When I first found this community of book bloggers I was thrilled because now I could discuss with others, who had the same passion for books as I did, since I am not surrounded by readers. What I didn’t know was that quite a few of them would become friends. Another thing I didn’t know back then, was not only other bloggers would become friends, but authors too. So when Melissa Foster, author of Megan’s Way and Come Back To Me and who has been a frequent visitor here, emailed me about today’s guest along with the synopsis of her book, I invited her to be a guest.
Please help me welcome Ms. Barbara Taylor Sissel to our group!!!
ABOUT BARBARA TAYLOR SISSEL
Barbara Taylor Sissel is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and editor. In addition to The Ninth Step, she is the author of two other novels, The Volunteer and The Last Innocent Hour. A one-time editor for a small regional press, Barbara has written extensively for the public relations field. Her short stories and articles have appeared in a number of venues.
An avid gardener, Barbara is currently working with numerous clients on a variety of projects and writing a new novel. She has two sons and lives in Texas outside Houston.
At the heart of every crime, there’s a family….
I have always been interested in crime, not the police end of it, nor the courtroom drama, although they can be riveting. No, what I always wonder about are the families, the friends and co-workers of the individuals who committed the crime, or the families and others who’ve had someone close be hurt by a crime. How do these people, the ones who suffer collateral damage so to speak, sit down at the dinner table after such a calamity? How do they get out of bed, go to work? Shop, survive. How do they talk about it, think or feel? Do they/can they forgive? Suppose they believe the one they love who stands convicted is innocent? Suppose they think the victim deserved what they got? In each of my novels … The Last Innocent Hour, The Ninth Step, The Volunteer … these are the questions that dominate the stories I write.
At one time I lived with my family on the grounds of a first-offender prison facility where my husband was a warden. It was located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the middle of the Daniel Boone National Forest, which is basically the middle of nowhere but breathtakingly beautiful. The nearest town, Frenchburg, had a population of 300 people. Mount Sterling, the closest place to grocery shop, was 35 miles down a winding mountain road. In winter, our small prison community was often isolated for days due to heavy snowfall and icy road conditions. We relied on the inmates for many things, help with frozen water pipes, upkeep on our property, maintenance on our vehicles, even food supplies from the prison’s pantry if our individual stores ran low. Once I skidded off the road and my car turned on its side in a ditch. I was lucky. Had the car skidded the other way, I would have tumbled thousands of feet into a gorge. The inmates pulled the car out and got it fixed up and running again.
Most of the prison’s employees and their families lived on a rise above the actual prison grounds. We called our small enclave “the hill”. The prison grounds themselves were below us but in such close proximity that we got to know the inmates and their families quite well. Because the facility was for first offenders, most of the inmates were young, 17 to 25 or so. They were kids and the surprising thing was seeing how closely these boys were still bound to their families. A lot of them grieved the heartbreak they had brought on their parents and the victims of their crimes. Many of them wanted nothing more than to somehow atone for what they’d done. They wanted to serve their time and be given a second chance to prove they could live a productive life. Because the prison was isolated and the care of these guys was so personal and individual, because their parents were brought into the equation and encouraged to participate in the rehabilitation effort, a good number of these kids never showed up in the Kentucky court system again.
People have asked me since if I wasn’t afraid living there. After all I had two small children and much of the time I was on my own. But I was never afraid, have actually never felt more safe than when I lived there. I felt privileged to be exposed to this experience, to be part of the circle of influence that surrounded these young men. They would come to do work around the house, or to entertain my children–one guy would bring his guitar and sing with the whole group of children who lived on the hill. He recited nursery rhymes with them and told them stories. We got a number of Christmas cards from him after he got out. As far as I know, he never saw the inside of a prison again. Over the handful of years I lived there, I talked on a regular basis with many of the inmates and when they thanked me for listening, for offering support, it was rewarding. I met many of their parents. Certainly, these families were damaged; they were ashamed and hated the crimes their sons had committed; yet many of them found ways to love, to cope, to move past what had happened. They found a way to reclaim their family connection. And sometimes they didn’t. There were hundreds of stories, almost anything you can imagine. Small snippets from these experiences are always finding a home in my fiction. I think the single thing I brought away from that time in my life is an admiration for the resiliency of the human spirit, even when the ending isn’t what we expected or wanted, somehow we manage to pick up, to carry on and to survive. And sometimes, incredibly, we’re able to forgive.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Livie Saunders is fluent in the language of flowers; she taught the meanings to her fiancé, Cotton O’Dell, but then Cotton vanishes without explanation on their wedding day forcing Livie to learn the language of desolation. Heartbroken, she buries her wedding gown beneath a garden pond and resolves to move on, but there are nights when she slips . . . into a sequined red dress and a pair of stiletto heels, a stranger’s bed, a little anonymous oblivion that is not without consequence. Still, she recovers a semblance of ordinary life and imagines she is content. But then, six years later, Cotton returns and her carefully constructed world shatters. The old questions bite like flies. Questions that Cotton O’Dell prays he can answer. He prays that Livie, whom he has never stopped loving, will be moved to forgive him. But there is more than Livie to be concerned about. There is Cotton’s act of cowardice that caused him to become a fugitive in the first place . . . that crime he committed for which the legal clock is still ticking. That thing he did that will shock Livie to her core once she learns of it. Livie is desperate to trust Cotton, but then he goes missing again. Time telescopes, avenues of escape close, and as lives hang in the balance, choice dithers between mercy and revenge. And a decision that will take only a moment will carry the consequences of a lifetime.
THE NINTH STEP is a story of redemption, of being brought to your knees in the sober light of day to face a monstrous error and yet somehow finding the strength to stand up, to try and make it right. Even if that decision breaks your heart, endangers your freedom and ultimately threatens your life.
Watch for my review next week.
THANKS TO AUTHOR, BARBARA TAYLOR SISSEL,
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