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At a reading in celebration of the publication of her first novel, Death in Equality, Lucinda Ebersole is recounting publishing horror stories. Her top anecdote is that the St. Martin’s publicist assigned to the book thought it was a mystery because it had “death” in the title. While this misunderstanding might not make her case that publishing today is a horror show, you can believe her when she says, “You want to feel like it’s teamwork, and it’s not.”
That reading was held at Atticus Books, which Ebersole owns with Richard Peabody, her co-editor for the resurrection issue of Gargoyle and for the Mondo Barbie, Mondo James Dean, and Mondo Elvis anthologies, which were also put out by St. Martin’s. Ebersole insists that prior connections to the publisher had nothing to do with the acceptance of Death, that she was referred to her editor by someone outside the house.
Whatever her feelings about the publishing enterprise, Ebersole got to pick her cover photograph, a pieta of sorts by local artist Connie Imboden (“I insisted, but then they spelled her name wrong [in the credit for the author photo]”). Ebersole was also allowed to write her own jacket blurb; hence the phrase “autoerotic pieta” to describe the novel’s themecertainly not something a publicist would write, even if he could understand it.
This oxymoronic bit of hype is probably the toughest thing to grasp about a novel that reads like Winesburg, Ohio written by Flannery O’Connor. Death’s protagonist, Cordelia, “the greatest unpublished writer of her generation,” goes back to her Alabama hometown of Equality (the place is really on the map; Ebersole is from nearby Sylacauga) to die young. Cordelia goes about dying by reviewing stories about people in the town who have bought itby lynching, freak fires, or using water moccasins as fishing baitand the retellings become Cordelia’s life’s work. The fact that the writer is dying of lung cancer reinforces the postmodern idea of other voices speaking when you can’t speak, completing what you cannot complete. Overall, the reader gets a picture not of a person but of a town. “The Equality of the book exists in my mind,” Ebersole says, and the same is true of Cordelia, as her surroundings contribute voices that help create, and destroy, her.Jeff Bagato