Updated: May 1
Although Only the Rocks That Float is a fictional story, the novel is one inspired by true events.
My maternal grandmother, whom her grandkids affectionately referred to as Meme (pron. MiMi), was one of the strongest and kindest women I’ve ever known. Much of Meme's life was exceptionally hard for her, what with her troubles starting at the tender age of five. Her father died from a logging truck accident in 1934, and her mother passed just three years later of breast cancer. Meme was only eight years old when she and her older sister and brothers were placed with various family members throughout Alabama.
When asked about her childhood, Meme would tell as much of her story as she was willing to share. Memories of the years right after her mother died were the hardest for her to relive; she had gone to live with her uncle on his farm in Conecuh County, Alabama, and during that time, she and another young, female relative were mistreated, neglected, and often abused. So were the animals, and so were the tenant farmers countywide who helped work the land.
I met the uncle who inspired Emil Skinner, one of my new book's antagonists. I was a little girl, the same age as Meme had been when she first arrived at that farm. I remember the old white house, a sweet mutt named Lady who escaped the heat in a hole dug out from under the house. I remember the drafty house with squeaky floorboards, the cracks beneath which you could see chickens and puppies running around. I remember having to use the outhouse and how my mother thought it would be funny to open the door and take a picture of me sitting on the plywood hole.
But mostly, I remember how I felt as I walked around the land. Sad. Pain. Like there was a cloud of grief hanging over the area that I couldn’t see but could feel on my skin and in my heart.
From left/top: My grandfather. We called him "PawPaw," Meme, her oldest brother, Clyde, and that sweet dog, Lady, on the farm in the early '90s. The next photo is the front of the Uncle's house. He had one door that went into the living room area and another separate door that went back to the bedrooms. This is the only detail that is different about the Uncle's house in Only the Rocks That Float.
Only the Rocks That Float came to me in 2018 during a time when I was suffering. Some mornings, I didn’t want to wake up. I just wanted to lie there and let life go on without me. During that period, a visit with my Meme inspired me to write a story based on her life before she ran away from her uncle’s farm and moved to Georgia where within six months she’d met and married my grandfather.
I wondered what a couple of siblings might have experienced on a farm like her uncle’s. Having always been fascinated by twins, I thought, What if they were twins? And, having been in an interracial relationship for over a quarter of a century, with two biracial sons, I thought, Oooh, and what if the twins were interracial? I wondered how the dynamics of such a life would be different for both siblings. And so, the story of my book's twin protagonists, Dolly and Lucas, grew from there.
My Meme was one of my favorite people. I’ve loved her more than almost everyone I’ve ever loved. I’m an artist because of her. I’m very much alive because of her. And when I fell in love with a young Black man back in the mid-nineties, she was one of only a handful of family members who didn’t allow racism and ignorance to affect her love for me. For everything she was to me, I am grateful. Even after her death, she continues to inspire me.
Meme's birthday was August 21. She passed on February 28th of last year at 91 years old. Here are a few of my favorite photos of her. I've included a caption below the group.
From left/top: Meme in 1947. She was 18; Meme and me in her sewing room, 1981; Meme and me in 2017; Meme with my Mama's dog, also named Lady, in 2018.
Coming September 9, 2022, Only the Rocks That Float is a novel about a pair of interracial twins who are sent to live on a farm in the Depression-era Deep South. What they experience is both magical and heartbreaking. Click here to explore the book's landing page. Or, click here to order your copy.
In her more than thirty years as a storyteller and visual designer, Amanda “Mandy” Hughes has written and designed over a dozen works of literary, Southern Gothic, and women’s fiction under pen names A. Lee Hughes and Mandy Lee.
Mandy is the founder of Haint Blue Creative®, a space for readers and storytellers to explore, learn, and create. She holds a Bachelor and Master of Science in Psychology, and she has worked as an instructional designer for nearly twenty years.
When she’s not writing fiction, Mandy enjoys the movies, theater, music, traveling, nature walks, birdwatching, and binging The Office. She is a tarot enthusiast who uses the cards to enhance creativity and foster wellness. She lives in Georgia with her husband and four sons, two of whom are furrier than the others (but not by much). Visit her website at haintbluecreative.com and follow her on Instagram @haintbluecreative.