LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
Imagine if Scarlett O'Hara was a 21st century character who wore lemon patent leather Manolo Blahnik heels; the Civil War is over but civil rights are still a work in progress, and instead of Tara, there are Six Points, Alabama, where she lives in her ancestral home, which has seen better days. To keep up appearances, she has turned to the world's oldest profession - not that she would ever call it that.
Georgia Bottoms is that heroine and the title character of a new novel by Mark Childress. His other books include "Crazy in Alabama" and "One Mississippi" and he's in the studio of member station WLRN in Miami. Mark, it's nice to have you back on the program.
Mr. MARK CHILDRESS (Author, "Georgia Bottoms"): Hey, Liane. It's great to be here.
HANSEN: The plot of your story is basically the unraveling of Georgia Bottom -her secret liaisons - and it begins in church. Just describe that scene that you set at the very beginning of the book.
Mr. CHILDRESS: Well, Georgia is a very proper girl as far as anybody knows, and she's in the First Baptist Church, as she is every Sunday, sitting in the family pew. And she's sitting there sort of musing on what dress she should buy and her makeup and how does her hair look. And she's sort of musing because the preacher is boring her. But then she begins to pay a little closer attention to the preacher because she notices that he has this hickey on his neck. And she is speculating on the fact that she's the one who put it there the night before.
HANSEN: Uh-huh. But...
Mr. CHILDRESS: But he suddenly has an attack of conscience at the pulpit and begins to at least threaten to confess everything in front of the congregation and reveal that they're having an affair. So, Georgia decides that she just have to stop him.
HANSEN: And how does she do that?
Mr. CHILDRESS: Well, she does what - as you said - Scarlett O'Hara would do if she was into the 21st century: She stands up, pushes her way through to the middle aisle of the church and faints dead away.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: To take all the attention off of the...
Mr. CHILDRESS: Absolutely.
Mr. CHILDRESS: She knows one thing: That sermon will not be completed today.
HANSEN: Well, it's interesting that Georgia, actually - now, does she entertain a gentleman caller every night of the week?
Mr. CHILDRESS: No, she has Mondays off.
HANSEN: She has Mondays off, OK.
Mr. CHILDRESS: So, she takes six nights a week.
HANSEN: Right. And they are six actually pillars of the community that are helping her make ends meet.
Mr. CHILDRESS: Yeah, they're the most powerful men in the community. There's the newspaper publisher and the sheriff and the preacher and a few of the other town's most powerful people. You know, Georgia's not the shrinking violet type and she goes straight to the top.
HANSEN: Yeah, but nobody suspects in town, right?
Mr. CHILDRESS: No. And the big juggling act, of course, that she has to try to keep them all secret from each other as well as from everybody else.
HANSEN: And she kind of covers it all up by going into another part of town and she picks up these homemade quilts that she then sells for, you know, more money than she paid for them and she passes them off as her own. And so whenever she closes that door in the room she's supposed to be, quote-unquote, "quilting."
Mr. CHILDRESS: Yeah, and everybody knows that when it's quilting time Georgia is to be left strictly alone because how can she put out such a great quantity of beautiful folk art quilts?
HANSEN: Yeah. You love to write about larger-than-life Southern women. I mean, your first novel we talked about it - "Crazy in Alabama" was made into a movie with Melanie Griffith and this character carried her husband's head in a hat box. I mean, you know, do these larger-than-life ladies come to you?
Mr. CHILDRESS: Well, and there's also - you've kindly not pointed out that there's' sort of a weird dotty old grandmother in every single book. But, you know, what can I say? I have my obsessions. I've actually written three books with male lead characters and three books with - now four books - with women.
For some reason, I really enjoy exploring Southern women. They are the most fascinating creatures on earth. I recently spent a weekend at the Pulpwood Queens Book Club Convention in Jefferson, Texas. You've never seen so much leopard print and tiaras in your life, you know. But Southern women are different than anybody else. They really are and I love to explore that mind.
HANSEN: Yeah. Jerry Herman, the Broadway composer, once told me that his characters Dolly from "Hello Dolly" and Mame, "Auntie Mame," came from his desire to see a glamorous woman walk down a large staircase. Are there other Southern women archetypes that you want to write about?
Mr. CHILDRESS: Well, I think we all labor, you know, in the shadow of Tennessee Williams, especially when it comes to outrageous Southern women. I swear, a hundred years from now people are going to be watching Tennessee Williams' plays. So, I would say that definitely my love for the bizarre and outlandish Southern heroine has a great debt to pay for both Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote, who also knew a freak when he saw one.
HANSEN: So, who were the women who influenced your own life and your work?
Mr. CHILDRESS: Well, I come from a family full of very strong Southern women, particularly my grandmother Stella and her daughters, who were my mother and my Aunt Hannah. Those folks were the ones who raised me. You know, daddy was off working - that's what daddy did back then. You know, raising children was women's responsibility in the '50s and '60s. And I have to say they did a pretty good job, although I probably have enough character flaws to argue against that. Those aren't their fault.
HANSEN: Mark Childress - his new novel is called "Georgia Bottoms." He spoke to us from the studio of member station WLRN in Miami. Mark, thanks again.
Mr. CHILDRESS: Thank you, Liane.
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