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Ruth hiked up her nightgown and heaved her leg over the rusted red Schwinn. She patted her pink curlers, praying they would stay put. Wobbling down the driveway, she shoved the pedals hard, knees banging against the handlebars. She hit the asphalt, picking up momentum. This bike is far too small! I’ll never catch up with her at this speed. Ruth whizzed by a sea of neighbors who murmured their comments. “Oh, go back in your house!” she shouted. “What is it about this town?” She scoffed and teetered on. Her bare breasts beat against her stomach, sticky with sweat. How girls went untethered these days, especially in this humidity, was beyond her.
Patsy Bundy hurled down the street, her father’s Confederate flag under her arm like a football, and Ruth had to know where the teenager was going.
Patsy was a strawberry-curled high school senior. She had grown weary of living in Cypress, of dealing with her parents. Patsy ran fast, made quick decisions, and had strong opinions. Her sharp tongue struck people, leaving them ten feet behind her in the thick Louisiana air, wondering what had just happened. They said she was exhausting. Maybe this was true. And she despised her father’s Confederate flag more than anything. That sweltering evening, a fight ensued between them.
“Daddy, it’s just embarrassing. Everyone can see that—”
“It’s our heritage. It’s the south. I’m not taking down my heritage! And besides, your friends aren’t real Southerners. They’re all off to hoity-toity Ivy League colleges, because of what I pay their fathers…”
“I am leaving,” she said, jaw clenched. She fought the urge to spit.
He pursed his lips, then said, “So, go. I dare you.” He puffed his chest out like a bird asserting his territory.
“I’ll never come back.” Patsy sure as hell never refused a dare. It wasn’t in her nature.
She was crazy angry by the time she set foot in the Louisiana heat. She ran from the Grierson-style mansion and headed for the wetlands. Patsy did not know these people who raised her, not at all. Her head spun. Beads of sweat pooled on her brow as she ripped the flag from its pole. She shuddered at the sight of it. The feel of the thick canvas against her hands made her flesh crawl.
Sprinting through the little neighborhood, she passed Cypress Market, and the rows of smaller, pastel-colored houses blurred together. The sickening, acrid scent of death chased her, the vision rolling through her like a rip-tide. Patsy thought she could outrun the feeling, the bizarre intuition that someone, at some time, had died here. That someone wanted to tell her something. Her pace quickened; the galloping began. The roar of the horses’ hooves clicking on the pavement intensified. A whistling wind shrilled against their muscled bodies as they passed. The horror sucked her in as she witnessed the otherworldliness of their bright white coats.
The horses hit the dirt. Unfamiliar men clipped their sides, yelling, “Go!” as they broke into a faster canter. Confederate flags flapped in the wind; muskets shot through the air. The stench of the earthy swampland rose into the atmosphere, filling the wetlands with a thick, green haze. Their cream- colored manes resisted the splattering mud. Thousands of them swarmed the wetlands. Patsy held her breath, tried to avert her gaze, but they persisted in her peripheral vision, gauzy against the dropping sun. A man riding by squeezed a woman against him as she screamed. They kicked up dirt, whooshing through Patsy’s beloved Bayou. Shaking and numb, she had to get to the tin house, the little cabin that was safe. The men dissipated before she arrived, diffusing like smoke in the trees.
Struggling to take a deep breath in the humidity, she trudged through the spongy grass, feet slurping through the mud. The tin-walled shack hovered on raised beams right over the water. The confines of the metal room burst with trapped heat. There wasn’t much to it, a couple of chairs and a gray folding table. It was her childhood hideout, a refuge where she played with her few friends, where she came to read, think or dream about the day she would move away from Cypress, far from the rumors that shot from all directions.
The visions began here in the tin shack. She couldn’t have been older than six. “This is what happens, here in Cypress,” she told her mother. “There is something evil in this town.”
Town legend had it that Patsy was a witch, burning Bibles down at the wetlands. The rumors died out by third grade. But with a population of less than five hundred, everyone knew everything about everyone, leaving an undercurrent of whispers babbling through every layer of the town on the Bayou.
But Patsy knew the truth. If only because she had seen it.
She saw ghosts, at least that’s how she described it. They permeated every living creature in Cypress. Only she knew their wickedness. She needed to understand where they came from.
For now, the flag had to go……
The cypress trees’ delicate leaves laced over mossy rocks, almost tickling the still water, where the gators lived. The summer sun soaked the sky in color; blood-red morphed to fiery orange, spanning across the tip of night like an eagle’s wings. Wispy clouds rolled in as they often did before a summer storm. Splotches of gray expanded, blotting out the remnants of day. A light rain sizzled in the warm night, but it did not extinguish Patsy’s rage. She lit a cigarette, drew a breath, tried to calm her trembling hands.
She hated him; she hated them all. Her older brother, with his feigned piousness and perpetual parent-pleasing kind of way. Her mother, so tender in that sweet iced tea syrupy kind of way, that slap-you-in-the-face and ask, “Why, whatever is the matter?” kind of way.
At least, she thought, her father did not have a kind of way. He just was.
The little tin house was so humid, like inhaling water. You got used to that, living on the Bayou, but it was interminable today—like a steam room. She stumbled out through the sludge and sunk by the water’s edge, the only light from the sliver of incandescent moon and the glowing red tip of her cigarette. She blew a stream of smoke out of her line of sight. In her lap was the flag, now dark as night. With her fingers, she felt its stitched edges. A bubble of wrath, a flash of teenaged indignation welled within her.
She flicked the green lighter and touched the edge of the flag with its flame. It did not catch fire quickly. Flick, flick, flick. A little smoke, a tiny ember. Four tries, five. With a roar, it shot ablaze. Her hands went numb with cool panic. For a moment, Patsy stared in disbelief at the edges curling up with fire that lit the shadowy night. It smelled like a mixture of sulfur and campfire smoke. She whipped it sideways, hard, so hot ash could not blow toward her face. And in the water, it floated for a moment, flames licking the water, until they fell quiet and it sunk, leaving nothing but ribbons of smoke.
She did not have a kind of way—she just was.
There was a crash, a clatter of metal, followed by a high- pitched scream. It skipped across the water like a stone.
“What the hell?” Patsy yelled into the bushes, smoothing her shirt, now balled up as a tissue.
A disheveled version of Ruth Marks— at least that’s who Patsy thought it was— tumbled out onto the dirt, seemingly attached to a red bicycle. Patsy squinted, trying to get a closer look. She waved the cigarette smoke away. It was very dark now. “What the hell?”
She shivered and took a drag from her cigarette, wet with snot and tears. She wept louder still, struggling to form coherent thoughts. Daddy’s gonna kill me. There’s really nothing that can be done… it’s over.
Something rustled behind her. She froze, heart thumping.
What is that noise? Could he be here already, with his shotgun….no, no it’s just a lizard…
“Patsy! watch your language. There’s no need to talk like that.”
“Mrs. Marks? Shit!” She crouched lower to access the situation.
Ruth mumbled a series of swear words of her own, tangled in the Schwinn. The bottom of her nightgown was caught in the chain, ripped clear up to her armpit. Blood ran down her leg, and her head was a mass of pink Velcro scrunched together.
Well, thought Patsy, at least she put on her slippers before she went for her bike ride, otherwise—
“Mrs. Marks,” said Patsy. She moved closer to Ruth and helped her untangle the last bits of cotton from the bike. She wiped the grease from her palms onto her jeans, breathless. “What the hell are you doing, riding around on a bike, at night, in your pajamas?”
Ruth raised an eyebrow. “Well, what the hell are you doing here, setting fire to your father’s flag? I swear, Patsy, if I hadn’t known your mother since kindergarten—”
“It doesn’t matter, Mrs. Marks. Even without your intervention, this,” she said, waving her hand towards the spot in the water where the flag had been, “will run through town faster than that time Will Thompson spread gonorrhea to half the cheerleading squad.” She slumped down, lit another cigarette, and stared glumly at the water, where the reflection of the moon shimmered like shards of melted glass oozing into each other.
“Give me one of those,” said Ruth, motioning towards the pack of Marlboro Reds as she plunked to the ground with a thud.
“Obviously. I smoked when I was pregnant with Tommy, even. Don’t tell anyone,” she whispered.
“All right. Not really. I thought you’d feel better if I told you something scandalous about myself.” She sighed.
“Scandalous? Oh, my God.” Now Patsy was laughing. “Why did you follow me out here, anyway? Just to run back to the old ladies and gossip?”
“Contrary to what you might believe, I care about you,” she said. Patsy thought perhaps this was true. “I know you want to change your dad. But this,” she said, pointing at the water, “is just gonna get your butt paddled.”
“I’m not sorry, you know. He’s trying to stop me from going to college in Boston,” she said, raising her chin. “But I suppose we should go back. For now.”
“Whatever. I can’t imagine anyone stopping you from doing exactly what you want,” snorted Ruth, heaving the bicycle up the dirt path to the road. They trudged in silence, listening to the crickets chirping and a pungent kind of sorrow hanging in the air. Patsy had the odd feeling something had changed forever, but exactly what was muddled in her brain.
“Well, here we are,” said Ruth, as they approached Patsy’s large yellow house. Ruth lived next door, her little pink house in the shadows of the street lamps. “Maybe it’s best you avoided your father tonight.”
“How?” said Patsy.
“Your room is on that side, right?”
“Yes,” Patsy said, eyes wide. Was Ruth Marks going to help her sneak into her room?
“I have an idea. You see, my house creates a perfect dark spot where your room is.” Patsy knew this was true. She had spent many hot days in the shade provided by Ruth’s little house. “They’ll never see you. I’ll just hoist you up like this—” she laced her fingers together into a little pocket “—and you’ll climb in the window.”
She cringed, trying to walk on the gravel path that led to the back of the house without making crunching noises. “All right, let’s do it!” said Ruth, as Patsy stepped in her interlaced fingers. Good lord, I can’t believe this. She didn’t weigh much, she knew, despite feeling conspicuous at this moment. Hands splayed against the stucco wall, she yelped as she toppled in the open window. “Thanks,” she whispered, and tried not to laugh, peering down at Ruth, her hair a mess of half-fallen out curlers, nightgown in tatters. What some people will do, thought Patsy, for a bit of gossip.
She crawled into bed fully-clothed and awaited her fate. The house was dark. And then she heard the creak of the garage door and Daddy’s heavy boots thumping up the stairs. He knew she was home; he had been to her hideout. Patsy shivered.
“Patsy!” he yelled, his presence filling her room. Mama stood behind him, smaller, but no less formidable. Her eyes narrowed, and she shook her head. The smell of wet ashes wafted in with them. Patsy’s heart stood still. She held her breath and thought the better of speaking.
He threw the flag, muddy with its charred edges, onto the floor, and glared at her. “This,” he said, voice composed, “is a disrespect I cannot tolerate in this house.” He squared his arms against his chest.
Patsy got out from under the covers and stood across from him.
“This is mortifying,” said Mama. “All my friends will find out about this. Hell, they probably already have.”
“Heaven forbid I tarnish your reputation,” said Patsy, “because you find pride in slavery. And keeping women in their place.”
“We have had this discussion. My house, my rules,” said her father. “This is more complicated than you understand. But flag burning?”
“Flag burning is perfectly legal. And it’s not even a real flag to anyone, but old Southerners stuck in the Civil War. Most of the neighbors have gotten rid of theirs—”
“I am not racist! Oh, my God, you need to go to bed. I’ll figure out what to do with you later. I just hope this doesn’t affect business.” Daddy shook his head.
Patsy thought this was outrageous. Unless everyone in Cypress decided to drive out of town for their seafood, Daddy’s shrimping business was perfectly safe. Stanley Bundy was a well-respected man in the town of Cypress. The conversation was ridiculous.
Those days she had spent as a little girl, plowing through the mist on her father’s night trawl, hauling in big nets full of crawdads and shrimp, breathing in the drenched air were gone. How she loved running her fingers through the slippery catch, sorting through the nets for what they could sell to the stores.
“You know my ‘insubordination’ is unlikely to cause anything more than whispers of pity for you. For having me as a daughter.” She raised her eyebrows and shot him a pointed glance. He sighed, ran his hand through his dirty- blonde hair, and turned away.
Stanley’s face was weathered from years of hard work in the sun, and it made him look older. His eyes caught her heart for a flittering moment.
“Just go, Daddy,” she said.
“You’re grounded. Which means stay away from the shack on the marsh. I can’t trust what you’re up to down there anymore.” He turned toward the door.
“I don’t have to listen to you at all,” she retorted. “I’ve been accepted to
6 That Night on the Bayou
Boston University. I was considering staying in Louisiana, but my decision is made, I guess.”
“There’s always that little obstacle of paying for it,” he said.
“GET OUT!” Rage bubbled in her stomach.
“Like I said, you’re grounded. College is months away.”
“I do not have to stay here at all. My birthday is in less than thirty days.
I’ll be gone by then.” She chewed the inside of her mouth until the taste of blood hit her gums, and added, burying her head in her pillow, “Like I said, get out.”
Maybe he continued talking, it was hard to say, given how loud anger pulsed through her head. And her mother, so concerned about nothing but her reputation around town, the perfect wife and mother. I’m never getting married, thought Patsy, balling her fists, and cursing into the pillow on the twin bed. Marriage came with unspoken rules and expectations, and Patsy wanted none of it. The house remained silent. She hurled a textbook out the open window. Out, she thought. I am getting out of here.
That Night on the Bayou comes out in two short months! In celebration of the release of my debut novel, I am organizing several giveaways.
PRE-ORDER THAT NIGHT ON THE BAYOU AND BE ENTERED TO WIN A $50 DOLLAR AMAZON GIFT CARD! All entrants will receive a signed bookmark. The drawing will take place on November 1st, 2019.
Cypress, Louisiana is a town layered with secrets. And Patsy Bundy sees the ghosts that seep through the thick Southern air, telling stories people would prefer to forget. Much to her mother’s chagrin, Patsy’s visions set the town ablaze with new rumors, driving her out of town—and away from the boy she loves. But, seven years later, Cypress’s secret past is revealed—a prostitute was murdered on Patsy’s beloved Bayou. And the killer is up for parole. Patsy must return home to face the truth. That Night on the Bayou is the story of a small cast of characters whose lives inextricably intertwine through grief, conflict, and ultimately, love.
Enter to win:
Here’s the pre-order link:
It’s been a busy busy past couple of weeks for writing, as well as life in general. The kids got out of school three weeks ago, and we’ve had a new nanny start. The dog got his cast off (poor Oliver).
Obligatory cute dog pic!
And I’ve been floundering with my new work. I am editing Call Me Elizabeth Lark, and with those edits getting closer to completion, I want to start a New Thing. It hasn’t yet percolated in my mind.
Here’s the great news!
I won a scholarship for my senior year at BSU for one of my short stories. That Night on the Bayou has a cover! AND it’s up for preorder. If you order directly from the publisher now, you receive 15% off, using the promo code PREORDER2019.
Here’s my lovely cover:
Also, my Goodreads Author page is up! Please head over and list That Night on the Bayou as Want to Read. Also, if you received an ARC, I would love it if you’d review!
I do have some VERY limited ARCs remaining. So if you’d like an eARC in exchange for an honest review, please fill out the contact form.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Karen Hugg, author of The Forgetting Flower. This gorgeous book is to be released June 18th, 2019. She was so kind to answer some of my questions about writing while parenting, her process, and her inspiration for The Forgetting Flower.
THE FORGETTING FLOWER is so atmospheric and has this incredibly unique premise. How long did it take you to write the novel and what is your process? Are you a plotter or a pantser, a planster?
Thank you! The premise was an outgrowth of my work as a gardener. I often advised clients on which fragrant plants to use for their gardens. Then I started thinking about how interesting it would be if a plant existed whose fragrance would be dangerous to smell. What would that situation be and who might grow it? The story snowballed from there.
Writing it was a long process! I drafted the novel in late 2016. Then I revised in the spring of 2017, queried a bit, worked with a book editor that summer and revised again. In fall, 2017, I gave it to beta readers and revised based on their feedback that winter. Then I queried during 2018. Just when I was about to hire a different book editor that fall, I landed a contract with Magnolia Press.
I’m definitely a plotter. I worked as a garden designer for 15 years so having a cohesive plan before I dive into the actual work of anything is in my nature. That’s not to say there are no new discoveries because there always are but I like to know where I’m going when I’m writing a story.
Along those lines, do you have specific writing goals, such as a set time you write or a word count goal? We are both moms, and I know how difficult this is! What time of day do you feel most productive?
I’ve found during the drafting stages that I take advantage of every hour I can when the kids are at school. I never have a word count goal because if you write quickly and the words don’t work, you’ll throw them away anyway.
When I’m revising, I’m more flexible, working on chunks here and there, mostly in the mornings and some in the afternoons. Now that my kids are older and more independent, I can luckily continue concentrating even after they come home from school. They actually do homework independently in their rooms. But if you’re a mom and you can’t write for weeks, don’t worry. You’ll come back around to it and if you don’t, that’s okay too.
In his awesome book about writing and creativity, Booklife, Jeff Vandermeer talks about doing social media and more active things in the afternoons, after he does creative work. I love this idea and I’ve tried to adopt this approach.
I know that plants are a huge inspiration for your writing. Is there anything else that leads you toward specific themes?
I’m not often that conscious of specific themes but they do come out subconsciously, don’t they? For instance, in the blurbs and reviews for The Forgetting Flower, readers mentioned poverty and class divisions. I didn’t realize I was writing about that. I always thought I was writing about people in fancy Paris but later realized I was actually writing about people who don’thave money in fancy Paris. I think it stems from my working class, Polish background.
I do realize the book’s overarching theme was our need as humans to seek a better life. I moved west from Chicago to Seattle as a young adult and it changed my life (for the better!). The idea of migration and people living in places where they weren’t born or grew up interests me. I think that’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in Paris. It has a lot of what we think of as traditionally French people but then there are newer French people, transplanted families from Vietnam and Africa and other parts of the world.
Are you working on or thinking about something new?
Right now, I’m in the final stages of the next book in this trilogy. It’s called Harvesting the Skyand about Andre, the botanist who Renia contacts in The Forgetting Flower. It’s his story of finding a medicinal apple tree in Kazakhstan and trying to propagate it in Paris. But someone keeps trying to break into his greenhouse and destroy his work and he can’t figure out who or why. Renia appears in the story but it’s really Andre’s journey. Then the final book in the trilogy will focus on the two of them and a new botanical oddity.
Any advice to new querying writers?
Make sure your manuscript is as finished as possible before trying to share it with the world. And don’t take rejections too personally. Agents and editors are busy. If you’re getting rejections, keep improving the work or move on to a new piece. Hire a book editor, a person you click with. Ask for feedback from fellow writers. Be as open as possible. Try to make your art better. Hang in there. Sooner or later, someone will recognize it.
Preorder the book today!
Technically, THAT NIGHT ON THE BAYOU was written before THE WEAVER, but who’s counting?
The novel is about a cast of characters in tiny Cypress, Louisiana, and how they deal with a murder of a sex worker that occurred years before. Patsy Bundy has had visions of ghosts down at the her childhood hangout on the swamp since she was six. Town legend has it Patsy is a witch, to the mortification of her town debutante mother. Her father has a shrimping business to consider, too. Patsy’s fierce defiance of her father’s conservative Southern values causes friction for everyone. She flees town after high school graduation to go to college in Boston.
Seven years later, the murderer, Archibald Parson, is up for parole, and Patsy pieces together his identity. She comes back to town to try and prevent his release, and navigates the complex relationship she has with her parents. Through the process, she must begin to understand her privilege through class and race relations. For all her wisdom, there is much she doesn’t know. Will her visions ultimately lead to the truth? Or will she naively trample through the family of the victim’s privacy?
When I started the book over two years ago, I knew that I would include this murder, that it would have paranormal elements, yet it really isn’t a murder mystery. It’s a story about family, feminism, friendship, and ultimately, love.
I am so excited about this book! My release date is set for November 27, 2019! I am seeking book bloggers and reviewers. If you’d like to get on the list for a free advanced release copy in exchange for an honest review, please fill out the contact form below.
I just finished my fourth novel about a month or so ago, and I’m working on the first round of revisions. CALL ME ELIZABETH LARK is about a woman who shows up at a grieving family’s inn, and drawn into a grieving mother’s desperation, takes on the identity of the family’s long missing daughter. Located in a rural town on the Oregon coast, the inn is legendary to tourists and locals alike. Finding herself caught in this dysfunctional family’s issues, Elizabeth brings along her own set of problems– namely, the abusive husband that kept her captive in a remote Washington cabin for years. Everyone has a secret, and all of them are dangerous. And Elizabeth’s arrival is the catalyst for it all to spill out. CALL ME ELIZABETH LARK is a novel about identity, the complexity of family, and a marriage that may buckle under a layer of secrets.
This one has a complicated plot and cast of characters, so I’ll be working on it for a while.
Meanwhile, I should be starting the process of developmental edits for THE WEAVER for Magnolia Press here soon, which is very exciting!
I recently wrote my first historical fiction piece, a short story, that I’ll start submitting to journals in the near future.
On top of all this writing, my family and I are moving in two weeks and I’m taking a full course load at BSU.
AND I will have a writing/ revising buddy here in two weeks. Oliver, our new Havanese puppy, is joining out family!
Dear Memphis and Harriet; Patsy and Ruth; Elizabeth, Myra and Gwen…
The women who star in my novels carry bits of my heart. Each one of you contains a part of me that could be worse or better if dramatized and flavored with other characteristics. and set in some other life. Patsy, I think I gave you a little bit of my badassery, except you are braver than I. (Who burns a Confederate flag at a swamp?) And Memphis, you’re quirky and existential, and maybe I have a hint of that, but I’m no magic weaver on a farm. Gwen, you’re vicious when you’re hurt. I can be, too, except I’m not brave enough to be so hilariously horrid. Ruth, you are the best friend I can imagine, a mentor and mother figure, and you’re quirky and crazy and dammit, you know people. Myra, you know loss, and I put you through more of it, just to see how much you could take. And Elizabeth, well, you search for identity like we all do, except few of us accidentally-on purpose- become an imposter.
Dear characters, you saved my life. After the 2016 election, I was gutted. Anorexia hit harder than ever, and I knew- god I have always known- that I needed something else if I had any hope of recovery. When I began my first terrible, melodramatic novel about the political disaster my country was (and is) experiencing, I was damned close to death. I couldn’t sit still. My labs showed kidney damage. I was severely underweight. When I finished the novel, I came up with the idea to go back to college. I discovered the deepest friendships in my own imagination.
Before I practiced craft and developed the authorly control to carry a story to novel length, I created characters. These characters changed my life.
I think about this as THE WEAVER is going to debut, and what it will be like when it’s out in the wild. And hopefully CALL ME ELIZABETH LARK will find a home. I am still madly, truly and deeply in love with the shelved novel, THAT NIGHT ON THE BAYOU. It needs something. I just need to percolate over what. A novel in short stories? Maybe. I’ve always wanted to do that!
I write creepy stories with a murder or a twist here or there, and I love atmosphere. But my novels come back to one theme, every time– women coming together to help each other.
So, this one’s for the characters in my books, especially the women.
eyes crawl down her neck
nestled in thick patches of forest
he is an owl
talons curled into a branch
the owl spreads watches with luminous eyes that cut
through the inky night
and she is
leaving leaving leaving
the flick of a match
cold and bright and the smell
of smoke billowing in plumes of gray
dust that smacks like briny waves
but she knows and she knows and she knows that
love is a spark but
fear gobbles oxygen with
vicious vicious viscious
and fear is energy
cannot be created or destroyed.