When I was growing up, my father’s job with a large oil company kept us moving. I spent two years in Venezuela, seven in London, England, and three in the Netherlands to name a few of the places I called home during my growing up years. As a person who thrives on meeting new people, it was a happy existence. At least as long as I was allowed to spend a few weeks at my grandmother’s house in Indianola, Mississippi—the house where my mother had been born and raised. In a nomadic life, it was the closest thing to home that I had, and a great inspiration to a future writer who would one day choose to write about Southern small towns and the people who live in them.
While living in the Netherlands—where the winters are very, very cold, my father one Christmas surprised my mother with a mink coat. This was the eighties when wearing fur wasn’t as non-PC as it is today, and my mother wore that coat proudly. Only to church, and dressy occasions, but she loved that coat like another child. It would get cleaned and put into storage each spring, and taken out again in the fall. She wore it with beautiful silk scarves tucked into her neck to protect the fur from her makeup, and I liked to sit next to her in church so I could stroke it, and imagine one day being old enough to borrow it. She always said that when she wore it, it was like feeling my father’s arms around her.
My father is now retired and my parents live in Nashville, Tennessee. My mother has Alzheimer’s and my father is getting ready to move them into a retirement village. When I visited a few weeks ago, my father gave me the fur coat. My mother hasn’t worn it in years, nor does she remember it. It would only take up room in their limited closet space in their new apartment.
I very carefully wrapped it in a sheet and placed it in the back of my car to take home to Atlanta with me. It’s hanging now, in its full-length black mink glory, under a sheet in my guest room closet. I don’t know if I will ever wear it. Times are different now, and besides, I think it will always be her coat. But I can’t help but remember how when I was younger and I’d stroke the soft fur and imagine a time when I would wear it. But time changes, and so do we.
Ten years ago, I wrote two books, FALLING HOME and AFTER THE RAIN for a small publisher. These books were written in the beginning of my career, when I was still in the “write what you know” phase. I wanted to write about the beauty of small towns and Southern families—their peculiarities, foibles, and fierce loyalty—all learned on those summer visits to Mississippi.
I loved these books, set in the small, fictional town of Walton, Georgia—a place where “everybody is somebody”—where love is found in unexpected places, and where people searching for a place to call home settle down to roost. My tag line for these books is, “Steel Magnolias meets Sweet Home Alabama.”
They were very popular, but went out of print fairly quickly, and for the last ten years I’ve been reading lots of emails from fans who wanted to know how they could get a copy. When the rights reverted back to me, I reworked both books—tightened the writing, added scenes and points of view, updated the time period all while keeping intact the characters and plot lines which is what my readers had loved. I sold them to my current publisher and was happy to see FALLING HOME debut on the NYT extended bestseller list and AFTER THE RAIN debut at #17—and remain on the extended list for two more weeks (and still counting at last glance!).
As much as I’m proud of these books, they’re different from the books I write now. I’ve run out of things I know, and now I write about things I want to know more about. Just like once wanting a fur coat, my inspirations for my books have changed and evolved over the years. I suppose just as we grow and change as people, as a writer I needed to do the same.
Suzanne Paris, the heroine in AFTER THE RAIN thinks: ”Tides change. So does the moon. With the unfailing constancy of brittle autumn closing in on bright summer, things always changed.” As Suzanne finds out, change can be good if we can only open ourselves up to the possibilities. And sometimes, only the passage of time can open our eyes wide enough to see them.