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.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ten Years of Dylan


Dylan and I celebrated our 10th anniversary last week. I'm not sure which day, but I remember I bought him during the 2001 Roanoke Valley Horse Show. On my way to the show, I'd stopped by Petland on Franklin Road to get something—I forget just what—and I was attracted to a cage where I saw the ugliest kitten I'd ever laid eyes on. He had a pointy face and was kind of a blackish-gray. He looked like a goblin.


I don't know how long the kitty had been incarcerated, but he was at that gangly stage where kittens lose their cuteness. Petland was running a special on him. He was pretty cheap as pet store pets go.

I moved closer to the cage. The ugly kitty looked at me. If you touch me, I'll buy you, I thought. He reached a paw through the bars and touched my nose. I could have sworn he told me his name was Dylan. Anyhow, the next day I returned with my cat carrier and hauled him home. It wasn't long before he settled in like he owned the place. And it was apparent from the beginning that Dylan had a strong personality.


When I took him to the vet for a check-up, the vet asked what color he was. I said "black roan"—which is a perfectly good horse color, just not a cat color. Eventually Dylan turned black,  but the color change was so subtle we didn't notice until he was jet black.


Dylan is the only cat I've ever taught to walk on a leash—or the only cat I've owned who even wanted to walk on a leash. For the first five or six years, the only time I let him out was on the leash. I only had to holler, "C'mon, Dylan! Let's get tacked up!" and he'd jump onto the table and stick out his neck for me to put on his little blue collar and attach his dainty blue leash.

At first, I wasn't sure exactly how to leash-break a cat, so—for the first several times, at least—I just followed Dylan wherever he wanted to go. Eventually, if he wanted to go a direction I didn't, I'd stand still and let him pull. Then I started using a series of half-halts.  If you're a horse person, you know what a half-halt is; if you're not a horse person, the explanation would bore you. It worked. 

Dylan loved to go out and, if I touched his leash without offering to put it on him, he'd start yowling and I'd have to tack him up and take him out. Otherwise, for years he was content to stay in when Camilla and Foxy, the old lady cats, went out. Plus, Eddie-puss, a year younger than Dylan, stayed in, too.

But Dylan was a strong-minded cat, and if he wanted to do something, he did it. For instance, he decided he was my husband's cat; my husband didn't want a cat, but that was too bad. Dylan became his cat. During Maggie's first year, when she  was a house puppy, Dylan loved to tease her. And, of course, Dylan has destructive tendencies.


Four years ago, when he was middle-aged, Dylan decided to make a career change and become an outdoor cat. There was no dissuading him. Here's a post about it: http://peevishpen.blogspot.com/2007/08/expanding-circles.html. He was fascinated with the world outside and he sometimes brought parts of it back in with him. And here's a post about that: http://peevishpen.blogspot.com/2007/10/dylan-comes-of-age.html.

He goes out every morning between 5:30 and 6. To let me know he needs to go out right this very minute!, he rattles the door to the basement, or yowls, or both. If I don't get up and let him out, he pees. Dylan has me trained very well. 

I let him out, he makes his rounds around the house and bangs on a door to come in. He'll have breakfast and then ask to go out again. About dark, he makes a final tour of the property, and leaves his mark to let the cat next door know that this is Dylan territory.


Actually, anywhere Dylan wants to be is Dylan territory.
~

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Graduation Speaker

 

I've sometimes imagined myself speaking at a college graduation, or maybe even a high school graduation. Where I actually spoke was at elementary school just down the road apiece where the 5th graders were having a graduation ceremony.

Parents and friends await entrance of 5th grade grads.

I had a pretty good time. Granted, I cut my speech short because it was beastly hot in the un-air-conditioned gym, but it's not like folks remember graduation speeches for very long anyhow. For instance, I have no clue what was said at my high school or college graduations. I remember the WFHS class of 63 was held outdoors, and the RPI class of 67 was held in Richmond's Mosque and both of them seemed to take forever. I didn't attend the Citadel graduation when I got my master's because I'd already moved to Massachusetts and had no intention of returning to beastly hot Charleston, SC.

I was invited to be the speaker because I was a writer. So, naturally, I talked about writing."Writing is power," I told the kids, parents grandparents, and teachers. "So is reading. If you can read and write well, you can do a lot of things." Nobody disagreed with me, so I kept going.  This is more or less what I said:

When you read, you learn stuff. You learn how people act in certain situations, you learn how people assume responsibility for their actions, you learn about ways of life that are vastly different from your own. You learn how to do things. And sometimes you just have fun.


Writing is about making choices. You have the power to choose what you want to happen. You can’t always do this in real life, but if you write fiction—made-up stories—you have the power to make anything you want happen. You can choose who your characters are, what they look like, and what they do. You get to decide what happens to them, how they overcome obstacles or deal with problems. You can even choose what words to use to best tell your story.


In life, you often can’t make whatever you want to happen, happen. But you can choose what kind of person you want to be, and act accordingly. You can’t often control some of the things that might happen to you, but you can choose how to react to certain situations. You can choose what you say to people and how you say it.


You have the power to understand how events happens. Plot is the series of events that happen in a story. Fiction writers know that one thing always leads to another. Good writers always know how their story will end. Then they ask themselves what happened just before the ending, what happened before that, etc.? You can apply this to life by determining what you want and what you have to do to get whatever it is you want.


Writing is also about understanding that there’s more than one way to tell a story. You can see the world from different viewpoints. Writers have to decide what viewpoint to use—first or third person. First is from a character’s view—the character tells the story. Third is from an outside narrator who sees what happens through the eyes of a few—or many—characters. A write has to decide what the best viewpoint is for telling the story. In real life, it helps to be able to see many sides of a situation—many viewpoints.


Writing exercises your imagination. Writers have a sense of What if? What if this happens, or that happens? What if a chicken thinks the sky is falling? What if a monkey is really curious and has all kinds of adventures? What if a boy goes to a school for wizards? What if your family lived in a little house on the prairie? What if you traveled to another time?


In real life, you can ask yourself "What if?” to solve—or prevent—problems. What if you were going on vacation but you were stuck in a traffic tie-up on Interstate? Or on top of roller coaster? What if you heard a weather report that a tornado was headed your way? What if someone asked you to do something you knew was wrong?

I told them I became a writer because I was a reader. My mother read to me when I was a baby, so I loved books from an early age. I read a lot when I was their age. Of course, this was before computers  and video games. We only had 3 channels on TV, and one didn’t come in very well (No cable). Reading was major entertainment,

 I told them about my latest book, Stuck, and how everyone is stuck in something, but being stuck isn’t forever and that they were no longer stuck in elementary school, for instance.


Then I read this passage from Stuck where Jacie, the eleven-year-old main character, is afraid to take her horse over a jump:

The day after Nicole’s accident, Emmie [the riding instructor] decided to teach us how to jump properly. She figured Nicole fell off when Lightning jumped over a log. Maybe if Nicole had known how to jump, she wouldn’t have fallen off.
“There is a right way and a wrong way to jump,” Emmie said, “and you need to know the right way. Just in case.”
What you have to do is sort of rise out of the saddle at just the right time and look between the horse’s ears and look where you’re going and be in balance and a whole bunch of other stuff. It’s complicated. I was kind of scared after Nicole got hurt. You can really get hurt bad in a horse accident. So I lost my nerve, and I’d pull Blaze back just before a jump.
Emmie kept saying, “Go forward and believe in it.” That is how you get the horse over a jump after you get in the right position and all. You have to believe. But I couldn’t.
Even though the jump was only six inches high, it looked big when we trotted over it. There was so much to remember. What if I got hurt? I lost my nerve, and I’d pull Blaze back just before a jump.
“Don’t look down!” Emmie said. “Look where you are going. Go forward and believe in it!”
Alicia had no problem. Mickey is very good at jumping. Even Mary Jo got the hang of it pretty quick. “You can do it!” they kept telling me. I didn’t think I could. The first time I trotted Blaze up to the jump, I pulled back on the reins when Blaze got close. He stopped, and I thought I would go over his head. I was so scared! I was holding on to his mane and that saved me, but I still got bounced around. After that, everybody bugged me to do it right.
Finally I did. Emmie clapped. Alicia and Mary Jo cheered. Then I did it again and again. Finally Emmie had us canter the jump. That was fun.
Then she raised the jump to one foot. It looked HUGE! But I looked where I was going and went forward. It was wonderful! I felt like I was part of Blaze and that we really were flying. I don’t know why I was so afraid at first. Maybe I kept thinking about Nicole’s bleeding head.
On the last day of camp, there is always a horse show for any camper who wants to enter. Emmie and the other instructors put us in groups based on our age and ability. Mrs. Witherspoon [the camp director] called them divisions. Two days before the show, she hung a big chart in the canteen. It showed who was showing in what division, what order they go in, and what classes they’d have. Mary Jo and I were in the second division. Alicia was in the first. Alicia is really a good rider now and her horse Mickey isn’t so green. Girls from all the other cabins were showing against us. Alicia had eight others in her division. Mary Jo and I had twelve.
Before we went to bed, we talked about the show. Alicia was looking forward to it, and Mary Jo was kind of worried because she’d never even seen a horse show before. I admitted I was a little worried, too. I’d never seen a horse show before either, but I didn’t tell them that.
“Don’t worry,” Alicia said to us. “Just do it!”
“Go forward and believe in it!” Mary Jo and I said at exactly the same time.
***
And then I told the kids to go forward and believe in themselves and what they could do if they put their minds to it.

I figured that was the sort of note a graduation speech should end on.

And, on another note, "Graduation Speech," by Charles W. Pratt, was today's poem on The Writer's Almanac.
~

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Blogging about Blogging

Today, I conducted a blogging workshop for some of the Lake Writers. Sally Roseveare, whose blog is Smith Mountain Lake Mystery Writer, was there to help out and take pictures.


Fortunately, the meeting room at the Westlake Library has a "smart board" so everyone could see could see what I accessed on the computer. Two of the workshop attendees had blogs but hadn't used them for awhile; others were completely new to blogging. Everybody was involved and several asked really good questions.

Here's one of the handouts I provided:

Blogging: The What, Why, and How
by Becky Mushko

What is a blog? A blog is an on-line journal—your private selective diary that you’ve opened to the world.

Why blog?

  • A blog is your column—a sample of how well you write.
  • A blog provides a platform for a writer.
  • A blog connects you with like-minded people.
  • A blog promotes your books/freelance writing/etc. without being blatant.
  • A blog is personally satisfying—sometimes even fun.

A website, a blog, and social media are all part of a writer’s platform. All make people aware that you’re a writer and help promote your books. Some agents Google potential clients to see what kind of a web presence they have, so it’s a good idea to update your blog at regular intervals.

How do I get people to read my blog?


On your website, post a link on your website. When you update your blog, post the link on your Facebook page. Ditto for Twitter, if you tweet. If your blog URL is on your business cards, people can easily find your blog. Add comment on other blogs you read. Anyone reading the comments will be able to click your signature and access your blogger profile.

What blog should I use?
I use Blogger (http://www.blogger.com) because Blogger is owned by Google. This makes your blog easily show up in Google searches.

Others blog providers such as Wordpress and Typepad might also interest you.

How do I set up a blog? Go to http://www.blogger.com/start. Under “Learn More” on the right, click the link to take the tour and the link to watch the video tutorial. There are also many tutorials posted on YouTube. A good one is “Create a Blog: The 5 Minute Blog” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXiJ6jY3qB4, but you can search for others.

If I start a blog to promote my writing, should I write about writing? Writing about your own writing is boring unless you’re a famous author and maybe even then. Write about your life and what you do. Write about your interests. Write the kind of stuff you’d like to read on someone else’s blog. If you were writing a newspaper column, what would you write about? That’s what you’ll blog about. But, yeah, once in a while you can write about your writing. . . .

One writing-related topic you might blog about is books you’ve read and liked. Put a link to the book’s Amazon page and to the author’s website.. If anyone Googles that book title, your blog will show up on the search—and the author might be grateful for the plug. If you didn’t like a book, best not mention it on your blog.

You might also blog about your hobbies, places you’ve been, interesting things you’ve done, etc. The theme of my”Peevish Pen” blog (http://peevishpen.blogspot.com) is “ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement—and sometimes a border collie. And maybe cats.” That pretty much covers everything I blog about.

What interesting things might happen if I blog? Here are a few that happened to me:


How long does it take to get a blog started? Getting started as a blogger takes a couple of hours to get the hang of what all the blogging features are, to become comfortable with how things work, and to learn which icon does what. But it isn’t really difficult. After a day or two, you’ll be posting your entries in minutes.

Here are a few things to keep in mind before you begin setting up your blog:

  • Have several possible URLs in mind in case your first choice is taken.
  • Your blog's title doesn't have to match its URL, but it's good if it does.
  • Decide on your theme/purpose before setting up a blog.
  • Decide on your blog’s look. Blogger offers several templates.
  • Keep your blog simple. Don’t add music (unless you’re a musician), special effects, or anything else that detracts from your message. Don’t use lots of tags—maybe one or two. Too many look tacky and unprofessional.
  • The first few times you post, you might want to write your blog entries in advance so you can copy and paste.
~~~
Blogs by Lake Writers are at  http://lakewriters.webs.com/blogs.htm. Soon it won't be long until the guys in the picture below have blogs, too.



~

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E-mail Spam: It's a Blast

Warning: Unless you're a writer, you likely won't find this post very interesting.

One of the book promotional methods that I don't care for is the e-mail blast—or e-mail spam—that an author sends to publicize his/her book. 

A few days ago, I received an e-mail sent to "undisclosed recipients"—a sure-tip off that it's an e-mail blast. Because a jpeg of the promoted e-book's cover was attached, the e-mail weighed in at 3.9 MB. Were I still on dial-up, this thing would have taken 15 minutes or more to download.

The e-mail (which, of course, didn't even address me by name, although I've met the sender a time or two) began with a question, "Why would a [rest of question deleted]?" followed by "To find out check my book [title deleted] which is now available for download at Amazon/Kindle. And the price is only $2.99. Simple go to [URL deleted]."

I didn't follow up. For one thing, the self-published e-book is not a genre that I even read. For another, I don't like being spammed. I do like to hear about friends' new books, but I expect the e-mail to address me by name and at least tell me what the book is about.

Here's an other example of e-mail spam, this one a forwarded email that I received a few months ago. (I have taken the liberty of changing certain details. My changes are in brackets.)

Hi [*],

As a fellow [member of the National Organization I'm email blasting], I hope you'll be interested in ordering a copy of my soon-to-be published book of [pirate-chick lit literary historical romance stories (with a few [other genres] sprinkled in): The [Book I Wrote]. [Pirates, unemployed nannies, sea-monsters, Moby Dick, editorial assistants, time-travelers, shoe shoppers, English majors, and albatrosses] inhabit these tales.

The [Book I Wrote] is the 2nd book from a new, woman-owned-and-edited publisher: [Really New Press]. A special note to [National Organization] writers: [Really New Press] is looking for work for future publication projects: [the email addy was here].

Please support a fellow [member] & give a great start to a new woman publisher by Pre-Ordering Your Copy of The [Book I Wrote].

Here's how: Enclose a check or money order for the discounted price of $14.99 plus $3.50 shipping along with your name & address and mail before January 31, 2011, and get an autographed copy of The [Book I Wrote] before it's available in the store! As a special gift for pre-ordering, you'll also receive another one of my books, [Another Book I Wrote]. Books will be shipped by [date].

Make checks payable to: [Really New Press].
Mail to [a place that isn't New York or one of the other major publishing locations]
For questions, please contact: [editor of Really New Press]

Thanks so much for your support & [National Organization] writers, make sure to check out [Really New Press]'s guidelines for submitting your work.

Your sister-in-the-arts,
[Author's Name]
******

The author who sent this seems like a pretty good writer (I took a look at her blog), but I don't buy books from e-mail solicitations. I buy books from authors published by major houses, self-pubbed authors that I know personally, small press authors that I've met at conferences, occasionally a Facebook Friend, etc.—someone I have a connection to and whose book I've actually seen. I don't care if a publisher is male or female—I care about the quality of the work published.

I was a little  (OK—a lot) suspicious because the author plugged her publisher—which is "looking for work," no doubt from new writers. Uh-oh. Major red flag there. The legit presses are already flooded with submissions. They're not looking.

But my curiosity had been piqued about this new publisher (founded Sept. 2009) that had only one book out and another on the way. I did a bit of Googling and discovered the one book this press already has out is available from Lulu.com—a POD self-publisher. Huh? What's with that? For one thing, it means that this book will never be on the shelves of a bookstore. You can use Lulu yourself to self-publish. Why go through another company that uses Lulu?

Going through Lulu means the book won't be "in the store." I'm guessing the author wanted everyone to pre-order so the publisher could pay for and order X number of copies from Lulu.

The author who sent the email is probably legit, but her press doesn't seem to be. A pity, because her book sounded like something I might like—if I had picked it up in a bookstore or maybe heard her do a public reading from it. And if I hadn't heard about it through a e-mail blast.

For more info about the effectiveness of e-mail blasts as a marketing tool, see the "Book Marketing Ideas That Don't Work" post on the Writer Beware blog.
~

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Galax 2011

Again this year, I was invited to be among the Authors on Grayson under the tent in front of Chapters Bookshop at the Galax Leaf and String Festival. I had such a good time last year that naturally I accepted.

Galax is about two and a half hours from home, so it isn't a bad drive. In fact, it's a downright scenic drive that doesn't involve interstates but does involve crossing a mountain. I hate interstate but love mountains. Here's the view from Lover's Leap:


I stayed again at the Hampton Inn, which is very nice and only a few miles from where the festival is. It's also next door to a nice Tractor Supply.


Here's my PT Cruiser in the lot. On the other side of the fence is a cow pasture. Since my house is also across from a cow pasture, I felt right at home.


At the other end of the parking lot was this truck.


Here's the front view. I kind of wondered what this truck was used for—maybe what you'd drive to the Rapture. I didn't see it at the festival, though.


But at the festival, I did see a lot of folks under the tent.





Here's my display.


The activities were cut short on both Friday and Saturday by heavy rains. I left early Saturday afternoon before the rains actually hit, but I could see dark clouds behind me all the way home. I only experienced sprinkles  going over Rt. 58, but I hit a few light showers once I got to Rt. 220. When I reached Glade Hill—only a few miles from home—the rain was so hard I had to pull over and wait it out.

Apparently I'd missed some pretty spectacular storms while I was away.
~


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Scam Redux

Last April, I received an offer via e-mail that I could refuse: for only $159, I could have a genuine plaque of a newspaper article about me.  I didn't reply to the offer.


A few days after the e-mail, I received a phone call from one of the company reps who wanted to know if I'd like to "commemorate the article" with a plaque. I thought I made it pretty clear to the scammer  company rep that I had no interest whatsoever in "commemorating an article."

That's why I blogged about it.

Today, guess what I received in my e-mail in-box! This:

Note: I removed certain identifying info.

See what a great deal they're going to give me? They're going to let me "recieve" a whopping $30 off! I'm still not interested in the crap they want me to buy, though. I didn't reply. 

As scams go, I've received better ones lately, namely this:

 
The above e-mail might have touched my heart—or possibly another internal organ. After all, at the age of 56, the widow Carine has decided not to "get a child outside my matrimonial home," whatever the heck that means. Plus she has cancer and a "partial stroke." Though it's commendable she wants me to use 60% of the money—How much money? A dollar? Ten million dollars? She doesn't specify how much her husband deposited "with the FINANCE COMPANY"—"to the less priviledges, motherless babies homes." I do not "reply me" to her e-mail.

However, soon I receive another e-mail from Carine—this time with three exclamation points after the subject, so I know it must be important. In only two days since her first e-mail, she has aged from 56 to 61, a feat I believe—but cannot prove—might have been caused by her "long time illness."


This time she isn't so picky about how I spend the money, but I'll have to "kindly reply for further details."

I didn't reply. And if I did reply, it wouldn't be kindly.
~


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Monday, June 06, 2011

First Cutting 2011

We cut hay day last week on Polecat Creek Farm. On Saturday, my husband raked it. Raking hay is necessary to make sure the grass is dry dry before it's baled.

Rows of raked hay.

Same row, different direction.

Close-up of raked hay.

My husband continues to rake.

Another view of raked hay.

After the hay is raked into rows, it's baled.

Same view—only baled.

Closer look at the bales.

Bales on the upper field.
More bales on the upper field.
The picture below shows how the front field at Smith Farm in Union Hall looked yesterday. This hay was cut today and will be raked and baled on Wednesday.


The forecast is for hot days and no rain. Good hay-making weather!
~

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Friday, June 03, 2011

Ferrum College Booksigning

Last week, I was invited to Ferrum College to speak to the World Folktales class about Ferradiddledumday and to do a booksigning for both Ferradiddledumday and Stuck at the college bookstore.

My table was already set up when I got there.
Ferrum Mountain is in the background.

From 1999 until 2006, I was an adjunct instructor of English at the college, a job I enjoyed very much, so it was good to see so many of my former colleagues again. I was amazed how much the campus had changed since I worked there. The bookstore itself had changed. Now it had both a cafe (that served Starbucks, had a TV a comfortable chairs, and provided wi-fi access) and an outside patio area. It was a great place to lounge—or to have a booksigning.

Tasty snacks were provided by the library, which sponsored the signing.

I saw a lot of folks I used to work with.

I'm signing a book for Susan.

Even the administration stopped by!

Thanks to all who made this signing a success—English professor  Tina Hanlon,  librarian George Taylor-Loveland, bookstore manager Patty Sigmon, and many others.

You made me feel very welcomed. And thanks for buying so many books!
~

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