A Southern Season

A year ago, I was asked by Eva Marie Everson, the acquisitions editor for Firefly Southern Fiction (an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, which published my 3rd novel, Mourning Dove) to contribute a novella to a book she had in mind that would consist of four novellas, each set in the South and penned by a writer who hails from the region. Eva’s idea was to capture the 4 seasons as they played out on a Southern stage through the art of setting and story. At the time she asked me to contribute, Eva and I had just finished three exhillerating rounds of edits for Mourning Dove. I knew there would be a long wait ahead before Mourning Dove’s release, and although I’d never written a novella, I figured I might as well try my hand.  It was that, and what self-respecting writer would say no to an editor with whom they’d just had a wonderful experience, who gave the added incentive of A Southern Season’s assigned publication date!

Upon learning the scant guidelines of 20,000 words set in the South during the season of my choosing, I knew right away I’d write a story set in a Memphis fall.  Fall has always been my favorite time of year, for all her eerily suggestive, mood-enhancing promises. As for my hometown of Memphis: I’ll never tire of wrangling her peculiar nuances and charms, which, I’m convinced, are spawned from her proud cultural heritage.

In the days preceding the drafting of my story, I tried on many Memphis hats. There’s much to choose from in that historic, musical mecca on the Mighty Mississippi; it’s seen more than its share of changing times yet still boasts of its past. And the way I see it, a good story always comes down to the characters. How they greet the common place in the every day is where I find the heart of the story. In the Memphis in which I grew up, the particular milieu I come from was rife with story-tellers. As I pondered the subject of my novella, luck had it that one of them called me on the phone.

In the interest of discretion and not wanting to blow my source for all of its future gems, I’ll keep it cryptic by sharing I have the great largess of maintaining a friendship with a certain octogenarian who hails from the genteel side of the Delta and keep it there. Let’s just say it’s not what you say in life, it’s how you say it, and if you asked this particular Southerner for directions to downtown Memphis, they’d take that straight shoot down Poplar and purr it to spun-gold. And I couldn’t tell you now how it was we got on the subject of funerals, but when we did this refined, effusive character unwittingly coined a classic line. ” I know one thing about a Southern funeral,” this nameless person sighed, “you can bet your last dollar that something will go wrong.”

I knew right then that I had my story. I framed my novella within the rites of a three-day, Memphis funeral and titled it Through an Autumn Window. In it, I explored the unspoken complications and attendant guilt and nostalgia of a mother-daughter relationship, and paired it with the festering of unhealed sibling rivalry. I Set this mixed bag of a premise in a Southern culture where everyone tip-toed around iron-clad social mores then I let the games begin!

I am one of four authors who contributed to the book, A Southern Season, and I’m thrilled to announce the book was released on November 1st by Firefly Southern Fiction. There are four different voices depicting the South in this collection of novellas. I believe you’ll find each inspirational !

 

 

 

 

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The Inspiration For Mourning Dove

I’m taking the opportunity to share why I wrote Mourning Dove. Plain and simply, I grew up in Memphis, in an era that I think was run by the last of the great Southern belles. Most of them are gone from the South, now, as am I, for I now live in Malibu, California. I have a conflicted relationship with the South. It’s a strange mixture of gratitude for having outgrown it and weepy nostalgia for the place in which I came of age. I can’t say if I’m nostalgic for the actual place or if it’s nostalgia for the innocence and endless possibilities that one carries in youth, but emotionally, I think they’re tied together. It’s the people of Memphis I miss the most, and when I think of Memphis, I think of its women. Never was there a cast of more glittering woman than those who populated my youth. They were fun, dynamic, refined, and rarely serious. They walked like queens and spoke in lyrical tones so compelling that I’m offended by other accents to this day. I set Mourning Dove in 1970’s and 1980’s Memphis because, back then, the particular Southern, social milieu was rife with nuance and tradition anchored by southern matriarchs who ran the social strata. I did not write about the side of the South where people drive pick-up trucks down dirt roads to the family farm while dodging a coon dog or two, I wanted to write about that side of the South that was coiffed and manicured; where people had an innate elegance that mattered. There is much to be drawn in a setting such as this, and what fascinated me most growing up was the cultural way of denial. In the Memphis I knew, they kept things light and airy. If something was unpleasant or unseemly, it simply wasn’t discussed. But what of two siblings born up north who come to the Deep South as outsiders? And how can they share the same history yet come to disparate ends? What unhinging happens in the delicate wiring of one but somehow misses the other? Is it nature or nurture, and how are we to ever know? In the end, all one is left with is the story. This was my aim in writing Mourning Dove. Always and forever, it will all come down to the story.

The Risen by Ron Rash:Book Review

The Risen

 

This is, yet again, another gripping Ron Rash novel.  Upon reflection, what stays with me most is that the premise of The Risen is tight and simple. Two brothers, in a small North Carolina town, are swimming in a creek in the summer of 1969 and meet a seventeen year old girl, an outsider who impacts their lives. But Ron Rash gives us a thorough psychological treatise, through the character of younger brother Eugene, on the desperation behind falling in love for the first time and the complexities of younger brother syndrome during one’s coming of age. Place is a character in this story, described in Rash’s keen vernacular, and it is the unsolved past that pulls us through this story. The reader lives in two time frames as the story unfolds, which gives us the experience of cause and effect. On the one hand, The Risen floats on the wings of the fruits of summer, on the other its tension builds through the guilt of a broken man. The Risen is a page-turning mystery with a twist, written in such a way that you can feel the guilt that haunts the two main characters’ involvement. It speaks of the repercussions of one false move that shadows lifetimes, and though the mystery may have been solved at the end, it suggests that nobody gets away with anything for long.

The Headmaster’s Darlings by Katherine Clark Book Review

Oh, the sheer joy of this book, which is not outweighed in the least by the rarity of coming across a writer with complete command of language and craft. The Headmaster’s Darlings has so much excellence going on that it’s a challenge for me to know where to slather my gushing praise first! Within its 245 pages of the tightest, page-turning story I’ve read in as long as I can remember, there is comedy, sarcasm, heart-tugging sentimentality, social commentary, and suspense to the point where, when I wasn’t laughing out loud over Katherine Clark’s spot-on Southern cultural insight, I was re-reading her laser-sharp paragraphs as if they were a writer’s tutorial. Crisp, clever, economic sentences lead the reader through the story of the obese Norman Laney, a beloved high school teacher in Birmingham, Alabama, whose job lays in the balance of rumor and false accusation. But it is 1980’s Birmingham society that is judge, jury and executioner, and Norman Laney knows how to game the system. So wise to the eccentricities of an insular, antiquated, upper-class society, Norman Laney beats them at
their own game by being one of them. He is both fish-out-of-water and ruler of the roost in a story that is part comedy of manners and part
emperor’s new clothes. It is not so much the story as the telling of the story that makes or breaks a book for me. Kathrine Clark gives us her all, nay, way more than we expect in sardonically laying bare the mind frame of Birmingham, Alabama’s cloistered elitist society, whose aspirations are maintaining the status quo. Yet Norman Laney is a teacher of principle and integrity, in the field for all the right reasons, which he has to keep under wraps, lest he startle society’s neat and resistant grid of logic by which it defines itself. Written in a tone that both laughs and bites at the nuances of Southern society, there is an undercurrent of nonjudgmental acceptance of a culture as old as the hills as it seeks to raise its next generation in a manner that aspires to keeping it so. Yet it is Norman Laney’s aim to teach his students to aspire to at least something by reaching beyond themselves, and he must lead by appeasing Birmingham’s old guard as he acts as guidance counselor to their offspring. The Headmaster’s Darlings is more than a comedic social commentary on a staid Southern mentality that will be its own hubris in the end; the book doles out a lure that shows the way out, and slips it in undetected from the cunning lead of one impressionable teacher, who knows his way around covert maneuver. I understand there are two more books behind this one. My hand hovers in anticipatory wait over my Kindle.