It’s time to play...
Today our guest author is Freddie Owens, author of the historical family drama Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie's Story.
In the movie Castaway, if Tom Hanks unearthed a copy of Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie's Story, how would that help Tom find a way off the island?
He might see from reading Blind Man that bad situations are dreams that come upon us unawares. All we have to do to get out of them is to wake up – like the lyrics in the song by Aimee Mann say, "It's not going to stop until you wise up." Easier said than done, of course.
An excerpt, of course. An excerpt would blast the judges time-machine-fashion back into the segregated south of the 1950s. It would put them on a dirt farm in backwoods Kentucky in the skin of the book's nine-year-old narrator, Orbie Ray as he undergoes a life and death rite of initiation under the tutelage of the black Choctaw preacher, Moses Mashbone. They would see Orbie's world fairly pop off the page and sense immediately his predicament, abandoned and forced to fend for himself in the vernacular against his maverick 'nigger loving' grandparents, storms of unusual magnitude and conniving stepfather.
You have five seconds to tell us who the greatest author of all time is. In your opinion, who would that be?
Cormac McCarthy, hands down.
When asked why he did it, he opened the book and pointed a passage out. What was that passage?
It was summertime when Daddy got killed. Then came fall. Dark rainy days and leaves on the ground. It was sad not having Daddy around, kissing on Momma, laughing and talking up things from the factory. I missed his big light-bulb head, his big ears, his hands on Sunday morning, all scrubbed for church, work hands like claws too big for the arms, scrubbed red but still dirty, black lines, factory grease in the knuckle cracks. And how he smelled – I missed that too – like Lava soap and gasoline and cigarettes all mixed in together.
Momma kept to herself; got that purple skin under her eyes. Blood eyes. She wouldn’t put on make up, and she wouldn’t fix up her hair. The house got a gray time. Even the yellow gloss on the kitchen wall had lost its shine. Some of it was ‘cause of gray skies and rainy weather. The rest was just old cigarette smoke and ashtrays that never got dumped.
Momma would lie up in bed or sit in the rocking chair in the living room in front of the TV, smoking one cigarette after another. Sometimes she stayed up late and rocked herself in the rocking chair with the TV set off. It was kind of like she was waiting on Daddy to come home. I would be in the kitchen drawing or playing with my army men and hear her rocking in there with the lights all off. I’d see her cigarette glowing and the shape of her head moving with the rocking chair backlit by the living room window. I would go crawl up in her lap and lay my head against her shoulder. She would put her arm around me then, and I would just be there with her, rocking back and forth, listening to her heartbeat.
Kentucky would be a good bet, near a well-trafficked thoroughfare outside Louisville. That's because the book's main action occurs in Kentucky at a place called Harlan's Crossroads. It would have to be a 1950s billboard however, maybe featuring a 1950 Ford, Orbie in the back seat with some colored kids and his Momma up front smoking a cigarette. There's a look of concern on everyone's face. Orbie's hillbilly grandparents might be pictured in the background along with the black man Moses Mashbone who holds a copperhead snake.
The caption might read: If you wanted to destroy something, why would you want to save it too? Read Then Like The Blind Man to find out!
They’ve invented a board game using the theme of your book. What would the title of it be that would be different from your book and which retail store would they place it to make the most sales?
Black Snake's Pardon / Barnes & Noble (Young Adult Section)
Juniper Tree. If you've ever seen a juniper tree you know they are utterly alien in appearance – as though transplanted from some Tolkien landscape. Then Like The Blind Man is like that. It doesn't fit in anywhere easily, which is why it stands out – like in the book – like Granny's little Jesus Tree. Here's an excerpt, which describes the Jesus Tree.
I went on out to the front yard. Granny’s Jesus Tree was out there, just a few feet away from the house, twisting up out of the ground like a bunch of ropes tied together; its thorny crown was no higher than the overhang that went out over the porch.
A faded picture of Jesus Granny had found at the Circle Stump flea market was wedged in between the branches. It was dented on one corner, washed out looking and stained with rainwater. It showed Jesus lying face down on a thick stone cross rising slantwise out of what looked like a stormy, though faded, yellow sea. Yellow waves lashed at Jesus’ feet, and a washed out angry sky swirled overhead. His back was all bony and gashed and bleeding, and His faded hands were driven through with thick gray spikes. His face lay flat against the stone, and though I looked for it, I could see no love in his eyes anywhere, just misery and gloom. Didn’t look to me like He could save himself let alone the world.
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.
“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.
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.