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Thompson preps for book release

Greenville native Melinda Rainey Thompson, college instructor and author of four published books of creative non-fiction, is slated to have her latest book, “If I Were the Boss of You,” published on Jan. 25. Thompson answered a few questions for The Advocate recently in a Q&A, sharing what makes her hometown special and explaining what readers can expect from her latest book.   

Q: You have strong roots here in Greenville, Melinda. Take us back to your time growing up in the Camellia City and how that has impacted you into adulthood.

A: “I was in the first class to go all the way through Fort Dale, Class of ‘81. My classmates were people like Mack Russell and Vivian McGowin. Viv is still my nearest and dearest; her sister, Elizabeth Matthews, too. I had lots of family in Greenville since both of my parents, Linda Foster and Bartlett Rainey, were also from Greenville. So no matter that I have lived in Birmingham for nearly 40 years, I will always be from Greenville.

“That’s a particularly Southern thing, I think. I loved growing up in Greenville, the way that people of all generations interact on a daily basis. I think small towns take care of each other in ways that more urban areas do not. They make time for one another and take care of those who are in need. In small towns, you can’t really get away from anyone, I think, so people seem more civil, well-mannered and kind. I love that.”

Q: You currently teach writing at Birmingham-Southern College. What first got you on the road to writing your own books?

A: “I first started writing when I had three kids under that age of five, and I’d stopped teaching other people’s children to rear my own. I thought I was losing my mind. I’d only ever worked with my brain. Child-rearing is hard manual labor.

“I published a small newsletter called “The S.W.A.G. Letter” for five years and built up a base of about 5,000 readers in 38 states. Lots of Greenville folks were original “SWAG” readers. Based on that success, I sold my first book, “SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully.” That led to more: “The SWAG Life,” “I Love You — Now Hush,” and “I’ve Had It Up To Here With Teenagers.” It’s been eight years since my last release, so I’m really excited about “If I Were The Boss of You.” It’s my favorite thing I’ve written. It’s a little different than my earlier books. Still creative non-fiction. Still lots of self-deprecating humor. But this book has a bit more depth. There are chapters that will make you cry and chapters that will keep you up at night wondering. I returned full-time as a professor in the English department at Birmingham-Southern  six years ago. . . it’s where I started my career . . . .I love teaching college students how to write.”

Q: How did the title of the book come about?

A: “Originally, I had a much more dignified title for the book, but this one just feels right to me. I think I answered this best on the tip sheet I sent you: ‘“If I Were The Boss of You” contains charming reflections, funny observations, and nagging worries we all share about our day-to-day existence. Who we are, what’s important to us, and the small choices we make every day determine the course of our lives. Thompson utilizes her own brand of self-deprecating humor to ponder age-old, big-life questions. ‘A Chromosomal Point of View,’ ‘The Fake Eulogy,’ and ‘A Smack Down by Jesus’ will make you laugh out loud. ‘Tiny Indignities’ will make you cry. ‘Angels and Aliens’ will keep you up in the wee hours wondering what will become of us. No Southern nostalgia, magnolias and moonlight, or voodoo queens here. This is a twenty-first-century, bossy Southern woman’s take on real life.’”

Q: So, I have to ask, do you consider yourself a bossy woman?

A: “Well, those who know me would say yes. I’ve chosen to think of this as a charming personality trait. If I was a man, I would be called a “strong leader” — not bossy. I’m from a long line of bossy women. I’m okay with that.”

Q: Humor has been a constant thread, running to a greater or lesser degree, through all your writing. Why do think it’s such an important trait for us to have and also, so prevalent in southern culture?

A: “Humor is one of the few things that is free, good for us, and available to everyone regardless of age, race, or income. It isn’t dependent on good health, lots of money, free time, or anything else out of our control. Laughter is scientifically proven to be good for the body and the mind.

“I think it’s good for the soul, too. Self-deprecating humor comes easily to me. God sends me lots of building adventures. There is nothing special about me. I’m like your sister, wife, daughter or friend. I just happen to be the stenographer writing it all down in my books.

“I think women, particularly strong Southern women, have used humor for generations to deal with social expectations and stereotypes, patriarchy, oppression, and the heat. All that marinates to create a sense of humor that lets us enjoy one another, get through our daily lives as gracefully as possible, and allows us to create change in a slow-moving way — like the way the mighty Mississippi River eventually finds its way to the sea. It sometimes takes people from other parts of the country two weeks to realize they’ve been insulted by me.

Q: For anyone out there feeling the urge to put pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — what is your best advice?

A: “I think everyone has a story. There is a book in everyone. That doesn’t mean they will all be published, of course. It’s a tough business with lots of rejection. I urge readers at my events to write down their stories if only for their families. Memories are only about three generations long. Then we are all reduced to dates carved in marble and courthouse records. We are all more interesting than that. Don’t wait! Do it today.

Melinda Rainey Thompson’s latest book is available for pre-order in hardback, paperback and e-book through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and at various retail outlets.