March 2, 2006

3 Questions with Michelle Richmond, Coming to You LIVE and Germ Soaked from The House of Plague

We will never be well here again. Ever not never. POOR Maisy Jane wins Illest Little Pill of All, and I spent a goodly portion of yesterday taking her to the vet, where she sat around soaking in the germs of 1,000 other little sick puppies, and hacking and coughing hers out all over them in return.

Sam was given the all clear to return to school, and he sat on the exam table forcing air out in huge dramatic barks and saying, "Are you POSITIVE? Because I still have a quite a COUGH here!" He went for the Oscar, but since he didn't manage to produce any actual chunks of diseased lung, he was just now shoved out the door, into the cruel cold world toward school --- a dreadful place where you can't wear pajamas and play Game Cube Pokemon all day.

Maisy Jane, meanwhile, had the doctor head-scratching. They gagged her with a Q-tip and then said, "Hrm. Not strep." So they poked a hole in her and sucked out a pippette full of blood. (She was Very Angry Indeed. Looked up at me with eyes like damp and trampled pansies, and said, "But WHY? Why would she DO that?" and then stared with moist accusation at the nurse.) Her blood's white count was only slightly elevated, BORDERLINE indicative of pnuemonia. They put that little Oxygen Blood Level Reader Guy on a NON poked finger, and it hovered around 95/96. It should be 99 or 100, but you really need it to say 92 or 93 to clearly say "LOOK! PNUEMONIA!" SO. There was nothoing to be done except send her over to the hospital for a chest X-ray.

I immediately gave up ANY hope of getting home when Scott did and cooking us a nice supper. Three hours, minimum, I figured, and decided to run the kids through the Taco Bell drive through...but the doctor looked around furtively (in retrospect he was no doubt checking to make sure no Actual Rich People were hiding under the exam table ready to demand my income tax statements for the last three years before allowing his next move), and whispered, "I am not going to send you to the hospital. Go on over to the NEW IMAGING CENTER near Target Road."

I wondered, "Why the Rich People's Police Check?" but only until I GOT there. HOLY CROWS! It smelled like orange blossoms and Eue de New Building, the chairs were fat with cushions, the carpet as lush and sproingy as monkey grass, it was well lit by pretty lamps, attractive ladies with well manicured hands and shining, clean faces processed us immediately, took us back, and I had a cappucino and a foot massage from Sven while they snapped Maisy's chest. OKAY the Sven thing might be a SLIGHT exaggeration, but I swan, I want to be a multi-millionaire before I am sick again, so all my medical procedure stories can be like this. Of course, we don't have a Rich People's Pediatrician, so no one ever called me with the results and I sat up half the night and worried about how to keep her ELEVATED and PROPPED so her lungs would not fill up and drown her, but also not so propped that she wouldn't sleep, and without so many pillows that she would smother while sleeping deeply under the influence of her meds.

I say all this to say, I cannot tell you the FLAMING PINEAPPLE COCKTAIL thing today---and once again it is NOT THAT BIG A DEAL just an amusing story I wanted to tell and now it's going to get built up into MYTHOLOGICAL PINK SOCK EXPECTATIONS and disappoint everyone, but no help for it. Flaming cocktails tomorrow. Right now, while Maisy still sleeps, I need to go lie down and watch my tape of PROJECT RUNWAY and sulk. SO, I am going to let someone else talk, and I LIKE her. You will like her, too, betcha. She grew up along the Gulf Coast (my stomping grounds!) and, based on this interview, I can't wait to read her book. She hooked me.

Her name is Michelle Richmond, and she is a big smarty, and her first novel, Dream of the Blue Room, is just now coming out in paperback...She talks better than I could about the meat of the novel in the interview, so I won't say what it's about here-----just that I want to read it.

JJ: Tell me how you came to write this particular book?

MR: A trip to China in 1998 inspired me to write Dream of the Blue Room. I've always been drawn to water, and this novel is set on two rivers--the Yangtze in China, and a small river town in Alabama (based on a town near where I grew up). Three Gorges Dam, which was under construction at the time and which resulted in the inundation of thousands of villages along the Yangtze, was very much part of the inspiration for the book. I was also interested in prejudice and its often brutal consequences. The protagonist, Jenny, travels to China to spread the ashes of her best friend from high school, a Chinese American girl named Amanda Ruth who was murdered in Alabama twelve years before the novel begins.


JJ: Dream of the Blue Room takes place in part aboard a cruise chip in China, but is greatly concerened with events in a small Alabama town and has been called a Southern Gothic novel... Do you think of yourself as a Southern writer? Why or why not?

MR: The emotional heart of Dream of the Blue Room is in a small river town in Alabama. I grew up in Mobile, spent a lot of time at Gulf Shores, so my identity was formed on the Gulf Coast; the bulk of my memory is grounded there. I certainly think of myself as a Southern writer in terms of subject matter. My first book, a collection of linked stories titled The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress, centers on four sisters growing up in Alabama, and follows them as they move off to forge their separate identities. My work might also be classified as Southern in that it is very much defined by place, as so much of Southern literature is. Dream of the Blue Room wouldn't work, in my opinion, if it were only a story of the Yangtze River. The back story, which takes up roughly half of the novel, explores the protagonist's teenage years in Alabama, and it is the events of her adolescence that conjure the story into existence. Without Amanda Ruth, and the intense friendship that Jenny shared with her in Alabama, there would be no novel. The "blue room" of the title is actually a room in the boathouse on the fictional Demopolis River--the blueness comes from the way light filters through the walls onto the water beneath the boat.

JJ: In a related follow-up --- You're an ex-pat who grew up in Alabama but has refugeed to San Francisco. What makes a writer a "Southern" and how do you fall in and/or fall outside of that definition?

MR: I now live in San Francisco, and before this I lived in New York. Though I always enjoy visiting family in Alabama, and have had such a warm reception from readers there (especially in Fairhope, home of the excellent book store Over the Transom), I must say that I feel very much at home in San Francisco. My forthcoming novel, Ocean Beach, is set partially in San Francisco and, again, partially in Alabama. Perhaps what makes me a Southern writer is that, even when I set out to write a novel about China or San Francisco, Alabama is all over it! You know, you can take the girl out of Alabama, but...

My favorite novel of all time is Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, which is about a "Southern" a novel as one can find. That said, I'm also very interested in Eastern European writers, and in the Swedish writer Lars Gustafsson, as well as the New York novelist and short story writer Richard Yates (Yates, of course, did his own time in the South--I was a student at the University of Alabama during the final years of his life, when he was teaching there).

I suppose what makes a writer Southern is an attention to landscape, perhaps an affinity for the often lyrical rhythms of ordinary speech, and, above all, a certain feel for the natural language of storytelling. Let's face it: Southerners have storytelling in their bones! No one in my family is a writer, but supper at my grandparents' house in Brookhaven, Mississippi, was always an occastion for fabulous, rich, and often tall tales, which were passed around among aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins and the like, as generously as the okra, butter beans, and cornbread. Even today, when I sit around with a bunch of friends in some oyster shack on Mobile Bay, with the sun shining and the beer flowing, I can always count on hearing a great story.


Posted by joshilyn at March 2, 2006 7:29 AM

I am so sorry for poor Maisy, and hope that the elevated sleep went okay with no mishaps!

Michelle is a very excellent lady, and I got to be in her house once for a writer-chicks meeting. It is a very lovely house. She is herself great fun, a gracious hostess, and a storyteller of the finest order.

Posted by: Cornelia Read at March 2, 2006 11:01 AM

Hope Maisy is better soon? Not quite pneumonia sounds a bit like not quite pregnant.

I heart Michelle because I, too, think The Movie-Goer is one of the greatest books of all time. Though I love The Second Coming as well. Basically, I heart Percy.

Posted by: Edgy Mama at March 2, 2006 4:28 PM

Poor Tiny Chicken! I hope she feels much better soon. And YAY! That you didn't have to go to the hospital.
Dream of the Blue room sounds wonderful...putting it on my list for the next trip to Borders...:)

Posted by: Amy-GO at March 2, 2006 4:59 PM

Sending lots and lots of Anti-PneumoniaGetWell thoughts toward Maisy!

Posted by: DebR at March 2, 2006 11:43 PM

I hope things are better today!! Your family certainly doesn't do medical emergencies halfway but whole heartedly. Ack.

I still can't get over that posh clinic you went to. How do regular people get in (without a sneaky doctor)? Is that type of clinic just in the Atlanta area, or do people sign up for those the way they do for gyms? ;)

Posted by: Elizabeth at March 3, 2006 10:13 AM

Oh, poor Baby-Girl ... I hope she's soon well.
BTW (she gushed) I looooved "gods in Alabama", now I need the next book to be here now, now, now.
God bless, Christine in Los Angeles

Posted by: Christine at March 4, 2006 5:22 AM

Oh my! As I sit here watching the Project Runway Marathon,I am feeling so sorry about your baby and the almost-pneumonia. My two youngest ended up with the same a few months ago and we spent four days in a definately mid-class, work-a-day hospital. I felt like such a failure of a mother. At least I could have checked into the hospital in better part of town! I feel your pain and pray that she will be better soon!

Posted by: Andreia at March 4, 2006 11:30 PM