Category Archives: Southern

An Interview With Joe Combs

Smashwords Interview, February 2, 2015 .

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My daughter and the sunrise. I had neither when I was on submarines.
What do you read for pleasure?
Mostly biography and autobiography, non-fiction, and I still enjoy the classics.
Hemingway, Twain, Dumas, Tolstoy I could go on, but those are my four favorite.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
The Old Man and the Sea, because I feel it is the best book I have ever read. Hemingway does more with less than any author.
Tom Sawyer, I enjoy almost anything by Mark Twain. However, I grew up on a large river and imagined Tom living in my neighborhood. That feeling made the story more personal to me.
White Fang, I felt like I was in the great outdoors, a part of the story.
Moby Dick. My parents said that before I started kindergarten I was telling anyone who would listen that when I got big I was going to sea, and I did. I have always been fascinated with the sea and it was the first nautical novel I read.
The Count of Monte Cristo, like the other books it was pure adventure. Plus it had a wronged man who was avenged.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I always try to read the works of the writers on my friends list, even the ones who write in genres I do not normally read. After that I would say word of mouth is how I find most of the books I read. Once in a while I will go to my favorite ebook retailer and do a search on my favorite genre and just see what comes up.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I like both the kindle and the nook.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
With my daughter, reading, painting, sometimes carving wood, talking with my readers on Facebook, and doing things with my friends. Lately I have been doing a lot of travel as well.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Winnie the Pooh was the first story I read on my own. It made me want to read more and more because I enjoyed the story so much.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, I do. It was an essay on how kids could help fight water pollution by pulling water hyacinths from the boat and boat trailer while their parents were putting the boat on the trailer.
By doing that they would be helping to prevent the spread of water hyacinths to bodies of water that did not already have them. I won the essay contest.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the South. North Florida a little town called Palatka to be exact, not far from St. Augustine and Jacksonville. I have always had an insatiable curiosity and enjoy history. The area I grew up in was awash with history. I was always listening to grown-ups talk about the past. So, today I approach my research in much the same way. I go to the source, people, documents, official records. And just like that small boy I show up with a thousand questions and want them all answered. Those answers always lead to even more questions. Some times I just have to stop the research and write the article or book, if I don’t I will never get anything written.
When did you first start writing?
I won my first essay contest when I was about nine years old. When I was a submarine sailor I used to write short stories at sea to entertain myself. But, I never thought of myself as a writer. When a college English professor told me I should write I laughed at her. But, about ten years later I published my first book, “Titanic, A Search For Answers,” I have been writing ever since; and I began writing full time in 2014.
Describe your desk
I write on a small 1940s maple table that has been my desk since high school. My table holds: a photo of my daughter, 3X5 cards, notepads, an assortment of pencils & pens, my dictionary, a small table lamp, my computer, the 4 or 5 books I am currently reading, and a lead crystal water pitcher.
The pitcher was my great-grandmother’s. When I was about 5 their house did not have running water, and every morning she would fill the pitcher with water from a hand pump and place it on the kitchen table so you did not have to pump water every time you wanted a glass of water. I keep that pitcher fill with water on my desk. It keeps me grounded and connected to my family.
What do your fans mean to you?
My fans are part of the writing team. One fan, Sheri, asked me if I would write an article (for my blog) about her great-great-grandfather. As it turned out, I had studied her great-great-grandfather quite a bit in my youth. He was a Marshal for Napoleon and one of my early heroes. It was a pleasure to write about him. But, the real joy came when she told me she learned things about him from my articles that she did not know.
Anyone can send me a friend request on my facebook page, and I have fans who have. Like I said, my fans are part of the team, sometimes I will ask a fan to read a draft I am working on and give me their opinion. Sometimes I’ll ask my fans what would they like to see me write about next. I enjoy research and thanks to my fans, I have learned many interesting things I might never have learned if it had not been for a request from a fan. I know all writers say this, but I really do have a great bunch of fans and have become friends with many of them.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The research is fun, but I really enjoy doing rewrites. Sounds crazy I know, but when I find a way to say the same thing with fewer words I get a feeling of accomplishment. If I can improve the meaning of a sentence while shortening it, that is joy.
Like I said, I know it sounds crazy, but it is what keeps me writing, my little brother says it is the perfectionist in me.
What’s the story behind your latest book?
A mythology I remembered from my childhood of a Roman soldier who bullied Jesus he on his way to the cross. Because of that he was cursed to walk the face of the earth until Jesus came back.
One afternoon I began thinking about all of the world events he could have witnessed, and my imagination was off.
What are you working on next?
I have two things I am working on next. A collection of short stories called, “Growing Up Southern,” and the next Cartaphilus book.
The first Cartaphilus book will be released on March 27, 2015. That book will be followed by my book about the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, which I sent to my editor in last month.
What is your writing process?
I get an idea and I play with it in my head for a while. Then when I get something that I like I’ll quickly jot down those thoughts. Then I begin to write the story in my head.
While I am writing in my head I begin to list references that I will need. Then I do an outline and write the book. The outline keeps me on track and prevents me from wandering around. Then I go back and use my references to check facts. Then I set the work aside for a while. When I come back to it, the first time I use text to voice software to listen to the book. Then I start my rewrites.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Having to learn all aspects of the business. I mean let’s face it, as an indie writer you have either no or very few people on staff. So, you need to learn to do everything. Even if you hire out aspects of the work, you need enough knowledge to be able to pick good people to hire. So, far my picks have been 100%. I have very talented people I can turn to when I need help.
How do you approach cover design?
It depends whether I am going to do the cover myself, or hire someone.
If I hire someone, I tell them what the story is and then turn them loose to come up with some ideas. It really is great working with talented people.
If I am doing the cover myself, I shoot for an idea that will be recognizable as a thumbnail and that tells the book’s story in a simple picture.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Word of mouth has been the most effective for me. There is nothing like a reader who enjoys your work to help get the word out.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Of all the retailers around the world that my books are with, only one of those is not through Smashwords. That alone would be enough, but the tools available to authors and publishers make the entire process of publishing/distributing easier and quicker than any distributor I have worked with. There are many user friendly tools that can help with each stage of the process which other distributors do not have.
What piece of advice do you have for people who want to be a writer?
Write. Writers write, if you are not writing you are not a writer. Race car drivers race cars, teachers teach, and writers write.
Even if it is only one sentence a day, write something. Just once sentence a day will give you several paragraphs by the end of the month. Do not worry what you are writing about, just write.

Published 2015-02-02.

1 Comment

Filed under books, Cup-O-Joe, family, folklore, historical fiction, history, interview, legend, myth, New, Southern, thoughts, writing

The Way We Were ?!? Part One

There are two historical topics which I enjoy studying and am loathe to write about, ironically for the same reason. The first is RMS Titanic, and the second is the American Civil War or as it is known in the South, The War of Northern Aggression. The reason I do not like writing on these two topics is that they are fields of historical research where emotional attachment and opinion override evidence and logic. It is in these two fields of historical research where people make the strongest assertions that their opinion is not opinion but fact, and where the discourse between those of different opinions is the most disrespectful and caustic – at best. When all else fails, the intelligence of opponents is attack as if, you guessed it, these attacks (opinions) were also established fact demonstrated by evidence instead of what they really are, which is dogmatic opinions. And what are those opinions, really? In most (but not all) cases they are an attempt by someone losing an argument to bully an opponent into silence, or someone content to find “authorities” they agree with to mimic instead of researching the material themselves. This last group moves to the attack the quickest depending on how long their memory is. The fewer words of their hero they can remember, the sooner they launch into personal attacks.

Today I wish to discuss black (negro, colored, people of color, Afro-American, African-American, or whatever term your generation uses) who are veterans of the Confederacy. I am sure I will have something to say to upset everyone, at least a little bit.

I remember a long time ago I had an English teacher talking to me about essays. She said it is hard to prove a negative. You know what I mean, bigfoot doesn’t exist, space aliens don’t exits, God doesn’t exist (I’m not taking sides one way or the other on these, they are just examples). So, I am going to start with the negative “… did not happen,” side of this story and then move on to the “… it did happen” side of the story, and end with my analysis. Like I said, I’ll probably upset everyone a little, but if you read my articles two years ago on how I do research then you will not be surprised by my approach.

What got me started on this is an episode of The History Detectives on PBS. A show I thoroughly enjoy. You can go to and watch this particular episode for yourself (aired October 11, 2011 : episode title “Chandler Tintype, Hollywood Indian Ledger, Harlem Heirs). It is one of the few programs on TV that I really enjoy, and I also like each of the show’s hosts. They all do very good work and their support team is very good at what they do. Wes Cowan hosted the segment I am going to use as my intro into this topic. Now, I need to be fair to Mr. Cowan, he is an appraiser and auctioneer, not a credentialed historian. But he does have a good foundation in history for his work, and (in my opinion) does an outstanding job on the show.

For those who do not know, viewers contact the show about an object they have. An object they know nothing about, someone told them about, or just something they want to know about that is or could be historical. The hosts then track down the historical evidence using primary source material to tell the owner what they have.

The part of this particular episode we are interested in is the first one and is about a Civil War photograph (not particularly rare), of two confederate soldiers (a little more rare), one of them black (ok, more rare), sitting side by side. Yup, this is very rare Andrew (white guy) and Silas (black guy) are sitting side by side. Normally even the union photos of blacks and whites always show the black man in a subservient position (standing behind the white guy or holding the reins of the horse the white guy is sitting on), never side by side as equals would be. The descendents of the two men explain the family history states the one man gave the other his freedom before the war started, and that they fought together in the same unit for the Confederacy.

Andrew (left) Silas (right)

Andrew (left) Silas (right)

There was also other questions they wanted answers to, but we are going to confine our discussion to Silas’ service in the Confederacy. So, these are the questions we will examine:

  1. Was Silas given his freedom before the war started?
  2. Did Silas fight as a Confederate soldier?
  3. If Silas did fight as a Confederate soldier, was he doing so as a slave against his will, or voluntarily as a freed man?

Mr. Cowan went to Dr. Mary Francis Berry, University Of Pennsylvania Historian, (who teaches the History of American Law, and the History of Law and Social Policy. She also advises students in African American History) to answer these questions.

Dr. Berry shared, quite correctly, there were free people of color who joined the militia at the beginning of the war, but those units never saw battle and were disbanded by the state legislatures not long into the war. She went on to say that Silas was not freed on the eve of the war, because in Louisiana it was illegal to give slaves their freedom by 1856.

Mr. Cowan and Dr. Berry go on to talk about the “myth of black Confederates.” When Mr. Cowan tried to say it not possible for Silas to fight for the Confederacy, Dr, Berry said it would be inaccurate to say there was no way they could not have fought, but they were not accepted by the Confederacy as soldiers. Blacks were used in supporting roles for the Confederacy (cooks, teamsters driving supply wagons, servants, construction and other support roles). It was also said that since these men were slaves, they were forced into service and did not have a choice in the decision of whether they would support the Confederacy or not. There support of the Confederacy was, in other words, compulsory.

Next, Mr. Cowan used the Civil War Roster web site, which is maintained by the National Park Service. This site listed Andrew was listed, but Silas was not listed. Mr. Cowan used this to support his conclusion that Silas did not fight for the Confederacy. He also checked the 1860 census for Chickasaw Parish Louisiana and found no listing of any freedmen in the Parish (Louisiana has parishes instead of counties). The pension that Silas received as a servant (slave) in the service of the Confederacy was explained as part of the “Lost Cause” justification common in the late 19th and early 20th century in the South as an attempt to justify the Civil War.

Next week we will discuss the side of the argument that there were freedmen and slaves who fought for the Confederacy. The third part of this series will be my analysis of the pro and con evidence given by the two sides.

Comments Off on The Way We Were ?!? Part One

Filed under Cival War, history, Southern

Where Success With People Begins and Ends.

Do Unto Others …”

By James R. Fisher, jr.

In my years as a corporate executive and then consultant, I’ve learned this: while technical systems change rapidly, the systems that govern our social behavior have evolved little in 2000 years. And we get we want out of life only by working with and through others.

To maintain that perspective in my life, I wrote down some rules that seem to flow from it. Here they are:

To have a friend, you must be a friend,

starting with yourself.

The greatest hunger a person has is to be needed.

Help create that feeling in others.

The greatest virtue is kindness.

You can’t love everyone, but you can be kind to everyone.

Don’t try to impress others.

Let them have the fun of impressing you.

Be enthusiastic.

Nothing of consequence was ever achieved

without enthusiasm.

Be positive.

Positive people attract others, while negative people repel.

You have greater impact on others

by the way you listen than by the way you talk.

Gossip cheapens the one who gossips

more than the one gossiped about.

Call a person by his or her name

and use it often in conversation.

Communicate cheerfulness.

Differences are bound to occur and can be resolved if

conflict is managed in a polite manner.

If you are given to making fun of someone,

be sure it is yourself.

Be genuinely interested in others.

Get them to talk about themselves.

A smile doesn’t cost anything and pays big dividends.

Not only does it make you feel good, but

it makes everyone else feel better too.

Be the first to say, “Hello! Good to see you.”

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

The golden rule is where it all begins and ends.


Filed under Cup-O-Joe, family, New, Southern, thoughts

My Two Cents Worth

First, let me say, if you remember your lost loved ones on Memorial Day, good. There should be more people like you. Even if your loved ones, specially if your loved ones, did not die while on duty in service in the armed forces. You may not like the way I start today, but stay with me to the end, and then, just think about what I say.

Now, onto my purpose today, one of my biggest ‘pet peeves’ is Memorial Day. Actually, the way we observe Memorial Day. Memorial Day is officially the observance of those who died on active duty in the armed forces while in service to their country. Today, in America we put flags on the graves of every person who served in the military. We also use today to honor our deceased loved ones … family, friends, even pets … most of whom never even served in the military and certainly did not die while on active duty. And do not get me started on the “commercial” side of Memorial Day.

I know that when I die, every Memorial Day there will be placed on my grave a small American flag (usually by a veterans group, religious group, or a youth organization). If I could, I would reach from below the earth covering my grave and yank that flag down. I lived to the end of my military service, hung up my uniform, and took my place among the ranks of LIVING veterans. Memorial Day was not intended be a day to remember my military service or me. It was intended to remember men (and women) like my great-uncle. My great-uncle died at the battle of Belleau Wood while in the army in World War 1.

Belleau Wood was a surprise attack by German forces in June 1918 (during World War One). The American allies retreated from the onslaught, leaving the United States Army in its front-line positions on its own. The United States Marine Corps, the only help to the embattled and surrounded soldiers in the trenches. It was during this battle that the German soldiers nick-named the marines “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs”. It was in that battle the US Marines established themselves as a disciplined, tenacious, elite fighting force; the battle also marked the death of my great-uncle. He was a young man in the prime of youth, who left behind neither children or wife to mourn his passing. He sacrificed all of that and more for our freedom. Memorial Day belongs to him and his brothers and sisters who have joined him in making the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Our present Memorial Day was actually copied from an earlier memorial day observance … Confederate Memorial Day established in Columbus, Georgia in 1866.

As in most wars, the men who are tasked with fighting and dying are the poorest among us. Those men who did most of the dying in Confederate grey could not afford to own slaves (unlike their generals), and often had to compete against the slave labor just to feed their own families. Many of those young men fought simply because there was an invading army of blue that had march onto daddy’s farm. As in all wars, the reasons men fight are as varied as the men themselves. Confederate Memorial Day was about honoring those men, and not about racism or hatred, a “Lost Cause” or even a lost nation. Many of those men left behind families who were now destitute and still grieving their loss. As with many of the families of the Titanic, the world was a cruel place for a family without a husband and father to provide for the family. Life, as hard as it was to be poor in the south before the war; was unimaginable for a poor family in the destroyed south after the war without its patriarch. Those families (as with many Titanic families) would never recover from the loss.

In 1868, the veteran’s organization Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) called for a national day called Decoration Day to honor fallen union dead. In 1882, the name was changed to Memorial Day. But, it was not until 1967 (more than a century after Confederate Memorial Day) that memorial Day became an official federal holiday.

From its earliest roots, Memorial Day, has always been about honoring those men and women killed while serving their nation. Veterans Day is about honoring all veterans … living and dead … who served their nation. If you want to stick a flag on my grave, do it on Veterans Day, but do me a favor and wait until I’m occupying it first.

Most nations have a day to honor fallen war dead, but they also have something the United States does not, a Remembrance Day. In different nations it goes by different names, but Remembrance Day is a day to honor family and friends who did not die a premature death in service to their country. In Russia, families take a picnic lunch and go to the cemetery. At the cemetery they repair, replace, clean, scrub, weed, plant flowers and so many other little things to honor their lost love ones. This is an annual national day in Russia. THIS is the day to honor our non-war dead, not Memorial Day. This is a day we need to have in the United States, and maybe one day, when we learn our own past and honor it, we may have a Remembrance Day.

I once heard a tired old veteran say something I have never forgotten. He was standing over the grave of a man barely two decades old who died in World War Two, a young man too young to leave behind a wife and children to remember him.

He said, “The worse death of all is the second death. To die for your country and then to be forgotten, that is the second death.”

When we add all of our other loved ones to Memorial Day, we are doing that very thing. They become lost in the sea of grief we shed for all our lost loved ones and they die the death of being forgotten. All those men and women deserve better from us. Yes, even those young boys who wore grey so many years ago.


Filed under history, New, Southern, thoughts

I Found My Lance — Chivalry Part 3

Waverly Plantation, Mississippi (Southern Hosp...

Waverly Plantation, Mississippi (Southern Hospitality) (Photo credit: Jody McNary Photography)

Southern Chivalry? Yes, Southern chivalry, or as Vic Dye defines it Southern hospitality (read my interview with Vic Dye here, use the password “vic”. This interview is available only through this article). Chivalry truly is about respect, something that is instilled in Southerners from the time they are learning how to crawl, and swipe all the breakables off the coffee table.

English: The southern United States, as define...

English: The southern United States, as defined by the United States Census Bureau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A map of the modern definition of the Southern...

A map of the modern definition of the Southern United States, Oklahoma red. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I grew up in the South respect was a universal thing, more so than to previous generations of Southerners. You showed respect to everyone, and people who did not, were frowned upon. What you did in your home was one thing, but in public (particularly in front of children), that was another. I can remember my father being upset with something someone said in public, even though I had heard him say the same thing at home. I grew up poor, and school busing in Florida did not start until I was entering third grade, before that you went to the nearest school. Until third grade, I went to Browning Pearce Elementary School Campus Two, where as a white boy I was in the minority. When northerners talk about racism in the South I reply, “I never saw a lot of that when I was growing up, all the other kids treated me just like everyone else, and they didn’t seem to mind that I was white.” Northerners think I am trying to make a not-so-funny joke, but I am not and this was how I grew up. Every adult (black or white) knew that if I was not behaving myself they were to paddle me, and then tell my dad, where upon he would paddle me again.

So, what are some of the ways that Southerners are chivalrous? Here are just some of the things I remember from my childhood:

  • “Please” and “Thank You”, every single time no matter what, no matter who. If you do not get what you want you say, “Well, thank you anyway.” If someone does something for you, “Thank you very much, I really appreciate that.” Also, “May I?”, “Your welcome.”, “Excuse me.” or “Pardon me.” If you don’t say these things, Southerners will silently question your upbringing (upbringing: Southern speak for how you were raised and what you family is like), thinking you do not know better and were not raised properly.
  • You always act with humility, putting others first. In the South the “golden rule” is still gold. Many shortcomings in a person’s personality will be overlooked if they know how to behave in public around other people.
  • If you are going to make a mistake, err on the side of being too nice.
  • Be friendly! Southerners wave to strangers with a heartfelt smile, and they mean it. Greet the people you come into contact with. If they respond with a few comments, then you answer them. Example: “Hi.” “Hi, beautiful day isn’t it?” “It sure is. You have a nice day.” “Thank you. You too.” “Thank you.”
  • Men always take their hats off when entering a building, during prayers, the national anthem, and when the flag passes in a procession (like a parade).
  • When walking on the sidewalk with women, men ALWAYS walk to the street side with women on the inside. This is a safety issue, though walking on the sidewalk today is safer than in years past, though from time to time we still hear of someone losing control of a car and hitting people on a sidewalk. This is also done in Europe, though for a different reason, in years past people threw their trash into the street through open windows and a pedestrian being hit near the street was not uncommon.
  • All females are referred to as “ladies”, whether you think that particular one is or not.
  • You always hold the door open for others.
  • Always conduct “small talk” with others, whether you know them or not.
  • Do not interrupt.
  • Always offer guests to you home food and drink.
  • Always respect elders.
  • Always look people in the eye when they say something to you, or you say something to them.
  • Always shake hands with a firm grip, not an overbearing painful one (men and women both).
  • When a major event happens to a family (death in the family, new baby, home from the hospital), you visit them and bring food, even if you stay just long enough to give them the food and convey your feelings on what has happened.
  • Stand by your family and friends.
  • Always welcome new neighbors. Yup, they are not being nosey, in the South this is polite and shows “good upbringing.”
  • When in doubt treat others the way you would want yourself and your loved ones to be treated.

A friend posted this on my wall at facebook. If you know who originally did this, please contact me.

In the South men always treat women with respect, carry heavy packages for them, pull out chairs for them, open doors for them. When a lady is in need of assistance you always offer her your hand. If the chairs or seats are all taken and a lady is standing, you stand. Even if the lady refuses your generosity you stand. In the South, a gentlemen never sits while a lady is standing. Also, when a lady enters or leaves a room, a gentleman stands. The things I said in my earlier article about women’s high-heeled shoes apply. Never speak bad about a lady to others, particularly in public. Yes, there are gossips in the South, but you will be held in high regard for refraining from talking bad about others or repeating disparaging rumors. When women are talking you give them your attention, maintain eye contact, do not interrupt, and listen attentively. All of the many gestures of chivalry most certainly apply these and more.

A chivalrous Southern woman does not yell in public and keeps her composure. Women who can say more, with fewer words are viewed as very intelligent and held in high regard (concise is good). Men and women who appear to use more words than are necessary are treated politely, but never enthusiastically (wordy is never good). There is wordy, about right, and concise, men get no points for concise or about right, and like women are avoided (when possible) if known to be wordy in their conversations with others.

Something “outsiders” always seem to miss is the understanding of  the phrase, “Well bless your/his/her heart …”. When a Southern woman starts a sentence with “Well, bless your heart …”, despite what it sounds like you are not about to empathized with, you are about to be, politely, told you are stupid. It may sound like a compliment, but make no doubt about it, that Southern lady just told you, you are “too stupid to pour pee out of a boot with the directions written on the bottom.” (This is not to be confused with the two expressions “Well bless you …” or “Well, bless my heart …”)

A Southern lady is a wonder to behold, they are far more capable, intelligent, cunning, loyal, and above all subtle, than most people realize, and certainly more so than Southern men. Poise, graciousness, subty, good manners, calm, these are the hallmarks of a Southern chivalrous lady. Chivalry for women in the South is not a matter of “do the same stuff men do for women, only you do it for men,” no. A chivalrous lady in the South truly does have the upper hand to all other people in any forum.

It is not possible to do this subject justice in under 1500 words, but you have an introduction. My best advice is to travel to a small or medium sized city in the South, find a good location and observe locals. You will learn more about Southerners in thirty minutes on a street corner than you ever could in a book.

One last thing. As a visitor to the South, you will not be held to the same standard Southerners hold each other too, “it just wouldn’t be polite.” Southerners know you are not a Southerner, but as long as you try to behave in a “Southern manner”, you will highly thought of and respected.

Part four will be on chivalry and feminism, and I hope you are surprised as I am.

Have a great day, and be chivalrous.


To learn more about the South and Southerners read the interview with Vic Dye and my Cup-O-Joe articles, particularly the article, “The Lesson.”

“Has Anyone Seen My Lance — Chivalry Part 1”

“Who Made This Lance Anyway? — Chivalry Part 2”


Filed under chivalry, Cup-O-Joe, family, history, New, Southern