This is the first indie author interview for Gridley Fires.
We’ve recently talked to Southern writer, Tom Honea, about his recent novel, A Confluence of Rivers. Tom’s epic story of a Mississippi family during the last years of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth is at its basis one common to us all: a story of opportunity, of adversity, of all-consuming dreams, of pluck and daring and deeply felt loss. We hope you enjoy this very engaging e-talk with Tom. You can follow him and his writing here.
Gridley Fires – – First, would you talk about your background a bit, where you’re from, your early interests?
Tom Honea – – The south Mississippi I remember, from early on, had neither paved roads nor telephones … at least on my road. There were, however, story tellers a-plenty: on front porches in the summer, around the fireplace in winter.
We had a dairy farm to work: starting at 5:00 AM every morning, including Christmas! Running with a football was my passion, hoping one day to run wearing the Red-and-Blue. As it turned out, i was better at 800 meters to two miles than on the gridiron. … It got me off the dairy farm, running did.
GF – – How did you become a writer?
TH – -I dabbled with writing for decades, had notebooks full of ideas: …. his life was more fiction than fact … for instance. or … he kept missing the pants leg with his left foot, hopped around on the other. Then, at some point a couple of decades ago, I began talking about writing a Dumb Ass Western. It must have been to the point of ad nauseam, as Dave said one day, ” … daddy, either do it, or quit talking about it!” I did work on that project, still have a box full of notes and research … some actual pages of manuscript. Ultimately, a beta reader/friend strongly suggested that I work on a subject I really know inside-out: south Mississippi.
GF – – How did A Confluence of Rivers come about? Why did you write it?
TH – -I wrote the first lines ( the first lines I wrote down, not page one of the manuscript ) in January 2002. They appeared out of a gray winter afternoon on the way home from work: Wiley Jennings caught a ride into town on the milk truck. Then, of course the questions become:who is Wiley Jennings? Why did he need to go into town? What happened when he got there? Is this the watershed moment for a real story? It turns out that the entire six-hundred plus pages indeed do turn on the actions of that July (1931) morning.
At the time I had intended to write the same set of events from the point-of-view ( POV ) of three different characters. The characters didn’t cooperate. They each had stories of their own to tell. And, once I got started, it was just impossible to not let the story tell itself.
GF – – You chose a woman, Victoria Jennings, to build your story about. Why?
TH – – Having Torie be the main character was not an original intention. It is just that the three plots revolve around her in a way that would not work if Warren or Wiley were the main character. And, I love strong women, have known several through the decades of my life: starting with one of my grandmothers. She taught me that a ten cent tree in a ten dollar hole is better that a ten dollar tree in a ten cent hole … to clean my tools before i put them up. From the very beginning of the writing process Torie was the glue that held the story together.
GF – – You chose two other family members, Wiley and Warren, to move your plot forward. How do you see them in contrast? What do you see as the chemistry between these two?
TH – – Both brothers stake out positions in life that set them apart as being unique. Uniquenesses that I have long been fascinated with. … Wiley’s wires are not all connected right. If you ask him, “ … do you know where the library is?” his answer is “ … yes.” He has answered your question. It never occurs to him that you are really asking for directions. When it is suggested in a family meeting that, “ … somebody ought to shoot the SOB,” Wiley accepts that position as literal.
Somebody, some guitar picker somewhere, made the quantum leap in moving the craft from the A.P Carter level to that of Chet Akins. Warren, in our story, is that person. … On the one hand, Warren has the usual ‘big brother’ nonchalance toward Wiley, and even picks on him, as brothers are wont to do. On the other hand, Warren is willing to play the ultimate we might fight amongst ourselves, but the rest of you SOB’s best leave us alone card when Wiley is up against it for his liberty, even his life. Family is the most important thing that there is: we take care of our own.
GF – – Now that you’ve written the book, how do you see what you’ve written; i.e., did you accomplish what you wanted with the writing?
TH – – I think we have a really good book here. The plot is believable, but, at the same time, there is drama and entertainment . … What I am most proud of, however, is the characters. They are people we know, thrust into unusual circumstances. And they didn’t always do what I intended them to do, they all have a mind of their own as to how they were going to act, or react, to a twist of the plot. … My favorite character is Fat Back. Early on I didn’t even know about Fat Back, didn’t know that he was going to be in the story. … Some of the scenes were really tough to write. Sometimes things happen to characters that we didn’t want, don’t want, to happen.
GF – – What writing projects do you have coming up?
TH – – I’m in the middle of a project that I call Hampton Roads ’44. Set in the Newport News/Hampton Roads, Virginia area during the WWII years. … Christmas Day some number of years ago during a visit to Newport News with a family member, I went for a run. From the house, in a pre-WWII blue collar neighborhood, down to the James River, then up the river. The closer I got to the river the better the houses were; once on the river, the houses became ‘grand’. “ … boy, there are a million stories here,” I told myself. By the end of the run I had the beginning of a plot, centered around the Hampton Roads High School 1944 graduating class. ( The class of ’44 spent two of their high school years in school, but graduated early enough to get into the last year of the war. ) Some of the characters go off to war, but the reader never goes with them.
In addition to the world’s largest naval base being located in Hampton Roads, most of the men and materials destined for the European theater arrived via the C & O Rail Road, were loaded aboard ships at the Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, sailed out into the James River, the Atlantic Ocean … on their way to defeat Nazism. Arguably the most dynamic location in the country during the most dynamic years of our history.
Another project I am already working on … doing research for and collecting notes … is a 1945 – 1954 treatment of the communities just north of Charleston, SC: working title North of Cooper ( or, From Hiroshima to Elvis ). This is going to be a really fun piece to put together: the transformation of empty beach front and palmetto palm scrub land into golf courses and gated communities … political and financial in-fighting, rampant sexuality, and the full range of human motives and morality ( or the lack thereof). Ah-hhh, the boys ( and girls ) who grew up in the depression, went off to war, and came home to become men ( and women ) and change America forever.
GF – – Who are your literary heroes? … Which writers have most influenced your work and your approach to writing?
TH – – Wow! … There are so many. I read a wide range of stuff. I love David McCullough’s work. He has the ability to take dry academic subjects and turn them into almost novel-like interesting reading. Near the other end of the scale, Elmore Leonard is just my favorite. Despite the fact that his renderings are really “junk”, he is an amazing writer, especially his dialogue. Number one on his list of ‘ten things do when writing’ is … leave out the part that people don’t read ! Get some of his early work and give it a try: Stick, Hombre … … I try to read A River Runs Through It at least once a year. (Norman) Maclean has a way of making the setting of a book a force in the plot like no other writer. … And Hemingway. I never go more than a couple of months without reading some Hemingway, remind myself of how to just say it straight out.
There are a number of southern, especially Mississippi, writers that I think highly of: Howard Bahr ( especially Pelican Road ), Steve Yarbrough, Barry Hannah; and even some of John Grisham’s work, i.e. A Painted House. Every writer of southern literary fiction should read Ferrell Sams.
One place A Confluence of Rivers can be purchased is located here.
Visit The Gridley Fires website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of our latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.