Please help me welcome today’s guest, Patricia McAlexander…
Please tell us a little about yourself, where are you from? Where do you live now? Family? Pets?
I grew up in Johnstown, New York, a town of about 11,000 in the foothills of the Adirondacks. I lived for a time in New York City and Madison, Wisconsin, attending graduate schools, and in Denver, Colorado, where I taught at an extension of the University of Colorado. I now live in Athens, Georgia, where I moved with my husband when he took a position in the University of Georgia’s English Department—and soon I taught there myself. Our grown-up son lives and works in Atlanta. I’ve had various much loved pets throughout my life—a turtle, a guinea pig, a cat. And there were the dogs. I grew up with a cocker spaniel named Rusty (one of my first words was ‘Russ,”) and later a beagle named George. Here in Athens there was Daisy, a poodle, and Peanut, a dachshund. Right now, however, I’m “between pets.”
Why did you choose this genre (is it something you’ve written in before)?
The genre of The Student in Classroom 6, like that of my first two published novels, is romantic suspense. I chose romance because love is something most of us need and hope for in our lives—look at the themes of songs, movies, literature. Now, in these difficult times, we need such themes more than ever. Also, romance can involve personal growth, something I’m interested in as a teacher. In my fiction, I portray individuals further developing their own values and identities as they discover love. I included the suspense (in this novel, a murder mystery) to add extra drama to the romance.
Was there anything unusual, any anecdote about this book, the characters, title, process, etc, you’d like to share?
A specific event inspired this novel. I live on an historic street in Athens, Georgia, lined with old houses and huge, old trees. One night my husband and I came out of our house to find the road and sidewalk in front of it completely blocked by gigantic magnolia limbs. Part of the ancient tree across the street had split off and fallen. The city cleaned up the road, but a private tree service had to come and take down the dangerous remaining portion of the tree. From our porch we had a front row seat, watching the drama of the tree removal and the skilled men up in the bucket and at its base taking it down. That event inspired me to create one of the main characters in The Student in Classroom 6—Tyler McHenry, the young arborist taking Katherine Holiday’s continuing education course.
What is the most difficult thing about writing a book? What was the most difficult thing about this one in particular?
Fort me, the most difficult thing about writing a book is accurately portraying situations and actions I’m not familiar with. I do a lot of research, a lot of Googling, to find answers to questions that arise. For example, for The Student in Classroom 6, I researched the arborist profession—I even read an instruction manual on operating bucket trucks—and interviewed the owner of a local business, New Urban Forestry, who answered my questions and let me come with his team to one of their work sites.
Do you have another occupation, other than writer? If so, what is it and do you like it?
I’m now retired, but I taught literature and writing at the college level—first as an instructor at the University of Colorado, then as teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin, and finally as a professor going through the tenure and promotion process at The University of Georgia. In all these places, one thing stayed the same: I loved working with students.
What was your first job?
In the nineteenth and much of the twentieth century, my hometown, Johnstown, New York, was a center of the glove-making industry. I worked in a glove factory for two summers while I was a college undergraduate. Maybe someday I’ll write a novel about those experiences. It would be an historical novel—according to some sources, these novels are about a time period at least 25 years before the book was written.”(It’s hard to believe, but novels set in 1987 would thus be considered historical.) The glove factories have all closed now.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
I’ve written Second Wives, an historical novel based on my ancestors who emigrated from Baden (now part of modern Germany) to New York in 1850. It is about my widowed great-great-grandfather, Martin Kornmeyer, who sold all his belongings and, with his seven children and a servant, Rosa, sailed from Rotterdam on the Jane E. Williams, arriving in the New York harbor on October 7. He married Rosa, bought land in Boonville, New York, and farmed, as did his oldest son. The novel goes on to describe the life of Martin’s granddaughter, my grandmother, who was twice married. I’ve visited the cemeteries where Martin and Rosa and my grandmother’s two husbands are buried and the farm where my grandmother grew up. I’ve just returned from a cruise on the Rhine—tracing the route the original family surely traveled by barge to reach Rotterdam. Second Wives has not yet been published. I say “not yet,” as I hope someday it will be, and in the meantime, I continue to learn more about these ancestors and revise it.
Are your characters based off real people or did they all come entirely from your imagination?
Many of the characters in my novels are at least in part based on real people. In The Student in Classroom 6, Tyler’s mother, a strong woman who home-schooled Tyler, is inspired by my own mother. Also woman with a strong personality, Mom was my high school Latin teacher, and before that she homeschooled a physically handicapped girl who at that time could not attend the high school in person. Just as Tyler’s mother was a contrast to his arborist father, my intellectual mother was a contrast to my more pragmatic father, a coach and teacher of what was then called “industrial arts.” Of course, my English teacher protagonist, Katherine Holiday. is based in part on myself.
What do your friends and family think of your writing?
They are some of my biggest fans, and I appreciate them greatly.
How did you come up with the title?
I thought the title “The Student in Classroom 6” reflected both the suspense and the romance of the novel. There has been a murder on the campus of The University of Georgia, and for all anyone knows, the murderer might be a student—even one of the students in protagonist Katherine Holiday’s continuing education class, which meets in Classroom 6. And in the back of that classroom there is that the sexy, intelligent young man to whom she is strongly attracted.
How much of the book is realistic?
Much of The Student in Classroom 6 is grounded in reality, drawing on my experiences teaching at the University of Georgia and living in Athens. At the same time, of course, I tweaked that reality to advance my plot. For example, Katherine teaches adult continuing education classes, but by 2009, the year most of this novel takes place, such classes for UGA credit were no longer offered—and even when they had been, they were not part of faculty members’ regular assignments. The campus murder takes place near an outside elevator with a glass through which the killer apparently saw his victim descending. An outside elevator does exist at UGA’s Psychology-Journalism building, but it has no window.
Although a faculty member has been killed on campus and the murderer is still at large, English instructor Katherine Holiday never suspects the criminal might be one of her students. In fact, there’s a man in her adult evening class she wishes she could know better.
Seeing no need for a college degree, Tyler McHenry, a partner in his father’s successful tree service, writes fiction for his own pleasure. No one at the University needs to know his personal reasons for enrolling in a first-year composition course. Still, he finds himself fascinated by the pretty teacher, who believes his writing should be published.
“You know, Ms. Holiday,” Tyler said as he walked with her back to her porch, “it was against regulations to bring you up in the bucket. Only accredited personnel are supposed to go up.” He paused. “Just like it’s probably against regulations for University instructors to get too friendly with students in their class.”
“It is,” she said, feeling somehow bold. “But if you can break a rule, I can. Would you like to come in for a beer?”
“That may not be so wise. I am an owner of this tree business and an owner of the bucket truck. I was not worried about breaking that rule tonight. I knew it was safe for you when I brought you up in the bucket. That is not the way it is with you and the University. And you don’t know—” he hesitated.
He smiled a little, as if joking. “Whether you’d be safe alone in your house with me.”
Barnes and Noble (includes Nook): https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-student-in-classroom-6-patricia-mcalexander/1141068087?ean=9781509241750
About the Author:
Patricia McAlexander is from upstate New York. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of New York at Albany, a master’s from Columbia University, and a doctorate from The University of Wisconsin, Madison, all in English She is now living in Athens, Georgia, with her Southerner husband, whom she met as a graduate student in Wisconsin. As a teenager, Pat wrote fiction for her friends, but she turned to academic writing with her career. Now retired from the University of Georgia, she has renewed her interests in photography, travel, and history—and in writing fiction.