Home » Uncategorized » THEN LIKE THE BLIND MAN: Interview with Freddie Owens

THEN LIKE THE BLIND MAN: Interview with Freddie Owens

Freddie Owens 7A 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.

About the Book:

Then Like the Blind Man 7A 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.

Purchase your copy at AMAZON

Can you tell us who or what was the inspiration behind your book?

“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.”

Is this your first published book and if so, can you tell us your experiences in finding a publisher for it?

Yes it is. After many years of ‘almost’ and ‘no’ or ‘yes but we wouldn’t know how to market it’ from agents and publishers alike, I’ve opted for ‘certainly’ and ‘yes’ instead, taking all my marbles to Amazon’s Independent Publisher’s Assistant, Createspace, which has become Blind Sight Publication’s home base (sort of).

Where do you live and if I were coming to town, where would we go to talk books?

I live in Boulder, Colorado. We might go down to Denver to the Mercury Café or to the Tattered Cover Book Store. I prefer wine, however, and for that we’d need a bar – the Mercury Café then. That’s a definite.

When you’re not writing, what do you do to relax and have fun?

Dine out.

Do you make a living off your books or do you have another job?

I don’t make a living off my book but my book is my only job.

In your opinion, what makes a good book great?

Anyone can write a story, Toni Morrison once said. And in a way she is right. But when a story falls into the right hands – the hands of a poet say or the visionary wordsmith – it takes a back seat to the lyrical and the transcendent – to what when named becomes false. A story no matter how conventionally mysterious or thrilling must be lifted out of itself to be great. This greatness can be achieved through intelligence it is true, but such must be far quicker than the mind.

Psychologists tell us the thing we think we’d most like to grow up to be when we’re ten years old is our avocation.  What did you want to be?

I couldn’t wait to be taller than I was, definitely – and at least as tall all the grownups around me. Beyond that I would have settled for reading comic books and eating Good & Plenty candies while lying in bed on a lazy afternoon on an eternal summer vacation. Or I would have been a baseball player. I would have been Al Kaline of the Detroit Tigers. I would have enjoyed the smell of a well-oiled fielder’s mitt and the leathery heft of a hard ball well thrown.

Can you give us a short excerpt from your book?

Kentucky Light

Granny held up the lamp to see by. She laid clean blue jeans and a long-sleeved red-checkered shirt over the back of a straw chair. I was lying in bed. “Where we going they’s pickers and thorns,” she said. “Scratch ye legs up awful, you don’t put something on.” The attic smelled like old kerosene and Granny’s Juicy Fruit gum. Big beams ran up from out the dark on both sides, little pieces of wood nailed in between.

Granny turned with the lamp held to the side. Her skin was sunburned, worn looking as old leather. A shadow cut off half her face – an eye and part of her nose. She stood like that, with half a face; chewing gum, her teeth moving inside a mouth looked like a pouch pulled together with a string.

The arms of the red-checkered shirt hung down from the chair, reaching toward the floor without hands. Momma and Victor had left a little over an hour ago.

I started to cry.

Granny raised the lamp and the shadow flew away, eyes green glowing as a cat’s. “Your Momma will be back in two weeks Orbie. That ain’t no time a-tall.” Midget flames like the one in the lamp wiggled in each of her eyes. “Blackberries child! That’s what we gonna do. You and me!”

“I’m scared Granny.”

“Scared? What you scared of?”

“I don’t know. I don’t like it dark. There might be something in here. Something under the bed. There might be a man.”

“A man?”

“A black nigger man Granny. He might kidnap me!”

“They Lord Orbie, if that don’t sound like your Momma, every bit.” Granny loomed over me. It was like she’d opened a door to a dark room and was holding the lamp up to see. Her words came out full of spit. “I don’t hold with that word youngun! I don’t care where you heard it from neither. That’s the sorriest, hatefullest word on God’s green earth and I don’t want to hear it mentioned. Not by you ner nobody else! Not in my house.” She pointed a finger at the shadows overhead. “They’s colored folks and they’s white. But when you get down to the rock bottom truth of thangs they’s just folk folks!”

Granny didn’t know anything about niggers. Mean niggers in Detroit with knives.

“Ain’t many folks these parts believes the way I do,” Granny said. “Except maybe Granpaw, and folks over to Kingdom. I know your Momma don’t. Your Momma used to have more respect for coloreds. Before she went off north she did.”

“Still there might be somebody,” I said. “I don’t like it dark Granny.”

Granny set the kerosene lamp on the floor by the bed. “They ain’t nothin’ under there now, look.” She made a motion for me to climb down and look under. She was right. There wasn’t anything under there except my tennis shoes and the dirty brown linoleum floor. A big wiry-legged spider crawled into the circle where the light was and stopped. “That’s just old Daddy Long Legs,” Granny said. “He won’t hurt you none.”

I heard what she said, but I didn’t believe her. I grabbed up one of my tennis shoes and slammed it on the spider.

“They Lord!” Granny breathed.

I lifted the shoe away and there the spider was, a wet circle now of crushed legs. One leg had detached and was crawling sideways across the linoleum. I slammed it with the shoe. “I hate spiders Granny.”

“That ain’t no reason to kill one! Get back in the bed!”

I put the shoe down and climbed back in.

“I got to kill thangs too, sometimes,” Granny said. “Pigs. Chickens. Cows. Even spiders sometimes. I don’t do it just to be doing it though.”

That you needed a reason to kill spiders had never occurred to me. I pulled the sheet up over my chin and stared back.

“It had been different it was poison,” Granny said. “I’d have killed it myself it was poison.”

She knew as much about spiders as she did about niggers, which was next to nothing at all. To me spiders were creepy and mean with big fangs that could suck blood. One time at the drive-in-picture-show I saw where a spider had grown so big it ate people alive and crashed through walls. You couldn’t kill it either, not even with a tank.

Again Granny raised the lamp. “You know, you look just like a baby raccoon I come up on wunst in the woodshed, it’s eyes all a shine. Like glass. Watching me like it thought I was crazy.” She let out a laugh. “You think I’m crazy don’t you?”

I didn’t know what to think. I liked how she talked though, like she was having the best old time. I liked it so much I almost forgot to cry. Her face sidled in along side the lamp frame. “Sure enough. You and that rascally little raccoon look just exactly alike!” She wagged her head, laughing. I laughed too. Then her eyes went over the floor by the bed. “I don’t reckon they’s a man small enough could fit under there, do you?”

“No Granny,” I said.

“Me and Granpaw will be right at the foot of them steps, you get scared.”

“Okay, Granny.”

Granny smiled. “All right then.” She went with the lamp to the ladder hole. The shadow of her shoulder soared up to the ceiling, stretched out over the beams like a wing. She started backwards down the ladder hole, facing me but looking down, frowning, holding the lamp to one side whilst she felt for the steps. When her chin got even with the floor she looked back at me. “Go to sleep now hon. Everything’s gonna be all right.” She went on down. The shadow of the wing slid off the beams and followed after her. The light flickered in the hole and went out.

I curled up in a ball like a rabbit, hunkering down in the featherbed, warm and listening to the crickets. I thought about Momma and Missy, about Victor, barreling down and up and over the hills of Kentucky, moving on into Tennessee and Chattanooga, going on the rest of the way, on down to Florida and that Gulf of Mexico without me. I thought about my real Daddy. I thought about the fire. My tears started again; so much so, I thought they’d never end. And that’s how I went to sleep.

What’s next for you?

A sequel. Then a sequel to the sequel. Then fame, glory, money and more money. Then old age. Then sickness. Then death. Always death.

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