The Madness of Our Art

Sometimes, I wonder what on earth I’m doing  in the writing business. Perhaps I’m a little (or a lot) crazy. I’ve chosen a difficult life. But then, we crazies belong with the arts, and I’m learning as I go. Imagery describing the madness associated with the arts and artist is a frequently used one. For example, I read that Kafka said, “To want to write and not write is to invite madness.” I read Techniques of Fiction Writing: Measure and Madness by Leon Surmelian and was fascinated by the manner he tied in the work of the Muses (and the incumbent madness it brought the author) with the need of structure and method in writing. This book is out of print, so I’m glad I have my copy. I think I found it at a library sale in Texas.

One quotation of Henry James has always helped me. I was reminded of it when I read an article recently by Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides.  He uses Henry James’ quotation in his short article about writing. James said:

“We work in the dark–we do what we can–we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”

I’ve once again memorized this quotation. So, as I grope in the darkness, looking for the handle of the doors that will lead me to successfully write and market my books, I’ll just do what I can with what I’ve got. As long as I write every day and keep my passion, I’ll remain a committed writer–and also, likely a mad one.

Return from Mobile

I returned from Mobile about9:45 pm last night. It was a short night as I had to prepare and pack for Saturday. I arose early, went to Farmerville and marched with the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The crowds who came for the parade loved us. After our mile march, I set up to sell books and did sell some at the SCV booth. I also was interviewed live by K-104 about my new book on the radio. I met some really cool people too.

I made many good contacts this week in Mobile. Sold a good many books and must have booked scores of engagements next year (some of them in Mobile) to tell the story of Jim Limber. I learned much about Mobile. I’m sure many adventures await me there this next year. I’ll have more posts about some of the people I met there.

Hotel Thoughts in Mobile, Alabama

Tonight I’m in a Super 8 motel in Mobile, Alabama. Thankfully they have wireless that works. I left Monroe around 10 am, stopped at six different libraries promoting my book and arranging for future signings. I did get some sales out of it, but in some of the libraries the decision makers or directors weren’t there. I had hoped to visit ten, but after 5:00 pm there’s no need of stopping in usually. I’m tired, with more work to do tonight before I go to sleep. I’d also like to read some, and of course I need to write–work on a short story or my novel.

Tomorrow begins the National Convention of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. I’m expecting tons of sales and many future speaking/presentation appointments. If I can keep my expenses to a minimum–and I can–I expect to come out ahead. I’m flipping through one of the Mobile Bay tourist books in my hotel room. It says that Mobile Bay is the culinary capital of the Gulf Coast. There’s many homes and museums that look interesting. However, I know I’ll be working too hard to get to any. I guess I can come back and play another time. Tomorrow night and Thursday, I’ll be in the Radison Admiral Semmes Hotel downtown. According to their advertisement, this landmark hotel has 170 luxurious rooms and suites designed with Queen Anne and Chippendale-style furnishings. It’s within walking distance of the Battlefield Hotel where my vendor’s booth will be. Though it’s a little fancy for a struggling author like myself, I got a good price because of the conference, so the rooms cost only a little more than my Super 8 hotel tonight. I’m sure I’ll have another post describing my trip and Mobile as the Radison Admiral has wireless Internet also.

As I drove here, I finished listening to the twelve audio CD’s of Stephen King’s The Cell. I found it a haunting and engaging read. (I do count listening to a book as a read. Often, I pick up on things I would not have if I had just read it with my eyes). It made me think about the whole cell phone phenomenon. I recall watching a group of a dozen or so female students walking across the university one afternoon. All were talking on cell phones.  The Cell did remind me somewhat of the Stand and of McCarthy’s The Road. Tonight, after I do some meaningful work, (I have much editing business to attend to) I’ll read myself to sleep with a short story collection called, New Orleans Noir.

Jed Marum’s Cross Over the River: A Review

Here is a review I wrote of a great Confederate CD.

In January of 2000, Jed Marum began his year by leaving a lucrative career so he could devote himself to his music. His first year as a fulltime musician earned exactly one tenth of what he had earned the year before. To his credit, he hasn’t looked back, and has built a solid career and reputation as one of America’s premier Celtic musicians and is often a headliner at festivals. His schedule is a busy one—with over 150 shows a year—and the number of shows seems to be steadily growing.

In addition to his intense love for and commitment to Celtic music, Marum has another passion—The Civil War. In our interview, I asked Marum how his interest in the War Between the States began. He said, “Once, I was being interviewed by Sunny Meriwether and she introduced me to her audience as an Irish singer who specializes in writing Civil War songs. I started to object saying that the Civil War was just a passing interest, when I realized that it had been passing for 10 years! That’s when I realized I really wasn’t just dabbling at the Civil War stuff, anymore. It had moved to a higher level.”

The fruit of Marum’s passion for this period of American history is his newest CD, Cross Over the River, a twelve-song collection of Irish and Confederate songs released August 4 of this year. This CD presents some of Marum’s finest guitar picking and original lyrics. His songs have a depth of historical detail and emotion that lovers of Confederate music will love.

I believe Jed Marum is on his way to becoming our foremost Confederate balladeer. There’s something in this CD that stirs the spirit, and just as I was about to suggest the collection would be great music for movies of this period, I found out that Marum has agreed to license two new songs to Lone Chimney Productions for use in their upcoming film, Bloody Dawn. The film is being made for the PBS and History Channel markets and is planned for a 2006 release. The movie focuses on the border wars between Kansas and Missouri surrounding the days of the US Civil War.
The music is acoustic, with Marum on guitar, banjo, and banjola. Musicians performing with him are Jaime Marum on mandolin, Kathleen Jackson on upright bass, Mimi Rogers on fiddle and Ken Fleming on button accordion. Travis Ener and Kathleen Jackson are also featured in background vocals.

The collection’s songs are rich lyrically and musically, and several especially deserve comment. “Monaghan’s Lament,” is a song of an Irish born New Orleans resident, Col. William Monaghan of the 6th Louisiana. The song expresses a soldier’s emotions as he regards a fallen admired leader of one of the South’s most famous fighting units, “The Fighting Tigers.” “One Bloody Friday” is a haunting song, so effectively constructed that it makes the listener feel as if he were riding with Quantrell. “Cross Over the River,” is based on the last words of Stonewall Jackson. With this song, Marum takes us into the soul of a dying hero of the South. In other songs, Marum takes traditional melodies and masterfully creates moving interpretations. For example, I believe Marum’s rendition of the well-known “Shenandoah” to be unique and the best version I’ve heard. “Stonewall of the West” is a wonderful tribute to Patrick Cleburne.

I predict this CD will have strong appeal with Civil War aficionados, reenactors, performers, and anyone who loves good ballads. Just reading the CD’s insert and the background of the songs is an education and it reveals the extent of Marum’s research. Cross Over the River has a large targeted audience and has all the potential for becoming a cult classic. For the musician, Marum has also generously published a songbook containing lyrics and chords for both Cross Over the River and his earlier Civil War CD, Fighting Tigers of Ireland.

Cross Over the River is a collection of original and period music with lyrics that capture the heart of the many Irish and Scots who fought for the South. The CD is a reminder that there are many stories buried in history we have not yet heard, and there are emotions connected to that war that we haven’t yet considered. As a writer, Marum is not only skilled—he is honest. He knows that one’s culture and heritage can be lost, and he is determined to give life to long-silent voices. When those of the past fade from our memory and art, then they are truly dead to us. As long as there are writers like Marum who aren’t afraid to tell the stories, the dead will live on and our heritage will not be lost. The Scots-Irish majority who comprised the Confederate Army deserve the tribute of this CD.

You can purchase Cross Over the River here: Read Marum’s bio, hear samples of his music, and keep up with news about him by checking out his website or from his blog

Author information:
Rickey E. Pittman, Grand Prize Winner of the 1998 Ernest Hemingway Short Story Competition, is originally from Dallas, Texas.  He earned a BA in New Testament Greek and an MA in English from Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. After moving to Monroe, Louisiana, Pittman was added to the Louisiana Roster of Artists in 1998. Working closely with regional art councils, he was commissioned to write historical plays for Franklin (1997), Madison (1998), and Webster (2007 parishes.  In addition to freelance journalism, editing, and nonfiction writing, he has published short stories, poetry, and a novel, Red River Fever, a short story collection, Stories of the Confederate South (Pelican Publishing) and  a children’s book, Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House also by Pelican. Pittman is of Welsh ancestry, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and a Civil War reenactor.  Contact him at

Book Signing in Sherman, Texas

Saturday, July 21, I’ll have a book signing at the Books-A-Million in Sherman, Texas for my children’s book, Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House. Since that’s the first weekend for sales of the new Harry Potter book, traffic should be intense. Should be an author’s dream-signing. Yes, I know they’re coming for the Harry Potter book, but they’ll all see mine and since lines are likely to be long, I should be able to talk to many people. Channel 12 news has promised to have a photographer there to cover my signing. I’m very excited about this event. I’ll also get to see my parents where I’m staying. We’re all still having some difficulty in adjusting to our lives without my younger brother.

Sherman is the largest city in that part of the state. BAM is the largest bookstore in the area. I write a weekly column for a paper in the area called, TGIF Weekend Bandit, and my latest column concerns Sherman’s history, so I decided to post that short column today as well.

When the Devil Came to Bonham and Sherman

The cities of Bonham and Sherman Texas are such quiet towns these days that it’s hard to imagine their wild moments during the Civil War.

Ben McCulloch had made the area his headquarters. He supposedly set up his camp just outside of Bonham, close to one of Bonham’s cemeteries on the Sherman-Bonham highway.

Bonham’s and Sherman’s tranquility was radically disturbed when William Clarke Quantrill and his longhaired raiders set up their camp on Mineral Creek, fifteen northwest of Sherman. The destroyers of Lawrence, Kansas, there would hunt, pilfer, and drink whiskey. When those pastimes bored them, they would come to town to race horses, drink more whiskey, steal from shop owners, shoot up buildings and church steeples, and generally misbehave. The shocked folks of the town must have felt like the Devil had come to visit them.

One of his raiders was especially notorious: Bloody Bill Anderson. He married a young Sherman saloon girl who called herself, “Bush Smith.” I’ll have more on Bloody Bill in another column.

Quantrill and his men fell into disfavor with McCulloch. McCulloch called Quantrill into his room, declared him arrested and then invited him to supper. Quantrill declined the invitation. After McCulloch left, Quantrill captured his two guards and escaped. He joined his men waiting for him outside and they rode into Indian Territory.

I must do some research and see if I can find some of his campsites along Mineral Creek and in Indian Territory. If you want to learn more of Quantrill, a good book is The Devil Knows How to Ride by Edward E. Leslie.

Radio Interview

Today, I was interviewed on 540 AM Talk Radio by Bob Teague and Corey Crowe. The interview was conducted at 5:30 pm, prime drive time. I found the pair to be sharp, lively, funny, and skillful interviewers.  I am constantly amazed as to how the Jim Limber story affects people.  In New Orleans, many people who stopped at my table asked, “You’re talking of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy?”  And I said, “Yes.”  The irony of the first presidential family in America to have a black member is not missed by many.  This story is of course in contrast to any story of the other president during that Civil War, Lincoln, who had no love for black Americans and wanted to send all the blacks here in America to Liberia and other places.

I have an MP3 recording of the interview that I’ll send you if you write me and request it. My email is

Peddling Books in New Orleans

I really enjoyed my little book-signing tour in New Orleans last weekend. The city looks much better than it did when I was there the spring after Katrina (at least in the areas I went to). The FEMA trailers that were in every other yard it seemed are now gone, the abandoned cars under the bridges have been hauled off, and many buildings and houses have been repaired. The traffic is still horrible, though I find New Orleans drivers more polite and less risk-taking than New York drivers.

I enjoyed meeting people and telling them about the Jim Limber story. I sold books to people from Atlanta, Scotland, Ohio, New Jersey, various parts of Texas, Alabama and other Southern states. As always when I do signings, I learned some things about how to best promote my book business. I know many authors don’t like this part of the business, but I happen to love it. The fact is, you won’t sell books unless stores order them, and unless you’re like nationally famous, the stores won’t order them unless they have a reason to promote it. Thus, signings are very important.

I love to people watch in New Orleans. I probably got a dozen story ideas while I was there. Enough for now. Writing work to do.  We’re already halfway through 2007, and I’ve got to make the remaining months really count. I’m presently working on getting a week’s worth of work together for Houston, Atlanta, and for Orlando.

Return from New Orleans

I just returned from my little book signing tour in New Orleans. I’m tired, but excited because it went so well. After the signing at the Ruston Library Thursday night, I had to pack for the trip. I only got a couple of hours sleep, and was on the road by 3:30 a.m. Reached New Orleans in time to visit my publishing company, Pelican, before my first signing at the Algiers Naval Exchange. Security was tight, and there were all kinds of hoops to jump through. (Don’t go to a military base without proof of insurance and car title!) After I was signed in by the commissary staff, I took my station at the Exchange and sold lots of books. All were wives of men stationed there. Military mothers are really cool—so down to earth, so concerned about their children. I also read from my book to a group of 34 children in summer camp there. I had a grand time.

From Algiers, I drove to Napoleonville and did a living history/book talk presentation with a Civil War show and tell table and a talk and some music on my guitar. There too I was well received and sold a good number of books. From there I went to my friend’s house in Napoleonville where I spent the night.

Saturday, I drove to the 1850’s house on St. Anne Street in the French quarter. This place was a bookstore and museum sponsored by the Friends of the Cabildo. Really interesting and committed people work there. I set up a table outside and was selling books like crazy till it started raining and I had to retreat inside. The crowds coming in dwindled, and so did sales.  After I fulfilled my commitment of time, I returned to my friend’s house in Assumption Parish. We ate at a very Cajun seafood place, watched a documentary about the wild poet, Bukowski, and then retired. (I became fond of Abita beer on this trip!)

Today, Sunday, I was at Tisket A Tasket close to Cafe Dumond on Decatur Street. I only had to retreat inside because of the rain for 20 minutes in the four hours I was there. I sold all but four of the books they had ordered. The owners were very pleased. I drove home to Monroe, mostly in the rain. Sometimes the rain was coming down so hard I could only drive 20 mph on the Interstate!

At any rate, I’m glad to be home. I’m behind in my correspondence, and tons of work has piled up here, but I’m learning the work is what the career of writing is about. Elizabeth George says a writer will make it if he or she has talent, passion, and discipline. I hope I have all three. If not, I will soon. I’ll probably talk more of New Orleans in future posts.

Off to New Orleans!

Tonight, I have a signing and presentation at the Lincoln Parish library at 6:30 p.m. Tomorrow, I must rise EARLY and get to New Orleans by 11:00 for another.  Then one that afternoon at the Assumption Parish Library, then two more signings in New Orleans. I’ll be staying with a friend in Assumption Parish, so I’m not sure if I’ll have access to the Internet or to a wireless system the whole weekend. Cell reception is likely not to be that great there either. I’m realizing how much of my writing work is dependent upon the Net these days. Personally, I’d rather not have to be online so much, but the fact is I’ll lose money if I’m not.

I’ve been so busy with my new writing vocation that I keep turning down invitations to go out etc., with friends. (it does feel good for it to not be an “avocation” anymore) I’m so self-absorbed these days that I’m sure many of my friends and acquaintances will either forget me or write me off. I’ve been writing and working like a fiend though. I have written two more children’s books and submitted them to my publisher. I’ll share more on that as I get word. Until next time.

I want to thank my friends and the staff at Pelican Publishing for the cards and the emailed notes of sympathy regarding the loss of my brother. It means more to me than you’ll ever know.

Another Busy Writing Week:

My week’s writing schedule is filling up fast. Today, I’m making phone calls, tying up loose ends, handling business that was dropped during my week in Oklahoma because of my brother’s death, and working on editing the Daily Harvest book. I also have an SCV meeting tonight. The rest of the week relates to my new children’s book, Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House:

Wed. July 11, Public Library presentation in Winnsboro, LA 1:30 pm
Thurs.  July 12 6:30 pm Library presentation in Ruston

Friday July 13 – Algiers Naval Exchange, New Orleans. (signing) 11:00 am-1:00 pm
Friday afternoon, 3:30, Presentation at the Assumption Parish Library in Napoleonville, LA

Saturday, July 14 – Signing at the Jackson House, New Orleans 1:00 pm
Sunday, Signing at A Tisket, A Tasket in the French Quarter in New Orleans. 1:00 pm They have a cool Web site: