Michael Lee West, Mad Girls In Love
Have you read Crazy Ladies? If not, it's a must read. I read it a few years ago, then quickly consumed every other book Michael Lee West wrote. I tried without luck to track her down and let her know how much I loved her novels. As I was reading Amazon's new book list, I saw Mad Girls In Love and couldn't wait to read it, however the publication was months away. I checked back now and again only to be disappointed because the release date was being pushed further and further into the future.
Like a crazed fan, I kept trying to find the elusive Michael Lee, turning up nothing. I had to know- what was going on with Mad Girls In Love? I stumbled upon message boards and southern fiction reading groups where other readers wondered the same thing: "Where is she and when will the new book come out?" Yes, it's true. The fans were as riled up as a bunch of teenagers at a boy-band concert.
Finally- finally!- the book would be out in 2005. I breathed a sigh of relief mixed with anticipation. I got my hands on a copy and quickly read the book cover to cover, wishing for one more chapter. I give it four stars, two thumbs up and a smiley face. And then I was able to get in touch with this amazing author and do an interview. I think- if you read between the lines- she clearly wants me to come to Tennessee to visit her.
Michael, I hear you live in a renovated funeral home- are there any ghosts or weird things happening in your house? I want to come for a visit but if I have to share the bed with a ghost, I might reconsider.
Before we bought the house, my husband was opposed to the idea of living in a former funeral home--he fully expected it to be haunted. We've lived here since '96, and I haven't noticed anything out of the ordinary. However, we do own the "Margaret Mitchell bed" (supposedly from Miss Mitchell's childhood home), and guests have reported vivid dreams involving a wagon, cannons, and rain. One of the more interesting stories about the house involved a woman named Miss Mattie whose dog had died, and she bought a small casket.
When I saw Mad Girls In Love on Amazon, I couldn’t wait to read it especially after I consumed She Flew The Coop in two days and then read everything else you wrote. For a couple of years, I kept checking to see when it would be available. There was a delay in the release, what happened?
A couple of events dovetailed. First,, my long-time editor retired, and I was "orphaned." Next, my youngest child had a bone tumor--thankfully it was benign. But, for a while, our lives were turned upside-down. My son's story is inspiring: when the tumor was discovered, he was in high school, and after his recovery, he went on to win a top football award; he also played college football.
I love the southern fiction genre and especially your books. Crazy Ladies has a permanent spot on my “Best Books Ever Read” list. What is your favorite?
She Flew the Coop. I had so much fun writing that novel.
Will you ever write a book that is not southern fiction, let's say about a girl in the big city looking for love while wearing Prada and working for Vogue? Or is southern fiction something that is in your blood?
Well, I've never worn Prada (although I do read Vogue), so, no, I don't see myself writing about that--at least, not convincingly. However, anything is possible.
Mad Girls In Love is a long book which is perfect since I have all kinds of time to lay on a chaise and read. How long did it take for you to write it?
The first draft took about 9 months; the revision took almost 6 years. In all the years I've been writing novels, this was most unusual. Normally it takes 4 to 6 months to revise a book, working from 8 am until midnight. . I recently finished my 5th book, Mermaids in the Basement (it took 11 months--and I haven't started revising--however, it's much shorter than Mad Girls).
Do you start with the germ of an idea and then it blossoms into a novel or is your writing based on your family history?
Usually a scene pops into my head--in this case, Bitsy hitting Claude with the frozen baby back ribs. With the exception of Consuming Passions, I haven't written about my family. But I'm always threatening to put them into a novel. Occasionally my husband brings home stories. Before he went to medical school, he worked as an untrained aid at Central State Asylum, so many of his stories went into Crazy Ladies. Several scenes in Mad Girls were based on real events, such as Fiona's unfortunate death by the Coca-Cola Machine and when Violet fell out of the car and scraped her behind.
I had no luck at all trying to track you down: no blog, email or website and not a lot of information to research on the internet. Do you purposely keep a low profile? Do the people where you live know who you are? When my book comes out I’ll wear a printed tee shirt and carry a huge sign but I get the feeling you don't toot your own horn.
Well. I'm not sure how to answer. I would have to go all the way back to childhood. See, Mama was--and is--an extrovert. I took her with me on a book tour, and without fail, she leapt out of her seat and just took over. She did a damn good job, too. If Mama was a writer, she would have a webpage. My brother and I are, of course, the total opposite. We have always flown below the radar. I'll turn 52 this October, and it might be too late for this old bird to gain altitude. I don’t know.
You see, I wrote for about 10 years before anything was published; I wasn't an overnight sensation or protegee, so I'm always surprised and thrilled when anyone reads my work. I wrote short stories while holding a baby's bottle in one hand and stirring gumbo with the other. I could never find enough time to fold t-shirts, vacuum, write, and buy toilet tissue. Every now and then I'd sit down, take a deep breath, and reread Tillie Olsen. Or Anne Tyler's brilliant essay "Still Just Writing." I'd have to say that very few people in town know that I'm a writer. This is fortunate, because I can't tell you how many good lines I've overheard at Piggly Wiggly while standing in front of the meat counter, peering down at pork chops and Boston butts.
I love to eat good home cooking and have enjoyed the recipes you include in your novels. If I came for a visit, what would you cook for me?
Well, let's see. First, I'd have to know about food allergies, along with likes/dislikes. I'd want to prepare something you loved. Would you prefer southern gourmet (pork tenderloin rolled in crushed pecans with a pear glaze; sweet potato souffle; crème brule) or southern soul (fried chicken, collards, cornbread, strawberry shortcake)? Or how about a ladies' luncheon--chicken pecan salad, layered Jell-o salad, 7-Up cake? (Micheal Lee, it all sounds wonderful especially that sweet potato souffle and creme brule!)
And can you share your favorite recipe with me and the thousands of others who read this interview?
My eldest son is a professional chef, and he shared this recipe:
Pizza for Busy Writers
1 frozen pizza
1 box fresh herbs (I like basil and Italian parsley)
1 red bell pepper
Take pizza out of box. Chop herbs and pepper, then scatter over pizza. Cook pizza according to directions. Pour a glass of Merlot. Enjoy!
Do you have a horse? Not at the moment; but several years ago I owned 2 quarter horses.
Do you dress your dog in J. Crew? Keep a pot bellied pig in your yard? And what are your passions in life?
I am owned by several toy dogs, and two copper eyed Persians, along with 2 alley cats. For the last two years I've been taking Spanish classes. And the last book I read was The Historian (loved it).
Let's cast the movie for Mad Girls In Love. Who would be your choice for the leading characters?
Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson (Bitsy and Jennifer).
Clancy Jane--Laura Dern
Violet -- Christina Ricci
And Dorothy? Why, Mama, of course.