How I Created My First Novel

You won’t understand the good-ole-Boys of the South if you only listen to Jeff Foxworthy and other comedians of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. While their writing and jokes are funny and often true, there can be much more to the Bubbas of the South. I grew up observing the good-ole-boys who lived along the Red River in North Texas and I learned some things from them. There are many synonyms for these renegades and outlaws who made the Texoma region their vacation land– good-ole-boys, rednecks, desperadoes. They are the subject matter of songs we love, songs written by men who have a bit of the outlaw in them–men like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings. I like those songs so much I’ve suggested to my good musician friend, Johnny O’Neal that he create a CD of the many outlaw songs he does. Having played bass guitar with him for over a year, I noticed how the crowds LOVE those songs. The good-ole-boys of the South with their dark, wild, violent and quirky characteristics have inspired many movies. Newspaper articles about them shock us as we read of their bizarre and sometimes brutal escapades. Of course, women in the Red River Valley can also demonstrate the same characteristics.

One day I was listening to my mother, Jessie Faye Pittman (Don’t you just love Southern names?) tell me story after story of the crazy antics of the rednecks who lived along the Red River. I was writing down every one of the tales in total amazement. My mother stopped suddenly and said: “I don’t know what gets into people who live along this Red River. It’s like they’re sick or something.” At that moment the title of my novel popped into my brain: Red River Fever. I got to work, and a year later, I had a novel.

At signings and readings in North Texas, I will often have someone say to me: “You wrote about my uncle, didn’t you? He said he was the one that done that . . .” I assure them that the novel is a work of fiction and that I did not have their uncle in mind. (Do novelists ever change the names and other details to protect the guilty?) These boys along the Red River could get so out of control that I chose this quotation by Thomas Moore as an opening epigraph:

“This wretched brain gave way, and I became a wreck at random driven, without one glimpse of reason or of heaven.”—Thomas Moore.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from my novel, Red River Fever. If you want to know more about rednecks and why they fascinate the American public, I hope you’ll take a look at it. This quotation introduces another strange Valley character, a religious man who called himself Enud the Prophet. He and his congregation are contemplating the spread of the mythical Red River Fever that sweeps through the Valley every few years:

“At a dilapidated farmhouse outside Durant, members of the Good Hope Pentecostal Church gathered for prayer and meditation. The foundation of the house had been skewed by shifting soil, and the right corner of the wood-shingled roof slanted toward heaven. Inside, a dirt dauber buzzed in the corner and crawled up the cabbage rose wallpaper into its earthen sarcophagus, and a brown recluse spider scurried across the sloping floor toward the group sitting around a battered oak table.
A large redheaded man stretched out his leg, squashed the spider with his boot and whispered, “The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” He licked his finger and flipped through a ragged bible. His finger rested on verses underlined in red ink, marked so long ago that the ink had bled through the pages. “ The good Lord has spoke to me and I have a verse to share, my brothers and sisters,” he said. “It’s time. Soon the earth shall disclose its blood. Jeremiah 48:8 says, ‘And the spoiler shall come upon every city, and no city shall escape: the valley also shall perish . . .’ ”
“Is it the fever?” a woman asked.
Enud stared at his Bible. “I’m afraid so, Sister Ethel. I’m afraid so.”
The supplicants knelt together. As the sun set, the shrill monosyllabic sounds of unknown tongues broke the quiet of the valley’s encroaching darkness—a darkness they could feel.”