The Paragraph Ranch
By Kay Ellington & Barbara Brannon
By Kay Ellington & Barbara Brannon
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Contact, social media, and sales links
www.facebook.com/ParagraphRanch refers to the writers’ retreat
Twitter: @ParagraphRanch www.twitter.com/ParagraphRanch
Every writer knows you can’t go home again. But that’s just what is required of West Texas expatriate Dee Bennett-Kaufmann when her mother is badly injured in a mysterious car accident.
Single-again “Dr. Dee” has never been on the "A-team" in her trendy East Coast MFA program. When a prestigious summer fellowship gives her the chance to finally finish her book, salvage her career, and spend some quality time with her college-age daughter, Dee’s certain her luck is about to change. Returning to care for her irascible, widowed mother threatens all of that.
With so much at stake, Dee engineers a series of unorthodox strategies and creative tradeoffs to keep her options in play—and despite herself finds friendship, love, and the power of words in the unlikeliest of places.
Kay Ellington, a native West Texan, has worked in newspapers from New York to California to the Carolinas—and back again to Texas.
Barbara Brannon formerly led the Publishing Laboratory at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, but got to Texas as soon as she could.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Kay: I have spent the greater part of three decades crisscrossing the country with the newspaper industry, but since returning to Texas I’ve been working on a variety of writing projects.
Barbara: Like Kay, I’ve also spent most of my career in publishing—but with me it’s been editing and publishing books. And like our Paragraph Ranch character Dr. Dee,
I taught for some years in a creative writing program.
When did you begin writing?
Barbara: For as long as I could hold a pencil. But until my collaboration with Kay on this novel, it’s been everything but fiction. I’ve published poetry, history, travel essays, reviews, even music.
Kay: In 2000, having passed forty, I wanted to do something in my life that I could leave as a legacy. Too often, our jobs have a way of disappearing in the seas of change—sort of like a beautiful sand castle that simply can’t last.
Have you ever been discouraged in regard to your writing ability and if so, how did you get past it and move forward?
Kay: Definitely! For every person who tears you down, eventually, someone will come along and build you up. Ultimately, you have to believe that you have something special worth pursuing.
Barbara: When I read authors I truly admire—Louise Erdrich, Larry McMurtry, Barbara Kingsolver come to mind—at first I feel I don’t even belong in the same profession with them. But then I get over it, and they inspire and motivate me.
What's your favorite thing about writing?
Barbara: I love capturing the world through the combination of language and imagination.
Kay: Characters in fiction get to do the kinds of outrageous acts that most of us only daydream about.
What is your writing style? Do you like to outline or just write as you go?
Kay and Barbara: Both. Barbara’s a plotter, and Kay is definitely a pantser (I know how to follow an outline—I’m just not crazy about spending precious creative time on process).
Do you have a favorite spot where you like to write?
Kay: My desk in my den, beside the window looking into the backyard.
Barbara: I write in my car (no, I’m not texting or typing!)—on long stretches of Texas highways alone, I think through scenes and characters.
What is something you've written that will never see the light of day?
Barbara: Some early confessional poems. I cringe.
Kay: Four or five novels.
What is your writer food?
Kay: Coffee, Diet Coke, and fruit.
Barbara: Chocolate! Oh, and a good Texas wine.
What's the hardest thing about writing for you?
Barbara: Finding time . . .
Kay: Punctuation and grammar.
What inspires you to write?
Kay: Well written books. Childhood memories. Ambition.
Barbara: An unscripted day. But I agree with Kay—great writing inspires my best efforts.
How many books have you written, and which is your favorite?
Both: To date we have one published novel, The Paragraph Ranch. But we’re working on the first sequel, and who knows—we might end up showing a preference for the new baby!
What are some of your favorite books?
Barbara: I’ve always been a fan of Tolkein, but these days I’m reading a lot of Texas classics: Elmer Kelton’s The Time It Never Rained; Goodbye to a River by John Graves. If I had to name one novel that’s been a lifelong influence, hands down it’s Gone with the Wind (hey, I grew up ten miles from Tara).
Kay: A Moveable Feast; Watership Down; The Jungle; Animal Farm; A Prayer for Owen Meany; Bel Canto.
What authors do you like to read?
Both: Ann Patchett. Barbara Kingsolver. Anne Lamott. Larry McMurtry. Gillian Flynn. Wendy Wax. Meg Wolitzer. Fannie Flagg. Katherine Center. Elizabeth Gilbert. Leila Meacham.
What inspired you to write The Paragraph Ranch?
Kay: After ten years of struggling to become a published author, I decided to write what I knew—the life of a struggling writer, the ridiculously long odds that we all face, and the absolute serenity that we experience as writers and readers when it all goes right.
Barbara: I joined the project as a beta reader—but stuck around to write the scenes about guns, liquor, and dogs.
If you could choose a dream cast for The Paragraph Ranch, who would you pick?
Here’s our all-star lineup, with as many Texas connections as we can muster.
Dee Bennett: Carolyn McCormick
Mama: Meryl Streep
Penny Bennett Monroe: Sandra Bullock
Buddy Bennett: Kyle Chandler (star of TV’s Friday Night Lights)
Abby: Mackenzie Lintz
Max Miller: Dennis Quaid
Teresa Rivera: Selena Gomez
Buck Turlock: Powers Boothe (who hails from Kay’s Texas hometown)
Ruby Lee Bennett Bargeron: Reba McEntire
Wendell Grover: Tommy Lee Jones
Margaret Strickland: Sissy Spacek
J. D. Sandifer: Lee Horsley
Frances Echols: Mary Kay Place
Summer Jones: Summer Glau
JoAnn Rinehart: JoBeth Williams
Bo Bohannon: Randy Quaid
Trent McFarland: Matthew McConaughey
Can you say you relate to any of your characters? If so, which one and why?
Kay: I relate to Dee, the protagonist, who is sort of the Charlie Brown of writers everywhere (when the publishing establishment, like Lucy, continues to jerk the football away).
Barbara: We both relate to Dee, then, but for me it’s because she holds a high regard for rules and order. She’s a true believer.
This or that. THAT
Sweet or Salty? SWEET
Naughty or nice? NAUGHTY
Cats or dogs? CATS
Vanilla or chocolate? CHOCOLATE
If you were deserted on an island, which author would you want to be stranded with?
Kay: John Irving. As a former wrestler, he could do all the heavy lifting.
Barbara: Harper Lee. I’d ask her all the details about how she wrote that masterpiece.