Somewhere in the back of Lyle Roebuck’s mind, he always knew he was destined to be a writer. But after graduating from Glynn Academy in 1986, he didn’t major in journalism, creative writing or even English, instead he turned his attention to a “dead language” — Latin.
“I moved to the midwest for college and graduate school. I went to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where I got my (bachelor of arts) and (master of arts). Of course, when you’re majoring in Latin, people assume you’re destined for a life of unemployment,” he said with a laugh.
Or, of course, academia. Roebuck opted for the latter, falling into stellar teaching positions, with his most recent being at the Latin School in Chicago. But along the way, he decided to spend his off hours jotting down stories.
“I knew in one way or another that I was going to give myself seriously to creative writing. I danced around the edges of that for a really long time,” he said.
But he was able to use his wealth of knowledge of Latin, rhetoric, mythology and other classical disciplines to further his craft. Of course, the road to publication is often a bumpy one.
“I started with first stories in 2008. It took years to get it published and all the while I was writing other stories. You think that you must be getting better,” he said.
Following the “requisite number of rejections,” Roebuck published his first short story with others following. He soon had enough material to compile a book. And, on his 50th birthday, no less, “Phantom Sounds: Stories,” was released.
“It was on my exact birthday, Aug. 22, that was no manipulation ... it just happened that way. I thought, ‘that’s OK. I can be hit by a meteor or a bus now and it’s OK,’” he said with a laugh.
The euphoria was well deserved. The book is a collection of 11 stories modeled after the Gothic tradition, divided into different sub-styles of writing.
“It’s divided into three parts. The first part is Midwestern Gothic, the second is Southern Gothic,” he explained. “Then there is one long story at the end, like a mini novella.”
The book, which was released by Big Table Publishing, incorporates the same intriguing stylistic techniques made famous in the genre.
“These stories have the same principles. There is humor but they’re a lot of bizarre characters there,” he said. “The characters are people you’re glad that you’re meeting on the page, rather than on the bus or in your apartment.”
Roebuck is an expert on the genre, not just from his own writing experience, but also from teaching a course on the subject in Chicago. His class centered on Georgia native Flannery O’Connor, a literary giant who has long inspired Roebuck.
“I taught a 10-week post-graduate seminar on Flannery O’Connor at the Newberry Library in Chicago. It was called ‘Flannery O’Connor: the Agency of Grace,” he said.
“It was one of the greatest teaching experiences of my life. It always so interesting how relevant she is and has always been. She’s never really been out of fashion.”
O’Connor, who was born in Savannah, wrote in the Southern Gothic style, combining grotesque realities with humor on the path to transcendence.
“It really is about the transcendence of the character. Flannery O’Connor offers a jarring look at life. Southerners really understand her,” she said.
Roebuck will be sharing his perspective on O’Connor and her writing when he visits the St. Simons Island Literary Guild at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 7 in room 108 of the Casino. The Meet the Author series is free to literary guild members and $10 for nonmembers. To make a reservation for Roebuck’s lecture, visit litguildssi.org.
The discussion will center on O’Connor’s life and literary work, the future of the Southern Gothic style and tidbits about the author’s life and her mastery of storytelling.
“There’s a recording of her reading ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find,’ and it’s striking because she was a younger woman, she died at 39, with this deep Southern drawl but she’s reading this really jarring story,” he said.
O’Connor continues to serve as inspiration as he continues his writing. It is working too as Roebuck will publish his first novel, titled “Easter Monday,” in the spring of 2020.