This very popular author panel session was moderated by Amy Wallen. Amy created Dime Stories, which inspired NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction, and wrote the LA Times bestseller MoonPies and Movie Stars.
With her on the panel were Jo-Ann Mapson, Mark Childress, Tayari Jones, and Dorothea Benton Frank.
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Jo-Ann Mapson has lived in California and Alaska but now lives in Santa Fe, NM. She writes Southwestern fiction with settings that include Central California, the Four Corners area of New Mexico and northern Arizona’s Indian Territory. She has published 10 novels; her latest is Solomon’s Oak.
Jo-Ann writes for 4 hours every day. She said she didn’t know why she was included in a panel for Southern authors but all of the other authors insisted that the Southwest, and her stories in particular, fit perfectly. She was the middle child of five children in her family, so she became the observer. She also played that role on the panel, appearing very quiet and shy among this rather extroverted group.
Solomon’s Oak takes place in Central California and begins with a ghost story. All of the characters are broken and come together for a chance to heal. All were shaped in different ways that result in them being broken. The three main characters are people you would never expect to see come together, which adds to the tension. Jo-Ann believes only trouble is interesting to read about.
“In Mapson’s deeply felt, wise, and gritty novel,..three broken souls find in each other an unexpected comfort, the bond of friendship, and a second chance to see the miracles of everyday life.” Solomon’s Oak book cover
If you’re a movie fan, you may know Mark Childress best for Crazy in Alabama, which was based on his novel of the same name. That was a phenomenally powerful film and one I’d recommend if you haven’t seen it. Here’s a link to a scene on YouTube: http://youtu.be/XcKZ3EbxLjI. If you’re a parent, you may also know him for his children’s books: Joshua and Bigtooth, Joshua and the Big Bad Blue Crabs, and Henry Bobbity Is Missing: And It Is All Billy Bobbity’s Fault!.
Mark grew up in Monroeville, Alabama, and now lives in Key West. Let me tell you, he is every bit as funny as the characters in his 7 “grown-up” award-winning novels. He is a Southern storyteller like the ones I remember from my childhood.
His newest book is Georgia Bottoms: A Novel. He proudly proclaims to love Ms. Georgia, who is a Southern Belle/spitfire with lots of secrets. She’s trying to survive in a town so small that it doesn’t have a Walmart or cellphone service – a pillar of society who is a non-believer but has to sit up front in church every Sunday because of small-town pressure to conform. She also has to resort to entertaining “boyfriends,” who leave her gifts, so she can survive in such a tiny town.
Mark writes full time every day, until he can’t anymore. If he didn’t work on his novels at least 6 hours a day, he wouldn’t ever finish them. He believes a novel consists of something changing and never being the same again because, when things unravel, people have to change and learn. He makes up his stories as he goes along. He thinks it’s natural to be a storyteller in the South because everything said is told like a story. I know from experience that when I moved to California from the South, people got very impatient with me and kept asking me to “get to the point” (especially in business settings) because I always went into great detail about everything (hence my sometimes loooong articles). It shocked me at first because that’s just how everyone talked where I came from.
“Move over, Flannery O’Connor, and make room for a new master. Mark Childress has written another laugh-out-loud Southern classic.” – Fannie Flagg about Georgia Bottoms
Award winning author, Tayari Jones, grew up in Atlanta, except for one eye-opening year that her family spent in Nigeria. Although she now lives in the Northeast, her novels are still set in the urban South. You may know her for her acclaimed book, Leaving Atlanta: A Novel, about the infamous Atlanta serial murders of African-American children in 1979-1981. Her latest novel is Silver Sparrow and it sounds fascinating. A brief plot synopsis wouldn’t do it justice so you’ll just have to check it out for yourself.
She teaches full time and writes in snatches during the school year, as she is able. She writes every day in the summer when she isn’t teaching. She feels no pressure to get novels written faster, since her life is fulfilling the way that it is.
Tayari doesn’t think of the characters in her books as dysfunctional. She believes all families are and are not dysfunctional, at the same time. When she’s writing a story, she writes her characters with an open heart. Some of them make bad or unfortunate choices. They’re real people to her and they do their best, just like all real people.
Re power disparities among some characters, Tayari says, “The more power you have, the more you can want what you want.” In Silver Sparrow, power disparity plays a big role between the main characters in the two families. She writes about things that are bothering her about relationships and wants to be improved by the experience just as much as the reader does.
When the authors were discussing why Southern fiction is so appealing to readers, Tayari said she believes people in the South are encouraged to be in touch with their emotions/feelings, so books by Southern authors have a lot more heart to them and, as such, touch the reader’s heart in a way other books might not.
Dorothea Benton Frank is better known as Dot, so that’s how I’m going to affectionately refer to her in this article at least part of the time. She is very laid back and approachable, and just seems more like a Dot to me. I hope that’s okay with her – maybe I should have asked for permission first.
If you like Southern novels, you have most likely read at least one by Dorothea Benton Frank. If not, you need to get busy! She has written 10 funny and touching novels, and I’ve loved all of them. Her next novel, Folly Beach: A Lowcountry Tale, will be coming out in 5-6 weeks and is available for pre-order. I will be reviewing it – count on it! Dot says the family in Folly Beach is very dysfunctional, and the main character will be a lesbian. I know the Folly Beach area, so I can already tell this is going to be an interesting story.
Dot’s latest novel, Lowcountry Summer: A Plantation Novel, begins with Caroline about to celebrate her 47th birthday. She says Caroline has needs – that people do have sex and sex is fun at any age; however, parents having sex is just plain nasty.
“Had I not learned a thing? Apparently not. It was God’s grace that my mother, Miss Lavinia, was gone to glory or she would have slapped me silly while whispering in an even jasmine tone her deepest disappointment in my judgment.” Lowcountry Summer
Dot’s family was dysfunctional and tended to kill off its men. Her father died in front of her when she was four years old. Her 1st stepdad died when she was 17 years old, and she was the person who found him. Her 2nd stepdad died when she was 26 years old. She now has a chosen family in New York. Her family definitely influenced how she writes about families.
She loves Pat Conroy’s voice as a Southern author. Dot believes Southern authors are willing to admit their mistakes. She tends to tell stories about things she’s worried about. She writes or researches all day in her office or until her head explodes. She only outlines the first half of the book because the story tends to change as it’s being written.
Dorothea Benton Frank is an icon in our family. Mom and I are avid readers of her books. I started reading them because I lived in the South Carolina Low Country for two years and can relate to the characters in them so well. Mom loves them because she lives on the NC Outer Banks and could be a character in one of Dot’s books.
“ Miss Sweetie and Miss Nancy..the old crows,..still fooled around in chat rooms for singles, pretending to be college coeds! They thought it was hilarious! I guess it’s fair to say that out here in plantation country, your social life was really truly only ever going to be what you made of it.”
And no mom, I’m most certainly NOT calling you an old crow, honest; just a Southern lady of a particular generation and one with a great sense of humor (I hope)! Okay, now I’ve probably ticked off my mother and Dot. I’m in such trouble! I’d better stop ya’ll cause my ears are burning!
If you’d like to read more about the LA Times Festival of Books author panels, just click on the titles below:
LA Times Festival of Books – LA Stories
LA Times Festival of Books – A Conversation with Carolyn See
LA Times Festival of Books – Mysteries: A Question of Character
LA Times Festival of Books – Mysteries: Dangerous Histories
UCLA vs. USC – Which Is Best for the LA Times Festival of Books?
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