unnamedWhat or Who is Lum? Why is Lum the title of your book?

Lum is the name of the main character, short for Columbia. She tried to get rid of her childhood nickname and have people call her Columbia, but it didn’t stick. She is a thirty-three-year-old intersex woman living in Depression era Virginia. I tried to come up with other titles, but Lum sounded right.


Intersex? Is that like Trans?

No, “intersex” is an umbrella term for many conditions where a person’s genitals are not consistent with what is considered normal for males or females.


So she’s a hermaphrodite?

Intersex is the preferred term. Hermaphrodite indicates that someone has all the parts of both genders, which just isn’t the case. I picked a syndrome that Lum has, congenital andrenal hyperplasia (CAH), and then used the manifestations of that condition in her story.


One more question about intersex, and it’s personal…

That’s okay. I know you well.


Are you intersex, and if not, why did you write from the viewpoint of an intersex person?

I’m not and what I set out to do was tell the story of a person living as an intersex person in a situation, how she got into that situation and how she lived at that time in that place. Other books about intersex tend to focus on the individual finding out about being intersex. I describe that in one scene, but this is not a coming of age story.


Why does Lum not have her own home?

She was told to not expect to marry and as a teenager she started helping out a cousin who had a baby. She stays with her until her grandmother had a stroke, then she assists her grandmother and then someone else needs her.


How did you come up with this idea?

My mother told me stories about growing up in a small town in Virginia. One was about a “morphydite” who lives much like my character. I was interested in writing about her, so I wrote a short story, “The Circuit.”


Why did the short story turn into a novel?

There is a character called Smiley, an African American peddler who sells postcards of sideshow performers to Lum. I became interested in him and starting writing a longer piece that I thought would be a novella. It grew and grew and I interwove chapters about Lum and Smiley. Another person whose story was included was Amy, an elderly herb woman, who plays a small part in Lum. Even after trimming, the book was over 100,000 words. I decided to split Lum’s story from Smiley’s. Then I added chapters delving into her past. I also wanted to add more about Kenny, who is a Melungeon.


Can you tell more about Melungeons?

Melungeons are dark-skinned people who lived in isolated parts of Appalachia, often high in the mountains. Their origin is unknown, but there are several theories, such as that they are tri-racial, as a result of escaped slaves, Native Americans, and whites intermarrying; or that they came from Turkey; or that they were shipwrecked Portugese sailors. Some called themselves “Portugee.” The word Melungeon comes from the French word, “mélange” based on the tri-racial story. I wanted to show how Kenny’s community was discriminated against, but that he is an outlier in his community, as is Lum in her own family.


Why are you writing about Virginia?

As a young child, I lived in West Virginia. My family moved to Florida, but I visited relatives in the Blue Ridge Mountains during my childhood and I loved the mountains. They are where I feel the most at peace. I always loved the Blue Ridge Parkway and since it was built at the same time my novel was taking place, I decided to show how the Blue Ridge Parkway affected the people who lived in its path.


Did the Blue Ridge Parkway have negative effects?

Both good and bad. The building of the parkway gave jobs to men during the depression. There were two parts: the highway commission that built the road; and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that designed the borders and planted flowers alongside the road. Businesses near the road’s site gained tourists and the parkway workers as customers. On the negative side, farmers were forced to sell their land and relocate. This is what was facing Lum’s relatives and the farmers didn’t take this lying down.


What do you like to read?

I mostly read fiction, especially historical, and I like to keep up with new books. I always look forward to books by Geraldine Brooks, Lee Smith, or Sena Jeter Naslund. Some series that I like are by Alexander McCall Smith—the 44 Scotland Street series and the Sunday Philosophers Club series. Lea Waite has a mystery series called the Antique Print Mysteries.

Nonfiction reading is often for research, so I have a lot of books related to Appalachia, Melungeons, Intersex, African American history, and 19th century Southern history.


What are you writing next?

Currently I am co-writing a bibliomystery with my partner, Charlene Ball. It is called Murder at the Estate Sale, and is about two female booksellers who find a local book thief dead in the basement of a house where an estate sale is taking place. At the same time they are trying to figure out who murdered him, they are looking for a book on black magic that they suspect is related to the murder. We hope for this to be the first in a series.


LIBBY WARE is the owner of Toadlily Books, an antiquarian book business, and is also a book collector. Libby is President of Georgia Antiquarian Booksellers Association, and is a member of the Atlanta Writers Club, Georgia Writers Association, and the Appalachian Writers Association. Her short story, “The Circuit,” was a finalist in the Poets & Writers Award for Georgia Writers, judged by Jennifer Egan. “The Circuit,” which is now Chapters 1—3 of Lum, in slightly different form, was published in Feminist Studies. She belongs to a writing group that has met for nearly twenty years. She is a fellow of The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences. She lives in Atlanta with her two dogs, Tilly and Robin, and is engaged to Charlene Ball.

Author photo by Charlene Ball


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TNB FICTION is proud to showcase book excerpts and original short fiction from some of the finest writers in the world. Features have included work by Aimee Bender, Dan Chaon, Stuart Dybek, Jennifer Egan, Bret Easton Ellis, Roxane Gay, Etgar Keret, Antonya Nelson, and hundreds of other internationally acclaimed and emerging writers. Spotlighting a recent book release each week, TNB Fiction helps bring awareness of new literary fiction, from both trade and independent publishers, to readers around the world, providing a global, free-access arena for spotlighting the genre in an era of shrinking coverage among mainstream print publications. TNB Fiction has its finger on the pulse of a vibrant new generation of writers, as well as established literary greats whose work continues to shape the future dialogue of literary culture. Fiction Editor Rachael Warecki lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere, and has received residency invitations from the Wellstone Center and Ragdale. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles and is currently at work on a novel.

One response to “Libby Ware: The TNB Self-Interview”

  1. Waiting for Libby Ware’s next writing “called Murder at the Estate Sale”. Nice interview.

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