Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cancer survivor Deb Wegent advises: LIVE IT UP!!!

Her husband calls her Wonder Woman. Her sons call her their hero.

I just call her Debra, my strong Italian, laughing, caring, dancing and determined friend since seventh grade who kicked two kinds of lymphoma with a slogan of “it’s not about cancer. It’s about life.”

And four years after a devastating diagnosis, I wasn’t surprised that Deb Lovoy Wegent was one of the cancer survivors selected to help carry the holy water when St. Vincent’s Hospital dedicated and blessed its new Bruno Cancer Center, a place where Deb and thousands of others (including me) have found hope and healing.

A blessing at the blessing: Deb Lovoy Wegent
with Bishop Emeritus David E. Foley
and Monsignor Michael Sexton
 at Bruno Cancer Center Dedication and Blessing.

“I was honored and thrilled beyond words,” Deb says about being selected to participate in the August 6, 2014 dedication and blessing.  “All those thousands of patients who have been treated there, and for my humble self to participate, I was floored.”  She accompanied Msgr. Michael Sexton as he blessed rooms and hallways of the new 71,000 square-foot facility. And her friend Louis Josof, an oncology counselor at the center and double cancer survivor, carried the holy water for Bishop Emeritus David E. Foley.

“They blessed every room, even the bathrooms, and we laughed when monsignor double blessed the break room because he said, “I bet there’s a lot of gossiping in there. A double dose.”

I was not really surprised that Deb would be selected to represent her fellow cancer patients at the dedication and blessing. I was so proud for her and thought her story needed to be told. So I insisted on telling it. 

Debra and me, as seniors, at FHS
Folks who know her understand that the barely five-foot-tall Debra would stand out as a smiling example of staying positive and seizing the day. She has always let her light shine, with laughter and care and fierce dedication to the people she loves and to her joy for life.

I met Deb Lovoy when Fairfield’s middle school kids all came together at Fairfield Junior High School. Deb had the first and the best “boy-girl parties” at Joe and Pauline Lovoy’s house in Fair Oaks, where we danced and perfected the “round-the-world,” a dance she and I still think we invented and can do better than anyone else (‘cept now we have to be careful with our old knees).  We went together to the Catholic school dances, where Deb knew everybody because she’s Catholic and double Italian, I call it, or “all Italian,” her daddy a Lovoy and her mother a Vizzina. Then, Debra and I worked at Mr. Steak together, wearing short-short skirts and making 75 cents an hour plus tips. And, we laughed a lot then, too.

Then, she and Frank Wegent -- her soul mate who graduated from  John Carroll and was older than us and had a cool car, always a cool car -- got married as soon as we graduated high school. I was a dotted-Swiss covered bridesmaid at their wedding at St. Paul’s Cathedral downtown, the first wedding party I’d ever been to where they had real food, not just mints and cake, but also a champagne fountain, a band and dance floor, and where the bride carried around a silk bag, just like in The Godfather, where people kept stashing money after they hugged and kissed the bride and groom. The Wegents lived in Birmingham, then, Selma, where we crossed paths again for several years, then back to Alabaster.

In June of 2010, Deb was a healthy banking professional, a financial specialist with 25 years with Regions Financial, and a fun-loving, Roll Tide yelling mother of two grown sons who are still the apples of her loving Italian-mother eyes. Then her life changed -- after severe leg and knee pain and coughing took her to her doctor’s office. An ultrasound revealed a two-and-one-half inch tumor in her groin area and 70 cancerous nodules in her chest and lungs.  They knew it was cancer that day, June 10, ironically the same day as her and Frank’s 36th wedding anniversary.

“I cried that day,” she remembers now. “I cried, Frank cried,” she says. “My boys cried,” she said of Sammy and Patrick Wegent.

Then, after a painful bone biopsy and a three week wait while results were analyzed at Vanderbilt, they learned the frightening full, confirmed diagnosis: a rare one-two-punch of Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  

“I decided then that it was my new job to conquer cancer,” she says, laughing.

Laughter, she said, and humor, guided her and her close-knit family through 46 chemotherapy treatments over four years -- six months of chemotherapy with four different drugs, then a couple years later, five weeks of more intense treatments and a stem cell transplant, from her own chemically-scrubbed cells, at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Through it all, Deb found reasons to smile and laugh – with help from her clever husband Frank, who runs grocery stores, started out working for Mr. Joseph Bruno and cracks wry-humor jokes as easy as egg shells. He was literally Nurse Frank during  their five weeks living at the Nebraska hospital’s treatment center.  He trained on how to check vital signs, dispense her medicine and serve as fulltime practically-a-nurse. “I tried to steal him a white coat,” she laughs, but never did.

Smiles, laughter and feeling blessed also came with the help of her sons, whom she still calls her “boys.”

Son Sammy, 35, flew in from San Francisco several times to take Mom to chemo treatments. On the west coast after earning bachelor and master’s degrees in theater and acting, Sammy works with computer game creator Zynga, does improv comedy and created a corporate training program called Speechless that uses the fear of the PowerPoint presentations, comedy, satire and improvisation to teach corporate folks how to better communicate and speak in public. Google just sent Sammy and his Speechless partners to India to present to its employees there. Deb has the Newsweek article from the week of Nov. 10, 2014, to prove it. Here’s the link. .

See, laughter runs in their family.

Patrick, 32, talked to his mom most every day and came for treatments and doctor meetings, too, from Pensacola where he is an accountant, having graduated from the Wegents’ beloved University of Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s in management. When his mother got sick, he posted a picture of him and his mom as his Facebook profile picture, and kept it there, calling her his hero.

Three months into her chemotherapy at Bruno Cancer Center, under the care of Dr. Ira Gore, who she calls “brilliant,” the doctor said Deb's latest PET scan “was spectacular.” The family celebrated. But they did three more months of chemo to be sure. Still, Sammy posted on his Facebook page when they heard the first good news, “My Mom just kicked cancer’s ass!”

Deb says she was blessed, blessed to have the Bruno Cancer Center, a brilliant oncologist, a devoted family, loving friends, supporters among other cancer patients and an early tolerance for chemo that left her bald (but with a Rachel Welch wig), but not badly nauseated or as sick as so many of her fellow patients. 

“During treatments, I’d unplug and go around visiting other patients, trying to help them feel better. At least make them laugh.” It was tough, and she would be wrung out, but, she says, “everytime I go to treatment, I feel blessed, because there are so many people in worse situations, so many people fighting.”  So, some days, she’d just tell herself, “Deb, quit your damn whining.”

Deb was on maintenance immunity treatments when the chance came to receive a stem cell transplant with Dr. Philip Bierman, a stem cell expert who Dr. Gore had consulted earlier about Deb’s case, at the famed University of Nebraska’s Medical Center.  The transplant might decrease the chances of the cancers returning.

So, Frank took five weeks off work, and in May of 2013, they were at the University of Nebraska. “The first morning, Frank looks at me, and says, now we are LIVING at the damn hospital,” she says, laughing again.

The chemo at Nebraska Medical did make her sick, severely so. She received  ten chemo treatments in six days. Heavy duty chemicals aimed to eliminate all cancer cells (and therefore all the white cells, too) before the stem cell transplant, which she says is sort of like dialysis. They used her own stem cells, cleaned, frozen, infused, and then thawed and returned to her in a six-hour infusion. “I called that my Life Machine.” She said Robin Roberts, television personality, had a similar stem cell treatment, and her sister donated the stem cells for Roberts’ procedure.

At Nebraska Medical and at Bruno Cancer Center, and in support groups at both, Deb said she’s met many people, strong people, people who became her heroes. Some of them are gone now; others, like Debra, are still fighting, every day.

These days, Deb has a monthly Gamma treatment, to boost her immune system, is having her “baby shots,” childhood immunizations again because the chemo and stem cell transplant stripped all the protection out of her system. She still has tests and rechecks, and she hopes and prays that the hard-fought stem cell treatment – and a positive attitude and lots of laughter and prayers  – keep the cancers at bay.

In the meantime, she still lives her mantra – one she always told her sons even before this happened  -- to “LIVE IT UP.”

Live it up today. Enjoy today. Cherish today. Dance today. Laugh today. You don’t know what’s coming tomorrow.

Picture of the day:

Deb Wegent at dedication and blessing event
with fellow cancer survivors Natalie Hooks, patient navigator, left,
and Louis Josof, right,who is oncology counselor at the Bruno Cancer Center

Song of the Day:

"Did you ever know that you're my hero
and everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
'cause you are the wind beneath my wings."

-- From Wind Beneath My Wings (written by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley), a special song to Debra

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

FLASH FICTION: Some Broken Dishes

As promised, from Page 74 of, here is my award-winning entry in Flash Fiction.


(Flash Fiction, third place, 
Alabama Writers Conclave literary competition)
By Jackie Romine Walburn

The concrete front steps felt hot and bumpy through the thin cloth of my dress as Roger and me sat there, bracing for the crashing, up-and-down sounds coming from inside our house. 
I could feel the step’s rocky imprints through the cotton of my faded red and white sailor dress – the beloved one Momma made with the polka dots and big collar. I’d put on the dress that morning, hoping that seeing me in my favorite dress would stop another fight between my two most loved people. 
It hadn’t.
Instead, fear and heat radiated from the concrete into my confused four-year-old soul as we sat on the steps and waited, holding hands, me flinching with each new noise -- thrown dishes and raised voices.
Our legs stretched out in front of us, Roger’s two and a half years longer and bigger. We looked out on the yard Daddy had mown yesterday after he got off work from the steel mills, coming in sweating and smelling of metal and smoke, with his big boots, shiny hard hat and funny-looking eyeglasses.
I looked down my skinny legs to the sidewalk and considered our unused chalk hopscotch lines, the ones Roger had drawn for me. I couldn’t make myself jump, hop or skip. From inside we heard the loud see-saw voices of our parents. Shouted words we couldn’t understand came from Momma, and then stern answers, less loud, from Daddy.
Another dish crashed, and a smile flashed across Roger’s brown butch-cut framed face. I already knew that loud, crashing, breaking things appealed to my brother. I didn’t know then if all boys were like that.
 “That was a big plate, I think,” he said. “Bet there’s a mess in there.”
Roger squeezed my hand but avoided my eyes, realizing even then that he wasn’t old enough and eventually, strong enough, to protect little sister from the noise of broken dishes, raised voices or other things we didn’t yet understand.
The front door opened and Daddy came out fast. He caught the door before he slammed it, stopped, tried a smile and asked, “uh, y’all don’t feel like playing?”
Inside, I heard Momma making loud crying, choking noises, and the sound of glass hitting the bottom of a trash can. I got up to go comfort her like she’d done for me so many times.
Daddy reached his big hand to my shoulder and hugged me to his hip. Roger got up then and took Daddy’s other side. “Better not go in. Best leave Momma alone right now.”
Daddy looked out into the yard, at the chalk filled sidewalk, the freshly mowed grass, and his 1950 Chevrolet Fleetline parked in front. He took a deep breath, and I thought Daddy would cry too, something I’d never seen.
Instead, he guided us back to the steps and sat down between us.  “Yeah babies. Maybe we better not go in right now. Some things got broken in there today.”


Some editorial comments:
  1. BROKEN DISHES: This is a sad story, and, yes, it’s partly autobiographical, at least the emotions are. Most fiction is rooted in truth, and so it is with this flash fiction piece, set in the late 1950s and early 1960s, back when divorce seemed as rare and new as long-haired rock n’ rollers. I know we often felt like we were the only ones. So, I pondered about how and when to post this short-short story, not wanting to be a Debbie Downer. (Wah Wah.) But, kind of like what happens in the 492-word piece, it just is what it is.
  2. FLASH FICTION: I debated with myself about how to share this piece and decided to just lead with the flash fiction story, which began as my first attempt at a short story. Flash fiction, for this contest, was fiction of 500 words or less. I've since researched this genre, which is also called microfiction, microstories, short-shorts, short short stories, very short stories, sudden fiction, postcard fiction, and nanofiction. Flash fiction is brief, usually no longer than 1,000 words, usually has a beginning, middle and end and often a surprise or twist at the end. In my research, I found a one sentence example: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." This six word story is traditionally attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but his authorship has been questioned. Regardless, it’s brief, powerful and tells a story. A sad one.
  3. TROUBLE BLUES: If you go to, my first chapter novel entry is listed as TROUBLE BLUES and begins on Page 9. Trouble Blues is actually the title of PART ONE of the book, which is currently called “Mojo Jones and The Black Cat Bone.” I named the book parts and chapters for songs (mostly blues songs), a connection to the Alabama Black Belt setting and good and evil theme, plus a main character, Mojo, who sings the blues and nicknames folks he likes and loves with song nicknames. And, it was plain fun connecting song names to action and emotions in each part and chapter. (And, I envision the songs in a soundtrack of the movie based on the novel; dream big!) However, if an agent or publisher likes Trouble Blues better as a novel name, the change will be made in a FLASH.
  4. I hope readers can find time to read other award-winning entries at I particularly liked the other first chapter novel (FCN) entries. The all-volunteer Alabama Writers Conclave, that sponsors the contest, is in its 91st year as one of the oldest on-going writers group in the United States. The $25 membership fee -- which gets you a discount on the annual meeting, where you learn from agents, authors, professors and poets, and on the annual literary competition entry fees, plus a newsletter -- is the best $25 any writer can invest. For writers out there, find out more at
Song of the day:
The Wind Cries Mary
                        by Jimi Hendrix

"A broom is drearily sweeping
Up the broken pieces of yesterdays life
Somewhere a queen is weeping
Somewhere a king has no wife
And the wind, it cries Mary"

Picture of the day: 

On a lighter note, here is sunset scene on Pine Barren Creek
at the Wilcox-Dallas County line, as it flows into the Alabama River.
I see Orange and Blue.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Reading to write, some quotable quotes

This is for the writers, and readers, out there.
I’m one of both, and to listen to the experts -- writers and readers themselves -- writing and reading go together like peas and carrots, words and sentences, war and eagle, even roll and tide, or whatever simile you prefer. 
If Stephen King and a bunch of other great bestselling authors are to be believed, you have to do one to succeed at the other.
In his gift to us writers, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” King says: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There's no way around these two things that I'm aware of, no shortcut.”
Thinking of the King quote -- the latest justification for my lifelong reading habit --I found a subject for today's blog post-- which is a priority as I realized it’s been a month today since my last post here.  (When I began this personal blog in my downsized haze in 2009, I posted every week. That schedule slid substantially since then, through jobs, family, assorted tasks and an iPhone with Words with Friends on it.)
Researching quotes from writers about writing and reading, I found many gems I share here. Some address my current other pressing challenge of completing revisions to my oft-written about novel, now in its sixth revision (and with a new self-imposed deadline I'll discuss in the next post). 

I start with a some other bits of wisdom from King, appropriate to me and any other writer’s reading and revising self:
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” 
 “You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” 

 “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” 

 “Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 

-- all from Stephen King, "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft"
A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God." - Sidney Sheldon
 "Read, read, read, and read."- Larry McMurtry 
"It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way." - Ernest Hemingway

"Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use." - Mark Twain

"And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name." - William Shakespeare (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

“If you want to write, you've got to shut yourself up in a room and write.” -- Larry Brown
"If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write." - Somerset Maugham

"It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly." - C. J. Cherryh
"Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer. - Ray Bradbury

"Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short." - Henry David Thoreau

 "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." - Douglas Adams

"Words are a lens to focus one’s mind." - Ayn Rand

"Half my life is an act of revision." - John Irving

"People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it." - Harlan Ellison
"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." - E. L. Doctorow

"Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good." - William Faulkner

 "Begin with an individual, and before you know it you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find you have created – nothing." - F. Scott Fitzgerald
 "The work never matches the dream of perfection the artist has to start with." - William Faulkner

"The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story." - Ursula K. Le Guin
"Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them." - Flannery O’Connor
 "I can’t write five words but that I change seven." - Dorothy Parker
 "There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write. - Terry Pratchett
 "Omit needless words." - No. 17 “Elements of Style” by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
"Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them." - Isaac Asimov

"Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences." - Anne McCaffrey

“All the information you need can be given in dialogue."- Elmore Leonard

"All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary—it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences." - Somerset Maugham

"Exercise the writing muscle every day, even if it is only a letter, notes, a title list, a character sketch, a journal entry. Writers are like dancers, like athletes. Without that exercise, the muscles seize up." - Jane Yolen

"If you write one story, it may be bad; if you write a hundred, you have the odds in your favor." - Edgar Rice Burroughs

"Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it." - Truman Capote

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” - Philip Roth
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”  - Stephen King
“It wasn't that I had gotten it right . . . but that I had gotten true.”  - Rick Bragg
 “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”  - George Orwell
“Not a wasted word. This has been a main point to my literary thinking all my life.”- Hunter S. Thompson
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” - Ernest Hemingway
 “Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it’s work. … Belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.” -Stephen King

 “For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”  - Catherine Drinker Bowen
 “The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.” - Samuel Johnson
“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.” - Elmore Leonard
“Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.” - Larry L. King
“I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.”- Tom Clancy
 “When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done.”  - Stephen King
 “Beware of advice—even this.” - Carl Sandburg
“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” - Harper Lee
 “Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”- Ray Bradbury
And finally, another of my hero authors speaks of printed books versus digital (a subject for yet another post):
“Weeping for Anna Karenina and being terrified by Hannibal Lecter, entering the heart of darkness with Mistah Kurtz, having Holden Caulfield ring you up — some things should happen on soft pages, not cold metal.” – Harper Lee

Picture of the day:
Post-it note with King's advice is still stuck to my computer monitor,
several years later.  King also says open the door for revisions;
my door is open, but the post-it note stays put.

Song of the day:

"Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write. Will you take a look?"
-- "Paperback Writer," The Beatles

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

First fiction awards bring joy, happy dance

They called my name twice at the Alabama Writers Conclave awards ceremony at Fairhope Saturday night – second place for first chapter, novel, for my first novel, “Mojo Jones and the Black Cat Bone,” and third place for flash fiction, a new category for fiction 500 words or less, for a piece I called “Broken Dishes."

Someone told me I did a little sashay when I walked up to get my certificates and checks. I don’t recall a conscious happy dance, but I don’t doubt it, because the awards were affirmation that I CAN WRITE FICTION THAT SOMEONE LIKES. 
Appropriately, my fiction teacher and editor Carolynne Scott was in the auditorium along with class member Steve Coleman, whose suggestion “that part about him being in the tree with the blow gun belongs in the first chapter” resulted in the latest revisions to the first chapter of the novel I began in 2009. MY FIRST NOVEL is still “in revisions” as they say, a sixth draft (or seventh?), hopefully the final one before I go after an agent and/or publisher and/or self-publishing.

See, this life-long writer, reporter, editor, corporate communications manager, never wrote fiction before this novel and the flash fiction piece that started out as a possible short story. That I won fiction writing awards – among more than 500 entries overall from Alabama and across the U.S. – leaves me more determined than ever to revise, pitch and get Mojo to readers who I hope love these characters as much as I do. I won honorable mentions for humor writing and creative non-fiction from AWC in the past, but those were not FICTION; neither were my long-ago news writing and feature writing awards.

I winged it as I began this novel – based on a kernel of a true story I covered when I was a reporter in Selma -- after I lost by public affairs manager job to the recession and another restructuring in late 2008. My novel was pretty much “finished” by my standards when I met and started working with Carolynne, a veteran editor and fiction writer who taught fiction writing at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for 30 years. She and members of our Wednesday night fiction writers’ class that meets at the Homewood Senior Center helped this reporter-turned-fiction-writer in countless ways.  One big lesson learned: revise, revise, revise. 

More than one published author (I'll name Mike Stewart and William Cobb) told me to "listen to Carolynne. She knows what she's doing." So, I have. 

Every Wednesday night, we read a section or chapter of something we are working on and get input from class members, and then Carolynne takes her red pen to what we turn in to her, returning the edited sheets back the next week. She’s had a time teaching this Associated Press style-trained just-the-facts reporter about the magic and mechanics of fiction.

This was my third try in the AWC contest for first chapter, novel, and third must have been the charm, as my oft-revised chapter placed and a snippet was read aloud to this room of writers, who applauded. No wonder I did a happy dance.

I won’t belabor the points – that I’m happy, excited and proud, and grateful for the expertise of Carolynne Scott and input of Wednesday night class members Yvonne Bennett Norton, the late Dr. John Norton, Willum Fowler, Mark Monosky, Steve Coleman and newest member David Roberts.

Instead, I’ll just do another little happy dance, make a copy of the checks to put on my bulletin board and share with you the current version of the first chapter of my first novel.  
(Note: My novel's chapters are named for songs, mostly blues songs.) 

I hope reading this makes you want to read more. 

A Novel by Jackie Romine Walburn

Chapter 1: Trouble Blues

t was early morning when the man with the coffee-cream skin and shining green eyes padded silently through the summer woods and climbed a moss-draped tree in front of Percy Williams’ shack.
He settled in the crotch of a water oak tree and reached for his side bag, feeling for the blow gun made of cane and palmetto, and for the dart with its poison tip. Later he’d wish he had brought a camera, but electronic surveillance had not been a part of his proclaimed mission for the Spirits.
Breathing deep and quiet and balancing catlike and still – in the way of his Native American ancestors -- the man stayed invisible as he became part of the waking forest.
The man who came out of the house – dressed in overalls over pasty white skin, barefoot and stumbling a bit – apparently didn’t notice the man or any other creatures outside his front stoop as he sat down. He opened a warm beer from the stack behind the bench, lit a cigarette and reached for the paper bag in his hiding place under the lard bucket.
The watcher in the tree saw two teen-age boys he knew – the ones he’d feared would be there – talking to Percy and sharing the sack’s contents. As Percy put a hand deep in his overalls and reached out to the boy closest to him, the man in the tree yelled a coyote call, “yep yah ah, yep yah ah,” and shouted, “DeMarcus and Anthony, run now!”
Already wired, then startled by the animal call and their names being shouted from the trees, the boys sprinted off the porch toward the woods and Chilatchee Creek.
As they disappeared into the underbrush, the man in the overalls scrambled down the crooked steps, looking for whoever had yelled; he moved toward the tree, out in the open. “What the hell?”
Then, the man in the tree brought the blow gun to his mouth, took a practiced breath and let the dart go, aiming for Percy Williams’ heart and hitting it dead on.


rederick Jones, 25 and at the wheel of his beat-up 1994 Toyota Corolla, was singing along with the radio tuned to the R&B station out of Birmingham and the Blues music his Uncle Mojo taught him to love. “Trouble, trouble, trouble. Trouble is all in the world I see,” he sang along with Lighting Hopkins.
But Frederick didn’t know about trouble. Not yet.
As he negotiated the curves on the road from Tuscaloosa and the University of Alabama south to his home in Style’s Bend in Wilson County, Frederick looked again at the 8 by 10 envelope on the time-and-travel stained passenger’s seat – evidence of his having passed the Alabama bar exam on the first try.
I’ve done it, Frederick thought, just like Grandma Ruth said I would.
Frederick smiled his widest smile and pushed up the dark-rimmed glasses his nearsightedness required, glasses that always prompted his classmates to say he looked like Roger on the “What’s Happening?” TV show. “What’s happenin’ Rog?” they’d tease him. He smiled at the memory but wondered at the worry creeping into his mind, even as he headed home, successful, after seven years of college, many a dean’s list and his childhood dream of being an attorney coming true.
“Something’s wrong,” he said out loud.
Then, so quick that he slammed on the brakes and sent his law school letter flying into the floorboard, an owl flew across the road directly in front of him. The barred owl missed his car by a few inches and appeared to turn and aim its brown owl eyes at him as it banked to the left and flew past the driver’s side. Frederick glanced in the rear view mirror and saw no cars behind him, so he stopped in the middle of Highway 5 and watched the owl, its stripe-rimmed eyes, yellow beak and long tail extending from the crisscrossed striped body, as it circled his car and flew back into the thick roadside woods.
“Damn,” he said, “I wonder what Big Momma woulda said about that?”  But he knew what his late great-grandmother would say. “Owl crossing ya path…. means bad luck, bad things gonna happen. Somebody gonna die.”
Frederick breathed deep, clenched his shaking hands on the steering wheel, and slowly sped up, as he saw a log truck coming around the curve behind him. Better speed up quick or it’ll be my death, he thought as he got the car moving to 55 and then 60 mph. He knew there was no place to pull off the highway along this stretch of the highway, save a dirt road or logging trail
“Get yourself together son,” he said, mimicking his Grandma Ruth’s refrain.
But Frederick knew, just as certain as the curves and turns on the road back home, that something was wrong.
heriff Kingston Lewis peered through the Spanish moss that hung from the water oak tree, pushing aside the cool gray tentacles and looking at the dead body propped up against the old oak. He looked past the dead, dark eyes, to the tiny black bag pinned to dirty overalls and the book with underlined passages clutched in stiff white fingers.
Percy Williams had been dead and staring at his beer-can strewn yard for a day or more, Lewis figured. And as he noted the tiny blood stain at heart height on Percy’s overalls, the sheriff was sure that Percy’s body had been moved after death, posed for someone to find.
“The coroner comin’?” Lewis asked his chief deputy, as he reached his hand to close the dead man’s eyes, but then stopped, his training telling him to wait for the coroner and pictures and procedures. The sheriff studied Percy’s face, beginning-to-bloat, and thought that Percy’s eyes looked just as blank and dead when he was alive.
Kingston Lewis knew Percy Williams, everyone did, as what locals would call a “sorry ass white man” and generally unpopular neighborhood menace in the mostly black Style’s Bend community. The sheriff knew him, also, as a suspected drug dealer and community pet killer, but no serious charge ever stuck.
 “Whatya think this means?” the sheriff asked Chief Deputy Bender, who was leaning against his squad car, filling out paperwork. “Looks like whoever did it was sending a message, don’t you think? A message with a voodoo bag attached.”
Bender walked over to the sheriff, and together they peered down at the victim of what was the first homicide in Wilson County in five years. “Yeah, Sheriff, that’s a mojo bag. We’ve both seen ‘em before, livin’ here. I ain’t never seen a black mojo bag though, and all the rest of it, sure, somebody wanted him to be found like this. They’s some hoodoo involved in this here, you ask me.”
Sheriff Lewis looked again around Percy’s yard, at the tumble-down cabin, sloping porch and broken steps. “Yeah, and who around here knows about mojo bags and voodoo?”
“Madame Butterbean?” Bender smiled.
“Yeah, the root lady. She probably does, but I’m thinkin’ about Mojo Jones. This looks like something Mojo Jones could help explain.
“Wait on the coroner for me, and probably need to call the ABI, so we can cover our asses on this one. I’ll be back in a little while,” Lewis said, as he climbed into his work car, Wilson County 1, and accelerated down the dirt road, kicking up dust and obscuring the legend written in gold script on the side of the vehicle: SHERIFF KINGSTON LEWIS, TO SERVE AND PROTECT.
As the dust settled, two young boys stepped out from behind a patch of privet hedge a hundred yards away towards Chilatchee Creek. They’d been hiding and watching most of the morning. The teen-aged cousins – one light colored, or “high colored” as his auntie called it, and the other a dark chocolate hue -- didn’t speak, for fear of being heard by the deputy who remained. Each knew what the other was thinking. He’s dead!
Then they smiled, perhaps for the first time in weeks, touched hands high in the air in a silent high five and turned and raced each other to the creek and back home.

Copyright © Jackie Romine Walburn. All rights reserved.

Song of the day: 

Hoochie Coochie Man, by Muddy Waters

“I got a black cat bone

I got a mojo too
I got the Johnny Concheroo
I'm gonna mess with you”

Me with AWC award certificates and my fiction
writing teacher and editor, Carolynne Scott.
Carolynne Scott's fiction writer class members
at Alabama Writers Conclave in Fairhope.
From left, me, Steve Coleman, Carolynne, Peggy
Carlisle and Stephen Edmondson, all of Birmingham.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Help! My blog is being "comment" spammed

It started slowly, the comment spamming of

More than 50 spam comments a day were being lobbed at me and my posts by the time I declared war – at least a major skirmish – on these robo-commenting sons of spam. 

The battle continues.

First, a definition.  Comment spam, also called blog spam or social spam, is a form of spamdexing, according to my online research. Think robo calls to a blog site.

Comment spam is automated, random comments that include links to commercial services of all stripes – from gambling to herbal mixes -- that are sent out en masse to blogs or any guestbook that allows open or anonymous comments.

The comment spammers’ goals are to increase the spammer’s website’s search engine ranking (online mentions), plus visibility, link clicks….and to aggravate the blogger. (I added the last part.) 

So, just like the spam that sometimes reaches folks’ e-mail and fax machines, even cell phones, comment spam is aggravating and inevitable in today’s cyber world. But it can be guarded against. I am learning about that, and battling comment spam takes more than a good, active computer security system (installed and working as I type). 

Stopping comment spam, I've learned, takes a little bit more. 

At first, comment spam came just once in a while to my personal blog. I'd get a random comment from “Anonymous," saying sometime general or jumbled.  Then the anonymous commenter added:  check out my detox cleanse or…table top ovens or some site with the SEX word in it. 

The actual first comment spam came on a post about Spring Breaks past and invited me to their website to learn more about generic Cialis. Yes, Inappropriate…..and probably not needed on most Spring Breaks.

Here is a notice about comment spam I received, via e-mail, just this morning.  

“Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Learning from writers every day; Live forever Bill...": 
What's up, the whole thing is going fine here and ofcourse every one is sharing information, 
that's really excellent, keep up writing.
My blog post

I never click on the spammer’s website, but I Googled this name. Sbobet is an online gambling and bookmaking site, headquartered in Asia, which offers betting in all major sports in multiple languages. As if worldwide gambling isn't bad enough, it goes and promotes itself with comment spam. BAD website. 

That last part -- publish, delete, mark as spam -- comes with every e-mail notice about anonymous comments.  This comment won’t be posted unless I say so. Therefore, I mark as spam and/or just delete, but it’s time-consuming and …did I say aggravating?

That particular post, “Learning from writers everyday; Live forever Billy Joe Shaver” was written after an Alabama Writers Conclave meeting and included a Shaver quote and picture of me and Billy Joe taken when he was at Zydeco in Birmingham. That post holds my blog’s comment spam record after receiving more than 70 (and counting) anonymous spam comments. Most of these were and are being stopped by’s spam filter. 

Don’t ask me why so much comment spam targeted this post that included a prized picture of me and Billy Joe Shaver, my honky tonk songwriting hero. But, I know Billy Joe wouldn’t put up with it for a minute. He would write some clever rhyming response and back it up, like he did in "Wacko in Waco,'' when somebody messed with him and his.

But, me, I just kept thinking this comment spam would go away; instead it sped up.

When I finally sat down to address the issue, my already crowded e-mail was overflowing with anonymous comments notices, 10, 20, 30 a day, so much so I worried I would miss some real e-mail, like maybe news from a friend, a writing opportunity or job search response. Hey, it could happen.

So I researched and got to work on my blog’s dashboard.  I found 841 comments in the spam comments section, more than 50 pages of comment spam that were never posted. I deleted all.

And then I deleted another 20 or more spam comments from the 80 or so published comments --the real published comments.  See, the real comments  from real readers are truly cherished by me and other bloggers. So, I hesitate to initiate one of the stop-comment-spam safeguards, which is disallowing anonymous comments. But I may have to.

The tainting of real comments (plus the aggravation) is what it so dastardly about comment spam. What is supposed to be real feedback, maybe even a compliment from a treasured reader, is a sideways, sneaky advertisement for anything and everything from little blue pills to work-at-home schemes.

Following online advice, I made changes to settings on my blog dashboard while I ponder initiating other changes. A few anonymous spam comments still show up daily in my e-mail, but not nearly as many as before the changes. I haven’t disallowed anonymous posting yet, but I turned on comment moderation, and I am researching how to install CAPTCHAS.

CAPTCHA stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart” and is a term coined by group from Carnegie Mellon University. It’s the function that shows you a scrambled word or phrase to type in, to purchase tickets on Ticketmaster, for instance, and is aimed at cyber robots.  

I’ve found a website, with information about downloading the CAPTCHA function. There are several types of CAPTCHAS, and, as part of the battle plan, I will figure out which will work on my blog site and install it if I can.

So, when you see more and more CAPTCHA prove-you-are-human deals these days, know that it’s not the blogger or the webmaster being too big for their britches. 

It’s the spammers' fault, and they are not backing down. So, we can’t either. I'll likely get comment spam on this post about comment spam. Sigh.

But, the battle continues. 

In the meantime, I monitor my e-mail for those notices from “Anonymous at” saying I have yet another stupid spam comment.  Then, I curse it and delete it. 

And while I’m at it, I look back longingly to the good old days…when spam meant that kind-of-ham-in-a-can that fed the troops and families on budgets and that I recall being REAL and tasty when fried up crispy and placed on white bread with mustard. 

That’s my kind of SPAM, even though I doubt it fits in a low cholesterol diet.

All other spam better look out, and leave my little blog alone.

Song of the day:
Wacko in Waco
by Billy Joe Shaver and Willie Nelson
(Wacko in Waco was written in response to an altercation in a Texas bar that landed the songwriter in court. The jury of his Texas peers found Billy Joe not guilty, of course. Then, he and buddy Willie wrote and sang about it. I'll borrow a line to say to comment spam: you best not mess with me.)

"Anybody in my place
Would have done the same
I don't start fights I finish fights
That's the way I'll always be
I'm wacko from Waco
You best not mess with me."