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The Tilted World: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 1, 2013
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Author One-on-One: Joshilyn Jackson and Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin
Joshilyn Jackson: Dixie Clay’s relationship with the orphan who falls into her care captures the visceral experience of Baby Love. My own kids are 11 and 16 now, but reading those passages, I had an almost physical response, a wave of something stronger than nostalgia. Can you talk about how you created this relationship?
Beth Ann Fennelly: Short version: I got knocked up. Tommy and I enjoyed a romantic trip to Provence, and I came home with food poisoning. After three weeks of not shaking the bug, it dawned on us—my “food poisoning” was a fetus. Sweet baby Nolan re-immersed us into the joys of the hands-on, every minute parenting of an infant (by then our “bigs” were turning ten and six). The physical rituals of feeding and bathing and diapering him synced me with Dixie Clay’s bodily rhythms. Mothers, I think, are hungry to see motherhood portrayed accurately in books. I know I am. And writing about a baby gave me an excuse to do what I really wanted to do anyway—study the marvelous creature that we’d somehow created.
JJ: The Tilted World is set against the dynamic backdrop of The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. I’d never heard of it until I read your book. Why do you think it’s such a lost part of our history? How did you find it?
BAF: I think because so many of the people affected were poor Southerners—many of them black sharecroppers—the scale of the tragedy wasn’t registered by those who write history. But folks still talk about it here, and after Katrina, it was on a lot of people’s minds. There’s also an amazing nonfiction book about the flood called Rising Tide, by John M. Barry.
JJ: Music, especially blues and jazz, plays an important role in The Tilted World. How important is music in your own lives?
Tom Franklin: We both love music of all kinds (we recently saw Willie Nelson and Snoop Dogg perform in the same month), but especially enjoy Mississippi blues. During the flood, the blues was more than entertainment—it was soul-affirming. So many people were thrown together on the levee with nothing to do besides stare at the water—blues gave them a way to grieve and dream.
JJ: A married couple—both successful writers with very different visions and distinct voices—decides to write a novel together. It sounds like a recipe for divorce, disaster, or both. Yet here you are, you’re still best friends, and the book is wonderful. How did the collaboration come about?
TF:When my cousin heard we were writing a book together, he said, “High stakes poker, Tom.”
But it wasn’t. Instead, it turned out to be one of the best writing experiences of our lives. What happened was we’d written a collaborative short story, and after it was published, our agent, Nat Sobel, saw the story in a magazine and called me. “You should expand this story for your next novel,” he told me. “And you two should write it together.” Beth Ann took some convincing. As a poet, she’d always joked that fiction was a “lower art,” but after enough wheedling she decided to try it. It was fun to write together, fun to inhabit that world with her. We were almost sad when the book was finished. Now I have to see if I can convince her to write another.
From Publishers Weekly
Rough South writer Franklin (Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter) and the poet and nonfiction writer Fennelly (Great with Child), distill in this prohibition-era tale of bootleggers and revenuers an atmospheric draught of prose that is at once poetic and gritty. It's 1927 Mississippi, and Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover has sent two unbribable federal revenue agents, Ted Ingersoll and Ham Johnson, into the maw of the Great Flood to investigate the disappearance of two other prohis from Hobnob Landing. On the way, Ingersoll and Ham find a baby, the lone survivor of a country-store looting gone bad. Ingersoll, an orphan himself, gives the boy to bootlegger Dixie Clay, a 22-year-old bereft of her own child. Along with her violent husband Jesse Holliver, Dixie might have been the last person to see the missing revenuers alive. Love for Dixie rises in Ingersoll's heart like the waters on the levee, and he knows that to fix things... would require broken vows and broken laws, blood, desertion, and money. There's a bit of corn in this mash, but fans of Fennelly will savor her depictions of a mother's ferocious love, and Franklin's following will shine to the violent rendering of a nearly forgotten time and ethos. (Oct.)
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This is a beautiful novel. Poetic and sweet with enough river roughnecks to make things interesting. The writing is lovely - very poetic. Highly recommended for people who like literary fiction.
Written by a married couple, who did such a good job I hope they work on another soon.