English novelist tips hat to memories of American Midwest

Terry Rombeck/Journal-World Photo

Mimi Thebo, who lived in Lawrence for about 10 years, is back in the United States to promote Welcome

If You Go

  • What: Book signing by Mimi Thebo, author of “Welcome to Eudora”
  • When: 3 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: Borders, 700 N.H.

Even after 20 years of living in England, Mimi Thebo yearns for the American Midwest.

“I miss the landscape something terrible,” she says.

She misses the people, too – especially the ones who mind their neighbors’ business just a little too much.

Those people are among the main characters in Thebo’s sixth and most recent book, “Welcome to Eudora” (Ballantine, $13.95). She’ll sign copies Sunday at Borders, 700 N.H.

Thebo, a Kansas University graduate who lived about 10 years in Lawrence, sums up the book’s busy plot this way: “It’s a simple tale of love, witchcraft and corporate abandonment, with a backstory of racial tension.”

The story, which on its face seems like a romance novel, focuses on Lottie Dougal, who was born and raised in Eudora (which in the book is in Kansas, but isn’t a facsimile of the real Eudora). The book follows her courtship with newcomer pharmacist James Emery.

But there are deeper themes. The town’s corporate-owned rock quarry, a major employer of the town’s Hispanic population, closes, and suddenly the town’s “invisible” immigrant population is shoved to the forefront.

“It’s timely everywhere in the Western world,” Thebo says.

Midwest connection

Thebo received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from KU in 1985. She’s now a lecturer in creative writing at Bath Spa University College in England.

A self-described liberal, Thebo says she was depressed after the last U.S. presidential election, when George W. Bush won re-election. But she decided to reconnect with her homeland after seeing a concert by country rocker Steve Earle.

“The next morning,” she says, “I started writing ‘Welcome to Eudora.'”

Thebo – whose mother, Katy Beard, still lives in Lawrence – has lived in several small towns, including Baldwin City. And though she no longer lives in the American Midwest, she has 52 cousins who reside in rural communities, so she keeps in touch with small-town life.

“When you mess up in a big city, nothing shameful happens to you,” Thebo says. “You move away or you change fields or you change jobs. You never deal with it … Small communities allow for greater spiritual development. It’s better for you to face the music and not shy away from it. You have to face yourself.”

She picked the name “Eudora,” in part, because of the Midwest writer Eudora Welty. She also just liked the way the name sounded.

“It’s not really Eudora,” she explains. “I was looking for a name that was homely in both senses of the word. It could not sound pretentious and needed to sound ‘hick,’ and Eudora has all those qualifications.”

Survival stories

When Thebo was 14 years old, she was involved in a major car accident. She received fractures to her larynx.

The same day, a 15-year-old girl was brought to the same Kansas City hospital with the same injuries. She died, while Thebo survived.

“All of my novels are about the same thing,” Thebo says. “I’ve always found that interesting, why some people survive while others don’t. I’m always writing about recovery, but not because I’m proselytizing or endlessly telling my own story.”

Thebo is back in Lawrence this month for the first time since her 5-year-old daughter, Darla, was born. She says Darla has fallen in love with the landscape, too, and especially enjoys driving on gravel roads.

It’s that sort of sentiment that Thebo hopes comes through in her latest novel.

“I was trying to write about the America I loved and wanted to live in,” she says, “with all the things that are praiseworthy about the Midwest.”