Will the real Mack Strum please stand up?
While reading Chris Fabry’s A Piece of the Moon, I stumbled across this character Mack Strum, a country singer. The story’s setting is a country radio station in rural West Virginia. Waite Evers, the manager, recites beautiful, touching lyrics from Mack’s song “A Piece of the Moon” that obviously inspired the book’s title.
The author even quotes Mack Strum to preface the story, right alongside Mark Twain and the Bible.
Though I’d recognized many of the country singer names and song titles throughout the novel, Mack Strum was unfamiliar–perhaps a fictional character?
My immediate thought: If that song doesn’t already exist, somebody better write it!
Well, maybe somebody had. I went to Google and searched in vain for Mack Strum and his country hit title. Similar titles appeared, but not this particular song. Maybe Mack Strum was some obscure, one-hit wonder back in 1981. Or earlier.
I finished reading the book. In the acknowledgements, Chris Fabry thanks Mack Strum for letting him use his lyrics at no charge. Mack is retired and done traveling now. Great! He’s a real person. I planned to ask Chris Fabry about him, and about those sweet lyrics.
Well . . . for the rest of that story, read the Q & A below. Meanwhile, listen to this beautiful instrumental song that Chris sent me, written and performed by Steve Wick.
Go ahead and listen to it now while you’re reading. It’s only 2:45 minutes long but will put you in the mood for a trip to a little radio station in Emmaus, West Virginia in 1981.
As Mack Strum once said, “All good songs leak from a broken heart.” That seems to sum up most country tunes. Sometimes I’ve characterized my life through the decades by the songs that spoke to me during certain phases. They’re not always broken heart songs, but they capture the spirit of what I was going through.
During rocky times with my high school boyfriend, I repeatedly cried through Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” In college, I identified with Billy Joel’s music–through all the range of emotions, from “Piano Man” to “You May Be Right” to “Angry Young Man.” In the 1980s, my soon-to-be husband and I crooned along with Grover Washington’s “Just the Two of Us.” And so on.
At Country 16, “The Best Country in the Country,” the music speaks to the hearts of folks in Emmaus, WV. But it’s more than just a radio station. Life happens here. With Waite Evers at the helm, it’s a place of second chances.
In my last post, I mentioned the novel Christy (1967) as introducing readers to southern Appalachia. Thirty-two years later, that book found a namesake in the Christy Awards, designed to acknowledge quality fiction with a Christian worldview. Chris Fabry is a five-time Christy Award winner. How fitting that many of his stories sprouted in the south, not far from the setting of Christy.
Back Cover Blurb
An inspiring southern fiction story from the bestselling author of War Room.
When eccentric millionaire Gideon Quidley receives a divine revelation to hide his earthly treasure somewhere in the hills, he sets out to find a fitting hiding spot, choosing only a few Bible verses as clues leading to untold riches of gold, silver, cash . . . and one very unexpected—and very costly—item.
Treasure hunters descend upon the hills of West Virginia, including those surrounding the small town of Emmaus, where TD Lovett and Waite Evers provide the latest updates and the beating heart of the community on radio station Country 16. Neither man is much interested in a wild-goose chase for Quidley’s treasure, though. Waite is busy keeping the station afloat and caring for the bruised souls who have landed there. Meanwhile, TD’s more intent on winning over local junkyard owner Pidge Bledsoe, who has taken in a shy, wounded boy to raise.
But after an estranged friend goes missing searching for the treasure, TD is unexpectedly drawn into the hunt. As TD joins the race to find Quidley’s wealth, he discovers where his own real treasure lies, and he begins to suspect there’s a hidden piece to Gideon Quidley’s treasure that no one could’ve expected.
At radio station Country 16 in Emmaus, West Virginia, Waite Evers oversees a motley crew of characters, all trying to stay afloat despite their stormy lives:
- There’s TD Lovett who deejays part-time and drives a tow truck. His father, a hypocritical pastor, long ago turned TD away from God.
- Wally does the Swap Shop program. When his wife left him and took his car, Waite invites him to stay with him.
- Hefty co-worker Possum does the night shift.
- Ardelle is the secretary.
- Another woman, DJ, is a deejay (of course).
- Even Jubal the dog enters the mix later on.
- So does sleazy Ronald, AKA Jim O’Toole, Burt O’Shea, & Jimmy Fine–now known as Country Cody Stevens. Supposedly, he’s God’s gift to radio, considering his self-proclaimed stardom at radio stations around the country.
- Everybody has to keep Boyd, the owner, happy.
Into these hallowed halls of Country 16 walks fifteen-year-old Clay, AKA The Kid. Fatherless Clay lives with his Aunt Pidge Bledsoe, owner of the car salvage yard, and the object of TD’s affections. But Pidge wants nothing to do with poor TD right now. Unless TD can bring her a piece of the moon. She has enough on her hands with her neglected, stuttering nephew.
But the radio station is more than the sum of its parts. Its influence reaches into the community that depends on its routine and soulful music. Such as Sally from Lick Creek, a frequent call-in who “talked like a machine gun with endless rounds of ammo.” Elaine’s on Main Street advertises with Country 16.
Eccentric Gideon Quidley supposedly buried a treasure nearby and left Bible verse clues all over. Some folks are set on finding it. Yet the treasure remains as elusive as a piece of the moon.
Ongoing questions drove me forward: Is the treasure real? Will they find Bobby alive? What happened to TD and Bobby’s friendship? Will TD woo Pidge? Will Clay ever trust anybody and find a place to blossom? What’s the significance of the title?
Meanwhile, Waite lives by his philosophy of second chances, believing that “the closest we get to loving others like God loved us is when we give somebody a second chance to hurt us” and “I used to want to save the world but God told me I could help anyone who came to me.”
To which TD replies, “If you owned a wallpaper store you’d hire all the one-armed men.”
Waite needs his own second chance. Only one unlikely person discovers what that is.
Part of the richness of this story derives from employing multiple viewpoints, those of Waite, TD Lovett, Pidge, Clay, Bobby Gardner, Gideon Quidley, and Gideon’s bitter son Milton. These perspectives make us privy to behind-the-scenes action.
Humor permeates this book with clever dialog, regional idioms, and hilarious descriptions. One woman is described as wearing “enough lipstick to paint double lines on the country road.”
I love how Waite comes alongside Clay to impart more confidence than “the Kid” ever had before. For starters, he teaches Clay how to splice a recording so he can speak and hear his own voice without a stutter. Despite stuttering, Clay is smart and knows significant things that impact key situations.
These real people with real wounds made me laugh and cry–literally.
Of course, the story references good ole Mack Strum and his long-ago interview about country music. Mack says, “All good songs come from a broken heart and good ones don’t give you something, as much as they take what’s already inside and blow on the embers.”
And there’s plenty inside these characters to light a fire. A lot of pain and fear, which–as Pidge says–can make you miss some good things in life.
That’s why they need second chances. And that’s why the lineup of country music’s top songs spoke to the hearts of folks living within range of Country 16. Songs like these:
- Conway Twitty’s “To See an Angel Cry”
- Willie Nelson’s “All of Me”
- Barbara Mandrell’s “The Midnight Oil”
- The Gatlin Brothers’ “Broken Lady”
- Donna Fargo’s “The Happiest girl in the Whole U.S.A.”
- Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”
- Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black”
- Eddie Rabbit’s “Driving My Life Away”
- Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”
- Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”
- Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”
And, naturally, Mack Strum’s “A Piece of the Moon.”
A word from Chris on his Amazon Bio
All my stories are prayers from a wounded heart. As you enter each one, I hope you’ll sense that struggle and pain and questions are not just part of life but part of how you can be drawn deeper into it. A Piece of the Moon is the book I’ve waited more than 40 years to write. It combines my love for radio with a quirky cast of characters who need a second chance in a world that judges and marginalizes. There’s also a faith angle to the story that leads to a mystery to solve. I hope it sings in your soul.
If you read this novel for your book group, check out the book club kit here.
Join me for some Q & A with Chris Fabry.
You’ve stated that A Piece of the Moon is the book you’ve waited more than 40 years to write. How so?
Chris: I was 16 or 17 when I started working at a little Country station in Milton, WV. I would go to school half the day and then work at the station the other half. And the lessons learned, the people I encountered, some of the situations that crop up in the novel are things I lived. All of that has been swirling for quite some time.
You posted on Facebook that the character of Waite Evers is based on your father. You describe him as gentle, kind, and longsuffering. You wrote, “So if you read my new story and you like Waite and his ability to give people second chances, you’ll be liking my father.” After reading this book, I have to say I like your father! Do any of the situations in which Waite finds himself resemble ones he experienced?
Chris: My father was a farmer and worked at a chemical plant in South Charleston, WV, so he never worked in radio. But his attitude toward life and his patience is something I used for Waite. He would take me with him on errands and we’d walk in the Feed Store and the man would say, “Who do you have with you today, Robert?” My dad would answer, with his hand on my shoulder, “That’s my helper.”
I don’t know how he treated the people he worked with, I never got to visit his work environment, but I saw him show kindness to a lot of people others didn’t see. And he was kind to animals, I can remember how torn up he would get when he would mow a field and encounter a nest of rabbits and they would get injured. I could go on and on!
Did you decide on multiple points of view from the get-go or did you start with just Waite’s perspective? How did you make these decisions?
Chris: For the tension in the story, some of the secrets that are revealed only to the reader, I had to use multiple points of view. And getting those different viewpoints gives a fuller sense of the background, thoughts, and actions of the people.
At what point did Mack Strum’s song “A Piece of the Moon” enter into your writing process? Was that one of the initial sparks for the story or did it come later? Explain how it fits.
Chris: I love that Mack Strum seems real to you. I’ve heard this question from several people. “I can’t find him online!” Well, Mack is fictional, though all of the other songs in the novel are real. And Mack’s song is something I found myself strumming one night and thought, “This is the song that goes with the novel.”
I’ve actually asked several REAL musicians to try it, but so far nothing has been recorded. Except for the instrumental version my friend Steve Wick recorded for me. Here’s a Spotify playlist of all the songs I mention in the book.
You started out in a small town radio station like Country 16 in Emmaus, WV. How does your experience compare to Waite’s, TD’s, Wally’s, or Clay’s?
Chris: I was Clay when I started out. Slow of speech. High-pitched voice. Slow learner. I really had no business playing records and talking, but I guess they were desperate! A lot of the situations in the book mirrored things that happened. We had a flood in town—it flooded every year, and a DJ asked if I would sit in while he tried to move things from his flooded house. That was the time when I realized that radio was real life. I wasn’t just pretending, there were people on the other side of the radio who were depending on the information.
I love Waite’s line: “I used to want to save the world but God told me I could help anyone who came to me.” Does this reflect your own philosophy? Or your father’s? Can you share about a time when you or your father helped somebody in the way that Waite helped folks at Country 16?
Chris: There was a man who lived across the road from us in a little teardrop-shaped trailer. He was older and had very few teeth. My dad was the only one who could understand him. My mother would wrap up food for my dad to take to him. But listening to my dad talk with him, you would have thought this fellow was the King of England. He was important.
And I’ve never forgotten that—that everyone is important to God and has value and worth. We tend to look at the outside but God looks at the inside. I think that’s part of Waite’s strength. He can see what others don’t.
That’s amazing. So few people look deeply enough to see the value in each human being. Here are a few questions from the book group discussion questions. I’m curious how you’d respond.
a) What would you do with a million dollars?
Chris: I’m a big saver and not a spender, so I’d probably invest it and see if I could make it multiply.
b) When have you received a second chance or given someone a 2nd chance?
Chris: At the radio station I stayed out too late one night and woke up way past sign-on. I hurried to the station and signed on probably two hours late. It was awful. My manager called me in and sat me down. He said, “Is that going to happen again?” “No, sir.” “All right. Make sure it doesn’t.” And it never did. And he didn’t chew me out or hold it over me. I’ve never forgotten that.
c) Can you characterize each decade or season of your life with a song? What is one of the songs on the playlist of your own life, and why?
Chris: I was a big Jackson Browne fan when I was younger—his Running on Empty album came out in high school. Then, I married in 1982 and his song “Somebody’s Baby” came out. When we had kids, I put my own children in a home-made video to that song. There are certain songs I’ll hear now, like Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and I’m right back there cueing up records on the turntable. It’s funny how songs touch that inner nerve.
Chris–More on Books, Writing, & Radio experience
You’ve quoted your first radio station manager as saying, “When radio gets in your blood, Fabry, it’ll be with you the rest of your life.” I’m guessing that novel writing is in your blood, too. What is your first love, career-wise–radio or novel writing? Why?
Chris: I’ve tried to figure out if I’m a radio guy who writes or a writer who does radio and I’m not sure. If you told me today I could write full-time, I would probably jump at the opportunity. But I had a wise friend say years ago that the radio program will keep me tethered to reality. Sometimes writers seclude themselves and they run out of things to write about. On the radio, I talk with people every day and it feeds the idea machine. I did start out in radio as a teenager, but I was writing stories and singing songs since I was very young.
You’ve had the opportunity to interview authors on the radio. Which one stands out and why?
Chris: In the 1980s, when I was really feeling the desire to write for publication, I was friends with Jerry Jenkins who worked at Moody Bible Institute. I would have him on my program frequently and he would graciously answer questions and give advice. At the same time, Janette Oke and Frank Peretti and Brock and Bodie Thoene would stop by the studio and in the breaks I would ask, “So, how do you plot your novels? How do you write a query letter?” All of those fiction writers were so kind to me and gave me so much advice.
Your 80th book was published in 2018, and your first one in 1995. This includes novels, non-fiction, kids’ books, and collaborations (55 books with Jerry Jenkins). How did you manage 80 books in 23 years?
Chris: My first book was Spiritually Correct Bedtime Stories. I wrote several non-fiction and fiction humor books and then in 1998 I started writing the Left Behind: The Kids series. I chalk it up to loving what I do and being willing to keep at it and learn along the way. I think you will find time to do what you love and what feeds your soul.
How do you describe your novel writing process? Are you a pantser or an outliner? How often do you revise? What’s the average time it takes to write one novel? How many hours a day do you write?
Chris: It usually takes me about 6 months from the time I begin the actual writing until I come to The End. However, the ramp up to the start could be years in the making. I do plot my novels as much as I can ahead of time and when I come to the page I allow the process to take me in whatever direction feels right. Sometimes that means I have to rewrite heavily after the editors take a look at it.
For A Piece of the Moon, I had finished the novel and turned it in sometime in November. In December the editors said they liked it but suggested changes. And the changes were pretty drastic—they really changed the direction of the novel and I wrestled with that until January and decided I would trust them and I started over and rewrote the novel. I’m really happy with how the second version came out—it feels like a better, more rounded story and a little more complex than I first achieved. Always listen to your editors.
It sounds difficult to trust your editors at the cost of losing your original vision of the story, but it obviously paid off. That’s a good lesson for all writers. Do you have a favorite novel or two of the ones you’ve written? Which one and why?
Chris: I keep coming back to June Bug because it’s probably the one that hits readers the hardest. There’s so much pathos to that story and emotion that gets filtered through the eyes of a young girl, Natalie.
What are a couple of your favorite novels by other authors, particularly ones that have influenced you as a writer? Are there any you’ve read that you wish you’d written yourself?
Chris: I think that’s why I write, I want to do what Harper Lee did for me when I was in Junior High and I read To Kill A Mockingbird. It wasn’t that I read that story, it was that I was part of it. I was watching Jem and Scout and Dill and Boo and Tom Robinson and Atticus. I was there in that little town. It transported me. I want to do that for other readers with the ideas that are inside.
I’ve had those same thoughts about that book, as a reader and a writer. You’ve written to various audiences and in various genres and time periods. Do you have a preference?
Chris: Writing for children is so rewarding because if you capture a child’s heart, they’ll always be grateful. But writing for children is difficult. You have to constrict your vocabulary and capture their attention with action and movement and my writing, at times, is more ruminating over philosophical thoughts.
I suppose I enjoy writing for adults most because I am basically writing the story for me. I get a kick out of writing humorous dialog and trying to make the readers chuckle as they read. My goal is to have the wife laugh out loud and wake her husband, or vice versa.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you enjoy A Piece of the Moon, you might enjoy my recently re-launched novel All That Is Hidden, also with a southern Appalachian setting thirteen years earlier (1968). Though set in western North Carolina rather than West Virginia, my story shows the connections in a tight-knit community of a small rural town. The moon plays a role, too. It functions as a symbol in a different way. Learn more on my website here. Watch the book trailer here.
Chris Fabry is an award-winning author and radio personality who hosts the daily program Chris Fabry Live on Moody Radio. He is also heard on Love Worth Finding, Building Relationships with Dr. Gary Chapman, and other radio programs. A 1982 graduate of the W. Page Pitt School of Journalism at Marshall University and a native of West Virginia, Chris and his wife, Andrea, now live in Arizona and are the parents of nine children. Chris’s novels have won five Christy Awards, an ECPA Christian Book Award, and two Christianity Today Book Awards of Merit. His 80+ books range from nonfiction and film novelizations to novels for children and young adults. Go to his website to learn more.
Check out Chris’s website for aspiring writers.
Join me next time as we explore another novel by Chris Fabry and learn more about how he encourages and inspires writers.
Meanwhile, feel free to comment below. Have you read A Piece of the Moon? What songs are on the playlist of your life? Which song–country or otherwise–has touched you or characterizes a particular life season?