Award-winning writer, Ole Miss Alum and Mississippi native Dwaine Rieves celebrated the release of his debut novel, Shirtless Men Drink Free on January 8, 2019.
Rieves, a physician and the winner of the River Styx International Poetry Prize and the Tupelo Press Prize for Poetry, delivers a captivating, confident, and assured debut novel in Shirtless Men Drink Free.
Set against the backdrop of a wildly polarizing election, Shirtless Men Drink Free is the story of souls—and the bodies that won’t let them go. Doctor Jane Beekman has seen her dying mother’s soul, a vision above the bed—a soul struggling with a decision, some undone task, something in this world too noble to leave. The sight, however brief, was surely a lesson.
The question that lingers—why?—prompts a shift in the doctor’s priorities. In this election year, Jane must do what her mother, an aspiring social activist, would have done. Soon, Jane is embroiled in the world of Georgia politics, working to make sure her dynamic younger brother-in-law Jackson Beekman is selected the next governor, regardless of what the soul of the candidate’s dead father or that of his living brother—Jane’s husband—might want done.
Indeed, it is a mother’s persistence and a father’s legacy that will ultimately turn one Beekman brother against the other, launching a struggle with moral consequences that may extend far beyond Georgia. Set amidst 2004’s polarizing election fears—immigrants and job take-overs, terrorists in waiting, homosexuals and outsider agendas—Shirtless Men Drink Free makes vivid the human soul’s struggle in a world bedeviled by desire and the fears that leave us all asking—Why?
Engaging, beautifully written and resplendent with realism, Shirtless Men Drink Free is a standout debut destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned. A meticulously crafted tale that showcases an outstanding new voice in Southern fiction, Shirtless Men Drink Free has garnered high advance praise:
“Dwaine Rieves writes fiction with such authority that it’s hard to believe Shirtless Men Drink Free is a first novel and not a tenth. This is brilliant and rare work, as attentive to an absorbing plot as it is to a poetic, chiseled cadence.”—Paul Lisicky, award-winning author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship
“These characters are all too real. Rieves, as Faulkner, McMurtry and Larry Brown, writes people and story that will worm, burrow into you. Change you even.” —Adam Van Winkle, Founder and Editor, Cowboy Jamboree
“A powerfully immersive and moving novel with richly developed characters whose voices range from edgy to elegiac. Vividly sensuous, this novel is full of textures, sounds and smells. Rieves tells a terrific story with the sensitivity of a poet. This is as haunting and wise a novel as any you will read this year.” —Margaret Meyers, author of Swimming in the Congo
Dwaine Rieves was born and reared in Monroe County, Mississippi. Follow¬ing a career as a research pharmaceutical scientist and critical care physician, Rieves completed an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University. His poetry has won the Tupelo Press Prize for Poetry and the River Styx International Poetry Prize. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review and other publications.
Visit him online at: http://www.dwainerieves.com
Leapfolio (www.leapfolio.net) is a joint venture partner of Tupelo Press. Members of the news media wishing to request additional information about novelist Dwaine Rieves or Shirtless Men Drink Free are kindly asked to contact Maryglenn McCombs by phone: 615 297 9875, or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org XXX Time: December 13, 2018 at 4:00 pm IP Address: 220.127.116.11 Contact Form URL: Tell us a little about yourself (short bio).
I was born and raised in Monroe County, Mississippi. During a career as a research pharmaceutical scientist and critical care physician, I started writing poetry and creative prose. My poetry collection, When the Eye forms, won the Tupelo Press Prize for Poetry, including poetry that won the River Styx International Poetry Prize. I started writing the novel about 12 years ago, when I was working full time as a public health physician. Writers beware—starting a novel while you’re working like the dickens to put bread and beer on the table is a great way to bedraggle your face and brain. It was only after going to work part-time (about four years ago) that I could focus deeply on the novel. I have some links to my musing, along with contact info, at my website, which is www.dwainerieves.com.
What inspired you to write your first book?
My first published book was a collection of poetry, which was inspired by the years I worked as a physician for the Mississippi State Department of Health down in Natchez—way back in the early 80s. Much of the inspiration for that book came from the stories of my patients, including my Cajun neighbors on both sides of the river.
My novel had a totally different birthing process, which involved two key images and experiences, both so real they’ve pretty much set up housekeeping in my mind. One experience involves a gym steam room and politician naked behind a towel—I shouldn’t elaborate more. The other experience involves the many evening drives I took from the Birmingham airport to my parents’ home in Smithville.
Talk Radio in 2004 was alive with opinions since this was an election year. Regardless of the subject—NAFTA, corporate tax rates, Russian relations, Korea, immigration policy or terrorism—the good Southern callers invariably attributed all problems to the homosexual agenda. Fascinating stuff given no one could actually describe the agenda. Combine the life of an angst-ridden politician and Talk Radio callers and we have the ignition for Shirtless Men Drink Free.
Do you have a specific writing style?
Goodness, if only I could avoid my poetry leanings. Part of the challenge in writing the novel was that I approached it like poetry—meaning I allowed my thoughts to take off unattended on the page. This approach can produce some engaging phrases, but it sure doesn’t easily generate a plot—at least not for me. So, for the novel, I had to really work to divest myself of a lyric’s intoxication potential. I think “the story” is really important in a novel—that is, something has to happen, which is not always the case with poetry.
What book are you reading now?
I’m currently doing research for my next writing project—a nonfiction book that will deal with a medical matter that touches on the history of psychology. I’ve had no training in psychology, so it’s quite an uphill challenge to become acquainted with the field. Too, I’ve recently finished another poetry collection, which is looking for adoption by a kind publisher.
How do you help new writers?
Although I’m far from a computer guru, I’ve gone incredibly electronic over the past few years in terms of working with my writer-friends. I have a monthly “new work” group in which we connect for a couple of hours via the Google meeting app. We typically email text a week or so in advance of the meeting and then discuss it once we’re all on-line. The system works beautifully because folks can be traveling (using laptops) and still participate. Skype/Google meetings/Cisco—so many grand ways to connect directly with folks—great assets for writers.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
I’m struggling somewhat with this question, given that it took over 12 years to produce Shirtless Men Drink Free. During these years I completed three novel-precursors, including many drafts of each. But I trashed all three novels because they just didn’t seem to work, to be what I thought this novel needed to be. There’s a part of me that wants to think this process would have been easier if I’d started with a plot outline, which I’m told many “productive” novelists do. I have little doubt that a plot outline would generally expedite the birthing of a novel, at least in some form. Still, I’m not convinced that a plot outline—at least early on—would have been the best for Shirtless Men Drink Free. The story seems to have demanded its troubled birthing process.
What has been your route to publishing and marketing? Comment on the process and your feelings regarding it.
Ah…another tale of sweat and tribulation. Once I had a reasonable presentation of the novel, I queried over 200 agents. No surprise—most never responded to my emails. The handful of agents that requested the manuscript responded to me with pretty much the same message. Which went something along the lines of “Dwaine, we can’t sell this. The writing is engaging, innovative and poetic. But you have to write to sell your book. And the book has to fit into a niche, like suspense or chick-lit. This story is simply too experimental to pitch to a traditional publisher. You have to have a name and readership before you can write like this.”
Alas, I finally appealed to Jeffrey Levine at Tupelo Press, the small press that had published my poetry. Jeffrey suggested the Leapfolio process via Tupelo Press. Leapfolio is a hybrid press, which means I contributed to the production of the novel—including final say on the cover—which is another story! Tupelo Press is mainly a publisher of poetry.
Who designed your cover?
Leapfolio, the publisher digitally finalized the cover. We went through many considerations for the cover, using the Tupelo Press experience and precedent. I fear I may have been difficult for the publisher because I was somewhat persnickety in my taste. We considered abstract images, paintings and sculpture. Ultimately, I proposed one of my iPhone photographs—an incident, a discovery of sorts. A consensus appeared and with it, the cover.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Plot! Plot! Plot! Eudora said plot is emotion acted out. Yet what that action involves is the challenge, for emotion is a cerebral process that can culminate in nothing happening or the world turning upside down—with a massive spectrum between these poles. Plot is where the contemplation time comes it, the nagging thoughts, the surprise and totally irrational idea. Plus plot needs to make sense, even if we move into the world of magic and transcendence—plot still has to be honest as a story. Which may be the reason non-fiction books seem to be so very popular now—especially books dealing with our president. The story seems incredible yet the evidence is real—the president may be unbelievable but the story is palpably real.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Persistence! Seek helpers and editors. Read. Sweat over the words then take a break and come back to the inked page once the paper has dried. Put it aside. Think about it at night. Don’t punish yourself though—the words are simply trying to be friends—they’re just like your family. Live with it. Love it. Be proud of it. Call it yours.