Recently, I did a post about summer reads I had completed, including a book by Bill Jacks called “Confederate Chipmunks & Carny Cooter (The Cobblepotts Book 1). If you have never read anything by Bill – let’s just say he is an accomplished “witty” guy. Without further ado, here is our interview:
Christina Rivers: What inspired you to write a story about some of the most offensive fictional characters ever in the Cobblepotts?
Bill Jacks: The Cobblepotts were born in a computer lab roughly three years ago (emphasis on roughly). I was hungover, of course, and had forgotten about a World Lit paper that was due…in an hour. The assignment: write a short story based on a certain poem (I can’t remember the title). Poetry tends to be pretty self-serving, as well as ambiguous; so, since I happened to be in an on-again-off-again relationship at that time, with a succubus—the term battle-toad comes to mind— I understood the poem to be about a couple who fought fiercely, brought out the worst in each other, and often self-destructed; yet they always found their way back to each other. My professor—who may have been mistaken—thought I was somewhat talented, and convinced me to flesh the story out and consider a “career” in writing.
As far as the characters being offensive, that’s not something I set out to accomplish. I’m still a bit confused as to who exactly I’m offending. I suppose it’s anyone with strong, politically correct sensibilities. For example: I think the word retard is funny, or can be, at least, if used correctly. It’s not like I’m trying to rally support for a mentally challenged hate group; it’s just a funny word; it’s just a fictional story. I poke fun at things—absolutely; but overall, in my opinion, it’s the act of being offensive itself that I’m making fun of. Over the top—yes. Funny—hopefully. But I never thought to myself, Ya know, I just don’t think enough people’s panties will be in a bunch; I’d better kick it up a notch. If they’re offensive, it must be because I’m offensive, or at least because my sense of humor is.
Rivers: Your concept of “Southern” lifestyles is amusing. Have you spent time living in an area similar to the location your characters do? If so, what elements did you include as your own homage to that location/area?
Jacks: There actually is a town named Possum Holler in South Carolina, but I’ve never been there. An ex-girlfriend mentioned it once a long time ago and it stuck with me. Apparently they used to hold Toughman boxing competitions in a local bar, and possibly still do.
The “lifestyle” is obviously exaggerated; it’s not meant to be a depiction of a typical Southern family, or any family I’ve ever come across, for that matter. But while the actual events are fabricated, a lot of the details are based in truth. Some people think the dialogue is “overly stereotypical,” like I plagiarized some sort of redneck almanac. Sorry, but no; that’s how some people speak, exactly. On top of growing up in the South, I was an iron worker here for about five years. I don’t know what it is about iron workers, but they’re some of the most colorful bastards I’ve ever met. I’d say at least 75% of the “redneck” dialogue is stolen directly from someone I worked with at some point. And that’s not me making fun; I love the way they talk.
Rivers: Admittedly, the book is short, but packed with tons of hilarious details. Why so short and do you plan on a Cobblepotts series?
Jacks: Why I write short stories:
1. I tend to lose interest in things pretty quickly.
2. I’m an obsessive compulsive editor/re-writer/plot switcher-arounder. I’ll re-write a sentence thirty-seven times if I don’t think it sounds exactly right. There were times that I worked on CC & CC for three days straight and had maybe twenty new words to show for it. I’m a psycho. Can you imagine how long it would take me to finish a full-length book?
3. Multiple story lines, story arc, carrying a theme/idea/moral over hundreds of pages: these things make me nervous. I’d rather perfect short story writing first, and then move on to longer works.
Yes, The Cobblepotts is a series. The Cobblepotts Vol. 2: Tongue Tricky Badgers & Tackle Box Tonics is already written, but still needs a few hundred rounds of tinkering. It should be out by late September, and is almost twice as long as the first. Not that I have any idea what I’m doing, but I decided it was best to wait until the first story generated a good bit of interest to release the second.
Rivers: Did you fashion Otis and Patty after real-life people?
Jacks: Patty’s appearance was inspired by a woman who used to clean toilets at the Oconee Nuclear Site in Seneca, SC. I know what you’re thinking, and yes, I believe the radiation was a factor. I never knew her name, and wouldn’t offer it if I did. That woman was frightening. Her personality was developed entirely in my brain, though.
Otis is just a mash-up of people I’ve met throughout my life.
Rivers: What is your overall goal with this book – to make people laugh, to allow readers to relate in a strange way to outrageous characters?
Jacks: First and foremost, my goal is to write well. The stories may be wacky, but I spend a lot of time on the flow, grammar, sentence structure, etc. That being said, yes, I’m aiming for laughter. I literally want to make you poop in your pants—I’m so serious. Hopefully, one day, I’ll be skilled enough for this type of extraction.
Not as obvious as the humor, are my personal thoughts on and observations of relationships. When it comes to this subject, I can be pretty cynical; but I made a conscious effort to not let my personal views influence what a reader takes away from the story, if they take anything at all. This wasn’t especially hard; I’m not even sure exactly where it is I stand.
Overall, I’m fishing for a hearty HA HA or a thoughtful HMMM, maybe a guttural mixture of the two. And yes, I hope that every reader can relate to at least one small piece of the story.
Rivers: Does this book reflect your true sense of humor or were you going for the absurd as a way to give readers nothing more than entertainment?
Jacks: If I don’t think it’s funny, I don’t write it. Integrity is important to me—says the guy who wrote a story partially about a rodent’s scrotum…whatever. I’m a little confused by the question, though. The story is definitely absurd, and I’m definitely selling entertainment, but nothing was cheapened, sacrificed, or changed based on what I thought would sell. I’m not after mass appeal, and could never have it even if I was. The best I can hope for is to slowly grow a cult following, which I’d prefer anyway. You either get it or you don’t. I expect there will be some readers that think, What IS this B&@%^#% I just read?? Someone wrote this on PURPOSE?? WHY HAS BILL JACKS DONE THIS TO ME?? Followed by the scrunching of a face and shaking of a fist—I suspect the review would be mostly in caps lock. I’m OK with these reviews, in moderation, mind you. See, this is why I can’t write a book; I’ve already forgotten what question I’m supposed to be answering.
Yes—it’s all me. The weirdness is by me, for me, hopefully to be appreciated by others. I seek to entertain by way of laughter, but also through carefully crafted writing. It’s an art form, as far as I’m concerned, and not just words connecting to convey information.
Rivers: Anything else you want readers to know or things you want them to consider?
1. The basset hound—Podunk—was inspired by my actual dog, and I insisted he be immortalized on the cover. May he too live forever, in all of his dumpy glory.
2. Limericks are much harder to write than one might think. I considered, on multiple occasions, just making up a damn word that rhymed.
3. My next short story—Journal of a Jovial Hobo—will be available for review in a few weeks, and will be published on Amazon by late August. It’s a bit tamer than the shenanigans of Otis and Patty Cobblepott.
4. If you’ve read the description, and think The Cobblepotts Vol. 1: Confederate Chipmunks & Carny Cooter looks like something you might enjoy reading, email me and I’ll send you a free copy in exchange for a review. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be doing this, though. Email firstname.lastname@example.org