Posted tagged ‘Rotary Club’

The Rotary Club is Just Like The Old Hometown

December 8, 2010

        I did my first Rotary Club gig, and it was just like the old hometown. In fact, it is the hometown of my music pal Darin Aldridge.

        It came about like these things often do. Someone told their cousin about “The Mandolin Case” and they told their sister down at the bank whose co-worker needed to come up with the Rotary Club program for December and she thought, “Hey, maybe we can get the world’s only physician bluegrass fiction writer to come talk to us ’cause I read on his blog he’s off on Wednesdays and maybe Darin Aldridge would come by and pick a tune with him.”

        And they were right on every count. I bet it was the first Rotary Club meeting in the history of the organization to have “Cherokee Shuffle” as the opening song.

        It was all great fun. Some fellow sat in for the Prez and told a couple funny tall tales to kick it off. I was reminded of the words of my agent. “People don’t understand why all these writers keep turning up from the South. It’s because they come from a long line of folks who tell stories.”

        This guy was good. How was I gonna follow him? For Heaven’s sake I ain’t Twain. I looked out over the crowd and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” I’m no professor or a scholar, although I could jabber a half hour as to the appropriate evaluation of persistent eosinophilia, but who’d want to hear about that?

        I decided to talk about why I write. “Maybe I’ve been a writer all my life,” I said. “I used to stay with my grandmother out on the farm and wrote up stories and got the little blue ribbons in grade school.” Perhaps I wanted to recapture some of my youth, although my track record is no better than Ponce de Leon’s.

        Like many teenaged boys I got interested in girls and guitars, decided being a writer wasn’t cool and put it aside for a while, but it always nagged at me to start back. I heard it in medical school, again in residency and then in practice; “You need to write a book.”

        As Jerry Clower used to say, “If you hear it three times its scripture.” The road from grade school blue ribbons to a novel is a long journey but I continued to plod along. I had no choice.

        I love people, and in an exam room I’m at ease to talk about constipation or any other subject, but I got a bit self-conscious in front of a crowd without a mandolin around my neck, so I called Darin up to play “Ragtime Annie.” It was in honor of Tag, one of the honest lawyers in “The Mandolin Case.” I got lost about half way through ’cause my mind drifted to what I needed to say next, but Darin banged out a big “G” run to get me back in the groove.

        I told them I was so pleased my writing had brought attention to my kind of music and about I’d become so interested in the Don Gibson theater and the Earl Scruggs Museum and how it has already led new people there, and how I believed it was gonna lead them to Cherryville, too. Darin and Brooke will host a festival there the first weekend of April that features several national acts like the Grascals, and it will attract visitors from all up and down the East Coast. 

        My agent told me not to read too much from the book, ’cause he’d heard so many writers drone on so bad they put the audience to sleep, but I did read my favorite passage. From Indie: “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.” Sometimes docs see so much suffering and death that it’d either wear you out or turn you to drinking if you couldn’t ventilate it all though writing and music.

       A bunch of them bought my book. I was humbled by their kind comments. One was a banker. I bet he’d consider a branch in Harvey County, even if it is small. Another bought a copy for her Dad. He was in the hospital and loved bluegrass music. We all said a quick prayer for his recovery. One was a dentist. I can promise you this man is on a mission. It ain’t like he’s into cosmetic dentistry for Hollywood stars, drives around in a Porsche car, and whines to reporters about his lot in life. An elderly lady (I define elderly as anyone eighteen months older than me) told me she was named after Old Dan Tucker. The raconteur bought one to take down to the Chamber of Commerce, and I gave him some extra postcards. He said he was gonna mail ’em out and tell folks there had been a Tommy Bibey sighting in Cherryville, N.C.

       As I packed up my gear I thought a lot about why I write. I don’t care if I sell three thousand or three million, although my agent can’t understand why I see it that way. It just isn’t a competitive venture for me. And let’s face it, Grisham ain’t laying awake a night worried I’m gonna overtake him. One reason is because through my writing I came to understand myself. Flaws and all, I like me okay and accept myself for what I am; every bit of me. 

        Along the way I’ve met some very bright people. Some of them were writers, and every so often one will be upset they haven’t sold enough books to suit ’em.  I don’t say much about it, but it seemed to me where they went wrong is they tried too hard to show people how much smarter they were than everyone else. 

        I wrote to try to understand how we are all alike. And as best I can tell, we’re all about the same. At least that’s what I figured out as I wrote.

       The Rotary Club was just like the old hometown. If you live anywhere within a couple of hours drive of mid North Carolina, and you’re in a sweat as to what to do with your turn at the Rotary Club program I’d love to come and resolve it for you for the day. If Darin is free I’ll bring him too.

        And if you meet on Wednesdays and have sweet tea and banana pudding like that Cherryville crowd, count me in.

Dr. B

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Physician Bluegrass Fiction Goes to the Rotary Club

November 28, 2010

        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