Antonio (Anthony Policastro, the CEO & Publisher of the Outer Banks Publishing Group) asked the question, and others, in an interview after reading the final manuscript of Concerning The Matter Of The King Of Craw. Fair question. The answer, and others, follow:
What brought you to write about John Fallis and his life and times?
I had just wrapped up When Theo Came Home (the last, maybe, in the Theo trilogy) and was searching for a subject for the next book. I had two ideas. One was for a story about what happens when the meek inherit the earth – you know, the promise in the Beatitudes, Mathew 5.5, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” – what would happen, I wondered, if that happened? The end of times… everyone gone … to heaven or hell … only the meek left. What would happen? Fascinating idea to play with. The other idea was to try to build a story around John Fallis, the King of Craw. Fallis was a real character, a fascinating character, a dominating figure in Kentucky’s capital city during the Roaring Twenties, controversial at the time, legendary now. I grew up in that town. I remember hearing stories about about him – most of them bad. He was a legitimate businessman on the one hand, but on the other a gambler, a brawler, the biggest bootlegger in the whole area with a violent temper and a reputation for mayhem. He was also handsome and charismatic. The common folk loved him. He helped them and stood up for them against the Establishment. The-powers-that-be thought he was Lucifer unleashed. There is speculation even today that powerful forces in the city sent a hit man to do him in. I thought I’d try to find out about him and build a story around him. The meek could wait.
Fallis is a real person. How did you get the information you needed to craft an informed story?
The way a reporter goes about it. Search the record. Ask questions. Talk to people who might have some information on the matter. Son Bixie Fallis’s “biography” of his father at the Capital City Museum was a start and an enormous help. Bixie’s story is that of a loving son writing about a hero father, so it has to be taken with a certain reserve, but it is first hand and intimate. And, thankfully, there is Jim Wallace’s collection of oral history interviews with people who lived in the Bottom and Craw and who did know John Fallis. Those interviews are in Jim’s This Sodom Land treatise done for the University of Kentucky. It is enormously rich. And there is Doug Boyd’s work in his book Crawfish Bottom. It has a whole section on Fallis. Those two pieces, and the local area newspapers, were my principal sources. And there are, of course, people who didn’t know Fallis but have relatives who did and who remember the stories they were told. I managed to find and talk with several of them. After that, it was a matter of imagining what might have happened or could have happened. I’ve tried to stay true to facts I could uncover and make sure the inferences I’ve drawn from them are fair.
Concerning The Matter Of The King Of Craw is my fourth novel. I think it is the best. I learned a lot listening to Theo. The first three books are about him and make up the Theo trilogy. They did not start out to be trilogy. But one story led to another and then became three. Like Concerning The Matter, they are set in Frankfort, which is Kentucky’s capital city – a jewel of a place, a river town in a Bluegrass Valley that has a character and a feel to it that works on me like magic. The Theo books are about a young man who starts out as rookie reporter assigned to cover a bizarre murder which leads him to a career in big time newspapering in New York city and other world capitals and ultimately back to that little town on the river trying to decide whether to run for Governor. Along the way there are a couple of murders. There is political intrigue and malfeasance, graft, blackmail, Melungeons, and, of course, a girl, Allie, who becomes a woman and who is in and out of his life through it all. I don’t know whether Theo runs and gets elected Governor or not. At present, I’m not interested in finding out, but I may want to.
I “reported” those first three books. I grew up newspapering, That’s the way you tell a story – who, what, when, where, why –and, if you can figure it out, how. I think they’re good books. They move fast and the stories should keep the reader wanting to know what happens next.
I didn’t “report” Concerning The Matter Of The King of Craw. I wrote it. There’s a difference. The who, what, when, where, why, and how are there. But there’s more. I think I’m getting the hang of it.
When you start a novel, who are you writing for?
I’ve given that a lot thought. I’m writing for myself. I’m telling myself the story. If I can hold my interest, keep the story moving, touch a cord of emotion, be intrigued by things I didn’t know, discover something of value in the motives and actions of my characters, I’m happy. I’m not trying to do art. Or ” literature.” I’m trying to tell a story. A good story. A worthwhile story. Our live are built on stories. All we knew is stories — the stories we are told by others … the stories we tell ourselves. We live by stories.
Is there another book on the horizon?
Probably. For a long time I’ve wanted to try a memoir of a sort. Not a real memoir. A string of stories or vignettes that tell of some of the things – people, places, events – that have mattered and may hold some interest for others. I’m not sure I have the courage to do that. There is the remembering of course. Pain came along with the good times. Not sure I want to revisit all that. And there is the matter of ego. I’ve never been accused of being overly modest, but there seems something so egotistical about presuming to do a memoir that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with trying one.
Theo is still hanging around. Not sure whether he’ll want to run for Governor or not. Might be interesting to find out what happens if he does. And, of course, there’s the meek. I’ve often thought that given choice of an ambitious Heaven, or the certain beauty of Mother Earth, I’d opt for her.