Archive for May 2010

Why Me and My Agent Get Along

May 30, 2010

        Since I signed me and my agent have gotten along just fine. I told him as long as he didn’t threaten to sue me or shoot me we’d be okay. I wasn’t afraid of constructive criticism. If a patient is scared to tell me they aren’t happy how am I gonna know it ain’t going well?

        He was not one bit shy to tell me a passage didn’t work and the MS began to tighten up.  He led the search for an editor. Together we got it down to three national level players but he refused to choose for me. “You’ve got to pick the one you think will be the best fit. I can’t do it for you.” 

       There were all good, but my heart said Dorrie. It was a good pick. She made my voice stronger, but never strangled it. For all the rewrites, I was always the author. I didn’t want a ghost writer and neither did she. “Besides,” she said. “If I wrote a single phrase it’d stick out like a sore thumb. No one writes like you.” (I guess it was a compliment)

       Together my agent and I began to place  a few articles. He landed some and I got a couple paying gigs too. I have one in “Bluegrass Unlimited” this month 2010 I am extra proud of ’cause it is on some of my N.C. people, Darin and Brooke Aldridge. (it’s in the June 2010 edition page 32 if y’all are dying to read it)

        But here’s why my agent and I get along. As true southerners always do I’ll have to tell you a story to make my point.

        Years ago the pro golf tour was a lot harder than what it is now. Most of the pros had to have a few side gigs to stay afloat. (Sort of like writers.) Bill and his buddy Doug struggled. They missed more than one meal and traveled the back roads on half-bald tires. 

        One New Year’s they made a resolution. They agreed on a percentage ahead of time and vowed to send the other man his cut of the winnings regardless of where they made the money. At the end of the year they’d decide if they were better off together or alone.

        It was easy enough to keep up with official winnings, but that was not how they survived. Sometimes late at night an envelope would slide under Bill’s door in some seedy roadside motel. When he got up the next morning he’d find it and smile. Inside there were always several crumpled up bills, but never a receipt.”Dougie must have played poker last night.”

       Bill did the same. At the end of the year they renewed on a handshake.

       When I signed with my agent, I remembered Bill and Doug. If I found an assignment on my own, I sent my agent his cut whether he knew of the article or not. When I made “official” money and it went through him, he put my share in the mail the next morning. It’s tough for a writer to survive and the agent’s life is no walk in the park either.  At the end of the first year we renewed on a handshake too. We were better off together than alone.

        Bill and Doug never got rich or famous, but they stayed loyal. They’re still friends too. I figure if me and my agent can stay that way in as tough a biz as this writer gig is we’ve done something right.

        Besides, the way I see it, what’s he gonna do? Who’d fire someone in the art world who sends money?

Dr. B

Better Than I Deserve

May 29, 2010

        A friend of mine died a few months back. He was such a cool guy. Whenever anyone asked “How are you?” he always said, “Better than I deserve,” and smiled.

       I feel the same way. I started a blog in 2007 to learn to try to learn how to write. I had no idea where the journey would lead. The best thing to come out of it was new friends. Ted and Irene Lehmann were the first ones, and I soon found out they were true bluegrass. Ted writes one of the biggest independent bluegrass blogs around. They have become fast friends and we see them at most of the festivals we go to.

        Ted wrote up a post on “The Mandolin Case” and the “Journey of The People’s Mandolin.” I was touched by his kindness. Y’all go over and check him out at www.tedlehmann.blogspot.com. As my old friend would say, “it’s better than what I deserve.”

         Y’all remember Julius? He graduates today, and old Doc here is “”Professor for a Day” and will hood him in the ceremony. I’ll bet it ain’t every day a mandolin picking country doctor gets the honor. I was his community med mentor, and he said my rotation was his favorite. Hm. Maybe it was those jam session at the Bomb Shelter, or perhaps it was “Temple’s Law,” but whatever the reason I am honored.

        I wish I could tell you I’m the next Twain, but I am obligated to write the truth, so just me will have to do. But look at it like this. How many books do you have on your shelf by a physician bluegrass fiction writer who is also a Professor of Medicine for a day? It’s like a chance to get in on batting practice with the Cubs. Too much, but all fun. 

       Talk to ya Monday.

Dr. B

The Mandolin Case Cover- A Mystery

May 27, 2010

        I had planned another post about my agent today, but I’ve put if off a day or two. I have breaking news. Last night I got an e-mail from my publisher and they asked me to go ahead and release the cover of my book.

        Okay folks here it is, and also here’s the story behind it.

        Long before anyone had heard of a carbon fiber mandolin, Indie predicted they would one day be an item. “Bibey,” he said. “If we can put a man on the moon, someday they’re gonna make guitars and mandolins out of this space age stuff. You wait and see. They’ll be indestructible. They won’t warp even if you leave ‘em in the trunk of the car.”

        Several years before “The Mandolin Case” a man came through Harvey County and showed Indie a synthetic prototype mandolin made out of carbon fiber. He claimed it sounded as good as a mandolin made of spruce and maple tonewoods, but was impervious to the elements. The man wanted Indie to invest in his company. Indie liked the mandolin but was a conservative investor. (Colorful as Indie was, he always said a good investment was a boring mutual fund.) He declined to buy any stock in the man’s company, but didn’t forget the mandolin.

        I didn’t see this mandolin when the man came through, but Indie described it to me. Years went by and I forgot about it. However, when I began to research the back story of “The Mandolin Case,” discussion of the prototype synthetic mandolin resurfaced. Indie would say, “Son, that carbon fiber mandolin was the clue wasn’t it? I’m not sure we’d have found out without it.” Then he’d take a sip of Jim Beam and drop the subject.

          All I knew was it was a carbon gray “F” style mandolin. Indie said at that time it was the only one he’d ever seen that didn’t have the traditional F holes. After the publisher read the story they decided this mandolin was so significant it needed to be on the cover. They asked me to forward a picture.

         I had a dilemma. I not only didn’t have a photograph, I’d never even seen it. All I could do was describe it to the best of my ability. It was somewhat like those composite sketches the police do when they search for a suspect.

        What to do? Indie was gone and I couldn’t ask him. Dang, I should have done the cover first. The publisher sent dozens of drawings. One morning I sipped my coffee and opened my e-mail. I jumped up to call. “That’s it, that’s it! I’m sure that’s the one; well at least as sure as I can be given I never laid eyes in  it myself. Where did you find it?”

        “We tracked it back. The e-mail was bogus. The trail went cold. Address unknown. We don’t know.”

         So there you are. All this research, countless hours of interviews with everyone who would talk, and I still have one last mystery on my hands. Indie knew the synthetic mandolin was a player in the case; he told me so many times. 

        Someone out there knows another clue about ‘The Mandolin Case.” Hm. Maybe they know the Navajo or perhaps it was the Navajo who sent it in. 

        I know the truth about “The Mandolin Case,” but of all the ironies I don’t know where the mandolin on the cover came from. All I can tell you is I am sure whoever sent it in has to be someone on the inside, and I won’t rest until I get to talk to them. If you run into them let me know.

       Dang that Indie. He had a great memory and didn’t bother to document much. Why didn’t he take a picture? It woulda saved me a lot of trouble. Oh well, we’ll find out.

Dr. B

Wayne Benson and the 2010 IBMA Mandolin Award

May 26, 2010

        I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you more about my agent and the development of my book, but I wanted to digress today. It’s my day off. I just got my ballot for the IBMA awards and it set me to thinking.

        Folks, Wayne Benson has won the SPBGMA award for “Mandolin Player of the Year” a number of times. I know a lot of people don’t realize this, but somehow he has been overlooked for IBMA mandolin player of the year. I believe this is because people assume he has won it in the past.

        Give Wayne is the long-time mandolin voice of III Tyme Out, one of the most important groups of the second generation of bluegrass, I’m sure serious students of the genre will agree with me this is an inexplicable oversight we need to correct.

        As a long time devoted mandolin enthusiast I realize there are many fine players on the circuit. I’m a good amateur but I can’t carry the cases of journeyman pros out there who are all but unknown. Over time they all deserve this award. But at this time in bluegrass history, at least in this old Doc’s opinion, no one deserves it more than Wayne Benson.

        Not only has Wayne been a virtuoso player for III Tyme Out, but he was a major force in the Bluegrass 95 series, and he also did a stint with John Cowan, singer extraordinaire. Russell Moore has won the IBMA male vocalist award a number of times, and I am sure he would tell you there is no one in the world he’d rather have back him up on the mandolin than Wayne Benson.

        In addition to all that, Wayne is a superb teacher. I have worked with him over two years now. He is a very intelligent man. Over years of study he has honed a sophisticated but quite teachable approach to practical mandolin theory. He understands the ”why” of how he plays, and is able to articulate it to the less gifted, (like me) better than any great mandolinist I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve known more than a few.

        Wayne can play Monroe style with the best. He is not only true bluegrass, but has command of chord melody, jazz, and classical work. He is an artist. In addition he is an ambassador for the mandolin community. He’s forever interested in the mandolin network, and has participated in countless workshops to help students of all levels.  

        Folks, I know Wayne. He’s a humble guy who won’t brag on himself. He’ll not tell you how good he is. In fact, I don’t think the man realizes how good he is. So I figured it was up to me to do it.

        When someone’s music makes our lives that much better we should take the time to thank them, so Wayne Benson has my vote for IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year in 2010. I hope you will give him full consideration for your vote too.

        Thanks so much.

Dr. B

Revisions, Rejections, and How I Found My Lit Agent (Part III)

May 24, 2010

        I called. The secretary gave my instructions. “Meet him at the caboose behind the Chattanooga Choo-Choo, Friday at 2:40.”

        “Why 2:40?”

        “Cause that’s what the boss says.”

        “Yes ma’am.”

        “He’ll be in New York all week. He likes to relax on Friday mornings  and write. 2:40.”

        “Got it.  Where’s the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”

        “Can you find Chattanooga?”

        “Yes, ma’am.”

        “If you find Chattanooga you can find the Choo Choo. Can’t miss it.”

        “Okay.”

        We came in from Nashville early. As we drove along by the river we heard music. Hey, a bluegrass festival.  I thought for a minute.  Must be Three Sisters. I’d read about it. We wandered through downtown and spotted a huge train on top of a hotel. Chattanooga Choo Choo. I stopped at the desk. “Pardon me ma’am, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?”

        She rolled her eyes. “Yes, sir.”

        “Room for two, non-smoking, Bibey’s the name.”

       She scrolled through her computer. “Yes, sir. Here you are.”

        “Where’s the caboose?”

        “Through that door, go by the gift shop. Follow the tracks. There is a picnic table right beside it.”

        “Thanks.”

        “Are you here to meet the agent?”

        “Yes, ma’am.”

        “He fires most of ‘em on the first meeting.”

        “Thanks, I guess.”

        Marfar kissed me bye. “Good luck.”

        “I wish you could come,” I complained.

        “He said come alone. No family.”

        “I’ll call.”

        I found the caboose and the picnic table. 2:38. I sat down. A band struck up in the distance. I checked my watch. 2:40. A gray-haired man in a tweed coat approached. He carried a large briefcase and sat in on the table. It was as battle-scarred as my mandolin case, and the corners were tattered so bad I thought it might break open. Several papers spilled out over the top. He stuck out his hand. “Bibey?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        He studied my features for a minute. “Say you want to be a writer?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “Why would you want to do that?”

        “Why not?”

        He smiled. I got a sense he was working hard to try to be aloof. “You still have time to turn back, you know.”

        “It’s too late to turn back now.”

        He laughed. “You hear that band?”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “You said you were true bluegrass. Who is it?”

        Dang it, why didn’t I check the line-up? I listened for a moment. Someone broke into a nice fiddle break. Hm. Chattanooga. My mind drifted back to a jam session at John Hartford’s Christmas party years ago. I took a chance. “Hey that sounds like Fletcher Bright.” (Fletcher is a big Chattanooga real estate man; he knows everyone in bluegrass.)

        His smile broke into a broad grin. “Correct.” He pulled my resume out of the briefcase. “Tell me your story.”

        “What kinda word count you gonna give me?”

        “Brief. You’ll have to edit a lot. You use too many words.”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “Do you have to call everyone sir?”

        “Yes, sir. Mama taught me that way. All good southern writers love their mama. She was an English teacher.”

        “Go on.”

        “Okay. I’m a doctor. I saw a lot. I read in JAMA years ago where some professor said docs ought to write so people can know what it’s really like to be a doctor. I can’t tell people’s secrets, so it has to be fiction. Everyone’s always told me I should write a book.”

        “That’s what they all say.”

        “Well, I am proven commodity. You got your check, didn’t you?”

        “Yes.”

        “Do you have a blog?” he asked.

        “What’s a blog?”

        “Where are you from again?”

        “Harvey County.”

        “You have the Internet I presume.”

        “Yes, sir.”

       He looked over his glasses at the resume again. “Get your kids to show you how to set up a blog. Your readers will teach you how to write. If you don’t have one by our next meeting you’re fired.”

        “No tickee no washee?”

        His eyebrows raised. “I suppose.” He reached into the briefcase and retrieved my manuscript. “This isn’t too bad for an amateur. How many revisions have you done?”

        “At least twelve. I have a doctor friend who writes children’s books. He was an English major. And my daughter’s creative writing teacher helped me too. She thinks it has promise. Of course, all she has to compare it to is a bunch of testosterone poisoned teen-aged boys who ain’t got nothing on their mind but trying to get laid.”

        He laughed outloud. “I am sure it would be good for an “A” in Senior English, but this is a different game.”

        “Yes, sir. That’s why I need you.”

        “So how long do you think it will take for you to get there?” he asked.

        “I work off the ten-year plan. It takes ten years to get good at anything, be it doctor, musician, golfer, or writer. I started in 2000. I think we can get there in three more years.”

        He scratched his head. I wasn’t sure he was convinced.

        “I ain’t Twain, but I got no give up in me, sir.”

        “Tell me about loyalty,” he asked.

        “It’s one of the big themes in my book. I don’t just write it; I live it. Same wife, same kids, same nurses, same friends, doctor, dentist, mechanic, and barber. All I need is one agent.”

        “When some people break big they change.”

        “Well for one thing I’m not likely to break big. But if I do I won’t change.” I recalled how he groomed one writer only to have them leave once they found success. “If you’re my agent and someone from New York shows up with a million bucks they gotta give you your 15%.”

        “You been playing the lottery, son?”

        “No, sir. I’m clean. Not even a traffic ticket. Look, its like they told Monroe when he hit the Opry. If you’re gonna leave you gotta fire yourself. If you’re straight with me, I’ll never leave. It don’t matter whether I write in obscurity or it does a little something. I ain’t gonna change. You can count on it. Just ask my wife.”

        “I grew up in Texas. A man’s word is his bond there. Are you willing to shake on it?” He stuck out his hand.

        “Yes, sir.” We shook.

        “I’ll send a contract. It’ll be exactly what I said on the phone. Just don’t tell anyone about this. Every time I sign a new artist if they tell their friends I have to deal with all kinds people who all of a sudden decide they’re gonna be a writer.” 

        “Yes, sir.”

        When the contract came in I sent a copy to my lawyer. He said it was dead on; don’t change a word. It’s a good thing; I had already signed and returned it. We’d already shook hands on it, and I wasn’t gonna go back on my word. I had an agent.

        When I put it in the over night mail at the office the secretary at the time looked at the address. “Hey, Doc. Y’all gonna play Three Sisters out there?

        “They’re thinking about hiring us.”

        “Wow.”

        “Just don’t tell anybody. I don’t want to jinx it.”

        “Sure.” She drifted down the hall. “Hey Sue, didja hear Dr. B might play Chattanooga next year?”

        Oh well. The writer gig is like a slow motion horse race. I wasn’t ready to run, but they had let me out of the stall to trot around the warm-up ring. One of these years maybe I’d be at the starting gate. I had a notion my trainer knew the biz and wouldn’t settle for anything less.

Dr. B

My Boy, A Martin Guitar, and a Wedding

May 23, 2010

        I’ll be back in the morning with part III on my agent search but I wanted to tell you about a wedding first. We played one yesterday.

        The groom was the Harvey County Banjo Diva’s son. Any wedding is important to family, (I cried at my boy’s) but this one was special to us too. Your bluegrass people are close to family.

       The tune was “The Westphalia Waltz.” If you don’t know the song it sounds like one of those things you’d hear accompany one of those ballerinas who goes around in circles when you open a music box.

       My son is a paramedic and had to work the night before. He rushed in at the last-minute toting his old Martin. It was my first good guitar, a D28 I bought for $700.00 with my first check as a doctor. When my boy got his own house I gave it to him. The preacher once said give your best to God. Well, it was my best guitar and I gave it to my son. I figured God and his mama gave the kid to me, so I hoped that was close enough. I’m only human; I have no idea how God gave His only Son. It was all I could do to let mine get married.

        Even when I gave it to him it was beat up, and that was a while back. It had a couple of cracks that had been repaired, the finish was worn to the bare wood in spots, and the pick-guard has begun to lift off one edge from when I got too close to the wood stove at the Bomb Shelter. It looks road weary and smells like campfires and barbecue. He strummed a “G” chord. The smoky low-end matched the aroma.

         We warmed up under a shade tree. It was noon and the sun beat down but we had some protection from the maple leaves. Tommy Jr. called for “Catfish John” which I used to sing to him as a kid, and his mom played the bass and she and I did “Gold Watch and Chain.” Mary Sue, the guitar lady for my wife’s band played rhythm and Tommy covered the lead. We went over “Westphalia” twice. Tommy hadn’t played it in a while, but he got his part just right down to the minors. To play music with your family borders on spiritual.  We got to jamming and then the wedding director gave us the quiet sign. (She’s a school teacher) It was time for the wedding. Even I knew to be reverent.

        Storm clouds hovered but the sky turned blue again. I wouldn’t know if the bride wore chiffon or chenille but my wife said it was a spun gold beaded and gathered satin gown with a layered train. (Is that about right ladies?) I do know she was a pretty girl and a skinny little young’un. The groom was a sturdy ex-Marine, about 6’3.” You ever notice how straight and white young folk’s teeth are?

        It was hot as blazes and they had those little hand-held fans like what we used to have at my grandmother’s church. If you grew up in the South before air-conditioning you remember ‘em. Those had Jesus on one side and the football team schedule on the other. The bride and groom opted for a simple version adorned with their names. For an outdoor southern wedding take note. This accessory is a must. It was a very nice touch for this old doc.

         I noticed the father of the groom as he fanned away. It was his youngest boy. Lord I felt for him.

        It all went according to plan except one of the little flower girls got to dancing like a ballerina and we weren’t sure exactly when to quit playing the waltz. The wedding director gave us the cut sign and we fashioned out a nice outro from the “A” part and sat back down. The kids sailed right through the vows and never missed a beat. The next thing you knew it was a kiss, a cool subtle high five and a presentation of a new couple. Even a man knew it was elegant.

        Afterwards I saw the father of the groom at the reception. He mopped his brow with a handkerchief. “Doc, I worried all day we might have rain.”

        “Me too, brother. I know how you feel.” I did too. I still recall how hard it was the day my son got married.

         Afterwards we went home and took a nap then eased over to the Dairyo and had some Coke floats. We sat at the genuine imitation wrought iron tables they imported from Raleigh and contemplated the significance of the day. My wife told funny stories about the kids growing up. We all wished Marie could have been there, but she was out of town for the weekend. I looked over at my boy, a big strapping kid now. “Son get out that Martin. Can you still do “Jerusalem Ridge?”

        “Sure, Dad.” We broke out the instruments and played a few tunes. I looked up at clouds and it set me to dreaming. I really am a simple man. In spite of the fact not many modern humans would consider this all that special of a day, to me it was the best life has to offer. I figured I was about as lucky a country boy as anyone could be.

        I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you of the final leg of my agent journey. Today though, I had to tell you of what is really important.

Dr. B

Revisions, Rejections, and How I Found My Lit Agent (Part II)

May 20, 2010

        As I continued my agent search I kept writing. I began to see some success in local and regional publications. If there was ever a writer who stuck to the adage “write what you know” it was me. Most of my work was on up and coming bands or acoustic music venues I liked. I did most of them for free or some nominal fee.

        A strange thing began to happen. It didn’t take but a couple of articles followed by a full house for the artists to take notice, and others began to ask me to promo their show. I was particular though. I only wrote up the ones I believed in to the fullest. If I said a band was good, I wanted people who came to the show because of my article to realize I wrote the truth.

        It wasn’t hard to be enthusiastic about what you loved. One time I did an article on bluegrass gospel legend Paul Williams and someone wrote to say, “Doc, he can’t be that good.”

        I sent them his CD, and they wrote back. “You’re right. He is that good!” They’re still a fan.

        I wrote CD liner notes for Darin Aldridge (and after they got married Darin and Brooke Aldridge) and promoted other N.C. bands like Balsam Range and the Harris Brothers. It was easy. I knew all readers had to do was hear them once and it would validate my credibility. It never failed.

        I decided to try the agent again. I wrote and said I’d landed a few paying gigs. His genre was Southern Lit. I didn’t see how anyone could be much more southern than me. I did a background check on him. One of his big clients had moved to New York and taken up with an agent there. I e-mailed and asked if he had room for one more writer in his stable. He wrote back.

        “Here’s a short story that didn’t place in a contest. Rework it.”

        I spent all weekend on it and sent it back.

        “Hm. Not too bad, but still work to do.” As I look back, I think he was like a basketball scout. Here was some raw inner city kid who could run, shoot, and dribble. But would he take to coaching? Only time would tell.

        He sent me another assignment. “Read ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.’ I want an essay on at least three things you learned.”

        Now I had hope. He didn’t know it, but my mama was an English teacher. As a kid book reports were a breeze. This was a different league though. In med school if I read it three times it was always good for an “A.” After three reads, I wrote up my report. I waited.

        “You have promise. If I see an assignment that fits I might call.”

        Months went by. One day he had something come across his desk from a Dr. Therese Zink. It was a call for articles about life as a country doctor.

        I can see it now. “Hm. Lets see. Here’s the recipe lady.  No, no. My vampire writer is great, but not right for this one. Hey, where is that file on that crazy doctor?”

       He called one Friday just before I left the office. “Have something on my desk Monday morning; I’ll consider it.”

        I was lucky again. About that time I read an article in JAMA in the ‘Piece of My Mind’ section titled “How My Donkey Saved My Ass.” It was Dr. Zink. She was a nationally recognized medical educator. I figured if she had the guts to write that for a prestigious medical journal I might just be able to connect with her. My wife had a conference that weekend so I holed up in the house, kept Dr. Z’s thoughts in mind, and wrote my own ass off. I e-mailed it first thing Monday morning and went back to the doc gig.

        My potential agent wrote back. “I think I can use this. Let’s work on it some.” We did for about a month. After some half dozen revisions he submitted it.

        It was my first effort at fictionalized medical truth. As a small town doc, I must write the truth, but I can not write about factual events or invade real people’s privacy in any way. My only condition was that I be allowed to write in that style. Dr. Zink understood and granted permission.

        I’ll never forget Dr. Z’s letter. It was a “yes.” She used the word “charming.” The article wound up in the Kent State University Press Country Doctor Compilation due out this fall. My resume was growing.

        Still the man was reluctant. I asked if he was my agent now. He said we were just dating, but maybe. He’d seen a lot of one hit wonders.

        I recalled the car salesman. (“No might mean maybe”) I found my copy of the check from “The Laurel” and made another copy. I wrote out a check for 15% of the total and mailed it and the documentation to my potential agent. I asked him to give me a buzz.

       He called. “What is this?”

       “I read where 15% is standard for Lit Agents. It’s your cut. I’m gonna forward you 15% of everything I make as a writer until you send me a letter and tell me you’re not gonna be my agent.”

       “Good Lord. I give. Okay, I’ll interview you. When can you come to Tennessee?”

       “I’ll be out for IBMA in the fall. I can swing by on either side of that.”

       “Very well. Call my secretary and set up a time. We’ll see.” 

       I still didn’t have an agent but I was close. In my next post I’ll tell you how I got signed. 

Dr. B


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