Few writers can crawl into a character’s head like Mary Miller. In her 2009 short story collection, Big World, Miller’s protagonists were predominately young women in their twenties.  With her new novel, The Last Days of California, Miller channels fifteen-year-old Jess, trapped in the back of the family car with her secretly pregnant sister Elise, embarking on a road trip from Montgomery, Alabama to California.  Their father’s goal is for them to arrive within four days so they can be among the last American families to be raptured.  Along the way, he encourages the family to witness even though “He didn’t really want all 7 billion people on the planet to be saved.  We wouldn’t be special then.  We wouldn’t be the chosen ones.”

Miller is a recent graduate of the University of Texas’ Michener Center for Writers. She’s returning to her native Mississippi in the fall to serve as the Grisham Writer in Residence at Ole Miss. We discussed fantasizing about fundamentalism, writing realistically about teenage sex, and why she can’t quit Mississippi.

Hendricks, Brent (c) Kate BernheimerSo, you have a new book coming out—could you tell us a little about that?

Sure, I have something else I’d like to talk about too, but yes, the book is called A Long Day at the End of the World, and it’s a personal narrative about the Tri-State Crematory Incident.  It’s a very gothic Southern story.  In 2002, it was discovered that a crematory operator in rural North Georgia had failed to cremate hundreds of bodies over a five year period.  He’d sent the families fake cremains, composed primarily of concrete dust, to cover his crime, and he’d left the rotting corpses strewn all over the crematory grounds.  Most of the bodies he’d dumped into eight mass burial pits, which were then covered with trash and, in one instance, an old pool table.  As it turns out, my father’s body was one of the first bodies abandoned at the site, in 1997.

Nothing gets the blood pumping for an ex-Evangelical better than a good old-fashioned End of the World prediction.

You’ve no doubt seen the billboards. The End of the World is scheduled for May 21, 2011. And if you’re having trouble believing that, you’d better check out the little gold seal in the corner that says “The Bible Guarantees It”, because everyone knows that a gold seal doesn’t lie.