MY STORY ABOUT MY STORIES
Like many published authors I am frequently asked about the origins of my stories. I have a confession to make. I don’t really know. They simply come to me. While some event in my life or that of another person may inspire a story, the story itself will not mirror the event. Initially, I will not even know how to begin it. In the course of writing the story, I will probably have several of beginnings.
Fortunately for me, my life has offered a variety of experiences. Fortunately for me also, I have been surrounded by friends and family who have shared their experiences with me from time to time.
I grew up in the South in a Christian household in Dothan, Alabama, where each Sunday my family and I spent almost the entire day involved with the church. I lived through World War II (that’s “two,” not “eleven”) and the other wars that followed. I witnessed first-hand and close-up the civil rights revolution. Among my several employments, I bagged groceries and weighed produce at an A&P Supermarket, cased soft drinks at the Dothan Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company in my hometown, worked a soft-drink route as a “route salesman” for the Charleston Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company, played the drums in dance bands (among them, “Chuck Nolen and the Rhythmaires” and “Ligon Johnson and the Blue Notes”), paraded in school marching bands (the Young Junior High School Band, the Dothan High School Band, and the University of Alabama “Million Dollar Band”), and fought communism as a member of the United States Army, albeit as a percussionist with military bands (the 101st Airborne Division Band, the 98th Army Band, and the 3rd Army Band) and with the ensemble that provided the music for the 3rd Army Special Services package show “Holiday.” Before I joined, none other than Leonard Nimoy, better known after his Army days as “Mr. Spock,” emceed the show. (When Johnny Desmond, the popular singer, appeared one evening in Macon, Georgia, for a March of Dimes telethon in 1955, our combo accompanied him as he sang his number-one-hit song that year, “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” We had not rehearsed it with him, and thus our accompaniment did not go well, particularly the long, solo drum part, a featured part of the arrangement.)
Most importantly, perhaps, I have been a member of the legal profession or associated with it almost all of my adult life, beginning when I attended The Citadel in Charleston and clerked after class for a Broad Street lawyer, Joseph Fromberg, Esquire. While in law school at the University of South Carolina, I clerked for the South Carolina Attorney General, the Honorable Daniel R. McLeod. Once admitted to the Bar in 1962, Attorney General McLeod made me an Assistant Attorney General and, several years later, promoted me to Deputy Attorney General. His successor, the Honorable T. Travis Medlock, named me Chief Deputy Attorney General, a position I held until I was elected by the South Carolina General Assembly to be one of the original six judges of the South Carolina Court of Appeals, a court I served upon until I reached mandatory retirement in 2007. For a brief period during 1970s, I engaged in private practice with Isadore Bogoslow, Esquire, of the Colleton County Bar in Walterboro, South Carolina. We practiced law as “Bogoslow and Goolsby,” a partnership name which, someone said, sounded less like a law firm and more like a dancing-bear act.
Whether in private practice, representing accused criminals, auto-wrecked victims, family law litigants, mortgagees, creditors and debtors, intestate estates, and government and corporate entities, among others, or in government practice, representing the State in criminal prosecutions or defending the governor, legislators, and judges as well as other public officers, departments, and bodies in civil matters, I gained a wealth of experience in the practice of law and learned much about the human condition and the workings of government in particular.
My life experiences, whether they concerned jobs I’ve held, activities in which I’ve engaged, or the people with whom I’ve encountered, have provided a deep well into which I have often dipped for ideas about a short story, a novel, or article. The experiences I had as a lawyer or as a judge, however, have offered me the best sources. When speaking to groups about writing, I have often said that the legal profession, like no other, prepares one to be a writer. Aside from the huge amount of writing the average lawyer or judge must do, each “case” a lawyer brings or a judge hears represents a short story in that each one has its own characters, settings, conflict, action, and resolution.
But what of my writings? I’ll mention a few.
The very first short story I authored and for which a publisher actually paid me money was “The Box with the Green Bow and Ribbon.” Saint Anthony Messenger published it in December 1996. Twice now playwrights have crafted a stage play based upon it, and at least one church of which I am aware had someone read it for its Christmas program one evening. The poignant tale concerns a twelve-year-old boy’s wish for Santa to bring him a Columbia bicycle for Christmas during a time when our country was at war against the Axis Powers and most Americans faced tough times as well as an uncertain future.
My first published novel was Her Own Law, also set during World War II. It concerns Delaware Huggins, a draft-exempted Southerner coerced into marrying a strong-willed, older woman, the widow Tweeve Cumbee. She later defends Delaware when authorities accuse him of capital murder. An odd thing happened when I was writing this story. Tweeve took it over and took me places I had not anticipated when I began the book. Among the characters the reader will encounter are: Goot Riddle, a chicken thief; Frank Huggins, Delaware’s imaginative uncle; and Greasy Pea and Booger Blue, questionable witnesses for the prosecution.
My experience in writing my second novel, Harpers’ Joy, differed markedly from that I underwent in writing Her Own Law. Unlike while writing the latter, I knew where Points A and Z lay in Harpers’ Joy. Stated differently, I knew where to start it and where to end it—what I didn’t know right then was what lay in between the two points. I drew heavily on my experiences as defense counsel while in private practice and as a criminal prosecutor while a government lawyer. The story, also set in 1940s, is about Candle Reid, an alcoholic lawyer with little trial experience, who is appointed to represent a soft-drink route salesman Dewey Coltraine who falsely confessed to the murder of a powerful banker’s son.
I drew inspiration from a South Carolina Supreme Court decision, State v. Johnson, 84 S.C. 45, 65 S.E. 1023 (1909) for my 2012 novel, The Locusts of Padgett County. Both the court decision and my novel concern the prosecution of a black man during the early part of the 20th Century for an alleged assault upon a white woman. The story focuses upon the prosecutor and questions the soundness of the “any evidence” rule applied in law cases by most courts in our land.
A novel I published last year, Purple Yarn, took me nearly seven years to complete. The story concerns an idealistic lawyer and former Pennsylvania cavalryman who, following the American Civil War, becomes involved in legal proceedings related to a series of murders in a western state. To help tell the story, I use memorable characters (they are to me anyway) and the Bateson Revival Device—also called the Bateson Belfry—an apparatus that allowed the buried undead to signal to those above ground that they still lived and breathed.
I draw on my legal background and childhood to tell Familiar Shadows, published in 2011, a coming-of-age story set in the South during the latter days of the Second World War. A few characters from my first novel, Her Own Law, carry the story.
My novels The Trials of Lawyer Pratt and Finding Roda Anne, published in 2011 and 2014, respectively, concern lawyers you probably wouldn’t hire on a good day—or a bad day for that matter. The former novel follows Billy Joe Pratt, Esquire, as he defends Siggy Youmans, a man with an IQ equal to that of a tomato plant, against a charge of murder. In the latter novel, however, we ride with Deloris Meek, Esquire, as he, accompanied by Pratt’s beautiful legal secretary Dixie St. John, travels west to find an heir to a valuable estate. Along the way, he meets up with several characters, including two ventriloquists, Ginger Childree and Wally Teal, and their dummies, Kuddles and Kody.
My just-published novel, Troubles and Kuddles, is a sequel to Finding Roda Anne. Somehow, Ginger Apparently, he failed to do a very good job at trial for the story opens with Meek appearing before the Court of Appeals in an effort to set aside a lower court judgment that awarded custody of Kuddles to a tent preacher, not the most saintly of men. Is Meek successful? Well, you’d have to read the book to find out. In any case, Meek’s attempts to aid Ginger makes him a better lawyer—well, somewhat better—proving to a degree the truth to Charles Dickens’ observation in The Old Curiosity Shop, “[I]f there were no bad people, there would be no good lawyers.” You see, experience counts.lost possession of Kuddles and Meek tries to recover the smart-mouth dummy for Ginger in a claim and delivery action.
I have not listed all my publications; but if you are looking for a daily devotional to give to your lawyer (but not to the judge who might be entertaining your case, because that would look like bribery), you may want to look at Lex Christi, also published last year. The devotions you will find collected there, although suitable for laypersons, are directed principally to the legal profession. As many no doubt feel, we in the legal profession could use direction; but then, we lawyers and judges are no better and no worse than those whom we serve.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Bert Goolsby, a Citadel graduate with a law degree from the University of South Carolina and an advanced law degree from the University of Virginia, once served as Chief Deputy Attorney General of South Carolina and as a judge on the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Among other things, he has authored seven novels, three short-story collections, two Christian devotionals, and one law book.