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

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


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.


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.


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.


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 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:

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?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Child Abuse Prevention

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Shouldn't every month
be? Every day? Almost everyone either knows an abused child or suspects they might, or has at some point in their life. Abused children don't advertise it. Just because you don't see bruises doesn't mean everything is fine. So when is it time to interject yourself? To become involved?

There are many forms of child abuse. A myriad of reasons why, but no excuse. Not a single excuse for causing the abuse or for allowing it to continue.

As you may know, my first novel, The Night Train, deals heavily with child abuse. Young Jayrod Nash is terribly abused by his father, neglected by his mother, bullied at school, and sometimes chided by his fourth grade teacher. Now before you click away, this post is not a commercial for my book. I mention it because I've received so many comments from people telling me the book has either helped someone they know, or would help if only they knew to read it. One small disclaimer: I didn't write The Night Train to lecture on the ills of child abuse. In fact, the book doesn't lecture at all. Jayrod Nash is a boy on an adventure, and he just happens to be abused. The events in the book occur as a result of his trying to escape the life he is becoming to realize isn't normal. You see, it all began when I started asking myself if abused children -- kids who know no other way of life -- actually understand how wrong their situation is. So, the book takes the reader into Jayrod's days and nights through his eyes, interpreting events and situations as he sees them.

One of the highlights of my writing career has been going to schools and speaking to kids. Inevitably, in every single instance there's been at least one child who fit the profile. After one such visit I received a letter from a seventh grader telling me she saw herself in Jayrod. It was heartbreaking, and I admit I struggled with what to do with that information. Ultimately, I contacted the teacher, who followed procedure and shared the information with the principal. Privacy laws prevent me from knowing what happened after that, but that little girl thanked me for writing the book. If I've accomplished nothing else with my writing, I think I helped that little girl to at least know she is not alone.

That's important -- knowing you're not alone.

Another time, a young man approached me at an event and introduced himself. He very nervously shook my hand and told me (his voice cracking) that he felt like Jayrod. Words can't describe the mix of emotions I felt. Thinking I had helped ... helpless to do more.

You are not alone.

Enough with the commercial. Just to prove that my feelings on abused children didn't manifest themselves just to sell a book, I would like to share with you a poem I wrote when I was a teen.


              by Carl Purdon

Through cries and screams and sobbing eyes
our children beg to be believed.
How long until we realize?
This pain they feel must be relieved.

So many lost along the way.
Graves and jails lock them in.
The guilty ones still free to prey,
on innocence with their sins.

The teacher sees the child alone,
shy and scared while others play.
Suspecting things not well at home,
she wants to help but looks away.

The preacher gives his message clear
"Spare the rod and spoil the child".
He fails to say "Let's hold them dear,
with patient heart and tempers mild."

The neighbor hears the loud abuse
and sees the marks on her tiny face.
He has no proof so there's no use
butting in is not his place.

The doctor mends the broken arm,
while bruises tell the nasty truth.
He knows inside what caused this harm,
but writes it off as part of youth.

The men we send to make our laws
ignore this truth - so hard to face.
And we with votes must see their flaws,
send someone else to take their place.

We seek a place to lay the blame,
while our children take another blow.
When another dies - the cause the same,
we swear to God we didn't know.

Child abuse is not private business. It's not the type of thing we should glance away from and pretend we don't see the signs. I'm no expert on the subject. I'm not a doctor, or a psychologist. The only degree I have is in electronics, but I do have some common sense. I suspect you do as well.

To learn more about child abuse and what you can to to help, I strongly urge you to visit child today.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Remember The Alamo -- but don't forget where you parked!

Monday, March 23, 2015 began as a special day for us. First, and most importantly, it marked the 14th anniversary of the day Sharon and I got married. It was also the release date for my fourth novel, Red Eyes.

Flashback to Sunday. We left Beaumont, Texas after driving all day Saturday from our home in Pontotoc, Mississippi. We arrived in San Antonio in the early afternoon without hotel reservations (our version of free-ranging) and drove downtown for a glimpse of Monday's destination, The Alamo and Riverwalk. I'm a huge fan of history, so visualizing myself standing in the mission where Davy Crockett died, along with so many other brave men, had me excited.

Downtown San Antonio, for those of you who have never experienced it, is a traffic nightmare. I've driven in my share of big cities, but I quickly found myself flustered and grouchy. It was like being thrown into a giant maze with hundreds of other vehicles all fighting for a way out. Not a problem, I told myself, because Monday will be all about walking. Just park the car and set out on foot.

Now back to Monday.

The weather in Texas was beautiful. Spring had popped out all around us. Birds sang and warbled, and darted from ground to branch and down again with little regard for the humans around them. I parked the car in the first public parking area we came to once we exited the freeway onto Alamo Drive. No way was I going to ruin my mood so early by throwing us back into the maze just to save a few steps. As we left the parking lot, I told Logan and Sharon, in a half-hearted manner, to remember where we parked. Logan looked up and saw Marriott on a tall building to our right and said we could just look for that. It seemed logical enough to me. The only other thing that registered with me was that the parking lot belonged to a Presbyterian church. I remember thinking it was a good way for a church to make money by renting out their parking lot during the week.

First let me say I was somewhat disappointed in The Alamo. At the risk of offending Texans, I found it to be severely lacking in historical upkeep. Pictures weren't allowed inside the mission (I gave them the benefit of the doubt that there is some valid reason for that). Inside the mission were display cases of old guns, and a lot of tourists. So many tourists you couldn't really stop and reflect on the historical significance of the place. What disappointed me most, however, was the lack of information about the battle. Other than a row of markers bearing the names of the fallen, I didn't see anything about the battle. Nothing.

Upon exiting the mission, we entered a beautiful garden with flowers and benches and birds (lots of birds). What I had expected to see was some authenticity. The garden made for a nice relaxing stroll, but it truly disappointed this history buff.

Not to be daunted, we bought a few souvenirs and headed for the Riverwalk to spend the remainder of the day strolling along the San Antonio River, not knowing that, though the Riverwalk is every bit as beautiful as the brochures make it out to be, navigating it is a bit like driving the streets downtown. A person can easily walk in circles. One thing Logan noticed first was that the maps posted along the way all had the "You Are Here" red dot in the legend, but not a single one we saw had the red dot on the map, so we had to try and figure out where we were by looking around and finding intersecting streets (which was not always easy to do). Still, walking in circles wasn't so bad because we had no particular destination in mind. Our goal for the day was to relax and enjoy.

We ate a nice lunch at a steakhouse, then took a riverboat tour. The boats looked crowded, and let me tell you they were. We were packed in like sardines, making it impossible for me to fully enjoy the ride. What could have been a very relaxing hour was made uncomfortable because the people running the tour shoved us in knee-to-knee, shoulder-to-shoulder, back-to-back, while other boats sat empty. For someone who dislikes crowds, it was hard to pay attention to the beautiful surroundings while trying to keep my knees from rubbing against those of the man sitting across from me. All was not lost, however, because our tour guide was a delightful man named Alfred, who intertwined bits of his history with that of the city. Alfred was one of those people born to interact with strangers. As we twisted and turned along the
San Antonio
river, we learned that Alfred was born and raised in San Antonio. He personally witnessed many of the buildings being built, or remodeled. His pride in both the city and his job left no doubt he absolutely loved what he was doing. I remember looking back at Alfred and thinking, it doesn't matter how much money a person has, or how much they have traveled the world, as long as they are happy.

Back on solid ground again, we continued walking in search of nothing but the joy of strolling as a family one story beneath the busy streets of downtown San Antonio. There's a certain peacefulness in not having a destination, especially when your daily routine so often revolves around scheduled places to be and deadlines to meet. We found humor in the fact that a man approached us and told us there were restaurants all around us, then frowned that he normally gets $1.25 for that information. I mean, how could we not know we were surrounded by restaurants?

Carriage Ride
As I said in the opening paragraph, Sharon and I were celebrating our anniversary, so a carriage ride seemed the perfect way to top off a day of walking. Neither of us had ever ridden in a horse-drawn carriage before, so that made it even more special. Our driver was very nice. He told us bits of history as we wound along the streets, but he didn't bombard us with talk. Those several minutes of sitting beside my wife, listening to the clop of the horse's hooves on the pavement, was truly the highlight of my day.

Remember that part about me telling Logan and Sharon not to forget where we parked? After the carriage ride, we set out in search of our car. It was getting late and the streets were mostly empty. Logan reminded us of the Marriott hotel, so we found that word in the skyline and headed toward it. Nothing looked
familiar, then we saw another Marriott in another direction, and had no idea which one was which. Walking the streets proved as confusing as driving them. Our feet hurt. We were exhausted. We walked toward one Marriott and realized it couldn't be the right one, so we headed toward the other one, only to find that it didn't look right either. I remembered the part about the parking lot belonging to a church. A Presbyterian church. Out comes my iPhone and Google Maps. To my dismay, there were about five Presbyterian churches in the area, all in different directions. I was starting to get concerned.

Let me pause here to say that I have a few recurring nightmares, one of which is that I leave some event and can't find my car. In the dream, I walk in every direction, trying to remember where I parked, frantically searching. I never find my car in that dream. As we walked the streets, tired and aching, I feared that dream might become reality. I tried to put up a brave front for my wife and son. They depended on me to protect them. We walked.

When I tell you this next part, it's important for you to understand how adverse I am to asking directions, or for help. I'm more likely to leave a store empty-handed than to ask someone if they have what I'm looking for. I'll drive and drive, refusing to stop and ask someone for directions far longer than I should.

As we walked down yet another empty street, Sharon told me she smelled fresh paint. So did I, though I hadn't realized it until that moment. We glanced to our right and saw freshly painted graffiti on the side of a box truck parked at the curb just feet from where we stood. At that moment it hit me how vulnerable we were. Hundreds of miles from home, lost and afoot.

One thing I had noticed all day was the almost total lack of a police presence in the Alamo Plaza. I had made up my mind to flag down the first police officer I saw long before we spotted him coming toward us. He turned into a parking lot and parked with his lights off. I approached him and told him our plight. At first he seemed disinterested to the point that I thought he wasn't going to offer to help at all. Yes, I had noticed his hand move to his holstered gun, but that didn't bother me. He had every right to be suspicious of someone approaching his car in a dark parking lot so late at night. He asked me a few questions, such as what street did I park on, how did I enter the downtown area, which direction did I arrive from. In the end he basically told me he didn't know. I left dejected, feeling almost hopeless. My last resort had been to ask a policeman for help, and here he was sending me away with only a point in a direction toward where there might be a church.

I collected Sharon and Logan and we started out again. I saw the concern in her face when she asked if he was going to help us and I told her no. We walked less than half a block before the police car appeared beside us. The officer called me over and told me he had located a Presbyterian church on Alamo Drive (he was looking at google Maps on his phone). He told me which streets to take, then drove away.

Roughly ten minutes later, Sharon spotted the church. Nothing about it looked familiar, but there appeared to be a parking lot about two blocks to the rear. It was dark, so we couldn't tell for sure. As we walked, things began to look familiar. We entered the parking lot and Logan noticed the Marriott sign in big red letters high above. A few steps later we saw a black car with a Nissan emblem in the grill, but I tried not to get my hopes up in case it proved to be another dead end. Not until we reached the car and I saw all of our clutter inside did I breathe that sigh of relief. Few things have ever felt so good in my life as pressing the button on that door handle and hearing the thunk of the lock disengaging.

As we drove away, I thought about the homeless people we had seen earlier in the day, especially the one I had given money to, and thanked God to be as fortunate as I am.

March 23, 2015 was indeed a special day. My anniversary. The release of my new book, and the day I hopefully put one of my recurring nightmares to rest. Been there, done that.