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This Georgia Peach is a Real Tomato

An Interview with Julie Cannon

by Joyce Dixon 

 
 

I first met Julie Cannon through e-mail in 2001 as her first book TRUELOVE and Homegrown Tomatoes was being published in hardcover by Hill Street Press. Her natural sweetness and charm came across that letter. We connected as small-town Georgia girls and women of the soil.

The bond of women to earth was celebrated by Margaret Mitchell in Gone With the Wind; the soil gives strength, rebirth, renewal of faith, and a sense of tradition. It is this bond that comes clearly across in Cannon's writing. Through her fruitful "Homegrown Series," Julie Cannon pays homage to the sense of community in small towns. Where blood kin and church family support the trials life gives us through faith, humor, and love.

Julie Cannon lives in Bishop, Georgia, with her husband and three children. When not writing, you can find her in the garden where she grows several varieties of tomatoes.

 

Your writing is linked to the Earth through gardening. What is it that draws you to the soil? Why tomatoes (there are some who believe the apple in the Garden of Eden was a tomato)?  

My early childhood experiences are what drew me to gardening. Watching my Memaw and my Granny, both farmers wives, scratch around in their little rectangles of red Georgia clay and their joy at harvesting. It was kind of like Brer Rabbit being thrown in the briar patch. They had to do it to eat, but they adored it. I have to admit, that when I was young, I thought they were a little crazy to love it so, because it looked like a whole lot of work, but now that I've put my hand to it, I know why they loved it. I've found a lot of joy and satisfaction in in myself. The smell of a sun-warmed tomato leaf and a spicy marigold leaf and the excitement of watching my tender green shoots burst out of the dirt and the feel of the silky warm soil between my bare toes and the immense satisfaction of plucking a ripe tomato, cucumber, squash, snap beans, ear of sweet corn, etc. Gardening is a very healing experience. A close connection to Our Creator. A therapeutic activity. My granny and my Memaw didn't know what a therapist or a psychologist was. That wasn't in their vocabulary. They worked out a lot of troubles out there in the dirt.    

Who are the strong southern women who inspired you?  

Memaw and Grannys connection to the soil was remarkable. I'll also have to add my own dear momma - a strong Southern Baptist, Momma was the inspiration for many scenes. Her unswerving faith in God is what inspired me to let Imo's connection with God guide her reactions to some terrible situations.  

Through Mama Jewell, you touch on the trials by adult caregivers. What do you want your readers to learn about balancing parenting the youth and overseeing the medical needs of the elderly?  

I want my readers to see the good even in the worst of situations. To see the value in each human life. 

You use your sense of humor throughout the book, but it is particularly effective in dealing with religion. Have you used humor in real life to convey an inspirational message? Have you ever been in a situation where humor about faith didn't work?  

I couldn't get through hardly one day of my life without a sense of humor. I know God has a sense of humor. After all, the Bible says laughter does good like a medicine, and I often hear about remarkable instances where a dose of laughter wrought a miracle. The inspirational message I hope to convey is that you can find the lighter side in almost anything. Particularly if you're convinced that this life is not all there is. Situations where humor about faith don't work are, to me, in those reverent moments, those hushed times before God's presence, when perhaps He is letting you look inside yourself, and you are feeling repentant. Where you are doing a "clean sweep" of your spirit/soul. I guess you'd call it confession.   

How does fire and brimstone play into your novel?  

Maybe in Lou's deep fear of the impending Rapture. I wouldn't call it fire and brimstone, though. I'd call it a deep and abiding respect of some Higher Power. Imogene also walks circumspectly down here during this brief life on earth. 

You have a keen sense of storytelling. Who were/are the storytellers in your family?  

My Momma and Daddy love to tell stories from their younger days. My Uncle Raymond and Uncle Sam and Uncle Darrell like to joke around. My Aunt Phyllis can hold you spell-bound. 

You are known locally as the Tomato Queen, for which you've created your own costume. Are there plans to create a women's movement or book series, a la Sweet Potato Queens, Ya-Ya Sisterhood, or Red Hat Society?  

That hasn't crossed my mind yet. I was an absolute total poetry writing nerd in high school, slinking down the halls in total fear of those smug, slit-eyed girls who were cheerleader and homecoming queens. I've had to ease my way into this spotlight. I suppose being able to wear a red feather boa and a glistening tiara has given me some measure of boldness to cower behind. Funny thing is, as scared as I was at my early readings/appearances, now I've actually come to enjoy them!  

 

Julie Cannon as The Tomato Queen

How has writing this series changed your life?  

I reckon it has given me this big "stamp of approval" when I sit down at the dining table to write up a storm. Used to I felt guilty for indulging in this avocation, particularly when the spiderwebs and dust balls are having free reign in my house.  

What can those subscribing to the "Hot Off the Vine" newsletter expect?  

The characters write columns such as recipes, spiritual advice from the Reverend Lemuel Peddigrew, gardening tips, beauty tips from Wanda at the Kuntry Kut'n Kurl. The newsletters are old-fashion pen and ink communications that come in your mailbox.  

You seem to be joining other southern women writers creating a series based on a community or character - such as the MOSSY CREEK series, Ann Ross's MISS JULIA series, and Jan Karon's MITFORD series. Do you have any fears of limiting yourself to one setting/cast of characters? What else would you like to write?  

I'm not worried about that. I'm currently working on book #4 in "The Homegrown Series" called In a Garden Far Away, and also another totally different book called The Romance Book Club with a whole new cast of characters and in a different place. It's still very southern as I don't know anything else.  

Can you tell us about the next book of the Homegrown series, THOSE PEARLY GATES?  

In Those Pearly Gates, Imo confronts a whole new set of predicaments and of course, healing in her beloved garden. Jeanette's dealing with health problems and a desire to straddle two worlds - the earthly and the heavenly. Lou finds new love after Jeannie convinces her to let her do a makeover. Imo tries to kindle a flame with the Reverend. Lou tries to figure out what the marquis at Calvary Baptist means when it says "Prayer is asking for rain, Faith is carrying the umbrella," in relation to the possibility that they may sell the beloved farm.   


Julie Cannon: Author Page at Simon & Schuster

"Hot Off the Vine" newsletter. Join the Euharlee Garden Club and stay up-to-date with the "Homegrown Series" characters. The newsletter includes news from Euharlee, a free gift, and a membership card.
Send your name and address to hotoffthevine@simonandschuster.com.

 
 
'Mater Biscuit
by Julie Cannon
Touchstone Book, 2004
Trade paper, $13.00 (271 pages)
ISBN: 0-7432-4606-3

      Southern Scribe Review

 

 

 

TRUELOVE and Homegrown Tomatoes
By Julie Cannon
Touchstone Book, 2003
Trade paper, $13.00 (288 pages)
ISBN: 0743245881
      Southern Scribe Review

 

 

 

2004, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved