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MISSOURI 1900
GREENWICH VILLAGE
YAN’AN

Missouri 1900

“By God, this is a fine way to start off the new century!” Father shouted.

Agnes looked through the sunflower stalks at the man in the fancy buggy who waited outside the cabin. Two bluebirds flitted from an oak to an elderberry bush. A woodpecker, quick wooden clapper in the bell of summer, rapped on the trunk of a walnut tree. Inside, Mother was crying.

“You’ve been busy while I was away! Who is he? Who’s the father? Just tell me that! Everyone’s wonderin’!”

Agnes ran to the well and pumped a stream of water into the tin cup that hung on the post. She wet her face, then dried it with the floursacking of her skirt. Sometimes when she and Father stood here after supper he would point to the Missouri hills rolling one after another, like waves on an ocean, he said, and when she asked if he’d seen the ocean he said no, but he didn’t need to. He already knew what it looked like. He would tell her about his Indian blood which he’d passed on to her, then spit with contempt at the Rallses, Mother’s family, farmers and church-goers who would always be poor.

The Rallses didn’t bother to think about what was beyond those hills, he said. The Smedley line was different. The Smedleys, now, they had some imagination. Some spunk. And Father would tell about the opportunities farther west. How you could jump on the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul and be out of Missouri before you knew it. There was a fortune to be made out west in any number of enterprises.

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“A fascinating story, and a wonderful book.”
Alex George, author of A Good American

“Lee’s prose is smooth and her account of Smedley’s evolution is sympathetic and colorful…the author adeptly creates scenes that highlight the surreal miscellany of her subject’s life…and engaging tale about a remarkable female activist.”
Kirkus Reviews

“The novelist’s portrayal of Smedley’s emotional life, especially her love life, is powerful.”
Stephen R. MacKinnon, co-author of Agnes Smedley: Life and Times of an American Radical

“This is a beautifully and deftly written account of the life of one of the most intriguing women of the first half of the twentieth century.”
Gary Kremer, Director of the State Historical Society of Missouri

“Marlene Lee, whose first novel, The Absent Woman, was published in 2013 when she was 74 years old, is an undiscovered literary gem, with a unique style and perspective; her work is full of subtle insights and unexpected poetry. She has been overlooked for far too long.”
Robert Peett, Holland House Books

 

Read Two Essays About the Writing of NO CERTAIN HOME:

Travels With Agnes Smedley
They Said It Couldn’t Be Done

 

Limestone-Wall---Digital-CoverI wrote Limestone Wall because, for years, I remembered visiting one of my father’s heart patients in her fine old home on Capitol Avenue, across the street from the Missouri State Penitentiary. Even as a girl I knew there was something ludicrous about drinking hot chocolate and playing canasta with a well-dressed elderly lady whose living room windows looked out on the limestone wall of the prison.

I once wrote a short story, imagining an escaped prisoner from across the street breaking into the old lady’s house and kidnapping my little sister, who, of course, would be rescued by heroic me.

My mother was never incarcerated; I want to make that clear. However, since she died when I was a child, I’ve often wished her back, and so Limestone Wall is a bit of wish fulfillment that turned out to be so interesting I couldn’t stop writing it until I reached the end.

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The Scoville novellas were not all written at the same time. Far from it.When my editor at Holland House Books asked if I had any fiction for his mystery imprint, Grey Cells Press, I said, “Not really. Just a little booklet I wrote years ago. I’m really a literary novelist, you know.”

“Send me a copy, anyway,” he said.

“Three Blind Mice” was written so long ago that I had to manually transfer the original Selectric typewritten version onto my hard drive.

“If you write two more novellas with the same characters and setting,” he said, “we’d have a book.”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” I said. “It’s been years since I’ve lived in Oregon.”

“Try,” he said.

So I closed my eyes and tried to remember the ocean, the foghorn, the seagulls. Most of all I tried to reestablish my relationships with Detective Scoville and Humboldt Denton. Maggie Denton, too, of course.

It was not difficult. They’re still alive for me.

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cover-kindle-format-e1380855083184Rebecca’s Road These Rebecca stories follow a road trip I once took. In a sense, Rebecca was my companion. I use the same locations, though many of the details are pure fiction. She came to gradual life after I reported a trial in which the defense attorney, an aging woman (like Rebecca, fifty, red-headed, ungainly, easily rattled) was overpowered by a slick young attorney who I thought was representing a dishonest client.Watching the trial, my sympathy was aroused. The red-headed attorney had trapped herself in a prison of immaturities. Gradually she became Rebecca Quint. Her fictional life, it turns out, touches on some of the ways in which I, too, had trapped myself. When you read my fiction, you are hearing the key turn in the lock.

Read an excerpt from the short story “Bargain.”

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absentwoman-e1380854322151I wrote this novel when I was, like Virginia Johnstone, living in a small fishing village in the Pacific Northwest.

And like Virginia, I had turned my world upside-down and was very busy setting it to rights. My characters often disturb their comfortable worlds.

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Marlene Lee

Writing From Where I Live

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