Peevish Pen

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

© 2006-2019 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), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Little Writing

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to write a little every day. Oddly enough, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. So far, I’ve submitted a story to Prime Living and one to The Virginia Writer (already out). I’ve been faithfully cranking out my every-other-week column, “Peevish Advice,” to the Smith Mountain Eagle.

I’ve also worked several times a week on my work-in-progress: my middle-grade paranormal novel, Stuck. I’m four chapters in, plus I’ve got lots of scattered half-page scenes. (Ah, the beauty of computers! What did I do before copy and paste? Now, I can write the good parts first and put them together later.) Last week, I “test drove” my first couple of chapters with the young writers group I lead. They gave me some great suggestions for how to make some parts work better. For example, I had my main character—a girl of almost-eleven—push a girl who taunts her. “Nope,” the young writers said. “A boy might push a girl, but a girl would slap another girl.” I changed the push to a slap. Works a lot better!

But what if I wanted to do just a little writing? Say, a 55-word story. What! A story of exactly 55 words? Yeah, it can be done. Read some at or see the guidelines at if you want to write a 55-word opus.

Sometimes writing just a little is enough.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Stupid Redneck Tricks

I should have known the local rednecks were planning something. Things had been a bit too quiet now that deer season is over. Also, whenever my picture appears in the local paper—and it did about a week ago in a story about my serving as vice-president for the Virginia Writers Club—someone cuts up our lawn.

Mr. Redneck (he of the false warrants against my husband) from down the road has been walking past about the time I feed and water my critters in the late afternoon. He has plenty of acreage of his own to walk on—and the road does run another mile in the opposite direction, but for some reason he has to walk by us. On Thursday, his older brother accompanied him part-way home in his pick-up truck. Once Mr. Redneck was safely past our property (Was he frightened that I might brandish the hose at him as I watered the horses?), Big Brother turned his truck around and headed home. Yesterday morning, Mr. Redneck walked past again—carrying a very fancy walking stick (much classier than the wooden one he used to carry last summer). Yesterday afternoon, I noticed J*r*my the milk-truck driver who had “questioned” a neighbor of mine who was on my property to see my horses on January 6 and who has harassed me numerous times, drive past a couple of times. (Note: Winter is finally here in Virginia. I spent much of the day inside, but we have a large window on the world—and the road.)

Sunday evening, after I’d fed the critters, Maggie and I went down the road to the farm. She ran, herded turkeys, and dived into the creek. I walked and shivered. I pulled my truck into our upper driveway about 5:30. All quiet.

At 7:40, I took Maggie out. She always pees close to the flowerbed but then likes to walk to the mailbox and back. Even though it was cold, I decided to let her walk.

As we neared the mailbox, at first I thought I saw animal’s body in the driveway. A possum maybe? Too dark to tell.

When we got closer, I saw it was a big hunk of sod. Under the dusk to dawn light at the where my driveway meets the road, I could see the cut-up places in our lawn and the slung gravel in the driveway. Someone in a truck (wide tire tracks) had made a big circle around our mailbox.

I went in and called the sheriff’s department. I hate to bother them for trivial stuff, but I think I need to leave official documentation of harassment.

Anyhow, here are the latest pictures:

The big blob to the upper right is what I thought was a dead animal.

Just across the road are the folding chairs that they placed there months ago.
Click to enlarge the picture, and you'll see them to the right of the stop sign.

We’re pretty sure this was J*r*my’s work. A couple of years ago, my husband saw him drive around the mailbox but was too far away to catch him.

Anyhow, if your village is short an idiot, we have a surplus here. Want one?


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Saturday at the Grove

Yours truly and Marion Higgins in front of Marion's PT Cruiser
Photo by Wayne Scank

Saturday I went to Rocky Mount, where a couple of authors were doing book-signings at the Grove, the pre-Civil War home of Blue Lady Bookshop owner Ibby Greer and her husband, Keister. The Greers are also authors: Keister writes area history (The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1933 and Genesis of a Virginia Frontier) and Ibby has written a novel (Moving Day: A Season of Letters) and her memoir (Paper Faces). My fellow lake writers Marion Higgins and Bruce Rae were going to be there signing Marion’s book (When Men Move to the Basement) that Bruce had illustrated. Bruce is also the illustrator for Ferradiddledumday, my Appalachian version of Rumpelstiltskin that I really hope I can sell to a commercial publisher before long.

I came home with a copy of Peggy Shifflett’s Appalachian memoir, Red Flannel Rag, which I can’t put down. Good book!

For her events, Ibby always has interesting authors and great food, so a day at the Grove is enjoyable in many ways. You can read more about it on Marion’s blog.

Friday, January 26, 2007


I got an email last Sunday that reeked of scam. Just when I thought all the ways to scam authors had been exhausted, up pops a new one. (I put some of their errors in bold so you won't miss them.)

Good Morning,

We want to take this opportunity and invite you join us at Authors4Charity. We are an organization of authors from around the country conducting book signings and donating a portion of what we receive to charity. We’re expanding our old organization to include many new things for authors to choose from, made it better and will do extensive promotions in the next few months.

What “old organization”? A visit to their website reveals they don’t have many members yet. Book signing for charity? Oh, come on!

Members have found this organization has increased their own profits by allowing them to conduct book signings in locations where they may not be able otherwise. Additionally, readers seem more apt to purchase when they know a portion with go to charity.


We support our members through personal contact, newsletters, web site and suggested contacts. Often our members ban together to conduct joint book signings at local locations. Many book signings are at Malls, bookstores, coffee shops and grocery stores, to name a few. Members have access to a listing of locations agreeing to conduct such book signings. Even if you belong to another writers group, Authors4Charity is different in that we place more emphasis on book signings, promotions and other areas than most other groups. So you can belong to more than one.

What are they banning? So far I haven’t seen any joint book signings at my neighborhood Minute Market.

AFC has a list of approved charities from which the author can select—or can submit their own favorite charity for approval by AFC. How much each author gives to charity is at the discretion of individual authors. Authors have different financial arrangements and constraints. Some have only an eight percent margin with which to work, others may have as much as thirty percent.

My favorite charity is Stop Scam Now. I just made it up. Send me money. (I will also accept real estate or certain breeds of livestock.) In return, I will sign a book for you. Send me the book you want signed with return postage. Doesn’t matter if I wrote the book or not. I’m not picky.

Some of the benefits of joining us is that you will receive discounts from businesses across the US, plus we’re working on updating our Authors4Charity Pamphlet which includes: ·The AFC Bookstore Database, The A4C talk radio shows database Lists 1500 shows (members save $199.00. The A4C Speakers Database allows members, who would like to be speakers, to be listed so that organizations may receive contact information, Discounts on A4C Seminars & Workshop, listing of media contacts, newspapers, magazines and libraries, and a listing of places for book signings for our members. This pamphlet will be updated as we get new things to include.

Oh, wow! What a bargain! Now if I could just find the closing parenthesis for the above. (What is the sound of one parenthesis enclosing?)

Authors4Charity will also have it’s own publishing and Promotions company later on this year for it’s members. With the publishing company, authors who use print on demand can buy books at cost using our own publisher. The promotions company will offer discounts to all it’s members as well.

I doggone well sure hope they have an editor somewhere. All the grammar/punctuation errors are giving me flashbacks to when I used to teach middle-school English.

Please, take a few moments to visit our website to learn more about our organization and join us today.

And it was signed by two people. I assume they constitute the membership of this group. Is anyone really lame enough to join this, uh, organization? If so, why?

I visited. I learned all I care to know about it. And I really don’t want to get involved with something like this.

But it was good for a laugh.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Scraps from a Writing Conference

The other day, while cleaning out a notebook, I came upon some scraps of paper torn from a notepad. Obviously these were notes I took at a writing conference. But what conference? and who said the things I wrote down. I haven’t a clue.

The notes were about fiction writing, and I—four chapters into my MG paranormal novel—needed to be reminded of some points. Consequently, here are my notes from a session at the unidentified writing conference:

Back Story: Don’t tell the back story up front. Create the background but don’t tell the reader everything.

Theme: The theme should be beneath the surface. Don’t have a character say it; don’t explain it; don’t put it up front. Subtlety is better.

Pacing: Pacing is energy level. Two rules of pacing: 1. Reader has to care about a problem being solved. 2. Reader has to care about a character (or characters).
Sentence length is one of the most powerful tools there is. Best way to approach pacing—short chapters and sentences. Based on simplicity. Variety of rhythm is power.

Description: Any description—atmosphere—does the reader need to know this?
Wait until we care. Does the color of a dress matter? Give impressionistic images. Pick traits that matter. Cut the similes. “Simile is the tic of a self-conscious writer.” Cut adjective and adverbs. Use one adjective and one adverb per page. (Writing exercise: Can you write a description with no adjectives?)

Dialogue: Dialogue can kill you. Takes longer to compress dialogue. You can’t count on a reader being stupid and just drop clues.

Final suggestions: Edit fiercely. Be ruthless. Read Strunk and White.

Not bad advice. I wish I remembered who gave it.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Scamming a Scammer

I love humor and hate scams—especially when the humor and scams are of a literary nature. If someone can both scam the scammer and reveal that the emperor’s new clothes are a sham, more power to 'em.

One of the prominent literary scammers, the author mill PublishAmerica, proclaims it’s a “traditional publisher” and thus suckers in aspiring authors who think they’ve been selected by a commercial publisher that will get their books shelved in bookstores “from sea to shining sea” (PublishAmerica’s words).

What the authors don’t realize until it’s too late is that, because of PA’s no-return policy and short discounts, bookstores won’t order their books. PA’s intended customers are the authors themselves, who will be offered a “discount” on their over-priced books, which they will then be expected to sell themselves. Since PA doesn’t charge its authors for publishing and even pays them a whopping one dollar advance, it can’t be a print-on-demand (POD) company, now can it? Especially since it “rejects 80% of all submissions.” Ah, but it is—a fact that many of its nearly 20,000 authors found out too late.

Some authors, once they realized that their publishing dreams had become nightmares, tried to get their rights back. A few succeeded, but it took a while. Others merely stopped promoting their books and accepted that they’d been had. A few others were actually happy to say they’d been published, even though their books hadn’t been properly edited, weren’t selling commercially, weren’t shelved, and weren’t eligible for legitimate reviews. After all, their books were “available” on and all their friends could post reviews.

In 2004, a group of sci-fi writers seeking to show PA’s true colors, group-wrote a truly dreadful (but very funny) book, Atlanta Nights, under the pen name Travis Tea. PA of course accepted it, which either proves that PA will accept just about anything, or else the other 80% of submissions were incredibly dreadful. A few weeks ago, a group of writers did it again: PA offered Sharla Tann’s Crack of Death a publishing contract.

Atlanta Nights and Crack of Death are both hilarious, and they’re excellent examples of how not to write. They’re also the proof that PublishAmerica isn’t a real publisher.

Congratulations to all the literary scambusters who prove that not only does the emperor have no clothes, but he also looks dreadful nekkid. And he has no clue what a charlatan or a travesty is.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


A week without blogging! I was starting to get withdrawal symptoms.

I’ve been busy in several writing projects. The day after Christmas, I started writing a middle-grade paranormal novel (I love ghost stories!) and I’ve gotten a few chapters in. I’d read a couple of really wonderful middle grade novels in the last six months—Each Little Bird That Sings and Love, Ruby Lavender by Deborah Wiles (I’d met her at the Bedford Bookfest a year ago) and 12 Again by Sue Corbett (I heard her speak at a conference). I liked the way middle grade novels flowed. So, I decided to try writing one. My goal is to submit chapter 1 to the CNU contest, workshop the manuscript through the AWA conference in July, and pitch to an agent at the JRWF conference this fall. Can I do it? We’ll see.

I decided that I needed to read more in the genre, so I flung myself on the mercy of ‘Miss Joyce” in the children’s room at the Franklin County Library. She picked out a stack of books for me to read. I’ve spent the last week immersed in mid-grade novels. And I’ve loved reading them!

I’ve workshopped the first chapter through both Valley Writers and then Lake Writers. At Lake Writers last Friday, something weird happened: my friend Sally and I seem to have switched writing personalities. She read a humor piece that sounded like something I’d write; I read my chapter that sounds like what she writes. (There may be a book in this!)

I’ve also been doing writers’ club stuff—besides my “Peevish Advice” column. I attended the board meeting of the Virginia Writers’ Club in Mechanicsville the other day. We’ve got some good ideas for the club—including writing contests every quarter. I’m back in the Valley Writers Chapter, following a six-month voluntary leave of absence. Now, as 2007 vice-president, I hope to see that club return to the dynamic and helpful way it used to be instead of being bogged down in bureaucracy and rules the way it became in 2006. I’ve got a Franklin County Bookfest meeting this Tuesday and the Franklin County Young Writers group I mentor meet the following Monday. Plus, Lake Writers just announced the annual student essay contest, so my mailbox should fill with entries soon. Luckily, I don’t go back to my Writer-in-Residence job until late March.

Besides my paranormal novel, another project haunts me. I want to write an article about the “mystery” of Henry Brown Richardson’s visit to Avenel. His great grandson, Farrar Richardson, has sent me copies of a letter he wrote to his parents, his discharge from the Liberty hospital, a picture of him as a older man, etc. Thank goodness for the Internet! But to what magazine do I pitch this article? And what direction should the article take?

So many directions to go! Getting there is half the fun, though.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Old Christmas & Stories

January 6 is Old Christmas—Twelfth Night—Epiphany. According to some mountain folk, this is the real Christmas, the day the Magi arrived.

Strange things are said to happen on Old Christmas. Ghosts walk the earth again, animals talk, flowers bloom out of season.

Today—like the preceding week—has been unusually warm. My japonica bush down at the farm is in bloom. I did yardwork in shirtsleeves. I had an unusual day, though. More about that later.

One of my favorite poems is about Old Christmas. This poem tells a story about a mountain woman watching for her husband to return from hunting when she is visited by an estranged friend. The poem is a conversation between these two women:

Old Christmas Morning
by Roy Helton (1886-1960)

"Where you coming from, Lomey Carter,
So airly over the snow?
And what's them pretties you got in your hand,
And where you aiming to go?

"Step in, Honey: Old Christmas morning
I ain't got nothing much;
Maybe a bite of sweetness and corn bread,
A little ham meat and such,

"But come in, Honey! Sally Anne Barton's
Hungering after your face.
Wait till I light my candle up:
Set down! There's your old place.

"Now where you been so airly this morning?”
"Graveyard, Sally Anne.
Up by the trace in the salt lick meadows
Where Taulbe kilt my man."

"Taulbe ain't to home this morning . . .
I can't scratch up a light:
Dampness gets on the heads of the matches;
But I'll blow up the embers bright."

"Needn't trouble. I won't be stopping:
Going a long ways still."
"You didn't see nothing, Lomey Carter,
Up on the graveyard hill?"

"What should I see there, Sally Anne Barton?"
“Well, sperits do walk last night."
"There were an elder bush a-blooming
While the moon still give some light."

"Yes, elder bushes, they bloom, Old Christmas,
And critters kneel down in their straw.
Anything else up in the graveyard?"
"One thing more I saw:

I saw my man with his bead all bleeding
Where Taulbe's shot went through."
" What did he say?” "He stooped and kissed me."
“What did he say to you?”

"Said, Lord Jesus forguv your Taulbe;
But he told me another word;
He said it soft when he stooped and kissed me.
That were the last I heard."

"Taulbe ain't to home this morning."
"I know that, Sally Anne,
For I kilt him, coming down through the meadow
Where Taulbe kilt my man.

"I met him upon the meadow trace
When the moon were fainting fast,
And I had my dead man's rifle gun
And kilt him as he come past."

But I heard two shots." "'Twas his was second:
He shot me 'fore be died:
You'll find us at daybreak, Sally Anne Barton:
I'm laying there dead at his side."

I didn’t see any ghosts out and about today—at least not yet. Because today is the last day of black powder season, I did see my fair share of rednecks. One of them—JP the milk truck driver—started haunting me early. Maggie and I had no sooner gotten the paper at 6:08 this morning and were halfway back to the house at when he drove by and blasted his horn. Even though, it was dark, I could plainly make out his pickup truck under the dusk to dawn light at the end of my driveway.

Later, after I’d put Maggie in the kennel and fed dogs and horses, I was scattering birdseed on the deck railing about 8: 55 when he drove by again and blasted his horn. Enough, I decided, and called the police. I asked them to patrol the area. A few minutes later, after I’d started yard-work, I saw the cop car go by. A half hour later, one of the unmarked cars went past. Later, I saw a game warden. I felt a lot safer.

A few hours later, as I spread mulch near the mailbox, a newcomer from down the road came along pushing her two kids in a stroller. We stopped and chatted. I asked the little girl if she liked horses. She nodded; I invited them to visit Melody and Cupcake. The woman said she’d go on down the road to the front fence. I walked part way with her and—when I didn’t see the horses in the front field—went to the back field to call them. I vanished into the pines, as it were.

While I was hidden from view by the pines, JP drove down the road, stopped beside the woman and kids and demanded, “What do you think you’re doing?” “Looking for the horses,” she said. “Where’s your old man?” he asked. “Do you mean my husband?” she said. Then he saw me emerge from the pines, and he drove to his buddy’s driveway a couple of hundred feet down the road.

The woman didn’t know what to think. I explained who the guy was and some of the things he’d done in the past. Then we visited with Cupcake and Melody. Turns out the woman’s older daughter loves horses and used to show. Just the kind of folks some of us want in the neighborhood.

Now, I’m perplexed. Did JP think that the woman was me? (I’m at least 25 years older, much fatter, have light hair, and don’t have two small children in stroller. He’s seen me close up several times—like the time last March 4 when he approached me and fired his shotgun three times into the ground while I got my mail from the box.) Or—was he trying to pick up a woman alone on a stretch of country road? Did he just want to intimidate her because he and his kind don’t like all the newcomers who “ain’t from around here” in the neighborhood? Or is he just . . . ? Well, I wonder what the story really is.

The afternoon was even more interesting. On my way home from Union Hall, two stained glass doors in Donna’s antique shop caught my eye. I stopped in to see if there was a story behind them. Turns out, Donna didn’t know of any. They were way out of my price range and I have nowhere to put them, so—tempted though I might be—I didn’t buy them. As we chatted, a guy came into the store. Turns out he’d been wanting to meet me. Ralph and I are kin—third or fourth cousins. We talked genealogy (I found out the old Smith Cemetery is the one at Water’s Edge, and there used to be a Smith’s Chapel there, too.)

Then Pete from next door came in. I mentioned something about today being Old Christmas, and I ended up reciting the above poem. Talk turned to ghosts, and everyone had stories to share. Donna once lived in a haunted house; Ralph and I had both smelled strong perfume from a ghost, plus Ralph had once seen what must have been a ghost. Pete told a story about a relative who’d been frightened in a cemetery.

So, I went to find out the story behind the stained glass, and heard other stories instead.

A most interesting day. Y’all have a Merry Old Christmas!

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Dragon in the Sky & Cow on the Road

The southern sky about 6:00 p.m. on New Year's Day contained a cloud looked like a dragon. The mountain under the cloud is Turkeycock mountain, which is about 12 miles long. That'll give you an idea of the size of this dragon. A big beast!

Speaking of beasts, Maggie herded her first cow today. She never had to leave the back of my 94 Dodge truck to do it.

I had taken Maggie down the road to run at the farm (and to get the mud washed off her in the creek so I wouldn't have to bathe her). Maggie ran flat out in her big looping circles. Then she ran some more. I couldn't tell where the running stopped and the border collie started.

On the way home, as we passed the dairy farm next door, I saw a cow cavorting (do cows cavort?) across the road. I slowed to a crawl. Maggie stood at attention.

The cows inside the fence were running back and forth. Not quite a stampede, but faster than usual cow movement. They either wanted the loose cow back with the herd, or else they wanted to join her. The loose cow wasn't sure about her direction. With Maggie's barking and my maneuvering the truck back and forth, I managed to herd her off the road.

Another neighbor had stopped her car down the road. After the cow was off the pavement, she inched forward and asked if I'd told the owners. I said that with Maggie in the truck I wasn't driving into another dog's territory. I'd planned to call the dairy farmers when I got home.

The neighbor said she'd go tell them. In the meantime, the cow took to the road again, with Maggie and me in hot pursuit. Actually, I passed the cow and turned around by my husband's shop, while Maggie's kennelmates, incarcerated behind a 5-foot chainlink fence, watched Maggie have all the fun.

This time I used the front of my truck to herd the cow back along its pasure fence while Maggie barked commands (or possibly canine obscenities). When the cow was going in the proper direction, I'd tell Maggie to be quiet and she would. Finally the cow came to the corner of the pasture fence, the whole herd turned and went downhill, and the loose cow followed.

By that time, the farmer, mounted on his four-wheeler, escorted by the neighbor in her car, and accompanied by one of the dairy farm dogs came speeding down his driveway. I pointed in the direction the cow had gone, and he turned that way. The dog gave a few perfucntory barks at Maggie and took off after his master. They disappeared down the hill.

Maggie stood at attention, ready to spring into action if given the slightest encouragement.
The neighbor and I turned our vehicles toward our respective homes. Nothing more to see.

Cows provide a lot more entertainment than a cloud-dragon. At least that's what Maggie told me.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007


One of my New Year’s resolutions is to try to get a commercial publisher interested in “Ferradiddledumday,” my Appalachian version of “Rumpelstiltskin.”

Actually “Ferradiddledumday” is a Blue Ridge story, but the Blue Ridge Mountains are part of the Appalachians, so technically I have an Appalachian story that incorporates Blue Ridge Mountain plants, animals, superstitions, and farm life into a story for ages 8 and older.

Created in 1998 as an oral presentation about Blue Ridge culture, “Ferradiddledumday” has been presented at schools in three Virginia counties. A very early version was published as a short story in Blue Ridge Traditions.

In 2000, Dr. Tina Hanlon, Ferrum College professor of children’s literature and editor of ALCA-lines, posted “Ferraddidledumday” on her AppLit web site. Tina, who still maintains the AppLit site, used it in a graduate course she taught at Hollins University in Roanoke in 2005. She’s invited me to be a panelist at the Children’s Literature Association Conference at Christopher Newport University in June 2007. According to Tina’s proposal, “Each writer will discuss briefly her approach to writing about Virginia history and culture in fiction for children and young adults, followed by discussion among the writers and audience about writing regional and historical children’s books.”

I’ll talk about the stories in my POD book, Where There’s A Will (Infinity Publishing, 2005), but I surely would love to be able to say that "Ferradiddledumday" will be in print soon.

Teachers across the country have used the AppLit version in their classes—including Ellijay Primary School in Georgia and Mountain City Elementary School in Tennessee. Even a library in Denver, Colorado, used it in a “Rumpelstiltskin” exhibit.

Since I wrote the original version in 1998, I’ve made several changes, and it’s a much better story. An artist friend and member of my Lake Writers group, Bruce Rae, has done some wonderfully edgy pen and ink illustrations.

To make a 3,800 word story short, here’s what happens: A hailstorm destroys a mountain family’s tobacco patch. Gillie, a skilled spinner of wool, worries how she and her pa will raise money to pay their taxes. A strange little man gives Gillie the power to spin hay into gold, and the gold pays the taxes. Gillie marries a fiddle-playing man that she meets on court day in town, they have a daughter, and Gillie leads a charmed life in their mountain cabin until the strange little man returns to collect on her debt. She must guess his name, or he’ll take her daughter. On her last chance, Gillie guesses his name is Ferradiddledumday. He turns many colors before he crumbles into dust at her feet. Gillie dyes her wool all the colors he turned and knits garments for her family. They live happily ever after.

Now, here’s a sample:
Once upon a long-ago time, high on the side of one of the mountains in the Blue Ridge, lived a poor farmer and his blue-eyed, yellow-haired daughter. Exactly whereabouts they lived is hard to say, for the Blue Ridge Mountain range extends all the way from Pennsylvania to Georgia, but word has they lived somewhere in southwestern Virginia.

This man and his daughter were very poor, but like everyone else in the mountains, they made do with what they had. They kept a cow and an old horse, tended a garden, planted a little tobacco for their cash crop, and raised a few pigs and a few sheep. The daughter, whose name was Gillie, tended the sheep, sheared them herself, washed and carded their wool, spun the wool into fine yarn, and knitted the yarn into fine garments—socks and mittens and warm mufflers—for her old pa and herself to wear. The wool she spun was the finest anybody on the mountains had ever seen.
“Takes charmed hands to spin wool that fine,” an old granny woman once said to another at a quilting. Soon one told another who told another, and word spread among the mountain folk that might be Gillie led a charmed life.

Indeed, when she took her sheep down the rocky and wooded mountainside to the bottom-land pasture, the ticks and chiggers never bit her, the copperheads and rattlesnakes kept themselves hid, and the wild panthers that were said to lurk on the mountain gave her a wide berth. The sun never shone on her too hard and the rain rarely wet her.

In early spring, it seemed as if the redbuds and the dogwoods bloomed just for her; and just for her the shy pipsissewa peeked out from the forest floor. The maidenhair ferns caressed her as she walked by them, and the dogtooth violets seemed to beg her to pick them.

. . . and that’s my opening.

I could go the POD route or self-publish, but those methods work better for a tiny niche market. Appalachian literature is a big market. Schools in places far away from me are already using “Ferradiddledumday” in classes—a demand is already out there, so a commercial publisher that could get the story into bookstores all over the country would be a better choice than a do-it-myself route.

If I self-publish, I could expect to sell a few hundred copies. I want to sell thousands and thousands. Am I too ambitious, or what?

Monday, January 01, 2007


Happy New Year!

Buford (the official desk cat) naps while he should be working. He'll never finish his novel at this rate.

Among my writing resolutions:

1. Write at least two-thirds of my middle-grade paranormal novel by July.

2. Get commercially published. OK, I've kinda done that. My essay "Out of the Fog" will be in A Cup of Comfort for Writers (Adams Media, summer 2007) and my dreadful "Worst Western" winning sentence from the 1996 Bulwer-Lytton contest will be in the as-yet-untitled anthology (Friday Project, 2007).

3. Attend at least three writing conferences. (Another easy one! I'm pretty sure I'll go to the CNU, the AWA, and the James River conferences again this year.)

4. If I can't get a commercial publisher interested in the latest collection of my "Peevish Advice" columns (2001-2006), I'll go ahead and POD. Gee, you'd think redneck advice humor would be a bigger genre than it is.

Buford hasn't told me his resolutions yet. I think they all involve sleeping on my desk.