For a peek behind the curtain of Luck Be A Chicken, the reporter in me gained an audience with the writer in me and conducted a Q & A session:
Q) What’s it like writing your first novel?
A) One doesn’t write his or her first novel, one births it. Since I’m physically unequipped for childbirth, the closest analogy I can imagine is passing a bowling ball.
Q) I see. We needn’t go further on that topic. Tell us, in what genre is Luck Be A Chicken?
A) Oh my. Sounds like you’re asking for my “elevator pitch.” Are we riding up one floor or all the way to the top?
Q) Hey, I’m the one asking the questions, remember? Let’s pretend the door just closed and we’re going up three floors.
A) Right. Luck Be A Chicken is a satirical, comic novel but it cries out for more explanation. A one-or-two-word genre category fits nicely for most fiction.
My book is surely satirical in that human vice and folly are attacked through irony, derision, and wit. There is plenty of vice and folly to go around between the Sweats and their antagonists. Is it comical? I hope the humor resonates. Bean is a goof at heart, as am I. Some of my character is thus revealed in the writing, as it must be, with apologies to my relatives. The first inklings of this book occurred when I cobbled together this funny character, Butterbean Sweat. From there I folded a story around him. How great it is to write with the goal of making yourself laugh? Humor is good medicine.
Beyond satire and comedy, the book portrays serious, contemporary social issues: corporate greed and graft, the pathos of a rural redneck family stuck in the rut of generational poverty with a baby in dire need of an operation they cannot afford, life and death decisions, and the value of heroism.
Q) What is the meaning of the title, Luck Be A Chicken?
A) It’s a takeoff on Frank Sinatra singing Luck Be a Lady. In Bean’s case, his life-changing gamble is linked to chickens.
Q) Is the book “commercial” or “literary?”
Q) Which one?
A) If I had to choose, it would be commercial. I’m no Tolstoy or Robert Penn Warren, but I would like to think the book has some literary merit, at least in flashes. Is it oxymoronic to think in literary terms about Bean’s pickup truck, littered with empty tins of Red Man, McDonald’s bags and old National Enquirers, and a cooler in the bed with cartons of his homegrown worms for sale?
Q) There you go again with questions. Tell me this – what makes you think you know anything about chickens?
A) Given the internet, a comfortable chair and pajamas, one can become an expert in just about anything. In my case, I actually worked as an iceman in a chicken rendering plant in Jackson, Mississippi during my college days. Don’t worry, the book is chicken-lite.
Q) What authors have influenced you most?
A) There are some twisted ones in the group. I’ll name names but I don’t claim to have the talent of any of them.
Mark Twain is my favorite. John Kennedy Toole and his Pulitzer-winning A Confederacy of Dunces was my greatest inspiration for Luck Be A Chicken.
As for my mindset while writing, put Twain and Toole in a blender with the following (even though they are not all authors) and puree them for the result: Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Brautigan, Flannery O’Connor, George Carlin, Kurt Vonnegut, Kingsley Amis, Jeff Foxworthy, P. G. Wodehouse, David Sedaris, Dave Barry, Charles Bukowski, Lewis Grizzard, Carl Hiaasen, and Larry the Cable Guy. Heck, might as well throw in W. C. Fields, Richard Pryor, Muhammad Ali, and Evil Knievel.
I won’t even attempt the pretense of throwing Faulkner and Hemingway into the blender, even though I’ve read about all they wrote. I will say that while attending Ole Miss in the 1970s, I would drive over to Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s residence in Oxford, and lounge under a shade tree reading his work. That was surreal. I especially love his short stories.
John Grisham attended Ole Miss Law School shortly after I matriculated there. He later hung around Mississippi courthouses gleaning experiences that would form the basis for much of his writing.
Q) Looks to me like you had a “silk-stocking” law practice. Why aren’t you now practicing law?
A) Sir, can’t you see I’m a writer now?
Q) Okay, then what qualifies you to write about “Southern rednecks?”
A) Fair question. I guess you want my bona fides. Allow me to authenticate myself.
First off, “Southern” and “redneck” are neither synonymous nor redundant. Bean doesn’t have to be a “Southern” redneck. Redneckness is a state of mind. Bean would translate in Oklahoma, New York, or anywhere in the U.S. Every region has its own variation, redneck or hillbilly, hayseed or cracker, hick or yokel. Conversely, many Southerners are not rednecks.
So, let me begin with a few Son of the South credentials:
- Southern by birth and blessing, heritage and Southern Baptist upbringing
- Mainly Irish and Scottish bloodlines. The surname branch of my family tree fled to the New World and landed in South Carolina. They migrated to Texas but my great-great-grandfather stopped his wagon in Mississippi, no doubt tired of bouncing all day on a wooden buckboard seat. His brother drove on to Texas and became a Confederate General, commanding the famous Hood’s Texas Brigade under Robert E. Lee. (Irony is abundant in that two of my favorite novels are the aforementioned A Confederacy of Dunces by Toole, and A Confederate General from Big Sur by the aforementioned Richard Brautigan.)
The above lore is anecdotal, spread through generations the old-fashioned way, orally, with some backing by recordings in family bibles. I have no reason to doubt it, but it’s a testament to my redneckness that I haven’t flipped on the computer and checked it. If I find I’ve misstated, I’ll retract. The important thing is that I believe it
- Both sets of grandparents were hardscrabble farmers in Mississippi, this much I know. In the horrendous summer heat, my brother and I earned a few dollars harvesting crops alongside the seasonal help. To this day, I cannot stomach the thought of eating a watermelon (although I wear cotton.) We milked cows, gathered fresh, warm chicken eggs, and caught supper from the catfish pond
- Migrated from Mississippi to south Georgia where I lived most of my life. From Deep South to Deep South
Q) Okay, you’re a Southerner, but what do you know about rednecks?
A) Even though I had a “silk-stocking” law practice as you call it, that and redneckery are not mutually exclusive. I have walked amongst them all my life and been a student of the culture. I understand their way of thinking and developed an ear for the music of the language. Some credentials include:
- Hunted more land mammals and birds and caught more fish than Carter has pills. (House rule – eat what you kill, or know someone who will.) I’ve hunted rabbits with a .22 while standing in the bed of a pickup, hunted coons at night, and set overnight trotlines Can’t wrap my head around catch & release. I’m a catch & filet man. AMMO is at the top of my Christmas wish list and I store my fishing worms in my wife’s wine cooler, much to her chagrin
- During college, worked as a tugboat deckhand on the Mississippi River, a taxi driver, a circus promoter, and the aforementioned iceman on the chicken dis-assembly line
- Enjoyed many an auto race, ranging from teenagers on a country road to dirt-track stock cars to NASCAR. I shop gleefully at Walmart in my #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. cap. I hang out at the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame just down the road in Dawsonville. Someday I hope to meet Bill Elliot, aka “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville”
- Cheered and jeered at many a live professional wrestling match, from local, county-bumpkin productions to WWE. I’ve hollered ringside for André the Giant, Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, you name ‘em
- Been homeless and later dwelled in a singlewide (Neither for extended periods, but I tasted it.) Speaking of tasting, I’ve cooked Spam in a skillet, eaten potted meat on saltines, and love pork rinds
- Authentic Appalachian moonshine is hidden in my cabinet as we speak. Bud Light is my house brand. Jack Daniels is an icon
- If (make that WHEN) I win the lottery, the first thing I’ll do is buy one of everything at Bass Pro Shop and a pair of jumper cables for everyone on my block
I’m not claiming to be a hardcore redneck, but I’ve walked the walk. In Luck Be A Chicken, I talk the talk.