Authors: Jill Conner Browne
The Sweet Potato Queens' Wedding Planner/Divorce Guide
The Sweet Potato Queens' Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay, or Dead
The Sweet Potato Queens' Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner)
God Save the Sweet Potato Queens
The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love
Dollar Daze: The Bottom Dollar Girls in Love
A Dollar Short: The Bottom Dollar Girls Go Hollywood
Bet Your Bottom Dollar: A Bottom Dollar Girls Novel
SIMON & SCHUSTER
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright Â© 2007 by SPQ, Inc.
All rights reserved,
including the right of reproduction
in whole or in part in any form.
and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Sweet Potato QueensÂ® is a registered trademark of Jill Conner Browne.
The Sweet Potato QueensÂ® characters, names, titles, logos, and all related indicia are trademarks of Jill Conner Browne and/or SPQ, Inc. All trademarks, trade names, trade dress, logos, or other discriminating marks, and indicia associated with Jill Conner Browne, the Sweet Potato QueensÂ®, SPQ, Inc., and The Sweet Potato Queens' Website, LLC, are owned by Jill Conner Browne and/or SPQ, Inc. and may not be used without expressed prior written permission from Jill Conner Browne and/or SPQ, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Browne, Jill Conner.
The Sweet Potato Queens' first big-ass novel : stuff we didn't actually do, but could have, and may yet / Jill Conner Browne with Karin Gillespie.
I. Gillespie, Karin. II. Title.
PS3602.R736S94 2007 813'.54âdc22 2006050742
Visit us on the World Wide Web:
First of all, you MUST KNOW that this whole entire book is completely made up. Not a word of it is true and none of the characters exist in real lifeâexcept for a couple of 'em. Now, if you've read all my other (totally TRUE) booksâand I certainly hope that you have or will nowâthen you know that I do, in fact, exist and I really am the Boss Queen of the Sweet Potato Queens (real but nothing like the ones in this book)âand so does Malcolm Whiteâfounder of Mal's St. Paddy's paradeâwhich also really does existâco-owner of Hal & Mal'sâreally and truly our favorite bar/restaurantâin Jackson, Mississippi (also real). And y'all really are invited to come to Jackson the third weekend of each and every Marchâto be in the parade as The Queen of Whatever You Choose. (For true details, go to www.sweetpotatoqueens.com or e-mail the real me at [email protected] I answer all of 'em myowntrue-self.) Other than thatâit's all utter fiction and my mama is just tickled to death about that.
This book would not have been possible without the talent and willing spirit of Karin Gillespie, for which I am grateful. Y'all need to read all her booksâyou'll love 'em, I promise.
Nothing in my professional lifeâand very little in my personal lifeâwould be possible without the talent and maybe not quite so willing spirits (but ultimately willing enough, thank God) of Alycia Jones and Sara Jean Babin.
Jay Sones has gone so far as to move off to Noo York City in his effort to get out of doing stuff for me, but thankfully he has been unsuccessful at this attempt and so I still have him to thank for the fact that the website not only shows up but actually functions properly.
The Cutest Boy in the WorldâKyle Jenningsâcontinues to carry me around on a little pillow, night and day, and I am the luckiest woman alive that it apparently pleases him to do this.
Bad Dog Management continues to guard, fetch, beg, wag, bark, and bite as necessary on my behalfâfor which I am ever grateful.
Thanks to Damon Lee Fowlerâfor loving support and the use of his fabulous recipes! His cookbooks are as charming as the man himself.
I have a certain set of friends who read my books mainly to see how I've managed to work their names into the pages. Since this is a work of fictionâit was difficult to impossibleâbut I want to make sure that they read it anyway so here are their names IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER: Allen Payne, Jeffrey Gross, Cynthia Speetjens, Joe Speetjens, Judy Palmer (who is actually my real-life seester and author of
Southern Fried Divorce
), Melanie Clement, Michael Rubenstein, Elizabeth Jackson, Allison Church, Carol Puckett, Randy Wallace, Katie Dezember, Ellyn Weeks, Joanie Bailey, George Ewing, Smokey Davis, Larry Bouchea, Annelle Primos, John Cartwright, Wilson Wong, Jim Sumner, Laura Lynn, and Angie Gray. My daughter, Bailey, is just praying that she is NOT mentioned.
This is the first of what I hope will be many books with the fine and very attractive folks at Simon & Schuster. They have not only given me a fair-sized sack of money (for which my plastic surgeon adds his thanks to mine), but they have treated me like the Queen I Yam. So far, these are my favorite people there: David Rosenthal, Aileen Boyle, Deb Darrock, Victoria Meyer, Elizabeth Hayes, Deirdre Mueller, Leah Wasielewski, Jackie Seow, Sybil Pincus, Jaime Putorti, Annie Orr, and, of course, my editorâthe beautiful, gifted, and glorious Denise Roy. Our future is so bright, we gotta wear rhinestone cat's-eye sunglasses!
With love and thanks to the cutest and best agent
in the worldâJenny Bent of Trident Media Groupâ
who had the idea for this book and then nagged
me relentlessly to do it.
s a queen created or is she born that way, making her entrance into the world with her hand curled into a fist as if grasping a teeny-tiny scepter? I can only speak for my ownself, but I think my queenly tendencies began in the womb, where I lolled around, fat and happy, the result of the swiftest, strongest, and cutest sperm to swim upstream and my mama's most excellent eggs.
Before I was a year old, I learned to wave bye-bye but did it in such a way as to be a precursor to The Wave, the gentle, regal hand motion I've perfected after over twenty years of being Boss Queen of the Sweet Potato Queens.
In family photographs there's a self-assured twinkle in my eye. It's the gleam of a queen. If you study baby pictures of Queen Elizabeth, Cher, and RuPaul, you'll see the very same sparkle.
In first grade, the teacher gathered all the little girls in a circle and told us to close our eyes, so she could crown a Valentine Queen.
My body tensed in anticipation. That cardboard crown was mine! I knew it before I squeezed my eyes shut and felt the slight whoosh of air as the teacher placed it on my head.
“Open your eyes!” she said. “Greet your new queen.”
Fifteen pairs of eyes stared at me.
“Jill, you look bee-you-ti-ful!” said a classmate, obviously sensing the advantages to basking and cavorting in the golden light surrounding a queen.
“Pleeze let me wear your crown, Jill!” said another. “I'll be your best-est friend in the whole world.”
One little girl, a moon-faced child nicknamed Poot for her remarkable talent for emitting genuine pants-rippers at will, making her the envy and idol of all the boys, said, “That's my crown, Jill Conner! I deserve it.”
“Now, Pootâ¦I mean Patsy,” the teacher said. “Be a good sport, ya hear?”
But Poot wasn't having any of it, and the next thing I knew, she'd snatched that crown clean off my head and tore out of the classroom before the teacher could stop her, her little bottom bleating staccato-fashion with every step.
“I'm sorry, Jill,” my teacher said. “But don't you worry. We'll get your crown back for you.”
“That's okay, Mizz Peabody,” I said, with all the noblesse oblige I could muster. “If Poot wants the crown so bad, she can have it.”
a sight to behold, gold-leafed and glittering with sequins and all manner of fake jewels. And I
want that crownâbad. I'd like to tell you that even at that tender age, I understood a crown was only a
of my inner queenliness, but back then the sparklies were all that mattered, and presently, Poot slunk back in and handed it back to me with a muffled apology and a downcast look. I was happy and relieved to have the crownâand attentionâreturned to me. My time in the spotlight was short-lived, as Poot lowered herself into her desk chair with a blast worthy of a full-grown beer-bellied bean-eating MAN and once again captivated the audience. (No other girl in the first grade couldâor aspired toâcompete with her in her own game, but we did despair of ever being noticed by the boys as long as Poot was around.)
My first reign as queen officially ended when the dismissal bell rang, but throughout my remaining years in elementary school I continued to be treated like royalty, and as the years passed, Poot came to be more of a Patsy and our friendship grew. Girls clustered around us during recess, and the boys now tried valiantly to get
attention as we sashayed across the playground.
“Jill! Patsy! Watch this!” a little boyfriend-in-training would shout out as he attempted a lopsided cartwheel. Then several boys would commence to somersault and walk on their hands. Such show-offs! Since Patsy-formerly-known-as-Poot had evolved, it was the first time I noticed the striking difference between “us” (meaning us girls) and “them.”
“You're the type of girl who is going to grow up to be homecoming queen,” a plumpish babysitter once said to me, an envious edge in her voice, as I sat on the floor blithely trying to cut out paper dolls.
“Oh, I don't know about that,” I said coyly. But inside, I was smugger than a hound with a ham bone.
I did expect my life to be one endless ticker-tape parade, and truly thought it was not an unreasonable aspirationâwith me riding in a long, white Cadillac convertible as people cheered and threw roses.
Until I was twelve, I lived in a wood-shingled shotgun house in McComb, about ninety miles away from the not-quite-teeming metropolis of Jackson, Mississippi. During the summer before I turned thirteen, Daddy found a new job as a plant foreman and told the family we'd be moving to the big town.
Mama said that it was a good thing Daddy would be making more money, 'cause I was growing faster than kudzu. Her sewing machine smoked day and night as she tried to keep up with my growth spurt that summer.
We moved to Jackson a week before Labor Day, and we were thrilled to pieces about our new house.
“It's a split-level with a sunken living room,” Mama bragged to her friends back in McComb. There was even a wood-paneled rumpus room where Daddy would go to sneak a cigar. I've yet to learn what it really means to Rumpus, but if making out with boys and gossiping with your girlfriends counts, then we Rumpussed pretty good in there over the years.
“Who lives in those big ol' houses?” I asked Daddy when we'd first seen a whole bunch of mansions across Yazoo Road.
“Your brand-new buddies,” he said in his teasing way. “You'll be going to school with all kinds of fancy-pants. The children of doctors and lawyers. Maybe even a few Indian chiefs.”
At the breakfast table my nose had been deep in my satchel, inhaling the heady smell of spanking-new school supplies.
“You're going to be late for the first day of school,” Mama said, snatching dishes off the table. She shooed me out into a sunny and already steamy morning.
I reached the end of our block, and my junior high was to the left. My heart started beating faster when I saw all the kids in the schoolyard, buzzing around like bees. I strutted in the direction of the school, my chin held high.
I don't remember exactly what I was thinking at that moment, but it was probably something like this:
Hello, my darling subjects! Welcome your new queen.
I walked faster (not too fast: Queens don't run unless they're playing kickball, and I certainly didn't want to sweat and mess up my hair, such as it was). I reached the schoolyard just after the first bell rang.
“Hey, you,” came a voice from behind me. “Hey you, Beanpole.”
I looked over my shoulder to see a short blonde with a freckle-sprinkled nose and a smirk on her face. I later learned her name was Marcy Stevens. I knew she couldn't
be talking to me.
“Yes, you,” she said, pointing a painted pink fingernail in my direction, making no mistake about which beanpole she was addressing. Two other girls were tee-heeing behind their hands.
“Is that dress homemade? Did your mama make it?”
“Yes,” I said, protectively touching the collar of my forest-green dress. “My mama made it.”
“Is she trying to dress you like the Jolly Green Giant?” Marcy asked. Then she pointed at me and shouted. “Ho! Ho! Ho! Green Giant!”
All the kids within earshot brayed like donkeys. That chin of mine, which only minutes earlier had been pointing heavenward, now dragged the ground.
When I plodded home that afternoonâmy shoulders hunched forward so I wouldn't seem so tallâthere wasn't a single molecule of queenliness left in my entire soul.
Things went downhill from that day. Hormones started coursing through my blood, wreaking their peculiar havoc.
Nature, it seems, is much kinder to caterpillars than to thirteen-year-old girls. When a caterpillar is busy turning into a butterfly, are other caterpillars allowed to watch, point, and snicker? Nosiree Bob. The caterpillar is locked up tight in its cocoon, and if anyone should come knocking, the caterpillar says, “Go away! Can'tcha see I'm in here metamorphosing?”
But a thirteen-year-old girl is forced to change in plain sight of the whole world. All during junior high, I scuttled around the halls with my hair hanging in my face, hoping nobody would notice how hard I'd been hit with the ugly stick. Whatever glasses I had were always at least two years out of style. I was so skinny, The Titless Wonder, that when I ran I looked like an eggbeater coming down the road. If I turned sideways and stuck out my tongue, I looked like a zipper.
Which brings me back to that question I've been contemplating my entire life: Are queens born, or are they created?
I've come to this conclusion: I think God sprinkles baby girls with queen dust before their big debut in this old world. That magic dust allows them to sparkle for a while, like rays of sunlight bouncing off a lake, until something or someone comes along to dull their sheens. Queen dust is only meant to give a baby girl a little boost in this world. Then she must build on it, until one day she's so strong, she's churning out her very own queen dust and nobody and nothing can stop her.
What follows is the story of the longâand not altogether prettyâroad the very first Sweet Potato Queens and I took to learn how to make our very own queen dust.
Me and the other Queens were often slow learners. We made mistakes along the way. We learned slowâbut we learned GOOD. It wasn't always pretty, easy, or fun, but I will tell you this: If you come to Jackson, Mississippi, the third weekend in March and see us on parade for St. Paddy, you will know that we finally learned how to sparkle againâand then some. And we can help you sparkle, too.