My guest today is poet and fiction writer Freddie Owens. He’s been spotted in Poet Lore, Crystal Clear and Cloudy and Flying Colors Anthology. He’s appeared on stage at the Mercury Café, at the Laughing Goat, at Penny Lane and in workshops a la Sparrows and Pikes Peak Writers Conference. When you think of Freddie, think of echoing hard heels on polished hallway floors, think of tunneled enclosures, of hot interest, baseless fear, love and loathing – think of an Association of Writers and Writer’s Programs minus the writers. In this interview he talks about his latest book, Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie’s Story.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie’s Story. What was your inspiration for it?
I witnessed my grandmother wring a chicken’s neck when I was nine. It ran about the yard headless, spewing blood and flapping its wings as the life went out of it. For the chicken and for the boy I was too, there was something existentially irreversible about this, something horrific and final. I wanted to write about it, not so much just to describe the horrors of a chicken’s death but to say something about how I, a nine-year-old, experienced these. I wanted to get into the skin of the little boy I remembered and try to write from his point of view, which turned out to be quite fascinating. An alive, vibrant and vivid livingness manifested that I, as an adult writer, could not have matched without on a daily basis trying to slip into the boy’s world. This was not always easy to do, but once achieved, all sorts of possibilities for writing opened up.
I want readers to enter the book’s fictional world without disturbances or distractions of any kind. That is perhaps the main reason I chose to write it from Orbie Ray’s point of view – so that the reader would identify with Orbie and begin to see the world as he does. I can think of no better way to get caught up in a story than this – to begin to see the world with fresh eyes, even if only borrowed for a time.
Did your book require a lot of research?
It is regarded as an historical novel by some – and I suppose in a way it is – but I never wrote it with this in mind. I imagine a truly historical work would require a lot of research – to get the time line and facts right and so forth. I did not have to do much research on Then Like The Blind Man however, I think because I wrote it as a work of literary fiction. Many of the facts I knew purely from memory, from having lived through the era. I did have to do a bit of research with regard to the Pentecostal and snake-handling religion of the South. I also had to run down little facts like whether or not a 1950 Ford car came with an automatic transmission, which it did as I found out. In fact, it was the first Ford car to be available with an automatic transmission. It also came with vinyl seats.
What do you do when your muse refuses to collaborate?
I wait her out. Truly. If I do nothing but stare at the screen for three hours, which I have done on more than a few occasions, I count it as a session. Something will come, always, eventually, if not on one particular day then on another. There is in such doggedness and discipline a kind of devotion that no muse worth her name can long ignore.
How do you keep your narrative exciting?
If one tries too hard to spice up the narrative I think the effort can backfire and produce a narrative that sounds contrived and oddly (ironically) tedious. In order for the story to be believable, its tone, its coloring must ring true; it must not distract the reader from his or her feeling of involvement, of participating in the evolution of the narrative. For excitement to exist there must be contrast. I think that if there’s too much tweaking for excitement – like you get in certain ‘high concept’ movies where exciting scenes follow one another in a crescendo of special effects – everything starts to take on an oddly tedious pitch with little room for breath. And I think that’s an important consideration. Readers need to breath. Writers need to as well.
Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?
I do schedule myself to be at a certain place at a certain time every day in order to write – except sometimes I take off for a day or two on the weekend. I try to be consistent. I write in the afternoon on some days; on others it may be in the morning, three hours at a stretch, sometimes longer. I regard my scheduled writing time as I would an appointment with a doctor or dentist, the only difference being that my doctor or dentist, i.e., my muse, doesn’t always show up. It’s important that I do however. If the she sees that I am present, she might deign to be present too. I could then count myself lucky.
How do you define success?
I used to think that if I wrote a book I liked and was satisfied I had done everything possible to make it a worthy piece of writing and that if more than a handful of people liked it and of course some independent reviewers did too, then that would be success enough. I think I did achieve at least this much, even as an independently published author – but since the advent of this ‘success’, the issue of earned money and how many books sold, etc. has reared its ugly head. I find myself now stuck in a sort of marketing whorl that never seems to end. That sucks time and energy away from the actual work of writing – not at all what I had envisioned. Success becomes money becomes marketing becomes developing a platform and a brand and on and on and on. Success defined this way is so elusive as to be almost unachievable – unless of course one has large sums of money to throw at the problem. It gets to be like pleasure in life – relentlessly pursued, rarely realized and always followed by pain. One must remember not to forget to write!
Where is your book available?
You can get my book on Amazon in either paperback or Kindle version here. There’s also a website on which the book is further described. I’ve started a blog there as well. Finally, a link to the book’s trailer on YouTube, which I’m proud of and think is pretty cool, is here .