“If a writer gets the language right, the reader will do the rest,” says Robert Hellenga. He need not worry. In Snakewoman of Little Egypt, Hellenga nails the speak, capturing emotions, language and experiences, ranging from Africa to a women’s prison to a snake-handling church—with a Midwestern university layover. For his research, the author delved into oral histories, library and Web resources, YouTube videos of radio-transmitter implants in snakes, NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion and The Convict Cookbook. “My strategy,” he says, “is to get the facts straight and then go for the telling detail that will establish your authority as a writer.” Here the lives of anthropologist Jackson and ex-con Sunny entwine. She’s already shot her abusive, charismatic minister husband once—he survived, and she did time—but Jackson’s growing professional and personal interest in Sunny’s past pulls the three together even as she attempts to escape into the academic world. “I don’t outline at the beginning,” says Hellenga of his process. “But once I’m in the middle of things, I do a lot of outlining. I don’t feel any need to stick to them.” One of his research notes reads, “Maybe I should forget the whole thing and write some short stories.” Readers will be very glad he carried on with his original plan.
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Snakewoman of Little Egypt
Bloomsbury / September / 9781608192625 / $25.00
This book was featured in the Kirkus Best of 2010