SOME LESSONS ARE HARDER TO LEARN THAN OTHERS… Mississippi 1920: Nine year old servant, Hadley Crump, finds himself drawn into a secret world when he is invited to join wealthy Lucinda Browning’s dirty book club. No one suspects that the bi-racial son of the cook is anything more to Lucinda than a charitable obligation, but behind closed doors, O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright. What begins as a breathless investigation into the more juicy parts of literature quickly becomes a consuming and life-long habit for two people who would not otherwise be left alone together. As lynchings erupt across the South and the serving staff is slowly cut to make way for new mechanical household conveniences, Hadley begins to understand how dangerous and precarious his situation is.
The Reading Lessons follows the lives of two people born into a world that is unforgiving as a Hangman’s knot. Divided by skin color and joined by books, Hadley and Lucinda are forced to come together in the only place that will allow it, a land of printed words and dark secrets.
What Advice Would You Give Aspiring Writers?
I wrote very long manuscripts for many year and ignored the advice to try short stories. They aren’t for everyone but you can learn so much from a short story and they are definitely well worth considering for the sheer fact that you are able to see a piece of work through to competition much more quickly, edit it, begin the submission process, and then learn the wealth of information you will learn from being published. Meanwhile, while gaining experience, you might at the same time gain some fans who will be eager for your longer work. It was important for me to become a stair-stepper. I set a small challenge for myself that, with work, was something I could achieve. I wanted to get a short story published, and I started online. My goal after that was to see my work in print. After this happened, I wanted to be paid a little something, and after that – paid professional rates, and so on. By setting small goals, I was able to feel successful every step of the way and continue adding a bit more knowledge to the pot. I continue to move forward in that same way today and it’s worked out well for me.
Carole Lanham is the author of The Reading Lessons, The Whisper Jar, Cleopatra’s Needle, and a selection of award-winning short stories. Two of her stories have appeared on the preliminary ballot for a Bram Stoker Award, one piece was short-listed for the Million Writers Prize, she has won two national writing contests, and seven of her stories have received honorable mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She lives int he St. Louis area with her family and a very large collection of aprons. If interested, please visit her at carolelanham.com & horror homemaker.com
I liked the thought of a secret relationship forming around books. In the novel, reading lessons allow two children to form a life-long bond that should otherwise prove impossible due to the fact that the boy is a biracial servant and the girl is privileged and white. The pair is forced to create their own rules, their own world. Things like banned books and separate libraries for people of color play a key part in the book and reading really does become a dangerous thing for Hadley and Lucinda. The novel is based on a short story by the same name that appeared on the preliminary ballot for a Bram Stoker Award in 2005. I always felt like these characters had more to say.