“Jean Brashear’s wholly original, funny and poignant novel has a heart as big as Texas. Told in a warm and intimate voice, it’s like a road trip with your best friend. Don’t miss it!”~#1 New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs
Sometimes life gives us gifts of pure grace; one such for me has been meeting Pea O'Brien, the protagonist of THE GODDESS OF FRIED OKRA. She began as an exercise in sheer fun—sitting on my deck in a wicker rocker, taking a few weeks off from my contracted writing to see if, after several years as a working writer, I still remembered how to play, how to write for the simple pleasure of it, a joy too easily lost under the pressure of deadlines and expectations.
I knew nothing about Pea, even her name at first—only that a psychic had sent this woman on the road to search for the reincarnated soul of the sister she desperately missed. It all seemed like a lark those first few days, drinking this killer Mexican iced coffee recipe I got from Barbara Samuel (so much of said coffee wound up practically eating a hole in my stomach, but it's not Barbara's fault I brewed it so dang strong.) I'd sit and sip and type on my Alphasmart while listening to birdsong under my live oaks...and see where Pea would take me next.
When it was time to get back to my deadlines, Pea was never far from me, and over the next few years I returned to her often, letting the flight of fancy take me away whenever I could scrape up a day here or there.
Sometimes flights of fancy lead to real life experiences...and vice versa. My husband and I love taking back roads whenever possible (he has a whole collection of photos of oddball sights) and on one of our rambles, I spotted a sign for the Conan the Barbarian Festival in Cross Plains, Texas. Who knew?!? We were too late for that year's festival, but we detoured to Cross Plains, anyway, and indulged in such landmarks as the mural on the side of the library (wanna see the picture of me and Conan?) and Robert E. Howard's homeplace.
The year following, I'd forgotten all about the festival until I ran across a notice that it would be occurring in three days' time. Ring, ring: "Lover man, I know you're trying to make a living, but this is important—how would you like to go to Cross Plains this weekend?" Long silence. Then laughter. "I'm sure that's exactly what I was thinking, I just didn't know it." Never let it be said that this man doesn't love me. (Also, don't ask him where else on God's green earth I've dragged him in the name of research, OK?)
Three days later, we were in Cross Plains, watching the parade. (I cannot tell you how disappointed I was not to find cowboys in furry leggings with breastplates and helmets, brandishing broadswords—and okay, it's my dirty little secret that there is no sword-fighting competition at the festival as there is in my book.)
But there should be.
Speaking of Conan's daddy REH...I cannot positively recall how Howard's bloodthirsty, sword-wielding women got involved in my story, but I think it began with touring the tiny library and looking at first editions and manuscripts, then coming back home and ordering some of his books. I read the one called Sword Woman, and—voila!
There was Dark Agnes on the cover, nosecone breastplate and all, trying to take off this big burly brute's head with an evil-looking sword. She'd been her father's work animal, then sold to a husband but escaped, only to wind up befriended by a man who taught her swordplay—then tried to sell her, too. Heck, she had to become bloodthirsty just to survive. She seemed to me to be exactly the sort of spirit guide the lost and lonely Pea needed.
But how to connect the two? Well...on another back roads meandering a few years earlier, I'd spotted this gun shop housed in a portable building (pictures of that, too, on my website) that never quite left my mind. Presto—Guns 'N' Glory, owned by a ferocious former Marine named...yep, Glory. She's the person, in the story, who decides Pea needs toughening up and hey, doesn't it seem perfectly in character that she's a big fan of warrior goddesses and good ol' whack job REH? (Gimme a big Heck, yeah!) I never went inside the real gun shop (closed every time we drove by) but I'm pretty sure it doesn't have crystals hanging from the ceiling or a lunch box collection.
But it should.
(Are you seeing a trend here? Ah, the godlike powers we writers wield!)
This book probably sounds a wee bit quirky—and, okay, it is—but I think I became the truest me as a writer I've ever experienced in the process of writing it. I went through a lot of agonizing and reworking and second-guessing myself (to say nothing of all the other people who second-guessed me) but in the end, I zigzagged and wrung my hands and got as stubborn as I was scared until I listened enough to my gut to unearth the version that I hoped like the dickens the amazing Debs of BelleBooks would "get" because I just felt in my heart that they would do right by the story.
Well, they did get it—and like it enough to buy it, these women I have so admired for years—which made every low point worth it, every moment of trying to hold onto my faith and keep going. And since then, I've experienced the enormous pleasure of spending several months playing with these fascinating and brilliant women in the most author-friendly environment I can imagine. To then also have some fabulous writers love it enough to give me killer quotes, well...as a writer, I don't know how life gets any better than this.
Mission accomplished. Joy rediscovered.
Jean Brashear is the author of 23 novels in romance and women’s fiction, with sales of more than 1.6 million copies, she is a three-time RITA finalist and Romantic Times BOOKReviews Career Achievement Award winner.
Book Trailer: http://bellebooks.com/books/GoddessofFriedOkra.asp