Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Warning

I used to dream vividly almost every night but now that I'm writing, it's only occasionally. I guess my imagination gets enough exercise when I'm awake. But every once in a while, a real doozy shows up -- like this one, which I turned into a kind of poem.

They lead me down the white glare of beach
To a low chair where an ancient gnome sits in the sun.
I kneel before him in the burning sand,
Struggling to fit transparent green plastic sandals
Onto his soft pink feet.
That's Nietzche, someone tells me,
You got to watch him for he's bad to shoplift.

If there's a "deeper meaning" to this little slice of surrealism, I don't want to know about it.
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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Blogging for Patry

Sisters in Crime is an organization dedicated to promoting the careers of women writing crime fiction. They take the sisterhood thing seriously. I recently received the following request from them and, while I don't know Patry or her book, I was moved by her situation and by the strength and beauty of the writing in her blog.

"Fellow author, Patry Francis, was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and is in a hospital in Mass. I strongly urge everyone to read Patry's blog, "Simply Wait"( ) where she chronicles this difficult journey with elegance,poise, courage and humor. A "Blog Day" is being organized on her behalf. I know several SINC chapters have already joined in but here's the info on how everyone can help. Patry Francis is a talented author and lovely person whose debut suspense novel THE LIAR'S DIARY came out last spring in hardcover from Dutton. The trade paper release is January 29th,but a few weeks ago, Patry was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. She's had several surgeries, and her prognosis is good, but given that Patry won't have much energy for promoting, a number of bloggers are banding together to do it for her.' THE LIAR'S DIARY blog day' is going to be held January 29th. Folks who wish to participate are asked to mention the book on their blog that day and link to Patry's website ( ) and the book's purchase page on Amazon, Bloggers are also asked to encourage their readers to buy one/buy one for a friend between January 29th and Feb 1."

Why between those dates? I guess it's in hopes of giving the book a bump in the ratings -- a nice spot of encouragement for someone at a low point.
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Monday, January 28, 2008

Were You Raised in A Barn?

My older boy is able to answer that question affirmatively, if not entirely accurately. He did live with us in this barn for three summers -- the last summer stretching till the end of October.

The first summer was 1973. Our son was not quite one, not quite walking. We had just bought our farm and were camping out in the upper part of the barn, getting to know the place and our neighbors. The following summer my husband and a friend were building our house -- getting it to the 'dried in' stage before we had to return to our teaching jobs in Florida. And the third summer, we were back with all our belongings and various helpful friends and family, making the big push to finish the house before cold weather.

Unfortunately, it began to get cold toward the end of October and when we awoke one morniong to find snow on our sleeping bags, we moved into the unfinished house where we at least had a wood stove. What bliss!

It was a wonderful experience though, living like in the barn -- cooking on a Coleman stove, bathing in the branch or in a washtub, the big entertainment at night watching the lightning bugs. When we moved to the house we actually said that we should move back to the barn every summer -- but of course we didn't.

I made use of the experience in Old Wounds -- the barn that Elizabeth's family is living in is based on our barn and that dark rectangle there on the front is a shutter which, when pushed up is the window Rosie sat at to watch Miss Birdie and Cletus come up the road.

And my older son has an excuse for all time for any less than polite behavior he may commit.
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Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Kindness of Margaret Maron

Whoopee!!! I just received a wonderful cover quote for In A Dark Season.

Margaret Maron is past president of Mystery Writers of America and also of Sisters in Crime. More importantly, she's a native North Carolinian and the author of the North Carolina based Judge Deborah Knott mysteries. I've long admired this series, from the first book -- Bootlegger's Daughter, which won all four major mystery awards when it was released -- to the latest, Hard Row, the thirteenth in the series. Margaret knows whereof she speaks when it comes to North Carolina; that's what makes her commendation of my new book so sweet.

******Vicki Lane writes of Appalachia as if she’d been driving up our hills and through our hollows her whole life. In a Dark Season richly blends past and present into a suspenseful tale of love and lust. In showing us how memory lingers like a smoky mist across the mountains, Lane reminds us again that the past never completely dies. ***************

Asking a busy writer (and in Margaret's case, a writer I've only met briefly) to take the time to read an Advance Reading Copy with all its typos and uncorrected errors is painful in the extreme -- but just part of the unending business of getting a book noticed. When my first Elizabeth Goodweather book came out, Sharyn McCrumb, another of my favorite authors, very kindly gave me a blurb and I don't know how many people have told me that seeing her favorable comment on the cover was what convinced them to pick up this book by an unknown author. So I grit my teeth and write a letter or an email and once again, rely on the kindness of (comparative) strangers. Fortunately, mystery writers seem to be an extremely generous and supportive community.

I'm eagerly looking forward to seeing the book cover when it comes out on May 20 -- with a lovely quote from a writer I deeply admire -- Margaret Maron.
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Saturday, January 26, 2008


My younger son was born in '78 and I can't escape the fact that he's turning thirty. As I'm cleaning house and getting ready to prepare a birthday dinner, I'm remembering him as the beautiful little baby who was the cause of at least three pregnancies in my group of friends.

Wait! I can explain. But I have to tell you this story.

My husband was at the hardware store about a year after this child's birth. One of our acquaintances, an imposing figure of a man, approached and loomed over him. "My wife's pregnant and it's your fault," he said, pointing a menacing finger.

My husband was speechless, his mind racing furiously. He certainly had never . . . . Then the other fellow grinned. "That baby you all had was so damn cute, she decided she just had to have another one." As time went on, two more friends told me the same thing.

He was cute. As was his older brother. And now they're handsome. And I am the luckiest of mothers in that they've both chosen to live on our farm.
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Friday, January 25, 2008

Looking Old

One of my favorite emails about my books was from a woman who said, "Elizabeth makes me want to quit dyeing my hair and be who I am."

Back in high school I had dyed hair-- my mother's attempt to make me more glamorous -- just to 'brighten up' my rather ordinary dark brown hair. Then I got into it -- in college I was various shades of strawberry blonde; when I got married, I could be fairly, if somewhat romantically, described as 'raven-tressed.' Then I got over it. What had been fun became tedious. Touching up roots was a real drag. So I got back in touch with my inner brown-haired girl just in time to watch her begin to go gray. (We gray earlier in my family -- except for my mother who became ash blonde.)

The encroaching white hairs never bothered me -- and for quite a while they were limited to a streak or two at my temples. By the time I first heard someone describe my hair as salt-and-pepper, I was the mother of a toddler and teaching full time with not a spare minute to be looking in mirrors. And then I was moving to a farm and milking a cow twice a day and having another baby and raising a garden and still not looking in mirrors. Somehow, by the time I'd taught both sons to drive on our narrow, winding, guardrailless mountain roads, my hair'd become mostly white. Imagine that!

Years ago a visiting friend told me that she'd like to quit dyeing her hair but in her job, she needed to look young. This puzzled me -- but I'd been out of the work force so long that I didn't argue. Now today, I read this article in the NYT about a best-seller How Not to Look Old -- aimed at women over 40 worried about "professional obsolescence and economic vulnerability."

Oy! Why should looking young matter to a professional (unless you're in show biz or a hooker, maybe). Shouldn't it be about how well you do the job; not whether you still look like you're capable of bearing children? And why is it more acceptable for men to age?

Oh dear, this could turn into a rant. But it's a conversation Elizabeth and her sister Gloria are slated to have in book six -- just you wait!

Here's the link to the NYT article -- and the comments are worth reading too, especially number ten, from the man at Attica State Correctional Facility.
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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Waiting for Birdseed

We were surprised by several inches of snow today and as usual birds lined up on the crabapple tree to wait turns at our three feeders. We go through almost a hundred pounds of sunflower seeds a month, year round, not to mention a fair amount of thistle seed for the finches. Filling the birdfeeders is the first thing I do every morning -- even before coffee. But what a reward! Mourning doves, juncos, sparrows, nuthatches, chickadees, blue jays, goldfinches, purple finches, titmice, wrens, and cardinals are our most enthusiastic customers at this time of year. A few days ago there were fifteen male cardinals in this tree at one time. They're usually very territorial birds, to the extent of fighting their own reflections in the side mirrors of our parked vehicles. But snow and hunger seem to call for a truce.

The occasional crow scavenges around the base of one birdfeeder, as well as, on warmer days, squirrels, chipmunks, and field mice. There are thrashers and woodpeckers too -- the red-bellied and the downy. And yesterday a huge Pileated Woodpecker took over one feeder -- no other bird came near as he flared his bright red crest and brandished his long beak. What a dramatic bird! When at last he flew off, it made me think of a pterodactyl. No wonder he and his possibly extinct cousin, the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, have both been called the "Lord God Almighty" bird. When you hear the clatter of strong wings and the raucous laughing call, or see the damage that big beak can do to a dead tree -- or the side of your wooden house, for that matter -- you can only shake your head and say, "Lord God Almighty, what a bird!"
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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Gateway

The internet is an amazing gateway to . . . well, almost everywhere. And everywhen, as well. I'm at work now on my book for 2009 -- what I think of as Miss Birdie's book even though it's tentatively titled The Day of Small Things. I'm trying to summon up the girlhood appearance of Aunt Belvy -- who was in her eighties when I wrote about her in Signs in the Blood -- so I Google 1930 - hairstyles - clothing.

And hey, presto, there it is! The bob, the Buster Brown cut -- just like pictures of my mother when she was a girl. I have the look I needed to write the character.

For this book I'm going to need to know about logging in the twenties, moonshine (called 'blockade' around here) in the thirties, rationing in the forties -- and for all of these, Google is my friend. I have lots of reference books on this area and I read them to lay down a base of knowledge. But for the odd question that pops up while I'm in mid-chapter --What, exactly, do brogans look like? -- the answer is literally at my fingertips.

While I'm on the subject, here's a link to the website of a friend and neighbor of mine.

Rob's a well known documentary photographer who's spent about thirty years photographing the people and places of our county -- the inspiration for Elizabeth's Marshall County. (There's even a picture of and interview with Kathy, the woman who's the inspiration for Sallie Kate, Elizabeth's realtor friend.)

It's an amazing tool, the Internet. From Gypsy cobs and caravans, mountain curs and Cherokee magic to Polari and palmistry -- the only danger is in finding myself following link after interesting link till I've forgotten my original question.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Like Tennesse Williams' Blanche DuBois, "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers." So when my car door accidentally shut and locked this morning at the recycling center, leaving me on the outside and my keys, cell phone, and wallet with spare key and AAA card on the inside, I looked around for help. The man who guards the dumpsters was in his little building and I sought him out. He had no phone, but did have a CB radio and and offered to call the police to get someone to bring a Slim Jim -- that flat metal thingie they can slide between the window and the door to open the lock. I wasn't sure; I thought I remembered from the last time this happened (maybe seven years ago, at a different location) that the locksmith who came said that the Slim Jims could damage these newer electronic locks.

My husband has a spare key to the car -- but he was at work in his woodworking shop back at the farm -- no phone. Both my sons live a stone's throw from the shop and one works at home -- all I needed was to call and ask whichever one I got to go explain to his father that his mother had done a really dumb thing and needed some help -- in the form of the spare key. So, accosting a man who was dumping his garbage, I explained my situation and asked to borrow his cell. No problem; glad to be of help. Unfortunately, all I got were answering machines -- on which I left weird semi-coherent messages. Meanwhile, another man was eyeballing my car door -- which, though locked, had not closed tight. "I can get in here," he told me, wiggling his fingers in the crack. "I just need a coat hanger." Luckily, this being the dump and recycling center, a coat hanger was available.

A little fiddling, a little re-shaping of the coat hanger to provide a loop at the end, and he'd done it! I asked what I owed him (the standard thing to say around here) and he said, "You don't owe me a thing (the standard response). Then he narrowed his eyes. "You're not from here, are you?" he asked. I admitted the truth -- I'm one of those damn Florida people; I've only lived here thirty-two years.

We had a great conversation -- he grew up here but lived in Louisville for many years. Now he's retired, back living on the old home place, and raising mushrooms. When I told him we had a few shitake logs and my husband had just ordered spawn for oyster and chicken of the woods mushrooms, he gave me his card and invited us to come see his farm. Turns out he knows my web mistress, who also grows shitakes commercially, and, what's more, he's her husband's second cousin. We had just finished our chat when a pickup truck from the fire department arrived, in answer to the dumpster guardian's call. I waved my thanks from inside my car where I was leaving fresh messages on my sons' phones, telling them that I'd been rescued.

What started as a major hassle and waste of time, turned into a really pleasant experience -- the rewards of life in a small county. And many thanks, Mr. Treadway, we'll be over to see the mushrooms soon!
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Monday, January 21, 2008

A Packrat's Reward

"Where do you get your ideas?" is a question every writer hears. My usual boring answer is "Everywhere" but today I have a very specific example.

Last night, in tidying up my workroom -- that packrat's trove of assorted stuff -- I came across some old books Dessie Wilson gave me back in 1975, our first year in the mountains. There were several old hymnals and a textbook -Everyday Science -- inscribed with Dessie's maiden name and the date 1922. Inside the book were the things you see in the picture.

I only saw Dessie twice -- she was the friend of a friend -- and in '75, elderly and ailing, she and her husband Walter moved from their lifetime home to the middle of the state where a son was going to take care of them. Nonetheless Dessie's one of the prototypes for many of the older women in my books. And now I have a little glimpse into her earlier life (mouse over the photo and left click to read it yourself) -- she ordered chicks from Sears Roebuck in '45, in '37 she was considering a wrought iron range from St. Louis, there's a post card from a brother-in law in '45 mentioning ration books -"a shoe stamp.' And the fact that he sent a post card, when they were both living in the same area, reminds me that telephones were rare.

But the best part is the inscription on a blank page near the front of the book. In faded ink and in a different handwriting than Dessie used for her name, it reads: My life is all I have to give you My days on earth may be but few. I hope to spend them all with you. Only, guess who? And here, penciled in Dessie's hand is the word Walter. Then the inscription continues: When in some far and distand land You see the writting of my hand Altho my face you see no more Meet me at Heaven's door.

Do you think that some of this might just find its way into my work in progress, the book about Miss Birdie? I'd say it's a safe bet.

And even more intriguing is a penciled sentence on another page: There is all ways some body ready to point a finger of scorn at me. Guess who.

Oh, boy, I can't wait to use this stuff!
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Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Room of One's Own

At the library in Albemarle the other night, someone asked about my 'writing room' and I had to admit that it probably wasn't what she imagined. If you want to see a serious 'writing room,' follow this link to see Sue Grafton's home office --

Nice, huh? Of course, she's sold a gazillion books and she's earned that space.

What I have is more of a writing corner: a comfy chair and ottoman for me and my laptop in the corner of an upstairs room that's also home to my cutting table, fabric collection, sewing machine, quilting books, crafts supplies, easel and paints, finished and half-finished canvases, painting and art books, research books, my grandmother's treadle sewing machine, dried gourds -- some decorated, some not, old favorite books, gift wrapping supplies and an embarrassing amount of junk that I can't make myself throw away (the wasp nest and shed snake skins aren't junk; I consider them as something between decoration and talismans.)

Mexican votive candles, a dog's skull, pottery from Nicaragua, postcards and gourds, a rock from Scotland, shells from Cape Lookout and Apalachicola, white deer bones, a few houseplants, a soapstone frog, a porcelain dog I've had since childhood, a sepia-toned photo of the House of David ball team, a poster of the Lady of Shallot, lots of old mirrors, and a bumper sticker that says "Member of the Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society" -- these are a few of my favorite things.

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Friday, January 18, 2008


Fay is home! And her doctors have decided that this event -- as well as another which put her in the hospital on an earlier occasion -- was not a stroke, but Hemiplegic Migraine, which can mimic a stroke but, unlike stroke, is treatable! This is Very Good News and I thank you all for your intentions.

I'm just back from a visit to Albemarle, NC where I spoke last night at a library to a group of very nice people. I've found I really enjoy following MapQuest's sometimes eccentric directions to places I've never been. There's always a little feeling of adventure -- especially when I get lost.

The night before I left, I dreamed that I was traveling and I passed a little house with a sign for a Spiritual Advisor -- you know the kind -- Madame This or Sister That. So yesterday, when I found that I had made a left instead the right called for, I turned around and saw in front of me a little house with a sign for Madame Dora, Spiritual Advisor. "Ah, there it is," I thought and kept going.

Only to go past my next turn and find myself getting out into the country. "This can't be right," I thought and pulled off the road into the driveway of a lonely little house that looked as if no one were at home. I called Courtney, the lady who'd invited me to speak, to find out where I'd gone wrong. I was done with my call and getting ready to back out and retrace my route when suddenly a pickup truck with two tolerably rough-looking fellows pulled in behind me, making it impossible for me to back out.

Figuring that they were probably the residents of the house, I made motions to indicate that I was just leaving but one of them (wild eyes, long, stringy gray hair under his tractor cap) jumped out and ran up to my passenger side window and hollered, "Security!"

"Excuse me?" I said, "I was lost and pulled in to use my phone."

Then he got a good look at me and my white hair and started backing away. "No harm, ma'am, we don't mean no harm. Our 84 year old momma lives here and we keep an eye on the place."

I told him they were good boys to look after their momma and we parted amicably. When I got home today and told my husband this little story, he suggested another possibility. Maybe those good boys were keeping an eye on their meth lab.


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Thursday, January 17, 2008


I've just learned that my beloved sister-in-law Fay is in the hospital, recovering from a second stroke. I ask for your prayers, good thoughts, positive intentions -- whatever. She is doing well -- I spoke to her this morning -- and is in good spirits but this is a sobering event for all her family and friends -- a reminder of the fragility of life and health. We can only draw closer and hold her in our hearts.

As Fay's late mother told us repeatedly, "Getting old isn't for sissies." Fay's six years younger than I; I don't think of her as old.
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Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Our bookshelves and window sills are cluttered with remembrances of those who used this piece of land before us. One of the real pleasures of hoeing tobacco, back when we grew it, was the possibility of turning up a spear point or a piece of flint or some other evidence of the Native Americans who camped in the big, mostly flat, bottom at the lower part of our farm. There is no record of permanent Indian villages in our county but the region was evidently a hunting ground and we think we can point to the part of our field where flint knappers plied their trade, leaving lots of chips and partially finished points. The big rose quartz spear point in the picture was my most spectacular find but we've also found innumerable points and scrapers and even a small cowrie-type shell with a drilled hole that suggests it once adorned a garment.

In the same fields we've found marbles and the china legs from small dolls -- children playing at the edge of the field while their parents worked a crop? The little bottle with the applicator was stuck between the logs of one of the barns on our property -- horse liniment? -- and the blue bottle turned up in a creek as did the flat rock with a hole in it.

The rock was, of course, my inspiration for Maythorn's Looker Stone (Old Wounds). The blue bottle was what I had in mind for Mr. Tomlin's laudanum (Signs in the Blood). And I only have to look out my bedroom window to see the cabin that is the original of Ben's (and Little Sylvie's) cabin. Inspiration everywhere!
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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Book Clubs

Today I had lunch in Asheville with a book club -- a small group of charming women who meet once a month to discuss a chosen book and (this is the fun part) they meet at a restaurant that ties in with their book of the month. They'd read Signs in the Blood and they chose a bistro with the eclectic sort of food that Elizabeth enjoys -- including goat cheese! I'd fully intended to get a picture of them/us at the table, even had my camera with me, but got caught up in the talk and just forgot. (Hence the shot of one of my book shelves, devoted to old favorites and what I'd call comfort reads.)

I've met with lots of book clubs and generally it's been a really good experience. People who are passionate about books and reading, as these women today were, are just fun to be around. As a writer, I enjoy hearing their opinions -- what they liked about my book or what didn't ring true. And as a reader, I'm always ready to hear of yet another book I really need to read.

It's nice to know folks who get excited about books and talking about books. I've never belonged to a book club but I can remember my late mother-in-law was in one. Her club was not like the one I met with today, where everyone reads the same book and then they discuss it; my mother-in-law's group was of the book report variety -- more for socializing than anything else. Each member was responsible for reading one book and reporting on it -- once a year. Kind of a book club for those who don't much like to read. I particularly remember this because on two different years my mother-in-law had let the time slip by and hadn't read her book -- so she had me write up her report for her.
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Monday, January 14, 2008

Gremlins in the Page Proofs

First of all, the picture of the tiger lily has nothing to do with today's post. The only appropriate image would be one of the author tearing her hair out.

I finished correcting those page proofs last night and, as I forsaw, gremlins had indeed been at work. There were my own typos and less-than-felicitous word choices to be dealt with but there were, as well, new problems that had sprouted like unsightly growths during the transition from copy-edited manuscript to page proofs. Lines transposed, paragraphs omitted, important spaces to indicate passage of time or change of speaker left out, and worst of all, the entire historical subplot was no longer in the italics that, I think, are very helpful in setting it apart from the present day story. ARRGH!

Herself (my editor the Tigress -- hmmm, maybe that's the tie-in for the picture) assures me that all will be well before the final product hits the shelves. But the unfortunate thing is that it's these proofs, in their uncorrected state, that are made into the Advance Reading Copies that go out to reviewers and such. I cringe to think of anyone thinking that I meant the book to be like this. Which is why, though Bantam sends me ARCs to dispose of as I wish, I rarely pass them on, preferring that readers meet my latest offering wearing its Sunday clothes and with its face shining clean.
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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lazy Sunday

The weather's damp and chilly this morning and the Gang of Three plus Eddie have opted to sleep in, grabbbing a place on our bed. Maggie, Bear, and Jack often spend a good part of the night out in the woods, barking up trees and following interesting scents. Maggie, the hound, is the leader of the Gang -- the others defer to her superior tracking abilities. I've seen her stand at the end of our porch, black nose quivering as she assesses the possibilities in the air, while the other two sit patiently, waiting to be told where they're going. (I hope that their being out at night will convince the ever-growing deer population to avoid our yard and garden, but some recently gnawed-off collard plants suggest it's not working). The dogs usually return around four or five in the morning, trailing the smell of damp leaves and soil, exhausted but very happy, and my long-suffering saint of a husband lets them in.

I could wish, just for a single moonlit night, to be one of them -- to see and smell and hear with their sharper senses, to bound effortlessly up steep slopes, to be at home in the woods, a part of the wild world.
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Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Battle of the Cosmos

The painting class that Elizabeth joins in Art's Blood is based on a weekly painting studio/class in Asheville that I attended for years (until the writing took away that bit of spare time). We were a diverse crew -- some very serious, very talented painters, some hobbyists, and everything in between. Some folks came in, went to work, and hardly ever spoke; others treated the 3 hour sessions as something of a cocktail party -- a chance to wander around and visit with others. Two members of that class , who I'll call Saralee and Martha, were ladies from my county -- charming older women whose down home accents and forthright observations were always a delight.

"You'd not credit how hard is is to get any of those women out there where I live to go do anything," said Saralee one day. "You ask 'em do they want to go to town and eat lunch and they bow up and say, 'Oh, I have to stay home and fix Roy his lunch.' Well, I just tell my man, he kin fix him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or he kin suck his thumb."

Once when I'd had to miss class, I called to talk to a friend who was another member. "You missed a good one," she said. "Saralee and Martha got into a big argument about the cosmos Martha was painting -- Saralee said Martha had it wrong."

"Cosmos? Martha's painting the cosmos?" I was staggered -- both ladies generally painted country scenes, barns and mountains and pastures and such. It was hard to imagine Martha dipping into speculative representation -- I pictured huge swirling purple and black abstract shapes.

"How did Saralee think a cosmos should look then?" I asked my friend.

"She just said they had more petals."
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Friday, January 11, 2008

The Heron at the River

A glorious inch of rain fell yesterday and this morning the river was hurrying along as a white-water river should. I stopped on the bridge (lack of traffic is one of the delights of country life) to try for a picture of the Great Blue Heron who's almost always there.

Little Sylvie sees him in Signs in the Blood. "Standin in the water below me was a great tall gray bird with a long sharp beak. He was as stiff as if he was carved out of wood, just a-watchin the water at his feet. Then all to once he darted out that cruel beak and I seen a flash of silver as he brung up a fish and swallered it."
And in the same book, Elizabeth mentions taking a picture of the heron that haunts the river's shallows. (I hope her camera had a telephoto lens -- mine, obviously, does not.) I think I used the heron in another book but can't find any references just now and really need to get back to that proof reading. I do know that he's back in book four!

More and more I find that I'm trying, in these Marshall County books, to show certain continuities -- the persistence of memory, of families and place, even of good and evil. Maybe the heron will become a sort of leitmotif -- if that isn't too high-falutin' a concept for a paperback writer like me.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Old Tobacco Barn

The old tobacco barns that dot the landscape in our county sometimes puzzle uninformed visitors who remember snug red New England barns or massive white-boarded Midwestern structures. The visitors laugh and shake their heads and go back home to tell their friends about the ignorant hillbillies of Appalachia -- too shiftless to make a barn that'll keep the weather out. Sometimes they assume that once there was chinking between the logs and the present generation hasn't bothered to repair it. But they're wrong on both counts.

These beautiful old silvery-gray buildings were meant to let the air in -- built specifically to air-cure burley tobacco, at one time the major crop in our county. Inside the barns, stout tier poles stretch from end to end, four or five or more tiers high. When the tobacco was harvested, the stalks of the whole tobacco plants would be impaled on tobacco sticks -- five plants per stick. Then these sticks would be hung from the tier poles, rank after rank of wilting yellow-green leaves till the barn was full. From September till November the leaves would cure in the mountain air, their tarnished chartreuse hue giving way eventually to a rich golden brown that said the leaves were ready to be stripped from the stalks, sorted and graded, and taken to market.

Proud old barns, built right for the job they did.
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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Page Proofs !!!

My page proofs for In A Dark Season are here! This is my last chance to catch those typos and weirdnesses that the book gremlins sneak into unwary manuscripts. I'm reading through v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, trying hard not to get caught up in the story and read at my usual gallop.

Believe it or not: there are bits in here I'd forgotten. We made some changes on my last pass through -- a Janice turned into a Tracy and a few other odds and ends. Anyway, I'm finding myself excited to revisit some of these scenes. I really think this is the best Elizabeth Goodweather novel yet. Very soon the ARCs (advance reading copies) will be sent to reviewers and I'll be waiting anxiously, hoping some of them agree.
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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Tigress of Bantam Dell

Years before I began to write, I pieced together this little wall-hanging. I had a handful of two-inch fabric squares left over from another quilting project -- mostly tropical-looking florals but one showed part of a tiger's face. So I visualized a tiger in a lush jungle, keeping watch on her prey,

Fast forward to 2003 when my first book is bought by Kate Miciak at Bantam Dell. Curious to know more about this editor I'm going to be working with/for, I Google her name to find that someone has called her "the tigress of Bantam Dell." It suits her -- fierce and watchful, few things escape her editorial gaze. Kate's taught me a lot about writing in these past four years. A slap of her paw can get my attention -- "trite . . . stale" she said about one of my proposals and "Kinda hate this sentence" was penciled by a particularly lame construction. Now, as I write, this picture is always in my mind and my ear is always cocked for the warning rumble of a growl. "Ooops, Kate's gonna hate that," I think, hit delete and try again.
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Monday, January 7, 2008

A Shared View

"The three big windows framed what could have been a delicate Japanese ink drawing -- all muted colors and simple lines, with hazy mountaintops poking through the low-lying fog like islands in a pale gray sea of mist." (from Art's Blood, p.411)

Our eastern view again -- always changing, always gorgeous. In the morning the mist rises up from the river to produce lovely ephemeral scenes.

Being fortunate enough to live where I do, how could I not write about it? Elizabeth's house and farm are based on our house and farm -- 'write what you know,' they often say. And I have enough to remember already, with all these characters and pasts I've created; it's comforting to have to remember only (so far) that Elizabeth's house differs from ours in just two particulars. For one thing, Elizabeth has a mirror by her kitchen door (Signs in the Blood, p. 11). Hey, it was my first book and I hadn't known that it's considered cliched and amateurish to describe a character by having him or her look in a mirror. Sorry. The other difference is that Elizabeth's sofas are still denim-covered whereas our denim-covered sofas were trashed by the dogs and have been replaced by leather. But then we have six dogs while Elizabeth (a saner woman than I) has a modest three.
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Sunday, January 6, 2008

Around the Bend

The snow has melted; the last of the Christmas red and green has been put away; and it's time to think of the new experiences that lie ahead, just around the bend. The big thing on my mind is, of course, the new book -- a book without Elizabeth, set in familiar Marshall County and centered on Miss Birdie. I'm trying hard to get into this octagenarian's head and to see through her eyes instead of through Elizabeth's. The challenge is intriguing -- to bring Birdie to life as who she once was and to discover what more there is to the cute old lady who everyone loves.

And I'm dabbling at making a play -- an entirely new endeavor for me -- out of the historical sub plot from In A Dark Season. I've always loved reading plays and I think this story of Lydy Goforth and the Drovers' Road lends itself to theater. But I am really stumbling in the dark here. Of course, that's how I felt not long ago when I decided to write a novel. You have to go through that gate and see what's around the bend.
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Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Secret Life of Ed E. Cat

Last Wednesday night while the temperature and the snow fell, Eddie, the big ex-tom, insisted that he had to go Out. He'll be back in a minute or two, I thought, turning the porch light on. But he wasn't. I called and called for him to no avail. I got up in the middle of the night and called some more -- still no Eddie. Morning came, icy cold and blowing snow -- no Eddie. By the afternoon I'd decided that a coyote must have gotten him and then, around 4:30, in he strolled, calm and self-possessed as only a cat can be.

He nibbled a little cat chow and retired to our bed to curl up for a nap. A few hours later I picked him up so I could spread out the comforter. There was an unfamiliar smell. Eddie's thick black coat was redolent with perfume -- and it wasn't any I owned.

Obviously Eddie's private life is far more complex than I'd ever imagined. But he's not talking.
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