A Q&A with Susan Gregg Gilmore and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove Giveaway
Susan Gregg Gilmore’s Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen was the third book I ever reviewed on my blog. I enjoyed it but loved (loved, loved) her second, grittier book The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove. So, of course, it is with seriously excitement that I’m announcing a whole bunch of things.
One: I have, to announce that as of Monday, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove is officially in paperback. If you haven’t read it, seriously, go do that, now.
Two: I have three copies of The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove to give away. All you have to do is tell me your ideal time and place (ex: Nashville in the 1960′s) to live as a fictional character. Leave your answer in the comments and don’t forget to leave a way for me to contact you!
Three (and the most exciting part for me): I have, here, in my warm, little bloggy hands, a Q&A with the lady of the hour.
And so, without further rambling and/or fumbling on my part, ladies and gentlemen, the lovely Susan Gregg Gilmore, herself.
This is your second novel and also the second based in the south. Do you picture yourself writing about other regions or is there enough to write about, down here, for a little bit longer?
I think there is enough to write about in the South to last me a lifetime and then some. My home is a rich place full of stories to numerous to count. Now that doesn’t mean that I won’t write about other places. I’ve lived a fourth of my life in Los Angeles. But I was raised in Tennessee and Virginia, and I think nothing really calls to you like the land from which you came. It’s in my bones.
The story, both generally (regarding the south and America) and specifically (regarding Bezellia’s own struggles and triumphs), is such a deep look at both positive and negative life in the south around the 1960’s. What was your primary inspiration for taking on the mish mash of cultural upheavals that took place around that time?
Simply put, it happened one day when I walked into a basement. I was looking at a house where I had played often as a child. I had many happy memories there. But when I walked into the basement as a prospective buyer, someplace I had never been as a little girl, I suddenly stopped when I reached the bottom step. I was speechless. In front of me, I saw six rooms, cinder-block walls, no windows, double locks at the top of the doors. In that moment, I realized that a very different world had literally existed underneath my feet while I was upstairs happily playing.
It wasn’t that I was unaware of racial inequality as a child. Believe me, I was. It pained me then as it pains me now. And standing there, a grown woman with many life experiences behind me, I knew had to come to terms with this in my own way, based on my own perceptions, and my own memories. Out of that came “The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove.”
Though they have similar components, your two books, to date, struck me as very different. Bezellia Grove’s story is a much deeper assessment of culture and personal identity. Do you think this is the direction you see your future books moving?
Yes, I do. I have the confidence now to go to those deeper, darker places. I want to grow with every book. I owe that to myself and to the reading public. This is not to say that I won’t ever go back to the style of Dairy Queen, but I believe even then the story will be better for having dipped my toes in these deeper waters.
While we’re discussing the deeper side of things, I have to ask about the family dynamics. Specifically, Bezellia has a very hard relationship with her mother. Does this come from personal experience or from outside observation of others?
Boy am I glad you asked that! My sweet 82-year-old mother confessed to me right before Bezellia was released that she was concerned, given the mother’s nature in my first two books, that everyone would think I had an awful childhood. I promised her then that I would make it known at every opportunity that I had the most wonderful, kind, nurturing mother. And I really did! With that said, I feel things very deeply and can take hurts and heartaches and apply them to my characters. Most of us have experienced loss, rejection, humiliation, etc. at some point. I just apply those same feelings to the people in my head.
Ok, enough of the serious stuff! I am a huge reader and I have always had my big literary crushes. I have to assume that most writers have their own idols. Which authors, past or present, would you say are on your list of all-time favorites?
Oooh! Lee Smith, Flannery O’Connor, Elizabeth Forstyhe Hailery, Jill McCorkle, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Emily Bronte, Jim Minick, Laura Ingalls Wilder, John Irving, Rick Bragg, Chris Bohjalian, Amy Greene. OK, stop me!
Along the same lines is there a specific writer (or even non-writer, maybe a teacher or a mentor) who you credit with your love of and career in writing?
Again, Lee Smith. I have loved everything she has ever written. Her gifted storytelling has taught me so much. And she was my seventh-grade English teacher. So not only did she teach me how to diagram a sentence, she taught every girl in that class that she, too, had a story to tell.
My last question but probably my favorite to have answered has to do with your personal writing style. How, where and when do you prefer to write?
I write in the mornings till I just can’t think anymore. Sometimes that’s two hours, sometimes eight. I work in my bedroom at my much-loved desk. It’s almost six feet wide and made of pine that is estimated to be between 300 and 400 years old. The top is made of rafters taken from the freight depot behind Union Station, the train station in my hometown of Nashville, TN. The desk was made for me by two women. Needless to say, I love it, I can almost feel the energy and spirit seeping from the wood.