Peevish Pen

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

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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, April 25, 2007

IgNoble Scam

Once again, my elderly mixed retriever Jack received another scam email. This time it’s from across the pond:

Office of the Publisher
Poetry Division
London, U.K.
12 April, 2007

Dear Jack,

As you may know, Noble House is one of the foremost publishers of fiction and nonfiction works by new and established authors today. Our international poetry division has had the honour of publishing thousands of poems over the past twelve years.


Doncha love that classy Brit spelling?

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading the poetry that you have had published in the United States. I congratulate you on this grand endeavour, and propose to you that your singular talent and vision deserves appropriate international recognition as well.

Hoo-hah! This is too much! “Singular talent and vision”!

For this reason, I have posted this letter to request your permission to include one of your favourite poems in Centres of Expression - a new poetry edition that is being distributed worldwide by Noble House . . . a collection of poetry that is perhaps unlike any you have ever seen . . . one where each poem is featured on its own page, and one whose quality is reminiscent of the finest 19th century antique poetry books.

There’s the classy spelling with the extra u again. Somehow, the book doesn't look so classy:



Hearken back, if you will, to the days of Emily Dickinson, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and William Wordsworth . . . the age of grand bookmaking. Poetry editions were some of the most highly prized volumes because of their intimate attention to detail - quality typography, fine ivory laid paper, and colourful ornate covers. Jack, for this edition, we've returned to the traditional size, style, and quality of these classic 19th century antique poetry books.

“Harken”? Nobody says “harken” anymore. Try working it into your next conversation and see if anyone is impressed.

Scheduled for release in Winter 2008, Centres of Expression will surely become one of your most treasured keepsakes. Your publication in this edition will establish you as an international author and afford you the respect and admiration attendant to such an honour. International Copyright notice for your poetic artistry will, of course, be in your name, assuring that you will retain worldwide rights to your work of art.

Jack should be honoured, of course. He doesn’t give a rat’s patootie (patoutie?) about worldwide (wourldwide?) rights.

Best of all, should you decide to obtain a copy of the edition for your personal library, or as a wonderful personalised gift (you are, naturally, under no obligation to purchase a copy - notwithstanding the publication of your work in this edition), as you proudly turn its pages you'll find it one of the best values on the book market today. At only £23.14 (U.S. $45.55) for a hardbound, 225-page edition printed in two colours on ivory laid vellum, with a finely crafted and highly detailed laminate cover and a single poem to a page, this edition promises to exceed your expectations, and it will enjoy pride of place in your home. In fact, its quality is guaranteed. If for any reason you are dissatisfied, your money will be completely refunded in U.S. dollars with proper dispatch.

Oh, yeah, Jack is gonna rush to the bank and get a cheque—oh, wait! He doesn’t have a bank account. He’s a dogue, dog, dawg, whatever. If he has no expectations, how can they be exceeded? And how “highly detailed” can laminate be?

Jack, you may also wish to consider giving the public some insight about you and your artistry for this poetic showcase . . . perhaps the meaning behind your poem, or your own philosophical perspective. Because an entire page in the book is devoted to honouring your poetry, we can feature this additional material about you and your poetry (up to 100 words) on the verso leaf opposite your poem . . . you will thus have two full pages devoted to you and your artistry.

Here’s the insight: Jack is scamming the scammers. He’s an elderly mixed retriever. His poem is garbage. It means nothing. It means that this whole Noble House letter is a scam.

Jack, may we have permission to publish your work? Regardless of whether you purchase a copy or not, the international public deserves to see more of your artistic talent. You may Submit Your Poem and biographical information, and give us permission, all within the confines of the next page. And if you are inclined to order a copy of Centres of Expression, you may also do so at the same time.

Sincerely,

Nigel Hillary
Publisher, Poetry Division - Noble House U.K.

P.S. For poets who may wish to obtain supplementary copies for gift-giving, to display, or for merchandising, special case pack discounts are available. Please consult the submission and order form for further details.

. . . and that’s not all, Jack’s membership is desired in yet another scam outfit:

What the heck is an "everyday poet"? Is that better than an "every month poet"?

Dear Jack,

In celebration of National Poetry Month, we would like to invite you to join Poets.com, the premiere online community of poets and writers. Poets.com offers its members the ability to post their poems online where fellow poets can review and critique them, all in an effort to help improve their craft. This April, in recognition of National Poetry Month, we are awarding Special Prize Packages to the top five reviewers of the month. These prizes include signed copies of books by both professional and amateur poets, including Robert Pinsky, W.D. Snodgrass, and David Wagoner, along with a gift card to Barnes & Noble. Official prizes and rules are posted on the site.

Yeah, like Jack can use that!

In addition to all this, Poets.com features informative articles, a message system, a chat room, a comprehensive glossary, poetry challenges, and a place where you can store and display all your poetry... all designed to help both the skilled and recreational writer.

What? Recreational writers can't be skilled?

Sign up today for a FREE 15-day Trial Membership. If you decide to upgrade to a Paid Membership, you will have the opportunity to win the prizes that are given away every month, including the special prize packages being awarded for National Poetry Month.

Jack, take a few minutes and check out Poets.com. I am sure you will find it a valuable tool and resource, and the Trial Membership is FREE. Try out the premiere writers' network today!

Jeffrey Harper
Poets.com

P.S. Share your enjoyment of poetry and continue to celebrate National Poetry Month!

Jack decided to pass on Poets.com. Meanwhile, Noble House didn’t give up when Jack didn’t respond. Here’s their latest try (notice that the opening is different from their first try, but much of the rest is merely copy-and-paste):

Office of the Publisher
Poetry Division
London, U.K.
25 April, 2007

Dear Jack,

This memo comes to you with a high degree of urgency. As of today, I have not received your Noble House submission. I recently informed you that Noble House, one of the foremost publishers of fiction and nonfiction works, was interested in your poetry. I had the pleasure of reading the poetry you have submitted in the United States, and I want to congratulate you on this grand endeavour. I also wanted to inform you that your talent and vision deserve appropriate international recognition as well.

High degree of urgency! Grand endeavor? This is too much! The irony is that my old dog is getting more “appropriate international recognition” from this blog than he could ever get from Noble House.

For this reason, I have posted this letter to respectfully request that you send me your submission as soon as possible since I have reserved extensive space to prominently honour your poetic work in this publication. Centres of Expression is a new poetry edition that is being distributed worldwide by Noble House . . . a collection of poetry that is perhaps unlike any you have ever seen . . . one where each poem is featured on its own page, and one whose quality is reminiscent of the finest 19th century antique poetry books.

Hearken back, if you will, to the days of Emily Dickinson, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and William Wordsworth . . . the age of grand bookmaking. Poetry editions were some of the most highly prized volumes because of their intimate attention to detail – quality typography, fine ivory laid paper, and colourful ornate covers. Jack, for this edition, we've returned to the traditional size, style, and quality of these classic 19th century antique poetry books.

Scheduled for release in Winter 2008, Centres of Expression will surely become one of your most treasured keepsakes. Your publication in this edition will establish you as an international author and afford you the respect and admiration attendant to such an honour. International Copyright notice for your poetic artistry will, of course, be in your name, assuring that you will retain worldwide rights to your work of art.


Yeah, looks like a real keepsake, all right. . . .

Best of all, should you decide to obtain a copy of the edition for your personal library, or as a wonderful personalised gift (you are, naturally, under no obligation to purchase a copy - notwithstanding the publication of your work in this edition), as you proudly turn its pages you’ll find it one of the best values on the book market today. At only £23.14 (U.S. $45.55) for a hardbound, 225-page edition printed in two colours on ivory laid vellum, with a finely crafted and highly detailed laminate cover and a single poem to a page, this edition promises to exceed your expectations, and it will enjoy pride of place in your home. In fact, its quality is guaranteed. If for any reason you are dissatisfied, your money will be completely refunded in U.S. dollars with proper dispatch.

Jack, you may also wish to consider giving the public some insight about you and your artistry for this poetic showcase . . . perhaps the meaning behind your poem, or your own philosophical perspective. Because an entire page in the book is devoted to honouring your poetry, we can feature this additional material about you and your poetry (up to 100 words) on the verso leaf opposite your poem . . . you will thus have two full pages devoted to you and your artistry.

Jack, may we have permission to publish your work? Regardless of whether you purchase a copy or not, the international public deserves to see more of your artistic talent. In order to make our publication date, you must submit your new poem as soon as possible! I would hate to see you miss out on this opportunity. To make things easy, you may Submit Your Poem and biographical information, and give us permission, all within the confines of the next page. And if you are inclined to order a copy of Centres of Expression, you may also do so at the same time.

Sincerely,

Nigel Hillary
Publisher, Poetry Division - Noble House U.K.

P.S. For poets who may wish to obtain supplementary copies for gift-giving, to display, or for merchandising, special case pack discounts are available. Please consult the submission and order form for further details.

A case pack discount? Yikes! A full case of 12 copies is $204.40. I suppose that's a bargain compared to the single copy price of $45.55. Oh, but there's shipping: $8 per book for single copies; $32 for the case.

Y'all want a poem? Gnaw on this:

There once was an old dawg named Jack.
Of poetry skills, he did lack.
He uttered some howls
And some igNOBLE growls,
And that’s the best poem which old Jack could hack.

Jack may be a humble old dawg, but he’s too smart to fall for a scheme like the Noble House book or Poets.com.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Crit(ter) Group


My winning "Back Page" essay was printed in The Virginia Writer that came Saturday. At the next Virginia Writers Club regional meeting, I'll get a check for $40. I won't have to make an acceptance speech, but if I did, I'd had to thank an assortment of animals. I couldn't have written the winning essay without them.


Crit Group

Many writers rely upon “crit” groups to critique their work. While these writers write alone, they often take their works-in-progress to groups for helpful feedback. I, however, have a “critter” group which congregates on my desk. For me, writing is not a solitary occupation.

When I write, I usually have a least one cat on my desk—sometimes as many as four. Often a border collie either sleeps under the desk or implores me to throw her ball while I type. Rather than distracting me, my critters actually help me write.

Buford, the senior male cat, taught me to focus on what’s necessary. Because he’s deaf, Buford needs to pay attention to detail. He notices slight movements, vibrations, changes in light and shadow. I notice slight nuances in word choices, how a sentence sounds, and changes in meaning.

Buford hates a cluttered desk—one swipe of his paw clears a place for him to nap and helps me decide what clutter I need to discard. Buford fantasizes that he’s still a tomcat, so—when we take a break to walk outside—he has to check his territory and re-mark where neighborhood cats have left their marks. He’s taught me to check and recheck, edit where necessary, and aspire to leave my mark on the literary world. And sometimes I fantasize too. What if—?

Eddie-Puss (on eMac) and Buford (asleep)

Eddie-puss, the youngest cat, sometimes challenges Buford for sleeping space on my desk, so I get a close-up view of a catfight in progress: two conflicting viewpoints. I watch as tension escalates. Does the scene on my computer screen have as much tension as the two opposing cats? Should I rewrite it from the antagonist’s viewpoint, or stick with the protagonist’s perspective?

Do I let the catfight play itself out, or do I intervene? I know the backstory: Buford has seniority and gets sympathy points for his handicap, but Eddie-puss has a heart murmur. According to the vet, one day I’ll find Eddie-puss dead—it’ll be quick and relatively painless. Knowing his condition makes me seize the day, gives me a “do-it-now” approach to my writing. Should I reveal a character’s flaw early, or spring it on the reader later? Is this flaw essential to the conflict? Should I give the story a quick, unexpected resolution?

Camilla is all for fun. A miniature crouching tiger, she plays with an intensity the other cats lack. She pounces on a pen, bats it across the room, and searches for more. She paws through my stack of papers and scatters them about, or sits on my printer and watches letters appear on the computer screen. Then she snuggles onto my lap and purrs her best I-didn’t-make-all-that-mess-I’m-too-sweet purr. I look over what I’ve written. Do I increase the intensity here, slow it there, give the reader pause to think? Maybe add an ironic twist or have the character act in an unexpected way?

Dylan, the smallest cat, likes to perch on my eMac. When he drapes his tail over the screen, I can’t see all of what I’ve written. Do I really need all those details to see the whole story? What can I cut? Will my readers see what I’m trying to say?

If the action on my desk become too intense, the sleeping border collie awakes and disperses the cat herd. She then stares at me with the intense border collie stare that says, “OK, you need a break. Let’s go outside. You throw the ball. I’ll chase it.”

And she’s right: I do need a break. The routine of mindless ball-throwing starts me thinking about other what-ifs. What if I throw a little to the left—or higher. How will that change how she catches the ball? What if I have a character do something unexpected? How will the character change? After a half-hour of many variations of throw-fetch-throw-fetch, I’m ready to work again.


Back inside, the border collie returns to her place under the desk and dozes off. Cats return to the desktop. I sit at my desk and focus on my work-in-progress.

Surrounded by my critter group, I write.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Damage

Last week’s frost damaged a lot of my trees, shrubs, and flowers. This picture shows how the leaves on the end of many branches—the young fragile parts—of my favorite oak were killed.

The oak will survive, but some of its leaves will always bear evidence of the frost. They survived the trauma but they’re misshapen. They’ll never quite be the leaves they were meant to be.

I look at the damaged leaves and think of what happened last Monday at Virginia Tech.

Yesterday, two young beagles that have lately been marauding the neighborhood ventured into our garage and tore apart the garbage bag. An hour after the damage was done, they returned to the scene of the crime. My husband, seeing the dogs in the garage again, opened the kitchen door and released our secret weapon: Buford the deaf cat.


Buford is maybe half the size of a beagle, but he nonetheless leapt into action. Soon the garage was filled with sounds of screaming beagles. The dogs beat a hasty retreat down the driveway, and a fluffed-up Buford kept watch until he was sure the intruders wouldn’t return. Though deaf and small, eight-year-old Buford knows the secret of survival: a good offense is the best defense.

Early this morning, while I played ball with Maggie, Mr. Redneck came a’walking up the road. I left the kennel and kept my eye on him. He walked to the stop sign, but he didn’t upright the rusty chairs that Monday’s wind blew over. He turned around and headed homeward with his camcorder in hand. If he saw me sitting under my oak tree, he didn't let on.

As he walked past where I sat, I thought, best to keep my eyes open and watch. Unlike Buford, I won’t take matters into my own hands. I’ll report any suspicious or threatening activity to the sheriff’s department—just like we did April 3 when Mr. Redneck pushed his camera-phone into my husband's face and yelled, "Gotcha!"

If more students and faculty at Tech had reported suspicious activity, would last Monday’s damage have been less?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Enormity

The word for the day is enormity. Many think it is a synonym for large. It isn't.

Enormity means "an outrageous, improper, vicious, or immoral act." Among the Merriam-Webster definitions, enormity "regularly denotes a considerable departure from the expected or normal."

Enormity is the word for what happened at Virginia Tech yesterday.

Today's Roanoke Times proclaimed: "Massacre on Campus" and "Worst shooting in US history."

I still cannot comprehend the enormity of what happened.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

More Ill Wind Blows

We are currently without power and have been for several hours. The wind blew fiercely last night and is still blowing. Fortunately, we have phone service, so I can post via my iBook (now with battery level of 62% ).

Last evening, to Maggie's delight, about a third of the kennel was under water. Over an inch of rain was in the dog pans this morning. She was the only one out of the dog stall when John and I fed last night. The others had no intention of coming out.

The house and property have sustained no measurable damage. We have a propane stove and propane fireplace to get us through the night. And a bathtub of water so we can flush without draining our well's holding tank.

Even with the inconveniences, we are so lucky compared to those who lost their lives or lost family members at the Virginia Tech shooting this morning. We get bits of news via a battery radio. The news is so horrible, I can hardly comprehend what happened or why.

The sun is shining brightly now. Except for the high wind, the day would be beautiful. As Shakespeare wrote, "So fair and foul a day I have not seen."

But ill winds blow.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Ill Weather

Most of the US has gotten bad weather this weekend—blizzards, tornados, lots of rain. So far, my section of Virginia is just getting rain (about half an inch since last night with more to come). High winds are expected to start later.

Without hearing the weather forecast, I knew lousy weather was imminent. Friday, I had a fibromylagia flare-up with its resultant all-over achiness, periods of mental fogginess, sensitivity to sound, and muscle weakness. Fibromyalgia is what the old-timers used to call rheumatism; now it means that you’ve got something but the doctors just can’t quite figure out what. Mine followed a 22-month bout of chronic Epstein-Barre. For a while in the mid-90s, I saw a rheumatologist who prescribed a variety of anti-inflammatory pills, none of which helped. Getting my blood sugar levels down did help, though.

Anyhow, one of the benefits—OK, the only benefit—of being a fibromylagiac is the advance warning of bad weather. Add that to my current bout of plantar fasciitis (why I’m wearing orthotics), and the reason's clear why I decided not to drive three hours to Richmond for a Virginia Writers Club board meeting on Saturday.

I was supposed to speak at the Bedford Book Forum on Monday night, but I got a call that the meeting’s been cancelled. Now I won’t have to negotiate a twisty rural road up the Blue Ridge Mountains. Since winds have a way of felling trees (especially those whose roots are loosened because of the heavy rain), scattering limbs about roadways, and bringing down power lines, canceling the meeting was probably a good idea.

Meanwhile, I’m battening down for bad weather. As I type this blog-entry, the rain is falling harder than it was when I limped out to feed the dogs an hour earlier. Three of the dogs—Jack, Harley, and Hubert—didn’t want to leave the dog stall, so I had to push their dishes through the entry hole. Emma, who maintains a separate residence in a doghouse—poked her nose out but wouldn’t leave her condo, so I served her inside.

Only Maggie—bred for bad weather—stayed out. She forced her little red ball into my hand and insisted I throw it over and over. “What’s a little rain? A little mud?” she probably said. “Let’s play!”

So, I threw the ball for a few minutes. I made it back inside before the rain fell harder. Now the pines and boxwoods shake in the wind, and sheets of rain blow sideways.

“It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good,” the saying goes. However, that saying doesn’t apply to border collies who really want to play ball.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Lilacs Blooming


When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd,
And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night,
I mourn'd, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.

Most students of literature recognize these lines from Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd,” a poem about Lincoln’s death. I especially like the third stanza:

In the dooryard fronting an old farm-house near the white-wash'd palings,
Stands the lilac-bush tall-growing with heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love,
With every leaf a miracle—and from this bush in the dooryard,
With delicate-color'd blossoms and heart-shaped leaves of rich green,
A sprig with its flower I break.

When I was down the road at the farm the other day, I broke some sprigs of lilac, and the flowers’ “perfume strong” still fills my kitchen. The old-timey lilacs smell so much better than the new-fangled ones.

In the old days, when smells of cooking hung heavy in country kitchens, lilacs made a good air deodorizer. How many housewives stepped out their farmhouse or cabin doors to escape greasy smells? How many picked sprigs to take inside?

On my Union Hall farm, an old lilac bush blooms every year. When I was a kid visiting my grandparents, I remember my daddy killed a copperhead with hoe near the bush. An old kitchen—a separate building—used to be beside the bush, but that was way before my time. Now only a few stones mark where the kitchen was. My Aunt Belva, who died in her 80s a few years ago, told me that the building “fell in” long ago while she and her sister Virgie were playing in it.

Near the power pole in my driveway, a lilac bush grows. It’s one of the new-fangled varieties with the smell bred out of it.

But down the road a few miles—at the farm—I can get my lilac fix.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Weather (or Not)

We've had plenty of weather this week. Monday was cold enough to leave ice on the horse tubs, but that didn't keep Maggie from enjoying Standiford Creek in Union Hall.


The creek was lower than I've ever seen it in April. When I took the above picture on Monday, we hadn't had any rain at all for a couple of weeks. That changed Wednesday, when we got over an inch.

Today was shirtsleeve weather again but was windy. My tulips (which survived several days of freezing temperatures) are blowing in this afternoon's wind:


Within a few days, we've had freezes, rain, sun, and wind.

What will tomorrow bring?

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

ILP Strikes Again

In the scam that keeps on trying, the International Library of Poetry has named my elderly mixed retriever Jack as a potential “Poet of the Year.” Wow! The ILP has already named Jack an “Editor’s Choice” winner, has offered professional editing for his poem, and has tried to sell him some “Classic Poetry Editions” of dead poets’ work, and now they want to send him to Vegas. Of course, Jack would have to pay for all of this crap.

This is the opener of the email he received yesterday:


Imagine . . . "The winner of $20,000.00, a $10,000.00 book publishing contract, and our next Poet of the Year is Jack Mushkeau!"
Hey, that’s now bad for an old dog. Of course, he’s already been offered a publishing contract by the infamous author mill, Publish America. Anyhow, the form letter continues:

Dear Jack,

There is great news, and I want to be the first person to tell you. You are nominated for this year's Poet of the Year competition. It was not hard at all choosing this year's nominees. Your talent and dedication to poetry make you an obvious choice. We want you to share this momentous occasion with us in Las Vegas, Nevada, July 19-22, 2007 for the 21st Annual International Society of Poets Convention and Symposium. We are just now putting the finishing touches on what is sure to be the biggest poetry celebration of the decade.
“Talent and dedication”? “Obvious choice”? This is too much. "Not hard at all" means they chose everybody they could think of.

Jack, I want you to know that I am reserving a place for you at this year's event. Our Editorial Advisory Board and judges look forward to hearing you read your very best poem in this year's competition. As a nominee for this year's Poet of the Year award, you will be presented with a newly designed, imported lead crystal trophy honoring your outstanding achievements in poetry. There is an excellent chance that you could be one of the winners sharing $100,000.00 in cash and prizes that will be announced live on Sunday, July 22, 2007.
I wonder what the Editorial Advisory Board (why is that in all caps?) was drinking during the selection process. Oh, wait. This is the ILP. Everyone is selected. And, not only is Jack’s potential trophy “imported lead crystal,” but it’s “newly designed.” Whoo-hoo!

"American Idol" Winner Ruben Studdard and Emmy-Winning Comedian Louie Anderson Will Join Us in Las Vegas!

Jack, are you ready for the biggest news I have ever shared with anyone? Ruben Studdard, winner of the hit Fox TV show "American Idol", will be there to entertain you at our gala banquet on Saturday evening, July 21, 2007. When I first learned Ruben Studdard was taking time away from his busy schedule to come to our symposium, I could not believe what I was hearing. Ruben Studdard was a 2004 Grammy nominee and won an NAACP Image Award the same year. Ruben's voice and showmanship should be a real treat. Also performing at this year's event is Emmy-winning Funnyman Louie Anderson. Audiences around the world know him from his years as a standup comedian, as host of "Family Feud", and from his award-winning cartoon, "Life with Louie". Recently, Comedy Central named Louie "One of the Top 100 Comedians of All Time," and we are thrilled to have him with us this year.
I can’t believe that Ruben Studdard is desperate enough to take this gig. Jack, never having watched "American Idol, has no idea who Ruben is.

Viva Las Vegas!

Our host hotel, the historic Riviera Hotel, located on the famed Las Vegas Strip, also marked a huge milestone; they celebrated their 50th anniversary. During the past 50 years, they have hosted entertainment legends such as Bob Hope, Whitney Houston, and Jerry Seinfeld, making it one of Las Vegas's most celebrated hotels. Our planning staff chose the Riviera because of its luxurious accommodations, fine dining, and most of all, the affordable rates. The Riviera has offered our members an unbelievable discount under their published rates.

In addition to the fabulous entertainment, the International Society of Poets welcomes literary celebrities from around the world to enlighten us with seminars, workshops, and lectures. Past Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets David Wagoner, along with Pulitzer Prize winner W.D. Snodgrass, will give the keynote address. Educational Director Dr. Len Roberts, Poet Laureate Dr. Fleda Brown, and Mellon Poetry Prize winner Dr. Herbert Woodward Martin, along with other outstanding educators, will lead seminars on topics such as publishing, improving your poetry, poetic forms, and more.

And here comes the offer that an old dog just can’t refuse:

Special Early Bird Savings!

Wow, what a weekend planned just for you! As always, we encourage all Poet of the Year nominees to bring friends and family to the convention so they can share your love of poetry and have a great time with you in Las Vegas. We are offering you a special limited time, early bird discount of $50 off your registration and $50 off the registration of each of your guests if you register by May 14, 2007. We must limit this special offer to a maximum of four of your guests.

Only four? That means the other dogs in the kennel can go, but I can’t. Or else I can go, but we have to leave a dog behind? But which one? Decisions, decisions. . . .

To redeem this great offer, you have to register no later than May 14, 2007. This is sure to be an event you do not want to miss. You may register online or call me today at 410-356-2000 ext. 101 to reserve your place at this historic event.

Sincerely,
Steve Michaels
ISP Chairman, Board of Trustees

And there’s more (just in case Jack was a bit hesitant):

P.S. Jack, space is limited. Please register quickly, and if you register for the convention and a room at the Riviera before May 14, 2007, you will be entered for a chance to receive a backstage pass to meet Ruben Studdard at our Saturday Evening Banquet and Entertainment Extravaganza. Winners of the backstage passes will be notified by the ISP two weeks before the convention. To book your hotel room, call the Riviera . . . and be sure to mention the International Society of Poets Convention when you call to take advantage of our discounted room rates or you can book your room online . And don't forget about the great early bird registration fee if you register before May 14, 2007. See you in Vegas!
No, you won’t see Jack in Vegas. A long-haired dawg ain’t gonna go to Vegas in the summer. (What’s sad is that a bunch of folks will think this offer is on the level and will over $400 to attend.)

A fool and his money are soon parted, but you can’t get money from a penniless dawg. And Jack's no fool.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Splendor in the Grass? Not Exactly . . .

Brrrr! This morning was so cold, I had to break through a half-inch of ice in the dog buckets and a quarter inch in the horse tubs.

Despite last night's temperatures in the 20s, the grass is still green—and the greenest, lushest, most luxuriant grass on our whole place is in the kennel. What's the secret? Organic fertilizer! My husband calls it "Poupon DeLawn," a term he heard on Car Talk.


Yep, the places the dogs "go" is not only green but also thick and lush. I wonder why folks who walk dogs in public parks are expected to pick up after their pooches, and why the park maintenance people put down chemical fertilizer to make the grass green? Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper and less toxic to just let the dogs do the job?

Now, if you'd like thick, lush green grass in your yard, I'd be more than happy to rent you a border collie, a mixed retriever, a catahoula, a mixed sheltie, and a beagle—or any combination thereof. Prices are negotiable. (Travel expenses extra. Not responsible for teeth marks on shrubbery or lawn furniture.)

Never underestimate the power of poochie poop—er, Poupon DeLawn.

Redneck Update: This evening, while I was refilling the birdfeeder, Mr. Redneck walked by carrying a camcorder. I don't think he took videos of me, and at least he stayed on the opposite side of the road. I am resisting the urge to use the term "Poupon DeRoad."

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Wind A'blowing

Today was warm and sunny, but the wind is blowing hard. Soon the warm and wonderful spring weather will turn bitter—temps in the 20s are predicted for Easter weekend, and these tulips will be but a memory.

I carried back in all the plants I had put on the patio the other day. I'm ready for what nature brings, but—doggone it!—I'll miss the warmth.

What a cruel trick of April! T. S. Eliot said it right:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

My lilacs are only in bud, not bloom—and it hasn't rained yet this month.

Today was unusually peaceful; no rednecks walking the road, no warrants filed yet. A quiet day in rural America.

What will tomorrow bring?

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

More Harassment

Ah, rural living! You never know what will happen next.

I was in the pasture scraping the shedding blade across Melody when Mr. Redneck drove past. I didn’t have my watch on, but I know it was between 6 and 7 p.m. because I’d watched some of the news before I went out to feed the critters. I’d tossed the ball for Maggie longer than I wanted to, and then I scraped shedding hair off Cupcake and Melody.

I was headed back to the house when John came out to his shop (which adjoins the horse shed and kennel). At that time, Mr. RN drove back. Where had he gone for less than five minutes? Gee, you don’t think he might have been checking on us, do you?

After I had rounded up the cats, got them in, and checked my email, John came in to tell me about the “confrontation.” John was returning from checking our neighbor’s property and dog (as our neighbor had asked him to do) and was walking in our yard midway between the upper and lower driveway, and headed back to his shop. Mr. RN came walking up the road, whipped out an object, pushed it toward John's face, and yelled “Gotcha!” John, surprised, instinctively put his hand up. He didn't know if Mr. RN was about to hit him in the face or what. When John realized that the object pushed toward his face was a cameraphone and Mr. Redneck was taking his picture, John continued walking toward his shop, and Mr. RN continued walking to the old depot at the corner (which his brother owns and where the folding chairs are). He walked around the depot (which faces our upper driveway) for a bit.

(This is not the first time, Mr. RN has snapped pictures. Only a few days earlier—about 9 last Saturday morning—Mr. RN was walking along the road while John was mowing along the roadway. Mr. RN pulled out his phone and snapped John’s picture then. Our neighbor and his hired man happened to notice as they drove down the road and asked John what Mr. RN was doing. Mr. RN was snapping pictures of both John and me the morning after John was found not guilty of mr. RN's false warrants last fall.)

Mr. RN must have called his son from the depot, because within minutes son drove up in his little lavender truck. Mr. RN got in with his son who turned his little truck around, drove a couple hundred feet to the edge of our pines where John sat in the glider, and stopped. Mr. RN and son stared at John for a while. Then the son challenged John to come out to the road: “You wanna swat, come on out here!” As the son continued mouthing off, Mr. RN said he was going to call the sheriff: “The sheriff’s gonna come to your house and charge you with assault!”

John, being considerably more intelligent than either Mr. RN or son, didn’t answer the challenge and kept sitting in his glider under the pines. Mr. RN and son sat parked in the driveway across the road and waited for about five minutes before going home. I guess they got bored that John wasn’t going to respond to their intimidation.

After they left, John came in the house, announced, “I just had a confrontation,” and filled me in on the details. Then he called the sheriff and explained what had just happened.

We went back outside to finish up some of the barn work—mainly, refilling the water tubs—and waited for the deputy to arrive. It was after dark when we saw the car go past. First he went down the road to Mr. RN’s house (Mr. RN had obviously called, too) and about twenty minutes later, came to see us.

John told Officer Mayo what happened—essentially when someone sticks a cameraphone in your face and yells, “Gotcha!” you’re going to throw your hand up to protect yourself.

So, it looks like Mr. RN & son, frightened of the assault that didn’t happen as they harassed and challenged my husband, will probably file a warrant. In fact, as I typed this, a very noisy little truck went past. Since the little lavender Toyota has an unusually noisy muffler, I assume father and son were en route to the magistrate’s office. (How nice that father and son do things together!)

Stay tuned, gentle blog readers, for the next installment.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Pricked by Nature

April is here. On the pin oak, last year's dead leaf is pricked by a twig as this year's leaves come in. When it comes to April, Chaucer describes it best:

Whan that Aprille, with hise shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his swete breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halfe cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open eye-

So priketh hem Nature in hir corages-
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages

. . . and so on. Saturday afternoon, I returned from my pilgrimage to the Christopher Newport Writers’ Conference in Newport News.

From Williamsburg to Richmond, I drove along Rt. 5, the road past all the colonial plantations. Trees were budding in the wonderful shade of pale gold-green that is spring. Some fields were greening, but many were dead and brown-beige, evidence of the Round-Up™ spraying that has replaced plowing as the preferred method of cultivation. Even in the midst of the toxic wasteland, I could still see the wonders of budding spring if I looked at the trees and not the ground.

Early spring always reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem:

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

As I type this entry, I can look out my study window and see nature’s early spring treasure: green fields and gold-green trees:


However, soon the field will be sprayed so that genetically modified corn can be planted. The woods are already being logged out about a quarter mile to the east. When I go outside, I hear the chainsaws and see the logging trucks. The logger told my husband they’ll cut every tree over a foot in diameter.

Meanwhile, before the chainsaws start, the “smale foweles" wake me early with their singing, we had a “shoure soote” last night, and the “flours” are “engendered” as all get-out.

Nothing gold can stay. I’ve got to remember that.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Writing about Writing

The past week has been full of writing-related activity.

On March 24, I went with fellow Lake Writers Marion and Bruce, to Publishers’ Day at Virginia Festival of the Book at the Omni in Charlottesville. I attended some pretty good panel discussions, and Infinity Publishing took its authors out to lunch at a restaurant on the downtown mall. I also got a chance to browse many displays and visit with some fellow Virginia Writers’ Club members.

This week, I’ve read some of the middle-school finalists in the Lake Writers’ essay contest. Bruce had read the finalists first, then passed the folder to me. Deciding who gets which place is tough when all the finalists are pretty good. I’ll pass the folder to Jim at Valley Writers on Thursday. Then, we’ll try to get input from as many members as possible before making our decisions.

I returned yesterday evening from the Christopher Newport University Conference. Big crowd! I think at least 200 attended. David Robbins, the keynote speaker, is always entertaining. (For the fourth time, though, I heard him tell the story about his father at the baseball game.) All the sessions I attended were worthwhile. I missed the beginning of David’s creativity session because I had an editor consultation, but for the time I was able to attend, he elaborated upon his advice to aspiring authors that he has posted on his website.

The two sessions about publishing children’s books were just what I needed to hear. Kim Norman conducted “And Now the Good News” (about how authors can submit manuscripts to publishers and how she put together her new book, Jack of All Tales; Kim and editor Meredith Wasinger conducted “The Birth of a Book,” which gave some good insights to how books are published. (Both workshops had great handouts!)

I didn’t win any awards for the contests I entered but I got some good feedback from the judges. I entered the first chapter of my work-in-progress, a middle-grade novel tentatively titled Stuck, in the juvenile fiction category. (Jacie is stuck in her grief over her mother’s death, stuck her nemesis, stuck with a stepmother, etc.) I appreciate the very helpful comments from Sue Corbett, who wrote 12 Again, the best juvenile novel I’ve read in the past year.

The highlight of the conference for me was my fifteen minutes with Meredith Wasinger, senior editor for Sterling Publishing, which (alas!) doesn’t publish juvenile fiction. However, when she worked at Dutton, she’d edited that genre, including Corbett’s 12 Again.

Her comments about Stuck are better than a contest win. Here are some:

Very nice writing. You have a funny, clear style, and some terrific dialogue. (Not easy!)

You’ve done a very good job of “showing and not telling” at the beginning—the way we learn about Mom’s cancer is subtle and smooth. Take care that the other parts of the storytelling don’t become a sort of “travelogue,” though. You might want to slow down sometimes to give more specific sensory details about what Jacie is experiencing.

She gave me specific examples of scenes to work on. Her comments about which scenes needed to be reworked were especially helpful. Now I think I have a much better direction for my plot than I did a few days ago.

Corbett’s comments also improved my sense of direction. One of the good things she said:

There are some nice moments here, the writing is smooth and the last line of chapter one is a killer.

I’d wondered if my tags at the end of each chapter would work. Wasinger said they would, and Corbett seems to agree. I’ll keep using the tags.

Corbett’s comments about the scenes that didn’t work paralleled what Wasinger said. Now I know what needs work.

I’d been stuck on what to do with my juvenile novel. Now, I’m not stuck anymore and will work on Stuck this week.

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