December 26, 2023

Presenting Allen Mendenhall on a Southern Story

Suite T presenting Allen Mendenhall, author of A Glooming Peace This Morning

As the former editor of the Southern Literary Review--and now as the author of a debut Southern novel--what elements make for a good "Southern story," in your opinion?

First, thanks for this interview. The obvious answer to your question is setting: The narrative must unfold within the South. How you define that region differs from person to person, but there can be no doubt that A Glooming Peace This Morning, set in the fictional town of Andalusia within the fictional Magnolia County, is thoroughly Southern. In fact, I chose the name Andalusia to evoke Flannery O'Connor. The story recalls the Southern Gothic, and, if we're throwing humility out the window, I'd like to think of it as channeling Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers, Harper Lee, and Truman Capote. Issues at play in their work appear here as well: violence, racism, poverty, industrialism, and the decline of genteel society.

2). In your own words, what is your new novel A GLOOMING PEACE THIS MORNING about?

It's a morally ambiguous Attic tragedy Southern-styled, or, if you like, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet, from which it borrows its title. The narrator, Cephas, looks back on his childhood and recalls the haunting tale of Sarah and Tommy, who mobilize the town into a frenzied community of purpose. Their illicit love results in a trial that raises philosophical questions about truth and justice. Beware of the dark humor, and don't expect any heroes.

3). You've written a lot of nonfiction, but this is your first work of fiction. Why did you decide to start writing fiction?

Because I just couldn't help myself. I'm a compulsive writer. Actually, I began to plot this story before I ever started writing my nonfiction books. What started as a short story developed into this more complex narrative after I read a case during my first year of law school that inspired the trial involving Sarah and Tommy. If I could make a living just writing novels, that's what I'd do.

4). What did you enjoy most about writing A GLOOMING PEACE THIS MORNING? What did you find the most challenging?

With a novel, I didn't need a logical argument. I wasn't required to present my case, provide substantiating evidence, or research past precedents. I just wrote. That was both fun and challenging. When you engage the ideas of others, you enter into a conversation. You agree or disagree and explain your reasons why. But when you write fiction, you're on your own. Of course, I troped and borrowed, and A Glooming Peace This Morning contains many allusions and genre signals. After all, as a writer, you're never completely alone: you're always plugged into a network of authors and texts. But narratives, plots, dialogue--these require imagination, creation, and invention. The novel demands an originality that nonfiction doesn't.

5). What do you hope readers take away from your novel?

A better sense of their own self.

We were thrilled to have Allen Mendenhall with us today talking about his new book, A Glooming Peace This Morning. It is truly a book you won't want to miss. Opening the book, reading the first sentence pulls you into the story Cephas is recounting about childhood events in the 1970s that retell the story of the improbable, forbidden love between Tommy Cox, who has an intellectual disability, and Sarah Warren, the underage darling of polite society.

Allen Mendenhall is Associate Dean of the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University, where he holds the Grady Rosier Professorship and directs the Manuel H. Johnson Center for Political Economy. Visit his website at Allen Mendenhall, a distinguished lawyer and university administrator in Alabama, is a name synonymous with literary excellence and legal scholarship. With a background in editing the esteemed Southern Literary Review for over a decade, Mendenhall brings a unique blend of legal insight and literary craftsmanship to "A Glooming Peace this Morning."

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