Archive | September, 2013

The Story Behind the Stories: Healing Waters.”

30 Sep

The Story behind the Story: Healing Waters

Healing Waters was a story I have wanted to write for a long time. I have always been fascinated with the healing springs we have all over Arkansas, from Eureka Springs to Hot Springs. Hot Springs is an especially fascinating area. I love how one can walk up to the fountains within the national park while carrying their own jugs, and each fountain is labeled as to the disease it purportedly cures. There has to be other hot springs in and around the area that are not located within the national park.

Ginseng has also been another of the Arkansas native plants that have fascinated me. I remember fishing at Lee Creek  up around Devil’s Den and seeing the hill folks walking out with sacks of the herb. I recently traveled to Lee Creek and posted pictures of my old fishing holes.

But what finally served as the catalyst for this story was a picture taken by Chicago Photographer Jennifer Moore. The picture was of a lady standing in the ankle deep waters of a pool in a creek. Jennifer had sent me the picture and asked if I’d be interested in doing a story, and this one was born. Here is a link to the picture as it appears on Jennifer’s website:
http://jmooreart.com/artwork/2731364_Untitled.html

The picture gave me an idea for the story I wanted to write—a story that would include the healing springs and one of the most fascinating herbs in the state—ginseng.

I immediately began researching the springs in the state and the growing and harvesting of ginseng. I had an idea of how the story would go, and the basic structure of the story is what I began with. I just wasn’t sure how to end the story.

While in Neil Connelly’s Forms of fiction class at McNeese State University, I did a paper on the Indiana Review and the stories within. That paper taught me the best way to end a story was on an image or action of a character. The image or action should somehow sum up, or stand as a metaphor, for the heart of, or for a major theme of the story. Many times I will have an idea for a story, but not know where to end or begin. When that happens, I just start writing, from the beginning, and I trust in my own editorial skills to help me edit the story later. One tactic that seems to work well for me is to begin at the point where the greatest tension of the story is created. Or instance, in a story titled Alligator Stew published in Real South I began the story in the first draft giving exposition about all of the characters. Later, the main character receives a phone call from his daughter’s boyfriend. He tells the father to say good-by to the daughter as he is about to kill her. The father then has to wait for what seems an eternity to learn what happens. I switched the order of events when editing to allow the phone call to happen in the first paragraph.  Then as I am revealing the back-story, the tension is always there. The reader is expecting you to get back to the issue and resolve it, and the time you take away from the issue truly represents the time the character is left hanging in the story.

So I decided to begin this story with my ginseng farmer catching a girl crawling through his fence and onto his property. He believes she is stealing his ginseng, but the photos are inconclusive. This creates tension. I wrote the story through to one possible ending where he sees her swimming in the creek and jumps in with her. I liked that ending because he had not been swimming since he had helped his wife in the creek before her death. The act of swimming seemed to be a good act that stood for his change in thinking.

When I sent the story to Jennifer Moore, the original ending had my preacher stripping his clothes and diving in. Jennifer commented in an email that she had seen that one coming. I knew that ending had to go, because foreseeability is the kiss of death for literary fiction. An ending, according to John Dufresne, must be unforeseeable, but also inevitable. The reader should never be able to guess what will happen, but when it does, they should nod their heads in agreement that it could not have ended any other way.  I didn’t have that ending yet, and I knew I needed to end on an action that somehow summed up the story. The planting of the ginseng seeds seemed to be a running theme for faith as the story took shape, so I started brainstorming on how to end the story with the planting of the seeds.

Extensive research was necessary to make sure I had the right biological information, and my new friend, Madison Woods, the author of  a blog titled “Where fantasy Meets the Wild Ozarks” was a tremendous source of information. My former biology teacher, Ms. Sandy Tedder, knew I was writing a story about ginseng and sent me this link to Ms. Woods’ blog:

http://www.wildozark.com/to-find-american-ginseng-in-the-woods-find-the-indicator-plants-first-ozarks-nature-wildozark/

Ms. Woods was kind enough to read and review the story for biological accuracy, and she even provided some additional details I picked up from her website—for instance the reference to maidenhair and christmas ferns. A link to her blog is posted on the blog page of my website.

I also did a bit more research on the crystals that are found in and around the Hot Springs area. I wanted to use those in the story also, but had problems finding a way to make them relevant. I firmly believe if something appears one time in a story and it can be removed without requiring a change anywhere else, it should be edited out. I talked about the crystals but made no other reference to them in the story. Then I realized as I was revising the end that I could refer to her eyes shining like crystals, and that allowed me to leave the reference in the story.

I had originally worried that none of my readers would catch that she was an apparition at the end and not a real being. If they thought she was real, they would have criticized my preacher for not going in to get her. But he hadn’t swam in the creek since Little Daisy Belk had died, and he wasn’t going to jump in for this stranger, even if he had the hots for her. For some reason, although I think there was a possibility of romance there, I liked his steadfastness in not swimming in the creek at the end, and not questioning what he had witnessed. To me, his not questioning whether what he saw was real was the greatest leap of faith he made during the story. Seeing the ginseng up on the side of the creek bank also allowed him to focus elsewhere, and to think of Daisy.

This is a story I could easily go back and make a novel of, and perhaps one day I will.

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The Story Behind the Story: God’s Naked Wil

23 Sep

The Story Behind the Story: God’s Naked Will

 Back sometime in the mid 1980’s I was in college in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  A young Pentecostal Evangelist who was a close relative to me came and stayed at our apartment while he was preaching a revival at West Fork.  The second night of the revival he came crawling in around 4 AM. I got up to check on him, concerned something might have been wrong. He said he’d driven out into the back pasture with the preacher’s daughter and the truck battery had died. I told him I was an old fornicator and he didn’t have to lie to me, but he only laughed, a sincere, genuine laugh and said that was really what had happened. Oddly, I believed him. The seed for this story was born that morning.

I realized this man’s sexual experiences were very likely limited, and it occurred to me that he would be limited in his ability to preach about the dangers of drink and women and sex since he had never experienced them At that time I was not writing, and didn’t even think of the incident in terms of a story until years later.
There was also an old tale floating around my home town of a local car dealer who had actually met a prostitute at a motel in Corning, Arkansas. Apparently she was good at her craft because he fell in love with her and married the woman. I made notes of all of these things in my journals.
Years later while pursuing my MFA degree, I was creating stories for my thesis. I wanted to create a mythical town like Winesburg, Ohio, and write about the earthquake scare we had lived through back in 1990.  I had already written of a preacher in one of the stories, and decided I need to give my preacher a bit of a history.

Of course, every preacher needs a wife, but the story of how a preacher finds and courts his wife is rarely told. Along about that time the AWP conference was held at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago. I experienced my first trip to the big city, and I was fascinated. While in Chicago, we watched the Blues Brothers, and as I realized they were orphans raised in a children’s home in Chicago, I finally had my story.

            I created a boy who was an orphan from his mother’s death, but who received a nice life insurance payment after her demise. Raised in an orphanage, he never received the attention he desired, but after attending church with a friend, he discovered he could out-Jesus even the best Pentecostal, and he soon discovered how to garner the attention of those around him.

            If you have never been to a holiness church, then you cannot imagine how enthusiastically they worship their lord. And no matter how loud they get, there is always one in the crowd who must be heard above everyone else. After attending a church for two services, you will know who these people are. This was my preacher! That gave me his childhood.

            For his adolescence, I imagined my friend in the pasture with the preacher’s daughter, and from my experience with preacher’s daughters, they are extremely active lovers. I could only imagine him saying “NO” to her, and I had a great deal of fun writing that scene.

            But I had to get this Chicago orphan to Delbert, Arkansas, as a preacher with a wife who cut hair. (I had already established this in other stories in the collection) so he bought an old church from his preacher friend who lived in the county seat. The preacher even tried to pawn his daughter off on the man.

But to plan his way to carnal knowledge, I took him to the palmer house Hilton in Chicago. I had him look up escort services in the phone book. I was somehow inspired by the idea of “God’s own escort Service” where all the ladies were named after characters in the Bible. I actually selected Delilah based upon a reference to her in an old western movie, The Sackets, without even thinking about her connection as a beautician.  I just got lucky on that one, although I wish I could claim I had thought that one out!

            As far as the scriptural story of Balaam and the ass, I did just like the preacher in the story. I sat down with the Bible and opened it up, and that just happened to be the story the pages fell open to. I read through it a few times and worked a few revisions to figure out how to work it into the story, but I think it worked well. In fact, and early working title for the story was “Am I not Thine Ass?”

            Endings are always problematic. I needed an image to end the story on that could stand as a metaphor for the whole story. I actually realized quite by accident that the planes constantly taking off and flying by the hotel provided a good image to end on. Planes have always fascinated me, and especially the way for a few minutes or hours people are crammed next to each other and become a fleeting moment in each other’s lives. I had actually used the image of the planes earlier in the story, with the line “carrying strangers to unknown destinations.” As I was editing the story one day, it hit me that the lives of Mooney and Delilah were about to take off just like one of those flights—two strangers flying off to an unknown destination. So I moved those lines from the middle of the story to the end. I am not sure if anyone has ever caught the significance, but it is there for interpretation just in case.

Spring River Dipper, Mammoth Spring, Arkansas: Simply Awesome!

15 Sep

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I travel frequently to the Hardy, Mammoth Spring area of the Ozark Gateway where I love to visit the little downtown shops, the flea markets, and enjoy some quality trout fishing. But a few years ago a cousin of mine told me about a little jewel I had never heard of, but now I can never travel to the area without visiting.

This jewel is the Spring River Dipper. The official address is 746 Hwy 63South, Mammoth Spring, AR 72554 for those of you with navigational guides. For those who like good directions, just drive on through Hardy past the McDonald’s on North 63 and travel the fifteen miles or so to get to Mammoth Spring. When you can see Spring River on the west side of the road, you are getting close. The ice cream shop sits on the east side of the road in a little strip mall that also includes a diner.

All of the flavors of ice cream are made on the premises, so this is essentially an artisan shop. I remember speaking with the owner the spring after the bad ice storm that paralyzed Arkansas and several other states. He said he had to pour out over 400 gallons of ice cream after his generators exhausted all of his propane tanks and he couldn’t have any more delivered due to the icy roads. I nearly cried.

I have a different favorite every time I stop in. The mint chocolate chip has flakes of green mint and mint chocolate as large as quarters. Other personal favorites of mine are the raspberry and blue-berry cheesecakes, and the purple-cow, which is raspberry and white chocolate. But they make all of the traditional flavors, some you will never have heard of, and they will be delighted to taunt you with samples of every flavor to make your selection that much more difficult. And if you just can’t decide, they have a sampler platter where you can get several different flavors for a reasonable price. They bake their own waffle cones, and have a variety of toppings that are almost as impossible to choose between as the flavors.

I mentioned this is an artisan shop because of the rare combination of quality , variety, and value. The selections and combinations are limitless. The toppings are fresh. The servings are generous, and I have discovered the owner gives a more generous serving than his employees! And, of course, the prices, especially for a tourist attraction, are far more reasonable than a Baskin Robbins or even a Dairy Queen.

The pictures I have uploaded are of the banana split I had during my last visit. The three flavors of ice cream I chose were blueberry cheesecake, mint chocolate chip and purple cow (raspberry with white chocolate). I had blueberry, hot fudge and raspberry toppings on the ice cream topped with whipped cream, nuts and cherries.  The total price for this delicacy was less than five dollars. I promise, it was as delicious as it looked!

If you find a favorite and want to take some home, they sell pints and quarts at reasonable prices. The poured-up ice cream is stored at zero degrees, and I have been able to make the 90 minute drive from the Spring Dipper home with a minimal thaw on the ice cream, but they will pack it in dry ice if you have far to go.

The employees are always friendly and generous with their samples. The store and restrooms are always spotless. And the owner truly enjoys hearing you tell him how much you loved his ice cream.

Every time I drive to Mammoth Spring I fear they may have closed, but they have remained open for years now, and if we all buy ice cream every time we go there, we can keep them open.

Time: Water: Change.

14 Sep

How much change can thirty years produce?

This past week I traveled across the northern half of the state of Arkansas to take pictures of locales that had provided inspiration for scenes from my book. This weekend my son also marries a wonderful young lady. This trip gave me an opportunity to visit our old apartment where my children did most of their growing up, a place that was likely the first home they remember.

            The apartments hadn’t changed much at all. The city of Fayetteville continues to grow. In thirty years, the town has expanded outward until many of the rural roads I used to travel are six-lane highways.

            More than anything, I remembered the awe the town and the university had inspired in a ninth-grader who traveled there for the first time for a high school baseball tournament. Seeing Old Main for the first time was thrilling, and that thrill has never diminished. But the initial awe of the campus and town has.

            As I walked around the campus taking photos and searching for my name in the concrete sidewalks, I began to think about why I was no longer awe-struck by the city. I added up the years and realized in 1981 I had been a nineteen year-old who left Paragould, Arkansas, in a $400 1972 Chevy Impala with a wife, two kids, and $350 in our pockets.

            Seven years later I returned with a law degree.

            But I realized as I watched the students walking around the campus, as much as it had changed physically, it had not changed as much as I had emotionally. The nineteen year-old was now replaced with a fifty-two year-old, who had been through many battles. The mystery of a college education had been replaced with three degrees and years of teaching at the college level. The two babies I carried with me were grown, along with another one we had while at Fayetteville. The wife was gone too, along with three others who followed in her footsteps.

            I think more importantly, what I had lost were those initial dreams of the success I would enjoy and the fame that would be mine. Those dreams had evaporated–as my youth had. I was no longer a believer that an education could change everything. But as I developed that thought, I realized what a hypocrite I was being. I was making plans to register to take the GRE to apply to PHD programs for next fall. I must still believe in some small way in the ability of education to change lives if I am willing to devote another three to four years for another graduate degree.

            I would be on the down-hill slide into my sixties when I finished.

            The focus for my trip, however, was at Devil’s Den, where an old fishing hole I used to visit on many occasions with a dear friend who is now deceased had been the inspiration for a scene in a story titled “Healing Waters” that was now a chapter in my soon to be released story collection.

            I made the circuitous route to Devil’s Den, driving through the park, and then out past the horse camp into the Ozark National Forest.  The forest service road follows the creek for a few miles before taking a sharp right turn up the mountain. On the left-hand side of the road is a narrow and dangerous dip where I pulled off and parked.

            Walking down the creek bed, I could see there had been some changes. I wondered if my old fishing hole was even there. I was sure no flood could have washed away the huge boulders, but I have learned to never underestimate the power of water. Or of change.

            Approaching the first of my fishing holes, I recognized there had been some changes. The creek bed was much wider, and I could see the clear impact of erosion from high waters and flash floods. The water was low, but still there, and the creek bed was dry. This had always made these little holes–that always held water in the driest of summers–such great fishing. I took several pictures of the early holes and then stumbled on down the creek bed for the big one.

            The fishing hole I was looking for had changed drastically. Where the entire body of water had once been in shade all day long, now no part of the creek was in shade. The narrow creek had widened by a good thirty to forty feet. The boulders where I used to stand and cast to fish I could see lurking along the far bank were still there, but the far bank was far removed, and no longer within casting range. More importantly, the little hole had been rimmed with a high bank of gravel. The hole would have needed to fill up with another ten feet of water to overflow its banks and fill the rest of the creek bed.

            The area was still beautiful, but once again I wondered if I had changed as much as this favorite old spot of mine. I remembered fishing there with Teddy Joe White, a dear friend I had gone to elementary school with in the first, second and third grades before moving away and then returning to finish the seventh grade on. Our talks had been simple-friendly competitions to see who was the best “Mountain-Man,” attempts to identify tracks of the Three-Toed Great American Wookalar, and talk of the beautiful girls who attended Paragould High School we would have loved to ask out but who we believed hated our guts.

            We never dreamed our lives would eventually evolve around addiction, alcoholism, diabetes, high blood pressure, DWI’s,” divorces, incarceration, and eventually death.

            As I walked out of the creek bottoms, a good two mile walk, I thought of how time and water were instruments of change on everything they touched. Water uses time to effect its change, or perhaps the reverse is true. But even things untouched by water are still changed. Time had flown over me like the waters down the creek, and like the bank that held the creek in its place, I had been scarred, altered, changed. I thought of how. I carry the scars of those changes–both physically and emotionally. I wondered if someone who hadn’t seen me since college would see the changes in me—changes as drastic as those I had witnessed in the creek bed that day.

            But I walked away with an important realization. The creek, with all of its changes, was still there. Even though the waters that had scarred the banks had since drained into the Gulf to replenish our oceans, or evaporated into the sky to give us rain, or soaked into the ground to replenish the forest, they had left their mark behind, and the world was better for the water having been there.

So that is the challenge? To realize our days on earth are numbered? To find the ways we can leave our mark on the world and those who will follow in our footsteps? To leave enough positives behind so when we are remembered, it will be the good we achieved rather than the mistakes we made?

            I left Devil’s Den and drove to MT Nebo to take more photos. The mountain top park had not changed nearly as much as Lee Creek, but the changes were there to be spotted for the alert visitor. I traveled on up Scenic Arkansas Highway 7 to the old, dilapidated Dogpatch, where I had vacationed as a child, and where I had taken my own children while an undergraduate at the University of Arkansas. During its heyday, the owners had tried to pass off the amusement park as dilapidated homes for the characters of the Al Capp Dogpatch comic strip. Now the place was truly dilapidated. But as the sun set behind me while traveling east toward Flippin and Cotter—two towns now bypassed by the highway—and on to my home in Lafe, I realized I was decaying and changing just like the locales I had visited. And I realized I had a new goal in life. Despite the deterioration of those places I loved dearly, they would always hold a special place in my memory.

            Now I knew what the challenge was—to do the same and use my own life to leave memories, inspiration, and guidance for those who would follow in my footsteps. As I look forward to assuming the role of grandpa in the future, acknowledging this role and the importance of this role opens a new chapter in my life, providing new challenges, and creating a new urgency to succeed in every task.ImageImageImage

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Boulders from Lee Creek

14 Sep

Boulders from lLe Creek

My old fishing hole. I used to fish from the top of those boulders.

Road Trip

11 Sep

I am taking off this afternoon headed to Fayetteville and then south to Russellville to take some photos and video tape for an upcoming book trailer. My short stories are all set in Arkansas at some point in time, and all of the places I write about are real, so I thought for the trailer I would document some of these real places and make them available to the readers. More to come when I get back home Thursday evening.

The Story Behind the Stories: “Stud Fee”

5 Sep

 

The Story Behind the Stories: Stud Fee

This story began back in the late 90’s and was one of the first I wrote. There are many influences that shaped this story, and I hope I can remember them all. Sometime in 1995 I was made aware of a tale. In this tale, a friend approached an old high school sweetheart about having an affair. The lady was not subtle, and she made clear she wanted to have another child, but that her husband was impotent due to a childhood disease. The affair began; the lady became pregnant, and the child was born. In a perfect world, life goes on, but of course, the world is not perfect. Although the child was born within wedlock, assumed legitimate, and the woman’s husband was happy to be made a father without questioning the source at the time, a short time later when faced with paying support for a child that was not his, the man had second thoughts. He suspected his wife and knew who the father was, even having his female attorney contact the stud. I heard about this tale from the stud, who laughed about telling the lady attorney he’d had an affair with the woman, but couldn’t have gotten her pregnant as he’d had a vasectomy. The attorney asked if he had medical proof, and he said he’d even come to her office and let her take a picture of the scar. The attorney declined. He offered to send her an email with a picture of the scar. Once again, the lady attorney declined. The stud never heard from the attorney again.

I always believed there was a story there.

Years later I moved to Russellville, Arkansas, where I attended a small local church. I moved there during the early spring of 1998, and I was fascinated by the hang-gliders that constantly soared overhead after launching from the pinnacle of Mt. Nebo, a tall buttress within the MT. Nebo State Park that sat just across the Arkansas River and loomed over the river town of Dardanelle. I knew I wanted to write about those hang-gliders. I had a cousin who had supposedly gone to California when he was younger and had flown hang-gliders, and everyone in my family talked about it as if he were crazy. But I always respected this dear cousin, who is dead now, and because of him I was fascinated with the gliders and these crazy people who jumped off the face of a tall mountain strapped to a kite.
While in Russellville I was invited to the home of a couple for a Sunday dinner. I was never approached about being a stud, not by that couple, but the whole experience had a tremendous impact on this story. The wife was an ordinary, yet beautiful lady. Her husband was a carpenter who had only recently built their home. While cooking burgers outback, she invited me upstairs to look at her paintings.  The scene described in the story where Mike goes upstairs and sits on the bed as she shows him a painting of the fox was totally inspired by that experience. The painting of the fox she revealed was incredible.

I became interested in in-vitro procedures and whether private insurance would pay, and I was surprised to learn how little support fertility procedures received from health insurance. Of course, the process and its acceptance has made great strides, but the story is set in the early 1990’s, which proved to be problematic as at one point I had the couple finding a home remedy online. My research showed the net was in its infancy during that time, so I had to revise that part of the story.

I studied reasons why men could become sterile, and although it was not a major part of the story, I realized the setting in Russellville was perfect for using MT. Nebo as a final meeting place for them, and  Russellville  provided the perfect place for employment of her husband—the nuclear power plant. Anyone reading the story would connect his sterility with his employment, and of course, the plant would deny any connection between the two. But I soon discovered a jewel: idiopathic spermatogenesis.

All of these things came together for a first draft of the story I submitted to workshop in McNeese to simply have it trashed. As an owner of horses, I understood the terms “Standing” and “Now Standing” and “Standing at Stud” and gave the story an initial title of “Standing.” I looked up the definitions of standing which were long and complex. There were many different aspects of the word that applied to the story, from standing at stud to legal standing as far as the actual parent of the child and legal rights as far as a sperm donor, to standing in for the husband in the marriage relationship. But none of my readers caught the connections, so I had to dumb down the title a bit and go for something a bit more obvious.
The story still wasn’t good at that time. But I caught a break when Michael Knight came to McNeese and did a manuscript consultation with me about the story. I still had no idea what I wanted the story to do, and even worse I wasn’t aware of that fact. Neil Connelly told me I was trying to do too much with the story and that I actually had enough to create a whole collection—which I eventually did. Michael Knight and Antonya Nelson both had a tremendous impact in teaching me that the vision of what a story is to accomplish is narrow, and needs to be a conscious plateau in my mind. Knight also suggested the story was not about the two lovers getting together afterwards, but about her sticking with her husband afterwards. The more I thought of that, the more I knew he was right.

The story began to take shape after that.

I revised and revised and worked on the story and submitted it for publication and received a long list of rejections, so I set it aside. Some time after I transferred to Memphis, Robert Morgan came to town as part of the Southern Festival of Books which was being held in Memphis because of repairs to the original host site of the festival. I had revised the story recently and submitted it to workshop for critique that week, but was approached by the workshop director Cary Holladay who needed an extra story for Morgan’s workshop to be held on our campus. I gave her the story, with the new title “Stud Fee.”
Submitting a story to a workshop held by a visiting author can be dangerous to a writer’s ego. Most are kind and generous with their critiques. Many are vicious. This was part of the reason why so few had submitted. Robert Morgan was unknown to us at the time, but we soon learned there was nothing to fear from this fantastic writer and teacher.
Morgan loved the story, and commented favorably on the opening and the closing and even read passages from the story. My ego swelled! His critique became even more powerful later when I read all of the comments from workshop that continued to trash the story and the concept. But with Morgan’s blessing, I knew I had a story worth pursuing.

The story was accepted for publication shortly thereafter and is the second story of my new collection. It was originally the title story of the first collection I had marketed for sometime before scavenging select stories with religious themes for this new collection.

Robert Olen Butler’s critique of yearning had a major impact on the story. As I initially developed the story, I wanted to write a piece from a woman’s point of view. I thought of the things a woman might yearn for that would result in their sacrificing everything to grasp the object of their desire. Having a baby was the answer.

Ironically the story gets mixed reviews. At a writer’s conference I directed, one of the more conservative ladies of the group scorned the story and said no woman would sacrifice her salvation and her marriage just to get pregnant. Another lady in the workshop asked her how many children she had. The scoffer admitted to having four. My defender then explained the story was her life-story as she had tried all of her life to have children and couldn’t. There was nothing she wouldn’t have done to become a mother. The Bible-thumper then rose and left the workshop, mumbling something about “heathens.”

I had found both of my markets. The ones who had lived this nightmare and yearned to have children would relate to the story, even consider it a story of their life. The others would scoff and claim they would never sacrifice their Christianity for any such vice. Those were the ones I wanted to write about, and that is how God’s Naked Will, the collection, came into being.

Most of the men who read the story seem to agree the story feels right. Many women readers hate the story—most of whom have children. But the responses I have received from the women who have lived this nightmare have vindicated my efforts in writing this story.

I remember a class taught by Neil Connelly at McNeese where we studied a story by Robert Olen Butler titled “Preparation” from his Pulitzer winning collection A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain. The guys in the class loved the story and thought it perfectly depicted the female psyche. The women in the class trashed the story. I laughed because I thought it was simply too real for them to accept. I have witnessed this trend in many other social and educational settings. The opposite is also true. Men usually trash prose that perfectly depicts us, while women say the words ring true. Perhaps this is humanities self-defense mechanism acting as critic. Since then I have come to accept criticism from the opposite gender as praise. Perhaps that is why I am so flawed! But I do remember thinking that if such a powerful story by a writer of Butler’s formidable talent could be trashed, I didn’t have a chance. Then I realized that if a story rings true for anyone who has experienced the very events about which I write, then I have found my reader. Those are the readers whose opinions matter. Now I simply ask anyone who doesn’t like the story how many children they have. Their response always explains their critique of the story.
I also wanted to write about those people who have a one-line clichéd response based upon some scripture from the Bible for every situation. I wanted to expose their hypocrisy and insanity, their lies and sanctimonious lives based upon dogma that even they could not live up to. I wanted to write about preachers who condemned gay marriage but had themselves engaged in illicit sex. I wanted to write about pillars of the church who love to look down their noses at others, forgetting the skeletons that hang in their own closets. I wanted to write about the insanity in the churches where they condemn women for having abortions but then also condemn and scorn the single pregnant mother. I call this insanity because they are too ignorant to realize that one action feeds the other. The abortions are many times a means to avoid the public condemnation and scorn cast upon them by the Bible-thumpers.  “Stud Fee” and Lani gave me a character to begin this wonderful exploration that will no doubt land me on many prayer lists around the country. But that is OK! I can always use more prayers, so long as they are not for my ruination.

One final note. As I was completing my MFA thesis, I looked at the story to see how it would fit with my thesis—an interconnected set of stories about a predicted earthquake scare in northeast Arkansas. I thought about moving the story from MT. Nebo to Crowley’s Ridge, but couldn’t. That was when I learned how the setting had become such an important character in the story. But I soon realized I had the perfect way of doing this. Michael was a bridge engineer in Arkansas shoring up bridges for  the Union Pacific. I simply allowed him to move up the line and work on bridges in northeast Arkansas after he finished his bridge across Petit Jean Creek. That way I could allow the story to remain on top of MT. Nebo, and then bring my bridge engineer to NE Arkansas where he made a brief appearance in “The Sheriff of Jester County” published in Natural Bridge. This required some minor tweaking, but worked.
And now you have the rest of the story!