V2N6: August 1996 Edition

Austin Downtown
Arts Magazine

August 1996 : Edition
Volume 2, Number 6

Table of Contents

Camp Industry: Thus Spake Zarathustra by Frank Giovinavvi 1

A Great Man of Film by K. Marie Black. 4

Ruta Wakening proves to be quite a maiden voyage. A montage of sorts, it chronicles six mostly turbulent relationships with Austin's way-cool 4th and Lavaca Street area as its backdrop.

Hip De' Bee Bop...Where Do We Go From Here? by Carl Settles. 7

Why are younger people in America so angry?

How I Spent My Summer by K. Marie Black. 9

Imagine yourself in a 6' x 8' cell. The cell contains a bed, a chair, a basin, and a toilet. Soon, you will be moved from this cell to another one like it, a cell closer to your final destination, sanctioned by the majority of the United States' 200 million plus inhabitants and its government.

Preacherman by Sandra Beckmeier. 12

Tales From the Badlands by Jonathan Woytek. 13

Of Border Crossings, a reviewer for the New York Times called the book "...an example of how much lingering power there is in straight-forward historical fiction.

Texas Film Festivals by Jenna Colley. 15

You are holding in your hand a script like no other. It has witty yet provocative dialogue, originality, action, love, comedy, and a political slant. It is a written testament to all things good about film. Now that that this has been established, what is your next step?

Up All Night by Harold McMillan. 17

Ghost stories are just another way that our departed friends find eternal life with each retelling.

Verities by Alissa Winterheimer. 20

 Writers write out of necessity. I've never seen a bumper sticker that says, "I'd rather be writing."


Camp Industry: Thus Spake Zarathustra by Frank Giovinavvi

The curved glass wall refracted the sun's brilliance as it rose across the Texas plains. The Architect increased the graduated tint on the 360 degree barrier from a control underneath his desktop. He had personally designed the glass tower, to demonstrate his hands-on approach to the Camp Industry project. He thought it was a fitting symbol of the mission they were embarked on. His staff had nicknamed his penthouse suite the Crystal Cathedral, partly because of its unique construction, but mostly as a jibe against its occupant.

He was taking advantage of the early hour to place and return calls to both coasts. It was still early enough back East to catch people before they got sucked into the whirlwind of the day; out West, it was so early that he was actually able to talk to some of entertainment industry pals before they got trapped inside their hermetic cocoons of assistants, meetings and minor crises. And they loved to hear from him, because his calls were the perfect mix of investment news and social balm. After years of doing the book-signing, seminar and lecture circuit, he'd actually come up the ranks, so to speak, with some of the people who were now the top names in Hollywood. As soon as he signed on with Walker, a small dinner party was held, and a select list of 30 people quickly placed over $100 million into the exciting new experiment in social welfare and private enterprise.

"Steve, how are you today? Thanks for taking my call." The Architect visibly brightened when he got an audience with one of his rich and powerful friends whose attention he craved. He listened intently, to glean a fleck of wisdom or acknowledgment.

"Oh great, the project is going even better than expected. We're just about to graduate our fourth class, bringing the total to just under 3,000. An army of rehabilitated, productive citizens." He paused, hoping for a word of praise. He got just a murmur of interest. "And we've got 20 more facilities coming on line in the next quarter. How about that new high, last Wednesday? Ninety-Six and a Quarter." He stretched it out for effect. "If I were you, I'd load up for another round, because the stock'll probably split again on the heels of two major events like that." He leaned back in his chair, proud of what he had achieved. It wasn't an empire of the sort that his friends had built. Not yet, anyway.

What he heard next was beyond his wildest dreams. "A movie version? Of my story? Of course I'd be interested. Yes, I'll call your producer." He wrote the woman's information down. "Oh, TV, sure that's great." He tried hard to conceal his disappointment. "Maybe an original cable flick? Well, that's great, Steve." Sensing the conversation was at an end, he tried to regain his composure, "Well, let me get back to work here and make sure the ending turns out the way we expect. Okay, bye."

He was so engrossed in playing the supplicant he hadn't seen the light on his desk panel indicate a visitor was headed toward his inner sanctum. The Architect had an official open door policy, but he liked to minimize awkward situations. The Assistant Director was standing at the top of the spiral staircase waiting for his boss to finish with his phone call. A flash of naked awareness passed between the two, before the Architect reasserted his position and his authority.

"Thank you for coming, A.D." He motioned him to approach his desk. The Architect saw him as little more than an efficient ideological dimwit. He had to be careful to cultivate the particular illusions his kind needed to stay committed. There was no other chair in the transparent crow's nest except for the Architect's. On most occasions he would force the A.D. to stand in front of his desk and carry on the conversation from an inferior posture. Today, he decided to walk around and use a paternal gesture to assuage any doubts the loyal idiot might have. He reduced the tint on the glass wall and took his manager by the arm to look out over the facility.

"Look at it, son. Isn't it glorious? From apparent chaos and the glimmer of a dream, we've built the first institution that truly fulfills the highest mandate of every major religion. Compassion for the weak and righteousness in the face of temptation. Doesn't it fill you with pride to be at the helm of such an enterprise?"

"Yes, sir, it does." The A.D. was disheartened from the scene he had witnessed, but the Architect knew how to conjure the winds of inspiration.

"It takes an incredible breadth of skills to keep our institution headed in the direction of its destiny. From up here, you can truly grasp the scope of the difficulties involved. The matter of understanding life can really be reduced to one word, son. Perspective. That's why I'm glad you're down there in the trenches, bringing the vision to life, one day, one individual at a time. Because I know you've got what it takes to get the job done where it counts, in the nitty gritty. I hope it's not too hard on you, Jim." The Architect never called him by his first name, intentionally using the impersonal title, to maintain discipline, and to manipulate him when the time was right. The Architect put his arm around the A.D., clinching the retrieval of his loyalty. "I remember when I was your age, first getting started along the path of my own destiny. Some days, when I was feeling overwhelmed, it was hard to see the larger mosaic. I hope when that happens to you, that you'll feel comfortable enough to come up here and take a look from my perspective, you know, to sort of recharge your spiritual batteries." He removed his arm.

"Yes sir! I appreciate that sir!" The spark of purpose was rekindled in the eyes of the dim functionary as he looked at the Architect with reverence.

"Now then, speaking of challenges, what we should do about the team member who refers to himself as Zarathustra?" The Architect walked back around to his desk and called up the file on the recessed computer screen. He read in silence.

"Son, you know what's good about this problem?"

"What's that sir?"

"We've isolated a profile of a person that in the future we'll reject for our program."

"Really?" The A.D. rarely heard the Architect admit a mistake, even obliquely.

"Yes." He typed his comments into the file. "But we've already made a commitment, so let's see if we can salvage this. Bring him to me, son." The Architect picked up his headset and dismissed the A.D. with a silent hand.

The A.D. had the usual bear of a time convincing Zarathustra to cooperate. It was tough running Camp Industry on democratic terms. He knew the team member toyed with him; it always made him feel queasy, like when he pledged his fraternity in college. They were all supposed to be friends, and brothers, but the cruelty of hazing always bit too deep. The A.D. tried to fill the silence with his own version of the inspiring Camp Industry mission.

"Aren't these spiral escalators marvelous? They make me feel good about America just riding them. I feel like we're all going somewhere together."

Z responded in his blithe manner. "Where does the belt go once we're at the top?"

"Oh, that's the beauty of it, Zarathustra. The belt we're moving on is a newly invented micro-aluminum chain link that is super flexible, so it literally flips over and runs back down the underside of the spiral." He looked out the huge building's wide windows onto the hemp fields of the camp. "That's what's so exciting about being part of this project, Z. So many things have been invented, practically exploding into existence as a result of the Call. In just two short years we've created a new type of organization, the first true marriage between government and business, we've created new construction technology, new materials, new ideas for the organization of society. Do you know that already several companies have sprung up out of the advances we've made, plus all the research money that's being poured into the uses of hemp? This program is already starting to benefit others. It's what it must have been like to be part of the space program in the sixties, but maybe...maybe even better. All the great minds, the energy of the nation have come together to solve a problem, responding to a new national mission, just like back then, when we were racing the Russian to the moon. But this time, we're on a quest, not to beat an enemy, but a quest for evolution." He paused to gaze at Zarathustra but the effect was as if he was looking right through him. "This time the goal is within us, within our society." He placed his hand over his heart, looked out over the fields and let go a small sigh. "By addressing the neglected core, we can rebuild America into a great nation once again."

"The underside of the spiral? Interesting." Z was looking out the windows as well, but beyond the hemp fields, toward freedom. "Do you know why the Architect wants to see me, Jim?" The escalator left them at the foot of the private staircase leading to the Crystal Cathedral. "C'mon, Z. You know why." It was the first time the A.D. objected to being treated like a moron. Maybe there was hope for him yet. Zarathustra mounted the old fashioned wrought iron spiral staircase, looking forward to the confrontation.

The Architect was standing, looking out over the facility with his back to the staircase when the team member entered the room. "Good morning, Zarathustra." He spoke to him with his back still turned, and pronounced his assumed name with a hint of derision.

Z responded in kind. "Good morning, Architect." The Architect turned to face his guest. "Let's get right down to it shall we?"

Z nodded his assent."We need to come to an understanding. You're not cooperating with the process here, and it's causing a ripple of dissent in the facility."

"Glad to be of service."

"Why? Why can't you simply go through the program as it's set up?"

"Because I didn't choose it, I was placed here against my own free will."

"From what I've read of your Kibbutz experiment, there are more similarities between us than you care to admit."

"Except for the most important one."

"Why do you have to insist on tearing down society, why can't you rebuild from within?"

"Salvation is impossible without the Fall. Adam was placed in the Garden arbitrarily; he didn't receive an invitation. The entire history of mankind can be seen as the road back to the god we shunned. We didn't choose this society, we had no say in its formation, we were simply born into it. By rejecting it, and going back into the wilderness, we are working toward the thing we once had."

"What's the difference?"

"The striving. The attempt, the joy and the sorrow." Z was inflamed with his own brand of inspiration now. He closed in to make his point, face to face. "You don't need me to tear down the society, Architect. Rome is burning, sinking of its own excess. Your experiment in social engineering is doomed because you insist on building amidst the smoldering ruins. You talk about hope? The only hope this nation has is going to the frontier of possibility. Not in a cage."


A Great Man of Film by K. Marie Black

Lights. The explosion of independent films and film makers boggles the mind. These days it seems like everyone (and their brother) is picking up a hand-held or steadycam, drinking copious cups of coffee, and stopping people in the street: "Hey, babe, you wanna be in my mooovie?"

Camera. But thanks to these folks, including the almighty forefathers of independent film, Rick Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, gone are the days of runaway budgets and overblown star systems once thought necessary to make a film.

Action. The passion of these filmmakers, as well as some up-and-coming new kids has smacked Hollywood right at the heart of its complacency.

Ker-blam. Change is a good thing.

One of these new kids is Steve Bilich. Like his more celebrated contemporaries, film is his passion, or rather, letting film be the avenue by which he tells a story is his passion. His background is familiar enough: a Radio/Television/Film degree from the UT-nobody-really-knows-if-it's-a-film-school Film School; the prodigal trip to New York to fulfill the inevitable urge to act; 10 years, in fact, of acting in New York and sundry places; and finally, the return home to fulfill his need for an open shot at making a difference. That shot was recently realized, in the form of 103 minutes of celluloid called Ruta Wakening. Bilich served as writer, producer, and director.

Ruta Wakening proves to be quite a maiden voyage. A montage of sorts, it chronicles six mostly turbulent relationships with Austin's way-cool 4th and Lavaca Street area as its backdrop. Dee (Nancy Reed) and Angie (Naomi Riley) are best friends with a secret past.The dialogue shows Bilich's acumen for reality; the plot line shows his fancifulness. For neophyte screenwriters out there wondering how Bilich generated the ideas for the screenplay, they arose from the long hours Bilich spent ruminating (at Ruta Maya Coffeehouse, no less) on what he calls "the complexities of love." For the romantics out there thinking Bilich is a dream guy, one who normally spends his waking hours pondering love, well, not quite. Unfortunately, Bilich's soul searching was spawned by a painful breakup that left him with a desire for insight into the often painful dynamics of the "L" word.

The film for Bilich was a catharsis, a mechanism for healing and closure that he was not able to get from his break-up. Art IS Life, indeed.

Artistic stuff aside, just how did Bilich go about getting this film made? Simple. He wrote a solid screenplay and then exercised his decidedly American right to go into major debt. He paid for the film (120 rolls of Kodak) and his production staff by maxxing out his American Express card to the tune of $25,000. His caterer? The Food Mart at Exxon, another establishment whose card he used, um, rather heavily. Has it been frightening to go past the brink of financial ruin? Bilich takes it in stride, "It's the best time I've ever had going broke. Before I made this film, all I had was my integrity; now all I have is my integrity and a film."

Rick (Lane Orsak) and Bobby (Martin Burke) discuss a scene with director/producer/writer Steve Bilich.His film is not all that he's got, though. Bilich has also cultivated and honed philosophy of film-making. Owing to his heavy theater background, the director says he wants to create an environment where his actors can "play" on film. He does not believe in dictating to his actors to get what he wants from them, rather, he directs them into exploring where he wants them to go on film and in the story. His abiding concern is for telling a good story and creating an environment for the actors that is "an ensemble system, not a star system." Perhaps it's his own acting background talking when he says, "I'm interested in nurturing my actors, in helping them reach their highest potential."

His personal philosophies are as diverse, if not more so, than those of Bilich the filmmaker. A self-confessed "non-linear thinker," he has a knack for talking about one subject and getting sidetracked by another. "I always make my way back home, though," he says.

Speaking of home, he counts Austin as his home "both spiritually and artistically." He believes that you should cater to only what you believe in. And Bilich believes in Austin: he scouted his actors from some of Austin's finest performance houses, including Capitol City Playhouse, Esther's Follies, and the Velveeta Room. He shot it entirely in Austin and even wants to change the opening credits from "a film by Steve Bilich" to "a film by Austin." "I have a huge desire to give back to Austin and to the film community at large," he says.

In addition to his abiding love of Austin, Bilich is fascinated with soul mates, angels, and levels of spirituality in a small world where "soul mates find each other." This is a huge theme in the film. It is tied to his overall feeling of community, which he also depicts heavily in the film.

Apart from his community ties, he admits he has a penchant for making believers out of your ordinary working guy on the street. Apparently, this is working. Bilich has already made several believers in the form of an accountant, a publicist, and attorneys, all working basically pro bono because of their belief in Bilich's talent and vision.

As first visions go, Ruta Wakening is a fine piece of work. It tells the tale of the six couples with compassion, dignity, and a dose or two of humor. It also has some breathtaking shots, including light sprinkling into a room of two close friends talking and watering glistening off the face of a man while he's swimming. Not to mention some very interesting usages of Austin's finer landmarks, including the Congress street bridge, the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue, and those statues at Barton Springs.

But like many indie flicks, it is big on heart where it is lacking technically. Steve explains that the cut he is using now, euphemistically titled the "Festival Cut," was not really his choice either. During the shooting of the film, Bilich made a video version of the film as well. After he shot the film, he enlisted the services of 4MC of Burbank, California, to create a transformation of the film from video to 16mm. Bilich did this so that he could get an edited cut as quickly as possible because several film festivals, most notably Sundance, were showing interest in the film. 4MC assured him that the new version would be done quickly and would be a workable 16mm version with quality print and sound. They lied. Not only that, when Bilich insisted that they fix the film before he pay them anything else, they refused to release the print to Bilich, costing him a potential deal with Paramount pictures, who was showing BigTime interest in it. Has this been the worst part of making a film for Bilich? Perhaps, he admits. "Buyer beware," he warns.

What's next? First, the director's cut of the film, which is due out sometime in June.

Then, another festival here, one there -- first, the Florida International Film Festival in June, followed by the Worldfest in Charleston, S.C. in November -- then the arthouse circuit and sundry indie film stuff. He is also planning a follow up to Ruta, entitled Cigarettes, Vitamins, and Borrowed Time, another ode to Austin, due to shoot sometime this year. Eventually, he would like to find his way back to New York to do a film there. Not bad for a self-described "ordinary guy who just wants to make a living making films...and maybe fall in love and settle down."

Bilich's vision does not simply end with making films. He wants to expand his view of community to include the global one. To wit, he's trying to secure support from the city to build an international film cooperative right here in Austin,Texas. This brainchild of Steve's will bring filmmakers, from the eight countries that house Austin's sister cities, to our neck of the woods. In exchange, Texas filmmakers will get the opportunity to eat, sleep, and drink film overseas. He wants it to be a hands-on open forum for the exchange of ideas, film-making techniques, and global contacts. A pretty ambitious plan. "It's pending funding from the city," he says gingerly. Ah, the always-elusive funding issue, the indie filmmaker's albatross. But with a strong staff, and a good deal of vision and support, Mr. Bilich may soon have the whole wide world in his hands.


Hip De' Bee Bop...Where Do We Go From Here? by Carl Settles

American culture is at a crucial turning point. With violence and such "pervading young peoples' minds," the debate rages on about the effects rap and grunge music on the American psyche. Despite America's prosperity, each style of music seems to reflect a general sense of dissatisfaction or rebellion against the status quo. Both of these musical forms have been more or less created by the so-called "X-Generation," with the former generally being black and the latter white.

Why are younger people in America so angry? Is the spector of not being more economically successful than our parents so daunting? Should we expect more money or is it something more fundamental that we truly need? There are many opinions and each one whether black, brown, white, liberal or conservative is likely to have some grain of truth. This is the dilemma of diversity in America and perhaps the most important subject of our times.

Rebellion is not a new thing to American music or its people. Our country was formed by a revolution. Be-bop was a rebellion against "watered down" swing. Baby-boomers rebelled with Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Motown and the Beatles. Each of these examples has had a great effect on how we conduct and perceive our daily lives. Many Americans look back on these events and people with nostalgia and awe. So who is to say this won't happen with today's popular music and people? Rebellion may be just a natural part of being American.

On the other hand, I find it troubling that while we are the most prosperous country in the world, we also seem to be the most unhappy. Well-read, upper-middle class mostly white kids drone out melancholy blues riffs and shuffles about suburban angst. Mostly black rappers speak about the hard realities of "street life." The idea of spirituality for many seems to be a "flower child who took too much LSD." Is that really all that we have left from the sixties or have we collectively misinterpreted the true roots of our music and subsequently our culture?

Looking back on the time period, it was only logical that those were such tumultuous times. It took 100 years after the Civil War for America to be shamed into allowing people of color to vote and participate more fully in the "American Dream." Then white teenagers found it hard to reconcile widely held beliefs of white Christians that segregation was acceptable and consequently rejected many of the other beliefs. By way of artists like Elvis and the Rolling Stones, they had also embraced many of the musical elements of Black America (chief among them was rhythm) substituting the sexual reference of "Rock & Roll" for what was previously called Rhythm & Blues.

The sixties was also a time when the black church took center stage in America. Dr. King had amassed a huge multi-ethnic coalition of Americans that became the primary catalyst for positive change. The Nation of Islam had also gained a great deal of power under the Honorable Elijah Muhammad whose influence was fueled by the fiery rhetoric of Malcolm X. The "race question" was the defining issue of that time as well. Since integration and the murder of key political figures, race still causes unrest in the American conscience. These facts coupled with growing economic pressures may shed light on our present dilemma.

What started as white youth's rebellion against repression and morally corrupt ideas mushroomed into a climate where excessive freedom reigned. Their new exposure to the primal elements of the black musical vernacular was limited, for the most part, to its superficial aspects, i.e. its driving rhythm and physically engaging dance. The deeper spiritual aspects of the music were left virtually unexamined or simply misinterpreted, not only by whites but the African-American church as well. Throughout the latter's history a strange dichotomy has existed between black gospel and the so-called "devil's" music we describe as the blues. W.C. Handy, more or less the founder of the blues form, struggled to the point of psycho-somatic blindness after he temporarily gave up the blues for the church music of his father.

The blues, which is based on the forms of call and response developed by African slaves to replace the sacred function of the drums, was perhaps one of the few tangible links to their ancestry allowed to remain in the "New World." In fact, ancestry is an over-riding aspect of African spirituality not yet fully addressed by the African-American church. Newly imported slaves, who were stripped of their language, used metaphors and brought a new tonal function to English. Syllables of African dialects change meaning according to their juxtaposition in a phrase, just as their corresponding rhythmic elements do when played on the drum. An example of this in English might be the phrase "He is one bad dude!" The word "bad," depending on how it is used in a sentence, may have a positive or negative connotation. This is what we usually call slang.

Another aspect of African spirituality is the element of the dance. When an orisha or African Saint comes forward through the body of a human host, it is said to "mount" or be "seated" upon them during the dance. Those present are able ask this spirit of the past for guidance and clues about achieving their destiny. In the African-American church we may describe this person as "being filled with the Holy Ghost." Nevertheless, the function in either situation is at the very least cathartic.

The spiritual aspects of American music have historically been difficult to discuss due to our problem with race. It was in the interest of whites to make African slaves believe they came from savagery in order to hold the balance of power. Church doctrines of the time sanctioned and even encouraged this practice. It was called the "seasoning" process in which they endeavored to break the spirit and consequently dislodge them from their ancestry. Those who resisted were beaten, called devil worshippers, murdered and/or raped. This legacy has been passed on to the black church and shamed the institution into disavowing much of its cultural heritage. This remains a major obstacle in communicating, due to access to information through technology, with a more sophisticated but angry new generation.

Today we have an unprecedented opportunity to re-explore our collective history. In doing so, I believe we can unravel the string of misconceptions about the roots of our culture and find answers to our current problems. The African influence has permeated throughout American culture. We simply lack a framework in which we can begin to understand how. It's time to meet down at the crossroads.


How I Spent My Summer by K. Marie Black

Imagine yourself in a 6' x 8' cell. The fluorescent lighting in the cell would send any interior decorator into orbit. The cell contains a bed, a chair, a basin, and a toilet. Very little is on the wall except perhaps pictures of your favorite stars, those offering momentary relief from the daily doldrums. You have lived 99% of your life for the last five or so years (you lost count once you started losing hope) in this cell. You have acquainted yourself with everyday sounds: the loud crash of the bars as they open and close, the rubber squishing of the guards' pseudo wing-tips, the clanking of their keys, your breathing. The other inmates' breathing. Soon, you will be moved from this cell to another one like it, a cell closer to your final destination. Like a caged animal you are awaiting the slaughter. And your hopes for reprieve are running out. When the slaughter comes it will be painful. Tick. It will be ritualized. Tock. It will be detached. Tick. It will also be sanctioned by the majority of the United States' 200 million plus inhabitants and its government.

For many of us, our days play out pretty similarly: we wake, shower, coffee, make-up, kiss, work, sleep, etc. We try to balance time for ourselves with time for others and our responsibilities. We occupy ourselves with the world around us, our place in it, and how we will make that damn student loan payment. We balance our need to be creative with our need to be "responsible citizens." It's very easy to get lost in the mechanics of life without actually living life. Living meaning fully appreciating life: all its ups and downs and roller coaster loop-de-loos. It's the age-old forest for the trees kinda thing.

During my recent tour of the Deep South, I met someone who has transcended this bourgeois search for life's meaning and has found a "higher calling." Ironically, he, along with the organization he works for, is helping people by ensuring that they live to see the next mundane set of life's events unfold. The help he provides allows his clients to live to take life for granted. He is Clive Stafford Smith of the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center. Unfortunately, his clients happened to be some of society's worst killers and capital offenders, most of whom the majority of America would like to see fry, or said more politely, would like to apply capital punishment to.

So what's a pedestrian liberal like myself to do when I meet such commitment and dedication that is also so politically riddled? My deal was common enough: I was pro-capital punishment during college because it seemed a legitimate answer to the question, how do we as a society punish most terrible crimes? I even impressed my more conservative family members and told them that they could no longer call me a bleeding heart liberal because I was for the death penalty. But in recent years, I have become less and less sure of my stance, knowing how inequitably punishment is administered in our society's corruption-clogged, politically-oriented courts.

Clive diminished any ambiguity from my mind. He said the question I should be asking, instead of how to punish should be: what does it do for society? "The answer is absolutely nothing." A native of Cambridge, England, Clive came to the U.S. to attend college some 15 years ago. Since then, he has been working tirelessly to defend indigent clients facing the death penalty ("which are the only ones facing the death penalty," says Clive). A good part of his work has taken place at the frustrating appellate level, where he has faced odds that would make the rest of us want to take a nap. But he has persevered, and he and his team at LCAC are even on a winning streak at the pre-conviction level.

I spoke to Clive recently, and, in his decidedly dry British manner, he made me feel like a bone-headed American. He also gave me some much-needed facts surrounding death row inmates. Clive gave me insight into current southern American culture, how and why it uses the death penalty more than any other of the American states.

ADA: How did you get your start?

CSS: It was at the tender age of seven. I was reading about how the British were beating up on the French. Then, in walked Joan of Arc. I remember seeing a picture of her being burned at the stake, and I remember thinking, "She looks a lot like my sister." This really disturbed me. Then, at seventeen, I did a thesis on the death penalty, in which I discovered that the U.S. had the death penalty, which really shocked me.

ADA: I know that you went to school in the States (first to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then on to Columbia Law School). Did you go here because you wanted to fight against the death penalty?

CSS: In part, but I was also offered a scholarship. I had an interesting time at school. One summer I spent at Team Defense in Atlanta. I spent the summer talking with death row inmates. When I got out of school, I decided that I wanted to defend these inmates.

ADA: What are names of some other organizations like LCAC around the country?

CSS: Not too many, unfortunately. LCAC is mostly privately funded, except for the funds we get for being appointed by the court. The other organizations like ours include: the Southern Center for Human Rights; Team Defense, both in Atlanta; the Equal Justice Institute in Alabama; and LCAC. Other organizations doing work like ours include the California Appellate Project, or CAP, but they receive the majority of their funds from the state.

ADA: Is it true that a good portion of your funding comes from abroad?

CSS: Yes, we do receive some contributions from England.

ADA: What are some of the images of death row inmates that linger in your mind?

CSS: Well, just this past Saturday, I was at the Spiritual Seminar [the only day of the year where death row inmates are allowed to visit with their families] and I was sitting with two of the inmates, both of which are mentally retarded. One of them had no family visiting him and he was just sitting there looking extremely pathetic.

ADA: You mentioned the mentally retarded. Are there a lot of mentally retarded inmates on death row?

CSS: Yes, one third of death row inmates are mentally retarded.

ADA: I'm getting a Darwinian feel from this...like capital punishment is a legalized way of getting rid of people that, as a society, are too difficult for us to deal with, who just so happened to have been convicted of killing someone?

CSS: Yes, it's hard not to see it as a big eugenics experiment. In the cases of mental retardation where the inmate did kill another person, usually s/he was one of two killers involved, and the one who is not retarded made a deal with the prosecution to get leniency during sentencing.

ADA: The system looks pretty transparent to me, how is it allowed to continue?

CSS: Because the prosecutors, judges, and juries never meet the inmates. They see them as crazed killers, not as human beings. Also, [on a political level] there is a tremendous crime problem in America owing to drugs, guns, and a lack of education for the poor. So, politicians can take one of two tacts on approaching these problems: they can encourage us to dig down deep and control drugs and guns, and educate the poor [in other words, actually govern the people]; or they can go the easy way and call for the Death Penalty. By not addressing the real issues [and by putting a deadly Band-Aid over the problem], the politicians are setting the stage for a society that will be increasingly dangerous. But as politicians, they don't concern themselves with problems that will worsen in twenty years time. I have a huge moral dilemma with the idea of killing a person, after a lifetime of mistreating them, either by not educating them or allowing their parents to beat them, etc, as the answer to America's crime problem.

ADA: Why did you pick the South to work in? The death penalty is used in most of the states?

CSS: 38 to be exact. I chose the South for two reasons. One, because the South, Texas especially, kills the most people. And also, the South has the fewest resources in terms of financial resources as well as qualified, willing people to help represent indigents. It's interesting though, because now that New York has reinstituted the death penalty [as of Fall 1995], many of Northern lawyers who once came to the South to help the accused now go to New York where they can make more money. When New York didn't have the death penalty, those lawyers, out of some paternalistic sense, would come down here and help.

ADA: Help out those ass-backwards Southerners?

CSS: Right. I mean to the limousine liberal up in New York it looks pretty bad when 93% of people from Georgia are pro-death penalty. It's basically blood lust.

ADA: What are your ideas about why the death penalty is used?

CSS: First, you've got the crime problem I mentioned, which scares people into thinking that the death penalty is the only way to protect them from crime. Secondly, [on a conceptual level] I think it's a substitute for societal constraints that are no longer in place. Constraints such as slavery and, after abolition, what effectively was legalized lynching. There's no doubt that the death penalty is racially motivated: 40% of the prisoners on death row are black, and the percentage is about 75% in Mississippi, however blacks represent only 12% of the overall population. What's even more startling is that if the crime was committed by a black against a white, the black person is four times more likely to get the death penalty than if the same crime were committed by a white against a black.

ADA: What's the most interesting observation you've ever heard from someone from another country say about our use of the death penalty?

CSS: I have a colleague from England who has done a lot of research on the problems with the British justice system and who has written several books on the subject. He came over and after just ten days here said, "I thought we had problems...now I don't." I guess the U.S. has just ruined his life's work. [Chuckles heartily.]

ADA: Any insights from folks state-side?

CSS: Americans are great sloganeers. I like some of the slogans I've read like, "Fry eggs, not people!"

ADA: You meet with death row inmates all the time. You see what are mostly bad times for these folks, several of whom you've seen die (three, in fact, two by electrocution, one by the gas chamber). Your salary is a living wage, but not what you could be making doing other kinds of law. It begs the question: why do you continue to do what you do?

CSS: I have gotten these cards from an inmate saying, "Thanks for saving my life." When you think about how you are spending your life, those little cards make it quite worth it.


Preacherman by Sandra Beckmeier

Standing in a stagnant moment
covered in salty Mississippi sweat
defining grace under an unforgiving sun
preacherman locked my gaze
reaching out in symbolic gesture
his dark black skin reflected light
on tiny bones that built his face
swift words delivered in choppy enunciated phrase:
"Now tell me honestly child...have YOU been
swallowing the only saved part of my being
we could hear the spit clearing my throat and the way for truth:
"No sir, see...I'm still searching...I have faith but I can't say its in Jesus."
seconds of silence before preacherman pulled a giant step backward
throwin' his hands up to the sky
"an unsaved soul in n-e-e-d of healing!"
preacher re-introduced me to white Adam
then a rib brought the beautiful black Eve
Cain and Abel "wis all their hate"
preacherman's wantin' 'ta save my soul
eyelocked, he took me to Babylon
brought me back
he held my mind on a testimonial walk
down a path of patience
for his part of the gravel-covered Mississippi 61
I could see the asphalt blindness of Confederate memoirs past the railroad tracks
but preacherman told me he was found by the beauty found in a bouquet:
"all God's children are all the colors, even in death flowers are beautiful."
at 12 years old preacherman was left alone
his momma died, daddy was just 'gone'
white folks raised him - the white way
sent to fight in Germany, he learned to build things
a trade had just been a dream
later came a vision, and preacherman got saved
he married and transformed a grocery store into a temple for God and the bouquet
preacherman loves me enough to try and save my soul
searches are all the same in black and white
and farewells best remembered in images with words
memories bloom like flowers in a bouquet
and I don't follow preacherman's sweet Jesus
and my search found faith to vast for Jesus to be my salvation
or one name, and one God
but I can't forget preacherman's dust covered salute
from my rearview on 61.


Tales From the Badlands by Jonathan Woytek

With the publication of his first novel, Summertime, in 1986, South Texas author David Fleming revealed a style of writing and storytelling more akin to the fiction of yesteryear as opposed to contemporary literature. It's something that he's very proud of.

In his second novel, Border Crossings, published in 1993, the author journeys even farther into the past, weaving a tale of old fashioned heroism and adventure amidst the desert badlands of northern Mexico. Inspired by an actual raid on the town of Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916 by a group of marauding bandits called Villistas -- known as such for their loyalty to Pancho Villa and the cause of the Mexican Revolution -- the book explores the psychological and emotional trauma caused by border warfare, as well as being a fast paced action-adventure.

The story follows James Hampton, a seasoned cowboy and former Texas Ranger, who along with his old friend Bud Tyler, and the youthfully naive Ruben Satterwhite, make the trek deep into Mexico to rescue Mary Wells, the daughter of rancher Frank MacPherson, who was kidnapped during the raid. At this point, where the novel could have become predictable, the author puts a new twist on a classic scenario, heightening the tension and action towards the climax.

Of Border Crossings, a reviewer for the New York Times called the book "...an example of how much lingering power there is in straight-forward historical fiction."

I had the chance to sit down with David Fleming and talk about Border Crossings and the writing process itself.

David Fleming was born and raised on a farm seven miles outside of San Marcos, Texas. One of eight children, his father worked the farm until the devastation of the drought in the 1950's, and his mother was an elementary schoolteacher. He went to public schools in San Marcos, and after graduating, attended Southwest Texas State University, where he received a bachelor's degree in English in 1973, masters in 1975. He began teaching English and creative writing at Seguin High School in 1976, and has continued to do so for the past 20 years. Today Fleming lives with his wife and two daughters on the same land where he grew up -fifth generation of his family to do so. "I've never lived in a city, or had to pledge allegiance to any town," he told me at the onset of our interview, "and I'm very proud of that."

ADA: When did you first become interested in writing?

Fleming: I've always loved reading. I can still remember the effect that Charlotte's Web and Gulliver's Travels had on me in elementary school. The books I read growing up opened up worlds to me that I was just fascinated by. I also loved to listen, and with that came storytelling. Reading and storytelling go together in that sense, one feeds off the other.

ADA: Was Border Crossings an easier book for you to write than your first novel, Summertime?

Fleming: Summertime took longer to write because it was that first novel. It is also autobiographical in many ways. Border Crossings on the other hand, must have been fully cooked in my head, because it came out very quickly with very little revision. The way you see it in publication is pretty much the way it was written. It was an easier book to write than Summertime in that sense. I wasn't constrained by autobiography and it also had a straight line narrative which goes from point A to point B.

ADA: How did you keep the action and violence in the novel from seeming cartoonish?

Fleming: The Mexican revolution was a strange and violent time, and in researching it I looked at a lot of photographs of the aftermath of the attack on Columbus, the bodies lying in the streets under the desert sun and such, and this kept it very real for me.

ADA: This book reminded me in scope of the old John Ford westerns. Were those films of any influence to you?

Fleming: Characters and actions in Border Crossings, the details and style in which it is written, these things are very much a tribute to the John Ford westerns I grew up on. I was trying for that good old fashioned western adventure, with strong characterizations, a very clear code of honor and ethics, and the people who lived and died by that code.

ADA: Did you have any difficulty developing these types of characterizations?

Fleming: Given the theme of Border Crossings, knowing that I wanted it to be physical and psychological as well as emotional, I knew I'd have to give each of the characters a borderline. A way of being and another way of being. Then I had to get them to cross that borderline, so the problem was choosing that borderline, and then the characters developed naturally around that.

ADA: How much did the time you've spent in Big Bend inspire you to use the Southwest as your setting?

Fleming: Immensely. When you go down to that country, it's not just a trip in geography; it's a trip into history. That place is so enduring and unchanging, and you're right next door to all these events of the past. I'd definitely say that my experiences with the sounds and smells of the desert helped immensely.

ADA: So what's next for David Fleming?

Fleming: I have one book finished, but it needs revision. It's set in San Marcos in 1937, and I'm very pleased with it, but it does need some work. I'm also working on a sequel to Border Crossings and I'm very excited about that. Other than that I'm spending more time with my family, and enjoying life a little bit.

Both Summertime and Border Crossings were published by TCU Press.


Texas Film Festivals by Jenna Colley

You've got it. You are holding in your hand a script like no other. It has witty yet provocative dialogue, originality, action, love, comedy, and a political slant. It is a written testament to all things good about film. Now that that this has been established, what is your next step?

Before you start practicing that Oscar acceptance speak and planning your outfit for the Cannes runway, you might want to consider the real world. You may be the biggest thing to hit Hollywood since Quentin Tarentino but without money, and visibility your script is worth little more than the paper it's written on.

Unfortunately this is the sad truth that many aspiring screen writers must face. If they have neither the desire, ability, nor money to direct, they must rely on those hungry little producers to give them a break. Yet no matter how good your script may be, every slob and his brother is working on one too, and the competition is damn near overwhelming. Feeling lost? Well, don't strike a match to that bad boy just yet.

I have the answer, or at least know the people who think they can help.

Austin Heart of Film Festival

They are the hardworking staff of the Austin Heart of Film Festival (AHFF), a screenwriters' conference and showcase, that focuses and pays tribute to the arduous work of the genius at the keys of the script, and even better, they are based right here in our very own city.

Premiering in October of 1994, the AHFF has done nothing but grow stronger and more reputable. For one weekend a year slues of writers, producers, agents and development executives converge on Austin to check out this amazingly low-key Festival that is divided into three parts: (A) the Screenwriters' Conference, (B) the Film Competition, and of course, (C) the Screenwriters' Competition.

The Screenwriters' Conference

The conference centers around panels, seminars and round table discussions (40 in all) and of course numerous opportunities for those sly schmooze sessions that make deals happen. Last years panelists included Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise), Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona), David Valdes (Unforgivin), and Scott Frank (Get Shorty) to name a few. The nights take on a scene from a Scorsese film as the strong scents of scotch and cigars fill parties around town. This is no local yokel affair, yet even here, yokels may have the opportunity to shine.

The Film Competition

The Film Competition honors the finished product offering prospective filmmakers a chance to have their work seen. The films are judged by industry professionals, many from such influential sources as Bravo, HBO, ICM, and Tri-Mark. All finalists receive a pass to the Screenwriters' Conference and the 1st place winner receives round trip air fare, accommodations and the AHFF bronze awards.

The competition applies to feature length and student shorts, yet the festival also offers non-competitive showcases for shorts, and Super 8s.

The Screenwriters' Competition

Although the Conference and the Film Competition provide much of the meal that makes the festival so appetizing, the main course is undoubtedly the Screenwriters' competition. The festival staff has been accepting screenplays since last year's deadline until June 17 from as far as London to Buda. Competition coordinators, have been working diligently with staffers scrupulously logging and reading the screen plays. They take their work very seriously and everyone understands the autonomy that is so crucial in conducting any fair competition. Combined, the categories of Adult/Mature, Children/Family, and Student have produced over 2000 entries, and this year's lot hopes to yield as high a quality as its predecessors. Semifinalists and finalist selections will be judged by a jury of industry professionals and the winners will be announced at the Screenwriters' Conference Awards Luncheon on Friday, October 11.

Although it is too late to submit screenplays for this years competition, a year is plenty of time to hone the one you've been working on, or start the one you've dreamed about. If you have no desire to write a screenplay, the festival offers attendees and volunteers an opportunity to understand and possibly utilize the mechanisms that make-up the bizarre and fascinating movie industry.

The Austin Heart of Film Festival is unique in that it draws attention to Texas as not only an Eden of location shooting, but a viable force in all aspects of the highly monopolized industry. In order to avoid exploitation of Austin by the industry, it is important to support and promote Texas' independent filmmakers, writers, producers, and directors. One way of doing this is by supporting Texas' film festivals.

Texas offers several festivals throughout the year that succeed in doing just that. So although the dog days of summer may have your mind struggling to plan for tomorrow much less next week, keep your eyes open for future festivals. Listed are a few worth waiting for:

San Antonio Cine Festival
Guadalupe Culture Arts Center
(512) 271-3151

Austin Lesbian and Gay
International Film Festival
(512) 472-5600

Young Filmmakers Showcase
Houston Film Commission
(800) 365-7575 ext 614

The Other American Film Festival
Esperanza Center
(210) 228-0201

Texas Film Festival
MSC Film Society
Texas A&M University
(409) 845-1515


Up All Night by Harold McMillan

Ghost Stories

When I was a kid, ghost stories always scared me a little. Death was scary, especially when I knew the folks about whom the stories were told. But I guess that's why the stories had something hopeful about them. Ghost stories about, say, my grandmother were fun to tell and listen to, good reminders of a loved one gone home.

The old folks always seemed to have these stories about bizarre happenings, about death that they heard their folks tell about times back in the slavery days. For whatever reason, none of that stuff ever seemed to happen anymore, so the scary ghost stories were also a way of passing on family history, oral culture, beliefs and other good things. The stories always dealt with death, but there was always an over riding moral that taught some good lesson, expressed a glimmer of hope, or exposed character traits of great grandfathers I'd never know. I guess these were mostly stories about good spirits who found their path to eternal life. You'd be amazed at how much mileage one can get out of a ghost story.

After a while I finally realized a bit more about the good work of the death angel, and how a good ghost story is just another way to make sure that the spirit of a loved one plants itself in your heart and memory. Ghost stories are just another way that our departed friends find eternal life with each retelling.

Several years ago I was lucky enough to come to know a real, living Ghost--Roosevelt "Grey Ghost" Williams. I guess he was close to 80 years old by then. His knack for telling stories of the old days, about his life in the early part of this century, telling stories he heard some other old folks tell of their olden days was spellbinding.What a character this Grey Ghost was. Sometimes when I'd ask him how he was feeling, he'd answer with: "I guess I'm doin' tolerably well for a half-dead man!"The Ghost

From our first meeting Grey Ghost fascinated me. Here was this dapper dressed old guy, right hand in his pocket, dark plum pleated trousers held up by white suspenders, a deep red shirt, deeper red patterned tie, and four strands of gold chain around his neck, dark shades, thinning hair dyed black/slicked back, standing there projecting more cool than anyone else in the room. This was classic Ghost dressed for a gig.

You see, Grey Ghost was the best dressed old guy in town, but that is only a very small part of this ghost story. Grey Ghost was a living, walking history book of the South, of American music, of the Souls of Black folks, of blues and barrelhouse, of piano style, of race relations, of love and hate and respect, of the hard life, of Central Texas and Austin. Grey Ghost's life was truly a study of the blues. In our day, Grey Ghost was both one and the last of a kind. He was the last of the first generation of Texas blues piano players. To call him a "cultural treasure" would not be overstating his status.

After living more than 92 years, after several starts and stops of his professional music career, after warming the hearts and souls of scores of friends, fans and family, Roosevelt "Grey Ghost" Williams has passed on.

There has already been much written about his public life and death. Here I'd just like to tell one more personal Ghost story that I feel best illuminates both his love of life, people and music, and his roots in the historic tradition of the hard-good-life associated with poverty, survival, and the blues. Make no mistake, in his final years The Ghost was a kind and gentle soul. But he too was one of the last authentic connections to a time when being a traveling bluesman had very little to do with big money, creature comforts, or guaranteed safety. Grey Ghost for close to 80 years played all kinds of music, it's his life story that's the true testament to the evolution of blues music and blues people.

A Kind and Gentle Ghost

Several years ago, when I was working on my graduate degree at the University of Texas, I had a teaching assistantship in the Music Department and African American Studies. My class was a music history class, "the Music of African Americans." I mostly graded papers and tutored this group of bright young UT students. But, whenever my boss was out of town I actually got to teach the class and put my particular spin on the subject matter. In fact, my students liked me better than my boss: I was more hip, knew all the local players, and was working around town quite a bit myself. They thought I was cooler than my opera-singing, academic-hardass colleague.

It was about this time that I began my initial research for work that would ultimately become the Blues Family Tree Project. By that time I had come to know the Ghost pretty well. I listened to him at the Continental, had booked him to play a handful of times, and selected him to be our first inductee of the Clarksville Jazz Fest Hall of Fame, dedicating the first festival to him. As well, I'd had enough conversations/informal interviews with him to know that my class would really love to have him come to talk about his life/career and play some tunes. Most of my class had no idea who he was, but my description of Grey Ghost made them really keen for his visit.

Well, my boss was to be out of town for some interviewing and I got to plan a week's classes. I set a target date and then went over to visit Ghost at his East 8th Street residence. After I sat with him for about an hour, heard yet one more time about how he in the old days always needed to have his gun with him when he played that joint in Houston, I started talking about my class.

Ghost listened to me and looked at me with his "why the hell are you telling me about it" look. I explained that my kids would really learn more about the history of blues in Texas if he would come to my class and do a guest lecture/performance. I told him that the class was only about an hour long and he would not have to play the entire time. I'd open the class, introduce him, and he could just talk to the kids and play a few tunes.

Ghost eventually looked at me and told me maybe he would come to my class, but I was "sho' asking a lot of an old man. What makes you think I wanna get up in da morning and play for these kids for a whole hour?" Then he said, "I guess I'll do it for you McMillan, but I probably won't play more than 15 or 20 minutes." Of course I thought he would want to play longer than that, but I told him I'd be happy for him to play as long as he felt like playing. We agreed, I set the time to pick him up, and expressed my appreciation for his willingness to help me out.

A few days later I showed up before class to drive The Ghost over to the music building. He greeted me, and reminded me that he might not feel like playing for more than a few minutes. I reminded him that I'd be happy with whatever he wanted to do.

Once back on campus and in the classroom, Grey Ghost sat up front, looking as sharp as ever (especially for nine o'clock in the morning!) and waited for me to invite him up to perch behind the grand piano. As I introduced him, I told the kids how lucky we were to have Mr. Williams join us. I instructed the students to welcome The Ghost and listen closely because Mr. Williams was only going to play a little while. Then, I asked Ghost to come on up and take over.

Ghost, somewhat predictably, opened by saying something about how he was just happy to be alive, lucky to be "only half dead." Some of the kids laughed out loud. Some sat and looked confused, not exactly understanding Ghost's sense of humor. I don't remember what his first tune was, but as soon as he started playing the whole class sat up, perked up their ears, and melted into submission. Then The Ghost sang one of his standards-maybe it was "Nobody Loves You (When You're Down and Out)," and smiles of disbelief came over their faces. Before I knew what was happening some of the kids were sliding their desks around to see better, and handful from the back of the class came up front, sat on the floor and fell in love with Mr. Williams.

By this time, however, the clock on the wall was telling me that my "about 20 minutes" were up. Now, I didn't want to get on the bad side of Ghost, so I allowed the song to end and asked him if he wanted to say a few words to the kids before he finished up. Taking him at his word, I thought he was about to end this early morning performance, one that he did as a favor for "McMillan."

Ghost proceeded to spend about 10 minutes telling the kids why he didn't really have much to say, how he was just an old man who played the piano--always had, since the 1920s--and he didn't know if he had anything to teach anybody. Then he answered a few questions. The best reply to the questions turned out to be playing another tune.....by then he was on a roll. He was loving the attention, he was loving getting to play on a newly tuned grand piano, he was loving these kids interest in him, his music, and his life.

It was at that point that I knew that all parties involved were sharing a great victory. I felt great. Ghost was playing as relaxed and confidently as I'd heard him play-voice clear, chops making melodies roll from his fingers as water pours from a carafe, his famous little stories and jokes that he was so good at delivering between tunes had the kids hanging on every word. With the class period nearing the end, I came back up to the front of the class and waited for Ghost to do his last tune. The bell rang, signaling the end of the session.

Now this is really the point of this little Ghost story. This is what I feel is an example of just how genuinely loving and kind Mr. Williams was. This is what I feel is an example of how much pleasure Ghost found in playing-for himself and for other folks. I was lucky enough to be part of this beautiful scene where kids 60 years younger than Ghost were sitting at his feet, taking in all he had to offer. Having him hang in there until the end of the class felt like a grand favor to me. I was proud and happy that he played all the way until the end of the class.

Oh yeah, my point.......so the bell rings and I expect Ghost to get up and say his good-byes to my students. After all, he's a busy man and I needed to get him back to his house.

First good-bye

Well to my delight and surprise, as the bell rang, Ghost smiled at the kids, about half of the class came up and surrounded the piano. My students and my friend Mr. Ghost proceeded to laugh and talk, play and sing, sign autographs, and share fellowship that was genuine and moving. He came to do me the favor of playing for 15 or 20 minutes. He played, talked, and sang for an hour, said good-bye, and played for another 40 minutes.

So you remember this advice from Mr. Grey Ghost Williams. "Every shut eye ain't sleep, and every good-bye ain't gone."

You dig?


Verities by Alissa Winterheimer

The time that we have every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it.
-- Marcel Proust

Fred Flintstone once took the family to see the Grand Canyon. It was a pathetic stream, maybe two inches wide, in the middle of an expanse of cracked desert. They all stood there looking perplexed and unimpressed. Fred said to Wilma, "They say someday..."

Writers want to be the Grand Canyon. That's our Grand Canyon, not Fred's. It takes patience and tenacity to cut through the desert. I often feel like my mind is Fred's canyon and I'm Fred, looking at the dismal trickle.

Writing is not romantic. Writers are not guaranteed love and admiration. They're more like hermits than socialites. Writing is not exciting. Most writers have not lived a hundredth of what their characters have lived. Fiction is the ultimate in permissible lying. Writers write out of necessity. I've never seen a bumper sticker that says, "I'd rather be writing."

Sometime last year I met a man who had abandoned his life in California. He moved to Austin for six months to see if he was a writer. And he wrote.

I was a little envious and quite impressed. I think everyone was. Everyone dreams of making their dream come true. I remember being told, "This didn't just happen, you know. I started planning this ten years ago and I worked hard to make it happen." I'm sure he was sick of hearing how cool he was.

For some time I wondered how he made it happen. Recently, being a year wiser, I had a revelation. Doers take themselves seriously and they keep their promise to themselves. Taking yourself seriously means making an investment, being willing to fight for what you want and not listening to those who think you're an impractical dreamer. It also means you won't be wooed by every awe-struck talker prone at your feet. If you're serious, you realize you have more to do, no matter what you've already done.

I've also realized that writing is more of a craft than an art. People who think writing hinges on creative genius are not writers. There is much tedium to struggle through: research, querying publishers and editing are three biggies.

In my younger days, I felt fortunate to practice the "cheap art." How lucky I am that I only need pencil and paper! I've realized the folly of that. The American Society of Journalists and Authors published a book, Tools of the Writer's Trade. It's 368 pages of writers discussing their investments from word processing software to which tape recorders are best for interviewing to why no office should be without a microwave and how clothes pins come in handy.

In college, I found that the essentials for road trips are the same as the essentials for an all-nighter at the computer: music, Mountain Dew, cigarettes and a bag of pretzels.

I recently heard that you're not really a mountaineer until you've left some blood on a mountain. I've also heard that the best things ever written, have been written in blood. I assume the literary sentiment is figurative.

Time is my personal nemesis. My home is a mess, my bike has a flat, all of my credit cards are maxed out, I haven't eaten yet and I'm sitting here trying to write, about writing. If that isn't ridiculous....

I have been ordering magazines from Publisher's Clearing House, and yesterday I learned that I'm in the final round. That's right, if I have and return the winning number, I will be "TEXAS' TOP WINNER -- GUARANTEED A FULL $11,000,000"! Just imagine all the time $11 million could buy. Enough time to write.

When I lived in Minneapolis, I always wrote at Muddy Waters on Lyndale Avenue. I had a ritual. I pulled my work from my bag, set it on the counter with my pencil and cigarettes. I ordered coffee. I set to work. One day, I set out the first and only typed copy of a play, about 70 pages. I had a word processor and it took about eight hours to print 70 pages.

I went to the rest room, and when I returned, Andy was wiping coffee off the bar and my pile of paper was drenched. I gasped in horror and my heart skipped a beat. Andy grinned big. He then lifted my manuscript from under the counter and handed it to me, removing the pile of soggy typing paper.

Now, I can laugh. Ha. Ha.

plight1 n. A condition or situation of difficulty or adversity

plight2 tr.v. To promise or bind by a solemn pledge, esp. to betroth (from American Heritage Dictionary)