Thursday, January 31, 2013

When the word is given ...

PANAMA CITY — The first time I attended a Books Alive event, my kids were just whipper-snappers.

We sat on a floor in a standing-room-only classroom to hear Tim Dorsey read a segment about his character, Serge, teaching a Florida history course. We managed seats for the session featuring poets Barbara Hamby and David Kirby, who recited selections of their work and told stories about their muses.

We left that day with a book by each of these writers, autographed of course.

More importantly than that, we left with the gifts of inspiration and a shared experience. The kids were only knee high to grasshoppers then, but we still refer back to that day from time to time. We still follow the work of those writers because that morning their words touched us or tickled our funny bones. We still recall their lessons of encouragement and revelation.

In my own childhood, I didn’t have the joy of such experiences — meeting people who live in a world of words. So it was important to me to make that experience available to my children, one of whom has studied theatre and now writes plays and song lyrics, and the other of whom has dabbled in fiction and is studying public relations and marketing.

We live in a world of words — and depending on your beliefs, that statement can be taken literally.

When we argue, we say we had “words” with each other. When we order something to be done, we “say the word.” When we make a promise, we “give our word.” It’s a man’s bond, you know.

Street slang caught up with the concept when a declaration of agreement and appreciation came to be indicated by responding, “Word up,” or simply, “Word.”

So it’s no surprise that even the Good Book (in John 1:1) acknowledges, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In fact, Genesis says God spoke the universe into being, starting with the words, “Let there be light.”

And still you wonder why folks like me are fascinated by the ways in which words work. It’s about storytelling, to be sure, but it’s also about communicating a mood, joy, fear, discovery, adventure, love. It’s about a transcendent power that our words can only attempt to describe.

The best writers are so fluent with that arcane power that their work can change the way we see the world — and the way we use words. Shakespeare alone coined more than 1,500 of our commonly used words and phrases, according to some estimates.

Word up.

When I was a kid, about the age my children were when we first visited Books Alive, my father told a story that included a joke: One character said to another that he knew what was in every book in every library in the world. The second character bet he didn’t; just what is in every book in every library in the world, he asked.

“Words,” was the answer.

For me, words remain the answer.


(This is my Friday Undercurrents column for and The News Herald.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

New Signing 'Dawns' for Century City Limits

My dad sent me a link to a story about the new signs at the town limits of Century, Florida, where I grew up and which is the setting for my first novel, "Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century."

The cover of that book features one of the actual signs installed at the town limits in 1999, which I likened to headstones, and which have now been replaced by the new saw-blade shaped signs that are a homage to the origins of the town as a sawmill camp and feature the rising sun.

Don't know when I'll be there again. It has been a while.

But I was joking with my friend Karen on Facebook today that you haven't really been anywhere until you've been to the gravel lakes at Mosquito Flats, so you can see it's always in the back of my mind.

Trying to 'finally see' what's evident

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Two white-tailed does bounded and hopped through overgrown lots across the street from my dining room windows Tuesday morning. They halted abruptly and looked my way, circled in a lot and searched for an exit. One of them turned and disappeared under an oak tree, and the second followed.

The incident lasted a handful of seconds, and I was just lucky to have been facing the windows when they raced by in the golden light of morning.

It’s important to recognize that part of being in the right place at the right time is making yourself available. The other part is sheer luck. That morning’s vision was a fortuitous combination.

Last Friday afternoon, I made myself available and was lucky enough to speak briefly with Miles Zuniga and Tony Scalzo, two of the founding members of Fastball, the band that hit the big time with their song, “The Way,” in 1998. The place was Fish Out of Water, the restaurant at Watercolor resort in South Walton, and the reason was a press conference for some of the artists appearing at the 30A Songwriters Festival.

They paused long enough to have a photo taken, but I didn’t get to tell them how much my son loved their album “All the Pain Money Can Buy.” He played that CD until it was worn to a nub, if such a thing could be done. Easily dismissed by the cynical as “one-hit wonders,” they continue to write, play, record and sing.

Earlier that day, I made myself available to a class at Education Encore, the adult enrichment program at Gulf Coast State College. The program signed up a record high of 428 students this session, which runs through Feb. 22. The most popular classes, with 59 students each, are Gourmet Cooking Made Easy, Islam: Get the Facts, and We the People.

I was lucky enough to be presented with 22 students who wanted to know something about creative writing. It remains to be seen if they will consider this a fortunate appointment.

As you read this on a Friday, I hope to have attended a private screening of the 1962 film “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the Martin Theatre on Thursday evening. The movie, one of my all-time favorites, is being presented by the Bay County Public Library Foundation, in part to promote the upcoming appearance of Mary McDonagh Murphy at next weekend’s Books Alive festival.

Murphy, a former producer for “60 Minutes,” also produced “Hey, Boo,” an award-winning documentary on author Harper Lee, her book and its film adaptation. I will be introducing Murphy at Books Alive on Feb. 2 at Florida State University-Panama City, where she will talk about her project. Books Alive is a free event; for more information, visit

As you might recall from the book (or film), Atticus tells his children he would prefer them to shoot at tin cans with their air rifles, but he knows they will eventually go after birds; he allows that it’s all right to shoot blue jays, but it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.

He was trying to say that it’s wrong to willfully hurt someone who does nothing wrong. He later assures Scout that most people are nice, “when you finally see them.”

I don’t know how my train of thought ended up here, exactly, except that since we moved into the isolated neighborhood off the beach I’ve had more opportunity than in recent years to witness wild animals and birds brushing up against the edges of civilization.  Visions like that of the running does have connected with memories of the lessons in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and those lessons have informed the passage of my days.

So sing your hearts out, Fastball. Tell your stories, Encore students. Visit the book festival and hear the good words of writers seeking some kind of truth in the world. Try to “finally see” the people around you, and reserve your pellets for the tin cans — and maybe the blue jays.


This was my Undercurrents column for and The News Herald today. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cold water, wind can’t stop the action

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Lots of stuff is happening as the new year gets to a running start, though the Gulf water may still be cold and the sky can’t decide if it wants to be rainy or sunny. Here are a few things in the past week you might have seen:

Nick Alexander (Photo: Tony Johnson)
Mr. Surf’s annual “Cold Water Classic” surfing contest last Saturday was a huge success, according to shop owner and organizer Tony Johnson.

“The waves were really good, the weather was perfect — sunny and in the mid/upper 70s — and we had a huge crowd on the beach,” he said. “Finals were incredible.”

The Open Elite class, with a $600 cash purse on the line, came down to 1 point difference between surfers “Killer C” and “Sticky Nicky Alexander.” Johnson said Killer C thought he had the contest sewn up when Alexander “stuck a bomb, got completely barreled and rode the longest tube all the way across the beach right in front of Killer C, who threw up his hands in disbelief. You had to be there to see it.”

I imagine that’s so, because I’m not sure what any of that means. Check out Mr. Surf’s Surf Shop on Facebook to see photos of the event.

Behind the Scenes
Filming began at 7 a.m. Sunday for “East Side Story,” the independent dance movie being shot on locations all over Panama City Beach. The first shots filmed were set poolside at the Shores of Panama resort and featured the leads actors/dancers, Witney Carson and Chehon Wespi-Tschopp, as well as many local extras decked in bikinis and board shorts.

Bay County Film Commissioner Julie Gordon said the day’s work went well, though “it was a wee bit chilly and a lot windy.”

A kitchen scene was filmed at Edgewater Beach Resort on Monday, again using local extras as waiters, and more locals were cast as butlers in a scene filmed Wednesday evening. Be patient with the audience when you go to see the finished movie, as there’s sure to be lots of fingers pointing at the big screen and whispers of “I know that guy!”

Luke Bryan @ Spinnaker 2012
Spring Break is just around the corner, believe it or not, and a country music star who has made the event a regular part of his tour schedule for the past five years has already announced two free concerts.

Luke Bryan, the son of a Georgia peanut farmer, knows that “going to the beach” means Panama City Beach, and he will be celebrating the rites of spring at Spinnaker Beach Club, 8795 Thomas Drive. His free, all-ages, general admission concerts will be at 4 p.m. March 12 and 13. Arrive early to stake out get a good spot.

Spinnaker already has announced a few more events for the spring, including a free concert by Rodney Atkins at 4 p.m. March 8, and a string of daytime concerts by up-and-coming Nashville singer/songwriter Casey Jamerson.

Be sure to check in at for all your Spring Break related coverage, including updated events, videos and slideshows.

This is my Undercurrents column for Friday's paper.

Monday, January 14, 2013


I've been teasing Facebook folks with sentences from my current project. I'm trying (somewhat desperately, if the truth be told) to rid myself of a character who has followed me around (in my brainspace) since I was a teenager. >>I wrote more at length about him here.<<

So, on Facebook, I have released the following teasers:

Opening line of Chapter 1:
"My mother’s black hair was long then, before the accident that changed everything, and it shimmered like silk in the light of day."

Closing line of chapter 1: "There you are. I am such a meddlesome bastard."

Second line of Chapter 2: "Junction lay nestled in a wide hollow between rolling hills covered in tall stands of pine and oak, cuddled by the soft curves of the earth, and embraced by the fast-moving, tannin waters of Big Escambia Creek."

Second to last line of Chapt. 2:
"And by the time his enemies had linked him to this place, he would have killed again."

Third line of Chapter 3: "The steering wheel bucked in his grip like a tiller in hard earth, but God heard his prayers and kept him firmly on course."

Third from last line of Chapt. 3: " 'I would hesitate to throw that word out where the press might get hold of it,' Street said."

Fourth line of Chapter 4:
"She felt as if she was suffocating in the humidity, and her nightgown stuck unevenly to her body like a skin in the process of being shed."

Fourth from last line of Chapt. 4:
"She looked up at him, expecting a kiss or something, so he kissed her once, gently, on the lips."

What's fun about this is that none of these lines refer to the same character. Tthe "meddlesome bastard" is not the guy talking about his mother's hair, for instance. The "she" suffocating in the humidity at the beginning of Chapter 4 is not the same "she" getting kissed at the end of the chapter.

Also, if you're familiar with my previous novel, "The Book of Gabriel," the last name "Street" in Chapter 3 may be familiar. It is there for a reason, though it is not the same main character you met in the previous book. Some version of "Street" existed in infinite parallel worlds. This is one of them.

Anyway, I'm glad to be (re)writing this. Maybe I'll take it all the way to print this time. (Of that, you can rest assured.) 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Postcard Girl, Dancer Guy

I shoot and edit videos as part of my job at and Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing a local lady who was a model used to promote Panama City Beach in the 1960s. Here's some video of her:

And today, at the joint meeting of the Bay County/Panama City Beach chambers of commerce, I had a front-row seat for a performance by Brandon Bryant, a winner of the TV series "So You Think You Can Dance" and the choreographer of a movie, "East Side Story," that begins filming Sunday in PCB. Here's his dance:

Overall, not a bad way to make a living.
Have a great weekend, folks.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A New Old Story Comes Back to Haunt the Living

When I was 14, I started writing a story, like many back then, that was little more than a bald reworking of comicbook ideas. The main character was named Magus, and he was my version of Doctor Strange, the mighty Marvel Comics master of the mystic arts.

The work evolved over time. I became less interested in writing about Magus and more interested in writing about a young man (Tom Caliban) who worked at a hospital in the small town of Junction, Ala., and whose life got mixed up in horror from beyond this realm. I was 16 or 17 by now, and I was working as an orderly at Century Memorial Hospital.  But no doubt about it, this time I was also under the influence of a horror film called The Manitou, which takes place in a hospital.

Awesome, right? I saw this edited for TV and thought, "I can do that."

But that didn't quite work, either. By the time I was 18, it was time to try again. I was really into H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard at the time, and I was attending Pensacola Junior College and hanging out, when I could, at used book stores, searching the stacks for treasures. I was also into Native American history (which resulted in my first serialized fiction appearing in the PJC paper). I began to incorporate the old book store ideas and ancient grimoires of magic, like the Necronomicon, into the storyline, along with Indian legends, serial killings, and an old wizard called Magus.Various iterations of that held on for several years, as I moved from school to school, eventually married and started jobs, had kids, and entered a career.

In 1992-93, I got serious about the story again and wrote a complete novel. I asked a few people to read it, including Lynn Wallace and Carole Lapensohn, both of whom I was at the time participating with in a novel writing workshop. While they had some positive things to say, I kind of got the feeling it wasn't their cup of bubbling potion. An editor at my day-job asked to see the book, read it and liked it (although he also said it made him see me in a different light), and forwarded it to a friend of his that was starting a literary agency. The guy didn't like it. At all. Said it was too mixed up (the narrative was non-linear as characters became immersed in each other's memories).

I did a rewrite that brought it into a more linear configuration, but the guy wasn't interested in reading it again. I put it away.

Over the years, I have revisited the characters in the book. I wrote a novella about Magus that tells of one of his early adventures and how he met his wife. I wrote most of a sequel featuring an old Caliban faced with destroying his world in order to save other worlds. I wrote most of another sequel I pitched to an agent at a writers conference as "Constantine meets Payback set in the Big Easy." (I really liked this one, but couldn't make it stand alone without first telling — i.e., publishing — the earlier stories.) I wrote part of another story about one of Caliban's distant cousins set in the Civil War, and part of yet another story that brought the two together to fight the progenitor of all vampires (this would have been the second in the Caliban series, as he comes under the tutelage of Magus).

And I put them all away and chased other rabbits for a while. I wrote most of a zombie novel. I wrote and published two very different novels, two short story collections, many short stories in anthologies here and there, made some videos, wrote lots of things that few (or none) have ever read, painted some pictures. Lived a life like I never expected. Laughed some and cried some. Kept writing into the night and kept getting up in the mornings. Breathing.

And this month, I have returned to revisit Tom and Magus, and the changeling and the soul eater. I have set myself a goal of finishing a rewrite on this book for once and all, and sending it into the world while I follow up with Tom's further adventures as if they too might have some kind of future in print.

I know his stories, as he's told them all to me as each of us have grown up. He's been through some shit over the years, let me tell you.

I hope you will — let me tell you, that is.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Video by a Fellow Traveler

This is my friend Nick. He writes books, and blogs, and short stories, and plays in a band and stuff. He's pretty cool. You can check out his jam at

Expect more stuff like this in the New Year we've just begun. We should always share the love, and I plan to tell you about more cool people and the stuff they do.


‘East Side’ is just part of the story

"East Side" dance rehearsal at NW FL State College.
PANAMA CITY — The world is taking note of Bay County — whether as the setting for a new film, or as the home of accomplished actors, writers and musicians. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • Another round of dance auditions for “East Side Story” took place Sunday at the Gulf Coast State College Wellness Center. The movie is in pre-production now and will begin shooting this month in Panama City Beach.
Film Commissioner Julie Gordon will speak at today’s joint meeting of the Bay County and Panama City Beach chambers of commerce, where she’ll introduce “East Side Story” writer/producer/director David Winter and choreographer Brandon Bryant. The joint chamber meeting will be at the Florida State University-Panama City Campus Holley Academic Center. Networking starts at 7:30 a.m. and the program will begin at 8 a.m. (In December, Winters was a guest of the Panama City Beach Senior Center’s pot luck dinner; two tickets were drawn awarding Senior Center members a lunch on the set with the cast during production.)

  • The Owsley Brothers, a punk/blues/garage band that grew out of Panama City resident Jerad Reynolds’ “bedroom recording project,” had one of its original songs, “Blood and Fire,” featured on the ABC TV series “Revenge” that broadcast Sunday evening. Reynolds is also manager at Quincy Ave. Art & Things in Seaside.
  • Ryan Didato, a 2006 graduate of Bay High, appears as the male lead in the Christian romance, “The Way of Love,” an independent film directed by George Jiha. The movie had a limited theatrical release in 2012 and should be released on DVD later this year.
“It was just a really small movie made for the Christian market,” said Didato, who has worked professionally in south Florida since graduating from New World School of the Arts in Miami in 2010. A member of Actors Equity, the union for professional stage actors, he recently co-wrote a web series called “Morning Wood,” which also should be out soon, and is living in New York City, where he’s auditioning for roles.

  • The work of playwright and Panama City native Matthew Lopez, “The Legend of Georgia Mcbride,” will be featured at the Colorado New Play Summit Feb. 8-10, sponsored by the Denver Center Theatre Co. Lopez is described as one of the brightest rising stars in the playwriting community.
His debut production, “The Whipping Man,” premiered Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2011, earning him the John Gassner Playwriting Award from the Outer Critics Circle. Tony Award winner Doug Hughes directed “The Whipping Man,” which starred Emmy-winning actor Andre Braugher.

  • Panama City native Brooklyn Winters will premiere her feature film, “Tumbling: The Movie,” at the Martin Theatre in downtown Panama City on April 20. Winters wrote the screenplay, produced the film and cast it. Shot in Tampa Bay, Miami, Jacksonville and Orlando, “Tumbling” is about an elite organized crime unit with a traitor on the team.
 (My column for and The News Herald for Friday, Jan. 11, 2013.)
(Photo Credit: Julie Gordon, Bay County Film Commissioner)

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Hearing the hush of a new year dawning

PANAMA CITY BEACH — There were no parties for us on New Year’s Eve. No hats or noise-makers. No champagne in plastic flutes.

Instead, after a day at our jobs, we worked on settling into our new home. Unpacking boxes. Rearranging furniture. Mounting bookshelves to walls. Unpacking more boxes.

In the late afternoon, I pulled weeds from the yard and trimmed hedges (until I cut my extension cord with the trimmer, resulting in an unexpected bit of fireworks). In the evening, we took the family to a local restaurant, stopped by a bookstore, then back home to watch a movie.

Not the most exciting of itineraries, granted. We talked about heading to Pier Park for the big event, but hadn’t the energy remaining. At least we were all together.

We saw a fox loitering near the treeline when we returned home. Our headlights spooked it, and it disappeared silently into the night. Since moving in, we had seen deer and ’possums in the neighborhood; they were to be expected. But it was a nice surprise to glimpse the fox.

I thought about the stories of Native American tribes that believed foxes had healing powers — or like Prometheus, had given humans fire.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that, at midnight, we stood on the front balcony of the house and took in the spectacle of fireworks visible through the treetops to the southeast. Schooners, I suggested, though it might have originated someplace else entirely. Perhaps the fox was celebrating, setting fire to the sky.

The haze of clouds overhead glowed red, and rumbles like thunder rolled over us, frightening our dogs. Someone at a nearby house, invisible behind the treeline, launched sparkling rockets as well.

At last, the haze broke and bright stars glimmered. I hoped it was an omen of clarity and promise in the new year; that, like the fox, it foreshadowed an awakening.

Before bedding down, I took the dogs for a walk and looked for shooting stars and wild animals, but all the starbursts seen that night were man-made and already had ended, and all the wild animals had gone elsewhere.

New Year’s morning, the work again awaited us. Laundry and dishes to do. Sweeping up. Cutting a pet door. Errands to run, groceries to purchase. More boxes to unpack.

But there was a quiet in the atmosphere, as if the fireworks of the night before had burned all the energy from the world. The air felt close, like a hug, like a friendly reminder to slow down.

During a morning walk, hearing the waters of St. Andrew Bay churning just down the hill and through the woods — it seemed to be whispering, “Hush.”

It’s a new year. Take a moment to listen.