Thursday, September 30, 2010

Participating authors list

 The library released a list of all the authors who have signed on for the local Books Alive event on Oct. 29-30. In addition to the featured speakers listed previously and your humble blogger, these folks will be there to sign books, tell stories, and so on:

Charles Bryant
Norma Bowen
Sam Homola
Ed Offley
Mike McKinny
Gloria Walters
Paul Lowery
Marlene Womack
Dean Minton
Jean Mallory
Ron Frazer
Michael Brim writing as Michael Goldcraft
Sharla Shults
Jeannie Weller
Bill Hash
Wanda Goodwin
T. Marie Smith
Chuck Waldron
Laurie Elberle
Ann Houpt
Kay McClucken
Anne Ake
Ytearie E. DeValt-Stevenson
Paul McAuliffe
Dr. John A. Ramsey
Jack Saunders
Bob Farsky

Google'em if you're interested. >>Click here for the other details. I'll be sure to revisit this event throughout the month.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

25 years

Tuesday was the 25th anniversary of my wedding to the long-suffering and lovely Debra. And Valentine's Day of 2011 will be the 30th anniversary of the night we met. In honor of the years, here's a column I wrote for the Feb. 17, 2008 edition of The News Herald:

A true story from the heart for Valentine’s

It was 1981, and “Brother Tim” was a youth pastor at a Baptist church in Flomaton, Ala. Part of his job was to open the church’s recreation center on Saturday nights for teens and pre-teens to hang out.

They had skating on the indoor basketball court some nights, and some nights they played basketball. There was a bowling lane, a snack room with cola and chip machines, and upstairs was an open balcony/loft with pool and foosball tables.

As he checked out the skates to a long line of kids, Tim played music over the P.A. — contemporary Christian tunes and love songs. You know, to match the day. It was a good crowd, and he enjoyed joking with the kids, even though he’d have preferred to stay home with his own family on this night.

As they skated, he’d call out girls only or guys only, or all-skate or couples only, and the kids would comply. He noticed no one was skating during the couples-only calls, but he kept trying.

One time when Tim made the call and everyone dutifully found a place to sit off the court, two strangers met.

The boy had been attending the church for a few months, and the girl had come to the rec center with her cousin, who was a church member. The boy admitted to the girl that he could barely skate and said that, if she’d hold him up, he’d skate with her.

She held his hand and they circled the boundaries of the basketball court. For a minute or two, they pretty much had the space to themselves.

(Within a couple of days, they both would discover that she had been exposed to poison ivy when helping a friend haul firewood that morning. To say she got under his skin would be an understatement.)

She started attending the church too. They sang in the youth choir together, and Brother Tim led them in music as well as their moral development. Too young to date, they saw each other on weekends at the rec center, and Tim kept an eye on them.

In a couple of years, Brother Tim left the state for a job at another church. By then, the kids had begun dating for real and stopped hanging out at the rec center.

Tim returned almost five years later to sing at their wedding.

Now 27 years later, and with at least one broken heart between them, that little girl is still holding that boy’s hand and helping him get around — and they owe it, at least in part, to Brother Tim, who opened the rec center one Valentines Day night.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Mission Accomplished

 In the weeks following the 2008 death of Marisa Joy Williams, her friends and family gathered to launch “Project Joy Boots” to raise money to establish a perpetual scholarship in her name at her alma mater.

Marisa graduated with a degree in technical theater from Gulf Coast Community College in December 2007. She moved to Orlando to continue her studies, and died in a single car accident on Interstate 75 on Feb. 23, 2008 while driving to help someone stranded by a broken-down car. She was 18.

It takes $15,000 to endow a scholarship, and the project had raised nearly $14,200 when Marisa’s mother, Donna, got a call to meet with the college’s Foundation folks recently. She said she was scared the down economy had forced the organization to set its scholarship limits higher.

“I must admit my first thought was, ‘Oh no, the cost of endowment has gone up and we are so close!’” she said in a posting to the Project Joy Boots Facebook.

She rounded up one of the project founders, GCCC student Katie Vickmark, and they met with Duncan McClane at Gulf Coast. He explained that — rather than requiring more money — the Foundation Board had honored their hard work by donating the last $837 needed to meet the endowment goal.

“Duncan told us that this almost never happens, but they were impressed by our faithfulness and determination,” Donna said. “It seems very few people or organizations that start out a scholarship ever see it through to endowment.”

In fact, college administrators and supporters had seen the Joy Boots crew every time GCCC opened its theater doors. The college’s Performing Arts department consistently invited the project to sell its wares and concessions in the lobby on show nights, as well as during Shakespeare by the Bay productions at the college and in local parks.

The Joy Boots crew already had a raffle in progress, and last Friday gave away dozens of painted boots, keychains, buttons, bracelets and donated artwork to ticket-buyers, raising additional funds. “If we put it all in the scholarship fund, it will start earning more interest quicker, which will allow for more money to be given out for the scholarship,” Donna said.

In the fall of 2011, the first Marisa Joy Williams Memorial Scholarship will be awarded to a deserving technical theater student at GCCC. Donna thanked everyone who helped in any way — painting boots and pins, working booths, getting the word out, taking up donations, or praying.

“We could not have done it this quickly without you,” she said. “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Marisa is smiling down on us from heaven and is so very proud of all our effort on her behalf.”


This was my Sunday "Undercurrents" column for The News Herald.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Books Alive autumn event details

Mark your calendars for the end of October: I have been invited to participate in the Bay County Public Library's first-ever autumn book event, a BOOKS ALIVE for local authors. Here are the details, as forwarded by Bettina Mead:

All functions are being held at the Bay County library, 898 W. 11th Street, Panama City, 522-2100

Friday: October 29, 2010
Meeting Room
  • 9:30AM Registration
  • 10-12:30 PM Introduction of guest authors- all participants of Local - booksALIVE!
Gloria Dale Skinner / Amelia Grey – Romance Author
Cate Nobles- Mystery Writer
Bruce Gamble- True Stories- The Art of Nonfiction Writing
Michael Lister- Writing the Region --North Florida is my Beat
  • 12:30 - 1:30 PM Catered Lunch for participants, attendees and guests – reservations required Cost: TBA
Set-up for Saturday sales/ book signings - lobby area – Library staff

Saturday: October 30, 2010
  • 9:00 author set-up
  • 10:00-3:00pm Meeting Room and Lobby area Sales and book signings until 3:00PM


I've also been invited to travel to Texas to participate in the annual "Girlfriend's Weekend" for the Pulpwood Queens book club, along with authors including Rick Bragg, Pat Conroy, Fannie Flagg and dozens more, including my friends River Jordan, Michael Lister, Michael Morris, Janis Owens, and Olivia debelle Byrd (Cooley). Hit this link for the full list.  I'm saving up pennies to figure out how to get there (drive? fly?) and where to stay (bed and breakfast? YMCA?). Obviously, I'm not on the level of these other good folks — real authors, all — and my publisher can't afford to pay for this.So say a prayer that money will fall from heaven or turn up in the mail or whatever. (It can't hurt, right?)


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Inexplicable Life

I am certain of the unknowable, the inexplicable, the indescribable, the ineffable. It is not a “belief” or a faith, although I have that as well. It is an ongoing life experience.

My life as I choose to remember it has shown me that there are more things in heaven and earth than make a whole hell of a lot of sense sometimes, Horatio. I can no more explain or define these things than I could determine the nature of the universe beyond the farthest star or before the Big Bang. It makes them no less true. Some examples:

  • I have seen a UFO. Fairly close up. There were others with me when it became clear we were not alone.
  • I have witnessed an object (in point of fact, a hair brush) move in a violent fashion across a room of its own accord. Again, I was not alone at the time.
  • I have lost a personal possession (my wedding band) only to have it reappear weeks later in a place that it could not have gotten to on its own (folded inside a hand towel that had been recently washed, dried, folded and put away by my wife or one of my kids; the ring fell out when I reached into the pantry and unfolded a towel).
  • I have seen an apparition. (Don’t ask. I won’t tell you more. Suffice to say it was there for just a moment, and it troubled me.)
  • I have experienced extended minutes of déjà vu, once in which I recited to myself an overheard conversation in time with the people having it. Long enough periods that I began to wonder if this really was a glitch in the Matrix.
  • I have had dreams that came true. Meaningless things that became important only in my realization of the impossibility of the experience. The first time this happened, I was watching Room 222 (Google it; it was a 1970s TV series) with my uncle, and he handed me a basketball to use to prop up the pillow I was lying on. I was 6 years old. I had told my mother the day before about this “stupid” dream I’d had of watching TV with Joe and him handing me a basketball to use for a pillow.
This sort of thing happens to me pretty often. That does not reduce the surprise, fear or excitement that results.

The thing is that none of this jibes with what we understand about the physical world. And yet, I would have to ask that you accept what I have written above as truth. (Or, not. If you don’t believe me, then save yourself some time and go on to the next entry.)

So when I tell you I am a spiritual man, I hope even my atheist friends will try to understand. When I tell you I was raised a Southern Baptist, I hope you keep an open mind. When I tell you I was “saved” at 13 (which is the Protestant experience of accepting Jesus as your Savior) I hope you don’t snicker. These were — and remain — very serious portions of the person I am today.

(Frankly, and this is not an apology, but Jesus and I get along better than the Church and I do. Always have. I think Jesus has a sense of humor, and he appreciates someone who is certain of the unknowable. And the absurd. Poetry and horror. Desire and failure. Love and redemption. Nonetheless, like Thomas, I have struggled to reconcile faith and proof.)

In light of all this, when I tell you I am a logical man, I hope you don’t begin to guffaw. Like Pedro, I believe in science. Carl Sagan is a guiding light. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut (and still would if not for my irrational fear of heights and flying), and I still prefer good science in my sci-fi. I have been known to chuckle at folks who tell me the world is only 5,000 years old, or that God made the planet in seven days, or “I guess you also believe we came from monkeys.” (You can’t discuss evolution with someone who thinks like that.)

I don’t accept that my faith requires me to embrace poetry and myth as fact; if that seems paradoxical to you, then I’m okay with that. A scientist is fascinated by what he doesn’t yet understand; he accepts his ignorance as evidence that something requires further study, works up theories to explain the mystery, searches for proofs. I tend to view my faith much the same, as an effort being made to understand the mysteries of the universe, theories offered, proofs searched for.

My life as I choose to remember it has more questions than answers. More mystery than certainty. More theories than proofs. But of this I’m sure: We don’t know what this existence is all about. We can’t know. It’s bigger than our brains, greater than this breath we draw, and will outlast these words we share by astronomical units of time.

The best we can do is love one another, which I'm convinced despite the propaganda is what Jesus was all about. Love the universe that gave us each other. Accept the unknowable while never ceasing to seek greater understanding.

And keep watching the skies. We are not alone.


I wrote the above for a collection of essays a couple of my friends are putting together with the title "My Life as I Choose to Remember It," which may see publication some day. It is (c) 2010 by Tony Simmons.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Farewell to the 'artist of the century'

PANAMA CITY — I spent a sunny morning with Barbara Mulligan a few years ago as she showed me around her home studio in Panama City. Canvases and slabs of wood leaned in bunches at every corner and against every wall, stacked in cabinets and closets, drying on the back porch, hanging in the living room — everywhere you turned.

She talked about technique (she was always teaching), and she talked about inspiration.

“I just saw it,” she said of one piece inspired by a Sunday morning church message. She had been sitting in the congregation and the image appeared, complete, in her mind’s eye.

She found inspiration all around her, and she was driven to share the images that inspiration produced. She gave much of her time and energy to others, participating in community groups and charities, helping others pursue the fruits of their inspirations.

Barbara, an accomplished artist and writer, a beloved wife, mother, grandmother and friend, died on Aug. 28 after succumbing to a brain tumor. She was 75.

I called her the “Artist of the Century,” in part because she painted the logo for Panama City’s centennial celebration. It carried her signature stained glass-on-wood style, and presented images emblematic of the past and future of her town. She painted it on wood salvaged after Hurricane Ivan.

And she continues to surprise. I read in her obituary that she had mounted a trapeze for the circus, and her son Shaun clarified the tale: “Mom had a PE class at FSU and because of her petite stature she was asked to perform on the trapezes for the FSU Flying High Circus.”

She kept in touch with me after first making acquaintance through The News Herald nearly a decade ago — we had met to discuss a show of her work. She often sent me emails with photos her husband George had taken, or paintings she had submitted to shows, or announcements about writer’s guild meetings, or sometimes heated reactions to local events. She told me stories.

She wished me peace.

Two years ago, Barbara donated a pair of painted galoshes to Project Joy Boots, a local fundraiser close to my heart that seeks to endow a scholarship for technical theatre students at Gulf Coast Community College. At the time, she sent me this note that sums up so much of what she was about:

“When I was a girl, I had a wonderful summer camp experience at a religious retreat. I learned there that real JOY is the practice of following this message: Consider this when dealing with life decisions and putting the important persons in the order ... Jesus, Others, Yourself.”

We will miss you, Barbara.

This was my Sunday "Undercurrents" column for The News Herald. See photos and a video inerview with Barbara here.