Facebook fans of Patricia Neely-Dorsey, please click over to the Trouble Down South and Other Stories Facebook page and LIKE this post after reading this interview. This interview will be posted in two parts as Neely-Dorsey has a lot to say about her writing and her wonderful book of poetry, Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia–A Life in Poems.
Recently, I had the pleasure of writing a review of Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia, written by Patricia Neely-Dorsey, and posted it here on my blog. I now have the honor of interviewing this up and coming young woman on her writing career.
Neely-Dorsey, born in Belleville, Illinois, is busy “promoting Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia” to many of her Facebook friends–or rather her “Celebrate the South” friends, including myself. She also is working on a continuation of Reflections, tentatively titled Magnolia Memories–In Poems, due out in February 2011. Let’s begin the interview.
Where were you born?
Actually, and probably very surprising to many, I was not born in Mississippi. Both of my parents are from West Point, Mississippi, and I totally and completely claim and accept Mississippi as my place of origin. I was born at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois. My father was finishing up his military service and was on his way back home. I was a couple of months old when my parents (we) returned to Mississippi. It is purely a mere technicality that my parents did not make it home before my birth!(LOL)
Where do you work now and what do you do?
Right now, the “book biz” is my full-time job. I do a lot of speaking engagements, book signings, and workshops at schools, colleges, libraries, and civic clubs. I worked for over 19 years in the mental health field in Memphis, Tennessee, before moving back to Tupelo, Mississippi, my hometown, in August 2007. Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia was published in February 2008.
What are your writing credentials, degrees, etc.?
I really don’t have any official “writing credentials.” As far as formal education, I received my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts, and never had a writing career or writing vocation in mind, so I would have to say my only credentials for doing what I do are love and passion. My writing comes from an overflow of love for this place that I call home and for the life I have lived. I have a deep passion for sharing that with others and trying to dispel some of the negative connotations so often associated with where I come from, or at least show that there is a flip side of the coin.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I have always liked to write and describe things, especially my personal thoughts and feelings. I, also, always thought that I was a pretty good writer (smile). I so vividly remember my 4th grade teacher reading one of my papers when the class was told to complete the ending to a story. She began by telling the class what a poor job everyone had done on the assignment and how they didn’t seem to put much effort into it. She said that she couldn’t even give a grade to what had been turned in. Then, she said, “Now this is how it is supposed to be. . . . This is what I am looking for . . . ” and began to read my story! She did not mention my name, and I never did tell anyone that it was mine, but I was totally beaming with pride! I just knew that I had done a good job! (LOL)
I still remember that the story was about a plane crash, and the survivors were stranded on an island, and we were told to finish it. I even remember one of my lines from the story. I wrote about the survivors finding a coconut tree and drinking the coconut juice/milk. I wrote: “The thick, rich juice trickled down their parched throats.” It’s so amazing that I remember that, but I do. I wish I had kept that paper! (LOL)
Another thing that I remember was my 12th grade AP English teacher giving us an assignment to keep a journal to write about ANYTHING and turn it in weekly for her to review. She always had very glowing comments about what I wrote. One week she wrote: “Patricia, your entries are very interesting. I think that you will do great things with your writing someday.”
I hope that I will, and I hope that I am doing just that.
What prompted you to begin a career in writing?
I really didn’t choose a career in writing. The writing career, especially the poetry, just chose me. (smile). I woke up on February 14th (Valentine’s Day) 2007, with a poem just swirling around in my head. I got up and quickly scribbled it down. After that day, the poems just started to flow and flow. In a few months, I had well over 200 poems. A friend of mine kept telling me how good they were and said that I should do something with them. I had no idea what! I certainly had no intentions or thoughts of publishing a book! It had never entered my mind.
What inspired you to write your latest book Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia?
As I mentioned before, I think that it was an overflow of my love for Mississippi and the South that manifested itself at that time as my life in poems. The Bible says, “For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). In this case, my pen was/is my mouthpiece in conveying my heart.
Where do you get your information or ideas for Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia?
It is totally and completely my life, thoughts, and experiences, which encompass so many other people’s lives and experiences. The title of the book is Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia–A Life in Poems, and it is TRULY that. Reflections has been called among other things, a poetic autobiography and a love letter to the South. I agree with both. (smile)
How long did it take you to write Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia?
I think that I had written most of the poems for Reflections in a couple of months.
How did you come up with the title for Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia?
That was very easy. I gave the collection of poems a title long before I had any thought of publishing a book. The book is a collection of mostly childhood reflections, and they are coming from a Mississippi girl. Women in Mississippi are often called “Mississippi Magnolias” like women in Georgia are called
“Georgia Peaches,” so it was a natural fit. I really couldn’t imagine it being called anything else.
Who designed the cover for Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia?
I love the cover, and I get so many compliments about the cover. The publisher has a person who mainly designs the covers. I worked very closely with him to get the final layout and look. We e-mailed back and forth so many times! We went through different-sized lettering, different fonts, print styles, etc.
For the picture, he sent me about three photos to choose from, after I told him what I was looking for. I immediately loved the magnolia and thought that it should be the cover, but I wanted to do a little “field study,” so after I choose the top two covers , I went to the local Books-A-Million and just asked perfect strangers which cover they liked best. I told them not to really think about it and just to give me their first gut reaction. One photo was the magnolia, and the other photo was an outdoor scene with a tree reflection in the water and a sort of double exposure. I flipped the pictures up together really quickly, then back down, and asked which one they liked. The magnolia won, and every single woman I asked picked the magnolia! (LOL) Men, mostly, picked the outdoor scenes, but I felt I knew who my main market would be, so I was very confident in the magnolia.
Did you have to travel much concerning Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia?
I do travel a lot. I mostly travel around the state of Mississippi, but I have done speaking engagements in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, and other areas around the South.
What was the hardest part of writing Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia?
There was no hard part at all about writing Reflections. All of the poems just basically came to me, and I just wrote them down.
Is there a message in Reflections of a Mississippi Magnolia that you want readers to grasp?
Absolutely! There are so many negative connotations associated with Mississippi and the South, in general. In my book I attempt to give a positive glimpse into the southern way of life. I want people to know that our region is not ALL about the bad that is usually portrayed. We are always at the top of the bad lists and at the bottom of the good lists. I want people to know that there is MUCH to love about the southern way of life.
Stay tuned for Patricia Neely-Dorsey–Interview with an Author (Part Two)