Author Interview with Michael Lee West

May 26, 2011  by Fifi Flowers

Sooo LOVELY to share an interview with Michael Lee West with YOU... I have had many conversations with her talking about Fifi Flowers painting and oui oui oui... I have painted some for her... BUT today is all about MICHAEL... 

Michael Lee West is the author of five novels including Crazy Ladies, Mad Girls in Love, American Pie, She Flew the Coop as well as a food memoir Consuming Passions. She lives with her husband on a farm in Lebanon, Tennessee with three bratty Yorkshire Terriers, a Chinese Crested, assorted donkeys, chickens, sheep, and African Pygmy goats. Her faithful dog Zap was the inspiration of a character in Mermaids in the Basement.  


Now let's get to know her a little better...

Where are you from?

I grew up in Louisiana (New Orleans) and middle Tennessee.

Tell us your latest news?

My 7th book (and first mystery), Gone With a Handsomer Man was published in April (2011). It's the first book in a series.

When and why did you begin writing?

When I was a young girl, I went to Girl Scout camp and got sick. My doctor put my on bedrest--I spent the next few months reading and trying to write my own novels. I always kept a journal and kept a pen in my hand.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

That was a bit tricky. Until I was published, no one in my family took me seriously. I ended up getting a BS in Nursing. I finally decided that I had to believe I was a writer--whether I was published or not. At that point I became very disciplined about my work. Even though I wrote at home (and I still don't have an office), I maintained strict hours, let my answering machine take phone messages, and focused on my work.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I'd started a quiet literary novel about a southern girl named Violet. I was a bit worried--how could such a quiet novel (nothing happened) sell? Oddly enough, the answer came in a dream. I wrote a new first chapter as fast as I could. That chapter led to another. When I reached the "quiet" part of the book that I'd already written (with Violet), I'd found the novel's voice--that book was Crazy Ladies. It was published in 1990, optioned for film, made it to 25 on Amazon's bestseller list, and is still in print.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I like to use simple, clear language. My "Fog" index isn't very foggy at all (but neither am I).

How did you come up with the title?

The title to Gone With a Handsomer Man comes from an old farm ballad by Will Carleton (circa 1874). It just caught my fancy. I'd saved it for years and years, but titles are tricky; it took the right character: Teeny Templeton

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

Author Susan Elizabeth Phillips once said it's not the author's job to tell a reader what he/she should get from a book, and I believe this. Every reader will react differently to a book--and add their own experiences and values. After I send a book off into the world, it's not mine--it belongs to whoever reads it. That said, while I was writing the book, I developed the theme and various motiffs to prove the theme...I planted little clues along the way. They're hidden in the weeds.

How much of the book is realistic?

The food is definitely real--I'm a bonafide foodie, just like Teeny. The setting, Charleston, SC, is real--but I always do a bit of worldbuilding. So Teeny's Charleston is real yet not real. You won't find The Picky Palate, for instance (bakery). The book has several murders, a philandering guy, great food, gorgous houses, and first love. All made up, of course.

Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

No. Teeny was a strong character with a tory to tell, and I just wrote down everything she told me. I much prefer making up characters and events. However, my cookbook (Consuming Passions) has quite a bit about my mama. She got her revenge by going on a book tour with me--and telling audiences funny stories about me.

What books have most influenced your life most?

As a Southerner, Gone With the Wind had a major impact. I always try to slip in a GWTW reference to every book. Red Butler Hill is a character in my Gone With ... book. Red's mama was a major Margaret Mitchell fan...but couldn't spell. Thus, she misspelled her children's names--all from MM's tome. I love Eudora Welty's brilliant novels and short stories, too.

If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?

I would pick Charles Dickens as a mentor.

What book are you reading now? 

The Welcome Home Garden Club by NYT and USA Today best selling author Lori Wilde.

Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Darynda Jones -- First Grave on the Right. Her character is a paranormal Stephanie Plum.

What are your current projects?

I just finished the second Teeny Templeton mystery--A Teeny Bit of Trouble--which should be on the shelves in Spring 2012. Look for the third Teeny book in 2013. For something completely different (not southern!), Acquainted With the Night will be published in November 2011 under a pen name, Piper Maitland (Berkley). The editor describes it as "Da Vinci Code with vampires." It will be an audiobook, too.

Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

This is a tough question, Fifi. Writing is a solitary activity, and it can be very hard on extended family members and friendships. If I don't write every day, I will lose my place in a book--I might even lose the character's voice. I've had to start over so many times, I have become totally focused and unbendable in my writing habits. If I'm in the middle of a book, I turn down party and luncheon invitations. I wear bunny slippers and pink sweat pants and generally look pretty scary (just ask Mom). I write every day except for major holidays (but I wouldn't keep doing it if I didn't love it). I write long, long hours and wouldn't have it any other way. I tend to lose track of time. I'll start writing at 9 am and when I look up, it's 9 pm and the moon is skating over the hills. I've just been elsewhere during those hours, inhabiting the novel.

Do you see writing as a career?

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

I don't ever look back, just forward.

Can you share a little of your current work with us?

You can read an excerpt at

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

It's all challenging. World-building, characters, plot, dialogue, pacing, setting, theme, and words--thousands and thousands of words and images. Each book is so different and presents new challenges. I'm always studying, taking writing classes and workshops. The learning never stops.

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

I love J.K. Rowling. Her work is accessible for children and adults, and she creates a world that's unique and colorful--I forget that I'm reading. I love Janet Evanovich--she's a master at humor, pacing, character, and just everything. Diana Gabladon is a modern-day Dickens (Outlander series).

Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

Book tours are wonderful because I get to take off the bunny slippers and comb my hair--and I get to talk to people who love books.

Who designed the covers?

For the cover of Gone With a Handsomer Man, St. Martin's art department did a live photo shoot with the cake toppers and peaches. Olga Grlic was the jacket designer. The jacket photograph was taken by John Halpern. And on the back of the jacket, the peach images are by Judy Unger/Getty Images.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Finding uninterrupted time.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Be like a weed--persistent.


Thank you to Michael Lee West

Visit her blog to learn all about the simple pleasures of farm life. Michael enjoys: cooking, writing, animal tending (& watching), dishspotting, and tablescaping, with a little interior design along the way. (via HERE)  

And here are MORE books by Michael Lee West  AVAILABLE for purchase HERE


Thank you to Michael for donating TWO BOOKS to GIVEAWAY...

Deadline to enter is  June 2, 2011 @ NOON California time...
Winner will be announced on the GIVEAWAY PAGE
There will be TWO LUCKY WINNERS!
 Please be sure to leave your email address if you do not have a link to your site!

Bonne Chance - Good Luck!



demie said...

Beautiful interview Fifi! I would love to win at least one of Michaels books : )

Esme said...

You find interesting authors I have never heard of. Each of these covers are just gorgeous-I quite liked the interview.

Thank you.

Cindy said...

As a writer and "wanna be novelist," I greatly enjoyed this interview! Loved when Michael said she finally had "to believe I was a writer--whether I was published or not." Can't wait to read her books!

Kris said...

This sounds like a wonderful book. I would love to read it AND of course...a Fifi hand painted bookmark would be GOOD too!

Nice interview


Scribbler said...

Nice interview! I love her books, and can't wait for the next installment of Teeny's adventures.

Faith Hope Cherrytea said...

insightful interview! thank you~ so much more depth of knowledge with this peek into a writer's world... would luv the win & will love reading any of her work!

Debbi Does Dinner Healthy said...

Excellent interview! I've been wanting to get your books!

mytwocentsworth said...

I won't get in line for your give-away for this one, but I just wanted to let you know that I have given numerous copies of Michael Lee West's books to friends, particularly Crazy Ladies and She Flew the Coop, and when we get together we still laugh and talk about how much we enjoyed those books.

Linda @ A La Carte said...

Great interview! I have read several of Michael Lee West's book and have enjoyed them. Would love to win a copy of her newest books for sure! Thanks!

The Hobbit said...

As a farmer who has lived in New Orleans and vacations in Summerville S.C.,just outside of Charleston I think I just have to read her novels.N'est ce pas?

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