Book Review · Books

The Long Ride Home

Harley is a young adult with a very snarky mouth. She loves the Harley motorcycle she inherited after her mom passed away in a tragic fire. Nothing makes her happier than riding on the open road. Harley is dealing with the grief of her mom’s passing all due to her error of leaving a candle lit. Instead of the big city life in NY she has traded it in for a life in Los Angeles with her mom’s best fried Mercy. Harley keeps to herself mainly except for the one best friend she made named Dean. He came into her life one day at the pier asking if she was ok. Harley decides it’s time for her to let her mom go and take her ashes back to NY. She asks Dean to go with her. This novel is her adventure with Dean going to NY on the open road on her Harley.

Harley had me laughing off and on through out the whole book with her snarky humor. I have a quirky sense of humor so I got her snarkiness right away. This novel has clever dialogue, explores the love of family beyond the grave and what love looks like in action when you don’t particularly act lovable. Tawni Waters has done it again. I loved Beauty Of The Broken, but The Long Ride Home was a different beast all together. I am thankful I was allowed to read an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for this beautiful gift wrapped up in words. It’s a gem and Harley is character that will stick with you always.

I got the lovely opportunity to interview Tawni, which follows below:

1. When did Harley first speak to you?

Harley first spoke to me in a pub near Lehigh University. I was teaching at a summer creative writing program there, and I’d been madly trying to write something “good.” It was just after I’d found out my first novel, Beauty of the Broken, had won the ILA, so I felt a ton of pressure to follow it up with a brilliant second novel. I was failing miserably. I wrote three chapters of three different books, and my agent rejected them all. So nine wasted chapters later, I decided to sit in a pub on my day off, get drunk, and write whatever the hell I wanted, even if it was “bad.” “Unknown Legend” by Neil Young came on while I was scribbling words on napkins, and when I heard, “Out along a desert highway, she rides her Harley Davidson, her long blond hair flying in the wind,” Harley spoke. She said, “If you picture me as a rugged girl on a Harley, speeding down a leather-black highway at a hundred miles an hour, you might be right.” I wrote it down, and she kept talking. By the time she stopped talking, I had chapter one of The Long Ride Home. When I sent it to my agent, he told me I was a genius and that I needed to finish writing that book. The moral of the story: when all else fails, try whisky.
2. Do you like to write your WIP by hand or type?

I type. I’m a ridiculously fast typist, so I can keep up with my thoughts if I write that way. If I try to keep up by hand, my brain outdistances my pen within seconds.
3. Do you outline beforehand or freestyle write?

I never outline. I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work for me. When I outline first, the writing I do later comes out really stilted and false. I prefer to let my characters tell me their stories as we walk their journeys together. When I started writing The Long Ride Home, I had no idea Harley was pregnant until she told me. And then I had no idea what she was going to do with that baby. I think I wrote the final chapter before I completely finished her road trip, because it poured out of me one night, but I didn’t know until I wrote that piece that she was going to. . .I guess I’d better not say what she chooses. What does Harley do with the baby in her belly? To find out, read The Long Ride Home, by Tawni Waters!!!
4. Did you always want to be a novelist?

Yes. I knew I wanted to be a writer from the time I could pick up a pen. I also wanted to be an actor (which I did) and a singer (which I did not do). I used to make little books out of construction paper, complete with covers and illustrations and epic tales of daring-do. The first one was called Don’t Chase Hail! It was about a black and white spotted cat whose mother tells him not to chase hail. The little scamp does so anyway and ends up with some nasty bruises. It was one of those “see what you get for disobeying your mommy” stories. I think it ended with warm milk and his momma cat tucking him into bed. I wasn’t completely without mercy for my characters then. I guess I am now. A few months ago, I was talking to my big brother Bryan, who is one of my very best friends, and I said, “I think I have a responsibility to protect the people I love when I write about them.” He laughed and said, “You gave the character based on me brain damage, and then you shot him under a bridge.” (He was referring to Iggy from Beauty of the Broken, who was based loosely on him.) He had a point.
5. Whose your all time fave author?

I always get this question in interviews, and I never have a definitive answer. I think today it’s probably Toni Morrison. I love the way she plays with language. I love the way she tells the truth. Her books are deeply resonant and powerful. I haven’t read her works for a good ten years, but they all still live in my blood. They changed me permanently when I read them. I also love Margaret Atwood. I’m reading the third book in her MaddAddam series right now, and it’s splendid. Her dystopic novels blow my head off, in the best way possible. (Ask me this again next month, and I’ll likely give you a completely different answer.)

6. What is your fave genre to read?

This is another question I have a tough time answering. When I was a kid, I lived on a mostly uninhabited mountain in New Mexico with my family. We didn’t have T.V. Books were our main source of entertainment. My brother and I would “borrow” books from a the library at a nearby abandoned hippie commune. When Mom took us to the real library in Albuquerque, which was an hour away, I would pick books based solely on their thickness. Thick books took more time to read, meaning I had days of entertainment ahead of me, as opposed to hours. So I devoured big books, regardless of genre, and I kinda developed an appreciation for all kinds of literature. I obviously love YA, since that’s what I write. I really enjoy “literary” fiction, which just means it’s written with an eye toward artistry. I adore memoir, when it’s done well. But I also love some fantasy, and some sci-fi, and some chick lit. And we all know I’m a poetry fiend, as I’ve published one book of poems and am working on a second. Whatever. Just give me a good book, preferably a thick one.

7. Do you have any new WIP?

Kinda? I am revisiting a rock-n-roll novel I wrote years ago called Empire of Dirt. I spent ten years writing it, actually. It was my thesis for my MFA. It’s been in a drawer for a few years, but several months ago, I met a genuine rock star, the drummer for Vintage Trouble, who came to me as an editorial client. We got to be good friends, and I sent him the book. He loved it, which made me think I’d captured the rock-n-roll world well, which made me think I should bust that baby out and edit it one more time. (As a side note, Vintage Trouble gave me the song that is on my website,, which was one of the most generous gifts I’ve ever been given. I’m so grateful. And I finally get to see them live when I’m in Philly this fall. Yay!) I’m hoping to have the edit done by the time I finish my time as writer-in-residence at Rosemont College. Unless some new protagonist hunts me down, Harley-style, next time I’m at the pub.

8. Where’s your fave place to write?

I travel all the time, so I have learned to write anywhere and everywhere. I can write in a busy airport or on a bus or in a bathroom. I even wrote some really kick ass poems in a porta-potty at a rock concert once. If the muse wants to speak, I’m ready and waiting for her, wherever I may be.

9. How has being a PK helped shape who you are today?

Man, this is a complicated question with a complicated answer. In many ways, I’m really glad I’m a PK (preacher’s kid, for those who don’t know what that means). My parents were incredible. I was raised with a deep respect for spirituality and an understanding that miracles are woven into the fabric of the world. So spiritual experiences are pretty normal for me. I pray, and I know I’m being heard, and I expect my prayers to be answered. I am never alone, because I know, really know, God is always with me. Having the knowledge that God is out there loving me has strengthened me in ways I can’t even begin to explain. If I didn’t believe I am the object of great divine love, I know that some of the hatred and cruelty that has been directed toward me in my lifetime would have destroyed me. I would certainly not be accomplishing the things I am now.
I also appreciate what having parents who were Biblical scholars did for my ability to understand and create language. They could write a sermon based on one scripture, and wax eloquently about it for an hour. They’d look up the original Hebrew or Greek meanings of all the words and relate the scripture’s message to daily life. It made me see how deep words run, and how much power they have to shape and give meaning to our lives. I get the nuances of language on a pretty deep level, thanks to my parents.
On the flip side, I was pretty damaged by evangelical Christianity. My parents weren’t evangelicals, per se. They were incredibly loving, but I was regularly exposed to evangelical thinking, as we traveled in churchy circles. I think religion can be dangerous when it becomes judgmental and hateful and hell-centric and arrogant. It took me years to recover from the trauma that came from absorbing some of the teachings of evangelical Christianity. I was convinced I was going to hell, and it tortured me. I think I can trace my lifelong insomnia back to all the nights I stayed up as a little girl, begging God not to send me to hell. I saw those stupid Left Behind movies (the first generation, not the Kirk Cameron ones), and they scarred me for life. I was terrified Jesus was going to come back and take my family and leave me in a hellish world to have my head chopped off. I didn’t really get over all of that until I was maybe 40. Those scars ran pretty deep. (I know this is diametrically opposed to what I said about knowing God loved me, but for a long time, both of those thought processes coexisted in my brain. No wonder I’m so neurotic.)
But I think all of the good things in me–courage, generosity, faith, love, strength—came from being raised by beautiful, loving, powerful preachers who taught me there was a God who loved me, and there was a point to my life, and that love was the way to heaven, and that death wasn’t the end of it all. They gave me incredible gifts, made my soul vibrant and loving and tenacious, and I’m so grateful for that.

10. If you could live anywhere in the world where would it be and why?

I think I’d want to live in France. I’ve been three times now, and I spent three months living in a medieval village there last year. It was one of the most beautiful times of my life. The country itself is just gorgeous, and I so admire the sensibility of the people. Today, I was hiking with my mom on some trails in the Sandias in New Mexico. The trails were marked with these ugly numbered signs that said things like “Gravel Pit Trail.” It made me think of the trails I used to hike in France, right outside of the village I lived in. The area I hiked was called La Mer de Rochers (Sea of Rocks), and the trails were marked with signs inscribed with sections of this beautifully poetic tale about how the garden I was walking through was given to the people by the gods, and how the people angered the gods and lost their rights to the garden. As you walked the trail, you learned pieces of the story. To me, that is the perfect illustration of what I love about French sensibilities. In the U.S., we are all about facts. There, they are all about beauty and story and poetry. Even their language carries an intrinsic beauty that English does not. Instead of saying they’ve been in a relationship with someone, they say something like, “We have written a story together.” Instead of saying, “I miss you,” they say, “You are missing from me.” I love the appreciation of life and beauty and love that is woven into every aspect of their culture. And the wine and cheese and open-air markets? I mean, what more could you want? If I ever hook up with the love of my life, I’ll whisk him off to some village in France and write poems on his kneecaps and drink wine out of his bellybutton or something. TMI? Sorry. That’s a wrap.