Archive for July, 2013

200px-Jerry_ClowerStorytelling is not only something we do in the South, the ability to tell a story is point of pride and even serves to set a man’s status in his community. And nobody ever did that better than the gentleman from Route 4, Liberty, Mississippi, Jerry Clower. These days, he’s a memory of a time gone by, a simpler more honest time  when a man wasn’t ashamed to tell a story without cussing, or say he loves his wife and his God, and make you laugh until you cry. Today, some folks would look at him as a bit of nostalgic, corny down-home humor. Those folks would be dead wrong. Clower was as fine an entertainer, comedian and storyteller as anyone you care to name.

Now, mind you, Jerry was already a fixture by the time I heard him, when I was a youngun in the ’70s. In fact, I’m sure his star was at its zenith in those days. Everybody — at least in the state of Mississippi, which, in my world meant everybody — knew who he was and could tell you without a second’s hesitation a favorite Clower story. And, believe me, there were plenty.

Clower was born in the Delta lands of southwest Mississippi in 1926. To say he grew up poor and farming wouldn’t necessarily distinguish him because in those days, nearly everybody in the state grew up that way. He joined the Navy right after high school as a radioman. When his enlistment was up, he returned home and went to Mississippi State University, where he studied agriculture (what else?) and played football. And after getting his degree, he took a job as a salesman, selling fertilizer (a perfect metaphor for a storyteller) for Mississippi Chemical in the ’50s. Naturally, his storytelling skills helped him in his job and his job gave him ample opportunity to hone his storytelling skills.

His reputation flew across the state like a hawk on a mouse, and before long he was making records — and selling them by the thousands. By 1973, he joined the Grand Ole Opry. And by the time I first heard him, when I was about 12 or so, he was seemingly everywhere — radio, TV, 8-track tapes, albums, you name it. Our family car’s AM radio, permanently set to the most god-awful country station my father could find, introduced me to the man who was already being called “The Mouth of Mississippi.” And was he ever. An energetic man, Clower punctuated his stories with a boisterous “HAAAAWWW” and “HOOOOBOY lemmetellyou.” No trip to Granny’s, or to town, or even to the grocery store, was complete without being regaled with a story about the Ledbetters, football, hunting or all of the above.

Nearly all of his stories centered around growing up in Yazoo County (“Route 4, Liberty Mississippi”), and you’d think stories of growing up poor in the Delta would be depressing or boring. But with Clower, it wasn’t so much the story as it was in the telling. I’m sure he could tell a story about checking the mail and make it last 20 minutes — and have you laughing the entire time. Many of his tales involved the famous Ledbetter family:  Uncle Versie, Aunt Pet, Ardel, Burnel, Raynel, W.L., Lanel, Odell, Eudel, Marcel, Claude, Newgene, and Clovis. Marcel usually took a leading a role, as in the story we knew as “Marcel and the Beer Joint.” His most famous was “A Coon Huntin’ Story,” which if you’ve never heard, stop what you’re doing right now and listen to it here. If memory serves, it was the first Clower story I ever heard. His delivery was pure country dialect, like when he refers to a lynx as a “souped-up wildcat,” but you never felt it was an act, because it wasn’t.

I saw him perform in Jackson when I was still in high school, at the big city coliseum. He regaled us for what seemed like hours, and finished with a smile. I was part of a huge group of Baptist youth (and Jerry was unabashedly Southern Baptist back before we used words like “evangelical” and “religious right”), and I remember him saying something about all of us (“God’s children”) gathered there and how proud he was to be an American, a Baptist and married to the only woman he ever laid a hand on, Homerline Wells Clower. His legacy was far more than that of a quaint Southern man tellin’ stories. Lewis Grizzard, Jeff Foxworthy, Ron White, Larry the Cable Guy, all of them owe Jerry Clower a tip of their hat.

Do yourself a favor. Sit down with a glass of tea on the porch and listen to a few of Jerry’s tales. He’ll introduce you to a South that’s still out there, if you know where to look.

Novelist signSometimes I think writers – including those poor, misguided souls who think they want to be writers – will do anything to have the work done for them. There’s no shortage of apps, software, books, etc., to “help” you craft The Great American Novel.

But there are also some very valuable tools out there that do make a writer’s life a lot easier and, if anything like me, a little bit more organized.

For example, I can’t even imagine sitting down to write a screenplay without a program like Final Draft or Celtx, which does all the formatting for you. You still have to write the story, though.

Which leads me to Scrivener.  Billed as “a word-processing program designed for authors,” it’s like an organizer for writers. According to the developers’ website, it’s “a word processor and project management tool that stays with you from that first, unformed idea all the way through to the final draft. Outline and structure your ideas, take notes, view research alongside your writing and compose the constituent pieces of your text in isolation or in context. Scrivener won’t tell you how to write—it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application.”

I downloaded the trial version over the weekend, just to check it out. The interactive tutorial was easy to follow, even if it did take the better part of an hour. And I can see how it would definitely help get things organized.

Still, my current system seems to work just fine. That is to say, my current lack of a “system.” I have several different tools that I use and they’re all on my laptop – but they are across different programs and apps (something Scrivener is designed for – collecting all these under one roof). I write in MS Word for Mac – notes, drafts, etc. I have a pretty good filing system on my hard drives that allows me to keep things divided by project, with subfolders for various operations. Notes on the fly are done either the old-fashioned way – with a handy notebook I keep with me all the time, or, lately, via an Evernote app on my Kindle. Then, I usually transcribe the notes into the appropriate folder, updating/editing as I go. The same goes with research. Whether it’s via Internet or any other source, the material goes in a folder. I also use a basic “yellow stickie” app that I use mostly for those “Oh, don’t forget this” things that come up when I’m at the screen.

For ideas, I use a mind-mapping program that lets me just throw stuff at the screen, and then I can re-arrange to suit my needs. I’ve been using these kinds of programs for about 5 years, since I was a speechwriter in the Pentagon, and I love them. Mine’s easy to use (and freeware) and affords me the freedom to just “blurt something out” without having to worry about fitting it into some kind of structure. That comes later, after the blurting. Because it’s a different program, I often run two windows (or more) at a time when I’m actually doing the writing work.

For screenwriting, I use Celtx, which makes life a lot easier – all I have to worry about is the action and dialogue; the program does all the formatting. It also has a notecard function, so that every scene has its own card, which allows you to move stuff around as you need to (Scrivener has a similar function).

With Scrivener, just about all of this is contained in one program. There’s no mind-mapping function, but I can drag and drop any file I need into the appropriate Scrivener folder, which ultimately would save me the trouble of switching windows.

I’ve only just started playing with Scrivener, so the jury’s still out on whether it’s better for me. I figured I’d give it a shot with a new short story I’m trying to work out in my head. Give me a month, and I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Deep Blood is available now from Roundfire Books. Buy it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Deep Blood is available now from Roundfire Books. Buy it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

This week is turning out to be a busy one. Day One of book sales and two reviews are in.

Chris Gerrib, author of Mars Run and a reviewer at Pod People says Deep Blood is “…’southern-fried noir.’  It has that dark edge, with characters who most definitely aren’t saints, dealing with tough hands dealt them by life as best they can.” Read the full review here.

Also, Kate Policani, author, reviewer and columnist for the Seattle Examiner, says “Every character has character from Colt to Mr. Wofford, the kooky witness who looked like a ‘bloated version of Raggedy Andy.’” Read her full review here.

I’ll post reviews as they come in here, so be sure in check back – or subscribe to the Kudzu Corner. And if you haven’t checked out the book trailer, it’s here.

Dead Mule 2Sometimes, the coincidence of a thing can leave you smiling. The paperback version of Deep Blood is available as of today (via Amazon here). Also today, the latest issue of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature is out, with my short story, “Kenny’s Saturday Night Cake Walk,” and part of a recent conversation  with the irrepressible Valerie McEwan, editor-in-chief (and artist and writer and storyteller and …) of the Mule. I certainly didn’t plan it this way, but the timing means that you can read the short story as sort of a prologue or preview of Deep Blood.

If you haven’t checked out the Dead Mule yet, do that now right here. If you’re from the South, you’re going to feel like you just came home to a house full of folks talking in the kitchen. If you’re not from the South (try not to be jealous), you’re going to see what the fuss is all about. Even if you don’t read all the quality fiction, poetry and essays, you’ll get a kick (see what I did there? Mule? Kick?) out of the something-of-a-specialty of the Mule: the Southern Legitimacy Statements. And, of course, if you’re looking to discover some new voices of the South, this is the place to do it.

The blog’s been quiet lately because of all the busy work of getting Deep Blood launched,DBThumbnail which turned out to be more than I anticipated. I’ll be doing a Q and A on Goodreads and a radio interview later this month, so stay tuned for more info on that.

I also am trying out (read: struggling to figure out) the Scrivener app for Mac, a writer’s tool that is supposed to organize and help compile all the various notes, research, ideas, etc., a writer usually scrawls down somewhere while writing a novel. I’m not sold on it yet — my current system of total disorganization seems to work better. But that’s another story.

Enjoy the Dead Mule. I did. And while you’re at it, check out the book trailer here, then buy a copy of Deep Blood.