An Interview with Stephen Roth, author of the novel A Plot for Pridemore
Mercer University Press couldn’t be prouder to announce the release of Stephen Roth’s first novel, A Plot for Pridemore. The 2012 winner of the Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction, this novel is a whirlwind of intrigue and shenanigans in a small Missouri town.
Stephen is a native of LaGrange, Georgia, and long-time journalist, and he stopped by the blog today to talk about his terrific foray into fiction.
1. Baby Alison and her rescue from a well inspires the mayor’s scheme to bring infamy to Pridemore. Did news stories similar to Baby Alison’s strike you when you were younger?
I have always been fascinated by news accounts of extraordinary things happening in ordinary places, and the effect that those stories have on people. The fictional Baby Alison story is inspired by the real-life Baby Jessica rescue that happened in 1987 in Midland, Texas. During the handful of days workers were trying to rescue Jessica McClure from the well, you could not go anywhere in my hometown of LaGrange, Georgia, without hearing people talking about it. I remember sitting at a high school football game on a Friday night and the PA announcer suddenly blurting, “Ladies and gentlemen, the little girl in Texas has been rescued from the well!” Of course, everyone stood up and cheered. That left an impression on me. Nobody in that stadium knew Baby Jessica or her family, but they were all pulling for her with all their heart.
2. The heart of the plot for A Plot for Pridemore is the decline in the American small town. In what ways is this topic significant to you?
I have had the good fortune to know a few small towns in my life. Some of
them have been more prosperous than others. I wasn’t thinking about the decline of American small towns when I wrote the book, but I thought the idea of a dying town and how to save it would be an interesting topic. I also love the setting of a small town—the slow pace, intimacy and the familiarity people have with each other. In a way, I feel that Pridemore itself is one of the more intriguing characters in the book.
3. Pete Schaefer is a journalist and appears more level-headed than many other characters in the novel. How closely do you relate to Pete as a fellow journalist?
I don’t know how level-headed Pete really is, but I do identify with him. Like Pete, I started my newspaper career working for small publications, living by myself, eating Taco Bell in my studio apartment. There’s a loneliness and uncertainly to starting out on your own after the shelter of college. There is a lot of grunt work. You aren’t making much money at all. There are moments of, “Is this really what I spent four years of my life preparing for?” I think that is what Pete struggles with in this story.
4. Pete’s romance with the under-aged Angela seems a risky choice for you, particularly if the novel is meant to appeal to those with rural, small-town sensibilities. Tell us about that choice.
In this book, it was important to me to give every character a dark, unseemly side. There are no white knights in A Plot for Pridemore. I think the relationship with Angela tells us a lot about Pete. He is twenty two years old or so, technically an adult. However, there is a blind spot in his moral character. Maybe it is immaturity, or maybe Pete is just hard wired to do things that most of us would resist. To me, that makes Pete more interesting than just being an unhappy guy who writes newspaper stories.
5. Digby seems to be quite the under-achieving pawn in all of this. Do we undersell Digby to our peril or is he the pawn that he seems?
Oh, I think Digby definitely has his own agenda. He may not be attuned to everything that is going on, but he has some awareness. He has his own way of manipulating others.