Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bless My Soul Pilgrim

By Kerry Newcomb

I’m just sitting back and letting the mind wander which it tends to do whether I will it or not, sort of like nodding off while in the middle of a scene or a conversation or halfway through the preacher’s sermon, alas. I grow old and like some Prufrock wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. But all decrepitude aside, I shall press on with an actual blog entry, although I like to think of it as a morsel of my own brand of idyllic mind chatter, though my non-fans (and you know who you are) might think of it as mind swill. Dear me do I digress? Shall I stop to eat a peach? I always say there is nothing better than a good old-fashioned digression. Actually I don’t always say that, in fact I don’t even know what it means. And I could care even less. Why?

I write fiction, like a sailor setting out without his charts, spinning yarns and typing my manuscripts by the seat of my pants (which really looks odd at the local Starbucks) and hoping against hope I’ll not be hoisted on my own petard for taking liberties with the facts. Just the facts…ma’am.

Writers get asked a lot of things by their editors and fans. Often it’s about a manuscript that might have been turned in several months, maybe even a year ago. One’s head is jam-packed with the necessary information relating to the next work in progress. And then suddenly out of the blue….

(Ring ring)


“Hey, Newcomb, it’s Smartypants, your editor on that book you handed in last September.”

“Oh. (gulp) Hi. Nice to hear from you.”

“I’ve got a question for you, about that scene on page 432.”

(Holy crap was the book that long?) “No problem.”

“How far can a man run without a head?”

“Uh, how far did I have him run, counting momentum and all?”

“You wrote that he covers about seven feet and then collapses.”
“Yep. That’s it. A man with a good full out run can continue on for about seven feet after losing his head, provided he doesn’t run into a tree first.”

“Ok. I’ll tell the copy editor. Thanks.”


(Ring ring)


“Newcomb, Smartypants here. Say, do alligators eat raccoons?"

(A pregnant pause. Huh? Say something you fool. What alligator? Raccoon who? Bluff. Bluff.)


“Ok. I’ll tell the copy editor. Thanks.”


Many years after my novel Dawn Wind saw the light of day, I had a chance meeting with a fan who loved the book. He approached me with this:

“Hi Mr. Newcomb. Would you sign this for me? Say I loved the story. It was sure different. You know there is something I have been meaning to ask you. In the first part of the novel, that section in the town in Maine before the Confederate states secede and the war starts, you have a trio of children in the town running along the street, playing with a leopard stick. I hate to show my ignorance but I have always wondered, what exactly is a “leopard stick”? Was it some Colonial American toy?”

My mind went blank. I mumbled something about Yankee woodsmiths and the curious names for children’s amusements. As soon as I returned home from the signing I dug out a copy of the book and found the passage in question. Leopard stick? What on earth. In those days I hand wrote every novel and used a typist to turn my manuscript into a finished product that I could send off to the publishing house. As luck would have it I kept the handwritten manuscript.

I searched through the yellowed pages and came to at last to the scene. My penmanship was then, and still is, terrible. Dialogue and description tended to crawl off into the margins, whole passages were marked out and resembled barbed wire fences separating the sentences. And there it was.

Leopard stick…?

Wait…no, oh for pete’s sake, that’s “hoop and stick!”

My typist making the best of my handiwork had read it as “leopard stick” and never looked back. It had slipped past me. It had slipped past all the editors. And escaped.

My name is Kerry Newcomb. I write fiction.

Trust me.


  1. This made me laugh. I once had a copy editor wanting to know if it really was cold enough in Texas that you couldn't trail someone. That had me scratching my head trying to figure out what she was talking about until I realized I'd written that the trail had gone cold.

  2. Hilarious, Kerry. We sholuld open a File for these kind of stories. One author I know was asked by a copyeditor, "What is bean wind?" The answer: "Eat beans and wait."


  3. I love it. There's a big bean wind scene in Blazing Saddles.

  4. Laughed out loud at this one. "Leopard" sticks were still in use when I was a wee one.

  5. There was a great book came out some years back about misheard song lyrics. Three three that I recall were:

    1) "Thirty thieves and the thunder chief," from AC/DC. The line (and title) run, "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap."

    2) "'Cuse me while I kiss this guy," from Jimi Hendrix. Again the line (and title) really run, "Excuse me while I kiss the sky."

    And my favorite--

    1) "She's got electric boobs. A motor too..." from Elton John's "Bennie and the Jets." The line actually runs "She's got electric moves. A mohair suit ..."

    Tom Roberts
    Black Dog Books

  6. What a wonderful and funny story. I want me one of them leopard sticks.