It’s the summer of 1938, the end of the Depression in America, and Layla Beck, the daughter of a U.S. Senator, is sent from her life of privilege in Washington, D.C. to a small town in West Virginia. Her assignment: Write about the town’s history for the Federal Writers’ Project. What she thinks will be a straightforward (and boring) task turns out to be anything but; as she goes about her work, she begins to understand the subjective nature of history, and how the town’s story is wrapped up in the mystery of a single family. Annie Barrows, author of the best-selling “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society,” joins us to talk about her latest novel, “The Truth According To Us.”
- Annie Barrows Author, "The Truth According To Us" and the bestselling children's series "Ivy and Bean." She is also the co-author of the "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society."
Read A Featured Excerpt
From the Book THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO US by Annie Barrows. Copyright © 2015 by Annie Barrows. Reprinted by arrangement with Dial Press, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Not long after Layla Becker arrives in Macedonia, West Virginia, at the end of the depression to write about the town's history, she remarks "if none of us can be objective, then the problem is intractable and all history is suspect." This idea is at the core of author Annie Barrows latest novel, "The Truth According To Us." Barrows says she fascinated by how family stories become fact and how it takes an outsider to unravel the tales.
MS. DIANE REHMAnnie Barrows is the co-author of the best-selling, "The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society" and the children's series, "Ivy and Bean." She joins me in the studio. You're welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Annie Barrows, it's so good to meet you.
MS. ANNIE BARROWSThank you, I'm glad to be here.
REHMTell me why you use Annie as opposed to Ann?
BARROWSI was so sad that I only had three letters in my name that I had to add onto it. It didn't feel like enough.
REHMGood for you. Some people have said to me that they like Anne with an E and a dear friend of me who was A-N-N for years and years, in her mid-40s -- no, at her 50th birthday said I'm adding an E to my name. So you were Annie.
BARROWSI had to add two more letters.
REHMGood for you. Talk about the fictional town you created of Macedonia, West Virginia.
BARROWSWell, Macedonia, West Virginia, is certainly a fictional town, but it does happen to be based on a couple of towns I'm very familiar with in West Virginia, Martinsburg, West Virginia, where my mother and my aunt, Mary Ann grew up and Romney, West Virginia, which was a town where some other branches of the family lived.
REHMAnd all kinds of things must've happened in those two towns.
BARROWSOh, yes. Martinsburg and Romney were the most glamorous and exciting places in the world when I was a child.
REHMSo you've got Romney and how you've got the Romeyn family. Tell us about the Romeyn family, spelled in a curious manner.
BARROWSYes. The Romeyn family is pronounced like the lettuce but it's spelled not like the lettuce with M-E-Y-N and the Romeyn family -- now, I'm not gonna say that's based on my family. There is some overlap perhaps and there's a lot of stories that I heard when I was a child that are enacted by the Romeyn family, but they are a fictional group of people. They are a sister, a brother, a pair of twins, another brother and various other relatives.
REHMWhy don't you read for us from the beginning of the novel?
BARROWSAll right. I'd love to.
REHMAnd tell us who is speaking.
BARROWSAll right. We open with 12-year-old Willa Romeyn and the book begins. "In 1938, the year I was 12, my hometown of Macedonia, West Virginia, celebrated its sesquicentennial, a word I thought had to do with fruit for the longest time. In school, we commemorated the occasion as we commemorated most occasions, with tableau, one for each of the major events in Macedonia's history. There weren't many. Hardly enough to stretch out across eight grades, but the teachers eked them out the best they could. If it hadn't been for the war between the states, I don't know what they would have done.
BARROWSWhen Virginia seceded from the Union, Western Virginia got mad and seceded right back into it, all except for four little counties, one of them ours that stuck out their tongue at West Virginia and declared themselves part of the Confederacy, a piece of sass with long consequences in the way of road paving and school desks. Tucked up in a crook between the Potomac and the Shenandoah, Macedonia was a junction for generals and railroads alike and by the time Lee hung up his sword a Appomattox, the town had changed hands 47 times, six of them in one day.
BARROWSOur teachers dearly loved to get up a scene of the townspeople stuffing their Confederate flags up the chimney as the Union troops marched in and yanking them back down again as the troops departed. The fourth, fifth and sixth graders got the war scenes and seventh and eighth graders got the short end of the stick because not a thing happened in Macedonia after 1865, except the roundhouse blowing up and the American Everlasting Hosiery Company opening its doors. Half the town worked in that mill and the other half wished it did, but there was not much about the American Everlasting Hosiery Company that looked good in a tableau.
BARROWSSometimes, the teachers gave up and killed two birds with one stone by making the seventh graders march across the stage waving socks while the eighth graders sang "The Star Spangled Banner" behind them. In 1938, though, the eighth grade hit pay dirt because Mrs. Roosevelt drove through town. She stopped at the square, took a drink from our sulfur spring water fountain, made a face and drove away. That was plenty for a tableau, except that instead of making a face, the eighth grade Mrs. Roosevelt said, 'the people of Macedonia are lucky to receive the benefits of healthful mineral water.'
BARROWSMy sister Bird and I laughed so hard, we get sent into the hall."
REHMAnd that is Annie Barrows reading from the opening to her brand new book, "The Truth According To Us," the theme being that history has a way of being written by outsiders which may have nothing to do with the reality of what goes on in a small town like Macedonia.
BARROWSThat's completely true and I think that even history as written by outsiders is as much a construct as any delusional history that a townsperson can make up. History is a construct, in my opinion. It's fiction. It's a glorious fiction, but it's fiction.
REHMNow, did you have your Aunt Mary Ann Shaffer in mind as you wrote this book?
BARROWSOf course, I did. I mean, her voice is everywhere in this book, the voice of our family story is Mary Ann's voice and there are some wonderful lines that -- of Mary Ann's that I had to put in this book and I set them up so that they could be given to favorite characters. So, in many ways, this is an homage to all the storytellers in my family, but especially Mary Ann.
REHMAnd it was she who actually began writing "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." How did it come to you?
BARROWSWell, Mary Ann had written the whole story and it was accepted for publication, but right after that, she fell ill and when fairly substantial rewrites came back several months later from her editor, she didn't feel that she was able to start again with that and she called me. I was at the dentist and she called me and said, you are the other writer in the family. Can you do this? Can you do this?
REHMSo you had not worked on that book at all prior to.
BARROWSNot at all. I knew nothing about Guernsey, but I learned very quickly.
REHMI'll bet. Were you surprised at its success?
BARROWSI was. I was -- I mean, I thought what would happen would be that I would finish this book and my family would be happy and Mary Ann would be happy. And I did that and then it turned into a major international best seller. It was a shock to me. I mean, a great pleasure to see that Mary Ann's words were so loved, but a shock, too.
REHMAnd did she see it finally published?
BARROWSNo. Mary Ann passed away five months before the book was published, which is tragic to me. I mean, I know she's up there somewhere enjoying it all, but I really wish she was right here enjoying it all.
REHMIs it to be made into a film?
BARROWSI hope so. Optioned before it was published and it's still under option. I feel more positive about it now than I have for a long time. I think it might really happen.
REHMAnd you know, we did that book as a Reader's Review.
REHMAnd we all just loved it.
REHMSo I'd be happy to see it come out as a film, though I'd be a little concerned as well. You never know what happens in the translation. You said it came to you with extensive edits. How long did you spend to make that book into its final version?
BARROWSWell, it took me about eight months, but there was about six weeks of desperate procrastination at the beginning and during that time, I was trying to learn everything that had ever happened on the island of Guernsey so I believe I was writing really for about six months.
REHMYou were researching a great deal for yourself. Your aunt, Mary Ann, could not tell you what you needed to know.
BARROWSExactly. She was very ill and so she gave me all her books so I read, read, read, read, read and I harassed various people on the island. But it was a learning curve.
REHMAnnie Barrows, and she is the author of a brand new book. It's titled "The Truth According To Us." She did the final writing on "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd we're back with author Annie Barrows. Her brand new book, "The Truth According To Us," is set in the fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia, a place, it turns out -- that is, West Virginia -- Annie Barrows, you've never lived in.
BARROWSNope. Not at all.
REHMBorn, raised in California.
BARROWSAll my life a Californian.
REHMSo why West Virginia?
BARROWSWell, I can't get away from the history. I love the history of this area. And it seems so rich with story to me because, partly, I grew up with people who told me stories about West Virginia and Virginia and Washington D.C. You know, this area is so loaded with history, it seems to beckon to me. I just can't stop writing about it.
REHMAll right. So set the scene for us. It's 1938. It's almost the end of the Depression. So why this time period?
REHMWell, it's 1938. It's almost the end of the Depression. But it's also the time when the Depression program of the Federal Writers' Project is still taking place. And that, to me, was very important for one of my main characters is a writer on the Federal Writers' Project.
BARROWSMiss Layla Beck, who is a Senator's daughter and has no experience as a writer. But she...
REHMAnd no desire.
BARROWSNo. She doesn't want to go to West Virginia. She wants to stay and be a socialite in Washington. But she has a little problem and gets kicked out of her parents' house and is forced to take a job on the Writer's Project. And she's sent to this little town. She thinks she's going to go mad with boredom.
REHMHer father, the Senator, wants her to marry someone she's not interested in marrying. And the Senator says, "You have a choice. You can marry him or you're going to West Virginia. And you're going to write about the Writers' Project." She sends him a long letter. She sends her uncle a long letter, begging, begging to stay in Washington. All turned down.
BARROWSThat's right. They are sick to death of her and they want to teach her a lesson by sending her to Macedonia.
REHMBut she doesn't make a great impression at first. Because she shows up in Macedonia wearing a white silk suit.
BARROWSExactly. Which tells everybody that she has no business being in Macedonia. There's something fancy, something suspicious, something very citified about her and they don't like it one little bit.
BARROWSWell, she begins to listen to the stories being told in the Romeyn household. And she begins to get her own idea about the history of this little town. There's the official history, the sort of founding fathers history, the history that everybody wants her to write. But then there's the other stories that she begins to hear and the mysteries that pop up -- the mysteries she just begins to learn about, bit by bit, that intrigue her. And she's willing to listen to other people and willing to write other kinds of history. And I think that makes her interesting.
REHMSo she really is changed in the process because not only is she willing to listen, but she realizes that the listening and the writing gives her power.
BARROWSYes. And she realizes that history itself is about power. You know, as everybody always says, history is written by the victors. But there's another story too and Layla wants to tell that story.
REHMTell us about the 12-year-old Willa Romeyn.
BARROWSWell, my darling Willa...
REHMShe is adorable.
BARROWSI love my dear Willa. Willa has just discovered what pretty much every 12-year-old in the world discovers, which is that the grownups have been keeping things from her. So she sets out, for curiosity, to find out exactly the same thing that Layla's trying to find out for her book. Layla's doing her researches and Willa's doing her researches to find out what really happened in the past -- what really happened with her family. And, of course, they are on a kind of a collision course about that history because they discover a lot of -- they're discovering a lot of the same territory. But they come to quite different conclusions.
REHMAnd do they share along the way?
BARROWSNo. Because Layla takes a certain liking to Willa's father, the single and extremely charismatic Felix Romeyn. And Will is just in a rage about this. So very soon, she does not like Miss Layla Beck at all and determines that her project is to guard her father against Layla's wiles.
REHMAnd tell us about Jottie Romeyn.
BARROWSOh, my dear Jottie. Jottie is the -- the sister of Felix and the aunt of Willa. And she owns the house where Miss Layla Beck...
BARROWSWell, it was left to her by her parents. Her father was a great man in town. And when he passed away, he left the house to Jottie because she was the unmarried girl.
REHMAnd not to his son Felix.
BARROWSFelix is a bit of a black sheep, you see.
REHMWe don't know at the immediate start but we get the impression because he's got lots of absences.
BARROWSYes, he does disappear fairly mysteriously. And this is one of the mysteries that Willa is trying to solve. Eventually, Layla's trying to solve it too. But he disappears. He has to -- he talks to people on the phone and then goes away.
REHMBut, you know, it's interesting because Jottie is quite independent for her time. How is she similar to Layla and how is she different?
BARROWSWell, I think, Jottie, even more than Layla, believes in -- that the -- her place in the world is helpful and that she is doing good work with -- by taking care of her nieces and by running her household. Layla is less confident, in a way, than Jottie. Although, Jottie, as a single woman, might be dismissed as a boring spinster, she is the center of her family and everybody depends upon her.
REHMThere's so much history going on here. And each person sort of interprets that history on her own.
BARROWSYes. Well, that, I think, is what happens in small towns. There's all sorts of strands of stories and they're told in different ways by different people. And I think that one of the interesting things is when a stranger comes into the town and tries to determine what the truth is, the mysteries become more dramatic.
REHMAnd, in fact, the Romeyn patriarch, who has left the house to Jottie, started the American Everlasting Hosiery Company. And the question becomes why Felix is not in charge of it today. That's part of the mystery of the story.
BARROWSYes. That's right. That's right. And I love the fall from grandeur because the Romeyn family in the past was a great family in town. And now they're not. And that is certainly something that perplexes Layla and Willa. But the answers are there.
REHMTell me, Annie Barrows, why you chose to write much of this novel in letter form.
BARROWSWell, I do adore writing in letters. I adore reading letters. And it seemed -- I did not -- I did not ever do it before I worked on "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." But as you know, that was an entirely epistolary novel. And once I had started working on that, I realized what you could do with letters. You get that bounce. You get that first-person-voice bounce. And I couldn't give that up for this book. I really wanted it. So I used them again.
REHMBut now few of us write letters. We may write notes of thanks or commiseration or condolence. We don't tend to write letters. We're losing that.
BARROWSI'm keeping the art alive.
BARROWSI'm trying to keep the art alive. I think people, they write lots of emails. But it's not the same thing at all. People don't put as much, you know, verve and vigor into email. I love letters. And this is one of the reasons why I wanted to set this book in the past, when people still did write letters.
REHMAnd put their hearts into letters, which you don't think happens in email?
BARROWSNo it's too immediate because you can always, you know, 20 seconds later, you can send -- if you forgot to say something, you can send another email. You don't have the obligation to form your words as well...
BARROWS...and to make your sentences...
REHMForm your thoughts.
REHMAnd to create really cohesive paragraphs.
REHMYou're right. What was it like for you after "Guernsey" was published and your aunt had passed on? What was that whole experience of the success of that book like?
BARROWSWell, it was a completely different world than I had ever expected to be in. I was a children's book writer. And that's always lots of fun. Children, you know, are sort of laughing and giggling and wiggling. That was my norm. That's what I knew. And then all of a sudden I was speaking to grownup people who are, you know, believe me, a lot better behaved. But I was also whisked around from place to place. And I went even to Guernsey. I spoke at the first Guernsey Literary Festival.
BARROWSOh, I was good.
BARROWSIt was as close to royalty as I will ever get. I felt so honored. And they were all so lovely to me. It was exhilarating. It was very exhilarating.
REHMAnd what was the town like?
BARROWSOh, it's beautiful. It's everything you could ever hope for in terms of -- it's England with good weather. What more could you ever want in this world? It was lovely, charming town. And I was so nervous that I had gotten something horribly wrong. Because, as I said, I was not a Guernsey expert. So I was floating in on the boat thinking: Oh dear, oh dear, I'm going to find out that all the things I made up were completely wrong. And I got there and the one, two, three, four, five things that I was most worried about, I got them right.
REHMOh. How terrific.
BARROWSSuch a relief. Whew.
REHMOh, how terrific. That's wonderful. So people there really received you well. How long did you stay?
BARROWSI've been there twice now. But that -- for the Guernsey Literary Festival, I was there for five days -- four or five days.
REHMOh, my. And is there a big hotel or did you stay in one of the smaller houses?
BARROWSOh, I stayed at a very grand hotel. And they were very happy with me because many tourists have come to the island now. There's a whole Potato Peel Pie tour of the island that visitors can take. And so I felt like I was very loved when I was there.
REHMAnd that is remarkable. I've heard that that had happened but I just wondered how extensive those tours actually are.
BARROWSThey're still going on. I mean, it's been quite awhile now. But those Potato Peel Pie readers are very devoted.
REHMIsn't that wonderful? Annie Barrows, she's the author of "The Truth According To Us." She's also the co-author of "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." She's also the author of children's "Ivy and Bean" series. Do join us, 800-433-8850. I think many of you are enjoying her conversation, her speaking about her work and have not yet called in. Feel free to join us. 800-433-8850. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." You are a best-selling children's writer. Tell us about "Ivy and Bean."
BARROWS"Ivy and Bean" are my darling little characters. They're seven years old because I personally consider seven to be the pinnacle of life. Everything goes downhill after seven. And I wrote the first book because my little seven-year-old daughter ran out of things to read. And I thought, well, now that's terrible. Somebody needs to do something about this. Call the president. We need to have somebody write a book for my daughter. And then I thought, but wait. I'm a writer. I'll write a book for her.
REHMAnd that was the first book you had ever written.
BARROWSThat's right. That's correct. And I started writing and it was so much fun.
REHMTell me what it was about.
BARROWSWell, "Ivy and Bean" is the title of the first book. And Ivy and Bean don't like each other one little bit before they meet each other. But once they meet, Bean discovers that Ivy is practicing to be a witch when she grows up. And they decide to cast a spell on Bean's older sister, which of course I always wanted to do.
BARROWSAnd they -- the spell doesn't work out exactly the way they had planned. It was supposed to make Bean's older sister dance uncontrollably for the rest of her life. It doesn't quite pan out that way. But they get -- the older sister gets all muddy and covered with worms in the course of the spell. And so Ivy and Bean think this is just wonderful.
REHMThat's perfect. A wonderful solution. And how excited are you about writing those children's stories?
BARROWSOh, I love writing children's stories. I -- I love writing for grownups too. But there's -- I will never stop writing for children. Because, as I say, they -- seven is the pinnacle of life. And I love seven year olds. I love kids. And I really have stories that I want to tell children.
REHMBut before your daughter said that, did you think of yourself as a writer?
BARROWSYes. I had written some non-fiction for grownup people very early in my career. And so I was a writer but I was, unfortunately, at that stage, I was a writer for grownups who was not spending any time with grownups. I had two little children. I spent all my time with tiny little children. I never had a thing to say to grownups. So it was like a moment of great revelation. Oh, I could write for children. That's what I -- that's what I'm mostly doing right now. Why don't I just give this a try? So that's -- it was a pivot in my career.
REHMAnd how long did it take to find a publisher?
BARROWSWell, now here we get into my sneaky little secret, which was that before I was a writer, I was an editor. And so this is totally unfair. But I -- when I completed my manuscript, I called...
REHMYou had an in.
BARROWSI did. I made a phone call and they said, "Sure, we'll read your book." So.
REHMAnd that's not what happens to...
BARROWSNo. It's a very uninstructive story, I'm sorry to say.
REHMBut, at the same time, you kept on writing.
BARROWSYes. I'm going to keep on writing forever. Once I had -- once I had begun, I realized how wonderful it is. It's the most fascinating job in the world to try and make a story that works, whether it's for kids or for grownup people. I'll never stop.
REHMHow much of your own self-editing are you doing as you go along?
BARROWSOh, so much. I stacked up all the manuscripts of "The Truth According To Us" the other day and it came to 57 inches tall.
BARROWSI write and I rewrite and I rewrite. That's the job.
REHMI think I'm up to about my eighth version of my book that's coming out next year. So I know exactly what you mean.
REHMAnd we're going to take a short break here. When we come back, I see our lines are filled. So I was right. People were enjoying hearing you. Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. It's time to open the phones. 800-433-8850. First to Wooster, Ohio. Beverly, you're on the air.
BEVERLYHi Diane. I so enjoy your show.
REHMThank you. I have loved to read books where I always learn something new and that's what I enjoyed so much about her Guernsey book, and we had our book club read it, and none of us knew the story about that little island. And it was just so informative. So I'm really looking forward to reading this one. I wondered if it takes place in West Virginia, like in the great Appalachia area?
BARROWSNo, it's actually in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, which is a little piece of West Virginia that kind of dips down between Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Virginia.
BARROWSSo, it's not, it's sort of Blue Ridgy.
BARROWSBut it's, but it's got -- one of the things it has in common with Guernsey is that it's about a small town and some real characters.
BEVERLYWell, I look forward to reading it.
REHMAll right. Thank you.
REHMI think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for calling. And to you, Ivy, in Inglewood, Florida. You're on the air.
IVYHi, thank you.
IVYI've enjoyed your interview and you were talking about your first children's book, "Ivy and Bean," and I was like, that's really cute, because my name is Ivy.
IVYYeah. And my daughter's nickname is Bean. Her name's Isabella, but we call her...
IVYSo, I was curious, though, while I was waiting, how you're spelling your character, Ivy's, name.
BARROWSOh, my Ivy is like the plant. She's an I-V-Y. How about you?
IVYYeah, I'm an I-V-Y, too.
BARROWSOh, good. Well then, this book is about you. You better, better run right out and read it.
IVYI know. I'm gonna go get it, just so we can read it together. But anyway, I just wanted to comment on that. Thank you.
REHMAnd to Greensboro, North Carolina. Ashley, you're on the air.
ASHLEYHi, I have three kids and my two oldest ones love to read and my youngest, who is eight, is a little bit of a -- she just had a hard time getting into it, but she loved the "Ivy and Bean" book.
ASHLEYSo thank you for writing them.
BARROWSI'm so glad they worked for her. It's always...
ASHLEYOh, thank you. She loves them.
ASHLEYBut she's finished, so are you writing some more?
BARROWSOh, this is such a hard question for me to answer. I hate to sound like a grown up about this, but I don't know.
BARROWSI thought that I was going to be done after the 10th book, but now my heart is filled with sorrow and I miss those little girls, so I may write another one. Just hang in there, because grown-ups need things to read too, so I had to write this big book for grown-up people. But hang on, I'll see what I can do.
ASHLEYOkay. I'll tell her. Thanks.
REHMThanks for calling. What appeals to you, so much, about writing for children?
BARROWSWell, I -- there's something about giving kids a good laugh. I think that that's a huge part of my motivation. I want to make them crack up. But I also think that there's something more, a bigger idea, which is that I think that relations between grown-ups and children are not very good. I think that children are taught that what they want is somehow wrong. That much of children's literature and much of children's educational materials are based on children needing to change.
BARROWSAnd I don't believe in that. I think kids are pretty great the way they are, for the most part. I mean, some individuals aside. But that's the idea that I want to send out there, that I want to tell kids that what they are is essentially okay. And I think that's a message that speaks to them.
REHMThat sounds exactly like the theme Mr. Rogers had.
REHMDo you remember?
BARROWSOf course I do. I was brought up on Mr. Rogers.
REHMMy children were, too.
REHMAnd he was just exactly in that mode. You are fine.
BARROWSYes, you don't need to change to become a better person. I just want to get rid of that arc. That narrative arc that children are a problem that needs to be fixed.
REHMHow do you think we got there?
BARROWSWell, I hate to be negative, but I think it's this constant idea of everything has to be educational. Well, education is premised on the idea that you're not all right the way you are. You're lacking. You're lacking something that you need a grown up to add to you, to fix. And I think that's fine in the context of education, but in the context of reading, why not celebrate where kids are? Why not celebrate what they are? They're not a problem. They're fine.
REHMAnd in California, I'm sure your kids had lots of time to play, to be themselves, and yet, at the same time, be under supervision of teachers. So, was there a disconnect there that you were trying to mend?
BARROWSWell, yes, I mean, I think that, of course, the children were playing, but it's always so educational. It's always so heavy on the be careful, be, learn something, make it count. I wanted them to just run around and have their imaginative lives expand.
REHMSo, you're worried about helicopter parents?
BARROWSOh, entirely. There's too much safety. Sorry, I shouldn't say that, but it's true. Everybody's so concerned about watching their every move. They feel hemmed in, I think.
REHMHave you read about the parents here in the Washington area who allowed a 10-year-old and a six-year-old to walk the mile to a playing ground, and were picked up twice by police? And at one point, taken away from their parents, because they were not supervised.
BARROWSI can't -- I used to walk miles all over town.
BARROWSYou were only allowed to come back inside if you were bleeding.
REHMYeah. Absolutely. Gone for the day.
REHMBut life is different now.
REHMLots more possibilities for problems on the streets, even in the playgrounds.
BARROWSIt's a balance. It's a balance. I'm not advocating, you know, cutting your children loose and telling them they can't come home. But I do think that we've gone a little out of whack with the supervision and the education and the, you know, the strictness with which we try and keep our children corralled.
REHM...I do remember my mother saying, come home for lunch, you know, during the summer, come home for lunch. Oh mom, do I really have to? Can't I, you know, come home for lunch and be home by six 'o clock. I mean, other than that, that was...
BARROWSSometimes you didn't see your parents all day long. You were out playing.
BARROWSThat's how it was with me.
REHMAll right, let's go now, if this phone is working correctly, let's go to Beverly in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. You're on the air.
BEVERLYHi. I just wanted to say that my book club and I read the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society several years ago. And we all just found it the most delightful book.
BEVERLYWe're a group of women who have been together for, oh, probably 15 years now, and we've traveled. Military backgrounds, you know, wives and that sort of thing. But we had never heard anything about the story of Guernsey and it was just so delightful. And we fell in love with the characters. I mean, they were just so wonderful.
BEVERLYI was a little concerned when I started reading that book about it being written in the epistolary form, but it was just wonderful.
BARROWSOh, thank you.
BEVERLYAnd I'm looking forward to your new book, "The Truth According to Us." I'm sure that will be equally wonderful.
BARROWSThank you so much.
REHMNow, let me ask you, Beverly, did you ever have the desire to go to Guernsey?
BEVERLYWell, I have the desire now to go to a lot of places. I'm 80-years-old, so my bod -- the spirit is willing.
BARROWSIt's a little bit tricky to get to, Guernsey, as well.
BARROWSIt's not so easy. You have to go up and down over the sea, or you have to fly in a tiny, bouncy airplane. So, I understand your trepidation.
BEVERLYRight. It sounds like it would not be the easiest place to get to.
BEVERLYYes, sounds like a delightful place, and some place that would be wonderful to visit.
BARROWSBut on the other hand, for my new book, West Virginia should be pretty easy for you.
REHMI should say. All right.
BEVERLYI visited West Virginia a number of times, and it's beautiful.
BARROWSYes, it is.
REHMCertainly is. Thanks for calling, Beverly.
REHMTo Betsy in North Port, Alabama. You're on the air.
BETSYWell, I always enjoy the show, but I've actually been to Guernsey.
BETSYAnd getting there was flying from Jersey to Guernsey and we got to see the sun set twice.
BARROWSOh, how fabulous.
BETSYYes, and I stayed in a beautiful B and B and I was there for a week. But I enjoyed your first book and I read it because I'd been to Guernsey. And I like to travel to different places and I had the opportunity, but your first book was wonderful. I can't wait for this second one.
BARROWSOh, thank you.
BETSYI had no idea of the history, even after spending a week on that small island, I had no idea of the history that it played in World War II.
BARROWSIt is a very little known story, especially in the United States, but it's -- that little island was quite a -- has quite a rich history.
BETSYIt does, and the other connection that I'm going to have to your next book is that my father lived in that -- grew up in that very small strip of Maryland between Pennsylvania and West Virginia and he tells the story of chasing a turkey through three states.
BARROWSIs that right? It doesn't -- you don't have to go very far to get through three states up there. That's so funny.
BETSYSo I really look forward to the next book, and you're a wonderful writer.
BETSYAnd I really appreciate it.
BARROWSThank you so much.
REHMThank you. All right, let's go to Paul in Evans, Ohio. You're on the air.
PAULOh, thank you, Ms. Rehm. I really love your program. I listen to it all the time.
PAULI was motivated to call this time, for the first time, by your guest. I'm really always on the lookout for new material to read. I'm a voracious reader, but I also wanted to comment about I feel that writing letters is becoming a lost, forgotten art. I write letters prolifically to all my friends. I don't get answers, but I still write them, because I enjoy doing so.
BARROWSGood for you.
PAULAnd I really can identify with the satisfaction that you get from writing letters and just the process of sitting down and doing that. So...
BARROWSAnd the pleasure you give to the recipient, too. You watch, even if you don't get answers, they keep them, I bet.
PAULI do get feedback when I run into my friends that I write to, and they all seem fairly positive about the letters I write. They look forward to them and, so it does make me feel good from that standpoint.
PAULBut I look forward to reading this book that you've been talking about because I do have an interest in history and I'd like to experience it from the standpoint of the little people that, you know, have stories to tell about things that happened in history. Things that we don't normally get in regular history books.
REHMThank you so much for calling, Paul. You know, one, let me just remind you, you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. And one of my favorite of the southern writers is Lee Smith, who wrote the most beautiful epistolary novel, "Fear and Tender Ladies."
BARROWSIt's a wonderful book.
REHMAnd if you as a listener have not read that book, I promise you, it's a joy to read. It's about Appalachia.
REHMAnd what the women in that area go through.
REHMDo you have a first reader, somebody who reads your drafts, even before they get to the editor.
BARROWSYes. My dear husband has read every version of this book.
REHMGood for him.
BARROWSBless his heart. And even when I was about ready to throw this book into the fireplace.
REHMCause this is no short read.
BARROWSAnd it used to be longer. It goes on and on. The dear, dear man has read every single page of every single draft and given me his opinion. And cared about it the whole time.
REHMBut every single page is worth reading.
REHMThere's another little spot I'd like you to read, very quickly, and that is one of the letters. I think we chose the letter May 25, 1938.
BARROWSThis is where Layla is writing to her uncle, who has given her the assignment to go work on the, work in West Virginia.
REHMWithout any lenience, whatsoever.
BARROWSRight. Giving her, telling her forget it. She's got to do it. Dear Ben, let's pause for a moment and discuss this calmly, just the two of us without father's lash of fire cracking over our heads. Now Ben, I don't know what father's got on you, but it must be something pretty awful to bring you to the point of hiring me, and for the WPA, too. Have you killed someone? Even if you have, there must be a better way to expiate your crimes than putting me on the writer's project, which is nearly a crime in itself.
BARROWSI certainly understand that if father's twisting your arm, you have to give me some kind of job. I understand and I sympathize, but consider, father will be perfectly satisfied if you put me in a dainty little secretarial position, and so will I. Simply by offering me a temporary place in your office, you will meet father's requirements and your arm will be your own again. There's no need to go to extremes. I refer to West Virginia. Sending me to West Virginia is extreme, not to mention ostentatious, toadying, and mean.
BARROWSYesterday afternoon, after I had got over my first shock at your letter, I betook myself to the library to read up on the writer's project. You see, I do know where the library is. And I discovered that your arguments in favor of West Virginia's state flower, the rhododendron, are completely erroneous. Yes, I was born in Washington, D.C., but it's ridiculous to say that I am obliged to work in the state closest to my birthplace. You made that up. You know you did.
BARROWSDo you know the motto of West Virginia? It's Montane Semper Libre, Mountaineers Are Always Free. Need I say more? Do you and father think that by packing me off to the mountain state, you will turn me into a fresh faced, wholesome girl in ankle socks, bounding over the rocky heights? You're mad. You'll drive me to drink, and in West Virginia, the drink is probably moonshine, which will rot my entrails and make me blind.
REHMAnnie Barrows. She is the author of "The Truth According to Us." Annie Barrows, what a pleasure to talk with you.
BARROWSI had a great time. Thank you so much.
REHMAnd thanks all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.