James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

‘Edgewater County, SC’ and DOGS OF PARSONS HOLLOW

Edgewater County, SC… where is it? Only in the mind.

It’s my fictional go-to locale for more or less all of my published output, alongside a slightly fictionalized Columbia, SC, which is perfectly recognizable but for the sort of minor changes that authors like me make to their hometowns: venerable Southeastern University for the equally and perhaps even more venerable University of South Carolina, the ‘Old Market’ for the neighborhood next door instead of Five Points, and so on. This not-terribly taxing and slight re-imagining was conceived to provide a little distance from the act of simply walking around, observing, and reporting on these oh-so familiar streets—that’s journalism, not fiction.

In fiction, we make up worlds.

Now, mine isn’t too different from the reality that I know, but just enough to give me license to create. I chose to do it this way to get my feet wet in writing fiction, but it is in these locales I’ve stayed not only because I live here, but also to have a ready-made fictional ‘universe’ from which to pull elements necessary to populate stories. I’m much more interested in the interactions between characters, subtext, themes, etc, than I am world building, so having a convenient ‘well’ of locations, characters, details, makes getting going on new stories and novels quite easy—and I’m sure many other writers throughout our era of books and written language have certainly done the same, but you can do your own googling to ascertain that.

In any case, I want to tell stories about believable characters in semi-realistic situations, so this ‘universe’ I’ve created for myself has turned into a rich vein of detail that I can access at any time, and that allows me to write quickly.

Edgewater County, and the fictionalized Columbia, are key in both my small-press novels. Residents of Columbia will most certainly recognize their capital city, home of the ‘Fighting Redtails’ of Southeastern University, and with a few street and neighborhood re-christenings so as to free the mind of both writer and reader.

King’s Highway’s narrator is a scion of the DeKalb family, prominent Edgewater County lawyers and politicos who will produce one state representative, one governor, and one Hollywood voice actor. Not much time is spent in EC, however—this is a Myrtle Beach story, and we get ourselves there as quickly as possible.

Fellow Traveler’s narrator Ashton Tobias Zemp is from Charleston, but by the time of his return to South Carolina a broken and empty man—they don’t call him Z for nothing, or maybe they do—he lands squarely in Edgewater County, where his father and stepmother have moved in retirement. He drives and power-walks some of the same roads that Randi and Cullen take to get to their house. His reference to needing a coffee shop in Tillman Falls is foreshadowing of a key event in a much later novel. That FT is an alternate universe story—Jack O’Roses for the Grateful Dead, and ‘President Gore’ facing 9/11 and running for a second full term following Clinton’s 1999 resignation—makes it something of an outlier in the completed and planned series of EC-related novels.

DOGS OF PARSONS HOLLOW and EDGEWATER COUNTY

DOGS was conceived and written after three other novels had all touched on the county and its environs, so it was no great shakes to populate this book with little touches and details that will not so much pay off in some other book one day as simply provide a kind of continuity that makes my various stories, while all very different in style, tone, voice, and content, still all of a personal piece: My little bookshelf of Edgewater County tales, including one or two story collections that will be discussed in a later post. This, a challenging writing goal, but best of all, most of the way already done and ready for readers.

In the case of DOGS OF PARSONS HOLLOW, we have a story that’s firmly set in this other and more important go-to location of mine, the mythical Edgewater County, which features its county seat, Tillman Falls, a very familiar South Carolina town to anyone who’s visited a place like Edgefield, Chester, Camden,any number of other places all over small town America—a town square or green or common, a lot of history, a fading downtown with businesses all sucked away to the commercial strip by the freeway. All the mills are long closed and gone away: the biggest employer in the county is the Sugeree River Nuclear Station they built in the late 70s, and a recently-opened distribution center for a big-box retailer that’s the size of ten football fields.

The county is bisected by the ridge on which Randi Margrave, our protagonist in DOGS, will live. The Sugeree (Soo-ga-ree) River flows from the rapid-running sections along the ridge down through the rocky ‘falls’ that give Tillman Falls its name and down to the nuclear plant, where it feeds a reservoir that begins what is known as the ‘lake country’ leading down to Columbia, southeast of Edgewater County. During the great flood of 1920, a clapboard church was torn from its foundation and floated away down the swollen and raging river, its bell clanging forlorn and lost. This, a central legend in the town, and explored (and exploited) in another novel.

The western half of the county consists of the Pisgette National Forest, with only a scattered town or two, including Red Mound and Parsons Hollow, with residents numbering only in the low hundreds, if that. Chilton, closer to the freeway than Tillman Falls, has become a bedroom community for Columbia, and is a land of fast-food and subdivisions, and where DOGS antagonist Esau Macon and family live in all the creature comforts and safety the McMansion villages of America offer. Not the whole family, though—poor Julius lives in the woods. With the dogs.

Connection to other Edgewater County novels in DOGS

‘The Dixiana’

The Dixiana is the principal important location in a number of my stories. From MANSION OF HIGH GHOSTS to DOGS to DIXIANA (obviously), this honkytonk was once a noted stop on the chitlin circuit for troubadour musicians—mainly C&W, but also blues greats came and went on its small wooden stage tucked into the corner and lit by three spotlights, red, blue, green. The walls are covered in head shots like a South Carolina version of Sardi’s or the Carnegie Deli, but along through the decades the acts stopped coming, and The Dixiana has declined into more of a redneck dive. Only Jasper Glasscock, a town lawyer and amateur musician, keeps music alive there with his once-a-week open mic nights, which has in its own way achieved legendary status, drawing musicians from places like Columbia and Greenville, providing the setting for a crucial sequence in LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY, when the protagonist of that novel makes a visit to his hometown and Jasper’s open mic night. The principal romantic travail of the callow and class-conscious protagonist in KUNK is a bartender at the bar. Burnham Sykes, the ‘mean old man’ who gives a job to the adolescent in the story ‘Trailer Trash,’ and Rabbit Pettus, the owner of The Dixiana, are best friends. And so on. And so on.

‘Cort Beauchamp’

The novelist with whom Randi interacts in an early DOGS scene—‘Cort Beauchamp, the upcountry’s answer to Conroy’—is the protagonist and narrator of LET THE GLORY PASS AWAY.

‘Deputy Garen Oakley’

By the time of the contemporary pieces LTGPA and DIXIANA, he’ll be the Sheriff of Edgewater County.

‘Max de Lisle’

Cullen Margrave’s university colleague, a jaunty, full of life scriptwriting professor who once wrote movies and TV shows back in the 50s and 60s, is a key supporting character in KUNK, and has his own short story called ‘The Max and Gavin Show: One Night Only.’ This is part of a linked-story novella, STATE OF MIND, that made the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom shortlist in that category, but was cannibalized to provide plot detail and supporting characters for KUNK. Aw. Poor STATE OF MIND. Eviscerated. Used.

‘J.W. Rembert’

This rascally redneck organized crime boss is only mentioned in DOGS, but he will be an enormous problem for prodigal son Roy Earl Pettus, who inherits The Dixiana from his grandfather, town curmudgeon and scourge Rabbit Pettus, to Roy Earl’s shame, a man long mixed up in Rembert’s criminal enterprises. A cut scene from DOGS takes place in which Rabbit Pettus is clearly brokering a dog deal between Esau and a customer. Rembert owns the motel Ebby Nixon shows Randi, the hub of Edgewater County prostitution.

‘The Rev. Roosevelt Nixon’

Worth mentioning, but unfortunately his one appearance in DOGS is now cut—Randi listened to him preach on the radio while going to spy on Esau at his own church, a pointless digression that stopped the narrative cold. Relevant, however, is that the Rev is Ebby Nixon’s nephew, a former ballplayer turned megachurch preacher. Despite his seemingly arch and satiric name, though, he’s no Al Sharpton parody or Tom Wolfe ‘Rev. Bacon’ caricature—Nixon is actually a very down-to-earth character who by DIXIANA will be running for county council (and is a childhood friend of that novel’s protagonist, redneck renaissance man Roy Earl Pettus), but more importantly is one of the key actors in the personal salvation [spoiler!] of the troubled, end-stage alcoholic wretch at the center of MANSION OF HIGH GHOSTS… though not, ironically, in the form of the Rev. Nixon’s role as a man of God, only a man who took a cat to a vet.

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About dmac

James D. McCallister is a South Carolina author of novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. His latest book, a story collection called The Year They Canceled Christmas, releases in November 2017.

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