Literary Fiction / Memoir
Release Date: October 1, 2022
Publisher: Mapleton Press
A young girl in a small southern town in the 80’s enlists the help of an unlikely group of friends and family to help her survive an unconventional, sometimes abusive childhood...Often left in the care of a paranoid schizophrenic uncle who lives downstairs and a psychotic uncle upstairs, the narrator stacks up a few heartbreaking observations. When her mother abandons her in favor of her addictions, the girl goes to live with her grandmother but finds happiness cut short when her grandmother dies. Her uncle believes the voices in his head have trapped his mother in a basement across town and as he slowly looses grip on reality, he also looses his ability to take care of her. Taken to a Group Home to live until a case worker can find her a place to go, her mom’s ex shows up and is forced to make a choice.
Praise for Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond:
One child's vulnerability and resilience to forces beyond her control make a raw and colorful splash in this tenderhearted memoir.
-RECOMMENDED by the US Review
"Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond is highly recommended for fiction readers looking for coming-of-age and family narratives that are anything but ordinary and predictable. Its lively tone packs a punch."
- D. Donovan, Midwest Book Review
... I have to tell you that as I enjoyed this great book, I realized no 9 year old could have the thoughts or quick comebacks that Cotton does. Any kid that had to go through what Cotton did would become old way before their time. But in truth, this is mostly a story of Cotton telling about her life but living in the moment. Does that sound nuts? Well, whatever the technique, it worked. It made a story so very poignant that it touched my heart. Lis-Anna Langston created a character you will fall in love with and a book you'll be sad is over when you turn the last page.
- Our Town Book Reviews
Lis-Anna-Langston kindly used a "blurb" of my previous review above. I had to paste the whole review below because I want you to find out what a MUST read this is...
kathy - Our Town Book Reviews...
I can’t say enough about this book. I laughed and then I cried and then I laughed again. This is a story about the life of a young girl. A girl who has good times and bad times. One who has a no-show dad and a mother who either has a man on her arm, a needle stuck in her arm, or a joint in her hand. Yet somehow, Cotton manages to look at things in a way so honest that you have to laugh.
If you live Cotton’s life, your mother is upset because you have an imaginary dog named Diggy. To get your mind off a “fake” dog, she buys you something normal kids play with... a huge dollhouse that you don’t want. When you start to play with the people who “live” there, she wants to know who you are talking to. When you tell her it’s the rubber people in the dollhouse, she says it’s creepy. Life is just unfair where Cotton lives.
I have to tell you that as I enjoyed this great book, I realized no 9 year old could have the thoughts or quick comebacks that Cotton does. Any kid that had to go through what Cotton did would become old way before their time. But in truth, this is mostly a story of Cotton telling about her life but living in the moment. Does that sound nuts? Well, whatever the technique, it worked. It made a story so very poignant that it touched my heart. Lis-Anna Langston created a character you will fall in love with and a book you’ll be sad is over when you turn the last page.
See an excerpt of Skinny Dipping in a Dirty Pond below...
About the Author
Lis Anna-Langston was raised along the winding current of the Mississippi River on a steady diet of dog-eared books. She attended a Creative and Performing Arts School from middle school until graduation and went on to study Literature at Webster University. Her two novels, Gobbledy and Tupelo Honey have won the Parents’ Choice Gold, Moonbeam Book Award, Independent Press Award, Benjamin Franklin Book Award and NYC Big Book Awards. Twice nominated for the Pushcart award and Finalist in the Brighthorse Book Prize, William Faulkner Fiction Contest and Thomas Wolfe Fiction Award, her work has been published in The Literary Review, Emerson Review, The Merrimack Review, Emrys Journal, The MacGuffin, Sand Hill Review and dozens of other literary journals. She draws badly, sings loudly, loves ketchup, starry skies & stories with happy aliens.
You can find her in the wilds of South Carolina plucking stories out of thin air.
Bringing You Up to Speed
When my uncle Thurman started boiling frogs alive in big soup pots on the kitchen stove everyone turned a blind eye. When he pulled the tail off a rabbit while it was alive, he retold the story as something funny. It wasn’t. The problems didn’t stop there. Something in my family’s blood told them they were bad. Misfits woven together with a sanity of the sheerest design. As I grew older, I began to realize by natural deduction that something was wrong or that nothing had ever been right.
In my family, as far back as I can tell, there was no such thing as communication, only secrets. Big, nasty secrets that hid in the closet with the bogeyman and a layer of dust. All of the real players in the drama are dead now, or at least the ones who could tell us what everyone was trying so hard to get away from. Even so, in moments of contemplation I realize some-times people are crushed to dust under the burden of their lives and my family was no exception.
There would be no warm, fuzzy evenings around a din-ner table for me because by the time I entered this world Grand Daddy was dying. Death waited patiently for him on the second floor of our big, turn-of-the-century house. A hospital bed and morphine drip were installed so he could pass his final days in the comfort of a room wallpapered with hundreds of blue ships sailing to god knows where. He died with his clothes still in plastic, tucked in drawers.
This elusive grandfather figure fascinated me, as did the fact that we lived side by side a dead man, as if he were coming home any minute to hang up his coat and rest after a long jour-ney into death.
Later, I said living that close to death was too much for a family like mine. It was the crack in the teapot, the leak in the dam, and finally the straw that broke the camel’s back. The cancer that killed him ate away at something inside of my fam-ily until it mutated and grew into a victim, a paranoid schizo-phrenic, and a psychotic. A man I never knew was the thread that wove those misfits together, and when he was gone, those seams finally ripped under pressure.
But not right away. Before Grand Daddy drove that Buick up to the Pearly Gates my mom was busy trying to find herself by running off to Burning Man to be free and smoke dope.
The only thing she found was her way back home, to a chorus of “I told you so,” dragging her teenage boyfriend from Georgia as if she’d hooked him on a weekend fishing trip. They were white middle-class kids who thought their revolution was unique.
“Revolution, my ass,” my grandmother said. “They don’t want to start a revolution. They just want to be able to smoke dope out on the front porch without anyone telling them not to.”
As I was becoming a glimmer in someone’s eyes my parents ran wild. Or at least they imagined themselves running wild. They were the product of a semi-revolution. Two high school dropouts hell-bent on freedom, chained to the mother of conformity, toting that hippie bible that reads just like anything else—we like you if you’re just like us.
No one talks about my conception. My great point of origin. Were there showers of kisses, or random-high-only-semi-good sex that you can’t remember clearly later? Were there grunts or pants or sighs? Was anyone performing that night who hadn’t been chemically altered besides me? Perhaps no one knows, and if by some stroke of luck they do remember, I assure you, no one told the truth. My mother made a hobby out of feigning ignorance when asked to discuss pertinent is-sues. I have never met my father.
So, from thus I was conceived. Seven pounds, three ounces, on a hot summer night. I wasn’t really social in those days, even though it was the beginning of disco and all. Not many expectations were placed on me just yet. My mother moved us out of the house and in with her new junkie/hippie boyfriend, who said the nicest things when he wasn’t high. Then we moved again and then, again. Grand Daddy’s illness surfaced. It killed him quick and from what I can tell, things began to change.
The family history hit an all-time high of hush-hush. In that room dying of lung cancer, wasting away, he begged for morphine. He said his mother came to see him every night, the same mother dead for years. He talked about how she brought him angel’s wings and tiny drops she put on his tongue, making his words spin. With a smile, he recalled how she spoon-fed him hot broth while they talked about his childhood. He forgot the extreme poverty that sucked up his early years. Blood came up every time he coughed, choking him, and he didn’t mention that ramshackle of a house where he grew up. His fingers were bones. He talked openly to the angel of mercy standing in the doorway.
He hallucinated, saw his death, called out, failing, fad-ing, fighting, and ultimately losing, because I don’t think he ever really thought he was going to win. He died in the middle of the night without a word to anyone.
A few years later I learned how to talk and thus deduce certain things from my environment. The first clue something was wrong with my family was that Preston Brown wasn’t al-lowed to play at my grandmother’s house when I stayed over on weekends. The second was that in my own home my mother and her new boyfriend Dave, decided that financially it would be better if they were dealing drugs.
Around that time my crazy uncle Thurman left my grandmother’s house one night and reappeared the next morn-ing, wet, with human scratch marks all over his face and arms. Caked with dried blood, and torn clothes, claiming to remem-ber nothing from the night before except that he’d heard voices. He plodded upstairs and slept for twenty hours. When news of a murder unfolded on the radio, my family met it with the same tight-lipped resistance they greeted everything else. I was too young to understand the consequences of murder, but I won-dered who those voices were, and why they always told him to kill people.
I couldn’t recall a single moment when I felt affection for Uncle Thurman. I never curled up in his lap and felt safe or reached up to hold his hand before crossing the street. I learned you don’t cross the street with psychotics— you cross the street to get away from them.
Psycho Uncle hung out with a bunch of dudes who thought he was a big fat ass from what I could tell, but they were nice to him for the same reason everyone was nice to him, which was that you didn’t have to spend more than five seconds with him to figure out he was a few marbles short of a game. And he had weed. When you’re certifiably crazy, you have to possess something that lures people in, and for Uncle Thurman weed was his saving grace.
My Uncle Stan lived downstairs and wasn’t so bad. He didn’t like Thurman. Stan was a good paranoid schizophrenic. He refused to take baths because he said it made his skin rot off If someone finally laid down the law, he would plop down in the big claw-footed tub, and sit perfectly still, staring straight ahead until my grandmother sent me to tell him to get out. He lumbered out like a big old bear muttering about how baths put him in a neurotic delirium.
I loved Stan the way other little kids loved cartoon characters. Even at the age of six, I knew you weren’t supposed to admit to liking Spam. Not Stan. He thudded into the kitchen wearing big boxer shorts from the Dollar General Store and ate an entire can, sitting alone at the kitchen table, lost in his own mind instead of the morning paper. He drank soda pop like someone said there was going to be a shortage. He consumed about a bazillion cans of Campbell’s soup, and when we later tried to change brands on him, he politely told us that the other manufacturers put poison in their soup, and while we may be fooled, he wasn’t. If you pushed the issue with him, he would also, very politely but with a tone that suggested he meant it, tell you to go to hell.
But Stan was different from the rest, and if I laughed long enough and hard enough then eventually, he’d laugh with me. Aside from the fact that occasionally he’d slice his arm open with a kitchen knife, or that he thought the people who lived next door were shooting his brain with an x-ray gun that made him hear voices, or that periodically he’d refuse to pee in the toilet for reasons that escape me now, he lived in his own world and what a world it was. Every once in a while, I’d burst in on him and catch him dry humping a pillow with all of his clothes on. He didn’t care. Why would he? Everyone had the same urges, did some of the same things, but they cloaked theirs in secrecy and claimed superiority. Not Stan. As far as I knew, he was the only 40-year-old virgin high on Thorazine in the whole neighborhood. And he was great. He liked to go to the zoo and eat candy bars and fried chicken and take rides in the car every Sunday.
Aside from the fact that he was a little weird, Stan proved to be about as harmless as Bambi. The rest of my family should have been so lucky.
But I’m getting ahead of myself . . .