By Anderson McKean, Page & Palette Bookstore
Watt Key is an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, and speaker. He has written nine novels, including the internationally acclaimed Alabama Moon. Watt grew up in Point Clear and currently lives in Mobile with his wife and three children. His new book, Bay Boy, is a series of essays inspired by his boyhood in Point Clear, Alabama.
Watt took time to chat with PORTICO about the childhood stories he shares in his latest collection, Bay Boy.
Q: In Bay Boy, it is clear that your experiences growing up in Point Clear have shaped the author you have become. If you had spent your childhood in a different place, such as in Texas with your cousins, would you be the same writer?
A: I think I was always wired to express myself artistically in some way. Choosing to be a writer – as opposed to being a painter or a musician – was probably a result of enjoying stories my father would read to us as kids and subsequently wanting to create my own stories. And my mother always encouraged her children to be creative. So I suppose I would have ended up being a writer no matter where I was, but certainly wouldn’t have written about the same things. I can’t imagine there are many places more conducive to exercising a young writer’s imagination than Point Clear. I was fortunate to have that environment to draw from.
Q: Your stories reveal an enormous amount of freedom given to you and your siblings to explore your natural surroundings, create your own adventures, and just be kids. How have those experiences impacted the way your parent your three children?
A: I encourage my kids to spend a lot of time outdoors, forgoing television, video games, and social media as much as possible. There are few weekends that we are not hunting, fishing, boating, camping, or simply setting out to explore a place we haven’t
seen. I also encourage my kids to spend in-person time with their friends, whether it be inviting them to go along with us on our adventures or just having sleepovers. While I don’t want my Gen-Y kids to be out-of-touch with the ways of their peers, I also think it is important for them to be comfortable and familiar with their natural surroundings, learn practical hands-on skills, and have real relationships with people outside of social media.
Q: You have always been the storyteller in your family, among your six siblings and now with your own children. When did you begin writing all these stories down? What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A: I started writing short stories when I was about ten years old. When I was a teenager, I began to write longer pieces, trying to emulate my favorite authors – people like Mark Twain, Jim Kjelgaard, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I think you have to love reading first if you want to be a good writer. I can explain the basic elements of storytelling – things such as story arc, inner conflict, outer conflict, etc. – but I don’t know how anyone can write successful fiction with only that knowledge. So, read enough so that you know what kinds of stories you like, and get a sense of what the authors are doing to make you feel strongly about their writing. Then try to emulate them. Again and again and again (practice) – until you’ve developed your own voice – your own original way of telling the same types of stories. Then you have arrived.
Q: What are you currently working on?
A: I am finishing up a novel about a boy who hunts Bigfoot in the Florida Panhandle. It comes out in April of 2020. It is called Beast.