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.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Farewell Blue Lady

The Blue Lady, the best little bookstore in the county, closed a week ago. Actually, it was the only bookstore in the county. My self-pubbed book, Patches on the Same Quilt, was the best-selling novel there. The Blue Lady carried a lot of Appalachian books—both self-pubbed and commercially pubbed, so those of us who are hard-core AppLit fans loved it.

The Blue Lady, probably the smallest haunted bookstore in the South, got its name from one of the resident ghosts. The actual “Blue Lady” is a ghost—Margaret Hale who died in the 1880s and who is buried less than a mile away. You can sometimes feel her presence—or smell her perfume—in the music room of The Grove, the pre-Civil War mansion on whose grounds the bookstore was located. A few folks have actually seen Margaret in her blue dress. I haven’t been so lucky, but I once smelled her heavily floral-scented perfume. A sociable ghost, Margaret makes her presence known during social occasions. The bookshop itself, located on the edge of The Grove’s remaining acres, used to be Confederate General Jubal Early’s former law office and might contain a spirit or two itself.

My first encounter with a ghost was at the Blue Lady a few days before it opened in February 2002. When I took some of my books there to Ibby the owner, she invited me inside to see the new wall-paper. She closed the door firmly behind us. A few minutes later, the door opened. Maybe it was the wind, I thought as I closed it. I made sure the door clicked firmly shut. A few minutes later, the door opened again. A couple of days earlier Ibby and her husband had gotten locked inside the shop when a lock that had worked fine for a hundred years wouldn’t open. She had to leave via the window and get the key from the house.

Was that a ghost or just the wind? I can’t be sure, but I do know that something was in The Grove during the store’s grand opening. As one of the authors-in-residence, I was assigned to greet guests in the music room of the mansion, which was built in the 1850s. The first time I smelled the strong sickenly-sweet floral scent, I thought it might come from one of the customers. The second time I was alone in the room. The third time—I knew it was the ghost. I snapped a few pictures with my digital camera. Several of the shots contained orbs, supposedly evidence of ghostly presence. Ibby’s son Andrew gave a few of us a tour of the guestroom nearby where the ghost sometimes appears. Parts of the room were considerably cooler. I’ve been in that room a few times since, and I can always detect the temperature differences. Is it because Margaret Hale’s son died of typhoid in that room?

Did the Blue Lady close from lack of sales or owner’s lack of interest? Nope, the insurance company refused to insure the Grove if a business was located there. The insurance company wins, but the readers in Franklin County lose. We’ve given up the ghost, as it were.

However, the Blue Lady Bookshop—a mere ghost of its former self—still exists online for those who want to order regional books. Have no fear—your order won’t be taken by a real ghost. At least, I don’t think it will.

Don’t forget to buy my books while you’re there.

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Friday, February 23, 2007

More Poetry Crap

Well, if Jack (an elderly mixed retriever) isn’t going to order the poetry books or submit a picture to an over-priced anthology (see yesterday's blog entry), let’s see if he will bite when offered a bigger prize:

Dear Jack,

Go here to take advantage of this offer.

The Editors of The International Library of Poetry recently informed you that your poem was bestowed the prestigious Editor's Choice Award because of your artistic accomplishments and unique perspective. As of today, we have not heard from you. So we wanted to contact you another time before we pass you on this select offer.

The stunning 2006 Editor's Choice Published Poet Ribbon Award Pin proudly displays your elevated status in our poetic community. Since only an elite group of published poets were selected to receive this special honor, imagine the sense of pride you will feel when others see you wearing the 2006 Editor's Choice Published Poet Ribbon Award Pin. What an impressive way to show off your status as an honored poet for the year 2006!

The elegant detail and the meticulous craftsmanship that went into the design and production of this exclusive pin are unprecedented. This striking jewelry piece has the International Library of Poetry name prominently displayed across the top, the Editor's Choice commendation appears on the ribbon, and the entire pin is set in bronze. It is truly a masterpiece that honors your outstanding and well-deserved accomplishments, and it is a must-have for all esteemed poets.

To take advantage of this special offer to commemorate your exceptional poetic talents, simply go here. This exclusive pin is only $19.95, plus shipping and handling. If you wish to send us your order by mail, please include a copy of this email and your completed order form to receive this special offer.

We have commissioned artisans to create a Commemorative Bronze Medallion to celebrate the accomplishments of the Editor's Choice winners. This beautiful two-sided medallion displays the words "Poet Scholar" and "Editor's Choice" deeply etched into the medal. The medallion is packaged in a custom gift box with a certificate of authenticity to further enhance it's prestige. You can receive this amazing keepsake for only $49.95, plus shipping and handling. For a limited time, when you take advantage of this unique offer of the bronze medallion, you will also receive the 2006 Editor's Choice Published Poet Ribbon Award Pin at no additional charge. That's right, the Editor's Choice Published Poet Ribbon Award Pin will be yours FREE when you request the Commemorative Bronze Medallion.

As you are bestowing gifts to your friends and family during this holiday season, why not give yourself the gift of recognition for a job well done with your poetic achievements?

Jack, we were delighted to award you the high honors of a published poet, and we hope that you will choose to receive the 2006 Editor's Choice Commemorative Medallion and Editor's Choice Published Poet Ribbon Award Pin. We truly believe these masterpieces honor the artistic accomplishments you have displayed in your poetry.


Howard Ely
Managing Editor
The International Library of Poetry

P.S. We are confident that you will enjoy the classic design of the 2006 Editor's Choice Commemorative Medallion and Editor's choice Published Poet Ribbon Award Pin . The highest manufacturing standards have gone into the production of these items. And, best of all, they come with a 100% money-back offer. If you are not delighted with your items, simply return them to us within 90 days and your money will be promptly refunded.

To take advantage of this special offer, go here.

Thank goodness Jack is too smart a dog to get sucked in by all that. But— there’s more. The next email:

Dear Jack,

It's something we don't often do, but after reading and discussing your poetry, the Editorial Advisory Board of the International Library of Poetry has nominated you for membership in the most exciting poetry organization in the world--the International Society of Poets!

The Editorial Advisory Board wholeheartedly agrees that your poetic writings warrant nomination into the International Society of Poets--a poetry organization that is world-renowned and dedicated to recognizing poetic talent such as yours. As Chairman, I want to personally inform you about all the new benefits of Membership, and I did not want you to miss out on this opportunity. Jack , I know that after hearing what we are about, you will join us as a member of our society--the International Society of Poets!

You'll receive many tangible benefits when you become a member

There are two levels of membership, and I am positive one of them will fit your poetic needs. Whatever membership category you choose, we look forward to your participation in our organization for many years to come. Go here to see the full list of these very important membership items . But perhaps more importantly, you'll be joining fellow poets from more than 60 different nations in the largest poetry organization in the world--an organization dedicated to recognizing, awarding, and promoting the poetic talent of our members and . . .

Renew now and receive a free NATIONAL ENTERTAINMENT® BOOK!

If you renew your membership now, we will send you a free Entertainment® 2007 National Edition Discount Book. Entertainment® is the book we all love for savings on shopping, dining, travel, and more. This addition includes hundreds of exclusive offers that will save you thousands of dollars on many of the things you love to do and buy.

An organization you can be proud of!

Noted for our charitable contributions and our accomplishments in furthering poetic endeavors, the International Society of Poets maintains a reputation for bringing poetry to more people and to more nations than any other organization in the world.

Whether you write poetry for the satisfaction it gives you, or as a personal way to record your innermost feelings, or as a hobby, through your membership you and your poetry will be recognized by thousands of people from all over the world. And Jack, it's a great feeling to know they're interested in you, and that your poetry is being read and enjoyed by others. In fact, by enrolling in the International Society of Poets membership program , you and your artistry will receive international recognition.

You'll even have the opportunity to meet and share your poetry with other members. As a member, I will extend a personal invitation to our yearly convention, which is world-renowned for bringing together poets of all ages and nationalities who share a common love of poetry. These motivating educational events are full of camaraderie and mutual admiration for our poetic endeavors.

The poetic event of the year!

This past year, our conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, drew nearly 3,000 poets from 64 nations around the world! We believe this was one of the largest single gatherings of poets in history . At our conventions, our members have had the opportunity to meet and discuss poetry with former Chancellor of Academy of American Poets, David Wagoner; Poet Laureate, Fleda Brown; Mellon Poetry Prize Winner, Herbert Woodward Martin; and Pulitzer Prize Winner, W.D. Snodgrass. We've been entertained by such acts as Johnny Cash, John Denver, the Smothers Brothers, and Tony Orlando just to name a few . . . not to mention cash and gift prizes totaling over $100,000 awarded to amateur poets.

Over the last ten years, our organization has awarded over $1 million dollars to poets just like you. As a member , you will have a chance to win your share of these prizes. Whether you write structured poetry or free verse, you'll find these contests to be exciting and rewarding events. You'll be invited to participate in exclusive contests for members only and winners are published in the internationally distributed magazine, Poetry Today.

Poetry Today . . .

A new award-winning magazine!

And what a magazine it is! Our award-winning magazine, with its new design and format, is included with each membership . Our magazine covers a lot of what's going on in poetry in the United States and around the world. In each magazine, there is a special emphasis on you and other members. There are contest announcements and results, members' poetry prominently displayed in our publication, coverage of what's happening in the lives of our members, the craft of writing poetry, and many other special features. Poetry Today is also your key to finding out about our members-only contests, what types of poems judges look for, and how to improve your craft of writing and chances of winning.

Join the International Society of Poets now,Jack, and you'll become one of the recognized leaders of your craft. Your friends, family, and colleagues will look to you as an example of experience, vision, and accomplishment in the poetic world. Your society will look to you for your unique perspective as expressed through your poetry. I'm sure we'll soon be seeing you and your poetry featured in Poetry Today.


Steven J. Michaels
Chairman, Board of Trustees
International Society of Poets

P.S. Jack, we accept only a limited number of members each year and by accepting your invitation now, your benefits will begin immediately and you will promptly receive your membership items through the mail along with your Free Entertainment® 2007 National Edition Discount Book. Most importantly, we will welcome you as a member of the largest poetry organization in the world--the International Society of Poets.
A limited number of members? Yeah, right—limited to anyone whose name they can find.

OK, esteemed blog-reader, here's a special offer just for you: Just send Jack and me a large wad of cash and we'll declare you a Patron of Outstanding Poetry (POOP), and we'll send you a unique special one-of-a-kind certificate as soon as I replace the ink cartridge (unless you're in a hurry and don't mind your certificate being printed in red ink). Also—just to show you how really special and unique you are—Jack will select a special and unique commemorative, uh, item from his kennel (produced by him or one of the other dogs) that will express your POOP status.

Can you guess what it is?


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Jack of all Scams

When you don’t check your dog’s email on a regular basis, things can surely pile up. (As many of you faithful and devoted blog-readers may remember, my elderly mixed retriever Jack received a contract from PublishAmerica—world’s biggest author-mill—to publish his poetry manuscript, Swimming Across the Stream of Consciousness. Jack even negotiated and was offered four author copies instead of the usual two that other authors normally get. However, he decided that PA wasn’t the one to give his manuscript the chance it deserves no matter how much it fit them like a glove, so he remains unpublished. Well, except for a few poems posted on Anyhow, I recently checked Jack’s email and found several new messages. Looks like the other major lit-scammer wants a piece of Jack's action:

Dear Jack,

My name is Dr. Alin Henric. I am a retired professor of literature who’s now living a dream come true in my new position. I am writing you today to invite you to explore a new world of poetry . I want to share some English poetry with you, from Chaucer to Yates, and some American classics too. We’ll read Cummings, Elliot, and Poe, just to name a few. Maybe you’ve already read some of their works, or maybe we’ll experience them for the first time together. We’ll read them all one book at a time.

Jack, there is an opening in the Publish Today Classic Poetry Editions Book Club, of which I recently became the managing editor. There are a few available openings, and I need you to fill one of them. As a member , you’ll enter a world of literature and culture that others only dream of. I am familiar with your writing and I know that as a writer, you’ll enjoy the books I’ve chosen for you. You can be assured that since I’ve assumed the responsibilities of managing this club, the quality of the publications has increased substantially. I personally have hand-chosen the materials and artwork that are used to produce these fine books. You have my promise that everyone involved in this process is very passionate about poetry.

As a member of our club, you’ll receive savings of over 60% off the publisher’s list price of all club books. Each hardbound volume measures 5 _" X 8 _" and is produced with the highest quality materials. The unique cover designs are original oil paintings commissioned specifically for our publications. There is no other collection as comprehensive as this one. It’s easy to see why we’ve become the most popular poetry book club in America.

But Jack, I must warn you that once you’ve joined our club, all your friends and family will look to you for your vast knowledge of poetry. It’s a burden our members have happily complained about in the past. I guarantee this is one club that will change your life.

Dr. Alin Henric

Managing Editor
Publish Today,
Classic Poetry Editions
P.S. You’ll also receive a special gift (valued at $79.00) along with your first book. A magnificent set of bookends that will look great on your mantle or bookcase. They’re classically designed with weighted material that’s laser engraved and will match any decor. They’re our gift to you even if you choose to cancel your membership.

Is this impressive or what!! I Googled “Dr. Alin Henric” because I just knew that a professor of literature like him must have left his mark on the literary world. There were probably thousands of links to him and his important work in the world of poetic literature.

But guess what I found? Nothing. Zip. Zilch. Not even a low ranking on Rate-Your-Professors. Maybe Google was malfunctioning. I Googled without the “Dr.” Still nothing. I put a k on the end of his name. Nothing.

Gee, you don’t think would lie, do you? Do you think maybe there isn’t any such person?

Jack isn't buying the books, so the rest of his kennel mates won't be looking to him for his "vast knowledge of poetry." Jack also received another email from Only this one wasn’t about Poetry. It was about photography. Same company. Different scam:

Dear Jack,

The Editors at have found an exceptional offer that they are excited to bring to you. This is an opportunity that you should discover to be quite unique and very interesting, designed especially for the artist in you.

Jack, around the holidays many of us take pictures of our children and grandchildren that are cherished for a lifetime and are more precious with each passing season. Pictures are more than just a photograph. They are moments frozen in time, never to be replicated again--a timeless treasure, so to speak.

This year, one of our partners in creativity,, has developed a program that you may be interested in. The Editors wanted to be the first to tell you about this unique offer. Jack, in addition to placing your timeless treasure in your prized photo album, submit it to the International Open Amateur Children's Photography Contest. You never know, your photograph could be the next $10,000 winner! Wouldn't you just love to have that money for your child's future?

Simply submit your photograph here. A digital photo is preferred, but if you need to send your entry though the mail, please send it to the International Library of Photography, 3600 Crondall Lane, Suite 101-4651, Owings Mills, Maryland 21117. Your photo should be unmounted and 8 x 10 or smaller.

Jack, the Editors have worked hard on this opportunity for you and they look forward to your participation.


Howard Ely
Contest Director

Oh, dear. Jack, having been neutered rather early in life, has no children—amateur or otherwise—and certainly no grand-pups. He sort of adopted Maggie, but she isn’t easy to photograph. Most of her "moments frozen in time" are blurs. Looks like he’ll have to pass on this offer. Or maybe he could enter a photo of a blur. seems to be pursuing Jack with a certain dogged determination. Stay tuned to this blog for Jack’s other emails from them. They're "quite unique" and "very interesting."

Or something.


Unhappy Reader

Today I received a comment about one of my blog entries. It seems someone took offense at my response to an unsolicited email I received. Rather than post the lengthy comment, I’d rather examine it a bit more closely.

I just came upon your blog and had to answer to the false claims against our organization, Authors For Charity which you are maliciously spreading across the internet.

I blogged about it once. (OK, this entry makes twice.) That’s hardly “maliciously spreading” information “across the internet.” (Wouldn’t “via the Internet” be more apt?)

I’m really surprised that you would write something like this without the courtesy of even contacting me or one of the other members to ask us about Authors4Charity.

When I find an unsolicited ad in my in-box, I don’t bother to contact the sender. Otherwise, I’d have a slew of Nigerian penpals. Plus there’s no telling how much money I’ve forfeited by not contacting all those barristers who are holding my lottery winnings in Europe. I simply don’t have the time to contact every stranger who emails me.

I thought writers had more class than to read something and then make a quick judgment.

Many writers—at least the ones I hang out with—often make quick judgments. Writers of reviews often make quick judgments. So do agents. Beside, I write redneck humor—a genre not generally considered classy.

We’ve been listed in the Predators and Editors under their organizations for years as being reputable.

I checked P & E and saw the former name of the organization listed with an out-dated link that doesn’t go to the current website. I didn’t see a “recommended” or a “highly recommended” notation by it.

As far as I know all writers organizations have a membership fee.

I’m a member of two local writers’ organizations that don’t have a membership fee. I’m a member of a statewide group (Virginia Writers Club) that does have a fee ($35). I just joined the SCBWI that also has a fee. The thing to keep in mind: what do you get for your fee?

Romance Writers of America charges 100.00 to join and then each chapter charges another 35.00. I haven’t run across any that are free to join. And yet, you made a big deal that Authors4Charity charges 55.00 to join.

Romance Writers of America offers its numerous members quite a few benefits. And I doubt that RWA sends unsolicted emails.

It takes money to run any organization and we are no different. We plan on doing a lot of advertising which cost. We also plan on hosting some seminars which will also cost money to put on. Since we’re offering to give all our authors discounts, plus two listings of talk radio shows and some school listings for those authors who do speaking at schools,which come to five hundred dollars, I don’t see as we’re taking money for nothing like you claimed.

Speakers at schools get $500! Wow! I speak at a lot of schools and I don’t get that much per visit. Not even close.

There’s a lot more. The writer (who, just for the record, wasn’t one of the two who signed the original email) seems sincere and has published eleven books, some of them by small commercial houses, some of them self-pubbed. Her email included a couple pages of her life story. I’ve omitted all that here. But here are a few more things I’d like to address:

So when you say the money will just go into my pocket, it aggravates me, and especially since you never even contacted me to ask about it.

I never said the money would go into this lady's pocket. Why would she say I did? I assumed the money would go to the organization. I never gave anyone’s name on my blog entry. I made my judgment by the email I received and by a quick look at the website. Another blogger got the same email and also looked at the website–and formed an opinion very similar to mine.

Some more excerpts copied and pasted from the lady’s comments:

So don’t say I’m scamming anyone. Check it out. Don’t knock an organization until you check it out. Talk to the members. At one signing in NC, we had a member of Make A Wish Foundation there, with her pamphlets to pass out. She was in charge of the raffle tickets and all the money taken in was for her charity. All the authors put in their percent when the two day signing at the mall was done.

Again, we are trying to help out others by giving to a charity of our choice. Any other author can do so as well without joining us, but that is their choice, but we as a group have more than one author at these signings and we go into malls, dept stores and other places that we’ve been allowed in as a member of this organization. Some have had music at their events, some had up to ten authors, and others do the raffles, so it’s not just a book signing event with us.

So, if it’s not “just a book signing,” why not just send a check directly to a charity?

I visited the website again. No best-selling authors seem to be members. I wonder why not? I’ve heard of many big name authors supporting charities. Why haven’t they joined this group?

The lady concludes:

I hope I’ve explained this to you and everyone else who are spreading the lies on the blogs out there.

Expressing my opinion hardly qualifies as “spreading lies.” If any organization doesn’t want me to use its email as blog-fodder, it shouldn’t send me unsolicited stuff.

I shouldn’t have had to do this. With a phone call or email I would have told it to you alone. The person who sent out the invitations might have misspelled words, and it might not have been in the most correct English. Perhaps if you’d care to offer your expertise in correcting our web site, it would be appreciated.

Actually, I have quite enough writing chores to keep me busy. I’m not taking on any editorial jobs that I don’t get paid for. There was no phone number on the original email. I didn’t find a phone number on the website’s main page or “About Us” page. I didn’t see a phone number for any of the eight members listed.

I’m sure there are plenty of mistakes in this as well. I do the best I can and that’s all any of us can do.

I leave it to you, dear and faithful blog-readers, to make your own judgment of this organization. Be sure to check it out.

But that's just my opinion.

Friday, February 16, 2007


The worst of the Valentine’s Day ice storm that hit the northeast—and even counties in Virginia—missed us. Except for some pine branches down, you’d never know we’d been iced over for a few hours.

Schools were closed, of course, and the roads looked bad for a while. We didn’t lose power like a lot of folks did in the next county.

I took the picture of the redbud tree on my way to get the mail Wednesday. A few hours later, the ice had dripped off. More spectacular pictures of the ice are on Anita’s Blue Country Magic blog.

My horoscope for Monday, February 13, sounded promising:
If you've been striving for success in the fields of writing, speaking or publishing, dear Virgo, you have the chance to get a real breakthrough today. A large sum of money, or an opportunity to earn it in one of these fields, might come your way, and you'll definitely want to take advantage of it. Legal papers such as contracts may be involved. This definitely boosts your ego, your mood, and your motivation.

Well, it’s been five days and I’m still waiting for that publishing contract, an agent to sign me, or a wad of cash to come my way. I’m still waiting for opportunity to knock, phone, or email.

Meanwhile, I keep writing and revising. At least my imagination isn’t frozen.

And I've just up-graded to the "new" Blogger. Hope this thing works.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Ambling with cantors

I am a connoisseur of bad writing. I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’m a nationally ranked bad writer. In fact, my dreadful sentence will appear this fall in a Bulwer-Lytton anthology. So, I know bad writing when I see it.

On Friday, from the rack outside the grocery store, I picked up a copy of an ad-laden freebie magazine that purports to showcase the region. This one—the February issue—had a slutty-looking bride on the cover. The multitude of ads seemed geared to up-scale consumers. At home, as I thumbed through it—one article caught my eye: “Riders of the Blue Ridge.”

Did this article appeal to me because I’ve loved horses for nearly 60 years? Because during the 1980s I used to trail ride through the Blue Ridge Mountains? Because I used to show? Because my two old mares graze just outside my window? No.

The article caught my eye because the opening sentence fragment was the dumbest piece of writing I’ve seen recently: “The creak of saddle leather and the gentle cantor (sic) of a contented horse ambling along a forest trail.”

According to the Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation, a cantor is “a Jewish religious official who is the chief singer of the liturgy in a synagogue” or “somebody who leads the singing in a church choir or congregation.” Why would this person be on a forest trail? Why would a horse have a religious leader/singer? Is this why the horse is contented?

I suspect that the writer meant “canter,” one of the horse’s gaits—specifically a three-beat “rocking chair” gait that a horse uses to move fast (but not as fast as a gallop). But that doesn’t make sense in the context the author used, because he also said the horse was ambling. An amble is a four-beat lateral gait that is very smooth for the rider to sit. A horse can’t simultaneously do both gaits

If you aren’t a horse person, see if this makes sense: “The creak of shoe leather and the gentle waltz of a dancer tap-dancing along the ballroom floor.”

I doubt that a horse cantering and ambling at the same time (an impossibility) would be “contented.” Most likely the horse would have a severe neurological condition.

Another statement in the opening made me laugh: “The murmur of conversation between friends sharing the pleasure of the ride.” OK, if the friends are riding double, the poor over-burdened horse certainly isn’t contented. If there’s more than one horse, the writer should have said so. (Maybe one was cantering and the other was ambling?)

If the riders are indeed on separate horses, the conversation is probably louder than a “murmur.” From past experience, I know that—if the horses are moving fast (such as ambling or cantering)—sometimes riders have to shout to be heard over the sound of hoofbeats. Conversation usually consists of “Hole!” or “#!* bees!” or “Watch out for that branch—Oops! Sorry!” None of these verbal exchanges are murmured.

And another sentence fragment: “A horseback ride in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia can bring a sense of serenity and focus to even the most stressed of individuals.”

Well, sometimes. From personal experience riding the Blue Ridge Parkway trails in the 70s and 80s, I know it can also bring a bullet whizzing past my ear, a swarm of yellow jackets stinging the horse and me, a motorcycle forcing my horse off the trail, a limb falling in the trail just in front of us, loose dogs that challenged my horse until the dogs realized my horse liked to chase (and bite) dogs, hang-gliders that spook horses, etc.

When you ride the trails, you really have to keep your focus. When you write articles about subjects you don’t know much about, you have to find your focus.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mouse practice

Yesterday morning the scatter rug in front of the fireplace was balled up and a toy mouse lay nearby. The toy mouse, now officially Maggie’s since the housecats lost interest, had been in one of Maggie’s baskets of toys. Maggie had slept in the kennel with the other dogs the previous night, so I know she didn’t drag it out. But who?

And then the culprit returned to the scene of the rumpled rug. Foxy, the senior cat—the one least expected to play, was playing with the mouse—tossing and pouncing.

Foxy, a serious and hardworking cat, normally works the area around the tack room and shop. She goes out early, patrols, returns to the house for breakfast (unless she’s caught her own), and patrols again. She used to work until dark. Since coyotes moved into the neighborhood, the working cats—Foxy, Buford, and Camilla—now come in a couple of hours earlier than they used to. But the recent cold weather has kept all three in the house during the daytime.

Later, Foxy went into the garage where I saw her herding a live mouse. I guess the toy mouse was just practice to help keep her in shape.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Doggone Literary Scams

Jack Mushkeau is a man of many accomplishments: he’s an award-winning poet, an ordained minister, and—having just received a contract for his book, Swimming Across the Stream of Consciousness—a soon-to-be-published author.

Except he isn’t. He isn’t even a man (he was neutered nearly 14 years ago); he’s an elderly mixed retriever. A poem of his was not only a semi-finalist in the International Library of Poetry, but was even an Editor’s Choice! The ILP is one of the biggest poetry scams going. The news show 20-20 did an expose many years ago, humorist Dave Barry has outed them, and many websites warn about them. Their scam: they want you to buy the over-priced book that your poem will appear in, they want you to pay for your awards, and they want you to attend their over-priced convention to “see your name up in lights.” His poetry award is worthless. (So was mine in 1994—when I was scammed by them.)

Jack became an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church when I filled in an on-line form for him and printed out his ordination certificate in February 1997. (When Jack was ordained, the ULC had no rule about using an animal’s name for ordination as being fraud. Now they do.) Jack is a good-natured dog who doesn’t mind a bit that I exploit his name. And he certainly fit the ULC’s main rule: “Do only that which is right.”

I first heard about PublishAmerica in 2001 at a conference. I still have their business card I picked up there, but I never submitted a book to them (well, not until a few weeks ago when I sent in Jack’s). Then I started hearing bad things about them—although PublishAmerica calls itself a “traditional publisher,” it doesn’t edit; although it says they reject 80% of books submitted, it accepts anything; although it says it takes returns, the discount is so little that most bookstores won’t bother to deal with PA; PA has stiffed authors on their royalties; and PA doesn’t edit. PA's customers aren’t bookstores, but the authors themselves (who don’t receive as good a discount as I received from the POD company I’ve used for three of my books).

But would PA really take a book that was a real dog—er, from a real dog? Jack—who has his own yahoo email addy— submitted online. In a few days, PA emailed a request for a bio and manuscript; then a few days later, Jack received his acceptance and a sample contract via email. If the contract met with his approval, they’d mail one. Jack did have a concern—he wanted 4 author’s copies, not 2 as the PA contract provided. No problem, said PA and—when Jack’s contract arrived in the mail, it specified he was to get 4 copies.

From Jack’s first page:

Swimming Across the Up-Stream of Consciousness

by J. (“Tha Dawg”) Mushkeau

a collection of poems
from slams and jams
howls and growls
some winners,
some not

The purpose of this book is to make a neo-beat poetical journey in the manner of Laurence Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind and Alan Ginsberg’s Howl with echos of other hip young poets who made their barbarous yawps in Greenwich Village in the 1960s or who read James Joyce’s Ulysses in numerous English lit classes in the 1970s or who discovered poetry slams in the 1990s. Or perhaps all of the above.

That makes no sense whatseover. Notice I misspelled Allen Ginsberg. No matter, PA didn’t read as far as the first page.

Jack continues on the second page—which makes even less sense:

Introduction: An Apologia of sorts

The earlier poems reflect a tearing away from, but still adherence to, semi-traditional poetic forms. These are from my “doggy period,” a younger time when I took life in my teeth and shook it, as it were, when I used various canine metaphors to expressed my dogged determination, and when, at times, I was treated like a dog from whom life has snatched a bone. A few poems escaped the enlightening undercurrent that pervades most of my work and are just for fun. Some have been submitted to a poetry organization, which deemed one of them a semi-finalist and worthy of merit in an anthology. A few are posted on

The later poems delve further into the realm of speculative poetry, but more fragmented and cerebral, as I construct them—or possibly deconstruct them. I find that the sentence fragment is helpful in reducing poetic images to their very essence. Think of an apple core, after the apple has been peeled and eaten. All that remains is the thin core wherein lie the seeds of the next tree that will produce the next apple, etc., ad infinitem.

My poems are an attempt to plant seeds in the heart or mind of my readers or listeners, as the case may be, because these poems were originally created for performance.

Now, in my twilight years, partaking of subsistence living in a one-room rental cottage in a rural area 15 miles from the nearest town, having pared my life to the core of my existence (no Internet access unless someone transports me and my humble laptop to a wi-fi zone or the library in town) but at least blessed with indoor plumbing and electricity, albeit no phone. I am content to write and think and foment ideas.

Encouraged by friends and/or fans, I am collecting my works into a collection for possible publication, That you are reading this means I have succeeded.

Feel free to read.

But keep in mind, that the poems contained herein where originally meant to be PERFORMED!!!! with EXPRESSION!!!!!

Did you notice that most of the above didn’t make sense? Did you notice that I used “where” when I should have used “were”? An editor would have caught that (and the earlier comma splice).

Does PA only publish (and I’m using that term very loosely, since PA has no distribution system the way real publishers do) dreadful books? No, the good ones are caught up with the bad. PA doesn’t bother to read anything that’s submitted. Further proof that the “acquisitions editor” at PA didn’t read Jack’s book: he emailed twice asking Jack for his phone number. “Albeit no phone” (above) means no phone, doggone it!

Consequently, Jack won’t be signing and returning his contract. Doing so would, of course, be fraud—plus scam publishers like PA aren’t fit for a dog of his caliber. Also, the bulk of Jack's poetry is plagiarized from scam emails: various Nigerian scams, the fake PayPal and Amazon phishing schemes, etc. Each day a new poetry source arrived in the in-box. Some days brought more than one. A bit of copying and pasting—well, you get the idea. While there’s some doggerel among his work (including his ILP poems) and some poems inspired by famous poems, much came from emails. Has PA ever published plagiarized books? Yep, this one and this one. (Read more about that second one here.)

So, was Jack “doing only that which is right” when he added his name to the list of those who have also exposed the PA scam? The, ahem, illustrious authors Travis Tea and Sharla Tann are among the more famous exposers of PA, but a dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do. If he’s saved just one author from signing with PA, then his work will not have been in vain.

Meanwhile, think of an apple core, after the apple has been peeled and eaten. That’s about what you’ll get with PA.

Meanwhile, from Swimming Across the Stream of Consciousness, a sample poem:

The Dogs Not Taken

Two dogs ran into a neighbors’ wood,
And sorry I could not capture both and hold the puppies,
Long I stood and called to them as loud as I could
Until they disappeared into the undergrowth.

I called again, as that was fair,
and having perhaps a half-way chance.
Those, as for that, I’d sooner
Have broken into song and dance.

I shall be telling this at the pound
Where I wait to bail them out.
My pups ran off with the neighbors’ dog, and I?
I wondered in a fog
How I would ever get out?