Leigh Camacho Rourks has burst onto the publishing scene with guns blazing.
Fitting, given plenty of pistol-packing mamas take up gritty residence her debut book, Moon Trees and Other Orphans.
“I think my audience are people who like to be transported, who enjoy turning over the grittier rocks, and who know that love is at the heart of even our most savage stories,” said Rourks, an assistant professor of English and humanities at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla. The nonprofit liberal arts school is America’s first accredited baccalaureate school to educate primarily students who learn differently.
Tapping the vein of gothic known as “grit-lit” or “rough South,” her book collects “short stories set along the Gulf Coast, focusing on themes of desperation, loneliness, and love,” she said. “Filled with hard-living characters who are deeply lonely, it tracks the ways they fight for survival, often making very bad decisions along the way. Populated by gun toting women, ex-cons, desperate teens, and other outsiders, it is a collection about what life is like in hard places, beautiful and dangerous.”
Rourks began writing years ago the stories that fill Moon Trees. She tweaked and published them along the way as individual pieces.
“One of the stories took something like a decade (at least) to get right,” she said.
The recipient of the St. Lawrence Press Award, the Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Award, and the Robert Watson Literary Review Prize, her gift for grit owes to literary influences that run a straight line from Flannery O’Conner to crime novelist extraordinaire Elmore Leonard.
“I started reading Elmore Leonard novels when I was a teen, maybe a pre-teen, and I was just out of high school when I met O’Conner,” she said. “I am heavily influenced by such a variety of writers, people like Harry Crews and Bonnie Jo Campbell and BK Loren, and even Dick Francis, and so many more.”
The Cuban-American author’s tales aren’t Aesop fables for Millennials. Don’t necessarily go panning for clear-cut lessons in her literary gold.
“I’m not sure about lessons,” she said, “but I do hope they meet a piece of the America they may not know much about or re-see a piece that they only thought they knew.”