Two newspaper columnists who served as my early role models were the late Joe Creason of The Courier- Journal of Louisville and the late syndicated humorist Erma Bombeck. (Feel free to bless or curse them as you see fit.)
I grew up before there were 200 cable TV channels, before satellite radio, the Internet, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and instant messaging.
In the Dark Ages, it was. In those days, even grade-schoolers and teenagers read newspapers for entertainment and information.
As a youth, I devoured Creason's folksy pieces about people in small-town Kentucky — the kinds of men, women and kids I dealt with every day — and Bombeck's funny little essays about her family's shenanigans.
When Creason spoke at my high school graduation, I was as excited as if Mick Jagger had shown up to sing at the prom.
Later, at 21, aimless and ear-deep in stupidity, I dropped out of college. Casting about for something to do, I hit on the idea of writing newspaper columns myself. I dashed off a few, sent them to small papers in Morehead and Mount Sterling, then waited for paychecks and syndication contracts to greet me by return mail.
More than 30 years down the line, I'm still waiting. Those packages got lost.
But I did eventually end up working in journalism. And I did, later still, end up writing newspaper columns regularly. (And getting paid for them.)
If I've learned anything from my experiences, it's that creating good columns is significantly harder than it looks. It's an art form as demanding as writing a good sonnet. Creason or Bombeck I'm not.
I've continued to do what I can, though. I enjoy it. I'm grateful the Herald-Leader gives me space a couple of times a month to pontificate on this or that.
This month, Wind Pub lications, a small literary press, is releasing a collection of some of my more popular Herald-Leader columns. The book is called A Memory of Firelight. It's gradually wending its way into bookstores and onto Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.
Writing books was another of my early dreams. A Memory of Firelight is my fourth book overall, my first in 10 years. The columns I've included in it cover religion, politics, travel, caregiving, grief, grandparenting, the human comedy, you name it.
To some extent, writers start writing because they want to become immortal, to be admired and honored by the vast public long after they've passed from this world.
For most of us, that's not how it works out. I don't count on becoming rich, beloved or long-remembered anymore.
Walk into any bookstore, and you'll see thousands of volumes on every subject from the Civil War to botany. Almost all those books will disappear into the oblivion of the remainder bin or the pulp mill. Their authors will disappear about as surely.
Today I write my columns, and I've put together this book, mainly for my family — for my girlfriend, my son, my daughter-in-law, my grandkids. If others happen to enjoy or be edified by what I commit to print, all the better. I'm pleased by the kind e-mail I often receive after a piece runs in the Herald-Leader.
And I'll try to help sell as many copies of my new book as I can, at least enough to cover the publisher's efforts and maybe buy myself a small stockpile of Diet Rite.
But I have a 10-month-old granddaughter, as everyone has heard by now, and another granddaughter due in November. They won't be able to read for years. Still, I hope someday they will read.
If I'm not here to wear them out with my tales of glory and ignominy, and my views on subjects great and small, I want to leave them a record, between two covers, of who I was and how I lived and what I believed.
They might come to agree with me. They might decide I was a doofus. They might not care to even crack open my book's covers. All that is out of my hands. But I want to try anyway. I want to tell them, whether or not they want to know.
I don't intend to sound morose here, because I don't feel morose. I am, on the other hand, realistic and a bit wiser about life, death and writing than I used to be. I might be around another 30 years to tell the grandkids all my stories. Or I might get hit by a bus or drop dead from a heart attack tomorrow. Life is so uncertain.
As long as I'm here, I'll just do the best I can. I continue to write because I love to write and because I love those I'm now writing for.