MM: Since this was my first book, it made sense to me to set it in a place I knew. There are so many things to work out in a book, I figured I could make the setting easy. I grew up in a small town so I knew that. I also grew up in Charlottesville. It had to be set somewhere so why not Charlottesville? and I wanted some authenticity to the story. I wanted to use the school closings as a story line and that was unique to Charlottesville and just a few other towns in Virginia.
AF: I love the multiple POVs -Ethel and Sallee. Why did you choose these two to tell this story?
MM: I chose two points of view because, in the world I grew up in, children and the help were expected, if seen at all, not to be heard. The topics in the book are heavy, using a child’s clear, clean perspective added some levity and lightness, as did Ethel’s practical voice. So much of the racial subtext was about such a complex topic that I couldn't see how to deal with in any other way other than to throw it under the scrutiny of Sallee and Ethel’s piercing commentary.
AF: Growing up in Texas in a divorced family - albeit in the 70's not the 50's - I've always heard that the courts would never allow children to be taken from a mother unless the gravity with which she could be found unfit was astronomical. I found it interesting that the Mackey children appeared to have the choice as to which parent they wanted to live with. And given the choice why they chose how they did?
MM: When my parents were divorced, my siblings and I were asked where we wanted to live. It seemed a moot point for the same Texas mindset held true in Virginia at the time. I am a very big believer that what doesn't kill you will make a great story, so I used it. The scene is full of pathos. Gotta love a little pathos.
My thinking is that they chose their mother because that’s what little children are conditioned to do, emotionally. I also think little kids want to protect their mothers, so their logical mind might have want to go with Joe, but their emtional minds won out.
AF: Although it goes without saying that the changes in Sallee's character were based on age and the influences of life around her. What, in your opinion, caused such drastic changes after Joe left the house, in Ethel. Was any part of it guilt?
MM: The impetuous of this book, initially, was based on the idea that a domestic servant isn't as powerless as one might be led to believe. In our household, Lottie, our family maid, pretty much ran the show. My thinking was, ‘if the mayor isn't happy, nobody’s happy,’ another reason for the small town setting. I decided to explore the idea by giving Ethel the conflict of having to choose between her loyalty to Ginny and her concern for the kids and Joe. The choice was impossible. She couldn't win. Despite the fact that she had all of the power, she illustrated that it isn't a place anyone really wants to be.
AF: Ethel and Sallee both are such beautiful characters. However, when I think of Ethel's strength of character and overflowing love for those children I think of a line Berths says in the book and wonder if it flows from this, "A child's love is good for the soul, honey, and you's got a soul thas a hurtin' an' needs that love." Thoughts?
MM: Children see the world for what it is. They are clean and clear, it is experience and upbringing that shapes world view and teaches feelings such as hate. Being around that clarity is good for any soul, particularly one that hurts. Ethel was a soul that could appreciate that sort of goodness. Her world view was different, more child like, in that she saw the good in the world and so would resonate with the kind of love Bertha is talking about.