When our family first moved to Columbus, my parents rented a house on Second Avenue North from Blanch McClanahan until they could build. I was in the fifth grade, and the neighborhood was a great choice for me, because there were at least 24 children of various ages nearby, maybe more. We lived there for two years, and I enjoyed it fully. Although we “played out” en masse, those who were near the same age formed smaller groups. I was lucky.
We lived in the middle of the block. Nancy and Joanne McClanahan lived on the east corner. Joyce Hawkins lived two doors west. The four of us spanned three grades and made a neat group for playing.
Summers were hot. There was not much air conditioning, especially in homes. Sometimes we four girls dragged four galvanized wash tubs to my yard, lined them up in a row, and filled them with water. We put on our swim suits, and each girl sat in one of the tubs.
Somewhere we had found a long plank, which we balanced in front of us on the tubs’ rims, thereby making a desk long enough for all four of us to use. So there we sat in the shade, each one writing her version of the Great American Novel. I have forgotten most of it, but I recall Joyce’s story was a tear-jerking tragedy, wherein everyone died, mother and daughter falling over each other a la Romeo and Juliet. I am afraid mine was mostly description of what the heroine wore.
I say all that to say this: We were a little ahead of the trend. Today everybody is writing a book. The great incentive is the ease of self-publishing with many programs available on the computer. There is a wide variety, so if you have a book in you, you may like to know what some Columbians are doing.
Some are real professionals. Deborah Johnson went the route of getting accepted by a giant of the publishing world, Harpers, I believe. I have tried for a week to contact her about how she went about it, but have so far been unsuccessful. (I did leave many calls for a Deborah Johnson, but she was out of town. When she returned and answered my calls, it turned out she was the wrong Deborah Johnson and had never written a book.) Deborah’s book, however, “The Air Between Us,” is a fictional drama set in a small southern town that greatly resembles Columbus. It can be checked out of the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.
Sylvia Higginbotham is another professional, but of a different sort. Enthusiasm should be her middle name. She says she has written since she was a child, and she has written all kinds of things. She has used John F. Blair from Winston-Salem, N.C., in the traditional way of sending a query and a sample.
Her book, “Marvelous Old Mansions,” is still selling. She has done a number of travel books and books about southern architecture. One, “Reflections,” underwritten by Columbian Gene Imes, is a a beautiful coffee table book.
She has also self-published and helped others to do so. She has done several light-hearted books about southern traits and recipes, such as “Southern Women: Their Wisdom, Wit, and Wickedness” and “Grits and Greens and Mississippi Things.” She has taken assignments to write about things she knew nothing about, but she likes doing the necessary research, such as an article she was asked to write about the anthrax threat after 9/11. She has been flirting with a novel for several years. Come on, Sylvia, let us have it.
Historians and artists, too
Brandon Beck is a historian who has written two of his numerous books on Civil War battles in Mississippi towns, Okolona and Holly Springs. He says in order to write about a locality, you almost have to live nearby. He uses, predictably, the History Press, which had contacted him at one time, when they were publishing a series of books to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, to write about Stonewall Jackson.
Although he is established with History Press, his wife, Melissa, frequently helps people with self-publishing, saying, “There is a lot of leg work involved.” There is no dearth of people taking that route.
Selden Lambert recently had a book-signing for her adult fable, “The Voyager.” She used a company she found on the Internet, named Blurb. She says it was expensive, but it printed a little jewel of a book, complete with Selden’s illustrations. It is an unusual genre, appealing to those who enjoy fantasy and appreciate visual art.
Law and order
Jim Calaway has written an action-packed novel about lawmen who have to take the law into their own hands to foil a gang of pedophiles in “Protect the Innocent.” He, too, found his publisher, Outskirts Press, on the Internet. This company will do essentially anything you need done to print, edit and market your book, charging separately for each service the author selects.
Jim was pleased with the editing and other work they did for him, except for marketing. He and his wife Kay are now doing the marketing themselves more productively. He points out that one can also have a book published digitally if he does not want a hard copy. These e-books are sold as they are ordered and are available on devices like Kindle and Nook.
Jane Hunt is at work on a book about her ancestral home, Farview. She plans to use Premier Printers, owned by Michael Baily from Pontotoc. This company is the one used by her husband, James Hunt, and collaborator, Bob Gilbert, in their book of collected memories of the men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. They sold out of four printings.
They also gave copies to each public high school in Mississippi, to the Library of Congress, and to the George H. W. Bush presidential library with his first-hand story of flying in the South Pacific. James and his son, Bill Dan, have used the same press to publish a book of poems that they co-authored.
The above are only samplings of what fellow Columbians are doing. Who knows who else is writing? Look around you; you may see someone who is currently writing a book you’ll want to read.
Recently I saw a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Be Nice to Me, or I Will Put You in My Novel.”
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.
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