Doolittle author Sumner Wilson has been dredging the ancestral pool and landscape lately because he's just published another book by Gale Publishing, called 'A House of Men,' a tale of a feud between families in Tenn.
Author Sumner Wilson’s bloodline stretched into Missouri from McMinn County Tennessee in 1882.
“They just exchanged one set of hills for another,” he jokes.
That’s important to know, because Sumner’s chosen vocation as a writer is all about the ties that bind you home. It’s what frees you up to write because you know where you came from and you have an almost sanctified permission from ancestral ghosts to beg, borrow or steal bits of character from relatives and acquaintances to bring them back to life as they were or as you now want them to be. It’s what allows an author like Wilson to go back in time or fast-forward into the future to explore the quirks of fate upon the lives lived in quiet or not so quiet desperation.
He’s been dredging the ancestral pool and landscape lately because he’s just published another book by Gale Publishing, called ‘A House of Men,’ a tale of a feud between families in Tenn. This is his third; but he has four others looking for a home, though he admits they may not be published. It really doesn’t matter to Sumner. He writes because he has to write. The sweet spot for him is around 3,000 words a day and if he doesn’t reach that magic number, he says he gets antsy. He carries out his mild obsession in a home near Doolittle, near where he was raised.
He grew up in a large family of five brothers and two sisters and attended school in Newburg. He knows about life in a small country town—the scream of cicadas on a hot summer day and the sound of sleet hitting the window panes in February. At that time, Newburg was a railroad town and maybe that’s why he gravitated towards a career with the Frisco Railroad as a switchman and brakeman in the early 60’s. His father also worked for the railroad.
But it was Sumner’s desire to put words on paper that kept him up at nights in motels on the road during his railroad days. He wrote crime stories and western tales for a magazine holding giant, such as True Crime and Frontier Tales. He also wrote for Cappers, of Cappers Weekly fame and Big Muddy, a journal of Southeast Missouri State. He is self-taught, but attends conferences and engages in short story competitions occasionally through Zoetrope, a Francis Ford Coppola online creation.
One of his first books called ‘The Hellbringer’ was self-published through Amazon’s CreateSpace on-line business for writers. The western genre tale of revenge helped Sumner start to navigate the unforgiving waters of book marketing.
“If nobody knows it’s there, nobody is going to buy it,” he said matter-of-factly.
His second novel was named after a fiddle tune—‘Billy in the Lowground,’ and was published by Pen-L Publishing. The Gasconade River was his inspiration. It’s a tale of an adolescent boy coming of age on the river and his relationship with his grandfather. The back cover book blurb describes it this way—“Scotlin must learn that life isn’t a playground made for his amusement, that fairness isn’t part of the growing-up process and that death is always closer than you think.”
Sumner’s third published book came about by happenstance—as most things seem to do.
He made an important connection at the Ozark Creative Writer’s conference, held in Eureka Springs, Ark.. An editor from Five Star Publishing, a part of Gale, listened to Sumner’s pitch for “A House of Men,”, but he thought it fell flat.
“I sent it (the script) to her and she had the acquisition editor’s read it,” he said. Sumner can’t tell you what they liked about it other than it may have been well-written, but he’s too humble to say that.
“An [acquisition] editor said, ‘You’ve got several mistakes in the character plot, but they’re easy to fix, and if you’ll agree to fix them, I’ll recommend this book to the editor to buy,’ he related.
“I said certainly! I even got an advance for it—it will come out as a hardback book in December.”
Sumner reads a lot, but other than Elmore Leonard who wrote ‘Get Shorty,’ he doesn’t talk about other authors that might have shaped his style.
His writing technique is not too difficult to describe. He has a germ of an idea for a story. Then he marinades that idea with some story characters. He may not have as many characters in his stories like Dicken’s novels, but it is enough for him to make a list so he keeps them all straight as the action moves along. “A House of Men” is vaguely about his mother’s side of the family in Sevier County, Tenn., near Gatlinburg. He knows the lay of the land and the people.
He basically sits down and starts with a blank screen every day. He doesn’t know what’s around the corner with his characters until he gets in his flow of typing and thinking, which to many, is like rubbing your head while patting your stomach. But that’s the charge he gets from the writing process and at his age, he probably won’t change a thing.
“It’s like when you were a kid playing cowboys,” he said. “You just make it up as you go along.”
His books can be purchased at Rolla Books and Toys or on-line at Amazon.com.