First Chapter Book Award for Historical Fiction: Stanley Hastings


Journal D’Un Homme au Milieu de sa Vie by Stanley Hastings is a Finalist in the Historical Fiction category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

Award-Winning First Chapter

“My name is Kevin S., and I’m a compulsive gambler.”

            What began as occasional recreation for forty year old Kevin Savacier, of New Orleans, Louisiana, slowly but surely became an obsession triggered by, at the least expected time, a sudden win of five thousand dollars while playing a slot machine in a dark corner of one of the darkest, dampest, tiniest dockside casinos in the neighboring state of Mississippi.

The Biloxi Belle was what the placed labeled itself as, or, what the powers that be decided to name it, picking up on the trend of the early 1990s, after the Mississippi State Legislature legalized dockside gambling for the counties that were bordered by water.

Puritanical people those Mississippi politicians were, and largely influenced by Baptist lobbies in the political arena, the issue just kept getting tossed around. The economy was poor, and the two regions of the state that seemed to be failing the most weren’t getting any better financially.

The story goes that some restaurant owner, who was a “good ole boy” buddy of a prominent state legislator from Biloxi, got together and proposed that there be legalized gambling “on the water.” That way, it wouldn’t be inland enough to offend the teetotalers and others opposed to those sort of vices, but close enough for people to enjoy, every once and awhile.

Locals on both the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties, from the west to the east, and, in the Mississippi River region beginning south at Natchez, continuing north up Highway 61, also known as the “the great river road,” to Vicksburg, thence further north, to Greenville, anticipated having as much fun as “when the hogs ate up Grandpa,” as old times used to say, on what they thought would be “a few little boats” here and there. Oh, it would be charming.

To be sure, there were a lot of hamlets in between the aforementioned cities, but not all on or bordered by water. Some were inland, most had some form of water nearby (even if it was the tiniest pond, which, later, in the minds of some idealists, could have been expanded for commercial development as had been done in the past for the cleaner recreational opportunities such as fishing, skiing, swimming, and the like. The region seemed to be populated by people of one extreme to another; liberals who liked to have a good time and didn’t have many reservations about the old time Baptist interpretations of scripture which implied that people who drank, danced, smoked, or fornicated out of wedlock were paving their own road to “EVERLASTING DAMNATION,” as the fire and brimstone preachers pounded their hot pulpits on Sunday mornings whilst, unbeknownst to those very clergymen, some of the people sitting on the front pews, also known as “amen pews,” had, just the night before, been inside those dens of iniquity, which one particularly pious preacher bluntly, in more than one sermon, preached against, by shouting, “REPENT! REPENT! IF YOU JOIN THE COUNTRY CLUB WHERE ALCOHOL IS SERVED, IF YOU GO INSIDE THE HONKY TONKS THAT THE DEVIL HAS DOTTED THROUGHOUT THIS TOWN AND COUNTY, IF YOU GO TO THESE PLACES, ENTER YE INTO THE GATES OF HELL.”

Despite the efforts of integrationists who were, in the 1960s, beginning to dig inroads into social justice and what they thought the Holy Bible really meant by everyone being equal, the churches remained segregated, and this fact is pointed out here to illustrate how some among the Black congregations would respond to such a sermon (which was not as blunt as those communities as it was in the white communities, a sociological study, the surface of which will be scratched later in this tale.) Throughout the congregations, and from random members seated here and there, the sounds of “AMEN” or “PRAISE THE LORD!” might seem to have interrupted the sermon, but, to the preacher, were welcome interspersions to add flavor and emphasis to what he was saying.

In the white congregations, such a message was preached so fervently only in the Baptist churches in the region of Southwest Mississippi where Kevin had grown up. Cole, Mississippi, the village southwest of Highway 61, “down around,” as locals in nearby Port Gibson said, “the Claiborne and Jefferson County line.” Upon meticulous survey, the unincorporated village was actually on the Jefferson side, and Kevin’s parents had their son baptized and confirmed in one of the rural Roman Catholic churches, of which there were several. Major feast days, they alternated between the Basilica of St. Mary, southward in Natchez, or St. Joseph Church, northwest in Port Gibson.

Suffice it to say, between the mostly Irish background of the priests, and their emphasis on the more liberal ideas of social justice and love, among the many other virtues the Holy Bible teaches that ultraconservatives had twisted and turned over the years, so much so, that they (the priests) spoke out against the violence that did indeed ensue when people of all races got in gear, and, beginning in the late 1960s, started to get Blacks and Indians registered to vote, and all the schools integrated, and the, by now, much chronicled and differently interpreted violence broke out to get these things done, did happen.

But this story is not about those already studied and well chronicled (that is, after the modern day historians and journalists and professors and others revised and cleaned up the prejudicial accounts of former racists reporters and their ilk) era during which erroneous of the past were developed and perpetuate. This story is about the recovery of one Kevin Savacier from one of the most insidious addictions there is, compulsive gambling, and some of things Kevin did during those early years of recovery.

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