William Eakin has spent decades traveling to various countries and living abroad growing up. It was those experiences, guided by wonder and awe, that largely inspired him to author his current book, Welcome to Redgunk: Tales from One Weird Mississippi Town. A collection of stories set in fictitious Redgunk, Mississippi, Eakin expertly blends multiple genres together to submerge his readers into life in Redgunk.
A retired professor of philosophy, religion, creative writing, art history, and humanities, today Eakin can be found writing his best work on a cliff above a river in Arkansas. Family, friends, his trusty cat, Andy, and of course writing, all remain close to his heart. ‘Welcome to Redgunk: Tales from One Weird Mississippi Town’ is simply the must read book of the summer.
You’re a seasoned author with work spanning many genres. Which is your favorite to write?
A critic said of my Redgunk tales that they are in a genre all their own. Beginning with the so-called genres like science fiction and fantasy, I feel in them a call to the freedom of play, and to the most powerful feelings. Genres can be seen as places where people go to sell, pegged on shelves in a bookstore. But they each genuinely can touch little parts of us and awaken them. Why not let something touch the whole of us? I have written and studied in philosophy, art, history, religion, as well as literature. I am most at home in places like my Redgunk, where I find myself responding to all those places in me, in all of us.
Has writing and publishing a book changed the way you see yourself?
Writing has always been a doorway for me to expand my own feelings, sensibilities, and thoughts. I believe it is most powerful when that door opens to what they used to call the sublime: a Dionysian dance, a dark and blasting thunderstorm, a vast ocean scape. Writing Redgunk stories felt like learning to let go and have those experiences. These little silly stories of old farmers and drunken highway workers and sad old dying men and prim Church ladies meeting mermaids and aliens and voodoo priestesses and fake mummies and old hippy witches let me open myself to my genuine voice, through the ink pen, as if turning it over to a muse who spoke words beyond my comprehension. And with publishing this force speaks not only to me but to others, too. Publishing Redgunk tales made me aware that that same sublime voice that touches me can touch others, make them laugh and cry at the same time, make them feel the power of a world both strange and strangely familiar that we share, of kudzu growing insanely beyond its limits and of us growing beyond ours. A reader/reviewer told me reading Redgunk changed his soul and I believe it, not because I am the writer but because it changed mine, too, opened me out like eyes opening wide to be full of sky. And what I found was the point of it, I suppose, of both writing and publishing—that the best things, the greatest things of human spirit, come to us from the simplest, the sweetest, the strangest but most humble things. I don’t know how to make sense of that except to invite folks to come and partake, to read, to see how utterly moving the smallest touch of such a world can be.
Your book, Welcome to Redgunk: Tales from One Weird Mississippi Town, is a collection of stories. Were any more difficult to write than others? Did you write them consecutively?
I get up in the morning, begin writing, and if uninterrupted finish the story before I stop. I think the books I love to read come from the flow of an author’s experience, mind, heart, so much so that the Author stops being himself or herself and becomes a force possessed by a muse, revealing what’s true and powerful about life. To get to my own voice I have to stop everything else. The challenge is to build in the time. Successful Redgunk stories individually do precisely that - get me to stop everything and when I can, they really work, for my readers. It’s like dancing in moonlight. So sometimes they come consecutively, sometimes they are different and must stand alone. Sometimes in fact so alone that I forget or alter who the characters are (I once forgot whose pot pie put Bobby Yocher in the hospital and I named her something different, happily), they become new in new contexts as we all do, but always, always they are a part of the dance. Difficult to write? If writing is dance it is a matter of down-to-the-root working to let go and be in the groove, whether a Dionysian moonlight craziness or a formal minuet. Redgunk writing is a little of both.
When you’re not writing your next masterpiece, what do you love to do in your spare time?
I love to sit with friends for a good laugh or walk in the woods of my own place where I have hand-carved some beautiful hiking trails or to get on a plane and wake up in Egypt or India or Japan or Greece. And that IS writing my next masterpiece! Living (as I understand it) is a part, the most important part, of writing.
If you could be mentored by a famous author of your choice, who would that be?
Alas most of them are dead: Melville, Durrell, someone with a sense of the grand scope of things and a good laugh, as in the old Japanese Zen masters (though I would not want to cut off my arms and legs to sit with him/her, as happens sometimes). I am thankful for this: everyone I read is a mentor. I grow when reading Victor Hugo or Shirley Jackson, Lewis Carroll or William Faulkner or James Joyce.