I love talking about books and would be happy to participate in your book club discussion of Plowed Fields. Where possible, I’m available to meet with your group in person. When travel is impossible due to distance, we can visit virtually—on Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime, free Internet applications that provide for face-to-face communication.
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PLOWED FIELDS DISCUSSION GUIDE
It’s December 1960, and a cold wind is blowing a rare white Christmas toward the Baker farm in South Georgia. For much of the decade to come, Joe Baker, an intense young man hell-bent on achievement and responsibility, will find himself torn between his own desire and ambition and his loyalty and responsibility to his family. Joe can be counted on to make all the right moves, but what happens when his instincts fail him? Plowed Fields is a family saga, played out between the turbulent years of 1960 and 1970. It is the story of people coming together and falling apart, relying on God and losing faith, and pushing forward and fighting back in times of crisis.
Warning: Questions contain spoilers
Book One – The White Christmas and The Train
Book Two – Angels Sing, The Garden, Faith and Grace, The Fire
Book Three – The War, The Dream and Horn of Plenty
Q. What inspired you to write Plowed Fields?
As a young reporter, I covered the resignation of a bedridden sheriff who had been paralyzed by a stroke a year earlier. This individual had a reputation for being extremely harsh to black citizens in the county. Prior to the resignation, I had covered demonstrations for and against the sheriff. As I was driving home on the day of his resignation, I was intrigued by the rage and helplessness felt by both sides—the sheriff’s supporters and his opponents. But it was the idea of people caught in the middle of something beyond their control that planted the seed for Plowed Fields.
Q. What research was required to write the book?
It was fairly extensive. Fortunately, I have always loved history, so I naturally knew about most of the historical events that made it into the book. I did some limited research on those aspects to confirm I had the correct dates and authentic details. The heavy research came to ensure I understood the time and setting of the story. The main character, Joe Baker, is fifteen years older than me, so he had a different frame of reference. And while I grew up on a farm in South Georgia, I had to make sure I had the details right. I read through countless issues of my hometown newspapers from 1960 to 1970. I also relied on interviews with my daddy and my uncles to ensure I got the farming details right for the period, as my personal farm knowledge was limited to the 1970s.
Q. Obviously, Plowed Fields is a work of fiction, but what is real in the novel and what is based on your own experiences?
The historical references are certainly real. That part of the South did elect a woman to Congress in the late 1950s and I personally knew of two people who died from rattlesnake bites in a snake-handling church. The Baker family’s farm and house were modeled almost exclusively after my paternal grandparents’ farm (my mama lives there now), although I did expand the size significantly and throw in landscape features that make the book’s farm more intriguing. Beyond that, it’s mostly my imagination. No doubt, my life experiences are reflected in the book, but I think they’re reflected in the attitudes and values portrayed and not so much in the actual events in the story. I can count on one hand the actual events that occurred in my life and made it into the book. But with one exception, those life events simply provided a nugget that could be expanded and embellished into something much more interesting than the real event. The one exception involves something that happened to me and a friend when we were camping at his pond. I drew enormously on that real-life experience to write that particular scene. But even the scene is embellished. I want to assure my mama that my friend Jerry and I did not drink any beer that night when we camped out!
Q. What do you want readers to take away from reading Plowed Fields?
Beyond being entertained, I hope they come away with a true sense of the time and place where the book is set. It’s a special time and place in my mind, and I wanted to preserve it in some way when I wrote Plowed Fields. I also hope the book challenges their faith as well. I believe the story is a journey of faith in many ways—sometimes in very blatant terms and sometimes just hovering in the background. I hope readers will consider their own faith in light of what happens to the characters in the book and end up in a very positive place.
Q. What do you like most about the book?
Oh, gosh, that may be the toughest question anyone has asked me. I like the detail and what I hope is the deep exploration of the characters. I think you get to know the people—even the minor characters—inside and out in many ways. Beyond that, I love the portrayal of a farming family’s life, especially in that day and age. The story does a credible job of helping understand what it’s like to own and work on a farm, especially the joys and the hardships that come with it.