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), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Writerly Day

My day was filled with “writerly” activities.

First, Lake Writers officially announced the winners of our 2008 Student Fiction Contest. This year, instead of a theme, we used a setting: the aspiring writers had to set their stories within 50 miles of Smith Mountain Lake. Each story was read by a minimum of four people (sometimes considerably more); it took us a while to reach a consensus. Part of my job as coordinator was to email the winners, which I did this morning. Here they are:

High School Division: First Place: “The Piano Man” by Logan Wamsley, Jefferson Forest High School, Grade 12; Second Place: “Death, and the Life Thereof” by Natalie Rutrough, Christian Heritage Academy, Grade 12; Third Place: “What a Way to Spend My Saturday Night” by Chelsea Sisson, Jefferson Forest High School, Grade 12; and two Honorable Mentions: “Franklin County Quiet” by Abigail Shepherd, Franklin County High School, Grade 9, and “One Thing That Scares You” by Megan Bettez, Liberty High School, Grade 11.

Middle School Winners: First Place: “Sunrise on the Mountaintop” by Alyson Hancock, Staunton River Middle School, Grade 8; Second Place: “The Job” by Wallace Branin, Homeschooled, Grade 7; Third Place: “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” by Elizabeth Trout, Benjamin Franklin Middle School, Grade 7; and two Honorable Mentions: “Fishville” by Alisha Stevens, Staunton River Middle School, Grade 8, and “The City Below” by Cody Markham, Staunton River Middle School, Grade 8.

As I read this morning’s Roanoke Times (or tried to read through its numerous smudges), I noticed an article by a kid I met last spring when I was writer-in-residence for Roanoke County Schools. At Northside, aspiring novelist Byron Lawson had let me read part of his work in progress—and it showed promise. Well, he’s finished it and self-published through

Next, my review of Rex Bowman’s new book appeared in today’s Smith Mountain Eagle.

Here’s my review (Can you tell I loved the book?):

Blue Ridge Chronicles:
A Decade of Dispatches from Southwest Virginia
by Rex Bowman
160 pages, The History Press, 2008
ISBN-10: 159629454X, ISBN-13: 978-1596294547

Rex Bowman, a Floyd native and a reporter for the Roanoke bureau of the Richmond Times Dispatch, has spent the last eleven years writing about small towns in Southwest Virginia. Stories and photos from his first ten years of traipsing about Virginia’s byways are collected in his new book, Blue Ridge Chronicles: A Decade of Dispatches from Southwest Virginia, published by History Press of Charleston South Carolina.

In his Introduction, Bowman says, “In my years as the lone reporter in the Roanoke bureau, I’ve often introduced myself as the ‘foreign correspondent,’ because Southwest Virginia in many respects is so different from the rest of the state, it might as well be another country.”

Venturing off the beaten path, he’s found country towns that were often left off the map— Wangle Junction, Elamsville, Goose Pimple, Busthead, Stonebruise, and eastern Franklin County’s own Novelty. Among the bigger small towns, Bedford rates two chapters—both about the D-Day Memorial. He also writes about small places in Roanoke—the Texas Tavern, the motel that used to be on Route 220, and the Mill Mountain star (only 88 feet high, not the hundred as some folks believe)—but most of his stories are about unique little towns.

“I like to write about small communities because I'm a native of Southwest Virginia and have a small-town outlook,” he says. “I love the people in the hamlets of Southwest Virginia. They're generally funny and resilient.”

Bowman’s stories are about people as much as they are about place, and therein lies much of the book’s charm. The folks he writes about are characters in their own right. One is Clintwood’s Faye “ Wild Granny” Senter who, in her late 70s, hopes to make it big in Nashville with her songs like “Somebody Stole the Outhouse” and “I’ve Been Married Three Times and Never Been Satisfied.” Of her, Bowman writes:

Her accent makes Loretta Lynn sound like a city slicker; the politics of her music, featuring diatribes against Congress, odes to the working poor and praise for the coal miners’ union, make her close kin to Dust Bowl minstrel Woody Guthrie. her bluegrass ballads are as heavy with sentiment as a hallmark card but full of quirky revelations about her long, hard life, which she has weathered with a hearty laugh.

Which stories are Bowman’s favorites? “I'm really fond of the piece on Wangle Junction, the place where the people didn't even know that was the name, and also the piece on St. Paul, home of the wicked Western Front.”

If you like your history up-close and personal, if you treasure life’s small moments, if you are drawn to places that time forgot—or maybe just left off the map, or if you “ain’t from around here” and need help explaining to the folks up north what life is like in Southwest Virginia, you’ll enjoy Blue Ridge Chronicles. It’s a down-home delight!
—Becky Mushko

Then I went to the Franklin County Library Book Club meeting. We discussed my favorite book, Fair and Tender Ladies, by Lee Smith. Plus we had pound cake with ice cream, chocolate sauce, and strawberries. It was scrumptious (OK—the dessert wasn’t writerly. But it was so good!)

When I returned home, the phone was ringing. Bedford County Schools wanted to hire me to do the same workshop I did last summer. Of course, I accepted.

Finally, I finished Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture, which I’d started yesterday. Wow! Another book I love! Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, is dying of pancreatic cancer. Carnegie Mellon gives him a chance to deliver a last lecture. He does.

In his book, Pausch stresses the importance of being prepared. I especially liked this piece of info: “Luck is indeed where preparation meets opportunity.”

Something every aspiring writer should know. Something everyone should know




Blogger Marion said...

Your phone was wringing? Ah, yes, I can picture that! Colleen Redman's blog said she's discovered that when HER phone rings, her computer turns on. So she now calls herself in the morning from downstairs, and when she goes upstairs to her computer, it is all warm and booted up.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Thanks for catching the error so fast. I've corrected it. (But, of course, phones can do so much these days, that wringing seems possible.

#*!*# spellcheck!

1:28 PM  
Blogger CountryDew said...

Sounds like a very full day. I hope to read the Pausch book soon. I've read excerpts and it sounds inspirational.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Debi Kelly Van Cleave said...

A town called Goose Pimple? That's why I love Virginia. Sounds like a great book and of course everyone is speaking highly of The Last Lecture. That guy has been all over the place. We'll all be sad when he finally succumbs from the disease.

Congratulations on the gig.

8:47 PM  

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