Daytona Beach. Damn.
I woke up in a city that never sleeps. Or perhaps it was just in room 1401 next door where the things that go bump in the night, also grind.
It was an invitation that brought me here for an event that was something of a Sadie Hawkins for hack writers who somehow rise to the level of a book award nomination.
My name is Batt Humphreys. I write historical fiction. I didn’t win, but the winner by then was too big a deal, so as runner up I was the next best thing. She’s making millions. I’m hustling like a gigolo.
The evening promised a perfect storm of insecurities, adolescent fears of rejection meets with living adult fears of rejection for this art we attempt.
Our host met us downstairs, ushered us into our seats then set us straight. She looked at us much like a border collie addresses a field of sheep, with intense eye and perhaps a hint of game. In a warm and supportive way, she drilled us on the events of the evening like a parochial school nun with a half pint of hooch in her and twelve inch piece of good measured hickory for reinforcement. By that to say, she was charming.
“You have a stack of cards in front of you. You wrote the answers, try to read them. By the way, the cards are in the order of the questions as I’ll ask them, do not mix the order.”
Nervous fingers fanned the stacks. One author dropped hers to the floor. A collective intake of breath, with no easy release.
“Let me explain how the dinner works.”
The explanation went on, at one point it began to take on the litany of a calculus class. She could see the collective consciousness escaping, eyes crossed at attempts at concentration.
“Do not try to do the math. You are writers.”
Those waiting exhaled.
“You may now order cocktails.”
We sat up like a Shih Tzu hound.
A short whiskey later we were led into a large room, paraded down a stage and on display like beauty queens without benefit of a push up bra. In front a table of women were looking, their eyes hungry.. yes, like a wolf. I was repulsed, but somehow strangely attracted.
Questions were asked. Questions were answered, mainly. There’s a reason for a script. Writers, write. If we were all blessed with the gift of ad lib, we’d be hosting ‘Dancing with the Stars’.
Sweat ran into my cowboy boots. I wear them to make me look taller because, in fact, I’m 5’2” and weigh just over 300lbs. My eyes were on the back of the room where the bidding was taking place. Offers, for our honor, shameless writers we.
Like a show horse on halter, we were led proudly through the crowd, to a dinner polite.
Back to the bar.
A single bartender facing a room of writers, she could have gone down like Custer but she never showed her fear. What she showed was barely cloaked by a top cut as low as the Grand Canyon, if it were ever to meet the Grand Tetons.
She wore her sex like a Marine wears his tattoo, open and proud. She also wore enough metal to make Cortez march to Kansas. It gave her a gypsy look. Perhaps she stole hearts. But there wasn’t enough bourbon in the bar.
Batt Humphreys is the author of Dead Weight, the book that did so well it allowed him to auction himself off!
Q&A with Author Batt Humphreys
1) Where did the story of Dead Weight originate?
A large portion of the historical research was complete when I was approached for an opinion of the story and how I thought it might be developed. What I read was a rich story, of a murder, a trial an execution and a hurricane, that became linked through chance or Fate. My feeling was that the story would be better served, the potential for a larger audience and thus sharing the reality, if it were written as a novel. That, I felt, would allow more potential to create additional characters and use the both the time and Charleston as a set piece in a larger story, or tragedy.
2) How did you get started and how long did it take to write?
My publisher offered me the project. Writing a novel was not a challenge I was seeking. It was a notion in the back of my head, a task I was somewhat afraid to tackle. I wrote the first page of the novel and the last, offered it as an alpha and omega and was encouraged to fill out the middle. With much of the research in hand, the actual task of the first manuscript took 5 or 6 months.
3) Where did the title Dead Weight come from?
You’ll find in the book, that it was a particular methodology for hanging.
4) What is the process? How do you structure the project?
I’m sure it’s different for all writers. I come from a news background where deadlines are a part of every day and every broadcast. It really becomes a matter of telling yourself to shut up, sit down, and write. As for the structure.. I think again from my background, I tend to be a linear person. I knew the beginning and the end of the novel, I knew from the historical frame some of the key parts I wanted to include and expand upon. From there I did a story outline, a chapter outline and a character outline. For me, it helped define direction.
5) As the author of a first novel, what about the experience of writing the book either inspired, or in the very least, kept you going?
The first hurdle to overcome was that of fear. Writing a novel was one of those ‘maybe someday’ notions that is conveniently avoided by life at hand. With a real story facing me, that game was afoot. Once into the novel, the story begins to take a life of its own. The fictional characters could be whatever I wanted and they were created to serve a purpose. The historical characters like Nealy, took a bit more work. Fortunately, thorough a couple of notes and interviews, I began to feel his character, his strength and his nobility. He grew as a character as I grew to know him.
6) What about the historical context of the story?
The beginning of the 20th century is an interesting part of American history. We were a country truly becoming a world power, with an economy as unbridled as teenage lust, but we were also less than 4 decades from the emancipation of African Americans, and less than 2 decades from the remnants of the American genocide of native Americans. The history of the Jim Crow south is fraught with lynchings. I did not want this story, this novel, to be a straight historical narrative. I wanted it to include more context, more perspective and more balance. For that, I felt, it needed to be a novel.
7) How did your background factor into your writing?
I think the background in news helped me focus on the objective balance of the story. It is the reason I created Hal, not just to serve as some reviews have alluded as a love interest and occasional pugilist, but to lend an outside eyes on Charleston and the times. Those who might point the finger at Hal for being something less than objective, I would have to suggest considering the context of journalism at the time. H.L. Mencken was a genius (my opinion) as a writer, but not such an objective reporter.
8) What experiences as a first time author would you share with anyone interested in following?
I think the first, would be to follow your passion. If you want to write, write and put your self doubts aside. Secondly, writing the book might be the easy part of the process. You’ll also need to be prepared to market yourself, spend time on the road and be prepared for lessons in zen humility in the process. It’s a very manic affair.. from the dejection of driving for hours to an event, that no one attends. Then, there at some low point, a reader will seek you out, to talk about your book, your prose and something in it that came together to inspire them, to compel them to stay up all night reading. Then you smile, get back in your car and go on to the next signing.