Edward Farmer on Capturing Greenwood, Mississippi in Fiction
The Author of Pale in Conversation with Galit Gottlieb on the New Books Network
It’s 1966, and Bernice’s husband has either died or abandoned her. Her brother Floyd invites her to join him as a servant working for white owners of an old plantation house in Mississippi. Floyd warns Bernice about the housekeeper, Silva, who lives there with her two young sons. The owner and his wife don’t speak much and there seem to be secrets hidden in every corner. The Mister works, fishes, reads the paper, and eats. When the Missus, a sickly, vindictive woman, sets her plan in motion, Bernice tries to mitigate the pain that will reverberate through everyone involved. In his novel Pale (Blackstone, 2020), Farmer tells a slowly bubbling, heartbreaking story that shows a household infected by the scourges of jealousy and vengeance.
Edward A. Farmer is a native of Memphis, Tennessee where he journaled and cultivated stories his entire childhood. He is a graduate of Amherst College with a degree in English and Psychology, and recipient of the MacArthur-Leithauser Travel Award for creative writing. He currently lives and writes in sunny Pasadena, California, where he is able to hike whenever he’s not reading or writing.
From the episode:
Edward Farmer: The idea for Pale actually came to me in a dream; I was laid off from my job and had nothing but time to write, so I spent a lot of time writing short stories. One night I had a dream, and it was very vivid, about a black woman working for a white family, and that’s all I really had, but the next day I wrote 3,000 words, then the next I had 3,000 words, then at the end of the month I had a novel.
Galit Gottlieb: Can you talk about the importance of place?
EF: I am from Memphis and I spent a lot of time in Mississippi; my dad’s family is from there. I felt like I knew I wanted the story to take place in Greenwood, Mississippi. The slogan is “the cotton capital of the world.” That meant a lot to me from my childhood, seeing that sign all the time.
My family definitely thinks the whole thing is about them. But I take a lot of pleasure from the fact that my family recognizes place and elements from Greenwood.
EF: [About the title] I wanted to reflect a story that shows how easily you can go from good to bad. I chose pale because pale colors are those that can reflect others, and take on elements from others. So many of my characters, they don’t start out bad, but the circumstances from others cause them to do bad things to others.
G.P. Gottlieb is the author of the Whipped and Sipped Mystery Series and a prolific baker of healthful breads and pastries. Please contact her through her website if you wish to recommend an author (of a beautifully-written new novel) to interview, to listen to her previous podcast interviews, to read her mystery book reviews, or to check out some of her awesome recipes.