James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

Notes on the DIXIANA Saga

Arriving this week at the conclusion of what we’ll remember as the Composition Period that began on May 1, 2013, the fifth and most complete draft of the entire DIXIANA story will soon rest comfortably fresh from its detailed line-edit. DIXIANA… it’s more than fiction, it’s a state of mind, one in which I’ve been immersed for two years. This last segment of close reading and editing has been grueling, edifying, and thrilling. Time of my life.

The story of a prodigal son struggling with his earthly travails while being mentored to a place of higher consciousness, DIXIANA, DOWN IN DIXIANA, and DIXIANA DARLING portray the seriocomic story of Roy Earl Pettus and his exceptionally American struggle with the meaning of his own existence. Further divided into nine sub-books, DIXIANA—it was originally planned as one long novel under that title—depicts the dramas and conflicts of a dozen major characters, each intersecting and culminating at various points in the narrative.

The backstory: I’ve been writing and revising this material for twenty-three months of a two year period I gave myself to complete the work. Before that, I spent a full two decades dreaming, writing seven other novel manuscripts and fifty short stories, publishing two of the novels and a dozen of the stories, writing a newspaper column and magazine features, becoming a writing instructor, and seeing the papers relating to my novel Fellow Traveler accessioned by the University of California-Santa Cruz’s McHenry Library as part of its Grateful Dead collection. Not too shabby a run for this kid from rural South Carolina who dreamed of becoming a novelist.

Most of all, however, never once did I take my eye off the ultimate target I had in my sights, writing an epic Southern-fried version of the fabled GAN (Great American Novel) that serves as the history of my fictional ‘Edgewater County, SC,’ as well as demonstrates the progression of one human being’s steps along the path to a place of the higher mind. It’s been called TILLMAN FALLS, EDGEWATER, EDGEWATER COUNTY CONFIDENTIAL (which became the name of the blog), and finally DIXIANA.

In short? This project, whatever you wish to call it, represents the culmination of my writing life to this point, a goal I had set to achieve before my fiftieth birthday… which is still five months away. Win.

Narratively, there’s much more going on than Roy’s story, though all roads lead to him. With eleven other major POV characters (whom I’ll describe in subsequent posts), there’s much more going on in this story, particularly with Button Sykes, who for all practical purposes represents a second protagonist. More on her later.

For now, though, here’s a brief, protagonist-specific breakdown of the first novel and its sub-books:

DIXIANA

Part One: The Myth of Progress

Cuckolded ‘fruitshake’ millionaire Roy E. Pettus is called home to Tillman Falls, SC as the unhappy heir to his grandfather’s semi-famous honkytonk, The Dixiana, on whose stage everyone from Johnny Cash to Roy’s grandmother, ‘Mama Runelle,’ has played, but its glory days rest long in the past. With his marriage in tatters and time on his hands, Roy sees in his moribund hometown a place he can remake in his own image, as well as settle old scores with heartbreaking girlfriends, bullies, organized crime figures, and pretty much anyone upon whom he decides to turn the ire of his grief-stricken sights. It’s all about control with this rich guy, and the reality he’s been handed, including a ninety year-old grandmother for whom to care, isn’t suitable. Right or wrong, he’ll forge a new reality—for him, for all of them. And if anybody doesn’t like it? T-S.

Part Two: Black Blade

He turns first to the staff of The Dixiana, who are treated to a dressing down for the ages; they know who will now be in charge. Meanwhile, the debate about a controversial Confederate Flag mural on the side of the honkytonk remains a bone of contention, one of many issues discussed by Roy and his sort-of cousin Button Sykes, a hippie and no-nukes activist who helps mellow out the stressed prodigal son by turning him onto Eastern ways of thinking. The thread of mysticism goes beyond Button’s New Age outlook—many think the ‘General Reb‘ mural painted on the side of The Dixiana itself has magical powers, ensuring winning seasons for the Southeastern University sports teams on which the local rednecks risk their wagering money.

Part Three: Dirt Surfer

As tensions run high over the mural, the ultimate fate of the honkytonk, a suicide attempt by Roy’s estranged wife Creedence, and an enormous misunderstanding over whether a memorial service to be conducted for Roy’s grandfather Reynolds ‘Rabbit’ Pettus is to be public or private, Roy seizes control of the mural controversy with a rash and bold act that forever settles the matter.

Much, however, remains unresolved, with supporting characters facing issues such as dementia, adultery, alcohol recovery, and the disposition of a rapidly putrefying dead body, a storyline that introduces key players Christy Beaudock, an abused, developmentally challenged teen, and Howdy Shull, the town crazy who walks the streets pontificating about ancient Egypt and Hindu mysticism and all manner of other esoteric knowledge. Their strange relationship will drive the conflict in the subsequent books to a place of confrontation that turns deadly for Roy and Button.

Next: DOWN IN DIXIANA

Dixiana Depot 2

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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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