Exclusive Interview with Jude Southerland Kessler, John Lennon Novelist (Part One of Three)

Exclusive Interview with Jude Southerland Kessler, John Lennon Novelist (Part One of Three)

The Beatles.

What Rock Group even comes close to the magnitude of The Beatles?

None.

Equally, The Fest for Beatles Fans has become a Chicago institution, just as The Beatles have held their reign as a global institution. Mark and Carol Lapidos run a quality organization and every year is simply a blast! I've gone for the past 8 or 9 years, and every year holds a special place in my heart.

This year, such luminary names as Peter Asher graced the halls of the Rosemont Horizon, to meet and play for thousands of Beatles fans, all of whom are rearing to go for a weekend filled with peace and love and happiness.

On August 6th, 2011, I had a chance to sit down with an author who has devoted her whole life to The Beatles Specifically, John Lennon. At 9:30 at night, I went down into the basement Beatles marketplace and walked up to a table, resplendently piled with books with John Lennon's gentle face gracing the covers. A vivacious blond-haired woman immediately bounded into my midst and my life, and the planned interview began. And what an amazing half-an-hour it was.

Jude Southerland Kessler is the author of two novels (out of a planned nine novel series) about the life and legend of John Winston Lennon, Shoulda Been There (published in 2008) and Shivering Inside (published in 2010.) Shoulda Been There covers his birth in October 1940 through December 1961, while Shivering Inside picks up in December 1961 to April 1963.

In this interview (which will span three separate blogs- to read the recently published Part Two, follow THIS link, and to read Part Three, follow THIS link), Jude will tell me about her life and John Lennon's life: both of which are equally fascinating revelatory.

In this first set of questions, we learn about Jude's life and the early stages of her love affair with The Beatles. Also, we learn the premise and origins of her John Lennon Novel Project:

Steven Krage: Before any questions about The Beatles, I must ask a bit about your childhood (growing up, as you have said in L.A., meaning Lower Alabama)

Jude Southerland Kessler: Okay, I actually probably was living in Lower Alabama at that time. I’ve lived in Lower Alabama three times in a little city called Dothan, Alabama and for some reason our career paths have brought us back there, not for the same job, but three times I’ve lived there. But I grew up in a magical town in Louisiana called Natchitoches, Louisiana. It’s the oldest city in the Louisiana Purchase: It has brick streets, it has French grill work and a river runs through the center of the town. It is a tour town and there are about sixteen plantation homes, beautiful homes that you can actually see.  And when they got ready to film the movie Steel Magnolias, the author of Steel Magnolias, Robert Harling, grew up in Natchitoches and it’s a true story about a person who grew up in Natchitoches, so they filmed it in my hometown. So if you see the movie, you can see where I grew up! My parents are actually in the movie as extras.

SK: If you would, please describe your schooling at NSU in Louisiana and University of Maryland and your teaching at Troy State University in Alabama.

JSK: Northwestern State University (NSU) is in Natchitoches and I really kinda wanted to go away to college, but I got an Academic Scholarship to go there that paid for everything, so I lived on campus and I could not make up my mind what I wanted to major in. I so wanted to major in English, but I had a passion for History. So I ended up getting two degrees, 177 hours in three years, and then going straight on into my Masters at the University of Maryland. I went into the Doctoral Program and said “I have got to stop for a while”, I pushed too hard, I took seventeen hours in the summer and twenty-three hours in the regular year for three years, so I stopped and started teaching school and ended up teaching at Troy State in Alabama and taught Creative Writing and all of the other English courses, knowing that someday I wanted to write a book.

SK: When did you first become aware of the fireball sensation that was The Beatles?

JSK: I was in fourth grade, I went to school and a friend of mine, Patty Singer, walked up and was holding a 45 Record of The Beatles and she said, “These are The Beatles and you have about an hour to pick one to fall in love with.” And I said, “Could I at least have it at recess, to look at the picture and everything” and she says “That’s it, because after that you have to have one to fall in love with. Everybody’s in love with The Beatles.” So, I looked at the picture, and I said, “This guy”, it was George, and then she let me take the record home with me and I played it and looked at it more and I said “I’m changing my mind, I’m going with this guy right here.” And she said “Oh that just figures, that’s the smart Beatle” and it was John Lennon. “That’s who you’d pick.” And it’s been John ever since. I was nine.

SK: When did the idea of writing a novel about John Lennon and The Beatles first come about?

JSK: It was around 1985/1986. I had lots of Beatles memorabilia and I always had a Beatles room in my home and I knew I wanted to write a novel and I thought, “What can I write that I really authoritatively know a lot about?” And I thought, “Well, the one thing I know about it The Beatles and I think I know everything about John Lennon”, so I decided to write about that. Immediately I found out that I knew nothing. So I got a hundred books on John, two-hundred, three-hundred, four-hundred, I have close to five-hundred now. And from ’86 to ’93, I did my secondary research and really did all the research I could do with tapes and periodicals and VHS tapes and the whole bit. And in ’93 I said to my husband, “There’s no way I can write this book unless I go to Liverpool.” Because I don’t know what it smells like, and I don’t know what the sounds are and I don’t know where the Cavern [Club] is relation to The Grapes and when you come out of the Washington Hotel which way do you go to the Empire?” So we went for seven years to do interviews and to learn that language and get photographs. And to just really learn the traditions of the Scouse. You just had to in order to understand their mindset.

SK: Perhaps my biggest question is: Why write novels about John Lennon and The Beatles? Did the fact that there is an oversaturation of biographies about John Lennon play into your decision at all?

JSK: I knew all my life, when I was a little girl when I was 4 or 5, I wrote novels. I was always writing some kind of a story and pulling it together. And I just wanted to do something that I really knew about, and could write a good book. But, as I got into the Beatles I began to notice there were essay books, there were coffee-table books, there were collected stories, there were biographies galore. No had ever come up with the concept of writing a documented, footnoted, authoritative novel on John’s life. I love the works of Irving Stone, the works of Mitchner and I wanted to do something in that vein. It was not a fairy-tale or a make-believe book but it was a novel that really told his story.

SK: How did the idea of the John Lennon novel turn into this planned 9-novel gargantuan undertaking?

JSK: Originally I had planned on doing one book and when I got John up to age 21 and we were at 880 pages, I thought, “Okay, this isn’t going to work.” So I ended the first book, Shoulda Been There, at the end of the Liverpool years. Then I started book two, Shivering Inside, and I found very quickly that everything they did after 1961/1662 was documented and people have recorded every step they took. So I thought, “What am I gonna do?” I’m into ‘62/’63 and I have 500 pages! If I break it into three books, again, they’re going to be thousands of pages long. So then I started thinking what were the logical breaking points, and decided upon the 9 book format.

SK: In your novels, you have chosen to write about John Lennon, as the primary focus. Why did you choose John, besides your early childhood love for him, out of the four to be the epicenter of your novels?

JSK: Well first, of course, he was the man that envisioned the band, selected the members of the band and in ’61, when they came back from Hamburg, and they all went back to day-jobs, John went around knocking on Paul’s door saying, “What’re you doin’, because we’re going to the top and we’re not going to quit! I’m havin’ a band and you’re bein’ in it!” And so it was his undertaking. But, I have a real calling in my life for children who have been abused and neglected and I’ve always had a child living in my home that’s not my child and we had three or four different children who lived with us during the time my son was growing up. So, knowing John’s story, I wanted to tell the story. My first novel is called Shoulda Been There, not because you “Shoulda Been There” for The Beatles or you “Shoulda Been There” for the Sixties, but because everybody who “Shoulda Been There” for John was not. So, I wanted to tell John’s story because he was the one who overcame what he overcame to change our lives.

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I hope you all have enjoyed this interview! Jude was a wonderful interview, and we will certainly hear from her, on this blog, in the future!

If you want to read Part Two, follow THIS link.

If you want to read Part Three, followTHIS link.

Be sure to comment on this (and all the other) blog and visit Jude Southerland Kessler's Website to contact her and learn more about her project!

You can also follow her on Twitter! (Follow THIS link.)

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