What Is This Blog About?

Do the things I write in this blog have anything at all to do with the book I wrote of the same name? I admit I have not really addressed that or even thought about it much, but I’m thinking about it now.

Brilliant observation #1: I don’t live in Mississippi. I live in Alabama.

Much of the novel (about 1/3 of it or so by page count) takes place in Mississippi. Much of it also takes place in Birmingham. In recent days, and for the foreseeable future, I am writing about being back in Birmingham after many years away.

Brilliant observation #2: The protagonist in my book and I have a few things in common.

The novel is also about a person that runs away from the place where he grew up, searches for meaning in his life, and then discovers that he has to return home and deal with issues there before he can really move on and try to be happy. I found in the past year or so that this was more than a mere metaphor. Writing this book, especially the last parts (which I wrote last, duh) uncovered things in my own subconscious mind that I never really came to terms with. I’m not going to get into that stuff here. That’s between me and my therapist (btw-anybody know a good psychotherapist in Birmingham?)

What else? Oh yeah, I want to keep reminding all you wonderful people out there to buy the damn book. It’s really good. Really.

A Writers Round Table?

Ever since I rolled into town a few days ago, I’ve been trying to meet up with various people to involve them in my nefarious art plans. One such person sent me a rather embittered email late last night that included this sentence: “there are some good folks around, but most of the bham writers that are worth anything stay hidden because of the lack of support for good work while mediocrity gets the highest of praises.”

Well, Birmingham writers. It’s time to come out of hiding. My initial plan for the Southside Fiction Writing Workshop was to be a traditional workshop where 4-8 beginner writers would come to me to help hone their craft. But it can also be a sort of roving salon where more established writers meet and talk about the things that are challenging them. It can be a way for creative people to exchange ideas and encourage one another to do awesome things.

Among a lot of the people I know, this is basically what happens by default when we just hang out. I was having dinner last night with a bass player I know, and we spent a couple of hours plotting out how we’re going to start three different bands with distinct agendas and take over the Birmingham music scene. And it ended with a lot of specific ideas about who to try and recruit and real logistics of how this thing is going to happen. What we need though is something that is more organized and has outreach, that goes beyond barroom talk.

I don’t think this person’s complaint is symptomatic of Birmingham writers in particular. Mediocrity wins out in almost every form of entertainment, everywhere. If you want to do something serious, you have to try harder and you have to expect to be ignored by most people. It’s the same way in Manhattan. It’s just that fraction of a percent of people that are interested amounts to a little more because it’s a bigger pool you are drawing from.

However, Birmingham’s smaller size can be a strength because the “scene” need not be splintered the way it is in New York and other large cities.  It can be more inclusive, and in fact, it has to be. Otherwise, as the person who wrote to me last night said, “get used to reading in front of a mirror and your dog.”

So this is a call to all serious writers and artists and performers who feel they are doing contemporary, cutting-edge work that challenges mediocrity and the mainstream. Take up your arms. We are going to make some shit happen around here.

On Sale!

Get it while it’s hot. I don’t know how long these sales will last, but I see this morning that my novel Zen, Mississippi is 28% off at Amazon and 10% off on Barnes & Noble’s website. In case you are wondering, these low prices do not affect my royalties. The discount comes from the bookseller’s cut. So if you haven’t bought your copy already and were planning to, there’s no better time than right now to do so.

If you prefer to buy the book from your local bookstore, they should be able to order it for you. It will help if they have the ISBN number, which is 0615343112.

Zen, Mississippi is Now on Amazon

My new novel finally showed up on Amazon this morning.


This means it should be available for general distribution now, so you should be able to walk into any bookstore in the world and ask them to order it. Please do so.

Also, if you have already read the book, please please please post a review on Amazon. I would very much appreciate it and will buy you a drink next time I see you in return.

So it’s officially a book now. Woohoo!

Tea Party Security Administration

So I flew down to Birmingham yesterday for a visit and to play a gig (Marty’s on Friday at midnight–be there!). And the planes that make the direct flights from New York-LaGuardia to Birmingham are tiny. These are the ones where they often make people move from the front to the back to redistribute weight during take-off. And on these planes, there is very little room for carry-ons–much less room even than on larger passenger planes where everyone is increasingly bringing everything they own on board to avoid bag checking fees, causing fistfights in the aisles on almost every flight I take. Anyway…

I had to check my guitar anyway, so I went ahead and also checked my small suitcase. And just to make things even easier on myself, I packed my work laptop inside the suitcase instead of bringing it on board with me. I know… For some reason, everybody thinks I’m crazy for checking a laptop, but just shut up about that and focus. Focus. Okay, are you with me?

So I get to Birmingham, and I take the laptop out of my suitcase to do some work, and this is what I find.

If you can’t read the note, it says:

“Fall of the Republic”
“End Game”
“Obama Deception”

“Money Masters”

So what this tells me is that some TSA employee at LaGuardia, or perhaps a Delta baggage handler, wants me to watch these youtube videos for some reason. And I did watch a little bit of each one, but it’s not the sort of thing that generally interests me. They are perpetuating right-wing conspiracy theories about Obama and banks. It seems to be the same old illuminati stuff that people have trotted out every few years since the 18th century, but dressed up in the most recent issues.

So what do I make of this? I suppose it’s disturbing that someone at TSA is taking advantage of their job to furtively distribute anti-government propaganda (and I wouldn’t think it any less disturbing if it was pro-government propaganda). But I’m more amused by it than disturbed, though I guess whoever did this out to get called out for it. It does seem really creepy when I think about it.


When I originally posted, I had not yet opened my guitar case. When I did take out my guitar later in the day, I found ANOTHER NOTE. Basically the same as the first note, but with an additional message on the back saying, “Just check it out!”

And to the people that have a problem with me calling these videos “right-wing,” — really, that is beside the point. I could make arguments to defend that characterization, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. What is happening here is that a government employee is taking advantage of his/her job to furtively distribute anti-government propaganda, and that’s an interesting story to me. And even if you are one of those people that believes or agrees with the videos this person is promoting, that has no bearing on the fact that these messages came to me in a very strange and inappropriate manner. The content of the videos is really not important. I still find this whole thing more amusing than alarming, although the second note makes it all a bit creepier.

The Internet Kills Idle Wonder

Remember before we all carried the Internets around in our pockets, we would just hang out and talk? And often the thing that would fuel conversation would be a question that had just occurred to someone for no reason. For example, someone will say: Do dogs have shoulders? I mean they don’t have arms. They just have legs. So do they have two sets of hips? People would theorize about this come up with reasons for their opinions, and this could easily take a half hour before organically moving on to another topic.

But now, a question like this comes up, and someone takes out an iPhone or Blackberry and wham! There’s the answer (dogs do have shoulders, or scapila if you want to use the medical term). So now what are we supposed to talk about? Did we really even want the answer, or is it more fun to make up our own?

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I could riff here on making conversation more efficient, etc, but I think we can do better than that. These highly informed times simply challenge us to come up with better questions, things that aren’t so easy to just look up. And maybe we wonder more about things that, when we look up the answer, it spurs another question.

So here’s the question for discussion: Does easy access to the Internet kill idle wonder?

Becoming a Fan

I know I am often far too persnickety about how I think Facebook and other social media sites should/shouldn’t be used. I sent someone a scathing email the other day because they sent me a friend request for their business. “That’s what fan pages are for!” I said. I also don’t care for people leaving personal notes on my wall when a private message would be be more appropriate. But I understand that not everybody has such rigid feelings about these things, and I try to let it go most of the time.

But about Fan pages… I would like to think that when you become a fan of something, you are actually committing to it in some way. You are saying, “yes, I want to see updates about this thing in my newsfeed, I want to interact with other fans of this thing, and I want to publicly declare that I am a fan of this thing, and you too should become a fan of this thing.” To me, it is not just a matter of clicking a button, giggling, and moving on. But I know I take all this too seriously. As my friend Angie says, “The internets, they are silly.”

Still I am perplexed that 26 of my Facebook friends have become “fans” of a dill pickle purely for the purposes of delivering a wry dis to the band Nickleback. Sure, I agree that Nickleback sucks. But they are so not even on my radar, I can’t really get worked up about them sucking.  If this pickle does indeed achieve its goal of getting more fans than Nickleback, will that be newsworthy? Will anyone tell Nickleback that this has happened?

This just in: apparently such things are newsworthy, as this Mashable article reports. According to this, an onion ring was able to get more fans than Justin Bieber (whom I’ve never even heard of, but I am fairly isolated from much of pop culture). And this meme, “Can this (random  object) Get More Fans than (some famous person)” has become pervasive. I can’t say that I’m really bothered by all this. I’m not that much a curmudgeon. I just wonder if there is a deeper meaning or lesson about human nature in it, and I suspect, disappointingly, that there is not.

But if you like being fans of things, here are three pages I recommend:

M. David Hornbuckle (where I try to do the bulk of my self-promotion)

PopCanon (my longest lasting and probably most beloved former band–and I didn’t start this page myself, though I’m an admin)

Southside Fiction Writing Workshop (more on this another post soon)

He Is the Angel

I have been meaning for some time to plug another self-published book by a friend: I Am the Angel by Michael Stuart.

It’s a social satire about a recently-deceased young misanthrope going through angel training. Along the way, the protagonist meets a kindred spirit (literally), the victim of a drug overdose, and they help each other overcome their struggles with life in the afterlife.

You can buy it here.

Facebook Holiday Project Postmortem

The main idea of this project was very simple: to send a personalized message to each of my 600+ Facebook friends between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The reason for doing this was because, for me at least, Facebook had started off as a really useful and interesting way to reconnect with old friends and stay connected to people who live far away, and have real time conversations with friends from all over. While that is still possible, my friend list had grown to a size that was overwhelming, and I no longer even knew who all my Facebook friends were. It was starting to become solipsistic and not at all “social” for me. In addition, because I was using Facebook also to promote my book, I felt like I needed to counteract the marketing efforts with something that kept me in personal contact with my friends, so my profile page didn’t just become a huge neon sign flashing “Buy My Book” over and over again.

And I want to say something additional about why this was so important to me because I don’t think it is at all obvious from my previous posts on the subject. Being a person who is not “religious” in a traditional sense (and that’s putting it VERY delicately, as some of you know), finding a sense of spirituality in the material world is, for me, deeply connected to how I relate to other people in the world around me. Spiritual grounding in this case means that I am not absorbed in my own path through life, and that I am conscious of the context, the people, and the world around me and how those things are affected by my actions. And because I also happen to be by nature both shy and a little cranky, none of that comes easily to me. Feeling connected, feeling grounded, is a constant struggle and is the primary challenge of my role as a human being.

I don’t know if that makes a lot of sense to anyone else, but maybe that helps a little to illustrate why I had become so frustrated and disappointed in what I was seeing every time I logged into Facebook. It was like 600 people were talking AT me but not TO me, and I was doing the same with all of them.

So I took about an hour every morning, and I sent messages to between 15 and 20 people. If they were people I didn’t actually know well, I scoured their profiles looking for something interesting to talk about. In a few cases, there wasn’t much information, and all I could really do was ask them what they have been doing in the x years since I last talked to them.

I guess the question is: well, did it work? Did I manage to make Facebook into a more personal experience? The project did give me the opportunity to connect in a deeper way with a small number of people, and I think that as a result, my Facebook experience has been enriched. On the other side of the spectrum, I also think that at this point I can safely and guiltlessly unfriend a few people with whom I have nothing in common and nothing to say. For the vast majority of my Facebook friends who fell somewhere in the middle, I at least had the virtual equivalent of a handshake and the kind of conversation you might have with a distant cousin at a wedding as you both sidle up to the bar.You might think that those kinds of interactions don’t particularly further my spiritual quest, but actually, they do. A little. And there’s always the potential for there to be more, but you never know what will happen until you make that effort.

The effort has extended beyond Facebook as well. Since I have been on the road since December 1, visiting people in different cities, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with an extraordinary number of old friends in person. Even before I started the trip, I found myself getting beyond my usual comfort zone and actually introducing myself to people I had seen around for years and never spoken to. The exercise has increased my boldness and made me just a little more confident when I am out and about in the world.

That being said, at this point, I have been spending many more hours per week on Facebook than is really healthy for anybody, so I am going to make an effort to subdue that a little. I’ll still be around, but it might start taking me a day or two before I respond to any messages for the next few weeks.