Short essay: Country Songs I Like: Kenny Chesney’s ‘Simple Things’

kenny_chesney

Despite growing up in Texas and having a Dad whose musical favorites have included Waylon, Willie and Hank Jr., I’ve never been a country music fan. Some of it’s too depressing while far too much of it glorifies boozing and cheating.

But there are some country songs I do like.

As I write this, I’m listening to Kenny Chesney’s “Simple Things.” The song’s about a man who struggles to stay sober and realizing what alcoholism has done to his life. You miss out on the simple things in life, and there’s always that whisper by the devil to have “just one more beer.”

Why can’t more songs be like that?

I’ve never understood why some country artists will sing the most depressing songs but yet make it seem like a great lifestyle. Who on earth wants to get so drunk they can’t remember where they’ve been or who they’ve slept with? Who wants to be stupid enough to out and cheat and then expect me, the listener, to be sympathetic?

If you’d like a good example of a positive country music singer, check out Clifton Jansky.

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New job!!!

Tomorrow I start a new, part-time job working for a Genesee County newspaper. I’m very much looking forward to it.

Trying out Twitter. Again.

A few weeks ago, I got into some hot water with a professional colleague when I teased her about her Twitter addiction. I’d tried Twitter and found it pointless. After all, who needs to know all the things your’s truly is doing throughout the day? Such as:

restlessrick Is taking a very fast hot shower to conserve what little propane is left

restlessrick Is rolling his eyes and regretting watching Anne Hathaway’s Rachel Getting Married movie

It always seemed like a waste of time, something that was the same as what facebook offers.

Now, I’m starting to use it more to try to get publicity for my writing work.

We’ll see. If you want to follow my tweets, click here.

To curse or not to curse in fiction

I’m a Christian. In my fiction, such as the stories written for more of a general audience rather than one that’s Christian, should I still avoid using profanity in the dialogue?

I posed this question to a teacher at Pensacola Christian College (I’ll not identify them, but they still teach at PCC). “People use those words,” I told the instructor.

I don’t,” they replied.

Granted, you won’t hear much profanity in Christian circles (or, at least, you shouldn’t), but what if you’re writing about one of these:

A military drill sergeant? (In my Army service, there were many drill sergeants who swore, including the male drill sergeants)

A criminal?

A police officer?

A construction worker?

My general rule of thumb is this: if I’m writing Christian-themed fiction, I avoid profanity except in indirect references. Such as this:

Jacob knocked on the door, nervous of what person he might encounter on visitation. He could feel the wet circles of perspiration form at the armpits of his new dress shirt.

The door opened and a man who hadn’t shaved in four days leaned out. His breath stank of not having used toothpaste or mouthwash in a few days mixed with a freshly-smoked cigarette. His eyes were bloodshot, the whites looking dark pink. “What do you want?” the man slurred, as if he’d just woken up.

“Sir, I’m Jacob Stone from First Baptist Church, and I wanted to ask you if you have ever asked Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and come into your heart.”

The man rolled his eyes and swore even before Jacob could finish. “What has Jesus ever done for me?” he asked. “Besides, doesn’t the Bible say you’ll automatically go to hell if you try to cram religion down someone’s throat?”

The man then suggested Jacob perform a certain type of sex act and slammed the door.

Now, let’s change this around and pretend Jacob is selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door and that it’s a fiction short story geared for a suspense magazine. Let’s suppose Jacob’s actually a burglar who’s using this job to scope potential victims:

Jacob knocked on the door, nervous of what person he might encounter. This day was going terribly: it was a commission-only job, and in three hours he hadn’t made any sales. Only two people had let him inside their house. He could feel the wet circles of perspiration form at the armpits of his new dress shirt.

The door opened and a man who hadn’t shaved in four days leaned out. His breath stank of not having used toothpaste or mouthwash in a few days mixed with a freshly-smoked cigarette. His eyes were bloodshot, the whites looking dark pink. “What the hell do you want?” the man slurred, as if he’d just woken up.

“Sir, I’m Jacob Stone from Kirby Vacuums, and I wanted to ask you if I could have five minutes of your time to give your carpet a free vacuum—”

“You gotta be shittin’ me,” the man replied. “I ain’t got no $600 to buy a new vacuum cleaner!”

“This one costs only 12 easy payments of “$20.99,” Jacob protested.

“Go fuck yourself,” the man said, slamming the door.

Please understand that when I write fiction, I try to make sure dialogue is done in a way that is realistic without going overboard. Some authors have their characters using the f-word for every single adjective and adverb, something I find ridiculous. I’ve read some fiction (including some best-selling novelists) where I’ve felt strongly they used so much profanity in their dialogue that their characters become unbelievable caricatures.

The Mr. McAlister Principle: The Peril of Jumping to Conclusions

My sophomore year at Pensacola Christian College, I took a course called copy writing. The teacher was a gentleman named Stephen McAlister, who taught broadcasting classes at college and had performed in plays. He also had just completed a master’s degree in communications from the University of West Florida.

I didn’t know Mr. McAlister personally, nor had I ever had him as a teacher before. However, a roommate who was a broadcasting major had had him for a few classes. “Alan” didn’t like Mr. McAlister and told me lots of stories.

I’m sure Alan had good reasons for his opinion, but as I began the class I brought with myself my own conclusions of how Mr. McAlister would be. I’d already decided I didn’t like him and that he was a lousy teacher. Everything he did, to me, was “wrong”.

What a great attitude to have, right?

I ended up with a C+ in the class, and one that was well deserved.

I don’t say I worked hard to earn the C+, but rather I received the grade that matched the effort I put out.

It was indeed a painful learning experience, but it taught me something. No matter how many opinions you’ve heard of a person already, approach them with an open mind. Allow them the chance of proving themselves to you. Had I done that, I probably would’ve enjoyed Mr. M’s class far more and may have even earned a better grade. None of us likes people to form premature opinions about us, so it’s unfair for us to do the same to others.

The simplicity of Hebrew

hebrew

Or, as Hebrew-speaking people in Israel and other countries call their language, עברית.

I spoke to a friend last night, a friend I count as a mentor and as one of the brothers I never had (yes, I love my three sisters dearly, but I miss never having had a brother). Howard told me about his studies in Hebrew and how it’s actually a very simplistic language.

Note, he said simplistic, which doesn’t necessarily mean easy.

Howard, who’s fluent in sign language, said Hebrew is very similar to signing. Both languages omit needless words and tend to be direct. He gave as an example how they’d say the phrase “I’m going to the store”: “I go store”.

Some languages tend to be more complicated, but only because they’re specific. In Russian, for example, saying “I’m going to the store” depends on a few factors. Are you walking, running, biking, driving, flying or boating to the store? Are you going in the direction of the store, going to the store, emphasizing the location of the store?

Go where the story leads you

Early on in my professional career when writing feature articles, I learned to keep an open mind when it came to pursing a story and take the story where the quotes and facts lead you. After all, isn’t it easy to try to sway the story a certain direction?

Back around 2001, I wrote a feature article for the San Antonio Express-News about POW/MIA bracelets. As I researched and interviewed, I expected to find an overwhelming amount of people with them along with a huge outcry over those who were still unaccounted for. I found one soldier in San Antonio who collected and wore the bracelets who was willing to be interviewed. I also interviewed two former POWs who both told me they did not believe anybody was left behind.

More recently, when I first wrote my feature on Walmart two years ago, I fully expected to interview one infuriated store owner after another, each sounding off on how Walmart has ruined downtown Clio, Michigan. I found only two like that, and neither would go on record.

And, of course, you’d be really surprised what fascinating tidbits you can find when interviewing somebody. I recall interviewing one horticulturist (I won’t say who or where since I’d like to have an exclusive on this someday) who’s also a professional chef. One of his clients: Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.

Then there was the Air Force lieutenant colonel who was headed to New England to run the Boston Marathon. The surname of this Boston-born and bred colonel was Richard; he was of French-Canadian descent and was a third cousin of Montréal Canadiens hockey star Maurice “Rocket” Richard.

Also, when interviewing a young, rising country star in Clio, Mich., his mother mentioned he’d recorded a duet with country music star Mel McDaniel. “Ol’ Mel”, I remembered, was one of my Dad’s favorite country music artists. A message on his website, and a few days later, I phone interviewed Mr. McDaniel for the article. Ol’ Mel couldn’t have been nicer.

Richard Zowie’s Writer’s Digest Your Story #19 submission: From M.R.S. to Master’s Degree

The prompt was to write 750 words about a woman who’s allowed to travel through time to correct a mistake. This is what I came up with.

While the story focuses on my alma mater, Pensacola Christian College, it is safe to say PCC is not the only Christian college where young women and men go to find future spouses. Perhaps this even goes on at state colleges to an extent. An associate pastor who attended another Christian college told me once of a roommate of his who flat-out told him: “I’m here to find a wife.”

I will say, though, this story is very loosely based on a couple I knew of at PCC. They shall remain unidentified.

And, of course, Los Patos, Texas is as fictional as the story itself. In Spanish, it means “The Ducks”.

From M.R.S. to Master’s Degree

By Richard Zowie

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!

Elizabeth McCandless, 29, moaned as she slowly woke from a foggy dream. 3:30 a.m., according to her digital clock’s bright red numbers. She yawned, threw on a bathrobe, slid her feet into slippers and trudged toward the front door. It was probably Jake, her husband and pastor of Los Patos Baptist Church. He was returning from a San Antonio hospital where one of his parishioners was hospitalized.

But instead of seeing Jake’s gangly, six-foot, three-inch frame through the peephole, she saw Steven Martinez (her husband’s associate pastor and best friend) along with two police officers.

She stared for a moment, now wide awake, her heart galloping as she opened the door.

The officers were grim. Steven’s eyes were red and his face tearstained.

“Ma’am, I’m Officer Applegate and this is Officer Garcia of the Los Patos Police Department,” the older one said in a slow Texas drawl. “This, of course, is Pastor Martinez of Los Patos Baptist Church. Are you Elizabeth McCandless?”

“Yes,” she said. “Is everything ok?”

“You are the wife of Jacob McCandless, correct?”

She nodded and swallowed a big lump in her throat.

“Ma’am, there’s been a terrible auto accident on Highway 181 near Karnes City involving your husband and another driver,” Applegate said, his quiet voice calm and emotionless. “Your husband was killed instantly. We’re terribly sorry.”

Dead?…an, uh… accident?” she sputtered.

Applegate nodded. “The other driver, who had veered into your husband’s lane, is hospitalized in stable condition. He probably will be charged with DWI and vehicular homicide.”

Her mind raced, trying desperately to process this. Dear God, this can’t be happening!

“Beth,” Steven said gently, his voice soft and hoarse. “We’re here for you if you need anything.”

Tears flooded down Beth’s face as the future, a frightening black abyss, glared mercilessly at her. She hadn’t worked since college, where she’d majored in home economics (or, as many jokingly called it, an “M.R.S.” degree), a formality since she’d attended college to find a husband. How would she get a job with that background? How would she take care of their two daughters? And there was no life insurance, since Jake didn’t believe in it and insisted it showed a lack of faith in God.

She sobbed, the tears soaking her bathrobe sleeves.

Dear God, how I wish I could go back and—

Immediately, as fast as an eye blink, she was again a freshman at Pensacola Christian College. Beth found herself in a room, the night before registration, where counselors helped students make sure they were taking the right classes. Startled, she looked around and recognized a few students who were English and commercial writing majors: Jane, Sammy, Andrea and Neal.

Maybe she’d passed out and the police would soon wake her. Her dreams always were foggy with muffled, distant sounds and without smell. But now, everything was bright and clear. She could hear the students’ chat about what Freshman English teachers to avoid; Sammy’s brash laugh echoed in the room. She could smell Chaps, worn by another male student who, still developing social skills, failed to grasp that overusing cologne didn’t equal a shower.

A few moments ago, she’d sobbed inconsolably. Now, she was calm, confused.

Maybe God’s allowing me to right a wrong so my girls and I will be prepared for the future, she thought, looking at her class schedule. From here she’d get a bachelor’s in English, a master’s in English from the University of West Florida and then pick up a teaching certificate. It would take about six years, unless she took 18-hour semesters and post-term classes. Teaching wasn’t necessarily a high-paying job, but it was in demand and would provide some sort of financial security. Maybe she could even run a tutorial business out of her home.

She remembered she’d meet Jake in a few weeks, and he would simply have to understand her need for her education. She’d tell him the tragedies she’d heard in Christianity over the years, such as the woman who became a widow with four children when her evangelist husband died unexpectedly in a plane crash. Or the respected church deacon who left his wife for his secretary; college-aged girl was younger than his own daughter.

Jake, though, was the abrupt, assertive type who never understood life’s what happens when you’re making plans.

She wondered, What if Jake tells me he won’t wait for me to finish my education?

But the answer came back quickly: Then he isn’t Mr. Right.

© Copyright 2009 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.*

Richard Zowie, aspiring voice over artist

Besides a resume for a writing career, I also like to keep a broadcasting resume ready. For seven years I worked in radio. Two stations (Christian and talk radio) in San Antonio and a Christian station in Michigan. While I prefer print journalism, I really enjoyed my time in broadcasting. I’ve even delved a little into television broadcasting as a volunteer for Blazing Gavels, a fund raiser for San Antonio’s PBS station, KLRN. I was relieved that wearing makeup was not required, but I still concluded that I have a great face for radio.

Over the years, I’ve kept recordings of myself doing news and pseudo commercials. I even have a digital audio tape of myself guest hosting a radio call-in talk show, which was especially fun.

A Night in the Life of a San Antonio Express-News sports gatherer

One of my favorite jobs I’ve had in newspapers was as a sports gatherer for the San Antonio Express-News. Around 2003 and 2004 I freelanced for them, working from 9 p.m. to around 2 a.m. My and others’ jobs was to take phone calls from high school coaches regarding games, the scores and stats. Fall was for high school football, late fall and winter for basketball and the spring was for baseball. The fall season was the most hectic since high school football is…well, if you’re from Texas you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I loved the Express-News newsroom. It was quiet but very busy. Some chatter but everybody seemed to be chasing down stories. David Flores, the high school sports editor, was a wonderful man. I also liked Tom Orsborne, who covers the Dallas Cowboys for the newspaper.

At 9 p.m., I’d arrive. I remember the first few weeks were pretty hectic as I took the wrong exit and wound up in another area of San Antonio. Then, I found the building that housed the E-N and had a fun time trying to park. Downtown San Antonio at night can be a little creepy.

Around 11 p.m., the game calls would start flooding in. Basically, you listened carefully as the coach gave the final score, told you who scored when, the basic stats. I remember always getting nervous when we’d get scores from Polish towns like Poth or Karnes City since the surnames were hard to spell. You know…Wojciechowski, Pieprzyca, Dworaczyk.

Once you get all the data, you quickly double-check the data with the coach. Then you enter it into the main computer for the people in layout to get to, print it out and put it onto the pile. If you’re handling a call about one of the San Antonio powerhouses like Churchill, Reagan, Madison or Central Catholic, it was best to let the news room know right away. We’d get reports from as far away as Ben Bolt, which is down in south Texas about 100 miles north of the Mexican border.

Around midnight, things would die down. It was fun to relax, gather your bearings, and watch a little television. Sometimes it would be local sports channels and other times it would be ESPN’s Sports Center.

When possible, it was fun to chat with some of the local reporters and other E-N staff members and just see how things were going. I remember David told me a little about how he was once banned from the Alamo Stadium press boxes because the then-USFL occupant San Antonio Gunslingers accused him of negative coverage. So, he covered the game from the bleachers. Funny stuff.

There was even one time where I got to attend a football game with one of the high school football beat writers. I learned a lot by observing him. Raul would make note of every play, who did what for how many yards, anything interesting that happened in the play. Immediately after the game, he’d head down from the press box to the field to interview both coaches. Then off to the newspaper to get it written for the morning paper.

One fringe benefit was getting to take home a free copy of the previous day’s paper. I always liked the Friday issue with the Weekender section, so it was an added bonus.

Sometimes I’d head home by midnight but on busy nights, I usually was out the door by 1 a.m. Sometimes it was fun to get done at 1 a.m., be in bed by 1:30 a.m. and then get up around 6 a.m. to get to work at the radio station. But I had the time of my life doing so.