Fresh Ink: Debut Author Natalie Baszile, Queen Sugar

fresh inkIn prepping for the Association of Writers and Writing Professionals Conference (a.k.a. #AWP2016), I started looking up what some of the panelists had published. My list of to-read books grew drastically, and though I will likely never make it through that whole list, a title did pop out at me.

51e5qNUYc0L._UY250_Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile, cast a spell over me, and apparently I’m not the only one. Oprah Winfrey loved it so much she’s picked it up for a television series.

This novel is exquisite. Baszile scoops up her readers up and sets them down in the thick, damp heat of rural Louisiana, near New Orleans. The story begins with Charley Bordelon moving from Los Angeles to her extended family in Louisiana. Her father has just died and in order to meet the terms of her father’s will, Charley will have to revive his dying sugarcane plantation. This should be no problem except that she’s a woman, she’s black, she’s broke, she knows nothing about farming, and she’s trying to raise her daughter on her own. Add to that, there’s her half-brother Ralph, a troubled man with a good heart, who believes he’s owed a piece of this promised land, too.

Baszile deftly paints her characters in a way that in your heart you feel you know these people, even if no one like them has ever graced your own life’s circles, but the wonder of this novel doesn’t stop there. Baszile brings rural Louisiana alive. You feel your t-shirt clinging to the sweat that’s running down your back, you smell the fresh-baked bread wafting over the petrichor* that lingers in the sugarcane fields. It is a gift I am exceedingly jealous of and it makes me want to work harder to craft that kind of quality from my writing.

Queen Sugar is a story of perseverance, second-chances, self-doubt, social injustice, and the power of hope.

Warning: I tried to get other things done while I read it, but I couldn’t. I had to keep reading. So make yourself comfortable and dig in. You’ll be glad you did.

Have you read Queen Sugar? Are there other novels that have pulled you in so deeply that you didn’t want to leave? Tell us about it. [Caution: no spoilers in the comments, please]

Thanks for Reading!

*petrichor: a word I adore but rarely get to use in context

 

Lit I Love, Title 13: Wrinkle in Time

wrinkle4From the beginning my alter-ego has been a brave, daring girl who’s up for a grand adventure. It’s probably why I seek that out in literary forms and rarely in physical, real-life ones. So if you hand me a story about a girl who steps up to save the day, I’m into it. Now, make the girl an awkward adolescent who happens to be a smart, oldest child, and well… let’s just say I love Meg Murry. How could I not? A Wrinkle in Time by, Madeleine L’Engle is a phenomenal read for any age, but it can be so powerful for a middle-school reader, girls and boys. I am not usually a sci-fi reader but I loved this tale of smart, creative children who overcome the evil of the larger universe with love. L’Engle knew that the stories were deeply-layered and metaphorical but that the children would ultimately get what was at the heart of the story. In this case, love sets us free. It’s a truth we all seem to keep learning over and over. I think the child in me loved the idea of traveling to other worlds, and again, as in the Secret Life of Bees, we’ve got a trio of women speaking wisdom and nurturing our heroine and her helpmates (brother Charles Wallace, and Calvin O’Keefe) to the end.

As a child, this book spoke to the inner-adventurer in me, and at a time when it was crucially important, it helped me know that it was okay that I was awkward and smart, and that my day would come. In the end, people would accept me. As an adult, I found myself wondering about how the children in my world interpret what I say and do, which helps me be more mindful of both. So thank you Ms. L’Engle for that (tipping my hat heavenward).

Are there books that fueled your inner-adventurer? Maybe you’re an outer-adventurer and it spurred you on to do big things? What books did you read as a child that let you know you weren’t alone, or an odd-ball? Are there books that you read both as a child and as an adult? I want to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

    Lit I Love, Title 12: Fried Green Tomatoes

    FriedgreenbookMy affection for this title started on the small screen, courtesy of a bulky VHS tape. And to this day, when I need a solid, girl-power war cry, I shout “Towanda!” I didn’t know then how much more I’d enjoy the book. Why that can surprise someone who both loves to read and write, I don’t know, but it always does.

    The first time I read Fried Green Tomatoes by, Fannie Flagg, I felt like I was discovering a new story. Sure I had the bones of the thing, but reading it put flesh on those bones and blood in its veins.

    Any little wonderings I’d had, were solved. How involved was Smokey? Did Idgie love-love Ruth? Who exactly was Ninny (I couldn’t quite figure it out from the movie)?

    But I think the thing that the book does far better than the movie, is to really show how important we women can be to each other. We need each other like we need oxygen, and we need friends of all ages. My grandmother-in-law lives this. She’s 99 and she has friends that are younger than I am, and friends that she’s had since she was 3. There is much wisdom, support, and unconditional love to be found in those intergenerational friendships, and when we keep our hearts open to make room for the unexpected Ninny or Evelyn Couch in our lives, we are better for it.

    I also think this book  gives an authentic look at the love between two women that are really in love with each other. It’s not something I know first-hand, but I do know how deep and muddled my heartstrings are for my husband. He’s my friend, he knows my strengths and weaknesses, and I love him even when I can’t stand him. I feel like Flagg is able to show that in this story between Idgie and Ruth. Granted, at the time when the story is set, Idgie and Ruth can’t publicly show their love for each other. But Flagg doesn’t shy away from it. We can see that even though Idgie adores Ruth, Idgie gets frustrated and even angry with Ruth because Ruth is in an abusive relationship with a man she doesn’t love. Still, Idgie fights for Ruth in order for Ruth to be her best self, which is really what relationships are supposed to be about: each of us trying to help the other person flourish, even when it costs us dearly. And in the end, this story is about relationships, which is why I think readers have loved this story for so long, in spite of its controversial protagonist.

    I am a fan of Flagg’s plain language, she’s not the literary fiction sort, but it’s authentic. I’d love to be the literary sort but it always comes off as pretentious and forced, and I imagine it might be that way for Flagg, too. Her stories are beautiful even though she hasn’t picked the prettiest words.

    So you know why I love this story, and now it’s your turn. Have you read it? If this book didn’t resonate with you, what other stories of friendship and sisterhood have inspired you?

    Thanks for reading!

     

    Lit I Love, Title 11: Much Ado About Nothing

    Much ado about nothing (1993)Let’s just skip ahead to the part where I say, “Much Ado About Nothing by, William Shakespeare (close your eyes, pedantic grammar readers) !!!!!!” I don’t know if I’ve genuinely loved a play more. Sure, there’s deception and threats of malevolent violence, but it is a wonderful play. I think I’d read it in high school, but if I hadn’t, I know I read it in college. I have this massive bound copy of all of Shakepeare’s works and it’s been well-perused.

    This play touches on some of my literary affections. There is a great match of wits between Beatrice and Benedick, and it also shows how silly we humans are when with just the slightest push we’re willing to admit our infatuations, and how the idea that someone loves you can make them appealing all by itself. Shakespeare had an unbelievable gift in his ability to lay out on paper the way humans are. All our silly foibles, our dark sides, our vices. It’s all there. He did so well we are still copying him to this day. Heck, old William wrote this play back in 1598 (roughly), and a revision of this particular story hit movie theaters in 2012. It was a pretty good version, although, I’ll admit my favorite is the Branagh/Thompson version from 1993.

    This play is, will always be, a driving force behind any protagonist and partner in the fiction I write. I can’t help it. My main characters will always contain a bit of Beatrice and Benedick. You can watch for that when my novel (cough, cough) finally hits the bestseller list and you’re in a book club discussing it. A girl can dream, right?

    Does Shakespeare get it right for you? Did you fall in love with B&B or did you find them abrasive? Do you prefer a different Shakespeare play? Maybe you hate Shakespeare. Let me know, well, maybe keep that last one to yourself if it’s the truth. I try to be objective and fair, but that one might hurt to know.

    Thanks for reading!

    P.S. I know, I know. The picture is not from the play or even in book form, it’s from the movie, but I happen to love that one. Hey nonny nonny.