The First Black Member of a Presidential Family

As you’ve noticed, on the sidebar is an cover icon of my new children’s book, Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House. It gives my page a new look. The icon for my Stories of the Confederate South is gone temporarily as printing makes transition from Booklocker to Pelican.  Red River Fever will remain with Booklocker, and soon I’ll have another nonfiction work with Booklocker.

The media is giving much attention to Obama in this upcoming presidential election. If elected, he would not be the first black American to be in the White House in a presidential family.  The first member of a presidential family in American, ironically lived in the Confederate White House, as a member of the Jefferson Davis family.  That is the story of my children’s book, the true story of Jim Limber, a free black orphann who was taken into the Davis family.  Yes, it’s true: Jefferson and Varina Davis even became his legal guardians. This is a story of an endearing act of kindness, a story that promotes racial harmony and family values.  It is a story that American needs to hear.

WRITING QUOTE OF THE DAY:  (From John Dufresne’s The Lie that Tells a Truth)

“One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead.”–Oscar Wilde

We Were Soldiers

Last night, I watched We Were Soldiers, a 2002 film produced by Randall Wallace and starring Mel Gibson, Sam Eliot, and Madeleine Stowe, three of my favorite actors. I’ve long been a student of the Viet Nam War, I and own the movie and the book it was based on, We Were Soldiers Once . . . And Young.

There’s so many good lines in the movie, so many moving scenes. I especially like the song, “Sgt. MacKenzie,” written by Joseph Kilna MacKenzie. The song was written in memory of Joseph’s great-grandfather, Charles Stuart MacKenzie, a sergeant in the Seaforth Highlanders, and who fought in World War I. Wickipedia says “Sergeant MacKenzie was bayoneted to death at the age of 35, while defending one of his badly injured fellow soldiers in the hand-to-hand fighting of the trenches.”

You can find a good review of the movie written by a Viet Nam veteran here: On this site, you can find tons of information about this first major battle of the Viet Nam War in the Ia Drang Valley in November of 1965:

This morning, I did grandfather duty with my grandson, Mason Alexander Shelby. He’s two and a half, and so bright and so much fun. He calls me popi. The rest of the afternoon, I intend to work with my writing business (no shortage of work for sure) and then tonight, I’ll have a band practice. This Saturday night, Tom and I have a DJ gig, but other than that no appointments. I need to make plans to see my parents in Oklahoma soon. They live in a little town called Kemp, the setting of my novel, Red River Fever.

Today’s Writing Quote (from John Dufresne’s The Lie that Tells a Truth:

Jesus said, If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you—The Gospel According to Thomas

A Liberty Based Society

I’ve thought for a long time that our nation is on its way to becoming a dystopia due to our loss of freedoms and rights, and due to the mindsets and policies of our government officials. I strongly believe that all government officials should be required to read the great dystopian novels: 1984, Fahrenheit 451, A Brave New World, A Handmaid’s Tale, A Divided Kingdom, and Anthem–before they are allowed to run for office. I don’t know what books are on politicians’ reading lists these days, but I doubt that the classics of literature, and certainly the dystopian novels, are not on them.
I found a new presidential candidate who I really like: Donnie Kennedy. He will enter the GOP Primary with a pro-South, pro-liberty, and pro-Constitution platform.  Believing that the Federal government has too much power, that it is taxing us excessively, and that states have lost too many of their rights, he has a platform that makes sense.  Donnie is a prolific author. I have all of his books and I assure you that they are worth reading. Start with The South Was Right! I’ll have more to say about his books in future blog entries. You can read Kennedy’s bio, review his books, and read some of his  thought-provoking articles on his Web site:

You can find more about Donnie Kennedy’s presidential campaign here:


I’ve always loved Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, both in written script and movie form. I admire all of Miller’s work, but this play is my favorite. His portrayal of John Proctor is so moving wonderful—indeed, a masterpiece. Anyone who has been the victim of a witch hunt can empathize with Proctor. There are many lines I like, but today I’ll enter this one from Act II. John Proctor says:

“I’ll tell you what’s walking Salem–vengeance is walking Salem.  We are what we always were in Salem, but now the little crazy children are jangling the keys of the kingdom, and common vengeance writes the law!”

Memorial Day Work

Today, Tom and I played our Scots-Irish music at the Military Families Memorial Day Picnic at Kiroli Park in West Monroe, Louisiana. Kay Katz and Mike Walsworth, local politicians, were also there to speak and lend their support. This was a touching event. Families of soldiers from this area who had fallen in combat in Iraq were recognized and honored. As I looked at the soldiers’ photographs and the wreaths that were given to the families, I contemplated the sacrifice they had made–not only the soldiers, but their families.
I had a table and moved some books, but the real joy today was performing for the families of our soldiers. One mother gave me a Marine cap that has the names of three local soldiers who died in duty: Sgt. Arechaga, LCPL Bowman, and PFC Feniello. I will wear it with pride.
May God bless our soldiers and bring them home safely to us soon.

Memorial Weekend 2007

Yesterday, I returned to the Southern Heritage Convention at the Monroe Civic Center in the morning and continued my sales and networking there.  This was such a fantastic event for me. Not only was I able to promote my book, but I made new friends, and learned so much from the speeches.
At about 11:00 a.m., I went home, changed into my Confederate uniform for my reading and presentation at the Ouachita Parish Library. Jennifer Schneider, A fantastic Irish dancer and the children’s librarian who had organized and sponsored the event, was there in a beautiful Antebellum dress and helped us get the program off to a great start.

To our audience, the local SCV’s Color Guard demonstrated the ritual of posting the colors. Members of the color guard then took questions from the audience. I briefly told the story of Jim Limber, read a short excerpt from my children’s book, and played two Civil War songs with my guitar. I had set up a Civil War “Show and Tell” table so that children and adults could see and touch items related to the Civil War while we enjoyed the refreshments the library had supplied.
After my library signing and presentation, I and my friends, Eddy and Melissa, drove to Duty, Louisiana to Jim Bowie Relay Station where my Scots-Irish band was booked to play. We played from about 6:00-9:00 p.m., and I was able to sell several books as well. We finally made it back to Monroe about 10:30 p.m. and Tom and I went to Enoch’s for a couple of pints to celebrate.

Today, only duties (paying bills, etc) await me, though I may try to get out and make a couple of book sales. Tomorrow, I’ll be out at Kiroli Park for the Military Families Memorial Day Picnic to play music and present my book.

During this Memorial Day Weekend, I pray God will bless and protect our troops.

Seventh Annual Confederate Heritage Conference

Last night, I sold books at the Civic Center for the Seventh Annual Confederate Heritage Conference.  In addition to having a good night of sales, networking, and exposure, I was able to hear two motivating and information-packed speeches.  For example, David Aiken, an English teacher at the College of Charleston and the Citadel, spoke on the topic of the invasion of  the South during the War Between the States and why the war against the South was the worst crime this country has ever committed. The reasons he listed and expounded in his speech to defend his claim  were:

1. The number of deaths (both black and white) that the North’s invasion caused.

2. The atrocities  committed against the Southern civilian population. (In the news today, these would be “war crime” and the people who committed them–like Sherman–would be war criminals.)

3. The destruction of property and the pillaging of the wealth of the South.

4. The loss of liberty. Aiken pointed out that there was a major shift in government after the war, and that whatever liberty and freedoms we had before it, had shifted and changed along with the government policies. He pointed out that if Thomas Jefferson and George Washington had been alive during the Civil War, they would have sided with the South.

This speech was one of the better ones I’ve heard in my life–full of history and facts. And this was only one of the speakers.  There was so much more I could say about this conference, but I’ll save that for later.


Today, I’ll be back at the Monroe Civic Center at 8:00 a.m., work there till 10:30 or so, then go to the Monroe Library at 2:00 for a signing there, then to Jim Bowie Relay Station where our band will play and I’ll sell more books. I love busy days.

Mark Twain Quotations

My interview on KTVE (Channel 10 NBC in Monroe) this morning went well, though it was shorter than I had hoped. Still, I am grateful for the publicity. Angela Cruz, the station’s news anchor and producer, interviewed me, and I found her to be gracious and skilled in the art of the interview. I also know her to be a voracious reader. I admire these early morning broadcasters who have the discipline to rise so early every morning and face the public. This afternoon I’ll be at the Civic Center selling my books from a table for a Southern convention there.
I enjoy quotations. Here are a few quotations of Mark Twain, certainly one of the sharpest wits of his day.

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.– Mark Twain

Last week, I stated this woman was the ugliest woman I had ever seen. I have since been visited by her sister, and now wish to withdraw that statement.– Mark Twain

I am opposed to millionaires… but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.
— Mark Twain

Red River Fever: Readers’ Comments

This morning, I’ll be on K-104 for an interview. Tomorrow, on KTVE, Channel 10. I must get word of this book out.
I’ve been selling some copies of Red River Fever lately. Here are some endorsements of and reactions to my first novel, Red River Fever. I think they reveal why the themes of my novel will always be current and relevant to people living in the South.

One of Rickey Pittman’s mottoes is a quote from Akira Kurosawa: “The role of the artist is to not look away.” *Red River Fever* never looks away. It is a vision of hell where evil is perfectly interpenetrated with ordinary life, while the good is superficial and eccentric. It is Dashiell Hammett’s *Red Harvest* reborn in the American South of the 1970s, a place where the lives of dogs and fish, and finally of men and women, have lost their intrinsic value. Where vitality has become a fever, a disease, and where love itself withers in the heat. Don’t be fooled by its localities of time and place. What Rickey is talking about is the condition of the American soul right now, not some faraway Gothic but what’s right in the mirror, if we dare to open our eyes and not look away–David Lenson, Professor, Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Some haunting, graphic scenes. The characters really come to life. . . people just like that live in Hebert and Start. A powerful, frightening statement on living in the South.—-Angela Ford, Monroe, Louisiana.

We all know someone like Clifton, more serious about fun than work, but unlike the ones we know, Clifton seems to get meaner with each page of the book. . . Clifton Ray is verbal and mean as an old cur dog, and Pittman is very detailed and descriptive in his writing. I found the book an easy read, and Pittman has a way of communicating the feelings of the lowest gutter rat to the pain and suffering felt by the innocent victims . . .This is Rickey Pittman’s first novel, but I am sure not his last one.  Mickey McLean, Column, “The Edge of the Woods,” Bastrop Daily Enterprise.

The music in your language is wonderful.  Your use of alliteration, assonance, and consonance gives your words an incredible resonance.  Not many authors can do that without detracting from the story line or trying to cover up for the lack of a story line.  You worked it just right. You also managed to use slang and local dialect without sounding affected.  That is hard to do well; not many authors pull it off successfully.  You did.  The characters were very believable and life-like.  I especially enjoyed the way you pulled it all together at the end with the reference to the “Red River Valley” song.  . .  I like a book that makes me think.—Allison Diffey, Cleveland, MS.

A first novel is always a treat to read . . . I was moved by the descriptions which one can tell came directly from Pittman’s soul. For example, “Something about the house’s condition, like his own, saddened him.” Impressive writing.—Sharon Morrison, Librarian, Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

Red River Fever is very interesting. The characters and setting seem so real and intelligently thought out.  That Clifton Ray is a bad boy and all the women love him—reminded me a little bit of my daddy in his younger days. Pittman did an excellent job of capturing the essence of the woman-charming, cocky, good ole boy!  I was thinking, “Yeah, I’ll bet he can’t carry this one off,” because I know that character, but he surely did it, and did it well!” Should be made into a movie. It’s good!—Cyndi  Butler, Dallas, TX.

I just finished reading the book last night. It was great.  It was one of those books that you just can’t put down because you want to know right then and there what is going to happen to these people next. I can’t wait until your next one comes out. You have me hooked now.  Ursula Braxton, Houma, Louisiana.

Overall, the novel left me with somewhat of a haunting feeling. And I like that. It’s not a traditional Hollywood ending (thank you). It reflects the darkest capabilities of humans. They cannot be ignored. Time and time again they have emerged, proving their existence, whether people want to acknowledge them or not. The evils come to the surface. This novel just portrays a fictitious stimulus, almost personifying what many people cannot explain in everyday life. . . this novel inspired thought.-–Regina Phillips, Durant Democrat, Durant, OK.

Pittman has a great talent for making characters come to life. Honestly, I can see so many people I know in these characters.—-Judith McDaniel, Monroe, Louisiana.

Rendezvouz: When the Present is an Anachronism

I love history. Here is an article I had published in a Dallas magazine some years ago.

Rendezvous:  When the Present is an Anachronism

Historic Fort Washita, located just outside of Durant, Oklahoma, on the first weekend of April, is the yearly host to what is known as a “Fur Trade Rendezvous.”  An estimated 15,000 visitors, including bussed in high school students, viewed and sampled the wares of the 30-35 vendors and observed the 150 plus campers of the rendezvous.  Vendors (who like to call themselves traders) and campers all had one thing in common: everything they wore, used, sold or traded, ate was made, done, or prepared exactly as it would have been before 1840.

I felt like an anachronism, walking about in my modern dress, listening to their conversations and interviewing them about the rendezvous experience.  Except for the cars I could see in the background at the Fort’s entrance, I felt I had been transported into an 1840 frontier village.  I have always been a lover and student of history, but I learned much more than I expected and intended.  What I observed in the people of this rendezvous was not a quaint infatuation with the past, like one might have when he or she dresses up like General Grant or a Southern belle for a costume party.  I felt like my body and face had been slammed into history.  Those who participated in the rendezvous have an intensity that is both charismatic and jarring.  They not only know and love history—they live it.

Roy Kelly Jr. of Norman, Oklahoma, expressed one aspect of the rendezvous philosophy eloquently.  He said,  “The code we live by of is of a time that has passed, but it was a good code. Things were dealt with properly. For example, the way you treat people.”  And from what I observed, they treat visitors and participants alike with politeness, dignity, and respect.

Just as it was in the early 19th Century for the trappers and explorers, the rendezvous is a primary (and in some case, the only) source of income a source of entertainment, a source of information.   I found that many are part of a rendezvous every week of the year.  It is their life.  The rendezvous follows a strict code of ethics, and camp rules, from what I heard, are strictly enforced.  A rendezvous may range from ultra primitive (where they literally have to walk or ride a horse or mule in) to what is considered very comfortable camping such as they enjoyed at Fort Washita.  The rendezvous may be regional or national, and they are held all over the nation, with the ones in the West being the largest, some with over 1,000 campers.

Those who are really into the rendezvous experience have a distinctive lifestyle.  Even when away from the rendezvous, many grow all their own food, and live without most of the technology and comforts  (electricity, running water, etc.) of our modern society.  And they seem quite happy to be living so.  History is the bond of this unique brotherhood, and history is the teacher.   They have values and a passion which is unique to our present age with its deepening apathy, ignorance, and dependence upon creature comforts. The cumulative knowledge of this growing group of people is a massive storehouse of practical knowledge ranging from craftsmanship to survival skills.  And as all who take on this lifestyle seem to be passionate learners, readers, and researchers, these men, women, and children are able to keep history alive.  I talked to some who had grown up in this lifestyle and never known anything else.

A rendezvous is a sensory experience.  I was overwhelmed by the rich aroma of the foods. The small campfires spread the smell of woodsmoke throughout the grounds of the fort. Girls and ladies in buckskin and calico dresses, all handmade, glided about in moccasins or bare feet.   A plains Indian in war bonnet and buckskin leggings and shirt carried a curved lance and rode about on an Appaloosa.  The canvass tents of the traders were mixed with teepees for families with horses and mules tethered nearby. The competitions with axe, rifle, pistol, bow and arrow, and knife, were spirited and entertaining.  (The bows, by the way, were handmade by the carriers. One contestant told me he had spent months shaping his Osage Orange bow.)

I learned also how vital some of the knowledge and skills these people have are to us. For example, Lloyd Teeter of Foss, Oklahoma is a trapper—badgers, coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, possums, muskrats, beavers, and skunks. Recently an Oklahoma school had a severe skunk problem.  (Need I describe how odious and traumatic an experience this could have been to the educational process there?) He trapped 10 skunks from beneath the schoolhouse without the first spraying incident.  If you ever have a “varmint” problem, he would be a good man to contact.

I also met Ron Ashbury, a pencil artist, and a wonderul storyteller.  We chatted as he was sketching Ft. Washita and some of the scenes of the rendezvous. He told me of the ghosts of Fort Washita, his ancestors, and his thoughts of the rendezvouz experience.  He made the point, that sometimes, if we understand the past, we can understand the present and understand our own world.

To illustrate, he told me of some gypsum hills near Fort Washita known as the Indian stomping grounds.  He told me how his grandfather had taken him to these hills as a boy and told him the various Indian legends, and how if you stomped the ground you could hear the old dance steps of Indians ghosts trapped below.   Of course, he knew that the hollow sound was only due to the unique construction of those hills.  But I started thinking that this was a good analogy to understand the rendezvous crowd. There they are, in their ridiculous pioneer attire, able to live in self-sufficiency in a way most can never imagine. And why do they live that way?  Because when they leave the rendezvous experience and return to us, and they stomp on the hollow ground of modern American culture, all they hear is a hollow sound, and they turn back to the hills, to their flint and steel, to families raised with books instead of television.  And you know what? They really do quite fine.

Obviously, the rendezvous experience is not for everyone.   One man in modern dress passed me and said something about how stupid these people looked.  I was amused because by modern standards he could have easily qualified as “stupid looking.”  His girlfriend did not appear pleased with his attitude and she distanced herself from him by a couple of feet and went by herself into one of trader’s tents.  By the frustrated look on his face and the hurt look on hers, I think the emotional distance between them also increased.  However, if you love history, if you want to see history as it was (at least as close as we can reproduce it), if you want to meet people who have minds sharper and a lifestyle tougher and leaner than most today have, a rendezvous can be an enriching experience. And who knows, if you go next year and pass a longhaired, buckskin-clad man cleaning his muzzleloader or munching down the sourbread, he just might be me.   Just look for the camera and the writing pad. 1840’s rules or not, I don’t think I’m ready to give them up.

Learning to talk writing

Rhetorical eloquence is a learned skill. Though many may have as we say, “the gift of gab,” a writer must acquire an appropriate vocabulary and learn to express his or herself in an effective manner that will assist communication with publishers, editors, fellow writers, and readers. This means that there are terms and concepts a writer must learn and absorb. I’m convinced that through reading good articles and books on writing, and memorizing and imitating the language and phrases of others, a writer can acquire needed communication skills that will enable the writer to talk about his or her writing with eloquence. In today’s market, writers must be able to talk and write about their books. Good speeches and an understanding of the business of writing will help sell books.

One magazine I personally rely on to help myself is The Writer’s Chronicle, a publication of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. I’m in-between books right now, so I’ve been reading some articles to help develop my own eloquence. This week, I’ve carefully read three articles, one each night before I go to sleep, carefully underlining the phrases that are worded eloquently or that teach me something I didn’t know or haven’t noticed about writing. Here are the articles I’ve read this week that are helping me learn to talk writing:

“Lever of Transcendence: Contradiction and the Physics of Creativity,” by David Jauss. This article opened my eyes to the power of Janusian contradiction and made me think of my own novel-writing strategies.
“Structural Strategies for the Multiple Plot Novel,” by Debbie Lee Wesselmann. This article analyzes several novels that use multiple plots (The English Patient is one) and discusses the limitations and benefits of the techniques authors use.
“The Art of Creative Research,” by Philip Gerard. This article reminded me of the importance of research and how it can breathe “into your writer’s brain some glimmer of language, sensation, or idea that can then shape itself into something more” (52).

Tonight, I’ll be speaking in Ruston, Louisiana. I’ve got radio interviews scheduled, and my calendar is filling up quickly. My personal sales have been brisk as I promote Jim Limber Davis: A Black Orphan in the Confederate White House. I want to thank my beautiful friend Tina for the promotion ideas she shared with me a while back. It looks like her ideas are going to produce some results.

News: It’s official now. Yesterday I signed the contract with Pelican Publishers to publish my Stories of the Confederate South.  If all goes well, it should be in print with them this summer. I’ll be interviewed on a local radio station, K-104, sometime around 8:15 a.m. Thursday, May 24.