'Bottoms' up: Who will play Georgia in Childress' 7th?

The heroine of Mark Childress' latest book, Georgia Bottoms, would be offended at a reporter's crass question about how a genteel Southern belle ended up "turning tricks," informs Childress.

"She has friends, and her friends give her gifts; and if it happens to be money, well, she likes money," clarifies Childress in a phone call from his Key West residence. Georgia Bottoms doesn't consider herself in the tawdry business of prostitution, he insists, even though her six prominent, cash-bestowing lovers each have a specific night to come visit her–- and don't know about the others.

Childress gets great blurb for his seventh book, with Fannie "Fried Green Tomatoes" Flagg calling it a "laugh-out-loud southern classic."

And for his sixth book,  Stephen King called One Mississippi "the funniest novel I have read in 10 years."

Childress combined comedy, murder, and the civil rights movement in his 1993 novel, Crazy in Alabama. It was made into a movie starring Melanie Griffith as the runaway aunt who carries her abusive husband's head in a Tupperware container as she heads west to fulfill her lifelong dream of appearing on The Beverly Hillbillies. (Although in the movie, Tupperware refused permission to use its trademarked brand, says the author.)

Alabama-born Childress, 53, has set six of his seven novels in the South, and sense of place, he acknowledges, "is really central to everything I do."

Says Childress, "Being a southern writer doesn't really limit your range. It is a sort of ghetto–- southern writers over to the side in bookstores–- but what a great ghetto to be in, with Faulkner."

Fortunately Childress is a lot more readable than the Nobel Prize-winning son of the South. And in the days of diminished publisher support, Little Brown is sending Childress out on a 29-stop book tour, a sure sign of publisher's esteem.

The tour for the just-released Georgia Bottoms brings Childress to Charlottesville, a town to which he's no stranger. Not only does he have good friends here, but when he worked for Southern Living, he got to come here on assignment.

That classic southern mag was supportive of his novelistic ambitions, says Childress. "A friend called it my Guggenheim with an expense account because I wrote my book in hotel rooms."

Childress has even been to the Virginia Festival of the Book before–- as a moderator. This time, he's a headliner and sharing the stage with NPR critic/festival stalwart Alan Cheuse (Song of Slaves in the Desert), National Book Award winner Jaimy Gordon (Lord of Misrule), and Myla Goldberg (The False Friend).

In a quote that easily could go on a book jacket, Cheuse calls Childress "an ebullient and endlessly entertaining writer who takes the New South seriously, without sacrificing wit or heart."

With the early buzz and intriguing plotline on Georgia Bottoms, it seems like a movie option would already be in the works, but Childress is cautious. "I've been around that merry-go-round before," he says. "I wait until they begin principal photography."

Still, he's not entirely jaded about the movie possibilities. "If Reese Witherspoon is reading, she'd be fantastic," he enthuses. "And Sandra Bullock. She'd be great."
Mark Childress appears at 8pm Thursday, March 17, at Culbreth Theatre.