There's just something different about Enie.
From the moment this mysterious young woman sweeps into the sleepy Southern town of April's Hope, she raises eyebrows. Well-spoken and so "city," she quickly purchases the town's most expensive piece of real estate: the elaborate, hulking, custom-built stone house, which has sat empty for two years. She also keeps the details of her personal life to a minimum ... fresh out of Philly, her fortune made in Internet domain prospecting in the 1990s, looking for something different in her life ...
Just why Enie is in the town of April's Hope is sure to keep readers guessing in the third novel from longtime author and journalist Billie Rae Bates -- known on this news blog as our own BRB.
"She's a mysterious figure, and she's very different," says Bates, who up until a couple months ago lived in the South, herself. "Tongues quickly start wagging about her, and as the story progresses, it's clear there's something unusual going on with her life. She's on the run from something or someone, and strange things seem to happen around her."
"Enie" is a story about redemption, the author says. "Just about every character in the book experiences some sort of personal redemption, however great or small, and for the two main characters, it's very big."
"Enie," a 388-page trade paperback, is a departure from Bates' other two novels, "Rubi" and "Call Me Mary Magdalene." The other two books were set in downtown Detroit, where Bates spent seven years living and working. Those first two novels also were written in the first person, whereas "Enie" is written in the third person. And another element unique to "Enie": for the character and place names, the 41-year-old reached back in time -- to her elementary school days, to be exact.
"I mixed and matched first and last names of kids I went to school with," she says. "There's a Jodi Lane, a Hall Street, a city named Markton ... and the character names are mostly derived from pieces of those elementary schoolmate names."
Born and raised in rural mid-Michigan, Bates graduated from Michigan State University with a bachelor of arts degree in journalism and English. She spent 10 years in the daily newspaper business, including The Detroit News, before moving into the corporate world for several years. She then worked in ministry for several years while living in Georgia, all the while developing not only the novels but also BRBTV, which began as a web tribute to classic '80s TV shows such as "Dallas" and "The Dukes of Hazzard" and evolved into fact books and reference guides.
The idea for "Enie" came to Bates on May 18, 2004, as she was sitting at her kitchen table in northern Michigan, where she had worked as a director of communication at a health system. "I dismissed it at first," she admits, "because I was just finishing up my second novel for print and really didn't want to take on another project, and I was nurturing a lot of BRBTV projects at the time, too. But the more I tried to ignore this idea for a third novel, the more it seemed to chase me around. I realized that the project was very special."
In some ways it's been a labor of love, much like the attention-getting photo-essay project, "My Mother's Clothing," which she launched in 2008 in celebration of her 40th birthday. The yearlong project, a sort of weekly photo and essay blog, chronicled 52 different pieces from the clothing collection once belonging to her mother, Lois Ann Bates, and originally worn in the '50s and '60s. Bates followed up My Mother's Clothing with a second yearlong photo essay project for 2009, "The Inexplicable Lives of Dolls," which showcases her own fashion doll collection from childhood and modern times.
And now, as a special initiative in memory of her mother, Bates is giving away a free copy of "Enie" to 100 friends and family members who've supported her in her writing efforts.
"Any writer will tell you, this business is a long, long road, rife with rejection," says Bates, who recently moved from Georgia to the Washington, D.C., area. "I've very much appreciated anyone I've known who's paid a compliment, bought a book, or shown support in some other way. Plus, I believe so much in this story that I'm going to make sure someone reads it -- even if I have to give the books away!"
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Paperback: 388 pages
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (2009)
Available at Amazon, BookSurge, Target.com, Alibris, Abebooks.com and other e-tailers