Posts tagged with: Southern Fiction

Cotton harvest and the new book

I was back in Southeast Missouri last week researching my next novel, and it starts right here in this cotton field south of Kennett.  A giant six row cotton picker falls into a hole and the farmer discovers a century-old storm shelter lined with 1×12 cypress planks, and a mystery involving his family going back to before the Civil War.  Bootheel will be a multigenerational saga about the Little River Drainage District and the largest swamp drainage project in America; a bodice ripping romance of hot blood, money, power, jealousy and adventure.  A tale of finance, vision, politics, greed, and the transformation of uninhabitable swamps into the world’s best farm land and its utilization by industrial agriculture on a grand scale.  It will take a year or more to write.  In the meantime, look for Sliding Delta, a novel about the Delta blues I’m currently shopping to agents.


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Mississippi John Hurt: A Book Review

Published as part of the American Made Music series by the University Press of Mississippi, Mississippi John Hurt is a well written biography of  legendary blues musician John Hurt by Philip R. Ratcliffe.  Tracing Hurt’s family back to slavery days, Ratcliffe gives us the background which must be a part of any study of blues music.  It also gives us a view of music in the middle of the last century.  The music industry today is based on music copyrights establishing  authorship so that royalties can be paid.  But, Hurt and the other musicians first recorded in the 1920’s bent familiar melodies and changed words to fit their own styles and moods.  For example, Hurt’s recording of the familiar song “Frankie and Johnny,” is about Frankie and Albert.

John Hurt was a small, quiet, unassuming man from Avalon, Mississippi, which is just at the edge of the Mississippi delta.  He was discovered in 1926 and made several records in Memphis and New York before the depression claimed all the recording companies.  He went back to farming and was re-discovered in 1963 during the folk music revival.  He went on tour at age 70 and died in 1966.

John Hurt played the guitar by running a constant bass beat on the top three strings with his thumb, index, and middle fingers while playing a melody on the bottom three strings with his ring and little finger, sometimes plucking the frets above with his left hand.  It’s light and airy with none of the harsh, string stretching improvisation that came with electric guitars in the 1950’s.  His music would be categorized as Old Blues, i.e., part folk music, part blues, part African rhythm and style.  He sounds more like Jimmie Rogers, the father of Country Music also recorded in 1926, than Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker.

Ratcliffe has given us a window into the society of Mississippi during the Jim Crow years, and it’s nuanced.  The Ku Klux Klan was an ever present threat to blacks who violated the strict segregation rules of the time, yet Hurt’s family and friends describe a friendly rural area where the races lived together and cooperated in farming and logging.  Their social lives revolved around their churches, segregated by race, and the local store, where the races mixed.  Black and white people enjoyed John Hurt’s singing and playing.

I bought this book as research for my next book, Sliding Delta.  A quest to find Mississippi John Hurt and learn to pick the Delta Blues takes a Chicago college boy south of Memphis in the summer of 1965.  It’s a coming of age historical novel about the delta, the blues, and The South.

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The Mingrelian: Espionage at a Tbilisi rug shop


IMG_0212This is the rug shop in Tbilisi, Georgia where Boyd Chailland, the dashing Air Force captain and protagonist of Ed Baldwin’s adventure series meets his contact in the shadowy world of Central Asian political intrigue.  When the beautiful Ekaterina Dadiani steps out from behind a curtain in this rug shop the whole story changes for Boyd, and for the reader.  “The Mingrelian”, CIA’s code word for the spy passing secrets about Iran’s nuclear weapons program suddenly becomes personal.  Is it Ekaterina?  If not, who?  Why?  What happens if the Iranians find out?

You won’t have to wait long.  Boyd’s tale is almost done, and Steve Meosky, the cover artist for The Other Pilot, The Devil on Chardonnay, is back on the job with The Mingrelian. Expect to be reading something in May.

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New Book Release 2013! See cover art for The Devil on Chardonnay

DOC_Kindle_LayoutNew Book Release 2013!  The cover art for The Devil on Chardonnay is just in today.  Cover artist Steve Meosky has been working for months on this picture.  The 120 foot wooden sailing yacht Chardonnay is approaching the spent volcano Pico in the Azores.  This unique ship, more than a century old and seen in this exotic locale, promises the reader an adventure.  We’re building a brand here, and the cover matches the style of The Other Pilot, the first adventure in the Capt. Boyd Chailland series.

In The Other Pilot Capt. Boyd Chailland is plucked from his life as a journeyman fighter pilot to serve on an Accident Investigation Board, and is caught up in an action packed thriller that features old and new aircraft, flying, fighting, investigation, and lots of flawed, interesting characters.  Just as he’s recovering he’s hurriedly called back to a black ops, off the books mission in The Devil on Chardonnay.  

This New Book Release 2013 announcement previews the next Boyd  Chailland adventure, with a publication date of June 15th.

A secret vaccine?  The chance to “spread a little sickness” attracts criminals and revolutionaries; but they’re the small players.  Something worse broke out of the Congo basin, and Strategic Command’s Capt. Boyd Chailland’s fight to get ahead of the trail of death leads to Chardonnay,  sailing yacht of the notorious European merchant banker Michelle Meilland as they cross the Atlantic in hurricane season.  A kaleidoscope of characters arise to test Boyd’s wits and stamina as he chases this constantly evolving threat from the Indian Ocean to  America, and finally to a breathtaking action climax in the Azores.

New Book Release 2013 June 15 publication date for The Devil on Chardonnay, watch for it!

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Is James Lee Burke the new Faulkner?

James Lee Burke writes genre fiction; mystery/thrillers. But, one could argue that is mainstream fiction today. People don’t read a lot of literary fiction anymore. Though Burke’s fiction follows a predictable story line, and Faulkner’s certainly didn’t, they’re both telling tales about American culture in their own day. Through Faulkner’s window in The Sound and The Fury we see a formerly aristocratic family in the final stages of deterioration in a culture on auto pilot since the Civil War. Fast forward 85 years and Burke is showing us Clete Purcell struggling with his PTSD and drug addiction while Ozone Eddy and No Duh Dolowitz do dirty tricks for the mob in New Orleans, and Dave Robicheux records how the swamp smells on a foggy November morning while he’s trying to figure out who dropped a whore imbedded in a block of ice into the bayou. Each gives us an accurate picture of their time. What do you think?

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Reading About The New South

What is The New South? Hey, we’re building airliners in Charleston, refine most of the nation’s oil, are becoming the preferred location for global auto companies, and are bedding down retirees from everywhere with our year round golf courses and agreeable tax structures. There’s all that activity, and yet, there’s still that magnolia, with those big fragrant flowers, and the air is soft, and the people are…well, that’s why we read about the South.
So, what are the roots of Southern Fiction? Read this:
“General Hood and his staff came galloping up, dismounted and joined us. Mary gave him a bouquet. He unwrapped a Bible which he wore in his pocket carefully–he said his mother gave it to him–and he pressed a flower in it.
She stood somewhat apart, rather as a spectator of this scene. She had refused to appear the night Hood came to tea. Now as they passed, Dr. Darby introduced the general. After he had mounted his horse–before he rode away–he looked at her, turning his horse as he did so, and he said something to the doctor which caused the latter to smile. The surgeon came back for more adieus, and she walked up. She asked eagerly, ‘What was that he said to you? About me?’
Only a horse compliment–he is a Kentuckian, you know. He says, ‘You stand on your feet like a thoroughbred.’”
Southern Romance fiction? A bodice ripper from Southern Historical fiction? No. That’s an eyewitness account of General John Bell Hood’s regiment riding through Richmond in 1863 to meet a Federal advance across the Rappahannock. It’s in Mary Chestnut’s Civil War, a diary that contains a daily account of her life as the wife of a plantation owner who became a colonel in the Confederacy and eventually a general. Her diary is the basis of most of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, and many other Southern Fiction stories. I think it the foundation of Southern Fiction because it has so many stories, so much dialogue and place description. It sets a certain flavor and tone.
We Southerners don’t wish the South had won the Civil War, and we for sure wouldn’t want to do it again. Mr. Lincoln taught us that lesson well. But, there was a gallantry there that we still admire. People in the north have forgotten the Civil War. There are people in the South who can take you to a spot and tell you what their great great grandfather did when he wore the butternut and grey uniform.
Faulkner wrote of decay, and Robert Penn Warren wrote of corruption in government, and James Dickey wrote of grotesque characters. We new authors of the New South are over all that; there’s action here, and optimism. And, that magnolia still smells so sweet it darn near makes you sick.

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The Evolution of Southern Fiction

Southern Fiction has evolved since William Faulkner’s opaque gothic stories about a dysfunctional culture adrift and decaying in a post Civil War world.  I still enjoy the old style southern writing; Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men is my favorite book, but there is much more now.  That’s what this blog is about.  We’ll look at the new Southern writers, especially those that write action or adventure fiction, like James Lee Burke, and, of course, Ed Baldwin.  Open for discussion also will be the Romance writers and the Historical fiction writers, especially discussions about how the new writers mimic and draw from the old style authors and those historians like Shelby Foote who presented the details of our southern heritage in such an interesting, literary style.

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