“We write because we cannot NOT write.” 

–My college creative writing professor, Jeff Daniel Marion (1940-2021)

From Crayon To Keyboard: THE WRITE sTUFF

Between seminary and college, I had the thrill of getting my first contract for a national magazine, when I sold an essay titled “The Fledgling” to Christian Single magazine. Since then I have published articles in Family Therapy and Spirituality & Health. I also published a memoir on my early experience as a minister and therapist. Alluding to one of my favorite children’s books, I titled it Restacking Caps and Loving the Monkey who Took Them.

While in seminary I served as an intern staff writer at the weekly denominational newspaper, the Western Recorder. The name of the paper dated back to when Kentucky was “the west.” Working for Jim Cox and then Marv Knox and Mark Wingfield both toughened me and enhanced my confidence.

As a child, one of my heroes was John-Boy Walton, the oldest son on the TV show The Waltons. The show was based on the life of Earl Hamner whose narrative voice soothed my soul and inspired me. I started keeping a journal to be like John-Boy.

My father taught language arts and encouraged my creativity. When teachers complained that I was always daydreaming, he told them not to worry about it—it was the mark of a creative mind. My creativity was further honed by a chore I hated but now cherish. In 1972, when I was finishing first grade, my parents—based on their combined incomes as teachers—were turned down for a $13,000 home loan. We moved into a post-Civil-War Victorian mansion, where we lived rent-free for serving as caretakers and tour guides. I started mowing the three-acre lawn in second grade. It took an entire day with a self-propelled, walk-behind, twenty-one-inch mower. There was nothing to do but think.

My writing was also honed by having a TV that only got two channels and by having a strict 8 p.m. bedtime. I could stay up as late as I wanted, as long as I was in bed. Thus, I read many books. While others watched Alex Haley’s Roots on TV, we couldn’t get that channel, plus it was after my bedtime, so I read the book. My dad gave me a copy of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The impact of that book could not be overstated. I read it aloud (along with L’Engle’s entire time series) to my college girlfriend and then, years later, to my daughter and then my son. Another similar influence was C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Sadly, for a bit of time, the love of reading was educated out of me. Then two things happened. First, my college creative writing professor, on the first day of class, using characterized voices, read aloud to us Flannery O’Connor’s short story A Good Man is Hard to Find. I was hooked and became a creative writing minor, studying under one of Appalachian literature’s greats. My first formal publication came in my hometown newspaper, Jefferson County Tennessee’s Standard Banner. I wrote a series of articles reporting my experience in the Philippines, where I lived in a slum the summer after the revolution that deposed Ferdinand Marcos.

The second thing that revived my love of reading came during seminary. During a Christmas break visit to a friend, a book on the couch end table said, “A real page-turner. You can’t put it down.” I said, “Watch me.” I ended up reading until I fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning. When I woke up I finished it. Thus, John Grisham’s The Firm became the first book of its length that I read in two sittings. The next week a friend recommended a book the impact of which could not be overstated. Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides introduced me to the issue of family secrets. That led to me asking questions that led to painful but healing discoveries. In the midst of that journey, one of my seminary professors assigned James Michener’s The Source. That book revolutionized my understanding of history and religion.

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