Thursday, February 6, 2014

Interview with Freddie Owens, author of 'Then Like the Blind Man: Orbie's Story'

A 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
About the Book:
A 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.

Thanks for letting us interrogate you!  Can you give us a go-for-the-gut answer as to why you wanted to be an author?

Well, I never wanted to be an author. I wanted to write. Writing is an activity. Being an author is something that some others have dreamed up to label a person they have seen with pen in hand bent over a piece of paper somewhere deep in the womb of place, writing. I wanted to be deep in that womb; I wanted to live. Writing is living. It's not about conforming to some image or other about authorship or platform or brand. That's nonsense. That's the truth.

Tell us (we won’t tell promise!) is it all it’s cracked up to be?  I mean what are the perks and what are the demands?

Writing is what it is; never what it was cracked up to be. What it was cracked up to be is just somebody's idea – less even than a dream. Writing is hard, hard work. You have to be a little crazy – and when you get that way you get close. You're able to write. You're able to explore with a pen's laser eye the shadows and crannies, the minds way and habit. Out of that comes character, motive, out of that comes tone. And if you happen to be in the skin of a nine-year-old boy, if you happen to be in Kentucky and the year is 1950 and you happen to see a black man beaten into submission by the white nemesis, you may, if you are lucky, feel it in your bones. You might then give it out that way. That is writing, which is neither perk nor demand. It just is.  

Which route did you take – traditional or self-published – and can you give us the nitty gritty low down on what’s that like?

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 home base to my phantom publisher Blind Sight Publications. Blind Sight Publications (aka Freddie Owens) published Then Like The Blind Man: Orbie's Story – a bumpy ride to say the least.

What’s the snarkiest thing you can say about the publishing industry (e.g. rejections, the long wait, etc.)

I'm not into mocking and malicious, sorry. There is no publishing industry unless you count the one found in the head, which is wholly imagined and of no ultimate consequence.  

Tell us for real what your family feels about you spending so much time getting your book written, polished, edited, formatted, published, what have you?

There is an activity going on in the family we're all proud of in a way but don't credit really because we don't understand it. It doesn't pay the bills – or at least so far it has given little evidence of being able to do so. It doesn't paint floors or get up in the morning to drive long distances on cold snowy mornings or make phone calls, soliciting shadowy voices in the darkness of a telephone's connection to buy health care and tooth paste or move machines through heavy traffic or put bread in a shriveled mouth. What's it doing, this activity, always down there or up there somewhere peck, peck pecking away?  

What was the craziest or insane thing that happened to you in the book publishing process?

My book got published.

How about the social networks?  Which ones do you believe help and which ones do you wish you could avoid?

I've been on several and I would avoid all of them, if I could. They suck away time and are not worth a dime. Which is a rhyme. I know, sorry. I disbelieve or doubt seriously what all we traditionally and self-published authors are being told (not just by others but by ourselves), you know, having to do with the importance of networking and establishing one's brand and building one's platform, all that stuff, which after a while begins to sound like existentialism's gobbledygook. Not that being on this blog is a good example but why am I here? Well, I hoped in some not-very-well-thought-out way that I'd reach a bunch of people, you know, maybe swing a little, give a little song and dance, wow folks into giving my book a try, build my renegade brand. And I suppose it's important or can be or should be. Credit is due I suppose. And I do give it - some. It makes the world go round and all that, buying and selling, getting and spending etc. etc. But when I think of the writing itself and what it has cost me, and more importantly what it has given me, all this marketing who-ha begins to seem like so much loose change at the bottom of an otherwise empty pocket.

Since I started on my marketing campaign for Then Like The Blind Man I've been on Facebook (, Pinterest, Google +, Linked In and Good Reads. I have a website and a blog ( I barely have time to visit myself. I've spent an enormous number of hours trying to engage, shore up, learn about and enliven these – all with very, very little result at least as far as I can tell. I could measure these results to be sure, but then there's a whole number of tracking systems I'd have to learn about too – and on and on and on. Am I master of my marketing strategies or are my marketing strategies master of me? Writing? Who has time for that?   

Book sales.  Don’t you just love them (or lack of?)?  How are you making the sales happen for you?

Doing all that stuff I just talked about. Doing this. I'm going to brag a little here so feel free to skim or skip these next few sentences, i.e., if this sort of thing annoys you; it does me. Anyway, my book got excellent reviews. These came from very reputable reviewers like The San Francisco Book Review, Publisher's Weekly, Midwest Book Review and ForeWord First Book Review. Most recently it got a starred Kirkus Review, the star signifying a book of exceptional merit. ( Customers liked it as well. As of this writing it has 166 customer reviews on Amazon with a star rating of 4.3, not bad. It was put on a list of 2012 favorites at the San Francisco Book Review, was regarded as an outstanding coming of age story at ForeWord First Book Review and became a quarter finalist in Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award competition for 2013. It also won best in literary fiction for 2013 from Indie Reader Discovery Awards.

All this was excellent – and blew my socks off (truth be told), the book being a mere self-published infant. But what was even more surprising was how little all this seemed to matter in terms of the book's making it into the so-called big time. Sales have been moderate to mediocre, though it recently climbed into the bestseller ranks on Amazon, which is not necessarily difficult to do because some of Amazon's categories only require a handful of sales for such a ranking. You can work hard and write a very good book and even get praises from more than a few reputable reviewers but these alone don't guarantee the kind of success we all pooh-pooh, but secretly would like (including myself). That for me was the biggest surprise.      

What is one thing you’d like to jump on the rooftop and scream about?

Bananas. I hate bananas! Actually I love bananas; I just couldn't think of anything else to say. Can I go home now?

Okay, too much sugar for you today!  Here’s a nice cup of Chamomile tea and come on over and sit under the cabana and watch the waves roll in.  Now…can you tell us what you love about being a published author and how all those things above don't matter because it’s all part of the whole scheme of things and you wouldn’t have it any other way?

Well, I do get to be on a blog like this – where I can write things like the following – on style.

I seem to have contracted a style, yet I'm not quite sure what that style is - except that it won't let me write certain things on Facebook. I have contracted a name too it seems. And a face. And a body. And forty seven different flavors of who am I. I have a mother. I have a father. A sister. And a brother. Friends. Three dogs. A knife. A spoon. Dental Floss and a pair of fancy tight jeans. Is the world waiting for me to save it? What is this thing called World anyway and who was it told me it was false but that I should work like hell to save it? Purifying forty seven flavors of who am I. I've no idea what this means or even if it's allowed on Facebook. Mother, sister, father, brother, friends, dogs - a small sharp knife with a bent point that refuses to fit in the slot. Did God come to tell me She is real? The world false? Did Buddha? It's just an ordinary Wednesday night and I seem to have contracted a style - and a name - and a body - but when I look for the one who did, I can't seem to find him anywhere. Yet here came all these words.

Good night, my friends. Sleep. Sleep like you've never slept before.


John Holt said...

S great interview Freddie giving more insight into what makes a friend of mine tick. Wish you well

John Holt said...

Another fine interview, giving more insight into what makes my friend Freddie tick. Wish you well my friend