Mary Monroe

Mary Monroe
Gonna Lay Down My Burdens

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
April 13, 2003

1. Ms. Monroe, how do you come up with such interesting stories to write?

I was born with an overactive imagination, but most of my stories are based on my own experiences. All of my characters are composites of people I know. I also get ideas from reading three books a week, four weekly tabloids, several monthly magazines, three newspapers a day, and watching a lot of movies.

2. How did you come about the title “Gonna Lay Down My Burdens?”

I wrote this novel without a title. Just before my mother passed away, I pitched the story to her and she chose the title. She said that if I didn't use it, she'd come back to haunt me.

3. Why did you chose Helene, Alabama for the hometown?

I am originally from a small town in Alabama. I grew up in a small town in Ohio. This was a small-town story. The intimacy of the events and the characters' relationships would have been lost in a big city like San Francisco or Chicago.

4. How did you come about Carmen and Desiree characters?

I used to be a lot like Carmen. I bent over backwards to keep my friends happy and I rarely asked for anything in return. Desiree was a composite of my three former best female friends. These three friends used me every chance they got and I let them. It was all about what I could do for them. In school I did their homework, I helped them hook up with my handsome older brother, and lied to keep them out of trouble. I even shoplifted a pair of jeans for a friend who was too afraid (and smart) to do it herself. Getting arrested for that and spending three days in a juvenile facility should have been enough for me, but it wasn't. When we got older, I helped my friends get jobs, I did their housework and I babysat their kids (for free). I even borrowed money to lend to them--that I never got back--and had to file for bankruptcy before I was twenty-one. You name it, I did it. I ended up losing a lot of money, clothes, and other personal items to my friends. While I was busy playing Mother Teresa, the girl that I'd helped the most, helped herself to my husband...

5. How did you come about Burl and Chester characters?

Burl was based on an old wheelchair-bound man who used to live across the street from my family in Ohio. That brother took advantage of every person he came in contact with. I was still a teenager at the time, but I was his biggest fool. He had me running errands, braiding his hair, sneaking him alcohol, shaving him, hauling him around town in my brother's car, and hooking him up with the neighborhood prostitutes. I did it all for free. Mr. Boatwright (the one-legged rapist in my novel "God Don't Like Ugly") was based on that same individual. Chester was a figment of my imagination and the kind of man that I'm still looking for. He was good-looking, strong, sexy, a little on the rascally side, good to his mama, and financially secure. Not to mention that "Barry White" voice...

6. How long did it take you to write “Gonna Lay Down My Burdens?

I wrote six drafts of the entire story in about four months before I sent the manuscript to my agent. He made a lot of editorial suggestions. I rewrote the final version in less than two months.

7. Why did Carmen feel she had to be there for everybody?

There is a very thin line between strong and weak. Carmen straddled that line. She was stronger physically, mentally, and spiritually than some of the people she associated with, but she was too weak to be strong when it was to her advantage. Some strong individuals take it upon themselves to "look out" for everybody. People like Carmen have to learn the hard way that the most important back to watch is your own.

8. Do any of the characters in this novel have your personality?

I am a combination of Carmen and her meddling friend Regina Witherspoon. Like Carmen, before I came to my senses, having people come to me with their problems for me to help them solve, made me feel empowered. Like Regina, when things seemed too quiet to me I would always spread a little gossip or initiate something that would create a messy scenario that I could get involved in. I had to be in control of something to feel important.

9. Of all of your books, which is your favorite?

"Gonna Lay Down My Burdens" is so far my favorite because it hits the closest to home. It was more than just a story, it was a healing experience. Seeing some of my own stupidity in print was like looking in a mirror. Most of us don't move away from a mirror until we are looking our best.

10. Are you currently working on another novel?

I just completed the sequel to "God Don't Like Ugly." "God STILL Don't Like Ugly" will be released in September 2003. I am currently working on "Red-Light Wives" and it will be released in September 2004. I've already outlined the NEXT three books.

11. What message would you like readers to receive from reading “Gonna Lay Down My Burdens?”

You should be a friend, not a fool, when it comes to your friends. The consequences would probably be a lot less severe if you disappoint them by saying no instead of trying to please them all the time. Being used is a form of abuse.