Thursday, August 22, 2013

Featured Author: J. Frank Dunkin

Today I'm happy to feature another work of Southern fiction, Bones of My Brother, by J. Frank Dunkin. To be published by Two Harbors Press, it's scheduled to launch on November 5, 2013. I think y'all are gonna love it...

8/31/13 Note: I'm shocked and saddened to report the sudden death of J. Frank Dunkin in late August, just days after he was featured here. His good friend Betty Summerlin will see that his book is still published this fall. Betty told me he received the galley last weekend, approved the final few changes on Tuesday, and died happy knowing that his book was finally published. I hope it sells a million plus copies. Please check out this book, folks. I will update this page when the buy links are available. 

1/17/14 Update: I am beyond sad to report that the publishing of Bones of My Brother has been put on indefinite hold. This is heartbreaking news, but I will update this page when I can finally share the publication date.

About the book:

From Alabama at mid‐century, there’d been John and his Evelyn — now from Minnesota at century’s end, Price and his Joy — two couples whose struggles ran as parallel as rails on a track. Had John Hobson’s smile been erased by a long ago war, or had he suffered a more defining chapter in his life? And what of his son, Price, the small‐town boy who stamped his mark upon a corporate world that would ultimately crumble about him?

For one man, there'd been the lure of “Music City” versus the love of his treasured Evie. For the other, there'd been the heady rush of success followed by a precipitous fall from grace. To be sure, a shroud of guilt had marked both men, but when Price learns of his late father’s ambition, his obsession with the past places his marriage in dire jeopardy.

John Hobson was gone now, interred “. . . in nested containers of earth, box and body,” but the secret of his lifelong angst lay not beneath the hot soil of Gethsemane's cemetery, but beneath God's tree in a tiny glade one county over. In the end, a son’s desire to bring his father’s dream to fruition triggers deadly consequences, initiating a journey along a more imperative path.

Bones of My Brother is a compelling look at failure and redemption — humanity and spirituality. At turns heartfelt and raw, this family saga is full of love and intrigue with characters facing questions about the conflict of dreams and reality, love and lust. Could it be that the answers provide a revelation, the seed of a new beginning?

Interview with J. Frank Dunkin

Frank, how long have you been writing, and how did you start?

…since I was twelve years old. I was visiting a friend who lived in a rural part of Perry County, Alabama, a redundant description because almost all of Perry County is rural.  Noticing that I had not seen his mother all morning, I asked if she had gone shopping or something. He said, “No, she’s upstairs writing.” Now, who knows why this little kid was so fascinated by that, but I was. When she came downstairs later, we talked a bit about her writing, whereupon I promptly went home and wrote a short story about a rookie baseball player. I passed it on to my friend’s mom for a critique, and she graciously ignored my “rookie” writing style to offer praise and encouragement for my enthusiasm.  That woman was Mary Ward Brown, who in later years became one of America’s most beloved short story writers. She passed away this year at age 95.

What a great story! Do you have another job outside of writing?

No, I’m retired from the shopping center development business, where I was Director of Real Estate for national retail chains for twenty-five years.

How would you describe your book in six words?

Father-son saga - their love stories.

How did you create the plot for Bones of My Brother?

I realize a lot of writers work from an outline. I tried that, but once I was into the third chapter, the story started leading me where it wanted to go. In Bones of My Brother, the plot emerged in such a way that it was necessary on dozens of occasions to go back and fill in essential foreshadowing. In a way, you might say this story was written from the inside out, and that the characters themselves demanded a certain plot.

I think that's the best kind of book. What’s your favorite line from a book?

I’ll answer that one with a paragraph from a single book:
“Macomb was an old town, but a tired old town when I first knew it. In rainy weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square.  Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square.  Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning.  Ladies bathed before noon, after their three o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.” 
…I’m guessing ninety percent of your readers will know exactly where that paragraph can be found.

No spoiler here. Tell us a book you’re an evangelist for.

The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones – by Jesse Hill Ford.  It is a spot-on dissertation of race relations in the Deep South of the 1960’s that is told from both white and black perspectives. The novel was made into a movie for which Ford wrote the screenplay as well. As a result of his writings, he received numerous death threats, which led to an unfortunate incident in which he saw a strange car parked in his drive late one night. He shot the intruder, who turned out to be a young black soldier who had picked that spot for a romantic interlude with his girlfriend. He was tried for murder but not convicted. He never recovered from the psychological impact of this event and later took his own life.

How do you get to know your characters?

They talk to me as I write, and coy and shy as they might initially seem, we eventually become good friends. After spending years conversing with these wonderful friends, it is difficult to let them go. Finishing a novel brings both exultation and a great sense of loss.

Which character did you most enjoy writing?

Old Jesse, who embodies the true spirit of the story’s central theme. Jesse was a poor, giant, muscular black man with a gentle spirit. In the story, he is both a hero and a philosopher. I patterned his appearance after a true-to-life person I knew in my childhood.

Are you like any of your characters?

I am very much like one of the protagonists, Price Hobson. We shared the same type childhoods, both graduated from Auburn University, both were in shopping center development, both lived in a major Midwestern city, traveled constantly, liked our Manhattans shaken with a cherry and twist, both… well, to be honest, I am Price Hobson – although, I will hasten to add that all the other characters are fictional.

With which of your characters would you most like to be stuck in a bookstore?

May I use a little levity here? It would be Bree Montayne, the Irish seductress.

But of course! With what five real people would you most like to be stuck in a bookstore?

I assume you mean writers? If I may choose from the living as well as from the deceased, I would choose O. Henry, Anton Chekov, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar A. Poe, and Harper Lee.

Tell us about your favorite scene in the book.

One of my favorite scenes would be from chapter 6 titled, “God Made Them Folks.”
It is Thanksgiving, 1941 at the Langston Farm House, where a majority of the story’s main characters are assembled for the annual feast in a quaint country setting. The scene begins humorously with the meal’s blessing being said as a sentence prayer, passing from one character to the next: 

“Uh, Dear God,” began Sammy, “I’m—I mean we’re—we’re right thankful for this dressing and this big old Tom turkey, and—well, you know, I reckon for all of it, Lord, but especially this turkey. Thank you.”

The order passed over an empty chair, and Nell began her meek mechanics. “Father in Heaven, we thank Thee for this day of Thanksgiving and for this bounty—” The drone of an approaching car prodded Nell’s voice to rise in joyous harmony. “—and for these present and him that’s about to be present at the feast of Your table.” She finished fast and strong, and biting her lower lip, exchanged gleeful glances with Evelyn.

The sentence continued, speeding around the squash, over the okra, and past the mashed potatoes. Now it tarried near the turkey, catching its breath near the head of the table. Earl waited in the kitchen, his timing impeccable, as Wayne Wilkins stole into the living room, silently practicing his excuse.

“All glory be to the Father from whence all good comes!” boomed Mr. Langston. “Lord, our forefathers broke bread with the heath-ern on this day in thankfulness to Thee, so it’s only fittin’ we do the same.”

Sammy packaged his giggle as a burp, but it issued from taut lips like the whistle of a tiny teakettle. When the prayer was finally finished, he avoided John’s eyes.

From this point, the conversation turns to talk of war and discrimination against Jews in Central Europe. Comparisons are made with race relations there in their own little county, ending with a jaw to jaw confrontation over the Thanksgiving feast.

What song would you pick to go with your book?

Bones of My Brother contains two original songs of the country genre, representative of the era of the father in the story, so I would choose those two (“Heaven Sent Evelyn” and “Wanderlust”), which were recorded in Nashville in July. But I would also choose Muzetta’s Waltz and Clair de Lune, the type of music preferred by the son.

Book Trailer

How long is your to-be-read pile?

A wise college professor, whose name I forget, once told me to read all the tried and true classics that have withstood the test of time. So I started with the book of Genesis and after all these years I’m still trying to finish the classics – there are thousands of them. If I ever finish that list, I will move on to writers who are actually still living.

Where’s home for you?

Foley, Alabama, on the Gulf Coast.

Whoa! I know exactly where that is. My father and step-mother live in Fairhope. Small world! But I digress...Neil Gaiman said, “Picking five favorite books is like picking five body parts you'd most like not to lose.” So…what are your five favorite books and your five body parts you’d most like not to lose?

The Collected Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway, Tongues of Flame, The Complete Edgar Allan Poe Tales, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Proverbs… but ask me this question again next week, and my answer might be different. (I have a lot of body parts I don’t want to lose!)

Oh, that's cheating! Your last meal would be…

Fried minute steak, mashed potatoes, beefsteak tomatoes, cantaloupe, and asparagus. (I just threw asparagus in to see if anyone was listening.)

Yeah, you had me until asparagus. You won the lottery. What’s the first thing you would buy?

Security for my grandchildren (just before leaving on a six-month world cruise).

Very wise. You can be any fictional character for one day. Who would you be?

Atticus Finch.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Somewhere along France’s Cote ‘d Azure—-maybe Antibes.

An excerpt from Bones of My Brother:


That night, Jesse’s sermon made its way into my dreams, and I awoke with a start. Had it been my old friend’s chiding or the wind that had disturbed me? I rolled over and looked at the clock. It was past midnight, yet the room was washed in a twilight glow that softened Joy’s features in shades of pastel. Thinking I’d heard windchimes, I stood and pulled back the drape. Before me lay an icy lawn punctured with glittering trees, each a crystal chandelier. The storm had moved eastward, leaving the snow-covered lawn a canvas of shadows rendered in bold strokes by an inspired moon.

Why had I been so reluctant to read the Christmas story? I imagined the answer stemmed from the fact that I’d compromised my beliefs a thousand times in business since those early Christmas Eves. During my years with Merriam-Bellows, I’d come to realize that most of what I heard at conventions in Vegas and across conference tables from New York to San Francisco had been dishonesty and deception, and I’d learned to fight fire with fire. I’d bested them at their own game. Deceit had become commonplace, and only in recent months had I begun to recognize and regret what I’d become. I’d heard and uttered the phrase, “It’s just business” so often that I’d come to believe it.

Somehow I’d managed to hold this philosophy at bay in my personal life, and so it seemed I’d become two separate people. Such a person had no business leading a Bible study or taking part in Communion. But just when had my love of family replaced my love of God? I didn’t know, and perhaps it no longer mattered. I had my wife, my children, and now I had a grandchild.

I thought of little Liz in her slumber, sheltered and protected by loving parents and how wonderful it was to witness the blossoming of their parental instincts. It stimulated memories of my own parents and summoned, as well, those nights Joy and I had stood near our own children’s beds, touched by their innocence, awestruck by our responsibility. I pulled my robe from the bedpost and set off down the hall in search of yesterday.

The little one lay on her back, her tiny head turned to the side. Below the upturned nose, her perfect lips were parted, and her breathing was peaceful. I reached down and placed my palm softly upon the chest of an angel. Often I’d stood this way with my own babies, and each time a profound energy had fed through my fingers, flowing the length of my arm to flush my heart with wonder. So Jesse’s philosophy was that life is not about dreams or family. Dreams? I’d conceded those all my life. But family? Of course life was about family! What else was there?

A stream of light entered the room, and I knew I’d been caught. “Dad,” said Rachel, “what are you doing?”

“Falling in love!” I whispered.

About the author:

J. Frank Dunkin grew up in Marion, Alabama during the heyday of the Grand Ole Opry and the birth of Rock and Roll. To him, the days were golden, nights were sweet, and movies offered escape to the Wild West or South Pacific. Graduating from Auburn University with a degree in Fine Arts, Dunkin served a tour of duty in Korea and worked as art director for small publications before moving into the world of corporate real estate. His stories draw heavily from his own experiences and travels. 

Connect with the author:
Website (still under development) | Facebook | Goodreads | Twitter

Bones of My Brother will be available on and Barnes &