Tennessean Feature | 'Ya-Ya Sisterhood' author Rebecca Wells shares divine secrets at poetry event
In an Author Q + A by Nashville's Tennessean, Rebecca Wells sits down to talk about her past work, her newest novel and her upcoming reading event.
"How does your current work differ from the other Ya-Ya books?
First, it’s as close to a memoir than anything I’ve ever written. My working title is "Daughter of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood." I think of it as a loose-jointed coming-of-age story at age 60. Siddalee Walker, daughter of Vivi Abbott Walker, Queen of the Ya-Yas, is sleuthing out the secrets behind the Divine Secrets. Which means that, like me, she’s looking at her life to try and bear witness to its mystery. How does her life add up from this vantage point? What lies was she taught and what lies did she tell that she wants to come clean on? What was she taught to hide that she wants to bring to light? Like many of us, Siddalee inherited from her mother a wild gumbo full of both poison and rapture. Siddalee, like me, is trying to metabolize and make peace with that gumbo.
I wrote my first Ya-Ya book in 1992 when I was 39 years old. Now I’m 65. You don’t get to live almost 30 years without smashing up some hearts and getting your own heart knocked around. We love, we lose, friends die, some of us get Lyme disease, get divorced, get lost, get found, and get lost and get found again.
Flannery O’Connor said anyone who has survived her childhood has enough information about life to last her the rest of her days. (Gender update by me.) Siddalee survived her childhood, and is still surviving her childhood. And I’m still surviving mine. For those of us whose childhoods sometimes looked like hurricanes that nobody bothered to name are double winners in this life. We have at least twice the amount of material to write about than if our childhoods had been seas of tranquility — which means that this book is funny as hell and also no picnic.
I have the blessing of my mother, whose life and girlfriend gang have informed everything I’ve written. She sailed away a year ago, and as she lay dying, she gave me instructions:
1. Be loyal to your friends.
2. Laugh till you pee in your pants.
3. To thine own self be true.
4. Shit on the rest of them if they don’t like it.
I can only hope this book lives up to her commands.
Explain the qualities of your characters that are woven throughout your stories.
I can’t explain anything. I can tell you that the characters in my stories, like the people in my life, aren’t golden. They’re even better. They’re beautiful and awful, they’re funny and mean, they’re generous and stingy, they’re sneaky and vulnerable and loving and serene and panicky and plausible and utterly and perfectly imperfect.
Did you draw on influences from your own life experiences for the Ya-Ya series?
Oh, hell yes. When I was younger, I used to say that nothing came from my own life. Everything fiction I write is somehow memoir, and every memoir is somehow fiction.
Are there any other parallels between you and your main character, Siddalee?
Siddalee and I shared a decade of Lyme disease and a divorce from my gentle husband. Sometimes we dance in the kitchen and cook gumbo. Sometimes we cry, and binge-watch “The Waltons.” Neither of us want to “let go” of the past as much as integrate into the fat fabulous moment. And we both know that our real mother is the divine mother, the feminine face of God, that muscular congruity that holds it all together and will never drop it. Never drop us. Never, ever, ever."