Mary Ellen Thompson Interviews Tracey D. Buchanan, author of “Toward the Corner of Mercy and Peace”

Tracey Buchanan’s debut novel, Toward the Corner of Mercy and Peace, is a delightful story set in Paducah, Kentucky. Tracey’s main character, Mrs. Minerva Place, is a peculiar middle-aged woman who is very narrow minded. Instead of finding her offensive, you will chuckle at almost every turn.

When I had the chance to chat with Tracey, I told her that when I finished reading the book in the afternoon and when I went to bed that evening, unwilling to let go and start a new book, I felt bereft. I wanted to tousle George’s hair, I wanted to share a cup of tea with Minerva and hear about her research. In short, I didn’t want them to move away and lose touch with them, their story, their endearing personalities.

Tracey was delightful to talk with and she shared some of her insights into the story and what she’s up to now.

MET: Who was your favorite character and why?

TB: I adore Minerva. She is prickly, but she’s also smart, vulnerable, conscientious, and kind. She reminds me of my grandmother, who was such a big part of my life. I love George too. We have seven grandchildren and though the book’s George is really nothing like our first grandchild, who’s also named George, using his name made the character a lot more personal for me. Both of these characters are dear to my heart – and maybe it’s because of the connection they give me with my grandmother and grandson.

Mary Ellen Thompson

MET: You use the word Forevermore” throughout the story. What is that about?

TB: That’s Minerva’s way of showing shock or surprise at what’s being said or done. She’s often taken aback by other people because, at her core, she assumes others (should) think like her. And Minerva would never curse, so she needed an exclamation that would be a substitute for anything “inappropriate.”

MET: The characters you wrote about in the cemetery were real people. How did you choose those particular ones for the novel?

TB:  I chose them based on what they could reveal about Minerva. Since Minerva writes the pieces about the deceased characters, we see them through her lens. Her backstory, fears, feelings, hopes, and dreams are underscored in each of the characters’ stories.

MET: Can you give me an example of one?

 TB: Emma Skillian, the woman who died in the flood. She was alone, Emma’s loneliness underscored that aspect of Minerva’s life.

MET: Did you have any issues with using names of real, dead, people (and a mule)? Even the librarian was real. Did you need to obtain any permissions?

Tracey D. Buchanan, photo credit J. Dodson

 TB: No, I didn’t need permission according to all the research I did on the matter. A simple rule about this is if what you write about a person is positive or neutral, then you don’t have defamation or privacy issues. I think using actual names brings a subtle reality to the novel.

MET: How did you become interested in the stories of the residents of Oak Lawn Cemetery?

TB: The City of Paducah Parks Department Director asked to me write a dramatization for a cemetery tour they were going to sponsor. It was a fun community event. I wrote monologues for actors who were dressed in period costumes as their characters. On the tour, the guide paused in front of the characters’ gravesites. It became a very popular event—even schools from the area brought classes through for field trips. Over the course of several years, I researched and wrote about close to thirty people. The city isn’t sponsoring the tours anymore, and I wanted these interesting souls to be known by a wider audience. The book was originally based on them, but when Minerva showed up she took over. To be clear—Minerva is not a real person or even based on one. She is her own person, dearly unique.

MET: Is Minerva’s eczema symbolic because people get under her skin and make her itchy?

TB: Ha! I hadn’t thought of that! I love that you did. It makes a lot of sense. Maybe that was at play in my subconscious. I included that little detail because it’s just one more thing that makes Minerva insecure and uncomfortable in her own body.

MET: You have a second book out on submission and a third in the works. Can you give us a little preview?

TB: The book on submission is currently entitled The Museum of Happiness. It’s about a woman who is about as unhappy as she’s ever been but (reluctantly) takes a job as the director of The Museum of Happiness. The other book, tentatively entitled Thats What Im Afraid Of is about three bloggers of various ages, all at major crossroads in their lives. I’m still not certain if they all belong in one book or if each of them deserves her own. And then I have ideas about writing more about Minerva and her “people.”

MET: Whats the most fun thing you remember about growing up in Paducah, KY?

TB: I had an idyllic childhood. We lived in a neighborhood full of kids, and we all played together every day—preferably outside. I remember wandering through some woods near our house and stumbling upon a huge field of jonquils that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I picked as many as I could hold and took them home to my mother. I also loved picking blackberries in a field that is now a major highway, I-24. I sold them to our neighbors. I could tell you story after story like those.

MET: Did you have to make any substantial revisions in your writing/editing process?

TB: Forevermore, as Minerva might say…Yes! At first the book was focused on the characters Minerva writes about. But as Minerva became more dominant, I had to slash and burn many of the cemetery characters. Every time I cut one it stung a little, but I kept telling myself I could use them in sequels about Minerva. That made it easier.

MET: Tracey, thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I wish you great success with this book!

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