For Want of Coffee

Vince Pawless (left) and Andy Serna. (Monte Dutton photos)
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Tuesday, December 13, 2016, 9:54 a.m.

The Patriots beat the Ravens.

I’m going out of my mind trying to sell my novels.

The new coffeemaker hasn’t arrived yet.

By Monte Dutton

Having to get up and drive out to the truck stop for a gigantic mug of Dark Roast is a chore, but now I’ve had it, and breakfast, and, inexplicably, I watched NASCAR shows on NBC Sports right up until Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe filled my high definition, and, now, thank God, Aerial America is coming on The Smithsonian Channel, and this blog will have a pleasant, soothing background.

Life isn’t exactly great, but it’s promising.

The Weather Channel has a live feed from Minot, North Dakota, and there’s a 30-percent chance of rain here. Just so someone else can write “we need the rain,” here it is. We need the rain.

Minor bowl games will begin on Saturday, and that’s a grand opening I’m probably going to miss because I will be out on free-lance assignment and hence unable to savor the New Mexico Lobos against the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. I might be home in time for the latter stages of Southern Mississippi versus Louisiana-Lafayette in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

I don’t have a big rooting interest in those games.

Most weeks my novels sell better during the week than on weekends. This week, so far, is an exception. Cowboys Come Home, my western about a couple World War II vets coming home to Texas, surged over the weekend, probably in no small part because of its discovery in the part of the Lone Star State where the story takes place, and definitely in no small part because of the efforts of my friend Vince Pawless, who lives thereabouts.

(Graphic courtesy of Meredith Pritchard; cover by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Crazy of Natural Causes (2015) is on Kindle sale at a whopping $.99 until this year of my and America’s discontent finally ends. It’s about a football coach who loses virtually everything except his life (and damn near that) and mounts the big comeback in the most unexpected ways. In this one novel, I wrote about football, Jesus, music, weed, and sex, both hetero- and homo-. The central character, Chance Benford, is either a con man, a flawed hero, a man of God, a hypocrite, or, in the opinion of his creator (me, not God, Who would be his Creator), all of those things. In my view, Chance is basically a good man who does what it takes, however outrageous, to get his life back on track.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses (2016) is my best selling book to date. It’s been out since spring. It’s a story of small-town corruption that has the potential to burst out statewide. The man running for governor, Denny Frawley, has an alcoholic wife, drug-dealing kids, scheming mistress, brutal henchmen, and a taste for violence and cocaine.

Typical politician. The voters seem to think he’s a pretty good guy.

I’d like to think if you’ve read one, you’d like to read them all — the three above plus Longer Songs: A Collection of Short Stories (2016), The Intangibles (2013), and The Audacity of Dope (2011) — but my tales aren’t for everyone.

If you’re not sure whether my made-up adventures are your cup of tea — or vat of truck-stop coffee — sample them in Longer Songs. The short stories all started with songs I wrote.

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy Cowboys Come Home, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, Crazy of Natural Causes, The Intangibles, and/or a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs. They’re all signed and reasonably priced.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

If you’d like me to ship you a signed copy, you can find my address and instructions here. If you want to speed the process up, send me a note and I’ll hook you up with my PayPal account.

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Note that my third novel, Crazy of Natural Causes, is on Kindle sale at $.99 for the entire month. Links to print copies are below.

Cowboys Come Home is my brand-new, fresh-off-the-press western, a tale of two World War II veterans of the Pacific who come back home to Texas, intent on resuming their cowboy ways.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about a crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.(Melanie Ryon cover design)

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

(Design by Steven Novak)
(Design by Steven Novak)

 

Looking Across the Lake

Imagine. All those football games began on fields like this one. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Imagine. All those football games began on fields like this one. (Monte Dutton sketch)
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges
Complete Supply of Ink and Toner Cartridges

Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, July 23, 2016, 9:26 a.m.

CowboysComeHome_CVR
(Steven Novak cover design)

It’s been an eventful week. I got a cover designed for my next novel, Cowboys Come Home. I started on a sixth, which doesn’t mean it has a name yet, only that it has two bitingly satirical chapters.

Last night I washed my bedsheets. Dried them, too. Put them back on the bed. It is my general policy to put another set on the bed when I wash the sheets, but last night I put the same ones back on.

As I fell asleep, I was so proud.

Another change is on the horizon. Shortly I will begin reporting on Laurens County sports for the Greenwood Index-Journal. Basically, I will be doing what I have been doing, only a bit more of it.

Monte Dutton
Monte Dutton

Two years ago, I wrote about high school and college games for several newspapers. A year ago, about this time, I started writing for the GoLaurens/GoClinton website, and that was a gig I really enjoyed.

This is home. When I was a kid, the Clinton Red Devils at Wilder Stadium — not the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, or David Pearson at Darlington Raceway — occupied the center of my universe. The Laurens Raiders were respected rivals from eight years up the road, on the Laurens-Clinton Highway, or, as it is known here, the Clinton-Laurens Highway. This year’s Laurens-Clinton, or as we know it in Clinton, Clinton-Laurens, game is on August 26.

(Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)

I’ll be there, and I’ll be watching one or the other all season long, and then into basketball season and beyond, and with the Presbyterian College Blue Hose thrown in from time to time for good measure.

When Billy Dunlap, of GoLaurens/GoClinton, hired me to cover the Red Devils, and I later picked up the Raiders from time to time, I was just looking for a little spending money to sustain me during the erratic flow of book royalties. I write a couple NASCAR columns each week, too, and I often turn the basic facts of a game story into the more observational format of a day-after blog here at montedutton.com.

(Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)

My career is writing fiction. It is possible, writing fiction, to be imprisoned in an interior world of laptops, sporting events on TV, old movies, news, social media and guitar breaks. This world is necessary, too, if I am to become an overnight literary sensation after years and years of honing my skills and waiting for that big break, the coincidence in which someone important stumbles upon my work and likes it.

As I used to see young men post more often on Twitter than now, I’m not about that life.

(Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)

I need to get out. I need to experience life, the better to create stories derived from the random interminglings of it. If I’m going to keep creating stories and characters, I cannot be a dull boy.

This Greenwood opportunity was unexpected. I had no idea the Index-Journal, where I took my first job and held it for 13 months 34 years ago, was interested in having me do exactly what I am doing now, only more of it. At the time I worked there, just out of college, thinking I knew infinitely more than I really did, I called it The Index Finger. When I talked to the executive editor, I had no idea the paper was interested in covering the sports across the lake.

(Monte Dutton photo)
(Monte Dutton photo)

I walked in the front door of that building for the first time since 1982. It may have been 1981 because, when I last worked there, I never went in the front door.

The sports department is where the darkroom used to be. There’s no darkroom. Duh.

Personally, the significance is that this correspondent’s job is more than what I’m doing now and, the way I’ve got it figured, exactly the amount I want to do.

Billy and I are parting on good terms. I wrote my last GoLaurens/GoClinton story, at least for now, on Friday. He was glad to have me. I was glad for the work. He can’t offer me what Greenwood can. I can do what Greenwood wants.

And I’ll still be writing about the Red Devils, Raiders and Blue Hose. They are familiar. Seldom has a year passed in which they were not a vibrant part of life, whether following a Clinton playoff game on Internet radio from a motel room in Phoenix or sweating profusely as me and my arthritic knees make our way up the Wilder Stadium stadium steps.

K.C. Hanna Stadium at LDHS isn’t at the alma mater, but it is easier on my knees.

What I’d love for you to do is “take” the Index-Journal, but, for now, at least keep an eye on the website. Soon I will have stories posted there. Follow it on Twitter. Keep reading GoLaurens/GoClinton, too. And this website. And my literary site, Well, Pilgrim … You know where I am. I’m everywhere. Read my novels, and I’ll take you all over the country. None has traveled abroad yet.

(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)
(Jennifer Skutelsky cover design)

Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy either Forgive Us Our Trespasses or Crazy of Natural Causes, and you’ll get a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs, absolutely free. Tell ‘em Mr. Monte sent you, y’hear?

(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)
(Cover design by Jennifer Skutelsky)

Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Links to print copies are below.

Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.

Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.

(Melanie Ryon cover design)
(Melanie Ryon cover design)

The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.

(Crystal Lynn cover photo)
(Crystal Lynn cover photo)

The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.

Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.

Follow me at Facebook (Monte.Dutton), Twitter (@montedutton), Google+ (MonteDuttonWriter) and/or Instagram (Tug50).

Confidence Men

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Sometimes the media race gets tight, too. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)
Sometimes the media race gets tight, too. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo for Chevy Racing)

Clinton, South Carolina, Wednesday, October 8, 2014, 8:31 a.m.

Those who covered stock car races with me for twenty years are aware of my Rules. Dutton’s Rules. There’s no list. I just cite one from time to time. They’re scattered on a floor somewhere in the back of my head. Occasionally one catches my eyes.

For instance:

The truth is never more evident than when vehemently denied.

If someone responds to a simple question with unwarranted alarm, he’s hiding something. Let’s say the question is some variation of, “Why did you do that?”

If the answer is, “Well, it wasn’t really a big deal. What happened was …” then it’s probably legit. If the answer is, “Hey what do you mean by that?” or, “What gives you the right to ask…?” or, “Hey, bud, you never drove a race car, all right?” then there’s something to hide there.

It’s not a hundred percent effective. Some are just natural-born assholes.

If no one will deny a rumor, it’s true.

Most people have enough sense to avoid being caught in lies. A few lie with great skill, and those almost always go far. Most liars are ineffective. If a journalist trusts someone and is double-crossed, he or she should never forget. Some let bygones be bygones. I was never one of them. No one who has ever been a writer for long has avoided the experience of having his trust exploited.

Another Rule: A guitar helps.
Another Rule: A guitar helps.

If someone tells you he (or she) will do anything for you, the last thing he ever wants is for you to ask.

Real friends don’t have to tell you. They don’t have to make a big show of it. Most overly friendly people are overly deceitful. Essentially they’re con men. Or con women. My grandfather used to insist on calling them “confidence men.”

When in doubt, satirize.

This is my favorite method, anyway.

Thanks, as always, for patronizing my humble web site. I’d like you to look at my other site, www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com. You might even enjoy reading something of mine that costs money, such as my two novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, both of which are available at www.amazon.com.

It Takes a Leap

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Jimmie Johnson has won three out of the past four Sprint Cup races. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson has won three out of the past four Sprint Cup races. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

Clinton, S.C., Monday, June 16, 2014, 4:36 p.m.

My original plan, first thing this morning, was to write about Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, but, unfortunately, I didn’t have much to write.

I preempted myself.

Before the race, I wrote a blog in which I described expectations for the race that, by the wildest of coincidences, ended up being on the money, thus relieving me of much else that leaped to mind. To get a whole blog out of a race, it’s not enough for a few items to occur to me, though God knows it’s led me to some mediocre efforts in the past. Really, a blog should leap to mind.

A leap of faith. Or imagination. Or reckless abandon. Or uproarious amusement. It takes a leap.

Instead, this morning I leaped into fiction, and most of the leap in readers has been there lately. Several months ago, I started a second blog mainly as a place to chip away at short stories.

The previous blog flew right over readers' heads. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
The previous blog flew right over readers’ heads. (Getty Images for NASCAR)

The blog about how Jimmie Johnson was bound to win at Michigan because of, not in spite of, never having won there before? The same blog where I figured high speeds would result in lots of wrecks but not much passing? That one?

Hardly anyone read it. About fifty or so the last time looked. If I’d predicted Brian Vickers, three hundred would have read it just so they could rag me when he crashed on the first lap. Pre-race blogs are risky. I’m not kidding anyone. I lucked up.

On the other hand, a short story I wrote last week, “Facebook Friends,” has drawn 374 “direct hits” and might well have been read by some of the 121 others who visited www.wellpilgrim.wordpress.com just to scroll down the page. This month is just slightly over half over, and the total clicks are more about five times as many as last month.

Of the 126 visitors this morning, only sixteen were stateside. I’m getting really big in India, where most of my previous contacts were telemarketers.

In case, even though you haven’t been interested in my NASCAR blogs, you’d like to read “The Plagiarist of Winfield Shoals,” the short story I finished this morning (instead of writing about the race), here you are:

http://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/the-plagiarist-of-winfield-shoals/

And if you’d like to take a look at “Facebook Friends,” which started this small-scale feeding frenzy when I posted it on June 9:

http://wellpilgrim.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/facebook-friends/

I’m still working on what will be my fourth novel, but all the new readers of these short stories give me hope that someone out there who might be able to help advance my writing career might take notice.

Meanwhile, back at the race track …

Sonoma’s next, right?

I’m not going to play all those bald-faced social-media games. (“RT if you’re pulling for Junior.”) I’ll do what I always do: write when something leaps.

Another. Big. Day.

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

Clinton, S.C., Thursday, June 5, 2014, 8:47 a.m.

Robert Earl Keen, with me and David Poole in the foreground.
Robert Earl Keen, with me and David Poole in the foreground.

 

This morning I read a Q&A with Rick Reilly in which he talked about his decision to give up sportswriting. He’s going to move to Florence, Italy.

I might drive through Florence, S.C., sometime this year.

Last night, I moped. I’d had a day that fell short of expectations. I’d spent more time playing my guitar in search of inspiration than making use of any actual inspiration. I read some Elmore Leonard (Swag). I stayed up to 2 a.m. watching the Boston Red Sox lose a rain-delayed game in the 12th inning. They got swept in Cleveland.

The Red Sox lost 10 straight, then won seven straight, and now have lost three in a row en route to Detroit. They’re the perfect team for me.

Big things seldom upset me. Big things build up. Little things set me off because my frustrations escape the banks. My sea levels had been rising.

Of all things, Don Zimmer died.

That little sentence sort of stands apart, doesn’t it? It seems irrelevant to the subject.

Of all the minor achievements that mark my career as a journalist, I’m probably proudest of what I wrote about Dale Earnhardt after his passing. I believe that greatness stands on its own merits. Even in the face of tragedy, I think it wrong to depict people’s lives dishonestly. I was proud of paying just tribute to Earnhardt without depicting him as someone he wasn’t. I don’t think that’s really a tribute. It’s a retroactive ass kissing.

I wrote of Zimmer what I felt I could. Unfortunately, it was in the form of tweets, which would be like writing of Gandhi, “He seldom dressed well.” I don’t know why I did it. I know better.

The two tweets:

Don Zimmer, by all accounts a fine man. He broke my heart managing the Red Sox and Cubs. As a fan, I’m still a little wounded.

Zimmer worked for many teams. Good guy. Loyal guy. In terms of managing, well, he worked hard. That’s all I can concede.

I know people loved him. It’s just all I could write without being insincere. What followed, of course, was an exchange, one I should’ve let lie, that came from one of those fans who, for some strange, masochistic reason, apparently hates many of the people he follows. I was “bitter” (as usual), and my timing was inappropriate, and I couldn’t wait to peck away at Zimmer’s corpse.

Me? I just thought I was being as nice to the man as my conscience would allow. Inappropriate? I just thought it honest.

So the guy played the “unemployment card,” and it was the second time in as many nights I had been assailed for not having a job from some corporation that deigned to provide a living for me. I shouldn’t have gotten upset. They’re the same people who accuse me of betraying NASCAR and “biting the hand that feeds me,” as if I was supposed to check the experiences of a lifetime at the media-center door.

NASCAR made my living? No. Writing about events and personalities honestly made my living. NASCAR and I lived on a two-way street.

In my heart, the death of David Poole in 2009 was more significant than Earnhardt’s loss. I respected Earnhardt and grew to understand him. David and I were buddies, two fat guys with a whole lot in common and a whole lot of areas where we didn’t see eye to eye. I never knew anyone with whom I had more and less in common. (Notice how I refer to one by last name and the other by first.)

Occasionally, David used to let me sit across the table from him.
Occasionally, David used to let me sit across the table from him.

In the aftermath of David’s death, I suppressed grief with amusement. I was struck by how almost no one paying tribute to him seemed to be talking about the person I knew. I laughed at how David would have laughed at the notion that most of those paying tribute to him were people he despised, and who despised him. I know it’s a strong word. David sometimes used strong words.

The best moment was when I was driving to Richmond after attending the visitation. Listening to satellite radio, I heard a prominent observer say, “What I will always remember about David Poole is that the man had no ego.”

I nearly swapped ends on I-85. David was one of the great friends of my life, but his ego couldn’t have been confined at Guantanamo.

I laughed and laughed and laughed. Amusement kept me awake all the way to Richmond. It also kept me from crying, I expect.

Earnhardt was a great race-car driver, not St. Francis of Assisi. David was a textbook journalist. He was more dedicated than I, and fortunately, he appreciated my sense of humor. David went off on most everyone except me, which I took as a great measure of respect. I am embarrassed that I let myself be bothered. David would’ve lashed out for the rest of the week – not even allowing for how social media has skyrocketed since his death – and angry critics would’ve converged on “live chat rooms” – remember those? – like seagulls seeking bread crumbs.

I would have had great fun watching.

Instead, I feel like a damned weakling, letting my poor feelings get hurt, sulking, lips poked out and other terms of derision my grandmother used to use.

For the record, mean-spirited assholes, I’m self-employed, not unemployed. My job expired. They needed the bucks. As the Statler Brothers sang: “Whatever happened to Randolph Scott has happened to the industry!”

I’m not groveling. For the first time, I’m doing exactly what I want to do. Writing fiction is the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. I have to get better at making a living from it, but I’m making progress.

Thanks for all the support, folks. I’m just embarrassed at stirring it up. I’m not really a bad guy in spite of what is contained in my writing. If you really want to help me, buy a book, preferably one of mine. And keep those tweets and posts coming, you hear? Tell ‘em Monte Boy sent you.

It’s So Different, It’s the Same

Gotta go...to an indie bookstore!

I love this photo I took one day on the farm.
I love this photo I took one day on the farm.

Clinton, S.C., Tuesday, April 29, 2014, 1:15 p.m.

Another month, the fourth, is about to end. I’m mildly saddened by its passing in that it was the one in which I was born, but that was a long time ago, and my birthday isn’t the wild celebration it once was.

Another year. Oh, great. I’ve reached the point where, when I go see a doctor, if everything looks fine, he looks some more.

Buh-boom-chuh!

It’s funny how life has changed since I stopped going to NASCAR tracks.

The days are different. The segments are one at a time. It’s not that they weren’t all the same when I lived out of my suitcase. Tuesdays were always my recovery days. I usually arrived home sometime on Monday, mostly afternoons when I was driving and nights when I was flying. On Tuesdays I felt tired and, quite often, sore. I don’t know whether everyone is like this or just me, but I seldom felt overtly tired. My legs told me. They got restless, sitting in a car or a plane, or lying in bed. The rest of my body could handle denial; not my legs.

Nowadays, my legs are seldom tired, and if they are, it’s for a damn good reason.

It was a routine. Then it was the same every week. Now it’s the same every day. Then it was get home Monday, rest Tuesday, do the routine chores (bills, clothes, grass) on Wednesday, travel on Thursday, spend Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at the track, travel on Mondays, and then another lap on the same merry-go-round. There were small adjustments to accommodate races on Saturday nights and nightmares for the two on Sunday nights.

Every now and then, I go down to the banks of the pond to play my guitar.
Every now and then, I go down to the banks of the pond to play my guitar.

Now I get up in the morning, take some meds, fix some breakfast, fire up the laptop, and away I go. At night I usually read books and watch TV, often at the same time. If the Boston Red Sox are playing, I watch them.

At this moment, I haven’t left the county in three weeks. I traveled lots more when I was twelve and my father sold fertilizer.

I’m thinking about playing a few songs in Columbia on Thursday night. I’m way overdue for a trip to the movies with my niece’s kids. In a couple weeks, I’m going on a long trip involving my music and my fiction. I’m hoping to wander a bit, take my time, see some sights, experience things I can describe either in song or story.

It will be nice to break free from the pattern. It was nice to do that when the pattern was different.

I sleep, read, write and play my guitar more. I make less money, and that, really, is the rub. I’m trying to make my own living because I don’t have any choice. As ways to go broke go, this is a pretty good one. It’s like the doctor telling you, “You’ve had a stroke, but if you’re going to have a stroke, this is the one to have.”

Well, you know, one out of two ...
Well, you know, one out of two …

But I haven’t had a stroke. I just don’t have a job, and it has become patently obvious that I’m not going to get one, at least not one for which I am prepared and established.

So I write. And I contact people, hoping they will find something in that writing that leads them to make me more prosperous because they think that writing will do the same for them.

I’m a natural as a writer, but nothing seems natural about being an entrepreneur except standing in front of a crowd with a book or a guitar and entertaining them. I think I’ve gotten reasonably good at that part of it. People enjoy me once they get there. What’s difficult is getting them there.

Somewhere, someone is thinking, Ah, he should’ve majored in business, or asking, Why didn’t he go to law school?

Because I suck at business. I’m too hardheaded to be a lawyer.

I’m doing exactly what I should be doing. I just didn’t bargain on it going out of style.

P.S.

Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. But, if you really must worry, I think buying one or more of my books would be therapeutic. That’s the effect writing them has on me.

[cb_profit_poster Beer1]

Making Believe

This photo is several years old, but my hair looks this way right now, anyway.
This photo is several years old, but my hair looks this way right now, anyway.

[cb_profit_poster Storytelling]Clinton, S.C., Friday, January 24, 2014, 12:22 p.m.

It is I.
It is I.

Fortunately, in this weekend bereft of football, I will manage to occupy myself for at least part of it on the road. I’m going to be making a long drive early in the morning, hosting a book signing and then turning around and coming back home. I’ll placate myself by taking along some music I haven’t heard in a while and getting some of the thinking done that long drives afford.

On Sunday, I’ll probably watch the closing stages of the Rolex 24 endurance race and get some writing done, which normally doesn’t happen on Sundays with the National Football League in action.

My trusty Pawless. (Vince Pawless photo)
My trusty Pawless. (Vince Pawless photo)

Tuesday and Wednesday were productive days. I wrote two long chapters in my modern western, Cowboys Come Home. The crime novel, Deadly Arrogance, and the western are each sitting at about 20,000 words of a first draft. Meanwhile, Crazy by Natural Causes awaits a good polishing.

On Thursday night, I was in Shelby, N.C., and it was cold. I met some nice people and got up there early enough to enjoy some outstanding barbecue and banana pudding. The pudding was better than the signing, but I still had a good time playing some songs, reading some selections from both my actually published novels, The Intangibles and The Audacity of Dope, talking about them and my music, and answering questions. I never know how these signings are going to go. I hope to go back to Shelby later, when the weather warms up. In the meantime, autographed copies of both novels are available at Fireside Books & Gifts, which is right in the middle of downtown on Lafayette Street, as they are at Fiction Addiction in Greenville and Barnhill’s in Winston-Salem, N.C. Signed copies of The Intangibles are available at L&L Office Supply in Clinton and Burry Bookstore in Hartsville. You can order it at any Barnes & Noble, or online at bn.com and amazon.com.

But I digress with shameless commercialism.

12:41 p.m.

My relatively new song, “It’s Only Fiction,” plays well to bookstore audiences since it’s about the process of concocting a story (a bank robbery earlier this week) while sitting in a chair behind a laptop.

It’s not me / It’s only fiction / It’s not me / It’s someone else / It’s not me / I’m just the writer / I’m as boring as a buzzard soaring o’er the pits of hell.

Being a novelist is a little like being the Wizard of Oz, concocting great mayhem by twisting imaginary dials behind an imaginary curtain.

I just made a vain attempt to retrieve some Jerry Jeff Walker lyrics, something about at least he wasn’t just some writer staring at a wall.

At least I am. Beats robbing banks for real.

I’ll be at Clock Tower Books, 105 Screven Street, Georgetown, S.C., on Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m. I’ll see if the coast is clear. I know it’s chilly.

[cb_profit_poster Travel1]

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]

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]

Selling Books Socially

Front of folder
Front of folder
Back
Back

[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]