Tag 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.

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

Southern Cuisine

General store interior. Moundville, Alabama, U...

General store interior. Moundville, Alabama, USA Packaged and loose goods are stacked on shelves and the floor. Items visible on the walls include a calendar showing “July 1936” and a Coca-Cola advertisement. Visible items for sale include loose dishes, lanterns, dustpans, padlocks, rope, Mason jars, boxed soaps, boxes of shot-gun shells, canned goods, bags of self-rising flour. Rolls of butcher-paper visible at left. A safe is at center, partially behind bags of flour. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to American expatriates living in Paris, we typically think of expatriates as people who live away from their homeland because they do not like their homeland. However, an expatriate is simply someone who is living in exile; this can be either forced or voluntary. I am a southern expatriate who very much thinks of himself as a proud Southerner. I moved north almost 25 years ago after accepting a job offer on leaving the Navy, and have pined for the South ever since.

There are many things I miss about living in the South, none more than the food. Let’s face it; Yankees just do not know how to cook. I never order grits in the North even if they are on the menu (which they usually are not). Grits in the North are usually instant grits, which no self-respecting Southerner would ever eat. There is a restaurant on I-75 in Kentucky about halfway through the state where I stop every trip south to end my grits fast. It is the first restaurant I come to which offers a genuine southern breakfast, 24 hours a day. I always order grits, bacon, and eggs sunny side up. I dice the bacon and eggs, and thoroughly mix them into my grits… aaaahhhhhh. Some people like to add a touch of sorghum, I do not.

I do like sorghum. While most people drown their pancakes in maple syrup, I find a few drops of sorghum on each pancake will cure any sweet tooth. I brought a bottle of sorghum back from South Carolina on one of my trips home. That same bottle has been sitting under my counter since before my daughter was born. Sorghum has a longer shelf life than nuclear waste and unlike sugar and other syrups, just a few drops is all you need.

However, there is more to southern cuisine then grits and sorghum. As my “Uncle” Bobby says, “In the South we use every part of the pig but the squeal.” Which brings me to some southern foods I will not eat. If it’s green and boiled I pass. Also, I like bacon, pork chops, ham, and ham steaks. However, I leave the rest of the pig to my compatriots.

Ladysmith General Store & Post Office

Ladysmith General Store & Post Office (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have to say my favorite is boiled peanuts (just above black-eyed peas and rice). Not only can you not get boiled peanuts in the North, most people in the North have never heard of boiled peanuts; and have no idea what you’re talking about. The normal way to acquire boiled peanuts is to find a pickup truck on the side of a country road somewhere with the tailgate down. If someone is sitting on that tailgate, legs dangling over the edge, then you have come to the right place. The boiled peanuts are in the small brown paper bags stacked to one side near the tailgate. However, a Southerner in exile takes what he can get. Once, my wife found a can of boiled peanuts at a grocery store on the “scratch and dent” shelf. I saved that can for months until she finally threatened to throw it out. Then, with great ceremony, I opened my can and held court from my couch in front of the TV on a Saturday afternoon. The occasion I chose to enjoy this tantalizing, mouth-watering treat was equally momentous. I watched an SEC football team whip up on a Big 10 football team (which usually happens when these two conferences meet). In Columbus Ohio, most Buckeye fans think that all college football teams in the South are part of the SEC, they are not. They also seem to think that the Gators, Hurricanes, and Seminoles are all one team. Please do not be harsh, you need to understand Buckeye fans; they live in a state that is so poor they can only afford one good college football team.

Ah, but football is another story, back to my tale.

I remember as a small boy growing up in the South we had general stores. General stores were similar to our convenience stores today, except the general stores had a wider selection of products for sale. I can remember going to the back row where all the products were covered in 3 inches of dust and 30-year-old price tags (which the clerk would honor). I would walk up and down those aisles just to see what I could find. Another great feature of the old general store is the large glass and wood display cases near the cash register. This was where I found penny candy, which the clerk would dutifully put in a very small brown paper bag for me to take home. On top of the display cases were always large pickle jars filled with pickles, pickled eggs, pickled pig ears, and pickled pig’s feet (along with anything else the proprietor could think of to pickle). These I also passed up.

RC Cola

RC Cola (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a small boy, my brother Jeff and I lived a 30 min. walk from the nearest general store. We would leave our home and walk all the way down the road to the general store, Jeff on one side of the road and me on the other. This was before the TV commercials with the Indian who looked at the trash alongside the road and cried. So, we could leave our house broke and with just the soft drink bottles we found along the  roadside (three cents for a pint bottle, five cents for quart bottle, no metric back then) purchase a feast at the general store. This usually meant an RC Cola and a Moon pie. I liked the chocolate Moon pies and Jeff liked the banana Moon pies. For just $.25 we would enjoy our feast, hand the empty RC bottle back to the clerk, and sauntered back home, kings of the world or at least kings of Silver Lake.

Our general store (the Silver Lake Grocery) had a hitching rail on each side of the front door. We would sit under the hitching rail and enjoy our feast and if we got there at noontime, we shared our table with local laborers on their lunch break. I remember one time a group of men all having pickled pig’s feet for lunch. Except one man, who was enjoying a pig’s ear sandwich and taking considerable abuse from his coworkers. The man with the sandwich quietly took the abuse until he was finished his sandwich and then calmly turned and looked at his friends saying, “Well at least I know where my ear’s been.” That ended lunch.

A photograph of the Public Works Peanut Boil i...

A photograph of the Public Works Peanut Boil in Statesboro, Georgia in the Summer of 2008. The Peanut Boil is a free to the public event held each year and sponsored by the Public Works Department of the city of Statesboro, Georgia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Sunday’s Post: A Little Something Different


“My Cup-O-Joe”


I am a Southerner, but I have been living in the north for almost 25 years; even so there are somethings that will always be southern about me.

This “Cup-O-Joe” is no different than the others, you get a little story for dessert.

Southern food, I miss you

Southern food, I miss you (Photo credit: Mat Honan)

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Filed under Cup-O-Joe, New