Category Archives: Writing

The Girl’s Name — Or The Woman’s?

We’re getting early copies of the new book, Concerning The Matter Of The King Of Craw, out to reviewers and a few others whose opinions make a difference.  Nash Cox is one of them. She was Mary Nash when I knew her as a girl in that little town in a bend of the Kentucky River where we grew up. Nash now – an accomplished and sophisticated woman.  Should I sign the copy for her to Nash or Mary Nash?

Professor Charles M. Hudson, noted academic, author, and world-renown authority on Indian cultures the Southeastern United States, was Monk when we were boys there together. I never, ever, called him Charles, or Charlie,  as all his colleagues did. I didn’t know a Charlie. I knew a Monk. I did not do that in circles where he might find it embarrassing,  But otherwise, anywhere, everywhere – Monk. He did similarly, smilingly, with me … Ronnie – especially in circles where I pretended to bit of dignity.

Nash? Or Mary Nash? The girl’s name … or the woman’s? Not as inconsequential a thing as it might seem.

WHY HIM?

Antonio (Anthony Policastro, the CEO & Publisher of the Outer Banks Publishing Group) asked the question, and others, in an interview after reading the final manuscript of Concerning The Matter Of The King Of Craw. Fair question.  The answer, and others, follow:

What brought you to write about John Fallis and his life and times?

King of Craw by Ron RhodyI had just wrapped up When Theo Came Home (the last, maybe, in the Theo trilogy) and was searching for a subject for the next book. I had two ideas. One was for a story about what happens when the meek inherit the earth – you know, the promise in the Beatitudes, Mathew 5.5, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” – what would happen, I wondered, if that happened?  The end of times… everyone gone … to heaven or hell … only the meek left. What would happen? Fascinating idea to play with. The other idea was to try to build a story around John Fallis, the King of Craw. Fallis was a real character, a fascinating character, a dominating figure in Kentucky’s capital city during the Roaring Twenties, controversial at the time, legendary now. I grew up in that town.  I remember hearing stories about about him  – most of them bad. He was a legitimate businessman on the one hand, but on the other a gambler, a brawler, the biggest bootlegger in the whole area with a violent temper and a reputation for mayhem. He was also handsome and charismatic. The  common folk loved him. He helped them and stood up for them against the Establishment. The-powers-that-be thought he was Lucifer unleashed. There is speculation even today that powerful forces in the city sent a hit man to do him in.  I thought I’d try to find out about him and build a story around him. The meek could wait.

Fallis is a real person. How did you get the information you needed to craft an informed story?

 The way a reporter goes about it. Search the record. Ask questions.  Talk to people who might have some information on the matter.  Son Bixie Fallis’s “biography” of his father at the Capital City Museum was a start and an enormous help.  Bixie’s story is that of a loving son writing about a hero father, so it has to be taken with a certain reserve, but it is first hand and intimate. And, thankfully, there is Jim Wallace’s collection of oral history interviews with people who lived in the Bottom and Craw and who did know John Fallis. Those interviews are in Jim’s This Sodom Land treatise done for the University of Kentucky. It is enormously rich. And there is Doug Boyd’s work in his book Crawfish Bottom. It has a whole section on Fallis. Those two pieces, and the local area newspapers, were my principal sources. And there are, of course, people who didn’t know Fallis but have relatives who did and who remember the stories they were told. I managed to find and talk with several of them.  After that, it was a matter of imagining what might have happened or could have happened. I’ve tried to stay true to facts I could uncover and make sure the inferences I’ve drawn from them are fair.

Concerning The Matter Of The King Of Craw is my fourth novel.  I think it is the best. I learned a lot listening to Theo. The first three books are about him and make up the Theo trilogy. They did not start out to be trilogy. But one story led to another and then became three. Like Concerning The Matter, they are set in Frankfort, which is Kentucky’s capital city – a jewel of a place, a river town in a Bluegrass Valley that has a character and a feel to it that works on me like magic. The Theo books are about a young man who starts out as rookie reporter assigned to cover a bizarre murder which leads him to a career in big time newspapering in New York city and other world capitals and ultimately back to that little town on the river trying to decide whether to run for Governor. Along the way there are a couple of murders. There is political intrigue and malfeasance, graft, blackmail, Melungeons, and, of course, a girl, Allie, who becomes a woman and who is in and out of his life through it all. I don’t know whether Theo runs and gets elected Governor or not. At present, I’m not interested in finding out, but I may want to.

I “reported” those first three books.  I grew up newspapering, That’s the way you tell a story – who, what, when, where, why –and, if you can figure it out, how. I think they’re good books. They move fast and the stories should keep the reader wanting to know what happens next.

I didn’t “report” Concerning The Matter Of The King of Craw.  I wrote it. There’s a difference. The who, what, when, where, why, and how are there. But there’s more. I think I’m getting the hang of it.

When you start a novel, who are you writing for?

I’ve given that a lot thought. I’m writing for myself. I’m telling myself the story. If I can hold my interest, keep the story moving, touch a cord of emotion, be intrigued by things I didn’t know, discover something of value in the motives and actions of my characters, I’m happy.  I’m not trying  to do art. Or ” literature.” I’m trying to tell a story. A good story. A worthwhile story.   Our live are built on stories. All we knew is stories — the stories we are told by others … the stories we tell ourselves. We live by stories.

Is there another book on the horizon?

 Probably. For a long time I’ve wanted to try a memoir of a sort. Not a real memoir. A string of stories or vignettes that tell of some of the things – people, places, events – that have mattered and may hold some interest for others. I’m not sure I have the courage to do that. There is the remembering of course. Pain came along with the good times. Not sure I want to revisit all that.  And there is the matter of ego. I’ve never been accused of being overly modest, but there seems something so egotistical about presuming to do a memoir that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with trying one.

Theo is still hanging around. Not sure whether he’ll want to run for Governor or not. Might be interesting to find out what happens if he does. And, of course, there’s the meek. I’ve often thought that given choice of an ambitious Heaven, or the certain beauty of Mother Earth, I’d opt for her.

We’ll see.

 

THE MORNING AFTER – THEO is Home

IMG_0018
Frankfort Mayor Gippy Graham, left, and Kentucky Book Fair event volunteer & Kiwanis Club VP Cathy Carter, right with Ron Rhody before the fair.

So Theo is home.

The story of his return was made public at the Kentucky Book Fair  Saturday, Nov. 16. The curious or interested can know it all now. And I, as his chronicler, am, I think, done.Or more accurately, he is done with me.

We got along fine, but he’d had enough of me looking over his shoulder and digging into his thoughts. Truth told, I was becoming a little rebellious as well.  Theo seldom did what I thought he should do. He consistently insisted on going the way he wanted to go rather than down the path I’d planned for him. That’s hard on a writer’s ego.

With Theo, I came to feel early on that I wasn’t creating his story. I was reporting it. I must admit I found him and what was happening to him so interesting that I didn’t object. But it wasn’t the sort of relationship that could go on forever.

I wish him all the best. We shared some high times together, survived some perilous threats. I liked the guy.

The question now, I suppose, is what happens next. Theo says he knows what he’s going to do. I’m less certain. There is one more book I want to try. Maybe two. One is another piece of fiction. I have the idea in mind. The other? A memoir, perhaps. Of the two, it would be the most difficult.

Could I do them both? Is there the talent and the discipline, and, more importantly, time enough to do them? I wonder.

January. Make the decision by January.

__________________________________

When THEO Came HomeLast novel in the THEO Trilogy
List Price: $15.99
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
360 pages

Outer Banks Publishing Group
ISBN-13: 978-0982993101

 

A Standing Ovation

I’m constantly blown away by the results motivated volunteers achieve. The recently concluded Kentucky Book Fair is a prime example. It’s organized and staged by volunteers( there is only one paid staffer, Connie Crowe, the manager, whose talents and enthusiasm keep everything running smoothly.)   The Fair is the largest in the state — in fact, one of the largest in the East.  It regularly attracts 3,000 to 4,000 patrons, showcases the work of some 200 or so authors who are in attendance talking with readers and signing books, and so far has generated over $300,000 for Kentucky schools and small town libraries and reading program.

The Fair celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. That’s an eloquent compliment to the excellence of the idea and to the work and dedication the volunteers, some of whom have been with it from the beginning, among them Carl West, its founder and president. A former Pentagon reporter for Scripps-Howard and native Kentuckian, Carl is the managing editor of the Frankfort State Journal. The Journal is co-sponsor of the Fair along with the Kentucky Department of Libraries, the University of Kentucky Press and Joseph-Beth Booksellers.

Gross book sales this year for the one-day event were $157,000 – one of the best years on record. THEO & The Mouthful of Ashes ranked in the top ten (number eight actually), flattered and honored to be in such fine company.

All of us — the libraries and reading programs receiving the grants, the readers who flock to the Fair and get the opportunity to inspect such a wide range of good literature and inter-act with so many authors, and most particularly the authors themselves – all of us owe these hard working and dedicated volunteers a booming round of applause and a standing ovation.

Her Mouth Was Stuffed With Ashes

They found her lying at the bottom of her cellar stairs, the left side of her head bashed in and her mouth stuffed with ashes. An old black flat-iron lay near by.

I’d awakened and overheard all this lying in my bed in the dark one cold autumn morning as my Dad told my mother in a hushed voice so as not to wake me. The image of it stayed with me all these years – a lonely farm house back a tree-lined lane, dark stairs leading down to a cellar, the corpse on the cold, bloody floor, ashes in the mouth.

That’s all I could remember. I couldn’t remember how old I was, or who the victim was, or if the murderer was ever caught…just the cellar, the flat-iron, and the ashes in the mouth.

The thing that fascinated me was the ashes in the mouth. Why?

I never knew, but finding out has become more than a matter of mere curiosity because I plan to use a fictionalized version of the murder in a novel I’m working on.

Finding Someone Who Might Remember

 

Getting the details of the story, though, after all these years, seemed almost impossible. I figured it had to have been something in the late forties or early fifties. My Dad was a reporter on the Frankfort, Ky. State Journal during that time and he covered the story. His telling my mother about it after he’d finished writing the story and come home is what I’d heard lying half awake that morning just before dawn. But I didn’t have enough information to make a search through any existing data files worthwhile and there was no one still ambulatory that I could ask.

Then I was lucky enough to run across Russ Hatter, curator of the Capitol City Museum, himself an expert on strange and bizarre crimes (his Halloween Tour of famous Frankfort murder sites is a highlight of the year). Russ hadn’t heard of the flat-iron-and-ashes murder either. But it captured his imagination. Russ is a man of many and varied talents, insatiable curiosity, tenacious determination, and wide-ranging contacts. He found the answers…almost all the answers. I now have the name, the date, and the particulars of the crime, including the clippings of the coverage of the trial that resulted.  One of the special delights of reading those stories is that my father wrote them.

Questions Still Unanswered

Anyway, I  know most of what I need to know. The only things missing are the name of the murderer (the crime was never solved)…and the answer to the question of why her mouth was stuffed with ashes.

Russ has an idea or two. So do I.  But not the real answer.  So it looks like I’m going to have to make it up…unless you’ve got the answer. If you do, Russ and I will be at the Kentucky Book Fair week after next and very eager to listen.

Don’t believe the rumors about ”mild” North Carolina winters

If the folks from New England and the Midwest who flocked down here to escape the snows and chill of a Northern winter had it worse up there, they are a hardy breed indeed.

Or maybe it’s just my delicate California physique – but I’m freezing. I keep trying to convince people that those of us with precious little body fat get cold easier than normal people, but they just laugh “wimp!”

The Rewards Of Staying Indoors & Staying Warm

Anyway, the cold has kept me working, if only to be able to say indoors and stay warm. The new and revised edition of Wordsmithing: The Art & Craft Of Writing For Public Relations, updated with new sections on social networking is in print now; the new and revised edition of Soccer: A Spectator’s Guide is ready (the summary on Amazon.com gives a good preview – it’s about how to watch a soccer game, the only book on the market written explicitly for spectators); and I’m one-third of the way into the new novel – the one about the lady with ashes stuffed down her throat. Well, it’s not exactly about her, but her murder (a real case – the Jeffers murder in Frankfort) is the commotion that kicks off the story.

First The Melungeons, Now The Gypsies

You may remember that Melungeons played an important role in Theo’s Story. Gypsies are going to be important in this new story. It’s amazing how little most of us know about Gypsies and even more amazing at how many there are here and how ubiquitous they were (and are) throughout the country. One expert calls them “the hidden Americans.” During the Jeffers trial, no explanation was ever found for why ashes were in the victim’s mouth and throat. Maybe the Gypsies will know.

When Spring Comes….

There are rumors that spring will come. No word on when.  When it does, though, I intend to grab my fly rod and head for trout streams up around Asheville. This will not be good for my writing schedule. I need to produce about 3000 words a week to make the finish date I have in mind. My publisher is offering up sacrifices for an extended winter.

The Two Chapter Rule

Hemingway said that to write well you have to read widely … and study the paintings of the masters. I do the former, and am working on the latter. But I’ve granted myself an indulgence on the reading.

There was a time when I felt compelled to finish any piece I’d started, or at the very least stay with it until I had to give up all hope that the story would grab me or the writing hold my imagination. No more. I’ve adopted the “two chapter rule.” If the story hasn’t a hold on me by the end of the second chapter, I close the book and put it in the stack that goes to the local library (that I don’t like it doesn’t mean no one will.) I’m talking about fiction here. Some of the non-fiction I feel compelled to read because I want the information inside can get tedious, but I normally stay with it. Builds character, right?

Exceptions, though, prove all rules. The most recent exception is “The Secret Scripture” by Sebastian Berry. Fascinating story. Beautiful writing. It started awfully slowly and I almost gave up on it, but there was something in the writing that kept me with it. I was richly rewarded.

As for books read recently that meet the basic criteria, consider: Out Stealing Horses by Per Pettersen, Homecoming by Bernard Schlink, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, City of Thieves by David Benioff, and of course, The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroble.