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A Horn Island Dream Deferred

People always ask some variation of the question, "Where did the idea for this story come from?" And if you're the type of person who reads that sentence and judges this imagined speaker (me) for ending a sentence with a preposition, I pity you.

For the rest of you, here goes. I was sitting on a park bench in Savannah when the idea for HID came to me. It came in a flash--a vague notion of a character around a campfire at the islands is about all I can recall now. What I remember more vividly, though, is feeling like I needed to scribble some notes right then and there before the ideas vanished. I had just wrapped up a job interview and had a notebook in my lap, but somehow had no pen. I surveyed the shops around me for a place to buy one, then looked down, and lo and behold, a dirty blue Bic lay there, as if the universe were giving me a wink.

I have no clue what I wrote down that day, but by the time my wife and I got back to Baton Rouge, I had transcribed the notes I'd taken in Savannah my laptop and was cranking out a manuscript as fast as I could--feeling the whole time, I remember, like it would all disappear if I didn't get the words down in time. I had written hundreds of papers before and was used to the processes of writing and revising, but I'd never experienced anything like this--this sudden and constant surge of ideas about a fictional world that was just waiting for me to capture it. I turned the spare bedroom in our tiny home into an office and began brewing coffee after dinner and working feverishly night after night. Before long, I felt like I had gotten all the words down, and unfortunately for early readers, I thought all those words were worth reading. Luckily I had some true friends. Friends like Steve, who was a lover of books and who had years before introduced me to writers like Tom Robbins and Thomas Pynchon. True friends are not afraid to be honest wiht you, and after reading what I'd written Steve said, without apology, dude, this is awful. You've got a long ways to go. Lucky for later readers, I listened to Steve and went back to work.

Fate was nowhere near done with me, though. Soon after, I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and instead of a dirty Bic, this time the universe served up a local publisher who, lucky for him and unlike some parade-goers that day, was not lying on the ground. And I'm sure I initiated the conversation, but still, it felt like it was meant to be. How else would he end up standing directly in front of me at Bacchus? The universe was clearly telling me to pursue this project. So I kept on. We connected, and Josh introduced me to a favorite editor of his who helped me shape up the manuscript. He also offered to get the book ready for publication and helped hook me up with a publication and distribution deal.

In the meantime, I'd somehow gotten the Walter Anderson Family to agree to let me use one of Walter's paintings for the cover--a gesture that they may never forgive themselves for, but one that I will never forget (side note, if you're reading this and you don't know who Walter Anderson is or aren't familiar with his work, do yourself a favor and start by going to, then plan a trip to the museum asap!).

In the same way I'd been in a rush to get all the thoughts from my head to the page, once edited, I was in a maniacal rush to get the book out into the world. Despite how much I hurried the process, this first review was pretty kind, calling it a "worthy first novel." A family friend worked for one of the Mississippi Coast papers and wrote another favorable review. I was happy with any press at all at this point.

Even the review below from The Advocate that chastised me for certain characterizations (he was mostly right) had a lot of good things to say. Danny at Cottonwood Books was a gracious host, and we threw a book release party that by the end of the night bore more of a resemblance to an Animal House party than anything as it proceeded from a garden district art gallery down the road and down into the basement at The Chimes (if you've never been to this bar, I also pity you). But that was fine with me. In the same way I was happy with any press at all, I was all about the experience at this point. I knew this wasn't Hemingway.

What happened next almost made me feel that way, though, and at the time made the whole venture worthwhile.

My wife and I lived in a very eclectic neighborhood, and one day a local professor and painter told me that he had grown up in New York with a well-known artist who's great friends with no other than . . . Jimmy Buffett. Said that Buffett had been taking painting lessons from his friend for years and asked if I wanted him to get Jimmy a copy. So there I was, signing a copy to Jimmy himself. I was told later, from a first-hand account, that not only was it was hand-delivered but that Jimmy was "moved" because, apparently, his parents got engaged on Horn Island. I'm pretty sure I put my phone number in the book somewhere just in case, but damn if that phone never did ring.

At first, just knowing the book had reached Jimmy's hands was enough for me to gauge the entire project a success, but at the same time, I knew he wouldn't be calling. The realization had sunk by then that I had gotten in too much of a hurry and should have spent more time with the manuscript. With the characters. The story. I didn't know then that the ideas, in fact, would not vanish. Far from it. Instead, the story was still waiting for me to figure out exactly what it was that needed to be told. But it was too late. And then, despite a ton of positive response and great sales, Katrina happened, and all the places I'd written about were unrecognizable. Forever changed. The Gulf waters that had inpsired Jimmy O'Connor to sail south had shown just how dangerous and unforgiving the sea could be, and a whole lot of reality set in. It wasn't long before I had two kids, changed careers, and moved away. It would be a long time before I wrote again, and when I finally did, I worked on shorter pieces in an effort to hone my craft until I felt, like the first reviewer had alleged, "worthy." I think I always thought I'd pick up Jimmy's story again. After all, readers had questions even I wanted answered, especially about his mysterious father. And while I'd taken some notes here and there, my life took such a drastic turn after Katrina that to say writing took a backburner would be beyond an understatement.

I moved away to both join a family business and start my own, and while I would like to say that the responsibilities of that venture along with the ones associated with my most important venture (my marriage and rearing of three sons) are what kept me from writing, that would be a lie. I've taught my sons to avoid saying they don't have time because the reality is, we have time for what we make time for (I love feeling you cringe, grammar police). The reality was, I could not justify spending time writing because it didn't feel like a productive enough use of my time. And yet, speaking of cringing, that's what I would do every time I saw a copy of HID anywhere because I knew I still had that dream, somewhere, to write again. But I just couldn't imagine how I would start. I'd already experienced the reality of having the initial excitement of a business dream slowly fade to the point where it was hardly recognizable. I definitely didn't want to endure that same feeling with a dream that was more like a hobby and wouldn't do anything to help me provide for my wife or three sons. What would be the point?

Then one day, in a strange new reality and what seemed like a lifetime later, the world and my business with it got shut down, and I had three kids at home who needed very little supervision for their Covid-induced remote education. Suddenly I had the kind of time I'd literally never had before, not in my adult life anyway. I was piddling around in my shed one morning early in the shutdown and ran across something I hadn't seen in God knows how many years. It was an old canvas banner--the one from the Peter Anderson Festival where I had sold HID that my wife had had made for me so many moons before. I had no idea it had even made it through the three moves since we'd left Baton Rouge.

That festival was not only one of the places I'd sold my book, it was where an old man had threatened me, telling me he'd better never see me on "his land" at Horn Island again. Or else. I'd always had a vague notion that that would be a good place to start my next book, if I ever did so.

When I saw that banner, I smiled and went straight upstairs, hoping I could find my current situation's equivalent of a dirty old Bic with which to take notes (if you kept reading, grammar police, you're welcome). This time, though, it was with the knowledge that whatever story I had in mind, no matter how strongly I felt about it in that moment, it would not in fact disappear. I didn't know how long it would take to produce South Toward Horn at that point, but I knew I was ready to fulfill that dream I'd had so many years before. I at least had to try, if for no other reason than I did not want to look back and regret. I was afraid of what would happen to that dream deferred.

Of course, six months or so from this episode, I would decide to give up on my business dream, but that is another story. Luckily, it's one you can read about in "Total Surrender," a story which also reveals that I don't believe it was the universe at work at all, but I digress. As I write this, South Toward Horn is out in the world, and no matter what happens from here, it's already been a blast, in part because I finally got back to the place where I was twenty years ago--back to just enjoying the experience.

Speaking of, I sure wish Jimmy was still around. I think he might actually call me this time.

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2 kommentarer

Stephen Moody
Stephen Moody
11. sep. 2023

The humility of Wes the man rings true in this POV summary of Horn Island Dreams. However, if you take into account the time period in which it was written...long before the days of digital e-zines and social blag...the feat is simply admirable. Narrative writing is a lifelong pursuit for so many, and while certainly"raw" in its meter and story arc, Horn Island Dream is a solid enjoyment for anyone that likes to get lost in the visionary words of another. And sometimes, a simple direct story is not only refreshing, but desired in this complex world of ours.

10. jan.

Glad you feel that way. Lord knows I'm no Faulkner. Just wanted to, simply, share a story. Thanks for the kind words!

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