With my 11th novel Almost Home hitting the stores this week, I've been thinking about the process of writing the story, which consisted of me ripping out my heart and expanding my brain and writing poetry and crazy thank you cards and wondering all the time what in the world I was doing, trying to write a story about a girl who loses her home, and has to survive, and has this adorable dog, and by the way, it's funny. Parts of it, at least. It can't be funny, I told myself, because I'm dealing with hugely harsh things. And I remembered when I wrote my novel, Hope Was Here, and I was researching that story at the Darien Public Library. I was at the check out desk armed with books on cancer and abandoned children and irresponsible mothers and kids trying to find out who their real fathers are. The librarian touched my shoulder to comfort me. "I'm writing a book," I assured her.
This is what I've learned about humor — sometimes it takes time to grow, like a flower on a battlefield. So in Almost Home I took my protagonist Sugar on a long journey and in the process I found her strength.
My whole life started as one big surprise when I got born in the back of a Chevy in the parking lot of the Sugar Shack in Baton Rouge in a rainstorm so bad, my parents couldn't make it to the hospital. When I popped out and Reba saw the Sugar Shack sign, she felt it was a sign from God; right then I got my name. At least God told her to stop at Sugar. Sugar Shack Cole would have been a chore to live with. My daddy got the thrill of helping me get born, and believe me, he hasn't done squat to help since then.
But I was grateful. As soon as I could write, I sent a note to the Chevrolet company in Detroit, Michigan and thanked them for making such good back seats that a baby could get born and be okay. That company cared so much, they wrote me back and said that although many babies had been born in Chevrolets over the years, I was the first one they knew of named Sugar. Reba says part of why I'm on this earth is to bring a little sweetness into people's lives. "And sweet doesn't mean stupid," she says. "Sweet doesn't mean weak. I'm not talking kittens wearing sun hats either. I'm talking kindness. You go out there, Sugar Mae Cole, and show 'em what it means to be sweet."
I hope you'll get a copy of Almost Home and see for yourself. As for my novel, Hope Was Here — it takes on the best and worst of politics, all seen through the eyes of a girl who knows what it's like to hold onto hope. It's particularly fun to read in an election year.
***And for my friends in Fairfiled County, CT, I'll be at Follett Books in Fairfield on Saturday, September 15th at 2PM signing copies of Almost Home. I hope you'll stop by.