Here’s the news, which may or may not seem monumental: I HAVE FINISHED THE SHITTY FIRST DRAFT OF MY MANUSCRIPT.
Do you remember I was working on a manuscript? I was. I am. The terrible working title is Journey to Now, and it’s the story of how we became a family and how we’ve coped with the Pterodactyl’s attachment disorder. It also contains tales of drunken debauchery, sex, and dogs, although not altogether of course. I mean, sometimes the drunk and sex parts overlap, but not the dogs, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I need to edit the whole thing about a hundred times. But Round One? #winning
I might never have explored this project if not for Twisted Road Publications***, a small literary press out of Tallahassee, Florida whose founder, Joan Leggitt, encouraged me to get cracking. Leggitt created Twisted Road a few years ago after years of dreaming about it. She likes to describe the company’s style as “Southern gothic,” which can mean whatever you want it to mean. I like to think of it as weirdly Southern and itchy, like enjoying a breeze on an old tire swing while brushing the falling grey moss off your shoulders and watching the oak tree branches making dark shadows against the white hot sky.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve told you about several of their titles: Dream Chaser by Pat Spears, The River’s Memory by Sandra Gail Lambert, and Eve’s Garden by Glenda Bailey-Mershon. Great reads. Now I have two more to add.
Sewing Holes by Darlyn Finch Kuhn is the story of Tupelo Honey Lee, so named when her brother read the words off a mason jar at a Florida Waffle House. Do you need to know anything more? Isn’t that enough to peak your Southern fried curiosity? Honey, as she’s called, lives in a small Florida town with her older brother, parents, and a cousin whose parents are too dysfunctional to care for her. Honey spends days visiting her grandparents, who own a bait shop on the river, and begging her dad for motorcycle rides. Cousin Suzie’s father is an unrepentant alcoholic, her mother a resident of the state mental hospital; but Honey’s pity for the the girl is tempered by jealousy when her own parents begin to love Suzie like a daughter. In many ways, it’s a classic story of the Old South – a struggling family strung together by blood, loyalty, and misplaced love, and the fragility of those bonds. When death unexpectedly casts a pall on the Lee clan, secrets seep out like sap from a pine tree, and Honey must suddenly exchange the frivolous inconveniences of childhood for the heartbreaking burdens of maturity. Reading Sewing Holes is like making chicken soup from scratch – with each added ingredient the mixture grows richer, and how it will end is a mystery that’s nonetheless certain to be good.
-If Sewing Holes warms the spirit like chicken soup, Not On Fire, Only Dying is more akin to doing shots of tequila: tough to swallow, but jarringly satisfying. The plot of Susan Rukeyser’s debut novel would make a great movie script – as literature, though, it’s so aptly descriptive and disturbing that the imagery bursts from the pages. Marko is a seedy ex-con making ends meet by peddling drugs; the sole purpose of his ruinous life is to worship the complicated, mentally unstable Lola, his one true love, who may or may not have hallucinated having a baby who may or may not have been kidnapped: Her hair is spiked on top and long down her back, home-dyed a depthless black. Her eyebrows are long gone, maybe plucked away in some mania at the hospital. Now there are black arches drawn in by a shaky but determined hand, writes Rukeyser. And Marko – long scrawny limbs, missing teeth, perennially adorned in an unbuckled dark trench coat that floats open like buzzard wings. Good god, do we even want to know these people? No. But we should. Rukeyser exhibits a near obsession with introducing us to characters we’d rather avoid; and when Marko becomes obsessed with discovering the truth about Lola’s baby, we turn the pages like the addicts whose needs Marko fills. I love this book because it’s dark and strange and makes us view the world through the eyes of the weird skanky people whose gazes we avert in Wal-Mart and downtown and when we stop at the dilapidated gas stations off I-95. Do such people not feel love? Do they not long to believe in the tiny slice of hope they see bursting from the other side of the tracks? Of course they do. Thank goodness Rukeyser makes us understand a little bit of their world.
See, people? I’m back. And honestly, I’ve really missed talking to you. Heart you.
***In the spirit of full disclosure, Joan Leggitt might be interested in reading my book. But it’s okay if she doesn’t like it because I wrote a fucking book, y’all, which is like 6,000 Facebook posts strung together. Even if nobody wants to publish it, I still wrote it. Boom sauce.