James D. McCallister

author of the Edgewater County series

Origins of KING’S HIGHWAY

My third completed, but first published, novel King’s Highway began its life as literal backstory for a character who has yet to make his debut in my fiction, though in 2013 ‘Jasper Glasscock’ will finally come into his own in both WANDO, in which he is the protagonist, and again in 2014 when I am scheduled to write DIXIANA—there, Jasper appears as a pivotal supporting character and mentor figure to my protagonist, the redneck renaissance man Roy Earl Pettus.

What of this Glasscock character? What’s he to do with KH?

The answer is that this ‘Jasper’ guy once had a two-book series planned for him, a sort of redneck, rural private eye series that I thought would make for an interesting exercise in genre fiction. After literary exercises in the form of MANSION OF HIGH GHOSTS and Fellow Traveler, I hadn’t yet tackled crime fiction or any other genre, and I thought I should.

KH Cover

But I couldn’t put it together. I had two titles: THE GLASSCOCK MARTYRDOM and KING’S HIGHWAY, a sequel set in the ‘redneck riviera’ where I’d spent so much time as a kid, but I didn’t have a strong mystery story to tell at the heart of the first book, only side characters and even a subplot, a family situation for Jasper to unravel that would end with him making both a stunning discovery about his own history, as well as face an unexpected turn in gaining sudden custody of his formerly-estranged twelve year-old daughter. This development was meant not so much as a cliffhanger or gotcha shock ending, but rather a natural outgrowth of the other family secret.

So, ending as that story did, this version of ‘King’s Highway’ was to concern itself with a second central mystery for Jasper to solve, but also contain as its subplot the changing relationship between Jasper and the daughter he’s now trying to get to know. A huge part of that process was to be his nearly book-length description of a time, spring 1978, that he spent in Myrtle Beach working on his first job as a private investigator, and how it’d all spiraled out of control into real and sudden danger, with a touch of tragedy that’d made him want to get out of the business before he’d even gotten started. So as to justify the inordinate amount of time we were to spend in flashback, the Myrtle Beach 1978 mystery was to have a narrative thread that tied in to the contemporaneous one; as with the first story, I really did feel terribly imaginative when it came to a mystery plot, and I never really came up with much of one.

Frustrated at my inability to pull these projects together, one day I sat listening to Warren Zevon’s album Excitable Boy, a notable early 1978 release that most people know from the catchy ‘Werewolves of London,’ (and that’d be, ironically enough, the first song I’d ever hear the Grateful Dead perform, at this concert). In a flash I had the notion to take the flashback portion of King’s Highway as its own book, thus starting the Jasper series with that one and working chronologically.

But as the ‘record’ played, I mulled over where I stood after writing the other two novels, what I’d learned, and what I’d skipped over by going for a big literary effort like MANSION right out of the gate—where was the smaller-in-scope coming of age novel many writers get started writing, especially young writers: what else does a youthful scribe know but the sensation of coming of age?

By late 2005 when it was time to write the next novel (or so I’d become convinced), I’d turned forty, and a long way from my own coming of age as a man but not so much as a writer, so it felt organic to try my hand at such a story: a disaffected, bourgeois kid from my mythical Edgewater County old-south town of Tillman Falls rejects his father’s political ambitions for him and heads off to Myrtle Beach, where I concocted a plot around his becoming a carny at the Pavilion, the oceanfront amusement park at which I’d spent so much time in that same era, that involved drugs and babes and danger and heartbreak. 59,000 words and a few months later, the book we now know as King’s Highway was born.

So, as 2006 drew to a close I had my third novel in the can as well as a couple of revisions of it under my belt, and at 200 pages and pretty darn evocative of the time and place in which I’d set the story, I felt proud enough to start thinking about writing synopses and query letters. Little did I know that only six months later the book would be published by a friend and mentor’s small family publishing company, Red Letter Press, an event that allowed me to realize a dream I’d had for thirty years. That’s a story, however, for another post on the inspirations and origins of King’s Highway.

KH Trunk
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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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