Night Garden, by Carrie Mullins

night garden

Oxycontin, methamphetamine, teen pregnancy, predatory teachers, economic upheaval, poverty. The headlines of tragedy we’ve become far too accustomed to reading. Carrie Mullins tackles them all in her first novel, Night Garden, a literary cry for help for Kentucky’s small towns and their residents being ravaged by drugs.

Marie, Night Garden‘s protagonist, is a high schooler whose brother Shane has been involved with a teacher at the school since he was a sophomore. Shane’s leaving and Marie dreads being at home alone with her middle class parents. The night before Shane’s departure, the two attend a party.

Shane disappeared into the woods up above the fire, left with one of the Owens boys to get high. As soon as he was out of sight, Ms. Anglin put a champ chair beside Marie. She got a beer and some ice out of the cooler then sat down and showed Marie her finger. “So what’s going on with him?” she asked, holding the ice on her finger. “Does he have a girlfriend?”

“I thought you were his girlfriend,” Marie said.

. . .

“I know he’s screwing that Miller girl. Oh God, I love him.” Marie looked down at her hands in her lap, down at the ground, looked at anything except her journalism teacher. “I’m only six years older than him. That’s nothing. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a drip in the bucket.”

You’re a drip, Marie thought.

In Night Garden, ultimately, Marie has had enough and escapes her safe, middle class life to live with Bobo Owens, an exotic, attractive, charmer with a dream of owning his own kayaking business by saving from the proceeds of his family’s meth trafficking and bootlegging. Bobo and Marie set up house and soon, far too soon, Marie finds herself pregnant and Bobo a changed man: paranoid, emaciated, unfaithful, violent, and unsupportive.

According to the cover of Night Garden, author Carrie Mullins grew up and continues to live

Gurney-Norman-Photo-by-Tim-Collins-e1360956757688

Gurney Norman by Tim Collins

in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky. Night Garden is the first novel published by Old Cove Press, a literary publisher based in Lexington, Kentucky, and founded by noted author Gurney Norman and his wife Nyoka Hawkins. http://oldcove.comGurney Norman has been a member of the University of Kentucky Department of English since 1979 and currently serves as the department’s Director of Creative Writing. His first novel Divine Right’s Trip (1971) was published by The Dial Press, Bantam Books, and Pantheon Books of England.

Nyoka was kind enough to help me connect with Carrie for some q&a, food and music talk . . . and of course a recipe or two

Daeandwrite: The food in the Night Garden illustrates the socio-economic divergence between Marie’s family and Bobo’s. Was this a conscious decision?

Carrie: There are definite class and status issues in the book, and food is one way that plays out. The food was also a modern vs. old time divergence that I was thinking about. The food Marie makes for her parents early on – biscuits, sausage, eggs, fruit and coffee – that is kind of old school, and it takes time to make all that, especially the way Marie was making it (biscuits from scratch, she was not even using Bisquick). And then when she takes up with Bobo, it is mostly all convenience food, like we all eat now, pizza and cereal and honeybuns and all that, stuff that is easy to make and easy to eat but not necessarily very good food. With the exceptions of Marie making a cake from a box for Etta’s party, Etta’s actual party where they are working in the kitchen making potato salad and lunch for everyone, and being at Crystal’s house when she makes the casserole, there really isn’t any food that is “made” in their world.

Daeandwrite: Marie bakes a chocolate cake from a mix for Etta’s birthday but yearns for her own grandmother’s version. Do you have a particular memory of a chocolate cake that inspired Marie’s memory? Do you have a recipe you could share?

hershey'sCarrie: My grandma Hattie made the recipe from the side of the Hershey’s Cocoa tin – cake and icing both. She made it in a bundt pan, and she made it for about every get together we had – Memorial Day especially when everyone would come home from Ohio to visit. She made the best chicken and dumplings, fried apple pies, slaw, everything. Even her hamburgers were different and delicious, she sliced up onions and put them right in the hamburger. In fact, all the women in my family, on both sides, were incredible cooks. They’d make a big tableful of food for every get together. I’m like Marie in that I’m pretty nostalgic for all that food and those times together.

Here is the Hershey’s recipe:

 

 

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING (recipe follows)

Directions

  • 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  • 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • 3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean and the top springs back when touched gently. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING. Makes 12 servings.
  • CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1. Place melted butter in large mixer bowl. Add cocoa, stirring until smooth.
  • 2. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, beating until smooth. If necessary add additional milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, beating until spreading consistency. About 3 cups frosting.

https://www.hersheys.com/recipes/en_US/recipes/8421/really-chocolate-chocolate-cake.html

And my Aunt Iris Rose made a chocolate cake from the Settlement Cookbook, (1965), here chocolate cakeis that recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups cake flour

2 cups  sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cup water

squares unsweetened chocolate

eggs – well beaten

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour 2 9 inch cake pans

Sift flour, sugar and salt together

Add butter and mix with fingertips or pastry blender to the consistency of corn meal.

Boil water and chocolate. Cool. Add to butter mixture. Beat very well.

Chill thoroughly.

Add eggs, vanilla and baking powder.

Pour mixture equally into pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until cake tater or fork comes out clean when inserted in center.

https://cookpad.com/us/recipes/340844-chocolate-cake-from-the-settlement-cookbook-1965

Daeandwrite: Did you have music you listened to during the writing or editing process? Any particular genre or songs? Do you have songs you associate with any particular character?

Carrie: I listened to Gillian Welch quite a bit. She has a song “The Way It Goes,” that has the same sort of atmosphere as the book, I think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiS37_EULj8  And everything by the Drive By Truckers, and Jason Isbell – his album Southeastern especially. The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons and U2 are always on all my playlists. Shelby Lynne and Caroline Herring as well.

Daeandwrite: Why did you feel compelled to put this story on paper? What was it about this particular tale that you wanted to convey?

Carrie: People I cared about in my county, a whole generation it seemed like at one point, were really being devastated by drugs. Starting with oxycodone and then moving on to methamphetamine. I didn’t know how to fix it, but I could write about it. I guess I wanted to make a sort of “record” – fictional but near enough to true, to the time and the people of this time and place and what they were going through.

MENU

For my book club, I would make the breakfast that Marie fixes for her parents in Chapter 3. Homemade biscuits, sausage patties, scrambled eggs. And I would definitely make that Chocolate Cake!

MUSIC

Carrie said she listened to Gillian Welch quite a bit while writing Night Garden. “She has a song “The Way It Goes,” that has the same sort of atmosphere as the book, I think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiS37_EULj8.” Carrie also suggested Drive By TruckersJason Isbell. The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons, U2, Shelby Lynne and Caroline Herring.

Carrie Mullins will be at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort on November 5 and the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in October. Night Garden is available at Morris Book Shop, Wild Fig Books & Coffee, Carmichael’s in Louisville, and Amazon. It can also be ordered directly from Old Cove Press by emailing  books@oldcove.com  or by phone 859-361-0533

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

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Bernadette Peters Hates Me, by Keith Stewart

FB Cover Bernadette Peters Hates Me (2)

Anybody can be funny once, right? Tell a joke at just the right time, hit a line with perfect comic timing, unintentionally craft the perfect sentence. Well, Keith Stewart is not just anybody.

How I Met Keith

I had the pleasure of meeting Keith at the Appalachian Writers Conference last summer and he is the kind of guy who just immediately makes you smile. I knew no one; Keith immediately introduced me to a few people and checked in on me a couple more times to make sure I was doing well. So when I found out his book, Bernadette Peters Hates Me, True Tales of a Delusional Man, was set for a book-signing and release party at the Morris Book Shop, I put the date down in red on my calendar and I’m so glad I did.

Bernadette Peters Hates Me is a book of short, comic essays that frankly, has just about the best cover art I’ve ever seen (Dwayne Booth) and causes me to laugh out loud every time I pick it up, no matter how many times I’ve read the essay. I’m in the midst of some gritty work for my everyday job as of this minute, so Keith’s book is providing me some essential medicine.

Hot Yoga

During the signing of Bernadette Peters Hates Me, Keith read from an essay called Hot Yoga or How to Self Administer Your Own Stroke. Little did the poor man know I would nearly fall out of my chair laughing in recognition, having been subjected to the same two-week torture by my best friend as a birthday present.

Once there [at the Bikram yoga studio], though, what I discovered was far from a glorified new way to lose weight. What I discovered was the Devil himself has decided to tap into the multi-million dollar fitness industry with his own special workout.. . .After changing, I confidently opened the door to the studio. What hit me next was a wall of heat that can only be explained by preheating your oven to five hundred degrees and sticking your head inside it. . . . I tried to keep up with the different stances and not be self-conscious of how I looked doing them. This became much easier to do as the 105-degree heat and the bright, fluorescent lights and the annoying teacher’s voice all kept smashing into me. My last conscious sight was  (my friend) Jeff on his back with his leg in a position that looked like he had been mangled in a car wreck of a skiing accident. He mouthed to me, “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have come.”

hot yogaThen, what I call Bikram Tourette’s Syndrome took over my body. I think it was my body’s only way of getting through this trauma. I started occasionally yelling out random curse words as I tried to twist and contort my body in ways just not possible.

I’m laughing too much to type the rest. Bernadette Peters Hates Me spares no one, least of all the author, in its quest for a great chuckle. Just what I needed today!

Return to Sender

I particularly enjoyed the essay titled, Return to Sender – The Letter File. Here, Keith shares with us a smattering of the letters he wished he’d sent: offering his services to Rutgers University’s graduation; to the gentleman sitting in front of Keith at a Judds Concert; to the winner of the “Worst Blind Date Ever” award. And Talk Derby to Me is irresistible on this Preakness Saturday.

09-23-10-bizarro

Bizarro

Lasix is a common drug used in the racing industry. It prevents a horse’s lungs from hemorrhaging blood due to the stress of exercise. . . . [I]t is marked in the racing program with a (L) beside the horse’s name for full disclosure.

I had no knowledge of any of this. The only Lasik I had heard of was the out-patient surgery that miraculously corrected one’s vision.

I started noticing almost every horse in the race had an (L) beside its name. “Wow,” all these horses have had Lasik? I had no idea horses were that near-sighted,” I announced to my friends. Everyone stared at me. Not noticing, I started wondering out loud, “Has anyone seen a near-sighted horse who was not lucky enough to have the Lasik procedure? Has anyone seen a horse with horse-sized sports goggles strapped on so it could see? Do they manufacture horse contact lenses, and how in the world would you put them in the horse’s eyes?”

MENU

Keith Stewart provided his suggestions for a book club menu, and a recipe!

Some favorite food for book club that would go with the book: a combo of classy and redneck, just like me! Perhaps thinly sliced pickled bologna served on saltines, along with sausage stuffed mushrooms. The mushrooms are really simple, but delish:

Ingredients: 35 large fresh mushrooms 1/2 pound bulk pork sausage 1/2 – 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

Directions: 1. Remove stems from mushrooms and finely chop; set caps aside. 2. In a large skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Remove from the heat. 3. Stir in cheese and bread crumbs. 4. Fill each mushroom cap with about 1 tablespoon of filling. 5. Place on foil-lined baking sheets. Bake at 400° for 16-20 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Yield: 35 appetizers.

Sounds great to me.

MUSIC

So this will be a huge shock: Bernadette Peters! Keith Stewart was kind enough to offer his favorite Bernadette song list:

Rose’s Turn, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, Tell Me On a Sunday, Unexpected Song, and

Bernadette

Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun by Al Hirschfeld

Children Will Listen. My favorite song that I thought Bernadette sang, but it was Madeline Khan instead: I’m Tired, from Blazing Saddles.

But I offer a few more. Many of Keith’s essays allude to songs.

Luck Be A Lady Tonight, Frank Sinatra

Great Balls of Fire, Jerry Lee Lewis

Return to Sender, Elvis Presley

The Future’s So Bright, Timbuk3

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours, Stevie Wonder

Seasons in the Sun, Terry Jacks

Born to be Blue, The Judds

Happy Reading! (Now, back to my work . . .thank you Keith for the giggle break!)

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On the Road Again: Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mosquito

Mary Iris Malone, her self-described heroine of David Arnold’s novel Mosquitoland, is having, in the words of Beth Henley, “a real bad day.” Her cherished mother has moved out of the family home after announcing she and Mim’s father are divorcing, Mim’s dad has married Kathy Sharone Malone and the new rhyming couplet have moved the family 933 miles away from their Ohio home to the “wastelands of Mississippi. Now, on the day Mim gets sent to the principal’s office for yet another violation of her high school’s code, she overhears her Dad and Kathy say that her mom has a disease.

greyhoundIt is time for the 16-year-old Mim to hit the road on her own. She leaves   Mosquitoland with only about $800 in stolen cash, a tube of her mother’s favorite lipstick and a bag of chips. She buys a ticket to ride on a Greyhound and before even setting foot on board, begins a series of life-defining adventures that allude to everything from The Odyssey to Alice in Wonderland to Moby Dick.

USA Today called MosquitolandFerris Bueller’s Day Off if done by John Hughes with Jack Kerouac.” http://www.usatoday.com/story/life/books/2015/03/11/mosquitoland-book-review/24669245/ I can see the point, but Mim with her own anomalous collection of oddities has the intense self-centered reflection of the Millennial Generation without the lightness of a Ferris Bueller. She’s Andie from Pretty in Pink confronting the Scylla and Charybdis of current America with a couple of other travelers she encounters on the way.

Closing his eyes again, Beck repositions his head on the back of his seat, and in one sure movement, reaches over and grabs my hand. Even with his eyes closed, he knew where to find me. I want to cry for a thousand reasons, laugh for a thousand others; this is my anomalous balance, the place where Beck and I can let the ridiculousness of our collective sentences marinate, and other things, too. It’s a singular moment of clarity between two people, and rare or not, I’m not about to let go.
I’m done roaming hillsides.
I’ve scoured the corners of the earth.
And I’ve found my people.
God, I’m almost jealous of myself.
Holding Beck’s hand in my lap, I find a courage I never knew I had and drop my head on his shoulder.

Author Arnold, a guy (!), writes Mosquitoland in Mim’s, a girl (!), first person voice. And

Mean-Girls-Senior-Year

Mean Girls from AdWeek

does a swell job of it. If I had any quibble at all, it was the dialogue sometimes got too cutesy, sometimes too sophisticated, and sometimes too — I don’t know — dare I say “Male” for a 16 year old girl? Teenage girls in John Greene and David Arnold novels often launch into Tina Fey-Amy Schumer-Amy Poehler-Sisters-Trainwreck speech which seems too movie-fied. But as I don’t have a 16 year old daughter myself, THANK THE GOOD LORD, I can’t be sure.

“I have a license,” says a voice behind us. I turn to find 17C scrolling through pictures on his camera, standing in the front yard like a deep-rooted tree, like he’s been there for years. Somehow, that black eye only makes him more desirable. “And you are . . . ?” asks Moses. A) Perfect B) The god of Devastating Attractiveness C) A flawless specimen, created in a lab by mad scientists in an effort to toy with the heart of Mary Iris Malone D) All of the above I circle D. Final effing answer.

I think Mosquitoland would be a great choice for my own book club. Most of my clubbers have daughters who either are, were or will be teenagers and perhaps this offers some insight into what teenage girls are thinking about (hint: boys, themselves) and why. It’s funny, sweet, but has moments of biting pathos as well. And since a good bit of it takes place in Kentucky and David Arnold lives in my old Kentucky hometown of Lexington, you really cannot go wrong!

According to David’s website, http://www.davidarnoldbooks.com, his second book Kids of Appetite will be released on September 20, 2016. You can also find him on twitter: @roofbeam. (Incidentally, I’m on twitter too! @daeandwrite)

MENU

Food and drink abound in Mosquitoland, and David was kind enough to share with me via twitter a recipe for “Medieval burgers” mentioned in the novel.

Chips

Carnitas

Medieval Burgers and Fries. According to David, medieval burgers require jack cheese to be placed inside the burger before grilling. Voila! Medieval.

Kung Pao Chicken — tip, avoid msg

Pie and Ice Cream

Daiquiris

MUSIC

So here’s another great reason to read Mosquitoland! The music mentioned in tMosquitolandhe novel is awesome AND David, a freelance musician/producer, has written his own music to accompany the book that you can download!

So the music mentioned includes:

Elvis

Johnny Cash

The Doors, Break on Through
(and something I can’t read because I wrote it while driving and listening to the audiobook)
David Arnold’s music: http://cinemacycle.bandcamp.com

MOVIE CASTING

Mim: A Young Ellen Page, obviously. Or Chloe Grace Moretz

Beck: Alex Pettyfer

Happy Reading!