We’re thrilled to have here today Mr. Strode Wood, aka Granpaw, from Freddie Owen’s Historical Thriller, Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie’s Story. He’s coming to us all the way from the great state of Kentucky. It is a pleasure to have him with us today at Beyond the Books!
Thank you so much for this interview, Mr. Wood. Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?
Call me Granpaw, city slicker. Everybody else does. Yeah I got a complaint. That guy wrote this thing made out like I was too weak to work or do anything ‘sides be a burden on everybody else. Just ’cause I had that there little stroke. And it nothin at all! I could have took care of things, hoed out that tobacco patch, no problem. Next time stead of sissifying me er laying me up to no good that guy Freddie whatever his name is could put me up with a little more credit. Why, he wouldn’t even let me out to drive my own car, less I snuck around about it!
What do you believe is your strongest trait?
Well I’ll tell you what’s the truth, I’m ornery as hell sometimes. And I don’t think they’s a better way to get yer point across – ‘specially where I come from, Harlan’s Crossroads, Kentucky, where folks hate the colored for no other reason than they colored. Their butter is like to slip off their corn prematurely, if you know what I mean. No, I don’t reckon you do. You would though, if it was the 50s and you lived down here.
Orneriness. Yep, it’s my worst trait too. I teased that little Orbie so much, he plum near decided on hating me. I have a way of crossing a line, it’s true. At times I’m just a old sum bitch got nothin better to do than have a little ignorant fun. That little Orbie though, he’s a winner, he can tell you all about that.
If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?
Mr. Robert Duvall would do just fine.
Do you have a love interest in the book?
You mean sex? Why sure I do? I told that colored lady, Miss Alma, she didn’t have to wait till I was in a spell to take advantage of me. I’d gladly give her some loving. Hot damn! I said. White sugar on brown! And me a preacher too.
At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?
When Ruby’s man Victor went off on the Unions. Bunch a hillbilly troublemakers he called them. I knowed right then he was no good and that Ruby had made a big mistake a marryin him. Truth be told thangs started in hell’s direction right after Jessie’s accident. That liked to have killed us all.
If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?
I wouldn’t want to be Victor. That man’s a world of trouble and the devil’s confusion rolled into one. Nealy Harlan’s another one I wouldn’t want to be, chastising folks twicet as good as him just ’cause they black. But Victor now, he’s the craziest kind of strange you’d never want to meet – dangerous as hell too.
How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?
They ain’t one feeling to have but a whole bunch, some good, some not so good. I tell you what’s the truth though. The world made better sense ‘fore all this here happened. And they’s something still not right.
What words of wisdom would you give your author if he decided to write another book with you in it?
Stick with my grandson, Orbie. Listen to him. Let him tell the story. I’ll be in there, somewhere – probly smellin like pig shit and roses as usual.
Thank you for this interview. Will we be seeing more of you in the future?
I reckon. Say feller, ‘fore you go, take a look at this here trailer. http://bit.ly/1dnWwwN
A poet and fiction writer, my work has been published in Poet Lore, Crystal Clear and Cloudy, and Flying Colors Anthology. I am a past attendee of Pikes Peak Writer’s Conferences and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and a member of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver, Colorado. In addition, I am/was a licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist, who for many years counseled perpetrators of domestic violence and sex offenders, and provided psychotherapy for individuals, groups and families. I hold a master’s degree in contemplative psychotherapy from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
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’.
Freddie Owens’ latest book is Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie’s Story.
Visit his website at www.FreddieOwens.com.
A storm is brewing in the all-but-forgotten backcountry of Kentucky. And, for young Orbie Ray, the swirling heavens may just have the power to tear open his family’s darkest secrets. Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie’s Story is the enthralling debut novel by Freddie Owens, which tells the story of a spirited wunderkind in the segregated South of the 1950s and the forces he must overcome to restore order in his world. Rich in authentic vernacular and evocative of a time and place long past, this absorbing work of magical realism offered up with a Southern twist will engage readers who relish the Southern literary canon, or any tale well told.
Nine-year-old Orbie already has his cross to bear. After the sudden death of his father, his mother Ruby has off and married his father’s coworker and friend Victor, a slick-talking man with a snake tattoo. Since the marriage, Orbie, his sister Missy, and his mother haven’t had a peaceful moment with the heavy-drinking, fitful new man of the house. Orbie hates his stepfather more than he can stand; this fact lands him at his grandparents’ place in Harlan’s Crossroads, Kentucky, when Victor decides to move the family to Florida without including him. In his new surroundings, Orbie finds little to distract him from Granpaw’s ornery ways and constant teasing jokes about snakes.
As Orbie grudgingly adjusts to life with his doting Granny and carping Granpaw, who are a bit too keen on their black neighbors for Orbie’s taste, not to mention their Pentecostal congregation of snake handlers, he finds his world views changing, particularly when it comes to matters of race, religion, and the true cause of his father’s death. He befriends a boy named Willis, who shares his love of art, but not his skin color. And, when Orbie crosses paths with the black Choctaw preacher, Moses Mashbone, he learns of a power that could expose and defeat his enemies, but can’t be used for revenge. When a storm of unusual magnitude descends, he happens upon the solution to a paradox that is both magical and ordinary. The question is, will it be enough?
Equal parts Hamlet and Huckleberry Finn, it’s a tale that’s both rich in meaning, timely in its social relevance, and rollicking with boyhood adventure. The novel mines crucial contemporary issues, as well as the universality of the human experience while also casting a beguiling light on boyhood dreams and fears. It’s a well-spun, nuanced work of fiction that is certain to resonate with lovers of literary fiction, particularly in the grand Southern tradition of storytelling.