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

My Photo
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 30, 2011


Susan Coryell's novel, Eaglebait, was originally published by Harcourt in 1989. It won a couple of awards—the NY Public Library "Books for the Teenage" and the International Reading Association "YA Choice." Now, thanks to the Authors Guild "Back in Print" program, it's available again through iUniverse.

Originally classified as YA, Eaglebait now fits the criteria for a middle grade novel. Since today's youth "read up," the protagonist—Wardy Spinks, a fourteen-year-old high school freshman—would be a bit young for today's YA readers. However, middle school students could well identify with underachieving Wardy's desire to avoid being the butt of the bullies' jokes, to adapt to his parents' divorce, and to find his niche.

Wardy, recently kicked out of military school and still bruised from the beating his fellow cadets had given him, returns home to learn his parents are separating and he'll be attending public school. Despite his abysmal grades, his test scores show he's very bright so he's placed in some advanced classes—including Latin and biology where he notices the pretty but shy Meg. Bullies from his past confront him again and make his life miserable. 

At home his ten-year-old sister adds to his misery, and his stressed-out mother is fed up with the problems he's caused. Dad's too busy with his new girlfriend to get involved. Wardy, who loves chemistry and physics, finds solace in his father's former workshop which he converts into a laboratory. The only family member who understands him is his artist grandmother, but she's often out of town. The only friend he used to have now lives in North Carolina. 

When he and Meg are assigned as biology lab partners, he finally has someone to talk to. He even shows her the laser he's working on. Meanwhile, pretending to be a scientist, Wardy corresponds with a physicist  about his laser experiments, and at school a brilliant but demanding science teacher, Mr. Guterman, discovers Wardy's potential. Guterman soon makes Wardy his assistant, and Wardy has little time for Meg or for anything else. Guterman has big plans for Wardy, who eventually realizes he's being manipulated.

Eaglebait explores themes important to kids on the brink of growing up and struggling to find themselves: finding your dreams, making the right decisions, becoming your own person, dealing with difficult people, determining what's important in life.

Things have changed considerably in the twenty-two years since Eaglebait was first published. The Internet—which could have helped Wardy immeasurably with his research—isn't there. He doesn't have to cope with cyber-bullying or what others are texting about him or uploading to YouTube. Instead bullies taunt him in person and trap him in a phone booth (You might have to explain to younger readers what that was) where Wardy drops in a quarter and dials to get help. The school corridors don't have security cameras. He still rides his bike to school or walks. His correspondence is via snail mail. When his former best friend—now a pothead—offers to lend Wardy some bread, some contemporary kids might not know Wardy isn't being offered baked goods.  

1989 cover

However, the datedness of Eaglebait could open the door for discussions between parent (or grandparent) and child. Despite changing terminology and technology, some concerns remain the same through different generations. Eaglebait is a good book for a family to read and talk about together—and a good resource to help boys deal with their concerns. Indeed, Eaglebait appears on several anti-bullying resource reading lists, such as this one, this one, and this one. On her website, the author has posted a study guide for Eaglebait here

 Susan Coryell reads from her book here and blogs here

Note for those who live around Smith Mountain Lake: Coryell will read from—and discuss—Eaglebait at the Westlake Library on June 9 at 6:30 p.m.

Labels: ,

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Horse Sense

I really wanted to like this book which I bought at the Westlake Library sale a few weeks ago:

In fact, I did like this book.  I really liked this book. Until I got to page 274 and read about Traveller, Robert E. Lee's horse.

Why would a Pultizer Prize-winning author refer to the most famous Southern horse as a she? Everyone knows that Traveller, originally named Jeff Davis and then Greenbrier, was a he—a gelding. (I once heard a noted Civil War historian refer to Traveller as a stallion, but I held my tongue). I think the author might have gotten Traveller confused with Lucy Long, a mare that Lee owned. 

You'd think, though, that the publishers (Pantheon for the hardcover, Vintage for the paperback) would have had the horse sense to use a fact-checker.

After page 274, I was skeptical about everything else I read. What else did the author get wrong? I wondered.

This picture, scanned from the photo that hangs on my wall, shows Traveller displaying a particular anatomical part that a mare would not have.

I have been a Traveller fan for a long time. When I was in fifth grade, my class took a field trip to Lexington and I actually saw Traveller's skeleton that Horwitz refers to on page 274. That, of course, was over 50 years ago. When I went to college in Richmond (also a long time ago), I often admired the statue of Traveller on Monument Avenue.

A book about Traveller that I really liked—all the way through—was Richard Adams' novel, Traveller. In it, Traveller tells about the war from his own viewpoint. And Traveller never once refers to himself as a mare.

Labels: ,

Saturday, May 28, 2011

B & N on May 14

For a minor league writer, I've been doing a good many book-signings lately. Not as many as, say, a New York Times best-selling author, but enough to keep me busy. On May 14, I had a signing at the Tanglewood Mall Barnes and Noble.

My SCBWI crit partner, Erin A., took this photo on May 14.

I was delighted to see many friends—including former students from Madison and Jackson Junior High Schools, two members of Valley Writers, three members of my SCBWI crit group, a fellow member of Pen Women, a friend from high school, and others. Here are a few pictures:

Yours truly with Susan, a former student and now a Facebook friend.

Dave, another former student.

Ken, a fellow member of Valley Writers.

Marcie, from my SCBWI crit group, and her daughter Makenna.

Another former student, Marnie, with her two daughters.
Morgan holds a copy of

Mike, an OLD friend, went to high school with me.
Thanks to all who came to see me and bought copies of Stuck. I enjoyed reconnecting with all of you.


Monday, May 23, 2011

iPad Rapture

I've been gone from the Internet for a couple of days, but it wasn't because of the Rapture.

While the world didn't end last Saturday, our phone service and DSL did. Thus, my Internet world ended—at least temporarily. I'd just gotten a new iPad, the day before, so my virtual world ended at an especially bad time.

Friday, we'd gone on a quest for a white iPad2. Hubby, who'd become so attached to my original iPad that I rarely saw it out of his hands, had seen a white one in a Bedford Wal-Mart on Thursday, but hadn't gotten it. He had, however, told me about the little gizmo I'd been coveting. We figured we'd head to Bedford right after the farrier finished trimming the mares that morning.

We called the Bedford Wal-Mart before we left. The white iPad had, alas, been sold. Then we called some other places—Best Buy, etc.—but no white iPads. When I'd been in a Roanoke Wal-Mart the week before, the guy in electronics said he'd have some white ones soon, so I figured they'd be in by now. We called. Nope. None to be had. We called the other two Wal-Marts in Roanoke and even the one in Altavista. Nope. Finally we located a white iPad at the Martinsville Wal-Mart and headed south.

It was still there! So—I bought it and headed home to get it synced. Syncing took longer than I thought, but by Friday night, it was good to go. I'd even downloaded the free version of "Games for Cats," so I showed it to the resident felines. They were enraptured!

Camilla thought it looked interesting.

Eddie-Puss and Jim-Bob were intrigued.

Jim-Bob intently watched the little red light zip around.
He knew he could catch it.

Before long, he racked up an impressive score.

I let the cats play with it for a long time. After all, I could use the iPad for net surfing the next day, right after we finished some farm-work of the manure-moving kind.

By early afternoon, several loads of manure had been moved via tractor from the horse pen to the farm down the road. I cleaned up and went in to enjoy getting my new toy onto the Internet. Then the power went out.

Yeah, the world was supposed to end, folks were supposed to get raptured upward, etc. But who knew that the phone would go dead and the Internet would quit?

We called the phone company. We waited. And waited. Later Saturday night, we went to the Dairy Queen two miles away to use their wi-fi to download e-mail. Surely, virtual life as we know it would return by Sunday.


On Monday when I went to the bank and post office (and to Dairy Queen with the laptop), I saw four Centurylink trucks down the road. Several guys were  fiddling with one of the connection thingies next to the Poindexters' cow pasture. I figured it would be fixed when I returned.

Nope. Meanwhile the kitties were really enjoying the game on the iPad. Especially Jim-Bob.

About two this afternoon, I was sitting in the gazebo and reading when a Centurylink truck pulled into the driveway. The driver announced that phone and DSL service were back.

Yep. They were. Now if Jim-Bob would just return my iPad. . . .

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

In the Mail

Today I was surprised and delighted with what came in the mail. Besides the weekly Smith Mountain Eagle and a copy of Better Homes and Gardens, I received a check for being a speaker at a writers' group. That was pretty good.

But even better was this:

My author's copies of the Anthology of Appalachian Authors, Vol. III arrived from Shepherd University! This was my second time my work has appeared in the anthology. My story "Rat-Killin'" was in Vol. II last year.

Naturally, I checked the table of contents to make sure I was really in it. Yep! Right on page 97.

I'd submitted a slightly different version of Query Letter from Helen from the one that had won first place in the fiction division at the 2010 CNU conference. It's nice to see the story in print.

I can't wait to read the book. I recognize quite a few contributors' names, and I know that they write good stuff.


Monday's Light Show

The recent rains have produced some unusual clouds. Monday's setting sun painted some spectacular cloud pictures:

Looking north .  . .

. . . and east.

My roof looks like it's on fire.

Toward the northwest.  .  . 

. . .  and back to the north . . .

. . . .and the southeast . . .

. . . and northwest again. . . 

. . .  and north again.

Finally the sun sinks below the horizon.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Mud-lucious Morning

We had a big storm rain last night, complete with lightning and thunder and heavy rain. Even though this morning was sunny, all the already saturated bare spots had turned to mud—especially in the kennel. As e. e. cummings might say, "the world is mud-lucious."

A very muddy Maggie greeted me at the gate this morning. The other two kennel dogs sensibly stayed inside the dog stall.

Of course, Maggie was ready to play. She always is. This morning she chose the mud-covered yellow squeak toy for me to throw.

I slipped and slid my way into the kennel to serve breakfast to the three residents. But first I had to throw Maggie's toy. She fetched it from the high grass (organically fertilized by the canine residents) and I threw it again. And again.

For Maggie, part of the fun is the search for the thrown toy. While she searched, I served breakfast to Harley and Hubert.

Meanwhile, in the adjoining run-in shed, Cupcake was allowed out of her stall for the first time since Friday.  She had to stay in during the heavy rains to keep her bandaged hoof dry. (Note that her right front hoof sports blue Vet-Wrap covered by purple duct tape. Her shaggy coat sport shavings from the stall.)

It wasn't long until Cupcake was up the hill and grazing.

Meanwhile, Melody—who covets Cupcake's stall—ran in to see if Cupcake had left any uneaten snacks.

Cupcake, however, continued grazing.

And that's how this mud-lucious Sunday morning began.


Labels: , ,

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Phoebe Needles Book-signing

I've done three book-signings for Stuck this week, starting with a visit to Phoebe Needles Tuesday morning with fellow authors Sally Roseveare and Dan Smith, then a Tuesday night visit to the Piedmont Writers in Martinsville, and a signing this afternoon at Barnes & Noble at Tanglewood Mall in Roanoke.

Phoebe Needles, which once was an Episcopal school, is located in the hills west of Ferrum. The view on the drive up Turner's Creek Road was stunning, including this farm (which, by the way, is for sale). Obviously, we were headed for a rural part of Franklin County.

Here's another view:

A mile or two past that farm was Phoebe Needles. Here's the main building that used to be the school . . .

. . . and three views from the porch of the building where we were:

The presentation at Phoebe Needles was part of the Center for Lifelong Learning. Our program was supposed to be "Four Authors: Four Viewpoints," but only three of us could make it.  Sally and I had been there before, but it was Dan's first time. What we three did was a combination reading/discussion/signing.

I read from Ferradiddledumday and Stuck; Dan read from  Saving Homer and Burning the Furniture, and Sally read from her two Smith Mountain Lake murder mysteries, Secrets at Spawning Run and Secrets at Sweet Water Cove. We also told a bit about how we write. Then the audience asked us some really good questions. Finally, we signed books.

We had a wonderful lunch—pork tenderloin and a salad with raspberry dressing—and then Sally and I looked around a bit. Tombstones and a plaque mark where the donators of the land are buried.

Here's a close-up of the plaque:

I asked John Heck, our tour guide and the head honcho at Phoebe Needles, about the two appendages to the main building. The tops weren't flat enough for them to be porches. He explained that they were old bathrooms (one side for women and one for men) that originally drained into the fields. Obviously, they are no longer used. He opened them so we could look inside.

Sally went down for a closer look.

John took us inside the main building where there's a portrait of Phoebe Needles, who died young. 

On the walls hang other pictures depicting the place in earlier days.

Obviously we had a good time at this reading/discussion/signing/luncheon/tour.

Labels: ,