Tuesday, May 04, 2021

UNDER THE MAGNOLIAS - T. I. Lowe - One Free Book

Bio: T. I. Lowe is an ordinary country girl who loves to tell extraordinary stories and is the author of nearly twenty published novels, including her debut, Lulu’s Café, a number one bestseller. She lives with her husband and family in coastal South Carolina. Find her at tilowe.com or on Facebook (T.I.Lowe), Instagram (tilowe), and Twitter (@TiLowe).

Welcome, T. I. Under the Magnolias is different from your usual romance novels. What compelled you to deviate from your usual subject matter in this book? How was your writing process different? I always write what I’m led to, and I really never want to limit my stories to a certain genre. With romance, there’s typically a loose formula to follow—boy meets girl, they fall in love, something gets in their way, they overcome it for their happily ever after. But with this book, I just wrote it like no one was looking. I wasn’t even sure where it would end up until I reached the ending. It challenged me as a writer and I loved it!

Can you walk us through the emotions you felt while writing this book? My emotions were all over the place. I fully invest in my characters. When they hurt, I hurt. When they rejoice, so do I. One scene where Austin starts unraveling and doesn’t see how to hold her family together, I was right there with her. It was a tough writing day, for sure, and I walked away from the computer not knowing how she would either. I definitely stayed in my head for several months while writing this one.

You’ve said that this book is the most important book you’ve written to date. Why? The subject matter of this book, even though it’s fiction set in the eighties, is so relevant today. Everyone hurts. Everyone struggles. And everyone hides their truths to some degree. I was led to write this book in a way that I hope readers will realize it’s not so healthy to hide, that it’s okay to seek help no matter what they are going through.

You say you are an observer of people. What do you mean by that? How do you use that to craft your stories? People are so fascinating. I know I look like a weirdo but I’m all about people watching. I also want to understand things that I see, whether it’s from a news headline or something I’ve witnessed in person, so I work that out through my stories.

Some of the common themes in this book are the power of community and connectedness, as well as the impact that small and simple kindnesses can have on those around us. How do you hope those themes encourage the reader? Why did you include those themes specifically? I hope the reader will reflect on their own actions and attitudes toward others. As I’ve already said, kindness is a simple act but can have such a profound effect on the one receiving it. Austin was able to stop hiding due to the strength she garnered from those who reached out to help her and her family. We can be that for someone—how powerful is that? Simple act of kindness example: I’m always on people-watching duty, so when I go through a checkout line and the cashier is in a terrible mood and being rude, instead of complaining to the manager, I ask the cashier if they’re having a bad day. I can’t tell you how many times this was exactly what they needed. Just someone to take the time to acknowledge them and to let them unload a second. I’ve always left those situations with the cashier smiling at me. Simple kindness, ladies and gentlemen.

Why did you choose to set this book in the eighties? Why was it important to you to write a coming-of-age book that wasn’t set during the age of social media? The eighties was a great decade, so why not! I truly wanted to get to a simpler time for this book. One with less noise, so to speak. I think it’ll be easier for someone to read this subject from afar and not have cell phones and all that to distract from it. It makes Austin different yet shows her coming-of-age journey is still relevant today.

What was your inspiration for this book? You’ve referenced some of the conversations you had with God about writing this book. Can you walk us through that a bit? Spring of 2019, it seemed every time I turned on the news or pulled up Facebook, there was a headline that a community leader, mostly church leaders, had committed suicide. Man, did that put such a burden on my heart. I wanted to know their story and why they got to the point of feeling that hopeless. Before I knew it, I was deep into research. I discovered most times those victims were secretly suffering with mental illness. They were worried what others would think, so they kept it hidden. A lot of prayer went into the book, asking God to help me understand and to express that understanding to readers. Days of writing with goose bumps along my arms and a tightened chest, I knew I wasn’t telling this story alone.

This book is gritty in parts, but it also serves up a good dose of humor. Why did you intentionally include humor in this story? Can you give us an example? Life is tough! It is gritty, yet I lean heavily on humor to get me though the rough patches of life. I also needed it to get through the rough patches of this book and I think readers will too. You will meet Phoenix, aka Peg. He is the next-to-oldest brother and boy, does he have a mouth on him. The scene where he gets ahold of a man who is making racists remarks cracks me up even now. It’s a lot of dry humor, my favorite type, and Peg always gave me some comic relief on the hard writing days with his sarcastic one-liners.

Why is it important to write stories about characters who deal with real issues? What are some of the real issues that this story addresses? Sometimes I think reading about real issues in fiction is easier for us to digest than reading it in nonfiction or in a self-help book. It takes us out of it, so to speak. The issues addressed in this book are quite extensive, but it is mostly about ill-fitting labels that need to be done away with.

Why did you choose to represent characters who are marginalized or misunderstood in this book? I don’t know about you but I am just so tired of the labels and the unrealistic boxes society creates and expects you to live up to. That’s hogwash. If God wanted us all to fit in the same box, he would have created us as carbon copies. He didn’t, so that means it’s a gift to be different and I think differences should be celebrated. I did a lot of celebrating this in Under the Magnolias.

This book gives an inside look at the reality of mental illness, through a fictional story. How do you hope the themes of this book bring mental health awareness? I want it to open our eyes, to start more conversations about mental health, and to be more empathetic to those suffering. Being more proactive in mental health awareness requires those suffering in silence to find their voice and for everyone else to take off their blinders and pay attention.

Nobody is immune to hardship in life and the Fosters know that well. For readers going through a personal battle, what does Under the Magnolias offer them? It will give them the courage to seek help in those times, realizing it’s not healthy to keep it all hidden. And that people genuinely do care and want to help.

We see a beautiful picture of what it means to be the church in this book. What do you hope readers take away from this? Exactly as you put it in the question, the church is beautiful, and I’m so sad that so many are missing out on this because they have misguided views of what church is supposed to be. I’m not an expert on theology, but I do love how Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 puts it: “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth, for he hath not another to help him up. Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

What do you hope your readers walk away with when they’ve turned the last page of this book? My hope is that they say, “Dang, that girl can write!” Ha! Just kidding. Kinda ... No, seriously, I want them to get to the end of this book and find their own sense of freedom. To bravely go out and live without putting on airs. To exercise their compassion and empathy muscles more.

Thank you, T. I., for sharing this book with my blog readers and me. This novel is going to the top of my to-be-read pile.

Readers, here are links to the book.

https://amzn.to/3nUH6eE - paperback


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Johanna Frank said...

I love that you deviated from the boy meets girl template, not knowing how the story would end. That’s feeling your characters! Nice :) All the best!

traveler said...

Such a delightful and captivating novel. Enjoyable interview. Thanks. Anne in NM.

petite said...

This book is a real treasure. Amazing and unforgettable. Pearl from NM.

Melissa M. said...

This sounds like a good and helpful book, especially since I have family members and friends who struggle with mental health (maybe even myself). Thank you!
-Melissa from TN

MJSH said...

Sounds like a really interesting book. I’ve never read anything by this author so thanks for the introduction.
- Mindy from NJ

Jackie Smith said...

Love her books and am anxious to read this one! Thanks for your giveaway.
Jackie from GA

CRYSTAL said...

This book sounds like a fantastic read. Would love to read & review the book in print format. The book cover is great and the title intrigues me right off the bat and makes me want to read the book in print.
I really enjoyed the interview.
Thanks for giveaway.
Hope I Win.
Crystal from PA in the USA

Vera Godley said...

I don't read a lot of contemporary novels, but this one sounds wonderful. I've also never read a T.I.Lowe book but I like the way she "talks" and the ideas behind this book. Sounds like a book I'd like to read and would enjoy.

Vera G. from the middle of North Carolina right between the Atlantic coast and the Smoky Mountains.

Melanie Backus said...

Would love to read this one for sure!!!
Melanie Backus, TX

Winnie said...

I've heard so many great things about T.I Lowe's books, and this one sounds fantastic! It's on my wish list, for sure! Thanks for the lovely interview and the chance to win.

Winnie T. from northern Utah

Lucy Reynolds said...

I have this on my wish list. Thank you for the wonderful chance. Blessings from WV.

Caryl Kane said...

Tonya is one of my favorite authors!
Caryl K in TX

Sharon Bryant said...

Enter me!!
Conway SC.