Interviews

 

Interview done by Brandon Proia in Fall of 2004, in Chapel Hill, at UNC. Published in lit mag Cellar Door, Fall 2004, just before the Bush re-election.

I didn’t know how this interview was going to happen. For the longest time it seemed like nothing was going to happen at all. I did not interview Ellen Gilchrist, I did not interview Chuck Palahniuk. Thank God. And then suddenly it was going to be Prof. Naumoff, Lawrence Naumoff, Viet Naum, the “au” pronounced as in “Nautical.” But what do you do to turn talking to someone into a readable thing? We thought this over a long time; should we have the interview during the third presidential debate? It would be so wild and instantly dated, all of us screaming and flinging cans of cheap beer at the television. Or else there could have been the three of us, me and Jeff Rehnlund and L.N. poking around the abandoned Lucky Strike factory, bemoaning modernity. And then, best of all, Naumoff himself asked if we could just not do an interview at all. Make up the answers, he said. Write an Anti-Naumoff.

But there I was after all: I have a gray mini-recorder in my hand, and I’m trying to always keep it crossed under my arms out of sight, but I still feel like I’m wearing a wire. We meet at Silent Sam, and the sky is New England overcast.

N: This is weird. This is like a 60s thing—nobody meets in front of Silent Sam anymore. This is so weird.

B. I figured we wouldn’t run into anyone by accident, everyone I know, we all avoid north quad like a disease. All the field trips and the tourists.

N: And I didn’t realize they still did this. (He gestures to about 3 older women with campus maps hanging out of tote bags who are gazing at Silent Sam with something like reverence.) They’re looking at it in awe.

B: partly I wanted to come here because it’s weird how we’re not disgusted by this thing anymore—the statue and what it means. I mean when you were a student here…

N: Oh yeah, everyone’s been leveled out since then. You’re supposed to feel crazed. You’re supposed to feel so restless you’ve got to do something about it. In your life and in writing too. Maybe it’s a Prozac thing. Too much sex, too much drinking. You’re tranquilized.

(The tape recorder’s in the crook of my arm, drowning in the giant sweater I was wearing. Listening to it now, every time I take a step our voices drop out. We are headed for Naumoff’s car, at the 15 minute meter on Henderson St.)

N: I think this is the first generation of Prozac writers, where no one is writing out of rage. That’s why you get bad writing, you’re not out of your mind, you’re not crazed, you’re not completely driven mad by the world and it’s not getting on the paper.

Driving in a 1962 Studebaker

B: Maybe it would be too much for us to try to cover if I asked you how we got here. What you think about that, and all.

N: Yeah, it’s almost too complicated to unravel. When I was your age—(we are driving now, getting onto I-40. My seat belt is stiff and I’ve already run out of things to say)—I lived in the middle—I graduated, I won the National Endowment Discovery award and I went to Mexico with my artist-wife. We were gonna be expatriates, we read so much expatriate literature—populist novels, socialist novels, think of having been a student like you—OK so that’s what we did. And if you’re out of the country long enough, out of the media, it’s overwhelming to your senses, nobody’s away from it long enough to get free of it, to get clean.

(Interstate 40 is called the Mojave Freeway on some signs, in some books, by some drivers. It connects us from Wilmington to the California deserts.)

N: There is so much adult knowledge and adult power that’s put into getting inside your brain. And then the level of ignorance in America is so deep, the anti-intellectual, anti-enlightenment sentiment which is so powerful. It’s hard to back it up, turn it around.

(I’m out of my depth. I don’t know where we’re going. When Naumoff came up to me at Silent Sam and earlier and he clapped his hands together like we were getting down to business…

N: What did you want to hear about, then, the writing life, you want to hear about being radicalized, why nobody’s radicalized anymore?

(I should have realized he already knew the questions that were worth asking, he already knew to ignore critical parts of what I had to say. All I have to do is let him drive us all the way to the Mojave Desert, and find our way to some kind of underworld.)

N: Because evil is stronger than good. Evil is more powerful than good. More persistent. They don’t ever give up. That’s how fascism starts. People say, “They would Nnnnnevvver really do that; Dick Cheney would Never do that!”

B: It’s not uncouth of me to ask you where we’re going like in the personal sense, right? Where the car is driving to?

N: We’re here already.

The Best Job Lawrence Naumoff Ever Had

(Jordan Lake is laid out flat and gray under the murky weather. There’s a buzzing in the distance which might be a wave-runner. With us walking toward the water from the gravel next to the road, it all feels like a story Naumoff would have laughed out of his own intermediate fiction class. There would be a single red X across the overlong paragraphs of exposition, and stapled to the back would be pages and pages of a suggested ending to the sub-plot you didn’t even know was hiding inside the trash you emailed to the listserv at two in the morning. It’s the same thing in person, standing in front of the state-erected hole in North Carolina, and then he staples on the story of how helped put it there.

N: It was a project, a government project.

(The Army Corps of Engineers, specifically.)

N: They paid everyone to clear out of here and then they paid me to tear down their cabins.

(1968-1973: Naumoff entered the picture in ’71.)

N: There was one man who stayed the whole time, sitting in his chair in the front yard when I’d drive by in the Studebaker or my friend’s pickup. They took him out by force in the end, paid him his pittance. End of story. And I’m here taking down these crazy cabins made out of slow-growth trees. Dragging them away.

(Maybe we should have gone to the Lucky Strike factory after all, talk about some kind of devastation I knew something about. As is, we’re just gazing at the lake and what used to be underneath it. Who used to be underneath. Weird enough that it’s man-made, and now I’m hearing who haunts it.)

N: A mummified cat inside one of them, no eyes, no fur, with its mouth open wide, like it was screaming, but it wasn’t screaming, cause when you held your breath and listened there was No Sound, No Sound.

(what am I supposed to say to this.)

N: We always figured there’d be money left in the walls, hidden there and someone forgot about it and died, but there never was. No hidden fortunes. Just ancient spaceship-shaped cars. Old clothes, children’s clothes, but the only people you ever saw that were left were old people, and then there weren’t any of them at all, and then when the houses were gone, there it was.

(It’s all a wild fantasy one doesn’t think about at the time, you’ve got to realize that, listening to someone’s life was, how they changed, how they just came to one day and the world was different. I hope this will happen to me but I will hate and regret it forever once it does.)

N: But I mean part of this is about doing things, us being here. If you’re stuck in writing you can’t just sit there and think about it or you’re dead in the water. But you’re driving in the car, and thinking about nothing, all the sudden pow pow pow everything’s falling into place. Same as with an interview. You got to do something. Look out there.

(He puts out his hand with the palm down over the lake, like he’s Master of the Physical World in training.)

N: They dammed up the river and in came the water, but all the roads are still down there. 40,000 acres of people forcibly displaced, and the roads they drove on are all down there is you got deep enough to get to the bottom. Still there in spite of things.

How This Is Relevant

(What HAPPENED in 1971? Besides Lawrence Naumoff dismantling one part of the secret history of America, in 1971 they banned TV cigarette ads and sentenced Charles Manson to death. The Weathermen put a bomb in the White House and Clint Eastwood turned into Dirty Harry. Jim Morrison died, but Markey Mark was born. Did we trade up or down?)

N; Don’t you feel the claustrophobia of the classroom sometimes? When I was a student here, about the third week of my first writing class, it was on the first floor of Bingham, there was this horrible guy there who couldn’t write, his name was something Faulkner, and the teacher asked him, “Are you related to the real Faulkner?” and he said, “Well, kind of,” and I just—the window was open and I went right through the window. Didn’t come back till the next day. And now no one screams or cries or yells….

N: Nobody is attacking the things that are just so crazy. I went to school here and I’d write attack ads in the newspaper, the DTH. I mean, it used to be more like high school, there were a lot of rules, old fashioned kind of stuff, women couldn’t wear slacks, they had to wear dresses. They were locked in their dorms after 11. So I used to write these mean-spirited, long ads. And people would read them! Once a week, every week, and it would get people looking forward; got in trouble for it, eventually. But if I was doing it now, it would be thins like, “Dear Senator Elizabeth Dole. First off, your new hairstyle eats shit,” and so on and on like that kind of funny but kind of crazy, too. Just you have to confuse people, that’s the world. Shake everything up.

(We aren’t radicalized, he’s right, but maybe it’s not so simple. Radical isn’t how you think anymore, it’s something you become, a subculture. You go down with your radical friends and their radical haircuts into the radical ghetto an waste college convincing each other that later on in life you’ll look back and agree you were right all along. There’s got to be something simpler, and maybe Naumoff’s right, that all we’ve got is to bewilder the world into changing its mind.)

N: It’s up to the artists and the writers now to start telling the truth. I never knew how in fascist countries, the people would always respect their artists and writers most of all, because it was the only place they could hear the truth. But it’s true.

(When I get back to campus, I will walk by the eleven spray-pained pictures of Jeff Rehnlund on the Phillips Hall Annex, and I will count them like I always do. I will sit at Linda’s with Jeff and drink from pitchers until we can’t drink anymore. We’ll talk about lies I can tell to make the interview better and more real. But the point is we don’t even know a single true thing to tell, let alone how to tell it. We write stories of ourselves in situations that don’t make sense. We end up painted on the walls with no message but what we looked like. That’s why Silent Sam turned into. That’s what the radicals turned into, what the ghosts under Jordon Lake didn’t even get the chance to turn into. And I lied in this interview, so many times. About how it happened, what we said, and where we went. Does it matter that I lied? When there are thousands of copies printed, will it matter than? I am at a loss, belted stiffly into a ’62 Studebaker on I-40, as the tape runs out on my mini-tape recorder with a sturdy click.)

 

WRITER NAUMOFF LOBS GRENADES INTO WAR OF THE SEXES
The (NC) Charlotte Observer - Sunday, August 24, 1997

Writer Lawrence Naumoff is boyishly handsome - dark eyes intense behind horn-rimmed glasses, a thick shock of auburn hair barely threaded with gray.

His fifth novel, “A Plan for Women,” was just published by Harcourt, Brace. Like his earlier books, it features wonderfully sympathetic female characters, generally boorish males - and often provocative “revelations” about the battle of the sexes.

Naumoff grew up in Charlotte, the son of Dr. Philip Naumoff , a family practitioner, and his wife, Esther. His mother died in 1984; his father, this past March.

Naumoff alternates writing with working as a contractor/carpenter. I talked to him recently - at his brick ranch house and in his white Dodge pickup truck - while he ran errands.

Q. What was it like, growing up in Charlotte as the son of a prominent doctor?

A. There were two sides to it. You were expected to behave well and represent him in a good way in public, to be very responsible about taking messages from sick people on the telephone. On the other hand, I had a kind of impunity from getting in big trouble because my father was well-known to the police. So there were times when myself and my wilder friends were stopped by the police - and when they found out I was Dr. Naumoff ’s son, they’d say, “Go on home.”

Q. You were the only son in the middle of four sisters. Do you think that shaped you, gave you a feminist sensibility?

A. That’s what people say, but I don’t think so. Children just accept whatever’s given to them.

Q. What was your mother like?

A. It’s hard for me to say; my sisters knew her a lot better than I did. There was sort of the sisterhood and then the guy, and the guy is sort of watching life take place in the family but doesn’t fit into the family.

I often imagined that instead of me actually having been born to my mother, my father had found me somewhere during the war - in Italy or somewhere - and I had been a refugee, brought back and plopped into the family.

Q. You were not close to your father?

A. No, we weren’t close. We were civil to each other, but he was a hard man - real hard.

Q. If your sisters didn’t make you so sympathetic to women, what did?

A. I think what has to take place for a person to want to write is that he or she has to become radicalized by something. I can remember the first time I was truly radicalized in defense of women. I was in college and a friend got pregnant. This was in the late ’60s, and you couldn’t have birth control pills back then or get an abortion - which I thought was an infuriating punishment to women.

So she was going to have the baby and then her health insurance people said, “We don’t pay maternity benefits for unmarried women.” That infuriated me so much that I was ready to bomb a building. Who did those people think they were, that they could punish a woman because she has the same desire as a man?

Q. How did you get into writing?

A. I graduated from high school never having written, not knowing what I wanted to do. When I was a freshman at Chapel Hill, a teaching assistant said, “You’re a natural-born writer. You’ve got to go see Jessie Rehder, head of the writing program.” So I did - and that was it. I was home, finally.

By the time I was 23, I had written (unpublished) three novels and dozens and dozens of short stories. Most (of the stories) I published under my pseudonym, Peter Nesovich.

Q. Why did you feel it necessary to have a pseudonym?

A. I didn’t think my family, my father especially, would appreciate or understand the kind of far out, avant-garde and definitely embarrassing-to-a-proper-doctor’s-family fiction I was writing.

Q. From the early ’70s until the mid-’80s, you weren’t writing at all. Why? What was going on in your life?

A. What was going on were things you want to write about, but don’t want to talk about. That will have to suffice.

Then in 1985 I wrote “The Night of the Weeping Women.” I sent it to an agent and she immediately had three offers on it. Then came “Rootie Kazootie.” Then I wrote “Taller Women,” and that upset my editor so much, she didn’t want to publish it. So I had to change publishers.

I get that reaction a lot, actually. I know there are two or three things that seem to disturb people about my books. If you show weak women who don’t prevail in the end, a lot of people in the literary world don’t like it.

Q. I think of your women characters as strong, not weak.

A. Well, all my women are spirited, but they don’t always prevail. They don’t often learn from their mistakes. Their good-heartedness is often their undoing.

The other thing that seems to get people upset is when I leave reality in some way. They take it literally instead of recognizing it as a metaphor. For example, in “Taller Women” I had a passage where the mother is gorging herself on food, and she wraps her arm around the plate and accidentally cuts off a piece of her arm and eats it with the food. I didn’t mean that literally. It was from her daughter’s point of view, and that’s how it seemed to the daughter - her mother was so out of control.

Q. You told me earlier that you were afraid you “went too far” with “A Plan for Women.” What did you mean?

A. People tell me my books are very disturbing. But they say they’re also laughing when they’re not being disturbed. When I’m writing, it feels as if I’ve had a great humorously affecting, humorously disturbing revelation that just has to be written down.

I know that these revelations that occur in the book are unusual and outrageous and couldn’t possibly be true - except they are. Like the one about how nobody uses the term “nymphomaniac” anymore because all women are like that now. It’s not true - but it is true.

Q. You seemed to be saying in this book that men are completely irredeemable. Do you believe that?

A. The male characters are based on men I have known, men who needed to be called on the way they acted. I’m writing about certain men. If it becomes a universal statement, it becomes it on its own.

Q. But don’t your “revelations” imply universal truths?

A. I think boys are a lower life form than girls, up to a certain age. Then, if there aren’t any women to make the boys stop being boys of a lower life form, they will keep being that way as men.

On other hand, though most men are worse than most women, a bad woman is worse than even a bad man. When men are bad, it’s very obvious. But when a woman is bad, it’s much harder to figure out what’s going on.

Q. Have you progressed from being a “boy of a lower life form”?

A. I wouldn’t dare answer that. You’d have to ask somebody who knows me, somebody like Marianne (Gingher, novelist, director of the writing program at UNC Chapel Hill) and Naumoff ’s “longtime sweetheart”).

Q. Do you tell the people you build for that you’re a writer?

A. I never tell them, but they always find out. Then they buy one of my books, but they never read it.

You can’t pay people to read anymore. Reading is an alien experience in most American households. It involves contemplation and reflection, and you have to be calm enough to sit still for a couple of hours. A lot of people do not have the ability to do that. They hear the roar of their own life, and they can’t be quiet.

Q. Where do you write? How?

A. I have a little office in Carrboro with a desk, a chair and a typewriter. When I’m working on a book, I do it like a job, five days a week. You have to be there to catch the wave when it comes through.

I revise all my books four or five times. I go back and retype every page - it gives me another opportunity for something unexpected to happen. It’s like having a baby - I just want to get it out.

Naumoff’s hope - “Silk Hope” author awaits film version of his novel
The (Durham, NC) Herald-Sun - Sunday, October 17, 1999

Filmmakers have toyed with Lawrence Naumoff ’s scrupulously honest, marvelously funny novels for more than a decade now, but his 1994 title, “Silk Hope,” which the New York Times called “irresistible,” is the first one actually to make it into production.

CBS is airing its television movie starring Farrah Fawcett as Naumoff’s wacky, lovable heroine Frannie Vaughan at 9 p.m. today, with Ashley Crow as Natalie, Frannie’s pragmatic younger sister, and Brad Johnson as Ruben, the mill foreman who is the first man to understand Frannie’s consistently irreverent and frequently irresponsible behavior.

The story documents what happens when Frannie, off doing her thing, misses her mother’s death. When she does come home, she finds that her sister and her sister’s fiancé are planning to sell the family farm, which has been handed down to the women in the family for generations.

Frannie, faced with the need to buy her sister out, takes a job in a textile mill, and buys three pigs to raise as the basis of a herd she hopes will be a moneymaker. Her childhood is tied up in the old farm, and she knows she can’t let Natalie and her banker husband-to-be violate the inheritance that has always descended to the women of the family, who were expected to keep it to pass on in turn. The one-armed mill foreman Ruben is a supporter she hadn’t counted on.

Fans of “Silk Hope” will find it difficult to wait until tonight’s showing of the film to see how the hilarious scene in which Frannie transports her starter pigs home to the farm is played out. It reads as one of the funniest scenes since Guy Owen’s “The Ballad of the Flim Flam Man” made it to the screen.

“‘Silk Hope’ was the only one of my novels that was optioned for film rights before it was published,” Naumoff said in a telephone interview from the Silk Hope ranch-style home, the replacement for the burned farmhouse that plays a key role in the novel. “I think [the book] was in the bound-galley stage,” the novelist said.

Naumoff attributes the near-miracle of his fourth novel’s successful passage through the hazardous process from project proposal to the actuality of a film, to its producer. Three-time Emmy-winning producer Beth Polson is an Eastern North Carolina native who abandoned journalism to work in the film industry.

The Disney people wanted “Silk Hope,” the novelist said. And Polson was tenacious enough to hold on when Disney extended its option for three years in order to book the script into its production schedule.

Dalene Young, who wrote the scripts for “Cab to Canada ,” and “Journey of the Heart,” converted the novel to screenplay. Things were looking good until Disney eliminated the entire television movie arm of its operation. Then, as Naumoff put it, “Everybody lost their job and all the projects were put out to sea.”

Polson, stubborn about the film she knew was a natural, kept at it until she had a package with a commitment from Fawcett to portray Frannie, and CBS to back it.

“And boom, it just went,” Naumoff said. “They filmed it in only seven weeks. I couldn’t get up the momentum to get out of Silk Hope before it was done.”

He learned through Tolson that the crew had worked 12-14-hour days, six days a week to complete the film so quickly.

“It was filmed in Ventura County,” he said. “She said she found a place that looked like Piedmont North Carolina and a farmhouse that looked relatively like a North Carolina farmhouse. Then she found a textile mill out there. She rented the mill at night after the workers went home, so all the scenes in the mill were filmed between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m.”

Naumoff had fully intended to go out and see the film in progress, he said, “But I was too busy doing stuff here. And I didn’t know it was going to be over in six or seven weeks.”

That “stuff” that kept him at home was two new books in the works, one an “absolutely funny novel,” the other a nonfiction book.

He described the almost-finished novel as, at least currently, “about a man who pretends to be Walker Percy, but it’s actually about how everybody’s pretending to be somebody else.” Fans will recognize the Naumoff take on contemporary life.

The nonfiction book is tentatively titled “Tales from the Construction Trade,” and the author said, “Some of it is funny as heck and some of it is absolutely ‘how to,’ in my spin and take, and it’s about subcontractors and carpenters and what they’re really like.”

Naumoff is hoping readers will learn something about building by reading the book, although he means for it to be accidental: “You won’t know you’re being instructed.”

An honors student at UNC in the 1960s, Naumoff credits the late teacher Jessie Rehder as his mentor. Under her guidance he won an NEA grant, a Carolina Quarterly Fiction Award and a Thomas Wolfe Writing Award.

Then there was a hiatus, when Naumoff moved to Silk Hope, bought land to farm and apprenticed to the old community of Quaker builders in the area to learn to build houses.

For unexplained reasons, he quit writing until the mid-1980s, publishing the novels “The Night of the Weeping Women” and “Rootie Kazootie.” The latter earned the Whiting Award, which made it possible for Naumoff to write “Taller Women: A Cautionary Tale,” which then became a 1998 New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

“A Plan for Women” was published the same year to plaudits like “provocative” (New York Times) and “Naumoff at his finest” (Miami Herald).

That kind of performance has enabled Naumoff to abandon building to write full time. Film options and purchases brought in the most of his income, he said, followed by advances on the American editions of his novels, then foreign rights in England with translations in Spanish, German, Dutch and Swedish.

When it comes to how he feels about the movie version of “Silk Hope,” Naumoff says that producer Polson kept what he felt was the vision and theme of the book alive in the film.

“I saw the book as mostly reflective, quiet and serious with moments that were really funny,” he said. “And she saw it as a really funny book with some serious moments.”

Through the screen door
The News & Observer - Sunday, October 17, 1999

Silk Hope — Lawrence Naumoff lives as both pragmatist and artist. He is, after all, a man who with equal aplomb has built houses of wood and novels of spirited women.

He doesn’t complain about the vicissitudes of Hollywood - how it can invade an author’s life, secure his work and make nothing of it. As a man thrice called by showbiz types, Naumoff simply focuses on the benefits for his art.

“It kept me alive,” Naumoff says matter of factly. “It made it possible for me to keep writing.”

What he means is this: His first published novel, “The Night of the Weeping Women,” was optioned, giving the buyer the right to make a film of the work as long as he paid for the privilege annually. Options can sell for anywhere from $2,500 to $100,000; an author like Naumoff could make an amount in the low to middle five figures. The option on “Weeping Women” lasted seven years. With his second novel, 1990’s “Rootie Kazootie,” optioned by actress Diane Lane, the checks came for five years.

Neither of those works has become a film. But tonight, five years after it was optioned, his “Silk Hope, NC” becomes “Silk Hope,” a two-hour TV movie airing at 9 on CBS.

“Silk Hope” stars Farrah Fawcett as Frannie, a scattered and loose gal who tries to change after her mother dies. At stake is the family farm; Frannie feels tied to the land and wants to save it. Her stalwart sister, Natalie (Ashley Crow), left to the responsibilities Frannie has long ignored, wants to sell the farm and use the money to begin a new life with her banker fiancé. What follows is a story of love and legacy.

By phone from his home in Silk Hope (about 25 miles west of Chapel Hill, near Siler City), Naumoff is funny, naturally and purposefully. He speaks protectively and passionately about his work. He believes that the film makes a good effort at being substantive and “that’s pretty good for TV.” He attributes its success to Wilmington native Beth Polson, its executive producer.

“Someone else would have made it all ‘Hee-Haw’ and ‘Cannonball Run,’ ” Naumoff says. “She kept a heart and the heart of the book in the film.”

Polson and Disney’s television arm both wanted “Silk Hope” even before it was published. Disney got the option, but Polson was so committed to the work that she signed onto Disney’s project. A script was written, but three years later Disney’s TV production arm was eliminated. Polson put another “Silk Hope” package together in 1997 and two years later, voila.

That Naumoff’s books have been so ardently pursued isn’t surprising. Reviews of his work have not been faint in their praising or damning. The word “controversial” is often used in relation to his depiction of women and men, with some seeing his work as misogynistic, others, as sardonic.

His writing career began on the wunderkind track. A Charlotte native, Naumoff entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1964, studied with Max Steele and Doris Betts, and won many prizes, including a Thomas Wolfe Memorial Award. He published short stories and novels under a pseudonym, burned out and dropped out of school. In 1968 he re-entered UNC-CH and graduated with an English degree in 1969.

Despite winning a National Endowment for the Arts grant shortly after graduation, Naumoff stopped writing again, this time for a decade. In the interim, he lived in Maine, then returned to North Carolina, to Silk Hope.

The town earned its name in the mid-1800s, when an American sailor who had spent time in China planted mulberry trees in the area in hope of starting a silk industry. When the trees matured and it was time to harvest the leaves, the sailor discovered that the silkworms wouldn’t eat because he’d planted the wrong variety of tree.

Naumoff bought a farm and Victorian farmhouse. He raised livestock, farmed, and learned carpentry and building skills from Quakers. After the farmhouse was destroyed in a fire in 1977, Naumoff built again, but left Silk Hope a year later and moved to Chapel Hill. He returned in 1997.

His writing hiatus ended in 1981 when he wrote a few short novels for a small press before finishing “Night of Weeping Women” in 1986. “Silk Hope, NC” came eight years later.

“The book’s title is an homage to the fact that I had a beautiful home that burned to the ground,” the author says. “I wanted to give respect to a place that was important to me.”

Naumoff didn’t write the teleplay for “Silk Hope” and in fact didn’t see the script until the movie was three weeks into shooting (California’s Ventura County fills in for the Tar Heel State). When he read the script by Dalene Young (who wrote last year’s Polson-produced “Cab to Canada”), he was “pretty thrilled.”

“I wrote the script for ‘The Night of the Weeping Women,’ and by the time the Hollywood folks made changes, they had orchids growing in a front yard in North Carolina in November,” he says, the absurdity still riling him. “And worse than that, they had a guy eating a Moon Pie and drinking a beer. That would never happen in the history of the world. No one eats a Moon Pie; they’re only good for throwing.” Hollywood also added the f-word and nudity with abandon, he says.

But with “Silk Hope,” Naumoff says, “I saw this script and thought it was pretty much dead on and it was clean, wasn’t a cuss word in it. The only disappointment is that some really wonderful scenes from the book didn’t make it.”

It was Polson who drew from the book the elements that would make a movie.

“The novel is a character piece,” says Polson, an independent producer who has won Emmys for the “Barbara Walters” specials, investigative reporting and informational series. “It hard to do that kind of piece for TV. There were some things in the book that would be more interesting to dramatize them.”

For instance, in Naumoff’s book, Reuben, a supervisor at the textile mill where Frannie works, has lost an arm when we meet him. In the TV movie, we see the accident that causes the loss. A more dramatic departure is that the Frannie in the book is 23. Fawcett, who plays the character, is 52.

Age difference notwithstanding, Naumoff says the former “Charlie’s Angels” star was the right choice.

“Farrah had the right style and character,” he says. “And I thought it doesn’t really matter how old you are when you decide to change.” Besides, as a native of Corpus Christi, Texas, some would call Fawcett a Southerner.

“If Texas women grow up with that post-plantation mandate to be seductive and charming, and it seems Farrah did, then she’s a good pick for that reason.”

Even with his positive feelings about the project, the author pauses when asked whether he’d option a work again.

“It’s disconcerting and exciting equally at the same time,” he says. “It’s kind of like seeing your daughter marry the wrong person. It’s not the way you wanted it, but it’s all right and you love them.”

MEN VS. WOMEN: THIS WRITER GETS IT
Greensboro News & Record - Saturday, September 26, 1992

Chapel Hill novelist Lawrence Naumoff understands the struggles of the sexes.

Some men just don’t get it.

Some men think they get it, but they don’t.

Then there are the ones who get it intellectually, but who can’t conquer their primal urge to leave their socks on the floor, believing that the great sock god will wash them, fold them and return them to their proper drawer.

And, finally, there are some men who really do get it.

Lawrence Naumoff is one.

Naumoff is a writer who lives in Chapel Hill. He’s published three novels in the past five years, intense novels that examine how men and women treat each other.

In 1988’s “The Night of the Weeping Women,” a young couple loses the innocence of love as their toxic parents tear each other apart. In 1990’s “Rootie Kazootie,” a man leaves his wife for another woman. Big mistake. This month, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich released “Taller Women: A Cautionary Tale,” an ironic fable about men who try to restore their control over these uppity modern women.

“He definitely gets it,” said Mindy Marin, a casting consultant in Hollywood who has optioned “Weeping Women” for a movie. “He totally understands. He gets family life, he understands relationships, he understands the female and male perspectives in such a lucid way.”

The question then becomes why. Why does Lawrence Naumoff, who grew up in the South, in a traditional family, during a time in America when the men were strong and the women an accessory, get it?

“I get it from women,” he said. I’m more sympathetic to what was traditionally thought of as a woman’s point of view … concerned with the feelings of an individual rather than what that individual could be used for or made to do.”

He was born in the first wave of the baby boom, in Charlotte - not the city of gridlock traffic and pro sports that it is today, but the Charlotte of 1946, just another sleepy Southern town known as a good place to raise a family.

His father was a doctor, a general practitioner. His mother, who had a degree from Duke, made a career out of being a doctor’s wife. They built a comfortable life in Myers Park, one of Charlotte’s most privileged neighborhoods. Two daughters came first, then Lawrence, then two more daughters.

He remembers a happy childhood in a neighborhood full of kids where you could ride your bike to school and run around the yard barefoot in the evenings.

He doesn’t think his abundance of sisters taught him too much about women. It was awkward, being the only boy.

“I was like an alien in the family,” he said. “It always felt like my father had found me during World War II.”

In 1964 he enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill, where an astute graduate assistant sent him to the writing program. Then his life accelerated. In ‘66, he dropped out to write full-time. In ‘67, he got married. In ‘68, he went back to school. In ‘69, he graduated. In ‘70, he got a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and took his wife to Mexico and Maine, writing the while.

When he was married the first time, he says, he didn’t get it.
“I was a jerk. I was impatient, petulant, demanding and thought for some reason that a woman would do and live any way I wanted.I think there is a force or a dynamic or a momentum within men that drives you toward doing things and achieving things and forcing your way through life. I think you almost have to be broken like a horse.

“It’s up to women to make men grow up. It’s in your best interest.”

The doctor’s son ran out of grant money in Maine. After a year and a half of working and saving, he moved back to North Carolina, first to Bynum in Chatham County and then to a farm he bought in Silk Hope. He quit writing and took up the manly art of building. He built houses for farmers. He divorced and remarried.

As he hammered, he listened. Sometimes people renovated their homes when they really needed to change their lives or themselves. Wives would confide in him when their husbands were gone. Husbands would confide when their wives weren’t around.

Naumoff started writing again in 1985. He’s been able to make a living at it since ‘87, through foreign sales, screen rights and a $30,000 Whiting Award.

He lives in a middle-class neighborhood off Franklin Street, in an orderly house that reflects the starkness of his novels. The living room beams are exposed; the room is light and airy. There’s a wood stove in the fireplace, and pictures of Naumoff and the current woman in his life, author Marianne Gingher of Greensboro, and editions of their books sit on a shelf over the stove.

He and Gingher met after she gave a glowing review to his second novel, “Rootie Kazootie.”

“He has a wariness about the modern world,” she said, “not taking what passes for goodness in the modern world necessarily at face value.”

Naumoff craves orderliness, but will take issue with anyone who tries to link orderliness with the control that his male characters try to exert over their female companions.

“A sense of order gives you freedom,” he said. “Building houses taught me that and taught me how to write a novel. You have to do it in order.”