Before I figured out I was a bona fide southern fiction writer, I experimented with a lot of different genres. Bittersweet Creek was supposed to be a Harlequin Superromance, but it had too much cow.
I’d just written my first attempt at a Harlequin American–working title Married to the Mortician–so you would think I might be close to getting a clue about how I don’t fit in with genre.
Months later as I was leaving car pool I would almost slam on my brakes with an exclamation of “Holy sh*t!” as I realized that my newly finished The Happy Hour Choir featured the mortician from what would one day be Better Get to Livin’ and that the dive where Romy and Julian sing “Islands in the Stream” in Bittersweet Creek was the same Fountain where Beulah played. Maybe I thought I was writing different stories, but, no, I had been subconsciously setting all of my stories in my own little postage stamp of the universe. Even better? Yessum is a lot easier to say and spell than Yoknapatawpha.
Bittersweet Creek (then called Starcrossed and later Starcrossed and Moonblind) is a coming home story. It’s also a mashup of Romeo and Juliet and the Hatfields and the McCoys with a touch of Progressive Farmer and the barest glimmer of Southern Living. Once again I had hit the jackpot of things people supposedly don’t want to read about: poor farmers, cows, a rural story with literary allusions. For you-know-what-and-giggles, I also threw in a little psychology on nature versus nurture: can we (people or animals) be made mean or are we born that way?
But the one thing I discovered about Bittersweet Creek–once I’d written it–was that it’s my love letter to West Tennessee. Sure, I had to add some villains to make for a good story, but look at the good characters. Look at the animals, the verdant countryside, and Romy’s struggle to balance her rural roots with a world that prizes the urban and the commercial. I think I’m most nervous about Bittersweet Creek because I don’t want a novel that includes so many of things I love about where I grew up to fail.
And, speaking of my childhood home, I want to introduce you to a bodacious badass bovine bad girl named Rosie. For some reason, Rosie’s mom didn’t take to her just as Star’s mom doesn’t take to her in my novel. Unlike Star, however, poor Rosie probably didn’t get what nourishment she needed in time and had some health issues that led to an early demise. Writing Star was my way to let Rosie live on.
My mom bottle-fed Rosie, who quickly adopted her as a suitable mother facsimile. She would come to my mom barreling toward her in a way that would give anyone pause once she got bigger. The most remarkable thing that Rosie did, however, was untie my mom’s shoes. Weird little heifer! I’ve never seen a cow do that before or since, so I gave that special skill to little Star in Bittersweet Creek.
I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy of Bittersweet Creek this Tuesday. It’s available wherever fine books are sold. If you’re in the Atlanta area and would like to stop by Foxtale Book Shoppe on October 29th for my launch party, I’ll have a special mason jar-type glass complete with color changing straw so we can tell if you’re feeling bitter or sweet.
P.S. Dear all–but mostly mom–I’d like to preemptively apologize for the amount of cursing that takes place in this book. Um. I didn’t realize until I was in the page proof stage that the language is a little. . . blue? I guess that’s another nod to the Bard.