After reading Professor Nana’s review, I was itchin’ to get my hands on R. A. Nelson’s newest release, DAYS OF LITTLE TEXAS. I was curious to see how Little Texas’s story intersects with my own, and when I saw this plot summary, yea verily, I was hooked.
Welcome, all ye faithful—and otherwise—to a ghost story, a romance, and a reckoning unlike anything you’ve read before. Acclaimed YA author R. A. Nelson delivers a tantalizing tale set in the environs of the evangelical revival circuit and centered around Ronald Earl, who at ten became the electrifying “boy wonder” preacher known as Little Texas. Now sixteen, though the faithful still come and roar with praise and devotion, Ronald Earl is beginning to have doubts that he is worthy of and can continue his calling. Doubts that only intensify when his faith and life are tested by a mysterious girl who he was supposed to have healed, but who is now showing up at the fringe of every stop on the circuit. Is she merely devoted, or is she haunting him? Fascinating and original, this is an unusual story whose reverb will be deeply felt and which will inspire lively book discussion.
What inspired Russ to write this story?
Enquiring minds I wanted to know. In this first segment of our two-part interview, Russ recalls ghosts of the past, his favorite scenes from the novel, and the Southern-style suppers he shared with his grandmother. We even talk about Heaven!
I understand you were born and raised in the Bible Belt. So tell me, is it really true that you can see Heaven from your front porch?
Ha! Probably depends on what direction you are looking in! Lots of greenery, which to me always feels like a little bit of Heaven.
Do your personal roots influence in any way the themes of DAYS OF LITTLE TEXAS?
Well, probably only in a general sense. I never really followed the revivalist circuit, but have always been fascinated with the showmanship and the way preachers could take a small bit of scripture and embroider it into long, convoluted stories and interpretations. I consider myself a very spiritual person, but more along the lines of Emily Dickinson rather than Billy Graham.
Speaking as someone who’s attended countless revival meetings, I believe you’ve done a remarkable job of capturing their essence. What kind of research did you do while writing this book?
I guess a certain amount came from preachers I had been exposed to. Though really I think I was just fascinated with the way it feels almost like improvisation. I think a good stem-winding preacher is a lot like a writer in many respects. There is a lot of creativity at work there, and the ones who fascinate me the most are the true believers. I can understand the pull of the stage…that sense of giving yourself over creatively to an audience. I’ve always thought it would be a lot of fun, and I bet I could adlib well enough to pull it off if I ever wanted to try. Because I’ve always been pretty much a true believer myself. Not so much in an organized way, but in the overall goodness of the universe.
I’m curious to know how it came about that you wrote this as a contemporary story, and why you then reached back into history and chose slavery as an issue, rather than civil rights.
I have always been fascinated by history and certainly know more of the specifics of the Civil War period than I do about the civil rights period. Growing up it always felt like anything after World War II just wasn’t “old” enough to be interesting to me as history. Also, I’ve always been enthralled with old plantation ruins you find here and there around the south.
Imagine you’re having Little Texas over for dinner next Sunday. What’s on the menu, and who else will you invite to your gathering?
Wow, that’s a tough one. I would imagine Little Texas would love the kind of food my grandmother Doris used to serve up: things like mustard greens, cornbread, hash, etc. A real southern feast. So I would invite my grandmother because she always loved watching people eat.
What’s your favorite scene in this novel, and why?
Probably one of the scenes where Little Texas is terrified and Lucy is doing her best to communicate with him without scaring the life out of him. I loved working with a “ghost” – trying my best to bring a fresh take on a well-trampled genre. I loved the challenge of making Lucy feel “different,” otherworldly. Like the way she walked, gestured, spoke.
I love that Little Texas transcends the stereotypical characterizations of child evangelists. That said, I don’t think the cover portrays all the textures and themes of his story. Can you comment on how that artwork came about?
I love the cover as art, it’s really gorgeous, but I must admit I would have preferred a cover that emphasized the ghostly aspects of the book as well as the paranormal romance. Alas, writers generally are the last to know when it comes to things like covers. I do think it’s beautiful, though.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing this book?
Not sure how surprising this is, but it is a real challenge to make a ghost story feel “real.” My first two novels had no fantastical elements, so it was satisfying to stretch my skills and try to bring that same level of realism to a completely unrealistic subject. So much of the challenge went into how you have your characters react to ghostly happenings. I think in most books and movies, the characters accept the supernatural so readily, it doesn’t feel real. I think it would be an incredibly wrenching experience to actually communicate with a ghost – your whole world would be forever shifted and changed. And I wanted to reflect this in Little Texas.