The Beatrice Interview

Tess Collins

"You don't escape the Appalachians no matter how far you move."

interviewed by Ron Hogan

Tess Collins moved to San Francisco in August of 1979. Eightteen years later, she's managing the Curran Theatre, wherePhantom of the Opera has been a long-running hit, her first play, Tossing Monte, is being performed in a small performance space across the street, and her first mystery, The Law of Revenge, has just hit the bookstores.

Collins and her protagonist, Alma Bashears, both come from the same Appalachian hill country and moved to the Bay Area, but the similarities end there. Alma's an attorney on the brink of proving herself ready for the biggest of the big leagues when her family summons her back home after her brother is arrested for murder. When she returns, however, she has to face more than her family, as she discovers that one of the town boys who raped her as a teenager has become the prosecuting attorney. Her efforts to clear her brother's name bring her head-to-head with the local political machine and with emotions she's suppressed for years -- and which cloud her personal and professional judgment the deeper she gets into the case. "I've just started working on the sequel," Collins says as we sit across the street from her office at a neary coffeehouse. "Alma's still in Appalachia. The way the first novel ended, it felt as if she had to stay a little longer." But with the chance that Alma Bashears might become popular enough of a character to warrant even more stories, Collins is prepared to move her anywhere. "She's the kind of character who, after what she's been through in this story, could eventually to any city and still maintain her Appalachian roots."

RH: How long have you wanted to be a writer?

TC: I started writing when I was fifteen or sixteen and going through the normal teenage turmoils, and it ended up being something that seemed to be destined. I began to work at seriously writing with the aim of writing professionally about eight years ago.

RH: Did you want to do a mystery from the beginning?

TC: It had more to do with my wanting to write a book about the area of the country I grew up in, in Appalachia. I wrote two novels before this one which have not been published, and I realized that they were very regionally oriented. I noticed that those kinds of books weren't selling as well; what seemed to be getting purchased was the John Grisham type book. So I decided to write a book like that set in the location that I wanted to write about, dealing with the issues that I wanted to write about, and that's what I did.

RH: That part of the country has stayed with you, despite having spent two decades here in San Francisco.

TC: The Appalachians do get inside you. You don't escape them no matter how far you move. People I knew who grew up there and have left as I did often find themselves drawn back. It's more than a simple going're always an Appalachian no matter where you are.

RH: How have you juggled your writing with your theatrical career?

TC: It is juggling. In addition to working full time at the Curran, I'm also in graduate school. At this point, I'm very much up from six in the morning to two the next morning. I've had to learn to make smart use of every spare minute I have.

RH: How long did it take you to write this book?

TC: From concept to final draft, about two years. But I wrote it within a writer's group, taking parts in and having them critiqued. If I were writing straight through, I could probably do it in less time. Of course, that's not counting all the time spent at work, too. (laughs)

RH: Where do you see yourself at the end of five or ten years?

TC: I would definitely like to be writing fulltime. I'd like to have produced a few more plays, although my producing aspirations are pretty much limited to my own plays at this point. I think I'd like to do at least one small-budget film in the time I have in this life to create.

BEATRICE Suggested further reading
Linda Barnes | Sparkle Hayter

All materials copyright © 1997 Ron Hogan