Debra Daniel was in the checkout line at the supermarket when a headline in one of the tabloid scandal sheets caught her eye: “Woman Commits Suicide in Dishwasher.”
This week, more than 20 years later, that’s the title of the Columbia author’s first novel, which is being launched with a party on Jan. 18.
The approach to the story is as unusual as the title. It opens with the central character, Myrtle Graham, dead in exactly the way the title describes. Where the novel goes from there is a series of eight interviews with people who knew Myrtle, a talentless tap dancer whose life and stage aspirations never quite worked out.
There is dark humor in some chapters and poignancy in others as the people tell a news reporter about Myrtle — and about secrets of their own lives as well.
Daniel, who retired in 2006 after teaching elementary school at Fort Jackson for 34 years, is best known in her writing for award-winning poetry. She was twice named a poetry fellow of the South Carolina Arts Commission. She has also published many short stories and, most recently, flash fiction — a relatively new genre of super-short stories, often online.
In fact, Woman Commits Suicide in Dishwasher was originally a short story when she started it two decades ago after that trip to the supermarket. She took it to a writers workshop and various writers conferences over the years, expanding and revising it and periodically looking unsuccessfully for a publisher.
“Every writer has to persevere — and be a fan of rejection,” Daniel says philosophically.
Then “five or six years ago, I got it out again,” she recalls. And Muddy Ford Press, a local boutique publishing house, signed her up. The next step is the book’s launch party from 3 to 5 p.m. on Jan. 18 at Tombo Grille in Forest Acres.
This won’t be the first time Daniel has been in the spotlight. In November 2012, she was on the TV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire? She missed the $100,000 question but came home with $25,000.
That was a pretty good payday compared with music gigs. In retirement she has been singing, and playing mandolin and percussion in acoustic bands with her musician-husband, Jack McGregor. Actually, one of those performances got her on the TV show.
“We played at a nudist colony,” she says. And that’s the kind of offbeat thing that makes for good conversation with a quiz show host. Clothing was optional for the band, but “we were fine keeping our clothes on,” she says.
New literary journal: Fall Lines is a new journal based in Columba that will be published in June featuring poetry, essays, short fiction and flash fiction. The literary journal is being produced by Jasper magazine in partnership with the Richland Library, the University of South Carolina Press, Muddy Ford Press and One Columbia. Previously unpublished submissions can be entered until March 1. There is no fee to enter, and there are no residence requirements. Details are at jaspercolumbia.net.
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