13 September 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Audrey Taylor Gonzalez on SOUTH OF EVERYTHING

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Audrey Taylor Gonzalez with her latest novel, South of Everything, set prior to the pre-Civil Rights movement. The author will offer one free copy of the novel to a lucky visitor.  Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

“In West Tennessee God forgot his geography…” so begins South of Everything, the story of Missy Sara. Born to a plantation-owning family in 1940s in Germantown, Missy Sara is, like so many other white girls of her era, largely raised by Mammyrosy, the black woman who rocks her from the cradle and who cooks the biscuits her Daddy lives to eat. But Missy is a quiet rebel. She develops a powerful kinship with Old Thomas, her parents’ servant, who introduces her to the Lolololo Tree—a magical, mystical tree that Sara discovers is wiser than any teacher or parent or priest, and that heals everyone and everything.

As her parents cling to the Old South, Missy reaches out to create a new world, one that embraces all human beings, regardless of the color of their skin or the size of their property.

**Q&A with Audrey Taylor Gonzalez**

What was your inspiration for South of Everything?

For months, while living in Uruguay in the 80ties-90ties, I woke in the night remembering the people who had helped to raise me. They were all dead, and had passed on to God’s kingdom. I kept a pad and pencil beside me (and the dogs and my husband) and started taking notes. Out came the story about South of Everything, and the relationships I cannot forget. So this was a tribute to the wonderful, loving African-American people who not only took care of me and made sure I turned into a good woman when I was growing up, but were the foundations for my faith and belief in God and the afterlife.

What message do you want your readers to take away from the book?

The message is always that we must love each other, trust each other, respect each other and overcome the divide that man has tried to put between people of all races. The young folk and middle age ones today who are fighting the fight don’t really know how it was in the ‘40ties and ‘50ties because they didn’t live it. There was a simpleness, a goodness, a kindness and love and there was always hope that things would get better. I don’t imply there was equality. That never existed in the South and the war still rages on today. But those two decades, there was a sense of optimism, of trying to find a solution on both sides of the divide. I was horrified by what was called racism when I learned as a teen what had been going on in history and my own life. My purpose for the rest of my life has been trying to make that difference go away so that all have a fair chance.

Why did you become a writer?

I don’t think anyone CHOOSES to become a writer. It chooses you. Some of us have an ability to express self and to think with an open mind and creatively = all poets and novelists have a heart and soul that comes from some deep place which we try to discover and exercise as long as we are alive and can use our brain. It’s like an itch that won’t go away until it is scratched. It can be painful, but in the end, it’s delightful, even the agony. I started as a journalist., as an obnoxiously curious girl who wanted to be smart, to know, to investigate. I was the first female hired to work on the city desk at the newspaper.  I was fortunate to work for the city newspapers, to have Merriman Smith, dean of the White House correspondents in the 50s and 60s, as a mentor, and to have interviewed the first great African leader, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in 1962, Elvis a couple of times, Telly Savales, fashion designers like Halston, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and also great artists like Andy Warhol and Robert Arneson. Recently I was able to interview in Beijing, Ai Weiwei, who is my new hero.

What’s your take on perspective on race relations and violence?

The history of the world is based on violence, from the very beginning. Religions have evolved with their elbows deep in violence. It’s in our mental system. People just cannot agree to agree or disagree. The hatred of the south, the vulnerability of the races, the prejudices which strangle our hearts and souls, these must be eliminated. I married a Latino man, a boxer, whom I love with all my heart, even today though he is in heaven. He was a character and never spoke a word of English (I learned Spanish quickly), and though my parents let us visit one Christmas, we were not allowed to stay in our family condo in Delray, Florida. I never knew why. But my father refused and we had to find another place to stay. Sergio never came back to the States. We settled in Uruguay and it was the happiest I have ever been or will be in my life.

Why did you become a deacon?

It wasn’t something I decided to do. I was working on the streets of Montevideo, and running a soup kitchen in the bowels of our cathedral, and a priest from Ecuador told me, I need to be a deacon. I didn’t even know what a deacon was. But he gave me a book on the subject, and I realized at that moment, that was my charge, my feelings, my spirit, my hope. In 1994, the Anglican Church in England allowed the ordination of women to the deaconate. This was about ten years after the Episcopal Church had voted for women as deacons and priests. Women still are not wholly accepted in the entire church, even though it “looks” like they are. But times are changing. And we pray it will grow stronger every day, and those Bishops who are against it, will realize the amazing value women have in this world and in our faiths.

What have your many life experiences taught you?

Take a challenge. It makes you more human. Life shouldn’t be limited to a safe stage, a safe place, a safe neighborhood. Believe in what you want to do and have at it. Believe you can do it and find a way. Put yourself in the middle of where you want to be. Sometimes that means taking an outrageous risk and trusting God that you are on the right road.

For me, when I turned 67 - I said, it is now or never. I wanted to travel the world - and I was blessed to be able to do so - and see how other people of other religions live their faith. I’ve been privileged to participate in many lifestyles - from journalist, TV host, art gallery owner, racehorse breeder with champions, and a reluctant mountain climber that got me attacking the Grand Tetons, and then two months after surviving breast cancer, to the base camp of Mt. Everest at age 68. Then at age 72 I circumnavigated the holy mountain Mt. Kailash in Tibet  (all sins are supposed to be forgiven after that! J) and I’ve been to Vietnam to see where the war was and what devastation it left behind; I’ve been to Antarctica and to Russia, most of Europe, to Israel, and Mexico, Costa Rica, and many South American countries, - and all over Africa when I was 21 and a budding journalist. High on my list have been visiting Mother Teresa’s Home for the Destitute and Dying in Calcutta, India, and also the monastery of St. Theresa de Avila, just recently, when my daughter Mary and my granddaughter Megan, 14, did part of the Camino (The Way) to Santiago de Compostela, to give thanks to St. James remains in that Cathedral. I adore the Saints and have visited many sites where the holy Virgin Mary has appeared, from Fatima to Walsingham in England and Guadaloupe in Mexico. There is so much more to do.

Learn more about author Audrey Taylor Gonzalez