Scenes From the Making of an Interview

The talented Wendy Russ  
Recently, I traveled to Arkansas to interview Wendy Russ about her participation in TALES FROM THE SOUTH. Wendy is a writer living in north central Arkansas. She is currently putting the finishing touches on her first novel, an adventure tale set in the South. She can be found most days writing from her front porch.

You can listen to her on NPR's live stream on Thursday February 2nd at 7:00 p.m.  here, and on Sunday, February 5th at 9 a.m. on English Europe on Work radio network here. The broadcast will be archived here.


JAZ: Wendy, it's so great to be here in Arkansas with you! I don't think I've ever been to Arkansas before. Wait. There was the vacation to the Ozarks when I was little. But that might have been Missouri? Anyway, I'm so glad you could work me into your schedule. Although when you said I could shadow you, I thought maybe we'd be showing houses to prospective buyers? But this is good, too. What? No! It's fine. I mean, you did know I was a vegetarian, right? It's really not a problem. It's fun. I mean, waders. Wow. Are you sure these are Kate Spade, Wendy?

WR: Kate Spade? Oh, I thought -- no, sorry, those waders are NATE Spade. But they're really GOOD Nate Spade's.

Also, when you said you were a "vegetarian" I didn't realize you really meant you didn't eat meat. At all. I thought maybe you were the kind of vegetarian who only ate fish and chicken. But not pork. I know pork is a white meat, but it's still a meat. Not like fish. Because fish isn't. Not really. Although. apparently YOU think it's a meat.

Which I'm totally FINE with, because I respect you as a person and all.

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JAZ:  Maybe we should just get started. So NPR. You are reading something you wrote on NPR. What's that all about?

WR:  The series is TALES FROM THE SOUTH, a syndicated radio program where writers from Arkansas or who live in Arkansas read their true tales in front of a live audience.

JAZ:  It's pretty impressive. To be selected for something like this TALES FROM THE SOUTH. I'm wondering how much you identify as a southern writer, or maybe as a southern woman writer. You know, those great southern women writers? Flannery O'Connor. Zora Neale Hurston. Harper Lee. Paula Deen. 

WR:  She has the BEST chicken fried steak recipe. O'Connor, I mean. I'm not sure about Paula Deen.

I love southern literature, although I'm not sure it's my strongest influence. I would say my stronger influence is traditional folklore, like the work of Vance Randolph or Donald Harington. Very funny stuff. There seems to be a deep tradition of Southerners just being plain old funny, even when they're not trying to be.

Okay, ouch, when you cast that line watch you don't snag your fishing buddy on the way past. No, no, it's fine. I've got bandaids in the tackle box.

[ED NOTE: Should we link to sites about Vance Randolph and Donald Harington?? Both of whom are terribly underrated, in my opinion!]

JAZ:  [ED NOTE: I'll get one of my staffers to find the links. And we can link to anything. Well, not anything. I'm still on submission?]

You definitely fit into that tradition of Southerners just being plain old funny. Your writing is laugh-out-loud funny.  But now I'm just fawning all over you. So let's shift gears and address the elephant in the--er--what is this? A bayou? Are we standing in an actual bayou?

Anyway, as a Muslim feminist in this political climate, I don't have much experience with stereotypes or bigotry. But you're from the South. I mean, Arkansas. How do you deal with negative stereotypes about the South, especially surrounding race?

WR: That fawning? You can do it anytime. Although at this point, I'm actually concerned it's not fawning and you've just contracted some kind of waterborne virus that is affecting your judgment.

Anyway, stereotypes. I used to be really bothered by them when I was younger, because, you know, who wants to be from a place where it feels like everyone in the world thinks you are married to your cousin and haven't gone to school past the fifth grade?

Not that you can relate at all...I -- sorry, is that electrical wire sticking out of your backpack?

The stereotypes -- those people -- do exist but as a general rules, the South is filled with kind, generous, interesting people, some of the mores resourceful I've met. And that is what always draws me back.

JAZ:  That wire? That's the cord to my flat iron. So I can primp before your reading? You didn't think --

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JAZ:  Let's just try to get through the rest of this, Wendy.

So, you've written a novel with a truly awesome title. What is your second favorite novel title?

WR:  Okay, my second favorite novel title (besides YOURS, of course) would be the title of my second novel, except I can't tell you what it is. Or else I'd have to kill you. Actually, this would be a good place to kill someone and leave the body now that I think about it. I guess I could tell you the title...

No, never mind.

I am drawn to titles that sound like they have strength and conflict in them. Like MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL, or GRAPES OF WRATH  or THE FEASTS OF LESSER MEN.  They all sound intense and broody. Which is the exact opposite of me. Maybe that's why I like them so much. I could never write books like those.

JAZ:  I'm surprised that you like intense and broody titles. It is the exact opposite of you. I mean, a lot of writers are intense and broody. Miserable. Insufferable. Do those writers ever get to you? Do you ever just want to tell them to find something else to do if writing makes them so unhappy?

WR:  I love hearing the writing community talk about their writing experience, even the difficulties and problems. I haven't heard a lot of whining. because writers know that writing is, in the end, a deeply satisfying thing to do.

But if I ever do run across one of those whiny writers, I'm totally gonna use of Chuck Wendig's lines: "Harden the fuck up, Care Bear!" [ED NOTE: Edit the word "fuck" in case my mother reads this interview. Even though I'm not really saying it myself; it's just a quote. But still, I'm pretty sure she would make her disapproval face at me and possibly even call me by both my first and middle names.]

JAZ:  That is a pretty good line. [ED NOTE: Let's pretend you've never had to say anything like that to me. Also: Was I not supposed to live tweet this to your mother?]

Wendy, the novel you've written is delightfully quirky. I mean that in a good way. It's funny and unique and slightly crazy in parts. You seem like the kind of person who has experienced "quirky" in real life. And who might take it in stride. Would that be a fair statement?

WR:  I've been fortunate to learn from my mother about taking things in stride. She's had a lot of unfortunate hardships and always managed to keep her boat from capsizing. She's incredible. And my father was a Marine. Marine Corps dad, Marine Corps wife mother. Yeah, you harden the fuck up, Care Bear.

I love QUIRK, though. I look for it. And it seems to find me. And it feeds my work and I love that.

This, for example. Wouldn't us fishing make a great story one day?

Especially if you fell in the water and your life was in peril and I was able to valiantly save you.

JAZ:  [ED NOTE: Do I need to redact all of your expletives or just the first one?]

I agree. The two of us on a fishing adventure would be a great story. Or docudrama. Maybe we could even get Lowe's to boycott?

So, Wendy, if you could go fishing with any writer-- other than me, since we have already been fishing -- who would it be?

WR:  [ED NOTE: Regarding expletives, now I'm torn. Maybe redact one and spell the other one f*ck and then it's not like I really said it. Will that fool her?]

Fishing with a I want to fish with a fisherman. Because at this rate, we're getting nothing here. No offense.

In fact, forget that -- if we're setting up dream fishing dates, I'm gonna have to settle on Brad Pitt. Again, no offense. You're lovely and all, know.

Also, going anywhere with a writer is really risky. Because there's always a chance they will write about you. Which is great if they write you up as funny or clever or charming or brilliant, but what if they don't? Then you're immortalized as a big doofus. Or worse.

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[ED NOTE TO STAFFERS: Edit this so I don't look like a doofus. Or worse. Check Zobair's work. Not sure she can be trusted with this...]

JAZ:  Are you texting someone in the middle of this interview? You're sure? Because it kind of looked like you were.

WR:  Um, no. It's the, uh, iPhish for the iPhone. A fishing app.

JAZ:  Maybe I should hold onto your phone until we're done.  And it looks like we're almost out of time. What? Really? That long? No kidding. Although I don't think you're factoring in my time with the flat iron? So, actually, we probably only have time for a lightning round. [ED NOTE: I'll probably break these up so it looks like we went back and forth. To maintain the facade.] [ED NOTE: Unless a "Dance Moms" marathon is on. Then I probably won't bother.]

mac or pc
e-reader or book
plotter or pantser
ticonderoga or staples [this is the only one with a correct answer]
creation or evolution
jacob or edward
angelina or jen
string theory or the standard model of particle physics [this I could talk about for HOURS]
Kate Spade or Christian Louboutin [this is a trick question; it's clearly "both"]

um...gel pen
intelligent design
angelina, angelina, angelina
um...that's some kind of science thingy, right?
au naturale

[ED NOTE: Physics? Really? You couldn't ask me about interpretive dance or maybe my favorite kama sutra position or what I had for breakfast? Favorite letter of the alphabet? Zodiac sign?]

JAZ:  [ED NOTE: Let's pretend I didn't just spend the last five minutes trying to figure out what my favorite letter of the alphabet would be.] [ED NOTE: "S"]

I think that does it. Thanks, Wendy! I've really enjoyed getting to know you better. It's been...great. What do you mean we're taking them with us? I thought -- catch and release? Oh, right. Your dinner. Fine. Give me the other end. At least I don't know anyone in Arkansas. Oh my God, did that guy in the PETA tee shirt just take a picture?

Anyway, good luck at the reading! I'll be the one in front, sobbing into my scone. But don't worry. I'll do it in a very [ED NOTE] kind of way. No one will even notice.

WR:  Perfect. And thanks for interviewing me. It was fun. But before we head out, I'm going to need those waders back? I have to return them to Nate Spade before his big fishing tournament this weekend.

                                                                      - Fin-