There’s a time in every story when I think it’s just about the most perfect thing I’ve ever seen. Literally perfect. This is always immediately after I’ve written “The End” for the last time and I’m still awash in the sense of power that has brought me to that piece. Makes sense, eh?
Unfortunately, there generally then comes a time when I decide I was wrong. This is generally right after I’ve hit the “Sent” button to submit it to an editor.
Such is life, eh?
Today, though, I finished a story and hit the “Sent” button and still think it’s pretty danged okay. Gotta love that. That piece was the focus of my weekend, which was kinda fun.
Here’s an interesting article on competitiveness that Lisa sent me. I’ve been thinking about it on and off the past few days as it has some bearing on how teams (and probably individuals) should look at strategy–in particular, I’m thinking of the portion labeled “performance.” Here’s a key quote:
“After additional analysis and three studies of their own, they concluded that when people are trying to excel — playing to win — their performance improves. When they’re trying to avoid messing up — playing not to lose — their performance goes downhill.”
Using basketball as an example, two things come to mind:
Free Throws at tight games — If this article is right, shooting FT with the lead is harder than shooting FT when you’re a few points behind. This “feels” right to me just based on watching games for years.
The old “Four Corners” argument — If this article is right, it explains why the four-corners was doomed to be just a fad. It’s the epitome of playing not to lose, and the facts of the matter were that fans were getting tired of coaches blowing games at the end–which was happening A LOT. I’ll go to my grave thinking that if the shot clock had not been installed, the 4-corners would have become a niche strategy, like the box-and-1…occasionally used as a trick or gimmick. Here’s “science” that might prove why.
I can’t figure out another way to contact you to ask this, so here goes: you set “The Collector” in Summerville and LaFayette Georgia. I’m intensely curious as to what brought those two towns into your mind as the setting for the story (I grew up in LaFayette)—was it someone you know being from there? Was it maybe a visit to the Chickamauga Battlefield Museum? Did you pick the names off a map? Even though the story has Gamba/Nathaniel becoming rather dark-magicky (if that’s even a word), I do love the story. Would you mind satisfying my curiosity as to how you came to pick those two towns for the story? Thank you!
Thanks for asking, Chris. I’m glad you liked the story, and I’m especially pleased to have piqued your interest in the setting because I worked quite hard to find the “right” place for Nathaniel’s talents to be exposed. For me, a lot of the story started with the quest for, and eventual finding of, LaFayette, Georgia.
Given the story’s purpose and Nathaniel’s journey within it, I wanted to find a small, perhaps under-appreciated town in the south as the base setting for “The Collector.” Given the story’s tie to the civil war, I felt like the piece had to happen in Georgia. I have some relatives in Atlanta, so perhaps that has something to do with why I thought that. I don’t know. From that point, I went to the map and looked for cities that were good candidates.
I spent several hours picking my way through cities before finding Lafayette. On first blush, I just liked its name. LaFayette rolls off the tongue, and it sounded right for the story. I liked its geographic placement, close enough to Tennessee to walk it in a couple days. I dug into its history, and found its layout, and information about the people who had built it and lived in it. I read some of its news. That all felt right. And, of course, I learned that several Civil War skirmishes had been fought in and around the city. The final kicker was the history of its association with the Cherokee tribe.
I’m sure I could say this about most cities if I thought about it properly, but I felt that LaFayette was perfect for the story because it had this aura for me of having seen up close the very real ramifications of the quest for freedom and racial equality that my story has as its underpinning.
I mention Summerville and Chickamauga in the story, and indeed have Nathaniel beginning and ending the story walking this road, because I wanted the piece to be about the journey he is taking (and to a larger extent, we all are taking). Given that, I did spend some time on various websites learning more about the Chickamagua battlefield. I’ve been in Chattanooga, but don’t recall being in Chickamauga.
Writing “The Collector” was a process that made me feel very close to LaFayette (at least my version of it) in ways that are hard to fully describe. If I ever get back to the area, I would love to stop in and see it in person.
Thank you! I haven’t been back in a while, but a few bits of info you might find useful if you visit there:
Everyone in the area pronounces it “La-FAY-et”, not “La-fee-ETT”. (“Fay” with a strong southern drawl flattened sound.) The tiny town south of it, just over into Chattooga county and before you get to Summerville, is Trion (“TRY-un,” almost 1 syllable). Both towns sit on Hwy 27, but there’s a new 5-lane bypass around LaFayette; if you take it, you’ll miss the center of town.
LaFayette has suffered quite a bit of economic setback: it was mainly a manufacturing town, and several companies have closed their local plants. Roper closed their appliance plant; Barwick Mills closed their carpet plant, and I believe Dixie Cup closed their facility as well. I haven’t been back recently, so I don’t know if they’ve enticed any new businesses there.
There used to be a high school in the city, but it’s since been merged with another school outside of Ft. Oglethorpe. While race relations etc. have seen staggered improvements, certainly in the late 70’s and early 80’s the kids were ahead of the curve: twice in my four years of high school, we elected a black girl as “Miss LHS,” which was pretty significant for a Southern town back then. For the most part, racism tended to be more unconscious rather than overt, though I did grow up hearing the “n” word in some places. (I grew up there from the early 60’s to the early 80’s.)
Most of the people there were pretty nice, and our high school had less problems with violence or extreme behavior than some other schools. However, the town is not without crime nor cronyism.
In fact, the area has gained nationwide attention for several incidents in the past, including:
This was the town where the county sheriff turned Johnny Cash’s life around, from criminal to musician. (The old football stadium was named in that sheriff’s honor.)
The crematorium scandal (the one where bodies were being dumped in a pond and in woods, and regular fire ashes sent in urns instead) happened in Noble—which is basically a place with signs indicating its boundaries but nothing there—and that’s just north of LaFayette.
A long, huge search was done for a vanished 911 operator, and in the end it was determined that her husband, who was an officer of the law there, had murdered her. This opened all kinds of inquiries into the operational standards of the police and sheriff’s departments, with accusations of obstruction of justice and even collusion.
Not long ago, a private tennis instructor was arrested for repeated child molestation of his daughter (with growing brutality) and marketing videos of it on the web. As in the other cases, the FBI was involved in the investigation.
And like many rural areas, it’s seeing a problem with Meth use and production.
Okay, that’s the major horrible stuff that I know of, now for some other interesting or quirky bits:
Yes, several Civil War battles were fought in the area. From what I understand, much of that was because of the corridor it provided from Chattanooga toward Atlanta, but you can get much more info on it if you visit the Battlefield Museum in the Chickamauga Battlefield Park (just south of Ft. Oglethorpe). There’s an old stone tower in the park as well; local legend says it’s haunted, but I’ve never heard who the haunts are supposed to be. I’ve been in it; it’s at best 2-3 stories, and I don’t recall why it was built or when.
There’s also a building in town that still has the bullet holes from one of the battles—one of the historic landmarks—apologies but the name escapes me. However, the local library will certainly have a lot more local history (certain people in LaFayette share the southern tradition of obsession with history and genealogy).
The last and most unusual quirk was The Goatman:
No one knew very much about him. He was a vagrant loner who kept a herd of goats, and I guess he supported himself by selling goat meat, milk, etc.? As a child I was warned to stay away from him (given he was seen in much the same way gypsies are often seen in other places): vagrant, not quite trustworthy, etc. I was intensely curious about him, but none of the adults would tell me much.
I saw him from our car on a few occasions as we’d pass one of his encampments: he was a tall, thin white man with a long fullish grey beard, and I think long hair as well. I seem to recall him wearing some kind of floppy hat, and a dark coat or suitcoat and pants and a very dirty white undershirt. He had piercing eyes looking out from under the brim of that hat, and the stories said his personal hygene was pretty much nil, and that he stank of goat. He never seemed to want to have anything to do with anyone else, and seemed pretty content with his life.
That’s about all I can tell you from my vague recollections of him as a child, but he’d probably make great inspiration for some story. If you go there and are interested in him, I advise asking some of the oldest farm people… I doubt the townfolk saw much of him at all. Oh, and he traveled a pretty extensive area, so folks in Trion, Summerville, Lyerly, and even over into Alabama probably know something of him. I don’t think I was ever told his name.
Again, aside from the Library, the best sources for old area folk tales will probably be very old farm folk. The sad part is, sometimes the older folk didn’t tell much of the tales, and a lot of us younger folk have moved away… so many of these tales are dying out.
So, there’s your mini-virtual-tour of LaFayette from someone who grew up there but hasn’t lived there in decades. There’s your grain of salt, lol—I’m no expert on current LaFayette, but one fellow you might contact is Sherman Gibbs: he was a history teacher when I was in high school there, and so far as I know he still lives there. Mr. Gibbs had a great interest in local history and Civil War history in the area… and he’s a great guy.
PS: Apologies that the formatting system somehow removed the breaks between paragraphs in the above post; I promise I *did* put them in, because it makes posts more readable. Not sure why it removed them.
Oops—the stuff about Johnny Cash *wasn’t* horrible! (In fact, it’s a source of great local pride.) I didn’t mean to include it in that description… but the other incidents related to crime *were* horrible.
You’ve completely made my day!
Not sure about the formatting. I’ll see if I can do anything to make it nicer.
One last gift of info for now—you might enjoy perusing this 6 page article on this locally-produced website; it starts out with info on Cash and the benefit he did for the city:
and another shorter story just on Cash:
And apologies, I was in error over the stadium name. Apparently the fieldhouse was named after Cash, but the stadium was Patton Stadium, not Ralph Jones Stadium. My bad. I mis-remembered the stories my Dad used to tell me about it.
Thanks so much for your time, Chris. This is really great stuff–especially appreciate the Johnny Cash history, as he’s a guy who I didn’t appreciate enough as a kid but have pretty much grown into now.