Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In Vino Veritas

The cliché statement for an author's inspiration is "write what you know." My favorite living author, Stephen King, takes a different spin on that in his book, On Writing (which, if you have any aspirations to be a writer, this book is an essential for your collection): King advises to write what's real. Is it believable? Could you actually see this scenario play out in the world the author has created?

And that's the advice I took when I wrote Tallyho in the Squat. It is crucial that an author write what he or she knows, but a lot of what isn't known can be made up for with research and sticking to what's believable. Despite the growing bourgeois cultural and progressive renaissance in many Southern cities, the down home, old timey redneck side still intertwines in the culture, refusing to relinquish its NASCAR and made-from-scratch biscuits unless pried from its cold, dead fingers. That's the side I wanted to capture in my book.

Haivng been born and raised in Spartanburg, SC, I could write what I knew while also writing what is real. There are plenty of Jimbos, Bucks, and Aunt Sissys still to be found in the nooks and crannies of Upstate South Carolina. There are plenty of Bills, too: educated Southerners who put on airs of intellectualism yet still cling to their Budweiser and camo. From there I could expand it to Somerset, KY, a town I spent some time in during the summer of 2009 doing exactly what Bill and Jimbo did: smuggling rabbits across state lines. To my knowledge, it is the only federal crime I have ever committed, although some of my actions on a few Spring Breaks are still hazy.

I found Somerset to be a prototypical small Southern town: set in tradition and full of loyal locals passionate about its existence, yet at the same time trying to make waves in the name of progression. I drank with several of those locals, most of them disbelieving that I had visited their town to bring back wild rabbits to Spartanburg. There were times I wished I had concocted a story for them, just as Jimbo did when he claimed he and Bill were sasquatch hunters for the federal government.

From there, I combined a few other items of familiarity: my own English degree, our family's troubles in the 2009 economy, raising Beagles, field trials, wild nights after a few too many beers, and a host of other stories and experiences from my life. Write what's real, King said. There are times when Tallyho in the Squat seems outlandish, but rest assured, somewhere in that incredibility lies at least an inkling of truth. The Southern life does not suffer the humdrum greatly.

King also warns, "If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered."

Tallyho in the Squat is certainly not a children's or young adult book, and writing about such a lifestyle can be somewhat crude. There were times even I paused after writing a sentence (such as Jimbo's untimely ode to Moby Dick in mid coitus) and said, "Wow... that might be a bit much for readers." But again, I revert back to King's advice. Would Jimbo behave in such a way? He most certainly would, and to expect anything less is to cheat the readers who have grown to know him.

We all have a Bill, Rye, Jimbo, Buck, Aunt Sissy, or even a Skeezy in our lives. Perhaps those people embarrass us or make us avoid their company. But when they're at their finest, like rubber neckers on the Interstate after a wreck, we love to watch.

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