Q&A with Author Batt Humphreys

Dead Weight
Q&A with Author Batt Humphreys
1) Where did the story of Dead Weight originate?
A large portion of the historical research was complete when I was approached for an opinion of the story and how I thought it might be developed. What I read was a rich story, of a murder, a trial an execution and a hurricane, that became linked through chance or Fate. My feeling was that the story would be better served, the potential for a larger audience and thus sharing the reality, if it were written as a novel. That, I felt, would allow more potential to create additional characters and use the both the time and Charleston as a set piece in a larger story, or tragedy.
2) How did you get started and how long did it take to write?
My publisher offered me the project. Writing a novel was not a challenge I was seeking. It was a notion in the back of my head, a task I was somewhat afraid to tackle. I wrote the first page of the novel and the last, offered it as an alpha and omega and was encouraged to fill out the middle. With much of the research in hand, the actual task of the first manuscript took 5 or 6 months.
3) Where did the title Dead Weight come from?
You’ll find in the book, that it was a particular methodology for hanging.
4) What is the process? How do you structure the project?
I’m sure it’s different for all writers. I come from a news background where deadlines are a part of every day and every broadcast. It really becomes a matter of telling yourself to shut up, sit down, and write. As for the structure.. I think again from my background, I tend to be a linear person. I knew the beginning and the end of the novel, I knew from the historical frame some of the key parts I wanted to include and expand upon. From there I did a story outline, a chapter outline and a character outline. For me, it helped define direction.
5) As the author of a first novel, what about the experience of writing the book either inspired, or in the very least, kept you going?
The first hurdle to overcome was that of fear. Writing a novel was one of those ‘maybe someday’ notions that is conveniently avoided by life at hand. With a real story facing me, that game was afoot. Once into the novel, the story begins to take a life of its own. The fictional characters could be whatever I wanted and they were created to serve a purpose. The historical characters like Nealy, took a bit more work. Fortunately, thorough a couple of notes and interviews, I began to feel his character, his strength and his nobility. He grew as a character as I grew to know him.
6) What about the historical context of the story?
The beginning of the 20th century is an interesting part of American history. We were a country truly becoming a world power, with an economy as unbridled as teenage lust, but we were also less than 4 decades from the emancipation of African Americans, and less than 2 decades from the remnants of the American genocide of native Americans. The history of the Jim Crow south is fraught with lynchings. I did not want this story, this novel, to be a straight historical narrative. I wanted it to include more context, more perspective and more balance. For that, I felt, it needed to be a novel.

7) How did your background factor into your writing?

I think the background in news helped me focus on the objective balance of the story. It is the reason I created Hal, not just to serve as some reviews have alluded as a love interest and occasional pugilist, but to lend an outside eyes on Charleston and the times. Those who might point the finger at Hal for being something less than objective, I would have to suggest considering the context of journalism at the time. H.L. Mencken was a genius (my opinion) as a writer, but not such an objective reporter.
8) What experiences as a first time author would you share with anyone interested in following?
I think the first, would be to follow your passion. If you want to write, write and put your self doubts aside. Secondly, writing the book might be the easy part of the process. You’ll also need to be prepared to market yourself, spend time on the road and be prepared for lessons in zen humility in the process. It’s a very manic affair.. from the dejection of driving for hours to an event, that no one attends. Then, there at some low point, a reader will seek you out, to talk about your book, your prose and something in it that came together to inspire them, to compel them to stay up all night reading. Then you smile, get back in your car and go on to the next signing.