Today, I am pleased to introduce Kerry Madden, author of Gentle's Holler and the just released follow-up, Louisiana's Song. Kerry and I have much in common including a mutual love for all things Appalachian. In Gentle's Holler I love the strong sense of place Kerry portrays, transporting you to the beautiful smoky mountains and Maggie Valley with all their charms and spirit. I'm thrilled to be able to revisit in Louisiana's Song.
Congratulations on the release of "Louisiana's Song" (Viking), the follow-up to "Gentle's Holler" (which I loved). In this second book, we follow the story of Livy Two. Is this eleven year old shaped after you or somebody you know?
Thanks, Elizabeth! Livy Two was inspired by my sister-in-law, Tomi Lunsford, a Nashville songwriter, and the third oldest of thirteen children. I tried to imagine what it was like for her to grow up one of thirteen kids and be a songwriter. Livy Two is also a little of my love of books…
Now, I know you’re based in California. How did you come to write about the Smoky Mountains?
I lived in ten states growing up…and I lived in North Carolina as a small child and later moved to East Tennessee in high school when my father started coaching for the Tennessee Volunteers. I soon learned that kids always went mountains for everything – hikes, retreats, romance, field trips. I fell in love with the mountains – and in 2001, at a dark and desperate writing time (ghostwriting, penning shadow soap operas where I had to write garbage like “My, that bathrobe looks very familiar” …I was also writing health articles like “how to stay healthy if you sell insurance”) Anyhow, I made a decision to write a children’s novel and set it in the most beautiful place in the world just to save my sanity. I also wanted to write it with love...
You catch the flavor of the area so well. What do you especially love about the region and try to portray in your books?
I read CHRISTY by Catherine Marshall in high school, and that inspired me to go teach English in China in a very remote village after college. Then I read Lee Smith as a young mother, and her books were a huge comfort and inspiration – FAIR AND TENDER LADIES and ORAL HISTORY, especially. I married a man, Kiffen Lunsford, whose great uncle was a songcatcher in the Smokies, Bascom Lamar Lunsford, and I have to say COALMINER’S DAUGHTER broke my heart, too, so it was a culmination of so many things. I also grew up drawing pictures of big families. I love the language, the music, the way folks talk – my ears perk up in the mountains, and I just want to soak up the words. I miss in living in the South. I ran away from it (Knoxville) and went as far away as I could – all the way to China with my husband our first year of marriage – and yet, I go back to the South every day in my writing.
Do you think growing up as the daughter of a football coach (but not that football coach) and moving around so much, contributed to you being a writer now?
On each moving day, I was the kid who went kicking and screaming to the new football town, but I know now it was my training to be a writer. My father would order me in the car (I was sulking on the curb or crying in the empty house), “Cut the dramatics! You’ll forget all about these people! You want to stay in the same town your whole life? What kind of life is that?” Out of pure defiance, I vowed I would never forget and my childhood became my football novel, OFFSIDES, about growing up a freak on the gridiron – a little like THE GREAT SANTINI with a football backdrop. We had to dress in team colors and we were Panthers, Demon Deacons, Volunteers, Cyclones…but my dad always did say, “Follow your dream!” and my mother got us library cards and told us things would be great because we were the children of a football coach. And sometimes, they were…
Read Kerry's beautiful essay I AM NOT JOHN MADDEN’S DAUGHTER.
Do you have any book signing tours planned for the release of "Louisiana's Song?"
Yes, I’m doing lots of reading and signings here in Southern California this month with mountain music and story-swapping. Then later this summer and again in the fall, I’ll be going to back to North Carolina and Tennessee to do writing workshops with kids. I set up my GENTLE’S HOLLER tour as writing workshops for kids, and I met some wonderful young writers and teachers and librarians. Thank you for these great questions, Elizabeth!
Go read more about Kerry and Louisiana's Song during her blog book tour this week. She's with me today, Dotti Enderle tomorrow, Alan Gratz on Wednesday, Kim Norman on Thursday, and Ruth McNally Barshaw on Saturday.