PIQUA — Edison State Community College Assistant Professor of English Steve Dale Marlowe has authored a new book, “Digging Up The Bones,” a piece of literary fiction that focuses on three generations of an Appalachian family from the 1960’s to the present.
“Digging Up The Bones” portrays the lives of numerous characters intertwined with one another and the struggles of this particular family throughout the book. The book’s description reads: “This is not a family–it’s a world; this is not a book – it’s an indictment; these words are not written – they’re howled.”
The book also describes the family of characters as involving “stunned-straight racists, scarred veterans, doomed lovers, would-be assassins, gun-toting grandmothers, nascent female crime-bosses, ambivalent mourners, big-time drug-running, and bewildered survivors trying to make sense of it all.”
“It was fairly well-received,” Marlowe said, adding that his new book received positive reviews from Largehearted Boy, a music and literary blog, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It also made the Small Press Distribution Best Seller list, Marlowe said.
The electronic version of “Digging Up The Bones” is expected to come out soon. Marlowe expects that once it is released for online book sales, the readership of his new book will grow as 70 percent of distribution now occurs through online channels or Kindle sales.
“Digging Up the Bones” also resists being labeled as strictly a novel or a collection of short stories, as each of the short stories in the book interacts with the other ones.
“As I have matured as a writer, I’ve tried to get away from observing labels created by bookstores and publishers in order to segment work so that it’s easier to sell,” Marlowe said.
According to Marlowe, his publisher refers to his book as a linked short story collection. “As I wrote it over the course of almost 10 years … what I realized is that individual moments I was trying to isolate were so distinct that the novel form felt as though it were draped on top of it. Sort of like a piece of furniture you don’t want to get dusty,” he said. “I thought it was best to be true to the material and just divide them up into sort of discreet snapshots.”
Instead of a novel or a short story collection, Marlowe thinks of his book as a photo album. “Maybe literary photo album where you’re getting to look at discreet, often horrible moments, in a single family’s life that lead up to a greater impression of the challenges these folks have faced,” he said.
While the stories follow an Appalachian family, the settings of the book include a variety of other locations, such as Montana, Toledo, and Chicago, in addition to eastern Kentucky.
“The family itself hails from deepest, darkest eastern Kentucky,” Marlowe said.
“Digging Up The Bones” also includes dark themes.
“The father is a sociopath in the book. He’s a rapist and bigamist, commits incest with his daughters,” Marlowe said. “Then we explore in these discreet takes per character what has happened to the family he destroyed.”
The result of the father’s actions is what Marlowe refers to as a mutant notion of kinship between the family members “even under the worst circumstances.”
“What this does is this creates the sense that the family itself is a character,” he said. “The difficulties that they face are so out there, just sort of a throbbing open wound. People in other areas of the country, people in other subcultures, deal with all the same stuff, but it’s covered. It’s hidden, or it’s somehow made less apparent.”
Marlowe said that the family in his book, the Nash family, is unable to hide it and they wear the hardships as a survivor’s badge.
When asked what he hopes readers will take away from his novel, Marlowe said, “One rarely approaches the blank page hoping to give the reader a message.”
Marlowe explained that can be a “recipe for disaster” and result in creating propaganda. However, after finishing a book, an author’s conscience might make an argument to the author that he or she is then conveying to the world.
“First, I think the message — the take-away from the text — would be sympathy, even if it’s for the devil,” Marlowe said about his book. “The Nash family, many of them make decisions under conditions that those of us who don’t have those same difficulties, we’d like to think we’d make different decisions, but … we wouldn’t.
“Also that all of us live in reaction to this amorphous notion of family. It is its own thing. It has its own personality. It is a distinct entity, even if we may not think that.”
Marlowe said that even if people are not defined by family, they are defined in opposition to it.
Marlowe’s third point covers how Appalachian people in the book are involved in a lot of negative portrayals.
“And those portrayals — like most horrible stereotypes — are often based in real events or real conditions. And they are almost never explained with any nuance,” he said. “So what I wanted to do is to portray as truthfully as possible the afflictations suffered by this family and … portray them in enough sincertity and sympathy that the stereotypes loose their bite.”
Marlowe explained how readers can apply principles from the book to everyday life. “It’s great to embrace who you are and reappropriate negative stereotypes people may have against you or your culture. In doing so, you rob them of the ability to harm you with those stereotypes,” he said.
In addition to his role as an Edison State professor, Marlowe is an attorney and writer who earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Marlowe’s work has appeared in numerous publications.
Learn more about Marlowe and his work by visiting www.stevemarlowe.net.
“Digging Up The Bones” is currently in bookstores. Roundabout Press published Marlowe’s book “Digging Up The Bones,” and Marlowe published it under the name Dale Marlowe. It can be purchased through the Roundabout Press at www.roundaboutpress.com, on Amazon, and other online retailers.
Reach reporter Sam Wildow at (937) 451-3336 or on Twitter @TheDailyCall