Monday, June 8, 2009
I grew up in the sticks and I rep places like Texas, Mississippi, and Oklahoma, so I think I'm a little touchy about the fine line one must walk when writing about rural America. I once got in an argument with a coworker about the, in my mind ridiculously inaccurate, representation of East Texas by an author who claimed to know the area but exaggerated the idiosyncracies for "comedy." You know how you can disparage your family all day long until someone else takes a crack and then you're ready to kill? That's the way I feel toward rural areas.
Still, books that manage to capture life in remote areas and small towns without sensationalizing make me extra happy and become favorites, like Bastard Out of Carolina or The Liars Club. I also loved childhood classics that typically involved dead pets as well--Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, and my favorite, The Yearling. I recently read a novel that's coming out in paperback this August (and is available now as a hardcover from Poisoned Pen Press) called Sweeping Up Glass. Good? Yessiree. It starts with a woman and her grandson trying to stop the slaughter of a pack of wolves and to figure out who--and why--these wolves are being killed. Then the story flashes back to the woman's childhood, and there are echos of Scott Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird in her, Olivia's, adventures in town and with her veterinarian father growing up in rural Kentucky. Olivia's mother is absent in her early years, sent to a mental hospital, but returns to antagonize the girl through the rest of her life. There are sinister workings within the town as well; shady dealings, injuries, and deaths that are on the periphery of Olivia's life but hovering in the background, waiting for attention. The characters in this book are truly special--warm, hardworking people who are flawed and full of humanity. The author, Carolyn Wall, teaches creative writing to children in Oklahoma, and she's working on her second book now. That's a book I look forward to.
After finishing Sweeping Up Glass, I started reading another first novel, this one called Bloodroot and set on the side of a mountain in Tennessee. I am a couple hundred pages into it now and think it could be big. Telling the story of several generations of people living on the side of this mountain, this is rural fiction at its finest--full of big characters, folklore, humility, humor, and tragedy. This book is scheduled to come out in spring 2010. I don't know why I'm suddenly finding myself inundated with Appalachian lit, but for now it's a good place to be.
Traveling--Last week I visited Dallas and Oklahoma to sell fall books to my stores there. I found myself intrigued by the town of Edmond, Oklahoma, on this trip, even though I've visited Edmond half a dozen times now. Edmond is the home of gymnast Shannon Miller, for starters. I fully admit I'm a nerd, and I do follow my gymnastics for the same reasons I follow figure skating (the horrific flops and crashes--it's my NASCAR). I never was much of a Shannon Miller fan, preferring Kim Zmeskal...not for much of a reason really; I just liked the name Zmeskal. Oh, and because I always had the impression that Shannon Miller was probably a whiney cryer I'd endlessly torment if we'd attended high school together. She looked a little like the whiney cryer in my class. Anyway, the road I usually take to my store in Edmond is under construction, so I found myself driving through town for the first time. I turned onto a road called "Boulevard," and it is indeed a boulevard, but the name of the road is just Boulevard. No, Jackson Boulevard, or Edmond Boulevard, or even North Boulevard, or Boulevard Street. Just Boulevard. That's weird, right? I mean, what if it were something like Boulevard Lane, or Boulevard Road, or even Boulevard Boulevard? When I asked the booksellers at my store they couldn't explain the street name, but they did give me directions back to the highway that didn't involve taking Boulevard back. It might have been deliberate. I have decided I like Edmond, though, because I found this place called Eileen's Gigantic Cookies. I now kneel before Eileen, whoever she is. Bless her.