Sunday 29 January 2023

Excerpt of Southern-Fried Woolf by Drema Drudge

I am thrilled to be hosting a spot on the SOUTHERN FRIED WOOLF by Drēma Drudge Blog Tour hosted by Rockstar Book Tours. Check out my post and make sure to enter the giveaway!


About The Book:


Author: Drēma Drudge

Pub. Date: January 23, 2023

Publisher: Wit & Whimsy

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Pages: 288

Find it: Goodreads

Briscoe Chambers is not only the manager of her country music star husband, but a graduate student trying to complete her Virginia Woolf thesis by fall - the same time her cheating husband, Michael, has an album due to avoid being in breach of contract. No problem, right?

Except his co-writer will be Velvet Wickens, his idol who has been opening shows for him. And who happens to be the one he's cheating with. Now Briscoe has been asked by their record label to ensure the album gets finished on time. To accomplish this, they must all live together for the duration of the writing of the album.

And by the way, Briscoe knows.

Fans of the writing of both Taylor Jenkins Reid and Virginia Woolf will enjoy this novel that has plenty of sweet tea, country music, Virginia Woolf, and heartache.


"Southern-Fried Woolf is an uproariously funny, deeply insightful, and engagingly complex novel on many levels." - Rick Neumayer, author of Journeyman and Hotwalker

"A celebration of how books and music can help one transcend life's daily trials, Southern-Fried Woolf is a quick-witted and erudite novel, drenched in a love of literature and music." Self-Publishing Review

"Drema Drudge has taken a typical novel outline and made it into an even more exciting and unique story. From Briscoe's thesis being woven into each chapter to being a part of every thought and emotion she has, the story captivates the audience from start to finish."- Literary Titans

"Drudge pitches us into Nashville's vivid world, full of fascinating characters and expertly depicted settings. You can almost taste the sweet barbecue beans and hunks of honeyed cornbread."- Maggie Humm, author of prize-winning novels Talland House and Radical Woman: Gwen John & Rodin

"A cleverly plotted, character-led novel combining country music and Virginia Woolf. Now there´s a mix!"- A 'Wishing Shelf' Book Review

 Chapter 1

I push my whining phone across the bed with my toes until it dangles over the edge like an imperiled onscreen Marvel superhero. Not that it stops ringing. I admire my freshly polished toenails, (sunset chrome, very cool), but force my fingers to return to the home keys while my thoughts hunt for a similar perch. I sweep my hair off my shoulder with determination; my graduate thesis I have nicknamed Beastis is due too soon to allow interruptions of any kind, I sternly warn myself. I thwart the creeping dusk with the twist of a lamp switch to extend the day, and I once again position my fingers. This time, I actually move them: 

In what has been seen by some as her most autobiographical work, Virginia Woolf weaves into her novel, To the Lighthouse, a “femininely” knitted and “masculinely” knotted marriage of covert and subtle madness, though not one without warmth and love. She challenges the reader with a paradox: She makes sacred the domestic arena while revealing madness by the domestic activities themselves, thus showing us the “twisted (and twisting) finger” of one of the main characters, Mrs. Ramsay…. …and of herself,” I type while frowning at my insistent phone, while wondering how much shit I’ll get for using the word madness, and especially in relation to Woolf. I highlight it to consider it carefully in light of previous and present scholarship, to decide if it even makes sense to use it. 

Hell, madness is a word literature has pretty much co-opted for centuries. Then again, it’s also one that can be seen as making light of mental illness. That’s a topic for my feminist mother, “madness” in women in literature. 

The marimba stops, then almost immediately resumes, bones on metal, and finally it registers that the noise is my husband’s ringtone. 

I groan and lean across the time-softened quilt for my phone. My shifting sends a cascade of mini-chocolate bar wrappers onto the floor as I rescue the phone just as it vibrates over the edge. 

Wait, could this call mean Michael actually wants to speak to me, even though he has Queen Velvet around? Hope grows the flimsiest bones and then sags back to the ground, the garbage cartilage it was to begin with. Hope, the enemy of peace. Sponsored by Tanqueray and tonic, my thesis writing beverage of choice. 

Staying home this leg of the tour was so I could work on my monstrously overdue thesis (not to mention the screaming towards-us Ride ‘Em Benefit), not tell the band which bus cabinet the TP is hiding in. Some days I feel half road manager (which I am), half toddler wrangler (which I have repeatedly shouted that I am not). 

After months of research, of Pinterest boards full of quotes and sources, of online JSTOR searches so extensive and particular if the search engine had been human it would have chortled, after false starts and over fifty proposed thesis statements, after asking myself (and my mother) again and again what I want to say so my advisor won’t have to sort my thoughts for me like a drawer of mismatched socks, I finally have a long, admittedly conjoined, couple of sentences with as many branches and as much punctuation as I think I can get by with, though it still doesn’t embrace all I want to explore about Woolf and domesticity, about anything and everything Woolf, and most especially, about all things Lighthouse

A well-crafted thesis statement launches the logic and thus the essay, so it is imperative to get that right, or so says my mother. This might be the one, the thesis statement. It feels close. 

I sit up and hit the talk button on my phone harder than necessary. 

“Hey, Briscoe,” Ben says, his voice billy goat deep but gentle as a kid’s. It can’t be good news if the huggable one is calling, and from Michael’s phone. 

It isn’t. 

Michael, I am informed, has fallen off the stage during a show and sprained his arm; Ben claims an Ace bandage and a sling will take care of it. 

“Hand Michael the phone.” With a musician, any arm or hand injury is potentially worrisome. Ben says that the doctor is still finishing up with Michael. 

“Fine. I’ll book myself a flight.” I open Kayak, click on the “flights” tab, and plug in “Alabama.” 

“No, it’s just a minor sprain,” Ben says. 

My fingers freeze at the edge of panic in his voice which seems more at the thought of me flying to them than about Michael’s welfare. My suspicion rises, and “not again” knots in me. I wonder if I’ll finally get the Tiffany’s sapphire necklace to complete the ring and bracelet set if I’m right. Or maybe I’ll ask for earrings this time. 

“I’ll have him call you in the morning, after his pain killer has worn off.” 

In the background, Michael shouts at someone to leave him alone. 

My involuntary ab crunch vaults me into a sitting position and knocks my MacBook onto the floor. 

“Ben, hand him the phone.” 

“Hang on,” Ben says. A door slams, and I hear a muffled announcement made by the hospital’s public address system blares – some doctor needing to report to some room. 

I pick up my computer, shake it gently, relieved nothing shakes back. 

“Ben? Benny?” 

Finally I get a response. “He’d had a few, said he’d open for himself when V. had to leave unexpectedly.” 


At the best of times, Michael is not inhibited. I count it a mercy he fell off the stage before he could remove his pants. Not that he ever has, but you never know, if it might get him attention. 

“He must have had more than a few,” I say, belatedly scrolling through social media, which tells me plenty about the incident, except why Velvet fled the tour. It slowly sinks in. “V. left? Why wasn’t I notified?” 

If I’d known I was going to be called upon to be rational, I would have started drinking earlier and less leisurely. Michael’s tumble explains my phone pinging like it was possessed about an hour ago. I had convinced myself to ignore the messages because I assumed they were related to the show, how great Michael was, etc. Where exactly has Patrick, Personal Assistant and Keeper of All Things Social Media, been, though, to tell me what was going on? 

I click on one of the videos so courteously provided by my followers and watch Michael’s not-so-glamorous fall. As he lands on his arm, my eyelids slam, and my stomach clenches. 

On the video, fans come forward to help, security pushes through. The person recording moves unsteadily closer to Michael, who rolls over and groans. The clip ends. I play it again, pausing it right as Michael’s face turns towards the camera. Oh, god. He closes his eyes as if he’s been defeated by David and his slingshot. 

But why hasn’t Patrick alerted me? Heads. Will. You know. “If it’s only his arm, tell him to call me, no matter how late. Nothing wrong with his mouth, is there?” I say to Ben as I text Patrick, who is only in town because he drove me back to Nashville so we could prep for the benefit as the rest of the crew headed to one last concert before coming home long enough for Michael to cohost the event with me. I turn my laptop back on. It still works, a minor miracle performed by the surely minor angel assigned to me because I’m not the star of my marriage. I need a lanyard with a badge reading “Support Staff” to wear all the freaking time. Ben breathes into the phone, which is about as excitable as he gets. That’s usually comforting. 

“I’ve asked Joy to have brunch with you tomorrow.” “Why?” I hope my tone doesn’t reveal my dislike of his wife. She works in the health care industry in some high level capacity, and mercifully, I don’t have to interact with her much. 

“Just…please, Briscoe. I don’t want you to be alone right now.” 

I hang up without promising to have brunch with his irritating wife, and I watch the video again, guessing new answers to a couple of questions. 

Like why it was suddenly okay for me to leave the tour for a few days when Michael has always insisted on having me in his pocket, or at least immediately accessible for troubleshooting for those times when Patrick isn’t tough enough. It explains why Michael now cares about my schooling when he regularly laughs at my mother’s academic fetish that I have contracted. He literally howls every time one of us says “Woolf.” 

This same man told me to “Go, go, go” when I confided how worried I was about being able to meet the deadline for submitting my overdue thesis and prepping for the benefit. (I should have come home sooner, but I was afraid to leave him alone. Rightly so, wouldn’t you say?) 

I shoot Michael a text: Call me before remembering Ben has Michael’s phone. No answer. For a few seconds I contemplate calling V., or even Robert, V.’s husband. But you don’t make calls when you don’t want to know the answer to what you have to ask if you do call. 

The possibility that my husband of a decade has been with that moth-eaten Southern Belle who dresses in head-to-toe Manuel or its ilk…not a rhinestone within the lower 48 safe from her. (No shade to Manuel’s gorgeous work, obviously.) 

Michael’s atrocious taste usually amuses me, but I hadn’t thought his sexual and romantic inclinations so banal, so textbook tacky country. Even if he is a hat act with an insatiable need to be adored. Typical performer personality. Not entirely true. Therefore, not entirely false. 

A quick call to Janice, Michael’s publicist, to fill her in (but she’s already seen the news) and tell her I’ll send her a release to approve as soon as I can. I hang up without saying goodbye, without explaining why I feel the need to write it myself. 

My fingers type five different scenarios as quickly as possible to release to the press. The last one: “Because he’s a selfish prick who doesn’t know what he has, and he’s had a musical crush on V. since he was a teen.” That one seems truest, not that Janice would ever let me send that one out. I email her the mildest one and await her tweaking. 

I go find more tonic water and lime, ice, and most importantly, more Tanqueray. 

After pacing our bedroom, I strip the bed and toss everything into the corner to avoid even the idea of Michael’s scent. I spread the antique quilt back atop the naked bed and hop onto it, wondering how many stories the quilt has borne witness to. My and Michael’s is just one more. Someday, it will belong to the past, too. (It smells of the past, not of Michael, I am relieved to discover.) 

The inevitability of death has never frightened me. Oppo site, really. 

I turn off the lamp and watch the darkness finish conquering the sky out my window before turning it back on and running for the bathroom, my hands over my mouth. 

With damp eyes and fresh breath, I get back to work. They don’t call it the ivory tower for nothing. In the event that I have had a breakthrough, I email my mother my current thesis statement and text her to check her inbox, wishing my words to convey what I won’t allow myself to mention. She lives alone on a mountainside, so I think I know what her advice would be about my marriage. 

Sucking on a piece of ice, all that remains in my glass, I fire off more useless texts to the band, then hunker back over the laptop. 

Mother responds. Let the clouds part; let the sun shine – she approves of my thesis statement. Actually, she says “This works.” 

It’s enough. I drill at the thesis, erecting guideposts, a frame. I’ve come to enjoy this intellectual stimulation that is the antithesis of writing country songs. 

Before you get your cut-offs in a twist, I don’t mean that disparagingly. Country music is meant for the emotions, and I love it for that. I need it. God, how I do. Intellectualism has no place in it. But academia is a marvelous place to hide. 

I don my manager hat and, not ignoring my phone now, soothe venue owners and friends, promising answers as soon as I have them; I wisely leave social media for Patrick, wherever he is. Not answering my texts and calls, that’s for sure. 

The brawny aroma of gin and the citric tang of lime fill my nose and mouth as I make myself another drink. As I fight down nausea again, half-seen images from the road come to mind, things I wouldn’t allow myself to comprehend before. They didn’t have to throw it in my face. I left them alone, didn’t even confront them before I left; what more did they want? I wasn’t even sure it was happening. When I asked Patrick, he avoided the conversation so adroitly that in retrospect I know he either knew or had his suspicions. Bottomless lust. Humans clutching onto one another as if anything could stop the inevitable. 

I think of inventing a reason to wake our housekeeper, Bernita, but what would I say? 

I glance at the title of my essay once again. 

Knitting and Knotting: The Paradox of Domesticity in To the Lighthouse 

Heart aching, I begin with the quote that started me thinking from the get-go. That twisted finger seemed no throw-away item when I noticed it. 

What was the spirit in her, the essential thing, by which, had you found a crumpled glove in the corner of a sofa, you would have known it, from its twisted finger, hers indisputably?…she opened bedroom windows. She shut doors. (So she tried to start the tune of Mrs. Ramsay in her head)” To the Lighthouse (26). 

I add the definition of twisted from the OED, Oxford English Dictionary, the dictionary’s dictionary, so that I don’t appear to be cherry picking. I mean you always are when it comes to essays, because there’s no other way to do it, but you’re not supposed to seem like it. 

I check on when twisted was first used to mean unbalanced to be sure I’m on the right track. I am. You don’t, Mother has drilled into me, want to give the committee any excuse to reject your work. They will find enough holes anyway, no matter how carefully you write, she says. 

There’s also the combining nature of twisted, as in braiding; I make a note. 

My mother suggested early on that I add my personal thoughts on Woolf’s novel to my essay to warm up the committee. She spat out at the time that this is a recent academic “concession to readability and accessibility.” She disapproves of those who think academic jargon is BS. (That would be me and anyone, say, under 35.) 

Accessibility. That’s what I love about country music. It’s utterly relatable, even for those who refuse to acknowledge that it is. It’s take-off-your-Spanks and stay awhile. It’s “feel every last pain or drink a beer or two and forget anything hurts. Your choice.” 

I first read To the Lighthouse all in one sitting. 

Which, as you will learn, isn’t entirely true. It is true of the first time I read it as an adult. Its sentences and point-of-view shifts thrilled me with their complexity, with the novel’s mundane subject raised to the level of worthy of Woolf’s scrutiny. Which made me dislike my own life a little less and find it deserving of examination, too. 

The next day, I read the novel again. In all, I read it six times before I felt comfortable talking about it; the novel’s intricacy and cleverness demand and reward more than a single reading. What drew me most was Woolf’s complicated stance on domesticity. It confused me. Why were there such moments of discontent and near madness in the book related to the topics of marriage and parenthood, paralleled with moments of tenderness in the Ramsays’ own marriage? Why elevate domesticity to an art at times, but then make it seem mindless and unfulfilling? 

And underneath those socially acceptable questions (because literature), my heart asking, am I no better than a fool? For the academics in the balcony, and to maintain my sanity while I wait for my jester, here: 

The paradox manifests, unexpectedly, in the structure and style of To the Lighthouse. It plays itself out in the choice of specific words and is reflected in the larger overview of the novel. Both in its details and its framework, the novel dynamically expresses the self-contradictions of Mrs. Ramsay (and Woolf herself) when it comes to the role of nurturer, caretaker, wife, and domestic angel. The “angel in the house” was a Victorian ideal, a wife who was submissive and devoted to her husband and household in all things. She was self-sacrificing and pious. 

The Ramsays’ astute son, James, comments upon the ambiguity of life: “For nothing was simply one thing” (95). This phrase keys us into Woolf’s design. If we forget to apply this to the entire novel, however satisfying that upper layer might be, we miss its rich, meaty core. 

To make her point, Woolf uses symbols, as writers do: a boot is not just footwear on Mr. Ramsay — it symbolizes his discontent and desire – it represents the journeys he would like to make with those shoes. By having James tell us outright that everything is more than one thing, Woolf invites us to reexamine her writing for symbols, a practice not unfamiliar to readers of Woolf, or, indeed, to literature as a whole. 

In part, the ambiguity of domesticity in To the Lighthouse is bound up in Woolf’s choice of multifaceted words. One I focus on is the word “twisted,” as seen in the opening quote, a word that can be negative (as in a snarl) or positive (uniting). 

Woolf chooses a young woman who wants to be a painter, Lily Briscoe, a house guest determined to have her “vision” upon canvas, to “see” the Ramsays’ marriage as art for us. 

Mrs. Ramsay insists that Lily must marry, as if all young women must, but Lily does not wish to marry. Throughout the novel, Lily repeatedly gazes at the Ramsays’ marriage, at the complex relationship, at her own longing to be a painter, rather than a wife, examining them with her paintbrush. She cannot bring herself to desire such a union or be part of an institution she views with ambivalence at best. 

To lend to the argument that Lily is studying marriage, (as is Woolf), in the abstract, rather than individuals, neither of the Ramsays is given first names in the novel, something this reader finds disconcerting and dehumanizing for the characters, however much she understands the author’s aim. Here, perhaps more than anywhere, we see remnants of Woolf’s original ambition that became part of her novel The Years – to write a novel essay, something that will be revisited later. 

It says even more about Woolf’s relationship with her own mother and her own leanings towards art rather than motherhood if Mrs. Ramsay symbolizes Woolf’s mother, and it’s safe to say she does. Woolf’s family vacationed at a place similar to this when Woolf was a child, which also nods to the autobiographical. 


Since Michael won’t contact me, regardless of what Ben says, I’ll go to him. I send Patrick a text telling him I have to take off and that he should hire temps if he needs extra help prepping for Ride ‘Em. Not that he does – his checklists have checklists. We’re nearly ready. As much as I hate to desert him, I can’t think about tablecloths just now. 

I pack and jump into my car, but a vehicle swoops into the drive before I can leave it. Patrick hops out and literally stands in front of the car in his red Iron Man pajamas with outstretched hands while I tell him to move and curse him until he motions for me to get out. 

After I bless him out for not being on top of The Story, and only half hear his lame-ass excuse (something about an argument with his boyfriend, the extended version), I stand with my arms crossed while he tries to explain why it makes no sense for me to go, especially since he needs my help. (He is the one helping me, but whatever.) 

“Let Michael sleep it off. Ben swears he’s bringing him home as soon as the doctor okay’s it. They just want to be sure he doesn’t have a concussion.” 

“A concussion? Nobody said anything about a concussion.” “No, he doesn’t for sure have one; it’s routine to keep patients overnight to be sure they’re okay.” 

“I know that. Everyone knows that. But are you sure they don’t think he has one?” 

I lean against my car door, the faintly vanilla scent coming from the partially opened car window competing with my ire. Insects chorus, asking me if I really want to go to Alabama. 

Not so much. And does Michael deserve to have me rush to his side just because he decided to be Public Idiot #1? I take the opportunity to razz Patrick mercilessly about the pj’s, naturally, before sending him for Round 2 with his guy. “Listen, I know you’re Iron Man and all, but trying using your words and not your gadgets on him, ‘k?” 

He put his hand to his forehead and staggered. “RDJ…” We both adore Robert Downey Junior, incipient wrinkles and all. Who doesn’t love a wiseass? 

Patrick doesn’t apologize, but he looks hangdog enough that I kiss him on the cheek, and he says I should have that brunch with Joy. Except I haven’t told him about the invite. So yeah, a part of me knows to get ready, get ready, get ready like that preacher on TV says. But the part of me that wants to be face down in cake at least three hours a day already knows. 

Considering, my preparations involve ordering a cake. Happy Fake Birthday to every damn acre of my expanding posterior end. 


Sleep denied, the next morning I groan around the house, shove the remains of the cake down the trash disposal, and chase it with water, then ready myself for brunch with Joy. I care about Benny, dammit, so of course I’ll go, regardless of my light cake-and-gin hangover. 

Eventually, I’m dressed and made up (red Grecian-style blouse, dark wash jeans). My hair is brushed and clipped up. I pull on heeled white sandals to give me a tiny hint of height aided by the rise of hair at the front of my head. 

I can’t get out of our gates: news vans and reporters with mics and cameras block the driveway of our mini mansion on Moran Road. I wave and yell out the window for them to let me through. They know better than to be on private property. 

I duck my head and stomp the gas with what must be a wicked grin. 

The reporters run towards my vehicle for a statement. I go. I continue unimpeded when my foot nudges the gas pedal, so I assume I’ve successfully cleared them with no to minimal loss of life. I suppose the news will tell me soon enough of anything to the contrary. Musicians have great lawyers, so whatever. ( Jesus, I can feel your judgment. So maybe I peeked over the dash at the last minute and my path was clear. Way to ruin my story.) 

Brunch, as expected, is agendaed. This is Nashville. No one gets together just to eat, although get-togethers always include food. Which those of us under a certain age and above a certain status studiously avoid. 

Why is it the more money you make, the less food you’re supposed to eat? 

I have had my pre-brunch shop, feeling the hollowness of too many bags in my trunk, but preferring that to more cake. Maybe. At least for now. It’s hard to avoid the shops at Green Hills, especially when I’m in a mood because denying myself just serves to remind me of all the times my father and I did without. 

At the chic Green Hills restaurant, Etc., Joy covers my hand with hers and says how “sorry” she was to hear the news. Our food arrives, apple and kale salad for me, the roasted beet salad for her, grilled sour dough on the side for us both that neither of us will touch. 

Joy insists on us clinking our wine glasses together as the colorful plates are arranged before us, and my “smile” surely qualifies as little more than a grimace. 

After the server leaves us with a promise to return to refill our water glasses, I reclaim my hand and assure Joy that Michael will fine in no time, noting how she pretends to hide her triumphant smile with a too-late head duck: Haven’t I heard? She is sorry to be the “bearer of bad news,” but Ben let “slip,” (her hand now crossing her chest) — Michael is having an affair with Velvet (or, as we all call her, V. Appropriate nickname, wouldn’t you say?). According to Joy, when V. told Michael she couldn’t stand the guilt and was leaving the tour, Michael got drunk. Quickly. Then, the fall. 

You’re afraid your “Oh, that rumor again” doesn’t sound convincing, so you stay for another half hour, finger the stray strand of hair hanging out from the front of her so-last-decade ponytail-through-ballcap style, ask if she’s ever thought of getting highlights. Order another glass of wine. You’re so convincing she asks for your stylist’s number, which you promise to text her. You won’t. 

When she heads to the bathroom you gulp from her wine glass, gargle, and spit the liquid back into it. Then you pull out a Xany, dangle it over her drink, and reconsider. At least she told you. You swallow the pill yourself, something you ever only take when you’re under mega stress. You realize you are referring to yourself in second person in your head, probably so you don’t implode. You will encourage her to “drink up” when she returns. You will not finish yours. Because driving. You’d have to be naïve to have not entertained at least the possibility this seasonal infidelity of Michael’s could come around again, and of course, you strongly suspected it had. But with V.? Too bad you’re not writing as much as you used to, because country songwriting benefits from a constant chaffing of the sorrow bone. 

While you wait for Joy to return (ironic name), you open your purse and contemplate swallowing another pill. You refrain. In this marriage, one of you has to have some self control, no matter how slim a margin. You try not to think about that sluggish kitchen drain this morning after its meal of stale cake. 

I expend any remnant of restraint saying goodbye to Joy. I deny her news again even as I pull her in for a hug, slide her colorful Hermes scarf from her neck, and shove it into my pocket. 

As I leave the lil’ brunch of horrors, I thrust my Mercedes into drive with my right hand while extending the middle finger of my left in an unmistakable gesture of contempt at the rando jackass in front of me with the raised phone. When a video of your husband falling off the stage is trending, there’s no way someone’s lifted cell phone is taking a selfie. 

The punk with the phone jumps out of harm’s way, no doubt getting video of my squealing tires, too. So? Why should I care about my public image when my husband doesn’t care about his? (Sane Briscoe says Don’t do this. Potential negative viral video opportunity alert. Sane Briscoe isn’t driving. She also wasn’t doing the point-and-buy at Absolution and Z Gallerie before brunch with Joy. Had to almost sit on my trunk to shut it.) 

When I dig into my pocket for a tissue, I come up with Joy’s scarf instead. I gag at the pea soup smell, start to toss it out, but pause and put the swathe of multi-colored silk on the seat beside me. Bernita might like it. 

There are many things I ought to regret, like being the dummy who left my husband alone with that puma, V.; taking the scarf, I do not. Follow the bouncing ball: Joy gets her money from Ben, who gets his money from Michael. Michael’s money is partly mine. Ergo, my scarf to take. 

But there’s this: what do you have to do to smell of pea soup? Michael’s cell is still off, I discover, when I attempt calling while tearing through the miles, pausing at red lights, pushing the yellows, leading the greens, barely seeing the split-rail fences, the brochure-like backdrop of horses and the spurts of blue chicory flowers; the white, undulating blossoms of the 

sourwood trees that would calm me any other day. The cradle of mountains feels more like a coffin today. I want to drive somewhere that I can see for miles, with flat land not concealing the future that is momentarily beyond me. 

My grip on my phone would be attempted murder if I were holding anything living. 

“Michael, I’m jacked up on white wine and gossip and if that pony-tailed, ball-cap-wearing Joy is right about you and V. (I tighten my lips, twist my head repeatedly), you’d better call me back. You’d better call me either way.” I pause, then add, “How’s the arm feeling?” I punch “end” with my thumb and toss the phone onto the black leather seat beside me. 

Not that I have any doubts about the veracity of what Joy claimed. 

At least I won’t suffer the indignity of people thinking he traded me in for a cliché of a younger woman. I’m almost 29 to V’s what, darkening months of 45? 

If I were ever tempted to have an affair, I would warn Michael. It’s the decent thing to do. I’d give him the chance to provide what he wasn’t, if he would. Just like he could have given me a chance. Except, in this case, what can you give a man equal to the contact high of the presence of the overly lacquered (hair, nails, shoes) reigning queen of country music from the royal family of the same? Normal, married love must seem like a dead, plucked, bird by comparison. 

I speed around a curve, regretfully successfully. My hand drops from the steering wheel to cup my left breast. High, firm, full size D. Pretty much legendary. I know my physical strengths and weaknesses in great detail – Michael’s fans aren’t afraid to tell him and me that he could do better, regardless of how hot Patrick reassures me I am. Am I really inventorying myself? My third, trending to fourth, wave feminism is in serious danger of lapsing. Not like anyone knows what fourth wave exactly means yet (like anything, you often don’t know what something is until after it’s over), but I would prefer to advance it. This is not doing it. My nose is fine, whatever, unremarkable. Loretta Lynn cheekbones, tapered chin. My heavy brown hair could be listed in both the asset and liability columns, capable of being either unruly or straight. Gray eyes. Overall, a pleasant enough picture. 

Ah, but as a feminist, I am not trying to be anyone’s picture (Read the seminal essay by Laura Mulvey called “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Also known as the “male gaze” discussion. Fine, lazys: it says the camera, via men, who wield the camera, objectifies women, in film and elsewhere, for men’s pleasure. As a feminist, women are supposed to not care if men want to look at them while still wanting to look at themselves. A tough line even for a fourth waver, even if I have been married a decade. Who doesn’t like being admired? Which means striving to conform to both attractiveness norms and standards while pretending to give no fucks. Confusion inherent. Contradiction-infused theory – feminism, not Mulvey per se. End parenthetical. Include written device at the end of this sentence for sticklers who might see it as a mistake otherwise.) 

An aftershock of Michael’s betrayal hits in all its magnitude, and I can’t breathe until I remind myself that I’m not some tuberculin Victorian rose dying of rejection. 

As a result of my rescuing our marriage (and his reputation) from his ridiculous, ill-considered early fan fuckings, I now wear a tight size 8. I was a size 4 before his first indiscretion, a hard-won victory brought about by treating carbs as poison and the gym as my church. Still, not even close to the size 0 Velvet wears (I sneaked a peek at a jacket label of hers once, and I am 5’4” versus V’s what, 5’8’, curses upon her and all her skinny-gened, vocally blessed, taller ancestors), so maybe the betrayal is partially about what, in calmer moments, I prefer to think of as my bonus-sized body. 

I beat the dash until something rattles, then pet the poor thing like it’s a pony. 

As Michael’s road manager, my job is to contact the media, scout venues, and manage stuff. I’m not supposed to have to oversee my husband’s tragically delicious dick. 

You know he is head over for V., but with fandom bordering on obsession, professional adoration, you think/thought. You remind yourself that V. is a decade older than Michael, which makes her fifteen years older than you. So not exactly a deb. Something to cling to. Something to further despair about. 

Why should I have been on guard? Everyone knows women years are automatically doubled in terms of desirability or not. Even feminists know as hard as women secretly pray to Our Lady Botox, that’s the perception. 

What I hadn’t factored in for this newsbreak of an affair but should have is the powerful aphrodisiac fame is on both sides. I unlock my phone and try calling Michael’s crew instead, sequentially in the order I think they might be frightened enough of me to answer. They are, it would seem, to a man, too frightened to answer. As they should be. 

For a moment, I consider calling my mother, but she’s not exactly my go-to in times of trouble. 

While we wait, then (biting on fingernails, catching up on the digital plague, the inquiring emails/notifications that have overtaken my phone) some necessary backstory. **** 

My mother left my father and me for a decommissioned forest fire tower in West Virginia, when I was 12. We all thought it would only be until her grant ran out, until she had finished the book on Virginia Woolf’s abandoned essay-novel that my mother had been working on for a decade. Turned out her leave of absence extended not just from the University of Nashville, but from us, her daughter and husband, too. Who knew that her funding would be renewed instead of her commitment to her family? 

Still, I loved visiting her. As small as my mother’s cabin in the shadow of the tower was, she must have had 300 books ranging along the walls on worn oak planks resting on piles of flat rocks, the combo serving as shelves. No need to lock the place, because who would climb half a mile up Blair Mountain after nothing but her books, papers, and clothes? 

On my visits to Mother’s, I was drawn to her Woolf books. Since I was named after Lily Briscoe (though I’m Briscoe, no Lily), a character in To the Lighthouse, I asked my mother to read the novel to me. She sometimes read Woolf’s short stories and essays aloud, but never Lighthouse. Which felt like being allowed to smell dinner without getting one bite. It left me with the impression that there was something illicit about the novel, making me determined to read it. 

I waited for my mother’s daily compulsion to take hold, for her to get dressed and start muttering to herself, as was her wont. One afternoon, when she threw her camo army jacket around her shoulders and left without a word, I seized the opportunity. 

I never knew if she’d be gone ten minutes or ten hours, because she always marched out in what can best be described as a fugue state, carrying a tablet and pen. Funny how she never forgot those items but never asked me along and never even said where she was going. Usually, it didn’t matter, because I always had a book du jour, or Virgil I (her dog) and I would keep one another company, if she hadn’t taken him with her. 

More afternoons than not, I was content to sweep the room with the sparsely bristled broom, remake the bed so I could touch the threadbare quilt with its log cabin design, and sit by the empty wood stove with a book, pretending it was cold out. 

This insert-day-of-the-week (because summer), the small air conditioner groaned in the cabin like it was tired of August already. As soon as the door shut behind my mother, I dragged one of the two next-stop-kindling chairs in the house to the shelf and took down the novel from which my name came, sat on the bed, touching the book’s cover as if it could reveal the mystery inside. My mother had shown it to me on numerous occasions, told me that Virginia’s sister, Vanessa, had drawn the original cover, which seemed to mean something to her. 

The edition my mother owned reproduced the abstract pen-and-ink-drawing with its thick lines that could have represented a tree instead of the intended lighthouse, or, to my eye, what resembled a forest fire tower. How fitting, I’d later think, that the design was as incomprehensible to me as the novel itself. 

I flipped through the pages and noted the sweeps of my mother’s sharply curved handwriting, like Appalachian train tracks. My fingers traced her ink and the spots where the paper was indented by the passion of her pen. Her notes per page almost rivaled the amount of Woolf’s words there. 

In one spot, my mother’s marks inched alarmingly across the print. 

I shut the book and tossed it back onto the shelf. It fell, as if preferring to be in my hands; I picked it up and slid it back between Orlando and The Years

What a magic trick Woolf pulled off, inspiring people to co create alongside her in her book, putting their own thoughts in writing beside hers even though she’s gone, a potential conversation in every copy. 

My mother made every book in her collection hers with a pen and her tripled dog-earing. Once upon a time her cabin was crowded with boxes upon boxes of essays and articles, a small building’s worth of paper and bent books out back was moved to a storage shed in Logan because one of her Department of Natural Resources friends who still habitually checks on the tower (and thus my mom) claimed it was a fire hazard, and her out there on a mountain littered with pine trees and unraked carpets of leaves in every direction. 

I can just picture my mother frantically hauling water from the hand pump to save her research, if there had been a fire. Since birth, I have been surrounded by the detritus of both of my parents; the scent of her aging layers of paper, foxed books teaching me that more than humans age; the fading covers of my father’s vinyl albums representing his tremendous, unseen, contribution to the music scene, the yellowing sleeves inside adding to my education with their inevitable, progressive decay. When I asked my mother once what an intriguing mound of paper in the dining room was, she shrugged her narrow shoulders and said they were students’ papers to grade and Woolf-related research as if they were one and the same to her. 

Above all, Woolf’s books held court in our house. Until Mother left, a prime shelf in the bookshelf held the novels, surrounded by various biographies of her and scholarly works. 

I was in high school before I realized Woolf wasn’t her own subject like Science. When my guidance counselor asked what I might want to major in when I went to college I said, “Woolf.” “You mean literature?” 

That afternoon I called my mother and told her she had made me unfit for human society. When I explained, she laughed before warning me not to major in literature. “Dad told me not to major in music.” 

“He’s right.” 

“I must have the weirdest parents in the whole world,” I said.

“Undoubtedly. Hey, can you send me a box of Goo Goo clusters?” 

In the background, Virgil howled, and Mother tutted him quiet in an unfamiliar sweet tone. 

On the day I had my Come to Woolf moment in my mother’s cabin, I ended up pulling Lighthouse back off the shelf, tried reading it. Impressions came to mind, but I couldn’t follow the plot, if there was one. It was like being in water, not sure which direction I was headed, but enjoying the sensation. 

The opening words were about a boy with scissors and what was it, a page from a catalog? A battle between parents about whether to comfort the boy or immediately force the inevitability of reality on him: it was going to rain the next day, and the trip he hoped to make to the lighthouse was out of the question. An immense family with a flock of guests in a small, moldering vacation cottage. A motley group that for some reason put me in mind of the mix of people my father and I, then, served Thanksgiving dinner to at the Rescue Mission every year. 

I didn’t understand the plot. It seemed like Woolf was someone learning the language who doesn’t yet know how to put sentences together, how stories are told. I felt the urge to help her along, to ask her to settle down enough to choose a person’s story to tell. One person, not a whole group at once or flitting like a bird from shoulder to shoulder. Then again, something about her method seems generous, like a schoolteacher calling in turn on one student after another, leaving no one out. 

Ultimately, her writing urged me to read the novel again, became a code to break. Genius. Each time I reentered it when I was older, I found something new to admire, to study, and I realized I was the one lacking, not her style. But that came later. 

The day of my first reading, I had read most of “The Window” section of To the Lighthouse, the first part, before my mother came quietly into the darkening cabin with Virgil, causing the remaining light in the room to shift into the crevices between the logs. 

She sat on the edge of the cot beside me, the canvas sagging beneath us. 

I closed the book guiltily and reached for the stale remains of my breakfast, bread that hadn’t quite become toast in my impatience to read, smeared with what I had thought was blackberry jam but turned out to be clove-laden apple butter, a wet, devil-dark taste. 

Virgil stood on his hind legs and leapt for the hunks of bread I tossed him. 

“Well?” my mother asked. 

“It’s…it’s…” I sobbed, though even then I knew my mother expected a more coherent answer. 

As she leaned over to touch my face, I noticed that her hands were stained brown, and I fought the urge to remind her that she shouldn’t have picked up with bare hands the walnuts she’d cracked. I hoped her hands would stain me, so I would have something tangible to remember her by when my visit ended. 

My mother’s sun-dried face softened. “Nothing about Woolf is easy. If it were, I would have moved on years ago.” Implied: my father and I are not complicated. Like country music is not. We’re plain spoken. Maybe not as clever as Woolf. And that is our failing. That is the defect that causes her to reject us the way she rejected her parents’ fortune. Nothing uncomplicated, nothing that could ease life’s passage with its comfortable simplicity and warmth, is worthy of her attention. I didn’t have those words, not then, but the impression stayed with me. 

She rinsed her hands in the sink, dried them on the red and white plaid towel, leaving streaks of brown. She chased the light back out from between the logs by switching on a lamp. Then she crossed to the shelf. Hands on her hips, she reached decisively for a substantial, blue-covered paperback. 

“Try this,” she said, handing me the book. “It’s Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out. I think you’ll enjoy it. Especially the debate about writing versus music.” 

“But you named me after Lily. I want to understand this book.” 

Affection brought on by direct contact with Woolf made my mother’s face a lit house at night. I desperately wanted to provoke that expression myself. 

She sat beside me again. 

“The best way to understand it is to read it several times in a row. Each time write down every question you have about it. Then go back until you’ve answered all you can. Let me know what remaining questions you have.” 

“You’ll answer them for me then?” 

She grinned, the skin about her eyes bunching. “I don’t know that anyone could. The good news is that there are no ‘wrong’ answers. There are right ones, but no wrong. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you differently,” she said, frowning. “And never forget: there are no answers without questions.” 

I weighed the book in my hands, felt the softened cover. “Why haven’t you made me read Voyage before if it’s so easy?” My mother’s mouth opened wide with ready laughter. 

“If you force someone to read something, they’ll hate it, guaranteed.” Her knees met, and she pulled them to her chest and crossed her arms around them, as if she were about to do a somersault. “And I didn’t say it is easy.” 

We sank into the moment until my stomach rumbled, which she heard without giving the slightest indication that it was her problem. 

It wasn’t. 

“Why don’t I make dinner?” I offered. 

“None for me,” she said, getting up and emptying the zinc washtub of pillows, liberating it of its secondary function as a reading nook. She snatched up the water bucket and headed for the pump, admitting the scent of pine as she opened the door. 

When she returned, she sat at the place I had set for her at the log-fashioned picnic table, eating the Thrive chicken noodle soup and the improvised Reuben sandwich made from canned corned beef, and after finishing her pickle spear, forked one off my plate. I surrendered my second pickle with a smile before getting up to boil a pot of water to wash the few dirty dishes. Once done, I refilled the pots and put them back on the stove for her bath water. 

After her bath, we read in our respective cots far into the evening, me traversing one word of Voyage after another, until our books fell from our hands when our eyes closed. I understood the book better than Lighthouse, but I can’t say I enjoyed it nearly as much. 

My father fetched me home the next morning, just in time for me to start a new school year, and I waved at my mother from his dusty Ford truck, calling back for her to bring Voyage with her when she returned. It would have been unthinkable to take it myself. It would be like assuming I had a right to a piece of her. 

When I learned she wasn’t coming home for Christmas that year, I visited a secondhand bookshop in Hillsboro Village and located a copy of The Voyage Out, wrapped it, and put it under the tree for myself. I read Rachel to the other shore and discovered a crossover couple, the Dalloways, in the novel that made me want to read another of Woolf’s books: Mrs. Dalloway. By then, I liked Woolf more. Or maybe I was just accustomed to her fiction. 

Mother belatedly sent me a journal and a set of fountain pens for the holiday. The bottle of ink in the package leaked all over and into the journal. At my father’s insistence, I wrote her a thank-you note. 

About Drēma Drudge:

Drēma Drudge is the award-winning author of the novels Victorine (March 2020) and Southern-Fried Woolf (January 2023). A graduate of the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing, she and her husband, musician and writer Barry Drudge, have two grown children, a new granddog, and live in a picturesque town in Indiana. They also host the podcast MFA Payday. Learn more about Drēma and get a free literary fiction short story at:

Check out Drēma’s blog and get recipes from SOUTHERN FRIED WOOLF!

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Week One:


Mythical Books

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Two Chicks on Books

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A Dream Within A Dream

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Books and Kats


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Writer of Wrongs



Rajiv's Reviews

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A Blue Box Full of Books

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the book near me

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Books With a Chance

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Emily Ashlyn

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Fire and Ice




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Brandi Danielle Davis

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you so very much for sharing about my book! I truly appreciate it! :-)