No, really. It was.
It was a night for storytelling and books, two of my favorite things.
It was dark, yes. Cold.
And it poured rain. But that didn’t keep a few dozen people – me, a few ladies from my monthly reading group, some bespectacled academics and a handful of students (who weren’t ready to admit they were there by coercion) – from enjoying an hour or so of conversation with bestselling novelist Tom Franklin at Lyon College in Batesville.
Franklin, 2015 winner of the Leila Lenore Heasley Prize at Lyon, read excerpts from a couple of of his books – Poachers (a short-story collection), Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (I’m reading that one, and we had a quiz about the title in a recent post, remember?) – and, as far as I can tell, an anthology that contains one of his stories (“The Safety Man”), before he took audience questions.
Despite fiddling with my camera and two dead batteries for several minutes during the readings, I had thought of a bucketload of questions, but when Q&A time came, this is what I managed to ask:
“What’s your favorite Stephen King book?” (Different Seasons.)
I am so brilliant.
But, shoot, he had already answered some of my questions as he talked about his books, his writing process, his influences (King among them), his beautiful and brilliant poet wife – the whole writing thing. And I couldn’t think of anything more substantial, more thoughtful – something that made it obvious I had been paying attention.
Afterward, when I stood in line to wait for Mr. Franklin to autograph my books (I bought Poachers and Crooked Letter), I asked my second-most-brilliant question: “What’s your favorite book of your own?”
“Smonk,” he said, without hesitation.
He had sold out of that one before I got up to the table, and I was disappointed. Until he said:
“It’s not for everyone.”
It’s extremely violent and sexually explicit, he said.
His mother cried for three days after she read it.
Well, shoot. I wanted to read all of his books. Now I’m not so sure. I certainly don’t want to make my own mother cry. I’m very curious about this book, though.
It’s not that I’m into extremely violent, sexually explicit fiction (or nonfiction). In fact, just the opposite is true. But I am into good writing. I’ve spent a lot of time lately trying to read good writing, especially fiction, in the hopes that it will make me a better writer. Is reading a sexually explicit, extremely violent novel worth it? Will it be helpful? (I ask myself that question a lot.)
I’m going to have to do some praying on that. Yep, some serious praying. I will let you know. (I wouldn’t even be having this conversation – this inner battle – if I hadn’t met the author last night and really liked him. I also am enjoying Crooked Letter, which I’m about half-finished reading. It is not sexually explicit or extremely violent – so far – although I would clean up the language a bit if I were writing it. But that’s just me.) (Update: I’m not going to read Smonk.)
Then I asked about Edgar Allan Poe, one of my favorites since childhood (maybe why I picked up Stephen King in 10th grade), because the story “Poachers” won Franklin a Poe award for best mystery story a few years ago. Poe invented the short story, my new writer friend said with a smile.
So, even though I’m only halfway through my first Tom Franklin novel, I have a feeling this is just the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Meanwhile, this evening in small-town Arkansas promises to be another dark and stormy night. Maybe a little snow or freezing rain.
Perfect for curling up with a couple of dogs and a good murder mystery.
Hello again, Chabot, Mississippi.
Who’s your favorite mystery writer?