Appalachian Thursday–Traveling

I’m headed home today to see family and do a couple of book-related events. Next week I’ll share all the details about my first experience as a published author in my home state. In the meantime, here’s a taste of fall in Western NC along with a shot from my childhood. Prayers for safe travels, please!

Fall 2010 012 Fall 2010 015 Fall 2010 011playing in leaves

Posted in Appalachian, Family, Miracles, Nature, Writing | 4 Comments

A Note for a Friend–Through the Valley

ValleyHard times–valleys–come in so many forms. They can be obvious–job loss, death in the family, sickness, natural disaster. Or they can be harder to spot–a child gone astray, a marriage in tatters, a difficult work environment. And all too often, we try really hard to keep others from seeing our valleys.

I have a dear friend going through a challenging time right now–the kind no one would know about if she didn’t talk about it. And thank goodness she’s not only talking about it, but asking friends to pray about it. She’s walking through a valley and what she wants more than anything is OUT.

I’ve been through a valley or two of my own and I wish I could swoop in with a helicopter and airlift my friend to a lodge on the top of the mountain where we’d have hot chocolate and enjoy the view. Except . . . I don’t really wish I could do that. Because here’s what I’ve learned about valleys:

  • God let’s us walk through them for a reason. Sometimes it’s really, really hard to see the reason. Sometimes you never see the reason. But there is one and it’s really, really good.
  • There are no shortcuts. No airlift, no SUVs rolling through to offer a ride, no teleportation to the mountaintop. But there is a path and you might as well start walking it, one foot in front of the other, until the hard work is done and you’re no longer in the valley.
  • While your friends can’t rescue you from the valley, they can encourage you from wherever they are on their paths. And that friend you’re sure has never set foot in a valley? You’d be surprised how dark and deep it was.
  • When you look back at the valley from higher up the mountain, you kind of wonder what was so awful about it. Oh, you remember it wasn’t fun, but from this perspective you can even see some beauty in it.
  • The valley leads to the foothills, which lead to the mountain trail, which leads to the mountaintop, and oh-my-goodness when you get there the view is SO worth it.

I hate that my friend is suffering. I’ll pray for her every day until she’s through this valley. And I trust that one day we’ll talk about it, remember it, and thank God for how He worked through it.

by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

Posted in Family, Friends, Love, Miracles, Nature, Waiting | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Appalachian Thursday–Side Dogs

ThistleThere are generally two types of folks I run into hiking in the national forest near our house. 1) Transplants with an appreciation for nature who carry water bottles, graphite hiking sticks, and often have a proliferation of bumper stickers on their cars. 2) Locals with an appreciation for the place they know who carry guns, sticks found along the trail, and often have an opinion about where the hunting is best.

Both kinds have dogs with them and Thistle and I like to visit with them all. A few weeks back, I ran into two young men who fell into the locals category. They had a hound and a second, mixed breed dog. They were, indeed, scouting spots to hunt and we chatted a minute about the dogs.

One young man allowed as how the hound was a hunting dog, while the mutt was just a good “side dog.” This was a new term for me, but a little more conversation led me to understand that a side dog is one that stays by your side, generally keeping you company. I LOVE this!

Turns out all my dogs have been side dogs. They aren’t for hunting or protection. They don’t herd other animals or track anything. They aren’t particularly well-trained. They’re just really good companions.

First there was Joe who licked the other side of my popsicle in the summer. Then there was Fred, a massive Airedale who technically had a job–to go wherever my brothers and I did on the farm. Then a series of rescues I wasn’t particularly attached to. After college there was Sammy–my first true, dog-love. And now Thistle who is the ultimate side dog. Even to the point that when I lay down, she curls into my side and grunts in contentment. Not quite an extra appendage, but almost.

Yes. Side dogs. Maybe they have the most important canine job of all. Embodying love.

Posted in Appalachian, Family, Love, Nature, Thistle | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Book . . . analysis: Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Somewhere SafeI was going to review Jan Karon’s latest novel–Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good–but I realized I didn’t want to review it so much as analyze it.

The thing is, Jan Karon doesn’t follow the rules.

If you go to conferences or classes (which I highly recommend) you’ll get lots of advice about starting the story in the midst of the action, piling on the conflict, being mindful of whose point-of-view you’re writing in, and lots of other really good tips.

Here’s what Jan Karon does:
1) She writes in omniscient POV. That means the reader sees the story through just about every character’s eyes. Much of it is in Father Tim’s POV, but we jump in and out of lots of folks heads. And I, at least, hardly noticed.
2) She started us off with Father Tim fretting over a tux that doesn’t fit anymore. Hardly a life-altering crisis. And yet, I was smiling along with Tim’s frustration over the pounds he gained on a trip to Ireland.
3) There’s conflict, but it’s not what you’d call big-time stuff. Dooley gave Lace a ring, but it’s just a “friendship” ring . . . or is it? Father Tim is offered his old pulpit under difficult circumstances. Cynthia’s eyesight is failing. Hope’s pregnancy is complicated. Sammy offers some solid difficulties with several thefts and some serious bad behavior, but otherwise . . . its everyday stuff. And I was glad.

This book doesn’t offer all the ingredients that a “good” novel is supposed to. And yet I LOVED it as have hundreds of other readers who have rated it on various book sites. There are certainly a handful that didn’t like it and several of them cite what I mentioned above by way of calling the book “boring,” the story “thin,” and saying it has “no dramatic tension.”

So what’s up with this book debuting at #2 on the New York Time’s bestseller list? Well, obviously, I don’t know or I would be debuting at #2. But here’s what I think.

As much as readers love a story that fits the template, there’s a hunger for . . . life. You know, the stuff that we all go through every day. Here are a few reviewer comments:

  • It’s not a book of epic struggles, rather it’s the small everyday trials and successes that make Karon’s books so delightful.
  • The Mitford books help me remember to say thanks for the joy and blessings in my own life where I’m “Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good.”
  • It is a novel about the beautiful ebb and flow of everyday life in a small town.
  • I feel like I know all the characters personally and laugh, love, and cry with them as they go through their daily lives.
  • The characters and their lives were so relate-able and this made them feel so real that I could close my eyes and actually let my imagination picture life in Milford.

I think Jan Karon has mastered the art of capturing the beauty of the mundane. Of a Christmas tree being lit in the upstairs window of a bookstore. Of a single woman in a caftan meeting the man of her dreams over on-line scrabble. Of a man who is only just learning to read being captivated by The Cat in the Hat. Of mistakes redeemed. Of lives lived. Of people just loving one another.

The unifying theme for Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good is a question posed by the Mitford Muse: Does Mitford still take care of its own? And the answer is what I love about each opportunity to return to Mitford.

Yes, oh yes. And so, dear reader, should we all.

Posted in Church, Family, Friends, Love, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Appalachian Thursday–WV Book Events

I’m headed home in October. Ahhhh. My favorite month in my favorite place. And as an added bonus, I’m doing two book-related events while I’m in West Virginia. So excited to take my book back to the place it was born!

Thursday, Oct. 16, 5:30 pm – October Farm Feast at Fish Hawk Acres
Fish Hawk AcresMy friend Dale Hawkins left little ole Rock Cave, WV, to become a big time chef, working his way up to executive chef at such acclaimed kitchens as Victoria and Albert’s at Disney, Glade Springs Resort, and Stonewall Resort. But his heart was always back on the family farm. Now he runs Fish Hawk Acres, celebrating the fantastic food of central WV with a Community Supported Kitchen or CSK (think CSA, but with the food arriving already prepared!).


A Chef Dale original. Oh my!

On the third Thursday of each Month from spring to fall, he hosts a farm dinner featuring seasonal victuals from his farm and the local area. And in October I get to be part of the party! I’ll do a talk and reading as well as sell and sign books. Oh, and I plan to eat like a farm girl! Visit Fish Hawk Acres if you’d like to reserve a spot for the event that starts at 5:30 p.m. Dinner is $25 (and a bargain at that!).

Saturday, Oct. 18, 11 am-1 pm – Main Line Books, Elkins, WV
I love independent bookstores. And turns out there’s a wonderful store not far from the family farm where owner Vickie has been gracious enough to host me for a signing. I’ll be there from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and would SO love to see my WV friends and fans (who are just friends I have yet to meet). I have a feeling my family may be hanging around as well! Stop by and like their Facebook page if you get a chance!

Posted in Appalachian, Family, Food, Friends, Nature, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

My First Public Book Signing

book tableThere’s nothing like sitting behind a table of your books watching people go by to remind you how important humility is. There’s also nothing like total strangers who have never heard of you or your book getting excited about meeting you to remind you the world’s still a pretty great place.

I didn’t mean to set up a book signing. I just happened to be in a Barnes & Noble in the area and, for kicks, checked to see if they had my book. They did. SEVENTEEN copies. Holy cow, there are major cities where seventeen copies have yet to sell much less a single store. I saw a manager and asked, “How can I help you sell these books?”

Next thing I know, I’m doing a book signing on a Sunday afternoon with, shall we say, not a whole lot of promotion. I personally put up some flyers and invited friends, but I think the store just posted it on their website and hoped for the best.

book table 2

My view . . .

So there I was with thirty or so books arranged on a table in front of me and people smiling distractedly as they whizzed by. But I had a secret weapon. I had a plate of candy peach slices. And when you ask someone, “Would you like a peach slice?” they’ll often stop and take one. And then, to be polite, they say something like–“Is this your book?” or “Are you the author?”

Why, yes. Yes it is and yes I am. And then I’d say it was my debut novel and they’d feel sorry for me and buy a book or at least take one of my postcards and talk to me a minute. Which was good enough for me!

Over two hours I sold seventeen books. And only seven were to people I knew. A record sales day? Hardly. But I did find homes for those original books I saw on the shelf. And I also learned that people are mostly nice.

The staff at Barnes & Noble was nice. The lady who teaches creative writing and bought my book because she wanted to support a local author regardless of the subject was nice. The couple with a son who’s a WV state trooper was extra nice–we talked a long time. The gentleman who told me tales of WWII while his wife bought my book was nice. My friends and neighbors who waited to buy my book in person at full price rather than order it on-line at a discount were so nice I could have cried.

I’d heard that book signings are iffy propositions these days unless you’re really well-known. Which I am not. And while I don’t see it as a hugely effective way to sell lots of books, I wouldn’t trade those two hours spent experiencing humanity for anything.

People are the best.

Posted in Appalachian, Food, Friends, Love, Reading, Waiting, Writing | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Appalachian Thursday–Letters from Home

Family photoOne of my greatest treasures is a collection of letters from my grandmother. She was from a generation that hadn’t quite given up paper and pen for the telephone and certainly not for e-mail. I doubt she ever sat down in front of a computer, although she marveled over the laptop I carried to her house a time or two.

Not only do the letters resurrect memories, they also remind me of the way people back in French Creek, WV, talk and the things that are important to them. Weather and family being at the top of the list.

Here’s a sample from May 17, 1999, when we still lived in SC. I kept her choice of capitalization which I see not as incorrect, but as a way to emphasize what’s important.

Just a few lines along with pictures of Bessie’s Birthday. There was three that didn’t turn out very good but the ones that I’m sending you were pretty good. Bessie survived it all pretty good. Her son in law Elmer (Caroline’s husband) got his Big Toe and the one next to it cut off in a lawn mower accident 2 weeks ago on his job. He is getting along O.K. He worked at the High School so he won’t be going back to work the rest of the school year.

It is beautiful here now. The Honey Suckles are Blooming real pretty and some of the other flowers are Bloomed and gone. We haven’t had much rain. But I heard that you had and your water was up. Hope it has gone down now and you are both doing O.K. Will write more later. Love, Grandma Burla

*In WV we called the wild azalea honeysuckle. When I moved south and encountered a true honeysuckle vine I thought the rest of the world had it wrong.

**I miss my grandma a LOT.


Posted in Appalachian, Family, Love, Reading | Tagged , , | 2 Comments