When Melinda Rainey Thompson published her fourth book, “I’ve Had it Up to Here with Teenagers,” in 2012, she thought it would be her last – the same as she felt after “SWAG: Southern Women Aging Gracefully” and the two that followed, “The SWAG Life” and “I Love You — Now Hush.”
But just like the other times, Thompson is back. Her fifth collection of essays, “If I Were the Boss of You,” hit bookshelves last week, and she officially launches it with a book signing on Friday at 5 p.m. at Homewood’s Alabama Booksmith. She follows that up with three book signings in Huntsville on Feb. 13.
“If I Were the Boss of You” comes more than 20 years after Thompson, who lives in Homewood and teaches writing at Birmingham-Southern College, launched her writing career with a newsletter. SWAG (or Southern Women Aging Gracefully) was a monthly missive, two pages of humorous writing from Thompson, who was home raising her three children.
“I thought I was losing my mind,” she says. “I thought this could be a great outlet. I found that humor was this niche that came easily and fast to me.”
And she connected with readers, initially sending the newsletter to 20 friends and, five years later, stopping with a mailing list of more than 5,000 subscribers in 38 states.
“I closed the business, as my husband said, due to unforeseen success,” says Thompson, who is married to Judge Bill Thompson and lives in Homewood. “It truly was out of hand. It just got to be too much. I realized that with this subscriber list, I could maybe sell them a book or at least maybe get a publisher to read my query letter and pitch. I think I was able to show I had readers out there.”
Published in 2006, “SWAG: Southern Women Again Gracefully” drew those readers and more to her mostly humorous takes on her family, her friends, the South and other relatable topics. One book followed another, as did a successful public speaking career.
“I used to think all my readers would be women, but they’re not,” Thompson says. “I hear from men all the time.”
Since her last book came out in 2012, Thompson went back to teach writing at Birmingham-Southern and she and her husband became empty-nesters. Along the way, Thompson started and didn’t finish two other books and also started gathering the pieces that would become “If I Were the Boss of You.” The result is a book that harks back to Thompson’s others in many ways but also explores some more serious topics.
“As writers, you’re a different person as you age, as you have different life experiences and different things happen in the world,” Thompson says. “It does have the chapters my readers have come to expect where you laugh out loud, I hope. It also has chapters that will make you wonder and hope. And it also will make you cry. … All of these topics are relevant. They are little reflections, and I hope they’re charming. But I also hope they’re meaningful.”
“If I Were the Boss of You” (subtitled “A Southern Woman’s Guide to the Sweet Life) is divided into 11 sections, tackling some big, over-arching subjects with bite-sized bits of creative nonfiction.
“While I was writing this book, I became obsessed with recurring themes, questions, regrets, and longing,” Thompson writes in a letter to readers at the beginning of the book. “I am intrigued by the concepts of memory, choices, perspective, point of view, and what happens after we exit the earthly stage for the last time. … As usual, I discovered that I am not alone in my thoughts.”
What Thompson is writing about, she says, is the stuff that everyone’s lives are made of – most often doled out with a good deal of humor.
“I think people are all wondering and thinking about a lot of the same things,” she says. “A lot of the most important writers don’t pay attention to the things I think are most important. I think the most mundane things are almost holy.”
And that connection to readers’ everyday lives, Thompson believes, is what keeps readers coming back to her books.
“The most common thing people tell me is, ‘You’re writing about my life,’” she says. “And I say, ‘I really am. I just happen to be the one writing it down.’”