Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What's THAT?

Herewith four pictures -- all cropped from larger photos. A modest Marshall County prize -- I don't know, maybe a copy of the quilt book I co-authored-- will wing its way to the one who first comments, identifying all four photos correctly and completely. I won't make a judgment till late this evening -- and remember, completeness and precision of identification could make the difference.

And while I have you here, remember the fella who complained about my adverbs and later admitted he'd actually enjoyed the books?

Well, he's just done a very nice post about all four of my books on his blog. All is forgiven!

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Banned Books Week

Take a banned book to lunch -- it's the American Library Association's Banned Book Week! And yes, it's true -- massively ironic, but true, that Bradbury's beautifully told story of a society that bans and burns all books has itself at one time been banned -- for use of profanity.

It's in good company -- along with Harry Potter, Huck Finn, Joyce's Ulysses, the Bible, Catcher in the Rye, Of Mice and Men, A Wrinkle in Time . . . the list goes on and on. Books are challenged for political, sexual, or religious content. Books are challenged because nervous parents or governments think these books will teach readers witchcraft . . . make them believers . . . or atheists . . . or turn them into homosexuals . . . or liberals . . . or people who think for themselves.

Of course there are some books not appropriate for young children. And parents should be aware of what their children are reading -- should maybe even read it first rather than make an uninformed decision. But things get dicey when one set of parents wants to decide for everyone.

As a lifelong reader, the thought of not being allowed to read something, just because someone else decided I shouldn't, is anathema. And I salute the brave librarians who stand up to those who would attempt to limit others' right to read.

(Yes, one book, and that my own, was harmed in the making of this blog. But it had already suffered major water damage. Still, it was a weird feeling, setting fire to a book.)
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Sunday, September 28, 2008


Around here, many older folks use the archaic word 'poke' for bag. This is a paper poke.

And this is a poke bonnet. Note the drawstring at the back above the frill that prevents the dread red neck. The dictionary tells me it's called a poke bonnet because the brim pokes out but I think it's named after the bag-like construction. Years ago, when fair white skin was the token of a fine lady, many a mountain girl did her field work in such a bonnet. Long sleeves and gloves too.

I got to wondering about poke berries -- don't they look like fat little drawstring bags? I can't find a source that agrees with my amateur etymology. Mostly they say 'origin unknown.' One site hazards a guess that the name may have derived from 'puccoon' -- a plant whose roots make a red dye, just as poke berries do. I like my idea better.

Dog poke. No explanation needed.
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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Daddy-Long-Legs: The Book

After yesterday's post with the picture of the daddy-long-legs, I began thinking of the book -- a favorite from my childhood. There was a copy, published in 1912, among my grandmother's books and I immediately fell in love with Jerusha (soon to become Judy) Abbot, the plucky orphan from the grim John Grier Home for Orphans. I read that original copy (published 1912) to pieces and now have one -- a library discard -- that should last through quite a few more re-reads.

Maybe you know the story -- it's been made into a movie several times. Judy is chosen by an unknown trustee to receive a college scholarship. The book consists of her letters to this unknown benefactor who has required that she write him weekly, addressing the letters to 'Mr. Smith.' The irrepressible Judy soon begins calling him Daddy-Long-Legs and writing him almost daily. The book is epistolary -- aside from a brief introductory chapter, it's totally made up of Judy's letters.

It's a wonderful look at life in a women's college at the turn of the previous century. And Judy, having spent her life in an orphan's home, is an astute observer. Plus there are all her funny little drawings. And a great happy ending.

A few years ago, browsing through a used book store, I found there was a sequel. Oh joy unexpected!

In Dear Enemy -- which is also made up of letters -- Sallie McBride, Judy's best friend from college, takes over the management of the John Grier Home, turning it from grim to up-to-date, humane, and cheerful. And there's a dour Scots physician (the dear enemy to whom Sallie's letters are addressed) for a romantic interest.

It's another fun read and a look at the latest social engineering theories of 1915 (some of which are a little scary today.) But the overall tone is good-hearted and watching Sallie turn a drab institution full of somber orphans into a brightly painted home crowded with noisy, laughing, happy children is a delight.
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Friday, September 26, 2008

Three Pictures

Autumn crocus (Colchicum autumnale) Its pale frail lavender petals are always a surprise to me when they emerge in the fall. It's related to the plant from which saffron is harvested-- one little stamen at a time. Colchicum grows from a corm, which was, in ancient times, used as a poison when ground into a powder, and administered in wine. According to the Greek naturalist Theophrastus, slaves ate small pieces of the corm when they were angry with their masters to make themselves ill and unable to work.

Might be useful knowledge for Elizabeth some day.

This gaudy fellow was one of several on on my little bay tree. He's a daddy-long-legs or a spider who looks like one. I don't have the entomologist's eye to tell the difference. But, rumor to the contrary, these guys are not poisonous.

And this -- a perfect parfait of a dawn glimpsed through a tree a few mornings ago.
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fall Shift

Now that fall's officially here, I spent a little time yesterday putting away the blue and white bits and pieces that have dominated our living room all summer and pulled out what I think of as my Fall Stuff -- pottery in autumn colors, different pillow covers, darker quilts, and painted gourds from a few years back when I had time to do such things.

I made a lot of decorated gourds -- and was reluctant to throw away the stem ends. So I turned these into hobbit houses -- totally silly, but great fun to do.

Now, as if the weather was waiting for me to put the summer things away, the temperature has plunged -- 42 degrees this morning. And as always, we're reluctant to close the windows just yet so we layer on more clothes, enjoying the novelty of being cold.

Maggie, however, isn't thrilled. She had curled up in my comfy writing chair, all snug and warm, for an after-breakfast snooze when I insisted she move so that I could get to my laptop. This is the sad, accusing look I got as I took her place.

It's a dog's life, says Maggie.

PS: The really neat gourd rattle on the bottom shelf with the crow and the ladder was made by my friend Ruth -- who got me started on the whole gourd thing.

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

About Bad Reviews

Kay Byer had a great blog post recently suggesting that one way to deal with bad reviews was to do a flamenco dance. She accompanied the post with wonderful dramatic pictures of herself swathed in red and black, ready to stomp those reviews (or possibly those reviewers) into the mud. A great idea!

Some writers say they never read reviews - good or bad. Probably that's wise. But I have a real feeling that most of us are compelled to -- even when we see the vultures circling and landing on the carcass, we still have to go look to see how bad the damage is.

The first really awful review I got was on Amazon by someone who called her or himself a 'mystery author (though I couldn't find any books written under this name.) He or she fumed: I picked this paperback up at the library because I thought it sounded interesting - well, I couldn't read it! The narration goes backward and forwards in time. Some of it is all interior thoughts in italitcs, no delination as to who's talking, no quotation marks! Oy - I gave up after about 30 pages. Once again, the author ASSUMES one has read the previous book and refers to things that the reader has no clue about! Does ANYONE edits these things??????

I loved the "Does ANYONE edits these things" as well as the misspelled "italitcs" and "delination" But aside from that, the review made me feel really bad.

It would be wonderful to cultivate a bovine indifference. I can't do it. I kept going back and re-reading, like picking at a scab. Then I noticed that this reviewer had written well over a hundred reviews -- almost all equally vitriolic, only one positive. And in most cases, the "reviewer" hadn't finished the book.

I still felt kind of bad so I wrote a little fantasy where I was having coffee with Karin Slaughter, Laura Lippman, and Jodi Picoult -- all big name writers who had been savaged by this reviewer. I remember Jodi crying on my shoulder, 'This person is just so angry! Why do they have to be so mean?"

Karin and Laura didn't cry; Laura just kept ordering one skinny latte after another and Karin scowled and tore her napkin to bits.

This fictional bonding was fun and made me feel better. But when the second awful Amazon review showed up -- for a different book and from another person who not only called my book "absolutely dismal" but also gave away part of the plot, I tried something else.

There's a very unpleasant character in In a Dark Season who shares a name with this reviewer. And, oh my goodness, did I have fun making her unpleasant.

Yes, I can be petty.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Meet Kate the Donkey

Kate is the latest addition to the farm -- as of yesterday afternoon. She's a six or seven year old jennet who has been living with a herd of cows for the past four years.

We've been looking for a guard donkey to put with our cows. While coyotes have not yet been a problem for us, they are moving into the area so this is a bit of a preemptive strike. Also, Kate should discourage the many (13) dogs that live in our holler from bothering the cattle.

She's tame-ish -- John said there was no problem loading her in the trailer. And I suspect that a little sweet feed and some apples will get her attention pretty quickly. She's in need of grooming but that will have to wait till she's gentled.

Kate's the classic gray-dun donkey color with the usual black stripe down her back and across her shoulders. Legend says that donkeys didn't have these markings until one carried Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and followed him to Calvary. Distraught by the sight of Jesus on the cross, the donkey turned away but could not leave. When the shadow of the cross fell on the donkey's back, it remained and has ever after been worn by all donkeys.

And no, I didn't name her after my editor. She came with the name.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Autumnal Equinox

From river rising
White tide swelling -- fog lifts to
Mountains --Fall is here.

Day and night balance
On the fulcrum of the sun --
Then tilt toward winter.
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Sunday, September 21, 2008


Yesterday I went to Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary for the Southeast Tribes Cultural Celebration. What a wonderful experience! It felt more like a family gathering than an event for tourists.

Of course, it all comes under research -- quite a few people have wanted Elizabeth to go back to Cherokee -- and quite a few would like to see more of that good-looking guy Driver Blackfox.

Here's a link to a web album with pictures from the stomp dancing and the stickball game. For more info on Cherokee, go here . And this is another good one.
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Friday, September 19, 2008

Growing Up Southern -- In Florida

That's the title of a post of mine that just went up at A Good Blog Is Hard To Find -- a blog where lots of Southern authors post now and again. I'm hoping you all will go over there and post a comment so I look like one of the Popular Girls -- if not quite a Cheerleader.

The first two pictures are from 1947 or 48 -- in Tampa, of course. The dark-haired beauty in the boat is my mother.

And these two would be from 1959 -- that's me and my mother again (aren't I preppy!) and the color picture below is Thanksgiving 1959 as John and I make ready for the Homecoming Game. We are both wearing wool, because it's autumn but I can assure you, the weather was probably blistering. All of this has to do with the post over on http://www.southernauthors.blogspot.com/ so do check it out!

Consider this tomorrow's post as I'm heading over to Cherokee tomorrow to watch some dancing -- of which more on Sunday.
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Elizabeth and Who!?!

Arrr, Mateys! 'Tis INTERNATIONAL TALK LIKE A PIRATE DAY (which for pure silliness hardly has its equal) and my thoughts turn to Blackbeard and my first (mercifully unpublished) Elizabeth book that had its beginning in a community college class back in 2000.

Below is the query letter I, oh, so painfully, crafted. Notice the alluring hook at the end of the second paragraph!

I spent a lot of time researching pirates and especially Edward Teach (or Thatch) aka Blackbeard. He was a giant of a man who liked to tie burning fuses in his beard to terrify opponents as he boarded their ships. My book contains the journal of his thirteenth wife -- a young woman living in Bath, NC, waiting for her Edward's return. I'm still pretty fond of this part of the novel.

It's the present day plot that I'd like to disown-- Elizabeth getting involved with a descendant of Blackbeard(Phillip's there too), the obligatory evil twin -- well, the whole thing is embarrassingly like a bad soap opera.

But when ITLAPD rolls around, I start to think about resurrecting this venture into pirate seas -- send Elizabeth to the coast, redo that lame present day story, bag the evil twin . . . shiver me timbers, shipmates . . .it could happen!


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