Title: Sundays with TJ: 100 Years of Memories on Varner Road
Genre: Fatherhood/African American Studies
Synopsis: Sundays with TJ, is my father’s story. I am the self-appointed vessel and orchestrator who co-mingles his stories and my memories…and memories from 15 siblings., to tell his life story. I chose this role some 50 years ago on Varner Road. He, my father, was the storyteller and I, the rememberer of his words. Even his unspoken meanings.
I sat then, at the foot of my father’s chair as he smoked his Pall Mall cigarettes, set his eyes on days long past and regaled us with his strange and amazing yesterdays. Sometimes, he weaved in others’ tales—Harry’s. his mother Cynthia, and certainly his beloved Papa. There were shadows of the many men and women, too, he met during his years of travels.
Janis F. Kearney, Author and Former Diarist for President Clinton
CH: Welcome Janis F. Kearney. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your writing world and publishing journey with my audience.
CH: Can you sum up your book in 20 words or less?
JFK: Sundays with TJ, chronicles the life journey of my 107-year old father who witnessed and experienced the America’s transformations.
CH: This is your second book about your father’s life. So, what inspired you to write Sundays with TJ?
JFK: When I dreamed of writing as a child, it was a dream centered on telling my father’s story. I fell in love with stories, and most specifically, his stories during those many evenings he set us down and shared memories of his world travels at such a young age, and the many exotic sights he witnessed. When I published my first book, Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir—it was changed in the midst of editing to center on my early life experiences, which included my whole family. Sundays with TJ is my third memoir—and, finally, I was able to dedicate this book to my father’s amazing life story. The truth is that readers tell me my father has been a stand-out character in each of my memoirs! This one, however, shares much, much more of his life story.
CH: Since this is your father’s memoir, what time period does the book span? Did you leave out any stories that you wanted to include?
JFK: The time span is from 1872, my grandparent’s story begins around then, to 2009, when my father moved from Varner Road—which has its own story, in the memoir.
CH: Other than to honor your father, why did you decide to write this book?
JFK: I’m a huge lover of history, and African American history. My parents were extraordinary citizens of this world, and contributed a great deal. In spite of their limited education, their poverty, the racial and class obstacle placed before them and their children; and, against all odds, they were able to raise 17 children who became productive citizens. It’s an American story that we should all know, not just about my family, but about the legacy and resilience of the African American race.
CH: Where do you get your inspiration and ideas when you write?
JFK: My memories of my own life mostly, but also from everyday happenings in the world. I have always read a great deal, and when I read newspaper or magazine articles that touch my heart, I’ll take note, oftentimes do further research and come up with book ideas from that.
CH: What is different and exciting that you bring to your readers through your memoir writing and the fond memories of your father?
JFK: I’d like to think I offer a different way for readers to see the past. One unique snapshot of what life was like for blacks in Arkansas (and, in most of the south). I fear that we are teaching our children a past based on television and others’ stories. Well, many of us have great historians in our own families who can tell the real truth of our past. Much of that story is about living exciting lives, doing exciting things—my father’s life as a traveler, a vagabond, a train hopper, is a perfect case in point! We have a rich and beautiful history, even with the horror of slavery, Jim Crow, systemic racism…we have overcome, and we must continue to overcome. That is what I hope my father’s story can say to young people.
CH: Obviously growing up in Arkansas and living for 100+ years has a great influence on this book. Was writing it almost like writing a history book?
JFK: I do see it as a history book in most respects. While it is a personalized viewpoint of the past, told through stories, it does offer readers an historical perspective of the American south from an economic, social, religious, cultural, and racial point of view.
CH: Is there anything in particular that you have learned in your many years of writing?
JFK: Oh, yes. I’ve learned a lot about myself, as well as about writing. I write for myself, more than for an audience. The blessing for writers is when the reader enjoys your story as much as you did, writing it. There is a strong connection between the books and stories I enjoy reading, and the books I enjoy writing. I’ve learned that without passion about my subject, I cannot write—as much as I try, it won’t happen. My writing is like opening up part of me and sharing it with the world, and if something isn’t inside of me, I’m simply not able to let it out and share it.
CH: Are there any books or authors that influence you as an author?
JFK: I should have a pat answer for this. I get the question a lot. I read sooo many different authors, and different genres of books. I have a few that I could read over and over: Earnest Gaines, Edwidge Danticat, Eudora Welty, Zora Neal Hurston, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Pat Conroy. Lots of others. I also read lots of authors who are not well known. I’m quite eclectic in my reading: I love contemporary novels, historical novels, murder mystery, suspense, biographies and memoir.
CH: What would be your favorite author or book?
JFK: If I had to choose one author, Zora Neal Hurston would be it. I cut my teeth on Their Eyes were Watching God. For some still unknown reason, it touched my soul like no other book has, and I’m so grateful for her raw truth that told so many women’s stories.
CH: How long did it take you to write this book?
JFK: The fact is, I began writing my father’s story over 40 years ago, but as I’ve said there were other books that I ended up writing and publishing before this one. I sat down in 2011, and decided I wanted to get it done. I pulled all the notes, taped interviews, written interviews, and research together and finished it late 2013. So, I guess you could say I completed the book within 2.5 years—but much of the work had been done well before then.
CH: What advice would you give someone who is writing a memoir or a family member’s memoir?
JFK: Start out by getting as much of the personal interviews done from your family member(s), as possible. Start now! With parents, as they get older, the fear is that they begin to lose all those wonderful memories. Tape recorders are perfect if you can get them to be comfortable with them. Research is a must. No matter how much you think you know about your past, there is always some small thing about the time or place you can dredge up through research that will enhance your story, take it to a different level of “story sharing.” The more you can have to pull from when you sit down and write, the better! You won’t use it all, but you’ll be able to make good choices if you have options.
CH: You were President Clinton’s Diarist and you have been a contributor to several books. So, as far as accolades or achievements, what would you say has been your greatest achievement in writing?
JFK: Good question, and one I’ve not been asked before. I think the completion of my first book, Cotton Field of Dreams, is by far, my greatest literary achievement. Not because it is my best book, but because the completion of the book taught me so much about me. Finishing the book included my making the hard decision to start my own publishing company at that time. That was a huge, unexpected step for this new author, but it solidified my faith in myself as a writer, and encouraged me to follow my heart, and sometimes my gut, when it comes to my writing journey.
CH: What kind of feedback are you getting from readers of the book?
JFK: I’ve received many wonderful accolades for the book. They absolutely love my father! By the way, there is a one-hour interview I did with KUAR Radio, 89.1 (our public radio station) about Sundays with TJ. Their “Arts & Letters,” program did an amazing job with the interview! It aired Friday, November 20th.
CH: Can you give my audience your website address?
JFK: Yes. Website: www.writingourworldpress.com www.facebook.com/janisfkearney janisfkearney@twitter@kearney99496735
CH: Can you tell my audience where your book is sold?
JFK: My books can be picked up or ordered from most mainstream booksellers, including Amazon.com. The easiest way to get a personally signed copy is to order it from my website. Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/1kIaXp1
CH: Any closing remarks?
JFK: Cheryl, thank you so much for including this interview on your blog page. Thank you for the opportunity!
CH: Thank you Janis F. Kearney, it has been a real pleasure discussing your book and your writing journey with my audience.
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