Jill Conner Browne has written two of the funniest books I have read. Mind you, I may be a tiny bit biased because I am a Sweet Potato Queen Wannabe. If you don't want to be a Wannabe after you read The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love and its sequel, God Save the Sweet Potato Queens, then I am without enough words of condolence for you. And you guys -- you will definitely want to be a Spud Stud.
Browne has gathered her Southern wisdom, and that of her fellow Sweet Potato Queens, all named Tammy, in chapters on men, marriage and life, but with none of the sticky sweet primness of a Southern Belle. Browne is, after all, the Sweet Potato Queen and Fabulous Woman. The chapters of her books have names like: "Divorce, Dating Again, and Revirgination" and "Sex, Fritos, and The Talking Vagina." There is advice on how to get any man to do your bidding in the form of the true magic words, the Promise, and there are recipes for those days when plain chocolate is not enough. She will make you want to laugh out loud and rush to Jackson, Mississippi, for the St. Patrick's Day parade, dressed in sequins and a big red wig. If none of this makes sense, read the books first and then write me. And remember the Sweet Potato Queen's words to live by: Be Particular.
I recently interviewed Browne via e-mail.
Janice A. Farringer: Your take on life is so uninhibited. Were you always like this or have you had a mid-life awakening? Or is it the wig? What would your mother say?
Jill Conner Browne: Let me just say that I have always been what you might call a "late-bloomer!" I learn slow but I learn good. At some point in my life though -- probably early 20s -- someone said to me that I should "always Do What You'll Wish You Had Done -- When You're 50" -- it really struck a chord with me and I'd say it was pretty life changing! Of course, now that I'm 48 -- I've had to bump the age up a bit -- now I try to do what I know I will wish I had done when I'm in the nursing home. The wig -- indeed, the whole costume thing -- does have a certain liberating quality to it -- I recommend it highly. You can just step outside yourself and become someone else for a little while, someone who doesn't have all the problems that you do -- it has really almost magical powers of healing and restoration. Play is vitally important to the quality of life in my opinion. My Mother lives with me! Her first reaction to my books was this: See the Old Woman purse her lips, frown and fold her arms, saying, with simultaneous disdain and resignation, "I just don't know why you have to talk like that!"
Now that the Sweet Potato Queens and their fans are a national --international, even -- phenomenon, see the Old Woman grinning broadly and telling everyone who gets within three feet of her, "My daughter is the Sweet Potato Queen!" All's well that ends well, after all!
What does your daughter say?
My daughter Bailey, or BoPeep as she appears in my books, has never known a world without the Sweet Potato Queens. She has always been the Tater Tot, riding in the back of the truck that pulled our float from the time she could sit up, and she's now the Boss Tot with her own convertible in the parade.
What kid wouldn't love that?
Surely you must have written other things before you published The Sweet Potato Queens' Book of Love. What is your writing background? We love to give folks the inside scoop on how writers got to be writers.
Before I published the Sweet Potato Queen's Book of Love, I had written for newspapers for a hundred years. I have had no formal training and the only real encouragement I got was from Nancy Graham, my seventh grade English teacher and Beth Jones, a dear friend who was also an English teacher although not one of mine. I come from a very funny family -- we all like to write and we all write just like we talk -- it's a laugh a minute around here, lemme tell you.
Given the calorie count of the recipes in your book, you must work out hard every day, even at six feet tall. What is your routine?
I love all the trashy food in my books -- but I don't eat it very often! I walk three to six miles and lift weights nearly every day. I dance with total abandon whenever possible. I do love to sweat!
I understand and relish every single Southern reference in your books, including the colloquialisms, speech patterns, social cues and references to funeral food. I know there are Wannabe Queens all over the country. Do they ever ask about these things or are they all displaced Southern women? In other words, can a Yankee be a Sweet Potato Queen?
I obviously write in a Southern voice on account of that's what I've got! But there are SPQ Wannabe's literally all over the world. We have been dee-lighted to find that we cross all lines -- age, gender, race, sexual orientation, you name it -- thereby proving that it is possible to please everyone at the same time! Anybody can be a Queen! We also have a large and ever-growing contingent of Spud Studs -- the men who adore us -- clearly the most fabulous men on the planet.
How are the other original Sweet Potato Queens dealing with celebrity?
How are the other Sweet Potato Queens dealing with celebrity? That is so funny! Have you seen them? Get within 40 feet of one of 'em with anything resembling a camera and see how they're dealing with it! They are completely happy. What's hilarious is that, from the very beginning, we all behaved on the float as if there were 10 million slavishly adoring fans out there before us -- when in actuality, there may have been like 30 or 40 people around -- but in our minds we were performing to the teeming masses -- which was the big joke we loved so much! So now, when we look around and they're really there... On the one hand, it's no different than it ever was in our minds -- but on the other hand -- it's even funnier now! It's truly an example of "if you build it, they will come!"
I understand there will be a Sweet Potato Queens cruise next year. What will be some of the planned activities on the ship?
The cruise we are taking is actually the Delbert McClinton Sandy Beaches Blues Cruise [www.delbert.com or 1-800-DELBERT]. It's a week of the most fabulous music ever in the history of the world and we've been saying for years that we were going and so now -- we are! Planned Activities? Have you read my books?! We plan to commence Not Doing Jack Shit as soon as we get on the ship and we will Not Do It as hard as we can all week long! We will dance -- wildly, all night long -- but other than that, we'll be prone and be having things brought to us, lest we have to lift a finger for ourselves.
We're just sick that we have to wait until January for it!
Writing humor is extraordinarily difficult. What would you tell aspiring writers about the rigors of this genre?
I can't not write humor, nothing in this world is easier for me. Algebra, now that's a hard thing -- therefore, I don't do Algebra! If writing humor is difficult for you -- it's because you're not funny -- write something else!
How many Sweet Potato Queens does it take to deliver the Promise?
How many Sweet Potato Queens does it take to deliver the Promise? I'm not sure I understand the question -- if you're asking me how many it takes to issue the Promise, the more the better, but one is certainly sufficient. If you're asking me how many it takes to actually Complete the Transaction, as it were -- more than one Queen would be lethal and probably felonious. | May 2001
Janice A. Farringer is a writer and creative writing teacher living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.