Local writer Scott Roberts has been writing novellas and short stories for several years now. As writing goes, one must feel compelled to do it when the lightning rod of inspiration strikes. As part of Small Business Saturday at T-BONES, Scott will be releasing his new work "Well #9" and discussing its balancing act between storytelling and reportage.
PINE BELT NEWS: So you saw the story and knew the people involved in your book. Can you take us through the process of basically finding out about the accident, the range of emotions you worked through, and how you arrived at writing about it?
SCOTT ROBERTS: I first heard about this accident when I was in a Writing Project meeting at USM in the Summer of 2006. We were all gathered around a table, getting things ready, and this lady walks in, put her things down, and asks us if we had heard on the radio (before Twitter, etc) about what had happened up in Raleigh. At that point no one really knew what had happened, but that at least three people had died in an oilfield explosion. We discussed it and made comments about how terrible this was and moved on with our day. The next day we met again and people were still talking about it.
By this time, details had begun to emerge and the story had made the New York Times. It was then that I began scrolling through news reports and realized that all of these men were from Marion County and that I knew two of them. One was the little brother of a guy I had played baseball with since we were kids. I always remembered him as this little kid at West Marion School or at the Dean Griner Baseball Fields in Columbia. The other man I knew was older. He was the welder that day and the only survivor. I had loaded feed onto his truck many times when I was working at a local farm and garden store. He always stopped in on his way home at the end of the day. His son was one of our football coaches when I attended West Marion. You could tell he was hard working from his clothes and he always had on this little tiny brimmed welder’s cap. He was always in a good mood and it was a welcome sight to see his work truck pulling up the gravel drive to the store. As the only survivor, I could only imagine how horrible it must have been and still is for him. But life is busy and after a few days, being removed from the accident and living in Hattiesburg, I moved on.
PINE BELT NEWS: Give us a little history of your writing and how you started doing it?
SCOTT ROBERTS: I have been a writer/observer my whole life. My first story was about a fictitious civil war battle that took place in my home community of Sandy Hook near the Louisiana line. I still have the dot matrix copy somewhere. I think I was 10 at the time. I’m not sure what the draw is or why I do it. I liken it to a dog, that for whatever reason, feels the need to roll around in and consume its own excrement. It’s just something I do, and until 2007, the writing took the form of short stories and poetry about various things. But in 2007 our daughter Mattie was born and it made me think, for possibly the first time in my life, to really think about life and what it means and what it doesn’t mean. I began to write longer pieces, mostly short novels, and novellas, and various short stories. Adding further joy and searches for meaning, our daughter Anna Craig was born in 2011 just after I finished and released the short novel "Cement Shed" (Also released and sold at T-Bones!) And since 2001, my amazing/wonderful wife Dannell has put up with and even encouraged all of this, proving without a doubt that there is such a thing as luck and falling backward into the most important thing in one’s life, purely by chance of circumstances in an otherwise meaningless, senseless world. She doesn’t need any of us three, but loves us all anyway and works hard to make us happy.
PINE BELT NEWS: During all this span of time (and with your family growing,) how did you write consistently in a world where your roles continued to change?
SCOTT ROBERTS: Since 2003, I have been working as a full-time teacher or electrician, and now a combination of both. In 2016, I was researching an experiment to do in my chemistry class and was between writing projects when this accident again crossed my computer screen and I began to think about it. Thanks to the CSB Chemical Safety Board, a government watchdog, I was able to find out what really happened at the Raleigh Oilfield. Their information was taken mainly from interviews with the welder after the accident. With a morbid sort of curiosity I read through the details, but when I watched the simulation video it became clear that I should write about the people and not the accident itself, because at the end of the simulation, as I scrolled down through the comments.(The CSB had not disabled this function) I came across a plethora of comments: far removed, senseless, and brutal, so terrible I will not mention even one of them here. But all of this was eclipsed by one of the last comments I saw. It simply read: “This was my brother.”
At first, I felt the need to write an article about this, about the men and their lives and I reached out to this woman to see if I could interview her. However, this did not materialize as I hoped it would but that is no one’s fault. As I state in the book, I am no journalist. I write fiction, and that is what I set out to write, but this short novel was a little different in that it centers around the accident but focuses mainly on the characters. All of these characters in the book are entirely fiction but they could be real people, people that I know, people I grew up with, people I run into in the gas station when I go back to Marion County to visit my parents. As I state, it is just a peek into their lives and something I think people, regardless of where they grew up or what their background is, can relate to. We all know people who work hard for a living, doing dangerous work so that the rest of us can flip a light switch, navigate our vehicles, even meet our future life partners. All of that comes at a cost. I spoke to employees at the CSB and obtained information through a FOIA request on the accident which helped me greatly in piecing together what happened so that I could include it accurately in the story but also provide the description at the beginning.
PINE BELT NEWS: How long did it take to finish "Well #9" and what are your inspirations for writing?
SCOTT ROBERTS: It took about a year to complete the story and I began reading it to my writing group at each monthly meeting. Then I shelved it like I do most of my projects. In my life, there have been countless people who have encouraged me and challenged me. In my early years, it was my parents Donna and Freddy Roberts, both school teachers. In high school, my English teacher Jennifer Bochicchio, who I had through all four years, provided a metaphorical room full of glass I could go in and demolish and glue back together as often as I wished. In college, Greg Underwood of PRCC gave me the praise I needed and challenged me to write more boldly about difficult subjects. Eric Leatherwood, also of PRCC and Texas, has not only been a good friend for many years but has also line edited many of my projects whilst digging his feet into some beach along the FloraBama Coast. But lastly, and to be honest, most importantly, and this is where the pertinence to the book comes in, there is Bill Kirby, formerly of Adeline St. in Hattiesburg, newly instated but not interned, in Burlington, VT. Through some happenstance of fate in a senseless world, simply dumb luck, I was placed in Bill’s classroom as a student teacher in the Fall of 2003. Since then, we have become great friends. Bill is an audience, teacher, and critic. If it were not for Ms. Betty Boyd placing me in Mr. Kirby’s classroom that year, I would not be the person I am, nor the writer I am today. And I certainly would not be publishing anything! He is the one that keeps telling me to submit this and submit that, finish that story, or maybe to move on. He is the one who sent me a copy of Poets and Writers Magazine, filled with places to send one’s work. And since then, I am glad to say that I have gotten rejected by at least fifty agents, magazines, newspapers, and traditional and non-traditional publications, including one quarterly journal on something called the New Jewish Erotica. But at least one publisher, Nick Courtright at Atmosphere Press, thought "Well #9" might be a good enough story to put out there on what is known as a Hybrid Model. After several re-edits and some polishing, neither of which is ever truly finished, I present "Well #9." I hope people will take it but are obviously not blamed for leaving it on the shelf. But then again, someone could buy it and leave it on their own shelf too. This is your home, where you grew up, do you see "Well #9" as your remembrance of this chapter of your life and trying to find out what your background had in common (or even was different) those you write about.
Scott Roberts will be discussing and reading from "Well #9" on Saturday, November 27th at T-BONES Records and Cafe as part of the observation of Small Business Saturday. In addition, to Roberts, T-BONES will also welcome Vivian O'Neal to discuss her insightful and inspiring book "Josiah's Big Day," with illustrations by local artist Heath Kleinke.
Mik Davis is the record store manager at T-Bones Records & Cafe in Hattiesburg.
RECORD STORE DAY BLACK FRIDAY
The fun all begins at 10 am on, Friday November 26th at T-BONES. You can even check out the entire list online at tbonescafe.com.
For the third segment of Record Store Day in 2021, the holiday shopping party officially begins with 120 exclusive releases from across the spectrum for this day. LPs, CDs, and even cassettes dot the list to something to all who venture forth.
Several of this season's pressing are in lower numbers (even around the world,) but these rarities are a real chance to give your record collection some character and expose you to facets and styles you may have never enjoyed before.
JIMI HENDRIX - Paris '67 [LP](Legacy)
CAROLE KING - Live at the BBC 1979 [LP](Legacy)
FLEETWOOD MAC - Alternate Live [2LP](Rhino)
LITTLE FEAT - Electrif Lycanthrope: 1974 [LP](Rhino)
A number of live sessions that have only previously been available as bootlegs are part of the RSDBF celebration. This Hendrix live show from the Fall of 1967 in Paris captures Hendrix and his potent power trio nearing the peak of their game. As the Summer of Love ended (and Hendrix's show-stealing triumph at Monterey Pop) made him a star, the Experience emerged fresh from the studio recording "Axis: Bold As Love" with a new set as headliners.
Carole King recorded "Tapestry" in January 1971. Its release in February sent her rocketing up the charts and selling millions of records over the entire year. Before the Grammy-winner hit, Carole (with help from James Taylor) recorded this special live session on the BBC that has never been officially released until now.
One of the RSD favorites for the last several years has been the "Fleetwood Mac Alternates." For this double album, they cull from the Super Deluxe "Live" set which captures the most famous incarnation of the legends as far back as 1977 with early cuts ("The Green Manalishi") and even more "Tusk" cuts from the 1982 tour.
The magical Little Feat never really had a hit until the band was almost on the edge of ending (1976's "Waiting For Columbus.") This long-bootlegged scorcher of a live radio set from 1974 finds the band playing blazing versions of the new songs from "Feats Don't Fail Me Now" as well as their now-classic "Dixie Chicken." As Little Feat dove further into Jazz and Funk, a rift would develop between their central writers. Live on the radio in New York on this one night in 1974, Little Feat was truly ready to take on the world.
FOO FIGHTERS - Making A Fire (Re-Version) [7"](RCA)
BILLIE EILISH - No Time To Die [7"](Darkroom/interscope)
JOAN JETT & THE BLACKHEARTS - 40 x 40 [7" and Comic](Blackheart)
AVETT BROTHERS - Emotionalism [CS](Ramseur)
On the collectable singles front, there is a post-Thanksgiving bounty for you. New Rock N'Roll Hall Of Famers, Foo Fighters, turned their tracks over for "Re-Version" to Tedeschi Trucks Band, The Dap-Kings, Budos Band, Antibalas, Ben Jaffe, and more. The Bond song from Billie Eilish has never been released on physical media. This limited edition piece gathers her rendition from the BRIT Awards and the home demo. Joan Jett is a Rock N'Roll institution. When none of the labels would sign her post-Runaways, she started her own label to make her own music. When the world caught up with her maverick sense of self-empowering Rock, Joan chalked up a pair of classics ("Bad Reputation" and "I Love Rock N'Roll") both commemorated in this comic book/7" single package. The Avett Brothers were Bluegrass-infused showstoppers making their own records too. Their breakthrough album "Emotionalism" has been long out of print. For this limited run, it re-emerges on cassette for a run of just 500 copies.