Interview with The Palms Author, Clay Anderson

Grit Lit Part II: Interview with Author of The Palms, Clay Anderson


Last week I wrote a review of Anderson’s novel, The Palms, and now we get to hear from the author himself on his influences, process, and much more. Look for a guest post by Anderson next week on the Grit Lit genre. Hope you enjoy the interview!

At your reading you described The Palms as belonging to the Grit Lit genre and you mentioned that you read Cormac McCarthy’s canon every year. Where does McCarthy end and Anderson begin?

McCarthy is my favorite author. I’ve visited his papers at Texas State and wrote my MFA thesis on Blood Meridian. I’ve even visited his childhood home outside of Knoxville. It was almost like a religious pilgrimage for me.

Where does McCarthy end and Anderson begin? Lord, that’s the most difficult question I’ve ever been asked. I don’t feel worthy to even put in the same sentence. My only hope would be to do justice to his prosaic writing style. The man can write a brutal scene where a group of filibusters are being massacred by a group of Apache and it sounds like a poem.

Also, McCarthy can be so “simplistic” with his prose, yet it packs an enormous punch. He uses the phrase “they rode on” a dozen or so times in Blood Meridian and it’s so much deeper than a subject and predicate. Those three words encapsulate (one of) the novel’s thesis over the banality of Manifest Destiny.

If I had 1/100th of his talent, I would die happy.

As a female writer, myself, I am interested in writers that give voice to the disenfranchised which includes characters such as Mary and Clara. That said, there is a lack of female characters in the Grit Lit genre and good luck finding a bad ass female antagonist gracing the pages of Southern Noir novels and stories. Do you agree with this statement? Did you set out–via the characters of Mary and Clara–to change this dynamic?

I do agree and I’m so glad you bring up this point because it’s a damn shame that women are so underrepresented in the Grit Lit genre. Dorothy Allison is the most well-known, but there’s so much more room for women to tell their stories. Why is this? I don’t know. Perhaps the gate keepers in publishing are blocking the content. I’d hate to think it’s that simple, but Occam’s razor and all that.

That being said, keep your eye out for Laura McHugh. She’s brilliant. I would personally place her The Wolf Wants In and The Weight of Blood in the Grit Lit genre, but I don’t know how she’d feel about that.

I came to your reading and you shared a humorous tidbit regarding the cover of The Palms. Will you share that again? 

What happened was, the publishing company had sent me the cover art for me to okay in April (book was published at the end of August) and I hated it. It was a scene of RVs parked at a beach. It wasn’t what The Palms (the park) was at all, so I emailed them back explaining that it’s actually a run-down trailer park. I didn’t hear anything back from them, so I was hoping for the best. The first week of September, I write an email asking how things were progressing and they said “oops, we forgot to email you to notify that it’s been published.” So, I freak out because I hadn’t done the final okay on the cover. Thankfully, I loved it. It’s exactly what I pictured the Palms to be.

I see this as a positive book for addicts and family and friends of addicts and I compared it to what Stephen King did with Doctor Sleep for people suffering from addiction. Did you set out to write a book about the struggles of addiction and offer hope, or did it just play out that way because one of the main characters is a meth-addict?

Drug addiction and recovery is exactly what I was going for in the novel. I’ve had people ask if it was something I’d struggled with as well because it was so realistic. I won’t get into that. I will say that, yes, it was put in there on purpose.

There is a point-of-view shift that has made me curious about how dark you willing to go with the character of Mary. In the last sentence of chapter 31 the narrator directly speaks to the reader: “The disturbing scene that followed was so atrocious that it’s hopefully beyond the realm of your imagination” (268). It is a tough scene to even imagine. Did you originally write this scene and then later remove it? Do you think it would have taken away from the novel or pushed readers away if you described what is clearly a rape of a child? Was that scene just too controversial?  

I wasn’t going to go any darker beyond that sentence. I couldn’t do it. I struggled with actually having Ronnie save her pre-molestation or keep it the way it was. I almost wish I had changed it because a lot of people have had hang-ups about the way I wrote it. I try to be realistic in my writing. She was in a human-trafficking situation and that’s what happens in human trafficking situations. Every single day in the United States, what happened to Mary happens in real life to dozens or maybe hundreds of girls. There are evil people out there who do evil things. If I can draw attention to that, then I’ve done something good… I dunno, ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a different answer.

In my opinion, one of the predominate themes throughout The Palms is healing, but healing only comes by way of struggle. Do you think some readers may miss that element because the novel is so violent? 

I hope not. Everyone I’ve talked to have pointed out that it’s a story of redemption and healing. I don’t really consider it all that violent of a book. It’s just that last portion that is hyper violent. But, then again, I also read violent stuff so maybe I’m desensitized. What I do make a point of, is not being violent for the sake of being violent. I want it to have a damn good reason behind it. I hate shock writers who put stuff in to be controversial. The worst is Chuck Palahniuk in my opinion. Having a teenage boy put wax down his pee hole so he can jack off has no redeeming literary value, but maybe I’m a prude.

From start to finish, with start being the first word and the finish line being published, how long did you work on The Palms? 

It took me three years. 1 to write. 1 to get rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected, and accepted. 1 to be in the hands of the editors and get published.

Can you briefly describe your writing process?  

I’m a morning person and spend about two hours from 5-7ish writing. I don’t edit until I’ve finished whatever I’m working on. So, I just write flat out every single day. Sometimes I write 3,000 words, sometimes three. No matter what though, I make it a point to write every single day. I get sick and depressed if I don’t.

You own the Bear Book Market in Dahlonega, GA. So, what are you reading this week?

I make sure than I am reading both fiction and non-fiction at the same time. I am currently reading The Secret History by Donna Tartt and it’s a complete mind f*ck. Also, I’m tackling The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Lawson that follows Winston Churchill’s time as Prime Minister of Great Britain during the Blitz.

To purchase a copy of The Palms on Amazon.

About Clay Anderson:

Clay Anderson is an Adjunct Professor of History at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia. He received his BA in History from Kennesaw State University and MA from Mississippi State University. He has seven diverse publications in fiction and non-fiction. These publications include two non-fiction book reviews in Texas Books in Review and East Texas Historical Journal, one non-fiction article in the Journal of Big Bend Studies, and four fiction short stories in the Fourth World Journal, Adelaide Literary Award Anthology 2019 and 2020, and The Bangalore Review. He is currently an MFA student in Creative Writing at Reinhardt University. The Palms is his first novel and was nominated for Georgia Author of the Year under the first novel category. Clay lives in the North Georgia mountains with his two dogs and has recently opened a bookstore called the Bear Book Market in Dahlonega, Georgia.



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