Book Blog Tour: Kerry Madden

>> Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'm happy today to present a brief interview with Kerry Madden, the author of the brand new book Louisiana's Song. Louisiana's Song is the sequel to Gentle's Holler, which got starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and was a finalist for the PEN USA Children's Literature Award in 2006.

I first met Kerry almost exactly a year ago in my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. We were both in town to sign and sell books at the Knoxville Festival of Reading on the former site of the 1982 World's Fair. She was gracious enough to join me and Wendi for a late lunch at The Sunspot, where we learned her connection to Knoxville: Kerry first came to our fair city as a teenager when her father was hired as a coach at the University of Tennessee under then Head Coach Johnny Majors, whose tumultuous tenure with the Vols I remember dominating the conversation at every Gratz family gathering for more than two decades. Kerry later attended the University of Tennessee, as did I, and like me still finds herself drawn in to the gravitational pull of East Tennessee even though she now lives in L.A. Given her connections to Tennessee football, I had to throw in a question about her first book, Offsides, even though she's moved on to even greater success with her "Maggie Valley Trilogy" . . .

GI: Give us the thirty-second blurb about your new book, Louisiana's Song, and its place in your Maggie Valley trilogy.

KM: Thirty seconds, Alan? I'm too long-winded with gaps, breaks, and unfinished sentences. . . but here goes: Louisiana's Song is a story of art, auditory hallucinations, music, and family. When Daddy comes home from the Rip Van Winkle Rest Home dramatically different than the daddy the children knew, the kids band together to bring him back to them through murals, flashcards, fairy hunts, and songs. Louisiana "Louise" is the hero despite her terrible shyness - and the story is set against the backdrop of Ghost Town in the Sky, Maggie Valley, and the turbulent history of 1963. (I bet that's longer than 30 seconds.)

GI: That's all right. We forgive you. But points will be deducted from your overall score. Now, did you know when you were writing Gentle's Holler that you wanted this to be a three-part story, or did that come later at the request of the publisher?

KM: No, I didn't know it would be a trilogy. I thought I would write a book from each kid's point of view, but Livy Two is the family storyteller and I'm so glad she is the voice of the first three books. (Thank you, wise editors!) Of course, I still have more Weems' stories to tell, but these three books felt right as a Smoky Mountain Trilogy of Maggie Valley stories.

GI: What is the larger story being told by this trilogy?

KM: I think the larger story is family and imagination and longing - I wanted a big messy family who loved art and music and yet had regular squabbles and longed for adventures.

GI: How do you balance telling a larger, three-part story with the need to make each book work as a stand-alone volume?

KM: Well, I picked three characters I wanted to focus on in each of the books. In Gentle's Holler, the character of Gentle is a huge part of the plot - her eyes - blindness - and the introduction of Uncle Hazard, the dog, who becomes her loyal friend and guide. In Louisiana's Song, I wanted to explore the life of a very tall girl and shy artist who finds her courage and her father, who is lost in his own recovery from the accident. And in Jesse's Mountain, we go back to the 1940s through Mama's diary, her love of birds, and we see the girl she was and how she came to have ten children. So even though Livy Two is our narrator and eavesdropper and plotter, I focused each book on one particular character in the Weems' family. Now I have to decide whether to write more Livy Two stories or write from the point of view of say, Gentle or Caroline or Cyrus or even Jitters - Jitters, though, does get her chance to shine in Jesse's Mountain.

GI: Okay, I can't resist, because I know your connection to UT football. Your first novel, Offsides, was well-reviewed when it came out more than ten years ago. Can you tell us where that story came from, and what happened with that novel?

KM: People have noted Offsides was a lot like The Great Santini, only from the girl's point of view with a football instead of a military backdrop. It was a New York Library Pick for the Teen Age in 1997. The story came from my own life growing up on the gridiron in the world college football, dressing in orange and white, blue and gold, purple and white - and considering myself a Cyclone, Wildcat, Demon Deacon, Volunteer - wherever my dad happened to be coaching. Offsides is the metaphor because Liz Donegal, my alter-ego, is perpetually "offsides" in the world of high-haired coaches wives, locker rooms, Catholic Schools, and constantly moving around from the North to the South to the Midwest - she is swept up in her father's search for the opportunity to win some football games!

Offsides also went through the Hollywood mill, optioned by Jim Henson Productions with Diane Keaton and Bill Robinson of Blue Relief attached to produce and direct. We had meetings in Hollywood for four years - I'm not kidding. It was tossed around as a feature film, a one hour pilot (LIFETIME for a minute), a half-hour sitcom - you name it. We had meetings at Working Title, Jim Henson, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox Family, Lifetime, UPN, WB . . . every incarnation: can the coach be African American? Could it be the Thursday Night Wives Club? Could it focus on Mom and Dad instead of the kid? Diane Keaton did send me chocolate football - a regular football of solid chocolate - and she came for dinner. Here is an essay about her coming to dinner called "Toys in the Crawlspace" from LA Weekly.

My agent is currently submitting Offsides as a YA novel because it was never published YA, so maybe it will have a new life. (Frankly, I think it needs cutting.)

GI: I hope it finds a second life then! Now, I know that your father's occupational wanderings when you were a child eventually led you to Knoxville, Tennessee, my hometown, and that you attended the University of Tennessee. Your own travels have taken you to Europe and Asia, and you now live on the West Coast. What is it about the mountains of East Tennessee/Western North Carolina that won't let you go? Was it love at first sight, or did the mountains have to win you over?

KM: You're right, Alan. They won't let me go. And I never ever planned for that to happen. I left Knoxville never dreaming I'd look back, and I've spent two decades looking back in one form or another. When I got my driver's license on my sixteenth birthday in Knoxville, my mother handed me the keys and said, "Congratulations. Now go pick up your brothers from football practice." From that day on, I drove everywhere, and when friends would come to town, I would drive them to the mountains. Friends were always stunned by the beauty, and I began to feel proud of the mountains - a tiny claim to them - after an itinerant childhood. I was always searching for home with moving so much and being the new kid. We go back every year - we even found Maggie Valley on a road trip when the kids were tiny. When I began to write Gentle's Holler, I picked the most beautiful place I could think of - the Smoky Mountains. My dream is to live there again and teach at a university and write my novels. I have never felt really like Los Angeles is home - I love our friends and our lives, but it's not home.

GI: Thanks Kerry - we hope you come back to stay. In the meantime, everyone here at Gratz Industries wishes you the best of success with Louisiana's Song!

And hey, we're just the third stop on Kerry's Book Blog Tour this week. Check in on her previous installments at Elizabeth Dulemba's blog and Dotti Enderle's blog, then later this week on Kim Norman's blog on Thursday, and Ruth McNally Barshaw's blog on Saturday. And go pick up copies of Gentle's Holler and Louisiana's Song! Kerry needs bus fare back to Knoxville . . .

1 comments:

Kim Bookwriter May 30, 2007 at 4:34 PM  

Great interview, Alan. Check my stone stoop blog. You've been tagged!
http://www.stonestoop.blogspot.com/

Kim

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