Title: The Soured Earth
Author: Sophie Weeks
When Margaret Campbell left her home, a working ranch in the Canada prairies, for the East coast and college, she never meant to come back. In the aftermath of a tragic accident that claimed the lives of her aunt and uncle, however, Margaret is called home to help. There she must assume a much less glamorous role as chef, gardener, and mother figure for her orphaned cousins.
But when a strange sickness strikes their cattle and blights their crops, Margaret’s family is threatened with the loss of their ranch and only livelihood. Now caught in the middle of a full-scale environmental disaster, Margaret finds herself divided between duty to home and family and the fashion designer career she’s still struggling to build.
The Soured Earth Soundtrack
“Bird on the
Like a drunk in a midnight
I have tried, in my way, to be
I selected this
quote as an epigraph because it reflects a particular struggle for authenticity
that is central to my experience as a writer.
“Field Behind the
had buyers coming for some of the alfalfa on Friday, and he seemed pleased at
the price he was getting, so Margaret was hopeful it might be a good winter.
Maybe with a good harvest and the weather getting colder, he'd stop working
himself to death quite so mercilessly.
had just put the laundry in the washer when the truck pulled up, a fact she
would remember only two days later when she found the dank, sour clothes still
in the machine. The bales of alfalfa were stacked high, and the man walked
around, looking at them. “Good quality. All right, load it up.” But the moment
the first bale was lifted, he said, “Wait a minute. Wait a minute, what the
The character of
Jon, Margaret's father, was influenced by the hard-working men I've known in my
life, my grandfather particularly, who display amazing endurance in the face of
physically daunting tasks. In this song,
Stan Rogers (who created an enduring and entrancing vision of Canadian culture
in his music) brings to life the voice of a man who is absorbed in the
demanding labor of farming and trying to provide for his family. It's easy to romanticize the “family farm”
and forget the kind of backbreaking labor it really entails.
“When I Was a Boy”--Dar
assumed herself alone, humming loudly as she cared for Whisper and put her
elderly but immaculate saddle away. But when she went to put Whisper in his
stall, she found an intruder—a square-faced, sandy-thatched little girl. “Hi,”
Margaret said blankly.
The little girl stretched out her hand with surprising self-assurance for
someone her age. It went well with her clothes, the kind of worn-out denim and
boot leather that every little boy Margaret had grown up with wore. “I'm Jess.”
Jess. I'm Margaret. Are you a friend of Sam's?” Then, following the girl's
gaze, she added, “Or are you a friend of Whisper's?”
to both, I hope, ma'am, though I guess you'd have to ask them.” Jess grinned.
This song, with
its provocative title and playful lyrics, suggests the practical ways in which
adult gender orientation has very little to do with the ways that children live
their lives. My character Jess struggles
to negotiate her identity in a small town where she's best known as the reason
her mother never graduated high school.
the sheriff's name, Margaret froze. “Sheriff? Is everything all right?”
well … need you to come down here, Margaret.”
to the station? What's wrong?”
cleared his throat and hemmed and hawed for a moment. “Well, y'see, your father
got a little disorderly tonight. Had a few too many, and … well, he's being
held for assaulting an officer.”
Margaret couldn't believe she'd heard right.
was something that sounded like Jon hollering in the background, and Cal
shouted, “Ah, sleep it off!”
“Stand back, son,
and let a man work,” Springsteen growls in this song that both celebrates the
role of honest, physical labor in a person's life and rails against the forces
that have left the working classes “shackled and drawn.” Margaret's father finds himself spiraling
emotionally out of control when a blight on the land leaves the family ranch
inoperational and barely afloat.
Saturday Night”—Hal Ketchum
put his coat back on, and they climbed into his old truck. Margaret gave a
slight sigh. She'd planned a long time ago never again to date a man who drove
a truck. But that was the problem with plans.
parking lot at the Golden Spur was packed, and Gene didn't even try to find a
spot, just parked along the road a little distance away. His arm was tight
around Margaret's waist as they walked to the bar. “It can get a little rough
this time of night,” he warned her.
did grow up here,” Margaret reminded him. “I know what it's like.”
Gene shook his head. “Rougher lately. Everybody's trying to forget missed
mortgage payments and the crop seed they can't buy.”
understood what he meant as soon as they stepped inside the bar and a girl,
whose face Margaret knew but dimly, stumbled in front of them and fell flat on
her face. “Sorry,” the girl slurred, as Gene stooped to help her up. “Sorry.”
But further in Margaret could feel the mood of the bar rising up to meet them,
rebellious and angry and buzzed.
I grew up on
country music—my grandfather never actually glued the dial to the country
station, but he might as well have. In
the car, in the kitchen, steel guitar and fiddle formed the soundtrack to our
lives. This song captures the rebellious
mood that's always simmering under the peace of a small town.
“Ballad of Hollis
was sectioning a fresh chicken she'd bought in Red Deer that morning when Jon
came in, went straight to the refrigerator, and opened a beer. “Good afternoon
to you too,” Margaret began, then stopped when she saw his face. “What's
Greeney,” he said. “Tom Greeney …”
had to search her memory, but then she remembered the gray, upright man she'd
seen sometimes at church picnics growing up. He had a family and lived way out,
even further out than the Campbells. “What about him?”
took a deep drink and let out a long breath. “When they opened up the border, a
lot of people went out; they knew they couldn't hang on much longer, and they
didn't want to anyhow. But a lot of people came in too. Some of them had
the Greeneys got evicted?” That was bad, but it didn't account for Jon's ashen
I went through a
big Bob Dylan period in my early twenties—I can't exactly call it a phase
because I never grew out of it. When I
first heard this song, a stripped-down, horrifically bleak account of rural
starvation and murder, it unnerved me so much that I lost an entire night's
sleep. In The Soured Earth, I
explore a rural community pushed to its breaking point and the individuals who
find themselves tested in the process.
“A Case of
did you stay?” she asked, and it didn't seem narcissistic now to say, “Because
know,” he said, looking thoughtful. “I thought you were pretty the first time I
saw you, last summer, but I never figured on this. Just didn't have anywhere I
wanted to be more.”
now you're remembering the sea.”
You still smell like it. You haven't washed your hair since you got in.” He
leaned down to bury his nose in her hair. “Smells like a salt breeze against my
face,” he whispered. “Smells like a ship, maybe, and a whole lot of freedom.”
Joni Mitchell, an
Alberta native, would have made this list for reasons of respect, if nothing
else, but this song in particular captures the kind of passionate and
bittersweet love that Margaret finds in an unexpected romance with a
free-spirited ranch hand.
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Sophie Weeks received a Masters degree in English Literature from Mills College in 2006 and completed her PhD in Victorian Literature at Rice University in 2013. Sophie resides in Payson, Arizona with three furry miscreants, who are wanted in multiple states for criminal adorableness. She is also the author of Outside the Spotlight and Unsettled Spirits.
Buy a copy of “The Soured Earth”:
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-soured-earth-sophie-weeks/1117555168 iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-soured-earth/id785506771?mt=11
There is a tour-wide giveaway for a one month gift subscription to Conscious Box, a curated collection of healthy and ethical home, beauty, and food products sent right to your door. Choose between gluten-free, classic, and vegan options.
Participate in the giveaway here:
Labels: Book tour, Giveaway, Guest post