Lessons Learned from Castle Walls

For me, Jeannette Walls’ blockbuster “The Glass Castle” provided inspiration both as a reader and as a writer. It confirmed to me that, even as a scribe of fiction, you must lay bare your soul. You must… leave a little blood on your pages.

As a coordinator of speakers’ events in my last position I was fortunate to meet Jeannette Walls behind the scenes. It was December of 2007, and as Director of University Relations I was the person responsible for getting Ms. Walls from one venue to the next, which included, after her speech, dinner in the President’s “tower of power” as I liked to call it. She even stayed in a campus guest apartment rather than across the river in a posh hotel.

Jennette Walls and AS cpd.jpg

Because I’d loved her book and because I was each day in the early a.m. before my commute pecking away at my first novel – a fact I did not disclose – I was especially stoked about her being on campus. She was, unlike some speakers who had preceded her with only dollar signs reflecting off their cold eyes, gracious, humble, enthusiastic, generous with her time, in great humor, and receptive to hospitality. After all, part of her now famous childhood was spent just two hours “down the road.” Despite her acquired Manhattan pedigree, she projected a down-home-girl-who’d-made-it-big image. She was beloved by her audience that evening.

Because of the movie’s release (I give it 4 out of 5 thumbs up), Jeannette Walls has been thrust into the spotlight again. I like what she wrote for a Los Angeles Times piece on August 10.

“Brie Larson captured so many of the other things that I did — and do — some of them not entirely appealing, most important, the way that I had tried so hard to cut myself off from my past, to feel nothing. The portrait isn’t always flattering, but it’s accurate. And to be understood is so much more important than being flattered.”

Jeannette Walls has sold over 2.7 million copies of her memoir and it spent 261 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. That’s over five years. The film rights – a writer’s true bonanza – have been sold at least twice.

She and I have two common traits: we’re both from West Virginia and our books both have 4.5 star ratings on Amazon.com. The rub? The Glass Castle has 6,133 reviews, The Lost Lantern has (in three weeks) but three. My first novel, The Long Shadow of Hope, has a near 5-star rating, 23 reviews in a little over a year, though the second title has renewed interest in the first. John Milton may or may not have known the struggles of the Independent writer when he wrote, “Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light…”

 Use this Lant-shadow.jpg

Both titles available in paperback and electronically on Amazon.com and Goodreads.com.

© 2017

“Feels Just Like a Shakedown”

CINCINNATI – Let me preface this piece by saying that I love Amos Lee’s music. My wife, who discovered him for our household, more than loves him. Our children – a boy and two girls – 17, 15, 11 – love his music. He is an extraordinary songwriter. If labeled modern folk – a bio says that it was a John Prine album that inspired him to begin writing and playing – it certainly is gritty, urban folk that crosses into Rhythm and Blues and Country.

In September of last year, my wife and I traveled nearly five hours to Asheville, N.C. to our first Amos Lee concert. It was held indoors at the quaint Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. He blew us away. His sultry voice recreated his studio sound, and his band’s instrumentals were brilliant. Even his slight changing of songs seemed acceptable and his humor and occasional storytelling made us love him even more. The show, over two hours of pure energy – 23 songs on the set list – was so great that my wife immediately began looking for future dates in which we could attend.

Fast forward to Tuesday, July 25, at Cincinnati’s PNC Pavilion at Riverbend Music Center. It had been a good long while since we’d made that three hour trek for a Jimmy Buffett concert. Those Parrothead events are hazy, but I do recall that Buffett shows – and I’ve seen him near twenty times from San Diego to North Carolina – always began in the daylight and ended in the dark. What I didn’t know at the time, and I believe is one of the most ridiculous mandates in modern history, is there is a noise ordinance which states that concerts at this multi-venue center near nothing visible, must cease at 11 p.m. or pay a $1,000 fine for each minute after the hour.

This is no secret to the local consumers, and perhaps that is why the place was half empty. BUT IT IS ALSO A MANAGEABLE PROBLEM FOR AN ARTIST WHO WANTS TO SATISFY HIS FANS. It certainly wasn’t available when we made the decision to take the whole family – five tickets at $57 per – but there was a 12-song set list on the web the day before the show. 12 songs!!

How could Amos Lee have fixed the problem? Obviously, started the show earlier. It began at 8 p.m., and, Lake Street Dive – which I’d seen before at Mountain Stage in Charleston W.Va., and was wonderfully entertaining – was allowed to play for an hour and fifteen minutes, longer than I’ve ever seen an opening act play. Another 35 to 40 minutes to change the stage, and Amos began. JUST BEFORE 10 P.M.

And though my wife mentioned immediately that this had a different vibe from Asheville, he was fantastic! But given the secret time restraints, I would have much rather heard more songs than five-minute instrumentals; more songs than lengthy stories; any of the gut-wrenching songs – Chill In The Air, Johnson Blvd., Dresser Drawer – from Mountains of Sorrow, Rivers of Song, than Hall and Oates’ Sara Smile. Why take three minutes to point out a fans’ sign for a song request, and tell a heart-felt story about an aunt, who is the subject of the requested May I Remind You – which you said you could not remember how to play (Bullshit!) – leading in to the beautifully-executed Arms of a Woman? Time management, man! When you played Sweet Pea, she knew it was over. No encore – bow with the band and bolt. Lights come up, roadies throw down.

Give me Violin – from where my title was pulled. I know, I’m bitching. It wasn’t like we paid for floor seats at Madison Square Garden. But 285 for tickets, 60 for two T-shirts, 25 for an album, 30 for beverages, 200 for a hotel room, another 250 for restaurant meals, 40 for gas, incidentals, that’s 900-plus bucks, Amos. You could have made it worth it, but you chose not to.


© 2017






Racial Harmony Steps To The Plate

Author’s note: Finally, the new novel. Thanks for all the support and for reading the short offerings put forth. A.S. 

Lantern Thumb

Lost soul John Gates returns to Myrtle Beach, SC, after six years and rejoins his three lifelong friends, all of whom worked the Murrells Inlet restaurants in the summers of their college years before moving on to other professions. Gates plans to put his past life of decadence and womanizing, for which he has a guilty secret, behind him. He seeks out William McMillian, a black friend and former co-worker and learns William hopes to follow his dream of purchasing his own restaurant. Gates vows to help William in any way he can. Their racist former boss, Danny Rivers, and his brothers have another idea – to extort William’s life savings to expand their own empire. What unfolds is an epic, two-generational saga that breaks down barriers and stereotypes as family greed and inhumanity clash with friendship, love, and the indomitable human spirit in the late 1980s.

Paperback, ebook, KDP Select, all available on Amazon.com at:







One crack of thunder, and it began to come down,

At the time of morning, when I start to make plans.

To visit my garden, combat the weeds,

Tie up some ‘maters, check the growth of green p’s.

To consider a ride versus family and needs,

Girls getting haircuts, there’s four boys to feed.

There’s anticipation, of a book to let go,

After numerous years of arranging just so.

There’s an Amos review, I’m fixin’ to write,

From a whirlwind trip, we took Tuesday night.

A reunion upcoming of classmates and peers,

It’s been in the making, for thirty-five years.

As quick as it started, the rain is now gone, but

after more than two weeks of travel, it’s good to be home.


© 2017


From Hudson's cpd.jpg

Dusk came as he worked his boat,

too focused to notice his surroundings.

Toiling for that which he loves, that which pays his bills.

Solitary in effort.

Daily grind or sprucing for a guest?

One that might make him forget being alone

for long, long hours.

For charter, or for pleasure?

The waves that rock him daily

are as comforting as his mother’s arms,

which he can only remember

in his dreams.

Yet he avoids sleep,

and the journeys that come

with slumber.




Church This Sunday

Church was two counties on two wheels

Church was the silence of morning sunlight

Church was knowing Pastor Richie was at the pulpit as I passed

Church was hay up in the barn

Church was a butterfly down but twenty-five more flying

Church was green grass stretching into the hollers

Church was the songs of birds and new lyrics in my head

Church was the thought of my family at home

Church was the underside of leaves as the wind blew in rain clouds

Church was Rutledge Farm West and its many neighbors

Church was a man on a tractor taking time to wave

Church was knowing the daunting hill I turned on will later be conquered 

Church was the creek bed that cut its way through the hills

Church was observing and reveling in the Lord’s work




The headline read “Flytrap Frolic Scavenger Hunt,”

Like a lost song from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club,

Or the flipside of Prudence, or Norwegian Wood,

I’m Only Sleeping, Nowhere Man, or The Walrus that could.


But a spread of fun pictures instead it was,

From a man with an eye for just such a cause,

And taken as such, probably not his best work,

But from mountains to ocean his lenses still lurk.


Significant to me that the man reemerged,

My brother on-court, this valley he purged,

After coming crucially close to self-destruction,

It gladdens me to tag him resurrected.


So as Sammy the Bearded Dragon knows,

Or snakes called corn and sinful hognose,

A sea of Venus, i.e., Little Pot of Horrors,

His ongoing search, it knows no borders.


We converse by phone every few months,

To catch up, reminisce, regale in the hunt,

To laugh at my screens or his beautiful passes,

Man, he’d put the defense on their asses.


He was workin’ with Bunny, could shoot out the lights,

When Mountaineers were backing off the great White,

The former Black Eagle was ready for flight,

Too bad Coach Stu couldn’t see what was right.


He could thread any needle and drive to the hole,

He was hell on wheels at 55 years old,

Schoolin’ the youngsters both skinny or tall,

When I floated on with him, he’d get me the ball.


They’d look at us both, like we were from Mars,

Scratching their heads, aligning the stars,

They’d ask, “You two played together before?”

“Naw, we’re just lucky,” we’d wink, say no more.