I swam from a dream world to the surface through murky half-light. A new title came to me, a splash of thought. The Road to LaReta. The imagined waters calmed and it was clear to me, this may be the final title for the novel about Webb Bateman.
Lying in the warmth of fluffy covers with an even fluffier cat backed into the crook of my waist, I reflected on the sound and meaning of The Road to LaReta. It rolled off my tongue; sounded right. I felt a bonding with the words.
Including LaReta’s name in the title was inspired by her daughter, Nicolette, as we stood by her dying mother’s bedside. She advised me to include something about a woman in the title. “We need more books about women,” she said. She didn’t specifically suggest her mother’s name, but it made me step back and think more about the important women in the story and the one person who motivated Webb’s journey and the opportunity to redeem himself. It was LaReta, his three-year-old daughter.
The book, a historical fiction novel based on a true story, had two other titles during the writing: Cat Skinner and Nicolette’s first inspired title, LaReta’s Cat Skinner. But the third title seemed best, The Road to LaReta.
The father LaReta and I share, Webb Bateman, was a Cat Skinner – a heavy equipment operator, but the story is not just about the earth he moved. It’s also about a man whose skills were honed behind a cue stick, at the end of a fist, behind a plow, in a circus giraffe suit, and in the belly of a coal mine. It’s the story of a man who married because he thought it was the right thing to do, but a man more interested in his construction jobs, drinking and playing cards than he was in raising a family. His wife’s sudden death provided a chance at redemption. Could he do what was right and make up for the pain he caused? Could he raise LaReta?
The journey of 900 miles to Dorothy’s funeral takes just a few days, but gives Webb time to reflect on his twenty-seven years of life; too much time and not enough to grapple with who he is and the man he wants to be.
The novel is in revision, after being read by four wonderful women who offered right-on suggestions. The one woman I wanted to read the story, is gone. My half-sister LaReta passed away at age eighty on June 14, 2016, but she knew her name would be in the title and I’m hopeful her sweet spirit will live on in The Road to LaReta.