WU Professor writes novel

Sam Sayler / Washburn Review

Having already published books and shorts stories as far back as 1971 in Kansas University’s literary magazine “The Cottonwood,” Professor Tom Averill, Washburn writer-in -residence, recently saw the release of his new novel “Rode.”

“It’s a little bit of a coming of age,” said Averill. “It’s a little bit of a love story all the way through and it’s an adventure story.”

The basis for the novel comes from the song “Tennessee Stud,” originally performed by Jimmy Driftwood in the late 1950’s before being covered by the likes of Johnny Cash and the Grammy Award-winning version by Eddie Arnold. Averill first heard the song at the 1973 Walnut Music Festival in Winfield, and the song stuck with him.

“I sang it as a lullaby, because it was long and rhythmic and there was only one murder, to my children,” said Averill. “I knew the song so well, and I’d always liked the song and it had a great plot to it I just thought it would make a nice novel.”

Since most people are able to hear the various versions of “Tennessee Stud” on the Internet and through several other outlets, Averill had to find a way to still make his “anti-Western” significant and enjoyable to readers.

“It’s like something that’s not about what happens,” said Averill. “It’s about how it happens, which is always more interesting than what [happens].”

For research, Averill traveled the route of the song from Tennessee to Mexico, even stopping by Conway, Ark., to look over Jimmy Driftwood’s papers. “Rode” also allowed Averill to combine writing with his interest in history by reading about the American West and its history.

With a career spanning as long as Averill’s, he has noticed how his writing has changed over the decades.

“I leave more out,” said Averill. “I enjoy a good plot more than I did when I started writing. I have more of a sense of humor than I did when I first started writing, and I’m probably better at just physical detail and letting it carry a story or a sentence or a scene than I used to be.”

Though Averill had no intention of becoming a teacher, he sees no difference between his teaching and writing jobs.

“I think if you think of yourself as a teacher who writes, then the writing seems like just a hobby or something you do on the side,” said Averill. “If you think of yourself as a writer who’s teaching, then you tend to get into that attitude that you’re a slave to your day job and you’re this writer who’s trapped in this teaching world.”

Averill enjoys writing and teaching because he thinks they reflect off each other, even when he is participating in his classes’ writing exercises.

“Sometimes I’ll solve problems I’m having in my writing when I’m talking to students in class about dialogue or plot or something, and I do writing in class,” said Averill.