INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
Few: Between the Rivers, Book III
Q. A Chosen Few is your third book about the Ryans and the McBrydes.
What compelled you to continue the story?
A. There was more to it, as my grandmother used to say. That was
my working title, by the way. But it was really my fascination with
eastern North Carolina, the region where I was born that made me
want to continue. The case histories of these two families-how they
lived their lives, the changes brought on by the growth of our region,
state, and country, by our government, represent the history of
many, many people just like them.. These things were not particular
to my family alone, but to most North Carolinians. While writing
Bandeaux Creek, when I got to the effects of the Depression on the
lives of my characters, I realized how much my own life had been
shaped by the historical events that had taken place in the early
thirties. I felt that the story of Penderlea would ring true to
a lot of my readers.
Q. Did your parents actually apply to Penderlea the way you tell
it in the book?
A. Yes, they did. But remember: although my parents are the skeletons
upon which I hang my story, this book is not about me or them.
Q. What is it about?
A. Like my other two books, A Chosen Few is a history lesson. The
changes in our culture and the growth of our country in this time
period are reflected in the everyday lives of my characters. Len
Ryan is a young man who seizes an opportunity. He chooses the new
government owned and operated farm city in Pender County over the
land his ancestors settled in the early 1700's. It is not an easy
choice, his parents are old, in failing health. They may not be
able to pay the taxes.
Q. Sons leave home all the time to seek their fortune elsewhere.
What is unique about Len Ryan leaving home?
A. His destination. Penderlea was futuristic, part of the New Deal,
a resettlement farming community. A young farm family would start
out with 20 acres of land, a house, barn, chicken coop, combination
wash house/smokehouse, even a hog house. Animals would be provided-hogs,
chickens, mules. A community center with a school, auditorium and
a teacherage would stand in the center; a furniture workshop and
vegetable storage house would provide industry for farm families.
Eventually, cooperatives would be formed, and within a few years,
a hosiery mill built to provide work for dependents.
Q. It sounds utopian.
A. Yes, it was. From the very beginning, Hugh MacRae described it
in that manner. He painted a beautiful picture of life in his farm
city. Unfortunately, Mr. MacRae was unable to convince the Department
of the Interior that his vision of a new south was practical. MacRae
was soon out of the picture and Len and many others found themselves
in a quagmire of government red tape.
Q. Was the Penderlea Homesteads Farms project a failure?
A. Absolutely not! But it was riddled with problems brought about
by a bureaucracy who had no experience in building a farm city.
Hugh MacRae would have done a much better job if he'd been able
to stay in charge.
Q. But MacRae was a white supremist, wasn't he? How did that
A. It didn't. Blacks were not allowed to apply, before or after
he left the project. It was one of the rules.
Q. Were there other rules?
A. Yes, you had to be married with children. You had to have a letter
of recommendation from your pastor and the county agent conveying
your honesty and reliability. You had to be a farmer. The government
sent investigators out to look you over. Some told tales of government
men coming into their houses and looking through their personal
things. Some families couldn't handle it, but I think there were
more who were willing to suffer the indignity because these were
Q. What promises did Penderlea hold for them?
A. Early on, the promise was of a job. Men had work for the first
time since the Depression began. They cleared the fields of stumps,
built the roads, constructed the administration buildings and shops
to maintain equipment. Then, they built the houses, barns, chicken
coops and the hog houses, the school and a hosiery mill.
Q. So, did they live happily ever after in this utopian farm
city called Penderlea?
A. My goodness, that would be boring, wouldn't it? This is not a
fairy tale. Besides, there are other elements to the story such
as the emergence of women into the work force; education, aviation,
eugenics, politics to mention a few. There is a bit of mystery,
Q. Oh, yes. They found the little boy. Davey's boy?
A. Actually, Colin found them.
Q. And, Jean McAllister?
A. Yes, Emily McAllister and her daughter Jean are part of the Penderlea
story. I had no idea they would be, but they appeared before me
and wanted in. I couldn't say no.
Q. That's funny. Don't you outline your books? Don't you know
where the story is going?
A. No, it is much more fun writing when you discover things along
the way. It happens, you know. It's like-all of a sudden-the picture
becomes clearer, more logical, and you realize that the story is
right there before you. You can't ignore certain facts. One can't
just "make up" something. It's more of a discovery process.
Q. Do you have another story in mind, possibly a 4th in the Between
the Rivers series?
A. Yes, I do. It will cover the World War II years. Those were interesting
years, and there is certainly more to my story about the McBrydes
and the Ryans.