It's a story full of heart from the pen of Sean of the South.

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Sean Murphy

If you’ve listened to the podcast Sean of the South, you know that Sean Dietrich can spin a story. Dietrich is the writer and humorist popularly known as Sean of the South, and he shares stories of the region through columns on his website and episodes of his namesake podcast, which pairs Southern-spun tales with live music. Dietrich tells a new story in his upcoming novel Stars of Alabama, which will be published this summer.

Stars of Alabama is set in Alabama in the 1930s and is peopled with characters who embark on journeys across the geographical landscapes of the South and the internal ones of the soul. With hope and heart, it tells interweaving stories of connection, unlikely friendship, and the responsibility we have to take care of one another.

Courtesy Thomas Nelson

Stars of Alabama will be published on July 9, 2019, and it will be available from local independent bookstores (via Indiebound), as well as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Below, read an excerpt of Stars of Alabama in advance of its publication this summer.

Excerpt from Stars of Alabama by Sean Dietrich

T h i r t y  –  T w o

Paul watched the sun rise over the tobacco field. Whenever sun spread itself on the leaves, it looked like the backyard of heaven, dotted with the first colors of a coming autumn. The fading green color of the world was overwhelming, the scent clean-smelling. The aroma of wet dirt and earth was strong enough to taste.

The sound of a radio nearby cut through the rural morning. It was blasting an official voice into the air, one that talked about a war and the invasion at Pearl Harbor. The voices on the radio had changed since the war began. Men talked a little louder and more staccato. They had anxiety in their words, and fear.

In the early sun, Paul watched the morning’s first workers move through the crops before the midday heat got too strong.

Paul had not cared for tobacco work when he first arrived. This work wasn’t at all like cotton picking, peanut picking, plowing, timber framing, roofing, or dog training. Tobacco work was careful work, slow moving and downright boring. But somehow he’d changed the way he felt about it. He’d come to love the easy rhythms.

Maybe it was because he was getting older and tired. Maybe it was because he was slowing down. After six years of tobacco, he’d grown used to the light pace of work.

But mornings brought simple blessings. Coffee over a campfire. A sunrise. Paul’s homemade biscuits from a sack of flour. And children.

Eulah’s children had become the best part of Paul’s life. So had Ruth. Eulah kept to herself and could go full days without saying much. With each year, the children grew into miniature adults. They acted like it too. Ruth had found her favorite phrase: “I know.” She said it all the time, and it made Paul smile every time the self-assured six-year-old reminded him that she “knew” something.

Paul could practically write her future. She would grow into a confident girl who didn’t need anything from anybody. And this made him proud of her, even as he hoped he’d live to see that version of her.

He heard Ruth’s energetic footsteps on the porch. Ruth was often the first to wake in the mornings. Though sometimes Reese would beat her to it. Most mornings, young Ruth would wander onto the porch, half-awake, and sit on Paul’s lap and watch the sun lift itself above the ground and wake up the world. And he would touch her shock of red hair—which was Paul’s favorite thing in the world.

Ruth galloped down the steps of the ugly house. She was all hair. Paul greeted her, but she was too sleepy to answer.

“What’re you doing up so early?” he said.

Ruth rubbed her eyes. She crawled into Paul’s lap and rested her head against his chest.

“Louisville was fussing in her sleep,” said Ruth. “Can’t sleep with all that noise. I wish she’d sleep outside with you.”

“She’s old and deaf, baby. Her bones are sore. She can’t help all that whimpering.”

“I know, but it’s hard to sleep.”

“Oh, you be sweet to my old girl.”

“How old is Louisville?”

“Pushing nineteen.”

“That’s old in dog years, right?”

“That’s ancient.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“You sure know a lot.”

“Yeah.”

“In a dog’s world, nineteen’s a record.”

“Are you older than nineteen?”

“Not by much.”

“What will Louisville be like when she’s your age?”

“I expect Lou will be sitting next to the Lord by then, the lucky fella.”

Paul ran his fingers through her red curls. Her hair was thick and fell over her shoulders. She was the prettiest child he’d ever seen.

“Are we really at war?” said Ruth.

“You and me ain’t, but the rest of the world is.”

This know-it-all girl was the most important thing he ever did with himself. Sometimes he looked at the stars at night and wondered if this was the reason he was created. For her.

He said in a whisper, “Almost time to eat. You want me to show you how to stamp biscuits with an upside-down glass? It’s sorta fun.”

But there was no answer. Her eyes were shut. She slept with her cheek against his chest.

Their lives weren’t beautiful. In fact, their lives were hard. And whenever they settled into a routine, along came something that changed it. They always seemed to be a few meals away from starvation, and they seemed to have less each month than they had the month before. But life doesn’t have to be beautiful to be pretty, Paul thought. All it needs is red hair.

“I love you, sweetie,” said Paul.

“I know,” she whispered.

About the Author

Sean Dietrich is a columnist, podcaster, speaker, and novelist, known for his commentary on life in the American South. His work has appeared in Southern Living, The Tallahassee Democrat, Good Grit, South Magazine, and more, and he has authored ten books including the upcoming Stars of Alabama, out July 9, 2019. Connect with Sean at seandietrich.com, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

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Which Southern-set books are you looking forward to reading this summer? Be sure to keep an eye out for Stars of Alabama when it arrives in bookstores in July.

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