An Award-Winning Book

Jill McCroskey Coupe's book True Stories of the Smokey View won a 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards medal. Read on below to learn more about the award-winning book. 

True Stories of the Smokey View, by Jill McCroskey Coupe (She Writes Press)

"True Stories at the Smoky View is a wry, intricate novel about family and friendship, tyranny and justice. Although Vrai (short for Vraiment), an art history librarian in Baltimore, has not spoken to her friend Skip for over a year, after his sudden death she dutifully takes his ashes and his dog home to his mother in Knoxville, Tennessee. Vrai has no idea why Skip stepped into traffic in Baltimore with his hands over his eyes, or why he so abruptly ended their longtime friendship.

"After Skip’s funeral, Vrai rescues ten-year-old Jonathan, who has been abandoned in the funeral home parking lot. The Blizzard of 1993 soon strands this unlikely duo at the Smoky View Motel, where Jonathan, whose parents were assassinated by Pinochet’s henchmen, comes across clues pointing to a possible suspect in Skip’s death.

"By the end of this story of mutual rescue, the lives of Vrai and Jonathan have been changed forever."

- from Jill's website

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Feature

Seven Books I Have Read More than Once and Why

Recommendations from an IPPY Winner

1. Psyche: The Feminine Poetic Consciousness, An Anthology of Modern American Women Poets

Edited by Barbara Segnitz and Carol Rainey. Dell Publishing Co., 1973.

During my first bumbling attempts at creative writing, I devoured this book. I underlined important sections in the Introduction and marked passages in poems that spoke to my soul. Now, decades later, I realize I was wrong in some of my interpretations. Still, this book marks the beginning of my writing life.

 

2. Absalom, Absalom!

By William Faulkner. Random House, 1936.

I used to re-read this multi-layered novel every five years or so, just for the fun of being surprised by something I hadn’t noticed before–an aha moment of connecting the dots in a new way. While enrolled in the MFA program at Warren Wilson College, I came across a short story by Faulkner which contains nearly the entire plot of this very complex novel. For my required essay, I wrote about the fact that both Absalom, Absalom! and Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry, had begun as short stories. MFA programs tend to emphasize the short story, but I was beginning to realize that I was far more comfortable with the longer forms of fiction. I haven’t read Absalom, Absalom! again since turning in my essay and am definitely overdue for a re-read.

 

3. Loitering with Intent

By Muriel Spark. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1981.

Whenever I’m asked who my favorite author is, I reply, “Muriel Spark.” Often I’m greeted by a blank look, so I add, “You know, she wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was made into a movie starring Maggie Smith.” If the blank look is still there, I give up. I don’t go on to say that I’ve read all of Muriel Spark’s novels at least once (which I have). I don’t offer the advice that Loitering with Intent–in addition to being a wonderfully wry, ironic novel about the sometimes slippery interplay between life and art–offers excellent advice about how to write a novel. Pay close attention to everyone you meet, Ms. Spark is saying. Register every detail. Then feel free to use whatever you can.

 

4. Tumble Home

By Amy Hempel. Scribner, 1997.

For a time, while volunteering at an adult literacy program, I tutored a woman who’d dropped out of school after sixth grade. Having recently retired from her janitorial job, she’d opted to use some of her free time to improve her reading skills. Ruby and I had been meeting once a week for nearly a year, when I decided to share my love of fiction with her. I brought Tumble Home to our next session, in part because the first story in this collection is only two pages long. Ruby read “Weekend” out loud, flawlessly. Then she turned the page. For at least an hour, long past the time for our session to be over, she read Amy Hempel’s stories to me. At home that night, I re-read the rest of the stories, admiring them in a completely new way. 

 

5. Chronicle of a Death Foretold

By Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Knopf, 1982.

Like Amy Hempel’s stories, this novella compels the reader to keep going. With the usual fictional arc, the action rises toward a climax and then tapers off. In Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the tension is at a high point from the beginning and doesn’t subside. We learn in the opening sentence that Santiago Nasar is going to die. While there are many excellent books about how to write fiction (a few of which I’ve read twice), sometimes observing how it’s done well can be equally instructive.

 

6. Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout. Random House, 2008.

7. A Visit from the Goon Squad

By Jennifer Egan. Knopf, 2010.

My next project will be a novel-in-stories about an interracial friendship that lasts, through various ups and downs, for more than fifty years. Given the long time span, linked stories seemed like a good approach, allowing me to dip into these women’s lives at various intervals while also telling a larger story as I moved along. Easier said than done, I’m learning, so I’ve been re-reading the two ingenious books that gave me the idea in the first place. Please stay tuned. 


Jill Coupe’s first job was gathering (collating) in her father’s printing plant in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. A former librarian at Johns Hopkins University, she has an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College, in the heart of the Blue Ridge. The Southern Appalachians will always feel like home to her, but so does Baltimore, where she’s hard at work on her next novel, an excerpt from which has been published in the Summer 2016 issue of The Summerset Review.


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