If you’ve read the front page of this week’s edition, you know that we have released my first book, “On the Porch,” a collection of the best columns that have appeared in this space over the years. If you’re worried about another toilet paper shortage, do we have a deal for you!
Contributing writer Steve Reece of Smarr played a big part in making the book happen. I had narrowed the 1,800 columns I had written over the past 20 years down to about 200. But I sometimes have a hard time making those tough final cuts. Steve had no such qualms. He eliminated mediocre columns like a machete man, and got it down to a manageable number that wouldn’t require my publisher, Amazon, to cut down the Amazon forest to print the thing. During the publishing process, Steve had some questions about the book. I thought I might share them and my answers.
Q. You’ve written a weekly column for like 20 years. Why did you wait until now to publish a book?
A. Are you calling me lazy Steve? You’re fired. No seriously, I have wanted to publish a book of my columns for some time. I finally got the ball rolling last summer when our intern, Bailey Storey, began taking them off the newspaper pages in our computer server and copying them into a folder. That meant the editing process could begin. But of course it didn’t. Then you (Steve) started working for us in March and helped select the best columns. Then COVID-19 struck. We never missed a day of work during the shutdown, but we did have some down time. That allowed me to work on it. Former Macon Telegraph columnist Ed Grisamore and Macon author Rick Maier, both veterans of the book publishing process, were indispensable in giving advice. My dear mother, as only mothers do, had saved a few of her favorite columns from previous newspaper stints where I had served. Further, unlike you, it takes me 20 years to come up with enough good material to publish a book. I’m sure it’ll only take you about 19 years.
Q. What’s your favorite column that you’ve written?
A. Well I always enjoy taking local politicians to task. When I was publisher of the Sylvania Telephone, the county commissioners threatened to pull all the legal ads out of the newspaper if I didn’t “toe the line” and make them look better. I was 25 years old and a little rattled. But my first newspaper boss, Dink NeSmith, backed me all the way. He encouraged me to write a front-page column in response. So I did. I wrote that if we had to choose between our integrity and the revenue from their handful of legal ads, we would select our integrity every time. The response from our readers was incredible. We were overrun with letters to the editor slamming commissioners for trying to bully the press.
Alas, my wife, wisely, notes that people enjoy humorous columns more than political ones. So I have tried to steer away from politics in recent years. One of my columns that got the biggest response recently told a story many can relate to: Getting my Corona haircut from my father in law. He butchered me with delight. I got a lot of response, and that’s what makes it fun, when people enjoy a column and can relate to it. I wrote one three years ago about when goats took over our office that people still ask me about. And yes, all of these are in the book.
Q. How do you go about writing a column?
A. Desperately and with great panic. Newspaper people are terrific procrastinators and I am one of the best. So I usually put it off until we’re going to press at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays. It’s the last white space we fill in the Reporter every week. Now some weeks, if I am being a good boy, I’ll write it on Monday night. I always enjoy life more when I do that. But of course that’s rare.
Finally, Steve, I want to say how overwhelmed I am by the readers of the Reporter. Due to their support, the Reporter’s newspaper subscriptions are up 20 percent this year. There’s probably not a newspaper in America that can say that. There’s a special bond between this newspaper and our readers. I treasure it, and this book is an outgrowth of that. Whether you enjoy reading or are struggling with insomnia, I hope many of you will get a copy of “On the Porch”.