The novella is finished. It was so much fun to write. It’s the story of a con man’s bizarre funeral, but more than that it’s the story of how family loyalty will lead us to do the craziest things in the name of that loyalty and how, in Faulkner’s words, “the pull of blood” is stronger than common sense. That’s one of my favorite themes. The call of blood can transcend our morality, our sense of justice, even compromise our own well-being. The book, Flamingo Funeral, will include the novella as well as five short stories. Flamingo Funeral just placed as a short list finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Competition, so I’m pretty hyped about that.
#2: You have been an English teacher in middle school, high school, and at the college level. Which did you prefer, and why?
There were certainly things I loved about each group, but with my personality, I’d have to say the college level. I have a sarcastic sense of humor, and you can’t really do that in the lower grades. My college students could appreciate the quick comeback to their own remarks which made for some lively discussion. Plus I taught world literature in college and loved discussing Virgil, Chaucer, and Dante — all the greats and connecting the themes of the Classics to their lives. It was always a blast to see them get it.
#3: What is the South Georgia Writing Project?
South Georgia Writing Project was an extension of the National Writing Project. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. NWP gave assistance to universities to create writing seminars for local teachers in grades K-college level for six-weeks each summer. During the six-week seminar each instructor would produce an intensive presentation concerning some aspect of writing instruction. After my first summer as a participant, I was asked to co-direct the project at Valdosta State University. I did this for two more summers as I completed my Masters. I would have loved to continue, but I got married and moved back to Alabama. In fact, as soon as I was back from the honeymoon, I went back to Valdosta for six weeks to finish my final stint in the project. I served leftover wedding cake for our first meeting. I guess you could say I was dedicated to the project.
Let me share one lesson. One lovely first-grade teacher gave us a test. It was one picture – a frying pan. We were to write the name of the object. We all wrote frying pan. She came around and marked a HUGE F on our paper. I hated the look of that big red F. She then went to the board and wrote the correct answer – Spider. Now, I had heard a frying pan called a spider before, but had never even thought that a student would call it something other than a frying pan. It was a valuable lesson in cultural perspective. I never taught the same after that.
We are an online editing group dedicated to helping writers improve their skills and have a forum for discussing the writing process. We have been in existence for only four months and have been growing each month. We meet face-to-face once a month for socializing and to actually “see” our new members. Also, it’s important to meet because when editing online there is a potential for misunderstanding, so we encourage our writers to bring questions. We also allot time at our monthly meetings for readings if anyone wants to share. I’ve found reading material in groups or at open mics to be valuable in helping to work out areas that might need some tweaking. As editor/moderator, I keep up with what’s happening around the area with workshops, members who have been published, awards, etc.
#5: Why should writers join critique groups?
It will make their writing better. Having input on your work is so important. I don’t always agree with every bit of advice I get from critique groups, but if several people are telling me the same thing, there’s probably a problem in my work. People can also give insight that can lead to some wonderful places. Flamingo Funeral started out as a short story. After it went through editing with the group, I had one comment that stuck with me – there’s more to this story. Then my friend and one of my fellow co-founders of Five Rivers Writers’ Group, Charles McInnis, sent a text – Have you ever thought of having his relatives bury him in the backyard? What was an eight page short story became a novella.
I also think reading other people’s work is important because it opens you up to what’s happening out there. Writers tend to be alone much of the time. We really have to, don’t we? The connections one can make in critique groups and the help in feedback is essential.
#6: Do you think being a poet helps you write better fiction?
That’s an interesting question. I started writing fiction because we had too many poetry entries in one of my college lit magazines and they asked me to try a prose piece. I ended up with a short story and essay in the issue. Then, during my time in South Georgia Writing Project, I wrote a few more things. It was only recently that I started getting serious about writing fiction. I think poetry helps because when I get stuck, I can take a break and work on editing or writing poems and have the feeling of accomplishment – a finished piece. It also gives me ideas sometimes for storylines. My poetic voice, however, is very different from my fiction voice. I even sound different when I read, so I guess the answer is maybe?
#7: There seems to be a mystique about southern writers. I’ve never heard the term “Northern Writers,” or other like labels applied. Why is that, or do I only notice “Southern” because I, like you, am from the South?
It’s funny, as a teenager, all I wanted was to get out of the South as fast as possible. When I lived in the West, I found people had trouble understanding me. (I grew up in southeast Alabama on a peanut farm and have a very Southern drawl.) For the most part, people were interested in the music. Lynyrd Skynyrd and Southern Rock was huge in the ’70s. Now, the South is my muse. There’s a certain mystique about the South, the dialect, the food, the way of life. It’s more than this though. Anywhere in the world that two Southerners happen to run into each other is a family reunion. It goes back to the blood and transcends race. We’re bound together in a way other areas are not. We’ve lived through a tragic history that I believe has left us, a more humane and enlightened culture. We can’t rewrite that history, and we can’t ignore it either, it wraps around us like kudzu. We can only learn from it and teach our children and grandchildren its lessons.
We also have a great oral tradition in the South. I would bet growing up in the South, you have spent many a night listening to stories on the front porch told by uncles and grandfathers or heard old Scottish and English ballads sung by grandmothers and aunts. I’ve never met a Southerner who didn’t have a good story to tell about something, and most love to embellish.
#8: One of your hobbies is researching old blues music. Mississippi has a solid history of blues music and is currently celebrating it with markers along the “Mississippi Blues Trail” program. Have you visited any of these sites?
No, but I have researched them. Flamingo Funeral has a scene which takes place in a black juke joint in Alabama, and the guest musician is the Bentonia blues musician Jimmy “Duck” Holmes. I hope to see him perform one day. I love his way of playing.
I also love to listen to old bluegrass and country music when I write. Most of my stories are set in the late 60’s and early 70’s, so listening to the music I grew up with helps put me back in that time period.
And, I have to have my daily shot of Bob Dylan. He has probably influenced me more than any other writer because I first heard him when I was fourteen and beginning to question some of the ideas of my elders and their views on social issues. His early lyrics made me look at life a different way.
#9: Speaking of blues music, the actor, Morgan Freeman, owns a club in Clarksdale, MS called Ground Zero. Have you ever been there? (If not, you should go).
I just saw the documentary about this. It’s definitely on my bucket list – Ground Zero and the Blues Trail. I think I feel a road trip coming on!
#10: Let’s do something different. There has to be a question you were hoping I would or wouldn’t ask. Ask yourself that question (please let us see the question), then answer it.
Okay, here goes, but remember you asked.
Why do you think it is Carl can only come up with 9 questions for his 10 Questions Blog?
Answer: I don’t know. Maybe it’s the humidity.
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Thanks, Kat. When winter arrives we’ll test your theory on question #10. I’ll also be waiting for that submission request.
You can find Carl Purdon at his links below. Be sure to check out Carl’s novel, The Night Train, available through Amazon.com and Carl Purdon.com below. It’s a ride you don’t want to miss.