Peevish Pen

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

© 2006-2017 All rights reserved

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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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Out and About with Books

Warning: Blatant promo for my books!

When you're a self-published author, there aren't a lot of ways to sell books. Bookstores don't carry self-dubbed books because they (pick one or several): aren't returnable, don't have a distributor, don't have a deep discount, have no quality control, etc. While my books are on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, few people know they're there. Hence, self-pubbed authors usually sell their books in person. That's what I'll be doing for the next month.

This spring, I'll be making a few appearances to promote my books. On Saturday, April 22, from 10 AM until 2 PM, I'll join two dozen other authors at Brewed Awakening in Danville. Because of the weather, I don't know yet if we authors will be inside or outside. I've been to Brewed Awakening author events a couple of times in the past and really enjoyed them. My picture from last summer even appeared in a news article about the event.

On Tuesday, April 25, from 10 AM until 2 PM, I'll be among another couple dozen of authors at Westlake Library's Local Author Expo. Several members of Lake Writers will participate.

On Thursday, May 11, from 4 until 6 PM, Linda Kay Simmons and I will present "Down-Home Writers" at the Moneta/SML Library. Both Linda and I write Appalachian fiction, so our work complements each other. We'll discuss how our homespun stories were woven from scraps of family lore, childhood recollections, regional history, folklore, familiar places, and maybe a few out-right lies. I'll have a Powerpoint presentation showing some of the places and people who have influenced my stories.

On May 20, I'll join another twenty or so local authors who'll sell and sign at the Salem Museum's "Read Local" event. Some are self-published; some are commercially published.

The museum is a neat place and the exhibits are well worth seeing, too.

Meanwhile, if you want to buy my books in advance, click the titles to go to their Amazon page:

I'd like to do a few more events this summer if any opportunities arise. Because I have some mobility issues, I can only accept invitations that are within a hundred miles of home, are handicapped accessible, and don't require a lot of walking.

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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Beowulf Rap

I was going through an old filing cabinet and found something that gave me flashbacks to my English-teaching days—a rap I wrote in 1988 so my 8th graders would understand Beowulf better. Granted some with more literary talent than I possess have done translations, but I figured mine might work for 8th graders. Plus the movie version of Beowulf wouldn't come out until 2007, and even the animated version wasn't available back then:

Anyhow, here's my rap version. If you're an English teacher desperate to get your students more involved, feel free to use it: 

The Beowulf Rap
By Becky Mushko © 1988

Old King Hrothgar built Heorot Hall,
And him and his homeboys had a ball
’Til Grendel came upon the scene.
Man! This dude was big and mean—
Big red eyes, twelve feet tall—
Listen to what I’m tellin’ y’all!
Grendel chowed down on twenty guys—
Only a snack for a dude his size!
Every night he came again
And chomped and crunched up more and more men.
Poor old Hrothgr was reallin illin’
’Cause Grendel really got into killin’.

This went on for twelve years long
Until Mr. Beowulf came along.
Now Beowulf was one cool cat,
And he wondered where old Grendel was at.
A dude named Unferth put him down,
But Beowulf would prove he ain’t no clown.
Hrothgar said, Get it on, Man,
But you got to kill him with your own bare hand!”

They feasted and drank and went to sleep drunk,
And along came Grendel, the ugly punk.
He chomped one dude and slurped his blood
And said to himself, “Mmm-mmm, that’s good!”
But as he reached for another to harm,
Beowulf grabbed him by his arm
And slung him back and forth like a rocket
’Til he ripped his arm right outta its socket.

Grendel ran back to his bloody lake
’Cause he’d had about all that he could take.
Beowulf nailed his arm to the wall,
And they partied and boogied in Heorot Hall.
Hrothgar gave him gold and stuff
’Cause that’s what you get when you’re good and tough.

I hope you understand the poem of Beowulf
’Cause I think I’ve done rapped enough.

I can't guarantee that it'll work, though.

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Friday, April 07, 2017

Lilacs and Connections

My lilac bush is blooming. Brought a slip from a bush on Smith Farm, it is an old-timey lilac with a wonderful fragrance. The original lilac bush was planted by the old kitchen house near the cabin, but what's left of the kitchen has been just a pile of rocks for nearly a century.

My Aunt Belva—who died in 2003—once told me that when she was a child, she and her younger sister Virgie—who is 99—were playing in the old kitchen when it fell in. I'd always thought of the kitchen—and lilac—as my Granny Sallie's, but now I realize the kitchen was Gillie Anne Bernard's. It's likely Gillie Ann planted the lilac. Gillie Ann died in 1897 and was the first resident of the cemetery up on the hill. 

Her husband William had a window cut in the cabin wall so he could sit by the fireplace and see her grave. This window also provided a view of the lilac bush. William joined Gillie Ann on the hill in 1907. (I blogged about that cemetery in my "Vines and Stones" post in 2011 and again in 2014 in "Special Delivery.")

Until recently, I didn't know I had a connection to Gillie Ann, but it turns out that she's my first cousin. three times removed.  Here's how: Gillie Ann Bernard is the daughter of Gwin—or Gwynn—Dudley (1810-1846) and Nancy Eliza Smith (1815-1890). Nancy Eliza is the daughter of my 3rd-great-grandfather, John Wood Smith (?-1842), who lived just down the road apiece from where Smith Farm is. John Wood Smith was married to Lucy English (1791-abt. 1850), daughter of George Lewis English and Ann (Nancy) Smith, the daughter of Col. John Smith and his wife Frances. It is likely that Col. John Smith (1735-1820) is also the grandfather of John Wood Smith, so Gillie and I might be kin in another way, too. All of these folks lived within a few miles of each other in Union Hall. 

Anyhow, Gillie Ann Dudley Bernard and my great-grandfather, Henry Silas Smith (1854-1923) are both grandchildren of John Wood Smith—and that's my connection. 

In long-ago Aprils, my distant cousin must have enjoyed the smell of lilac blossoms outside her kitchen door. Over a century later, I'm enjoying them too.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Pen Hook Pottery

Last year, I acquired some pottery that I think is from the Pen Hook Pottery which hasn't existed for over a hundred years. (The village is now Penhook, one word instead of the original two.) I'd wanted to learn more about the pottery, but I couldn't find much online.

From p. 64, Franklin County 1785-1980 

Tex Carter, who is writing a book about the F&P railroad sent me two pictures taken at the Franklin County Historical Society Museum:

The exhibit pictured above is from Dorothy Cundiff, who knows local history and has been head of the Retail Merchant's Association for many years. Like me, she lives a few miles from where the pottery was.

The info in the picture frame: 

"About 1873, Kit Carter built a store across the road from Clement Store (later home to Mr. & Mrs. J.W. Perdue). Carter made pottery here about 12 years. In 1882, Wade Johnson began making pottery in back of what is now Blair's store (once Blair & —er's). The clay came from Pittsville. His [potters? partners?] were Elly Johnson and a Mr. Siegal.

"Janey Smith rovided these pictures of pottery owned by her grandmother, Fannie Macenheimer Smith, who lived on Novelty Road at Penhook near the Pottery manufactory."

From an article on pages 45-46 in Franklin County 1785-1979 Yesterday & Today,  published by the Retail Merchants Assn, I learned this about the pottery: About 1879, a narrow gauge railroad was established to run from Rocky Mount to Franklin Junction (now Gretna). Since the railroad came through Pen Hook, where a store had been since the 1850s or earlier, the little town underwent a boom and a pottery shop opened in the 1880s. No trace of the pottery shop exists today, but it was apparently on a hill between what became Blair's Grocery (the building still remains) and Hodges' Store (which no longer exists).  Mr. C.L. "Kit" Carter founded the pottery business, and "his pottery bcame a fashionable item as well as a useful one." Clay for the pots came from Pittsville in Pittsylvania County and was delivered by train. It's possible that some local clay might have been used, too. Among his helpers at the pottery were A. J. Ramsey and Mary Ann Muse.

From p. 116 (a story by Miss Starn Carter of Gretna, VA): "He [Kit Carter] was a highly successful merchant at Pen Hook, manufacturer, and real estate operator. He operated a pottery keel [kiln?] and made many of the vessels still found around the county such as urns, churns, jugs, and jars. These were hauled by wagons into neighboring states and wagonloads of merchandise brought back to the store. The old Carter store stood on the hill in the vicinity of the home now owned by Mrs. Emmitt Jefferson."

Christopher ("Kit") Lawson Carter
Photo provided by his grandson Tex Carter

Pictured below are the pottery pieces I have. I don't know if all of them came from the Pen Hook Pottery or not. Some jugs are glazed in what is called the tobacco spit glaze because—although it was made from wood ash and not tobacco—it looks like chewing tobacco spit.

None of the pottery has a potter's signature, but I've been told that potters didn't want to be identified with their jugs that might be used for whiskey. I don't know if that's true or not.

The piece with a 2 is one of the few that have marks. I assume 2 stands for two gallons.

A few pieces appear to be salt-glazed with plume decorations.

Here's a view looking down.

All the pieces appear to be utilitarian. Nothing fancy here. Some are missing handles or show wear around their rims. Likely they were used for many years.

The paper towel roll will show the size of one of the larger jugs.

If anyone knows more about the pottery, I'd be glad to hear from you. Meanwhile, I'll keep researching.


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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Essay Inc Comment

Usually when someone comments on this blog, it's a day or two after I post—except in the case of the horse trailer scam where the scammers keep trying and folks keep Googling them and sharing their experiences. So, when I received this comment the other day. . .

. . . for "Two Memoirs About Writing" that  I'd posted a year ago, I was more than a little suspicious. For one thing, I'd written about two non-fiction books, not a "novel with a passionate look to it," and—while both were lovely books—the two books were not "such lovely novels."

And a student helped the scammer commentor "write my essay for me" (and "the quality was phenomenal") "helped me gather fictonal content"—Whoa! Fictional content for an essay?! Plus the rest of the sentence makes no sense. Obviously, English is not the commentor's first language.

The link in the comment leads to Essay Inc, which is supposedly based in the UK but has an Austin TX area code. Against my better judgment (Will malware infect my computer?), I went to the essay mill's site, and took a few screen shots of part of the home page:

Note that the writing on the website is no better than what's on the comment. Who would be desperate stupid enough to buy a "plagiarism free" essay in which "the authenticity of our work is never challenged" from this company?

Just in case a student is having second thoughts, the scam "essay site" attempts to play his fears:

Apparently these scam writing services services are popular ways to separate students from their (or their parents') money. There are even warning sites about which writing services not to use, like EssayScam's list of fake "essay website reviews" sites created by fraudulent term paper companies—because students who are trying to dupe their teachers certainly don't want to get duped themselves. 

There are even sites that recommend the best writing services, like this one. After all, if you're going to cheat, you certainly don't want to deal with a service that'll cheat you. And if you deal with any of  the multitude of sites that aren't even in America, getting a refund for services not rendered will be well nigh impossible.

During my Eng 101 teaching days more than a decade ago, a few freshmen attempted to hand in essays I knew they hadn't written themselves, and it was fairly easy to Google up selected parts of their essays. Now teachers have more sophisticated ways to detect plagiarism, such as this one. But Googling worked for me. In fact, I blogged about this topic last year on "Sarah Hill Shill."

But, back in those days, there were plenty of "free" essay sites to choose from. There still are. One is eCheat, which features an example of a personal essay that begins, "Three times a week after school I go visit my dad. When I enter the hospital room where he has lain in a coma since his accident. . . ."

Is that opening line a grabber, or what? Surely no English instructor would suspect a student who loves his poor, unfortunate dad so much of cheating!

But wait, there's more. "The Importance of a Father" is also on the essay sites Write Work, Essay Edge, and Kibin. And more. Plus the exact essay was published in 2008 and again in 2013 in a self-published book, How to Write Creative Non-fiction on p. 27 (When I Googled the opening two sentences of the essay, Googlebooks coughed up that title as one of the sources.) And the author of that book got it from a website about parenting. 

I used Amazon's "Look Inside!" feature to get this screen-shot.

Given the number of times this paticular essay appears on the Intenet, if a student turns it in as his own work, it won't take a professor long to find out what a low-life cheating scumbag the student is. All it takes is a little Googling.

If a student "borrows" an essay from the 'Net, he's likely to get caught. If he tries to buy one from a "writing services" site, he's likely to lose a pile of money. Either way, he's a loser.

Sometimes honesty is, after all, the best policy.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Daddy's Girl

The other day, I was privileged to receive an advance copy of Lin Stepp's lastest Smoky Mountain romance, Daddy's Girl. I've posted about some of Linn's books before—Saving Laurel Springs and Welcome Back. Both of those books were about women returning to places where they grew up.

Daddy's Girl, however, is about a woman who never left the small North Carolina town where she was born. Olivia Benton's mother died when she was a child, and her grandmother died a few years after, so Olivia becomes the one who looks after her father, cooks his meals, and looks after the family home. She especially enjoys taking care of her grandmother's lavish garden in back of the house. Later, she buys a florist shop a florist shop and loves running it.

Tanner: "I'll read it after I see what'sgoing on outside."

Meanwhile, her friends in the popular clique to which she'd belonged in high school are going to college, getting married, etc. Even her childhood next-door neighbor and best friend, the nerdy out-cast Weird Warner Zachary—the target of much high school bullying, goes to college in New York and gets married. While Olivia dates off and on, she never gets serious. She is, after all, Daddy's Girl—even though Daddy had started dating the widow of one of his colleagues.

Arlo: "I'll put it at the top of my to-read stack."

Ten years after high school, when Olivia and her three ex-cheerleader besties are having lunch in the same Bryon City drugstore where they've been meeting since high school, a black Mercedes pulls up out front and a well-dressed guy comes in. He's handsome W.T. Zachary, a well-known author famous for his Geeky Gilmore series of books for young people—but he used to be Weird Warner. Olivia has always loved him even though she once rejected him, so awkwardness ensues. He's been widowed a year now, so much of the book deals with W.T.'s and Olivia's off-again/on again relationship.

But it deals with more. A sub-plot involves Olivia's employee Patti and her son who suffers at the hands of bullies. Patti is a relative newcomer in town and seems to have some secrets in her past. But she won't talk about the past. Then there's a vandal who spray-paints messages on buildings in town, but no one has been able to catch him.

Alfreda: "What I liked best is that this book had a cat in it."

I won't give away anymore of the plot, except to say it has some twists and turns, and everything works out in the end. It's a clean, up-beat book that will appeal to women of any age. Since it addresses some of the choices a young woman must make, it would be a great book for a mother to read with her teenage daughter.

One of the things I really like about Lin Stepp's books is the richness of detail in her setting, and the map that she provides. Bryson City is a real town, and she mentions some of the real places. She gives the reader a wonderful glimpse of small town life.

She has created believable characters that are not without flaws, and some of those characters will likey remind you of someone you went to high school with or someone you've met.

Another plus is the study guide she included in the book. Daddy's Girl could provide a book club with much to discuss. The book debuts on April 1, 2017, but you can preorder a copy from Amazon.

For more information about the author or her book, visit her Amazon author page or her website,

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