Sunday, August 29, 2010

An Announcement for Our Friends

I don't know how close to flirting with the tacky posting a divorce announcement is, but I'll have to take that chance. After all, it is the age of the 'net and the important stuff starts here.

Christina and I were married 10 years Aug. 19 (a personal best for me in terms of longevity), but that'll be the last one. We decided several weeks ago that it's best if we live close and visit often, as the sage once suggested, rather than try to maintain what we haven't been very successful at for a while now. Some of you will be surprised because we looked so ... well ... like a happily married couple. We were happy friends, but marriage is a different dynamic and we haven't done that as well as either of us had hoped.

She's still my friend and I am still hers and that won't change. We have a lot in common that is a pure joy (she's one of the funniest people I've ever known; quick and multi-layered with the humor, a rarity for anybody) and I think we will continue to celebrate the similarities.

Don't feel bad for either of us. We have been enjoying each other's company more the past few weeks than the past few years and we've even been looking for houses together. I hope you'll wish us well and I honestly hope you won't feel that you have to make a choice between us as your friends. We can both be your friend, same as always.

We'll need your love, your support and your understanding. And your prayers, if that fits your dynamic.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Smith Mountain Lake Film Issues Casting Call

Life Out Loud Films has scheduled auditions for “Lake Effects,” the movie my pal Sara Elizabeth Timmins is producing at Smith Mountain Lake. The film’s shooting is scheduled for October at the lake.

“Lake Effects” is a “dramedy,” a movie is about a young woman who returns to her picturesque hometown to attend her estranged father’s funeral. This character struggles to reunite with her family, and rediscovers the magic of the lake along the way.

Auditions for 27 speaking roles will be held in Charlottesville on Sept. 8 and Roanoke Sept. 9. Auditions are by appointmen. To submit for a role in hopes of receiving an appointment, actors should send a photo and resume with their location to casting director, Erica Arvold here with the subject line “SUBMISSION for LAKE EFFECTS local casting for ROLE NAME HERE.”

Applicants should also state which location or date would be more suitable in case you’re chosen. Arvold will accept taped auditions. Eco-Casting (breakdown), Youtube (public), Vimeo (included with password), and any other links that do not require downloading are acceptable. Files that require downloading will be rejected. Arvold asks that applicants slate their name and where they are based at the start (close up) of the audition tape. She would then like the camera to pull back to a full-length shot. Readings should be framed close showing the head and a bit of shoulder. The subject line for these emails should read “Lake Effects VIDEO AUD – (your name here) for (the role here).”

For those less experienced actors, Life Out Loud Films will hold an open call for extras on Sept. 18 at Franklin County High School in Rocky Mount from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.

For more information about all dates, visit here.

It's Everything's a Dollar Book Daze at the Smith Ranch

OK, book people, here's your chance to claim some of the famous Smith book collection on the semi-annual "Everything's a Dollar (Except That Which Isn't)" Book Sale and Hoedown at the Smith Ranch, 8 a.m.-noon Saturday. The magic castle is at 1825 Belleville Rd. SW in Roanoke and there will be about 200 books for sale, in addition to other, varied stuff (new swim fins, a new blow-up double bed, a couple of new power tools, some kitchen stuff and whatever else I can drag out to the porch between now and 8 a.m.

Come on down and share the wealth (with me). Ain't looking to get rich, but I sure need the space these books are taking up. Some good hardback first editions here and if you're extra nice, I'll let you take a look at my private collection (and no, it's not porno and yes, they are signed--by people like U.S. Grant, Lech Walesa and Linwood Holton).


A Little More Elbow Room at Red Sox Games

In case you forgot, here's what the ballpark looks like without the tarps.^

It took a season and all but 10 games, but the Salem Red Sox finally listened to their fans and plan to remove the tarps that cover two end sections in right field in the general admission area.

That represents a 600-seat increase for the park, but far more important than that, it gives those of us who don’t like being crowded an option to get away from loud kids and louder adults. Baseball is for peace, not for bellowing.

GM Todd Stephenson says, “When the tarps were installed last season, our goal was to create a more intimate setting at the ballpark and bring fans closer to the action. We received positive feedback, but since the tarps were installed, we have heard from an increasing number of fans that like the flexibility to watch our games from different vantage points and enjoy the comforts of a little extra space at the ballpark."

The tarps were installed prior to the 2009 season in an effort to bring fans closer to the action on the field, as well as to display the club’s new logo and its new affiliation with the Boston Red Sox. The tarps in left field, which are visible as fans enter the Taliaferro Sports Complex, will remain in place for the rest of the 2010 season.

With the removal of tarps on two of the four general admission sections, Lewis-Gale Field’s fixed seating capacity will increase to 5,503. The final 10 games of the season begin Tuesday. The Red Sox are tied for second place with Kinston and hold a half game lead on Myrtle Beach with 13 remaining games.

The team that finishes with the best record will join first-half division winner Winston-Salem in the 2010 Carolina League Playoffs.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A New Adventure for Elizabeth Parsons

My pal Elizabeth Parsons (right), who served a stint as editor of the Roanoke Times/Blue Ridge Business Journal after I left two years ago (and got fired for her trouble, a true sign of success, considering the source) has a new job with Kissito Healthcare International, a sister of Kissito Healthcare.

In the near future, Eliz says she’s going to Afrida to help build a hospital. Here’s the note I got from her:

“A few short weeks from now I will be boarding a plane to Ethiopia to pursue Kissito Healthcare International’s #1 project: the construction of a 40,000 square foot hospital that will touch literally thousands of lives and deliver care to one of this country’s most remote regions, a place where the average life expectancy is just over 47 years old due to a complete void of health services, among other factors. The Minister of Health who oversees this area – over twice the size of the U.S. State of Maryland – called our project ‘the most important I have seen cross my desk in years.’”

Eliz will be on Bruce Bryan’s "Roanoke Valley Conversations" radio show on 101.5 FM (The Music Place) to talk about her adventure Sunday morning at 8. I’m truly happy for Elizabeth. She’s a jewel and this gives her a chance to shine.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

When a Ball Game is More Than a Game

Doug and Libby with the Mayberry Deputy (above) and Doug signing one of his books for me (right).^

When I was a young boy, I played baseball on summer days for 10 to 15 hours in the South Carolina heat, almost never complaining about the discomfort and breaking only for lunch when Mama called in her best big-family voice. Baseball wasn't the point of the game we played all day. Friendship was.

It was a lesson that has stuck with me for many years and tonight it was on display again. I watched the Salem Red Sox come from behind in the late innings to beat the Fredrick Keys, 6-2 in a game that was exciting for anybody who cared about that part of the evening. I enjoyed it, but the enjoyment would not have been different had Fredrick come from behind to win.

I was with my friend Doug Cumming and his delightful wife Libby, who drove down from Lexington, where they both teach at Washington & Lee University (and my new pal Christina). They had enjoyed quite a summer to this point (Libby went to Paris with her daughter for several days, highlighting it) and Doug pointed out to Libby that they hadn't done a Salem ball game yet this summer and it would serve as a topper.

It ain't Paris, to be sure, but this ballpark is in a setting as pretty as any I've ever seen and the night was nearly perfect: light breeze, 82 degrees, mostly full moon, a pink sundown that was dazzling. And, on top of that, Doug signed both books he released this year, The Southern Press and Bylines, a collection of his father's work as a Newsweek bureau chief from the 1960s to the late 1990s. The books are remarkable and will not be read by nearly enough people, but one of the readers has been me and I jumped all over the chance to see a ball game, be with Doug and Libby and my new pal and have both books signed by my friend.

I promised Doug that if Clog! is published in the near (or even far) future, then I'll push my children's book (Saving Homer) into print so I can have two of my own to sign with one pen. Homer's been waiting a while and a while longer won't hurt.

It was a good evening, made better by baseball--the social event, not the game, though that was pretty good, too.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lively Social Media Session at Montgomery Chamber Expo

Your favorite editor can't seem to shut up.^

Now, it's Allan Tsang who can't stop talking.^

Always enthusiastic Anne Clelland takes a turn at the mic.^

Janeson Keeley wows 'em with her "how it works" schpiel.^

This was the view from my chair and that's Kate Jenkins of Blacksburg Country Club on the right and below.^

The Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce Expo's social media discussion this afternoon fairly crackled with expertise, none of which was mine.

I inexplicably wound up on a panel that featured Allan Tsang of 88 Owls; Janeson Keeley of JTKWeb and Valley Business FRONT's Internet columnist; Anne Clelland of Handshake2.0 and FRONT's Business Advice columnist; and Lynda McNutt Foster of Wheeler Broadcasting. They are all quite accomplished at the inner--and outer--workings of social media and what it means to business. I write a blog or two (or three, actually), which is pretty much the extent of my expertise.

In any case, the lively discussion ranged from inside baseball detail to philosophy to marvelous tips on getting the word out that you want out.

Anne, always level-headed and sensible, talked about ethics and the proper approach (which involves honesty), while Alan and Janeson looked at how it all works. Lynda, a marketing wiz, examined the viral nature of the Web and how it is used effectively by businesses.

I cussed a lot and talked about the old days when newspaper type was lead and men were wood. But I listened a lot and came away with some good info from these smart people. I hope the good people of the conference did, as well.

(Half the photos Tom Field; others--without me in them--by me.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Goodwill Show Raises $36,000 for Projects

HCA PR gal Joy Sutton struts the runway in Goodwill Show.^

The Goodwill Industries' Second Runway show last week raised a nice little package of cash that will be used to the benefit of some people who need it. Here's Goodwill's Jim Shaver's note to those who participated:

"The event, including sponsorships, ticket sales, vendor rentals, boutique sales, and our silent auction, raised $36,000 for Goodwill Industries of the Valleys. That money will be used to support work and mentorship programs for youth, help dislocated workers train for a better future, and give senior citizens a chance at retraining for the workforce."

You can view photographer William Mahone's photos (including the one above) of the show here.

The Stark Words of a Literary Agent

Agents Joan Timberlake and George Oliver at the Writers Workshop last night.^

A literary agent can sure calm the brisk breeze in your sails. Joan Timberlake and George Oliver of Timberlake-Oliver, a literary agency, spoke last night at the Arts Council of the Blue Ridge's monthly Writers Workshop Series and their advice was both encouraging and chilling.

Their most important point, at least from the perspective of a guy who's just finished his first novel, is that the book isn't finished. It probably never will be, but it certainly isn't finished when the writer thinks it is. Far from it. It needs to be read and read and read and re-considered, re-arranged, rewritten and put aside for additional thought.

Joan's advice: send it to a publisher or an agent when it's perfect. Perfect. That's the minimum. Great plot. Riveting first page. Compelling first 50 pages. Page-turning book. No typos. Flawless grammar and punctuation. No fragments (like this one).

Give it to somebody who hates you and ask him to read it critically. Then pay attention. Your readers won't know you and won't be rooting for you. You'll be asking them to pay $25-$30 for your book and for that, they want hours and hours of reading pleasure.

Joan emphasized that publishing is a business; it is not about art. Publishers care much less about the quality of the book than about its ability to sell. They will tell you, says Joan, that first novels always lose money and though that's hyperbole, it's instructive about their position. They're doing you a favor, so take the contract being offered (all your books for life) or go back out into the great wilderness. Joan says, "Don't sign anything until you consult a lawyer, preferably one who knows the publishing business," like her. She's a lawyer, a novelist and an agent. Of course, bigger publishing houses have lawyers in-house, but small ones don't usually unless they have a Joan Timberlake as an owner.

Joan also says--and this is extremely important--that a real literary agent will never ask you for money. Not a penny. Her services to you are free if the book doesn't land some place. She is paid a percentage of the contract agreed to with the publisher. That's all of her money. If somebody asks for any money at all, politely decline and keep looking for an agent, which is sometimes harder to find than a publisher. But the agent is the clearing house. When a publisher gets a manuscript from a trusted agent, the manuscript gets priority.

So, ultimately, what Joan tells me about CLOG! is that it'd be better off as a screenplay; lots of potential there. But, I whine, "I've never written a screenplay and wouldn't even know how to begin." She points out that I'd never written a novel, either, until last month. "It means re-writing," she says. "You're a pro. You can do that."

Sure can, but the boat's going a little slower today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Big Day for Miss Madeline Smith

Maddy started it off right: with a backpack roughly half the size of the kid.^

My favorite little girl passed another milestone today: First Day of School. And she went in style, with her new 75-pound backpack, ensuring rounded shoulders by the time she's six and chronic back pain by 10.

Now I have to go dig up the photos of her dad heading off to school and the big thing he was carrying was Bus No. 42 hanging around his neck so he didn't get lost. Hell, I didn't even have that. Wearables are becoming more numerous and heavier as our kids get smarter.

Maddy's mama said she was so excited that she couldn't get to sleep last night. I don't remember feeling quite that way. As I recall, Mom and Dad had to team up to drag me down to North Augusta Elementary School, where I cried all day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rex Bowman Leaving RT (of His Own Accord)

The Roanoke Times is once again losing a prized reporter, but this time it’s the reporter’s decision and there is no animosity in the departure. Quite the contrary, in fact.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize-nominated reporter Rex Bowman (right), who has been with the RT for a few days more than a year is leaving to take a federal government job as a Russian translator. He says he can’t be more specific than that because of the nature of the position.

My good friend Rex, who spent 12 years with the Times-Dispatch in Richmond (most as its Western Virginia bureau) where he won a room full of awards, leaves in October and he will have accumulated 25 years as a journalist.

In the past few years, The RT has dismissed a number of veteran reporters, generally for cost-cutting reasons and most people agree you can see evidence of their leaving in the product. The cuts follow an industry trend as newspapers shrink and increasingly lose circulation. The Times' circulation has fallen significantly recently.

The Times was Rex's 10th newspaper and he has also written for Time magazine and Reuters news wire. He worked for CourtTV as a stringer for six years.

Rex says, “The last year with the RT has been one of my most enjoyable in journalism. I really have had a blast here, and they've treated me so well here I really hate to leave them.” I’ll take Rex’s word for that, but I also know him to be a cheerful, happy guy who adjusts to his surroundings well and looks for the good in people—not your normal reporter’s profile. Rex was the only person I could find who would say anything good about the former owner of Cantos Booksellers before she left town.

In any case, he has covered some big Virginia stories in the past 17 years: the DC-area sniper shootings, the Tech killings, the Appalachian Law School shootings, the coming of women to VMI, the switched-baby case at UVa medical center. “And, of course, I was an embedded reporter during the invasion of Iraq,” he says. “But now it's time to re-invent myself.”

Rex joined the Air Force after graduating from Lord Botetourt High School in 1979 and became a translator working in West Berlin for three years. “That's the entirety of my experience in government work,” he says. “Though I became a reporter shortly after leaving the military, I've continued to read and study Russian.”

Rex will continue to live out of Roanoke (with his swell wife Jennifer), though his job will take him to D.C. frequently.

A Superb Event from Goodwill

Above: That's Donna Dilley, who writes an etiquette column for FRONT, and me. Right: Your favorite editor on the runway.^

Last night's Second Runway at the Jefferson Center, Goodwill Industries novel fundraiser, was one of those unusual events where the entertainers and the viewers shared equal amounts of sheer delight. This one was a fashion show featuring clothes from Goodwill in an effort to raise some money (it raised a bunch) and show off what you may have been missing if you have this bias against used clothing makes sense. It doesn't.

Of all the comments I heard last night, the one that kept turning up--from every demographic--was "I bought this ..." garment at Goodwill. It could have been something the speaker had on, had in his closet, gave to her husband, accepted from her boyfriend. Consistently the people telling the stories talked with utter delight about not only getting a substantial bargain, but also feeling good about recycling and especially good in supporting a program that helps people who need it.

The show was simply first class from the moment we arrived to the instant we left the center. The clothing selections were superb; the models (with possibly one exception) were attractive; the music was appropriate; the stage was alive; the MCs, David Lee Michaels and wife Melissa Morgan (both former radio personalities and both of whom have real jobs now), professional; the stage management astonishingly efficient; and the entire program simply grand. I was one of the models and it was just a great time.

Congrats to Goodwill, one of the truly good charities around. Give 'em some money. Or maybe better yet, buy some clothes there. The stuff is beyond your imagining if you haven't been inside.

(Top photo by William Mahone; right photo by Susan Ayers.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lockout at PH Track Nearly Complete

The lockout at the Patrick Henry High School track is nearly complete, as these photos show. People accustomed to riding their bikes or pushing their baby carriages on the new $150,000 track will have a much more difficult time doing that.

The new gateway presents a barrier to anybody wanting to take a vehicle onto the track. It will be easily accessible for runners and walkers, but not for riders and pushers. The blockout needs a single piece of fencing (as of this morning) to be complete.

Goodwill's Second Runway Tomorrow Evening; Be There

Oh, my, boys and girls, tomorrow's the big night in the world of Roanoke Valley fashion and your favorite editor will debut as a runway model, a sort of whiter, older, shorter, more male Naomi Campbell (without the diamonds).

Second Runway is Goodwill Industries' fund-raiser that will feature a fashion show of its own fashions, which I heartily recommend. I have bought my shirts and an occasional suit (my favorite gray one, for example) at Goodwill for years. This is not just about saving money, though that's nice. It's about getting fine clothing (and I really mean that) and helping people who need work get it in a safe and nurturing environment.

The clothing at tomorrow's fashion show (buy your tickets here) is for sale and I'll tell you that from what I've seen of the selections, there are some gems waiting to be picked up. Some of the clothes are new; all of them are good. The show runs 6-9 p.m. at the Jefferson Center's Fitzpatrick Hall. Ticket's ain't cheap, babies, but this is a charity and it needs your support.

Show up and watch for the model/editor in the wedding party scene (with Donna Dilley as my wife). It'll be a hoot.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Book's Finished; Now What?

Lordy-mercy, talk about post-partum. I finished CLOG! Monday and simply can't let it go. I've read it, re-read it, given it to others to read, corrected, revised, added, subtracted and finally sent it to a potential agent. She wants to know if I'm finished.

I really don't know if books are ever finished, though. Stuff keeps coming into my head. I've even loosely mapped out the first half of a sequel, but I don't want to start writing until this one has found a home somewhere. The sequel, like this one, would be pretty easy to write. Don't know if it'd be done in 28 days like this book, but it wouldn't be all that far off.

I'm happy with this story and it is one, as I told my friend Keith Ferrell at lunch today, that I wanted to write. It's my story, one that has bounced around in my head for a good while, growing up to the point that when it was born, it came out in a hurry. I felt more like a channel than a writer.

I talked for a good while with my pal Roland Lazenby, who has made a good career writing books, yesterday and he had all kinds of advice about what I need to do next and was even willing to ship it to a couple of agents he knows who represent this kind of story.

So, now we'll see where it goes. Even if it goes nowhere, I'm happy with what I wrote. I think it's a good book, a fun book, one that people can (and I hope will) read in one or two sittings.

(Painting is a detail from Hillbilly Barn Dance by Kelly Fitzpatrick, painted in 1945. If anybody knows where I can buy a copy, please advise. I just love this work.)

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Get Ready To Dance: First Draft of CLOG! Is Ready

OK, boys and girls, the first draft of CLOG! is in the barn.

In 26 days, I wrote 75,980 words (3,000 a day) and 272 pages (10 a day) while editing a magazine full time. My most recent book, the memoir Burning the Furniture, took 28 days and it was just 65,000 words.

Clog is the story of a high school square dance team in 1963 and that's an oversimplification of Biblical proportion, but buy it and read it when it comes out. I think you'll like it. I do.