An Interview with Carol Guthrie Heilman’s Agnes Hopper

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Welcome Carol, I  heard you found a transcript for an interview with Agnes Hopper. Tell me how she came to be first.

Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar began as a short story that ended when the seventy-plus widow ran away from her retirement home. When the curtain dropped on the final scene, I squirreled the story away. Months later, when I pulled it out and reread it, doubts about the conclusion gnawed at my writer’s gut. Would a feisty, headstrong, outspoken woman such as Agnes escape into the night and never be heard from again? “What if” questions began popping into my mind and would not leave me alone

And so I began a long discussion with Agnes. What if you bumped into an old friend who lived there and then you stayed around long enough to make some new ones? What if you began to realize the administrator of the home ran a tight ship for sinister reasons? Would you care enough to stick around? To become a voice for those who were afraid to speak up?

The novel evolved from there. Along the way Agnes and I fell in love with some quirky characters. Writing Agnes’ story has been an exciting journey. Her second book, Agnes Hopper Bets On Murder, has a release date of April 15th. We are conspiring on her next adventures in book three with a working title of: Agnes Hopper Acquits an Arsonist.

I dearly love the elderly, and that’s a good thing because now I am one. Agnes has a spunky spirit much like my mother’s and the humor often comes from my daddy, who was an Appalachian coal miner.

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The following interview takes place between a reporter, Jenny Lee Jones, from The Timely News of the small town of Sweetbriar and Agnes Hopper. The newspaper runs a weekly series called About Town and Sweetbriar’s retirement home was next on the list. Future installments will include Blind George’s Pool Hall, the Kut’n Loose Beauty Shop and Rodeo Rags.

The scoop on the initial interview with Jenny Lee Jones of the Timely News

Agnes Hopper:

As we had agreed by phone, I met a reporter on Sweetbriar Manor’s porch while the other residents were either napping or watching soap operas. A slight breeze carried the scent of confederate Jasmine trailing up a nearby lattice as we settled ourselves in our rockers.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Thank you for talking with me this afternoon, Mrs. Hopper. When I spoke with Miss Johnson, she said I was welcome to interview any of the residents—except you because she had recently determined you did not possess a sound mind. Naturally, my suspicious antennas went up, and since the cook informed me your administrator will be gone until suppertime, I made a beeline over here.

Agnes Hopper:

She said that did she? I’m not surprised. She runs a tight ship around here for reasons yet to be determined, but I’m working on it. Leave your card and when I figure out what’s really going on around here, I’ll give you a call.

Jenny Lee Jones:

You realize I don’t have to reveal my sources if you would like to speak up now.

Agnes Hopper:

Oh that woman would know. I’m not worried about myself, you understand, but there has to be a reason for a friend’s nightmares or fear in another’s friend’s eyes or . . .

Jenny Lee Jones:

Mrs. Hopper, why would you think your suspicions have anything to do with Miss Johnson?

Agnes Hopper:

Let me be perfectly clear. I will expose our unscrupulous administrator when the time is right.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Will you give me the exclusive when you do?

Agnes Hopper:

Agreed. Let’s change directions for now. Call me Agnes. Everyone does except my friend, Smiley. He’s called me Sis from my very first day

Jenny Lee Jones:

And why is that?

Agnes Hopper:

I think he knew right off I was madder than a wet hen to be in this place, and a little scared, too, so he tried to show me he was on my side and willing to be my friend.

Jenny Lee Jones:

So you’re saying you didn’t want to live here?

Agnes Hopper: I had no choice.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Could you explain that, Agnes?

Agnes Hopper:

First off, my little farmhouse burned to the ground. Who would’ve thought a pot of beans left on the stove could do such as that.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Is that when you moved here?

Agnes Hopper: Moved in with my daughter, Betty Jo. Me and my pet pig, Miss Margaret, that is. We lasted six months. My daughter and I came to the conclusion we couldn’t tolerate each other any longer.

Jenny Lee Jones:

You don’t say. I understand the Manor doesn’t allow pets. What happened to Miss Margaret?

Agnes Hopper:

My dear son-in-law, Henry, came to our rescue. Miss Margaret spends her days at his hardware store. He drops her off each evening at Ben Blair’s Llama Farm just outside town, plus she’s there on Sundays. Everyone loves the arrangement, except me. I miss her sweet presence something fierce.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Yes, well . . . Why did you choose a pig as a pet in the first place?

Agnes Hopper:

She did the choosing. My husband, Charlie, brought her to the house soon after she was born. The runt of a litter and her brothers and sisters kept her from her mother’s tits. We bottle-fed her for six weeks and then took her back to the barn. Well, that sow wouldn’t have anything to do with her. First thing we know Miss Margaret was on our front porch whining and crying like her little heart was broken. From then on, she was ours.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Let’s get back to the reason I’m here. Sweetbriar Manor advertises a rewarding, enriching lifestyle. Perhaps you have misinterpreted some conversations or even let your imagination run away with you. Miss Johnson has had a stellar reputation since she’s come to Sweetbriar.

Agnes Hopper:

For a reporter, you’re not a good listener. When I have my ducks in a row, I’ll contact you. If I’m right, that woman will end up in prison.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Have you considered counseling? You’ve had to grieve over losing your husband, your farmhouse, your pet pig, and your daughter’s hospitality. Sometimes anger makes us lash out at anyone who tries to help.

Agnes Hopper:

Like Miss Johnson?

Jenny Lee Jones:

She thinks you’ve demonstrated some irrational behavior, like when you talk to your dead husband, for instance.

Agnes Hopper:

My Charlie is a comfort and he can make me laugh when things get tough.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Have you made any other friends here? Besides the one who calls you Sis.

Agnes Hopper:

Pearl, my best friend in high school, lives next door. Then there’s William who always chews on a fat cigar and calls me Red, because my hair reminds him of his mother’s. Francesca, his sweetie, thinks she better than the rest of us, but she can play a mean piano. And Alice is a dear, frail lady who writes poetry, talks in riddles, and keeps some secrets bottled up inside. And the one who calls me Sis? He’s a small man with big brown eyes that could melt a rock. They’re all my friends, and if they don’t start speaking up for themselves—I’m going to have to do it for them.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Why should you get involved? If you stir up trouble, you could be asked to leave.

Agnes Hopper:

I have a plan. Even if Miss Johnson shows me the door, and even if our good sheriff won’t listen to me.

Jenny Lee Jones:

Have you always been this . . . this

Agnes Hopper:

Outspoken? Gutsy?

Jenny Lee Jones:

Overly suspicious.

Agnes Hopper: I have a sensitive nose and I smell something rotten in this place. Expect a call from me in about six weeks. Or maybe less.

We stood, shook hands, and said our good-byes. I hurried inside. It was past time to get this show on the road.

 

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Another adventure with Agnes Hopper.

What a fun interview. Thanks for sharing it. I’m part way through my copy of Bets on Murder. Can’t wait to find out who done it. Agnes is a fun detective. Click here to order.

About Carol:

Carol Heilman, a coal miner’s daughter, married her high school sweetheart, a farmer’s son. She began writing family stories, especially about her dad’s Appalachian humor, for newspapers and magazines. One day her mother said, “We don’t have any secrets any more!”

Carol’s books, Agnes Hopper Shakes Up Sweetbriar and Agnes Hopper Bets On Murder, were inspired by her mother’s spunky spirit and her dad’s humor. She is the recipient of two Carrie McCray awards for writing excellence.

Carol lives in the mountains of NC with her husband of fifty-plus years. They love to play cards, go antiquing, hike, and visit grandsons on the east and west coasts.

 

 

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