We’re thrilled to have here today Jane Beekman from Dwaine Rieves’ new literary fiction work titled, Shirtless Men Drink Free. Jane is a 49-year-old pathologist and business entrepreneur living in Atlanta, Georgia.
It is a pleasure to have her with us today at Beyond the Books!
Thank you so for this interview, Jane. Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?
It hurts to admit it, but yes—I think the novel’s portrayal of my role (including my failures) in this tough election year is accurate. I like to think I’m a good doctor, but I do confess to weaknesses when it comes to what some people might call superstition. But, tell me, who doesn’t have few superstitions—let’s call them
inexplicable beliefs—hiding away deep within him or herself? I was rattled—my mother had just died, my husband was obsessed with clearing the name of his father—and here I was in the middle of a campaign trying to help my brother-in-law become the next governor. And, Yes. I’ll always believe it. One morning, I saw the soul of my mother.
Do I believe in ghosts or messages coming to us from some vaporous world? No. But the book is correct—I saw my mother’s soul. Only briefly, there—above her dying body. I’ll never doubt it. I felt her soul arise in the air, felt it hesitate, felt it come to me alone. She knew I would believe in the sight, and so she kept fighting until her soul just couldn’t take any more. My mother was a fighter right up until the end—even after the end. Get it? In the air, her soul was fighting, agitated, trying to tell me something. You can call it crazy, but I know what I felt, what I believe. I just wish I had known what the others were feeling. Especially Jackson. He is, thank goodness, the main character. I so wanted him to succeed. Selfish, I guess. Now, I guess we can all see why.
Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality? If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?
Oh, I have sometimes wondered what it would have been like to be the main player in this story. But that Jackson! Such a talker, such a personality, such a hard campaigner. And that body! Teaches you all about the sacrifices a politician must make. But Georgia is a tough old place, full of tough people. It takes Jackson’s kind to win. Despite all, I think my mother would have been proud of him. Maybe she actually is! There I go again—the soul thing.
What do you believe is your strongest trait?
I’m a worker. When Jackson’s team asked me to help in his campaign, I only pretended to balk. I was eager to work the crowds, to put my people-skills to work for the greater good. God knows, you learn to work people in the business world. Besides, I’m a pathologist—put me before a voter and I’ll show you where his weak parts are. After all, medicine is an art, much like politics. Jackson would agree with that—I’m sure of it. Shitless Men Drink Free—it’s far more than a bar slogan. I learned the hard way. In politics, who doesn’t?
I was selfish. I wanted too much to please my mother—her soul—to help it find some peace in Jackson’s victory. My husband Price was like that also, a fixer. Only Price wanted to fix the legacy of his father. Price calls it our Hamlet complex—Remember? The ghost of the dead father-king telling Hamlet to “Remember me.” Remembering too much can make you selfish, make the memory itself a king. But that soul—I saw it. I felt it. I did.
If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?
Oh, Sweetie. I’ve got Meryl Streep written all over me. But that’s a cliché, isn’t it? My selfishness again! Oh, I’d be pleased with any woman who can put up with all the Georgia election shenanigans. The harder role would be Jackson’s. He has to be a doer and a looker—and with the smarts to make a great governor. Folks in Georgia are not that easy to please.
Do you have a love interest in the book?
Of course, I do—I’m married to him! But, as you know, there are a great many kinds of love, like that love you have for your parents. Sometimes, I think that’s the strongest kind, the most moving. Love for a parent—you just can’t break free of it. Ask Jackson. Remember Hamlet. Sometimes—at least when it comes to strong-opinion people—I think Georgia’s not all that different from Denmark.
At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?
I don’t want to give away too much, but when that jaundiced guy showed up at the house, I knew things were going to get a whole lot more complicated. That’s when I began to pay the penalty for my selfishness. But I still believe it was worth it. Her soul—I saw it. I did.
If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?
Of course, I would like to be Lily—Jackson’s campaign manager. Lily is smart—probably the wealthiest black woman in Atlanta. Lily always believed me, believed in me. Lily, in a way, was a substitute for my mother, the embodiment of my mother. “Poor people,” she kept saying. “We are such poor people.” And she was right. It was her soul speaking. There I go again.
How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?
Sweetie, the soul has no ending. This I learned from my mother. Or maybe it was Atlanta teaching me this lesson, maybe the campaign. Maybe it was all that time we spent in Baltimore. Shirtless Men Drink Free is a lesson I’ll always remember. Even though I’m a woman; in my soul, I’m a shirtless man drinking free. Let’s just say things turned out the best for Georgia. And, considering Jackson, even the nation.
What words of wisdom would you give your author if he decided to write another book with you in it?
I’d tell him to not worry so much about us folks in Atlanta. He sure as hell can’t change us. I’d tell him to rip off his shirt, to drink free when he starts thinking about that next campaign. Isn’t that the dream for us all? To be out there, free. No. It’s not about winning. It’s about the soul we have to set free.
Thank you for this interview, Jane. Will we be seeing more of you in the future?
You’ll be seeing a lot more of my world in a poetry book that hopefully is arriving soon. We’re not settled on the title yet, but it will have a lot to do with sex, greed and fried pies. I’m from the South, see.
Dwaine Rieves was born and raised in Monroe County, Mississippi. During a career as a research pharmaceutical scientist and critical care physician, he began writing poetry and creative prose. His poetry has won the Tupelo Press Prize for Poetry and the River Styx International Poetry Prize. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Georgia Review and other publications. He can be reached at http://www.dwainerieves.com.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In Shirtless Men Drink Free, Doctor Jane Beekman has seen her dying mother’s soul, a vision above the bed—a soul struggling with a decision, some undone task, something in this world too noble to leave. The question that lingers—why?—prompts a shift in the doctor’s priorities. In this election year, Jane must do what her mother, an aspiring social activist, would have done. Soon, Jane is embroiled in the world of Georgia politics, working to make sure her dynamic younger brother-in-law Jackson Beekman is selected the next governor, regardless of what the soul of the candidate’s dead father or that of his living brother—Jane’s husband—might want done.
Indeed, it is a mother’s persistence and a father’s legacy that will ultimately turn one Beekman brother against the other, launching a struggle with moral consequences that may extend far beyond Georgia. Set amidst 2004’s polarizing election fears—immigrants and job take-overs, terrorists in waiting, homosexuals and outsider agendas—Shirtless Men Drink Free makes vivid the human soul’s struggle in a world bedeviled by desire and the fears that leave us all asking—Why?
Engaging, beautifully written and resplendent with realism, Shirtless Men Drink Free is a standout debut destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned. A meticulously crafted tale that showcases an outstanding new voice in Southern fiction, Shirtless Men Drink Free has garnered high advance praise:
“This is brilliant and rare work, as attentive to an absorbing plot as it is to a poetic, chiseled cadence.”—Paul Lisicky, award-winning author of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship
“These characters are all too real. Rieves, as Faulkner, McMurtry and Larry Brown, writes people and story that will worm, burrow into you. Change you even.” —Adam Van Winkle, Founder and Editor, Cowboy Jamboree
“Vividly sensuous, this novel is full of textures, sounds and smells. Rieves tells a terrific story with the sensitivity of a poet.” —Margaret Meyers, author of Swimming in the Congo
Published by Tupelo Press joint venture partner Leapfolio, Shirtless Men Drink Free will be published in trade paper (ISBN: 978-1-946507-04-4, 326 pages, $16.95) and eBook editions. The novel will be available where fine books are sold, with an arrival on January 22, 2019.
SHIRTLESS MEN DRINK FREE is also available for pre-order on Amazon or at Tupelo Press: