Second Look Book: The Grass Sweeper God

The Grass Sweeper God

by Doug Howery

GENRE: Historical Fiction


Sixteen-year-old Smiley Hanlon is a young woman tethered to a young man's body.  In the 1950's Appalachia coal fields of Solitude, Virginia, Smiley is placed in the "Mentally Retarded Class" because he is effeminate and wears a blouse and saddle shoes to school.

Smiley is backed by his best friend, Lee Moore who protects Smiley from a father and many townspeople who hate him.  Smiley has dreams of becoming an entertainer.  Raised by his aunt in a juke joint, as a child Smiley sings and dances on the Formica bar top into the wee hours.  Chosen as the female lead, Dorothy, in a new town production called Dorothy of Oz Coal Camp, his dream is being realized.  The triumph of the play and his dream is sabotaged by his father and classmate bullies culminating in a tragic and horrific moment that changes both Smiley and Lee, forever.

Smiley and Lee flee to NYC.  They learn that prejudice is prejudice whether in the coal fields of Virginia or on the streets of NYC. Smiley suffers at the hands of his real mother who is a religious zealot.  She tries to change who Smiley is because he is a boil on the body of Christ. Lee suffers at the hands of psychologists who practice Aversion Therapy-electric shock treatment to cure his homosexuality.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.  Both Smiley and Lee become forces of change as do countless others.  In 1969, Smiley Hanlon and his friend, Lee emerge as leaders of a gay revolution, the historical Stonewall Riots.  The riots are vicious but the real battle will be won or lost on another continent: Solitude, Virginia.

The Grass Sweeper God is a force of nature that flows through all things...straightens out that which is bent...which is sick...

Excerpt Two:

Lettie sat on the twin bed with the gun and the letter in her lap.  She noticed Brac’s graduation picture sitting on the nightstand.  She turned it face down.  She placed the love letter from Brac’s lover on top of his graduation picture.  She placed Ted’s bankbook, her letter to Ted, her cat-eyeglasses and dentures beside Brac’s turned-down picture.  She lay down on the bed.  She stretched out and placed the gun at her side and stared at the ceiling.  She thought about her children.  She had never owned them, never owned herself, and now they could choose their own road in life.  But she could choose when to exit this world and how.  She had to get out of her head, out of her heart.  Tears like the mistakes she had made in life flowed down her face.  She put the gun under her ribs and pulled the trigger

AUTHOR Bio and Links:

DOUG HOWERY has been writing both fiction and essays since 1990. His essays and familial stories have appeared in The Blue Ridge Lambda Press.
In many of his stories, as in "The Grass Sweeper God," Mr. Howery's true lode, his font of inspiration is in the passion and suffering he has experienced.
Author, Doug Howery penned the novel with insight into his own struggle for sexual identity and personal tragedy. His mother committed suicide in 1982, blaming her two sons' sexual identity in a letter and declaring herself a martyr for intolerance and social bigotry. She referred to her own sons as "Gutter Rats that Could Rot in Hell" and represents the hate and mistrust that have plagued society.
Suspense author, Maggie Grace, with the North Carolina Writers' Network writes about her cohort Mr. Howery: "What I like is the riskiness, the cutting edge of the narrative voice we hear. The moments when he lapses into descriptions of the moon, of the horse, etc. are true poetry that offers some relief from the coarseness of the story, and he places them well. He has an ear for the rhythm of the story, a natural sense of when to end--hangs fire with a new way of looking at someone or something, turning the entire chapter on its ear. I like the way he makes it impossible for the reader to stop reading at the end of the chapter."
Mr. Howery lives in Virginia with his partner of 34 years where he is at work on his next novel.


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What was your MC's biggest source of comfort since he was constantly surrounded by negativity.
He/she’s source of comfort from all the hostility that surrounded him was his desire to be who he was meant to be and that was a she.  Negativity made him fight even harder.  It was a drug for him.  Living his truth was more important than being surrounded by “negativity.”  Truth is comforting if the only one that can know that truth is you.  “To thy own self be true.”

What was your inspiration for this story and the particular location?
My mother’s 1982 suicide was my inspiration for the story.  She declared herself a martyr for sexual identity intolerance and bigotry.  In her suicidal note, she referred to my brother and I as, “Gutter rats that could rot in hell.”  She did this after learning that my brother and I were gay (2 days later). I chose a realistic location because it is where I grew up.  I experienced the “negativity.”  I juxtapose Appalachia Virginia to NYC because bigotry breeds everywhere.  It is the monster hiding under the bed.  It is bred by the Donald Trumps of the world.

Why did you choose to write about an adolescent instead of an adult?
Great question!  One I pulled at my feathers over like a parrot.  I can only answer by saying that as children and adolescents, we tend to black out the pain in our life.  It is how we cope with the bad in our life at that tender and early age.  It is how we survive.  To have to see children suffer is painful.  I was that child.  I believe that our sexual identity is determined at conception.  I knew my sexual identity as early as any memory from a toddler on up.  I began wrestling with my sexual identity at, or around 10-years of age.  I felt like a freak and was made to feel that way by a hostile, negative, and a homophobic Appalachian coal mining family to include my mother and father.  I think writers are scared to tackle such a topic at an early age.  I say it must be talked about, wrote about.  There are too many young suicides because young people are not allowed to talk about their sexual identity. They are made to feel like freaks.  That destroys self-esteem at such a young age and that is wrong and sad and prime for suicide, alcoholism, drugs, etc.

Have you ever been confused with the infamous Douglas Howery?
Are you referring to the murderer that I see on Google with the same name?  If so, NO, thank God.  Although, I have been known for being “infamous,” but not for that reason!

What would you like readers of this book to come away with?
If you look at my Amazon reviews, you see a cornucopia of reactions to the story.  Most have a theme: “A hard book to read,” etc.  And that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t written well as they go on to explain…  Another reviewer writes, “I am used to forming my own images when reading a story. For me the images placed in my head by Mr Howery are vivid and blazingly real. Some might say that this is total fiction. I would argue that too many of us come from a town called Solitude”.  So, to directly answer your question; “Blazingly real” works for me.  That shows me that people are walking a mile in my characters’ shoes.  And to be real; Homophobia is alive and well especially in rural America. 

Do you think that stories of this type get passed over due to content or banned far too much or do you see a shift in mindset and acceptance?
Yes, of course on both counts.  But, I didn’t write it to get famous or rich.  It took me over 20 years to write this story.  It is a very personal story.  If it is ‘banned,’ then I have done my job.  People don’t like to look in that prophetic mirror.  Young people are our future and nowadays it is hard to put the Jeanie back in the bottle, don’t you think?  Due to mass and global communication to include the internet, censorship is hard to totally accomplish. If it is banned, I think then, it would take off.  When you tell people not to look, their natural reaction is to look, indeed.  I see shifts in mindsets of course.  We must live up to the creed of the brave gay men and women of the NYC Stonewall Riots of 1969.  We can never be silent again.  Silence kills you in the end. “To thy own self be true.”  

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Doug Howery will be awarding a $25.00 Amazon GC and an autographed copy of the book to one randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour. Please note geographical restrictions apply. United States only for the physical prize. Follow the tour to enter everyday for your chance to win

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