An atmospheric read set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sarah Nicole Lemon’s YA debut Done Dirt Cheap is an intense, thrilling ride from start to finish.
At 15, both Tourmaline and Virginia’s lives underwent major changes. Tourmaline watched as her mom was carted off to prison, something Tourmaline blames herself for while Virginia is “sold” by her mother to a lawyer who has no respect for the law. Although their lives have been interconnected for years, the girls are finally thrust together the summer after high school ends. Virginia’s set to investigate Tourmaline’s father’s motorcycle gang while Tourmaline is just waiting to go off to college. But the friendship the two of them form is stronger than everything that tries to bring them down and tear them apart.
Done Dirt Cheap is an incredibly atmospheric read and the setting is a character in it’s own right. Readers likely know you grew up in the Appalachians but was it about them that drew you to write a story set there?
I don’t know how it is for all girls, if we all must cross this threshold, but there came a time in my life where I was a girl let loose into a world of men. I was abysmally wild and hungry and I didn’t know it then, but that sort of intensity attracts its own kind of darkness. And no one cares about insignificant girls with no power beyond her body and no promise beyond her youth. That was my young adult experience. Those Blue Ridge Mountains kept me safe, they accepted me and held me tight and gave me a place where it felt safe to love a man and a place to hate another, and a place to be lonely and a place to be comforted. Those mountains gave me their stars and their trees and their secret paths. I picked up their thread of darkness and age pull the cord and in response, they always led me on, allowing me to find the path I needed to survive. Even though I have changed, they are still the same, and I wanted so desperately to write about them. About their presence in my life.
If you had to sum up Done Dirt Cheap in a sentence, what would you say?
YA Sons of Anarchy meets Thelma & Louise, where two teenage girls are caught between a motorcycle club and corrupt law enforcement in a southern town
Done Dirt Cheap is making a splash! I stayed up all night to finish it and am in love. What has the process of getting published been like for you and what’s it been like to engage with readers of your book?
Oh, that’s the best thing a writer can hear! Meeting readers has been the most amazing part of this journey—more than the deal or the cover or whatever. Especially when you see the person you hoped would find the book. It makes the blood, sweat and tears worth it.
Literally blood, sweat and tears.
The process for me was six years. Three kids. One motorcycle accident mangled hand scraped down to the nerves and bleeding on the keyboard to finish a manuscript no one could reject fast enough. A manuscript that made my agent call me to tell me how beautiful and completely unsellable it was. It was a book from under my bed that she signed me on. One that didn’t sell. Another she lovingly dumped in the trash-can after I spent a year writing it (thank God!). And this one.
The one that sold.
I don’t regret a word.
Tourmaline and Virginia’s femininity (ie. Tourmaline is often in dresses and “girly” clothes whereas Virginia has her hair) plays in contrast to the masculinity, and sometimes hyper-masculinity, of their environment and the men around them. How did you balance the two in an environment that encourages and values masculinity?
This is such an amazing question! Men have a long history of narrative about brotherhood. In Done Dirt Cheap, I wanted to write about sisterhood. In keeping them traditionally feminine, I hoped to push back against the pressure young women receive to change their appearance or interest to make themselves more serious, smart or “worthy of respect”. I wanted to balance that with the way the younger generation of men in this book are looking for ways to change the system they participate in. Outsiders generally assume Appalachia is a hostile, backwards kind of place—and it can be—but it’s also the same as every other place in America—we watch the same TV and read the same books and scroll Tumblr late at night—and we’re looking at ourselves the way the rest of America is right now. The rebellion is alive there, just no one pays attention.
Done Dirt Cheap hits on some dark topics but ultimately showcases the resiliency of two young women. What was writing a novel like that like for you?
Cathartic. I had to unpack a lot of boxes I’d shoved far away and hoped never to deal with again. I’m a healthier person for having done it—but it was incredibly difficult once I realized what was happening.
What YA books would you recommend for readers who have just finished Done Dirt Cheap and loved it?
Jeff Zentner’s The Serpent King, if you haven’t read it yet, and his newest Goodbye Days are perfect for fans of a southern setting. After the Fall by Kate Hart has a great main character I love, and think fans of Virginia and Tourmaline would like. And if you love the writing of DDC, you’d love Roshani Chokshi’s Crown of Wishes. Jennifer Echols if you’re there for the sexy boys (my favorite is Going Too Far).
What else do you want readers to know about your novel?
Every time you buy a copy or recommend it, a fairy gets its wings.