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Posts Tagged ‘Novel’

Joyce Corrington Publishes You Trust Your Mother

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, News and Current Events, News Release, Novels, Writing on July 23, 2012 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

Joyce Corrington, a friend and supporter of this site (see here, here, and here), has just released the final installment of the New Orleans mystery series begun by her and her late husband John William Corrington.  Learn more about this book, You Trust Your Mother, at Joyce’s website.


Matthew Simmons Reviews J. Mark Hart’s “Fielder’s Choice”

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Novels, Southern Literary Review, Writing on June 26, 2012 at 8:00 am

Matthew Simmons was born and raised in Whiteville, North Carolina.  He lived in Raleigh for eight years, where he went to college at North Carolina State University, roasted coffee for a living, and developed a taste for single-malt Scotch.  Currently a Ph.D. student in English at the University of South Carolina, Matt lives in Columbia, South Carolina, where he tries to garden and regularly rides his bicycle in coat and tie.

The following review appeared here at the Southern Literary Review.

Years ago, after reading Richard Russo’s Mohawk, I decided I needed more flexibility in labeling fiction.  Obviously, there was pulp, there was genre fiction, and there was the rarified air of “lit-tra-ture.”  But what I’d found in Mohawk seemed to somehow occupy parts of all of those labels simultaneously and effortlessly.  I needed a name for this effortless occupation of different registers, and it came to me halfway through another, similar book.  What I was reading was, in fact, the Great American Middlebrow Novel.  Such is a book that tries to be more than an afternoon or a weekend’s entertainment; nevertheless, its writing is highly readable.  It does not set out to explore the eternal complexities of the human experience, but rather tries to show the suppleness and myriad realities that make up an individual or a group’s experience of a specific place, at a particular time.  That last bit is incredibly important.  The GAMN is a book of specificities, of particularities, and it plumbs these specificities and particularities to give us some access to the localized truths of a moment.  J. Mark Hart’s forthcoming debut novel, Fielder’s Choice, tries its damnedest to show itself as worthy of the title, and succeeds, with varying degrees of success, at achieving this goal.

Hart’s locale and moment are Birmingham, 1969.  Brad Williams, our narrator, wants to avoid the hellish fires of the steel mills.  But there is a fate worse than the mills also possibly awaiting him:  the jungles of Vietnam.  Working class, his only hopes at escape are for his athletic prowess on the baseball diamond to win him a college scholarship, as well as drawing a high draft number.  The first of these hopes is immediately compromised—a lifetime shortstop, senior year finds Brad moved over to second to accommodate Robbie, a black student transferred to West Lake High via integration, who is a superior shortstop to Brad in every way.

And thus are the specifics of Hart’s novel—a Birmingham trying to live down the specter of Bull Connor’s hoses and dogs, and a young man trying to find his place in this uncertain newness.  At its best, Fielder’s Choice does a truly wonderful job of presenting a city struggling to understand itself and an 18-year-old boy trying both to fit into this city and get out of it.  Hart’s presentation of Brad is, in many ways, wonderfully well-done.  Similarly, the city’s tensions are admirably sketched, and Birmingham, as a character itself, feels incredibly alive and compelling.  Hart’s debut novel thus promises to join the august company of the Great American Middlebrow novel, an achievement to be lauded—especially when the author, an attorney by day, is only moonlighting as a novelist.

Promising though it may be, Fielder’s Choice is also, at times, deeply problematic.  The prose can be clunky and wooden:  explaining his friend’s father’s drinking habits, Brad speaks of “[the father’s] customary can of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, or, in his vernacular, a ‘PBR.’”  Contrast that passage with any number of gorgeous moments from Brad’s courtship of Susie and you’ll find yourself frustrated—Hart can, at times, be an immensely lyrical and even beautiful writer, and you’ll wish he always was.  But significantly more troubling than some hiccups with the prose is the novel’s reliance on flat, stereotypical characters.  Of course the hippie would be a Yankee, and of course he would drive a VW with a day-glo peace sign on the back window.  Of course the main antagonist would be named Bubba, and would be a violent, reactionary, bigoted redneck.  Robbie, the African-American shortstop who forces Brad to move positions, often seems like little more than a plot device and a means for developing Brad’s character—a shame and even an error, as Robbie begins as one of the most promising characters in the novel.

And while Paxton, the Yankee hippie, becomes more sympathetic as the novel progresses, it is not because his character deepens, but because Brad becomes more involved in the anti-war movement.  Meanwhile, the Bubbas of the novel are never any more than boogeymen, “hicks,” to use Brad’s distressingly frequent verbiage, who wave the Confederate flag and stand in the way of progress.  Near the novel’s end, Brad glowing speaks of Birmingham moving into the “New South,” and we understand that Brad understands Bubba and his ilk not so much as people as impediments to the birth of this “New South.”  Brad’s voice thus carries a nascent sense of cosmopolitan elitism.  And while I see this as a legitimate and even necessary act of characterization, I’m nevertheless troubled that Brad gets off scot-free in this regard.  The Bubbas of the novel, and of Southern history, are of course inexcusably wrong in their racial attitudes and certainly on the wrong side of history.  But this does not make them any less complexly human, something that Brad never recognizes, and something Hart never calls him to task for.  We cannot present a fully nuanced picture of the South at this time—which is, again, what I think Hart wants to do—if we merely write off the Bubbas of the world, wrong-headed and misguided as they may be, as merely villainous “hicks” resembling Snively Whiplash more than flawed human beings.

This not to denigrate how fine the novel is on the whole.  Brad himself is a deeply compelling and well-realized hero.  Susie, Brad’s love interest and female counterpart, helps to Hart’s exploration of 1969 Birmingham in sophisticated ways, and Susie and Brad’s relationship is at turns soaring, titillating, crushingly painful, and immensely familiar to us all.  Hart presents the changing relationships between Brad and his childhood best friend BJ, as well as between Brad and his father, powerfully and complexly.  Brad, and those characters closest to him, are wonderfully rendered, strongly presented, and, at times, heart-wrenchingly achieved.

This is all to say that Fielder’s Choice is a novel of real promise, despite some significant problems.  Mr. Hart has given us a very fine representation of a boy becoming a man in a place and time that are immensely complicated, and we are moved to joy and frustration alongside Brad.  It is a deeply enjoyable novel, one I found myself tearing through in three days—no short task for a nearly 500-page book.  And while it has its problems—the writing is sometimes too flat, the characters often too stock, the ending perhaps too neat—I am amazed, again, that this is a first novel by a man whose vocation is not fiction.  And while the problems may keep Mr. Hart’s first novel from being a Great American Middlebrow Novel, it comes mighty close.  Ultimately, Fielder’s Choice is a very good book about a very complex time.  I’m a fan.

Allen Mendenhall Interviews Julie Cantrell

In Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, Literature, News and Current Events, Novels, Southern Literary Review, The South, Writing on February 29, 2012 at 6:10 am

Julie Cantrell was editor-in-chief of the Southern Literary Review.  She teaches English as a second language to elementary school students and is a freelance writer who has published two children’s books. Julie and her family run Valley House Farm in Mississippi.  Her first novel, Into the Free, was released by David C. Cook in 2012.


Julie, so glad to be doing this interview.  First of all, congratulations on the publication of Into the Free, which, at the moment, is number 23 on the Amazon Kindle bestseller list.  What does it feel like to have completed your first novel?

It’s amazing! The entire journey has been joyful for me, but to see it reach readers across the world is incredible. Having it become a bestseller is simply surreal. I admit I’m a bit numb watching it climb the charts, and I keep thinking it will end in a few minutes – a strange little bubble of joy that is about to pop. For that reason, I’ve been doing the happy dance nonstop and am just going to enjoy the fun while it lasts.

The main character of the book is Millie Reynolds.  How did you come up with Millie?  Did you know what she would be like—her personality, her attitudes, her struggles—before you started writing, or did she sort of come to you as you worked?

Well, to be honest, I never intended to write from a child’s point of view. I originally set out to write about the “Gypsy Queen,” but it just wasn’t the voice I heard. Then I saw a scene of a poor, depressed woman standing on a porch watching the Travelers leave town. She wanted to leave with them, but she was too afraid to take the first step. So I sat down to write her story, but it wasn’t her voice I heard either. Instead, Millie sat in her tree and told me her story. I know it sounds kooky, but I guess I just have a very vivid imagination. I’m happy to introduce Millie to readers, and I hope they love her as much as I do.

You once told me that you had two kids, four cows, three goats (two of which were then due with babies that you’d have to bottle feed), two dogs, two cats (one stray that arrived pregnant), a horse that likes a lot of attention, a flock of hens, a newly arrived carton of chicks, a husband, and a full-time job as a speech therapist.  How did you ever manage to finish writing Into the Free

It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? In fact, we’ve grown bigger since then! I still work in an elementary school, but now I teach English as a Second Language, so I was able to reduce my hours to part-time this year. With a full-time farm, a teaching job (which is never really part-time, as any teacher will tell you), two kids, a wonderful hubby, freelance gigs, and an active community life, we stay very busy. I usually write between the hours of 3 am and 5 am, when the rest of the world is sleeping. I just love it more than sleep.

Tell us a little about your choice of setting for the novel?

I am a southern girl, through and through. I spent my childhood in Louisiana before leaving the south after graduate school. I loved living in various states across the country, but our family relocated to Mississippi seven years ago, returning to our southern roots. I find this state incredibly rich with everything needed to whip up a story. I never considered setting it anywhere other than Mississippi. However, I like to mix things up a bit, so let’s see where the sequel takes us.

Any advice for aspiring novelists who might come across this interview?

Yes. I say, Go for it! If writing is what you love, be willing to make sacrifices to keep that in your life. Only you know what you were born to do, and only you know how to live the life that makes you happy. Life is short. Choose wisely.

Thank you, Julie.  This has been a great interview.  I’m thrilled to see the success of Into the Free, and I would encourage readers of this site to purchase a copy right away. 

Thank you, Allen. I am honored to be interviewed here on a site I have always loved. You’ve done a fabulous job with Southern Literary Review, and I know your readers all agree. Kudos!

Allen Mendenhall Interviews Ace Atkins

In Artist, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Creative Writing, Fiction, Humanities, News and Current Events, Novels, Southern Literary Review, Writing on December 12, 2011 at 8:46 am

Ace Atkins is the author of nine novels, most recently The Ranger and Infamous.  A former journalist at The Tampa Tribune, Atkins has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his investigation into a 1950s murder.  He lives on a farm outside Oxford, Mississippi.

The following interview first appeared here at Southern Literary Review.

AM: What I suspect everyone wants to know is, how do you stay so prolific?  How do you write so much, so quickly?

AA: I’m very fortunate to be a full-time novelist. I’ve been writing full time since 2001 and that gives me the freedom to concentrate completely on my stories. Many terrific writers I know have to carve out time from from their jobs to work on a book. I am able to go to my office every day and work on that new novel. I feel pretty damn lucky and that in turn means I get to work on more projects.

AM: You seem to have located The Ranger in regions of the South that you know well.  Would you call this book “Southern literature”? 

AA: Absolutely. I don’t get into working in a certain genre—that’s up to readers and critics—and can hurt the writer and reader. My new series of novels could not be set anywhere else but the South and certainly centers on many Southern themes. I gain a lot of inspiration from the gritty world of Faulkner’s crime stories and turn my attention to the descendants of those people. 

AM:    I noticed that country music and country musicians appear throughout The Ranger.  Can you tell us about the significance of this to the novel?

AA: My first four novels were stylistically and thematically about blues. I always wanted to work on a novel that felt like an old Johnny Cash ballad—a solider returning home to town, unrequited love, guns and violence. I listened to a lot of Johnny Cash and also tons of Outlaw Country—Waylon, Merle, etc.—when coming up with the background of Quinn Colson.

AM: Who is Colonel George Reynolds?  I noticed his name in the Acknowledgments. 

George is the guy who saved my ass. I had contracted to write a novel about a U.S. Army soldier without knowing enough about the modern war in Afghanistan. Colonel Reynolds contacted me from Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan about signing a copy of my novel, Devil’s Garden. He offered help if I ever needed. It turned out, I needed help immediately. He offered terrific insight direct from the battle front and introduced me to the real Ranger who provided the background for Quinn Colson. 

I could not have written the book without him and he still provides me with a ton of answers to picky questions. Read the rest of this entry »

National Novel Writing Month

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Creativity, Fiction, Humanities, Literature, News and Current Events, News Release, Novels, Writing on October 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Readers of this site should know that November is National Novel Writing Month.  Every year, in November, writers use to dash off a 50,000 word novel in just 30 days (the site doesn’t track November 31).  Please check out the site and, if you’re interested, participate in the madness.  Here are some related links:

1.  About NaNoWriMo

2.  How NaNoWriMo Works

3.  History of NaNoWriMo

Joyce Corrington Publishes Fear of Dying

In Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Creative Writing, John William Corrington, Literary Theory & Criticism, Novels, Writing on March 20, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Allen Mendenhall

The late John William Corrington, known to friends and family as Bill, was a novelist, poet, attorney, screenwriter, essayist, and philosopher.  He authored several books of varying genres.  Click here to read my profile of Bill in The Front Porch Republic.     

Bill and his wife Joyce Corrington, a scientist, wrote a series of novels together, including So Small a Carnival (1986), A Project Named Desire (1987), A Civil Death (1987), and The White Zone (1990).  After Bill’s death, Joyce wrote a fifth novel that was never published—until now.  This fifth novel, Fear of Dying, has been published as a Kindle ebook and is available here.

Joyce Corrington is a kind and generous woman who has helped me in many different ways over the last few years.  Please buy this book and, if you like it, review it for the Kindle site.

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