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Author Anne Rivers Siddons on her book ‘Nora, Nora’

August 1, 2000
Posted at: 11:40 p.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Anne Rivers Siddons grew up in Georgia and, true to her roots, has spent much of her career writing stories with a strong Southern flavor. Her latest novel, "Nora, Nora," takes readers to a small, quiet Georgia town where 12-year-old Peyton McKenzie lives with her widowed father and housekeeper. Life for Peyton and the town is shaken up with the arrival of an unconventional, distant cousin. "Nora, Nora" is Siddons' 15th novel. Her other books include best seller "Peachtree Road," "King's Oak," "Outer Banks," "Downtown," "Up Island" and "Low Country."

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Anne Rivers Siddons, and welcome.

Anne Rivers Siddons: I'm delighted to be here.

CNN-Host: Chat Moderator: Please tell us about your book, "Nora, Nora."

Anne Rivers Siddons: "Nora, Nora" is essentially about a young girl in a very small Southern town in the very beginning of the 60s, whose mother died at her birth. Her father is a very distant man, and she realizes she doesn't want to grow up and that she just doesn't want to be a part of the world, really.

Into her life comes a distant cousin she has never met, a redheaded 30-year-old -- outrageous, funny, profane -- just a whirlwind of a cousin, who drives a pink Thunderbird. I think they teach each other quite a lot, but essentially Nora teaches the child, Peyton, how to live in the world, how to trust and how to love. And, I think Peyton teaches Nora the joy and necessity of constancy.

Question from Kaye: Welcome, Mrs. Siddons. I'm one of your biggest fans. I have all your books and reread them regularly. Now that you're living in Charleston, might this mean we'll be seeing a book based on this beautiful old city? I read "Nora, Nora" recently and liked it tremendously.

Anne Rivers Siddons: I have done one book that has a little bit of Charleston in it, and it's called "Low Country." It's just before "Nora." And I would like to write another about Charleston, but I think it's going to be forever before I know it well enough to do so. So, I think that if I write one, I will write it from the point of view of someone just like me, who just came there and is learning about it.

CNN-Host: Chat Moderator: Is your character Nora based on anyone you know?

Anne Rivers Siddons: I think we all have a Nora in our lives or someone with a little Nora in them. Actually, this Nora came from the imaginary big sister I never had and used to fantasize for hours that I did have.

I wanted her to be all those things that Nora was: I wanted her to be brave, funny, loving, devoted to me, and the one who would show me how to grow up and live in the world and help me do it. I even sort of knew what she looked like. Nora really is, I guess, my fantasy of what a big sister would be.

Question from Mayaroo: "Homeplace" is one of my favorite books. Have you ever thought about writing a sequel to any of the books you've written?

Anne Rivers Siddons: Actually, Nora is set in the town where "Homeplace" took place, Litton, Georgia, and she might recognize a little bit of the territory. They're entirely different people, but the home turf is exactly the same.

I don't know if I would do sequels. I almost feel like when I'm done with them, they're going to have to find their own way. It might be fun. There are two or three people in various books who simply will not get out of my head, and I'm forever having to say, "Get on out of here! This is not your book!" So, those few people I might do sequels about.

Chat Moderator: How did the idea for "Nora, Nora" come about?

Anne Rivers Siddons: I think, probably, it had always been somewhere in my head. I grew up rather like Peyton, in that I was an isolated child although I had wonderful parents. But there were, at that time, virtually no children around me and I felt kind of trapped in a world of grownups and things that I could sense but couldn't see.

I always wanted to look at that time in a girl's life, because I knew there had to be many of us out there. I wanted to see how it was that very young girls go about finding a sense of themselves. So, I decided to write and see what happens.

Question from Jeff-CNN: Are you ever compared to Margaret Mitchell?

Anne Rivers Siddons: I think, of course, I'm going to get that. We're both Atlanta writers. We've both written about Atlanta and we both wrote big books that dealt with generations. And I think it's probably inevitable that we would be compared.

I don't think there's much we have in common, except we both seem to have the sense of one world ending and another beginning: she with the Civil War, and I with Atlanta in the 40s, coming into what it is now an enormously vital and big city.

But, in essence, we both wrote about a way of life dying and people trying to find a way to live with the new one. Wish I HAD written "Gone with the Wind"!

Question from Kaye: Have you already started writing a new book, or do you take a well-deserved rest after each novel?

Anne Rivers Siddons: I am taking a rest, no matter how well deserved it may or may not be. I probably will talk with my publishers about a new contract when I get back to Charleston in November.

It's unimaginable to me that I wouldn't write, but it's very imaginable that I won't write for a little while. This is the end of a four-book contract and it is, literally, the first time in six years that I have not had a deadline bearing down on me. So, I feel like a kid out of school.

Chat Moderator: Could you describe the circumstances surrounding the way your first book came about?

Anne Rivers Siddons: I had done an article in some magazine, I believe it was Redbook, and the man who became my editor, Larry Ashmead, saw it and wrote me a letter saying, "If you ever want to do a book, please get in touch."

I thought a friend who lived in New York had stolen some Doubleday stationery and was putting me on. I was so sure of it, I didn't answer the letter. He finally tracked me down, unbelievably to me, and I came away with a two-book contract, probably the world’s smallest, but still.

Question from Mayaroo: Are there any plans to make any of your other books into movies, like with "Heartbreak Hotel"?

Anne Rivers Siddons: It's hard to tell. This particular book is out there being shown around. And I understand that a lot of people are looking at it and two companies, in particular, are sort of bidding on it, one of them being Oprah Winfrey's company. But that means absolutely nothing until someone says, "Roll cameras." We shall see.

Question from Kaye: You mentioned characters in your novels who would not get out of your head. Which ones?

Anne Rivers Siddons: Maggie Deloach, in my first book, "Heartbreak Hotel," I think is stuck in my head forever. Maude in "Colony" is certainly there. I really think that Nora will be there forever, and there is a woman I'm very fond of in my book "Up Island" who'll probably be around.

Chat Moderator: "Peachtree Road" was your first bestseller. What do you think it was about that book that made it so successful?

Anne Rivers Siddons: I don't know. I think, maybe, it was a time that big generational books were selling well and I think that, maybe, I had just reached critical mass. By that time, it was about my fifth book. I've always believed that because I felt so passionately about the people I was writing about, that perhaps that quality just communicated itself.

Chat Moderator: Why do you believe that so many talented writers and storytellers come from the South?

Anne Rivers Siddons: I think that we come from a long line of storytellers, and I think that that is so because, for so long, we had so little money and we just tended not to travel out of the South.

So, what we had were the land and our families and the stories about them. We all made sort of a private mythology out of our people, and with everybody telling everybody else stories, pretty soon someone had to write them down.

Question from Kaye: The reason I loved "Peachtree Road" so much was because it showed us an Atlanta that those of us who live(d) there wish was still in existence.

Anne Rivers Siddons: I wish so, too! It is inevitable that we have to change, and we have to grow. I feel that we could have done it a lot better in Atlanta than we did. The city I first came to in the 60s had a real sweetness and a kind of community to it, which we lost somewhere along the way.

I don't think you ever think of a big city as sweet or community, but there are cities that I think of as charming and particular and interesting cities. I live in one now, Charleston. I think we lost that. I think we grew too much, too fast.

Chat Moderator: What kind of preparation or research do you do before writing each book?

Anne Rivers Siddons: Somebody said writing is easy, you just sit down at your typewriter and open a vein. It depends on the book. Some, I have to do quite a lot of research, which I like. Others are much closer to me.

I obviously could write most of "Nora" without much research, because I lived those times. I think, probably, "Peachtree Road" was the one that called out the most research. I knew the city, but I didn't know it like a native would've known it.

Once I have my research, I start to outline it. This is mainly for me, so I get to know my characters. And once I know who they are and sort of where they'll go, only then do I feel safe in starting to write. Then I just write until it's written.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts you'd like to share with us today?

Anne Rivers Siddons: I would like to say that I will always write about the South, although it will be the new South, and I hope that people who love it will check in with it through my books.

Chat Moderator: Thank you so much for joining us today, Anne Rivers Siddons!

Anne Rivers Siddons: Bye, y'all, it was a lot of fun!

Siddons joined the chat via telephone from Maine on August 1, 2000. CNN.com provided a typist for her. The above is an edited transcript of the chat.



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