Silas House is a local Kentucky author whose latest release, Southernmost, happened to be a local church group’s book club pick. For their group discussion, a quick pop-up event was held in the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepard in Lexington, in which House read a few select passages from his book and then music was played in between. House’s friends, the musicians, included the Good Shepard choir, Carla Gover, and House’s husband, Jason Howard.
Now, I just want to take a minute to say a few things.
- I hadn’t read the book during the time of this event. I had picked up the audiobook, but I hadn’t started it. It took me two days to get through the audiobook’s 8 hours, but I’ve caught up now. Read the review here.
- I am not very religious. I grew up Catholic, and have since been a very poor representative of a “good catholic”. This was the first time since Christmas that I’d been in a church. It was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS though- all warm wooden pews, beautiful stained glass, a giant organ and even bigger pulpit. It was very apt and atmospheric for the discussion of Southernmost.
- House is indeed married to a man- a musically talented one with a beautiful singing voice, of whom House dedicated his book to. I didn’t know this until the introduction was made, but it came as pleasant surprise to me- and while listening to the book, I noted diversity, tolerance, and acceptance are all themes throughout Southernmost, as well as spirituality. What bothered me a little at this event was that when the intro was made, there were still nervous giggles and snorts from certain audience members (here’s looking at you, old white man in the pew in front of me.) It just goes to show that the world has a long way to go in getting beyond it’s prejudices, and why Southernmost is such an important read.
As I did for the discussion with Delia Owens, I pulled out my handy recorder app on my phone and caught as much of the Q & A portion as I could, to transcribe for you all here! Without further ado:
Where did you draw your inspiration from when it came to the flood? Was it based on real floods?
The origins of the flood are the real 2010 Nashville flood, and one of my best friends lost her home in that, and I spending a lot of time in the area at the time. So I was really familiar with that flood- 43 people dies, thousands of homes lost. But also, my family survived a flood when I was really little, and I grew up seeing floods a lot. But also the flood that happens at the beginning of the novel is a fictional flood, but I kept referring back to the 2010 flood, and (in the book) they keep referring back to the 2010 flood, because the flood that starts the book coincides with marriage equality, so that would be a 2015 flood. That’s when the congregation starts to say, you know, we just rebuilt from five years ago, and now we are getting flooded again, and that this is God’s judgement, and it’s the gay’s fault (audience laughing) So we’re going to blame it on them. (audience laughs). That’s one of the impenitence for Asher to speak up as his congregation starts to say these things, you know, and his wife turns away the couple, etc. We’ve all heard of that happening, where we’ve blamed up some group of people.
Can you tell us about your book journey?
Well it took me eight years to write it, from the time I first started it to the year it was published. You know, once it’s bought then you spend more time writing it as you start working with your editor, and I really love working with an editor. I think all writers need editors and they need to work with editors. So the book changed quite a bit once it was sold, not only because of my editor but because the world changed so drastically. Right around the time marriage equality happened, so if you’ve read the book you know I re-wrote the whole book! (audience laughs) Emphatically it was already there, but I wanted to put the issue of marraige equality in there and um, even Kim Davis shows up in the book. (audience titters) I just wanted it to be as contemporary as it could be, so we were working right up until the last minute to get those references in there.
However, even though it has this social issue, the novel could not work unless it was about this story between this father and son, so always it was about being a parent, and being a child of a parent, that love that exists. I was especially am glad that I changed it to a father and a son, because a lot of the time, a father’s parental love gets questioned in a way that a mother’s parental love doesn’t as much in our culture. So it allows me to examine some of that in the book. It also allows me to look at gender roles and gender hypocracy, things like that. It’s no accident that Asher becomes a hotel maid, right? Because people expect women to be maids, and in this case the man is a maid and the woman is the groundskeeper.
So I’m always trying to play with gender and sort of challenge our notions and our assumptions, things like that. I think a lot about the Other, with a capital O, throughout the book, so that I’m not only talking about LGBTQ issues, but I am talking about the way we are wired to assume certain ways, whether it be about what we believe in, the color of our skin, our gender, or whatever. You know, throughout the book, Asher’s encountering people who are Other in once way or another. His own child is Other, just because he’s sensitive, because he cares too deeply. I mean, that’s a sad reflection on world, isn’t it, when you are ostracized because you are empathetic?! We all know it’s true, and so those are the sorts of things I was thinking about while writing the book.
The main character goes through a spiritual journey- is it your spiritual journey as well?
Nothing specific in this book is autobiographal, it’s a very made-up story, but the personal story is my journey becoming Anglican. Always people say that to me, and yeah, you can see that happening throughout the book as he sort of becomes more Anglican minded, I think. I think that the passage about the Eucharist shows that.
Was Key West always in your mind as part of the setting for this book? Audience member mentioned the tight-knit community, the ease of blending into the tourist destination, the other-worldliness of the area.
Well everything you said is why, because it is such an unique place. I had just started the novel, and all I knew is that a parent was going to kidnap a child, and at that point I thought it was a woman who was kidnapping her little boy. Right around the time I started it I was invited to speak at the Key West Literary Seminar, which is a two week long writer’s workshop, and pretty much as soon as I got there I thought this is where she’s gonna go. Then while I was there I sort of figured out it was a male.
The reason why is because it was the opposite of where I was from, and the opposite of where my character is from. It was the opposite in the climate, music, quality of life, values… just everything about it was different. Plus it was such a real extensive place that as a writer, it was just a wealth, there was so much to describe, it’s such an interesting place. It also symbolically works so well because it’s like he really goes to the end of the Earth, he goes as far as he can go. If you’ve ever taken the drive out there it really kills ya, I mean you’re on a bridge forever. (audience laughs.) Soeven just getting there is transformative.
In the book, when Asher’s congregants decide to turn away Asher’s brother (as Asher had done in earlier years), why doesn’t Asher use passages from the bible to deflect those that are using anti-same sex passages?
Well he does actually, when talked to the church he says you can shape these scriptures any way you want to. That’s his response, and we can take them or mold them any we want to. It’s why it’s such an impossible conversation. It’s almost the conversation of alternative truth or alternative facts. How do you argue with someone with that line of thinking? Those who say that’s the way it is because that’s what they’ve decided it is. There is no way to have that conversation except to say this is my interpretation, this is the way I think of the bible. My response to that is I always feel like my God is bigger than their God that they are quoting to me- that my God is too big for me to comprehend. So I think that it woven throughout the story, I don’t think there’s one big moment where he addresses that except that sermon revoking him from church.
Are you going to write a sequel?
(Audience laughs) Well no, I don’t think so. I hope to get to write more about the brother, Luke, just because I would like to know more about him. I’d like to know about the time… well I do mean I do know about the time he spent away, I have to know about that, but I would like to write about it.
But yes, this ending is something people have strong feelings about, and I don’t want to give it away for those who haven’t read the book yet. I really love this ending, I think it’s the best ending that I’ve wrote. Some people don’t like it, a lot of people do, but I think I had to write it as it is. I always knew the ending of this novel, and that’s odd for me because I’m usually searching for the ending. With this book, I was aiming for the ending.
What kind of place do you have to be in (mentally or physically) to write? How does the writing come to you?
Writing has always been my way of praying. So it’s always been a really meditative, centering, religious thing for me. So it just makes sense I guess that to show up in the work. I’ve always written about religion in some way, or beliefs. That too is something that you don’t see often in modern literature. For me it’s something I’ve always questioned and been interested in, and that I’ve been moored by. So I just don’t know how to write without thinking that way. In this book in particular I wanted to write about the wide spectrum of belief, and how it can go all the way from fundamentalism all the way to straight up spirituality, and every little click on the spectrum. My goals was to not make anybody on that spectrum a character, to make all of them into human beings, and to make all of them complex. If I’m going to write a novel that’s about empathy, then I must have empathy for all of the characters- even ones I eminently disagree with. I have to try to find the humanity, the vulnerability and love that’s in them. That can be a real challenge, because some people are more dimensional than others on that spectrum. The less dimensions they had, the harder they were to write.
In some other corners there are people who think that some things that shouldn’t be mixed. I just sort of write the book that I would want to read, and I’m just glad for the people that it speaks to… that’s why I spend eight years on the book, for that one moment.
How has the LGBT community received the book?
One of the reasons I wrote the book is because you don’t often see people of faith in an LGBT book. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to write it, because I grew so weary with this idea that there’s one kind of LGBT person, or one kind of person of faith. We contain multitudes in multiple ways, so I wanted to write a book about all it’s complexities. The largest LGBTQ Christian group organization in the country has just chosen it for it’s book club, and it has about 100 thousand members, so that’s great! (audience laughing). That’s a real embrace from people that I really wanted to write about.
So that’s all that I caught from Silas House! It was such a great experience getting to hear him read, getting to listen to the performers, and being in such a beautiful venue.
I hope you all enjoy the insights on Southernmost!