THE BOOK: Lisbeth
THE AUTHOR: Marina Brown
THE EDITOR: SYP Publishing
THE PUBLISHER: SYP Publishing (Southern Yellow Pine Publishing)
SUMMARY: Can memory be genetically transferred? Can the quest for revenge remain alive after death? In 1984, on Buena Vista, a small Mississippi property, Claire Elliston finds herself compelled to rebuild the house her mother, Lisbeth, inhabited 40 years before. But the past and its evils come alive as the ruins are disturbed–laying bare the sins of a time when Jim Crow ruled the South, when depravity took place behind lace curtains, and when cross-race love could get you killed.
The unexplained arrival of a German doctor breaks open the past’s labyrinthine secrets. Hoping to answer his own questions about a child fathered by his father, the doctor unwittingly sets in play emotions that will explode into the murder of Claire’s grandfather, Senator Charlie Elliston. With characters, none of whom is what they seem, each is in some way motivated by the powerful presence of the long-dead Lisbeth. Dotted with naughty Southern humor, this strange saga leaps time and place as a black and a white family linked by Lisbeth’s love discover their shared need for retribution and their capacity for fidelity and redemption.
THE BACK STORY: I have spent several summers in the area around the small town I’ve described. I live near others like it in Georgia and Tallahassee. Yet it is the people of the South who interest me. In some ways, interacting with people whose ways seem so attached to another time, is like doing a little anthropology. The history of the South, lineage, precedent, secrets…seem not history, but are called upon every day by those who live there. It’s as if even the trees have something to tell.
I spent quite lot of time researching African American historical events and context. I interviewed many elderly black people for their memories of the Jim Crow conditions. I have attended many African American church services. And of course, hours on the internet finding out about German prisoners of war, the weather and flowers of this part of Mississippi, diseases that are peculiar to those of Jewish descent, etc. I’ve actually talked to a number of people upon whose farms German prisoners were housed.
It took me about two years to write this book.
WHY THIS TITLE? It took me a while, but eventually it became clear that Lisbeth is the character around whom everything else in the book revolves. She may no longer be living, but even after death, it is Lisbeth who drives the entire narrative.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? In most every review of this and my first novel, Land Without Mirrors, critics have cited the language, calling it lyrical, ‘stunning’, and other kind remarks. For me language, its rhythm, cadence, color, and precision is something of beauty. Gratuitous description that doesn’t move the plot along is maddening… and I try to avoid that. But describing a tree in a unique way that adds to the moment—is necessary for the moment, I try to do.
And also, I think people like a good story…with a point. I wanted to present the arc of growth in a midlife woman… with the insecurities of that time, her hopes, her sexuality, and burden of her past. But I also wanted to create subplots that would tangle and cross, but in the end, reveal a carefully-wrought tapestry that somehow combined past and present, and a vivid cast of interacting actors.
Judges’ Rubrics from Royal Palm Literary Awards 2016 (silver medal).
1. “Lovely, lyrical passages evoking the languorous beauty and sensuality of a Southern summer.”
2. “A compellingly readable supernatural thriller.”
3. “The author’s use of language is wonderful.”
4. “The author weaves together a crochet of mystery, sexual tension, racial hatreds, but in a way which is utterly unique… exceptional writing”
5. “The reader not only sees, but feels part of each scene.”
6. “There is a character here for any reader to identify with…to love or hate or simply want to know more about. A wonderful book to read.”
“A wonderful book to read. The characters seem to leap off the pages to combine part mystery, part thriller, part poetry, and even humor. A brilliant study of a woman in her transit to ‘becoming.’” — Anne Barrett, PhD, Professor and Director of the Pepper Institute, Florida State University.
“A riveting study of the Jim Crow South. Marina Brown captures a fraught time and does it with a cast of characters and situations that everybody can identify with… either with love or revulsion. This a difficult book to put down… and I didn’t until the last page was turned!” Henry Steele, MD, (son of Civil Right icon C.K. Steele)
AUTHOR PROFILE: I was born in Indianapolis and left to join Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo when I was 15. I toured and danced with that company and another in Europe until almost 21, when an injury abruptly stopped my career. In a complete “new incarnation”, I became an RN, but returned to NYC to work in psychiatry at Mt. Sinai Hospital, and later at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at UCLA in Los Angeles, and Lindeman Mental Health Center in Boston. Later, I became a hospice nurse.
I married a Geology professor and we adopted three children. I learned to play the cello and became a member of the Tampa Bay Symphony. And I began to show my paintings… watercolors, often figurative and narrative pieces, and frequently of dancers. I polished my French and learned Italian.
With my second husband, who loved sailboats, we began extended voyages, spending three years sailing the Caribbean (my first novel, Land Without Mirrors, was inspired by the leper island we visited in Trinidad) and on my own in Croatia, Greece, to Bermuda, and Canada. Traveling increased to Ethiopia, India, Tanzania, China, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Peru, Chile, Colombia, most of the Middle East, and all of Europe. My current novel-in-progress takes place in Pitigliano, a small village in Italy where I’ve spent wonderful times.
Land Without Mirrors, won the Gold Medal for Adult Fiction from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association in 2013. I have won two Firsts in the Porter Fleming Competition for Short Stories; First in Poetry from the Red Hills Literary Competition; Honorable Mention in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Contest. Lisbeth, in manuscript form, won the Royal Palm Literary Awards Second Place for Blended Genre in 2016.
Currently, I write Features for the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper; for Tallahassee Magazine; for Florida Design Magazine; Miami Design and Décor. An exhibition, Between Us: Brothers and Sisters, of my paintings of African-American life and portraits is on display through June 30 at the Meek-Eaton Union Bank Museum in Tallahassee, a part of the FAMU Black Archives. I play cello with a community orchestra and dance flamenco and Argentine tango.
I am happy to speak at book clubs, sitting on author’s panels, and interacting with readers. I am always happy to interface with readers in any way I can.
The next morning, a blistering Monday, already had the city’s asphalt-covered brick streets ready to sizzle. In Tupelo, in her own bathroom, putting on her lipstick, Claire had managed to package up and put away the image of Jackson Perkins’ precocious muscles and his seemingly unintended swipe at her… goddamn him… advancing years. Little red-neck. At twenty-something, he probably was a daddy himself by now. Probably swept some overweight clerk at the Buena Vista Family Dollar off her feet and now went home to macaroni and cheese every night. See how long that ripped torso lasted under a nightly cheddar and white bread regimen. She shouldn’t have given him that little peek at her rear end either. Save that for somebody more appreciative.
And who would that be? Claire took a final look at herself in the mirror before heading to the bank. Alright, Cecile had gotten her hair too dark the last time, but it had a cute swing to it, maybe a little young, but Buster Brown bangs never went out of style. Her décolleté was smooth without a trace of crepe, but under the little jackets and gently flaring skirts, the last few years had laid down new topography in places she guessed she’d never again let see the light of day.
Okay, maybe, if the occasion should serendipitously arise, with candles and the discreet drape of rumpled sheets, she might still be able to pull off one of the kind of nights when she’d known the man she was with was out of his mind with passion. She had been a “highly charged” young woman, after all, and some research-based knowledge just didn’t go away. But if such an occasion arose, Claire knew she’d be anything but spontaneous. For her, a love bed would be a stage set with gravity-defying choreography, plenty of mood lighting, and just enough alcohol involved to keep the man from wanting to explore those flaccid nether regions she couldn’t keep tensed forever before he fell asleep.
And then, as it always happened, when it was over, the loneliness would migrate back, like some fragile kitten that crawled along her legs to settle on her chest and steal her breath, leaving her to wonder where along the way the rest of her had been left.
Claire took another look at herself in the mirror, lifting her neck to stretch the skin taut. Was she one of the women Doreen had talked about yesterday? There’d been two fiancés. Three years of bickering with one and six months of money squabbles with the other. This was the decade she would turn fifty, and Claire momentarily wondered if she’d ever be made love to again. Never married and heading for fifty. The odds weren’t good, not out here in rural America. Yet, she thought, watching her shadow move along the wall, was that what she wanted? Wasn’t it she who had broken off every relationship? Wasn’t it she who felt the fear when a man mentioned love?
Still, she’d recognized that special throb when she’d seen the half-naked Jackson. Maybe she wasn’t dead yet, by God. So maybe Doreen had something. Claire guessed she wasn’t the only one who felt the need to be womanly, but she might be the only one who was so frightened by it.
Suddenly, she felt the light brush against her face. And again. Claire closed her eyes. No, not now, she thought. She needed to get to work. “Mama, please…”
Yet Claire waited for these moments. These whispers that came suddenly in the morning or at a stop light at dusk—with instructions that made no sense. She put the heels of her hands against the bathroom counter and closed her eyes anticipating, like a wave of vertigo, images she wouldn’t understand. This was the reason she was rebuilding the old house—a place to let the whispers speak.
What had Momma felt back then? Had she been loved? Her mother hadn’t lived to thirty-five. Before the tornado that tore apart Buena Vista, Claire remembered Lisbeth as soft and full-busted, the kind of woman who appealed to Southern men. But there her memories became unstitched. When she reached for their fabric, they floated away in fragments, leaving Claire wondering about the kind of life she’d led at Buena Vista before she was sent away; wondering at the kind of life her mother and Gertrude, their maid, had continued.
Claire opened her eyes and shook her head back and forth. Then she brushed her teeth for the second time just to get her mind back on track. Hell, it was easier just to concentrate on uprooting trees and hauling bricks out at the homestead.
But it was hard forcing herself away. There had been a time when she’d felt herself the youngest member of a marching line of Elliston women who didn’t seem to need men in their world. What was it Momma had said? “Men are nice when they visit, and even nicer when they pick up their socks and leave.” Claire tried to remember. Momma must have said that after Daddy died, or had he just gone away? There must have been a Daddy. Claire couldn’t actually picture his face, but Momma would make herself laugh and give Claire a little hug of womanly knowing saying, “You’re just a girl, Clairey. Your big eyes don’t need to see everything.” But they had seen—if only she could remember what.
Claire glanced at her watch and quickly stuffed her lipstick and comb into her purse. She counted out some change for the parking meter at Rita’s Diner, picked up the receipt for stockings she planned to return, and gazed at the wrinkled scrap of paper lying before her on the bathroom counter. She caught her breath—even as she knew what it would say. Always the same. The same reminder. Tiny letters she’d come to recognize.
“avenge me” it quietly read. No emotion in the dainty scrawl lightly penciled on a scrap of envelope. No instructions. It sat alone beside a scatter of bobby pins and a single Q-tip. Claire stared at the shred of paper. It could have said, “water the plants” or “do the laundry.” She picked it up, examining the furl of the cursive letters, trembling that she hadn’t remembered writing them. Then, with a final glance at herself in the mirror, a final search to make sure she was there, Claire brushed the note into a drawer with the others and hurried off to a board meeting before she was late.
My Favorite Books; Midtown Reader…(starting after 3/20/17)
Amazon; Barnes and Noble
Contact for Author:
Mcdb100@comcast.net, MarinaBrownAuthor on Facebook, or through SYPPublishing.com