Arkansas author James Babb visited students at Vilonia Middle School and Vilonia Elementary School, introducing them to his novel, The Devil’s Backbone.
The story takes place in the mountain range with the same name around Greenwood, Ark., in the late summer of 1880. Fourteen-year-old Brody, riding his pony Tater, slips out into the early morning desperate to find food for his family hunting in the foothills of the Devil’s Backbone — a mountain range near Fort Smith. An accident occurs and Brody is left thinking he is blind. He is rescued by an ex-slave that is having some mental issues. The book details Brody’s struggle to recover from the accident and be reunited with his parents who do not know what happened to him.
Gone for a month, Brody returned home to find them gone. An excerpt from the book: Did they stay and look for me too long? “No food,” he whispered.
Slowly, he backed away from the house and reached the barn. He leaned the gun against the wall, and then sat and rested. Maybe they would be back soon. He hoped they were out looking for him. But why would Papa leave his boots? The thick leathered boots were the only pair his Papa owned.
Babb told the students the book is fictional with real historical sites and battles mentioned in the story. Writing a book, Babb said the most grueling part is the many editings and the research to determine what life was like “years ago.”
A good imagination, he said, is also important. While his book is fiction, Babb said, with a lot of “made up stuff,” much of it is truthful. He said he had to research “the little things” that makes the book believable. Fiction writing, he said, is like “telling a fib but the best fib you can tell.”
Babb said the idea for the book came to him while he was sitting in his deer stand. He began to imagine what would happen, he said, if he fell out of the stand and no one was around to help. Letters written by his wife Suzanne’s great, great, grandfather, who lived in the 1800’s and traveled 50 days by wagon across Arkansas, helped in the research.
The couple met in Conway while attending college and married in 1993. They now live in DeQueen. Babb said it took about two years to write and self-publish the book. He began writing, he said, to help deal with cancer about five years ago. The cancer, he said, required many surgeries and periods of recuperation.
He is writing chapter 8, he said, of his second book Devil’s Trap with the setting in the Fort Smith area.