Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story

Hillybilly Drug Baby: The Story (Hillbilly Drug Baby Book 2) by [Brunais, Andrea]

This week’s other featured books, “Count the Waves,” by Sandra Beasley and “Refuge,” by Nanci LaGarenne, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.


THE BOOK: Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story

PUBLISHED IN: December 2018.

THE AUTHOR: Andrea Brunais.

THE EDITOR: Pearlie Tan, first editor. Olivia Swenson, second editor.

THE PUBLISHER: WriteLife Publishing, an imprint of Boutique of Quality Books’

SUMMARY: A homeless, drug-addicted teenaged poet — Jesse  Ray Lewis, an age-out foster child — wanders into the orbit of the author and her husband in Bluefield, West Virginia, turning their lives upside down as they discover his prodigious writing talent and work to get his life on track.

Andrea Brunais

THE BACK STORY: My book is the second in the Hillbilly Drug Baby series. The first is Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Poems,” by Jesse Ray Lewis. Both books have at their center a young, vulnerable character making deadly choices. Having discovered Jesse Ray’s writing talent, and after editing his book of poems, I was then able to tell an emotionally honest tale of how our lives became intertwined. Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story takes the material to a deeper level, as each chapter closes with a journalistically reported sidebar with facts. figures and context about the issues raised. These include teen homelessness,gang violence, the Appalachian opioid epidemic and child abuse.

WHY THIS TITLE: J.D. Vance brought national attention to Appalachia with his much-reviewed and oft-reviled bestseller Hillbilly Elegy. While “hillbilly” has carried a negative connotation in the past, Vance’s book and the dialogue it inspired have helped add new layers of meaning to the word. Jesse Ray writes heartbreakingly in one of his poems that people may see him as a “Hillbilly drug baby,” but that’s not who he wants to be.

WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Lisa Brock, the author of Goodbye College, Hello Life! wrote in her review that people should “read it for the beauty of the hope.” That’s a wonderful reason. Another reason is to experience vicariously what my husband and I went through as we somewhat (or maybe entirely) naively opened our lives up to a stranger and assumed, in turn, that he would accept help from us and other strangers. Ours is a personal, dramatic story of how two people intervened in the life of a homeless, drug abusing teen with a background of violence and neglect, hoping to help him turn his life around. The book offers insights into poverty and homelessness plus the intersection of two cultures: Jesse Ray’s and ours.


“Simply said, I could not stop reading Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story. I was put through the wringer with its emotional real-life drama of hope and despair, tenderness and violence. The Quixote-like storyline will have any adult holding their breath as they cheer for the young man from Appalachia and for the all-in effort of those trying to save him from his troubling past. I would challenge anyone not to become fiercely involved from page one.” — Mike Houtz, author of Dark Spiral Down.

“Andrea Brunais has won prestigious journalism and fiction prizes for a good reason: She represents the cream of the reporting/writing crop. Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story emphasizes not only her (and her husband’s) humanity, but also her professionalism. Andrea’s prose is clear, crisp, descriptive and often heartbreaking in the tale of a talented kid whose life was littered with broken promises and dreams before they met. A fine and revealing read.” — Dan Smith, author of CLOG! and Virginia Communications Hall of Fame journalist.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Award–winning journalist and author Andrea Brunais spent 30 years as an editor, reporter, and columnist for Media General, Creative Loafing, and Knight Ridder newspapers. A freelance  writer and author of both fiction and nonfiction, she has won awards including silver medalist recognition in the Florida Authors and Publishers Association nationwide contest, 2015. Her freelance work has appeared in outlets such as the Christian Science Monitor, TravelPulse.com, DuPont Registry, and Appalachian Voice. Her newspaper honors include first place in Commentary from  the Florida Press Club, a Robert Kennedy Journalism Award, and first place in the annual Southern Newspaper Publishers competition. She works in higher education communications and is the creator and executive producer of the web-episode episode series Save Our Towns.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: “When Jessie Ray Lews entered our lives, I recognized the makings of a fabulous story. He emerged from family violence and neglect in a region awash with drugs — a region currently the object of a national obsession: Appalachia.He turned out to be a freakishly talented writer capable of poetic rhythms and vivid turns of phrase. My husband and I determined to help him turn his life around, and I believed our mutual struggles would make for a compelling story line. I saw in Jesse Ray more than just a street-smart boy with a flair for poetic expression. I saw a soul who could be saved from a downward spiral. But life never turns out just as we plan, does it?


You can find three snippets of poetry by Hillbilly Drug Baby poet Jesse –

Ray Lewis plus an excerpt from the chapter “Fathers and Father Figures,” in which Hal Gibson, my husband, discovers that Jesse Ray has been keeping the “safe house” in a filthy condition:


LOCAL OUTLETS: Book currently available only online.

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound.org


PRICE: $17.



(yes, I also do book editing).

Count the Waves

Count the Waves: PoemsTHE BOOK: Count the Waves.


THE AUTHOR:  Sandra Beasley

THE EDITOR: Jill Bialosky

THE PUBLISHER: W.W. Norton …people sometimes think of Norton as a “Big 5” New-York-based publisher in a way that obscures its humble origin. The company was founded in 1923, by the husband-and-wife team of William Warder Norton and Mary Norton. Norton has been employee-owned since the early 1960s. Last time I visited their offices, people had “Hello My Name Is _____” tags stuck outside their doors, in lieu of fancy nameplates. The staff is really terrific and incredibly dedicated.

SUMMARY: Summarizing a poetry collection is tough! You want preening peacocks, rutting turtles, rebellious crane flies? Valentines from sword swallowers? Ukuleles? Puppets? James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, each at work on their respective canvasses? Miles driven? Seas crossed? Yep, we got all that and more.

Sandra BeasleyTHE BACK STORY: In the early phases, collections can gather like moss to a stone—a poem here, a poem there, ultimately spanning a decade’s worth of drafts. But then there’s that fateful moment where the stone goes rolling down the hill and the poet frantically chases after, trying to figure out what it all means. In my case, I realized that I wanted to write about the particular themes of travel, and the nuances of mature adult relationships; or, to combine the two, ‘love across long distances.’ One access point was to dialogue with The Traveler’s Vade Mecum, a real book circa 1853, in which A.C. Baldwin proposes a numeric code for pithy, epigrammatic communications by letter or telegraph. (Helen Klein Ross should be credited with drawing my attention to this peculiar volume—she edited a whole anthology of poets’ “Vade Mecum” riffs.) About twenty of my poems take one of Baldwin’s 8,000+ numbered lines as their title.

WHY THIS TITLE?“Count the Waves” is a purposeful mis-hearing of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43, that declares in its opening line, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways….” Specifically, the title poem is a sestina, “Let Me Count the Waves,” which puns on the iterative quality of the received form’s repeated end words  But that’s an overly academic gloss; another way of looking at the poem is that it’s a fiercely, unapologetically female take on what it means to be a poet in this day and age.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? Poetry doesn’t have to be conspicuously difficult to comprehend in order to be artful—in fact, I often have conversations welcoming people to poetry, in part because my reading style is dramatic and designed to invite the audience in. That said, I think people are delighted when language that is so compressed, by definition, has a depth that rewards multiple re-readings. There’s a lot to dig for in these poems. Research is a major component of my drafting process, and my nerd-heart loves the texture of science and history in particular. I’m fascinated by the notion of an individual’s impact within the shared world around us. One of my favorite fan notes came from a military veteran who was initially attracted to the Vade Mecum series, but what ultimately pulled him in was the love stories; the vulnerability hiding beneath that shield of code-making.

“Beasley uses humor and surprise like a scythe, cutting to the root of a matter.”

~Elizabeth Lund, The Washington Post

“The poems are full of subtly arresting imagery, the kind that takes a beat to register…And they all reveal how deftly Beasley wields the final line. A poem’s close can tie it up or blow it apart—and Beasley almost always chooses an explosion, or at least a startling pivot. Her closing words shift speakers, realign priorities, reveal what’s at stake.”

~Camila Domonoske, Washington City Paper

“The poems here are vivid and energetic, fun and playful, strange and mysterious….One thinks of the realistic dreamscapes of Charles Simic, where we experience an alternate reality, or see our reality in startling ways.”

~Craig Beaven, Blackbird

AUTHOR PROFILE: I am the author of Count the WavesI Was the Jukebox, winner of the Barnard Women Poets Prize; and Theories of Falling, winner of the New Issues Poetry Prize. Virginia-born and raised, I recently edited the anthology Vinegar and Char: Verse from the Southern Foodways Alliance. I am also the author of Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, a memoir of living with disability and a cultural history of food allergy. I teach poetry and nonfiction as part of the low-residency MFA program at the University of Tampa.

I’ve held guest lecturer positions at Wichita State University, Cornell College, Lenoir-Rhyne University, and the University of Mississippi, and visited multiple artist residencies. In November 2017, I represented the United States at Ideogramma’s 3rd International Poetry Festival “to the sea-girt shores of Cyprus,” and in spring 2019 I will be the John Montague International Poetry Festival at the Munster Literature Centre in Cork, Ireland. In other words, I’m on the road more often than not; but I count my home in Washington, D.C.


AUTHOR COMMENTS: With a third collection, an author can show thematic range and a firm dedication to poetry not only as an inspired art, but as a craft. My growing role as a teacher and lecturer pushes me to think deeply about what language can do, both in the individual poem and when working in series. I’m more ambitious than ever, and I want these lines to mean something fifty years from now. That said, we should never lose track of the fun in poetry—that glimmer of the sly, the wry, the perverse, the playful. We’re meant to be statesmen and the mischief-makers, simultaneously.


Here’s the first poem in the book:


At night my body discoversher secret geometries—

inner-flamingo knee hitch,

inner-flamenco arm arch,

Hermes’ diagonal of flight

across the mattress.

The sleeping body is selfish.

The sleeping body cannot lie.

Once there was the man

from whom I always woke

huddled at the bed’s edge.

Then there was a man who

laid his lust as a doorknocker

at the small of my back.

The first time I laid down

with you—sweat-stuck,

each onioned in the skin

of the other—I assumed

the unconscious hours

would peel us free. Yet

when sun cracked its eye

over the horizon, we were as

we’d been. And the pink of me

cocked her head, listening.

[[Courtesy of the author.]]

Washington, DC, has a remarkable community of independent bookstores. Politics & Prose is particularly consistent in stocking my books, which I deeply appreciate; I lead classes for them. Kramerbooks, Upshur Street Books, Solid State Books, and East City Bookshop have also supported me for readings and other events.

My books are available at wonderful independents that ship nationally—Square Books, Powell’s Books—as well as Amazon.com, and Barnes & Noble.

PRICE: $15.95 (paperback edition),CONTACT THE AUTHOR:Folks are absolutely welcome to contact me! I have online presences via my website (www.sandrabeasley.com), my blog “Chicks Dig Poetry” (www.sbeasley.blogspot.com), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/authorsandrabeasley/), and Twitter (https://twitter.com/SandraBeasley). Emailing me at my earthlink.net email address—which you’ll find on the website—works just fine, too.


THE BOOK: Refuge


THE AUTHOR: Nanci LaGarenne

THE EDITOR:  JoAnne Pilgrim

THE PUBLISHER: Blue Bottle Press

SUMMARY:  The power of friendship and love among a group of women who overcome abuse and find a family they create in a refurbished brownstone in Brooklyn.

THE BACK STORY: After becoming a sudden widow, Dr. Rain Miller, therapist for abused women, buys a dilapidated brownstone in Brooklyn Heights and takes in boarders, women who need fresh hope and a new beginning. The tables turn as the wise therapist and den mother of sorts becomes a victim herself and her boarders help her as a result.

WHY THIS TITLE:  A refuge was what the first domestic violence shelter was called when started in England. And for the the safety and harbor and solace these women find at the brownstone.

Image result for Nanci La Garenne + photosWHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT: Refuge is a heartwarming inspirational story of hope and and there are humorous bits and quirky characters and chapters of blissful description and escape, especially in Part Two, which takes place in Ireland, where the author spent some time and fell in love with the west of Ireland. Many women have told me they are feeling validated by the story. And it was the hope they needed to address their own abuse or celebrate their leaving an abusive relationship.


Amazon review:  “Refuge is an impressive novel in many ways. It tackles the theme of domestic abuse with great sensitivity, it manages to leaven the horror it relates with humor, and it demonstrates the powerful force that is women’s friendships. LaGarenne is fearless – she doesn’t shy away from the deepest degradations of humankind, so be prepared to cringe at some of what she describes in the book. I was fully engaged and drawn in to all the characters’ stories. In a way the book felt like two books – the first half in the U.S. at the brownstone that is the refuge of the title, and a second half, when some of the characters go to Ireland (which acts as yet another refuge). LaGarenne is especially gifted at description and dialogue, and the rich beauty and history of Ireland were thoroughly enjoyable to read.” Celine Keating, author of Layla.

AUTHOR PROFILE: Nanci LaGarenne is a former freelance journalist for Dan’s Papers and former childcare worker and night hotline staff ,e,ber at The Retreat, a domestic violence shelter on Long Island. She lives in East Hampton NY in a blissful cottage in the woods. She has written a book prior to Refuge, called Cheap Fish, a murder mystery set in Montauk NY and published in 2013. Nanci belongs to a local Story Salon where she reads her memoir-like short stories. She is currently working on her third novel, an unsolved cold case she is solving.

AUTHOR COMMENTS:  I am always happy to answer readers questions about my books and my passion for writing.


Chapter Eleven

Henry had snapped me out of it. Even in death he was my hero. In our little apartment I felt connected to him again.  Among his treasures and books I could feel him near me. His innate goodness and his tender heated touch.  My ethereal husband.  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. That was us. I cooked his favorite Hungarian dishes and set the table for two every night. Candles and good dishes. Even if it was take out Chinese.  I was quite sane really, merely trying to heal the gaping wound Henry’s death left in my life. Ophelia had been overruled.

The paprika tin would occasionally fall down from the spice rack into whatever pot I was stirring. Henry saying hello.  Giving me his blessing to go on. Reminding me to rejoin the living. Do more work with the women.  For a spirit, Henry was very persistent.  

A new domestic violence shelter was about to open its doors in the Heights near my office. I was invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony since I had been part of the grass roots campaign to get the shelter started. I had mixed feelings about its completion.  More women would have a refuge. Sad that they needed one at all. We had not progressed as much as a society where it counted most. How men treated women. What was tolerated by the masses. How we turned a blind eye. How all of that could change. That was a project for a longer day.

I donated my time at the new shelter several times a week, running group sessions for the resident women. My days and nights were filled with work. I slept soundly out of pure exhaustion. No longer needing to inebriate myself, I said a wistful goodbye to my old pal Southern Comfort. I dug out my walking sneakers and hit the park.

I missed Henry but I was back in the crusade.  Colleen called often from the Ponderosa. She urged me to find some socializing time. “Come up and visit us,” she begged. I wasn’t quite ready to witness happiness and wedded bliss and children. I made excuses. She didn’t push. I loved her for that. “How about getting a dog?” she suggested, worrying I was becoming a hermit when I wasn’t working.  I thought about it. A poor dog would be alone all day and sometimes half the night. Not fair to coop up an animal that way.

I bravely made some calls to friends of ours I had been avoiding since Henry passed. I forced myself to accept a lunch invitation. We met up one Saturday down at a  favorite restaurant near the Promenade. Lunch was actually enjoyable. Everyone made me feel like my old self. I didn’t even feel guilty that my appetite returned. We included Henry in our topics of conversation instead of sidestepping around the mention of his name. No one told me how to grieve. In fact they gave me no advice at all. Just their company. What a relief.  Why do people make death so hard? Separating it from life like we do. As if we can escape its very presence in our lives. We can’t. Someone’s always being born and someone’s always dying.

I wandered around the Heights the rest of the afternoon, taking in the lovely neighborhood that I took for granted. It was alive with possibility and renewal. I felt a presence here that I hadn’t before. So quickly had I passed through each day there. Busy inside my office and then back to Henry’s apartment. Barely noticing the gem of a neighborhood all around me. 

The brownstones were romantically historical. Beautiful aged brick. Orante embellishments along the roofs. Cherubs, winged lions, egg and dart molding set in stone. I gazed up at tall windows and wide stoops and beveled glass double front doors in awe. I will live in one of these mysterious buildings, I decided. I will make the home Henry and I dreamed of. A germ of an idea was gestating in my brain. I found myself in a real estate office making an appointment to see a brownstone.

The realtor called it a renovation project, saying the words carefully like they were silver or gold on her tongue. The reality of mortgages and where the hell the money would come from were secondary to me at that moment. Rain Taylor was back.

When my Group at the shelter finshed for the night, I had a chat with the shelter manager.  “We’re dealing with a difficult situation, Rain.” Aurora looked very woried. “There just isn’t enough affordable housing for the clients who have completed the program.  We can’t keep them beyond their extension dates because we’re filled to capacity at all times. Yet how can we throw them on the streets?” 

I sipped the welcomed cup of coffee she handed me and pondered her words. “I may have a solution, Aurora. I’m looking at a brownstone.”

“Sorry? And that solves what around here?” Aurora raised her eyebrows.

“A house,” I said, as if that explained everything.

“Rain, I know what a brownstone is, but what’s that got to do with us, you moving to a bigger place?”  

I laughed. “I’m being unclear. I mean to take in boarders. Women.”

“Oh…now I get you. Well. That sounds wonderful. But clients? How can you do that? It would probably be unethical somehow, no?”

“They won’t be clients anymore, will they?  Not once they leave. They have to live somewhere. Any reason they couldn’t live with me?”

Aurora scratched her head. A few grey hairs fell forward on her cheek. “None I can think of at the moment. I can look into this further if you’re serious…”

“I am. Quite.” I sipped my coffee, pleased. The seed was planted. All I needed was a water source. 

Walking into my apartment an hour later I took a deep breath and looked around. How was I going to leave? The wind was knocked right out of my sails as I inhaled 

the familiar smells of our domicile.  Mine and Henry’s. The love I shared with him was kindled here. How could I abandon that?  It was nothing short of dishonorable.

I poured myself a glass of Portuguese port and kicked off my shoes. Lit the fireplace and curled up in a fireside club chair. The firelight shone on the intricate pattern of an old 

oriental throw rug that circled the cozy parlor. The very rug Henry laid me down on to make love. 

Even in my California days of free love I had not climbed to the heights that Henry took me to each night he held me.  The song Magic Carpet Ride took on a whole new meaning.  Before I met Henry I had been merely preparing for a man who would unselfishly take me on a journey of bliss.  I sighed, sipping my ruby port. This reminiscing was getting me quite fired up and there was nothing I could do about it. Damn, I miss you Henry.

LOCAL OUTLETS: Burtons Books in Greenport, Whites Dept Store in Montauk, Canios Books in Sag Harbor, Preston’s in Greenport, Montauk Book Shop.


PRICE: $16.95

First Tuesday Replay, Dec. 4

This feature has a two-fold purpose: 1. To allow those recently added to our followers list to discover books they might have missed and 2. To make sure previously featured authors and their work aren’t forgotten. If you’d like to learn more about any of the books revisited here, simply click on the “Author” page, then on that author’s name.



Would you take an anti-aging hormone? What if you could keep your youth? If someone you knew was terrified of aging, and you’d invented the hormone, would you give it to them? Even if it meant discovery would cause you to lose your chance of winning the Nobel Prize?

Blue Coyote Motel is a suspense love story which begins in the barrios of Southern California and spans the globe in such diverse locations as Provence, South America, and the Himalayas. The beautiful Latina, Maria, and her husband, Jeffrey, a scientist fired from a prestigious laboratory, struggle to build a new life in a remote Southern California desert areas as owners of the motel.

Along with the anti-aging hormone, Jeffrey invents a “feel-good” wonder drug to help Maria with her depression. As Jeffrey becomes insane he begins to experiment with the wonder drug. Six wayward travelers, including an alcoholic priest, a couple who own gold mines in Brazil, a depressed widow, a struggling salesman, and a Native American pediatrician find themselves spending the night at the small motel. The next morning, they wake up feeling better than ever. Has Jeffrey’s miracle drug delivered? Or is the nightmare of addiction only beginning? Blue Coyote Motel presents an engaging look at the human frailties present in all of us.


Megan writes: “I woke up one morning with the idea for this book in my mind. The central question was: What would happen if a human child acted like a horse? Which raises another question: What situation would have given rise to this predicament? The more I thought about these questions, the more the story grew and became a tale of a dedicated and insightful woman saving a teenage boy from a life of imprisonment and horror; in a way, she saves herself as well. Much online research concerning mental health treatments of the 1950s and ‘60s was needed to provide an authentic background for this story. In addition, my neighbor at the time was a psychologist, who was only too happy to fill me in on the gritty details of the plight of mental health care workers and patients during this period of American history. All in all, after many instances of stopping and restarting, it took me over four years to complete this novel.”


When Patricia Ramos-Waites’ sister asks for help resurrecting her dead boyfriend’s ghost, Patricia knows she should say no. But this may be her last chance to repair the fraying bond between herself and her sister. Of course, nothing ever goes as planned. When the resurrection of Marco is interrupted by a gang of drug smugglers who are also after his ghost, Patricia accidentally becomes possessed by him. Now, she and Marco are stuck navigating the tricky relationship of Host and Hosted — all while trying to parent two difficult teenagers, dodge criminals, and heal the ever-growing rift between Patricia and her sister.


Sarah Gerkensmeyer

Selected by novelist Stewart O’Nan as winner of the Autumn House Press fiction prize, What You Are Now Enjoying takes us into both the uncanny and the mundane. From Wonder Woman as an angst-ridden teenager to ghost twins to monster catfish to the secret relationships between polygamous wives, the stories in What You Are Now Enjoying approach the familiar in unfamiliar ways, allowing us to recognize and claim the unordinary moments in our own often ordinary lives.  In particular, Gerkensmeyer crafts broken fairy tales that reimagine the life of women.


Rachael Steil clocked in as an All-American collegiate runner; she became a girl clawing for a comeback on a 30-bananas-a-day diet. This year-long struggle with raw food ended when she realized she had to find her self-respect beyond her identity as a successful runner on a perfect diet. Running in Silence opens the door on the secret world of eating disorders. It provides vital insights for those who don’t suffer from this disease and an honest and harrowing personal story for those who do. Steil challenges the stigma of eating disorders, looks past appearance, and dives into the heart of obsession.


“Advance Man” is an adventure, because just about every presidential campaign advance trip is one.

The novel, based on true events, follows the campaign’s top “lead” advance man, Bix, for three action-packed days (one advance trip), as he creates and produces a massive rally, a major endorsement and several side events — all in under 72 hours — for a fictional African-American candidate.

Set in and around Charleston, SC during the early days of the 2008 election, “Advance Man” pulls back the curtains on the invisible world of presidential advance. Advance teams work behind the scenes (they have been referred to as “secret agents” by the LA Times), sometimes with only a couple of days notice, to create and control every aspect of what is seen by America every night on national television, in newspapers and across social media.

We follow Bix from the moment he first hears about the trip, and its complexities, from the deputy campaign manager (who doesn’t have Bic’s best interests in mind), through the team’s creative process, coordination with Secret Service advance (all of which does not go easily), and the cast of characters who have their own personal agendas. Bix also reestablishes a relationship with a former love who is now working for the opposition.

“‘Advance Man’ explains a lot about what you see on TV, as well as why “advance” becomes so addictive to those who do it at the highest levels. It’s a high stakes, high adrenaline, immediate satisfaction, no room for errors job that tests the advance team’s skills in ways that very few human endeavors can. If you, the reader, aren’t amused and informed on nearly every page, the author will be happy to come to your home and explain why you should be.



Weather Report, December 3

American Healthcare : Stock Photo

Our currently featured books, “The Writing Circle,” by Corinne Demas, “After Houses,” by Claire Millikin and “Times Square and Other Stories,” by William Baer, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Author’s page.


There are many ways to address our myriad societal problems in book form.

Authors who employ a journalistic approach generally describe an issue from a thoughtful distance, using descriptions and facts and quotes from experts to bring the situation and those affected by it into sharper focus.

Fiction can sometimes probe more deeply than non-fiction, however, because it relies heavily on the interior thoughts of those in distress and allows them to speak more honestly under cover of a fictional identity.

Or else someone who has escaped the grip of gangs or crime or drug addiction or alcoholism will pour their experiences into a memoir that removes all intermediaries from the tale.

And then there is “Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Story,” by Andrea Brunais, one of our featured books this week on Snowflakes in a Blizzard (snowflakesarise.wordpress.com).

Andrea has been a journalist and novelist (her novel, “Mercedes Wore Black,” was a previous Snowflakes selection), but this book transcends those forms. It is a true description of how she and her husband tried to help a young West Virginia boy with a history of drug use and gang membership save himself through his compelling writing ability.

This book is the second in a series, following “Hillbilly Drug Baby: The Poems,” in which readers get to see Jesse Ray Lewis’ world through his own creative lens.

Writes Andrea: “When Jessie Ray Lews entered our lives, I recognized the makings of a fabulous story. He emerged from family violence and neglect in a region awash with drugs — a region currently the object of a national obsession: Appalachia. He turned out to be a freakishly talented writer capable of poetic rhythms and vivid turns of phrase. My husband and I determined to help him turn his life around, and I believed our mutual struggles would make for a compelling story line. I saw in Jesse Ray more than just a street-smart boy with a flair for poetic expression. I saw a soul who could be saved from a downward spiral. But life never turns out just as we plan, does it?”

In the second of this week’s books, “Refuge,” Nanci LaGarenne deals with the specter of domestic violence.

After becoming a sudden widow, Dr. Rain Miller, therapist for abused women, buys a dilapidated brownstone in Brooklyn Heights and takes in boarders, women who need fresh hope and a new beginning. The tables turn as the wise therapist and den mother of sorts becomes a victim herself and her boarders help her as a result.

Finally, Sandra Beasley offers a wide-ranging poetry collection titled “Count the Waves.”

One reviewer said of it: “The poems are full of subtly arresting imagery, the kind that takes a beat to register…And they all reveal how deftly Beasley wields the final line. A poem’s close can tie it up or blow it apart—and Beasley almost always chooses an explosion, or at least a startling pivot. Her closing words shift speakers, realign priorities, reveal what’s at stake.”



A homeless, drug-addicted teenaged poet — Jesse  Ray Lewis, an age-out foster child — wanders into the orbit of the author and her husband in Bluefield, West Virginia, turning their lives upside down as they discover his prodigious writing talent and work to get his life on track.


The power of friendship and love among a group of women who overcome abuse and find a family they create in a refurbished brownstone in Brooklyn.


Explains Sandra: “In the early phases, collections can gather like moss to a stone—a poem here, a poem there, ultimately spanning a decade’s worth of drafts. But then there’s that fateful moment where the stone goes rolling down the hill and the poet frantically chases after, trying to figure out what it all means. In my case, I realized that I wanted to write about the particular themes of travel, and the nuances of mature adult relationships; or, to combine the two, ‘love across long distances.’”


This month, we will re-visit “The Thundering,” by Megan Davidson, “Shifting Borders,” by Jessie Kwak, “What You Are Now Enjoying,” by Sarah Gerkensmeyer, “The Blue Coyote Motel,” by Dianne Harman,  “The Advance Man,” by Steven Jacques and “Running in Silence,” by Rachel Steil.




The Writing Circle

The Writing Circle (Voice) by [Demas, Corinne]This week’s other featured books, “After Houses,” by Claire Millikin and “Times Square and Other Stories,” by William Baer, can be found by scrolling down below this post, or by clicking the author’s name on our Authors page.


THE BOOK:  The Writing Circle.

PUBLISHED IN: 2010 paperback: 2011 German edition (Das Herz der Tauschung) 2012.

THE AUTHOR: Corinne Demas.

THE EDITOR: Sarah Landis.

THE PUBLISHER: Hyperion (unfortunately the imprint, “Voice” has been discontinued).

SUMMARY: The Writing Circle is about six writers — three men and three women — who call themselves The Leopardi Circle, and gather regularly to share their work in progress. There’s Gillian, a beautiful, scheming, world famous poet; Bernard, a pompous but lovable biographer; Virginia, a respected historian and the peacemaker of the group, who also happens to be Bernard’s ex-wife; Chris, a divorced father and successful thriller writer; and Adam, the youngest of the group, an aspiring novelist who is infatuated with Gillian. They meet to read their work aloud and offer feedback, all of them feeling somewhat competitive as well as vulnerable (and yes, writers do feel vulnerable about their work!)

Corinne DemasWhen Nancy, whose most recently published work is a medical newsletter, is asked to join The Leopardi Circle, she accepts, warily. She’s not at all certain that her novel is good enough for the company she’ll be keeping. Her novel is a subject very close to her heart, and she isn’t sure she wants to share it with others, let alone the world. But Nancy soon finds herself as caught up in the group’s personal lives as she is with their writing. She learns that nothing — love, family, loyalty — is sacred or certain. Over the course of a year, marriages are tested, affairs begin, and trust is broken. Buried secrets come to light.

In this group, as is often the case, there are unwritten rules, and I wasinterested in what happens when one member of a group does something that  other group members see as a betrayal. I wanted to explore the moral struggle within the characters, as well as the struggles between them.

THE BACK STORY: I’ve always been intrigued by the unexpected connections I discoverbetween different people I know, and the way the things we do and say  reverberate through the many threads that link us. In The Writing Circle, I wanted to consider a group of people who are connected in more complex ways than they realize, and the unintended consequences that the actions of one person can have on someone else whom they may not even know. I chose to center my story on a group of writers because they’re the people I understand best.  I’ve been in several different writing groups in thepast, and am currently a member of two. One is an informal gathering of writers that meets in a local café. The other is a critique group where we read aloud from our current manuscripts, and where I read my first draft of The Writing Circle chapter by chapter. (Over a period of two years!) None of these friends are models for characters in my book — although of course bits of all of us are there, too. Although some of the characters in The Writing Circle are more endearing than others, I came to have affection for all of them (even one whom I would definitely not be friends with if my story were real life) When I finished the novel and turned it over to my editor I felt bereft, as if I had parted with close members of my family.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The Writing Circle is a novel that obviously has special appeal for anyone who is a writer, knows a writer, or might like to be a writer, but I think it also connects with anyone who’s been a member of a group.

At the suggestion of my editor, I expanded the original manuscript to include selections from each writers’ work as it was presented to the group. I ended up  having to write seven entirely different manuscripts, in different styles and different genres, so this is a novel which has within it: parts of two other novels, some poetry, some biography, some historical fiction, and a piece of a thriller.


“Part of what gives this format its enduring appeal is the way it allows readers to dip in and out of each character’s life while also giving multiple perspectives on key events. Demas ups the ante by deepening the characterizations, introducing the subject of plagiarism, and exposing the vanity and insecurity of even the most celebrated writers. Delicious reading.” — Booklist.

“The story quickly moves to a satisfying end. This fourth novel by a well-established author of short stories, poetry, and children’s books will appeal to readers who enjoyed Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Jane Austen” Book Club and other novels about the writing life.”  — Library Journal.

“(Demas) has the obvious bona fides to probe writers’ lives in her fiction, and the less superficially observable qualities of knowledge and first hand experience to be able to juggle a number of writers’ personalities in a narrative simultaneously….The exurbanite culture and cultured chums Demas evokes have a charmed staying power. A story isn’t over until it’s over, and the confederates of the Leopardi Circle have a shared knack for sparking the thought that they might be worthy of a second installment.” — The Chicago Tribune.

“A charming novel about a group of writers in a small college town, full of warmth and humor.” — Printer’s Row.

AUTHOR PROFILE: I’m the author of thirty-three books including five novels (The Writing Circle is one of them), two short story collections, a memoir, a collection of poetry, and numerous books for children, as well as two plays. I’ve published more than fifty short stories in a wide range of literary and other magazines, and a number of poems in a variety of places. I’m often asked how I decide whether an idea should be developed as a novel, short story, book for kids, or a poem. In fact, the idea decides for itself! A novel like The Writing Circle is obviously not appropriate for young readers, and I quickly realized that although particular scenes could be framed as short stories, I had a cast of characters and a complicated plot that required the room a novel provides. I find that I can’t work on two pieces of fiction at the same time, but changing gears and working on a picture book while I’m tangled in the midst of a difficult part of a novel, for instance, is always refreshing. At Mount Holyoke College, I teach creative writing, and my students enjoy knowing that I’m in the same boat as they are — staying up late at night when I have an idea that I have to get down on paper, or reluctantly revising a manuscript I initially thought was perfect after I get critical feedback from an editor or a writer in my writing group.


Link to me reading a chapter from the novel at Writerscast:


This is the preface of the novel (there is a link on The Writing Circle page on my website: http://www.corinnedemas.com/books/writingcircle.html).

The house is set on a hillside, with a long driveway that leads up to it and disappears around the back. It’s after dinner time, already dark. A garage door at the rear of the house opens, and a pickup truck backs out and turns around. Whoever is driving has not turned the headlights on, and if you were viewing the scene from above, you would barely make out the truck as it comes around the side of the house, as it heads down the driveway.

A figure cuts across the sloping front lawn and starts down the driveway, towards the road. It’s probably a woman, but she’s dressed in black, and almost invisible in the dark. A young man is standing by the house, watching her. Light spills out of the doorway behind him.

He hears the pickup truck as it emerges around the corner of the house and he turns towards the sound. Then he cries out something — the woman’s name perhaps— but she does not hear him. She’s halfway down the driveway, just at the point where it takes a sharp turn.

He flies down the hillside, plunges towards her, towards the point of intersection.

WHERE TO BUY IT: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

PRICE: Hardback: $23.60, Paperback: $9.55; Nook: $12.99, Amazon Kindle, $12.99.


website: http://www.corinnedemas.com


twitter: @corinnedemas

After Houses

After Houses: Poetry for the Homeless by Claire Millikin by [Millikin, Claire]THE BOOK: After Houses — Poetry for the Homeless.


THE AUTHOR: Claire Millikin

THE EDITOR: Gabrielle David is the general editor. Tara Betts, the poet, wrote the Introduction to the book.

THE PUBLISHER: 2Leaf Press; 2Leaf Press is an independent press in New York City, founded by Gabrielle David, committed to publishing works of diversity and social justice. It is now part of the umbrella of the University of Chicago Press.

Related imageSUMMARY: After Houses is a book of poems meditating on homelessness. It loosely follows a narrative of a young woman’s journey through homelessness in the United States. But the poems are not straight ‘confessional’ style. Rather they are meditations on symbolic space, ultimately a confrontation with the limits of bourgeois codes of home and family. Here’s the publisher’s description of the book: AFTER HOUSES is an extended meditation on homelessness. In unflinching, raw poetry, poet Claire Millikin explores states of homelessness, and a longing for, even a devotion to, houses—houses as spaces where one could be safe and at ease. The poems move through an American landscape, between the South and the North, between childhood and adulthood, reaching toward a home that’s never reached, but always at one’s fingertips. Throughout this collection, Millikin draws from personal and family history, from classical mythology and architectural theory, to shape a poetry of empathy, in which some of the places where people get lost in America are faced and given place. AFTER HOUSES echo the voices of girls who have not quite survived, but who persist, intact in the way that Rimbaud insists on intactness, in words.

THE BACK STORY: I started writing the poems that became AFTER HOUSES twenty years before it was published. At the time, I was going through a situation of precarious housing. The poems in the book, though, are not all about me. Many of them are about other women I knew in similar situations. Some of the poems were much more recent than twenty years ago. So, of all my books of poetry, AFTER HOUSES has the longest and deepest reach.

WHY THIS TITLE?: AFTER HOUSES is, as Tara Betts puts it in her Introduction to the book, a kind of eschatological title: after houses are gone, what is left? The title indicates that there is something left after you have no house, but that something is what you build in your own mind and from your words. Words are what survive us.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? If someone is interested in the issues and complexities surrounding homelessness, exile, displaced persons, this would be a book for them.


On Amazon, Sylvia de Leon writes, “Riveted by Motels Where We Lived I was lured even further by After Houses into Claire Millikin’s world of survival and secrecy. Millikin’s poetry is mysterious yet her story is pure American. She writes of the vulnerabilities of girlhood, southern roots, hard times, even hunger, and enriches some of her more recent work with the salty flavors of Maine and motherhood. With deep feeling, she is intertwined with those who have lived dirt poor and apparently overcome the unspeakable, though she simultaneously demonstrates command of her craft, and the intellectual influences of her first-class Yale education and UVa academic pursuits. This is a poet deserving of more recognition from the highest levels of our contemporary poetry world.”

Another, anonymous, reader calls the book “Poems of dignity and grace… Her poems beckon you to enter a secret world, one of breaths and whispers, promising to let you in on the secret — maybe. What she does so well is to walk that fine line between the accessible public persona and the inaccessible private persona. This creates a delicious tension where you’re never quite sure who’s talking to you, only that you want to be led deeper into her world. It’s as though you’re in the wardrobe and in Narnia, all at the same time. Her poems ask the question if the personal is always the political, and they let you find your way to your own answer. Highly recommend this collection!”

Wayne Koestenbaum writes, on the jacket cover, “Claire Millikin rites with deep feeling, craft, and delicacy about trauma…I think of her poems as following in the noble, painful, tradition of Mauric Blanchot—language reaching toward silence”

AUTHOR PROFILE: I’m the author, now, of six books of poetry—will list them at the end of these paragraphs—but when AFTER HOUSES was accepted by 2Leaf Press it was my first book (it ultimately was published after Museum of Snow, but that’s just happenstance). So, the book has deep meaning for me. I’m a mother of a teenage son. After he was born, at the end of 2001, I stayed home and took care of him ‘til he started first grade. We are very close, though buffeted by adolescence. I’m a professor who teaches Art History at the University of Virginia. And I’m from Georgia (USA) and my family, on both parents’ sides, has lived there since the early 1700s; it’s a complicated place, a violent place, and has shaped me deeply. I wrote a short essay, “The Impossible Place of Poetry,” for Tiger’s Eye Press (which published my first chapbook, The Gleaners) and am pasting it here as that essay says everything about me as a poet:

Both my parents were born into families that have inhabited the southeastern United States, in particular the state of Georgia (USA), for generations; they were European invaders reaching back to the early 1700s on my father’s side, and slightly earlier on my mother’s side. Such a background means that the history of Georgia is, in many ways, my family history. And the history of the southeastern United States is ugly, violent, and wrong. It includes the displacement of Native Americans, the taking of Native American wives, against their will, the enslavement of kidnapped Africans, the rape of enslaved African American women, and the humiliation and oppression of African Americans through Jim Crow. I was born, of course, after all these events. But they are my background. My parents wanted, ambivalently, to leave Georgia.

We grew up peripatetically, living in Southeast Asia, Holland, England, and barely strung together consecutive schoolyears in America. But whenever we came back to Georgia it was always clear that this is home, this is where extended family live, where ancestors are buried, Georgia and nowhere else. When I grew up I did not feel I could, or should, live in Georgia. I disagreed with the conservative political bent of the state, and so it would have been, and would be now, hard to find a place there. And yet, it is the only place that I am actually from, the only place where I might say, by dint of history, I belong. Does a poet need a place? Ovid, Milosz, Seferis, all wrote from exile; Anna Akhmatova stayed and suffered. I never intended to not be a Southerner.

After Yale, a university for which my childhood ill prepared me, I married young and married a man from a Southern family similar to my own. The name under which I publish poetry is his last name, Millikin; I always say that Millikin is my name from before marriage because I mean it is my name from before I married the man to whom I have been married as an adult, and with whom I have a child. For reasons that even now I am unsure of, my youthful marriage raveled, quickly. By the time I shored up in graduate school in New York City, still in my twenties, the idea of the South had moved away, and I was only trying to survive.

After the death of my mother’s mother when I was twenty-five, all that depth of family provided no place for me, no house where I could stay. As one of my aunts humorously put it, Claire was so smart we had to get rid of her. Of course, I am not in exile from the South. I could go back. And, with the death this year of my eldest maternal uncle, it has started to seem to me that I should go back, that every other place is unreal, that all other places are not of my family, hence not of myself, but only of survival. Even so, survival itself is more tangible than any other longing.

Faulkner suggested that the South made it impossible for Quentin to survive. And Flannery O’Connor implies, in “The Enduring Chill,” that the South is an illness that claims its brilliant young. The poems I write are often placed in Georgia, whether or not that place is mentioned. But if I were to return to Georgia, would those works evaporate? Is it the tension, and grief, of not being able to find a real place that makes the place of poetry so urgent? When my uncle died, the realness of his life seemed to surpass that of most people I know: his farm (that had gone bankrupt, but where he was able to lease some space for a few cows), his cows, his house that he built, the town where he stayed and never left or tried to leave. Compared to the professors with whom I spend most of my time, he was fuller, his world contained itself, did not look out at other people’s worlds. He was an early supporter of desegregation, a man who stood for what was right, where he was.

When my son finished middle school, this year, I decided we, as a family, would celebrate by visiting the islands off the shore of Carolina where, in childhood, my family camped each summer. I had not been back since I was fourteen years old (I left home at age fourteen, came back at age fifteen, left again at seventeen). When we got to the islands, all was terribly built-up, hideously marketed, but once I made it to the ocean it was the same: rough, merciless, the winds forty miles an hour. No one else was on the beach. My son and I, with a combined weight of two-fifty, locked arms and ran, the wind almost lifting us. If Thomas Wolfe says “you can’t go home again” this claim is possibly truer for Southerners: the reason you cannot go home is that home never sheltered you, it was too burdened by the violence of its own past. But you also cannot leave home, the violence of it is embedded in you, shards, painful and also beautiful, not a lost place but a damaged place, wounded by its own refusal to tell the truth.

The only task of poetry is to tell the truth. It is where language moves past assumption and cliché. Maybe you can’t go home again once you’ve told the truth about home. Or, maybe, the knowledge of home’s impossible place is the start of poetry. Links for books by Claire Millikin: State Fair Animals, Unicorn Press 2018 http://www.unicorn-press.org/#expand-jump-MillikinStateFairAnimals

Television, Unicorn Press 2016 http://www.unicorn-press.org/gallery/#expand-jump-MillikinTelevision Motels Where We Lived, Unicorn Press 2014 http://www.unicorn-press.org/gallery/#expand-jump-MillikinMotelsWhereWeLived Tartessos and Other Cities, 2Leaf Press 2016 https://www.amazon.com/Tartessos-Other-Cities-Claire-Millikin/dp/1940939429 After Houses-Poetry for the Homeless, 2Leaf Press 2014 https://www.amazon.com/After-Houses-Poetry-Homeless-Millikin/dp/1940939305/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1496949460&sr=1-3&keywords=after+houses+poetry Museum of Snow, Grayson Books 2013 https://www.amazon.com/Museum-Snow-Claire-Millikin/dp/0983860386

AUTHOR COMMENTS: For sure, the larger issue that this book, AFTER HOUSES-Poetry for the Homeless, ties to is homelessness. It is a blight and a shame in a country as wealthy as ours that we do not look after our most vulnerable. Many of the homeless are mothers with young children. America simply must do better by them.



At the end of childhood, I slept in my car

nights, after summer had finished.

The car became my form:

anyone could see where I’d been,

cribbing the last of mother’s inheritance.

Mother was a professional singer;

I slept outside the door of her voice

drenched evenings, when rain’s

after-images pulled between branches

at the parking lot’s edge.

At dusk, there’s nothing but distance

and the memory of your mother’s voice, hitting the notes.

Turn the radio, she sings still, soft and full

at the edge of night where thin stars touch.

Divot in the grass where a doe kept,

last night, night before last: her form.

Baby blue sky between branches of pale oak,

of winter’s pelage, this song to shadow sleep.

(Claire Millikin, 2Leaf Press/University of Chicago Press, copyright 2014)

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: University of Chicago Press website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, 2Leaf Press website

PRICE: variable—from 4 dollars to 16 dollars depending on whether it’s used or new—2Leaf also sells this book as an ebook.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: My work email, posted on the UVA departmental website, is: scp2u@virginia.edu.