Rebecca Meredith has carried the seeds of her novel The Last of the Pascagoula with her for years. A poet, psychoanalyst and native daughter of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, she follows in the tradition of the Southern novel in her story of 15-year-old Kate Lynn and her sister Martha. The two grow up as outsiders in a small Mississippi town during the 1960s before returning as adults.

Meredith’s success at melding together a compelling plot and sympathetic characters in an unforgettable setting earned the novel a star. Here the author talks to us about the South, the plight of outsiders and being cruel to her characters.

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Were you a big reader when you were growing up?

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Oh, yes. I was one of those kids whose sanity was pretty much saved by reading and writing. I read Black Beauty and Jack London books, anything on critters I could find. As a teen I sucked up everything: Twain, Steinbeck, Catch-22, even Valley of the Dolls, which I had someone steal for me since it was behind the counter in the enticing “adults only” section. As a young adult, I finally wound back around to my heritage and read Welty, O’Connor, Capote, Williams and Faulkner. I have a huge soft spot for Truman Capote, always have. I suppose Tom Carmody reflects a lot of that.

Pascagoula has been likened to some of the works of well-known Southern writers. What do you think makes a “Southern novel” and how do you think your work fits that description?

The South is a dramatic, loquacious, close-to-the bone place. We talk about anything and everything, and we talk to anybody and everybody. Nothing is quick and impatient. The language of Southern fiction reflects that. Because of our past, we face things in ourselves that are far more easily hidden elsewhere, but also because of our past we have a sense of cohesion, of being “us.”

Southern writing tends to be nosey, emotional—it has the ability to incorporate the strange and disturbing without making it seem strange at all. As the saying goes, the veil is thin. Life and death are always near one another. The music and literature reflect that wonderful and terrifying relationship. I hope the book fits that description because that’s what I love and want people to see.      

Where did you begin?

The buds for the plot are concepts I’ve been playing with for years. The outsider, who isn’t an easy participant in life but stands back and watches from a different kind of reality, is interesting because, paradoxically, we all identify with her. Everyone in the novel has a relationship with this idea in some form. I am deeply moved by “outsider” artists who obsessively make art in order to give life to a world that most of us can’t see.

I created Martha because I wanted to show how someone might become that way, not in a remote, exotic way but by going through what someone might go through, someone whose combination of natural inclination, fragility and circumstances come together to create something amazing. Martha has been with me in some form forever. Kate is just a more sophisticated form of Martha—she’s also just as trapped, as most of us are to one extent or another.

What did and didn’t you like about growing up in the South?

I grew up on the Gulf Coast, which is a unique part of the South. I loved the bayous and the water, the New Orleans–influenced culture, I love New Orleans something fierce, and the fact that it’s not like any other part of the world. It’s damn near magic. I didn’t like its overt racism and suspicious nature. Like Kate Lynn, I hated what the rest of the country was saying about Mississippi even as I recognized the truth in it.

Pascagoula ends with Kate Lynn embarking on a new phase of her life. When you wrote the book, did you know what happened to her next?

Probably not how you’d think. I both love and am dissatisfied with where I left everyone and am experimenting with continuing the story in a sequel. I’ve got specific ideas not only about Kate but Claire, whose life at first glance is wonderful but has undercurrents that are deeper and worth exploring. I hope I can do them justice.

What was the most difficult part of the book to write?

I literally stood in the shower and cried over what I was about to do to Martha—both Marthas. I thought, “This is the God concept, that of creating a mortal, fragile being and placing her in a world where the unthinkable can and will happen,” and being sad, sad, sad even as you know it can’t be any other way and be as powerful.

Why did you decide to self publish, and do you think it’s the wave of the future, with readers determining what gets read?

I did it because I was tired of waiting for someone else to decide whether my book would ever see the light of day. I got lovely, encouraging rejections. I decided my fate should lie with readers rather than business people. I think writing is becoming a whole new art form, and there are exciting little presses out there doing things I may never do. I think the industry will become many industries, and where I’ll fall remains to be seen. For now I just want The Last of the Pascagoula to find its way, and to find the time to continue the story and all the others I want to tell.