Linthead Stomp, Act One

The Cast:

  • Jimmy Shepherd
  • Wesley
  • Matt
  • Mrs. Shepherd
  • Mr. Tinsley
  • Mrs. Watson
  • Johnnie Watson
  • Billy Herndon
  • Josh Sims

 

 

ACT ONE

 

The action all occurs inside a log cabin that is furnished sparsely and simply. There is a horseshoe over the door on the outside and a shotgun hanging over the door on the inside. A 1927 calendar is tacked to the wall. There is a portable wind-up gramophone in the room. A banjo is hanging on the wall. 

A late middle-aged woman is sitting in a chair, shelling peas. 

She hears the voices of men approaching outside, shouting and laughing. She stands up, wipes her hands on her apron and walks toward the door. Just before she reaches it Jimmy, Wesley and Matt burst in. Wesley walks with a bad limp. Jimmy rushes over, laughing. He grabs the woman in a hug and lifts her off the floor. 

            MRS. SHEPHERD: Put me down, you durn fool!

Jimmy, laughing, puts her down and kisses her on the top of the head. Wesley and Matt laughing while they watch. 

            MRS. SHEPHERD: Jimmy Shepherd, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. Coming home all liquored up in the middle of the day and acting like you ain’t got good sense.           

            JIMMY: Aw, Mama. We’re celebrating! (Looking at the other men) Ain’t we boys?

WESLEY (jolly): That’s right!

MATT (jolly): Yes, ma’am. We are.

MRS. SHEPHERD (skeptical): Celebrating? What in tarnation could y’all be celebrating?

JIMMY (pulls a wad of bills from his pocket, beaming, and shows it to her): Nothing but this here $300! (teasingly) I bet that’s more money than you done ever seen at one time in your whole life.

MRS. SHEPHERD (surprised): How in the Sam Hill to you get that much money?

WESLEY (excited): We all got that much Miz Shepherd! (takes his money out and shows it to her) Me and Matt got us $300 too!

Matt nods, smiling, and then pulls a wad of bills out of his pocket too. 

            MRS. SHEPHERD: Well, I know doggone well that y’all didn’t get all that money by doing no honest labor.

JIMMY (cheerfully): Honest? We was honest, won’t we fellas? (Wesley and Matt laugh and nod) We just honestly run us a load of first rate liquor up to the fine thirsty citizens of Winston and the man there just honestly gave us one thousand United States dollars for it and we just honestly thanked him kindly and drove honestly back home with his money in our pockets.

MRS. SHEPHERD (scoldingly): Y’all laugh all you want to, but you’re lucky you didn’t get yourselves shot by the revenuers. You don’t know them people down there and you take a mighty big risk when you run across the state line like that. (pauses) Y’all all gonna end up in prison if you ain’t careful.

JIMMY: Careful? Careful is our middle name, ain’t it boys? (they nod and laugh)

MRS. SHEPHERD: Well, what happened to the rest of it?

JIMMY: What do you mean?

MRS. SHEPHERD: You said y’all got paid one thousand dollars and if y’all each got three hundred then that leaves another hundred dollars. What happened to the other hundred?

The men squirm and seem to grow a little nervous. 

            JIMMY: We give the other hundred to Daniel Everett, for letting Annie Mae help us.

MRS. SHEPHERD (incredulous): Annie Mae? Annie Mae?? Annie Mae ain’t nothing but a child! How in the world did she “help” you?

JIMMY (trying to stay cheerful, but a bit uncomfortable): She ain’t had to do nothing but just right by me in the front of the truck.

MRS. SHEPHERD: You took that child with you?!

JIMMY: Just for looks, Mama. Ain’t nobody gonna stop a truck with a little girl sitting in the front seat. (smiling) Who ever heard of a moonshiner taking a little girl with him on a liquor run?

Mrs. Shepherd slaps Jimmy on the shoulder.

MRS. SHEPHERD (indignantly wagging her finger at them): Shame on you Jimmy Shepherd! Shame on all y’all! Putting that little girl in danger like that! Y’all ought to be ashamed of yourselves!

The men squirm uncomfortably.

JIMMY (protesting): Aw, come on Mama. Won’t nobody in no danger. Annie Mae was just there for looks. That’s all. All she knew is that she got to ride the truck to Winston and back.

MRS. SHEPHERD: Three scoundrels, that’s what y’all are. And riding on the highway to hell.

When Jimmy begins to put his money back in his pocket, Mrs. Shepherd reaches out and snatches some of it away, then stuffs it down the front of her dress. Jimmy starts to object, then thinks better of it and says nothing. The other two men are snickering. 

            MRS. SHEPHERD: I’ve got to go milk. If y’all want something to eat, there’s some biscuits and fatback on the stove. Just help yourself.

Mrs. Shepherd exits. The men laugh nervously. 

            MATT: Your mama is more dangerous than the revenuers.

JIMMY (dismissively): You notice she didn’t mind taking the money though. Her talk don’t bother me none. Our family’s been running liquor since before she was born.

WESLEY: Good thing you didn’t tell her everything. She mighta took a frying pan to your head.

MATT: I don’t mind saying I was scared shitless. Would you have shot him Wesley? I mean, if he had looked in the back of the truck? Would you?

WESLEY: I don’t know. I reckon so. My heart was beating a hundred miles an hour.

JIMMY: Aw, y’all quit. That fool won’t gonna look in the back of the truck. Not after he saw Annie Mae looking all sweet-like.

MATT: How come he stopped you then?

JIMMY: He must notta seen her.

MATT (dubious): I don’t know, Jimmy. Seemed to me like he was fixing to search the truck.

WESLEY: He was! And he woulda found the liquor and us both if he hada took off that tarp.

JIMMY (dismissively) Everything was under control boys. Everything was smooth.

Jimmy takes a bottle from his inside coat pocket, takes a swig and passes it to Matt. 

            WESLEY: You ain’t fooling me Jimmy. I heard it. “What you hauling?” “Got me a load of watermelons.” “Mind if I have a look?”

Matt hands the bottle to Wesley, who takes a drink. 

            JIMMY (confident and nonchalant): See why it pays to be smooth? “Sure, go on and have a look,” I told him. “They’re three for a dollar if you want some for yourself.” (laughs)

MATT (sarcastically): Mr. Smooth. Well, you wouldn’ta felt so damn smooth up under that tarp holding the shotgun.

WESLEY: We can thank the good Lord that Annie Mae started squalling about having to go to the bushes.

JIMMY: All part of the plan, boys. Like when I told him I’d need his help strapping the load back down, seeing how it took an hour to do it. (laughs)

WESLEY: Seems to me like we got lucky.

JIMMY (smiling): Seems to me like we got a thousand dollars.

Wesley shakes his head, chuckling.

MATT: I’ll hand it to you, Jimmy. You bluffed him good.

JIMMY (cheerfully): Enough of all that boys. We’re in the clear now and with a pocketful of money.

Jimmy takes another swig and passes the bottle around again. 

JIMMY: Let’s celebrate with a number boys. Yonder’s Mama’s fiddle and my old guitar.

Jimmy takes down the banjo on the wall and begins playing, while Wesley picks up the fiddle and begins tuning it. Matt steps across the room and comes back with a guitar, tuning it as he walks. 

They play “Shootin’ Creek,” obviously enjoying themselves greatly.

When done they all laugh and back slap, then pass the bottle around again.

JIMMY (cheerfully): Woo-doggie, boys! Ain’t nothing I like better than some good whiskey and some good music!

They all put their instruments back. 

            JIMMY: This doggone cash is burning a hole in my pocket, boys. What y’all gonna do with y’all’s?

MATT: Mine was spent before I got it. I reckon it’s gonna be just about enough to pay my bills and keep food on the table a little longer.

WESLEY (seriously): Mine’s spent too. I’m going up to Baltimore to the hospital there and get my foot fixed. I’m praying that my clubfoot days will soon be over.

Matt nods. Jimmy looks back and forth and both of them, then starts laughing. 

            JIMMY: Well, now! Y’all can just go and waste your money if you want to, but I’m gonna put mine to good use!

Matt chuckles and rolls his eyes. 

WESLEY: This ought to be good. So what are you gonna do with yours, Jimmy?

JIMMY: I am going to go to Lynchburg and buy me the fanciest banjo in the store, that’s what I’m going to do.

WESLEY: Can’t you think of something better to spend it on than a banjo?

JIMMY (laughs): No, I can’t. Not a thing in the whole damn world.

MATT: You might want to save a little of it, Jimmy. I know you got bills that needs paying.

JIMMY: Oh hell, boys. There’s plenty more where this came from!

Jimmy takes another swig from the bottle. 

            JIMMY: Just as soon as the good folks of Winston are thirsty again, we’ll run ‘em some more.

WESLEY: Not me.

Jimmy looks at him, surprised. 

            MATT: Me neither.

Jimmys turns and looks at Matt, then back at Wesley, seemingly bewildered.

JIMMY: Y’all must be pulling my leg. It’s easy money.

WESLEY: I ain’t pushing my luck, Jimmy. As soon as I get my foot fixed I’m gonna get me a regular job.

MATT: Me and Wesley are going to Leaksville. Done signed up the whole family.

JIMMY: Y’all done lost y’all’s minds!

WESLEY: It’s done got too dangerous here, Jimmy. And the mill pays pretty good money.

JIMMY: It don’t pay squat! Not compared to what you get from selling liquor. You been making whiskey since you was old enough to walk. Why you wanna quit now?

WESLEY (slyly): Who said anything about quitting?

JIMMY (intrigued): Y’all done lost me, boys. Didn’t y’all just say you was fixing to move to Leaksville to work in the mill?

MATT: Yep. Contract is for the whole family.

WESLEY: But I reckon them mill workers get thirsty too.

Jimmy seems to be in thought for a few seconds, then breaks into a big smile. 

JIMMY: I reckon you wouldn’t have to haul your liquor 80 miles no more to sell it, would you?

WESLEY (smiling): I reckon not.

MATT: And once all them hardworking folks gets to drinking good liquor, what they gonna want next?

JIMMY (pauses in thought, then laughs and slaps Matt on the back): Well, I reckon they might enjoy some good music then, wouldn’t they?

MATT (smiling): I reckon they sure might.

WESLEY: They got a dance hall there, Jimmy. And plenty of other places to play. We won’t have to hoof it all around the country trying to find an audience. And we’ll make us good money playing there too.

JIMMY (laughing): Well shut my mouth, boys. Y’all done got it all figgered out. Music and moonshine—them’s my two favorite things. Music, moonshine and a milltown—that right there might be just the right combination.

MATT: Go on and sign up too, Jimmy. We’ll paint that town. And it won’t hurt us none to have respectable jobs too.

WESLEY: Yeah, come on with us Jimmy. The world is changing. It’s time to move on from here.

JIMMY: It’s mighty tempting. Let me think on it, boys.

WESLEY: Alright. I’m going home fore Ma sends somebody out looking for us.

MATT: Good idea. We’ll see you soon Jimmy.

Matt and Wesley shake Jimmy’s hand and exit stage left. 

Jimmy seems deep in thought. Then he suddenly laughs. He picks up his banjo, takes a seat and plays “Moving Day.” When he finishes, he takes a long drink from the bottle, finishing it.

 

CURTAIN

Linthead Stomp

This past summer I wrote a three act play, loosely based on the life of Charlie Poole. Having had no luck finding anyone interested in producing it (and admittedly not having tried very hard), I’ve decided to just go ahead an publish it here, on the off chance anyone may want to read it.

I was inspired to try this after a delightful evening listening to the great Kinney Rorrer tell stories of the North Carolina Ramblers and the music that emerged from the mill towns of the South. Mr. Rorrer is Charlie Poole’s biographer and is a leading expert on the music of the era, as well as being an accomplished banjo player himself. My play, while based on true stories, conflates the story of Charlie Poole and the Ramblers and the role some of the music played in labor unrest at the mills during the 1930’s. Having said that, my characters are all fictional, and the play doesn’t deserve to be called historical.

As anyone who reads it will see, it is a type of musical that requires the actors to also be musicians–and able to perform a particular style of music that isn’t well-known today. Obviously bringing something like this to stage would be challenging. At this point I think it very unlikely to happen. One of the advantages of using this blog as a platform for it, is that I should be able to embed recordings of the songs themselves into the script. We’ll see.

In any event, look for the first act of Linthead Stomp soon.

Bill

 

 

Catching Up

Wow. It’s hard for me to believe it’s been over a year since I last posted. And to think there was a time when I dutifully posted every single day.

I didn’t intend to stay away so long–just got caught up in other things and eventually blogging fell out of mind.

So what’s been happening here? Well, let’s see. We had some hurricanes and lots of baby goats. We grew some good food and we went on vacation. The surprising success of my novel is probably the most interesting occurrence of the last year. That’s been very satisfying.

Cherie and I have been trying to be more diligent about enjoying our semi-retirement. We’re both history buffs so we’ve been taking time every week to visit and enjoy the nearly endless supply of historical sites in our part of the world. I now regularly blog about history on Facebook. I haven’t gotten around to creating an author page yet, but it’s one of the things on my lengthy and neglected to-do list. In the meantime, “friend” me (Bill Guerrant) for a daily dose of historical tidbits.

For my longtime blogger friends–I hope you’re all well! My apologies for dropping out of sight and for not visiting your blogs in so long. I’m looking forward to reconnecting.

 

Reviews

What kind of person receives a compliment, then goes on the internet to brag about it? In most cases I would say such a person is behaving badly and needs a good dose of humility. But how else can authors, especially those without publicists, draw attention to favorable reviews, in hopes of persuading potential readers that their books have merit? There may be better ways, but I haven’t figured them out. So, at the risk of my character, this post is about the reviews my novel Jim Wrenn has been getting.

When I published the book in January, I worried that even though it seemed a good effort to me, readers might find it be bad. Perhaps embarrassingly bad. When I was interviewed by the local paper after the release, I said just that. “I don’t know if the book is any good. It might be embarrassingly bad.” I’m pretty sure that is not the best way to drum up interest in the book.

But to my great delight and relief, the reviews have been excellent! I couldn’t be happier with how powerfully the story is resonating with many of the people who have read it.

Jim Wrenn now has over 20 five star reviews on Amazon. Most are from people I don’t know.  I’m very grateful for good reviews from friends, but the reviews from strangers are particularly satisfying, because I don’t have any reason to wonder about their sincerity.

Reviews on Amazon are very helpful to authors of course, so I very much appreciate them. But most readers don’t leave Amazon reviews. And some of the comments I’ve received in other ways have been greatly encouraging.

At one event a woman came up afterwards and told me that she had spent 40 years working in the spinning room at the mill. She said my book was the best description of it she’s ever seen. At another event, after telling me how much he loved the book,  a farmer in his 80’s told me that it reminded him of his childhood. “I know where Maple Grove is,” he said, as if he’d figured out a secret. “I recognize the places you describe.” He then announced, somewhat triumphantly, that Maple Grove was actually the community he grew up in (he called it by name)–a place I know only vaguely.  It felt good to know that this man recognized his home in the book–even though it wasn’t the same place I had in mind.

A woman I’ve know since I was a little boy sent me a note she’d received from her 80-something sister, also a former mill worker and tobacco farmer. “I really, really loved the book. So many good memories of my life growing up. Some so very real. Reading it has been one of the joys of my life….The man who wrote the book really has the facts right. Tell him thank you for me.” What red blooded author wouldn’t delight in receiving a note like that?

I’m very pleased that the book has also caused people to share their stories with me. After a talk I gave recently a man came up to me and said that his grandmother starting working at the mill when she was a child. At that time the rules required workers to be at least 12 years old (there was no such rule at the time of my story and many of the workers were under 12), so his grandmother smudged out the date in the family Bible, changing her date of birth to make it appear she was 12 so she could get the job. Later she tried to correct the date but left the entry so smudged that the family now isn’t sure when she was born. Another friend told me on Facebook that while her mother started working at the mill at age 12, her aunt started when she was 9 and had to stand on a box to reach the loom.

Probably the review that most stunned me was sent to me by a friend, who had given the book as a gift to one of his neighbors (who I didn’t know). The man liked the book so much that he bought copies for all his children, sending it to them with this note.

757

That’s the kind of review an author dreams about. To know that at least some people are getting what I was trying to say and do definitely makes it worthwhile.

Finally, I was blown away by a short review left on Amazon by a reasonably well-known author from California. I have no idea how he found about my book. It’s hard for me to imagine a better review: “A book that might save us. This is the novel I’ve been looking for. It is utterly gripping as it tells of lives that include great sorrow as well as joy. The values it promotes are the ones we need now, the ones that could save us.”

Now I’m sure there are people out there who don’t like the book. So far they’ve been kind enough not to say so.

So there. I have tooted my own horn. But be assured that if I had only a few good reviews amidst a bunch of bad ones, I wouldn’t have done it.

Please consider requesting the book from your local library.

Bill

 

 

 

Jim Wrenn

I’ve received enough feedback now to be able to say confidently that anyone who has enjoyed my blog posts here over the last ten years will likely also enjoy my novel Jim Wrenn.

Now available through libraries and bookstores. Also available at Amazon.com, of course.

jim-wrenn_book-promotion_SOCIAL-WEB-11-18-17

jim-wrenn_book-promotion_SOCIAL-WEB-11-18-17_b

But for those without the time or inclination to read a novel (particularly when you can’t be sure it will be worth your time), I’ll offer this poem from Wendell Berry, which is the epigraph for the book. It is perfect, I think, for the story I’m trying to tell.

In time a man disappears
from his lifelong fields, from
the streams he has walked beside,
from the woods where he sat and waited.
Thinking of this, he seems to
miss himself in those places
as if always he has been there,
watching for himself to return.
But first he must disappear,
and this he foresees with hope,
with thanks. Let others come.

Wendell Berry
Sabbaths: 2007, VII

On a Rainy Sunday

It’s been raining since morning, freezing as it lands and bending the branches of the trees. There’s wood in the stove and the animals are fed. It’s a good day to stay warm inside, and to finally put out another blog post.

Jim Wrenn is a hit. Locally, that is. Of course being a hit in our small community doesn’t make it a best-seller, by any stretch of the imagination. I’ll be lucky to recover my costs of publication. But it’s a story I wanted to tell and I’m glad I wrote it. The favorable reviews have encouraged me to write another one. I do have another story to tell, so I’ve been working on the sequel. I just wish I could type it out as fast as it comes to me.

We have seven new kids in the barn and, as always, they are a delight.

093

Yes, it’s a cold wet winter day. But in less than a week it will be time to start seeds. Spring is on the way.

Winter

We’re finishing up a week of record-setting brutally cold weather. It’s unusual for us to spend 24 hours below freezing, and we’ve gone six straight days now. Our pipes froze twice. This morning we awoke to sub-zero temperatures. I’ve never so looked forward to highs in the 40’s.

We have burned about a months’ worth of wood this week, and I have plenty to do outside. But it was so dang cold that I emphasized inside projects instead. For example, today I mapped out this years gardens and we placed our seed order. Gardens and warmer days are coming.

The last day of hunting season brought one final run-in with trespassers. I’m glad that annual ordeal is finally over. I took three deer this season–two for me and one for the food bank. For well over ten years now all the meat I’ve eaten has come from this farm. That’s a good feeling.

I’m very pleased at the positive reviews and feedback I’m starting to get on my book. I was worried it might bomb. It’s a relief to know people are finding merit in it.

Looking forward to tomorrow’s thaw.