Wednesday, July 09, 2008

GCC Presents... Amy Wallen!

I'd nearly forgotten how much Montreal slows down in this season of hot, long, lazy days and lively festivals, one after the other. Not a whole lot of work gets done by anyone (we only get two months of proper summer after all) and that includes me and blogging.

In case you were looking for some fresh new fiction for your holiday reading, next up on out GCC tour is Moonpies and Movie Stars by Amy Wallen, enjoying a paperback release this month.

Before I get into the novel itself, I'd like to give you a little glimpse of the writer who reminds me a little of novelist Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Prey, Love in the sense that Wallen is a bit of a nomadic globetrotter herself who just weeks ago returned from hiking to Macchu Picchu. A native of Texas, her father's job took her to places as near and far as Louisianna, Mississippi, Nevada, Nigeria, Peru, Bolivia, and Oklahoma (and I thought I'd travelled...). Still, it's those summers spent helping her grandmother run a convenience store on highway 90 in Brackettville, Texas that inspire this wanderlust-stricken writer's prose.

What, in your opinion, is the biggest allure of Southern themed novels? Why did you chose to set your novel in the South?

For me, my first novel just came to me innately. I didn’t have a choice of what I was going to write. I don’t necessarily call myself a Southerner, but on the other hand, I think of myself as second generation Texan because I was raised by Texans, just no in the state of Texas.

I think the allure of Southern novels comes from the crazy uninhibited personalities. Flannery O’Connor once commented that New York book reviewers would never understand southern writing because unless you’ve been to the south and seen firsthand that the people really do have a different joie de vivre, then you can’t grasp that the far out characters really do exist. I’m misquoting her, and wish I had time to look up exactly what she said, but that’s the gist of it. Southern novels are just rife with characters and crazy goings on. But it’s all real and true, even when it’s fiction.

What’s the next book, fiction or non-fiction, you’re dying to read next?

I have two. Both memoirs. The Shadow Man by Mary Gordon and The Bishop’s Daughter by Honor Moore. I’m dying to write the story of my father. He’s one of the funniest people I know, and a tremendous storyteller. His career took him and my family to many distant and exotic places. But I have a feeling he has a secret underneath it all. I may write a novel, instead of a memoir, but I only have snippets in my head right now. I’m working on a completely fictional other novel right now, so this is just a distant project I’m mulling over.

Name a book you’ve read over and over again, and you’d probably read again in the future.

Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. I’ve read it probably 7 times and probably will read it 7 more. Every time I read it it’s a different experience. We evolve so much in our lives and the story of Holden Caulfield trying to find his place just always rings true, but in a different way as I move through my own life. He makes me laugh, cry and think. I love that in any story.

Can you tell us about any real-life events that inspired a scene or two in your book?

My grandmother who lived in Brackettville, Texas and who owned several different businesses, including a beauty shop, a honky tonk (beer joint), and a convenience store/gas station, inspired and influenced several scenes, but without a doubt she was the reason I wrote the big Price is Right scene in MoonPies and Movie Stars. Whenever I visited, she would always ask me, “How come you live out in California and you ain’t never been on one of them game shows?” So, I put a game show in the book for her. There’s also a Willie Nelson sighting in the book and she inspired that.

What kind of research did you do for this novel?

I had to go to bowling alleys and not only try to bowl and eat fried cheese and drink bad beer, but I found tiny old out of the way bowling alleys that still had the old workings and asked the owners to tell me about the mechanics and about the way bowling was before everything became computerized. I met some really interesting characters and I found a great old six-lane bowling alley out in Pioneertown, CA near Palm Springs. It was an old movie set for Roy Rogers, I believe it was, and he wanted to have something to do between sets so he had this six-lane bowling alley built. It’s still there, still running and it has great cafĂ© attached where supposedly the first Patty Melt was ever made. Patty herself used to own the bowling alley, the story goes. It’s a trip back to the past, Pioneertown. Out in the middle of the desert, just a ghost town really. But if you get a chance, find it on a map and check it out.

What up next for you?

I’m working on another novel. I have a contract with Hyperion. It’s a fun project that I’m about half way through. It’s the story of a senior artists colony in Burbank, CA. When their benefactor and guru dies, the bohemian retirees, Hollywood has-beens and wannabes, don’t know how to save themselves or their home.

What’s the most useful thing, in terms of promotion, that you’ve done?

I go to book clubs. A lot. All over. It’s been the most fun I could ever have. I love it much more than the book tour, which was also fun, but the book clubs environment is much more intimate and less inhibited. We always have a great time and I’ve made so many wonderful new friends. I have ton of funny family stories I like to tell and so I keep the reading to a minimum, but I tell all the inside scoop on where story inspiration came from.

Ruby Kincaid has her hands full these days. In addition to running the bowling alley after the death of her husband, Rascal, she has the daunting task of caring for her two boisterous grandchildren, since her daughter Violet disappeared without a trace four years earlier. It’s 1976 and Ruby and her nearest and dearest in Devine, Texas are watching their favorite soap opera at the bowling alley when they see Violet in a Buttermaid commercial. Expecting it will only take a little motherly guilt to rein in her wayward daughter, Ruby loads up the Winnebago and heads for Hollywood to try and bring Violet back to the Lone Star State.
Along for the ride are Imogene, Violet’s over-bearing and pretentious mother-in-law (who’s ready to assume the title of “celebrity-in-law”), and Loralva, Ruby’s wild sister who is itching to visit Tinsel Town because it’s where all the game shows are taped – and nothing’s going to stop her from making it to her favorite, The Price Is Right. Rounding out the group are Ruby’s grandchildren Bunny and Bubbie who are confused, sad, and excited at the prospect of finding their mother. They give Ruby the courage she needs to track Violet down and try to make things right.
While MOONPIES AND MOVIE STARS is great fun and a lot of laughs, it is also a poignant story of dreaming big, finding home, and coming to terms with family.

And if that doesn't get you running to the bookstore, here's a quote from the Los Angeles Times:

[S]pirited and honest… Wallen capably illustrates that it is not only possible but also compelling to be funny, captivating, and compassionate, all in the same book.

Happy Reading!

1 comment:

Marilyn Brant said...

Another wonderful interview, Nadine and Amy! You two share globetrotting tendencies, too! Looking forward to reading both Moonpies & Movie Stars and Cutting Loose :).