Days of Horror

It’s turned cold and has been raining steadily since early morning. My parents, who live in Kemp, Oklahoma, are iced in. The rain is not scheduled to cease until tomorrow morning. We teachers were given Martin Luther King Day off, and I’m grateful, but I’d enjoy it better if the weather weren’t so wretched. It also doesn’t help to know that I’m returning to a school building that hasn’t had heat in a week, and tomorrow it’s supposed to be REALLY cold. If we’re lucky, the ice storm will skirt north of us. Depressing weather.

On the other hand, cold rain always sets a certain other kind of mood. Right now it makes me want to write horror stories. I’ve mentioned in this blog before that one of my favorite books on writing is Writing Horror: A Handbook by the Horror Writers Association. In one chapter, Nancy Holder says, “The horror writer’s basic weapon is primal fear, which we either discover or develop in childhood–of the dark, of the bogeyman, of being alone, being hurt, being killed. People spend lifetimes hiding these fears, and hiding from these fears . . . .”

It requires personal courage and honesty to be an effective writer of horror. Holder quotes Clive Barker: “Horror writers are the ones who venture into the caves and dark places and return to tell the rest of the tribe what they saw.”

I guess it’s time for me to quit complaining about the rain and get to writing this horror story. Let me see if I can creep myself and my best friend (E. B., my reader) out.

HBO Rome Series

Last year, I’ve enjoyed the HBO series, Rome. I am looking forward to seeing the new year’s series begin tonight. It is such a powerful presentation, I’m surprised that my sophomore students have not even mentioned the series, and when I mention it, they don’t know what I’m talking about. Personally, I don’t watch much TV, in fact I hate it, but I love movies, and I love series like Rome. I know my students watch too much TV, but evidently their choice of programs doesn’t include what I watch. In our curriculum, we TRY to teach Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to our sophomores, but usually it is an exercise in futility. Even many of my religious students know very little about Rome, the empire in power during the days of Christ. Their lack of knowledge–and worse, their lack of interest–indicates they really can’t understand the Bible they claim they want to follow. If you are unaware of the setting of any story, you cannot understand it. However, if my students only knew of this program and thoughtfully watched it, it would make Shakespeare’s play come alive for them. If you want to know more about the HBO series and the cast, Rome, go to this site:

I have found this series intellectually stimulating, the cast well chosen, the women beautiful, and the general plot accurate and true to history. I’ve been fascinated by the Roman Empire as long as I can remember. I constructed Roman swords and shields as a young boy and acted out in my play the ancient battles I read about. I have always watched every movie and series I could about Rome, including I, Claudius; Ben Hur; The Robe; Gladiator; Spartacus; Cleopatra; the very naughty, Caligula, and Titus Adronicus (film version of Shakespeare’s play). I’m sure there may be others, but these come to mind, and I hope the list shows you I have not missed many of the films related to ancient Rome. As an adult, my fascination with Rome has seeped into my writng. I’ve constructed some fictional pieces set in Roman, and especially Celtic-Roman times. I’ve also collected several good books relating to the Roman Empire.

Watching the Rome series reminds me of how much work I have to do and how much there is yet left to learn.

Immortal Roberts Burns Supper

This weekend, I’ve been busy with the Scottish Society. Friday night, we hosted a Scotch tasting. Afterwards we went to our only Irish pub here. Saturday night, (last night) we held our annual Mid-winter Burns Night, in memory of Robert Burns, the National Bard of Scotland. Due to the hard work and vision of the Scottish Society’s president, Tom McCandlish, the event was a smashing success. Over 150 people were present and the Scottish Society received great publicity. This is the fourth year I’ve attended a Burns supper, and it was the best I’ve ever been too. Smithfield Fair, a Scottish band from Baton Rouge, performed Burns songs. You can check out this band at this site:

My band, Angus Duhbghall, also performed one song, “Flower of Scotland.” My part in the ritual and program was to read “To a Louse,” by Burns. This was the first poem of Burns I ever read in college, and the poem forever changed the way I view a church service. As I have a Gaelic speech impediment, I found a more Standard English rendering that I used.

Burns Night is an enriching experience and many in the audience were visibly moved by the music and by the speech of Allen McCandlish who came all the way from Scotland to deliver the Immortal Memory speech. I hope to post a copy of that speech on this blog soon. From the Parade of the Haggis to the singing of “Auld Lang Syne,” the night was a spectacular tribute, both in visual scenery and in content, to Robert Burns, the beloved poet of Scotland.

More Thoughts on Confucius

Many times I feel the material taught to students is a waste because they don’t get it or they don’t retain it. After my introductory lesson on Confucius yesterday, I had my students read Canto XIII by Ezra Pound. I then told them to use their notes and identify the teachings of Confucius in the various lines of the poem, and they were to write about a page on this topic. Most did so successfully. Once again, I am reminded why I continue to teach Canto XIII.

Some fights broke out today. This is a common problem in high school I suppose, but I was still surprised. I wonder how kids who are so apathetic about education and improvement and their future have anything inside them they feel passionate enough to fight about. I wish they would be so aggressive in areas of life that would be of benefit.

This poem reminds me of the many student lives which seem to be lived in confusion and disorganization. I thought about Pound’s line in Canto XIII: “If a man have not order within him / He can not spread order about him.” I guess they’ll survive these high school days somehow, but some days I wonder if I will. 

Writing Contests

Every year, I require my students to enter writing contests. Mine have entered three so far this year. In every contest, I’ll have at least one or two students who will win money and receive recognition for their writing ability. This year, the’ve entered a writing contest sponsored by Coca-Cola, by Wellspring (a community-family organization), Northeast Louisiana’s Young Author Contest.  I have at least three more ahead of us. I require them to enter every category: nonfiction (essay) fiction, and poetry.  Sometimes they really surprise me, and I’ve found that placing in a contest inspires them to focus on their writing even more.

One upcoming contest allows flash-fiction (short-short) entries. I found this page on the Net that will help you as a teacher to teach them this technique. Go here:

In addition to raising their confidence, administrators and parents seem impressed at the students’ sucesses as well.  Winning contests also looks good on a student’s resume and college application. Maybe these contests will help make the brutal work of writing more enjoyable to my young scholars.


More Confucius, less confusion

I discovered Confucianism a few years ago, studying the background of one of my favorite poems by Ezra Pound, Canto XIII. (I would love to have a year to just study all of the Cantos). I was raised a conservative Christian, became more conservative, then ran to the other side as fast as I could go. Though not what you’d call religious in the conservative sense of my past, I’m sure I teach more Bible through literature (the many allusions, etc) than most modern preachers do. I think that because all my kids are pretty much churchgoing, but none of them know the Bible.

I hope to see Qufu, his homeplace someday.

Though I also classify myself as an existentialist, I guess I live by the teachings of Confucius more than I do anything else. I had heard Confucian doctrines criticized all my life, and it was presented as a false religion. It is not a religion, but a code of conduct, a philosophy, a system of ethics. And I like what I’ve found in it. Here is a summary of what I see as its basic points.  I found this information in a a National Geographic and a couple of other sources (which I have lost) years ago, synthesized it, and have used it ever since.

1. Devotion to family and friends

2. Love and benevolence for humanity

3. Reverence and respect for ancestors. (This is described negatively by Westerners as “Ancestor Worship.” I hope to have a whole entry in the future on each of these points.)

4. Education, cultivation, and discipline of the mind.

5. Government should be the servant not the master of the people.

6. Men should think for themselves and stand up for what is right.

7. The elderly should be treated with honor and respect.

8. Men should be gentlemen, civilized, and demonstrate integrity.

I think my students in this apathetic age need these qualities. I can see why emperors after him and the Communists feared and  forbade his teachings and tried to erase his memory. As long as the censors don’t take Ezra Pound away, I can teach them.


I’ve long placed any movie connected to Mel Gibson on my “must see” list. I can hardly wait to see this one. I’ve wondered myself for many years, “What happened to the Maya?” I just thought it was another example of my eccentric and ecletic interests surfacing, but now I see that I am not alone in my interests. We have a smaller version of the Maya Vanishing story in Northeast Louisiana at a place called Poverty Point. I love to go out there. All those mound builders just vanishing. Must be a story in that for me.

Other movies of Gibson’s I’ve especially enjoyed were Mad Max, We Were Soldiers, The Patriot, and Braveheart. I have not yet seen the Passion of Christ, perhaps because I’ve been haunted by religion for too many years of my life already and don’t need any more trauma in that area.  I’ll let you know my thoughts about Apocalypto after I see it.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I just finished the reading of my first novel of the year, Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. The novel was a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2003 (Pulitzers are always a good choice of a read I think). My best friend in the whole world gave it to me for a Christmas present, and I thoroughly enjoyed the read. It was a long read, some 529 pages, but I learned so much. As usual, I marked, underlined and commented on words, wonderfully crafted phrases, and historical items for future study. It is one of those novels you will never forget. If you want to gain some insights into the Greek culture or the Greek Orthodox religion, this is a fine book. Eugenides also wrote the Virgin Suicides, which I am now determined to read as well. I love the discovery of a good author.

As for other news, I’ve been very busy writing poetry, working on marketing my Stories of the Confederate South and the very soon to be published children’s book with Pelican, Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House. As usual, too much to do, and not enough time to do it.

Happy New Year, E. B.


The two week holiday is now over, and we teachers return to the salt mine of teaching high school on Monday, January 8. Tomorrow, Saturday, is January 6, Russian Christmas Eve. I never hear it mentioned here, though when I lived in Berwick, PA, I did. In fact, there was an Orthodox church right down the street from me. Here, the trees and decorations go down quickly, like the day after New Year’s. Ironically, the decorations, music, and such are appearing as early as the day after Halloween. I enjoyed the longer time devoted to the season in Pennsylvania. Anyway, if you want to learn something about Russian Christmas, go to this link: http://tinymce.moxiecode.cp/mce_temp_url

I feel I used the holidays well, though, as usual, the guilt-ridden demon side of me cries out I squandered the time. However, objectively, I must say the break did me some good. I did some serious marketing for my books, spent time with friends, played some music, and did a good bit of reading. I also accomplished a lot of work that my publisher, Pelican, required for my children’s book, Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House. I was so excited to see it already posted on Amazon! I look forward to presenting this story in schools.

The school year, like the seasons, turns on its soltices, the next major one being the GEE in March. (Graduate Exit Exam.) The god of the standardized test speaks once again and bids us submit to the rituals of his religion. Administrators are his priests (The GEE must be a man, as I do not think a woman could be stupid and cruel enough to design such a thing), the students are the initiates, and we teachers, well, maybe we are the sacrificial lambs? In the upcoming weeks, many teachers will work themselves into a state of exhaustion and a near nervous breakdown as they worry about how well their students will do. I’ve found that no matter how well you teach test-taking skills, if the students don’t have information stored in them, they’re still not going to do well on the test. They know how to take the test, but there’s nothing you can test them on. I must ponder this topic some more, though I fear if I worry too much about it, I’ll drive myself mad. After all, it seems no one notices a teacher when he or she thinks these days. It’s getting the students through the tests that matters.

New Year’s Eve Thoughts

My daughter’s neighborhood had a block party last night, so I spent New Year’s Eve there. It was the first New Year’s in my memory that I can remember not working with a band in some way. Thankfully, the weather here in NE Louisiana was great, there was lots of food and drink, my son-in-law and his brothers put together a spectacular fireworks display, and I was able to play with my grandson. All in all, a fine night.

So now, on this first day of 2007, I must reflect on my past year. Like other years, it was a mixture of the good and bad. About the bad: I have always had a knack of getting the dumb ass, skilled enough at bloopers and faux pas to earn my own episode on Tales of the Crypt. I’ll keep those details to myself.

About the good: I’ve met some of the coolest people this past year, added some of them as close friends (one as my now best friend) and I’ve had some wonderful life-changing experiences. I’ve had some writing victories and successes. Later, I’ll post more on each of these items in this paragraph I’m sure.

I had wanted to read 52 books this year. I only read 40, though that is a few more than what I had read in 2005. I started keeping a list of the movies I watched, but abandoned it. I may try that again, but I haven’t made up my mind.

Regarding resolutions:
1) To read 52 books and record author, title, date of completion in my book reading diary.
2) To do at least one reading, speech, or book signing per week to promote my writing. I intend to spend this whole summer (including a trip to Florida) promoting my writing, so I’ll be on the road a great deal.
*According to Amazon, my children’s book is coming out in Februrary! Go to and search for “Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House.” I hope to have some other books accepted for publication this year as well.
3) I will camp out in Alabama at Roaring Winds State Park near the cave where my Confederate ancestor, William Warren Keel, worked in the militia making gunpowder. I’ll get a story out of that I know. I put off going to Grand Isle before Katrina, and boy, am I sorry for that! I won’t make the same mistake this year.
4) I intend to enter one writing contest or make one fiction submission per week.
5) I fell behind in my reading of magazines (my main two being the Oxford American and Writer’s Chronicle) so I will be be disciplined and read articles every week.
6) I will update and redo my website and market myself shamelessly through queries, proposals, and hard work generally. I intend to get myself in print in as many ways as possible.
7) I will smoke and drink less to save money and get more work done. (There are other personal resolutions and goals that I cannot share at this time on this blog).
8) I will cull, organize, and file papers and books. This madness of random piles of papers must stop! I wasted too much time last year looking for particular items.