Thursday, December 21, 2023

Q&A with Allen Mendenhall




Allen Mendenhall is the author of the new novel A Glooming Peace This Morning. His other books include Of Bees & Boys: Lines from a Southern Lawyer. He is associate dean and Grady Rosier Professor in the Sorrell College of Business at Troy University.


Q: What inspired you to write A Glooming Peace This Morning, and how did you create your cast of characters?

A: I wrote a short story around 2006 when I began law school, but I introduced too many characters for the narrative to hang together. Then I read a case during my 1L year that inspired the trial in this novel.


I realized that the characters in my too-long short story were perfect for the tale I now envisioned. Cephas, Brett, Michael, and Lump appeared in the short story, but the legal case materialized later.


Some characters arose from necessity--to have a trial, I needed a judge and a prosecutor, for instance--while others like the Jesuit principal just sprang to mind. I wrote seven books between the time I started and finished writing this novel. 

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?

A: The title comes from Romeo and Juliet, on which I based the story. I'll leave it to readers to discern why I chose this line, the significance and meaning of which may differ from person to person. 

Q: The writer Johnnie Bernhard said of the book, “Cephas’s first-person account immediately connects the reader to each character, creating both empathy and shock as we realize we have met them all in our own transition from childhood to adulthood.” What do you think of that description?

A: I'm quite pleased by it! Johnnie is a dear friend. I've visited her in Ocean Springs, and we did a panel together at the Mississippi Books Festival in the Before Times, which is to say, during the pre-pandemic era.


Anyone who grew up in the South will relate to elements of this narrative, the setting in particular. It's a coming-of-age story, or, as we used to say in graduate school, a bildungsroman. 

Q: This is your eighth book, but your debut work of fiction. How would you compare writing a novel with writing nonfiction?

A: It's more difficult for me to write fiction. Essays are easy: I just spill my thoughts onto the page in my own voice. But the narrator of this novel is Cephas, so I had to construct the fictional tone of a complex and educated character looking back on his childhood.


Eventually, I came to enjoy this form of theater, a fitting term only because I felt as though I had been acting Cephas's part.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: As I sit here, I'm approaching two deadlines: the first for a piece about Irving Babbitt, and the second for an edition of collected speeches from past Philadelphia Society meetings. I have two days to finish these, so I won't sleep much tonight. 

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: Yes, my wife is pregnant! We're expecting a boy! 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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