Tag Archives: USM

What is a Silverline?

In the coming days I’ll be announcing a website and such for my comic imprint Silverline. Those of you who’ve been around for a long time will remember what Silverline is, but for those who haven’t and for those who are just popping by, let me ‘splain.

In 1987 I was at USM trying to finish up a degree and figure out how to earn a living as a writer. I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to work in comics, but I didn’t want to move to New York. A freak chance meeting with my now long-time friend Steven Butler (long story that involves my now-wife/then-girlfriend running for homecoming court) put the pieces into play. I’d been “working” on comics since my junior high days with my good pal Barry Gregory, but neither of us really had chops to draw—we were always looking for artists with whom we could collaborate. Steven and his suitemate Mitch Byrd fit that bill. Steven was just a driven as I was and had been trying to “break in” to comics, too. The black and white boom had just started with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…so we decided to follow suit and do it ourselves.

Initially, we went with the name Top Comics. Mitch designed a nice imprint logo and off we went! We sent the solicitations around to all the distributors (there was more than just Diamond in those days) and ultimately got orders for about 4,400 copies.

It was there that we got jammed. We didn’t have the money to actually print and ship the comics. We were still in college, after all. None of the banks in Hattiesburg would give us a loan to print the comics, even with purchase orders for the 4,400 copies in our hands.

Sooooo, we had to cancel the orders and try plan B. As fate would have it, we knew someone who knew someone who had just started a small press company and was looking for content. That company was EF Graphics run by John Drury. We signed with EFG; Cat & Mouse was just the first title. It was to be followed by SilverStorm (written by Thomas Fortenberry); followed by an anthology title with stories by Barry…which would lead into a team book: The Hero Task Force.

But we’d become such a close group that we wanted an identity and we couldn’t really be Top Comics. This was before the idea of all the “studios” popped up later, but that’s kind of what we were. After some time, we settled on the name Silverline. Truthfully, I don’t know who in that group first proposed the name—if I were to guess, probably Steven. Maybe one of them remembers, but I don’t. But the idea was that since we loved the SILVER AGE of comics, we wanted to do comics that had a modern sensibility with a silver age spirit. We’d be a “line” of comics from EFG…we’d be the Silver Line. We shortened it to one word…and that, in a nutshell, is how it came to be.

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Renaming professional sports teams

While Northwest Rankin High School—from whence I graduated—was being built, I was among a lucky select number of high school students who were picked to help determine the high school colors and mascot for the future school. So much time has passed that I honestly don’t remember how influential my fellow students (of whom I can only remember three. There may have been more, but I only remember the three…possibly because they are female) and I were. I do remember we did not want to be anything similar to Pearl or Brandon (the schools from which most of the students for NWR would be drawn) and we didn’t want to be like Ole Miss or MSU. Those in the area know, of course, that we went with a Cougar and with Southern Miss colors.

All that is said to say I think it would be more interesting if professional athletic teams were to choose their mascots reflective of town history or even town (regional) personality. I realize there is a tiny instance of that now, but barely so much as to be noticeable. Therefore, I’d like to propose the following new names to be more representative of the communities they serve.

Boston WitchBurners

Atlanta Smokestacks (you non-history folks ask someone interested in history why this one makes sense)

NY Hurryups

NY Stuckups (they DO have two teams, y’know)

Minnesota Cheeseheads

Miami Crackheads

San Francisco Fruits & Nuts (okay, so 49ers worked, but not so much anymore)

Tennessee Hillbillies (Banjo-pickers is a close second)

Dallas Guntoters

New Orleans Crocodile Eaters (though “hunters” came in a close second)

Chicago Rumrunners (Mafia comes a close second)

LA Smogs

Houston Oilers (yeah—see, that one once made sense)

St. Louis Flood

Washington Liars (keep in mind this is DC, not the state!)

I could keep going, but I think it might be more interesting for any and all additional thoughts and suggestions to the list. No, I don’t expect anyone with enough clout to pay attention to this list, but it is fun putting together.

I’m sure I’ll have something more serious to say next week.

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Residency the first

Even though I’ve returned, I’m not sure that I’m fully recovered from the first “Residency” of my MFA program at Spalding University located in Louisville, Kentucky. I’ve been so overwhelmed I haven’t had a chance to yammer on here. But what an incredible time I had and what an incredible program I’ve entered.

Lemme back-track a little: Finding myself in need of a higher degree, I’d been accepted into the PhD program at USM, but the coursework would require that I be on campus for six full semesters; that’s three years. I was close to accepting it and trying to commute to Hattiesburg—about a five and a half hour drive—for the classes during the week. I decided, however, that three years of my kids’ lives are worth far more than a PhD. Being gone Monday-Friday would cause me to miss a lot of volleyball, baseball, cub scouts, singing…you name it—for three years! So, I started looking around for these “low residency” programs I’d heard of. My good friend and writer pal, Sid Williams was in one and he blogged about it now and again. After a search of low residency programs, I finally decided on Spalding…and I’m glad I did.

Low residency means that the majority of my coursework will be done at home, with correspondence with my mentor/instructor all online. At the beginning of each semester, however, an intensive 10 day on-campus residency kicks things off. I’ve just returned from the first one. And let me tell you, it was incredibly intensive: Ten to twelve hour days of lectures, workshops, discussions and readings. Even the “fun” things were related to the program. (We went to see an Opera of Hansel and Gretel one night, but then had to complete a writing assignment based on it.)

The workshops were the highlight for me. In it, nine students (see the picture below; our mentors—Luke Wallin and Joyce McDonald—are front row left. The rest are the students in my workshop group, the Writing for Children and Young Adults group) discuss a body of written work by one of the other students. The tenth student is to sit silently—taking notes—while the discussion occurs. Now, most of the workshops I’ve ever been in go almost immediately for the negative aspects of the work. That’s not The Spalding Way, however. The hour’s time devoted to the work is split almost exactly equal with positive comments and suggestions (there are no “negative” comments). Though it may sound a little goofy here on this site, the result of the workshop is a nurturing and encouraging hour for the writer. While most of the writers left with a list of “things to work on and revise,” most were also creatively jazzed and anxious to get to the work. I know I left with a big list of things that needed to be addressed and I couldn’t wait to get to it…unfortunately, because of the “intense” nature of the residency, those things did have to wait until I returned home.

I’m already out of words…more next time!

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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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It all started…

I knew I first wanted to be a writer when I was a senior in high school. Granted, I’d played around with writing before then, mostly my own comic books I’d created, but it wasn’t until I took a creative writing class in high school from an incredibly encouraging teacher.

I’m sure it’s no surprise to any of you that she became one of my favorite teachers over time. Jean Manton turned Keeton was her name, and she had a knack for encouraging even the rowdiest of students (me!). I took the class not really knowing what to expect, and afraid it would end up being nothing but a poetry class. I was wrong. In direct opposition from my creative writing instructors in college, she encouraged wild and crazy ideas with any genre.

I remember one particular assignment was on POV (point of view). I got together with about four of my classmate and we came up with a story told from the POV of each of us—the end result being that the “versions” of the story were different based on the perspective of our characters; the one we’d each written featured a different “hero” of the story, of course. It was fun.

Once I entered college, I didn’t really know what could be done with a degree in “creative writing,” so I chose computers as a major. After 2 years of programming—and ever increasing difficulty in math—I changed to Creative Writing. I figured I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer the rest of my life.

Yeah! Joke’s on me. What do I do? Sit in front of a computer and read, write and edit all day.

While I look back on my Creative Writing classes in college now as a big time of learning, then I wasn’t always a happy camper. Seems the professors wanted what I called “boring” stories—slice of life stuff. I didn’t like that stuff, I wanted to tell stories about aliens and superheroes. And I submitted those stories to them.

The legacy I left in the Creative Writing program at USM can still be seen on their website. The Center for Writers has A Primer on Story Writing to aid incoming and would-be writers. If you go to the page, scan down and read item #12. I would suggest that most have no idea what it means…but to the dozen or so students who shared that class with me—they know that story was mine.

Oddly enough, it ended up being a comic book; granted with much revision, but it turned into a five issue series titled Krey.

And yes, it had sand mutants.

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