Archive for April 2011

MerleFest,TKL Cases, and Dr. B

April 27, 2011

        I’m off Friday and will be at MerleFest for the weekend. It’s a family tradition; we’ve been to all but one.

        I’ll be there to take in the show, but also will be at the TKL Cedar Creek Custom Case booth for part of our stay. Drop by to speak to ‘em and tell ‘em Dr. B sent ya. In addition to their fine cases, they will have copies of my novel, “The Mandolin Case,” available. Both took many years to develop, and I believe both are cases of integrity. (I have seen their banjo and guitar versions, the new mandolin case may not be ready yet, but I have seen the drawings.)

        I’ll come around and sign the book if anyone wants me to. My scrawl is well-known around North Carolina, but just don’t try to trade it for a prescription. I’m not sure I’ll get a break and have time to sing “In the Jail House Now” for you. Besides, if I was to sing it that old jailer might not be impressed enough to spring you.

        The exact times I’ll be there are TBA. For all my obsessive-compulsive and weary-worry tendencies as a country doc, I’m pretty relaxed (though still reliable) as an artist. I believe in the great golfer Walter’s Hagen’s quote, “Never hurry, never worry, and always remember to stop and smell the roses.” But, if it hadn’t been for my wife, my kids, and all my music friends I’m not sure I would have lived long enough to be so laid back about it all, cause I was a driven young Doc. But, I’ve made it this far and we’re MerleFest bound again Friday. Hope you’ll come visit.

        See ya there.

Dr. B

Four Part Harmony, Part II- How I Became a Writer

April 24, 2011

        The old adage you can’t get published until you have some published articles on your resume is true. It’s like the classified ad for a job, “Only experienced workers need to apply.”

       So how do you get experience if you have no experience?

       My answer is “write about what you love.” It will take time but after a while someone will pay attention. For me, writing came through music. As a kid I played guitar to meet girls. Once I met my wife there was no need to chase girls and I put it aside except to play for her. I used to sing to her but she married me anyway. Later that same voice would put our kids to sleep at night. It worked without fail!

        After I heard Tommy Edwards and “The Bluegrass Experience” and met Dr. Peter Temple in med school, I fell in love with bluegrass. I gave up rock ‘n roll (for the most part) and sat in on Dr. Temple’s Wednesday night front porch bluegrass sessions. Soon I took up banjo. After I got out into medical practice I became a mandolin player when ours left for Nashville and we couldn’t find one. I was a sensitive boy and the doc gig could be hard. I worried over the patients. I began to write. Most of it was focused on the music I loved and that had saved me from going too crazy under all the pressure.

        A funny thing  happened. I wrote an article in the local newspaper for a band, and they liked it. When people showed up at the concert because of my article, the band liked it even more. I got some gigs doing liner notes and CD reviews. I developed a bit of a regional reputation as a guy who knew the genre and would write articles for a modest fee. (try free!)

        One day we were on a trip to the mountains to see my son. I saw an article in an Asheville publication for a Mr. Howey who advertised his services as an editor. I was already at work on “The Mandolin Case,” and took him some excerpts. His fee was reasonable and I learned a lot for those early edits. I asked him if he thought it would ever be published. I recall his wry smile. “Patience my boy, patience,” he said.

       Mr. Howey was a veteran of the newspaper biz and editor of a magazine called the Laurel of Asheville, and also wrote an award-winning book on Freckles, the famous pet therapy dog. He counseled me that writers can’t get in a hurry. I figured he’d been around a while and was a survivor in the writer biz, and that he knew. I listened.

       About this time I started a search for an agent. My daughter gave me a book called “How to be Your Own Literary Agent.” The author made it clear he did not accept unsolicited queries, so I sent him one right away. I wanted to go ahead and get a rejection under my belt. I’ve still got it somewhere in my files. I wrote back to thank him for his time and that I’d appreciate it if he’d hold onto my resume.

        After that with every query letter I informed them I was unsigned at the moment but some of the biggest houses in New York had my file under consideration. (The man never wrote back to say I didn’t, and besides I was in training to be fiction writer. ”Show the truth, tell no facts.”)

        I sent some out queries without enough research. One told me they liked my work but were looking for writers of romantic fiction with a chick litty voice. I have not one thing against romance writers, but my wife got a big laugh out of that one. “Honey, you’re a lot of things but chick-litty isn’t your gig.”

        The one wrote and said they liked the MS but hadn’t taken on any fiction in a while because they lost money on their last two projects. They recommended another person who turned out to be out of the biz, but they knew someone who knew somebody who they thought they knew another guy who might have interest. After a series of e-mails, I had a contact e-mail address. I wrote him.

        He looked over some of my work, had me edit a few stories and then assigned a book report on “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.” I was good at book reports as a kid. I remembered all the little blue ribbons. I summoned up the best I had from deep in my gut.

        He agreed to an interview.

        I met with him and showed him some early drafts of “The Mandolin Case.” He liked my work, but knew it was still rough. Looking back, I think he saw me like an inner city ball player. I could run, shoot, and dribble, but he had no way to know if I’d take to coaching,

       “Any advice?” I asked.

        “Yes. Start a blog.” he replied.

        “Whats’ a blog?”

        The agent went on to explain. “Your readers will teach you how to write. Besides, if you can’t attract an audience of readers there is no reason for me to represent you.” He didn’t sign me but I was sure he had at least some interest.

        I started the blog in 2007, and it began to grow. As my potential agent predicted, I learned from my readers; folks like the Lehmann’s, chili, Cindy, slightly, Felix, Jel, and many more.

       One day Mr. Howey called from the Laurel. His music writer had just resigned.”I need an article on “Bluegrass First Class” by Monday. Are you up to it?”

       I jumped at the opportunity. ”Sure, Mr. Howey. I know the promoter and all the bands. I won’t have any access issues. But I gotta be honest, I’m not a pro writer yet. I might need some help.”

       “Son, that’s why you’ll have an editor. That’s me.”

        The article was success. BGFC sold out. (Not just because of me I assure you; it’s a great show every year.) Suddenly I was a published and paid writer; my definition of an author.

       I figured up 15% of my check and sent my potential agent that share even though I was not signed yet.

       He called. “What is this check for?”

       “I landed a paying gig. I read where the standard fee for a Lit agent is 15%. That’s your share. I’m gonna send you 15% of everything I make as a writer until you tell me you won’t be my agent.      

       The sigh was audible. This guy has no quit in him. He gave up and sent me a contract. I took it to an intellectual property rights lawyer in the city who found it 100% legit. I signed it, had it notarized, and returned it, then told my new agent the same thing they told Bill Monroe when he joined the Opry. “If you want to leave you’ll have to fire yourself.” I added, “And if it ain’t good for you it ain’t good for me. We’re in it together.” He’s been my agent ever since.

       We were on our way. Next Monday I’ll tell you how I got my book published.

       It takes a long time to get started but once you become a writer it is a gift for life, just like playing the mandolin or the doctor gig. Once I experienced the birth of that first book, I never wanted to quit, and now have more projects in progress. Birthing a baby is very hard, (my wife is the expert on that, not me) but getting there is so much fun folks keep doing it, which is why the world is unlikely to run out of babies or books any time soon. (God had all this figured out; humans made a mess out of it.)

       One last word of wisdom. In every relationship I get into, and this includes being a writer, I try to think why it might be good for the other party and do that. (If I write will someone’s life be better for what they read, will folks enjoy a music show, will a publisher sell more magazines, will my agent see a few dollars etc) I never worry about me. It comes back to me anyway. God and my wife and kids always look after me so I don’t have to worry about myself. If you figure out how it will help someone else and you are confident as to why it will do so, it’s mighty hard for people to turn you away for long. If they do reject you, once they realize you are helping someone else they often change their mind.

       Talk to ya next week.

Dr. B

An Old Man’s Prayer

April 23, 2011

        “Lord, why do I have to be so slow these days? Why, when I was a young man I could run so fast.”

        “I see you don’t have to walk with a cane. You should be thankful.”

        “Yes, Sir. I guess so; I know You are right. My steps are awful slow, though. I’m getting to be an old man.”

        “You’re not old, you’re just a few steps closer to Heaven. Surely your prayer is not that I speed those steps up? I have found if people get a glimpse of Heaven while they are still on Earth, as you have been so fortunate to do, they sometimes will get in a hurry.”

        “Uh, well …. uh, yes, Sir. I understand. No, I’m not in a hurry, Sir.”

         “Good, because I have work left for you to do on Earth before you come Home for good. Besides, what’s the rush? This Eternity is a long gig. It’ll wait on you.”

        “Okay. Got it. I’ll follow your path.”

        “You’re getting older. The road can be rough and rocky. I don’t want you to trip and fall. So, be careful. And, take your time.”

        “Yes, Sir. I promise.”

Dr. B

Four Part Harmony Part I

April 17, 2011

        This post goes out to KC who asked if I’d share some of the thoughts from the recent ADK teacher session on “The Mandolin Case,” titled “Four Part Harmony.” Part I is today, and I’ll post one every Monday for a month to complete the series.

       Part I was “Why I Write.” I’m reminded of a college Philosophy exam. It had one question. “Why?”

       One student answered “Because.” He got an ‘F.’

        Another answered ‘Why not?’ He got an ‘A.’

        So I guess I’ll stick with ‘Why not?’ My motivations were multi-factorial, but they fell into three general categories.

        The first was simple enough; writing made me feel young again. Back in grade school the teachers would have us write stories, and I often was awarded a blue ribbon. After “The Mandolin Case” was released and so many people liked the book, it brought back those same feelings of validation I experienced so long ago. Stories made me happy as a child, and I guess adults don’t outgrow the desire to be accepted. My world accepted me, and it was fun.

        It’s strange, ’cause in my work as a Doc you do make a difference, but it’s my job. I have a moral, ethical, professional, and legal obligation to deliver the goods even when I don’t feel good myself. If you lose your muse in the Doc gig you’d better find it PDQ or else become mired up in a heap of big-time trouble. (Someone asked what my speciality was and I said, “Staying out of trouble, and I’m real good at it.”)

        As a writer it seemed different. I was under no obligation at all; I just wrote because I believed I had something to say and wanted to share it. When my book got good reviews it made me feel like the kid with the blue ribbons again. I’ve often said with art you toss your heart out there and see if people stomp on it, but they embraced it. I was both touched and humbled by the response.

        The second reason was a sense of immortality. We don’t have any real immortality except in Eternity of course, but somehow I could envision that my writing would allow my ideas and dreams to live on beyond my time. One of the dominant thoughts that drove me was one of my kids as old people in the nursing home reading to a grandchild on their knee. The child would ask, “Was great-grandaddy really like that?”

       They might answer, “Well no, I think he made that part up.” Then they’d flip to another page and say, “but now that scene at the Bomb Shelter is real ’cause I was there.”

        Already our family stories live on. My son is a helicopter pilot and a paramedic, and my daughter is a sophisticated University young lady. They were both raised in part by middle-aged bluegrass pickers. When they tell their stories, their young friends think they must have made them up, but the stories are true. Our way of life lives on in them.  

        Maybe a hundred years from now some kid will find my story on a dusty book shelf, read it, and decide we had such a big time that they needed to make art part of their life, too. Perhaps long after I’m gone a weary doctor will realize others have been there before and find some comfort in the pages.

        The third reason was practical; my survival. All I ever wanted to be was a simple and decent man;, a country doc with a wife, 2 1/2 kids, a dog, and a picket fence life who got to play some music on the week-ends off call. I found it wasn’t always so simple. When I began to write about Indie he showed me how to make it work. You remember his line? “It doesn’t take any special talent to be wicked. Anyone can do that. But to be a decent person requires creativity to the point of art.” I wanted to be decent, but also not be trampled on in this hyper-competitive modern world. Indie, through the process of writing about him, showed me just how to do it.

        I have several more projects in the works. but if I never got anything else done in the art world, that reward alone would be more than enough. Through writing I developed my strategy. Now if someone sets out to do me or my people wrong I just smile and wave a matador’s red cape in front of a brick wall. I tell ‘em I don’t think I’d charge on through. 80% of them have the good sense not to, but 20% run headlong smack through the cape and into the wall and then get knocked out.

        When they come to they ask, “Why did ya go and do that?”

        My response is always the same. “I dunno. Read the book.”

        I’m as imperfect as anyone else, although I hope I was a decent man before the book. But writing took my life philosophy to another level. It yielded a hard-fought tranquility that is mine for the rest of my days. As Irene Lehman said, “When a man writes like that, there’s a reason.” Through the process of writing I solidified what was important and true to me and why it was so. And it was more reward than money can ever buy. As a writer, I found every little bit of me, and realized I liked me just fine, imperfections and all. If anyone out there is still searching, writing ain’t a bad way to find yourself.

        And it’s a fun journey.

        I’ll be back next Monday with Part II, “How I Became a Writer.”

Dr. B

Southern Comfort/Southern Conflict

April 15, 2011

        We’re at the Southern Writer’s Conference in Chattanooga this week. Southern Comfort. It conjures up images of whiskey and bluegrass music. Bill Monroe wrote an instrumental called ‘Southern Flavor,’ but half the time I call it ‘Southern Comfort.’ Southerners can play some cool roots music and tell stories and cook pigs. There’s a lot of comfort in the culture, and yet also there has always been great conflict in Southern life.

        Even as a kid I thought we had a peculiar institutional gentility that seemed so odd. Some of our comfort was derived from the conflict of others, yet no one openly acknowledged it. We had a black lady named Georgia who worked in our home. I couldn’t understand how anyone could be prejudiced against her, but people were. No one was prejudiced against Georgia’s fried chicken though, I promise you that.

        Good fiction has to have conflict, and southern life yielded some powerful writing. Twain once said (paraphrased) “when he saw trouble he’d write his way through it.” I grew up in relative comfort but it was clear to anyone who had their eyes and heart open everyone wasn’t so fortunate. For fifty cents we could play golf all day long, but a black kid couldn’t set foot on the property. Very strange.

        In spite of it all, though, people are drawn back to the comfort of home, even if it was conflicted in their youth. I hope nowadays the South can offer all people more comfort than conflict. Guns and violence are part of southern culture too. I realize that’s part of the landscape, and maybe has to be at times, but as for me I’d rather play music. Maybe everyone doesn’t like my music, but that’s okay. Everyone is entitled to their personal preferences. I suppose that would be considered a conflict for some people, but at least if folks don’t care for the mandolin no one dies over it.

        ‘Southern Flavor.’ (‘Comfort’) It’s a fine old tune. I think I’ll go learn a new version.

Dr. B

ADK- Harmony in the Hills (Four Part Harmony)

April 11, 2011

        I want to thank all the ADK folks for hosting a session about the book journey of “The Mandolin Case.” It was my first teacher convention and they made me feel right at home. The theme was “Harmony in the Hills,” so I fit right in. While I was there I found out they support great causes like St. Jude and the Food Bank, so I was all about being a part of their gig.

       Don’t tell my agent but I never did write down my outline. He knows I am always writing in my head and stays behind me to download it to paper. (I’m thankful for him, I’m a touch ADD and might not get it done otherwise.)

      So in keeping with the theme, I’ve decided to call the hour session “Four Part Harmony.” The four parts were as follows:

        1. Why I write

        2. How I became a writer

        3. How to get published (at least how I did) and

        4. How to use the Internet to promote your work.

        I opened with a song (not surprised there, huh?) then gave a synopsis of the plan. Then I introduced each section with a brief overview. At the end of each part I reviewed, played another song, took questions, then launched into the next segment. I kept an eye on my watch and kept each segment to about fifteen minutes.

          My wife was very pleased. “Honey, that’s the same technique teachers use in the classroom. How did you know to do that?”

        “I dunno. I figured they were teachers and when you’re in Rome you do as the Romans do.” (I never was a teacher except with my med students, but I’ve attended many a lecture in my time.) “I gotta admit they made it easy, though. They all paid attention and asked intelligent questions. No one threw paper airplanes at me or anything. They have to work a tougher crowd than I do, and I guess they wanted to make it as easy on me as possible.”

        So thanks again guys for a fun gig. My Mama was a teacher, and I fell in love with one years ago, so I always have liked teachers. Your banquet speaker said teachers have the opportunity to influence people more than any other profession and I agree. My life would have never been the same except for my teachers so here’s to you this Monday morning. Tell your students Doc said they better pay attention. You never know when the things you learn might come in handy.

Dr. B

A Book Gig for Teachers

April 8, 2011

        This weekend I have a book gig to talk to teachers about the process of writing a novel and the use of the Internet for the modern writer. Unbelievable! Back in the day my teachers all pulled their hair out to try to keep me in my seat and now they want to know how in the world some old Doc not only took up the writer gig, but managed to get a book to the top of the Amazon Country book chart.

       As usual I have been wild busy all week. Don’t tell my agent but I haven’t made my outline yet. I usually abandon it as soon as I figure out what the folks want to hear about anyway.

       As best I can tell, to create a physician bluegrass fiction writer mix in equal parts of 40-11 ICU call nights, hundreds of bluegrass festivals, the King James and the complete works  of Mark Twain, a pretty wife who can play the bass, two kids who love ice cream and helicopters, Three Musketeers worth of loyal employees, a zillion colo-rectal cancer screens, bunches of tears and lots of laughs, zany bluegrass boys, golf gamblers and card sharks, one part Choctaw Indian doctor who smokes and drinks too much, a couple of amused legal eagles, an exasperated agent, a big sister editor, and the best blog reader/writers on the planet, and then you’ve got a start on it.

        After that all I had to do was edit until I’d chipped away everything that didn’t read like a novel and voila there it was. 

        Warn’t nuttin’ to it. What would you want to hear if you were a teacher? Let me know by tomorrow. I worked way too hard this week and I’m unprepared at the moment. I’ll be ready though. My Marfar’s gonna be at the gig with me and all good little Southern boys do most everything they do to try to impress their girl.

Dr. B


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