1) It wasn’t on purpose.
2) You haven’t heard me talk about beer yet. When I talk about beer, my accent totally comes back. Also, when I hear other Southerners talk. Once, I watched an entire season of Friday Night Lights in one weekend, and by Monday I sounded like I’d just come from revival.
But, true fact: I can’t say y’all. It just will not come out of my mouth. It’s the most southern of all southern words, and when I try to say it, I just get incredibly uncomfortable. One more thing: when I hear my own voice in my head, you know, the talking-to-yourself-but-not-out-loud voice, it has a big southern accent.
About California. It’s weird. You write these books that are VERY much set in San Francisco—The Year of Fog, Golden State. But then a few pages in, we always find out that the main character has some deep connection to the South. Why is that?
Well, as you know, I grew up in Mobile. Which is the South, only different. When I took my husband home to meet my parents for the first time, he said, “You’re not even Southern.” He said this while we were sitting in my parents’ dining room in Alabama, which, last time I checked, is almost as far South as you can get. For dinner, my mother had made a very healthy fish dish, with nary a speck of butter or mayonnaise in sight. No one in my household hunted or owned a gun or knew much about country music. My husband had all these ideas about what it meant to be Southern, and I didn’t fit any of them, so he decided my entire identity as a southerner was a fabrication. This despite the fact that my grandfather was a Southern Baptist preacher and my parents grew up in Mississippi.
But to answer your question, I guess the South always turns up in my books—the Gulf Coast in The Year of Fog, rural Mississippi in Golden State, Fairhope, Alabama in Dream of the Blue Room. For writers, I think there’s something in the subconscious that always casts back to childhood, to one’s earliest sensory memories. San Francisco is so cold, and Alabama was so warm, and I think about that heat all the time, and a part of me misses Gulf Coast nights. Even at this late date, fifteen years into my life in California, I cain’t get it out of my system.
Did you say you cain’t get it out of your system?
See, you’re rubbing off on me.
I’ve noticed that Steve Forbert, Lloyd Cole, Nick Cave, and Chris Isaak show up in every one of your novels.
Really? I hadn’t noticed. Okay, maybe I noticed. The thing is, I just like to have music in my novels, because a great deal of the life of a novel happens in the everyday; that’s where so much of the realness comes in (I almost said authenticity, but I hate that word. It’s so pretentious. When writers talk about authenticity it always makes me want to throw something at them). In my own everyday life, there’s a lot of music. My husband is always making these amazing playlists for me. As for the musicians you just mentioned, I cain’t get enough of them.
You write novels and short stories. Why can’t you just decide on one thing and go with it?
I am always, always working on a novel, because I can’t quite imagine my life at any moment without a novel-in-progress in it. I write stories out of a flash of inspiration. They are not work to me in the same way that a novel is work. From a very practical standpoint, in my case, novels pay the bills; short stories don’t. Also, it may take me a few weeks or a few months to complete a story, but it always takes a few years to complete a novel.
Don’t look at me like that.
Like, “Hey, you’re really slow. Are you lazy or something?”
I mean, if I were writing every minute of every day, yes, it would be weird that it takes that long, but I do other stuff too, like teaching, mothering, running an online literary journal, etc. So upon closer inspection, I am more active than I may appear.
The whole season of Friday Night Lights? In one weekend? Do you feel that you are being completely authentic here?
Just because we have a close relationship doesn’t mean I won’t throw this at you.
Oh, Lord, is that a mimosa? Seriously? At 9:30 in the morning?
When else would one drink a mimosa, my dear?
MICHELLE RICHMOND is the author of two award-winning story collections and four novels, including the international bestseller The Year of Fog. Her new novel, GOLDEN STATE, which takes place on a single day in San Francisco, was published this month. Here new story collection, HUM, winner of the Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize, will be out in March. She is the founder and publisher of Fiction Attic Press. Visit her online at http://michellerichmond.com.