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.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Happy Halloween 2010

Happy Halloween from rural Virginia.

The decorated cow is actually in my next-door neighbor's yard, not mine. I can't wait to see how she'll decorate it for Christmas. Usually she has a John Deere theme for Christmas.

I don't have any Halloween decorations up myself, unless you count the mums I bought for $1 each the other day. 

And I don't have an actual Halloween post—except this one from 2006 about a 2004 event. I'll never be able to top that.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Weathering the Storm

On Wednesday, most of our area was under a tornado watch. On and off during the afternoon and at night, we had wind and hard rain here, but fortunately no tornado touched down close to us.

This is how the rain looked from my deck:

And from the front porch:

While we didn't have a tornado in Franklin County, folks in Pittsylvania and Halifax Counties weren't so lucky. A swath of destruction swept through both counties.

A swath of destruction is sweeping through my area, but it's not a storm. It's the big power line. From my pasture (my kennel is on the left), you can see where the lines will go.

Look a bit closer. In the picture below, you can see part of  Turkeycock Mountain on the left and  Chestnut Mountain on the right. The line will go behind the trees you see in front of Chestnut Mountain. 

Above my pasture fence is a tobacco field. The line and some high power poles will be visible above that.

In the picture below, you can just barely see the strip of cleared land—the power company's right-of-way—above the tobacco and the old graveyard:

Below is a closer look at where the right-of-way cuts through the dairy farm's cow pasture. 

They've already graveled the right-of-way and put a gate in the pasture fence. The gravel comes from the quarry at nearby Jack's Mountain. You can see a bit of Jack's at the left in the picture below. 

To the east, they're cutting a swath through miles of woods.

Logging trucks are hauling away what's left of the trees.

Before long, we'll have our own miles-long swath through our area.

But the destruction isn't from a tornado.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Fall 4-Wheeling

Today was perfect for walking Polecat Creek Farm. Trouble is, I've had a kink in my back for a few days, and I didn't feel like walking.

But I hated to miss a beautiful late October day. Luckily, I had this:

So, I hopped on the 4-wheeler and took off in search of fall color. What did I see? From the top field, I saw Smith Mountain in the distance . . .

. . . and I saw bits of fall color—not as spectacular as it could be:



Saturday, October 23, 2010

Whirled Books

Warning: A scam rant.

The other afternoon I received a phone call. I couldn't quite understand the caller's  name because she had a heavy accent. "May I speak to Mrs. (moment of hesitation) Moooosh-ko?" she said.

Uh-oh. Mispronunciation of my name and an accent. Had to be a telemarketer or someone soliciting votes for a political candidate.

"This is she," I said. I figured I'd waste her time for a bit. The woman, obviously reading from a script, launched into a spiel for marketing my book. Uh-oh. Not another one of those! Odd she didn't give a title—just, "your book." So I interrupted her: "Which book?"

I swear I heard sputtering. Finally, "The Girl Who Raced Mules," she said with an upward inflection, as if she were asking me. I'll bet she Googled me while she was sputtering.

Uh-oh. My vanity-pubbed short story collection from 2003. What the heck—?

But she got back on script. The company she was plugging—which sounded like "Book World"—could help me market my book via the internet. For instance, they'd send e-mails to—

"That's spam," I said. Then I mentioned another company who wanted to do that for me. "I thought I'd never get rid of those spammers. Do you know they wasted my time by sending me e-mails about books I'd never heard of and didn't want to know about?"

She didn't respond—I guess her script didn't cover that—so I explained to her that "The Girl Who Raced Mules" was published long ago, and I wasn't promoting it anymore. I told her that my latest book was marketed by my publisher, and I based my promotion on the publisher's marketing.

I think she had trouble processing this. She tried to go back to her script and read a part about inviting me to a marketing conference. I was losing patience, so I interrupted: "Where is this conference?"

"It's done by phone."

Huh? Then she mentioned it would only take 10 minutes of my time. At this point, I asked about the authors her company—Book Whirl, not Book World—was marketing. She sounded a bit flustered but eventually gave me a name and a book title. I immediately went to where I found the book was vanity-published in 2006 and had no Amazon ranking—which meant it had sold no copies through Amazon. There were no professional reviews—and not any amateur reviews either. Looks like the, uh, marketing didn't help that 72-page novel.

I had a few more questions about her company, which I knew was a major scam, so she referred me to the website: here. Oh, dear. That is one dreadfully designed website.

No doubt picking up on my skepticism, she then wanted me to check their testimonials. Oh, dear! Another bad sign. I wasn't impressed. The rather generic testimonials didn't even mention how well the authors' books did after paying Book Whirl to market them.

And how much did they pay? Well, the Book Whirl "Email Advertisement Campaign" ("a unique book marketing method that reaches a massive audience through electronic mail (e-mail) ads") will spam 500,000 people for only $699 and up to 10,000,000 people for $3,499. Their "OnLine Directory Listing" ("posting a book ad, consisting of a thumbnail book cover, book details, and a 25-word “blurb”, to various sites that have high traffic rates") begins at $299 and goes up to $1,499. BUT, they have some specials! For only $1,299, you can have a Web Design Lite, 1M -mail advertisements, and 100 online directory listings! If you want more (and why would anyone is his/her right mind want this in the first place), you can spend up to $3,999 for the "Premier Package." (I wonder if that includes a tattoo for your forehead that reads "I'm a sucker.")

Lest you think that their website is filled only with their self-promotions, they offer some handy-dandy marketing hints for free! For instance, here's a tip about where to hold your book launch:
So I should hold the launch for Stuck, my middle grade novel at the VCU library? I really don't think I should ask my friends to travel over 150 miles for a launch. (It'll be on March 29 at the Franklin County Public Library—in case you're interested.)

Here's #5 from their tips "Checklist for a 5-Star Book Event":
Anybody else notice their problems with verb tenses?  I guess I'd better go "get the public involve."

Meanwhile, here's an item I found posted on Book Whirl's Facebook page (I removed names and avatars):
Yeah, draw your own conclusion. . . .

I'm not the only blogger who has mentioned this company. Check out this one.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

To Read or Not to Read

Last weekend I attended the James River Writers Conference. I hadn't been for a couple of years, so I wondered if it was as good as I remembered. It was—even better, maybe. It's great to get different views from professionals in writing, editing, agenting, and  publishing.

Speaking of views, here's the view from my hotel room:

Here's a slightly different view:

And here's the view at sunrise:

One of my favorite parts of the JRWC is the first pages critique. A couple of actors read a page aloud, and then three agents tell why it grabs them—or doesn't. Because agents get so many submissions, they must decide fast—like on the first page—which manuscripts to read further and which to reject.

Three agents—Michelle Brower, Lucy Carson, and Melissa Sarver—each gave their view of the pages. Like the three pictures above, their views were slightly different but also similar.

Most of the pages needed a lot of work. A few began with a character getting up and getting dressed. "Begin at the real beginning, not the beginning of a day," Carson said. The other two agreed that starting with a character waking up was a bad idea.

Some pages had a recurring dream—a no-no as far as the agents were concerned, because a recurring dream is "too formulaic."

Other problems were "too much setting,"  lack of dialogue, too much flat description. "Too many adjectives," one agent said, "ruins the cadence of sentences."

"Sometimes simpler is better," another noted. A writer can make a passage simpler by killing the adjectives, adverbs, and passive or static verbs. Verbs such as was, knew, and thought are all static.

This week I've tried to read a book I received in the mail not long ago. I'd liked the opening sentences and figured I'd like the book. But the book didn't live up to the promise of its opening. Here's why:

1. Too much description. This example tells us more than we need to know that a character is wrinkled:

Notice the plethora of adjectives in the example above? And all the prepositional phrases? (One paragraph has eight: into the mold/of its shape/in the folds and creases/around her mouth and cratered eyes/in West Texas/of her sagging, spotty skin/like hairline cracks/in antique wood.)

Excess description bogs down the action. Notice how long it takes in the above example to actually get to the hug.

Here's another description of another character:

Do we need to know this much? (And how does "Indian-reservation turquoise stones" differ from regular turquoise? (We don't need "stones" because it's obvious turquoise is a stone.) Again, excess description bogs down the action.

2. Badly printed. You can't tell from the pictures I took of the pages, but the ink was too dark and hard to read. It was so thick I could feel it. Some of the lines looked weird—too much spacing, etc. See the last line on this page:

Why did the publisher allow the book to be printed with gaps? Had the book been an advance reader copy, I could understand a few gaps here and there. But it was a regular edition.

3. Unpleasant subject matter. I don't like to read about child abuse. When I reached a particularly gruesome description of child abuse (with lots of adjectives, etc.), I stopped reading.

The book had an interesting premise: a woman, who can't remember anything before she was eleven, returns to her childhood home to learn what happened to her childhood memories. However, the book read like an early draft, not a finished manuscript. With a good editor to cut back the excess description and improve the flow of the action, this book might have held my interest all the way through.

But that's just my view. I wonder what the three agents would have said.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Maggie in the Woods

by Maggie Mae Mushko
A border collie, age 4 years and 11 months

Mommy finally took me for a walk at the farm! It's been a while since I had a good run. (Mommy walks; I run. That's what border collies do.) Daddy finally mowed the trails so she could walk. And I could run.

The first thing I did when Mommy parked the truck was find my little orange football that squeaks. It was under a lot of stuff in the back of the truck, but I found it.

I love that little orange football. Because it is football season, I forced Mommy to throw it over and over for me. You can barely see it in my mouth in the picture above. Finally she got tired, so I picked the trail I wanted to take.

 I sniffed around to make sure everything was OK. You can't be too careful.

Mommy thought these trees were pretty, but I didn't see any squirrels in them, so they didn't interest me.

The woods are getting pretty now, and there aren't any ticks. Partway down the trail, I stopped because I saw something in the woods.

It was a little buck and I chased him for a while, but I came back about the tenth time Mommy yelled for me. All that running made me get too hot, so I cooled off in the creek.

I love the creek. I love anything that has water in it.

Then we continued our walk. This trail leads to another creek crossing:

I smelled something interesting, so I had to stop and investigate.

I dug for a while, but I didn't find anything.

I didn't see anything interesting in the trees, either.

I looked through the nearby field but didn't find anything worth chasing.

Back in the woods, I sniffed a few interesting smells, but Mommy didn't give me time to investigate. She got on Daddy's four-wheeler and rode back up the hill.

I had to stop what I was sniffing to herd that four-wheeler back to the truck. I'm not used to Mommy moving that fast.

Of course, she wasn't as fast as a border collie, but I'd never tell her that.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

October Colors

We're starting to see some fall color now. These pictures were taken a couple of days ago.