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If the Creek Don't Rise: A Novel Paperback – August 22, 2017
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From the Publisher
Bestselling author Kathleen Grissom interviews debut author Leah Weiss.
Hello Dear Readers:
One of the greatest joys of having written THE KITCHEN HOUSE and GLORY OVER EVERYTHING is that it has led to so many gracious invitations by book clubs, inviting me into the living rooms and lives of so many wonderful people. As an avid reader myself, I still pinch myself when I think about the fact that my job involves meeting kindred spirits to talk about our mutual love of books.
I am writing today to introduce you to one such kindred spirit, Leah Weiss, a wonderful writer who I met at a book club six years ago and who has become a dear friend. Leah’s debut novel, IF THE CREEK DON’T RISE that comes out in bookstores today, has already received many 5-star posts on Goodreads from book review bloggers. It also has the distinction of being chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance as an Okra pick. This book is such a perfect book club read that I couldn’t wait to be the first to publicly congratulate Leah on her outstanding debut.
Many of you have asked me about the writing process, and I thought a conversation with Leah might give you greater insight into the route a book takes from inspiration to the bookstore shelf, and in the bargain, I get to spend the afternoon reminiscing with a good friend over a cup of tea.
(Kathy) I remember meeting you at Christmas of 2011 when I spoke about THE KITCHEN HOUSE at your book club dinner gathering. I enjoyed you immediately! You were easy to talk to and you made me laugh with your quick wit. When I learned you were a writer I knew we could become fast friends. We agreed to meet for dinner and conversation. There I learned you had written a novel that didn’t find an agent, and some short stories that did get published, but you were committed to your craft.
(Leah) I was tenacious about my goal, wasn’t I? While our friendship developed, I continued to cut my writing teeth the old-fashioned way. I worked with a local critique group, submitted entries to writing contests, studied winning entries, attended writing conferences and practiced, practiced, practiced.
(Kathy) Is there any other way to learn to write?
(Leah) None that I can think of. While I wrote, I was also conscious of the timing: when I could have been finalizing plans to retire, I was gearing up for a new career, with nothing but determination, some published short stories and hope to light the way.
(Kathy) But you didn’t give up, and that’s the key to success. You and I share a strong work ethic as well as maturity. I think our age is a blessing and makes us better writers. We can write genuinely about love and loss and persevering because we’ve lived through those kinds of times.
(Leah) You’re right. The publication of this book has come later in life for me, but I don’t waste time wishing I had written more sooner. I believe I’m exactly where I should be.
(Kathy) Which brings us to your book IF THE CREEK DON’T RISE. Can you give us a snapshot?
(Leah) I’d be happy to. IF THE CREEK DON’T RISE is the story of a tenderhearted girl named Sadie Blue. She lives in the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina in a remote and wild place that holds hardship and only slivers of hope. Young Sadie Blue falls in love with Roy Tupkin, a dangerous man, an abusive man. We come to understand Roy has his own cross to bear, but we can’t forgive his cruelty. The chapters interweave ten characters from the fictional settlement of Baines Creek. Among them are the self-doubting preacher, the teacher from the valley, and a crone named Birdie. They attempt to save Sadie from herself but fail, for in the end—as we readers find out—Sadie alone must save herself. The Kirkus reviewer described the book as part Gothic, part romance, and part heartbreaking Miss Loretta Lynn ballad. I like that.
(Kathy) What an authentic, southern voice you deliver. Where did that come from?
(Leah) I was born in eastern North Carolina but have lived in Virginia since I was ten, close to the Blue Ridge Mountains I love, so I’ve been surrounded by southern dialect all my life. I’m also partial to great southern writers like Pat Conroy, Harper Lee, Ron Rash, Rick Braggs and Robert Morgan. The combination of all these factors must be at work when I write. But it was my characters who stepped forward with their own unique voices that I’ve managed to tap into. Over the years, I’ve learned to listen better.
(Kathy) I am so excited for you, Leah. As soon as I read the draft you were going to submit to an agent, I knew you had a winner!
(Leah) You read it in two days and said to me, “You’ve done the hard work, Leah, and it shows.” I knew what you meant. I had been patient to fully develop believable characters through draft after draft. Near the end, I even hired a local editor to review my work with an objective eye before I submitted to an agent. That editor looked for holes in the story line, and when she found them, I filled them. That tireless work paid off.
(Kathy) Yes, it did! I was eager to let my agent know about your manuscript, and she snapped it up right away. Since then, you’ve shared with me some of the advance praise for your book, and I predict you have a hit, my friend.
(Leah) The advance praise is satisfying because it comes from readers all over the country, not just the south. It has been particularly delightful having you along on my publishing journey, Kathy. Unlike anyone else in my circle of wonderful friends, you knew the odds that were stacked against me to be traditionally published. You knew the work I’d have to do to write a standout book. The work I’d have to do once I found an agent, then a publisher who believed in this book. That you choose to share a piece of my story with your readers today is testament to the generosity your readers have come to know and love. Your humility through all you’ve accomplished serves as my model. You ground me, Kathy, and I am grateful.
(Kathy) The pleasure is mine, Leah. You and I have been given a gift and we would be remiss if we didn't write down the stories our characters offered us. How lucky are we, as friends, to share this journey.
"This one nearly broke my heart. With deeply human characters I will not easily forget, Weiss captures the fierce pull of desperation and the formidable power of hope. An impressive debut from a talent to watch.... " - Kathleen Grissom, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Kitchen House and Glory Over Everything
"Every page of Leah Weiss' debut, If the Creek Don't Rise, has a pulse as fierce and unyielding as its Appalachian setting. Told through an ensemble of narrators, men and women of all ages bound by the inescapable power of place and belonging, it is a lush exploration of the darkest rooms in the human heart, and the brightest fires of the human spirit. Weiss' remarkable gift for language left me breathless, and her characters, distinctive and unapologetically-human, will haunt me for some time." - Erika Marks, author of The Last Treasure
"Writing with a deep knowledge of the enduring myths of Appalachia, Weiss vividly portrays real people and sorrows. A strong, formidable novel for readers of William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy." - Library Journal
"...tender but powerful debut...highlighting Weiss's considerable characterization skills." - Publishers Weekly
"Weiss' tale is a beguiling, compelling read." - Kirkus
"...masterful use of language....Weiss' novel is a great suggestion for fans of the Big Stone Gap books, by Adriana Trigiani, and Mitford series, by Jan Karon." - Booklist
"[A] striking debut." - BUSTLE
"Like Daniel Woodrell's 'hillbilly noir' novel Winter's Bone - adapted into a tremendous backwoods thriller starring a then unknown Jennifer Lawrence - Leah Weiss's Appalachia-set fiction debut unfolds like a dark, gripping alt-country ballad. " - Yahoo!
"...fascinating, gripping... an immersive and deeply emotional reading experience - especially satisfying for readers who love richly drawn characters and a strong sense of place" - NPR
About the Author
Leah Weiss is a Southern writer born in North Carolina and raised in the foothills of Virginia. Her debut novel IF THE CREEK DON'T RISE will be released in August of 2017. Her short stories have been published in The Simple Life magazine, Every Day Fiction and Deep South Magazine. She retired in 2015 from a 24-year career as Executive Assistant to the Headmaster at Virginia Episcopal School. She now pursues writing full time and enjoys speaking to book clubs. You can contact her on her website leahweiss.com
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This is for many reasons one of the very best books I've read in ages, and really good books, unfortunately, are rather rare these days for picky readers. I almost passed on it because reading about Appalachia is not of interest to me, despite family ties. But folks, the sense of place, of time, of people I've seen and talked with, was so eerily familiar--and uncomfortable in places--that I was hooked from the first page, as they say.
The characters, the ones you cheer for and the ones who irritate you and the ones you might take a 30-aught-six to without a qualm, are simply brilliant, each with his or her own distinct voice. There was not a cliche among the entire gaggle. Not one. Even the villains are graced with a history that gives you pause, and their actions, though reprehensible at best, and truly evil at worst, arise from a great deal more than the usual motivations.
This novel also contains the best--and most judicious--use of accurate North Carolina mountain dialogue I've heard since the last time I went to Decoration Sunday at the South Toe River Baptist Church within tobacco-spitting distance of Burnsville. I believe it should serve as a "how-to" manual for other writers whose fondness for dialect is often misplaced.
Then there's the plot, a string of points of view from the characters like salt-water pearls knotted on a golden chain. An amazing feat that again is rarely done well. I found no hint of what was to come, or how, which adds to what is, after all, a suspenseful tale. In this case, I thought the "getting there" was a heartbreakingly lovely, often painful, and quite satisfying journey in and of itself. Othe reviewers have provided the plot outlines but as usual, I prefer to say why the plot works for me.
Bottom line: I just bet you can't put this one down, or at least not for long.
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