Recently, SLR Contributor, Rhett DeVane, had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavyby Shellie Rushing Tomlinson. When she contacted the author for this interview, Shellie was busy preparing for the possible worst-case scenario of the Mississippi River flooding her hometown. Even with this, she promptly replied with her usual humor and distinctive Southern spirit. Thank you, Shellie!
Writers, particularly Southern writers, tend to “come from a long line of storytellers”. Who was your biggest influence and why?
I could go off six ways from Sunday on this question, Rhett. Just about everyone in my immediate and extended family knows how to tell a story. So much so, that it’s often necessary to raise your hand to get a word in. However, if I were going to choose one, I’d say my grandfather, Rev. Marvin Stone would win hands down. My papaw was a Southern Baptist preacher with a well-developed funny bone, prone to weaving his message and his stories together in a way that kept his listeners coming back for more of both. I aspire to do the same.
Humor often masks a deep respect and love for the subject. Do you feel this is true for you?
I don’t think that’s the case for me, seeing as my love and respect for my subject matter is pretty transparent. I do think humor is often used as a mask when people want to denigrate someone or something and that’s a brand of humor that I find distasteful.
What about the South and being a Southern Belle do you like best and why?
This is an easy one! The people of the South are her best assets, and that’s saying a lot when you start listing her charms. I embrace the role of Southern Belle. For me, a belle is someone who loves and cares for her family and friends. She has been raised to value tradition and she knows how to put other people at ease—and for the record, I believe the ability to put everyone around you at ease is the sum total of good manners.
Where do you see your writing taking you? What projects are you working on now?
I’m as interested in the next person as to what lies over the next hill for me but I can tell you what I hope it includes. For the record, I use the analogy of a hill purposefully for nothing I’ve done so far has been easy, and I’m not expecting my future dreams to come without equal exertion. Crossing genres, for instance, is difficult if you’re not one of the big names in our industry and yet, that’s exactly what I’m aiming to do. I plan to continue writing humor as long as folks smile at my words, but I’m also working on a children’s book series I’d like to see developed called “Mary Nell the Southern Belle”. I’ve written three in the series and I intend to slow down soon and do the necessary work to see her in stores. In addition, I’ve completed a novel with a message that I believe in, a story I feel strongly needs to be told. And lest that’s not enough voices in my head to tire whomever is reading our words, I also write Bible Studies and hope to see these published soon. None of this will be easy, but the journey should build muscle!
When you find yourself frustrated, what do you do to shake-and-bake your muse?
I have a weird little thing about this muse question. I refuse to use the words W_______ B______ (That rhymes with Biters Clock.) I have learned that waiting on your muse to speak is futile. For me, I have to simply put rear to chair and start priming the pump, letting my fingers form words until a recognizable idea begins to take shape.
Outside of family members, who provides your greatest support and why?
It’s hard not to talk about my wonderful husband, parents, and grown children here because they have been so integral to my work. They are not just my biggest fans, they are my sweetest blessings. Choosing the next greatest support person, however, is as easy as looking to my left. I’m typing these words while coming in from the “Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy” book tour and my dearest forever friend is at the wheel of this black ride I fondly call The Bookmobile. She is graciously allowing me to get some work done before we hit home and all the responsibilities piled up there! Rhonda has logged many a mile with me, sat and listened to countless speechless, and shared endless cups of coffee— and she’s done it all with her own incredible gift of laughter. I could never repay her.
How do readers respond to your books? Will you please share a favorite “fan story”?
My readers are some of the nicest people around. Loyalty seems to define them. My favorite fan story would come from Jim in Nebraska. I’ve never met Jim personally, but he has been a reader for some time now and he recently told me that he prints out my weekly newsletter and makes it required reading for everyone working in his law firm to lighten the day’s work load. If only I could get everyone to lay down Jim’s ground rules, I’d be at the top of every best-seller list.
What authors/books have provided inspiration for you?
I could talk about authors and book titles ’til the cows come home. To Kill a Mockingbirdwould have to take one of the highest spots on the list! Past that, I’m a huge Eudora Welty fan. For inspirational writing, I enjoy Beth Moore, Max Lucado, Terri Blackstock, and Andy Andrews. His latest book, The Final Summit, is a must read.
Your titles give huge hints about your humor. Do you start out with a title or does it reveal itself later?
My titles always reveal themselves during the project, never at the onset.
Particularly in the South, food is the tie that binds. What made you decide to include recipes? With your blog, the All Things Southern radio show, family, and sleep, when do you find time to cook?
Deciding to include recipes with All Things Southern was a no-brainer, really because where I come from, good food and good fellowship go hand in hand. And indeed, my schedule is difficult, but I place a high priority on stopping to cook supper for my hard-working farmer husband. As you may have noticed, my recipes are simple and fairly easy to whip up in a hurry, allowing me to put a hearty meal on the table without spending all day in the kitchen.
Is there anything specific you would like to say to your readers?
First, I’d like to thank you for ending with such an open-ended question. During this most recent tour, I found myself telling audiences that I once dreamed of writing great important things that would change the world, only once I started putting pen to paper people started laughing at my words and labeling me a humorist. I wanted to say, “Hey! Don’t you know I’m writing great important things that change the world?” It was surprising at first and maybe even a bit disheartening until I realized that humor was softening my readers’ hearts and opening them up to me. I’ve learned that with that privilege comes an opening to speak more important things into their lives than sucking in your stomach! I welcome the opportunity to talk to my readers about my faith in Jesus Christ, the One who saves, restores and gives life worth living.
Learn more about Shellie and All Thing Southern. Visit: http://www.allthingssouthern.com/