Nancy French, A Red State of Mind
A long time ago, a friend of mine told me she never discussed politics or religion with her friends. I didn’t really understand why. What was the big problem? You have your opinions and I have mine, right? Apparently, people get really upset when you disagree with what they feel strongly about. Nancy French writes about her experiences living in different states while being a red state kind of gal. What do you do when you stand out like a rusty Gremlin in a lot of new Hummers because you don't subscribe to the theories around you?
This was a super fast read, a book written with humor and warmth. You may or may not agree with Nancy but you know what? That’s okay. We are all different and that’s what makes us all special. That sounded like something from Sesame Street but it’s the truth.
Can't we all just get along? Why is it that everyone can chat happily about cooking and books and Britney Spears but bring up politics and religion and the atmosphere changes. What do you think?
You know, Americans are more politically polarized than we have been for years. Studies show that ethnic segregation is decreasing, but political geographic segregation is increasing.
In other words, you’re less likely to have a disagreeable conversation with your neighbor because it’s less likely you’ll disagree. For example, cities like Washington DC, Philly, and Manhattan voted anywhere from 80 to 90% for Kerry in 2004 – urban dwellers have less opportunity to openly discuss their ideas with conservatives… which makes it easier to put us in the category of “strange-people-who-live-in-places-without-mandatory-recycling-laws” instead of actual sentient humans.
Would you ever move to a state that was known for being liberal? You seem like you can get along with anyone, is that pretty accurate?
I actually loved living in Manhattan when my husband and I were newly married. I love the pedestrian lifestyle, the great Vietnamese restaurants, and the exercise gained from jumping over sidewalk urine puddles. I would definitely consider moving to a “blue area,” just not right now. We still have boxes we haven’t unpacked from our last move.
I recall when you were writing and we exchanged emails, what did you change from the original book? I think it was slightly different or maybe I've just been drinking too much vodka tonight. Did you have to do a lot of revisions once you got the book contract?
I’ll hold off on judging your vodka intake, but it’s very possible you might be thinking of a novel I wrote and was trying to sell for years. I’d written what I thought was the Great American Novel, only to realize that no one else shared my enthusiasm for the project.
In fact, it was rejected repeatedly by every possible publisher until I came to the conclusion that perhaps it just wasn’t as good as I thought. Then, my friend and agent DJ Snell called me with the idea for “Red State of Mind: How a Catfish Queen Reject Became a Liberty Belle.” This is a humorous memoir instead of a novel, which evidently is more my strong point. I use my novel manuscript whenever a table leg is too short. I’ve found that a few pages helps even things out at the dinner table.
The hospital in Ithaca, the one with no epidurals? That was plain wrong. I'm all for natural health and but that was insane! Is there one place you lived that you would refuse to move back to?
One of the most humorous and shocking chapters of the book is called “Nipple Confusion,” which relates the story of giving birth in Ithaca. I’d have to say that I’d rather listen to Michael Moore pontificate rather than move back to Ithaca… the only city in America which elected a socialist mayor, whose female police chief’s main claim to fame was walking around topless to make a point of gender rights, and who refused to fluoridate their water because they didn’t trust the government to medicate them. Yeah, it’d be hard to move back there. Especially if any of them have read “Red State of Mind.”
Out of the places you have lived- Kentucky, Tennessee, New York, Pennsylvania- where do you feel most at home? Where are the people most kind? What surprises you most about the people you have met?
Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to me… I just love Tennessee, in the kind of way that there’s a place in your heart shaped like “home,” and you just can’t squeeze much else into it. Tennesseans are the nicest, most welcoming bunch of people.
I love the catfish, music, lightning bugs, seventy degree November days. What surprises me most about people is that everyone is fervent in their beliefs: Tennesseans might be particularly devoted to Christianity, whereas Philadelphians might be devoted to secular humanism, environmentalism, or whatever. However, only one side admits it. Urban dwellers are more evangelistic than Billy Graham when it comes to, say, recycling. Try throwing away a bottle into the wrong receptacle at the park, and liberals drop from the trees on tethers with advice on how to save the planet. I find them much more “fundamentalist” than any evangelical I’ve met.
You totally lay it all on the line and make no bones about your political and religious preferences. I find that admirable because many people would shy away from stating their beliefs so openly. Were/ are you nervous, worried or anxious about what readers will think of you?
I “stayed in the closet” for a while during our Philadelphia residence. I wanted the kids to be able to have playdates, I wanted friends, and I didn’t want to have contentious political conversations while living in the City of Brotherly Love. However, it just so happened to be 2004 – when George Bush was running against John Kerry for President. All of my friends wore buttons proclaiming, “I’m a Member of the M.O.B. – Mothers Opposing Bush.” For weeks, no one commented on my lack of button. Then, on election day, my friend came up to me and asked, suspiciously, “Who are you voting for?” It was one of those moments that test your intestinal fortitude. “President Bush,” I said.
Well, I would’ve been more welcomed had I just announced I was creating my own pyramid scheme. People were aghast. “But you seem so reasonable,” one friend lamented when she heard I was a Republican. From that point on, I decided to be more public. If I was going to have to defend myself, I wanted a larger audience. I began writing opinion pieces for the Philadelphia City Paper, and the rest is history. My columns generated so much hate mail that I literally could not pick up a paper lest I read about how I was a “shit-head-war-monger.”
The paper even lost advertisers over me. But, thanks to a great editor who believed in free speech, the columns continued to annoy Philadelphians until I moved. (When the book came out, the headline of the City Paper was “Nancy French Took Your Advice: She Went Back Home.”)
So…I take it you aren't a fan of Bill Clinton? Do you think Hilary will run for office in 2008? What do you think would happen if she won? Would that be a sign of the apocalypse? ((I'm kidding!))
My prediction: Hillary will be the Democratic nominee in 2008, although she’ll go down in flames to a conservative candidate with both blue state and red state appeal – someone like Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, a conservative standard bearer, who also has the political chops to appeal across the board. I blog for a political grass roots website: www.EvangelicalsforMitt.com , which is my attempt to make sure that the words “President” and “Clinton” will never be combined to describe Hillary.
Do you think things are black and white or do you tend to see the gray areas too?
Oh, there are definitely gray areas. For example, I have grace towards people who have not yet started watching “24” – due to their schedules or whatever. The show is so compelling, it requires an emotional and time commitment that some people just do not have. However, people who don’t watch American Idol are, quite possibly, enemies of democracy and the American way of life.
Assuming you have one, what is on the night-stand next to your bed? What kind of books do you like to read?
My birthday was this week, so I have a new stack:“Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems.”
I’m hoping to learn how to convince my new puppy that my house is not his gigantic toilet. “Widow of the South,” a novel by Robert Hicks, based on the Battle of Franklin, Tennessee – five of the bloodiest hours of the Civil War. “The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles,” by Martin Gayford. This is true story of the time period that artists Van Gogh and Gauguin lived together in the south of France, chronicling the events that escalated until Van Gogh actually cut his own ear off. What night stand does not have this book?
What's in your purse? In mine you will find: a wallet, receipts from Target and Starbucks, two packs of gum, four lip glosses and blotting papers for my oily skin.
1. Beauty Control makeup 2. “Cherries in the Snow” colored Nail Polish 3. Dramamine 4. Facial soap from the last hotel I stayed in 5. A seashell 6. Chopsticks 7. The plastic head of General Grievous, a Star Wars toy of my son’s which I promised to superglue. 8. A Bluetooth earpiece I never figured out how to use 9. The wrapper of a Sonic chocolate milkshake straw
Are you going to continue writing and what are you working on now? Any plans to move again?
I actually had the blessing of a two book deal with Hachette Book Group (formerly Time Warner Books), which means I’m writing another book which will come out in the spring of 2008. It’s tentatively titled “American in Paris… Tennessee” and will be misadventures of small town life.
My current book is more of my misadventures in urban living, so this will be a continuation of the same theme… the fact that I struggle to live as an adult no matter what zip code I find myself in.