Mary Carol Moran

In a novel that is rich with evocative language and fascinating historical detail, author Paulette Jiles has created a hero, a heroine and a remarkable love story that resonate with remembered childhood tales of brave warriors, resourceful women, hardships overcome and love triumphant.

In 1996, while horseback riding with a cousin, Jiles discovered a lost graveyard which inspired her to uncover a forgotten episode of Civil War history: the unjust incarceration of Confederate women in southeastern Missouri. Further research revealed a virtual ethinic cleansing, with towns torched and widespread murder of male and even female prisoners, all perpetrated by units of the Federal army. Each chapter of Enemy Women opens with excerpts of harrowing accounts of suffering, torture and murder taken from the coroner's records, military letters and other historical documents.

Onto this carefully researched background, Jiles layers the story of Adair Colley, a teenage girl from the Missouri Ozarks who first loses her family and then her freedom. In jail in St. Louis, she meets Major William Neumann, a Union army jailer from the judge advocate general's department. After months of sparring, the two develop a reluctant trust, and Neumann sets in motion plans for Adair to escape, promising to come for her on his release from the army. The remainder of the novel follows Adair's long journey through the martial law countryside of Missouri, which Jiles herself retraced on horseback, and Neumann's equally horrifying trek from the battlegrounds of Louisiana to his post-war search for Adair.

Jiles, winner of the Canadian Governor General's Award for poetry, uses her poetic and narrative skills to draw the reader deep into the emotional lives of Adair and Neumann. Many passages read like prose poems and yet move with the pace of a thriller.

The reader who enjoys discovering new historical territory will love Enemy Women, which combines a little-known chapter of the Civil War with a fresh, unsentimental, yet age-old romance in the love story of Adair and Neumann.

Mary Carol Moran teaches the Novel Writers' Workshop for the Auburn University Outreach Program.

In a novel that is rich with evocative language and fascinating historical detail, author Paulette Jiles has created a hero, a heroine and a remarkable love story that resonate with remembered childhood tales of brave warriors, resourceful women, hardships overcome and love triumphant. In 1996, while horseback riding with a cousin, Jiles discovered a lost […]

Hell at the Breech, the anticipated first novel by award-winning author Tom Franklin, combines adventure, mystery, Southern saga and tragedy, delivering a disturbing meditation on murder and its repercussions through time.

Franklin won an Edgar Award for "Poachers," the title story of his acclaimed 1999 collection. Often compared to Faulkner, he combines the Nobel Laureate's mastery of evocative language and his fascination with the dark underside of humanity. Franklin's prose is taut and beautiful. Sunset is "the blueing dark that seemed to edge down from the clouds and up from the ground, trapping a bleak red line of horizon in the middle, the eye of the world shutting."

In Hell at the Breech, Franklin explores what happens to good, weak, wronged and evil men when they kill. After an accidental shooting, sharecroppers decide to avenge the death by becoming a gang, naming themselves Hell at the Breech. Ringleader Tooch Bedsole, cousin of the murdered Arch, argues, "If we're gone level things with the folks responsible for killing my cousin, we're gone have to level the whole goddamn town of Grove Hill." The men begin a murder spree that culminates in a town-led manhunt, and the reader watches in horror as lives and families disintegrate.

Franklin's heroes range from the sensitive, young, accidental murderer, Mack, to the jaded sheriff, Billy Waite. The worst villain, Tooch, "borrow[s] one encyclopedia volume a week and read[s] it by candlelight in the barn, exploring the world a letter at a time." Franklin also breathes life into the wise Widow Gates, a woman whose fierce protection of her foster sons also becomes a catalyst for death. No one is exempt from responsibility. From the first page, Hell at the Breech is an important novel, one with the potential to change the way the reader sees life and death. Watch for Franklin to win more awards for this stunning first novel.

Mary Carol Moran is the author of Clear Soul: Metaphors and Meditations.

Hell at the Breech, the anticipated first novel by award-winning author Tom Franklin, combines adventure, mystery, Southern saga and tragedy, delivering a disturbing meditation on murder and its repercussions through time. Franklin won an Edgar Award for "Poachers," the title story of his acclaimed 1999 collection. Often compared to Faulkner, he combines the Nobel Laureate's […]

Brad Watson first came to national attention with an award-winning book of short stories, Last Days of the Dog-Men, winner of the Sue Kauffman Award for first fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Now, in his first novel, The Heaven of Mercury, Watson has created a fast-paced, myth-echoing, tragi-comic commentary on our modern lives.

The novel opens during the radio show of 87-year-old Finus Bates, broadcast from a tiny studio in downtown Mercury, Mississippi. The story quickly shifts back in time to 1917 and the start of Finus' lifelong love for his elusive "kindred spirit," Birdie Wells.

That Finus ends up married to a "kangaroo face" woman named Avis, Latin for bird, is the first of many ironies that permeate The Heaven of Mercury The reader meets Merry, a meddling nymphomaniac with halitosis, and Parnell, an undertaker with an unseemly attraction to the dead. Next enter Aunt Vish, an ageless root woman, and 12-year-old Creasie, hired by Birdie's husband Earl to help around the house. Soon Earl's racist father brings home a life-size electric-saw-wielding store dummy, setting in motion a chain of events that eventually leads to murder. Watson ties these strange and improbable characters together in a narrative so convincing the reader willingly accepts the dismembered black heart in a mason jar, and the woman who dies and brings herself back for the spiritual joy of sex. Watson also excels at creating intense images of sights and smells: "the odor of honeysuckle from some hidden patch . . . broke through the lingering acidic exhaust from the station wagon . . . "

In The Heaven of Mercury, Watson places the reader in a nostalgic, fantastical universe. His characters somehow survive bad marriages, unanswered love, death and mayhem, all with their humanity intact. He leaves us with the hope that we, the readers, will prevail, too.

 

Mary Carol Moran teaches the Novel Writers' Workshop for the Auburn University Outreach Program and at conferences around the U.S.

Brad Watson first came to national attention with an award-winning book of short stories, Last Days of the Dog-Men, winner of the Sue Kauffman Award for first fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Now, in his first novel, The Heaven of Mercury, Watson has created a fast-paced, myth-echoing, tragi-comic commentary on our […]

A. Manette Ansay is best known as the author of the Oprah Book Club selection Vinegar Hill and the National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist Midnight Champagne. But writing was her second, reluctant career choice. At age 20, Ansay found herself suffering from a debilitating and undiagnosable muscle disorder, an illness that forced her to give up her lifelong ambition of becoming a concert pianist. She also began to question her Catholic faith. How she persevered through years of pain to ultimately build a career as a renowned novelist forms the backbone of her powerful new memoir, Limbo.

Raised in rural Wisconsin, Ansay known as Ann to her family turned to books and music for escape. With great sacrifices by her parents, she took piano lessons and practiced for hours every day, eventually winning acceptance to the Peabody Conservatory in Maryland. Pain was a constant for all the students. “Twice a day, I emptied the ice tray into the kitchen sink,” Ansay writes, “then filled the basin and submerged my arms.” But the Midwestern stoicism of her German-Catholic upbringing carried her forward: “Practice and prayer, music and God, the discipline of the Conservatory and the discipline of the Church . . . I needed the first to maintain the second.” 

But over time, Ansay's debility worsened. Despite topical analgesics, acupuncture, cortisone shots and wrist braces, she could no longer perform. She had to face the impossible question: Who would I be without the piano?

As in her novels, Ansay paints her characters in detailed colors. She weaves the narrative of her father's stay at a tuberculosis sanitarium into her own story; his return to health fuels her own eventual emergence as a writer.

In many ways, Ansay is still in limbo. She spends her days in a wheelchair, has yet to receive a clear diagnosis for her illness and no longer identifies herself as a Catholic. But Limbo is not a tale of woe. Ansay now brings to her writing the brilliance that she once brought to the piano. Carnegie Hall may have lost a great musician, but millions of readers have gained a gifted storyteller and friend.

 

Mary Carol Moran teaches the Novel Writers' Workshop at Auburn University.

A. Manette Ansay is best known as the author of the Oprah Book Club selection Vinegar Hill and the National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist Midnight Champagne. But writing was her second, reluctant career choice. At age 20, Ansay found herself suffering from a debilitating and undiagnosable muscle disorder, an illness that forced her to […]

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