A couple of Southern transplants around the Puget Sound

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Last Thursday, I joined novelist Alec Clayton for a reading and book signing at the Timberland Regional Library in Lacey, WA. Alec read a couple of passages from his most recent novel, Tupelo, with a perfectly timed emotional shift: a bit of humor and then a wonderfully nostalgic teenage make-out session that takes a sudden turn at the end into much, much darker territory.

It was gut-wrenching moment perfectly timed for maximum emotional impact, and when he finished and it was my turn to read from Hagridden, I announced, “Well, then, on that note, let’s kill some people!”

I read a passage from later in my novel, when Buford and the girl are on the run up north, near Fort Niblets, and as they make their way back into the southern bayou they meet Catherine Stone and the women who are living with her. It’s a hard passage to read aloud, in part because of the many voices at play in the scene and in part because of the language the characters use (there are a lot of racial slurs in that scene), but I wanted to read it so I could then read the “prequel” short story, “What Have You Done to Deserve Such a Halo,” about Catherine Stone’s encounter with a shadowy figure (spoiler: he’s a rougarou!) and her reason for gathering all those women into her home.

The reason Alec and I were reading together, apart from our mutual admiration (Alec is one hell of a storyteller!), is that we both grew up in the South — Alec in Mississippi and I in Texas (with roots in Oklahoma and Louisiana, too) — and even though we’ve both lived in a range of other places and have settled here in the Pacific Northwest, we both continue to write fiction set down South. Which is what we spent a lot of our Q&A session talking about.

It was a wonderful conversation with the audience, with a lot of deep, insightful questions about how our sense of place impacts our writing — and vice versa — which went over great because some of the folks in the audience were also Southern transplants or had spent time down South, so the audience had a lot to contribute to that discussion!

We also talked about the kind of work that goes into not only writing and publishing our books but also promoting them. All Alec’s books, for example, are through Mud Flat Press, which is actually the press he and his wife Gabi set up; Mud Flat publishes other authors, but since Alec and Gabi own and run the press, Alec’s books are technically self-published: he and Gabi have to do (or hire) all the editing, design, and production work themselves, and then they have to do all the marketing as well. My books, on the other hand, are all small-press, which means someone else is doing all the editing and design and production (I joked that I prefer this because I’m so lazy), but a lot of the marketing is still on me, because small presses barely have the budgets to publish their books, much less promote them. So Alec and I kicked around a conversation about our different and really not-so-different experiences in publishing.

I also want to give a shout-out to my wife, Jennifer, for taking the photos in this post (and for asking some great questions during the Q&A!) and a huge thanks to the library staff in Lacey, especially the delightful librarian Jennifer (who is not my wife but a completely different Jennifer, though the two librarian Jennifers were excited to discover each other!). The library is especially supportive of local and independent authors, and they even have posted advice on promotion for self-published authors and feature local and self-published authors on their shelves.

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