Interviewing The Man Who Taught Me To Interview


Joe Atkins at his Lafayette County, Mississippi home.

Joe Atkins at his Lafayette County, Mississippi home. Photo by Lauren Wood, Mud & Magnolias

Twenty years later, there aren’t a whole lot of my former professors I still keep up with. And there’s a case to be made that Joe Atkins​ might have been an unlikely candidate to be one of the few, since I failed one or two of his classes, depending on how you count.

But Joe, as much as anyone, is the person who taught me to be a reporter. Not just the technical aspects of how to be a reporter, but what it means to be one. He was tough but fair, and played a huge role in the foundation of the arc my career would follow.

So it was very interesting to get to write an article about Joe for the most recent issue of Mud & Magnolias about his first published novel, Casey’s Last Chance.

Most of my stories for Mud & Magnolias​ are assigned to me, but this is one I asked to be allowed to write. I thought it would be an interesting subject, which is was, and I wanted to be able to help promote his book, which you should read. What surprised me, however, was how interesting the interview prep was. I’ve known the man for over 20 years now, but I’d never actually researched him before. He’s even more fascinating than I realized.

The experience of the interview itself was also interesting. I was a pretty decent reporter back in my day, and even if I’m not in the newspaper business anymore, I do get opportunities to keep those skills from becoming too rusty. It’s been a long time since I’ve been nervous about conducting an interview. But I’ve also never before interviewed the person who taught me to interview someone. Going into it, I almost expected to be corrected on my technique. In reality, we had a really great conversation about the differences between journalism and fiction, the creative process, the future of the newspaper industry, and a lot more. The hardest part of the process was how much I had to leave out of the article.

Ole Miss historically has a great journalism department and produces great student journalists (I read Tuesday that The Daily Mississippian​ just won another regional best daily student paper award), and professors like Joe Atkins are a bit part of why. I was blessed to be one of his students 20 years ago, and am honored to call him a friend today.

And, in conclusion, buy his book.

Another Draft Done


20121219-122830.jpgThis is one of those things that I included in the “when I start blogging again, I should blog about this” list, but I have no idea what I intended to say about it.

During the time I was offline, we finished another draft of the space shuttle book, “Bold They Rise,” that I’ve been working on for, what, six, seven years now? In fact, getting the book finished was one of the motivators for taking a break from blogging in the first place.

That said, there’s really not a whole lot to say about the latest milestone, other than the fact that writing a book can be a long, complicated process.

The latest revision mainly makes some stylistic changes to the book, changing the way it reads somewhat, and I think we all agree that it makes it much better. Next it goes to peer reviewers and the editorial board to see whether they concur, and then it comes back to us at least another time or two to make more revisions to make it publication-worthy. If all goes well, we’ll be looking at a spring 2014 publication date.

Still, even if the latest submission is just another milestone in a long string of them, a lot of work went into this one, and it was quite a relief to have the book off my plate for a little while.

Rocket City Bloggers Carnival — Summer in the “City”


Image unrepentantly stolen from Entirely Adequate’s submission for the carnival. Used without permission, unless she tells me to take it down.

For those who don’t know, I’m part of an incredibly awesome group of local bloggers, known as The Rocket City Bloggers. Basically, as a group, we write things, share things we write with each other, eat things, and talk about writing things. And sometimes write about eating things. And often write things about talking about writing things, but that’s getting kind of meta. Like I said, it’s an awesome group.

Also, once a month, we have a blog carnival, in which those of us who aren’t too lazy (Bo, I’m looking at you here) all write posts about the same topic, and then one of us publishes a post linking to all of the other posts.

This month, the theme is “Summer,” and the host for the month is yours truly.

So, welcome, then, to the Rocket City Bloggers June Carnival.

Here are this month’s posts:

• From the “Mrs. Mood” blog, we have Who Else Is Ready?: “I know, I know, here we are on the inauguration of June but I am here to tell you, I am ready for Christmas.”

• Over on “Ninasoden,” there’s Summer Then & Now: “Summer time used to be a time of running around in the sprinklers and riding my bike for hours before finally running into the house truly exhausted and collapsing on the living room floor.

• “Calluna” wrote a post titled Summer As I Knew It: “The routines of the first 21 years of my life were dictated by a school calendar.”

• At “Girl Gad About,” you can read Summer Editorial Calendar: “To all my wanderlust-stricken love bunnies out there, Girl Gad About plans to implement a summer editorial calendar.”

• Over on “Entirely Adequate,” there’s Unscheduled Summers Provide The Best Memories: “Nearly everyone I know who has kids spends tons of money and time striving to plan the perfect summer.”

• And, for those who missed it, I posted my entry on Monday, How’re Dem Seasons? Summ’er Not As Good As Others: “When I was younger, as should be the case with every red-blooded American child, my favorite season was summer.”

• As an added bonus, I’ll include this submission from “Successful Freelance Writer,” who, participating the carnival for the first time, didn’t quite get the theme idea, but did put in enough of an effort to actually send something. Next time, though, it’s all gonna be theme-related again, so don’t nobody go getting any ideas: Taking Steps to Build A Writing Career

Metablogging


Here’s an odd sort of post with an odd sort of admission, but I thought some of the people who read from the Rocket City Bloggers community, among others, might be interested in a discussion of what goes on behind the veil.

I haven’t blogged in too long.

For the reader, hopefully, there’s no sense of that. As I’m writing this, there was one post that came two hours too late for my every-other-day schedule I try to maintain. For the reader, you’re reading this well after that gap, and I haven’t missed a beat for days.

Behind the scenes, however — I’ve written two posts already today, but before that, I hadn’t written anything on here in three weeks. Which is much better than the dry spells I’d been going through, but it still too long for someone who calls himself a writer to go without writing.

And I haven’t completely gone without writing. I also blog for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, though similar to this, I write in spurts rather than regularly. And I’ve been working on my second book again, productively, and that’s been wonderful.

But as a blogger, I find that both inspiration and time to write come in chunks rather than an even flow. Ideas pop up sporadically, and, when they do, I create a draft post with, if nothing else, a title, and perhaps some links or jotted thoughts. Some of these are picked up quickly, some linger for weeks or  months. But actually writing is a more rare thing.

It feels a bit like cheating, posting things that were actually written much earlier, but nobody would actually want to read this if I posted it like I write it — nothing for weeks and then 10 posts at a time.

I’d be curious to hear from other bloggers out there — how about you? Do you write fresh each time, or are there periods where the muses are more kind than others?

Got Ink?


So this month, the shared topic for the Rocket City Bloggers’ “carnival” is “your favorite tool.”

It’s proven to be a challenging topic. What to write about?

Certainly, a leading contender would be my iPhone. I’ve written before about how life-changing it is — how, with it, I’m basically a cyborg.

There’s a good case to be made that I should write about one of the amazing Pampered Chef tools I sell, and, to be sure, they are pretty awesome. Or, along a similar vein, my Foreman grill, with which I produce much tastiness.

But the truth is, as hard as it is to imagine now, I’ve lived without those things.

I couldn’t imagine living without a pen.

I have at least one with me always, and have for as long as I can remember. Back when I was starting my newspaper career, not only was my iPhone unimaginable, even a cell phone was years away. But I always carried a pen.

Today, I carry three. I’ve always carried at least two, in case one died, and now added a third one for when I need a different color. The exact type has changed over the years — for a while, one was a disposable fountain pen, and another was purely dedicated to signing books. In general, I like my pens cheap enough to lose, but not too cheap to write with comfortably. A smooth rollerball is vital.

Over the years, some of my pens’ duties have been usurped. When I started college, I would compose in ink. Now, that’s almost unheard of, as the way I’ve written has changed. Today, even just simple note-taking is done on my phone far more often than scratch paper.

But ink still has a power that a digital device doesn’t. When I write a check or sign a credit card receipt, ink gives the paper the authority of my name. I could write the most moving letter I could come up with in e-mail, but there’s still something intimate and meaningful about conveying the same message in handwriting, particularly as the written word becomes more and more rare.

As a writer, it’s easy to see the pen as a totem for myself, a physical representation of my identity. But it’s more than just a symbol — whether it’s a signature on a check or a heartfelt note, ink still captures and embodies “me” in a way few things can.

Falling From Grace


It’s a rare thing for me to write fiction any more, but the idea for this story came from a scene one night at rehearsal for my improv troupe, and I couldn’t let it go. Back in November, while the more ambitious were writing novels for NaNoWriMo, the self-publishing service Lulu held a contest for short short fiction, 600 words at most. That sounded doable, and proved to be almost exactly right for the idea I had, which I now present here.


Falling From Grace
David Hitt

“Houston is going to be so mad,” Lena mumbled as bright orange light poured through the windows from the heat outside.

Houston, the agency, her family, friends, coworkers. Well, everyone, really. And understandably so. Theft of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of hardware was not to be taken lightly. And the failure to deliver the expected cargo would be a career-changing inconvenience for dozens of people, some of whom were friends who knew and trusted her and Gray.

Gray. She quickly stole a glance at him, and it briefly lifted her heart. She wished she could reach over, squeeze his hand in hers, enjoy that familiar comfort, but now was not the time. Neither could spare their hands for a second as the vibration and pressure continued to increase.

The literal, physical turmoil around her was nothing compared to the turmoil within her. The former, she was trained for. Conditioned. Prepared. Reacting to it, doing what needed to be done, was reflex, almost instinct at this point. The latter turmoil was very much terra incognita, an alien landscape there was no way to prepare for. The former she dealt with because, no matter the risks, it was worth it. She glanced again at Gray, and knew the same was true of the latter as well.

Shame would be the worst of it, the embarrassment. Not for her, not for Gray. Neither of them would be around to deal with it. No, what burdened her heart most was the embarrassment this would cause practically everyone her life had touched, from her parents to her friends to her coworkers to the agency.

After all, the media would have a field day with this, once the initial shock was past, and the truth began to filter through the confusion and the assumptions that it was all some horrible accidental tragedy. Right now, no doubt, engineers were working desperately to figure out why the communications systems had failed, trying everything they could think of to reestablish the connection, nearly giving themselves heart attacks over the frustration of why the failure made no sense.

When would it occur to them that she and Gray had simply turned their comm system off? How long would it take them to figure out that there was an option even more unthinkable than the unthinkable options they were trained to imagine?

After all, hardware failures aboard spacecraft happened. How many times had some error forced a Russian Soyuz into an off-nominal landing somewhere unexpected? Even the death of a crew, horrible to consider, is not unprecedented.

But the theft of a spacecraft? By its crew? Returning to Earth? There was unthinkable, and then there was unthinkable. And this particular scenario, to the ultra-logical, left-brained mathematical minds that ran things at Mission Control in Houston, would be even more unthinkable by far.

Love makes people do unthinkable things. And love was never supposed to have been part of the equation. When they’d left Earth, they were colleagues, crewmates. But during the two years of the trip; they’d become more. The psychologists had warned it could happen; the engineers didn’t listen. And now, they had two choices – live their lives in a media circus that would be inevitable for the first man and woman to walk on Mars, or force an off-nominal re-entry in the middle of nowhere, use the survival training the agency had kindly provided, and simply disappear.

Outside, the parachute deployed. Their capsule slowed over the forest below. Mars had been a mission, for which they had trained and prepared. This? This would be a real adventure.

Drawing On New Experiences


Dog drawing lesson step by Michael Thoenes from DrawingTeachers.com

My friend Mathis was kind enough to call me on something.

My friend Michael gave me the opportunity.

I’m grateful to them both.

I was having lunch with Mathis one day a while back, and he was pitching me on a project he thought I should undertake as a potential way to make money. And I was debating why I wasn’t sure that it would actually work as a revenue source. To be fair, I still agree, though I have sort of begun recently to work on the project regardless, just for the sake of doing it.

Mathis finally looked at me, and said, “Fine, let me put it a different way — Get off your butt.”

And he was right. In the three months or so I’d been out of work at that point, I’d written very little. In fact, at that point, I was blogging only very sporadically and had pretty much stopped writing in my journal.

I needed to write.

So I started writing.

First by just taking my blogging more seriously and then by returning to journaling.

And then Michael gave me a chance to do a bit more.

Michael runs the DrawingTeachers.com website, and needed some articles to go on it, so he said he’d pay me to write some for him. I not only have something to write, I’m selling words again! It’s nice.

But I’ve particularly enjoyed it because it’s been a fun challenge. I know very little about drawing, certainly not teaching people to draw, so Michael has given me the information for each page on how to write the articles in such a way as to help people who are looking for the lessons to find them. Basically, I’m learning how to write better for the web, and I’m getting paid to do it. How cool is that!

Feel free to go check out the website, I have my own David Hitt writer page and have several articles up already, with more coming soon: