Passing by Home?

In my novel ROSA NO-NAME, the lead character ponders several times about what “home” is. In regard to the title of this post, I might be pondering that same thing myself.

When I was a kid, from approximately eight to twelve, I lived in Durham, North Carolina. It never felt like home because I’d had to leave the only home I’d ever known when my parents and I lived in Farmville, Virginia. So, when we later moved to Norfolk, it was a relief.

My wife and I drove back yesterday from the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in western North Carolina. Just as we’d done going to the conference, we skirted Durham on Rt. 85. I usually just casually think, “I used to live here,” but yesterday I started remembering some of the things I hadn’t thought about in years.

Even at that early age, Duke University played a role in my life. My father used to take me to a barbershop at Duke for our hair cuts. No idea why. I remember a fountain outside that building, one that we could frequently see a rainbow inside or through. (Okay, so I’m a little hazy on details.)

Although I wasn’t big on admiring flowers, my parents liked to visit the extensive gardens at Duke, and even though I wasn’t very interested in Handel’s MESSIAH then–I’d love to go back to that now–they took me to a presentation of that work every year. I may not remember the music, but I recall being fascinated with those huge columns inside the Chapel.

I recall walking to my elementary school and passing by a little neighborhood store–anybody remember when there were still a number of those around? I recall one day when a bigger kid across the street from me yelled an obscenity at me. I was too naive to know what he was talking about.

I can’t forget how big a part tobacco played in Durham. Our next-door neighbor even used it to fertilize his lawn. Although I think unsmoked tobacco sometimes has a pleasant smell, I hated playing outside and having to smell that every day.

Speaking of tobacco, one of our church members gave my father and me tickets to attend some very special, tobacco-related yearly show. The actor who played Joe Friday’s sidekick on Dragnet was an entertainer that year. I had to ask my father the meaning of a vulgar joke he told.

Durham wasn’t all bad. The problem was my inability at that stage of my life to adjust. Being put on the safety patrol and going with that group to Washington, DC, were two of the better parts of my life there.

Home, though? It still didn’t seem like it. Would I like to go back and visit sometime? Maybe. If I can forget the worst of the past.

Thanks for letting me journey a bit through the past today. If you have comments, I’d love to have you share them.

NOTE: Various people have complained about not being able to find or leave comments. Go all the way to the bottom of this post, beneath my “Best regards, Roger.” On the very bottom line of that last section just above the previous post you’ll see “Leave a Comment” if yours will be the first or “X Comments,” where  X denotes the number of existing comments.

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Best regards,
Roger

No End to Learning

When I graduated from Frostburg State College (now University), I was probably naive enough to think, “Good. No more going to school. No more classes. No more homework.” Thank goodness I wasn’t naive enough to think, “No more learning.” I recognized that learning would be a lifelong process. I just couldn’t anticipate how long my life would be or how much I’d have to learn between then and now.

Several months later I found myself in the classroom again, teaching tenth grade English; the next year they moved me down to ninth grade. Aware that the direction of my career depended on getting a Masters of Education, I spent parts of two summers taking two classes each year. My word! Why did I sign up for “20th Century Russian History”? Even though the Soviet Union was still intact at that time, the course was the kind of challenge I’ve rarely encountered since.

When I quit teaching at the end of December 1974 to take a State job, I was elated. No more spending my free time planning and correcting papers. And no need to finish that Masters program.

The State job involved a lot of paperwork, but virtually no classroom training. Okay!

My parents–amazing how perceptive they can be as we grow older–recognized that I wasn’t overly thrilled with what I was doing, and for some reason thought I might really enjoy computer programming. So they offered to pay for me to hop up the road an evening or two a week to Chesapeake College.

Even though I was back in school as a learner, my parents’ insight had been dead right. I LOVED programming and ended up with a 4.0 average on the 24 credits I took there, completing two certificate courses simultaneously.

No need to go into the problem of “how does one find work without experience and how does one get experience without working.” My good grades barely counted in the real world–except for showing my potential. I almost wished I was back in the classroom.

I started working as a computer programmer in September of 1984. Although I had to attend an occasional class, most of the learning I didn’t do on my own came from attending (and later teaching) sessions at a semi-annual computer users symposium called DECUS.. I’d made so much progress in my learning that I was also invited to teach a day-long class at Australia DECUS in Melbourne.

Wow!

Nothing seems to stay the same for long in life. As mainframe computing surrendered to networked personal computers, I was no longer the expert I’d once become. So I dug into web programming, but without the degree of success I’d experienced before.

And then in 2002 I was asked to join a different team. For a very important new piece of software we were to begin using, I attended a week of formal classes along with the rest of the team, but–probably for the first time in my life–my ability to learn what I needed to learn fell short of expectations. I didn’t catch on, and I did miserably at the job. So much so that my being downsized a year later was actually a relief.

What I’d learned more than anything else during that year was information technology was changing faster than I could keep up. I knew my career in that field was doomed. I ended up on the register at Target for three years until I was old enough to retire. Definitely no formal education needed for that job.

I wrote my first novel during those three years and discovered that I needed to begin the learning process all over again. 21st century novels weren’t like their predecessors, and graduating from college with an English major wasn’t the background I needed to write better.

So, for the past eight or ten years I’ve attended at least one writing conference yearly. Invaluable learning experiences. I’ve subscribed to and pored through Writers Digest, and I’ve amassed over a hundred books about writing.

Learning never ends.

One thing I’ve become especially conscious of is the fact that authors must always strive to do better with each successive book. That may not always involve learning some new writing technique–I’m not sure there is such a thing–but in relearning and applying things that may not have seemed relevant earlier.

And so I strive to make each book I write the best one yet.

What part has learning played in your life? How about leaving a comment?

~*~

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Two Different Kinds of Writing Conferences

My wife and I have spent most of this past week at a Novelist Retreat at the Lifeway Ridgecrest Conference Center near Asheville, NC.

Ridgecrest is a beautiful place, situated in the mountains. It’s like home to me, and no wonder. I don’t know how often I used to go there with my parents when I was a child. And then I worked on summer staff from 1967-1972. It’s where I met my first wife.

I returned several times during the 1990s to play guitar or bass on the praise team for the International Mission Conference. And then during the mid-2000s I started attending the BRMCWC (Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference).

The Novelist Retreat is a relatively new event. Just five or six years old, it was started by romance novelist Yvonne Lehman (pictured above), who lives just a few miles from Ridgecrest in Black Mountain. Yvonne had been the founder and director of the Blue Ridge Conference until turning that over to suspense and speculative novelist Alton Gansky.

He also writes military thrillers and non-fiction books. Some of you read my post about 60 People Who Shaped the Church; that’s one of his books.

Both conferences are for Christian writers and wanna-be authors. The BRMCWC hosts as many as 400-500 people who write everything from poetry to novels to greeting cards.  The Novelist Retreat is limited to 50 participants, all of whom have written, are writing, or want to write a novel.

Both conferences allow participants to schedule fifteen-minute appointments with the faculty. The Retreat, however, doesn’t ordinarily have agents and acquisition editors, the two most important kinds of people to help get writers’ manuscripts into print. The BRMCWC does, which helps to explain its popularity.

Both conferences hold a number of helpful classes, taught by top-notch writing professionals. And both have  outstanding keynote speakers. Past BRMCWC speakers include Fox news commentator Todd Starnes, Maj. Jeff Struecker, who was a key person in the real action the movie Black Hawk Down was based on, and Cecil Murphey, who co-authored the amazing best seller, 90 Minutes in Heaven.

 

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This year’s Retreat featured best-selling author Robert Whitlow.

 

 

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And up-and-coming actor, comedian, and author Torry Martin. Torry will be appearing in a Hallmark movie sometime around Thanksgiving.

 

 

I recommend both conferences. Highly.

If you’re a writer who’s serious about doing his best, you’ll never stop learning. And you’ll always be striving to do better. A writer never “arrives.” The struggle to have the next book published and do everything possible to help it sell never ends.

Perhaps you’re not a Christian writer. And perhaps the Christian elements of the two conferences at Ridgecrest wouldn’t appeal to you.

I understand.

But you would do well to research other writing conferences. Perhaps you’ll find one somewhere in your general area, one that’s not terribly expensive. You can Google “writing conferences” or check Writers Digest magazine.

What do you think? Have you ever attended a writing conference? Do you see the value of going to one? How about leaving a comment?

~*~

Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

Which Would Be Worse–Blindness or Deafness?

I’m in pretty good health for a sixty-eight-year-old man who’ll turn sixty-nine in September. Although I have to take four or five different types of medicine just to keep my body in reasonably good working order, I’m probably not by myself on that.

I’ve had cataract surgery on both eyes, but I still have to wear glasses because of astigmatism. But at least my overall vision is better than it’s been in many years. So I’m not anticipating that I’ll ever go blind.

I’d hate to be without my hearing aids, no matter how unsatisfactory they are compared to “natural” hearing. But they are adequate, and I have no reason to anticipate going totally deaf, either.

So why have I chosen a topic like this one?

Perhaps you didn’t notice that I said I couldn’t anticipate going blind or becoming completely deaf. But I can’t say for sure that I won’t. And neither can you. Those things–like so many others in this earthly life–are beyond our control.

Comparing the loss of sight with the loss of hearing is almost like comparing apples and oranges, though. I take both of them for granted–probably equally for granted.

In a way, sight and hearing are two sides of the same coin. With my eyes I see my sweet wife, Kathleen. With my ears I hear her loving words. The same with our grown children and our grandchildren. How could someone easily choose between seeing the people he loves and being able to hear them?

It gets more complicated when I think about my normal activities.

Blindness wouldn’t hinder me from getting around at home once I got used to it, but while Kathleen is still young enough to have to work, I don’t know how I’d even make it to the nearby Sonic drive-in for my daily diet cherry limeade. Much less the various other places I need to go when Kathleen is normally not available.

I could learn to do my novel writing on a computer that’s designed for the blind, but it would take a whale of an adjustment to do things any differently from the way I’m accustomed to doing them now. And Personal Composer, the software I write my original songs down with, would be impossible to use without sight. Not even software that turned audible notes into notes on the page would be adequate.

If I were deaf, however, at least I could get around outside. But how would I communicate with the people I ran into? Even though deafness wouldn’t affect how I write, going to writers conferences and trying to interact with readers except electronically would be useless. Learning sign language at my age wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be a challenge I’d rather not face.

Writing songs and playing guitar around the house and at our church’s weekly nursing home ministry would be impossible without hearing. As would playing bass guitar on the praise team and singing in the church choir. Those are important ministries for me.

Oh, my! And those hundreds of CDs I could no longer listen to. And giving up the challenge of picking out new downloads each month from emusic.com.

Although we don’t watch TV now–we don’t even have rabbit ears on our TV set–we subscribe to Netflix and watch old TV shows. At least closed captioning would be available for some of those.

I suppose deafness would have advantages. Like not having to listen to all of that distracting noise in restaurants. Or the sound of other people’s loud car stereos. Or the grinding of the garbage truck doing its pre-dawn pickup at the Arby’s behind our home. Or any of a million other things I would gladly give up having to listen to.

I know I’m barely skimming the surface of how blindness and deafness would affect me. But if I’m forced to say that my writing is just slightly more important than my music, then blindness would be worse. Honestly, though, I’d hate to have to adjust to either problem.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Please leave a comment.

~*~

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website.  Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My newest novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Go HERE for links to those places.
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Best regards,
Roger

Worship Time at the Writing Conference

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This past Sunday I told you about the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference (BRMCWC), which I just returned from . Not only was it a time of learning and inspiration, but a time of fellowship with other Christian authors.

Although Christian writers have certain things in common–their writing is clean and Christ-centered even when it’s not overtly Christian–one of the most amazing things is that they are not competitive to a serious extent. When one of them gets a book contract, everyone rejoices. When someone receives a rejection, everyone commiserates.

Ah, but I’m sliding away from my topic, and for that I make no apology.

At each big group meeting–seven times in all–we begin with a time of worship through music. Over the years we’ve been led by quite a variety of worship leaders: Promise, Testify, Janet Roller, and Rachel Hauck. Each person or group wonderful and unique.

But this year’s leaders were among my favorites. A husband-and-wife duo called “Russell and Kristi”–Russell and Kristi Johnson. They’re in their late thirties or early forties and vibrant in their music.

Russell plays keyboard–I learned he plays guitar, too, but didn’t do so at Ridgecrest–and both of them sing. Although they use some of their own original songs–very good ones–they also use other music, including familiar hymns. I loved the way they tied a particular theme between an old hymn and a contemporary song.

I didn’t talk to everyone at the conference, but the feedback I got was, “We want them again next year!” That’s how I felt.

But I bonded with Russell and Kristi in a way no one else had the chance to do. I asked if they had time for me to share a few of my original songs with them. That’s something I try to do with each year’s worship leaders, and I usually only have time to do one or two.

But Russell and Kristi were good, thoughtful listeners, and I just kept on going till I ran out of steam. More than once, I saw on Kristi’s face how much my songs had moved her, and that made it hard for me not to break down right then and there.

And they both had an idea–the same one. They thought a combination book and CD of some of my songs would be wonderful. While I’m not sure who would want something like that by an unknown like me, I really appreciated their idea. And who knows? Just because I feel uncertain about it doesn’t mean it wasn’t a God-idea.

I plan to send Russell and Kristi a CD of some of my songs. I’m not sure when I’ve ever received so much encouragement, especially from professional musicians.

Incidentally, one additional reason I’ll never forget them is that my daughter is Kristi–spelled exactly the same way.

Have you ever received such special encouragement that you’ve never forgotten it? How about sharing it with a comment?

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on  “As I Come Singing.” Check it out HERE if you’re interested.  Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

If you enjoy my writing, you’ll find a number of things to read on my website. Also music to listen to and music-related videos to watch.

My newest novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Family Christian Stores. Go HERE for links to those places.
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Best regards,
Roger

On Being Recognized

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One of the interesting perquisites (did you know that’s what “perks” stands for?) of being a published author is the possibility of being recognized when going out in public. I’m not famous enough—okay, make that “not famous at all”—to have a problem like that, but it’s an interesting prospect.

At a writers’ conference a year or two back, I was talking to an unpublished novelist—someone I’d never met before—about my two novels. “Oh,” she said. “My daughter has read those. Loves ‘em.”

Okay!

At church some months back, a fellow I’d known for a while was introducing my wife and me to a couple of his adult kids. “Roger is a writer. What’s the name of those books again?” I told him, and one of his daughters got so excited. Again, she loved the book, but had no idea her dad went to church with the author.

Then there’s the time more recently when a fellow choir member stopped her mid-teen daughter while they were walking through the sanctuary one evening. “Meg, did you know Mr. Bruner wrote Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams?”

This super-quiet girl was thrilled to meet one of her favorite authors, and I was just as thrilled to meet her. This gal has got one heck of a lot of hair, and I’m jealous.

But what would it be like to be out in what I’ll call the “real public”—places where I wouldn’t expect anyone to recognize me?

I’ve met any number of well-known Christian novelists. That is, they’re well-known to people who’re up on Christian fiction. Despite the fact that it seems to be a growing genre because so many readers still want clean, decent books to read, I’m not sure many of them have encountered a privacy problem.

Let’s face it. We writers are not pop stars. How many authors—even in the secular market—would you recognize if you ran into one of them in an elevator? Definitely a different matter from someone I once knew who ran into Mick Jagger somewhere.

And maybe the lack of facial recognition is appropriate. After all, many writers—perhaps most of them—are intensely introverted. Our words represent us, and we’re happy to leave it at that. I am.

But you know what else? My three favorite Sonic employees know me. The folks at the bank do, too. And let’s not forget the manager at the local Sweet Frog. And a handful of checkers at the grocery store. People in my neighborhood may not know me by name, but they know me by our miniature dachshund, Happy.

And those folks don’t care whether I’m a big-time author or not. They know me just because I’m me.

That’s not such a bad thing, is it?

What do you think? How about leaving a comment?

Oh, and just in case you’re curious about who I’m with in those pictures…

From left to right on the top row are  Deb Raney (author of women’s lit that even a man would like), Terry Burns (my agent), and Jim Rubart (probably the best author of speculative around).

Bottom row is Jenny Rogers Spinola (excellent writer of women’s lit and someone I consider my little sister), Brandilyn Collins (“Seatbelt  Suspense” writer extraordinaire), and Cec Murphy (did the actual writing of Ninety Minutes in Heaven).

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”check it out here—to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger

Have I Become a Person-of-Age Fogey?

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Should I go to the costume ball as a contemporary someone who’s lost his cool head
or as a committed contemporary reader
who ought to be committed?

I received email a few days ago about a writers’ conference I’ll be attending in late May. They’re planning a new event this year.

It involves dressing in a costume from one’s genre, wearing it to supper, and then parading around for everyone to gawk at. Sounds like great fun for the ladies. Especially those who write historical fiction and would have to bring two extra suitcases to fit one of those old timey dresses in.

If I wrote fantasy—super hero type, that is—couldn’t you just picture me in a cape, t-shirt, and tights—or whatever? I sure hope not!

If I wrote police stories, I’d have to go as a plain clothes cop. No way would I want to get arrested for impersonating a uniformed policeman, even if I could get hold of a uniform.

If I wrote military adventure, maybe I could borrow a Uzi from somebody. A lot of folks at my church—men and women—own and use firearms. Somebody might have one.

Or a tank. I’m sure dragging that behind my car for 400 miles would do great things for my gas mileage. And cause no telling how many accidents among drivers who started staring instead of looking where they were going.

The problem is I write Young Adult fiction…contemporary. And contemporary fiction for adults. What if I just wore what I’d been wearing all day? I couldn’t get more contemporary than that.

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I think the costume idea is silly. I just wish one of the other guys on the loop would speak up and say he thinks it’s a tad, uh, unmasculine.

Am I becoming a person-of-age fogey, I wonder? (I’m not old enough to be an “old fogey.”)

I had my day of enjoying costumes. Mostly during childhood. Early childhood.

But I proved my daring beyond everyone’s expectations when I went to a minimum of three different Halloween parties—all during my adult years—wearing a sheet folded as a diaper and held together by huge safety pins. Yes, I did wear something underneath, and no, I didn’t go topless.

But I did carry around a baby bottle of milk, which I occasionally took a sip of. And drag a comfort blanket on the floor behind me. And suck on my thumb from time to time.

Fun? Extremely. Funny? Absolutely. Daring? Extremely.

But would I do that again now? Hmm. One of my unpublished manuscripts is about a couple of teens who pretend she’s pregnant to try to end their fathers’ feud. I could be their imaginary baby.

Maybe my nerve would impress the publishers at the conference and make them take me and my writing more seriously. Yes, that was most definitely supposed to be a joke.

But back to the question of whether I qualify as a person-of-age fogey because of how I feel about the costume idea. I may only be sixty-seven, but don’t I deserve to hold on to what little of my dignity is left?

Okay, guys (and ladies, too)…what would YOU do?

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

By the way, “On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I use “As I Come Singing”check it out here—to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. Check here to see the list.

Best regards,
Roger