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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Bye Bye Bookfests I: Franklin County Book Festival


Ida B. Peevish: Photo by Jeff Reid

The Franklin County and Valley Bookfests are over. I’m a bookfest junkie; I had a great time as both participant and attendee.

At the Franklin County Book Festival, I was more or less the organizer of the Friday night kickoff “appetizer” reading at Edible Vibe in downtown Rocky Mount. The charm of a reading is its spontaneity. You prepare a lot of material but don’t decide exactly what to use until you see the whites of the audience’s eyes, so to speak. You try to match your material to what you think the audience will like and what the readers before you read.

I thought the evening should go from serious to humorous, so I placed essayist Fred First (Slow Road Home) first, followed by poet Dick Raymond (Ballads in Blue and Gray) and and poet Mike Allen (Strange Wisdoms of the Dead, Disturbing Muses). After the break, two female humor writers would close out the show: Marion Higgins (When Men Move to the Basement), and then me (More Peevish Advice).

Fred actually read some pretty funny stuff—an essay about a writing assignment in which he had to pick what animal he’d be: a cow. I thought Dick would do serious poems—instead, he had the audience in stitches with his poem about the, uh, excesses of an ancient Roman emperor’s wife. Then Mike performed his poetry and wowed the audience. They were a tough act to follow, but Marion and I (as my alter-ego Ida B. Peevish) got some laughs. I had some “cow material” that I used, so the evening ended on a bovine note. Jeff Reid from the Smith Mountain Eagle took some pictures of me as Ida B. Peevish, and the paper ran them last week.

On Saturday, Civil War historian Dr. James “Bud” Robertson packed the Rocky Mount United Methodist Church as he talked about Robert E. Lee. While a lot of folks followed him back to the library for his signing, not all stayed for the other presentations. I introduced Jim Minick (Finding a Clear Path), who provided a most enjoyable session as read some of his new poetry as well as his essays. After lunch, I heard Dean Browell (Extra Heroes: Patterns and Choices) discuss graphic novels and Mike Allen discuss speculative poetry and fiction. I learned a lot from those two.

Aside from Dr. Robertson’s speech, the Franklin County Bookfest was sparsely attended. Too bad—there was a lot of good stuff there.

To be continued.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Hooked on Bookfests, Part II: Valley


I am a participant in the “Local Authors” panel at the Valley Bookfest on Saturday. Other panelists include two recent Franklin county Book Festival participants, Fred First and Colleen Redman, and my Lake Writer buddy, Sally Roseveare. Those of us on the panel were sent a list of questions that we might answer during our 10 minutes or so. Here are the questions and my answers (subject to change during actual panel):

How did you start writing?

Short answer: With a pencil when I was in first grade. (Actually, I was printing then.) I remember making a little book and reading it to my first grade class. (I wasn’t unique; a few other kids did this, too.)

Longer answer: I wrote a few stories when I was young. (My seventh grade teacher read to the class my “”Enchanted Cat” story —about riding my cat, who had grown to horse-size, around the universe, but then I woke up and realized it was a dream. Only fantasy story I ever wrote, and the only one using the it-was-all-a-dream cliché). I wrote some really bad poetry in college—the usual adolescent angst of time/death/love—that appeared in the college’s lit magazine.

I didn’t write again for years. During the 1980s, while I was teaching junior high, I wrote some parodies of the superintendent’s directives and privately circulated them among my teacher buddies. I was called into the assistant principal’s office and told to stop.

In the early 1990s, I wrote “Forced Blossoms,” which won second place ($50!) in the 1993 Lonesome Pine Short Story Contest. I submitted it to a new magazine, Blue Ridge Traditions, which published it—that was enough encouragement to for me to start writing again. I wrote for BRT for over a decade.

I didn’t have time to write a book until I developed chronic Epstein Barre (22 months) and then fibromyalgia. I started writing because I was too sick and tired to do anything else. Plus I had a computer by this time, so typing was effortless. I emerged from my illness with a novel (Patches on the Same Quilt), some first place wins in short story contests, a few some publication credits (Blue Ridge Traditions, Collage, THEMA, etc.) and a nomination for a Pushcart Prize (didn’t win, though).

Was this your first book—or one of several?

Where There’s A Will is number 4. Patches on the Same Quilt was self-published—albeit partially subsidized with a grant from the Smith Mountain Arts Council. The other two were Print-On-Demand: Peevish Advice, a collection of the first couple years of my “Peevish Advice” columns, and The Girl Who Raced Mules & Other Stories (a collections of mostly-winning short stories).

Did you take classes? If so, which ones and did they help you in your writing?
I had a really good English teacher in high school—Charles Arrington—who was a stickler for good grammar and mechanics. He also had us memorize 20 vocabulary words a week and use them in sentences. My BFA is in drama education with a minor in English, and my MAT is in English education, so I read a lot of good lit in college and grad school. I’m still an avid reader. I think people learn how to write by reading good stuff.

I’ve attended a few workshops—an especially good one, taught by Rebecca Woodie at Hollins a decade or so ago, introduced me to the critique process—but I attend several writers’ conferences each year.

Do you belong to any writing groups—do you recommend writers to join?

I’ve been a member of Lake Writers for 6 years; It’s my favorite group because members are committed to good writing/legitimate publishing possibilities/scam-busting. Critiques are often hard-hitting and really helpful. After the meeting, some of us do lunch—and continue the discussion about our writing.

I’ve been a member of the Virginia Writers Club for over a decade, and have served on its Board of Governors for a couple of years. The quarterly meetings are good places to network with writers from other regions of the state.

I’ve currently taken “leave of absence” from another group that I’ve been a member of for over a decade because of philosophical differences with the current leadership. Two other expatriates from that group and I have formed a critique group which will meet as needed to fix problems in each other’s writing.

A writers’ group is only worthwhile if other members will give you honest critiques, suggest ways for you to fix your problems, tell you when you’re doing something stupid, warn you against scams, and suggest routes to possible publication. Groups dedicated to mutual ego-feeding or over-coming writer’s block (whatever the heck that is) aren’t worth attending.
I recommend that writers find (or form) a worthwhile critique group with like-minded individuals and go to conferences where they can network with editors, agents, and commercially published authors. The James River Writers Conference is the best one around. The CNU conference is pretty good, too.

What did you wish you knew before you self-published—any pitfalls to avoid?

I was already aware that self-publishing came with limitations, so I didn’t get any big surprises. Self-pubbing—especially POD—works best if you are writing for a fairly small niche audience and you already have a readership in place. I fit those criteria, so I have a market for my books. I also try to write with the reader in mind. Before I pay a fee to publish, I want to be sure a market exists for my work and that I can make my money back within a few months.

What is your book about?

Where There’s A Will, a collection of eight prize-winning stories set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia from the 1770s through the 1970s, is about talent, teamwork, everyday miracles, and dreams that do indeed come true. In each story, a young person learns an important lesson in life. Accompanying study guides written by Kay McGrath are based on the Virginia Standards of Learning for 6th grade English.

I recycled some of my earlier work for this book. I used “Insult to Injury” and “You Ain’t Buck-Nekkid and You got Enough to Eat” from my earlier short story collection, The Girl Who Raced Mules, and added “Last Wish,” the first chapter of my novel Patches on the Same Quilt. I then added five other stories that had won or placed high in short story contests. Each story features a young main character who is empowered in some way.

While all the protagonists in the stories are young people—and the study guide is geared to 6th graders—the stories can be enjoyed by readers of any age. Where There’s A Will is perfect for grandparents and grandchildren to read and discuss together.

I'll post shortly about my experiences in both bookfests. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Border Collie Joy

By Maggie Mae
(almost 10 months old)

One of my greatest joys is riding in the truck to the old Brown Farm in Union Hall. At the farm, I run and run in big circles. Then I run some more. Running so much makes me overheated, so I stop every so often and fling myself in the creek.

I love creeks! This one, which eventually flows into Bull Run and then into Smith Mountain Lake, is my favorite because it has wonderful mud—soft and squishy.

In the picture, the white blob floating in the upper left is the end of my tail, not some strange swamp creature.

Happiness is a muddy creek on a hot day.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Anticipating interest—not!

I’ve been lit-spammed.

Recently I received an email from someone I didn’t know. The subject line said “VWC Information.” Since I’m a board member of the Virginia Writers club, I get lots of email with this as a subject header.

However, this email wasn’t about club business. It was a promo for someone’s book. The person who wrote the book wasn’t even a member of the VWC. The person who wrote the book doesn’t even live in Virginia. I don’t even know this person.

To avoid a lawsuit, I’ve changed some of the words in the book’s title—I’ve bolded my changes—and I’ve deleted the sender’s name. Here’s what the email said:

Dear Fellow [insert writing job here]/Educator:

Interesting twists on mechanistic conversation are examined in my newly available book, Nuts, Bolts & Very Bad Jokes: Mechanics Discuss Humor and Auto Maintenance in Their Own Words.

The attachment features a picture of the book and some relevant details. In lieu of opening attachment, view info./pic at [a Typepad addy with only one entry—a plug for the book].

I hope you'll consider acquiring a copy. And, for mechanic educators, that you might consider using the book as a supplement in your courses on mufflers and limerick writing.

Thank you so much for your anticipated interest.

[name deleted]


Uh, “anticipated interest”? The actual title of the book didn’t grab my attention any more than the letter’s passive opening sentence did. The self-published book is apparently about writers telling how they do a particular type of writing that I don’t ordinarily do. In their own words. (Whose words would they use if they telling what they do?)

To be fair, I went to the emailer’s blog. It had one entry that told a bit about the book and showed the cover. There was no link to a website with excerpts from the book or reviews of the book. Not even a press kit. How would someone who might really, uh, “anticipate interest” about the book even find out basic stuff about the book?

Apparently, the author figured that writers would want the book. I’m more-or-less a writer, and my email addy exists in numerous places in cyberspace (such as on the VWC website where he no doubt found it). Apparently, the author figured that teachers might snap up his book up to use in class. I’m not a teacher anymore, and the book doesn’t sound like something I could have used in any classes I taught. And doesn’t he know that very few teachers can pick their texts? They have to get approval from department heads, etc.

Doesn’t the author know that lit-spam doesn’t work well? Even though I’m a self-pubbed writer, I’m unlikely to buy a self-pubbed book about writing. Good books about how writers write are picked up by commercial publishers. If I’m going to read a book about how to write (Hale’s Sin & Syntax and Lukeman’s The First Five Pages are two excellent ones I’ve recently read), I want the book to be written by experts who are commercially published.

Self-pubbed books are for small niche markets. To target a book to writers is to aim for a large market, not a small one. Self-pubbed books are best promoted locally and in person. To email strangers several states away is a waste of time—for both the sender and receiver.

Pardon my passivity, but interest is not anticipated by this receiver.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Odd bug revealed!

The mystery of Saturday's unidentified bug has been solved. It's a wheel bug—a type of assassin bug. See "What's That Bug" for more pictures.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Odd Bug


While I was going out to feed the dogs and horses this morning, I noticed this odd bug on a oak leaf. I'd never seen an insect quite like it before.

I was surprised it was still there after I got my camera.

Anybody got any idea what it is? Is it friend or foe?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Today's scams

Today must have been National Scam Day. One scam came as a letter in this morning’s mail; the other was an email:

The letter began: “It is my pleasure to inform you that you are being considered for inclusion into the 2006/2007 C[*rest of name deleted by me*] Who’s Who Among Professional Women in Writing and Publishing ‘Honors Edition’ of the Registry.” An obvious scam, if there ever was one. I wasn’t thrilled with the dubious honor.

For one thing, it addressed me by my given name, which I don’t use when I write. In fact, the last time I used my given name was a few months ago when I subscribed to Writer’s Digest. Gee, do you suppose there’s a connection? Both have to do with writing. Nonetheless, my curiosity having been piqued, I checked the suspicious Who’s Who website and learned that this particular Who’s Who was a result of a merger of two other scammy Who’s Who outfits.

This page of the CWW website gives the following info:
[The CWW] registry is a compilation of member biographies highlighting their company, expertise, and achievements. Recognition is a privilege and an honor shared by tens of thousands of members every year. Your listing in the registry is a tribute to you and your professional achievements and accomplishments. Our registry is published in an elegant hardcover format, which should proudly be displayed in your home or office. The registry is an important part of membership and is offered exclusively to our members.

Would that be exclusively to anyone who fills out the postcard and sends it in? And what exactly is an “elegant hardcover format”? Are there inelegant hardcover formats floating around out there?

What’s sad is that some other recipients of the letter were probably thrilled with the, uh, honor of being included.

The scam email I received today was allegedly from PayPal. “Dear valued PayPal® member,” it began. And continued:
It has come to our attention that your PayPal® account information needs to be updated as part of our continuing commitment to protect your account and to reduce the instance of fraud on our website. If you could please take 5-10 minutes out of your online experience and update your personal records you will not run into any future problems with the online service.

However, failure to update your records will result in account suspension.
Please update your records on or before August 12, 2006.
Then it gave a URL for me to click to update my records. How did I know this email was a scam? Probably because I don’t have a PayPal account. And that "5-10 minutes out of your online experience" sounds a little weird. Like maybe English isn't the poster's primary language.

I was surprised that I didn’t also get an email for a 419 scam (aka Nigerian scam) today. I usually get one every week or so. If you’ve ever gotten one of the Nigerian Scam letters, you’ll love this website which has accounts of how the scammers were themselves scammed. The “Tale of the Holy Cow” is a hoot. (Warning: contains adult language and humor—or, more accurately, immature but incredibly funny humor.)

I wonder if any Nigerian scammers are listed in Who’s Who.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Horde of the Flies


One of the things you have to expect in summer on a farm is flies. This year, we’ve had a lot more than usual. By “a lot,” I mean hordes and hordes of flies. Millions! Gazillions, maybe.

My dog kennel adjoins the mares’ pasture and is a bout a quarter mile from the dairy farm’s cow pasture. Across the road is another cow pasture. Plus the kennel has food served al fresco twice a day and has the usual, uh, output of four and a half dogs. (Maggie, the designated house dog, is only a part-time kennel resident.) Naturally the kennel would be a fly mecca. But this year it’s seen a lot more flies than in previous years.

Anyhow, while buying horse feed at the Bedford Farm Supply, I saw this fly trap which purports to hold 10,000 flies. When I was paying for it, the clerk commented that this was the worst fly season he’d ever seen.

Ten days ago, my husband hung the trap from a limb on the kennel’s silver maple—high enough so Maggie can’t reach it. It’s now over three-quarters full—the fly level has reached the top of the label. I’m guessing at least 8,000 flies so far.

Anybody want to count ’em?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Hooked on Bookfests, Part I: Franklin County

I’m getting pumped about participating in three bookfests—the Franklin County Book Festival (August 18-19), the Valley Bookfest (August 26), and the Hanover Book Festival (October 14).

I’m on the planning committee for the Franklin County Book Festival. Last year—our inaugural year—our keynote speaker was Dr. James “Bud” Robertson. His speech was so well-received by the folks who packed the Rocky Mount United Methodist church to hear him that we wondered how we could ever top him. We figured we might ask him back. We did, he accepted, and this year he will speak about Robert E. Lee.

This year, we’ve gotten ambitious—we expanded our offerings to two days, and sponsored a bookmark contest for young people. Over a hundred kids submitted bookmarks for our theme, “How Books Nourish Us.” Judging was tough.

At 7:00 p.m. on Friday night before the bookfest, we’re doing an “appetizer”—readings at the Edible Vibe in downtown Rocky Mount. I’ll read from my soon-to-be-PODed book, More Peevish Advice. Roanoke poet Dick Raymond will read some of his Civil War poems from his soon-to-be-released book, Ballads in Blue and Gray. Mike Allen, the editor/publisher of Mythic Delirium, will read some of his speculative poetry, plus he’ll be a speaker on Saturday, too. Two recently published essayists will also read—Fred First from his wonderful Slow Road Home and Marion Higgins from her funny and somewhat autobiographical When Men Move to the Basement.

All of Saturday’s presentations, except for Robertson’s lecture, take place at the Franklin County Library in downtown Rocky Mount. Here’s the schedule for Saturday, August 19:

9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m.
Keynote Presentation: Prof. James T. Robertson, noted Civil War Historian.

11:00-11:30 a.m.
Dr. Robertson signs his books at the library; coffee & donuts provided.

11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
A Taste of War: Jim Morrison (Chair), June Goode, Joseph Mark Scalia, Pamela Hain.

Finding a Clear Path: Jim Minick (Finding a Clear Path)

11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Mining the Gold of a Story: Colleen Redman (The Jim and Dan Stories: A Journey of Grief and Faith)

12:00 p.m.-12:30 p.m.
The Secret Life of a Mystery Writer: Maureen Robb (Patterns in Silicon)

12:30 p.m.-1:30 p.m. – Lunch in Farmers’ Market

1:30 p.m.-2:00 p.m.
Sequential Boom: the Graphic Novel: Dean Browell (Extra Heroes)

How to Run an Effective Book Club: Fred Canova (Chair), Sonja Riche, Sandra Grey, Beverly Scott, Ginny Brock.

2:00 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
The Future of Reading: a Talk and a Warning: Keith Ferrell

Speculative Poetry: Mike Allen (Mythic Delirium)

Friends of the Franklin County Library Reception to follow final presentations.

Y’all come see us, hear? More about the other two bookfests later.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Tree Trimming

When the branches of the silver maple in the dog kennel acquired a gnawed look, we knew that tall beavers hadn’t breached the 5-foot chain link fence.


We had a pretty good idea who was doing the damage, because that tree had for years provided shade for the canine inhabitants with nary a nip on its leaves. Then we got Maggie.

We knew Maggie couldn’t keep her secret forever. Eventually she showed off her tree-trimming abilities: jump, grab branch, twist, gnaw it off.

Border collies need to work. If they aren’t provided work, they will find something to do.

Anyone need some tree-pruning done? I know a dog who works cheap.