Celebration dates – Carolyn

Remind me again how much I like winter in the south. At this point it is 20 with a wind chill of about 14. That’s Fahrenheit, not the Celsius stuff. The hose is frozen in the barn, which means that I have to fill buckets with water and trot them the entire length of the barn so that the horses will have water to drink. Warmed water. I have a tank heater in the trough that keeps the water at least liquid. I also have three inches of snow in the pasture and on the road, which will make driving to church problematic. It is Elvis Presley’s birthday and the anniversary of the battle of New Orleans. Elvis is older than I am, but it’s also my birthday.

In my family birthdays have always been celebrated either not at all, or with jokes. The best one I can remember from my youth was the time we presented my mother (who abominated birthdays) with an elaborate multi-layer cake with a gigantic icing cigar complete with icing smoke and embers. I don’t recall that she was thrilled.

Neither George nor I could ever remember for sure the date of our marriage. We were married by the mayor in a tiny little Mairie (town hall) in Olivet, France. They presented us with a bright red Livret de Famille slightly larger than a passport with pages for the births and deaths of twelve children. I explained to the mayor that I had intention of filling it up. It lives in our lock box. Each year in the fall I would make a trek down to the bank to check the date we should celebrate.

The mayor was a small, plump gentleman who was wearing with his tweed jacket the sash of the Legion D’Honeur. From his age I would assume he earned it during his boyhood in the Second World War. Lord knows what he did, but it must have been extraordinary. I knew a number of people who ran messages to and from the Maquis (the partisans) when they were barely out of nursery school. Their ages would not have protected them nor their families had they been captured.

The entire wedding thing was a chaotic disaster from start to finish. I wrecked my VW bug on the way to Orly airport to pick George up on the Monday before the wedding. Then we had to drive to Paris—putting a quart of oil in the bug every twenty miles or so—to get a single stamp on a single piece of paper. We had to enlist the services of the diplomatic group of the US army to intercede with the Mairie so that they would marry us without a six-week waiting period. We had the paper giving us that privilege, but the French bureaucracy decided to be as obstructive as possible.

There was not a wedding band in Orleans big enough to fit me. We found one in the PX at 5:00 pm on Friday evening.

And I got the flu. My recollection of the wedding is hazy. I had a hundred and three fever.

I gets worse. But more of that at another time. Incidentally, we were happy together for 47 years, so we did something right.

 

Hog Jowl and Black-eyed peas – Carolyn

I have to run to Kroger to pick up some canned black-eyed peas and country ham for biscuits. I draw the line at hog jowl. I’m sure it’s fine for seasoning the pot, but something about the whole idea of those bristles just turns me off. When I was a child, my uncle Jim, the only farmer in my close kin, would drive to town to bring us a packet of hog backbone for Christmas. It can’t have been as good as I remember. Nothing could be. It was a great delicacy. He only gave it to us once a year at New Year’s. I have lady peas in my freezer, but they won’t substitute for black-eyed peas. I just found out that the number of eyes in the peas confirms the number of good days in the coming year. I, personally, could use 365.

Christmas in Memphis frequently is hot. This year went overboard. The temperature was over seventy degrees. I had to run the air conditioner for an hour or so just to get the ambient temperature down inside the house for Christmas breakfast.

We never did get the tree up and decorated. My daughter’s surgery kept her from shopping for presents. She couldn’t drive. Thank God I had enough stuff for them to open. My mother used to say that everybody needed three presents—one funny one, one good one, and one sentimental one that made you cry. I managed, but just by the skin of my teeth.

I truly have reached the age where I don’t need anything—except big things like a new computer and a couple of new barn doors. I had plenty of carrots and apples for the horses and enough gifts for my children to open to mess up the den. Good enough. They offered to decorate the tree on Christmas morning, but all I could see was having to take it down two days later all by myself. Since we decorate with miles of ribbon, I would have had to sit and wind it up spool by spool. I may actually be forced to get a fake tree, although I am dragging my feet.

Today is the start of 2017. My birthday (never you mind which one) is a week from today. When I look at all I have not accomplished this year, I wonder if I will ever catch up. Like the Red Queen in Alice (or was it the white queen? The ditzy one, at any rate), I have to run as hard as I can just to stay in one place.

This year I have decided to create a white board with all the items around here that need to be repaired and replaced. I will then hang it up somewhere I can’t miss it and try to click off an item a week. I suspect like most resolutions, that one will go by the board quickly, no pun intended.

But at this time the horses have fresh round bails of hay and plenty of food. So do the cats. Me, too, if I could figure out something I actually want to eat—except for black-eyed peas and country ham, that is.

Boy, do I hope we can all get our act together this year! If we can’t manage to agree, let’s at least manage to be polite to one another. What I wish for everyone in the new year is love and peace and health and enough money to hold it all together. Happy New Year, y’all.

Merry Christmas! – Carolyn

Christmas in Memphis is either feast or—depending on your point of view—famine. The kids who get bicycles are delighted because they can ride between the raindrops in 75 temperature. The kids who got sleds—not so much.

Last week the weather was bitter. Cold, sleety and snowy. And will probably be so next week. Actually, I am looking forward to being trapped in the house. I have spent so much time driving that I’ve used up two full tanks of gasoline, and I have to continue my treks today as well. My daughter can still not drive her car. The doctors say two full weeks. So, guess who is in charge of transportation to and from my house for Christmas breakfast—which I am about to start cooking.

I know I should be grateful to have the chance. So many people do not. But I still hate it. It’s largely because breakfast is one of those meals that cannot be cooked ahead of time. You cannot scramble eggs the night before, or they are yckky. I couldn’t find any country ham for the Sister Schubert rolls. I wrapped a couple of extra packages that I had forgotten I had this morning. The others I wrapped at midnight. On top of everything else, I have had that stomach crud that lays everyone flat this time of year. I think it is because those of us who no longer have children in the house have lost our natural immunity. Most of the year I do not shop. But three house in Wal-Mart and Target is almost guaranteed to land me with something grim—well, grimmish.

So, I am not going to church. I have no intention of spreading whatever I have. And this will be extremely short because I don’t have enough energy or good sense at this point to come up with something not Grinchlike.

You wouldn’t know it from this, but I really do love Christmas. This year the tree didn’t get decorated and there isn’t a wreath on the door, but there is very definitely love in my heart and joy in my soul.

Now, excuse me while I go cook the sausage. Merry Christmas. cmc

 

Ho, Ho, Ho. Or not? Carolyn

Saturday afternoon it was 76 degrees on my back porch. This morning it is 20. Spookey! Yesterday it was still and hot. Last night we had perilous thunderstorms with embedded tornadoes and 65 mile an hour winds. Call it climate change or something else, but it is definitely weird.

I went to the Nashoba Carriage Association Christmas party last night, and despite everyone’s telling me that the weather wouldn’t come in until midnight, I left early. Twenty minutes after I drove in my driveway the hurricane hit. I hate driving at night anyway, but driving in high winds, tornadoes and thunderstorms is downright terrifying in the dark. I hope everyone who stayed for the Dirty Santa (and had a few drinks, which I did not) got home safely.

I always say you can’t hurt Christmas, but this year my karma—or whatever—is giving it a shot. I’ve been telling everyone that I am being nibbled to death by ducks. Now I have progressed straight through being nibbled by geese and swans and on to casawaries. That’s the giant Australian bird with the big horn on its beak and the temperament borrowed from a Tasmanian devil. Steve Irwin, who had some in his zoo, said they tried to kill him every time he got near them. Me too.

Sunday night my daughter went in to the emergency room, was admitted and scheduled for laparoscopic surgery. Or more than laparascopy if necessary. The people at the hospital were absolutely fabulous. Megan said her surgeon looked barely twelve, but was not only a genius but super nice. He managed with the laparascope and did not have to cut her from her guggle to her zatch (that’s from James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks. She is home and doing fine.

However, my Christmas tree still sits tied up in my carport. I may have an undecorated and un-put-up tree this year. The presents are still unwrapped, there is not even a wreath on the front door. The horses are mad at me because I was late feeding them this morning, and it is my fault it’s cold. Obviously.

But I have wonderful friends who stepped in to help me drive Megan’s car home from the hospital. A truly caring staff at the hospital, friends who offered to help with the tree if my son-in-law can’t. Horses that nuzzle and mug me for treats when they are not mugging me for being late, writer friends and driving and riding and just plain friends, and no major damage either to me or the house from the storms. And no more than a dusting of sleet and snow.

Tonight we sing carols at my church.

The Grinch figured out that you can’t hurt Christmas. Who am I to ignore the Grinch? So, down with Bah, Humbug! Up with Christmas. Have a merry one. cmc

 

 

words and punctuation – Carolyn

CBS Sunday Morning did a segment this morning about President Roosevelt’s speech to the congress about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The state department had presented him with seventeen pages starting with the history of our relations with Japan from the beginning. Roosevelt’s final speech was a fraction of that and is remembered right up there with the Gettysburg address. Why does that matter to writers?

In grad school I had a wonderful professor—she did a seminar on James Joyce that turned me into a fan—who used to beat me about the head and shoulders when I chose the wrong word. I don’t mean using ‘infer’ when I meant ‘imply.’ Everybody knows that one. I tend to be a facile writer and let the words flow (when they flow, which isn’t always). It’s easy to pick the first word that pops into the writer’s head that sounds pretty good. According to my professor, that is not good enough. And she’s right. Roosevelt changed one word to “infamy” in his speech. A day that will live in infamy. And it is remembered.

At the first of the Christmas parties last night a group of writers got into a discussion about punctuation. Only writers would think punctuation would be a viable subject at a party. I read a great deal on Kindle. Sometimes I wish I could download a book, correct it and send it back to its author. So many have no idea how to punctuate compound or complex sentences. And they put commas between the subject and predicate. Misplaced modifiers, though not punctuation, lead to some hilarious sentences. At our critique group we look out for these ‘gotchas’ and hoot and holler and fall about when we find them.

One guest, a retired journalist, said that the reason newspapers are so badly edited these days is that editors have been fired. I prefer the British term “made redundant,” but the result is the same. “Rewrite Men” have been gone since computers replaced typewriters. Now the picky, picky, pick veteran editors have been replaced by Roboeditor somewhere in Virginia. So far, machines don’t think quite as well as the editors they replaced.

Does any of this matter? It does to me. I am no more perfect than any other writer, but at least I give it a shot. We do not want to become the ‘post literate’ society.

 

Whew, back at last – Carolyn

Storybroads has for some reason been unavailable–at least to me–for several weeks.  This is basically an update of what I wrote and couldn’t post. It’s a report of our Malice in Memphis writers retreat in the woods at St. Columba, the Episcopal conference center north of Memphis. A lovely lodge set in the woods. Nobody but us.

We have seminars, watch movies, brainstorm, critique. Writerly stuff. And our first chance to see the copies of our new Malice in Memphis anthology of ghost stories. I hope those of you who get it will enjoy it. Our third should be out before the Fourth of July.

But nothing is ever easy. My daughter wound up in the emergency room Thursday night. They thought they might have to operate, but decided to give her major drugs and send her home until Monday. Of course, her car was at the hospital, and there was no way she could drive drugged, so I went down to get her and take her home at 2:00 in the morning. I do not drive after dark if I can help it, though with my new Escape, it’s not so parlous. That meant I have to take her back on Friday (when she was in her right mind) to pick up her car. No problem. All I cared about was that she was apparently better.

However—Friday morning I had to make butterscotch brownies and layered nacho dip. Then I had an appointment for a photo for my church directory that afternoon. Plus the packing, getting my two sessions ready to be delivered and the handouts printed.

Unfortunately, the photos look just like me. I hope they can retouch out the double chin and the circles under my eyes. I still managed to get to the lodge by six in the afternoon. Breathing hard.

And, of course, we had a blast. I don’t know about others, but I probably took in fifty thousand calories.

Our major speaker was Debbie Dixon of Belle Books, one of the best and most knowledgeable teachers I have ever heard. She did three hours on The Big Black Moment. I took enough notes to finish the synopsis on my next proposal and then some.

She’s a tough act to follow, but I did follow her with two hours on the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey. Since there were five men among us, the heroine’s journey generated a lot of discussion. Great! The men refused to believe that despite the pill, which is the greatest social change since the death of the woolly mammoth, self-determination for women has not increased that much.

Then, the St. Columba host came by to check on us. Despite the fact that I had been the contact person and was standing right beside him, he spoke to and gave his card with his cell phone number to the MAN who was standing beside me. I didn’t give it a thought, but the male writer noted it after the man had left us for evening. He was annoyed.

Since I had to feed the horses, I did not spend Saturday night at the retreat, but when I left, there were half a dozen brainstorming groups and several others working on critiquing their first five pages. I did want to stay, but I know Zoe and Frieda would never have forgiven me if their oats had been late this morning.

Successful weekend! Everybody needed a creative juice infusion. I think we got it.

Flying Changes – Carolyn

The Malice in Memphis ghost story anthology is out! Hooray! It’s in trade paperback as well as in Ebook form on Amazon. Getting an anthology together even with a group like ours that meets once a month as well as critiques together can be challenging. Makes herding cats look like directing the Vienna Boys Choir.

Some people delivered their stories in the first week after the decision was made to concentrate on ghost stories. Some of our members, however, dawdled until we were about ready to throttle them. In the final analysis, getting good stories was more important than artificial deadlines.

We made our publication date before the rush to buy Christmas presents. Whew! Since both Memphis and ghosts are of major interest these days, the anthology would be a great Christmas present. Whatever royalty I might make will be more than eaten up by the copies I order to send to friends in Canada and the States.

If you have watched the dressage classes at the Olympics, you have seen the horses come down the center like dancers—one canter stride with the left lead, one with the right and so on. This is called a ‘flying change.’ Among my horse buddies, ‘flying change’ has come to mean an abrupt shift of subject.

So—flying change. This weekend was the annual horse show put on by the Nashoba Carriage Association in which horses and carriages drive obstacle courses, intricate patterns at different speeds, and even drive a cross country marathon. The horses range in size from miniatures to great big draft horses. The carriages run from two wheel Meadowbrooks to big elaborate steel Marathon carriages.

I tell my writer friends who write historicals that if they intend to have characters drive or ride in carriages, they really ought to come to the show and see real carriages and horses, and if possible, catch a ride with one of the drivers.

It’s much bumpier than you might think, and at a strong trot, can become hair-raising. And it is noisy! Romances often have lovers making love inside a fast carriage. They’re better coordinated then I am! How romantic is it to crack heads with your lover when you drive over an unexpected bump? Or to wind up on the floor when the carriage swerves around a sharp corner?

I absolutely love driving my big old Zoe horse. Did it yesterday, as a matter of fact. But I am fully aware that I am less in control than I am when I am in the saddle. Not that Zoe would agree. She hated being ridden and dumped me more times than I like to remember when I rode her. But she’d drive me to San Francisco and back quite happily. Horses are funny.

Back to the ghost stories… I hope you get them and enjoy them. We had a blast writing them. Every southerner has at least one ghost story. I think we have enough leftovers for a whole other book.

Malice Anthology–at last – Carolyn

At this point, it looks as though our Malice in Memphis ghost story anthology will be published in time to do a booksigning for Halloween. Nobody has told me the title of the anthology, but I think it’s Malice in Memphis Ghost Stories. Not all that creative, but at least it says what it is. It will be available on Amazon—hint, hint. Just think what lovely Christmas presents copies would make!

Everybody seems to have a ghost story to tell. At least we southerners do. When I was researching my stories, I found that even the people who swore up and down they didn’t believe in ghosts would say, “But, now that I think of it, my old Aunt Mary’s house had a ghost…” and up would come a story that they swore was absolutely true.

I think I have very little of what it takes to connect with the supernatural. I may have dozens of spirits gibbering around in my house and barn and getting grumpy because I ignore them. After George died, I did have a couple of things happen that were not explainable. I think they were George telling me he was still around and looking after me. I keep a very heavy fifty foot chain coiled outside my back door to use on my tractor. A week after the funeral, I started out the back door to go to the barn to feed the horses and found that chain stretched full length across the garage. Nobody comes up in my driveway without alarms going off, and no animal could have moved it. But something sure did.

Then a few days later I discovered that the small tool chest George kept in the garage for quick fixes was sitting in front of my car door. Not lying flat, but sitting upright. And it weighed a good twenty-five pounds.

This house bumps from time to time, but everyone’s houses do that. I know we have field mice. They come in every autumn. No idea how they get in, but the cats present dead ones to me on a regular basis. They do make noise. But I know they aren’t paranormal. They’re just cold. The deer sleep in my pasture—I find their nests like miniature crop circles. I seldom see them, however, although last spring we had a faun under my horse trailer. I disappeared fast so its mother could find it without angst.

If I have spirits in the house and barn, they are apparently benevolent spirits. The cats tell me they can see or sense them. Not me. I don’t feel George’s presence as much any longer. That, according to my psychic friends, is normal as well.

I am content to let my friends have their ESP. I’d just as soon not be aware of any ghosts. But I do like writing about them. Look for our Malice in Memphis anthology a couple of days before Halloween—the perfect publishing date.

 

public speaking – Carolyn

Our Malice meeting yessterday had a great program on public speaking. In the lists of things that people fear, public speaking apparently tops the list, followed by snakebite and death by drowning. People would rather die than speak in public! Amazing. Our instructor teaches public speaking (very well) at several of the local colleges. As writers, we are always being asked to speak, but if nothing else, if someone in an elevator asks, “What’s your book about?” You’d better be well rehearsed with giving him your twenty-five words or less. After all, it could be Stephen Spielberg.

One of the students we heard about was a girl who threw up whenever she was asked to speak. The great Helen Hayes used to throw up in the wings every night before she went on stage. She still gave a fabulous performance.

I grew up acting in several local theatre groups. I am a terrible actor, by the way. I am always too aware of how I look—hold in that stomach even if the character would slouch. I even played Salome in Oscar Wilde’s Salome when I was sixteen. Did not have a clue what I was doing, and I heard my mother in the audience gasp when the last of the seven veils came off. My mother’s gasp would have been identifiable on the top of the Empire State Building.

I actually learned to speak when I was being trained to be a Weight Watchers lecturer in Minneapolis. I haven’t kept the weight off that well, but the speakers’ training has stayed with me.

I don’t think you can fake caring about the people in the audience—I can’t, at any rate. I really do like talking to strangers and will strike up a conversation with almost anyone. One of my more reticent friends went to an agricultural show with me and was appalled when I spent my time talking to the people who raised cattle and hogs. But then I love cattle and hogs, and I love learning about anything I don’t know—gives me a wide variety of subjects.

People mostly enjoy talking about themselves. It’s the only thing that makes a writer’s research possible. Find out who knows, then ask them to tell you. I once called the office of the DEA on Sunday afternoon and asked the agent on call to describe marijuana to me. Our back yard backed up to the big dormitory at the University of Memphis. I had discovered some interesting weeds behind our garage. The agent was a little bemused, but he spent thirty minutes telling me much more than I needed to know. Yea, lo, verily, our lovely weeds were indeed weed. The nice DEA agent told me to pull them up, put them in a trash bag and stuff them in the garbage can. And not under any circumstances to throw them in the burn pile and set them alight. A couple of my friends were horrified I hadn’t passed them along.

Those people you are speaking to are mostly happy to interact with you. Talk to them like friends. Almost always, they will react like friends. And practice your twenty-five-words-or-less. Stephen Spielberg, where are you when we need you? cmc

 

 

It’s fall, thank heaven! – Carolyn

Since I had to remove the masses of horse stuff from my old Expedition before I let it go to the dealership, not only is my den a wreck, but so is my bedroom. Since I both ride a horse and drive a horse, I accumulate tack and medications and brushes and boots and britches and on and on and on—all of which winds up in the back of my now much smaller SUV. So I have already tossed out a big garbage bag of stuff, with more to go.

And before next Saturday’s meeting, I am supposed to finish the initial edits on our Malice in Memphis writers’ groups’ third anthology of short stories about crime and ghosts in West Tennessee.

Then there’s the taxes. I don’t know any writers (although I’m sure there are plenty) who do their taxes early. Actually, mine are now done, although not paid or sent in. And it’s barely the beginning of October. My accountant—a saint on this earth—is amazed.

Somewhere among this stuff, I am supposed to be writing a three-book proposal. Un-huh.

The good news is that so far I have not managed to kill the new plants in my newly constructed flowerbeds in front of the house. I used to say I can kill philodendron. These days I’m saying I can kill poison ivy just by staring at it.

And it is finally fall! The best time of the year according to the musical comedy Plain and Fancy. Not New England nor East Tennessee fall quite yet, but the heat is off. I can actually wear jeans without dying of heatstroke. How strange that for us southerners the year opens up just as it starts to shut down for winter.

Tomorrow at our church, we are having the annual fall blessing of the animals. I wouldn’t miss it, although I wouldn’t dream of taking my two remaining cats. The big black cat is so antisocial she growls at ME. Monte, the Burmese, screams so loud and long no one could hear the service.

The blessing of the animals arose out of the opening foxhunts where riders blessed their hounds. I don’t know how they’re handling foxhunts in England these days, but in this country we have never killed foxes on our foxhunts, except by accident. Around here we don’t have enough to waste, and we love our foxes.

I don’t hunt. No fences for me, thank you. But I do know that the foxes seem to know the days the hunt is out, leave their burrows and wait for them. One of my hunting buddies says she has seen a dog fox sitting on the top rail of a three rail fence watching while hounds bounded through and ran on beneath him, never noticing that B’rer Fox was laughing down at them.

Our carriage association usually follows opening hunt in our carriages. I’ve never done that with Zoe, my big old mare. She’d think I’d taken leave of my senses if I started cantering her across a field with the carriage attached.

So I will go sedately to our blessing of the animals and pray for all of them, and for us that we care for them to the best of our ability. They deserve it.