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Interview: Betsy Phillips on “Jesus Has Forgiven Me, Why Can’t You?”

How much of this story is true?

I did date a guy who was a professional wrestler as a hobby. I did think he had a drinking problem, when he was actually married to a stunningly beautiful woman. I avoided talking to her in a Wendy’s, though, not at a wrestling match. She did have a baby, which made me feel even worse about a situation I already felt terribly about. He did say to me, “Jesus has forgiven me. Why can’t you?” which, even when he said it, I thought it was more memorable and poetic than anything he’d said the whole time we were dating. But all of the witty retorts and the satisfying vengeance are all made up. I’ve never actually wrestled, except when horsing around with my brothers as a kid and I’m sure I did a lot more crying and threatening to tell our parents on them than I did wrestling.


How does one get onto the amateur wrestling circuit, and what’s it like, for those of us not in the know?

I was never sure if his story about wrestling for Jerry Lawler was true or not. I never got to meet Jerry Lawler or anything cool like that and he definitely wasn’t wrestling for Lawler when we knew each other. (I did learn how to cut my forehead with a razor blade and then seal it back together with Vaseline so that I’d bleed really good and gross if hit, but I never have had a chance to use that particular skill.) The level at which he was wrestling when I met him–at suburban VFWs and rec centers–struck me as not requiring a whole lot of training. If someone said you knew what you were doing and you didn’t injure anyone when you tried out, if they needed talent, they pretty much let you in. I think one of the reasons he made the claim about wrestling for Lawler was to say that he had real training and wasn’t just some backyard wrestler made good. But a guy who will lie about being married will probably lie about wrestling for The King, so who knows what the truth was there?

Still, an amazing thing about Tennessee is that it’s filled with old wrestlers who maybe never made it big, but who still do amazing work. We saw a rope match one time between two old, paunchy guys who were already limping before they got to the ring. Just, like, imagine your dad or your laziest uncle, but in tiny pants and tied by the wrist to another guy. Not the kind of men you expect beauty from, but, man, when they were in the ring, tossing each other around, pulling each other away from the posts (the rope match had a stipulation that the winner was the person who touched all four posts first) and flipping over each other to reach their goal, it was sublime. I still think it was one of the most amazing, beautiful, dramatic things I’ve ever seen. And to think that there are all kinds of people in the area who can tell these gripping stories through their bodies? It just blows my mind.


Can you talk about how your family, your roots in Nashville, your interests in history, etc., have influenced you as a writer?

I don’t actually have any roots in Nashville. We vacationed here a lot when I was a kid and when I needed a place to live as an adult, Nashville seemed like as plausible a destination as any. Fortunately, it turned out that Nashville is a great place for creative people–crammed full of visual artists, musicians, and writers of all sorts. Plus, when you dig into it a little, it turns out that Nashville has a really weird and interesting historyBut the most important thing about Nashville is that it has always been a city that is a real place and a myth. It’s always been really aware of the power of a good story, whether that means a small village huddled in the shadow of an old wooden fort pretending it was as cosmopolitan as Philadelphia back in Nashville’s early days or now, where the reality of Nashville as an ordinary place people live and work regular jobs sits right alongside of the Nashville tourists imagine and country music hopefuls dream it will be. (Take cowboy boots and hats as an example of how this works. No one who actually lives in Nashville, unless they’re a part of the ongoing mythologizing of Nashville, wears cowboy boots and hats, but we know tourists expect them here, so we have a ton of places for you to buy them.) If you want to learn about world-building, Nashville’s a great place to watch it in action on a large scale.
Most important to my development as a writer, though, is that fact that my dad is a Methodist minister, which, at heart, means that I was raised to believe that a story told right could change the world. I think that’s been an enormous influence on me, growing up believing that stories and the telling of them have soul-deep value.


What are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on a novel–a haunted house story set in Nashville. I’m really fascinated by how many people live in subdivisions that surround antebellum homes or how many couples get married in the yards of these homes. I mean, they’re beautiful, but they’re a strange backdrop for happiness. And it’s not like the history of these places is deeply hidden. People just…I don’t know, exactly. It seems like they cherish the homes for their historical value and yet pretend as if their histories are unimportant. It’s an interesting contradiction and so my novel is about what happens when the ugliness at the heart of a house like that gets up and goes walking around, when people can’t ignore it, because it’s opening doors or calling out your name.

People can find me at or on twitter @auntb


“Jesus Has Forgiven Me, Why Can’t You?” appears in the July/August 2016 issue of F&SF.

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One Response to “Interview: Betsy Phillips on “Jesus Has Forgiven Me, Why Can’t You?””

  1. An Interview | Tiny Cat Pants on August 10th, 2016

    […] I have an interview on the F&SF site. I sound self-assured and funny! […]

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