I Can Almost See Black Friday From Here

Ah, the Pacific Coast. I took this photo while on NASCAR assignment at Sonoma.
Ah, the Pacific Coast. I took this photo while on NASCAR assignment at Sonoma.

[cb_profit_poster Lottery1]Clinton, S.C., Friday, November 29, 2013, 10:03 a.m.

Black Friday. I don’t get it. Not any part of it.

For instance, why is it Black Friday? I suppose it must be because profits are etched in black ink on accounting ledgers (virtual now, of course) and losses in red. If no one shopped, and if they had enough sense to sit back and digest the Thanksgiving gluttony, watch football and behave like civilized people, I suppose it would be Red Friday.

Monte Dutton Who else would it be?
Monte Dutton
Who else would it be?

Supposedly, though, it was a term originally coined in Philadephia over 50 years ago and referred to “the heavy and disruptive pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would occur on the day after Thanksgiving.”

I read another story this morning on how many of the deals were a sham in that they discounted an artificially high “suggested retail price” that no one uses anyway. On the other hand, I can see how shoppers would rush to stores to buy those hot items that always sell out by the time slackers like me get around to buying presents for the young relatives.

Sorry, kids, Uncle Monte isn’t into competitive shopping.

The retailers have succeeded in making a post-Thanksgiving feeding frenzy a part of the national custom. You wear costumes on Halloween. You shoot firecrackers on the Fourth of July. You hunt eggs on Easter. You shop like a lunatic on Black Friday.

Not me. I’m not playing ball. I’m watching ball. My only payments today are going to be down a mail chute, 46 cents a pop.

10: 23 a.m.

The football game that matters to me is in Orangeburg, not Columbia. In the morning I’m going to tiptoe around the borders of the Clemson-South Carolina game in order to rescue my grand-nephew and whisk him to the Furman-South Carolina State FCS playoff game. The Paladins and Bulldogs play at 1 p.m.; the Tigers and Gamecocks kick off at 7. With a little luck, I can sneak into Columbia in the morning, beat the crowd, and then swing back by when most of them are already rioting on the grounds of Williams-Brice Stadium.

The last time I covered the Clemson-Carolina game, it wasn’t sold out. Tommy West was at Clemson, and Brad Scott was at South Carolina, and both of them were about to be exiled elsewhere.

Now they’re both in the top 10. It’s been a while. If all goes as planned, I’ll be back home in time to watch most of it on TV.

This is going to be the Paladins’ first playoff appearance since 2006. I’ve got to be there. If Furman should be fortunate enough to win, the prize is going to be a trip to North Dakota State to play the nation’s No. 1 team. I won’t go to Fargo. I can barely afford to get to Orangeburg.

Maybe I’ll watch the movie “Fargo.”

Thanksgiving was fine. I just don’t particularly feel like writing about it. May your Black Friday exploits be those of a noncombatant. You know what would be an easy Black Friday purchase? A book. A book by me. A book by me that’s available at amazon.com and neverlandpublishing.com. Or one that’s signed if you order it from here.

[cb_profit_poster Acting]

Chances Are My Chances Are …

I went to several minor-league baseball games, though not in Reading, Pa.
I went to several minor-league baseball games, though not in Reading, Pa.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]Clinton, S.C., Thursday, November 28, 2013, 3:50 p.m.

The year of my discontent is near its end. My job was eliminated after 16-1/2 years. On Jan. 4, I found out that Jan. 4 was my last day at the Gaston Gazette.

It was inevitable. Many of my friends had been dropping like autumn leaves for years. NASCAR had gotten kind of lonely. A year ago this time, I was marveling at how a man could feel so alone while surrounded by 80,000 people.

I had been fantasizing about trying to make it on my own, but I wasn’t ready for the leap of faith. Halifax Communications made the decision for me. I should be thankful, I guess.

A lot has changed. The most compelling aspect of the changes is that they weren’t as difficult as I thought they’d be. If I can figure out how to make a living writing books – at this point in my career, there’s really no practical alternative – I’ll be content.

Here some of the changes:

(1.)            A year ago, I had been to Fort Worth, Phoenix and Homestead in a span of three weeks. Now I rarely leave town for anything other than a football game.

(2.)            I haven’t flown since I got home from Homestead in 2012. Nor have I rented a car. I haven’t eaten a meal in a party of more than four. In 2012, I spent well over 100 nights in hotels. This year so far? Ten. Eight were on one trip.

(3.)            I’ve written a grand total of four songs all year, about a third as many as last year. That’s because I was finishing one novel and writing the first draft of another. As of last night, I’m 15 chapters into the second draft.

(4.)            While collecting unemployment, I applied for a little over 50 jobs. I interviewed for one. I was offered none. See what I mean about “no practical alternative”?

(5.)            On the positive side, the Boston Red Sox, my favorite sports team, won the third World Series of my lifetime and the past 10 years. Given the circumstances, it meant more. For a good bit of the year, the Red Sox were the only thing going right. They’re famously adept at beginning centuries.

(6.)            I’ve had to learn how to tell many people I can’t possibly donate any money to worthwhile causes I supported in previous years. When I catch up on paying for myself, I’ll catch up on giving to others.

(7.)            I told my book concierge the fourth novel is going to be called Nothing Ever Works. The plan is for it to be fiction by then.

I started taking more pictures.
I started taking more pictures …

(8.)            I feel better. Though I haven’t been dieting lately, I lost 30 pounds in the first half of the year. I still ache when I get up in the morning, but it’s not nearly as bad as it was a year ago. Most mornings I had to do stretching exercises in order to limber up enough to go to the track. Tuesdays were awful after the hustle and bustle of Mondays in airports.

This sketch of mine is a bit evocative of The Intangibles setting.
… and even sketching a few of them.

(9.)            I hardly ever go through a drive-through without a coupon.

(10.)       I like coffee a lot more. It goes well with writing. I didn’t even have a coffee maker at home until this year. Now I use it more often than the microwave.

(11.)        In the spring, my mother and two nephews received only minor injuries in a frightful automobile accident. In the fall, they were uprooted by a house fire that kept them in motel rooms for two weeks.

(12.)        I’ve had more hassles dealing with private companies than the government. By far.

(13.)        I once wrote a song called “I Got Cash Money (and I’m Workin’ Steady).” Now, when I sing it, I’m not lying. I’ve still got cash money. I’m still working steady. My goal is to get the cash money from the working steady.

(14.)        I hardly ever drink, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Not really. Usually, when I drink, a guitar’s with me. Come to think of it, a guitar’s with me almost all the time.

(15.)        I’ve always admired people who risk everything in pursuit of their dreams. They deserve admiration more than I. I’m only pursuing my dreams because I’ve got no other choice.

(16.)        People say they can’t understand how the government can spend more money than it takes in. I get it. It’s the way I’ve been operating all year, but I’m making some progress.

(17.)        I have lots of friends whom I may never see again. That makes chance encounters mean a little more.

(18.)        The people who suggest things I’d be good at are never the ones who can make it happen.

(19.)        Some people are going to read a great deal of pessimism into this list. I just think it’s being realistic. I’m not unhappy. I’m happier than when I was writing about NASCAR. If I can pull this off, and earn enough money writing novels to be self-sustaining, I’ll be as happy as a Powerball winner, and my odds are better.

(20.)       I’d never say never, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I never saw the inside of a NASCAR track again. I’m content to watch it on TV, and it appears there isn’t shortage of people with that view.

I’m the captain of my own soul, but if you’d like to help, buy one or both or my novels, and I think it would help you, too, because, of course, “Reading is fundamental.”

[cb_profit_poster Lottery1]

Fear & Loathing In The Aisles


[cb_profit_poster Beer1]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, November 27, 2013, 1:30 p.m.

My Friday is going to be colorless.
My Friday is going to be colorless.

We got our 30 minutes of snow today, which was great because that gave everyone a chance to observe the tradition of racing to the supermarket for bread. There was, of course, no way it was sticking. I think the weather has cleared out altogether now.

Bi-Lo was a bit impolite. It seemed as if everyone was in a hurry. People who would normally wait for a moment while I tried to pick from all the Bi-Lo Bonus Card specials were doing the old Bugs Bunny “excuse me, excuse me, pardon me, coming through.”

It reminded me of Larry Woody, one of my funnier friends, at the race track, voice dripping with irony, “All right, look out, working press, coming through …”

I did buy a loaf of bread, but not because it was momentarily snowing outside. I was picking up football-game-watching provisions, mostly for a pot of Texas chili. The beef is in the slow cooker now, and late tonight I’ll season it. Then I’ll get up early in the morning to taste it and make final adjustments for a long green-flag run.

1:50 p.m.

It looks like I’ll be here at the house for the next couple days, watching football games on TV. On Saturday, I’ll hit the road to Orangeburg to watch Furman play South Carolina State in the FCS playoffs. I should be home in time to watch most of Clemson-South Carolina.

Thirty-one years ago, the two schools faced each other for the first time in Greenville. It was Furman’s first playoff game ever in what was then known as Division I-AA. This was in no small part because it was Furman’s first year in I-AA.

The Bulldogs would win that game and the next one – the rest were in the regular season – but the Paladins have won 10 of the 12 since. They were already scheduled to resume the series next year.

When I was growing up, South Carolina ETV had an afternoon show known as “The Job Man Caravan,” which consisted mainly of music videos years before MTV. The host, Bill Terrell, would list job openings across the state interspersed with film clips of rhythm-and-blues artists, some of which were from South Carolina. In particular, I remember Moses Dillard and the Tex-Town Display, but Terrell also showcased James Brown, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, etc.

He’d always refer to the show as “The Job Man, Uhhhh, Caravan!”

In 1982, I was assistant sports information director at Furman, and I discovered that Terrell was the Voice of the South Carolina State Bulldogs. His voice reminded me of Tom Hawkins, who once teamed with Curt Gowdy on college-basketball telecasts. I imagined Terrell saying, “Back to pass, Desmond Gatson, looks right, throws left, complete! First, uhhh, down!”

When I met Terrell for the first time, I had a bit of difficulty keeping a straight face.

2:18 p.m.

Black Friday means nothing to me. I’ve never bought anything on the day after Thanksgiving more significant than a six-pack or a dozen eggs. The idea of lining up in the cold so that I could participate in a stampede of bargain hunters makes no more sense than going to Pamplona to try to outrun a herd of bulls through the streets.

I don’t see shopping as a competition. I can’t imagine elbowing my way through a crowd to a table stacked with gaming consoles.

It strikes me as evidence that some people will do almost anything if television commercials tell them to do so.

If I had a store – and wanted to boost business on Friday – I’d offer free Prilosec.

Next year clinics should offer colonoscopies at 20 percent off … on the day after Thanksgiving. The pre-op – the, uh, cleansing – now that would make it a national day of excitement.

Happy Thanksgiving, all. What I’m thankful for is your continued support.

[cb_profit_poster Beer2]

No Need To Be So Touchy

It's not hard to get me to play guitar and sing.
It’s not hard to get me to play guitar and sing.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, November 26, 2013, 4:37 p.m.

I go to the post office quite often these days as I am occupied shipping copies of my novel, The Intangibles, that folks order off this web site. Today I was by there twice.

People have gotten so sensitive. I saw someone I know, but not so well that I can count on seeing her regularly. In fact, it was the first time we’ve crossed paths in more than a year, and it seems that similarly random meetings take place at the post office with some degree of regularity. Thinking, well, Thanksgiving is in two days, and I probably won’t see her until next year sometime, I said, “Happy Holidays.”

For about a half second, she gave me a look that suggested President Obama and I just got finished quoting the Koran back and forth during a Kenyan sojourn.

I felt like saying, “Look, lady, I was saying ‘happy Holidays’ before you were born. If it was Christmas, or even after Thanksgiving, I’d probably have said ‘merry Christmas,’ but I’ve been saying ‘happy Holidays’ when I wanted to wish someone good tidings for the general holiday season, and I reserve the right to say ‘happy Holidays’ if I’m talking to someone who might be Jewish or Muslim or … Confucian, I don’t know.

“I most certainly was not denying, minimizing or disrespecting Christianity, and if you’d like to check the heavenly records, I’m sure He must have a file on all those prayers I’m regularly sending His way.”

Of course, I didn’t say any of that. Just before her laser rays melted my retinas, the lady’s expression changed and she walked out.

Okay, I’ll forgive this one time.

I have an old friend who often shakes his end on equivalent occasions and says, “Gollamighty.”

We used to sit next to each other at race tracks.

“Gollamighty, this is the most boring race I’ve ever seen.”

“Look at the bright side. I just finished my federal income taxes.”

“Gollamighty, I taught myself Portuguese.”

4:56 p.m.

I spent most of today talking to three classes at Bell Street Middle School, which I once attended along with David O’Shields, who now has Dr. in front of his name and is superintendent of School District 56. I lectured classes taught by his wife, Terry. Between the second and third classes, David, Terry and I had lunch.

The Fairmont High School students in The Intangibles are older than me. When Clinton schools were integrated, I was a seventh grader at Bell Street Middle School, where I lectured on Tuesday.
The Fairmont High School students in The Intangibles are older than me. When Clinton schools were integrated, I was a seventh grader at Bell Street Middle School, where I lectured on Tuesday.

My message was on the value of reading, writing and music. The point was that music can be helpful in writing. I asked them if they’d ever written poetry for a school assignment, and, of course they had. I said the chief weakness of most amateur poetry is that it lacks rhythm and meter. I suggested that they try writing poetry with a melody in mind as a means of giving it the rhythm it might otherwise lack. I further suggested that rhythm is a helpful ingredient in prose, as well.

For instance, I told them of the time in high school when my English teacher, Edna Ellison, read an excerpt from a clipping of a wire story:

“A crowded cable car crashed down a deep ravine in Italy, killing all 38 passengers on board.”

The sentence has a rhythm. Rhythm aids writing. It was a lesson that benefited my writing. In the 1970s, even though I couldn’t play any kind of instrument except a kazoo, I wrote my first song from that wire lead.

A crowded cable car plunged down a deep ravine in Italy / It killed all of the people there on board / And among the smoking ruins of that mass of twisted metal / Lie the body of a man named Peter Ford …

I never claimed it was any good, but I made up a whole song based on a wire lead.

It doesn’t take much to get me to play music. I took my guitar along to demonstrate what I meant. I explained how sometimes my songs begin with words, and other times they begin with melodies, after which I fill in the words. If I start out with a hook, such as, “I got cash money, and I’m workin’ steady,” the melodies usually wind up simpler (not that any of my songs are complex), and if I start out with a melody, the song winds up a little more complicated.

I also explained how I taught myself to play guitar by learning two chords at the beginning, playing songs that needed only two chords, getting the hang of that, and then adding more chords and trying to gradually learn to play by ear along the way. This was the key that unlocked songwriting.

I’m a writer by trade, and therefore, words are important to me. Many guitarists are fascinated with the music, and the words to their songs are less of a priority. I have a lot more craftsmanship with lyrics than with melodies. I generally just play chords, and that is enough to make me happy.

I think I held their attention. Terry had given me a choice of Monday or Tuesday, pointing out that it might be harder to hold the students’ attention on Tuesday because school was out for Thanksgiving at the end of the day. I chose Tuesday because I figured that, on the last school day until next Monday, they would enjoy a fun lecture about music and writing more than, say, a pop quiz.

I also urged them to cultivate an enjoyment of reading, pointing out that the best way to learn how to write is … to read.

I doubt I inspired the next John Steinbeck, but I hope someone might at least learn the value, in most every form of work, of being able to communicate clearly.

If you’d like to test my theory, you can buy my novels – the new one, The Intangibles, and the first, The Audacity of Dope – at amazon.com, neverlandpublishing.com, or via this site. The Intangibles is available here in Clinton at L&L Office Supply on North Broad Street and in Hartsville, S.C., at Burry Bookstore. Both novels are available at Fiction Addiction in Greenville, S.C.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar2]

Flick Picks from a Non-Critic

This is actually in New Mexico, but it could be from "Lawrence of Arabia."
This is actually in New Mexico, but it could be from “Lawrence of Arabia.”

[cb_profit_poster Acting]Clinton, S.C., Monday, November 25, 2013, 1:31 p.m.

Monte Dutton Who else would it be?
Monte Dutton
Who else would it be?

I’m slogging through a biography of T.E. Lawrence by Michael Asher. I bought it several years ago because “Lawrence of Arabia” is my favorite movie.

The bio is entitled Lawrence: The Uncrowned King of Arabia. It’s going to take me a while to get through it, but I’m impressed by it. Lawrence was a fascinating, complex man, and I think David Lean’s film is the best ever made.

I love movies, particularly old ones. If you don’t like “Lawrence of Arabia,” watch it on a big screen, preferably in a theater. It’s an incredible cinematic accomplishment.

I used to have a Top 10 of favorite movies, but they add up over the years and get shuffled about. I really need to put more thought into this, but since I’ve got to get this blog done so that attend to more of the day’s duties, here goes:

(1.)             Lawrence of Arabia. I doubt I’ve ever seen any actor in any movie as impressive as Peter O’Toole in this one.

(2.)            Giant. My father loved it. Elizabeth Taylor was never more beautiful. The fight scene in the diner is one of my favorites.

(3.)            Patton. Most movie dialogue that I can quote is from comedies. George C. Scott is overpowering. “I can assure you, Padre, because of my intimate relationship with the Almighty, that if you write a good prayer, we’ll have good weather!”

(4.)            Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. The worst observation on our times that I can possibly make is that when this great Frank Capra film was remade, it starred Adam Sandler in the role made famous by Gary Cooper.

(5.)            Little Big Man. Dustin Hoffman has never been better. This is sort of a Coen Brothers film that predated the Coen Brothers.

(6.)            Pulp Fiction. Maybe the all-time ensemble cast.

(7.)            Blazing Saddles. It’s hard to judge an outlandish comedy by the same standards of a Lean epic, but Mel Brooks deserves a place.

(8.)           Crazy Heart. The movie wasn’t made until about 20 years after I read Thomas Cobb’s novel. When it was over, I wept a little because Bad Blake reminded me of my old man, who never picked up a guitar in his life.

(9.)            The Grapes of Wrath. How we’ve lost as a society the sympathy for the downtrodden expressed in Steinbeck’s great novel. The cream of Henry Fonda’s impressive crop.

(10.)        True Grit. The original, by a nose. The remake is really the better movie, but I love the first better because Glen Campbell is so bad, and it amuses me. The only flaw is what I liked best. Maybe my favorite movie line is John Wayne’s: “By God, she reminds me of me.”

By the way, yes, I love “Citizen Kane,” not to mention “Casablanca,” “Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Red River,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “No Country for Old Men,” “Goodfellas,” “Tender Mercies,” “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Stripes,” “Animal House,” “North by Northwest,” “Hoosiers,” “Pleasantville,” “Seabiscuit,” “American Beauty,” and dozens of others.

We all have our little preferences. “Fever Pitch” was just a harmless baseball movie, but the story, revolving around the 2004 Boston Red Sox, is so resonant that I could watch it once a week.

Some movies I thought were great but have little desire to watch them more than once. “Million Dollar Baby” and “Platoon” are examples.

My favorite actor may be Robert Duvall. My favorite actress was probably Katharine Hepburn. That’s a tough call, though, as I’m torn between Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Fonda, Robert DeNiro and Jeff Bridges on the male side. My preference for Hepburn is clearer among women.

Occasionally, I even watch a silent movie because it’s fascinating to watch how skillful filmmakers had to be telling a story without dialogue. Mostly I like the comedies.

I think I tilt toward old movies because I admire the craftsmanship of Lean, Capra, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock and others. Nowadays it’s possible for a bad movie to be successful because its special effects are so incredible. I marvel at the way Ford’s films were shot.

My favorite sports film is “Bang the Drum Slowly.” My favorite racing movie is “The Last American Hero.” My favorite animated (okay, semi-animated) is “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” I don’t care for horror much.

Sometimes I fantasize about having one of my novels turned into a movie, but I’ve little writing in writing screenplays. I’m still trying to master novels.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]

Memories of a Proud Past Awakened

Cool day to be a Paladin.
Cool day to be a Paladin.

[cb_profit_poster Travel1]Clinton, S.C., Sunday, November 24, 2013, 12:45 p.m.

You’ve read these words from me before. My days are seldom mediocre. I know it’s because I remember the glorious and the wretched more vividly, and the average, nothing-special days just fade into mist, but it’s still my story and I’m sticking to it.

Saturday was wonderful.

The Furman Paladins did not win a share of their 13th Southern Conference championship – and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA FCS (that’s Football Championship Subdivision, as opposed to Football Bowl Subdivision) – without the expected struggle with the Wofford Terriers, who visited from nearby Spartanburg. Having overcome that struggle, the Paladins will face South Carolina State in Orangeburg on Saturday in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

It looked like a long day for Paladin defenders early.
It looked like a long day for Paladin defenders early.

Furman and Wofford were the first South Carolina colleges to play each other in football. That was in 1889.

I’ve never been a Wofford fan because of my background. I grew up here in Clinton, home of Presbyterian College, a longtime Terrier rival, and I graduated from Furman, another. There are, however, few coaches I respect more than Mike Ayers, who has been head coach at Wofford so long that I actually covered some of his games before I spent 20 years writing about NASCAR. In the first half, the Terriers’ option attack shredded the Furman defense. Wofford led 14-0 in the second quarter and 14-10 at the half.

Final score: Furman 27, Wofford 14. A share of the conference title resulted, but the Paladins had to wait for Samford to edge Elon, 33-32, in Birmingham, Ala., for a playoff spot to be secured.

This is the 16th time Furman (7-5, 6-2 SoCon) has participated in the FCS (once Division I-AA) playoffs but the first since 2006. The first was a 17-0 loss to South Carolina State (9-3, 7-1 MEAC) in 1982. Furman leads the series, 10-4.

This football season has a recurring theme for me. Clinton High started out 0-6 but then won five straight games and advanced into the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. Furman started 2-4 and wound up winning the conference and making the playoffs. The Paladins defeated both old rivals, The Citadel and Wofford, as well as Appalachian State, Georgia Southern (yes, the Eagles beat Florida on Saturday), Samford, Western Carolina and Presbyterian.

An old friend told me before the Wofford game that he had thought the current team was the worst he’d ever seen early in the season. I saw them lose the opener at Gardner-Webb and understand the sentiment. More than half the roster is made up of freshmen, red-shirt and regular. (I really hate the term “true freshman.”)

Things are looking up, and not just for Saturday.

The South sort of gets funneled into the Great White North after the first round. The Furman-S.C. State winner gets a trip to No. 1 North Dakota State, and the Bethune-Cookman/Coastal Carolina winner goes to Montana.

1:21 p.m.

During all those years traveling across the country writing about stock car races, what I always missed the most was watching Clinton and Furman play. The Red Devil football program of the 1970s helped mold my entire life. I didn’t play football in college, but many of my friends were on the team, partly because I was a student manager who also worked in the sports information office and partly because the athletes were closer to my own background, which, of course, led me to work in the athletic department.

Furman is a private school, and my parents could never have afforded to send me there without considerable financial aid. This I also had in common with many of Furman’s athletes.

At a party after Homecoming, I had this conversation with a friend who was uniquely qualified to discuss it. Regarding the value of athletics at a school like Furman, I talked about the intangible value of athletics in terms of diversity. It gives people a chance to enjoy a Furman education who otherwise could barely imagine it.

Talking about intangibles was noteworthy to me, in part, because my latest novel, just published, is called The Intangibles. In the novel, the intangibles are the hand-lettered slogans on the Fairmont High School locker-room walls.

One of the points I made was that diversity is often discussed in terms of gender and race, but a substantive case can be made in terms of socio-economic diversity.

This is also true at Alabama and Florida State, but unlike Furman, those schools make millions from their football teams.

A Furman scholarship costs a lot, more than $50,000 a year. That’s more than 10 times what it was when I was a freshman in 1976-77. Not many of them get paid for by home crowds of 10,000.

It’s worth a lot to me, though, for others who do not come from affluent families to have the same opportunity I did.

I take considerable pride in Furman’s football program, which has won more Southern Conference championships (13) than any other school. In 1988, Furman was the first private school to win the national championship, and the Paladins have advanced to the finals on two other occasions.

1:48 p.m.

The book signing went well. I left the game with Furman leading 24-14 and was walking behind the end zone when Ray Early added the final points with a 48-yard field goal. I listened to the final six minutes while driving to Fiction Addiction.

The best way to prepare for a book signing is to play it by ear. I had selected several short passages from The Intangibles to read, but there was never a crowd, just as the store was never empty, during the two hours I sat behind a table and signed books.

Old friends showed up. My longtime NASCAR colleague, Mike Hembree, whom I’ve known since college. Ernie Kastner, with whom I covered minor league baseball for several seasons. Johnny Patrick, once a Furman trainer, now a Spartanburg podiatrist. Ann Funderburk, whose late husband George and I often confided regarding the status of the Paladin athletic program. Mark Hamrick, who kept statistics at Furman basketball games while I was the sports information director. My cousin, Amanda Capps, and her boyfriend, Dan Fowler.

What I wound up doing was hold court, swapping old stories, almost all of the humorous variety, while I signed copies of the novel.

This signing was intimate because it was in Greenville, where I have many friends. I also sold several copies of The Intangibles before the game because I brought a handful of them in my backpack.

I sort of wanted to stop somewhere and have a steak in celebration of Furman’s glorious victory, but the lure of more college football on the tube made me a little frantic, and I wound up watching mostly the Vanderbilt-Tennessee game while grilling a couple hot dogs at the house.

Pretty soon you’ll hear all about my “blog tour,” which begins early next month, and I’ve got a book signing in Winston-Salem, N.C., at Barnhill’s on Dec. 13.

[cb_profit_poster Football2]

What Begins with JFK? My Novel …

The bright lights were different this fall.
The bright lights were different this fall.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Friday, November 22, 2013, 10:11 a.m.

There’s no great market for me to recall the Kennedy assassination. Everyone alive then is doing it,and I’ve got Kennedy family home movies, courtesy of The History Channel, playing on the television right now.

Fifty years ago today. I was five and remember it better than what happened yesterday. In the unlikely event that you’re interested, my memories are part of the first chapter in my new novel, The Intangibles. Much of what I wrote in that chapter was made up, or at least compacted into that one eventful day, but the specific details of the assassination are true to what I remember, home from kindergarten due to a nasty sore throat. My mother was folding clothes in the breezeway.

Yes, the first chapter takes place on November 22, 1963. This wasn’t done so that the novel could be out on the fiftieth anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death. When I wrote the first draft of that chapter, I hadn’t a clue how long it would take to finish it. I didn’t even know the name of it at the time. After that first chapter, it jumps ahead four years, and most of the story takes place in 1968.

The season began badly for the Red Devils a Gaffney.
The season began badly for the Red Devils at Gaffney.

10:31 a.m.

In my NASCAR exile, I’ve tried to get back to my roots. This process didn’t begin with the end of my job, or else I wouldn’t have written The Intangibles. As those of you who check in here from time to time know, part of this has been going to Clinton High School football games. It wasn’t one of the Red Devils’ more successful years, but it was one of their more dramatic.

Clinton, perched on the precipice of disaster, recovered to make it into the second round of the Class 3A playoffs. There they fell in the rain of Six Mile – Daniel High School – and I suppose rain is a fitting way for Red Devils to be quenched.

10:40 a.m.

I’m sure I’ve attended as many football games this fall as the previous decade combined. This Saturday features a big one. If Furman can defeat Wofford, the Paladins win the Southern Conference.

A month ago, the idea of Furman winning its conference seemed about as likely as Clinton High School making the playoffs.

I’m not a Wofford fan – a Furman degree and a Clinton upbringing both conspire against the Terriers – but I do greatly respect the veteran head coach, Mike Ayers. The last time I saw Furman play Wofford, I called a friend during the game to say, “The best way I can describe is that Wofford is playing football and Furman is playing catch.”

I think that was in 2008.

It won’t be easy. This time I have high hopes of the Paladins playing football.

10:51 a.m.

After the game, I’ll have my first The Intangibles book signing at Fiction Addiction, 1175 Woods Crossing Road #5, in Greenville. The game begins at noon. The signing is from 4 to 6 p.m. This is not an accident. I hope some friends from both Furman and Wofford will drop by.

I'll be back at Barnhill's, in Winston-Salem, N.C., on December 13.
I’ll be back at Barnhill’s, in Winston-Salem, N.C., on December 13.

Regardless of the outcome, I vow to be sportsmanlike. If Wofford wins, and a few drop by just to rub it in, if they’ll also buy my book, I’ll take it well. Besides, years of journalistic training have made me conversant in the art of keeping my emotions in check.

I sense snickering from some of my erstwhile colleagues. I don’t think I’ve ever roared due to partisan concerns. Some of my roaring has occurred in regard to perceived unfairness in the ranks, but most of it has been as a result of perceived humor, some of it generated by me but more often processed.

Cheering in the press box is unacceptable. Humor in the press box is required.

As a final addendum, I’ve watched exactly two games in press boxes this year, and I covered three. In Abbeville, I took my notes in the stands.

Since I was covering the game, I didn’t cheer once, but I did sing along with the national anthem.

Kasey Kahne at Charlotte. I wasn't there. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo from Chevrolet)
Kasey Kahne at Charlotte. I wasn’t there. (HHP/Brian Lawdermilk photo from Chevrolet)

11:03 a.m.

What? No race? No race?

It’s funny. If I had been traveling to NASCAR races all year, I would be painfully conscious of season’s end right now. I would be weary. And relieved. And grateful.

I haven’t been at a track since Homestead … of 2012.

Traveling the NASCAR circus was a lifestyle. Watching on TV is just a sport. A year ago, I was saying, “Thank God it’s over,” I mean, out loud. To no one in particular. People staring, wondering if I was crazy.

Now it’s just what I usually do on Sunday, or Saturday night, or whenever if it rains. Not having a race is going to seem a wee bit strange. I guess that’s one difference between a lifestyle and a routine.

In the past, I’d hate the fact that the work didn’t stop with the final checkered flag. Postseason analysis. Top five stories. Top five races. Looking ahead to next year.

Now all I’ve got is a blog. Most every day I write what I want. I’m not making a heap of money. It’s more like daily therapy. I get things off my chest. It’s a way to warm up for something else.

Next time NASCAR is on my chest, I’ll write about it.

Happy weekend before Thanksgiving. Take a look at my novel if you get a chance. It’s not as good as my mama’s dressing, but it ain’t bad.

[cb_profit_poster Guitar1]

Selling Books Socially

Front of folder
Front of folder

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Thursday, November 21, 2013, 9:45 a.m.

I have 5,945 Twitter followers, or that was the total the last time I checked. I have 4,492 Facebook friends.

Oh, man. That’s a lot of acquaintances to maintain.

My Facebook friends are more diverse than my Twitter followers. They’re divided among fans of me through NASCAR, my music, my writing, my college, my high school and/or hometown. Friends who love NASCAR and what I write about it, went to Furman University and Clinton High School, live here … we’re especially friendly, I suppose.

The Twitter followers are more skewed to my interests than my background.

It’s important, though, to remember the difference between friends in general and friends in Facebook. I wrote a song about it.

The world is changing / Always rearranging / From birth to the end / With my Facebook friends.

I appreciate them. I enjoy reading their comments on my posts. Some fit the definition of friend: a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.

Mutual affection sort of goes with the territory of “sexual or family relations,” or else there’s big trouble.

12:20 p.m.

Where Facebook friends come in handy, apart from providing me information on what they do, how they do it and what they want to do, is that contacting them can be an effective way to spread the word of my activities

The Intangibles is set in 1968. I was 10, but my memories of that time are sharp.
The Intangibles is set in 1968. I was 10, but my memories of that time are sharp.

It is, after all, social media.

This website fills that function, as well.

I’ve got a couple upcoming book signings, on Saturday at Fiction Addiction (1175 Woods Crossing Rd., Greenville, S.C., 4-6 p.m.) and on Friday, December 13, at Barnhill’s Books Wine Art Gifts (811 Burke St., Winston-Salem, N.C., 6-7:30 p.m.).

I’m positive I’ve sent Facebook invitations to lots of people who either can’t attend or have insufficient interest. I hope some of those people will spread the word for me a bit. Obviously, I’d love for readers of this blog to spread the word to folks in those areas.

That’s what friends are for, Facebook and otherwise.

12:31 p.m.

On Wednesday, I dove back into Crazy by Natural Causes, which, I hope, is going to become my third novel. I completed a first draft over the summer. Since then, I’ve mainly been working on The Intangibles, which is now out.

This is the cover of my first novel. It's about a musician who prevents a plane from being blown up. And he smokes weed. He hates being a hero, but it doesn't keep him from being one.
This is the cover of my first novel. It’s about a musician who prevents a plane from being blown up. And he smokes weed. He hates being a hero, but it doesn’t keep him from being one.

I’ve spent lots of time sending emails to people who might review it. I designed a pamphlet to put in the mail. In December, a “blog tour,” which involves my novel being reviewed, touted and publicized on a wide variety of websites, kicks off and runs for about half the month. When The Audacity of Dope was published two years ago, I didn’t know such means existed.

The world is changing so fast that publicity for a novel, particularly one from a small publisher, is a moving target. The decline of daily newspapers means fewer and fewer possibilities. Typically, the same paper that employed a book reviewer 10 years ago has only a general features editor today. Book reviews are more often taken from wire services, which are prone to review books that sell a lot more copies than mine.

I’ve spent lots of time trying alternative means: college newspapers, free weeklies in cities and, of course, websites. It’s not easy to draw attention.

Social media, which is sort of person-to-person expanded exponentially, is probably as effective a use of promotional time as any. It’s quite a bit more effective than knocking on doors.

If you can’t make it to one of my book signings, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope are available at amazon.com and from the publisher, neverlandpublishing.com. You can buy an autographed copy directly from me by clicking on “merchandise” here. Signed copies are available here in Clinton at L&L Office Supply on Broad Street uptown.

[cb_profit_poster Acting]

Football Overload

Furman put a scare in Florida a couple years ago. I was at Homestead, so close but yet so far.
Furman put a scare in Florida a couple years ago. I was at Homestead, so close but yet so far.

[cb_profit_poster Beer1]Clinton, S.C., Wednesday, November 20, 2013, 10:15 a.m.

It’s gotten to where football is just like baseball, except you don’t get to watch the same team every night.

In other words, I don’t actually watch all these games, whereas I tried my best to watch as many Boston Red Sox games as possible. Was this a good break or a bad one? On the one hand, I wouldn’t have been able to see weekend games if I were still covering NASCAR. On the other, it sure was a great year to watch the Carmines in action, particularly at the Fens.

(That’s New England lingo. I got to go to lots of games while covering NASCAR in Loudon.)

I havent been leaning on stacks of tires this year.
I havent been leaning on stacks of tires this year.

But … if I wanted to be an expert on the Mid-American Conference, I could do so with relative ease. Just last night, I could’ve switched back and forth between Buffalo-Miami (Ohio) and Kent State-Ohio U. I didn’t because PBS commanded my attention with civil rights, JFK and Lincoln, but I’m not averse to the occasional MAC tilt.

Northern Illinois is at Toledo tonight. I can’t help but wonder how tough these midweek games are on fans and students. It’s sort of a devastation to the pattern of college life, all in the name of television exposure.

It’s football, nearly around the clock on weekends and less marred by channel surfing during the week.

The National Football League plays on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays, with a few Saturdays, I’m guessing, in December. College games are on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Pity the poor high schools. Oh, wait. They play on TV, too.

Oh, my gosh, Iowa State is visiting BYU, too! And Thursday? Rutgers-Central Florida and UNLV-Air Force. Oops. Almost missed it. Fox Sports1 has Rice at Alabama-Birmingham. Friday? What in the Sam Hill is Navy doing at San Jose State?

I don’t know yet what the accumulative effect of all this football is going to be, other than a possibility of carpal tunnel syndrome from the channel switching.

The end of racing season used to leave me craving football because I had managed to see so little of it until late November. This year I’ve attended 11 high school games and seven college games in person. I’m planning to attend the Wofford-Furman game on Saturday, though I’ll probably have to leave early to make it to a book signing with time to spare. (It’s at Fiction Addiction, 1175 Woods Crossing Rd., Greenville, S.C., 4-6 p.m.)

All this football might just make room for basketball. In the past, by the time I got around to it, NASCAR beckoned again with a media tour and Speedweeks in Daytona Beach.

Or it might make me more inclined to read and watch old movies.

There’s a lot of football in The Intangibles, my second novel, which has a high school football team at its center and a divided town wrapped around it. If you can’t make it to Fiction Addiction, you can buy it at amazon.com, neverlandpublishing.com or here by clicking on merchandise.

[cb_profit_poster Beer2]

The Other Guy’s Shoes Are Always Different

I've only been once to Oregon, but, fortunately, I got a song out of it.
I’ve only been once to Oregon, but, fortunately, I got a song out of it.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, November 19, 2013, 11:45 a.m.
Everyone has a skewed perspective. Everyone caters, to one extent or another, to his or her own peculiar whims.
The best way to peruse the fake heat of social media is with bemused detachment.
For instance, there’s always that “hey, why didn’t they make a big deal out of that?” issue, such as:
Hey, I didn’t see the media making a big deal out of that call, or non-call, at the end of the Patriots-Panthers game? When NASCAR didn’t throw a red flag at the end of the Nationwide race, everybody went wild!
Please. The reason you didn’t see “a big deal” about the Pats-Panthers ending is that you apparently do follow NASCAR and don’t follow pro football. Trust me. A mushroom cloud went up over Twitter, not to mention ESPN and the morning news shows. You’re right, though. A football play will doubtless be completely overlooked on NASCAR Now.
mug Dutton Monte 1_CLPeople watch and read what they like. Some football fans don’t pay much attention to baseball. Some racing fans don’t seem to pay much attention to anything else, and NASCAR is grateful for their loyalty. Republicans steer clear of dirt about Republicans, Democrats avoid Democrats’ problems, stockbrokers don’t worry much about farmers (not the little ones, anyway), many people who have insurance don’t lose sleep over those who don’t, the same is true with those who have jobs and those who do not, and so on, ad infinitum, forever and ever, amen.
There’s such a world of information out there that most wind up cutting it down into a hemisphere, a nation, a state or a county of their own particular choosing.
Which is fine. Which is their right.
One of my chief goals is to experience as much of the world as I can, and I’m not talking about a vacation in Thailand. One of the reasons I live in my hometown is that it really broadens more than it narrows. The most overlooked diversities are between rich and poor, country and city, educated and uneducated, passionate and passive.
I know people who think writing for a living is just … weird. I used to hang out mainly with writers. That makes a town of 8,000 people diversifying, at least in relative terms. Of course, I’ve mastered life among these 8,000 (more with those from surrounding environs who congregate in Clinton at places like football stadiums and gymnasiums), so I need to peek outside from time to time.

Sedona, Arizona
Sedona, Arizona

Most people insulate themselves, and in a sense, I’m just switching small worlds. It’s not just that writers hang out with writers, and college graduates with college graduates, but also that cooks hang out with cooks and fishermen with fishermen.
Politicians get that “inside the Beltway” skew. Tea Party members get that “as far from the Beltway as possible” jade. One man’s rose-colored glasses seem infested with thorns through another man’s lens.
It doesn’t matter how much time I spend mingling with the masses, though. I’m going to watch even that through the eyes of a writer. I’m bound to be skeptical. I notice things that others might not, or if so, overlook what I perceive to be important.
On the other hand, I can’t tell how old a horse is by looking at the teeth.
My daddy could. He could grind sausage and cure ham. I can write books. My daddy didn’t even write notes. When I was absent from school, I wrote an excuse and forged his signature. I wasn’t to get out of anything. It just wasn’t worth the trouble, and no one could read my daddy’s handwriting, anyway. Later on, I watched him spin himself completely out of control, and he died way too soon as a result.
Here’s hoping I learned from that. He’s been dead 20 years, and I think about him just about as much as when he was alive. His was a life of great good and bad, and in that, he was hardly alone.
I miss him, but he sure could be aggravating. Mama and I talk about it all the time.
My goal, of course, is to glean something from all this observing that might come in handy filling more novels. I got a couple – the new one, The Intangibles, and the other, The Audacity of Dope – that you can purchase at amazon.com, neverlandpublishing.com and montedutton.com. For your grown-up friends who aren’t overly reverent, I reckon they might make excellent Christmas gifts. And if you’re around Clinton, The Intangibles is available, autographed already, at L&L Office Supply.
[cb_profit_poster Travel1]