Cassie Dandridge Selleck, Author
CH: Today’s Celebrity Guest Author is Cassie Dandridge Selleck. Her book, The Pecan Man, is a southern fiction novel with much acclaim over the last few years. Welcome to my blog, Cassie Selleck.
CH: The first chapter of this book won the 2006 Florida State Writing Competition of the Unpublished Novel Category. It was finally published on Amazon on January 1, 2012. As of today, The Pecan Man has well over 2,500 reviews with new reviews every day. The book has been compared to Pulitzer Prize Winner Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mocking Bird. So, let’s cut to the chase and start this wonderful interview. The questions are categorized to allow for clarity.
CH: Cassie, I know the last few months have been quite busy for you and your family. I feel honored that you agreed to this interview at this time.
Writing in general
CH: What do you think makes a good story?
CDS: My mother was a wonderful storyteller, so I was raised hearing stories told the traditional way. I would say that a good story is one that makes you laugh and cry before it is over. A good story leaves you feeling like you know the characters and want them to always be a part of your life. I have never felt like the story depended at all on the plot, but on who the characters are, what they want, and what they are willing to risk to get it.
CH: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?
CDS: Far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth. It is a gift for which I am incredibly grateful. It is also hard work that often leaves me feeling insecure and frustrated and even terrified. I never think I can finish a story, never believe I will get it right, never trust myself to know what I am doing. And yet, when I finally do finish, I often find that I love my characters and feel good about the story. So being a writer is a gift, but it is also emotional agony followed by personal accomplishment. Yeah…that’s about it.
CH: What is your favorite book on the craft of writing?
CDS: I have two…Josip Novakovich’s Fiction Writer’s Workshop and Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind: Living The Writer’s Life.
CH: Who are your favorite authors?
CDS: Lee Smith, Harper Lee, Ferrol Sams, Ann B. Ross, Jan Karon, Sue Monk Kidd, Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, Maya Angelou and Zora Neale Hurston. I’m also fond of Truman Capote and John Irving.
CH: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
CDS: I do not outline and usually have no clue where my story is going, when I start writing. Also that I often foreshadow intuitively, without knowing why or how it will play out going forward. I develop characters first and then throw them into situations to see how they handle the situation and eventually a plot develops.
CH: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
CDS: LOL…everything!! See question #2! (Is writing a gift or a curse?) It is always a challenge when you don’t outline. I just find everything about writing incredibly difficult. I don’t know if I envy, hate, or am in awe of writers who say, “Oh, I write ten thousand words every single day. No big deal!” Arrrrgh! I don’t work like that and never will. I can’t.
CH: What motivated you to become an indie author?
CDS: Well…I am a bit on the controlling side, though only of what happens to ME, not what others do. For instance, I rarely ride in a car. I always drive. I almost always take my own car no matter what so that I don’t have to ride. I helped my husband build our house on the river and we are constantly doing DIY projects. I taught myself to read, to draw, to paint…I learned photography on my own. My motto has always been, “I’ll do it myself, if you’ll just get out of my way.” But, the more precise answer to this is that I intensely disliked the process of sending out query letters, and more importantly, receiving rejection letters. I didn’t like the idea of someone else telling me how to write my story, and my experience with even highly qualified writers editing my work was just an exercise in frustration. I hated it. So, I read an article in Forbes magazine about an attorney who wrote a novel at night after putting her child to bed, and she self-published her work through Amazon’s print-on-demand and digital services and had made quite a bit of money. I thought…hey, I can do that!
CH: Where is your favorite place to write?
CDS: On my screened porch overlooking the Suwannee River in the early morning. Hands down. Sometimes, I like to write in coffee shops, but I have to have earphones blasting The Piano Guys station on Pandora to drown out talking around me. I need music without words—words interfere with my writing process.
CH: How do maintain the balance between expressing the personal thoughts/ideas and not letting it overwhelm the work?
CDS: Hmmm….good question. I don’t think I balance it at all to be honest. I inject personal thoughts and ideas and viewpoints in almost everything I do. I write to connect with others, to create shared experiences and aha moments, so I just usually let it rip. If it gets too heavy-handed, it is usually readily apparent and I’ll back off. I don’t like to hit people over the head with anything. I just like to give them the opportunity to see what I see.
CH: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?
CDS: Haha…who Eddie was. Halfway through the book. That is all I’m gonna say about that!
CH: What about writing inspires you to get out of bed each day?
CDS: Sometimes, I do wake up with writing on my mind, but that is kind of rare. I’m not a prolific writer at all, though I wish I were. What gets me out of bed every day is my little Chihuahua. She waits until I stir and then comes in for a snuggle. I swear, the dog hugs me. After a bit, she starts whining and I get up to let her out, at which point she curls up in the warm spot on my pillow. So, I go make coffee while she takes another nap, and I sit down at my computer to face the day. True story.
CH: What a charming story. When you develop characters do you already know who they are before you begin writing or do you let them develop as you go?
CDS: A little of both. Mostly I have a general idea of who they are, but they reveal themselves to me as I go along. Just like any relationship. You meet a person and you size them up and think, oh, this is who they are, but as you get to know them, they surprise you sometimes.
Title: The Pecan Man
Genre: Cultural Heritage
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/2cT3WOd
Synopsis: The Pecan Man is a work of Southern fiction whose first chapter was the First Place winner of the 2006 CNW/FFWA Florida State Writing Competition in the Unpublished Novel category. In the summer of 1976, recently widowed and childless, Ora Lee Beckworth hires a homeless old black man to mow her lawn. The neighborhood children call him the Pee-can Man; their mothers call them inside whenever he appears. When the police chief’s son is found stabbed to death near his camp, the man Ora knows as Eddie is arrested and charged with murder. Twenty-five years later, Ora sets out to tell the truth about the Pecan Man. In narrating her story, Ora discovers more truth about herself than she could ever have imagined. This novel has been described as To Kill a Mockingbird meets The Help.
Note: The Pecan Man has been optioned by an independent film company out of New York and LA, and the novel is being adapted into a film.
Cassie Dandridge Selleck discusses The Pecan Man and her future writings.
CH: For new audience members, how did you come up with the idea for The Pecan Man?
CDS: I tell this story all the time. I had recently moved to North Florida and it is a small county with NO Walmart or fast food or real shopping to be found, so I have to drive 45 minutes to get supplies. I don’t like traffic, so I take the least populated routes. One day, on my way back from Walmart, I rounded a corner and a little old man riding a rusty old bike sort of materialized out of the woods and rode out in front of me. I was already considering him as a character, because that’s what I ALWAYS do, when I passed another old man out in his yard collecting pecans with a wire basket. By the time I made the trip home, I had Eddie, Ora and Blanche as characters, and I knew Eddie was called “The Pecan Man.” I went home and wrote the first chapter with absolutely nothing in mind, other than that Ora would tell the story, in traditional storytelling fashion, about why Eddie died in prison. No idea what he had done, or why he was there, or who he actually was. See why writing is agony for me?
CH: I do see why there is agony at times. So, what would you as the author say are the overall themes of the book?
CDS: Redemption and grace. What it means to be family. How perspective influences how you see the world and your place in it. Sacrifice, atonement and personal integrity. Privilege and self-awareness and evolution, as a human being.
CH: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
CDS: That I could do it myself, but that it would be better to have an editor who I trusted. The new novel What Matters in Mayhew was edited by my daughter, Patricia C. Walker, and it is a much more complete and thorough story than The Pecan Man. Patti’s background is in theatre, but she also teaches in the Communications and Rhetoric Department at University of South Carolina, so she is highly qualified. More importantly, she knows my voice and has lived with the kind of people about whom I write, so she is the perfect editor for me.
CH: Which one of your characters do you feel you relate to the most?
CDS: Probably Ora Lee, since she is partly my mother, myself and my grandmother…and ten other Southern women I know well.
CH: Wow, a definite mixture of people. So, If you had to re-write it all over again, would you change anything in The Pecan Man?
CDS: I would have my daughter edit, and I would make it a little longer, but on the whole, I think I told the story I wanted to tell.
CH: What has gone on in the gestation period between The Pecan Man and the sequel book?
CDS: Four years it has been. I am still contemplating a sequel, but have not started it. I did, however, write a completely new novel, one that is the first in a series. I also went back to school and my success with The Pecan Man actually paid for that. I just graduated September 18th with a BFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, so there has been a LOT happening in my world. Unfortunately, it has been four years of personal tragedy as well, which has been very challenging for me. I lost my sister (the inspiration for the character Grace) in October 2015, and then my precious mama in February of this year. My sister had struggled with drug addiction for years, so that was not an unexpected event, but losing my mother was the hardest thing I have ever endured. I miss her every minute of every day. Her voice resonates in everything I say and everything I write, and always will.
Oh, and I can’t forget…my daughters and I also started a new small press called Obstinate Daughters Press. Our mission is to help other authors publish using print-on-demand and digital outlets like I did. It will be a hybrid press and our first publication was my new novel.
CH: What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing The Pecan Man to life?
CDS: I didn’t have too much research to do, since I was writing about an era I had known well growing up. Psychologically, I had to deal with issues related to personal experience with family members and drug abuse. I feel like I let it lead me down the rocky paths that make a story real, so I just went with my heart at every step. I had to be willing to learn and grow just as I was expecting my character, Ora Lee to do, and I did learn a lot about myself in the writing. It was important to me to get the characters of color right, as well. That can be a little scary. I wanted to respect them, above all else. I did not want stereotypical characters and I did not want sensationalized scenes. I wanted to tell the truth about what it was like in the 70s, how the world was changing, but not fast enough. How it was different for people of color. How even well-meaning and good white people had biases they didn’t recognize in themselves, until they took a good long look in the mirror, or saw the situation from an alternate perspective. I wanted to show relationships that were real, and situations that were heartbreaking and funny, all at once. I hope, I was successful. I meant well.
CH: You were successful in accomplishing emotional situations for the reader. So, while you were writing, did you ever feel as if you were one of the characters?
CDS: LOL…always. But I also have a background in theatre, so I often embody any character I’m writing. I write as if I am witnessing the scene, too. I do see myself in Ora Lee, and most of my friends do, too.
CH: Does your finished book live up to your expectations?
CDS: Lord, no…in some ways it falls short and other ways it FAR surpassed them. I never expected it to sell like it has, nor have the impact it has had on the readers who contact me. It has been a tremendous blessing and one for which I am grateful. So, grateful.
Fans and readers
CH: What do your fans mean to you?
CDS: Funny you should ask! I have to say I am not a fan of the term “fan,” so I never call my readers that. I call them readers and they mean the absolute world to me, to borrow the most clichéd cliché ever. Readers have sold my book for me. Bottom line: They have enriched my life, shared their stories, encouraged me to go on, uplifted me when I was dealing with loss, flattered me far more than I will ever deserve, and shared my book with their friends. Everything. They mean everything.
CH: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
CDS: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
CH: Can you give us a quick book description of the sequel book?
CDS: Well, the sequel to The Pecan Man is yet to be written, but I just published my second novel called What Matters in Mayhew, which is the first in what I call the Beanie Bradsher series about a small town in North Florida and the quirky characters who live there. Print should be out very soon, probably by the time this is shared on your site. Here is the blurb from the back of the book, which is already available on Amazon’s Kindle program.
Title: What Matters in Mayhem (The Beanie Bradsher Series Book 1)
Genre: Humor and Satire
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/2dtHTS9
Synopsis: Every town has at least one beloved, if misunderstood, eccentric and Beanie Bradsher belongs to Mayhew Junction. Some – LouWanda Crump, for example – would call Beanie a spectacle, but Beanie just marches (and dresses) to the beat of a different drum. Not much has changed over the years in this town. On any given morning, you’ll find the same people at the same table at the same café, and none of them have changed one iota in the past twenty years. But now, Beanie Bradsher has won the lottery, and might be dating Sweet Lee Atwater’s husband. And the hometown basketball star, Vesuvius Jones, just got a face full of Red Velvet cake at the Trunk-or-Treat. The gossip has never been juicier, which might just be a good thing. Lord knows, this town could use a good shaking up.
CH: Ardent fans want to know, when the sequel book is being released?
CDS: I will have to get back to you on the sequel to The Pecan Man. There has been so much tragedy in my life, it has been hard to imagine trying to go back and tell Grace’s story. I know, the title will be The Truth About Grace, but I don’t know if she’ll be okay. I hope so. Drug addiction formed after emotional and physical trauma can be very difficult to beat. My sister was never okay and lost her battle last year. It will be a challenge facing these truths. Y’all pray for me.
CH: How to find Cassie Dandridge Selleck
CH: Any closing remarks?
CDS: I think I would like to close with a big thank you to everyone who has helped me along the way. From writers and bloggers like yourself, who have generously offered to cross-promote work, who have given me glowing reviews and shared my work with their own readers, to the readers themselves, who tell their friends about the books they love, who write me the most beautiful words of encourage, and who invite me to chat with their book clubs…I have been blessed by the community of readers and artists who tell others about my stories. I am more grateful than mere words will ever convey. Thank you all. ~Cass
CH: Thank you so much, Cassie Dandridge Selleck, for taking time out of your very busy writing schedule to join me and my blog followers. It has been a real pleasure discussing your books with my audience. And readers, if you’re like me and would enjoy these books. I suggest you pick up a copy of these books at your earliest convenience.
Note: Photos are compliments of the Internet and Cassie Dandridge Selleck.
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