Peevish Pen

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

© 2006-2017 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), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

The Unquiet Grave

Many folks in southwestern Virginia and West Virginia know the story of Zona Heaster Shue, whose ghost appeared to her mother and told how her husband Trout had killed her. A sign in Greenbrier County, WV, summarizes what happened.

Plus numerous online sites give information about this bizarre murder trial, such as Little Bits of History Along U.S. Roadways, Appalachian History, and Prairie Ghosts to list a few. 

With so much documentation of what happened, what more is there to tell of Zona's sad story? Turns out, there's quite a bit. In her latest novel, The Unquiet Grave, Sharyn McCrumb reveals more about the story and the people who were involved.

While The Unquiet Grave is a novel, thanks to McCrumb's meticulous historical research, it  reads like non-fiction. McCrumb conveys the story through two viewpoints: Zona's mother (Mary Jane Heaster) tells her side as a first person narrator, and a third person limited narrator tells the story of James P. D. Gardner, an African-American lawyer and one of Trout Shue's defense attorneys.

The story alternates between Gardner's story in 1930 Larkin, West Virginia, and Mrs. Heaster's  account of Zona and her ill-fated marriage in Greenbrier County three decades earlier. Confined to an insane asylum because of his suicide attempt, Gardner tells the story of his most memorable case to one of the doctors, who thinks having Gardner talk about his experiences will help him recover. At the time of Zona's death, Gardner was a young man working in the law office of a former pro-Union slaveowner. Until the murder trial in 1898, he had done mostly routine work.

Mrs. Heaster's story about her only daughter portrays Zona as a young woman who is too pretty for her own good and who does what she pleases. When Zona is impregnated by a local ne'er-do-well she doesn't want to marry even if he wanted to marry her, Mrs.Heaster makes arrangements for the baby to be given to an older couple back in the mountains. Free of the obligation to raising a child, Zona goes to Richlands to visit her cousins. There she meets a handsome young blacksmith, new in town, and they are instantly smitten with each other. In a few weeks they marry. Mrs. Heaster is suspicious of Trout Shue from the first time she meets him.

A few months after her wedding, Zona is dead—supposedly from a broken neck suffered in a fall down the steps—and her mother is suspicious because of Trout's odd behavior at the funeral. A month later, Mrs. Heaster reports to the county prosecutor that her daughter appeared to her as a ghost and told her how Shue had murdered her. Zona's body is exhumed and examined, and it turns out that her broken neck was not from the fall after all. Shue is arrested for his wife's murder.

Shue's defense attorney assigns his young assistant, Mr. Gardner, with the job of preparing a defense. While Gardner has a long legal career, Trout Shue's trial is the case that stands out the most—and the case he discusses with the young Dr. Boozer at the asylum. After all, it's the only known murder case where a ghost provided incriminating evidence.

I won't give away anything else that happens in this book, except to note there are some interesting twists and turns. Read more about this new book here.

The title, The Unquiet Grave, is apt. Both Gardner and Zona are connected by "unquiet" graves. Zora tells the story of her death after she's been buried for a month; while still alive, Gardner is "buried" in an insane asylum until he tells his story.

The Unquiet Grave is Sharyn MCrumb at her best—meticulous research, interesting characters, and a compelling story! I read the review copy in two days (and nights)—it was so good I didn't want to put it down.

The Unquiet Grave debuts on September 10, 2017, in Greenbrier county, WV. A list of other places and times she'll be promoting this book are here.

While The Unquiet Grave won't be available until September, you can pre-order a copy from Amazon.
Note: I mentioned this book in a previous blog-post:  "The Greenbrier Ghost."

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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Golf Cart Trail Ride

Twenty-five years ago, I used to ride wooded trails on my horse, but those days are gone. I no longer have a horse, and health probems prevent me from walking, much less horseback riding. But this afternoon, I went on a trail ride—via golf-cart.

The part of the old Sutherland Plantation we bought in 2016 has a few trails that my husband has kept clear. Here's the start of one:

It leads downhill to the creek . . . 

. . . and it's below the last house built on the property.

Today was in the 80s, but the woods were surprisingly cool.

We passed ferns and downed trees.

Some of the trees were pretty good-sized.

We also passed where previous owners had dumped appliances, etc.

At the bottom, we came to the creek, which eventually flows into Bull Run, a cove on Smith Mountain Lake. 

Soon the hayfield came into view.

This tree was between the trail and creek. It almost looks like a paw-paw, but the leaves are much bigger.

Finally we came to the bridge, which leads to the fields and an old house. Given the conditin of the bridge, we didn't drive across.

From the bridge, we could see the old William Milton Sutherland house. Will served in the Confederate army. In the 1900 census, he was the closest neighbor to my 3rd great-grandfather, John Wood Smith.

The field in front of the house, which is a clapboarded-over double-pen log cabin, looks bluish. That's because the hay-fields were limed today. 

Near the bridge, two trees intertwined and looked like a sculpture.

The trail starting back up:

Just past this stand of trees is a busy road:

The trail ride was much too short, but it was nice while it lasted.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

To Read or Not To Read

Since I'm get elderly and don't have as much time left as I used to, I'm getting pickier in my reading selections—or at least in what kind of novels I don't want to read.

I don't want to read about misery. I did a blog-post about that back in 2008: I don't want to read about abuse to children or animals. I don't want to read about graphic violence, so I don't want a blow by blow description of someone's murder/torture/decapitation/etc. I don't want to read horror (though I used to love Stephen King) because there's enough real horror in the world. I can tolerate a little misery in my fiction as long as it isn't too bad and something good comes out of it, but I don't need a misery overload. (Some novels I've recently read and liked that included some misery were Necessary Lies, The Eduction of Dixie Dupree, and In the Unlikely Event, but those novels had a lot of redeeming value, too.)

I'm not keen on science fiction (unless Ray Bradbury wrote it), and—though I used to watch Star Trek and Next Generation every week—I'm not interested in reading about space travel. I'm not much into thrillers (the exception being a Lee Child novel). I'll read an occasional romance, but I want it to be realistic and non-formulaic—and have  characters I can actually identify with and a small town setting, like this one.

I don't want to read a novel that isn't nicely wrapped up at the end. I don't want to have to read the next in a series to find out what happens to characters I've come to care about. A sequel is fine—same characters but different story line, or same setting but different characters—but I want that sequel to also have a logical ending. I hate cliffhangers.

I don't want to read a novel that's loaded with errors. While I'll forgive the occasional typo in a self-published book (Heck—I recently corrected a dozen of them in Them That Go a year after it was published!), I don't forgive continuing misuse of punctuation. Recently, I almost bought a book on Amazon whose description made me think I'd enjoy it. Then I "looked inside" and saw that the author had repeatedly used a hyphen with a space on either side when she meant a dash and—in several places—had put periods and commas outside quotation marks when she wasn't British. Plus she'd started the book with a description of the character driving somewhere. Nothing actually happened for the couple of pages I read before I decided I wouldn't waste my money or my time with that book.

I don't want to read a novel where characters speak every word in phonetically-spelled dialect. I'm picky about dialogue.  I want word choice, grammar, and sentence structure—and only occasionally a phonetically spelled word—to reflect the characters' dialect. Earlier this year, I encountered a self-published Appalachian novel where the characters spoke long sentences with an occasional grammatical error inserted. There were no regional expressions, and the dialogue didn't ring true.

I don't want to read a novel where situations don't ring true either. In the above self-published novel,  a couple of children (who were looking after a relative's ill-tempered workhorse) tried to get the horse out of a shed where it was eating cow feed. They dropped a pitchfork from the roof into the horse's tail, twisted the handle so it stayed in the horse's tail, and then tried to pull the horse out by the handle. The horse backed out, but ran off while the pitchfork kept pricking its hindquarters.

Books with mistakes where horses are concerned really bother me. Having owned horses from 1977 until until six months ago, I know a good bit about them. I found several problems with that scene: (1) A farmer is not likely to keep a bad-tempered horse that won't stand while he hitches it. Trying to plow with an uncooperative horse would be a disaster. (2) A pitchfork twisted into a horse's tail won't twist very far because of the tailbone. (3) An ill-tempered horse would have kicked the daylights out of the kids. (4) Even if a pitchfork could have been twisted into a horse's tail, the horse would have stepped on the handle when it backed out and dislodged the pitchfork itself. (5) The horse would likely have foundered from eating all that cow feed—didn't those farm kids consider that?

Another self-published novel I read a few years ago had some people, allegedly knowledgeable about horses, find a wandering Tennessee Walker with its legs wrapped in plastic wrap. They go on for a bit about how the horse was sored, how horrible soring is, how they need to call a vet, etc.—but they didn't take off the plastic wrap and hose off the horse's legs so it might get some relief. And, the reader eventually learns, neither did the guy who—in order to save the horse from mistreatment—took the horse from a barn where it had been sored and released it in a neighborhood where it would be found. Why didn't he take off the wrap?

Though I am now horseless, I still like to read novels that have horses as characters. But I don't care for books in which the author has no clue about equine nature. I liked most of Year of Wonders  by Geraldine Brooks, but when I got to the part where the young woman canters bareback through the town while carrying a baby and her belongings, and then this: "I was halfway down the road and going at a canter, when I realized that I could not let it end so. I turned then in the saddle and saw him standing there, his gray eyes fixed on me. I raise my hand to him. He lifted his in return. And then [the horse] reached the bend that leads to the Bakewell road, and I had to turn away and give all my attention to the downhill gallop."

So—she turns away from the direction the horse is going and raises one hand, leaving the other hand to secure the baby (which fortunately sleeps through all this) AND guide the fast-moving horse. Then she gallops the horse down a long steep slope while carrying a baby (which is tied to her via a sling) and her belongings (which might have been tied to the saddle, but surely the galloping would cause them to flop up and down). Scenes like this are accidents waiting to happen. You don't gallop down a very steep hill unless you want to experience the horse somersaulting. You let the horse carefully pick its way down.

Another novel I read years ago—by a big-name author, no less—had a woman put her horse in an otherwise empty barn that she'd come across and leave the horse for a couple of days while she hid out elsewhere—and the horse was fine when she returned.

A best-seller that I reviewed here thought that General Lee's horse Traveller was a mare, not a gelding. Arrggh! (You can tell from the picture below that Traveller was not a mare.)

(Note: Authors who don't know much about equines might take a look at these links to articles about writing about horses:,, and Or they should ask a horse person for advice.

So—what do I want to read? I like Appalachian and Southern lit. I like novels with a strong main character who accomplishes something. That character should also be likeable. I like characters who are three dimensional and believable. I like a definite setting—I don't care if it's made up, but it should seem like a real place. And I like a well-crafted and believable plot. If the book is historical fiction, I want accuracy.

And I want a happy ending.

If you have any recommendations for books I might like, please leave love the titles in the comments.


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The F&P Railroad

From 1880 until 1932, the Franklin & Pittsylvania Railroad ran through what is now my front yard and slowed down at the Novelty Depot to grab a mailbag from a hook and toss off another. The narrow gauge railroad, which made its first run on April 16, 1880, ran thirty-one miles from Rocky Mount in Franklin County to Gretna (then called Franklin Junction and later Elba) in Pittsylvania County. (The railroad's timeline is here.)

The rails probably went through this section of my lawn to the Novely Depot in the distance.
The road at left was once the old Louis Island Road.

Nicknamed "the Fast and Perfect" by locals, it was neither neither fast nor perfect. Beset by many problems, it never even made a profit. But the stories about it are pretty interesting—and Tex D. Carter has done a commendable job documenting some of these stories, as well as giving a brief history of the railroad, in his 35-page self-published book, The Old Fast & Perfect. (He plans a larger book in the future.) Available from Carter when he does presentations and also from Amazon, the book gives an interesting glimpse into a part of local history. 

This page from his book features a photo of the locomotive:

. . . and pages 30-31 have photos from some of the depots along the line near where I live—the Glade Hill Depot, the Union Hall Depot, Novelty, and the Pen Hook (it used to be two words) Depot.

Carter relates some of the accidents that happened along the line. On page 12, he refences a January 1915 Lynchburg News article about wreck near Union Hall, in which the train "derailed and two passenger coaches rolled down a steep embankment. While the passengers were "shaken up," none was seriously hurt. Other accidents resulted in fatalities. Carter included a photo of a brief news article about this accident: "Frank Haley of Franklin Junction, hostler on the Franklin and Pittsylvania branch of the Southern Railway, was run over near Union Hall to-day, severing both his legs, from which he died in a few hours.He was thirty-five yers old and is survived by a wife and children." He briefly mentions another accident, in which conductor Nathan Rucker "was killed while inserting a coupling pin between two cars."

The train never ran over twenty-five miles per hour, but still had ome problems staying on track. A quote from the back cover:

Carter has used a collection of pictures, news articles, letters, and recollections to tell this interesting story of the railroad that cut through two counties. If you're from Franklin or Pittsylvania counties, you'll enjoy reading about this regional history. Even if you ain't from around here, and you're a railroad buff, you'll enjoy the book. Since Carter is planning a much more detailed book in the future, this one will give you a good preview of what to expect.

Tex D. Carter holding the proof copy.

I have enjoyed reading my copy of The Old Fast & Perfect. I think Arlo the cat did, too.

Arlo wonders how he can use a spike from the F&P as a bookmark.
At $5.00 per copy, this little book is a bargain!

Note: I mentioned Tex and the F&P in my earlier blog-post about the Penhook Pottery. Clay from Pittsville was hauled to the pottery via the F&P.
Note: On Thursday, July 13, Tex D. Carter will be doing two book signings: Carl's Place in Pen Hook at 10 AM, and the history museum in Rocky Mount from noon until 2 PM.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

CenturyLink Scam

On June 1, the following email arrived in my inbox:

I thought it sounded a bit odd. It didn't address me—the customer—by name. Had it been sent to a group, it should have been sent to "customers."  The syntax didn't quite sound like English was Jobidd's native language. Also, I'm pretty sure that CenturyLink, being an internet provider, would use a email addy, not a zoom Naturally, I didn't click on the page.

A few days later, I received a warning from "CenturyLink" about my mailbox being almost full. But they'll give me a free upgrade if I click my email address and re-login. Uh-oh.

Plus now the alleged CenturyLink rep is using a email addy. I'm pretty sure CL wouldn't do that. Then came another one—a final warning—from a different sender at the addy:

This time I hovered the cursor over my email addy that the scammer wanted me to click. It wasn't a link to CenturyLink at all (Are we surprised?) but a link to doitalwaysshhn (dot) com/ verified/ centurylink/ (. . .some more stuff. . . ) and ending in login (dot) htm. No way was I going to click to see where that went.

I'm also puzzled by the copyright notice on the bottoms of all three emails. Why would they be copyrighted? Would they sue me if I copied them?

Well, I didn't actually copy, did I? I just did 3 screen grabs that I exported as jpegs after altering my addy. 

I doubt I'm the only one being sent these scam emails. Y'all be careful what you click.


Friday, June 09, 2017

Scummy Writing Services

This post has nothing to do with cute kitties washing each other, but I'll post a picture anyhow:

This post does have to do with some scummy "writing service" providers who have attempted to infiltrate this blog.  Recently I received this as a comment to a 2008 blog post (note that I have smudged the contact info a bit):

The blog post commented upon had nothing to do with essay writing, so I don't know why this disreputable company chose it for a spam attempt. As a former college English instructor, I despise companies that provide cheating services for students. Naturally, I didn't approve the comment for publication. But I have no qualms about holding it up to ridicule.

I do appreciated the irony of "100% Plagiarism Free Content." Aren't they providing an essay for a student to plagiarize? (Or, if the essay has been paid for, maybe it's not really plagiarism?) And do they mean free content that is 100% plagiarism? Or do they mean "100% Plagiarism-Free Content"?

They don't seem to know that the presentation PowerPoint is one word. Or perhaps their "Power Point" is something that's done with a strong index finger and not the Microsoft program at all. That "Help on AdmissioDissertationn Essays" is a puzzler, too. Perhaps they need some help with their "Proofreading and Editing."

This is a good place to take a time-out with a cute kitty picture:

Now back to scummy writing services: Two days after that comment appeared in my email, I received an email from someone who wanted to do a guest post on my blog (I've smudged the company name and removed the email addy):

I couldn't imagine why this person wanted to do a guest post. (And on which blog? I have a few others besides this one.) Naturally, I checked the website—it's a "Legit & Cheap Essay Writing Service." Wow! both legit AND cheap! They're only $12 a page unless you have a short deadline—then there's a "rush charge." But  they're offering a 20% discount! Right smack dab on their website, they say:

If you need a professional essay writer to help you 
out with an ultra urgent college paper, use our
fast, completely legit, and cheap essay writing
 service NOW!

I wasn't impressed with the creative spacing for the above, nor was I impressed with the sentence structure of this claim:

Our essay writing service is equally popular with native USA students
as well as international students, another reason that proves our affordability and reliability

Like the other scammer, this one also offered papers that were "100% Plagiarism Free." But this one also claimed one of their "awesome features" was that their essays were "100% Turnitin Proof." If you're not familiar with Turnitin,  here's a link: A lot of colleges use Turnitin to check student writing for plagiarism.

If you're a student, you'd be stupid to use one of these scummy "services." If you fall prey to these "services," you might be too stupid to even go to college.

If you represent one of these "services," you are indeed stupid if you think I will approve your comment on this blog or allow you to make a guest blog-post. But I will use your email or website to shine a bit of light on your dubious "services."

I've addressed similar scumbag services before. See the following

And now for another cute kitty pic:


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Thursday, June 08, 2017

Kroger Buggy Update

Last month, I blogged about the problems of shopping at Kroger On Senior Day. I mentioned how hard if was for those of us who are mobility-impaired to get around the Rocky Mount store in handicapped buggies because many aisles were blocked by restockers and their huge carts. Those buggies are sometimes difficult to access, too.

Every time I fill out the "Kroger Feedback" online questionnaire to get more fuel points, I mention the problems that handicapped folks have. Last time I even included a link to the blog-post about them. The aisles are a bit better now, but there's still a problem with buggy access—BIG SIGNS that prevent those who need a handicapped buggy from getting one. About two weeks ago, when I told the manager about the new big red signs  blocking the buggies, he said those signs were a corporate decision and they concealed a monitor that detected stolen items. He said he couldn't remove them.

Ths past Monday, I found that another sign had been added to further block the buggies.  See—it blocks the entry area into the buggy's seat.

Notice that the buggies are lined up so close together that even someone who isn't old or crippled would have trouble getting one. Notice the big box blocking the far end—so the buggies aren't accessible from either end.

Luckily I had found a buggy outside and didn't have to try to get one out of the line. But there were no doubt others who weren't so lucky.

Why is Kroger so handicapped-unfriendly? How 'bout moving those signs? 

UPDATE: On June 13, the smaller sign had been removed and the buggies were more accessible. But on June 26, the small sign was back and I had to shove it out of the way.

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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

An Ill Wind Shear

"But it's an ill wind that blaws nobody gude."
—Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy

An ill wind indeed stuck the northeastern part on Union Hall on Sunday night, and indeed it blew ill. A rainbow in the evening hinted that the storms were ending.

But Sunday night brought high winds to a narrow strip of the county. The wind shear did considerable damage to trees and a few buildings. A neighbor to our farm in the area called early Monday to tell us what happened. He'd lost a bunch of trees as well as half the roof off a barn his grandfather had built in the late 1800s.

By the time wew went out to look, VDOT crews were cleaning up.

As we neared our farm, we saw this:

And then one of our trees—a big red oak that must be a hundred years old.

We had some smaller trees damaged, too. Plus some of our hay was flattened (it'll spring back) and the roof was blown off an ancient chicken house. The following pictures are on our neighbor's side of the road.

More scenes of the clean-up:

On Monday afternoon, another unusual event happened in Union Hall—a boat ran aground on Rt. 40.

OK—what really happened is that a big truck hauling a big boat on a low flatbed tried to turn onto Kemp Ford Road and didn't quite make it.

The turn is kind of tight and vehicles have to go over a hump. The trailer caught on the hump and wasn't going anywhere. An unmarked police car soon arrived (see the blue light?). At that point we left, so I don't know how they got the boat unstuck. 

I wonder if it got stuck again on some of the narrow roads to the numerous coves at the lake. I wonder if it encountered any downed trees. . . .

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