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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Going Back

Saturday, I stepped back into time—the early and mid-80s, to be exact. It was a wonderful trip.

Some of us "old teachers"—Lois Trent, me, Betty Leonard, Susie Briscoe, & Elaine Mills—with some of our former students. Laura Booth, who organized the reunion, is at the far left. Rhonda Patterson, who contributed some great goodies and helped set-up, is at the right in the front row.

From 1981 until 1989, I taught English, speech, and drama at Jackson Jr. High in SE Roanoke. I loved that school.

My second floor classroom had huge windows that actually opened, so we could see and hear what was going on in the outside world on 9th Street. Every spring, a tree near the cafeteria had the most beautiful pink blooms you could imagine.  And a few weeks after the tree blossomed, we'd have an actual graduation ceremony for the ninth graders. Some of my students had parents and grandparents that had attended Jackson. Jackson, as close to a neighborhood school as you were likely to find, had a strong sense of community.

At Jackson, I showed my English classes a 16 mm movie called "Story of A Book" about how author Marguerite Henry got an idea to write Peter Lundy and the Medicine Hat Stallion. Henry, who narrated the film, told how she did research, planned the book, and eventually wrote it. I remember thinking, Hmmm. Maybe I could do that. 

When the middle school concept came, I was transferred to a school across town from Jackson. My classroom had small windows that didn't open, and I couldn't watch much of the outside world. There wasn't much sense of community, unless you count who sided with whom during the fights. Eventually, the Jackson I knew was torn down and replaced with a "new, improved" Jackson.

In 1997, I retired from public school teaching, although I taught college English for a while. And I started writing. I followed Marguerite Henry's directions, and eventually I had a book.

A few months ago, some of my former Jackson students, who'd friended me on Facebook, decided to have a reunion for those who were at Jackson in the early and mid-80s. Word spread, and plans for a reunion in Jackson Park took shape. A good time was had by all. Here are a few pictures:

Betty Leonard, who taught typing, talks to Sheldon Ybanez, who was noted for being able to work a Rubic's cube in 30-some seconds. (Edited to add: Via Facebook, Sheldon informed me his time was more than 30 seconds but still less than a minute.)

PE teacher Lois Trent (left) talks to Sgt. Rodney Franklin, who taught ROTC, and his wife Betty. 
PE teacher Elaine Mills (white shirt) looks at an annual with former student Rhonda Patterson.

Under the picnic shelter, former students and their children (and even a few grandchildren) gathered for good food and good talk.

I was delighted to learn how well some of my former students turned out and what nice children they had. Many talked about their jobs. Ricky (to the left, below) told me how he travels all over and gets paid to blow things up.

In the picture below, Leon Evans (black shirt, left of center) dropped off the grill, so Dallas Elkins could cook. (He did a great job grilling the hamburgers and hot dogs.)

Each student who wanted one received a free copy of my first book, Patches on the Same Quilt

And they don't even have to do a book report.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stone Soup, Etc.

I've been busy the last few weeks.

 One of the highlights of this week is Friday's trip to Waynesboro for a Kids' Avenue Event. I'd been invited by Mary Katharine Froehlich, proprietress of Stone Soup Books, a bookstore/cafe combination. After I'd done a reading of Ferradiddledumday at Kids & Sew On, I could return to the store for a complimentary dinner and music. I could also bring a guest, so I invited Linda Layne of Cedar Creek Publishing to join me.

Before I went to Kids & Sew On, I stopped by the bookstore where I spied this gigantic tree stump. Notice the little flowers growing in the crevices?


When I arrived at Kids & Sew On, I quickly sat up my display. I was assisted by the owner's two charming daughters, who loved the snoring horse that decorates my table.

As the audience assembled, Mary Katherine played her dulcimer. We also worked some of her playing into my reading.

When Linda and I arrived at Stone Soup, the Scruffy Murphy Band was already playing Celtic music outside. They were excellent.

Inside, Mary Katherine had put down her dulcimer and started preparing food.

The bookstore area is very close to one of the dining areas. You can see lots of books behind me.

During dinner, Linda and I talked about publishing. Looks like my middle grade novel Stuck just might be coming out from Cedar Creek in early 2011.

In the bookstore's front yard, I sat down with a lion and a lamb.

I arrived home very late and very tired, but very well-fed. 

What other writing-related things have I been doing this month? 

On May 5, I lunched with the Roanoke Valley Pen Women at Mama Maria's in Salem, where our guest speaker was William Spillman, the winner of the 2009 Pen Women's Poetry Contest. He read us some of his poetry, which was superb. You can read his winning poem on the Pen women's blog.

The next evening, I traveled back to Roanoke for the meeting of the Valley Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club, and on Saturday, May 8, I performed Ferradiddledumday at the Moneta/SML Library. (I've already blogged about that—here.)

On May 10, some of the Lake Writers and I met for lunch at the Westlake Country Club where we did the final judging for the Lake Writers Essay Contest. (The winners will be announced soon. I know who they are, but I can't tell you yet.) The following Thursday, I attended the monthly meeting of the Franklin County Library Board of Trustees, and became vice-chairman. On Friday, May 14,  I went to Lake Writers at the Moneta Library, and on Saturday, May 15, I attended a Board of Governors meeting of the Virginia Writers Club that the Hanover Chapter hosted in Mechanicsville.

This past week: I visited a World Folktales & Literature class at Ferrum College on Tuesday, did a Ferradiddledumday performance at the Forest Library on the eastern end of Bedford County on Thursday afternoon, hurried to Roanoke to address the Roanoke Valley Reading Council Thursday evening, and then popped into the last half hour of a Valley Writers meeting.

On Friday, I traveled to Waynesboro—oh, I already told you about that! (If you go to Waynesboro, you have to visit Stone Soup!)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kitty Business

How do my cats spend an afternoon? Chloe plays hard and sleeps deeply.

Here's another view:

While Chloe sleeps, Jim-Bob waits under the bird feeder:

Here's another view:

While Jim-Bob waits under the bird feeder, Camilla sits on the rail.

While Camilla sits on the rail, Chloe sleeps, etc.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Thieves in the Night

A couple of weeks ago, our farm down the road was burglarized. Twice.

The first time—either late on a Friday or early on a Saturday, the thieves raided my husband's junk piles, which contained mostly junk but also some useful stuff.

The scumbags took tire rims, several long bars of angle iron, aluminum lawn chairs, a vintage cast iron sink that we'd salvaged from my mother's house in Roanoke, an iron wood-burning stove, etc. Metal stuff that they could sell for cash.

Now, most of this stuff, except for the 60-year-old sink and the old stove, was covered in leaves and sometimes other debris. The thieves had to root around for it:

How did they know this metal stuff was there? My theory, since this happened a couple of days after Appalachian Power Company sent some Asplundh workers to butcher the environment clear any limbs even remotely near their power lines, there just might be a connection. 

Now our "trash pile" is downhill from the road. It isn't visible from the road. Unless, you're someone who is hired to destroy trees:

The above picture was taken from the road. It used to be bushy. The grayish area just above the middle of the ground is our cottage roof. Before the vegetation was removed, you couldn't see the cottage from the road.

 But maybe, while you're destroying trees,  you feel the need to answer nature's call while doing so, and you maybe walk a little way into the woods. Maybe you notice some things worth stealing. 

Maybe you come back at night and park your truck down the farm's driveway. Way down, so no one passing by can see the truck from the road. So far down, you have to open the pasture gate to pull your truck far enough down. 

And maybe, while you're loading up the metal you're stealing, you leave something that probably falls out of the back of your truck. Something that maybe looks like this:

And maybe, while you're traipsing about in the leaves, you maybe take away a bunch of ticks. That leaf-pile is full of them. Six of the little critters hopped on me during few minutes I took these pictures. You were in that pile a lot longer than I stood beside it. I'll bet those ticks stayed on you a lot longer than they stayed on me.

Now a little over a week later, on a Sunday night, the thieves burglarized our cottage. They didn't try to get in the door. The door is right under a dusk to dawn light, so they'd be seen if anyone came along.

Here's the window. When the thieves went through it, the posted sign wasn't nailed to the shutter and the plastic lawn chairs weren't there. My husband added those the next day. You can see the path they tromped through the greenery, though.

They broke off some of the rose-of-sharon growing in front of the window, then they jimmied the window open, pushed out the screen which was on the inside, and climbed in. They stole a few wooden chairs, a 1950s aluminum canister set, a 1980s microwave, and a radio. They didn't take the old TV set (it's analog and didn't have a converter box) or the small refrigerator.

Now, what I can't understand, is why—if they took the trouble to break the rose-of-sharon—they didn't remove the large clump of poison ivy from in front of the window. They obviously had to go through it several times.

Maybe they're itching to get caught.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bad POEtry

Well, I've done it again—attracted the attention of a literary agent with my bad writing. 

Recently, literary agent Chip MacGregor ran a bad poetry contest on his blog. The winners—including my poem that he described as "fabulously bad"—are posted on this link:

I won the "Worst Attempt at Poe" Award with "Hannibal Lee":
Twas many and many a year ago
In a kennel owned by me,
There lived a poodle whom you may know
By the name of Hannibal Lee.
And this poodle lived with no other thought
Than to breed for a hefty stud fee.
He wasn’t a child but he was half wild;
In back alleys breed did he!
He bred with a joy that was more than a joy
My poodle Hannibal Lee.
An action that caused the cops to chase
Hannibal Lee and me.
And this was the reason that late one night
Near our kennel owned by me,
A man jumped out of a car that night, grabbing
My poodle Hannibal Lee
And took him off to an unscrupulous vet’s
Where they neutered Hannibal Lee.
And hauled me into court and made me pay a hefty fee.
Rival breeders, not half so proud of their dogs
Had envied him and me!
Yes! That was the reason as all must know,
That they neutered Hannibal Lee.
But his lust is stronger by far than the lust
Of dogs more intact than he,
Of dogs with a good pedigree.
And neither dog-catchers nor unscrupulous vets
Can ever dissever my desire to acquire
A clone of Hannibal Lee.
For a dog never howls without elicting growls
From the wobegon Hannibal Lee.
From tearful eyes I see hackles rise
On the un-manned Hannibal Lee.
And so nowadays I cry and he bays
For his lost manhood ways.
My poodle, my doggie, my life and my pride
Who’ll know no more a doggie bride.
In that kennel owned by me;
In that empty kennel owned by me

I'd previously used this poem in a collection I'd put together (allegedly written by my now-deceased dawg Jack) to see if an infamous author mill would accept the dreadful manuscript. They did.

However, my dawg never signed the contract for the poems I'd ghost-written for him, and they sat in my computer while they waited for another chance at—well, something.

Chip MacGregor gave me that chance.

This isn't the first time that my bad writing has attracted an agent's attention. Agent Janet Reid liked my 2008 "Vile Pun" winner in the Bulwer-Lytton Contest.

Now if agents only liked my good writing. . . .

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Appalachian Saturday

Ever have a good day that gets even better? Saturday was like that for me.

I arrived early at the Moneta/SML Library to set up for my presentation of Ferradiddledumday.

By now, it doesn't take me long to set up my display. I've done it plenty of times. The library had Power-Point capability, so a library staffer set up the projector and we checked the slides. Here are the first two:

After a few minor adjustments, they were ready to go. At this library presentation, we had music. Moneta musician and music teacher Ricky Ellis brought his group and provided some down-home toe-tapping bluegrass both before and after Ferradiddledumday. They were excellent.

Friends of the Library provided some wonderful cupcakes. I didn't get a picture of the refreshments because folks ate them while I was signing books.

After the presentation, Linda Layne—head honcho at Cedar Creek Publishing—treated me to lunch at the Moneta Diner, and we talked books and publishing and promotion for over an hour. Cedar Creek published Ferradiddledumday and will publish my next Appalachian folktale, Little Meg Reddingoode, this winter. Cedar Creek will also re-issue my formerly self-pubbed novel, Patches on the Same Quilt, but I don't yet know the timeline on that.

So, I'd had a pretty good day so far.

When I returned home about two o'clock, my husband handed me the mail—a package from Shepherd University. It looked like it might be a book. But I hadn't ordered any books. I opened the envelope. Inside were two copies of Anthology of Appalachian Writers, Volume II, edited by Silas House.

But I hadn't ordered these books. Why was I receiving them?

Then I read the accompanying letter. Turns out they had printed my short story, "Rat-Killing," which received a second place in the 2009 Wytheville  contest. I vaguely remembered submitting the story last fall, but I hadn't heard anything.

Until now. I found my story on page 123.

An Appalachian story, Appalachian music, and an Appalachian anthology. That makes for a good day.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Animal Zodiac

Most faithful readers of this blog (Yes, both of you!) know I have way too many critters. I'm fond of all of them, but some are easier to get along with than others.

Why is this? They're all raised in a similar environment. Could it be when they were born? That their personalities lie not in themselves but in their stars?

Recently I ran across the pet zodiac from the Old Farmer's Almanac. It explains a lot.

Of course, I don't know when some were born, but for those whose birthdays I do know, their zodiac profiles peg them pretty well.

My old mare, Cupcake, turns 29 on May 11. I wasn't there to see her born, but I was there to see her take her first steps. 

Cupcake is on the right in this picture, Melody is on the left.

She's a Taurus. Here's what her sign says about her (I've put her outstanding characteristics in red):

Taurus: April 21–May 20
Taurus is the first of the earth signs; it represents the planting of the seed. Taurus pet personalities are stalwart, earthy, practical, and stubborn. Pets born under this sign are generally strong and fond of comfort, love food, and like things to stay the same.

Stubborn and loves to eat—that's Cupcake.

The Twiglets—Twiggy's three kittens—were born during the first week of July last year. 

The Twiglets—Sherman, Spookie, & Spots

For months they were wild, but now they've tamed into sweet kitties. Their sign is Cancer.

Cancer: June 21–July 22
Cancer is the first of the water signs, representing the realm of the emotions. Cancer pets are sensitive, extremely loyal to home and family, caring, and fond of food. These animals tend to attach themselves firmly to you and will guard and protect you faithfully.

I don't know about guarding, but the Twiglets often attach to me and beg to be scritched. On the other hand, Olivia's two kitties—Chloe and Jim-Bob—are headstrong, demanding, and have a sense of entitlement, like I exist to serve their needs. 

They were born August 8. They're Leos.

Leo: July 23–August 22
Leo is the second fire sign: strong, magnanimous, and playful. Leo pets want to lead, have lots of energy, and—like their totem, the lion—have their "pride." They also possess natural abilities, can not be told what to do, are fiercely protective of their dens, and like to be noticed.

My big TWH mare, Melody, is also a Leo. She was born August 15, 1989.

She's strong, magnanimous, has lots of energy, wants to lead, etc.

And, finally, there's Maggie—the border collie. I bought her right before Christmas in 2005. 

Maggie was born on November 3, so she's a Scorpio.

Scorpio: October 23–November 22
Scorpio is the second water sign; this sign rules the will. Scorpios are by far the strongest members of the zodiac. Pets born under this sign are willful, stubborn, and intelligent. They are also mischievous and have an insatiable curiosity.

Is Maggie ever a Scorpio!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Revision Redux

Another return to the writing process. . . .

Consider this a manuscript in need of revision:

It's pretty much a floppy mass of prickles. Needs work, huh? First, we'd better remove the excess. This calls for a tough editor. Be warned that the editing process isn't pretty.

Let's take a closer look:

All those unwieldy adverbs, the unnecessary adjectives, the strings of prepositional phrases have to go. Let's pare that manuscript down to its basics:

This is better, but it lacks form. Time to rewrite. Add some interesting stuff. Some sub-plots, maybe.
A richer texture. Possibly a metaphor or two. More detail.

Ah, it's getting better. Let's take a look from a slightly different point of view: 

Yeah, that's better.  Maybe add a hint of mystery. How about this viewpoint?

Yep. That manuscript is looking a lot better.