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Gin Phillips

A Writer Who Lives in the South...Not a Southern Writer by Lisa Berryhill

54 Longleaf Style Summer 2010

in Phillips loves her characters. She readily admits that, as a writer, plot is secondary to her. “I’m happy to let my characters sit on the sofa and talk all day, but I realize that readers like plot.” Phillips, an attractive blue-eyed blonde, seems to possess an understanding of human nature beyond her years. In her book The Well and the Mine, she promptly plunges her characters—the Moore family—into the middle of a mystery, unveiling the plot in the very first sentence. The pivotal act of her debut novel is an unspeakable one that forever shifts the way her beloved characters view the world. That’s exactly what Phillips wanted to accomplish. “I wanted something to happen, something totally beyond redemption, beyond humanity…something that would evoke no sympathy, only revulsion,” explains Phillips. “Then I wanted to spend the rest of the book unraveling that and watching the characters realize that both this unspeakable act and the woman who committed it are more complex and, ultimately, more understandable than they originally thought.” The Well and the Mine is set in 1931 at the height of the Great Depression in the coal-mining town of Carbon Hill, Alabama. Like most of the men of the town Albert Moore quit elementary school to work in the mine for long hours and short wages. That was long before he married Leta and had a family. Mining is a dangerous way to make a living and the Moores realize that if anything happens to Albert, they might not be able to survive without him. It’s a hardscrabble existence with little time to question the way things are or to wonder how the world works. Then nine-year-old Tess sees a woman throw a baby down the family’s well. “When the baby is thrown down the well it jolts the main characters out of their comfort zone and sends them down new paths. It’s my idea of how a mystery works best, as a way to get deeper into the characters.” When Tess and older sister Virgie set out to find the woman from the well they encounter a world that is far more complicated than either had realized. Both girls are struggling with change. Tess is leaving her childhood and its innocence behind and fourteen-year-old Virgie is looking toward her future, uncertain about the unwritten rules that are part of becoming a woman. Their baby brother Jack is already keenly aware that he could suddenly become the man of the house if Albert doesn’t come home from the mine at the end of the day. Phillips points out that there were no safety nets, such as insurance or unemployment compensation in those days. “If a miner was injured on the job, the wealthy mine owners could decide whether or not to help him and his family. Complete and utter ruin was always within sight. A beam falling on you, a sick

Longlead Summer 2010  
Longlead Summer 2010  

The Summer 2010 issue of Longleaf