Well y’all, Mama worried about where my mandolin might take me, but lo and behold it’s gonna get Doc booked at the Rotary Club. I’m kinda proud of that ’cause it makes me (and bluegrass) just downright legit.
I’ve never been much of a joiner, and I’m not in the Rotary Club, but I want to make it clear I’m not making fun; not one bit. From what I know they do a lot of good in communities all over. I’m not a member of much because I am just too ADD to sit still long enough to be an effective participant.
However, don’t ever count me out in my gig. If you have elevated liver transaminases I might just diagnose your hemochromatosis ’cause it reminds me of “The Kentucky Waltz.” (That’s what was on the turntable when I first read about it, and I never forgot.) The mind of a physician bluegrass fiction writer is very odd, but I’m good for the 90th percentile; brilliance I’ll have to leave to others.
Anyway, my agent asked me to get organized enough to put together an outline for this talk. Y’all know me well enough to realize I’ve already exasperated him on a regular basis, but I guess I better do what he says. After all, the guy knows the biz, and has led me to the top twenty on Amazon Country Book category most of the fall.
I remember something he said early on; you will learn from your readers. And he’s right, I have learned a lot, and I ask for your help again. If you were in the Rotary Club and your speaker turned out to be a physician bluegrass fiction writer with a straw hat and a mandolin what would you want to hear? (Don’t tell me you’d leave, my agent reads my blog) Here are some thoughts on my agenda. I’ll organize it into an outline later.
1. Art can help the decent prevail. I believe most people are good, but the art folks are often a cut above the average. I believe through art we can learn how to be more compassionate humans.
2. I am concerned over the decline in reading in modern society. My Mama took me to the library every week and put me in a speed reading course. I understand Dolly Parton has a program to bring books to children who are not so lucky. I’d like to see an organization like the Rotary get involved in this. For all Dolly’s attributes, to me her finest is her skill as a songwriter; it is often overlooked. Hey, who knows? Maybe I can sing a song with Dolly someday.
3. I like to see bluegrass get it’s due. One time a fellow told me he was proud of what I had done for bluegrass in Harvey County. I asked why and he said, “Doc, before you showed up here, folks tended to think of our music as ‘dirt music.’ Now they respect it.” I didn’t do that by myself of course, and traditional music’s stature has been on the upswing for several decades now. Still there are too may folks who don’t understand the simple beauty of true music and I want to be part of the metamorphosis.
4. The mandolin is the underdog. It wasn’t always that way. As Mike Marshall says, “before the turn of the last century, great mandolin orchestras ruled the earth.” The dinosaurs were that way and became extinct. We can’t let that happen with true music.
5. Self empowerment. If a shy country boy of average ability can read enough books to become a decent doctor, and then write one that made it to #1 in the Amazon Country Book category in both the paperback and Kindle formats, it can happen to anybody. I’d like for young people to find the same sense of contentment and tranquility I was so fortunate to find. I found much of it with my mandolin, and in the arts.
6. Patience my boy. I recall the words of my first editor, Mr. Paul Howey of the Laurel Magazine of Asheville. I asked him to read some early drafts of “The Mandolin Case” and give me some advice. I remember he said, “Well, this is pretty good. It has potential.”
I asked, (with both innocence and great eagerness)”Mr. Howey, do you think I can get published?”
He replied, “Patience my boy, patience.” It was excellent advice. “The Mandolin Case” took ten years, and all good things take time.
I think I’ll do all right with my talk, though, ’cause at the heart of it all I like real people. When I was at the Lit conference in Chattanooga my agent was at our table, as was Felix Miller and his wife Barbara, who became good friends. A lady sat opposite of me. She was an elderly elegant woman with gray hair pulled back in a bun, pale blue eyes that all but pierced my gaze from across the table, and a quirky Mona Lisa kind of smile. I had my mandolin out and was banging away on a tune for Felix. My agent had to shush me. I was like Rodney Dangerfield at the writer’s club, and didn’t realize I was out of line. The lady chuckled.
I looked over her way. “Ma’am, you’re an English teacher, aren’t you?”
Her eyebrows arched. “Why yes. How did you know?”
“Cause I’ve seen that look so many times before. It says ‘My, my. What will I do with this boy?’ My mama was an English teacher. I can’t help it. I am what I am, and can’t be anything else.”
She smiled and picked up her coffee in that dainty way elderly ladies do. (Some of the guys I hang out with don’t sip beer and hold their pinky like that.) “Let me know when your book comes out.”
The reason I think I’ll do OK with my talk is I like and respect that lady just as much as I do my bluegrass pals, even though I suspect she’s not a banjo freak.
Y’all help me out on this Rotary gig. I have no idea what I’m doing, and any and all suggestions are appreciated.