Interview with author of fiction and creative nonfiction Phyllis Barber.
Prompt: Today’s Write The Book Prompt is suggested by my guest, Phyllis Barber. She recommends, “Read Flannery O’Connor, who does things with character that I don’t think I’ve seen many other writers do. Her characterizations are fabulous. So… Look at Flannery!” And that is your prompt today: look at Flannery. Her stories can be found in the books Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, among other collections. She also wrote two novels: Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away. And, of course, every writer can benefit from reading her essays on writing and the writing life, collected in the book, Mystery and Manners.
Here’s a snippet from her story, A Good Man Is Hard To Find. Even if you’ve never read this story and even if you don’t know the context of the scene, I think you’ll come to know the characters very quickly, from these few paragraphs:
They drove off again into the hot afternoon. The grandmother took cat naps and woke up every few minutes with her own snoring. Outside of Toombsboro she woke up and recalled an old plantation that she had visited in this neighborhood once when she was a young lady. She said the house had six white columns across the front and that there was an avenue of oaks leading up to it and two little wooden trellis arbors on either side in front where you sat down with your suitor after a stroll in the garden. She recalled exactly which road to turn off to get to it. She knew that Bailey would not be willing to lose any time looking at an old house, but the more she talked about it, the more she wanted to see it once again and find out if the little twin arbors were still standing. "There was a secret:-panel in this house," she said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were, "and the story went that all the family silver was hidden in it when Sherman came through but it was never found . . ."
"Hey!" John Wesley said. "Let's go see it! We'll find it! We'll poke all the woodwork and find it! Who lives there? Where do you turn off at? Hey Pop, can't we turn off there?"
"We never have seen a house with a secret panel!" June Star shrieked. "Let's go to the house with the secret panel! Hey Pop, can't we go see the house with the secret panel!"
"It's not far from here, I know," the grandmother said. "It wouldn't take over twenty minutes."
Bailey was looking straight ahead. His jaw was as rigid as a horseshoe. "No," he said.
The children began to yell and scream that they wanted to see the house with the secret panel. John Wesley kicked the back of the front seat and June Star hung over her mother's shoulder and whined desperately into her ear that they never had any fun even on their vacation, that they could never do what THEY wanted to do. The baby began to scream and John Wesley kicked the back of the seat so hard that his father could feel the blows in his kidney.
"All right!" he shouted and drew the car to a stop at the side of the road. "Will you all shut up? Will you all just shut up for one second? If you don't shut up, we won't go anywhere."
"It would be very educational for them," the grandmother murmured.
That, again, is an excerpt from Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find. Phyllis Barber suggests reading O’Connor’s work in looking for inspiration on character development. Good luck with this activity and please listen next week for another.
Music credits: 1) “Dreaming 1″ - John Fink; 2) “Filter” - Dorset Greens (a Vermont band featuring several South Burlington High School students)