Twelve years ago, at four in the morning, I awoke with a clear, resounding voice in my head. It was the voice of a girl who began to tell me her story: There are two things I’m afraid of, she said. One is dying young. The other is Johnny Monroe. A day or two before, I had visited the small cemetery located in the southern Appalachian Mountains where many of my family were buried. I spent an afternoon walking among the final resting places of my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as ancestors I had never known. Had I accidentally brought one of them home with me, who needed her story told.
Rest assured, mental illness does not run in my family. But for a fiction writer, to get the “voice” of a character so clearly is really good news. I, however, wanted to go back to sleep. Who wouldn’t, at 4 o’clock in the morning? For a time, I debated whether or not to get up. I ultimately decided that if I didn’t claim this moment, the “voice” might find someone else to write her story.
Needless to say, I turned on the light, picked up a pen and a pad of paper and began to write the story of Louisa May “Wildflower” McAllister. It took days and weeks of listening to her and seeing the scenes of her life play out in my imagination. Then it took years of revising and revisiting the story to polish it and get it ready. Not to mention the tremendous amount of faith I had to generate to keep going all those years—faith in myself as a writer and faith in Wildflower’s story. Now I’ve entered into the next phase of the life of this book and Wildflower’s story, where I’ve given her a kiss on the forehead and released her into the world of readers.
It took over a decade and many revisions to get this book out into the world. I will miss walking around in the beautiful southern Appalachian mountains with these characters. I love the McAllister family and to this day I have compassion for Johnny Monroe. His life may have been different if his mother had lived. Just as Wildflower’s life may have been different if her father were still around. Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan. We lose people, we grieve, we love, and we carry on. To me, the story is ultimately about resilience and it is my hope that everyone who reads the book claims a little bit of that resilience for themselves.
Kirkus Reviews (they call themselves “the world’s toughest book critics”) has given The Secret Sense of Wildflower a starred review (for “books of remarkable merit”) and deems it:
“a quietly powerful story, at times harrowing but ultimately a joy to read.”
Read the entire Kirkus review here.
Thanks so much Susan for the wonderful guest post. I recently read this book and here’s my review:
The Secret Sense of Wildflower is powerful story and it’ll be hard for me to forget. Usually I love books that I can devour; however I found I couldn’t read large chunks of this at one time. Instead of putting me off, it made me like the story even more. The subject matter is intense.
Louisa May “Wildflower” is the type of character that readers will love. She’s honest, observant, frank, and funny. I love a book that pulls me into the lives of the characters and this one does just that. Wildflower has to contend with a lot in her life and many people would fall to pieces. She’s one tough cookie. As the story progressed I cheered her on. At times I wanted to hug her and to tell her everything would be okay. At other times I wanted to shout at those who were upsetting her. I know I like a book when I start talking to the words on the page like they can hear me.
This is a wonderful story that will make you laugh, cry, and cheer.
Set in 1940s Appalachia, The Secret Sense of Wildflower tells the story of Louisa May “Wildflower” McAllister whose life has been shaped around the recent death of her beloved father in a sawmill accident. While her mother hardens in her grief, Wildflower and her three sisters must cope with their loss themselves, as well as with the demands of daily survival. Despite these hardships, Wildflower has a resilience that is forged with humor, a love of the land, and an endless supply of questions to God, who she isn’t so sure she agrees with. When Johnny Monroe, the town’s teenage ne’er-do-well, sets his sights on Wildflower, she must draw on the strength of her relations, both living and dead, to deal with his threat.
With prose as lush and colorful as the American South, The Secret Sense of Wildflower is powerful and poignant, brimming with energy and angst, humor and hope. In its ability to create a truly original Southern voice, The Secret Sense of Wildflower establishes Gabriel as a thoughtful and powerful Southern writer.
One lucky winner will receive an ebook copy via Kindle or Ibooks. All you need to do is leave me a comment below specifying if you would like a kindle or ibook copy. The winner will be selected randomly on Friday, February 7th.
Over a decade ago, Susan Gabriel gave up her successful psychotherapy practice in Charleston, South Carolina to simplify her life and pursue writing. Since then she has written eight novels and numerous short stories and essays. She writes with passion, humor and insight about a wide variety of other ordinary, odd and interesting characters, young and old. She lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina in the U.S.
If you’d like to stay in touch, please visit her at her facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/SusanGabrielAuthor
Or on her blog: http://www.susangabriel.com/blog