Life has certainly been a little off-kilter lately! How have the Keys been handled self-quarantine?
Lots of books, YouTube and Netflix — like most other families, I assume. But I have found it absolutely crucial to get in a lot of social distancing while fishing. Basically, we’ve been doing a lot of fishing. And not complaining much about that.
Have you been able to make any online classroom appearances?
A lot. I’ve done 15 schools this week. I’m even invited to a virtual pizza party in Rochester, Michigan, this evening. It sounds like fun, and I think I’ll go.
One good thing about staying home is that it provides more time to read. I finished “Beast” in a couple nights — it’s a great, fast-paced book. I have to admit, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of Sasquatch ever since I saw the movie, “Harry and the Hendersons,” back in the ‘80s. More recently, my dad shared his own bigfoot story, which took place when he was a teen in Crenshaw County, Alabama. I understand you’ve had your own experience, which is where you derived the idea for this book, correct?
Well, I will start by saying that I have never seen a bigfoot or anything like it. But one evening, when I was deer hunting in the Mississippi Delta, I had an experience that — connected to a bigfoot story I heard told on a radio program — got me interested. I spent about a year listening to bigfoot podcasts and reading books about bigfoot to prepare for the story I was going to tell. Bigfoot stories range from, “I saw a hairy ape thing run across the road in my headlights,” to, “I was sitting on my back porch when a spaceship hovered over my pasture and dropped some bigfoots out of it.” You have to sort of take the middle ground there. You can read more about what happened to me in the author’s note at the end of “Beast.”
As a college sophomore — and for school credit — you intentionally spent 14 days in the wild, foraging for your own food. In “Beast,” Adam, the main character, finds himself doing the same in Florida’s swampland, eating a few meals that left me squeamish. Were there any particular things you ate that weren’t quite as bad as people might imagine?
Cottonmouth. Wasn’t bad at all. Seared piglet skin — excellent — tastes exactly like the fried pork skin you can get at a gas station. You would imagine an armadillo would taste terrible. Actually, it tastes worse than you can imagine. Acorns are tiresome; palmetto and pine needle tea are good. You can read about my full menu on the “Alabama Moon” page on my website.
Adam is one tough kid. I certainly wasn’t as brave as he when I was 13. Were you like him growing up, strong-willed and tenacious?
I wasn’t as remarkable as any of my characters, but they are all a blurry version of me — what I know, things I’ve done, etc. Most people aren’t as interesting as they might think they are or want to be, and I’m no exception. I try to make stories based on the things I know but make them larger than me so that people are interested in them.
I would imagine growing up in Point Clear alongside four brothers has provided you with a wealth of inspiration for your stories. Do you find yourself modeling characters after your brothers or plots after your antics?
I don’t base any fictitious characters on them, but I write about their real characters in my book, “Bay Boy,” about growing up in Point Clear.
Life seemed simpler and less rushed when we were growing up, didn’t it? With today’s slower pace, has your family rediscovered simple pleasures, such as suppertime or walks in the evening together?
It is certainly like we are back in the ‘70s. And I like it. Phone’s not ringing. Traffic isn’t bad. Nobody rushing to school, exercise class, sporting events. You realize that you don’t have to eat out so much and rediscover the fun of cooking family meals. My kids are at the age where I thought I was pretty much done with my part — they are driving or about to head to college — but it’s nice to get a second chance to hang out with them one last time.
What’s on your summer reading list?
Classic books most people don’t read anymore, books you wouldn’t expect me to read, all to prepare for a book I want to write. For example, I want to write a book with a precocious female main character. I’m reading Heidi, True Grit and Anne of Green Gables. Reading is still fun for me, but it’s oftentimes, most times, research, too.
Are you working on your next book yet? Anything you can divulge?
I am always working on a book. In a sense, I usually have three going on at once. I have the one that just came out that I am promoting. I have the one for next year that I am editing. And I have the one for two years out that I am writing. I try to put out a book a year, though that doesn’t always happen. I never have liked talking too much about what I am working on because it seems to mess me up and hem me in. I need to able to write it without remembering what I told people it was going to be about, if that makes any sense.
– Book Excerpt from “Beast: Face-to-Face with the Florida Bigfoot” –
“Let me tell you something. If you want to see a swamp ape or Bigfoot — whatever you want to call it — you’ve got to be out in the wilderness for weeks. Maybe months. Miles from anything. No fires, no tent, nothing. Until you run out of food and have to live like an animal. Until you’re so primitive you dig worms from the ground with your hands and eat them just to go on another day. Then maybe they’ll show themselves to you. You understand? A man can’t do that.”
“Then there’s the killing part. Let’s say I managed to get far enough out into the Refuge and survive long enough to see one of these things. Let’s say I got close enough to take a shot with a high-powered rifle like a .30-06. This is an animal that can weigh a thousand pounds. Maybe more. I’d have to shoot it in the heart. And let’s say I’m lucky and its heart is in the same place as ours. And say I get even luckier and kill it. Then what?”
Stanley paused. I shook my head to show that I didn’t have an answer.
“Then you’ve still got to deal with the other ones. You think they’re going to like you shooting one of their family members?”
I shook my head.
“But let’s say there’s not any more. Say this thing’s by itself. Now what? How are you going to drag a thousand pounds of dead weight out of there? You can’t leave and come back for it. Alligators and coyotes will eat it. Or maybe they eat it.”
“But why did you have to kill it?”
“You want proof, you’re going to have to bring back a body.”
“But maybe just good pictures would do. I mean, if you just had enough good pictures.”
“That’s been tried, right? The government confiscates any decent proof that ever goes public. The blurry stuff that’s left, people just write off as a hoax. No, you’re gonna have to have a body. And that’s impossible.”
“What if there was a way to make it public before the government could get to it?”
“If you can figure a way to do that, then you’ll be the first.”
Watt Key is a local, award-winning author whose debut novel, “Alabama Moon,” received international acclaim. “Beast” is available for purchase at Page and Palette (pageandpalette.com), The Haunted Bookshop (thehauntedbookshopmobile.com) and on Amazon. Additional information is available at wattkey.com.