My special guest author today is Babette Fraser Hale and we’re chatting about her new collection of short stories, A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers.
Babette Fraser Hale’s fiction was awarded the Meyerson Prize from Southwest Review in 2011 and shortlisted for the Texas Institute of Letter’s Catarulla Award. Her story “Drouth” is part of the New York Public Library’s digital collection and was included among the “Other Distinguished Stories” in Best American Short Stories, 2015. Her work has received a Creative Artist Award from Houston’s Cultural Arts Council and been anthologized. Her newest story appears in bosque:9. During Covid Time, she lives in Winedale, Texas with her husband and usually muddy dog.
Welcome, Babette. Please tell us about your current release.
So many of us lately have fled the city for life in less crowded, largely rural areas. Some have romantic ideas of country life; others are attempting to escape mistakes they’ve made or a danger they fear. The characters in A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers think the choice they’ve made is the right one. The stories depict the various ways they’re wrong about that.
These stories are linked by their setting in the Round Top area of central Texas, a popular area for urban visitors seeking charm or a fresh start. Some have an almost novelistic scope, spanning a longer period of time than is customary in this genre.
What inspired you to write this book?
My agent suggested I write stories to help him sell my novels, which are literary and difficult to place. But beyond that, the place itself felt rich in a creative sense. It’s an old farming area, settled by people from Germany in the mid-19th century, that has become an important center for music and antiques. Stories came to me quite naturally out of that contrast. I saw city people desiring change whose arrival altered the place they came to. A lot of my characters are artistically inclined people who find themselves making difficult decisions with insufficient information. Those decisions can be costly in a place where there are so many guns. And then there is the oil boom.
Excerpt from A Wall of Bright Dead Feathers:
In the woods, a thin layer of new leaves settles over the brown carpet left behind from previous years. Here and there, a few smaller trees are tipped pale gold. The songs of crickets compete in the grassy places.
The land here tries in so many ways to seduce her, flashing silvery seed heads, exhaling cedar-scented freshness tinged with the richness of leaf mold as she strides along.
But her interests—she reminds herself—lie intractably elsewhere, in city things, city people, in the reasons why people behave as they do, and why it is so often contrary to what is good for them. A dominant trait, this human pig-headedness, and she no more knows the reason for it now than she did at twenty.
What exciting project are you working on next?
I have a novel connected to the period after WW2 that I’m not quite ready to give up on yet. Otherwise, I have enough essays for a collection, I think. I’ll try to shop that next. And memoir beckons. I’ve had a long, happy marriage with a much older, rather well-known man, and some people might find that of interest.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In high school, I think, although, for me, the word “writer” felt like an accolade, rather than a description. It wasn’t until I began the Creative Writing Program at UH that I felt I could call myself a writer, rather than journalist. I was in my 30’s.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
Creative work has been hard to sustain during the pandemic. I have to snatch time wherever possible. I provide care to my much older husband, and we’ve been isolating from the virus for eleven months on account of his extreme age (99). There are a lot of chores. Otherwise, I write a newspaper column, and, of course, promote books. Or try to. He has a book coming out this spring, too.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Paper archaeology as a filing system. Stupid notecards, scattered everywhere on the desk.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to write books. A shelf of books. Instead I married a man who has written a shelf of books, some of which I’ve published.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Just that, wherever you happen to find yourself, look for the small things. Embrace them.
Thanks for being here today!