Featured Fiction Author
The Horseman Cometh
An Interview with Robert L. Hall
By Joyce Dixon
|In this cowboy
there is interesting blend of Don Imus and Roy Rogers. Robert L. Hall
in a soft-voice speaks his mind on a variety of issues -- without apologies.
Music, Christian faith and strong moral values are also deep-seated
characteristics. In his debut novel, The Time of Jacob's Trouble,
Hall creates a concerto of emotional rhythms that play out in his tortured
Robert Hall and his wife Joy live on a seven-acre horse farm located about sixteen miles from downtown Memphis and north of Marion, Arkansas. Joy has had horses since she was twelve years old and has shown them since she was eighteen. She still competes for the "love of the sport" whether she wins or loses. Joy has won many local awards and competes often at the Arkansas State Horse Show. In 2001, Joy Hall won High Point All-Around for her age division at the Crittenden County Saddle Club.
Coming to horses in mid-life, Robert started riding after his marriage to Joy. Bud, his first horse, taught him a lot. Robert has ridden in the Northeast Central Association Amateur Amateur circuit and at the Arkansas State Horse Show.
A trained musician with a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Memphis and a Master of Music degree from Florida State University, Robert enjoys playing gospel and contemporary music.
Robert L. Hall is not a stranger around Southern Scribe, since he is an active contributing writer and reviewer. He also writes essays on American culture at When Falls the Coliseum, which recently included his essays in a published collection.
"The Time of Jacob's Trouble" is a Biblical reference. Why did you choose it for the title of your novel?
Like Colt, the main character in the book, I was in a church service and our pastor spoke of “The Time of Jacob’s Trouble.” I had no idea what the phrase meant, but it struck me immediately as poignant. When I found out that it meant a time of reckoning for ‘Jacob’ (which is a euphemism for the Jewish nation) at the end of the world, the significance hit me in the face…it was what my main character was facing in the book—a time of reckoning! So, I borrowed it for the working title. It stuck.
"Trouble" is also an expression for the many trials that people face. Colt's trouble is apparent by being an innocent man in prison. But what troubles Brenda and Rudy?
Brenda and Rudy are compilations of people from of my own past.
Brenda is an amalgam taken from both sides of my family. My folks were originally from rural Northeastern Arkansas, and I endured many stories from relatives who worked in the factories of that region. They complained of being underpaid and were subject to layoffs and bad working conditions. The possibilities for employment were few or none—anyone seeing the movie, Norma Rae, can readily see what I’m talking about.
Rudy is even more tragic. He is based on an imaginary profile of a drunk who was the product of an abusive father, where the children were never given credit for anything. So, I tied Rudy in the story to his mother’s affections. When she passed away, he died inside. That’s his story.
How common are the dirty tricks in horse shows and auctions?
I have witnessed woman, cleavage showing and emphasized with Spandex, riding horses in front of registered judges. Attention-getters, perhaps? Or how about a rider, one hand on the reins facing the judge, the off-hand below the saddle, hidden from the judge, waving at the crowd to encourage them to applaud her performance?
I have seen rich folks in a final line-up at the State show. The horse under the woman becomes unglued, and rears up---not once, but twice! Yet, she is allowed to place, despite her horse’s conduct. Money doesn’t talk you know—sometimes it screams!
These are the more light-hearted things I am expositing now. There are many crueler things that I have seen or heard about.
However, having said all that, let me say here that I have met some of the most honest, imaginative, and gentlest people at the horse events I have attended over the years. When my wife and I got married, that very afternoon we attended my first horse show. The folks there were so friendly that I was knocked out by their consideration and kindness. I hope that is reflected in my book also and not just the bad side of the sport.
I remember when I first started riding, a trainer let me get on a really fine horse. When I got off, I asked if I should buy an animal like that good one. He said, quote: “You would only ruin a good horse!” At the time, I thought that an insult. Now, I recognize that I was a terrible rider back then and didn’t deserve a good horse—I would only bring the horse down to my competitive level. People need to understand this. Unfortunately, most can’t get past their egos to even attempt that understanding.
Swamp fever plays a key role in your novel. How common is it in today's horse market?
Unfortunately, swamp fever (also known as Equine Infectious Anemia) is not fiction. It is real and incurable. It resembles AIDS in people, and attacks the immune system of horses. It is not permissible to have them in close proximity to other livestock, or to transport them across state lines. It is rare to find one now, as swamp fever has been known of for many years and quarantined when a horse is found with it. We just had a horse locally be tested positive for it. He was ‘put down’ and the other horses at the barn re-tested and quarantined for a time.
Colt's faith is steadfast as he attends
church regularly and is specific
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.”
Women do have a natural weakness for cowboys. What do you see as the attraction?
There is something timeless about the cowboy. Their traditions go back further than the American West. It can even be seen in the wild adventurers and horsemen of the past; in Arabia and China, in the Conquistadors and the Huns. The link between man and horse is a strange one, an intoxicating one, an hypnotic one. A man with power like that over an animal naturally brings to the table the same power with other men and women as well. They understand the thrill of living and nature. They know what is to tap incredible power and have it harnessed underneath them, if only temporarily.
Cowboys are grafted into that root. They are the American off-shoot of that mysterious and age-old legacy.
The horse business can get expensive. How is it a rich man's show?
As in any hobby, men and women with more resources have more outlets available to them for spending wealth. In that, the horse hobbyist is no different from any other. Trainers are expensive, as are saddles and trailers and horses. There are also different levels of showing: the registered shows at the highest tier, then the Saturday night amateur shows, and lastly the local Friday night town shows.
Only, it is in the working-out of the showmanship process that sheer excitement and exultation comes. And it comes for all, regardless of monetary standing—thank goodness.
How is the Internet changing the horse business?
My wife and E-bay. I could write a book on that alone. Bridles, saddles, show tack, western wear, even horses and trailers—all are available on the Internet. And don’t think for an instant that people are not tapping into that resource! Horse enthusiasts are loving it!
What has the experience of your first published novel been like thus far?
In a word: overwhelming. I am hearing, time and again, of folks here who pick up the book and literally cannot get it out of their hands until they get to the back cover. They call me the next day—late in the afternoon to say: “Hey, I picked “Jacob” up late yesterday and stayed up till 3 a.m. or 6 a.m. with it, finishing.” And what to do about these eighty-year old women who are writing me letters and saying that they are not ashamed to have the book setting out so others can see it? Or, as one reader said: “without all the sex and cursing of so many books and movies of today.”
For my first effort at a novel, I an overjoyed and deeply appreciative to the readers for their excitement over the project. For once, words fail me.
What is your next book?
The Learnin’ Post, which my wife and I are editing now for release in time for the Little Rock State Horse Show, over the Labor Day weekend in September. It is a story of an orphan, adopted by a middle-aged Arkansas couple. They set about to de-institutionalize him, while letting him ride and train young horses. I set the technique of training horses against the way in which the young orphan is being trained by the loving, adoptive parents.
I was asked by a fan if it was as big a tear-jerker as Jacob was? Yeah. It is.
Visit Robert L. Hall's web site: http://robert.hall7.home.att.net
"Human Horse Sense," an essay by Robert L. Hall in When Falls the Coliseum.
© 2002, Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved