Monday, November 7, 2011

Guy Fawkes Day in the USA --- Had A Few Spectaculer Moments Too

Saturday was a grotty miserable overcast 50's temperatures day in North-East Florida - until I ran into a pukka wedding complete with decorated elephant staged at the Renaissance World Golf Village Resort and Convention.

Drums, chanting, and traditionally draped guests clapped and danced in the short "parade route" in the pick-up/drop-off zone for limos and cabs at the main entrance.

I'd guess neither the valet nor the porter anticipated their job description would include: parking a pachyderm or the "Care and Handling" of that particular type of trunk!

Happy to say the scheduled gig with Dr. Rick Wilber, newspaper editor turned SciFi author and journalism Prof. conducting a a workshop on "Turning Articles into Award-winning Novels" prior to the annual Florida Press Club awards banquet, was not totally upstaged by the reception outside.

With an audience made up of professional newsroom colleagues, Wilber comfortably cut to the chase and spelled out the reality of writing for a living.There are many more Non-Fiction books on bookshop shelves than Fiction. The glamour of top-seller and top-dollar writers hit the headlines -- as most in the room knew. But they represent only a tiny tip of the publishing industry iceberg.

The former newsman, baseball fan (his dad was a pro), SciFi writer and mass media communicator is a hands-on practical, practising, performer of a craft he teaches to students at USF (University of South Florida).

Creatively his head may be in the clouds -- but pragmatically his feet are firmly planted on the ground.

Catch him, if you can!

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Kid & Stetson Kennedy - KKK Killer

Sadly we have to record the passing of investigative journalist Stetson Kennedy recently,at 94. Over the years we'd run into him at various writing and book related gatherings around Florida and three years ago helped celebrate a birthday at Anastasia Books, St. Augustine.

This blog is a bitter-sweet record of that event, and a tribute to a pathfinder in the profession.

Florida folklorist icon and Ku Klux Klan investigative infiltrator Stetson Kennedy celebrated his 91st birthday last weekend surrounded by family, friends and fans.

Jack Owen photo
Riley Fox Hillyer (11) and KKK journalist Stetson Kennedy (91)

One of his youngest admirers, an eleven-year-old neighborhood child of the celebrated St. Augustine resident, recited an insightful ode to the sprightly old man:

Stetson Kennedy,
Stetson Kennedy,
The perfect remedy,
For the KKK
* *
Once upon a time,
There was a boy,
He stole fruits from
his neighbors for joy
* *
This boy, now a
young man,
Decided to stop the
Ku Klux Klan
* *
Guess who helped him
rat out those trout?!
It was Superman
who helped Stetson out
* *
Years ago, he was a spy
But at 92, he is still
young and spry
By Riley Fox Hillyer

The assembled politicos, pundits and professionals gathered to sip wine, nibble on cheese and witness the cutting of a birthday cake within the stacked racks at Anastasia Books, owned by Kennedy’s current wife Sandra Parks, enthusiastically applauded the young bard.

Then, less than harmoniously, they rendered several ragged verses of “Happy Birthday” throughout the evening.

For Stetson Kennedy it marked yet another milestone along a journalistic path pocked by plaudits and controversy from the WPA (Works Progress Administration) era of anecdotal recordings of Florida’s rural history, to clashes with the Ku Klux Klan and the book publishing cottage industry that sortie gave birth to.

His young admirer, during an earlier inter-school competitive speech for Fifth Grade, described his initial disappointment when his new neighbors moved in. He had hoped for kids his own age but ”… I discovered it was just another boring old couple, as usual.”

However, his interest perked up when he discovered the character in a book he was reading (about a young man infiltrating the KKK and exposing its secrets to radio-fans of Superman) was none other than his new neighbor.

“ He was a spy. I couldn’t believe it. I had a humongous desire to meet Mr. Stetson Kennedy. I felt very nervous, almost faint, when I met him,” Riley wrote.

Considering Kennedy’s profession, his wife’s occupation and the locale for the reception, Riley’s summary was appropriate.

The fact “the old guy” had led such an interesting life prompted the young boy to echo an oft-repeated observation,

“Well, I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover.”


Friday, August 26, 2011

IRENE -- The Hurricane -- Is No Sweet Thing

Labor Day Weekend, the last weekend of summer in America, is traditionally the "official" start of political races when all the registered blowhards spout speeches and press the flesh. It also seems to have become something of a tradition of Mother Nature to provide a hurricane to send vacationers scurrying from the shore.

IRENE, the Cat-3 hurricane currently sweeping north along America's eastern seaboard, has already claimed eight victims. They were thrill-seeking sightseers swept from a stone jetty at south Florida's Boynton Beach inlet by a giant wave -- and the eye of the storm is still hundreds of miles offshore.

Officials are concerned all the way north into Canada; Charleston, New York, Boston. The entire summer population of Ocean City, Maryland -- roughly the size of Manchester - is under mandatory evacuation.

It will blow itself out and dissolve in the colder waters of the north Atlantic, eventually. BUT, it is 1,000 miles wide, has sustained winds of 110-mph and is kicking up big-time waves too scary for surfers. Eventually those generated waves will wash up ashore in UK and Europe. So...break out your boards...and board up your stores.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

There's a Hole in my Bucket (list) Air Balloon No Show A Big Bust

The chance to knock off the "Hot-Air Balloon Flight" from my "bucket list" (stuff I want to do before checking out) was punctured when the operators failed to show at the annual "Cabbage and Potato Festival" in Hastings, Florida, yesterday.

Hastings, known as the potato capitol of Florida - alongside the nearby community of Spuds (I'm NOT making this up)- marks its prime crop harvest time with a fund raising fete sponsored by the local Rotary Club. .
Its very much a down home, low-key, grass-roots festival with pride of place going to gawking at John Deere tractors and mowers. The FREE bowling lane reflects the versatility of the vegetable ( largely untouched or recognized as FOOD at any school I attended ). Instead of regulation bowling balls and skittles, weighted painted plastic soda containers became the targets of hearts of cabbage bounced, bowled, bunged down a synthetic-grass lane.

Wise in the ways of the land, strollers dodged from shade-tree to shade-tree, working the assortment of stalls offering everything from primitive art to potatoes and politics - Left and Right represented by Democrat and Tea Party tents. So, even without the 90-degree scorcher - there was plenty of hot-air to lift a dozen ballons or more, off the ground.
The closest thing we saw to Hi-Tech was the wading pool filled with plastic fish which could be caught by youngsters using a rod and line with a magnet - instead of hook - to capture the bobbing prey for a prize; air-filled toys.

One of the more innovative food choices offered by vendors was a hot-dog stand where the regulation white-bread pap offered as a bun was replaced with a potato-bread roll and the promise of “all the fixin's” to make the “Tater Dog” tasty.

The operator should have won a prize for most creative hat. It would have wowed them at the Westminster wedding – last week!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Out-of-Print Palm Beach Scandals (plus) Now IN Pubit!

All that blathering about Electronic Publishing spurred me to bring back Palm Beach Scandals from its OOP status for the past dozen years and make it available via Barnes & Nobles PUBIT! to NOOK readers. I'm going to test-drive some social-networking marketing ploys to see if they work.

And, just to give it an airing outside of crit groups, a newish chapter in the proposed "The Day...The Cat Blew Its Nose Off" collection of recollections, was also put into "e-print". My "Trip Around The Lightship" short-story will probably connect to a few people who've been caught in an awkward situation.

Unfortunately my sketch wouldn't stretch deep enough for PUBIT's cover format, so I slipped it in there sideways. Who knows, the misspelled word in a roadside sign gets all the attention: Rumba... or Burma Shave, anyone?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

ZUMBA zapped Speaker Space

I now know about Zumba, a combination exercise with canned Latin-rhythm music conducted by usually lithe, sinuous bodied dames who already look good in leotards. Only because the organizers of the "Electronic Publishing" talk I was booked to give - double-booked the site.

Fortunately a cozier location, surrounded by artworks created by ShakeRag exhibitors and supporters turned poet and writer for the night, was found. A baker's dozen of eager embryo e-book contributors peppered the two-hour gab-fest during a lively Q&A session. The last question posed coincided with my vocal chords reaching rasp-tone, and smile into rictus mode; captured on-camera by somewhat mature "groupies".

The divvy of donations netted a grand total of $15.00 toward the FOL (Friends of the Library) sponsored: "One Book - One Putnam" annual event. I have been assured it is a "milestone amount" in the fund-raising annals for the area.

Take that as you will!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Electronic Publishing - No Panacea For Authors

Tonight I get to blather on about electronic publishing to mosly artists and movers/shakers in the unincorporated community of Melrose. It has one traffic-light, two gas stations, three art galleries and straddles four North-Central-Florida counties.

The vehicle of choice is a four-wheel-drive pick-up with trailer auxillery to haul the ATV/Jon-Boat/Mud-Bogger or showcase an antique Harley Davidson. Every mother has built into her DNA a family-heirloom recipe on how best to prepare grits, greens, catfish and hush-puppies. Folks wear their clothes snug and seriously train for All-You-Can-Eat BBQ-rib contests.

Should be an interesting night!

Here's an outline of some pointers for the next crop of creators.

Shake Rag Electronic Publishing Talk by Jack OwenBlog: FB:

Look-up sites
Smashwords -
Kindle -

Pros/Cons: PUBIT - Free. Set price, Large or Small manuscripts, easy upload direct from WORD files, direct deposit to bank account. Cons: - Limited Circulation to B&N

Smashwords - Free, CAN be distributed to ALL reader sites, can pay by direct deposit OR by check, Lengthy FREE Guide to Formatting book online. Cons: Limited mss size/price, difficult to FORMAT to Premium Distribution specifications, Royalty ONLY paid after $75 sales made.

KINDLE - international name recognition, affiliated with, Free upload: Cons: LIMITED to Kindle users, Limited price setting, limited Size of manuscript. Payment – check policy daily!

Hot-Shot E-authors
Amanda Hocking:Vampires & Young Adult

J.A. Konrath: Hardboild FEMALE Detective

Newbie's Guide to Publishing

Speciality Publishing photo albums into keepsakes pictures & prose to Book text,photos,whatever to Book

Friday, April 15, 2011

Fresh Food Doesn't Come Free

Irregular booms and blasts, punctuating the crisp April air, heralds the onset of Florida's Blueberry Season and the annual crop-farmer's propane-cannon battle with birds for the berries

My two bushes don't kick-in 'till later, when the daily ritual picking precedes breakfast; cereals, waffles, yogurt - and maybe a pie depending on who gets the berries first - me or The BIRDS!

This past weekend launched the Tour de Farms created to woo touristers away from coastal fripperies and Disney World fantasy, to the "real" Florida. Few realize its a major food-pantry for the USA; and the second-largest steak-on-the-hoof state in the union.

My luck, some of my closest friends are vegans - or trying to be - and I end up making covert runs into places like The Outback and Beef O'Brady's with other closeted meat-eaters. Guess those who did not live through "meatless" days, and Fish-on-Friday, rationbook coupon cutting and minuscule portions of canned corned beef and spam, really don't appreciate what they couldn't have.

The farmers sub-headed the Tour de Farm "A Slow Food" discovery, in contrast to FAST-Food, high-cholesterol options blasted via TV and Radio Ads 24/7 and the public. Area chefs and cooks from nearby restaurants were featured at some sites, demonstrating "101 Ways to Cook a Potato" - while audiences munched on salt-sprinkled crisps and take-out hamburgers and fries.

Its gonna be a steep learning curve!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Toppled Tree a Kick in the Pants & Pain in the Pocket!

EUREKA! House unveiled from tree canopy

Tuesday's tornadic tree-toppling squall put a hurting on my travel plans for a while. The senior of the father/son team, who removed the trunk during the next two days, was of similar girth.
Shaking hands with him to seal the deal was like high-fiving into a catcher's mitt. They done good - but if I'd had my 'druthers, I'd rather not have income tax, auto and house insurance -- and WriteLink Membership -- all come due at the same time.

Very doubtful if I'll be roaming the shingle beaches of Hastings, UK, anytime soon. I'll be lucky to make it to the Hastings (Florida) First Annual Tour de Farms (true story) midway between here and St. Augustine's Ancient City Tourist Trap, this Sunday, to potato-pick in the hamlet of Spuds.(You couldn't make this stuff up!)

The DIY tour is billed as an educational and epicurean experience, designed to lure tourists away from the shore to explore unheralded farmland hidden behind the rows of shoreline condominiums, gated communities and aquifer-consuming golf-courses. Everything from fancy ferns for floral arrangements, to hogs - and barbecues - and cultivated wild-flower seeds to fish-farms, spuds in the ground, hydroponically-raised strawberries and lettuce, vineyards and a spot of plonk, to blueberries, pies and cream.

Looking forward to a quite day in the country. What could possibly go wrong???

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Enjoy every moment, while you can...

The dark, vine-wrapped live-oak tree trunk, about three-feet thick, missed the roof - and master-bedroom - by THAT much.

A tornadic storm line which swept through Florida yesterday caused physical and financial damage, but none to my frame and tin-roof 1900AD house nor, miraculously, to anyone inside. No injuries or loss of life for "Breaking News" crews to shed crocodile tears over.

The ancient tree, probably with its roots loosened by recent downpours, keeled over under assault from a powerful squall-line, which produced flooding rains, hail and tornado warnings over several states. The tree's upper trunk plummeted between a clump of spindly palm trees,leaving them unscathed. It tore down the main power-line, ripping it from the stand-pipe and meter-box to leave it live in the soaked grass.

Sprawling branches managed to miss making a mark discovered - yet.

The tenants, their three boys and three dogs were unaware of the tumble down for several hours, assuming from the lack of lights, television and other appliances, there'd been a power outage due to the storm. My phone began ringing moments after their discovery!

So much for writing, editing, marketing, researching, filing, interviewing, transcribing, today. A chance (do you believe in chance?)meeting on the way to the house with an obliging FP&L (Florida Power & Light) meter-reader and a short-cut toll-free call through the labyrinth of button-pushing exercises, conducted by a robotic electronic voice, and a real person who responded with empathy.

The guys who showed up shortly after were amiable and efficient and had the job completed within an hour of arrival. Never thought I'd give kudos to FP&L, with its escalating energy costs and bigger bills, but they were primo!

It was a day of unexpected pluses -- compared to what might have been!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Studying the Joy of Cooking, Sex, & Electronic Publishing Does Not Compare to Reality

Nineteen attentive (and one irreverent) writers gathered in Gainesville, Florida, yesterday to hear all I had to say about the art and anguish of Electronic Publishing. As an “Expert”, with two books and one feature story whirling around the digital publishing world, I'd been called upon to relate the joys and woes of virtual authorship.

It might have been a larger audience if the WAG (Writers Alliance of Gainesville) President's email reminder had reached its target audience, and it would have been wonderful if the pages of notes, references and links I'd compiled and printed were not still sitting on the desk – at home.

I just can't wait to replay the hour-long tape, to find out what I said !

The audience (did you spot the irreverent one?) was promised a listing of links and useful info would be posted on my blog. It was not meant to be a crafty way to drive people to view it – but it ain't such a bad idea now I think of it. Hope you are helped on your way to the New World of Publishing.

Self-publishing has always had the stigma of “Vanity Press” label hung on the author's efforts by the traditional publishing houses. But in its early days, long before social networking was a click of the switch and a tweet to pass the word, hard copy print pamphlets, broadsides and books were the only way to reach a large readership.

American patriot Thomas Paine stirred the pot of rebellion with several missives in the 18th Century, enough to provoke English legislators to have him tried in absentia and condemned to be hung for treason against the Crown. One of his Philadelphia based rent-a-publisher produced a four-page pamphlet printed for a few pennies in 1776. Today, the first edition of Paine's Common Sense, is listed by antiquarian bookseller Bauman Rare Books, at $52,000.

Paine is not around to claim any cash rewards for his efforts, but a couple of “instant success” electronically-published writers have done very well recently, thank you.

Poster boy on the publisher's hit-list, and target of ridicule and wrath by articles in PW (Publisher's Weekly) is J.A. (Joe) Konrath. His series of liquor-labled titles featuring female Det-Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels, of Chicago PD ( Whisky Sour - 2004; Bloody Mary – 2005; Rusty Nail – 2006; Dirty Martini – 2007; Fuzzy Navel -2008 and Cherry Bomb – 2009) were traditionally published by Hyperion Press.

The “instant success” in the electronic world, where he had been touted as the possible “First Millionaire”, has encouraged a revolution amongst writers to by-pass the tortured, lengthy, hurdle-handicapped traditional route – and low royalties. Konrath claims he received 500 rejections before selling his first hard-copy book. He's also pumped out 7,000 letters to libraries, done signings at 600 bookstores and guest-blogged on 100 sites in month.

No doubt his reader following helped when he jumped onto the electronic publishing carousel for an exploratory spin – and took off, outpacing all previous brick & mortar generated sales.

But a hot new star of the EP horizon recently reversed the trend. Former aide to the adult disabled, Amanda Hocking, 26, who made meals and cleaned up after her clients, would pop a can of Red Bull (POWER-drink) and type up the novels in her head influenced by Vampire, Zombie and Troll young adult readers strolling the Wal-Mart supermarket bookshelves. Her output in EP stuck a chord with that niche market and clicked along steadily at a few hundred sales a month until January, this year.

According to AP (Associated Press) reports, sales topped 333,000 in January and hit the 300,000 mark in February: “... enough to back her claim to have sold between $1.4million and $2million in e-books.”

Until recently, her only hard-copy books have been published by LuLu, the ubiquitous imprint found on many do-it-yourself writer's efforts.

The traditional publishing world is all abuzz about the four-book deal she inked with St. Martin's Press, following an auction of rights to her next series, in the Young Adult paranormal genre, last week (March 24). Other competitors, including Random House, Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins, dropped out when bidding hit seven figures. Guesstimates put the gavel-price at $2million for world English rights, according to a New York Times story!

But – before you leap to the fridge, pop a Red Bull and crank up your computer – spend a while reading the blogs and background on these phenomenal “instant” successes. They didn't gain without some pain. And its only just begun.

One WAG member was concerned about the ephemeral nature of electronic books, They can be wiped out by everything from sunspot activity to a refrigerator-door note-magnet frying a file, and obsolescence. He pointed at props I'd taken to the talk, including a 3,000-year-old piece of papyrus, a 17th Century leather-bound book, a copper-plate writer legal parchment of Indenture, including wax seals, and some 20th Century customized books.

He feared electronic books would not outlast our generation. The written word, reproduced on battery-operated readers, could go the way of 8-track cassettes. I agreed, but pointed out classic works have been reproduced and reprinted in some fashion, for centuries.

Using my favorite overused phrase of the year, I said:

“It depends. If its worthy of revival it will survive, Thomas Paine's works will still be in print – somehow - long after we have gone!”

List of helpful links include:
(you may have to copy & paste)

The tools are there, YOU have to do the digging to find out about Royalties, Formatting, Pricing and a zillion other questions churning through your mind.

Good Luck!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Flummoxed About "Electronic Publishing" - Join the Crowd ...This Sunday in Gainesville

I'll be wearing my "Who Made ME the Expert?" cap Sunday, March 27 at the 2:20 p.m. session of WAG (Writers Alliance of Gainesville) at the Millhopper Public Library (Google it) to give my take on How-To: Get a manuscript from a computer file into Electronic Print.

Not quite a case of "the blind leading the blind", I have a couple of things "in print" (see my earlier blogs) but I was too slow stepping back when a "volunteer" was called for!

IF you're in the Gainesville neighborhood this next weekend, don't fancy any of the games on telly and have an opus itching to get into print, stop on by. And if you're a computer geek with PUBIT or SMASHWORDS savvy - HELP!!!

ps: You can also Google The WAG Digest to eyeball the monthly newsletter and features.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Good News...Bad News...GOOD News...

Barnes & Nobles' PUBIT bean-counters inform me they have send a royalty check to my account.

Bad news is - the Eagle has not landed and the Bank Routing number used probably went straight into a Nigerian bank account somewhere on the Dark Continent.

Good News is my PUBIT schoolboy escapade feature, playing hooky to see Bella Lugosi in a matinee performance of Dracula in stodgy Olde England, matches sales of my epic WWII-era saga The Jekyll Island Enigma!

Bad News is Smashwords is taking forever to approve Premium status on the out-of-print but newly digitalized and formatted Palm Beach Scandals - An Intimate Guide.

The Good News is - its available and being eyeballed and bought BEFORE any promo of any sort, via Smashwords.

Go figure!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

"LOST" Found Living in Yesterday's Literature

Threads of yesterday's literature from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Richard Adam's Watership Down have been unravelled to reveal the craft of creating the whole cloth, duringLOST's construction, in Sarah Clarke Stuart's first book, recently published by New York based Continuum Press.

It is the latest structure in the cottage industry which has grown around the popular made-for-television series, fueled by fans as fanatic as the world-wide Trekkie phenomenon. The University of North Florida English Department Professor Stuart's earlier course, based on "Religion in Sci-Fi Television" was featured in the nationally circulating publication TV Guide Magazine.

Earlier this week she described to Clay County Writers, the process which propelled her first book from query to publication,the "traditional way", within 12 months. And placed her book Literary Lost ABOVE Stephen King's On Writing on the virtual LOST University Reading List!

If you're not a television viewer, and not in the LOST loop, you may think most of the aforementioned data doesn't affect you.

But, the basic process of getting a concept on paper in the form of a query which appeals to the publisher's bottom line, applies to any non-fiction project. What is evident in Prof. Stuart's "How-I-Did-It" tale is the research, leg work and pre-marketing she applied before creating her platform to pitch at an academic venue.

She was not coy listing why her proposal, and academic qualifications plus pre-publicity and potential high-profile author endorsements, would enhance the chances of Literary Lost filling a need. Part of her proposal included marketing potential.

Her focus on the narrow niche of an educational tool, compared to a more general mass-market entertainment option, emphasises there are always ready made markets for experts and specialists, no matter what the field.

She's currently working on her next book, targeted for the mass-market potential based on Nielsen viewer ratings of the Sci-Fi television show Fringe. The working title is Into the Looking Glass: A Companion Guide to 'Fringe'.

And again, the pre-publication research is given an intense workout before the "creative writing" portion of the project which will eventually be viewed by the public.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jack Massey, 96 (HUG-meister}

It was with great sadness I learned this weekend of the passing of Jack Massey, a fixture in the community of Palatka, North-Central Florida, for decades. An affable anchor at his jewelry/photography shop downtown, he held court - at odd hours as he neared his Century - telling truly awful jokes and gossiping. A trait we shared, long before I wrote the following profile for a local magazine.

He will be truly - missed.

WAR movie-maker Ken Burns missed a wonderful vignette for his epic saga of WWII when he failed to include 93-year-old Palatka jeweler Jack Massey’s viewpoint of the *Battle of the Bulge.

Massey, a myopic medic in the winter of 1944, sat out five snow-bound foggy days a few miles away from the beleaguered city of Bastigone – in the middle of a briar patch.

Surrounded by Nazi troops, many of whom decided to use the fringe of Jack’s 10x20-foot hideout as a latrine, he sat out his stint on the front lines of the last great battle of “the big one”.

“I had put my own entrenching tool to good use too, digging a hole big enough to keep from being captured!” he recalled.

Massey, is a sprightly character who seems to have wandered Palatka’s downtown forever when he merges from his shop, with its clock-faced showcase window piercing a dull black-painted brick fa├žade.

He can usually be spotted bedecked in patriotic-colored suspenders, wearing lens-less spectacles (which support a jeweler’s loupe) as part of his alluring uniform – and an “I Love Hugs” button pinned to his shirt as a proclamation of his persona.

His saunter-speed along the sidewalk depends on the inevitable interruptions as he collects hugs en route, given by local gal groupies.

“I’m an old man – what can I do?” he innocently poses the question with a twinkle in his eye.

Usually he’s found propping up the counter, chatting to customers within the confines of the landmark Jewelry & Photo Supply shop at 615 St. Johns Avenue, under the watchful eye of daughter Suzy, youngest of the seven children he’s had between two wives.

His first died in a tragic freakish accident, slain by the flying blade from a broken lawn-mower (on their 13th wedding anniversary) the second from natural causes.

After surviving close to a century the southerner, with kin in Alabama and Georgia, has adapted to Florida’s ways and weathered the boom-bust-boom-bust cycles.

“Pop, a veteran of the Great War (1914-1918) moved from Alabama to Jacksonville in 1919 when he bought the Liberty Sign Company,” Massey said.

“He was 6” 4”, a good-looking rascal and the women went crazy over him. Mom was just five-foot,” he explained as he barreled north along SR 100 in his half-ton pick-up with a hefty cargo in back. The jeweler turned junkman for a day was not hauling precious metal, befitting his occupation, but a slab of cast aluminum to the 1st Coast Recycling Inc., collection site.

With a modern alchemists touch he converted the discarded base metal into cold cash, which in turn will morph from money into the Palatka All Saints Anglican Church Parrish Hall - one day.

“Pop’s sign business made money hand over fist, until Black Friday of ‘29 and the Depression which followed,” he recalled. “He was able to pay off $300,000 debts - cash – then we all had to go to grandma’s farm in Georgia, to eat!”

The active teenaged Jack Massey spent two years in the country earning his keep on the farm milking cows and plowing fields.

“Luckily, the mule knew much more about his job than I did, thank goodness” he chuckled. “He knew when it was time to feed and time to quit and when he headed for the barn, that was it.”

Like many youngsters of the era he was an enthusiastic member of the newly-formed BSA (Boy Scouts of America) fathered by Baden-Powell in England in 1907.

The organization’s tenets played a major role throughout his life, despite his apparent characteristic Lothario-like flirtations (call it Southern Charm).

On a memorable day in mid-August 1935, he says, a life-saving escapade propelled him onto the front page of the Denver Post & Rocky Mountain News. He shared it with the announcement of the death of American pundit, champion lariat performer and movie star Will Rogers.

“It’s a day I’ll never forget.”

The fortunes of the Massey family had fluctuated with the passing years as they joined the migratory patterns of many other Americans seeking far-flung opportunities. Jack’s educational studies at Birmingham-Southern, Alabama, were cut short then resumed at several other locales.

He attended one semester as a pre-med student at UCLA (University of California) but an upset in the family disenchanted him. He was en route back to his roots, where his father had secured a patent on a window security device, when they stayed in a cabin complex near the Platte River in Colorado.

“Some boys were fishing off a railroad trestle. One boy’s line wrapped around a temporary power cable and when he tried to unravel it – splat!”

The flash, scream and splash from the teenager propelled the Eagle Scout into rescue mode. He stripped down to his shorts then jumped in feet first into the river, groping around in the murky water.
“I couldn’t see diddly-squat, then I felt a foot,” he said. He pulled the 14-year-old to land, told the younger boys to run for help, then began artificial respiration.

“Out goes the bad – in comes the good,” he repeated the drill litany he’d learned on his way to earning merit badges.

When the boy’s body wriggled he knew his training had paid off. By the time the sound of an ambulance siren could be heard the victim, his hands charred from the electric shock, volunteered to walk.

“I told him I’d pulled him back once – I wasn’t going to do it again,” huffed Jack. He hoisted the boy onto his shoulder in a fireman’s lift and carried him toward the ambulance. “It wasn’t until we got close, and a nurse came out, I realized I was in soaking wet shorts. I was more concerned about my nakedness, than about the victim!”

The story got around, was picked up by the wire services and made front page news in Denver. He said his folks did not know about it until the cabin manager said AP (Associated Press) wanted to speak to Mr. Massey – the younger.

“I hadn’t told them (about the rescue). It was just what you did, then,” Jack explained.

During his early pre-wandering period a favored uncle had taken his young nephew on a day trip up-river from Jacksonville to Palatka when it had been a tourist Mecca. The memory remained for decades.

Throughout the period of his father’s successful decorative wrought-iron security business, his own life-threatening short stint working in a machine shop (loose clothing got caught in moving parts) and his persistence in obtaining the jewelry job he really wanted – Palatka images lingered.

Massey worked for the Duval Jewelry Company in Tampa from the Depression era to the outbreak of WWII. He beat out the many competitors for the job by charming a female employee – out taking a coffee break – to deliver a hand-written note to her boss: ”Don’t do anything until you talk to me.”

It resulted in an hours long interview and instructions to start work the next day.

After the war, married with children, he and a partner operated a jewelry business in Tampa until his first wife’s death.

Then in 1954 he rediscovered Palatka.

“Oddly enough the shop was owned and operated by the man who replaced me at Duval when I went into the service,” he shrugged. It has proven to be a bedrock of security for the Massey family and countless customers who have become his friends over the years.

“We do more than repair broken jewelry, watches and cameras,” he said. “We mend broken hearts, too.”

At 93 years of age he shows no sign of slowing down or quitting his membership and activities in numerous service, social and church organizations in Putnam County.

At least, not until he hits his 111th birthday.

“That’s my lucky number,” smiles the soldier who survived the Battle of the Bulge in a briar patch, while serving as an ambulance driver and mobile X-Ray specialist in - the 111th General Hospital.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Azalea Day Arrival Heralds Spring

> Spring is forcing its way out of the frozen earth, bursting from bud to blossom.

Just in time for the amazing Azalea Day (today) where 95,000 multi-colored hand-planted bushes were installed during the Great Depression, in a 146-acre park created in, and around the 130-feet deep ravine, will be viewed by "bookoo" visitors. The Ravine has been around yonks (eons) gradually forming as underground springs eroded the sandy soil.

We, my dog Basher, schlepped the two-mile paved roadway yesterday, to beat the crowds, We avoided the hiker-paths (and ticks) and suspension bridges across the sulphur-ozoned natural springs; alligators lurk under lily-pads where Basher would gladly become "Splasher".

The relaxing nature of the ramble still stimulated the brain.

During American Civil War days, when Florida was officially on the side of the Union, southern soldiers from the Confederate
side raided this appendix to the body politic dangling in isolation. The Ravine's natural springs, dense undergrowth, and easy access to the up-side-down flowing St. John's River and transport shipping, was a Sherwood Forest to marauders.

Gotta be a story there


ps: Think the wilderness is tamed - check out the warning!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Once upon a time in the land of Books...

The time between creating copy and producing a finished books was often measured in years, rather than months, weeks, days -- or in the case of e-books, minutes -- a little while back.

I'd bet more than even odds many of today's readers; and quite possibly writers outside the print 'n ink production business, had anything beyond a rudimentary grasp of the process.

I hope this "clunky" version from the past, when dresses were long and haircuts were short, will entertain and amuse you as much as it did me.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Allergies in the Air - Spring Break is Here!

This is 'Gator country!
Not just for the the University of Florida's Gainesville-based football team, but the original occupants of the land - ALLIGATORS!

This beaut was catching a few rays one March a couple years back when I cruised Dunn's Creek, a tributary off of the "upside-down" north-flowing St. Johns River. The unusual body of water runs "uphill" from a marshy section of central Florida, deepens to a depth which allowed a Civil War Naval Battle to take place near Sanford (North-West of Cape Canaveral)and enters the Atlantic Ocean near the Georgia state border.

College kids from around the country usually flock to Florida for a Spring Break, round about now, after going cabin-crazy on snow-bound campuses throughout the rest of the USA - Canada and few European. For years, Daytona Beach was a partying mecca, with white white-sand solid beaches where cars can be drive.

But for those who headed into the state's wilderness areas in search of sport - or on a "funny" mushroom hunt - could bump into one of Florida's living symbols, catching a few rays.

Always, with one eye cocked for any pale snacks which might splash his way!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

True Love Lasts Forever

These old friends share a true love which outlasts frippery and frolics of the Hollywood variety, beyond retailers boxes of chocolates, geegaws and cute cards meant to stimulate trade.

The applied lipstick, transfered to a slip of paper, left an impression of "The Perfect Kiss" - mebbe!

They entered the fun and feel of the day as a time of exuberance, far beyond the conventional sell-by date, to captured its spirit with a sense of companionship and competition.

They made MY day!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Another Day In Paradise

Nothing quite spices up the morning when, stooping to retrieve the paper from the driveway, a succession of pistol shots are fired nearby.

Pop-pop. Pop-pop-pop-pop, pop-pop, pop.

The possibility of one's neighborhood being featured as the headline in the next day's newspaper, suddenly becomes very real.

It happened in my neighborhood yesterday, shortly before 7am when the steady thrum of rubber tires on asphalt from the nearby four-lane highway, drowned out the sounds of bird-song and cockerels crowing. Yellow school bus diesel engines purred in concert, collected in a convoy as they neared the small community's single traffic light at the cross-roads, readying to turn toward the Middle and High Schools.

Dogs of all varieties, in, out and under a cluster of mobile-homes scattered within sandy and wooded lots bordering washboard dusty roads, yelped and barked.
Not a soul was to be seen except a cluster of scared-looking parents and children gathered, waiting for the later Bible School bus. Safety and curiosity tugged, briefly, before caution overruled and retreat to the comparative safety of the cedar-frame and tin-roofed Victorian house, won out.

The 911 Emergency Operator said she was already aware of the gun-shots, thank you very much, click!

Its very unsettling knowing one's active imagination has NOT transformed the backfiring of an old clunker, somewhere in the distance, to the reality of lethal gunfire nearby.

The instincts of a lifetime on the front lines of police reporting, pen and camera pushing toward the greatest source of activity to determine who did what to whom, when and why, were strong. However, as a “civilian” one has the right to pay pay taxes, call on the law when necessary, but otherwise, stay below the radar. Also, with maturity comes a realization of personal vulnerability and likelihood of becoming an innocent-bystander victim caught in a collateral collisions between good and evil. The certainty of invincibility dissipated along with hair and original teeth.

Dozens of scenarios race through ones mind: a domestic dispute, a drug-deal gone sour, feuding neighbors or an early celebration of an unknown Latino holiday. That last was cruel but real. Seems there can be no event, whether its the birth of a newborn, the outcome of a football/soccer game, or heralding the New Year, without fireworks and gun-shots.

As any student of Newton's Law of Gravity knows, what goes up must come down. And bullets, after peaking at their trajectory, have a return rate to earth of 32-feet per second per second.

There was nothing about the shoot-out on any of the area television newscasts. Apart from bickering, babbling and preening for the cameras – always a a split-second after the angle changed – the studio clowns joshed their way between an avalanche of commercials, weather reports, traffic updates and canned network newscasts,

No sense calling the local newspapers during the current economic crunch to get a recoded message stating: “You have reached an unoccupied desk. If you wish to leave a message call...” following by a string of gabbled numbers no one unfamiliar with could possible retain.

A day housebound, at least until the sound of sirens in the distance; patrol cruisers, emergency vehicles, fire-trucks fade away for good.

The laundry, file sorting, bill paying, tasks set aside for a rainy day loom as an immediate time filler until its deemed safe to venture out to the bank, post-office and grocery store.

All doors and windows closed and locked, while the mighty-mouth AM radio jockey babbling in the background, just in case a listener with a police monitors calls in an up-date.

The Middle-East is in turmoil, there are two wars being waged overseas, airports are combat zones with frisk and squeeze security scans, terrorists with bombs in their skivvies fly the friendly skies overhead, and some nutter is firing shots in the neighborhood.

And, as someone with the ear of the nation was wont to say as he signed off his newscast: “That's the way it is.”

Can't wait to pick up tomorrows newspaper and find out what happened – but not holding my breath of any explanation.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Words + Music = The Blues

Blues performer John Rogers gave WAG (Writers Alliance of Gainesville) members a glimpse into the life of a wordsmith who sets his tales to music, in the tradition of the Blues.

He traced the source of the blues, words recalling deeds and woes set in a sing-song form which made the telling easier to recall for the teller and easier on the ear of the listener. Unlike lyrical Broadway musicals with Moon, June, Spoon rhyming words, the blues can be childish verse (Mary Had a Little Lamb)or a litany of woeful episodes, told against a rhythmic musical beat.

He strummed his acoustical guitar for an hour or so talking/singing a potted history of the blues and those who had carved a name for themselves in the genre. Rather like writers known for their romances, historical novels, mystery and war. Those who attended could be seen reflecting on incidents in their lives which might qualify for the Blues.

And the good-news for those musically challenged - the blues can be talked or croaked within the comfort-zone of the story-teller. Hitting High-C is not a requirement. However, playing an instrument would be a plus!

ps: spoons are considered an instrument ;^))

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Tools To Write By

I don't know what children use to write their first words today, but white chalk and a grey slate board was my first tool.

It's not quite as archaic as it sounds. Teachers communicated to students by demonstrating on a wall-mounted blackboard, using chalk. A classroom toady, inevitably seated as close to the teacher's desk as was humanly possible, gleefully grabbed the chalk-eraser at the end of class to expunge the lessons of the day.

Later it moved up to colored wax crayons which, fortunately, I did not develop a taste for. I vividly recall watching the rigorous efforts of the matronly schoolteacher wielding a rough cloth towel on another kindergartner, trying to expunge the purple lipstick-like glob from him.

Teachers indulged in a lot of “hands-on” activity, from tweaked and cuffed ears, to knuckle ruler-raps. Lurking in the background was the ever-present threat of a canning and the ultimate humiliating punishment – a thrashing before the assembled school. In a world which readily accepted the premise of “spare the rod and spoil the child”, and heartily subscribed to the concept of corporeal punishment as a valuable teaching tool, watching one's P's & Q's was a survival tactic.

Transferring oversized block letters from chalk to crayon to pencil and reducing word size to fit between the lines of ruled paper, was a milestone moment.

The ritual of pencil-sharpening, at the hand-cranked pencil-sharpener mounted on the wall – within striking distance of the teacher – encouraged most to acquire a pencil box with rubber-eraser and hand-held pencil sharpener. It also introduced pen-knives into the lives of children who were repeatedly admonished to “don't run with an open blade.”

Another major leap forward, from creating whole words in pencil, was to join block letters into cursive, using steel-nib pens and black ink. The institutionally issued ink, carefully measured into porcelain ink-wells by ink-monitors before being placed into individual desks, became a constant source of consternation. Not only did it react to weather conditions, rather like syrup in the winter and watery during summer, but it seemed to have a mind of its own.

Along with pen and ink came the indispensable blotting-paper. A thick, usually pink or green, absorbent paper whose pores soaked up spilled ink and dried-off freshly penned prose. [Also, most effective as pellets, the ink-soaked missiles most found – and always left - their mark.]

The skill of cursive words was not so much in the steady hand of the writer so much as the careful intake of ink. To much created messy disaster and to little created chicken-scratch paper rips.

School-issue pens, with their slender white-wood handles the size of a drinking-straw, and sharp steel-nibs, were strictly utilitarian. They were designed to get the job – children, writing for the use of – done. The nibs may have been designed to create cursive words; the split point spreading for broad down-strokes and together for other maneuvers, may have looked identical but each reacted differently. Either they delivered to much ink to the point of the pen, or not enough. The first resulted in ink blobs on paper where their should have been a letter – the other called for a quick flick ( which could result in a Jackson Pollock-appearing page... and neighbor) or a student's saliva. The theory was, moistened pen-nibs allowed the ink to flow more freely.

One very apparent reality, based on the appearance of black-ink lipsticked students, is it was a common practice. Also, a precursor to smoker's nicotine-stained fingers, ink-covered fingers were a sure indication of a pen-writing student and an introduction to a pumice-stone scrubbing session.

No all of the writing disasters were a result of the product issued.

Boys being boys, numerous other uses were found other than writing, for pens. They became darts or arrows, depending whether they were thrown or projected from a sock-garter or rubber band. They were excellent close-quarters swords or daggers in impromptu fights and scuffles. They became catapults for rubber erasers broken into capsule-sized projectiles stuck on the nib, braced back and released. They were also quite handy and retrieving coins in floor-cracks, and other objects just out of finger reach. Following their extra-curricular activities, the nibs did not fare well in the intended purpose, consequently exercise book writing was not of prize-wining copperplate quality.

Depending on the depth of the student's parents pockets, school-issue pens could be replaced with store-bought pens and special gold-tipped nibs or fountain-pens with platinum tips. The ritual began with unscrewing the bottle of quality ink. Blue was most popular, followed by purple, red and green; although the red was usually reserved for diagrams – or teacher's comments, corrections and grading. A rubber tube within the shaft of the pen was depressed and inflate – siphoning ink up from the bottle – by a lever in the body of the shaft. Depending on the bladder size, a writer could complete several pages in luxury, with no need to dip a pen nib.

That was the extent of school writing tools, despite the newly invented ball-point pen marketed by Biro and later, Bic. The schoolboy scribblings which some teachers described as “marks left by a drunken spider who crawled out of an inkwell” caused ball-point pens to be banned from school.

Pen-nibs may have created pools of ink, blots and scratches but they forced students into measured and methodical strokes to ensure fewer errors. The universal point of ball-point pens had so such restrictions and the resulting writings were often as indecipherable to students as well as teachers.

My quantum leap into the writing tool future, beyond handwritten notes, essays and stories, came for me with an ancient early 1900's Oliver typewriter, retrieved from a junk-shop after school. It weighed in at 30-pounds, looked like the twin-peaks of a two-hump Asian camel (or Mae West) and took a major down-stroke workout to get the keys clacking onto the roller.

It may have looked odd, and could give me a hernia relocating it from one desk site to another, but the wobbly printed letters were legible. Writing produced on paper via a black-ink ribbon, began to look like a book.

It launched a lifetime love and a career in the craft which has lasted to this day.


Friday, January 14, 2011

Save The Sahara Forests - Before Its To Late [pre-BC Press Release]

Protesters turn Parliament effigy into a pyre at Forest of Dean site (Guardian)

I'm getting emails from County folks and others in UK concerned with the fate of the fading forests. They're looking for signatures on a petition, and to raise awareness before it becomes a fait accompli. You probably know more about it than me - but if not, here's the gen.

BTW, earlier tree-hugging procrastinators (see headline) paid the price ;^))

@ @ @

Dear (YOUR Name),

Happy New Year! Over the holidays 50,000 more people joined the campaign against government plans to sell off our woodlands. That means that over 135,000 of us have now signed the Save Our Forests petition.

Together we're making sure the forest sell off plans are noticed. The huge petition has encouraged experts to speak out and it's been on the news and in lots of newspapers.

But the government is still trying to sneak through new laws so they can sell all our forests. We need to stop them. A huge petition will force them to think again.

Please help get past 150,000 signatures by forwarding this e-mail and asking your friends to sign as well:

If they want to read more about what could happen to our forests before they sign the petition, there are links to lots of recent newspaper articles explaining what's going on here:

A lot of people still haven't heard about the government's plans to sell off our woodlands. We need to spread the word. We need to make sure people know about these plans while they are still just plans - not when it's too late and forests are already being fenced off, run down, logged or built over.

If enough people sign the petition, we can make the government think again. This campaign is growing every day. Thousands of us have chipped in to raise nearly £20,000 for the Save Our Forests campaign fund. That's money we can use to put pressure on the government by holding Save Our Forests events across the country, hiring experts to expose the flaws in the government plans and making sure that politicians know how many of us want to protect our forests.

A petition of 150,000 will be one of the biggest ever - something the government can't ignore. Please ask your friends to join the Save Our Forests campaign by signing the petition at:

If you use Facebook, please also spread the word by sharing the petition on your profile:

If you use Twitter, please send a “tweet” about the petition by clicking here:

Forests like the Forest of Dean, the New Forest, Grizedale, Thetford, and Alice Holt are national treasures. Once they’re gone, they are lost forever. If we get enough signatures on the petition, we have a bigger chance of making sure they are protected for wildlife and future generations.

Please ask your friends to join the campaign to save our forests by signing the petition here:

Thanks for being involved,

David, Hannah, Johnny and the 38 Degrees team

[1] You can read articles and find links to videos about the campaign here:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kindle's "Mini-Books" Balloon - Is It Just A Marketing Ploy?

Those wonderful people I love to hate -- Amazon -- the brick 'n mortar bookshop killers, floated a test balloon before writers recently. This ploy requires wannabe contributors to respond, presumably to determine if enough writers go for it.

Dunno if the idea burst or is still being calculated by the Bezos Bean Counters, but it might be a potential venue for short-haul story-tellers.

It could plug the gap between 99-cent short stories at one end, now being offered on other sites, and $9.99 tomes at the other. The more markets the merrier.

Here's the skinny in case you overlooked it:

SEATTLE, Oct 12, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) --
(NASDAQ:AMZN)--Less than 10,000 words or more than 50,000: that is the choice writers have generally faced for more than a century--works either had to be short enough for a magazine article or long enough to deliver the "heft" required for book marketing and distribution. But in many cases, 10,000 to 30,000 words (roughly 30 to 90 pages) might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated--whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event.
Today, Amazon is announcing that it will launch "Kindle Singles"--Kindle books that are twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much less than a typical book. Today's announcement is a call to serious writers, thinkers, scientists, business leaders, historians, politicians and publishers to join Amazon in making such works available to readers around the world.
"Ideas and the words to deliver them should be crafted to their natural length, not to an artificial marketing length that justifies a particular price or a certain format," said Russ Grandinetti, Vice President, Kindle Content. "With Kindle Singles, we're reaching out to publishers and accomplished writers and we're excited to see what they create."
Like all Kindle content, Kindle Singles will be "Buy Once, Read Everywhere"--customers will be able to read them on Kindle, Kindle 3G, Kindle DX, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, Mac, PC, BlackBerry, and Android-based devices. Amazon's Whispersync technology syncs your place across devices, so you can pick up where you left off. In addition, with the Kindle Worry-Free Archive, Kindle Singles will be automatically backed up online in your Kindle library on Amazon where they can be re-downloaded wirelessly for free, anytime.
To be considered for Kindle Singles, interested parties should contact