One author who did not make the mistake of publishing too soon, as detailed in last week’s post, is Bren McClain, the author of One Good Mama Bone. As she puts it in my most recent interview for New Books in Historical Fiction, she is “a twenty-seven-year overnight success.” In the interview, she talks about her path to publication and the many, many rewrites it entailed, as well as the wonderful people who helped her along the way and the writing decisions she made, one of which involved imagining life from the perspective of a mama cow who still (thanks to her generosity, although she doesn’t put it quite that way) walks the earth at the advanced age of twenty-five.
So stop by and listen to her insightful and often funny answers to my questions about her background, her books, her characters both charming and mean, and above all, how she came to write the COW! It’s free, it’s entertaining, it’s enlightening, and for sure you won’t regret spending fifty minutes with Bren. I know I enjoyed every minute of our conversation—and her book as well.
For more explanation as to why, see this post, repurposed from New Books in Historical Fiction.
Once in a while, a novel comes along that is just extraordinary, in the best sense of that word. Bren McClain’s One Good Mama Bone (Story River Books, 2017) falls into this category. In little more than 250 pages, McClain brings to life in spare but lyrical prose an unforgettable cast of characters struggling with poverty, family, and reputation against the backdrop of the early 1950s rural US South. Perhaps her most remarkable creation is Mama Red, a cow near the end of her “useful” life whose dedication to her calf becomes a symbol of mother love.
In the summer of 1944, Sarah Creamer helps her best friend deliver a child fathered by Sarah’s own husband. Out of fear and shame, her best friend kills herself shortly after the birth, leaving Sarah and her husband to raise the boy, whom they name Emerson Bridge. Over the next seven years Sarah’s husband drinks himself to death, at which point Sarah inherits a farm mortgaged to the hilt and a child she can’t afford to feed and fears that she doesn’t know how to love. Her sole talent is dressmaking, but times are tough throughout rural South Carolina and the bills continue to mount. When she comes across a newspaper article celebrating a local boy who earned $680 for his champion steer, she purchases a calf on credit from a local farmer and enters Emerson Bridge in the next year’s championship.
But the calf belongs to Mama Red, who breaks out of her corral and follows her baby to Sarah’s farm. Watching cow and calf activates the “mama bone” that Sarah’s own mother insisted Sarah did not have. Only then do she and Emerson Bridge discover what happens to the cattle when the championship ends. Love and respect clash with need, and Sarah and Emerson Bridge must decide whether the costs of success are too high.