by Tony Burnett Genre: High-Octane Thriller, Sapphic Romance
Naïve but charismatic farm girl, Jacquelyn Benderman, has her life perfectly planned until her town blames her for the accidental death of the local high school's star running back. Feeling like a pariah, she flees to Austin, Texas where her luck seems to change. Her rapid rise to stardom as a blues diva is derailed when an anonymous stalker begins systematically murdering her associates, leaving the police to suspect her. As Y2K approaches, she wrestles with the guilt of falling for her roommate, a Romanian folk singer who survives as a call-girl, while the show band she sings with rehearses for a national tour. Can she protect her new lover from danger? Will the world end at midnight? Is there no hiding place when everyone knows who you are?
What readers are saying about the book:
Burnett has created an unconventional and magnetic character who makes a memorable first impression. Strong characterizations will keep readers engaged in what happens next in this murder tale. -- Kirkus Reviews
"Tony Burnett’s novel, Watermelon Tattoo, is one wild ride. This Texas hill country bildungsroman features Jacqui Benderman, a feral, beautiful, and musically talented eighteen-year-old on her journey from daddy Sarge’s watermelon farm to international stardom. Fast-paced, lusty, and chocked full of wry and insightful commentary on self-discovery, the music industry, and religion, this is one great read by a seasoned author.”
--Gary V. Powell, author of Lucky Bastard, Beyond Redemption, and Super Blood Wolf Moon
In his debut novel Watermelon Tattoo, Tony Burnett serves up the fecundity of Texas in temperatures hovering just above triple digits. Part high octane thriller, part love story, the reader moves fluidly between rural earthiness and Austin's scintillating music scene. We follow Burnett's protagonist Jaqui, a gorgeous 18-year-old with an Ella Fitzgerald voice from a tractor seat to the open mic stage and beyond. Her meth-fueled antagonist is never far behind. The author has an eye for detail, an ear for dialogue, but what's so extraordinary is the novel's ease at blending pacing, plotting, and supple syntax. Spinning cones of dust briefly appeared and disintegrated. This season had ended, for melons, for rain, for redemption. Burnett's characters all seem set on a kind of liberation, a release from or a rescue of the self. His body-on-body scenes—and be forewarned Burnett writes of coupling in myriad forms—are breathtaking, some down and dirty, others beautifully transcendent. A thriller that Don Winslow would not be ashamed to claim, the pages turn by themselves.
--Stephanie Dickinson, author of Razor Wire Wilderness
It was a perfect song for this trip. Sara was singing along with “Ball of Confusion”. Loud. It didn’t seem to matter to her that she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. She knew all the words. Her head was rocking side to side with each aggressive phrase, her hand was slapping the steering wheel and she had the little Civic pushed up around 80 down Highway 71. Langley was fixated. His love for her was the one thing he wasn’t confused about. He worried about leaving his mom alone for the weekend, if she was alone. What was going on with his dad? Should he ask? Why did Sara just forgive him so easily for the previous weekend? She seemed to be taking it really well. She did insist on taking her car and camping gear, probably some sort of control issue. It may be just because his gear hadn’t been out of the closet since he was 14. What worried him the most was he wasn’t sure what his relationship with Sara was. Did she feel the connection like he did or were they just having a good time? He didn’t know the answer and he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
“Hey, boy!” Sara swatted his leg. “Are you going to kill us some game for dinner or should we stop before we get there?”
“Didn’t bring my rifle,” Langley said.
“Can’t you just chase down a rabbit or two?”
“If you’ll clean and cook ‘em.”
“Hamburger sounds good,” she said, “and a lot less work.”
“Yeah, but soon, I’m starving.”
“Next town, whatever’s open. We’ll play dinner roulette.”
“No chains.” She slowed to 60. Neither one of them liked fast food and had decided early on not to support corporate chains. They always ate local. Sometimes it made for an interesting experience. Sometimes, on the main highways, it was hard to find a place. This time they were lucky. The burgers were pretty good but a side of fried sweet potatoes and pecan pie for dessert really topped it off nicely.
“I’m too full,” Sara said. “Can’t move. You’ll have to carry me.”
“Hey! I’m full too. The best I can do is a piggyback ride.”
“Have to do, I guess,” Sara said. So they left the burger bar with her mounted on Langley’s back swatting his butt with her fishing hat. A table of teenagers near the back began hooting at them.
“Yee-haw,” Sara yelled.
They entered the state park in time to find a spot by the water and set up camp before dark. The RV spots were full but there were enough tent camping spots left that their space was secluded. They took a dip at the swim beach then walked over to the pier. Getting wet and feeling the breeze from the lake cooled them. The sliver of sun on the horizon burned blood red.
“This is magic,” Sara said “This is why I’m a Wiccan, a pagan. This, this is holy.” She moved to where their bodies were touching. Langley turned and held her in his arms. As they faced each other their bodies fit together like two parts of one object. “This, the way we fit, this isn’t an accident,” she said.
“It feels good,” Langley said, right before Sara covered his lips with hers. As they kissed, Langley smelled the lake water in her hair, felt her fingers in his back pulling him to her, felt his body temperature rise, and her heart beat quicken against his chest.
“Let’s get back to camp,” Sara panted in Langley’s ear. She took his hand, led him off the pier and into the darkness.
Back at camp Sara retrieved a fluffy comforter from the trunk of her car and spread it on the ground at the edge of the campsite near the water. The sun had gone down and the stars reflected off the lake. Sara faced the water and raised her arms to the sky. Langley didn’t know what she was doing.
“Can you help please?” She asked.
“What do you want?”
“Take off my dress.”
Langley stood behind her, reached under her sundress and slid his hands along her body as the fabric gathered on his arms. He lifted it over her head. She turned to him and smiled then knelt on the blanket in front of him, removed the top half of her bathing suit, then grabbed the waist band of his and pulled him close. She laid her cheek against his stomach as she slipped her thumbs under the elastic and rolled the shorts down below his buttocks. She then stretched the front out and down to clear his erection. She let them drop and reached for two handfuls of butt to pull him against her face. She rubbed her face and cheeks against him, nuzzling around and under the protrusion.
“Shouldn’t we get in the tent? What if someone sees us?” Langley asked. His voice sounded foreign to him.
“Are you scared?” She asked.
“Doesn’t the breeze feel good on your skin?”
“You look like Apollo in the moonlight. Let’s stay out here where we have room to move. We’re not good with cramped places, remember?” Without waiting for an answer, she took a testicle in her mouth and rolled it around with her tongue. It was settled.
“Lay down,” Sara instructed. Langley stretched out on the quilt. “No, on your stomach.” Langley flipped over. He no longer had any control of the situation. Sara shucked her bikini bottom and straddled his hips. She leaned forward enough to place her finger nails at his hairline. Gently but firmly she pulled them down his neck to the center of his back, spreading her fingers just below his shoulder blades. The goose bumps on his skin let her know she was getting through to him. When she reached his waist line, she balled her fists and leaned into the sinewy muscles beside his spine, pushing back toward his shoulders. Once she reached his neck, she repeated the procedure, several times. Each pass extracted a moan of pleasure from Langley. As she leaned forward after several strokes she realized she was leaving a dampness on his butt. She made no attempt to hide it. In fact she leaned into it. Langley’s moans lengthened. On the final upstroke Sara opened her hands and slid them out along Langley’s arms, examining the muscles and tendons by touch. She leaned over and breathed the scent of Langley’s neck as her pebble hard nipples danced on his skin. She left a streak of wet below his waist as she slid down to meld with him. The humid words in his ear, “You can turn over now,” and she dismounted.
They didn’t notice the coyotes singing as they frolicked in the moonlight. The breeze no longer felt cool against their glowing skin. They were ravenous in their love without a thought to man nor beast outside their conjured world.
The tent they had so meticulously assembled got no use. They had neither the energy nor desire to untangle once spent. They cocooned in the comforter, legs laced, on the shore and drifted into the decadent oblivion of post-coital bliss.
Award winning poet and songwriter, Tony Burnett is the Executive Director of Kallisto Gaia Press. He served as President of the Writers’ League of Texas from 2013 to 2017. His poetry, short fiction, and environmentally focused nonfiction appear in over 70 publications. His previous books include the story collection, Southern Gentlemen and a full-length poetry collection, The Reckless Hope of Scoundrels. He resides in rural central Texas with his trophy wife and several rescue dogs who pay him no mind unless hungry. His hobbies include poking wasp nests with short sticks and wandering aimlessly about. He hopes you enjoy meeting his imaginary friends.
What inspired you to write this book?
In 2008 I moved from Austin, Texas to a four-way stop in the middle of agricultural nowhere. I thought it would be a learning experience for my youngest two who were still in high school. I was raised in rural south Texas and my memories had skewed to the positive. My daughter hated it and, by default, me, but she persevered. Adaptability is her strong suit. The discussions we had made me aware of the conflict dramatic lifestyle changes can bring.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’m wrapping up the first draft of a book based on a psychologically shattered woman with multiple personality disorder who seeks revenge for the death of a childhood friend by joining a rural sheriff’s department to shut down a cartel’s human smuggling operation in the southwest Texas borderland. It’s loosely based on true events.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Watermelon Tattoo?
Jaqui, my MC, has developed a powerful singing voice while singing as she plows the endless rows on her dad’s farm. Her mother abandoned the family when she was eleven but her dad has kept her safe and sane.
Her best friend, Langley, is a highly moral person who is anal;ytical and actually believes he can make the world a better place. T
here are many other characters of interest that interact with these. So many, in fact, I could write a book about them. Oh, wait …
Where did you come up with the names in the story?
Jacqueline Benderman is the real name of a real-life person from my childhood. I just liked the way it rolls off the tongue.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
The editing. I must have gone through the revision process a dozen times. Each time the story clicked and sparkled a little better.
Tell us about your main characters- what makes them tick?
Jaqui wants adventure. Langley wants stability and to make the world a better place. Katrine wants security in life and love. Sara wants her strength to be acknowledged.
How did you come up with the title of the book?
My youngest daughter wanted a tattoo for a coming of age statement. Her brother who is a phenomenal artist (he’s designed a number of book covers for folks) created an image that reflected her love of performing music. It was a music staff where, as the notes progressed, they became birds and flew away. It’s gorgeous! Once we were out at a music festival and some guy looking for an opening to converse with her but not spending much time checking out the tattoo, asked, “Is that a watermelon?” That conversation ended quickly but we all had a laugh about it.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
There’s no such thing as perfection in art but eventually you have to move on. As writers, we all know people who have been diligently working on their masterpiece for thirty years. We will probably never see those books and it’s a shame.
Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
It’s not easy but it’s fun and rewarding.
If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Sofia Hublitz (look her up).
Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
You are the reason I made this book the best book it can possibly be. I owe you that much.
If you could spend time with a character from your book, who would it be? And what would you do during that day?
I’d spend it under an oak tree with a six-pack of IPA chatting with Sarge (Jaqiu’s dad) and Bud (Sara’s dad) talking about the joys and pitfalls of raising dynamic daughters with grace and understanding.
Are your characters based on real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
For the most part I imagined the players but we have to recognize traits in people will seep into your mental imagery.
Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?
I create the characters. The characters create the story.
Convince us why you feel your book is a must read.
There are something like 900 books published every day. None of these are”must read” books. You don’t have to read Watermelon Tattoo. If you do, I guarantee you will be entertained. It being fiction, isn't that what it’s all about? You may gain some insight into rural life and the music business.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
What did you edit out of this book?
A lot of Katrine’s backstory had to go. She has a complicated life as an eastern bloc refugee. There's enough left to get the picture.
Is there a writer which brain you would love to pick for advice?
Who would that be and why? Tom Robbins. When I first read his work I realized how much fun writing could be. I’d ask him about his process of building a plot and how important structure is to plot because he tends to stretch the limits of structure. Sorry, Don Winslow, you were a close second. Fun