Like most people, I don’t really like talking about myself, so I always find a way to explain myself by talking about my writing. I am a seventy-one year old Florida Cracker, a real one. My daddy herded cattle through the swamp cracking a whip when he was twelve years old, so that must qualify me as the real thing. I love my Southern heritage, but I’m old enough to know everything about my heritage isn’t as I would like it to be. I try through my books to explain life as I see it with the hope that some of my readers might come to see their own hearts more clearly. I stand up for what I see as right even when it gets me in hot water, which it definitely does sometimes.
Q: Who is the real Corinda Pitts Marsh?
A: I suppose I am just an old hippie who still believes in right and wrong and sometimes likes rubbing people the wrong way if I think they need rubbing. I am a grandmother of three perfect grandsons and one amazing granddaughter. That’s the real heart of me.
Q: More than several decades ago you went back to college at the age of 44 and then went on to study literature emerging with a doctorate. What made you go back to college at that age, and what life changing experience was it for you embarking on this new path?
A: I had been a cosmetologist for 20 years and had injured my shoulder so I could no longer do that, so I decided it was time to return to college. I went to college one year when I graduated from high school, but I knew everything then, so I more or less flunked out. When I finally decided it was time to learn, I managed to graduate from the University of Central Florida Suma Cum Laude with a BA in English. I loved the experience so much I decide I wanted to be one of those professors who got to talk about literature every day. That decision was one of the best I ever made. I loved every minute of it (with the possible exception of taking French and Italian—that was horrifying, but I survived thanks to an old professor who took pity on me). Teaching literature taught me more about the books than I ever learned from classes, so it was natural for me to start writing when I retired.
Q: You were raised in the deep South. How has that influenced how and what you write?
A: My Southern heritage influences every word I write. Being a Southerner is so much more than most people realize. Southern women are strong, independent women who do what needs to be done—whatever that is. Most of my stories are wrapped around that heritage. I like to develop characters and use my “language” to recreate the things I know. I think it was Thomas Wolfe who said we can only write what we know. I stick to that.
Q: You have written several books, mostly historical fiction. While doing so, you have formed a special bond with fellow author, Olafur Gunnarsson spanning more than 20 years. Tell us how you first met, and the part he has played in shaping your stories.
A: I owe my writing to Oli. He loves Thomas Wolfe’s stories, and my dissertation was about Wolfe and his affair with Aline Bernstein, so when I answered a student’s question on the Wolfe website, Oli saw it and the rest is history. He challenged me to write a story about the Civil War and to take the persona of a male character, preferably one very different from myself. That character is still my favourite. That book has been my best seller and has enjoyed a relatively long life of popularity. Oli has mentored me and encouraged me when I wanted to surrender to self-doubt. He demanded that I write every time I wanted to quit.
Q: Your husband has also been hugely influential in why you write. Tell us about the part he has played in you being the writer you are today.
A: Oh, where to begin? Gary promised me when we got married that he would make the living if I would make the living worthwhile. We’ve been in that mode for quite some time now. He convinced me to retire, which was not an easy task. One must have tremendous faith to give up a career, but I did and I started writing, but I met failure everywhere I turned. I must have contacted more than 100 agents and publishers in an effort to get someone to publish my work. I could wallpaper my house with all the rejection letters. Gary has read the Wall Street Journal for maybe 50 years, so he handed me an article one day and insisted I read it. It was about Amazon Createspace. I saw my avenue. That is what led directly to my movie contract. The producer who is going to make my movie bought my book on Amazon and loved it. Without Createspace that would never have happened.
Q: Do your stories spring from what you uncover via your research or do you have a kernel of an idea, and then venture off into doing the research?
A: I usually have the idea first then look for the research. I knew I wanted to write a Civil War story that involved two women, one black and one white, so I looked for a battle that took place near my home. That became the story. I had an imaginary playmate when I was three years old, so some things never change. I become friends with my characters and they write the stories.
Q: You do not shy away from thorny historical societal issues that many Americans would rather forget; lynchings in Secrets of the South: The Ghost of Blackwater Creek, race riots and segregation in Holocaust in the Homeland: Black Wall Street’s Last Days, and slavery in Behind the Tupelo Tree: Secrets of the South. What motivated you to speak out against issues that many have tried to sweep under the proverbial carpet?
A: I don’t think we can get past those things unless we talk about them. My most controversial book isn’t even about race, but that issue is one that haunts me. It hurts me to see someone treated badly because of skin pigment, but I hate injustice anywhere I see it. My most controversial book tells about a cheating scandal I learned about when I was teaching at the local community college. I was forced to keep silent, so twenty years later, when no one had a leash on me, I told it. That book has never gone anywhere because I don’t promote it, but if it ever does, I’ll probably be in some deep poo, not that I’m afraid of a little poo.
Q: Out of all your books written to date, which character is your favorite and why?
A: Big Earl, hands down! Earl has my heart. He is the character Oli encouraged me to create. He is six feet six inches tall and weighs nearly 300 pounds. He’s a slave who winds up killing the bad guy. He did my dirty work for me. He’s loyal to his family and afraid of nothing.
Q: This week in the Author’s Resource Group you announced that you had been approached by a third party who would like to buy the film rights to Holocaust in the Homeland: Black Wall Street’s Last Days, possibly also Behind the Tupelo Tree: Secrets of the South. This is a wonderful opportunity and sincere congratulations! Tell us more about your first contact with Mark Holder of Zero Gravity Management , how things are progressing and the actors lined up for the various parts.
A: I have the contract in hand and will most likely sign it next week. My attorney is looking it over, but I don’t see any hitches. Mark wanted to do a movie on the Black Wall Street riot in 1921, so he began to research the available books on the topic. He chose my book. I told the story through the eyes of a fictional newspaper reporter, so it lends itself well to a movie. When I write, I always try to see the story as if it is a movie. That helps me to describe the characters and the scene, so I think that must have been what Mark saw. The movie will be directed by Tim Story, and it is my understanding that Idris Elba will star in it. This is a sad story, but people need to know about it. We are repeating some of the same mistakes today, so I hope the movie will help us to realize what we are doing. Mark has been fabulous to work with. He is very personable and easy to talk to, so I look forward very much to working with him. He intends to start the movie as soon as possible. I understand the screenwriter will be working on it as soon as I sign on the dotted line, and Mark has asked me to collaborate with him. I love a new challenge, so this is really exciting to me.
Q: What are you writing about at the moment or is all the excitement of the film preventing you from cracking on with the next one?
A: I always have a story cooking in my head, and this time I am seeing a Southern country girl named Jolene. She’s a mess. That’s about as far as I’ve gotten. I just finished a novel last week, and I promised myself I would rest before I start a new novel, but Jolene is calling. I just finished Finding Ann, a novel about a woman who lived with an abusive husband for more than four decades. This story was stimulated by something that happened to a relative. I wanted to shoot her husband when I heard her story, but since I don’t look good in orange, I decided to write about him and kill him in the story. I shot him point blank in the chest with a .357 magnum! Now I feel better, and I don’t have to wear an orange jumpsuit. Unfortunately, the real man is still alive and well, but that was the best I could do to get even.