SouthernBelleView–Where do you get your characters?

Please join me over on SouthernBelleView today to learn where I dig up my characters and how I cobble them together by borrowing bits and pieces from all around. Who knows, if I meet you, YOU might provide some inspiration!

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Appalachian Thursday–Blackberries!

blackberrySummer is a fruitful time in the soft, green mountains of Appalachia. The black raspberries are gone and now we have more blackberries than we know what to do with. The season has been prolific with more than enough for me AND the bears.

When it comes to blackberries there are pies, jellies, jams, sauces, salads, and even sweet tea. But really, I think most of two things–cobbler and wine. My great-grandmother was a believer in blackberry wine to cure most things. A family story goes that when my brother was a baby he had an, er, intestinal complaint that doctors couldn’t cure. A tablespoon of blackberry wine from Grandma Jane and he was good as new!

So here’s a recipe from a booklet titled, Oppis Guet’s Vo, Helvetia. It includes recipes, household hints and cures collected by Eleanor Mailloux from the residents of Helvetia–a Swiss Village near where I grew up in WV. I don’t know if the recipe is any good, but the writing is great!

“On a lovely August day, find yourself a blackberry patch and pick a couple of gallons of berries. Put in crock and cover with water. Let set for a day–whenever you think of it mash and stir. Strain into containers and add 3 1/2 cups sugar to every gallon of juice. Usually, blackberries don’t take yeast, but for your first try you might add 1/2 cake dissolved yeast in 1/4 cup lukewarm water–add to juice and stir well. Ferment until stops working, put in jugs and cover tops with cloth. Let continue to work in warm place until bubbles cease to rise. When completely fermented, seal. Drink the following spring.”

And for a more practical recipe, you might try this cobbler from the Jubilation Cookbook for the Joyful Woman given to me by Anna Cutright in January 1989.

Blackberry Cobbler – Margaret Holmes
-Put 1 stick of butter in a deep dish and put into oven at 350 degrees.
-Mix: 2-4 cups blackberries with 1 cup sugar
-Mix: 3/4 cup plain flour, 1 cup sugar, 3/4 cup sweet milk, 2 tsp. baking powder
Stir into a smooth batter. Pour batter gently into center of melted butter. DO NOT STIR. Gently pour fruit into center of melted butter and batter. DO NOT STIR. Bake about 1 hour at 350 degrees.

My advice would be to serve that with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream!

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A COOL excerpt for a HOT summer

Snow Day

My very own piece of creek after snow last December.

I don’t know about where you are, but it’s been HOT lately. Oh, I know, breaking 90 degrees is nothing for many of you. And we DO cool down at night. Morning’s are still fresh and lovely. So I’m not expecting too much sympathy. Still when I’m out for a hike and sweat is trickling down my spine and damping the backs of my knees . . . winter suddenly seems ever so much more appealing!

And since Until the Harvest opens in January, it offers a taste of wintry weather. So, because the weather is HOT in so many places right now, I thought I’d offer you a frosty excerpt to hopefully lend a little West Virginia winter chill to your day. This section comes after the hero–Henry Phillips–has been up to no good and is regretting it . . .

“A creek ran alongside the road. He pulled over and Charlie cracked one eye, then grunted and settled back to sleep. Henry got out and crouched beside the stream to splash icy water on his face. It hurt, but the aftershock made him feel a little clearer. He scooped up a handful of water and slurped it. Now that felt good.

“Slinging droplets from his numbed fingers, Henry considered the crystal water. It was beautiful. He bet there would be moss and ferns come summer. Mayfair would appreciate how pretty this was. A smooth, white stone gleamed in the shallows. He reached for it, gritting his teeth against the cold sinking into his bones. The force of the water tumbled it once, twice before he snatched it into the frigid air. He held it up and saw how it sparkled in the sun—pure and clean.

“A memory of trout fishing with Dad when he was eight or nine flickered in his tired brain. They’d hiked to a remote stream, carrying their poles and other gear. Dad trusted him with the wicker creel—he remembered how it bounced against his leg as he walked. He hadn’t much known what he was doing, but Dad had been patient and eventually he hooked a rainbow trout. It broke the surface splashing water like a spray of diamonds in the sunshine. He’d nestled the trout along with two Dad caught into moss lining the bottom of the creel. That night Mom rolled the fish in cornmeal and fried it for supper. He remembered the look Dad gave him—like they were two men who had, together, conquered the wilderness.

“Henry hung his head letting misery wash over him. He listened to the music of the stream wishing he could go back in time to that other stream and the sunshine and his father. He tucked the stone in his pocket. For once, he wouldn’t blame Margaret for judging him harshly. ‘Good thing she can’t see me,’ he said as he got back in the car.

“Charlie grunted and then snored. Henry had an urge to shove him out and leave him on the side of the road, but that probably wouldn’t help his case. He started the car and realized it had begun to snow. There really hadn’t been any snow since before Christmas. Now the huge, fluffy flakes drifted down, skimmed across the windshield and whirled away. It should have been beautiful, but at the moment Henry didn’t feel like he deserved any kind of beauty.”

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Appalachian Thursday–Black Bear Adventures

Mama and her cubs two years ago.

Mama and her cubs two years ago.

The black bear is the state animal of West Virginia, therefore I’m a fan. And yet, in all my 18 years of living on the family farm, I never saw one. There was a big, rolly-polly bear at the Game Farm who loved to drink soda through the bars of his cage, but he was hardly a REAL bear.

Then we moved to Western North Carolina which is apparently one of the top ten coolest places for bears to live. One day last summer we saw SEVEN different bears over the course of a single day. We’ve seen cubs playing in the trees, we’ve spent far too much money on birdseed (which we eventually learned NOT to do), we’ve named bears that came back season after season, we even had one bear who knew who to turn a doorknob (that back door STAYS locked).

And the funny thing is, while I have an incredibly healthy respect for bears, I’m not afraid of them. This came home to me just yesterday.

Earlier in the week Thistle and I were hiking and encountered two ladies who mentioned their dogs disturbed a yellow jacket’s nest along a trail we’d just hiked. I experienced a little jolt that I had so narrowly avoided danger (I had an allergic reaction once).

Yesterday while hiking a different trail, Thistle and I walked up on a black bear indulging in a blackberry feast (I’d just been doing the same thing). Thistle froze and watched the animal–a mid-sized female I’m guessing–from about 30 feet away. I called her back to me (thank goodness she’s never chased a bear), snapped on her leash, and made enough noise for the bear to hear.

The bear jumped like she’d been stung by a bee and hightailed it into the high brush to our left. We could hear a second bear crashing through the brush off to the right. We gave them a few moments to clear the area, then went on down the trail. I loudly talked to Thistle until we were well away lest we sneak up on any other snackers.

And I wasn’t scared. I was cautious. I was alert and careful, but in my book yellow jackets are way scarier than bears. Who, by the way, eat stinging insect larvae.

I guess all I have to say to that is, “Go Bears!”

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Revisiting a MOST popular post

I’m over on SouthernBelleView.com today, revisiting my most popular post from THIS blog. Yup, the one about SEX in Christian fiction. Somehow, almost four years after I wrote it, that piece continues to get hits. Pretty much every week. So if you’d like a refresher, click on over and weigh in on sex in Christian fiction.

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Appalachian Thursday–Feet of Steel

BarefootGrowing up on the farm, we pretty much took our shoes off on the last day of school and didn’t put them on again (except for church) until summer ended. I ran through the yard without a thought for bees. Walked across the rocky driveway without flinching. Hopped from rock to rock in Laurel Fork without slipping. (Well, maybe once or twice.) The bottoms of my feet were like rawhide.

At night, Mom sat my brothers and I one by one on the toilet lid and wash our feet with a warm washcloth. It wasn’t always worth the trouble of taking a bath, but she would at least scrape the grime from the bottoms of our feet.

Once upon a time, people in Appalachia went barefoot to save their shoes. They didn’t have 30+ pairs lost in the back of the closet. Even my dad, when he was a kid, had limited shoe resources. But when I was a young it was nothing more than a preference. I remember begging to go barefoot in the spring when Mom would decree it too cold. There was a joyous freedom in feeling soft grass between my toes.

Now I wear shoes to walk across the kitchen tile. I have to work up my nerve to dart barefoot into the yard to fetch one of Thistle’s toys. (I mean, there are bugs and stuff.) I wear “water shoes” to go in the creek and consider wearing flip-flops in any shower outside my own home.

My toes are tender. My heels easily bruised. My nails are pearly pink and my shoes are adorable (especially the ones that chafe.)

And I find myself missing my feet of steel. Longing for the relief of never needing to match my footwear to, well, anything. So here, in the midst of July, I pledge to go barefoot. To brave the grit I like to pretend isn’t on my floors. To let the grass tickle my toes. To dip my feet in the creek. And to honor the passing of summers long gone–those glorious days without shoes.

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Embracing My Fraudulent Self

Tiara

God’s princess–even if I am weak and foolish!

I have a confession to make.

I’m a fraud.

Oh sure, I’ve had a couple of books published and have been contracted for a third. Yes, people have read those books and even liked them. There have been some good reviews and a couple of awards.

But it’s only because no one has caught on yet.

I look around the writing world and see writers dedicated to their craft. Authors who carefully research, who plot, who pin down every detail and spell every word right. They actually know the grammar instead of just intuiting or guessing like I so often do.

These are the ladies and gentlemen at writers’ conferences who take meticulous notes and ask brilliant questions. They can rattle off their elevator pitches and are always prepared to impress editors and agents. Once they have a contract, they meet every deadline, and are marketing whizzes.

They know what they’re doing and are always striving to do better.

Me? I’m just a fraud, faking it until someone catches on and kicks me out.

Except.

I once confessed my feeling that somehow any success I’d enjoyed was more luck than skill. More chance than effort or brilliance on my part. And do you know what my friend said? She said she felt exactly the same way.

So I’ve asked a few other friends. Guess what? Most of them, at least some of the time, feel like frauds, too.

And I’m guessing you’ve felt that way at one time or another as well. Not good enough. Not smart enough. Like everyone around you is doing something brilliant and will soon realize how clueless you are. And then they’ll call you out. Ask you the question you can’t answer. Pull back the curtain and reveal the fact that you’re just pulling random levers hoping for a good result.

But wait, before you give up and throw in the towel–there’s this.

I Corinthians 1:27-29 –  Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

Oh right. I’m NOT good enough. I AM a fraud. But God is the real deal and as long as I strive to step back and give Him room to work through me, all will be well and it won’t matter that I’m weak and foolish. I won’t need to boast–I can just point toward God and give him the credit.

Now that’s good enough for me.

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