Friday, February 29, 2008

Goldfish Dreams

What do they dream of under the ice,
Under the ice and snow,
Hanging suspended,
All movement ended,
Under the ice and snow?

They wait to wake to spring thaw and warmth,
Spring thaw and warmth and life,
Sleek bodies swimming,
Cold memory dimming,
Spring thaw and warmth and life.
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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Warning re Warning

This is taken from an email I received yesterday. I hope you never need this information. The Goodweather women, on the other hand, are sure to, sooner or later.

But beware and take it with a grain of salt. Or at least go to

and check the efficacy of some of the tips. Some are right on but others may not be the best thing to do in the situation.

And if you don't know about, you really should. Every time you get one of those emails with a sad story (dying boy wants postcards, kittens will die if you don't do something or other) or a warning (canned goods tops are all contaminated by rodents; snakes and alligators in sewers) that goes around to be forwarded to every one you know -- check Snopes first. They deal in 'urban legends and myths' and usually have additional information. Some of those emails have been circulating for years and have little or no truth to them. This one has some truth but some also some misinformation.

The following is said to be the result of a series of interviews with imprisoned rapists

1) The first thing rapists look for in a potential victim is hairstyle. They are most likely to go after a woman with a ponytail, bun, braid or other hairstyle that can easily be grabbed. They are also likely to go after a woman with long hair. Women with short hair are not common targets.

2) The second thing rapists look for is women whose clothing is easy to remove quickly. Many of them carry scissors around specifically to cut clothing.

3) They also look for women on their cell phone, searching through their purse, or doing other activities while walking because they are off-guard and can be easily overpowered.

4) Men are most likely to attack & rape in the early morning, between 5:00 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.

5) The number one place women are abducted from/attacked is grocery store parking lots. Number two - office parking lots/garages. Number three - public restrooms.

6) Rapists are looking to grab a woman and quickly move her to another location where they don't have to worry about getting caught.

7) Only 2% of rapists said they carried weapons because rape carries a 3-5 year sentence but rape with a weapon is 15-20 years.

8) If you put up any kind of a fight at all, they get discouraged because it only takes a minute or two for them to realize that going after you isn't worth it because it will be time-consuming.

9) These men said they would not pick on women who have umbrellas, or other similar objects that can be used from a distance, in their hands. Keys are not a deterrent because you have to get really close to the attacker to use them as a weapon. So, the idea is to convince these guys you're not worth it.

10) If someone is following behind you on a street or in a garage or with you in an elevator or stairwell, look them in the face and ask them a question, like what time is it, or make general small talk: 'I can't believe it is so cold out here,' 'we're in for a bad winter.' Now you've seen their face and could identify them in a line-up; you lose appeal as a target.

11) If someone is coming toward you, hold out your hands in front of you and yell STOP or STAY BACK! Most of the rapists interviewed said they'd leave a woman alone if she yelled or showed that she would not be afraid to fight back. Again, they are looking for an EASY target.

12) If you carry pepper spray, yell I HAVE PEPPER SPRAY and holding it out will be a deterrent.

13) If someone grabs you, you can't beat them with strength but you can by outsmarting them. If you are grabbed around the waist from behind,pinch the attacker either under the arm (between the elbow and armpit) OR in the upper inner thigh VERY VERY HARD.

14) After the initial hit, always GO for the GROIN. You might think that you'll anger the guy and make him want to hurt you more, but rapists want a woman who will not cause a lot of trouble. Start causing trouble and he's out of there.

15) If the guy puts his hands up to you, grab his first two fingers and bend them back as far as possible with as much pressure pushing down on them as possible.

16) Of course the things we always hear still apply. Always be aware of your surroundings, take someone with you if you can and if you see any odd behavior, don't dismiss it, go with your instincts!!! You may feel a little silly at the time, but you'd feel much worse if the guy really was trouble.

But wait, even more useful tips! (Most of which Snopes considers not so good or even potentially dangerous)

1. The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!

2. If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you....chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you, and he will go for the wallet/purse. RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!

3. If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out the hole and start waving like crazy. The driver won't see you, but everybody else will. This has saved lives.

4. Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit (doing their checkbook, or making a list, etc.)DON'T DO THIS! The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE.

5. If someone is in the car with a gun to your head DO NOT DRIVE OFF, repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your Air Bag will save you. If the person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it. As soon as the car crashes bail out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a remote location.

6. A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot or parking garage: A.) Be aware: look around you, look into your car, at the passenger side floor, and in the back seat. B.) If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars.C.) Look at the car parked on the driver's side of your vehicle, and the passenger side. If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to walk you back out.IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. (And better paranoid than dead.)

7. ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. (Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot. This is especially true at NIGHT!)

8. If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times. And even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN, preferably in a zigzag pattern!

9. As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP! It may get you raped or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well-educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked 'for help' into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.

10. INTERESTING AND SCARY (but not verified, possibly it came from a tv show). Someone heard a crying baby on her porch one night and she called the police because it was late and she thought it was weird. The police told her 'Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.' The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, and she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over. The policeman said, 'We already have a unit on the way, whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.' He told her that they think a serial killer has a baby's cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby. He said they have not verified it, but have had several calls by women saying that they hear baby's cries outside their doors when they're home alone at night.

Be careful out there . . . the internet can be dangerous too.
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Still Winter After All

Hellebores, budding daffodils, and cascading winter jasmine starred with sunny yellow blooms -- not to mention a thunderstorm, mild temperatures, and frogs singing in the fish pool a few days ago -- had lulled me into thinking spring-like thoughts. But we awoke this morning to a veritable winter wonderland and I slogged through ankle deep snow to fill one bird feeder.

Clouds of purple finches and cardinals descend on the crabapple tree near three of the bird feeders, covering it with the illusion of puffy red and pink flowers on the snowy branches. All the feeders are crowded with customers and just outside my window I hear a rapping and look up to see a little downy woodpecker, sidling along upside down under the eaves as he mines the crevices for hibernating insects.

My husband suits and boots to brave the snow -- the cattle have to be fed and he kindly agrees to take hot water down to the chickens, saving me the treacherous trek down the slopes. The Border Collies go with him, delighted to have Something To Do, even if it's only mindless barking as they follow the tractor into the field where the cows huddle around the feeding ring, waiting for the hay.

The other dogs make very quick necessary dashes outside, then scratch and whine to be let back in. Molly heads for her dog bed while Bear, Maggie, and Eddie curl up together for a quiet day on our bed; William claims a comfy chair in my workroom, and Miss Susie Hutchins stakes out one of her favorite cold weather spots atop the warm computer router by the window. There's a fire in the fireplace, classical music on the radio, and the whole day ahead.

A good day for a writer . . . time to dive back into Miss Birdie's world and see what's going on there.
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Monday, February 25, 2008


Modest mourning blooms
For forty days of fast-tide --
Shy Lenten Roses.

The winter-blooming hellebores (helleborus niger), sometimes called Christmas Roses or Lenten Roses, are in flower now. Nestling half-hidden in fall's dead leaves, the blooms wear understated mourning colors of purple, lavender, white and palest green. Their heads hang down, as if hiding and I had to lift them up to take their pictures. Very hardy, hellebores thrive in dry shade, multiplying and cross pollinating to produce strange and lovely variations on the purple, green, lavender theme. Hellebore was once used medicinally for a variety of ailments including leprosy, jaundice, gout, sciatica, and convulsions but modern herbalists approach it with caution as, like foxglove, too much can kill. (Ah, a future plot twist for Elizabeth?)

I have a little colony of hellebores across the road from my garden and at this time of year it's a delight to see their pretty faces, even if I have to chuck them under their chins to get a look.

As always, remember to mouse over the pictures and click to enlarge. These retiring little flowers are like fireworks when seen close up!
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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Odessa and Inez's Diaries

As I mentioned back on February 1, Nancy M., who grew up in my neck of the woods offered to let me have a look at her aunts' diaries. Today Nancy came out to lunch, bringing with her a dozen little five-year diaries, kept by her aunts, Odessa and Inez. The earliest is from 1933; I think the last entry is in 1972. Most of the diaries cover five years, with about four lines allotted per day.

In the open book in the picture, Odessa wrote in blue ink in 1942, red in '43, blue again in '44, purple in '45 and green in '46. And she wrote very small, cramming five lines into the four given. Her entry for Friday, January 2, 1942 reads: Pretty but cold South Wind blowing. A very busy day at store. Felt sorter bad a bad fever blister on lip so painful. Florence Cheek & Hydes left for Columbus Ohio A.M. Japs captured Manilla.

And on the same day, Inez said: Worked in kitchen as per usual. Ironed this P.M. Printed butter. Carrie Margaret and (a name I can't decipher) were all here this afternoon. Worked on rug tonite.

Then, as an evident afterthought, written very tiny between lines two and three: Japs captured Manilla today.

On the blank pages at the front of her book for '38-'42, Inez has jotted various intriguing one liners: Judy got a crying doll, July 3rd, 1941; Aug.22, 1939 Mr.Ledford was run over by train and killed; and my favorite -- Aug.23, 39 Polk Roberts chocked his wife to death.

I'm in love with these ladies already and am looking forward to spending a lot more time with them. I think Birdie is going to have to meet them in the new book
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Friday, February 22, 2008

Bear aka Ursa

Bear, the prototype for Elizabeth's Ursa, is the Zen Master (Mistress?) of our dogs. Contemplative and focused at all times ("Bear's got an Idea!" we say as we open the door and she pads in , heading straight for the bed, looking neither right nor left, nor pausing for a pat), Bear is also a firm believer in the Law of Conservation of Energy. Only the red hound Maggie (Elizabeth's Molly) can convince Bear to go for a run in the woods; in general, Bear prefers an easy amble to a run . Actually, she prefers sitting to an easy amble, and lying down to sitting.

This is a dog who was so laid back and inactive as a puppy that our neighbor's son, her original owner, asked if he couldn't have a real dog instead. Bear has been known to go to sleep, stretched out on her broad back, belly exposed, in the waiting room at the vet while all around her other dogs shiver and pull on their leashes to get to the door.

Bear loves Eddie the cat and almost every morning spends a little time grooming him, as the picture shows. When Eddie and his sisters were born down at my younger son's house several years ago, Bear and Maggie would make daily visits to see the kittens, almost drowning them with their enthusiastic tongues. As a result, I suspect that Eddie suffers from a little confusion as to what exactly he is.

When Signs in the Blood was first out, I received a phone call from a friend. "Vicki!" she said, "I'm reading your book and I'm really enjoying it but I just got to the part where Ursa's missing. . . I have to know . . . is she going to be all right? If something bad's happened to Ursa, I can't read anymore!"

I assured Ginger that Ursa was indeed okay and went on to make a promise I may someday regret: "I will never harm a dog in my books."

How could I when they're so like my own?
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Thursday, February 21, 2008


Today was my birthday. My younger son -- the good-looking fella on the right and his girl friend fixed dinner - shrimp and grits with sausage for added flavor, roasted asparagus, salad, and an inordinate amount of champagne. Plus an amazing chocolate cake. There were eight of us around the table and seven dogs wandering in and out and a good time was had by all. There is nothing more to say except that I am very blessed.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

On Crooked Ridge

Grace Henderson was buried today in the little cemetery atop Crooked Ridge, close by the graves of her mother and father. Friends and neighbors dug the grave and carried her to it. Then they shoveled in the red dirt, tamping it down with loving care

The wind whipped across the ridge top, making the trees that crowded around the edges of the graveyard sigh and creak, and scattering last year's dead leaves into rustling flocks that skirled around our feet.

A wonderful mix of folk turned out -- native born, long time 'new people,' and more recent additions to our county, retirees finding a new home in our old land -- all brought together by their love of Grace -- who, in turn, loved them all.

Springing breezes stir
Fall's brown leaves to life --whirling
Amid the gravestones.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Full Day

Most of my days are blessedly slow and not too full. Today was an exception. First, I met with a book club on the farther side of Asheville at 10 this morning (and, incidently, got to see just how very bad Asheville traffic can be at 9 am; met a friend for lunch; dropped off an ARC (advance reading copy) of IN A DARK SEASON at a nearby bookstore for their resident reviewer; spoke with a second bookclub at two; had coffee with another friend; made a quick grocery run; then met my husband for a early dinner before going on to the "visitation" (aka "viewing' or wake) for our dear Grace Henderson.

The moon was rising high when I finally parked my little gas-efficient car by one of the barns at the lower place and schlepped the groceries into the jeep for the trip up the hill. A very full day -- full of joy and sorrow, new friends and old.

Book clubs are almost always a delight -- and both of these were full of interesting people with good questions, useful comments, and some pretty fine stories of their own. I had a wonderful time at each meeting. It's odd but after years of being shy and having little to say, I find that, when encouraged, I can talk at length (and possibly ad nauseum) about Elizabeth and her world.

And then the wake -- lots of old friends from the county: 'new people' and natives together, all united in their love for Grace. A continuous loop of pictures flashed on a screen - Grace as a young woman in the early forties, pert and fresh-faced, with the twinkle that stayed in her eyes all her life; Grace and Paul on horseback; Paul with movie-star good looks; Grace adding to the woodpile that was her pride and joy; Grace blowing out the candles on her ninetieth birthday cake -- picture after picture to remind us that there was more to Grace than what lay before us in the open casket.

A full day -- and a good one.
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Julio's House

Another spot on our farm that has an alternate existence in Elizabeth Goodweather's world is The Blue House, directly across the branch from the corn crib I wrote about yesterday.

But first, the real world story. In 1975, The Blue House, was the only inhabited dwelling on our hundred acre tract. And it was white, not blue. It had replaced a two-story house, destroyed by fire in the fifties, that had been the childhood home of Louise, who with her husband Clifford now owned the farm.There was a simple plank bridge with a locust pole for a handrail and several straight backed wooden chairs on the front porch. The interior was spartan. When Clifford and Louise moved away to be nearer their grown children, the house was leased to a series of tenants -- one of whom built the pretty arched footbridge. And now our younger son is the tenant -- and every bit as useful as Julio.

In Elizabeth's world, this is the location of Little Sylvie's family's house -- a two-story house that is gone by Elizabeth's day -- replaced by what is Julio and Homero's house. We haven't seen much of these fellas -- but I felt they were necessary to reflect the real-world experience in our county, as well as to provide Elizabeth with help in running her farm. (I'm pretty sure they have their green cards, if any of you were worried.) I hope to explore their story in another book.

Another taste of Elizabeth's Full Circle Farm.
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Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Old Corncrib

The corncrib was a relic of the days when the previous owner of the farm had grown field corn to feed his cattle, his mules, his chickens, and his family. The corn was harvested after drying on the stalk in the field, and the unshucked ears were stored in the small slat-sided building that was lined with rodent-proof woven wire to protect the precious golden bounty. Nowadays, the corncrib stood empty, but for a few ancient moldy cornshucks. (Art's Blood, p. 123)

This, of course, is the original of the corncrib where Elizabeth and Ben found the unhappy Kyra. It's functioning today as a toolshed and a carport for our little utility vehicle but in 1973, when we bought the upper part of the farm from Clifford and Louise, the corn crib brimmed with fat dry ears of white corn -- Hickory King, I think it was.

Corn was the staff of life on the small farm. Every so often Clifford would take a bag or two of the whole corn to a mill in Tennessee where it would be coarsely ground -- shucks, cobs, and all -- and mixed with cottonseed meal and molasses to make feed for the cows. Every day Louise would pull the shucks off a few ears and toss them to her chickens who would eagerly peck the cobs clean. Nell the mule was the daily recipient of more ears (but not too many, lest too much corn make her 'rank' (overly frisky and unmanageable.) The fattening pig, who lived mostly on buttermilk, foods scraps, and garden waste, would be fed ears of corn during the month or so prior to butchering to "harden up the flesh."

And this same corn, shucked and shelled would be taken, not to the big mill, but to a nearby little mill run by a belt attached to the rear wheel drum of a tractor. The owner of this improvised mill would take his pay in meal -- in a little measure specifically for the purpose. This fragrant meal, which was freshly ground in small batches twice a month, provided the best cornbread in the world. Eaten midday -- hot and steaming out of the wood stove, dripping with home-churned butter, it accompanied an array of vegetables, fresh or home-canned, depending on the season, and a very modest taste of some sort of meat. The leftover corn bread might go to the pigs or the hounds, or, dunked in chilled buttermilk left after the day's churning, provide a light supper.

"You keep the mule to plow the corn and you grow the corn to feed the mule," Clifford told us. Man, animals, and corn -- their existence was interwoven.
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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Goodbye to Grace

The day began with a phone call from a neighbor on the other side of the mountain. She had sad news- Grace Henderson, one of the last of the old timers I've known in my years in the mountains, died early this morning.For most of their married life, Grace and her husband Paul lived in the house she'd been born in -- with no electricity, no phone, and few of the comforts most folks would require. They never had children but were friends with everyone, natives and transplants alike. Everyone loved and honored them -- seeing in them the last of a kind. The picture on the right is of Grace with Paul at her 90th birthday party almost three years ago. It was a huge party with friends from the county and friends from out of state, all gathered to celebrate a very special lady.

I visited with Grace and Paul a few weeks ago. Grace, though much disabled by arthritis, was as bright and perky and interested in local news as ever. I only wish I could have known Grace as a girl -- the smile on her face and the twinkle in her eyes hint at what a lively charmer she must have been as a young woman.

Grace was, of course, one of the women who served as an inspiration for Miss Birdie -- most especially in the day book she kept, recording the weather, who came by to visit, and such daily incidents as comprised her quiet life.

The news of our old friend's passing was the beginning of the day. And then, in the afternoon, I went to my great-nephew Jack's first birthday party. Such a contrast of emotions -- sorrow at the loss of a valued friend; happiness at a joyful family celebration of a life just a year underway. Tonight at dinner -- a noisy family affair including Jack's grandmother and aunt, in the county for the occasion -- the two sides of this existence seemed drawn together as we toasted Grace -- the old woman whose race was run -- and Jack, the little boy for whom it's just begun. Somehow it seemed right and proper to be acknowledging both ends of life.

Whenever I spoke with Grace on the phone, she would end the conversation, not with 'Goodbye,' but with 'We love you.'

We love you, Gracie.

Friday, February 15, 2008

The Dark Shores of Forever

I love that dozy, semi-conscious state in the morning -- the ten or fifteen minutes before actually committing to opening my eyes and getting on with the day. I do some of my most creative thinking then. It's as if my brain is unfettered and off on its own.

I've used this time to work out problems in my writing -- okay, so if Elizabeth tells Phillip the truth, what will his reaction be . . .

Now, thanks to Wordsmith -- a nifty website that pops an esoteric word into my inbox daily, I have an adjective to describe that waking sleep. The word is hypnopompic, as in: During my brain's predawn, hypnopompic wandering this morning, a title shimmered into my mind --The Dark Shores of Forever. It sounded so good to me that when I awoke and got to my computer, I did a search to see if it was something I'd seen and my subconscious had remembered.

Evidently not, at least I don't find it on Amazon. So, I have this neat sounding title -- I wonder if I can come up with a Goodweather book to go with it. I don't know -- it may be too grim.

The last time I awakened with a phrase running through my mind it was: I believe in Delaware. I'm pretty sure I can't do anything with that one.
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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day, 1964 - Camp Lejeune, NC . My husband was an enlisted man in the Marine Corps. We had only been married since November and we were living in a tiny silver trailer surrounded by many other tiny silver trailers grouped tastefully around communal dumpsters. The Marine Corps officially designated Geiger Park as "sub-standard housing" and I suppose it was but we hardly noticed.

The little trailer was snug and clean and wood-paneled -- much like living on a boat. And on that first Valentine's Day of our marriage, my husband brought me a spray of wild plum blossoms from the nearby woods, centered in a metal coat hanger bent into the shape of a heart.

It's been forty-four years -- we're still together -- and the memory still makes me smile.

Valentine hugs to all of you!
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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another Writing Class

Tonight begins another writing class. It's been a year since I was asked to teach in University of NC-Asheville's Great Smokies Writing Program -- this will be my fourth class. And I can't wait to see what sort of writers will be there!

I'll start them off with a brief description of how I got into writing -- via a class much like this one I'm teaching -- and go on with dire warnings about not quitting your day job. It's a crowded field and not many make a real living with their writing -- and only a miniscule few get those multi-million dollar deals.

Of course, everyone hopes to be one of the lucky few -- and most of these folks who've signed up for my class probably have the writing fever anyway. So we'll embark on ten sessions of working with setting, character, dialogue, plotting, and what I can only call Odds and Ends of Useful Information About Writing and Getting Published.

When I was first offered this gig I felt woefully inadequate -- most of the other teachers in the program have MFAs, awards, grants, publications in literary journals, terms as writers-in-residence, and all that stuff that looks good in a curriculum vitae. Me, I'm just a paperback writer -- no previous experience. (In fact, on the resume that I had to come up with before I could be hired by the university, there is a long stretch -- from 1975 to 2000 that I titled THE LOST YEARS - i.e. -not gainfully employed, just doing farm stuff.)

But of course, that's why they hired me -- I'm proof that you don't have to have all that background, as well as an inspiration to late bloomers everywhere! And when I greet my class tonight and they see me and my white hair and hear my story, I hope they think to themselves "Well! If she can do it . . .
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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Flowers for Carolyn Hart

Here's a big bouquet of flowers from last summer's garden for Carolyn Hart, author of 38 mysteries (including the popular Death on Demand and Henrie O series), winner of multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards, and kind provider of a quote for my upcoming In a Dark Season. This is what Carolyn says: "Vicki Lane fashions a gripping tale of despair and sorrow in an Appalachia she understands and loves. Lyrical and compelling."

Nice! Add that to Margaret Maron's quote about "love and lust" and we've got some eye-catching cover copy. (Before you all get worried about Elizabeth, let me say that the despair and sorrow are pretty much confined to the historical subplot.)

There's always a lot of discussion on some of the online mystery lists about the value of blurbs. The first question is: do they do any good? A lot of folks say they never pay any attention to blurbs but there are plenty others who do. I know I've bought books that I wasn't sure about because of a particularly compelling blurb by an author I admire. And I know that Sharyn McCrumb's quote on my first book helped my sales. One hopes that the blurb writer's fans (and in the case of Sharyn and Margaret and Carolyn, they are many) will be drawn to give a new series a try.

The second question that always crops up is: Do authors get paid for doing blurbs? Certainly not that I've ever heard of -- certainly not the authors who've blurbed my books. They do it as a favor. Even these women who are at the top of their game in the writing world take the time to help a fellow writer just as, no doubt, some one helped them early in their careers.

Flowers for all of them!
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Monday, February 11, 2008

Looking East

"Dawn, beautiful dawn, the Chief,
This day, let it be well with me as I go;
Let it be well before me as I go;
Let it be well behind me as I go;
Let it be well beneath me as I go;
Let it be well above me as I go;
Let all I see be well as I go.

"Everlasting, like unto the Pollen Boy;
Goddess of the Evening, the beautiful Chieftess,
This day, let it be well with me as I go;
Let it be well before me as I go;
Let it be well behind me as I go;
Let it be well beneath me as I go;
Let it be well above me as I go;
Let all I see be well as I go.

"Now all is well, now all is well,
Now all is well, now all is well."

Translation of a traditional Navajo greeting to the dawn. I am blessed to awaken every morning to an eastern view of such beauty that I photograph it over and over. Some of these recent photos have made their way to a web album for your perusal.

Let it be well with you as you go.
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Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Best Water in the World

We're proud of our water, here in the mountains. "The best water in the world" we call it. A man may live in a tumble-down shack but if he has a spring above his house, he can dig down to the place where the water runs over bare rock, dam up a small pool, and pipe the water from the pool to a reservoir (which could be anything from a wooden barrel to a cast concrete box) and thence to his house. Gravity water, cold and clear and free.

Clifford, who with his wife Louise owned the farm we live on, told us how during the Depression he went to Detroit in search of a job. "And I woulda made good money too but I couldn't drink the water. Just got on the bus and come back the next day."

I grew up drinking the city water in Tampa and always assumed that was how water should taste. But after I'd lived in the mountains half a year, drinking the water from our own spring -- I was spoiled. Totally and completely. When I returned to Tampa for a visit, the water tasted so much like chlorine that I found myself using bottled water even to brush my teeth.

Our little spring puts out a tiny stream, the size of a pencil, but (so far, knock-on-wood) it's never slackened. It was adequate for our needs till our older boy went to college and began coming come home for spring or fall break with five or six friends. The little spring just couldn't keep up with all the showering and laundry and flushing. So we had a well dug.

We planned to use the well water for the laundry and bathrooms and to have another pipe to supply the kitchen from the spring. My husband, the resident DIY plumber, was resigned to a long, unpleasant session in the cramped crawl space under the house, tackling this complicated reworking of our plumbing. Then we tasted the well water - and lo and behold, it tasted just the same as the spring!

The best water in the world!
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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Too Early

Foolish tender buds!
Don't believe this sunny day --
Nipping cold ahead.

I've always loved haiku -- those spare Japanese verse forms that require a strict 5-7-5 syllables. They're good practice for any writer --- forcing you to choose just the perfect word.

There are haikus in my notebooks that I've worked on interminably -- always searching for a better word. I'm already looking back at this one thinking -- hmm, would frost be a better word than cold? Then my inner gardener says smugly, Frost won't hurt daffodils but a freeze would. Than the would-be poet says, Nah, don't like the sound of freeze; what about ice?

I could go on and on, fiddling with the words -- and sometimes end up back where I began.

A note: concerning my post about my dream of Nietzche on the beach -- my younger son recently reminded me that when I first told him that dream, the shoplifting philosopher in question was Kierkegaarde. True. I'd forgotten I changed it to Nietzche because it scanned better.

Whew! I feel better now that I've admitted that.
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Friday, February 8, 2008

An Eighth Grade Education - Sepia Saturday

My maternal grandfather had only an eighth grade education in rural Alabama but he went on to become president of the largest bank in Tampa, Florida In my research I've been looking at old textbooks (the two on the right were my maternal grandmother's) and I've begun to get some idea just how comprehensive such an education could be

The following is the actual text of the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina , KS , USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina , KS , and reprinted by the Salina Journal. It's absolutely humbling. Eighth grade!

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no Modifications.
3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb. Give Principal Parts of. lie, lay and run
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1050lbs. for tare?
4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per meter?
8 Find bank discount on $300 for! 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U. S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U. S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus .
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States .
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas .
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell , Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour)
1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, sub vocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u'.
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)
1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America .
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall &Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in th e same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.
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Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Small Rant

A recent letter to the editor in a weekly Asheville paper (Mountain Express, Jan. 23-29 ) has really stuck with me. Gotten right up my nose, as the Brits say.

The writer suggests that by using the term carbon footprint " . . . we are agreeing with the language of the liberals who want us to believe that humans have created global warming." He goes on. "By even asking what our carbon footprint is, we are complicit in the push by liberals to politicize free enterprise." Good grief!

But this is the part that really chilled me. "The American way of life is predicated on the idea that I can go and buy whatever I need whenever I need it, for whatever reason, as long as I can afford it. "

I would humbly suggest that if that's the American way of life, it's a selfish, blinkered, dangerous way of life and it's small wonder that much of the world views us as arrogant bullies. But then I'm just a bleeding-heart liberal, one who believes that an unprecedented growth of population and industry (especially in the unregulated emerging industrial giants like China) is polluting the air we all breathe and affecting the climate of the entire globe -- where we all live.

We're stuck in this lifeboat together -- beware the bully with the gun.
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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Who is This Myrna Lou Person?

Back in the December Goodweather Report, I gave a little taste of the book I'm working on -- Birdie's book. In that brief exerpt, Miss Birdie is up in her family burying-ground, tidying in preparation for Decoration Day, when Dorothy appears with a stranger.

The unknown woman stepped forward, her face blossoming into a lop-sided smile that was oddly familiar.

“Aunt Birdie, you probably don’t remember me. I’m Louisa- well, Myrna Louise -- Lexter and Britty Mae’s youngest daughter. The last time I was here was 1959 – I was only sixteen then so I don’t expect you to recognize me now.”

Lord, she sounds like a Yankee, thought Birdie, looking for some hint of the teenager she dimly remembered. But pore thing, she cain’t help it – livin’ up there in Dee-troit all this time with Yankees all about. Come to that, I believe she married one. She does favor Lexter right much, now I come to look at her.

The little woman extended her arms. “Myrna Lou, honey, come here and let me hug yore neck. What took you so long to git back home?”

When I wrote my proposal for this book about Miss Birdie, I planned on making Birdie the main character with Dorothy and Aunt Belvy in supporting roles. Hadn't a clue about Myrna Lou. Where, then, did she come from?

Well, Myrna Lou (or someone like her) was necessary. In each new book I have to assume that many readers won't have read the previous Elizabeth books and so I have to explain all over again who these people are and what Marshall County is like. It helps vastly to have a newcomer on the scene to ask questions and be told answers. I can't use Dorothy and Belvy -- they already know most of Miss Birdie's history so they wouldn't be asking. And you can only do so much with a character sitting musing about the past. Hence -- Myrna Lou.

Myrna Lou can ask all the right questions to aid and abet in the exposition I'm trying to do. And being both younger and from "Away", her viewpoint will be different from Birdie's, Dorothy's, or Belvy's.

The thing is, though, Myrna Lou (or Louisa, as she prefers to be called) is trying to take over. Her own back story (still mostly in my notes and in my mind) keeps getting more and more complex, as always happens when characters begin to assume lives of their own.

I may have to take a stick to her to get her to step back, hush up, and let Birdie shine.

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Monday, February 4, 2008

Always Use A Bag

I'm fascinated by the beauty of many natural things -- old bones, shells, rocks -- and shed snakeskins. It's amazing to me how a six foot plus blacksnake can slip out of his old skin so neatly, leaving a perfect ghostly image of himself down to the lenses that covered his eyes.

There's been ample opportunity to study these shed skins -- we have one blacksnake who leaves a skin in our greenhouse several times a year while others twine their discarded finery into the crevices of our rock walls.

Blacksnakes are mostly welcome around our place -- they eat rats and mice and are said to deter copperheads. Unfortunately, they also eat baby birds and on occasion, one has taken up residence in our chicken house, swallowing the eggs one after another. When this happens, I try to catch the snake, put him in a bag, and take him for a ride around the mountain to release him in a wooded area.

I didn't always use a bag. It just didn't occur to me. But came the fateful day when I had hold of a great large snake lumpy with just-swallowed eggs. I handed him to my 15 year old son to hold while I drove the truck to the accustomed snake release area a few miles away.

We hadn't even gotten down to our mailbox before the snake began to poop. (Somehow, I'd never considered this possibility.) It was pasty and yellow and smelled (no surprise here) like rotten eggs. Appalled, my son let go of the snake's body but managed to hang on to his neck. "Arrrgh!" my son shouted. "Mum! Look what your snake is doing!"

And now the snake was regurgitating the last egg he'd eaten. I stopped the truck. "Just put him out here!" I said.

Easier said than done. My son had control of half of the snake -- the head end. But the tail end had slithered under the truck seat and was firmly wrapped around the jack.

By the time I'd gotten the indignant snake loose, the completely indignant son mollified, and the interior of the truck cleaned out, I'd learned a lesson.

Always use a bag.
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Sunday, February 3, 2008

Rosie's World

Of course all of you know that I base the Goodweather farm on ours. So let's pretend for a moment, that we're in the setting for Old Wounds.

The top picture (and remember that you can mouse over it and click to enlarge) shows the barn the Goodweathers lived in while building their house. To the left and a little above the barn is the chicken house (hard to see.) Higher up is Elizabeth's house and to the right of that, you can make out Ben's cabin (or Little Sylvie's in Signs in the Blood). The multi-tiered garden starts just above the chicken coop.

The second picture is taken on the road that runs along the top of the pasture and into the woods. (We call it 'the New Road' as it was bulldozed for us only about 25 years ago. It doesn't actually go anywhere -- its purpose is mainly to provide a way to get the tractor or our little utility vehicle into the woods for firewood or for hauling fencing supplies.)

This is the road Elizabeth often takes a walk on and the big tree to the left is where the deer stand that the young Maythorn used as a spy post would have been. And this is where the young Rosemary followed her mother on a cold winter day.

She trotted down the path, smiling to think how surprised her mother would be when she
appeared. A little way on and the path veered sharply as it wrapped around the mountainside. Just beyond that turn was one of the benches Pa had made for Mum so she could sit and look at the view. Maybe she would be there. Humming, Rosemary hurried on.

In the late eighties I (me, Vicki, not Elizabeth) used to walk our two Akitas on this path daily. They were large (over a hundred pounds each) dogs and, though lovely with people, completely murderous around any other animals (dogs, cats, chickens, etc.) So they had to be kept in the house and exercised on the leash. Once, when we had just hit this stretch of very uphill path, a squirrel ran across the road in front of us. Both dogs lunged at it, pulling me down, splat on my face. I hung on to the leashes like grim death and the dogs kept going, towing me behind them like a particularly inept water-skier. When finally, after they'd dragged me almost to the top of the hill, I managed to stop them and stand up, the top of my head was completely covered with dirt and leaf mold.

I digress. The last picture, if you'll look closely is of Froghead, the rock that sticks out of the pasture like a granite thumb, the place where Rosie first met Maythorn. My boys gave it that name and it was a favorite hangout of theirs. Higher up the mountain above the house, is what they called the cave -- actually a little shelter under some huge boulders that lean against each other. This, of course, was the inspiration for Rosie and Maythorn's Cave of Two Sisters.

But, and some people have asked this, there is no Mullmore, no faux-Tudor mansion on the other side of the ridge. I do use my imagination for some stuff!
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