Q&A: Thank God for Mississippi

Hi Readers! I am excited to share the official Q&A for Thank God for Mississippi with you! I always open these to readers and anyone with an interest. We have some great questions, and I categorized them by topic. Starting off, there are questions about the writer (moi!), followed by questions about TGFM itself, which lead into questions about small town and Southern life, Southern literature in general—and then we bring it back to the book. The questions were very wide-ranging this time, but I think they’re all pertinent and related. Enjoy!

Q: What is your favorite part of writing?

A: I think…the storytelling. I love the process of sparking an idea, then considering how to tell it in a way that is effective, then the feeling of getting it right (if I do), and then sharing that and having readers connect with it… I love it!

Q: What is your least favorite part of writing?

A: The nuts and bolts stuff. The actual writing at the keyboard is not necessarily the most fun part, but it’s fine as long as the story is going well. But if something isn’t working, it can be very frustrating. I have always wished I could mentally beam the story out of my head onto the paper, because sometimes you can hit it right easily, but sometimes it takes a lot of work and stress to get it right, and occasionally you never can fully replicate what you had in mind. I also very much dislike editing, but I do a lot of it before it ever goes out to first readers and then a lot after they give feedback. Totally necessary, but not necessarily the fun part!

Q: Do you have any tips for new writers?

A: Maybe not tips, because I truly think every writer’s process is different. But I can tell you my process! I usually formulate the ideas almost totally in my head. I have a sort of “Go” button in my mind when I know the story is complete enough to actually put pen to paper, so to speak. If I outline, I only do so minimally, with a handful of words to serve as my guide for plot points so I don’t forget any of the ideas. There are usually about 10-12 scenes that I have in mind that serve as a sort of mental outline. In between them is not just blank; there is a muddier sort of impression/feeling of what’s supposed to be happening that I need to recreate. When I sit down to write, I usually do best if I can have days and hours for huge writing binges. The creative juices and stories flow most naturally for me that way.

Q: Do you send reviewers copies of books in exchange for reviews or participate in any books-for-free programs like NetGalley?

A: No (thanks for asking!). I’m committed to earning organic reviews from spontaneous readers because I think that leads to the most honest reviews.

Q: What is your favorite genre?

A: Probably Regency. I had always loved Jane Austen (the movies most of all), and then Julie Klassen came onto the stage, and I devoured her books at the end of high school and beginning of college. I discovered Georgette Heyer my freshman year of college. I remember so many happy evenings spent consuming her prolific collection, generally while also consuming Zaxby’s. 😂

Q: Is there a playlist for TGFM?

A: Yes! The book is set in Middle Tennessee, so music is a huge inspiration for the book. I am going to release the playlist on the blog in just a few days.

Q: Tell me about the title!

A: Well, first the book is set in Tennessee, not Mississippi. My main character’s name is Mississippi, and there is also an inside joke that some in the South will already recognize, and you can find out what it is by reading the book!

Q: Why Tennessee?

A: I originally began to set TGFM in Alabama to give myself mental space for creativity, since I live in Tennessee. But then the storyline just got very realistic, and I realized that, similar as the cultures of the two states are, there could be some differences. If I was going to get so involved, I might as well know I was going to get it spot on. Also, I happened to think: why shouldn’t Tennessee get some airtime? 😂 Alabama seems to show up a lot more in movies. So I thought: let’s just get really close to home here and speak from true experience.

Q: What genre(s) would you put TGFM in?

A: Probably most prominently contemporary romance. Thank God for Mississippi is a little hard to categorize because the romance element is subtle, and there are also hints of women’s fiction, mystery, humor, and Southern commentary. I wasn’t sure how TGFM would come down on categorization, but the element most first readers have wanted to discuss was the romantic, so I think that is telling as to categorization. Readers of clean romance will find it comfortably within that wheelhouse. I discuss suitability for young readers, along with faith elements in my books in an earlier Q&A here.

Q: Are your main characters typical of your writing?

A: I actually think you’ll find them quite different from my other books. They really take on a persona all their own. Mississippi is a unique character—very gritty and determined, unafraid to speak her mind but also struggling with the same insecurities we all have. The male lead, too, is a character all his own—kind, sophisticated, and full of joy and humor. 

Q: What is Mississippi’s job in the book?

A: Mississippi was employed both in a professional and personal capacity by Hammondsville’s district attorney, who needed help because he was elderly and blind. She helped out at work with documents, drove him, and lived in a cottage on his property. He passes away, and then she holds over for a little while until the new DA (who happens to be his grandson) can get his feet under him. That’s where the story takes place.

Q: What is the best thing about the book?

A: Mississippi is serving as Joseph’s guide in many ways. So you get a lot of training and commentary on the South, and of course, there are a lot of hijinks along the way. The chemistry between the two main characters works, and so it’s just a really fun ride.

Q: How would you categorize the romance in the book?

A: As you might expect from a Georgette Heyer groupie…subtle, but compelling. 😊

Q: Is Hammondsville a real town or based on a real small town?

Q: Hammondsville is fictional and is not meant to replicate any one town exactly. It’s meant to be a sort of an amalgamation of small Southern towns that would be easily recognizable to people from towns of similar populations. I happen to be from a small Southern town of about Hammondsville’s size, so I did draw on my experiences there and what I know of several other small towns.

Q: What is the best feedback you have gotten from first readers?

A: The comment that has excited me the most is that Mississippi is a strong role model for girls. I hadn’t even thought about that, because she’s so atypical of a heroine. But when I considered it, I thought: yeah, we definitely need more Mississippis in the world!

Q: Do you take on the tougher aspects of living in the South in TGFM?

A: Yes, I think so. I just came at it from a really realistic point of view. My goal is never to paper over anything. I also don’t want to overlook positive aspects. So you get the good with the bad, the funny with the sad, and there’s no shortage of any of it.

Q: You said you strove to strip the book of anything inauthentic. What was the creative process like to write about a small Southern town without any of the cutesy fluff?

A: It was interesting. I have actually never read a book like TGFM that is really authentic to the Southern experience I have lived. They may be out there and I just haven’t come across them. But it felt like there was no rubric. It was different to create a portrait of a small Southern town that would be instantly recognizable to people actually from those towns, without any of the bells and whistles or immediately perceivable charm. So I had to get creative, and somewhere along the way, I realized in this instance creativity just meant digging deep and being real. There will be something comforting to readers about the raw honesty of the whole thing, I think. It just feels like it’s your life, and if they can be the hero or heroine of their own story, you can, too.

Q: What is one small town Southern theme TGFM covers?

A: One is the decision of whether to stay near family and community, or to leave for opportunity and living a more fast-paced life. Everything you have been taught about being prosperous urges you to “get out,” while the ties of home draw you to stay. I think most every young person from a small town has to grapple with that decision at some point in their lives, and make that decision for themselves.

Q: What is the best thing about living in a small town?

A: The community. You are never alone. You don’t have to walk through anything—illness, deprivation, loss—alone. They will be there, and they will bring a casserole. 

Q: What is the worst thing about living in a small town?

A: The community. You are never alone. 😂 There is usually someone “up in your business,” as we say. Privacy is not a given. Gossip is. 

Q: Are you a big fan of the Southern literary greats?

A: Of course, in many ways. But I am very middle-brow. I’ve talked about this before in another Q&A, I think. I recognize the contributions of the greats, I know their worth and powerful impact, and I’m sure in some ways I’m influenced by them—but I don’t particularly enjoy reading them. I find almost anything termed “literature” boring. Of course, I acknowledge that the sole purpose of literature is not to be page-turning. But as a novelist who loves the readable quality that sparks and holds your interest, neither high-brow perfection nor low-brow fluff is going to get me there. So I tend to like my reading a little elevated, but completely grounded to reality. I like real-life stuff, and I do think that is a benefit of Southern writing in general—being hugely grounded. Southern writers are real and raw, almost shockingly so at times, and they have a way of cutting to the chase.

Q: Who are some Southern authors I should read?

A: I may not be the person to ask after the last answer, haha! Some authors I have read are Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Mark Twain, Toni Morrison (not from the South, but somewhat in the Southern tradition), Margaret Mitchell, Bobbie Ann Mason… There are so many more, of course. If you are a fan of Christian fiction, I’ve really enjoyed Deeanne Gist and some by Tamera Alexander. I know many love Fannie Flagg (I just haven’t gotten to read her yet).

Q: Which Southern stories really stand out to you?

A: The quirky ones (which is most of them!). I’m still scratching my head over A Rose for Emily (Faulkner) and Good Country People (O’Connor). Shiloh (Mason) stays with me. And I think it’s impossible for any Civil War writer to escape the influence of Gone With the Wind (Mitchell), whatever your feelings about its modern resonance or lack thereof.

Q: You talked about how movies often get the South wrong in another Q&A. Are there any Southern movies that get it right?

A: I definitely haven’t watched every Southern film out there, but I can think of a few. Sweet Home Alabama is pretty spot-on. I haven’t watched them recently, but I remember Walk the Line and O Brother, Where Art Thou? really going over well in the South. The accents are pretty horrendous, but there’s a lot that Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil gets right, too. For kids, The Princess and the Frog is great (although I have it on excellent authority that there are scary bits!).

Q: What do you think about stories set in the South, written by non-Southern writers?

A: Sure! I’m very open to that! It will be a greater challenge, probably, to get it right. Part of my Torn Asunder Series was set in New England, and I felt like I had to do my homework doubly. I was a bit nervous I would get something hugely wrong. Of course, if you do get something wrong, it’s not the end of the world, but it can be hard for perfectionists. But as long as you’re willing to take that on, absolutely I think there is room at the table. A number of people have done this quite successfully. 

Q: What are you excited to share about Thank God for Mississippi?

A: The humor. I think we so need that right now.

Q: Anything else we should know about the book?!

A: I will say that we have talked a lot about this being a small town book. But I think a lot about an interview with Ronnie Dunn on CMT or something that I saw a long time ago. I may not get it perfectly right, but the gist of it was: He was talking about his song “Red Dirt Road,” and he said he had a guy come up to him and say, “Man, that’s just like how it was where I grew up.” Dunn said, “Where did you grow up?” And the man answered, “Brooklyn.” So, while I do believe the book will resonate with people who are from small towns, it’s really a book about home, and that is for everybody.

Q&A: Charleston Tides

Hello again, friends!  The third book of the Torn Asunder Series will be available soon! To celebrate, here is a Q&A about Charleston Tides.  Some questions are about the book, some are about writing in general, and some are about me! (Just a word of caution, if you haven’t yet read Southern Rain and Northern Fire, there might be a few spoilers for those two books. However, there shouldn’t be any spoilers for Charleston Tides, and I encourage you to read the Q&A before you read the third and final book of the series.) Here we go!

Q: Which was your favorite storyline: modern or historical?

A:  I think more about the historical, but if I had to choose, it would be the modern.  I love the coastal feeling of it, and there can be something sort of magical about a contemporary tale.  The chemistry between Adrian and Adeline was always compelling for me.

Q: Do you think the modern and historical storylines overlap?

A:  I do!  There is something almost indefinable that binds the two stories together.  I have had several people tell me that they feel a close link between Shannon and Adeline.  There are several ways their stories intertwine: relationships that began quickly, the complications of parenthood or its void, fear of the uncertainties of love… There are several more, but for me, the strongest thing was that there was always something similar in the mood and tone of the two stories.  And of course, there is the house, which is the same setting for both stories for a large portion of the series; Ravenel-Thompson House is almost a character in itself!

Q: Do you have a favorite moment in the series thus far?

A:  I really liked the brief vacation to Sullivan’s Island that Adeline, Adrian, and Jude take in Northern Fire.  I also enjoy the moment that Shannon finds out it is John Thomas on the ship in Northern Fire!

Q: Are any of your characters based on people in real life?

A:  Nope!  I’ve always heard all of the fun stories about Jane Austen including her quirky neighbors and friends in her books, and I think: she could never get away with this in the South!  Part of the joy of writing to me is the creation level of it.  I don’t think it would be very fun to pattern characters after people I know because it would turn into mimicry, which takes the creative process out of it.[1]

Q: What kind of music would your main characters listen to?

A:  I think Adrian listens to Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé in the series.  Adeline strikes me as a Colbie Callait/Jason Mraz girl, maybe with a little Fleetwood Mac thrown in?  For John Thomas and Shannon… I don’t know: Schubert? Chopin? Tchaikovsky? 😉

Q: What was the most difficult to write about Shannon?

A:  She has a bit of a crazy side. We all do, though, so that’s okay! Her character very much begged me to let her spiral, and I had to do several rewrites just to calm her down. She also has this deceptive air of retiring fragility, coupled with a very powerful mind, and you’re like: Who are you? I finally realized that she was just that: a very feminine, very intelligent woman, who had been taught (and rather liked) to appear weak, while also being strong-willed. That made her very elusive as a character. A lot of readers actually don’t like Shannon, and some sort of state it as a criticism. The thing is, you aren’t necessarily supposed to like Shannon at first. She’s very self-centered and very flawed. The series is partially her journey of setting aside the things of the past, of childhood, and emerging into adulthood and peace. But that doesn’t mean you’ll always like her. And that’s hard for me, too. I like characters who always make responsible decisions!

Q: We left Shannon on the ship, asking John Thomas to take her back.  Should we expect to see him do so with open arms?

A: I struggled with determining how he would react to her leaving.  My sister (plot doctor extraordinaire) said, “The one thing I do not want you to do is have him beg her to come back.” I agreed.  It was a tricky situation all around.  I don’t want to give too much away, but basically, there is nothing simple about their reunion!

Q: What would you say this series is “about?”

A:  Probably most prominently, women—their trials, internal and external, and how they overcome them. 

Specifically, too, women in the Civil War.  There is a tendency in war novels and history to make it appear as if little of the burden fell upon women, as if they had minimal roles in the play at all.  No one can deny the huge burden that did fall upon men—something to the tune of 750,000 deaths… But at least 50,000 civilians died violent deaths during the war, many of them women.  And that’s setting aside deaths that women had always faced from childbearing, etc.  They were actively engaged, actively facing the consequences of political decisions, and living in a country at war. Women faced hardship from every possible front during the war.

Shannon loses three people dear to her.  I specifically wanted them all to be women.  Two died from illnesses related to womanhood and one, Phoebe, from violence.  I wanted to portray that this was a woman’s war, too, and also that women of this time had been at war, so to speak, before the battles ever began.

Q: I have noticed that your blog is non-political, but there is a lot of discussion of political parties in the historical part of the series, particularly Charleston Tides.  Should we expect any correlation to modern parties?

A:  The short answer is no. 

The long answer: it would be really tough to write about the Civil War without exploring the political parties of that day. If you watch the year of 1860, the split was very much a political one, and if you read primary sources, people considered loyalties during the war to be wrapped up in party loyalties.  In the memoirs of John O. Casler, who lived in divided Northern Virginia, he relates that he didn’t know if he could trust a neighbor when he was home on leave. His terminology was: “I didn’t know what his politics were,” meaning that he didn’t know which country or government his neighbor supported during the war.

Do I think there is any correlation to the political parties of today?  Not really.  For the first time during the Civil War we did have our two-party system finally boil down essentially to “Democrats” and “Republicans.”  I have heard some historians say that the Democratic party started with Jefferson, continued with Jackson, the Democrats of the Civil War era, and right up to today, and that the Republican party started with Lincoln and continued until today.  On the other hand, I have heard historians say that the Democratic and Republican parties switched platforms in the early twentieth century. 

I don’t totally buy into either theory.  Trying to match parties and people up across roughly 250 years just doesn’t work.  We tried it in one of my political science classes.  The conventional wisdom through scholarship which traces party history was that Republicans of today should align with Alexander Hamilton and Democrats of today should align with Thomas Jefferson.  Yet, when we read their ideologies aloud, the reaction was overwhelmingly just the opposite. 

Political platforms are, to a large extent, based on current issues and events.  I think that people make parties what they need them to be in their own time, based on the world as they find it in their era. You can trace certain roots of party heirship and ideology to the past but not in any way that deeply affects platforms of today, or that is particularly traceable in a two-dimensional, two-party way.

So when I’m talking about “Democrats” or “Republicans,” in the series, I am talking about the parties just as they were in the 1860s, nothing more. I do not find anachronistic historical fiction that projects modern politics over historical events to be particularly compelling.

Q: Was there anything that really surprised you over the course of your research about the Civil War?

A:  I originally shied away from the Civil War because it was such a terrible conflict.  The more I know about it, the more terrible I find it to be!  The sheer number of deaths, the battles, the diseases, the violence, the hardships, the starvation, the fear…  I think much of this is true for most people involved, North and South, enslaved and free.  It’s hard for us to imagine that a war of this magnitude happened during the Victorian Era.  I keep thinking there will be a way to make sense of it all, but it just gets more horrific the more I read about it. 

On a more optimistic note… There is some really fascinating history about the newly freed men and women of Charleston in the year after the Civil War.  My sister, who is in grad school for Public History at the College of Charleston, helped me with this research.  1865-1866 was a huge moment of empowerment for formerly enslaved communities in Charleston.  This was something I was not expecting.  If I had been writing without the research, I would have portrayed it very differently.  I think you’re going to enjoy reading about this history in Charleston Tides!

Q: Has there been any reader feedback which surprised you?

A:   One thing that has been kind of funny is a generation split about Adeline’s situation.  My younger readers think she’s totally on the right track: she needs to be cautious, take her time, not trust too easily…  But my older readers get so frustrated with her: Why can’t she see Adrian’s a good boy?  Why can’t she just make the leap already?  I love these sorts of conversations!  They’re things you would never think about as you’re writing.

Q: Does being lawyer impact you as a writer, or vice-versa?

A:  Well, just from a thousand-foot level, being a lawyer takes up most of my time.  My clients come first, so writing has to happen once everything is finished at work.

But as far as the two jobs sort of feeding each other…  At first, being a writer made legal writing a little tough.  In creative writing, you get to be flowy and wordy, whereas in legal writing you have to be concise and to-the-point with short sentences and paragraphs.  But when you think about line edits and trying to convey clarity to your readers, my legal training is something that is helpful to fall back on.

My writing is also the thing I do that keeps my life balanced.  The legal profession is notoriously stressful from day one in law school until retirement.  But with writing, I have this sort of creative or imaginative outlet that gives me a release and keeps everything in perspective.

Q:  Is there anyone who has been especially helpful to you in the course of publishing the Torn Asunder Series?

A:  My hometown and my friends and family have been a huge encouragement.  I don’t know if it’s just because they’re incredibly kind people or if the themes really resonated because we’re from the same place, but they have been so loving and have said all of the things that any writer really needs to hear.  So, to the people closest to me… Thank you, from the bottom of my heart!

Q: Where do you plan to take us next—a new series, a stand-alone, modern, historical?

A:   I am definitely taking you somewhere—that’s about all I can tell you!  I have several completed manuscripts, and it’s a matter of choosing which one to run with next.  I am going to take a few months just to regroup, start the editing process, and make sure that I get you the best finished product I can!  I will post updates periodically on my blog, so stay tuned!

And thank you, Dear Readers, for taking this journey with these characters!  It has been a fun ride, and I can’t wait for the next one!


[1] I do bend my rule just slightly and sometimes draw inspiration from real life for characters who are children because children are really easy to get wrong in writing.