Tom Franklin: Exploring the Journey From Innocence
Tom Franklin grew up in a rural area of southern
He is among that tribe of writers who has cultivated a small geographical area and given it a mythic universality. His story collection “Poachers” and novels “Hell at The Breech” and “Smonk” display traditional qualities associated with Westerns and
His work examines wild territory in conflict with the ethical values of the law and civilization. This can illuminate recent times as well as historic eras. His striking visual descriptions give his work a cinematic quality, so that the reader feels he is experiencing the action as if through a camera. The eruption of violence can turn surreal and comic. Nature’s searing beauty also holds the core of mortality and justice.
Tom is married to the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, also the subject of a
1. You write memorably about killing your first deer in “Hunting Years.” But often in your work, young males’ attempts to achieve manhood end disastrously. Do you consider the success or failure of male rites of passage as one of your main themes?
Yes. My own “rite of passage” was so convoluted and full of pretense I think I'm still waiting to become a man.
Nat Sobel, my agent, once told me that all my work has, at its center, an innocent who's drawn into violence. I knew he was right. It also features the (mostly) men who've given themselves over to violence, it's their way of life. The journey — it can last a second — from innocence to corruption/guilt fascinates me. And, as you say, for these characters, it often “[ends] disastrously.” That seems a natural course for events where violence prevails, is the default.
2. Nature plays a major role in your books and stories. Do you think you have a special understanding of nature because of your background as compared with other contemporary writers, who often seem to think of nature as a giant amusement park?
I don't think I have a "special understanding" as much as a working knowledge. I'm just writing what I know; since that's where I grew up — a hamlet in
Also, I'm drawn to lyrical writing, and for some reason, nature seems appropriate for this type of writing: trees so graceful, so intricate in their design, moss, mushrooms, vines, ivy, all those great things with their great variations, all the different kinds of vegetation, all the colors. Sometimes even the names are lyrical: live oaks, loblolly pine, cypress knees...Then trots a wildcat through, and a man with a gun, and boom, a scene.
3. You and your family live in
I see him as more of an influence now that I've moved here. To see the houses he writes about, the graveyard, the cypress trees, to meet people who remember “Bill” (one former neighbor I met remembered WF chasing a mule through his, the neighbor’s, yard), it’s all kind of overwhelming, that this genius lived right here, that I’m standing in
I feel his influence as a writer more through Cormac McCarthy. Faulkner seems almost old-timey he's such a giant, like Joyce, or Hemingway, past masters who are of another world entirely. Obviously Faulkner was an influence on McCarthy, but I feel a much larger shadow from McCarthy than from Faulkner. Not that Faulkner’s is fading, not at all, but that it’s so large and overwhelming it’s more like an act of weather than shadow, the movement of a cloud over a landscape more than something cast by something in front of the sun.
4. Violence is frequent in your work, but I find it well-balanced and appropriate. But do you hear criticism about the violence, and how do you respond?
Until my most recent book, “Smonk,” the violence was usually mentioned in a mild kind of warning, but it wasn’t called gratuitous. The kind of people I was writing about live (and lived) with it in their midst, as some people do on a daily basis. We humans, or we American humans, anyway, have gone so far to enhance our comfort that even a hangnail is cause for a disaster. Or at least a minimalist short story.
Recently I was in
I mean, sure, anybody can die at any time, heart attack, falling airplane parts, stray bullets, freak bee attacks, sink holes, diamondback rattlers, etc. But that day, in
5. What are you working on now?
A novel set in contemporary