It is amazing how many of my childhood friends from Alabama have gone on to extraordinary things. GIN PHILLIPS has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. As a child, she had a terrific imagination. As an adult, she channels her creativity into a thriving career as a novelist. I am astounded by her talent as a writer. Fannie Flagg called Gin’s writing “palpable and alive.” Oh how right she is. This is gorgeous, visceral storytelling that will sweep you away.
Gin’s first novel, The Well and the Mine, won the Barnes & Noble Discover Award in 2009.
She has since published a second novel, Come In and Cover Me (chosen by Oprah.com as a book of the week),
and a young adult novel, The Hidden Summer.
Here, Gin answers a few of my questions about her literary life.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I’ve always written. I always had either a book or pen and paper in my hand growing up. But it took a while before I realized writing could be an actual career. I spent most of my childhood planning to be a veterinarian—then I hit high school chemistry. I was well into my twenties before I began to think writing books could be a real job.
It seems incredibly daunting to sit down and write a novel. How do you begin – how do you choose a subject?
It’s not a very conscious or linear process. Usually a particular image comes to mind, and I start teasing it out. For The Well and the Mine, it was a little girl sitting on her porch, looking into the night, and then she sees….something. Figuring out what the something was the core of that book.
For Come In and Cover Me, I saw a woman—an archaeologist—digging in the hot sand, and then suddenly there is a little girl there—maybe not really there—holding a blue cup. That scene isn’t even the book, but it got me thinking about why a woman would spend her life digging in the dirt and why she might see this little girl who is not quite real.
What are you favorite books?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Empire Falls by Richard Russo, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Bleak House by Charles Dickens.
What are you working on now?
A young adult novel about a group of teenagers trying to survive in the woods in rural Georgia and an adult novel set in a utopian colony in early 1900’s Alabama—a colony that really existed. I love the whole concept of utopian colonies, and a socialist colony in the Deep South just begs to have books written about it.
Will you continue writing or are there other things you would like to do?
Oh, I’ll write forever. It’s the best job in the world—people pay you to make up stories. What could be better than that? But the other thing is that I get to explore anything I want as a writer—I can live the life of an archaeologist for a little while. I can be a scuba diver in Costa Rica or I can run a vanilla plantation in the 1920s. There’s no end to it.
THE RETIRED DEBUTANTE QUESTIONNAIRE
1. What is your favorite memory from childhood?
Many having to do with my grandfather, who was the best possible playmate. He made my stuffed dog try to steal my scrambled eggs. He read me Edgar Allan Poe. He constantly played Gunsmoke with me.
2. What is your favorite moment of your adult life?
Sitting on a bench in San Sebastian, Spain on my honeymoon, the wind coming off the ocean, looking down at my sleeping husband and thinking life could never get any happier. Holding my son right after he was born and thinking the same thing. Also the phone call from my editor when my first book was bought, and the crazy jumping and whirling and uncontrollable laughter that came after.
3. What were you wearing in the 5th grade?
Probably Reeboks and a Coca-Cola shirt. With a friendship bracelet to accessorize.
4. What are you wearing now?
I’m writing at home today, so you’re lucky I’m even wearing pants. I’m wearing shorts and a Michigan State T-shirt, no shoes, no jewelry.
5. The thing that annoys you most?
I get annoyed a lot when I’m driving—a friend once told me that for someone who’s so nice most of the time, I lose it when I get in the car.
6. What makes you happiest?
State fairs, my husband singing and/or dancing, my son slipping his hand into mine, Katharine Hepburn, a dirty Ketel One martini…
7. Favorite song?
“Proud Mary”—the Ike and Tina version. “The Book of Love” by The Magnetic Fields.
8. Favorite food?
Krispy Kreme donuts. Hands-down.
9. What is your greatest fantasy / your greatest wish?
How to come up with one that doesn’t involve George Clooney? The idea of extensive international travel sounds like a fantasy these days. I’ll pick teleporting to Paris for a few months, husband and child included.
10. Heaven / Hell, reincarnation, or this is it?
Something comes next. Not so much wings or harps or forked-tails, but I believe we continue on to something we can’t fathom.
Gin’s books are available at BARNES AND NOBLE, AMAZON, and INDIE BOUND.