New book features Jerry Wilson’s collection of short stories

Oklahoma native Jerry Wilson has done many things. He has worked as a professor, a journalist and as managing editor of South Dakota Magazine.

He has published more than 100 journal articles and magazine stories, as well as two books, American Artery: A Pan American Journey and Waiting for Coyotes Call: An Eco-memoir from the Missouri River Bluff.

But at the beginning of July, he published his first collection of short stories, Blackjacks & Blue Devils, the contents of which he has kicked around for nearly 20 years in some cases.

Ive had a number of stories published separately in magazines, and I was looking over how many I had, and I thought, Ive had plenty of stories with a kind of Western theme that I could put together a collection, he said.

Published by Mongrel Empire Press of Oklahoma, the book consists of 14 stories featuring characters and situations drawn in part from his own experience.

I think that every fiction writer I know, their stories have some sort of kernel of reality from their experience or observation, a character they knew, a place theyve been, something they witnessed, a story they heard, Wilson said. Thats true of all of these, except for a couple one began as a dream and another was purely imagined. But almost all of them have some sort of germ or seed in experience.

Taking a real experience and turning it into fiction is a process of evolution, he said.

Theres something you start kicking around in your mind, and you start imagining what if, and it takes seed and starts growing, he said. Eventually you get something that you think is a workable work of fiction.

One of the things that I like to do as a fiction writer is to alter a character, he said. If I start with a real person, I might alter significant details of their life, partly just because the way things really happen dont necessarily make the best story, and also, I think that as a fiction writer you need to kind of break out of what really happened and let the story evolve. That often means letting a character be transformed in small ways or larger ways.

For Wilson, writing is essentially a process of portraying things with honesty.

His first book, American Artery, chronicles his journey down the 5,000-mile Pan American Highway from Canada to Panama, for which he interviewed more than 100 people.

Coyotes Call discusses he and his familys experiences attempting to live on the Missouri River Bluff in an environmentally-conscious way.

Most of my writing life has been an attempt to understand reality as I perceive it and to convey it in an interesting way, he said.

Wilson has no writing schedule to which he adheres.

I write when its too hot or cold to play outside, he said. In the wintertime, I find when Im holed up, I might sit by the wood stove and write most of the day. In the summertime when its really hot, Im more inclined to sit inside with my laptop, but if its a nice morning and there are tasks to do outside, Im not about to waste a good morning by sitting at my computer.

For many writers, the process of publication can be long, but in the case of Blackjacks & Blue Devils, it happened fairly quickly. Mongrel Empire Press was only the third publisher to which Wilson sent his manuscript.

They accepted it right away, and its only taken about six months from acceptance to getting it between covers, which is really pretty fast in the publishing world, he said.

While Wilson said finishing a project often is the most rewarding part, in the case of his new book, the completion of each story was a reward in itself.

Each one, once you think you have it about right, theres that sense of closure and satisfaction there, so there are a lot of little steps along the way that are satisfying, he said.

Wilson now is at work on a sequel of sorts to his eco-memoir.

Its a kind of almanac, I guess youd say, that will cover one year on the bluff and all kinds of interactions with nature, he said.

Copies of Blackjacks & Blue Devils are available through a variety of options, including Zandbroz Variety in Sioux Falls, online booksellers such as www.barnesandnoble.com, and Wilson himself.

Wilson also will appear at a reading with Chuck Nauman at the Washington Street Arts Center at 7 p.m. on Sept. 24.

For more information, visit www.mongrelempirepress.org.

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