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  • Written by Carolyn Wall
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On Sale: August 04, 2009
Pages: 352 | ISBN: 978-0-440-33850-5
Published by : Delta Bantam Dell

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ISBN: 978-0-7393-8290-5
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Destined to be a classic, Sweeping Up Glass is a tough and tender novel of love, race, and justice, and a ferocious, unflinching look at the power of family.

Olivia Harker Cross owns a strip of mountain in Pope County, Kentucky, a land where whites and blacks eke out a living in separate, tattered kingdoms and where silver-faced wolves howl in the night. But someone is killing the wolves of Big Foley Mountain–and Olivia is beginning to realize how much of her own bitter history she’s never understood: Her mother’s madness, building toward a fiery crescendo. Her daughter’s flight to California, leaving her to raise Will’m, her beloved grandson. And most of all, her town’s fear, for Olivia has real and dangerous enemies.

Now this proud, lonely woman will face her mother and daughter, her neighbors and the wolf hunters of Big Foley Mountain. And when she does, she’ll ignite a conflict that will embroil an entire community–and change her own life in the most astonishing of ways.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Excerpt

Chapter One


The long howl of a wolf rolls over me like a toothache. Higher up, shots ring out, the echoes stretching away till they’re not quite heard but more remembered.

There’s nobody on this strip of mountain now but me and Ida, and my grandson, Will’m. While I love the boy more than life, Ida’s a hole in another sock. She lives in the tar paper shack in back of our place, and in spite of this being the coldest winter recorded in Kentucky, she’s standing out there now, wrapped in a blanket, quoting scripture and swearing like a lumberjack. Her white hair’s ratted up like a wild woman’s.

I’m Ida’s child. That makes her my ma’am, and my pap was Tate Harker. I wish he were here instead of buried by the outhouse.

Whoever’s shooting the wolves is trespassing.

“I’ll be out with the boy for a while,” I tell Ida.

I’ve brought her a boiled egg, bread and butter, a wedge of apple wrapped in cloth, and a mug of hot tea. She follows me inside and sits on her cot. Ida’s face is yellowed from years of smoke, her lips gone thin, and her neck is like a turkey’s wattle. Although there’s a clean nightgown folded on a crate by her bed, she hasn’t gotten out of this one for almost three weeks.

Pap once told me that when he first met Ida, she was pretty and full of fire. She rode her donkey all over creation, preaching streets of gold over the short road to hell. She still calls daily on the Lord to deliver her from drunkards and thieves and the likes of me. Last summer, she sent off for Bibles in seven languages, then never opened the boxes. It’s dark in Ida’s shack, and thick with liniment and old age smells. Maybe it’s the sagging cartons, still unpacked, although my Saul moved her here a dozen years ago. Then he died, too.

“I can’t eat apples with these false teeth,” she says.

“Will’m saved it for you.”

“Pleases you, don’t it, me stuck in this pigsty while you and the boy live like royalty.”

Royalty is a cold-water kitchen behind the grocery store. Will’m sleeps in an alcove next to the woodstove. I take the bedroom. Here in the cabin, I’ve tried to better Ida’s life, bring a table, hang a curtain, but she says no, she’ll be crossin’ soon.

“I’ll be out with the boy for a while,” I repeat.

“I’ll ask God to forgive your sins, Olivia.”

Ida’s not the only thing that sets my teeth on edge. I worry about the way folks come for groceries but have no money. Most of the time, they take what they need. Will’m and I write everything down, and they pay as they can—sometimes in yams or yellow onions, a setting hen when the debt gets too high.

If Pap was here, he’d tell me everything was going to be all right.

“Hurry up if you’re going with me,” I tell Will’m.

Damn fool’s errand. I put on my big wool cape and mittens. I have Saul’s rifle.

Will’m brings the toboggan from the barn. He’s wearing a pair of old boots and so many shirts that he looks like a pile of laundry. I can barely make out his dark grey eyes through the round holes in his wool cap. I know what he’s thinking, just like Pap used to—some injured thing might need his care.

I’ll be forty-two next year—too old and thick-legged to plow uphill through snow that makes my hips ache. I should be home in my kitchen, warming beans from last night’s supper. Behind me, Will’m pulls the toboggan by its rope. We haven’t gone far before my fingers are froze, my toes are numb, and I realize I’ve misjudged the light. Where the snow lays smooth and clean, we stop to get our breath. It’s darker up here among the alders and pine. I set the lantern on the toboggan, strike a match, and lay the flame to the wick.

Below, to the left, lights blink on in Aurora, and a car or two winks along in the slush.

“Another shot!” Will’m says. “Gran?”

I hate it when he looks to me like that, like I can fix every damn thing in Pope County. “Will’m, this winter they’ll starve to death anyway.”

But I don’t mean that, and he knows it. Shortly the hunters will go home to their dining rooms where they’ll drink rye whiskey and eat hot suppers. Past the alder line, the last of the silver-faced wolves are curling up, hungry. They’re the only wolves recorded in Kentucky, and tonight a few more are dead.

In a clearing, we come upon the two males. Will’m stares at the round dark holes in their flanks. Their right ears are gone. A small gray female has crawled off under the brush, and she lies there, baring her teeth. She’s been shot, too, and her ear cut away. The blood has run from the wound, filling her eye and matting her fur. There’s no sign of the ears.

These aren’t just any wolves. The silver-faces have lived peaceably on Big Foley for sixty-five years. Then a week ago, a male was shot and his ear cut off. Will’m and I found the wolf, and finished him off. Today, the hunter was back, and he brought others.

“Damn,” I say. “This one’s had pups, winter pups.”

“Don’t shoot her,” he says.

“There’s lead in her haunch, and she’s near bled to death.”

“We’ll take her home.”

What I’m really thinking is—I know who did this.

“Back off from her, boy.” I lay the gun to my shoulder. “Halfway down, we’d have a dead wolf on our hands.”

Will’m says, “But she’s not dead yet.”

Confound this child. I ache with the cold. More snow is likely, and when it comes, it’ll cover our tracks and the sheer rock faces. It would be right to put a clean shot between her eyes. But also between her eyes is that fine silver stripe.

I wonder if Will’m’s likening himself to the cubs. Time’s coming when I’ll have to tell him about Pauline, although he’s never asked. He hasn’t yet learned that all God’s creatures got to fend for themselves, and the devil takes the hindmost.

“Well, give me your scarf, boy. We’ll muzzle her good and tie her on the toboggan.”

“I could sit with her,” he says, grinning.

“You could not. You’ll walk behind and keep your eyes open. Now do as I say, or we’ll leave her here.”

“Yes’m.”

“And there’s not God’s chance she’s sleepin’ in the four-poster, or under it, either. And if there’s no change by morning, I’m putting her down.”

It’s tricky without a rope. I pull, Will’m steadies. More than once the wolf slides off, and we stop to rearrange, and trade places. God love me, every day I understand myself less. I’m so tired that the wolf and the boy and Ida run together in my mind till I can’t think who’s who, or which needs me most.
Carolyn Wall|Author Q&A

About Carolyn Wall

Carolyn Wall - Sweeping Up Glass

Photo © Jennifer J. Parker

Carolyn Wall is an editor and lecturer. As an artist-in residence, she has taught creative writing to more than 4,000 children in Oklahoma, where she is at work on her second novel, The Coffin Maker, coming from Delta in 2010.

Author Q&A

The Birth of Sweeping Up Glass
by Carolyn Wall


Iwas teaching a group of writing students in my living room, and the subject for the evening was “following the heart.” I used baseball as the metaphor. “When the mind sets up chatter,” I said, “the heart can’t remember its name, let alone watch the ball.”

 At the time, I’d sold several hundred articles, short stories, columns, and reviews, and as a wife and mother of four, I had become more subservient to the Texaco bill and the electric company than any elusive chamber of the heart.

 But that night, I swept my class out the door and, still revved from the emotion of my own lecture, I went to the computer and fingered the keys. Out fell a scene from Sweeping Up Glass, the one in which Olivia has just told Percy that the baby is his. He shoves her out of his car, and she lies on the side of the road, the broken blue sequins of her dress making her think the stars have fallen. With the baby ready to make its exit, Olivia, stunned with gin, listens to the wolves calling down the night and waits for Ida to come out and fetch her. I had no idea where that scene came from. 

Still, I knew how to be a stubborn child, so I backed up and let Olivia boil over. I knew what it was like to adore a father, and experience hellfire with a ma’am, so much of this book is culled from my life. The first character to be spun from thin air was Love Alice. Her name, and its reason for being, burst in my head like a kernel of corn popping.

 Love Alice was the first chirping robin of spring, and she had this gift, could look in another’s eyes and know his Truths. Only in subtle ways could Love Alice tell us how she saw herself. Afterward, I briefly considered writing a book from her viewpoint, but she was too profound, too accepting, and I’d never be able to sustain her for that long. Love Alice was the perfect friend. 

Junk was enormous fun to write, and at the end of each scene, I had trouble leaving him. He became Love Alice’s soul mate, Olivia’s rock, and a baptizer and pillar of the community. Because I wanted this book to also be about “overcoming,” it seemed only right that he, too, had been badly hurt. 

In my stories, I love to harbor, then expose, secrets. Not all of them, when let loose, bloom as deliciously as my hotelier and trumpet player. I fashioned him from sweet fantasy– comfortably handsome, close to his God, and sexy to the core. Every woman should experience one Wing Harris.

 Although my face is that peachy color we folks call white, I live in a mostly black community. I love its fluid movement, the hum of its language. I was not at all surprised when Olivia prayed to God to change the color of her skin. I began her story upon conception: her refusal to leave her mother’s womb, how Ida could not recognize her birth and was trucked off to an asylum. Here’s a true story that I almost included in this book. Maybe it’ll show up in a later one. 

When I was born, we lived over a grocery store in Toronto. My father built crates in an alley for Canada Box, and sold meat pies from the basket of his bicycle. With my mother gone off to a small private hospital for shock treatments, we moved into rooms at the top of Gramma’s house. On Sunday evenings, Dad dismantled my crib, roped it to the top of the car, and threw all the baby things in back. Then he laid me on the seat beside him and drove around Toronto, looking for an aunt and uncle to take me. In a relative’s house, he’d set up my crib and kiss me good-bye.

 To help support us, and to pay the doctor and hospital bills, he worked three nights a week building radios and record players for RCA Victor. He visited my mother in the hospital and took a Wednesday-night electronics class in the back room of a Chinese restaurant.

 After work on Fridays, he’d come to me, dismantle my crib, tie it to the car, toss in my stuff, and drive us home. The next Sunday night, we began again. 

My poor aunts must have grown terribly weary of me, sometimes calling Dad to “come and get this kid.” “No matter,” he once told me. “When Gramma saw you coming, she’d open her arms wide.” 

Thus were born Olivia and Will’m. Writing love for grandchildren was a given, and I’m sure I’m not finished. Because I did not want to bore the reader, I wrote what I hope are unique relationships between characters. Some - thing basic happens when two people are in a room together, even if they have not yet met. As each character’s face, name, and trouble spilled from my fingers, I knew the possibilities were endless. 

If there ever is a sequel to Sweeping Up Glass, Olivia will feel  deeper ties to earth, sky, and water. And, had there been an epilogue to the epilogue, surely Will’m’s connections to his mother and grandmother would have impacted the ways in which he raised his own children. 

From the beginning, Olivia ached to show readers that when a thing seems to be solidly black and white, maybe it isn’t. And that moment by moment, she chose her actions and who she wanted to be. I opted for this title because, in the face of tragedy, Olivia reached for her dustpan. 

As for picking Kentucky–why does any place speak to us? I wanted to set my people down in a community that was close and passionate and persecuted, and somewhere along the way I’d fallen in love with Kentucky’s mountains and their stories. In the saddest places, I saw dignity. And somewhere– I can’t remember the exact spot–I heard music. 

My children and their offspring are far more to me than just my blood and bone. The real Ida gave me her creativity and stubbornness. She passed on two months after Sweeping Up Glass was sold, never knowing it existed. In its pages, I don’t think she’d have recognized herself. Still, she worked crossword puzzles in the newspaper with a pen until six weeks before she died. Not much got past her. 

My father was a fine speaker. Guests would say “Put on the kettle, Frank, and tell us a story.” 

Making up tales–for which I was spanked as a child–is now the axis on which my world turns. May that happen to us all. 

Know this: Sweeping Up Glass is fifty percent truth, and fifty percent based on fact. The other fifty percent (which speaks of my math skills) is flat made-up. 

Praise

Praise

“Haunting, lyrical, entirely absorbing, Sweeping Up Glass deserves a place on the shelf next to classics like True Grit and To Kill a Mockingbird.”—O, The Oprah Magazine

“Carolyn D. Wall has created an engaging character in Olivia Harker and a complex and densely interconnected community in Aurora, Kentucky. Her evocative prose recalls the regional style of such authors as Flannery O’Connor, Harper Lee, and Eudora Welty.”—Mystery Scene

"Wall gives her heroine a powerful voice in this haunting debut."—Kirkus Reviews

“A real stunner, with plot and characters the like of which you’ve never seen.”—MLB News

“Highly recommended for all collections.” —Library Journal, starred review

“This is a perfect little book, like a head-on collision between Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee, with a bit of Faulkner on a mystery binge. I loved every page of it.”—Joe R. Landsdale, Edgar-award winner

“A powerful novel…features unforgettable characters placed in a terrifying situation….this is a fine novel which deserves a wide audience.”—Mystery News

“The strong, fresh narrative voice pulls the reader in and doesn’t let go in Wall’s stunning debut.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“The suspense is gripping, the danger is very real, and the reader gets caught up in Wall’s powerful, moving debut.” —Library Journal, starred review

“This debut novel does so much more than traditional, tightly focused mysteries. It has a powerfully, sometimes uncomfortably, realized setting; characters who seem drawn from life; and a wide-ranging plot, bursting with complications...A gripping story and a truly original voice.” —Booklist

“This extraordinary debut novel…is filled with arresting images, bitter humor, and characters with palpable physical presence. The fresh voice of that clear-eyed narrator reminded me of Scout in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I literally could not put it down.” —Boston Globe
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. The wolves provide a connection to the mountain, and therefore to Olivia’s past. What in nature connects you to where you live?

 2. How do you think you would react if you discovered a massive, life-changing secret? 

3. Olivia discovers that her hometown is a hotbed of racist hatred. Have you ever discovered something awful about the place that you grew up? How did you react? 

4. Are the people who kept Olivia’s secret from her truly her friends? Do you believe they genuinely had her best interests at heart? 

5. The last paragraph of the book finds Olivia contemplating that “in Aurora, there’s still division between coloreds and whites. I’m equally to blame.” Do you think that Olivia is partly to blame for this division? How or why not? Do you agree with Olivia’s assessment that “It’s not that I pretended– I just didn’t see”? 

6. How much do you think Wing knew about the Cott’ners? If you believe that he knew about the lynchings, do you think that makes him as culpable as those who carried them out? 

7. Was Olivia right to prevent Pauline from taking Will’m with her back to California? Was Will’m safer going back to the uncertainty of Hollywood with his mother, or staying on the mountain with Olivia? 

8. Sweeping Up Glass examines segregation enforced by society, but also voluntary segregation from society. Can you see parallels to today in how people can segregate themselves either as individuals or as a community? What goals can hope to be achieved through such self-segregation? 

9. Do you believe that there is redemption for Tate? Does keeping the books and leading Olivia to them redeem him for his actions? 

10. For letting Olivia grow up believing what she did, is Tate as much an antagonist to Olivia as Alton Phelps? 

11. Do you think Ida knows what she does? Do you see her as being in control of her actions? Can you see a parallel in your own life of someone who appears to be out of control, but may know exactly what she is doing? 

12. The characters of Will’m and Tate are viewed as being universally “good,” whereas the Phelps brothers are viewed as being universally “evil.” Do you think it is that clear-cut in the story? In real life, are people ever one or the other? 


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