THE BOOK: The Kudzu Kid.
AUTHOR: Darrell Laurant.
EDITED BY: Joe Coccaro.
PUBLISHER: Koehler Books, Virginia Beach, VA.
SUMMARY: After hotshot investigative reporter Eddie Fogarty overreaches on a story and is fired by his large metropolitan daily, the only bounce-back job he can find is editing a weekly newspaper in backwater Southside Virginia. In that unlikely and alien setting, he finds culture shock, redemption, romance, and the biggest story of his life.
THE BACK STORY: Despite spending more than 40 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and columnist, I never took a journalism course in college. Rather, my training was provided by my first newspaper job, with the West Columbia/Cayce Journal in Lexington County, SC. This left me with a warm feeling for journalism on the gut level that never left me. Perhaps “The Kudzu Kid” is my way of giving thanks.
WHY THIS TITLE? Kudzu, as you may or may not know, is an imported vine that has literally overgrown large swatches of the American South. When Fogarty decided to begin writing a column, he called it “The Kudzu Kid” because he saw unmistakable similarities between himself and the plant — like kudzu, he said, “I come from somewhere else, I’m really annoying, and I cover everything.”
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? First of all, I hope, for fun. Although this book has gangsters, a murder or two and even a few witches, it is less about the plot and more about the characters. And as a former newspaper columnist, I couldn’t help but inject humor everywhere I could. The idea is to tear down the original Fogarty –angry, arrogant and dismissive of small town life and culture — in order to rebuild a better version. Moreover, at a time when so many Americans are willing to castigate and demean “the media,” this book shows that profession at its best and most courageous.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Like Eddie Fogarty, I was a northerner (raised in Syracuse, NY) who was drawn south by the newspaper business. After the West Columbia/Cayce Journal, I worked to Charleston, SC and then Lynchburg, VA as a sportswriter before becoming the local columnist for the News & Advance in Lynchburg. Prior to The Kudzu Kid, I wrote two non-fiction books, Even Here (about a series of murders in Bedford County, VA) and A City Unto Itself: Lynchburg, VA in the 20th Century. My wife Gail and I moved to Lake George, NY last year to paint (her), write (me) and take care of my 91-year-old mother.
For the sake of full disclosure, let me add that I am the founder of Snowflakes in a Blizzard.
“Very well written with authentic views of the newspaper world of large and small towns along with their cultures of politics, corruption and crime. A little bit of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll adds to the feel of real life. The believable story of a broken career, a landfill relocation dilemma and a world inhabited by some quirky characters creates compelling reading.You might think you know how it’s going to end, but you have to read it to see if you can tie up all the loose ends.” — Liz Mitchell.
“There are so many reasons why Darrell Laurant’s ‘The Kudzu Kid’ is a great read that it might be impossible to list them all. But I’ll try.First of all, his novel about a reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper in New Jersey who winds up as the editor of a small-town Virginia weekly is true to life. As a former reporter for newspapers in the Cleveland suburbs who wound up editing an Upstate New York weekly for a few years early in my career, I can say without reservation that Laurant has deftly captured what it’s like to run a small-town paper as an “outsider.” His lead character, Eddie Fogarty, is never going to be accepted as a local not only because he’s “not from around here” but also because he’s a Yankee in a part of the country that still refers to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression.”
In my case, I was a city kid dropped into the middle of dairy country and the first time I heard the term “cow pie” I thought it was the quaint way people there referred to a hamburger or maybe meatloaf.
Like Fogarty, I also tried to install my ideas of “big city” journalism on a community that really wanted nothing more from its newspaper than columns written by local correspondents about who went where for Sunday supper and pictures of proud hunters posing next to dead deer. Like him, I wasn’t all that successful.
Secondly, Laurant also captures what it’s like when actual news breaks out in a small town; news that is going to affect people you know and may even like. The publisher of the fictional Southside Echo warns Fogarty that the bigger the newspaper the easier it is to write about people who are caught up in circumstances that might lead to their disgrace. Writing for a small town newspaper, however, makes telling those stories not only hard but also heart wrenching in some cases because they aren’t anonymous names on an arrest warrant but your neighbors.
Laurant has an easy writing style, honed to a fine edge by his own years spent as a journalist, and his tale of Fogarty and the community he covers flows easily from page to page. There are multiple story lines in ‘The Kudzu Kid’ but the reader doesn’t get lost following them. This is a tribute to Laurent’s ability to tell a story in a seamless fashion. He blends stories about sexual improprieties, small-town politics, and even a little romance into a narrative that never leaves the reader wondering what’s going on.
His characters also read well: No super heroes, no Amazon warriors or supremely evil villains populate the pages of his novel. Instead we see regular people going about their business in a believable way. It’s easy to relate to them: The arrogant big city reporter turned small-town editor; the dreamy poet who never quite left her hippie days behind; the cranky sheriff and the local politicians who see nothing wrong with getting their share of the government pie are all folks you might meet at the grocery store or have a cup of coffee with one morning.
Just as important is the fact that the news events Fogarty covers as the editor of Laurant’s fictional weekly paper are equally true to life. Some authors might inject a terrorist into the mix or maybe a fantastic plot to focus the world’s attention on a small Virginia town. Laurant doesn’t do that. Instead, he makes his readers care about a dead body found on the side of the road, a football team trying to make the state championship game for the first time in a very long time, and the prospects that the county might have to spend a fortune building a new landfill.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some danger involved when Fogarty turns his attention to some of these issues. The dead body, for example, was a murder victim and the proposed new landfill might have some pretty shady characters involved in its construction.
I could go on but I won’t. Let me just say that this is a truly excellent novel, written with care and precision by an author who knows his way around a newsroom and who, more importantly, doesn’t waste your time dragging in a lot of extraneous details that wouldn’t help the narrative but would slow you down.I highly recommend ‘The Kudzu Kid.’ — Michael Billington.
AUTHOR’S COMMENT: The best thing about this book was that it gave me the chance to use a lot of great stories I had accumulated during my years in newspapers. As we know, very few novels are all fiction.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: Available on Amazon.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Givens Books in Lynchburg, VA, Baines Books in Appomattox, VA.
OTHERWISE: The Kudzu Kid is listed on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
PRICE: $8-$14 in stores, $10 on Amazon, $3.99 on Kindle.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Please do. You can reach me at email@example.com.