Monday, April 11, 2011

Our lunch with Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

This past Tuesday, the Heathrow Literary Society had the distinct pleasure of not only discussing Tom Franklin's "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter", but chatting with the author himself.  I stated in my five-star review of the book (which was way early because I couldn't wait) that I was officially a fan of Franklin.  That attitude has been elevated now to somewhere in the neighborhood of "besotted with".

It would be nearly impossible not to fall in love with this guy.  He is approachable and friendly, with his southern accent and easy charm.  He is laid back (which we tested by having some technical difficulties with the phone and the speakers).  And most of all, humble.  He claims that alot of what he has written has been "horrible", only brought to a level of genius through his wife's editing.  He despises the sound of his voice on interviews (and was cringing from the echo that he heard coming out of our speakers).  Falling into my role of Southern Belle, I'd say "bless his heart". 

On the development of Crooked Letter's plot:  Early in his career, he had the general idea of a book about brothers.  He noodled it around, decided that maybe it should include a small-town police officer.  Years pass, and an African-American friend suggested that the police officer should be black.  As Franklin admitted, he wouldn't dare presume to be able to understand someone from a different race (sometimes not even someone white or male), but this suggestion from his friend gave him permission. His friend's feedback further into the development of the book was priceless. 

Only when his wife (a poet) won a Fulbright Scholarship and the family moved to Brazil for a time, did the book develop in earnest.  Franklin said he had time on his hands, and he put his full effort into the book.

On his development of the character Larry Ott:  Because most of Crooked Letter was written in Brazil, he had to draw his details and experiences from pure memory.  Therefore, the mechanic father, the drive-in theater date, the mask, picking up a black mother and child walking along the road on a cold day, the obsession with all things Stephen King, all shards of Larry's life...were all drawn from Tom's life. 

Did someone mention Uncle Stevie?  No quicker way into my heart, as you all probably know.  Tom grew up on Stephen King, and learned alot from his genius.  (His favorite book is The Dead Zone.)  He also much enjoyed Joe Hill's (Stevie's son) "Heart-Shaped Box", and has "Horns" on his TBR stack.  So far Uncle Stevie has not indicated that he is aware of Franklin's fandom and many mentions in Crooked Letter, but maybe that will come when the movie is made.

Huh?  Movie?  Yes, well, it has been optioned!  Only time will tell if that translates into something tangible.  Franklin thinks (and we concurred) that Billy Bob Thornton should get dibs on Larry.  And well, who else but Denzel should play Silas?

On the discussion-worthy ending:  (Relatively spoiler-free)  There were several people within our book club that were less than thrilled with the ending...they preferred things be wrapped up a little neater than they were.  Others described the ending as magnificent and the most beautiful part of the book.  Tom admitted to really struggling with it.  One ending was very "Kumbaya" with singing and crying and hugging.  His wife deemed it horrible and recommended a re-write.  He messed with the dialogue between Silas and Larry at the hospital.  Nothing worked.  At the end of the day, he decided "less is more".

But what about the murders?  (Warning!  Minor spoilers ahoy!)  The heart and soul of this book is about the relationship between Larry and Silas.  The various murders were really just window-dressing.  The best justification of this was when Tom admitted that late in the development of the book, he realized he had to address the issue of the murder of the modern-day girl.  Who had killed her?  Under what circumstances?  One idea that Tom played with (something he has not told many people, so you heard it here!) was making the murderer (for those who have read the book, you know who I'm talking about) Larry's alter-ego.  The Heathrow Literary Society gasped in unison.  But no, that has been done before ad nauseum.  He wouldn't go there.  And we were glad.

Relatively unknown but amazing Southern novels:  Music of the Swamp by Lewis Nordan.  Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell.  And anything by William Gay (whose inspiration was Cormac McCarthy). 

On audio books:  (You knew I'd ask, right?)  Sadly, Tom said he had nothing to do with the production of the audio book.  I assured him that the narrator, Kevin Kennerly, did a fabulous job.  I find this a particularly scary idea, though.  Bad narrators can KILL a book, and there are alot of audiophiles out there.  I would want right of refusal.

What's next?  A new baby has slowed things down in the writing department, but Tom and his wife are working on a project together, with hopes of seeing it on the shelves in the not-too-distant future.

After we hung up with Tom, we all were bubbling over with love for Tom.  We all agreed that he is a guy we would love to sit down and have a glass of wine and dinner with (in comparison to Franzen, who 95% of us wouldn't give the time).  He entertained us, made us laugh, and inspired us to do some serious work on his back list...

           

20 comments:

DesLily said...

very enjoyable post.
I read the book and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I'm not big on "southern stories" and the fact that many a white southerner has a black sibling is nothing new from years ago (meaning that it was shocking then.. but accepted by most now).. but he really made you feel these two men were real and you felt for them and knew them... excellent book all 'round.

Zibilee said...

It sounds lie Tom was very down-to-earth and friendly, and I am so glad that you got the chance to talk with him at the meeting. I am going to be reading this book in the upcoming months for a blog tour, and can't wait! I have heard such good things about it for so long and that makes me really excited to get to it! Great interview, Sandy!

caite said...

I loved this book, and I envy you 'having lunch' with him.
I hope he gets to another book asap!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

As you know, I loved this book too. Glad to hear the author is as good as the book! :--)

Jenny said...

I love when an author is awesome on top of the having a great book! I actually started reading this book when it came out and must have gotten caught up in review books or something and never returned to it. I can't believe I haven't yet, sounds like it's a MUST read!!

Kay said...

Thanks for sharing about this event with Tom Franklin. I've yet to read CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER, but I shall soon. I've loved call-in's by authors that my book groups have participated in. Such fun to hear things from their perspective.

Martha@Hey, I want to read that said...

You lucky girl and book society-what a wonderful treat. I loved (is there something more than loved) Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter. What great insight into what may have been (thankfully not in the case of the modern day killer). Now I wait with baited breath for his next work. Thanks for sharing your wonderful treat.

Julie P. said...

How incredibly fun and what a terrific opportunity! I loved his book, and like you, I think I need to check out his backlist.

Darlene said...

Great post Sandy. Tom does sound like a great author to have at a chat. We've only ever had one author at ours and it was fun. I picked this book up a while ago. I'm going to have to make time and fit it in the schedule somehow.

bermudaonion said...

What a fun book club meeting and what a great re-cap! Any author who credits his success to his wife's editing is a great guy in my book.

Amy said...

Tom sounds like a true southern gentleman. How sweet is he giving his wife a lot of credit for how well Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is.
Loved this interview, Sandy. I haven't read the book yet but I'm looking forward to it.

Jenners said...

This was terrific! I felt like I got to sit in and listen with you. You got me wanting to read this mow. And great job getting your scoop! I hope you get more author chats!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I'm glad that you enjoyed your conversation with Tom. He is such a nice guy and I loved his book. I met him at his book part in NYC and he signed every book in his backlist for me, after I told him that he didn't have to do it.

JoAnn said...

Sounds like a great time! I have this up next on my iPod.

Alyce said...

It's wonderful that you got a chance to learn more about him and his writing process - that's always fun, especially when the book is one you love.

Iliana said...

What a great interview! I skipped over your spoiler question because of course I want to read the book :)

farmlanebooks said...

This book is already on my wishlist from your original review, but the author sounds so lovely. I'll come back and read the spoiler sections when I've finished reading the book. :-)

The Bumbles said...

Behind every great man is a great woman. He becomes even greater when she is a terrific editor. Kudos to her for nixing the kumbaya and to him for recognizing her wisdom ;0)

softdrink said...

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is one of my favorite book titles. Ever. And hooray for the author being such a great guy. I love that he gives so much credit to his wife.

Espana said...

This book is wonderfully written and draws you in very quickly. Very fast paced read that keeps you engaged the entire time... hard to put down!I could not stop reading this story. I thought all the story lines were brought together well and there was an underlying meaning of how we treat each other.