Thursday, September 29, 2005

Anniversary Waltz

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Signing Tuesday at Java Cafe

What: Pottersville Press book signing event
When: Tuesday, Oct. 4, 6 to 8 p.m.
Where: Java Cafe on Harrison Ave., downtown Panama City
Who: Me, signing copies of Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century
Who else: Lynn Wallace, signing copies of his novel Los Caminantes

I'll also have copies of Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents on hand for those who just must have the complete works (ha!) -- you know you have to.

Meanwhile, I've been informed that a couple of you who ordered copies through Pottersville experienced delays, but the books are on their way.

Earlier this week, Tuesday to be precise, I had the opportunity to listen to members of the Philharmonic of Northwest Florida play at the Kingfish Restaurant at the Baypoint Marriott under the direction of David Ott. They were promoting their upcoming season, and before the reception was over I ended up in a conversation with Mr. Ott concerning the paths down which creativity can take you. We talked about improvisation; it was refreshing to have that talk, to know that here was an artist from a completely different discipline who could put my experiences with words into a new perspective -- I talked about how getting into a character's point of view often placed me in positions story-wise that I would not expect, and then I just followed them; he talked of how a sudden notion to slow or speed a movement, to alter a note could change the meaning or feeling of a musical number.

Debra and I were also pleasantly surprised by the organizers of the event. Tuesday was the night prior to our 20th anniversary; I had mentioned this in an email to Crystal Carpenter, the FSU-Panama City public information specialist who was involved in organizing the event. Just as the performance was ending (this is prior to the mixer when we met and talked about creativity) David asked if "Tony and Debra Simmons are here?" and asked the master violinist to play a few bars of the Anniversary Waltz in our honor.

Crystal's photo follows.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Setting (or, "No Matter Where You Go, There You Are")


SETTING (or, “No Matter Where You Go, There You Are”)

Here we are.
This must be the place. What a set-up.

Is it time? This must be the moment.

What are we to make of the situation? This space/time continuum. This setting.

Setting is where time and space collide. Setting molds character, shapes themes, “sets” tones.

Think of settings from familiar fictions:
Stalag 17. Animal Farm. Cross Creek. 1984. Slaughterhouse 5.
The Legend of Hill House. Gotham City Middle Earth.
Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn’s mighty Mississippi Starship Enterprise.
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Narnia.


Setting isn’t everything — but take the right eternal story and place it in a new setting and it takes on new life.

William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” becomes Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet.”
(Or “West Side Story” — or even the recent vampire vs. werewolf love story “Underworld.”)

Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” becomes John Sturges’ “The Magnificent Seven” which becomes “Battle Beyond the Stars.”

“The Taming of the Shrew” becomes “10 Things I Hate About You.”


What are we to make of this situation? How would you describe it? Give me one word.
Two. Three. Give me a sentence. What do we have now?
Are we getting a mood here? Can we glean a theme already from a simple description of a setting? A single sentence about a classroom. Do we have a bored student? A frightened one? Cynical? Hopeful?

My own: Bright and cold, white and clean, like a surgical theater, it smelled of alcohol, lemons, and death.

Contrast that with a description you might give of the classrooms in a Harry Potter novel, or Little House on the Prairie. Each of them are classrooms, but each in a different era, divergent realities, with vastly different moods evoked, and often through the descriptions of the settings.

The three rules of Real Estate: 1) Location, 2) Location, 3) Location.Curb appeal.
It’s the same idea as grabbing a reader with a lede. The first thing that a prospective homebuyer sees when they drive up could be what sells the home. Just the same, when you describe the place where you character will do whatever he does, you have the potential to set the tone, create the theme, foreshadow the end.

Here’s the tiny bit of description of a classroom at Century High School used in a chapter of my novel:
Scene III: The alchemist’s study.
Test tubes and equipment gleam in a workshop standing idle, awaiting students’ hands. The chalk board is covered in arcane runes. The equations always balance, not like the tales in the alchemist’s foresight, his waking visions, his stories. And not like life, though the equations aim to explain its basic properties and elements.

In short: There’s little to no description, but the theme is there, as is the foreshadowing. How much detail is necessary in describing a setting?


You need to get the details right, however. You don’t want to write about someone using a lead pencil in a classroom in the wrong century, or using a gas light when kerosene lamps were the rule.

J.R.R. Tolkein was building a world, and described it in rich detail in his Middle Earth stories. He would need to tell you what sort of wood the chairs of a little Hobbit classroom were made of, and how they were carved, and how high on the knee of a grown man they would rise. Another novelist might not feel the need to give such a detailed description of a schoolroom because simply saying his characters had gathered in a “college classroom” and knowing the setting was a modern city puts the reader close enough for government work. You’ll fill in the fluorescent lights and rows of chairs yourself.

But a detective novelist might need to place explicit details in the reader’s mind and describe a specific Bunsen burner giving off a brilliant green flame.

(NOTE: At about this point, Mr. Beard makes my next point for me, and I read his this:)

My rule of thumb is to tell what the reader needs to know to get a picture in his head of the place. Readers will provide the set dressing from their own experiences. We’ve all been in hospital rooms. You don’t have to describe all the equipment in detail, just mention that it’s there — unless the equipment is intrinsic to the story, in which case it is essential to be described before you suddenly bring it — as if out of nowhere — into the plot.

Nothing comes out of nowhere. Everything comes from somewhere — and that’s your setting.

Likewise, nobody comes from nowhere. The place you grew up, to a large extent, made you what you are. You need to keep that setting as well in mind when building characters. Who are they really? Where did they come from?

I’d like you to take a minute. Two minutes. Think about your home town. The main street in the heart of the town — it may not be downtown, but the place that was the heart and soul of town for you as a child. What about that landscape comes immediately to mind? Is it the architecture? A certain person always on the street? A store you frequented? Fire hydrants the boy scouts painted like revolutionary soldiers in 1975 — the year before the Bicentennial? An ice cream truck that came every Saturday? A tragic playground death?

(NOTE: I diverged from this quite a bit, as the discussion opened and closed throughout. I didn’t include much of the following segment. I think there’s a story there:)

Think about your school, your time there, a favorite teacher, a despised bully, a strange moment that never made sense to you then — I’m sure if you give it a moment, one will come to you. Put yourself in the little desk, with the fat crayons. What does it smell like there? When is break time? Who threw up chocolate milk on the bus? Which kid never had shoes or always had a runny nose? Is she the one who threw up on the bus? What does it feel like here? Is it hot? Why is there no air conditioning? How does the sweaty man who comes to fix the air conditioning know the little girl who has no shoes?

(NOTE: We closed with a moment of Zen, just like John Stewart:)

Our moment of Zen:

“I was reading the dictionary,
and I thought it was a poem about everything.”

— Stephen Wright
(standup philosopher)

Virginia Dixon, 1st to buy signed copy, w/author

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Jim Pascoe of Ugly Town

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Mystery Writers Michael, Terry, Jim, Joan, Glynn

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Lynn Wallace talks about the origins of his novel.

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Setting: "No Matter Where You Go, There You Are"

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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Debut of "...A New Century"

Saturday was the Sixth Annual Gulf Coast Writers Conference, held at the Gulf Coast Community College Language Arts building. I've participated in a number of these now, and I believe that this one was the best -- and the audience seemed to agree. My own early morning session was not (only two elderly gentlemen joined Nathan and me for a discussion of "setting") but the rest of the conference was WAY good for the writer in me, and for the writer in everyone else there. Sold a few books, too, met some nice people, talked about LIT-trit-chure, ya know, and shared some chuckles.

Lynn Wallace and I joined forces to talk about the journeys our books took to publication in a session called "A Tale of Two Tomes" and we wrapped up the day with a round-robin on alternative (non-traditional) methods of publishing.

Virginia Dixon, an English teacher at Mosley High School, received the first autographed copy of Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century, and Michael's wife Pam took her picture with me. Viriginia, it turns out, spent a few years teaching at Northview High School, which was the school that replaced Century High when Century and Walnut Hill were closed and combined in 1995-96. Virginia explained how the kids from both schools seemed to integrate with less trouble than the teachers from the two schools; she came there by way of Pensacola, so she had less trouble than some. Her picture will be on the blog soon, along with other conference photos.

The luncheon speaker was Jim Pascoe of Ugly Town Press, a Hollywood publisher of mystery novels and other edgy fiction. I instantly liked Jim, introduced by Michael as "the David Bowie of mystery publishing," who was an impeccable dresser, charismatic speaker, knowledgable, funny, and giving. He flew in from California on the red-eye just for the conference.

Another standout presenter was Cricket Pechstein of the August Agency, a Florida/NYC firm representing lots of different kinds of writers. She gave us plenty to consider and encouraged a few of us directly through one-on-one pitch sessions. The others she encouraged through her group sessions. She is anticipating an outline and samples from me shortly regarding my new project.

We all went to supper at Uncle Ernie's after the conference -- Michael and his family and their friends, me and my family, Cricket, Jim -- and talked books, music, movies, plays -- it was a fabulous evening. I felt alive, energized. Hearing my son carry on conversations like that, trading movie quotes, dissecting musicians, discussing the future -- yeah, that's the life.

Coming up: Photos from the conference. Then, notes from my session on "Setting (or, 'No matter where you go there you are')"

Monday, September 12, 2005

Now available online and in person ...

I've been emailing the following to those whose addresses I have and others who are not on this list...
Subject line: "Tony Simmons' new novel debuts Saturday"
Text of the email:
"Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century"
A Novel by Tony Simmons
Debuts Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Gulf Coast Writer's Conference, at Gulf Coast Community College
For more information: www.pottersvillepress.comor

CENTURY, Fla. — You may not be from around here, but you know these folks just the same: the thrice-cursed mayor angling for re-election; the Piggly Wiggly meat cutter with the Vegan wife; the small-town Lolita around whom a universe revolves. “Century is a real place in northern Escambia County. It’s where I grew up,” says novelist Tony Simmons. “It’s a small town with a magical name and a unique spirit of its own, one of sawdust and Florida panthers.

Like all small towns, it’s the place every kid promises he’ll leave at the first opportunity and never go back. It’s also the kind of place that doesn’t let go of you that easily. “I guess I’m saying Century haunts me. Now I’m haunting it back.”

Simmons is the assistant managing editor for news at The News Herald in Panama City, FL, where he writes a weekly column and oversees the newsroom. Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century, his first literary novel, departs wildly from his day job as it revisits some of the themes and characters introduced in his short fiction, some of which has appeared in regional anthologies from Pottersville Press.

“Secrets will get out, and in the process they can take on a life of their own — especially in small towns,” Simmons says. “Secrets are the seeds of revelations, and revelations lead to transformative experiences. And that’s about as close to a whack upside the head by God’s holy two-by-four as you might find even in Century First Baptist Church.”

Thus we find ourselves in Century at the end of the 20th century and the dawn of the 21st — the eve of celebrating its centennial in the first week of April 2001. There’s a parade to plan, and a murder to plot, a marriage to save and one to let go, loves blossoming and lives rotting on the vine. Caught in the midst are the regular folks of Century with their everyday world-shattering problems. Folks like Mary Anne, who crochets beside her grandmother’s deathbed and weaves new cosmologies; Gil, the high school science teacher whose visions of possible futures have fled, leaving him nothing but empty facts; Simone, whose columns for the local newspaper explore her love/hate relationship with where she’s from and whom she has become.

“This is fiction, but I’d like to think these characters are no less real for all that,” Simmons says. “You know people just like them. In fact, there are going to be folks in Century who will think I’ve written their stories here. That’s not the case — even though, certainly, the townsfolk make the town. I just hope they make readers feel welcome.”

Welcome Words: What other authors have had to say about "Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century":

“Tony has his fingers all over the pulse of Florida funk — probably a blessing and a curse for him — but always a delight to readers of this state’s fiction.”
— Tim Dorsey (Florida Roadkill, Torpedo Juice)


“After I read the book I woke up with the people of Century on my mind. ... I really loved the threading of the lives together. There is a wonderful beat to the book. The characters are downright touchable — and not many writers, even the most commercially successful, can accomplish that. I was amazed at the chameleon-like way that you entered each character and told their truth from their perspective. That is truly the gift of a great writer. But then your freakin’ quantum theory knitting piece blew me away.”
— River Jordan (The Gin Girl, The Messenger of Magnolia Street)


“I think it’s the dawn of a stellar new literary career. Son. This thing is funny as (CENSORED).”
— Michael Lister (Power in the Blood, Blood of the Lamb)


"Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century" By Tony Simmons
ISBN: 1-888146-08-7 * Hardcover * 165 pages * September 2005 *

(But wait: There's more. Go to and you can "buy it now" as they say on e-Bay using Pay Pal. Or go to and buy it now, too, although they don't have the cover image up yet and they say it isn't yet available.)

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Signing Dazed and Raving, and sneaking a peek ...

I'm signing copies of Dazed and Raving in the Undercurrents at the Friday Fest in downtown Panama City tomorrow starting at 6 p.m. Everyone who stops by the booth can register to win a pack of review-copy books received by The News Herald and valued at more than $50. I'll have a sneak preview of Welcome to the Dawning of a New Century there (under glass, perhaps?) with promotional materials for the Gulf Coast Writer's Conference, where the book will debut. Maybe I'll see ya there.