Writers serve as idols, inspire hideaway

By Regina Villiers. Originally published August 11, 1999 in The Suburban Life, added May 15, 2014.

Dr. Hal Blythe and Dr. Charles Sweet, known by friends as "HalenCharlie," are a team who work, write and play together.

Dr. Hal Blythe and Dr. Charles Sweet, known by friends as “HalenCharlie,” are a team who work, write and play together.

I’m a paradox. I’ve never been to a class reunion, and the thought of a big family reunion would make me remember that I probably have urgent business in Kosovo.  Yet, for summers on end, I’ve gone back to the same place to spend the lazy days of June with the same people.

This rut I’m in began years ago when I attended a writers’ conference in Richmond, Ky., at Eastern Kentucky University.  I liked it so much that I went back the next year. And the next. And the next. And…

At first the campus hooked me. It felt like home.  Then the English department drew me in.  It made me want to go back to school and major in English all over again.  Now, it’s the friends I’ve made who teach there in the English department.  Their presence pulls me back, year after year.

There are five of them, one woman and four men.  All are professors. All are writers, good writers. Two are poets. All are the best kind of friends and companions.

Two are so special that they’ve become year-round friends.  Between visits, we carry on a constant correspondence.  In addition to friendship, they offer me professional help.  They put bandages on my short stories, causing my fiction to get published.  I treasure their friendship and their manuscript first aid.

Around Case Annex and Wallace Building, they are known as English professors Dr. Hal Blythe and Dr. Charles Sweet. To their friends, they are Hal and Charlie, said in one word in one breath, like “HalenCharlie.”

The reason for the one-breath name is that “HalenCharlie” are a team.  As friends, they make Damon and Pythias seem like pikers at the art of brotherly bonds.

They lecture together. They sometimes teach together.  They share one of their allotted offices, with their desks adjoining each other in one end of the room.  Their other office across the hall is used for storage.  They finish each other’s sentences.  They switch roles back and forth effortlessly.  One speaks while the other illustrates on the board.

It’s eerie, like being in the twilight zone.  There are two people, but you hear only one voice.

During school breaks and summers, they work together on building projects at each other’s homes.  This summer, they’ve built a fence for Hal’s place.  They’re Mutt and Jeff. Charlie Brown and Snoopy. Pals.

Like in the oxymoronic song, “Love and Marriage,” you can’t have one without the other.  So they’ve both become my friend, “HalenCharlie,” I write them one letter. I receive one letter back, signed “Hal & Charlie.”

Their most remarkable shared feat is that they are a writing team, and they think each other’s thoughts.  They are widely published in national magazines and books.  When I first met them, they’d already published a million words.  They’ve had three books published.  Two more are in the works.  They’ve written novels and non-fiction.  Their local tie is that they write regularly for Writer’s Digest magazine, published here in Cincinnati.

Usually, their work is bylined by both names, but their fiction is bylined often by a pen name, Hal Charles.

From the beginning, I was so in awe of them as to be dumbstruck.  I wrote down in notebooks everything they said, though they said from the start: “A writer does more than keep notebooks or write a journal.” They constantly emphasize that “a writer is one who writes.”  And the objective is to get published.

Another of their rules is:  “You can’t teach the art of writing.”  Yet they’ve taught me a lifetime of learning, in addition to giving first aid to my manuscripts.

I admire them.  I try to emulate them.  I glow in their company.  They are youthful, articulate, funny and sharp.  Nothing equals the fun of sitting between them at dinner with their stories and conversation bouncing in both my ears, as they finish each other’s sentences.  I’ve learned discipline and work ethics from them, and I envy their ingenuity in finding a place to write alone.

Writers often wish Alexander Graham Bell had never gone into his lab to invent the telephone.  And most of us think cell phones should be totally wiped out, as should people who start conversations before 10 a.m. Writers know that solitude is not the same as loneliness.

Hal and Charlie solved this problem by going to McDonald’s to write in a booth there away from families and kids.  No phones. No drop-in visitors.  It was a booth for two. Two hours a day they’d sit there and write, day in, day out. McDonald’s responded by putting up a plaque over their booth, with an engraved bio and their picture.  They’ve now switched fast food restaurants.

“Hardee’s gave us a better deal,” they joked.

The truth is, I think, that they got too famous at McDonald’s, and tour buses discovered them.

I’ve thought about tis, and it occurs to me that I’ve unconsciously emulated my idols in creating my own little “Walden,” a place to hide away.

For years, I’ve hung out at the Madeira branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, a couple of blocks from my house.  There’s a special carrel I gravitate to, always the same one.  I pull myself in and wrap its privacy around me.  I read there. I dream. I scribble notes and string words together. No phones. It’s like being at Walden Pond. Or McDonald’s.

I sit there, thinking of Hal and Charlie.  I gaze around my carrel.  If I only had a bronze plaque.  I’d feel just like them.  Maybe I’d be just like them.  A bronze plaque.  A simple one.  Just my name and a brief bio. Maybe a picture. And maybe it could say: “Write at work.”  I can see it gleaming there, in all its bronzeness, on the wall of my carrel.

Surely the library would do that for me.  Don’t you think?  It’s such a little thing.  Maybe I’ll speak to Janie Pyle, the director, about it.

So I’ll see you, “HalenCharlie.” Soon.  Or in the lazy days of next June for sure.  Meanwhile, you’ll find me in my library carrel, the one with the imaginary bronze plaque.