Today we welcome back fine artist/teacher and novelist Laura Azzi to Write from the Inside Out. Laura lives in Raleigh, NC, and is extremely active in the Wonderland Book Club, a monthly gathering of the NC Writers’ Network Wake County members. While I’m off hosting my second annual Dream It, Do It Women’s Writing Retreat this weekend (which is SOLD OUT!), please enjoy Laura’s review of A.J. Mayhew’s The Dry Grass of August, who was our featured author guest at Wonderland Book Club in July.
In July 2014, Wonderland Book Club welcomed author Anna Jean (A.J.) Mayhew with her debut novel, The Dry Grass of August. This delightful and beautifully written novel takes place in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the panhandle of Florida during the 1950’s Civil Rights unrest. The 13 year-old narrator, Jubie, travels in a Packard to her uncle’s home in Florida with her mother, three siblings, and the black maid, Mary in August of 1954. Her father remains in Charlotte, the reasons revealed later in the novel.
Jubie, the second oldest child, keenly feels the oppression of blacks by southern whites as they travel deeper into the South. Tragedy and hard choices ensue on a side trip that results in a car accident and an unplanned stop for car repairs in a small town in Georgia. Though it starts off a bit slow, this novel turns into an absorbing page-turner as Jubie’s family dynamics change in the wake of tragedy, prejudice and revelations.
One of the great benefits of Wonderland Book Club is that we meet the authors. Live! In addition to discussing their novels, these authors often discuss their writing process and publishing journey. The author’s candid discussion is both eye–opening and reaffirming to those members who write. To those who only read in the book club, a new member, Elizabeth H. stated, “A writer who does not read is in trouble.”
It took Anna Jean Mayhew 18 years from conception to finish her first novel. It was a three year battle of enduring rejections and revisions to get the book to print. The editing process not only condensed the original manuscript but completely cut a chapter for lack of relevance to the plot. She stated, “I cut the chapter, so it ‘hit the floor’.”
Mayhew credits her strong dialogue to her years as a court reporter. She praises her writing group (of which she’s been a member for 27 years) for its diligence in helping her finish the novel. She also is grateful to her book club for allowing her to read it aloud which put the content “in the moment.”
Meeting the authors in this book club is often like unwrapping a present: Anna Jean Mayhew did not disappoint. I loved how she expressed herself with sheer joy at the book’s endeavor as she gave us her up-close and personal journey. This was topped by a dynamic reading from her novel and her embracing of all questions we asked of her. Ms. Mayhew’s obvious experience with the public and with other book clubs made this author discussion most enjoyable and revealing.
Laura Azzi is a professional artist (watercolor and pen & ink) who teaches at NC State. With her diverse background in biology, medical research and business, Laura is always up for learning new things. She lives in Raleigh, NC, is an active member of the North Carolina Writers’ Network, and is working on her first novel about a dog, called Jacks.