In preparation for the release of Bob Strother’s new novel, A Fire to be Kindled, I went straight to the source for a sneak peek into the mind of the author and what inspired this book and its predecessor, Burning Time.
Here’s what Bob had to say on family, food, and facts surrounding Louise and the times in which she lived.
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What inspired you to write about “Louise” and her family?
My mother and father divorced when I was still an infant, and I ended up in large part raised by my two sets of grandparents. Both were loving and protective and invested with attitudes and ideas truly ahead of their time. I adored them; they became my de facto role models. My father’s side of the family, though, proved more colorful by far, and “kindled” my imagination in a great many ways. The characters in Burning Time and A Fire to be Kindled are my way of paying homage to the family who helped guide me from childhood to adulthood and who never, ever failed to entertain me.
The characters in this book and its predecessor, Burning Time, are based on real family members, correct? How true to life are these characters?
Yes, several characters are based on real family members. For example, my grandmother did, at fifteen, marry my grandfather, who was ten years her senior. Other characters were conjured up simply from my imagination. While their exploits are almost totally fictional, I have tried to describe their attitudes, actions, and motivations in ways I feel they might have reacted to similar situations in real life.
The language of your characters and the events in this book, especially national and world events, are well-crafted to fit the historical period in which the novel takes place. How much and what kind of research did you do to achieve this authenticity?
Much of my research was and is done online. Reading newspaper and other accounts of national and world events required a good bit of time—especially considering that only an abbreviated amount of the material actually shows up in the novel. On the other hand, acknowledging historical events has proven a good way of transitioning from one family scene or time period to another and, at the same time, adding an element of plausibility to the work. In some cases (such as the events leading up to the stock market crash in 1929), I have also relied on persons with extensive knowledge in the appropriate field.
Food is an underlying theme in many Southern writers’ works, and your novel has a surplus of scenes that take place “in the kitchen” or “during a meal.” As well, you often describe “what’s for dinner.” What was your purpose in detailing “food” and how do you see it adding to the novel overall?
Where I grew up, the kitchen (and the kitchen table) formed the nucleus for most family discussions. Houses were generally smaller, and “living rooms” and “parlors” were typically reserved for holidays, extended family gatherings, unexpected visitors, or visits from the local minister. Unlike in many cases today, three full meals were the norm, and the kitchen was scarcely idle between dawn and dusk. The foods and dishes I describe in the book are those I remember having during my youth. I hope they will inspire my readers to relate back to their own experiences.
Is there anything you’d like the reader to know about the real “Louise” that isn’t represented in the books?
My grandmother was an early rock and roll fan, starting with the movement’s rhythm and blues beginnings and black artists like Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Big Joe Turner. She (and often I) would stay up way after midnight listening to the latest recordings out of Randy’s Record Shack in Nashville, Tennessee. When I was ten, she took me to my first rock and roll concert in Chattanooga. I loved it. She was also the only woman I knew who “carried concealed” before it was popular.
Any clues as to what’s next for Louise, her family, and See-Boy’s family? Will there be a third novel in this series?
I hope to be able to finish Louise’s story with a third and last novel carrying the family into the 1970s. While I have no firm outline in mind, I think I’d like to explore Murray’s character a little further and perhaps bring Annie’s parents into the story. What they’ll all be up to is anybody’s guess right now.