Yes, it is. Today was supposed to be a visit with screaming-funny author, Lexi George.
Y’all know I don’t bring guests to the Lair unless I love the books, and I DO love these books. But some stuff happened, and…ahem..well..it’s my fault she’s not here. There was a timing issue. Bottom line? I blew it. *hangs head* She will join us in August and she’ll bring her hunky Dalvahni Demon hunters along with her. So watch for that.
But in the meantime…
YES! I’m starting a series. I’m calling it Cassondra talksBandit to Bandit.
I’ve wanted to do this for a long time–interview the other Bandits. Ask them the questions that don’t usually get asked.
I make no promises about the timing of the interviews, or who will be my guest. And chances are good I may scare some of the other Bandits away and nobody else will agree to be in the hot seat.
Enter at your own risk. Muahahahaha!
Sven is bringing around drinks for everyone, and the house lights have been dimmed.
So for my first interview in the Bandit to Bandit series, please give a rowdy lair welcome to our own Nancy Northcott!
Cassondra: Nancy, most of us know you have a thing for super-heroes, comic books, science fiction and fantasy. That came from when you were little, I’m guessing.
What was the first book you remember being read to you?
Nancy: It was a picture book version of Silver Chief, a story about a wolf and a Mountie. It had no super-powers, no paranormal elements, not even a mystery.
Cassondra: This is not the Nancy we know. *raises eyebrow* How did you get from Silver Chief to Super-heroes.
Nancy: I discovered super-heroes when I saw the window of the M&M Soda Shop in my hometown of Davidson when I was seven. I was walking down the street with my grandfather (my mom’s father) and spotted a Superman comic (I think it actually may have been an issue of Superman’s PalJimmy Olsen) lying in the window. It had a Phantom Zone story on the cover, if I remember right, and I was intrigued with the bright colors and spooky ghosts. So I asked my grandfather to buy it for me.
“Honey,” he said, “are you sure your mama wants you to have that?”
“She won’t mind if you buy it for me,” I replied, with greater insight than I realized. And so it all began.
And Cassondra, you’re not that scary. So far.
Cassondra: Hmmm. I’ll have to try harder.
What’s the first book you remember reading by yourself?
Nancy: I don’t really remember what that was. I suspect it would’ve been in the Dick & Jane series.
Cassondra: I know nothing of this series, but since I’m a romance writer, based on the cover I’d say Dick and Jane had something going…Ahem…
What book did you read over and over as a child?
Nancy: The D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, an oversized, beautifully illustrated picture book about the Greek gods.
Cassondra: Oh, jeez. I knew you were a geek, but I had not fully comprehended the extent of it, or how early it started.
Nancy: It’s never too late to be enlightened. Anyway….I discovered that book in the school library when I was in third grade, and I checked it out over and over and over again. This was about a year after I discovered super-hero comic books, so maybe the two are related. From a third-grader’s perspective, the Greek gods seemed a bit like super-heroes.
Cassondra: Okay, yes. I can see that connection.
Nancy: The dh learned of this a few years after we were married. The book was back in print, and he gave me a copy for Christmas. I later enjoyed reading it to the boy.
Cassondra: Okay now for the serious stuff…
What are you willing to tell us about your first date?
Nancy: Hmm. It was with a guy I met at the Latin club banquet. He was taller than I was–always a plus!–as well as a year older and actually looked pretty good in a toga (with a shirt–remember, this was high school a few decades ago). I thought he was interested in my friend, but he called and invited me to go with him to hear a chamber orchestra.
All I knew about classical music was what my piano teacher had managed to instill in me and I’d absorbed from being in the band. Still, he was cute and nice, and into Latin, so why not? We had a great time and dated for a while.
Cassondra: What was the best date you ever went on? (No, it doesn’t have to be one with your significant other. Shhhh. We won’t tell.)
Nancy: That’s kind of a toughie. My view of any date is shaded by what came after it.
Cassondra: That is so quintessentially Nancy.
Nancy: *rolls eyes* So I’ll pick the night the dh and I got engaged, which happened on the sidewalk as we walked from dinner to a play. It’s tough to focus on the stage when you feel as though you have champagne fizzing inside you, but we stayed for the whole thing. That was 26 years ago, so what came after obviously shades it rather nicely.
Cassondra: What do you collect, and why?
Nancy: I love dragons (big surprise!), so I collect dragon pictures and glass goblets with blown glass dragons in the stems. I have four different goblets. They’re not very expensive, which adds to their appeal, but I haven’t seen a new one lately. We drank champagne out of them when Renegade sold.
Cassondra: You love dragons. So it’s no coincidence that you were the Bandit who found Ermingarde and brought her to live here in the Lair.
Nancy: I guess it’s not a coincidence. She turned up in our back yard when the Golden Rooster was here overnight. Our house was too small for her, so I brought her to the lair, and that was that.
Cassondra: Good thing we had a turret. Ahem….What toy do you still have from your childhood?
Nancy: A small, red (now faded) stuffed dog I hid in the Barbie airplane box in the basement because he had holes in him, his stuffing was coming out, and my mom was going to throw him away. As the years went by, I kinda forgot about him. I found him again when we cleared things out before my parents moved out of the house. His foam stuffing is rock hard now, and he looks pretty bedraggled, but I’m never getting rid of him.
Cassondra: Okay that’s just totally awesome. *sniffle* A beloved stuffed animal goes straight to my heart.
If I say the word “hero” what male actor comes immediately to your mind?
Nancy: Christopher Reeve. His Superman was superb–
Cassondra: *interrupts* I totally agree.
Nancy:….and the way the man turned personal tragedy into an opportunity to help others was awe-inspiring. Even without a red cape and spandex, he was amazing.
Cassondra: We all know you’re a history geek. But what is up with you and Richard III? I happen to know you’re crazy about that era, and it comes up frequently in conversation when we’ve been together. It comes up from YOUR side of the conversation, since I know zip about this time in history. What’s up with that?
Nancy: I read Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time on a recommendation from a law school classmate. Richard III has a reputation, thanks to Shakespeare, of murdering many, many people. So, the gist of the book is that Tey’s Inspector Grant sees the NPG (National Portrait Gallery) portrait of Richard III and does not believe this is the face of a murderer. He then starts looking into the history of Richard’s reign.
I’m an English history geek. The mystery just drew me in. So I went out and read everything I could get my hands on, on both sides of the question, but with particular attention to the sources that believed Richard III was not a murderer.
I still read about this now, and I have to say I think the traditional case has a great many holes in it. It bothers me to see historians write about other figures in the Wars of the Roses and credit them with intelligence and political ability, then flip to say Richard hoodwinked them and murdered them. The internal inconsistency makes me nuts.
Cassondra: Only you, Nancy, would be driven nuts by this.
Nancy: I’m restraining myself here with an effort because I could go on about this at very great length..
Cassondra: Yes, we see that this is, indeed, the case.
Nancy: Ahem….and your Bandit to Bandit would turn into Nancy’s Soapbox on Historical Controversy.
Cassondra: Thank you so much for not taking it there.
Nancy: I was talking to Anna Campbell and Duchesse Jeanne about this in the bar at the Washington, DC RWA conference when Anna C started laughing.
“What?” I said. I mean, to me the fact the National Portrait Gallery had rearranged things and stuck Richard in with the Tudors, the ones who, yaknow, knocked him off the throne, was a matter of great moment. Quite annoying, especially as it took me half an hour to find him.
Shaking her head, Anna chuckled. ”You talk about these people as though they’re your neighbors.”
Well. Yeah. Because they interested me at least as much as my neighbors did. *g*
Cassondra: So you’ve studied all of this at great length and been to see the sites involved?
Nancy: The last time we were at the National Portrait Gallery and I was seeking out the portrait of Richard III, the dh waited in the lobby. Someone taking a poll for the gallery approached and asked him why he’d come there that day.
“My wife,” he replied. ”When we’re in London, we have to come here so she can see Richard III.”
He reported that the woman didn’t seem to know what to say to that, but he was merely speaking the truth.
And just think, this is me being restrained!
Cassondra: Indeed. And this is why we love you. *grin*
Last question…Most of us have something–some hobby or dream–that we’re saving for “later.” Later when we have time. Later when we have money. Later when we retire. What are you saving to do when “later” finally gets here?
Nancy: Assuming “later” arrives with considerably more money than we currently possess, I’d like to spend two weeks in England and have box seat tickets on Centre Court for the second week of Wimbledon.
Cassondra: Me too! I love tennis! It’s my sport of choice.
Nancy: Thank you for having me kick off your series, Cassondra. I hope we haven’t scared anybody.
Cassondra: I guess we’ll see whether they come back for seconds. Thanks so much, Nancy, for being my guest and guinea pig.
So, Bandits And Buddies…
What’s the first book you remember–whether it was read to you, or you read it yourself?
Who is your favorite super-hero?
And when you think of the word “hero” (or heroine) what actor comes to mind for you, either male or female?
Are you like Nancy?—Are you a geek about something? Is there something you love, like Nancy’s comic books or Richard III, that you obsess over but nobody else around you gets?
Do you have a toy from childhood–one you’ve saved–that means something to you?
Sven is serving drinks, and Ermingarde is toasting marshmallows on the front lawn.
Hey, don’t question it. She. Breathes. Freaking. Fire….
It’s her way of fitting into the lair festivities.
The guys who keep the Lair running are passing around snacks. Grab some food and drinks, tell us about youself, and join the fun as we get to know our favorite history and comic book geek, Bandita Nancy.
When I signed up to take an extra blog day in May, I had no clue I was signing up for THE BIG DAY.
The one day that is observed, in one form or another, pretty much all over the world. Because no matter who you are or what you believe, you either ARE a mom, or you’ve HAD a mom at one point or another.
Quality of said relationship aside, if you actually, literally, never had a mother, meaning you were hatched in an incubator or just poofed here, well…that’s more of a sci-fi/fantasy blog and we’ll save your story for another day.
I did nothing–not even a Google search– to verify this, but I have the strong sense that more human females ARE mothers at some point in their lifetimes, than are NOT mothers. I form this totally unscientific opinion by observation of the strange looks I get when I say I don’t have children.
When I say, “we don’t have kids,” people—every single time –hesitate, then they either get a tiny little crease between their eyes–a little frown of sympathy because they think we can’t have kids, or they cock their heads sideways to try to figure out why. To figure out what’s wrong with us.
Because we are the odd ones. The ones who have chosen to not have children. More on that later, but my point is that motherhood is held up by most humans as a saintly, enlightened path.
And hey, I’m not going to argue. Anybody who would willingly do the equivalent of passing a watermelon through her nostril has some kind of miracle thing happening anyhow.
Now this blog may take a dark turn, so let me say right up front that I have a great mom.
She loved me more than her own life, and did a good job being a mother to a little girl who wasn’t at all “girly,” and who would rather help her daddy skin a squirrel than learn to polish her nails.
My mom let me be me. And that’s the best gift any parent can give a child.
She’s been having some health issues the past couple of years, and I am grateful–and very fortunate– to have her with me still.
We could not be with her today, so she got a ginormous hanging basket of dark purple petunias from Steve and me, and we talked for a long while on the phone.
But back to this accidental blog thing.
So anyway, once I realized that I’d signed up for this day, I went through the “Oh, shizzle!” moment, and realized that none of my pending blog ideas would work.
But I was not much interested in the typical Mom’s Day blog. You can’t swing a dead rat on this day every year without hitting an article or a blog about how wonderful mothers are. Which is nice and all, but I tend to keel over from mental diabetes when I overdose on that much sweetness, so we’re going another direction.
Oh, come on. Even if you know me, at least pretend to be shocked that I can take a blog about motherhood and turn it toward the dark side.
The reality is, not all women make good moms.
I, for instance, would make a totally rotten mother. All my children have fur or feathers, and that’s a very good thing for the human race because I would have no idea how to meet the needs of a human baby and would have certainly warped the child into something unrecognizable.
I’m writing a not-so-good mom in my current story. In fact, she’s a be-yotch. She didn’t start out that way, but deep pain brought out the ugly in her, and her daughter–well, the daughter got the worst of it.
Today I wanna talk to you, the readers, about moms in books.
But…muahahahahaha! Not just the nice ones.
As authors, we use moms mercilessly. Sometimes they’re great friends and mentors to the characters in our books. But other times—actually I’d say MOST of the time—they’re not.
Most of the time, in the angsty stories I read, there are issues.
The reason there are so many “mom issues” in fiction is that we, the authors, want to make our characters real to you, the reader, and that means we have to give them flaws. We have to give them angst. We have to torture them and give them pain that leaves deep wounds.
Few wounds go deeper or affect us more than do the wounds from childhood, and few wounds can turn a sane child into a serial killer more quickly than the wounds inflicted by parents. Whether the perception of the parent’s wounding is based in reality or not, if the ‘rents did the kid wrong, there’s good material there.
And we writers…well, we’re not too proud to take the low road, if it’ll make the story better.
If a rotten mom will make my character more interesting, nothing much is off limits.
But I digress.
An awful lot of women’s fiction deals with the issues between moms and daughters.
Have you noticed that in the romance genre, our heroine does not normally go through an entire book without mention of her mother? Because the mom–or the lack of one–can really affect who that heroine (or hero) is. And sometimes that mom was not only a strange character, but she was selfish. Sometimes she was emotionally absent. Focused everywhere but on her child. Sometimes she was a criminal. Sometimes a drug addict or a prostitute. Some story moms were completely absent, and not always because they had no choice.
Some of the best story heroes and heroines are made, I think, by having rotten moms.
On the other hand, some of the best stories come from reuniting moms and adult kids, or from long-awaited resolution, where hero or heroine and mom or dad finally understand one another and are able to start again.
I have said before that I might never write a heroine who has children because I don’t know how to write kids. I don’t know how to make the kid believable, or the mother-child bond believable, or the internal feelings of the mom toward her child read as real. I’ve felt the love of a child for her mother, but not the other way, because I’m not a mom.
There are writers out there who write great “mom as heroine” characters without ever having children. I just don’t think I could pull it off.
Christina asked in her blog yesterday whether we liked books with children in them—and I don’t, particularly. They’re okay, and I have some amazing examples on my keeper shelf, but given the choice between kids and no kids, I’ll usually choose no kids, because I don’t really relate. But I am in the minority I think.
Today I want to talk about this–about moms in books—both good and evil.
Whether the heroine of the book was, herself, a mom, or the heroine’s mother was a character in the book, I want your recommendations for great reads that include moms.
I’ll start this out with three books I love.
One of the most interesting and colorful “product of her raisin’ characters I’ve ever read is Sugar Beth Carey in Ain’t She Sweet? by Susan Elizabeth Philips. I know I talk about this book all the time, but because Sugar Beth’s parents were painted so believably for their situations—because they were so unfortunately real—Sugar Beth was more real for me. I felt her hurt and her shame, and though she did some rotten things herself, I still cheered her because she’d been through hell as a child.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a master of the flawed character, and this book is full of real, flawed, down-and-dirty people.
Sugar Beth had a sorry scoundrel for a dad. Sugar Beth’s mom was not what you’d call empowered, and in her own way, did the best she could to take care of her baby and make up for what Daddy did NOT do. Those influences made a walking disaster out of the heroine of the book, and that intrepid heroine has not been a good person for much of her life.
And yet, as flawed as Sugar Beth’s mom was, she was Sugar Beth’s rock, and foundation long after she was gone. I cheer for Sugar Beth and cry for her as she starts at the bottom of a hole and then digs it deeper, then finally comes into her own. All the while I’m thinking, “We all screw up one way or another. I might have done the same thing, Sugar Beth. You go girl!” And when she finds love in the least likely of places, it sort of makes the world seem right.
Neither parent is ever, technically, on stage in Ain’t She Sweet?. They’ve both been gone a while when the book opens. But the mom lives and breathes as fully as any human walking the planet today, and her presence in Sugar Beth’s memory, and in the woman Sugar Beth has become, is part of what makes this book the powerful read it is.
Another amazing story mom, and another book on my keeper shelf, is Sophia in The Courtesan’s Daughter by Claudia Dain.
Sophia, courtesan turned Duchess, is the mother of the heroine in this book. She’s seen the pretty and the ugly in life, and is determined to guide her headstrong daughter to happiness. Her strong-handed and irregular way of doing that makes this book shine, as much for Sophia as for the romance heroine, the wayward daughter, Caroline.
The last story mom I’ll mention puts both the evil queen in Snow White and Cinderella’s horrid stepmother to shame, and this dastardly diva was penned by none other than our own Anna Campbell in her debut novel, Claiming The Courtesan. This book is one of the most gripping emotional stories I’ve ever read, largely because of the dark, tortured soul of Justin, Duke of Kylemore, his often despicable actions, and his painful journey to finding love.
That darkness of the soul is never more powerfully clear than when we finally see it mirrored in his selfish, twisted mother long after Kylemore has found his way to the light. When we scream out, “NOOOO! How could he!?!?” at the beginning of the story, we are destined to find some of the ugly answer later when we meet his mother.
This was an unbelievably powerful first novel, and it remains in a place of honor on my keeper shelf.
I’ll leave my picks there, at two good, Angel moms and one rotten beyotch, and ask you, Bandits and Buddies, to tell me about the powerful mothers in the stories you’ve read.
If you still remember those characters long after you put the book down, they’re bound to be amazing, so let’s have your picks for the Angels on Earth AND the darker, driven, evil queens on the pages of fiction.
What stories have you read with great main characters who were moms?
Do you have any of those on your keeper shelf?
What about stories where the hero or heroine was powerfully influenced by his/her mom—in a good way or a bad?
What made that a powerful read for you?
And for sure, I want to know the best WORST mom you’ve ever read.
I’ve met people who, upon hearing a real-life story of a bad mother, simply couldn’t believe it. They thought it had to be a lie, that no mother could “do that to her child.” So in spite of how often we read books with a rotten parent as the basis of the main character’s internal emotional wound, do you know anyone who can’t relate to a hero or heroine who has the evil queen for a mom?
Tell me some books with wonderfully written evil moms—whether they were on stage in the book or were a part of the main character’s past. Who are these mom characters you love to hate?
And in those stories, did the evil mom get her comeuppance?
You can include movies too, since there are some really great “mom” influences there. The evil stepmother in Cinderella comes to mind immediately.
This time of year–springtime in Kentucky–the grass is getting tall.
When I was a little girl I spent a lot of time walking through the fields on my daddy’s farm. In reality I was only a few hundred yards from the country road, but there were not many houses nearby. I had good parents who loved me more than life itself, but I bet modern social workers would be apoplectic if they found out how small I was when I went running alone through those fields.
I was out of sight of the house, but I never went so far that I couldn’t hear my mama holler from the back door that supper was ready. I knew better than to go too far.
On Daddy’s farm the pastures were surrounded on three sides by woods, so most of the farm was made up of meadows–tall grass spread across rolling hills.
I was little for my age, so in May the grass had seed heads, and was every bit as tall as I was. I spent lazy evenings wading through that high fescue in the rich, golden light that spread across the fields before the sun went down. In a good year the grass was so thick that if you weren’t careful, you’d tangle your feet in it and trip.
In a bad year–one without rain–it was thin and sparse.
But for today we will focus on the good years.
Daddy usually made good hay, but even in a good year it was never perfect. There were always weeds.
And in a good year, for a little girl, those weeds mixed in with the fescue made things better. There were daisies nodding in the sun, and Passionflower blooms hugging the ground. Soft-as-silk foxtail seed heads at the edges of the field danced with the slightest breeze, tiny yellow and blue flowers peeked out of the shortest grass, and the tall, tan stalks of broom sage dotted the hillsides and added texture to the whole arrangement.
Bees buzzed from bloom to bloom and red wing blackbirds perched on stalks of last year’s milkweed, singing to me as I passed by. Doves hooo-OOOO’d and quail called out “Bob-WHITE?” from the edge of the woods at the top of the hill.
I loved the farm, and I loved the grass when it was tall. I also loved the smell of fresh-cut hay that would follow in early June, when the grass was cut. But in the springtime, I was an explorer, blazing new trails through the grassy meadows, finding the small treasures nobody else would see because they never took the time to look.
Back then, there was not necessarily a fence, but there was a definite, distinct line between “the field” and “the yard.”
Daddy mowed the fields twice a year with the tractor and a mowing machine. He mowed the yard twice a week with a push mower.
The field was wild and wooly. The yard was nice and short. It was genteel. It was neat.
It was a measure of the responsible person in residence on that property.
You could always tell when something was wrong in a neighbor’s life because all of a sudden their yard would be all grown up and unkempt. Other neighbors might step in to mow the grass and help keep up the besieged neighbor’s property during a time of distress.
Some unfortunate houses had yards that were hardly ever mowed. The bushes were never trimmed and the weeds grew waist high in front of the door.
Those people had problems and everybody knew it.
Sometimes those houses were rentals. Other times the people were just so poor that they could barely afford to buy food. Forget power equipment and the gas to run it.
Or let’s just get down to the ugly reality. Sometimes they were drug addicts or stayed passed-out drunk all day and night. Often, the kids from those houses got on the bus in dirty, torn clothes, with dirt smeared on their faces and no money for lunch.
We didn’t know about clinical depression then. Kentucky country folk are about as compassionate as any people on earth, but those old timers didn’t generally make a lot of excuses for anybody who wouldn’t try and sometimes that was the case. The bottom line was that if the yard and the house looked like hell all the time, it was usually a sign that something was wrong, and the neighbors didn’t have any big words to label it.
Those people’s lives were just not working.
By strict financial standards my family would have been counted among the poor, but growing up on a farm meant I had plenty to eat. My folks made sure my face was washed and my clothes were clean.
And our yard? Our yard was always neat.
Flash forward past high school and college to the year 2000.
That’s when Steve and I bought this 160-year-old house and started a restoration project. We got ourselves a mortgage, threw every dime we had at this money pit of an old house, and moved in when the house was a shell. We had a yard that was a whopping acre-and-a half, and the only power equipment we owned was a chainsaw and…drum roll please…a push mower. A small one.
In case any of you have never mowed a yard, let me simplify by saying….that’s not enough equipment for a yard that size.
For the first two years we lived here, we mowed one small section of the yard each week. We couldn’t keep up.
Our yard looked like a redneck agricultural experiment gone bad, complete with old appliances, two toilets, and three bathtubs (hey, two of them were clawfoot tubs—that’s classy) alongside the lumber, stacks of bricks and piles of pipe and siding lying in the overgrown yard.
One summer we went away for a week to a Search & Rescue conference and left Steve’s dad with a key and instructions to feed the animals.
Our house sits about a hundred yards from the road, up on a gentle slope.
We came home after the conference, slowed down to turn into the driveway, and Steve said, “OMG!” and started laughing. I lifted my head and looked at the yard. Steve’s dad had used our push mower to mow a ginormous smiley face into the thigh-high fescue in the sloping front yard.
Even so, everybody knew we had just moved in “not too long ago” and we were working on the house. That was our excuse.
Flash forward to now.
We’re still working on the house, but now I own a 26 horsepower riding mower with a 54” deck. I can mow an acre and a half in about two hours.
I have a top-of-the-line string trimmer, a tiller, and a high-end push mower plus we still have my trusty workhorse chainsaw. In one long, hard summer day a week, given decent weather, by golly I can beat nature back and make my yard look like a golf course.
Can is the operative word here.
My dad’s yard was never a mess. Never. Neither was my grandfather’s. Somewhere in my upbringing I developed the ingrained belief that people ought to keep their houses and yards neat, and if they don’t, something’s wrong.
Honestly, what my neighbors think of me has never been particularly high on my list of things to worry about, but I do try to be considerate.
I don’t play my music loud. I don’t run the string trimmer at five in the morning on a Sunday. I don’t have wild parties or leave stacks of beer bottles on the lawn. The police do not make regular stops here—at least not with their lights flashing. I try not to bother people.
But for a few years, an idea has been relentlessly present in the back of my mind.
I first saw this idea implemented when I was in graduate school for horticulture, and it pinged something deep inside me. Since then it’s been calling to me and I haven’t been able to let it go. I’ve wanted to try it, but I’ve been afraid. Because of that whole “nice people keep their yards neat” thing.
This year I gave into the idea. Two weeks ago I mowed my yard for the first time this year.
But I didn’t mow all of it.
In the back yard, right smack in the middle, I left a meadow.
Yes, a meadow. Complete with tall grass and the requisite weeds.
That’s part of my meadow in the picture on the right. It’s small. Only about 50 feet long by 25 feet deep, but it takes up a big chunk of my back yard, and the grass, now, is almost up to my hips. It’s chock full of daisies and Snow-On-The Mountain and a few wildflowers and a whole bunch of weeds. Bumblebees bumble through it. Rabbits jump and play in the high grass, and in the morning the dew shimmers on the tall stems as they nod in the gentle breeze.
And since the day I mowed and left my meadow, a thought has been relentlessly niggling at me.
What will the neighbors think?
I know the “you should keep your yard neat” idea is still strong because one time a few years back…this was after I had purchased all that nice outdoor power equipment…a neighbor noticed my yard was taller than normal.
I’d actually let it grow up because there were two rabbit nests in the front yard, and I was waiting for the baby bunnies to leave the nest and be okay before I mowed. But he didn’t know that, and without so much as a by-your-leave, he brought his trailer over, unloaded his big zero-turn mower and proceeded to mow my lawn.
It was a nice gesture. He thought he was helping us.
I had to run out and stop him before he got to the rabbit nests. But the message was clear…just like when I was little.
If you don’t take care of your yard, something is wrong with you.
There is farmland all around me. I could crawl under the fence and walk in the field behind my house if I wanted. There’s broom sage back there. And a pond.
But it’s not mine.
That stuff across the fence is not my meadow.
As I type this, I sit at my kitchen table where I work and write, and this picture, below, is the view I see. I look out the window at the tall grass and my soul feels such deep peace.
I mowed all the way around it, and if you look at the pictures, you can see that there are areas of groomed yard surrounding it. There are definite edges—the point where I mow meets the point where I don’t. The yard meets the field. All in my little acre and a half.
I’m hoping that, come summer, lightning bugs will find refuge in the tall grass. When the rainy weather is past, I hope to sit around the fire pit and hear crickets and frogs chirping in my meadow.
I hope garden spiders string webs between the strands of fescue.
And I really, really hope the neighbors don’t call the DEA.
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Do you have a yard?
Do you keep it neat, or do you let it get wooly?
If you normally keep it neat, have you ever let it grow up for any reason?
In your area, is a messy yard a signal that something’s wrong?
Do the neighbors pitch in to help with the yard if someone falls on hard times?
Do you own any outdoor power equipment?
If so, how long does it take you to mow, trim, and edge?
If you own fields, do you have fences or do you just “stop mowing” to define your lawn?
Or do you live in an area where you don’t have to mow at all?
Have you ever considered letting part of your yard turn wild–into your region’s equivalent of a “meadow”?
Cassondra: My mom says I was too young, and that I shouldn’t be able to remember, but I do.
I can just barely remember Walter Cronkite reporting the first moon landing because it was such a big deal that my parents stayed up late. They never stayed up late. I was a tiny little thing.
That’s my first memory of television news, and it made an impression.
I went on to study journalism, and to admire people who reported the news with integrity and earned the trust of the audience.
Today I’m pleased to welcome to the Bandit lair a man with that kind of track record.
I met former NBC anchor Wes Sarginson two years ago in Atlanta. It was clear immediately why this man has been so successful in his life’s work. He obviously enjoys people and the tales of their lives. I could have listened to his stories all night, and I knew right then that I wanted to introduce him to all of you here.
Wes’s career in tv journalism spans four decades, and before he retired, he was behind the news desks in Montgomery, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Tampa and Atlanta.
He’s just launched his fiction debut, so it’s the perfect opportunity to bring him for a visit. Even better, his new thriller, Justifiable, is a collaboration with a long-time friend of the Bandits, Dianna Love.
Sven is behind the bar slinging drinks, so everybody get comfortable and please join me in the usual rowdy fashion as we overwhelm…uh….I mean…welcome… Wes Sarginson.
Cassondra:Wes, we’re all curious about your days as an anchorman. I know your first job as a teenager was in broadcasting, but did you have dreams of reporting the news when you were a little kid?
Wes: No, I didn’t plan to be a journalist. I was working my way through Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama, and got a call from NBC news in New York.
Cassondra: This was in the early-mid 1960s, right?
Wes: (nodding yes) They wanted someone to go to Selma before the big march to Montgomery and asked if I would do it. I asked “how much will you pay?” They gave me their fee schedule. I asked if they would pay mileage for my car. They said they would pay ten cents a mile. I jumped on it. When I got there it seemed pretty exciting and I was hooked. After a few radio interviews NBC sent a stringer photog and I got a couple of tv stories on the air before the regular reporters arrived. I covered many civil rights stories after that.
Cassondra:And that led to your interview with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at what would become a pivotal moment in history. What was that like for you?
Wes: I think Dr. King took pity on me. I was very young and had no idea what to ask him but he was a pro and if I didn’t ask the right questions he gave me the answers he wanted on the air. He led me in the right direction. It was a good thing that I have always been naturally curious because I listened to his answers and quickly developed a conversational routine of questions. Some reporters come prepared with a list and when they ask their list they often forget to do follow ups. After that first interview with Dr.King he would spot me at other events and often come over to talk. That was a real break for a young reporter.
Cassondra: You went on to report many high-profile stories over the years, but you’re perhaps best known for your Wes Side Story segments, which were inspirational news items that often called attention to a person or organization that needed help. Where did you get the idea for those segments?
Wes: *shakes head* It really wasn’t my idea.I had a general manager at the Tampa station, Jim Zimmerman, who was a former Marine. He called me in and said,”I like the way you write. Some of your stories make people react, even cry. I want you to do one every day. We’ll call them Wes Side Stories…”.
I told him, “I don’t like the name Wes Side Story.”
He answered, “I don’t really care what you like, that’s the name, and I want one every day at the end of your show.”
That’s the way it started. In ten years at that station, I think I missed having a Wes Side three times. On those days huge stories broke and I did my part of the show live in the location of those stories.
Cassondra: You published your first book in 1982 about Fast Eddie Watkins, a famous bank robber. The book is out of print now, but readers who are interested can still find it from second-market vendors like Amazon. A brief snippet from that book reads, “Eddie held up 61 banks and never harmed a soul. The 46-year career of Fast Eddie Watkins had begun for a man who would soon become the only man listed on both the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Men list and Dun & Bradstreet’s list of up-and-coming business executives at the same time.”
How did you get interested in Fast Eddie?
Wes:I was co-anchoring with Monica Kaufman on channel two in Atlanta at the time. We were having a rash of robberies and I was asked to do a series,so I talked with a top FBI bank robbery specialist. He said, “You can’t do a bank robbery series without interviewing E.O.Watkins.”
Watkins just happened to be at the federal pen in Atlanta. I knew the warden from stories earlier in Michigan when he was a warden up there, so I had access. Watkins was a charmer and talked me into writing the book.
Cassondra: And it did well.
Wes: I think it made it up to number three on the NY Times Bestseller list. It was good enough to get a movie deal, but the movie company went bankrupt. I look back at that book and wish I had written it better…
Cassondra: Ah, the curse of all writers. Wishing we could pull it back and fix it. And nobody feels that more than fiction writers. In January you launched your fiction debut. It’s a mainstream thriller in collaboration with Dianna Love. Here’s the back cover blurb from that book:
Children are missing, adults are being murdered and a city is on the brink of exploding.
The key to saving lives is a secret whispered in confession.
Once a beloved, award-winning investigative journalist, Riley Walker now anchors for a television station rated the worst in Philadelphia. That’s how it works when a top newsman makes an epic mistake in front of the whole world. The busier Riley stays, the less he thinks about the one decision that will haunt him forever. His vow? Never get involved again. That works until a killer uses Riley’s past against him, and targets a child the world has forgotten. Riley is the only one who can save him, but when Riley digs deep for the truth, he uncovers evidence fingering a powerful player no one will believe is guilty. Dangerous politics pit Riley against a serial killer, and threaten all he’s fought to regain
To save the life of a child and stop a killer on a savage murder spree, Riley must fight an enemy far greater than the tide of public anger rolling against him. He’ll have to face his own demons, and the horror of the child who died because the last time…Riley was wrong.
Cassondra: The hero in this book is a tv news anchor, just like you. Why did you want to tell Riley’s story?
Wes: I know there are time and money constraints, but if you just tell the obvious facts, television news will stay as boring as it is now. I don’t think many reporters or anchors take the time to get into the people behind the stories. I took the time to do that with Wes Side Stories…I always felt I had to go behind the obvious…and I wanted to write about an anchorman who did that.
Cassondra: So you talked about it to Dianna Love.
Wes: Dianna pushed me to get this done … Dianna is the driving force behind all of this, and I hope she thinks it was worthwhile. I know I do.
Cassondra: I absolutely love this book. The characters in this story are rich and interesting and I fell in love with them. Readers in the lair will want to know that this is a mainstream thriller and NOT a romance, but there are certainly romantic elements, and a budding relationship between Riley and DA Investigator Kirsten Willingham Massey. Of course, Kirsten and Riley are pitted against one another, and…well…that’s all I’ll say about that conflict.
Of all thesupporting characters in this book, though, I particularly love Biddy. Ron “Biddy” Bidowski is a former Navy SEAL turned cameraman, and Riley’s sidekick in this series. Wes, I read that Biddy was a conglomerate of several cameramen you’ve worked with over the years.
Wes: I had three great cameramen and one female shooter. The four of them always had my back. Once we got in a confrontation with the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. The female camera operator unlimbered her heavy film camera and sort of hit him with it . We both denied that later to save her job. It was so long ago I think I can talk about it now.
Cassondra: Wow. I absolutely get the sense of that from reading Justifiable. The spirit of it and the watching each others’ backs in tense situations. That’s in there. Amazing.
Wes: I also had a huge teammate in Tampa. The newsroom called us Jumbo and Dumbo. He was six-five. I’m six-two, so guess who was Dumbo?
Then there was the former submariner…if there ever was a fight where we were outnumbered and clearly the underdogs, I would want Richard by my side. I shouldn’t give you his last name. It was Crabbe. He was often Crabby, but I love that man to this very day.
Cassondra: You’ve spent your life telling stories, and with the Riley Walker novels, you’re still doing that. How is reporting the news similar to writing fiction?
Wes: In both you are telling stories. In tv you just have to do it in under a minute and a half… in tv everything is quick…but if Dianna wasn’t the driving force behind the Riley Walker stories they would all be a thousand pages long. You would need a forklift to move a case of books from one place to the next. Story telling is the same in long or short form. If you tell it well it will sell. If you don’t it will grow mold.
Y’all can read an excerpt of Justifiable at Wes’s website, or Dianna’s website. Wes and Dianna will give away a signed copy of Justifiable to one commenter today, so tell us, Bandits and Buddies..
Did your family watch tv news when you were little?
Or did you listen to the radio? Or did you get your news from the newspaper?
What’s your first memory of the news on television?
Do you remember any particular news reporters?
What’s the first major event you remember sitting down to watch, waiting for the reporters to find out and tell you what was happening?
Do you still watch the news on tv?
Or do you get your news from the internet?
Wes will be here today, and Dianna Love will be stopping in to visit too. Do you have any questions for Wes or for Dianna?
Have you ever read a novel about a television reporter?
I come from a long line of solid country stock. Southern farm women.
If you’re not from the American south you may not know this, but down here, we feed people.
There’s a standard, you see. If you come visiting down here and stay for more than five minutes…even less than five minutes if it’s a Sunday or anywhere near a mealtime…you will be offered food.
It’s what we do.
I don’t know where it started, or why it started, but no self-respecting southern woman will let you set foot in her house without offering you a glass of sweet tea and something to eat.
When I was a little girl, my mom and my grandmother both cooked every day. There was always food around. If you came in out of the field or in from the barn after working hard, there was something good to eat.
I think this effect ends at the southern bank of the Ohio River, but I guarantee that if you visit my aunt in northeast Ohio tomorrow, you will be offered food. You can take the girl out of the south, you see, but it’s much harder to take the south out of the girl.
Even so, there’s a dark side to this southern tradition.
For every session cooking and eating, there was the equivalent and customary gathering at the sink to do the dishes. In my small family, this “gathering” was my mother. Or my grandmother, at her house. Unless extended family was there for a visit, all those hours of doing dishes fell to the cook.
I was never forced to do dishes because I was usually outside, working with the men. For this I was grateful then, and am grateful now because I never liked doing dishes much. I did enough dishes to get good at it, and fast at it, but even after I’d been married for years, of all the chores in the house, I dreaded the hour standing over that sink after every meal I fixed. It made it almost too much trouble to cook.
The oddest thing of all though, is that with all this cooking and doing of dishes over all those years, not one woman in my family throughout my whole childhood, even to this day, has ever had a dishwasher.
And this makes no sense.
True, we didn’t have a lot of money. We were probably poor by the standards of most people, but I honestly don’t think that’s the reason. I think there was deep-seated prejudice in my family against automatic dishwashers.
Any time I’d bring it up, everyone in the family started making subtle, disparaging noises, muttering derogatory slurs, suggesting the well would be pumped dry and foretelling certain plumbing failure.
There were predictions of septic apocalypse.
Dishwashers, apparently, were not just unnecessary luxuries, but they actually skated the ugly gray line between good and evil. Barely clinging to the edge of acceptable for city folk who could throw money around–and water around– like, well….water…they were suspect, an “entry drug” that would lead good country people down the road to gluttonous indulgence. What would be next? Indoor garages? *gasp* Pool tables? My gosh…air conditioning? *fans self, feels need to go to church a few extra times this month*
If you’ve been reading my blogs for at least a couple of years, you know I’m a dish whore. I confessed to this strange disorder right here on the blog, in front of God, my sister Bandits, and our Buddies. If you want to bear witness to the depth of my unfortunate disease, you can read about the sad state of it here in Confessions of a Dish Whore.
When Tawny said, in a blog the other day, that she was hard on the heels of mastering buttermilk biscuits, I could relate. I’m working on biscuits too. I love to cook and eat good food. My latest undertaking is crepes. Nobody around here serves good crepes, so I’m determined to get good at it.
I don’t open tv dinners or make Kraft Mac & Cheese. I cook. But the dishes…those dishes are just drudgery. So when we moved to this house, I broke the mold for women in my family. I had no real desire for a garbage disposal, but I was bygosh designing a space in the new cabinets for….drum roll please….a dishwasher.
Not just any ordinary dishwasher either. It was two years before I found the one I wanted at a price I would pay. It had been custom-ordered at Lowe’s and was returned so I got it for half price. Somebody took my baby home and *sniff* brought it back to the store. I took that as a sign. It was meant to be. That’s it, up there on the left.
I brought it home and parked it in the empty space under the countertop. It sat there for three years with me staring at it, saying, “for my birthday, I want my dishwasher installed…For Christmas, I want my dishwasher installed…For our anniversary…..” You get the picture. It was clear that overcoming the whole “my family doesn’t have dishwashers” pattern was going to take a bit of doing.
Finally in 2011 I put my foot down. After a fair amount of bitching and moaning, Steve and a friend ran the wiring, ran the plumbing, and installed it.
I went to Sam’s club and stood in the home chemicals aisle looking pitiful, staring at the dishwasher supplies. I was clueless. A lady took pity on me. She helped me pick out detergent and rinse agent.
“You’ll love your dishwasher,” she said.
She. Had. No. Idea.
I am like an addict on crack. I make so many dishes that sometimes I run my dishwasher twice a day. If we eat out and don’t make many dishes, I go into withdrawals. I cook stuff like this filling for stuffed peppers, on the left, then I scrape out the skillet and shove the grungy thing into the dishwasher and an hour and a half later it comes out shiny and clean. And the wine glasses on the top rack sparkle in the same load. It makes me want to dance in little circles.
Those Bosch advertisements with the baby asleep on the floor right in front of the dishwasher? They are not lying. It’s so quiet you can’t hear it running. My friends turn a little green with jealousy when they’re at my house and I run it while we play cards at the kitchen table two feet away.
I can cook my heart out with nary a thought for “gosh, these dishes are going to be a bear.”
Sometimes I go to someone else’s house for dinner and I stand there, staring at their appliances. I’ll even sneak a look inside, to see the configuration of the baskets. I ask,“Do you like your dishwasher?” I do this just to hear them talk about it because they almost never like their dishwashers, and I get to listen to their sad stories and secretly appreciate my dishwasher even more.
It’s the best money I’ve ever spent. The women in my family already figured out I’m the oddball, and about this, I’m not a bit sorry. There has been no septicpocalypse. It’s entirely possible I’m playing fast and loose with the foul drug of luxury and maybe my dish disease has just ramped up to a critical level, but now I know.
Dishwashers are proof that God loves us.
Am I the only one who feels this way?
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Do you have a dishwasher?
Did you grow up doing dishes by hand? Or has there always been a dishwasher in your life?
If you have one, do you use it often?
What kind is it?
Is it quiet? Is it loud?
Do you like it? Or hate it?
If you have just a few dishes, do you put them in the dishwasher to keep until the load is full? Or do you go ahead and do them by hand?
I mean, look at all those sparkly clean dishes. Don’t they make you a tad bit giddy? Anybody else here in the lair who believes dishwashers are proof that God loves us?
I’ve been driving for a long while . Longer than my age should allow.
Okay, so I figure the statute of limitations has run out on this by now so I’m going to say it right here in front of God and everybody.
I started driving a bit before the legal age in my state.
Let’s go back even further.
I knew how to drive when I was a wee little thing, because for any of you who don’t already know this, I grew up on a farm, and things are a little different on farms.
On the farm, if you’re going to help with anything beyond cleaning the house or mowing the yard, you need to be able to drive various pieces of equipment. You generally learn how as soon as you’re big enough to physically manage the machine.
Nobody ever made me help out on the farm. I guess it was the whole “Daddy’s Girl” thing combined with my intense love for the outdoors. If you gave me a choice of feeding cows or washing dishes, I’d be out of the house so fast you’d get friction burns if you stood within ten feet of the door.
Nobody ever encouraged me to drive either. The bottom line was that if my dad did it, I wanted to do it.
I wanted to know everything, and I wanted to know how to do everything.
I haven’t changed much in that way.
Okay…Social Services folks..you really should stop reading right now. Otherwise you might have a heart attack. That’s the disclaimer. Read on at your own risk.
I went everywhere with my dad, and I learned how to operate a vehicle by driving his tractor while I sat on his lap. If he was on the tractor, I was either sitting at the edge of the field where I could watch, following on foot as he ran the cultivators, or I was on the tractor with him, riding or driving.
I couldn’t reach the pedals or operate any of the controls, but sitting on his lap, I learned to steer that old Allis Chalmers down the lane and into the barn with just my hands on the wheel when I was barely five years old.
Farm kids learn fast because nobody tells our parents we can’t. By the time I was six my dad could set the speed and let me drive alone.
I still couldn’t reach the pedals but let’s just say he could move the lever on this tractor into its “forward LOW speed” notch, and this tractor would lose a race to a lazy, geriatric sloth.
He set the controls and let me steer at a slow crawl across a flat field while he climbed off the tractor, picked up the sticks of cut tobacco, and hefted them onto the wagon. He could get back to me easily, of course, if I had trouble.
By the time I was eight, I was driving the truck around the farm. I had to wait until I was eight because it took that long for me to reach the brake and the gas, and that was with me on the edge of the seat, stretching my entire body to get to the pedals. But making the truck go, stop, and steer was all you needed in a big grassy field.
We didn’t take family vacations, but when I was ten, I rode with my grandparents and my Uncle Willard to the gulf coast of Mississippi. I sat up front in the middle, and asked a lot of questions. Uncle Willard talked to me the whole way. He taught me how to drive on the interstate, merge safely, how to be courteous and move to the right if somebody was behind me, and a bunch of other skills for safe long-distance driving. I never forgot those early lessons. They made me a good driver.
Flash forward a bit and I was driving to the country store at the bottom of the hill way before I should have, and then to after-school functions at the high school…well…let’s just say early.
I turned sixteen, got my driver’s license the same day, and never looked back.
Cars, and driving, were fun for me.
A few years later, when I had to drive sixty interstate miles twice a day for my work, I learned that the quiet time during the drive was some of my best “alone time” and yielded some of my best creative ideas. I’ve written some of my best songs, solved problems in my books, had personal epiphanies and figured out my life philosophy all while I was driving.
I sometimes get a tiny little glitch in the mental processor when someone says to me, “I don’t drive.” Even though I realize that many, many people don’t drive, it takes me just a second to catch up. But my late mother-in-law never drove and did just fine. The first time I was ever in New York I was walking around the city and thought, “If I lived here, I wouldn’t need a car.”
And yet, I can’t imagine not being able to get in my own vehicle, with my own stuff all around me just the way I like it, and go.
Flash forward again, to 2006, when I needed extra money and started working for the US Postal Service. I was a rural mail carrier, which meant that no matter what, whether I was sick as a dog, the sky was dumping hail the size of dinner plates, or there was a three-inch sheet of ice coating the entire world, I had to drive in it.
No matter how many defensive driving courses, and no matter how much practice I’d had at driving on slick roads, as a mail carrier I had to actually deliver said mail, which meant I had to stop on the ice at each box to put the mail inside. Anybody who drives on ice knows that managing the stops..well, that’s the tricky part.
Driving became a chore. A demand. A necessary evil.
My route was 80 miles long and had more than 500 mailboxes every day. Even thought I was good at it, in bad weather I woke up dreading it. On those icy mornings I woke up fearing it. My job made me hate driving.
When you have something you enjoy and the life gets sucked out of it, I think that’s a sad thing.
Now we’re in 2013, and in more ways than I can count, I’m sort of “waking up” from that job as a mail carrier. Several of my friends deliver mail, and they absolutely love the job, but it wasn’t right for me. You can have the best job in the world, but it it’s wrong for you, somehow I think your soul starts to shrivel a little.
I’ve been driving of course, but even since I quit that job, when I face a long drive part of me goes “bleh.”
For the past three days I’ve had to drive an 80-mile round trip to a nearby town. As I climbed in the car to leave that town earlier this evening, I realized that I actually looked forward to the drive. Something reawakened and I enjoyed the time alone. I got to stare at the passing landscape, to think, to muse, and to tell myself the stories that hang around in the back of my mind, waiting for a quiet moment to whisper, “Hey! Over here! There’s a story over here!”
I have to drive to Atlanta this week, and for the first time in a lot of years, I’m looking forward to it. My journey will take four hours and I’ll go over a mountain, across wide, smooth lakes, and through the beautiful hills of southeast Tennessee.
I’ll have a basket full of my favorite cds in the floorboard and the radio to keep me company.
Or maybe I’ll let some of my characters ride up front with me and have their say. Some of these stories that are banging around in my head might come out to play a bit. Maybe even form into something new and different. The muse might have something it wants to tell me. Something I haven’t been able to hear because I’ve been too busy.
Maybe all I need to do is get quiet and drive for a while.
I can’t wait.
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Do you love to drive? Or would you prefer to let someone else do the driving?
Who taught you to drive? Did you learn in a Driver Education class in high school? Or from a family member?
What kind of car did you drive when you were learning?
How old were you when you took your test and got your license?
If you don’t drive, is there mass transit where you are? How do you get where you want to go?
Do you enjoy driving—or riding–on long trips?
Or would you rather hop a plane?
Do you have fond memories of road trips as a kid?
When you’re on the road, what do you do to keep yourself entertained—or if it’s late at night, what do you do to keep yourself awake?
If you’re a writer, do you work on your stories while you’re on the road?
In February, not only will there be more light, which y’all know, if you’ve read my blog from January 4th, is a big thing for me, but also because I’ll be done with a series of intense work deadlines that have been nonstop since early November.
There hasn’t been much chance for a real break. I work with a team of people who are very good at what they do, they drive themselves hard, and we went pretty much straight through the holidays with only short stops for family time.
The cool thing is that I truly did not mind because I love what I do. For the first time in a few years, my job is focused tightly on demanding some of my most well-developed skill sets all at the same time. I look forward to getting up in the mornings, to finishing a project, and starting another one.
In February, things will ease up, and I’ll be able to take several days off if I want to. But until then, it’s pedal to the metal.
We all have times like that, don’t we? Whether we work for someone else, run our own business, are artists or accountants, there are times when the work stacks up, and we can’t take a real break. It is those times when I reach for my little escapes.
And it’s those times when, if there’s a fly in the ointment of said escape, I get cranky.
I almost called this blog, Things That Make Me Turn Mean. But that applies more to a different set of stuff.
Stuff like, when the morning bathroom time gets interrupted.
Just picture me climbing out of a coffin in the morning–you know, the old-fashioned, six-sided kind. For any of you who might not know me, this is a fitting metaphor for my vampire ways.
So I stagger blindly to the bathroom, contact lens case in hand, sniffing the air, hoping like hell the coffee Steve brewed at 5 am is still warm enough to drink without microwaving it. I stumble in there and shut the door. This is the 15 minutes to half hour I use to come to life, to get sane for the day. It’s my “get back in my human body” time. For me, it has to be ALONE time.
Every now and then Steve forgets this last part. He forgets– God only knows how– that I am not what you would call perky in the mornings unless you’re a snail and you’re mainlining downers.
On these days that he forgets, he comes to the bathroom door and starts talking to me. Talking to me through the freaking door. Asking me questions, or telling me a story that starts with, “You know that lady we met at…?” This story requires interaction, you see. And even listening, at that time of morning, is too bloody much interaction for me.
Okay, let’s be honest. Having the cat in the bathroom, staring at me is too much interaction. I need to just be in there, with myself, for a bit.
I think that this is not too much to ask.
I’ve been known to open the door, glare at Steve with my hair still sticking up at weird angles, and say, “What?!?!?!?! Can this not wait until I’m OUT THERE????????”
See? It makes me turn mean.
A fly in the ointment, on the other hand…that’s not quite at “make me turn mean” level.
If I’m in need of a “little escape,” and something goes wrong with it, that’s more of a fly in the ointment for me.
My favorite little escapes are actually at home. Things like a glass of wine and a fire in the outdoor fire pit. The fly in the ointment for that? A yapping dog down the street or across the field. One that won’t stop. Yap, yap, yap. All night long. Grrrrr.
A cup of Earl Grey tea with cream. The fly in the ointment? No real cream. I can drink the tea with only sweetener, but I don’t much like it, so there’s no point.
Or another potential fly in the ointment–not having decaf Earl Grey on hand when it’s evening. Yaknow, when you get all set on a certain little escape, having to do without it is aggravating.
A hot soak in a bubble bath with a scented candle is a good escape too. The fly in the ointment? Not having the yummy, luxurious piles of bubbles because you ran out of bubbles and forgot to buy more. I’ve been known to use liquid hand soap or dish soap, but it’s just not the same. A bath without bubbles is nothing but a way to get clean, yaknow?
Then there is the ultimate escape, for me.
An evening with a book. Whether I’ve read the story or not, a good book never fails to ease my mind. It takes me away.
A book is a work of art that I can get lost in for a while.
But even with a book, there can be a fly in the ointment.
That happens if there’s something wrong with the story. Something that doesn’t make sense. Something that makes it not quite satisfy. Something important that the author missed.
I hit one of these last summer. It was a new-to-me author, and I fell so hard for her story world on the first book that I dove into the series and devoured it like a honeybee on the first spring dandelion. I told my friends. I bought the books for other people. I reread the first ones when I was on a plane with no wifi and couldn’t download later books.
Then I hit the fly in the ointment. Late in the series, there was a story glitch. A big one, for me. I’ve changed the details but basically, at the end of the story there was no way in to save an injured, important character except to hike into a remote area. Hike for hours. But…early in the story they’d driven in and parked their car in that same spot where the character was now holed up, injured and hiding. The whole end of the story hinged on that hike.
As a writer I know that the author had to have that hike to make the story work.
But in the story world, the hike wasn’t necessary, and as a reader, I noticed that. They could have driven in. I squinted at the page. I stopped reading and thought back to the beginning and went, ” What? Wait! What?”
I skimmed through the rest of the book. And I never skim.
It wasn’t a deal breaker. I didn’t stop reading the series. I’ve read three more of the series books since then. I didn’t give up on the author. No way. All those amazing books, and only one glitch so far? That’s a really good track record.
Still, I didn’t cheer much at the end of that book. When I think of the series, the stories in the series sift across my mind like fine white beach sand through my toes on a breezy summer day. It’s perfect. But my mind trips over that story like a little piece of broken seashell that makes you go “ouch!” Right now I can’t remember the names of the hero and heroine of that story. I can’t remember much about it at all. I was pulled out of the story world to the point that I never got back in.
It happens. Every author fears this. I’m scared to death it will happen to me, and that’s the real reason I wrote this blog. I’m afraid I’ll do this and it’ll mess up the book for the reader.
I want to know how readers really feel about this stuff. How much you will forgive and how much it takes to lose you.
Fans of prolific authors all have their favorite books, and the books they didn’t love as much. There’s no way around it. Some books will be homeruns, and some will be double or triple plays. What we all dread–what we all fear– is the strikeout.
Bandita Jeanne told me once that one of her friends, a writing mentor and beloved multi-published author told her, “Every author has a book that humbles her.”
Many of us live in fear of this.
Authors, nowadays, often have to write fast—a lot of books in a short time—to pay the bills. When that happens, there’s less time to spend with the story to make sure you catch a problem. Less time to spend on finding a fix if there is a problem. Less time to spot what we writers call the “story holes”—the spots in the story that can be anything from a yawning cavern that will make the reader disbelieve the whole plot, to a little pothole like the eyes changing color on the heroine.
I bet you’ve seen that one, if you’ve been reading long. Nothing like his appreciating her pretty blue eyes in chapter one and then having him gaze into the same lady’s brown eyes in chapter 42. Alas, that has happened to WAY too many writers at one point or another. When we’re building a story, we read the book so many times, as we write, revise, and rewrite, that we often just stop seeing the mistakes.
Most authors also know that you, the readers, tend to be much more forgiving than we are about stories. Small stuff bothers you less than it bothers us, and that’s a really good thing. Because it’s an incredible amount of work to edit a story for content (how the story works and flows, and stuff like eye color) and then copy edit (for grammar, punctuation and such) a story to the point that every last hole is filled. All writers will have a glitch now and then.
We also know that every reader is different. What one reader loves, another reader may well flat-out hate. What bothers one may not bother another.
But still…not one of us wants to send out a book with a hole in it. We want the escape to be complete for every reader who picks up our books.
So, Bandits and Buddies, I want to know about your escapes. And I want to know what acts as a fly in your ointment of choice.
First…in life, what are your escapes, other than reading?
And what is the fly in that ointment?
And what in life goes beyond a “fly in the ointment” for you? Is there anything for you that is like my need for alone time in the bathroom in the morning thing? Something that aggravates you so much that it makes you turn squinty-eyed mean?
I’m a writer, but I also spend a lot of time editing. Please don’t name names or titles… but for the sake of my own education, I want to know if you’ve found a fly in the ointment in books before. Have you read books, or series, and found a glitch? And the bottom line — what effect did that have on you as a reader? Did you stop? Did you keep going? Did it affect yourenjoyment of the book?
Do you skim read?
Or are you like me, and read every word on every page?
Every writer strives to write the best book she can. To take the reader on the best possible ride with the words she writes. But no author is perfect. And editors miss stuff.
Have you ever stopped buying a particular author’s work because of a glitch in a story? Once again, no names or titles please.
How many glitches would it take for you to stop reading a favorite author? What about a new author, when you’re only on her first book? Will you try another of her books? Or move on to another author?
At what point does the fly in the ointment become a really big problem for you?
What does it take to make you give up and stop buying an author’s books?
Here’s a song about flies in the ointment. I can’t get it to embed, but you can click the link. The video is kind of weird, and she plays a little fast and loose with the definition of irony at times, but I love this song and I think it fits..
Hi. I’m Cassondra, and I have no curtains on most of my windows.
Hi….I’m Cassondra, and I leave my Christmas tree up until Groundhog Day each year.
Hi…I hoard big boxes of 100 watt, incandescent bulbs, because they’re getting hard to find. I need them.
I have huge, six-by-three-foot windows all along the front of my house, but I may add skylights.
I go to the tanning bed a few times each winter, just for the melatonin hit.
Hi, I’m Cassondra, and I’m a lightaholic.
It’s true. Every bit of it.
I know, I know, with the whole Goth chick, night-dwelling, coffin-sleeping image, you wouldn’t guess, would you?
This vampire needs a lot of light.
When I was a little girl, about this time every year, I’d go out with my dad to feed the cattle twice a day. All bundled up in so many layers that my arms stuck out like a tiny, poofy blue scarecrow with fur trim, I’d follow him out there into the cold field beside the barn, and climb onto the back of the truck, throwing all of my skinny, five-year-old weight into shoving bales of hay off the tailgate, onto the ground in the chosen spots, while he drove artificially slow so I could do my part of the job.
He could have done it in half the time without me.
We went early in the morning, just after breakfast, and late in the evening, just before dark, which, in mid-December, came about five o’clock.
Once the hay bales were opened and the bundles scattered so all the cows could have their share, my dad would use an axe handle to bust the ice on the pond, and then we’d head for the warmth of the truck, crunching side-by-side across the frozen ground, mission accomplished.
But about mid-January every year, my dad would stop, part way to the truck, and look up at the sunset sky. He’d push his hat back on his head and squint toward the western horizon, at the cold, winter-pink sunset behind the bare branches of the woods at the back of the farm.
And he’d say, “Days are gittin’ longer.”
I’d stand beside him in my poofy blue, little-girl fur, and squint at that same pale pink light, and say, “Yep.”
On those long, cold nights, we’d go back to the house, down to the basement where half of the floor was concrete and the other half packed dirt, and we’d sit around the wood stove. Under the dim light of one bulb, my dad would sharpen his pocket knife. Sometimes we’d roast chestnuts or peanuts in the shells, watching the fire blaze warm and bright through the holes in the stove dampers.
We were waiting for the light to come.
I never asked my dad how he felt about the dark days of winter. I didn’t have to. He was a farmer. He lived his life by the light of day, waited for it, so he could do his work. Waiting for the earth to green so he could plow the ground, sow the seeds for his crops, plant his garden, and carry on. He lived and fed his family by watching the light. Depending on it. Needing it.
Sometimes I think it’s silly, the way I need the light. Each year, on June 22nd, I’m overcome with a sense of dread. I smoosh it down, so people don’t notice. But it’s there, in the background all summer and fall. About mid-October, I mark my calendar for December 21st and the vigil begins. I am waiting for the return of the light.
I don’t want to live without four distinct seasons, but I know, now, that I could not live up north like Bandita Susan, or Bandit Buddy Jane. I have SADD disease. Sunlight Affective Depressive Disorder. I don’t know if I was born with it, or developed it at some point along the way, but this is why I hit the tanning beds a few times each winter. The short winter days….they are not good for me. I need the light.
That’s why I leave my Christmas tree up. The sparkle of the lights cheers me through the dark part of the year.
This time of year, I get in touch with my inner Druid. The one who, many centuries ago, probably danced under the full moon each month (maybe naked…scary thought)and celebrated each turning point in the Wheel of the Year.
Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is the day I wait for. Known as Imbolc, it’s the point when the returning light picks up serious speed in its fight to overcome the darkness.
If I can keep a bit of sparkle around me, ala Christmas lights, candles, or any source of fire, until Groundhog Day, I’ll be okay. I can keep my spirits bright. The light gains about one minute a day, this time of year while the earth rests. For the Druids, that was enough to celebrate the coming of the light.
It’s enough for me, too.
My dad’s birthday was January 2nd. Two days ago. Born in the darkest time of year, he lived for the coming of the light.
I am like him in that way. I don’t need the light to feed my family, but I need it, just the same.
Tonight, as I considered what to write for my blog, I sat at my kitchen table, computer monitor glaring at me.
But I was staring out the window to my left. The pond out back was a sheet of whisper-thin, clear ice, reflecting the pale pink of a winter sunset.
As I sat there, I heard my dad whisper to me, “The days are gittin’ longer.”
We have about two more weeks to go. Two more weeks before I will feel that shift, here on the earth. That lift in my spirit, that call to start watching for the bulbs to poke out of the dirt. But my dad, from across the veil….he already sees it coming. He knows the light is almost here.
Maybe it’s folly, but I think he whispered encouragement to me from that place so far away that I cannot touch him, and yet so near that I sense his presence.
Winter can be lovely, but I feel my spirit lift when I know that spring is coming…that the light is gaining ground.
This lightaholic…this time of year…she gets her second wind.
I’m a little early, but I feel it. I am lifted, waiting for the light to come.
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Do you notice the shifting of the seasons?
What changes for you with the increasing darkness, or the increasing light?
Do you ever feel connected to something larger, something old, as the seasons pass?
Do you love the cold weather and the snow?
Or do you look forward to the coming of the light, and the warm summer days?
Is there a palm tree in your soul?
Or is there a ski slope?
When do you take your Christmas tree down?
How do you cheer yourself in the dark, cold days of winter?
If you live in the tropics, do you notice a difference with the coming of “winter”?
Or do you enjoy the relief from the heat?
If you live south of the equator, do you wait for the longer days of summer–winter here in North America, where I live, for the warm sun?
It seems strange to us, that Christmas would come in summer for you. Does it seem strange when we, in the northern hemisphere, speak of a white Christmas?
In either hemisphere, are you like me? Do you wait for the coming of the light?
I’m here with Jeanne, my evil twin, and Nancy, the third Boom Bandit. For any new readers, I should explain. We have been so named because we like suspense, mayhem, and of course, blowing up stuff.
Blowing up stuff in our books. Mostly. Ahem…
Anyway, here we are, and we’re talking about our top five Christmas albums, and some of our favorite Christmas songs.
Tis the season, yaknow?
Yes, I get it. Some people don’t like Christmas music, don’t like being reminded that it IS Christmas, and would prefer not to hear about it. In truth I went through a spell where I felt that way. I was sick to death of the crowds and the money mongering, all to the same melancholy musical backdrop that takes over radio frequencies from November until New Year’s Eve.
Then I watched the film Elf, and something shifted. Partly because in that film, for the first time ever, I heard the song, Baby It’s Cold Outside.
I hear you asking the question. “How could this be, Cassondra? How is it that you could live this long without hearing that song?”
I. Don’t. Know.
I started playing gigs all around the state (singing and playing guitar), when I was fifteen. I started playing piano for money(all over the southeastern United States) when I was seventeen. But that was mostly gospel and country. I grew up in a fundamentalist church. My whole childhood was swallowed whole by gospel, country, classical (checked out from the library) and folk music (albums sneaked out of the attic upstairs, when my mom wasn’t looking). Almost no jazz, or jazz-influenced music at all. I got a hint of Big Band from the Lawrence Welk Show, but that was it. That could be the reason I missed out on the jazzier side of Christmas. The only Christmas music played around our home–or actually, around our town, that I remember–was the kind that centered on the religious. Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…
Santa Clause was comin’ to town, but only in a church-approved sleigh, yaknow?
Granted, Christmas is a religious holiday, for many. But still…where were all of these songs I missed? Merry Christmas Baby, you sure did treat me right…
I have this one memory. I think it was from fourth grade. Each of us had to bring a Clorox bleach jug from home. (For those of you who don’t know, these jugs are opaque white plastic, like the one on the right. We cut the top off of the jug, just at the top of the label, where that ridge is in the picture. We removed said label, turned the bottom half of the jug upside down, then cut holly leaves and berries out of construction paper and glued them onto the front of the upside-down jug, to make a marching-band-style “hat”. Then we had to wear these godawful abominations and stand on a stage, on risers in front of family and friends, while we sang really bad, really depressing carols at the Christmas program.
It. Was. Awful.
Maybe that’s what turned me against Christmas carols to begin with.
Honestly though, when you think about that Baby It’s Cold Outside song, and its real meaning, there’s no mistake. It’s a romance novel in the making. A really steamy one. Our intrepid hero is working his butt off to get our heroine to stay for the night. She’s resisting in a rather ridiculous must-play-hard-to-get fashion. He’s hoping for wild monkey sex, right?
You know he is. I mean, he’s a guy.
In case you haven’t heard the song, here’s one of my favorite versions, from one of the favorite albums I list, below.
My suspicion is that this song was considered inappropriate by a lot of people when I was growing up. Maybe there just weren’t a lot of recorded versions out there. I dunno. It certainly would have been inappropriate in MY house. You know…because of the whole “potential for wild monkey sex” thing. Nothing sexual about Silent Night. Well, maybe the “round yon virgin” thing. But I digress.
Flash forward to adulthood, and to the movie Elf and Christmas music came alive for me again. I started buying albums full of Christmas music from Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and their ilk.
Jeanne grew up in a church-going area too. She sang in the church choir when she was old enough, and of course, carols were the order of the day. But mostly, her favorite thing about the season is that it’s COLD. Baby, it’s cold outside, dear Lord LET IT SNOW in this winter wonderland. This is where our twin thing diverges. I’ll go to a nice warm beach, thanks.
Nancy had her share of carols and Christmas music. About this formative experience, she said, “I sang in Junior Choir. Considering I can’t carry a tune in the proverbial bucket, this was probably more fun for me than for my more gifted choir-mates. Enthusiasm counted for a lot, though, and I was enthusiastic. In high school, I went caroling with friends a couple of times, again hoping enthusiasm made up for being pitch-challenged.”
So for the three of us, carols were the order of the day.
But back to my (relatively) recent discovery of the NON-carol Christmas song…
Many of these songs have nothing to do with Christmas itself. They’ve just become standards of the season. And yet, the newer music is, mostly, my favorite. I still do love the traditional carols though, and I’ve figured out that for me to like them, they have to be upbeat and maybe even a bit jazzy.
So to that end, we give you the Boom Bandits’ Top Five Christmas albums, which will end up being fifteen, since there are three of us. Then again, Jeanne and I are the evil twins of the lair, so we may have some duplicates. Still…although we have a number of evil twin crossovers, we do not always tow the evil twin line.
Cassondra: Anything Manheim Steamroller because they just rock. It’s feel-good music.
Jeanne: Windham Hill’s Winter Solstice. Because of the sheer musicality of it, and this amazing, ancient-sounding stuff you don’t hear on common playlists.
Nancy: The Roches~~We Three Kings. This is a capella, beautiful harmony.
Cassondra: Amy Grant’s Home For Christmas. Just a really warm, easygoing, family-at-home, glass-of-cider album.
Jeanne: Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas–It’s jazzy and fun and it’s got my absolute favorite, O Holy Night, with someone who can hit all the notes crisp and clear.
Nancy: Joan Baez~~Noel. Lovely voice. Folk music delivery of various carols.
Cassondra: James Taylor’s At Christmas. This is from 2006. There is not a bad track on this cd. If I started naming my favorites, I’d name almost every one. I’d never heard In the Bleak Midwinter until this album.
Jeanne: Anything Manheim Steamroller. They just rock. (Cassondra: I see the evil twin thing starting)
Nancy: The Homecoming Orchestra~~Christmas Baroque. This is brass renditions of traditional carols. This was one of those bargain bin purchases.
Cassondra: Amy Grant~~A Christmas Album (her first one). I love most of the songs, but the top ones are Tender Tennessee Christmas, Breath of Heaven, Grown Up Christmas List, and Emmanuel.
Jeanne: Amy Grant~~ A Christmas Album–Ahem…Notice the exact repeat of my evil twin’s opinion…verbatim….I love most of the songs, but the top ones are Tender Tennessee Christmas, Breath of Heaven, Grown Up Christmas List, and Emmanuel. And yes, I am serious. We scare each other at times.
Nancy: Manheim Steamroller~~Christmas Extraordinaire. Fabulous Orchestral renditions of holiday favorites. Heavy on brass. (Cassondra: I’m getting the idea that Nancy likes brass. Hmmm..and we all like Manheim Steamroller. Which is kind of cool.)
Cassondra: Rod Stewart’s new Christmas album~~Merry Christmas Baby. The songs We Three Kings and Auld Lang Syne are worth buying the album for, but you’ll like the others too. Stewart is an icon for a reason. And he has some wonderful duets on here.
Jeanne: Handel’s The Messiah–You just can’t beat the sheer magnificence of this choral performance. My father loved opera, so he had Handel’s The Messiah on the stereo a lot, and I grew up singing it. It’s still one of my favorites.
Nancy: Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra~~Christmas at the Pops. I mean, come on. It’s Arthur Fiedler. It doesn’t get better than that. (Cassondra admits that she has to agree, and likes this album too.)
Okay, okay…we can’t do this without some honorable mentions:
Jeanne’s new current favorite is Blake Shelton’s brand new Chrismas CD. In particular Oklahoma Christmas. (Cassondra: Just the name makes me want to buy it.) A second honorable mention goes to BoyzIIMen’s Christmas Interpretations, and in particular, their version of Mary Did You Know. The bass on that song is so deep and resonant. You just wouldn’t know they were that good until you hear this song. Third is Take Six’s He Is Christmas–I love this a capella group and their incredible sound.
For Cassondra: Anything from the Rankin Bass Claymation Christmas shows like Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer, Silver and Gold–anything by Burl Ives. The soundtrack from The Muppet Christmas Carol. Martha Stewart’s Christmas collection. This is a compilation, of course, but it’s an easygoing grouping of jazzy favorites, and is perfect for fixing dinner with a glass of wine, or eating dinner with friends and wine, or relaxing by the fire with wine…ahem…
Nancy: There’s this album my parents got as a gas station giveaway, back when gas stations had to care whether you bought your gas from them or someone else, but it’s on vinyl, so I never get to play it anymore. :-/ It’s called This is Chrismas. I really like the various artists and styles.
Cassondra: OH…A favorite song I MUST mention is Trisha Yearwood’s version of Mary Did You Know. It’s haunting, and like Amy Grant’s Breath of Heaven, makes you think about what that time must have been like for Mary and Joseph, outside of the idealized manger scene. A pregnant young virgin, trekking cross-country and the man who was taking care of her, who must have had some serious “are you freaking kidding me?” moments when he was taking the whole thing on faith, based on the word of some shimmery dude who poofed into his room out of thin air. Bandits and buddies, now that’s a romance novel, complete with conflict, and if we tried to sell that story to editors, they’d say, “No way. That would never happen.”
So, Bandits and Buddies,
Tell us YOUR favorites.
Do you have a favorite Christmas Album?
A favorite Christmas song?
Do you like traditional carols, or the newer, jazzier, FUN Christmas songs?
Or do you put on the dark shades and stick in the earplugs and listen to classic rock for six weeks, waiting for the whole thing to be over and done with?
Do you celebrate Christmas at all? Or do you celebrate Hanukkah? Or perhaps another holiday? If so, is there special music attached to the midwinter celebration or holy day that you love?
And as long as we’re mentioning the movie Elf, what’s your favorite Christmas movie?
Be sure to come back to the Lair on December 13 when we kick off the annual 12 BANDITA DAYS OF CHRISTMAS!Prizes and recipes every day!! Roosters. Starbucks goodies. Books. Dragons. Books. Cookies. Godiva. Books!! (By Banditas and friends like Dianne Love, Sabrina Jeffries, Marquita Valentine, Liz Carlyle, JD Tyler, Lydia Dare, Deb Marlowe, Addison Fox and many more!) You know you want the cookies, for sure, so come home to the Lair for the Holidays!Who knows, you might win something, and you’ll be guaranteed to have fun!!
Okay, yes, I am a coffin-sleeping, full-moon-worshiping, black-wardrobe-wearing, goth-Bandita country girl. But still, y’all know that I love the country.
When Steve and I got married, we moved to the country as soon as we could. But I find myself a little spoiled by the present day, when even out here in the country, I’m not too far from what I want or need. I usually end up going to town once a day to pick up something.
When I was a little girl, that was not so. We lived on a farm, and my mom shopped at the Houchens grocery story in “town.”
“Town” was eight miles to the north. Eight miles was a significant drive back then. Even though my mom worked at a factory on the edge of that same town, she drove to work, and she drove home after work. No stops at a store on the weekdays. It just wasn’t done.
“Town” was a special trip.
We made the drive to town once a week, on Saturday, to wash clothes at the Wishy Washy, and to shop for groceries at Houchens. Sometimes we’d stop on the square at the Ben Franklin, and just every now and then, we’d go to the diner for a burger. But that was a rare treat. The only other reason we went to town, was church on Sunday, or prayer meetin’ on Wednesday night.
Things have changed.
These days, the farmers around here drive into town every day for one thing or another, even just for breakfast or coffee. Families have more than one car. If someone decides she wants to fix spaghetti that night, and she’s out of pasta, she drives the ten or fifteen miles to the store and back, and doesn’t think twice about it. That’s what I do, but when I was a little girl, that would NOT have happened. If you forgot something, you usually did without it for a few days, until the next trip to town.
So although I live further out now than I did then, the miles that separate me and the “town” seem far shorter now than they did when I was growing up.
When you live in Southern Kentucky, small towns punctuate the rural landscape the way ground black pepper spots good homemade mashed potatoes.
Just enough for what you need.
I’m happy to live in the country between two towns. One, to the north, is a big town. It has a university, two WalMarts, three Kroger locations (that’s the big grocery chain around here) and a mall. It also has a few liquor stores, which also sell wine, for which I am MOST grateful.
The other, to the south, is a small town. More like the one where I grew up. It has a town square. But it also has a WalMart, and just recently, a Lowe’s. It’s a dry county. No stores that sell alcohol.
But still, it has my favorite grocery store ever.
It has a Piggly Wiggly.
It’s small. The produce section is about the size of my kitchen table. It never has, and never will, stock fresh cilantro, fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, exotic mushrooms, or a spice like saffron, that costs a stupid amount of money per ounce. Because they don’t have room, and the people who shop there, generally, don’t buy that stuff. If they need that stuff, they shop at the WalMart, which has a huge (though not high quality) produce section, or if they want a higher quality ingredient, they drive to the big town 20 miles north, to shop at the Kroger.
I love Piggly Wiggly because it is everything a small town grocery should be.
It has all the stuff you absolutely need, and almost none of the stuff to fix a recipe from Food & Wine magazine. And for some reason I can’t entirely explain, I’m glad about that.
I subscribe to Food & Wine, for the record. But I know that if hard times came around again, I’d go back to my raisin’, and I’d eat just fine without those hoity toity ingredients. When I fix a Food & Wine recipe, the only thing I expect to get at the Piggly Wiggly, is the meat.
Because here on the upper edge of the buckle of the Bible Belt, nobody cuts meat nowadays. I asked, last summer, for the Kroger meat department to grind some sirloin for a new meatloaf recipe I wanted to make. They laughed at me.
“If corporate caught us grinding meat here, my ass would be grass,” the meat man said. I looked through the window behind him. There was an industrial-size meat grinder bolted to the stainless steel table back there.
“What’s that for?” I asked. He looked behind him, then back at me. “We don’t grind no meat here,” he said, and walked away.
At that point, I realized that as far as Kroger was concerned, I could eat what they packaged, or I could starve. And they didn’t care which option I chose.
At the small town Piggly Wiggly, they have a real, honest-to-goodness meat man. Okay, it might be a meat woman, but although I am a feminist at heart, “meat woman” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it? Ahem…
The meat man understands meat. He’s worked as a butcher of some sort for years. He knows the cuts. He knows their challenges. He can discuss my recipes and what I’m after, and can make suggestions on how to cook the different cuts if I have trouble. And if I want a two-inch steak, if he has the sirloin in the back, he’ll mess up his clean equipment to cut the steaks I want for the company I’ve invited that night. I am impressed that he is willing to do this for me.
At the Piggly Wiggly, young high school boys sack the groceries for me just as they did for my mom when I was a little girl. And they carry these groceries out to my car for me. I don’t know any grocery store anywhere that still does that. Those days are gone, same as having somebody around to pump your gas at the gas station. When I was a little girl, and my mom shopped at Houchens, they carried her groceries to her car. Now, only at the Piggly Wiggly.
The aisles are narrow at “The Pig”, and the entire store is smaller than the homes of some of my friends. The lights are fluorescent. The computer system at the checkout counter is…well..we’ll just call it retro.
But I go back there, week after week.
In part, I return for the people who work there. They say hello to me and I know they actually recognize me. I’m not just the next customer in line. If I’m absent for a few days, they say, “haven’t seen you in a while. ”
At Kroger, they know I’m there only because there is some computer entry, somewhere, in some corporate office, that says my Kroger Plus Card has been scanned. I can call the Piggly Wiggly, mid-afternoon, and ask them to cut four sirloin steaks, two-inches thick, so I can pick them up later, and they’ll do it. I don’t have to leave a credit card number. They cut the steaks, leave them in the fridge in the back, with my name on them, and I pick them up when I can get there that evening.
Once, many years ago, Piggly Wiggly was the “big” grocery in that small town. As big-box stores took over, and small-town squares turned into shells of their former communities, not many small grocery chains–or small anything else–survived.
There is a rumbling around here, that Kroger will put a store in that small town to the south. It would be a lot easier to shop there than driving to the big town to the north. But do you suppose they will actually be any different than the Kroger in the big town? The one where “you can eat what we prepackage or you can starve” is the bottom line?
I’m thinkin’ not.
I hope, even if the small town does get a Kroger, that the Piggly Wiggly survives.
I’m working on a series that is set partly in a huge city, and partly in small towns like the one where I shop. One of the things I’m using in the story is that contrast. The way a character deals with moving from the city to the small town, and how it changes her.
I love reading series that are set in small towns. It seems like the settings and characters stick with me, long-term, more powerfully than do most big city adventures. I think it’s easier to get attached to small town characters because those “character communities” that authors set up seem to fit in small towns more easily, and I love those communities.
I think some of what I get at the Piggly Wiggly is also what I get when I read a series set in a small town. Of all book series, those are the ones that I tend to finish–I get every book–and when the author moves on to another series, I still want more. I think it’s a connection to the people and the places in the books.
I was browsing the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly a few weeks ago, and came across a display of those thin children’s books like ones they used to sell in the Houchens when I was growing up. In the Houchens, I’d spend the whole time my mom was shopping, standing beside that circular, spinning rack, checking out those little books.
I was sad to see that Piggly Wiggly’s book rack was way up at the top of the magazine rack. Maybe to keep little fingers from tearing up the books when Mom isn’t looking. And maybe, because times have changed, it’s not safe for mom to leave the little reader alone to do her shopping. Bad people hang out in small towns too, after all.
Outside the Piggly Wiggly, there are boxes full of real estate magazines and the local “swap and trade” weekly. Beside those are some drink machines, a kiosk where you can trade your empty propane tank for a full one, and off to the side, there’s Thunder.
Thunder is a plastic horse, and if you pay your money, he’ll take you on the ride of your life. He’s a little faded from years of sitting there, waiting for the next rider, but even in 2012, you can still get a ride for a quarter.
Okay, confession time.
I didn’t know that this is Thanksgiving week.
I thought it was next week. I think of Thanksgiving as the 25th or 26th of November, usually. Which should be, according to my internal clock, NEXT week. Not this week.
I got home from West Virginia on Friday and I started cleaning up the house and yard. Then somebody reminded me, last night,that this Thursday is Thanksgiving. I panicked a little.
And I got in the car and went straight to the Piggly Wiggly. They had three fresh turkeys left.
So tell me Bandits and Buddies…
Do you live in a big town, or a small town?
What grocery stores do you have?
What is your favorite place to shop for groceries? Do they know you at “your” store?
Have the big box stores taken over where you are? Or do you still have small community groceries?
Do you live where there’s a butcher and a green grocer? I admit that I turn a little green, myself, with envy, when I think of food sold by a specialist, and the wider choices that might mean.
Or do you live in a place like I do, where you have to depend on whatever they have at the big grocery?
Does your grocery still have a little rack of those thin children’s picture books?
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