Peevish Pen

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

© 2006-2016 All rights reserved

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt ( novel set in Franklin County, VA), and several ebooks.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Reading Appalachian Fiction

While I was writing my Appalachian novel, I avoided reading fiction so I wouldn't be influenced by what I read. Now that the novel is in a time-out phase before I self-publish it, I've gone back to reading. I really had a hankering to read Appalachian lit.

For some reason, I hadn't read one of Sharyn McCrumb's earlier ballad novels, The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. While it was published in 1992 and is out of print (in actual print), an e-version was recently made available—with a beguiling cover.


But I'd recently acquired an old copy, so that's what I read.


The book is flat-out, doggone good! For one thing, the two-sentence opening paragraph could be a lesson in how to write good openers:
Nora Bonesteel was the first to know about the Underhill family. Death was no stranger to Dark Hollow, but Nora Bonesteel was the only one who could see it coming.
It includes who (Nora Bonestell, the Underhills), where (Dark Hollow), and what (death, and Nora Bonesteel's ability to see it coming). It piques the reader's interest—how did the Underhills die? and how did Nora know? Since I wanted to know, I kept reading. And reading. I finished the book in two days—with a little encouragement from my kitty friends, Tanner and his sidekick Arlo.


This book is one of McCrumb's ballad series that features Nora Bonesteel, a mountain woman who has "the sight." I'd read about Nora in other books and found her an intriguing character.

Sharyn McCrumb gives an introduction to The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter on her website. Once you read it, you'll want to read the book.

While The Kirkus Review gives a concise summary of the plot, they miss the point on the prose by a country mile. Unlike the Kirkus reviewer, I found McCrumb's prose riveting.

According to the Publisher's Weekly review, "McCrumb weaves Appalachian folklore and death, in natural and unnatural forms, into a story that meanders like a mountain stream through the hills of east Tennessee before rushing to its turbulent conclusion." That pretty much sums it up, but a lot of interconnected events happen in the book, and McCrumb brings them together masterfully.


The book is a page turner. If you like Appalachian lit (my favorite kind), consider this a must read.
~


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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Stealing: Laundry

I stole "Sunday Stealing: Laundry" from Blue Country Magic who stole it from Sunday Stealing, etc.

Laundry Day Meme (Since most of these questions don't have anything to do with laundry, I assume this is a place to air our dirty laundry. Or something.)

1. Do you know any couples that have been married for a very long time? A. My husband and I have been married 48 years. That's pretty long. But I know a few couples who've been married over 50 years.

2. What are you tired of people telling you? A. I don't know. I think a lot of folks have given up on giving me advice.

3. Which type of ice cream do you prefer? A. Breyer's Strawberry. Only 14 carbs per serving and not much in the way of added chemicals.

 


4. Do you have a little sister? A. Nope.

5. What was the last movie you watched on TV? I haven't watched a movie on TV for months—maybe years. But it was probably something on PBS. I don't watch a lot of TV.

6. If the internet was not available right now, what would you do instead? A. Read. Write. Sleep.
(Speaking of books, mine are available on Amazon. Click here to see my author page. I'll have a new novel, Them That Go, available in a month or so.)


7. Do you complain a lot? A. Yes. That's the main way to bring attention to a problem. The squeaky wheel gets the grease sort of thing.

8. Name a movie that your favorite actor is in. A. I don't think I have a favorite actor.

9. Do you like your toes? A. Not especially. But I'm glad I have toes, though. I'd hate if they went missing.

10. Would you rather go to an authentic haunted house or an ancient temple? A. The house. A real haunted house, not one of those fakey-scary things that crop up at Halloween.

11. Have you ever had champagne? Did you like it? A. A long time ago, and I liked it. But having diabetes means that alcohol is pretty much a no-no now.

12. Are there any seashells in your room? A. Yes. In several rooms actually.

13. What was the reason for the last time you went outside? A. To feed the barn-cats and horse.

14. Do you like fruity or minty gum? A. I don't chew gum. Haven't chewed for decades. But, as flavors go, minty is better than fruity.

15. Are you looking forward to any day of this month? A. Not especially. I'm looking forward to spring, though.

16. What was the last graduation you attended? A. An ECPI graduation. I taught there for a while in the late 90s.

17. Do you rummage through the $5 movie bin at Walmart every time? A. Never.

18. What day of the week do you usually do laundry? A. Varies—several days a week. Does anyone really have a "laundry day" anymore.

19. Do you like using air fresheners? A. No. Too many chemicals.

20. Are your nails ever painted red? A. Not for decades—and likely my nails will never be painted red.

21. When you were a baby, did you have a favorite blanket? A. Not that I recall. I think I had one blanket and one quilt, so not much to pick from.

22. Ever been on a cruise? A. No. Never really wanted to.

23. Would you rather go to Alaska or Russia? A. Alaska. But there are a lot of other places I'd rather go first.

24. Strawberries or bananas? A. Strawberries. They're way more diabetic friendly than bananas (which always cause my blood sugar to soar).

25. Are you wearing socks? A. Yes. I wear socks every day.

26. When’s the last time you went to the mall? A. I went to Staples at Tanglewood Mall in Roanoke eight or nine months ago, but I didn't go into the mall itself. I haven't been inside an actual mall for several years.
~


Monday, January 25, 2016

Snow Advice for Cats

by Tanner (Chief Household Cat)

Because of the big snow, some of the mostly outside cats have had to stay inside. The snow started before daylight on Friday morning.


Later in the morning, I watched it getting deeper on the deck.


Chloe wanted to go out and do her cat-work, but she did not like what she saw.

This was the first time that my kitty Arlo ever saw snow, so I tried to explain to him what it was.


He noticed that snow falls from the sky. I already knew that.


Finally he got bored watching it. It took him longer to get bored than it did me, but then I've seen snow before.


He tried watching from another angle, but it was still boring.


The boxwoods by the front porch got covered. I would not want to be out in the snow.


Any cats who tried to go out didn't get far.


I called a meeting of the other cats and told them I only knew of one way to get through this mess: We would sleep through it. So that's what we did. George and Chloe took one end of the sofa . . .


. . . and Camilla curled up on the other end. 


Sometimes Jim-Bob balled up tightly . . . 


. . . and sometimes he slept looser.  But he slept.


On Saturday morning, things were even worse outside. Mommy said we got a foot of snow, but I looked at my foot and it was way shorter than the snow. I think we got at least three or four cat feet of snow.

There was a big snowdrift in front of the garage door. So everybody kept sleeping, except for Daddy who had to go feed the barn critters.


Arlo and I occupied the bed, and I showed him different sleeping positions that I have used in the past. I thought one of them might work for him, but he is a short roundish kitty, not a long tall elegant cat like I am.






So this is how we're coping with the snow.


You don't even have to be a kitty to try it.
~

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Sunday, January 17, 2016

SOTK Report

by Tanner (Chief House Kitty)

Today I want to present my "State of the Kitties" report. I know it should have been an address, but my meow is so soft nobody would be able to hear me, so I wrote it instead. Note: This report pertains only to the house-kitties, whether they are full- or part-time. It doesn't include the outside cats.

As some of you know, the former Chief House Kitty, Dylan, crossed the rainbow bridge last month. Here is a picture of me and Dylan last September in our favorite spot. He liked to sit in the sun, and I would wash him.


 Chloe and Olivia and I said good-bye to Dylan right before he crossed. He was almost 15, and he'd had cancer for a few months. He let some big paw-prints for me to fill, but I will do my best.

The other kitties and I have made adjustments. Dylan used to walk around the outside of the house every morning and afternoon. He would sniff bushes and pee on ones that didn't smell right to him. George does that now. Jim-Bob, who is second-in-command to George outside, has taken over patrolling some of George's territory in addition to his own territory.


Jim-Bob usually works first shift and George works second shift, but sometimes they work together, It is their job to secure the perimeter of the property and to assist the barn-cats in checking the pasture for invading rodents. I think they are doing their jobs pretty good.

George is my bestest friend.


 I get along OK with Jim-Bob. Usually.


The two old lady cats, Olivia and Camilla, don't do much. They go out and sit on the deck if the weather is nice. Camilla is very old (17!) and spends most of her time sleeping. She has never liked me. Olivia, who is deaf and doesn't have teeth, walks to the barn and back on days when the weather is good. Sometimes Olivia will cuddle me, but not very often.


Chloe is a free spirit and does what she pleases, but she usually works first shift outside and then third shift on rat patrol in the garage. Chloe used to be my bestest friend, but then she started bossing me too much.


I have to confess that I maybe did a few bad things in the past year. The worst is I went AWOL. A few months ago, I got in line with the other cats when they went out at dawn. If it's kind of dark, I look like Camilla, so that made it easy to sneak out. Anyhow, I was gone for almost three days before I got tired of the wild life and came back. It was cold and rained a lot, so outside wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be.

Then there was the episode of the purloined shrimp. Mommy put some shrimp in a colander in the sink to thaw out. She covered them with a paper towel so I wouldn't notice. While she was in another room, I took the towel and just one shrimp. She caught me.


But I learned from that. I learned to eat the evidence a lot faster or else hide while I eat it. I also had an episode of dirt-slinging, but not as bad as what I might have done in the past. I was just trying to get away from Arlo who was pestering me, and I couldn't hide in the flower pot until I removed some dirt first.


Speaking of Arlo, at first I was suspicious of him, and I blogged about it last month in "Refugee Kitty." But I have got used to Arlo, so I took him under my wing.


At a recent cat meeting (we have them every morning while Mommy reads the paper, but she is quiet and doesn't bother us), we voted Arlo in as an official household kitty. He recently met both criteria for membership (neutering + rabies shot), so I proposed we include him. I excused myself from the meeting and went downstairs to get him. When we returned, he stayed behind me (maybe because in the past George chased him and Jim-Bob growled at him), so everybody was impressed by his politeness. He is one of us now.

And that's my "State of the Kitties" report.
—Tanner (Chief Household Kitty)
~


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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sarah Hill Shill?

This picture of Tanner sleeping has nothing  to do with this post's content.

Every so often, I get some spam comments submitted to this blog. Usually they're for recent posts, but when they're for posts from several years back, I get suspicious. When the same person comments on two old posts, I get more suspicious—as I did for these two posts from Sarah Hill, who is no doubt a shill for a scammy essay-writing service.

The first comment is for a two-sentence April 2008 post about a bird's nest. It has NOTHING to do with student writing. Plus, I haven't taught writing since 2007. And Sarah could use a little writing help herself ("As for it looks great!"):


The second one arrived 14 minutes after the first. Again, it was for an old post from 2008. Again, Sarah shills for the same essay mill. Again, her writing is, er, interesting: ". . . because it teats all the customers with respect and care. . . ." That certainly puts an image in my mind of customers having breasts attached—albeit it carefully and respectfully.


Now for a bit of irony. Sarah, bless her heart, just happened to reply to a post wherein I warn against essay mills. I even give an example of how bad the essays are by marking up a now-non-existant mill's offering.

I became aware of essay mills a few years ago while I was teaching Freshman Grammar & Comp. If a student's essay looked suspicious, I'd Google a phrase from it and see what popped up. My favorite was a descriptive essay in which a female student "wrote" about driving through fields of bluebells in Texas in 1995 with her boyfriend. Let's see, an 18-year-old freshman in 2008 or 2009 would have been how old in 1995? I Googled and found the essay posted on a professor's website at some Midwest university. He'd used it as a good example of a descriptive essay, and my student figured she couldn't go wrong with something like that, except . . . .

Now, teachers have more sophisticated means of detecting plagiarism, such as Turnitin and other plagiarism checkers. Odds are good, if a company sells an essay once, they'll sell it again.

When I checked out the site that shilly Sarah was touting, I found this right smack dab on the main page:


Why Oder indeed? 


~

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Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Promotion—Maybe

Warning: This post is about book promotion. It will be overwhelming uninteresting to those not actively involved in trying to sell their self-published books—and possibly uninteresting to those folks, too. But I'll throw in some kitty pix.


George is so embarrassed about being exploited that he has to cover his face.

Since I will be self-publishing  Them That Go (my seemingly never-ending-Appalachian-novel-in-perpetual-progress-toward-eventual-self-publication) with CreateSpace in a month or two, I try to keep up with CreateSpace news.  Recently CreateSpaceBlogger posted "New Year's Book Marketing Resolution,"which says, "In 2016 I will do (at least) one thing every day to promote my book(s)."

Then she gives a list. Having self-published my first novel, Patches on the Same Quilt, twice—off-set print runs in 2001 and 2003; CreateSpace version in 2014)—I'm already familiar with these suggestions. A lot of writers conferences I attended stressed some or all of these suggestions.


Chloe checks out the old cover of Patches on the Same Quilt and the new.

Let's see how I shape up according to the list:


Done that after Ferradiddledumday was published by a small press in 2010. If you click the link above, you can see it.

  • Craft or update a short, compelling bio

I have a bunch of bios—short, medium, and long—in a folder on my hard drive. Every year I update some of them. Been doing it for over fifteen years. I keep a long bio on my website. If I'm invited to a presentation, I refer the person who invited me to use anything from this bio she needs to introduce me.

  • Create or update a snappy description of your book

Snappy? For a serious novel? Uh, no. Concise, maybe? Here's what I have (so far) for Them That Go, but it's subject to change:

A secret revealed, A mystery solved, A life forever changed

In 1972, seventeen-year-old Annie Caldwell, who has the “gift” of animal communication, wants to be normal, but she’ll settle for being unnoticed. Annie’s brother died in Viet Nam, her mother is depressed and her father drinks. Her only friend is elderly Aint Lulie—who lives in the same holler and who understands the gift because she has one, too: “The first daughter in ever’ other generation has always been blest with a gift, though some think it a curse. Been that way for generations in the Caldwells, Byrnes, and once in a while in the Duffs.”
Aint Lulie also shares family history with Annie, including a mysterious death in the family and how their ancestors came to settle in the mountains: “There’s always been them that go and them that stay in ever’ generation.”
     When a popular local girl goes missing after a school dance, how do Aint Lulie and Annie use their gifts to help solve the mystery?
     Them That Go is an Appalachian novel rich in superstition, folklore, family, and secrets.

  • Check all of the above for grammatical errors

Done that—several times.

  • Update your headshot

Hmmm. Don't have any recent headshots. Does anyone really want to see how old I've gotten lately? How about a picture of a cute kitty instead? 


I have lots of those. But I think a good picture of the book's cover is in order. Because the book is the important thing. (The cover is still be created. Otherwise, I'd post it.)

  • Create a website

Did that back in 2010.


I do need to update my website though, and remove/fix some of the broken links. One of the things I heard at the first writers conference I attended many years ago was that an aspiring author should get www.yourname.com as a domain name (with "yourname" being your author name). And start on a website before the books is even finished.


Another thing I heard long ago at conferences was to start a blog. I forget which literary agent said, "A blog is your column. It proves to the world that you can write." But not long after I heard it, I started this blog.

  • Create a Goodreads profile

I didn't find Goodreads all that helpful, so I didn't use it much. It seemed like authors promoting to other authors. I have long since forgotten my Goodreads login info. But there's a page of my books here.

However, there's a good post about "Goodreads for Beginners" that's worth a read on Indies Unlimited.

  • Insert a hyperlink to your Amazon page or website in your email signature

Uh, no. When I email someone, it's generally a personal message to someone I know or it's a business email. Neither category is interested in my website info. My friends are already aware of it; businesses don't care. The only exception I make is when someone wants me to do a guest appearance. Then I send the links to avoid having to add a lengthy attachment.

I hate getting emails from friends (and others) with all kinds of advertising info in their signature. Odds are good that I already KNOW their website/blog/Facebook/Twitter? etc. If I'm interested, I'll request it.

  • Send a signed book to your college alumni magazine

WTH? Why would the VCU magazine be interested in a self-published book by someone who graduated 49 years ago? VCU already has plenty of big-name authors who either teach there or who graduated from there. A self-published author has little, if any, news appeal. ("I self-published a book" ranks right up there with "I attended community college" or "I shop at Kroger" because ANYBODY can do it. Now, if I could boast that "I sold 987,654,321 copies of my self-published book on the day before I won the lottery," that would be newsworthy.)

  • Research local alumni chapters of your alma mater and reach out to them--many have monthly newsletters

I'm pretty sure there aren't any chapters in the Greater Lower Penhook area where I live. I don't think there are any in the whole county.

  • Research book clubs near you--then offer to attend the meeting if they choose your book

There are lots of book clubs in the Smith Mountain Lake area. Some decide a year in advance what books they'll be reading. In the past, some read and discussed Patches on the Same Quilt and invited to the meeting where they were discussing it. But "offering myself to attend the meeting" as some kind of prize, or something. Uh, no. I'll wait to be invited.

  • Put a few copies of your book in the trunk of your car--you never know when you'll need them

Self-published authors ALWAYS carry more than just "a few copies" in the trunk. Currently I have a plastic wheeled-backpack filled with books—plastic, so books don't get wet if it rains; wheels, so I can move the thing when I do signings. In the truck, I also have a box of books so I can replenish the supply in the backpack.

However, I won't be "doing at least one thing ever day to promote my book." People get sick of that real fast. And I have a life—and cats that demand attention. I'll promote heavily at first—the first six weeks of so after the book is available—and then I'll slack off.

Other things I won't be doing are covered in my previous post, Book Promotion—Not.  And I don't want to do anything that would embarrass the cats so much they'd go into hiding.



I'd ask the cats for creative promotional ideas, but they're not good at thinking outside the box . . . 


. . . or even outside the basket.


~

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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book Promotion—NOT

Warning: Opinions about book promotion. Boring if you don't self-publish.
Despite the picture of Arlo (below),  this post has nothing to do with cats.



I'm in the home stretch of finishing what I've come to call my never-ending-Appalachian-novel-in-perpetual-progress-toward-self-publication, so I'm starting to think of ways to promote it. If you're a writer who is thinking of self-publishing, you need to also think about how your book will be promoted. "If you build it, they will come" won't work. A lot of other ways won't work either. 

I've learned from past experience with Patches on the Same Quilt that most ways of promoting a self-published book are pretty much exercises in futility. The best way to promote—at least in my case—is having the book with me when I do a speaking engagement. That's mainly what I'll do with the up-coming book, Them That Go.

Here are some promotions that I won't be using:

1. Chain Letter Forwarding

Recently I was forwarded an email chain letter that contained a poem (think doggerel, here) about what to do in winter (read). 



Given the light-hearted tone of the poem, plus the use of the expression "Woo Hoo!" and the overuse of exclamation points and the title of the book (with an exclamation point!) and the fact that the email was in Comic Sans font, I figured the book was humor, so I actually looked it up on Amazon. (I had to look it up because there was no Amazon link in the email.) I used Amazon's "look inside" feature to read a bit. I stopped reading pretty fast—a child discovering the decaying body of a girl obviously isn't humor. I don't want to read graphic scenes like this that involve children. Given that gruesome scene—and the misleading spam email (in Comic Sans, no less!!!!), I doubt I'll ever read anything by this author. 

Emailing folks you don't personally know—and who might not like your genre—is annoying. See literary agent Janet Reid's recent blogpost, "Who Should Be On Your Mailing List."

2. An Author Page on Facebook

I had some FaceBook pages for earlier books, but I took them down. They didn't seem to do much. Besides, Facebook is where I keep in touch with a variety of friends—former students, people I don't see often, people who share the same likes as I do, other cat-lovers, people with a connection to Appalachia, other writers both well-known and unknown, etc.—people I find interesting. Yeah, I'll mention my book from time to time, but I'm more likely to share a picture of one of my cats. 

I did a bit of research about the use of Author Pages and came to this conclusion: they're a waste of time. Here are some of the sites I looked at:



.  . . and there are more, but you get the idea.

3. Twitter and Other Social Media

I rarely use my Twitter account anymore. I find a lot of the tweets I get are basically annoying. Except those from Arjun Basu. Those are usually entertaining. I've never even used Pintarest or Instagram.  Janet Reid's posted about how not to use Twitter with suggestions on how to use it. It's worth a read.

A good blog-post that explains why social media doesn't work is Whimsydark's "Please shut Up: Why self-promotion as an author doesn't work."

4. Author Showcases or Samplers

Recently I've seen several online mentions about a "sampler" book that contains the first 2,500 words of fourteen authors who paid $25 (yes, PAID!!!!) to have their work included in a book that likely no one who doesn't know an included author will fork over $5 for the paperback or 99¢ for the Kindle version. However, the guy who published it also made a free download available, so that's how I happened to read some of it. (I assume he could afford to give it away free because advertisers paid $45 to have their ads included in the back.)

One thing I noticed about the "sampler" was that a variety of genres were represented—from horror to inspirational. And I noticed misspelled words and a few other problems that should have been fixed by editing. I doubt many potential readers will buy a sampler when they can just use Amazon's "look inside" feature for a title that might interest them.

I don't think being associated with an apparently unedited collection of assorted genres makes for effective promotion. I also think that if writers are not paid for a contribution to an anthology-type tome, they at least shouldn't be charged for inclusion. Anyhow—while I occasionally contribute to legit anthologies that are actually edited—I won't be paying my way into something like this.

5. Blatant Self-promotion

From Blogcritics' post, "Blatant Self-Promotion Syndrome": 


Nothing makes my day more than opening an email from someone who I thought was a friend only to be faced with a generic greeting (if there is one at all), followed by information about them and their book that I already knew. Now I’m convinced that the last thing I want to do is to buy their book.

What I will be doing: I'll make some personal appearances at area libraries and other places that offer me a place to sign and sell books or that let me give a presentation. Because of my limited mobility, I won't be going very far, and I'll have to consider venues that have easy handicap access. But I'll be going out where I can meet readers face-to-face. I think that's the best way to promote.

I might use some of the suggestions Whimsydark discusses in "Wait, keep talking: Author Self-Promo That Actually Works.

And I'll exploit my cats. From time to time, I'll post pictures of my cats with the book. Arlo is already practicing.




~

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