Today the Book Case welcomes author Mindy Friddle—a Southern writer who’s celebrating the recent release of her second novel, Secret Keepers.
guest post by Mindy Friddle
One of my favorite parts about writing fiction is taking a familiar setting, tweaking it, and making it a character’s own. You won’t believe how liberating it is to depart from a map, wander away from the grid of streets, and imagine a slightly skewed version of a place.
My second novel, Secret Keepers, is set in Palmetto, loosely based on my hometown and its overlay of New South over Old South, Although it’s a contemporary story, there’s a narrative sweep from the early 1900′s to the late 1980′s, illustrated by changing landmarks. For example, the Confederate monument in the opening pages of Secret Keepers has been relocated from a central location in town to a new marginalized spot in the New South—in front of a cemetery. That really happened in my hometown. In the book, that statue is none other than General Robert E. Lee, and he’s pointing. Fiercely. I made that part up. And the cemetery? I changed it from Springwood to Springforth. I thought Springforth was a better name for a cemetery, anyway.
In Secret Keepers, McCann Square is known as the first “temperature-controlled shopping center” in Palmetto that once “dazzled the fickle town like a mistress” and lured away downtown department stores. It’s based on a shopping center I used to frequent back in the 80’s; the kind of place you’d find Members Only jackets and buy REO Speedwagon and Styx cassette tapes at the Record Bar. That was BM. Before Malls. A few years ago, that shopping center nearly went under, before it was transformed into an anchor for the local community college. In SECRET KEEPERS, McCann Square is rescued from abandonment when investors turn the place into a “faith-based commerce mall.” Renamed Crossroads, it attracts stores such as Hole in the Sole Shoe Repair, Pray and Pay Title Loans, and Testamints Candy Shop. One character in the novel, Dora, harbors an uneasy attachment to the revamped shopping center. In her wayward youth Dora frequented McCann Square, but now she is trying—and failing—to forget her past and reinvent herself. But try as she might, she still sees McCann Square winking at her behind the veil of Crossroads.
Sometimes I find inspiration right in my front yard. The pitcher plants, Love-Lies-Bleeding, and moonflower vine in my garden prompted some poetic license. Amaranth, a seedy, neglected estate in Secret Keepers, has a secret garden. When the Blooming Idiots gardeners stumble upon its bounty of botanicals, they find a few other-worldly flowers as well: secret keepers are flowers with a potent aroma that trigger a powerful memory of love in a person’s life. Soul shines are preternaturally sensitive, and react to a person’s feelings by shrinking or blooming. But other than these flights of fancy and warped locations, most of the novel is grounded in realism: Family secrets, mother-daughter conflicts, strained marriages, grief, lust. Humor, hopefully, winds through it all like a vine.
“I created a cosmos of my own,” William Faulkner said about Yoknapatawpha County, the setting for most of his novels and short stories, patterned upon his actual home in Lafayette County, Mississippi. Not that I’m comparing my work to Faulkner. Jeez! But I love the fact that in ABSALOM, ABSALOM! he included a hand-drawn map of his “apocryphal county,” signing it, “William Faulkner, Sole Owner & Proprietor.”
I don’t know if I’ll ever go as far as sketching a map. When people tell me they loved getting lost in my book, it pretty much makes my day.