I met Jennifer Paddock during the Fairhope Writers Colony Retreat in Fairhope, Alabama, last June. She was one of several local authors that Sonny Brewer brought in to talk shop with me and the other “colonists.” But I had already read Jennifer’s first two novels before I ever met her—A Secret Word and Point Clear. I was drawn to her voice, her characters, and the stories she wove through those characters’ lives. I was also drawn to the setting—the Gulf Coast of Alabama and Florida—where I’ve spent many vacations over the years. (You can read about my time with Jennifer in Fairhope and her first two novels here.)
So I was excited to learn that the characters I came to care about in her first two books would continue their journeys in a third novel—The Weight of Memory. I just finished reading an advance reader’s copy and Jennifer has agreed to a short Pen & Palette Q & A:
P&P: Hi, Jennifer. Thanks for agreeing to “chat” with us today. I’m so excited about the release of your third novel. My first question is this—did you know you were going to write three books about Chandler, Sarah and Leigh when you wrote A Secret Word?
Jennifer: I did. Chandler, Sarah, and Leigh had become very real to me, and I missed them. I like the idea of checking in on them every five years or so. I didn't know that Walker from Point Clear would be a major character. That was a nice surprise.
P&P: Are the characters in your novels based on friends and acquaintances—especially the three girls and Trey and Walker? I couldn’t help wonder if Chandler was based on your own life in some ways, since she was a tennis instructor.
Jennifer: They are, and they aren't. I almost always start from something real and then let fiction take over. I am most like Chandler, but my family life, especially when I was growing up, is like Sarah's, and my often feeling like an outsider is like Leigh.
P&P: Sarah’s father, “C.H.” has such an abusive attitude towards women’s bodies and eating. My mother was like this, so I was especially sensitive when I read that part. Do you think this is a common problem in the South? Did you experience this personally?
Jennifer: I do think it's a common problem. I teach tennis to a lot of young girls, and they are all overly concerned about their weight. They shouldn't be. They're perfect. I did not have this experience in my family, which is good, but I developed some bad habits--my addiction to Coke is one. My father gave it to me in my baby bottle with a little crushed ice--I loved it!
P&P: Did Leigh’s Cherokee heritage in the book come from something or someone in your own life, or just your imagination?
Jennifer: It came from a friend of mind who was searching for her birth mother and found out she was Cherokee. I went to visit the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, which is close to my hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was an inspiring, mystical experience.
P&P: Who are your favorite authors or role models/mentors for your writing, and why?
Jennifer: My favorite writer is Susan Minot, for the beauty of her language. It's spare, poetic, and very visual. I also love Anthony Doerr, especially Memory Wall, which is definitely my favorite long short story. It's hard to beat the honesty of Raymond Carver. I love Brad Watson, Ann Hood, Michelle Richmond, Michael Knight, William Gay, Jay McInerney, J.D. Salinger, Richard Yates, Grace Paley, Richard Bausch, Tobias Wolff, and so many more.
P&P: What’s next? Will there be another sequel?
Jennifer: Maybe. I don't want it to be my next book. I've been reading the wonderful novel The Art of Fielding, which is about baseball and so much more, and I'd like to write a tennis novel--a shorter Infinite Jest (which I still need to read!).
Thanks so much for taking time to “chat” with us today, Jennifer. The Weight of Memory is available for purchase now from MacAdam/Cage. You can friend Jennifer on Facebook to learn about readings and events.