Halloween 2006

I’ve always loved Halloween; it’s one of my most sacred holidays. As a child, I liked the costumes and candy, and as an adult too, taking my children out like my parents took me, but now I am more into observing. I enjoy the costume contests and adult Halloween parties and the horror movies I can catch on cable.

It’s fitting that early this morning I just finished reading James Lee Burke’s In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. I found it unique from other Dave Robicheaux novels, with a mystical, haunting edge. As a lover of the South and all things Confederate, I liked the facts from Confederate history he wove into the novel. Only once, through the voice of General Hood, did he make the mistake of tying the South’s cause into that of slavery. That comment seemed to be token, and slightly out of context with the tone and plot of the novel. Anyway, this was a good read.

James Lee Burke – Bestselling Author

James Lee Burke – Bestselling Author

Sometime ago, I got hooked on James Lee Burke’s Detective Dave Robicheaux novels. I’ve purchased the several I have used at my neighborhood Paperback Exchange. I’ve read them in no particular order, and after checking the list, I’ve seen there are still a few I’ve missed. I like Burke’s style, and each in this series have proved to be an enjoyable read.

I found his official website this morning. I am anxious to explore it thoroughly. More on Burke later.

The Brutal Work of Editing: The “Rough Drafts” of High School Students

The resistance to editing one’s work begins early and continues through high school and college. I vainly try to instill the desire and habit of editing into my students. I try to make it easier for them: I allocate class time for editing, peer review, reading essays aloud, and demanding multiple drafts.

The first draft, which they persist in calling a rough draft, I scan and seldom read completely. Often, I can’t get past the first paragraph without weeping, groaning, or laughing. I have tried to banish the use of the phrase “rough draft” because I believe it feeds a mindset that must be changed if a student is to become a good writer. By the time students reach me–and this is true of even many gifted and honors students–they have developed the habit of turning in “rough drafts” for grades. By this I mean, they simply write down the first thoughts that come to mind. There is no editing, no organization. The diction isoften that of a cave man. “Story good. Me likum story.” A teacher asks for a paragraph, and they often get one sentence, often illegible. If it is a homework writing assignment, I’ve often entered my room after the tardy bell from my post in the hall and notice that some are busily writing out their paragraph. Worse, after I’ve taken the one or two completed ones up, I’ve had a student bring me the assigned paragraph at the end of class, indicating that he or she was working on that during my instruction and had missed the whole class so they could complete his or her homework (which generally I want to be typed). It is sad that the student sincerely thinks I will and should accept such work. I won’t. What is even sadder, is that I know their previous teachers did accept it, and thus, their bad habits of writing have been reinforced instead of corrected.

This “rough draft” student writing is generally so superficial that it hasn’t even reached the “brainstorm” stage yet–it is more like a “light drizzle.” “Rough draft,” to a student’s mind, means they can turn in sloppy, mindless work and it be accepted. Mr. Webster, though he knows many words and even knows how to spell them correctly, is seldom consulted for editing help. The students wrongly assume they know how to spell–they do not.

I want to help my students turn their “rough drafts” into good first drafts.

Severance: New by Robert Olen Butler

Amazon.com: Severance: Stories: Books: Robert Olen Butler
One of my favorite writers is Robert Olen Butler. I’ve read everything of his I can get my hands on, and when when I heard him interviewed on NPR this week about his new collection of stories, I knew I must obtain this one also.

I’ve always used Butler’s story, “Good Scent from a Strange Mountain” in the ENG 102 class I taught at the university here–that is, until the new edition of Kennedy saw fit to not include it. I was appalled that a Pulitzer Prize winner’s story could be so quickly removed from an anthology. And he wasn’t even dead yet! Not only was it a good story the publishers deleted, it was an important story that provides valuable insights into a now significant portion of the American, especially Louisianian, population.

I read the whole collection sometime ago. Through the years, I’ve encouraged my students to read Butler’s collection of short stories in Good Scent from a Strange Mountain in hopes they can see the things Butler sees.

Butler’s new collection, Severance is thematic, telling of 62 individuals who lost their heads (from the past and from recent news). The collection consists of 62 stories, with each story being exactly 240 words. In the NPR interview I mentioned, Butler explained his math: he quoted a French Doctor who theorized that a human retains consciousness that many seconds after decapitation and that when agitated a human can utter 160 words per minute.

It sounds like a fine read, and in typical Butler style, one that will be remembered.

Writing Projects

I truly do have more writing work than I can get to. Yet, some things are progressing. A publisher is looking at my novel, Blood Diamonds of the Lost Bazaar, and I hope to soon have one look at another, Under the Witch’s Mark: A Memoir. Note: (This IS a fictional memoir!) I am still slowly working on my Civil War Western, the modern novel with a working title of Persephone’s Underground and others I don’t have time to mention at the moment. Perhaps next post I’ll make a list of all my writing ideas and projects.

For those teachers and writes who love vocabulary, here is a good site:


Future Reading for Stories of the Confederate South

This afternoon, I was interviewed by Sunny Meriweather of KEDM, 90.3, which is the public radio station here in Monroe, Louisiana. The interview was recorded and will be broadcast Friday morning, October 20 at 8:30 a.m. and 12:50 p.m. We discussed my new book, Stories of the Confederate South, and the upcoming reading/book signing at the West Ouachita (pronounced wash-it-tah) Library in West Monroe at the Cheniere exit on I-20. Sunny had read my book, and gave it a favorable review, and in her typical professional fashion, asked excellent and relevant questions. Several of my Confederate friends intend to be there in their reenactor uniforms so that visitors can ask questions about their equipment and the life of a Confederate soldier in the War Between the States. As I’ve said before, I love doing readings. Readings give me an opportunity to really test my writing on an audience, as well as a chance to get my work into the hands of readers.

Southern Soldier Boy

Southern Soldier Boy

Here is a link to a great Civil War song, “Southern Soldier Boy.” You can hear the tune on a MIDI file if you want. The song was written by Captain G.W. Alexander, C.S.A., and is to the tune of “The Boy with the Auburn Hair.” Here are the lyrics.

Bob Roebuck is my sweetheart’s name,
He’s off to the wars and gone;
He’s fighting for his Nanny dear,
His sword is buckled on,
He’s fighting for his own true love;
His foes he does defy;
He is the darling of my heart,
My Southern soldier boy.

When Bob comes home from war’s alarms,
We’ll start anew in life;
I’ll give myself right up to him,
A dutiful, loving wife.
I’ll try my best to please my dear,
For he is my only joy,
He is the darling of my heart,
My Southern soldier boy.

Oh, if in battle he were slain,
I know that I would die,
But I am sure he’ll come again
To cheer my weeping eye.
But should he fall in this our glorious cause,
He still would be my joy,
For many a sweetheart mourns the loss
Of her Southern soldier boy.

I hope for the best, and so do all
Whose hopes are in the field;
I know that we shall win the day
For Southrons never yield.
And when we think of those who are away,
We look above for joy,
And I’m mighty glad that my Bobby is
A Southern soldier boy.

Next Reading

My next reading for Stories of the Confederate South will be at the West Ouachita Public Library, Monday, October 23, 2006. I have an interview on KEDM, 90.3, a public radio station, to be recorded Wednesday, Oct. 18, for an interview that will play Friday morning Oct. 20. I am excited! I always seem to do well at readings at libraries.

Parent Teacher Day

Bastrop High School has two Parent-Teacher days a year. The students love them because it’s another day off. Teachers have a diversity of feelings about these days. Some are openly hostile, saying that such days are a waste of time, another Sisyphean task dumped on teachers who already have too many rocks to move around. Others wish the meetings could be held at night, which is the only time the working parents could come. Some love these days, as it allows them to talk and socialize with their fellow teachers. Most teachers like to talk school-shop, and some have perfected the art of gossip, so for these, it is an exciting day.

Then there are those like myself who are ambivalent, who use the time to read, write, catch up on grading of papers, and thinking time. It’s good to find this little island of peace in a work day after a week of fighting the powers of ignorance and darkness. (Those powers are mighty, too!) I’m taking my laptop and my new copy of The Road Road by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy is always dark, but I do believe this is his darkest novel yet. The setting is a post-apocalyptic dystopian America. I may get to grading the papers. A diligent man would grade the papers first, then read and write. I’m not always diligent though, and it is hard to consign myself to hours of grunt work when I have lines of poetry and images of beauty swirling through my mind.

Our first parent-teacher conference is today from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We teachers are assigned a table in the cafeteria where we are to sit with our gradebooks and talk with any parents who are concerned enough to come to the school and meet their child’s teachers. On these parent-teacher days, I usually speak with an average one parent an hour, so I’ll see about 6-7, for about two minutes each.

Abbeville, Louisiana Reading

Last night, I did a reading from Stories of the Confederate South for a Sons of Confederate Veterans organization in Abbeville, Louisiana. There were only a dozen in attendance, but they all bought books, and through some of the individuals there, I set up future writing/music related activities.

They were an interesting group of men–articulate, walking historical encyclopedias, and extremely passionate regarding their convictions. One man was the first heliocopter pilot I’ve ever met. I’ll have to get with him–I could tell he had stories in him. There was a man who owns a bookstore, Patti’s Book Nook, who is now going to order my books. His website is http://www.pattisbooknook.com/. Another member is prominent in the Scottish Society circles. I ran out of time before I could really get to know any of them, but I do hope to return. This camp has a link, you can go to it and learn something about them. www.geocities.com/ccduster Anyway, I did the reading, then I played and sang some Southern and Irish tunes. I had to leave at 8;00 pm after my presentation, as Monroe is 200 miles north. I packed up my books and guitar and reached my house at midnight, tired but energized for my writing work.