“I would have 30 hobbies if I had time. I am best at writing, painting and overpromising myself. I have MS and many days it is hard to get out of bed or I only have a few hours of feeling good. It is progressively getting worse. I think of MS as Pac Man. The cells that are supposed to attack bad things don’t know good from bad in me. They munch on the nerves because they see them as a danger. I don’t know which one they are going to bite next. I have to live with it and make the most out of the time I feel good.
We grew up in Montrose and used to wash our hair in the icy springs in the cliffs. We rode horses on the beach and one day Aristocratic Knight thought it was time to haul ass. He popped his bit. I had no control and just tried to hold on. He took a hard right and I fell into an old campfire and a stick was stuck in my back. A few years later, a friend got a convertible Mustang and we rode around throwing slices of cake at other cars. I always needed a little adventure.
I went to a private boarding school and hated it. It was run by an ex-prison warden and he put me on kitchen duty. There was a big pot of chili on the stove and I dumped soap powder and every roach I could find into it. I told my friends not to eat and I sat there smiling when everyone else dug in. I wasn’t caught for that, but I was kicked out when I arranged a sit-in.
I have been working on five books for the past 30 years but got sidetracked raising children and making a living. Three summers ago, Tut Riddick called and said she was bored and didn’t have anything to read. I sent three or four chapters of a book I was working on to her. She started calling daily that she needed another chapter. I wasn’t writing it to get published, I was writing it to entertain Tut. Within two or three months the first draft of Secrets of the Devil Vine was finished. Many of the stories came from my mother and childhood.
My mother was a wildcatter in the oil fields in Citronelle, one of the only wildcatters in the state. Her middle name was Pearl, the name of the main character and mother in the book. My mother was very gifted but her biggest gift was bullshit. She would say something and you would doubt yourself if you didn’t believe it.
She raised us on her own, but she should never have had kids. She was a neglectful mother but would make beautiful arrangements from nature or junk in the yard. We filled up the car with flowers we picked in the ditch and made flower arrangements. Mother knew everything about flora and fauna. At least we thought she did. She also sold encyclopedias and was always self-employed. She was 50 years ahead of her time.
I read the Prince of Tides and thought Pat Conroy had grown up at my house. I felt robbed of my story. We never had a tiger, but mother would have been the type to have one. ‘Lineup and confess’ in my book is true. It happened to us every day until I was 13 or 14 when mama would make us confess what sin we did that day and then she would hit us with a switch. I was accused of all kinds of things I didn’t do. Finally, it occurred to me that if I was going to get beat for them that I might as well do them. As she aged, she mellowed. She told me she regretted ‘line up and confess’ and it was a mean thing to do, but at the time she thought she was so clever.
Pat Conroy said only you in your deepest, darkest personality knows the dirty truth, so you have to go there, dig it up and spit it out. It is scary, like walking down the street naked. That is what writing the book felt like as the story became more about Pearl and what shaped her. I don’t think I wrote the book looking for my mother, but maybe I was looking for my own answers. I dug up a lot of things that I didn’t remember.
I had a tumultuous relationship with my mother my whole childhood. I was just like her, free spirited with a big mouth. I was not a conformist and was not going to follow the rules. My sisters were meek, my brother was straight as a stick, and I was from hell. But I decided in my 20s to forgive my mother, not harbor bad memories and move on. She married a wealthy, elegant older man who became my papa. He was 82 and she was 44. Papa was our rescuer and I loved him.
I am about to turn 65 and never thought I would have a book published. I still have a lot of books to get out and stories to tell. Growing up with an interesting mother gave me a deep well of stories.”