HomeArts & LitExcerpt From 'Pretty Ugly'

Excerpt From 'Pretty Ugly'

Kirker Butler’s debut novel is a super sharp satire of the pageant world set in his native Kentucky. 

Pretty UglyCalled “a funny, slam-bam-thank you, ma’am, voyeuristic look at the world’s most dysfunctional family” by actress Jennifer Garner and “funny, poignant and exceedingly well-written” by Stephen Colbert, former “Family Guy” writer and Emmy-nominated Kirker Butler’s debut takes on the child pageant circuit.

Butler grew up in Kentucky, where his parents were on the county fair board and his mother in charge of the pageants. Pageants were an early part of his life and, after witnessing them firsthand, he decided they were absolutely nuts. His first novel Pretty Ugly skewers the lifestyle through the eyes of an obsessive pageant mom, her cheating, pill-popping husband and their pageant queen daughter (who’s been binge-eating in secret to make herself too fat to compete).

We chat with Kirker Butler via Twitter on Friday from 1-2 CST using the hashtag #southernlit and also have one copy of Pretty Ugly to give away during the chat. You must participate and be a U.S. resident to win. Get a preview of the book in the excerpt below and get ready for what’s sure to be a hilarious chat.

You can also vote for Pretty Ugly as your favorite summer book cover here.


Two weeks later, Miranda sat backstage at the Miss Daviess County Fair Pageant nervously curling her hair. In the off months, the unairconditioned barn wood building served as storage for the fairgrounds’ numerous maintenance vehicles as well as home to an ever-growing family of rats. The sweet smell of gasoline and cut grass mixed with the oppressive humidity made the air feel thick and flammable. Even the slightest breeze would have made a world of difference, but in 1991 a local judge fell out of a nearby tree while taking pictures of the contestants changing clothes, and since then the doors were ordered to remain closed during pageants. Putting on makeup was like trying to paint a waterfall. Thankfully, the pageant itself took place outdoors with the closest audience member a good fifteen yards away.

Slipping into the modest turquoise one-piece, she checked herself in the communal full- length mirror and was charmed by the tastefully bosomed young woman smiling back at her. As a finishing touch, Miranda rubbed two arcing streaks of dark foundation onto her chest, hoping that from a distance it would create the illusion of cleavage.

Perfect, she thought. Now … let’s go show ’em what you’ve got.

With a chestful of confidence, Miranda strutted across the asphalt stage and relished the audience’s polite applause, exuberant cheers, and wildly inappropriate catcalls. Miranda’s smile, like her breasts, had never been bigger.

When the time came, all nineteen contestants lined up across the stage and waited for special guest judge Kentucky State Representative Donnie Lane Mather (D-Beaver Dam) to announce the winners.

“Look at these girls up here,” Representative Mather said.

“Don’t they just look good enough to eat?”

Marlene Martin, the pageant host and county’s best church singer, smiled through her glistening teeth.

“Delicious, Donnie. Just delicious.”

“And now the winners,” Representative Mather continued. “Miss Congeniality and Fourth Runner-up goes to … Rose Maddox!”

The audience clapped as Rose, an inexplicably popular gossip who’d gone to college the year before and had apparently traded her virginity for sixteen pounds of leg fat, fake-cried as the reigning queen, Kitty Price, handed Rose her trophy and fifth-place sash.

“Third Runner-up is … April Morgan.”

An audible gasp rose from the crowd. April was a popular cheerleader who was dating the son of the pageant director, and she’d been expected to finish much higher.

“Our Second Runnerup is … Miranda Ford!”

When Miranda heard her name, she accepted her third-place sash from Kitty with a warm smile and sincere hug. However, she wasn’t quite sure that any smile would be able to mask her disappointment. After everything she had been through, Miranda had convinced herself that not only could she win but that she deserved to win. Her disappointment, however, would not last long. The Daviess County Fair Pageant wasn’t quite done with Miranda Ford.

Three months later, the winner of the pageant, Missy Hale, was forced to relinquish her crown after informing the pageant committee she had married her boyfriend, who she was “pretty sure” was the same guy who got her pregnant. Promoted to First Runner-up, Miranda was told she should be ready to take the crown in the unlikely event that the new queen, former First Runner-up Alexandra Black, was not able to fulfill her duties. And then, just as if God Himself had ordained it, six days before Christmas, Alexandra — along with her uncle, sister, mother, and mother’s boyfriend — were arrested for felony production of crystal meth with intent to distribute.

Miranda’s reign lasted only seven months, but it was one of the most exciting periods of her life. Her picture was in the paper almost every other week, and everywhere she went little kids asked for her autograph. At school, she immediately skipped several rungs of the social ladder and soon went from being a dedicated yet anonymous 4-H member to being recruited for Drama Club vice president. Her prefame friends accused her of becoming “two-faced” and “conceited.” Miranda just shrugged it off as jealousy, but they weren’t wrong. She was acting different, because she was different. Miranda was a local celebrity now — and she liked it. A lot.

For seven glorious months, Miranda got to breathe the rarified air of royalty. It’s like she said in her memoir: “I was famous, which meant I was special. And in a world that reveres such things, why wouldn’t I want the same for my daughter?”

From Pretty Ugly by Kirker Butler, on sale March 31, 2015, from Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

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