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.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Kid-Lit Crit

Warning: If you're not a writer, you'll likely be bored with this post. Even if you are a writer, you might still be bored.

I recently learned that Barnes & Noble on a Saturday morning is the perfect place for a critique group to meet—not many folks in the cafe area, and there are all those books just waiting. Plus the coffee is pretty good.

The five members of my crit group met at the Tanglewood B&N a week ago. We're all members of SCBWI, so naturally we all write kid lit. Currently, three of us are working on YA and two on MG novels. We're all at different stages of our writing, we come from different backgrounds, and we have different approaches to writing. All that works well for us.

One member—Angie—not only has an agent, she has a YA novel coming out from Marshall Cavendish this summer, and she's working on a sequel. I have Ferradiddledumday, my Appalachian folktale out from Cedar Creek, but I'm seeking an agent or publisher for my recently rewritten MG novel, Stuck, as well as writing a YA paranormal. Amy has a story in the recently released Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR, but she's working on rewriting her MG historical novel. Marcie is writing a YA novel set in Bangkok (she lived there for a while) and Karen, a nurse and a beginning writer, is working on a YA fantasy about a young healer.

Our crit sessions are pretty well focused. During the week before we meet, we e-mail the other members a maximum of ten pages of the piece that needs input. This method works very well—we don't have to waste time at the meeting reading our work aloud to the others, and we have time to read and think about each other member's work at our leisure. Everyone spends five to ten minutes critiquing every other person's work, and then gives the writer a marked-up copy or notes. Thus, each writer gets about a half-hour of in-depth critiquing. What is interesting is that each critiquer sees something different in each piece. Consequently, our sessions take nearly two hours. The time flies.

I asked the group to work on my query letter—which was too long—and received some really useful feedback on what to emphasize and what to cut. Plus, Angie showed the group a copy of her (very brief!) query that had gotten her a contract.

I came home from the group energized and spent this week doing another rewrite of Stuck. Now, I'm finally satisfied with this middle grade novel.

Now I need to rewrite the query and start querying. . . .


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Coping with Snow

. . .  and feeding the mares.

The long-lingering heavy snow has made serving meals to Cupcake and Melody difficult. Since we feed round bales, we only have to put one or two out every week or so. But getting them out when needed is a real trick.

One problem we had last Sunday was the ice and snow that slid off the run-in shed's roof prevented opening the access gate. The solution: take the gate off the hinges so the tractor could get in.

Here goes the first bale:

See the ice hanging from the shed's roof? It'll keep sliding until it joins the pile already on the ground.

The horses wait for their lunch to be delivered.

Here comes the second bale:

The next morning, the snow came (again!). The view from the front of our house. . . 

. . . and from the back:

Will spring finally gets here, I'll stop complaining about the snow—and start complaining about the mud.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Investigating Gilda Joyce

Over a year ago, I bought a bunch of severely marked-down books at Barnes & Noble in Roanoke. A couple were middle grade novels that looked interesting. (At the time, I was in the home stretch of writing my middle grade novel, so I wanted to get more familiar with the market.) Once home, I added them to my stack of books to be read. And more or less forgot about them.

During the last two months of being snowed in, I've been going through the stack and finding a few worth investigating further. One was Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator by Jennifer Allison and originally published in 2005 by Dutton Children's Books. Since the book has been out for five years, there's no reason for me to do a review. Plus the book has already garnered a slew of good reviews—really good reviews—Publisher's Weekly and School Library Journal good reviews. But I'll tell you about it anyway.

The info on the cover's inside flap grabbed my attention: "Ever since her dad died, Gilda Joyce has been determined to communicate with spirits from 'the other side.'" Since my (completed but currently unpublished) MG novel is about a girl whose mother died and who finds herself trying to help a ghost get back to the other side, I figured I might like this book.

I loved it! Thirteen-year-old Gilda is wonderfully quirky, and I'm a sucker for quirky characters. Gilda pushes the edge of belief, but it works. I'm willing to believe that Gilda's plan to finagle an invitation to visit Leslie Splinter, the distant cousin she's never met (and his disfunctional daughter Juliet that Gilda didn't know existed) in San Francisco is plausible. I'm willing to believe that her mother lets her fly all the way from Michigan alone. I'm even willing to believe that Gilda lugs a typewriter onto the airplane.

After she she arrives in San Francisco, Gilda soon learns that the Splinter house has a tower haunted by Mr. Splinter's sister Melanie, who committed suicide by jumping from the tower. Mr. Splinter forbids the girls to go to the tower, but naturally they do.

Of course, Gilda solves the mystery. I figured she would.

 Ex-English teacher  that I am, I loved that Gilda had an extensive vocabulary and used big words.

Now, I want to get a few more Gilda Joyce books to read.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Color of Me

Did you know that most CEOs prefer magenta? A story in USA Today told how one's favorite colors indicates personality and aptitude. You can find the test here.

According to the test's website, "The Dewey Color System® is now the world's most accurate career testing instrument. This report based on your personality traits indicates your two most enjoyable day-day-day occupation skills." OK, what did I have to lose? I took the test. My results:

Best Occupational Category: You're a CREATOR

Keywords: Nonconforming, Impulsive, Expressive, Romantic, Intuitive, Sensitive, and Emotional. These original types place a high value on aesthetic qualities and have a great need for self-expression. They enjoy working independently, being creative, using their imagination, and constantly learning something new. Fields of interest are art, drama, music, and writing or places where they can express, assemble, or implement creative ideas.

Well, I'm a writer-wanna-be and I taught drama for several decades. I'm indeed creative and imaginative, and I do work best alone. I'm not impulsive though. I study all the angles before I make a decision.

CREATOR OCCUPATIONS: Suggested careers are Advertising Executive, Architect, Web Designer, Creative Director, Public Relations, Fine or Commercial Artist, Interior Decorator, Lawyer, Librarian, Musician, Reporter, Art Teacher, Broadcaster, Technical Writer, English Teacher, Architect, Photographer, Medical Illustrator, Corporate Trainer, Author, Editor, Landscape Architect, Exhibit Builder, and Package Designer.

I was an English teacher for decades. I once had a broadcaster's license but never used it. My first job was in a library, and I'm on the Board of Trustees for the Franklin County Library. I've written feature stories, but never news reports, so I'm not a reporter.  While I've edited stuff for friends, I'm a long way from having qualifications to be a professional editor.

CREATOR WORKPLACES: Consider workplaces where you can create and improve beauty and aesthetic qualities. Unstructured, flexible organizations that allow self-expression work best with your free-spirited nature. 

No argument from me there.

Suggested Creator workplaces are advertising, public relations, and interior decorating firms; artistic studios, theaters and concert halls; institutions that teach crafts, universities, music, and dance schools. Other workplaces to consider are art institutes, museums, libraries, and galleries.

My second-best occupational category? You're a SOCIAL MANAGER 

KeywordsTactful, Cooperative, Generous, Understanding, Insightful, Friendly, and Cheerful. This very social type enjoys working in groups, sharing responsibilities, and being the center of attention. Fields of interest are instructing, helping, nurturing, care giving and instructing-especially young people. They discuss and consider feelings in order to solve problems, lead, direct, persuade, guide, organize and enlighten others.

Um, tactful? Moi? I don't think so. But a lot of the other traits do go with being a teacher.

My favorite color? Blue.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Two Books by Regional Authors

Since the last couple of months have kept me snowbound, I've been reading a lot. I haven't posted any reviews for a good while, so it's about time I did.

Just before Christmas, I read a couple of novels that would appeal to young people. Both were written by people who live in my region: B.R. Roberts of Lynchburg and Charles Shea Lemone of Ferrum. I've had the pleasure of meeting both authors.

 B.R. Roberts' What a Christmas!, which Roberts self-published in 2007 through Xulon Publishing, is the story of Clementine Rose Miles, a plucky ten-year-old who encounters many adventures during December 1944. Some of the adventures of Clementine Rose's extended family—who all live within a stone's throw of each other—are humorous, but the death of a family member threatens to cancel Christmas. Told in the first person, the story unfolds through Clementine Rose's eyes, and she doesn't miss a thing.

My favorite scene was the Christmas pageant where anything that could go wrong did go wrong. I laughed out loud while reading it.

Because of the main character's age during all but the first and last chapters, What a Christmas! would be classified as a middle grade novel. However, this book will also appeal to older readers—it certainly appealed to me.

Roberts' novel, rich in family values, would be an excellent source to introduce today's youngsters to a period of history when life was both simpler and yet more complicated than life today. 


Another book that would appeal to older readers is Charles Shea Lemone's Corner Pride, an edgy young adult novel. Published by MultiCultural Educational Publishing Company, Corner Pride is set in 1957 in "the most gang-infested neighborhood in North Philadelphia." Most of the action takes place in summer.

Corner Pride focuses on 12-year-old James ("Curly") Wylie and 18-year-old Barry ("Bear") Brown. Both hope to avoid gang activity and to escape their neighborhood and its bad influences. Bear has a shot at becoming a successful prizefighter; James wants to become a writer. Despite their attempts to avoid association with the local gang, both become involved in gang activity—and only one escapes.

Corner Pride isn't suitable for middle-graders, but young adults would enjoy it—especially inner-city teens, who might identify with one or both protagonists. Even though the subject matter of the book is way outside my experience, I found Corner Pride interesting and enlightening.

Like What a Christmas!, Corner Pride demonstrates the importance of family. Clementine Rose is surrounded by an extended family; James' parents are supportive and caring.

The two books provide vastly different reading experiences, but they each convey a worthwhile message.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Winds & Bitter Skies

After the snow and ice, what could be next? How about wind and bitter cold! The first line of each stanza of this poem from Shakespeare's As You Like It describes the weather here:
Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man's ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.
Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As friend remembered not. 
Heigh-ho! sing . .
Monday was bleak and cold. Last weekend's snow was still with us, but at least we could see Smith Mountain from the front porch. 

The boxwoods bent under the frozen snow.

The view from the back deck was equally bleak, but I could see Turkeycock Mountain in the distance.

Because the forecast called for more "wintry mix" on Tuesday—the day the kittens were scheduled to be neutered, we took Chloe and Jim-Bob to the Pet Clinic on Monday evening. After we dropped off the kittens, we stopped by Kroger and stocked up on groceries. We figured we wouldn't be able to make it in for Tuesday's Senior Citizen's Day.

Sure enough, by Tuesday morning, we'd gotten another half-inch of snow and the roads were slick. Mid-day I called the vet and learned that both kitties had come through their surgery fine, and we could pick them up on Wednesday. Tuesday's temps rose above freezing in the afternoon but the forecast was for strong winds on Wednesday. Really strong winds.

By late Tuesday afternoon, the forecast wasn't looking good. I called the vet again to see if I could get the kittens that afternoon. I could—if I kept them confined and quiet. Under a threatening sky, we headed for Rocky Mount, got them, and drove back in sleet. (The kittens, who were remarkably alert,  spent the night confined in the small bathroom. They weren't quiet about it, though.)

Late last night (early this morning?), temperatures dropped and the wind started blowing in earnest. When I went out to feed, the temperature was up to 20. Everything was frozen. The wind was bitter.

I had to break ice in the horse tubs (see below) and add hot water to the dog buckets.

For the last few days, we've had an ice overhang on the horse shed. Like a glacier, it's been inching its way down the sloping roof. Part of it came off Tuesday evening (that's what those big hunks in back of the tub are). By this morning, more ice had slid down and hung like the sword of Damocles. This is how it looked from inside the horses' shed:

Here's the view from outside the shed:

On the plus side, today's high winds didn't blow away any of our stuff. Anything that might blow away—lawn benches, garden carts, etc.—was all frozen to the ground. Limbs were already bent down and secured.

During the past week, we've endured heavy snow, sleet, ice, high winds, and two kittens screaming to go outside. 

I wonder what's next?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Snowmageddon 2: Aftermath

The ice and snow finally stopped yesterday. The sun shone intermittently—just long enough to give us hope that the major Mid-Atlantic snowstorm was over. Ominous clouds still hung in the sky all morning. The bare trees sparkled.

In the early afternoon, clouds dissipated and the sun appeared. Our crepe myrtle looked as if it were hung with crystal pendants.

All around, ice-coated trees shimmered.

Icicles hung from the front porch roof; Smith Mountain appeared from the clouds.

My husband started clearing the driveways with his diesel tractor.  

He scraped enough snow off the upper driveway that we could get my PT Cruiser out.

This morning was bitterly cold, and the snow was frozen. Rivers of ice ran down—or sometimes across—the scraped roads. This day wasn't meant for travel. But we had no plans to go anywhere.

During this storm, we were lucky. Several times our power cut off momentarily and then came back on seconds later. But folks not far from us lost power for hours—I know a few who didn't have power all night.

Another "wintry mix" is expected Tuesday. We'll see how that goes.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Snow and Ice

Weather update: We started with sleet yesterday which became snow which became ice again by evening and which became snow again this morning. When I went to feed the outside critters, the world was encrusted in ice.

The Twiglets, who were able to walk across the ice-crusted snow, met me and escorted me to the barn.

The ice brought down some limbs on our big pine trees.

Ice was everywhere.

Seeing all the ice reminded of this poem by Robert Frost, one of my favorite poets:
Fire and Ice 
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Later the snow—that had started falling while I fed the critters—covered the ice.

Birds took shelter in the crepe myrtle.

Before long, the trees looked like they were covered in cotton. 

But ice was still underneath.

Friday, February 05, 2010


Or snowpocalypse. That's what folks are calling our latest snowfall—number three in the series, if you're counting. Since December 18, the ground has stayed covered with snow.

This latest snowfall is a doozy. It isn't just snow, although that's how it started. Here are some pictures, such as this one of the back deck late this morning:

From my front porch, you can normally see Smith Mountain to the right. However, you can't see much of anything but snow.

The Peaks of Otter should be in the distance here. They're behind the line of trees which you can barely see.

Chloe the kitty ventured out during a lull in the snow about noon:

The car isn't going anywhere today.

Here's how the driveway looked. (The wide space is the driveway.)

Back to the deck again in early afternoon. Notice the snow is deeper.

All day, something fell from the sky. By late afternoon, it was sleet or ice—or a combination thereof, with some more snow thrown in every so often.

When I went to feed this evening, the snow came half-way to my knees as I broke a path to the barn. The pines were bent under a load of ice. We lost power briefly, but so far it's come back on. I've heard that many in the area are without power.

Tonight, all the bare branches are glazed with ice. The temperature is dropping. And the wind is coming up.

Later tonight, the snow should start again. It's supposed to snow most of tomorrow.