I was born in Tuscaloosa after my mother went into labor at an Alabama homecoming game against Miami. (Joe Namath was the quarterback for the Crimson Tide.) When my father finished law school at Bama, my parents moved back to their hometown of Birmingham, where I was raised and attended The Altamont School. The education I received there from an extraordinary faculty, especially the beloved Martin Hames, was better than what I got later in college at Harvard. Truly. After graduating from the Emory of the North, I then went to Emory in Atlanta for graduate school, on a Woodruff Fellowship. With a dissertation on William Faulkner, I earned a Ph.D. in American literature.
Although I loved being a college professor, especially in New Orleans, where I taught for 13 years, I have wanted to be a writer since first grade. Something clicked in my six year-old brain when I read my very first book, Sammy the Seal. I can remember thinking at the time: I want to be one of those people who puts the words on the page.
As an aspiring novelist, I was lucky to cross paths with two fascinating Southern characters, the black granny midwife Onnie Lee Logan and the Capote-esque bon vivant Eugene Walter. Tape-recording and editing their life stories gave me an apprenticeship for constructing narratives, and led to my first two publications: Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife’s Story and Milking the Moon: A Southerner’s Story of Life on this Planet.
I had hoped to do a similar oral biography with Martin Hames, but when he passed away, I understood the time had come to write a novel. The result is The Headmaster’s Darlings, whose main character is a tribute to my former mentor and the importance of great teachers. During the writing of this book, I quickly realized that one novel was not going to do justice to my subject matter. I needed a series of novels to demonstrate how exceptional teachers can lead a community even in the deepest South to grow and change for the better. The upshot is the Mountain Brook Series, to be published by Pat Conroy’s Story River Books imprint at the University of South Carolina Press. So far this series totals four novels, with the first coming out in August 2015.