Monday, October 28, 2013

There are so many joys associated with being an author and book events rank right at the top. Okay, so not all book events are whopping successes. I might sit at a book store for an hour and a half, meet many people, but sell only one book.


The seed is planted. The name of my book is spoken. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, my mama always said.

I recently participated in an open house at the Caldwell County Historical Museum here in Lenoir. I prepared for the afternoon anticipating the usual history enthusiasts and packed accordingly. What I got from the day I could never have anticipated and goes to the heading, “Where were you when I was writing this book?”

Product DetailsWhen I first arrived, I arranged my display on the assigned table next to a gentleman, whom the curator of the museum introduced as Roy Pipes. His book, Darby, is a fiction based here in Caldwell County.

We talked politely and soon, as authors tend to do, the subject of our conversation steered to our books. “Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School,” I began.

“Pilot Mountain School?” he answered. “My father was principal at a school by that name.”

“There are eight Pilot Mountains,” I started my usual spiel. “This one’s in Burke County.”

“That’s where we lived.” I looked at the cover of his book and re-read his name, “Pipes.”


I grabbed up my book, flipped frantically through and on pages eighty-eight through ninety-seven, sure enough, there he was, R.S. Pipes. To confirm, we looked at the eighth grade graduation picture.


1953 with Mr. Pipes

So we sat talking between visitors and signings and refreshment breaks. He told me what was missing from those pages, the real Mr. Pipes, as only a proud son can tell. How his father brought his work home with him, worrying about the children. How his father cared for the children and the teachers. How his father went on from Pilot Mountain School to more successes in education.

Coincidence? Maybe. Time well spent? Definitely.

Catch of the day,


Monday, October 21, 2013

Willie Parker Peace Award Winner

This past weekend the North Carolina Society of Historians held its annual awards banquet to honor books published the past year. My book, Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School, was presented the Willie Parker Peace award.

A wonderful addition to the book cover!

Named to honor the memory of an historian in Henderson, North Carolina, this year's prize was awarded to several historical books. I feel honored and humbled that mine was included with them. I've read a few of the others and they are indeed remarkable. 

To me as an author, this award is a seal of approval. Someone out there, someone with no connection to me, thought enough of this book to validate my hard work, to say it was worthy of another reader picking it up and spending time with it. I've said many times, this book wrote itself. The people I interviewed were the true authors. I just collected and arranged, although I do admit there was a lot more to the process than that. 

Inside my award folder was a page containing the judges’ collective comments. I want to share a few:

“We thought we knew where this author was going before we even opened the book…Pilot Mountain, but were we in for a surprise and a rude awakening. We only had to read to page FOUR to gain our education, as we were informed that there were EIGHT (8)…YES, EIGHT…landmarks in NC named Pilot Mountain. One judge sarcastically remarked, 'What, they couldn’t come up with other names…they had to name eight landmarks the same thing? No wonder I get lost all the time!' Thank goodness Ms. Griffith cleared it up for us with regard to the Pilot Mountain School of which she writes.
Interviews with past students of the facility tug at the heartstrings. They absolutely loved their school and this feeling is felt through their words. These feelings, all these facts about the school, would be forgotten if not for the exhaustive work, careful research, wonderful production, of this book. Griffith has brought new life to this little Pilot Mountain School on paper. The old schoolhouse, once a beloved community hub, was revived to become alive again and frequented by the locals who had once had to sit quietly at their desks to…learn! Superb job from cover to cover.”

Thank you to the Society for recognizing Lessons Learned in this way. Thank you to the community for sharing their lives with the world through this memoir and to Tom and Judy Brittain for selecting me to be the collector of these precious stories. And finally thank you to my publisher, Cynthia Bright, and my editor, Carol Bruckner. We did good!

Catch of the day,


Friday, October 18, 2013

The Embarrassment of a Mondegreen or Two

 I love words. I'm an author. Words are my tools, the hammers when I need to pound something in, the chisels when I need to refine. Sometimes my words bounce back and bonk me in the head and make me wonder what I was thinking. For instance, the mondegreen.

I’ve said more than a few mondegreens in my lifetime, I just never knew there was a name for this phenomena. But there is.


A mondegreen is the misinterpretation of oral words, replacing the original words with a mistaken version, the “unintentional incorrect repeating of similar sounding words.” This word, mondegreen, is an example of its own definition, going back several hundred years. Singers often misunderstood words in a particular seventeenth century ballad

They hath slain the Earl O’Moray,
And laid him on the green

And sang instead

They hath slain the Earl O’Moray,
And Lady Monedgreen.

When John Fogerty in 1969 penned lyrics to Bad Moon Rising, he created a huge and widely acknowledged ultimate mondegreen in his one phrase, “There’s a bad moon on the rise.”

 Okay, guilty here. I always sang, until wikipedia set me straight, “There’s a bathroom on the right.”

No telling what other mondegreens I’ve committed in my lifetime, unaware until someone coughs politely, draws me aside and reveals the truth. That's what friends are for, by the way.

Such a thing happened this week and I was completely dumfounded. Fortunately, I wasn’t with a group. ‘Twas just me and my computer and a video of the subject of my latest project.

There he was being interviewed back in the 1990’s, talking old-time living and real-life learning. One of his stories perked my ears. Seems that back during the Great Depression, he and his father were walking along a road in the mountains of western North Carolina when they saw a huge cloud of smoke in the distance. As large as it was, they were sure it was a house fire, so they rushed to help. When they arrived at the source of the fire, turns out it was a tarkill, with a man piling green, fresh-cut pine branches and pine needles on a fire he had set on an old piece of tin.

“Can’t get the fire too hot,” he explained. “It’ll burn the wood.”

“Isn’t that what a fire is for?”

“Not this time. I’m killing the tar.”

The heat would draw the sap from the logs making it ooze downhill on the metal sheet. At the end of the tin, he had set a bucket to catch the slow motion drip of pine tar from the logs he had set afire. As the flames grew too high, he would cut nearby pines to smother the fire, creating an unbelievable amount of smoke, and demonstrating the base phrase known to us around here in the Carolinas, “Smoking like a tarkill.”

Oh, drats. A Mondegreen!

A few generations removed from that tarkill scene, the expression I’ve always heard is “Smoking like a Tarheel.” In my child-like brain  when I first heard that expression, I had pictured a person from North Carolina sitting out behind the barn sneaking a puff or two, or twenty-two, or two hundred even, as in “smoking like a Tarheel.”

I will probably never use that phrase. It's old. Its meaning and use has gone the way of the mule drawn tobacco sleds I once followed behind. But it made me aware of one thing. Once they are spoken (and written), words belong to the listener as much as to the speaker. Lessons learned about that.

Catch of the day,


Monday, October 14, 2013

Stagecoaches, Skating Rinks and Various other Diversions

I started a new project October 1. Wonderful. Except that within a few days, I received word that another project of mine had gone to the next level, if I am still interested. Oh yeah. Double wonderful. Which mean that project number one is either on fast track or on hold. Fast track for now.

It's about a man from Wilkes County, the Moonshine Capital of the World. It's about surviving, inventing, creating. Throw in a little redemption and forgiveness, and there's story in them thar hills.

It's about the stagecoach at Tweetsie Railroad, a wild west themed amusement park in western North Carolina, and about my main character on tour with his stagecoach and his friend Slim Pickens publicizing the 1968 remake of the classic movie, Stagecoach.
It includes making moonshine in the mountains and running liquor in the city. Skating rinks. Wagon trains. Oh, the stories I've caught already. I love my job!

For all of you who visited on the blog tour the last several weeks, you might remember Linda Phillips, the writer who hosted the next stop after mine. She became interested in my work, asked me a few questions, and ended up interviewing me. Our discussion is posted on her blog today, so please check it out. 

Catch of the day,


Monday, October 7, 2013

The Blog Tour Continues

I can't imagine how authors worked their craft before computers were invented, much less how they marketed their books without the internet. For Bertha Moore McCurry, the author who shared her writing and taught her craft to the children of Pilot Mountain School in the 1950's, a blog tour would be as foreign and unheard of as a man on the moon. My mentioning her series in Lessons Learnedabout "The Three Baers" is one of a growing list of what I call, "Wish I had done it differently." I would have included a disclaimer that yes, I know Baers is spelled incorrectly and is not a typo, but the clever title the author chose.

Bertha Moore McCurry

So how did Ms. McCurry write? Longhand? Notebook or loose leaf? Typewriter? I wish she could blog about it. Would she have participated in a blog tour so that she could share her craft and her product with the world? Let me take a guess.


It's what we authors do. I would have been one of her followers, you can be sure.

But we have computers now. And the world wide web. And blogs. And blog tours where authors can introduce their work to readers without leaving the confines of the ergonomically correct computer chair, yet another twenty-first century concept that would be foreign to her.

So the blog tour continues and onward we go from our flashback to the present, which is also the future.

Meet Sarah Maury Swan at

Her blog is "Sarahs Book Reflection." Check it out.

Meet Tricia Martineau Wagner at She is the author of four historical books for children.

And meet Linda Phillips at: Her debut young adult novel is scheduled for release August of 2014.

Three authors for a new century. Wouldn't Bertha Moore McCurry be thrilled!

Catch of the day,