Little Girl Struggles with Dysfunctional Family in 1960s South

An exclusive Authorlink interview

By Diane Slocum

February, 2017

The Education of Dixie Dupree
By Donna Everhart
(Kensington Publishing Corp)
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The Education of Dixie Dupree, Donna Everhart, Kensington Publishing Corp. – Eleven-year-old Dixie Dupree did not like being around Uncle Ray. He had a creepy way of getting too close to her. But that wasn’t the only problem. With her mom, dad and brother A.J., things had kind of been falling apart since she was eight, around the time she started lying. But she could tell the truth to her diary.

AUTHORLINK: Why did you open the book with a scene that is almost the end of the story?  

EVERHART: I wasn’t aware of the official term when I wrote what is now the first chapter, i.e., foreshadowing.  It’s a great tool – a lot of movies are done this way.  The opening scene where you, the viewer, witness a bit of the aftermath, and it creates the question in your mind – what happened?  You want to know how they ended up where they are, how they got there. 

“. . . when I think of all the iterations of this story now, it’s truly mind boggling. what I had just wasn’t working, for me. . .”

AUTHORLINK: Did you write it that way originally?

EVERHART:  I didn’t and when I think of all the iterations of this story now, it’s truly mind boggling.  At some point, during the many drafts, what I had just wasn’t working, for me anyway.  I read a lot and I think I realized what I had was rather weak.  I do recall the original first sentence.  It dealt with the fact Dixie fancied herself a good liar.  I started with that idea but concluded it wasn’t enough to pull readers into the story.  I needed something more. 

AUTHORLINK: How did you find Dixie’s voice? 

EVERHART: Dixie’s voice continues to be the most common feedback I receive about the book.  Even today, what sticks with me, is from the book’s earliest moments of development it was there.  I heard her so clearly in my head from the very beginning.  The first freelance editor who read an early draft said, “You have a voice.”  If anything, that voice grew stronger as the story developed.  I tried to make Dixie a bit humorous, to find balance and lighten up those heavier scenes.  I felt she needed what I’d call sass – not sassy per se, although she was that at times.  Mostly, I believe a strong character needs to have a strong voice. 

“Taking the original idea of this little girl who lies started breaking down into these questions in my head. Why is she lying?”

 AUTHORLINK: How did the story come together? 

EVERHART: Taking the original idea of this little girl who lies started breaking down into these questions in my head.  Why is she lying?  What is going on?  I played around with the idea she was doing it just because, just to make Mama mad or pay attention to her.  I could have done it that way, and it would have been a more lighthearted story, but not a story with any weight, so to speak.  That’s when I had to think long and hard about the very real and scary reasons kids lie.  The sad truth is, a lot of times, just like Dixie, it’s to hide what’s going on with their lives.  It became this narrative of very dark secrets, about how much can happen to a child, yet that child will not talk about it. 

AUTHORLINK: Did you plan how the characters would develop or did that happen as you wrote? 

EVERHART: For Dixie, she was really the only one sort of “there,” from the beginning.  I had her in my head long before the others.  Mama’s characteristics unfolded, like petals on a flower the more I engaged with her on the page, as did AJ, and the rest of them.  Some were easier than others.  Ruth Suggs, for example.  It was easy to create her.  Like many writers, I thought of encounters I’ve had with people, and I took tidbits of those experiences and used them, while embellishing, and adding extra fluff to create what I hoped were multi-layered, complex characters.  

AUTHORLINK: Did you know in advance the events such as what happens to Dixie’s father and the road trip? 

EVERHART: No, many of the scenes in the book came to me as I went along.  The thing is, I had the luxury back then (no agent, no publisher) of searching for the right scene.  I was more or less in discovery mode the entire time.  I’d take stuff out, write other situations in.  It was truly trial and error to figure out what would work. 

“What I began to think about was the fact I wrote things in my own diary I would never tell anyone.”

AUTHORLINK: When did idea of a diary come to you?

EVERHART:  I had a diary growing up, and it had a little key just like Dixie’s.  What I began to think about was the fact I wrote things in my own diary I would never tell anyone.  With what Dixie is going through, I felt she needed an outlet, a way to express her inner turmoil, her worries, her fears, all the things she felt she couldn’t tell.  But what was best of all, in my opinion anyway, was when I had an epiphany that her own mother should have one too.  And it would be the diaries themselves that would reveal the truths they were both too afraid to share.

AUTHORLINK: You live in North Carolina, why did you set the story in Alabama? 

EVERHART: A few months ago, I wrote a short piece about southern states having no borders.  Kensington, my publisher, used it on my page on their site as part of the promotion for my book.  What I wrote is that in the south, from one state to the next, if it weren’t for the “Welcome to…” you wouldn’t know you’d entered a different one.  This simply means the attitudes, the way of life, the countryside, none of it changes all that much just because you’ve gone from North Carolina to South Carolina to Georgia, and on and on.  The south in general brings an image to my mind, an instant visual of rural country roads, rustic fences around glorious open pastures and farmland, hot, humid weather, cold sweet tea, back porches, and of course, our particular pattern of speech.  I could have used North Carolina, but like with a lot of first time authors, I might have been a little paranoid my family would think I was writing about them. 

AUTHORLINK: What have you written before that helped you gain the skills to write a successful novel?  

EVERHART: I’m wondering if I should admit this.  Nothing.  The Education of Dixie Dupree was my proving ground.  The only writing I did before this novel were technical documents, and “how to” manuals for the IT department where I worked.  Any writers reading this should take encouragement from that.

“. . . my agent sent an email I didn’t see until the next morning.  The very first sentence, which I’ll never forget, “We have an offer . . .”

AUTHORLINK: How did the process of finding and working with a publisher go for you?   

EVERHART: Well, it took a while, but I was prepared for that.  When the book wasn’t picked up initially back in 2012, my agent and I discussed going out with a second book in 2013 – the one I’d written in a panic wondering if I could do it again.  It had only been a year since Dixie ’s submission though, so it was too soon for editors to see something else from Donna Everhart.  I chose to write another book, one my agent classified as “hard crime.”  It went on submission on Friday the 13th in February 2015.  My superstitious side tried not to think about that.  It was rejected fairly quickly by the editor I thought I stood the best chance with since he’d picked up other books submitted by my agent.  The good news though, he liked the writing and asked to see something else.  My agent sent him The Education of Dixie Dupree.  Late on April Fool’s Day (not kidding), my agent sent an email I didn’t see until the next morning.  The very first sentence, which I’ll never forget, “We have an offer on Dixie Dupree.”  I never imagined it would happen the way it did – after writing two other books.  Again, any writers reading this should take encouragement – it never works out the way you think it will.

“Sometimes a nudge is all it takes, but in my case, it was more like a shove.”

AUTHORLINK: How did you blend working in high tech project management with being creative at imagining people and their worlds? 

EVERHART: The catalyst for focusing on my writing occurred when my company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009.  I had about eighty pages of what would become this book for about ten years, and I would poke around in the ms off and on, then work would get crazy, and I wouldn’t touch it for a long time.  During the last three years, through 2012, as things were winding down for the company, it wasn’t hard to switch hats and go from thinking technically to opening the ms, and sinking into a scene.  It was more of an escape.  It’s hard to work in that sort of environment where all your co-workers are leaving, or being let go.  What I think about most often is, if the company hadn’t gone into Chapter 11, I believe I’d still be there, and I can’t say for sure this book would exist beyond those early pages.  Sometimes a nudge is all it takes, but in my case, it was more like a shove.   

AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?

EVERHART:  I’ve finished my next book which will be published in January, 2018, and is titled The Road to Bittersweet.  I loved writing it.  It too is a coming of age story, set in 1940 in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.  It tells the story of a family and two unique sisters who share an exceptional bond until the events following a flood force them all into unimaginable circumstances for survival, and where the younger sister learns to face and accept her sister’s differences.  Now that I’ve turned that in, I’m setting my sights on a brand-new book.  I’ve just finished the outline and a first chapter.  Set in eastern NC, in 1955, it’s about a cotton farming family, and an odd, reclusive neighbor who becomes entangled in their lives.

About the Author:

Donna Everhart grew up in Raleigh and continues to live in nearby Dunn. She has a B.S. in Business Management and specialized in project management and product introduction for high tech companies.  Her debut novel was a November 2016 Indie Next List selection.

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Diane Slocum
Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum

Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.