Interview with Jessica Spotswood, author of ‘Born Wicked’

Interview with Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, authors of ‘The Tilted World’


A charming and talented couple -- Beth Ann Fennelly and Tom Franklin tour to promote "The Tilted World"
Wonderful historical fiction about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

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.

Interview with Theresa Schwegel: author of ‘The Good Boy’


Theresa Schwegel, local author of award-winning mysteries, including her latest release, “The Good Boy,” is a hard-boiled Chicagoan. She lived in Los Angeles for a while, enjoying the sun and warm weather, then decided she missed the change of seasons. She also missed being a part of the Chicago scene — it was too hard to write about Chicago while not living here.

So she came back to the Windy City. It wasn’t too difficult a decision because she also came back to her family (she grew up in Algonquin, Illinois). Even with an 18-month-old daughter, she and her husband are not ready to leave the city for the ‘burbs.

Theresa writes about male cops. And it’s easy, she says. Why? “They say what they mean.” But in her newest release, “The Good Boy,” the main protagonist is an eleven-year-old boy. He also says what he means.

In addition to writing, caring for her daughter and two rescue dogs, Theresa spends time appearing in libraries and bookstores, talking about her background and her books. She admits that she gets on her bandwagon about something that really bothers her in society today. “We can’t see past the screen of our phone,” she tells me. Ironically, sitting in her parked car before our meeting in downtown Libertyville, she was sideswiped by a car with a driver who was on his cell phone. We can’t see past the screen of our phone? How true.

It’s not only technology that keeps us from seeing what’s around us, Theresa believes. In researching for the book, she and her dogs walked the six miles of (her main character) Joel’s route often. One wet day she was walking through a questionable neighborhood, and she slipped in the middle of the street. There were workers around, and people out on the sidewalk, but not one person helped her up or asked if she was OK. No one noticed.

Another message that is important to Theresa regards bullying. In the book, Joel bears the brunt of the bullying. He is forced to watch the horrific killing of a neighborhood cat (something that actually happened to a relative of hers).

“Kids are not little grownups,” she says, and that’s how Theresa feels they are treated now. “More and more we are expecting children to grow up quicker,” she explained. Yet science tells us that brains aren’t really mature until the mid-twenties. Indeed, the NIH says, “The parts of the brain responsible for more ‘top-down’ control, controlling impulses, and planning ahead—the hallmarks of adult behavior—are among the last to mature.”

She also spent time researching dogs prior to writing the story. She read dog books both fiction and nonfiction, “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” by Garth Stein, and “A Dog’s Purpose,” by W. Bruce Cameron, to name a couple. She met and worked with Tara Poremba of the Chicago Police Department, who is not only an expert marksman but also a K-9 handler of Brix, who is a Malinois/Shepherd mix. They actually staged a search so that Theresa could see the real thing. She commented, “It was amazing to see the change that came over the dog when he saw the Kong.” It was as if the dog suddenly thought, Okay, I’m ready to work.

Look for more mysteries — all taking place in Chicago — from Theresa Schwegel.