Question: Why did you write a novel about older people? Did any publisher warn you that older people were not an attractive subject for mainstream readers?
Answer: Yes. I was warned that the age of the main characters was not a strong demographic for sales. But I had an irresistible reason for wanting to tell the story of retired school teacher Mildred Budge and her friends. I had written about aging too fast when I told the story of my father dying of Alzheimer’s in "The Long Good Night", and when I moved back to Montgomery and started attending Trinity Presbyterian Church I was astounded to see so many vibrant, beautiful people aging so well—with such good humor, wisdom, and clarity of thought. I wanted to tell stories that caught hold of that energy—that hope.
Question: Who do you envision will be the readers?
Answer: One answer is anyone who is growing older and wants to understand a different way of doing that.
Question: How would you describe Mildred Budge, your main character, to people who have a stereotypic view of a church lady, for she is a church lady as well as a retired public school teacher.
Answer: Yes, she is a Southern church lady, and there are many stereotypic views out there that usually mock older Southern women (She’s sixty-one, which isn’t that old, really). We can be quirky, and like most human beings, there is plenty to mock, if you are inclined to mock others in an ungenerous way. We do often carry large handbags loaded with supplies. Mildred Budge does. Some of us still roll our hair. Mildred Budge does. Some of us still depend on the kindness of strangers when strangers are famous for not being very kind. Mildred Budge does because Mildred Budge tries to be kind to strangers—even the ones who mock her.
Question: There is another woman in the book described as a serial widow. Why doesn’t Liz Luckie get along with the other women in the book?
Answer: Liz is a man magnet, and that sexual tension that Liz Luckie creates disturbs other women who feel like they can’t compete or don’t want to compete—or are nervous that Liz will go after their men.
Question: Doesn’t she do that?
Answer: Liz can’t help it. She likes men. They like her. There’s a line in the book when Liz tries to explain what happens. “I walk by and men just follow me.” Other women see that and are actually jealous and resentful, but I think they don’t know they are jealous. They repress knowing that about themselves by criticizing the woman who is appealing to men. That’s why Liz doesn’t get along with other women. But is she any less a Southern church lady just because men like her? Lots of men? I don’t think so. I think she is a different kind of church lady who should not be mocked. But you shouldn’t leave her alone with your man.
Question: So, what’s next?
Answer: The sequel is finished, and I am waiting to hear from my publisher about that. In the meantime, I am going to go bake my signature Butter Pecan cake for the church women’s lunch this Sunday. It’s what we do.