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3Q with Mark Childress (and a PRIZE drawing!)

I’m about half-way through the delicious Georgia Bottoms, a brand new novel by the irreplaceable Mark Childress, and I can hardly wait to get back to it. If you’ve read Childress before, you know what to expect—his signature rich humor infesting a story that explores the vagarities of the human heart. If you haven’t read Childress before, let me assure you, this book is a great place to start.

Publisher’s Weekly agrees, saying, in a starred review: Sassy Southern belle Georgia has a lot of secrets: a rotation of gentleman callers with unique sexual needs, a mother with a tenuous hold on reality, and a lucrative (if dodgy) business of selling at a huge mark-up the folk art quilts she buys and passes off as her own creations. But then 9/11 comes along, Georgia’s world of naughty innocence is changed forever, and all the plates she once spun so effortlessly in midair come crashing down: her illegitimate black son shows up on her doorstep; her best friend and town mayor, Krystal, loses her job; her demented mom and drunken brother become increasingly errant; and one of her boyfriends—a spiteful preacher—has an unfortunate attack of conscience and intends to publicly confess his affair and simultaneously condemn poor Georgia to hell. Childress (One Mississippi) is sassy magnolia lit’s Truman Capote—sharply observant, unrelentingly honest, and downright hilarious—and his Georgia peach is the freshest bad girl to rise from the South since Scarlett O’Hara.

All this AND the guy gives good interview!

But before we get to that, the business: If you want to win a copy—AND YOU DO!—you have four ways to enter, and his publisher is giving away three. EACH ENTRY REQUIRES A SEPARATE COMMENT, as here on FTK, we ROLL the heartless RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR to pick winners. I’ll close this at Midnight EST on Sunday, February 27.

Way One: Leave a comment here. Easy peasy chicken squeezy.
Way Two: Post a link to this contest on your facebook page. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here saying you have done so.
Way Three: TWEET a link to this contest. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here saying you have done so.
Way Four: Post a link to this contest on your Blog. Then post a SEPARATE COMMENT here linking back saying you have done so.

Now the good stuff.

JJ: Your main character seems to be nothing like you. After all, you are a Baby Boomer guy living in Key West, and Georgia Bottoms is a thirty-four year old woman living in an Alabama town so small it doesn’t even have a WalMart or cell phone service. What DO you guys have in common or, if nothing, how’d you manage to inhabit shoes so different from your own?

MC: It’s true that I don’t have a lot of surface details in common with Georgia, who is to all appearances a very proper Baptist lady and quite the socialite in the town of Six Points. (It’s only as you read along that you discover she is not as proper as she seems.) But I think some true inner part of myself must be a rebel. Several of my main characters have been people who stand up against the prevailing morality of their place, or their moment in time.

I was raised up by Southern women and I think they really put their stamp on me. So also did reading the Southern women of Tennessee Williams, Capote, Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor. I do think Southernness is like a virus, in that you carry it with you everywhere. And speaking of shoes, for the record, the gal on the cover of my book is wearing some very yellow Manolo Blahnik pumps and I doubt I will never inhabit those particular shoes.

JJ: Ha! A lot of writers read this blog—-how did you a) Find an agent b) sell that first book c) come to realize you wanted to pursue writing as a career instead of a personal passion or a hobby.

MC: I think one reason I got an early start was that I was lucky – I knew I wanted to write novels from the time I was 16 years old. I guess I was too young to know that you don’t just write up a novel and send it in and get it published. So anyway I spent a whole summer typing away on this novel, which was terrible. Really it was. It was just as bad as you might think a novel by a 16 year old might be. But it taught me a very important lesson – I could start and finish a whole novel! And since I never showed those pages to anyone, I was never discouraged. I went to college and studied literature and writing, and went to work for a newspaper, and all the time I was writing my fiction on the side. Just for me. I knew it wasn’t good enough yet, but I was practicing.

I joined a local group of writers who met once a week and read each others’ work. This group was crucial to my writing my REAL first novel. The most important thing I did toward finding an agent was this: when I met an agent and he invited me to send me the unfinished manuscript, I told him politely that I wanted to finish writing the book before showing it to anybody. Later, he told me that this was the moment he knew I was a serious writer – it was more important to me to get the pages right, than to get a quick read from an interested agent.

JJ: I don’t mean to be invasive, but would you mind telling us about your personal experience of Sept. 11, 2001 and how that day inspired this novel.

MC: I was living downtown in New York City. I was sitting at my desk writing emails when the shadow of a plane passed over. It sounded so low and fast that I thought, That plane is crashing. I started counting. When I reached “five” I heard and felt the plane strike the north tower of the World Trade Center. That was the first plane, at 8:47 am.

Somewhere much later on that unforgettable day I heard through a friend about a friend of his who was the mayor of a small town in Alabama. He heard that she had dispatched her town’s only policeman to the water tower in case Al Qaeda tried to attack the water supply. From that moment, I knew I wanted to write a novel in which that scene happens. It seemed so wonderful to me, such a human and logical response – a brave woman protecting her little part of the planet from the great and terrible unknown.

This novel turned out to have nothing at all to do with 9/11, or very little. I tell the story as a way of illustrating how a comedy can be born in the middle of a tragedy. In a way the story of this woman whose seemingly placid small-town life comes completely unraveled is also the story of what our country went through at that time.

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