Physician Bluegrass Fiction Goes to the Rotary Club

        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.”

       “Yes, ma’am.”

        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.

Dr. B

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16 Comments on “Physician Bluegrass Fiction Goes to the Rotary Club”

  1. jel Says:

    just bee your self,
    “cause ya is what ya is~ and ya aint what ya aint”
    ( hear that line in a movie once~t) 😉

    is the The Rotary Club what Ray Stevens, wrote about in one of his songs?

    • drtombibey Says:


      Lord have mercy that is one of my all time favorite lines. Sometimes I say, “Be what ya is ’cause if ya ain’t what ya is ya ain’t.” (Same idea) I might just tell ’em a reader insisted I use it.

      Let’s see. I recall Ray Stevens singing about the First Self Righteous Church but I can’t quite recall. You might be right.

      Dr. B

  2. jel Says:

    I remember now, it was the Shriners, that he was singing about, “Cory and Bubb” who had on a fez with a propeller on top.

  3. marysfoster Says:

    You live in God’s country if you’re up in the mts in Carolina. Your blog reminds me… I heard Bill Monroe play Muleskinner Blues at a bg festival in Madison County back in the 80s. I love Asheville.

  4. Tombee flat Minor Says:

    Doc- I think that club is into reading, books for kids, etc. in a fairly big way. Maybe giving out dictionaries or something like that. So you should find a receptive audience.
    Tell ’em about the blog. You might get some new folks to check it out.

  5. Hey, Doc B! I wanted to say (belatedly, I know) that I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend. I’m finally back around here after my month long time away. Just today I was cleaning the books in my room (they’re mighty dusty) and I moved The Mandolin Case to a new place of honor – it’s right beside my computer, the first bookshelf I see when I look to my right.

    I think your agenda is fabulous – especially item no. 2. My biggest fear about having kids one day is that they won’t like to read the way I do…

    • drtombibey Says:


      Bless your heart, so good to hear from you, and glad you are doing well. Here’s to a wonderful holiday season for you.

      For “The Mandolin Case” to have that spot is such an honor. You were among the first regular readers of my blog.

      One day me and Marfar are gonna take you out to dinner.

      Dr. B

  6. souldipper Says:

    Just discovered you through Uzma.

    I love Mandolin Wind…it grabs me by the soul, pulls me out to the refreshing breezes of freedom and squeezes my heart til my eyes fill with tears.

    What respect your wrote into your description of the older woman. Bravo.

    • drtombibey Says:


      Hey I appreciate your visit and comment so much.

      I made most of my living with a stethoscope and I was serious about the doc gig, but the mandolin is what nourished my soul enough to keep me at it.

      I wish I could recall that lady’s name. She was a sweetheart. I guess part of my gig is I try to be nice to old folks ’cause I am one.

      But when I wind up in the nursing home come visit, ’cause we’re gonna have a jam session every Tuesday night right after the bingo game. I’m the old guy in the straw hat with the mandolin.

      Dr. B

  7. Felix Miller Says:

    Art can help the decent prevail.

    Great words, Doctor B. Life has a lot of hard things to endure, you have to put your shoulder to the wheel and push. Art expands your life, and shows truths to help you bear those things you cannot change, and change those you can.

    Talking about our meeting in Chattanooga, Barbara and I feel that was one of the better days for us in the past several years. The 2011 edition of the Southern Literature Conference in Chattanooga takes place April 14-16. No word on the participants yet, maybe the world’s only physician bluegrass fiction writer could make the gig.

    Keep on pickin’ and writin’ Doc.

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