Amanda Cox is a blogger and a curriculum developer for a national nonprofit youth leadership organization, she holds a bachelor’s degree in Bible and theology and a master’s degree in professional counseling, but her first love is communicating through story. Her studies and her interactions with hurting families over a decade have allowed her to create multidimensional characters that connect emotionally with readers. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband and their three children.
In this interview, Amanda talks with us about her latest novel, The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery.
FF: Can you please provide a brief description of your new book, The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery?
The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery is a story about three generations of women whose lives have been impacted by a small, family-owned grocery in a big way. When it appears that the store will have to close, decades-old secrets collide with the present, forcing these women to face the way secrets they’ve kept have unknowingly shaped each other’s lives.
FF: What was the inspiration for your book?
My grandmother once owned a small grocery store in Camden, Tennessee, that is the namesake of the store in my book. When I was a little girl, visiting the store and playing hide-and-seek in the aisles with my brother was always a special time. I can still hear the sound of those wooden floors and remember all the smells. Though it closed many years ago, I loved the idea of bringing it back to life on paper. So while the story is fictional, there was a real Old Depot Grocery that holds fond childhood memories.
FF: Your book is full of different emotions—grief, unresolved anger, guilt, hope, love, and healing restoration. How do you feel your background in professional counseling has helped you craft a novel that accurately reflects these emotions and helps your characters work through these feelings?
As a counselor, I spent time sitting with individuals and families on their most difficult days, serving as a guide while they processed their thoughts and emotions and helping them take steps toward healing. Listening, observing, and simply being present with another person has always been a high value of mine. When I form characters, I invest a lot of my time imagining who they would be and what life experiences have shaped them. I “sit with” these characters in order to bring them to life on the page in an authentic way. As a counselor I functioned as a guide toward healing for my clients. As a novelist I strive to do the same for my characters, using the story as a guide on their path toward healing.
FF: The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery is a dual-time story. What time lines do you feature and whose stories are told?
The past time line starts in 1965 when the grandmother of the story, Glory Ann, is nineteen. It continues to follow her life and her daughter Rosemary’s journey to adulthood, and eventually gives a tiny window into granddaughter Sarah’s childhood as it moves through history. In the present day, we meet all three of these women, each with their own struggles to work through. Those scenes in the past give glimpses of the secrets these women have kept and reveal ways they have shaped the present.
FF: One of your main protagonists, Sarah Ashby, is returning home with the hopes of running Old Depot Grocery with her grandmother and mother. How does this store play a key component in this story?
In many ways the store could be considered a character in its own right. Just like the cast of characters change, grow, and develop, Old Depot Grocery changes as the story progresses. Life at the store has impacted each of the characters in a unique way, and their experiences there shape the people they become.
FF: In The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery, Sarah Ashby, her mother, Rosemary, and her grandmother, Glory Ann, find themselves reflecting upon how their lives have been altered by false information. What can we learn from their stories?
Sometimes we think we are protecting others by withholding information, but it often has lasting repercussions that go unseen. By omitting information and not communicating clearly, we leave room for assumptions, which can be more damaging in the long run.
FF: Your novel delves into the dynamics between mothers and daughters. Why did you decide to focus on these type of relationships?
Part of the reason I chose to focus on the relationships between mothers and daughters is because of my relationship with my daughter. She has always been a momma’s girl, watching everything I do and then repeating all she observes—whether in playing with her dolls or seeking to join in whatever it is I am doing. This connection we share made me reflect on the way mothers influence daughters—how much they teach their daughters what it means to be a woman in this world without even knowing it. At my best and at my worst, my daughter is learning something about her identity and her place in this world.
So with these characters, you get to see that dynamic reflected. Daughters living alongside mothers. And sometimes because they didn’t know the truth or understand why their mother behaved the way they did, it skewed their perspective, causing that daughter to form certain beliefs and make life-altering decisions. This story reveals a secret of a unique kind, the unspoken ways mothers influence their daughters.
FF: Why did you choose a rural town in Tennessee as the setting for your book?
The real life Old Depot Grocery, owned by my grandmother, was located in the rural town of Camden, Tennessee. There is something unique about rural towns and the community and connection that happens around family-owned businesses that is truly unique and special. Unfortunately, it is something that seems to be fading in today’s world. Hopefully, I was able to contain a little bit of that homey comfort of a family-owned grocery store within the pages of The Secret Keeper of Old Depot Grocery.
FF: What are you working on next?
I currently have a few new book ideas simmering. I am excited about the opportunity to incorporate research from my hobby of backyard beekeeping, as well as take notes on my upcoming trips to the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and a potential trip to Europe. I can’t wait to tell you more about what I have planned. No matter where these new stories take us, you can be sure that they will be full of hope, healing, and finding a place to call home.
The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery
Genres: Romance, Time-Slip
Release Date: September 7, 2021
Present Day. After tragedy plunges her into grief and unresolved anger, Sarah Ashby returns to her childhood home determined to finally follow her long-denied dream of running the family business alongside her mother and grandmother. So when her mother, Rosemary, announces to her that Old Depot Grocery is closing, Sarah and her grandmother, Glory Ann, make a plan to save the store. But Rosemary has worked her entire life to make sure her daughter never follows in her footsteps. She has her reasons–but she’ll certainly never reveal the real one.
1965. Glory Ann confesses to her family that she’s pregnant with her deceased fiancé’s baby. Pressured into a marriage of convenience with a shopkeeper to preserve her family’s reputation, Glory Ann vows never to love again. But some promises are not as easily kept as she imagined.
This dual-time story from Amanda Cox deftly explores the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship, the way the secrets we keep shape our lives and the lives of others, and the healing power of telling the truth.
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