THE AUTHOR: Rocky Porch Moore
THE EDITOR: Melisa Taylor
THE PUBLISHER: Southern Yellow Pine Publishing
SUMMARY: The Ballards live in the shadow of July Mountain, one step shy of overcoming the taint of poverty dogging their family since the Great Depression. Even on the cusp of the excess of the 1980s, the Tennessee Valley harbors a passing respect for the unexplainable and superstition. Roots still cling to family trees like tendrils, tangling and tearing to claim not just birthrights, but bloodrights.
Folks tend to die around Little Debbie Ballard. She struggles to make sense of a world where an unspoken past and prejudice collide, where truth is no longer as simple as Daddy’s word, and cruel intentions transcend generations. Debbie discovers the insidious legacy that haunts the women of her family one by one.
Tracing the roots of Debbie’s ancestry back to pre-revolutionary France, past and present are interspersed to show how the will of a vindictive woman rots a family tree from within.
THE BACK STORY: As far back as I can remember, I ‘ve always been told I’m the “spittin’ image” of my mother. I was thumbing through my great-grandmother’s picture album searching for some WWI era photos when I found myself looking at what appeared to be my daughter. The resemblance was uncanny and got me to thinking about how not just physical characteristics, but psychological characteristics are passed from generation to generation.
I decided I wanted to write a family saga where the past has a direct and sinister impact on the present, and consequently, on the future. I wanted to juxtapose the beginning of a line of women with the end of the line, having them interact. So, that’s how the concept for Clemenceau’s Daughters was born.
WHY THIS TITLE?: At its heart, the family tree traces its roots to a battle for bloodrights. It’s about the importance of establishing a strong family name. I have always been fascinated by how names and their derivatives seem to “fit” families. I wanted to find a name that would ride the tides of time, changing and progressing, but remaining rooted to the original. The novel traces those connections from daughter to mother to grandmother ageless. Each, at some point, is a daughter moving from innocence to recognition.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT?: Clemenceau’s Daughters is an exhilarating romp through the psyche of a young girl trying to figure out if those fears that haunt her are real or imagined. At the same time, she’s growing up in an area where the prejudices of the past are piled up in the corners like old keepsakes. Readers who enjoy southern gothic as well as readers who don’t mind taking a stroll into the macabre aspects of southern life will find the book to be “worth a count”.
REVIEW COMMENTS: http://wellwortharead.blogspot.com
AUTHOR PROFILE: I chose my childhood home of July Mountain, overlooking Scottsboro, Alabama as the primary setting for Clemenceau’s Daughters. Much like the Ballards struggle to escape the past in the novel, Scottsboro’s own past has a way of churning up mud on occasion. The novel was particularly challenging in that I wanted to make the setting as autobiographically accurate as possible while keeping the characters and action fictional. Folks will want to assign parallels to the characters because the family framework is markedly similar. The family dynamic, however, is my creation. If anyone’s part can be “based on the true story”, I reckon the dog comes closest.
I have been living, teaching, and putting down roots in South Alabama for over 20 years. It’s a different climate than where I grew up, and I’m not just referring to the salted gulf breezes as opposed to the pungent backwater bottoms. I consider myself lucky because I have not one hometown, but two.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: “In Clemenceau’s Daughters, I tried to capture the feel of growing up in the South on the cusp of the technological boom while familial and societal constraints firmly cling to the past. I wanted Debbie’s story to be anything but nostalgic. I wanted her observations to be unapologetic; while at the same time, I wanted her to begin to recognize the incongruities of what was presented to her as fact. I wanted her to be haunted on multiple levels.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: 1
The tree was old, Mommy said, older than even Mama’s mama, which was about as old as Debbie could imagine. It might even be as old as America, but it was hard to believe something like a tree could have lived that long. Debbie knew trees
themselves were as old as the earth. They grew even before people were God-breathed into the living world. She was five years old and could read whole books all by herself. Her favorites were a set of children’s Bible stories she had received from Aunt Edna, the schoolteacher. Mommy had said Aunt Edna’s gifts would always have to do with school, and that suited Debbie just fine. She would get to go to school when summer ended. She’d be younger than the other first graders, but Daddy told her it would be okay because she would be smarter anyhow.
The Bible stories had beautiful, colored pictures that Debbie pretended she could walk around inside. Some of the pictures were scary, but Debbie would pretend inside them just the same. There was a picture of a beautiful tree in the garden, even more beautiful than her tree in the back yard, a ball’s throw from the porch steps. This was the illustration she loved most.
Debbie remembered things. She remembered things that Daddy said and things that Mommy said. She remembered things she heard other grownups say. But, most of all, she remembered things she read. When she closed her eyes, the stories unfolded like a movie inside her head. She sat down in the well of her tree, where the heat of the Alabama summer couldn’t quite stretch its fingers, and she watched her stories.
Fat Sarah, the woman who kept Debbie while Mommy and Daddy were away at work, watched her stories on the TV every afternoon. They were silly and full of kissing doctors and nurses. Debbie was always glad when Fat Sarah sent her out the back door with a cheese sandwich and orders to stay out of the road.
If Debbie hugged her knees up to her chest, she could disappear into the embrace of the tree. The hollow of the oak was just the right size for a little girl, and she traced patterns in the cool dirt as
she sat. Mommy and Daddy were too big to fit and too old to feel the magic of the tree. Debbie didn’t really believe in magic. She knew most, if not all of it, was just tricks, but there was something about the tree that made her feel safe.
“Why you want to sit in that musty old tree is beyond me,” Mommy fussed. “You’d better watch out for snakes and spiders up in that hollow. They want to get out of the heat just as much as anybody else. If you get bit, you’re going to get a whipping to boot.”
It was when she was sweeping about the hollow with a big stick to make sure no spiders were creeping in the shadows that Debbie found the cache. She almost lost her stick when it plunged into a hole in the upper shaded recesses. She’d never noticed it before, but then again, she’d never really poked all around the higher parts of the hollow. She threw down the stick and ran back into the house to grab Daddy’s flashlight. Up the back steps she flew and was in such a hurry, she let the screen door slam behind her.
“You get back outside and play!” called Fat Sarah from the living room. “My story’s still on. And stay out of that road!”
“Yes, Miss Sarah,” called Debbie dutifully. She had enough sense to know that calling her babysitter Fat Sarah to her face would get her a whipping for sure, even if Mommy and Daddy both called the sitter Fat Sarah any time she was out of hearing.
Fat Sarah was poor white trash. Debbie figured that meant she didn’t have enough money for a car. Every morning before work, Daddy drove across town to pick up Fat Sarah. He brought her
back to the house so that she could cook breakfast for the family before the grownups had to leave.
What Mommy and Daddy didn’t know was that Fat Sarah cooked another breakfast for herself once they were on their way, only she called it snack time. Fat Sarah would set Debbie to looking at her Bible story books or watching Captain Kangaroo while she fried up potatoes and onions, bacon, and eggs. She’d play the radio while she cooked, singing along to the Gospel Hour in a voice that sounded a lot like Daddy’s Patsy Cline vinyl record–mostly clear with scratchy spots here and there–while she dished up a hearty snack for herself. All traces of Fat Sarah’s morning snack went in either her belly or to GodLutherYouStink the Saint Bernard.
“You need to always be on good terms with the family dog, Debbie,” advised Fat Sarah, “even one as godforsaken as that beast. That way the dog will help you if you ever come calling in a time of need.”
Debbie didn’t really mind the dog getting a plate because she abhorred breakfast. She didn’t even like the smell of it. Fat Sarah knew this and handed Debbie a chocolate bar from the recesses of her black patent pocketbook. “You need to always be on good terms with little girls, too,” she simpered. “That way the little girl will love you and keep your secrets. After all, a secret loses half its power if it isn’t shared.”
Debbie knew Fat Sarah’s secret was that she was eating the family’s food, but the chocolate bars seemed to make it okay. She didn’t love Fat Sarah but tolerated her well enough on account of they were both naughty, but it was worse when a grownup was naughty. Who could blame a little girl for liking candy? Plus, she believed Fat Sarah when she bent down low and looked Debbie straight in the eyes. Fat Sarah’s voice was barely above a whisper, but Debbie knew she was speaking the truth. Her eyes looked inside her with an intensity that made Debbie believe Fat Sarah could see her every fear and share her every secret whether Debbie wanted to or not.
“Debbie, I give you the chocolate to shut your mouth. If you tell your mommy and daddy what I cook and what I do, I will tell the Man on the Mountain to come down here. I will tell him to eat your baby brother…, and he will, because the Man on the Mountain is my kin.”
Debbie’s eyes grew big as she glanced at the bassinet where Brent lay sleeping. But Fat Sarah didn’t stop there. Her words dripped sweet as honey from her mouth, but what she said was poison.
“Yes, you know about the Man on the Mountain. Don’t you? He comes into your dreams. I can summon him to come down off the mountain like a shadow or like an angry wind. I can call him. He can take whoever he chooses. It could be that babe sleeping over there. It could be your daddy or your mommy. It could be you. Just you remember that, Little Debbie, and you keep our secrets sealed up sweetly inside. Now, take this candy bar and go sit in that tree of yours for a while.” Fat Sarah’s mouth smiled, but her eyes did not, even when she started singing “One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus” along with the Gospel Hour.
Debbie was shaking but obediently took the candy bar and wobbled unsteadily down the back steps. She glanced to her left, past the road and up to the mountain rising beside the little green house that had been pleasant until now. A large cloud cast its shadow on the mountainside, and as it floated across the sky, its shadow crept down the mountain toward her. She squealed and made for the cranny in her oak tree trunk. Debbie slid in and pulled up her knees to hug her legs tightly to her. And she cried.
It seemed like a long time before she heard the scrape of the screen door and Fat Sarah call out, “Debbie, come on in, and get your lunch,” just as sweet as you please with no hint of the evil that had come out minutes before. Or was it hours? She wasn’t sure. She might have been sleeping. She wanted to believe she had dreamt Fat Sarah’s words, but the threat was just as real as the candy bar in her lap. Somehow, sitting in the cool of the tree’s embrace had comforted her, though. Shadow can’t swallow shadow, child. I stand sentinel. The Mountain has eyes. The Mountain has eyes. Shadow can’t swallow shadow.
Whether it was a thought or a voice or a feeling, Debbie really couldn’t tell, but she rose and walked resolutely to the back steps with only a furtive glance at the mountain rising over her like a green ocean wave. The chocolate bar lay like a forgotten offering in the cool of the oak tree.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Forthcoming
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: syppublishing.com; Amazon
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