Monthly Archives: September 2015

Rowan Oak

Call it providential. I grew up less than 50 miles from Oxford, Mississippi. By my teen years I was reading and writing papers on William Faulkner for school. That started a lifetime of reading Faulkner for pleasure and for my own edification. Yet I had never visited Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home in Oxford.

My wife and I rectified that on Friday, September 25, 2015. That’s right, on Faulkner’s birthday, 118 years to the day after he was born.

We parked along the shady dirt road on the property and strode up the gravel drive to the brick-paved walk lined with old, towering cedars to the stately white house, two-storied, columned, clapboarded, built in 1844 and purchased by Faulkner in 1930. We saw all the rooms in his house, including his study where he outlined the plot of A Fable right on the wall. His manual typewriter sat on the little portable desk Faulkner sometimes carried outside to write in the yard. Although Rowan Oak is a large spacious house, Sherrie and I were both struck by the simplicity of the furnishings. It felt like a home.

Soon Bill Griffith, the curator, and I were sharing our favorite anecdotes and thoughts on various Faulkner novels. He recommended some critical works and a memoir by Faulkner’s niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, for whom he was guardian after her father’s death. I bought a copy in Square Books later that afternoon.

We wandered about the grounds and saw the stables, barns, and servants’ quarters. it was a perfect fall day in Mississippi. We could hear the Ole Miss marching band practicing for tomorrow’s halftime show during the Vanderbilt game. Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is only a little over half a mile away as the crow flies.

The Rowan Oak staff was expecting guests from New Albany, Mississippi, Faulkner’s birthplace. In addition to it being his birthday, actually because it was his birthday, they were dedicating the 35-mile stretch of Highway 30 between New Albany and Oxford as the William Faulkner Memorial Highway. Sherrie and I showed up for the reception, and Mississippi being Mississippi, we met Kenny Ferris, the Assistant Director of Visit Oxford, who was from Tupelo where I grew up. Additionally her husband was from Macon, Mississippi, and through him she had met some of my extended Catledge family who had married into the Adams clan. That’s just Mississippi.

It was a rare and good day. Providence is like that.

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Another Rite of Passage

Today I feel a little more like a writer than ever before. I just passed another initiation test, cleared another rite of passage. That’s right, I got my first, honest-to-goodness, official rejection notice. Probably the first of many. Of course, that puts me in pretty good company. Many authors I admire greatly were rejected: Faulkner (my favorite), Joyce, Nabakov, le Carre, and Saroyan, to name a few. Of course, they all eventually joined a more exclusive club, the Published Authors Club, and ultimately the Very Successful, Widely Respected Published Authors Club. I have no pretensions to the latter but am definitely aiming for the former. Fortunately there are plenty of literary agents and publishing houses to go. Keep the faith.

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The Imagery of Loss

Deer are not an uncommon sight in our neighborhood, but that does nothing to diminish the beauty or elusiveness of their taught, muscular grace. I stepped out into the driveway the other evening deep into the gloaming. As I turned to go back to the house, I startled a doe grazing in the natural are of our backyard. In a flash her white flag went up and she was gone, a gray-brown blur bounding away.

The after image of that fleeing doe lingered in my mind’s eye even after she had disappeared into the gloom of the thicket down the hill, gone in the blink of an eye, a smear of gray-brown smoke. Gone.

In some poignant way I was reminded of my wife’s uncle, her mother’s only brother, gone from this world just the day before. Even though he had lived a long, rich life and had been in declining health, he was still gone, just like that, in the blink of an eye.

But his after image will linger and for much longer. It will linger as long as those people he affected live and breathe and pass on his story. And there were many, not only his children and grandchildren, but the two sisters he loved deeply, the countless lives he touched on that battle-torn lump of a rock, Iwo Jima, as a Navy corpsman seconded to the Marine Corps, the people he did business with in his professional career, and friends on the golf course.

At times, life can seem as fleeting as the flight of a startled doe, but a life well-lived can send its after image much wider and further and transcends the generations.

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Finding a Literary Agent

For those who have never tried, let me tell you: Finding a literary agent interested in getting your book published is hard, at least for me. I thought writing a novel was difficult, and it is, believe me. But writing query letters! That’s another whole type of writing with which I am neither familiar nor adept.

How does one distill 15 important characters, multiple plot lines and conflicts, and 95,000 words into a hook that grabs an agent’s attention? Obsessive whale boat captain drags his ship and crew all over the world and eventually to destruction in search of the white whale that took his leg. Well, that’s easy. And I think it is easy because 1) it is an archetypal story, 2) we all know the story, and 3) we have distance from it, i.e., perspective.

No one knows the nuances of a novel, the characters, the twists, like the author. The author has spent so much time and effort in the trees getting each character just so, developing the structure so that everything holds together, and building to the climax, that the writer has trouble stepping back and seeing the forest.

Still, the work goes on. Surely if I can complete a 95,000 word manuscript, I can polish a query letter into shape!

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Book Signing at Park Road Books in Charlotte

Well, I finally got around to posting some pics from my recent book signing at Park Road Books in Charlotte. I was signing both my memoir, 28 Dog Years, and a volume of my outdoor adventures, Put On Your Boots and Go. Go to http://www.jamesgregorycatledge.com/news.html for a look.

Park Road Books is one of the glorious holdouts, a locally owned bookstore. Their staff is friendly and knowledgeable, and they do all they can to support local writers, even self-published writers.

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