Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Princeton Time Opinion

November 11, 2011

Interview with author shares stories behind the stories

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Last Thursday and Friday, Bluefield College played host to renowned author and former MSNBC gossip columnist Jeanette Walls.

I traveled to Bluefield to meet with her before she gave a presentation in Harmon Chapel at 10 a.m. I showed up to the Harmon Chapel after a struggle to locate the correct entrance that I needed to take.

After I found the right entrance, I was in sort of a pickle because  the road that has visitors’ parking on it ends in a cul-de-sac, and all of the visitor’s spots were taken. After I explained that I was with the Times, one of the security guards kindly provided me a spot.

After waiting around in the front of the chapel, Walls showed up and we went into the depths of the Chapel to conduct the interview. Apparently, this is where the Bluefield College music programs are because on the way down the steps, we listened to several different instruments playing.

Also, during the interview, I would occasionally hear a few different chords. This served to make me a little bit nervous. If you add the fact that it’s a little bit intimidating to interview someone who has reached the Major Leagues of journalism, I was pretty nervous.

My first question was just an overview of her books, of which there are three. They are “Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip,” “The Glass Castle,” and “Half Broke Horses: A True Life Novel.”

Walls responded, “Well, the first one we don’t talk about in polite company.”

Walls continued, “I was very ashamed of my past. I didn’t really want to write the book until I was going to a party, and I saw my mom sorting through the trash and living on the streets. So then I had to do it.”

“It” was Walls’ best-selling book, “The Glass Castle,” which chronicled her life with nomadic, free-spirited parents, who sometimes left their children to fend for themselves while the family embarked on artistic adventures. In the novel, the glass castle was a home her father dreamed of building when they lived in Welch, but the dream never materialized.

Walls worried how people would relate to her in the wake of her book, but she said she was “blown away” by the actual reaction to the book.

“The Glass Castle” has been read in several colleges nationwide because it allows for a discussion of some of the problems that her family faced, such as alcoholism.

Walls ended the discussion of the “The Glass Castle” with the biblical phrase and words of wisdom, “The truth will set you free.”

Even while she worked as a gossip writer, Walls said she had the sense, “There is always a story behind the story.”

Since she wrote her own autobiography, several of the people she once covered have read her books.

Walls also revealed that she is a “fast and sloppy writer.”

She said, “It took me six weeks to write a rough draft of “The Glass Castle” and five years to rewrite it.”

Walls also said “writers are in the business of emotion.”

“My hat’s off to fiction writers. I don’t know how they do it. I’ve always been drawn to non-fiction,” she said. “I am the nosiest human being on the planet.”

While “The Glass Castle” told Walls’ story through her eyes, the “Half Broke Horses” focuses on the story of Walls’ mother and her decision to live without a home.

“This is the greatest source of joy and opportunity that I’ve ever had,” Walls said. “You just take this thing that you don’t like about yourself and flip it over.”

Although she only lived in Welch for roughly seven years, from 1970 to 1977, Walls remembered that Bluefield was always “intimidating” because it was where the “rich people” came to get clothes.

After a few more minutes, I realized that it must be getting close to 10 a.m., so I end the interview, thank her for taking the time to talk with me and head back upstairs, say Goodbye and get in my car and head to the office.

All through out that day, I keep thinking about her words and her path in life. May we all be so lucky that the little embarrassments of family don’t stand in the way of our success or the telling of our stories.

Matt Christian is a Princeton Times reporter. Contact him at mchristian@ptonline.net.

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