Thursday, April 2, 2009

THANKFUL THURSDAY: Hospitals & Books

I had no intention of hanging out in the Emergency Room for 9 hours last night. Or for all of today or tomorrow and possibly the next day too.

Other than being fatigued, I'm fine. My husband? Not so much! But the doctors are sorting that out...

Meanwhile, family & friends and others are sending lots of encouragement. One of them suggested I grab a good book and be "patient". And of course, I did bring a book along. Wanna' see what I tucked into my bag as I flew out the door?


Jessie's Mountain is the final book in the Maggie Valley Trilogy by Kerry Madden.

Here's the thing. If you have to spend 9 hours in the ER, then a story about 2 girls who run away to Nashville is an excellent distraction! Of course, it was supposed to be only 1 girl but that was before pesky little sister, Jitters tagged along with Livy Two. (I do love Madden's penchant for naming characters!)

Livy Two wasn't actually running away. She was seeking her musical fortune and had every intention of rescuing her family from poverty and the possibility of leaving their home in Gentle's Holler.

Let me just say that all did not go as planned...

I love the Maggie Valley Trilogy for their downhome ethos , for the colorful characters, and for Madden's beautiful writing.

Lucky me! I met Kerry Madden in 2008 and wow! Her spirit is as big and beautiful as the Smoky Mountains themselves. Kerry is an on-the-go author, writing instructor, and devoted mom but lucky me, again - I managed to snag an interview.

For today, I'll share her responses to just 3 questions about these picturesque North Carolina stories.

Kerry, I’ll be driving by Maggie Valley next week and thinking about you when I do. Tell us again why you love that area of North Carolina and how your stories found their setting in Maggie Valley.

In 1994, we were on a road trip with our two older kids, ages 3 and 5 at the time. We covered 21 states and something like 4500 miles...From Los Angeles, we drove north to 80 and headed East in search of thunderstorms, lightning bugs, and attics. (We don't have them in California). I was also doing research for OFFSIDES, my first book, and I wanted to see the old football towns where I'd lived like Manhattan, Kansas and Ames, Iowa. We went to Washington DC to see my grandmother and then headed South to North Carolina to visit my husband's people (as they say.)

In Asheville, I thought it would interesting to see Thomas Wolfe's house. Lucy, age 3, did not find it at all fascinating and threw a rip-roaring tantrum on the porch screaming, "DIS IS SO BORWING!" Translation: "Can we leave now?" I looked at a map and saw Highway 19 and the name Maggie Valley. We have to drive to Knoxville, and I said, "Let's take Highway 19 instead of the Intestate...there's a little town called Maggie Valley, and it's got to be better than this..." I thought it sounded so beautiful.

So we took the back roads and found the Pancake House and Ghost Town in the Sky all in Maggie was just a little mountain town, but I love the mountains so much, and the kids had a great time. We stopped and played in the Smokies and it was a magical few days before the long drive back West.

Fast Forward to 2001...I was longing to write something I loved and cared about, and I wanted to set it in the mountains, and suddenly the name, "Maggie Valley" came back to me...and I knew that was where my Weems' family was going to live...

When I first met you at a workshop for North Carolina teachers you showed me a piece of art created by one of your characters. I was a bit taken aback at first, since I thought Louisiana was fictional. But I love how you’ve created the Gentle’s Holler world replete with art and music. The line between fiction and truth is slightly blurred. But that is so appropriate, because fiction is filled with truth. But it’s also a great concept for presenting your work to the public. Did this evolve serendipitously? And in what ways is it reflective of you and your family?

My friend, Logan Lark, loves the Weems' family of Maggie Valley, and while I was writing GENTLE'S HOLLER, he came to stay for a while in 2001. At that time, I was trying to write some Uncle Hazard Tall Tales, too, and managed to salvage one in LOUISIANA'S SONG when Uncle Hazard (the wiener dog) makes a wish to be a lighthouse. I wrote three other tall tales, and Logan painted a couple of scenes. We couldn't interest any publisher in the Tall Tales of Uncle Hazard, but Logan gave me the paintings and said, "Tell the kids in your writing workshops that Louise painted them." So when I bring them to my workshops, that is what I do.

I also love to collect things that I believe my characters love and care about such as Gentle's fairy rocks, Caroline's fairy wings, Cyrus's mummy costumes and Greek Gods, Jitters' book of SUPERSTITIONS, Emmett's Saturn Girl Comics from the Legion of Superheroes, and Louise's paintings. I also have some of Livy Two's favorite books with me and always her notebooks. It's a way of connecting to them...I have pictures of old bookmobiles on the wall. Our family life is pretty messy and cluttered, and I think that shows in my characters.

One of the things I love about your books is your gift for naming characters. How do you do that? And what is a favorite character name from one of your books?

----I honestly don't know...It takes a good long time, and finally they just come to me. I didn't even know Louise was named Louisiana until the second book in the Maggie Valley Trilogy, Louisiana's Song.

----And my mother said, "You have a great great great grandmother, Appelonia, and I think that would be a fine for one of those kids." So the new baby became Appelonia.

----I always thought Hazard, Kentucky was a funny name for a town, and so a wiener dog named "Uncle Hazard" amused me.

----I found out later that the name Emmett means truth, which works for the character of Emmett.

----I also went to high school with a boy named, "Buddy" and I just liked the name.

----I like the name "Jitters" (the kid who is always dropping things and tripping)...after a while the names become very real to me, and I can almost imagine the characters living deep in the holler in Maggie Valley on Fie Top Road.

Okay, so there my friends, you have a glimpse into the heart of Kerry Madden. I'll be back with more Q & A with Kerry in another post.

Until then, if you're looking for a series that oozes family love, 60's memories, and southern culture, then run on over to your favorite bookstore/library. Ask the good folks behind the desk for Gentle's Holler, Louisiana's Song, and Jessie's Mountain.


  1. Great interview! She's right...once you get started reading these books, you get hooked. It's almost like you start being one of the kids in the family!
    It was a thrill to paint the pictures that have ended up tagging along with these books...and one of the easiest projects I've worked. I read the books and let them come to life in my mind...and the images for the paintings just came on their own.
    -Logan Lark

  2. Congratulations, Logan! How cool to hear from you! I love the Weems family and the world you helped to create!

    So can I call you Louisiana? : )

  3. I agree! And loved reading Kerry's interview. Fun stories about her character names which, to me, say so much about the person. Then again, I, too, grew up in the South and know a few humdingers! Thanks for doing this.