Saluting My Writing Mentors After More Than Three Decades And 200 HOGS

Woot!

We’re at 200 HOGS posts and counting.

So I thought I’d mark this milestone by giving props to three mentors who either…

a) taught me how to write or
b) contributed to my delusion that I could write

… depending on your perspective.

Dr. Journalism

Up first, Dr. Tom Shuford.

Dr. Shuford was my main journalism lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA).

He was a little guy, not much bigger than me, and he had this ginormous, wild beard that could make him look really, really scary

Dr. Shuford was a straight-news-kind-of-guy and would have definitely red-penned the previous three lines, plus also the split infinitive and numerous other gramadical bogalities in this here sentence.

When Dr. Shuford lowered his voice and looked threateningly over the top of his glasses, as he stroked his beard, he was about to gut you, right there in front of God and country and classmates.

It would go something like this.

“Mr. Moore, are you certain about the accuracy of your story?” he would challenge.

“Yeah,” I would respond, with just a hint of disrespect.

“Are you absolutely certain of its accuracy?” he would ask, leaning his body and lectern towards you.

“Absolutely. 100 percent,” I would say, dismissing his silly question.

“Would you stake your semester grade on it?” he would ask, in a low, ominous growl through his beard.

“Let me just go check that one more time,” I would say, then limp away, tail between my legs.

On more than one occasion.

Dr. Shuford taught me a lot.

Old School Dub

Second on my Mentor List is W.A. Dub Brown.

Dub was Managing Editor of the Waco Tribune-Herald when I worked there from 1980-1982. I hated Waco and that paper, but I respected Dub immensely.

He was a journalist’s journalist: short, balding, gravel-voiced and slightly hunched over.

He ALWAYS had a cigarette dangling from his lips, wore thick black-framed glasses and had one eye that sort of stared out into space while the other bored a hole in whatever he was reading. And he was always reading something.

Despite being overworked like only a Managing Editor can be overworked on a crappy Cox newspaper, Dub gave me his time because he knew that I wanted to be a great writer and, maybe, because he had personally hired me.

After many of my feature stories had been published — AFTER they’d already been edited by two or three professional editors — Dub would get out his red felt tip pen and annihilate what I had sweat blood over.

I really appreciated the savaging.

Dub taught me a lot.

Only One Dycus

But no one, ever, before or since, taught me as much about writing as John Dycus.

“Dycus” was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.

I can’t remember what his title was at UTA — something lame like Adviser Student Publications — but Dycus was the guy, the magic man who taught hundreds of UTA journalism students how to write.

For two glorious years, I got to write for UTA’s student newspaper, The Shorthorn.

Stupid name, I know. But a good college newspaper then, and a great college newspaper now.

Before I got on staff, when I was just a crummy j-student, I proudly handed Dycus what I thought was an Epic humor piece about my visit to the famous Canton Flea Market.

I can remember sitting in the corner of the newsroom, holding my breath, and watching Dycus. He drove his electric wheelchair up to his editing table, jerkingly positioned a black pen in his frozen left hand, and proceeded to read my story.

He smiled. He even chuckled and made a few cursory editing marks.

Then the master spoke, and the student listened, hanging on every word.

“Moore, I look forward to reading that again. After you rewrite it. Half that long. And you don’t need to try so hard to be funny. You’re a funny guy. Just write the story. You don’t need to kill it,” he said, then drove off.

Spot on. Golden advice. Typical Dycus.

Awhile back, he was admitted into the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association’s Hall of Fame and honored by the Society of Professional Journalists.

I enjoyed reading about Dycus’ awards and listening to his acceptance speech over the internet.

But what I really enjoyed was seeing this photo of Air Dycus, because it epitomizes his spirit, and re-reading the letter of recommendation he wrote for me when I graduated in 1980, which began:

“All right, let me tell you about Bill Moore. He’s aggressive, quick-witted, able to leap great syntactical buildings in a single bound. Bill’s flair may be for flair — column material, features — but he can churn straight news all day if that’s the job. For my taste he occasionally overwrites, but 1) your taste and mine may not coincide, 2) he’s very receptive to instruction, 3) don’t let him write during a full moon and it will never be a problem.”

Spot on then. Spot on now.

So, after three decades of writing for newspapers and PR clients, it’s time to say:

Thanks Tom. R.I.P.

Thanks Dub. R.I.P.

Thanks Dycus. In fact, thanks again.

You men made me the writer I am today.

For whatever that’s worth.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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4 Responses to “Saluting My Writing Mentors After More Than Three Decades And 200 HOGS”

  1. Kris says:

    See now . . . I read this post when it went up, but I did not comment. Here I am, back to prove myself.

    I was 16 and about to head off to college. I was mostly attending school, and when I was there I was always attending my English classes. The teacher was a man named Mr. Burnett. He gave every essay I turned in an A+. I worked my ass off for that man, because he would read my essays to himself during class and he would smile and cover his mouth to hide his laughter.

    He took me aside toward the end of the year, and he said to me, “Be careful, Kris. The sort of writing you do is not necessarily the sort of writing people will be expecting to read. When you get to college, there will be rules and there will be structure and there will be limits . . . adhere to them all. Go to college and listen to what they tell you. Listen but do not allow them to take from you what you have. You have magic. No matter the grade that sits in red at the top of your paper, you have magic.”

    I went home and wrote his words down on a 3×5 card in neat block letters.

    So that I would have my magic.

    And his as well.

    I’m glad there were also people in your life to see the magic that sparks in you.

    Me

    • hams says:

      Would that we could clone the Mr. Burnetts, and Dr. Toms, and Dubs and Dycuses of the teaching world and flush the evil dream-squashing unteachers. That’s my plan, anyways.

  2. Vesta Vayne says:

    It is 6:47am. I just snorted coffee over the beaver blowing up in his face beard.

    So awesome, and wrong.

    And, congrats on post 200!

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