Friday, May 22, 2009

When Roosters Sing

By John Ramsey Miller

It appears that our long-running drought is over, and we’re up for the year with rainfall. That could change, of course. I love dismal weather. I love rainy days and nights and thunder storms. We’ve had several weeks of the kind of weather I love and the old home place is bright green. In the winter I can see my neighbors’ homes through the trees, but when the leaves come out they are no longer in evidence. I work best when it is dreary. When it rains we sleep with the door open to the screened-in porch, but we have to close it around four AM when our roosters, Ti Ali and Joe Bryant, wake up and want to have loud discussions with each other. I suppose they are bragging about the number of hens they have and how many ground bugs they intend to rid the place of as soon as they are released in the late afternoon. I love the sound of roosters, but at four AM it can be annoying. I wish they had a repertoire of songs to sing, or a few stories to tell, but they are like stuck records with the same shrieking notes in their repertory. “Er er errrr Er.”

There are writers who write the same book over and over again, and their readers want to read the same old plot gathered up and thrown through a larger fan. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing another kind of book. I’d keep the violence, the battle between good and evil, but I wouldn’t have a ticking clock, or a race across the landscape with guns thundering, and I’d work on deepening the characters and their relationships. Maybe let them tell longer stories. It couldn’t drag, but it could take place over months or years instead of hours. The relationships would be more complex and be allowed to develop the way they need to without all of the urgency of situation forging them. It would be nice if the female/ male relationship was built on something other than dodging bullets, her ability to load his magazines under duress, or drive through a gauntlet of fire.

I think about my father, who died almost two years ago, and his stand on human rights and dignity for all men in the 60s in Mississippi. I think about how he somehow managed to earn the respect of his friends and enemies alike, and let love, his beliefs and his spiritualism rule his life. At Emory when he was in Theology school my father went to Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church some Sundays to hear a man he called the greatest preacher of his era, Martin Luther King Sr.. I think, as did my father, that the bravest known man in Mississippi history was Medgar Evers. That man walked into a lion’s den every time he left his house, and he did so driven by his belief in a just world. It was no surprise to anybody that he was murdered, just that he lived as long as he did with the quantity and caliber of enemies he made by standing for what he believed was right and just in an unjust world.

I didn’t know Mr. Evers, but I did meet Byron De La Beckwith, the man who murdered him in cold blood. My father admired and respected him, and later he tried to bring Beckwith into the light of love––a waste of time. The day I took my cameras and accompanied a reporter from New Orleans to interview Beckwith at Rick’s Tractors where he worked at the time. He had been arrested while driving a bomb to New Orleans while heading there to murder A.I. Botnick, director of the New Orleans based B'nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, and he was awaiting trial at the time. Beckwith told me he didn’t care for my father’s politics, but that he respected my father for being genuinely able to love a man while hating his sin. That stuck with me. I have long wanted write a book that goes into the social complexities in the South during the sixties, how change came about on a personal level, and the ultimate value of forgiveness. I know it’s been done and done, but I am egotistical enough to think I can put a new spin on it and make part of that time my own.

I just finished a Thriller, and whether or not it sells, I think I am going to write the book I always wanted to put on paper. I don’t have any idea what it will look like, whether there will be a publisher for it, or whether or not it will be well received if it is published, but that isn’t why I will write it. I will write it because I want to do so, and because I think my roosters really do want to be songbirds.


  1. Oh yeah, you should write that book. I can already feel its pulse in your post.

  2. I am so happy for you for making that decision! I'm also working on a book now that I have wanted to write for several years. It is requiring me to shift genres from "soft boiled" to thrillers, and I'm not looking back. I'm already reaping the rewards, even before it's finished. By shifting focus to thrillers and becoming a member of this blog, I've already discovered new writers, readers, and friends. Hope to meet a few of you at Thrillerfest in July, by the way!