Leesa Cross-Smith: Coziness and Comfort

Leesa Cross-Smith
photo courtesy Leesa Cross-Smith

I first learned about Leesa Cross-Smith in late 2017, when she wrote an essay about country musician Sturgill Simpson for Oxford American. Well, really, it was as much about her path to artistic success as it was about his, about the inspiration she drew from his work. And she said: “I got here by writing the stories I wanted to write, by not worrying about where the publishers would put me or if my readers would find me. I trust them. They trust me. They’re smart, and they know what they’re looking for. I may not be easily labeled, but I’m here anyway and it ain’t half bad.”

Well, right then, I wanted to see what she had done. So I asked her publisher about what was then an upcoming debut novel, Whiskey & Ribbons, and I’m here to tell you now: This is the real deal. You want to be in on the ground floor of Leesa Cross-Smith fandom, and this is your chance. Go for it.

I call Whiskey & Ribbons cozy and romantic. I talk often of coziness and comfort, because I am (sometimes) a naturally anxious person. Whenever I find myself worried about someone or something, real or fictional, I like to place them in a comforting spot, imagine things when they are safe and right again. In It Chooses You, Miranda July writes, “All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.” I rewrite things in my head and fanfic in my brain in order to fix sad endings, in order to make them okay. Coping and hope and holding on are just a few things that inspired me to write Whiskey & Ribbons.

Some years ago, a local police officer was shot and killed. His shift was soon to be over or had already ended, but he never made it home. I thought about him and his family a lot. And after 9/11 I watched a lot of interviews with the widows, specifically… the pregnant ones, the ones with small children… I listened to how they spoke about coping, about grieving, about how it felt when their worlds were turned upside down.

In Whiskey & Ribbons, a police officer named Eamon is killed in the line of duty, leaving behind his pregnant wife Evangeline, his best friend and adopted brother Dalton, and a lot of broken hearts. Since I was writing about something so heavy and dark, I wanted to give Evangeline and Dalton a comfy, cozy place to land. I really love snowed-in stories so I made it snow. An ice storm, a blizzard. Evangeline and Dalton are together in the home they now share and six-month-old baby Noah is safe and warm at Evangeline’s parents’ place. Evangeline’s bubbling feelings for Dalton spill over and she kisses him at the piano. I wanted to carefully and respectfully navigate that tricky territory, those romantic feelings.

Evangeline and Dalton have the comfort of their own home, their pajamas, some whiskey, some wine, some music, hot chocolate, coffee, food, a fireplace. And those emotions—intoxicating—are flooding them both from head to toe. Also, during the course of the novel, we hear from Eamon before he is killed and Dalton, too. Dalton’s love life and the search for his biological father. Eamon’s career as a police officer and his changing feelings about that career as he meets and marries Evangeline and how that shifts again once Evangeline is pregnant. He’s a good man who wants to do right by his family and also by the community he’s chosen to serve. I write of the strong brotherhood bond that Eamon and Dalton share. I also write of Dalton’s feelings for Evangeline after Eamon’s death and his feelings about stepping into his new role of surrogate father to baby Noah.

I made an awful thing happen to these characters. A random act of violence shatters everything they’ve ever known and they are forced to deal with that. I wanted to surround them with love and light, to provide an avenue of hope and peace, in spite of all that. Because what interests me is survival and goodhearted people. What interests me is faith and holding on. What interests me is all the different ways we cope and share our humanness. I set out to write a romantic, heartfelt story featuring middle-class African Americans, a story that was at times sexy and funny and sweet, a story set in Kentucky, a story rooted in the South, a story about families, both biological and chosen. I set out to somehow make the dark, sad and crooked, right and bright again.

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8 March 2018 | guest authors |