A glance at a Southern Story: One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain

Layered Pages

Back in November of 2017 I posted about a book event I went to, and southern authors and their stories were featured. This gave me an idea to start a series on southern writers and how important their stories are and what makes them unique. Today I am featuring a unique southern story One Good Mama Bone by Bren McClain.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

ONE GOOD MAMA BONEBook Description:

Set in early 1950s rural South Carolina, One Good Mama Bone chronicles Sarah Creamer’s quest to find her “mama bone,” after she is left to care for a boy who is not her own but instead is the product of an affair between her husband and her best friend and neighbor, a woman she calls “Sister.” When her husband drinks himself to death, Sarah, a dirt-poor homemaker with no family to rely on and the note on the farm long past due, must find…

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The Awakening by Amanda Stevens: Book Review.

I discovered author Amanda Stevens when editor J.T. Ellison asked a group of thirteen authors to contribute a southern gothic short story, based on a photograph of a dilapidated house, to the book, Dead Ends. Amanda Steven’s story leaped off the pages for one significant reason: her writing is reminiscent of what I know as British phrasing, that fluid, conversational manner in which Daphne Du Maurier, for example, lulled her readers in her world-class novel, Rebecca. I don’t come across this captivating style of writing often. There’s an intelligent beauty to it, and Amanda Stevens wields it seemingly effortlessly. I looked further into author Amanda Stevens, discovered fifteen novels, and randomly chose The Awakening. I am glad I did.
Set in historic Charleston, South Carolina, The Awakening opens in Woodbine Cemetery, a hidden and forgotten burial ground, of which narrator, Amelia Gray, is commissioned to restore. Already the reader is poised to look over their shoulder. That the narrator speaks in a tone matter of fact prepares them for something unusual, though they immediately accept the premise as a matter of course. It is the fall, the wind rustles tree limbs overhead, the air is chilling, and Amelia Gray is an intuitive who sees the dead.
The Awakening is a mystery wrapped in a ghost story. Amelia discovers an unnamed baby’s grave in Woodbine Cemetery, sees the ghost of a child, and the story takes off in a dynamic suspenseful, surprising, and au courant. Because Amelia Gray is rebounding from her unresolved, broken love affair with dark and handsome John Devlin, a compelling romance tugs at its middle, and elements of the heroine’s journey string us along. This story has everything to keep the reader turning its pages: an eerie setting, a compelling backstory, an intriguing love interest, and, most important to me, a narrator that lets the reader know what she is thinking as events heighten to a hair-raising collide, and hidden elements come to light.
I recommend this expertly paced and crafted book because, to me, it defies genre. It is everything riveting, written in language so uncommonly beautiful I looked forward each night to returning to its burning pages.

 

On “Writing” Versus Style, with Yours Truly Used as an Example!

I’m sharing this recently published article here, which was written by the acquisitions editor of Firefly Southern Fiction,  who signed my forthcoming novel, Mourning Dove. It is a funny story about how I came to get my third novel signed, and my first thought,  as I read this piece, was I don’t know whether to be flattered or embarrassed! But it’s a good lesson for writers to learn from the voice of a renowned editor ! The moral is: writers, stay with your voice. As for the featured picture with this post, I grabbed one of me at the event for my novel, A Portal in Time, for absolutely no other reason than to give y’all a picture! I hope you enjoy this piece.

 

November 28, 2017
First Rules of Critique—“Rule Two”

 

by Eva Marie Everson @EvaMarieEverson

Last month I talked with you about the first rule of critique, which is to know the level of the writer whose work you are critiquing.

So, let’s move forward with Rule #2: There are rules … and there is style.

About a year ago, an email came into my Firefly Southern Fiction managing editor mailbox (oh, yes . . . another hat I wear . . . ). In the text of the email was a book proposal. In the text of the email. Well, I knew immediately that this writer didn’t have an agent. As I only work with agented authors, I quickly wrote back (without reading the proposal, mind you), and asked if the author had an agent (knowing full well she would say “no.”).

She wrote back a short while later with, “I do not have an agent.”

Yeah . . . I kinda knew that (insert smile here). So, I thought I’d quickly shoot back that I only work with agented authors. But before I could hit the “compose” button on my email page, a thought came to me. Eva Marie, said the Thought, you are the president of Word Weavers International. You are supposed to offer a word of encouragement . . .

Oh. Yeah. So, I decided I’d peruse the first few lines of the “in the text of the email” work, offer a few “kudos here and there” and then suggest that when the author find an agent, she contact me again. Well, reading those first few lines led to reading the next few lines. And then a few more . . . until I was convinced I’d found the next great Southern writer. I was Max Perkins and this was my Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe all rolled into one fabulous female from Memphis now living in Malibu!

I got on the phone, called the author, and asked (stupidly), “You don’t have an agent?” She repeated that she did not. “Hold on,” I said. “I’ll call you back.” Then I jumped back on the phone and called a Southern Belle agent I know who I thought would be perfect for this Southern Belle writer. After I read the first several paragraphs out loud, the agent said, “What on earth is that glorious writing?”

Long story a tad longer . . . the writer had a new agent . . . the agent had a new client . . . and I had a new author.

But here’s the deal. The author, Claire Fullerton, broke one “rule” after the other for the sake of style in her work and, in the process, handed me a most delicious body of work. Months later, when I sent Mourning Dove (releases June 2018) to the proofer, and after she’d done her job on it, she wrote me and said, “She broke every CBA rule . . . and did it beautifully.”

Here’s the problem as I see it: sometimes rules are made to be adhered to; sometimes rules are made to be broken. For example, I hear writerly people going on and on all the time about the cursed “semicolon.” To which I say, “If God hadn’t meant for us to use semicolons, He would not have invented them.” (Insert grin here.)

But, oh . . . someone will say . . . but they stop me in my tracks. Well then, buy new shoes. (More smiles inserted; I’m feeling cheeky today.)

Here’s another one: don’t use ellipses. Honey, Southern people speak and think in ellipses. Therefore, Southern writers have to use them. I’m not sure if that’s a rule, but I think it’s a law.

When we critique work, we must listen for voice. Voice is found within word choices and punctuation. Voice is found in style. Voice is what sets the writer apart from all other writers out there.

If, as a critiquer, you are unsure if the writer broke a rule on purpose, then simply ask, “Is this going to style?” I’m not suggesting that the writer will always know, especially if they are new to the craft. But many times they will.

Repeat Rule #1: Know the absolute rules (periods go at the end of sentences) and differentiate between rule and style. In doing so, you’ll help the writer find her voice.

TWEETABLES
First Rules of #Writing Critique—Rule Two – from @EvaMarieEverson on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Always, always know the #writing rules, then break the ones needed to make the work sing – @EvaMarieEverson (Click to Tweet)

 

 

 

 

https://thewriteconversation.blogspot.com/2017/11/first-rules-of-critiquerule-two.html

 

Interview with author Billy O’Callaghan

When one writer encounters another that blindsides them with staggering awe, the inclination is to rush out and spread the joy with those who love the written word. I feel this way about Billy O’Callaghan. I’ve been an avid fan of his work since discovering him last year, and recently had the pleasure of interviewing him for the online Irish community, The Wild Geese.Irish.  It is my great joy to share the interview here.

First, a little background on Billy O’Callaghan:

Billy O’Callaghan was born in Cork in 1974, and is the author of three short story collections: In Exile, In Too Deep, and The Things We Loose, The Things we Leave Behind, which was honored with a Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Award. Almost a hundred of his stories have appeared in literary journals and magazines around the world, including Absinthe, The Kenyon Review, and the Los Angeles Review. His short piece, A Death in the Family is a current Ploughshares Solo, and his debut novel, The Dead House was published in the UK by Brandon Books in May, 2017, with a scheduled US release by Arcade, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, in April, 2018.

Questions for Billy O’Callaghan:

When you hear yourself described as an Irish writer, from your perspective, what does this imply?

The world needs boxes, I think, in order to make sense of things, and I don’t really give much thought to how I am perceived or described. I write, I suppose, to get to grips with the stuff going on in my life and in my head, and to gain some understanding of my own place in the world. Most of the time, life just confuses me, and I long ago turned to writing as a way of ordering my thoughts and to help me function.
If people want to describe me as an Irish writer then I am happy about that, because it’s what I am. And I am grateful that somebody has noticed!

 

Do you think being Irish flavors your way of seeing the world? If so, how?

I think so, yes. Even when I have written about other places, it is almost always through Irish eyes. We can’t change who and what we are, and everything I really know (however little that might amount to) has been shaped by my homeplace and my upbringing. The landscape, with its proximity to the sea, feels like a part of me at this point in my life. My natural state is probably one of stillness. As I get older, I find that I am most comfortable in solitude, and feeling small within my surround. It’s hard to explain, but it gives me a sense of eternity. And in rural places, especially, down around West Cork, history feels immense and very close to the surface. I can almost taste the stories of such places.

 

Who are the Irish authors, living and dead, that you admire?

Oh, there are many, and they are the ones everyone talks about, the touchstones. But the Irish writers I hold most dear, the ones I suppose that I’ve best been able to connect with in my life, are the likes of John McGahern, William Trevor, Liam O’Flaherty. And since childhood, I’ve had a fondness for John B. Keane’s books. The poetry of Patrick Kavanagh and Seamus Heaney, too. I like writing that sets a scene in stone and dirt, so that I can feel and taste what’s going on. These are the writers that do it for me. And as regards living writers, John Banville is the one whose work I hold in the very highest esteem. When I write a sentence, he’s the benchmark, and I think we’re all in his shadow. He has left a deep enough mark that I think people will be reading him a hundred or two hundred years from now.

 

In your stories, is it ever your aim to offer statements or claims on being Irish, or perhaps on the Irish experience, as it were?

No. To do that would probably be to imply that Irishness could be so distilled. My stories do probably attempt to depict authentic Irish experiences, but that happens organically.
When I sit down to write a story, I am thinking about nothing beyond the characters and their situation. That’s what matters. I always try to imbed truth within the fiction, because I am usually writing them in an attempt to explain or make sense of something to myself, and my only agenda in writing the stories is that they will seem real on the page. That’s my goal.
I’ve been writing stories a long time now, and I still work to the notion that nobody will ever read what I am putting down. It’s an insecurity, of course, a fear that I really don’t know what I’m doing. We can’t change who we are, and I think that, at this stage, the self-doubt is probably a good thing because it helps keep me from being too easily accepting of what I write. Anyway, it is an approach that has served me well enough, and can be immensely freeing because with no expectation of an audience there is no temptation towards self-censorship.
I usually carry the stories around with me for quite a while before writing them. They usually take the form of themes at first, in the vaguest way possible, and emerge and shape themselves very slowly. My novel, The Dead House, was one I had in my head for probably twenty years before I got to work on it. The missing piece was the setting, the Beara Peninsula in West Cork, which I realized while touring there with a friend in 2011. Once I had that, I knew that I could write the book. And another long short story, A Death in the Family, which has recently been published as a Ploughshares Solo (and which will appear in my next short story collection, due for publication in 2020), was one I’ve lived with since I was about four years old, a story told to me by my grandmother about an incident in her own young life.

 

What about Ireland inspires you?

The landscape, the countryside, the people I’ve known and seen, the stories I’ve been told. Stories were my education. They’re the first thing I remember. I was gifted a love of stories from my grandmother, who I lived with, up to the age of six or seven. For most of that time I was the only child in the house, and she was ailing, a frail creature, at sixty-two already ancient as the hills. We were company for one another, I suppose, and on many a wet winter’s morning she’d keep me home from school, under the pretext of some cough or cold, and we’d pass those long, slow hours together beside the fire on stories plucked from her own childhood, of fairy forts, the Black and Tans and the banshee. It was listening to her, and dreaming about the worlds she forged, that first lit the fire within me, the curiosity and the passion.
Music is important to me, and poetry, and I strive to suggest both within my sentences. And I love the lonesome quality of the sea on a winter’s day, and old places. Isolated spots, famine-era ruins or the ancient standing stones that so beautifully litter the countryside. Standing in these places at a quiet hour, it’s hard not to feel the weight of the past all around you, and the sense of mystery.

 

Do you think that being Irish has inculcated you with a love of language influenced by those around you?

This is not something I think too much about, but if pressed I’d say that music and poetry are my big influences when it comes to crafting sentences. Books. Banville, I mentioned. Heaney, and Kavanagh. But Yeats, Joyce, Beckett and hordes of writers who aren’t Irish at all. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, V.S. Naipaul, John Updike, Ray Bradbury. Bob Dylan. Hemingway, for revealing to me, in stories such as ‘Hills Like White Elephants’, the value of things unsaid. The Japanese writer, Kawabata, for this, too. Endless others.
The spoken language I hear all around me has a rich and vibrant music to it, and I suppose I must have absorbed some lessons from that because I listen hard for rhythms in my own sentences. I write entirely by feel, working by instinct, and can usually hear when a sentence is wrong.

 

The American author, Ron Rash, has often said, “Land is destiny.” How can you apply this statement to your story settings in Ireland?

Ron Rash has it right, I think. I once had a long conversation with the late great Canadian writer, Alistair MacLeod. His short stories set in his native Cape Breton, are truly remarkable, and he said that if you are not writing with a strong sense of place then you are missing a trick.
Quite a bit of my writing deals with exile, isolation and disconnection, people who have either been torn from or who have abandoned the place in which they properly belong. I strongly believe that our surroundings shape us, especially if we are generations’ attached to a place. I try, as much as possible, to have my characters reflect their homeplace, so that when their anchor has slipped they seem thoroughly lost in the world.

 

Can you tell us something about your writing habits/schedule and a little something about your favorite writing space?

For years, I have kept to a rock solid routine of at least five hours writing every day. Up at six, writing by seven, through until noon or so. In the evenings I’d usually spend an hour or two going back over the morning’s work.
This year, because of a lot of distractions (the publication of The Dead House meant quite a few readings around Ireland, as well as requests for articles and interviews from newspapers), and my routine was shaken a bit. But I have started work on a new novel now, so I’ve had to get serious again. Without a strict routine, nothing gets done.
I live in a nice one-bedroom apartment in a quiet housing estate about twenty minutes’ walk from Douglas village, a suburb of Cork city. Douglas is where I grew up, and where I feel that I most belong. I have traveled a lot in my life, and that’s one of my great joys, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere other than Douglas. My people have lived here for generations, and even though it’s changed significantly from the way it was when I was a boy, it’s still the place I feel most comfortable.
My workspace is a small corner of my living room, a desktop computer tucked into a narrow space beside my balcony. My balcony is full of flowers and hanging baskets, and birds come every day – sparrows, wrens, robins and the occasional bullfinch. My most regular visitors are two beautiful magpies. I’ve grown very attached to them. So I write, with all of that filling the corner of my eye.

 

Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

Things are hectic at the moment. As I mentioned, I recently had a long short story (or novella), A Death in the Family, published by Ploughshares as a stand-alone Kindle release, and my novel, The Dead House, will be published in the U.S. in May 2018, by Arcade, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, which is very exciting. And I have two more books coming out in the UK and the United States in 2019 and 2020: a novel, entitled: Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby, and a short story collection called Even On Our Longest Days.
These books are done, apart from some minor editing, so now I am onto a new novel. I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s a long way from being in any kind of shape yet, but it will be a novel set in Douglas village across a span of probably 150 years, a book about memory, identity and blood connections. Writing A Death in the Family opened a door for me, and while the structure is probably the most complex and challenging that I have yet attempted, I am excited about what lies ahead with it.

 

You’ve published three short story collections, your debut novel, The Dead House, is well received, you’ve won impressive awards, and I’m curious about what your friends think of your success? Do they treat you differently, or will you forever be treated as one of the lads?

Such things don’t matter. I am as ordinary a person as you will ever meet. I come from an ordinary background, I left school when I was seventeen and never went to university. So, no, nobody treats me any differently. Writing is just something I do, but it doesn’t make me in any way remarkable. And it’s such an intensely personal thing that the process, at least, isn’t something which can be shared. Most people don’t get to see how the sausage is made, and wouldn’t want to. I shut myself away and write, keeping to my routine, because the stories are what matter, and by the time one is done (and even short stories can take months to get right) then there’s always another brimming the surface.
I could talk all day about books, but writing isn’t really something to talk about. Sometimes people will read some mention of me in the newspaper, or might hear something about an award or a new book, and
if I meet them they’ll say something. But, really, everyone is caught up with their own lives. Which is as it should be. Anyway, success is relative. I am doing okay now, but I can get by largely because I live such a simple existence. The joy, for me, is in being about to do what I want to do. Which is fortunate because I’m not really much good at anything else.

On Rejections while looking for an Agent

I’m a woman of my word, and am therefore following through on a request from one of my WordPress friends to share a little something about the rejections I received, on the path that ultimately aligned me with my literary agent, concerning my third novel. I’m going to leave specific names out here, and know you’ll understand why.

The rejections I received were by and large voiceless, in that these days, most literary agents leave a qualifier on their submission page that simply says, “If I am interested in your query and want to request more, I will be in touch.” From this, one can safely assume if they don’t hear back from an agent, then the agent is not interested, for what could be many reasons ranging from the genre of the book, to its subject matter, to the possibility that the agency’s guidelines were not followed, or it could be the simple fact that the agent’s hands are full. And because my third novel is a Southern Family Saga set in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis, the task, for me, became all about ferreting out exactly who is representing authors with books set in the South. But one has to cast wide, when looking for an agent. They have to get creative on where their book will fit. In the case of my third novel, I wrote to literary agents that represent Women’s Fiction, Literary Fiction, and commercial fiction, yet my focus was on those interested in or connected to the South. In reading the bio of each agent I queried, I read the fine print to ascertain which authors they represent, what their reading preference is, and paid close attention to those who revealed where they are from. Every time I discovered an agent either from the South or currently living in the South I took a chance; followed the submission guidelines to the letter; and e-mailed my query. If one keeps in mind that a query letter is basically a letter of introduction; that you are writing to say who you are, what your book is about, and where you have been published, then it is less daunting. Remember you, as the author, are also looking for a good fit!

And speaking of daunting, I’ll digress here to say that when I made the rounds with one of my first two books, I received a response from one agent, who wrote only this above my submission: “Show, don’t tell.” Ouch. At least that’s what I thought at the time. You should understand that I write in the first person, and am big on establishing the narrator’s voice, so after I got over the sting, I went to my bookshelf and revisited Anne Rivers Siddons “Peachtree Road,” which is roughly seventy-five percent of the most flawless narration ever written. I pressed on, and the book was published in 2015 as “Dancing to an Irish Reel.” This goes to show to each, their own, and again, you as the author are looking for a good fit.

And speaking of “Dancing to an Irish Reel,” all 59 of its reviews on Amazon are good ones, and I will always be proud of the book. It didn’t make an earth-shattering splash, but I am satisfied that it represents who I am as a writer, and remember, “A writer’s career is a marathon, not a sprint.” I’m mentioning this here because it ties in with another rejection I received for my third book, which is to report that an agent actually took the time to write me to say “You should have hired a publicist; your sales are anemic!” Ouch, again, but I pressed on, and I’ll tell you why: I think writers have a sense of the simple fact that they should be writing. I think this is the salient truth that spurs us on. And whatever one’s belief system is, regarding faith and luck and timing, to possess something of this, in whatever amount, is enough to foster the spirit of pressing on.

All told, I had three literary agents interested in the manuscript of my third book. Two of these agents were in the process of reading it, when joy of all joys, the agent, Julie Gwinn, of The Seymour Literary Agency, called me and offered me representation. Julie felt so right to me for many reasons. I’d done my homework on her, was awed by her background, learned that she lives in the South, and I happen to have a friend who is currently her happy client. The last agent called me after I signed with Julie Gwinn, and I am thrilled to report that I strongly believe the stars aligned with Julie, in the manner they should have all along.

In summation, if you embark upon the road to finding a literary agent, it helps to keep in mind that you are seeking a good fit. What you want to find is an agent who wants to work with you just as much as you want to work with them, for finding the right publisher is essentially a team effort.

To answer my WordPress friend’s request that I write about rejection, I will say it isn’t always easy to weather, but if you press on and keep the faith that the stars will align when and as they should, then one day you’ll come to see rejection as part of the process.

 

The Time Between by Karen White

This lovely novel has everything: lyrical prose, passionate descriptions, a windswept Edisto, South Carolina setting, a crotchety, Hungarian matriarchal figure named Helena with a mysterious past, whose prosperous, white-collar nephew hires narrator Elenor Murray to tend to her demands, in a seaside house filled with priceless portraits of unknown origins. And music? The Time Between is filled with classical music, running through the story thematically from the hands of Elenor, who, racked with guilt over her involvement in her sister’s life-altering accident and her father’s death, has foresworn her love of the piano. And yet, the reader learns, Helena’s past in war-torn Hungary incrementally unfolds as the two women learn to trust each other. In Hungary, we learn, Helena’s life was centered upon music, as Helena was one of three sisters regionally famous as a trio before the war tossed their life asunder. It is the piano that draws Elenor and Helena slowly together, and Helena’s nephew, Finn, who ultimately links the two women by loving both. I loved everything about this steady-paced, intriguing story. It is replete with love, history, the complications of family, redemption and growth. I received this novel as a surprise for joining the infamous book club, the Pulpwood Queens, by its book-loving headmistress, Kathy Murphy. Reading this novel has made a Karen White fan of me!