Monday, April 07, 2008
COVER AUTHOR: Dwight Fryer
Dwight Fryer is an ordained Christian minister and an international marketing manager at FedEx, a graduate of the University of Memphis and Christian Brothers University, a Board of Directors member of Porter-Leath Children's Center and a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. His first novel The Legend of Quito Road earned him a position among the five finalists for Outstanding Literary Work from a Debut Author at the 38th NAACP Image Awards in February 2007.
Visit www.DwightFryer.com for more on Dwight and his work. Dwight is an enthusiast of history and his work has a major crossover following among readers of varied backgrounds. He is a Tennessee native and descended from a family of farm workers who lived on the historic twenty thousand acre Ames Plantation near Grand Junction, Tennessee (www.AmesPlantation.org) Dwight has twenty-five years of business experience in technology, finance, accounting, marketing, and leadership. He and his wife live in a rural area near Memphis. His hobbies include reading, flying stunt kites on the Mississippi River in downtown Memphis, and tooling around the countryside in his '69 Chevy Impala.
THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD, a religious man teaches his only son to make illegal white lightning whiskey in 1932 Lucy, Tennessee near Memphis. The novel's main theme is "the worst things wrong with most of us were planted by those who love us the best." Making white lightning just gets in your bones," Papa Gill Erby (the son of Gillam Hale by Rena Erby) told his only boy, Son Erby, during their first trip to a whiskey still. That illicit knowledge transformed Son from pure and innocent to cunning and calculating.
The economic and emotional common ground of Prohibition-era illegal whiskey and cross-race relationships create the story's tension. The book was released in June 2006.
THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD communicates complex societal themes in simple, easy to understand language. Readers learn the secrets to whiskey making, molasses cooking, and great Southern barbecue from Ray's father, Gill Erby.
Papa Gill taught Son to smoke whole hogs with wild cherry wood, sassafras root, and pecan tree leaves. This authentic and time-tested family barbecue lesson includes anecdotes and analogies on how the smoke (troubles) and proper seasonings (tragedies) create the flavor in the pork and in life.
THE KNEES OF GULLAH ISLAND
This book examines the life of Gillam Hale, an African American born to free parents in the 1820s in Cumberland, Maryland. His life was untouched by slavery until his African Methodist Episcopal preacher father took him on a trip to minister to the Virginia slaves. Gillam wants beautiful Queen Esther from the moment he sees her, but the only way to purchase her is by distilling illicit whiskey against his family's advice. Though Gillam achieves his aim, his talent for making fine whiskey earns the wrath of jealous white neighbors who kidnap Gillam's family and scatter them to plantations throughout the South.
After the Civil War, Gillam Hale could not find a trace of his wife or five children. He eventually started a second family and his son in that relationship is Papa Gill from my first book, THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD. In this prequel, THE KNEES OF GULLAH ISLAND, Gillam finds out what Rena Erby, the woman he has lived with for twenty-five years, never wanted him to know-his wife Queen Esther was on Edisto Island near Charleston in the Carolina Lowcountry (they spell it as one word near Charleston). Gillam left his second family to search for the first. The novel's main theme is "bent knees straighten crooked deeds." That's how African American men learned to leave. They were forced to at first and later it became a bad habit.
THE KNEES OF GULLAH ISLAND follows Gillam, Queen Esther and their son, Joseph, to Charleston, Edisto Island, and the South Carolina Lowcountry in the years surrounding the Civil War and Reconstruction, when the destiny of a nation hung in the balance. Filled with richly drawn characters and details that bring the past to vibrant life, this is a timeless story of love, loss, hope, and rebirth. Gillam Hale is the grandfather of Son Erby from THE LEGEND OF QUITO ROAD and this prequel explores the complex racial dynamics that shaped the South through one family's extraordinary journey to freedom.
What would you like your readers to take away from your book?
The theme of The Knees of Gullah Island is "bent knees straighten crooked deeds"? This novel examines the tragedy American slavery was and its impact on today’s families, African American and white. A great deal of evil happens in the world and most of those illicit activities are centered around making money. We don’t like to admit it, but that is what slavery was all about…making money.
Often, we struggle mightily when we encounter those type events in the middle of our lives. The primary message of this novel is to calmly and faithfully do our best against whatever may come and, as my mother often reminds me when we speak, “Don’t forget to pray.” Much of what we see that is pure evil can only be helped via prayer.
Why did you decide to write Historical Fiction?
I have always been a story teller and it is still about the story FIRST for me--it must be compelling. I was in my early thirties and in graduate school at Christian Brothers University. One of my professors liked an economics paper that I wrote about a drug dealer who had cornered one third of the cocaine market in Washington D.C. I wrote this econ paper entitled "Incentives Matter" from the standpoint of moral arguments aside a drug dealer and the people that know that they're selling drugs and the people that help them sell drugs and even their customers perform economic thinking. And, as I moved forward from the years I thought about the similarities between selling crack-cocaine and illegal white lightning whiskey. And that's where the idea for "The Legend of Quito Road" originated. I see huge similarities in moonshine and the sale of illicit drugs today. The glaring similarities include primary ingredients from plant materials, easily learned condensation based manufacturing processes, violence stemming from a strong economic model and the resulting struggle over property rights, secrecy accompanied by community knowledge, strong criminal penalties, and surprisingly similar addiction rates. The professor said I should be published and that was the seed that began my odyssey from there to where I stand today with my literary career.
If people don't understand our history, then we run the risk of repeating it. So today, there are many things that our children need to understand. I really think that we need to understand what has gone on in the past so that — not to pull anybody down or be combative about it or anything like that, or to bring up or open up old wounds — just the fact that we need to know our history. We need to understand from whence we've come so therefore no one can ever devalue us. If we understand how deep and difficult the struggle was of our ancestors and that we came from the best of the best, as one of the chapters of The Knees of Gullah Island is titled, we did come from the best of the best. It took a great deal to go through what African-Americans had to get to this country and then make the huge contributions. Some historians even rumor that when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin that he got a lot of ideas about how to do so from the slaves on a plantation that he was visiting. So African-Americans — now we didn't own ourselves, our intellectual capital, not even our children were our property; but we made a positive difference in history and we do today, just like we did then. People need to understand that. Black, white, or of any persuasion, they need to know all of history. It's not just Black history, it's our history, and that's the way I tell these stories.
Historical fiction is such an interest to me because I see the way it plays out in our lives today. When I see a young woman today that may have children at too young of a age, I think of a slave girl that was required to do so when she was 13 or 14 because from the moment that child drew breath it was worth $200.00 to $250.00 on its master's balance sheet. I see that impact even across those centuries today in our communities. I also see the men that, like Gillam Hale in my book who was ripped from his family against his will, but too often if they couldn't survive being ripped away like that, they couldn't make it. So today, I think men leaving the home has become a bad habit because of those things that happened in that era. So I like to tell these stories because I think the modern reader needs to think about the similarities in what we're living today.
Also, some of them are just fun. It's just fun to sit around and think about the old times when they were cooking in big, black pots, and making shrimp and grits, and hoppin' John, which is basically black-eyed peas with some form of hog in it served over rice to celebrate New Year’s Day. I think about the struggle and how far we've come and yet how much farther we still need to go. We've made a great deal of progress in our society, but there's still much work that needs to be done.
What did you learn while writing this book?
Charleston and the Carolina Lowcountry (they spell it as one word in South Carolina) is a fascinating area with centuries of history compacted in its culture and geography. The first shots in the Civil War were fired there on the US military garrison at Fort Sumpter. Charleston was the largest slave port in the United States and many historians have called it “Ellis Island South”—four of ten African slaves sold into the US came through that port.
During my study of Gullah culture and its language, a Creole mixture of African dialects and English, I found eye-opening facts that pointed back toward the well-spring from which I have come. I recalled a favorite college speech teacher’s efforts to help me not use “d” at the beginning of many words that start with “th.” This is a Gullah speech trait. During my upbringing, one of my favorite great aunts, Mrs. Emma Sue Prewitt Buntyn, often said “ooman” instead of “woman.” My mother always says “swimps” for the word “shrimps”, despite the most gentle but persistent efforts of her eight children to use the English word we considered more correct.
She is saying it correctly for her culture because swimps and ooman are Gullah words formed and steeped in a rich Sea Island culture of the Carolina Lowcountry and the Eastern sea board. I do not know when, where, or how, but everything within me speaks that some part of the forced migration of my forebears traveled through Charleston or the Atlantic barrier islands along the eastern coast of this country where the Gullah - Geechee culture was formed.
What is the hardest part about the writing business?
This is my second book and it has been a huge task to juggle the many responsibilities I have while completing The Knees of Gullah Island. If you have a living room full of elephant and you nibble away at it, a few bites at a time, you will soon run out of elephant and achieve what you are working to complete. I am married and am the father to an adult daughter. My life has numerous calls on it, I preach and speak on numerous topics and mentor several persons in my professional and personal life. I still work full time in a leadership role at a fortune 500 company. My responsibilities there are significant and I was promoting The Legend of Quito Road while writing this second novel. It has been a very busy, but fruitful time in my life. This period has helped me learn a great deal more about health, wellness, multitasking, and thinking positively.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
I just turned fifty, but the publication of this second book, The Knees of Gullah Island, makes me feel like a boy at Christmas whose wishes are right in front of him under the family tree. This is my life’s work. It is a privilege and a blessing to have this opportunity. I hope to keep writing until I leave this life. I enjoy telling stories that I hope entertain, enlighten and positively impacts my readers. It is a great deal of work, but a truly wonderful experience.
What marketing have you found that particularly works well for you?
The ability to connect with people works very well for me. So, I have visited with book clubs via the internet, in person, and over the telephone. Also, I have been able to reach customers, and that is what readers are to me, via the radio and television—I have particularly enjoyed internet radio shows. Articles about me or my work in newspapers have also been great. Also, email and other forms of web marketing via my website, blogging activities and networking on sites like myspace have worked great. I also do a great deal of public speaking at community organizations, churches, schools, colleges, bookstores, and businesses. Speaking on various topics from my past experiences that include being a cancer survivor, experiencing the death of a child, business and technology, parenting, history, and writing helps me reach people on a very personal level.
In my workshops, I openly discuss topics that include how a business man with no literary background or physical agent was bless to conceive, develop, write, and sell a main-stream novel to a top-ten publisher—the English Department at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville recently brought me to their campus to teach my workshop on this called “Focus On The Story.” I include anecdotes on what it has been like to walk through all this while I have survived colon cancer and a wreck caused by a driver under the influence and buried my youngest child after a twenty-hour illness from meningitis in 2001. Adrienne died on my birthday, Super Bowl Sunday, two days sacred to me, and many folks, especially men. It took a long time to enjoy those events again, but the joy of another year and the annual NFL clash are again happy occasions for me. I use my platform to advocate colon cancer education and meningitis immunization. Nothing is wasted, my faith speaks to me. I always search for how I am supposed to use whatever may have come. It enriches my story telling and provides opportunities to share with others.
What are three things you wish you'd known before you reached where you are now?
I am very happy I did not know how difficult this is or it might have stopped me from starting it (big smile). Networking is very important and writing and selling books has shown me over and over just how important this ability it. I encourage all I meet to learn all you can, do all you can and be nice to folks…network. Second on my list is organization. This is a profession that truly works better if you are organized and you can stay efficient by utilizing those skills. Third, it is important to be tough mentally, spiritually and physically. It is a great deal of work and the pace can bring you to your knees if you are not ready for it. Also, you have to be ready for whatever may come when dealing with the public and other members of the media, so it is important to be ready if you meet persons that do not play nice in our sandboxes—know that is part of the journey so learn from those experiences and just keep doing your very, very best.
This month our theme is Men in Fiction. Can you give us five male authors you read?
Dr. John Hope Franklin (I am breaking the rules here—he is non-fiction, but his work is so important that I mention him first), Walter Mosely, John Edgar Wideman, Jeffery Renard Allen, and Mat Johnson.
Do you have any advice for the aspiring writer?
Focus on the story you are telling and learn it so well that you can tell it with the ease of recalling actual life experiences. Develop characters so real to you that they might pick up the telephone and call you one night to discuss their story. Practice your craft by orally and verbally sharing stories. Improve as a writer at every opportunity and do not become overly critical of early versions of your work, but also strive to deliver your best work in later drafts by rewriting it numerous times (I call that making gravy…the meat’s done, but we are adding thickening as we say down South). Your work represents you and it should be your best. Also, it is important to develop great business, technology and marketing skills to help manage your career, develop your work and get it into the hands of the public.
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
My website is www.dwightfryer.com. There is a great deal of info about me on my site, including video and audio interviews and downloadable MP3 files of workshops I have delivered on various topics and at various venues. My email is email@example.com and my mailing address is 9160 Hwy. 64, Suite 12 #332, Lakeland, Tennessee 38002.
- I believe in promoting authors and their books. Let me introduce you and your books to online readers.
I'm also a happily married mother of three who's trying to break into the Christian writing field. The writing road can be rocky.
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