Savannah is a cool town. The farmer’s market is thumping this morning in Forsyth Park. There are food wagons, peanut vendors, farmers, growers, butchers, artists, buskers, hipsters, and tourists crawling all over, hawking their wares.

This little market is located within the heart of the oldest planned city in the U.S., beneath the canopies of mossy oaks, and you can feel that heart beating today.

There are lots of families here. There are children running around with ice-cream smears on their cheeks. There are sleep-deprived parents, sipping coffee from paper cups, pushing strollers that are the size of Honda Civics. There are golden retrievers wearing Atlanta Braves jerseys. There are Midwesterner tourists clad in T-shirts which read: “I’m Not Being Rude, I’m From Minnesota.”

I meet an old man who sits on a bench, braiding a crucifix from a palmetto frond, humming to himself.

“Yo, dude,” he says as I walk by. “Here you go.”

He presents me with the crucifix.

And since this isn’t my first visit to Savannah, I reach into my wallet and give the man a twenty.


dog,” he says, fumbling a cigarette into the corner of his lip. “You got a light?”

“Nope, sorry.”

He smiles and shrugs. “Don’t apologize, dude. Don’t ever apologize for things you can’t control.”

Philosophy lessons are free here in Savannah.

Savannah is one of my favorite cities. I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve been to New York City; it gave me panic attacks. I’ve been to Philly, Newark, D.C., Vegas, L.A., and once I almost died of hypothermia in Chicago while waiting for the El train. You can keep your major cities.

I prefer Savannah. Maybe what I love is the history, or maybe it’s the way the sunlight hits the cobblestones. Or perhaps it’s that everyone here always seems like they’re in a great mood. I don’t know.

Either way, this is the town that birthed American hospitality.…

I was a kid. We were staying in my aunt’s upstairs bedroom in Atlanta, trying to make sense of our world after my father died. Daily life was getting tense because we lived in a household of many females.

It’s never a good idea to have several strong-minded women crammed into the same tiny house. It’s a recipe for an estrogen apocalypse.

My mother decided we needed a break from the family dramatics. We needed a break from grief. We needed to temporarily forget my father, the man who ended his life and dragged the memory of our family into the grave with him. What we needed was to feel normal.

Just for seven days.

So she rented a cottage at Tybee Island—about four hours southeast of Atlanta. The irony was, we were not beach people. I don’t know what kind of people we were, but we definitely weren’t the beachgoing type. I wasn’t the sort of kid you wanted to see clad in a bathing suit. I was chubby, pale, and built like

the spokesperson for Pilsbury.

But when we arrived at Tybee, that all changed. We crossed the bridge arching into the little beach town, cruising at forty-five, and I felt my stomach tingle and my heart opened like a butterfly.

We stopped at a seafood shack for lunch and ordered grouper sandwiches. When the waitress placed the food onto the table before us, she had a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth and said, “This fish ain’t real grouper. The chef is a [cussword] liar. It’s tilapia.”

So we were off to a great start.

Our cottage was charming, and the city of Tybee Island was postcard pretty. We bought groceries at the IGA, we developed sunburns at the beach, we climbed the lighthouse tower, we ate ice cream until our pancreases begged for mercy.

One morning, I awoke to find my mother having coffee…


How do you go about writing one of your stories? What is your process like?



There are many people who can tell you more about the writing process than I can. But I’ll tell you how I do it.

The first thing to know is that writing requires brain power. And studies tell us that the human body gets its strongest surge at 5 A.M. This surge typically lasts until 5:03 A.M. Unfortunately, I am asleep during the surge and I am wholly unaware of it.

So I generally wake up exhausted at about 7:30 A.M. Then, I complain about how badly I slept the night before. When you get older, you don’t sleep as good as you used to.

My mother used to warn me about this. I would laugh at her and say “Ha ha! No way, I’ll sleep great forever! And I will always be able to eat acidic foods after six o’clock, too!”


You quit sleeping well around your thirties. And food? Once upon a

time, I could eat an extra-large five-alarm beef burrito and finish the day like a caffeinated squirrel. Nowadays, if I eat one French fry I have to take a four-hour nap.

So anyway, after morning coffee, I wait for my mood to improve. I am not a morning person and never have been. My happy mood in the morning is always fake.

This is because when I was a boy I used to wake up with a bad attitude. My father took me aside once and said, “You'd better learn how to fake a good mood, or your mother’s not gonna make pancakes anymore.”

I’ve been faking good moods ever since.

When my caffeine takes effect, I go to my office. In my office, I have just about everything a writer needs to have around him. I have things like toddler toys, Superman…

Morningtime. I am bound for Savannah, riding in our little white utility van. My wife is driving, and I am in the passenger seat writing to you.

We are flying past farmland and cattle, occasionally stopping at side-of-the-road veggie stands, or filling stations, trotting inside to conduct a thorough inspection of the commodes.

On top our dashboard sits a stack of classic country CDs, teetering like a famous tower in Pisa. There are maybe forty separate albums from the golden days of Nashville twang and fringe. Everything from Ernest, to Acuff, to Loretta, to Willie. The old highway hums beneath my tires as Tammy Wynette reminds her listeners to stand by their male counterparts.

Funny. These CDs used to belong to my mother-in-law. They were her prized album collection. After she passed a few months ago, we were sorting through her belongings when I came across all her beloved LPs, forty-fives, cassettes, eight-tracks, and CDs. Nobody wanted them so I confiscated the lot. She would have wanted it this way. We shared

an impeccable taste in music.

Anyway, this morning it’s almost hard to believe that my wife and I are on the road again. We used to go on the road all the time. We used to live on these old highways.

Such is the life of a hack writer.

People are always asking you to speak at events after you write a few books. Usually, it’s Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis meetings, church groups, or the chair yoga class senior at the citizen’s center.

We did it all. No speaking gig was off-limits. No journey was too far. My wife and I visited almost every state in the Union in our little secondhand Labcorp van. We’d wake up in some no-name Montgomery hotel, eat a meager breakfast of Pop Tarts, whereupon I’d deliver a speech in a conference room to a bunch of people playing on phones.

After which, we’d…

They are holding hands. I like it when young couples hold hands. I don’t see many kids do this very often anymore.

They are sitting on the same side of the booth. I like it when they do that, too.

This is why I loved the bench seats in old cars and trucks. God bless the bench seat. It’s extinct now. But before automobiles lost these long seats, young men and women would sit close when driving. They would love up against each other.

If ever my mother spotted a truck window in traffic with two heads leaning close, she would remark, “Aw, look. That girl’s holding him up so he can drive. Ain’t that sweet?”

It sure is. For a boy, there is nothing sweeter than the feeling of driving a truck with a pretty head resting on your shoulder.

The couple in the booth is somewhat of a rarity. They are not holding cellphones, they aren't texting. They are saying things in soft voices. And it’s great.

I came here this morning for breakfast, I brought

a newspaper with me. But I can't seem to read it. Not when I am people-watching in a classic American scene.

I flick open the newsprint. I watch the couple from the corner of my vision.

They talk to each other. She is your typical teenager—happy and rosy-cheeked. He is your basic high-school boy. Skinny, a little awkward, a touch of Norman Rockwell to him.

The waitress refills my coffee. I am grateful for hot joe this morning. I didn’t sleep well last night. The folks in the hotel room above me were having a jump rope competition that ran until the wee hours.

“Anything good in that paper?” the waitress asks, nodding to the front page.

“Not today.”

“Yeah, I can't read the news anymore, it’s too depressing, makes me sad.”

She's right. The newspaper is just one disaster after another…

The Atlanta Braves are playing for a shot at the World Series. My wife and I are watching the game, cheering loudly, occasionally shouting expletives and flinging popcorn at the TV screen.

But as I watch America’s Team grind against the insufferable odds, locked in a barbarous battle against the LA Dodgers, I’m thinking about other things. Life things.

Because say what you will about these spoiled professional athletes, but these guys on the TV don’t give up. They never give up.

And that’s what has me thinking.

During Game last night’s game, for example, the Braves were behind, and the commentators were predicting a skull crushing loss. They experts said the Braves didn’t have a shot in a wintery hell. But they won.

This game. Same old story. The pundits all claimed Atlanta could never wallop the chosen from Los Angeles. But the Braves are fighting.

Bear with me, I know this baseball analogy is getting ridiculously boring. What I’m getting at is, these twenty-something multimillionaire athletes refuse to fall down and die. They

do not give up. They will not give up. And I wish I were more like that.

In my life as a writer, I have been fortunate enough to meet and interview a lot of people who have faced dire scenarios and taken on the devil without flinching.

Children with leukemia. Old men who survived numbered wars. Single mothers who raised families on shoestring budgets. And the one quality I notice in all these remarkable people—simple as it may sound—is that they never give up. Not ever.

Take my mother. She is perhaps the strongest person I know. She possesses a strength I will never fully understand. She survived a husband who beat her, tried to kill her, and then survived his subsequent suicide.

After that, she went on to survive single-motherhood, thankless jobs, and the rigors of raising an American teenage boy who had…

Right now I am watching “The Andy Griffith Show” on TV. This episode is one of my favorites. Barney joins the choir, but his singing voice is godawful. Thelma Lou, Barney’s girl, visits Andy when she learns that Barney is in the choir:

THELMA LOU: Barney's gonna be in the choir?! My Barney?!
ANDY: That's right.
THELMA: But Barney can't sing.
ANDY: I know.
THELMA: He's the man I want to marry, the man I want to be the father of my children...
ANDY: But he can't sing.
THELMA: Not a lick!

“Not a lick.” Pure primetime gold. If you’re a shameless Andy Griffith fanatic like me, this is the scene you want re-enacted at your funeral service. And you just hope the funeral congregation is able to whistle the Andy Griffith theme song as they escort your casket into your brother-in-law’s pickup.

A few years ago, I had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Betty Lynn, the actress who played Thelma Lou. She was

in her mid-nineties.

I rented a car and drove eleven hours north to Mount Airy, North Carolina, booked the cheapest hotel I could find, and lived on peanut butter sandwiches and coffee. In hindsight, I wish I would have spent a few extra bucks on a better room because I had to share the covers with a cockroach the size of Tom Brady.

It was one of the best days of my life. Betty Lynn’s assistant told me to arrive early at the Andy Griffith Museum on Rockford Street. So I showed up at sunrise, parked downtown and I walked the old streets with the same giddiness a boy might have when he’s on his way to prom. There was a bounce in my step. This was Mayberry.

I had plenty of time to kill so I stopped at a farmer’s market by the courthouse and bought some pink flowers.…