My new novel, HUSH, BOY, is one giant step closer to completion. I finished the first draft this week and now I've started the arduous task of re-reading, revising, and editing. That should take three or four months and HUSH, BOY will be ready for the world by early summer.
Here's a preview for you--an excerpt from one of Hush, Boy's early chapters. This action takes place on a small farm in South Georgia. The protagonist, Jonathan, is five years old. Madge, his aunt, is ten.
knew for sure Mama loved me. She was really my grandmother, but everybody at the farm called her Mama, so I did, too. In addition to everything else, Mama even saved my
life one day—saved me from a big ol' rattlesnake. I’d heard there were plenty
of rattlers in south Georgia, and I knew we had some of ’em on the farm. but I
didn’t know any of ’em were big as the one I ran into.
on one hot afternoon in the middle of that summer I went down to the barn with Madge
to have a look at the new calf. “I think he’s cute, Jon,” she said. “Let’s go
look at him. He’s the same color as the mama cow, but he’s a boy. I like him a
lot…you will, too.”
do you know he’s a boy, Madge? Did Mama tell you that?”
dummy, I just looked at him. You know…down there. He’s a boy, like you. He’s
gonna grow up someday to be a great big, strong bull.”
what I want to do, Madge. I want to grow up big.”
will, silly. All you have to do is wait—you’ll grow up before you know it.”
was another thing I wanted real bad, but I didn’t tell Madge about that…that
was somethin’ I couldn’t talk to anybody about. I really wanted Granddaddy to
and me got to the barn pretty quick—it wasn’t much of a barn, just a storage
shed and a stall for the cow. When we walked up, the cow’s rear end was facing
out toward the stall gate, which was made out of open wood slats. I stood real close
and looked in between the slats. The calf had messed up the straw and the dirty
smell made me turn up my nose, but I wasn’t afraid. Mama had taught me that cow
was my friend and she showed me how to get the milk out of the cow’s udder. The
calf was standing up underneath the mama cow, chewing at one of her teats.
said, “Look, Jon, she’s feedin’ him. He’s drinking the milk.”
can’t see him too good, the way she keeps swishing her tail around like that.”
tail’s right in your face, ain’t it? Climb up on the gate and jump over on the
cow’s back. You can prob’ly see him better from up there.”
did what Madge said. The cow didn’t seem to mind. I’d been on her back lots of
times before. But, all at once, she turned around with her head facing the open
barnyard. She sort of backed up into one corner of the stall, pushin’ at the
gate with her head, kickin’ at something in the stall with her hind legs. The
calf wiggled around with her, not ever letting go of the teat, but I had to
hold on tight to keep from fallin’ down in the straw.
opened the gate a little way to get a closer look at the calf. She put her hand
on the cow’s head to calm her down. Then, all at once, Madge screamed real loud—screamed
bloody murder, like she was scared to death. “Lordy, Jon, there’s a great big
rattlesnake right there in the corner of the stall. He’s all coiled up and
shakin’ his rattle. You hear it?” Madge slammed the gate shut and ran away, ran
fast as lightenin’ toward the house. She ran so fast I didn’t have time to call
for help or say anything else.
first I thought Madge was teasin’, trying to scare me. But the cow was nervous,
shying toward the gate, pullin’ away from the back of the stall, kickin’ a lot.
She turned around one more time, dragging the calf with her, until she was
facing the back of the stall again, her tail end toward the gate, stompin’
around with her front feet. I looked down over the cow’s head and saw her big
brown, scared-lookin’ eyes. Then I saw the snake. A great big snake, the biggest
snake I’d ever seen. “Shit!” I yelled…that’s a word I’d heard Madge’s brother
say when he was scared.
was trapped. The cow was too jumpy for me to climb back over to the gate. I
couldn’t get down in the stall, the rattler was down there, movin’ its head
back and forth, watchin’ for the best time to strike at something. I knew that
little calf was a goner if the snake bit him, and I wasn’t much bigger than the
calf—that rattler could kill me with one strike.
slow and easy, staring right into the snake’s mean-looking eyes, I pulled my
legs up on top of the cow and tried to think of some way to get out of there. I
wanted to ease around so I could edge toward the gate, but the cow was stamping
at the snake with her front hooves, moving around so much I was afraid I’d fall
off, so I just stayed put and grabbed hold of the cow’s ears.
was just about to give up when, from behind me, I heard, “Hold on tight,
Jonathan. Stay up there, boy.” Thank goodness—it was Mama’s voice. “Don’t try
to climb off her back, you’ll fall if you do.” Quiet as a mouse, Mama had crept
up to the stall gate carrying a garden hoe with a long handle. “Don’t you
worry, hon, I’ll get you down.”
twisted my neck around so I could watch Mama. She opened the gate, opened it
real slow, holding tight onto the hoe. “Now jump off, Jon. Jump hard as you
can, jump right out here behind me. Be quick now, boy.”
cow was still doing battle with the rattler, a mama fightin’ for her baby.
Quick as a wink, I turned around and pushed off the cow’s back with my bare feet,
jumpin’ out through the open gate. I jumped right over Mama’s shoulder like a
landed hard on my chest, face down on the soft dirt behind Mama. I tried to get
right up, but I couldn’t breathe. I thought I must be dyin’ or somethin’, then
my breath came back and I saw Mama grab the calf by his head and jerk him out
of the stall like he was light as a feather. After that she took hold of the
cow’s hind quarters and nudged her backwards right out through the gate.
way clear then, Mama walked straight in the stall. She headed right toward the
big rattler, holding the hoe out in front of her like a shield, movin’ it back
and forth real slow to catch the snake’s eye. Sure enough, the snake struck at
the moving hoe, and, quick as a wink, Mama struck back. She moved faster than
that ol’ snake, and the hoe blade fell true, chopping off the snake’s head. The
cow nosed her calf to safety around the corner of the barn.
no time at all, Mama got rid of the dead snake—picked it right up by the tail
and threw it way across the barnyard. Then she pushed the frightened cow and
her calf back into the stall and closed the gate. She put her arm around me and
held me close while we walked real slow back to the house. “It’s alright now,
Jon—that rattler’s dead,” she said. “Everything’s okay now. You don’t hafta be
scared no more.”