The story “Greasy Lake” by T.C. Boyle is a coming-of-age tale exploring what it means to be “bad.” Inspired by Bruce Springsteen’s “Spirit in the Night,” the themes of pushing the limits of societal norms and straying from the “good” path prompted St. Petersburg-based writer Luanne Smith, along with Bonnie Jo Campbell, to assemble her third anthology, Muddy Back Roads, from Madville Publishing.
The setting of Boyle’s story served as a muse for Smith and her co-editor. “Boyle takes us on a quick car ride early in the story, and this ride takes us away from civilization to this place where anything can happen. That’s what captured my imagination,” Smith explains.
Rebellion, taboos, dark paths, and a setting that is off the beaten path define this third anthology and guided the editors’ choices of which stories to include. Boyle’s story centers on three young men who head out for a night of mischief and find far more than they bargained for. The murky lake also serves as a character, reflecting the story’s chaotic era during the Vietnam War and symbolizing the wayward morals of the three men at the center of the plot. The stories that Smith and her co-editor decided to include, along with “Greasy Lake,” buffered these themes of unexpected situations, good vs. evil, and the freedom of wandering to find one’s true self.
Muddy Back Roads includes work from writers such as Dorothy Allison, Elizabeth Bruce, August Tarrier, and Michael Gaspeny, among others. Smith and her co-editor combed through hundreds of submissions to find the writers with stories that exemplified the “off the beaten path” feel of the anthology.
“My co-editor and I pulled together an anthology of the kind of stories I like to read. The stories are often gritty, and, most importantly, the writers don’t back away from writing the hard stuff,” says Smith.
Smith favors writing that “doesn’t pull punches.” When gathering work for this anthology, as well as her two previous collections, she did so with an eye on writing that explores what others may shy away from. She is no stranger to diving into the taboo or the oft-avoided topic. Smith’s other two published anthologies, Taboos & Transgressions, and Runaway, explored similar themes as Muddy Back Roads. Through sifting through writing submissions from well-known authors, as well as those just starting out, Smith has found that her main themes make for popular story fodder. People have a vested interest in discovering what others do when they step outside the norm or find themselves in unexpected situations. Muddy Back Roads delves into purely human experiences that most can relate to in some way.
“For most of us, even if we haven’t stepped away from the norm, we’ve daydreamed about it,” says Smith. “The stories in all three anthologies actually capture a universal wanderlust, a ‘what if’ that nags at our imagination.”
Smith has a fourth anthology in the works, entitled County Lines, City Limits. Her next project examines urban and rural poverty, fitting in nicely with the themes explored by its predecessors.
Daring storytelling and tackling brave topics will continue to guide selections for Smith and her co-editors. The three existing anthologies, along with the fourth that is coming down the road, form a collection that speaks to the human spirit, the desire to wander, and our curiosity about what else is out there “off the beaten path.”