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1 Local Warehouse Literature- A to Z

Right as Rain

by

Right as Rain Cover

 

 

Author Q & A

Calinda Andrews, a beautiful anchorwoman for a popular television morning show in Jackson, Mississippi, has driven down to Bev Marshall’s home to tape an interview with her. Bev thinks Calinda looks a lot like Crow but suspects she can’t sing nearly as well. Calinda is sitting on a fake leather couch in Bev’s family room, eating pound cake topped with juicy Louisiana strawberries. Bev is pretending that she made the cake, but in reality she bought it at the Piggly Wiggly just down the road from her house, five miles west of Ponchatoula, Louisiana.

Calinda Andrews: (Flashing a gorgeous smile) Delicious cake. Did you

make it?

Bev Marshall: Uh, well, my mother gave me a great recipe for pound

cake.

CA: This cake reminds me of all those fabulous dishes Tee Wee cooked

for the Parsonses and her own family in Right as Rain. Why did you

choose that title? I imagine a lot of city folks don’t know where that expression

comes from.

BM: I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re probably right. I grew up

in an agricultural environment in Mississippi where, as you know, the

summers are very hot and often dry. Rain is paramount to the farmers’

livelihoods, to their very existence. A drought can mean disaster. Therefore,

rain means that all will be well.

CA: So when Icy tells Tee Wee that Glory is right as rain after her recovery

from her appendix operation, she’s saying she’s well?

BM: Yes, the phrase Right as Rain was coined and expanded to mean

faith that all would be well. When I began writing the novel, I had faith

that the lives of my characters would turn out to be right as rain and

chose the title for that reason.

CA: I can’t help noticing that you’re not African American. (Laughs)

BM: (Laughing too) Boy, you have such sharp eyes.

CA: So why did you write in African-American voices? Four of your six

characters are African American.

BM: Right again! I never intended to write in black voices. The first

time this phenomenon occurred was back in 1995. I was writing a short

story called “Peddling Day” about going peddling with my grandmother.

She sold eggs and vegetables in McComb, Mississippi, and often she

took me with her into town. I loved knocking on doors, meeting people,

peeking into their lovely homes, and I wanted to set down the feelings

I had as a young girl. But about halfway through the story I began

to hear the voice of an African-American child named Katie. That’s

when I realized that this story wasn’t really about me; it was about an

unpleasant experience that happened to this little girl when she went

peddling with her grandmother.

CA: That must have been a weird experience for you.

BM: It was, and I assumed it was a one-time aberration, but then it happened

again.

CA: When you began writing Right as Rain?

BM: No, before that. The second time I heard a voice I was writing a

story called “White Sugar and Red Clay.”

CA: I think I read that story in an anthology.

BM: Yes, in Stories from the Blue Moon Café. It was published in Xavier Review

first, though. And that story was supposed to be about my dad.

When he was a young boy, his bulldog killed another dog, a beagle, and

he had to shoot his own dog. Again, I was writing along picturing my

dad in overalls, barefoot, walking down a red clay road with his dog,

and then suddenly in the snapshot view in my mind, dad’s skin began to

darken.

CA: Are you pulling my leg? I don’t believe you.

BM: No, it’s true. He got darker and darker and turned into the character

of J.P., who was an African-American child burdened with much

more sadness in his life than my father had ever experienced.

CA: And in Right as Rain, J.P. is Tee Wee’s son.

BM: Correct. When I began writing the novel, J.P. returned and took

his place in Part Two.

CA: Okay, let me get this straight. You say you hear voices, have visions.

Are you on medication for this? Because if you aren’t, I know

some wonderful experts in the mental health field whom I’ve had on my

morning show.

BM: (Laughing) No, I’m not a bona fide schizophrenic, just a recreational

one. Not on any medication at all.

CA: All right. I’ll take your word for it. Now tell me about Tee Wee and

Icey. Did you know these women or someone like them?

BM: I knew Tee Wee, but not Icey. The woman I based Tee Wee’s character

on was named Angilee, but her daughter’s name was Tee Wee,

and I chose to use her name instead. Angilee lived next door to my paternal

grandmother, and I often played with many of her numerous

grandchildren. My great-aunt knew Icey, and I have met her son, who

lives near my dad in McComb, Mississippi. It was Icey’s story that captured

my imagination.

CA: Icey’s story is true?

BM: Partially. Icey did have a son named Memphis who was accidentally

killed when a truck ran over him after he fell from a gate on my

aunt’s pasture. It was actually Icey who ran over him, but I just couldn’t

write a story wherein a mother caused the death of her own child, so I

made up the sheriff and gave him the responsibility.

CA: Okay, now let’s get to the juicy stuff. What about Crow and Browder?

Where did they come from? Did you know any interracial couples

during this era?

BM: Oh no! In the ’50s and early ’60s, I thought only movie stars and famous

people married interracially. This was taboo in the South. No way

would an interracial couple live in the community where I grew up.

Too much hostility, even rage from the racists. It would have been dangerous

to stay there.

CA: How well I know! But back to my question: How or why did you

put them in the novel? Where did they come from? Did some white girlfriend

of yours transform into an African-American woman?

BM: Not exactly. If I had to choose a model from real life for Crow, it

would be my mother because she had a lot of Crow’s traits.

CA: Like what?

BM: My mother was an invalid for more than thirty years of her life. I

couldn’t count the number of times the doctors told us she most likely

wouldn’t live through an illness or operation. And yet she managed to

help my father in his business, raise two children, travel . . . she even

went to Tahiti after open-heart surgery. She taught my brother and me

to never give up, like Crow. She believed that if you really wanted something,

you could figure out a way to get it with determination and hard

work.

CA: So you infused those traits into Crow as a way for her to become

successful against all odds?

BM: Uh-huh. When I began writing about Crow, I didn’t have a clear

grasp of her character, but she fascinated me from the first time I typed

her name on an old word processor. I tried to write a story about her,

but I could never get it to work. I knew that she was seductive, headstrong,

and independent, but I didn’t know how that translated into a

story. Then when I began writing Right as Rain, she suddenly became

clear to me, and I knew how she fit into the novel.

CA: Talking about Crow leads me to sex. Your characters engage in

quite a lot of it, and if they’re not doing it, they’re talking about it. In

addition to Crow and Browder, I’m thinking of Icey and Deke and

Ruthie and Dimple. Some pretty hot stuff there. You’re blushing.

BM: (Laughing) I know. I’m shy about writing about sex, but the two

things you can’t leave out of a story are sex and God. Those two forces

are the motivators for so many of our decisions and actions. When I

need to write a sex scene into a story, I always imagine my dad and the

ladies at Pisgah Church reading it, and I have to stop writing until I can

get past that.

CA: Oh come on, don’t you enjoy writing about it just a little bit?

BM: Well, truth be told I often write a lot more details in those scenes

and maybe get a little carried away, but then I go back and hit the delete

key, excising the parts I want my readers to imagine on their own.

Sometimes what you leave out is better than what you put in.

CA: That’s the truth! That’s when you cut to a commercial break. How

about some more cake?

BM: Back in a minute.

(Conversation resumes after Bev returns with two more slices of cake.)

CA: You should have put some recipes in your novel. The descriptions

of Tee Wee’s food made me hungry the whole time I was reading.

BM: Imagine how much weight I gained while writing about those

meals. I have a confession to make, though.

CA: Oh good. This is the part I like best. What’s the secret you haven’t

told?

BM: I don’t know any of those recipes. I’m not much of a cook myself.

I just like to eat.

CA: (Laughs) So you didn’t hang out in a kitchen growing up. You

must have been squirreled away somewhere writing, dreaming about

becoming an author someday.

BM: No, not at all. I never dreamed I’d publish a book. All of my relatives

were farmers or railroad workers. My dad was the manager of a

farmers’ cooperative. Sold horse and mule feed, chicken scratch, fertilizer.

The only reading material we had in our home was farm journals

and the Bible. Well, and a few books I found under my mother’s bed

and read in secret during junior high school.

CA: I imagine you learned a lot in those!

BM: (Grinning) More than I comprehended at that time. Anyway,

when I went to college, my parents’ dictum was to study to become a

teacher. And, of course, I did later become a teacher and loved it. But

like most women reared in my era, I believed that homemaking, raising

children, keeping a neat house was my primary role. I was a military

wife for more than twenty years, and in that capacity, I spent much of

my time nurturing young wives with absent husbands. But I guess you

could say that all the while I was a closet writer. I viewed writing as a

hobby, like my husband’s passion for golf. I saw it as a guilty indulgence.

CA: What made you come out of the closet? And how old were you

when you finally confessed to being a writer?

BM: I was in my thirties. I was living in Hampton, Virginia, and I

drove over to Christopher Newport College in Newport News to sign

up for a parapsychology class and another class that was canceled. I saw

on the schedule that a creative writing class was offered at the same

time as the canceled class, so, on a lark, I signed up for it instead. At

the end of the semester, when the professor told me that I had written

one of the best stories he’d ever had in the class, I began to think of myself

as a real writer with the potential to become a published author

someday.

CA: Nearly everyone who watches my morning show knows what

books I love and recommend, but what about you? Who are the authors

you admire? Did any of them influence or inspire you?

BM: I love so many authors I could never name them all. I taught

British and world literature at Southeastern Louisiana University and

loved every author I taught to my classes. I revere the novels and plays

of Southern authors like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor,

Katherine Anne Porter, and Tennessee Williams, but I would say that

the contemporary Southern writers like Clyde Edgerton, Ellen Gilchrist,

Kaye Gibbons, Lee Smith, Barry Hannah, and Larry Brown have influenced my own work far more than any other authors. When I began

reading their stories and novels, I thought how similar their stories were

to those I had heard my relatives tell when I was a child. I realized that

all of these wonderful tales would be lost with the demise of my relatives,

and now I’m eager to write their stories as a kind of legacy for

them.

CA: So you’ve got more stories to write?

BM: I won’t live long enough to tell them all.

CA: So what’s next? In Right as Rain, you’ve left your characters, every

one, about to embark on a new life. Do you have any plans for a sequel

to inform your readers as to how all of these new endeavors turn out

for the characters in Right as Rain?

BM: So far, none of them have come back for a chat, but if they do, I’ll

be ready to write down their words.

CA: Well, let me know if they do and I’ll drive back down for some

more cake. You didn’t bake it yourself, did you?

BM: Nope. But I know where to get more.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780345468420
Author:
Marshall, Bev
Publisher:
Ballantine Books
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Historical fiction
Subject:
Race relations
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Family saga
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20050131
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
448
Dimensions:
8.00x5.34x.98 in. .73 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Right as Rain Used Trade Paper
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Product details 448 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345468420 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , The acclaimed novelist's new work traces 20 years of an unlikely friendship between two black women alongside the white family who employs them--set mid-century in America's rural South.

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