Ink-Quisitioner Jesse Rawlins prods author Marietta Miles into talking about May Cosby, and her new book AFTER THE STORM
Photo: Southern Noir Author Marietta Miles
Hi Marietta. You live and write in Richmond, Virginia. Florida publisher Down & Out Books (D&O) released your novella MAY in December 2017. And D&O is set to release your follow-up book AFTER THE STORM September 30th.
I just finished reading MAY. And we first meet your title character as a ferocious hurricane surges toward her home in fictional Folly Island, off North Carolina’s coast, in 1987.
But we quickly find ourselves transported to Shreveport, Louisiana in 1970—May’s last year in high school. As May batten’s down the hatches and the storm advances, her past continues to unfold in a series of flashbacks, written in present tense.
I’d say she’s lived a life no one would choose to live, Marietta. So why did you create May Cosby?
You know, I feel like I’ve known or at least met many Mays in my lifetime. They’ve stayed in my memory and each makes up a measure of this character.
I’m sure you’ve met them, Jesse. Regular women who end up doing small, but important things. Step-moms who work at the all-night grocer to buy tennis shoes for another woman’s child. Grandparents who raise their grandchildren because the mother or father can’t or shouldn’t. Women in imperfect situations finding any way they can to love and protect. These women don’t get a lot of shout-outs.
Really, one of the foundations of May’s story, in both the first book and AFTER THE STORM, is motherhood. Motherliness in all of its different dressings.
Raising children is one of the jobs you don’t want to screw up. The ramifications of throwing in the towel and not committing reach far and wide. The damage can last for generations.
Worst case scenario you raise a violent criminal. Or, best case, you simply rear a child who will be riddled and pulled down by the same hang-ups you as the parent have lived with. In-between lies the possibilities of addiction, abuse, or depression. So many crippling potholes. The cycle of volatility continues. Sins of the father and mother, as they say.
I think May’s parents were too young and too distracted. A million daily problems plaguing them. As a teen, May wandered and floundered with no one to look out for her. When she became too much of a handful, Mr. and Mrs. Cosby did what they thought was best.
But sometimes, despite the most well-intentioned attempts, parents get it wrong and those mistakes can lay a very long and bumpy road.
I know you have daughters, Marietta, and I’ve got a strong sense of how seriously you take parenting—so I understand how the theme of “motherliness” could appeal to you when writing novels. But perhaps you can enlighten us further on why you’ve now chosen to write two books involving a character like May Cosby, whose life is filled with what I’d call “mundane activities.” Your writing’s been described as “Southern Noir.” And May’s life essentially proves “humorless.” She seems to consider herself a “Misfit”—and I can certainly relate to that.
But other writers on the so-called Indie Crime circuit routinely write either zany or violent crime stories with characters who take on qualities many would call “larger-than-life.” Why do you think you’ve chosen a different path?
The stories I’ve had published are pretty realistic, Jesse. They involve things that can happen. May is a small-time weed dealer, for example, who sells just enough pot to supplement her meager income. So the characters are just three or four steps off the right path. They can go one way or the other. The choices they make have much to do with who they are as a person, and what they’ve learned in their life. They have families that are too busy for them, too caught up in their own needs. Their mother or father might be locked up in prison or already dead. Such characters will probably make a lot of missteps and those fumbles can be learned from—or can be the death of them. I tend to write about the death of them.
There’s a heavy dose of family dynamic in my stories because family, too much or too little, can deeply affect who a person will become. I write about simple people and psychotics. They all started somewhere, and to me that’s interesting.
I also think boredom is a strong instigator for some cases of extreme behavior. Sometimes, the worst crimes happen for no other reason than the perpetrator had nothing better to do.
I wouldn’t say I’ve consciously avoided the “larger-than-life” crime writing. I also think I don’t write zany or wacky because I don’t really read wacky books. Though I myself am extremely wacky.
My taste in reading has always leaned to the darker side. Mainly horror. When I do read crime it’s usually heavy, psychological crime with elements of horror. RED DRAGON. SILENCE of the LAMBS. The BLACK DAHLIA.
My first novella ROUTE 12 from All Due Respect books feels more like psychological horror. Very Different from my two subsequent books MAY and AFTER THE STORM.
I could crack a few quips about the wacky side of your personality, Marietta. But I’m trying to behave. Not easy I assure you!
So … how do you want readers to feel toward May?
One friend said they wanted to shake her—and then hug her. Reviewer David Nemeth wanted to buy her a hot meal. California writer Sarah M. Chen said that, too. All things I’ve felt for her, as well.
May is broken. She just doesn’t know it. She doesn’t sulk or complain. She just picks up her shit and moves on. For better or for worse. By choice or by force. For her, living might be more of a habit. A series of tasks to get her through each day. Half-assed attempts at making her life a little better. Never fully dedicating herself to anything or anyone.
I imagine a lot of people can relate to that way of thinking. Existing can be hard—it can take a lot out of you. If like May, you’re still inching forward and keeping your head above water after one of life’s curveballs? Well, I think that’s close to heroic.
But May is sometimes fearless for the wrong reasons. Brave when it’s too late. Distracted by her own baggage, which makes her very human.
May Cosby in some instances doesn’t strike me as someone unwilling to commit. Rather, like many people, she meets others with “no desire to commit”—or, unwittingly but to her benefit, aren’t worthy of commitment. I actually admire her willingness to venture from place-to-place. Some folks never live more than a matter of miles from where they’re born.
I did feel however that May’s “too insular.” And I’m not blaming her for that. But in my everyday life I don’t “engage” with folks who have “no desire to engage.” So I wouldn’t feel compelled to even buy May a cup of coffee. If I were to somehow have a serious conversation with her? I’d suggest she try and find a good therapist—which is no easy task in my experience.
I can see why you say she doesn’t seem unwilling to commit, but she definitely commits to the wrong people, or at the wrong time—and that leads her to becoming almost too careful. She leaves the best people she’s ever known out of insecurity and fear. She’s the perfect example of someone who would benefit from therapy, but not everyone has those resources.
The story also spans the 70’s and 80’s—and the availability and cultural acceptance of therapy has changed drastically since then. That generation was still dealing with the “don’t-talk-about-it and have-a-stiff-drink” way of handling mental and emotional issues. May is riddled with those same hang-ups.
And, yes, May has ventured out and traveled: but many times, for the wrong reasons. First she was forced away from home—then she ran away. After that she keeps everyone at a distance.
Moving and experiencing the world is an important and special aspect of life. My Dad was in the military and we moved a lot. After graduating I took off and did a fair share of my own poking around the world. No matter how hard it was at the time I’m glad I had the chance to travel—but May is trying to find a corner to hide in, not see the big-wide-world. She’s never learned how to stick around, only beat feet. In that regard, I think she’s pretty typical.
Is it your hope that some readers will find saturating themselves in May’s life therapeutic, Marietta? And perhaps feel less “alone” if they do feel like a “Misfit?”
My favorite books mean a lot to me, they’ve helped me get through tough times. Living in L.A. in my late twenties and in N.Y.C. in my early thirties would’ve been impossible without the public library. Books helped me to forget and took me away and, at times, made me feel understood. Less alone. It would be a gift if I could do that for someone else.
Like teenagers and adults alike, May gets sucker-punched by life experiences she’s not prepared for or equipped to deal with. These events leave her confused—and although she’s about 34 when the storm indeed hits Folly, the beleaguered woman is still confused.
Much of her confusion stems from the fact that her parents don’t talk to May when she lives with them—they talk at her: and together they make unilateral decisions for their daughter without her input. I could relate heavily to May in these two areas, so reading her story sometimes took me places I had no desire to re-visit. And given some of May’s misfortunes, which I’ve never experienced, I imagine some female readers might experience troublesome flashbacks as well.
When the storm hits you also expose readers to physical violence that doesn’t arise from the hurricane itself. Whether only psychologically—or quite possibly otherwise—this violence will carry long-term if not life-long consequences for May.
Considering the ways you’d initially shaped May’s life, did you find weaving such story-ending violence into this tale difficult, Marietta?
It’s a dramatic moment, Jesse—but it didn’t feel out of place. I tried to build up to that violent bubbling point. I wanted to show small, almost forgettable incursions occurring throughout May’s life to demonstrate just how tired she is at this point. Fed up and done fucking around.
Underneath it all, May is very angry person. The scene you mention is the first time she’s ever let go and let everything flow out of her. Every hurt or betrayal came back and she responded to her feelings. Her need.
The consequences of that purging are something May has to deal with throughout AFTER the STORM.
At the conclusion of MAY, surviving inhabitants are evacuated from Folly. But as your new book begins, May Cosby returns to the devastated island. In what ways does May change or evolve in AFTER THE STORM?
And who are some of the people she meets in these next chapters of her life? Is this book also written in present tense?
Yes, AFTER the STORM is also told in present tense, Jesse. May wouldn’t have returned to the island if she and Tommy—a forgotten, troubled teenager whose mother has simply vanished—hadn’t crossed paths. I imagine she would have taken off. He’s the reason she considers, on a whim mind you, to stick around and move forward. Rebuild.
Going back to a home that’s been destroyed. Seeing the rubble of your life in a heap. Saying sorry. Facing the fight. Or, as it also plays out in May’s story, holding the face of someone you love as they pass. These are the hard things to do, the terrible things. Running away is easy. May tends to take the easy way out.
Because of all these different building blocks in her past she doesn’t know how to withstand life—she only knows how to start a new one. To me, those are two very different things.
Her evolution, if there is one, is ugly. She trips and falls. Fails. A lot. And her steps are quite small. She is, I think, like most people in that way. May tries to be a better person—much as her own folks tried, yet she’s the same broken record, playing on repeat.
But in AFTER the STORM, May’s mistakes, her addictions and risky way of life, prove dangerous for Tommy, who she aches to protect. Her choices—combined with his instability, insecurities, and his naivete′—put him in harm’s way.
Significantly, Curtis, a young man with a fairly dark family history, much like Tommy and May, is on the run: with his sister Icky Vicki as an unwilling accomplice. They’ve fled the mountains of Virginia and like a bullet, he’s pushing his stolen Mustang toward Folly’s crystal coast. Rudderless and given to dark tendencies, Curtis is just stepping into his violent persona.
He’s evolving into a hunter--
Keen eyes open for weak prey.
While May’s male adversary appears early in MAY, we don’t learn much about him until the storm hits. In terms of the kinds of crime books I typically gravitate to—it’s where you bush-whacked my attention.
Now that your first book MAY reveals Ms. Cosby’s daunting past, I’m guessing we learn intriguing details about Curtis and his sister Icky Vicki much earlier in AFTER THE STORM? Sounds like this poor girl was born behind the eight ball, Marietta. Dare I ask how she earned the nickname “Icky?”
And speaking of attention-grabbing, since we’re drawing to a close, I also outta mention: Los Angeles crime and suspense writer Eric Beetner certainly did an arresting job designing the cover for AFTER THE STORM.
Eric’s extremely talented, and immersed in the writing life. Besides being a prolific writer and co-hosting the podcast Writer Types with Steve W. Lauden, he also creates book covers for publishers All Due Respect and Down & Out. Publishers work with a lot of cover designers—and I was very lucky, since authors like me don’t get to choose their artists. Having Eric design the cover for AFTER the STORM was secretly on my wish list, Jesse!
I’m hoping readers will find the next chapters of May Cosby’s life—as well as these new characters like Curtis and Vicki intriguing. Vicki’s given the name at the end of AFTER the STORM, so if I told you I’d be revealing too much. No spoilers, Jesse.
But readers will discover early on what what happened to Vicki and Curtis. And for them, the violence just continues.
Thanks for the chance to chat, Marietta. I know you’ve been busy lately. Best wishes to you and May Cosby—as well as to your family of course. And thanks Mick Rose for hosting us here at Center Stage!
Photo: Jesse "Heels" Rawlins
Publisher-Editor-Crime Fiction Writer
Addicted to tawdry tales that sometimes make her blush, Jesse Rawlins typically writes crime, mysteries, and humor. Places like England's Spelk Fiction, Canada's Red Fez, Punk Noir Magazine in Poland, and The Rye Whiskey Review here in the USA have kindly published her stories. Care to say “Hello?” You can visit Jess on Facebook: www.facebook.com/jesse.rawlins.583
Photo: Author Sebnem E. Sanders (Novelist & Story Teller)
MR: Today I’m pleased to present author Sebnem E. Sanders. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, these days Sebnem dreams and writes along the stunning eastern shores of the south Aegean Sea—which flows between Greece and Turkey. “Sebnem” in Turkish means “Morning Dew.”
Greetings, Sebnem, and welcome to Center Stage. At what age were you enthralled with reading? And what types of books first interested you? Did you initially read works in Arabic?
SES: I think I was seven, in first grade, when I learned to read and write, Mick. We started school in mid-September, and in late November we celebrated the Reading Festival where all the first graders were given red ribbon bows pinned to our uniforms, which meant we could now read and write.
I loved reading fairy tales from Andersen, Grimm Brothers, and 1001 Arabian Nights. Later stories from Jules Verne, children’s classics, and mystery books.
I never learned the Arabic Alphabet because during the early years of the Republic, in 1928, Turkey began use the Latin Alphabet.
MR: When did you first start penning your own tales, Sebnem? And how much time lapsed before your saw your first story published?
SES: I was in elementary school when my passion in writing began. I had some honours, also in prep-school. Later in life, I started writing poetry. The 70’s were very turbulent years in Turkey. The leftists fighting with the right-wing supporters. Brothers and sisters, killing brothers and sisters. Very sad. I was also in love. So poetry was my only escape. Almost everyone is a socialist in their youth, I was, too. My first vote went to the Republican Party, Ataturk’s party. I’ve never voted for any other party since then.
It took a long time before I saw my first stories published. Although I was the editor-in-chief of our school paper, The Campus Chronicle, and contributed to the literary magazines of the American Colleges in Istanbul, I had to earn a living and began to work. It was a long working career in Turkey and abroad, until I retired, and could begin to follow my passion.
My first stories were published in The Drabble, 100 word-stories, and then in many online literary magazines in the US, UK, Canada, The Far East and Turkey. I’m most grateful to The Drabble for publishing my first stories.
MR: You’ve done a bit of travelling—including visits to the United States, and time spent in England. Are there any other countries you’ve visited, Sebnem? And do you think your time in other countries has shaped your writing in any ways?
SES: Many… I lived in England and in the Far East, mainly in Singapore and Hong Kong, during the last days of the colonial period, pre-1997. I enjoyed both cities, Mick, but not the humid climate. At least Hong Kong had two seasons, Summer and Fall. In Singapore, there was only one season, rainy or sunny with 90% humidity.
The reason I travelled a great deal in my youth is because I worked with the Italian airline Alitalia in Istanbul. I was the secretary to the Alitalia General Manager for Turkey, and I could get free tickets and hotel discounts all over the world. So I indulged. “I am a part of all that I have met,” in Tennyson’s words. Naturally, this has shaped my writing. I’m a universal person. I like to think of humanity without the restrictions of race, nationality or religion.
MR: You certainly embody that belief, Sebnem. You’re often extremely active on Social Media and kindly support an array of writers and poets world-wide, myself included, and I greatly appreciate your enthusiastic spirit.
Since you retired and found yourself free to pursue your writing dreams, have you been able to interact in person with other Turkish writers? Or do you find your relationship with other writers limited to email and other electronic communications?
SES: I don’t think the literary circles in Turkey know about me because I write in English, Mick. So I was very happy to have my stories published at The Bosphorus Review of Books--which is the only English language online literary magazine in Turkey, with an English editor. Having my work published there gave me some exposure in Turkey.
Most of my friends say I should publish my book collection Ripples on the Pond in Turkish. But this endeavor requires further work. I cannot translate my own stories, so I’ll need to have them written in Turkish. Maybe, I’ll do that after my next book is published.
Since I write in English, my author friends consist of an international group: from the US and Canada, to the UK, Ireland, Europe, Australia, and a host of other writers from all over the world who also write in English.
We all support each other’s work on social media, as well as exchange critiques, and write or share reviews. As much as I would like to meet all of them in person, most interactions are online. However, we did have a small authors meeting in Athens this year with DJ Meyers and his wife, from Australia, Joanne J. Kendrick and Pamela Jane Rogers from the US, her late husband from the UK, and me from Turkey.
MR: Your flash fiction and short story collection RIPPLES ON THE POND released in December 2017—and will soon celebrate its 2nd birthday. While I haven’t read every story in RIPPLES, Sebnem, I can certainly detect the early influences of the Grimm Brothers and 1001 Arabian Nights in your writing. Many of your tales are considered “Speculative Fiction”—strange events often take place in “super-natural” fashion—they defy the so-called Laws of Nature or the Universe as we presently understand them.
What draws you to penning these types of dramas?
SES: I’ve always liked “Speculative Fiction.” In fact two of my longer work fall into this category or genre. I believe the fairy tales of my childhood must have a great influence, but I never actually plan on writing a speculative tale. I’ll feel inspired by a prompt—a photo or a painting, something in the news—a book, a movie or a conversation.
Then, sometimes weeds talk, buildings lament, trees feel and understand, a character like Ivan gets infatuated with ivy –and Bernard gets obsessed with his mannequins.
Author Kathryn Gauci came up with an interesting term, “anthropomorphic slant”—attributing human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena—just like we find in fairy tales.
MR: Your publisher for RIPPLES—The Gargoyle Chronicles—is located in Australia, and managed by author D.J. Meyers, who’s fascinated with gargoyles, among other things. In fact, if I understand correctly, all the books offered by this publisher have one thing in common: every work contains the word “gargoyle” in at least one sentence.
Which of your stories references a “gargoyle,” Sebnem—and how on earth did you find this publisher?
SES: I met David J. Meyers online at the now defunct Harper Collins writers’ site called Authonomy. I’d joined this site back in 2012 with a completed manuscript of The Child of Heaven. DJ and I began to read and edit each other’s work. That’s how our friendship began, and in the summer of 2013 DJ and his wife Michelle visited Istanbul where we met in person.
DJ writes fantasy and historical fiction, and publishes his own work. He kindly encouraged me and offered to publish my fiction collection, Ripples on the Pond, in 2017.
I don’t know whether all of DJ’s work contains the word “gargoyle.” Knowing his stories, that would be fitting. I suggested he use the name “The Gargoyle Chronicles” as the publisher. But I don’t think any of my stories reference a gargoyle. That’s strictly DJ’s territory.
MR: You have three additional manuscripts in various stages of completion: The Child of Heaven, The Child of Passion, and The Lost Child. The titles suggest they’re all related in some way. What can you tell us about these works? And do you have any specifics hopes or thoughts about where they might be published?
The Child of Heaven is a fantasy about an alien child who visits Earth to learn about human feelings from the main character, Leila, who lives on the shores of the Southern Aegean.
I’m rewriting, editing, and polishing this tale at the moment. It’s a different kind of book, but contains some of the characteristics one finds in The Little Prince and The Alchemist. I’m hoping this one will release in 2020.
The Lost Child is about parallel universes and speculates whether humans are capable of changing their ways in altered circumstances. Central to this story, a man loses his child in both universes.
Meanwhile, The Child of Passion is contemporary fiction with romance.
These completed manuscripts will be self-published. The three stories are not related. However, each involves a child. Why? I have no idea. But probably because I don’t have any children. Although none of these children are main characters, each one influences the main characters in their stories to change.
MR: You also have stories in the book collections ONE MILLION PROJECT, THRILLER ANTHOLOGY and PAWS AND CLAWS. What can your share with us about these adventures, Sebnem?
SES: My contribution to the One Million Project, Thriller Anthology is a short story called “Mummy’s Torchlight.”
It’s a sad tale about a young boy whose mother is murdered, and how he copes with this tragedy as he grows up and faces the culprit. But NO spoilers, Mick!
My contribution to the Paws and Claws collection is a flash fiction story called “High-Flyers.”
This is another anthropomorphic tale, told by a red kite who observes the human condition from a bird’s eye view.
I didn’t begin as short story writer. In fact, I never thought I could write one until I joined the Flash Fiction Group on Authonomy. The group, then hosted by author Darius Stransky, gave me a warm welcome, so I began to write a story every week. I believe flash fiction is an inspiring exercise to create something new—in style and plot—while improving one’s skills to write concisely due to the limited word counts. “Short and sharp,” as online magazine Spelk Fiction says.
When Authonomy closed, Darius moved the group to Scribblers in 2015—and asked me to host it a year later. Although I’m still running the group, membership numbers aren’t as high as they were in Authonomy.
By 2016, I’d written over 150 stories. I chose 71 and posted them on Scribophile for critiques and editing—and finally Ripples was published.
MR: Well, Sebnem … your writing career certainly didn’t involve “instant gratification.” But I’m surely pleased your dreams and endeavors have been wonderfully realized and received. Thanks for sharing with us here at Center Stage—and I hope you make new Writing Friends as a result of our chat!
As always, thank you fine Audience for joining us! Truly a pleasure.
Mick Rose Grateful Author (and Reluctant Poet)