Awards or Readers?

AwardDo you remember field day back in grade school? The 100-yard dash, long jump, shot put, and so on? I used to love field day. (That was before I knew I wasn’t athletic.) We were outside doing fun activities and we got ribbons for doing well. Blue and red and white ribbons.

Okay. Maybe what I loved were the ribbons.

Then, in middle school there were certificates for academic achievement and perfect attendance. At high school and college graduations there were special cords and tassels to wear. I loved them all. I still have some of them.

Then I stepped into the working world where there are things like employee of the month or year, credentials to be earned (I have letters after my name), and certificates to hang on the wall.

And then there’s this writing business. Turns out there are markers of achievement here, as well. Reviews, writing awards, interviews in journals, prestigious speaking engagements . . .

But what does it all MEAN??

When Miracle in a Dry Season came out, RT Book Reviews gave it three stars. Nothing to jump up and down about, but a fine review. I told myself that one review wasn’t all that important, anyway. Library Journal gave the same book a starred review. Clearly they “got it.”

Well, last week, RT Book Reviews gave Until the Harvest four and a half stars and a Top Pick ranking. So now the temptation is to think, this time around, the review means a great deal. I mean it’s a blue ribbon with a gold star instead of the plain white ribbon from last time.

It’s also coming around to awards season. The Christie, The Carol, The Selah, The RITA. Can I have one of each, please? Because if I have awards to put on my shelf, then I’ll know I’m a REAL writer.

Oh, the temptation to measure success with reviews and trophies and awards.

Before my first book released I asked my editor about the importance of awards and he in turn asked me a really great question. He wondered if I’d rather have lots of awards or lots of readers.

And as much as I still covet awards, I know the better answer to that question.


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Appalachian Thursday–Fried Squirrel (and a deal!)

In about a month my second novel, Until the Harvest, will be out. As a lead up to that, the e-version of my first novel, Miracle in a Dry Season, is on sale for $1.99 through Sunday. If you’ve been meaning to get a copy, I hope you’ll grab it!

But in the meantime, I thought I’d share something from Until the Harvest. The book opens with my hero, Henry Phillips, enjoying one of his favorite dishes–venison steak. A little later he partakes of . . . fried squirrel.

Now, before you get squeamish, understand that in my growing up years we ate quite a bit of game–including squirrel. Plenty of folks still enjoy it. And my mother made the best squirrel gravy. If you tried some on a biscuit, I bet you’d think so, too.

cookbookEating game is just a way of life in WV. Back in 2010 I wrote a short essay along with mom’s squirrel recipe for inclusion in The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook. That makes it legit, right? At any rate, just in case you have occasion to try it, here’s a recipe for WV Fried Squirrel. (No, it’s not like chicken. Maybe a little like duck . . . )

Fried Squirrel with Gravy
Makes 4 servings

2 large squirrels
1 cup flour
Salt and pepper
Oil or lard for frying
Milk and water

Soak the cleaned squirrels in a pan of water in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Cut into pieces, place in a large pot, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the meat is tender, but not falling off the bones. Drain. Season the meat with salt and pepper and roll in the flour. Heat oil or lard to shimmering in a cast-iron skillet and add the pieces without crowding. Fry until golden brown on both sides. Remove to drain on a brown paper bag. Leave about two tablespoons of oil in the skillet and add two tablespoons of the flour left over from dredging the squirrel. Stir the flour until it’s lightly browned. Add milk and water alternately, stirring constantly, until your gravy is as thick as you like it. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with mashed potatoes.

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SouthernBelleView Monday

It’s my day to post over at SouthernBelleView and I’ve opted to rework one of my most popular posts ever–about stepping in poop. Come on over for some words of wisdom from my then nine-year-old nephew.

Or, if you don’t feel like clicking over, here’s a photo of the lambs I pass on my way to work each day to make stopping by my blog worth your while! Wish you could hear them bleating.


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Appalachian Thursday–Adrian Elementary School

merry-go-roundI recently joined a Facebook alumni group for my grade school back home in West Virginia. I’m not a very enthusiastic alumnus of any of the other schools I attended, but I was excited to see pictures and share memories of those early years.

I LOVED elementary school. I went along the day Mom took my older brother for his first day and cried when she pried me out of a desk to take me home. Adrian Elementary School sat high on a hill far above the train tracks and probably had wonderful views wasted on the children.

I remember little bins of brightly colored blocks. Learning to write on that brownish paper with pink and blue stripes. Playing duck, duck, goose in the gym. Cloak rooms down the side of the classroom with hooks for each one of us. The smell of stale milk and peanut butter in my lunch box on the bus ride home. School carnivals with coin tosses and cake walks. School programs where it seems I was always the narrator . . .

Oh, I could go on and on. I remember the wee library, the Scholastic book sales (the torture of choosing just one), and the bookmobile pulled up outside. Not to mention the bookcase in the back of the room loaded down with age-appropriate biographies of Betsy Ross, Clara Barton, and the like.

Adrian ElemAnd then, among my very favorite things, were those wonderful worksheets. There was a place at the top to write my name followed by blanks just waiting to be filled in with answers. There was something deeply satisfying about a completed worksheet.

Middle school and high school were much harder. The satisfaction of finished worksheets and playing on the merry-go-round at recess were replaced with awkward self-consciousness and a desire to be one of the cool kids.

Maybe this sweet longing to revisit those early days of school has something to do with being north of my fortieth birthday. But, oh, what I wouldn’t give to hunt Easter eggs on the grassy hill above the school (I found the gold egg one year) and then to go back inside and complete a whole stack of worksheets.

Maybe Mrs. Floyd would even draw a smiley face next to my grade.


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The Price of Reading–Worth It!

Reading glassesI keep seeing them on my desk and thinking my husband has misplaced his reading glasses. But no. These are mine.

Each morning I get up and read a chapter in the Bible. Lately, I’ve been suffering from “morning eyes.” It’s like I can’t get my eyes to adjust properly. I rub them and focus and start over. I wondered if I should read my Bible later in the day when my eyes were “awake.”

Then, goofing around with my husband’s reading glasses one evening, I put them on and flipped open his Bible. Magic! It was like old times.

So. Not morning eyes. More like 40-something eyes. Sigh. I went to Rite Aid and put on a pair of 1.25 magnification glasses. Ah-ha. Sigh. I picked out my favorite of the five options on offer and paid actual money for a pair of reading glasses. Seriously, if we have to suffer the agony of aging, surely we should get paid for it rather than vice versa.

BUT. I can now read my Bible easily. The first time I tried it with my new glasses I thought they really didn’t make much difference. It was just that my eyes were awake for once. Then I took them off. Oh. Well then. Reading glasses it is.

I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. Family members used to fuss at me for reading in dim light. “You’ll ruin your eyes!” Well, they aren’t quite ruined, just “used” I’m thinking. And reading glasses are surely a small price to pay for all the wonderful words they’ve delivered to my imagination over the past forty-three years.

Maybe I’ll even get a cuter pair.

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Appalachian Thursday–Seed Catalogs

carrotsI still have to work hard to resist them. The catalogs filled with beautiful, full-color images of corn and strawberries and squash and green beans . . . I don’t even have a garden. Oh, I sometimes grow a pot of tomatoes on the porch or plant some herbs in the flower bed, but I don’t have a place to grow rainbow blend carrots no matter how gorgeous they are all clean and perfectly straight.

The problem is, I know all too well how wonderful fresh garden produce is. And it’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten the agony of weeding, harvesting, and putting up.

So when the catalogs start rolling in, I begin to have delusions of grandeur. I can envision glossy, yellow ears of corn; watermelons that split open with a satisfying crack; and multi-hued peppers hanging like Christmas ornaments.

Bush beans, sugar snap peas, heirloom tomatoes, and baby lettuces wilted in a little bacon grease. Oh, the seed companies have my number!

When we were kids, Dad would sometimes let us pick something to grow in the garden. One year it was popcorn (which didn’t do well at all!). I always wanted watermelon, but the only time I remember it growing satisfactorily that far north was when we pitched rinds over the fence and the vines came up on their own.

I’ll probably attempt to grow something this year. I’ll succumb to the bedding plants at the garden center and tuck some peas between the cosmos or plant a hill of squash under the mock orange. I’ll be surprised if it amounts to much. Mostly it’s just a nod to memories that grow prettier each spring when I pull them out and polish them once again.

Tomato and mayonnaise sandwich, anyone?

Posted in Appalachian, Family, Food, Nature | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Finding Carlotta Ratts Part 2

Longfellow's PoemsToday I’m over at SouthernBelleView giving more details about finding the owner of my 130-year-old copy of Longfellow’s Poems. Pop on over if you want to read a bit of Carlotta’s story and how she fell in love . . .

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