What is your definition of a southern author and how do you fit into that definition?
I believe it’s a writer who has a southern voice, not just in terms of our various accents, but one who can convey our passion for places, traditions, lore, gardening, religion, and, certainly, our recipes. Our particular pace, idioms, charm, of course, and our sophisticated knack for preserving and protecting family secrets hold significance in our literature as well. A southern author pulls it together for the reader to feel it, smell it, hear it, to be a part of it in comfort and discomfort.
I’m a Richmond, Virginia native, born and bred. My stories are set here, with some travel here and there. My current WIP spans from just before World War II to the present. Historical events of the area continue to make up our region’s dynamic and as we move forward, folks still have stories to tell from the past. So, my characters tell me theirs, leading up to now, and I share it. I hear the melodic, unhurried voice of my father’s relatives from the mountains of Virginia, the same from my maternal grandfather who grew up in the hills of Tennessee and brought his vegetable garden skills to his backyard in Virginia, along with the festive and genteel urban sounds of my maternal grandmother and her relatives from the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood of Richmond. I also pay attention to the resonance of my own childhood friends and experiences, weaving them all into the area’s evolving landscape.
What writers have influenced you the most as an author and how?
As a teen, my favorite books featured glamorous jet-set lives penned by Judith Krantz and Jackie Collins. [Um… hi, Mom!] These authors actually showed me how to write without fear. To let it rip. I did so in my journals and eventually in my short stories and poetry. However, when I was introduced to Lee Smith’s work in college, such as Oral History and Black Mountain Breakdown, I was mesmerized by those voices and the measured pace which were more familiar to me. These stories were about straight-forward folks dealing with complex, familial situations steep in secrets, haunts, tragedy in all kinds of levels, relatives and neighbors who weren’t supposed to be talked about – stuff I recognized hearing about in my own family over the years. During excitement, their chatter was high-pitched, full of elation. Otherwise, they spoke in hushed, sympathetic tones for the “pitiful”, as my aunt so loved to say. Soon, I went on to read classic southern literature by various authors, such as Flannery O’Connor and Zora Neale Hurston. I’ve finally begun to read Faulkner, after years of planning to, and I’m glad I have: to experience what he does with the written language has become a valuable education to me. I’ve also enjoyed reading the works these writers have spun, as I take in the psychology of developing characters.
In my novel, protracted secrets are beginning to unravel this family. To me, those pesky secrets create a major aspect of Southern literature, and as they say, chickens will always come home to roost. My main character is Brent, who’s in his late-40s and the youngest of two. The presence of his mother, the matriarch of this family, is prominent throughout the book, even when it’s not her scene. He and his sister have a challenging relationship with her, and so does his wife. Brent’s now dealing with unexpected marital issues after twenty years of bliss. On top of that, his parents have begun dating again after nearly thirty years of divorce, giving him mixed feelings. His mother’s also facing a crisis she’d thought she’d shut down a long time ago; of course her children don’t know what it is and want to. He’s growing weary, but with his family’s help, he’ll soon discover how strong he will need to be.
Here’s an excerpt from my [still-untitled] WIP (Brent’s mother, Lydia, is on the phone with her lifelong best friend discussing Brent’s wife, whom Lydia never addresses by name):
Safely secluded alone in a silent house, Lydia sighed as she returned to her phone call with her best friend, Raynelle. “Why is Brent’s wife still so mousy around me?” she asked, exasperated. “She couldn’t even bring her little elf-sized self up here to say ‘Good morning’.”
“She’s always been that way. You said so yourself and I know it, too,” Raynelle said in her usual soft-spoken manner. “Look, I’m calling you so early this morning, since you were on my mind late last night. Are y’all going to North Carolina?”
“Hawk says we should…”
“You might as well,” Raynelle concluded with authority.
“That dream woke me up in the middle of the night again. If I don’t go, I’ll never get a night’s peace of sleep,” Lydia said, sighing within the brief glimpse of her nightmare at dawn, just a couple of hours earlier.
“Since Hawk’s going, you’ll be just fine,” Raynelle assured her.
“I think so too,” Lydia said softly. Taking a deep breath, her voice grew a bit stronger, “You know I still think Brent’s wife’s hiding something.”
“Not that again, Lydia. I thought you were going to leave her alone.”
Lydia glared at a speck on the wall. “I have… but I still think so.”
While writing this book, I realized just how vivid the voices of that older generation have been to me than those of my own peers. I recognize how they influenced me growing up, in terms of respect, reverence, and humor, and they’re still with me.
What music do you listen to while you write?
My taste in music spans across the board. Sometimes I listen to Sinatra, Billie Holiday, or Jo Stafford, especially when I’m back in the 40s with Brent’s parents. Other times, I’m listening to classic R&B, my beloved 80s tracks or soft rock, such as Chicago or some old Kenny Rogers songs. Not many folks other than my closest friends and family know this tidbit – I’m a classic rock fan, so since Brent is in a band, so I sometimes listen to Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, or the Rolling Stones. It all depends on the mood I’m in or where I want to go.
Who do you see playing the main characters in your book if it were turned into a movie or play? Why?
This is such a fun question! Let’s see…
Brent – Shemar Moore or Blair Underwood
his wife – Jasmine Guy
his daughter – Jurnee Smollett
his sister – Vivica A. Fox
his mother, Lydia – (in present day) I’ve usually had Lena Horne in mind when I write her; but I could see Leslie Uggams, one of my favorite actresses, there as well; (younger age) – Thandie Newton
his father – (in present day) Billy Dee Williams; (younger age) – Boris Kodjoe
These are strong actors I can simply picture in the roles if it were brought to the stage or screen. Honestly hadn’t thought about all of that before now. Hmmm…
When did you realize you were a writer? I got my first little diary when I was in first grade and I’d won a city-wide poetry contest in third grade, so I’ve been writing for a long time. However, I believe it was middle school when I discovered how words could help me to process the world around me. I can talk up a storm, but this has long been the best and easiest way for me to convey my thoughts. By the time I got to high school, I’d finally given my writing explicit detail, vivid imagery, and guts. By then, I’d also begun writing poetry on a regular basis. However, when I began to write short stories to create worlds and situations I wanted to see happen, I knew I wanted to be a writer for the rest of my life.
Thanks, Melinda, for the opportunity to be a part of Southern Creatives!
Many thanks to Tonya for stopping by Southern Creatives!