The 59-year-old Rome native is well known for his former family restaurant, Marlin’s, that was on Broad Street and then Third Avenue. Now, Teat can often be spotted around downtown Rome sporting a driver’s hat, puffing on a tobacco pipe and busily scribbling down stories.
With his imagination running rampant, he writes tales of uniformed men bearing muskets over tired shoulders, marching across blood-drenched fields. He writes of the every day country boy turned soldier — the one who ached to “see the elephant.” And though for a long time Teat was only writing for fun, the author’s work has paid off.
In October, Chamberton Publishing, based out of California, will publish three works by Teat.
“I sent them two stories and an essay and they’re going to publish all three of them in October,” Teat said.
“They liked all three of them so much, they’re going to publish the two short stories as stand-alones in an e-book, and a little bit later they’re going to come out with a hard copy of it. They’re using the essay that I wrote as an introduction to the series,” Teat said.
The series, he said, is called “The Tribute Series,” and it serves as a tribute to people in uniform throughout America’s history.
Teat said his creative wheels have been turning for years.
“I’ve been writing most of my life, but just for myself,” said Teat, adding that during the past 30 years while he raised his children and devoted time to his business, many half-finished stories piled up.
“Finally, my editor came up and said ‘Make these all into short stories,’” Teat said. “‘Every one of these that you’ve started, put an ending on it.’ Now I’ve got a request from (Chamberton) to do 10 more so I can put out my own anthology.”
It runs in the family
Teat said he really just thinks of himself as a storyteller, a talent passed on to him by his mother.
“When I was a little kid, we’d go down and see my aunts and uncles near Acworth every Sunday after church,” he said. “When I was just a little bitty kid, 411 wasn’t there. There were only two ways to get there. We took Chulio Road and went through Kingston, and to a 5-, 6-, 7-year-old kid, that was the longest trip. To keep me quiet on those nights riding back, my mom would tell me stories that had been passed down through the family about the Civil War. And that’s what really got me interested in it.”
In Teat’s introductory essay “Writing the Confederate Soldier,” he explained that historical fiction writers such as himself have the ability to take the past and infuse it with imagination.
“… the American Civil War storyteller is bound by one hard limitation from which many fiction writers are free… ,” he wrote. “Historical fiction must be probable even though history can be, and very often is, well into the improbable.”
Though Teat addressed that historical fiction writers must write fictional — yet historically accurate and believable — prose, for him, it’s not much of a feat. Teat has a background in his area of writing, having immersed himself into the culture of Confederate soldiers as an authentic reenactor.
“We call it experimental archaeology,” Teat said, “where we get out there and we do what (Confederate soldiers) did for about a week at a time. The uniforms are absolutely perfect, all hand-sewn. The weapons have to be reworked to make them more authentic. Usually you’re out there (speaking) in first-person. You don’t see anything modern, you don’t see spectators and you go out there and you try and live it.”
But Teat’s ability to evoke a soldier’s thoughts, he said, also comes from years of listening. A group of WWII veterans used to hang out at his restaurant, he recalled, and though they fought in a different era, Teat said the emotion associated with warfare wasn’t something that ever changed.
“One (veteran) flew in China during the war,” he said. “We had another guy who was a half-track gunner in Europe and another guy who was a fighter pilot in the Pacific. People like that. After the big groups would leave, these guys would grab a table together and you could see them over there, these stately old gray-haired men, they would be leaning over the table, talking. You’d catch little snatches of what they were saying and they were talking about their war experiences.”
Teat said he would hover near the veterans and eventually was invited to come sit with them.
“It took years before they let me in, because they didn’t talk about (their experiences) to outsiders,” he said. “It was some pretty intense stuff. I was just like a wide-eyed kid sitting there listening to them. You get so much from doing that; you get the emotions from it. The half-track guy, he would talk about how they’d never get attached to their officers because they weren’t going to be around for more than a month or two anyway, then they’d be dead. He went through seven or eight officers and never even knew their names. That translates into war of any time.”
Seeing the elephant
In “Writing the Confederate Soldier,” Teat explained the mentality of soldiers.
“The economics didn’t matter to them because, to them, the economics was extended to the end of their field. Slavery didn’t matter to most of them, not the common soldier, because a good many of them had never even seen a slave. They had a different outlook on life.”
He said he wrote about the every-day man, as opposed to the glorified idols of the time.
“My hero is the common man, the one that was out there carrying the musket or carrying the flag, just doing what he was told,” he said. “A lot of them did it simply because there was nothing better to do.”
Teat said most men of that time had never been 20 miles away from home and the largest crowd they had ever been in was a church congregation. A common expression used in those days for going to war was going to “see the elephant” or to “see the monkey show.” This was because, back then, the most foreign and exciting thing that happened was when the circus came to town.
“When the war started, the common term for seeing combat for the first time, you were seeing the elephant,” he said.
A common theme Teat explores in his writing is how war can change a person. This is evident in his short story “The Sun of Gibeon,” where a local preacher enlists in the war, but finds he has quite a knack for combat. Teat also mentioned this idea for his upcoming novel, “Dirt Town,” where the main character joined the ranks because everyone else did, but finds himself swept up in the vengeance of war and tips over the edge, into the dark side.
“I write the real story, and then, I write a fictional story around it,” Teat said. “It’s not about the battles themselves, really, but more about the people swept up in those events.”
Teat said he was floored by the fact he’s being published.
“I’m kind of amazed by it,” he said. “All these years, I’ve written a lot of nonfiction, a lot of articles for various publications. I’ve been an advisor for a lot of Civil War movies. But I’ve built up a pretty good reputation for that kind of thing. I was kind of amazed on these. I haven’t had anything rejected yet.”
But Teat said at the end of the day, he’s just happy to be telling his stories.
“I just want to tell a good story, I enjoy that,” he said. “I know that sounds cliché, but I’m comfortable in my life. I feel like my mom was a great storyteller, my grandfather was, and I just want to entertain people with a good story.”