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, January 30, 2010

Book Debut


Last Tuesday,
Ferradiddledumdaymy Appalachian folktale—debuted at the Franklin County Library. Friends of the Library sold copies.




My cousin, Hunter Brown, went with me and served as my photographer for the evening. Reporter Morris Stephenson of the Franklin News-Post covered the event. He'll have a story in Wednesday's paper.  More than fifty folks turned out to see Bruce Rae (my illustrator) and me read selections from the book:




First, some other entertainers warmed up the crowd:


     

Joshua Grice, a kindergarten teacher from Lee-Waid Elementary School, played and sang.  (Ibby Greer took the photos of the girl with guitar and of Mr. Grice.) 



Bruce and I made our appearance, read from the book while a library helper ran our Powerpoint presentation of Bruce's illustrations, and answered questions. The audience had lots of questions:


Claudia Condiff mentioned the book launch on her All Furry Critters blog.


On Thursday, we did another appearance at the Westlake branch of the Franklin County Library.


Westlake has a really neat "Smartboard" that allows computer projections. Our Powerpoint presentation was in the background while we read from the book: (Fellow Lake Writer Sally Roseveare took the photos below)


We did our reading from one side while librarian Marilyn Amerson ran the Powerpoint show from the other side. Below, Bruce assumes the role of Ferradiddledumday, the strange little feller who gives Gillie the power to spin hay into gold.


On her Smith Mountain Lake Mystery Writer's blog, Sally Roseveare posted her impression of the reading. Betsy Ashton posted her account on her Mad Maxisms blog

I had a good time doing these appearances and I hope to do many more.
~

Monday, January 25, 2010

Taming Wild Cats & Querying Agents


Two goals I have for 2010 are (1) to tame the Twiglets, the wild barn kitties that I had neutered en masse a while back and (2) to get a literary agent for my middle grade novel, Stuck.

I'm making pretty good headway in goal #1. For the last couple of weeks, I've been able to pet all three of Twiggy's kittens, but Twiggy herself remains just outside my grasp. As for goal #2, I queried a handful of agents in early 2009 (the last three requested the full manuscript before rejecting it) and then stopped querying to enter Stuck in two contests. My manuscript was a finalist in the Smith Mountain Arts Council  Novel Contest and ultimately took second place, thus winning me $400. The other contest, Delacorte, was supposed to announce a winner in October but held onto my manuscript until late November  and finally announced in December that there would be no 2009 winner. Consequently, I lost six months of querying time. But, while I waited to hear contest results, I rewrote several sections of Stuck and made it better. Way better.

But back to the Twiglets. How did I tame those wild kitties? With a whip.

No, I didn't hit them. I attracted their attention with the fuzzed-out end of an old dressage whip I had in the tack room. (Loyal readers of this blog will remember that the tack room is where I fed the Twiglets and eventually caged them) The first time, I wiggled the whip back and forth, they stared. Then they focused intently on the little wiggly end. Finally, they chased it. Eventually, they looked forward to playing with me after I had fed them. Now they demand I play the "chase the whip" game with them.

As I played, I'd move the whip closer to my feet. Sometimes I'd run my hand down it. Sherman, the fluffy male, was the first one to come close enough for me to stroke him with the end of the whip. After a while, he learned to enjoy this long distance stroking. Eventually, I could stroke him with my fingertips. The first time I touched him, though—in November—he bolted. But he really wanted that little fuzzy thing that only appeared near me. Gradually, I could touch him more and more. Finally, I could pick him up.

But the other Twiglets wouldn't come close enough to touch. Even if I touched them with the whip, they'd shy away. In December, when I caged the four Twiglets and took the to the vet, I figured they'd never forgive me.

For a while, they didn't. Eventually, Sherman let me pet him again. Spotsy, seeing how much Sherman seemed to enjoy the scritching sessions, ventured closer when I wiggled my fingers and said, "Scritch, scritch, scritch." I learned not to reach out to the Twiglets; they had to come to me. And they did.



Spotsy moved to climbing on the bench beside me and sniffing my face. Soon I could pick her up. By early January, little Spookie ventured close enough to sniff my gloved fingers. Soon I could pet her. Then she'd approach my wiggling fingers when I issued the "Scritch, scritch, scritch" invitation.






Only Mama Twiggy remains elusive, but recently she's gotten interested.





In fact, she's started playing with the whip and has even endured some whip-stroking.



Now, back to querying. Querying agents is as frustrating as taming wild cats and takes a certain technique. It took me a while to learn to wiggle the whip correctly pare down my query letter to a tight concise page. I think now I am correctly wiggling the whip to entice them closer have a good hook to attract agents' attention so they'll venture closer to see if the stokes I offer my manuscript might be worth their while.

Maybe, before long, agents will even line up to play chase the whip see what I have to offer.



"Skritch, skritch, skritch?"
~

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Bright Spots

Last Monday evening, after I finished feeding supper to the crtitters and was heading uphill to the house, I saw a meteor streak down the northeastern sky toward earth. Since that particular flash of light was the biggest and brightest I'd ever seen, I figured it hit close by—maybe in the filed across the road. I couldn't tell for sure because my house blocked my view of where it landed.

Turns out I was wrong. It wasn't my own private meteor. After I'd posted about it on Facebook, comments started rolling in, some from former students in Roanoke.

"I think I saw it too... at about 5:35pm? White light that was headed straight down?" posted a former Jackson Junior High student of mine, who later added he'd been headed north on Route 11 just past the Pepsi plant. He'd just entered Botetourt County and saw it to the northeast. A former Madison Junior High student who was driving east  on Rt. 419  in front of Tanglewood Mall in Roanoke added, "It looked like it was falling on Mill Mountain from there." A fellow member of the Virginia Writers Club noted that a friend of hers had seen it from Interstate 81.

Hmmm. It obviously didn't fall nearby. So where did it fall? Another Facebook buddy who now lives in Colorado posted this:

Monday's meteor fell on Lorton, Va. doctors' office
A Washington DC television station is reporting an apparent meteorite fall in Lorton, Va. The space rock, which has been taken to the Smithsonian Institution, crashed through the roof of a doctor's office at around 5:45 p.m. on Monday, narrowly missing patients and staff.

The TV station report is here.

The end of my week was also bright, though in a different way. Friday evening and all day Saturday, several Lake Writers and I went to the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference at Hollins University. Suffice to say, a good time was had by all and the conference was packed.

I wish I could have attended all the sessions, but I tried to pick ones about topics that were unfamiliar to me. Consequently, even though I've been blogging since 2006, Facebooking for a couple of months, and Tweeting for about a month, I learned about Internet stuff that I didn't know and had wanted to know.

For instance, thanks to Maryke Barber's "Beyond Blogging: Free and Fabulous Online Tools,"  I now know how the Goggle Reader works, what RSS means ('really simple syndication") and why I should use it, and what a wiki is. One tool I wish I'd know about when I taught English—and which I wish existed when I was a student—is Zotero, which generates both footnotes and a bibliography.

Some of us Lake Writers (who are also members of the Virginia Writers Club) appeared on the self-publishing panel during lunch.


Picture compliments of Dan Smith (left), conference organizer.


The auditorium was pretty much packed, and I was amazed how many people raised their hands when I asked who was considering self-publishing. During the breaks, several asked me about my experiences.

I had my self-published book as well as my vanity-published ones available. Thanks to my small press publisher, I also had copies of Ferradiddledumday available—and hot off the press. While Ferradiddledumday won't have its official debut until Tuesday, a handful of folks now have a copy.

For a fuller report from another conference attendee, see this post at Blue Country Magic.

This past week has had several other bright spots, but the meteor sighting and the conference were two of the brightest.

Hope y'all had a good week, too.
~

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Box

Yesterday, a box appeared in my garage. What could it be?

I brought the box inside and sat it on the sofa where Chloe gave it a cat scan.



Then I opened it. My author copies of Ferradiddledumday are here!



Why didn't Chloe's brother Jim-Bob do the cat scan? He was busy with some important paper work.



I think he's going to be an editor when he grows up.
~

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Bookish Stuff

The last few days have been spent doing bookish things—namely promoting and critiquing.

On Friday, I plugged my soon-to-be released Ferradiddledumday on the local cable's "Rise & Shine" show. My illustrator, Bruce Rae, accompanied me. We had a great time chatting with the host Dick Shoemaker and plugging the book's "world debut" at the Franklin County Library next Thursday. We've already gotten publicity from The Franklin News Post, The Smith Mountain Eagle, and The Laker Weekly, so we hope to have a good turn-out.

On Saturday, Amy Tate and I went to our SCBWI crit group in Roanoke. For two hours, five of us discussed manuscripts that we'd e-mailed each other earlier in the week, shared news, and socialized. The neat thing is that we write very different types children's lit from each other—middle grade paranormal, young adult fantasy/scifi, picture books, and middle grade historical fiction—so we're able to give different opinions and insights.


Angie, Marcie, Karen, & Amy
A recent blog post about crit groups is over at the Slushbusters Blog. It's worth a read if you're in a crit group. I especially like this part:

Every critique group needs a grammarNazi specialist. Nothing says amateur to an editor or agent like someone who cant put they're sentences together rite.

At most crit groups, I serve as the grammarNazi specialist.

After the meeting, Amy and I stopped by Ram's Head Bookstore, where I left some Ferradiddledumday bookmarks and we both bought books.

Tomorrow, I'm back to promoting. Monday morning a bit after eleven,  Bruce and I will be on Peggy Conklin's "Our View" show on local radio station, WYTI. Twelve years ago, when Peggy published Blue Ridge Traditions, she serialized an early version of Ferradiddledumday in a couple of issues. The story has changed a lot in the last decade, though. Anyhow, you can go to the station's website and listen to the show on your computer.

Speaking of promotion, a couple of weeks ago I blogged about being on the "Cover to Cover" show. My episode (#127) is now online.

Now, besides promoting Ferradiddledumday (which will be in my hand in less than a week!), I just finished another rewrite  of Stuck, my middle grade novel, which I will soon start to query. Meanwhile, I'm going to enter it in the Kidlit Contest  to see if I can win an evaluation by agent Mary Kole.

And maybe I'll work on my next book.
~

Monday, January 11, 2010

Poop and Circumstance

A few days ago—during the really frigid weather—my 28-year-old mare Cupcake somehow added some appendages to her tail. It didn't take me long to figure what they were. Apparently when she pooped, four or five balls of manure immediately froze to her tail.



Cupcake is the one in back; Melody is the lead mare.


 I thought about trying to remove the poopsicles, but they looked pretty well frozen to a section of her underneath tail hair. Plus how, exactly, would I do it? Just grab and go? Even wearing gloves, I didn't want to do that. For one thing, it would take several grabs. For another, Cupcake isn't known to be cooperative.


I posed the question to my Facebook friends thusly:

Any of my horsie friends know the best (and most humane) way to remove, er, "poopsicles" that are frozen onto a horse's tail without getting myself kicked into the next county?
And I received lots of answers, not all of them workable. Here are some:


  • let em' thaw
  • Google a solution... I hear you can find anything on the internet... LOL
  • One of my friends who stables and owns a few horses says a bucket of hot water (and stand to the side) is the best way to get rid of poopsicles... the only problem is that you then have to towel dry the tail so it does not freeze solid.
  • Maybe cut the tail off for the winter! :)
  • This might be the season to braid the tails the way they do for horse shows!
  • I go for the braiding. Or for tying up the tail so that it doesn't get in the way. It's warming up and those already there will melt.
  • simply take canning salt and rub onto the offending attachments. ;) I recommend using old jersey gloves with a rubber glove liner to apply it. This works -- but if you prefer, an old towel dampened in white vinegar and salt solution also works -- though it tends to bleach the hair and dry it out a bit more.
  • My mom said to try cowboy magic and brush it out.
  • Cherry Bombs!!! Then Run!!
When I fed this evening, I inspected the poopsicles. They were pretty well tangled up. You can see one here:





I thought about slicking up her hair with Showsheen, which is a great detangler, and then combing them out. But the Showsheen was frozen. Then I decided to snip the strand of hair they were hanging from. I figured if I did it while she was scarfing up her dinner, she wouldn't notice. Since the snipped portion would be on the underside of her tail, the damage wouldn't show.


Just in case, I stood to her left side instead of right behind her. I had the scissors in my pocket, so I was ready. 


A nanosecond after I lifted her tail, she lifted her left hind leg and cow-kicked me. I never had a chance to get the scissors out of my pocket. Fortunately she missed my kneecap. Fortunately she got me on an especially well-padded portion of my thigh, so no bones were broken. 


The word I yelled was especially appropriate for the circumstance. Cupcake kept eating and never looked up. 


Fortunately, there was plenty of ice lying around for me to ice down my injury.  





It swelled anyway. 


Given the circumstances, I decided that Cupcake could wear the poopsicles  for a while longer.
~



Saturday, January 09, 2010

To Be or Not to Be

. . . on the road, that is.

On Thursday, I'd planned to go to Valley Writers in Roanoke, 38 miles northwest of home. However, the weather forecast called for snow, albeit light. The temperature was still below freezing, so even a dusting of snow could be treacherous. By early afternoon, I'd decided not to go, even though I really wanted to. I had a gut feeling that something would happen on Route 220, a busy road with hills.

Then the forecast changed—no snow in either Roanoke or my area. I decided to feed my critters early, just in case the new forecast was correct. If I fed early, I'd have time to make the drive before the meeting started. I measured out the horse feed, made my old mare's "pellet soup" so she can chew easier, mixed canned dog food with dry food for the four kennel dawgs, mixed canned cat food with dry food for the barn cats, filled jugs with hot water to melt the ice so the critters could drink, and put the dog food, horse feed, cat food, and water (three trips) into my PT Cruiser for the cruise westward to the barn.

The weather to the west didn't look bad. No ominous clouds hung over Roanoke's direction. Maybe. . .

When I pulled  up to the barn, only three cats came running—the wild Twiggy and her offspring Spook and Spots. Sherman was missing. Usually he's the first to greet me. Something wasn't right. The three Twiglet kittens are always together. I checked the road but didn't see a fluffy black and white body.

I fed and watered the three cats, fed Melody, put Cupcake in the stall so she could leisurely eat her pellet soup without Melody's interference, chopped the ice from the tub and added hot water, went to the kennel where I fed and watered the dawgs (and played with border collie Maggie who insisted I throw her toy), and went back to see if Cupcake had finished (she hadn't) and to see if Sherman had appeared (he hadn't).

Maybe Sherman was locked in the shop. While Cupcake ate, I walked back to the house where I asked John if he'd been in the shop (he had) and would he come open the door (he would). We called and called Sherman. A couple of times we were pretty sure we hear a low meow from somewhere in the large overcrowded shop. No Sherman appeared. If I were going to Roanoke, I have to leave in a few minutes.

But John figured we might as well water since the tub was low, so he hooked got the hose, hooked it up, and went back to the house to turn the water on. Too late to go to Roanoke now. Still no Sherman.

While the tub was filling, John happened to notice the dark drips on the gravel near my car. I'm the only one who's been driving onto the driveway gravel. He opened the hood and started checking fluids. The power steering fluid was almost gone. If I had gone to Roanoke, odds are good I would have lost steering on the highway. In the dark. In below-freezing temperature.

John went to the shop, got some fluid, and refilled what I'd lost. He figured that maybe the cold weather had caused a tiny crack in the seal. Judging by all the dark stains on the gravel, my car had apparently been leaking fluid for over a week.

After John returned the fluid bottle to the shop, Sherman sauntered out. If Sherman hadn't gone missing, I'd have been on the road and John wouldn't have found the leak. . . .


In this picture, Sherman is the fluffy cat in the rear.

On Friday morning, Sherman was the first one to greet me when I served the Twiglets their breakfast.

Later, I went to Lake Writers in Moneta. Despite the frigid temperatures, I didn't have a problem with the car. After the meeting, some of us did lunch at the Bluebird Bakery and Grill. this was the first time I'd been there, and I liked the place a lot.


Leslie, Sally, Betsy, and Karen look at Betsy's article in The Laker Weekly.

If you're in downtown Moneta, VA, you might want to stop in at the Bluebird. Here's a video about it:


~

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Catching Sunshine

 Merry Christmas! Today is Old Christmas, a day when spirits walk the earth, animals talk, and elderbushes bloom. Last evening, in every direction, the sky looked mysterious.


Smith Mountain (lower right) is to the east.


 Jack's Mountain is to the west.



 Twelve-mile long Turkeycock Mountain is to the south.

Seeing such unusual clouds, I wondered what the day might bring; I've blogged about happenings on Old Christmas before: here and here.

This morning, when I braved the 24-degree temperature and brisk wind to feed, I saw no spirits and didn't find anything blooming. The barn kittens were a bit talkative, though, with purrs and mews. Melody grumbled that I was late feeding. The dogs barked. That's what they do every morning.

Later this morning, a strange beagle appeared at our house, but she didn't say anything. She wore a collar, so she probably wasn't a stray. Ruby Sherwood, the resident day-care dog who sits on the settee on my deck and waits for her mommie to return from work, took a liking to her. In fact, Ruby took her into the garage and showed her where the garbage bag was. Apparently, they found enough in one bag  for brunch.

Hubby and I were watering horses and couldn't concern ourselves with the visiting dog for a while. However, when I took a good look, I knew I'd seen pictures of that beagle on the Internet. It was Sunshine, who'd had puppies on December 5. A look at Sunshine's, uh, undercarriage confirmed that she was nursing pups.

I called Claudia, who lives just over yonder and who knows the folks who've taken in Sunshine. She checked with Sunshine's care-givers and—sure enough—Sunshine had gone missing. Claudia said she'd be right over. I grabbed a lead shank and went out to secure Sunshine.

But she wasn't there. She'd been there only five minutes before.

"Ruby, do you know where she is?" I asked, but Ruby wasn't talking. I heard my dogs barking, so I knew Sunshine was in the vicinity. Finally she showed up. I clipped the leadshank on her.



Ruby, always a gracious hostess, stayed nearby while we waited for Claudia.



Soon Sunshine was loaded and homeward bound.





So long, Sunshine!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Clash of the Cat Clans

A long post—but with pictures.

As some of you loyal readers know, I—through a strange quirk of fate —have considerably more cats than I had this time last year.

Tall and anorexic Twiggy, who showed up on the game camera in the garage early last spring, produced three offspring in early July but kept them sequestered in the tractor shed. Little Olivia, who appeared on my deck a month or so after Twiggy's appearance, and who was in such bad shape that I thought she wouldn't live, much less reproduce, had four kittens on August 8 in the garage. Unfortunately, Olivia lacked teeth to properly attend to the newborns, so by the time we found them the placenta was wrapped so tightly around Jim-Bob's hind leg that he lost the foot. (Lest you feel sorry for him, he doesn't know he's missing a foot at all. Usually I photograph him from his "complete" side; this post will contain pictures of his incomplete side.) Olivia kept moving them, so we only got fleeting glimpses. Given Olivia's poor condition, I didn't think the kittens would live, but they did.

Twiggy and Olivia had totally different parenting styles. Twiggy was a strict mother who insisted her black and white children follow her rules: don't associate with strangers, stay behind me, always do what I say, don't be seen or heard, always wear a sweater—things like that. They followed her lead and she didn't put up with free-thinking on their part. The Twiglets were shy and tentative—and, like their mother, untamed. Getting the Twiglets neutered and vaccinated was an adventure unto itself.

Olivia, on the other hand, didn't care what her multi-colored brood did. If they were hungry, she  was available to provide snacks, but the kittens were pretty much on their own. They played where they wanted, explored the patio and surrounding grounds, slept where and when they pleased, figured out what worked and what didn't, and answered to no one.  They were bright, bold, creative, inquisitive, and charming. The Olivians did what they darn well pleased and pitched screaming fits if they didn't get their way. I don't think they even noticed when their mother was at the vets getting spayed. Two Olivian sisters went to a creative household in Roanoke. I kept Jim-Bob and Chloe.

For months, the Olivians were the home cats; the Twiglets were the barn cats. The twain didn't meet—until today, the first day of the year. Here's how the sky looked when I was going out to feed:



Here's the view of another tree, a little south from the one above:



See anything in the leafless mulberry tree? Two black and white cats, maybe? And another—mostly black—on the ground in front of the tree? The Twiglets are anxious for me to cater their breakfast. Their mother only appears for the evening feeding, so the three kittens have their mornings to themselves.

They ran out to meet me, as they've been doing for the last couple of days, and we went together though the pines to the barn where I fed them, the horses, and the dogs. While I waited for Cupcake to finish so I could turn her back out, I played "catch the dressage whip" with the Twiglets—it's their favorite game. Sherman let me pet him and Spots crawled on my lap. Spook was busy attacking the end of the whip. Then we all noticed something. Another kitty had invaded Twiglet territory!



Jim-Bob had ventured though the pines—definitely out of his home territory! The Twiglets, mindful of their turf, leapt into action.



Spots backed Jim-Bob under a pine while Spook (the black blob at the left) kept her eye on him. Jim-Bob was surrounded.



Chloe, with eyes aglow, advanced on Spook and evened the score. Together, Chloe and Jim-Bob re-entered their home territory—but the Twiglets followed.



While Chloe claimed the lounge chair, Spook climbed the maple tree. Did she ambush little Chloe?

No! Chloe was saved by her Uncle Eddie-Puss who ordered the Twiglets back to their own territory.
 


Knowing her Uncle Eddie-Puss was watching her back, Chloe chased the Twiglets.



But what happened to Jim-Bob? Was he missing in action?

Not exactly. When the going got tough, he climbed a tree.



Later, safe in home cat territory under the maple tree, he joined his Uncle Eddie-Puss as they watched the Twiglets retreat.



No fur flew today. It wasn't much of a clash after all.
~