Atlanta native and Tucker resident Larry Higdon debuted his first novel, a psychological thriller titled The Storms of Deliverance (Tate, 2011), last November. Using the city of Atlanta as the tale’s backdrop, the book, though fiction, is saturated with details pertinent to Higdon’s life.
“I write what I know,” says Higdon, whose own career as a counselor and children’s play therapist influenced almost every facet of his novel. Working in Gwinnett public schools for eight years, Higdon’s experience counseling children inspired him to create characters of similar mind and spirit, as well as characters with deep psychological pain.
The protagonist of the book—a once promising pitcher for the Braves turned angry alcoholic nicknamed “Bad News” Johnson—begins an arduous emotional journey after experiencing Dissociative Amnesia in a car accident. Johnson’s ex-wife Katy, a school counselor, is clearly a character after Higdon’s own heart. An expert psychologist, Katy acts as the grounding element in the novel; one who uses her skill to diagnose and explore Johnson’s behavior before and after the accident.
The inspirational profession that led to The Storms of Deliverance wasn’t always there; it took until 2000 for Higdon to refocus his career path, after which he earned a Masters of Counseling at Georgia State University. After years of working as a lawyer—a lackluster and often frustrating career in Higdon’s experience—he found his niche as a child play therapist.
And, while his career as a counselor certainly influences his writing, his career as a lawyer does not. “I’m not able to write crime thrillers,” says Higdon, who remarked that some lawyers-turned-writers unwisely attempt to translate their expertise into crime thrillers fraught with legal jargon. Deliberately lacking in crime, Higdon’s writing instead focuses on the inner torments of characters, rather than court battles.
What makes The Storms of Deliverance such a local tale is, of course, its recognizable setting. Growing up in College Park and East Point, and later moving to Northeast Atlanta certainly makes Higdon no novice when it comes to the layout of Atlanta.
City landmarks, roads, and restaurants pop up everywhere: from Interstate 20 and the city of Duluth to MARTA and Buckhead’s own Ivy restaurant, readers familiar with Atlanta will have no trouble envisioning the background of “Bad News” Johnson’s difficult journey.
Higdon even creates a sense of nostalgia for the city in the novel; Johnson’s amnesia makes him believe the present date is 1981, which has him comparing the Atlanta of 2008 to the city he knew 27 years before, when roads such as Lawrenceville Highway were little more than pasture land.
Beyond the influence of his career, Higdon names two authors in particular as his primary source of inspiration: Jodi Picoult, whose writing similarly delves into the cerebral depths of characters, and Stephen King, whose fascinating story lines “make his books hard to put down.” In fact, it was reading Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” (Schribner, 2000)—a gift from his niece—that finally got Higdon motivated enough to write his own novel.
Losing his job as a counselor in 2010 due to budget cuts allowed Higdon to physically sit down and write the book. “I felt as though I were taking dictation,” he says of his experience composing The Storms of Deliverance. No doubt it was; the original draft numbered a whopping 600 pages. After some careful rewriting, Higdon and his team of editors honed it down to a more manageable 200.
Higdon’s method of writing was almost entirely in the form of stream of consciousness, which easily added length to the book. Regrettably, many of the character’s complex histories that developed from such writing sessions were cut during editing. Several scenes—particularly scenes with Ellen, a child character that literally fuels Johnson’s cognitive journey—were actually churning in Higdon’s head decades before the story took shape.
Like so many writers trying to buckle down and finish that long dreamed-of novel, Higdon developed his own schedule for composing The Storm of Deliverance. Instead of writing in a run-of-the-mill coffee place, Higdon opted to set up shop in the Lilburn, Snellville, and Northlake Chick-fil-A restaurants. His steady patronage at the latter location even landed him a book signing there in November of 2011, “which was quite a success.”
Asked if he knows what he wants to write next, Higdon is quick to assure me of his direction. “I am a psychological thriller writer,” he says, “and right now I have four developed characters in search of a story.”