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A Chat With Castle Freeman, Jr.

castlefreemanI recently read and reviewed Go With Me by Castle Freeman, Jr.  I have had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his name, his inspriration, his novel, and what’s coming up.  I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as we did.

Literate Housewife: First of all, I want to thank you very much for answering my questions. I enjoyed reading your novel and I’m really looking forward to spending some time with you.

As someone named Jennifer, I’ve often fantasized about what it would be like not to have a common name.  How did you get the name Castle? It’s so unique and memorable. Is having a unusual name a blessing or a curse?

Castle Freeman, JR.: Castle was my grandmother’s maiden name. When she married and had a child, she gave that name as a first name to her son, my father, to preserve it from being forgotten when she took her husband’s name. We are talking about 100 years ago. This was pretty common in those days, I think, and may still be, for all I know. But keep in mind that commonness of names is all time-bound. I remember from when I was a kid only one person named Jennifer, and she didn’t count because she was English. Then (1950s), Jennifer was an exotic name, like Castle.

Is having a memorable name is a blessing or a curse? Well, for an author, I suppose it does no harm, as it might for, say, a confidence man.

LH: What stories and authors have you found inspirational in your life and in your writing?

CF: I am greatly devoted to the classics. My favorite writers are everybody else’s, therefore, but I  have always had special love for Twain, Joyce, and Faulkner. I find them endlessly rich, rewarding, and fun to read and then to come back to over and over, lifelong.

LH: When I enjoy a novel, I’m always curious how it came into being. What inspired you to begin writing Go With Me? Was it a place, a character, a theme?

CF: The main action of Go With Me is based on one of the King Arthur tales of Thomas Malory. I have loved that particular story for decades and have long contemplated transposing it, so to speak, into modern rural New England terms.

LH: What part of this novel did you have the most fun writing? Did any of the characters surprise you along the way?

CF: The novel is divided between chapters of fairly straight narration and chapters of commentary framed as conversations between 4-5 subsidiary characters. These latter chapters were the most fun to write, for me. One of the most exciting things about making up and writing a story like this one is discovering resources in the story that you didn’t intend or expect. That is always a surprise, a small miracle, and I found it in the chapters of conversation–not so much in the characters themselves, but in the tangents and digressions they got off on, especially the (I hope) funny ones.

LH: Lillian is an interesting character. She goes after what she wants and thinks is right. My thoughts on her motivations to stay in town changed throughout the novel. She could be staying because she likes it, because Blackway wants her to go, or because she is simply lost. Do you think that destiny plays a role at all? What might have happened to the town and to Whizzer’s mill if she hadn’t shaken things up?

CF: To me, Lillian is a fairly simple person. She’s strong willed. She’s young, and she’s stubborn. Though she is afraid of the villain, though she has no particular affection for the community where she finds herself, she simply refuses to be pushed around. 

I think your question about destiny is very astute. Absolutely, destiny plays a role in this story. The various characters enact or respond to their evident destinies in various ways: consider not only Lillian but the disabled Whizzer, the nearly-over-the-hill (but not quite!) Lester, etc. In a way, the whole novel is about how you learn that you have a destiny, how you learn what it is, and how you like it.

cover-of-go-with-me1LH: The town and its citizens were perfectly okay with lives and their environment, blemishes and all, until Lillian arrived. Why do you think it is that the status quo can remain satisfying or at least acceptable until someone or something from the outside forces change?

CF: If this is a question about real life, I can’t help you. If it’s a question about fiction, then to my mind the answer is that the status quo can remain until someone or something from the outside forces change because that makes a good story.

LH: Whizzer did not necessarily send out the best and brightest to help Lillian stop Blackway from stalking her. What do you think that says about him? The situation? Blackway?

CF: Oh, I don’t know that I agree with your premise. It seems to me Whizzer chose pretty well. It’s mainly Lillian who doubts whether her helpers are the best and the brightest, isn’t it? Whizzer used the material that was available. Like former Defense Secy. Rumsfeld, he went to war with the army he had, not the army he wished he had. And, say what you like about Lillian’s helpers, they got the job done.

LH: I don’t disagree with what you say at all. In fact, it made me think more about it.  Not that I thought that Whizzer intended anything terrible to happen to anyone other than perhaps Blackway, I could not figure out why he would send the people he did. In a way, it was am much about them being willing to go, wasn’t it?  There is no real way of knowing, but I wonder if I perceived the same things about Nate the Great and Lester because I am a female reader and not male?

CF: Jennifer, I agree it is always interesting to see what others make of a written piece; in fact, it is one of the singular rewards of writing fiction to learn how different readers’ takes can be from one’s own understanding of what one has written.

On the question in hand, in truth, the motives or meanings of Whizzer’s choice of helpers for Lillian was not, to me, of paramount importance. Rather, this is where the King Arthur tale on which GWM is modeled has its function: Whizzer’s starting the unlikely pair of Nate and Lester on their adventure with Lillian is what gets the story moving. It winds the clock, which is then set running. For me, that’s the main point here, not why he chose them rather than, say, two of the other guys around the mill. Lester and Nate’s willingness to go must also have been essential, as you observe, and also the text supports the idea that Whizzer didn’t have anybody else available, as the person supposedly most apt for the job, Scotty, wasn’t around.

Now, how far our differing genders lead us to notice different things in the same content is a pretty big question, isn’t it? I guess I will only say: Vive la difference!

In author’s section at the back of your novel you champion the shorter novel. Why is it that you think the standard novel is around 300 pages and not less than 200? How might you have written this novel differently if it was going to be longer? 

CF: I don’t think the standard novel is any particular length–or that there is such a thing as a standard novel, really. Simply, I wanted to have a crude but easy-to-apply way of defining “short novel” for the purposes of the little reading list I was compiling. 

I don’t know if I have an answer to the second part of this question. I didn’t set out to make Go With Me any particular length: I wanted it to be as long as it needed to be, and when I thought it was, I stopped writing.

LH: What are you working on next? Can you give us a taste of what is to come?

CF: My new novel, All That I Have, is just published by Steerforth Press in New Hampshire, the original publishers of Go With Me. The new novel is about the same length as Go With Me, and is set in a similar community, but it is a very different kind of story, being more concerned with the lives, minds, and hearts of its (I hope) complex characters than Go With Me was. Beyond that, I plan to hold off on starting another novel and concentrate on short stories, essays, and other writing–at least for the near future.

LH: Thank you so much for your time to be with us on The Literate Housewife Review.

CF: You’re very welcome, Jennifer. I’m grateful for your interest.

Photograph by Donald C Landwehrle/Getty Images

Photograph by Donald C Landwehrle/Getty Images

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6 Comments

  • At 2009.03.23 08:22, Kathy said:

    Using the mother’s maiden name as a name is still fairly common in the Deep South. He’s right about the commonness of names – it’s time and region bound. My dad’s first name is Zeb – he said he knew lots of Zebs when he was growing up, but once he left that area, he found it was an uncommon name. Go With Me sounds like a great read.

    • At 2009.04.09 20:06, Amy MacKinnon said:

      I, too, loved this gem. I bought it the week it came out, after Mr. Freeman’s agent gushed to me about this brilliant novel she represented. It’s pleasing when something this good receives the recognition it deserves.

      Great interview, by the way. You answered many questions I’ve long wanted to ask Castle Freeman — especially about the genesis of his name.

      • [...] If you are interested in learning more about Castle Freeman, Jr., I suggest this great interview of him by another book blogger that I found today and here is an interesting article he wrote [...]

        • [...] interview with Castle Freeman, Jr. on Go With [...]

          • At 2011.08.29 22:48, Dela said:

            Castle Freeman is my uncle, my fathers sisters husband. I love him dearly, and his gentleness, kind and loving soul comes through in all his books. He writes about rural Vermont, and about what he knows. A quiet man, but what he does say means a lot. His books are layered with great characters and sublime story lines and plots. He loves Pelicans and collects nails. I wish I lived closer to them. xo, Uncle C.

            • At 2012.05.30 11:39, nan @ lbddiaries said:

              I lived in Newfane VT for a year and a half and fell in love with another local author’s books. I still receive emails from a local store & they are having a 10th anniversary celebration with local artists and authors. I saw Mr. Freeman’s name, checked out his books, wandered over here to read this interview – and you’ve convinced me. Now I have two authors from Vermont that I love (or will love) reading! Good interview!

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