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March's Book
Creeker: A Woman’s Journey
by Linda Scott DeRosier
Bill:
Linda, thanks very much for joining us.

Linda:
Well, thank you. I am proud to be here.

Bill:
The editor wrote in the preface that Creeker is “a highly personal and refreshingly honest account of human life.” For you, was it ever too personal and too honest?

Linda:
Oh, yes. It is every day. But what happened is I started out, and I never really thought it would be published. I mean, I don’t write, other than professional kinds of things. And so I started writing, and I wrote as if I were writing to my kids. I just sat down every morning and wrote. And even after I sent in the manuscript, I didn’t think it was going to be published. I visited with them, and we picked out pictures and such, and I still was not ready to think that it was going to be published. About the week before the book was in my hands, all of a sudden I thought, Lord, you know, what did I leave in there and what did I take out? And I wondered if I took that story out or put this story in. I had a real—not a moment of panic, a full week of panic. [laughs]

And so yeah, there are several things. It’s not what’s in there; it’s the way you stand to talk about it, you know.

Bill:
Yes.

Linda:
And there are things about things I have done I’m not particularly tickled about.

Bill:
[laughs]

Linda:
[laughs]

Bill:
Did anyone ever get angry at you?

Linda:
You know, since the book came out, I’ve probably averaged three or four letters a week and sometimes 20 or 30 e-mails or some such, and I have had one letter that was negative. The person wasn’t somebody I know, but it is somebody from home. She’s about 22 or -3, and she wrote and said, “Look, don’t tell me you fed hogs.” [laughs] Well you know, hog feeding is not something you lie about. [laughs] If I am going to lie, it ain’t going to be about feeding the hogs, I can tell you.

Bill:
Well, you have already answered one big question [by saying] that you really didn’t start out to write a book, but we are all curious. Did you keep a diary or notes, or did you just begin to sit down and write these letters to your children?

Linda:
What happened is, Gwen Holbrook—who is in the book, my oldest friend from first grade ... I was back home in the summer. My parents had died at the end of ’94, and so I was back home for a summer family reunion of Gwen’s family because they lived right across the road from us, and we are real close. Gwen had done for her sisters and brother a genealogy thing just of the immediate family—who was who and what was what—and she had written about a page or two about her mother and a page or two about her daddy and about each of her brothers and sisters, and then she had reproduced that, and for Christmas gave one to each of her sisters and her brother, and she was showing it to me. I started reading the stuff she had written about her daddy and her mother. I said, “You know, Gwen, this is the greatest thing. It’s just such a good gift.” And she said, “You know, Linda, you ought to write one.” And I said, “Well, you know, I only have one sister.” And she said, “No, you ought to write one because,” she said, “our kids didn’t grow up the way we grew up and our grandkids are different still. You ought to write it.” So I said, “You know, I just might.” But I just might do a whole bunch of stuff, and I never quite got to it.

[But] I sort of kept that in my head, and at Christmastime I got a card from Margaret Wolfe, the editor of the series, saying that they were going to do this series on Southern women, and so I put that card away and thought, oh, that would be something a person could do, and so I wrote her in January. I sent her an e-mail and said, “You know, you said this, and I have been thinking about maybe doing a little something about growing up.” And she wrote and said to do a prospectus. Well, first of all, you know, a prospectus ... [laughs]

Bill:
Uh huh.

Linda:
So I sent a prospectus, and they sent me a contract. Well, you know, I’m not big about saying I’ll do stuff, but once I’ve said I’ll do stuff then I sort of think, OK, I have to do it. The Monday after Commencement here that summer I sat down to write, and I wrote a story. Then I sat down to write the next day, and I wrote another story. Every day I would show them to Arthur, my husband. And somewhere about July he said, “You know, Linda, usually when people write, they have some sort of outline or pattern,” because these were in no order at all. I finished the first [draft of] the manuscript and mailed it off to them. I had gotten to the place where I started throwing away as much as I was keeping. You know, at the end I’d write and I’d think, oh, that won’t work, or, if I use that I will have to go back and throw out something else. I was probably at 400 pages or maybe a little more than that, and I mailed the manuscript off to the editor the day after Labor Day. I wrote on it that summer. I was in and out of town some, but mostly I wrote about four or five days a week.

Bill:
Well, you had certainly an extraordinary memory, and I’m sure you did research some names and dates and that sort of thing. I was curious: On page 98, in the last paragraph, you write, “The first Saturday in December 1955, we went to the company store at David to do some Christmas shopping. I bought Brad Williamson—my first boyfriend—a canary-yellow Banlon V-neck sweater.”

Linda:
Oh yes.

Bill:
You remembered that.

Linda:
Uh huh. But see, I didn’t remember that when I started writing. People will write and say, how did you remember all that? I didn’t remember any of it. I sat down and wrote a story, and that gave into another story, and then when I finished with that one there were other stories. And as I said, I didn’t put them together with any kind of dates or times or whatever. I just remembered this story and that story and then I had 400 and some pages of it. I did some revision as I went along, but not much. You can’t forget when that was, because the house burned—you know.

Bill:
Yes.

Linda:
When the house burned. And I can remember as vividly as I can remember yesterday—more so, actually—then going to the company store and finding ... It was a yellow Banlon sweater. It had a V-neck, and I just thought it was so pretty. You know Banlon wasn’t around until along about that time, and it felt so soft. We were used to those old harsh woolly sweaters.

Bill:
Yeah.

Linda:
I just was crazy about him, and I wanted to see him in that yellow sweater. Lord have mercy.

Bill:
How did he look?

Linda:
Oh, he was the prettiest thing you ever saw. He never got that yellow sweater, but he was, he was real pretty. I finally, I ended up getting him something else because that one burned when the house burned.

Bill:
Yeah. What did you mean when you wrote, “I am not only from Appalachia, I am of Appalachia”?

Linda:
OK. You can be from a place simply by virtue of being born there. I’ll never be anything other than Appalachian, and if you distilled my essence, such as it is, that’s so deeply inside me that would be the last thing to go, and it’s funny because I had not thought much about that. About three weeks ago I was at a party and was introduced to this gentleman, and he is here in town too. We started talking, and he immediately let me know that the people he associates with are people who need help. And then he started to tell me about how people ought to do more for people who need help. I could tell that his definition of “needing help” ... that ... I just bet you those people he helps know that he thinks he is helping them.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Linda:
I just wanted to say, those are my people; they are my kind of people. There is—about being of—when people are, again, reaching down to help you, and you either identify with that or you don’t.

Bill:
Uh huh.

Linda:
And if you don’t, you have to spend your whole life trying to cover it, I think.

Bill:
In John Grisham’s new novel, A Painted House ...

Linda:
Uh huh.

Bill:
... which is also set in the deep South in the ’50s—Arkansas—there is a passage where a guest corrects the grammar of one of the children, and he says, I just can’t believe how backward you people are. I believe you ran into the same thing once. A faculty member said to you something along the lines of, I didn’t know intelligent people talked like that.

Linda:
Oh, I ... You know, only a few of those things made the book, but it happens. It happens with some regularity when people meet me for the first time, and they have read something I have published in a periodical, where you just do everything you possibly can to couch the thoughts you are trying to talk about in language nobody can understand. And so people will read that, and then they meet me, and they are not quite ready for this. The incident you are talking about is when I gave a paper in Boston in 1972, and then that evening a group of us went out to dinner. This one professor from a university said, “I don’t think I have ever heard an intelligent person talk the way you do.”

Bill:
[laughs]

Linda:
You know, here I thought my subject-verb agreement was dead on. [laughs] The inflection, really; some people have a tough time getting over it.

Bill:
Where do you think Creeker will end up, let’s say in 20 or 30 or 50 years, on the bookshelf of Kentucky books?

Linda:
Oh my goodness. I would love to think that it would be on the bookshelf of Kentucky books. I think it’s a piece of history, but again, you know, everything is told from your own perspective. I would like it to be required reading for rural kids and partly rural kids from Eastern Kentucky or Appalachia, but also rural kids from coal camps. And kids who are out in counties where people very often teach you to be ashamed of the way you have spent the first X number of years of your life. You know it. And I’d like people who are from those areas to read it and see that, hey, look you know the only person who ever limits where you go and what you do is when you put a cap on trying because you are afraid. If you try, you wouldn’t do very well. I think we lose so much talent and so many bright kids because they kind of self-select. Somebody teaches them they are dumb. And we are not. We are not. Just because we sound a certain way doesn’t mean that we have any trouble learning stuff. And so you know, in terms of the bookshelf, I’d like people in high school, certainly, to read it.

Bill:
Well, you have accomplished so much in your life in the academic area. You are teaching now in Billings; you have gone to Harvard, which is certainly something to be proud of, and now, this book, your first book, is being compared to Jesse Stuart and mentioned in the same breath with Bobbie Ann Mason. I know that has to puff you up quite a bit.

Linda:
Well, can you say “intimidated”? [laughs]

I happened to think about something when you said the business about Harvard. When I was accepted to Harvard, one of the things that I sent back said, yes, I would be there, and so I needed to find a place to live, and so I called one of the offices up there. I called around trying to find how a person would find a place to live. And this one woman was giving me some addresses and this, that, and the other, and she gave me this address and she said, “That’s 175 Harvard, H-a-r-v-a-r-d.”

Bill:
[laughs]

Linda:
Now you know, somehow I think if my husband had been on the phone, she wouldn’t have done that. So it’s the kind of thing that, again, you go there and they have to deal with putting together the way you sound with what you are able to do. And I think that’s really important.

Bill:
Well, we thank you for joining us and sharing some moments, and we hope to talk with you again.

Linda:
Well, thanks a lot.

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