A Sunday Delivery

Pampa and Maddie at GEMS camp, Day One.

I delivered Madeline to one of her favorite spots on earth late Sunday afternoon: Mountain Shepherd Outdoor Survival Camp in Craig County for her week of survival training at the GEMS (Girls Empowered by Mountain Shepherd) camp.

Maddie and Dina: Good buds.

Dina Bennett, the camp’s director, and her lovely husband, Reggie, met us out front and, since Maddie was the first camper there, she got the pick of bunks, which she exercised immediately.

This camp has been important in helping define Madeline as a complete young woman: strong, confident, assertive, kind, capable. Dina is a splendid role model for these teen and pre-teen girls and camp tuition has become my annual Christmas gift to my favorite grandgirl.

Unusual Sandwich Combos, Part Deux

Margie and her breadless cuke sandwich.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked people on Facebook what their favorite oddball sandwich consisted of and got quite a response. Some made sense, others not so much.

One that stuck in the mind of my Margie was the cucumber/bologna sandwich. “Mmmmm, sounds good,” she said.

This morning I pulled off about six cukes from the vine in the backyard and brought them to the kitchen. They’re pickling cukes, not necessarily intended for snacking.

A little bit ago, Margie walked into the living room with a cuke/bologna sandwich … with no bread. The sandwich consisted of a whole cuke and about two slices of bologna. She simply dips it into mustard for a flavor splash.

To each her own.

Maddie and Me: The Business Lunch

A lunch stop at Isabella’s for Maddie and me.

My favorite part of the meal.

Drove over to Lynchburg today with my grandgirl Maddie to hear a book pitch (me writing, him pitching) and on the way back to the ‘Noke, we stopped at one of my favorite ‘Burg eateries: Isabella’s.

This is a lovely European-style restaurant in the Boonesboro Shopping Center and we were treated with grace and lovely food, beginning with exquisite olive oil, balsamic vinegar and homemade whole grain bread.

I warned Maddie not to try to eat anything larger than her head and she, being 13, ignored me. She boxed up about 3/4 of the pizza and will have more for dinner. I did the same with the giant salad. We’ll spread the joy for another meal. Yum.

Oh, and yes, Maddie sat in on the business meeting with me. Thought she’d learn something. She seemed to enjoy it.

Fun at Eric Fitzpatrick’s WOW Show

My Margie gets a peck on the cheek at the Fitzpatrick show last night at Hollins.

Artist Eric Fitzpatrick’s “Southern Culture” show at Hollins’ Wilson Museum is a jaw-dropping event that challenges and will even piss some of you hide-bound Southerners off. It is a show opening the Southern soul to admiration and to ridicule, but it is done in Eric’s typical gentle, humorous form by and large.

It is open until Sept. 23. Go see it and react.

Gratitude Today: The Editors

That’s me, the editor, in the olden days when I used paper and wore, like, really big glasses.

My world of gratitude is filling up to overflow today. Examples: Mary Bishop’s book shindig last night, my sickness seems at an end and I’m alive (though I didn’t want to be a couple of times), I have a date with my grandgirl Saturday to meet a man to talk about a book he may want me to write, I get to see Margie in a bit for the first time in a while, I feel the endorphins moving around. And more.

But the gratitude today comes from Mary’s soiree last night where a large group of my old journalism colleagues gathered to honor her and her new book. Today, my pal Rod Belcher wrote a piece thanking his editors over the years (one of which included me and I was touched at his mention). Together the two events made me stop and consider the value of a good editor.

I write alone these days and don’t always have an editor, much less a good editor (except when I’m writing for a publication). For years, I was an editor and developed my own style, much as writers do. The editors and writers in the room last night all know the value of the writer-editor relationship, though many of them gripe(d) about it their entire lives. It is a natural confrontational relationship.

I developed the philosophy some years ago that if I made assignments clear and took the time to write them out completely, the editing process would work better. Not many editors have the time–nor take the time–to do that and the result is rewrites, questions, re-thinking. And that’s not good in a deadline-centric business. I always liked to tell writers why their story was important to the publication and how I planned to use it. I instructed them that if my outline didn’t lead to the complete story being told, to call me and talk about it, with their suggestions.

I have worked for a number of editors who simply give you a minimal assignment (“Hey, would you do a story on John Jones?”) and expect a maximum result. Some want you to do deep research, talk to 15 contacts and turn in a 250-word story. Some will say, “That’s not what I wanted,” after not spelling out what they wanted.

I think the best editor I’ve ever had is my pal Kurt Rheinheimer at The Roanoker magazine, a guy who keeps the assignment simple, but lets you know what he wants, then takes your story and fills it out, if it needs to be filled. He doesn’t say a lot, but he doesn’t hold back and he trusts his writers.

So, today, I am grateful for the editors, both good and bad, because I’ve learned a lot from both.


A Reunion for Mary Bishop’s Book

Mary Bishop signs a copy of her much-sought “Don’t You Ever.”

The best Roanoke Times publisher of the past 50 years, Walter Rugaber, and his wife Sally.

Mary Bishop’s big party for the launch of “Don’t You Ever,” her magnificent memoir, looked more like a reunion of The Roanoke Times’ Best Years last night. It was appropriately held at the Vinton War Memorial, a few blocks from where her brother, Ronnie, a central character in the book, worked for some years.

It was mentioned more than once last night that there was sufficient journalistic talent in the room to put together a newspaper overnight that would blow the current iteration of a once-good newspaper off the boards. But that’s another story. Mary’s story–her book–is more interesting and is not a case of playful imagination.

Former managing editor Rich Martin (a journalism professor for the past number of years, left) and superb environmental reporter Tim Thornton.

“Don’t You Ever” is the story of a time and place that many Americans, following false prophets, would love to return to, a place of improperly placed moral rectitude, of injustice, of overt discrimination and of pain visited upon those too poor to fight it. I grew up in that morass of our worst instincts and fully understood what Mary–who, like me, is in her early 70s–was talking about on nearly every page (though she often does it with a gentle humor, befitting one who emerged victorious).

Mary makes a point with her brother’s barber shop projected in the background.

For many years, I thought Frank McCourt (“Angela’s Ashes”) was maybe the only person I’d ever read who understood real poverty; that it isn’t about not having, it is about how we are treated, how we are viewed, how we are misunderstood. Mary, a Pulitzer Prize winner, understands that.

She has a couple more signings remaining in the Roanoke Valley in the near future and you can pick up your signed copy at one of them. Those signings are at Book No Further bookshop at 16 West on Church Avenue, 6:30, Tuesday, July 17, and at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 6:30, Thursday, July 19.

More than 200 people, many with journalism ties, showed up at the Vinton War Memorial to honor Mary Bishop and her new book. That’s her beloved husband Dan on the front row by himself–being proud.

T-Shirts for Writers: Thesaurus, Synonym

Thesaurus the Dinosaur.

Picked up two new T-shirts today that should turn a head or two in my crowd–writers.

One says “Thesauraus,” a breed of extinct creature, and the other tells us it’s  “Synonym Rolls Just Like Grammar used to Make.”

Now, let’s see if anybody gets it. The only person to “get” my FBI Witness Protection T-shirt recently was Bob Ross, who teaches theater arts at Hollins University and is accustomed to paying attention.

Maddie and Pampa Go to the Theater

Maddie taking some play shots.

Maddie and her granny.

If it’s early June and a Saturday night, it must be time for Madeline and me to meet in a reserved seat at Mill Mountain Theatre between plays at Overnight Sensations. And that’s just what happened last night.

Maddie was accompanied by her young buddy, Vanessa, her maternal grandmother Judy Dickerson and my friend, Susan. I was in a play and backstage for half of the total performance, but finally got to join them for the last half. And we had a blast–as usual.

Is she taller or am I shorter?

Maddie had come–almost directly–from camp at Alta Mons, where she spent last week, and she’ll be gone next week to GEMS camp at Mountain Shepherd Survival School. The kid is really getting a chunk of life–which makes me very happy.

I ran into a lot of people I know and like (including my old buddy Becky Hepler) and some I had not met before but now do.

“We’re Facebook friends,” is a great intro line.

(Photos by my friend, Susan.)

Posing with Maddie and her bud, Vanessa.


A Memorable Night at Overnight Sensations

Stephen Glassbrenner takes a belt of liquor during his “debate”

Mary Jean Levin and me dancing the night away.

There was a moment last night when Mill Mountain Theatre sounded like it was holding a championship basketball game. The crowd all but exploded during a play–written by Ben Williams–featuring a Trump-like character debating a Clinton-like character and the Trumpster was rebuked. The place just went UP!

It was the highlight in an evening of many highlights, where the writing, directing and acting of a mish-mash of local amateur and professional theater people put on six plays (about 10 minutes each), completing the entire process (writing, producing) in 24 hours.

The political play in question, directed by Lauren Brooke Ellis, starred Stephen Glassbrunner–a solid actor who rarely has had a part as meaty as this, regardless of the length of the play–was “Different Definitions of a Problem.” It featured a gubernatorial debate between Stephen and his straight-laced, conventional opponent, played by Erin Quin Purcell. It was easy from the outset to tell where the audience’s sympathies lay.

Gene Marrano and Bonny Branch played the Trump-like supporters (dumb as egg shells) and Emma Sala, fresh off her triumph at

Zombie Natalie Faunce stole this show.

Hollins in “Chicago,” was the Hillary-type supporter. It was an amazing condensation of our nation’s problem.

I will note that for the third time (in nine plays for each of us), Mary Jean Levin and I wound up married in our play, “Lighthouse Lovers.” I fear we’re becoming typecast, but MJ really did a number, helping me become more competent on the stage.

A couple of incidental highlights were Natalie Faunce’s change from elegant lawyer to zombie and Brittany Flowers’ debut as a hotel clerk. Natalie, who

Dwayne Yancey’s musical “Denmark Barbershop …” was the best play.

with Brittany is a co-host of WSLS-TV’s “Daytime Blue Ridge,” made a quick change back stage and was simply astonishing as the zombie. Brittany expressed doubts about her competence as an actor, but she was a highlight.

There were many notable moments and accomplishments, not the least of which was Dwayne Yancey’s fall-down funny “The Denmark County Barbershop Quartet Presents …,” wherein an oddball quartet gets by singing about disasters. This is, I think, the first musical I’ve seen in the 11 Overnight Sensations and the crew (Reilly Lincavicks, Michael Mansfield, Erica Musyt, J.P. Powell, Chris Shepard and Ally Thomas) carried if off beautifully. I thought it was the best of all the plays last night.

This was truly a special “Overnight Sensations” (not only because my grandgirl Madeline was there). The laughs and overall responses were deep and genuine. On the way out, the chattering about the plays (“Oh, no, I liked the “Zombie Hearts” best …) was constant and brisk.

That’s what it’s all about because for some of those in attendance, this was an introduction to live theater. And I’m not sure it gets much more entertaining.

(Note: Most of these photos were taken by my friend, Susan.)

Actors apply makeup in the Green Room.

My buddy Bayla Sussman (who owns Bailey’s Best Chocolate) played a cop. That’s her in the center.

That’s me in the middle … Thank you very much.