J. Griffin Hughes
Book Review: Good Buddy by Dori Ann Dupre
Updated: Jul 28, 2021
I met Dori Ann Dupre about 4 years ago at the literary open mic hosted by Hemed Mohamed and Suzanne Miller. There, writers of all kinds met face-to-face (amazing, I know) to share their work, looking for feedback and camaraderie. After all, having a head full of stories you are determined to share with the world is a particular kind of insanity only those equally afflicted can truly appreciate.
She’s an incredibly modest author for having won multiple awards. Her first novel, Scout’s Honor won the Bronze Aware for Southern Fiction in the 2016 Readers Favorite Internal Book Awards and was a finalist for the 2017 Eric Hoffer Award. Her latest novel, Good Buddy was an Amazon #1 Bestseller for Women's Literary Fiction and received Honorable Mention for Southern Fiction in the 2019 Readers Favorite International Book Awards.
Since I got to hear her talk about Good Buddy as a work-in-progress at the open mic, I was interested to see the results, and it did not disappoint. The story takes place in two time periods, when the titular character Buddy is a young boy and later as a man. We first meet him as he and his mother Retta are fleeing his abusive stepfather Kenny. A drastic act has occurred, requiring that they leave Texas forever to get new names and a new life. Twenty years later, we get to meet the man that Buddy has become, a defense attorney living in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Their new life has been a pleasant one, with new friends and respectability. If the trauma of his childhood shows anywhere, it is perhaps in just how shy Buddy is with women, a hesitancy born of seeing just how much pain can come of intimacy. When he does date, it doesn’t last. And then Buddy meets Julie Saint, a military widow just as his mother had been, and mother to a young girl of her own, a girl named Molly with so much energy that she can’t stop hopping.
Their courtship is slow, with the care and caution appropriate for two people who have suffered badly. Love does blossom between them, leading to marriage and a new little sister for Molly. But when tragedy strikes, Buddy will have to deal with the secrets of his past to keep his family together.
Dori tells this story with incredible compassion for her characters, even the most contemptible. We even get to see who Buddy’s stepfather Kenny was before alcoholism and untreated PTSD from the Vietnam War brought out violent madness in him. His sanity, like Buddy’s birth father and Julie’s first husband, are casualties of war, and sacrifices of military families are a strong theme throughout.
As a Southerner myself, I find most Southern fiction falls into typically two categories--dysfunctional or idyllic. Either all our families are riddled with debilitating mental health issues or “aw shucks, there ain’t nothin’ in the world can’t be fixed by a heapin’ helpin' of peach cobbler…”
In my own experience, the real story is both. That’s why I really appreciate Good Buddy for its ability to straddle these two worlds equally. It is a story about love in the presence of adversity and simple moments made even more precious by painful memory.
I was very happy to get to ask Dori some questions about Good Buddy and her experience with it:
Good Buddy is your second published novel. Are there ways you approached it differently than your first?
Good Buddy was a book that started out as one thing and then took on a completely different life altogether because of what was going on in my personal life. But the actual writing of the book was done completely different than my first one, Scout's Honor. Scout's Honor was written in first person with multiple narrators, and the entire story was told sequentially in parts. For Good Buddy, I wrote in third person but from varying third person perspectives and then in flashback. The chapters were all written in short vignettes, which are similar to short stories. I wanted to tell the big story in a way that was well rounded, like you can with several narrators telling about the same experience in first person. It was a bit of mental gymnastics for me, but I enjoyed the challenge and thought that each novel encompassed a large and long story needing to be told with different storytelling formats.
As for publishing, Good Buddy started out with representation. I was told that it had made it to Random House's slush pile, but then it never went further after that. After about a year, I took it back and began to tweak and edit some more. The publishing industry is very frustrating. I cannot for the life of me understand how certain authors with crappy stories and even poor writing can be bestsellers, and the legions of well-written indies out there get nowhere. I suppose it is like that in every artistic industry, however. An artist always needs that stroke of luck to make it in these industries. After more tweaking of Good Buddy, I decided that rather than continue to wait for someone else to publish it, I would need to do it myself. Once you get to my age, you realize you aren't going to live forever, so waiting around to get your work out there in the traditional publishing world is not as appealing. I went ahead and published it under my own imprint, EJD Press.
A few years ago, you remarked that you didn't think you had what it takes to be an indie author. Do you still feel that way? Are there skills you've taught yourself in the process?
Unfortunately, I still think that way. Being an indie author or independent anything for that matter is a mindset that absolutely suits me and my personality, but the never-ending selling of yourself is just not me at all. I am horrible at sales, even worse at promoting myself, so making any real living at being an indie author is not going to happen for me. I have come to accept that I am a part of a vast well of creativity in the world - just a drop within that well - and that is OK. I will simply have to continue to work for the man to support my writing habit, and that is OK. I am grateful to have either opportunity and always amazed that anyone reads my work at all!
As for skills, I have definitely improved my interviewing skills, whether in an interview like this or over a radio show or podcast episode or even in a live reading. My live reading skills have improved, and I like that people reach out to me for advice with publishing, social media marketing, and writing in general. It has certainly helped me come out of my shell with strangers. I am an extroverted introvert, which means I am an introvert but can be extroverted among friends or where I am comfortable. Talking about writing or my books with strangers has evolved into a comfort zone, once I get past the initial anxiety.
What was it like hearing another person's voice narrating Good Buddy for the audiobook?
During the audition phase of making Good Buddy into an audiobook, I was a bit surprised how much hearing someone read my words or assume my characters' voice unnerved me. It was surreal. Once I got over that, I chose a very successful and experienced voice-over artist who gave a book about fatherhood a fatherly voice. While going through the process of converting the chapters into audio, I found a rhythm in the storytelling that I had not expected while writing it. The audiobook experience is definitely not for sissies! It is grueling at times, but if you have a professional who knows what it is doing, it is rewarding and gives a different life to your words that you never knew was there. I even believe that Good Buddy as an audiobook is a little different of a story simply because of the voice reading it. It adds a whole other dimension that the book itself does not have (for better or for worse).
You've had Good Buddy discussed in book club. Have you had a reader there or elsewhere find something in your story that surprised you?
Both my books have been discussed in book clubs, and it is amazing to me how they have both turned into therapy sessions for the people in the club. The stories themselves have resonated with many of my readers because of how they related to their own experiences. I think that is what has surprised me the most, although I don't know why. People are willing to open up in the book clubs and talk about deeply personal experiences. For example, one woman talked about her childhood molestation by an older man (Scout's Honor) and how she never realized how much it affected her entire adult life until after reading Scout's Honor. Or, another woman shared that a character in Good Buddy was exactly like her own mother and how that character brought out a new perspective about her mother's issues that she never realized before. The fact that people can read something I wrote, and it helps them in some way or touches their hearts...that always surprises me and never gets old. It makes me feel like the demoralizing side of being an indie author is worth it.
Are you currently working on a new novel?
Actually, I am not. I have been focusing on being a contributing writer (freelance) for an online publication to appease my creative writing needs while I slog through a very long, challenging, and tiring graduate program. I work full time, so it is very difficult to also do graduate school at the same time. (I am too old for this and do not know why I continue to torture myself) I have some ideas of course, but I have not been working on another novel lately. However, I know that I have more in me to come out, and those stories will be written someday!
Good Buddy by Dori Ann Dupre is available in print, ebook, and audiobook.