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.

a w k w a r d  p a u s e

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 --

a w k w a r d  p a u s e

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.

a w k a r d  p a u s e

[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-


  1. I just have to say that even though there is a lot of joking around here, I am so proud of Wendy, and I cannot wait to hear her read her work. For real.

    Also? The 500 emails it took to put this together have been sealed, only to be opened when one of us is famous. And then, obviously, only for blackmail purposes.

    Seriously, Wendy, I laughed more in the past week than I have in a long time. You made me laugh, you made me cry (no, not from laughing. Well, that, too. But I meant the piece you are reading.) You really are my soul sister. xo

  2. I'm not sure I'd go fishing with either of you, but I'd probably buy a book you wrote. Any plans for something co-authored?

  3. Jaz, hey, I thought we agreed we were gonna burn all those! You are a wicked, wicked woman.

    Thank you SO MUCH for the fun we had doing this. I got to know you better. And I even still like you! xo, sistah!

  4. Is that okay? To identify myself as Austin, TX? It seems like you guys would be okay with that.

    I should probably follow that up with something clever or witty.

    (what would you say? awkward pause?)

    Liked this more than a fair amount.

  5. Ken, you're a genius. Wendy, how about it? Wendy? WENDY. Wendy?? (Don't worry, Ken. I'm sure she's just too excited to talk.)

  6. Did I say burn? I meant "keep forever in my personal safe." But they sound kind of similar?

    Austin, TX in the house. You're not my big brother are you? Either way, thanks. I like your comment more than a fair amount as well.

  7. "Liked this more than a fair amount..." That's totally a Southerner pretending to be from Austin. Come on now, 'fess up. Where are you REALLY from?

    And, yes, Ken is brilliant.

  8. I don't know what to say. There are no words. Except j a, is that what you're going to wear to your Super Bowl party?


  9. I'm going to stay up and listen to the live broadcast. Not because I need to hear the story (it's fantastic; Wendy will get loud applause). Rather because I want to increase the size of her audience, and thus "enhance" her public speaking experience. I hope everyone within the sound of my clickety-clack tunes in, so she feels the whole world is watching . . . scrutinzing . . . judging . . .

    Also, I intend to throw spitballs.

    1. You just go right ahead. One day I'll get to pay you back for all your kindnesses.

    2. I suggest an interview when his book comes out.

    3. (Okay, what is this "reply" to comments thing? I swear I HAVE NEVER SEEN THIS BEFORE. Tell me this is new, and that I am not totally clueless.)

    4. The TechHelpMan is here: Yes, this is new. Blogger had rolled it out only recently, along with the dynamic views thing. :)

    5. We shall not speak of the dynamic view thing, Aniket! :)

  10. Ha, Steph! I guess you will just have to wait until Sunday to find out.

    Steve, the story IS fantastic. And your support for Wendy is...well, something. We should all listen at 7, maybe in a g+ circle?

    1. What I hear you saying is that you're thinking it over?

    2. That you're on the fence?

    3. That you could go either way?

  11. Oh my! This is what you were referring to. It was most definitely worth the wait! I want to go fishing with you two! :-)

    I really like the serious part of the interview, too, the parts about stereotypes and realizing what a wonderful thing it is to write. Well done, ladies!

  12. Awesomely hysterical! I can't wait to hear Wendy on the radio! Woo hoo! A voice a REAL LIVE VOICE! And WENDY's REAL LIVE VOICE to boot.

  13. Yes, Cath, this is it. It is kind of you to point out the serious parts! :)

    Cat!! It will be SO cool to hear Wendy read. Her REAL LIVE VOICE!

    Hey, you're kind of southern now. You should have come fishing with us.

  14. Wendy, congratulations! Wonderful news, and I'm confident that pairing a great southern story with a sweet southern accent is totally going to kick ass.

    In my day job, I speak to people from Arkansas, Missouri, and Alabama almost every day. What's so amusing is that they think *I* have an accent.

    1. To me, all of you have an accent. Ha! :)

    2. Yeah, but Richard has one of those Canadian accents. At least that's what Sarah Heena says.

    3. I take it that's not a compliment. :-) After reading PBIP, I was thought about telling everyone I was Brazilian.

    4. Was it the italics? Because sometimes they just seem to imply judgment. I'm sure I didn't mean anything by it. Really.

  15. You guys are a trip! or are trippin' least over your fishing lines.
    Very fun interview and I look forward to holding Wendy's book in my hands! or in my kindle.

  16. You got me hooked! Even without *choke* liver... What I don't understand is how you could come right on by North Carolina with nary a honk! Even the geese honk at me every morning in the field. What's up with that big fish tail hmmmm?

  17. Richard, it is wonderful news, isn't it? Also, don't get your hopes up on the accent thing. Asked and answered. It's in the vaulted emails.

    Ginny, I look forward to it, too! I hope she'll still autograph one for me after this.

    Cat, I would have honked but NC looks so peaceful in your amazing photos. I didn't want to disturb the tranquility! But next time, you are definitely coming along.

  18. Girl fishing trip! Although, I guess we could invite boys to carry non-euphemistic luggage.

    Jaz, thanks for adjusting the expectations on that accent. Although, Richard probably doesn't think he has an accent either. :)

    1. You should give people fair warning about the accent. All those times I've agreed with you? It was because I couldn't understand what the hell you were saying.

    2. That wasn't my accent. You had your hearing aid turned down.

  19. Just so you know: I'm using that photo of you two fisherladies as my wallpaper now. (Not computer wallpaper. Just wallpaper.)

    I am completely thrilled for Wendy and I love, love, love this interview, Ms. Zobair. You both made me giggle. And now I sort of want Wendy to show up at the taping wearing the waders. Is that a possibility? Yes? No? Kama sutra says what??

    1. See, now I don't know whether to leave my comment as a "comment" or a "reply."

      The idea of you using this as wallpaper wallpaper has me giggling.

      Wendy should totally rock the waders at the interview! Can we get a confirmation on that, Wendy?

    2. Notifications work the same way as they did before. Like I got notified for this too, though I had not 'replied' to Sarah's comment. So it's just a matter of aesthetics. If you are commenting on a post - Comment. If you're replying to a comment - Reply.

      P.S. You sure you've got a law degree? Just sayin'

    3. Sarah, I am wearing daisy dukes and waders to the reading. (That should clear the room.)

    4. And to think how that was *almost* the picture at the top of this blog.

  20. Well, if you ever needed good under-rated porn links, let me know.

    I bow to you. Your comments can make a post by the big-hair interesting, informative and hilarious. If you can do this, I can only imagine how good you'll do on your own. It'll be legen-waitforit-dary! The only thing that brought down your star-meter was that you objectively answered a question related to Twilight. I mean I can expect Jazz to ask, but I expect you to reply by smacking her head. :P

    On a serious note, congratulations. Can't wait for your novel. It'll be epic. I know it.
    And I'm no Brad Pitt, but I'd love your company for fishing some day. Hell, you can even push me into the water, I don't mind.

    Thank you for taking the effort into compiling this interview and to fish when you don't eat 'em. To kill for fun and not for food, makes you a cold blooded (or may be in you case - cold mountain-dewed) killer. Respect.

    I've such talented friends. *sniff* May be I should just start a business of selling artifacts signed by each one of you. I could make millions... no wait... billions of it!

    1. Aniket, I'm sure the Twilight question was not the only time Wendy wanted to smack me. Wait until the unedited version emerges, after her novel becomes a raging bestseller.

      The waders will be big at auction, then, too. And the hat. Is no one going to mention her hat?

    2. I didn't mention the hats because the hats speak so loudly for themselves.

      I tip my hat to the hats.

      (word verification: cough)

    3. @aniket, you're no Brad Pitt. You're better. (Thanks, Stephen Parrish.) Thanks for joining in on the celebration.

      @sarah, I think especially we should discuss the jaunty angle of my hat. I think that says a lot about me.

    4. The hats do tell a story. I'm sure we could find you one, Sarah. Unless you're set on the Mickey ears?

    5. I hope you didn't just say Mickey years to make fun of my pet name... coz you could do better. I've had all the mickey-jokes you can think of while growing up.

    6. No! Sarah was just at Disney. :)

    7. Erm.. so you had no clue that my dad had named me Mickey? Dayum.

      We shall never bring this topic up again.

    8. Yeah, I think you just outed yourself there, Aniket. Fortunately, there is the hat/fish photo to distract people. No one will ever know. Until we all bring it up again.

  21. Both of your mothersJanuary 31, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    You two are grounded.

  22. LOL I didn't realize our moms hung out together. That is SO COOL.

  23. I'm not sure which is funnier - the interview or the comment trail. Thanks for the laughs!

  24. Thanks, Sarah! Great to see you!