It’s Howdy Doody time!

Howdy Doody

This is something about this time of year that makes me so juvenile.

Thank goodness, however, at least 85 percent of the year, I remain low key. I’m a quiet person. I rarely speak. People accuse me of being shy. I’m not.

I’m just an observer. I write, so I’m always taking notes. Who knows? The next person I meet may just show up in my next story.

It’s the other 15 percent of the time I have to worry about. I’m so juvenile during this time that I annoy myself. 

But, hey, I can’t resist a good prank.

Many years ago Kenny and I worked with a small church outside of Manchester. Our nonexistent youth budget allowed us no luxuries like camps or concerts, so we made our own fun. We only had a few kids in our youth group—all of them are now grown adults and several of them our very good friends. To have fun, we occasionally invited the crew to go out for pizza, or we held casual get-togethers in our home.

I remember one occasion vividly. My older son Josh was just a toddler at the time, and we decided to meet our youth group kids at Pizza Hut for a Saturday get together. We ordered our meals and had a great time just sitting around talking. But that wasn’t enough.

We had to ramp up the excitement. It didn’t take long for me and Kenny to devise a plan. He was supposed to go outside and hide behind the cars and then spring up and surprise the unsuspecting teens. My job was to detain them just long enough for him to get situated.

Simple enough.

When it was time to leave, we all got up, sans Kenny, who was already outside, plotting. I told the kids he had to go check on something. It wasn’t really a lie because he was checking on something—his hiding spot.

When we exited the building, I couldn’t find Kenny. The brothers who owned the car were chatting non stop, telling our group this or that, not paying attention to me or their car. I tuned them out, worried because I couldn’t find my husband.

Then I saw it—a small, wooden Howdy Doody doll, rising up and down out of the backseat of the brothers’ car. (Then I remembered that one of the two brothers was a collector of antiques.)

My juvenile tendencies took over, and I was trying hard to hold back my giggles. I knew Kenny was hiding in the backseat of the car and was helping Howdy Doody find his way into the back window. The problem was I couldn’t sync the boys’ attention with the rise of Howdy Doody.

Every time I made them look in the direction of the car, Howdy Doody fell down. When they turned back toward me, Howdy Doody rose again. Finally, Kenny caught my attention, and the look on his face told me he was giving up. I shrugged, ready to call it quits too.

The boys finished their conversation and walked over to their car. As one of them prepared to open the driver’s door, Kenny and Howdy Doody both popped up out of the backseat, unaware that the driver’s door was about to open.

I don’t know who was more startled.

Never before had I heard such high notes coming out of such masculine bodies. The brothers were screaming bloody murder, and the youth director was out of the car and on his knees in the Pizza Hut parking lot, erupting in laughter.

The other Pizza Hut customers didn’t know what to make of the situation. I think a few of them may have been trying to flag down the police.

My poor little Josh was in tears because his daddy was rolling around in the parking lot, and the two boys from the youth group were in total freak-out mode. I couldn’t even comfort him because I couldn’t breathe. It was too funny.

So, yes, I’m juvenile—but only 15 percent of the time. I’m good the other 85 percent, downright austere if need be. But I come by it honestly. Most of my aunts and uncles on the Bell side are pranksters. We like to laugh.

I know I shouldn’t, but you have to admit there is small bit of enjoyment that comes with terrifying the younger generation.

Many, many years ago, one of my best students made a Julius Caesar bust out of clay. She painted it in bronze and turned it in for a stellar grade. I know it’s not natural for a teacher to use student projects as torture devices, but, hey, if the situation presents itself….

As much as I liked the bust of Julius Caesar, it kind of creeped me out. You see, it’s a little on the demonic side. I think it’s because the bust doesn’t really have eyes. It’s just weird.

Et tu Brute?

One evening we met with our youth group, including the same two brothers. They stayed late to talk about some pretty heavy topics.

As much as I tried to hold it back, I ran with the idea and took Julius out to their car and positioned him behind the steering wheel so that he was looking out the driver’s window.

It was close to midnight, the witching hour, when the guys left our house. Our topic of conversation had turned to the supernatural. We were all feeling a little bit spooked. You can only imagine the look on their faces when demonic Julius looked at them with his non-eyes. It was so funny!

Or maybe you just had to have been there.

I’m just thankful that both of them have forgiven me, but it’s not like they didn’t try to retaliate. Thank goodness we’ve matured into responsible adults, who have no time for such tom foolery. Well, two of us four have matured into responsible adults, sans the tom foolery. The remaining two still occasionally plot.

As for Julius Caesar, he still gets around. He spent a little time with these same boys, who thought it might be funny to surprise their mother by placing him in her bathroom late one night. She didn’t get their humor.

Julius is back at home now, but now that my two sons have grown into pranksters themselves, he occasionally sports costumes and shows up in random places in our house. Right now he sits above our washer and dryer and wears a rock star black wig and a funky looking straw hat that reminds me of a British pith helmet.

He’s just waiting–waiting for my 15 percent of tom foolery to kick in.

Julius Rocker in a Pith Helmet

Make a Difference Day

Justin made a difference by working with Postcrossing to send postcards to Reagyn, a fifth grade student from London, Ohio. She has a stage three brain tumor, and she and her family recently had to move to Virginia so that she could receive radiation special treatments. Her teacher wanted to do something to make her feel special, so when Reagyn asked for help in collecting postcards from all over the world, the teacher recruited help from other Postcrossing collectors. (She is still accepting postcards, so check the link at the end of the blog if you would like to help.)


Today is Make a Difference Day, the Nation’s Largest Day of Service.

Thanks to USA WEEKEND, who came up with idea, people all across the United States are working together to help their neighbors in need.

If you’re interested in joining in, please visit the official Make a Difference Day website:

While you are there, be sure to check out the information about reporting the results of your project. Participants are eligible to receive $10,000 for a charitable donation. (Sorry, you don’t get to keep it.) It’s really easy to join in and to be counted among the many others who are making a difference October 23.

The folks at USA Weekend require their participants to actually be involved on October 23. My students, however, have so many activities filling their weekends that they have taken time this week to perform random acts of kindness, such as washing their teachers’ desks, helping their teachers transport items for our recent Homecoming Day activities and volunteering time to help their clubs raise money. Some of this money will be used for the Thanksgiving food drive and various Christmas projects.

Justin (pictured at the top of this blog) chose to send a postcard to a very sick child who requested to collect postcards from the world. He found her story, as told through her teacher, from Postcrossing. Postcrossing: The Postcard Crossing Project is a fun project year around and nationwide. Participants must first create an account and request and address and Postcard ID. They mail the postcard to that address. A postcard will then be mailed to them. Participants register their Postcard ID they received, and follow the same steps to receive more postcards.

Other people who have joined in the fun say it’s almost like Christmas when the postcards begin to arrive. The postcards both encourage and brighten the day of the receiver (and sender). Teachers can get on board and create a project for their students of all ages. An entire class can “travel the world” without stepping outside their classroom.

For more information, please visit this site:

Please consider making a difference in someone else’s life. Be sure to leave a comment so that you might encourage others to do the same.

Congratulations to all of you for making a difference in someone else’s life. You made a difference in mine by just commenting on my blog. Keep up the great work. I hope that someone will surprise you next week with something special that lifts your spirits.

Casey won a copy of the Max Lucado DVD, Christmas Child. Yes, believe it or not, Christmas is just around the corner. Make a Difference Day is a just sneak peek into the season of giving.

Monday Mentor: TCup Grosch


Today’s Monday Mentor takes a different approach. As I was doing research for my manuscript, The Edge, I turned to TCup, who was kind enough to answer my basic questions about parkour. Like the main character in my book, he too is a traceur.

 In case you don’t know, a traceur refers to a guy who practices parkour. Parkour is a sport that involves using one’s body to get past obstacles, either mental or physical, by running, jumping, rolling, climbing, etc. As I learned more about parkour, I soon realized that the philosophy behind the sport is a philosophy that I could adapt toward life.

Parkour requires the athlete to train and to stay focused so that he or she can be prepared to deal with problems as they arise. Most athletes are fairly young because the sport requires a lot from the body. But anyone can benefit from even the basic concepts.

Writers are faced with “obstacles” with every plot turn. Sometimes we simply shut off the computer and grab chocolate instead of working our way over what’s in our path. Adopting a parkour philosophy can make us stronger, more creative writers.

And if you want to take it a step further, the parkour philopsphy can make us better disciples of Christ. The traceur’s motto is “Être fort pour être utile.” Translated, the motto says you have to be strong to be useful. I associate the principle with “I can do all things through Christ,” but that’s just my personal philosophy.

Many thanks go to TCup for helping my readers (and hopefully future readers) learn more about parkour.

 How were you introduced to parkour?

I was introduced to parkour as a sport a few years ago, when I saw an Internet video of a guy doing some crazy stunts off buildings. We later went to New Orleans on a mission trip, and my friends and I taught ourselves how to climb up onto the building where we were staying. We were able to make our way across the roof, jump off the building, and land without breaking anything. On a side note that was the best game of capture the flag ever!

But when I looked back even further, I realized that I had been doing these moves almost my whole life, not intentionally, but whenever I would bob or weave through a rail or hang out on the jungle gym as a kid.

 Are you saying many of the parkour moves are basically natural?

When you’re running and climbing on stuff, you get a feel for the basic move sets for parkour. I feel like it’s the same thing, just on a much bigger scale. Now I grab rails and jump off of things whenever I can, that is, unless there are masses of people around that would point and laugh if I messed up and hurt myself. (It happens… a lot.)

 Do parkour athletes train alone or in groups?

I tried to find a parkour clan near Nashville so that if I was going to run around and look like an idiot, at least I wouldn’t be alone. I’ve heard it’s better to run in small groups of 2-4 people anyway. You’re supposed to get a better feel for how you can overcome obstacles when you see other people doing it.  Then you can try it yourself. It makes sense, but I still haven’t heard back from any of the groups I tried to contact.

How is parkour different from other sports?

For people with a history in sports, it’s much, MUCH different than anything else out there. I can’t think of any other sport that uses the same skill sets as parkour. Although it helps a lot to be physically fit, you’ll still have to train your body through the steps of the moves.

 Is there an age limit for this sport?

While it does help to be in shape, I don’t think there is an “age limit” to free running. I mean if you feel that you’re up to it, then you probably are. Everyone should take it easy at first, to get a feel for it. During the introductory period, you could easily decide if want to keep learning or not.

What does parkour do for you?

Once I get really focused on running, the adrenaline kicks in, and the moves start coming more and more naturally I get a feeling that I wish everyone could feel at least once in their life. I can only describe this feeling as a euphoria, which is what really draws me to free running.  It’s when I feel like I’m in tune with everything around. me. (Typing this makes me realize I may be an adrenaline junkie.)

Do people have to change their lives to practice parkour?

Learning parkour isn’t what I would describe as life changing. Aside from having people stare at you when you jump off of something, it really doesn’t affect a person’s schedule or anything like that. Unless your planning on devoting masses of time to practice, or if a person was really good and went professional, it shouldn’t affect you that much. As for me, I don’t think it has at all, with the exception of practice time.

How can people learn more about parkour?

It isn’t as popular of a sport as is should be in my opinion, which means that there is only a very limited number of instructional videos and things like that, so my answer on where to learn things would be the Internet. I know it’s shallow, but Internet videos are usually accurate when it comes to that kind of thing. After that, the best thing to do would be just to get out and try stuff, whatever you think you can handle.

So you really think anyone can do something that involves the very basics of parkour?

Humans were built for this kind of thing. You just have to—I guess for lack of better terms__un-train yourself. (That makes it sound like we’re de-evolving or something.) Parkour has so many different levels from “professional” to all the way down to “that kid that jumps off the rail every day after school.”

So for beginners, it’s not like other sports where you’re trying to push your limits. It’s knowing your limits first and then expanding slowly. I know I sound like one of those lame instructional videos, but learning your abilities is the difference between doing an epic leap off of a building and showing up on the news as an idiot who tried a ridiculous stunt.

Personal note: Check out this site if you’d like a taste of what parkour is all about.

I think I’m henpecked!

Today the three of us, Kenny, Michael and I, took a little trip to Franklin, Tennessee, to visit one of our favorite out-of-the way spots, the Henpeck Market. Located at 1268 Lewisburg Pike, the market is an eclectic assortment of happiness.

At first glance, visitors might mistake the two-story Victorian structure for a cozy home. But the gas pumps out front are a dead give-away that there’s more to this quaint little establishment than a family dwelling.

They really do have EVERYTHING!

Actually, family is what this place is all about. At one time Don and Jackie Gregory and their family lived above the store/restaurant, but now the upstairs is home to a gallery of unique gifts called The Loft.

It's not too early to make your Christmas gift list.

If you’re looking for a special gift for baby, one that doesn’t scream Walmart or Target, then this is the spot to shop. There are gifts for every member of the family: artists, sports fans, soccer moms, teens, etc.

Not your run-of-the-mill gifts

I’m always drawn to the jewelry and the tees. I’m all about wearing art. There is so much to choose from with a wide variety of prices that will suit all budgets.

But The Loft is just part of the experience. Downstairs is where most of the action takes place. The moment you walk through the doors, you’ll rub elbows with patrons and employees of all ages. There’s a place for everyone. Everyone fits in. It is the epitome of cozy atmosphere.

Kick back, relax...

Enjoy a cup of coffee...

Far behind the register is a kitchen where the staff prepares gourmet meals to eat in or to take out. We couldn’t decide what to order, but we narrowed our choices to the Bleu Bird (turkey with bacon and bleu cheese) and the homemade pimento cheese with bacon and tomato. We ordered both on artisan bread.

Eat in or take out.

We split them, each taking a half. We couldn’t have been more pleased with our selection had we gone to a New York deli. The sandwiches were amazing.

It’s all yumscious!

The next time I go, I may be tempted to order The Elvis, skillet-fried, thick-sliced bologna topped with Pepper Jack cheese, mayo and tomato. I know I’ll be saying thank you, thank you very much.

It may seem weird, but I don’t go to the Henpeck Market to buy gas or to visit The Loft or even to sample food. I go because of the ambiance. Every time I walk in the market, I feel a surge of creativity and peace sweep over me.

It’s just a happy place. In fact, the motto there is “Simply Living Life.”

Peaceful, easy feeling

Franklin just exudes creativity—and so does the Henpeck Market. When I need to recharge my creative battery, that’s where I want to go.

But what I really like about this little place is that the owners aren’t ashamed of the Gospel. They boldly proclaim Christ’s love through their actions and through the art work scattered throughout the place.

I feel God’s presence and His peace every time I walk through the doors.

I don’t usually plug establishments in my blog, but the Henpeck Market holds a special place in my heart. If you happen to go, please tell them that the short, little blond woman running around with the camera really did feature them in her blog.

Maybe they won’t think I’m that crazy.

Let me know if you make the trip, and please share your go-to places for creativity. We may have to get together and plan a road trip.

For more information, please visit The Henpeck Market website:


When you look in the mirror, who do you see?

One of the most uncomfortable consequences about being a writer or wanting to be a writer is that a writer must make herself vulnerable to the world. That’s right. Once the words spill out, they lie there naked, waiting to criticized.


If I have any advice to bequeath to a beginner, it is this:  Develop thick skin, rhino skin. That’s the area I’m working on. Oh, writing is great—when readers have positive things to say, but when the writer is misunderstood, well then, the rhino skin repels the fiery darts.

There is a fine line between confidence and bragging, another fine line between concern and whining. Writers should be “oh so careful” not to cross that line. I have the words “More of You, Less of Me” on a Post-It note on my computer. I have to remind myself that God allows me to write. I’m not entitled to this pleasure. It is a gift.

It’s better to take “me” out of the picture and to focus on the craft.

One of the best things I like about interviewing people and writing about their lives is that I can hide behind the story. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes with publication of any type of writing. But when I write about other people, I’m baring their souls, not my own. My byline gets lost below the headline and somewhere among the pictures. I kind of like that.

But writing fiction is another story. The writer is put in the limelight, ready to be torn apart or to be set upon a pedestal. Either situation can be dangerous.

A beginning writer like myself is too easily reminded of how far she is from perfection or publication. It’s too easy to become consumed with oneself.

So instead of talking about me, I would rather turn our attention to a special day, Make a Difference Day 2010, sponsored by USA Weekend and the Hands On Network. This year’s day falls on October 23, 2010.

As a teacher, I have encouraged my students to participate in Make a Difference Day for several years. My students have used their time and talents to sing at nursing homes, to read to people with vision problems, to clean up the park, to rake the yards of elderly neighbors, to visit nursing homes, etc. Some of my students have even made the day a family affair. That’s cool.

What I like about Make a Difference Day is that I can get over myself and can help others at the same time.

I challenge you to get involved in Make a Difference Day. If you can’t participate on October 23, choose another day leading up to that weekend and participate then. I will share some of ways my students are making a difference on October 23. Why don’t you join in?

I feel a contest coming on for October 23. More details will follow.

Make a Difference Day typically involves hands-on help, but we can make a difference just by extending gratitude or kindness through our words, not just our actions.

There are three types of people who take my heart:

  1. The person who helps me fit in even when I don’t
  2. The person who encourages me when I fail
  3. The person who says “thank you” (or shows it through actions) when I offer a gift—not so much a material gift, but the gift of my trust

Who has made a difference in your life?

Maybe in appreciation of Make a Difference Day you can honor your special people with a mention in your blog.

Make a difference.

Please take the time to click on the blogs below. In big or small ways, these writers have touched my heart or lifted my spirits. It’s my way of saying “thank you” for making a difference in my life.



Cinderella always gets the diamond

Cinderella always gets the diamond.

Monday we traveled to Memphis so that I could gather background information for what I hope will be the second of a series of books about teenage traceur and journalist TJ Westbrook. This time TJ is on a mission to resolve the mystery behind a gang-related drive-by shooting that resulted in the death of his childhood friend Tyreese.

My trip itinerary was simple. Go to Beale. Eat ribs. Listen to music. Walk wherever TJ might walk. Meet people. Talk to people. Gather details, lots of details.

And I did all that, but a serendipitous meeting with a colorful carriage driver opened a portal to a world of story I never knew existed.

I have a pretty wild imagination, so I’m always thinking what-if. But when I met this guy, my thought process went beyond, way beyond, what-if. Talking to him was almost like talking to a ghost. The experience was surreal.

I have been to Beale many, many times, and I’ve admired the carriages on numerous occasions, and I have ridden them more than once. But I had never seen a carriage decorated like this one. It was the gaudiest and the most beautiful carriage on all of Beale.

Picture lights and decorations from a Mardis Gras float. From the moment I stepped up and took my place on the velvet seat, the driver spun one yarn after another, taking me back to another time, leaving it up to me to discern truth from fiction.

I chose to believe it all.

Angels rested atop of the carriage. According to the oh-so-charming David, our driver, they dated back to World War II. They belonged to a relative, perhaps one of his grandparents. According to his story, when the Germans invaded Orleans, France, his kinfolk hid away in a church, taking with them a few of their belongings, including these whimsical angels decorating his carriage.

The war was hell upon the surrounding area and destroyed everything and everyone in its path, except the church and its inhabitants. His family hid there for days until the German soldiers found them and threatened to make examples of them.

But when a ray of sunshine shone through a hole in one of the broken stained-glass windows, it beat down upon the breast of the angel, creating a glimmer that caught the attention of one of the German leaders. He was so moved by the experience that he ordered his men to leave. The story and the angel decorations survived and rode with me today.

David told us one story after another. It was dark, and I couldn’t see to write in my little black notebook, but his tales mesmerized me. I was fixated on his every word. I only wish I had my digital voice recorder.

He took us to a little park and stopped by a fountain he described as the most beautiful thing in all of Memphis. It was a statue of Hebe, the mythical Greek goddess of youth, given to Memphis as a gift from France, as a symbol of hope and healing after the city suffered a a horrific yellow-fever outbreak.

He launched into another story, and then stopped. He turned around and looked at me and explained that his “Mardis Gras” carriage was good for only a few rides and that he had to work at keeping the pieces glued on.

David then held out his hand and presented to me what looked like an old, old piece of costume jewelry in the shape of a large jewel.

“When the angel cries, Cinderella always gets the diamond.”

It was a gift, totally unexpected, with a meaning I do not understand, but it was a gift that launched a thousand ideas that will find their way into my current WIP or the next.


The evening didn’t start out so great, but it was coming to a magical close.

For starters, earlier that night the police pulled us over and gave us a ticket the moment we arrived in town. We were driving on expired tags. We’re both teachers. We both work from sun up to sun down, and we both just forgot to make time to pick the new sticker. It was an honest mistake.

I have to take some of the blame for the second time we were pulled over that night—again for the expired tags. But this time we had just left a place called Voodoo Village, quite possibly the scariest place I’ve ever been in my life.

It was my idea to go there so late at night—stupid me, stupid idea.

Prior to our trip I did a little Internet research about “interesting” places around Memphis, places that TJ might travel as he searches for the person who killed his friend, and I talked Kenny into checking it out. (That’s kind of my MO, sad, but true.) Tonight’s rendezvous reminded me of Adam and Eve all over again—Eve tempting Adam to take a bite out of the a forbidden fruit, to go to a forbidden place. I learned my lesson.

So when the policeman pulled us over in the pitch black night, Kenny didn’t want to lie.

“Sir, why are you in Memphis? Who are you here to visit?”

But Kenny couldn’t tell him the whole truth. I was wearing black and carrying a little black book. By all appearances I could have been a Caucasian voodoo priestess. Just imagine how this answer might have sounded.

“Mr. Police Officer, we just left the Voodoo Village.”

Just how quickly do you think we would have been seated in the back of the officer’s patrol car? So Kenny went with the next best answer.

“Officer, I came to eat ribs.”

 The officer stared at him for a bit, fired a few more questions at him, eyeballed the ticket and then allowed us to pass with a salutation.

“Welcome to Memphis.”

We asked our carriage driver about Voodoo Village, but he was hesitant to answer. He suggested the place was originally occupied by gypsies, not voodoo priests, who hung shrunken heads on the gates and the limbs of animals from the trees to scare away intruders.

Internet accounts offered other explanations. The place is everything as described, but out of respect for other people who live in the neighborhood, I’ll offer no further details. Everyone deserves privacy. (I do not recommend anyone trying to find this place. It’s in a secluded area where intruders could disappear without warning.)


For all I know my carriage driver could have been a gypsy himself—if he were real at all. (Note the imagination kicking in here.)

All I know is handed me a treasure.

Don’t you just love a good story?

Please leave a comment if you have a good story about a serendipitous meeting! I would really like to hear your story. I have been trying to contact this carriage driver. If you happen to know how to get in touch with him, please contact me. God bless.

My Monday Mentor: Rick Bragg

Rick Bragg

First, allow me to quash the ugly rumor that I kidnapped Rick Bragg at the Southern Festival of Books.

I did not. However, last year my friend and I came very close. We watched his handlers whisk him away to his signing table, and we followed him down the secret corridor and corralled him into posing for a quick picture. It was my friend’s idea, really. She once stalked Harper Lee.

But that’s another story.

Apparently, we are not the only people who have ever considered the friendly abduction of a Pulitzer Prize winner. I arrived in Nashville later than I had planned and rushed into the War Memorial Auditorium, just seconds before Rick took the stage. I marched straight to the front, betting everything on the chance there would be one empty chair upfront between two strangers. I didn’t mind squeezing in.

“Excuse me, mam,” I said to the Junior League lady on the left. “Is anyone taking either of these two seats?”

The woman to the right ignored me, her eyes intent on the stage, but the sophisticated lady stood, waving her arms, scanning the packed auditorium.

“Oh, no, that one’s not taken,” she replied, half listening to me while pointing to the chair next to the lady who did not acknowledge me. “But this one—this one belongs to my friend. I’m worried about her. She has already accosted Rick Bragg at our hotel on the elevator. I’m afraid she’s going to follow him on stage. I don’t know where she is.”

Hmm. I thought to myself. Maybe that’s why this party hasn’t started yet. Somebody else is cutting in on my writer.

So no, I did not rope him (literally or figuratively) into being today’s Monday Mentor. But as I sat there in the packed War Memorial auditorium with dozens of other women and their patient husbands and a few persistent photographers, I listened as he read from The Prince of Frogtown, and I savored each word.

He is my mentor, whether he knows it or not.  

Sonny Brewer

I also purchased Sonny Brewer’s new release, Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit, featuring Rick Bragg’s story. I have everything else Rick Bragg has written. I just didn’t have this one. Plus, I liked the title. I figured it was apropos for a budding writing, awaiting her turn in the literary sun.

All of us budding writers dream of the day when we can sit in a hideway coffee shop in some romantic location and sip espresso and tap on our keyboards and turn out million dollar bestsellers that take us away from our mundane 9-5 lives.

Fat chance.

But anyway, I had the gall—as my grandmother used to say—to wait thirty minutes in line for Rick Bragg to sign a book he didn’t even write, hoping that he wouldn’t be offended that I hadn’t boosted his own book sales.

But he signed it, graciously, and he listened to me gush about him being my favorite writer, and we chatted, briefly, and he endured a photo op, and I left. Satisfied.

What is this strange power that Rick Bragg possesses?

What is this power lures droves of sophisticated women to fawn over a man in baggy pants and an everyday shirt speak about a culture to which they certainly cannot relate, a culture they most certainly shun. How can women who have never eaten saltine crackers with Vienna sausages or Underwood Deviled Ham, who have never stepped foot inside an outhouse, who have probably never even seen a tar-papered shack, appreciate his stories of the downtrodden South?

Is it romance? Maybe.

I can only speak for myself. I am a happily married woman with two children, yet I persuaded my husband to brave the crazy Nashville traffic on a packed 1-24 to drive 70 miles so that I could hear him read from a book he wrote three years ago.

I appreciate Rick Bragg because he writes the way I want to write, the way I try to teach my students to write. There’s a well-worn quote from Walter Smith about writing: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do sit down at a typewriter and open up a vein.”

When Rick Bragg sits down at his keyboard and opens his vein, he bleeds Rick Bragg all over the pages. That’s what I like about Rick Bragg. His style is distinct, unmistakable. When I ask my students to write, I want their writing to be infused with their own distinct style and personality, not some “nice blend of vanilla tapioca,” as Ray Bradbury describes in Fahrenheit 451.

I like Rick Bragg because he’s honest. (Yeah, yeah, I know the naysayers will bring up the New York Times controversy over his questionable use of stringers.) But Rick Bragg writes like Rick Bragg. He writes like a man inspired by passion. He writes like a man who tells a story with purpose. He writes like a man who is the voice of a people who would never speak for themselves, not in a way that people of a higher culture could understand.

Rick Bragg is like a bridge between cultures. He has a foot in both the upper middle and the lower.

Charles K. Wolfe

Rick Bragg reminds me of my MTSU professor, Dr. Charles K. Wolfe, the man who taught me to appreciate and to preserve folk tradition and culture, particularly the culture of the blue collar laborers, the working class people, my people.

Rick Bragg is a champion of the blue collar laborer, the working class. Although we may not see eye to eye politically—or maybe we do, he paints a picture that is true. His words ring true.

But what I like most about Rick Bragg is that he remains humble—or at least he appears to be. He’s not afraid to throw the word “ain’t” out in a roomful of high culture literary elitists. He knows what he is, and he knows what he isn’t—or ain’t.

Rick Bragg hasn’t forgotten his roots. He hasn’t gotten above his raisin’. He sees the value of a people, of people, beyond their socio-economic worth. He peels back the layers of people and exposes them for what they are, respects, maybe even loves them, just as they are.

An honest picture ~ No coercion involved

Rick Bragg is the kind of writer I want to be.

I don’t know where Rick Bragg is spiritually. I think he knows where he ought to be. But he inspires me as a writer—and as a Christian—to see all people for what they are and to love all people as they are.

Sometimes they come back

It’s not that I go out looking for a fight. Sometimes the fight comes to me. I feel like a retired gunslinger in an old Western.

When the new guy reaches for his holster, I can’t turn my back. I have to shoot him down, metaphorically speaking, of course.

Years ago when we were cocky, young teachers with an attitude, my husband and I made a proclamation —no student would ever roll our yard on Halloween.

They tried. We won.

Having previously defended our fortress with a water hose and the low, moaning growls of a faux Doberman, we were confident we could thwart any misguided plans.

We didn’t count on Darryl T.

Darryl T was a student in my homeroom, a good-natured young man who possessed a tenacious spirit that refused to be beaten.

He challenged. I smirked.

“You don’t stand a chance, boy.”

He wore a smile, but underneath his pleasantries I knew he was mad. His rosy red cheeks were his tell.

The stars made their appearance shortly after dusk, and then the chilly temps set in, reminding us to dress appropriately in black sweats and a jacket so that we could blend in with the night and stay warm. We turned off the lights and hid the car in the backyard. We assumed our positions. Kenny took look-out from the rooftop. I remained low and hid behind the shrubbery. He manned the water hose. I knelt beside a bucket of water balloons.

We wanted to lure the suckers in.

It worked. Ever so often, a carload of hoodlums pulled up. We let them toss a roll or two, and then we ambushed them, soaking them down and sending them back to their cars like drowned rats.

But first we took their toilet paper, the spoils of war. Hey, tissue ain’t cheap, and teachers ain’t rich. We stockpiled for leaner days.

Then along came Darryl T, a one-man TPing machine.

He was confident and prepared. I think he had strapped a Charmin arsenal on his back. We let him toss, oh, maybe a dozen rolls. Then we made him clean it up. We sent him home, defeated. The night wore on, and we had school the next day. All the other hoodlums had gone home for the evening.

But Darryl T came back.

He had twice as much toilet paper this time, but we were tired, and we wanted to end the shenanigans. It was time to call it a day.

We stopped him before he put up one roll. We stood our ground and sent him home. But, again, we kept the tissue. A hour or two passed, and I had already settled into my jammies and was watching a late-night movie when I heard the car door slam.

“Oh, no. It can’t be.”

I looked at my husband in utter amazement. Surely, Darryl T wasn’t back.

A peek through the living room curtains confirmed my suspicions.

“Show him no mercy,” I said.

This time we let him toss all the rolls, and then we made him clean it up. He wasn’t happy. His red cheeks glowed like the fuse of a freshly-lit M80, just seconds from going off.

He drove away. We won.

Or so we thought.

It must have been close to midnight when we heard a horrible THUD, coming from the front yard. Over and over and over again.




I slipped on my jeans and an old sweat shirt. But when we looked out the window, we saw Darryl T, heaving a one of those industrial-strength commercial rolls of toilet paper high into the air. You know what I’m talking about, the GIANT rolls that you see in the bathrooms at Walmart or, in Darryl T’s case, a fast-food restaurant.

He positioned it between his knees and then hefted it toward the lower branches of a tree.


It didn’t go far.

Kenny and I debated what to do. The choice was obvious.

Let him win.

Anyone who would go to the trouble of stealing giant rolls of TP and trying to toss them deserved bragging rights. We watched for a while and then settled back into our routine. Several minutes later we heard a knock at the door. Darryl T stood there with a look of agony on his bright red face.

“Uh, my car died. In your drive way. I think it’s my battery. Think you could jump me off?”

“Sure, Darryl T, right after you clean up this mess.”

He tried. We won.

This is how I roll


Well, ye mateys, they be plotting against me.

You saw what they did to my room, and now they say they’re bringing more.

It’s almost Halloween. I kind of expect that sort of thing this time of year.

All of those young whipper snappers are plotting, thinking they’re going to “go rolling,” saying they’re going to “get the old teacher.” I guess that would be “me”—”I” if I’m acting in the capacity of English/journalism teacher and I’m feeling like using proper grammar.

Young people, I don’t want to disappoint you, but you won’t get much fight out of me these days. I’ve already been there, done that. There is nothing I haven’t seen. Nothing I haven’t done.

Back in the day, I used to be the Chuck Norris of pranksters.

Back in the day.

I remember a time, back in the day, when Kenny and I were young, foolish, and pre-children. That was pre-Weight Watchers and pre-blood pressure medication too, but that’s another story.

I digress.

We were coming home around twilight one evening and saw a little gold car, orbiting our neighborhood. We knew what was happening. Yard rollers were plotting, so we sought revenge.

Being young, foolish and agile, Kenny pulled on his black hoodie and his black graduation robe from college, and he climbed onto the roof of our house, armed with the water hose.

I had to plan my strategy.

Our school had just had its Homecoming festivities the previous week, and I had decorated my room with two “dummies” that looked like little hippies for our sixties theme. Oh, I spent so much time, creating their funny paper mache heads and stuffing newspaper in their psychodelic clothes.

The little dummies were adorable. I couldn’t throw them away, so I took them home and set them on straw bales in my front yard.

I donned my black hoodie, my graduation robe and a mask. I sat in between the dummies on the bales of straw.

Waiting. Watching.

Three little dummies.

Then they pulled up. Two guys. Two girls. Giggling.

The boys went to work immediately, tossing their rolls high in the trees, but the girls tied dainty toilet paper bows around the tree trunks.


We waited. They moved closer, closer, and closer still to our house. Then it happened.


Eric’s roll of paper lodge between the branches, and he had to climb the tree to retrieve it.

Kenny aimed the hose and delicately sprayed droplets in his direction.

“Hey, Keith, was it sposed to rain tonight?”

Eric swatted his head, waiting for Keith’s reply.

“No, man.”

“Well, I feel rain. It’s getting harder. You mean you don’t feel that?”

“No, man. It ain’t raining over here. You must be seeing things or feeling things.”

The girls continued tying their bows and gossiping by the trees, but Keith edged closer to me. I growled, low, like a dog, and then I growled again.

“Hey, Eric, (Southern pronunciation—Urk)  did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

 “That dog. I think there’s a dog.”

(We’re from the South, so dog is pronounced dawwwg around here, just like Eric is pronounced Urk. I know you’re painting a pretty good visual image here. I want you to hear it too.)

“No, man. I don’t reckon there’s a dawg around here.”

“Well, I hear a dawg.”

Eric removed himself from the tree and resumed his tossing of the rolls.

Keith edged closer. I growled a little louder. He moved closer. I almost barked.

I don’t know how Kenny and I managed to time it so perfectly, but in unison, he lept from the house, his black robe flying in the breeze, and I sprung up from the bale of straw, leaving the other two dummies behind.

We chased those pesky kids down the road, listening to them scream like banshees all the way. It would have been even funnier if they hadn’t almost run us down as they gassed their get-away car.

But we were young, foolish, and agile. We did a pretty good job of dodging them.

Ah, youth.

All right, you plotting whipper snappers. Don’t expect either of us to jump from the roof tops or to chase you down the road. We’re too old for that nonsense. Bones break. Our bodies are slow.

And if you choose to do something such as throw eggs or damage property, you will hurt my feelings. Seriously.

Truthfully, guys, don’t do that to ANYONE. It’s not funny. It’s hurtful. It’s just plain mean.

Rolling yards?

Yeah, okay. I can live with that–if you can live with the consequences.

In the words of the great poet philosopher Toby Keith, “I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”

Think ninja. You won’t see me, but you’ll regret that I was there.

Hope you have a happy and SAFE October.

 Come back tomorrow for the next installment of my Halloween “Horror” Stories,  The Ballad of Darryl T.

Ceiling ninjas


I write YA fiction.

I work with teenagers, creative teenagers. Teenagers who write. Quirky journalists who spend as much time as I do, wondering “what if.”

Sometimes my quirky journalists experiment with “what if” to see what might happen. That’s when things get ugly.

Take today, for instance.

I was working diligently, trying to get files ready  for the second issue of our newspaper. I sit behind a monitor, a really big monitor. Sometimes when I’m involved in a tedious graphics project, I don’t always see what happens on the other side.

Imagine me sitting on the other side.

How could this possibly have happened right under my nose?

Of course, weird things always happen in our room.

We have ceiling ninjas.

Ceiling Ninja Entrance Only

We don’t see them, but we know they’re there. They come down out of the ceiling and attack.

You don’t want to know what happened to the last guy. I think he missed a deadline. The ninjas aren’t happy when one of the staff members misses a deadline.

I found this in my room today.

If the ceiling ninjas don’t get the slackers, the mob will. Nikoli and Olga are harsh. They might just send out reinforcement. You have to watch out for the men in black.

The quiet ones are the ones you have to watch out for.

And some of their minions are experts in the martial arts. Her hands, for example, are registered as lethal weapons.

Highly skill assassin

You may not know this, but Room 38 is often referred to as The Asylum. I don’t know why. I guess we just see the world a little differently than do most other folks.

We don't see the world the way others do.

We have signs posted to warn visitors.

At least we do have some guidelines.

Although it may seem a little chaotic on most days, we take our jobs seriously, and we work hard. We’re a team. And we love one another. Most of the time.

Happiness is living life on The Edge.

Every staff member is a team player, and we specialize in different jobs. Most, however, wear many hats.

Big hats

Small hats

Ethan's hat

Some of us should stay away from hats.


Above all, we work hard to develop our investigative skills. We notice even the smallest details. Oh my, it seems one of my staff members swiped my camera at El Manantial’s and took a random picture.


I write YA fiction.

I work with teens—quirky, creative teens.

They are my world.

They are the reason why I write.

2010-2011 EDGE Staff