- Published: 10 March 2010 10 March 2010
Leila Meacham: Reinventing the Epic Saga
A conversation with Jackie K. Cooper
When you read Leila Meacham’s best selling novel Roses it is a little like stepping back in time. This seventy-one year old retired school teacher writes in the style and manner of an Edna Ferber or a Margaret Mitchell, but there is nothing old fashioned or out dated about the content of her book. She just writes a story that can best be classified as a sweeping saga that crosses several generations in relating the stories of a Texas family. It is a style we have not seen lately but it suits her and her story telling abilities.
When I contacted Leila Meacham and established a time for our interview she e-mailed me she would be waiting and she would have the coffee on. That’s the kind of warm and informal person she is. When I did get her on the phone I felt that we had been talking for years and it seemed she and I were sitting at a kitchen table drinking coffee and having a wonderful conversation.
The first thing I asked was whether or not Roses was her first book. At first she said yes but then she amended that to say she had written three romance novels. “It was back in the mid-80’s and a friend bet me I could write one of those novels and I bet her I couldn’t. Well I lost that bet as Walker and Company bought the first one and signed me to a three book contract. I had to buy my friend an expensive steak dinner,” she said with a laugh.
“Once I finished those three books I was through with writing. I don’t like deadlines. It is like being forced to write something,” she added. “It wasn’t until after I retired from teaching that I began a draft of Roses.”
Leila and her husband live in San Antonio and she taught high school English for twenty years. “I wasn’t born in Texas,” she admitted, “but I got her just as quickly as I could. I love living in the south and think southerners and especially southern writers are wonderful.” This could be why she mentions Carson McCullers and Edna Ferber as two of her favorite authors.
She is also an admirer of Daniel Silva. “His books have such a great narrative to them,” she confided. “You know publishers don’t like for books to have too much of a narrative in them but he does it and is successful with it.”
Leila Meacham feels she was truly inspired to write Roses. A strong Christian, she states it was up to her to write the book and God did the rest. How else to explain the way she landed famed literary agent David McCormick as her agent. “I was at a luncheon,” she explained, “and a good friend of mine asked if I was through with my book. I told her I was. A few days later she told me her niece was married to the agent David McCormick and that he had agreed to take a look at a synopsis of my story.
I didn’t even have a synopsis at that time so I sat down and wrote one and again it was inspired. I sent it to him and he wrote back and asked to see the manuscript, which he later agreed to represent. He sent it out and told me that five publishers wanted it. It ended up with Grand Central Publishing who have been wonderful to me and the book. They have done a great job with publicity and everything else.”
Generally stories about getting a book published are not this simple. Leila knows this and seems truly in awe of how easy it has been. “David has been amazing to work with. He is willing to wait for the next book without pushing me to finish it. It is going to be another saga, probably around six hundred pages. I could never be one of those authors who just turns out one book after another in order to meet a deadline. I have to write and think and mull over my story. If I need to spend an hour getting the right word then that is what I will spend,” she said with firmness in her voice.
“I am hard on myself and I will drive myself to get things done, but I don’t want to have to deal with deadlines. I do my own research and when I write something I know when it is right,” she concluded.
“It is amazing how the characters will lead me in the right way to tell their story,” she continued. “They just take control and the story will just flow through you. That is when you know you are getting it right.”
When I ask if there will be a movie or mini-series of Roses Leila informs me there is interest. “David tells me there a lot of people interested but you never know about these things. Everyone has an opinion as to who should play Mary and Percy and Rachel. But who knows?”
As we ended our conversation Leila shared a story with me about a person who had read the book – twice. He told her the first time he read it, it was good but not great. Then he decided to read it again and this time he realized why it is considered to be a great story and novel. He explained that the first time he rushed through it just to learn the secrets of the plot. The second time he read it for the characters. He claimed it was like reading another book. The secret, he told her, is you have to stop and smell the Roses.
And that is the secret of Leila Meacham’s grand success with this epic novel. It is a book filed with living, breathing characters who give the book more than just a plot, they give it atmosphere. ---JKC
Jackie K. Cooper was born in South Carolina and now lives in Georgia. He is the married father of two sons and the proud grandparent of a boy and two girls. His latest collection of stories is titled THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS which was also published by Mercer University Press.