Friday, September 12, 2008

Interview with Bonnie J. Glover, author of Going Down South

I was very excited when Bonnie Glover agreed to an interview about her latest novel, Going Down South. (You can read my review here.) I knew Going Down South was going to be a great read when I started it on the bus during my morning commute and was so engrossed I almost missed my stop! I love it when I find books that grab me and don't want to let go.

Anyway, I'm sure you'd rather read the interview than me babbling on and on, so...

What inspired you to write Going Down South? Teenage pregnancy is not viewed today the way it was in the 1960s. I went to high school with girls who were pregnant (this was the mid-1990s) and not much was said about it, and I lived in a small town in Connecticut.

Years ago I read a book entitled Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison. While it wasn’t about teen pregnancy, it did explore the themes of motherhood and relationships. It was such a compelling read that I wanted to explore another mother/daughter relationship. What would happen when a woman made a different choice than the mother in Bastard? What would be the likely ramifications?

Teen pregnancy is a huge concern in this country right now. What do you do? What can you do? How do we support our children and get around this morass of complications, from people telling us how to raise our children, castigating them for making mistakes and yet not educating them so that they can protect themselves. As a culture we send so many mixed signals. That was true in the 1960’s as well as today.

But I wanted to write a story that said, depending on the circumstances, depending on the individual and family, a “mistake” might heal, even after its most immediate ramification is to splinter and divide.

Your descriptions of Cold Water Springs, Alabama, really brought the town to life for me. Did you grow up in a small town in the south?

No, I was born in a small town in Alabama and raised in Brooklyn, New York. I experienced Olivia Jean’s back to school block party every year on Ashford Street, between Sutter and Belmont. We had the food, the DJ’s, and the dancing. It was a tradition. But even though I was raised in the north, I grew up hearing stories from both my mother and aunt about what they experienced growing up in the rural south. They told me about their bootlegging days. I was even arrested with my mother and taken to jail until she could get one of her friends to come bail us out. My mother made me promise not to tell. Since she passed away, I’ve been talking about it. I know she’d be embarrassed, but it’s too good of a story not to share. And, if I remember correctly, she made me promise not to tell my father. I never did.

You created such strong characters in Birdie, Daisy, and Olivia Jean. Are they based on people you know? Which of these women is most like you?

I’ve been asked this question before, and I really didn’t make the connection until now. My mother would have to be Birdie. Strong, determined, fearless, and yet so vulnerable deep down. Birdie, in her later days, is the mother that we have to be when we have to correct the mistakes that we’ve helped cause. But my mom was also Daisy, the woman who stays for the wrong reasons, who loves her children but the man, her husband, her lover, is the true focal point of her existence--until he messes up one time too many. And even then, he can be forgiven.

I could be described as Olivia Jean. For the most part I’m mild natured and clueless.

A few years back my husband threw a surprise party for me. He told me that we were checking into a meeting space for an event for his job. We went into the room, and when people yelled surprise, I panicked. I told him that we had ruined someone’s surprise party, and we had better go right away. He pulled me back into the room, and it was only then that I noticed my brother, a middle school teacher, etc. I just had not suspected anything. Even though my address book kept disappearing, and one of my best friends called and asked for the directions from the nearest airports.

But, also like Olivia Jean, I am an avid reader. I have been all my life and that has helped me move beyond Brooklyn and East New York (although I still have that accent that slips out once in a while) and help create a life that I’m very content with right now. I love writing. And I do have a stubborn streak in me, and I’m loyal. So maybe my characters are all women, just different sides of them at different times of their lives. For all I know, my mother could have been Olivia Jean at one point, too. I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing her as a teen. Wouldn’t that have been a hoot?

Why were the main male characters--Turk, Shorty Long, Rev. Percy, and Preston--so weak in comparison? I don't recall a single male character who could give Birdie, Daisy, or Olivia Jean a run for their money.

I think Lupe is quiet, but he is up to snuff for Birdie. I also think Shorty Long is a man to be reckoned with. He gave up his family to save them. Of course, he became an alcoholic in the process, but he was not going to let anything happen to his family. That, to me, is some kind of strength.

As for the other men, I think they all had stories to tell, just not in this book. A man’s life should not be judged only by his actions with the women in his life. We only saw snippets. Incriminating and discouraging ones, yes. But maybe Preston becomes a better man, maybe there is some way that he becomes redeemed. Rev. Percy (my perception), denied Olivia Jean because he thought that’s what Birdie wanted. Perhaps it was his one good deed even if it was not appreciated by anyone. The women are strong because they were at the forefront. I think I could write a book with the same male characters, address their strengths, and make them look better. In the political world, that’s called “spin.” I’m just not going to do that any time soon.

How long did it take you to write Going Down South? Could you describe your writing process? What does your writing space look like?

Going Down South took about two years to write. I had a lot of things going on then, including a full time job that kept me on the road quite a bit.

My writing process is not as disciplined as I would like it to be given the fact that I don’t always work with an outline, nor do I often write my prose in a linear fashion. Sometimes I see the end scene in my head before the beginning, and I write the end scene. I probably won’t change that, but I am going to make better use of outlines this time and notes.

I have an office with a very cluttered desk that I write on. When I need space, I hide bills in the drawers and make piles all over the room. It drives my husband crazy, but it is difficult for me to be neat and creative at the same time. Actually, it’s almost impossible for me. So, there are rooms in my house that my husband won’t enter. He’s done very well considering he is a Felix Unger, and I’m definitely an offshoot of Oscar Madison.

Do you have any advice to us writers struggling to finish books and see our work in print?

Yes. Keep trying. I really believe that dreams can come true. And, if you have some talent and a great deal of determination, you can move mountains AND your work out of the “slush” pile.

This is what I think new writers should consider: If you know that you want to write but aren’t getting anywhere with being published, examine your subject matter and writing. Go to someone whose reads the type of material you write and have them give you a critique. Pick one of your friends who is known for being honest no matter what. Whatever they tell you, don’t argue. Take in the critique, absorb it, and get back to work. Your goal is to get better, consistently. Someone may see something that you haven’t. Be sensible and don’t take any criticism these people give you as some kind of personal insult.

And be happy for the people who are getting ahead in their writing, even if you are not. That’s very important. You can’t focus through self-pity or jealousy. Let the angst and anxiety go and allow yourself the opportunity to really be present when you are writing. You’ll be surprised at how much better your writing will become if you practice this.

What writers and books have been the most influential or inspirational in your life? What types of books do you most enjoy reading?

I will read just about any genre. I love Ha Jin, Russell Banks, Preston Allen, Carleen Brice, Roger Morris, Ellen Meister, Karen Novak, Tricia Dower, and Dorothy Allison.

I also have a great affinity for Octavia Butler’s science fiction, which is so grounded in reality. And of course, there are the classics. Little Women by Louisa may Alcott is the first full-length novel I ever read. It is a wonderful book and managed to make me want to read even more.

Influential? Reading Ha Jinn has taught me that less is more, Louisa May Alcott, the importance of the family unit, and Preston Allen taught me that a man’s everyday condition may be fraught with so much drama that it is worthy and right to share it. Every book I read I take something away from it, some skill the author has, some way with words or imagery that speaks to my heart. I hope I share what I’ve learned in my writing, imperfect still, but always striving toward a more perfect communication.

Thanks, Bonnie, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions! I wish you much success with Going Down South and in the future!


Serena said...

What a great interview! Bonnie sounds like a great person, and I loved her inspiring words for struggling novice writers.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie and Anna, what a marvelous interview. I must read this book!

I loved reading about Bonnie's perception of her characters, as well as her advice for aspiring writers.

Anonymous said...

Nice interview! I like quite a bit of Southern literature.

Marie Cloutier said...

great interview! :-) Definitely makes the book sound fascinating :-)

Anna said...

Thanks everyone for your kind comments! I, too, especially enjoyed reading Bonnie's advice for writers!

Anonymous said...

Great interview!

I started *Going Down South* this morning and have barely put it down ... the laundry I put in the washing machine at 7 is still in there ... time to put down the book and get dinner going (and, yes, I'll put the laundry in the dryer!)

Anonymous said...

You know, I appreciated Anna's questions so much. They made me think. I hope the folks that decide to give GOING DOWN SOUTH a try will email me at
Thanks so much.

Ramya said...

hey anna! that was an awesome interview.. i feel like reading this book now!!:)

Anna said...

Bonnie: Thanks so much for agreeing to the interview. I enjoyed our emails!

Dawn: Glad to see you're reading the book. I can't wait to hear what you think about it!

Ramya: I think you'll like the book. If you read it, let me know what you think!

Anonymous said...

I'm currently reading Going Down South, which Bonnie sent me to review. I very much enjoyed your interview with her, and I'm really enjoying the book.

Anna said...

Shootingstarr: I hope you like the book just as much as I did!! I look forward to hearing what you think! When you finish your review, please let me know the link, and I'll add it to mine!

Wendi said...

Another great interview! I've now added another book to my wish list.

:) Wendi

Your interview has been added to

About the Author - An Author Interview Index

Anna said...

Wendi: Thanks! Sorry to add more to your TBR pile, but I enjoy being an enabler! LOL