Review copies arrive on a semi-daily basis here on Brown St. This month brought quite a few volumes of teen fiction and those were passed on to willing recipients. Then there were the two novels that were especially readable and noteworthy. One from a dear friend, Mule writer Jim Booth, titled “Completeness of the Soul” (which will be discussed separately) and the other by a new Mule writer — Phillip Thompson. His fiction “Kenny’s Saturday Night Cake Walk” is available in this issue.
Thompson’s new novel, released this month, is titled Deep Blood. (It’s available through Amazon –of course — click on the cover for a link to Amazon). Allow me to share an email conversation I recently had with Phillip.
I asked a question that probably most of the Mule writers have pondered at one time or another. If you haven’t thought about it — ask yourself and send me the answer and maybe I’ll publish it in a future issue.
Why do you write?
I’ve never really sat down and pondered the answer to the question I get asked a lot – “Why do you write?” If I did, I probably couldn’t come up with a good answer other than I write mostly because I have to, or rather, I’m compelled to write. And I don’t think being Southern causes that, but it’s certainly central to how I express myself.
True, our culture is one of storytellers – prose, poetry, song, stage, screen – and I’ve benefited from that. But the South, especially my Deep South, is enmeshed, not only in the omnipresent, metaphorical kudzu, but in all the dramatic elements of the human existence: passion, violence, love, hate, tragedy and triumph. That’s a hell of a palette to choose from, especially when all of those elements are present in one story.
It’s a culture – two, actually – that has remained more or less intact for nearly a thousand years. My ancestors are Scots-Irish (on both sides), that incredibly hardy and lusty bunch that left Scotland first, then Ireland, then came to America and settled – or didn’t settle, depending on your perspective – from Virginia, down the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky and Tennessee and into the Deep South. And, all the while, they kept the tribal traditions alive – the honor, courage, passion and fierceness of the people. They passed along their history orally, through storytelling or in songs and dancing (embellished, of course, by strong drink).
That culture is fused to the other dominant culture in the Deep South, the African culture, which isn’t unlike the Scots-Irish – proud, fierce, expressive. It’s always been a point of fascination to me that these two cultures have just as much in common as they have at odds with each other. I used to hear the grown-ups say things like, “Poor don’t know color.” (The older I got, the more I saw that to be true.) And like their white counterparts, black Southerners understand a rich tradition of folklore and storytelling. It’s no surprise we can spend hours on the porch just talking. My own family is no different. I have 12 first cousins on the Thompson side and just about every one of us can spin a yarn, tell a joke, dance a two-step or play some musical instrument. In our own way, we’re passing that centuries-old tradition along when we tell stories a
bout Granny or Mississippi or growing up to each other while our own kids sit and listen. And learn. And, we hope, learn to appreciate.
So, why do I write? I heard someone quote a writer (I don’t remember which one) as saying that writers do what they do to find order in the chaos they find around them. That’s about as close to an explanation as I can give. It’s a busy, confusing and contradictory world out there. And I come from parable-crafting, moral-of-the-story people who get their point across by telling you a story, partly to entertain, partly to warn, and partly because it only makes sense if you tell it that way.
More of the Thompson – Dead Mule conversation to be revealed soon. Meanwhile, as you wait for the pearls of wisdom to drip from the mouth of this Mule issue, order up a copy of Thompson’s Deep Blood with a side of Jim Booth’s Completeness of the Soul. You won’t hunger for words any longer. Your appetite will be sated as you consume your daily quote of fictional goodness. Just be sure to pour yourself a nice big ol’ glass of sweet tea, you’re going to be sitting a spell (once you crack the cover of either of these books)
the Dead Mule