Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | January 13, 2011

Interview with Tom Temple, Author of “Cheese Grits, Stories to Nourish the Southern Soul

I’m pleased to welcome a fellow Deep South Southerner to the blog. I’ve read, and thoroughly enjoyed, his book. I recommend it to Southerners because, throughout the book, you’ll be warmed by the reminiscences and picture your own youth. For those who didn’t grow up in the South, reading this book will immerse you in a time and place to help you understand your brothers and sisters from the South.

(Note: since we are both named Tom, I’ll be T. and my guest, Tom Temple, will be TT.)

T. What is the name of your book and genre


TT. Cheese Grits, Stories to Nourish the Southern Soul. Fiction.

T. What is it about?


TT. Set in Atlanta in the 1950s and 60s, Cheese Grits presents stories about growing up in those complex times. The thirty chapters of the book span a period from 1948 until 1968.
The unique aspect of this book is that historic events of the times (Sputnik and the space race, Cuban Missile Crisis, Assassination of President Kennedy, volatile racial relations, and the growing specter of Vietnam) are presented through the eyes of the children and teens that were, in many cases, profoundly affected by them.

T. Where will it be available?

TT. The book is currently available in paperback, hardbound and e-book formats from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Sony Library on line, Diesel.com, Smashwords.com and other online retailers.

T. What inspired you to write this book?

TT. Growing up in the south is a magical experience with adventure around every corner. Growing up in an urban setting during the turbulent 50s and 60s provided a wealth of life—forming experiences. While the book is set in the south, the stories are universal and particularly applicable to the sixty-eight million baby boomers. As boomers transition into life as a “senior”, many are looking back at the journey that brought them to their current point. Cheese Grits is, in many ways, a roadmap of that journey.
Humorous yet poignant, Cheese Grits will jog the memories of many who read it. One reviewer indicated that they wanted their grandkids to read the book just to get a feeling for the world their grandparents grew up in.

T. How did you choose the title?


TT. While I spent most of my adult life in the western United States, I am a southern boy at the core. For the book, I wanted a title that reflected the southern orientation of the book, but also the warm, casual comfort of the contents. I think Cheese Grits, Stories to Nourish the Southern Soul effectively captures the spirit I was seeking.

T. Who is your favorite character in your novel, and why?


TT. That is a difficult question when talking about a book that is so personal. Obviously, the mother in the early stories ranks very high. At the same time “Chris” the Huck Finn character in the later chapters is memorable and admirable. In the end, I love all the characters in the book, although for different reasons.

T. Who are the ideal readers for your book?


TT. Without question, baby-boomers are the best audience. They were children growing up in these times and experienced many of the events detailed in the book. Most of them will never forget where they were when the assassination of President Kennedy was announced, or looking up into the night sky and seeing a tiny speck of light crossing the sky and realizing for the first time that space travel was really possible.

T. What are the publicity plans you have coming up?


TT. Press releases have been sent to many southern newspapers in Atlanta and surrounding counties. Online reviews have been very positive and helpful at generating interest. Once Barnes and Noble catalogues the paperback I will begin promoting book signings at their Atlanta and Clayton County stores.

T. Did you learn anything from writing this book?


TT. I learned that getting a story drafted is only the beginning. Editing and massaging the story is the real work.

T. Where can readers learn more about your book?


TT. I’ve created a web site for the book at http://www.cheesegritsbook.com which includes a reader’s forum where readers can make comments on the book or share memories of their own.

T. Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?


TT. I’ve begun collecting stories for another book “More Cheese Please”? Some of the characters from the first book have contacted me and want to contribute. I’m thinking of picking up the story where Cheese Grits ended (1968) and covering events in the late 60s and 70s.

T. Tell us something about yourself. (Where are you from, what is your background, how long have you been writing and anything else we might find interesting about you.)
TT. I was born in Cedartown, Georgia, a small mill town about sixty miles north of Atlanta. Our family moved to Atlanta before my first birthday and I spent my first fourteen years in the city before moving to a semi-rural town just south of the city.
I left the south for career reasons in 1978 and spent the next thirty years living in California and Arizona. I earned my master’s degree in business management and worked for global companies such as Nissan, Yamaha, and Austin Rover in England.
In 2005, an opportunity to return to the south arose and I jumped at it. My wife and I now reside in Nashville, Tennessee and visit my mom in Atlanta often.

T. What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Favorite book? Why?


TT. Like many writers, I will read almost anything. I love action-adventure fiction as well as well written historic non-fiction. My favor fiction writer continues to be Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide) and David McCullough for non-fiction. I admire Adam’s ability to tie up the tongue with a grammatically correct sentence and McCollough’s ability to bring seeming dry historic events to vivid life. I think my favorite book has to be John Adams by David McCullough. It is fascinating to see that John Adams, as well as his wife Abigail, were fully cognizant of the fact that everything they were writing to one another would be a part of history and read by generations to come.

T. What is your guilty pleasure read you turn to for sheer entertainment value (book, particular author)?


TT. Guilty pleasure? I guess Clive Cussler adventures. I’ve read them all and fully realize that many of the books are a rehash of a prior story, but I don’t care. Dirk Pitt is just a cool dude, even in his golden years.

T. When did you start writing?


TT. I did extensive writing and development of training manuals at various times throughout my career. I was fortunate to receive some good post-graduate training in writing.
I began seriously writing around 2003 when I began to create a massive reference book for accurate, period-correct restoration of Antique American Clocks. I loved the research as well as the adventure of recreating original techniques. The final book, titled Extreme Restoration is over seven-hundred pages long and has over 2,200 color photos. Obviously, it has a limited audience, but clock restorers world-wide have purchased the book and commented on its completeness.

T. Was there a favorite writing teacher or mentor?


TT. Writing teacher? No. Mentor or support—definitely. I met several fellow writers on-line who provided encouragement and suggestions all along the way.

T. Name one fun/weird/frightening fact about you that we don’t already know.


TT. In my wild youth, I was a fanatical motorcycle racer. Between the age of around nineteen and twenty-seven, I raced anything with wheels—motocross, grand prix road racers, anything that went fast and turned hard. Great fun, but it does take a toll on the bones.

T. Where can readers learn more about you?


TT. Visit http://www.Cheesegritsbook.com or http://www.xrestore.com or http://www.timespastpublishing.com or drop me a line at tom.cheesegrits@yahoo.com

T.How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?


TT. I’ve enjoyed writing since my first years of high school where I got myself into a bit of a bind with a teacher over a short story I wrote. I actually started to work toward quality writing during a job as a training course writer. It involved writing the course design as well as any reference books. Over a two year period, I and one other writer created over eight hundred pages of new text. I learned a lot from that experience.

T. What sorts of things inspire you as a writer?


TT. I guess, like a lot of other writers, I am inspired the events around me and the effect they have on who we are.

T. How do you approach a story? Do you start with outlines or something else? Planner or pantster?

TT. I usually have a basic idea of the story I want to tell, but that is only a stick-man. It takes a while to flesh out the actual story to the point that it is complete and potentially interesting to readers.

T. Where do you work when writing? What is your ideal creative environment?


TT. I think the most useful work environment for me is behind a windshield, driving. It is a time when I can spend several hours in uninterrupted thought.

T. When do you write (morning, night)?


TT. I can’t write in the morning. I have to work through the day then sit down in the evening and let thoughts go onto paper.

T. Do you have any writing rituals?


TT. The only thing that might be called a ritual is that as I’ve matured, I’ve learned that if an idea or scene isn’t working, let it be for a while. I call it Fresh Air and Sunshine. Give an idea some time and it usually will work itself out.

T. How do you come up with the names for your characters?


TT. Mostly, the names in my book(s) are the first names of childhood friends that shared the experience I’m writing about.

T. Is writing your main creative outlet, or do you have other talents/creative pursuits?


TT. Throughout my life, I’ve gotten into a lot of topics. For a while, I was deeply into computer programming and took a number of college courses just to learn. I then became deeply involved in the collection and restoration of antique American clocks. I tend to “go deep” whenever I get involved in anything.

T. Do you ever get writers’ block? How do you tackle it?


TT. I get periodic mental-fatigue from trying to force a story to come together, but no real block.

T. What’s the most personally challenging aspect of writing?


TT. Resisting the urge to over-explain the story. I continually struggle to trust the reader’s intelligence. I think it’s a common problem and the Acronym is R.U.E (resist the urge to explain).

T. What is the best advice you can give other writers about writing?


TT. Be open to input and advice from other writers.

T.What genres do you write in? Why?


TT. I’ve written both fiction and non-fiction. I like both.

T. Tell us your “story of getting published.”


TT. My first book, Extreme Restoration, was massive and had so many color photographs that, with its limited audience, I knew that traditional publication just wasn’t practical. In paper, the production cost would have been almost $100 per unit. Electronic was the only reasonable approach.
Then, with the turmoil in the publishing industry, I found that publishers were not interested in a book with such limited appeal. In the end, I decided to produce and market the book myself. I created a web site for the book then carefully managed the site’s search status, eventually achieving the #1 search result under “clock restoration”. That, plus a series of how-to articles published in the leading journal for clock collecting got the book off to a great start with global demand.
When Cheese Grits was nearing completion, I submitted queries to a number of publishers, but found limited interest. I realized that the publishing industry is currently under a great deal of pressure and generally aren’t willing to invest in a new, unknown author. Looking at the state of the industry and economy, I fully understand the caution.

T. Did you learn anything from publishing this book? What?


TT. I found final editing to be extremely difficult. At some point, the author is no longer able to objectively read the text and spot errors and inconsistencies. A reliable outside group or readers/editors is essential.

T. If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?


TT. Probably do more overall planning of the book’s direction and key points.

T. What is the best advice you could give other writers about publishing?
TT. Make sure you have a quality, fully edited product before you approach a publisher. That will require a lot of effort and help from others.

T. What are your ideas about the future of digital publishing?


TT. Digital publishing is here to stay. It reduces the risk of publishing a new author and allows content to be delivered to readers at a fraction of the cost of paper books.

T. Thanks for the interview.

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Responses

  1. While I am not one of the characters in Cheese Grits, I do know some of them personally. Tom has put together an acccurate account of many of our shared high school experiences. His Huck Finn character, Chris, is based on true stories. Chris really did this stuff–the timeline just may be compressed in some cases. I recommend anyone who enjoys Lewis Grizzard’s writing read Tom Temple’s latest book.

    Vince Jackson

  2. Hey Vince and Tommy,
    I’m from the Left Coast and meet your friend Chris (the Kingfish), in the North Cascades (E. of Seattle) in 1970, (…with our own high-jinx!!).

    Well, guess what? I am on the phone with him right now and he says I need to read of these early shenanigans! Right now he’s telling me about Vince’s love of Blues music. Man, what a hoot! I guess I’d better get your book, Tommy.

    Have fun, from the middle of Oregon.
    Steve Miller


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