When I visit book clubs or speak at book festivals, typically the first question is “did you always want to be a writer? ” In my heart of hearts, I want to say “yes ” and tell them how I wrote my first novel when I was ten years old and how my grandmother helped me make a cover for it out of construction paper. But the truth is that I did not come from a family of readers. I came from a family of storytellers and I’ve realized that the stories I heard from childhood have influenced my work.
Like most people, I had a teacher who inspired me to write. Her name was Linda Maultsby and she taught English my junior year of high school. (My second novel, Slow Way Home, is dedicated to her.) I was a C student at best and her encouragement was the first time I was told that I could do anything well related to school. I met with the guidance counselor and decided that I would major in public relations and hopefully land a job where I could parlay writing into a vocation. In my world, writers lived in Paris, New York or if they were from the south they were eccentric alcoholics who lived in run down mansions — they were not from a small paper mill town in Florida like the place where I grew up.
Discovering writers like Lee Smith and Pat Conroy changed all of that for me. After getting that Public Relations degree from Auburn University, I would drive around in my candy red Camaro listening to NPR and thinking that I was being sophisticated. One morning on the way to work, I heard a voice that I can only describe as honey dipped. It was Lee Smith reading about a weatherman in Memphis who had washed away his rural past and now that his mother was dying, he had to come to terms with it. I went out and bought that collection of short stories — Me and My Baby View The Eclipse — and now I’ve read everything she’s written. I love her and her work. In fact, you might say that I became a literary stalker. Yes, I went to every reading that Lee did and when I finally finished my first novel, A Place Called Wiregrass, I gathered up the courage to ask her to read it. She was kind enough to take a look at it and her words of encouragement became the endorsement that is on the cover of the novel.
Man in the Blue Moon is my fourth novel and I remain a devoted fan of writers like Lee Smith and Pat Conroy. And I still love to hear storytellers too. For me, it all began in my grandparents’ house, listening to those stories that are now woven into my novels.