A Place Called Wiregrass

A Place Called Wiregrass

by Michael Morris


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Erma Lee is on the run . . . Running from an abusive husband . . . running from a mother who doesn't care — never cared. Running from a soul-numbing factory job that has held her down her entire life ...

Erma Lee and her granddaughter, Cher, flee to the town of Wiregrass, Alabama, to escape the past and start over — or so Erma Lee thinks. Erma Lee forms an unlikely friendship with Miss Claudia, an elderly socialite who is hiding a few details about her own past. Life in Wiregrass is different for Erma Lee and Cher, for here they find mercy and promise — until, that is, the day Cher's convict father arrives in town, forcing all three women to come to terms with buried secrets.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060727109
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/01/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.83(d)

About the Author

A fifth-generation native of Perry, Florida, a rural area near Tallahassee, Michael Morris knows southern culture and characters. It is the foundation and inspiration for the stories and novels he writes.

Upon graduating from Auburn University, Michael worked for U.S. Senator Bob Graham and then became a sales representative for pharmaceutical companies. As a sales representative, Michael decided to follow a life-long desire and began writing in the evenings. The screenplay he penned during this time is still someplace in the bottom of a desk drawer.

It is when Michael accepted a position in government affairs and moved to North Carolina that he began to take writing more seriously. While studying under author Tim McLaurin, Michael started writing the story that would eventually become his first novel, A Place Called Wiregrass. The novel was released in April, 2002 and is currently in its third printing. A Place Called Wiregrass was named a Booksense 76 selection by members of the American Independent Booksellers Association as and is part of the southern literature curriculum at two universities. Michael's latest novel, Slow Way Home, will be released by Harper Collins on September 23 and his work can be seen in the southern anthology Stories From The Blue Moon Café II.

Michael and his wife, Melanie, reside in Fairhope, Alabama.

Read an Excerpt

A Place Called Wiregrass

Chapter One

"What you wearing them sunglasses for?" I'd felt Roxi's shifty glances for the past thirty minutes. I knew the square black frames with gold specks made me look like a June bug, but I still hoped Roxi would drop the subject. As I figured things that morning, I had two choices: either wear the insect spectacles or miss a day of work. And I never missed work.

The thunderous drill of sewing machines provided an easy out. I proceeded to sew another zipper and added the completed product to the bushel of blue rayon slacks piled in a plastic carton at my tennis shoes. I'm gonna get wrote up if I don't hustle, I thought and tried to dismiss Roxi's coal-eyed glances.

"Erma Lee, you fixin' to be a movie star or something?" Roxi asked with her rugged laugh. I didn't know anybody else who could laugh and talk at the same time. Glancing at the big white clock on the factory wall, I knew I couldn't ignore her any longer. It was another twenty minutes until Roxi's smoke break. The comments mixed with her cigarette induced laugh would only get stronger.

"Yeah. I'm on the first bus to Hollywood this evening." I avoided her stare and concentrated on my machine. The hammering needle put a perfect stitch in the crotch of a pair of navy pants.

Her gravel laugh let loose again. "I know that's right. Take me too." Roxi tossed a pair of khakis into the carton.

The zigzag of sixty industrial needles was the only sound I heard. Good, she'll be on to something else directly.

"You got home trouble?"

I shot a quick look across at Roxi's station. She wasn't laughing anymore. Her silver-framed glasses perched on the edge of her nose. The way her black eyes rolled upward made me feel like a schoolteacher was getting onto me.

"No." To make it look like I was really telling the truth, I shook my head. I didn't need her getting all in my business.

"Girl, you forget I been here as long as you. I hope them sunglasses ain't a return to when you ... "

"I'm gonna miss my quota if we keep flapping our jaws like this." I was scared to death to look at Roxi. Terrified she'd know the truth.

Who are you fooling? She already knows, I told myself. And so does everybody else in this metal building. Why didn't I just call in sick?

Roxi sighed and for a couple of minutes focused again on the khaki slacks. "I ain't seen no woman who's tough as you put up with crap like that. You know what I'm saying?"

I shifted my eyes behind the dark bug frames. Roxi was hunched over the white sewing machine, smacking a piece of gum. "My cousin Darlene -- you know the one I'm talking about. She put up with that same mess. And then one day she just hauled off and knifed that no-count husband of hers." The rugged chuckle erupted again. "Yes, ma'am. He punched her one too many times is all. You know what I'm saying?" Roxi suddenly stopped sewing and put both hands on her seated hips. "And she not half the woman you are."

Roxi's unexpected glare made me flinch. Just when I turned to look back at the strip of metal zipper, it happened. Like a mosquito gone mad, the steel needle pounded my right index finger. Numbing pain shot up my fingernail to the top of my shoulder. Snatching my foot off the control pedal, I flew backwards and screamed, "God bless America!"

Roxi jumped to the rescue and pried the needle from loose, bloody skin, tearing more in the process. I moaned, trying not to call more attention than was already coming my way. When I looked up and saw the crowd of women gathering, my right hand began to throb. It was almost worse than the throbbing I'd felt the night before, when Bozo slammed his fist into my eye.

The passenger's seat in Mama's silver Escort pressed hard against my back. I stroked my hair, which draped over my shoulder in a ponytail. Mama said long hair was a luxury we didn't have time for. Mama always used the pronoun we when setting ground rules for herself.

I adjusted the sunglasses, hoping she would notice the big square frames and ask why I was wearing them. I mapped out my response. I'd say, "I got a bandage to cover twenty stitches, just like I got a disguise to cover my banged-up eye."

But Mama never was one for questions about cosmetic matters.

"That hospital ain't nothing but a first-aid clinic," Mama yelled. "We coulda got the same treatment at the factory clinic and saved me hauling you into town. As it is, I'll get docked for the past three hours."

"Well, I'm so sorry, Mama. Let me just see if I could've planned it a little better for you." I edged closer to the passenger window. A haze blanketed the cold glass.

After a few miles, the hum from the engine filled the car. She could care less if Bozo had hit me or not. Mama made her opinion known the day after Bozo and me adopted our granddaughter, Cher.

"You cause him to leave you, and you're up the creek. And now you with that grandbaby to raise."

I still remember Mama shaking her silver head like she had hornets flying around the boyish mane. "And don't think I can take care of you and that young 'un. No siree, not me."

Not that Mama would realize it, but whenever there's been any caring to do, it's been me. Ever since Daddy walked out, I was expected to step up to the plate. Mama took a job at the new Haggar factory, and at fourteen I took a job raising my six brothers and sisters ...


Excerpted from A Place Called Wiregrass by Morris, Michael Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Janice Daugharty

Michael Morris is a born writer who learned his craft by living. He knows that story comes first. Try putting this one down!

Lee Smith

Having done a lot of literacy work in one of the poorest counties of eastern Kentucky, I know the world of this novel. Michael Morris has captured the hardscrabble world of the marginalized and dispossessed to a “T.” The depiction of abusive relationships is very real as is the friendship, camaraderie and strength among women. This novel is truly inspiring and uplifting without ever being preachy or didactic. A real page turner with very strong characters.

Lynne Hinton

A Place Called Wiregrass is a powerful story of saving grace, cherished friendship and gritty survival. You’ll read it and cheer. This is a great book!

Tim McLaurin

In words both simple and eloquent, Michael Morris writes of the people he knows with honesty and compassion. His style is worthy of comparisons to fellow Southern writers Larry Brown and Lee Smith.

Anne Rivers Siddons

Erma Lee Jacobs is a wonderful character full of strength, vulnerability and possibility all in equal measure. It is hard to believe that A Place Called Wiregrass is a first novel.

Le Smith

“...truly inspiring and uplifting without ever being preachy or didactic. A real page turner with very strong characters.”-

Customer Reviews

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Place Called Wiregrass 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This wonderful novel captures the voices of the impoverished and the well to do; convincingly presenting two women from different sides of the track. Where this novel could have gone down the all too familiar avenue of male bashing or jaded romance, the author instead keeps the focus on the relationship between two strong willed women from different levels of society. The dialect in this novel will resonate with anyone familiar with the south but what shines the brightest are the variety of people described in the small town of Wiregrass. You'll be pleased you took the time to pay a visit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved "Slow Way Home" and recommend it much more highly. This author has a way with words that is beautiful and southern. His storytelling is often compared with Flannery O'Connor. Unfortunately this book did not live up to my expectations. If you enjoy preaching and Bible quotes you would more fully appreciate this.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best book i have read in a long time.it was so good that i bought another book by the same author.
Carson-Rogers-Conway More than 1 year ago
I need to preface my review by saying that I love southern fiction. This novel is southern fiction and then some. It is written in a dialect that sounds real and the setting is humid, beautiful and haunting.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Living most of my life in a small town the people in this book ring true. I love how the writer captures the small town life and gossip mill. I laughed, I cried and sometimes I got mad but at the end I was satisfied with this book that shows the endearing relationships of strong women. The setting and friendship in the book shine.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of my all time favorite novels and movies is Fried Green Tomatoes. The entire time I read A Place Called Wiregrass I was thinking about the women in that novel. In fact, I read this novel straight through over the course of one weekend. Simple words told through a simple but street-smart character named Erma Lee gave me a good idea about the struggles of women in violent households. My favorite line:'Young, old, black or white bitter spirits speak the same language'.Yeah! I also loved the way that faith is covered in the story. With sinners and saints in the book, it's real to the core.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you like and know good southern writing like that of Pat Conroy, Cassandra King, and Silas House then this book is for you. I found out about it thanks to a website recommendation and loved it. As a native of the real Wiregrass (Dothan, Al) I can speak to the authenticity of the characters and the dialect. Reading this book was like a visit home. The plot twist at the end kept me up until the early AM. Reading it at the beach was an even better treat.
miyurose on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an excellent first novel. I found Erma Lee's actions and thoughts very believable, considering what her life has been like. I did get a little frustrated with some of her behavior, and the book gets a little god preachy in the middle, but the rest of the book makes up for it. A sad but hopeful ending.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this novel. It was discussed at our book club and made us all think about the lasting impact of domestic violence. The characters were realistic and the voices crisp but it was the refined Miss Claudia that stole the story. I thank the author for not writing another 'same old same' story about violence in the home. This novel left me with hope and I confess I had a few tears at the end. It was a deeply moving read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a Southerner, I was offended by this novel. The South is not filled with impossibly flat characters like those that populate Wiregrass. For a novel claims to be 'realistic fiction,' A Place Called Wiregrass utterly lacks any attempt at verisimilitude. The characters here may have experienced tragedy or poverty, but seem to have no lasting psychological trauma or character defects beyond perhaps their initial inability to believe in a God that is portrayed as shallowly as they are.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am writing this review in a sleep deprived state because of the two consecutive nights I stayed up reading 'A Place Called Wiregrass.' I was so totally engrossed in this wonderful story that sleep became irrelevant. I found myself cheering for Erma Lee and delighted by her unlikely relationship with Miss Claudia Tyler, the very genteel Southern lady with whom Erma Lee shares a secret bond. 'A Place Called Wiregrass' is a beautiful tale of friendship, strength and personal growth. I loved it! Kudos, Michael!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sent me looking for more of this author's work. Unconditional love and acceptance as well as mutual need and giving the core of this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book reminded me of some of the old classics with solid writing and a page turning plot. Issues in this book kept my book club talking about it for days. The characters stay with you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a great read. The different relationship storylines are compelling and touching. The merging of the two south's (the aristocratic and the down-trodden) was really interesting to read. This is a great book for a book club! Good conversations emerged at our discussion of this book. Everyone loved it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best book I have read in a very long time. I have suggested to several of my friends that they read this book. I still can't believe that this is just his first book. Michael Morris is certainly going to have a following of loyal readers if all his books are as well written as this one!!!! I can't wait until he writes another one!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Our book club picked this book after reading a newspaper review that called it "a beautiful work of art." It is beautiful but more than the standard high brow literary novel this one also has a page turning plot. The main character struggles to rebuild her life with the help of those in a small town. All the while she has to avoid her convict son in law who turns up in town to torment her. A great read, well written and an ending that leaves you uplifted. Simply put we loved it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Our club loved this book. Many in our group thought that it was the best first novel they had read in years. When I picked it up, I was hessitant. The abuse angle has been played out so much but the women in this book are different -- resourceful and determined to make a fresh start. Surprisingly, it was not at all depressing but instead inspiring. The ending really spun me around and made for a lively discussion at our club meeting. Erma Lee and the other characters just stay on your mind days after the last page is read. Long live Erma Lee!
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this remarkable first novel, Michael Morris gives us a masterful work of Southern fiction with characters we will all recognize. Erma Lee and other women in the story are being made stronger through the havoc rained on their lives by villainous and vile men who serve only their base libidos. Gerald and Erma Lee's pastor, however, epitomize the strength of men who depend on their faith -- not their libido --to guide their lives. In contrast to Erma Lee, Gerald and other honest characters, there is a parade of snobbish women and a pastor who illustrate much of what gives the Christian faith a bad name. Erma Lee's fight for a better life for herself and Cher, her teenage granddaughter, is inspiring. Her search for faith is a realistic journey -- not sugar-coated or trivialized, but colored by explosive confrontations with her worthless, estranged husband and Cher. The crises that drive the novels' conflict give the reader a totally satisfyling reading experience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Morris is able to get inside the mind of Erma Lee in this powerful first novel, A Place Called Wiregrass, so that the reader makes a real connection with her. It is unusual for a man to be able to capture so well the thoughts and emotions of a woman. The descriptions of the inner and outer lives of his characters are compelling and real. This novel has humor, tragedy, friendship, love and redemption. I hope that another novel by Michael Morris soon will be forthcoming!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a writer, I can't believe this is a first novel. Michael Morris is definately an author to keep an eye on because he obviously knows how to tell a captivating story and create characters that any reader will fall in love with. The characters in this book are real and Michael writes them as if he has known them his whole life. They show strength and integrity developed through adversity and, although they are ficticious, become people that you admire and want embrace as a friend. As I read his book, I felt like I was a part of the story. I felt like I was there. I've never physically been to Alabama, but after reading this book I feel like I have. No matter where you live, A Place Called Wiregrass is a must read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
What more can you say about this book! I am truly a fan of southern writing and this book is a wonderful example of southern writing at its best. We all know these characters; we just might not admit it. It is so wonderful to read a book that has a positive message for a change. The book shows us how much we can learn from the people around us and how God always provides. If you have not read this book, you are really missing out.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Im telling you it takes a great book for me to get interested and boy i couldnt put it down, it realy hit home in alot of ways, Thank you Mike Morris for your keen words, I am so proud and cant wait to read your next book. I wish we had a lot of miss Claudia's here. and more brave women like Erma Lee.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A Place Called Wiregrass is a wonderful novel-- eloquently told, with empathetic and richly drawn characters. Erma Lee's voice is both provocative and powerful as she navigates through often difficult circumstances, along the way discovering the power of friendship, prayer and her own inner strength. Michael Morris is a compelling storyteller, and the book reads like the work of a seasoned author -- it's difficult to believe this is his first literary effort. In a nutshell, you'll be glad you took the time to visit a Place Called Wiregrass.