2020 Petrichor Prize finalist
In the small town of my youth on the cusp of the Missouri Ozarks, country music with its tales of loves lost and won, of Saturday night parties on the bayou and walking your girlfriend home in the misty moonlight provided a welcome respite from the daily grind of poverty and lack. A commercial for a dance hall from that time still causes me to grin. “How do you get to Hillbilly Village,” one voice asks. Another answers, “Ya cain’t get there from here. Ya gotta go to Jeff City.” I heard a variation of this when selling law books in New York City, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer? “Practice, practice, practice.”
That’s how the tenth child of twelve kids born into a sharecropping family became a writer. He practiced, writing, and submitting his work until eventually the Word God smiled on him.
Humility, according to Mr. Webster, is a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness, as in, “He needs the humility to accept that their way may be better than his.” That makes me one humble son-of-a-gun, because I recognize my way is not the preferred course to follow. No, no, no. Get an education. Learn about Kafka and Cervantes and Molière and Twain.
I know writers who say from the first book they read, they wanted to be a writer. My dreams were much more realistic – All Star second baseman for the St. Louis Cardinals. This quest ended when I could hit neither the fast ball nor the curve. Writing for me isn’t a dream, it’s a necessity. I’d write if I were never published. Fortunately, I got tasted success early – a high school short story was published by Seventeen Magazine while I was in Marine Corps boot camp. This earned me $35.00 and two hours of standing at attention shouting, “My name is Private Peterson, not Ernest Hemingway.”
I continued to write while serving at three foreign embassies; Story Magazine published several short stories. Marriage and kids and life followed, along with a sales career as I developed an unquenching friendship with Jim Beam and Evan Williams and Jack Daniels. I was struck sober in October 1972. My writing discipline returned, fueled by rejection. President Calvin Coolidge’s statement on persistence became my mantra: “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
I wrote and wrote. Stoneslide Collective bought “After Midnight,” my bare-knuckle fighting story. Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Ravens Perch, Planters and Gatherers, Bastards, Verbiage, Charles Carter-A Working Anthology, Deadly Writers Patrol – twenty some acceptances in one year. In addition, my short fiction earned finalist status three years running in the William Falkner/William Wisdom Writers Competition. “After Midnight – A Short Story Collection ” (Pallamary Publishing) was released in 2019.
So how does an orphan boy with limited education and questionable talent become a regularly published writer? Simple. Persistence. Persistence. Persistence.