I’ve been a fan of Larry Brown since first reading his short story collection Facing the Music back in the nineties. From there, I read Big Bad Love: Stories, and his novel Father and Son, all of which I recommend. Brown taught himself writing during his down time as a firefighter, and his stories focus on the gritty South. Most of his characters live in poverty. The men drive pickups, drink whiskey, brawl and shoot at each other. The women are only slightly more well behaved. The dry, hot South makes for a classic landscape as Brown often puts his characters through hell as they seek some type of redemption. Larry Brown passed away in 2004.
Last fall, I was excited to notice that Larry’s son Shane was on Twitter. I told him I was a fan of his father’s work and asked if he was a writer. Shane told me his passion is actually writing music. Shane took to Twitter because another novel written by his father, Joe, has been made into a movie starring Nicolas Cage. The film has been shown at a few film festivals but will be released in select theatres in April of 2014.
I’d not read Joe, so I put it on my Christmas list and devoured it shortly afterwards. The title character Joe is an ex-convict dealing with several personal issues while managing a team of men that are being paid by the timber industry to prepare a site so that new saplings can be planted the following season. Despite his alcoholism, brushes with the law, and other issues, Joe has his own moral code. When a teenager shows up looking for work, Joe develops a relationship with the kid. The boy is stuck in a desperate life, living with his parents and sisters in a dilapidated, abandoned house. The teen’s father, Wade, is one of the most despicable characters I’ve ever encountered, and the final scenes in the book are powerful and disturbing. It’s a compelling read and I’m anxious to see the film.
I asked Shane if I could interview him about life with his father, his father’s writing, and the path that led to Joe being made into a film.
Jim: What was it like growing up with Larry Brown as your dad?Shane: Growing up as Larry Brown’s son was to me, two different things! First, and most importantly he was my father! He was just Dad to me you know? The man that I wanted to grow up to be like! The one that was a fire fighting hero! The one that took me fishing and on trips. He provided for us and did his regular daily dad duties when he was able to. His career and his writers “lifestyle” got in the way sometimes but we learned as we got older to understand it. I remember countless nights eating super without him because he was writing in the next room. Mom wouldn’t let us go tell him when supper was ready. She always warned us if he was writing to leave him alone. We often ignored that rule! Dad loved to talk with us and tell funny and interesting stories. I believe that’s what I miss the most. But I am luckier than others that have lost a father because I can go pick up a book and read his words, I can hit play on a DVD and watch a documentary or I can turn on my radio and listen to him sing and play his guitar that he recorded. I am blessed to have that, but I jealously miss his physical talks and hugs and all things good daddies are.
The other thing growing up as his son was his success and triumphs and struggles; the “wow” when someone asks, “You’re Larry Brown’s son?” There was so much I witnessed as a kid and am now still experiencing as an adult; as a Dad myself! I remember his first book party and the release of Facing the Music. I was young, too small to understand it all but old enough to be excited for him; excited for me! I have always bragged on his accomplishments and who he was. Maybe that’s not right to do but I do it! I was lucky to have been on so many trips with him and have met so many neat and cool people. We are still seeing it after he has been gone from us. We are flying out to Austin in April to hang out with movie stars and directors for his movie Joe. It will be a very emotional event but it will be so exciting and very honoring! Things will continue to happen and I think one day my son and daughter will be asked, “You’re grandfather is Larry Brown?”
Jim: Are you old enough to remember his transition to full-time writer?
Shane: I remember his transition. I remember the heartache too that he took leaving the fire station to focus on writing. He had sixteen years at the fire station and he was proud to be a fire fighter. He loved the men he worked with and he loved his job. I remember at his retirement they gave him a glass cased plaque that held his uniform badge and pins. He was very honored to have that and he had it mounted in his writing room. I have really always looked at dad as a writer who use to be a fireman. I think it was better on him when he retired. He had more time to do other things he enjoyed away from writing and the fire station. We were happy that he was home more. And Mom never had to worry anymore about him going into burning buildings or working car wrecks that were dangerous. I think he started enjoying writing more after the fire station. He was able to write more and I think that time away only helped him grow as a writer.
Jim: Can you tell me a little bit about how Joe came to be made into a movie?
Shane: Watching Dad’s book Joe come to life by movie has been such a really exciting experience. I have been glued to a computer or phone since the summer of 2012 when I received an email from Mom saying that David Gordon Green was going to direct the movie Joe and Nicolas Cage was to be lead actor. I remember laying on my couch crying and reading the email and article over and over. My dad was a huge Nicolas Cage fan. I remember being a little boy watching Raising Arizona repeatedly. Any film that Cage was in Dad was gonna watch!
I guess about 12 years ago filmmaker Gary Hawkins did a documentary called The Rough South of Larry Brown. His documentary crew had a few students of his help him with lighting, filming and many other things. One of his students in the crew was David Gordon Green. Gary and Dad became friends and I guess somewhere down the road Gary wrote the screenplay for Joe. He pitched it out to different people and places and no one picked it up. Ten years later Gary and David Gordon Green were talking and he asked Gary if he had anything for him to look at or read. Gary gave him Joe and David fell in love with it. He sent it to an agency which was also the agency that Cage was part of and Cage fell in love with it. I heard that Cage and Green met up in Austin and hung out for a few days discussing the possibilities of Joe. They went for it and now here it is in full life! There are so many great people’s hands in this that we could never tell them enough how much we appreciate them!
Jim: I love hearing a behind the scenes story like this. Very cool. So tell me about the Brown family now.Shane: Ha! Well we are all still the same fun loving family I guess! I mean things changed of course when Dad passed. Things were not the same around the house. Or during the holidays or birthday parties and such. This huge energy or some type of feeling was completely sucked out of our life and environment. I have shared many feelings and tears in my blog about my life with him and it’s always good to express those and have them there to read. I hate that he misses so many things in our life’s; in mine and Billy Ray’s and LeAnne’s children’s life’s mainly. He would be super proud if the 7 grand children he has!
Billy Ray has changed careers since Dad died. He was working for the City of Oxford for the street department. He hated it. Billy Ray has always had cattle since he was 14 years old. He had a pretty big herd of cattle when Dad died but his farm has changed a lot and he doesn’t work for the city anymore. About four years ago Billy Ray and his wife opened up a small dairy farm. He sells local fresh milk to customers and local farmers markets. He has also gotten were he is having some of his beef cattle and hogs slaughtered and processed and sold as well. His beef cattle herd is close to 150 “mama” cows and he has about 50 hogs. He is a very successful farmer and he is happy and still lives in the house and farm we were born and raised in most of our lives! He is still married to Paula and they have three children.
LeAnne is the youngest of us, and she lives in Batesville, Mississippi with her husband and two sons. LeAnne runs a daycare from her home and stays very busy. She is great at what she does and she loves the children she takes care of each week. Batesville is only 30 minutes away from Oxford so her and her husband Will, who is from Oxford too, come home often to visit.
Mom went through a lot when she lost Dad. She had a very tough time. She has her moments every now and then but this is the happiest I have seen her in a long time! She works for a certain agency in Oxford and she loves her job. She recently got married a few months ago and her and her husband live close to our place in Yocona that Billy Ray has. She loves spending time with her grandchildren and she spoils them any chance she gets!
Jim: Wow! Congratulations to your mom. That’s great. We heard about your family, now how about you? (Your line of work, love of music, your family,etc.)
Shane: I live in South Mississippi a small town where I teach and coach in Collins, Ms. I actually have put in my two weeks notice and moving home next week to Oxford for a change in careers. It’s in sales so it’s gonna be a big change for me. I am excited though and eager to get back home.
I have two children who are my life. My oldest is 8 and he is all boy. Very smart and athletic; good looking too. Dad would be so proud of him for his advancements in reading and writing. As a second grader he reads at a 4th grade level and I am always catching him reading a book or writing a song.
My little girl will turn 6 next month and she is the prettiest thing I have ever seen. Dad would love her warmth and she is so funny! She is always laughing and hugging and being so sweet.
In my off time I love playing guitar. I have written and recorded a few songs in the past few years. Billy Ray is a hell of a song writer and I have one of his songs on a CD somewhere. I wish I put more time and effort into it. I really wish I would have started playing at 12 when Dad got me my first guitar. I never did until he bought me another one at 20 and I still didn’t pick it up til I was 22. So I did get a few years of playing guitar with him. He taught himself how to play but only learned three chords! Ha! He would change up songs and place the capo up and down the neck of the guitar for a certain time that he wanted. He has some of the funniest songs I have ever heard recorded on a tape that he wrote and played. His taste in music was a little different than mine. He listened to a huge wide range of music. I appreciate it more the older I get. I love all country music; old and new! It really doesn’t matter what I listen to something as long as I can catch a meaning or a good beat to a song!
Jim: Shane – thanks so much for your time, and for the great photos!
Shane: Thanks! Stay in Touch!
Check out Shane’s blog, called The Brown Effect. The movie “Joe” starring Nicolas Cage and directed by David Gordon Green will premiere in Austin, TX in April. It’s yet to be determined how broad of a release the movie will get after the premiere but hopefully it will come to a screen near you sometime later this year. In the meantime, pick up a copy of Joe on Amazon.
Here’s a trailer for the movie that features a bonus, subtitles in French.