Today on the Debutante Ball, I’m excited to welcome Kelly J. Ford, a fellow GrubStreet Writing Center instructor, whose book COTTONMOUTHS completely blew me away. It also exposed me to a genre of literature that I wasn’t familiar with — Grit Lit, which is also sometimes called Rural, Country or Southern Noir, or Southern Gothic. The article I just linked explains a bit more: “It’s people using “weed and pills and sometimes meth. They’re usually white, usually rednecks, Snopesian. Broke, divorced, violent – they’re not good country people.” It’s writing about the very Rough South.
Kelly’s incredible debut firmly establishes her as a compelling new voice in LGBTQ and Southern fiction. COTTONMOUTHS is a gripping tale of crime and desire amid small-town America’s meth epidemic.
College was supposed to be an escape for Emily Skinner. But after failing out of school, she’s left with no choice but to return to her small Arkansas hometown, a place run on gossip and good Christian values. She’s not alone. Emily’s former best friend—and childhood crush—Jody Monroe is back with a baby. Emily can’t resist the opportunity to reconnect, despite the uncomfortable way things ended between them and her mom’s disapproval of their friendship. When Emily stumbles upon a meth lab on Jody’s property, she realizes just how far they’ve both fallen.
Emily intends to keep her distance from Jody, but when she’s kicked out of her house with no money and nowhere to go, a paying job as Jody’s live-in babysitter is hard to pass up. As they grow closer, Emily glimpses a future for the first time since coming home. She dismisses her worries; after all, Jody is a single mom. The meth lab is a means to an end. And besides, for Emily, Jody is the real drug.
But when Jody’s business partner goes missing, and the lies begin to pile up, Emily will learn just how far Jody is willing to go to save her own skin—and how much Emily herself has risked for the love of someone who may never truly love her back.
Echoing the work of authors like Daniel Woodrell and Sarah Waters, Cottonmouths is an unflinching story about the ways in which the past pulls us back . . . despite our best efforts to leave it behind.
If you want to win a copy of this moving debut, simply retweet on twitter:
— The Debutante Ball (@DebutanteBall) June 17, 2017
And you can enter by sharing our post from Facebook. We will select and contact the very lucky winner on Friday, June 23rd at noon (US Only).
Now, on to the interview!
1. Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now.
Almost everything that makes me happy – right now and always – is food related. Lately, I’m particularly happy to eat and drink too much at one of my favorite local restaurants, BISq. The executive chef, Alex, makes amazing fried chicken and ceviche. I’m also partial to the toasted brioche. If I put these things in writing, maybe he’ll keep them on the menu in perpetuity. Alex’s food is like a hug from Jesus.
2. Where do you love to be?
Home. It contains my two favorite things: my wife and my cat. Also: my fridge, books, bed, blankies, wine, programs (because I’m 85 years old), and Super Mario Bros., which I suck at but still like to play. I have a tendency to “A out” a lot (hit the A button to go into a bubble) when things get intense (I have a habit of cannonballing into lava) and let Mario (my wife) run ahead of me. That’s been my pre-pub tendency as well. I’ll be having a conversation and “A out” on people unintentionally. It’s awkward. Sorry, friends.
3. When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?
I desperately wanted to become a Solid Gold dancer. Every Saturday night, the Solid Gold dancers sashayed across a stage to the top pop hits of the week. Darcel was a goddess to me. She had these gorgeous long braids and wore sparkly outfits that I coveted. I wanted to be like her, fierce and dance-dramatic. I coerced a lot of friends throughout my school years into choreographing dance routines with me in the playground, then in our rooms, and sometimes in double-wides to boys who refused to be our boyfriends (more specifically, to “I Will Survive” followed by my friend and I throwing a wilted rose to a boy at the end of the dance as a symbol of how dead he was to us. I don’t understand why he didn’t want us. We were amazing.)
I never fulfilled my dream of being a Solid Gold dancer (except in my mind). I still love to dance and sing, especially during house chores. It’s the one activity where I don’t care who watches or what they think. I’m amazing. 🙂
4. Do you have any phobias?
Snakes freak me out a bit. My book title refers to both the snake (we called them water moccasins growing up) and dry mouth from drugs. There’s a scene in my book where a cottonmouth comes out of nowhere. That’s been my experience with snakes throughout life. In kindergarten, I had nightmares of snakes crawling up my bed. I once looked up from reading at the lake and a snake was staring up at me. I stepped on a snake while hiking at Devil’s Den State Park. I almost stepped on a snake in San Diego. Most terrifying, my cousins and I were jumping off a bridge into a creek — like you do — and my Uncle Larry warned that we might jump into a nest of water moccasins. I jumped anyway because I don’t react well to someone telling me I can’t do something.
I’m also afraid of not having a bathroom when I need one.
5. Do you have a regular first reader? If so, who is it and why that person?
My wife is my first, final, and most faithful reader. I’m awfully lucky. A lot of writers can’t rely on their spouses to read their work, let alone be truthful if they do. But we have a strict no lying policy in our home. Early on in our relationship, she made me lunch. I asked her if she had enough left over for her own lunch. She said yes. I checked the fridge. She did not. Ever since, I made her swear to never lie again. neverforget #slipperyslope
She has a keen eye for detail and consistency. And she’s never afraid to tell me when something’s not working. Of course, I hate hearing that – what do you mean there are problems? I’m amazing! – because then I have more work to do. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to fix issues before my work goes out into the world. My number one instruction to her when I give her a draft is: don’t let me embarrass myself. I just emailed this interview to her with those instructions.
Thank you for joining us, Kelly! And congratulations again on your debut of COTTONMOUTHS!
Kelly J. Ford is an instructor for GrubStreet Writing Center and a regular contributor to the website Dead Darlings. Her fiction has appeared in Black Heart Magazine, Fried Chicken and Coffee, and Knee-Jerk Magazine.
You can also catch Kelly in all of the following places: