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.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Featuring the Arts

Warning: Blatant self-promotion in this post.

This Thursday (September 2, 2011) at 5:30 PM, I'll be featured on "Featuring the Arts" on radio station WSKV-fm out of Kentucky. The interview was taped yesterday.

If you're interested in hearing me talk about my books, you can listen online at Interviewer Janice Lee asked me some pretty good questions about what I write, how I write, etc. On the show you can even hear me read from a portion of Ferradiddledumday.

Published by Cedar Creek Publishing

Eventually, my interview will be archived at (I'm # 8 down the pull-down menu.)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Eli the Good

I just finished the best book I've read in the last year or two—and I've read some good ones. Silas House's Eli the Good is exactly the kind of book I relish. It was published by Candlewick in September 2009, but I only recently acquired a copy.

The introduction for Elie the Good is the first four lines of a poem—May Swenson's "Centaur"—that I've loved since I discovered it in an English anthology I used when I taught junior high:

The summer that I was ten—
Can it be there was only one
summer that I was ten? It must
have been a long one then—

In the summer of 1976, ten-year-old Eli Book, who lives in the small southern town of Refuge, looks forward to the country's bicentennial. The opening two sentences preview the whole book and summarize the events of that summer:

That was the summer of the bicentennial, when all these things happened: my sister, Josie, began to hate our country and slapped my mother's face; my wild aunt, Nell, moved in with us, bringing along all five thousand or so of her records and a green record player that ran on batteries; my father started going back to Vietnam in his dreams, and I saw him cry; my mother did the Twist in front of the whole town and nearly lost us all. I was ten years old, and I did something unforgiveable. (p. 3)

How can anyone not keep reading after that beginning? I couldn't. I read the book in a day and a half. I liked it not only for the believable story and well-developed characters, but also for the setting, the theme, the recurring motifs, and House's lovely lyrical style. 

According to House, "This book is about the powers of friendship and the joy of accepting yourself as you are. It's also how people can get through struggles if they have hope and the love of others, and most important, it's about the fact that we don't always have to agree with the ones we love. . . ."
Some of my favorite passages—or at least ones I dog-eared the page to mark because they ring so true—are these:

"Country people sure do have more stars than anybody else," she said. "We ain't got much, but we got the stars." (p. 44)

Ultimately reality is far worse and far better than anything that either adult or child can ever dream. (p. 79)

I liked our riverbank at home much better, as this one didn't seem real. The city workers maintained the grass along the river and had planted little clumps of impatiens around some of the trees. It didn't seem right for something like a riverbank to be kept up; wild things should be free to remain wild. (p. 173)

It's miraculous the wild places that exist in hiding. All the secret places of the world that are able to remain cold despite the hum of a blazing summer. (p. 232)

Trees were a recurring motif throughout the book, but I'll save that for another blog post.

Publishers Weekly defines the book thus: "In this YA debut from the author of Clay's Quilt, a boy's war-torn family endures a tumultuous summer.

The classification as a young adult book is interesting because the narrator is middle grade age, although his sixteen-year-old sister fits into the YA category, and books are generally categorized by the age of the protagonist. But the book deals with situations too intense for some MG readers but suitable for YAs. I think it's a great book for adult readers—especially those of us who remember the freedom ten-year-olds had a few decades and who remember Vietnam.

Speaking of Vietnam: At the 2010 CNU conference, I'd submitted a couple of pages of my YA work-in-progress for critique by an agent at a big agency and an associate editor at Simon and Schuster. My YA Appalachian novel was set in 1972, and the Vietnam war was important because of its influence on a mountain family. (Another conference-goer also had a novel set in the 70s.) Both agent and associate editor said they wouldn't be interested in YA novels set in the 70s because YAs want to read about what's happening now; YAs have no interest in Vietnam. Consequently, I stopped working on that novel.

Reading Eli the Good makes me think that maybe I should start again.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Postman Cometh Again

Actually, it's the postwoman, Debi, who brought the box to the door this time.

Naturally, the box required a cat scan. Every package entering this house gets a cat scan.

Gosh, I don't know which one to read first. They all look so good.

Wait! What happened to my books?

Eddie-puss: Secrets of the Sands. Sands? Must be about kitty litter. I can relate to that. Foxy, what are you going to read?

Foxy: Hmmm. A Certain Strain of Peculiar or Eli the Good. Tough decision. Chloe, you can have the peculiar one. Seeing as how you're so peculiar. . . .

Chloe: OK, Foxy, you don't have to be so catty. But—but—there's nothing on this page. And I don't know how to read!

I'm looking forward to reading these books by Leona Wisoker, Gigi Amateau, and Silas House—as soon as the cats return them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Mailman Cometh

Also the UPS guy.

Today I received two packages. Here's the first one—from It received a cat scan before I opened it. Jim-Bob wasn't sure about it.

So it received another cat scan.

And here's what was inside: 

The UPS package only required a single cat scan. But Chloe was thorough.

The box contained floor mats for my PT Cruiser. The pattern is "Snow Leopard."

They look pretty good in the car.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Storm on the Mountain

Well, a storm headed for the mountain.

A few days ago, two days after the ant hills were piled high, a storm blew through from the west and headed east toward Smith Mountain. Thunder rumbled almost continuously and I'd see occasional lightning bolts in the vicinity of the Peaks of Otter.

Most of the dreadful weather went just north of us, so I could watch as it happened. Here's how it looked from my point of view:

Here's how little Ruby Sherwood (a sweet dog who lives down the road a piece but comes here for daycare) viewed the storm:

Ruby snuggled into her bed in my garage and didn't come out until the storm had passed.

Not all of us share the same point of view—or the same enthusiasm for storms.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, Sharyn McCrumb's latest Ballad novel, is closer to literary fiction than any of McCrumb's previous books. It's heavier on characters, setting, and theme than it is on plot. While it indeed has a plot, the characters are the primary focus. 

Based on the title, I was expecting a courtroom drama, but that isn't what The Devil Amongst the Lawyers is. Even though the book wasn't what I expected, I enjoyed it. In 1935, four reporters arrive in Wise County to cover the trial of a pretty young schoolteacher who allegedly  murdered her father. Each character comes with his or her own emotional baggage; all four are concerned with giving their readers what they think their readers back home want and all four are haunted by their past.

Henry Journigan, a famous New York journalist, carries memories of a disastrous event in Japan; Rose Hanlon, also a New Yorker, is torn between her job and a pilot that she loves; Carl Jennings, the youngest of the group and the closest to home, needs to prove that he can handle the job; and photographer Shade Baker, who'd grown up poor. Another main character—introduced late—is 12-year-old Nora Bonesteele, the one who has The Sight and who appears as an older woman in several of McCrumb's ballad novels.  Jennings, thinking she can give insight as to whether or not Erma killed her father, invites Nora to leave her mountain home and help out at the boarding house where he is staying. 

You can read more about the novel, including a plot synopsis, on the Thomas Dunne Books website

The Devil Amongst the Lawyers. is strong on theme and gives the reader plenty to think about. What is truth? is the theme, or at least the controlling motif. Truth, it appears, is in the eye—or perhaps mind or memories—of the beholder. The main characters shape "the truth" in the image that they think their readers want.
"Nobody deals in truth," said Rose, watching the lawyers confering at the judge's bench. "Truth is what you can convince people to believe." (p. 195)

What is real?

"[T]he trial would grind its way to some anticlimactic whisper of of a verdict with no one being any the wiser about what really happened. the jury would decide the fate of the defendant, based as ever  on their best guess or their innate prejudices, but it was the task of the journalist to turn humdrum reality into a story that made sense, a story worth reading." (p.277)

What is Appalachia? is another motif. Is it the land of poverty and backwardness that the New Yorkers think, or is it an ordinary place that's remote, rugged, and beautiful?

A Washington Times book review is here; a blog review that will tell you more about the book is here.

I once heard Sharyn McCrumb define "literary fiction" as "people you don't care about not doing much, but it's beautifully written." Since I did care about the characters and they did do something, perhaps The Devil Amongst the Lawyers isn't "literary fiction" at all. But it is beautifully written.

 I recommend this book; it's an entertaining—and thought-provoking—read. And that's the truth.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

2010 Hanover Bookfest

Last Saturday, I attended the Hanover Book Festival in Mechanicsville. The festival was sponsored by the Hanover Writers Chapter of the Virginia Writers Club. They've been doing this for years, thank to the tireless efforts of festival director, Joanne Liggan.

My display was on the Cedar Creek Publishing table because Ferradiddledumday is published by Cedar Creek.

Fifty-some authors were there, plus a bunch of folks who came to socialize, talk to authors, check out the exhibits, and buy books.

Among them was Harvey Tate, president of Hanover Writers. He's standing in front of his display.

Storyteller Linda Goodman was there.  I love her book, Daughters of the Appalachians. "Linda's blog is "Tales From the Tapestry." 

Austin Camacho, author of the Hannibal Jones series and one of the Virginia Writers Club's most prolific writers, was there, too. His blog is "Another Writer's Life."

This dragonfly caught my eye. Isn't it pretty?

It was part of Monti Sikes' table decoration.

A couple of tables were decorated with horses. Naturally, my little snoring horse was part of my table's decor. 

Here are two others:

. . . and there was even a black cat:

You never know what you'll find at a book festival.


Sunday, August 08, 2010

After the Storm

After Thursday afternoon's storm, I decided I'd better check the property for damage. Despite the tornado warning, we didn't get a tornado, but we did get a lot of wind and rain. At sunset, I went out to check.

I didn't find damage, but I found this fairy ring.

Had fairies come out to dance after the storm? Uh, no. But the Twiglets—the three offspring of Twiggy the barncat—did come out to participate in their evening ritual. Spotz was the first to emerge from the shelter of the pines.

And what, you might ask, is their evening ritual? 

Playing on the pasture fence! Spookie is the first up.  

Soon Sherman and Spotz come to the fence.

Sherman's tail is blowing in the wind.

Spookie has left her post, but Sherman looks like he's having so much fun up there.

Soon Spookie occupies a post.

Before long, the sun has set. Two Twiglets tire of fence-sitting and go off in search of adventure.

Spotz reigns as queen of the fence.

Perhaps her siblings will dance in a ring around her.

Cats are more fun than fairies and a lot easier to photograph.