Hi Freddie, we have read a bit about you when you were a Guest Blogger. For those who have missed that one, check it out here. As I said, welcome Freddie. Have a drink, grab a chair and make yourself comfortable.
Where, or when did your writing life start?
My third grade teacher (appropriately named Mrs. Reed) was a very beautiful woman, and to please her I pretended to read Gulliver’s Travels, for which I received many delicious hugs. I understood little of what I read but enough about tiny men and giant frogs to make her think I was comprehending some of it, which I guess I was, though I knew if tested I wouldn’t pass. Anyway, it was during this period I got the idea that girls, grown up beautiful girls, liked books and that (quite possibly) they liked the boys who wrote them even better. The truth of this was born out in the 11th grade when another beautiful teacher of mine asked if she could keep a short story I had written for an assignment, a grotesque story of a soldier who had tried desperately to free himself from the clutches of a dead man’s hand that was emerging from a grave. It was a terrible story but she liked it and by extension (I imagined) she liked me too – which, of course, kept me writing, even if only occasionally. A certain confidence had been born. The Muse appeared to me many times this way, early on and later in life, in various and beautiful (and sometimes not so beautiful) female forms.
Do you consider yourself a poet or a straight fiction writer?
This is a bit like asking do you take your fiction straight up or dirtied with a little poetry. Ezra Pound declared that if one wanted to learn how to write poetry one would be well advised to learn how to write good prose. I had written nothing but poems early on and well into my adult life before coming across Pound’s words, which inspired me (ironically) to try my hand at fiction. And to my delight, I’ve found the distinction made between poetry and prose to be at best a false one. In writing the novel, Then Like the Blind Man, for example, the attention paid to the rhythm and music of word phrases to render the southern vernacular was very much like that paid to writing poetry.
Have you been Published?
Yes. See above. Some indeed have seen fit to publish what was originally scratched on odd scraps of toilet paper and in bent notebooks in moods of angst and repose – some with, some without doubt.
Are you an author first, or is there another profession you call yours?
I’ve been a counselor, but gave that up to write full time. Now, that’s what I do – assuming there’s an ‘I’ of course and a ‘doer’ and a thing to be ‘done’ – which I am attempting not to do – which of course is another way of doing what you have set out not to do. This has something to ‘do’ with writing I think in that some of my best writing has occurred almost without warning or almost without any intention whatsoever. I’m not sure what I’m talking about here exactly but I’ll leave it here anyway – just because there’s something about it that feels right. I can’t say that being a counselor or psychotherapist has had anything directly to do with the day to day skill of writing, though it certainly has provided information and inspired a range of feelings, compassionate and those of a less charitable nature.
Is there any place on earth you love above all?
If there are no places on earth, where is the question of a favorite? The answer to this question is the place – the one I love most of all.
Is there any food or beverage that is a constant factor in either your books or life?
Something called Soak. This is not constant so much as curious – and rare – remembered – included in Blind Man.
Can you give me the recipe?
Here it is – straight from Then Like the Blind Man!
She walked around Granpaw and stood next to the stove. She had a thick white mug like his in one hand and a spoon in the other. “Orbie hon, look up here to me. You got the dry eye, don’t ye?”
I didn’t know if I had it or not.
“No,” I said.
“Yes you do.” Granny dug out a spoonful of coffee and biscuit from her mug. I’d seen her do that other times I was down here. Coffee and biscuit from a mug was one of her most favorite things. She called it ‘soak’. “You know what the dry eye is?”
Note: Add sugar if desired.
And now for something serious. 🙂
What is the book you came over to talk about? As mentioned above, THEN LIKE THE BLIND MAN: Orbie’s Story
How did you get the idea of writing that one?
I was born in Kentucky but soon after my parents moved to Detroit. Detroit was where I grew up. As a kid I visited relatives in Kentucky, once for a six-week period, which included a stay with my grandparents. In the novel’s acknowledgements I did assert the usual disclaimers having to do with the fact that Then Like The Blind Man was and is a work of fiction, i.e., a made up story whose characters and situations are fictional in nature (and used fictionally) no matter how reminiscent of characters and situations in real life. That’s a matter for legal departments, however, and has little to do with subterranean processes giving kaleidoscopic-like rise to hints and semblances from memory’s storehouse, some of which I selected and disguised for fiction. That is to say, yes, certain aspects of my history did manifest knowingly at times, at times spontaneously and distantly, as ghostly north-south structures, as composite personae, as moles and stains and tears and glistening rain and dark bottles of beer, rooms of cigarette smoke, hay lofts and pigs. Here’s a quote from the acknowledgements that may serve to illustrate this point.
“Two memories served as starting points for a short story I wrote that eventually became this novel. One was of my Kentucky grandmother as she emerged from a shed with a white chicken held upside down in one of her strong bony hands. I, a boy of nine and a “city slicker” from Detroit, looked on in wonderment and horror as she summarily wrung the poor creature’s neck. It ran about the yard frantically, yes incredibly, as if trying to locate something it had misplaced as if the known world could be set right again, recreated, if only that one thing was found. And then of course it died. The second memory was of lantern light reflected off stones that lay on either side of a path to a storm cellar me and my grandparents were headed for one stormy night beneath a tornado’s approaching din. There was wonderment there too, along with a vast and looming sense of impending doom.”
I read the usual assigned stuff growing up, short stories by Poe, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Scarlet Letter, The Cherry Orchard, Hedda Gabler, a little of Hemingway, etc. I also read a lot of Super Hero comic books (also Archie and Dennis the Menace) and Mad Magazine was a favorite too. I was also in love with my beautiful third grade teacher and to impress her pretended to read Gulliver’s Travels for which I received many delicious hugs.
It wasn’t until much later that I read Huckleberry Finn. I did read To Kill A Mockingbird too. I read Bastard Out of Carolina and The Secret Life of Bees. I saw the stage play of Hamlet and read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle too. However, thematic similarities to these works occurred to me only after I was already well into the writing of Then Like The Blind Man. Cormac McCarthy, Pete Dexter, Carson McCullers, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Conner and Joyce Carol Oates, to name but a few, are among my literary heroes and heroines. Tone and style of these writers have influenced me in ways I’d be hard pressed to name, though I think the discerning reader might feel such influences as I make one word follow another and attempt to “stab the heart with…force” (a la Isaac Babel) by placing my periods (hopefully, sometimes desperately) ‘… just at the right place’.
Did it take you long between idea and finished book?
Let’s see. I started the short story I think sometime in 97 (maybe earlier) and the first draft was completed in the spring of 2003. I was working with Judith Guest (Ordinary People) and Rebecca Hill (Among Birches) at the time and their suggestions and criticisms required another almost two years of writing before I had a serviceable draft ready to submit to agents. More editing and rewriting followed in response to the agent I was working with and later to a couple of professional editors. I don’t think I had what you’d call a ‘finished book’ until 2008; approximately 11 or 12 years after I began the journey.
How did you celebrate writing the last words of your manuscript?
I don’t remember. Probably I drank wine and ate a little cheese. There was no definitive end. In fact, I went back and changed aspects of the ending even after it was published.
What do you like most about being a writer?
I like getting into the skin of my character, seeing the world from my character’s point of view. I like the attention to detail this requires. I like getting into the smell, the taste, the sight, how the character might hear a sound or how a certain texture might register with a character’s sensibilities. I like getting into all that and then working very precisely with the details of creating and showing a scene that is either an expression of what is occurring or completely at odds with it. The rest – the selling, the marketing, the posing, the branding – is all nonsense in a way or at the very least beside the point.
What do you do to promote your book and which thing do you think works best?
Well, there’s Facebook. My book has its own page at Facebook where I try to promote it and other books as well as other writerly things. There’s my website and blog. I have some recordings of me reading from my book there with sound effects and musical loops. I have other plans for the site but have no idea when or if I’ll ever have time to get to them. I advertise. I’m on Goodreads, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter. I’m learning how to tweet. My book is with Kindle Direct Publishing and I have offered it for free several times, which has served to get a fair number of readers and many, many customer reviews, most of which, I’m happy to say, have been of the five star variety. I think that for a relatively unknown like myself it’s important to secure advocates for ones work, not just sales. My book has been downloaded almost 75,000 times for free, which hasn’t directly put a dime in my pocket but has most certainly created a small and growing audience for my work. And that tickles me several different shades of sunrise pink.
And to end on a creative note. Can you tell me something about you no one has ever heard before? (You can cheat and make something up, but if you do you have to tell us it’s really a very well crafted lie, because we have to believe it. 🙂 ) I am not a writer; I am not a householder, husband, brother, friend, uncle, son, a salesman, shaman, seeker, therapist, tai chi practitioner, irreverent fan of chocolate chip cookies, baked chicken, pinot noir, juniper and gin. In fact, I am nothing in particular yet I am. (go figure)