MONARCHS UNDER THE SASSAFRAS TREE
by Lillah Lawson
Publication Date: September 20th 2019
Regal House Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 384 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction/Southern
It's an unusually warm autumn, 1929, and O.T. Lawrence is about as content as a cotton farmer can be in Five Forks, Georgia. Nothing—not poverty, drought, or even the boll weevi—can spoil the idyllic life he shares with his doting wife and children and his beloved twin brother Walt. Until illness and Black Tuesday take everything O.T. ever held dear in one fell swoop. Grieving, drinking, and careening toward homelessness, O.T. is on the brink of ending it all when he receives an odd letter from a teenage acquaintance, the enigmatic Sivvy Hargrove, who is locked away in Milledgeville’s asylum for the insane. Traveling through desperate antebellum towns, O.T. and his daughter Ginny are determined to find Sivvy and discover her story. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree is a love story to Georgia and the spirit of its people—a story of family, unconditional love, poverty, injustice, and finding the strength inside to keep on going when all is lost.
“Lillah Lawson spins a yarn that’s wonderful in its knottiness. Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree is a historical Southern fable about butterflies, biscuits and the healing power of family, both biological and chosen. The images are evocative, the dialogue rough and realistic, the emotions achingly real. A must-read.” —Lauren Emily Whalen, author of Satellite
"A hauntingly beautiful story, full of twists and tragedy, rich in detail and told with gorgeous lyrical flair… A deeply moving, unforgettable read.” —Alice Hayes, author of The Thread that Binds
“An exquisite read, with the tender yet gritty undertones of Steinback, Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree is a solemn walk through the deep south during one of the most difficult eras in American history: the early twentieth century. Lawson captures the southern gothic through the often fragile, yet always hopeful hearts of her characters as they try to cope with the hard knocks of life. This book will touch your heart in the beautifully tragic way that only southern gothic can, slowly at first, and then all at once.” —Melanie Cossey, author of A Peculiar Curiosity
Lillah Lawson has been writing since she was 8 years old, when she won a short story contest at her elementary school. The story was about a Princess who gets tired of waiting for the Prince to show up and saves herself. Once she saw her words printed in the local newspaper, she knew she wanted to be a writer.
Having written professionally as well as dabbling in poetry, children's books and blogging, Lillah finally completed her first novel, Aroha, as part of a NaNoWriMo challenge in 2012.
She lives in Georgia, in the United States, with her partner and son and three rambunctious animals. She is currently working on another novel.
The Book Junkie Reads . . . Interview with Lillah Lawson. . .
How would you describe your style of writing to someone that has never read your work? A. I write mainly historical fiction. That’s my “wheelhouse”, so to speak - I find it comes very naturally to me to write about a time gone by, and immerse myself in different time periods and points in history. I love taking moments in time and drawing parallels between the experiences people were having then to the ones we’re living through now.
Historical fiction is not the only thing I write, however. I also really enjoy writing literary fiction and some fantasy/speculative fiction. I don’t like sticking to genres at all - I read everything under the sun and I feel the same way about my writing. I’ll try anything once. I love wearing different hats and writing in all different styles and genres, often the darker the better.
That being said, all my work, whether historical fiction or otherwise, usually contain undercurrents of the same things: hope, women’s empowerment, learning from past mistakes, rising above grief, and the love of family, both blood and chosen. Do you feel that writing is an ingrained process or just something that flows naturally for you? A. A little bit of both. I’m a voracious reader and have been since I was a little kid. I believe that the more you read (especially the more varied your reading list), the better writer you become. But I’m sure, as with anything, you need a good, healthy dose of natural talent, too. What mindset or routine do you feel the need to set when preparing to write (in general whether you are working on a project or just free writing)? A. I don’t have much of a routine. I’m the worst - I don’t have a fancy, organized writing nook or a space where I always go to write (though I recently moved and I finally do have an office that I’ve made into a fantastic writing space). I do have small rituals that help me when I’m ready to get into the groove.
I usually make a playlist of songs that I feel are relevant in some way to the subject matter, and I’ll listen to that for a week or so while I get the “feel” for the book. I’ll take a few notes, jot some things down, do research on the time period/subject matter. Then, when I can’t stand it anymore and feel like I’m going to burst if I don’t get this story out - I’ll pour myself a tea or coffee, sit down and start writing. Do you take your character prep to heart? Do you nurture the growth of each character all the way through to the page? Do you people watch to help with development? Or do you build upon your character during story creation? A. I am an avid people watcher. I’m always noticing little quirks in people, things that they do - just the subtle body language, little idiosyncrasies, manners of speech, things they’d never realize anyone notices - and I commit them to memory. I love people watching; in bars, at the beach, in the middle of the grocery store. I do it all the time.
Often my characters seem to come to me fully formed. They can be inspired by anything - a celebrity I loved in a certain film, a rockstar, a figure in history, or someone my brain conjured out of thin air. Often they appear to me already fleshed out, and all I have to do is fill in a few blanks. Naturally I build upon them as I go, but I’m lucky in that often they’re just there. Do you have a character that you have been working on for a long time that still isn't quite ready, but fills you with excitement to work on the story? A. One or two! Usually once a character appears and starts whispering in my ear, I’ve got to start writing them immediately. But I have a couple that are still marinating. Have you found yourself bonding with any particular character(s)? If so which one(s)? A. All of them. I love them like they’re my babies. I especially identify with Sivvy Hargrove from Monarchs Under the Sassafras Tree. There’s a little bit of myself in her, as well as many women who came before me. My other favorite character in that book is Hosey Brown. He’s a minor character, but he just appeared to me as a perfectly formed person, right down to his little smirking mouth. I love my Hosey, and I hope my readers love him, too.
And I’m also a little in love with Phillip Deville, the MC from my upcoming book Dead Rockstar.
Do you have a character that you have been working on that you can't wait to put to paper? A. The aforementioned Phillip Deville from Dead Rockstar. I’m currently working on the sequel, and he’s still making his intentions clear to me. He’s still got something to tell me; I’m just trying to figure that out. Can you share your next creative project(s)? If yes, can you give a few details? A. My speculative “nerdy noir” novel Dead Rockstar will be released by Parliament House Press in November of this year and I’m very excited! I’m about halfway done writing the sequel.
I also have a manuscript that I’m currently querying, entitled So Long, Bobby - it is historical fiction, a novel that spans three generations of women who are dealing with the fallout from various events in the late 1960’s, including the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
I’m also putting together some notes for a book that takes place in the 1980’s, focusing on the Dixie Mafia. It’s only in the planning stages, though. I’m hoping to write the first draft during this year’s NaNoWriMo, which I still do every year. What are some of your writing/publishing goals for this year? A. To finish the book I’m working on, and start writing another! I’ve also got several promotional goals for both of my published works, a contest or two I’d like to enter, and a few other things up my sleeve. I stay busy. Have you ever felt that there was something inside of you that you couldn't control? If so what? If no what spurs you to reach for the unexperienced? A. I’m a Virgo, so I’m pretty well-controlled, unfortunately. I’d love to tap into some Scorpio or Gemini energy and let loose, but alas...that’s just not me. I explore that wild side of me with my writing (and maybe through music). If you could have dinner/dinner party with 7 fictional characters, who would they be? A. Lord John Grey (from the Outlander series), Lestat de Lioncourt (from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles), April Ludgate/Janet Snakehole (Parks & Rec), Dorothy Zbornak (Golden Girls), Lafayette (True Blood), Jordan Baker (The Great Gatsby), and let’s throw in Fitzwilliam Darcy (Pride and Prejudice) just to make things really interesting. A good mix of snark and elegance (both real and pretense), there!
If you could spend one-week with 5 fictional characters, who would they be and where would you spend that time? A. Same group! I’d love to snag a flat in New Orleans or Venice or somewhere absolutely steeping with history and art, music and lore, great food and drink; I’d dress up and go traipsing around in a drunken, gluttonous stupor with Lord John Grey, Lestat de Lioncourt, Lafayette, Mr. Darcy and Jordan Baker. We would get into so many shenanigans. Can you imagine the debauchery and the CLOTHES?!
Where would you spend one full year, if you could go ANYWhere, money is not a concern? What would you do with this time? A. I’ve already been to my dream destination, New Zealand, where I lived for five years. I’d love to go on a very long trip to Italy, where my ancestors are from, and really take the time to explore the entire country from top to bottom. I’d linger especially long in Sicily, where my family is from, doing genealogical research, learning the history and trying to track down long lost family members. I’d also love to visit Rome, Venice and Tuscany; visit all the usual tourist traps but also explore the paths less taken, get to know people, try local food and really get to know the culture and my roots. One day, I’ll go!
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Monday, May 18 Review at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, May 20 Interview at The Book Junkie Reads
Thursday, May 21 Review & Excerpt at Bookworlder