Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen and The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove are two highly entertaining books written by Susan Gregg Gilmore, an author born in Nashville. You can feel her love of the South from within the pages of her books. She wrote for The Los Angeles Times, The Christian Science Monitor and the Chattanooga News-Free Press and others before finding her home in fiction.
How long have you been writing?
Wow. I can't remember when I wasn't writing. But I always wanted to be a journalist not a novelist. And that's what I did for many years. I wrote for newspapers including The Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor.
What inspired you to write your first book?
Do you want the honest answer or one that makes me look like an inspired artist wanting to pusher her craft to new places?? OK, honestly, I wrote a big long article for a newspaper that took months to research and then was paid $450.00. I looked at my husband and said, "I gotta find a new gig." I tried a few other things first - screenplay writing among them - but then literally fell, kicking and screaming into fiction. 50 pages into my first novel I realized I was doing what I was meant to do. I had finally found my place!
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
When I finished the first one, I thought it would be the happiest day of my life. That lasted for about a minute. Then I grew very sad. I really missed all the characters in Ringgold, GA. They had become so real to me that I felt as though they had left behind to live on my own. I really really missed them and was not prepared for that. Simply put, I was homesick!
Are any of the things in your books based on real life experiences or purely all imagination?
Sure. Some things are rooted in real life experiences. Particularly in Dairy Queen and some in Bezellia. Bezellia was more about me trying to come to terms with a period in our country's history and my own personal history that had left me feeling very sad. I was not unaware of racial inequality growing up in the South. Far from it. But moving back home after 30 years and seeing some of the same issues, well, I had to deal with it in my own way, telling a story.
Which of your characters do you relate to most and why?
Hmm. Probably Bezellia. I think she was a girl who always wanted to do the right thing but sometimes didn't have the courage to shout it from the mountaintops, so to speak. As a young girl, she really felt the most familiar to me. Funny thing, both Catherine Grace and Bezellia have a younger sister. I am the youngest with two older sisters and one older brother. Maybe in these books, I finally wanted to have the voice to boss somebody else around!
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love to take long, long walks with my husband ( like 10 - 18 miles long) and I love hanging out with my daughters. They've totally gotten me into playing Bananagrams so we usually have a match before or after supper.
If your real life as a teenager was a Young Adult book, what would you, the main character, be like?
I'd be a girl who dreamed big but was sometimes afraid to take a chance. More specifically, I'd be the Coca-cola drinking, hot-french-fry eating, pimply-faced girl who buys every dead plant at the school fair because she feels it's her responsibility to take them home and nurse them back to life.
What book have you read too many times to count? and why is it a favorite?
I am far from the first to say this but, To Kill a Mockingbird, because Scout has a spirit about her that I would have loved to have called my own. I also love that about Ellen Foster.
What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
READ! As much as you can. Read what you like, read the masters, read it all! And do not be afraid to rewrite - it really is the best part - that's when your words will begin to sing!
A special thank you to Susan Gregg Gilmore for taking the time to answer these questions.
To learn more about Susan Gregg Gilmore, visit her website. Also, follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
You can also read this interview on Examiner