A Sitka author who penned a fishy parody of “The Night Before Christmas” nine years ago has discovered that even quick work can have long literary legs.
Will Swagel partnered with artist Colin Hereforth to publish an illustrated children’s version of “The Bight Before Christmas” in 2009. The book, and the story of how it was created, occupy the center spread of this month’s Pacific Fishing magazine.
‘Twas the night before Christmas, throughout Sitka Sound.
Not a creature stirred anywhere on the fish grounds.
The hoochies were hung in the wheelhouse with care…
Catchy, isn’t it? That’s Swagel reading from his modern adaptation of the 1823 classic by Clement Clarke Moore.
Swagel appeared last December on the Alaska Public Radio Network’s Talk of Alaska with a panel of authors and publishing industry experts.
That might have been as far as anyone could expect a fishing poem to go, but Swagel, just back from a tour, says “The Bight Before Christmas” has legs.
“The fishing culture is so strong, everybody got it immediately. That’s probably the most satisfying thing for me to see: People in Gloucester, Massachusettes, people in Port Orford, Oregon, people in Westport, Washington – they just look at it and go This is about us.”
Swagel is a former newspaper reporter who now runs a weekly advertising circular, The Sitka Soup.
The Soup has orginal editorial content – sometimes a crossword puzzle, even – and a commentary called “Our Town.” All are written by Swagel.
“The Bight Before Christmas” came to Swagel as he was staring down the barrel of a deadline, and his efforts tided over the Soup for several Decembers.
“But it was at least five years before the book came out that we had been running it every year in the Soup, and I didn’t have to write an Our Town for Christmas, because I had this great poem that people were telling me to run again! And then people started saying Do a book, do a book, do a book.”
Swagel partnered with a local water color artist, Colin Hereforth, who worked a solid year on the 18 illustrations in the book. “Bight” is spelled b-i-g-h-t, and refers to the small, sheltered anchorages favored by Southeast trollers. Hereforth’s paintings evoke not just the spirit of the holiday, but the spirit of traditional hook-and-line fishing. The first printing arrived in Sitka on the day before Thanksgiving in 2009.
Swagel says he must have caught the editors of Pacific Fishing Magazine this year at the right time for their deadline. He says it was only a couple of weeks after his interview with Pacific Fishing’s Don McManman that “The Bight” was featured in the magazine’s October centerfold.
Now, like any author or artist who lands a hit, Swagel is thinking about what’s next. But he won’t have any regrets if “The Bight” is his only keeper.
“You know, if this is what I was known for, I guess I would be pretty happy. It’s sweet and authentic… and that’s what I’d like to be.”
Athwart to the starboard, I jumped with some dread
Threw open the porthole, and stuck out my head.
And what should the dark waves I visage now feature?
But a mythical skiff, drawn by eight ocean creatures.
Read the rest of Swagel’s poem, and see the illustrations here.