Fairhope author Suzanne Hudson writes about people on the psychological, social, and emotional fringe. Her stories often include sexual assault, lies, neglectful mothers, whiskey, and a character that briefly rises above it, if only for a moment, or with a gun. Her new collection of short stories, “All The Way to Memphis” comes out on Saturday, June 21 with a book launch at her home on Waterhole Branch in Fairhope.
The late writer William Gay said that Hudson writes like a fallen angel. Her book launch party is “Fallen Angels, Women from the Wagons-Circled Mind of Suzanne Hudson” with readings by Hudson mixed with the songs of James Taylor, BenTaylor, and Jackson Brown selected to fit the tone and theme of the readings. The songs will be played by local musicians Chris Spies, John Milham, Chris Clifton, and Eric Erdman.
Hudson’s descriptions of rape, incest, and anger in her short stories and novels (In a Temple of Trees and In the Dark of the Moon) are hard to digest, but her writing is a current carrying the reader to the moment of relief or revenge. Women or children born into hard lives fight their way through to survival.
“The noise of it, set off from her own thin fingers, crashed booming into the wild silence of the forest, an ear-ringing power of more dimension than she could have ever imagined and its echo cracked and cracked its fade into a silence. And she liked it. So she practiced, asked him to teach her how to load, clean and care for the thing, squealed with the thrill of firing it, exhilarated by its deafening blasts, those sounds that had more than once chased her from her little bed. … She put aim at beer cans and milk cartons and squares of cardboard with bull’s-eyes drawn on them. She exploded an olive green wine bottle she had found under her mother’s bed, sending a spary of glass bits sparkling like emeralds scattered to the sky.
From “The Thing with Feathers”
“The Thing With Feathers” started with a notion about a girl who gets revenge and a line from an Emily Dickinson poem, hope is the thing with feathers. “Revenge simmers there and it spills out,” says Hudson. “It is different from my other stories because there is little dialogue, but that is the way the story came out. That one surprised me. It is one of my best stories.”
Her stories are rich in description down to details such as the “the drying embryonic spittle stuck bits of eggshells to the summer-toughened skin of her soles” and the “harsh smell of sun-dappled black dirt and juices of roly-poly bugs and rotten figs.”
Hudson does not know where these stories come from because they aren’t the stories of her life. “Talking with the book team, it hit me that I write really dark as a body of work,” says Hudson. “Writing scenes where a character slits another character’s throat or abuses a child are pretty disturbing and tough to get through. As far as I know, I wasn’t abused. I had a great childhood and some of the smaller details come from the experiences I have had in my life. You don’t know they are there, but when I am writing from a child’s point of view it pops up.”
Hudson forces readers to experience the emotions and desires that many people keep locked away. An empathy and understanding can grow from shock and disgust for the characters who do bad things.
“I like writing about people on the margins,” says Hudson. “People who only want to see the pretty sides of life, well that is just a lie. The people that seem the prettiest is a lie too. I learned that being a middle school guidance counselor. There was a lot of superficial show that was not real. We grow up and start telling the family secrets and realize how crazy we are. Stories of other people can also make you feel better about your own life or realize you aren’t alone.”
Hudson often writes about self-absorbed women who stick to their men, no matter how rotten he is. “I have come across many kids who were set aside because their mama was giving all of her attention to a man,” says Hudson. “Sometimes the children need the man to go away, but mama isn’t paying attention.”
After the encouragement of a high school English teacher, Hudson majored in creative writing. One of her first stories was published in Penthouse after winning an international short fiction contest judged by the likes of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and Toni Morrison and agents began to call. She wrote her first novel and it received good comments. “They told me to make some changes and they would take another look at it, but I never did,” says Hudson. “I got scared and thought it was too fast and it didn’t feel right. If I put myself out there in a big way, people would tear me to shreds. I quit writing and came here to teach English and Spanish and eventually became a school guidance counselor.”
Years later, good friend and writer Sonny Brewer forced her out from under her rock and into writing again. “My writing is better than it was back then,” says Hudson. “I have more life experiences and perspective. I can see things more clearly.”
Hudson writes from her bed, typing the words into her laptop. She describes herself as a lazy writer that does not have to write all of the time. “I am not disciplined, but when I sit down to write, it rolls,” she says. “It is not agony to sit down and write. The effort for me is writing a story and going back through it over and over and adding in descriptions. It usually comes out in chunks over several weeks and it almost never comes out right the first time. Most of the time I have to tinker.”
Hudson ends stories with unanswered questions about characters. “All the Way to Memphis” ends with the main character, Clista, turning the car around and returning home to the husband she murdered. “I don’t know what happened next to Clista,” she says. “I let stories go when I finish them so the reader can do whatever he or she wants. Maybe that was a trick on reality, and maybe she didn’t kill him. Maybe it was a dream and everything is fine and she doesn’t have to have sex with her husband, and he can keep doing whatever he does.”
“I still have a few novels left in me,” says Hudson. “It is good to know that after I catch the bus out of here, there is something left behind for my children and grandchildren to remember me.”
To attend, “Fallen Angels, Women from the Wagon Circled Mind of Suzanne Hudson,” R.S.V.P to [email protected] “All the Way to Memphis” will be sold that night and it will also be available through Page and Palette in Fairhope and on Amazon.com.0