Love and music, grief and guilt swirl in Leesa Cross-Smith’s debut novel. Whiskey & Ribbons dances around the death of a police officer, unfolding through the voices of three of its characters: the officer’s wife, Evi, months after his death, when she’s snowed in with her late husband’s adopted brother; the officer, Eamon, before he’s killed, as he anticipates the birth of his son; and Dalton, the brother, who’s trying to track down his own father. In gorgeous writing, Cross-Smith renders the relationships between these three characters sacred. We asked Cross-Smith why she wrote her novel, and her answer is simple: because she is a novelist.
I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I love the word. Novelist. It’s pretty and it’s something I wanted to be. Something I am. Something I love being. I wrote a novel that wasn’t really a novel. I wrote a short story collection. I wrote a young adult novel. I wrote another novel. I wrote my debut novel Whiskey & Ribbons. Whiskey & Ribbons began as a short story and turned into a longer story. For a moment it was a play. I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. I talked myself out of it. I was semi-content only writing short stories. I love writing flash fiction. I’ve written a story that is only 26 words long. I decided to expand on “Whiskey & Ribbons” the short story because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I decided to write Whiskey & Ribbons because I wanted to be a novelist.
I read everything. I listened. I kept writing. I read books re: time in fiction. I read books about plot. I spent a lot of time considering intimacy, a lot of time considering grief, a lot of time considering family—the ones we’re born into, the ones we (sometimes accidentally) find ourselves in. I spent a lot of time considering secrets and complicated relationships and comfort. I started and stopped writing Whiskey & Ribbons because I couldn’t figure out how to structure it. I would walk and wander around, two miles, three miles, listening to Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet. I listened to Chopin and Bach. Mozart. I am not a composer, I am a novelist.
I decided to structure Whiskey & Ribbons the way a composer would structure a fugue. A piece of music consisting of three voices, three different points of view. But they come together. They blend. And later, one voice drops out. I kill a character. I kill him in the first line of the first page. This is no surprise. But I can still barely read his obituary without crying. He is very alive to me, and I am in love with him. I am in love with all of these characters because they are real to me because I am a novelist.
I’ve written about three people who love one another deeply. I’ve written about two of those people attempting to find their way . . . together . . . after losing someone they both love so deeply. I’ve written about how they hold and honor that space, that piece of them that is now forever missing. I’ve written about a mother, simultaneously grieving her husband and celebrating the birth of the son she was pregnant with when her husband was killed in a random act of violence. I’ve written about a woman who is falling in love with her husband’s adopted brother—her brother-in-law—and the complications that brings. I’ve written about a police officer who loves his job, who loves his wife. I’ve written about a black family in Kentucky. I’ve written about a ballerina and a man who is an exquisite pianist—who was a piano prodigy—a man who owns a bike shop. I’ve written about a blizzard, trapping them inside, a kiss at the piano—sparking a weekend of confession and storytelling and sexual tension.
I’ve written a novel about grief and hope and desire and brotherhood and the slick ribbons that hold families together, even when one of them slips away. I almost talked myself out of writing it, but it wouldn’t let me go. I am so glad it wouldn’t let me go. Whiskey & Ribbons is my debut novel and I am a novelist.