Books about Writing

I’m a writing book junkie. I can’t help it, especially if the book is written by an author I know and respect—one who can really write. Like biographies, I use these books mainly for motivation. I know I need to study them more, but time crunches keep me from memorizing the author’s brilliant phrases about writing, following suggested activities, and using the books as private tutors like I should. Between teaching, performing in my Scots-Irish band, and my own creative writing, there’s not many windows of time for that. However, I do use them as reference tools and do exercises or follow prompts as I have time. I tend to mark what I read by highlighting or underlining anything I may need to come back to. I also scribble questions and notes to myself in the margin. I have also found that these books lead me to other authors and some very good books that I need to read. Anyway, here are several books on the craft of writing that I have read and found most helpful.

Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life by Erica Jong.
Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood
The Spooky Art by Norman Mailer
On Writing by Stephen King
The Lie that Tells a Truth by John Dufresne
Techniques of Fiction Writing: Measure and Madness by Leon Surmelian
The Pocket Muse by Monica Wood
Writing from Personal Experience by Davidoff Kelton
Writing for your Life, edited by Sybil Steinberg
Writing Horror, edited by Mort Castle

Thomas Moore on Islamic Fanatics

Like Christianity, the Islamic religion has been plagued with extremists and cruel practitioners who use “religion” as a pretext and justification for their crimes against humanity. In the early days of my intensive reading, I read many religious texts. I’ve read the Koran (English translation), the Book of Mormon (along with several of their other sacred texts—Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, etc.) and I’ve read the complete Bible (old and new testaments in several different translations) and I’ve translated the New Testament from Greek into English. Reverence for one’s sacred book as a guide seems to be an essential element for a meaningful religious experience, and surprisingly, the organized (often very disorganized) form of the religion differs from the picture given in the sacred book.

However, like Christians who fail to read and follow the spirit of the Bible, many followers of Islam have gotten off track. In fact, it’s so extreme that it’s gotten weird. I think one reason I so enjoyed the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, was because of the theme of possible harmony between the religions. Now, I know that we have hardly proved ourselves innocent in this conflict. Yet, the car bombs and the suicide bombers and the injury and destruction that results does not help world opinion. The intense violence only seems to be escalating. I read, or perhaps heard on NPR, one writer who described suicide bombing as the crack cocaine of terrorism.

Even in the 18th century, some of our poets (who are the true prophets of society) sensed that the Islam of the extremists is not the same Islam that helped bring Europe out of the dark ages through its accumulated and developed arts, texts, and sciences. For example, Thomas Moore (1779-1852), an Irish poet and friend and biographer of Byron, wrote some lines that are fitting on this topic. The lines come from a narrative poem of Moore’s entitled, Lalla Rookh: an Oriental Romance (1817).

“One of that Saintly, murd’rous brood
To Carnage and the Koran giv’n,
Who think that through unbelievers’ blood
Lies their directed path to heaven.
. . . .
Just Allah, what must be thy look,
When such a wretch before thee stands
Unblushing with thy sacred book
Turning the leaves with blood-stained hands
And Wresting from its page sublime
Creed of lust, and hate, and crime.”

Coconut Joe’s

As it turned out, Monday, July 31 was my last night in Charleston. My daughter, Rachel, had rented a room at a beach hotel. I drove through the Isle of Palms to that Holiday Inn on Ocean Blvd., and I noticed the island has had explosive growth since I had lived there. I literally didn’t recognize it. As I looked at row after row of very expensive houses, I had to ask myself, “Is there really that man people in America with so much money?” Erica Jong points out that most writers can’t make a living without teaching or editing, etc. I guess I must get used to the disparity of my meager living to that of others. It wasn’t that I envied the folks in those fine houses, I’m just truly surprised there are so many of them. Jong says that writers can only be “people who can live in cold-water flats and like it.”

After we found my daughter’s room, I walked the beach with my grandson, Mason Alexander Shelby. I was proud of the fact that my daughter married into a family with blood ties to Robert E. Lee and the Jefferson Davis family both. When he was born, I felt like my daughter had borne a Confederate Messiah. We are the only members of our extended family with curly hair, and we both returned from our walk on the wind-blown beach with wild hair. It was an interesting experience to have the whole family laughing at our looks!

We gathered the crew together and went to Coconut Joes for food and drinks. As we waited on the restaurant’s upper deck, I had a banana daiquiri, then I switched to Coronas. My eyes traced the ocean’s horizon. The ocean has a hypnotic effect upon me. It made me want to drag out my Jimmy Buffet books (yes, he does write) and sing “A Pirate looks at 40.”

There was a musician that night. He sang mostly crowd tunes with a sincere but nondescript voice. After the meal of course was when I received the phone call from my mother saying I needed to get to Oklahoma. With that phone call, my Charleston trip and euphoria effectively ended.

Charleston, SC Civil War Walking Tour

Monday, July 31 in Charleston, SC: My Civil War Tour

Today, I went on the Civil War Walking Tour, conducted by Jack Thomson, Civil War historian and author of Charleston at War: The Photographic Record. This little expedition was one of my best adventures on my Charleston trip. Charleston is a symbol of the heart of the South. When one learns of this city, he learns much more than he or she intended to about the War Between the States, or as some Southerners phrased it, “The War of Northern Aggression” or “The Late Unpleasantness.”

I found parking around 8:00 am near the Mills House Hotel where the tour was to start at 9:00. (It was a fancy place as my redneck ancestors would say. Room rates range from $99.00 a night to $350.00 depending. It first opened around 1853. You can see and read about the hotel here: Slightly depressed that my vacation was nearly over, I sat in the hotel courtyard by a fountain. The couryard was filled with lush plants. I brought my camera this time, and I intend to have a link to the photos posted soon.

We gathered in the hotel lobby. The tour began with a lecture and a viewing of photos. Our tour guide was Jeff Zimmerman, a co-worker of Thomson. I found him to be civil and knowledgeable, just as Thomson had assured me he would be. We had about twenty people in our tour group. Thankfully, all were civil and interested in the tour. I managed to strike up a conversation with a few of them during slow moments. Some were from up north. Jeff picked up on the fact I knew some things about the Civil War and we had some interesting exchanges. The fact I was a gifted English teacher interested some of my fellow walkers, and I was able to share some things I teach my students that they won’t learn from the history books. By the end of the tour, I had converted some to not liking Lincoln and appreciating the South more. The walk was said to take two hours—it actually was two and a half. I guestimate that we walked three miles in that time.

I was refreshed by the tour, I received many ideas for stories, and I was surprised the time passed so quickly. I would highly recommend Thomson’s tour if you visit Charleston.

You can read a little of this tour at Thomson’s email is if you want to write him. During our phone conversation, I found him friendly and anxious to talk about Charleston. If you’re looking to learn about the War Between the States in Charleston, you will find him a very knowledgeable fellow. The tour is $17.00 per adult, and children under twelve are free.

Next entry will be on my last night in Charleston.

Dog Days

Well, I’m on the road to Oklahoma to do my sonly duties and help my parents out some. I’ve heard a couple of metereologists talk of the heat wave and the “dog days” of summer. I decided to try a poem about the dog days and how they affected two crazed lovers. Let me know if this first draft is working. I SHOULD be able to post again Friday night.

Even Lovers are affected by these dog days,
Those hot and sultry Canicular weeks
Between July and September,
When Sirius, the Dog Star,
Rises and sets with the sun.
The Romans whispered its brightness
Heated the earth, and drew out our madness,
Causing men to sweat at midnight
Broiling bodies by day,
Boiling their blood by night,
Scarring sensitive souls
Stirring languid, listless libidos.
Lives stall in discomfort,
Stagnation and inactivity,
The earth tilts strangely,
The air is thick with moisture,
And venomous, agitated serpents creep about.
The sun’s rays pierce us
Like Eros’ poisoned arrows,
And we stumble onward with a
Crazed look in our eyes.
At the great council,
Our body language is specific and clear,
Someone should muzzle us in these hot days,
Like the Ancients did their dogs.

Return from Charleston

This morning I was on the road by 7:15 Eastern Standard Time. After a thirteen-hour drive, I returned to Monroe. The drive was a no-brainer, I-26 to I-20, then straight to Monroe, arriving at 8:30 p.m. Central Time. According to my trip odometer, I drove a total of 1809 miles on my Charleston trip. It was a great vacation/business trip. Unfortunately, I also spent a lot of money enjoying it. We Louisiana school teachers can’t do things like that too often.

While in Charleston, I pitched my book to several individuals, museums, and stores, as well as the Charleston Public Library. Most I talked to seemed interested in Stories of the Confederate South, but they all seemed more interested in my children’s book that Pelican will publish next spring, Jim Limber Davis: A Confederate Orphan in the Confederate White House. I think I’ll have a very busy year promoting that one. As far as Charleston goes, I fell in love with the area again. I think I’ll save a few dollars and stay there for a whole month next summer. I want to continue talking of Charleston in this blog for a couple of entries. Yet, for now, I’m tired from my trip and I want to read some more of Erica Jong’s, Seducing the Demon: Writing for my Life. I’ll be in Oklahoma with my parents tomorrow and won’t return until Friday night if all goes well, so nothing more will be posted till then.