Out on a limb

Sam Edwards is many things: eternal child, up-and-coming pop-culture icon, architectural innovator, writer.

That last item, though, is what he wants to be known for. Edwards is the author of From Outhouse to White House to Treehouse (Parris Press, 1999), a memoir that includes his misadventures working for Jimmy Carter’s re-election and John Glenn’s presidential campaign (the book has been described as “part Hunter S. Thompson, part Huck Finn”).

Trouble is, while Edwards wants to focus on his writing, everyone else keeps talking about his house. And maybe for good reason.

“I live in a tree, for God’s sake!” Edwards exclaims. That’s right: The writer’s elevated abode is two-story architectural marvel with part of an airplane for a bedroom, a submarine prop from an Elvis movie for a bathroom, and a boat for a porch. It’s no wonder that Edwards is being courted by a Canadian TV show that highlights unusual houses.

“It keeps getting weirder,” he deadpans.The house wasn’t planned; in fact, Edwards claims never to have planned a single thing in his life. But having grown up with tree houses, building one just seemed the logical choice for creating a quiet writing space in downtown Calhoun, Ga. The author was running a restaurant with a friend when he spotted the perfect tree, at the edge of the building’s parking lot. At first, the structure was a simple one-room space. But over the course of nearly 10 years, the tree house evolved into a folk-art masterpiece. The author himself calls his place a cross between Herman Munster and Howard Finster.

“It’s my shrine to eccentricity,” he opines.

Not surprisingly, Edwards’ whole life has been extraordinary. Calhoun Times writer Jeff Bishop notes: “In his lifetime, Edwards has been many things to many people. He has produced country-and-western shows. He has optioned scripts to Hollywood producers. He has been an overnight disc jockey, a carpenter, a law school student … and he’s preparing to run his first marathon.”

The marathon run was a sort of tribute to an Army buddy who once saved Edwards’ life. Not having spoken with him for 15 years, Edwards was surprised by the call from his friend, who asked Edwards to run a marathon with him on his 50th birthday. (Edwards joked that if he died while running the marathon, he’d be even with his friend.)

Luckily, no one died. However, the Army friend arrived at the marathon with an injured leg. So he sat in a bar having pizza and beer while Edwards ran.

“I finished upright and conscious,” the writer says with a laugh. “It was everything I wanted.”

How did all these experiences lead Edwards to write? “I just fell into it,” he claims. “The more you know, the better you are when you sit down to write.” His knowledge is vast and varied, but his approach remains lighthearted. That is to say, Edwards is a committed writer who likes a good laugh and loves a good story. He feels a writer needs to take the craft seriously — but not everything that goes with it.

“If your brow is furrowed, you can’t think,” he says. These words of wisdom are some of what he plans to impart in an upcoming Asheville workshop. Edwards will cover aspects of writing novels, screenplays and memoirs. Specifically, he says his workshop is about what not to do — based on his own experience, naturally. (He might tell people to approach the business of craft much more seriously than he does if they want to make a living at it.)

Karen Ackerson, director of the Writers’ Workshop, calls Edwards “a riot!” She goes on to explain, “He’s not only a writer but also a creator of ‘outsider art’ … a rebel from a dirt-poor Georgia farming family [and a] high school dropout [who nevertheless] came to be presidential aid to Jimmy Carter for three years.”

Is Edwards the bad boy who made good? If not, he’s certainly the bad boy who has fun: This man, whose expenses run about $100 a month, is leading an existence far beyond the ability and comfort zone of many so-called artists. The tree house, recalling Thoreau’s humble shack, is highly symbolic of the writer’s life (never mind that it’s in the middle of town and has the back end of a plane jammed into its side).

A quiet place to work, no rent, a dog named “Pig” and the possibility of having his house featured in a children’s video. Isn’t this the stuff that dreams are made of? Weird as it all sounds, Edwards may have concocted the elusive formula for a successful writing career.

Of his own taste in writers, Edwards admits to favoring “dead white guys.” It should be noted, though, that this unpretentious writer looks to other authors not for inspiration but for entertainment.

“Writers care about words, readers care about a story,” he declares.

The Writers’ Workshop sponsors “The Writer’s Life: Up, Down & Sideways” with Sam Edwards on Saturday, July 15 at the Haywood Park Hotel. The event runs 9 a.m.-noon and costs $15 (including coffee and doughnuts). Edwards will sign books at Books-A-Million, 3-5 p.m. that same day.

Starting at 1:30 p.m. at the hotel, high-profile writer and editor Renni Browne will offer a workshop called “Getting Edited, Getting Published.” The cost is $40.

For more info on these programs, call the Writers’ Workshop at 254-8111.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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