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Constance Alexander: Author Roberta George’s debut novel ‘The Day’s Heat’ is hot stuff

Best birthday present this year was discovering that a friend from long ago, Roberta George, had her first novel published at eighty. “There’s still time,” I said to myself, nervously measuring the years to four score and naught, wondering if I can make the leap the way Roberta did.

We’d met in the early 1980s at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference in Middlebury, Vermont.

Described in the current brochure as, “One of America’s most valued literary institutions,” the prestigious literary gathering was depicted a bit differently by the Washington Post. Writer Curt Suplee summed up the conclave as, “Twelve thoughtful days and raucous nights among the Green Mountains of Vermont, a grassy fastness so deeply Wordsworthian it’s as if Disney World had added a new wing: Writer Land, complete with spring-fed pond and authentic rock wall for poetic musing.”

After the inspiration and encouragement from Bread Loaf, all the other “campers,” as we called them, went back home. Roberta headed to Valdosta, Georgia, where she had a husband and seven kids. I returned to a corporate job at AT&T in New York, where I was single, serious, and dressing for success every day.

Roberta went on to found Snake Nation Review, a literary journal, and Snake Nation Press. I quit the Blue Chip world in 1984, started my own business consulting practice, and began writing seriously, with intent to publish.

Snake Nation Review published my Dolly Parton poem, “I wanna dress like trash,” in its first issue, and in the ensuing years introduced readers to scores of poets, fiction, and non-fiction writers.

Fast forward to last month, when I ran across an article from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that included a picture of my old friend, Roberta George, and the blazing headline: “At 80, she published a steamy saga that’s winning awards.”

I emailed congratulations and Roberta called me the next morning. We caught up on the phone and promised to stay in touch.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Roberta’s novel, “The Day’s Heat,” won a novel-writing competition in England, judged by J.K. Rowling among others, and published by Impress Books. Next came the Georgia Author of the Year prize for literary fiction, as well as finalist designation for the Townshend Prize, bestowed by the Georgia Center for the Book and the Chattahoochee Review.

A Kindle copy of Roberta’s book arrived in a flash, giving the rest of my day heat and light. I sat down and read almost straight through, captivated by the story of a young wife and mother set in the early sixties against the backdrop of impending national integration. The novel follows Lee James, a dark-skinned Catholic of Lebanese heritage living in a small South Georgia town. Married to an Anglo-Saxon Protestant husband, Charles, her religion makes her bear the brunt of his family’s disapproval. Her need for attention leads to, well, “a clerical error.”

Although some aspects of the novel are drawn from her own life, Ms. George is careful to point out that “The Day’s Heat” is fiction. She admits that a local parish priest advised her not to get the book published, but she keeps having to remind people that the priest in her novel is not the old priest who was in Valdosta some years back.

The young priest in the book is another story. His character was inspired by a teenage fantasy from her time at an all-girls Catholic school in Houston, under the priestly guidance of “a beautiful young man with curly black hair and a Van Dyke beard… All of our girls were mooning over him,” Roberta remembered, which cause him to “run for his life.”

“The Day’s Heat” is a compelling character study that leaves the reader with many issues to ponder about past and present issues: integration, religion, and the complicated demands of being a wife and mother. Now a widow of three years’ time, Roberta claims, “The first thirty years of marriage are hell, but the last thirty are great.”

For more information about “The Day’s Heat,” check out www.valdostadailytimes.com. Additional information is online at snakenationpress.org.

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One Comment

  1. Dear Constance, What a great write up. Thank you so much. I really cannot begin to say all the things that go into writing. My friend, Leona Abood asks me why I write about bad stuff, namely sex and conflicts, which has really made me think, but if you leave out the bad stuff, it’s just not interesting.
    German/English me, now I’m writing a Lebanese cookbook with recipes, but also with all the nitty-gritty, gossipy things that go along with them. Don’t let age or anything keep you from writing your novel and everything else you want to write. Anne Porter’s first poetry collection, “An Altogether Different Language,” was published when she was 83, and she was a finalist for the National Book Award. She said, “People don’t use their creativity as they get older. They think this is supposed to be the end of this and the end of that. But you can’t be sure that is the end.” Take the DHEA, and all the other vitamins and live to be 100, which she did. Love & prayers, ro

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