By Collin Kelley
Editor

Autumn is here and it’s the perfect time to curl up with a new book, whether in the traditional format or as an eBook. We caught up with some noted Intown authors who have new books out now.

Grant Jerkins
Author of the mystery, At the End of the Road

Synopsis: A young woman has gone missing, and Kyle was the last one to see her alive – bruised and bleeding, but alive. There’s a policewoman at his front door. The Paralyzed Man watches him from the neighboring porch. And no matter which way Kyle turns, no place seems safe anymore.

The premise of your new novel, At the End of the Road, has some basis in fact – can you talk about it?

The book is based on a real incident from my childhood. In the summer of 1976, When I was ten, I was riding my bicycle in the middle of the dirt road in front of my house when a car came speeding around a curve in the road. To avoid hitting me, the woman behind the wheel had to swerve. Her car flipped and rolled, ending up on its side. The woman crawled out, bloody and battered. She asked me to help her, but I ran away. I was scared. I was just ten years old. So I ran away and never told a soul. The next day I went back and the car was gone. No sign of the accident remained. The woman and her car had just disappeared. At the End of the Road is my imagining of what might have happened to that woman.

Your first novel, A Very Simple Crime, and the new one both have very dark and twisted sensibilities. What draws you to that kind of writing?

As a person, a human being, I’m not particularly morose. I enjoy a good laugh and helping others when I’m able. But for whatever reason, when it comes to the fiction I write, I’m invariably drawn to the dimmer corners of our universe. It’s the people that live in those dark places that I’m most interested in meeting. Conflicted people. People who, when you flip your car in front of their house, might run away instead of helping you.

A Very Simple Crime is being turned into a film. Can you give us an update?

Your guess is as good as mine. The project has been through so many incarnations I can’t keep track. At one point Adrien Brody and Franka Potente were attached to star, but that particular scenario has evaporated. All I know for sure is that Barbet Schroeder is still committed to the project, and the producers have a fantastic script. It’s just a matter of the stars aligning. So to speak.

Are you at work on a third novel? If so, can you tell us a little about it?

Yes, there will be a third novel. The working title is The Ninth Step. It’s about a woman – a recovering alcoholic – making her way through a 12-step program. When she reaches the ninth step, she must make amends for an unspeakable crime she committed and got away with.

For more, visit grantjerkins.com. Jerkins will read from and sign his novel on Nov. 1, 7:15 p.m. at the Decatur Libarary hosted by Georgia Center for the Book.

 

Laurel Snyder
Author of the young adult book, Bigger Than A Bread Box

Synopsis: Rebecca finds a magic breadbox that will grant any wish that fits inside it: a cookie, money, pens, lip-gloss, candy, or a diamond. But Rebecca comes to understand that the box won’t solve her problems; she has to do that on her own.

Where did the idea for a magic breadbox come from in your latest book?

Well, I like junk stores and antique malls and yard sales. Bread boxes show up at them a lot. Also, I’ve always had a weird thing for boxes. I collected them as a kid.  Every closed box is a little mysterious, because anything could be inside it, right? But really, the idea came about when my husband and I were driving to Iowa. Stuck in the car for 15 hours. I was trying to come up with my next book idea, and I asked him, “What if every time a kid wished for something, they got it, but then they found out the magic was stealing it all from other people?” By the time we got to Iowa, I had an outline.

You’re from Baltimore and moved to Atlanta and the main character, Rebecca, did the same? How much of yourself do you put into the characters you create?

All of my other characters have been inventions, but this one is different. Rebecca is really me. This book is about a kid whose parents are splitting up.  She moves in the seventh grade, and has a really hard transition. She has a Jewish dad. She finds herself living in Atlanta, homesick for Baltimore.  She’s a caretaker to her small brother. She tromps around the streets of East Atlanta and Ormewood Park. All of this is me, and it was like going back in time to a bunch of vulnerable points from my own life. It was really hard. Really hard. But you know what’s funny? I think I actually managed to write out a lot of my sadness.  Certainly, after writing a book set in Atlanta I felt (finally, after sevent years) like it was my home.

How much do your own kids influence or inform your writing?

People always ask that, but they haven’t really, or not very much.  Having kids exposes to books that I wouldn’t otherwise read, but I don’t often write my kids into my books.  Maybe they will later on, but I feel like I’m still channeling my own childhood self.  Though recently my older son became obsessed with death, and that scared me and made me want to try to write a book for him–a book that doesn’t lie, but is reassuring. But so far I haven’t figured out how to do that.

You’re known for being a poet and a children’s author – how do you balance those out? Are you working on new poetry?

I am! I’m always making new poems, but my novel deadlines and my limited childcare make it hard to focus fully on my poems. Honestly, I am not balancing very well, and I’m not sure how to do that. Do you have any advice? Poetry is so vital, so important to me. It’s always been my primary genre until now.  I hate to feel like I’m letting it slip away.

I hear you have your own writing shed now – how’s that working out?

It’s amazing!  For a work-from-home-parent the idea of a separate space, a “room of her own” is wild. For six years I’ve been writing on my knees, finding peanut butter smeared on my laptop, legos in my coffee cup.  Now I can go out to the shed and put things down, and when I come back they’re exactly where I left them.  If I’d had the money to renovate the house I never would have done this, but in the end I think the shed is better. More isolated. Thank you, recession!  It made me think creatively.

For more, visit LaurelSnyder.com.

 

Elliott Mackle
Author of the novel, Captain Harding’s Six-Day War

Synopsis: When a loose-cannon colonel at remote Wheelus Air Base, Libya attacks an Arab warship during the run-up to the 1967 war, handsome, hard-charging Captain Joe Harding must come out to his closest, straightest buddies in order to bring the pilots and their airplanes safely home.

Libya and gays in the military have been in the headlines during the past year. Did you write Captain Harding’s Six-Day War to capitalize on those news pegs?

Not in the way you mean. I arrived at Wheelus Air Base, Libya, near Tripoli, in the fall of 1966. I knew almost immediately that I’d eventually write about the city, the base, the Roman ruins at Leptis Magna and the interactions of Air Force men and women overseas.  Joe Harding didn’t say hello until almost four decades later.

Captain Harding’s Six-Day War itself has quite a history. What happened?

The story and characters were conceived in 2005-2006 as my part of the push to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The book went through four drafts, the last two privately edited by Katharine V. Forrest. Don Weise, then at Alyson Books, accepted the novel after reading about a hundred pages. It was copy edited, typeset, galleys prepared and scheduled for publication in December 2009. Unfortunately, Weise was allowed to publish only one book before he quit, and it wasn’t mine. Meanwhile, I got tired of waiting and hooked up with Lethe Press to publish Hot off the Presses, a novel set around the 1996 Olympic Games, which I had covered as a reporter for Cox Newspapers. Once I had withdrawn Captain Harding from Alyson, Lethe accepted that as well.

How much of yourself is in the character of Captain Harding?

A lot of Joe Harding’s history is also mine; certainly not all of it. I’m from Florida with roots in Tennessee. I attended Vanderbilt University where I joined ROTC but left after freshman year. Like Joe, I roomed in McGill Hall but definitely did not have an affair with the dorm adviser. My father was a drunk but nowhere near as abusive as Joe’s dad. I grew up around horses so I know the sound of a whip hitting flesh. After three years at a Strategic Air Command base in California I arrived at Wheelus Air Base, Libya, and was almost immediately admitted to the base hospital, though with an infection, not because of food poisoning. The doctors were uniformly kind and helpful, nothing like the monster flight surgeon of the novel. I did have a couple of on-base affairs, the orgy scene happened, local hustlers routinely worked the Uaddan casino’s bar, though I was never tempted to indulge. That said, I’d left Libya by the run-up to the Six-Day War so I had a lot of research to do.

Has your work as a journalist helped your fiction? How so?

Without great editor-mentors and 20 years of filing from one to four pieces a week, there would be no Mackle novels. My grad-school professors at Emory found my writing style too chatty for academia. Cliff Bostock, then editor of Creative Loafing, helped me find and hone my voice as a reader-friendly columnist and critic. Dudley Clendinen, features editor at the AJC, instructed me to observe and report, not judge. He sent me off on wild out-of-town assignments that seemed way over my head. I not only survived, I thrived. AJC line editors Michele Greppi and Eileen Drennen demanded tighter writing and fact-based criticism while also encouraging me to take creative chances in so far as the limits of daily newspapering allowed. As a creator of realistic fiction I could not have asked for better training.

For more, visit elliottmackle.com.

Grace Octavia
Author of the novel, Should Have Known Better

Synopsis:
Dawn is happily married with two children, but then her successful best friend and sorority sister, Sasha, shows up for a visit and promptly has an affair with Dawn’s husband wreaking havoc on all their lives.

Tell us about the story in your latest novel, Should Have Known Better.

I got the idea to write the novel from my readers. They keep asking for a sequel to my second book, His First Wife. Set in Georgia, it features a Spelman alum whose marriage to a Morehouse man is nearly busted up when he has an affair. The readers wanted a little more drama. They wanted the main character, Kerry, to fight back. I thought I could return to Atlanta with this novel and kick out a story of a woman who does do a little fighting when her marriage begins to unravel. Dawn is actually one of Kerry’s classmates from Spelman, so Kerry gets to make a cameo.

Your novels feature strong women battling back and growing after betrayal and loss – where do you find inspiration the inspiration for your characters?

My readers. So many divorced and divorcing female readers have approached me online and at book club meetings expressing a desire to see more images of themselves. More stories about women who felt like they were about to just roll over and die after they realized their husbands were leaving or even that they’d have to leave their husbands for whatever reason, but in single spectacular moment, they decided to get up, pick up the pieces of their lives and move on. That it was even possible to fall in love with their lives again.

You’re working on your Ph.D. at Georgia State University and also write for other publications. How do you balance your time to write on a regular basis?

One of my best friend’s dad recently explained this better than I ever will. Over a plate of barbecue in Alabama, he said, “You have to know the difference between goals and objectives.” And that’s right. In the long term, I may need to write a 300 page novel, edit 15 articles, write a cover story, study for an exam, grade 50 essays, write a screenplay and a new book proposal. How do I do it all? Those are all longterm goals. I simply split them up into daily objectives and kind of put the big goal out of my mind – off to the side. This is because, if I think of the big goal, it will all seem like too much. But, of course I can achieve the objectives. I can write five pages a day for three days out of the week. And soon that will be 100. And then 200. And then 300. The point is that it all gets done…eventually. And knowing I’ll get a check when it’s done doesn’t hurt either.

To find out more, visit GraceOctavia.com.

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Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.