Deep From the Archives
This is an author interview I wrote in 1996.
The Death of Tarpons by Les Edgerton
“Not long ago, I returned to the town of my youth, and made a disturbing discovery. It had weathered the intervening thirty years better than I had, at least physically, and that had the effect of giving me a bit of a jolt, as if the events of the summer of my fourteenth year hadn’t been as cataclysmic as I’d imagined.”
With those two sentences, Les Edgerton skillfully draws us into the harsh world of Corey John, a boy who reached out for love, but found kindness in meager supply and affection all too rare. When Corey dared to soar with the natural optimism of youth, his hope was carelessly crushed by those who should have loved him most.
Overview of the Plot
In The Death of Tarpons, Edgerton traces the life of Corey, the beginning and ending of the book told from Corey’s adult voice, framing the disturbing childhood that dwells in the center. When Corey finds himself seriously ill in his mid-forties, he realizes he must make peace with his childhood terrors, to reach a decision about the remainder of his life.
Young Corey had had to deal with an abusive father, a mother who finds peace in religious madness, and a loving grandfather dying of cancer. Corey’s best friend, Destin, suffers through parallel agonies, but eventually even this bond causes pain for Corey.
And, when Corey’s grandfather summons strength for one last joint fishing trip, the water dance of two tarpons, one young and one old, echoes the lives of the two humans in the boat skimming over their world. There, above the place of the fish, Corey learns one of life’s most painful lessons of all.
Jane Bradly, author of Living Doll, describes Edgerton’s book this way. “Here is a story of innocence moving through a brutal world. It is hard to see tenderness smacked down, to see hunger for love ignored, but Edgerton compels us with a narrative voice so passionate, so sincere in its attempt to make sense of a mean and random world that we can’t help but open ourselves, to share in a boy’s journey toward claiming a life of love, compassion and wonder at the fragile, tenacious beauty of our lives.”
“I used bits and pieces of real life people to round out and develop my characters,” Edgerton said. “I thought about the basic plot of Tarpons for years and kept developing it in my mind. I continued to add elements but, all along, I refused to treat Corey like a little idiot kid. I think most kids are highly intelligent and I wanted to tell the story through the eyes of a quick young man.”
Edgerton’s Publishing Career
While Tarpons is Edgerton’s first published novel, he has written six others, two of them close to publishing deals. “I wrote Tarpons in 1985 and it went out to over two dozen publishers and agents,” he said. “I put it in a drawer then, thinking it unpublishable. Then, a friend told me to send it out one more time, in 1995, and it struck gold!”
Edgerton hopes this book helps others. “Not to dredge up bad times, to help them see you can live through the worst of times and sometimes even good comes out of it,” he said. “If nothing else, it can help you become a more mature person.”
The theme of suicide runs through the book, and Edgerton said he wrote that to help children through difficult times. In the book, Edgerton has Corey remembering the advice that his grandfather had given him.
“What he said, that I’d forgotten,” Corey reminisces, “was that a child takes his own life because he thinks the rest of his life will be exactly the same as it is at the present time. An adult realizes that life is a cycle. The good times are followed by bad times; and the bad times, in turn, run into better things. That is life and those are its seasons and that is one of the great secrets.”
Edgerton’s writing style has been described as minimalist, and he shares why he believes he writes that way. “Minimalism is where you start with the premise that the reader has some intelligence,” he said. “It’s basically bare bones. You give the skeleton and it’s up to the reader to flesh it out. Hemingway said it best, I think. What you leave out is more important than what you put in.”
He credits his grandmother for his love and knowledge of fine writing. “I read voraciously when I was a kid,” he said. “Balzac, Hugo, Dickens, Twain, Melville. A lot of European writers, because that’s what my grandmother had in her library. I read probably a book a day.”
Edgerton’s publishing credits are just as impressive, the list including several nonfiction books: You and Your Clients: Human Relations for Cosmetology; Managing Your Business: Milady’s Guide to the Salon; Salonovations’ Guide to Becoming a Financially Solvent Salon; and Salonovations Guide to Writing Books and Magazine Articles.
He is also under contract to write Salonovations Guide Writing Nonfiction Book Proposals. His short stories have appeared in several magazines; more than 200 of his nonfiction articles have been published in magazines; and he was named one of Indiana’s Best Writers in 1993 by Arts Indiana.
How does he do it all?
“I sleep four or five hours a night, and I can’t tell you what’s been on television for the past ten years,” Edgerton said, “and I write about 50 to 60 hours per week, and I still do hair at my hairstyling salon.”
While he believes some work is simply unpublishable, he encourages aspiring writers to believe in their own work, and to keep trying. “Write something entertaining,” he said. “Do the best you can, so you’ll be able to look yourself in the eyes in the mirror each morning.”