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Excerpt From The Truth About Grace

1 – Grace

What the hell does she want from me? That’s what I wanna know. Am I supposed to throw my arms around her neck and shout hallelujah?

I gotta stop thinkin’ about all this. It’s exhausting. Here I am, the mornin’ after we buried Mr. Pecan, alone in a white woman’s kitchen. Kinda feels like home somehow, or at least familiar.

I put on a pot of coffee and sat back down at the table to rest my eyes. I was still sitting there, my head on my arms, when I heard her tiptoeing down the stairs. Her house so old, all the floors creak no matter how soft you step.

Miss Ora don’t weigh a minute; she tiny and shriveled up even more than I remember. “I smell coffee,” she said.

Her kitchen ain’t changed much over the years. The cabinets are still the same – solid wood doors painted white. But I can reach the ones above the counter now. Those thin china plates with the silver and white flowers are no longer off limits to my wandering hands. I made jelly toast this mornin’ and used what Mama called Miss Ora’s “good china.” There was a part of me wanted to drop it into her porcelain sink, just to see it shatter. I could have lied and said it was an accident. Wouldn’t be the first lie told in this kitchen.

After I washed and dried that little plate, I traced my fingers over the tiny flowers, felt their thin outlines rise up off the plate. I looked closer at it then and saw my own face staring back at me. My eyes were wide like I was surprised to see myself. I hugged the plate to my chest and put it back in the cabinet where it belonged. Decided I didn’t need Sister griping about me messin’ with Miss Ora’s things. She and Aunt Tressa are coming back sometime this morning. They told me last night before they left.

I don’t remember everything that happened last night, but I know one thing. I don’t ever want to feel that way again – like the room is closing in on me – like all I gotta do is let go and it’ll swallow me up. There been times I didn’t wanna live no more – even thought about killin’ myself – but I’m scared I’d mess that up too.

I lifted my head from my arms and studied her. Then the memory just about knocked me over. Me sittin’ here in her kitchen the day after I was raped. This right here is where my whole life shattered. Not out there in the woods behind town where that white boy raped me, though that didn’t help none. No, it was right here where my mama broke me. Just a dream, my ass. I was a baby, barely six years old. I remember wakin’ up and wobblin’ into the kitchen. It was the first time I’d ever spent the night at Miss Ora’s house. Mama was there cooking breakfast, so I sat down at the table and fell back asleep until Miss Ora came down and woke me up. I was sore all over, including in a place I ain’t never felt pain before. Sittin’ here now, the pain was so real I almost flinched.

“Are you all right, Gracie?” I took the cup she offered me. Her hands were shaking.

“Fine, thanks,” I said, but I didn’t really mean it and she could tell.

“You stayed the night,” she said. She has a habit of sayin’ what’s obvious.

“Patrice made me. I didn’t want to.” I wiped at my eyes with both hands. I’d cried so much the night before, they were dry and crusty and itched like hell.

“I’m glad you did. I rarely have the pleasure of company in the morning. I was so used to Blanche being here…” She caught herself then. I could tell she was embarrassed. “I miss her.”

I nodded. I miss her too, but I wasn’t in the mood for bein’ sentimental. She raised her cup under her nose and said, “Smells just like your mama’s.”

“Huh,” I said. “Not like the kind she made at home. Smells like your coffee to me.”

“Grace…” She sat down in the chair beside me. Her cup rattled on the saucer. “Grace,” she began again, “I want you to know that I’m sorry for what happened. No, let me say that differently. I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry you were hurt by it. I’m sorry we let you down. I want to tell you the whole story, but I’m also very torn by what I believe is an obligation to your mama…”

“My mama is dead.” I sat straight up in my chair and pointed my finger first at her, then at myself. “You don’t owe the dead, Miss Ora. The way I see it, you owe the livin’, and that’s me.”

“Fair enough,” she said. “What do you want to know?”

Every time I think I have my head wrapped around the truth, I find something else to twist back in shape. “Why’d y’all lie to me? That’s the first thing. I tried to ask Patrice about it last night, but she swears she didn’t know.”

“She did not know.”

“Because if she did, then even her taking my children when Mama died takes on a whole new meaning.”

Patrice has been mad at me for so long, it just feels like part of who she is. Who we are. I always felt like I was raised by two mothers, and I disappointed ’em both. Miss Ora shook her head back and forth a long time.

“She absolutely did not know. We told no one.”

“That judge asked me about it, too. Did he know?” I asked.

“Poopsie?”

“Say what?”

“Judge Odell. Poopsie is what I called him.”

“Yeah, Odell. You know he paid for me to go to rehab one time?”

She nodded. “I did know. I had a trust fund set up for you and he was the overseer. I rescinded it when we lost track of you for so long.”

I had to sit with that one for a minute to figure out what it meant. This is what I’m talkin’ about – I have to rethink every truth I thought I knew. Can’t rely on a damn thing. “You mean you the one paid for my rehab?”

She nodded. “And all this time I thought he was just a nice man.”

“He was a nice man,” she said. “He was a good friend of mine, and he had suspicions, but he never knew what happened to you.”

“Was? He dead, too?”

“He is,” Miss Ora stood and picked up her coffee cup. “A lot of people had to die before I could tell this story.” She walked into the kitchen and slid her cup and saucer into the sink. Then she turned around and faced me. “And the truth is, I could go to jail for telling it, so don’t just assume I’m doing this for myself. For my conscience? Maybe. But more likely for my eternal soul. It’s certainly not a convenient story to tell.” She came back to the table and sat down beside me. “Grace, honey, we can’t go back, but we can go forward. I’ll do anything I can to help you get well, as long as you are trying to get well.”

“I ain’t tryin’ to be sick, that’s for sure.”

“Are you staying at your mom’s house still?” she asked.

“Yeah, Patrice had it fixed up for me.”

“Could you do something for me? I mean, could you consider doing something?”

This woman takes the cake, I’m just sayin’. I swigged the last bit of cold coffee from my cup. “What is it?”

“Could you stay here a while? I mean stay here. Could you move in here for just a couple of weeks until we see what happens?”

“I don’t need to be babysat, Miss Ora. I ain’t using.”

“I didn’t say you were.” She stopped and wrung her hands like she was putting on lotion. “I just… I mean, for once in my life I don’t want to be alone. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, and I know that sounds selfish, and way too much to put on you, but still…would you?”

I was still shaking my head over this when I went back to my room. I’m still mad, too. But, I spent a lot of time at this house when I was a girl. It was Miss Ora got me hooked on reading. My very first addiction, I guess you could call it. That ain’t even funny, but there it is. I guess I’ll get Patrice to take me back to Mama’s house this afternoon so I can pack my bags. Looks like I’ll be moving in with an old white woman for a while.

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Book Club Questions – The Pecan Man

I have compiled a list of discussion topics for The Pecan Man based on questions from readers and book clubs in the past. Some of these are spoilers, so be careful if you have not read the book yet! Please feel free to add questions you may have, or that have been asked at your book club meetings. I would LOVE to hear from book clubs who read my work and, if you’ll send me a picture of your group holding the book, I’ll be sure to post it on my page!

Also: Please contact me at CassieSelleck@aol.com if you would like to have me Skype, Zoom or otherwise virtually visit your bookclub at no charge. I love popping in to say hello.

Questions for discussion:

What is the main reason Ora Lee doesn’t tell Grace the truth after her mother dies?

Why is Ora Lee not able to remember her life with Walter?

Was Ora Lee really kind to Eddie? Does it matter?

Does Eddie really think he’ll have to get justice because he’s innocent? Why does he later change his mind?

Does the friendship between Patrice and Dovey Kincaid’s daughter signify that all is now well between the races in the South?

Why does Ora Lee believe “we were partially to blame” for losing Grace?

Why does Ora Lee decide not to bury her lie with Eddie, “no matter what the cost”?

According to the story, what good does it do to learn right from wrong if we fail to insist on doing the right thing?

Why did Ora Lee let the Pecan Man take the blame for the murder of the rapist when she knew the real killer was Blanche’s son, Marcus?

What impact did skin color have on Blanche at birth and as a mother?

How much did Harley O’Dell (Poopsie) know about the murder?

What caused Marcus’s auto accident? Why do you think the author was not specific?

Why does Ora withhold what she knows for all those years?

This novel was very much about perspectives and how things look different depending on where you stand. How did Ora Lee Beckworth’s perspective change over the course of twenty-five years and when did those changes begin?

No matter how good Blanche’s intentions, or how much she believed there was no way to get justice for her daughter, the fact is Gracie was pretty much pushed aside. Why do you think Blanche did what she did?

What, if anything, does the barber’s chair symbolize? Why is that detail important to the story?

Why didn’t Ralph Kornegay cause any more trouble after Ora Lee’s phone call to him?

What do you think is the overall message of the story?

Is there any such thing as a good lie? How do we decide if the truth comes at too high a price?

Book Club Questions – The Truth About Grace

The narrators of the sequel are sisters Patrice and Grace, who are now adults. The author chose this because Ora has already told the story she wanted to tell. How do you feel about the change in narrators and why?

Grace has struggled with drug addiction for years. What do you think was the source of Grace going completely off the rails in her adult life?

Why do you think Patrice is so frustrated with her sister and her situation? Do you think she is being unreasonable or are her feelings perfectly justified?

What lesson(s) did Ora need to learn this time?

From the author: It was important to me to have a hopeful ending without oversimplifying the difficulty of recovery. Do you think I struck the right balance of struggle and hope? Why?

So many families have been affected by the opioid crisis in America today. If you are comfortable sharing, do you know anyone who has faced these challenges?

Do you think Ora should have been charged with a crime for her part in the cover-up?

What was it like to hear the letter from Eddie? Did it change anything you thought about him?

The author is adamant that some things are left to the reader’s imagination. Especially since you could only know what Ora knew in The Pecan Man. Have you changed your mind about anything you thought about the first book? Why?

Were there any questions you hoped the author might answer in the sequel that did not get answered?

Now that you have heard the truth about Grace, is there anything else you wonder?

The author is willing to do virtual visits with your book club at no charge. Please email CassieSelleck@aol.com to check availability if you’re interested. FaceTime is the method of choice, but Zoom is also an option.

If your bookclub comes up with additional questions, please post in the comments below and/or visit my Facebook page for The Pecan Man to discuss. Thank you so much for choosing The Truth About Grace.

Book Club Questions – What Matters in Mayhew

According to the author, this novel was meant to be somewhat of a farce, but ended up hitting a little too close to home for some of the locals in the small town where she lives. How closely do you think it comes to accurately representing small-town Southern life, and why?

Do you feel that the round table at the Mayhew café functioned as a Greek chorus type character, as the author intended. Explain why. 

Beanie Bradsher may come off as a little odd, But in certain parts of the country, she is completely normal. What are the quirks that make you wonder why she is the way she is? Are there any hints to obstacles in her life that make her reluctant to drive a car, Or hold down a full-time job? She sells Avon. Why is she able to do this, when other tasks that involve reading might be complicated?

Bubba John Atwater is determined to pull off an elaborate surprise for his wife. What would possess a man to think he could surprise his wife with a house? 

Why was Sweet Lee willing to risk her own life to save her pregnancy?

What was the significance of the pine table Sweet valued above a diamond ring?

In the relationship between Vesuvius Jones and Beanie Bradsher, why did Suvi seem more concerned about what townspeople would think than Beanie did? Do you think his fears or concerns are warranted?

What do you think about LouWanda? Is she a raging bigot, or does she mean well and just doesn’t know any better? Does that matter?

What do you think of the love triangle between Will Thaxton, Beanie and Suvi? This is the first in a series, so there is more to come. Who do you hope she ends up with? And why? 

Do you know any people like the characters in this novel? Are they caricatures of people, are they stereotyped, or do they feel like a real human beings with quirks and flaws?

The novel is set in a small Southern town which is geographically remote from more cultural towns. Is the behavior of the locals specific to the south, or small towns in general, or both?

The novel features a large cast of characters. Was it difficult to keep them straight? Did the authors  choice of unusual names help or hinder your recognition?

Had you ever heard of a trunk or treat before? Do you have anything like that in your town?

Movie News – First Press Release

Feeling lucky and blessed and incredibly excited about The Pecan Man becoming a movie. So many readers have said they can just SEE this on the big screen, and so could I, so I’m thrilled.

This quote from the new director So Yong Kim gave me chills for days:

“I’m honored to collaborate with the talented team of BCDF Pictures and Joseph Muszynski on this incredible project,” said Kim. “I believe that ‘The Pecan Man’ is an essential story that should be told cinematically. What drew me to the material was its deeply felt humanity and the strong female characters who are richly drawn. I’m excited to bring their story to the screen.”

Check out the press release in VARIETY MAGAZINE, y’all. This came the day after I turned 60. Happy Birthday to me!

BCDF Pictures Selects Director for The Pecan Man

 

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Star Chatter

Star Chatter CDSelleck

This work of flash fiction was written for a fiction workshop prompt and subsequently revised several times. It has now been turned into a one act play. Please enjoy Star Chatter.