Thursday, April 8, 2010
Q and A with Ann B. Ross, Author of the Miss Julia Series
The character of Miss Julia first evolved from hearing a voice in my head, a voice that made sharp, incisive comments that I could never say aloud myself. Then I became aware of a mental image of an older woman walking down a sidewalk, holding the hand of a little boy. It finally dawned on me that those comments were coming from that woman, that she had something to say and I’d better begin listening to her.
This is the eleven novel in the series. Do you keep a series bible to keep details straight? How do you keep coming up with so many fresh and amusing adventures for your characters?
A series bible is a great idea, and I wish I’d thought of it years ago. When I start a new book, I rarely sit and dream up the “fresh and amusing adventures,” much less outline the entire story. Things just begin to happen when Miss Julia makes her appearance.
Did you face any special challenges writing the latest novel?
The special challenge with the latest book, MISS JULIA RENEWS HER VOWS, was to avoid (in spite of the title) a Renewal Ceremony. There is a wedding ceremony (Hazel Marie’s), and I figured that was enough.
What is your favorite part of the writing process? How about the least favorite part?
My favorite part of the writing process is when I’m on a roll and characters are saying things I’m not expecting, which then leads to my falling off the chair, laughing. My least favorite part is proof-reading the galleys, when it’s too late to change anything.
You always tour the Southeast for your novels. Do you have an especially interesting tour adventure you'd like to share?
I’m often asked why my tours are limited to the Southeast, but they haven’t always been. I’ve been sent to Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. I am limited, however, by the fact that I don’t fly. And as you may know, Viking’s Publicity Department arranges all the tours and they (as I understand it) rely on bookstores to request a visit.
All my tours are interesting--it’s a thrill to walk into a store and see a crowd of people waiting, especially since I’m always afraid no one will be there. I was in Birmingham once when there was an earthquake, on the road to Memphis once with tornados right behind me, leaving New Orleans once when the rain was so heavy I crossed the 5-mile Lake Pontchatrain without seeing it, left Atlanta one morning so sick I had to stop and throw up on the side of I-20 and, well, I could go on but I won’t. On second thought, I will. The most moving and treasured moments have been when readers have told me how much Miss Julia has meant to them. One woman’s daughters buried her with one of my books in her casket; people getting chemotherapy take them to treatment centers with them; recent widows have thanked me for lifting their spirits; seminary professors have used the books to instruct students on what not to do; ministers have referred to them in their sermons, and one woman said she couldn’t die until Hazel Marie and Mr. Pickens got married. I’m worried about her now.
The series is ten years old. If you could write yourself a note now and give it to yourself ten years ago, what sage writerly advice would it contain?
If I could send a note to myself back ten years ago, I’d write: “You’re in for the ride of your life. Stop worrying and enjoy it!” That’s neither sage nor writerly, but it would’ve saved me a lot of stress and anxiety.
Ann B. Ross holds a doctorate in English from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She has written eleven novels featuring her popular heroine, Miss Julia. http://www.missjulia.com/