Thanks to her son and daughter delivering groceries to her carport, Hendersonville-based author Ann B. Ross has remained well-fed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Otherwise, she identifies the cancellation of tours to promote last year’s Miss Julia Knows a Thing or Two and this year’s Miss Julia Happily Ever After (out Tuesday, April 6) as the biggest life alterations she’s had to endure. But the fact that both books have been or will be published on time, combined with her recent COVID-19 vaccination, has her optimistic — a mindset that she’s not sure her titular character would share if the pandemic hit the fictional town of Abbotsville.
“She would read a lot, spend a good deal of time talking with Lillian in the kitchen and on the phone with Hazel Marie, Mildred Allen and anybody else she can think of,” Ross says. “She would mightily miss visiting with Lloyd, but of course he would have to stay away. But mostly, she would resentfully miss her weekly trips to Velma’s Cut ’n’ Curl to have her hair done.”
Ross continues, “But come to think of it, the opportunity to express her opinions on presidents, governors, commentators, physicians with conflicting advice and politicians in general might have enlivened her life as well as mine — probably gotten me run out of town as well.”
The pandemic is not the focus of Miss Julia Happily Ever After, but there is an almost viral nature to the sudden influx of weddings being planned by the heroine’s friends, and the townwide disruptions caused by a mysterious streaker forms its own kind of public health crisis. Ross says no real-life encounters with fast-moving exhibitionists inspired the inclusion — just the fact that she’d yet to use one in a story, plus her general fondness for “anything that lends itself to off-the-wall humor.” However, personal reasons did lead to the bestselling series’ 22nd installment becoming its final one.
“As I wrote Happily Ever After, a series of changes in my personal and professional lives were converging in such a way that I began to feel that somebody was trying to tell me something,” she says. “Miss Julia and the ones she loves are in a good place right now, nothing that needs to be wrapped up is pending, most questions have been answered, no one is languishing in jail [and] everybody is home where they’re supposed to be, so it all felt like a good place to just let go.”
While approaching the end of her latest book, Ross realized that she was giving some conclusion to the main characters’ recent storylines, which she’d not consciously planned to do. And when she reached the last sentence, she says she almost added a more conclusive chapter.
“But then [I] decided, ‘No, this is a good stopping place. If Julia has something she just has to tell [her husband] Sam, she can do it in the morning,’” Ross says. “Yet, at the same time, without deliberate intent, I left the book open-ended enough to pick up on Julia’s life again if I’m so inclined. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the 20-plus years of writing these books, it’s that I am a writer — not a great one, maybe not even an adequate one, but a writer nonetheless. So whatever the future holds, you may be sure that I will be tapping away at the computer on something.”
Whether or not readers have seen the last of Miss Julia in book form, it seems likely that the character will eventually make it to the screen, especially considering the recent rise in original programming from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Studios. Ross says there has been a fair amount of interest expressed by various entities over the years, but nothing has come to fruition.
“It started with Columbia Tri-Star Productions that took an option on the first book and went on to a number of independent producers whose plans ran from a feature film or a made-for-TV movie to a weekly TV series,” Ross says. “Reese Witherspoon has expressed a dab of interest in [Etta Mae’s Worst Bad-Luck Day], and Dolly Parton has said that she has to play Hazel Marie because, she said, ‘I look just like her.’”
An independent producer in Los Angeles and another in Nashville have also shown interest, Ross adds, along with two more whose previous features have been exclusively horror movies.
“All I can say is that movie people have exceptionally short attention spans — they flit from one exciting thing to another,” she says. “I was told early on not to count on anything until they actually turn on the cameras.” missjulia.com