Chapter 16
A Community of Tennessee Writers, Readers & Passersby

Making Over Miss Julia

Ann B. Ross contemplates the joys and challenges of a literary franchise that’s going strong after fifteen installments

Ann B. Ross, already beloved for her Miss Julia cozy mysteries, will surely keep fans happy with the fifteenth installment of the series, Miss Julia’s Marvelous Makeover. Readers have fallen in love with both the charming Miss Julia and the quirky cast of characters in Abbottsville, where matters inevitably go awry in a way that requires Miss Julia’s assistance to resolve. Fans can’t seem to get enough of Miss Julia, catapulting Ross’s books to the top of bestseller lists year after year.

Prior to her appearance at Union Ave. Books in Knoxville, Ross answered questions from Chapter 16 via email:

Chapter 16: Including Miss Julia’s Marvelous Makeover, there are fifteen books in the Miss Julia series so far. Did you begin the writing with this impressive figure in mind?

Ann B. Ross: I had no idea of doing a series when I wrote the first book, Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind. In fact, I thought I’d said all I had to say about those characters in that book and approached the writing of more Miss Julia books with fear and trembling in case I couldn’t think of anything for them to do. Yet, each time I’ve started a book—often with nothing in particular in mind—the characters themselves begin to move the story.

Chapter 16: What’s the greatest challenge in writing series fiction?

Ross: The most challenging aspect of sustaining such a series is the fear that I will bore or disappoint readers. I have to keep Miss Julia sharp and engaging while figuring out some kind of comedic plot limited to a small-town setting.

Chapter 16: Do you have a favorite book in the series?

Ross: I have to say that the first book is probably dearest to my heart—it started everything. But I also very much enjoyed writing Miss Julia Hits the Road and Miss Julia to the Rescue—they made me laugh as I wrote.

Chapter 16: As you have continued to work on these books, have any of the characters changed in ways you didn’t expect?

Ross: Yes, some characters have changed–Miss Julia, most of all, but that didn’t surprise me. Main characters should change and evolve in a story. The surprising change was the closeness that developed between Julia and Etta Mae Wiggins.

Chapter 16: In order to achieve the clear sense of place in your novels, as well as the sharp characterization and dialogue, have you based any aspects of small-town life in Abottsville on your own experience?

Ross: Oh, of course; many aspects of Abbottsville are based on my own experience of small towns, particularly Southern small towns. I grew up in one, and I live in one now. But Abbottsville itself does not exist, although it is located where my hometown is. Some readers have come to this town looking for Miss Julia’s house and her church, but they can’t be found.

Chapter 16: The bonds created by and associated with recipe sharing are integral to Miss Julia Stirs Up Trouble, which has just been released in paperback. You even fold in the characters’ actual recipes in between chapters. Have any specific recipes, or memories of cooking, inspired your writing?

Ross: No, I can’t say that any recipes or memories of cooking have inspired my writing, but once I decided that Julia would collect recipes in this new book, I began to recall the friends who gave me certain recipes over the years. I always remember with fondness the particular person who gave one to me whenever I use it. And I think that’s what Julia had in mind for Hazel Marie to do with her recipe book.