Friday, February 5, 2016

Reading Spotlight - Creativity On Display

Shayla Walker teaches 7th grade English Language Arts, and coaches girls basketball at Hills Chapel school in Booneville, Mississippi. Four years ago, shortly after its release, Coach Walker read my first novel, The Night Train, and decided to use it as part of her curriculum.

"I Chose The Night Train to help students understand there is a way to overcome bullying, abuse, and everyday obstacles." - Coach Walker

During the past four years, I have had the honor of speaking to a few of her classes. Meeting young people who enjoy reading is always fun. Meeting young people who enjoy reading a book I wrote is unforgettable.

In the spring semester of 2015, Coach Walker invited my wife and me to her class to judge the projects her students created based on The Night Train. It proved to be quite a task, as her students watch the video on YouTube). This year, in Mrs. Davis' class, Kason, Gregory and Jake took it one step further and created a diorama that includes not only the video, but a very detailed scene from The Night Train for the Reading Fair.
Kayson (left), Jake(right), Gregory (not pictured)
demonstrated an abundance of talent. Clearly they had paid attention to the book, because the scenes they recreated with their dioramas were very accurate. Three of her students -- Kason Whitehead, Gregory Murphy, and Jake Harris -- made a short video based on the book (



Their diorama placed 1st at Hills Chapel, then again at district. On February 13, 2016, they will participate in the regional competition in Oxford, MS.

Impressive isn't it? What if I told you they completed the project in only a week?

I'm told the train actually moves, but the rules require it to remain stationary during the competition.

Being curious by nature, I asked them why they chose The Night Train for their project instead of a book by another author. Jake said he likes the book, Kason said it is his favorite, and Gregory said because The Night Train is fascinating. Ok, I admit it was a leading question, but I love their answers.

I've been working hard to get my next novel ready for publication. The final stages of polishing and second-guessing can drain the creative juices. Seeing how creative Gregory, Jake, and Kason have been with this diorama has my brain racing again -- like when your heart beats really fast after an unexpected poke to the ribs. We all need a little nudge to keep moving in the right direction every now and then.

"We thought about it and made it happen." -- Kason

Gregory and Kason said they liked the book for its cliffhangers, while Jake liked the book's intenseness. Some of the subject matter of The Night Train is intense, but so is life.

"Students can learn to stand up for what they believe in. Don't back down, don't pity yourself, and most importantly, don't give up." -- Coach Walker

Coach Walker told me parental involvement is extremely important in a child's education. A child is more likely to become involved if he or she knows their parents are involved. Remember, your child sees you as a role model and will mimic your behavior, good and bad.

"I like to read action and mystery books." -- Gregory

Allow your child to discover their own likes and dislikes when it comes to books (as long as their selections are age appropriate). Pressuring kids to read something they don't enjoy may turn them off to reading and deny them the many benefits books provide. Reading stimulates a child's imagination and bolsters vocabulary.

"I don't read but I like books like The Night Train." -- Jake

Instead of forcing your child to read, let them see you reading. Show interest in their reading choices. Ask them to read to you from time to time.

I asked Coach Walker why she thinks reading is important. She quoted Dr. Seuss: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go."

Jayrod Nash and Arnold Wise certainly went a lot of places throughout the pages of The Night Train. While child abuse is certainly a strong theme throughout much of the book, the main message I hope readers will take from my novel is that abuse defines the abuser, not the abused. I didn't write a book about abuse ... I wrote a book about a boy who, as I came to know him throughout the many drafts, told me he was being abused, and he wanted me to tell you.

"I have always wanted to help children the way most of my teachers helped me. Seeing the expression on a child's face when something "clicks" is a wonderful feeling." -- Coach Walker

What expression will you put on your child's face? Think about it.

I hope you will join me in wishing Jake, Kason, and Gregory the best of luck at regional. Regardless what happens there, they are already winners.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Don't Doubt Me

How many times have you doubted yourself? How many times have you looked yourself in the mirror and seen failure staring back?

Never? Look closer.

Often? Don't beat yourself up. You're in good company.

One of the best ways to understand human nature, and in turn ourselves, I believe, is to study the lives of people who accomplished big things. Notice I didn't say great things, or even good things. I said big things, because I believe it is just as important to study people like Hitler and Stalin as it is to study people like Washington and Lincoln. We need to understand the good as well as the bad.

Last night I watched a documentary on JFK's handling of foreign policy surrounding the Bay of Pigs fiasco and his interactions with Khrushchev in general. During their face-to-face in Vienna, the Soviet leader bested Kennedy, even bullied him, according to the only two men (the interpreters) who were in the room with the two leaders for the entirety of the summit. Kennedy left Vienna feeling as though he had failed. Behind the scenes, the man America saw as a tough leader with nerves of steel, suffered bouts of self-doubt. The reason he was able to force Khrushchev to blink during the Cuban Missile Crisis is that he didn't let that self-doubt keep him from doing what he knew to be the right thing.

After that documentary, I watched two shows investigating the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and Robin Williams. The commonality between those two celebrity icons is that they both suffered from bouts of severe depression throughout their lives. Monroe's desire to be taken seriously as an actress, coupled with her failed relationships with men, drove her to a dependance on sedatives to sleep, stimulants to wake up, and anxiety medication to cope with being awake. To believe the evidence, the woman the world still uses as the yardstick by which glamour is measured, saw herself as a failure, and doubted herself so much that she overdosed on a deadly cocktail of sedatives.

Robin Williams, though I never personally found him to be funny, is widely regarded as a comic genius. His ability to ad-lib his high energy scenes endeared him to millions of fans throughout his career. Humor, of course, is so often used as a mask that it's hardly shocking anymore to learn that so many of the great comedians are and were a basket case of mental tripwires.

Still, it's hard to imagine that someone who has achieved so much success -- whether they be a president, actor, writer, singer, etc. -- can look into the mirror and see failure. How does someone who has accomplished so much, suffer from self-doubt?

It's too common to be overlooked.

My lifelong dream has always been to become a great writer. Not just a writer, but a great writer. The closer I move myself toward that goal, the more crippling the self-doubt becomes. I've published four novels, have the fifth novel almost ready to go, and am currently working on the sixth, so I can confidently call myself a writer. In some ways I'm living my dream (I'm a writer). In other ways, that dream will always be just out of reach (that part about being great). It's the way of dreams, I suppose, and the evidence I've found by studying famous people certainly backs that up.

Life is not a Facebook status. Don't be afraid to fail.

I'm not a psychologist, but my lay interpretation of self-doubt is that it is simply a person's inner desire to be better tomorrow than he or she was yesterday. Oftentimes we hear of people writing positive messages to themselves on their bathroom mirror. Perhaps all those well-intentioned pep talk scribblings can best be summed up with one simple phrase: Don't Doubt Me.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Yes, I Built That


Memory Lane
As a boy, at least in my teens, anyway, I used to bump around the yard trying to build things out of stuff I found lying around. Once I built a wheelbarrow out of some old lumber, mostly two-by-sixes, and was determined to use it that winter for lumping the firewood from the woodpile to the front porch (instead of the perfectly good metal one from the hardware store). I built it big, so as to hold a lot of wood, and it was sturdy. And heavy. So heavy, in fact, that pushing it empty took a fair amount of effort, but I was determined to use it because it was "better" than the store-bought version. Better, no doubt, because I built it.

I used my custom-built wheelbarrow despite the added work it tacked onto a chore I hated doing. In reality, it probably didn't hold a stick more than the store-bought one, but in my mind it could move mountains.

We don't get much snow in my part of Mississippi, but one day we did, and it covered the ground enough to make things good and slick. As I did every day, I dragged myself out to the woodpile in the back yard and loaded my wheelbarrow. I threw on a couple extra sticks so I wouldn't have to make so many trips. It was cold, and I wanted to get the thing over with as quickly as possible.

Loaded, I wrapped my hands around the handles -- handles I had shaped with my own hands -- and jerked upward. Something unexpected happened at that point: my feet slipped in the snow. When you're pulling upward against something solid, and you lose your footing, there's only one direction to go. Down. I didn't fall far, though, because a stick of firewood caught me -- right in the mouth. Everything hurts worse when it's cold, and that busted lip hurt pretty bad.

So there I stood. Punched in the mouth by my own creation. Lesson learned. I chopped the darned thing up into kindling that very day.

Despite the setback, I never stopped wanting to create things. Now, all these years later, I create with words. I build places and people and plots. There's more work in creating a story than in building a wooden wheelbarrow, but the rewards are greater.

I've built four novels and have a fifth under construction as I type this. I hope you'll do me the favor of checking them out if you haven't already, in which case I'd appreciate a nod in my direction to someone who may not have heard of me. And if you've read this all the way to the end, I thank you for that, too. We writers, you see, suffer from this insatiable need to be read. And read, and read, and read.

Learn more about my writing, including an assortment of buy links, at CarlPurdon.com.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Part II : About Writing Fiction: Carl & Mark's dual interview

Red Eyes / Max, the blind guy
Writing novels absorbs an enormous amount of time, effort, and dedication. The overwhelming majority of writers never get rich or famous. Most of us have day jobs to pay the bills. You may ask why we do it. Why do we spend our spare time bent over a keyboard, or staring off into space building plots and characters?

Because we must. Passion not placated will eat you alive.

How does one go about writing a novel? What's the process? There are as many answers as there are writers. A few weeks ago, Mark Beyer approached me with an idea he had for a dual interview -- a glimpse behind the curtain. Two curtains, his and mine. Mark and I have been friends for a couple of years now, though we've never met. We write with different styles, we live half a world apart, but we've read each other's work and we share a deep appreciation for the written word.

A few days ago, Mark posted Part I of this interview on his blog, BIBLIOGRIND, Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture. Today I follow with Part II. What's next? Anything's possible.

Thus begins Part II

RELATIONSHIPS



1.    Tell us the challenge you work through to find the center of a relationship (man-woman; father-son; mother-daughter; friend-friend, et cetera) in your stories.

CARL: I think the biggest challenge is in getting the characters to react differently than I would react were I in their situation. Second is in getting them to react differently than each other. It’s so easy to let your characters mirror each other, so I have to be careful. Relationships are as much about how people deal with the other person’s flaws as with the things they find attractive.

MARK: I’m simple in nature (and action) but complex in thought. In other words, I think before I speak. That helps with relationships of any sort, but particularly the love-lust sort. Fortunately, I’ve found someone who shares those symptoms (and who is actually better at it than me). So we did the next best thing: we got married.

YOU AS AUTHOR



2.    What type of books do you read most, and has that changed since you started writing your own novels?

CARL: I mostly read biographies and historical non-fiction. Writing has changed my reading habits significantly. For one thing, I have so little time for reading, and for the other, I find it almost impossible to switch off the editor when I’m reading now. Before I started writing, I read mostly classic literature because I really disliked almost everything I found on the New Release shelf.

MARK: My love for books and passion for good story has led me on as complicated a path as the stories I now write: I used to read genre fiction – sci-fi, horror, detective, historical, true-crime, mystery, espionage, to name a few – but then, at about age 30, I returned to classic literature, reading the Russians, the French, the Germans, the English, the North & South of the Americas, et cetera. I had discovered that books about relationships (b/w men & women, but also between people and society, work, government, or whatever else) had a far stronger draw to me. That, and the fact that I wanted to create art, not merely write fiction. Now I’ve backed off and can enjoy a Beach Book almost as much as Coetze or Roth, Zadie Smith or Marylin Robinson, Knausgaard or Houllebecq, Mantel or Naipaul.

From the writer’s perspective, I believe – as I’ve learned through action – that when you read good sentences, you write them; and if you read poor sentences (have you been able to get through even one insipid paragraph of Fifty Shades, or Dan Brown’s nonsense characterization?) then you will inevitably write poor sentences. This is not elitism, or even taste; this is aesthetics, grace, a love for language.

3.    Who are your literary forebears that have influenced your writing?

CARL: James Fenimore Cooper, specifically THE PIONEERS, for the way he could take a page to paint a single movement and leave you wanting more of it. You do that, Mark, and I’ve always loved that type of narration, though it’s so unlike my own writing style. William Faulkner, because he was from Oxford, Mississippi, less than an hour from where I grew up. I’ve never been able to complete a Faulkner novel (I’ve tried), but I remember as a boy always being told that the only thing a Mississippi boy could become was an electrician or construction worker, or some other blue collar job. Worse, I remember believing it, even though all I wanted to do was write novels. Then, somewhere around the fifth grade, our class took a field trip to Oxford to tour William Faulkner’s home. I’d never heard of him before, and it was a turning point in my life because I knew it was possible. That may sound silly, but it was a very important thing to me. Then, later, John Grisham, also from Oxford, broke onto the scene, like lightning striking twice. John Steinbeck, because of the way he could paint a character so real you would catch yourself wondering what they were doing weeks after finishing the book. Lastly, Stephen King because of the sheer volume of material he pumped out. I’m not a fan of horror, but I absolutely loved THE STAND (the unabridged version).

MARK: Margaret Atwood, Norman Rush, and Iris Murdoch helped me to see more deeply (than my own experience) into the female mind, in terms of how to work them in the shadows of a story and bring them into the light. Writers as diverse as Nabokov, Roth, DeLillo, Eudora Welty, and V.S. Naipaul have influenced my narrative construction. As far as digging deeply into the human psyche, there is Nabokov, Dostoevsky, Murdoch, Roth, Naipaul, and Dickens.

4.    What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was most destructive?

CARL: Practice, practice, practice. If I have one talent, I think it’s in being able to look at something I’ve written and say it’s crap, or that it doesn’t belong in that particular book. I’ve done some of my best writing with the delete key. The most destructive thing was early on, when I was desperate to learn how I was “supposed to write”, joining some of the writer groups online and falling for the “never do this, always do that” mantra so many writers were regurgitating. It infuriates me when someone says it’s not possible to write a good book unless you do x, y, or z. It finally dawned on me that I had never heard of a single one of these writers before joining the group. Basically, they preached mediocrity. Write to the template. I hate templates.

MARK: Reading has helped me the most, and then emulation: of sentences, paragraphs, pace, character portrayal, even vocabulary. On the other hand, teachers and “methodology” had, for a time, put themselves in the way. Attending school was, mostly, a waste of time; I had already known the important parts of storytelling, which I only needed to practice. On the other hand, getting an MFA has opened doors across the globe that would not have even shown themselves. The most useful thing for a writer is to have a friend or two who act as “first readers” and tell you what they could seeing working, and what they didn’t understand, about the story.

5.    What are some day jobs you have held? How has any influenced you as writer, or for a specific book?

CARL: I’ve had three jobs in my life. First, I worked as an electronics technician repairing cash registers, copy machines, and office equipment. It was my first real exposure to people outside my own circles. I quickly learned that many, many, people are assholes behind the curtain. I hated it. Second, I worked as an electrical maintenance technician in a tire plant. It was hot, brutally hot at times, and nasty work, but I enjoyed it and learned so many of the skills which brought me to the job I hold now. Third, now, I am a programmer for a systems integrator. We automate industrial processes. I enjoy that, too, though I wouldn’t mind falling into a full time writing gig. The job I have now involves a fair amount of travel, so I’ve gotten to see different places, different cultures, and dispel the myth that there are no rednecks north of the Mason Dixon line.

MARK: I’ve worked with words and language for my entire working life (even as a paperboy!), first in advertising, then in publishing (textbooks, careers books, and library curriculum-related books, including history, the sciences, sports how-tos, biography), and as a writer of books, journalism (literary and art reviews; news features and travel). Now I teach English as a Second Language to European business professionals; I’m a “Language Consultant” more than a teacher, and I enjoy it. The most effect these jobs have had on my writing is in having discovered so many different people to use as characters; a colorful, mellifluous, malodorous band of humans any writer would be happy to meet … and then grind up for story.

6.    ONE FOR CARL: As of today, you've written four books in four years -- successful stories, and well received -- but you're not a "young Turk" writer. Where have you been keeping your talents?

CARL: As I’ve said many times, I “knew” I would write novels when I was five. My memory of that is very distinct. I suppose it just took me a very long time to actually do it. I had a lot of things to sort out, and I was so brutally impatient that I couldn’t imagine starting something I couldn’t finish in a day or two, so I put it off. I never once stopped “knowing” I would do it. Now here’s where I may sound a bit off kilter: I was so certain I would write novels that I bounced through life thinking nothing could happen to me because I hadn’t fulfilled my purpose yet. One day I looked around and realized I was 40, and decided I’d better stop daydreaming and actually put my shoulder to it. It took much longer than I ever imagined, because it was much harder than I ever imagined. In some ways I wish I had started sooner, but the simple truth of the matter is I wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t have the kind of stories in me that I needed to write.

CRAFT



7.    What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?

CARL: Reading probably saved my life a time or two because it allowed me to escape reality when life grew heavy. Books are where I discovered at a young age that I wasn’t alone in the things I thought, or the feelings I had (some of which scared me). Storytelling has great value to me because my mother’s side of the family had some gifted storytellers who influenced me quite a bit, though I didn’t realize it at the time. My uncle Charles, for example, showed me that you can tell tragic stories (he was a rifleman in Vietnam) with humor and sarcasm. Sad stories don’t have to be sad to get the message across. Writing is a way for me to give back.

MARK: Any artistic craft is a study in the self, be it society-self or family-self or political-self or TV-watching-self or art-self or individual-self. I think that when people deliver themselves to art, in any form, they accept a challenge to look inward. That kind of relationship invigorates humanity; this is needed more today than in the last 200 years, I believe.

8.    ONE FOR CARL: Your newest novel, RED EYES, is the sequel to THE NIGHT TRAIN. What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you’ve achieved them?

CARL: A couple of schools that I know of use THE NIGHT TRAIN as part of their curriculum, so I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to speak to some of those classes. After the first event, every single student in the class wrote me a letter asking me to write a sequel. Every time I spoke to a class, several of the kids asked for a sequel. People sent emails, Facebook messages, and even a few phone calls asking me to do a sequel. I resisted because sequels so often fall short. When I finally decided to do it, I wanted it to be a stand-alone book that complimented, but didn’t rely on, the original. I think … hope … I accomplished that. One thing I did fail on, though, is that I fully intended to write a book free of any bad language so those kids could read it in class. One of the teachers, after reading RED EYES, said she didn’t think she could read it to her class because of the language. She asked why. I told her I tried, but the characters refused to listen to me, and that’s the truth.

9.    What do you think most characterizes your writing?

CARL: Reality, I hope. I write about fictional people in real-life struggles.

MARK: The status of a relationship over time. I think most people take this for granted, especially when it relates to family. But any relationship (friendships) has two sides, and both sides must be active for that relationship to last.

10.   ONE FOR MARK: What one message do you hope your readers take from Max, The Blind Guy?

MARK: If there are some temptations you are able to resist, then you’ll be able to see yourself in a wholly unique way as you lead yourself towards an inevitable death.

WORK IN PROGRESS



11.   What are you working on now? Where has the story come from?

CARL: I'm 40k words into a novel about a writer who has come home to his mother's funeral with two failed novels (after three best-sellers) and a pending divorce weighing him down. He hopes to spend a few days enjoying his local celebrity status, but the discovery of a mysterious trunk in his mother's attic turns everything on its head. It's different from my other books, mostly in the fact that the characters aren't Southern (I actually don't identify the location). Of course it could be completely different two months from now.

MARK: I am working on the narrative voice and characters for a novel about a person’s life, as it moves forward, long after being involved in a school shooting (hint: not as a victim). It’s also the story between Earnest and Charlotte, and why men and women do as they do. I found this story within The American Experience.

* * *

To read Part I of this interview, click here.

Mark's new novel is now on sale: “Max, the blind guy” is the story of Max and Greta Ruth, their 40-year relationship, and all the demons that show up as they find that life rarely goes according to plan. This book is available in print at Amazon.com and the digital edition is available as a serialized novel— 12 parts, published every fourth week. Come by MarkBeyer : Author to read an excerpt that you won’t find at on-line bookshops.
What Beauty was published in 2012. It’s a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.
Carl has four novels, all available in e-book and paperback. His first, The Night Train, is the story of Jayrod Nash, a boy tragically abused by his father, neglected by his mother, and bullied at school. When he and his only friend, Arnold, stow away aboard a freight train, they fall into the hands of a hobo named Farley, who guides them on a cross-country adventure that forces them to become men.
Norton Road, published in 2013, is the story of Oscar "Pap" Jones, an eccentric old man who declares war on the furniture factory next door to his rural Mississippi home. Leading a series of after-hours raids, he forces his nemesis -- the county's most elite citizen -- to hire an unscrupulous security guard to protect his business interests, resulting in a deadly feud that rocks the community.
Blinders, published in 2014, follows Dale Criss as he steps out of Parchman Penitentiary determined to avenge the wrongful conviction that cost him twenty-five years, but the people who think him guilty have ideas of their own.
Red Eyes, published in 2015, is the sequel to The Night Train, and finds Farley Milo living in Atlanta as a fry cook going by the name of Frank Mayo. When an old acquaintance shows up with information on the abduction of one of the boys he traveled with in The Night Train, Frank is reunited with Jayrod and lured into a cross-country game of cat and mouse.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Dual Author Interview

Mark Beyer
Carl Purdon
Fellow author Mark Beyer approached me a while back with an
idea for a dual interview -- two authors with very different writing styles answering the same questions. It was a lot of fun and I think you'll find it interesting, so hop over to Mark's blog and check it out.


I'll post part II of the interview on this site in a couple of days.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Review: The Wedding Circle

Mississippi author, Ashton Lee, continues his Cherry Cola Book Club series with this third installment, The Wedding Circle.

Maura Beth Mayhew has her hands full planning her wedding to Jeremy McShay just as her dream of building Cherico, Mississippi's new state-of-the-art library reaches the ground-breaking stage, but trouble is in the offing when her New Orleans socialite mother turns up her nose at the idea of her daughter getting married on the deck of a cabin in a town she can't even find on a map. As if that weren't enough to worry about, Maura Beth's not-so-favorite councilman tries to sneak in a last minute change to the library's design that threatens to ruin the entire project. As always, she turns to the charming members of the Cherry Cola Book Club for advice and support.

Fun and drama unfold when Maura Beth invites her parents to Cherico to see the town and meet Jeremy's family.

The cast Lee assembled to make up the Cherry Cola Book Club is superb, as is his ability to capture the flavor of Old South customs and language. It seems every character has a hand in the plot, and there's plenty going on to keep the reader wondering what will happen next.

* * *
Ashton Lee was born in historic Natchez, Mississippi, into a large, extended Southern family which gave him much fodder for his fiction later in life. Ashton inherited a love of reading and writing at an early age as a result of watching his father, who wrote under the pen name of R. Keene Lee, work as a writer and editor in New York right after WWII. At the University of the South, Ashton majored in English and studied Creative Writing.

Ashton lives in Oxford, Mississippi, a university town which gave us William Faulkner and John Grisham. Readers can like Ashton Lee at: Facebook.com/ashtonlee.net.

Published by Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, NY.
Available on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Making A Difference With Books

Tokalopulli -- "an old crossing place"

Hundreds of years ago, the Chickasaw Indians traveled through what is now Pontotoc County Mississippi on their way to and from the Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis, TN). At one point along the way, their trail intersected another trail from the south used by the Choctaws. An old crossing place.

To my knowledge, the Indians didn't have books back when they walked the Toccopola Trail, but if they had, they could have stopped off at the Toccopola Community Center and exchanged those books for books of equal value, with no requirement to return them. Okay, so that's historically inaccurate, but it makes a good segue into present-day Toccopola, and the good work being done by the Toccopola Homemakers Club.

With a population of 254, the town isn't quite big enough for a full-fledged public library (they have a good one a dozen or so miles to the east in the town of Pontotoc), but that didn't stop Margaret Ratliff, Harley Ann Thorne, Mary Frances Stepp, Melba Edwards, and the other members of their club from making books available to those with restricted travel as well as to those who simply like the idea of exchanging fiction with their friends and neighbors.
Margaret and Harley Ann

The Book Exchange began as a yearly project for the Homemakers Club. They liked the idea of offering a free service to the community while promoting literacy. As the idea took root, the members gathered books from their personal collections or purchased new books in order to stock the shelves their husbands would build with donated lumber and labor. Most southern men can drive a nail and operate a circular saw, especially when their wives ask them to.

Thanks to the mayor and board of aldermen, they were allowed to convert a small office in the community center to use as their library. Later, as their inventory of books outgrew the small room, two of the husbands built rolling bookshelves, allowing the library to expand into the larger meeting area during operating hours.

On the first Saturday of every month, from 9 AM to 11 AM, the Book Exchange opens for business. Margaret and Harley Ann
usually arrive early to roll the shelves out and lug the boxes of books from the tiny library to the tables in the meeting area. The exchange has between one and two thousand books now, and routinely donates books to nursing homes, assisted living centers, The Salvation Army, Goodwill, and Sanctuary Hospice House in order to keep their inventory manageable.

"If we know of someone who is disabled or ill, we will take some books to them or send them by their neighbor," says Margaret.

Toccopola Book Exchange receives no outside funding. All expenses are paid by the Homemakers
Club. The town provides the space free of charge because the mayor and aldermen realize the value of providing literary services to its citizens.

On a typical Saturday, the Book Exchange sees between ten and fifteen people. While that may not
sound like a lot, by my math, it is roughly 6% of the population participating on a regular basis.

The Homemakers Club won first place at State the year they started the Book Exchange, then followed it up later by winning first place for the Drive-thru Book Bank project on the corner near the Betty Allen Monument. Who was Betty Allen you ask? Google that one. Toccopola, you see, is as rich in history as it is in present-day community service.

The Book Exchange is more than an exchange of books. It's the exchange of fellowship and good will among neighbors. How can you help? By using the service. Exchanging books keeps the library alive.

What can you do to serve your community?