Fate Kitchens grew up in Tennessee and now lives in New Jersey. He’s learned to love the northeast, but he’s still missing some things from the south. Until he can somehow unify those two, he writes fiction.
Fate, in this excerpt from The Fallow Land, Baines’ and Tommy’s plans for the day take a radical turn when Tommy finds a young woman’s dead body on Harp Hendrix’s expansive property. Does the narrative to follow focus largely on solving the crime that led to her appearance there, or does it become more of a subplot in the grander scheme of things?
It’s not strictly a whodunnit in terms of things resolving through some brilliantly plotted twist, but a killing is a major event in this little town. A whole lot of what happens is character driven, as far as how people react to this death. But yeah, I guess you’d say the crime is the center of gravity.
The chapter here is narrated by Baines, a character who on the face of it, is more reliable than others and seems to know most everyone in town. Is the novel told this way in its entirety, or does it include alternate points of view?
It’s Baines’s show, all the way. This all takes place during a big year in his life. We catch up with him in summer, but in January he lost the last fight of his boxing career to a guy with loaded gloves. If you don’t follow boxing, boxers have their hands wrapped in gauze with layers of athletic tape to hold it in place under their gloves. The wraps are meant to support the joints, but they’re not rigid. Every so often, someone takes advantage and basically mixes a cast, something like plaster of paris under there. You can imagine what that does when you hit someone a couple of hundred times with it. There are consequences for the fighter who cheats, but you know, the damage is done by that point. So the guy does a number on him, and Baines ends up a little bit adrift. He’s working hard, cutting lawns, hauling scrap metal, whatever, but it’s not the way he thought things would end for him as a fighter. It’s a real shift for an athlete moving from active to retired, especially an athlete who never made a fortune. For the end to feel unjust, that’s even harder to accept. So Baines gets mixed up in the aftermath of this killing, and that sort of brings back the fighting spirit. Well, that and a woman who’s tangled up in all this. Baines is pretty sure he’s looking out for her, but she knows how to look after herself.
A few of the characters here, particularly Tucker, seem quite combustible. Does the reader encounter a fiery scene or two later on as events progress?
All this takes place in what’s really a dying town, the kind people tend to leave for better prospects, if they can. That’s a tension running beneath everything, and you can imagine the kind of desperation that grows in a place without much in the way of jobs or the promise of better days ahead. So there are a lot of short fuses, and sparks enough that something’s bound to catch fire sooner or later.
This excerpt from The Fallow Land evokes some wonderful imagery and regional dialects along with its flawed characters in the Southern Gothic tradition of writers from Flannery O’Connor to William Gay. As a transplanted Southerner, yourself, does the style come natural and/or are there writers who inspire your work?
You’re not likely to hear anything like what you see on the page coming out of my mouth unless I’m talking to family or I’ve had a few drinks, but it’s swimming around in my head at all times. I try to stay clear of writers like William Gay or Larry Brown while I’m working, mostly because it’s discouraging as hell to see someone do so many things I’d like to do, so much better than I can do them. I’ll put Flannery O’Connor off to one side. If I read her while I was working, I might give up altogether. I’m more likely to turn to music – John Murry, who’s another transplanted Southerner, is good medicine, and Steve Earle, especially from the early days, Guitar Town and all that. There’ll never be enough Townes Van Zandt.
At what stage is the novel? Are you seeking representation or publication at this point in time?
I’m making final edits. I haven’t sought out representation or publication yet, but I’d be flattered and receptive to any interest from that direction.
What other creative projects have you got going these days?
Well, this isn’t the last of Baines. We hit it off pretty good. He’s no Maigret or Philip Marlowe, but he’s an inquisitive sort. Raymond Chandler wrote that, “Down these mean streets a man must go,” but Baines is headed for the backroads. He’s liable to run across someone with a mean streak eventually. Aside from that, I’ve got quite a bit of short fiction at various stages of completion. None of that’s crime-themed or related.
Thanks, Fate. Is there anything else you’d like to share or explain to readers?
No, your questions covered a lot of the ground I’d have liked to cover. Thank you for the chance to share a piece of this book with your readers.