About the book: (from the publisher) The truth can change everything…
In 1972, on Mudas Summers’ seventeenth birthday, her beloved Mama, Ella, is found hanging from the rafters of their home. Most people in Peckinpaw, Kentucky, assume that Ella’s no-good husband did the deed. Others think Ella grew tired of his abuse and did it herself. Muddy is determined to find out for sure either way, especially once she finds strange papers hidden amongst her mama’s possessions.
But Peckinpaw keeps its secrets buried deep. Muddy’s almost-more-than-friend, Bobby Marshall, knows that better than most. Though he passes for white, one of his ancestors was Frannie Crow, a slave hanged a century ago on nearby Hark Hill Plantation. Adorning the town square is a seat built from Frannie’s gallows. A tribute, a relic–and a caution–it’s known as Liar’s Bench. Now, the answers Muddy seeks soon lead back to Hark Hill, to hatred and corruption that have echoed through the years–and lies she must be brave enough to confront at last.
About the author (from her website): Kim Michele Richardson resides in the rolling hills of Kentucky where she is a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and an advocate for the prevention of child abuse and domestic violence. She is also the author of the bestselling memoir The Unbreakable Child. Liar’s Bench is her first novel. She is a contributor to the Huffington Post and is busy working on her next novel, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field.
Kim Michele, welcome!
Liar’s Bench joins a host of recent novels that address racial tension in our country, especially as it we see it in the South. Kathryn Stockett’s The Help obviously comes to mind, as does Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home, Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic, and Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar. Yours differs both by era (the early ‘70s), and place (Kentucky). Was there a particular reason you chose this setting for your story?
The 60s and 70s are rich with big historical events and troubled history: Vietnam, racial strife, women exploring new freedoms—teens struggling between old and new ways— the south struggling to find itself—Title IX and more. All this made an interesting blend for my novel. Living in Kentucky was another good reason. The beautiful and mysterious landscape and its people offer a writer’s feast.
Another thing that sets Liar’s Bench apart is its grim premise: the hangings of two women—one black, one white—a century apart but with a connection between them. Talk about imaginative! How did you dream up that idea?
I’ve always loved small town benches. For the longest time I had a liar’s bench in mind, but I felt it needed to have its own vibe — history, and one that determined the attitudes and represented the lives of its townsfolk. So when my husband told me his relative attended the last public hanging in the United States, I was intrigued. I learned the historic 1936 hanging was of black man, Rainey Bethea, and that it took place in Kentucky. Surprisingly, I dug around some more and found out that the priest who administered the last rites to Rainey was also the governing priest at the orphanage I grew up in. All this inspired the connection of my dear character, female slave Frannie Crow.
I love a good mystery, and although it’s not immediately apparent, that’s really what this novel is—all wrapped up in fine, literary storytelling. I like how bestselling author Beth Hoffman describes it: “a richly imagined Southern gothic tale.” Is this the kind of novel you envisioned when you first sat down to write it?
Beth is outstanding and I am humbled and thrilled by her lovely description. Six years ago when I began writing Liar’s Bench, I only had a title, but no clue the paths it would take. It didn’t have a genre, because for myself, labeling the book would’ve stifled the content and pulled back on my creativity. It remained that way a good while. Many times when I thought it was going in one direction, it would venture into another.
Names. Your heroine has a very unusual one, and your hero a very plain one (for which you have an amusing story about your Word program’s determination to change that). Would you share a little more about both names?
I use a lot of my ancestors’ names. (My great-grandmother’s name was Mudus, nicknamed, Muddy). And, I always wanted a simple name for my male character, intentionally settling on Bobby for such. No problem, right? Wrong. I almost changed the male character’s name many times, because my Word doc seemed to be possessed and simply wouldn’t have it. The demon Word taunting, constantly changing it from ‘Bobby’ to ‘Booby’ throughout. I could only imagine sentences such as “I love Booby” and “I felt Booby,” etc. Then one day while driving down the road, I spied a yard sale and pulled over to kill time. There I found an old child’s baseball glove from the 60′s. It had my male character’s name, Bobby, scrawled sweetly across it; more importantly, it was exactly what my Bobby would’ve used.
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What can we look forward to next?
Currently, I am working on my second novel, GodPretty in the Tobacco Field, which is due out in the spring of 2016. It is the story of RubyLyn (Roo) Royal Bishop, a young girl living in rural eastern Kentucky in the ‘60s. Subjected to grueling labor by her God-fearing uncle, Roo strives to find a ray of hope in her poverty-stricken town through her own tobacco patch, a forbidden first love, and her home-made paper fortunetellers. A Coalminer’s Daughter meets Winter’s Bone tale of tender love and loss which examines the crushing oppression of Appalachian women then, and that which is relevant now
Thank you and your readers for having me, Katherine!
Thank you, Kim! It’s been a privilege.
After words: I mentioned several recent novels besides Liar’s Bench that address racial tension in our country. (Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, Julie Kibler’s Calling Me Home, Deborah Johnson’s The Secret of Magic, and Natalie Baszile’s Queen Sugar). Here, I feel I should also add Barbara Mutch’s The Housemaid’s Daughter as it’s of a similar vein, though it takes place in South Africa during the Apartheid era. Have you read any of these–or another like them? If so, what did you find most memorable?