Wednesday, September 19, 2012

All in the Family?




HANK:  Don't you love finding a new friend? Well. Meet Liz Talbot. (I just tucked in a photo of my dahlias because they're so great this year.)

Liz is a modern Southern belle: she blesses hearts and takes names. She carries her Sig 9 in her Kate Spade handbag, and her golden retriever, Rhett, rides shotgun in her hybrid Escape. When her grandmother is murdered, Liz high-tails it back to her South Carolina island home to find the killer. 

Okay, fine, Liz is fictional. She's the brain-child of the fabulous Susan Boyer, a debut author with a witty voice and a huge heart. Susan's a Guppy, of course, which makes her instantly wonderful.  I had the pleasure of reading her new book--and  well, you know those moments when you think-whoa! She's got it! That's how I felt about LOW COUNTRY BOIL.

And we'll give a copy to one lucky commenter! And now--shhh...we're going to hear the dish about Susan's family...

It All Comes Down to Family 
                          by Susan Boyer
          

My extended family clan has more members than some towns. My people have gone forth and multiplied, is what I’m saying. I should add, right up front, that while I explore family dynamics in my writing, I don’t write about my family. The exception is an occasional blog, and when I tell one of them I’ve used them in a blog, they stand up straight and grin. If they were peacocks, their feathers would no doubt fan.

Because the relationship between sisters is complex, it’s one of my favorite themes in fiction. My sister and I joke that we were once a single egg which subdivided and we were separated before birth. Mamma calls us her twins born ten years apart. We’re exactly alike, except in the ways we are not. I’m what folks politely call “big-boned,” while my sister is petite, bless her heart. We’re both OCD control freaks. We finish each other’s sentences and have our own, secret texting shorthand. When I think of her, the phone rings and she’s on the line.

We agree on virtually everything. But in the space between “virtually everything” and “absolutely everything,” unfortunate altercations occasionally erupt. When we disagree, we do it in spectacular fashion. It infuriates her that I could possibly hold a differing position on anything. I feel the same way. If the conversation drifts towards treacherous waters while we’re in our mother’s house, Mamma throws up her hands, says, “I’m leaving,” and walks out the back door. She always comes back—well, she always has so far. Daddy instigates these dramas for entertainment. He knows our points of dissension well. Our brother—the middle child—eggs it on just to keep things interesting. I’m absolutely convinced any one of us would take a bullet for any of the others.

But I’m here to tell you, it’s true what they say about Southern families—we are neither ashamed of nor scared by eccentricity. By way of example, I offer Aunt Avalee, who is convinced her neighbor is throwing birdseed on her roof so the birds will peck holes in it, and Aunt Clarene, whose house has been repeatedly broken into by someone who vacuums and leaves without taking or disturbing anything. I have many more examples. So many more.

When I married Sugar, I left the small town where I grew up. At the time, it never entered my mind this would be a permanent thing. My sister moved away as well, and we frequently lament not living close enough to inhabit each other’s daily lives. My brother lives fifteen minutes from Mamma’s backdoor. I envy him that. In my fantasy life, we all live back in that small town, a block or two away from each other, and we all go to Mamma and Daddy’s on Sunday for supper. We pop in and out of each other’s homes several times a week. My dreams are made of simple things. But these simple things are simply out of reach.

Sugar’s job requires him to live near an airport. Three of our four children have put down roots in Greenville, South Carolina, where we’ve lived for many years and where they grew up. We have friends whose lives have become intertwined with ours through shared joys and heartaches who we would be hard pressed to leave behind. And, much of Sugar’s side of our family resides in Greenville. Going home is not an option for me.

So, I write about what I long for—family, small towns, and pristine beaches—and of course, solving murders and taking down the bad guy.

Do y’all have big families? If you’re a writer, do your family relationships sometimes influence the themes you write about? 
 
 HANK: Well, I have one full sister, two half-sisters, and a half-brother who I grew up with, and two-half sisters and two half-brothers I DIDN'T grow up with. And yes, my books are all about family--whether they seem to be or not. (And if you've read THE OTHER WOMAN, you know that!).
Jungle Red is delighted to offer a copy of LOW COUNTRY BOIL to one lucky commenter--so tell all about your family--and you may soon be reading about Liz Talbot's!


******************************************

Susan M. Boyer has been making up stories her whole life. She tags along with her husband on business trips whenever she can because hotels are great places to write: fresh coffee all day and cookies at 4 p.m. They have a home in Greenville, SC, which they occasionally visit. Susan’s short fiction has appeared in moonShine Review, Spinetingler Magazine, Relief Journal, The Petigru Review, and Catfish Stew. Her debut novel, Lowcountry Boil, is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense recipient and an RWA Golden Heart® finalist.

43 comments:

Joan Emerson said...

I think family relationships always influence themes since, to a great extent, family is a large part of who we are and what we have come to be. All those family dynamics play a role in how we relate to the world at large . . . and that, of course, is evidenced in what we say and do and write.

Susan’s ideal of everyone in the family living “fifteen minutes from Mama’s back door” has genuine heart-tugging appeal, no matter how unrealistic it might be in “real life” . . . and it’s kind of a sad commentary that life’s “simple things are simply out of reach.” Still, it’s these sorts of experiences that are fodder for stories, and I look forward to reading Susan’s book.

Joan Emerson said...

I'm glad you included the dahlias, Hank . . . they are simply gorgeous.

Edith Maxwell said...

I love your voice, Susan! Your aunts sound like interesting characters, too.

My siblings and I are scattered across the continent: California, Indiana, Massachusetts, and Ottawa, Canada, and we're about as different as our locations, although my sisters and I (a Mormon, a Buddhist, and me, the Quaker) grew closer over the last few years meeting to be with our mother in her last years.

Family stuff definitely plays a role in my writing.

Can't wait to read yours!

Marianne in Maine said...

Great to meet you, Susan! Another author whose book I can't wait to read!

Ah, family! Love 'em and hate 'em. Siblings are our first friends and our first enemies. "MOM, she's staring at me!!!" But any one of us would go anywhere to help another of us in need. We may not agree on everything (what do you mean you don't vote?!!) but we're still sisters.

Thanks for sharing with us, Susan. And the low country is lovely. I've always enjoyed visiting there.

And the flowers are lovely, Hank. I can't grow anything to save my life!

Karen in Ohio said...

Really, Susan, someone breaks into your aunt's house to vacuum? Whoa, thereby hangs a tale. I'd love to know the impulse behind that one.

I grew up in a massive family, too. Cousins were my best friends, growing up, and there was always someone to hang out with. One cousin taught me to drive, the way all the rest of the cousins learned, by driving backwards through the cemetery where our grandfather lived and was the caretaker.

But my best "sibling" is the one I gave birth to, my oldest daughter. She and I are like you and your sister, Susan, and always enjoy one another's company whether we are together or just yakking on the phone. And we look so much alike everyone thinks we're sisters, poor thing. LOL I wish she lived closer, but, alas.

Your dahlias are spectacular, Hank!

Susan M. Boyer said...

Hank, thank you so much for having me on Jungle Reds today! I'm so, so excited to be here--and I LOVE the dahlias--gorgeous!!

Thanks so much, Joan! And you're exactly right--it is rather a sad thing. And yes, so much fodder! :)

Edith,thank you so much! Your siblings are even more scattered than mine. That's a lot of area!

Marianne, great to meet you, too! Thank you so much!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

OH, so funny, Marianne! We had
"Mom, she touched me for no reason."
"Mom, she's taking up all the room!"

"It was HER idea".
Well, if she told you to jump off a bridge would you do that?"

"I was sitting there and she took my seat!"

IN fact, we had a deal where if you had to get up from your chair, you could say: SAVE SEAT and no one would take your place.

But if you didn't say SAVE SEAT, it was up for grabs.

We NEVER violated this rule. But there was a lot of
"You didn't say SAVE SEAT!"
"I did TOO!"

SUsan, welcome!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

And the winner of Lisa Unger's HEARTBROKEN is: Bonnie! Contact me at h ryan at whdh dot com and tell me your address!

Congratulations!

Hallie Ephron said...

Welcome, Susan. You and I are singing the same tune on this one: "Because the relationship between sisters is complex, it’s one of my favorite themes in fiction."

I've got sisters and I've got daughters . . . great fodder.

Larissa Reinhart said...

Great post, Susan. I've got a sister and 1 sister-in-law & 2 daughters & 4 nieces. We've given up on boys. LOL. Family dynamics make for great humor & great tension.

marysuttonauthor said...

I have two brothers and a sister. I am the oldest, with four years separating me from the elder of my brothers and almost 8 years separating me from my sister. I remember hearing the "he's touching me," "no I'm not" conversations on family trips while I relaxed in the (relative) peace of the very bag (because I was the eldest I got to ride in the way back of the station wagon with the luggage). My interactions with my siblings were those of a teenager not wanting to be bothered by her elementary-school siblings.

We all live hours from each other now. I wish it was closer so I saw them more frequently. It seems like they are moving closer to the old home town. Me, I can't leave Pittsburgh. I can't rip up the roots that my kids have put down over their short lives.

Of course, my two, separated by only two years, have their own, um, interesting dynamic. A brother and sister after my own heart - and my own siblings.

Which is to say, siblings who will fight like there's no tomorrow, but who will gladly kick the pants of anybody who dares pick on his/her brother/sister. =)

Susan M. Boyer said...

Karen, we're operating under the assumption that this really isn't happening--she comes up with some wild ideas. Maybe she vacums herself and forgets she did it--who knows?

That life--where cousins are your best friends--that's what I crave. Althought, truthfully, in Lowcountry Boil, not all of Liz's cousins are that nice. :)

Hallie--yes--great fodder! :)

Larissa, I don't know where I'd be without my family. And that statementis true on so many levels, not the least of which is a great source for humor and tension. :)

PlumGaga said...

I was an only child and, on my mother's side of the family, an only grandchild, so my family seemed to be shrinking instead of growing.

Susan M. Boyer said...

Mary, exactly: "siblings who will fight like there's no tomorrow, but who will gladly kick the pants of anybody who dares pick on his/her brother/sister. =)"

:)

21st century bookmark said...

My husband and I have five grown children between us and that makes the dynamics of family life, oh so interesting. We baby sat 50 sled dogs in Alaska and decorated for a New Year's Eve Party for a major hotel in Manhattan. I like to think of myself as a flexible, loving mother and wife, but I am watching my own mother, age 97 and closing in on 98, handle the loss of her mind. She refuses to take her meds and throws them in the nurse's face. Who are we anyway--a sum total of our DNA or our experiences? I reckon that's why I decided to become a novelist, just to find some answers to life's perplexing relationships.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Whats the song--Sisters?

"Lord help the mister, who comes between me and my sister
But lord help the sister, who comes between me and my man!"

Mary Sutton, we had the "way back," too! I loved being back there, getting to read in the car. Usually--MAD Magazine.

Susan M. Boyer said...

Plum, I can see where there would be advantages to being the only child and grandchild. :)

21st Century--50 sled dogs?? Yes, you are flexible!

Hank, yes--it's from an old movie--White Christmas. The sisters were Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. (I totally Googled that!) :)

Linda Rodriguez said...

Gorgeous dahlias, Hank! Thanks for posting them.

Welcome to Jungle Reds, Susan. Low Country Boil sounds fabulous! I love books about family. I also come from a large, extended (and sometimes dysfunctional) family. Mary, I know what you mean about the siblings who fight each other but form ranks against the outside.

And I love Hank’s description of Liz. She sounds like an actual writer friend I have who’s a flamboyant blonde from Texas with gun in purse, fast car, and dog riding shotgun. Trouble on four wheels!

*sigh* Fourth attempt on Captcha. Even when it's pretty legible and looks easy, it refuses it.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Well, Linda, thank you--but that's actually SUSAN's description of Liz which I, um, stole.

Yes, captcha is...incomprehensible.

Susan M. Boyer said...

Linda, thank you so much! Umm...yeah, my family may be a tad dysfunctional as well. :)

The captcha thing doesn't like me either. :)

Jack Getze said...

Until five years ago, I would have thought a "Low Country Boil" involved some kind of festering insect bite. But having spent time on a South Carolina beach the past few summers, I am a major fan of all Low Country food, she-crab soup perhaps my favorite. The book and your family sound wonderful, Susan. Good luck!

Lisa Alber said...

I love Southern writers! So glad to meet you and your debut novel here today, Susan.

I write about family too, but, in my case, that's probably because I have a small core family, far removed from the Midwest relatives. I tend to dwell on the tricky, dark side of families.

Sisters, sisters. I have two younger ones--complex relationships indeed! I've always imagined as feral cats--doing our own thing, hard to round up, and when together, likely to hiss and spit! :-)

Susan M. Boyer said...

Oh, Jack! I love she-crab soup! OMG! I'm craving it right now! Thank you so much!

Lisa--thank you!! And I love this description of sisters: "I've always imagined as feral cats--doing our own thing, hard to round up, and when together, likely to hiss and spit! :-"

Hilarious!! :)

Lucy Burdette said...

Susan, what a delightful essay--this makes me want to rush out and order the book. Instantly, as Hank would say.

Congrats on the release--hurray! And yes, families are always where it's at. If someone says that's not true, we know it's really worth digging into their family relations:)

Deb said...

I have one brother, and we each have an only daughter. But I love reading about big families, and I love writing about the families that people form by choice.

Susan, your book sounds terrific. Can't wait to read it!

Susan M. Boyer said...

Lucy, thank you so much! And, agreed on the more digging comment! :)

Deb, absolutely--some of my dear family members have been accumulated/recruited over the years because we needed them in our family. :) Thank you so much!

Deb Romano said...

I have four younger siblings, three of whom have offspring. There are lots of cousins on both sides of my family. We knew most of my dad's aunts and uncles and cousins when we were growing up. My mom's relatives,except for her parents and siblings,were all in Europe and even Mom never met any of them,until a cousin of hers had to come to the US for a conference when I was twelve. All of Mom's family,inculding the ones I never met,were deeply spiritual people. All my aunts and uncles and cousins LOVED to laugh;my memories of family gatherings on that side of the family are of laughing so hard with them that I'd start to wheeze! Now the Older generation is MY generation,and our gatherings are still characterized by LOTS of laughter!

Then there's Dad's family. I don't know if I would describe them as "colorful" or "dark". If a movie were to be made about them, the typical viewer would feel that the story was totally unrealistic! I am convinced that one of the reasons my father was attracted to my mother was that she came from a lighthearted family.

In the old TV program,Designing Women,one of the characters said -I am paraphrasing - "here in the south we don''t hide our crazy people;we flaunt them!" Well,I'm not from the south,but I think there is something healing about talking about our eccentric (or worse) relatives, instead of hiding everything under the rug. Some of us on dad's side of the family have been getting together to swap family stories, and I have a much better understanding now of why certain of my dad's relatives behaved the way they did. We can even find things to laugh at!

I want to read your book, Susan!

Susan M. Boyer said...

Oh, Deb--I loved Designing Women! And yes, we do tend to flaunt crazy in the South.

I love the stories about your family--both sides. The laughing and laughing I can related to, but also the "colorful." Thank you so much!!

LynDee Walker said...

Fantastic post, Susan! Family dynamics definitely make for interesting stories.

Michelle F. said...

I don't have much family but the cats are part of the family. I'm an only child and I never see any of my cousins or aunts and uncles. Oh, well. Haven't seen them in years because they never kept in touch. It would've been their job to keep in touch because I was too young then to keep in touch with them. They were busy with their own families, including their grandchildren (my aunts and uncles were older than my mother). They didn't even send birthday or Christmas cards to me. One aunt did but stopped later on.

Reine said...

Hank, thanks for another enticing introduction to a new-to-me mystery writer... and your beautiful dahlias, which I now look forward to each year.

Susan, you just grabbed a new reader, here. I'm excited to start reading your books.

I have no sisters or brothers and grew up as an only child, except when I lived with cousins. My writing is held together with family intrigue and close friendship. I have always craved the kind of sibling relationships you describe but must be satisfied with (and they are blessedly gratifying) the few deep friendships I've developed over the years.

We have our eccentrics in my native New England too, and I am afraid that, to my family there, I am one of them. This makes me write about them - a lot. They are not, however, the kind to be happy about it, except for Auntie-Mom who would be the Palm Desert version of your peacocks. She had to leave New England to learn how that worked, and then she taught me. I'm grateful we live close enough to visit now and then. Her Sunday dinner invitations are lusted after by all.

Susan M. Boyer said...

Michelle, cats are absolutely family, as are dogs!

Reine, I have several "family" members who are dear friends. Sometimes we do choose our family. :)

Thank you so much!!

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yeah, I always worry about that. I have relatives I never talk to. But then, they never talk to me either.
But then--maybe they would if I did.

Ah. But I talked to my sister this morning! (And she says hi.) She's having a garage sale, and wants to know if I want to buy her extremely fancy Riedel wine glasses. Sure, why not. Bless her heart.

Susan M. Boyer said...

Hank, you are hilarious: "Bless her heart." Tell your sister she should give you the wine glasses--she's your sister. :)

Leslie Budewitz said...

Don't you just howl -- sometimes outloud -- when your sibling says some outrageous thing, and then says "I can't help it -- that's how I was raised" -- just as YOU were about to say exACTly the opposite and claim that's how YOU were raised?

Susan M. Boyer said...

Leslie--EXACTLY!! :) This happens a lot with us.

I still have that song from White Christmas in my head. "Sister, sister, there never were such devoted sisters..."

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

"Many men have tried to break us up..but no one caaaaaaan..."


MAybe here should be a sisters in crime Guppy performance!

Susan, all the best to you..and may you sell piles of books! (You are SO talented!) Wonderful to see you here today..


Winner of Low Country Boil announced tomorrow...and also tomorrow--an author I KNOW you love! See you then..

Denise Ann said...

I am the oldest of five, and remember this cry every time we headed to the car: "Front next to the window on the way and the way back!"
We have a big, eclectic family with lots of color and design.

Love the sound of "Low Country Boil" -- recipes?

skipperhammond said...

Warning: negative grumblings ahead. Gushing about families makes me mad. So many of us don't have them. And even more have families that are not just ha ha dysfunctional, fodder for novelists, but downright destructive. But because we're so busy praising the family, assuming it's fulfilling our need for intimate, trusting relationships, we no longer try building other institutions to meet these needs.
Once upon a time, a few decades ago, there were people, including authors like Marge Piercy, who believed it possible to create a society where we didn't shut ourselves off from one another behind white picket fences. Young people dared to experiment with new social arrangements where children were raised by loving adults, where older members were honored and cared for. Those experiments largely failed under pressure on members to succeed in a competitive economy. I'd sure like to see people with courage to try again.

skipperhammond said...

Warning: negative grumblings ahead. Gushing about families makes me mad. So many of us don't have them. And even more have families that are not just ha ha dysfunctional, fodder for novelists, but downright destructive. But because we're so busy praising the family, assuming it's fulfilling our need for intimate, trusting relationships, we no longer try building other institutions to meet these needs.
Once upon a time, a few decades ago, there were people, including authors like Marge Piercy, who believed it possible to create a society where we didn't shut ourselves off from one another behind white picket fences. Young people dared to experiment with new social arrangements where children were raised by loving adults, where older members were honored and cared for. Those experiments largely failed under pressure on members to succeed in a competitive economy. I'd sure like to see people with courage to try again.

Karen B said...

One older brother - and no other relatives with 1000 miles! How I loved it each summer in the 40s/50s when we went back to PA and visited all the relatives.
kpbarnett1941[at]aol.com

Judy Alter said...

I have one older brother. We were close as youngsters, grew apart, and now in our golden years are probably closer than we've ever been. But I missed a large family growing up. Today I have that--when we get our two extended families together there are something like 25 of us--and we love it. Somehow my brother has never worked his way into my fiction, even though my oldest daughter calls my ysteries "highy autobiographical." The children in them are my two oldest grandchildren, and yes, I think family pervades what we write.

Fly In Fishing Lodges said...

It was interesting to read through this interview. Thank you for sharing information about such books and authors. I loved your post! Looking forward to read some of the work by the author!