Could This Explain the Mess We’re In?

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation recently released the results of a study it conducted concerning American voters’ knowledge of their history. What they reveal is downright scary as we approach the 2018 mid-term elections. But, be that as it may, they also help to explain why our nation is in its current situation of political polarization and the precipitous decline in the tone of politics in the last twenty-five to thirty years.

At the heart of the study is the U.S. citizenship test of basic facts about our nation’s history. Among the findings of the study are these:

Only 1 in 3 Americans can pass the citizenship test, which requires only a score of 60 percent. Most of those in the study didn’t score even that low grade.

72 percent couldn’t correctly identify the original 13 colonies.

Less than one-quarter knew why the colonists had fought the British in the first place.

Double-digit percent thought that Dwight Eisenhower fought in the Civil War. Some even thought he was a Vietnam-era general.

Only 19 percent of the people aged 45 and under passed the test.

(You can see a full report at–4U_RPR4hYyXCurJUpBhzlwO4b8EksI9bD2wwH-4WqVi2L9HQWpt9jx4mL08sYbjJsyOExXbU7O-zm3I10dBiHdVt72Q&_hsmi=66688242.)

These results are not just embarrassing for a nation that has the greatest access to education and that spends substantially more on education than most of the other developed countries of the world. They’re critical to any effort by freedom-loving people to preserve what is left of our American freedoms. They represent an ominous omen for our national future.

This is why I’m not too thrilled with massive voter registration drives. Freedom requires INFORMED voters, not just large numbers of voters. Some politicians intentionally use such drives to flood the polls with uninformed and therefore gullible voters. They also appeal to the electorate’s emotions sparked by incidents without any regard for reason and logic about real foundational issues. Many such voters won’t even know who is running for which offices until they walk in the door of their polling place and glance at the sample ballot posted there. Furthermore, if they don’t know their history or their constitution, demagogues both journalistic and political can promise them the moon, and many of them will believe and vote for the imposters. Before such voters even realize that they have been enjoying freedom, they will lose it.

Sincere lovers of freedom do not call for blind patriotism or mindless ritualism. They want an informed patriotism and civil civic dialogue about real issues. Demagogues know, however, that they cannot win in a contest of logic with informed voters.  That’s why we’re seeing today the development of a mindless mob mentality.



Word Man

One hundred ninety years ago today, a man was born who later published a book the influence of which stretched far beyond his own lifetime and has affected every generation since.

Born on October 16, 1758, in West Hartford, Connecticut, he was a descendant of two governors. A quick learner, he entered Yale College at age sixteen and graduated four years later. He became a school teacher because he didn’t have the money to become a lawyer.

While teaching, he developed a burden for both his students and fellow teachers, who had few good teaching materials. He also dreamed of Americans’ speaking one common language and pronouncing and spelling words consistently. He was convinced that those qualities were critical to their survival as a people and a nation. More importantly, he was burdened that American students learn ethics, morality, manners, and Christianity without which even otherwise well-educated people could not truly be successful.

To develop his students’ minds and enrich their souls, this man began writing books. He published his first work, A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, in 1783, and George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and other prominent leaders endorsed it. He gave copies to schools, and educators, realizing its value, ordered more copies of their students. More than 100 million copies of his book have been sold. It has never gone out of print. (How would you like such results for your books?!)

The man was Noah Webster. And the book that was so successful is better known as “The Blue-Backed Speller” because he printed it on poor-quality paper “held together by two broad strips of cloth, between thin wooden boards covered in plain blue paper.”

In 1806, Webster published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language and in 1828 An American Dictionary of the English Language. The latter work, which took 27 years to complete, was his greatest effort toward developing a truly American language.

It included 70,000 entries, traced the etymology of each entry, and gave its precise definition. He added new words, especially words unique to American usage.

So strongly did Webster believe in what he was doing that he paid from his own pocket to print the first edition of his dictionary and mortgaged his own home to print the second edition. He later published abridged editions in 1841 and 1847 (posthumously), making his dictionary and the Bible accessible for practically every American home and school in the nation.

Following Webster’s death in 1843, George and Charles Merriam purchased rights to Webster’s dictionary and published in 1847 the first Merriam-Webster dictionary. That book became the nation’s standard authority on American English. (Although many dictionaries call themselves “Webster’s,” only a Merriam-Webster is truly a Webster’s dictionary.)

Today, even dictionaries that carry Webster’s name are far removed from his original. Political correctness, multiculturalism, and moral relativism dominate those volumes. Christianity and morality are no longer central to their purpose.

Yet, Noah Webster’s influence is still felt throughout the English-speaking world. We see it in our rules of spelling, pronunciation, and usage. And his original dictionary and the Blue-Backed Speller are worthy of our attention.


Two Life-Changing Events

On this date in history, several important events occurred. Columbus landed on San Salvador, discovering the New World in his quest to reach the East by sailing west. That event, of course, was first celebrated in the United States on this date in 1792.

More than a hundred years later, the song “Three Blind Mice” was published in London. But that was by no means an earth-shattering, life-changing event, unless you were one of the three sightless rodents.

And in 1859, Emperor Norton I issued an edict abolishing the U.S. Congress. Maybe he was onto something there! (You can read more about Norton I in my articles “The Emperor of the United States, Norton I,” The Elks Magazine, February 2000, and “Emperor of the United States,” True West, November 2016, or at

But historical events are like surgeries; they are not major unless you are the one directly affected by them. None of these events affected my life directly.

But two events occurred between October 12 and 14 that did dramatically affect my life. In fact, they were life-changing events for me.

On October 12, 1979, our first child was born. We named her Rachelle Joy. And boy, did our lives change after that! Our theories about parenting suddenly were put to the test of practical daily living. And we had to admit that many of them had been wrong, so we had to make countless adjustments to adapt to reality.

Three years and two days later, October 14, 1982, our second child was born. We named her Elissa Cheri. And that further changed our lives. By that time, practically all of our theories about child-rearing, especially of multiple children, were out the window. We were parenting by the seat of our pants. Or maybe like two blind mice. Our grand idea of dealing with both children identically was one of the first well-intentioned theories to be tossed. We hadn’t taken into consideration that no two children are exactly alike, therefore requiring us to deal with each individually. Looking back now, I wonder how we could have been so naive.

Each of our daughters in her own way added something new to our family. And each of them brought about truly life-changing adaptations and challenges and joys to our lives. And there were still two more daughters to come over the next three years. Like Columbus, we truly were discovering a new world!

But now our nest is empty. Our daughters have flown the coop and have begun families of their own. Lately, however, my wife and I have ventured into more uncharted waters. We suddenly have found ourselves grandparents. Seven times over. And, believe me, we’re still learning!

The Project that Birthed Death and Life

On this date in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a secret project that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and ended World War II. But it also led, in the long term, to the birth of a city and numerous other projects that resulted in countless prolonged and enhanced lives.

On October 9, 1941, President Roosevelt signed off on what became known as the Manhattan Project. It was a military operation the likes of which the United States and the world had never witnessed. It was cloaked in secrecy. It was empowered by the national government to take the farm lands, homes, churches, and grave sites of countless individuals, families, and church congregations in numerous small, tight-knit communities in the hills of East Tennessee for the purpose of building enormous facilities for the manufacture of the world’s first atomic bomb.

Not unlike the situation that occurred to the Cherokee Indians more than 100 years earlier and to the residents of hill communities in the nearby Norris community a decade earlier, the residents of Bear Creek, Scarborough, and numerous other small communities were given mere weeks to vacate their ancestral homes so that the government could erect the facilities of three super-secret “reservations” where the components of the bomb would be built. Those locations were code named X-10, Y-12, and K-25.

Thousands of workers were imported into a thrown-together, prefabricated city that became known as Oak Ridge. And they lived and worked within the confines of guard towers and barbed wire fences as long as the work continued. They could not talk about the work they did, and informants ratted them out if they did. In fact, most of them had no idea of the larger product of which their work was a part. Only after the bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki did they learn what they were producing. And even then, few really understood it all. (Although I seldom read fiction, I recently read a novel titled The Atomic City Girls by Denise Kiernan, and its descriptions of life within the Secret City and its plants is spot on.)

The products of all those thousands of employees’ labors resulted in the deaths of a conservative estimate of 225,000 people (150,000 at Hiroshima and 75,000 at Nagasaki). But it also saved the lives of inestimable thousands of American servicemen who would have been killed if the United States had been forced to invade the home islands of Japan to end the war. Moreover, perhaps millions of lives have been saved, prolonged, or enhanced since that time through the civilian uses of nuclear energy that resulted from the ongoing studies of nuclear power.

I grew up only a few miles from Oak Ridge. During the Cold War (especially during the Cuban missile crisis), my life and the lives of my school classmates were directly affected by the potential threat to the facilities at Oak Ridge, which were deemed close enough to our community to affect us. Civil defense drills became a part of “normal” life in our school. We were even issued “dog tags” for identification following any enemy attack. I still have my dog tag as a reminder of those perilous times. (I wrote about growing up during this time and working there in “Living in the Shadow of the Atomic City,” Blue Ridge Country, May-June 1998.)

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that one day I, too, would be one of those workers at the Oak Ridge plants, but I was. For seven years, until the end of the Cold War and the defense cut-backs of the Clinton years, I was a senior technical editor there. Many of the restrictions described in Kiernan’s novel were still in place even at that late date.

But my work was not focused on bombs and destruction. Rather, much of my work there dealt with the peace-time uses of nuclear energy and the transfer of the technology developed during the Cold War to civilian industrial uses. Just as many of the gadgets we use today are the result of the space program, many of them are also the result of the nuclear defense program at Oak Ridge.

Although we still have swords, we also have plowshares. As President Reagan termed it, “peace through strength.”




Can Old Dogs Learn New Tricks?

It’s amazing how, over time, one’s perspectives change.

As I’m on the verge of testing the adage “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” I’ve thought back to my youth and recalled how reluctant I was to try new things but how life’s circumstances forced me to adjust my perspectives. I’m still reluctant, but not nearly so much as I was then. And that change in perspectives has enhanced my writing and enriched my life.

As a 16-year-old college freshman, I was so shy that when seated at my assigned table for family-style suppers, I purposely sat at the very end–so I would have at most only three people I’d have to talk to. I was so shy that I never mustered the courage to ask for any dish to be passed to me. If it didn’t come my way without my asking, I didn’t get any. I almost starved the first couple of months of school that year. If not for RC Colas, Moon Pies, and Li’l Debbie Choc-o-Jells from the dormitory snack machines, I would have starved. But my spare change quickly ran out, and I was forced to ask for food to be passed to me. (Reduced to begging, it seemed to me at the time!)

College forced me to venture out of my shell in other ways, too. In my freshman speech class, I was the only Southerner among about 15 Yankees. But I was polite, too shy to make fun of their weird accents. Thankfully, the instructor (herself a Southerner) did not try to change my accent. She just wanted me to enunciate more clearly.

When I was a sophomore, I was assigned to be the host at a supper table. That forced me to sit in the middle of the fellow students assigned to my table. And one of my primary tasks as host was to engage everyone at the table in pleasant conversation. Boy, did that ever stretch me!

In my senior year, I was made a dormitory monitor, or hall leader. (The supervisor of my dorm had nominated me. He, too, had been a shy guy when he had been a monitor, and I guess he saw himself in me and knew that being a monitor would teach me to get beyond my shell.) In that position, I had to interact with an entire floor, scores of fellow students–for better or worse, rich or poor, freshmen to seniors, in sickness and in health. When “The Great Epidemic” swept the campus that year, I was the only monitor of the six in our dorm who did not get sick. With the campus hospital full, the dorms became makeshift hospitals, and I had to deal with a couple hundred cranky, feverish, vomiting students and the overworked nurses who cared for them.

So from these and other experiences (including student teaching), I know that a young pup can learn new tricks. But what about an old dog? I’m still shy, reticent, and dislike putting myself forward, but at least I try (usually), and (thankfully) I’m not what I once was–in age or personality. And all of those changes have influenced my writing.

I’m beginning to understand how it is that older people seem to have little concern about what others think of them. I haven’t quite reached the point at which I blurt out for everyone around to hear, “Why don’t they turn down the AC; it’s hot in here!” or “Would you just look at that hideous outfit that kid’s wearing!” But I can now remain seated during a standing ovation for a performance that really didn’t deserve it. I can express my opinion without apologizing for it or worrying how much it will cost me. Or maybe I’m just becoming the stereotypical grumpy old man. But I prefer to think that this old dog is learning new tricks.

And now I’m about to put my own words to the test. I’ve always said that we should all be perpetual students, no matter how old we are. After all, as Will Rogers said, “We’re all ignorant, just on different subjects.” In other words, we all still have a lot to learn, no matter what our age. Only now I’m going to be putting my ignorance and my learning process on public display.

How so, you ask? I recently volunteered to be a docent for the museum of a local historical society. Meeting visitors and trying to answer their questions about a slew of subjects I’m only now learning about.

I’ve lived in the vicinity of the museum for well-nigh 15 years now, and I’ve been learning about the community and its history through books and guest speakers at meetings of the society. But the more I’ve learned, the more aware I’ve become of how much more I don’t know. So I’m approaching this task with no little trepidation.

Thankfully, the society’s board has paired me with an older docent, a native of the community. I hope she believes that old dogs (and a “furriner” at that) can learn new tricks.

Still, I’d feel more comfortable if I were dealing with my own native community of Halls Crossroads in East Tennessee. Then again, there’s a lot about that community that I don’t know, either.

Stay tuned. Maybe I’ll share some of the lessons I will learn as I get stretched farther and farther. (How’s that for assuming the positive?) And maybe I’ll gather a little grist for the story mill along the way.


7 Quotations for Writers

Simply stated, this post is about words of wisdom for writers by successful writers. So with no more to-do, here are seven quotations that I’ve found helpful in my own writing, and I hope they’ll prove helpful to you, too. (I find that I periodically need to remind myself of the truth of these statements.)

“Stories come from people. Not from ideas, not from plots. Faulkner gave us the key to our material: ‘the human heart in conflict with itself.'” (Meg Files, Write from Life)


“People are the lifeblood of any story. . . . [A]ny story is a story about people. They mat take a backseat to plot or idea, but even the most plot=-centered or philosophical tale emanates from the needs of a central character.” (Fred White, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?)


“The reason so many find the study of history dull is that many teachers and historians become so involved with their facts and wars and dates that they forget the most important fact of all. History is made by people.” (Doris Ricker Marston, A Guide to Writing History)


“Makers of memoir shape what they have lived and what they have seen. They honor what they love and defend what they believe. . . . They locate stories inside the contradictions of their lives–the false starts and the presumed victories. . . .” (Beth Kephart, Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir)


“Inspiration is the spark that lights the fire of story–but it is craft that burns away all its imperfections and hardens the glaze to a glorious shine.” (Paula Munier, Writing with Quiet Hands)


“Writers must write. . . . [I]f your aim is to publish, you won’t get there by talking or dreaming alone.” (Jordan Rosenfeld, A Writer’s Guide to Persistence)


“Discover your purpose, be on-purpose, and you will have a life filled with meaning and significance. We need to be doing and living on-purpose.” (Kevin McCarthy, The On-Purpose Person)


What quotations about writing have been most helpful to you?

Tony Snipes on “Calling”

I just listened to an audio presentation by Tony Snipes, an illustrator/designer/motivational speaker whose workshop I attended at the recent Write2Ignite conference, and I thought others might enjoy and benefit from it as much as I did.

You can find it at

In this presentation, Snipes defines “calling,” differentiates it from career and job, and addresses the questions of whether one can miss his or her calling and, if so, how to retrieve it.

Essentially, he says that calling is your purpose or mission in life, and it never changes. It’s what one was meant to do. Career, on the other hand, is the medium by which one pursues his or her calling. It can change. A job is what one does to remain alive and meet the basic needs of life, and it can change quite often.

But can one miss his or her calling? Snipes says no, because it is always within you. The choice is whether one will pursue it.

The skeleton of Snipes’s message is found in three words: love, hate, and free. And he invites listeners to ask three questions: (1) What do I love to do? (2) What do I hate to see happening? (3) What would I do for free if I were financially independent? The answers one gives to these three questions, he says, can pinpoint for them their calling.

In my own life journey, I’ve seen his principles illustrated. As I review my life, I see that my calling has been to help educate people. That has not changed. The media or methods in which I have pursued that calling, however, have changed. The various media for my calling ranged from the traditional classroom to homeschooling to writing of articles to editing educational materials to writing of curricula to writing my own books.

I would encourage readers of my blog to visit Snipes’s site at  and see what it holds for each of them or how it might benefit their friends. It might even get you back on track if they think they might have “missing their calling.”

Three Men Whose Actions Affected Millions

Sometimes a person can think that he’s doing someone a favor, but it doesn’t turn out so well for others, those countless people who are indirectly affected by the decision of a moment. On the other hand, someone can do some seemingly small initial action that results in great blessings to thousands of people. In today’s post, I’d like for you to consider three such men, each engaged in vastly different endeavors, and each of whom ended up affecting untold millions of people.

Henry Tandey

First in chronological order is Henry Tandey. Tandey was a private in the British army during the First World War. On this date in 1918, Tandey was on the battlefield during the Third Battle of Ypres. He encountered a pathetic soldier fighting for Germany and was just about ready to shoot him, but then he noticed that the man was wounded. He couldn’t bring himself to shoot a wounded man, so he let the man proceed back to the German lines, where he could get medical attention. The wounded soldier recovered and years later became Reichsfuhrer Adolf Hitler. How history might have been so much different if Tandey had not hesitated.

Interestingly, Hitler later showed British prime minister Neville Chamberlain a painting of Tandey and chose to describe him as “the man who nearly shot me” rather than as the man who had spared his life. And with that attitude, he brought death and destruction to millions of people from around the world.


Richard Warren Sears

Sometime during or slightly before 1886, a jeweler in Minneapolis had a bunch of watches in stock that he either couldn’t or wouldn’t sell. Richard Sears bought them from him and began selling them to station masters and other railroad personnel at cut rates. Because of the recent advent of time zones, railroad people needed to know accurate time, so Sears made a respectable profit from the sales. He later began selling not only watches but also other forms of jewelry by mail order catalog. Sales were so good that he relocated his business to Chicago the following year. There, on this date in 1892, he teamed up with a watch repairman named Alvah Curtis Roebuck and expanded his catalog to products in addition to jewelry.

His catalogs offered a wider selection of merchandise than any of the local businesses could stock. Sears also offered a clearly stated price for everything, rather than dickering with customers, as other local businessmen did. Customers liked the broader choices, knowing what they would have to pay, and not having to experience the discomfort of bargaining. They could even buy a prepackaged house, complete with instructions for putting it together, from those catalogs. By 1895, the Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog was 532 pages long.

As a kid, I loved it when the Sears, Roebuck catalog came in the mail, and it always seemed to come just as Christmas approached. We kids used to pour over its pages, especially the toy section, drooling over the toys and hoping that we would get our favorites. For that reason, we called it the “wish book.” We circled our favorite toys in pen and dog-eared the pages where they  were pictured, hoping that Mother and Daddy would notice and get at least some of them for us for Christmas. The 1950s was a decade of cowboys and Western-themed toys, and I was fortunate enough to have several pieces of the advertised ensemble.

Alas, the day of the Sears catalog is only a memory (and the company itself even seems to be on the verge of extinction). But millions of children and adults gained great satisfaction from its pages, either from looking and wishing or from actually making purchases from the catalog.

Jerry Clower

Also on this date in 1926 was born a man who gave great joy to thousands upon thousands of people in a different way. He graduated from high school and then served in the Navy during World War II, earning two bronze stars for his actions in the Pacific Theater. Upon his return, he attended Mississippi State University to study agriculture. After college, he worked as a county agriculture agent, a seed salesman, and then a fertilizer salesman. He was successful in sales because he used humor to break down sales resistance.

Gaining a reputation as “the mouth of Mississippi,” Clower began receiving invitations to speak to various groups, all of which were interested in hearing his jokes and stories. He was soon making more money by making people laugh than he was by selling them fertilizer. Thus began his second career as a comedian.

Clower was not reluctant to share his faith in Jesus Christ to his audiences, and he had a reputation as a Christian and a clean comedian. His humor was about common country folks and their quaint ways, many of which he had experienced firsthand. Most of his humor featured the Ledbetter family, which included Uncle Versey, Aunt Pet, Clovis, and other odd characters. It dealt with ‘coon and ‘possum hunting, logging, rat killing, cattle raising, and other often exaggerated country activities.

But through it all, Clower made people laugh. He thought that if he could help people forget their troubles for even a short time or, better yet, help them to face their problems with a smile and faith in God, he was doing his part.

I got my introduction to Clower’s humor in college, when I met a big, tall Kentuckian named Greg Rogers. I being a country boy from Tennessee myself, the two of us hit it off immediately, and he loaned me a cassette tape of Jerry Clower. We both wore denim overalls in the dormitory and listened to Clower tapes. To this day, whenever we see each other, albeit it being years between meetings, one of us invariably will greet the other with a country drawled, “Knock ‘im out, John!” If you’ve heard Jerry Clower, you know what that means!

What kind of person will you be—one who is remembered for the harm you’ve done to others or the number of people whose needs you’ve met? Have you made them weep tears of pain and suffering or tears of enjoyment and laughter?


Post-Conference Reflections

The much-anticipated, long-awaited Write2Ignite conference has come and gone. The recovery Sunday is now behind me, and the reality of a return to work faces me. But before I delve into the writing again, I must pause to reflect and review what happened at the conference.

The Attendees

The experience levels of the attendees varied widely, from successful authors with double-digit numbers of books published to never-before-published wannabes. I fell somewhere in the middle, having published a lot of articles but few books.

Conferees ranged from those with broad, far-reaching platforms (hence, more books published) and those who had no clue what a platform was. (That word platform was ubiquitous in conversations and presenters’ talks, but more on that momentarily.) Again, I was somewhere in the middle: I know all too well what a platform is, but I’m desperately seeking ways to develop mine and still preserve my introvert’s comfort zone. Not an easy task!

Because a second track of the conference was focused on teenage writers, the ages of conferees ranged from barely teens to middle-agers to retirees. Unfortunately, I no longer fit into either of the first two age brackets, sinking more precariously deeper into the senior category, but I was by no means alone in that area.

In two areas, I was decidedly in the minority. First, I’m a male, and males were in noticeably short supply. I think I could count my fellowmen on one hand, and that included one of the presenters and a publisher! Second, I’m a writer of nonfiction, and I was floating (or sinking) in a frothy sea of fiction authors.

The Presenters

The options of workshops available was great, with four or five different topics being covered during each time slot, so I had no difficulty finding something to attend that promised to be helpful to me. I attended the following workshops.

  1. “Is My Manuscript Ready for an Agent?” by Kim Peterson (no relation to me, but she does live in Knoxville, Tennessee, my hometown). I went into her workshop hoping that I wouldn’t learn something that I had done wrong, because I had already contacted an agency, and they’re now considering one of my manuscripts to determine whether it’s something they can represent. Kim offered a lot of helpful suggestions, including problems to avoid that unequivocally spell rejection by an agent. Perhaps the most useful information was the numerous resources for helping one polish his or her manuscript before submitting it. (I now have a lot more books to locate and add to my already overcrowded reading list!) I was also the winner of a book (alas, fiction) for being the first attendee to enter the room!
  2. “5 Things I Learned in Corporate America that Can Jumpstart Your Writing Business in under 24 Hours” by Tony Snipes. This man was simply amazing in his ability to apply business principles to writing and marketing, especially the principles of strategic planning and goalsetting. His underlying theme seemed to be the biblical injunction to “Write the vision and make it plain, so that others may read and run with the message.” I hope I can successfully apply at least some of what he shared. His enthusiasm is contagious, and I hope I caught a bad case of it!
  3. “The Balancing Act: Write Powerful Christian Fiction without Preaching” and “Create and Maintain a Blog to Build a Readership” by Tessa Emily Hall. This youngster is simply amazing, having published (traditionally, not self-published) the first of her several books at age 16 (she still looks 16!) and now representing an agency and serving as acquisitions editor for a publisher. She was also the keynote speaker for the teen track. I was particularly interested in learning how to increase the readership of my blog, which everyone now says is one of the biggest ways to increase that mandatory broad platform. I need not merely viewers or visitors to the blog but followers. (So if you haven’t done so, please visit my blog site at and click “Follow!” I need your help!)
  4. “Writing Historical Fiction” by Carol Baldwin. I was fortunate in that I came to the room early, before any other attendees arrived and while Carol was setting up. That provided the opportunity to talk informally with her about a project I’ve toyed with in an attempt to broaden my writing into historical fiction. She was quite helpful and encouraging, and I hope to apply to that project much of the advice she offered. She also e-mailed me after the conference to further encourage my pursuit of the project and left the door open for additional help if necessary.

Added Blessing

As informative as the conference was, perhaps the thing that “made” the conference for me was when my pre-workshop conversation with Carol Baldwin was interrupted by one of the conference organizers. She told me that the father of an attending teenager wanted to talk with me. His daughter Katie had seen my book on the Confederate cabinet on my display and was excited by its content. He was going to buy it for her as a surprise, but he wanted to enhance the surprise by having me autograph it for her and to take her picture with me. Now for an unknown author like myself, a tiny little fish in a vast ocean of better-known and more widely published authors, that’s heady stuff!

I met and talked with Katie while autographing the book for her. Lo and behold, she, too, is from Tennessee. Sweetwater, a town a little south of my old hometown, and she has relatives who live in Halls, the little community north of Knoxville where I grew up. And the relatives’ name is McCloud, a name with which I was very familiar growing up about a quarter mile from (where else?) McCloud Road.

Katie is only 13, but she is ambitious, has a fantastic knowledge of American history, and loves to write. She’s taking college-level classes already, hoping to cut her costs for college. Before the next workshop was over, her father had e-mailed me an award-winning essay that she had written. It exhibited a fantastic grasp of using dialect and vernacular, to say nothing of its historical content. And to cap it all off, in the closing general session, when the representative of EA Publishing announced winners of a contest they had sponsored, Katie’s name was among them. I felt like standing and cheering for her. The winners’ essays will be published in a book. And she’s only 13. I love it when young people are ambitious about learning and writing about our history.

So that was my weekend. Now if only I can turn the knowledge gained into applications to my own writing. And you can help with part of that task by visiting my blog site and becoming a follower. The blog comes out twice a week, every Tuesday and Friday morning. Follow it, and you’ll get notifications of each new post when it comes out. I hope you’ll find the blog worthwhile and maybe even entertaining. (And thank you in advance for helping “grow” my platform!)

Decisions, Decisions

For several years, I had read various comments and articles about and notices and advertisements for the Write2Ignite Christian writers’ conference. They had generated enough interest that I determined that some day I would attend that conference.

It was local, so I would have no expenses for lodging or meals. It was held within 20 minutes or so of my home. It always featured the names of some of the authors I had often read about. And I was ready and eager to do everything I could to “take my writing to the next level,” as the saying goes. So why not?

But every year the conference was scheduled, I always had some other pressing commitment and could not attend. Until this year. My slate was clean. Nothing was pressing. Nothing was in the way to prevent my going. To top it off, if I registered early enough, I could get a substantial discount. And then the icing on the cake: I would be able to display and sell my published books. How could I not attend? So I registered, paid the fee, blocked out those two days on my calendar, and began to prepare myself mentally for a time of encouragement and learning.

And then the call came. The daughter who lives the farthest from us in Michigan, the daughter who has the largest contingent of our grandchildren, called to say that they would be making a quick trip to the area for a wedding, and they would be visiting us. During the Write2Ignite conference.

I was forced to make a painful decision. Go ahead as scheduled, and attend the conference at the price of not seeing my grandchildren very much. Or back out and spend those two days with them, missing out on the knowledge to be gained, the comaraderie to be enjoyed, the possible sales from my books. I hate making such decisions.

But I had already made the plans. I had already saved for the conference. I had already paid the price. I began calculating the pros and cons of the question. The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or the twice-a-year-at-most family reunion? Which would it be?

The day of the conference has arrived. The clock is clicking down the hours and minutes before the start of the conference.

I’ll be attending the conference. For the price I’m paying, it had better be worth it! We’ll see. But I’m entering it with the prayer and expectation that it will prove productive. Meeting other authors. Hearing experts in their various fields of writing and marketing (and boy, do I ever need help with the latter topic!). Conferring with agents and publishers.

Those are the things I’m trying to focus on today and tomorrow. The grandkids and what they’re doing and what I’m missing will, undoubtedly be on my mind, but I’ll try to stay focused and come back home with something that will boost my writing abilities. At least that’s my prayer. The Lord’s will be done!