Today’s post, “Pre-Trip Ramblings,” can be found at  Check out the site and enjoy!

Today is the birthday of one of my musical heroes.  Jerry Douglas turns 52 today, and though he has no idea who I am, I’d like to give him a big old birthday shout out.  

How to explain to the uninitiated who and what Jerry Douglas is.  Jerry is a bluegrass musician.  He plays dobro, an acoustic guitar equipped with a metallic resonator that gives the instrument a distinctive sound.  Dobro is generally played with the instrument lying flat on one’s lap.  Rather than pressing the strings to the instrument’s frets to make notes, as is done with a guitar, a dobro player uses a metal slide that glides along the strings.  Douglas has played with the likes of Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Del McCoury, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, Tony Rice, and other bluegrass giants.  He has also played on the albums of countless rock and folk and blues musicians ranging from James Taylor to Phish to Ray Charles.  In all, he has appeared on over 1600 albums.  For the past several years he has been playing with Alison Krauss and Union Station.  He’s won a dozen Grammy awards, as well as awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association, the Country Music Association, and the Americana Music Association.  He has also been awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts.

So there you have it.  Except that saying Jerry Douglas plays dobro is about the same as saying that Tiger Woods plays golf.  It’s true, but it totally misses the point.  Jerry Douglas is not merely the best dobro player in the world (though he is).  He is not merely the greatest dobro player who has ever lived (though many believe that this is true as well).  He has completely redefined the instrument, allowing him to transcend the boundaries of musical genre and make his mark not only on bluegrass and country, but also on jazz, rock, folk, and blues.  In doing so, he has maintained a surprising level of anonymity.  He usually works with others, allowing his talents to enhance their music, taking the spotlight to play yet another mind-boggling riff, and then stepping back to give others their turn.  In looking over the albums I own that he has put out under his own name, or that have been made by one of the many ensembles of which he’s been part, I find it hard to choose just a few to recommend.  I have too many favorites.  But here goes:

My Five Favorite Jerry Douglas Albums

1.  “Skip, Hop and Wobble” — Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, and Russ Barenberg
2.  “The Telluride Sessions” — Strength in Numbers (Douglas, Meyer, Bela Fleck, Mark O’Connor, Sam Bush)
3.  “The Best Kept Secret”  — Jerry Douglas
4.  “Lonely Runs Both Ways” — Allison Krauss and Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas
5.  “Restless on the Farm” — Jerry Douglas

Today’s music:  Jerry Douglas (Restless on the Farm)

One of my favorite directors has passed away.  Sydney Pollack, who directed The Way We Were, Out of Africa, Tootsie, The FirmAbsence of Malice, The Electric HorsemanThree Days of the Condor, and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, among his many credits, died yesterday of cancer.  Different directors excel at different things, of course.  I think that no one does spectacle like Spielberg (for instance, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan); Peter Weir excels at bringing striking imagery to his films (Think Witness, The Year of Living Dangerously, Galipoli).  Sydney Pollack was simply a terrific storyteller.  His filmmaking was never flashy, but never once in watching one of his films did I find myself questioning any of his artistic choices.  His films were seemless.

Pollack also produced many well-known films, and he got his start as an actor.  And in fact, whenever I think of Pollack, the first thing that comes to mind is a scene that Dustin Hoffman prevailed upon him to act in Tootsie.  Those of you who have seen the movie might remember the scene in which Hoffman’s character barges into the office of his agent, played by Pollack, and demands to know why he hasn’t been getting any acting jobs.  The resulting argument over how difficult Michael is to work with, remains one of the funniest five minutes you’ll ever see in any movie.

In any case, I’ll miss Sydney Pollack the actor and Sydney Pollack the producer.  And I believe that Hollywood will be poorer for the loss of Sydney Pollack the storyteller.

Nancy and I went to a wedding today, which we hadn’t done in some time.  For a while there, everyone we knew was getting married (us, too).  Then everyone was having babies (us, too).  Now, perhaps we’re entering second wedding territory (hopefully not us, too…).  Today’s wedding was a second time around for one of them, first for the other.  It was a lovely ceremony, followed by a simple and very pleasant reception.

Naturally it all reminded me vividly of our wedding, which took place seventeen years ago tomorrow.  A year ago today we had our rehearsal and rehearsal lunch (my father managed to get lost driving to both events and wound up being late to each by nearly an hour).  And then we had our pre-wedding softball game.  Great fun:  one team for the groom and one team for the bride — friends of each were evenly distributed among both teams, so as not to create the appearance of a grudge match.  Nancy had special privileges as the bride.  She was allowed to leave the field to chat with whomever she wanted, and could choose to bat at any time, regardless of which team was batting.

To this day, it remains one of the most wonderful weekends I’ve ever had, probably in part because the seventeen years since have been pretty cool.  In any case, to all of you celebrating Memorial Day weekend anniversaries or weddings, congratulations.

Time to give away this week’s BOW (Buffoon Of the Week) Award.  Unlike last week, which seemed to be filled with actos of buffoonery, this week was a bit quiet.  And in fact, I’d like to start by acknowledging an act of political courage that deserves some sincere recognition.  

Read the rest of this entry »

Meaner Pastors

May 23, 2008

At last, after weeks of discussion of Barack Obama’s relationship with the controversial pastor at Trinity Church, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the media has turned its attention to John McCain’s ties to Rev. John Hagee.  I say at last, because I believe strongly that McCain’s ties to Hagee are far more significant than Obama’s relationship with Wright.  I understand that my friends on the right will disagree, and I have no doubt that many in the “liberal” (Ha!) press will side with them.  But they’re simply wrong.

Barack Obama’s affiliation with Wright and Trinity Church goes back twenty years.  As the candidate himself has said again and again, Wright presided at the Obamas’ wedding, as well as at the christening of their daughters.  Obama joined the church years before Wright made his most controversial remarks.  By the time Wright made the statements that so many found offensive (and that were taken out of context by the media and Obama’s political enemies), the entire Obama family was deeply committed to the congregation; they were part of a community that was far larger and more important than any one man, even if that one man was the church’s pastor.  Many of Obama’s critics have said that he should have left the church when he learned of Wright’s incendiary remarks, but as anyone with a sense of congregational life knows, leaving a church is no small matter for an individual, much less for a family that includes young children.  Obama chose to remain with his congregation and denounce the aspects of Rev. Wright’s sermons that he and others found offensive.  Given the personal nature of any decision dealing with where one worships with his or her family, I find it hard to fault him for doing so. 

Let us contrast Obama’s experience with Senator McCain’s.  As many of you know, John Hagee has been a controversial figure for years.  He has said the most vile things about the Catholic church, including calling Catholicism “the great whore” and “a false cult.”  These statements have been part of the public record for several years.  And yet, as John McCain began his campaign for the Presidency he also began a concerted effort to gain Rev. Hagee’s political endorsement.  This effort lasted more than a year and was ultimately successful.  In the wake of receiving Hagee’s endorsement, McCain was confronted with the Reverend’s past statements about Catholicism, and he merely said that while he found such remarks offensive, he still welcomed Hagee’s support.  Only with this week’s revelations about Hagee’s odious statements regarding Hitler and the Holocaust did McCain finally conclude that he had to distance himself from the man.

McCain’s supporters will say that McCain doesn’t have a twenty year history with Hagee.  They simply have a political association that the Senator has now ended.  I say, exactly!  Obama was a member of Reverend Wright’s congregation for nearly half of his lifetime.  By the time Rev. Wright began to make his more offensive comments, the two men had a history.  McCain, on the other hand, pursued a relationship with Hagee despite the Reverend’s religious bigotry.  He did so not because Hagee was part of his personal and spiritual life, but simply for crass political reasons:  He wanted the support of Hagee’s followers.  If McCain knew about Hagee’s past comments his willingness to seek and accept Hagee’s endorsement is deeply offensive.  If he didn’t know, then one has to ask, has the man never heard of a search engine?  

Either way you look at it, McCain’s association with John Hagee ought to be of far greater concern to voters than Obama’s relationship with Jeremiah Wright.

We’re quickly getting into summer mode here in our household. The university had its graduation nearly two weeks ago, so Nancy is already into her summer research program. My older daughter (the newly minted teenager) is now done with her school and is officially an eighth grader (Yikes!), and my younger daughter finishes up next week.

All this means, of course, that the kids are going to be around more, which tends to make writing that much more difficult. I’ve finished the copy edits on THE HORSEMEN’S GAMBIT and am now back at work on the STILL untitled third book of Blood of the Southlands. I might need to have a web contest: “Name the third volume!” The winner gets his or her idea splashed across the jacket of my new book…. The first book was THE SORCERERS’ PLAGUE, then THE HORSEMEN’S GAMBIT. Right now I’m leaning toward THE AUTHOR’S NEMESIS, but I’m not sure my editor will go for that….

I’ve made good progress over the last few weeks, so I thought I’d post my second progress bar. Last time I was at 14% — 19,700 words or so. That was April 22, exactly a month ago.

I’ve made pretty good progress since then, especially if you consider that I’ve also had to travel to a con, copyedit a manuscript, and take down a photo exhibit. If I can continue to average 26,000 words a month, I’ll be done by the end of September. I can live with that; the book’s due November 1.

Blog Slacking

May 21, 2008

You know, I was going great with this blog for a while there.  Through Wednesday of last week, May 14, I’d blogged every day of 2008.  Then on Thursday I worked most of the day before rushing down to Chattanooga to catch a minor league baseball game.  Got home late and decided not to post.  I was tired, I knew that with late summer travel plans I wouldn’t be able to blog every day all year, so I just figured, screw it.  I’ll blog tomorrow. 

Since then I’ve missed Sunday and damn near missed today, too.  Turns out, that every-day-of-the-year thing had been keeping me going.  Now I need to get back on track with it.

And I will.  Tomorrow….

Today’s interviewee is Kelly McCullough, another of my friends at  Kelly’s first novel in the WebMage series, WebMage, was released by Ace in 2006 to considerable critical praise. A second, Cybermancy, followed in 2007. His newest release, CodeSpell, will be out May 27th. And a fourth book, MythOS, is slated for late May ’09. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Weird Tales, Writers of the Future, and Tales of the Unanticipated. His illustrated collection, The Chronicles of the Wandering Star, is part of a National Science Foundation-funded middle school science curriculum, Interactions in Physical Science.  Enjoy!

Read the rest of this entry »

Today’s post, “The Copyedited Manuscript.” can be found at  Visit the site and enjoy!