Southern Comfort by Eldonna Edwards

I’ve always felt a little sorry for friends who grew up as an only child. Raised in a large family, I was rarely more than an arm’s length from my nearest sibling. I also enjoyed a built-in gaggle of playmates through my dad’s church. But what I didn’t have, and envied in others, were close aunts and uncles. My mother had one sister who we saw on rare occasions. My dad’s family lived in Missouri.

I remember the first time I met my Aunt Ruth, who came to visit when my mom was pregnant with my brother. She smiled a lot and spoke real slow in her honey-like southern accent. When she called me sweet pea, I thought I’d melt on the spot. Aunt Ruth was married to my Uncle Cecil, a petite, white-haired man who played the harmonica and guitar at the same time. They were devoutly religious, loving and playful. When Aunt Ruth hugged you, it was like her heart soaked up all your troubles and replaced them with giggles. My Midwestern people are known for being kind. But there’s a deep-down warmth to Southern women that feels rooted in utter affection.

I’ll admit to channeling a bit of my Aunt Ruth when I drew my protagonist’s beloved Aunt Pearl in my book THIS I KNOW. Young Grace’s family is in turmoil when Rev. Carter’s sister travels from Mississippi to lend a hand. From the moment Aunt Pearl steps off the bus in her flowered slippers, Grace finally feels as though she has a confidant, an adult who is on her side for once.

Aunt Pearl is round like Daddy but not much taller than me. She rocks back and forth when she walks, which makes her slippers lean to the outside. She takes the black rubbered stairs one at a time, saying, “Lordy, Lordy,” as if it’ll take a miracle to get to the bottom step. As soon as she hits the sidewalk she looks at me and grins, her front gold tooth sparkling like a little star. 

“Come here, shoog,” she says, and opens her arms. 

What about you? Did you have a favorite aunt or uncle, a mentor who stood up for you and who honored your individuality?

Set in a small Midwest town in the late 1960s and helmed by an unforgettable young protagonist—compassionate, uncannily wise Grace—This I Know is a luminous coming-of-age story from an astonishing new voice.

Eleven-year-old Grace Carter has a talent for hiding things. She’s had plenty of practice, burying thoughts and feelings that might anger her strict Evangelical pastor father, and concealing the deep intuition she carries inside. The Knowing, as Grace calls it, offers glimpses of people’s pasts and futures. It enables her to see into the depth of her mother’s sadness, and even allows Grace to talk to Isaac, her twin brother who died at birth. To her wise, loving Aunt Pearl, the Knowing is a family gift; to her daddy, it’s close to witchcraft.

Grace can’t see into someone’s thoughts without their permission. But it doesn’t take her special talent to know that her small community is harboring its share of secrets. A young girl has gone missing. Within Grace’s own family too, the cracks are widening, as her sisters Hope, Joy, and Chastity enjoy the normal life that eludes Grace. It’s Grace’s kinship with other outsiders that keeps her afloat—Lyle, a gentle, homeless man, and Lola, a free-spirited new girl at school. But when her mother lapses into deep depression after bringing home a new baby, Grace will face a life-changing choice—ignore her gift and become the obedient daughter her father demands, or find the courage to make herself heard, even it means standing apart . . .

Advance Praise for Eldonna Edwards and This I Know

“Simply magical writing. Eldonna Edwards is a true storyteller. She tossed me straight into her book and there I stayed until the last word on the last page.” –Cathy Lamb, author of No Place I’d Rather Be

“A heartfelt and beautifully crafted coming-of-age debut about a gifted, eleven-year-old girl attempting to find her place in a confusing world. This I Know shines, due in large part to narrator Grace, one of the most authentic and charming young characters I’ve come across in a long time. Don’t miss this one.” –Lesley Kagen, New York Times bestselling author of The Mutual Admiration Society

“A remarkable, inspiring story about clairvoyance, faith, and opening your heart—and mind—to the truth. I will not soon forget Grace Carter, the young preacher’s daughter with a unique interpretation of the world. Her kindness, her resilience, and her gloriously quirky voice have me shouting to readers everywhere, ‘I love this book!’” —Barbara Claypole White, bestselling author of The Perfect Son

Q&A with Eldonna Edwards,
Author of This I Know

1. How much of THIS I KNOW is autobiographical?

I grew up in a large family with an evangelical pastor at its head. Having “teethed on the back of a Southern Baptist pew” I was gifted with a fertile childhood from which to harvest setting and characters. Having said that, Rev. Carter is not at all like my dad, who was a loving and kind-but-firm father who would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need. I did, however, steal a few bits from his habits; namely cutting out coupons, leaving religious tracts in public places and studying in the bathroom. The Carter sisters are a quilt of characters molded from my imagination, childhood friends, and with an homage to certain quirks of my real-life siblings.

2. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I wrote my first poem at the age of nine. It was simply titled Mother. I don’t remember the words but I do remember the impact it had. Not just on my mom, but on me after writing it. I soon discovered that language was a powerful vehicle not only for self-expression, but for self-healing. I kept journals throughout my teens and adulthood and went on to become a journaling workshop facilitator before delving into fiction.

3. Your book explores clairvoyance and the afterlife. Do your personal beliefs align with Grace? Would the book work without this supernatural aspect?

I don’t subscribe to any religious dogma but I do believe there is so much unknown to us, far beyond the capacity of science or the ability of the human mind to absorb. I think the story hinges on this family’s inability to reconcile Grace’s uncanny abilities with their black-and-white version of good and evil forces in the world. The Bible is filled with experiences where individuals communicate with voices from “the beyond” and foretelling the future that are considered holy. Why does Rev. Carter assume that Grace’s ethereal communication is not also a gift from God?

4. What was your hardest scene to write? Which scene was your favorite?

Hands down, the sexual assault. I am fortunate not to have experienced this in my lifetime, but people very close to me have. I cried through the whole scene and it shook me to my core. I had to let the book sit for a while before I could come back to it. The scene I most enjoyed writing is when Grace’s sisters convince her to dress up as a fortune teller and charge the neighborhood kids to get their questions answered. What child doesn’t love turning a refrigerator box into a store, a space-ship or a fortune-teller booth? This scene allowed me delve into our insecurities that begin at an early age. Do my parents love me? Will I find my soul mate? Will I overcome these awkward years to enjoy a successful life?

5. Why did you choose to set your novel in the 60’s/70’s instead of a contemporary setting?

Having been born just a wee bit too late to experience the cultural revolution of the 60’s, I’ve always felt a little like a left-behind flower child. The music was so good, the civil rights movement was blowing up, and people started pushing back against the war machine. I think writing about this era is a way for me to live those experiences I missed but I also think it’s a fascinating time in our cultural history.

6. What other aspects of your life influenced this story?

I’ve been a massage therapist for over two decades. Recently I moved from practicing massage to solely managing the business. My experiences as a bodyworker definitely influence my writing. People tend to allow themselves to be very vulnerable when you’re working on their bodies. At the risk of sounding woo-woo, massage therapy has taught be to be more open-minded about the delicate membrane between body, mind and spirit.

7. Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?

We live in very divisive times. If there’s one message I’d love to convey it’s that we are all universally connected and seeking the same things: to love and be loved.

8. What is your next book about? Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

My current work-in-progress is also set in the same time period, albeit with a male character at its center and a California backdrop. Other than the genre, these two books are not at all related. I’ve also written a contemporary Women’s Fiction book that I hope to release at some point. I will say there tends to be an ethereal thread woven through all my work. Between Grace’s connection to her deceased twin, a boy who grows up with a guru, and a woman who visits a palm reader, each story explores uncertainties in our knowledge of what is vs. what might be.