Amy Franklin-Willis, author of THE LOST SAINTS OF TENNESSEE, is in my writer “support group” Book Pregnant. Her novel was first released in February of 2012 and is now out in paperback from Grove/Atlantic. Amy was kind enough to answer my author questions, and her responses are engaging and heartfelt. I can’t wait to read THE LOST SAINTS OF TENNESSEE.
1. What inspired you to write your novel?
I’m an eighth generation Southerner and I think pieces of this story were probably transmitted at birth through my DNA. Some of my favorite stories as a child were the ones my father would tell about his growing up in tiny Pocahontas, Tennessee. He had an endless repertoire but my favorites were, in preferred order: the chimney & the radio antenna story, the assault with a deadly tomato story, and the Mrs. Leland’s Golden Butter Bits Comes to Town story. Modified versions of each of these show up in Lost Saints. From my child’s perspective, my father had a Huck Finn-like existence–traipsing through creeks, running wild through the woods, chasing down trains. This was very different from my own childhood in the 1970s and 1980s in a mid-size city in Oklahoma, where my mother and I moved when my parents separated.
Growing up, I spent every Christmas and a part of each summer back in Tennessee with my paternal grandmother in Pocahontas. There was no place in the world that felt more like home. She taught me how to make biscuits from scratch, how to maintain calm when twenty relatives have descended for Christmas dinner and the fridge breaks, and how to love people wholly and without judgment. She died when I was twenty-one and not long after that, her home was sold. No one in the immediate family lived in Pocahontas and the place felt like it was lost to me. In many ways, the book is a love letter to my grandmother—who inspired the character of Cousin Georgia—and to Pocahontas.
2. What is your favorite part of the writing process?
This is a great question. First drafts used to be my favorite. They are like falling in love for the first time—everything is new, you can’t wait to spend more time with the piece as it evolves, and you can’t see its flaws yet because you’re just trying so hard to get the story down. But now that I’ve completed three novels, I have to say I like the revision process almost as much as the first draft process. Revision is refine, refine, refine. Make it beautiful. Make it sing. Make it unputdownable. I spent eight years revising The Lost Saints of Tennessee and though I wished, many times, to be done with it, I kept discovering new things about my characters and the layers of the story.
3. If you could go back in time, what would you have told your unagented/unpublished writing self?
I would tell my twenty-something self that getting published will take longer than I ever thought it would. I spent ten years working on The Lost Saints of Tennessee. I would also tell that younger self that she should spend the first three years of learning to write a novel doing just that—writing the book, revising it, making it perfect, NOT trying to get it published.
4. What is your favorite novel of all time?
This is a completely unfair question since I could never pick one. As a child–Wizard of Oz series, Mary Poppins series, Wrinkle in Time, Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler; everything by Louisa May Alcott. As an adult—Pride & Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Wuthering Heights, Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers), Bastard Out of Carolina, Fried Green Tomatoes, Orlando, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Astrid and Veronika, The Horse Whisperer, Prodigal Summer, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
I have three daughters—ages 14, 9, and 5 so I read a lot of wonderful children’s fiction and young adult fiction. On a typical evening, I might read a Madeleine book with my youngest, a chapter from Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of the NIMH with my fourth grader, and trade books in the Birthmarked series by Caragh O’Brien with my oldest .
5. What do you most want readers to take away from your novel?
Reading is, perhaps, the most individual of leisure activities. Each of us brings every experience we’ve ever had, every person we’ve ever known, to our understanding of each book we read. What I want most for my readers is what I wish for in my own reading—to have the “real” world fall away for the space of a few hours while discovering a new world peopled with characters both familiar and distinctly different from any I’ve met and propelled by a story that convinces me I must see it to the end. One of my favorite stories from a Lost Saints reader was from a woman in Connecticut who downloaded the e-book at the beginning of a freak snow storm and then spent the entire weekend of a power outage reading the book on her i-Phone, carefully timing her reading with battery re-charges on a generator. I was thrilled she felt the Cooper clan was worth all that trouble.
It certainly sounds like THE LOST SAINTS OF TENNESSEE is worth the trouble. For more on Amy and her novel, visit her website at http://www.amyfranklin-willis.com/.