What: Author of A STAIRWAY TO THE SEA (Pulpwood Press). He is the Poet in Residence at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia, where he teaches in the Rural Studies program. His essays, fiction, and poetry have appeared in a wide variety of print and online magazines.
Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.
I’m currently reading your haunting debut novel, A STAIRWAY TO THE SEA. How did you come up with this story?
That story originated in a creative writing workshop at the University of Georgia in Athens. I was pursuing a PhD in English with a focus in creative writing. My focus in the program was actually poetry, and I had begun to wonder if I could do in poetry what Larry Brown, William Faulkner, Harry Crews, Barry Hannah, and other Southern writers do in prose. That is—could I write a gritty Southern story in verse? So, I tried. I had the elements in place: Justin, St. Vincent, and Donnie Ray’s death. I tried to write this sequence of persona poems that would unfold the mystery. As I worked more, I realized that I couldn’t do it. So, I put it away.
A few years later, after I finished my degree, I picked up a copy of James Lee Burke’s THE NEON RAIN at my local library. I loved it. Burke’s prose reminded me of what my Southern literary heroes did, but he was embracing genre fiction. I remembered the abandoned narrative poem and dug it out. From there, I began to refashion it as a novel.