Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Thoughts on Random Things

Have you ever--and I know you have--opened your silverware drawer and wondered what's up with this random butter knife?
Or maybe it's a spoon matching no pattern you've ever owned. Seldom, a fork. And why is that, do you suppose? Forks must have a hard time repositioning themselves.
The strange knife with the floral pattern embellished on its handle spurred me to ponder about random possessions. They flow through my life like river flotsam: scarves, socks, serving utensils, plates, even at times, animals. They show up for a time, then move with the space/time continuum. Beamed in to help me make a sandwich or to lick my hand, then gone when I think to chase them down.
Random things intrigue me, especially in my writing life. What is the story of that knife? Did it coast in with a shared loaf of banana bread and leave as easily with a tin of cookies? Do ghosts appear and make themselves sandwiches, leaving their favorite knives behind? That would explain the fact I seem to never run even with the sliced turkey/cheese count. Maybe they're the ones leaving the pickle jars in the refrigerator, with just one lonely dill bobbing in a gallon of brine.
Do these same entities move my car keys and the novel I was reading? Hm...
See what comes of me having time off to think?
My best to you for a Happy New Year. It will, no doubt, be filled with degrees of emotion. Good and bad.
Random and predictable.
May you always find random things to bring a little wonder into your life.
Rhett DeVane

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Muses Return...and bring their joy.



The universe has sneaky ways to remind me of things I’ve conveniently forgotten. Kudos to the universe. It’s light-years ahead of me in the smarts’ department ( like that’s news).

The first tap came last weekend when I spotted and purchased a framed quote in a gift shop—more of a slap than a tap. Here’s the quote:

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.” –Tyler Knot Gregson

The quote hangs in my bathroom, where I will read it every morning.

The second El Kabong came as I replanted a clump of volunteer clover. A small grey rock with the word JOY etched on one side fell from its hidey-hole in a stack of planters. This rock, a gift from a friend many years ago, had vanished amidst the garden rubble. Add to this: clover is associated with luck. Double whack.

The word JOY is one letter away from being the word JOB.

How many times recently have I transformed writing into a job rather than a joy? Too many. Many seminars I’ve attended in the past few years have focused on the “work” of writing. The phrase wormed into my heart and my joyful creative life turned into a toil, a struggle, a JOB. Shame on me for insulting the muses.

Third knock on the noodle came via author Cheryl Strayed. I devoured her creative nonfiction “Wild”, then moved on to order “Tiny Beautiful Things,” a book filled with questions and answers once published as an advice column.

One selection reminded me to simply write…that it is my joy, my calling, my purpose. To quit worrying about whether this book or that one will land in the hands of some New York publisher: that is not my concern. So many things in this life are clearly chance, fate… My mission is to WRITE THE BEST BOOK I CAN.

The importance of  perfecting the craft can’t be downplayed. And it gets both easier and harder, the longer I do it. The necessity of approaching agents, yammering on Facebook and Twitter, and networking still exists. No one is going to show up at my door, contract in hand, and sweep me away in a limo. It’s up to me to do my part.


I pledge to allow joy to overshadow jabber. My clutch of muses—a temperamental inbred bunch who hate Southern humidity and flee for Canada in late May—are back. Glad to see y’all. Missed you. Hope you’re ready to dance, because this writer is ready to lead, or follow.

I don’t need a fourth clobber to get it. I’m smart that way.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Does God laugh?

 Does God laugh?

One sure-fire way to eject yourself from a bad case of election year doldrums (when you want to puncture your eardrums with an icepick if you hear even one more session of muck-raking): think of someone you like and allow their laughter to ring in your memory. This works for both folks "on this side" and others who have "made their transitions." You will instantly feel uplifted. It works. Amazing.

My father's laughter boomed, like his voice. He opened his mouth wide and let the mirth whoosh out. My mother's was more timid, a little chortle at first, then full-on belly laughter if she was really tickled. My sister's sounded a lot like my mother's, with a little wind chime quality that made everyone around her smile. And my brother? He's still on the earth, so I can ring him up and hear his laughter. Or I can call its gentle rumble from memory. Either way.

I can call to mind the laughter of coworkers, life-long friends, family members, and sometimes casual acquaintances. Some snort, some titter, some guffaw. And they never cease to make me smile when their mirth--as individual as their fingerprints--calls to me from its file in my mental storage.

Taking this one step further--as I tend to do--I wondered if God laughs. Plenty of spots in the Bible refer to joy. To peace. One place in Ecclesiastes (3:4) speaks of a "time to laugh." But nowhere do I find tales of God or Jesus laughing. Hm...

One fellow, well-versed in biblical knowledge, commented that we might not want a jester as the ultimate leader. Imagine your surgeon with your life in his/her hands, yukking it up. Okay, I get that. But...

I like to think God, the universe, the ultimate power (however one perceives it), as taking time to listen to both our laments and cries for help/mercy/compassion and to hear our laughter. Seems everything is about balance, and why should this be any different? The sound of human suffering, the pounding of the war machines, the heartbreak of everyday living must somehow, in my humble estimation, seek the flip-side music of chortles, guffaws, and giggles.

The job would be intolerable otherwise.

I hope God laughs.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Swimming lessons, Southern-style

(note: this is nothing like the life preserver mentioned in this piece.
I could find no samples to match. I think the company burned all evidence.)

I lounged by the Trousdell public pool and experienced an epiphany. As a writer, I live for a good epiphany. As soon as I grab one by the short hairs, I slam it to the ground and wrestle it onto paper. My characters depend on me to supply these profound thoughts. I like to share.

Epiphany. Epiphany. Epiphany.

If I repeat it enough, the word sounds absurd, a silly term some frat boy invented after knocking back a fifth of Jack Daniels Black while watching a babe curl her body around a dance floor pole.

Must’ve been the endorphins behind this particular epiphany. I had completed ten laps (ten!) and felt fairly righteous. For once, I wasn’t parked at home in front of the laptop. I had actually expended energy. And no paramedics got involved.

Bears hibernate in winter; I hibernate in summer. I should’ve been dropped off in Canada as a wiggling infant. Stupid stork with a faulty GPS landed me in the Deep South. Dixie has its good points: sweet tea, chicken ’n’ dumplings, extra syllables in every spoken word. The stifling heat and humidity aren’t on the short list.

Back to that epiphany. I have focus issues from late May until mid-October.

A scene popped to mind as I watched one of the lifeguards work with a group of children. The “sink or swim” school: my father’s version a swimming lesson.

The year: 1961. July. Air hotter than a three-peckered billy-goat. Me, at four and a half, in an aqua and lime one-piece swimsuit. Wispy blond hair. Knock knees. A dimpled smile—until my daddy lashed me into a Day-Glo orange marshmallow and tossed me (yes, tossed) into the middle of the family pool. Let me add here: we weren’t wealthy. My daddy built that in-ground pool. If he wanted something, he made it himself.

The screams could be heard all the way into town, and we lived three and a half miles from Chattahoochee. Nowadays, it would’ve been enough to summon a team of child welfare agents with their official notepads set on stun. Back then, the nearest neighbor probably paused for a moment, then shrugged. Just another snot-nosed kid learning to dog-paddle.

Non-swimmers didn’t survive long in my neck of the Florida panhandle. Everywhere I turned, a body of water loomed: Lake Seminole, the Apalachicola River, numerous ponds, springs, pools, and deep mud holes. I had to learn to swim. Or die. Or fall prey to one of the gators/snakes/snapping turtles/river monsters that lurked in wait for floundering children and small yippy dogs.

What I know now:

1.    Daddy was only a step away.

2.    That ’60s-era flotation device could’ve bobbed a mature manatee three feet above the water’s surface.

3.    I was in more danger from choking from that vest than drowning.

4.    My daddy taught me a valuable life lesson.

Here’s the epiphany:

Everything important I have ever done, I’ve learned by jumping in (or being tossed in), and figuring out how to survive.

Education was crucial. Teachers guided me. Mentors praised and scolded. But learning by doing, swallowing the blinding fear and a good amount of pride, was, and still is, the best way. The only way.

I’ve found this true in my writing. When I started out years ago, I knew little about point of view, plotting, character development, original language, or effective dialogue. I simply wished to tell a story. And I did. Just not well.

I kept dog-paddling, barely keeping the vital airways clear. Each time I failed, I’d cough and sputter, curl up for a bit, get ticked off, and dive in once more. Soon, I lengthened my strokes, creativity flowed, and I improved. And I’m still working on it.

A hybrid, I’m not. Nothing fancy. I require no special pampering, no expensive fertilizer, no designer pot, no private gardener.

I’m as tenacious as a ditch weed.

But that’s an epiphany for another day.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Some funny thoughts on a stinky subject...

Some may say writing a blog isn’t REALLY writing—I differ on that opinion—but I’m taking a break from novel revisions and have some dumb stuff to say. Blogging, the perfect junk food.

I have amazing friends. Truly. The kind of folks that I can talk to about anything, anytime, and at great length until we’re just sitting and breathing into the phone headset like we did when we were teens and didn’t want to hang up long enough to do anything else.

I’m referring to the kind of folks that will discuss bodily functions at ease, pouring over solutions to basic human issues. The huge one for the weekend, especially given our Deep South humidity and mind-killing heat: sweat.

I took a quick count of the half-used antiperspirants languishing in my bathroom cabinet. Languish is a perfect word right now. Any action above the languish level might bring on a stroke. Yes, I realize a toiletry is not capable of languishing. I know it’s wrong to lavish human qualities on inanimate objects, but I do. I worry about my poor little Honda Claudia sitting out there in the full-on sun. Worry she might come down with an automotive version of melanoma, a curling paint carcinoma curable only by a visit to a body shop. Yikes.

Where was I? Oh yeah. The official household antiperspirant tally.

Seven. If you don’t count the line-up of powders. Seven! And I’m not some weirdo cosmetic hoarder. Anyone from “down here” knows you have to rotate them, like tires (geez, back to the automotive thing again.) I’ll bounce along, perfectly ladylike for a couple of weeks, then suddenly whatever brand — and generally layers of powder and Secret/Dove/Dial/Degree/Stink-Away — fails to live up to its label. One minute I’m a flowery dewdrop. The next, redneck road kill festering on the asphalt. I can almost hear those folks in marketing snickering. “Make up a new brand name Phil. She’ll buy it.”

My friend told me about a foolproof product, a “clinical-strength” waterproof deodorant that kicks the caps off the others and leaves their waxy little domes cracking in it’s wake. A waterproof deodorant! Imagine.

We pushed the discussion one step beyond absurdity. No small surprise. To a new product we’d like to see: underarm shellac. A spray-on product kin to polyurethane, beautiful in its simplicity, a cure for underarm moisture and the hordes of foul bacteria building homes and schools in their dark hovels. You could market two versions: satin finish for everyday and high-gloss for those evenings out. Perhaps add a shimmer of disco glitter for that special event.

Then I had to break the creative magic spell. “How would you let it dry? I mean, if you have your arms raised, then you wouldn’t be able to lower them. And if you sprayed and clamped them shut, you couldn’t drive or brush your teeth.”

Back to the drawing board.

For now, I will venture out in my poor, beleaguered little Honda, in search of that atomic strength stuff that probably sells for  half a paycheck. And if if works, I plan on buying my friend lunch soon.

Rhett DeVane
Fiction with a Southern Twist

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Good Cleaning Out

“You look like you could use a Good Cleaning Out.” My Grandma DeVane looked at me with appraising eyes, seeing through muscle, connective tissue, and blood, straight to my guts. How did she do that? Must’ve been with the same “eyes in the back of her head” she called to action when I misbehaved out of her direct line of vision. Mama had the same talent.

A Good Cleaning Out entailed a supersized serving spoon of something slick and vile, in Grandma DeVane’s case, mineral oil. Others in my age group, and from the Deep South, have reported similar experiences, but with castor oil. Heaven help that any of our generation lived past twenty, what with drinking from the water hose, riding in the back of speeding pick-ups without safety restraints, and biking without helmets.

The cure for a bad cough was a drop of kerosene on a sugar cube. But that’s another story. No small wonder I would not have been the best choice as a taste-tester after the BP Gulf oil spill. My body’s acclimated to petroleum products. Shrimp and Grits with pure sweet crude might bring misty reminiscences of Grandma’s home remedies.

Strange, I recall feeling better after the Good Cleaning Out. Purified. Near holy. Crapping like a crippled goose had to bring some rewards.

Cleaning out “stuff” brings the same sense of ahhhh with less intestinal agony. Closets, the garage, my piles of writing tablets and author flotsam. Amazing how purging my work space will often summon the muses. They don’t abide clutter. It makes them pack their little literary duffle bags and check out.

Nature abhors a vacuum. As soon as a clean space announces itself, paper, books and stuff rush to fill it. The cycle renews.

But for one second, I sense the importance of a Good Cleaning Out.

Thanks, Grandma.

Rhett DeVane
Fiction with a Southern Twist

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Best Gifts are Free.

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a little fish fry for my brother Jimmy’s birthday. Jimmy—Gabby—is my only living sibling. Our sister Melody passed away at the young age of 61, a few years back. Jimmy was golden before that—the older, wiser, and goofier sibling—but he became more dear to me after we lost our sister. Jimmy shares the DeVane family sense of humor and gift of gab. He and I can talk to just about anyone about anything, for hours. Makes running to the grocery store for just milk and bread an all-morning affair, at times.

Back when none of us had any money for presents, we would fashion heartfelt gifts from whatever we had on hand. Cards were drawn in ink, permanent markers, or crayon. For a few years, holiday gifts had to be handmade. And those were the ones we most valued.

Keeping with this Southern cracker-ingenuity tradition, I decided to make Jimmy’s gift. But what? Then the perfect solution appeared: a sign for his new recording studio. See, my brother, in addition to many other hats he has donned over the years, holds great love and respect for classic country music. For years, he co-owned a little private radio station in Quincy, Florida—WGWD. People knew they could depend on the station to air music not heard on mainstream, prerecorded formats. The DJs even made their own commercials for their advertisers, and often threw in tidbits about the recording artists. Imagine that.

When the station sold last year, the cries flew to the heavens! Where did y’all go? Where will we find anyone like you? So Jimmy and his cohorts launched a station onto the Internet, and it took off like a scalded dog. Soon, they had to change to a commercial status because of the high listener volume.

All this, to share why I made this sign. And how. I found a cruddy piece of sawed-off cedar. Brushed the dirt and cobwebs away. One end hadn’t been cut evenly, but that was perfect. I don’t generally use tools with the capacity to saw off digits, as I work as a dental hygienist, and write my novels with those fingers.

I searched for black paint for the lettering, but all of my art supplies had long since dried to cracked plastic. Run to Lowes? Nope. I blew out three black markers and two colored markers on that rough wood.

Next, how to hang it. I drilled two small holes (drills don’t generally maim) and ran a piece of wire through. I added a little flair with packing jute wrapped around the wire, using a knot I recalled from my macramé days. Then I added a little bow at either end.

Finally, to preserve the precious sign. No problem. I had spray polyurethane. I dragged the sign to a cement block outside. The spray container was useless—not empty, but clogged beyond hope and no pressure. Go to Lowes? Nope. I found a can of waterproofing—the kind you use on tents and hiking boots—and hosed down the sign. It sat outside to dry and get over the stench.

The next morning, I wrapped the handcrafted treasure in the gift paper I had on hand—luckily, birthday—and left for the party. My brother took one look at the sign and hammered a nail over one window in his little Internet studio for it to hang.

Whoever said the best things in life are free must’ve made gifts too. My brother's smile proved it.

Listen to Gabby’s show Monday through Friday, 8 till 10 p.m. EST.

Here’s the link: XMRB Internet Radio Station

Love you, bro!
Your "other sister," the one who writes novels and is near'bout as cathead crazy as you are,

Rhett DeVane
Fiction with a Southern twist

Rhett's author website
Rhett's writer's blog: Writers4Higher

Friday, May 25, 2012

Yesterday, I attended a memorial service for a wonderful man I knew only through snippets of conversation shared 50 minutes at a time, every 6 months, for over 25 years. I cherished him, as I do his family.

I've never been a fan of the extreme professional distance school of thought. My patients are much more than random people with "the same set of teeth."

Often, I wonder how medical and dental professionals can push aside attachments to their patients. I refuse to do that. Over my 34 years as a dental hygienist, I've treated the rich and the poor, the famous and the not-so, the angels and the curmudgeons. I've seen pictures of children, grandchildren, pets, gardens, travels, and homes.

My patients--this deep well of friends--listen in turn to my ramblings: plot lines, characters, all things unreal. They've cheered me on and stood in endless lines at book launches. To see those cherished smiles--ones I help to maintain--grinning at me: priceless!

They've also comforted me after the loss of my sister and both parents. Sent cards and flowers when I suddenly fell ill and required serious surgery. Lifted me up on days I didn't feel worth a "plug nickel."

Most know I'm an author, and often share some tale I might include in a novel. One volunteered to pose as a character model for "Hot Mama Jean in her high-healed boots and jeans," a woman I will include somewhere.

We've laughed often, cried a few times, and shared news of births, weddings, graduations, and deaths. Somewhere in there, I managed to do my work, making sure I contributed to their dental health.

When I lose one of my people to The Other Side, I grieve. Then I recall his or her smile, some story we shared, some way we reached across the void to link our humanity. And I feel honored to have been even a 50-minute, 6-month part of their lives.

Godspeed to you, my friend. May we meet again.

Rhett DeVane
Fiction with a Southern Twist

Rhett's website

Writers4Higher Blog

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Crazy Southern author is back!

It's been way too long since I posted to this blog. Life has happened: deaths, births, laughter, tears.

In the meantime, I have published four books. Written thousands of words. Traveled. Met new friends.

From this point, I plan to sign on and blather from time to time. Join me if you wish.

Also visit my new blog dedicated to authors who give back: Writers4Higher

If you'd like a fresh look at my books and vision: Rhett's author website