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Don’t Despise Small Things

The book that started my literary career. It’s still available on Amazon!

It was a small thing, it was a big thing, it was one of the most memorable and important days of my life. Oh, no one understood my excitement. Most just “ho-hummed” when I announced the news. But for me, it altered my life’s trajectory and launched me on an orbit in which I continue today.

What was this big, small thing? A short devotional I sold to The Upper Room, a United Methodist publication, back in the 1980s. Though I was only paid $10 for it, it convinced me I could get paid for my writing. Since childhood, I’ve wanted to be a writer. All it took was this one small thing to start me on a professional literary career.

During a summer break from teaching school, I wandered into a bookstore and happened upon a book titled Writing to Inspire, a collection of articles written by then-leaders in the Christian literary industry. I picked it up out of curiosity and thumbed through its pages.

My eyes hit upon a chapter on devotional writing. The chapter’s author? Mary Lou Redding, editor of The Upper Room. Well, since my background is Methodist, I was familiar with this little publication. I purchased the book, took it home, and read the chapter. Maybe I could write for this magazine, I thought.

Following Mary Lou’s tips, I wrote the article. After I typed it out on my electric typewriter, I submitted it with SASE (Self-addressed, stamped envelope). A few months later, I received an acceptance letter. And a few months after this, once my article was published, a check arrived in my mailbox! My long-dormant desire to become a professional writer resurfaced. I was off and running.

While I wrote and submitted more articles, I also took correspondence and college courses, subscribed to writing magazines, and studied the craft. Another year passed before I sold my second article. Because I’d learned to expect rejections, though, their sting didn’t hurt as bad. I’ve received a load of rejections, but the Lord has blessed me with bylines as well.

If there’s one thing this experience taught me, it’s this: don’t despise small things, because small things can lead to bigger things in the future, like they did for me. Short articles such as devotionals have their own challenges and are hard to write.

Don’t let the “ho-hummers” discourage you, either. If God has called you to write, if He’s put that literary drive in you, He’ll bless you in your efforts. Most non-writers/non-readers don’t understand writing and writers, but the Lord does. Having His blessing and approval is, after all, all that matters.

Till next week, friends, keep on writing!

Robert E. Lee: A Few Facts

Robert Edward Lee
Boll Weevil Monument., Enterprise, Alabama
Mary Anna Custis Lee (Mrs. Robert E. Lee)

I am not in the business of starting arguments, nor do I enjoy arguing because I find it a waste of time. However, I am deeply troubled by those who would take down monuments of any person who contributed to our nation’s history, no matter who that person was. Like Jesus said to those who brought a woman to him, accusing her of adultery: “…He that is without sin among you, let him cast a stone at her”(John 8:7, KJV).

If we take down every monument of every person who’s done something someone doesn’t like, then hey, I know of only one monument that will likely remain standing in the end. It’s the only monument in America that honors an insect, the Boll Weevil Monument, located in the small town of Enterprise, Alabama. No one is perfect, not even those who helped build our country and make it what it is today.

Recently, I read an article about efforts to take down a monument of Robert E. Lee in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where the battle of Antietam was fought in 1862. This battle was the bloodiest single day of the war.

Lt. Colonel Robert E. Lee, 1851

Let me share a few facts about Lee. First, though, let me say that as a historian I don’t take sides in this conflict. I’m only interested in facts and events. And don’t expect me to argue with those who disagree, because I won’t. My list isn’t thorough. But, well, here we go.

Henry Lee III, aka “Light-Horse Harry”
  1. 1. Lee was the son of a famous Revolutionary War hero, “Light-Horse Harry” Lee. Though he was born on a Virginia estate called Stratford Hall, Robert Edward Lee only lived there for the first two or three years of his life. His father fell onto hard times financially and lost most of his wealth. Harry struggled to regain his former wealth, but failed in his attempts. Thus, Robert E. Lee came from a prominent Virginia family. However, he was not wealthy when he grew older. As a professional soldier, he didn’t make a lot of money, not even as an officer.
  2. His wife was Mary Anna Custis, the only child of George Washington Parke Custis. She was related to Martha Washington, our first president’s wife, through Martha’s first marriage.
  3. As a cadet at West Point, Robert E. Lee graduated second in his class and never received a demerit. When you compare his scores with Charles Mason, the cadet who finished first, it’s clear that Lee almost beat him for the top spot. Their scores were close. Unlike Lee, Mason never pursued a professional military career.
  4. Because he was a soldier, Lee didn’t spend a lot of time at Arlington. The army deployed him to numerous military posts throughout his career. He did spend a few years in Arlington, though, and visited whenever he could. He didn’t own this home till 1857, after his father-in-law died.
  5. An army engineer, he designed forts such as Fort Pulaski on Cockspur Island, which defended the Savannah River. He also served as the superintendent of West Point.
  6. He was a hero of the Mexican-American War, serving under General Winfield Scott. Lee, in his day, was considered one of America’s finest soldiers.
  7. Lee was not a brutal slave owner, as some people claim. After he inherited Arlington from George Washington Parke Custis, he freed its slaves in accordance with G.W.P.C.’s will. It didn’t happen as quickly as Lee would’ve wanted it to because his father-in-law was deep in debt and the Virginia court delayed in settling his father-in-law’s will. Also, by this time his wife Mary was suffering horrible pain from severe arthritis. Until his father-in-law’s estate was settled, Lee hired out the slaves for wages in various parts of Virginia. Upon the will’s execution, he emancipated all of the slaves.
  8. Though he disliked slavery, he believed loyalty to his state trumped loyalty to the Union, which is why he threw in his lot with Virginia after it seceded. Loyalty to state over the union was a commonly held view in Lee’s era, and at the time secession wasn’t illegal.
  9. After the war, he became president of what is now Washington and Lee University. He worked hard to bring reconciliation between North and South.
  10. He was a deeply religious man. He also had a certain gentleness about him. During the Civil War’s early days, his soldiers called him “Granny Lee.” Once he started winning battles, however, and showed aggressiveness in combat, this mockery turned to admiration and such name-calling ceased.
General Robert E. Lee astride his famous horse, Traveller. Traveller outlived Lee and drew Lee’s hearse at his funeral in 1870.

There are many Union figures I have a lot of respect for as well–General Ulysses S. Grant, Admirals David G. Farragut and Andrew Hull Foote, just to name a few. Getting rid of monuments is not the way to go. Doing this will not change hearts or attitudes — only Jesus can and will do that if we give ourselves to Him. I’m not posting this to start an argument. I’m posting it out of concern for how political correctness, this erasing of history and rewriting it is one of the reasons why our beloved United States is in the trouble that it’s in. I’m for keeping up all the monuments to all the great Americans who made significant contributions to our country, no matter who they are. No man or woman is perfect, but we cannot forget our history–both the bad and the good. And yes, we need to keep the Boll Weevil Monument also, but how and why that monument came about is another story for another day. I might share it in a future post

Sources

Stern, Philip Van Doren. Robert E. Lee: The Man and the Soldier. Bonanza Books, a division of Crown Publishers, Inc., by arrangement with McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1963.

Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray. Louisiana State University Press: Baton Rouge, 1970.

Not Everyone Should

Serious writers who’ve been in this business for any length of time quickly learn that most folks don’t respect the hard work that goes into our craft. Those non-writers who do respect the craft are usually avid, serious readers, though I know a few non-readers who respect it, too (but not many). At least, this has been my experience. Sadly, such serious readers are in the minority these days.

Although I’m an indie author, which I love, I’ve also been published traditionally. Hey, I started back in the early 1980s before desktop and laptop computers. One of the downsides of indie books, though, is that anyone can publish a book now. Good for us professional writers, sure, but bad for the indie industry as a whole, I think.

Why do I say this? Because these days, since anyone can write and publish a book, too many people write them who shouldn’t. Why not? Because they don’t understand writing basics, nor have they bothered to study the craft, nor have they worked to improve. Lots of indie books appear thrown together without any revision, little or no research, and scant attention paid to plot, characterization, and similar things. An unpolished indie book reflects poorly on the indie industry as a whole. Therefore, just because a person can have their book published doesn’t mean they should. That being said, if a person invests the necessary time to practice and study the craft…then definitely, going indie is great.

And this brings me back to what I said in my first paragraph. Oftentimes, when people hear that a friend has had an indie book published, the word “poorly written” comes to their minds. Why? Because they’ve purchased a poorly written indie book in the past. Thus, even though a person may be a serious reader, if he/she isn’t familiar with our work, it may get passed over for a more familiar author. The potential reader automatically assumes we wrote an amateurish book.

As professional indie authors, then, we need to write at the very top of our game. We need to promote our books at the top of our game as well. Approach our writing with a professional attitude, work like a professional writer, and we’ll reap numerous benefits in return.

I know this sounds strange, but it’s something I learned at a writers conference when I started out in the ‘80s—I dress professionally when I enter my writing office. I find that I’m more productive when I’m wearing a nice shirt and trousers (sometimes even a tie and/or blazer) than I am when I wear a beat-up polo shirt and jeans. Writing is a profession, and it’s a calling. Ignore what others may think and say. Be professional in all things pertaining to writing. It pays off in the end!

Benjamin Franklin on Reading

Found a wonderful quote from Benjamin Franklin, which I think is just as true today as it was in his day (though some may disagree).


“The person who deserves most pity is a lonesome one on a rainy day who doesn’t know how to read.” Benjamin Franklin

Experience Life!

We writers can’t be recluses. Oh, but weren’t we supposed to sit in our office, away from the hubbub of civilization, and compose articles, stories, poems, and books? Well, I don’t know about being away from the hubbub of civilization part, because some writers write best in a noisy environment, but yes, we must write every day. I work best in the quiet of my own office, away from “noisy civilization.”

However, if all we do is withdraw from society and write, our oasis of inspiration will eventually evaporate, leaving us with a dry spell and nothing to write about. It’s vital that we get away from our laptops from time to time and experience new things.

For example, I once rode Amtrak from New Orleans to Chicago to attend a writers’ conference. Am I afraid of flying? No, I’m not. I’ve flown numerous times. My father was a private pilot, and I’ve flown overseas and in the continental United States on commercial jets. Flying? No problem. But I’d never traveled anywhere by train, so I decided I’d go Amtrak just for the experience.

Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

During this trip, I met many interesting people with whom I engaged in conversation. I also made notes about the train on a spiral notebook for future use in case I ever decided to use a train in a story. I noted the train’s sounds, what its dining car looked like, the food that was served, etc.

So, why not find something different to do every now and then? Experience life. Even make notes if you have to. Who knows? Inspiration for a story may hit all of a sudden. New experiences help make all of us better writers.

Priority: Beauregard

Sunday, March 3, 2019 will forever remain in my memory much like August 25, 2005 does.

On August 25, when I lived in the New Orleans area, Hurricane Katrina smashed the city. It was a Category 4 storm, the second-strongest category in the hurricane rankings.

On March 3, 2019, an EF4 tornado struck the small town of Beauregard, Alabama, just three counties from where I now live. Its winds roared in at 170 mph, the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane(the strongest), and the second-strongest storm on the tornadic scale. A monster of a storm, it was!

Exhausted after a sleepless night, not from worry but because writing ideas and plot problems kept swirling through my head till morning, I dragged myself to church that Sunday, March 3, about a thirty-minute drive to Montgomery. Rain pelted my car, wind howled. Ordinarily, I’d have returned home after church, but my pastor called a special meeting with us lay leaders. So, I stayed with a friend during that stormy day and got a little rest till meeting time.

Upon my return home early that evening, I found an urgent message in my email’s inbox. My sister’s note was brief: my brother-in-law’s farm received a direct hit from a tornado. My nephew, his two sons, and their dog, Emma, were there when it smashed the farmhouse. Thankfully, because they hid in its closet (except for Emma who refused to join them), they survived. Emma lived through it, too. According to my brother-in-law, the eye of the storm came within one-hundred yards of the house. I’m grateful to the Lord everyone in my family survived this tragedy. Had the storm come any closer, my three nephews might have been numbered among those who perished.

What does this tragedy have to do with writing? Well, it explains why I didn’t post anything last week. The week the storm hit, I did very little writing. Family was my priority then.

If we want to succeed as writers, writing must be our priority—near the top of our list. However, as Christian writers we can’t make it an idol. Church attendance, worship, prayer and Bible study should always be our first priority. Also, we must always be willing to serve others.

My priority last week was helping my family clean up from the tragedy. This meant putting my writing schedule on the backburner for a while. We Christian writers must learn how to balance our priorities. We can’t always be available for every service project. We must know when to say “yes” to service opportunities and when to say “no,” and we can get burned out by saying “yes” to everything that comes our way. This causes our writing to suffer.

When to say “yes” and when to say “no,” though, is an individual matter. For me, I didn’t have to think twice. My family needed me, so I made myself available. I’m also grateful for all the friends and other family members who came to help. Now, I’m back to writing again.

My brother-in-law told his story on Montgomery, Alabama’s local news channel, WSFA. To watch it, click on this link: http://www.wsfa.com/2019/03/05/family-survives-tornado-that-destroyed-lee-county-farm/?fbclid=IwAR15kh1i3-oYY2GifeUlEppkXBf8B2ESo-SUCXgwI6uP4_oEp30Ix7eGhAE

Till next week, friends, keep on writing!