350 (Or So) Words On: Writing #TheMoaningBench


      My novel, The Moaning Bench, will be published in exactly one month.

      It’s been a long time coming. I began the story – a murder mystery set in Atlanta and rural Georgia – more than fifteen years ago. After about three years, I sent the manuscript to a group of avid readers for feedback.

     They liked it; some made excellent suggestions. I incorporated their changes and showed the book to people I knew in publishing. They weren’t interested.

      So it was back to the drawing board: More polishing, more fleshing out of this and trimming of that. Then back to publishing folks, different ones this time. Again, they didn’t bite.

      I showed the manuscript to friends who are published writers. They made some very good recommendations, which I accepted with great appreciation.

     I outlined a sequel, featuring some of the same characters, and began writing it.

     By this time, about ten or eleven years have passed. I’ve been raising a family, building a career in newspapers, enjoying a fulfilling and rewarding life – but always working on The Moaning Bench. Not always consistently, mind you: There were times when I’d go many months without touching the book.

      It became sort of a running joke with my extended family and close friends:

      “Hey, Larry, you ever gonna finish that book, man?”

       “Dude, if you leave it in a drawer it’s just a well-written paper weight.”

       Finally, two years ago, I showed it to my son, Travis. He loved it: He got it in a way that no one else had. Travis hounded me to self-publish. But alas, the years of rejection had taken a toll. I was afraid people would hate my baby.

      He kept after me. “We’ll self-publish, Dad. I’ll help you.”

      I resisted. Until one day he said, “Okay, I’ll just publish it after you die.”

      My God, that jolted me. If my book was published, I wanted to be there to reap the kudos if any came. Much more importantly, I needed to be there to defend and explain it.

      So here I am, one month out. It feels a helluva lot like waiting in the delivery room.


350 (or so) Words On: School Bus Safety

They started holding funerals over the weekend for those six little children killed last week in that Chattanooga school bus crash.

     Police say the bus driver was speeding when he crashed on a narrow residential street. Driver Johnthony Walker faces multiple counts of vehicular homicide. According to The Chattanooga Times Free Press, parents and administrators previously had complained that the driver was speeding, driving recklessly and showing disregard for the children on his bus.

     Walker, like a growing number of those who drive the nation’s school children, worked for a private contractor. He will be dealt with by the courts.

     But the crash raises an interesting question: Why were there no seat belts on the bus?

     The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Safety Council recommend three-point seat/shoulder belts, similar to those in cars, on school buses. But federal regulators leave the matter up to the states. Only New York, California, Florida, New Jersey, Louisiana and Texas require them.

     Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation, which says school buses are the safest form of school transport in the country, opted not to pursue a propose rule that would have mandated three-point seat belts on school buses.

     The agency said that such a federal mandate would have saved two lives a year – and that’s assuming 100 percent seat belt usage.

     In a twist of cruel, sad irony, the DOT said that the added cost of installing seat belts on school buses – estimated at about $7,000-$10,000 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — could very well force local communities to reduce the number of school buses.

     Such a reduction in available school buses would push students toward less safe modes of school transport – which could result in an additional 10 to 19 deaths a year, the DOT said.

     All of that makes sense.

     But I can’t imagine it providing even a shred of comfort to the families planning those funerals.

350 (or so) Words On: The Franchise

     My very earliest perception of voting was formed as I watched my great-uncle drive to the county seat in Hamilton, Georgia to vote. I was perhaps 5 or 6, and didn’t fully understand why he attached such importance to the act. He was a man of few words, but I had learned to read his face, and I knew he was very happy that day.

     Uncle Morgan was born in 1900, and he took voting seriously. (I learned many years later that his grandfather — my great-great grandfather — was granted the voting franchise on Aug. 12, 1867, after he and thousands of other former slaves swore their allegiance to the United States.)

     I voted for the first time in 1978, the year Uncle Morgan died. I have tried to do it diligently thereafter in tribute to him — and to those who bled and died for me to have the franchise.

     But I confess: There were some elections in the intervening years that I’ve missed. My preferred candidate was too far ahead or behind, or I wasn’t interested, or was too busy.

     Not this year.

     This election feels important — really important, doesn’t it?

     Not in a purely aspirational way, like 2008 (although there is an element of that). This time, it feels really important to go into that voting booth to say, This is who we are as a nation, and who we are not.

     It feels like that’s what we have to do, after a political season that has been unbelievably base, unacceptably foul. Exercising the franchise this time feels like saying, We demand more of our political discourse. We are better than this.

     So I was really looking forward to Election Day, Nov. 8.

     But it felt like this was too important to wait. So I drove to the early-voting precinct this morning and walked in, savoring every step.

     I reflected on how fragile freedom really is.

     And then I voted my conscience, channeling Uncle Morgan.

     Then I drove back home and took a long, hot shower to wash away the grime of this political season.








350 (or so) Words On: Ghosts…

     So there we were, settling into our new (very old) house.

     We’d finally finished most of the interior renovations on the 113-year-old bungalow we bought a couple years ago in Atlanta’s Historic West End. So we’d decided to take the rest of the year off before launching on the exterior renovations.

     Not a bad place to be after grinding for almost two years.

     But then a rather unsettling moment: We found, on a West End-related website, a letter from someone who lived in our house many years ago who said that living in the neighborhood was really nice – but the house was haunted.

     Wait, what?

     We had had no inkling whatsoever of a … presence in the house. None.

     And we have a bit of experience with ghosts. Seriously!

     There was almost definitely a ghost in our previous home when we first moved in. We bought the house from an older, widowed lady who had lived there with her husband and remained after he died. She’d sold the house, because her daughter did not want her living alone anymore, and moved cross country to live near her daughter.

     Apparently, nobody told her husband that she was moving.

     For the first few months we were there, doors would open or close unexpectedly. The dog would be in a room alone when he would suddenly yelp and run out of the room. One night Kim and I were on the bed making out when something turned the bedroom lights off. We were used to the kids cock-blocking, but a ghost? 

     We weren’t scared. I think we felt like, Okay, you were here first, but we’re paying the mortgage now. So you can hang around if you need to, just don’t expect to run things. We turned the lights back on and proceeded.

     After a few months, the odd incidents stopped happening. Either the husband had learned to tolerate our presence or he had left to search for his wife, we assumed.

     So now we had another ghost?

     We were extra vigilant for a couple days, but then we just sort of forgot about it.

     We just assumed that perhaps the ghost here, like the one at our other house, had moved on – perhaps long before we even got here.