When Bonnie Glover is asked which authors have inspired her as a writer, Dorothy Allison's name rolls off her tongue.
Glover readily admits that Allison's book Bastard Out of Carolina influenced the direction of her newest novel, Going Down South.
But then there's a pause, a laugh, and Glover says, "Let me stroll to my library."
As she walks through her South Florida home, she talks about her vast collection, how she can't give any books away, and how her husband once teased her before a move with a this threat: "If you buy one more book, the book will be here and you will be gone."
While rattling off a list of some of her favorite authors, she dispenses this advice: "I think it would be difficult to be a writer if you weren't an avid reader."
Glover's path to published author began in New Jersey after a move from Florida. "It was very cold and I was unemployed for a little bit, and I decided to try my hand at writing," she says.
The Stetson University College of Law graduate caught the writing bug and published a couple of short stories in magazines in Singapore and Hong Kong. Her first work published in the United States was the book The Middle Sister, a longer version of one of those short stories.
Her second book, Going Down South, appeared in bookstores this summer.
Going Down South tells the story of three generations of women, set in the racially tense 1960s. There's Birdie, the matriarch, who is being punished for her mistakes - selling and running moonshine, being incarcerated after getting caught a time or two, leaving her teenage daughter Daisy to fend for herself.
Now, Daisy's all grown, with a philandering husband and a book-smart teenage daughter who's pregnant. The stigma of Olivia Jean's situation leaves Daisy no choice, so she takes her daughter and flees the soon-to-be-wagging tongues of Brooklyn for her mother's down-home, countrified life in Alabama to await the baby's birth.
At the beginning of Going Down South you have a quote from Pearl S. Buck: "Some are kissing mothers and some are scolding mothers, but it is love just the same." Where do you think each of your mothers - Birdie, Daisy and Olivia Jean - fit in with that sentiment?
I think Olivia Jean is going to be a kissing mother. I think Daisy doesn't know anything other than scolding, and Birdie is probably some kind of hybrid between the two.
My mother was not a kissing mother, and I guess I did that on purpose because I don't even think there's one way to parent. It just depends on the child.
But these women have chosen their paths.
Which of your characters do you identify with most?
I talked to someone else about this, and I had one of the a-ha moments and really and truly believe they are one person.
You've got Olivia Jean, the idealistic character who is young and who can see without any cynicism. You've got Daisy, who has lived a few years and has been hurt - a grownup Olivia Jean who didn't get enough of the love she needed. And then you've got Birdie, who is looking at motherhood from a distance and is saying, "This is what I did, this is what I screwed up, and I'm going to try to make things right now because I can see that."
You tackle many weighty issues - racism, interracial marriage, rape, sexism, teenage pregnancy - in Going Down South, which is set in the 1960s. If you wrote a present-day novel, what issues do you think your characters would tackle?
Probably a lot of the same. I think that we are in an age where we have these issues and they just don't spill over so neatly, and people aren't able to see so clearly. We live in an age where gender makes a difference, where the color of one's skin makes a difference.
Your first book, The Middle Sister, centered on three sisters. Your newest book, Going Down South, focuses on three generations of women. Do you ever see yourself writing a book about a strong male character?
Yes, absolutely. . . . In fact, someone asked me about Going Down South and why the women were so sympathetic, and I know I could take Going Down South and write it from the male perspective and have you sympathizing with the men in these relationships even more. Sometimes when a person is pushed and pulled in so many directions they make absolutely the wrong choices for everyone else and themselves.
What's your next book going to be about?
It's a prequel to Going Down South, with some of the same characters, but not all. It's surprising me. Sometimes an author has all these plans for a novel and different issues come up. You have to be flexible as in any other career. There are certain authors that I know who have an outline and they can write from that outline. I do have a sort-of outline, but I'm not going to force myself to cover every single nuance that I jot down. Sometimes you just want your characters to breathe.
Jennifer DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8881.
MEET THE AUTHOR
She will talk about her novel Going Down South at 10 a.m. in the Poynter Institute's Bob Haiman Amphitheater.