Waiting for Brenda
Of course wouldn’t you know, the day’s dark grey skies decided to pour forth a drenching rain the moment I stepped out of the car. Brenda and I were meeting that morning at the FloTown Starbucks on Palmetto for a quasi-interview, so I wanted to get there a bit before the appointed time.
After my mad dash into the tiny building, I quickly scanned the area for an available table. As a veteran of numerous coffee shops, I know that claiming one’s territory is best done first. I planted my book bag atop my find as evidence of ownership then proceeded to redeem my empty bean bag* for a free cup of coffee.
Returning to ‘our’ table with java in hand, I settled in to read a few pages of ‘Home to Cedar Branch’ while waiting for Brenda’s arrival…
Home to Cedar Branch is Brenda’s second novel in the ‘Quaker Café’ series. While not intended to be a part of an actual series, this stand-alone book clamors to be part of something larger than itself. Writing has a way of making demands on its author and Brenda is accommodating those demands by crafting yet a third book in the ‘Quaker Café’ series as of this posting.
Both novels, along with an in-progress third, are centered around the fictional community of Cedar Branch. I asked Brenda if she would like to live in Cedar Branch. Surprisingly, she told me that she already had…only in the real town equivalent of Woodland, NC.
What’s more, most of the characters in both books are based upon composites/blends of real life residents. Even more amazing is that the flesh and blood residents of Woodland, NC love to dissect each character and event, trying to figure out who’s who and what real life events relate to the stories written. All this nakedness on the written, published page and yet – they still love Brenda, their semi-native daughter.
Much like Brenda’s books, our conversation at the FloTown Starbucks was comfy, cozy and studded with intriguing exchanges of personal information. Ever since reading her first book, The Quaker Café I was most curious about her Quaker connection. Her website provides a wealth of info about Quakers in the South and the differences between Quakers and the Amish, but not about her own Quaker identity. So I asked her how she came to be a Quaker.
In the 1960’s Brenda was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa. It was there she met her future husband. As they both came from different religious backgrounds, they decided to find a Christian denomination in which to blend their beliefs and raise their children. Interestingly, there was a large West African Quaker settlement near where they worked. For two years they gathered with a multi-cultural array of Quakers in a West African hut, marking the beginning of their new life together.
My favorite sections of Home to Cedar Branch are in fact related to the Quakers and their interactions within the larger community of Cedar Branch. As the tension heightens within the story line, Brenda weaves Quaker faith-in-action with a deft hand. Viewed by the community-at-large as an unconventional approach to justice being served, it’s a fascinating and believable scenario played out in values rooted in non-violence.
Early on in my reading of Home to Cedar Branch some of the scenes seemed vaguely familiar. Words and phrases from certain passages nagged at me, reminding me that Brenda brought a few of her later rewrites for the group to critique before submitting final copy to her editor. Further into the novel, I came across an entire scene sequence that kept unfolding as remembered right before my reading eyes. Here’s a snippet:
Katy walked around the dancers and squeezed behind the backs of two intertwined groups who shouted conversations between one another. She pulled a Mountain Dew out of the cooler, flipped the tab, and picked up a few chips from a side table.
“Dickel and Dew?” a man next to her said.
Katy turned to make sure he was speaking to her. “Sorry?”
“You like Dickel and Dew?” He nodded to her soda can and raised his own.
She flushed. “It’s just Mountain Dew, that’s all.”
“I could put a little Dickel in it for you, if you like. It’s good stuff.”
“I don’t know.”
He didn’t push it, just tilted his head slightly and grinned…”
Ah, yes, the Dickel and Dew guy!
I recall the meeting where we of the Camden Writers Group critiqued that scene. I think Brenda was contemplating eliminating it completely, though I could be wrong about that. I do know, we all loved the Dickel and Dew guy and went about offering our usual critique comments and suggestions. What’s fun is to see that most of what was discussed turned up in the final published version of her book.
What’s also exciting for me is that a few months before the release of Home to Cedar Branch, Brenda asked permission to use my piece, In Him, reprise as the background music for the book promo trailer.
I consider it an honor and a thrill to support her in this manner.
*Upon presenting an empty Starbucks coffee bean bag to the barista, (s)he will give you a free cup of freshly brewed coffee.
I first met Brenda in 2014 after joining the Camden Writers critique group. At the time, she was in the midst of marketing her debut novel, The Quaker Café. Since then, she completed, secured a publishing contract for and released her second novel, Home to Cedar Branch. And, lest she rest on the laurels of a successful publishing career, she is currently in the throes of writing up early drafts of yet a third novel.