Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Q&A with Gina L. Carroll




Gina L. Carroll is the author of the new novel The Grandest Garden. Her other books include A Story That Matters. She lives in Houston, Texas.


Q: What inspired you to write The Grandest Garden, and how did you create your character Bella?


A: At this point, honestly, I am not sure exactly what inspired this story. But it does seem to have been a contemplation of what was happening in my life and all of the projects I had going at the time.


I was developmental editing a prescriptive, self-help book about the mental health crisis in Black America. I was also preparing a book proposal for a memoir by a titan of the gay liberation and gay publishing movements. And I was dealing with the overwhelming presence of dementia among the elders in my family.


So, I can look back and see that all of these influences were the soup in the pot at the time.


Bella’s beginnings…When I was in elementary school, I had a precocious friend. She was an accomplished musician. Even as children we, her classmates and friends, knew she was way ahead of us in music, and it was largely because she came from a family of musicians. She was immersed in music at home from the beginning.


I moved away from that neighborhood, school and this friend fairly early, but in many ways, she was the sketch of a girl that became Bella, who is a precocious child gardener who grows up immersed in the natural world of her two grandmothers’ gardens.


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


A: The title is a little play on words as the story centers around Bella’s childhood, growing up in her grandmothers’ gardens.


When the story opens, we learn that she spends her most memorable and important childhood days in the separate (both wondrous) gardens of her grandmothers (her Gran and Nan), who are both master gardeners but very different, and not just a little bit competitive with each other.


By the end of this coming-of-age adventure, Bella learns that the grandest garden, as well as the best life for herself, is the one of her own making.


Q: The writer Anita Bunkley said of the book, “Gina Carroll deftly weaves a story of beauty, heartbreak, survival, and ultimately, enduring love.” What do you think of that description?


A: I appreciate Anita’s take as it points to Bella’s journey from a childhood of immersive beauty, deep connection and belonging, amidst profound loss, abandonment and confusion. How she navigates in an adult world calling on what she knows and the skills she has learned in order to find her way.


Her challenges do not really ever pose any danger to her life so much as threaten the survival of her spirit.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I did not have the ending when I started. There is also a twist or reveal in the story that I didn’t know was coming! Lots of changes were made, characters were added. The Drip McAffrey character was a late add, who ends up being a favorite.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I am working on a sequel/prequel to The Grandest Garden that centers on Eddi’s story. Eddi is Bella’s mother, who struggles with profound mental illness throughout, but emerges triumphant, in The Grandest Garden. How exactly did she become this very ill absent mother and how did she find the way back to herself?


We also learn more about grandmothers, Olivette and Miriam. Drip McAffrey reappears as a contender.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: The Grandest Garden is my first published work of fiction. I have mostly been writing and working in the memoir, nonfiction space, writing online, doing some advocacy work and helping other writers get their memoirs and life stories out into the world.


I find fiction to be wonderfully challenging (this is my way of saying—it’s hard). I, like my stories, am a work in progress.


Thank you for this opportunity to discuss my journey.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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