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 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)


  • 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.
  • 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.

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


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.

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.  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.


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!


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.” 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  or by phone 859-361-0533

Happy Reading!





Sharing Stories: Appalachian Writers Retreat

Hindman Settlement School For 38 years, writers have been gathering on the banks of Troublesome Creek in Hindman, Kentucky, to write, learn, share stories, fellowship and honor Kentucky literary greats like James Still.  This year, I have the opportunity to join them.

Troublesome Creek

Troublesome Creek

The Appalachian Writers Retreat officially kicked off last night with readings by Kentucky Poet Laureate George Ella Lyon and former Kentucky Poet Laureate Gurney Norman, author of “Divine Right’s Trip.” After the readings, we gathered on our covered porch, rocking in the red and white metal chairs, to hunt and peck through facts and details of the lives of one another. West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire. Poets, essayists, food writers, novelists, short story writers. One of my favorite housemates is Key, the Great Dane-German Shepherd mix who is accompanying his companion, Lexington poet Rebecca Gayle Howell.

Today, writing workshops began and there were afternoon readings by several participants.  One of my housemates, E. Gail Chandler, encouraged me to read because she was going to, and I read a short story called “Another Minute.” It was well-received.  Even Robert Gipe, author of the ballyhooed graphic novel “Trampoline” complimented me (which made my day!).  I thought I’d share the story with you.

Another Minute

          Darlene wiped Amethyst Ablaze lipstick from her lips with a greasy McDonald’s napkin as Earl’s Camaro shuddered to a stop. Go back with Maybelline on her lips and the screws might figure she’d been gone for five hours.

Earl wrapped a rubber-band around the gearshift to hold neutral, grabbed the crowbar from the back seat, then scuttled behind the back of the car to keep watch while Darlene slid low in the seat and emptied out the contents of the Wal-Mart bag: three tubes of Great Lash Mascara, two tins of Camel Spice snus, and one “Thrill” rechargeable personal massager. She’d get enough to buy commissary for the next three months and then her bit’d be up.

Darlene shimmied out of her jeans, pulled the “Go Vols” t-shirt over her head and then reached for the orange jumpsuit crumpled behind the seat. She put her feet into the leg holes and slid the sleeves up and onto her shoulders, feeling like she was clamping shackles on herself.

Earl wrenched open the passenger door.

“Earl, put this mascara under my bra in the back.” She lowered the back of the jumpsuit, giving him full access while she arranged each round tin of tobacco in the front cups of her bra. “Now all’s left is the vibrator for Screamin Nina.”

Earl snorted. “Don’t reckon you’d wanna . . . ”

“Earl. God. Don’t be gross,” she said, but snickered. “Anything coming?” Darlene examined the road in both directions and saw no traffic. She stepped out of the car and stood hunched next to Earl with the jumpsuit hanging open off her shoulders. The vibrator tucked neatly inside the back of the grayish-white prison-issue granny panties.

She snapped the front of the cheap cotton cloth back together. “Sounds like bars closing, don’t it, Earl?”

“Damn baby.” Earl enveloped her body. “I hate leaving you here again. You call when you’re back in now.”

Darlene nodded once, sniffed back a few tears. She knew Earl felt bad; he’d told her many times how sorry he was she got caught with his deal. But there it was, he was out and she was in. She didn’t want a blotchy, tear-stained face to be the last thing Earl saw. She wanted him to remember those two hours at the Motel Six and hoped it was enough to keep him honest for her final ninety days. She stepped away and turned her back to him. “You don’t see nothing?”

“Nah, baby. You’re good.” Earl leaned against the passenger door, grasped Darlene’s ass in his hands then turned her for a final kiss. Behind her on the hill was nothing but grass and trees and silence. If he hadn’t known better, he would’ve thought this was just another of the rich, loamy farms in the area; limestone swiss-cheesing below the surface of the grass they called blue, glossy millionaire horses chawing on blades of it from above.

“I’ll make it back fine before the count as long as they ain’t looking for me.”

The sound of gravel spraying surprised them both but it was just an old Chevy parking in front of a yellow frame house across the road. A sturdy man in jeans got out of the car, glanced quickly at Earl’s beater before popping the trunk and pulling three brown paper Kroger sacks to carry into the house.

“You’re a good man y’know, Earl? I couldn’t of stood this place another day if you hadn’t of got me this morning. I needed you in that motel room.” She pressed her groin against him, hard. “Don’t forget that. This shit for the girls inside is just a little extra for commissary, you know? I hate having to ask you for money.”

Earl groaned. “Gal, don’t do that or I’ll take you right back to the motel and no Wal-Mart this time.”

Darlene giggled and ground against him tighter. With her head on his shoulder, she could see a mile down the road. She heard a growling Harley, saw it approaching from far away. “When I’m done, let’s get one of them bikes and just go. God, I wish it was now.”

A job in a Seven/Eleven; fixing food she wanted, not something slopped out of a can barely heated; maybe somewhere down the line a pink baby with Earl’s red hair wrapped in a soft, blue blanket.

“Get on now, ‘Lene.” Earl held her tighter for a heartbeat and then released her with the changing of the wind. Darlene sighed, detached herself and edged up the hill. She heard the clang of the crowbar Earl threw it into the floorboard and turned back to wave. But the man across the road had come back out his front door and was looking at Earl too. He spoke to Earl from across the black border of asphalt. When he started walking toward Earl, Darlene froze.


There were no trees, no shrubs, not even any long grass between the road and the brick walls of the minimum-security prison. Only short-termers and low risks were housed here with the expectation they would stay put. If you were dumb enough to screw up your last minute, the bulls would make sure you got enough time you didn’t make that mistake again.

Brophy stood in the road, completely focused on shouting at Earl to move the Camaro and damn if that Harley wasn’t headed right for his stupid ass. Jesus God, Brophy, Darlene thought. Look up.

He did not.

As the bike got closer, the noise got louder but still the damn fool didn’t move. Surely to God Earl heard it. But Earl was still as a catatonic holy roller.


Darlene stood rooted ten yards away from Earl, undeniably outside the low, wire fence that marked the boundary. “Brophy,” Darlene shouted. “Move!”

He jumped at Darlene’s shout, saw the motorcycle headed for him and ran toward Earl. The Harley swerved, continued without slowing, the growl decreasing as it passed. Darlene watched until it shrank to a pinpoint on the vast blue horizon. When she turned back, the Corporal’s narrowed eyes were fixed on her face.

“Thanks, Cooper,” he said. “Course, that’s escape. I gotta charge you. You’ll probably get transferred and do two more years.”

“Yeah.” Darlene put her hands behind her back.