Secret Southern Couture: THAT WHICH FIRST TROUBLED US (A brooding thought or two from a self published author)   

Monday, January 20, 2014

THAT WHICH FIRST TROUBLED US (A brooding thought or two from a self published author)

I guess I should be more circumspect in public and not say that it astounds me that so many people now have read Then Like the Blind Man and actually like it. In fact, there's been a surfeit of praise. I'm tickled of course, but can this be possible? Am I not dreaming a pleasant dream from which I'll awaken one day to discover the harsh truth, i.e., that my book is sub par, mediocre and yet another example of self published claptrap? I ask myself this. And I'm a little embarrassed, I guess. I mean I'm out there now, publicized in a way I'm only gradually getting to know. It's sort of like having been behind locked doors for years and years and finally finding a key of sorts and using it to open the door and stepping out into the sunshine - where everything is now exposed. The temptation, of course, is to crawl back, go back inside, shut the doors, shut out the over bright lights. Seems odd and a little disconcerting at times but I seem to have an abiding affiliation with the darkness, more so than I do with the light - it is the darkness that interests me, that causes me to explore. But that requires light, doesn't it? I need the light; but I love the darkness. 
I find myself at times afraid of success, though this is what I seem to be striving for. Success is not bad, of course. We all (probably) want it. You (probably) want it. I want it. But I wonder whether efforts made on its behalf are truly fruitful.  I have made compromises; I've had to market my book, for example, more than I had envisioned, being self-published. This has eaten into my writing time. In fact, of late, writing time has been next to nil. Sometimes I wonder if there's an easier way to success, whether or not a more preplanned, formulaic approach to writing would yield greater results.  
I aspire to literary fiction - but I think I may be more of a crusader-novelist than I would like to admit. I haven't written in other genres (or on second thought maybe I have and just don't know it yet) so I really don't know what it would be like to do so. I imagine that genre writers do a good deal more of preplanning, you know, of the sort that requires outlines and careful, even meticulous, attention to things like plot points and how to best position them along the line of the story the better to form 'mind blowing' (hyperbole mine) transitions from beginning to middle to end - all well and exceedingly good no doubt. On the other hand, writing literary fiction - if that is what I am trying to do - seems messier and I think must involve a fair amount of brooding, imagining hairline fractures (where none exist) or just fumbling about aimlessly in the dark.
Here's a quote from Eudora Welty that I think speaks to this. From The Eye of the Story / On Plot and The Crusader Novelist: "With a blueprint to work with instead of a vision, there is a good deal that we as the crusader-novelist must be at pains to leave out. Unavoidably, I think, we shall leave out one of the greatest things. This is the mystery of life. Our blueprint for sanity and of solution for trouble leaves out the dark. This is odd, because surely it was the dark that first troubled us." Imagine that.   
Eudora envisions something beyond merely producing a book that sells well and I think – as self-published authors – we might do well to consider it. For Eudora writing is an act of courage, of dealing with that which troubles us, using the pen's eye, so to speak, to probe the darkness. Whether or not the story produced is a best seller is beside the point. Whether or not it receives accolades from the so-called literary establishment is also beside the point. Is it true, seems to be the point. It could be fantastic, paranormal thriller material – but is it true? To the extent it is based on plan and formula, to that extent, it may not be; it may sell well, it may even garner readers and help build a 'brand', but again, is it true? Does truth matter?
I don't think I could write an outline before writing a book (at least not easily). However, in writing Then Like the Blind Man I remember I had a large flat tabletop covered with scraps of paper and pages of copious notes semi-haphazardly-organized into semblances of chapter sequences, which I would mull over obsessively, from time to time getting rid of whole sections or adding new ones. You might have mistaken me then for the mad but brilliant mathematician John Nash (who Russell Crowe played in the movie A Beautiful Mind) with all his walls covered in papers and desperate red lines connecting imaginary dots across miles of paranoid space. Eudora could well have cited me for having provided a blueprint for sanity and solution for trouble. She might also have commended an effort, though gross and faltering, at navigating the darkness. It wasn't about money or marketability – at least not at that point. You might recall the comparison (I can't remember where it came from) that describes writing a novel as being a lot like driving at night with headlights. You might not be able to see the journey's end, but you can see far enough ahead to make it. I like that comparison, and I come to no conclusions. You might throw plans out the window and end up with a kind of hodgepodge nobody understands. And what good would that be? Where's your vision?

Title: Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie’s Story
Author: Freddie Owens
Publisher: Blind Sight Publications
Pages: 332
Language: English
Genre: Historical Fiction/Coming of Age
Format: Paperback & eBook

Purchase at AMAZON
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.

About the Author:

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

Connect & Socialize with Freddie!