On the Road Again Author Travels Many Miles to Visit Fans of Miss Julia
BY KAY GRISMER
Special to The Pilot
Miss Julia Springer Murdoch, heroine of the "Miss Julia" series, has been called many things: "Aging Pallas Athena of Spunkiness," "Endearing Dixie Doyenne of Decorum," "Paragon of Outdated Correctness," "Southern Force of Nature."
But only one word is needed to describe her creator, North Carolina author Ann B. Ross. And that word is "amazing."
Ross grew up near Atlanta, worked as a nurse, married, raised three children, wrote two murder mysteries, returned to college for a bachelor's' degree in English literature at UNC Asheville, transferred to UNC-Chapel Hill for her master's and doctorate degrees, taught literature at UNC Asheville, wrote another novel, took 10 years off, welcomed six grandchildren into her family, and then - and THEN - wrote the first Miss Julia novel, "Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind," in 1999.
For three to four hours every morning until her fingers get too tired to hit the right keys, seven days a week, for the six or seven months it takes her to write a 400-page manuscript, Ross sits at her computer and creates another madcap adventure for Miss Julia and her friends and neighbors in the fictional North Carolina town of Abbottsville.
Then, when the book is published in the spring, Ross, who doesn't fly, leaves her home in Hendersonville and takes to the road, driving herself almost 3,000 miles in less than six weeks, crisscrossing the South to meet her fans and to share the latest installment in her beloved series.
And she's been doing this for every "Miss Julia" book for the past 11 years.
"It's great to get up and have something to do, at my age," Ross says, which, she admits, is "right up there."
The author loves meeting her fans, but, she says, the only way she could accept the hundreds of requests she gets for personal appearances is if she stopped writing and did nothing but travel.
"The days are so full when I'm on tour that I can't write at all, other than occasionally jotting down an idea that occurs to me," she says. "Then it takes me awhile to get back into the story and into the routine."
Even though she's away from writing for an extended period, meeting loyal readers is worth it.
"It's a thrill to walk into a store and see a crowd of people waiting, especially since I'm always afraid no one will be there," she says. "The most moving and treasured moments have been when readers have told me how much Miss Julia has meant to them. One woman's daughters buried her with one of my books in her casket; people getting chemotherapy take them to treatment centers with them; recent widows have thanked me for lifting their spirits; and seminary professors have used the books to instruct students on what not to do."
Ross began this year's tour for the 11th and newest book in the series, "Miss Julia Renews Her Vows," in hardcover, and "Miss Julia Delivers the Goods," now in paperback, with a launch party in Hendersonville on April 6. With her "trusty GPS" to guide her, she spent the next 21 days on the road, stopping in 15 cities in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina.
Her last stop before she goes home will be here in Southern Pines, Tuesday, April 27, at 2 p.m. when The Country Bookshop and Penick Village co-host the author for the second year in a row.
"Ann's visit last year was the first time we partnered with Penick Village for an author event," says Bonnie Johnson, manager of the 57-year-old independent bookshop on Broad Street. "Everyone had an absolutely wonderful time! We couldn't be happier that we're doing it again, and we are so grateful to Jeff Hutchins, CEO of Penick Village, for co-hosting Ann again this year."
Ross was equally pleased with her visit here, Johnson adds.
"She sent us this note after she returned home: 'Another great event at The Country Bookshop! I declare (as Miss Julia would say), I loved being there. The Penick Center was a perfect venue, and to see a packed house was a thrill for me. Not only that, the audience was wonderful - laughing at all the right places. Thank you so much for arranging such an outstanding event. The Country Bookshop remains one of my favorite places to go.'"
The Ann B. Ross Meet the Author event will be held in the lounge in the South Building at Penick Village, a continuing care retirement community located at East Rhode Island and Ridge Road in Southern Pines. Because major additions to the campus - the Garden Cottage, home to 10 assisted-living residents, a three-story apartment building and a two-story Village House - are making parking difficult, Penick is providing valet service for the event.
Seating is limited, and reservations are advised. Call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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