Archive | January, 2014

The Story Behind the Stories: Alligator Stew, Freddie, and the Kegerator!

27 Jan


The Story Behind the Stories:
Alligator Stew

This story has many different influences and sources of inspiration, and I hope I don’t forget any of them. Our family had several close friends who were also like family. I guess in a way they were family of sorts, as they were usually related by marriage to my uncles or aunts or cousins. One of the most fascinating of these people is a man I will simply call Mack.
Mack farmed a large acreage out on the St. Francis River. He hunted and fished with our family for years. I will never forget going frogging with Mack, my father, and my Uncle Phil when we got stuck in a deep mudhole and Mack walked out of the woods and brought back a big, dual wheeled John Deere tractor to pull us out. I remember another night running trotlines on the Blue Hole.  We finally gave in to the cold weather. But when we got back to Mack’s farm, he stripped naked and used the water hose to shower before going inside the house. I still don’t see how he avoided hypothermia. But if he was trying to impress this young boy, he did a good job of it.

But what fascinated me most about Mack was his lack of fear for snakes. My boxing coach, Robert Lowrimore, was the only other person I knew who simply had no fear of snakes. Mack once told me he used to catch cobras in Vietnam with his bare hands. Most people who would make such a statement would be liars, but I firmly believed Mack would do it!

So I wanted to write a story about Mack and the St. Francis River. Much of the history of the river that I give in this story was given to me by Mack while we were fishing the Blue Hole. His tales of river boats and huge cypress trees and bears and panthers never bored me. I knew I had to write a story about this man, but how to go about it was a problem.

I read a newspaper article of a local incident where a young ladies boyfriend had called her parents. After advising that he was about to kill their daughter, he put the young lady on the phone to say goodbye. Her father had feared something like this was about to happen and had bought her a .25 automatic pistol a short time before.  When she got on the phone, the father told her to kill the bastard. The boyfriend took the phone away and said goodbye.  He later drove the girl out to a secluded spot in the county. When he came around the car for her, she shot him three times.

Another influence on this story was a man from Hogeye, Arkansas, (Yes, it is a real place) named Gerald Koonce. Gerald kept a “Kegerator” in his house. He had two refrigerators. One held an extra keg of beer. The other had a tap ran through the door and a line out the side to a CO2 cylinder so his beer never went flat. The top of the frig was filled with quart Mason jars. I emptied many of those Mason jars. I haven’t seen Gerald in years, but I plan to make a trip to Hogeye and give him a copy of this next book. I hope he’s still alive and doing well. The refrigerators in Freddie’s barn in the story are exact replicas of Gerald’s set-up in his kitchen.

            The mention of the alligator killed at Coldstream is a reference to an event published in our local newspapers. Apparently while seining the ponds the employees realized they were being followed by an eight foot gator. They killed it. But they made the mistake of taking pictures of it and having them processed at Wal-mart. Wal-mart reported them to the game warden who wrote them a ticket. This was told to me first-hand by a nameless soul, who shall remain a nameless source.

The story also has connections with the Atchafalaya basin, voodoo, Creoles and Cajuns, and much of that was to lay a foundation for a novel to follow. There will be a collision between witchcraft, voodoo and christianity–I promise!

The story was submitted to dozens of journals and was roundly rejected. But then I saw a call for papers that wanted stories that reflected the true, gritty south. I made a revision to the story that I had been resisting for sometime. The main character’s history involved family ties with the Klan. But his daughter was dating the only black man in the county, and he had a secret in Louisiana, a black son by a Creole woman, and he travelled south to see them both every summer. I was hesitant to use the word “Nigger” for all of the reasons we all know. But the story did not ring true given the background I had created. So I revised the story and used the word one time and submitted it to John Dufresne who was then serving as the Fiction Editor for the inaugural issue of Real South.

He accepted the story, and even suggested the characters would make a great novel.

I have included the story in this collection, and even made it the title story. The characters are continuing to live on as I work on my novel involving the characters in “Karen” another story in this collection and “Flying Lessons,” the last story of the collection and the first chapter of the novel to follow. The novel will involve the running of sex slaves and illegal immigrants as well as guns, drugs and nerve gas by river boat up the intra-coastal waterway from Brownsville and up the Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri and Ohio Rivers.
I hope you enjoy this excerpt.



Alligator Stew

The ringing phone brought Freddie straight up out of bed. He recognized Lee’s voice on the other end.

“You been half-way right by me, you asshole, so say good-bye to your daughter before I blow her head off.”

“Lee, send her on home and forget this shit.” But Lee was already off the line and Charlotte came on. The tenor of her voice when she said, “Daddy,” brought Freddie to his feet. She was scared.  Mattie sat up from where she lay next to Freddie and turned on the overhead light.


“Help me, Daddy.” She was crying.

“Listen, Charlotte. Have you got your pistol?”

“Yes, Daddy. I do,” she said between sobs.

“You kill that black bastard tonight.”

“I don’t know if I can.”

“He’s a dead man. I won’t let him live another day. But you can’t let him take you with him. Put a bullet between his eyes. Do you hear me?”

“I will, Daddy—”

“That’s enough, old man. I got some business to take care of.”

“I’m comin’ to find you, Lee. Right now.”

“Don’t bother. I know I gotta kill you, too. I’ll be right out, soon as I’m done with her. I’ll stick you in the same hole, if I can find you.”

“I’ll be right here—”

The phone went dead. Freddie eased the receiver back to its place, while Mattie stood in front of him, wringing her hands. “Lee says he’s gonna kill her, but he wanted her to say good-bye first. She says she has her pistol with her. They never said where they were.”

“You can call Wilson. He can go out there,” Mattie said.

“Go out where? If Lee kills her, he’ll do it somewhere besides his house, and he said he was coming straight out here to get me next.” Freddie got up and pulled on his clothes. Out of the bureau drawer he pulled a Ruger Redhawk .357 and a snub-nosed Dan Wesson .38. The Ruger was in a shoulder holster he put on, and the Dan Wesson he stuffed in his hip pocket. Mattie had gone into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.

“Hey, Mattie, has Charlotte got any clothes here?”

“Her closet is full of stuff from last time she was out. I washed and pressed them all.”

“Bag’em up and throw ‘em in the truck with my stuff.”


“If she kills that boy, we’ll have to leave for a while. I can take her with me.”


From Planet Opinion, Published in Planet Weekly, Thursday, October 28, 2008

24 Jan

Home arrow Features arrow Goals

Goals Print E-mail

When I lived in Tuscaloosa, I was fortunate enough to write a column for The Planet Weekly. The paper was actually a bi-weekly, and of course I wasn’t paid a penny for my columns, although I was allowed to retain all rights to the essays so long as I acknowledged they appeared first in The Planet Weekly. My time with the paper was a good time, and I did benefit from the experience in that it kept me writing consistently about topics I normally would never have considered if I hadn’t had a deadline for a byline.

So as I go forward this year, I thought I’d post some of those essays as I am working on combining them for a book. Since this is January, I couldn’t think of a better one to begin with than this one on Goals. It is neat to read this now and to see the goals I have achieved and the ones I am still working on, as well as the ones I either gave up on or shifted my focus to other areas. Then again, when setting goals, flexibility is important. But I do believe for aspiring writers there are work habits espoused in this essay that can help.  I hope this makes a difference in your writing year, and that you will share that difference with your CommentsJPEG BookCover God'sNWCD AutographingTBIBjpegalligatorstewfrontcover96dpi1.jpg

 I do not believe in New Year’s resolutions. They are too easily made and too easily broken. I do believe, however, in carefully setting ……


C.D. Mitchell


     I do not believe in New Year’s resolutions. They are too easily made and too easily broken. I do believe, however, in carefully setting and planning goals. Every January I look in my journal at the goals I set for myself on New Year’s Day. I believe in short-term and long-term goals. So each year I reset my short-term goals and assess my progress towards my long-term goals. For my long-term goals, I usually set five and ten year benchmarks. This past year I was blessed to achieve my ten-year goals that I had set back in 1997.

     It is time to start over.

     We need to have a vision of ourselves and what we hope to achieve. After we set our goals, we must have faith in our ability to make our goals reality. Because only hard work and dedication will ever pay off, you must have a work ethic. Tenacity and honesty go hand-in-hand. Your will to achieve your goals must outweigh your resistance to those goals, and only you can assess that will.

Honesty with yourself is vital when setting your goals, whether long or short-term. Your goals must be reasonable and attainable, yet they must be a challenge. You have to be honest with yourself both when setting goals, and then later, when you assess your attempts to make your goals reality.

     A thin line separates the gray area that exists between confidence and arrogance. Success will be seen with bitterness and jealousy, and you will learn that your friends will be eager to claim your success has fallen into your lap. They will fail to acknowledge the hard work you have done to achieve that success.

     I measure my success by how closely I come to accomplishing my goals. Here once again is where honesty with one’s self becomes vital. If you did not attain your goals for the year, you must ask yourself why. Is my failure due to my effort, or circumstances I cannot control?  If the failure is due to my lack of effort, is my goal that important to me after all? Have I set a goal that really doesn’t matter? If missing my mark is not due to a lack of effort, then have I set a goal that is unattainable? Or have other factors that were unforeseeable intervened — factors that are not likely to occur again?

     Once again, you must be brutally honest with yourself when assessing your efforts to achieve your goals and when assessing whether your goals are attainable. Perseverance is the one thing we have absolute control over. If after assessing your efforts you decide the goal is still important to you and worth the effort, then perseverance comes into play.

     Goals are unattainable without perseverance.

     There must be a relationship between your long-term and short-term goals. They must work together. One of my long-term five year goals is to win a major writing competition. In order to achieve this five-year goal, I have set an annual mark of entering at least thirty contests each year. Over the course of five years, that will place my writing in 150 contests. If at the end of five years I can look back and say that I faithfully entered my writing into these contests and still did not win, then the fault is mine. I will need to do something to improve my writing, or give up altogether.

     But I will have made a reasonable effort towards accomplishing this goal.

     So after all this preaching, what are my short and long-term goals?

     My ten-year goals are to be a tenured professor in a creative writing program of national importance and to own my own home. I also want to have at least four books of fiction and nonfiction published by that time. My writing income should be enough to sustain me at that point although I will continue to teach because I love teaching.

For my five-year goals I want to be employed in a tenure track job in a creative writing program of national importance in a town where I will feel comfortable completing my life and career. I want to have an agent and have my first books of fiction and nonfiction published and my second books of fiction and nonfiction written and in the hands of my agent. I want to have won at least one major national competition with both my fiction and nonfiction. I want to be debt-free.

For the coming year I have set my annual goals that I hope will help me achieve my long-term five and ten-year goals. I will submit my stories relentlessly to contests. To document my efforts, I will record each submission and make sure that I have entered at least thirty contests before the year is out. I want to have my first book published this year and to finish my memoir. To achieve this goal I have submitted my fiction manuscript to several publishers and contests and will aggressively submit this manuscript the rest of the year to contests, publishers, and agents. I will attend writer’s conferences where publishers and agents are present and available for manuscript consultations. This will put my work in the hands of people who will either buy it or tell me what I can do to make it more marketable. While attending these conferences I will study with some of the best writers and teachers of writing in the country in order to continue to improve at my craft.

     I will work diligently to finish my memoir and to submit the essays and the finished manuscript for publication. After I finish the memoir — which is over half-written — I will begin a new novel that I hope to have started before the end of this year.

     In order to find a tenure track job in five years and to be tenured in ten, I will aggressively apply for tenure track jobs listed with the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Higher Education Jobs Web-site. I will send out at least fifty job applications every year. I have already met this quota for the coming year and will likely double my effort before the month of May has arrived.

Once again, here is where honesty and perseverance pay off. In order to land a tenure track job, I will have to have at least one book published. I cannot just go out and publish a book. Having a book accepted for publication isn’t like saying I will go outside and cut down the fifty trees that line my backyard. The act in itself depends upon someone else. However, if I persevere and diligently send my work out for consideration and constantly strive to make myself a better writer by studying my craft, by reading the works of other great authors, by attending writer’s conferences and visiting with agents and publishers, I know I will achieve my goals.

     In 1997, I was tired of building houses for a living. As a goal, I decided that within five years I would return to graduate school, and that within ten years I would be teaching at a major university. In 2002, I began graduate studies that culminated with a Master of Fine Arts Degree from the University of Memphis in May of 2006. I began teaching at the University of Alabama last fall.

     I did not achieve these goals without hard work, perseverance, and sacrifice. And these goals are not something that will ever win me a national award for effort or achievement. But they were goals I set for myself and worked hard to accomplish, and I can look back now with satisfaction at the past ten years. Once again, honesty is the most important quality of all. You must be honest in setting your goals; you must be honest in assessing your efforts to achieve those goals, and you must be honest with yourself when assessing your willingness to sacrifice in order to achieve those goals.

     I have adopted some lofty and difficult tasks for myself over the next few years. As I said earlier, there is a thin line between confidence and arrogance. I believe arrogance is expecting your goals to occur without making the necessary effort. Confidence means having faith in the old adage that good work habits will outdo talent every time. It means that I have carefully thought out my goals and the steps necessary to achieve those goals, and that I am well on my way to making sure my goals become reality.

     I am not a dreamer. I set a goal and chart a careful path and do everything I can to stay on that path. That path will lead to success, and that success is defined by me.

     So you may laugh at my words today. I wouldn’t blame you if you did. After all, the goals I have set would challenge many writers with far more talent than I have. But I haven’t set my goals based upon my meager talents. I have set my goals based upon my willingness to do the work and make the sacrifices necessary to make those goals reality. You still may not be convinced, especially if you don’t know me personally. But those who do know me will be coming to my home in five years to get an autographed copy of my first book.


CD Mitchell can be reached for comments or questions at:

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Review of God’s Naked Will by Thomas Gagnon, Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene

22 Jan

Thursday, October 10, 2013

God’s Naked Will & other sacrilege


God’s Naked Will & other sacrilege

By C.D. Mitchell
BurntBridge Press
159 pages
Review by Thomas Gagnon 

            First-time author C. D. Mitchell excels at making scenes.  He often opens with sensational information, which evolves into a drama both compelling and realistic—no contrived plot twists here.  But also often, something is missing.  Most of these stories are all about their scenes, while the characters—if not missing in action—stay two-dimensional.
            First, the positive, and there is plenty of positive to accentuate.  Mitchell does create utterly memorable scenes.  Near the end of the first story, “Clovis Clementine,” the already horrible life of Clovis takes an especially ghoulish and ghastly turn.  During a flood, he imagines that dead bodies rise up and talk to him—at first, a high school classmate that he had attacked and killed, and later, at three-pages’ length, “the Colonel” who urges him to join the devil’s ranks.  A scene like that has lasting impact, and there are many such scenes throughout this short story collection.
            One other scene—a favorite of mine—occurs in the title story, “God’s Naked Will.”  It is a dialogue over the phone between a Pentecostal preacher, Mooney, and a receptionist at an escort service, absurdly named God’s Own Escort Service: A Touch From Above With Every Date.  The absurdity continues with the line “God’s Own Escort Service.  How can we touch you today?,” but the ensuing conversation takes unexpectedly dark turns:
            “I want someone who knows how to keep her mouth shut.  But I also want someone
            who knows what she’s doing.  And she must be white.”
            “What are you, a bigot?”
            “No.  But my faith prohibits inter-racial marriages.”
            “Your faith probably prohibits premarital sex, too.”   (55)
Such unexpected darkness—or, at best, murkiness—is a strength in all Mitchell’s stories.
            Also positive, Mitchell boldly presents distasteful issues and situations.  The mere concept of the Lord’s army (introduced almost right away in “Clovis Clementine”) induces shivers.  And it gets more distasteful than that, in story after story: schizophrenia, suicide, adultery, horrific hypocrisy, capital punishment, voyeurism, verbal abuse, and sexual perversions.  Nor are these evils hurriedly set aside.  Rather, they stay front and center, throughout.  For instance, the sexual perversions in the story “Original Sin”—especially, lust masquerading as nudism—never quite disappear.  Although the bride, Lesley, knows ahead of time that she will be getting married nude in front of strangers (on p. 124), she cannot reconcile herself to the thought (on p. 139).  On the contrary, she suggests to the groom, Zach, that they leave as soon as possible.  They don’t.  Lesley cannot escape from human sin.  Consequently, neither can the reader.
            This is impressive.  What is not impressive is the lack of characterization in most of these stories.  Clovis is not so much a person as he is a misfortune incarnate; the same is true of another character with severe mental illness, Sally in “Job’s Comforter.”  Although Lani in “Stud Fee” has interesting moments, Mike, the stud, does not.  Elias in “Healing Waters” achieves an anti-climax rather than a climax.  And so on, with one exception: Reverend Mooney.  Mooney takes on dimension because he is both astoundingly hypocritical and apparently unaware of his hypocrisy.  He contains a world of contradictions, which are not amusing and yet are not wholly disgusting, either.  It is clear that the unrealistic tenets of Mooney’s own faith are partly to blame for his faults.
            Each story is a mix of the well-done and the problematic.  Since schizophrenic Clovis believes in the Fundamentalist Christian concept of the Rapture, it is apt that he fears the flood is a particularly ominous sign.  But, the many similes describing Clovis’ schizophrenia merely strain the brain.  The can of mace in “Job’s Comforter” is a Chekhov’s gun that never goes off—an excellent aspect of the story.  But, the metaphor of Job’s comforter is utterly perplexing.  Whereas Darleen does aim to comfort her schizophrenic daughter, Sally, Job’s comforters do not comfort Job.  Other stories are more (or less) out-of-balance than these two.
            For all its imperfections, however, some stories in the collection do linger in the mind.  Important questions about faith are framed by intensely dramatic (but plausible) situations.  Yes, it is a bumpy ride, but it is an enjoyably bumpy ride with resonance. 

Book Festival and Conference Opportunities for Writers and Published Authors

21 Jan

March 7th through 9th–The Dahlonega Book Festival, Dahlonega Georgia
I will be appearing here as a Regional Author.

March 27th thru 29th: The Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers Annual Conference, Faulkner State College, Fairhope AL.
This conference offers readings, panels and a long list of publishers and editors in attendance.

April 2nd thru 5th: The Delta Blues Symposium: Delta Diversity hosted by Arkansas State University, Jonesboro AR.
I will be teaching a creative writing workshop and offering free critiques of submitted story manuscripts. All events at this conference are free.

April 24th-26th. Arkansas Literary Festival. Little Rock, AR

May 2nd through 4th. Dallas/FT. Worth Writer’s Conference. Hurst Conference Center, Hurst TX.
I will be teaching two classes on craft at this conference.

June 12th thru 17th: Southeastern Writers Workshop, June 13-17th, 2014.
I will be doing manuscript critiques and teaching two classes on writing craft and marketing at this conference.

August 14th thru 23rd: Breadloaf Writer’s Conference. Middlebury, VT.

October 10-12th The Southern Festival of Books, Nashville TN.

November 1st: Louisiana Book Festival, Baton Rouge, LA

I have tried to include good links to all websites and Facebook pages for your convenience!
I hope you find this information helpful, and keep up the good work!

CD Mitchell
Author,: Alligator Stew; God’s Naked Will


The Story Behind the Stories of Alligator Stew

17 Jan

The Story Behind the Stories: Alligator Stew: More Stories from Delbert, Arkansas
Video trailer for Alligator Stew:

As a writer I am constantly asked how I got the ideas for this story or for that book, so I began a series of blog posts when God’s Naked Will was published titled The Story Behind the Stories. After writing about each story, I took a break for the holidays, a move, and to get another book edited and published. Now that Alligator Stew is available for preorder ( it’s time to renew the series. I thought I’d begin with an entry on the book itself.

Alligator Stew began back several years ago. In 2002 I had returned to graduate school in Lake Charles, Louisiana, attending the MFA program at McNeese State University. As I wrote stories for workshop, I was pressed with needing to discover a theme that connected the stories.

               During a week in October, from a Thursday to Thursday, we had two hurricane threats. I was working at the local Sears store, and we must have sold nearly 300 generators. Fortunately for Lake Charles, both hurricanes curved and missed our town with the main force of the landfall. I never once lost electricity, and even went for a bike ride during the hurricane with fellow writer and MFA student Jessica Pitchford.

The week after the hurricanes missed, Sears had nearly 275 generators returned for refunds. That was when I noticed the pattern.
I had lived through the Iben Browning prediction of a major earthquake along the New Madrid Fault in 1990. The Y2K debacle had just passed. I was raised in a Pentecostal church that predicted the end of the world and apocalypse with every shot fired in Israel. Since that time we have had Harold Camping twice predict the exact day of the rapture, and the Mayan calendar prediction of the end of the world.

                As with all things, people react to these events in different manners. Most completely ignore them. Some give the predictions lip-service. Others react in fanatical ways. On cable television now there are shows such as “Doomsday Preppers.” Our parents likely knew people who had fall-out shelters stocked with food and water during the cold war.

            But for the most part, people reacted much like my home town did in 1990. As the predicted date approached, there was a small buzz of hysteria. On December 3rd, my own law office was closed. The schools dismissed for the day, and the people held their breath waiting for any indication of that first tremor that never came.

            But what struck me as different after experiencing the same thing in Lake Charles after the hurricanes was that at least when the hurricanes missed, the threat was over for a while—until the next hurricane developed. When the earthquake became a nonevent on December 3rd, the threat was just as great the day after and the day after. But for the most part, people felt like idiots for giving in to the hysteria, and they went back to living their normal every day lives.

                   I had also been introduced to Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. Later I bought and read The Half Mammals of Dixie by George Singleton. George is a prolific writer and has had other story collections published, such as Why Dogs Chase Cars.

                  George Singleton used the town of Fifty-Six, South Carolina in his books, and he was doing exactly what I wanted to do for my town. I just had to come up with a name for it.

                   A close friend of mine had a horse that he needed to name. The horse hated getting his feet wet, and nearly killed me one day when at a dead gallop, he darted left to avoid a small puddle of water, and I went right and collided with an oak tree. I hated that horse and never rode it again. I also hated the name he gave that horse—Delbert. But when I thought about that word for the name of my fictional city, I loved it. So Delbert, Arkansas, is named after a horse that hated to get its feet wet.

                 The original collection went through some changes and morphed into a manuscript I finally started submitting for publication. I continued to write more stories, to add or subtract, to revise and edit. The collection had evolved into a large collection, nearly 280 pages titled “Stud Fee” after one of the stories.

After reading the short story “God’s Naked Will” at the Fairhope Writer’s Conference, I was approached by an editor who said if I could put together enough stories for a collection based around a religious theme, he’d love to publish it. That began a nightmare publication process that over two years caused me many sleepless nights and taught me many lessons about the publishing industry and the need to carefully select who you allow to publish your work . However, I stole four stories from the original “Stud Fee” manuscript, and wrote four new stories to create the story collection God’s Naked Will. That left me with a depleted manuscript of the original stories that sat neglected for some time.

Once God’s Naked Will was finally published, I turned my attention back to that original manuscript. I read through it again and realized I still had the nucleus for a good collection of stories. I began to look for publishers to send it to. That was when I came a cross a call for manuscripts by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing.

                 SYPP wanted manuscripts that dealt with some historical aspect of the south; my collection was an attempt to give a fictional account of the 1990 earthquake prediction, so I sent it to them. The editors were intrigued, and asked if I could add a couple more stories, which I did. The rest is now history. SYPP has shown me just how wonderful an experience publishing a book with a quality publisher can be!

            Alligator Stew also provides the basis for my novel to follow. John Dufresne selected the title story for the inaugural issue of Real South. In an email about the story, John suggested I make those characters into a novel. I am following that advice. The final story will be the first chapter of the novel I am now working on, and the characters in the stories “Alligator Stew” and “Karen” will all play major roles in the novel to follow. I also plan to write more about the characters of Delbert, Arkansas, and would love to some day write a novel of Jennie’s life. I have even been asked to create a novel from the characters in the story “Stud Fee.”

            As I go forward in the coming weeks, I will begin with the first story of Alligator Stew and prepare a blog post on each story in the collection—how the story came about, where the ideas came from, any special problems with the editing or revision process. As a teacher of creative writing, my intention is to create a collection of essays that will help future students of fiction writing or literature better understand the creative process.