If you love “home cooked Southern Literature in the tradition of Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, you will fall in love with Idabel Allen.
Thank you for visiting with us today. I am excited to hear about your new book and learn more about you.
Your book Rooted, tell me the story behind it, why did you write this story?
There were several reasons I wrote Rooted. One was the setting. I liked the idea of telling a story from a rural Southern perspective not tied to Memphis or Nashville or the outside world for that matter. It is very much a regional story in this way, complete with the customs and values specific to its place and time. Adding a New York punk rock character, Slade Mortimer, to the mix illuminated the Southern rural experience. Another reason I wanted to write Rooted was to allow the burdens of the fractured McQuiston family to fall on the patriarch’s shoulders. During the 1970’, the man was the head of the household – he made a living and set the rules for the family to abide by. And yet, it was the wife who managed the family and home life. I wanted explore what happened when outcomes of the patriarchs’ rules fall back on his shoulders, and not on the wife’s. Rooted is very much a story about taking responsibility for one’s actions – not just the patriarch’s character, but his descendants, as well.
Where did you get the idea for the cover?
Rooted is a Southern book with an edge perhaps not often found in the genre – something I wanted to capture on the book-cover. Bits of cotton grace the front and back of the book, a nod to the South’s agrarian heritage. The cow on the cover is Lucy, the last of Grover McQuiston’s grandfather’s herd. Lucy represents a connection to the past, something Grover and the South are quite keen to hold onto. On the book cover, the cow has blue hair and a nose ring, letting readers know there’s a bit more going on with this story than meets the eye. Rooted has been described as Southern grit-lit and I believe the cover conveys this message.
Did you do research? What was the most memorable information found?
Most of my research for Rooted centered on music. With a New York punk rocker in the mix, I needed to understand the origins of the punk movement, its key players and their motivations for breaking away from traditional rock music standards during the 1970s. Turns out, punk as we know it today with the piercings and mohawks and shocking behavior bears little resemblance to punk’s origins. Fed up with mellow hippie folk rock and bloated stadium rock, a core group of poets and musicians in New York rejected music industry rules and with a do it yourself attitude created music and art that changed popular culture forever.
Does coincidence sometimes play a role in your books? If so, what is the strangest coincidence you’ve experienced and did you use it in this book?
The premise of Rooted is based entirely on coincidence. The unexpected death of Slade Mortimer’s estranged father sends him South to the town of Moonsock in search of an inheritance. Slade’s arrival, on the heels of a family scandal, sets in motion a series of unexpected events that resurrect questions regarding the mysterious of his mother’s disappearance twenty-five years before. Rereading Rooted recently, I realized it took a character with punk sensibilities to kick down the protective wall Grover built to guard the terrible secrets that had devastated the McQuiston family for decades.
I know I’ve experienced many coincidences in my life, but I cannot think of what the strangest one might be, nor have I used personal coincidence in any of my stories that I know of. But things have a way of working themselves into my work without conscious effort on my part. Only after the fact, am I able to recognize that something personal has crept into the picture.
What do you like most about writing? What do you like least?
I most like when my characters are developed to the point that they are telling the story, and I’m hustling to get it all down on the paper. When the writing is going well, I hear the characters voices in my head as if a live person were talking. That’s when the story has taken on a life of it’s own.
The opposite of this is what I like least. When the characters are not driving the story, or if I’m trying to force the story in a certain direction, the writing is cumbersome and stiff. It’s like trying to cram a square peg into a round hole. When this happens, it’s a good indication to take a few steps back and regroup. Usually, this is what is needed to get things flowing again.
Are you working on the next book?
I am releasing a middle school book this fall entitled, Cursed! My Devastatingly Brilliant Campaign To Save The Chigg. It’s about an overly dramatic eighth-grade girl, Ginny Edgars, friendless after one too many trips to the principle’s office, who decides to help class Freakazoid #1, Carrie “Chigger” Larson, uncover the devastating truth behind the Larson family curse – whether Chigger likes it or not!
I am also wrapping up edits on a historical fiction novel entitled, Strange Agonies In Some Lonesome Wilderness. In this story, a group of ex-slaves hoodooed to a Mississippi river island, turn to an anthropologist to help them pass on to the after-life, challenging what she believes about herself, her life and the one that lies beyond.
How long did it take you to write this book?
There’s a million ways to tell a story, finding the right way always takes me a little time on the front end. All told, I believe I have about five years invested in writing Rooted. I spent a bit of time experimenting with narrative and voice. I tried to write the book entirely from Sarah Jane’s point of view, and then Slade’s, and finally Grover’s. The story never really gelled for me until I landed on using all three points of view. The opening line of the book, “It all comes from the root,” was something my son once said to my grandmother. I used this line to anchor the separate narratives to the story and to let the reader know Rooted is a story about belonging to a people and a place.
Where do you think your story telling ability came from?
I’m not sure where it came from as far as my family. There’s an artistic streak on mother’s side, but not so much on either side in the literary vein. More than anything, reading everything I could get my hands on at a young age, and being born in the South where the oral storytelling tradition is still very much alive made me the writer I am today.
Listening to stories gave me a good ear for dialect and for gauging reactions. A good story gives the reader a reason to laugh, be shocked, even outraged. Too, I learned a lot from my favorite writers: passion from Faulkner, compassion from Welty and Steinbeck, possibilities from Woolfe, and fearlessness from O’Connor. Reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved is like studying a blueprint for how to construct a perfect book.
First and foremost a storyteller, Idabel’s books are all grounded in the same character-driven reality that holds the reader’s attention long after the story is finished. When not burrowing in the written word, Idabel says she is generally up to no good with her family, dogs and herd of antagonistic cows. So visit her website and blogpost.