Once again I ended up glued to a book I wasn’t sure I’d like.
It’s actually pretty nice when that happens.
If you’ve read previous entries in this series, you might recall that I hesitated over accepting an assignment to proofread Mike Dellosso’s Midnight Is My Time, as I’m not generally a fan of dystopian literature, and how I ended up glued to the fast-moving, scary, can’t-figure-out-where-the-heck-this-is-going-but-can-hardly-stand-the-wait-to-find-out plot, which was adapted from a passage in Revelation that I’d never seen or heard of (especially since I tend to avoid that particular book of the Bible).
I found myself recalling those feelings of hesitancy recently when I was approached with another assignment from the same publisher (and my regular client), Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Not because there was anything dystopian or frighteningly prophetic about it, but because it came with something unprecedented in my work for them—a disclaimer. Specifically, that there was some language (not too strong, though) and a rape scene (not too graphic).
I started skimming the manuscript as soon as I received it, looking to see just how bothersome that one scene would actually be. Yes, it did make me uncomfortable. As it should any reader. But I kept on skimming, and at first superficial glance I didn’t really think I would bond with these characters. Still, I’d already said yes, so back to page one I went and started reading in earnest. And, as with Midnight Is My Time, I soon found myself so glad I did.
Because, Renea Winchester . . .
Girl, you can tell a story! You can set a scene. With just the mention of a few old product names you took me back to an early-seventies family room where I sat facing the TV while my mom wrapped my stick-straight, Dippity-do’d hair around pink foam rollers. And then to another family room in front of another TV, where, like Doretta, I also crushed on One Life to Live‘s Marco Dane, snake and cad that he was.
No, I’ve never experienced an unwanted and unplanned teen pregnancy, or worked a blue-collar job in a textile factory. I’m a stringent saver but I’ve never had to scrimp like Barbara and her mother Pearlene, to the point of scrounging for coupons in a landfill. I’ve never had to eschew buying “fancy” Charmin toilet paper or lived in a rundown trailer with a “makeshift picnic area” created from discarded power company spools. (Kudos to the creativity, Carole Anne).
But I’ve lived in a three-generation household of strong-minded Southern women who knew a thing or two about making do. Gotten laid off as a result of economic decisions made by the powers that be. And oh, how delighted I was to see things were FINALLY looking up for our trio of gals at the end. Still . . . you didn’t give me everything I wanted, Renea. There were still secrets. And it was clear they were going to stay secrets. How I wanted just one of them to be revealed. (I bet you know which one.) How I wanted justice even though the time for it was past. How I wanted to see at least one skeleton released from its stuffy black closet.
You didn’t give me that, but it’s okay. Because that’s how real life works so much of the time.
And this book is full of real life. You had me almost trembling from the comfort of my bedroom recliner on a night that started—and should have ended—with a young girl’s dreams. Almost sick with dread at the prospect of a pink slip. Recalling some of the challenges my mother faced while caring for an elderly parent as I watched your Barbara navigate the challenges of her mother Pearlene’s decline. Grinning at Pearlene”s malapropisms like “crotch pot” and “cue-pins.” Inwardly raging at the dismissive labeling of underprivileged kids as “rejects.”
Oh, Renea, here I am once again in danger of giving away a little too much, even as I think, Girl, you can tell a story.
And how did you? I wondered. Tell this particular one so realistically. Was it mostly good research, or could there be a shade of Barbara in you?
I found out when I reached your Author’s Note and Acknowledgements. Bryson City is a real North Carolina town, and it was your town. The Maroon Devils were and are a real football team. The folks rich and poor, sane and drunk, making do and making out, may have been fictionalized, and yet they were real.
No wonder you could tell such a story. No doubt much of it was due to that mysterious, God-given gift handed out to future writers in their cradles, but I doubt I’ll ever forget how the gaze of that little freckle-faced girl locked with yours from a window in a trailer park, or how your brother said that fated day, “There’s your book” while pointing to that trailer park.
Can you thank him for me? As I thank you for respecting and listening to and honoring the voice of the storyteller within you and giving us Outbound Train?
Dang it, with a voice like yours, Renea, I’m thinking I’m going to have to check out some of your other books as well.
(Look for Outbound Train on April 1, 2020 from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.)