Hagridden by Samuel Snoek Brown is this weeks book/author spotlight. For all those involved in NaNoWriMo, you may be interested to know Samuel has been participating since 2009 http://snoekbrown.com/beginners-mind/a-writers-notebook/nanowrimo/
As the Civil War winds violently down, fears of the South’s uncertain future fuse with its unraveling traditions. Against the backdrop of this post-apocalyptic landscape, so littered with corpses and mythology and desperation, two women, stranded and alone in the Louisiana bayou, fight to survive.
Before we get to the interview, I have a sneak peek excerpt for you, enjoy!
She put her hands akimbo and beheld the man. Looked away as though distracted by something. Looked back at him.
All you men. Too scared to leave things peaceful and live your lives, you gotta go make a war and kill yourselves just to prove you ain’t afraid to die. Afraid to live is what it is. Afraid to let other lives they own lives, too. Now here you is afraid to let old Buford live his own life, you gotta hunt him just to prove how mean you is.
For a moment they only faced each other, and when the rougarou spoke, his voice came cold and monotone:
Woman. You want to know why I really wear this here face?
She watched him til he continued.
I’ve seen what we truly are in this war. You haven’t. You think you know what’s happening from what stragglers and deserters come through here, what news you read what’s written by folks ain’t even in this war. Some fancy writer out on a hill scribbling away, some special drawing a pretty picture. They haven’t stabbed a man through the heart. They haven’t shot a man knowing they’re about to be shot themselves. I’ve seen death in front and behind me, I’ve seen death inside me. I and I alone know what living is, and what it’s worth. I wear this here mask not to hide what I am but to show it. This ain’t no disguise of ferocity, it’s man’s ferocity unveiled.
-What books/authors have influenced your writing?
I’m tempted to say all of them, because of course even bad writing can be instructive to good writing. But I think the main influences should come as no surprise — folks have mentioned them in reviews already: William Faulkner, Tom Franklin, Cormac McCarthy. The one folks keep leaving off the list, though, and who I insist on mentioning whenever I get the chance, is Kate Stone, the Civil War diarist whose journals from war-torn Louisiana had such a profound impact on my novel. And my maternal grandmother — she never published her stories and letters and diaries about her life in Louisiana, but I have them all, and they were a tremendous help to me while figuring out these people in my novel.
-What book are you reading now?
Right now I’m reading a handful of texts about violence in Texas during Reconstruction, as background work for the new novel I’m working on. But I just finished reading a wonderful novella, Blood Gravity, by Gayle Towell. It’s a prequel, actually, a kind of preview of her forthcoming series called Scars, about child sexual abuse, and it’s gut-wrenching.
-What inspired you to write your book?
Back in 2005, I was in grad school and had been tapped to introduce Louisiana author Tim Gautreaux for his guest reading at my university. While I was working on that introduction, I had some mid-century Japanese samurai films running on the TV, and I started to put the two ideas together: the civil wars of medieval Japan and the desolation of rural American South. For all the US adaptations of Japanese cinema into Westerns, we weren’t really seeing the connection of those films to the American Civil War, and, because I have family down in the Louisiana bayou, I realized how perfect it would be to tell a Japanese-style story in the American Civil War and set it in rural Louisiana. I really wanted to read that novel, and I quickly realized I would have to write it myself.
-How’d you choose the title, Hagridden?
One of the major influences on this novel was a Japanese samurai film called Onibaba, the title of which translates as something akin to “Demon-Witch,” referring to a specific kind of malicious spirit. As I was thinking about the book, I wanted something similar to that underlying terror and maliciousness, but I didn’t want it to be solely supernatural or refer specifically to the women in the novel. Still, I started with the “witch” idea, and in my research I found this old folklore term “hagridden,” which originally referred to extreme nightmares and then got adopted in the earliest days of psychology to refer to sleep paralysis and extreme anxiety disorder. And I realized it was both a perfect metaphor for the turmoil of the lust/loyalty triangle between Buford and the two women as well as a metaphor for the PTSD that all three characters in the book suffer from.
-Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Yes. There are a few of messages, actually. But I hesitate to speak them aloud, because I don’t like to dictate how someone reads my work. In fact, a couple of readers have found messages in the novel that I hadn’t even intended, but there they are, and I was delighted for those readers to point them out. I’m actually more interested in what readers find in the book than in what I might be trying to show them. I like eavesdropping on that conversation that exists between reader and text.
But if anyone’s really interested (SPOILER ALERT!), I think the main themes I had in mind while writing the novel were the ways in which the horrors of war extend far beyond the battlefield; the ultimate futility of war in general; and the stark heroism of basic human determination to survive, even if that survival leads us to horrifying, lonely places.
-What are you currently working on?
I’ve returned to last year’s NaNoWriMo novel. People keep wondering if I’ll be writing a sequel to Hagridden, and while I don’t have plans for that right now, I do like to connect all my fiction to all my other fiction. This new novel (tentatively titled Devils Don’t Die) is set shortly after the Civil War and takes place on the borders of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. And at least one of the characters in the novel is related to Hagridden.
-If writing wasn’t an option, could you or would you do anything else?
I already do something other than writing: I teach writing. When I was first starting out, it was hard to write and teach at the same time, and I let the writing slip to the wayside, which drove me nuts. But a few years ago, I had the opportunity to take time away from the classroom and write full time, which was wonderful (I wrote the first draft of Hagridden during that time), but I soon realized I missed the classroom. I really need to be doing both — my teaching and my writing inform each other.
I’ve had other jobs — cooking, landscaping, telemarketing, janitorial work — and I learned a lot from them all. I’ve hauled rocks and changed senile men’s diapers. I’ve cleaned rich folks’ houses and kept their secrets for them; I’ve babysat and done office organization for a Presbyterian church. There’s a lot I could do, but I’m not really cut out for that kind of work. I’m not good enough at those jobs to last long in them. So if I couldn’t write or teach, I don’t really know what I’d do.
-Summarize the book (in three sentences or less!)
I’ll steal my publisher’s line, which he came up with while I was on the book tour in Ohio: This is a novel about people who have nothing left to live for, but who will do anything necessary not to die. Thanks to Brad Pauquette for that one.
Thank you to Samuel for popping by.
Does this look like something you’d be interested in?