Burla Fitzgerald Loudin

burlaIf she’d lived longer than the 97 years God gave her, Grandma would have turned 102 this past weekend. That’s how old Aunt Bess was when she passed, so it’s not much of a stretch.

I wear the engagement ring my grandfather gave her on my right ring finger. She had largish hands and when she gave it to me she assumed I’d need to get it sized. It fit perfectly, which I think delighted her as much as giving it to me did.

Here’s what I miss about her:

  • Playing ring around the rosey in the side yard where the sweet william bloomed.
  • Games of button, button, who’s got the button, hide and seek, crazy eights and old maid.
  • Cutting roses, flags (irises), mountain laurel and peonies from the front yard.
  • Making popcorn and grilled cheese sandwiches in the same skillet on a gas stove.
  • The tick, tick, tick of the gas stove lighting and then the sulphur smell of matches.
  • Dirty socks from running around shoeless in a house with a coal-burning stove.
  • A TV tray at the front door with Halloween candy laid out, waiting for trick-or-treaters.

And Sunday dinners (usually ham, don’t forget the bread) and playing in the creek and “bless your heart” when I was sad and a jewelry box that unfurled when you lifted the lid and head scarves and white sweaters with shiny buttons . . .

But most of all, I miss, “I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck,” followed by the most wonderful, I-love-you-forever Grandma hugs.

And even though she’s gone, I know she does love me forever. And I love her, too. A bushel and a peck that run clear to heaven and back again.

Miss you Grandma.

I’m a cheater

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Me with two of my best sources for research.

I write historical fiction . . . but I cheat.

I only just realized this as my third novel was about to release last year. I’ve long struggled with genre and fitting what I write into a specific slot. Maybe it’s historical. Maybe it’s romance. Maybe it’s historical romance. OR it just MIGHT be women’s fiction.

Regardless of my dithering, my books are often characterized as historical fiction. Which is fine with me. But then I realized something . . . I don’t work nearly as hard as most other authors of historical fiction do.

I really enjoy the genre and often read it. Right now I’m listening to Newton & Polly by Jody Hedlund. It’s about John Newton–the author of Amazing Grace. The descriptions of clothing, social customs, and John’s time as a sailor are vivid. It all feels very real to me—I know Jody did her research.

Which brings me to cheating. I research very little. Oh, I look up timelines and newspaper headlines for context, but I’m not exactly immersing myself in 18th century England. I don’t have to research conditions aboard ship or the danger of opposing the slave trade. I don’t have to wonder about clothing and bathroom issues. And if I read someone’s diary, it’s just because I want to.

All I’ve really needed to do thus far in my writing journey is listen and ask questions.

The furthest back my novels have gone is 1948. My father was born in 1941 and he remembers a good bit. As did my grandmother who shared many a story before she passed.

It’s as though I’ve been researching my books all my life. In West Virginia, one of our primary forms of entertainment is sitting around telling stories. This drives my husband nuts. He’ll look at me as Dad launches into the story about a dog named Sloomer and mouth, “We’ve heard this one.”

Yes, we have. And hearing it again will only drive it a bit deeper into my psyche—will only make it that much more real when I translate it for my readers.

The upshot is, if you’re a writer, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Digging deep into research—becoming an expert on a specific time period—is wonderful. I have deep respect for writers who spend at least as much time researching as they do writing.

But when I took a notion to write historical fiction, all I had to do was dredge up the stories I heard at my father’s knee. All I have to do is close my eyes and think back to those stories I heard sitting on the porch of an evening.

Common advice is to write what you know. I say, write what you wish you knew.

You’re Never Too Old

I’m closer to the half-century mark than I used to be.

Which, I suppose, means I am undeniably a grown up whether I want to be or not.

But still . . . there are days when I just want my momma.

I recently spent several days at home in West Virginia. I wish it were just because I so love being there, but there was more to it than that. Mom recently had surgery and Dad was due to see his neurologist to monitor his Parkinson’s Disease.

They aren’t getting any younger, either.

So many of my friends are in the same position–parenting their parents in some form or fashion. Which is hard not only logistically, but also emotionally. For all those times I felt like they were smothering me with their rules, love, affection, and support–that’s exactly what I crave now.

And the funny thing is . . . there were moments on this last trip when that’s exactly what I got.

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Sunday evening I sat in the floor at my mother’s feet chatting and halfway watching football while she fiddled with my hair. If you aren’t aware, having your hair fiddled with is one of life’s great pleasures. And it’s something my mom used to do often when I was younger. Sometimes she was brushing or braiding my hair, but there was also plenty of soothing, affectionate fiddling. And for that hour or so, I was a child again, simply  being soothed by my momma.

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Then, just before I left to drive home, my Dad did something wonderful. His health and really his whole way of life is very much in limbo as we try to keep Parkinson’s at bay. He actually seems pretty stable right now,  but we both know there are decisions to be made and tough choices likely up ahead.

As I was saying goodbye, he wrapped me in his arms and said, “I don’t know how, but this will all work out.”

It was exactly what I needed to hear from the man who for so much of my life, seemed to have all the answers. And here’s the best part–I’m pretty sure he’s right.

Top Posts of 2016

chartsI’m kind of a data nerd. I like charts and statistics. Survey results make me giddy.

So, at the end of another blogging year, I like to take a little time to look back over the data. And inside my blog there’s this fabulous little tab titled “Stats” that let’s me do just that. You may not care about blog stats, in which case consider the next few minutes free time to do something else. But if, like me, you dig data, then here we go!

I began blogging in 2010 when I had just over 1,000 views–mostly my mother visiting again and again. By 2013, I’d gotten in the grove with nearly 9,000 views and around 3,000 visitors. So not just my mom. In 2015 and 2016 I seem to have leveled off with around 13,000 views and 6,500 visitors. Is that good? I have no idea, but it feels pretty good to me.

In 2016 I posted 107 times–twice a week with a few extras thrown in. Here were the top five posts for the year:

  1. Appalachian Thursday–Old Christmas (This was carryover from a 1/31/15 post.)
  2. Let’s Talk About Sex . . . In Christian Fiction (Published in October 2011, this post appears to be what’s called “evergreen.” Sex attracts attention. Who knew?)
  3. A Blessing Disguised as a Medical Emergency (If you ever need to boost blog traffic, having a stroke and writing about it is super effective.)
  4. The 10 Comments Authors Like to Hear Most (People seem to LOVE top 10 lists.)
  5. Appalachian Thursday–The Outhouse at My Wedding (I’m guessing the juxtaposition of outhouse and wedding piques readers’ interest!)

Other interesting (at least to me) bits of data include:

  • 89% of my readers are in America; 4% are in Canada, 1% in Brazil (really??); 1% in the UK; and .5% in Australia (thanks Rel)
  • Most people find my blog via Facebook (#1) and Google (#2) with Twitter a distant third
  • The top search term is . . . Sarah Loudin Thomas (people are spelling my name right!)

So what’s my takeaway from all this lovely data? Be honest, be real, stay active on Facebook and be nice to my mom–I still think she’s my biggest driver of traffic.

Appalachian Thursday – 2016

I’m not a fan of looking at the turning of the calendar as any kind of clean slate. I figure most every day is the perfect time to begin doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. But in the spirit of the New Year, I took a moment to look back over 2016 in Appalachia. Whether at the house in North Carolina or the Farm in West Virginia, I don’t like to stray too far from my mountains. And flipping through a year’s worth of images reminds me why.

An Appalachian Fourth of July

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Back home in West Virginia there was always a bean supper at Lucille’s for the Fourth of July. George and Lucille were first cousins to my dad and they had a little, white house up on the ridge above the church.

Each year, Lucille would organize the event with a big kettle of beans bubbling out in the yard, cakes of cornbread, chilled watermelons, and every kind of dessert you could imagine prepared by the ladies of the community. It was a potluck of sorts, although you knew the ham and beans would be there, having cooked for hours and hours in the open air.

Men played horse shoes and told tales. Women fussed over the food and talked the day away. Children ran wild, looking for trouble to get into and usually finding it. Some years we’d have a few fireworks that set Lucille to worrying we might start a fire in the pasture.

And as evening fell we’d gather–bellies sated, stories wound down, and children wore down–for music. They’d gather in the little front room of the little house and play and sing. Folks would sit wherever they could on the floor or the front porch, and listen or maybe join in.

And I would curl in Dad’s lap, dried sweat prickling my arms, equal parts exhausted and contented, and fall asleep to the sounds of music, crickets, and the voices of the people of my particular slice of this amazing country.

God bless America. God bless Appalachia. God bless the people who loved me so well when I was young and didn’t know how lucky I was.

Appalachian Thursday — Lazy Summer Days

What do you do when you have a whole day before you with pretty much no digital technology to distract you?

Oh wait, I remember! That’s how it was when I was a kid.

Sure there were three or sometimes four channels to watch on TV, but nothing of much interest. And we eventually had an Atari system, but that couldn’t hold a candle to, well, everything else there was to do! And having a five-year-old on hand for a long weekend at the farm in West Virginia helped me remember all the fun we used to have doing things like . . .

Yup, turns out having a whole day with nothing in particular to do is a fantastic thing. When can I sign up for another, please?