“I was a writer at 12 years old when my parents bought me a Smith Corona typewriter and I wrote my first story.” ~~Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte
- BETRAYAL ON THE BAYOU
- Written by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 979-8642089934
- Independently published (June 3, 2020)
Let It All Out
An interview with Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte by B. Lynn Goodwin
Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte’s Betrayal on the Bayou is a fascinating novel that delves into some heartbreaking issues around race, justice, and the noir code in the fictitious Louisiana town of Tassin.
In the midst of the Louisiana Bayou in the 1800s, there was a three-tiered culture: slaves, free people of color, and whites. When a young, white widower from Paris arrives with his daughter he marries a Tassin woman, who has money and power, and then takes a Creole lover. After a while he builds his lover, Margot, a house identical to his wife, Marie’s, and sets them side by side. He encourages feuds, discord, and his personal superiority. As the story unfolds we learn about the injustices a white man could perpetrate without consequences in the 1800s. Readers will be left wondering how much has changed today in this fast-paced debut novel.
Bize-Boutte is an award-winning writer, poet, and Pushcart Nominee. In this interview she talks about her experiences.
BLG: Tell us when you knew you were a writer. Who encouraged you to tell your stories?
SJBB: I am from a family of storytellers and voracious readers, so writing was a natural addition to that portfolio. I knew I was a writer at 12 years old when my parents bought me a Smith Corona typewriter and I wrote my first story. I had imagined stories before then and wrote a few things down in pencil, but my passion was not solidified and off to the races until I was gifted that typewriter. Incidentally, my first story was about pencils.
BLG: Are there real experiences you’ve observed or heard about woven into your novel? Can you give us a couple of examples?
SJBB: As you know, fiction is always informed by lived reality and for Betrayal on the Bayou that is an embedded fact. I tell people my imagination has always been my best friend and so, the combination and sometimes hybrid presentation of fact and imagination are present in the novel.
As an example, one of the lead characters, Margot, is a mixture of the personalities, essences, physical attributes, occupations, and unfathomable heartbreak of several of the most important women in my life, the women who shaped me. In Margot, people who know me will see my mother who never completely overcame her tragedies and yet was a woman of incomparable substance and will, my aunt who made clothing, from the hats to the shoes, for Hollywood’s famous, my great-aunt who flourished in the Jim Crow south despite the restrictions on her very being, and me, a Black woman in America, and all that means. Those who don’t will discover my truths in this work of fiction.
Another example is the phrase, “the rain she come, the bisic pass on you,” from a story my father told us as children. I took that phrase and re-imagined it as connected to my novel and gave it a new and different life with a more expansive meaning within the Creole and code noir culture I was describing and a commentary on how a myriad of things may have been in the fictional Louisiana town I built. In other words, I did what I do when I write fiction. I took a speck of something, added a dose of imagination, and blew it up into a story all its own.
BLG: I’ve been fascinated by Creoles since I found a reference to them in a poem in my 7th grade reader. What inspired you to write about Creoles and their struggles in Louisiana?
SJBB: My father was a Creole from Louisiana. I did not want to write a biography; I have already done many published stories and articles on my parents. Yet, I was compelled to write something about the Creoles and one day, after ten years of procrastination, all the stories I had been told over the years, all the summer visits, all the food and the joy, and the deceptions, came together with imagination and boom, it was all just there, fully formed, the words hitting the pages like magic.
But the book is not just about the Creoles. Far from it. There are many human and structural characters woven into the novel. In addition to the people in the story, I explore aspects of colorism, elitism, gender bias, inequality, sexism, and what I consider other “betrayals” in the world I created inspired by a culture with which I am familiar. I put it all in. I let it all out.
BLG: Which characters and events were hardest to write about? Why?
SJBB: The hardest was Margot’s heartbreak. It is a horrifying cruelty born of racial hatred. It was the scene that took me 10 years to be able to write. It was extremely difficult and written through a torrent of tears. Once I knew I could write the passage, I knew the rest of the book would just fall out. And it did.
Another difficult character was Marie. Her torment was inspired by the life of a close relative, who floated on the surface to avoid destruction.
BLG: How did writing poetry influence your process?
SJBB: My penchant for the poetic often results in uniquely formed prose in my story writing. In poetry, I believe that every line is a poem, and my stories are heavily influenced by that. It also means that in my story writing, I do not always adhere to traditional grammatical and phraseology conventions, which can be misunderstood or unaccepted by some and cause “editors” to pull out the red pen and provide “corrections.” But it is my voice, and I will always be true to it. Because the ultimate gift to me as a writer is reaching those who can “see” my writing.
BLG: I admire your confidence. Has teaching improved your writing? How?
SJBB: I don’t think teaching has improved my writing, but I do feel strongly that sharing what I have learned with others is a part of the circle of writing. By that I mean, I am comfortable with the way I express myself with words and I teach to help others feel the same and to share what I know, what I have learned and what I am still discovering.
BLG: What do you hope readers will take from Betrayal on the Bayou?
SJBB: That there are many stories of people, particularly Black people, that some may not know. That we are complex beings. That colorism and racism are cruel and not always visible. That just because you don’t know about something, doesn’t mean it did not happen. That things that went on, pairings that occurred, are not new things, but existed long ago in different and sometimes, the same, settings. That there are some very bad people in this world. That there are angels. That we must save and nourish the angels among us.
BLG: Was it always your intention to publish the book independently or did you submit to agents first? What advice can you give readers about independent publishing?
SJBB: When an unplanned opportunity arose to “pitch” the story to a traditional publisher, I took advantage of it, but I knew there was no interest when their eyes glazed over and they said, “Well it sounds like a story worth telling.” Since I had always wanted to publish on my own to protect my “voice,” I took that route, and I am happy that I did. I feel I told the story I wanted to tell in the ways that I wanted to tell it, without interference or lack of understanding by an outside party.
My advice for independent publishing is twofold:
Make sure you carve out adequate time to market your work. People need to see you and your writing in as many venues as you can reach.
Invest in a good editor. I thought I had, but unfortunately, I had not. The bad thing is copies got out with mostly punctuation errors. The good thing is, since my independently published book is print on demand, I was able to get the mistakes corrected and have the book re-posted. But I also have to say that some of the strongest and best reviews I received were on the early uncorrected copies, proving that for some, even the worst editing job can’t get in the way of a solid story. Even now, I suspect we did not catch all the errors, but neither did Ernest Hemingway, Walter Mosley, or Sue Grafton, and many other famous, best-selling authors.
I consider myself to be in good company and am happy about the response to my book.
BLG: What are you working on now and where can people learn more about you?
SJBB: In a bit of a departure from Betrayal on the Bayou, which is, at times, dystopian, I am in the process of writing a sci-fi novel. The first chapter won an award in the 2021 San Francisco Writers Conference Writing Contest and is published in their 2021 anthology.
You can read more about me and what I am up to at: www.sheryljbize-boutte.com. Thank you again for this interview opportunity.
BLG: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I agree that your voice comes through loudly and clearly. You’ve done a great job of sharing a part of the culture that many people would like to know more about.
Looking for a book that is both historical and timely? Looking for a fast-moving story that will grab and hold you? Get a copy of Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte’s Betrayal on the Bayou.
- COUNT THE WAYS
- Written by Joyce Maynard and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 978-0062398277
- William Morrow (July 13, 2021)
Love, Pain, Forgiveness and More
What is the cost of holding on and is it higher than the cost of letting go? What is the cost of telling your children the truth and what is the cost of hiding it? Joyce Maynard’s narrator, Eleanor explores protection, love, marriage, children, divorce and other unanticipated changes in Maynard’s newest novel, Count the Ways.
Eleanor and her husband, Cam, meet at a craft faire where he’s selling hand made burl bowls. She’s a successful children’s writer and illustrator. Opposites attract. Already the owner of a farm she wants to live on forever, they soon live there together. She loves his company, his handsome body, and his relaxed approach to life. With three lively children in their lives, she finds herself supporting the family as well as working to be the perfect mother. Publishing contract canceled? She’ll find another way to bring in money. Someone has to. There are bills to pay and Cam gives away more bowls than he sells. Christmas cake not appreciated? She’ll slam her masterpiece into the trash.
She gives and gives until Cam does something that alters the life of their youngest child. Their marriage falters irreparably. How can she ever forgive him? Her resentments and perfectionism grow in leaps and bounds. How much will both of them lose and how will it impact their children?
Maynard writes with finesse, foreshadowing outcomes without predicting them. Her attention to detail brings each moment to life. Pain is often a part of loving someone, and Maynard depicts the full range of events and emotions this family goes through with empathy. It’s a beautiful story covering a lifetime of love, loss, and rebirth. There’s a lot to identify with in this book.
- GOODBYE ORCHID: To Love Her, He Had To Leave Her
- Written by Carol Van Den Hende and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 978-1646631889
- Koehler Books (October 2020)
Love and Disability
What happens if fear and silence thwart a promising relationship? Can love overcome silence, and what would it take to make that work?
In Goodbye Orchid foxy, successful Phoenix puts his girl friend on a plane to China, and on his way back to the office his life is permanently altered when a homeless man he’s trying to help pushes him onto the train tracks. The train crushes an arm and a leg. On a scale of 1-10, the adjustments he faces are at least a 12. Is his handicap insurmountable? And how will the love of his life, who witnessed her parents’ murder and can’t stand to look at pictures of the disabled, react to the new Phoenix?
Set mostly in a burgeoning boutique ad agency in New York City, this is a well-researched story about what the loss of limbs can do to a couple. Readers will empathize with both Phoenix and Orchid, the girl friend in China who doesn’t know what happened to her lover. Author Carol Van Den Hende delves into the ever-escalating emotional consequences that each of them face at the same time she creates a promising story of overcoming physical obstacles. It’s also a story of clashing egos, the need to be right, and resistance to compromise.
Phoenix’s twin brother, Caleb tries to help out of a combination of guilt and familial loyalty, not that he was in the train station. A concerned mother, a pushy assistant, and a collection of former girlfriends round out the cast. The author tackles a subject that’s still underrepresented in a compelling way.
Author Carol Van Den Hende is an award-winner who writes about resilience and hope. Goodbye, Orchid won the 2020 American Fiction Award for urban fiction, 2020 Pinnacle Achievement Award for multicultural fiction, IAN Outstanding Fiction for Best New Novel, Royal Dragonfly Award, Audiobook Reviewer Author of the Year and more. It was named one of the most anticipated fall reads by Buzzfeed, Parade, and Travel+Leisure, and has been featured in Glamour, the Chicago Tribune, the LA Times, DIYMFA, WABC Radio among others. She’s also a speaker, strategist, Board member and Climate Reality Leader.
If you like quick romances filled with love, heartbreak, and courage, this is a book you shouldn’t miss.
- THEN SHE WAS GONE: A Novel
- Written by Lisa Jewell and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 978-1501154645
- Publisher : Atria Books; 3rd Printing edition (April 17, 2018)
Why would a 15-year-old girl with everything to live for disappear one day? She had no reason to run away. No one saw her being kidnapped. Her boyfriend has no clue where she is. So what happened and what would her disappearance cost her family and friends? Author Lisa Jewell explores all of this along with some creepy motives and bizarre coincidences in her latest suspenseful mystery thriller, Then She Was Gone.
Ten years after Ellie disappears a week before her final exams, what remains of her body and backpack is discovered in the woods. Her mother, Laurel, has been distraught and unable to move on. Laurel’s husband, Paul, divorced her, and her other daughter, Hanna, remains distant, so when she meets a new man, Floyd, she welcomes his companionship. She feels whole again.
When Laurel meets Floyd’s daughter Poppy, she’s struck by how much Poppy looks like her dead daughter, Ellie. The eyes, the hair, and even her natural intelligence are spookily familiar. Poppy is bright, sophisticated, and thoroughly dedicated to her dad. Is she something more?
Laurel cannot explain the connection. Her daughter is dead, but this has to be more than a coincidence, and why did she meet Floyd a few weeks after Ellie’s funeral?
Through a series of harrowing and unexpected events that alternate between the past and present, we see how one twisted individual can destroy the life of anyone who gets in her way. This is a psychological thriller with some disturbing scenes and actions, but it is so well written that most readers will keep flipping pages to find out what happened to Ellie and how her near-clone shows up as the daughter of Laurel’s new boyfriend.
It’s complex, unusual, and a vital reader for those who are drawn to the genre, though it may not be right for anyone suffering from depression or a trauma. Despite the excellent writing and the intriguing organization and storytelling, this book isn’t right for everyone. I hope you’ll be one of the people who can read and enjoy it.
- WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS
- Written by Stacey Abrams and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN #: 978-0385546577
- Doubleday (May 11, 2021)
When Medical Science and Ethics Collide
“Science is the greatest trick the Devil ever played on man!” Justice Wynn screams at a graduation ceremony where audience members worry about his sanity. Has paranoia become the latest symptom of his deteriorating health or is something very different going on?
In a world where medical science and ethics collide more and more frequently, and the combination of greed and power control many decision makers, something unimaginable is afoot. Stacey Abrams addresses these issues in her nail-biting first novel, While Justice Sleeps, the story of a law clerk turned guardian for an incapacitated Supreme Court Judge with a fatal disease.
When Supreme Court Justice Wynn, who holds the swing vote in a divided court, slides into a coma, his law clerk, Avery Keene, discovers he expects her to serve as his legal guardian and power of attorney for reasons he’s never discussed with her. A chess fan, he leaves obscure clues that lead Keene and Wynn’s son to his involvement in a proposed merger between an American biotech company and an Indian genetics firm. Some sacrifices are too extreme, and the project, which could save lives, could also destroy groups that share genetic markers.
Why doesn’t Justice Wynn use a family member as a guardian? What skills or knowledge does Avery Keene have that they don’t?
The answers emerge as Keene struggles with the layers of intrigue that he trusts her to dig through. Abrams brings extensive knowledge of politics and the judicial system along with skilled, complex thought to this novel that rises above the intrigue in most mystery novels. This is an intellectual whodunit.
I was drawn to author. Intrigued, I stayed for a first-class look at the roles of politics and power in this fictitious story. I look forward to reading more of Abrams work. You don’t want to miss this story.