Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

© 2006-2018 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.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winter's Hint

Most of October has been mild, but the first hints of winter have now arrived: Friday night a cold rain swept in. We turned on the heat. Yesterday the wind blew hard, and the air was raw. Last night's heavy frost was still visible this morning, and a skim of ice was on the horse tubs.

The fall color hasn't been spectacular this year. Colors are muted, not vivid. This was my view yesterday yesterday from the deck. . .

. . . and from the front porch.

Last week, Smith Farm looked almost summery:

Well, except for bare branches on the walnut trees.

No wild bright colors—just green giving way to gold. Enough of a hint to let us know that winter's coming. Maybe this poem by Robert Frost is appropriate:

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
"Release one leaf at break of day."



Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Map of Me

Yesterday, there was a news story about a five-year-old who, upon getting off the school bus and finding her mom missing, got in the car to go look for her. The girl ended up backing onto a neighbor's lawn, returning to her house, and calling 911. Apparently, even though the girl at first lied to police, her story ended happily.

Coincidentally, I just finished a book about a girl whose mom goes missing and who goes to look for her. Tami Lewis Brown's middle grade novel The Map of Me, arrived in the mail last week, and—because I'd loved Tami's picture book, Soar, Elinor— I couldn't wait to read it.

I just finished the novel and found it delightful. I like stories told in the first person, and The Map of Me is narrated by sixth-grader Margie Tempest. Margie has problems: her nine-year-old (and much smarter) sister Peep is in the same grade—and the same class. When Miss Primrose, having read the class The Hobbit, assigns her students to draw a map of themselves, Peep receives and A and Margie, who never finished the assignment, receives an F. Margie knows she will never measure up to her little sister.

Then their mother, an avid collector of all things having to do with chickens, vanishes. She leaves a note on the refrigerator: "I HAVE TO GO." Margie thinks she knows where Mama went—to the International Poultry Hall of Fame in a town not far away. When Margie and Peep go to their father's business, he's busy with a customer and doesn't have time for them. Margie "borrows" his car and her odyssey along the backroads of Kentucky begins.

Margie disregards Peep's protests and, when Peep offers her a map, Margie flings it out the window. After driving for miles, with the gas tank almost empty and rain pouring down, Margie realizes she's headed in the wrong direction and turns around. But that's all I'm going to tell you about the plot—or whether or not Margie's story ends happily.

The book is not only about Margie trying to find Mama, but about Margie finding herself. The Map of Me is a good book for sixth grade girls—they're at the age when they're questioning themselves and their abilities. And it's a good book for adults, too, who might need a reminder of how children sometimes misinterpret what's happening. The Map of Me would be a good choice for a mother-daughter book club, or for a mother and daughter to read together.

On her website, Tami Lewis Brown has a neat activity kit for The Map of Me


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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Jack Tales and App Lit

When I was a kid, I loved the old-timey stories. At the time, I didn't know that some of those stories were officially known as Jack Tales; I only knew that the main character in a bunch of them was called Jack.

More than a half century after I heard those tales, I was privileged to to meet two tellers of the Jack Tales, Lynn Salsi and Anne Chase, at the Children's Literature Association Conference at Hollins University last June. We three were on the "Sense of Place, Sense of Home: Retelling Appalachian Folktales" panel.

Anne, who is a wonderful story-teller in her own right, is the daughter of Richard Chase, noted in Appalachian literature for collecting the Jack Tales. I've owned her father's book for years, so it was an honor to sit next to Anne.

I've owned this book for years.

As part of her presentation, Anne told the "Sody Sallyratus" tale. I was lucky to have a front-row seat to her animated and enjoyable rendition.

Lynn Salsi talked about her retold Jack Tales. Here are two of her books:

Lynn's stories are a delight. The illustrations by James Young echo the homespun feel of Lynn's tales.

James Young's illustrations in Jack and the Fire Dragon are especially effective. 

For my part of the panel, I told a shortened version of Ferradiddledumday, my Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin tale. It doesn't have Jack in it, though.

I used my Powerpoint presentation to help me tell Ferradiddledumday.

Before Anne, Lynn, and I did our presentation, the Ferrum College Jack Tale Players performed a couple of stories.

Another neat "Jack Tale" thing happened that morning. Charles Vess, an artist and illustrator who designed the brick sculpture Jack Tales Wall at Southwest Virginia Community College in Richlands, just happened to be there. Tina Hanlon, keeper of the Ferrum College AppLit website, invited him to say a few words. And he told us the story of how he came to design the wall.

If you're not familiar with the old-timey stories, you might want to look into reading a few.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Summer Slipped Away

I think fall color is at its peak in my neighborhood, but most of the colors are muted. Not the burning bush at the end of my bottom driveway, though.

 The days have mostly been warm, although the nights are chilly. We haven't had frost yet, but the weatherman says that might change soon. Summer is slipping away
A poem by Emily Dickinson is appropriate for today:
As Summer into Autumn slips
And yet we sooner say
"The Summer" than "the Autumn," lest
We turn the sun away,

And almost count it an Affront
The presence to concede
Of one however lovely, not
The one that we have loved --

So we evade the charge of Years
On one attempting shy
The Circumvention of the Shaft
Of Life's Declivity.
Here's what the trees look like in my neighborhood:

The redbud in the front yard.

The trees at Polecat Creek Farm



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Prodigal Cat

Jim-Bob (the two-year-old kitty who's missing his left hind foot because of a birth accident) is going through a rebellious phase. About a week ago, for instance, he got his ear pierced.

Lately, he wants to forego his house cat status and become a barn cat like his half-siblings, Sherman and Spotz. With their mama Twiggy, Sherman and Spotz hang out on farm equipment and do other fun stuff.

Jim-Bob has been watching from the edge of the pasture as they inspect the flatbed trailer.

He's been watching them in action as they do field work.

He even sat on a hay bale to get a different perspective.

He contemplated a bale from another angle while half-brother Sherman inspected the pasture.

Jim-Bob envies the barn cats their freedom to come and go. He hates that he has a curfew and has to be inside before dark.

Lately, he's been picking fights with another cat—Ab from next door. Ab often invites himself to breakfast and supper with the barn cats. Sherman has challenged him, and so has Jim-Bob. That's probably how Jim-Bob got his ear pierced.

Saturday, Jim-Bob came in with a swollen paw, and he was limping more than usual. He spent most of Sunday confined to the house. Since he doesn't have a paw to spare, he went to the vet's on Monday. The vet said the puncture on his paw was probably from fighting. He received an injection of antibiotics and wasn't happy about it.

As soon has he was back home, he rolled joyously in the grass. Then he disappeared.

Monday evening, Jim-Bob missed his curfew. His mama Olivia waited up for him, but he didn't come in.

HIs sister Chloe was so worried that she was a basket case.

Way after dark, he still hadn't shown up. Across the cow pasture, coyotes howled. Everyone assumed the worst.

Morning came and still no Jim-Bob. Chloe and Dylan had slept by the door to let him in if he returned. From the state of Chloe's quilt, she apparently tossed and turned all night.

Jim-Bob wasn't waiting on the deck to get in. He didn't show up when the procession of house cats went out for their morning constitutional. He wasn't with the barn cats when they were served their breakfast. There was no trace of him anywhere. His humans left for Kroger's and assumed he'd be back when they returned. He wasn't.

Finally, a little after 2:00 PM, a "meow-meow-meow-MEOW" sound was heard on the deck. Soon a tired Jim-Bob appeared at the door. He didn't mention where he'd been or what he'd been doing. But he ate a hearty late lunch. (Note: When the prodigal cat returned, we didn't slay a fatted calf. But we did open a can of Friskies cat food.) Then he took a long nap.

We don't know how to handle Jim,-Bob's rebellious phase. What will he do next? Get a tattoo?  Get a stud or ring for his pierced paw? Roll catnip joints?

Take to strong drink?

Should we get him a cellphone so he could call in periodically if he violates curfew again? Or would he just text other cats and ignore us if we called?



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Writer's Essential Tackle Box

The Writer's Essential Tackle Box is the book I wish I'd read ten years ago. Of course, it wasn't published then, but still. . . .

Last July, because of a comment I left on a post of publisher Lynn Price's Behler Blog, I won a copy of her book, The Writer's Essential Tack Box, published, of course, by Behler Publishing. It received a cat scan from Chloe before I could open it.

This book was packed with useful info about "getting a hook on the publishing industry." I could have used a lot of this info before I self-published a novel in 2001 and vanity-published some other stuff years ago. Even though I've worked my way up to small press publishing, I still learned a lot from The Writer's Essential Tack Box.

The book was published in 2009 and—given all the changes in the publishing industry since then—I thought its information might be out of date. It isn't.

The book is divided into the following  four sections: Interviews—Casting the Flyrod; "Forget the bait, pass me the Maalox": The Submission Process; "Chuming the Waters: and The Writers' Survival Style Guide. Each section was packed with info.

I especially liked the in-depth questions and answers in the interviews with agents in section 1—Andrea Brown, Rita Rosenkranz, Laurie McLean, Peter Cox, and others. Also extremely helpful was the information about the different review sources. 

Throughout the book, Lynn Price defines—as well as explains—a lot of terminology. She tells writers what they need to know whether they're seeking commercial publication or self-publication. Clearly she's done her homework. 

I highly recommend The Writer's Essential Tack Box to anyone seeking publication. It's easy to read and, well, essential.

Here's the book trailer: 


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