Idabel Allen Explores Rural Family Secrets


Iowa Writers Workshop Alumnus Idabel Allen’s New Southern Literary Novel Explores Rural Family Secrets

Idabel Allen developed her distinctive, arresting literary voice at the Iowa Writers Workshop, and is now making her debut in the world of Southern literary fiction with her new novel, Rooted (May 2, 2017), about a punk musician who crash lands in a small Southern town in the late ‘70s while searching for an inheritance—and discovers much more than he bargained for when he becomes entangled with the mysterious McQuiston family.

Lovers of Southern Literature, Americana and the 70’s New York punk scene will rejoice in this masterfully penned family drama, rooted in the works of Southern storytellers such as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor and more.



About the Book


ROOTED: Washed up and drugged out, punk’s poster-boy descends on the southern town of Moonsock like a bat out of hell.

In the late 1970’s, Slade Mortimer is on his last leg. Running from the memory of his dead girlfriend, her revenge-seeking father and the childhood abandonment of his mother, Slade descends on the southern town of Moonsock desperately seeking an inheritance and a new start on life. What he finds is the fractured McQuistons, the family he never knew he had or needed.

Slade’s unexpected arrival blows the door off the McQuiston closet, loosing skeletons and resurrecting questions about the mysterious disappearance of Slade’s mother twenty-five years before.

If the family is to survive, they must account for their past sins. Only then can the McQuistons begin to forgive themselves. Only then can they begin to heal.

IDABEL ALLEN serves up the best in new home cooked Southern Literature. First and foremost a storyteller, Idabel’s books are grounded in the same character-driven reality that holds the reader’s attention long after the story is finished. Idabel brings over fifteen years of experience as a professional writer and editor to the literary table. She attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop Fiction program and is the author of Headshots, available on Amazon.


Q&A with Idabel Allen

1. How did punk rock and country/Americana music influence Rooted?
Music permeates everything in the South – from New Orleans Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Rockabilly, to Gospel and Hip Hop. In rural areas, Country music, including Bluegrass, is as much a staple as beans and cornbread. To this day, children are raised up on the music of Hank and Haggard, Willie and Waylon, Patsy, Loretta and more.

In the mid 1970’s, years of mellow, hippie rock and smooth, studio country gave way to punk rock and outlaw country. Both were anti-establishment movements and embraced a DIY attitude that gave musicians freedom to say and do whatever they wanted. While these musical revolutions had many things in common, they were not so visible to the naked eye staring at spiked hair and face piercings for the first time.

As a child in West Tennessee in the late seventies, I caught bits of information about the Sex Pistols. There was a sense that the band, and their music, was a clear sign that the world was going to hell in a hand-basket.

When it came time to write Rooted, I was taken with the idea of stranding a New York punk in a small Southern town. I wanted to see how the differences and similarities between a conservative, country culture and the more radical punk culture played out.

2. Are there any specific songs or artists that influenced this story?

There were many songs and artists that ran through my mind when writing Rooted. Music is one of the best ways to set a tone or mood of a story, even the setting.

Slade Mortimer’s character was loosely based on legendary punk rock pioneer, Richard Hell – founding member of Television, the Heartbreakers and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. The originator of spiked hair, ripped T-shirts and safety pins, it was Richard Hell’s look that Malcolm McLaren exported to England and outfitted the fledgling Sex Pistols.

The music of Hank Williams Jr. was used to give the story a sense of the pride and independence that runs strong in Southern communities. The Allman Brothers’ dark, bluesy soundtrack complimented the characters’ struggle to understand their own failings and explore the possibility of redemption.

The music of Memphis Minnie, The Mississippi Sheiks and other artists from the late 1920’s and early 30’s shields Sarah Jane, a reclusive young writer from a world she has seen too much of at too young an age.

A major influence on Rooted was a song called, Come to Jesus, by Mindy Smith. I had just completed the rough draft when I first heard this song and was struck by how well the song captured my characters’ despair and desperation – in who they were and what they had become. Like Rooted, it is a song about being alone and afraid at the end of your rope and discovering there is help and hope available. This song did not make it into the book but was still a big influence.

Instead, I used the old hymn, Washed In The Blood Of The Lamb, at various points in Rooted to help characters come to terms with the past traumas that threaten to destroy them. While these characters are not particularly religious, the song helps them begin to heal.

3. How did growing up in the south influence your storytelling?

If you are Southern, I can almost guarantee you are a storyteller. It’s in your blood. When you get together with friends or family stories just seem to bubble up to the surface. Some new, but many are the same old stories that have been rehashed and regurgitated for years, and are just as loved with each telling.

Children idle up and become part of the circle, listening with big ears and turning questioning faces to this speaker and that. In this way, the love of storytelling is handed down.

Telling stories at gathering’s is such a natural occurrence that I never considered how special this was until I lived out of the South for several years and found myself dying of thirst. I was among a wonderful non-Southern culture that did not play with words the way we do in the South. They did not say, “gettin’ my nails did.” Had never heard the terms, “showing your tail,” or “acting a fool.” When they spoke, they used proper words for things, and it liked to drive me crazy.

And when we gathered together after a potluck or over drinks, stories did not flow. We talked about things like the new transportation bill at the state house.

Each time I returned to the South, I hurried to some kitchen table or backyard fire-pit to hear the stories and say a few of my own. In doing so, something deep in my core was satisfied.

But it’s not just me. How else can you explain the canon of Southern literature and the popularity of country music? The South loves telling stories. And more than that, people love hearing them.

4. Rooted tells the story of a rural American culture clashing with urban American culture in the 70s – how do you think people can still relate to this today?

It must be human nature to be suspicious of things outside your protective circle or control. The world has always been full of “us” against “them”. That’s fine; we don’t all have to agree. But what is important is how the “us” and the “them” learn to work together and keep things going in a way healthy, productive way.

The cultural conflicts in Rooted go beyond that great Shakespearian question: to nose-pin or not to nose-pin?

Slade’s world is all about rebellion, anarchy, and change. It’s about smashing the old rules and ways of doing things and demanding to be heard. Slade’s world doesn’t care about the moral restraints holding tradition in place. They want to force change on the world.

Grover’s world is about working within and protecting those same moral constraints. It is about self-reliance, and self-improvement. About minding your manners and your business. Grover’s world is intent on taking care of itself and does not want outside influences forcing change on them.

These philosophical differences were clearly displayed in the 2016 election results. Maybe these differences have always been there and always will. Perhaps it is the country’s ability and willingness to work together that has changed.

In Rooted, the clash between urban and rural cultures works itself out. But Rooted is a novel, and far easier to bring about a resolution that gets past the “us” against “them” mentality than in real life.

5. What do you want readers to take away from this story?

Rooted is a story about the importance of belonging to a place and a people. The characters in this story are lost souls, alone and at odds with the world and themselves. Disconnected, they struggle with identity: who they are, where they come from and what they’ve become. When the pain and shame of their existence are too much to bear, family roots take hold. Unable to run or hide any longer, the characters are forced to confront a brutal past in the hopes of a better future.