Tag Archives: Loretto Tennessee

In the Spirit of Thankfulness part 1

All these posts going every day on Facebook got me a bit in the thankful mood…but there was no way I was going to keep up with that. So, I offer, here in its entirety, my 30 days of thankfulness! So, I’m thankful for…

30 life! I don’t know that I’ve ever taken it for granted, but the recent scare made me consider it all the more.

29 my wife! (and just for all you snarky folks looking at the numbers—it isn’t a countdown or a count UP, it’s supposed to represent the 30 days of November!) She’s better to me than I deserve! I love you, BJ!

28 my job. In this messed up economy which only looks to get worse, I’m glad to be doing something I enjoy: teaching creative writing to (mostly) pretty motivated students.

27 my daughter. Even though I’ve tried to convince her to stay OUT of the arts because it’s the pathway to a lot of potential heartbreak, she’s multi-talented and incredibly smart, too…if she’ll just apply herself I have no doubt she’ll be incredibly successful(on both counts!).

26 having a roof over my head. Even though I’d really like to sell my house in Oxford so that I can get my family all back under one roof all the time, I know we’re fortunate to have a home with electricity and running water.

25 my son. Also incredibly talented (can you say FIRST CHAIR bay-bee!) and smart, I appreciate the fact that he’s just as happy geeking out with me playing war games as he is doing anything else.

24 my doctor. When we first moved to Oxford, Dr. Will Dabbs was just the kooky doctor we took the kids to see. Over time, however, he’s become my doctor and my friend…and I DO trust him with my life!

23 facebook. Yeah, yeah, I know. I can hear all the groans now. But I’m of the age that I can remember life before social media and there are a lot of names on my facebook “friend list” that I didn’t speak with that much and that now I get to at least keep up with them now and again. For writer-types who dwell in caves, it’s nice. And even though I hid EVERYONE during the last election season—that’s over and I can now enjoy posts again.

22 technology. I’m a technogeek, I admit it. I love technology. And even though I’ve fought (and still do) the idea of me carrying around a cellphone, I LIKE what they are capable of…I just don’t want to have to carry it around.

21 my parents. I’m blessed to have the best set of parents in the world. How they managed to allow me to continue to live in their house when I was a smart-aleck teenager, I’ll never know. I’m thankful for the way they raised me and for the values they taught me.

20 my church. When you move around as much as BJ and I have, it’s difficult to get “settled” with a church family. We’ve been fortunate, though, in that every place to which our names have been on the roles, they’ve welcomed us with open arms: FBC Muscle Shoals, FBC Loretto, FBC Piggott, Yellow Leaf BC, and FBC Oxford.

19 my books. Yeah, I know this sounds like a very materialistic thing…and maybe it is, but I’m still thankful for them (and for BJ allowing me to surround myself with them). Maybe it’s a writer thing, but I do love to—when I’m in “thinking” mode—to just sit back and take in the surroundings of my books, looking at the titles and recalling the emotions of the read or the particulars of it.

18 BCW. Or Byhalia Christian Writers Group. I was shocked by the lack of anything remotely faith-based in Oxford (aside from the Churches, of course) and really expected to find multiple writers group in Oxford…I mean, it’s OXFORD, the home of Billy Faulkner. Byhalia, Mississippi was the closest group I could find…and they treated me like a long lost brother. I don’t get to go as often as I’d like (for various reasons—one of which it’s an hour drive one way), but I know they remember me in their prayers—and how can one NOT be thankful for that?

17 my bed. Traveling makes you realize just how much you appreciate “your” stuff. And while BJ made me buy a mattress for the apartment in Florida, it’s still not “my bed.” And being a reenactor, I sleep on the ground every now and again. Yes, I’m very thankful for my bed.

16 Spalding. Yeah, one of my alma maters makes this list. It’s not that I am NOT thankful for the others—I am—but Spalding has that special place in my heart, mostly because, I think, the admin and faculty there have embraced the idea of nurturing the writer. It’s the first “hall of higher learning” that did NOT scoff at the body of comic work I have.

15 Spalding peeps. So, yeah, I can’t mention Spalding without mentioning my classmates/colleagues who helped make the program what it is…and ALSO embraced my comic geekiness, some of them even sharing that. There are lots of names I could mention, but the Devil Dawgs (don’t ask—long story) are deserving of special call-out for my thankfulness: Marjetta Geerling, Kat Shehata, Karin Goodwin, Rebekah J Harris, Mary Knight (one of my favorite Yankees!).

(so this is longer than what I thought it would be…to be continued)

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Controlling Your Writer’s Cave

During my recent trip to Chicago to lead writing workshops at Karitos, I had the opportunity to talk to the mom of a young writer. Seems young writer had enjoyed one of my workshops (yea, me!) and had said as much to mom…and mom was simply offering a very kind thank you. She bumped in to me in the parking lot of the hotel where I’d just returned from having dinner with my long-lost (well, sorta. I’m pretty sure he always knew where he was) pal John Metych, whose last name I now pronounce correctly! For those one or two of you who don’t know, John is the writer of the very cool comic series Sniper and Rook. You should check it out!

But anyway, it was fun to talk to the mom with her writer-daughter there because I was able to tell them both things that I think (hope?) will aid their relationship as the young writer grows.

One of the things we talked about was writing environment and getting into the groove while writing…and breaking that groove. A writer’s cave…or back porch or wherever you write…should be set up in such a way as to get UNINTERUPTED creative time. I strongly stress uninterrupted because sometimes when a writer gets in a groove, when the fingers are flying on the keyboard almost faster than the writer can think (not a difficult task for me!), it’s very hard to get that groove back.

I told her the story of me working on my first novel and trying to get BJ to understand that. You see, that’s one of the things I tried to explain to writer-daughter’s mom and writer-daughter herself: people who aren’t writers will NEVER “get” writers. Try though they may and good-hearted though they may be, it just won’t happen.

So when we lived in Loretto, TN, I was teaching at UNA and BJ had quit her job to stay home with the kids. Her being home was a new adjustment for us and she worked hard at it. After a few polite interruptions, I had to tell her no interruptions, period. Wouldn’t you know it, not long after (not in the same day, silly!), I’m on a writing tear and she pops her head in and says “I’m not interrupting; I just wanted to know if you needed anything.”

Now, only a thick-skulled Yankee would not see she was, in her mind, being just as sweet as she could be—even whispering the words. To her, it was a thoughtful thing to do (to me, too, but bear with me). But it was an interruption, sweet though it may have been, and jolted me out of the world that exists only in my head and that I was trying desperately to get onto paper (well, computer file).

It’s a bit like those stop signs (or lights) they put on the highways. You’re rockin’ along at 65 miles per hour (because that is the speed limit!) and out of nowhere a stop sign pops up. You have to stop. Yes, you get going again, but you start from a dead stop and it takes time to pick up speed again, time that you might not have during that sitting.

So I think writer-daughter’s mom walked away with a bit more understanding of her weird writer-daughter.

I told writer-daughter she still has to listen to mom; she’s 14, after all!

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Oxford Lafayette Humane Society likes to kill dogs

Yeah, I fully realize the title of this blog might seem a bit extreme, but if you hang with me long enough, I think you’ll be convinced that I’m right. (Disclaimer: this blog is all my opinion and my opinion only. So there!)

But before I go there, let me back up a little. Back when we were living in Loretto, Tenn, we noticed that Brett was deathly afraid of dogs. I don’t mean the kind of walk on the other side of the street so as not to get close, I mean the run-away-like-the-dog-chasing-you scared. So BJ and I decided we’d get a dog. As we had with Dusty the cat, we had planned to get one from the animal shelter so as to “rescue” them of sorts. Just something we’ve always believed we should at least attempt to do.

For the Lab-dogs Goldy and Blackie, though, we got them through someone giving them away. We’d planned to only get one, but they were siblings and the kids were drawn to different ones. They were handsome dogs, and in only a few months, Blackie had been dog-napped.

Long story short, Goldy has been with my parents in Piggott, Ark., since we moved here and Brett has begun to exhibit some of those fears again—a lot of dogs run loose out here in the county where we live. We’d just been making arrangements to get Goldy when he died. So, we told Brett and Brittany we’d get another one to give them a home.

So, trying to do a good thing, we went to the Oxford Lafayette Humane Society to pick up one of their unwanted dogs. When we arrived, Brett picked up immediately and recognized it as a “dog orphanage.” We explained that was exactly what it was and that the OLHS loves to see loving families like us come in to adopt a pet. (No, I won’t grace them with a link—you wanna look them up, you’ve got to work for it!)

We were just going to look, to get an idea of what was there. But we found a chocolate lab that could have passed for a sibling to Goldy and Blackie…and it was friendly and took to Brett immediately. We filled out the paperwork and were willing to pay the $100 adoption fee. I’ve never paid that much for a pet. Never. But was willing to do so because it was the Humane Society and all that.

A week later, we had to call them to find out they’d turned us down. Why? You ask? Well, we wondered the same thing. Seems because we don’t have a fence around our 2 acres on a cul-de-sac (cove actually) in the county (ie., very, VERY little traffic) we’re not eligible. Dogs run all over the county (I don’t mean that in a bad way, though I’m sure some do) and because we don’t have a fence, they’ve said no?

Gimme a break.

SO, rather than let us adopt a dog and give it a loving home…they’d rather kill it. They call it euthanize, but it’s the same thing.

Let me be quick to say that this seems to be purely an Oxford thing and not a Humane Society thing. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

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Writing = habit?

Is writing simply a habit? I’ve written before in this very space that I’m an addictive kinda guy…and addictions are those things that we continue to do. We often even say we do things because of “force of habit.” Further, I once had a preacher continue to remind the congregation that it takes 30 days of repetition to form a habit (he was trying to get on a healthy kick by exercising and was counting the days)…so, is writing little more than a habit?

Writers find that just about anyone they’ll listen to talk about writing will tell them to get a regular place and a regular time. We’re talking repetition, here. When I tell my sports teams and my kids that if they want to improve at something they must do it over and over again…ie., practice, I’m talking about repetition. Repetition is good. Does repetition mean habit?

Those in-the-know will also tell us writer-types to get a regular place in which we do our writing. If you write well while sitting in the front porch swing built by great-grandpa, then do it…but do it every day, at the same time. When I was working on my first novel, we were in Loretto, Tenn. at the time and I got into the habit of sitting in my front porch swing each morning and reading. I thoroughly enjoyed it and the time there got me good and warmed up to write.

Until it became winter, that is. Then it was just cold.

And my repetition stopped. I was extremely irritated, too.

When we try to teach students how to study better, we tell them we want them to improve their study “habits.” Wouldn’t we rather say study “skills?” Don’t we think of habits as those good and bad things we can’t stop doing? Like the bad habit of chewing with your mouth open…or the good habit of letting people onto the highway in heavy traffic. So, if “studying” is a bad habit, what student wants that? And if it is a good habit…well, what student wants that either? Most students would rather have the good habit of watching tv!

So, if we write regularly at pretty much the same time and place, does that make the writing simply a habit? At what point does habit become…something more? And once a habit has “graduated,” what does it become?

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Where do I write?

A lot is said about the hows and whys of writing. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the how-to books on writing as there seem to be multitudes of people offering advice and about half of them have a book to sell. Most of them you’ve never even heard of (well, “I” haven’t anyway). Some of them can even “guarantee” you success. To quote my wife, “Fssshaw!”

Yeah. Right.

Like any writer, though, I do enjoy reading various hows. What I mean is that the writing process is done in so many different ways, I’m not sure that they could all be included in just one book. Several books claim to be that book, but they aren’t. What I look for in a book like that is the author. If some unknown (and more likely, unpublished except for that work) author is trying to tell me how to write a bestseller, then I just have to laugh and move on. However, when someone like Orson Scott Card writes a book about plot or character development, I’m interested as the man has a proven track record of doing both those things really well. While it may not work for me, I like to know how he (and others) go about the creative process.

But new writers should be wary of all the books and clubs and groups out there. In trying to make a shift from comic books to prose fiction, I’m noticing a lot of material targeting specifically at new writers. Quite frankly, some of it is both insulting and embarrassing…and some of it seems created only to generate money and not to help the fledgling writers. I attended one conference that was loaded with books on “how-to” this and that. In between many of the sessions, attendees got a sales pitch. I found that a bit used-car-salesman-like. So new writers should just be careful and be aware.

But one thing I’ve not seen a lot of is where to write. I know I’ve had a wide variety of writing places. The earliest “steady” places I can remember start at the library at the University of Southern Mississippi where I got my degree in creative writing. The university didn’t have computers for students back then, and I’d take a pencil and notepad and find a quite place and just write away. I’d then go back to my room and type in what I’d written.

After graduation, I was fortunate enough that my roommates created an “office” area so that we could work. I did all my writing there. Same thing for when I first got married: I always managed to have a nice little office space.

When I got hired at Malibu, though, my home office disappeared because I had an office with the company. It wasn’t until 2005, when we moved to Loretto, TN that I was able to get a home office again. I was very productive there, surrounded by my books and computers (yes, I had 2 then; a MAC and a PC).

NOW, however, I share a room with the kids and their homework desks. Most of my books are packed away and while I’ve got my trusty earthquake desk, there seems to be a multitude of distractions.

And that, I think, is the answer for writers. It really doesn’t matter where you write, as long as there is a minimum of distractions. Writers want a place to sit down and write without distractions. That’s not always easy to get…but it’s a goal to have.

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My life’s other career

Music has always been a pretty big part of my life. As a youngster, I wanted to be a rock star along the lines of KISS, Queen, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin…well, you get the idea. I’d had a little piano—just enough to know the notes but not enough to really play them—and that was it. My Jr. High buddies (Wynndel Stanton, Mike Harris, Kendall Jones) and I wanted to put together a band and so we decided which instruments we’d play and set out to learn them. I was to be the drummer.

So, as a seventh grader, I went to the school band director and told him that I wanted to learn to play drums. No, I didn’t have any drumming experience—that’s why I wanted to learn. But, he said no. I got mad and went home and spent the next year self-teaching myself. To this day I still can’t read drum music, but I can play it if I hear it—I play all by ear.

As happens in school, folks move, etc…our band would also see our other good friends serve stints (Grey Overstreet, Forrest Welker and Scott Cook—Scott had a really cool synthesizer!) with us and we actually learned out to play. We played for the school when I was in 9th grade, and then won the school talent contest when I was in 11th—we won by doing “Just What I Needed” by The Cars. I also provided lead vocals for that one! Ha

After high school, I bought a new drum set, the band split up and then I recorded with a small Christian artist out of Terry, Mississippi. I had the chance to play with a really great bass player—Tim Heape. It was fun. Regrettably, I can only now locate one of the songs we recorded…and that’s on cassette.

I didn’t play much after that until a guy I worked with at Camelot Music (Jeff Albritton) got the idea to put something together. We tried, but could never really get anything going—seems college was getting in the way of most folks we knew. We did, however, manage to get the opportunity to jam with Stevie Blaze, a guitarist who went on to record several albums with the band Lillian Axe.

The drums went into storage when I moved to Hattiesburg to attend USM…and there they stayed until around 2000. Oh sure, I pulled them out now and again to play them some, but I didn’t really play them much until I was recruited by a local Civil War Reenactment group to be a drummer. Now that was interesting! I’d always played sitting down before… trying to play while marching was like trying to hit a moving target.

I eventually caught on and became the Battalion drummer. It was fun.

When we joined FBC Loretto, TN., my now-good-friend and music minister there wanted to put together a praise band. I volunteered quickly and in no time flat was playing the drums as part of the regular service both morning and night. I know that some in the congregation had mixed feelings about the drums, but it was an incredible worship experience for me.

The drums, alas, are now back on a shelf, waiting for the next opportunity.

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On television in 1989

I’ve been going through some old video tapes recently, mostly because we’re still unpacking and trying to figure out what stays and what goes and so forth. I stumbled upon a box of tapes in which the tapes had no box covers on them and recognized them as the ones from our house flood in Tennessee. For those who don’t know, after we’d moved to Piggott, Arkansas, we were still trying to sell our home in Loretto, Tennessee. We went back periodically to check in, clean up, get things we needed, etc. But, we weren’t really living there.

One day BJ got a frantic call from the realtor. Seems water was pouring out of our basement. Clayton Wilbanks, the Music Minister at First Baptist Loretto, where we had been members, had a key and he sped over to open up the house. The basement had about six inches of standing water. It seems a water filter under the kitchen sink sprang a leak and best guesses put it running for about three days.

Needless to say, we lost thousands of dollars of things in the basement. I lost a bunch of expensive board games (one a very rare war game from 1930) and we had several boxes of home videos in the mix.

I say all that to say I found one of the boxes and started wondering if they would play. The first one I came across was a tape that we had started making in 1989, right after I’d graduated college and was living in a rented house in Hattiesburg with three roommates: Steven Butler, Ashley Koostra and David Rogers. We started taping all the creative processes that were going on…

Anyway, just after the release of Cat & Mouse #1 by publisher EFGraphics, Steven and I somehow found ourselves on Midday, a noon local news show in Hattiesburg. I’ll just tell you here and now, we were nervous as can be. If you happen to watch the video (embedded below for your entertainment), notice how we sit stiff as boards! We’re too nervous to even move!

It’s been fun watching some of the old videos. It’s amazing how much people change in nearly 20 years. J I may post some other stuff if I find anything interesting…or humorous like the video below.

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