Monday, August 31, 2015

Watt Key's "Among the Swamp People"

Albert Watkins “Watt” Key Jr. is a novelist, screenwriter, and speaker living on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. His debut novel, Alabama Moon, was released to national acclaim in 2006, won the E. B. White Read-Aloud Award for Older Readers, and has been published in eight languages to date. In 2009, Alabama Moon was made into a feature film starring John Goodman. Key’s follow-up novel, Dirt Road Home, was released in 2010 both domestically and internationally. His third novel, Fourmile (2012) received starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and School Library Journal. In addition to novels and screenplays, Key writes fiction and nonfiction articles for both local and nationally distributed publications. Key divides his time in Alabama between Mobile, Point Clear, and the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Among the Swamp People: Life in Alabama’s Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, and reported the following:
Page 99 in Among the Swamp People is at the end of a chapter. What little print there is on the page mostly consists of the quote below:
This old boy used to show up at school back when we were kids. He always carried a paper grocery sack with his lunch in it. We never had much for lunch those days, so we was always wantin' to know what all he had in that sack. We figured it must be pretty good. Especially since he walked off to the top of the hill and ate it by himself every day.

One day a few of us snuck up to the top of that hill and got up behind him. He opened the sack and pulled out two bricks and a hickory nut. He broke that hickory nut between those bricks and ate it while he looked out over the playground.
This is a quote from one of my characters. The book is a memoir of my time in the swamps of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta in Alabama where I built a primitive cabin and spent fifteen years learning how to live like the “swamp people.”

The “swamp” consists of about 260,000 acres of wetlands located just north of Mobile Bay. It is the second largest river delta in the U.S. behind the Mississippi. There is no way into this place except by small boat. To most it would appear a maze of rivers and creeks between stunted swamp trees and mud. There are few places where one can step out of a boat without sinking to the knees in muck the consistency of axle grease. It never occurred to me that a land seemingly so bleak could hide such beauty and adventure.

My story chronicles the beauties of the delta’s unparalleled natural wonders, the difficulties of survival within it, and an extraordinary community of characters I met—by turns generous and violent, gracious and paranoid, hilarious and reckless—who live, thrive, and perish there.

Throughout the book I pepper the chapters with quotes and anecdotes gathered from the swamp people. These short snippets often say more about an unusual way of life than I could ever put into words. For example:
What the heck is that thing?


That platypus bill lookin' thing. In your boat.



That's the front end of a spoonbill catfish. You never seen one of them?

No. Looks prehistoric.

Government says they're endangered, but I catch the ever livin' hell out of ’em.
Learn more about the book and author at Watt Key's website.

--Marshal Zeringue