You Might be Ready To Be a Writer When…. (Cuttin’ a Wide Southern Swath)
You might be a writer and a book peddler when you check the Weather Channel and realize a major storm is on the way and it might snow you in and tangle up your gig, so you toss three boxes of books and your mandolin in the car along with your lap-top, stuff a handful of duds in a duffel bag, then rush out and try to beat the storm. You realize in your haste you forgot to pack any pants other than the ones you have on, so you stop a hundred miles down the road at the Walmart for some new threads where you tell the customers they need Tommy Bibey books in the store.
You’re on towards a high-falutin’ famous author when you’re stranded in Atlanta two days ’cause you miscalculated the exact hour the snow would blow in, and you had stop along the route to pee three times instead of two. You get caught in a blizzard where the MARTA buses swapped ends and blocked “Spaghetti Junction” in the worst storm in twenty years and the 18 wheelers on I-285 are frozen solid to the Interstate and have to be dug out one at a time by the DOT.
But you, one brave solitary writer that you are, along with your fine wife, slip-slide up the down ramp and snag the last room at the Airport Hilton. You view the situation as one big fortuitous circumstance; as a writer you see it as a book peddler land of opportunity ’cause you and your mandolin are the only entertainment in the lobby.
Everyone was on edge ’cause of the rush, the weather, and the inconvenience, but the music renders a strange calm to the chaos. Several folks buy your book. You aren’t sure if they really like it, felt sorry for you, or just came over to check it all out because of the music and the fact you were parked right next to the warm fireplace. Maybe they just wanted you to go away. (To be a successful book salesperson you have to calculate at what point your pitch borders on obnoxious and stop just shy of that)
You’re ready to be a Literature pitchman when they only restaurant open in Atlanta metro area is the Waffle House and they are so over-worked your wife offers to help ’em bus tables. (The boss wouldn’t allow) You play ’em a song, leave ’em a card, thank ’em for that fine coffee, tell ’em everyone knows the Waffle House is the bluegrass breakfast of champions, then recommend they read Tommy Bibey when the spring thaw comes. You get in the parking lot, and step back inside. “By the way guys, ask corporate to consider a bluegrass coffee sponsorship for the Tommy Bibey tour.”
They you wave goodbye, slide back down the off ramp, and escape town while you have a two-hour one degree above freezing window of opportunity.
When you break into the clear in the sunny Southland a hundred-fifty miles south of Hotlanta you stop at a feed and seed to get a “Big Al’s Strawberry Alligator Ice” and a bag of cashews. It looks like some kinda tropical oasis and reminds you of the Sun Drop Slushies back in Harvey County. If you feel like that’s high cotton and better than an invitation to snorkel with the rich and famous at some exotic beach, you might be a southern writer.
It’s just like home; a sign out front sports ads for Marvin’s live minnows, Happy Jack dog food, and Bud Light. You leave ’em a card and tell ’em the bluegrass people know the truth. In the rearview you watch as they scratch their heads and turn the card over with a curious look that seems to say, “Who was that masked man?”
You’re a writer when you drive halfway across the South and four states through the snow to have a chance to talk to school kids about books rather than a bunch of rich guys at a some bank ’cause you have this hopeless romantic notion your words will somehow make the world a touch kinder.
You’re ready to be a writer when you fall head over heels in love with a cool independent book store like Reed’s Gum Tree Book Store in Tupelo, the home bookstore of John Grisham and Elvis for Heaven’s sake. All the best pickers in that neck of the woods, “The Saltillo Circuit Riders” show up in force. It’s not every day the world’s only physician bluegrass fiction writer is in town, and they want to show support for one of one of their own. Me and Smitty get our picture taken with Elvis; I’ll post it soon.
You leave behind a dozen signed copies and hope maybe Mr. Reed, the mayor, John Grisham and every good-hearted school teacher in Mississippi will scarf ’em up. I loved Mississippi. As Pa Smith says, “Come to Mississippi. We have so many ways to treat you good you’re bound to like one of ’em.”
As a writer you dream you might be a small part of something bigger than you; a place where smart people exchange intellectual ideas instead of venom. Reed’s was like that.
You’re a writer if you sow seeds and plant word trees when you know quite well it’s unlikely you’ll be around long enough to partake of the shade. You do it ’cause you can’t bear for the dream to die when you do.
You’re a writer when your best little young country music friends like Miss Megan say, “Doc, the reason this gig works is you and Marfar are playing. It ain’t work for you. Have fun; go for it.”
You do it because that’s what you are. You don’t write for money. You write because when you get home, you say to your tireless life-long sidekick, “Hon, I’m beat. As best as I can figure if you include the royalty check that came in the mail while we were gone we only lost $273.34 on the trip.”
And she smiles and says, “Yes, dear, but we’re living large. When’s the next gig?”
“Let’s see. Bluegrass First Class. February, Asheville. Can’t wait. But for now, I gotta jump into a phone booth and turn into a doctor.”
She shakes her head, laughs, and replies, “Able to leap tall buildings….”
“Yeah, hide the kryptonite kiddo, Doc ain’t done for yet.”
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