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Michelle Collins Anderson Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Michelle Collins Anderson

Michelle Collins Anderson

An interview with Michelle Collins Anderson

Q&A with Michelle Collins Anderson, author of The Flower Sisters

Tell us about yourself.

I was born in St. Louis but grew up on a registered Angus cattle farm just outside of West Plains, Missouri, where The Flower Sisters is set — although I renamed it "Possum Flats" in the novel. I went to the University of Missouri for a journalism degree and — like Daisy in The Flower Sisters — interned at my hometown paper where I wrote obituaries and photographed everything from weirdly shaped vegetables to prize heifers at the county fair. I spent a number of years writing and teaching advertising and marketing before switching my focus to creative writing. After my third child started kindergarten, I went back to school and graduated with an MFA in Fiction from Warren Wilson College in 2013. My husband, Clay, and I live in Liberty, Missouri, in a 133-year-old Victorian with a border collie and two sister cats, a tortoiseshell and a calico. We have three adult children, Benjamin, Levi and Vivian.

Give us a brief description of your novel.


The Flower Sisters is based on a real event that happened in my hometown of West Plains, Missouri. In 1928, there was a huge explosion at the town dance hall on a Friday night — the reverberations of which were felt 30 miles away. Thirty-nine people died and many others were wounded, most of them young people, and the reason for the blast was never discovered.

The novel is about Rose Flowers, an oddball female mortician, who lost her twin sister in the 1928 explosion and has always felt guilty that she had a full life while her sister's was cut short. Fast-forward to 1978, when Rose's estranged daughter drops her own child, Daisy, on Rose's doorstep for the summer. Daisy talks her way into a newspaper internship and uncovers the story of the explosion. In her zeal to find out about the heroes and happenings of that night, she interviews a lot of town "characters" — from the police chief and the post-mistress to the self-righteous preacher and the newspaper's photographer — and discovers that hardly anyone in this quiet little town is exactly who they seem to be. Daisy's "dirt digging" makes a bunch of Possum Flats citizens uncomfortable, unhappy or downright enraged. When the dust settles, however, the town realizes that reckoning with its ghosts leads to forgiveness, reconciliation… and even redemption.

Why did you write this book?


I grew up in this small town where a horrific human tragedy had occurred and yet I didn't find out about the dance hall explosion until about a dozen years ago. My grandfather was born in 1919 and lived in the area all his life, and his parents before him, yet he never mentioned it — nor did anyone else I knew! There is even a huge memorial tombstone marking the mass grave where the unidentified remains of many of the dead are buried in the local cemetery, and I never knew to look for it or heard a whisper about the blast.

I was fascinated to think how something of this magnitude could shake up a little town like mine. There were only 3,000 people in West Plains in 1928, which meant that everyone knew someone who died or was injured. Many of the dead were young people, the up-and-coming leaders of the town. And the fact that this happened during Prohibition in the heart of the Bible Belt meant that a lot of people felt that the young revelers had brought the wrath of God down upon themselves. The actual mystery of why the explosion happened was never solved, either. All of these elements made my "writer radar" go off! I just had to tell this story, so I renamed West Plains as "Possum Flats," and populated my beloved Ozarks hometown with people who were struggling mightily — even fifty years later — to live in aftermath of this terrible disaster. But even though the characters are made up, there are lots of sites in Possum Flats based on real places, from the Dog'n'Suds to Porter Wagoner Boulevard!

The ideas of identity and secrets are big themes of The Flower Sisters. Why did these appeal to you?


I remember when my middle son, Levi, was about eight years old and near tears one night at bedtime. When I asked him why he was sad, he said that "I only get to be me" for his whole life! How profound a realization! We only get one life, and we are constantly learning about ourselves and who we are, who we want to be and how we want to live in this world. In The Flower Sisters, I am asking if we can truly choose to be someone other than who we are — and by intentionally changing ourselves and our actions, how does that create a ripple effect on those we love and our greater community?

And let's face it: everyone loves a secret. The keeping, telling and withholding of secrets all combine to create great storytelling. In The Flower Sisters, there are some pretty big ones. By the end, though, the characters who tell the truth — or reconcile themselves to it — are able to come to terms with who they really are and what that means for the future. Whether that's Rose, an oddball female mortician who prefers conversations with the dead over the irritating living; Dash, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who preaches the Truth but doesn't always live it; or Daisy, a hippie teenager who just wants peace, love and to truly belong.

The Flower Sisters has a character who is a mortician. What about that specialty interests you?


Most of us share a slight aversion to death (!) and avoid it and related topics at all costs. But I honestly delighted in the details of what makes up a mortician's job, especially in the 1920s up through the 1970s, the time period covered by The Flower Sisters. Whether it was different styles of caskets — full couch or half couch — or a new means of keeping the deceased's eyes closed (spiky plastic eye caps!), a lot goes into getting a body ready for a funeral. But more importantly, I loved the idea of a female character (Rose Flowers) in a traditionally male profession and how she brings tenderness and compassion to her "clients" that she struggles to show to the living.

What is your favorite passage from the book?


I don't think I can share a favorite passage without spoilers… but let's just say I loved writing the all the different dance scenes in the book — from the Charleston to the Lindy Hop, from prologue to final chapter! Language is powerful, but music, movement and touch add a dimension to human lives that can convey feelings and emotions far beyond words. What a delight to try to capture on paper!

What books or authors inspire you?


Too many! But I love the small-town, imperfectly wonderful characters drawn with both humor and deep compassion by Kent Haruf in Plainsong or by Elizabeth Strout in Olive Kitteridge. I also love good Missouri stories by talented Missouri authors — whether literary, historical, humor or mystery/thriller — like Daniel Woodrell, Gillian Flynn, Jetta Carleton, John Williams, Evan S. Connell, Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder. More recent reads I've loved and learned from are Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, If I Survive You by Jeffrey Escoffery , Kindred by Octavia Butler and Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

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Books by this Author

Books by Michelle Collins Anderson at BookBrowse
The Flower Sisters jacket
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Read-Alikes

All the books below are recommended as read-alikes for Michelle Collins Anderson but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Alex George

    Alex George

    Alex George is a writer and a lawyer. He was born in London, England, but presently lives in the American Midwest.

    Alex was named as one of Britain's top ten "thirtysomething" novelists by the Times of London, and was also... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Flower Sisters

    Try:
    A Good American
    by Alex George

  • Matt Goldman

    Matt Goldman

    Matt Goldman is a playwright and Emmy Award–winning television writer for Seinfeld, Ellen, and other shows. He brings his signature storytelling abilities and light touch to his Nils Shapiro series, which begins with ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Flower Sisters

    Try:
    Carolina Moonset
    by Matt Goldman

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View all 4 Read-Alikes

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