You were born in Monroeville, Alabama. That's also the hometown of two of the South's most famous writers: Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Did you ever know them or have any connections with their families?
I have met them both, but it wasn't really through any family or hometown connection. My family moved away when I was 18 months old. Monroeville has been claiming me ever since I got a book published, and I'm thrilled to death that they do, but I can't claim to have any deep knowledge of Monroeville and her people. Harper Lee did write me a very nice letter after my first novel was published. I followed Truman Capote around trying to interview him, but it was right around the end of his life. He kept agreeing to interviews, but he wasn't able to deliver on that. I talked to him, but he wasn't really a good interview: let's put it that way. Monroeville has a writer's conference every spring, and I guess because I'm the fiction writer from Monroeville who will attend, they invite me a lot. I'm no Harper Lee. I'm no Truman Capote. But I will show up.
Did you have a town in mind when you were writing about the isolated Alabama town of Six Points in your new novel?
No. It's a blend of several places where I've lived. I guess the idea of imagining a town that doesn't even have cell phone service really attracted me. I was just trying to get way back up in the woods somewhere. But that may be in the realm of the fabulous. I wonder if there even is such a place.
Why do you think the South is home to so many eccentric women?
Well, I suppose it would start with the eccentric men that they marry. I don't know. I get the feeling from the reading I've done in the culture that women were in charge of things pretty much since the Civil War. I think the war was left to the men, and we screwed that up so severely that the women in the South had to take things over and they've been running things ever since. Most people I know come from a family with a strong matriarch at the top.
When did you live in Atlanta?
I was there from 84-86. I had a great time there. I was the regional editor of the Journal-Constitution. I was just a few years out of college, and that was my last journalism job. I quit and freelanced after my first novel was published. I'm tickled to be in the Creative Loafing now by the way! I don't think I've ever been in there, as many books as I've had.
You'll be reading at the Margaret Mitchell House. What are your thoughts about Ms. Mitchell and Gone with the Wind?
One of the cool things is that when you read there, they give you a little tour of her living quarters. When I lived in Atlanta, that place was in ruins and it burned. It's just sort of cool to be able to go back in and envision the conditions she wrote that book under. I honestly think it's an under-rated novel as fiction. It's not under-rated in any other way, but I think it's a really well-written book. I enjoy re-reading it every couple years. My mother was a huge fan, too. When I was about six years old, they re-released the movie and I'll never forget we had to sit in the front row it was so crowded, and mother said, “They burned Atlanta in our laps!”
Mark Childress reads from his new novel Georgia Bottoms at the Margaret Mitchell House on Tuesday, March 08, at 7 pm. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit the Margaret Mitchell House or phone 404.249.7015.
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