Story Notes Double Shot -- The Lizard Woman of Okamassee County and The Lizard Man of Okamassee County

Though he may not be as famous as his cryptid cousins the Sasquatch and the Jersey Devil, the Lizard Man of Lee County is South Carolina's very own homegrown mythical beast. He's been spotted off and on since the late 80s, and a few years ago, I thought it was high time for him to get an origin story. I imagined the Lizard Man as a very human man afflicted with a generational curse, and the result was a story called, fittingly enough, "The Lizard Man of Lee County," which found a home in The Molotov Cocktail. After it was published, I kept writing about the Lizard Man. I changed his address to fictional Okamassee, South Carolina, and I started plotting a novel about him. That novel never came to be, but it did result in another story, "The Lizard Woman of Okamassee County," which found a home in Cowboy Jamboree magazine. Both of these stories (the former with a new title locating him in Okamassee County) will appear in the upcoming collection I Have Always Been Here Before.

That first story, named after the Lizard Man, serves as a prologue for the second. "The Lizard Woman of Okamassee County" finds Mort Accardo, the host of Modern Day Monsters, a reality show similar to Finding Bigfoot, which I've always thought would be more accurately titled Not Finding Bigfoot, combing the swamps for evidence of the legendary creature. Like the jaded, world-and-work-weary Mort, I've always been fascinated by cryptids even as I scoff at most of what's passed off as evidence for their existence. Most of the sightings of the Lizard Man have been confirmed as hoaxes, but, as a writer, I found that possibility perhaps even more intriguing—what kind of person would go to the trouble of cooking up such a hoax? And what if both possibilities were true? Just because there's some Scooby Doo bullshit going on doesn't necessarily mean that the real thing isn't out there in the swamp. When it occurred to me how inherently sexist and biologically unsound it is that we've always more or less assumed by default that all cryptid creatures are male, the story began to fall into place.

"The Lizard Woman of Okamassee County" is one of my favorite stories in this collection for several reasons. First, it was published in Cowboy Jamboree, a place I think my writing feels at home, and, since CJ will be publishing the collection, this story made the whole thing possible. The characters in this story are also among my favorite characters I've ever written. In addition to Mort, who's burned out and secretly wants to believe that there might really be something extraordinary out there, the story is told from two other points-of-view. Erika Robinson is a hotshot tv producer who has to deal with the decidedly problematic Mort, the host of the show she's crafted into a hit. She's tough and ambitious and thinks she's sniffed out some not-so-subtle racist underpinnings for this particular local legend. The other one, Lee "Leebo" Bowen, is a troubled but industrious young man who firmly believes that the creature he saw in the creek behind his house is a Lizard Woman, not a Lizard Man. As devout as his belief in the Lizard Woman may be, he's not above exploiting her for profit, and his efforts to help Mort find her set the story in motion.

This story is also special to me because it's set in and around the black-water creeks and swamps that I grew up in. I'm not from Lee County, but southern Lexington County, where I grew up half a mile from the moccasin-infested North Edisto River, is pretty close, and I'd always wanted to write a story that functioned as love letter to that old black water that was such a huge part of my young life. With these stories, I was finally able to do that. 

Thanks for reading, and be sure to stay tuned for notes on other stories as we await the release of I Have Always Been Here Before in early 2020. 


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