The latest novel by Dale Neal explores the stories of a people and a place supposedly cursed to never change.
When local historian Birdie Barker Price finds a stolen ballot box from an old election on her front porch, she opens a Pandora’s Box spilling secrets to Coweetsee County’s troubled history of vote-buying, child brides, drownings, church arson, wrongful arrests and guilty passions. “Living back of beyond, we don’t consider ourselves a backwards people, but as keepers of a lost kingdom.” Murder ballads, long sung by local women, document the heartbreak that runs through the generations, of women wronged by vengeful men. The intertwined stories of Birdie and other natives and newcomers to Coweetsee depict a rural community wrestling with a vanishing culture and an uncertain future. A tale set in Appalachia holds resonance for myriad places in contemporary America. Regal House Publishing, an up-and-coming independent press focused on the best in literary fiction, will release Kings of Coweetsee in summer of 2024.
Praise from early readers
InKings of Coweetsee, Dale Neal artfully loops his mountain tale in and out of the lives of innocents and villains, the lovelorn and the depraved, money-hungry newcomers and old-timers alike, in a present-day county ruled by men who buy votes and conspire in ruination for their own gain. Oh the crushing weight of sin and shadow in such a kingdom, and oh, the possibility that a ruined girl could rise again sweet as a mountain flower in an old mountain song. As in Carson McCullers’ Ballad of the Sad Café, the genius of this novel is that it sings like a ballad: dire, sweet, and fierce, each character’s fate twisted and true.
– Marjorie Hudson, author of Indigo Field, Accidental Birds of the Carolinas, and Searching for Virginia Dare
"Dale Neal's Kings of Coweetsee has at its center a reconstruction of a community's history, and it's no ordinary history, containing, amongother crimes, fixed elections and various forms of mayhem. This novel has a wonderful cast of colorful characters, good- and evil-doers, who show us the underside of local and national American life. Their voices will stay with you long after you close the book." - Charles Baxter, author of The Sun Collective and Wonderlands
“We don’t consider ourselves a backwards people,” Dale Neal writes, “but as the keepers of a lost kingdom.” Neal’s ear for the Southern idioms and storytelling vernacular is uncanny and immersive. He also understands and vividly illustrates the underbelly of the still entrenched patriarchal political and social systems that corruptly govern the lives of the Coweetsee citizens. Enter this world and you will find familiar characters, but Neal’s empathetic rendering of the travails of Birdie, Roy Boy, Maurice Posey, Aunt Zip, and Charlie Clyde, among many others, make this his best and most potent book. His respect for the trenchant backwoods wisdom of his characters is always present, as is the dirt-poor heartbreak of unrequited love and the high plaintive lonesome hiccups of the traditional ballads that stab into the listener’s broken places and settle there. Kings of Coweetsee will shift the ground beneath your feet.”
Keith Flynn, editor of Asheville Poetry Review, co-author of Prosperity Gospel: Portraits of the Great Recession
Kings of Coweetsee is a tale of power and intrigue with an ache at its heart as old as love itself. Dale Neal writes with the penetrating vision of an archaeologist unearthing the dark ironies of a thorny past. He’s a born story-teller — his prose is graceful and his eye is keen.
Kathryn Schwille, author of What Luck, This Life
"Dale Neal, with a reporter’s keen eye for detail, has brought to life a fictional mountain township, that, on further reflection, might not be totally fictional. Certainly the details ring true. This book is both an evocation of a disappearing culture and a picture of electioneering chillingly relevant to our times. A good read!"
Wayne Caldwell, author of Cataloochee, Requiem by Fire, and Woodsmoke