Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Everything Is Better With Gravy

"No matter what might happen to us later, I saved his life that night. And, for that one night, at least, he saved mine. Hope is in the mirror we keep inside us, love sees only what it wants to see, and beauty is in the lie of the beholder. Sometimes, that lie is all you need to survive."
Let's get this out of the way up front - Deborah Smith does not have a major NY publishing contract. Her latest, The Crossroads Cafe, was published by Belle Books, a small press she owns with several other Southern writers. From what I understand, she shopped this book around in NY and got nowhere.

Idiots.

The Crossroads Cafe tells the story of Cathryn Deen, a Hollywood movie starlet who dazzles with her beauty even if her acting skills are suspect. She's on the verge of launching her own cosmetics line when a run-in with the paparazzi leads to a fiery car crash. Cathryn Deen is no longer Hollywood's It Girl - she's a freak show. A burn victim lying in intensive care. But help is on the way.

Delta Whittlespoon is Cathy's cousin (several times removed) and she owns a cafe in the remote mountains of North Carolina. When she hears about Cathy's accident, she is frantic. She begs Thomas Mitternich, local drunk, to help her get in touch with her cousin. Thomas, a former architect who lost everything when the World Trade Center collapsed on 9/11, has spent the years since drifting aimlessly and swimming in the bottom of a vodka bottle. Unfortunately, he adores Delta and just can't say no to the woman. He calls in the mother of all favors and soon Delta and Tom are sending Cathy care packages. Delta provides the biscuits and gravy, Tom sends letters and snapshots of Cathy's grandmother's abandoned cabin - a cabin he would love to get his hands on and restore to it's former glory.

All roads lead to North Carolina, where Cathy and Thomas soon meet face to face. But these are people with a crap-load of baggage - Thomas who just hasn't had the guts to kill himself yet, and Cathy, whose whole life has been wrapped up in the validation that her beauty once gave her. With it gone, does she have anything else to offer?

This is only the third book I've read by Smith, but they all have one important thing in common - she writes characters as if they were real people. There's an immediate connection. A spark that makes the reader think that there really was a 9/11 hero named Thomas Mitternich, and a Hollywood starlet named Cathryn Deen known for hit romantic comedies. This connection with the characters leads to a serious emotional investment on my part as the reader, and damn if I didn't want these two to fix themselves and each other.

If I were to have quibbles (and y'all know I do), it's that I wanted Thomas and Cathy to spend every waking moment together. The author does separate them for stretches, a necessary evil for them both to deal with their own issues. Also, Smith weaves in a lot of feminist "stuff" about beauty myth and the superficial culture we live in. It's all very good, but there were a few instances where I was like, "Yeah, yeah that's great - now back to Cathy and Tom!" I loved these characters so much I wanted Smith to spend every single word devoted just to them.

All in all though, a truly fabulous read. Great characters, great story, lots of emotional angst to rip your heart out - brava!

Final Grade = A.

Sidenote: Harlequin needs to get a clue and sign Smith. Seriously, they already have Debbie Macomber (who they've been promoting the hell out of - take it from someone who reads all that publicity who-ha for work) and Susan Wiggs writing for Mira. Adding Smith, with her folksy Southern charm, would turn them into a women's fiction juggernaut. But what do I know?

11 comments:

Care Taker said...

Bless your heart a thousand million times, Miss Wendy. I'm publishing this novel on a shoe-string budget after getting the big yawn from major NY publishing houses. After 20 years and 35 respectably successful novels my sales plummeted when my last major pub decided not to bother with marketing campaigns or good cover art. As a result, editors told me I'd have to crawl on my belly and slither through lots of hoops if I ever wanted to sell another book to New York. I was also told to switch genres and write something in the latest hot trends -- meaning chick lit, "reading group fiction," or erotic paranormal. Before I came to my senses I actually pitched a plot about a futuristic plantation system using werewolves as slaves. Remember the antebellum potboiler, "Mandingo?" I guess you could call my book proposal "Manwolfdingo." Happily, I decided instead to go it alone via BelleBooks, the teensy press my partners and I call "Home of Southern Fried Fiction at its Finest." So far we've managed to sell out The Crossroads Cafe's first (small) printing, and reviews have been good. It's not an easy way to launch a book (none of the major chains are interested in stocking titles that aren't propped up by sizable advertising budgets) but through word of mouth such as your lovely blog and excellent support from librarians (God Bless Libraries!) success is possible! I'm publishing a second novel via BelleBooks next spring, so we'll see how that goes. Thank you again for your lovely comments! Deborah Smith, author

Karen W. said...

I adore Deborah Smith's books and THE CROSSROADS CAFE is no exception! We've sold the three copies I ordered in for my store (I'm a bookseller) and we got six more in to recommend during the holiday season. I like to give more exposure to a talented author like Ms. Smith.

Emma said...

Sounds like a fabulous book. Thanks for telling us about it, SuperL!

Debora said...

Wendy, as you know, I agree with you. THE CROSSROADS CAFE is the best book I've read this year. And I've been craving my late North Carolinian grandmother's biscuits something awful!

Best,
Debora
debora@udel.edu

Rosie said...

I had to get my copy special ordered when I read somewhere (I really don't remember where now) that DS had another book coming out. This book was awesome. And look at you with a post from the author herself!

ReneeW said...

You've sold me and you haven't steered me wrong yet. I read Sweet Hush and really enjoyed it. It's a real shame that publishers are pushing authors into chick lit and other crap I hate. Love her sense of humor. Wolfmandingo... :)

Wendy said...

Renee:
Give me time, I'll steer you wrong LOL

Rosie:
I placed a big Deborah Smith order over at Amazon. And what do I do? Forget to order my own copy of The Crossroads Cafe! I borrowed a copy from work.

Deborah:
I feel so famous now! Look at me, Deborah Smith commenting on my blog! I ordered several copies for work and it generated a request list - so readers haven't forgotten you even if NY isn't terribly welcoming!

Jane said...

I need to read this book!

sybil said...

hmmmm

Do you think I would like it?

Wendy said...

Sybil:
Well I'm biased because I loved it - so I think you should try it. There is a very healthy excerpt over at the Belle Books website - it's after all the review blurbs.

http://www.bellebooks.com/TheCrossroadsCafe.asp

sybil said...

okay I shall check it out... cuz you are wendy and you rock