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Spelling Mississippi by Marnie Woodrow
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Spelling Mississippi

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Spelling Mississippi by Marnie Woodrow
Paperback $14.00
Mar 11, 2003 | ISBN 9780676974324

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  • $14.00

    Mar 11, 2003 | ISBN 9780676974324

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  • Jul 27, 2011 | ISBN 9780307366245

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"An affecting tale of one woman’s immersion into the gloriously decadent city of New Orleans." — National Post

“The hype around Marnie Woodrow’s debut novel is justified…. Spelling Mississippi is a spellbinding tale. New Orleans is where it happens — that sultry, blues-ridden city — and Marnie Woodrow is a writer who knows how to conjure up a setting…She’s a terrific writer, and her wonderfully wry sense of humour enhances Cleo’s journey…. Spelling Mississippi is the book to read this season and Woodrow, with two story collections behind her as well as this fine novel, is the writer to watch.” — Vancouver Sun

Spelling Mississippi begins with a visually stunning drama that lingers ‘like the ghost scent of fine perfume’ over all the pages to come…. The narrative shifts smoothly between Cleo and Madeline, suspensefully unfurling their pasts, troubled childhoods, backstories ripe with longings and secrets, like the mini-cities of the dead, haunting the present…. Woodrow is a delicious tease, offering cool quenching sips of information, but spiked with intrigue. The story swirls compellingly on, at times funny, wise, erotic, always precisely detailed and vivid. A kind of romantic melancholy permeates the pages…. The charm and strength of the telling is the intimate reality created, the bang-on dialogue and characters [are] fully flesh and blood…. Spelling Mississippi, in the best way, is alive, both spirited and haunted.” — Eliza Clark, The Globe and Mail

"Debut novel surfaces with extraordinary power…. Marnie Woodrow, who in this debut novel already displays a brilliant feel for atmosphere and setting … invites you in to drink in all that atmosphere, and immerse yourself in her world. Spelling Mississippi is a novel that will absolutely surround you … [It] reads like a langorous swim to a private island." — Hamilton Spectator

“Southern light shines on stunning debut…. Woodrow has executed the shift to the long form with shocking grace and considerable skill….. Spelling Mississippi is full of intelligence, humour and passion.” — Xtra!

“One of the hottest novels of the season…Not only is Marnie Woodrow’s Spelling Mississippi raising the temperature of book reviewers everywhere, it is set in that most humid of cities, New Orleans….Filled with humour, it is a delicious novel for a very hot July day…. Spelling Mississippi is witty, wise, smart and sexy.” — Andrew Armitage, The Sun Times

Spelling Mississippi…is a sweet, eccentric love story that I wished would go on forever….The story is original, sexy and presents an unforgettable portrait of New Orleans.” — W.P. Kinsella, Books In Canada

“Strikingly written….an entertaining, appealing book….[Woodrow] relies on innovation and overdrive to spur her story, and the result is an arresting and original first novel.” — London Free Press

“With the mighty Mississippi river providing a majestic background of intrigue, and the city of New Orleans the setting for romance and charm, Ontario short story writer Marnie Woodrow makes an impressive debut as a novelist with Spelling Mississippi. She delves deeply into the psyche of her exciting and mysterious characters. The author’s skill in spinning a good yarn is evident. Romance, drama, betrayal and sex — it is all here, punctuated with fascinating historical detail…. " — Winnipeg Free Press

"an affecting tale of one woman’s immersion into the gloriously decadent city of New Orleans." — Noah Richler, National Post

“Woodrow’s voice is original, her craft superb…. Spelling Mississippi has a lot of foreward thrust, a steady supply of reasons to turn the page.” — The Gazette, Montreal

Spelling Mississippi is drenched with an eerie and feminine sensuality from the very start. The scents, scenes and sounds of the book are all an elaborate foreplay for the greater things to come….There’s aggravation, mystery and a strange romance that will haunt you long after the last page is read.” — Ottawa Citizen

"Woodrow’s lush prose drives a satisfying and coherent narrative…. This is a love letter to New Orleans in all its steamy glory: the magnolias’ reek, the non-stop nightlife, the potent Southern hospitality. Woodrow keeps the sexy story pounding along toward Cleo’s and Madeline’s eventual connection, which is so intense they suspect that something must be terribly wrong. Yet by the end, you can’t help but conclude that, with Spelling Mississippi, Woodrow has done something terribly right." — Susan G. Cole, NOW magazine


Spelling Mississippi is charged with the eccentric energies of its characters and its New Orleans setting. A love story that is tender, but also witty, sexy and highly intoxicating.” — Timothy Taylor, author of Stanley Park

"A smart, sexy, moving jazz riff of a novel." — Emma Donoghue, author of Slammerkin

"In this bourbon-soaked barnburner of a tale, the Mississippi River becomes the catalyst for one woman’s midnight swim and another’s plunge into obsession. The setting is a New Orleans stocked with star-crossed lovers, barflies, thwarted dreams and mother-daughter showdowns. [Spelling Mississippi] plays with notions of fate and inevitability in the characters’ lives, themes that fit nicely with New Orleans’ reputation for romance and magic…. The novel is, at its root, about people overcoming their tangled, traumatic histories to authentically find one another." — Quill & Quire


Amazon Canada First Novel Award NOMINEE 2003

Author Q&A

1) Can you tell us how you became a writer?
I suppose reading other people’s books is to blame in the best possible way, by which I mean that I wanted to do what other writers had done for me. I wanted very much to create a world not-mine for hours and make other people think and feel. Reading William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice really sent me on my way. I remember reading it late at night while babysitting, thinking, I want to do this! I want to make people lose themselves. Make them reach for the dictionary as well as for their own, possibly-buried questions. I’ve written stories of some kind since I first learned how to make a sentence. It’s been my biggest comfort-zone, my truest sanctuary.

2) What inspired you to write Spelling Mississippi? Is there a story about the writing of this novel that begs to be told?
To pin it down: two things inspired this novel. A photograph (National Geographic magazine, July 1967) of a young woman holding a mud-soaked book retrieved from a flooded library in Italy during the famous 1966 deluge in the city of Florence. I wondered who she was, who she might become and, more pressingly, who her daughter might be. The second “inspiration” was my three and a half month stint living in New Orleans and all the crazy, wonderful people I met in the French Quarter. Once back in Toronto, I realized a French Quarter woman could indeed try to swim the Mississippi — and succeed. My website essay “Memory: The Best Trickster” (in the PLAY section) provides insight for those interested into how front-line research and fuzzy but loving memory can create amusing situations when they collide.

3) What is it that you’re exploring in this book?
I can only see this now, after the fact. I think I was trying to understand the concepts of self-acceptance/acceptance of another person, along with fate/coincidence; letting go of the past so that you might envision a truly inspiring future; and yes, big love. I also explored the notion of a city as a character unto herself, which New Orleans is, for me: a woman everyone wants to meet at least once in their lifetime. And then realizes, maybe once is quite enough?

4) Who is your favourite character in Spelling Mississippi, and why?
To choose a favourite character in something I laboured over for years is impossible. I’m very fond of them all, even as they drift away from me. I really enjoyed Mrs. Ryan, the hotelier, because every time I wrote her scenes I felt warm and happy as I typed. Laughing during the writing of a novel is a rare but oh-so-sweet occurrence. I think you need to make one character your darling fool, as Shakespeare taught us all, and Mrs. Ryan is that wise fool for me.

5) Are there any tips you would give a book club to better navigate their discussion of your book?
If you hated it, say so. If you loved it, or even just enjoyed it, say so. In either instance, have reasons why. And oh, be sure to serve bourbon sours that night if you’re so inclined: the most astounding confessions/connections happen over bourbon sours, even if they have nothing to do with the appointed book of the night. Don’t worry about seeming silly; let your hair down and talk, really talk. That’s my wish.

6) Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your book?
I find interviews, the process, very educational in both positive and negative senses. Readers of newspapers in particular should know that quotes are often chopped and that the author is often fed a question, which she (dutifully) answers. Strangely, the honest answer is then applied to a question she wasn’t actually asked. Example: when describing the last stages of creating a novel, I told a journalist that I wanted to kill all of my characters off, that I was, because of fatigue, sick of them all and found them aggravating. He then reported that even I, the author, admitted that every character in my novel was/is aggravating. Reading his piece I had to laugh, because I knew how much had been twisted around. For a previous book of mine (In The Spice House) I was asked (on live TV) what the recipe for lasting love is. I had just broken up with someone and was still quite raw, so I said, “I’m fasting just now, recipes don’t appeal to me.” What else can one say to such a crazy question posed by someone who admitted she hadn’t even read the book??

7) What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?
“How truly boring is it to be a writer?”

“Come clean: did you write this novel in your pyjamas, and if so, tell us what your pyjamas look like.”

“What is your current bank balance, and should anyone even bother to write to you asking for money/donations?” (A: Nope!)

8) Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?
No. I must say that I am 100% pig-headed that way and tend to be working on something else (if even only in my head) when this aspect of the process gets rolling. It would be deadly to take cues or directions from critics or journalists who meet authors under great duress (post-partum-whatsit/promoting/touring). One’s imagination defies commentary and decrees, or should. I do this because I am compelled to, so critics hardly matter.

9) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?
Everyone I’ve read, but probably, most especially: Tennessee Williams, Raymond Carver, James Baldwin, Auden, ee cummings, Dorothy Parker and Grace Paley. Screenwriters and songwriters also keep me going when the going is more than a little rough. I make tapes for each book I write, tapes that instantly bring me into the mood I need for a given piece.

10) If you weren’t writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some
of your other passions in life?

Acting, absolutely. My love of performing is, I realize, in complete opposition to the solitary, brooding nature of many writers. In fact, I am quite split this way. I still dream of doing the toilet-paper commercial no one ever forgets, or the live-theatre character role of my dreams. Juliet’s wet-nurse comes to mind here! Acting is the biggest high ever, next to riding a roller coaster. The high of writing is much quieter, a slow burn, yet also satisfying in ways I never dreamt possible. Also, if I weren’t so shy on a level, I’d be a portrait photographer, snapping people in the midst of their amazing one-time lives. Cooking is my only other “passion.” I communicate through food when I’m not writing. Which is why, when I’m working on a book, I almost always lose weight. I need a chef.

11) If you could have written one book in history, what book would that be?
Jazz, by Toni Morrison, a book so perfect that I still cannot believe it was written by a human being.

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