Eb McCourry’s final year of school is rushing at a frantic pace toward showdowns on all fronts. Living in a children’s home, he’s struggling for an identity at his new school and finds it with the football and square dance teams and with an English teacher who forces him to write better than he thought he could. But not all is well. Eb faces a gun, two pedophiles, a sociopathic teammate, growing pressure to win and a budding love affair with the lovely and brilliant Lizetta. His college football scholarship and the doors it can open are at stake and he must grow up quickly.
I love the idea of writing a book about all the political complexities surrounding a square dance competition in the 1960s. It’s almost an Appalachian take on the television series Glee! Where did the idea for CLOG! start for you?
I went to a tiny high school in the mountains of North Carolina (350 students, 4 grades) in the early 1960s and Cranberry High had a legendary square dance team and coach, Kay Wilkins. It had won three national titles, eight state championships and owned the Old Smoky Trophy at the Mountain Youth Jamboree in Asheville. I was not a dancer, but watched this team perform and saw what magic Miss Kay created.
In 2011, Cara Modisett of Blue Ridge Country Magazine asked me to write a piece about Miss Kay and the team (“The Ballad of Miss Kay”) and it won an international magazine award. Shortly thereafter, I began to consider writing a novel based on the school, the county, the team, the times and a young boy who gets caught up in it all. CLOG! emerged in first draft after 28 days of writing. Ten re-writes later, it became a book.
How much does the book have to do with square dancing?
It is centered around both the square dance team and the football team, both of which are chasing championships and share athletes. At Cranberry, all of Miss Kay’s dancers were on other athletic teams—she recruited them. She wore them out, too. Best coach I ever saw in any sport (and I was a sportswriter for 17 years).
How did you research the square dance details, sequences and storyline?
This was tough because I knew so little about square dancing and clogging before the book. I started by talking in some depth to former Cranberry High dancers, including Janice Watson Greene, who shows up in the book as a flashy sophomore dancer. I gathered a group of them at a class reunion and listened as they reminisced. I also talked to members of the Blacksburg Hoorah Cloggers. Like so many people who are centered on a certain activity, the dancers were knowledgeable and enthusiastic.
How close is the story to what really happened?
Not very. It is a novel, based upon people and events, some of which have been combined, all of whom have been changed to the point that they would be difficult to identify by even those who know some of the players. The actual events were the seed for fiction and this book is, in no way, meant to portray actual history. But it’s a lot of fun.
CLOG! is really about people as much as it is about dancing, though. What are you really getting at in this novel?
The story, basically, is the coming of age of Eb McCourry, a high school senior whose father has died and whose family is having considerable difficulty getting by. He winds up in a children’s home in the far back mountains, looking for an identity. That part of the story is the coming of age of a young man.
The other point is a cultural assault on these hill people from outside when a rich auto dealer in Asheville buys a competition team for the huge high school there, brings in a ballet star and studio owner from New York and pursues the Old Smoky Trophy at the Mountain Youth Jamboree in Asheville because his daughter, a dancer, wants it for her bedroom and what this spoiled child wants, she gets.
You chose to publish CLOG! independently. Why?
I could have gone the traditional route and actually began to pursue it. But I was not happy with the agents and publishers and their suggestions for wholesale changes to the story, so I decided I’d go indy.
I have written and published five books, three of them indys. That is a very strong wave in publishing, as it has been in recent years in music.
Writers are taking control of their work and their profits–which are considerably higher without several layers of middle people. Sales of e-books, which didn’t even exist a few years ago, can go through the roof as many independents have discovered. Exposure in magazines like DoubleToe: The Magazine of Clogging is vital and gets the book directly to the audience that would most appreciate it.
I have close friends who are involved in both traditional and independent publishing of their works and I can honestly say the happiest group—and the one with the least stress—is the independents.
Dan Smith is a member of the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame and founding editor of Valley Business Front Magazine. A longtime journalist, he has won awards in every significant journalistic discipline: Virginia Business Journalist of the Year 2005; awards for business ethics, environmental education, environmental journalism, support of the arts and the first (2009) Perry F. Kendig Literary Award, given by the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge. Dan is an active community volunteer and member of a number of boards of directors. CLOG! is his fifth book and first novel. He is an is award-winning public radio essayist and photographer. Dan founded the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference and organized the 2011 Women’s Forum at Hollins University. A father of two and grandfather of two, Dan lives in Roanoke, VA. You can reach him at pampadansmith at gmail dot com.