I asked about the hut Stuart built.
"It took him a year and 16 days to build, during which time he lived in a barn. And when he bought the ten acres that he named Tolstoy Park, he painted a pine board white and lettered it 'Tolstoy Park,' and so here in these parts back then his property was known as 'Tolstoy Park.' He constructed this odd little round-domed hut that survived 80 years through hurricanes."
"And you wrote part of this book in this hut."
"I did. When I got the book deal, the next phone call I made after telling my wife we were rescued from poverty, or immediate poverty, the next phone call I made was to the banker who owns the ten acres and who developed it into an office complex. He had a squishy enough heart for historic preservation that he directed the workmen to work around it. I called him and I said, 'May I lease Henry Stuart's little house? If you'll lease it to me, I'll restore it.' Because at that point, it had plywood over the window holes at the windows. No door on it. Just a piece of wood leaned up over the door, fast-food wrappers inside. It was really being misused, abused, neglected. And the banker said, 'I'll rent it to you for $9 a month for ten years or so.'
"When I finished the book, I took a break from the manuscript and went up there and remodeled and restored Henry's home. It looks for all the world now like maybe he went out for a walk and will be back any minute. It's furnished, there are curtains on the window, there's a potbelly stove, there are books on the shelves."
"Your fictionalization of Henry Stuart's life is a book about how to die."
"It is. It's also a book about how to live by a willingness to admit that we all have a short time on this earth. And Henry said, 'I'll face it. I admit that I will die. The doctor said I will. I believe it.'
"He didn't necessarily resist that, but what he did was he decided, 'If I'm dying in a year or so, I'll live each day until I die, and I will live that day in the manner that I choose.' He lived in that little round house for almost a quarter of a century. He just did what he did. He grew his own food. He baked his own bread. He became a vegetarian."
"How did it change your life to write about Henry?"
"Well, for one thing, I own a bookstore, and I have been on the backside of the counter selling books. The biggest change has been to find myself on the other side of the bookstore counter, this time as an author out there traveling from Miami to San Francisco to Atlanta, talking about my book, and here at the age of 57 all of a sudden I'm an author. It's so crazy.
"A lady sat beside me in a bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi, when I was signing books. She came up and she sat down next to me, and I opened a book to sign it, and she looked at me, and she began weeping and told me how her husband had died 11 years ago, and her two adult sons lost their father, and how these books were for her sons and how she thought that this book might convey to those boys something of what was going through their daddy's mind knowing he was dying of cancer, something of the spiritual hardship that he faced and something of the loneliness and something of the desire to leave something behind for them. So then at that point, I get choked up, and those were experiences that are new to me."
As for Henry Stuart's hermit's hut, Mr. Brewer said, "We're trying to get it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If I'm successful in that effort, then the owner of the land will grant a preservation easement to the Alabama Historical Commission, effectively saving Henry's hut forever. So that if you come in three years, and there's not a Walgreen's drugstore there instead of Henry's crazy little round house, you will be able to walk into it. If you can't get here, then if I've done my job, in your mind's eye, in your imagination, you can feel the house, and that's the next best thing to being here."