Where did the idea for “The Lady” come from?
I haven’t a clue where Quincy’s story came from. I think story ideas float around the universe, sometimes landing in people’s heads. Quincy’s story landed in mine.
Do you play the piano?
I began piano lessons at the age of ten. I wanted, in the worst way, to be a concert pianist. Like Quincy, I lacked the support. I also lacked the talent. I endowed Quincy with my own wishes, although now I can’t even imagine living the life of a concert pianist. Too many hotels and late nights!
Is the story autobiographical in other ways?
Not really. I grew up in South Georgia in the same era as Quincy. Quincy’s parents weren’t mine. (With the exception that mine, like Quincy’s, didn’t support my interest in music.) I knew several people like Aunt Mildred, I’m sorry to say.
In what ways were you shaped as a writer by your family history?
I grew up in a small town with no girls my age to play with, so during my early years I spent a lot of time with books. At Christmas I wrote plays for our family Christmas Eve gathering and forced my cousins (I was the oldest, strongest, and clearly the most aggressive) to perform in my productions.
Racism issues appear in your book. Do you think there has been much progress in racial relations since 1956?
Some, but not nearly enough. In a distant time, all educated people will forget that skin color ever mattered.
What do you think of religious extremists?
I dislike anyone who tries to tell me what to think, which is what religious extremists do.
Why do you write?
Stories take root in my head. I have to write them down, otherwise they’d pester me to death. There are several pestering me right now.
Why did you wait so long to begin writing?
Writing is hard work, and I invented all sorts of excuses to keep from doing it: working, raising a family, laundry, traveling, chauffeuring kids, watching TV.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Play tennis, read, play the piano, visit with friends, think of excuses not to write.
Book Club Questions for Unringing the Bell
1. Unringing the Bell is dedicated to all the young men who grew up without fathers and to the mothers who raised them. The reader doesn’t meet Jacob’s mother, but she is referred to several times. What conclusions did you draw about Jacob’s mother?
2. Are there differences in the way a small town responds to a murder and the way a neighborhood in a large city responds to one?
3. Do you think Aunt Zuela is actually a very sensitive person beneath her brashness?
4. Near the end, Kate tells Jacob that she will leave him alone, not chasing after him anymore. Did you believe her?
5. Did Laskey, at any time, think that Kate committed the murder?
6. How did growing up without a father affect Jacob?
7. How did Laskey benefit from his relationship with Jacob?
8. Charla had reasons for despising her sister, Ama, but what reasons did Ama have to hate her sister emough to murder her?
9. What do you think of the Petrowsky’s child-rearing tactics?
10. Why won’t Laskey tell Jacob what happened to his foot?
11. The prom story actually happened in a high school in eastern Kentucky. Did you, at any moment, think Kate resented what happened eoungh to plot against Jacob?
12. The author thinks Kenneth Branagh should play the part of Laskey in a movie? Do you agree, or would you have a different suggestion?