On Dogbite Friday yesterday, Patrick told about a time he was attacked by a very persistent wasp. It brought to mind my own recent encounter with a a member of that cruel tribe. I was at the neighborhood pool, and a friend asked me what was happening with my new book. I launched into a very involved monologue about The Charlatan’s Boy‘s place in American literary history when a wasp climbed through the hole at the instep of my right sandal. There were a very unsettled two seconds when I was bringing home some point about Twain and Hawthorne and me, but I also realized there was a wasp in my shoe. I knew I was about to get lit up, but I was so close to completing my thought. And besides, what could I do about the wasp anyway? If I tried to whip off my shoe, the wasp would surely sting me anyway. No, I thought, the best thing would be to maintain my composure. Herman Melville wouldn’t panic in this situation. For a second there I decided maybe it wasn’t a wasp after all; then I realized it coudn’t be anything else. Then I lost my train of thought and trailed off into a distracted silence while my interlocutor gave me a perplexed look. About that time the wasp had gotten himself situated, and he let me have it, and I switched from “man of letters” mode to “jumping and shrieking” mode. I couldn’t believe how bad it hurt. I hopped around for I don’t know how long and had a swollen foot for days. The wasp got completely away.
When I taught writing at Vanderbilt, I had a secret method for teaching narrative. I asked students if they had ever been bitten by a dog. It’s a great question for drawing out stories. There’s always a story when someone has been dogbit. And those people who have never been dogbit usually start their response as follows: “I’ve never been bitten by a dog, but…” And those are some of the best stories. “I’ve never been bitten by a dog, but I once got chased by kangaroos…” or “I’ve never been bitten by a dog, but this possum got in our trash can and…”
Just today a lawyer friend said, “I’m interviewing law students today. Do you have any good questions to ask?” I answered, “Why, yes, I do. Ask them if they’ve ever been bitten by a dog. A lawyer needs to be able to tell a story.”
And so should blog readers. So I ask you, dear reader: Have you ever been bitten by a dog?
It’s a big day for Jonathan-Rogers.com. I’m proud to present the first reader-submitted Feechie of the Week. Aaron Roughton, a regular around here, tells the story of his father’s capture of an alligator…with his bare hands. It’s a chilling tale. Don’t be put off by the fact that the story begins with an eighth-grade choir trip. Young Mr. Roughton soon proves his feechie bona fides.
Do you have a friend or loved one who has behaved in a feechiefied manner? Tell the story using the contact form to the right. He or she could be Feechie of the Week.
Now for Aaron’s story…Read More
When my mother-in-law was a young girl, a traveling ballet troupe came to her small town in Georgia. Sitting in the hard seats of the auditorium, she and her friends marveled at the grace and the beauty of the dancers. In Newnan, Georgia in the 1950s, a ballet dancer was as exotic as a gazelle or an elephant. The women moved like angels. The men, so strong and lithe, were a revelation.
In an especially moving pas de deux, a male dancer took a ballerina in his arms and lifted her right up off the floor and turned around, slowly, slowly. As he turned his back to the audience, a huge mole asserted itself through the seat of his white tights, straining against the stretchy fabric as if it wanted to get out and walk amongst the audience. The way my mother-in-law remembers it, it was about the size of a halved new potato. The little girls spent the rest of the performance watching for the mole to rotate back into view, and stifling their laughter when it did.
That was nearly sixty years ago. My mother-in-law still remembers that first ballet she ever saw. But mostly she remembers the mole. There’s more than one way to get exposed to culture.
The Charlatan’s Boy comes out in just over a month. In the meanwhile, you can read the first two chapters at Scribd.com. These are images of the pages as they appear in the book, so you can see the interior design–the fonts, the chapter headings, the illustrations, etc. There’s even a map of Corenwald. Oh, and sorry about the ads. They can’t be helped.
Again, here’s that link. I hope you’ll have a look and tell me what you think.
My cousin Jason worked for an heating and air conditioning company when he was in high school. They took care of the huge air conditioning units that sat atop the local mall. The mall had pigeons. Looking up through the skylights, a shopper could see them bobbing and strutting on the roof. They were picturesque, but when they took up residence in the air conditioning units, they played havoc with the interior climate of the mall.
Jason, the youngest (and, presumably, the least skilled) of the company’s employees, was assigned the task of discouraging the pigeons. So one summer morning he carried a BB gun to the mall and climbed through the roof hatch with it.
Jason was popping away on the roof of the mall when a shopper looked up and screamed at the sight of a young man aiming and shooting a gun.
It hadn’t been two weeks earlier that a man in Florida–Jacksonville, I think it was–had climbed on top of a building and started shooting people. That episode weighed on the woman’s mind as looked for the security guard. Once he was good and awake, he seemed to agree that a copycat crime could be in the works.
Over the next few minutes, the mall was encircled by every police car in town, news trucks from all three Macon TV stations, photographers from both the Daily Sun and the Telegraph, a SWAT team, and agents from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Jason, for his part, heard the sirens and wondered what was afoot, but he soon turned back to the matter at hand. Pigeons were flapping and feathers were flying, and there was a flurry of activity on Jason’s side of the AC units, which blocked his view of the SWAT team positioning themselves around the parking lot. He blithely went about his business while Middle Georgia’s media and law enforcement personnel went about theirs.
It being a hot day, Jason put down his BB gun and headed down the roof hatch to get a drink of water and cool off in the mall. As he came down the ladder, he was met by a surge of policemen coming up. A red-faced lieutenant grabbed him by the back of the shirt and pulled him down. “Boy, are you crazy?” he shouted. “Get down here! There’s a sniper on the roof!”
Jason’s heart jumped into his throat. “A sniper?” he gasped. He felt weak through the knees. “I didn’t see any sniper.”
“There’s a man with a gun,” the police officer said. “You’re lucky you didn’t get hurt–or worse.”
“The only person up there with a gun was me,” Jason said, and he immediately realized he had said the wrong thing.
The policemen frog-marched Jason to the mall management office, where they asked him some pointed questions. It didn’t take too long for them to sort everything out. The mall manager had known that somebody was coming to service the AC units; he just didn’t realize that the service call would involve the shooting of pigeons. Jason’s boss came to the mall and corroborated his story.
The SWAT team packed their gear and climbed back into their van. The news reporters went away sad. And life in Warner Robins, Georgia mostly returned to normal.
Okay, this is awesome. This week’s featured feechie is Ray Cason. To quote Mr. Cason, “I aint never seen so many gators in my life.” I bet you aint either.
What would a proper feechie do in the midst of so many alligators? Easy: “I just eased through ’em and went fishing.”
The Charlatan’s Boy releases five weeks from today, on October 5. By way of foretaste, I offer up the chapter titles for the first half of the book. They should give you an idea of what you can expect. So might the illustration to the left. It is the frontispiece, done by the exceedingly talented Abe Goolsby. Here’s something you probably didn’t know about Abe: he taught himself Latin, which he speaks with an Italian accent. And why shouldn’t Latin be spoken in an Italian accent? If you’re a publisher, you need to know Abe. He does great work.
Now, for those chapter titles…
In which I jump out of a box and play the Wild Man of the Feechiefen Swamp
In which we get out of the feechie trade and I begin my formal education
In which I take up a new trade and get flabbergasted
For this week’s FotW we have to go way back into the archives, to the man who inspired Dobro Turtlebane. When I was a graduate student at Vanderbilt, I went back to my hometown in Georgia to work on a remodeling crew. One of my crewmates was a boy named Jake. He was seventeen and skinny but tough as beef jerky. He was so country that the dash and bustle of Warner Robins, GA made him gape the way you might gape at Times Square, and any time we went to a restaurant for lunch, he had the unsettling habit of telling the town girls how pretty they were.
Most mornings Jake came to work bleary-eyed, as if he had stayed up all night. I asked him what that was about, certain there was a good story behind those red-rimmed eyes.
“I hunt wild hogs,” he said. “Me and my buddies spend most nights in the swamps, either at the Ocmulgee or the Flint.”
“Boar hunting!” I said. This was interesting. I didn’t figure it would be hard to get him going on that subject. A question or two, and he would be off. “So, what kind of gun do you use?” I asked.
“Gun?” he scoffed. “We don’t take no guns!”
“Then what do you take?”
“Dogs. Rope. A flashlight.”
“Wait a minute,” I said, not sure we were talking about the same thing. “What did you say?”
“We got these dogs,” Jake said. “Mostly bulldog. We slog through the swamp until they bay up a hog. Then a catch dog grabs holt of his ear.” He paused, basking in my fascinated attention. “And then I whirl in with the rope to tie him up.”
“Tie him up?” I asked. “Tie who up?”
“The hog! Who else?”
“You mean like calf-roping at a rodeo?”
“About like that. Except that a calf aint slinging five-inch tusks around and kicking like a roto-tiller and squealing to deafen a feller. It’s some excitement, I don’t mind telling you.”
I gaped. “So you tie him up,” I said. “What do you do then?”
“We carry him out on a pole, kicking and squirming.”
I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, but the next day he brought me pictures of the dogs, the hogs, and the hunters, both in the swamp and in the pen where they fattened up their captured hogs.
Jake came to work one morning more red-eyed than usual. Obviously he had been crying. I put a hand on his ropy shoulder. “What’s wrong, Jake?” I asked.
He gave me a doleful look, then busted out crying again. “We were hunting last night,” he sobbed. “And an alligator ate my dog.”
I thought, What a world is this? I was living this suburban, academic life, and yet there was this alternate world swirling just around the corner where men wrestled wild boars in the swamp and alligators ate their dogs. I decided that if I ever wrote a book, Jake would have to be in it. And he is. He is the original feechie.
Jake, wherever you are, congratulations on being named Feechie of the Week.
It occurs to me that some of you may wonder why you aren’t seeing The Charlatan’s Boy on store shelves. The release date, after all, was supposed to be August 10. The release date is now October 5. This is a good thing. I turned in the manuscript very late–so late, in fact, that Waterbrook’s sales, marketing, and publicity teams didn’t really have time to pave the way for the book in the way that they would have liked to. So they moved the date to give themselves more time to do what they need to do–getting reviews, lining up bookstore orders, etc.. The people at Waterbrook and Random House might have said “Too bad” and let the book limp out into the world. But they believed in The Charlatan’s Boy enough to back up and take their time. For which I am very grateful.