Author Interview - Murray Tillman

Book Summary:

Trussell Jones has a problem. He is crazy in love with a beautiful girl named Ellen. The problem? He has no car. His stepmother, who believes that she is spiritually connected to Queen Victoria, won't let him drive. Furthermore, she is afraid Trussell is trying to kill her. Not to be overlooked is the fact that Trussell is being pursued by a gang of armed redneck motorcycle hoods, while his neighbors are preoccupied with changing visions of St. Francis. Just another heartwarming tale of a boy in love with a girl? Hardly.

This delightfully quixotic coming-of-age story, set in Columbus, Georgia in the 1950s, truly has something to shock and beguile even the most jaded reader. Its irreverent protagonist will take you on a road trip of hits, near misses, twists, and sudden turns that ll set you on your ear. You ll be unable to put the book down, until you reach its charming yet totally unpredictable conclusion.

The Bibliophilic Book Blog is happy to present an interview with Murray Tillman, author of Meet Me on the Paisley Roof:

1. How did you come up with the title?

That's a great question.  Everyone, even the little dog next door, knew that the working title of the manuscript, The Goodbye Miracle, needed changing.  Taking a cue from the cover art, which showed three boys in silhouette sitting on a garage roof looking at a big moon, my wife Dorris proposed Meet Me on the Ridgepole. "What's a ridgepole?" I shouted, rolling on the floor with laughter.  After a brief give and take (and my apology for the floor scene), we decided that maybe "roof" would be a more familiar term.  But Meet Me on the Garage Roof still lacked that umph we were looking for.  Dorris suggested we replace "garage" with a word that had a double meaning, a family's name and also "something else."  Yes, a great strategy, but an hour later we hadn't come up with that magic word.  In desperation I picked up the telephone book and began searching through names.  When I arrived at the "P's", I saw it.  "Paisley!" I announced, "how about that?" "Yes!" we both chimed. "That's it."  Dorris reached for the phone book.  "Actually, the name is Pasley," she said.  But what the heck!  I could never spell anyway!

2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

The story in Meet Me on the Paisley Roof is about teenage survival, survival in an urban Southern town in the 1950s.  The characters are learning to deal with the "what happens now" phase when childhood is over and the adult world seems no longer able to provide satisfactory answers.  Challenges come from feelings within, which reach new levels of intensity, and demands from the outside.  Here is how I would express the book's theme:  Teens can survive and thrive if they face the challenges directly, learn from their mistakes as well as from wise counselors, and seek their own paths.   This may not be the only theme or the only way to express the theme of the book.  I do think, however, that the major events in the story point in that direction.

3. How much of the book is realistic?

The story is set in Columbus, GA in the summer of 1956.  While many local landmarks are used in the story, fictional places were also created.  Overall, the actual setting is accurately described but "enhanced" with a few new places.

Some might argue that the language the teens use is not realistic because they are not using any profanity.  By today's standards, I can understand that belief.  But my own observation is that while teens of that era certainly knew about and sometimes used profanity, they did so with much less frequency than in today's world.  At least this was true in my circle of friends.  I would also maintain that profanity is used in the book, but I deliberately chose not to spell it out in detail.  For example, Trussell tells us that Gator, who has just injured his leg, "... yelled a curse in something that sounded like Polish..."  If  they want to, readers can use their imagination here.

Probably the biggest "reality test" is whether the comedic situations described in the book are plausible or at least not so far out they distract from the narrative.  Unusual things happen to the boys: encountering a large pile of dried turkey manure, stealing a car which stalls near a soldiers' bar, trapping a bad hombre in an old well, accidentally killing a monkey.  And the list could go on.  I can truthfully say that some of these events did happen in my own life, but that's not the point.  The ultimate reality is how readers react, will they maintain their fictional dream or will they wake up?  Too much exaggeration, for whatever purpose, can hurt a story.  I hope I have maintained a balance.

4.  If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?

I am delighted to say "No!  Not a thing!"  I wrote and incubated this story off and on over a ten-year period with many twists and turns along the way.  At one point the manuscript soared to 127,000 words, then shrank to 100,000 words.  And during this time I had input from a variety of talented individuals such as Howard Berk, a Hollywood writer and novelist, and Gus Gedatus, my editor, who helped boost the story to a new level.

In short, I am satisfied with the final version because of its long incubation and development period and the help of many talented people along the way.

5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

The hardest part of writing Meet Me on the Paisley Roof was finding an authentic voice for Trussell Jones, the sixteen-year-old narrator of the story.  I was in my sixties when writing the book and, although I still felt in touch with my emotional life as a teenager, I found it hard to think and speak like one.  It had been a long time!

My two children, while beyond their own teen years, were especially helpful in keeping me "honest."  They would nudge me with such questions as:  "Would Trussell really say that?"  "No teenager would make that connection!"  "That's not what he would do!"  Or, they would tell me about a similar event that happened in their own lives and exactly what was said.  As a result of this process, along with feedback from others, I became more aware of my own intrusion into Trussell's life and, I hope without sounding too crazy, let him tell the story his way.

6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

Yes, many things. (1) Find an interesting character and put him/her in Chapter 1. And don't let that character get away.  (2) Character development must be steered by a strong story line.  Otherwise, you are writing a fictional memoir. (3) Visualize a scene and sketch out major thoughts on a large notepad, not as an outline but as a rough map.  (4) Too much narration causes word dams.  Keep the story moving.  (5) Use dialogue to describe your characters. Let the reader "see" your characters through conversation.  (6) The writer offers a dream; the reader constructs the reality.  Don't get in the reader's way. (7) Behind humor and comedy lies the face of sorrow.  Clowns know it best. (8) Don't eat too many Chinese fortune cookies.

7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

My college days were the emotional winter of my life.  I found comfort as well as beauty in literature and music.  I read novels, poetry, minored in English, took a creative writing course, and wrote several short stories.  I was surprised one day when my professor read aloud to the class part of a story I had written and then said, "I wish I had written that."  Although I wasn't sure why he said it, I was pleased to hear his comment.  I hoped someday I could do more.

8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

I place Carson McCullers' three works The Member of the Wedding, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and The Ballad of the Sad CafĂ© at the core of my favorite novels.  Why?  They epitomize to me what Southern writing is all about:  they move the human heart.  They challenge us to understand beauty in ourselves and in others and to discover what truth this beauty, or its absence, conveys.

9. Tell us your latest news.

I have developed a Facebook page for the book with help from a creative designer in Brooklyn and my daughter-in-law in Orlando.  I've really enjoyed trips to Columbus, GA, taking photos of local landmarks mentioned in the book and posting them with narrative on Facebook.  The contacts I've made with readers have been especially rewarding.  Two such contacts are English teachers from my old high school who will be using the book in their classes soon.

10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

The Mini-Blog tour site set up by Tribute Books has a listing of all the major links you might need about the book:, including my e-mail address, web site, Facebook page, and book purchase information.

If you have a question about the book or about writing in general, there are several ways to contact me:  my e-mail address, web site e-mail, or Facebook page.  Question or not, I hope you will visit the Facebook site and say hello, leave a comment, and by all means "like" it.

Murray Tillman's Bio:

Murray Tillman is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia and formerly Chair of the Department of Instructional Technology in the College of Education. He has authored several texts that assist teachers in using instructional design tools and has developed training manuals and courses for businesses and human service agents. Murray is a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College and the University of Georgia. Meet Me on the Paisley Roof is his debut novel.

1 comment:

  1. Star, thank you for hosting Murray for an interview. We appreciate your support of "Meet Me on the Paisley Roof" and for always being such a grade A blogger.


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