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.

Monday, January 30, 2012

First Mulch of the Year

Because today was so warm, I decided to mulch a couple of flower beds. Usually this is a chore I do in late March, not late January.


I'd been coveting the great-looking mulch at Gardner's for over a week, so we hitched the trailer to the truck and headed down Route 40. The trailer holds two scoops.


A curious critter came out to see us.


Soon the second scoop was loaded.


I decided to do the two beds on either side of the driveway.


This flower bed looked pathetic and was badly in need of mulch.


So was this one on the opposite side of the driveway.


See what a difference a little mulch makes?


I also partially mulched the other flower bed, but I was too tired to take a picture. Plus I ran out of mulch.

Maybe later.
~

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mystery Move

Friday morning, I went out to feed the critters and noticed our Rubbermaid storage bench had mysteriously moved. Normally it's up against the house. You can see the light spot on the deck where it usually is. Notice the water dish beside it didn't move.


So where did it go? It stayed on the deck but moved and turned. This is a pretty substantial bench, so how it moved and turned is a mystery. Was it a high wind?


Granted, Thursday night was windy, but the wind would have had to come through the brick wall and then make a sharp left turn to put the bench in its resting spot. That seems unlikely.

Also, a lightweight plastic chair that normally rests against the rail—and often blows over—was bturned over against the bench. So the wind that overturned the chair would have come from the opposite direction. Hmmm.


Something doesn't add up here. How did the bench get moved? It's a mystery.

And the bench isn't talking.
~

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Judging by a Cover

I picked up this copy of Maia Wojciechowska's A Kingdom in a Horse for $5 at Tractor Supply the other day. The cover, from the 2012 Sky Pony Press edition, caught my attention. I figured the book was about a young boy having a conflict with an unruly horse with bad mane hair.


Since I'm a fan of middle grade and YA lit, I figured I'd like the book.

I actually did like the book very much, but this cover was misleading. For one thing, the horse in the book is a different color and has a different face. Didn't the cover artist read the book? Or the one-sentence synopsis: "A chestnut mare bought by an elderly widow at auction makes a great difference in the lives of her new owner and a bitter young neighbor." The horse on the cover is either faded black or dark brown.

The horse described in the book is a chestnut with a "wide white mark running from her eyes and narrowing slightly at the nostrils" (p.17). The dark horse on the cover only has a star. While the mare in the book has a mane that's been badly cut, the Mohawk-ish mane on the cover looks badly Photoshopped (the halter strap disappears into the wild hair, but doesn't seem to flatten it). The bright chestnut color of the horse is made clear in many passages, such as this one on page 75: "She could see her horse lying down in the grass, its eyes shut to the rays of the sun. She smiled at the big copper body on the field of green in the pasture."

Here's the back-cover description of the plot:
David Earl is twelve years old and disappointed in his father Lee, a once-famous rodeo clown who has quit the circuit and moved David to a small town in Vermont to start a new life. David has a hard time adjusting to life as a “normal” boy and is hurt that his father never allowed him the chance to be his partner in the rodeo arena. When Lee tries to buy David a horse at auction, David pretends to have no interest in it, and the horse is sold to the elderly and widowed Sarah Tierney. 
Sarah, grief-stricken at the death of her husband, tries to find solace in her new horse, Gypsy, but she needs help from the Earls to learn how to care for her new mare, Gypsy. As the three of them spend more and more time with Gypsy, they all become entranced by the horse and begin to learn more about themselves. Touching and heartfelt, A Kingdom in a Horse shows the meaningful impact an animal can have and the strength it can inspire in a person.
The original edition, published by Harper & Row in 1965, has a much better cover that actually shows the two main characters (the bitter boy and the elderly woman) and a horse that looks much closer to the mare Wojciechowska described in the book. Plus it shows the woman in a rocking chair in the barn. Sarah did indeed put a rocking chair in the barn so she could sit and visit her mare.



Jacketflap, which gives the above cover description, says this about A Kingdom in a Horse: First published in 1965, this is a true classic about the love and happiness found in owning a horse. . . . A heartfelt story, this middle-reader is a must read for any girl or boy interested in nature and horses. Ages 9-12.

Here's another cover, probably from the 1993 edition, that gets the boy and the horse right.


I agree with Jacketflap about "the love and happiness found in owning a horse" part. I've been there, done that. And I'm still doing it.  But I disagree about this being a "must read" for kids "interested in nature." There's not much nature in it, although the setting—a rural part of Vermont—is nicely described and Sarah notices her surroundings as she rides her mare across her farm. As for a middle-grade novel, most middle-graders today wouldn't find A Kingdom in a Horse very compelling. But I—over a half century beyond the targeted age group—did.

A Kingdom in a Horse is a great read for a sixty-something horse lover. The book actually has two stories—David's and Sarah's. It is Sarah's story, however, that has the most impact. The elderly widow buys a horse to fill the void left by her husband's death. She knows nothing about horses, so Davis Earl helps her out.

Horse folks will have to suspend disbelief during parts of this story. The mare bought at auction is too perfect. Why would someone sell a horse that is so well trained, so gentle, so accepting? The elderly Sarah doesn't have much trouble riding at all; soon she is galloping all over her farm. Apparently, she has none of the age-related infirmities that many of us have. Sarah installs a woodstove in the barn to keep her horse and herself warm? And then brings the mare into the kitchen when the stove isn't enough?

Some of the other horse-keeping ideas are a bit outdated: the wooden floors in the stall, the idea that wet legs can cause founder, etc.

If you're of a certain age and you've owned a horse, you already know the "meaningful impact" a horse can have. I recommend this book— not for today's pre-teen readers, but for older horse lovers who can identify with Sarah's love of a horse. 

While A Kingdom in a Horse is not a "true classic," it's a pretty interesting read for us geriatric horse-crazy folks.
~

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cat Boxes

Among other upgrades (mentioned in this post), I'm upgrading the look of my den. I'd ordered new  cushions from replacemycushions.com to replace the faded and worn ones on my This End Up furniture.

I thought they'd arrive the first week in February, but when we returned from Kroger-shopping on Tuesday, three big boxes were waiting on the deck.


We dragged them in, opened them, and allowed Chloe to give them a cat scan.


I loved the color of the cushions, but Chloe was fascinated with the boxes.



So was Dylan.


Even after I moved an empty box into the hall, Chloe and Dylan followed it.


Eventually, however, they decided there was nothing in the boxes to interest them.

I'll post more about the den upgrade in a week or so. Meanwhile, if I can just figure a way to keep the cats in the boxes and off the furniture. . . .
~

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Skyroglyphics

This mid-morning, the fog burned away to reveal an incredibly bright day. By afternoon, the sky was filled with jet trails. By evening, when I went to feed the outside critters, the trails had faded to something resembling hieroglyphics.




In the two pictures below, the speckles in the sky are actually a large flock of birds. 


I hoped they'd fly closer so I could get a better picture, but they flew away.


By evening, the skyroglyphics had changed a bit, but they were still visible.





What was their message? I don't know. Maybe they were saying that this bright clear day was coming to an end.
~


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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shut Up & Write

Warning: If you're not into writing, this post might not interest you. But there's a kitty. . . .

A few months ago, I received a copy of Judy Bridges' book, Shut Up & Write, published by Redbird Studio Press in January 2011. I recently finished reading it and enjoyed it very much.


Shut Up & Write would be very helpful for someone who is just beginning to write for publication (either fiction or non-fiction) and needs encouragement or direction. However, it is also interesting—and helpful—for someone who has been writing for a while. A list of the chapters is here.

One thing I especially like is that Bridges not only defines terms, she also provides examples. The difference between showing and telling is sometimes confusing to new writers, but Bridges explains differences between show and tell in an easy-to-understand way (page 64):


 Another thing I like is that she provides some alternatives to the traditional outline. While I like knowing where my story is going, I hate formal outlines. Her  "bubble outline" and her "alligator outline" are more visual, and they're handy for both fiction and non-fiction. I especially liked the alligator outline and will probably use this technique in the future.


Here's what the alligator outline looks like for a non-fiction article:


I'm a believer in writers groups, and I like that Bridges addressed the reasons for joining a critique group and explained how to find the right one. I also like her "character wheel" approach to fleshing out characters.


Shut Up & Write has been favorably reviewed on several writers' blogs. You might want to take a look at this one or this one

Folks sometimes ask me what books I recommend for aspiring writers. I've just added Shut Up & Write to my list. Should you want to make your writing more effective—and more publishable—here's my choice of the top five books you should read, preferably in this order :


Begin with Bridges' book. Then read Lynn Price's The Writer's Essential Tacklebox, followed by Constance Hale's Sin and Syntax, then Les Edgerton's Hooked, and finally Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages.

These five books are all readable, entertaining, and helpful. And they've all received a cat scan of approval from Chloe.


~

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Authors, Save Your Money

Warning: If you're not an author, today's post won't interest you. 
But there's a cute kitty picture at the end.
Monday's email brought this scam: "Sell More Books to Bookstores." Here's the header:


Why are they sending this to moi—a self-published/vanity-published/small press-published author? Since this info came to my inbox, I figured I'd share some screenshots of the email here:


Don't you love their graphic—gotta be a real bookstore because it says BOOKSTORE right on the third images as well as BOOK-something on the second image. And there are all those shelves full of books! Makes you kind of want to cough up from $150 to $350 right away so you can get in on the action, doesn't it?

Of course, even if this is a legit mailing, and even if all those bookstores want your book (highly unlikely—you'll have a better chance winning the lottery), how are you actually going to get to all those stores for signings? We're talking major book tour here—and gas prices are going up again. And will anyone even turn out if you're a self-published/vanity-published/small press-published author that no one has ever heard of outside your immediate neighborhood?

If you'd rather go the email route instead of paying $$$ for snail mail, for only $199, you can have this company spam bookstores. Or, if you'd rather contact the bookstores yourself, they'll sell you the bookstore list for only $99. Of course, this is info that you could look up online for free, but you're a busy author, right?


You'd think that a big PR company company would have a real person signing the email instead of "Staff." Isn't that a tip-off right there that the company might not be on the level? 

If your book is vanity-published or completely self-published, bookstores all over the country aren't interested in your book. Bookstores usually don't buy directly from authors. They deal with a distributor, and odds are good that you—if you're, ahem, underpublished—don't have one. Also, bookstores want the books they get from the distributor to be returnable. And they want a big discount on the book.

Some small presses have distributors, but if the small press used print-on-demand technology to print your books, the books are unlikely to be returnable. Hence, bookstores aren't interested.

Just for the heck of it, I poked around on the spammer's  company's website, where I found pdfs of the "print advertising" they sent to bookstores. On the Dec. 2011 release, the books listed were published by Lulu (a self-publisher), West Bow (the Thomas Nelson vanity press), Createspace (another self-publisher), Trafford (an expensive vanity press), and a small press that has no distributor. Two of the books have no retail price listed; a 66-page book is priced at $14.95. Even if bookstores were interested, they're unlikely to order these books. (Don't believe me? Go into your favorite bookstore. See if you can find any books by these publishers on the shelves.)

I'm not the only one who noticed this particular, um, service. Scambuster Victoria Strauss blogged about it last week on the Writer Beware blog: BookStoreMarketing.net: Beware Spam PR Services

The message is pretty clear: Authors, don't waste your money! You'd be better of plugging your books for free on your blog from time to time, just like I'm going to do right here:


Ferradiddledumday and Stuck are available from Cedar Creek Publishing. They're also available from Amazon.com, as are my four vanity published-books. My self-published book, Patches on the Same Quilt, is available from me as long as the supply in the boxes under my bed holds out. One of these days, I'll do a Kindle version of it.

The above promotional paragraph didn't cost me a cent. 

I was going to get my kitties to help advertise my books, but they were too embarrassed to be part of such a blatant promotion.


Unless I paid them $350.
~ ~ ~


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Monday, January 16, 2012

Upgrades

On Saturday, we upgraded the memory in my 2008 iMac to four gigabites. By "we," I mean my husband did the actual work with the memory I'd purchased. The iMac only had one GB, so it was a bit limited.

The first step was, of course, to actually learn how to do this. Fortunately, there are You-Tube videos, such as this one, which my buddy and a fellow Mac-user Diane ("The Blue Ridge Gal") recommended. According the video, we could do this in under five minutes. we watched it a couple of times.

The second step was to clean off the desk (a major undertaking since my desk is always a mess) so we'd have room to flip the computer face down. That took me awhile—especially cleaning up all the cat hair.


Step three was to evict all resident cats. Some of them were not happy about this. After all, the study is their room, too. At least they think it is.

Step four was to shut down the iMac and disconnect all the peripherals. Below, you can see the iMac shutting down. I have some padding material waiting to protect the screen when we flip it.


Next step: Make sure the new memory was handy. The iMac has only two memory slots, so we were going to remove the one-gig memory from its slot and insert two two-gigs into each slot. 


In the background of the picture below, you will notice that a certain orange cat did not take well to being evicted. Meanwhile, my husband removed the old memory . . .


. . . and, using his Northern Freight LED mini-flashlight to guide him, he inserted the new memory in the slots. While he did this, I cleaned the keyboard and mouse.


After screwing the cover back over the slots and reconnecting all the cables, we turned the iMac on. The screen seemed to stay blue and empty for a long time, but finally it was OK.


I checked the "About this Mac" thingie. Yep—we now had 4 GB! 


It didn't take me long to realize the computer was working a lot faster. It also didn't take long until cats and clutter returned to the desktop.


The iMac's memory is only one thing I'm upgrading. I've ordered new cushions to upgrade the "This End Up" furniture in the den. I've signed up for an iPad workshop that meets tomorrow to upgrade my iPad skills.


I recently upgraded my personal camera from a little Kodak EasyShare to this Canon PowerShot SX150:


Consequently, I'm going to upgrade my camera skills by taking this workshop in a couple of weeks.


I need some health upgrades, too. Because I've been having problems keeping my blood sugar under control, I've made an appointment with a new doctor and I'm going to sign up for this class to (hopefully!) upgrade my diabetes management skills:


I figure all those upgrades should keep me busy.
~