An interview with novelist Gerald Inmon
Featured Author by Bookmasters & Atlas Books
Author of Yocona Puff Adder
Q Where in the name of all that's holy do you Mississippi wordsmiths come up with these unpronounceable Y words, i.e. Yoknapatawpha, Yocona?
A My father went to Chickasaw College in Pontotoc, Mississippi, Pontotoc means land of the hanging grapes, so I'm not sure if it was from the American Indians or the wine. But we have a community named Yocona, and in my book, the seven-year-old protagonist and his best friend discover an Eastern Hognose snake, also called a Spread Adder, and mistakenly called a Puff Adder. So, they are telling Mr. Fauâ€¦I mean Mr. Jefferson about seeing it. He asks if it was at Yocona and makes up a story about the Yocona Puff Adder for the boys' sake. While he insinuates that is where he derived the name of his fictional county for his writing, that isnâ€™t totally true, but therein lies â€œfactionâ€?â€¦twisted truths and exaggerated facts.
Q Where do your characters come from? Tell me about your heros?
A Rather than admit most of them are real people, it's more accurate to say each one comes from the particulars of many different real people. As far as my heros go, they are those I was honored to have served with in Vietnam during a more trying time.
Q So your character named Mr. Jefferson is really William Faulkner, and these things did happen?
A Sort of. Kind of. Somewhat. Thatâ€™s half of the fun in reading this book. People say, â€œI wonder if this is true, because I know that is true, and I wonder if that over there is true, because I know this over here was true.â€? My grandfather did own the woods next to William Faulkner and I did know him, but not as closely as Scott and C.B. do in the book.
Q In discussing your book's raison d'etre, what is this "truth" of yours that so compelled you to trudge through the intense effort of writing a book?
A Having grown up here and living through this place (the South) and these times (the 50â€™s through now), I knew I had the background and authority to write this novel. Not everyone gets to do pretty much what they lay out for their lives, so I thought maybe I should let readers experience an interesting youth in an era that was full of challenges and opportunities...and then things like college forestry, wildlife management grad school, Vietnam, a professional career in the natural resourcesâ€¦and especially the people along the way. Writing most of it in the first person, hopefully it feels like it's happening to them.
Q So, is this book an autobiography or not?
A Most of the chapters could be stand alone short stories that generally resemble my truth. Then again, some of this book is different enough to be a slice of the fiction genre that was most recently popularized with Forrest Gump, and really goes back to Capote's In Cold Blood, Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist, and further still to David Copperfield, and probably on back to when the first caveman put a sharp rock to the side of his cave.
Q Tell me about the protagonist in Yocona Puff Adder. Did you encounter any problems basing him on yourself?
A I looked at it as more of an opportunity than a problem. I mean there is DNA and then there is objectivity. Where the two can come together, that's where there's this bridge for the imagination to tip-toe back and forth into an adjacent genre.
Q I don't know why I'm suddenly reminded of the satire in your writing. Do you try for that or does it come naturally for you?
A Talk about a loaded question, I'll say lies in real life are to cover up the truth, but authors lie to expose it. So I count on my readers to have confidence in my characters and be concerned enough for them to care what they say and do. Not to mention that complaining about things is said to be easier than explaining them.
Q Would you give me another example of this unique genre, where you've used near-memoir type tall tales?
A Sure: A true story - my father drove a taxi cab for a living. William Faulkner would call and ask for Dad to come get him. My father would pick him up and ask, â€œWhere do you want to go?â€? Heâ€™d say, â€œI donâ€™t care. You drive and Iâ€™ll drink.â€? So, one chapter has these two young boys hiding in the jerry-rigged luggage compartment of a â€™57 Chevy station wagon taxi when the two adults go on one of these trips. Of course the boys get caught and the father is asking what would be an appropriate punishment for the boys snooping where they had no business being. The white boy, Scott, is just crying and begging not to be punished, so his father asks Scottâ€™s best friend what he feels should be their punishment. Charlie Boy says, â€œWell, if you was to let us go this time, weâ€™d forget them stories we heard about th' wild women.â€? Now, a little black eight-year-old didnâ€™t really blackmail William Faulkner, but those taxi rides to nowhere did happenâ€¦and more than once according to my mother.
Q Some writers of fiction attest to the fact that once they've created a character, it assumes a life of its own. Did your characters assume their own life without your direction? If so, how did you know what was happpening?
A They might better be described by merely having to grow a little. While they didn't do that on their own, all I had to do was think back. I believe it was Mark Twain who said something akin to, â€œWhy make up fiction when real life is this interesting?â€?
Q What about Chicken-Hawk?
A There was a black kid called Nighthawk across the proverbial tracks. I was a little scared of him, especially on my paper route through that section of town. He was pretty much from whom Chicken-Hawk evolved. Charlie Boy himself was real, too. We worked together at the Ole Miss Student Union Grill when I was in junior high, during the time James Meredith and President Kennedy thought they were the first two to integrate the university. These chapters are so real itâ€™s scary looking back at it. I'm here to tell you, it's true what they say about the Good Lord looking out for fools.
Q All right, what about Gut-Hook?
A Well, I was a biologist first and then became an author second, so the whole novel is almost as much a nature book as it is a human nature book. That name comes from the lunker largemouths with a hook in their belly instead of their lip. There's no use throwing them back...and there's no use passing up on a name like Gut-Hook.
Q Do you feel your stories are a bit chauvinistic in the way you deal with females?
A No, no, itâ€™s the way the characters dealt with them, and if you donâ€™t like all my characters some of the time, thatâ€™s good - you arenâ€™t supposed to. Besides that, Granna and Auntay are both secondary â€œsherosâ€?. If ladies in those days had appeared on the feminist side of todayâ€™s standards they would have been taken for idiots.
Q Explain that, please.
A Telling the truth about the 50s and 60s will get anybody criticized for being politically incorrect. But telling it like it was, back when I was drafted and sent to Vietnam, all the females I knew were glad it wasn't happening to them...in spite of it being a time women's rights struggles were hard fought and only beginning to make much needed advancements. Vietnam would have been a tad too much equality.
Q I see you spent four years in the Caribbean. Is there any truth to your Forest Service story in Puerto Rico and your â€œproofâ€? about agent orange?
A Iâ€™m not sure what the Office of Personnel Management's statute of limitations on blackmail is, but what I am willing to say there is total truth in the 2,4,5,T testing site being there on your National Forest. You might say I wove some of the biological irregularities that did happen there into the tale of the snake tail.
Q With regard to racism, whatâ€™s different about this southern literature?
A Instead of blue-collar southerners being portrayed as red-necks, it deals with a real life human connection from the perspective of racism being overcome by friendship. It's about the seldom acknowledged and little known history concerning Blacks and Whites during the years of the tougher civil rights struggles.
Q How long did it take for you to write Yocona Puff Adder and how did you make yourself do it?
A By knowing that I was going to do it, growing up in Faulkner's shadow, and collecting notes all my life...and then minding the night shift at the front desk of the Inn at Ole Miss for eight years. This is not to mention taking five creative writing courses beyond my Forest Service retirement, and then just sticking to it and re-writing, re-writing, and more re-writingâ€¦90% stubborn and the other 10% not knowing any better.
Q What's your advice to aspiring writers?
A Make up your mind if writing is really what you want to do. If so, stubborn up and get started. You have to get something down on the page and then start trying to make it betterâ€¦edit, edit, edit! You're gonna revise it twenty times anyway, so get started by starting. For me it's all about re-writing. Did I mention re-writing and editing?
Q What's your desire in writing? Why do you write?
A A revelation to the reader would be nice but I supose it's more of a realization for me. I'd like to think my readers can find some joy or relief from grief or at least escape from boredom wherever they go where my characters are. Trying to be creative in story-telling is a healthy habit that seems to help me cope and better make sense of things. Maybe I can be admitted instead of committed. And I guess being fortunate enough to have grown up in the Faulkneresque community, I felt almost obligated to make my personal statement on those times...and people.
Q If it's not too personal, how else does writing reward you?
A It's nice to have my ego stroked once and awhile when someone tells me how much they like my work. I take that as strength to continue trying to grow in the craft. All in all, I'm quite blessed and have a great deal of satisfaction in doing what I want and writing what I want to write about. But if you're talking about the money, I've heard it said that rare novels and literary fiction don't bring in the big bucks of the monster-marketed commercial stuff until the author dies. I want to go to heaven, but not just yet.
Q What's the secret to finishing a book? A lot of people talk about doing one, but never manage it.
A For me, when I feel like taking a break I rest. When I feel like quitting for good, I remind myself that I'm more stubborn than the computer glitches, the keyboard dyslexia, and all the other distractions like tennis and hunting and fishing and riding the Goldwing.
Q Do you write with an outline?
A Not much of one. My technique is more like fishing when the barometer says to instead of when I get a chance. Someone a lot smarter than me once said it's better to write when you've got something to say than when you just want to say something.
Q Is writing hard for you?
A Yocona Puff Adder was easy because it was barely above an autobiography. Now the writing is getting tougher. I try to think of it as a form of playing, but I play hard. They say the difference between doing it and doing it right is the same difference between hard and easy. Sticking with my fishing analogy, a lot of it has to do with presentation of the bait. You strive for an arched plink from above rather than a crashing cast with the wrong kind of communication. Rattling empty beer cans around in the bottom of the boat is not properly putting yourself on the page.
Q Do you have any other projects in the wings?
A I have finished with my second book, Camp Re-Form. It will be out by April 2012.
Q I guess there will have to be a slightly different point of view in it?
A Very much. Yocona Puff Adder is a growing up and old story about two boys. Camp Re-Form is fiction and it's more of a snap-shot from the lives of a bunch of characters who are very similar to those we've all come across at one time or another, but just not under the same circumstances. I've had to write it from the fifteen-year-old's perspective from cover to cover. You'd think that'd be easy for me, huh?
Q How about giving me a 90 second preview on it?
A It's absolutely character-driven and is about a handful of boys enduring their second straight summer of a judge-ordered Boy Scout camp in lieu of reform school. The camp is a pilot project that sees the seven juveniles struggling through Eagle projects as they try to stay out of trouble by not getting caught...as obstacles turn against them.
Q You've still got 60 seconds?
A Jed is the protagonist you might want to consider for your daughter. Junebug, also called Junie, is the main-streamed resident from the retardation center and is trying hard to fit in. Overdrive is the slightly crippled genius whose curiosity often arouses his extraordinary creativity. Goose is the obstinate Yankee who's got no business being thrown in with these southern boys. Moses is a Christian boy falsely accused and having another big secret. Chick, as stoic and wooden to the world as a totem pole, is a Chickasaw Indian trying to hang onto his heritage. And Coonie is de kinda Cajun wit' a dialect make you wanta keep time to Zydeco an' go afta anudda bowl uh gumbo.
Q Any secondary characters?
A There's a handful of major minor characters. Sarge is the questionable scoutmaster evolved from retired soldier. Braxton Allen Dillion, the antagonist abbriviated BAD for reasons that include being bad enough to make the likes of Injun Joe blush. Mama Cookie is the camp cook with eyes for Sarge. Fanny Pearl is Mama Cookie's daughter and Jed's goal for love through it all. And sexy Stretch is the boys' opportunity for sex-ed from across the road, which happens to be home court for the Dixie Carrot-tops, an all-girls professional basketball team.
Q Whatâ€™s the best thing about becoming an author?
A Getting to hang out with folks like you.
To schedule an interview with Gerald Inmon, please contact him directly:
Gerald P. Inmon
141 CR 369
Oxford, MS 38655
phone: (662) 816-4180
Both books are STORY TIME FOR GROWNUPS...age-appropriate for only 15 years old & up.
Order now (either book for $27.95 or both books for $39.90. I will pay shipping, handling and tax).
Yocona Puff Adder ISBN-13:978-0-9774864-3-4
Camp Re-Form ISBN-13:978-0-9774864-7-2
Both books are also available electronically at the Kindle Store for $9.99 each.
Mail Check to:
Taylor House Publishing 141 CR 369 Oxford, MS 38655
or Telephone: 662-816-4180
It will be mailed immediately at media mail rate, so expect it in about a week
If you would like to contact Gerald Inmon personally for any reason, including ordering a personalized copy the e-Mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you very much, Gerald