Piper's thoughts on the writing path...

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Kate's Reply:

Hello, Mystery Cousin! I am very happy to say that I've recently regained the electronic rights to WHERE THE LAKE BECOMES THE RIVER, and am working on a Kindle edition to release in the next few months...although that may not help with your Nook! Will work on a version that will operate on other electronic readers. Meanwhile, you can order the hardback from B&N, Amazon, TurnRow Books in Greenwood or Lemuria in Jackson (assuming you are in Mississippi, which may not be the case), Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh NC, Powell's in Oregon, etc. More to come on my electronic edition adventure (I'm collaging my own cover for it-- fun!)...and meanwhile, do let me know who you are and where your branch of the Bettertons hails from....

All the best, and thanks for writing,

Hi KATE. Checking for Mississippi Mystery writers and found your information. Can't believe your last name is the same as my maiden name. There are not many Bettertons so would love to hear from you. Looked in my Nook for your book but no luck. Where can I get it? Would love to hear from you on family history.

KATE'S REPLY to Betty Lee's letter below:

Hey Betty Lee,

How lovely to hear from you! That's impressive that you still have your copy of my first fiction foray after all these years...and I hope you also enjoyed Where the Lake. I'm working on getting my new novel out into the world, which requires bushel baskets of patience, a tough hide, a formidable helping of sheer stubbornness (which, as you know, is amply present in the Betterton genes), and a fearless streak of optimism despite all odds: I am certain the new book will find its way, sooner or later, onto a few choice bookshelves around the globe.

I hope that life has proven gloriously kind and adventurous for you thus far, and that your new pathways will bring you every amazing blessing.

All zee best, Kate


A friend of mine shared your novel with me a few years back knowing I have a Greenville history. I talked with your brother Charles last week, re-read my copy of The Zinnia Eater, just wanted you to know how much I appreciate you guys being in my life.
--Betty Lee


Thanks so much for your kind words about Where the Lake. What a quest--to read all the books you've bought! Hmmm..might take me a while to do that. True that the novel didn't get much exposure--it came out in the very month (October '08) when the economy crashed, had almost no publicity (its tiny, brave, boutique publisher had scant funds to begin with, and has since shut down)--so maybe the book did well to get the four Amazon comments and a nice mention in Publishers feel free to add another Amazon review if you are so moved! Nontheless, the cool thing is that despite all odds, a quirky little book can find its way to unexpected places around the globe, and I'm glad that it's found its way to Bothell and onto your "To Read" shelf. (I've been to Bothell, having lived in Seattle for 20 years--still have my gills to prove it, and never do bother with an umbrella.)

As to Kindle, I'd love to do a Kindle edition, and hope to get the electronic rights back, which is the necessary first step to that end. Thanks for your tip re Len Edgerly's website--I took a look at his Kindle Chronicles, and enjoyed it. As to good books not finding a wide audience (so many tales, from Melville to Dr. Seuss to Margaret Mitchell "No one cares about the Civil War anymore, Miss Mitchell!" "This stuff is too weird for children, Mr. Geisel!")all a writer can do is make your best effort to draw your story from the Dreamspace and wrestle it onto the page...and potter with the text for whatever maddening length of time it takes to jell, and send the finished manuscript tottering off into the world to find its readers, however many or few.

Happily, I am finishing a second quirky romantic metaphysical novel (working title PIPER-- not the final name, which for now will remain unmentioned, since mentioning "steals thunder," as the Navajo say...) and about to send it out to some small publishers, hoping that it will also find its way into the Great Unknown and bring joy or consternation or laughter or alarm or a bit of peace or at any rate, some small entertainment, to its readers, however many that may be, or however inclined they might or might not be to post a comment in any venue about their experience with the book. So I guess the faith is in trusting that the story will find its way to that other receptive mind who's hoping to be transported into another world for a while, and luxuriate there as if before a glowing campfire or cozy hearth with some newly met friends who've just offered her a lovely cup of hand-warming tea and welcomed her to their adventures.
All zee best, and thanks again!--Kate


I just started your book. It is amazing! I had it in my vast collection of books and my resolution is to read books I have purchased. I looked on Amazon and was shocked that only 4 people had reviewed it! It didn't appear to be available as an Ebook. Len Edgerly who does The Kindle Chronicles could help you find the people who could get it into ebook format. It really deserves to be read by more people. It makes me so sad that poorly written Fifty Shades of Grey is so popular and fine books like yours are unrecognized.
Karen near Seattle

You have too nice a web page to air Andy and Debbie, "the harpy" dirt on. me sometime at and I'll tell you about it.
Best Wishes Roger

KATE'S REPLY: Hey Roger,

No, can't say I do...although heck, Andy's name does sound familiar. Course at a certain age, all names sound familiar! Never been to Kosciusko, but have driven by it on the Natchez Trace, and do admire a certain book-loving TV star from there w/ the initials O.W....
but your question was a mini-novel in itself, and made me laugh! Please tell me you are a novelist--Fess up--and do provide the next chapter to the tale. Love to hear more about the Harpy Wife and the Narcissistic Flake...they sound quite entertaining and verrrry Mississippi.

COMMENT: Hey Kate, beautiful website. Do you happen to know a narcissistic flake by the name of Andy D Martin that lives in the Betterton House in Kosciusko, Ms with his lovey harpy wife Debbie?
Thx, Roger

KATE'S REPLY: Hi Chelsie. Congratulations on writing and publishing your novel--I'm happy for you. While I'm honored that you'd invite me to read and comment on your work, regrettably I can't do so, for a variety of reasons--the main one being that I'm embroiled in a "final" revision of my upcoming novel, PIPER. However, in between the novels I'm writing a non-fiction book on--what else--writing fiction, and one thing I'd advise is that you join or start a writers group with some congenial fellow scribes with whom you can trade drafts and provide feedback. It makes a huge difference, in many ways. Also, keep reading books on the writing craft, b/c writing is a craft, like carpentry, and you'll build your toolbox that will enable you to make better and better word creations.

Also, I'd say to ignore the Bashers in all their wicked guises (yup, even your best friend), and beware the seduction of Riches and Fame, each of whom is attractive but may drag you from the true path and strangle you in the mud. Listen to your books, which will, if you are patient (this may mean Years) tell you everything you need to know to write them...and revise, revise, revise. And on that note, I'm back to work on my own latest message in a bottle, that is, manuscript...All the best, Kate

COMMENT: I am a brand new author (my first novel will be coming out in June and is also about reincarnation) and I thought I would try to make a connection with an established author so I could get some tips or advice :-)
You can read the first chapter of my novel @ I would love to hear any thoughts or opinions. Thanks so much!!!

KATE'S REPLY: Hey Monte,
Thanks. Yup, there are deliberate riffs in there to Uncle Bill Faulkner (Robbie's demise being the most shameless tip o' the hat), Miss Eudora (Birdy, birdy birdy), J.D. Salinger ("Now you just stop that, Parrish!"), and Margaret Atwood (a child's talisman--Mama's ring--has protective power, is then forgotten, discovered later and only vaguely recalled--a la CAT's EYE...) Mr. Hemingway helped with scene transitions, Mississippi John Hurt pitched in on songs, F. Scott popped in here and there to gild certain descriptions...and maybe Patricia Highsmith helped work out how to bump off the wicked Lucien...I spoze the Muse comes in many forms. All the best, Kate

COMMENT: Sure, I like it. I am not quite sure how southron I think you might be. Hit don't really matter, but I did enjoy the read and I even picked out a little Faulkner flavor in the mix. I will be sure to read the next thing you have to offer. Monte

We like it very much!
-- Spanky, Middy, Bugley and Sampson

Rousseau's Snake Charmer, a McCullough family friend in WHERE THE LAKE BECOMES THE RIVER


"Living on the edge is hard to do, but sometimes you have to leap off it for a chance to do better. "Where the Lake Becomes the River" follows the nearly destitute Parrish. Unable to go to college, her life is a wreck with a dependent mother, and little chance for hope after a failed romance. When the civil rights movement comes to her town, the opportunity Parrish needs to break out of the monotony of life presents itself. "Where the Lake Becomes the River" is an exciting novel of change in one's life, and is sure to please."


Debut Novelist Kate Betterton Talks About Fiction, Family, Death, and Life After Death

Kate Betterton’s novel Where the Lake Becomes the River won the 2008 Novello Literary Award, an annual contest for writers from the Carolinas, sponsored by the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, NC, and underwritten this year by Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain Foundation.

The novel’s protagonist is Parrish McCullough, an artistic, open-minded young woman growing up in Mississippi during the 1950s and 1960s. Much of the story centers around Parrish’s various relationships within her family, particularly in the wake of her father’s death, and several friendships and budding romances. In her narration, the book stretches back even before her actual memories, imagining her family in Japan on the cusp of her own birth; examines Mississippi against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Era; and elsewhere reaches toward the otherworldly, specifically her belief that her father has appeared to her from beyond the grave. A fascination with death and with the idea of life after death permeates the book, and those two subjects form a persistent theme in Parrish’s student essays, which help to separate chapters and which inevitably invite the concern, frustration or even anger of the teachers and counsellors reading and commenting on them.

Betterton, a practicing psychotherapist in Chapel Hill, NC, is currently in the midst of a book tour through central North Carolina. This Wednesday, December 17, at 7:30 p.m., she’ll read and sign books at the Barnes & Noble at New Hope Commons in Durham. In coming months, she’ll also appear at the Bull’s Head Bookshop at UNC-Chapel Hill on Thursday, January 29, at 4 p.m., and then at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village, just north of Pittsboro, on Saturday, February 14, at 11 a.m.

Between stops, Betterton took some time to chat about her craft and the stories and beliefs that fed her first novel.

Art Taylor: Where the Lake Becomes the River doesn’t follow a strictly linear format, with new chapters picking up where the previous one left off. In fact, individual chapters might easily be read as self-contained stories in their own right. Had you planned the novel’s overall structure from the beginning, or was it that independent stories ultimately just coalesced into a larger narrative?

Kate Betterton: A story or novel has an inherent shape it wants to take, like a tomato plant or a rose bush. Writing it is a natural, unfolding, organic process. The story or novel will tell you what it wants to be, but you have to be patient — it can take a while for it to reveal its core. This book is really about immortality, the soul’s journey through the ages. To structure the book chronologically would kill it. Its time shifts are deliberate, attempting to capture something of that cyclical, timeless, circular feeling. The first chapter, about growing up in Mississippi, started as a story. I realized I’d left out the racism and intimidation of those years in Mississippi, and revised. This led to the Japan chapter/​story and Harvey’s chapter/​story, in which racism leads to the death of the narrator’s father. That opened up the chapters about ghosts, hauntings, the paranormal, as Parrish struggles to understand “The Truth About Life After Death.” So the book unfolded naturally, over many revisions.

Art Taylor: Those ghosts and those paranormal events, that shadow of death and the interest in life after death — is this just a literary trope, some brand of magical realism as literary strategy (as it seems to be in Lewis Nordan’s Wolf Whistle, for example), or are those aspects of the book rooted in some spiritual beliefs of your own?

Kate Betterton: A mystical spirituality is central in my life, and the novel’s cosmology reflects my own. Parrish’s exploration of spiritual and metaphysical mysteries mirrors my lifelong interest in these subjects. I’ve always been drawn to the mysterious and inexplicable — dreams, hauntings, synchronicities, reincarnation, life after death. The thin veil between this life and the next is the underlying theme of the book. Yes, it’s a book “about death,” as Parrish struggles to regain her lost spirituality, but ultimately, it’s about the fact that death is just a doorway to another reality, the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next.

Art Taylor: Like Parrish, you were born in Japan. Like Parrish, you grew up in Mississippi during a time of great racial tension and then worked at a newspaper during the rise of the Civil Rights movement. How would you describe the process of drawing on autobiographical elements on the one hand and, on the other, trying to create a satisfying piece of fiction?

Kate Betterton: Fiction takes off from real life like a winged creature emerges from a cocoon. “Novel” means something new. In fiction, experience, memory, and imagination merge into something new — often unexpected — with a life of its own. The writer gets to explore her interests and edges and quandaries while working hard to create an interesting tale for the reader. Hopefully, each gets something satisfying from the finished book. Reality’s just your starting point. I’m very interested in what happens when people of different races, faiths, or nationalities encounter each other and try — or not — to bridge the gap. The racism in my book is based on realities in the Mississippi of that era, but the events are all imagined. There was a “Papa-san” figure in my childhood, but the fictional “Mr. Takashima” of my Japan chapter wouldn’t recognize himself in the real man, or vice-versa; he’s become an entity in his own right, in the parallel universe where he resides.

Art Taylor: Apart from being a novelist, you’re also a psychotherapist. How did your work in psychology or therapy help you in constructing and understanding your characters here?

Kate Betterton: Growing up in a large, eccentric family developed my understanding of people, relationships, group dynamics, loyalty and betrayal, love, anger, conflict, grief, and so forth, long before I began writing fiction or became a therapist. Reading hundreds of novels over the years helped me most in learning how to build stories and characters, along with reading books on craft, and simply listening to what stories and characters want. In writing, you tell people a story. In therapy, you receive people’s stories and help them to reshape their lives in ways that feel more authentic and fulfilling to them. In each enterprise, you have to get your ego out of the way and, rather than impose your own will, patiently attend to and assist the naturally occurring process that is trying to unfold.

Copyright 2009 by Art Taylor


“The time is the late '60s, the setting a small town a few miles from Leland, where Blues Highway crosses 82. But this is fiction, a made-up version of the truth so many of us in the Mississippi Delta remember.
Parrish McCullough narrates a series of stories that blend together to create her history, from her parents' rather unconventional union (her grandfather hired a Pinkerton detective to investigate his daughter's possibly unsavory fiancee) to her departure for a northeastern college.
Interwoven in this saga of family secrets, racial intolerance, ghosts and reincarnations is the land the McCulloughs have lived on for generations. The black star-filled skies and the rich earth are as much a part of the story as the eccentric McCullough clan.
All the true sons and daughters of the Delta—from river rats and debutantes to preachers, teachers and exotic worshippers of the Buddha—make an appearance in Parrish's life, and Betterton's book is like taking a trip with your favorite family storyteller.
This mesmerizing story of a young girl growing up in turbulent times, surrounded by friends, family and enemies, seems like our own, where everybody knows your business and most people accept your eccentricities. Maybe it is the Delta's new classic coming-of-age story.
Kate Betterton grew up in Greenville and now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Her wonderfully strange and complex novel won the 2008 Novello Literary Award, underwritten by Charles and Katherine Frazier's Cold Mountain Foundation.” --Augusta Scattergood (Google for her blog.)

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, New Orleans. Parrish and friends spend an evening here. The band requires a surcharge to play "When the Saints Go Marching in," but "St. James Infirmary" is free. (Photo: Keith Henderson)

Copyright 2017 by Kate Betterton, all rights reserved.
Rousseau's "Sleeping Gypsy" with her "electrified, bug-eyed lion..."

The Woman Crowned with the Stars, Cloaked with the Sun, Standing on the Crescent Moon, Casting Down that Old Serpent At Last

Mississippi River Bridges from Small Plane

ISBN: 0981519210 ISBN-13: 9780981519210 Format: Hardcover Publisher: Novello Festival Press Pub. Date: October 28, 2008

More on Where the Lake Becomes the River: DOWN IN THE DELTA