Wednesday Book News

 I’m adding some “spirituals” to my guitar/music program, the origins of which go back to the Civil War. Here is one I do now, published by my friend, Jed Marum, who is one of the best Southern/Irish musicians and composers I’ve ever known.

Jed says: “This is song is of unknown origin. There are many versions of the song and this modern version of the lyrics probably developed from the song as it was sung the African American churches. It became very popular throughout all of the US during the Civil War period. The song has been recorded by many many artists in recent years and I learned this version from my father.”

Poor Wayfaring Stranger

I am a poor wayfaring stranger
Trav’ling through this land of woe.
And there’s no sickness, toil or danger
In that bright land to which I go.

I’m going back to see my brother
I’m going there no more to roam;
I’m only goin’ over Jordan
I’m only goin’ over home.

I know dark clouds will gather ’round me
I know my way is rough and steep
Yet beauteous fields lie just beyond me
Where God’s redeemed their vigil keep.

I’m going back to meet my mother
She said she’d meet me when I come
I’m just a-going over Jordan
I’m just a-going over home.
Book Signing News:

Today was a VERY busy and tiring day. It began with my playing guitar at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas.  After that, I met with administration and librarians at several schools in two school districts. I also met with the owner of a Christian book store in Azle who is interested in my coming for a signing at his store.  I also received some computer and program instruction from friends and contacts in the Fort Worth area. I did make a number of sales and gathered many new contacts. Tomorrow, I’ll stop in Jefferson, Texas to deliver Press Kits to Kathy Patrick for the Girlfriend Weekend I’m part of in January. Friday, I’ll be at Waldenbooks in Alexandria, Louisiana, and Saturday, I’ll be at the Sam’s Club in Monroe.  I realize this is a very short entry, but I’m very tired.

Editing Shakespeare for Middle School and High School Performances

 Having taught Gifted English in high school and Gifted Reading in junior high school, I’ve had occasion to do productions of Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Midsummer Night’s Dream. Producing Shakespeare’s plays with these energetic, highly creative young thespians was always fun and challenging.  The first obstacle to a good production is the text itself that will be used for the play and the length of it.   Here is what I do:

1. Buy a Dover edition of the play for every student. (Cost is only a dollar or two each)

2. Arm every student (and myself with a yellow highlighter)

3. Students then highlight only what I read aloud.  It takes about two-three class periods to work through the whole play.  I basically try to work it down to the essence of the play.  We might read through the play another time, cutting some more or adding important lines that I missed.

4. The end result is a coherent, 40 minute play of Shakespeare.  In a later post, I’ll have an example of a scene I’ve edited and used and explain my rationale behind it.

Book News:

Yesterday, I did a rewrite of my upcoming children’s book,  The Little Confederate’s ABC Book.  As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I’m on my way today to Fort Worth to do some work with some schools and some of my contacts there.  I should return late Wednesday night or sometime Thursday, depending on how the work goes.

I’m also preparing  25 press kits for the Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in January. I’m scheduled to be on a panel with some other Louisiana writers and maybe a presentation or workshop as well.  I made the Dallas Morning News! Michael Mershel, the book editor, listed me and the other participants of the Pulpwood Queens Weekend. You can read more about it here, on the Books blog: Texas Pages for the Dallas Morning News: archives/2007/12/ pulpwood_queens_weekend_shapin.html#more 

If You’re Writing a Book . . .

Some advice to new writers regarding preparation of their manuscript:

1) Turn off the automated tasks Microsoft Word uses. This is a demon that likes to fix things (and often incorrectly from the writer’s point of view) without telling you. Rely on manual changes, not automatic ones. This feature has created difficulty for more than one of my clients.

2) Always print and read the hard copy before you submit it electronically to publishers. There are errors you’ll see on the page that you won’t notice on the screen. This is especially important if you are using a template.

3) When you find an error of yours is a habit, do a search of that error. Assume you’ve made the mistake more than once. As Suzuki said, “Once it’s a mistake. Twice, it’s a habit.”

4) Always save your work frequently as you’re working (like every time you make a change) and make copies of your work in case a computer or printer goes insane. And of course, NEVER send or give anyone your only copy of a work.

5) Regarding form: Follow the publisher’s guidelines. Understand that these will differ from publisher to publisher.

6) Don’t rely on spell-check alone. Remember the famous “Ode to Spell Checkers” you read in school? If not, you can read it here:

Book Signing News:

Today and tomorrow I’ll be doing various tasks related to my writing business, and hopefully getting in some writing of my own. Wednesday, I’ll be at Northwest High School in Justin, Texas, for a short program in the school’s library. This library, by the way, led by librarian Naomi Bates, is an award winning library. I am very excited about this trip. The school’s Website is here:

I’ll be back to Monroe by Thursday; in Alexandria, Louisiana, Friday; and in Monroe at the Sam’s Club Saturday, 11:00-1:00 (or until books are sold. In Shreveport, I sold out rather quickly.) Saturday night, I drive to Oklahoma to pick up my parents and bring them to spend Christmas with me. It is our first Christmas together since my brother passed away.

Sunday Return

Book Signing News:

Yesterday, I had another sell-out at the Sam’s Club in Shreveport. I’ve accomplished a lot with my contacts on this trip, and I made some real progress on my writing. This next week, I have a school program in Justin, Texas; Waldenbooks at the Mall in Alexandria, Louisiana on Thursday; and Saturday the Sam’s Club in Monroe.  Today, I’ll attend the Scottish Society meeting in Monroe.

Today, I’d thought I’d post the words of one of my favorite songs. I’d like to write a screenplay that would open with this song someday. I’ve got several ideas racing through my head on it.

 Castles in the Air by Don Mclean

And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you
That I’m tired of castles in the air.
I’ve got a dream I want the world to share
And castle walls just lead me to despair.

Hills of forest green where the mountains touch the sky,
A dream come true, I’ll live there till I die.
I’m asking you to say my last goodbye.
The love we knew ain’t worth another try.

Save me from all the trouble and the pain.
I know I’m weak, but I can’t face that girl again.
Tell her the reasons why I can’t remain,
Perhaps she’ll understand if you tell it to her plain.

But how can words express the feel of sunlight in the morning,
In the hills, away from city strife.
I need a country woman for my wife;
I’m city born, but I love the country life.

For I cannot be part of the cocktail generation:
Partners waltz, devoid of all romance.
The music plays and everyone must dance.
I’m bowing out. I need a second chance.

Save me from all the trouble and the pain.
I know I’m weak, but I can’t face that girl again.
Tell her the reasons why I can’t remain,
Perhaps she’ll understand if you tell it to her plain.

And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you
That I’m tired of castles in the air.
I’ve got a dream I want the world to share
And castle walls just lead me to despair.

Why I Write About the Civil War

1. This war forever and permanently changed America. This conflict is a reference point, a turning point in our culture, in politics, and in our history.

2. Many of the issues of the war are still relevant and interesting to thinking people and to politics.

3. I have a specifically targeted and huge audience. Avid Civil War readers have several things in common. They tend to be literate, well-read, they enjoy learning new facts, they love hearing facts and stories they already know if they are told from an interesting and unique perspective, and most important of all for a writer—they buy tons of books.

4. I know I will personally grow from writing about the Civil War.

5. I believe that my reading audience will grow as a result of your research, insights, and prose. Writers do shape society.  Think of how Stephen King and other writers have influenced our ideas of horrors. Strong writers today are shaping the consciousness of the Civil War too.

6. This is an opportune time. Never, at least since the generation of actual combatants, have we had such rich and thorough resources.

Book Signings and News

Today, I’m on my way to the Shreveport, Louisiana Sam’s Club for a signing.  After I finish there, I have various contacts to meet with and queries to make.  After today’s signing, I’ll only have one more Sam’s Club left–in Monroe, next Saturday, Dec. 22.

A Writer’s Need for Positive Thinking

Yesterday, I did three programs at schools in Ferriday, Louisiana for Condordia Parish. Two programs were at the Junior High, one at the elementary school. I had a grand time, and evidently the kids did too. Here is a little blurb I received regarding the day:

Mr. Pittman:
On behalf of the Ferriday Junior High School administration, staff, and students, I want to thank you for a great performance on December 13. It was a different kind of music for our students and it only enhanced their cultural being. They are still talking about what great skills you have in playing the guitar and the fact that grandma being run over by a reindeer [one of the songs I did was “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”] was so funny to them. The English teachers are making plans to get your books as we speak.

Again, thank you for taking the time to invest in the future of our children.

Dorothy Marsalis
Curriculum Coordinator

I had a two-hour break between schools, so I worked at the Library. While there, I read a book entitled Do This, Get Rich by Jim Britt, a popular motivational speaker and guru. I took extensive notes. I thought I’d include a list of a few of those points/tasks that especially relate to a writer’s business:

1. Make a road map of your life. Reflect on the last ten years of your life and what, related to your passion, has really been accomplished. (Egads! 10 years as a teacher I have!) I started this “road map” last spring, but it was sketchy. It’s coming together much better now.

2. Create a mission statement. Make the changes required to succeed. Nothing in your life will change unless you do. Know that the person you become determines what life hands you next. I’ve made some changes. (Quitting smoking was one.) I still have more changes to make.

3. Have a success role model. Write a money biography of your life. Imagine yourself prosperous (or at least in the state you want to be in). How would your life/days be different? Create or be a part of a team to help you succeed.

4. Spend time only on what matters. Realize that trying harder and working more won’t always fix things as you only have so much time and energy.

5. Realize that conventional methods don’t work. Make choices, take risks. If you do things because you have “no choice,” then you are likely trapped. Be a problem solver.

6. Get ready for a wild ride!

I’ve read many “positive thinking” (better than “stinking thinking”) books like this through the years. Writing, and especially the writing business, is a brutal vocation. As I reflected on the need of a writer to stay motivated and energized, I realized that the two most influential books for me personally were See You at the Top by Zig Ziggler and The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino. If you need some motivation, I’d advise you obtain and read those.

Christmas Program in Vidalia, Louisiana

It’s raining and cooler this morning. I wanted to make a quick post as I’ll be leaving by 6:00 a.m. Today, I’ll present three programs for the schools in Vidalia. This will be more of a holiday presentation, rather than my usual Civil War program. I’ll do some children’s songs for the little ones, mixed in with Christmas carols.  For the older children, I’ll do some fun songs of the 19th century. Hopefully, I can get at least some of the kids to sing along. Here’s a list of some of the Christmas songs I like to do usually:

Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer

Silent Night

Jingle Bells

White Christmas

Away in a Manger

O Little Town of Bethlehem

Deck the Hall(s)

I’ll make a post later tonight and let you know how the program went.

On Writing Novels: Thoughts on Elizabeth George and Olen Steinhauer

While doing a signing in South Louisiana, a writing friend introduced me to a book by Elizabeth George entitled, Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life.  I spent some time last night and this morning reading in it. I think it is a good book for aspiring novel writers to read. The book truly does reveal her approach, and I think a novelist would find her techniques and practices quite helpful. She talks about how “he who possesses the best bum glue wins.”  That is so true. She talks about how to create one novel, she wrote from eight to twelve hours a day. I definitely need that kind of commitment.

Here are a couple of other quotes that caught my eye in Chapter 16, “The Value of Bum Glue”:

“One cannot simultaneously teach English at the high school level and write novels, since teaching English well at teh high school level is generally a twelve-hour-a-day job.” (This may be an oversimplification or hasty generalization, but there is truth to this statement)

“The writing life is one of extreme isolation, and for the person who needs the continual stimulation of other people attempting this as a career is a choice fraught with anxiety, unmet needs, and frustration.  Writing well also requires forced introspection.”

Last night, after the SCV Christmas party, I also read two chapters in a fine novel another writing friend gave me. It is written by Olen Steinhauer and is entitled, The Bridge of Sighs.  The first two chapters have hooked me. I am impressed with this novel that critics place in the genre of literary crime. Steinhauer was raised in Texas and currently lives in Budapest. The award winning author is a recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship. You can see more of what he’s written at his Website here:

Tomorrow, I’m in Vidalia, Louisiana, making presentations at the schools.  Today will be spent frantically preparing for that event. Saturday, I’ll be at the Sam’s Club in Shreveport. I’m feeling pressure. For a writer, it seems like there’s never enough time.

Christmas During the Civil War

Book Signing News:

Last night, I played my guitar and sang for the SCV camp in El Dorado, Arkansas. They were an attentive and gracious audience, and as always when I’m around them, I learned much about the Civil War. These men are walking encyclopedias of historical facts!

Christmas During the Civil War

Christmas is upon us. While researching various topics related to books I’m working on, I came across a site with some great quotes that related to Christmas during the War Between the States in our part of the South. The site is called, “The Rites of Innocence: Christmas 1861 and is written by James. S. Robbins. The link to the site is here: NDFjZjE1MjRlMjdm ZjAyN2FkNTR hMjc5M2E4MGQxMTQ=

According to Robbins, The Republican (newspaper) of Marshall, Texas, noted that people felt that “the hour of danger has passed; that there may be difficulties and sacrifices, but that their freedom is secure. And hence, when they survey this broad land, and contemplate its future opulence, have they not reason to rejoice, and look upon the past as a ‘happy Christmas?’”

Robbins says that in 1861, the people of the South were positive and optimistic, while those in the North were glum and discouraged. As an example of what fostered this attitude, he relates this story of a Confederate victory on that Christmas day: “In the Oklahoma Territory, Christmas found Confederate Colonel James M. McIntosh, last of his West Point class of 1849, leading elements of five Arkansas and Texas cavalry regiments towards a position occupied by a force of pro-Union Indians led by Creek Chief Opothleyahola. The Indians had dug in on a steep rocky hill covered with oak trees. The next day McIntosh advanced on the Indians . . . [and] threw out flanking forces . . . His next move, with enemy fire still raking his command, was related by trooper A.W. Sparks: “The impetuous McIntosh, who cannot brook a tardy skirmish salutation, orders the charge” . . . The Confederates pushed back the enemy before them, muscling their way upwards towards the summit, dispatching warriors as they went with shot, sword and bayonet. Opothleyahola’s men were routed, and fled towards Kansas into the teeth of an approaching blizzard, hunted by pro-southern Cherokee cavalry. For his victory, McIntosh was promoted to Brigadier General.

For the South, 1861 may have been the best Christmas of the War.


“The South is a land that has known sorrows; 
it is a land that has broken the ashen crust and 
moistened it with tears; a land scarred and riven 
by the plowshare of war and billowed with the 
graves of her dead; but a land of legend, 
a land of song, a land of hallowed and heroic 
“To that land every drop of my blood, every 
fiber of my being, every pulsation of my heart, 
is consecrated forever. I was born of her womb; 
I was nurtured at her breast; and when my last 
hour shall come, I pray GOD that I may be 
pillowed upon her bosom and rocked to sleep 
within her tender and encircling arms.”
Edward Carmack United States House of Representatives (TN, 1858-1908)

Thoughts on the Need of a Southern Renaissance


A Confederate/Southern Renaissance

Without apology, I see myself as a Southern writer. I love the South and its history, culture, and values. However, we may be in need of a Southern Renaissance.

Europe’s Renaissance resulted from a mix of several catalysts: the discovery of great former works, desperation for change in the status quo, a shift in values and mindset, and new creative works of thought and art to express those values.

The South is in great need of its own Renaissance. Our art, values, and culture have been ravished by conquering modern Goths and political Vandals; our children are in their own Dark Ages, numbed and dumbed by television, movies, music, and a terribly flawed school system. Their peers and society offer them little and challenge them even less. We are creating more average scholars and less great ones. The next generation is a generation that we (Southerners) could lose entirely and forever.

What is it exactly that we need? I think the classical definition of a Renaissance is helpful. We need a rebirth, a flowering of the arts and sciences. In many ways, we have a good start.
We need a Renaissance in music, writing, and the arts generally.
We need a Renaissance in history.
We need a Renaissance (perhaps revival would be a better word here) in our organizations that are devoted to Southerner heritage, history, and culture.

The South needs a political Renaissance. The number of Southerners with traditional Southern values represents a large percentage of the voting population. However this is only significant if we can attain unity of cause that will take us to the polls. While our Southern values resists the idea of pushing our ideas upon others, even the fiercely independent sovereign States of the Confederacy managed to unite, and that unity was a force that gained the attention of the whole world.

We can learn some lessons from our Confederate ancestors. If we don’t want to learn, perhaps we should read the dystopian novels (Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, etc.) one more time to see how bad things can be when a nation’s citizens lose their sense of heritage, history, and individuality.