1.What was the first book you recall reading? Why do you think you remember that book?
I'm old enough to remember reading ‘Dick and Jane’ aloud to my parents, and the excitement of realizing I could. But the first book I read so many times that I literally wore it out was ‘Little Women.’ I’m such a romantic that I was gaga over every single sentence in that book.
2. When did you first entertain the idea of being a writer?
From the first time I put pen to paper. My great-grandfather, Josiah King, was a writer of sorts, having published an Alabama history book and some pretty god-awful poems. However, he was considered a dreamer and a failure by the family, so I can’t say I received much encouragement for my desire to be a writer.
3. I heard a rumor that you hid your writing from your first husband, that he forbade you from writing. Any truth to that rumor?
I’m glad of the chance to clarify that rumor since it makes me sound like such a doormat. The truth is, I’ve always written and would never allow anyone to stop or ‘forbid’ me doing so. In my previous reincarnation as a Sunday wife, however, the environment was far from conducive to writing. Writers don’t necessarily need praise, encouragement, or even support, but solitude is essential in order to create our fictional worlds. The world I inhabited while in that mode was not well tolerated, that’s true. And I did hide away the journals and notes that eventually became my second novel, often working on them in the pretext of doing my Sunday School lessons.
4. Your upcoming book, Queen of Broken Hearts, concerns a divorce therapist who can't heal her own marriage. You've stated that the novel was spurred in part by a family member's divorce. Does it also include commentary about marriage therapists in general?
The protagonist of Queen of Broken Hearts is not a marriage counselor, but a therapist who specializes in divorce recovery. I decided to write this book when my sister went through such a painful divorce that I began to wonder if she’d ever get over it. Although I’d been through a divorce several years previously, it’s much easier to suffer ourselves than to helplessly watch those we love suffer. In the midst of this awful time, fate stepped in, and I met a woman who had founded an organization to help women recover from the trauma of divorce. I initiated my sister’s involvement with this group, which led not only to her recovery but also to the background for my book.
5. You're an unassuming country gal, with a reputation for being a real sweet soul. Does writing grant you permission to explore life in a less genteel fashion? In other words, does writing allow you to say all the bitchy things you're itching to say in person?
Southern women are born and bred to be sweet at all costs; certainly women of my generation. That’s the basic premise of The Same Sweet Girls, and it was drilled into me from day one. It has not served me well. I was raised to be sweet, which really means, to be so genteel and compliant that you try to please everybody. That kind of sweetness has brought me low self-esteem, ulcers, and the depression I’ve battled for years. I’m giving myself permission to be as bitchy as I want to from now on.
6. You were raised in the Bible belt where slaying a mate has always been more socially acceptable than divorcing one. What myths do you think Southern women grow up with regarding marriage? And how do these myths shape our marriages, and our relationship with a Creator?
I think the notion that wives are to be submissive to their husbands is one of the many paradoxes of the South. I was raised on a farm where my mother worked equally with my father; I learned to drive a tractor long before I drove a car. I always suspected that my mother, who was the quintessential Southern lady in every way, ruled the roost, too, although in theory, my father was head of the household. I was fortunate enough to be active in the church during the women’s movement, which helped me see the Creator not as patriarchal but feminine as well.
7. Marriage is on the decline nationally. Do you still believe in marriage? Why/why not?
I still believe in marriage as a ritualistic way of acknowledging, both spiritually and legally, two people who have agreed to commit their lives to each other. I don’t believe marriage is for everyone; some of us aren’t able to make that kind of commitment. No doubt there would be fewer divorces if we could see that before rather than afterwards, but usually we’re too young and/or inexperienced to know ourselves.
8. I heard an author say that it's hard to write about a good marriage because nobody wants to read about other people's happiness. Do you think that's true? What is it about human nature that draws us to gawk over bloody bodies and mangled marriages?
It’s hard to write about a good marriage because few have seen one---they’re rarer than ivory-billed woodpeckers, but out there somewhere, surely. Reading about others’ troubles allows us to experience them vicariously, providing the opportunity for catharsis and compassion. Spoken like a former literature teacher, I know; but it’s true.
9. What marriage advice do you offer to your own sons?
My sons never follow my advice: “Slow down, or you’ll get a ticket. You’re too old to do that. Don’t wear that in public. Tattoos are for keeps. You’ll never pay off that charge card. One more beer and you’ll be sick. Marry someone just like your mother."
10. What scene from Queen of Broken Hearts causes you to break out in a belly laugh?
My husband accuses me of enjoying my own humor much more than anyone else does. What can I say? I crack myself up. There’s a scene in Queen of Broken Hearts I based on something that really happened to my grandfather, when one of our horses pushed him in the fishpond trying to get the chewing tobacco out of his back pocket. I got a kick, and a big laugh, out of writing about it.
11. What truth did you learn about yourself from this book?
Just as I finished Queen of Broken Hearts, life threw me a devastating curve ball, as it does from time to time. To my surprise, a close and treasured friendship came to an abrupt end, based on something I’d written in a previous book. Even though many writers have had that happen, including the one I live with, it was a first for me. Instead of relishing the joy of finishing a new book, I plunged into the darkest depression. The new book mocked me: You wrote about recovery from heartbreak, now let’s see you do it, Miss Know-it-all.
My philosophy of life is, “When the pupil is ready, a teacher appears;” so what did I need to learn from this painful experience? In retrospect, I think maybe it was this: Life is, and always has been, about loss. At some point, you have to let go—not of the loss, but of the pain. Otherwise, it will pull you under. It’s about making the choice to live in spite of the pain life is certain to bring our way.