The Making of Tell It Like Tupper

It all started with a single idea.

One day in early 2004, this thought popped into J. Mark Powell’s head: “What would happen if an everyday person became friends with the President of the United States?”

The idea intrigued him, so he kept thinking. It’s impossible for someone to simply sit down and chat with the president in the White House, he realized. So the best chance for a meeting would be before that, when a candidate is running for president.

Fall political campaigns are tightly scheduled with little opportunity for one-on-one interaction. So the best situation for meeting a candidate would be during the early primary season, and that means Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina.

For some reason, a snowstorm kept popping up in Powell’s mind; it gradually tugged him toward setting the story in Iowa in early January. But where in Iowa? That one stumped him. He studied maps. But maps aren’t enough: a writer has to actually visit a story’s setting to experience the feel of the place.

Powell’s opportunity came in November, 2005, when he visited Trenton, Missouri (his boyhood home and the scene of Glenn Tupper’s visit to his sister-in-law’s house in Chapter Eleven). He had one day available for scouting story venues before returning to his sister’s home in suburban Kansas City that evening. That limited him to southwest Iowa. And so, armed with a full tank of gas and an old Rand-McNally Road Atlas, he took off.

depot_crestonWhat exactly was he looking for? The best way to describe it is Potter Stewart’s famous definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Powell knew he would recognize Glenn Tupper’s hometown when he saw it. And sure enough, when his Pontiac Grand Am rolled into Creston around one-thirty that afternoon, he instantly knew he had found the right place.

There was much more to the making of this story. Hopefully, J. Mark Powell will get the chance to share it with you over a cup of coffee one day.