Ann B. Ross took advantage of sending her two daughters and son to college by going back to college at the same time as they. She loved it so much that she earned a Ph.D. and taught literature and the humanities at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. She published her first Miss Julia book, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind, in 1999, about a highly respectable woman who learns that her recently-deceased husband had a long-time mistress and 10-year-old son, so to deal with the gossip, Miss Julia embraces Hazel Marie and Little Lloyd. The books are highly full of laughter and gentle mysteries without murders. There are 19 books in print, with 15 books on audio, and Miss Julia Raises the Roof comes out in April 2018.
Today we are going to talk with Ann about her books, her writing process, and her life.
You have an inspiring educational story. When did you go to college and what degree did you attain?
As a very young bride, I attended Armstrong College in Savannah, GA and received an Associate in Arts degree, which only whetted by desire for an education. After raising three excellent children, I was able then to attend the University of North Carolina at Asheville and earn a Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude. But I couldn’t stop there, so, terrified at making such a drastic move, I enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and earned a Master’s degree and a Ph.D., majoring in Medieval Studies and loving every minute of it.
Where did the idea of Miss Julia come from?
Actually, I didn’t come up with the idea of Miss Julia — she came up to me in the form, first, of a voice in my head that said things that I wished I could say but was too fearful to say aloud. Soon, a mental image of a tall, older woman in a white winter coat, with a little hat on her head, a pocketbook dangling from one arm, appeared. She was holding the hand of a little boy, and, while trying to determine what relation those two were to each other, Miss Julia evolved into a real ‘person’ in my mind. It seemed that she had a lot to say and didn’t mind saying it.
The characters in your books so often feel like they come from 50 to 100 years ago that I get a jarring feeling when a cell phone or GPS suddenly pops up. You say that Miss Julia’s town is loosely based upon your own hometown in North Carolina. Are the people there really as traditional (i.e. Miss Julia is horrified at the thought of wearing trousers!) as Miss Julia?
No, I can’t say that they are, at least now. But you must remember that the Miss Julia books began about twenty years ago, so not only she, but my hometown, have progressed (although Miss Julia might say, regressed) in many ways.
Your books are so fun and humorous that they go a long way to help me during the worst of my pain from the nearly-20-year nonstop migraine from which I suffer. Do you have to work hard at being funny, or does it come pretty naturally?
The most surprising thing to me, other than being published at all, is the ease at which the humor rolls out. I’ve never thought of myself as a humorous person, nor would anyone who knows me, but put me in front of a computer and turn Miss Julia loose, and my mind goes into overdrive.
They say there are two kinds of fiction writers: plotters who outline every detail and pantsers who “write by the seat of their pants” whatever comes into their minds. Where do you fit in this scale?
Oh, absolutely by the seat of my pants. The only outlining I do is when I want to get to a particular scene and have to set the stage for it. The easiest books to write are the ones whose endings I know before I start —- I just write towards that. When I don’t know how a book will end, I just write and hope for the best.
Your Amazon page states that all of your books can be found in German, Japanese, and Croatian translations. I’m curious about Croatian’s being the third. Do you have a special connection to Croatia? Or is there some other reason that is the third language the books have been translated into? (On a side personal note, my headache specialist was born in Croatia! Because I voluntarily lead a Christian ministry to international students in the U.S. and because my husband is from El Salvador, I made “love in any language” the theme of our wedding in 2013. My student friends and I made posters saying I love you in many different languages to put up around the hall where the reception was held. I only allowed languages that someone I know speak, so Dr. P got to allow me to add in Croatian. In total, I came up with over 40 languages!)
That’s a great idea and a great story, Vicki, but I have no idea how the Croatian translation of my books came about. My agent just tells me what’s going on, and I smile a lot. Right now, an Italian publisher is publishing one book at a time in Italian —- they’re on number 4 now, I think.
How do select the names of your many characters?
Some characters appear to me complete with personalities and names. I have to work at the names of others. Often I will select a first name from one part of the phone book and a last name from another part.
What did you most love to read as a child, and what do you enjoy reading now?
When I was about nine years old, an aunt gave me Heidi of the Alps, Tom Sawyer, and Little Women for Christmas. They started me on a lifetime of reading, and I soon discovered the library, where I found what became my favorite book, My Friend Flicka. Now I continue to read in my field of Medieval studies (Augustine’s City of God, currently), but for fun I read John Sandford, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, and Phillip Kerr. I like hard-boiled cop and detective stories in which the good guys always win. I don’t read anything that is close to the Miss Julia books for fear that I will inadvertently copy something or else cry my eyes out because somebody else has done it better than I have.
Miss Julia Raises the Roof is available now for preorder on Amazon now to be released on April 3, 2018.
Read my review of Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind here.
Read my review of Miss Julia’s School of Beauty here.
Read my review of Miss Julia Stands Her Ground here.
Read my review of Miss Julia Strikes Back here.
Read my review of Miss Julia Paints the Town here.
Read my review of Miss Julia Renews Her Vows here.