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.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Roadkill Diversity

Recently I drove by four buzzards (vultures to y'all northerners) chowing down on the remains of a recently deceased groundhog. Since the groundhog was at the edge of the road, the buzzards temporarily relocated to the nearest fence to let me pass. As they flew fenceward, I noticed that three of them were black buzzards and the other was a turkey buzzard. I’ve seen plenty of buzzards before, but this was the first time I’d seen an integrated flock of buzzards.

Buzzards are not things of beauty, but they are useful critters. They do a remarkably efficient job of cleaning up carcasses. Two days later, there was no trace left of the dead groundhog.

I’ve noticed something else strange about roadkill this spring: possums are missing. In the last two months, I’ve seen a total of two squashed possums on the county’s roads. Usually, possums are the most numerous type of roadkill around here, and it’s rare to go a day without seeing at least one every few miles. I’ve seen raccoon, skunks, groundhogs, rabbits, and the occasional deer or squirrel—but where have all the possums gone? I haven’t even seen any live ones, either, for a couple of months—not since one hissed at Maggie near the creek in early March. My deck used to be a major possum thoroughfare, but no more.

Possums are the cockroaches of the mammalian world. They seem to survive anything. So where are they?

Have the coyotes gotten them? Coyotes have become more numerous in the county. A dog doesn’t have much trouble killing a possum—my now-deceased old border collie could dispatch a possum in 10 seconds. A coyote should be able to do the same.

Or did Appalachian Electric Power Company’s herbicide spraying do them in? A couple of months ago, AEP sprayed all foliage under its lines—regardless of whether lines crossed creeks or went through pastures. Consequently, vegetation that was once lush and green is now brown and ugly. Did whatever they sprayed eliminate the possums?

I checked with my animal communicator friend, Karen Wrigley. She reports the dynamics are changing in the county, and there are indeed fewer possums than there used to be. The drought this spring has affected them—some have moved to moister areas where there’s more vegetation to act as cover. The increasing coyote population has eliminated some possums who can’t move fast enough to get away from swift-running predators. The possums didn’t like the smell of the spray and avoided those areas, which are usually along the roads (plus—before the recent heavy rains—the roadways have been dry). And now I feed my cats in the garage, not on the deck, so my deck provides no tasty leftovers for scavenging possums.

I guess the possums will survive. Just not around here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Making Hay

Because we had such a dry spring, our hay fields' yield was only a third of what it usually is.

This picture, taken two weeks ago in our biggest field in Union Hall, shows the cut hay waiting to be round-baled. Jack, the elderly mixed retriever stands in the foreground. Behind him, Maggie runs down the hill while my husband walks toward the tractor.

Luckily my husband got the bales off the field before the rains came. Today we got 2.2 inches in our rain guage.

Some parts of Virginia flooded today and yesterday. Roanoke, 40 miles to the northeast, got over 3 inches of rain today on top of what fell the last couple of days. Salem, west of Roanoke, got 5.37 inches today and had lots of flooding. In our part of Franklin County, we were OK.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Desk Dog


What's under your desk?

I have a border collie under mine. With some of her toys.

I think Maggie is taking over.

Books I've Read Lately

Yesterday, I posted a picture of the books I haven’t read yet but intend to. What have I read lately?

I just finished Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose, by Constance Hale, and loved it: A grammar book that goes way beyond grammar books! I checked it out from the Franklin County Library but might have to break down and buy a copy. It’s the second best writing book I’ve read this year. (The best was literary agent Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages.)

I’ve enjoyed a couple of self-pubbed books recently. Right now, I’m slightly past the middle of Fred First’s Slow Road Home: A Blue Ridge Book of Days. I’ve been savoring this collection of essays by reading a few selections a night.

Fred, who sometimes reads his essays on the local NPR station, lives the next county over from me. If you want to get a feel for the Blue Ridge region, take a look at Fred’s blog, Fragments from Floyd. Fred will be one of the readers at the Franklin County Book Festival’s kick-off on Friday, August 18, at 6:30 p.m. at the Edible Vibe in downtown Rocky Mount.

Two other self-pubbed books—actually POD—that I read in the last two months are When Men Move to the Basement, a collection of humorous essays by Marion Higgins, and Scott’s Addition, a memoir/autobiography of growing up in a certain section of Richmond, by Ken Woodcock. Marion will also be one of the readers at the Edible Vibe.

Last week I finished The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. Yeah, I know, I’m probably one of the last to read this wonderful book that everyone else has already discovered. I bought a used copy last March at the Virginia Festival of the Book, finally opened it, read the first page, and was hooked. I really like books told in multiple viewpoints.

Also at the Virginia Festival of the Book, I picked up a used copy of Mary Lee Settle’s memoir, Addie. I’d enjoyed Settle’s Beulah Land series many years ago, and—while I’m not a big fan of memoir—I enjoyed Addie, too.

During the last year, not only have I read (and own signed copies of) three of the 2006 Library of Virginia’s Readers’ Choice nominees—Emyl Jenkin’s Stealing with Style, Nancy Beasley’s Izzy’s Fire, and Sharyn McCrumb’s St. Dale—but I’ve also heard all three authors read from their books. An antiques mystery, a story of a Holocaust survivor, and the Canterbury Tales meets NASCAR: how's that for eclectic reading?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

To Be Read


The stack of books I intend to read is now more than three feet tall. (Note the yardstick beside the stack.) I've acquired most of these books within the last two years. Some are signed by the author (I usually buy books when I hear an author do a reading), three are textbook examination copies I had in my office, some I exchanged with other self-pubbed authors, and a few I bought because I just wanted to read them.

One of the books I always intended to read was Samuel Pepys' diary. I'd read a smattering of his entries in various English class anthologies and always wanted to read more about his everyday life a few centuries ago. But I never got around to buying a copy of the diary or even downloading the ebook from Project Gutenberg.

What if Samuel Pepys—a 17th century guy who never would have become famous* if he hadn't kept meticulous records of his daily activities—had kept a blog instead of a diary? Thanks to the magic of the Internet, he did. Well, sort of. His diary makes a pretty good blog, don't you think?

I'm adding it to my virtual stack of things to read. And—unlike my book stack—it won't take up any space at all.

*at least in innumerable English lit classes

Friday, June 23, 2006

Reflections of a Young Border Collie, Part 2

by Maggie Mae

I love to play in water, so I love creeks! Sometimes in the evenings, I get to ride in the truck to the farm down the road. Before long, I'm in the creek. I splash and soak.

Then I run. I especially like to run through tall grass. Then I go back to the creek.

Here I am at the place in Polecat Creek that was the favorite place of my owner's former border collie. Can you see me? I'm black and white like a polecat.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Caught in the Web

The other morning, I opened the garage door to find a large moth hanging from a spider web that hadn't been there the night before.

What would a small spider do with such a large moth? After wrapping the tip of the wing, she'd given up on it. What she'd caught was more than she could handle.

Sometimes small efforts lead to large rewards. I guess we have to be prepared to deal with those unexpected rewards.

When we cast our webs, there's no telling what we might catch.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Literary Road Trip


On Friday, my friend Sally and I decided to visit some bookstores in Pittsylvania and Henry Counties to see if they’d be interested in carrying our books. It took Sally about a half hour to get from her Bedford County house on the other side of Smith Mountain Lake to my Franklin County house. She probably could have made better time if she hadn’t had to stop twice for turkeys crossing Route 608. We then took off in my PT Cruiser for our literary road trip. Among our stops were two delightful independent bookstores.

In downtown Chatham—slightly more than a half hour south of where I live—we stopped at Chatham Books, which is located right across Main Street from the Confederate soldier statue at the courthouse. Chatham books carried my self-pubbed novel, Patches on the Same Quilt, when it first came out in 2001. However, I hadn’t been back for a while. The store is still as charming as I remember it. Sally and I petted Buddy, the official bookstore dog, and had a pleasant chat with Bill Hewitt, who bought some of our books for the store. If you’re ever traveling Route 29, go through this picture-postcard-pretty town and stop at the bookstore. Be sure to pet Buddy.

In Martinsville, we stopped at Binding Time, a combination cafe/bookstore/gallery at the back of the Patrick Henry Mall and chatted with the owners, Bonnie and John Hale, who are preparing to move Binding Time to a bigger space in Stanleytown soon. They took our information and said they’d contact us. They were having a sidewalk sale to clear some of their inventory before the move, so I couldn’t resist buying a Lewis Grizzard book for 75¢. If their new store is as nice as the old one, it’ll be a great place to visit.

Sally and I had a great time. We’ve decided we really ought to do more literary road trips.

FYI: Tightsqueeze Plaza is a real place on Route 29 south of Chatham. We made a brief comfort stop there, and I couldn't resist taking a picture of the sign.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Exclude me now

Writers—especially self-pubbed or vanity pubbed writers (as well as writer-wannabees)—seem to attract scammers. Maybe the scammers think, “Gee they paid to get published. Let’s see what else they’ll pay for.”

Despite my vanity-pubbed status, I’m pretty savvy when it comes to writing scams. I’ve been to conferences where scams are identified, I’ve read the scam-warning sites on the Internet, I talk to other writers. I’ve known for years that the International Library of Poetry, American Book Publishing Company, and PublishAmerica are the biggies of writing scams. I know that legitimate agents don’t ask for money upfront and don’t post their clients’ works-in-progress on a website in hopes that an editor or publisher will see them. I know that real agents are members of the AAR and usually live in (or work out of) New York.

I know not to pay for posting pictures of my books’ covers on a website that will “display” them for potential buyers. I know not to contribute my work for free to a site that will use said work for content, while actually promoting a product or service that it sells. I know never to pay for a book review—especially a review by an unknown reviewer—that will be displayed on an obscure website that no one reads and that few even know exists. And I know that amazon.com book reviews are basically worthless—especially the ones by anonymous reviewers. (People go to amazon.com to buy books they’ve already decided they want. Who browses book reviews at amazon.com to decide which book to buy?) I wasn't born yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, I was napping when the phone rang and woke me up. A smooth talker asked if I’d gotten his email. When he told me his company name, I told him my scam filter had probably caught it. (I won’t identify the company by name here, but the first part is the first half of the word information and the second part is the four-letter synonym for a dollar bill. Suffice to say, it isn’t a name that sounds, well, respectable.)

He told me that he’d put my business card—which he’d picked up at a used bookstore—on his website that promotes area businesses. I told him I wasn’t an “area business”—that I was a writer and educator.

He mentioned how attractive my card was and that he wanted to display cards that were colorful, not plain black print on a white background. (Huh? Is this a red flag, or what?) He told me he was providing this service for free (Yeah, right, I thought, as another red flag waved close to my nose.)

Also—and here’s the kicker—he wanted me to “contribute a service” that the other businesses on his site might use. (The red flags were flapping now.) I explained again that I was a retired teacher who’d written a couple of books. I wasn't a business. He said that maybe I could do something in the way of writing to help Junior Achievement, whose card was also displayed on his site. I asked him if Franklin County had a Junior Achievement program. He didn’t know—he was in Roanoke and they had Junior Achievement there. I told him I was in rural America—forty miles from Roanoke—and there wasn’t Junior Achievement around here. (Another red flag: Shouldn’t he know about the “businesses” his site promoted?)

He insisted that I look at his site and then, if I didn’t like what I saw, he’d remove my card. He dictated both his URL and email addy to me.

I looked at his site and wasn't impressed. It took several minutes to load (a site shouldn’t take more than eight seconds to load), wasn’t scalable (so all parts of it weren’t viewable unless I scrolled horizontally), and wasn’t well designed at all. It was, well, a random collection of business cards for wineries, realtors, builders, etc. Yeah, Junior Achievement was there and so was my card. In the menu bar were links to several of this guy’s businesses—something about technology in healthcare, another about publishing (“America’s most affordable publishing outlet”), something about a nationwide healthcare system, a solicitation for survey takers, etc. This guy was certainly, uh, diversified.

But what did he have to gain from posting business cards? I knew there must be something. . . . Anyhow, I emailed him and told him to remove my card.

Later that night I accessed my faculty email that soon will be shut down. I hadn’t signed on for two weeks so emails had piled up—including this guy’s emails—one per day (sometimes two!) for over a week.

The June 9th email—the last one before he phoned me—gave away how he wants to make money:
You probably are aware of how well your business is being promoted with your artistically designed business cards, which add a touch of flair to the site...thus reciprocity. I am happy to promote your business at no charge throughout the valley. However, in order for me to continue to do so, I must offer my clientele something special in order to maintain their interest and to keep them coming back to the site. This is where you come in. I must receive from you a special deal that's not offered to the general market. These special deals we refer to as "barter blasts". Although, it is a public display to attract more business to the site, it carries an air of exclusivity to the members of (*name of his business*) All consumers want to feel special when sharing their "purchasing power." In conjunction to promoting your business at no charge, I will be happy to promote businesses that you recommend at no charge, when you send their artistically designed business cards to (*name and address of his business*). If you can't offer any special deals or barter blasts, I must replace your card with the businesses that can...no hard feelings. However, you can continue to have your business promoted but it must be at a cost of $2.00 per day. This is still a good deal considering advertising rates in other media sources.

Therein lies the scam: Two bucks a day—$730 a year—for a site that the average computer user is highly unlikely to access?! (If you give a roomful of monkeys easy-to-use computers and unlimited Internet access, there exists the remote possibility that one just might access this site—but I doubt it.) No way is it "a good deal."

“Air of exclusivity”? Yeah, right.

Monday, June 05, 2006

It's Back!

My favorite writers' site, Absolute Write, is now back online. I've especially missed the forums. My favorite, and one every writer should check periodically is "Bewares and Background Checks."

The Internet is full of writing scams. The "Bewares and Background Checks" forum exposes a bunch of them.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Lucky Rabbit

Late yesterday afternoon, I started out the kitchen door to feed the dogs and horses. My kitchen door opens into the garage. Usually the working cats are waiting in the garage about the time I’m going out. Sure enough, Camilla was there. So was Buford, and he wasn’t alone. Between his paws was a small rabbit—not a baby, more like an adolescent.

Buford is deaf, so my yelling at him was in vain. (My husband says Buford is such a good hunter because he has no distractions.) I was about to yell to my husband to come remove the body when I saw it move. The rabbit was still alive.

I sat down my bowl of dog food, grabbed Buford by the nape of his neck, and deposited him inside the kitchen. Normally I wouldn’t surprise Buford by suddenly grabbing him—he usually jumps up hissing and clawing when he’s surprised—but this was an emergency. I then yelled at Camilla, who’d become especially interested in the rabbit now that it was up for grabs. She ran out of the garage, and the rabbit ran behind the snow shovels near the open garage door. Eventually I lured Camilla into the house.

I feared the worst for the bunny. How badly was it hurt? My husband came out and moved the shovels so he could scoop up the body. To our surprise, the rabbit took off running at top speed. It didn’t stop until it got to the road, 250 feet away. I followed the rabbit to check on it. When it saw me coming, it darted away—again at top speed, crossed the road, and climbed the bank into the cow pasture. As fast as that rabbit ran, we figured it was OK.

What the rabbit knew: When in a dangerous situation, get out of it as fast and as far as possible.

When I took the dog food to the kennel, rain started falling. Zig-zags of lightning flashed toward the south. I counted the seconds between flash and crash. About three miles. I stopped dishing out feed to Emma and Maggie (Jack, Hubert, and Harley were deep in the dog stall and didn’t dare come out) and went under the horses’ run-in shed. Melody, my big 17-year-old Tennessee walker, came running down the hill to join me. She and I stood under the shelter and watched the rain really pour down in earnest. Big bolts of lightning flashed toward the north. I counted two seconds—Union Hall must be getting pounded. Melody and I were safe in the run-in shed.

What Melody and I knew: When in a dangerous situation, seek shelter.

My old mare, Cupcake, didn’t join us. I called and called, banged the grain can against the gate, called some more— but she wouldn’t come in. When the heavy rain started, she stood her ground, turned her tail toward the wind, and lowered her head. She stayed put until the brief storm was over. Then she came in to be fed. In her 25 years, she’s weathered a lot of storms.

What Cupcake knew: When in a dangerous situation, know that it won’t last forever. Stay put until it’s over.

Now, how do you know when to run, when to seek shelter, and when to stay put?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Blue Ridge Gazette

Blue Ridge Gazette featured me as June's "Author of the Month" and editor Leslie Shelor did a wonderful review of my self-pubbed book, Patches on the Same Quilt. Made my day!

Besides checking out the Gazette, which has lots of great articles, take a look at the Blue Ridge Gazette blog.