I asked her to write about what it's like being a "southern writer" and how that impresses on her writing. Here's what she told me:
I was born and raised in Alabama. I lived in what is now the second largest metropolitan area in the state and the fourth largest city. When I began living in sin with my now husband, I moved to a city a third the size of my hometown. My husband's hometown isn't even considered a city or town by the Census Bureau. His high school graduating class had 26 students. My hubby and I are considering moving to a city with a population under a thousand.
We joke that you can't throw a rock in our town without hitting a church, a title loan place, or a Mexican restaurant. But it's true. We live in a small town with a primarily blue collar workforce who most likely goes to a Baptist church and is very conservative. Alabama has had a large influx of Mexican and South American immigrants who tend to also be conservative (and many times members of the single Catholic parish in our county).
Even with the large cities, military bases, and centers of high-tech and medical research, Alabama, like most of the South, still has a small town, rural mindset. In many places you get ahead by who you know at church. Women aren't well represented in business or government. And one look at the long lines around Chick-fil-A that infamous day will tell you exactly how far we've come down here in acceptance of LGBTQ persons.
But more people here every day question the status quo, the way the good ol' boys have always done it. Things are changing, although more slowly than other places. My 70 year-old mother-in-law thinks "it's stupid gay people can't get married." A friend told me the pastor of her church told his flock that they could not sit in judgement of the out LGBTQ members, and, if they didn't like that, the church was not the place for them. Some schools have gay/straight alliances, and organizations are reaching out to help bullied youth fight against school systems that ignore them.
None of those things could have occurred when I was growing up and wouldn't now if people hadn't stayed here and made a difference.
I love the South, despite its problems and shortcomings, and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. When I set my stories here, I want to treat the culture and people with respect and sensitivity while still addressing the realities of life here. My characters aren’t caricatures of Southerners, but they still say “y’all” and “momma.” They’re as likely to be computer programmers as farmers. They want to be happy and try to do that while struggling against a culture that tells them what they want is wrong.
And since I write romance, my characters always get what they want.
Here's more about Kerry's new book, Pine Tar & Sweet Tea, out now!
Pine Tar & Sweet Tea
by Kerry Freeman
Buy at Loose Id: http://www.loose-id.com/pine-tar-sweet-tea.html
After playing eleven years in the Minor Leagues, Coach Matt Hawley has returned to his tiny Alabama hometown to lead his old high school baseball team to their first state championship. At the other end of the state, René Días, who left the Major League after one season, is getting his team ready to defend their state title for the second straight year. One is in the closet. The other is between relationships. Neither has any intention of hooking up at the state tournament.
Then they see each other.
Pre-game lust turns into an intense one-night stand neither man can forget, and when their best friends embark on a romance, Matt and René are thrown together again. This time they decide it won't be for just a single night. But the fear of disappointing his minister father and shaming his family forces Matt to keep one foot in the closet, even as he and René find their lust is maybe something more. He's going to have to make a choice between between his family and his freedom.
The clubhouse was sweltering, and René took his cap off to wipe his brow. The rows of lockers and wooden benches always reminded him of playing in the majors, where reporters wouldn’t even wait for the players to get fully dressed before accosting them for quotes about that night’s game. He’d never quite become comfortable with holding court while dripping wet and towel skirted. Then again, he’d never quite become comfortable with a lot of things he encountered his one year of major league play.
“Good afternoon, Coach Días.” The umpire walked toward him with an extended hand. “Good to see you again.”
René shook the umpire’s hand. “Good to see you again too. Hopefully you’ve had a good year.”
“A very good year. Thanks for asking.” The umpire nodded at David. “Hello, Coach Reynolds.”
“Hey, Bob,” David said, smiling. “No need to be so formal. We’re old friends by now.”
“Let’s just say I definitely wasn’t surprised to see your team back in the finals.” The umpire smiled. “Gonna be a great series, that’s for sure. Your opposition looks good.”
René’s ears practically twitched at the mention of the team from North Alabama. “Have you met their coach yet?”
“Met him this morning. He’s quiet, seems pretty serious. Nice fella too.” The umpire chuckled. “Speaking of which… Hello, Coach Hawley.”
The gracious greeting René planned stuck in his throat the instant he turned and gazed into a pair of intense blue eyes. René forced himself not to gaze up and down the opposing coach’s tall, tight body, but he couldn’t help following as Hawley slowly licked his lips. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the man had the most incredible wheat-blond hair just begging to be pulled.
David cleared his throat. “Um, Coach Hawley, I’m David Reynolds, Mobile’s first-base coach.” He shook Hawley’s hand. “This is René Días, our head coach.”
René finally remembered he was supposed to talk. “Nice to meet you, Coach Hawley.” René held out his hand.
Coach Hawley wrapped his long fingers around René’s hand and held on to it. “Nice to meet you too. Call me Matt, though.”
“We’ve been looking forward to playing your team.” René smiled when Matt’s grip tightened. “I’ve heard great things about how you’ve developed the team since you took over this year. Congratulations on your first state final.”
“Thank you. This is your school’s third year in a row here. That’s a sure sign you’re doing something right down in Mobile.”
If there was a sure way into René’s good graces, it was to compliment his team. He could think of plenty of other ways the gorgeous Matt Hawley could impress him—most involving them being naked together—but they had a few baseball games to play. René released Matt’s hand and tried to ignore David’s bug-eyed look at his side.
The meeting with the umpire was a formality. They discussed the rules of the best-of-three series and the umpire’s definition of the strike zone, and the coaches gave the umpire their batting order. René concentrated on each word of the umpire’s speech and blocked out the coach next to him. Baseball was serious business, and he couldn’t let Matt, however tasty he appeared to be, distract him. But as soon as the meeting was over, René found himself locked into that deep blue gaze again.
Matt swallowed slowly. “Well, René, it was nice meeting you. Good luck.”
“Thanks.” René could feel his cheeks heat. “Good luck to you guys too.”
Taking two steps back, Matt pulled on his baseball cap and smiled before turning to walk away. René couldn’t take his eyes off the slow sway of Matt’s hips. For just an instant, he imagined digging his fingers into those hips and the kind of bruises it would leave on Matt’s fair skin.
“Down, boy!” David punched René’s arm. “And retract your tongue before you close your mouth.”
René suddenly remembered where he was. “You think he noticed?”
“You’re kidding, right? I would say he noticed you every bit as much as you noticed him.”
“I meant— Oh!” René stared toward the door. “Cool.”
David shook his head. “Son of a bitch,” he muttered as he stomped off. “Biggest game of the year, and now he decides to take the dick out of storage.” He spun around and faced René again. “Just great!”
René jogged over to David and threw his arm around David’s shoulders. “Aww, come on, baby. Don’t be jealous.” He guffawed when David shoved him away. “You’re still my favorite guy, even if you kiss like a girl.”
An extended middle finger was the only farewell David gave him. Still chuckling to himself, René pulled his cap down over his eyes, adjusted himself, and walked into the sunlight to begin batting practice.