(Mary Phagan, 1913)
It’s day 4 since my new novel, By the Rivers of Babylon, launched. What a strange time. The first time I wrote this novel was two years ago. I re- wrote it with an editor in January 2022 and I had covid while I wrote. I stuck a thousand pins in it with the copy editor. During the process, I must have gone through that novel seven or more times.
When a book comes out, authors tend to withdraw a little bit. Your kid is out in the world. Only it’s not yours anymore. It belongs to the people who chose to read it. They will make of it things you never saw which will sometimes delight, sometimes perplex. It’s their right. You need to let that novel go.
Babylon came from my heart. My love of the South is right up there, front and center. So is my love for music. (It can save lives, you know.) I wrote it because in recent years my South has suffered so much slander and misapprehension. I wanted to redeem it. I think it does its job. It’s got several love stories, a lust story, and a murder investigation. There’s plenty there for a reader to get excited about. But I need to let it go.
What excites me now is my next novel, the second of a two book contract. I finished it last September. If I say so myself, it comes at you straight ahead like a freight train. As much as I loved By the Rivers of Babylon before I let it go, I love this one more. It’s not been seen by an editor yet. Until then, I don’t know what its flaws might be. But I think I know what its strengths are.
Working title: Aint No Grave. It’s parked in my wheelhouse, Southern Jewish history. It has gravitas. It’s about the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager in Atlanta, who was charged and convicted in the rape murder of a 13-year-old Irish girl working in his factory. The case rocked the world in 1913. It fueled the anti-child labor movement. It exploited racial and ethnic tensions.
I tell my story through the lens of stringers and reporters for newspapers all over the country, who devoured each break in the case, large and small. 22 real life characters in Grave played principal roles in the trial, becoming senators and governors long after the novel’s end. One became a celebrated journalist and member of the Algonquin Table.
Like Babylon, Leo Frank was a labor of love, but it demanded a lot from me intellectually – getting the history right, getting those 22 real people right, getting the trial right.
The lynching I knew I could do. But the trial intimidated me. I considered avoiding it all together. I asked my husband, “Maybe I can write around the trial and not do the trial itself?” Stephen couldn’t look at me. “If you’re not going to do the fucking trial, then you might as well not write the fucking book.” (He’s from New Jersey.)
He was right. I bit into it. It came out great. Thanks, hon.
Ha ha. I can hear him say that.
Loved Babylon Mary. Grayson is going to read it next. Thankful to Don for bringing you into our lives.
You’re so very kind, Melanie! Thank you and Don both!