Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly are very much in demand since publication of their co-authored historical novel, “The Tilted World.” The novel is based on The Great Flood of 1927, an event which has been forgotten by most Americans in spite of its importance to our history.
The book got its start as a short story the two cowrote. Tom heard a song by Randy Newman, “Louisiana 1927” and it caught his imagination, so he and Beth Ann wrote a story about two revenue men who find a baby during the time of the flood. When Tom’s agent read the story, he told Tom that making it into a book would be Tom and Beth Ann’s next project. Then Tom had to convince Beth Ann.
Beth Ann relates what happened next. She said, “In poetry, there is no money or respect. Poetry is the Rodney Dangerfield of the literary world. So when Tom suggested it, I said, ‘I would never stoop so low.’ I was teasing him.” She continued, “The story was so great, the history so interesting, it seemed crazy but right.”
Writing the book together was a very intimate collaboration. Tom openly admits that Beth Ann wrote 75% of the book. “I’m a ‘C’ student, and she’s an ‘A’ student. My fear was that her part would be done and mine not started.”
And that’s just what happened. So they wrote his half together. And although Tom, obviously a consummate gentleman, insisted that her name be on top on the cover, their agent convinced them that as a published, better-known author, Tom’s name should be first.
What surprised them most during their exhaustive research? Beth Ann, who is from Lake Forest, Illinois, said that she was amazed by “how giant it was and my ignorance. It shaped our nation in so many ways. And I had never heard of it until I was 30 years old and moved to Mississippi.”
The flood had a huge hand in shaping the Chicago of today. Many sharecroppers lost their fields and fled north on trains. With them, they brought a special kind of music — the blues.
The book is meticulously researched. Beth Ann explained that if the book says three men died attempting to dynamite the levee, it really happened. The only fiction is the town of Hobnob and the characters. “The research was so fascinating, it was dangerous. It got to the point where learning more wasn’t going to help with writing the novel but help procrastinate.”
Watching Tom and Beth Ann seamlessly present the story and read together, it’s obvious that they are very much a team — professionally and personally. They live in Oxford, Mississippi, and both teach at the University of Mississippi. And Tom proudly pointed out that Beth Ann is on her way to becoming a true Southerner. She used the expression, “I’m fixin to…”
It’s to be hoped that “The Tilted World” is not their last collaboration. There are lots and lots of fans waiting to see what comes next.