Elaine Drennon Little, of Calhoun, has released her first novel, “A Southern Place.” The story is set in a fictional community based on Little’s hometown of Newton in Baker County.
CALHOUN — If you’ve ever been in Baker County for any length of time, you realize immediately that Dumas County in the new novel “A Southern Place” is a representation of it.
There is the reference to the 1965 flood that forced downtown Newton merchants to move to higher ground a mile to the west on what used to be the edge of town. There’s the imagery of the Flint River, the river’s banks, working plantations, the liquor stores/bars that flourished during a time when neighboring counties were dry, and fields of peanuts and other crops. One of the settings in the book is a factory where women’s undergarments were sewn, based on Newton’s single factory that was shuttered some years ago.
“A Southern Place,” by Elaine Drennon Little, takes place in the county seat of Nolan in Dumas County. Set over a period from 1953 until 1989, it follows the lives of three generations of the Mullinax family — matriarch Mary Pearl; her children, Delores and Cal, and Delores’ daughter, Mary “Mojo” Jane.
Writing a book, Little said, was “something I always wanted to do. It was something I enjoyed doing.”
The writing bug goes a long way back. In high school, her English teacher, Virginia Jones, often urged her to write a book, Little said. “I thought that you had to have all these adventures first, had to have lived in the south of France,” she said. “I really didn’t have anything to write about. I had to live for a while before I had a perspective.
“I still can’t write about Paris, France, or the south of France, but I can write about what I know.”
Fast forward to 2010. Little has retired from a career as a music teacher and decides to pursue an master’s of fine arts from Spalding University’s long-term residency program. She hopes to one day teach creative writing at the college level.
And “A Southern Place” is full of her experiences, observations and imagination, particularly from her first 20 years of life in Baker County. Before she became a music teacher and her husband, Joe, a lawyer, in Calhoun, they were in a band that traveled to different small venues. An aspiring small-time singer — not based on Joe, she notes — plays a significant role in her story.
In fact, only one character is based on a real-life individual, she said.
“The county agent who shows up for about a page and a half is my dad,” she said. “Everybody else I pretty much made up. The town’s the same, the situations, but I made up the people.” That character, T.W. Danner, shows up briefly in the book as the University of Georgia Extension Service county agent. Little’s father, the late W.D. Drennon, was a farmer and a longtime county agent in Baker County.
Her tale about the Mullinaxes, permanent residents of the lower end of the economic spectrum, started out as a short story that she submitted to an online journal. In writing program workshops, she said, “Mainly what professors told me and students, too, was, well, we like it, but this isn’t a short story. This is the beginning of a long story.
“So I went with it and by the second semester I had written the first draft of the whole thing. Then I played with it another two or three years before I got it like I wanted it.”
As the story expanded, the Mullinaxes’ lives became more complicated, largely because of their interactions with the town’s wealthiest family — the Fosters.
Phillip Twitty Foster III owns Nolan Manufacturing and Oakland Plantation, running his enterprises — and his family — in a classic hard-nosed industrialist manner. His son, Phil, is a learning-challenged ne’er-do-well playboy who — the few times he starts to gain some traction in life — finds his efforts stymied by his father.
Cal, always quick with a quip, works at Oakland until he loses an arm in peanut harvesting equipment, receives a significant settlement from Foster and builds a house on stilts near the river (again, based on a real structure). Delores, who struggles to make ends meet, works at Nolan Manufacturing and the Sundown saloon, which Phil likes to frequent.
Life in Nolan for the Mullinaxes is, in a word, gritty as they face personal tragedies and challenges. The opening chapter of the book sets the tone, with a grown Mojo receiving emergency care in a hospital in 1989 as she fights for her life and that of her unborn child.
The major characters take turns as the focal points of chapters, which are named after the character and the year in which the action take place.
“I like multiple narrators,” Little said.
One of the quirkier parts of the story? A reference to the size range of the women’s panties produced at the Nolan factory — up to size 44. The inspiration for that, it turns out, came from the other end of the state.
“I live close to Rome,” she said, and along the road there is “a gas station that has a little general store and it has this sign outside that says, ‘We have size 44 Liberty overalls.’
“And it’s just a little country store on a country road and I always wondered, do people go, ‘We must stop! They have size 44 Liberty overalls!’ what possessed them to put that on the front of the building? And do they really have them?”
Mojo, who’s at the heart of the story, seems to have struck a chord with those who have read the book. Little says she’s been asked whether Mojo will show up in a sequel. She said she’s currently working on a novel set in North Georgia — something lighter and more humor oriented — that doesn’t include any of the characters from “A Southern Place.”
“Several people have asked me that. I’m not planning on it. I’m not saying I won’t,” she said. “I kind of figured she’d went through enough. ... She had enough.”
An official launch party of “A Southern Place” is set for Aug. 15 in Calhoun and Little has a book signing scheduled with some other authors at the Mall of Georgia in Buford. She’s hoping to schedule a book singing in the Albany area soon.
“A Southern Place” is available from amazon.com. The book was published by WiDo Publishing of Salt Lake City.