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.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Rain & Sunshine

"Rain and the sunshine, rain again tomorrow." That's what my grandmother used to say.

Yesterday, rain fell in the front yard while the sun shone in the back yard. Today, it rained again while the sun shone.

Guess we'll have rain again tomorrow.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Writers, Writer’s, or Writers’?

(Warning: Educational content follows. If you were expecting a post about suicide buzzards or out-of-control rednecks or even the doings of a border collie, you might want to skip this entry.)

A member of Rocky Mount Writers wanted to know how to refer to the group: Should she use writers group, writer’s group, or writers’ group? Her question awakened my dormant inner English teacher.

My conclusion, based upon both Googling and referencing certain books that I own: It depends upon your meaning.

A group BELONGING TO (owned by) several writers can be a writers' group.

Ex. Ethel, Lucy, Annabelle Lee, Miss Kitty, and Aurora attend their writers’ group every Tuesday unless they can find something better to do.

A group COMPOSED of several writers is a writers group—no apostrophe. This is now the preferred form. The writers don't actually own the group. “Writers group” is a label, not a possessive. (reference: Bill Walsh, Lapsing Into a Comma, p. 73)

I belong to more than one writers group. One could argue that writers in this context is an adjective that tells what kind of group.

The Chicago Manual of Style backs up the no-apostrophe use. At a recent Lake Writers meeting (no apostrophe: a meeting composed of the Lake Writers), our fearless leader brought in his Chicago Manual of Style and showed us that the apostrophe-free form was acceptable. Since I—regrettably—don't own The Chicago Manual of Style, I can't quote word for word why this form is acceptable, but it is. Trust me; it’s somewhere in The Chicago Manual.

The trend in the English language is to make things simpler. (Remember all those periods that used to be in many abbreviations but no longer are?)

I rummaged around and found my 1995 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual. On page 256, I found this:

DESCRIPTIVE PHRASES: Do not add an apostrophe to a word ending in s when it is used primarily in a descriptive sense: citizens band radio, a Cincinnati Reds infielder, a teachers college, Teamsters request, a writers guide.

So, writers group can be a descriptive phrase. The AP Stylebook continues:

Memory Aid: The apostrophe usually is not used if for or by rather than of would be appropriate in the longer form: a radio band for citizens, a college for teachers, a guide for writers, a request by the Teamsters.

A group for writers? A writers group!

And more from the AP Stylebook:
An ’s is required, however, when a term involves a plural word that does not end in s: a children’s hospital, a people’s republic, the Young Men’s Christian Association.
Many organizations—though not all—omit the apostrophe. Hence, we have the VirginiaWriters Club and the Valley Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club.

I checked out organizational names in The Lake, a supplement in today’s Roanoke Times, and found a bunch of examples: Trinity Treasures Sale, Virginia Trails Story Time, Freemans Concert, Virginia master naturalists certification, the Melvin Jones Award, Young Readers Book Club, etc.

This sentence works in a bunch of apostrophe-less words:
The Moneta Lions Club celebrated the 18th anniversary of the club’s charter with Lions Clubs International with a formal dinner meeting June 21 at the Pointe at Mariners Landing in Huddleston.

As I was writing this blog, an email appeared with some examples of s-less usage. Here’s part of it:

With credit approval, for qualifying purchases made on a Sears card (Sears Commercial One® and Sears Home Improvement Account (sm) accounts excluded unless otherwise indicated).

Note: it isn’t Sears’ card (or even Sears’s card) or Sears’ Home Improvement Account—even though Sears clearly possesses them.

I think that takes care of the plural. To use the singular possessive— writer's, you must have something BELONGING to ONE writer:

The writer's group of manuscripts fell off his desk.
or
The writer’s group, having only the writer himself as a member, met in a closet at the public library.

Thus, I can correctly say that our writers group had a Rocky Mount Writers picnic yesterday. I was there and blogged about it.

See previous blog entry.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Writers Retreat

This morning four members of the Rocky Mount Writers (and three kids) retreated to the new Franklin County park at Smith Mountain Lake to hang out, talk about writing, and enjoy the new public facility.


The kids fished from the pier while Amy H, Debi, Marion, and I munched our sandwiches and talked about books, writing, and stuff.

We had the picnic shelter to ourselves, but we were soon joined by two adolescent ducklings and a large fuzzy something. Was it a gosling? A young swan? We weren’t sure, but it had huge feet and it was friendlier than the ducklings.



The breeze from the lake felt good. A lot of folks on jet skis, kayaks, pontoons, speedboats, and the Virginia Dare probably enjoyed the breeze even more.

The feathery critter appeared to enjoy the shade.

Suicide Buzzards

One of the hazards of rural living is unexpected encounters with critters. In June 2004, for example, Franklin County became world-famous when a bear wandered into the emergency room at Franklin Memorial Hospital. Granted, the town of Rocky Mount—where the hospital is located—isn’t exactly rural, but it’s darn close.

A month earlier, an Air Force fighter Jet crashed in Callaway, a definitely rural area in the western end of the county. Eventually, the cause of the crash was determined: collision with a buzzard. It was the first "suicide buzzard" mission anyone had heard of in these parts.

I live in eastern Franklin County, where a suicide buzzard collision happened yesterday morning a couple hundred feet from my property line. My neighbor—we’ll call him B—was headed down Novelty Road in his pick-up when he came upon a couple buzzards chowing down on some fresh rabbit roadkill. Now, buzzards perform a valuable and needed service in the county. They dispose of roadkill in a fairly quick and efficient manner, and usually before it starts to smell. They’re a lot faster than VDOT when it comes to cleaning up corpses along the road.

Normally buzzards hop out of the way when a vehicle approaches. One of these didn’t. The suicide buzzard flew right up into the windshield, thereby breaking it and knocking the rear-view mirror into B’s head. He was also covered in shattered glass, but that didn’t cause him any injuries. He was better off than the buzzard.

He pulled over and called his insurance agent, who said he’d get a new windshield today and that he needn’t bother reporting the incident to the police. I guess there wasn’t any use to charge the buzzard with improper flying, since it didn’t have insurance and it wasn’t in good enough shape to refute any charges against it.

Looking on the bright side, B’s windshield already had a tiny nick in it from being hit by one of the loose gravels that VDOT spread a couple of weeks ago, so he knew he’d have to get the windshield replaced eventually. He just didn’t figure on getting it replaced so soon—and under such bizarre circumstances.

Given the fact that there now seems to be a trend of suicide buzzard missions, I figure it won’t be long until VDOT starts erecting signs warning motorists to beware of buzzard bombings.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

But?

Is it, or is it not, OK to begin a sentence with the conjunction “but”? Some folks I know—mostly teachers adhering hard and fast to a grammar book—say never use “but” to start a sentence.

But I sometimes use “but” as a sentence starter. Am I right? You betcha!

Using “but” as an opener can be fine, even desirable, depending upon your purpose. Using other coordinating conjunctions—such as “and” or “or”—can work, too.

In dialogue, characters often speak in sentence fragments. That's how real people talk. Using “but” to start a sentence that a character actually says is fine.

In narration, “but” can be used as a synonym for “however” if you put a comma after it. Without a comma, “but” can be an effective way to begin an anti-climactic statement. It can add shading to the meaning of a sentence or can establish the writer's tone or style.

Just to make sure my opinion of using “but” was correct, I indulged in a bit of research. For example, I checked online at a reputable source that gives “but” the thumbs up:

Beginning a Sentence with And or But

A frequently asked question about conjunctions is whether and or but can be used at the beginning of a sentence. This is what R.W. Burchfield has to say about this use of and:

There is a persistent belief that it is improper to begin a sentence with And, but this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. An initial And is a useful aid to writers as the narrative continues.

The same is true with the conjunction but. A sentence beginning with and or but will tend to draw attention to itself and its transitional function. Writers should examine such sentences with two questions in mind: (1) would the sentence and paragraph function just as well without the initial conjunction? (2) should the sentence in question be connected to the previous sentence? If the initial conjunction still seems appropriate, use it.
from The New Fowler's Modern English Usage
edited by R.W. Burchfield. Clarendon Press: Oxford, England. 1996.
Used with the permission of Oxford University Press.


Next, I checked some books that I keep handy for reference:

From p. 117 in On Writing Well (fifth ed.), the eminent stylist William Zinsser notes that conjunctions can be effective mood changers:

I can’t overstate how much easier it is for readers to process a sentence if you start with “but” when you’re shifting direction, or, conversely, how much harder it is if they must wait until the end to realize that you’ve shifted.

Many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with “but.” If that’s what you learned, unlearn it—there’s no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is primed for the change. If you need relief from too many sentences beginning with “but,” switch to “however.” It is, however, a weaker word and therefore needs special placement. Don’t start a sentence with “however”—it hangs there like a wet dishrag. And don’t end with “however”—by that time it has lost its howeverness. Put it as early as you reasonably can—as I did three sentences ago. Its abruptness then becomes a virtue.

From p. 185 of Woe Is I, Patricia O’Connor not only puts to death some myths about usage, she gives them an inscription on their tombstones:

TOMBSTONE: It’s wrong to start a sentence with and or but.

R.I.P: But why’s it wrong? There’s no law against occasionally using and or but to begin a sentence.

Over the years, some English teachers have enforced the notion that and and but should only join elements within a sentence, not to join one sentence with another. Not so. It’s been common practice to begin sentences with them since at least as far back as the tenth century. But don’t overdo it, or your writing will sound monotonous.

From p. 121 of Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose, Constance Hale says this about using conjunctions to start sentences:

A-student types who memorized everything their English teacher said insist that coordinating conjunctions cannot begin sentences. If editors ever try to feed you such wrongheadedness, throw these gems their way: And God said, Let there be light; and there was light (Courtesy, the Old Testament) Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to. (Courtesy, Mark Twain) And after all, the weather was ideal. They could not have had a more perfect day for a garden-party if they had ordered it. (Courtesy, Katherine Mansfield)
There you have it: Several authorities say it’s OK to use “but” to start a sentence.

But you already knew that, didn’t you?

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Life Cycle

When I’m 62—and the Beetles. . . .

Yesterday my husband and I registered for Social Security, and the Japanese beetle invasion began. The two events are not necessarily connected. They just happened to—well, happen—on the same day.

A few weeks ago, the Social Security folks sent John and me official-looking statements that told us how much we’d poured into SS and how much was likely to drip out, depending on when we retired. We were already sure that we would take the money at the earliest opportunity, which would be this September. (I really wanted to use the cliché take the money and run, but at our age running is pretty much out of the question.) They said to sign up about three months before our age of eligibility. That would be now. Actually, I could have done it 10 days earlier because I am that much older than John, but—in the interests of togetherness—I waited for him.

John learned that applying on-line is a lot less stressful than driving around the SS building in Roanoke and looking for a parking place, so after he’d hit send and zapped his application to the government, he convinced me that I should too. Mine took a little longer because I worked last year and thus had to answer more questions, but it still beat standing in line.

So, getting that first check this fall will be a milestone: the first official step in growing old. No, wait! The first step was getting the senior citizen discount at Krogers when we hit 55. Second step, then.

About two hours after hitting send, I looked out the window and saw a lot of activity on the Virginia creeper that covers much of the deck railing. I decided to investigate.


Close inspection revealed that dozens of Japanese beetles had not only landed but were actively involved in, uh, hooking up with each other. I figured this was a Kodak moment. (OK, I don’t have a Kodak. But an Olympus moment didn’t sound right. I seem to be having major cliché trouble today.)

WARNING: Graphic bug shots to follow!


A few years ago, I discovered that Japanese Beetles like Virginia creeper more than they like my other plants. Aha! Let ’em eat creeper! So, they now gnaw the creeper down to nothing and leave my other plants alone.



The beetles, of course, are only doing what their life cycle dictates: live underground as grubs, emerge, eat, mate, reproduce, die. Not unlike the human life cycle.

However, they don’t have to file for Social Security.

And they don’t get that senior citizen discount at Krogers.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Another Family Recipe: Light Bread

One of the delights of my childhood was going to Grandma’s house on Sunday and smelling her light bread baking. Eating it hot from the oven was even more delightful. She had both a wood stove and a gas stove in her kitchen. She used the wood stove for baking the bread and for most of her cooking. I rarely saw her use the gas stove.

Mattie Blanche Nace Ruble—who lived to be 97—grew up in Lithia, Virginia, but moved to Roanoke when she married a railroad man. Here is a picture of her as a young mother with her three children (Lawrence, the oldest; Raymond, the baby; and Alene, my mother).


Grandma probably got the recipe from her mother, Sulmena Frances Spence Nace, pictured here with her husband, William Robert Nace.



Grandma Ruble’s Light Bread

1 cake or package of yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon shortening (Crisco works well)
6 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 pint lukewarm water

Dissolve 1 cake yeast and 1 Tbs. sugar in one pint lukewarm water. Add 1 Tbs. shortening (Crisco) and 3 cups plain flour. Beat until smooth. Then add 1 tsp. salt and 3 more cups of flour—or enough to make a dough that is easily handled.

Knead the dough until smooth and elastic–about 10 minutes. Place dough in greased bowl, cover, and set in a moderately warm place, free from drafts, until light (about 50 minutes).

Punch down dough and form into rolls. Place rolls in greased bread pans, cover, and let rise one hour. Bake 30 minutes in preheated 350 degree oven.
~~~

I liked the rolls from the corner of the pan—crust on two sides so it held up well for buttering.
~

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Old Family Recipe: Spoonbread

I just finished reading Mom’s Family Pie, Peggy Shifflett’s wonderful book of family recipes and the stories behind them.

Unlike Peggy, I don't have many family recipes, but I have a couple. One came from Aunt Leona.

When I was a kid, my great aunt Leona Ruble Davy (maybe it's spelled Davey) and her husband (she called him Buddy, but I don't know his real name) would come from their new Castle home to visit us aound Easter. She usually brought me a fruit-and-nut chocolate-covered egg. Sometimes it had my name in icing on it.

Supposedly Leona, the youngest child of G. William Ruble and Margie Caldwell Ruble of Botetourt County, was known for the beautiful clothes she made herself. This photo from her youth isn't in very good shape, but it shows how pretty she was. She still had her red hair in the 1950s.

Aunt Leona never had kids. I don't know when she died, but I can vaguely remember driving my brand new 1967 Firebird from Roanoke to New Castle to take my mother to visit Aunt Leona.


Besides the picture, I have her recipe for spoonbread. Here it is:

Leona's Spoonbread

1 cup boiling water
one-half cup corn meal
1 tablespoon butter
one-half cup sweet milk
one and a half teaspoons baking powder
one-half teaspoon salt
2 eggs, well-beaten

Pour one cup boiling water over one-half cup corn meal. Beat in 1 Tbs. butter, one-half cup milk, one and a half tsp. baking powder, a half teaspoon of salt, and 2 beaten eggs. Pour into a greased baking dish. Bake until set. This would be at 400 degrees for 20 or 30 minutes in a modern stove. Serve hot with butter.

I'm not much of a cook, but I've made this spoonbread before and it is wonderful.

I wonder how much more wonderful it would be baked in a wood stove?


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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Getting Hitched?

. . . in rural America.

This morning, about a mile down the road from me, they were getting ready for a wedding. A cloth walkway stretched from the singlewide to the arch, chairs were in place for guests, and two John Deere tractors stood ready to witness.


As one who deplores the pretention and waste of many modern weddings (nearly forty years ago, mine consisted of just me, John and the minister), I think this is great!

Too bad more couples don't opt for the meaningful simplicity of weddings like this one.

I wonder if there'll be a tractor pull at the reception?

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Franklin County Park

On my way home from Lake Writers today, I decided to stop by the newly opened park on the Franklin County side of Smith Mountain Lake. After parking the PT in the lot that had maybe eight other vehicles, I had to decide: could I make it down the path to the water? Yeah, I could.

The park has restrooms, which would be to the right and behind where I stood to take the picture (below). There was a kiddie playground further back from the restrooms, but it was in the sun with no shade close by. Those big plastic tubes (I call them "booger tubes"—How do they clean those things, anyhow?) that kids slide through and leave their germs for the kids that follow must be hot as blazes.


The problem with the hike: high noon and no trees shaded the gravel path. They'd been cut back for a wide right-of-way. Well, if I'm halfway there, I can make it the rest of the way.


Finally, the picnic pavilion (above left) was in sight. On the right is the fishing pier. In the picture of the pier below, the tiny blue speck above the trees to the far left is Smith Mountain.


I walked halfway out the pier to get a shot of the Virginia Dare passing by. A couple of women sitting in the covered part of pier said I should have been here yesterday—a big houseboat that looked exactly like a big house went by. They'd never seen anything like it before.

The shade and the breeze down by the water refreshed me for my walk back.

I'd really like to have seen that houseboat, though. House boat? Whatever.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Muddy Summer Dog’s Dream

Maggie spent part of Midsummer’s Eve in Standiford Creek on Smith Farm. Maggie loves flinging herself into a creek. She loves to get wet and muddy.

All the hay has been cut and baled, so I can walk the hayfields with Maggie. However, I dream of walking the trails, but I can't do that yet. They're overgrown with weeds, and the bush-hog needs repair.

The high weeds, of course, are filled with poison ivy, ticks, chiggers, and the occasional snake. Thus, I can't safely meander through the bottoms and up the hills to the old graveyards. All the best places on the farm will have to wait.

From the field, however, I can get glimpses into the woods. The ferns along the creek bank are as lush this summer as I’ve ever seen them. There’s a dreamlike quality to them when the sun is close to setting. A border collie amongst the ferns only adds to the magical quality of the dream.


Enchanting, isn’t it?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Working Dog


Maggie's photo by Robyn Bevins

Border collies are bred to work, and Maggie is no exception. She’s cow dog on her mama’s side and sheep dog on her daddy’s. Unfortunately, we don’t have cows or sheep.

What we do have are two old mares—Cupcake, a 26-year-old racking horse, and Melody, an 18-year-old Tennessee Walker. The horse paddock adjoins the kennel. Lately the horses are staying close to the common fence because Melody unrolled a round bale, the remains of which when came to rest against the fence. Consequently, Maggie has become a horse watcher.

When the horses are near, Maggie sits and gives them the border collie stare. They ignore her. She can watch them for hours. They are her herd, her responsibility.

A few days ago, I stood on the far side of the kennel and visited with the dogs. Maggie reluctantly left her horse-watching post and came to see me. But she still kept an eye on her horses, even though they were at the top of the rise and not against the fence.

Suddenly, Cupcake dropped and rolled. Maggie knew this wasn’t normal. She dashed to the fence to check on Cupcake and then dashed back to me. Do something, her eyes implored.

I did. “Cupcake, get up!” I hollered.

Cupcake rolled once more, then rose and shook. She wasn’t colicking—merely removing the itchy dried sweat from her coat. If dogs can heave a sigh of relief, Maggie probably did.

All was right with Maggie’s world. She’d done her job.

I know my little herd is in good hands. Er, good paws.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

If It Looks Like a Book

I received an email the other day that proclaimed:

CONGRATULATIONS, YOUR BOOK IS PUBLISHED!
We are very happy to inform you that your book is now officially published and will be uploaded to our web site by Friday afternoon. As a published author, you now have something in common with Dickens, Woolf, Kipling, Cummings, and Lawrence.

This means your book has been added to our web database and will be available for sale on our website within the next 24-48 hours. From this point forward, we are able to take orders from anyone who contacts us to order a book.

It was signed by the "In-House Representative" for the company I used. Yeah, I should be thrilled to be in the "company" of such a diverse bunch of authors as Dickens, Woolf, Kipling, Cummings, and Lawrence. But I’m not in their "company." I’m not in their league. They’re major league and I’m sandlot.

My book (More Peevish Advice) is vanity published. That means it won’t be on the shelf of your neighborhood Barnes & Noble, Borders, or Books-A-Million. It irritates me a bit to know that the “in-house representative” wants me to think I really accomplished something great.

My “accomplishment” was putting together five years of my “Peevish Advice” columns, formatting the manuscript to the specifications of a print-on-demand company, and sending a set-up fee to the company. In the game of publishing, I paid to play.

My book won’t have a print run. The company won’t print a copy until it is ordered and paid for. It won't be widely available—unless you count Amazon and a few other online sellers. Even then, it'll take a couple of months for Amazon to list it.

Print-on-demand publishing is not the best way for most authors to get books in print. However, it works for small niche markets (mine is) that wouldn’t interest a commercial publisher (mine won’t). Any author contemplating POD should already have a readership in place (I do—my column is popular in my tiny part of Virginia) and somewhere to sell the book (no bookstore in my county, but several gift shops will carry my book). A POD author shouldn’t have dreams of the book leading to great things (I don’t). If you want to win at the POD game, you have to think small and local; you have to know the limits.

What do I actually have in common with Dickens, Woolf, Kipling, Cummings, & Lawrence? They didn't write redneck humor; I do. They're dead; last I checked, I wasn't. Their work sold into the hundreds of thousands or millions; mine will maybe sell 500 copies if I'm lucky and really promote in my area. They didn't use computers to write; I do. Their books weren't print-on-demand; mine is. Their books are shelved in major bookstores; mine won't be. They played a different game with different rules in a different arena.

But I’ll have fun promoting More Peevish Advice for a few weeks, and I’ll soon make back my investment. (If I didn’t, I wouldn’t play.) Then the season will be over, and—when a Cup of Comfort for Writers comes out—I’ll move up to the next league.

Where I don’t have to pay to play.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Road Trip to NN

I’m back from Newport News, where I attended the Children’s Literature Association Conference at CNU and visited with my former college roommate and her daughter.

I spent all day yesterday resting up. The older I get, the harder it is to drive 200 miles in a day. But it was a good drive. I don’t do the interstate when I can help it, so my only heavy traffic part was going around (or is that over?) Richmond on 895. Before long I was on Route 5, the most scenic way to get from Richmond to Williamsburg. Driving Route 5 is like traveling back in time.

Route 5 is an old road that passes the entrances to a multitude of the James River plantations. Driving through the overhanging trees on some stretches, I could imagine traveling by horseback or by carriage. While I couldn’t see much of the estates from my car, I could imagine them. Someday, I tell myself, I’ll stop at one or two. Maybe Berkeley where a Harrison ancestor of mine lived. Maybe Evelynton, which is supposed to be haunted.

The ChLA was the first big literary conference I’ve attended where the majority of participants were educators, not writers. Hearing academic papers gave me a different perspective, one that I needed. These folks were the readers, not the writers, so the focus was different from what I’m used to. I tried to select offering about pioneer literature and folktales.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (who, by the way, didn’t get her semi-autobigraphical novels published until she was 63, so I’ve got some time yet to make my literary mark) was the topic of much discussion. While I always thought of her books as autobiography, even though I knew they were always shelved in the fiction section, I’m now aware that she left lots of her life out and selectively—with help and encouragement from her daughter Rose—carefully structured the plots. Thus, her books are considered historical fiction. Also, I’m no longer impressed with “Pa” Ingalls who dragged his family all over the place (including a homestead on land confiscated by the government from the Indians–uh, Native Americans) and exposed them to a multitude of dangers. Apparently the safety and well-being of his family was secondary to his own agenda.

One presentation at ChLA was on the Gothic elements of the Little House® books. There’s some downright scary stuff in Ingalls Wilder’s work! Another presentation—not about Ingalls Wilder—concerned the incestual tensions in some Victorian children’s novels. (Did the young readers really notice the subtext?) At a SCWBI worskhop a few months ago, I learned that contemporary YA and middle-grade books were getting edgier. Now I know that some of the older books were pretty edgy themselves.

On the panel I was on (“Virginia Authors: Writing Books for children About Virginia History"), I sat between Candice Ransom, author of more than a hundred books for young readers, and Karen Adams, who—like panel leader Amanda Cockrell, teach in the Hollins University graduate program in children’s literature.

Anyhow, I was in good company—both at Polly’s and at the conference-and I had a good time.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Too many books

. . . so little time. Not only will I be busy promoting Cup of Comfort for Writers in August and September, but I'll first promote More Peevish Advice in late June and most of July.

Granted, the two books have very different readerships. Plus, More Peevish Advice, is a print-on-demand book, so bookstores won't carry it. Most of my promotion will be from readings that I do as Ida B. Peevish (of Ida's Salon of Beauty & Live Bait Shop) and most of the sales will be at Smith Mountain Lake area gift shops.

Remember a few posts ago that I wasn't happy with the proof copy cover? Well, I like this one a lot better, so I'll sign the proof approval form and mail it in.



It'll be a couple of months before More Peevish Advice shows up on Amazon.com, but copies will be available from Infinity Publishing in a week or so. Plus I'll have a some copies soon.

Right after you finish reading More Peevish Advice, A Cup of Comfort for Writers should be available. That you'll be able to get in a bookstore.

Speaking of bookstores, I've already talked to a couple of bookstore managers about doing a signing of Cup of Comfort. Stay tuned for updates.

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Another Loss

Buford joined Jack at the Rainbow Bridge this morning.

1999-June 8, 2007

I first saw Buford one evening in October 1999 when I went to feed my horses, who were pastured a mile down the dirt road from my house. He sat at the edge of my woods, waiting.

Pretty cat, I thought, glancing at the tabby with a white chest and feet. A one stripe ran down one side of his nose. Wonder what he’s waiting for?

I didn’t stop. I had horses to feed, chores to do. I assumed the cat was hunting in the woods. But why is he hunting so close to the edge of the road? And why is he so far from the nearest house? Maybe he’s hungry.

The next morning when I went to feed, I took some cat food, just in case. The tabby wasn’t at the edge of the woods. Had he gone home? I slowed my truck and saw him about thirty feet into the woods. I pulled over and, cat food in hand, got out of my truck. When he saw me, he came to see what I had. As he gobbled the food down, three other cats came out of hiding—a solid tabby, a calico, and a white cat. None were full-grown, but they were larger than the white-footed tabby. And they were hungry. Obviously, they’d been dumped. I fed my horses and went home. By that evening, I knew what I had to do: an off-road adoption.

The little tabby was waiting by the road. I fed the horses first and returned to where he sat. I offered food. He came straight to me. I picked him up and put him in the truck. The calico came out of hiding, and I took her, too. Further down the road, the other tabby was in a tree. After a bit of coaxing, he finally climbed down low enough for me to pluck him off the branch. By now, it was dark. I was sure the white cat lurked in the woods, but I couldn’t see it. Well, three off-road adoptions were enough.

Back home I unloaded the cats into my husband’s shop. Before he finished his protest about why we didn’t need a bunch of stray kittens, one of them caught a mouse.

“OK, they can stay,” he said. “For a while.”

The next morning, a white cat—ready to become off-road adoption number four—sat by my farm entrance. He was glad to get in the truck and ride down the road for the reunion with his brothers and sister. The little tabby seemed to be the leader of the group. The other three stayed close to him, almost as if they were keeping their eyes on him.

I found homes for the larger, prettier cats, but I added the personable little tabby to the collection of felines already in my household. He fit right in. If he wanted something, he patted us to get our attention. If gentle patting didn’t work, he demanded attention by standing and clawing us on the butt. Strangely, he never made a sound.

My two older female tabbies seemed to look out for him, and he looked to them for direction. The females always came when I called, “Cats! Cats!” If the little tabby, now named Buford, saw them come to me, he followed. If he wasn’t watching them, he didn’t follow. If he didn’t face me, he paid no attention at all to my calls.

My husband tried some experiments. While Buford was asleep, my husband clapped, shouted, and even blew a whistle. Buford didn’t react; he was totally deaf.

His deafness explained a lot: why he never meowed, why the other cats looked after him, why he had no fear of loud noises, why he didn’t mind the sound of a vacuum cleaner, why he didn’t come when called. I started calling him my “little afflicted cat.”

But he wasn’t afflicted. He did everything that hearing cats did–and sometimes better. . . .

I'd started writing the above story to send it to a Cup of Comfort for Cat Lovers. Now, Buford's story will remain unfinished. He was a good little cat.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Cup of Comfort for Writers

Yesterday, I received an email from a publicist for Adams Media, the publisher who does the Cup of Comfort series.

Now I’m starting to get pumped about my essay, “Out of the Fog,” appearing in a Cup of Comfort for Writers. The publicist's email provided info about how I could promote the book if I wanted to (and I do want to). I’d already planned to read my selection at the Friday night coffeehouse that constitutes half of this year’s Franklin County Bookfest. (I’d have blogged about this event already, but we haven’t selected a name for it yet.)




“Out of the Fog” is creative non-fiction. That is, I combined several classroom visits I’ve done into one in which I explain to a class how I write. For those of you who already know how I write—yes, I included the desk cats, the border collie under the desk, the Peaks of Otter that I see through my study window, my faithful eMac, my truck, my iBook, my general disorganization, my un-writerly appearance when I visit schools, etc. I put all that in.

“Out of the Fog” started as a contest essay titled, “How I Write.” While its first incarnation placed second in the 2005 Wytheville Chatauqua contest and a rewrite won the 2005 first tier of the Virginia Writer’s Club contest, it didn’t do diddly at the statewide VWC level. Only an honorable mention. Consequently I rewrote the whole thing again, this time changing the essay's focus and expanding it to include the classroom visit. I guess the third time’s the charm.

When I visit English classes, I advise students to keep rewriting and revising. "Out of the Fog" is a good example of what happens when an author keeps rewriting. (See, kids—I didn't lie!) With a little work, what was once a merely OK essay becomes worthy of publication. (Note to my faithful blog readers: If you want to read the revised version, you'll have to buy the book.)

A few weeks ago, I got my check from the publishers. In July, I’m supposed to get my author’s copy. This morning I got the jpeg of the cover. The cover design has my favorite shade of blue on the cup. Is that cool, or what?

I spent most of yesterday afternoon looking up the addresses of newspapers that might be interested so Adams Media could send them complimentary copies and press releases to entice them to interview me. Last night I sent off my list.

Now, I've got to set up some signings.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Driveway's End


The view at the end of the driveway has changed lately, what with the road repair and all. The road isn't being repaved, merely repaired. All those big trucks—the logging trucks and the milk truck—have taken their toll.

All day yesterday, various road equipment went back and forth to create a dusty and smelly experience for all involved.

To the left of the above picture is the peach tree at my mailbox. I bought an "ornamental peach" several years ago to brighten the corner where I am. The tree was supposed to have showy pink flowers in the early spring but not produce fruit,

Apparently, no one told the peach tree it was purely ornamental—all show and no substance.


The little tree bears a pretty good crop of peaches this year. Last year's crop was pretty good, too, but the japanese beetles got the peaches before I did.

I guess the tree didn't know its limitations, so it did what it wanted to do. There's proably a lesson in that.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Walking Smith Farm

This evening Maggie and I walked around Smith Farm. She hadn’t been for a run for several days and needed to bound over logs and tear through the underbrush. With the hay cut, I can walk the fields and not have to wonder how many ticks and chiggers are hitching a ride on me.

At the cabin, I walked beside the woods down the hill to where the spring was. When I was a kid following my grandmother on one of her trips down to get water, I thought I was walking a mile. In reality, it’s about 600 feet to the spring—downhill with an empty bucket and uphill with a full bucket. How many times a day did my grandmother do this?

The cow was kept in the bottom, too. A fence and chain kept her from fouling the spring. Granny Sallie, my paternal grandmother, would have to carry milk twice a day, too.

The spring is the puddle at the lower right. The cabin is at the center.
I took this photo on April 9. Now the trees have leafed out so much you can't see through the woods.


I didn’t go all the way to the spring but walked instead along the edge of the field near the creek. The bank was so full of ferns I wished I’d brought my camera. Maggie kept splashing into the creek, running back to me, and splashing again. There’s a lot of joy in a border collie.

At the bottom corner of the field, we cut into the woods and walked up to the old graveyard. It struck me that my grandmother—and thousands of other farm wives of her time—did not have the freedom I have. They had to keep the fire going, the pots on the stove, the food cooking in the pots. Their duties kept them close.

If they had small children, how did they manage to get water and to milk and to tend their gardens? How could they carry both babies and buckets? My Aunt Belva once told me about how she’d leave my cousin Dixie in her crib with a catalogue to tear pages from while Belva slipped out to the spring. What did other women do? What did my grandmother do?

They couldn’t go gamboling through the woods, that’s sure. Too much risk of snakebite, ticks, and chiggers. Too much risk of a rabid dog or fox. Too much risk of falling, and who would know where to find them? Too much risk of a stranger coming. Too much risk of the fire getting out of control or the fire going out. Best stay close to home.

Plus their long skirts would have hindered them. I wear jeans on my woods-walking. My truck is parked close. I have a phone. I think I’m in the country, but in reality I’m a tenth of a mile to a heavily traveled road that leads to the lake. From the old graveyard on the hill where William and Gillie Ann Bernard—the first inhabitants of the cabin—are buried, I could hear the traffic noise.

The country my grandmother knew really isn’t country anymore.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Cottage Curio

Cottage Curio at 622 Colorado Street in Salem, VA
The sign is a wok in progress.

This morning I dropped off some of my books at Cottage Curio in Salem and partook of some delicious apple dumplings while I was there.

The owner, Peggy Shifflett, is a retired sociology professor from Radford University. She’s self-published two books, The Red Flannel Rag: Memories of an Appalachian Childhood and Mom’s Apple Pie: Memories of Food Traditions and Family in Appalachia. I own both her books but have only had time to read The Red Flannel Rag, which is wonderful. It’s sold more than 7,000 copies and is used in the Appalachian studies classes at Virginia Tech and Radford University.

Peggy hopes that Cottage Curio will be an outlet for artists and writers. Already, she has several books and crafts on consignment from local writers and artisans. Almost every Saturday an artist or writer is scheduled to appear at the Cottage Curio. Today, for instance, Peggy’s sister-in-law, Hilda Shifflett, demonstrated how to make the best apple dumplings I've ever eaten. They were superb. The recipe is in Mom’s Apple Pie: Memories of Food Traditions and Family in Appalachia, which is, of course, for sale at the Cottage Curio.

Hours are Thursdays and Fridays from 10 until 5 and Saturdays from 9 until 2.

My books on the shelf in the green room at Cottage Curio.

On July 21, I’ll be there reading from—and signing—my latest collection of humor columns, More Peevish Advice. Rumor has it that Hilda might be baking light bread that day. Or maybe blackberry dumplings.

Something good, anyway.

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Friday, June 01, 2007

A Day in June

June 1st already! What is so rare as a day in June? (Answer: days in April, September and November. Days in February are even rarer.)

Maggie inspects the newly-cut hay on Smith Farm.

After a bone-dry week, we finally had rain last night. Lots of rain. Over three inches of rain in the rain gauge.

Unfortunately, we also had hay down in two fields on Smith Farm in Union Hall, which got less rain than we did at the house. John was supposed to rake at 4:00 p.m. today (if the hay has dried out) so Bobby can bale. However, more rain is predicted and clouds are piling up as I post this blog entry.

Hay is still usable if it's only been rained on once; twice and it's junk.

At least the field at big Smith Farm was baled last week. Will the other fields dry out? We shall see.

Edited to add an up-date: And they did dry out in time! Union Hall only got a half-inch of rain. By 6:00 p.m., those two fields had made fifty-two round bales.

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