We’re at the midpoint in our Books of Summer series and we can’t think of a better author to anchor this five week journey than Karen White. She’s bright, funny, prolific, and truly one of the kindest authors you’ll ever meet. She also happens to be a fantastic writer. Karen opened her home to Marybeth and I on a trip to Atlanta earlier this year and I will forever be grateful for her hospitality. We’re certain that you will adore her new novel, A LONG TIME GONE. And as we have each week so far, we not only have Karen’s novel up for grabs today, but all of our Books of Summer. (See the entry form below for details.) There’s still plenty of time to enter our giveaways for Week One and Week Two.
The Most Southern Place on Earth
I spent my entire childhood feeling homeless. I always had a nice home with a bedroom of my own (although I had to share a bathroom with my three brothers—something from which I have not yet fully recovered), but I never had a hometown because of my father’s job that had us moving often. We lived in London, England for seven years, so it wasn’t really a hardship. But I always felt that being without a hometown was.
My mother was born in a small town in the Mississippi Delta. She lived around the corner from her grandparents, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins. The small house on West Augusta Street, with its two bedrooms and one bath was the home my mother was born in and where my grandmother lived all of her married life and where she raised her five daughters and one son.
Wherever we were in the world, my summer vacation was never really complete unless I spent time in Indianola. There wasn’t much there, even back then. But it was a place where I could kick off my shoes with my cousins and run around town where people would know me as “Catherine Anne’s girl.”
It would be hotter than Hades, and the mosquitoes and chiggers would eat me alive, but I loved it. They call the Mississippi Delta the most “Southern place on earth.” It’s a place of flat, fertile fields filled with cotton in the summer time, and succulent food. People talk more slowly, drive more slowly. Children use the words “ma’am” and “sir”.
My grandmother’s house overflowed with family photographs. In a place of honor was a framed newspaper clipping from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not from 1934. It’s a photograph of six generations of women in my family—and my mother is the baby held in my grandmother’s arms (although the name is incorrectly attributed to be my mother’s cousin Rosemary—a family scandal!).
I would spend hours sitting under my grandmother’s kitchen table listening to my mother and grandmother and four aunts doing their Southern sister girl talk. Those are the voices I still hear when creating the strong Southern women in my books.
I suppose it was inevitable that I would set a story about mothers and daughters in the Delta. A LONG TIME GONE is about three generations of women who are destined to leave their Delta cotton farm, but whatever drives them away is never stronger than the pull of what brings them back. Add to that the body of a woman buried in the roots of a cypress tree, the historic Mississippi River flood of 1927, a daughter struggling with her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s, and a love story twenty years in the making, and I knew I had book.
Through my writing I’ve discovered that home isn’t a geographical place. It’s a place where your people are. It’s a place where you can sit under an old Formica kitchen table and know that you are surrounded by love.
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“We Walker women were born screaming into this world, the beginning of a lifelong quest to find what would quiet us. But whatever drove us away was never stronger than the pull of what brought us back….”
When Vivien Walker left her home in the Mississippi Delta, she swore never to go back, as generations of the women in her family had. But in the spring, nine years to the day since she’d left, that’s exactly what happens—Vivien returns, fleeing from a broken marriage and her lost dreams for children.
What she hopes to find is solace with “Bootsie,” her dear grandmother who raised her, a Walker woman with a knack for making everything all right. But instead she finds that her grandmother has died and that her estranged mother is drifting further away from her memories. Now Vivien is forced into the unexpected role of caretaker, challenging her personal quest to find the girl she herself once was.
But for Vivien things change in ways she cannot imagine when a violent storm reveals the remains of a long-dead woman buried near the Walker home, not far from the cypress swamp that is soon to give up its ghosts. Vivien knows there is now only one way to rediscover herself—by uncovering the secrets of her family and breaking the cycle of loss that has haunted them for generations.
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