Friday, March 28, 2014

Good-bye Mary Ann

My eleventh-grade English III teacher passed away this past week, while I was doing ukulele camp. The guy who maintains the connections to the class of '65 sent us a note, saying she was ill,  sent home from the hospital to hospice care, and before we could try to get into contact, she was gone. Only ten years older than my wife and I, who were both her students before we started dating.

I didn't maintain a strong connection with her after high school, though I did send her copies of all my books when they hit the racks. My very first science fiction short story was an assignment for her class, and she was the first person to read any fiction I'd written. She was a gorgeous, sassy, sharp-witted woman, and told me she was impressed, with the story. Given that I was a sixteen-year-old pimply-faced four-eyed geek, that was enough reason to want to be a writer right there. 

Mary Ann married a judge, and they had a daughter who was about the same age as our son. We bumped into her and her family a few times when we lived in Baton Rouge after high school. She retired to raise her daughter.

When we went back to the 25th reunion, because we happened to be in town, I saw her husband in the lobby and went to introduce myself.

Oh, he said, you're the guy who sends her all those books?

My ego soared right into the clouds: Why, yes, yes I am.

And Judge Brown said, Yeah, she reads them and says, 'Who taught him to write like that?!' and throws them across the room!

My ego's wings melted off and it plummeted into the sea ...

He laughed. Just kidding, he said.

No, No, I said, I'm going to be dining off that story for a long time. And I did, and I still am.

Mary Ann Brown encouraged me-and a lot of others, it seems–just at the time when it was of major import. Would I have become a writer without that? Maybe. Probably. But it certainly gave me a hope I might not have had otherwise.

Thanks, Mary Ann. Rest in peace. You did good while you were here.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Uke Book Intro


Behold the ukulele, that shrimp-sized guitar-wanna-be with only four strings, the my-dog-has-fleas plinkety-plinkety thing that–if you are of a certain age, might, when somebody mentions the sucker, immediately bring to mind the late Tiny Tim. 
If you are older, you might think instead of George Formby, or Arthur Godfrey. Younger, you might know Eddie Vedder or Jake Shimabukuro, or maybe for you, the uke is just another instrument in a pop group, since the uke has–at least for now–become cool once again.
Or maybe you see a grass-skirted hula girl and wind-blown palm trees.
Or maybe none of those resonate; you seldom, if ever, thought about the ukulele before and you are just mildly curious enough to have a look at this. 
I used to be like that last one. And then one day, I wasn't. 
In spades.
It was completely unexpected.
I got my first tenor ukulele at the end of February, 2013, and as of this writing, it has been a few days over a year since. It has become, if not an obsession, pretty close to it.
What I’ve done and how I have gone about it is the main theme of this short book.  Mostly, I expect any audience to be kind of like me; more than a total newbie, but not long in grade. Maybe a few die-hard uke fans looking for any material about the instrument might drop round.
There will be some background, how I began my musical journey and got to the point where I started ukery. Some odd bits as they float up in my memory, and not all of them will be specific to the ukulele. Like the old TV show Connections, sometimes a thing way over there leads one along a twisty path to a completely different thing over here ...
Oh, and I tend to blather. 
Why am I doing this book? Well, not to make money because it won’t, but because I want to, and because I can. I like reading memoirs about how and why somebody got into something, and how and why he or she learned this or that. It’s the “why” and “how,” I’m dealing with, not so much the “how-to.” When I’m not plucking at the uke or walking the dogs, I make a fair living as a writer. I ought to be able to keep the narrative moving.
A warning: My non-fiction writing style is informal and chatty, I jump about like a grasshopper and stop here or there to offer observations on whatever I have landed upon. I am opinionated, sometimes obnoxiously so. If this bothers you, save your money, or ask for it back, I won’t be offended. I have found generally in my work, if I’m not pissing somebody off, I’m not doing my job right. Some folks resonate with what I do, some don’t. 
Que sera, sera.
In the course of this, I will try to address some general history, and some things I have so far found interesting in my personal trip down to the shore to paddle out into the third ukulele wave. Your mileage, if you enjoy things ukulele, will, of course, vary. 
There are scores of books on how-to-play ukuleles–chords, songs, techniques. This is not one of those. If you have gotten this far and you are thinking I’m going to teach you how to play? Stop now, ‘cause that ain’t happening. I am not good enough to be teaching anybody. I’m a storyteller, so that’s what this is, and maybe now and then, you might see something you can actually use, or that you didn’t know before–I’m going to try to ladle some of that in.
No promises ...
So. Cue the theme music for Hawaii Five-O, dial it up loud, groove to the beat, and visualize the image of that monster breaker rolling in.
Or, if you want the tune done with the instrument we are discussing, check out  Honoka and Azita on YouTube. 

It’s all good.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Non-Fiction Book

Here's what I'm thinking. Just a rough on the cover, but you get the subject matter … In my copious spare time, of course ...

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Turn the Page


In October of 2002, we bought a camper. It was a Born Free 24'/Rear Bath, a small, but fairly high-end rig. 

There were several reasons we went for it. We had big German Shepherd Dogs who liked to bark at other dogs. We reasoned that if we had an RV, we could park it away from other folks and not worry about Cady and Scout carrying on like they did at the dog motels.

My wife's job was most stressful, and the idea of just piling into the camper and leaving town for a few days was most attractive. We'd have a chance to be alone, with nothing we had to do, no yard work, no house cleaning.

It didn't pencil out, insofar as how many times we'd be likely to stay in a dog motel somewhere on the beach, or to fly back to Louisiana to visit folks, versus the cost of food and gasoline, but we did it anyway. Took the 5000-mile trip down south and back, and then mostly did shorter jaunts, a few days here, a few days there.

Over the next decade, we didn't have any regrets about our decision. We loved the thing, it never let us down. 

But things change, worlds move, and one day we looked up and realized we weren't using the rig much. The next set of dogs were smaller, my wife had semi-retired and the stress was much less, and there were things to do at home and in town that called to us more. We were still paying on the loan, there was the rent for the covered storage space, the insurance and upkeep, and of a moment, we realized that having the camper parked and unused wasn't in our best interests.

So we found a dealer and put it up for sale, on consignment. 

We won't get our money out, but that's okay. Probably we'll get what we owe, and that will be money not going out every year. 

It was hard to let it go, there were a lot of good times in and  around Wimmie. ("Wimoweh," the original name of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," and Born Free, which is about Elsa, the lion, that's what that is all about.) Lot of nostalgia there.

This maker's products are in-demand, well-made and safe. One of the selling points was that it had a rollover bar and that nobody had ever died from an accident in one. 

We kept the rig in good shape, under a roof, and it's low-mileage and pretty cherry inside, so we think it'll find a new home with somebody who wants to hit the road. Good for them, good for us. 

Another page turns ...