Meryton Press is embarking on a new venture. Until now, we have only published Austenesque stories, mainly Pride & Prejudice with a few other Austen variations scattered in the mix, and one children’s book. As of 2022 Meryton Press is publishing other genres too. Everyone here is so excited about this, and we hope you, our readers, will be as well. It opens publishing doors for many other writers and some of our own who may want to branch out into different areas.
The first book to be released is Kelly Dean Jolley’s, Big Swamp. It is a romantic and detective noir set in Opelika, Alabama. Today, the book is live on Amazon for preorder, the paperback is available for purchase, and we are revealing the cover. After the cover is revealed, Kelly will share the story behind the cover, and why he chose to write a detective novel. Then we have an enticing excerpt for you.
Let me introduce you to Kelly.
Kelly Dean Jolley is the Goodwin Philpott Endowed Chair of Religion and Professor of Philosophy at Auburn University. He lives in Auburn with his wife, Shanna, two dogs, two cats, too many books, and a collection of manual typewriters. Beyond his academic publications, he has also published a book of poetry, Stony Lonesome.
Big Swamp Blurb
A Private Eye in a One-Eyed Place?
Ford Merrick is a softhearted detective in a sleepy southern town, Opelika, Alabama—a “one-eyed, blinking sort of place.” A provoking visit from beautiful Rachel Gunner complicates his work and his life. This stunning woman asks Ford to tail her uncle and discover what he is up to. Taking the case, Ford quickly finds himself swamped in mysteries: Who is Rachel’s uncle, and what is his secret business? Then there’s the mystery of an earlier death at Noble Hall where Rachel and her uncle now live. But the greatest mystery may be Rachel Gunner herself. Mired, Ford struggles to find his way, unearths tragedies old and new, and exposes his heart to a hard test.
Intrigue, mystery, and secrets, I’m hooked and was from the first sentence. Who doesn’t love a good detective story, especially a noir novel?
Are you ready for the front cover?
Isn’t the drawing of Noble Hall striking? It sets a mood for the story that the reader will feel as they begin to read.
The mystery continues. What are the man and woman doing out in the woods at night? Are they looking for something or someone? Maybe Kelly will give us some hints.
Kelly, the floor is yours.
What’s the story of the cover of Big Swamp?
The novel’s cover features a drawing by a close friend of mine, Syd Edwards. The drawing is entitled Southern Discomfort. Syd and I met in a high school creative writing class many years ago—he was a few years older than me but we became fast friends. I’ve always admired his drawing, its precision, and substance, and its evocative use of light and shadow. I thought of him immediately when Big Swamp was accepted for publication; I knew he knew me well enough to capture what I imagined.
The antebellum house that centers the novel, Nobel Hall, is not actually in a swamp. In fact, the only swamp in the novel is psychological, the swamp of confusion inside Ford Merrick, the detective. And so the cover, despite apparently presenting Noble Hall objectively, is actually a POV representation of the house through Ford’s eyes.
Why a detective novel?
I’ve been reading detective novels since I was a kid. One of my earliest loves was the series, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I quickly moved on to Raymond Chandler and to various other noir novelists. But I always found noir a bit bleak—my tastes lean more toward comedy than tragedy. Eventually, I found Norbert Davis. His noir novels were genuinely funny despite being noir; his detective, Doan, was unprepossessing, and Doan’s partner, a mammoth Great Dane, Carstairs, seemed the more clever and dangerous of the two. Davis’ novels represented a possibility that excited and challenged me.
I wrote Big Swamp with Chandler in mind, but with Davis more in mind. I wanted to use various features of noir novels, but intermingle them with features of romantic comedy, a mixing of dark and light. The result is a comedy, but a comedy with shadows—say, Jane Austen wed to Chandler.
What are your thoughts on the story behind the cover drawing?
Do you like noir novels? What about detective novels? Most everyone loves a good romance so when a story has all three, that’s a great combination. Are you familiar with the detective novels that Kelly mentioned? I remember loving Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the series on television when I was a young girl. (I’m telling my age!)
It’s time to delve into the first excerpt of Big Swamp!
So, as I was saying, I’d been eating my lunch without Helen—she had patients—when my phone buzzed. I answered, still chewing on a French fry.
“Yeah,” I mumbled in French-fried near-English, “It’sh me.”
I don’t normally answer the phone with my mouth full. But I saw that it was my assistant, Talbot Norton, calling and…well…let’s just say we don’t always bring out the best in each other.
“You’re at Ed’s,” Talbot concluded from the sound of my answer. “Listen, we just got a case. And when I say a case, I mean a case. Real Chandler stuff. A tall blonde slinked—slank? slunk?—into the office a few minutes ago… No, not a tall blonde—the tall blonde. And maybe slinked isn’t the right word. Anyway, she’s the tall blonde to end all tall blondes—end ’em—one of the shock troops in some mighty Amazonian army, and I mean shock—”
“Talbot!” I said in a tone that capped him mid-gush. Talbot’s enthusiasm for women is matched only by his failure with them. The failure’s no mystery. I said I was part gentleman, part coward. Talbot’s not even part gentleman.
“Sorry, Ford, but this woman—” He stopped himself this time and inhaled. “This woman”—his tone was then as businesslike as he could make it—“she’s waiting in your office. Says she needs help but that she’ll only talk to you. She’s just sitting in there, quiet, and…well, you need to come right away. Not just because she wants you, but because…well, because she scares the hell out of me. I don’t think I can go back in there and sit in silence with her. She radiates…something. I’ll end up like a Spinal Tap drummer; I’ll spontaneously combust.”
“Talbot”—I said his name again because hearing it focused him—“Talbot, what have I told you about clients? What’s the first rule?”
“No ogling the clients.”
“Good, and what’s the second rule?”
He took a minute to think. Lists with more than one item challenged him. Not a disciplined mind. “Um, don’t invite waiting clients to play video games?”
“That’s right. So, just go back to the front room and sit quietly. Do not stare at the client. Do not speak to the client unless spoken to? Got it?”
“Got it. Will do, boss.”
Talbot is my oldest friend. Long story. Not the best idea to hire a friend, but he needed work, and my files were a brush pile, and so I hired him to disentangle them. It was meant to be temp work, but I couldn’t get him to leave, to find another job.
I don’t pay him much, but he doesn’t mind. He lives with his mother in an aging house a few blocks from my office. He pays no rent and bikes to work. I guess he can live on what I pay him—he does—and he seems to like the work though there isn’t much of it.
Given all that, you might think I’d have been glad for his call, but I wasn’t. I’d hoped to have lunch with Helen; it’d been a few days since I visited with her. That was one thing: I was disappointed. But I was also due at St. Dunstan’s where I sing in the choir.
I know, I know. Not many PIs are choirboys. It kinda jolts the whole voice-over, roman noirish thing I’ve got going here, huh? But I like to sing, and though my relationship to the church is…um…complicated, I keep returning for the music. For the music and because I’ve become friends, I guess you’d say, with the priest, John Halsey, who doubles as the choir director.
We don’t have much in common. He’s not a talker, and I am. Funny thing: a priest not being a talker. He grunts. I asked him one day if grunting was him speaking in tongues. He didn’t grunt at me for a few days after that, but he forgave me—priest and all. He started grunting again but quieter. I sometimes say things I should only think. And maybe not think.
So, Ruth was swamped by the lunch rush, and I was disappointed about Helen and looking forward to choir practice and trying to eat the remains of my lunch, and I got this call, so I had Ruth box my fries, and I went to my car.
That’s how I ended up driving to the office in a shitty mood—in a sweltering car that would only cool down by the time I got out at the office. I called St. Dunstan’s and told Father Halsey’s church secretary, Diana, I would not make it to practice, and when I finished, I pulled into my parking space. As I expected, my car had only just become comfortable.
I sit for a moment, enjoying the coolness, and then I sigh and open the door.
My office is in the back half of an old house, one that was built shortly after the Civil War, low and long. The front half is a law office, the office of Miller Solomon. I rent the back from him. He’s a good guy once you get to know him. He’s intimidating until you do. Come to think of it, he’s intimidating afterward too. But still, a good guy. He’s a tall black man with a baleful stare and a rare smile. Folks who come to see him park on the street out front. Folks who come to see me park around back in the irregular gravel parking lot behind the house.
That parking lot is now empty except for my car, a dusty white Camry; Talbot’s gray bike, an old Trek; and a shiny, navy Porsche that has no business in any such lot. I stare at the car, the California plates. The car seems to stand gingerly on the loose gravel, a little girl lifting her fancy skirt to her ankles when she realizes she’s standing in a puddle. I imagine it’s in a hurry for its owner—the blonde, undoubtedly—to rescue it from its sojourn among the unwashed like my Camry.
I take a breath and then climb the wide back stairs leading to the narrow door of my office. I can’t afford any fancy front sign, so I make do with a reflective brass sign affixed to the door:
Ford R. Merrick, PI
I like long weekends. Unfortunately, it’s Tuesday, and I have a client.
I delay, considering the sign. My name is a harvest of r’s. I can see myself in the reflective surface as I focus past my name. I’m tall, certainly not fat but not skinny—a swimmer’s build, my sister says. (Actually, she says “Michael Phelps without the definition.”) My curly, reddish-blond hair is never ruly, particularly on days as humid as this, days so humid a swimmer’s build counts as a blessing since walking is a vertical Australian crawl. I offer my reflection a grin, but his gray eyes don’t seem impressed.
As I open the office door, I glance back over my shoulder at the shiny Porsche. I feel sorry for it. I vow to return its owner to it ASAP.
The refrigerated air of the office I notice first. Just the few strides from my car to the door have me sweating again. Second, I notice her. And then the AC is no help.
The arctic would have been no help; I’d melt glaciers.
I love that last line! Did you enjoy the first excerpt for this novel? We hope you did and will want to read more. There will be a blog tour in about two weeks. Watch the Meryton Press Facebook page for the blog tour schedule and links to the blogs. Kelly and Big Swamp will be visiting some new and exciting blogs. We invite you to follow along and meet some new people. Elza, a fluffy white cat in South Africa and her person, will be the hosts for one of the stops. 😊 You do not want to miss it.
Connect with Kelly
Meryton Press is giving away two eBooks of Big Swamp by Kelly Dean Jolley. To enter leave a comment below. Tell us what you think about noirs, detective stories, and even romance! Tell us what you think of this story. We want to hear from you and that also gives you a chance to win an eBook. The giveaway is international and will end on August 9th at midnight central time. Good luck everyone.