Best known for her novel (and then, movie) Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, this Birmingham, Alabama native has been sharing the stories of Southern culture for decades. From her beloved Elmwood Springs, Missouri comes her latest novel The Whole Town's Talking. We sat down with the legendary Fannie Flagg to talk about her real name (hint, it's not Fannie!), the inspiration behind her sometimes-nutty characters, and what she loves most about living in and writing about the South.
Fannie Flagg is not my real name. My real name, strangely enough, is Patricia Neal. [MUSIC] When I went to join Equity years ago, they said, well, you can't use that name because there's already an actress named Patricia Neal. So I thought, no. I don't know what to call myself. [INAUDIBLE] So I called my grandfather and he was an old theatrical man. He worked at the Alabama Theater in Birmingham, Alabama as a motion picture machine operator. But he had also worked the spotlight during the Vaudeville days. And because I was a comedienne, he said, well, He said I'll tell you what he said a lot of comedians came through with the name of Fannie and he said I think it's the lucky name and he said why don't you take that and I said okay I'll take that. Then I didn't have a last name and finally a friend of mine called me up and I said do you have a good last name for Fannie and she said well She said I know one Fannie Flagg. I said that's great, where did you get it? She said well that's Geneva Coursie's grandmother's name. I don't know who Geneva Coursie is and I never found out, but I'm indebted to her. [BLANK_AUDIO] Real life people. Yeah I just sit and watch people and they're just hilarious. I don't bother going to the zoo I just go to the mall and sit. [MUSIC] In the South people talk a lot and they use the language in a very special way. So I love to have southern characters because they embellish the language and it's a different culture. I wouldn't know how to write a book about, let's say, the far east like in New Hampshire or whatever. For that is. [MUSIC] I guess it's a saga of a family. It starts in the 1800s and goes all the way to the future. It tells the story of a small American town and it's basically every American small town, how they started And this particular town is Ellwood Springs, Missouri, and I've written about that before. So some of the older characters that I had before will be in it. And it just tells the history of a small town that I think is very similar to any small town in America. [MUSIC] I've written ten novels, and I think if I do anything else it probably be short stories. Because it takes a long time, to write a novel, it takes about an year of research, maybe longer, and then a couple of years to write it, I think I've got a view towards short stories if anything. Yeah. [MUSIC] Probably the one I write about the most, which is Ellwood Springs, which is really based on the little small town I grew up in in Birmingham. It was a suburb called Woodlawn and I had such a happy time there because I lived with my grandmother. It was during the war and I was very happy then. So I probably, if I could go back, and recreate it as it was its changed you know everything changes, I think i'd like to go back and live there. The people, second the food, third the weather, fourth the beauty [UNKNOWN] everything. [MUSIC] And I'll tell you another thing, Fannie I like so much better because having my real name be Patricia when people would call me Patricia I always thought they were mad at me. [LAUGH] Cause it was so formal, so Fannie sounds like they're not mad at me. So I like that.