Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie.

© 2006-2014 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm a retired teacher turned writer. Ferradiddledumday (my Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story) and Stuck (my middle grade paranormal novel) are available from Cedar Creek Publishing.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Thinking Inside the Box

. . . is what cats do best. At least Dylan, Tanner, & Chloe do.









~

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

If It Ain't Broke . . .

. . . but it is.

We've had a couple of breakdowns this week. Our washing machine, which was a few years old when we moved here fifteen years ago, stopped switching gears. It would fill with water and agitate. And agitate. And agitate, etc., until It was manually changed to rinse. Then it would keep agitating until manually changed again. This made doing laundry a real nuisance. My electrical engineer husband did some trouble-shooting and determined the problem was with the switch.


He ordered a part which should be here in a day or two. Meanwhile, the laundry is piling up. I have at least three—maybe four—loads waiting to be done. The basket of whites is over-flowing.


Ditto for the basket of colors (with my favorite green socks on top).


The other problem involves my iMac, which I bought in early 2009. It's pictured here behind Dylan, who spends way too much time on my desk.


Actually the iMac is fine (at least so far), but the keyboard developed a problem: the caps lock key decided to become non-functional. Its LED light no longer shines, and it no longer holds itself down. It won't even work if I hold it down.


Now, I could swap out the keyboard for one from one of the older Macs downstairs, but I love this flat keyboard. I Googled around to see if I could find a way to fix it. I tried disconnecting it from the computer and reconnecting. Didn't work. I tried restarting. Nope. I looked up some of the Apple forums. No help. I watched some YouTube videos and became truly discouraged.

Turns out that removing the keys to see if there's some gunk underneath can be a bit tricky. And removing the larger keys is even trickier. Trickier still is removing a larger key that has an LED light in it—like the caps lock key.  

Then I discovered that a couple other keys on the left edge of the keyboard don't work either, which explains why I  have asterisks instead of a tilde at the bottom of this post. 

So, I'll break down and buy a new keyboard. That seems like the easiest thing to do. Unless Dylan (Did I mention he spends way too much time on my desk?) comes up with a way to fix it.
  

So far, Dylan has been no help at all. 
***
Update: I have a new keyboard, and my husband successfully fixed the washing machine. All's well that ends well.
~(note return of the tilde)

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

VWC Symposium 2014

A week ago Saturday, I attended the 4th annual Virginia Writers Club "Navigating Your Writing Life" Symposium. I've attended all four, but I have bad memories of things that have happened on two Symposium days. In 2011, Cupcake died shortly after I returned. In 2013, a girl went missing a few hours after I drove past the place on 29 where she was last seen. But this year was OK. While I'm still having mobility problems, I hitched a ride so I didn't have to drive. That helped a lot. And nothing bad happened this year.

This year's program consisted of three sessions with three choices for the two morning sessions. After the morning session was a keynote speech, followed by lunch, then a book fair, and then a final session.


The first session I attended was called "Stranger Than Fiction: Non-fiction Writing, Research, and Investigative Journalism" in the program but "Crafting and Publishing Non-Fiction" on the back of my name tag. Since I'd sold a few feature stories to regional markets some years ago, I'd hoped to learn how to research and put together stories that magazine editors would buy, and I'd hoped to learn about some paying markets. I was particularly interested in learning what went into investigative journalism. However, the session was mostly about creative non-fiction and ways to structure books about historical subjects. While I enjoyed the session, I didn't learn anything I could actually use. There was no mention of investigative journalism and little about paying markets. The highlight was listening to Michael Signer tell about the different ways he approached writing Becoming Madison: The Making of An American Statesman that will be out in 2015. Virginia's colonial period is one of my favorite historical periods, so I look forward to his book.

The second session I attended was "Writing for Young Adults." Because of the vague title, I didn't know what to expect. However, presenters  Kristen-Paige Madonia and Debora Prum gave an excellent overview of what should go into writing for YAs, with a lot of emphasis on developing character and voice. I took a bunch of notes, which I unfortunately lost. However, the handout included a list of recommended books, and I look forward to reading some of them. A real plus was that Madonia  and Plum both read from their works (Fingerprints of You and Fatty in the Backseat ) and thus showed how they'd into practice what they had told us. I really enjoyed this session, and I learned a lot.


The keynote speaker was Kathryn Erskine, a YA writer whose works I enjoy. So far, I've read Mockingbird, Quaking, and The Absolute Value of Mike. All three are excellent, and I look forward to reading her other books.



 Her speech was also excellent and featured a powerpoint display of her writing process. One of my favorite parts was a picture of her giving "the look" to anyone who disturbs her while she's writing.

Lunch was OK. We'd been given a limited choice of three sandwiches, so I opted for turkey. Because I'm gluten-sensitive and diabetic, I ditched the large gluten-rich, high-carb bun and added lettuce, cheese and tomato to my plate. I averted my eyes from the other gluten/carby choices (cookies and pasta salad) and added a bit of fruit salad (carby, but not as bad as pasta or cookies) to my plate.

After lunch, we assembled for announcements of who'd won which categories in the "Summer Shorts" contest. I thought the raffle drawing might be held then, but it wasn't. Then there was a 45-minute book fair during which the presenters would sign books. For most of us, this was a long bathroom break or a period of sitting around without much to do. I noticed several people leaving. I don't know why the signing wasn't at the end of the day as it had been in previous years.

The third session was the one I'd been waiting for—"The Basics of Creating an iBook." Deborah Prum walked participants through the steps of using iAuthor and made the ibook creation process look easy. We went from choosing a template (and why landscape is better than portrait). . .


. . . to what all the different icons in the toolbar do.


How to use iBook Author started to make sense to me. She recommended a free book, which I downloaded and am partway through.



I'm thinking about using material from my Naces of Lithia blog to make some free iBooks about family genealogy. Prum's suggestion to make a folder for each chapter before beginning an iBook's creation makes sense to me—and makes the task of putting together a book a lot less daunting.

We'll see how it goes.
~

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Monday, August 04, 2014

Book Spam

(Note: Whenever spam from strangers appears in my email, I sometimes respond, though not in the way the sender intended. Another note: In this post, some lines change to a different size other than "normal." I don't know why.)

This picture of Jim-Bob has nothing to do with this post.
It's a token cute kitty pic.

Back in mid-June, someone I didn't know tried to comment on my "Frugal Living" blog which I rarely update. This was the comment, with certain info redacted:
Hi I'm looking for your contact info for a book review/post?
Can you email me at [company name redacted] at gmail dot com
I was not impressed by the misuse of punctuation, especially since this email was from a "literary business" site. I was puzzled why anyone would comment on a blog that has nothing to do with book reviews. I responded thusly:

Hello [name],

I found your comment on my "Frugal Living" blog where I write about bargains I have purchased or furniture I have repurposed on that blog. I don't review books on that blog.

I do occasional book reviews on my "Peevish Pen" blog. However, the only books I usually consider for review are books by Appalachian authors, books set in the Appalachian region or the south, middle grade or YA novels, memoir, books about writing, and some regional history. I sometimes review self-pubbed books, but only if I have met the author and really like the book.


I didn't get a reply—until last week when this email (certain info has been blurred by me) hit my inbox: 


Now, the author of that book just happens to be the same person who commented on my blog and who  is also the head of the "literary business" that the Book Manager and Blog Tour Assistant work for. I poked around in the company website, which doesn't display well on my iMac's Safari browser but does on my iPad. (And one of the services this site offers—among a multitude of services that authors can purchase—is web design. Hmmm. You'd think they'd check the effectiveness of their designs on a variety of browsers. . . .)

I was, however, intrigued that the author had been a teller of fairy tales for years. According to her website, she "has spent the last decade captivating audiences of all ages with her novels and fairy tales." I'm a big fairy tale fan, so I wanted to take a look at hers. Alas, Amazon turned up no fairy tales she'd written, but her new book was already available on Amazon. But the "look inside the book" feature wasn't activated, and I couldn't find an excerpt until a Google search turned up a page on the self-publishing site Smashwords. According to what the author wrote (Note: I am providing links to attribute her stuff to the author because, in her book's intro, she says it's OK to use brief passages in reviews as long as she gets credit for them):
I started writing this book when I was fifteen, but didn’t get it published until in my thirties. It’s been a long epic journey that has built my character as I have built the characters. Many of the people and events in The [Title Redacted] Series are based on real people and events that have come into my life. I’ve obviously changed the names to protect identity and used many symbolisms. . .  .
I read the first chapter here. It wasn't a genre I usually read, but I went ahead and read the next two chapters that the Smashwords sample allowed (there are 28 total). Here's my synopsis of these first three chapters (with comments that my inner English teacher could not suppress):

The setting is an unidentified village "less than a league from London" in 1270 AD—but the residents spoke modern English, though, and used terms that you wouldn't think villagers would use back then. (Well, they're based on real people, so I guess this is how the real people talked.) The story begins with a cottage fire that traps three children inside and takes three pages to burn down. (The word cottage entered the English language in the late 13th century so this was a brand new concept when the book took place! However, back then cottage meant all the property attached to a cote and not the small residence that seems to take a long time to burn.) People try to put out the fire with buckets (another new concept back then!) of water from the brook. Anyhow, flames spewed, screams pierced, a man swallowed hard and his Adam's apple (a term first used in 1731, so we've got an anachronism there) bobbed, the protagonist suppressed a groan, fear surgedheavy footfalls pounded, wind danced through hairthe sound of silence is broken, and numerous other cliches ensue. 

 Anyhow, the protagonist (a red-haired girl whose name is so hard to pronounce that the author has to tell you how to say it in the book blurb—and in the email I received) doesn't get burned and, while lying on the wet grass and looking at the stars, realizes she's never ever been burned before. Finally, one of the onlookers wonders if she's alive, and—of course!—she is and her "skin still glowed like pure ivory," though one wonders how these villagers ever saw ivory. A nobleman, who's really some magical kind of dude, appears and accuses her of being a witch, but she kicks up some hot embers at him and runs away toward the haunting Forbidden Forest, which is populated (or maybe haunted?) by all kinds of scary things. But it's so dark she doesn't see them and goes deeper into the forest. How she finds her way in the dark is anybody's guess, but this is fantasy so I guess it's OK for those things to happen.

Naturally (or perhaps unnaturally), she makes it out of the haunting Forbidden Forest (After all, there are a lot more books to come in this series, so she can't die a few pages into the first one, can she?) into a stream that flows by a meadow where a shepherd (complete with sheepdog) is tending his flock. She sits on gnarled roots and cups a handful of water to wash her feet. Then black smoke issues from the woods and big black wolves with black flames billowing off the "alpha wolf" (who also had "lethal teeth" and eyes that "flashed like crimson brimstone"—see p.15) emerge from the Forbidden Forest and attack the sheep (and sheepdog). Gruesomeness ensues.

Chapter 2 finds the girl bloody and shackled and lying on the bloody body of the wolf in some old hag's abode. The "shriveled old woman" (who also has an "erratic stride") hacks up the wolf's body (more blood) although she apparently didn't let the corpse hang to bleed out as one would do for an animal killed for meat and quickly makes it into stew, which they eat.

This woman, unlike the other human characters so far, speaks in dialect (this is another brief quote used for the purposes of a review, so it should be OK to quote):
“If ye wish ta die, feel free ta leave the cottage. There be plagues in the villages so terrible men fall on their swords ta be free of their sufferin’. There be wars between them villagers. Men kill each other in mass slaughters ‘cause they be hungry, and there be not enough food ta go around.”
 The old woman has issues and a mission which I won't get into here, and the girl really wants to escape, but that doesn't happen until several months later. The Smashwords sample ended on p. 24, so I'm not sure what actually ensues. 

My critical opinion of the first three chapters:

I'm not sure who the intended reader is. I can't tell if this is YA (it has a young protagonist) or if it's for adult readers. Unless I'm missing something, it's likely not for fans of English history, nor is it for English majors.

I was interested in why the book was set in a specific year—1270 AD—but that wasn't revealed in the first three chapters. Possibly Parliament levying a property tax to support the 8th Crusade that year? Or Prince Edward's leaving England to participate in the 8th Crusade in 1270? I'm guessing, from the title of a later chapter given in the table of contents, that it was maybe King Henry III dying while his successor was on a crusade.

In the short selection I read, I found anacronisms, dialogue that didn't ring true, some strange similes and metaphors, an over-abudance of cliches, etc. Among the multitude of anacronisms: toddler (1793), debris (1708), exact (mid-15th century) pathetic (1590s)), repressed (late 14th century), alpha wolf (alpha male was in use in 1920s but used to describe animals in 1960!), meagerly (1580s), enveloping (late 14th c), erratic (late 14th c) and many more. My favorite is Adrenaline, which was coined as a trademark name in 1901, so how could the character say, "Adrenaline and heat rushed through my veins" on p. 15? She only missed the use of veins by a few decades, though.

The diction and syntax of some sentences made me wince. Here's one: "I flinched as he pinched one of my red locks between his fingers and let it fall back over my shoulder."

Creative dialogue tags (which serious writers ought to avoid) abounded:
“I know who you are,” he hissed. . .  (You can only hiss s sounds.)
“I’m not a witch,” I defended. . . . (Oh, dear. Defended?)
“There didn’t use ta be this much snow in England,” Hazella complained. (The reader can tell she's complaining without having to be told.)

I was confused by some of the imagery. How would a poor girl in a small inland village know what "golden sand on a sunny beach"(p. 9) feels like? Was she well-travelled? Or "sheets of emerald silk" (p. 32)? The silk-weaving industry in England wasn't established until the mid-fifteenth century, so how could she know? Magic powers, perhaps? 

Much description was overdone (think purple prose) and sometimes used similes that didn't quite fit. I won't quote the passages here. You can read them on Smashwords.

Perhaps the writing improves in subsequent chapters; I don't know. But if you're a fan of The Eye of Argon, you will likely love this book. 

Oh, I should mention—there's a coloring book based on the series! And it's available in several ebook formats. (If you buy it for your kids, I recommend you make them use washable crayons, because magic markers could really mess up your iPad's screen.)

Advice for any writer (or publicist/book manager/blog tour assistant/whatever) soliciting a review: Know to whom you're sending your request. Don't email requests to strangers who aren't interested in your genre. If your book seems in need of extensive editing, a former English teacher will certainly notice. Be careful if you ask me to promote you or your goods or services on this blog. I just might do it—but not the way you expect. 

Unless you include pictures of cute kitties. 


Really cute kitties.
~



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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Sunday Morning Paper

A Disappointment!

The Roanoke Times leaves a lot to be desired. A few weeks ago, we were missing the comic section. The obituaries have been messed up for weeks with gaping holes in some of the type. One day our paper was printed so that part of the bottom was at the top. Today, one section (the Ticker) came strangely folded.



The resulting crease made for difficult reading.



That crease persisted even when the fold had been smoothed out.


Because we have a print subscription, we're supposed to also have an e-subscription. The Roanoke Times iPad app hasn't worked for a couple of months, though.

However, I don't actually read all of the Sunday paper. Here are the parts I won't read today. I never read the sports section or the classifieds because I'm not a sports fan and I'm not buying or selling anything. I don't bother reading ads for stores that aren't even in my area. I did read the grocery ads when they were in the Sunday paper, but now they in the Wednesday paper. 


There is more of the paper that I don't read than what I do read. Here are the sections of today's paper that  I actually read: 


It usually takes me less than a half hour to read these sections. Years ago, the paper would last all morning. There's not much to read now—fewer and smaller pages than in the past—and bigger pictures. The Parade section used to be a magazine that would last all week; now it's only a few small pages (with ads taking up a lot of it). Again, notice that big pictures on the front section (top left) and extra have huge pictures.

I thought I was missing the Virginia section, because the bottom of the page said a story about the former governor's defense strategies was on page 1 of the Virginia section.


Turns out the Virginia section (which existed for many years as a separate section) is now on page 11 of the front section (which I think is the Nation & World section even though two of the three stories on its front page are local stories. See—here it is:


Still, there's not a lot of news anywhere in the paper. Surely things happen in Roanoke and the surrounding area, don't they? If so, why doesn't The Roanoke Times report them? And why doesn't it offer a little quality control in what it does print?

I really miss the paper the way it used to be years ago, but I'm looking forward to future editions folded as paper airplanes or origami. 
~

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Friday, August 01, 2014

Cat Care Package

A guest post by Tanner
(Resident Cute Kitty)

Today was rainy, so just about everyone stayed in, except for Dylan and Jim-Bob who sat on the front porch and grumbled because they couldn't do their cat-work. Even George who doesn't like to come inside much came in for a nap. I didn't think much was going to happen today.


Then the mail came and my mommy got a package from her friend Polly who lives 200 miles away. She and Mommy have been friends for 50 years even though they don't see each other very often. Since it was a box, I was interested. So was my bestest friend Chloe.


Mommy said I could have the box after she took everything out if I wanted it. I did. I told Chloe that it was my box and she wasn't to mess with it. Chloe is a little bit pushy.


The box was a perfect size. I just fit! It even had good crinkly paper that I could scrunch to my specifications. There had been some newspaper in it, but Mommy wanted to look at that. I figured I had enough paper without it. The box fit right into my neighborhood.


Chloe kept hanging around, but I made sure she wasn't going to get my box. If there had been room, I might have let her join me, but there was only room for one kitty, and that kitty is Tanner.


I had a pretty good view from my box, too.



I'm glad Mommy removed her stuff from the box stuff. Otherwise there wouldn't have been room for me. One thing was a coffee cup that said, "Our effortless friendship fits perfectly with my laziness." Mommy thought that was funny, but I don't get it.


She got a pretty nice lamp that I wouldn't mind having. She let me have a close look at it. It had several cats sitting in a chair. Mommy called it a lamp for crazy cat ladies.


I would have liked that lamp in my condo, but I couldn't figure how to plug it in. Plus it needs a bulb, and I don't know how to get one.


I liked this little metal kitty figure. It would have looked good in my condo, too, but Mommy said I could only look. I really wanted to bat it around. I could move its springy tail with my paw.


Mommy also let me look at the picture frame she got. She said she will have to put my picture in one of the spaces. I think she should put my picture in all the spaces because I'm the cutest cat in the household.


Mommy also got a little blue bag with "The best antiques are old friends" written on it. Mommy is pretty old, so I guess she's an antique. Her friend probably is too.


I let George look at the bag because it coordinated so nice with his hair.


Then Mommy took all her things away because she said they weren't meant for cats. She can be selfish that way. George went back to sleep.


The package made Mommy very happy, so thank you Aunt Polly for sending it to her! Thank you for my box, too. I think I got the best present, but Mommy might disagree. 

I wonder if Chloe will still be my bestest friend 50 years from now. If so, then maybe I'll share my box with her.
 ~ ~ 

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