Author wanders a fictional Darlington

Author Phillip Gardner. Photo by Samantha Lyles

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

Author Phillip Gardner’s new short story collection weaves a tapestry of romance, nostalgia and healing against the backdrop of Darlington, S.C. … but not really.

Set in a fictionalized version of the city circa 1990, “Where They Come From, Where They Hide” relates tales of broken marriages and renewed hope, hometown idols with feet of clay and the enduring brotherhood among men whose glory days may have ended in high school.

Gardner’s first novel, “Someone to Crawl Back To,” was also set in this fictional Darlington, where characters circled each other and sometimes flocked together at a local bar called the Paradise Lounge. Some characters created for that first book have resurfaced in his new story collection.

“The basic idea was to juxtapose two love triangles. One of them is mostly comic, and the other is mostly tragic,” says Gardner. “I’ve written Darlington stories throughout my five books, and characters tend to circle around and cross over … one is a wrecker driver, another runs a plumbing company. There are lawyers and college teachers and all sorts of people who meet at the Paradise Lounge, which is the kind of place where the reader enters with one character and leaves with another.”

Although Gardner hopes the men and women seeking happiness, revenge, validation, and love are relatable to readers, he notes that no person or event is based on real-world Darlington happenings.

“Nothing that happens in this book ever happened, to my knowledge, in this town,” Gardner says. “Although on a couple of occasions, I have run into people who’ve read my books and they’ll say, “oh, I know who that is!” and I have to tell them no, no, no! Whoever they thought it was was somebody I didn’t know.”

A retired college English teacher who taught for 33 years at Francis Marion University, Gardner is a native of Goldsboro, North Carolina. He moved to Darlington in 1986 and says he felt at home here because the city reminded him greatly of his hometown.

“Geographically and culturally, (Goldsboro) is very much like this area. Years ago, it was tobacco country, and the farmers I worked for all had Coker seed,” says Gardner.

Growing up in a rural environment, he recalls, meant that most of your entertainment came from the people closest to you. In this respect, Gardner got pretty lucky.

“Both of my parents had large families and I had lots of cousins,” he says. “We had traditional family get-togethers where they were always telling stories and singing songs, so I grew up loving music and stories.”

As a boy, Gardner rushed through reading obsessions ranging from pirates to baseball players to historical heroes.

All these tales fed his imagination and grew into a lifelong love for the written word. This affection deepened during his college years at UNC Charlotte, where he delved into Southern Gothic and Jazz Age classics from F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Flannery O’Connor.

“I think that’s where most of the pollination occurred for me, starting in my freshman year,” says Gardner, who developed a particular love for short fictions, told well. “They say that we don’t really choose our pleasures, but our pleasures choose us. I think that’s the case with literary forms, too.”

Despite having endured the nervous anticipation of publishing five books, Gardner says that he still frets over little things or missed opportunities when he receives copies of a new work.

“I’m scared to open the book because I’ll just see a typo here, or something I should have said there, and I’ll just want to scratch my eyeballs out,” he says, laughing.

“Where They Come From, Where They Hide” by Phillip Gardner, published by Lamar University Literary Press, is now available online and in local bookstores.

Author: Rachel Howell

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