The Valley of the Shadow

My Bible study group recently discussed the power of memorizing scripture and then meditating on it. I decided to give it a try and made big plans to memorize something really great–Romans 12, say.

So, after a week or two, Thistle and I were walking in the woods and I figured I’d better just go with some scripture I already had in my head. Good intentions being what they are. The 23rd Psalm it is!

So I mulled over those lovely words, repeating them, turning them like hunks of quartz. And there it was. “He maketh me to walk in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil . . .”

So, if God is leading me down a specific path and then the very next line is about walking into the valley of the shadow of death . . . did he lead me there? Initially, that was a troubling thought. But the more I pondered, the more consoling I found the idea. Because if God is leading me into difficult situations that means he has a purpose for them. Plus he’s WITH me in them.

And I have nothing to fear.

Pretty encouraging stuff for my first attempt at meditating on scripture.

Appalachian Thursday – A New Story!

Well, no one guessed the title of my new story, but Connie Porter Saunders and Eleanor Mercer came closest with The Right Kind of Love. So what’s the new title?

The story features Creed and Delphy Raines–a husband and wife living in Randolph County, WV, who have become largely estranged since their son–Loyal–lost his hearing at the age of four. But when Loyal, now thirteen, discovers a dead body near the Tygart River his parents will have to find common ground as their deaf son is pulled ever deeper into the mystery surrounding who killed Eddie Minks.

Plenty of characters in this story do foolish things. Much as all of us do foolish things. But there comes a point when someone finally does the right kind of foolish thing. And isn’t what I’m hoping for every day? That somehow God will use even my foolishness for his good.

It’s a quirky title–but I REALLY like it! How about you?

Looking Ahead – My 2020 Release

It seems like When Silence Sings JUST released and here it is time to look ahead to my new story for 2020. And I’m loving the title and the spectacular cover. I’ll start sharing the cover image more widely once the story is available for preorder, but in the meantime, I thought it would be fun to invite you to try and guess the title! Of course, if you just can’t wait to see the rest of the image in the lower left corner of the graphic above . . . you can sign up for my newsletter and get a look on February 11 (tomorrow)!

Appalachian Thursday – "It's not real."

I recently had my grandmother’s engagement ring restored (thank you Andy at Marthaler Jewelers!) It now sparkles like it must have when Grandpa bought it more than 60 years ago.

The ring is VERY special to me. Grandma Burla was Grandpa Rex’s second wife. But he married her before I came along so I never knew her as anything other than my REAL grandma.

When I was little I thought her ring was the most gorgeous, priceless jewel I’d ever seen. Then she quit wearing it at some point–fingers too arthritic for rings. When she was well into her 80s–maybe even 90–she started giving away her favorite things–her pitcher collection, quilts, odds and ends that meant something to her. And during one visit to her little brick house in Evergreen, WV, she handed me a box with the ring inside.

Grandma had large hands. She’d told me before how hard it was to find gloves that fit back when that was what ladies were expected to wear in public along with a stylish hat. And she was worried I’d have to get the ring sized down to fit me. Nope. It fit perfectly (I have big hands, too!).

It was a very sweet, very emotional moment when I slid that ring onto my finger and it fit just right. Then Grandma leaned closer, lowered her voice, and said, “It’s not real.”

The diamond is what she meant. The band is 10k gold and a jeweler once told me she thought the stone might be a zircon (not to be confused with cubic zirconia). But either way, it’s NOT a diamond and Grandma didn’t want me to be disappointed.

But I think my ring is real the way the Velveteen Rabbit became real. It’s priceless in the way treasured, one-of-a-kind family heirlooms are. Diamond, paste, or zircon, this is the ring my grandfather (who died when I was six months old) picked out just for my grandmother. It’s the ring she wore when she made us chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. When she held cards in her hand for a rousing game of Crazy Eights or Go Fish. The ring on the finger that clasped mine as we played Ring Around the Rosie until we all fell down right there in the yard where her beloved peonies and flags grew.

Family photo
Me and Dad and Grandma. Yes, I’m wearing the ring!

Real? I guess so. I can’t think what could possibly be more real than this gift from the woman who loved me a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck and who gave me a bit of sparkle to remind me what real really is.

My Favorite (Secondary) Characters

It’s sort of required for an author to feel really attached to her characters. I mean, if I don’t feel strongly about them–why should you? So Perla, Casewell, Judd, Fleeta, Colman, Serepta . . . they’re closer than family.

But what I didn’t expect was how attached I’d be to so many of my secondary characters. In a way, I like some of them MORE than my heroes and heroines. Maybe because there’s still some mystery–I don’t have to know them quite so well as the main characters who’s thoughts, feelings, and personal lives are spilled across every page.

And so some of my very favorite characters are the ones in the background. Here are a few I wish I could spend a Sunday afternoon getting to know better:

Angie and Liza Talbot – These older twin sisters from Miracle in a Dry Season are counterpoints. Angie stiff and hard-nosed and Liza sweetly naive. I pictured them living in my great Aunt Bess’ house and I still think about stopping in to see them when I’m in West Virginia.

Hank Chapin – This southern boy who helps Judd Markley find a job in The Sound of Rain is just a solid, genuine person. A straight shooter who’s loyal and honest, I liked him so much I gave him his own story in the novella A Shot at Love.

Charlie Hornbeck – Oh, Charlie! Serepta’s right-hand man in When Silence Sings, Charlie breaks my heart. A black man in 1930s West Virginia who cares deeply for a white woman . . . well, you know life is going to be tough. I REALLY want to write the rest of his story.

So how about you? What secondary character has stuck with you? Maybe even MORE than the hero or heroine? And if you’ve ready my stories–which secondary character do you wish I’d give his or her own book?

Of course, there are others–the story I have coming out later this year features Sheriff Virgil White. Bald and blunt, I have a little bit of a crush on him.

Appalachian Thursday – the care and feeding of elk

When we visit the farm in West Virginia we ALWAYS see deer. Lots of deer. But elk? Well, there are some at the Wildlife Center we drive past on our way in. And yes, I did try to trick my husband by pointing one out the first time we drove by as if seeing elk along the road was a usual thing.

But really it’s not.

Unless you lived in Marlinton, WV, in 1913. That’s when a trainload of elk arrived from Yellowstone Park. Here’s a snippet from the The Republican News printed on January 31, 1913.

“The carload of elk from Yellowstone Park arrived in Marlinton Tuesday and were unloaded Wednesday and taken out on the Allegheny Improvement Company lands near Minnehaha Springs. The elk while a little thin in flesh arrived in good condition.”

Of course, elk did once roam the mountains and meadows of West Virginia but were, most likely, hunted out and populations were pushed west. Until State Game and Fish Warden J. A. Viquesney made it his ambition to repopulate the state.

It didn’t work and the 50 or so elk faded away. Today, there’s a successful population in eastern Kentucky that’s beginning to spill over into southwestern West Virginia (Hatfield and McCoy country!). I have yet to see one, but it’s intriguing to read about hundred-year-old attempts to return them to the region.

Here’s one last newspaper clip from The Republican News:

“It is thought proper to advise you, however, that no more than twenty-five elk should be put in a car and that if the elk are shipped in ordinary cattle cars the lower part of the car should be covered with burlap canvas or some similar material to screen the animals from view and to prevent them from being disturbed at the stations enroute. The elk should be fed and watered, if possible, every twelve hours while on route.”

What do you think–should I work a stray elk or two into my next story?

Hungry for Community

If you’ve been reading my blog very long you know I hike just about every day. I’m lucky enough to live a mile from Pisgah National Forest and have been walking those trails for about twenty years now.

Two decades ago the area didn’t have easy access but five years or so ago the forest service added a parking area. When we started hiking those woods we rarely saw another person. Now, the lot is typically full to overflowing on weekend afternoons.

Twenty years ago, if we met someone it was an event. We’d chat, exchange notes–we got to know the handful of folks who hiked up there. Larry and his black lab Bruin. The parkway hiker with his dog always wearing a bear bell. Neighbors from our street. We were a small community well-known to each other.

These days I occasionally strike up a conversation with someone new, but mostly hikers just nod and exchange basic greetings or ignore each other. If it weren’t for the dogs, we probably wouldn’t interact at all.

Which got me thinking–we live in a world where people are hungry for community. And maybe part of the challenge is that there are TOO MANY opportunities for connection. It makes it hard to know who we ought to connect with and how. I imagine early settlers just struck up friendships with the two other people who were around. But when you encounter dozens of people throughout the day–when you pass ten people on a single hike–it makes it HARDER to connect. There’s always another chance . . .

On Saturday we were headed back down the trail when a guy on a mountain bike dropped in behind us. He was chatty! Turns out he’d gotten lost on a high, ridge trail, and was clearly relieved to have found people who could tell him the way back to the parking lot. He was eager to connect!

Maybe the trick to community is being willing to connect with the people in our paths–neighbors, co-workers, church members. All we have to do is look up from the trail we’re on and start a conversation.

And if you’re not sure what to say, just get a friendly dog. The best connection-builder I’ve ever known.

Appalachian Thursday – State Flowers

Ever have one of those weeks when you can’t keep track of what day it is? Yeah, me too.

Wild azalea (often called honeysuckle by
the old timers) with mountain laurel in
the background.

On January 23, 1903–117 years ago–the Legislature of West Virginia passed a joint resolution naming the Rhododendron as the state flower.

I’ve known our state flower for as long as I can remember knowing there was such a thing. Rhododendron grows prolifically in the state with evergreen leaves in the winter and lovely pale to pink flowers in the summer.

But I didn’t know how the flower was selected until well into adulthood. Turns out back in 1902, Thomas C. Miller suggested a flower be chosen as a state emblem. He put word out through The West Virginia School Journal as follows:

“With the object of securing some definite action on the question [of a state flower], I suggest that on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving in the month of November, 1902, not only pupils in our schools, but all who wish to indicate their preference for a ‘State Flower’ shall vote for a first and second choice and have this vote recorded by the teachers in the school district. Teachers will please to keep an accurate record of the vote and forward the same to this office before the 10th of December following.”

He went on to name some possibilities including: goldenrod, mountain laurel and other species of rhododendron, apple blossom, wild rose, and white clover.

On November 26, 1902, laurel (rhododendron is also known as big laurel) was the overwhelming choice with 19,331 votes. The second runner up, with a distant 3,663 votes, was honeysuckle (wild azalea). Apple blossom, which I think might have gotten my vote, received only 1,224. votes. If you’d like to see the full tally, click HERE.

I wonder if rhododendron won simply because it’s SO prolific? And can we count mountain laurel as well since it was “laurel” that won? Ah, the politics of flowers.

Do you know your state flower? Here in NC it’s dogwood.

Looking Forward to Spring (Events)!

Ann Gabhardt and I at a previous Southern Kentucky Bookfest. She writes the BEST books!

I just came in from walking Thistle on a COLD and BLUSTERY day. Ick. I love getting out for walks but not when the temperature is below freezing and the wind is standing my hair on wind.

Which has me thinking about spring . . . Of course, I also have some great book events coming up this spring so that’s one more reason to look forward to turning the calendar pages (I know Mom–don’t wish my life away!)

Here’s a listing of some upcoming events–hope I might see you at one of them!

February 21-23, 2020 – Asheville Christian Writers Conference at Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, NC. Okay, so February isn’t quite spring, but I’m pretending. I’m also teaching classes about pitches and queries in the morning and writing your proposal in the afternoon.

March 8, 2020 – Mills River Presbyterian Church Book Club – Mills River, NC at 12:15 p.m. – Join me for a lesson in forgiveness from Miracle in a Dry Season. I’m excited to be sharing with this great group of ladies and I know they’d welcome you to their church!

March 20-21, 2020 – Southern Kentucky Bookfest – The Knicely Conference Center (2355 Nashville Rd.) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. On Saturday I get to be on a panel with Ann Gabhart, Jolina Petersheim, and Kristy Cambron at 1 p.m.–yippee! Love these ladies!

May 15-17, 2020 – John C. Campbell Folk School – Creative Writing: Setting as Character – Join me for a weekend intensive about writing strong settings in fiction at this beautiful folk school in Brasstown, NC.

So how about you–what are you looking forward to this spring?

Appalachian Thursday – Place as Character

If you haven’t caught on yet, I LOVE these Appalachian Mountains. And my hope is that when I write about Appalachia in my books the sense of place is so strong it’s practically its own character. I even go so far as to lead a workshop about “Setting as Character.” And I’ll be leading that very class at the John C. Campbell Folk School May 15-17, 2020.

I’ve had the opportunity to teach classes at several regional writing conferences and book festivals. I really enjoy sharing the tips and tricks I’ve learned and hearing from writers at all different stages of the process.

I’m always excited about leading a class. But I’m SUPER excited about this one!

The folk school began in 1925, based on the model of Danish folkehojskole. These rural schools have no exams or degrees but rather focus on “learning for life.”

In the early 1900s John C. Campbell came from Wisconsin to the Southern Appalachians where he and his wife studied mountain life from Georgia to West Virginia. They learned about everything from farming practices to folk ballads to handicrafts. After John died in 1919, his wife Olive and her friend Marguerite Butler, decided to take what they had learned to start a folkehojskole in Appalachia.

They approached a storekeeper in Brasstown, NC, with the idea and promised to return in a few weeks to see if the locals were interested in helping. When they returned they were met by more than 200 people who offered labor and supplies to make the dream a reality.

Today, the school offers a variety of classes including handicrafts, music, art, nature studies, and writing. And in May, I get to be one of those teaching writing! If you’d like to learn, write, and talk about your writing, I hope you’ll consider joining me. See you in Western North Carolina!

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