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Sunday, September 20, 2015

The story behind my novel "Secondhand Sister"


Writers know one basic truth: fiction is a blend of the author's experiences and a good portion of dreams and imagination. 

The spark for Secondhand Sister flared as a result of a family discussion about my series of novels set in my hometown of Chattahoochee, Florida--a town with two stoplights and a state mental institution on its main thoroughfare.

I recently attended a reunion in Chattahoochee where I heard the same sentiment echoed: my birthplace was a truly unique and wonderful area to grow up. I agree.

In my first novel, The Madhatter's Guide to Chocolate, released over ten years ago, I introduced the Davis family of Bonnie Hill, three miles outside of Chattahoochee. The second novel, Up the Devil's Belly, carried them forward. Though I tried to make this family dissimilar from my own, everyone thought they were us anyway.

My brother Jimmy (some of you know him as Gabby) said, "I'm sure glad you got the brother in the books into AA and dried him up a little. People keep coming up to me on the street to say, 'we didn't know you had such a bad drinking problem until we read your sister's book.' "

We laughed. My brother, you see, is much like me in this respect: we rarely drink. One beer every now and then, when it is hot outside and the beer is really, really cold. You could probably count on one hand the number of alcoholic beverages we consume in a two-year period. But Jimmy is a good sport, and he likes to kid around as much as I do. My older sister Melody was no slacker in the humor department either. My entire family is this way. Thank goodness.

"Well," my sister Melody said, "at least she didn't kill you off at birth."

In my attempt to create pure fiction, I had deleted the middle child from the Davis family. Bless her heart.

Later, Jimmy and I discussed this. Hated to make Melody feel left out. Jimmy suggested that the middle child could have been switched at birth. It happened, back then, more often than folks wanted to admit.

That notion swirled around in my mind like the eddies in the Apalachicola River. What if....?

And the main character for Secondhand Sister, Mary-Esther Sloat, came to be. 

Mary-Esther grew up and lived most of her patchwork life in New Orleans, found out she wasn't who she thought she was, then lost her home and everything she valued in Hurricane Katrina. Homeless, hopeless, and harried, she arrived in Chattahoochee in a beat-up Chevy van, intent on locating her real family. There, she hit more obstacles. But I won't give too many spoilers....

I dedicated this book in memory of my sister Melody DeVane-Kight. She never got to read it. She passed away at age 61, the result of a brain aneurysm. The manuscript idled for a number of years until I was ready to head into deep revisions. I wrote several others in the interim. Three of the books, Mama's Comfort Food, Cathead Crazy, and Suicide Supper Club, were also set in Chattahoochee, though they spotlighted different families.

Though Mary-Esther is unlike Melody in appearance and life history, she shares some important traits: a true kindness to others and unwavering optimism, even in the face of great odds. 

This one's for Melody. Hope you can sense it, up there. You left too soon, hon. And we miss you. Terribly.

Tell Daddy and Mama and the rest of the gone-to-glory crew I send my love, and oh . . . you best save me some chocolate.

Love you.
Rhett

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Secondhand Sister is slated for release end of October, 2015. The Kindle version is already available for preorder on Amazon.


1 comment:

Malcolm Campbell said...

It's always fun to here where stories come from. You know, of course, that those of us who grew up down the road, were scared of Chattahoochee. We might have made jokes about it.