Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Bookish Sort of a Day

It began to rain yesterday morning as I loaded my car for the trip to Columbia, SC and by the time I started out, it seemed to be settling in for the day. I was delighted, however, as I passed our little pond to catch sight of a pair of ducks -- rare visitors. I think they're Buffleheads -- but can't be sure. The telephoto option on my camera did its best but between the distance and the rain . . .

. . . the rain, through which I drove all the day, was never quite blinding but serious enough to make one slow down a bit. It was an enjoyable ride though as I had fascinating company. First there was Patrick Tull, reading Patrick O'Brian's The Reverse of the Medal. I adore this series, read by this reader, and have listened to all twenty-odd books time and again.

But even though I had new CDs waiting for me, I savored the last disc of this book, enjoying once again the stirring ending which is ( for those of you who have fussed at me for my cliffhanger ending of In a Dark Season) a cliffhanger. As a matter of fact, after his first few books, O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series is pretty much one uninterrupted story, broken into convenient book-sized chunks. And they all end in cliffhangers.
. That episode of Jack Aubrey's and Stephen Maturin's adventures having come to an end, I pulled out my birthday present from my older boy and his wife -- a gorgeous box set of the audio edition of C.S.Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. Here's another of my favorites -- I was introduced to Narnia in childhood and have read and reread the books many a time. But this is the first time anyone's read them to me -- and not just any anyone. Kenneth Branagh does the honors for the first book -- The Magician's Nephew. What a delight!

And almost before I knew it, I was in Columbia, SC, pulling into the parking garage right next to Ron Rash. (By chance, I swear. Poor guy probably thinks I'm a stalker.)

Then there was a grand reception last night at the Thomas Cooper Library with amazing food and authors everywhere.

There were poets (Susan Myers was one I got to talk to) and songwriters and writers of 'hen lit' and a very nice couple who write about barbecue (John and Dale Reed) and some mystery authors I 'know' from online loops (J.T. Ellison and C.J.Lyons) and two more (Fran Rizer and Mignon Ballard) who'll be on the SPOOKED panel with me tomorrow and John Milton in a glass case.

Well, not the poet himself, but amid this lively gathering of writers and readers in a library that smelled of books -- there was on display -- in glass cases scattered throughout the room where we were being entertained so lavishly -- a wonderful collection of Milton's work, including a first edition of Paradise Lost and many and various charmingly and alarmingly illustrated editions.

It was the perfect ending to a bookish sort of a day.

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Friday, February 27, 2009


Runic messages

Scratched into the evening sky --

Springtime's swelling twigs.

I love the look of these twigs. They put me in mind of the eponymous code in the Sherlock Holmes story called "The Adventure of the Dancing Men."

This morning I'm traveling to Columbia, SC for their Book Festival -- big doings with Scott Turow as keynote speaker on Sunday. Unfortunately, I'll miss hearing him as I'll be on my way to Troy, NC for a previous engagement -- a presentation at the library there. And then back home on Monday.

Of course the laptop and Miss Birdie will go with me and I'll hope to get in some rewrite time -- not ever having been one to party hardy, it's no sacrifice to turn in early and take advantage of a quiet hotel room to do some work.

Depending on how well my laptop cooperates with the hotel Wi Fi, I'll post again tomorrow.
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Thursday, February 26, 2009


Sanctuary: A consecrated place; a place of refuge and protection.

Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary on the edge of Asheville is such a place. A determined group of nature lovers fought to keep this ten acres at one end of a suburban lake free from development and this upland marsh now provides a quiet place for contemplation of nature and, perhaps, the meaning of life. And ducks.

It's a place I often visit when I'm in Asheville with a spare half hour or so -- a little shot of nature and serenity just off a busy thoroughfare. And I do enjoy watching the ducks, especially these Muscovies with their red-wattled faces and variegated plumage

Sanctuary, indeed, for man and beast alike.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009


My workshop on writing popular fiction meets tonight and we begin the critiques of twenty pages from each of the first two victims - er, make that class members. Folks in this group are not just dabbling at writing, they're actually trying to write (or have written) a novel or, in a couple of cases, a memoir. And the genres are all over the place -- sci-fi, cozy mystery, coming-of-age, thriller, western, fantasy, young adult -- I'm sure I've left out something.

So how do we deal with such diversity? Good question.

The fact is that very few people like every kind of reading -- but that's what we've got here. So each of us has the task of opening our mind to this particular type of writing and trying to determine if it is working -- does it engage the reader from the beginning? are the characters compelling? is the world of the story consistent?

It's never fun having people criticize something you've worked hard on, especially if you think you've done a good job. And there's bound to be a certain amount of trepidation among first timers to the class. One of the students commented on the fact of signing up for (and paying for) "a gut-wrenching experience."

Really, it's not that bad. As a Southern lady of a certain age, I require politeness in our criticism. We begin by saying what worked well in the pages under consideration before moving to what, in our opinion, isn't working. At no point do we say things like "This sucks!" or similar harsh, unhelpful statements.

But we do say what isn't working. And to soften the blow when I hand back the pages, all marked up with my comments, I usually bring in one of my manuscripts, similarly marked up, just so they can see how important it is to get another viewpoint.

I have learned so very much from my editor's comments and corrections. Even when she wants me to change who done it (ART'S BLOOD) or to excise a major character and attached subplot (DAY OF SMALL THINGS aka Birdie's book), I'm grateful for the learning experience.

Just as I hope tonight's writers will be.
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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Going to the Dogs

My friend Josie came out Sunday night for the family birthday celebration. Although she has no pets of her own, Josie's awfully tolerant of our spoiled and demanding pack, allowing Jack a nice snuggle as Ali Ali looks on.

Ali Ali's motto is "It's all about me!" and he really can't bear to see Jack getting all the attention and so . . .

. . .he moves in, becoming impossible to ignore. Except that Jack does, hanging on to his place in Josie's lap . . .

. . . and when Ali Ali, aka 'The Brat,' has been forcibly removed, Jack abides, with a sweet paw-embrace of Josie's leg.

One night at our house, Josie says, fills her need for canine companionship for weeks. Not to mention leaving her covered with dog hair.

As I said, she's a really good sport.

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Monday, February 23, 2009

ICE in Your Cell Phone

Not this kind . . .

But this . . . ICE in your cell phone directory means In Case of Emergency and could be helpful should you be in an accident -- unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate.

It's a simple concept: Just store the number of the person you'd want notified in case of such an emergency under the heading ICE. Or ICE1, ICE2, and ICE3, if you have several. Evidently, hospital personnel and emergency responders of all types are aware of this code.

Of course this isn't a substitute for having similar information in your wallet and you may be one of the dwindling few who doesn't even have a cell phone --but if you do -- this might be useful.

Or you may already know about this -- the young woman whose phone I borrowed for this picture (my cell phone stays in the car) showed me that she had ICE numbers stored in her directory.

Pretty cool.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

It Was a Very Good Day

From the beautiful sunrise yesterday to the Full English Breakfast John prepared to the purple hyacinth and the stack of requested books replacing worn-out copies . . .
and the rest of the day, except for the moans of the Carolina fans watching their team lose in the afternoon, was just right, down to the brats and champagne that I had requested for dinner. And there's more to come as Justin and Claui are coming up to prepare another birthday meal for me tonight.

I will need to fast for all of Lent to atone.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ruby Bell Wright

She was born February 21, 1892 in Luverne, Alabama and grew up in Troy, Alabama, the middle sister of three girls-- younger than Mabel (the one in the middle behind the umbrella,) a little older than Pearl (the mischievous-looking one on the left, who used to chase Ruby around the yard, menacing her with the wrung-off heads of Sunday's chicken dinners. All her life, Ruby was slightly phobic about birds and didn't hesitate to blame her sister for this.)

I spent some time going through Ruby's old snapshot album in order to write this blog in honor of the anniversary of her birth. She was my maternal grandmother, known to me and my brother as Ba. She's the inspiration for Elizabeth's Gramma and was the best grandmother imaginable. But I always knew her as an old lady -- though reason and simple arithmetic tell me that for a good bit of the time I knew her she was younger than I am now.

I was in my twenties when I first saw this album and was entranced at the pictures of Ba as a girl, doing silly, girlish things. The album is full of shots of the sisters and their many friends mugging for the camera -- lined up on a fence, crowded into a wagon, posing like a (modest) chorus line to show off their shapely forms. They seemed to have so much fun.

I said to my grandmother back then that I wished we could have been friends.

Her answer was immediate -- "I thought we were."

And, we were, but in a different way -- one that I wouldn't trade even for the fun of hanging out with the Wright girls. I was her only granddaughter and our bond was made stronger by the fact that I was born on her 51rst birthday. Ba lived to be 91 and grew sweeter every year.

But just for a little while, I wish I could have known my grandmother as a girl -- in that time and in that place.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

There Is No Frigate Like a Book . . .

Suite Francaise, written by Irene Nemirovsky (who died in Auschwitz) and published posthumously, chronicles life in Nazi-occupied France. It's sad -- how could it not be? -- but beautifully written and it provided an uncannily perfect segue into my next read, Murder in the Marais.

The first book in a series of Paris-based mysteries by Cara Black, Murder in the Marais is set in the old Jewish quarter of Paris and deals with a crime reaching back to the time of the occupation. It was a wonderful read, with a close look at a part of Paris tourists aren't likely to see. I'm looking forward to traveling the back ways of the other districts by reading the rest of this series featuring Aimee LeDuc, a kick-ass investigator who knows her way around the place!

From Paris to Scotland for Now May You Weep was a short hop. Deborah Crombie's Duncan Kincaid/Gemma Jones series is set in the UK and follows this engaging police pair in their personal and professional lives. This entry takes place in Scotland amid the distilleries and the old Scots families with their long-simmering resentments. Lovely description, well-rounded and believable protagonists -- another series I'm going to have to pursue.

"There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away . . ."

Emily Dickinson, who lived an extremely circumscribed life, wrote that. I get out a little more than did Emily, but I still rely on books to 'take me Lands away.' In the future I plan to spend a good deal of time in Paris and the UK.

I said, back in my post about Murder in the Magic City where I met Cara and Deborah, that I wished I'd set my books in some neat place so that travel would be tax-deductible.

But when I look at our eastern view or stop by the river to enjoy the sound of the rushing water, I think of what Dorothy said:

"There's no place like home . . ."

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stellie R.

A little handmade grave marker caught my eye when I was up at Crooked Ridge last week for Paul's burying.

"Stellie R.
Borned Dec 13 1919
D. Aug 7 1920"

I'm guessing that it was "the summer complaint" -- an uncheckable diarrhea -- that took little Stellie. The old graveyards around here are full of tiny graves, some marked by no more than a field stone, and many an infant fell prey to this disease.

I've wondered if the old custom here of calling a child 'hit' rather than 'he' or 'she,' was a kind of dissociative behavior on the part of the family -- not willing to take for granted that this child was fully a person till it had survived those early years.

Our mentors,, the Freemans raised four boys -- but lost three infant girls. When Clifford looked at one year-old Ethan and pronounced, "Hit'll make a fine man . . . if hit lives," he was speaking from experience -- and probably an ingrained habit of not wanting to tempt fate.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Even Your Best Friends Won't Tell You

Or is that just what friends are for -- to tell you that there's something green caught between your front teeth before you walk into a room full of people or to mention that your deodorant seems to have failed before you leave for that all-important interview?

As an ex-English teacher, I am always jarred by faulty punctuation and misspellings. I'm not one of those folks who carry around Magic Markers to correct signs but I do notice and it does bother me.

The blogosphere is full of such mistakes and, for the most part, I just shake my head and move on. I would never correct a stranger -- it's not that big a deal.

But what about when it's someone who's a friend? And a fellow writer? There have been instances of agents or publishers reading the blogs of prospective clients. So if you're an aspiring writer, posting your work in a public place, isn't it to your advantage to have it error-free?

I bring this up because I finally got up my nerve to correct someone I know -- privately, of course. Comments are NOT the place for such. And I think this person is still speaking to me.

One of mistakes I see most often is addressed on the first page of this invaluable reference book,
Here it is:

IT'S means it is, as in "It's a cold day in Hell."

ITS (no apostrophe) is possessive, as in "The dog rolled its eyes."

And, for the most part, plurals don't need apostrophes. As in "They threw the eggs (not egg's) at the busybody, ex-English teacher."

And misspellings! The spell check feature isn't perfect but it's worth using every time before you post, even if you're a pretty good speller. (I just found out I'd misspelled -- or mistyped -- apostrophe. You can imagine how much I don't want to make a mistake in this particular post.)

Enough for today. I won't even mention how people, including newspaper reporters and TV anchors, misuse the verbs lie and lay.

I'll just let sleeping dogs lie.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


I trace my fascination with flowers and gardens and bugs and such back to this pretty little book -- a gift to my mother from her father in 1922 -- "Brought to Virginia by Daddy - from Washington, D.C. - July 8, 1922" it says on the title page. She was five.

The book stayed around and is part of my earliest memories. It tells the story of Jane Elizabeth and her summer in the country where she meets Prince Tiger Swallow Tail, the June Bug Twins, the Baby Froggies, Jack Hornet, the paper maker, Lady Luna Moth, Trap-Door Spider, Grasshopper Grey, Little Miss Hop-Toad, and quite a few others.

It was a wonderful introduction to nature and the miracle of metamorphosis- the caterpillar that become s a beautiful moth or butterfly, the jellied strings of eggs in the pond that turn first into tadpoles and then into frogs or toads.

The illustrations by Janet Laura Scott are marvelous. I'm sure the picture above of Humming-Bird Moth visiting the hollyhocks is why I prefer the old-fashioned single forms to the modern fat carnation-type hollyhocks.

And look at this evening scene with fire flies for illumination and and a buggy orchestra playing away while frogs dance with joy and moths and dragon flies swoop to and fro. How could I ever dislike these creatures?

Elizabeth Jane is such a pretty, prim little girl with her old-fashioned wardrobe. I can remember wishing I had a rain outfit like hers.

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