Friday, September 23, 2011

Writer's Conference

I'm not at home this weekend. Starting today I'm at a conference in Charlotte, NC sponsored by the Carolinas Regional SCBWI, the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. You read that correctly, children's book writers. Me.

Beyond the adult nonfiction/memoir collecting and catching, I have written and published a few things for children and for teachers of those children. My nonfiction article "Finding Forty-two," about baseball great Jackie Robinson was in Highlights for Children. Coming soon in that same magazine, a fiction piece based on my father-in-law's yearly battle to keep the birds from devouring all the cherries on his cherry tree. I also have a picture book in the works with a fall 2013 release date, this one based on the tree farms here in Caldwell County and my experiences working with AFS students adjusting to living in America.

Writing is writing, back to basics whether for children or for adults, just telling a good story, even in the nonfiction texts. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Ha. Try staring at a blank page for an hour.

That's the theme of this year's conference, "Filling the Blank Page." I've been to enough conferences to fill many a blank page, but there's something about being in the midst of the community of writers that keeps calling me back yet another year. Sure, it's about craft and marketing. More than that, to me a conference is about re-energizing, becoming enthused enough to crank up the computer Monday morning.

So while you are reading this, I am among friends, writer friends. I can't wait.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Speaking about my Project

Here I go again, getting the cart before the horse, or more specifically, the speaking engagement before the book. I first did it last February during a reception at Pilot Mountain School open house with only a "coming soon" flier in hand. Former students and teachers attended and shared their memories giving me additional insights into life at the school.

Today, however, there is a difference and the cart is way ahead of this horse. A friend of mine who has been my springboard of ideas and knows the project from the beginning days asked if I would present a program about Pilot Mountain School at a monthly meeting of senior citizens at her church. This set of listeners does not know about my project. They don't even know the school existed since they live in a completely different county thirty minutes away. On the other hand, I have a story to share, one I feel they will connect with, about struggles, faith, daily living and overcoming poverty of the mid twentieth century.

Most of all I will present the life of  a former missionary to China, Lettie Hamlett. I've posted about her before, so in case you missed it, please click on her name, go back and read her story. It's amazing, and it's one worth sharing today.

I guess today is the first test of how well strangers to the school will react to its story. Can I convince them that there are universal truths underneath all the bare bone telling I'm doing? If so, then this manuscript is worth every nano-minute I've devoted these past two years.

We'll see.

Catch of the day,


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Not the Ordinary Wine Tasting Tour

I've been married to my wonderful, patient husband for 43 years as of this September 14. It's quite an accomplishment to say the least, especially since I've added on this project and dragged him through some of the most unusual situations a marriage could endure. Even our anniversary celebration this year was connected to the Pilot Mountain Schoolhouse project. I was doing "research," but in this case he was an eager participant.

We went on a moonshine tasting fundraising tour sponsored by the Catawba County Historical Society. You read it right, not the ordinary wine tasting for us, no this was actual moonshine. Legal. (I asked.) I should have known it was going to be a different kind of night when we arrived in the parking lot and first thing were given mason jars filled with instructions.

Although the illegal distilling trade was well established in the South Mountain area around Pilot Mountain, the bootleggers there had no monopoly on the market. Nearby Catawba County was equally as prolific, as we discovered on this tour. And a tour it was, four airconditioned, comfort coach busloads of mountain dew singing modern day yuppies peeking into the speakeasy world of prohibition. We followed the same route NASCAR driver Junior Johnson once ran. "Here's where the largest bust..." the guide pointed to the lake's edge. "Here's the garage where the cars were adapted to the trade." We drove past delapidated buildings that once were fine dining establishments covering for backdoor liquor markets, brothels (who would have guessed) and the jail where a notorious bootlegger tapped into his own confiscated kegs there behind the courthouse while the law/kin folk looked the other way.

When we returned to Murray's Mill, a restored historical site in Catawba County, we were treated to a bar-b-que dinner and live bluegrass music by the group Kudzu. That's when the tasting party began. Apple pie flavored shine. Peach flavored, cranberry, all yuppified moonshine in a cough medicine sized dose exchanged for a ticket from our mason jar.

None were to my taste or even to my sense of right vs wrong. The extended research I heard on the tour was thorough, well documented and went right along with my own study. Except that I also include the child's side of the moonshine trade, the impact when the father was in jail or when the revenuers were knocking at the door or when the child couldn't stay awake in class because he was up all night helping in the family business in the dark with only nature's light to work by.

As an unplanned bonus, there in the cloudless sky above the waterwheel turning in the creek beside our table was the biggest, clearest full moon shining down on us all.

The stories that moon could tell!

Catch of the day,


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11

No Pilot Mountain connection today, for once. I have other things on my mind.

Today I only want to talk about one day, ten years ago, September 11, 2001 when I was teaching fourth grade. For a decade now, I've thought about that day and the children in my class. Although I've kept up with them through the years as they've grown into college sophomores, I have never talked about "that" day to get their impressions and feelings.

Until now.

I am facebook friends with one girl, Lindsey. She posted this morning:
  • I was in Gretchen Griffith's fourth grade class. We were told that we didn't have to do the homework we were assigned if we didn't want to. Even the next day, I didn't know how it really effected me or the world. I was sad because everyone else was. Looking back, I'm amazed at the teachers for being as calm and collected as they were. I'm not sure I could have done the same.
Here's my response:
  • Strange you remember the no homework fact, Lindsey. We also went out to play a little extra that afternoon, do you remember that, too? I didn't know what the future would be, but at least my class would have a time of true play before they found out that the world had changed. It was hard watching everyone play knowing this big life secret. I also remember that the next morning we discussed it as a class and then I could tell it was enough time spent talking and what everyone really needed was a little normalcy. So we went on about the business of being fourth grade.
Just like those fourth graders, when we go on about our freedoms, then we win.

Catch of the day,


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hurricanes, Tropical Storms and Such

Rain, rain, rain and more rain. We've had enough rain for the past few days to last quite a while, thank you, very much.
I've watched videos on the news about roads in the Carolinas being washed away, more from Irene than from Lee. I can picture in my mind one such incident that happened to the Pilot Mountain community in the unnamed hurricane of 1940. Losing a vital connection to the rest of the world is a devastation to the community, no matter which natural disaster hits. It is not a recent phenomena either, although the invention of more available roadways into remote areas offers a hurricane additional opportunity for widespread destruction. The road through this valley is a good example.

The new US highway 64 through the valley had just been completed and opened to great ballyhoo two weeks before the 1940 hurricane struck. Up to this time, the road was a state road, route #181, that wound from one end of the county to the other connecting both mountain chains through the valley between them and connecting the towns of Morganton and Rutherfordton.

Here's how one man fondly remembered the old road that it replaced. Little wonder that the new version was a welcome relief.
  • The old road wandered all around creation, especially up there around my house. It went in front of my shop and on up past my garden and back to where highway #64 is at now. Climbed up the top of the next hill and circled back and went back down to Brindle Creek and crossed the creek and went up to the top of the hill and come back again. Goes as a matter of convenience from one property to the next. That’s how crooked it was. You don’t think nothing about the road until you get to looking at where it used to be. (Student, 1942-48)
The new road cut the distance between the towns from thirty-five to twenty-seven miles. A car (or horse and buggy) no longer had to ford the winding creeks sixteen different times because this new highway had bridges and culverts. Two weeks it was open and then it was gone, wiped out, death by water.
The engineers arrived again. They started from scratch and built an even better, even stronger highway that was part of a main artery between North Carolina and Arizona. Its importance to the ebb and flow of the nation diminished when Interstate 40 opened in the early sixties, but it remains as a vital lifeline to the locals.  I live within walking distance of highway #64. My daughter in New Mexico works within walking distance of the same highway and lives within two miles. Some day I want to drive that ribbon of highway between our two homes and see for myself what the backroads reveal.
As long as the hurricanes leave them alone.
Catch of the day,

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hurricane Lee

Today might be a holiday, but a hurricane named Lee has put a damper on it. Here in the foothills between the South Mountains to the east and the Blue Ridge to the west, we are experiencing the first bands of what is ahead, not that I'm complaining. We need a little rain, as long as the wind stays light. So I'm inside, hunkered down in front of the computer, pulling out a manuscript that I've ignored for two years while I've done this more pressing Pilot Mountain project. A change of topics is most welcome on this dreary day.

Hurricanes bring out the best in people and the worst in nature. To the western North Carolina mountains, hundreds of miles from the Atlantic coast, a hurricane is definitely nature at its worst. Case in point, the 1940 unnamed hurricane that blasted through the Pilot Mountain area with its own brand of havoc.

I caught tales in my net about this 1940's storm. Mostly I caught flood stories, how the barn was washed away, how the cows and horses couldn't fight the current and gave in to be swept down stream, how the promising crops were covered with thick layers of killer muds and how the farmers' yearly income washed away in one fatal day. After seventy years, the memory still haunts:
  • They was so much water til it looked like an ocean to me. The field looked like you could go swimming in it. All the stuff washed away, an old barn we had there, the stuff we had in it, the straw, hay. Crops. Everything was gone. It got it all. School construction crew member, 1941-42
Will Hurricanes Lee, Irene, Katrina and other storms in the sisterhood be so imprinted into this generation's minds that a storycatcher seventy years from now can garnish memories that are as vivid as what I see this morning?

No doubt.

Catch of the day,


Friday, September 2, 2011

Accomplishing the Impossible

When I checked my emails this morning, I found a note from the AFS/USA president sent to all volunteers about placing the final 2011-12 students with host families. He began with this:

  • Recently, a volunteer passed along a quote to me from Eleanor Roosevelt, "You must do the things you think you cannot do.”

Do the things I think I cannot do.... Before my Pilot Mountain project, I would have thought "nice quote," in a bland sort of way. But two years into the project, I have upped my opinion of doing the impossible. Research into the home front war years did that for me. I read about the efforts to raise funds, to collect scrap metal and to do without essentials. I interviewed former students who lived through the ration book years, brought nickels to buy stamps for their war bond books and scrap metal from the farms to earn a sweat shirt.

The teachers were in charge of the war effort at Pilot Mountain School. They weighed the metal and kept meticulous records. They collected the nickels and kept the redemption books in their desks. When a child filled the book, the teachers were the ones who converted the book to a war bond. They worked extra hours to register citizens for rationing coupons. They were the ones who awarded the sweat shirts and taught about Victory Gardens. They did the impossible, the things they probably thought they could not do.

Eleanor Roosevelt, courtesy of the NY Times

In this newest century, we are called upon over and over to do the things we think we cannot do, whether it is to place foreign students in host families or to create jobs for the unemployed. We need to post Mrs. Roosevelt's quote on the doorframes of every household.

I have done what I didn't think I could do when I was in the midst, when doubts crept in. I finished a manuscript about a schoolhouse that existed during mid-twentieth century America. A major, major theme of its story is how the parents, teachers and students accomplished what the rest of the world didn't think they could do. Good for them.

We must do the things we never thought we could do. Thank you Eleanor Roosevelt for reminding us.

Catch of the day,