Set in the Bible Belt of Deep East Texas, Visiting the Sins is a darkly funny story about mothers and daughters, naked ambition, elusive redemption, and all the torment it’s possible to inflict in the name of family.
Writing Good and Evil
by Melanie Denman
When my precious father died recently at the age of eighty-nine, countless friends put their arms around me and said, “He was one of the good guys.” And he was. My father was born of a simpler time. He saw a bright line dividing good and evil. He stood up for good and kicked evil to the curb, in matters large and small, every day. That’s not to say he was perfect, but he was the exactly the kind of guy you want for a father. I just couldn’t put him in a novel.
The characters who pop up in my stories are seldom either good guys or bad guys. They’re usually both. They depict a deeper truth about the human condition – that even the noblest saint is capable of darkness. And even the most despicable pervert has the capacity for a moment of compassion or self-sacrifice. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of circumstances.
In the evangelical culture that is the setting for much of my writing, evil is personified by the Devil, an actual spiritual being who stalks you every minute of your life, looking for cracks in your soul where he can worm his way in and seduce you into doing something bad. The Devil is overjoyed if he is able to get you to commit a sin, but if you manage to resist him, then he gets really mad. The Devil does not like to be foiled, so he re-doubles his efforts. In fact, the better you behave, the more temptations the Devil throws in your path.
I like writing about the Devil. Whether you believe in an actual devil or just the moral concept of evil, either one makes for a good story. In Visiting theSins, the Devil uses his bag of tricks on the hardheaded mothers of the Wheeler family. Whatever tolerance for moral ambiguity we may have developed for our politicians and our business leaders does not extend to mothers. We may put up with a congressman who dallies with a stripper, if he can manage to lower our taxes, but the stripper better not be a mother.
When good mothers do bad things, it causes us to ponder: Could something like that ever happen to me? We don’t like to think that it all might be just a matter of circumstances.
Melanie Denman is a native of Nacogdoches, Texas and a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University. An eighth-generation Texan, and a former banker and cattle rancher, she currently lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is working on a second novel.