Today I want to start a new category on my blog; writers I identify with. My long time lit hero is Mark Twain, but he was not available for an interview, so I decided to start with a hero I could talk to; Clyde Edgerton. Over the next few months I plan to cover several writers, and also get back to my book tour plans. I put those posts on hold while Julius was here on his med student rotation. He still has two weeks left, but he has also become more interested the Lit and bluegrass world while he is here. I like my personal mix to be 80% doc and 20% artist, and Julius is headed in the same direction.
In this series I am interested in how and why folks became writers. What is it that compels a human beings to write? For the most part writers struggle over manuscripts for years at lonely odd hours. They have no guarantee of any award other than the satisfaction they have created a story, but that thrill is more than adequate reward. For me writing offers a sliver of hope for a bit of earthy immortality. The thought my great-grandchildren might read my story someday drives me more far more than any hope of Earthly reward.
In many ways, Clyde Edgerton’s background is similar to mine. He grew up in a rural North Carolina, and loved to fish and play baseball. I once read many creative folks come from rural areas. I have often wondered if it was the freedom to run and play in the woods and a childhood of innocence and lack of fear that frees one up to be creative.
His childhood is described as idyllic. He was close to his mother, and also spent a lot of time outdoors with his Dad. On his web site he says as a youngster he hoped he might grow up to be pro baseball player or play in a rock n roll band. I can identify with that. I often tell my young patients who are not sure what they what to be when they grow up that I wanted to be a rock star but it didn’t work out. They always laugh. The image of old Doc as a rock star is so wildly improbable they never fail to get the idea; is is okay to dream of anything.
Some of my early memories of music are from when my mom played the piano. Mostly it was hymns. Whenever we had a birthday party she’d play ‘Happy Birthday,’ and I thought it was the coolest thing. Clyde Edgerton’s mom put him in piano just like my mom did. I wonder if Clyde was like me. I often skipped out on practice to play ball, a fact I regret now.
We both like to read as kids, but I don’t think either of us could be characterized as book worms. After that our paths begin to diverge. He became an English major at Carolina and began to write an an early age. He now has a number of book under his belt and a long list of awards old Doc couldn’t to live long enough to see. I wrote stories in grade school, but then put it aside and spent most of my life as a Doc. Still though, I always kept notes and scribbled down ideas. I knew I would come back to it someday, and after I turned fifty, the compulsion became stronger every year. I didn’t want to leave this Earth without compiling some sort of written record.
But in spite of his wild success as a writer, and my obscurity, I still feel a kinship. He is compelled to tell his mostly Southern story, and so am I. I am certain he writes because it is in his blood, and not for financial gain.
Perhaps an even more certain sign is his music. He plays with a bluegrass band, ‘The Rank Strangers.’ I have seen him play both both banjo and mandolin and my guess is he can play some guitar too. Most bluegrassers are that way. I saw him do ‘Columbus Stockade Blues’ when I was at the Southern Writers Conference in Chattanooga. Afterwards, I took my mandolin down front and we traded a few licks. In spite of magnificent sucess in the literary world, he remains a polite Southern gentleman who is respectful of his elders. As Lester would say, he ‘didn’t get above his raising,’ a high compliment in the bluegrass world.
Clyde Edgerton will be in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday Oct 24 for a book reading and to play with his band. I have a late afternoon gig that day, but I hope with some luck I might get to the end of the session. If I don’t, I will be there in spirit. Any baseball playing, mandolin picking writer is good by me.
Visit his website at www.clydeedgerton.com and pick up one of his books. He wrote ‘Raney,’ ‘Walking Across Egypt’ and many others. His new release, ‘The Bible Salesman,’ is one I plan to get to soon. Go to one of his book store gigs, and tell him Dr. B said to come by and sing one with him.
If you guys are familiar with his work I hope you will comment as to what you like about it. I am still learning as a writer. (I’m certain that will never end) As I go through my last edit on ‘The Mandolin Case,’ I enjoy thinking of your ideas as I work.
It is much like my mandolin lessons. When I play if someone says they believe Doc has been working with Darin Aldridge or Wayne Benson that tickles me because I know my playing has evolved. I am 100 % against plagiarism, but if someone were to read my writing and say, ‘I think Doc has been reading Clyde Edgerton,’ nothing would thrill me more. It’s like we say in bluegrass- ‘Only steal from the best.”
What makes a guy like Clyde Edgerton an author? How can I be one? What can I learn? As my agent says, you always learn from your readers. When I get there a large measure of credit goes to you, and I forever appreciate your comments.