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Interview: April 27, 2007

April 27, 2007

Paula Wall is the author of MY LOVE IS FREE...BUT THE REST OF ME DON'T COME CHEAP and IF I WERE A MAN, I'D MARRY ME --- two collections of her "Off the Wall" syndicated columns --- as well as the novels THE ROCK ORCHARD and the newly released THE WILDE WOMEN.

In this interview with's Lourdes Orive, Wall explains how her awkward childhood laid the groundwork for a book about a family of mischievous and irresistible women, and describes the most difficult part of creating those characters. She also discusses how both her southern roots and her upbringing in Alaska flavor her writing, touches on the deceptive simplicity of southern fiction and shares details about the possibility of adapting her debut novel for the big screen. What inspired you to write THE WILDE WOMEN?

Paula Wall: While the rest of my girlfriends dreamed of being president, I dreamed of being a femme fatale. Being a pudgy nerd with horned-rimmed glasses and a copy of BULFINCH'S MYTHOLOGY under my arm, my mother didn't think I had much of a future in it and steered me toward writing about them instead.

BRC: The relationship between Kat and Pearl Wilde is at the heart of the book, even though they don't actually spend much time together in the course of the novel. How did you decide to handle this relationship? Did you have a plan of how they would connect and intersect, or did you just develop the characters and let them drive?

PW: Each of the Wilde women is a lone wolf. A wolf doesn't play with its prey. It goes straight for the kill. I thought it best to give each sister her own territory.

BRC: While Kat and Pearl are the focal point of THE WILDE WOMEN, your novel is full of engaging characters with a surprising amount of depth to them. You avoid going the one-dimensional route with characters like Sessalee, Olivia and Mason, and their complexity makes the book a fantastic read. Describe your character development process. How, for example, does a character like Eddie McCowan take shape?

PW: The difference between fiction and life is that God has to use real people. Sometimes, fictional characters are better. The trick is knowing which character to focus on.

Originally, Eddie McCowan was just a spice in the story. I knew his life, but didn't plan to spill it on the page. But Emily Bestler, my editor at Atria, said she had to know what happened to Eddie. Emily believes my characters are real and I don't have the heart to break it to her.

BRC: The spiritual realm is a thread running through some important scenes in the book. Can you tell us a bit about the relationship that various characters have to that world and how it impacts the lives of the people in Five Points?

PW: Maysie McCowan tucks dried cayenne pepper above the doors and windows to ward off jealousy. A crow means change or death is in the air. A prayer turns into a curse. Revenge is passed from mother to daughter in the blood.

In the South, the veil between reality and the supernatural is sheer as a silk stocking. My grandmother honestly believed there was a witch in her house moving things around. My best friend still cleans her house from top to bottom on October 30th, because on the 31st the dead come to visit.

BRC: Was there a particular scene or character in THE WILDE WOMEN that was harder to write than the rest?

PW: All three Wilde women are armed with sexuality, but how they use it is very different. Pearl Wilde comes home a femme fatale. She uses sex like a scalpel. Her sister, Kat, is a siren. She draws men but doesn't use them to get what she wants. Lorna, their mother, is a minx. There is always motive behind her mating. The trick was making the distinction.

BRC: You've published some very successful collections of your syndicated column, "Off the Wall." How difficult is writing fiction compared to your column? Is your writing process similar for both? Do you have a preference for one genre over another?

PW: The column taught me discipline. When you have to pump out a story every week, you can't wait for the muse to sing. You have to grab the witch by the throat and shake her until she spits something out.

BRC: How did your experiences with writing and publishing your first novel, THE ROCK ORCHARD, impact the creation of THE WILDE WOMEN?

PW: A lot of things went right with THE ROCK ORCHARD. All the threads came together and tied up neatly. When a book is successful, you're pulled toward weaving another story just like it. I have great respect for my friends and my critics, but I don't listen to them. Criticism knocks the wind out of you, but praise is slow poison.

BRC: As a Tennessee girl, your southern roots definitely shine through in your writing. However, you grew up in Alaska. How did that shape you as a writer?

PW: The morning my family left for Alaska, my mother left the breakfast dishes on the table. We walked out the door giddy with guilty exhilaration.

The South is a siren. I love my southern roots. I love the tradition and the warmth. The South is all about charm and kindness and manners. Alaska is straightforward and dauntless. It's all about new starts. It's crisp, fresh and wild, and without boundaries. The South gave me tensile strength. Alaska made me fearless.

BRC: How would you define "southern fiction"?

PW: Southern fiction has a distinct harmonic rhythm. You can sing the words. Good southern writing is deceptively simple, but haunts the reader.

BRC: What books or authors inspire you?


BRC: Is there one novel in particular you wish you'd written?

PW: Ask me this question on my death bed.

BRC: What's on your reading list right now?

PW: When I reach a certain point in writing a novel, I can't read. It messes up my rhythm. You can't dance the tango while you're singing the blues. I have a three-foot stack of books waiting for me. I stare longingly at it as I wait for the coffee pot to finish dripping, then I go lock myself in the closet.

BRC: Your website says that you "live on a farm in Tennessee where you write in a closet." Naturally, I cannot pass this up. Tell me more about your closet!

PW: "The Today Show" filmed an interview at my house. The first place the producer wanted to see was my closet. I told him, "Honey, I don't let just any man in my closet." A girl has to have a little mystery.

BRC: What's next for you?

PW: An independent film studio wants to make my first novel, THE ROCK ORCHARD, into a movie. Their people are talking to my people. Ask me if I ever thought I'd have "people."

BRC: Is there any chance we'll be hearing more from the characters in Five Points, Tennessee?

PW: Never say never.