At SLR, we like to cover both new releases and old. Every now and then, a good one slips through the cracks. This summer, we’ve spent a little time working our way through the Slush Pile..and look what we found! A can’t-miss read by debut novelist, Lynne Bryant.
Recently, SLR contributor Rhett DeVane had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Catfish Alley, by Lynne Bryant. The author’s answers to Rhett’s questions prove as insightful as her prose. Thank you, Lynne, for a fantastic Southern fiction novel and for taking time to talk to us at SLR. We look forward to Alligator Lake, due out in spring 2012!
SLR: Catfish Alley might have been told in a linear fashion. You chose to move back and forth between time periods, and with admirable ease. Why did you decide to handle the plot this way?
LB: Two reasons come to mind. First: Storytelling for me connotes one person transporting another to a different place or time via his or her tale. I wanted to evoke that feeling of being told a story — being taken back in time; that feeling you get when you’re sitting on the porch with your grandmother, hearing her tell her stories, or at your mama’s kitchen table (my personal favorite).
Second: Moving back and forth helps me to connect the South of the past and the contemporary South and to understand through imagined experience that taproot of Southern experience and why it keeps shooting up like a dandelion in the oddest places.
SLR: The most vibrant quality about your characters, both male and female, is the sense of their common humanity. How did you manage to slip from within the skin of one character to another’s?
LB: That’s one of the most interesting aspects of writing for me — “slipping into a character’s skin,” as you call it. Usually, when I’m thinking of a scene, I ask myself: Whose eyes do I want to see this scene through? Who has the most interesting take on what’s happening? Then I begin to visualize and sense the world as he or she might have seen it. The fascinating thing about that experience is how you get to know your characters so much better that way, not to mention that one of the best things about writing is living vicariously through your characters.
SLR: Do you enjoy the research aspect of a novel such as Catfish Alley? What resources did you pull from to help you?
LB: I do enjoy the research aspect. Doing research for fact checking, or detail-adding, or emotional understanding appeals to my inner scholar. I get to combine my love of learning with the joy of writing. I use everything from brochures and materials from places I’ve visited, to books, to personal conversations — snippets of memory — to the Internet for documents, articles, and photographs.
I really like looking at photographs for inspiration. For example, I used Berkley Hudson’s research on O.N. Pruitt’s 1920s and 1930s photographs to inspire some of the places, faces, and events in Catfish Alley.
SLR: Do you see yourself focusing primarily on Southern fiction, or are there other genres you wish to explore, and why?
LB: Yes, I do for now. I recently visited with a book club in Parker, Colorado, and one of the women shared a great quote from Eudora Welty. When asked why so many writers come out of the South — especially Mississippi — Miss Welty answered: “I guess it’s because we have so much explaining to do.” I think that pretty much sums it up for me.
SLR: Writing is such a solitary passion. What connections do you have with family and other writers/authors, and how do they enrich your writing?
LB: I agree, writing is solitary, and can even be lonely at times. Luckily, I enjoy solitude very much. I have always said that I can keep good company with myself. My connection to my family is the sustenance that feeds me and keeps me going.
I would like to establish more connections with other writers, but haven’t been able to do a lot of that yet, since I’m juggling so many roles right now. Reading definitely enriches my writing experience — I learn so much from other authors about how to turn a phrase, how to set up a story, how to pull the reader in, etc.
SLR: What do you hear from the “folks back home” in Mississippi? Any favorite fan stories you would like to share?
LB: So far folks back home have loved the book, which makes me feel great! I’ve had wonderful emails from readers sharing their experiences. Here are a few that were really meaningful to me:
“It (Catfish Alley) was refreshing and at the same time like wearing old shoes, comfortable and familiar. I waited, and slowed down at the last chapter, (I do this with good books) because I did not want to get to the end! Like letting go of an old friend.”
“Thank you for writing this book. I’ve lived in Columbus, Ms. for the majority of my life and Columbus has a difficult time facing its past. I thank you for giving me a better understanding of my hometown. I am an African American female in my 60s, therefore, you know the era in which I grew up. I am, also, one of the three who integrated MUW in 1966.”
“Lots of wonderful memories of Mississippi. However, during the same time, many blacks were living as Grace Clark did. And I was sheltered and didn’t know until I was grown. I learned even more from your book, or it became real to me. Thank you.”
“How you got all the characters — -black and white — so on the money — was amazing!”
SLR: You tackled the recurring issues of racism in the Deep South showing both sides, good and bad. How do you envision your writing promoting understanding of social issues? Are there other issues/concerns you hope to include in your work?
LB: The telling and reading of a story is such a subjective experience. What I find happens when I’m writing a story is that I have a general idea of what’s going to happen, and then as the characters begin to interact with the situations of the novel, they sometimes respond in ways that surprise me.
I guess what I’m saying is that when it comes to “social issues” my writing is more about how a group of ordinary people — in my case Southerners — might react when confronted with situations that trigger underlying prejudice they might not have even realized was there. The notion of unexamined beliefs is such an interesting idea for me. We go around most of the time making assumptions; otherwise our worlds would devolve into a million tiny decisions all day every day — exhausting! However, every now and then life throws us a returning boomerang that keeps coming back around until we take a look with new eyes.
I believe that it is relationships that often force us to see anew what has always been right in front of us. And, after all, stories are about relationships, right?
SLR: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
LB: I consider myself a novice in the world of writing, so if advice is proportional to experience, then mine should be brief. Writing is the thing I have done in my life that scares me the most, and is paradoxically the most satisfying thing that I’ve ever done.
If I were to offer any advice, it would be to take to heart every bit of feedback you receive and consider how that feedback could make your writing stronger. This doesn’t mean you’ll always use it, but always consider it.
The other thing I would say is to carve out time to write regularly. It’s challenging when you work full time, but if nothing else, writing feeds your soul, and a writer must feed her soul!
SLR: What would you most like to share with your readers?
LB:I recently received an email from a reader who said “For one day, I put work and responsibilities aside and fell into your book.” For me that is what I want most to share with readers — an experience that we fall into together, losing ourselves in a story. Those words and the words “I couldn’t put it down,” are music to my ears!
SLR: How do you envision the future for Lynne Bryant? Tempt us with a teaser about your next book!
LB: I’m working on a novel set in the Mississippi Delta, titled Alligator Lake, set for release in April, 2012. Alligator Lake is the story of a young woman who flees Mississippi right after high school, trying to leave behind a tragic event that arises out of racial segregation. She returns ten years later to grapple with some unsolved mysteries of her life, and in doing so, ends up getting immersed in her grandmother’s and her mother’s histories. Like Catfish Alley, the story moves back and forth between contemporary time and the past.
Here’s a sneak peek of the back cover copy:
A summer wedding calls Avery Pritchett home. Back to the fertile Mississippi Delta she left ten years ago. Back to the family that sent her away…
For the last decade, Colorado has been Avery’s home, the place where she found refuge as a pregnant teenager, full of anger and shame, and the place where she chose to practice nursing and raise her mixed-race daughter, Celi. Now, an invitation to her brother’s wedding offers the chance to return to Greendale, and seek the long-delayed reconciliation with her family that she wants for Celi’s sake.
… As the summer progresses, Avery’s return releases a Pandora’s Box of shocking discoveries — of choices made, and secrets kept…and of deceptions that lie closer than she ever expected.