A Southern Sisters Mystery
Murder Southern Style: An Interview with Anne George, author of the Southern Sisters mysteries.
Anne George's "Southern Sisters" mystery novels have been a favorite ofdiscerning cozy fans since their rolicking debut in Murder on a Girls' NightOut. In Murder Shoots the Bull the mismatched team of sixty-somethingsisters--the ladylike Patricia Anne Hollowell and her brassy, thrice-widowedsister Mary Alice Crane--set out to solve the murder of the hitherto-unknownwife of the Patricia Anne's next-door-neighbor.
The five previous mysteries in this Agatha Award-winning series are: Murderon a Girl's Night Out, Murder on a Bad Hair Day, Murder Runs in the Family,Murder Make Waves, and Murder Gets a Life.
Like Patricia Anne, Anne George is a happily married former schoolteacherliving outside of Birmingham, Alabama. She is also a former Alabama StatePoet, co-founder of Druid Press, and a regular contributor to literary andpoetry publications. She has been nominated for several awards, including thePulitzer for a book of verse entitled Some of It Is True.
In this interview, the Anne George offers an introduction to her sistersleuths and more than one clue to the ultimate source of their charm andgood-humored wit.
Mysterynet: Please tell us a bit about yourself--where you grew up, youreducation, and background.
Anne George: I've never lived anywhere but Alabama. My south Alabama familythought I was moving north when I married and moved to Birmingham. And I'm aproduct of the Alabama schools. I received my B.A. from Samford Universityand my M.A. from the University of Alabama. Halfway through my doctorate inEnglish, I realized I didn't want to just study other people's writing, Iwanted to do my own writing. The best decision I ever made.
Mysterynet: Would you introduce Patricia Anne and Mary Alice to readers whomay not have met them yet?
Anne George: Patricia Anne Hollowelll and Mary Alice Crane are two sisters intheir sixties who live in Birmingham. Mary Alice is five years older thanPatricia Anne (but at sixty-five she began to count backwards), admits toweighing 250 pounds and is five foot twelve inches tall (her calculation).She has been married three times to incredibly wealthy men all twenty-eightyears older than she is and each virile enough to have impregnated her oncebefore leaving her a widow. They are all buried together at Elmwood Cemetery.Very convenient. Patricia Anne's husband, Fred, says that Mary Alice has thenerve of a bad tooth. Let's just say that she is self-confident. PatriciaAnne ( Mary Alice calls her Mouse) weighs 106 and, if she stretches, isfive-one. A retired schoolteacher, she has been married very happily to Fredfor forty years. She tries to "do right" and be a Southern lady, but hersister is Mary Alice. Patricia Anne doesn't stand a chance of leading a quietladylike life.
Mysterynet: Are these two wildly different sisters based on real-life people?
Anne George: Yes. I'm not going to say any more and get myself in trouble.I've discovered the strangest thing, though, that people don't recognizethemselves in fiction. When I wrote Murder on a Girls' Night Out, I thoughtmy family wouldn't let me eat Christmas dinner with them again. Instead theythought it was hilarious. They recognized everybody but themselves. Go figure.
Mysterynet: Murder Shoots the Bull, like all of your mysteries, is a veryfunny book. But it also offers astute observations about seriousissues--infidelity, drug addiction, troubled children. Do you see humor as ameans of coping with these sorts of problems?
Anne George: I have been blessed with a family who uses humor as a means ofdealing with problems. It's a "might as well laugh" attitude and it works.One of my favorite memories is of an uncle calling to tell my grandmotherthat he had just gotten married again. She turned to my mother with astricken look and informed her of the news. My mother said, "Four times?" Andmy grandmother nodded, "Four times." They were quiet for a moment, looking ateach other, and my grandmother said, "Maybe this one will work out." Andthen, suddenly, they were laughing. Really laughing. Might as well.
Mysterynet: Your books have a strong emphasis on family and community. Do youthink this is a particularly Southern trait?
Anne George: I think that a strong emphasis on family ties and communityconnection is a Southern trait, but it's a trait of all literature that comesfrom a culture with definite traditions. Mary Alice and Patricia Anne may actoutrageously, but they were reared to be Southern ladies and, old as theyare, they still feel Mama looking over their shoulders.
Mysterynet: What does your family think of having a mystery writer in theirmidst?
Anne George: They think it's great. They're surprised. And, let's face it,these are definitely not hardcore mysteries. My son explains them as "nobodygets autopsied."
Mysterynet: You have enjoyed quite a bit of success as a poet including aPulitzer Prize nomination. What made you decide to turn to crime?
Anne George: I've had four volumes of poetry published, and my short storiesand essays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. A shortstory, "Where Have You Gone, Shirley Temple," which introduced Mary Alice andPatricia Anne caught in an antique mall during a tornado, was very favorablyreceived. I was urged to do more with them. Plotting is my weakness so Ichallenged myself to do a mystery with the sisters as the principalcharacters. I had never tried a mystery until I did Murder on a Girls' NightOut which won the Agatha. I was not at all sure I could pull it together.Mysteries are HARD to write. Fortunately the voice and characters were soclear in my mind, the plot really was the great challenge. It still is. Iknow people talk about voice and its importance a lot, but as a former editor(a friend, Jerri Beck, and I started Druid Press and did eighteen books, allliterary), believe me, I know how imprtant it is. We did six short storyanthologies, and it was the stories that spoke to us that ended up beingpublished. When the Sisters took over my life, I had to let Druid go. I missit. It was a labor of love.
Mysterynet: Who are your influences as a writer? Are there any mysterywriters that you yourself enjoy reading?
Anne George: I did my Master's thesis on Eudora Welty. Her novel, LosingBattles, had just come out and it blew me away. I think I've read every wordshe has ever written. I'll admit to a bias for southern writers, but I readeverything, even the backs of ketchup bottles. Some of my favorite mysterywriters are Carolyn Hart, Margaret Maron, Anne Grant, Sue Henry. I love goodstory tellers.
Mysterynet: What's next for Patricia Anne and Mary Alice?
Anne George: Patricia Anne and Mary Alice's cousin, Pukey Lukey, is introuble. His wife has run away with a snake handling preacher from ChandlerMountain who has been been found dead. The girls to the rescue.
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