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Blog Cover Reveal

BLOG COVER REVEAL!

Here is the “official” front cover of my next novel, Obadiah: A Ghost’s Story, to be released within the next 45 days.

More details to come over the next few weeks as well as potential book signing locations and dates.

Outside book cover for Obadiah: A Ghost's Story

A Time for Diamonds

Oatmeal and Grit’s latest short story is now available on Amazon!

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B. B. Duke’s, Valdosta’s premier boutique, is having a GRAND sale. And to draw customers in Breckie Duke is inviting everyone to come and view the ten-carat Wheppe’s Diamond.

Will it be a successful sales event for this Valdosta boutique and gift store? Or will someone steal this valuable diamond and ruin the event for Breckie and his customers?

Pick up your copy here:

A Time for Diamonds

 

One More Christmas Day – The Goldleaf – December 23, 2015

If I had one more Christmas day with you…

I show up at your house an hour before you get out of bed. I will not wait and show up an hour before everything is done and ready to eat like I have in the past, I have one more day with you and I want to make it count, to linger in every minute of the day with the both of you.

Neither of you are big breakfast eaters. I suspect it is from all the years getting up early and starting work plus making sure we got to school on time. I know, Daddy, that most mornings, your breakfast consists of a pack of cheese crackers and a “short boy” Coke. And I remember, Mama, if you have time, you eat a little cereal. But on this morning, this one more day, and while you are still sleeping, I will make breakfast for you both. You will wake to the sound and smell of bacon frying and grits boiling on the stove. And when we are finished, I am the one standing over the sink cleaning up the dishes and the kitchen, letting you rest Mama, something you never seem to do.

I wait in the kitchen for you to start cooking, and then watch your every move and try to remember everything, asking you questions about what and how and why. I try to help as much as I can without getting in the way.

My eyes are taking you all in, trying to capture in my memory every strand of your pillowy, white hair and record the look of your soft, understanding, brown eyes. I can still remember you now when I close my eyes but I want to stare longer this time, this one more time, so that my memories of you are forever clearer, sharper.

And after you finish cooking and we are ready to eat I slowly enjoy every mouthful of food you have prepared, savor every bite until the taste of the food burns an eternal memory on my taste buds. And though I remember your food so well, so much so that it has become the ruler by which all other foods are measured, I want to remember every taste so vividly and carry the tastes and smells with me, on this one more day.

The first half of the day, the morning, is you Mama; but in the afternoon it’s all Daddy. I sit and listen to your sage wisdom and laugh at your jokes with rapt attention. I encourage you to tell me all that you can remember, the good old stories, even if you have repeated them hundreds of times before, I don’t care anymore, repeat them a thousand times if you want; I have no place to go but to spend the day with you. I want to remember them all, to remember your laugh and smile and foolishness, on this one more day.

We gather in the living room and share precious memories—memories of my childhood and those of my brothers. I tell you about my life now and what it is like to live so far from home and halfway around the world. I listen as you both give me praise for my accomplishments, scold me for my mistakes and give me words of advice for my future. I need all of this from you, and even though most of your past words of guidance are still in my memory, I listen more closely this time, on this one more day. I want to be a better man and to honor the memory of you both, not just on this day but for the future too.

In the evening we snack on the leftovers from our lunch. Mama, you never had many big, evening dinners. Late lunches or mid-afternoon dinners were more your style but they were still a big feast. We never did call it “lunch”, did we Mama? We always called it dinner. And Daddy, I am watching that glass of iced tea, I know now just when to add the milk for the last glass of the night, I watched Mama do it so many times, but Mama you sit and relax and let me take care of Daddy and his tea this time, this one more time.

It’s getting late now and this, this one more day is almost gone. I take your hands in my own and hold them. I trace your fingers with mine. Daddy, I look into your sky blue eyes of my father and then at your warm brown eyes Mama. I kiss you both and hug you. A hug that I never want to end. I was not there the day either of you died, I never got to tell you goodbye but I did today, on this one more Christmas day.

I love you and miss you both. I miss my big brother too!

The Bucket List – The Goldleaf – December 16, 2015

Christmas times a coming, Christmas times a coming! And it’s during this time of year I grow a little pensive, a little nostalgic, and longing for home.

My older brother, Norvell (some of you may remember him as Junior), died very unexpectedly at the very early age of fifty-two during the Christmas holidays. We had made plans to see each other during Christmas that year, but it never happened. It broke my heart that I was not able to see him again and spend Christmas with him, and I always enter this time of year with great sadness and remorse.

We were brothers, and I loved him as though he was my father. He was fifteen years older than me, and there were no other siblings between us. When I was very young, he always had time for me and would spend endless hours building me houses from the discarded cardboard boxes from the furniture factory in Hahira where he worked as a teenager. He built a whole roadway system in the back of our house for me and equipped it with Tonka toy bulldozers and dump trucks. Years later he bought me my first novel, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Study in Scarlet” which introduced me to Sherlock Holmes and Watson, and opened my mind to reading mystery fiction. He taught me to play chess; he baptized me into Christ.

And as brothers often do, we had our disagreements. As adults, we had times when my way of life or my life decisions, or his, were not in step with the other’s and because of this we sometimes drifted apart. We always found ways to bury our hatchet though and our relationship had grown stronger. I had moved to Atlanta and he was living in Hialeah at the time of the death and though we were on good terms, the miles and years had separated us in a way that petty disagreements could not.

It was the Christmas of 1993, and we were going to see each other again. We were going to hug, and laugh, and eat, and remember…but it was not to be.

So it’s in his remembrance, with an eye on my own mortality and of those who I hold dear, that I submit this week’s column—The Bucket List.

In 2007, actors Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson starred in a movie about two terminally ill men who created a list of things they wanted to do before they died. Their list and the name of the name of the move was called, “The Bucket List.” Although I am not terminally ill, I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week thinking of my bucket list.

My bucket list is indeed a few things I would like to do before I give up this fat, aching body and move on. I also have a list of goals and those goals are different than the bucket list. I keep my goals to myself, I know that is hard to believe as I have a tendency to spout about everything that is happening in my life. In addition to my “bucket list.”

I also have something called a “short list” and I will only share that list with a few of my closest friends or some family members. The “short list” is a few things that I have already done earlier in life that maybe, just maybe I would like to repeat before I die…some of those things involve…well, it’s best that I probably not say more but let’s just say it is a list that would make Hunter S. Thompson jealous. The short list would only be invoked if I was told “you only have a few months left, make the best of it.”

I’ve been fortunate; I have done a couple of things that are on some folks bucket list. I have seen one of The Seven Wonders of the Modern World, The Great Wall of China. I have also been to the Forbidden City in Beijing. Even though my bucket list still has some places to visit I have tried to list it in order of importance, so here it goes:

  1. Assist in the spoiling of my grandchild. This is becoming closer to being a reality as my son, Simeon, is getting married next year.
  2. Mend some broken fences with people I have hurt in the past. It’s an ongoing project, and I manage to “try” and mend a few each year.

Those two are the most important ones, and they trump anything on the following list:

  1. Visit Europe and Russia and eat the native foods at every place I visit. I want to eat real Italian food, real French food and visit all the places that have some historical importance. Okay, well maybe forget the historical places, I just wanted to eat the real food at the places I visit.
  2. Visit the Great Pyramids at Giza and the Sphinx. I have always been fascinated with the pyramids. I will swap place for food on this one as I’m not sure I would enjoy Egyptian food. Take me out there in an air-conditioned SUV. I have no desire to ride camels or bake in the hot sun.
  3. See Mount Everest. I don’t care about climbing Mount Everest or even walking up the slope the first one thousand feet. I am too old, fat and tired for that kind of foolishness. Just put me in a ski resort (they have those there right?) at the bottom of the mountain with a cup of mulled cider and let me enjoy the view.
  4. Go to the Taj Mahal and ultimately ride an elephant through it. I’m not sure that they allow that sort of thing, but this is my bucket list, right?
  5. And if I complete my bucket list have a t-shirt made with the following words:

“My Bucket List,

Done it All, Seen it All,

Rode an elephant through the Taj Mahal.”

Big Bubba – The Goldleaf – December 2, 2015

1380789_10152296073837729_792221534_nI hope that all of you had a great Thanksgiving last week and spent it eating some good food with family or friends. I was fortunate to get turkey and dressing this year at a local restaurant owned by an American and whose head chef is a Georgia boy. It wasn’t home, but the food was good and plentiful.

I was reading something last week and came across this: “If you don’t know what they are selling, then there is a good chance you are the product.” I didn’t give it much thought at the time but as the week progressed I thought about this more and more. Allow me to explain:

In 1949, George Orwell wrote his dystopian novel titled 1984. Many of you may have read this novel but those that haven’t will certainly remember the term “big brother” and how this leader in the book called big brother was watching the masses.

The year 1984 came in our history and though we were not plunged into a society like that in the book some things did happen like increased government and private surveillance on all levels of our society. And then in the early 1990’s through the current year we began to invite “big brother” into our homes in the form of personal computers, smartphones and phablets.

And here was “big brother” in our homes and he was so comfortable in our lives and user-friendly we’ll just call him “Big Bubba.”  And we will tell him everything, our hopes, our dreams, our mother’s maiden name, the name of our first school teacher. We worry about privacy and not letting others see our information, our personal information. But yet, we share all of this with Big Bubba—and more! The things we like to eat, the places we like to visit, the books we love to read and the movies we die to watch.

And we take him with us everywhere and instead of spending time with our family and friends we cannot take our eyes off Big Bubba. He wants our attention and we want to share our time with him. We buy special protective covers for him, so he does not get damaged or cracked. We buy auxiliary batteries to make sure that he stays charged and in charge through every minute of our lives.

There was a time when making hotel reservations we looked at cleanliness and comfort in selecting a room. Now we look to see if the hotel has free wifi and is it dependable and fast. We now pack an additional piece of luggage just to hold all of our extra batteries and wires that we need to keep Big Bubba plugged into our lives. A whole life-support system for Big Bubba.

Our need to get and share information has become the priority in our lives and this monster, who demands our attention, hides behind the face of social media while it sucks the life out our real-world relationships like a digital vampire. And our government did not do this to us. We did it to ourselves. We allowed the monster into our homes.

Please don’t think I am preaching at you. I am preaching at myself just as much. I am trying to finish a novel but this addiction to the internet, this craving for social media eats into my time just as it does so many others. In a place, so far from my family and friends, I strive to find a balance between staying productive and staying connected. Big Bubba keeps calling my name—like the plant in “Little House of Horrors” constantly saying, “Feed me, Seymour, feed me.”

All of my ranting about Big Bubba, the Internet and social media brings me back to my original statement. “If you don’t know what they are selling, then there is a good chance you are the product.” And that is true. How does Facebook make its money? By convincing people to advertise to YOU! You are social media’s product, and they are selling you every day to millions of advertisers.

And we have provided all the information to allow these advertisers to target and market to us with great success. They know our ages, our birthdays, and every little detail of our lives. We sit back in amazement and wonder how that advertiser knew what we liked—it’s almost like they are reading our minds, but the real truth is they are regurgitating our information back to us and packaging it in the form of a new product or service that matches our profile. We have become pawns of Big Bubba, and Big Bubba is not the government but social media and its advertisers.

Christmas is coming soon and with it new versions of Big Bubba, new cords and chargers to buy, new data plans to subscribe to at the local phone store and new folks coming to social media. Let’s try something together…pick a day and put Big Bubba to sleep. Unplug him, do not charge his battery, leave him at home. Spend time with your family, look people in the eye and listen to them when they speak, enjoy the holidays. If that works, try for two days the next week. I am going to try and do this, I promise. Otherwise, Big Bubba wins. In the end he won’t even care, he won’t be there for you—the only folks that will care will be the ones that wanted your attention while you were alive.

Drugs, Mountain Men and MTV

From my column in The Goldleaf’s November 11th edition


While we were visiting the States, my cousin Margie graciously invited us to stay at her house in Twin Lakes. We decided to stay there a week so my wife could finish arranging her flowers for the Honeybee Festival in Hahira the next week.

While she was working, I sat in a very comfortable recliner in the sunroom with a view of the lake and watched television. Yeah, I know. The height of laziness is watching television while you wife works, but I don’t know anything about making clay flowers or arranging them. I was there, at her beck and call though, to go and get rocks or other items for her at the local Dollar Tree Store. I also made lunch runs, and grocery runs to the local fast food restaurants and grocery stores. I guess you could call me part of the support team so don’t be too hard on me.

So here I was, watching television and standing by to receive my next “honey do” assignment. I scrolled through all the channels and there was nothing that caught my eye except for the History Channel. Now I’m not sure if it is this way all the time with the History Channel in the States but this particular week they were running marathons. I like history, and I like television marathons, so I figured this would be a great combination.

The first day’s marathon was a show called, “Mountain Men.” I figured it would be a historical representation of mountain men in United States’ history. Maybe Daniel Boone, Lewis and Clark,  John Coulter or James “Grizzly” Adams. I started watching and boy was I wrong. Other than being shown a little about how things were done in the past by a group of modern day mountain men there was nothing historical about the show.

It seemed to me that the History Channel had fallen into the same trap that MTV had several years ago. Remember MTV, Music Television? When MTV was first started in the early 80’s you could tune in at any time and see music videos starring the artists and everything was hosted by a VJ—a video DJ. As the years went by there was less and less music and more reality TV and comedy shows. MTV had left its roots as a music channel and had become another “me too” network. Has the same thing happened to the History Channel?

I finished watching the marathon and took occasional breaks for some Dr. Pepper (made with REAL sugar) and Frito’s Scoops—neither of which I can get in Southeast Asia. The marathon was entertaining at times but became a little boring. I mean just how many times can you chase bears and mountain lions off your property?

And I’m sorry Eustace but buying yourself a cheap pickup truck would make your life a lot easier than dealing with cantankerous mules and horses. And riding your horse into town to your meeting at the courthouse? A meeting that was to determine whether you get to keep your precious land. I mean come on, this is the twenty-first century and poor old Mountain Man Marty up in Alaska uses an AIRPLANE and SNOWMOBILE to get around. And zero points to you History Channel for lack of consistency in the portrayal of your current-day mountain men.

The next day I channel surfed again and landed back on the History Channel with a Pawn Stars marathon. I had watched Pawn Stars before and enjoyed the show, but eight hours of hearing Rick say, “I need to call in an expert” was enough to make me wish for a Korean soap opera. At least with a Korean soap opera I don’t understand the language and if I don’t understand a language I can tune it out.

And does anyone on Pawn Stars actually pawn anything? I watched eight hours of Pawn Stars that day and no one ever pawned anything. They either sold it or walked away with their tail between their legs after being told that the “last comb that Elvis used to run through his hair before he died” was a fake. And yes, we have an expert that can verify things like this.

I will give the History Channel a little credit for trying to make Pawn Stars a little historical with Rick pontificating about how the “English used this particular type of musket to fight during the Revolutionary War” and other tidbits of historical trivia that I am sure is fed to him by the scriptwriters at the network. And let’s not forget the mini history lessons served to us in the form of a short one question multiple-choice test served to us right before a commercial break. I sure come away from those with a better understanding of history.

I feel I need to say something about TV commercials while I am on a rant. It seems that most daytime TV commercials are now drug commercials. The thirty-second commercials spend the first fifteen seconds telling you how wonderful this new drug is and the next fifteen seconds telling you of all the dangerous side effects—and in some cases death. They always end with “ask your doctor if <insert drug name here> is right for you.” I’ve got to ask you, dear reader, have you ever asked your doctor if that drug is right for you? Really? Have you?

Most of the drug commercials are followed by ads from attorneys who will represent you and sue the drug company because you took their wonder drug with all these dangerous side effects.

Who names all these new drugs? Some of the names really make me wonder if I should find a job naming new drugs. What happened to the geniuses that created such drug names as “Beano”? We need those guys back.

And what about toilet paper commercials? Why do we still have these? Who is not buying this product?

Enough of my ranting. I am going to turn on the TV here and watch a Korean soap opera and zone out for the rest of the day. Have a great week!

Hahira Goldleaf Column October 21, 2015

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I am writing this sitting in the Incheon Airport in Seoul, South Korea. We left Atlanta at 12:20 PM on Saturday afternoon and arrived Seoul at 4:15 PM on Sunday. It is a long trip. We still have several more hours to go for the next leg. Even though everyone we stayed with in the States were quite accommodating, it will be good to sleep in my bed and get back to a routine again.

The first routine will be to start on the next novel. I want to be finished with it by the first of the year. I would say Christmas, but I think that it is a rather lofty goal. The next novel will be Obadiah: A Ghost’s Story. The story is a ghost story, set in Hahira in the early part of the twentieth century, told by the ghost. I had debated on whether to proceed with the sequel to Carnies and Wildcats, but this one is calling out for me to write it. I know that sounds crazy but consider the source.

I am going to make this column a little brief this week and give you a few stories from my dad’s first grocery store on Main Street.

Peddlers

Daddy hated salesmen who walked in off the street trying to peddle something. We had our regular salesmen from The A. S. Pendleton Company (wholesale grocery distributors in Valdosta), Roscoe Mullis with Valdosta Cigar and Tobacco, and the salesman from Adel Grocery Company—add to this group the soft drink truck drivers who delivered Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, and the cracker and potato chip salesmen.

This group was great friends with Mama and Daddy, and they were always welcomed. But occasionally we had the random, unsolicited peddler and Daddy had a unique way of handling them. The normal routine was they would walk in and approach Daddy and asked him if he was the owner. To which Daddy would always reply, “No sir. The owner left here about four weeks ago and went to Florida. He left me fifty dollars to run the business and I have spent all of that. If he don’t get back soon, I am going to have to shut this place down.”

If you knew my dad you know I have deleted a few choice expletives and colorful language in the telling of the story. Email me and I will give you the uncensored version if you are interested.

What People Don’t Know Can’t Hurt Them

At our little store we had a nice selection of meats and Daddy would cut meat to order. One day a lady from Hahira’s more social elite visited wandered across the tracks to our little store on West Main and asked Daddy to cut her some ham. Apparently she wanted some center-cut ham, and every few slices that Daddy showed to her just wasn’t good enough.

Daddy finally became tired of her requests and told her that he was not cutting any more ham for her. She begrudgingly accepted the last few slices he cut and then asked Daddy to also cut her a wedge of red-rind hoop cheese. He did and packaged everything separately in white butcher paper. She paid and left.

About fifteen minutes later she returned with the package of cheese. “Mr. Spearman,” she said. “I got home with this cheese and placed it on the counter in my kitchen. A few seconds later I watched a cockroach crawl across the package. Could you please exchange this and give me some new cheese and give this to another customer? You know, what people don’t know can’t hurt them.”

Daddy took the package from her and turned his back to her. He went through the motions of pretending to cut and package a new wedge of cheese for her. He gave her back the original package of cheese, smiled and said, “You know, you’re right. What people don’t know can’t hurt them.”

Credit References

Mom and Dad always had a healthy credit business. People would come by and purchase their groceries on credit and paid when they sold crops, received their paychecks or their Social Security. My parents were fortunate in that most people paid their bills, and they did not get stuck very often with bad debt.

Often their credit customers would travel to Valdosta to purchase furniture or cars on credit. These credit customers would give Spearman’s Grocery as a credit reference and the credit department from the Valdosta retailer would call and ask Daddy to advise if the customer was a reliable credit customer.

Daddy’s response was always short and always the same to these credit inquiries, “I took a chance with ‘em, now you take one!”

 

Have a great week! We already miss you all!