Birthday Thoughts

With almost thirty years in the health care field, I am all too familiar with the red, white, and blue card carried by Medicare beneficiaries. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d have my own.

Well, that day is today and represents a milestone in many ways. It is a time of great thanks for making it sixty-five years, and for the many blessings that have come my way. I have so much to be grateful for, including being able to walk in, sit at my computer, and type this column.

It is a time for reflection as I remember those friends and family who are no longer with us. That list keeps growing and seems to be surpassing the list of those present. As a good friend reminded me years ago, funerals are for the living, not for the departed. Good advice.

I’m amazed at the places I’ve been and the priceless memories I’ve collected. That is my treasure. I never dreamed a good ole boy from Macon, Georgia would have a list as rich as mine.

It is a time for hope, in spite of the toxic, partisan cloud that has enveloped our country. I’ve always been an optimist, hopefully wearing glasses tinted with realism. After all these years, I doubt I’m going to change.

Last, I begin to think about legacy. I reflect on all those in my life who’ve had such a positive impact on me. I hope I remembered to tell them. In over six decades on this earth, I hope that I’ve managed to do some good things to go with the many mistakes I’ve made.  And one day, I hope that someone remembers me in this way, for being a favorable influence in their life.

Nothing else a person could ask for. 

Coming Soon!

Happy New Year! I just finished the first draft of my next novel and am getting ready to send it out to my beta readers. New characters and new setting! I’m excited about it. Will be sharing more information soon.

I’ll be in Amelia Island next month at the Amelia Island Book Festival. This will be my first time there, and I’m looking forward to it. Hope to see you!

In March, I’ll be back at the Southwest Florida Reading Festival in Fort Myers. This will be my fourth year there. It is always a great event and excited about going back.

All for now, more later!

Pat Conroy

The other night, I started reading Pat Conroy’s Death of Santini. His words flow like the tidal creeks in the marshes of the low country, in seemingly random directions but ultimately leading to a larger, more important body of water.

I came across a passage so powerful and so beautiful, I had to stop reading. It literally moved me to tears. I reread it several times before closing the book and turning out the light. It was absolute perfection. I would never be able to write like that.

As I lay there in the dark, I resolved to set down my pen and never write another word, knowing I was incapable of the majesty of his words. As a writer, I was a fraud, not deserving of the title. My work suddenly seemed cheap and I was glad to be cloaked in darkness. Unable to sleep, I berated myself for my amateurish attempts to put down words worthy of reading. After a while, my vision started to clear and I could hear the voice of Conroy.

If every writer who could not measure up to the masters lay down their pen, the libraries would be desolate places with empty shelves. Countless versions of young Darryl’s would not be able to read and ride the wings of authors to other worlds. It dawned on me that there are very few writers who qualify for admission into the same chamber as Conroy, just as there are few musicians who will ever achieve the greatness of a Beethoven. What a sad world it would be if all artists felt the same way. I made up my mind that I would take his words as a challenge; a challenge to do better.

I’ll not repeat the passage. To do so would be a sacrilege. His words deserve to be read in the context of his work. I will say, to readers and writers alike, that one passage alone is worth the price of the book. I hope you’ll read it.

Relating to readers

Last evening, I was honored to meet with the Thomasville Literary Society, a local book club that had selected my book, A Case of Revenge, for their monthly title.

I enjoy talking with readers as much as I do writing. It is invigorating and inspiring, plus it keeps me on my toes. Over the weekend, I started thinking that it has been three years to the month since I published A Case of Revenge and I should probably refresh my memory. It would be embarrassing to not be able to discuss plot points or characters in my own book. For the first time, I re-read one of my books after the final version had been published.

Like many authors, I never go back and read my books. When I shared that with the group, that prompted several questions. First, “Is it hard to turn loose of a story and characters after I finish a book?” and second, “After having re-read it, would I change anything?”

My answer to the first question was easy. “Not at all,” I said. “By the time I’m finished, I’ve had enough of them and am ready to move on.”

The second question was tougher. “Yes,” I answered. “Of course there were things I’d change. The good part is that most of them were minor, like too many exclamation marks. When it came to the story, I said to myself, ‘that was actually a good story.’ I wouldn’t have changed a thing about the story.”

That was a good feeling and reinforces my belief that “It’s all about the story.” A good story is timeless and ages well. I’m glad to say that mine passed the test.

Harper Lee

I’m conflicted about Go Set a Watchman. It sets on my nightstand at home, as yet untouched. I still believe that Harper Lee, her sister, and her editor never wanted to publish it. They had ample opportunity to do so and chose not to, for reasons we will never completely understand.

Yet, the opportunity to read Harper Lee’s first book is too tempting. Some refer to it as a draft. I beg to differ. In 1957, she gave the manuscript of Watchman to her agent to shop with publishers. Granted, it may not have been print ready, but to me, that qualifies as a finished product in the mind of a writer, especially for fiction and a first-time author.

Lippincott bought it, and when they assigned it to editor Tay Hohoff, the journey began. Hohoff, who developed a close personal relationship with Lee, thought that it wasn’t ready for prime time. Working closely with her client and friend, she convinced the young Lee to reset the time period twenty years earlier, and shape it into a coming of age story. The rest, as they say, is history, and three years and many revisions later, To Kill a Mockingbird was published.

So, to me, Watchman is much more than the first draft of Mockingbird.  Certainly, it evolved into that beloved story, but it’s not unusual for a writer’s first story or stories to remain unpublished or serve as a springboard to subsequent works. I heard Michael Connelly, one of my favorite contemporary writers, speak earlier this year. When asked about his first book, he said, “My first three novels will never see the light of day.” His first published novel was actually his fourth book.

I look forward to curling up with a real book, not some electronic facsimile. And the fact that it was a brilliant, Pulitzer Prize winning novelist’s first novel makes it even more exciting. I will read it with the utmost respect and gratitude for this glimpse into the world of a truly gifted writer. It will never diminish my appreciation for her talent and the incredible story of To Kill a Mockingbird.