Cathy Lamb: Cassie, I just loved The Pecan Man. It was one of the most honest, heartbreaking -yet – hopeful books I’ve read. You captured the time period, with the rampant racism and discrimination, so well. I felt like I was there, in Florida, living with Ora Lee Beckworth.
(Friends, it’s only $4.99 on Kindle and please, take it from me who reads like a fiend, it’s worth it.)
Please tell everyone here what The Pecan Man is about.
Cassie Dandridge Selleck: The Pecan Man is about a woman, Ora Lee Beckworth, who sets out to clear her conscience by clearing a man’s name. In doing so, she learns much more about herself than she thought she knew about everything and everyone else. It is also about Ora’s relationship with her maid, Blanche, and how Ora’s life changes when she starts making decisions based on love rather than tradition.
One thing I loved is how Ora, a white woman, steeped deeply in her societal traditions, changed in her feelings towards Blanche, her African American maid, and how she realized the error of her own thinking, and of her own behavior towards, Blanche. She was able to look at her past, her present, and change her future based on her new, more compassionate, intellectual, and open minded insights. She even gained a whole new family.
What do you see, Cassie, as the overriding themes?
I would say the overriding theme of The Pecan Man is redemption and restoration. Sometimes we all do things that we wish we could take back. We make choices with painful consequences, for ourselves and for others. What defines our character is what we do to atone for our sins, what sacrifices we will make, and how we go about setting things right if given the opportunity.
As Ora finally, finally did. (One more note, readers…If your book group needs a story that will provide interesting discussions, this would be it. Ora’s choices can easily be debated.)
What sparked the story?
In 2001, on the 45 minute trip from the grocery store to my home on the Suwannee River, an old black man rode his rumpled old bicycle out of the woods just in front of me. Two blocks away, another old man was picking up pecans in his front yard. I have always been intrigued by real characters in life, so these two men sort of morphed into one character I called The Pecan Man. By the time I got home, I had three characters, Ora, Blanche and Eddie and I knew only that Ora would sit down on her porch to tell, in traditional storytelling fashion, the story of why The Pecan Man died in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Like I said in my opening…heart breaking.
Your book is selling incredibly well. How has the success of the Pecan Man changed your life?
Wow, in so many ways. I have been working for others, raising children, mentoring students and volunteering since I was seventeen years old. For the first time in my life, I am completely self-sufficient and able to do whatever I want to do. The funny thing is, the first two things on my bucket list were: Get a college degree and publish a novel – in that order. The second now makes the first possible and I am working on a BFA in Creative Writing through Goddard College’s low residency program.
Good for you. I always thought a degree in Creative Writing would be so much fun to earn. Going back to school, writing, reading…I’ll have to live vicariously through you now.
But back to the book! The Pecan Man is about 50,000 words, correct? How long did it take you to write it?
Honestly…almost ten years. But that was off and on, while working full-time, raising children, building a house (literally and personally), suffering from undiagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome and a host of other “I’m too busy to write” excuses. I’m working on another novel now. I pray that it does not take another ten years!
It better not. You will be in big trouble with me if it does. I want to read the next one right away.
Did you self publish it? Traditionally publish? Was it published only as an E – book?
I was not in a position to devote real time to seeking a traditional publisher, so I was just sitting on this mostly finished work. I decided to publish through Amazon’s Kindle program, just as an e-book, thinking that the worst that could happen was that it didn’t sell or got widely panned and I could pull it. What’s that new insurance commercial? “Like it never even happened.” Well, that didn’t last long. Too many people were complaining that they wanted a “real” book, so I put it out in paperback as well.
I was getting tired of being asked when I was going to publish my novel, so when I read an article about a woman who successfully self-published through Amazon, I figured it was a good way to shut my family and friends up! In all seriousness, though, I felt like I had nothing to lose, but I honestly did not expect it to be as successful as it is. I can’t even tell you how many book clubs have contacted me saying, “This is the first self-published book we’ve chosen.” I am humbled and grateful and overwhelmed by the outpouring of love for my characters from readers all over the world.
I understand you now have an agent. Why did you decide to hire an agent after such a successful debut?
Well, I wasn’t looking for an agent, but a couple of them came looking for me, and I chose one who is really excited about The Pecan Man and future work as well. There are a lot of things an agent can do, including securing foreign rights, getting a movie deal (crossing fingers), and possibly selling it to a major publisher. My jury is still out on that, but I think every author wants the legitimacy of a big publishing house. She did sell the audio rights, however, and The Pecan Man will be available as an audio recording in August. I was allowed to help choose the narrator and I have to say that I am thrilled with our selection. She absolutely brings Ora Lee to life.
What are the jobs you have had in your life? Do you have a day job now and what is it?
I’ve been working since I was 19, so the list is long: drug store clerk, bank receptionist, photo lab technician, Emergency Medical Technician, payroll/accounting clerk at what is now The Villages, Florida, Operations Controller at Merrill Lynch, Library Outreach Coordinator (my favorite), Sales and Marketing Manager for bridge access company. The Pecan Man has allowed me the financial freedom to go back to school and work as a writer.
That is just thrilling to hear. I love being a full time writer. Trying to work a job outside the home, raise kids, and write at night is just exhausting. Even my bones felt tired when I did that. So much easier to be able to focus on one job only. Plus I’m a lot less cranky.
Besides writing, what are your interests and hobbies? (The photo of the carved log, above, is one of Cassie’s and her husband’s projects. They have many! The hawk is in her front yard.)
Reading, scrapbooking, mixed media art, painting, quilting and sewing, music, photography, and grandbabies! My grandbabies call me YaYa (my choice), and my son-in-law dubbed me the Yayarazzi because I am constantly chasing them around with a camera in my hand. I don’t have much time to do most of those things these days, but I still love doing them.
Ya Ya, if you were given two weeks of vacation, all expenses paid, where would you go, who would you invite to come with you, and what would you do?
Hands down…Ireland. I’d take my husband and we’d probably be typical tourists, roaming the countryside and hanging out in the pubs. In the meantime, we are working towards retirement so we can travel the U.S. in an RV.
Thank you for the interview. Let us know when your new book is out because I will be first up to buy it. The Pecan Man was a literary gift, Cassie.
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