Today we welcome Denise Grover Swank to A Chick Who Reads to talk about her book Twenty Nine and a Half Reasons!
When I wrote Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes, the first book in the Rose Gardner Mysteries, I’d just finished a dark paranormal thriller and needed something less intense. I knew about the plot was it was about a woman who had visions and worked in a DMV but didn’t know much else. That’s when it hit me—set it in a small southern town.
We often give a lot of thought to the characters and plot, but what if the setting can become just as important as the characters in the story?
I was born and raised in the Midwest, but for eight years I lived in the south where I learned I’m a southern girl at heart. Impeccable manners, good home cookin’ and a slow drawl. What’s not to love? As a writer, I learned to appreciate the southern knack for explaining things. Southerners are natural showers.
So with Twenty-Eight, I decided to try an experiment. Set the story in a small southern town with a southern woman as a narrator and see what she said. Although Rose tended to ramble in my head, telling her story in run-on sentences, once I cleaned it up I realized she came up with ways of describing things I wouldn’t have come up with without her.
From Twenty-Eight and a Half Wishes:
Violet lived in a new neighborhood on the outskirts of town, still in the city limits but hanging on the edge like it couldn’t make up its mind.
In this neck of the woods, the deeper the roots of your family tree, the higher your social esteem. My neighbor was a sapling transplanted into a prehistoric forest.
And from Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons:
And she uses words like bejiggers, contrite and crappy doodles. She puts the word Miss in front of the first names of older women. She knows how to make an apple pie from scratch. Without a recipe. Set a story somewhere else and see if you can pull those off. Writing her story was like taking a field trip to a place you’d like to visit for a spell but not necessarily live.
Another benefit to having a small town setting was that I could fill it with “characters.” The premise of Twenty-Eight was humorous and the assorted cast only added to the setting. I introduced Rose’s eighty-two year old neighbor Mildred, the president of the neighborhood watch in the first book and brought her back in Twenty-Nine. And in Twenty-Nine, I gave Rose a new best friend who just seems to know things. I built in ensemble that only added to the fun.
Be it Rose’s date Steve, a man who was “plenty soft around the middle” and reminds her of the Pillsbury Doughboy in Twenty-Eight or Elmer Burnett, the murder victim’s next door neighbor who throws the courtroom into chaos in Twenty-Nine, I never lacked for off the wall situations. But Rose, who’s spent her entire life scoffed and shunned because of her visions, thinks nothing of the eccentricity of the people and takes it in stride. Perhaps because she’s not quite normal herself.
I love Rose’s world, and honestly I can’t wait to write the third book, Thirty and a Half Excuses. If I know the people of Henryetta, Arkansas, they’ll be up to trouble.
I’m counting on it.
Book Excerpt: “Watch where you’re going!” a voice snarled above me.
The papers settled enough for me to stare into the angry blue eyes of a man wearing a dark suit, a white shirt and a crisp yellow tie. His dark blond hair was short but styled. He leaned down and I couldn’t help my involuntary squeak as I scooted back in fear.
“This is a courthouse, not a barroom brawl.”
“I... I’m sorry...” I stammered, caught off guard by his hostility. I reached for the paper closest to me.
“Don’t touch those!” He reached for the sheets, his shirtsleeves pulling back to reveal his wrists. No scars. He was scary enough without worrying that he was the man in the restroom.
Jerking my hand back, I got to my knees and grabbed the wall to pull myself up. “I was only tryin’ to help. No need to be nasty about it.”
His entire face puckered as he squatted. “You’ve helped quite enough. Thank you.” Even with his snotty tone, his cultured Southern accent was evident. He appeared to be in his early thirties, but his attitude and haughtiness reminded me of the women in the Henryetta Garden Club. The ones from old Southern money.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that I’m late to jury duty—”
A throaty snort erupted. “Of course you are. Why am I not surprised?”
Indignation squared my shoulders. “It’s obvious that your mother raised you better than this. What do you think she would say, knowing you were treatin’ a lady this way? You should be ashamed of yourself. Mr...” My eyebrows rose as I waited for him to answer.
His jaw dropped halfway through my tirade and his cheeks pinkened, making him look younger and less hardened. “Deveraux.”
“Mr. Deveraux.” I pursed my lips in disapproval. Any properly raised Southern gentleman was terrified of his mother’s wrath. Especially when the combination of poor manners and women were involved. “I suggest you brush up on your manners.” I turned left and started down the hall only to realize, to my horror, I had gone the wrong way. I stopped midstep and squeezed my eyes shut. This whole morning had to be a nightmare, just a bad dream. Situations like this didn’t happen in real life.
Only, in my life, they did.
Sucking in a deep breath, I spun around and headed the opposite direction, teetering on my broken heel. With my jaw thrust forward, I tried to pass Mr. Deveraux with as much dignity as I could muster.
Mr. Deveraux, to his credit, ignored me as he continued to scoop up the papers and stuffed them into manila folders.
Just when I thought I was home free, I heard a smug voice behind me. “Fourth door on the right.”
The sound of my click-thud steps echoed off the hard surfaces in the hallway, but I continued walking, in spite of my billowing mortification. It’s hard to look dignified when you’re swaying like a sailor. Finally, I reached the fourth door. I glanced down at my letter to make sure I had the right room, not trusting Mr. Crabbypants, but my hand was empty.
I’d dropped the letter.
Closing my eyes with a sigh, I wondered how this day could get worse.
A groan escaped before I could squelch it. I opened my eyes and plastered on a smile.
Mr. Deveraux handed the paper to me with a smirk. “A gentleman always helps those less fortunate, Miss Gardner.” He tilted his head toward me before moving briskly down the hall. “You’re late. You better get in there,” he called out, looking straight ahead.
Denise Grover Swank Online:
Bio: Denise Grover Swank lives in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. She has six children, three dogs, and an overactive imagination. She can be found dancing in her kitchen with her children, reading or writing her next book. You will rarely find her cleaning.