Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and raised in Natchez. I received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in political science from Mississippi State University, where I also taught American and local government. After graduation, I worked for two years as a copywriter with the Godwin Advertising Agency in Jackson before getting married and going to law school at Ole Miss.
In addition to practicing law, I am also a former mayor of Natchez and candidate for the U.S. Congress. Currently, I serve as the COO for the city of Columbus. I have two grown sons and live in one of the oldest and most haunted antebellum homes in Columbus with a ornery old cat named Butch.
When and why did you begin writing?
I wrote my first short story, House on the Hill, when I was in the fifth grade. I don’t remember a lot of the story’s details, but I do recall it had a strong spiritual element to it. Not that it was a religious short story, because it certainly wasn’t, but it centered on a young boy’s visits to a wise old lady who lived in an old house on top of what he perceived as a hill. The old lady shared her years of spiritual insights with the boy, which greatly affected his life for the better. I wrote a lot of poetry and other short stories in junior high school and in high school, as well. Also, I had an aunt from Tupelo who was a mystery writer, Genevieve Pou (pen name, Genevieve Holden), and she greatly inspired and encouraged me to continue writing.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
That’s an intriguing question. I write and have written a fair amount of creative material—three novels and four screenplays—but I rarely think of myself as a “writer.” It’s just something I do. (I also have a law degree but rarely think of myself as a “lawyer.” Go figure.) Thinking of myself as this or as that is a bit too presumptuous for me. It also means, I think, taking for granted your ability to create something on your own without the aid of your muse(s), and this is a dangerous trap for anyone to fall into—writer, lawyer, or whatever.
I’d much rather be about the business and the work of writing rather than reflecting on only one aspect of who and what I am. I’ve never labeled or introduced myself as a “writer,” and I probably never will. Put the ego trip behind you and just write. Let others refer to you as a writer, if they so choose, not yourself.
When you think about your writing life, what accomplishment, great or small, are you most proud of, and why?
I’d rather say most grateful for rather than most proud of, and it’s the simple fact that I’ve been blessed with the dedication to stick with it, over the years. I wrote my first novel, A History of Me, in June of 1981 and have been writing, off and on, ever since. The number of rejection letters and emails I’ve received these past thirty-nine years is staggering, to say the least—to the point where you have to wonder what is driving all of this?
I mean, why would anyone go to this much effort, knowing full-well that the odds are definitely not on your side? For me, though, it’s more about the process rather than about the result. When I write a story, whether it’s ever published or not, I get so “into the flow” that I’m dead to the world. I can sit at my laptop and write for seven or eight hours and have no sense of the elapsed time. Having a creative/artistic outlet like writing, music, art, dance, etc., in my opinion, is a true gift from God. It’s also a great escape, especially in this day and time.
What inspires you to write? What made you finally sit down and decide to write longer formats?
I tell people that a story is like a bad piece of meat—you have to get it out of your system, one way or the other. Over the years, I’ve found that once an idea, a story, a character, or often a title comes to me, I have to get it out by sitting down and writing it. I may mull it over inside my head for weeks or months, but, for me, it rarely goes away.
Do you have a specific writing style or genre? How did you target that area?
I honestly don’t know if I have a specific writing style, but I do prefer to write in first person since this format seems to suit me best. My first novel, which I mentioned above, would probably be considered “stream of consciousness.” I didn’t intend it to be so—that’s just how it evolved, so I went with the natural flow. The Rising Place is an epistolary novel, written as a series of letters from Emily Hodge to her unrequited lover. Again, I didn’t initially intend this; that’s just the way Miss Emily told me to write it. My third novel, The Third Gift, which will be released this summer, is a coming of age story. In it, I write in both first person and third person, which was rather challenging, at least for me.
I never do a story outline, chapter outlines, character sketches, or take notes before I start writing. It just all seems to fall into place, after I start. I’m also trying to sell one of my screenplays, Playtime, and it’s a sci-fi thriller. So, I’ve never really targeted a specific style or genre, I guess you could say.
Are your writings based on someone you know or events in your own life?
Not on a conscious level, but on a subconscious level I’m sure they are. Subconsciously, I believe, everyone and everything is connected, and God is the source of it all. I’m not trying to preach, I just happen to agree with what Carl Jung, the eminent Swiss psychiatrist, wrote about the “collective unconscious.” Jung proposed that we are all connected beneath the conscious level, and from this we can receive great inspiration, whether we’re consciously aware of it or not. I also think we get inspiration from our muse(s), whomever or whatever they may be. The great writer, Joseph Campbell, echoed Jung’s thinking and wrote extensively about this concept in all of his books, particularly in The Hero’s Journey, which I believe is a “must read” for every aspiring and experienced writer.
What are your current projects?
The Rising Place is available now on Amazon and other venues, as is the DVD of the film that was based on the novel. (I sold the film rights to The Rising Place before I ever sold the book rights, and that’s a story, in and of itself.) As I noted above, my third novel, The Third Gift, will be released sometime this summer, and I’m currently trying to sell one of my screenplays, Playtime. It seems like everyone on Earth and on Mars is trying to sell a screenplay since the competition is so fierce in the film world—and way more brutal than the literary market, if you can believe that. I’m also mulling around an idea for a new, fourth novel since I trashed the one I started writing this past October. It just wasn’t working for me or my muse(s). Oh, well….
What has been your route to publishing and marketing? Comment on the process and your feelings regarding it. How did you get an agent?
Well, it’s been an arduous journey, to put it mildly, and I’m certain most, if not all, published authors would agree with that. I wouldn’t believe a writer if he/she said it wasn’t. I found a New York literary agent, fairly quickly for A History of Me, but we never could find a publisher, so I put this novel aside and later wrote The Rising Place. After I sold the film rights to the book, I found another New York agent who was excited about its publishing prospects. Unfortunately, my agent’s office was very near the World Trade Center, and she was so traumatized by the 9/11 tragedy that she retired and moved away.
Obviously, I was disappointed, but who could blame her after what she must have witnessed and experienced? A year or two later, I found a publisher for The Rising Place, but the advance they offered me was too small, or so I thought at the time, for what I thought the novel was worth. So, I turned them down, put The Rising Place aside, and started writing my third novel, The Third Gift. (Actually, I first wrote The Third Gift as a screenplay and later adapted it into a novel, which I reckon is just plain backwards.)
But everything, I feel, is in God’s perfect timing, and if I hadn’t turned down my first offer to publish The Rising Place I never would have been led to my great publisher now, The Wild Rose Press. They also are publishing The Third Gift.
And I want to compliment my wonderful publicist, Maryglenn McCombs, a true pro if I’ve ever known one. Don’t be fooled into thinking that once your novel is published, all the world will see and buy it. With over 2000 new books being put out worldwide every day, you just can’t expect your novel to garner any attention at all without the help of a good, experienced publicist. The good ones, like Maryglenn, are certainly worth the investment. I can’t emphasize this enough.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Everything about writing is challenging. No worthwhile endeavor is ever easy, and writing is definitely worthwhile. For me, though, I guess the most challenging aspect is just getting started. Once I start, I rarely get writer’s block, but as I mentioned above, I’ll mull an idea, story, protagonist/antagonist around in my mind for several weeks or months before I get it all straight.
But when I’m finally ready, and I feel like the turkey has been cooked long enough, I start. Then, the story seems to naturally flow, and all the characters appear and exit when and where they’re supposed to. I once sat on a screenplay idea for almost a year before I finally started on it, but once I did, I wrote the first draft in one week. Actually, I wrote the last thirty pages of it on a legal pad while sitting at a loud and crowded bar in Jackson. Again, I’m so in the flow when I write that I was, somehow, able to tune out all of the distraction, except for the bar tab.
Who are some of your favorite authors? What really strikes you about their work?
Five of my favorite authors and their books, in no particular order, are: The Reivers, by William Faulkner; A Separate Peace, by John Knowles; A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole; Ordinary People, by Judith Guest (also one of my favorite films), and; The Help, by Kathryn Stockett (which incorporates some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read). It’s hard for me to say why each of these five books are so special to me, but I love them all. They’re each different but all alike, in that they touched my heart and soul and inspired me to keep on writing.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Yes, never ever give up. If you have the ability, discipline, and dedication to write, keep at it. Write every day, even if it’s only a few paragraphs. A few paragraphs will turn into a few pages, a few pages will turn into a few chapters, and a few chapters will eventually evolve into a finished manuscript. One final thing, when you write, try to speak to the reader’s heart, not their head, and try to make the reader laugh and/or cry. Then you’ve really accomplished something.
If you found a box of letters written during World War II-would you read them? And what if you did and discovered an amazing story about unrequited love, betrayal, and murder in a small southern town? A young lawyer meets Emily Hodge, a 75-year-old spinster shunned by her hometown society, and can’t understand why she lives such a solitary and seemingly forgotten life. But the letters she leaves for him reveal how her choices caused her to be ostracized-but definitely not forgotten by those who loved her.