The Grass Sweeper God
by Doug Howery
GENRE: Historical Fiction
Sixteen-year-old Smiley Hanlon is a young woman tethered to a young man’s body. In the 1950’s Appalachia coal fields of Solitude, Virginia, Smiley is placed in the “Mentally Retarded Class” because he is effeminate and wears a blouse and saddle shoes to school.
Smiley is backed by his best friend, Lee Moore who protects Smiley from a father and many townspeople who hate him. Smiley has dreams of becoming an entertainer. Raised by his aunt in a juke joint, as a child Smiley sings and dances on the Formica bar top into the wee hours. Chosen as the female lead, Dorothy, in a new town production called Dorothy of Oz Coal Camp, his dream is being realized. The triumph of the play and his dream is sabotaged by his father and classmate bullies culminating in a tragic and horrific moment that changes both Smiley and Lee, forever.
Smiley and Lee flee to NYC. They learn that prejudice is prejudice whether in the coal fields of Virginia or on the streets of NYC. Smiley suffers at the hands of his real mother who is a religious zealot. She tries to change who Smiley is because he is a boil on the body of Christ. Lee suffers at the hands of psychologists who practice Aversion Therapy-electric shock treatment to cure his homosexuality.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Both Smiley and Lee become forces of change as do countless others. In 1969, Smiley Hanlon and his friend, Lee emerge as leaders of a gay revolution, the historical Stonewall Riots. The riots are vicious but the real battle will be won or lost on another continent: Solitude, Virginia.
The Grass Sweeper God is a force of nature that flows through all things…straightens out that which is bent…which is sick…
This godforsaken place was the backwoods of Appalachia coal mining country. And being sixteen meant a cultured age of about ten or twelve, really. Especially if you were retarded and rode the short bus. This meant riding a school bus designated specifically as the retarded kids’ bus, but it also meant boarding normal kids alongside retards at each bus stop. The only real specificity: If you were trapped inside the wrong body—if you were a young man who wanted to be a young woman—you were the bull’s eye in the kids’ cross-hairs because you were the biggest, retarded mongoloid excrement of ‘em all, really. Excrement being too proper of a word: Specifically you got the ‘cultured’ and ‘godforsaken’ shit kicked outtaya every school day by retards and rednecks. Proper language left this place along with any civility once branded as a retarded freak, really. Indifference to proper language and civility ruled the day, and brutality beat the night.
DOUG HOWERY has been writing both fiction and essays since 1990. His essays and familial stories have appeared in The Blue Ridge Lambda Press.
In many of his stories, as in “The Grass Sweeper God,” Mr. Howery’s true lode, his font of inspiration is in the passion and suffering he has experienced.
Author, Doug Howery penned the novel with insight into his own struggle for sexual identity and personal tragedy. His mother committed suicide in 1982, blaming her two sons’ sexual identity in a letter and declaring herself a martyr for intolerance and social bigotry. She referred to her own sons as “Gutter Rats that Could Rot in Hell” and represents the hate and mistrust that have plagued society.
Suspense author, Maggie Grace, with the North Carolina Writers’ Network writes about her cohort Mr. Howery: “What I like is the riskiness, the cutting edge of the narrative voice we hear. The moments when he lapses into descriptions of the moon, of the horse, etc. are true poetry that offers some relief from the coarseness of the story, and he places them well. He has an ear for the rhythm of the story, a natural sense of when to end–hangs fire with a new way of looking at someone or something, turning the entire chapter on its ear. I like the way he makes it impossible for the reader to stop reading at the end of the chapter.”
Mr. Howery lives in Virginia with his partner of 34 years where he is at work on his next novel.
Book Video Trailer:
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m from Tazewell, Virginia. I grew up in the coal belt of the Appalachian’s. Our little cinderblock home sit
on top of a mountain. We were surrounded by hills and valleys rich with farm life. We were the only
home on the hill for a majority of my youth. It was idealic for a young child. I spent my summers
exploring the countryside & working & playing on the farms. We never thought of locking doors. I fell in
love with horses. There was an Appaloosa horse farm below my home. Carr, the native Indian in my
story is he, the Appaloosa horse farm man. I dearly loved him, he taught me so much.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
I started writing, “The Grass Sweeper God” in 1992 ten years after my mother’s suicide which is the
inspiration for the story. I started by preparation—studying the craft of writing. I knew where to begin and
end the book. It was the middle that was taxing. It was the plot and minor plots that taxed me. I had to
juxtapose NYC to the Appalachian’s mountain life. The story was sweeping in nature because it is a story
of societal change in the backwoods and in NYC.
How do you create your characters?
I base my characters on what I’ve seen in human nature my entire life. I’ve seen a lot, the good, the bad
& the ugly. I then think of a conflict I would put the good, the bad & the ugly in. Put them in a setting that
is out of their comfort zone. For instance, put the ‘bad’ in a good setting & let her create havoc. Put the
‘good’ in a bad place. Watch her wilt or rise to power. Put the ‘ugly’ which can be physically ugly or just
plain mean. Let them shine beautifully or make for uglier. That’s what gets my juices flowing. That’s
what I like to read. I don’t do flowery or Danielle Steele prose.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
How do you get your ideas for writing?
By watching life around me. One has to study people, study how people move, how they talk, how they
react such as their temperament, their sincerity or their phoniness.
What do you like to read?
Espionage, thriller, suspense and historical.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
Study the craft first and foremost. Write when you can. But don’t feel like you must write every day to be
a bonified writer. You either got or you don’t. I tried to write every day because that’s what they teach.
But, I got burnt out. It became a chore. Writing should be pleasurable. So take advice that you feel fits
you and the rest, don’t sweat it, cull it.
Doug Howery will be awarding a $25.00 Amazon GC and an autographed copy of the book to
one randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Please note geographical
restrictions apply. United States only for the physical prize.