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A Q&A with Susan Gregg Gilmore and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove Giveaway

August 3, 2011

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.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. Desiree permalink
    August 3, 2011 9:25 am

    England in the 1800s. 🙂

    This looks like an awesome read! I’d love to win!

    Flyingajoshi at gmail dot com

  2. August 3, 2011 11:33 am

    London in the late 1800’s as a liberated woman.
    Can not wait to read this book!

  3. August 3, 2011 3:49 pm

    I love Susan and her work and am glad to see she’ll continue to write about the South. No need to enter me.

  4. August 3, 2011 3:50 pm

    I just love Susan, and think that she is the epitome of Southern grace. I actually just finished this book over the weekend and will be reviewing it on Friday with a giveaway as well. It blew me away, and was so potent and powerful. I can definitely see why so many have fallen in love with it. Thanks for the fantastic interview. I always am happy to learn more about Susan!

  5. Heather S permalink
    August 6, 2011 12:32 pm

    I would live in Hawaii in the 60’s!

  6. August 14, 2011 11:02 am

    I would live during the 1860s during the American Civil War…preferably in a place like Gettysburg or Antietam!

  7. August 14, 2011 11:04 pm

    This is a harder question than you would think!!!!! Ummm, I guess I would want to live NOW but in New York City. I think current times are very exciting. I will never live in a big city, but it would be interesting!

    margodll (at)

  8. Jessica Rose Pogran permalink
    August 22, 2011 1:24 pm

    Ooh! Fun question! I would have to say Arthurian England (late 5th century to early 6th century) or in Ireland of the same time.

  9. August 26, 2011 9:10 pm

    This sounds terrific. My ideal place? That’s hard. Ireland or Scotland 19th century, I guess? Of course, Italy any time would be good. And, not that I’d want to observe the Revolutionary War, but Colonial America fascinates me.

    Thanks for offering this giveaway!

    2 Kids and Tired Books

  10. September 1, 2011 7:06 pm

    Thank you to you and Susan for such a great interview. I have heard so many good things about this book I just haven’t had the chance to read it yet!

    Thank you for hosting such a generous giveaway! If I were a fictional character I would like to live in England from the early to the mid-1800s or In NYC in the 1930s. It’s hard to choose just one!


  11. September 19, 2011 12:15 am

    If I were a fictional character, I would want to live in Ancient Egypt. I find the culture and practices in that era intriguing. Plus, I like their costumes! 🙂

    If this giveaway is open internationally, please enter me. Thank you!

  12. September 21, 2011 11:03 am

    Ireland the 1940’s

    Thanks for entering me! peggyherself at gmail dot com

  13. Lisa Garrett permalink
    October 10, 2011 10:51 am

    Pensacola Beach during the 1960’s

  14. mary nicolari permalink
    February 20, 2012 4:03 pm

    London 1911, but only if I had money! If I had to be poor, NYC in the late 1930’s … most everybody was poor here then.

  15. Kathleen Swift permalink
    March 16, 2012 7:53 pm

    New York City late 1800’s

  16. June 23, 2012 1:27 am

    Just one time and place? I would choose Dr. Who’s TARDIS now, that way I could travel to any time and place on a whim. Is that cheating? Thanks for the giveaway, and great question!

  17. July 3, 2012 2:49 am

    Haight-Ashbury (San Francisco) in the 1960s. Groovy, man!

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