On April 2, I posted a brief Q & A with Kerry Madden, author of the Maggie Valley Trilogy. Check out that interview here. Today I continue the interview with some questions regarding Kerry’s newest book.
1. Kerry, I know you have a biography of Harper Lee (starred review from Kirkus, no less!) When did you first read To Kill A Mockingbird? Do you remember how you felt about it at the time?
I didn't read it until I was in college - I don't know why - I had assumed Harper Lee was a man, and I'd assumed that "he'd" written other books. But a friend in Knoxville told me that Harper Lee was a woman, and she'd only written one book.
This sparked my curiosity and I bought it at a used bookstore in Knoxville and loved it...and then I saw the movie on the big screen at the TENNESSEE THEATRE in Knoxville on Gay Street, and I was just stunned by the beauty. I went back and read the book again and it stayed with me.
I would show my children part of the movie on Christmas Eve when they were little. I was such a crazed, haphazard mother myself and watching Gregory Peck parent his children was a kind of solace. That's silly, I know, but the book and the film made me want to be a better person and to treasure childhood more - meaning that of my own children. They were growing so fast that I wanted to hang onto them a little.
2. I’ve loved reading your blogposts about research trips to Alabama . Can you tell us about your favorite source of information?
I blogged about much of the Alabama research on the Penguin Blog at this link.
These blogs are mostly about Monroeville, Alabama and meeting Miss Alice Lee, (Harper Lee's sister), Mr. George Thomas Jones and Mr. A.B. Blass (Harper Lee's schoolmates), and Jennings Carter (Truman's cousin)...and finally a trip to Gee's Bend.
The best part of writing this book was that so many people that I interviewed were in their 80s and 90s! They had so many wonderful stories. One of my favorites was Kathryn Tucker Windham. She covered crime for the Montgomery Advertiser during World War II. The police chief asked her, "What is a lady doing covering crime? Why aren't you covering weddings and society?" She told him, "I don't know enough adjectives."
I wrote a very long essay for the literary magazine: FIVE POINTS: A JOURNAL OF LITERATURE AND ART about three Alabama authors - Harper Lee's silence led me to them. I called it WORDS ON FIRE, and the authors in the story are: HELEN NORRIS BELL, MARY WARD BROWN, and KATHRYN TUCKER WINDHAM.