BookView with Sandra Hutchison, author of Bardwell’s Folly

In short, I wanted my heroine to be a clueless but sympathetic white girl who needed to get schooled – the hard way, of course, or it wouldn’t be fun to read. 

9 January 2017

The Back Flap

When her thoughtless blackface joke goes viral, it launches Dori, daughter of a famous Southern white writer, on an adventure in which North meets South, white meets black, and girl meets boy she refused the first time. Bardwell’s Folly is a very American journey into race, class, literature, family, and second chances.

About the book

What is the book about?

It’s about an isolated young woman with a famous dead father who makes a racially insensitive joke that goes viral and turns her life upside down –which sparks a journey into her family’s secret past that forces her to grow in many ways.

It’s book club fiction and accessible literary humor and since the heroine is a young woman it falls into the category of women’s fiction. I embrace that category because it’s where my tribe lives, and it also makes it easier to sell books. At some level, though, I also think the whole idea of “women’s fiction” is pretty sexist. If a man wrote this book about a young man in this situation, nobody would even think of calling it men’s fiction.

When did you start writing the book?

A few years ago. I put it away half done when I got stuck in the middle. Once I’d published my second novel, though, I pulled it out and decided it was not only salvageable but more timely than ever.

How long did it take you to write it?

If you subtract the couple of years sitting half-completed on the hard drive, about a year.

Where did you get the idea from?

I started with my love of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which is a reunion romance as well as feminist class commentary. Instead of a resentful ship’s captain hero, I wanted a small town small business owner, because I admire the moxie that requires.

But I also wanted to deal with race, maybe because I’m a native Floridian who lived through desegregation as a girl. I even have the first grand wizard of the KKK as an ancestor on my mother’s side of the family. In fact, I borrowed the two parts of his name for Dori’s father that my maternal grandfather didn’t have in his name. I’ve been looking out at a country that seems to be getting more segregated and more openly racist and hateful towards minorities than it has been since the days of those Civil Rights struggles. And not just in the South, not by a long shot. So I took that reunion romance and wedded it a sort of snarky girls’ version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, with my heroine and a new African American friend heading down into the South to uncover some secrets about my heroine’s past that will rattle her world and also raise questions about cultural appropriation.

In short, I wanted my heroine to be a clueless but sympathetic white girl who needed to get schooled – the hard way, of course, or it wouldn’t be fun to read.

In terms of her situation at the beginning, I was actually inspired by tales of financial disaster by writers whose early success dried up, as well as fights over the estates of people like Andy Warhol, Maurice Sendak, and Harper Lee. Especially that last one. It strikes me as such a violation to publish an earlier draft of a work when an author is too feeble to stop it. So my heroine, Dori, is trying to protect her father’s last, unfinished manuscript from a wealthy media baron even as she struggles with her ambivalent feelings towards him because he left her in her current predicament.

Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?

Oh, heck yes. I wanted my heroine to be naïve about social media, and also to be cut off from it so that she would be isolated at key moments. This meant she didn’t have a cell phone for most of the book, in great part because she couldn’t afford one. This lack of a cell phone or internet access really freaked out my more securely middle-class beta readers, so I could assume it would freak out plenty of my readers. That one aspect required a lot of massaging for plausibility’s sake, and it may still be hard for some folks to swallow. Related to that, social media and technology are moving targets. So while I needed to include it because it’s integral to the story, it’s something that could date this book rather quickly.

And finally, in the last couple of months has another issue arisen: Vicious attacks have become so common on the Internet thanks to the recent election that my heroine’s faux-pas and the reaction to it may now seem far too tame. Some people are being threatened with lynching and gassing on a routine basis. I hope that dies down quickly, and not because it dates my book.

What came easily?

There’s a scene where the rich media baron swoops in to take control of Dori’s father’s trust where I enjoyed channeling some of the wedding and bar mitzvah receptions I used to photograph when I moonlighted weekends in prosperous Bergen County, New Jersey. I don’t have anything personal against rich people – they are just as human as anyone else – but the easy luxury they live in can be really startling for someone who’s just barely scraping a living, like Dori.

Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?

Entirely fictitious, though I did borrow Grandma Thelma’s squeal. I have no desire to write fiction about real people I’ve actually met. It’s too constraining, and it also strikes me as rude.

Do you have a target reader for this book?

Any person of good will who wants a fun read and is willing to consider the questions it raises.

How was writing this book different from what you’d experienced writing previous books?

This one was easier to edit than the last couple. There was a lot less thrashing around changing points of view and tense and so forth. Either I’m getting better at it, or I’ve failed to thrash around enough.

I also didn’t feel any need to include explicit sex scenes in this one, even at rough draft stage. It was a novelty, at second draft, to be agonizing about whether I should add graphic details instead of taking them out, as I did with the second novel, or keeping them in, as I did in the first. But I just didn’t see how they would serve any useful purpose in this one.

What new things did you learn about writing, publishing, and/or yourself while writing and preparing this book for publication?

I really pondered for a while about whether to try to find an agent and get a traditional deal on this one. I even stuck one pinkie toe in the water with the first draft, before deciding all the reasons I hadn’t done it for the last one still stood. I also considered trying for Kindle Scout, mostly because I’m intrigued by Amazon’s Lake Union imprint. Ultimately, I decided to just publish it as I had the others. If I’d known Kindle sales were going to slide so precipitously this fall, I might have chosen otherwise, though I still hope that is temporary. If I’d known which way the country was going to choose in the election, I might have gone the other way, too – both to give this book a wider audience and because an advance would come in handy as I face some big decisions about having health insurance vs. having time to write in the next couple of years.

Finally, I now know I was fooling myself when I thought I could teach four composition classes AND market a new book well at the same time. Marketing requires more attention to detail than that. Fortunately, the one great remaining advantage of indie-publishing is that you can keep working at it even after that initial publication window closes.

End of Interview:

For more from Sandra visit her website, like her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, or checkout her Pinterest page.

Get your copy of Bardwell’s Folly from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

3 responses to “BookView with Sandra Hutchison, author of Bardwell’s Folly

  1. Thank you so much for a fun opportunity to talk about the writing process!

  2. What a great post. It was interesting hearing about your journey with this book. Thanks for sharing. “Bardwell’s Folly” sounds like a fascinating read.

  3. Thank you. I sure wouldn’t complain if I got another reader. 🙂