I live, to say it kindly, in the middle of nowhere.  Nestled in the northwest corner of Tennessee, my little town is two hours from both Memphis and Nashville.  No movie theatre, no bookstore, not even a Wal-Mart.  Yes, really, McKenzie is that small, so it should come as no surprise that we are largely ignored by the cultural winds that blow through bigger communities.  Things like book readings by published authors are nearly unheard of in towns like this, where few people read beyond the obituaries.

What we do have, however, is Bethel University, an institution of higher learning plopped down in the middle of the corn fields and cow pastures that dominate this area.  So, on Monday, I got to hear a reading by Darrin Doyle, author of a number of short stories and two novels—Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet and The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo.  Both are quirky, humorous takes on family and all the things that go with it.  I got to hear a bit from Revenge at the beginning of the program and, if the rest of the book is anything like the beginning, it should be a very entertaining read.

After the initial reading, Mr. Doyle took questions from the audience of about a dozen who did not have scheduling conflicts.  A general discussion about writing and publishing followed and, although I didn’t hear much that I hadn’t already heard, I was pleased to hear that Mr. Doyle’s methods of writing and revising are very similar to my own.  He writes late at night to avoid distractions and he prefers to plow through the first draft before worrying about how to fix its problems.  Better still, the students in the audience asked excellent questions about the stories and the language, helping to restore a shred of my lost faith in our education system.

Overall, I enjoyed hearing Mr. Doyle speak and would recommend someone looking for a quirky, fun read to check out his works.

In addition to that, I have been giving very serious thought to starting a writer’s group in my town.  Talking to a local teacher who also has publishing ambitions, I think the knowledge I have amassed through my years of research and tortuous submissions could benefit other writers in the area who would like to get serious about their craft, but don’t really know how to go about it.  Part support group, part critique group, the group would accept anyone, regardless of age, who is serious about the craft of writing and wants to improve.  The main obstacles, for me, in forming this little commune of the written word are my erratic work schedule and finding a venue to hold the meetings.  The scheduling, I don’t think, would prove too much of an issue, since I think meeting more than once a month would not be practical, and I think I can manipulate my schedule enough to have one regular evening off per month.  I do plan on asking around about a venue—a restaurant or a meeting room or even a classroom—where we might have access to the internet as well as tools to do, say, a multimedia presentation.  I would even prefer a classroom, so no one in attendance feels obligated to purchase anything as they would in a restaurant.  I’ll give it some more thought over the coming weeks and be sure to provide any updates on here.

Off to work now.  Toodles.

Some time ago, my friend and fellow author, Jaye Wells, put out a call for help.  Following the success of her first novel, Red-Headed Stepchild, she asked for the readers of her blog to come up with a possible title for her second Sabina Kane story.  The one caveat was that the prospective title had to include the word “black”, as each title in the series is to incorporate a different color.

A great many responses came in, including one that I suggested—Black Light District.  For any of my readers who have read Jaye’s work, the idea of fantastic characters working as prostitutes seemed like a good fit.  Anyway, it was just one of several good ideas that were put out there and I soon forgot about it.

Jaye, however, did not.

A few months after the call for possible titles, the title of the new book was chosen—The Mage in Black.  Obviously, this is not what I suggested, but that was not the end for the Black Light District.  Jaye later sent me an email saying that, while it was not going to be used as the title, she liked the idea so much that she used it in her story and would include me in the acknowledgements when the book came out.

This made me very happy.  Not only was an idea of mine making it into a published novel, but so was my name.  Sure, I’d prefer to have my name on the front of one, but I was really excited all the same, one step closer to my ultimate goal of publication.

The Mage in Black is slated for release on March 31st, but some stores have been putting it on the shelves early, including a Wal-Mart in nearby Paris.  I wasn’t expecting to find the book, or even looking for it, but as I scanned the titles looking for something interesting while my wife was shopping, there it was, next to, of all things, a Nicholas Sparks title.  At first I thought it was Red-Headed Stepchild, put out in advance of the new title, but the truth soon dawned upon me and I snatched the book off the shelf as though I feared The Last Song my snap at my hand.

Book in hand and smile on my face, I flipped through the book until I found the acknowledgements page.  And there it was.  My name.  In a novel.  Not a character with a highly coincidental name, but me.  It was a bucket full of original recipe awesome.

Needless to say, I bought that copy and, unbeknownst to my wife, I have plans to buy a few more, not only to help out the author who so kindly mentioned me, but also so I’ll always have a fresh copy in case I want to show it off.  My wife even took my copy to church this morning so she could show our friends there, despite my fears that the book would burst into flames upon entering holy ground.

So, for all my readers (yes, both of you) who are looking for a good read, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of Red-Headed Stepchild and its follow up, The Mage in Black.  Jaye spins a fast-paced, tense, and often laugh-out-loud funny tale with more twists and turns than a bag full of angry snakes.  And I’m not just saying that because my name’s in there.

However, I have been very quiet lately, having not posted anything since Christmas.  Part of my long silence was the aftermath of all my cancer excitement from last year.  Not only have I been slow to gain back my former energy level, I have also been struck down by nearly every bug going around over the past few months, including two bouts of pneumonia.  Such are the hazards of having a busted immune system while working in a pharmacy.

Another reason I have been off the radar is that, frankly, I’ve had very little to report and even less desire to report it.  Worse than that is the lack of writing in general that seems to have marked my early 2010.  I have written less than 5000 words of new fiction since Christmas and that is unacceptable for someone really looking to break into publishing.

So, now that my annual trek through almost 2000 Governor’s Scholars applications, I think it’s time that I refocused my attention on writing and submitting.  With that in mind, I’m taking stock of where I am with my various projects.  They say you have to stop somewhere, and I guess it’s also true that you have to restart somewhere.

Wielder of the Soul—I’m about halfway through the story and, when last I left it, I was starting to find my way out of that murky land of darkness I refer to as “the middle”.  I always start strong on a story and I usually finish just as strong, but it’s sometimes that middle that gets me off track and makes me question my own commitment.  Still, this is the first project I plan on completing this year, so I’m ready to jump back in and finish the story.

Project Supervillain—Not a sequel to Gifts of the Hirakee (aka Project Superhero), this story is about two former friends who, having acquired superpowers, become enemies sworn to destroy each other.  It is also a story about how we define our heroes and villains, often without a true picture of who they really are.  I have about 30k words down on this one and have a pretty good idea of where I think the story will go.

Project Diablo—Two words:  vampire western.  About 5000 words done on this one, but I love the concept and I hope it turns out as strong as I think it might.

“The Interview of Harper Milton Todd”—I submitted this short for a big-time anthology, and it is currently being held for consideration.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

“Searching for Salvation”—I finished this short last year and haven’t found the right place to submit it.  Still, I think it’s pretty strong and I hope to find it a good home this year.

“A Coup in Chuckistan”—I wrote a nice little story about domestic violence and murder last year and, after another good round of edits, I plan on sending it out soon.

In addition to these ongoing projects, I have been asked to do a speech for this year’s Relay for Life Survivor’s Dinner in June.  I’m looking forward to this opportunity, especially since I plan to steer clear of the same old tales of hope and struggle that are so common at these events.  Having always looked for the humorous aspect of having cancer last year during my treatment, I plan on doing a David Sedaris-inspired piece on my experience with cancer.  I want to be funny without being inappropriate or vulgar, a line that will be hard to walk considering that I’ll be talking about having my nut surgically removed.

So, long-forgotten reader, I have not disappeared and I hope to resume regular programming.