Friday, October 16, 2009

Silas House is a God (With a Southern Drawl)

Because things are a little crazy right now, I could only attend one day of the Southern Festival of Books this year. Actually, I only attended one session -- Silas House & Martin Wilson speaking on quite a topic: "Coming of Age in the South — Exploring the Complexities of Adolescence in Fiction." I suppose they did speak to this subject, but primarily they talked about and read from their latest works. For Martin Wilson, his tale of two brothers titled What They Always Tell Us. Wilson read from a section from the point of view of the younger brother, who has attempted suicide recently. I enjoyed listening to him, but the main attraction for me was Silas House.

I have read every book he's written (only three to date), and then reread them. There are very few books that I reread. I just don't like to do it. I like style and ingenuity and all that, but I read for the plot and the characters. Once I know what happens in a book, I have no desire to read it again (usually). House's books are the exception for me. I had already read both Clay's Quilt and A Parchment of Leaves twice, then I reread Clay's Quilt again for a book group in a class I took a few semesters ago. It came alive for me again, and I ended up writing my final paper on the music that House uses throughout his writing.

While all three of his previous works were centered on the same family of characters, House's new book Eli the Good is a stand-alone novel set in the summer of 1976 during the country's bicentennial. Eli is ten years old, and House told us that he never actually intended to write a young adult novel (nor does he necessarily think this is one), but it just sort of happened that his editor felt it was YA. House said that he feels the novel is just a novel, not specific in its genre. While Eli is the main character, House also tells the story of Eli's mother, father, and aunt. Set just after the Vietnam War, that conflict in our country's history plays a large part in the novel, as well. My only disappointment of the day was looking for Eli the Good only to learn that every booth at the Festival was sold out. So I couldn't stand in line to sing House's praises and get his autograph on my reading material. (It's on its way from Amazon, though!)

I did, however, ask House a question during the session: "Could you speak for just a moment on the influence that music has on your writing?" House makes some of his money as a music writer in Nashville. His latest project was spending several days with rock legend Kris Kristofferson and putting together a press kit for him. House told me (and the rest of the audience -- but let's be honest -- when one of your favorite authors is answering YOUR question, he's really just talking to you!) that he knows two things about the characters when he begins a novel: what their names are and what kind of music they listen to. House said that he wouldn't know how to write without music. To him, life and music are so intertwined it would be impossible to separate the two. It's a beautiful way to write.

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