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Right as Rainby Bev Marshall
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
Bev Marshall: Uh, well, my mother gave me a great recipe for pound
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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