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 (http://www.syppublishing.com/alligator-stew/) 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.

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One Response to “The Story Behind the Stories of Alligator Stew”

  1. Sarah Khan January 18, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    Intriguing!

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