Thursday, May 15, 2014

Ashton Lee at the Red Bank Branch Library

Ashton Lee, author of The Cherry Cola Book Club and The Reading Circle, appeared at the Red Bank Branch Library last night. He told an appreciative audience that he has two more books in the series coming out next year, in April and October.

Lee has been a published writer for twenty-one years. His father, who was an editor and writer, was his role model. After watching his father, Lee knew at an early age he wanted to be a writer, too. He wrote one series under the name Robert Dalby, and then after that series ended, Kensington Books was interested in a series. They wanted a Southern series that would appeal to women. As a Southern boy who grew up with twenty-one cousins in small towns in the South, he thought he could do that. And, he was reminded that he had a day job as a book vendor selling to libraries. Maybe he knew enough about public libraries to write about them.

From his years visiting libraries, Ashton Lee knows that public libraries are often underfunded, suffering from budget and staffing cuts. He thought he could write an entertaining series about libraries and their problems.

In The Cherry Cola Book Club, Lee introduces Maura Beth Mayhew, a young woman who
accepted a job right out of library school as library director in a small town. Cherico, Mississippi is a small town of 5,000 in the northeastern corner of the state, a town that Lee created. Maura Beth entire budget is $80,000, and she has to pay salaries out of that, buy books, and pay utilities. And, even that small budget is threatened by the three good old boys who run the town. In this first book, they give Maura Beth five months to prove the library is worth saving. Maura Beth forms a book club that will also have potlucks so she can bring the community together. But, the villain of the piece is Councilman Sparks, given his name because he's a fiery figure with a hidden agenda.

Lee said you can't underestimate the power of good old boys who control towns in the South. Some readers have called Maura Beth too weak. But, Lee wants to show her growing up, becoming a stronger woman in the course of the series.

In The Reading Circle, the second book, Maura Beth has been given a one year reprieve, but she's still under scrutiny. There are going to be little victories in the books, little bumps in the plot. But, there are some romances in the books, as well as discussions in the book club. At the end of the first book, Maura Beth met a high school English teacher who loves the classics. It seems Maura Beth and Jeremy have that in common, but the choice of Forrest Gump as a book for discussion causes trouble. Some of the husbands in the group pushed for a book for men, and then wanted the women to cook shrimp and tailgate food.

In the first book, Lee introduces a large cast of characters. He provides more of their backstory in this second book. His father once told him a writer should know ten times as much about each character's backstory as you ever reveal. He also told him to plot each book as if it was a mystery even if it's not. Each chapter should encourage readers to move on to the next one.

Both books include Southern recipes. Lee has made some, and tasted all of them. His aunt rounded them up for him.

Book three, The Wedding Circle, is due out in April. Two couples get married, but both have problems with their families. There are objections to both marriages. One of the storylines deals with the dynamics of mother/daughter disagreements about wedding arrangements. When I asked what books are discussed in the book club for this one, Lee answered Eudora Welty's The Robber Bridegroom and Carson McCullers' The Member of the Wedding. Then, in October 2015, the fourth book will be out, The Holiday Circle. And, then, hopefully, Ashton Lee will be back in Evansville at the end of 2015 to talk about his next two books.

Ashton Lee can be found on Facebook at

The Reading Circle by Ashton Lee. 2014. Kensington Books.


Karen C said...

I loved The Cherry Cola Book Club! Have been saving my pennies for The Reading Circle.

Lesa said...

You're going to enjoy this one, too, Karen. Good luck on that penny jar!