How fitting it is that we have Kerry Madden here today. With the wild incredible outpouring of opinion about this week's new Harper Lee release, GO SET A WATCHMAN, who better to have on the blog than the woman who wrote HARPER LEE (UP CLOSE), the definitive biography of the woman and the author?
I met Kerry high atop a mountain in northern Georgia during a writers weekend. Engaging and funny and generous, she taught me how to make oatmeal from scratch (something I've utilized pretty much every day since), made me laugh with her zany stories, intrigued the hell out of my literary mind with the concept for the novel she's talking about below, and turned me on to Brenda Ueland. Earned her keep, wouldn't you say?
Welcome aboard, Kerry!
Set your music to shuffle and hit play. What’s the first song that comes up?
I’m playing Pandora and George Jones’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” just started playing. And since I have a glass of wine now that’s the end of the day, it seems appropriate.
Now that we’ve set the mood, what are you working on today?
I’m working on several things, but the one I just finished is a picture book called GEORGIA IVY AND THE OLD PUMP ORGAN. The one I intend to finish very soon is a novel called HOP THE POND.
What’s your latest book about?
GEORGIA IVY AND THE OLD PUMP, a picture book, is about an incorrigible child who plays the pump organ to get out of doing chores. HOP THE POND, a novel, is a kind of MY FAIR LADY meets TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL meets WUTHERING HEIGHTS and is told in the voices of three generations of women with some flash fiction voices from the men in their lives. George, formerly Shelly Grace, is an exchange student at Manchester University in England and is thrilled to be out of East Tennessee for the first time in her life and gets adopted by a group of British Drama students who educate her into becoming a proper person. She changes her name from Shelly Grace to George because she adores both George Eliot and Boy George. Her mother can’t imagine why anyone would want to hoof it off to England for an entire year and leave Maryville, Tennessee, but the grandmother, Maime, suddenly realizes she wants to see something pretty before she dies, and she’s always loved the Brontës and Lawrence Olivier and the Catholic Church. I finished a draft, finally, and although I'm still fine-tuning it's gone out to trusted readers for edits.
Where do you write, and what tools do you use?
I used Microsoft Word, but I have downloaded Scrivener, and so it awaits me. I also write longhand sometimes.
What was your favorite book as a child?
A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith.
What book are you reading now?
THE NIGHT OF THE GUN by David Carr and I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Alexander (They even each other out – Memoir and YA) but I just finished them so next on the stack is REFUND by Karen E. Bender. I am also listening MY BRILLIANT FRIEND (Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante) on Audible, which is pure escape into an Italian girlhood.
What’s your favorite bit of writing advice?
"The imagination needs moodling—long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering. People who are always briskly doing something and are as busy as waltzing mice, they have little, sharp, staccato ideas . . . but they have no slow, big ideas." – Brenda Ueland
And also this by Brenda Ueland:
“Be Careless, Reckless! Be a Lion, Be a Pirate, When You Write.”
What do you do if the words aren’t flowing?
I take a walk—a long walk and try to think. Sometimes I go to the movies, but the movies are more of a reward. Sometimes, I open a file/chapter and just start reading it without any objective and begin to play with the words already on the page, and before I know it, I’m writing again.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I would like to be remembered for kindness and that I wrote some good stories and that I loved my children and husband very much.
Kerry Madden is the author of the Maggie Valley Trilogy for children, which includes GENTLE’S HOLLER (2005), LOUISIANA’S SONG (2007) and JESSIE’S MOUNTAIN (2008), set in the heart of the Smokies and published by Viking. Her first novel, OFFSIDES, (William Morrow) was a New York Public Library Pick for the Teen Age in 1997 and has been released on Kindle by Foreverland Press in a revised and updated edition. Her American Girl book WRITING SMARTS is full of story sparks for young writers. UP CLOSE HARPER LEE made Booklist’s Ten Top Biographies of 2009 for Youth and was also a Kirkus Pick for 2009. Her first picture book, NOTHING FANCY ABOUT KATHRYN AND CHARLIE, was illustrated by her daughter, Lucy Madden-Lunsford, and published by Mockingbird Publishers in the spring of 2013 about the friendship of storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham and folk artist Charlie Lucas. Her newest book, GEORGIA IVY AND THE OLD PUMP ORGAN, is currently being submitted to editors. She is at work on two new novels, one for children and one for adults, and a memoir. She has published stories in the Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Five Points, Shenandoah, Salon, Redux, and the Washington Post. She appeared for in her first indie film, LITTLE FEET, as a bag lady in Echo Park, directed by Alex Rockwell and premiered at the IFC in New York this past December. Kerry is an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the editor of PoemMemoirStory at UAB. She also mentors in the MFA low-residency program at Antioch University in Los Angeles. She divides her time between Birmingham and Los Angeles. Learn more about Kerry at www.kerrymadden.com.
*And here's a little more about Kerry's book HARPER LEE (UP CLOSE), which you should totally pick up as a companion book as you read GO SET A WATCHMAN!
Nelle Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was published in 1960 and became an instant bestseller. Two years later it was an Academy Award–winning film. Today, it remains standard—and beloved—reading in English classes. But Lee never wanted “the book” to define who she was, which explains her aversion to any kind of publicity. Kerry Madden conducted extensive research for this Up Close biography, which reveals Lee to be a down-to-earth Southern woman who enjoys baseball games and playing golf—and whose one and only published book (until now!) happened to win the Pulitzer Prize.