Outside of East Texas, Woodville and Tyler County are not well known. But through literature, a former resident is putting the tiny town of Fred on the national map.
On the way to a book-signing tour to promote his new novel, Welcome to Fred, Brad Whittington recently stopped by the town where he grew up. He talked about how he came to write the book as he stood outside Fred Grocery, near Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, where his father once served as pastor.
Whittington admits a novel set in Fred is not what one might expect would be a big seller.
"If I was looking to try to hit a market, Fred does not immediately leap to mind as something that's going to sell a lot of copies," he says. "I write all the time, so it was just a matter of time before I wrote something about this area, having grown up here."
Then again, he wasn't intending to write a novel about Fred when he penned a series of short stories about his adolescence that eventually became the foundation for the novel.
"I called them the boring stories," he says. "I just passed them around to my family, and I didn't have any ambition for them at all."
But his sister's friend Robin Hardy, who writes Christian romance novels, liked his stories and suggested he turn them into a publishable book.
Whittington did that, but the manuscript fell into the proverbial black hole in 1991, and he lost hope it would ever be published.
Ten years later, after Whittington and his wife had moved to Hawaii, he received a call from Hardy saying the publishing company had a new editor who liked his stories. However, the editor wanted them turned into a novel, and the lighthearted Welcome to Fred was the result.
Whittington, who was born in Fort Worth, moved to Fred in 1968 when his father, Richard, became the pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church.
The events and people Whittington writes about aren't real, but some are loosely based on real people and events, he said. The book's main character, Mark Cloud, is the son of a pastor who struggles with his teenage years and faith.
Among the characters in the book are Darnell Ray, terror of the back roads, and Jolene, and incredibly beautiful teenage girl who is also an insatiable practical joker.
"The overall theme of the book is redemption," Whittington says. "When it looks as if there is no hope, there is always a way back. That plays out in multiple stories within the book, and they all come together in the end."
When asked if he could recall any humorous anecdotes that are not in the book, Whittington talked about the time he won a $5 bet with his high school buddy Donald Johnson.
"He refused to pay up, and I was outraged that he wouldn't pay," Whittington says. "He drove this old beat up pickup truck, and I told him I was going to keep letting the air out of his tires until he paid me."
Whittington said he did just that, but it wasn't until he was caught three nights later that he discovered he was letting the air out of the truck driven by Donald's father by mistake.