After over twenty years
of doing service to the community by teaching, Linda Busby Parker is finally
following her dream. As a wife, mother, professional, and author, she's
learned that "balance, balance, balance is a constant struggle," yet one she
How did you make the transition from writing for academics to writing
I had always wanted to write fiction but I could never quite figure how to
get there. In college I majored in English with a minor in creative
writing; in grad school I majored in mass communication and journalism. I
earned a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and taught at the university
level for nearly twenty years—Eastern Michigan University, Iowa State
University, and the University of South Alabama. I was the author of two
college-level textbooks and at least a dozen research papers in some of the
best journals in my field. Yet, tucked in the back of my mind, I wanted to
write fiction. Finally in about 1998, I decided to give up my professorship
at the University of South Alabama. I began working on a novel and
attending summer writing programs. In the fall of 2001 I enrolled in the
Spalding University low-residency creative writing program. That program
opened doors for me. Finally, finally, finally I was learning craft. I was
attending readings, lectures, panels, workshops and working with a mentor. I
was writing about a hundred pages a semester. In 2002 the novel I had been
working on (which was Seven Laurels) won first place in the James
Jones competition and for the first time I began to think about myself as a
fiction writer. I had made the transition.
Talk about the program at Spalding. What inspired you to go there? What
was the experience like for you? What was the most important lesson you
learned as a writer?
I decided to attend Spalding after I met the program director, Sena Jeter
Naslund. I met Sena at a conference in Monroeville, Alabama. Sena was
receiving an award for her book Ahab's Wife. By that time she was a
nationally recognized best-selling author but yet when she spoke to me she
looked directly at me and gave me full attention as if I was the most
important person in the room. I was so impressed by her genuine interest in
me as a writer and as a person, there was no question that Spalding
University was the place I needed to be. How right I was! I loved the
The low-residency program was perfect for me. The residencies were ten days
long and packed to the hilt with all kinds of useful information about
writing—everything from the building blocks of fiction, to developing the
interiority of characters, to forward movement of stories. After
residencies the remainder of the work was done from home with a mentor that
I had some input in selecting. I worked with four really great mentors—Roy
Hoffman, Wesley Brown, Mary Yukari Waters, and Julie Brickman. They came
from all over the country -- Alabama, New York and two from California.
The single most important thing I learned was to give my writing time.
Whether in the developmental stages of a novel or in the revision stages,
don't rush it. Put the work aside and go back to it again and again. The
writing will flower with time for reflection.
Who do you consider to be your mentors? What is the importance of
mentors to a novice writer?
My mentors at Spalding kept me on task. I knew I had a fifty-page packet to
mail five times a semester. The regularity of sending the material kept me
on a good writing schedule. My mentors also saw things that I didn't see
--when the pace of a story needed to be quickened, when certain phrasing
didn't work, when passages were too dense etc. They also told me when the
writing was singing on perfect pitch! Their positive comments were like
gold nuggets in my pocket. I pulled them out again and again whenever I
Also, I consider other writers to be my mentors. I devour other novels --
sometimes as many as five or six a month. If one novelist is really good at
character development, I pay special attention to that; if another writes
beautiful discursive passages, I linger on that. I try to learn from every
writer I read.
What, in particular, did you do to research SEVEN LAURELS?
In a sense, I had been researching Seven Laurels all my life. My
novel has an African American protagonist. We lived in African American
neighborhoods the entire time I was growing up. Sometimes we were nearly
the only white family amongst black neighbors. So, I observed people,
places, and events.
In graduate school at the University of Michigan I became especially
interested in African American literature. I read everything from Soul
on Ice to biographies of Sojourner Truth, from James Baldwin to Alex
Haley. I continued this after leaving grad school, adding such writers as
Randall Kenan, Gloria Naylor, Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Melissa Fay
Greene, Lawrence Graham, and many more.
As a journalism professor I always added a unit on -- The Black Press in
America -- to my media survey class. So, I carried into this writing
project a fairly broad background of knowledge on the black press and how
events had been covered over time in African American newspapers
For Seven Laurels I specifically read a number of books on the Civil
Rights movement. Every historical event in Seven Laurels is accurate
with the correct characters presented in the correct timeframe. Keeping up
with events and making my characters be the right age to observe a
particular event as, at times, maddening. One evening I thought I would
bury the novel -- keeping everything straight was just too difficult. But,
the next morning—miraculously—everything fit into place and I continued.
What was the effect of winning the James Jones First Novel Fellowship?
At the time I submitted Seven Laurels (the novel was then titled
The Sum of Augusts) to the James Jones competition, I had not yet
decided whether I would ever submit the novel for publication consideration.
In the summer of 2002 I learned that out of 665 entries my novel was one of
about 20 finalists. I was elated! I never thought it would advance beyond
In early October 2002 I received a call from one of the judges in New York
informing me that my novel was selected for the top prize. I was stunned
and delighted. My winning the prize was announced in POETS & WRITERS
(complete with author photograph); I received a check for $5,000 and I did a
reading at the society’s annual meeting at the University of Texas, Austin.
Also, I was invited to submit an excerpt from the novel to Provincetown
I got several calls from agents. I was represented by a really wonderful
agent. We did a round in N.Y., but the novel wasn't picked up for immediate
publication. Instead of doing another round of submissions, I decided to go
with a university press from which I had an offer to publish. Coming from
an academic background, I felt comfortable with that option. A first novel
is always an apprenticeship and I thought the university press was a way of
getting the book out there without huge pressure on me.
What constitutes a "successful writer?"
I ponder this question often. The writing life is in many ways very
difficult. Ultimately, the writer has to write because she's driven to do
so and because there is such joy in writing a great sentence, a wonderful
paragraph, a beautiful page! When I'm working on a novel, I write because I
MUST know what happens to one or more characters. I MUST follow those lives
-- then I know the novel's singing!
What kind of experiences have you had promoting the novel?
Mostly readers are lovely. They ask insightful questions. I did a reading
recently where both storeowners were gone the night of the reading. I felt
I had been abandoned. But that worked out fine too. An assistant manager
was in charge and he did a tip-top job; we had a great audience and the
reading went very well.
I could do a lengthy lecture on book promotions. I haven't gotten huge
support from the university press simply because they do not have a
promotions staff. Nonetheless, I've received invitations from universities
and book festivals and book clubs. I've developed a number of promotions
strategies -- postcards work really well.
I mentor in THE WRITER'S LOFT at Middle Tennessee State University
in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This is a low-residency certificate
program in creative writing. The residency is only a weekend and the
semester's work is done from home. I receive three packets a
semester from my students. I have great students! This semester I'm
working with a physician from Vanderbilt University, a history
professor, a real estate developer and a young Asian-American
college student. Information on THE WRITER'S LOFT is available on
WRITER'S LOFT web site or from continuing education at Middle
Tennessee State University. In addition to residencies and personal
writing, there are also readings, panels and workshops throughout
the semester. It's a terrific program and the mentors come from all
over the U.S.
What are you working on at present?
I'm working on a new novel titled Crossing the Distance. It’s the
story of a young man who set in motion an accident that ultimately kills his
father and his mother. He seeks his own forgiveness so that he can continue
with his life. Crossing the Distance is told from the perspective of
several characters and is set in Alabama and in Wyoming.
Do you have any advice for other writers about how to organize their
work and home?
It's simply difficult. There's no way around it. I don't know one writer
who has an easy time of managing the complexities of life. Most writers are
employed in order to pay the bills. Most have families to support and
manage and love. Writing is one of life's driving forces for those of us
who call ourselves writers, yet we struggle to make time to write.
In my own situation, I simply attempt to balance all my activities. I try
to write everyday. I devote evenings to family activities. I travel to
promote Seven Laurels. I teach in a low-residency program. Balance,
balance, balance -- it's a constant struggle. Sometimes I realize I've left
one thing off my list -- HAVE FUN! I'm sure God intended for us to HAVE
FUN! When I remember that, I put everything aside for a while-- then I relax
and enjoy family and friends.
Is there anything you've always wanted to be asked?
I guess it's: Why do I write? The answer: I can't imagine life without my
writing. I would scribble in the dirt if all I had was sand and a small
stick. I'd write one beautiful sentence; then, I'd call my family over and
say read this. I wrote it because I wanted you to read it.
Loft at Middle Tennessee State University
- by Linda Busby Parker
- Southeast Missouri
State University Press, 2004
- 336 pages
Southern Scribe Review
Pam Kingsbury, All Rights Reserved