved" poster, designed by Rachel Sinclair for the brilliant guys over at Kentucky for Kentucky. (Yep, the kick-ass guys.)
It's a visual representation of Hunter S. Thompson's 1970 essay "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved", reimagined as silks. It's a visual reminder of the greatest sports essay ever written. You can hang it in your office or den, and constantly be reminded “that almost everybody you talk to from now on will be drunk. People who seem very pleasant at first might suddenly swing at you for no reason at all.”

The references are all there, if you've read closely enough. But, whether you back Colonel Sanders or Chemical Billy, you should act fast. The limited-edition poster has been featured on Buzzfeed and Deadspin. It's already sold out online; follow Kentucky for Kentucky's Facebook page for info on pop-up shop availability.


Lilly Pulitzer Derby Hat.
A couple of months ago, I got an email from my editor asking if I'd be interested in covering the Derby. Well, y'all can imagine that it took me about ten seconds to jump on that opportunity.  I filled out my application for Churchill Downs media credentials as quickly as possible.  And I waited.

Even though there was still snow on the ground, I started thinking of angles.  What if I only got credentials for the infield?  I've never been there, but I hear it's dicey.  Maybe I could do a fish-out-of-water thing -- a well-coiffed Junior Leaguer in the muck.  Speaking of muck, what kind of shoes should I wear?  The last time I did any walking at Derby, I wound up with huge blisters.  Dare I store a pair of wellies in the press locker I requested? That seems so... Steeplechase.  And do I let my handbag double as a satchel, or should I buy a chic, teeny notebook? I hoped, of course, for credentials that would give me a ritzier view.  I thought of the ways that I could play with the way that Derby portrays Kentucky's social stratum.  I planned the optimal number of mint juleps that would keep me festive and alert.  And, of course, I started to think about hats.  Maybe I'd finally get the opportunity to write the "the year Louisville girls started to make fascinators" piece I'd been envisioning since the Royal Wedding.

And then, I didn't hear back from my application.  I'm not sure what got screwed up.  I must admit, however, that I was suffering from bronchitis and pretty heavily medicated at the time of my application.  I can't overlook the possibility of user error.  I waited and waited, and I followed up a bit, and I made some preliminary plans to go, and then some things happened and then other plans for Derby Day started to materialize.  Before I knew it, the First Saturday was upon us and I wasn't remotely near Louisville.

Ralph Steadman's artwork for Dr. Thompson's masterpiece.
Before I mixed up a batch of mint-infused simple syrup yesterday morning, I sat down with a little required Derby Day reading.  There was Mr. Faulker's Three Days to the Afternoon, of course, and Dr. Thompson's The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved.  I read these both as earnestly as I do every May, and I joked to my beau that I should read them aloud to the dogs in the same manner that normal people read the Christmas Story to their children.  I was quite taken with a sense of satisfaction with myself as a writer, a sports fan, and a Southerner as I reflected on these hallowed words.  And then, those same hallowed words jumped out at me:

Finally, after giving up on Steadman and trying unsuccessfully to reach my man in the press office, I decided my only hope for credentials was to go out to the track and confront the man in person, with no warning — demanding only one pass now, instead of two, and talking very fast with a strange lilt in my voice, like a man trying hard to control some inner frenzy.
Hunter S. Thompson had flown from Texas to Kentucky on a day's notice armed only with fake tags identifying himself as a photographer from Playboy.  He hadn't waited for a confirmation email.  He'd merely insisted that Scanlan's magazine foot the bill.  As late as Oaks Day, he was still hammering out the details:
Clearly, we were going to have to figure out some way to spend more time in the clubhouse tomorrow. But the "walkaround" press passes to F&G were only good for 30 minutes at a time, presumably to allow the newspaper types to rush in and out for photos or quick interviews, but to prevent drifters like Steadman and me from spending all day in the clubhouse, harassing the gentry and rifling an old handbag or two while cruising around the boxes. Or macing the governor. The time limit was no problem on Friday, but on Derby Day the walkaround passes would be in heavy demand.
Something tells me that Dr. Thompson never really gave a thought to wellies.  Or hats.  By his own admission, he didn't "give a hoot in hell what was happening on the track."  I doubt he ever wrote a piece on how to get julep stains out of a Lilly Pulitzer dress.  I suppose that makes me far more "whiskey gentry" than "gonzo", in the rhetoric of his essay.  I certainly know that, unlike Thompson, I never hope for a mob scene in the infield; I'm too busy saying a little prayer that the horses and jockeys stay safe.  I'd never be accused of macing the Governor; I personally find him to be quite a nice fellow. 

Still, I wish I'd had a little bit of gonzo spirit in the days leading up to the race.  If I'd pushed the issue a little harder, I'd be writing a far more interesting piece tonight...

Kentucky Writers' Day

In honor of  Kentucky Writers' Day, the HerKentucky team put together a few thoughts about our favorite Kentucky writers. 
Wendell Berry. Image via Garden and Gun
I love Bobbie Ann Mason for her storytelling. I love Barbara Kingsolver for the rich imagery in so many of her books. Prodigal Summer is one of my all-time favorite books, but The Poisonwood Bible was the one that really drew me in to her canon. I also love Wendell Berry for both his fiction and his activism. I respect that he fights for what he believes in. (Most of which I also happen to believe in, so that helps!)

Also, as a reader and unashamed lover of romance novels, I have to give a shout out to Jude Deveraux who is hugely successful in her field and is from Fairdale. She's been on the New York Times  Best-Seller list with 36 different books. Last summer, I set out to read every one of her books that follow the Montgomery/Taggert families and loved it!

Oh, I forgot to add an up-and-comer in young adult fiction named Tammy Blackwell. She has a trilogy of YA paranormal fiction that features a great strong female character. She's a librarian in Marshall County.

I know other states might have more Presidents or celebrities but I have to say that Kentucky has done a fantastic job of producing writers. When I get comfortable calling myself a writer, then I'll be so honored to be included in this group. Here are my top five:
bell hooks. Image via Berea College.

1. Wendell Berry Others have captured his genius much better than I can. All I can say is if I ever met him I'm pretty sure I would go full-scale Wayne's World "I'm not worthy!"
2. Barbara Kingsolver I was a vegetarian for five years. Then I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I'm not a vegetarian anymore. I'd say that about sums it up.
3. Bobbie Ann Mason From just down the road, her memoir Clear Springs made me feel at home when I was anything but.
4. Molly Harper She's from Paducah (and in my book club!). Molly Harper writes about vampires...and librarians. Need I say more?
5. bell hooks Feminism is for Everybody should be handed out to every college freshman in the nation.
Hunter S. Thompson, by Annie Leibovitz

Hunter S. Thompson, Louisville native, for introducing us to Gonzo journalism with his 1970 essay "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved", and for the fact that his ashes were fired into the sky by a cannon (arranged by another Kentuckian, Johnny Depp) because "he loved explosions".

I have to agree with Cristina; Dr. Thompson's piece about the Derby is on my short list for the greatest configuration of words ever set to paper.   As I've said before, I find his sports writing to be the greatest and most underreported of his works.

The works of Verna Mae Slone and Paul Brett Johnson are sentimental favorites for me, because both authors were my distant cousins on my father's side. 

A few years ago, I had the good fortune to interview a Western Kentucky-born writer named Holly Goddard Jones.  She was charming and down-to-earth, and her short stories captured rural Kentucky life without pathos or exploitation (a rare gift in a young author.)  Holly hasn't quite made my "favorite Kentucky writers" list yet, but I certainly think she's one to watch...

Who are your favorite Kentucky Writers?