Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown grew up on the Georgia coast. He has lived in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and the mountains of western North Carolina. His books include In the Season of Blood and Gold (2014), Fallen Land (2016), The River of Kings (2017), Gods of Howl Mountain (2018), and Pride of Eden (2020). You can find his work in The New York Times, The Rumpus, Garden & Gun, the North Carolina Literary Review, and many other publications. He is a recipient of the Montana Prize in Fiction and the founder of He lives in Savannah, GA.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

I like to think Pride of Eden does a fair bit of work in setting the right tone and mood of the novel, which is set on an exotic wildlife sanctuary called Little Eden. Malaya, an army veteran and anti-poacher ranger, comes home from Africa to work at the sanctuary, which is run by this eccentric former jockey and soldier of fortune, Anse Caulfield. Soon, Malaya realizes that many of the animals, particularly the big cats -- lions, tigers, etc. -- may not have come to Little Eden by legal means. In fact, Anse might be taking the concept of animal "rescue" quite literally, rescuing animals from abuse and neglect...

I tend to prefer harder physical nouns in my titles, but "Pride" has a nice double meaning for this book. I mainly think of a lion pride -- the human/animal families at the heart of this book -- but the title also signifies an exploration of human pride and hubris, especially as it relates to dominion over the natural world. These are ideas the characters themselves are grappling with in the book.

What's in a name?

So much, I believe! There's a bit of poetry in naming characters, I think. Not so much in the lyrical sense, but in being aware of the hidden resonances and meanings of names, their hardness or softness -- what they "speak to" the reader about a character. That said, I try not to overthink them -- usually, they seem to happen on their own.

In Pride of Eden, I just loved the beauty of the name "Malaya," which means "free" or "freedom" in Tagalog. Malaya's grandfather served as a Philippine Scout in WWII, so the name carries echoes of her ancestry. For the character of Little Eden's owner, I wanted a harder, sharper name that matched his personality. "Anse" -- short for Anderson -- recalls Devil Anse Hatfield, one of the infamous patriarchs of the Hatfield-McCoy feud, and I can't help but hear a touch of "adze" in there. Another character in the novel is Larrell Pope, better known as "Lope" -- a contraction of his first and last names. He's a tall and thin character, with a natural poise and calm, and in a book full of animal imagery, the name Lope recalls antelope, of course.

But again, I can't say I deliberated very long on these names. They seemed to arrive with the characters.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I tend to find endings harder. In this case, the first two chapters of Pride of Eden were originally short stories, published at The Rumpus and The Sycamore Review, so I already had the book's beginnings largely fleshed out. I've used the same tactic in other books, namely my novels Fallen Land and The River of Kings, where I worked out either the beginning or ending of a book in a short story. However, even when I think I know the ending of the book, unexpected things tend to happen in the story -- much like life -- and I usually turn out with a different end than I anticipated.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

That's a great question, and my answer might be unexpected. When I'm actually writing the characters, I don't think of them as having a very close connection to my personality. In fact, as a younger writer, I remember feeling a little pride in the fact that my fiction wasn't thinly-veiled autobiography -- that my characters were, as you say, "a world apart." However, when the books come out and I'm encouraged to look more deeply at my own work from a distance, I can usually find traits of myself in my characters -- struggles that I was going through, fears or broken hearts, even story arcs that parallel my own or my family's.

In the case of Pride of Eden, all of the characters are going through grief of some kind. I wrote this book during a time of great personal loss, and I do think that bled through into the characters -- Malaya, Anse, even Lope.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Music has always been one of my biggest non-literary influences, but that was less the case with Pride of Eden. Rather, my biggest inspiration turned out to be the animals themselves. My research for this book led me to have some fairly close encounters with various species both in the wild and at sanctuaries. In Africa, I was feet away as a herd of elephants passed, and we had a rhino come right up to our truck -- close enough to slobber on my friend's arm! I can't quite describe the feeling of calm that those gentle giants invoke. They seem to move in a kind of slow motion, and the world seems to quiet around them -- you have the sense of mass and gravity and time being truly interlinked.

Stateside, I visited several different exotic animal sanctuaries such as Carolina Tiger Rescue (Pittsboro, NC), Catty Shack Ranch (Jacksonville, FL), and White Oak (Yulee, FL). While there was always a fence between me and the big cats, they were such an inspiration. They're the sharp point of eons of evolution, and there's such power and majesty in their movements, in the very slink of their shoulders through the brush. It's heartbreaking to think of their habitats disappearing around them, and how many are bred for lives of captivity. That power and heartbreak really inspired me.
Visit Taylor Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: The River of Kings.

The Page 69 Test: The River of Kings.

My Book, The Movie: Pride of Eden.

The Page 69 Test: Pride of Eden.

--Marshal Zeringue