Monday, May 30, 2011

Wounded Warriors

            How many of us have wounded warriors in our families, the ones who came home but never came back?
            My uncle, J. T. Sherrill, was an eighteen year old farm hand in west Tennessee when WWII started. He joined the army right after Pearl Harbor. He fought in North Africa. He fought in Sicily. He fought in Europe. He served for the duration. How much survivor guilt might be accumulated over four years of war? So far as I know he was never seriously wounded, never lost a limb, not even a digit.
            When he came back he wasn’t the same. He drank too much. He couldn’t keep a job. He worked for years at menial farming jobs. He became the black sheep of the family, a source of embarrassment to some of his brothers and sisters. Neither I nor my siblings got to know Uncle J. T. We lived hundreds of miles from him and neither my dad nor my mom talked much about him. We picked up those verbal clues in the little that was said – he had some defect.
            My dad died suddenly in 1986. He walked into the hospital for a relatively routine procedure. He was carried out five days later.
            My family was gathered at my parents’ house on the day of the funeral. About an hour before we were to leave for the funeral service, a taxi stopped in the street beside the house. I watched a thin man get out and make his way toward the house. I had never seen him before, but he looked like my dad.
            The black sheep, ne’er do well, defective Uncle J. T. had taken a bus from Memphis to Gastonia and a taxi from Gastonia to his brother’s house in the little town of Clover to pay his last respects to his brother.
            It was one of the most moving moments of my life. I joined in greeting and welcoming him, but my composure was crumbling. I had to walk away, walk outside and be alone for awhile.
            Uncle J. T. went to the funeral service with us. Afterward I looked for him, but he was gone. Another uncle had taken him directly back to Gastonia and put him on a bus back to Memphis. I want to forgive that uncle for his misguided action, I know he didn’t understand, but it’s hard.
            Uncle J. T. died three years later. I didn’t learn of his passing until weeks after he was laid to rest. It still makes me sad that I didn’t attend his funeral, didn’t pay my last respects to a man I never got to know but who touched my heart with his act of love and respect for my dad.
            So here I honor you, my uncle, J. T. Sherrill, who fought the hot fight for four years and fought a cold, lonely, misunderstood fight for forty more. You gave your all.
            My heart salutes you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Large and the Small of it

            I’m a pipe smoker. (I know. Shame on me.) Since I drive a lot, I have a plastic cup in my car where I dump pipe ashes. Picture a pipe bowl filled with tobacco. When it’s smoked, the tobacco at the top and middle of the bowl is burned to ash, but the tobacco at the bottom is often not touched by the flame and retains its identity as tobacco. I noticed the other day that my ash cup needed emptying – and that there was no ash at the top of the cup, only tobacco. Curious, I slowly dumped the cup. The few larger pieces of identifiable tobacco were on top and the many smaller pieces of ash were on the bottom. The vibration of the car worked the smaller pieces to the bottom, leaving the larger pieces ‘floating’ on top. There’s a lesson there, maybe even a principle.
            I visited a website not long ago that helps writers publish their work. I think they’re up front and offer legitimate services to those who desire not to pursue traditional publishing, so this is not a criticism of the site. This is an observation that they had hundreds, maybe thousands of titles all shaken together at the bottom of that proverbial ash cup. Some of the titles may have been terrific reads, but there was nothing to point them out, nothing to make them ‘larger’ than the rest, nothing to make them or their writers ‘float’ to the top of the mountain of other titles.
            I want people to read my work. To accomplish that, I must make my books, and myself, larger than the hundreds of thousands of other books and writers in the world.
            How can I do that? This blog is one attempt. And I’m working on a way to offer chapters of my book free. If you like it, you’ll tell your friends. Word of mouth makes a book larger.
            And, I have to learn the publishing business. Even if I were the best writer on six continents, I could still be sent to the bottom by a mediocre writer who knows the business. Finding a publisher is the end of one journey and the beginning of another. A publisher rightly asks, ‘will people actually pay money to spend a few hours with this guy?’ The answer is ‘yes’, if I can persuade people that the investment is worth it. I have to learn how to advertize, to market and to promote. Yes, the publisher will promote me, but publishers have lots of writers and limited resources to spend on each one, so it falls to me to really make it work.
            If I want people to read what I write, I have to make myself larger than the competition, and it is a competition, so that I and my work won’t sink into anonymity at the bottom of the ash cup.
            Thanks for your time.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

First things first

            I’m told that in my first post I should tell you about myself. My initial reaction is to give numbers: feet, inches, pounds, years. But that’s the vehicle, not the passenger.
            I’m a writer on my way to being published. I’ll share my trek through that tangled path with others chasing the same rabbit and, hopefully, learn from those who’ve caught it. And I suspect that I’ll be guilty of sharing random thoughts along the way that have nothing to do with getting published. I’ll try to post at least once a week.
            I write because it’s the natural thing to do. Stories have been telling themselves to me for as long as I can remember. You read that right. I don’t believe we tell stories. We shape and craft the stories that tell themselves to us, which explains to me why sequels, which are constructed to meet a demand, are seldom as satisfying as the original story which told itself. Let me say that I’m not leaning toward channeling or automatic writing, unless it’ll get me a publishing contract - just kidding - sort of.
            I started writing twenty years ago. In the space of three years, I wrote four novels. Two of them told themselves so fluidly that I watched the video of them in my mind during the day and rushed to get the words down each evening. I offered them to publishers and got a read at Random House for ‘What Rough Beast’, the novel I’m pitching again. Then I hit a rough patch, as they say. Spiritual, emotional and financial crises moved in. Mid-life crisis. Yeah, boy! I left the ministry, got divorced and stopped writing, in that order. The stories didn’t stop telling themselves. I just stopped writing them down. Three years ago, I was standing on the sidelines minding my own business when my passion tackled me and dragged me back onto the field. I’m in the game, now, to the sweet end.
            A little about ‘What Rough Beast’. My understanding is that there are two types of divine grace: saving grace, which is applied individually, and restraining grace, which is applied universally. Restraining grace is that which keeps people from acting out the bizarre and sometimes violent impulses which pop up in our heads. I asked myself, what if all restraining grace was withdrawn for a time. ‘What Rough Beast’ was the result.
            Final notes: this won’t become a forum on the manifestations of divine grace. You can agree or disagree. It won’t be debated. I was simply letting you know the starting point for the story. Also, though it grew out of my understanding of divine grace, WRB is not a Christian novel (quote/unquote). It has a few sharp edges which some Christians will find uncomfortable.
            Thanks for your time.