Opelika author’s debut novel features Alabama charm and Southern flair

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With its varied landscapes, unique attractions, and interesting people, the American South has long been a popular setting for many classic literary works. Opelika native Anessa Sewell Kent hopes to continue that tradition in her debut novel, ‘The Bitter and the Sweet,’ due out next May.

A former real estate agent and elementary school Spanish teacher in Dothan, Kent described her book as a character-driven historical fiction drama set in 20th-century Alabama.

“The Bitter and the Sweet” exudes southern charm and offers lessons in faith and forgiveness. This is the story of Veradine Dawn Turnipseed, a small town basketball legend who disappears before graduation after becoming pregnant. Years later, she returns to town, no longer the tomboy she once was, but also not quite a woman of distinction.

The story follows Varadine, her daughter, and other town characters, including Louanna Parsons, a prominent teenager who is mysteriously murdered.

Kent said it was her own experiences growing up in the South that inspired her to write the book. His love of Southern cuisine, Southern traditions, and Southern music, such as blues, jazz, and Southern rock, also helped. She said her “Southernisms” permeate almost every layer of the book.

The small town where the story takes place is a mix between Opelika and Eufaula, and there is even mention of a university called “Plains University”, which replaces Auburn University, its alma mater.

“There’s something about being raised in the South that goes into your DNA,” Kent said. “It’s just absorbed deep within you…I think it’s something that’s so precious to us as a people that we love to keep reading stories about Southern people and Southern life…The Voices and the pain and the realism and just the fact that we’re transparent. We’re generally very transparent as a people.

Although the Southern atmosphere is strong, Kent is confident the book will appeal to audiences across the country.

Much like the South, “The Bitter and the Sweet” is rich in messages told from a Christian perspective. Kent said his characters always pray and the novel is full of hymns.

“Faith is huge in my book,” Kent said. “There’s a lot of prayers and Jesus, and we’re southerners, and that’s our culture…For me, I just couldn’t write characters that [religion] was not great for them too.”

Kent said she enjoys reading other Southern novelists, from older authors like William Faulkner to more contemporary writers like John Grisham and Fannie Flagg. She also mentioned Harper Lee, Pat Conroy and Cassandra King.

Of course, a book wouldn’t be truly Southern without a little humor here and there. Kent said she did her best to add some levity to the drama mix.

“It’s kind of funny too,” Kent said.

“The Bitter and the Sweet” is about its characters more than anything else. In fact, Kent said she started with the characters and went from there.

She started writing while working for her last real estate job when she received a call about a property in Dothan which was both a barbecue restaurant and a strip club. This inspired a character, Veradine, who was tied to this two-in-one establishment in the story, but her character was minor. However, over time, Veradine became the lead in the story.

In the final draft, Kent said, the barbecue strip joint is not mentioned. She is saving this gem for her second book, which she is currently working on.

Many of Kent’s other characters also started out as completely different people.

“It’s amazing how the characters will tell you their story,” Kent said. “They’ll tell you what to say. They become real to you. It’s almost like they’re a friend. While I was writing a book, I never knew what I was going to write.”

Kent graduated from Auburn with an English degree after transferring after her freshman year at Judson College, a recently closed all-girls school in Marion.

She said she had always wanted to write a book but had struggled to come up with an idea that she considered good enough until now.

“The Bitter and the Sweet” is slated for release in May 2023 with Texas-based independent publisher Black Rose Writing. She signed a contract with them in August.

Avid readers will be able to find it on Amazon after its release. You can also follow Kent by following her Facebook page.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email [email protected] or find it on Twitter and Facebook.

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