My friend Kerry Madden has a new book out: Louisiana's Song.
Since she has so much interesting information to give and it couldn't possibly all fit into one interview, I'm helping host her for a book tour through several blogs.
Visit the other blogs
and also read the interview below for a fascinating look behind the scenes in Kerry Madden's gentle world of writing.
- Kerry, please describe for us the world of Gentle's Holler.
Gentle's Holler, along with Louisiana's Song and Jessie's Mountain, the two companion novels are set in the Great Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina in the town of Maggie Valley.
The Weems family lives in a holler up Fie Top off Highway 19 between Cherokee and Canton near Waynesville. The books are set in 1962-64 around when GHOST TOWN IN THE SKY opened (1961).
They are a family of ten kids who live without a television even though it's the 1960s. Their daddy is hoping to hit it big with a banjo hit. Their mother holds the family together as best she can and then Grandma Horace comes to visit.
I wanted to write a novel with love - and though these kids bicker and fight and get in trouble, they love each other and they absolutely want to explore world through art and music.
- How do you balance your kids' very different needs, with your writing career?
It's a huge balance, but this year is easier - our son is a freshman in college - so we just have two kids at home...It's been tricky all along though.
My husband, Kiffen, has always been a great support, taking the kids off or cooking dinner or cleaning. (Our house is so messy though, honestly, and cluttered.)
I write when they're in school, and I try to go to everything that they do - plays, sports, gigs etc. When they were babies, I wrote during their naps (nothing I wrote was much good, but I was needing to practice)...I used to write on weekends.
I'm very disciplined, and I feel like the world will end if I miss a deadline.
And from the very beginning, I didn't want to tell people I was writing a novel and then not do it. But it is a balance.
My kids are my editors and inspirations. So I think they feel part of it - they've watched it grow from nothing.
- I love that your website says you're an explorer. Can you tell us more about that?
I grew up in ten states because of my father's football coaching career, and even though I hated moving as a child, it gave me a sense of adventure that lingers to this day. I love going to new places to explore.
Our first year of marriage in 1987 was teaching English at Ningbo University in China - we both wanted an adventure before real life loomed, and after our time teaching we took the Trans-Siberian home from Beijing to Berlin.
When our children were young, we took the kids on cross-country roadtrips twice, and it was hard, but amazing - I wanted to instill in them the same longing for exploration and adventures.
A few weeks ago, I went with my sister to Monroeville, Alabama to explore Harper Lee's and Truman Capote's hometown - I love meeting new people and listening to their stories.
When I teach writing workshops, I tell kids to have adventures and explore the world! I also lived in Manchester, England my junior year in college, and I always tell young writers/explorers to study overseas.
- How do you handle the balancing act of basing your story on a real person versus respecting her sense of privacy? Do you tiptoe a lot? Is your sister in law proud to be an inspiration for your book? How would you handle it differently if the central story were a negative one?
Well, Tomi inspired the character when I first started writing the book, but I think she'd be the first to agree, she is not really Livy Two Weems.
I don't have to tiptoe, though, because she's proud of the book, and I'm so proud of her music. I wish I could market her voice and songs right off my website. She hasn't read the next two, but she's always been such a support and she knows the books are written with love. I have done writing workshops at a school where she teaches an afterschool program in Nashville. I love her music so much, and she's an artist who believes in other artists.
If it were a negative portrayal, I'd probably not mention the inspiration. I'd lay low. In OFFSIDES, my father inspired the football coach (tough-talking, cussing, ambitious, insensitive, driven and yet loving) and I was terrified of him reading it...After he finished the book, he said, "Took me six months and a lot of scotch to read that sucker. I get to write the disclaimer. But I'm proud.)
- How has your life changed with the success of your writing?
My life has not changed really. I am so relieved to have books published, because there was such a dryspell of just bad writing and rejections - and I thought - what if I never publish again? It was relatively easy to get my first novel, OFFSIDES published, but it was nine years before GENTLE'S HOLLER came out.
I love the opportunties that these Smoky Mountain novels have given me - meeting so many kids, librarians, and teachers...working with a wonderful editor and agent...so yes, that aspect of my life has changed.
I am not nearly as scared as I used to be in front of audience, and I love telling mountain stories.
We have never bought a house, though, as we can't afford to in Southern California...and we're putting one child through college and another will be applying soon...So our day-to-day economics haven't changed much though I don't have to teach quite as much as I used to and that's a relief.
I am also writing the YA biography of Harper Lee, and I know that would not have happened had I not written these Smoky Mountain novels.
- In twenty years, what books do you want to have written?
I hope to have written the biographies of Harper Lee and Truman Capote for kids. I would very much like to continue to write more Smoky Mountain novels of the Weems' family. I hope to write Op-Ed essays and eventually have them compiled into a collection...I love that form. I'd like to see OFFSIDES come back in print as a YA novel.
And I'd like to write a novel (not for kids) about my grandparents in Leavenworth, Kansas and their 63 year marriage...My grandfather played the organ for the silent movies until the talkies put him out of business...my grandmother was a devout Catholic and they were devoted to each other - I'd like to capture it somehow. They loved highballs, roadtrips, crossword puzzles, Johnn Carson, Mass...
Thanks for these great questions, Ruth. Oh...and I want to adapt all three novels - GENTLE'S HOLLER, LOUISIANA'S SONG, JESSIE'S MOUNTAIN - into a musical for kids.
I have no doubt that will come to pass. Best of luck, Kerry! :)
Readers can find out more about Kerry, here:
And please visit her book blog tour, here!