VI ~ December 2007

Well, Herself has done it again – spun my world around and set me off in another direction. Herself thinks the Miss Birdie book should come next – so the book I’d started to write, beginning with Elizabeth’s visit from her sister, will have to go on hold till book 6. We think about calling Birdie’s book The Day of Small Things.  And here’s a taste – maybe from Chapter One (this is a very early draft – I’m waiting to see what Birdie has to tell me): 

Chapter 1 ~ In the Burying Ground

Tuesday, May 1

Garbage bags in hand, the old woman toiled up the winding foot path, her worn hickory staff leaving neat pockmarks in the red earth. Above the scrub-filled abandoned fields, gathering clouds warned of coming rain but Miss Birdie Gentry continued her slow, purposeful climb to the family burying ground atop the hogback ridge.

On reaching the top she paused briefly to catch her breath and get her bearings. Then, ignoring the more recent granite markers, deep-carved with names, dates, and bible verses, she stumped doggedly on to the older section of the graveyard where modest sand concrete memorials and white painted slabs commemorated the dead of an earlier time. At the far edge of the mown ground she stopped.

Here a narrow strip of tall grass and weeds divided the cleared hilltop from the forest of poplar, oak and beech, bright with the vibrant new greens of the season. The old woman’s blue eyes narrowed in concentration. Scanning the thick growth at her feet, she thrust her staff into the long grass, sweeping it aside to uncover a homemade lozenge of white-washed concrete, set flat and all but lost in the rising tide of late spring.  On the rough surface the date 1939 showed, etched by an unskilled hand just beneath the single word – “LEAST.”

A familiar high-pitched voice broke into her reverie. Hurriedly, Birdie wiped her face on the sleeve of the man’s shirt that covered her loose house dress.  With one sneaker-shod foot, she quickly pushed the hank of grass back to cover the little marker.  When it was hidden once again, she made her way back among the graves where she began to pick up the faded decorations and jam them into a garbage bag.

Well, so Dor’thy come along atter all. But reckon who it is she’s talkin’ to?  Her cousin’s chatter floated up the hill, every word clear. A light rain began to fall and Birdie stretched out her hand to catch the drops.

“Now, she said as she’d be up here, cleanin’ off the graves and getting’ ready for Decoration Day. All them old wreaths and such to gather up and get shed of. I told her to let me do it -- you know Miss Birdie’s gettin’ up in years – eighty-five this October -- and not so spry as she once was -- but will she listen?  And now it’s come on to sprinkle. But I reckon it’ll pass off right quick. How long did you say it’s been since you seen your aunt?”

There was a soft murmur – an unknown woman’s voice. Birdie frowned and cocked her head to catch the words but heard only Dorothy’s cheerful reply.

 “Well, won’t she be tickled you come at last!”

At that moment, Dorothy and her companion came into view. Dorothy, her familiar stout person clad in knit slacks and loose top, was a few steps in front of a slightly younger woman.  Birdie studied the newcomer’s face carefully, looking for some clue to her identity.

Ay, law, now which one can that be? Many nieces as I got that I hain’t seed in many a year . . . Now this un here, what age would she be? Hard to tell the way they dye their hair and all. And of course, some folks just naturally hold their age real good. Blue eyes, middlin’ built . . . I wonder–

“Birdie Gentry, what in the world are you doin’, standin’ out in the rain? Why don’t we go set in my vehicle till it lets up? And why in the world didn’t you bring your truck and come by the road ‘stead of walkin’ all that way through the fields. I declare-”

Ignoring Dorothy’s scolding, Birdie smiled and nodded at the other woman. “My mamaw allus said that hit was a fine thing to git wet in the first rain of May – that hit would keep a body healthy all the year.” 

The woman stepped forward, her face blossoming into a lop-sided smile that was oddly familiar. 

“Aunt Birdie, you probably don’t remember me. I’m Lexter and Britty Mae’s youngest daughter --. Myrna Lou. The last time I was here was 1959 – I was only sixteen then so I don’t expect you to recognize me now.”

Lord, she sounds like a Yankee, thought Birdie, looking for some hint of the teenager she dimly remembered. But pore thing, she cain’t help it – livin’ up there in Dee-troit all this time with nothing but Yankees all about.


 And for those who ask if I hate it when my editor makes these decisions for me? – the answer is – no, not at all.  For one thing I was already very intrigued by the idea of a standalone, a non-series book. And then I feel sorry for poor Elizabeth – one terrible thing after another has happened to her and to her family ever since she found herself in a mystery series.  So she’ll enjoy a vacation while we explore Miss Birdie. But never fear, Elizabeth will be back to deal with her sister!

I hate to disappoint any of you who may be eager for the next installment of Elizabeth.  I can only say that I hope it’ll be all the better for the wait.  As a matter of fact, if I had really wanted to dig my heels in and say – No, I’ll do the Elizabeth book and then the Birdie book – I suppose I could have. But, because I am a rank newcomer to the world of publishing and my editor is one of the best, when Herself speaks, I listen.  And plunge happily into Miss Birdie’s past!



Thanksgiving at our house was full of family and friends and food –

just as we like it!




(or ‘you uns,’ as Miss Birdie would say)

Jill L writes:

I have a bit of a story to tell about my paternal grandparents who spoke the dialect of the NC mountains as well!!  As, a child and being from the “city”, I would sit and listen to my parents and grandparents converse during our visits.  Time after time I would hear my grandparents say “John and Clyde and ‘nim’ came last weekend for a visit....” or “Sue and ‘nim’ went to town the other day and brought us back some....”   Finally after hearing this term many times over, I finally asked “who’s ‘nim’ ?  Too funny, but I couldn’t figure out how ‘nim’ was always with everybody and was always visiting and I didn’t know who he was!

 Good story! And it reminds me of one of my own. Our neighbors were Cleophas and Mearl Davis. He was mostly called Clee and we often spoke of Clee and Mearl. Our son, at that time about five, heard someone mention the couple and call them Mearl and Cleophas.  Soon after that, I heard him telling a friend about Clee and Mearl Ophas who lived across the road.

 My neighbor Connie T. sent me this link.

It’s to a collection of stories by the late Manly Wade Wellman who spent a lot of time in our county. He wrote of Silver John the Balladeer and there’s more than a hint of mountain magic in these.

 Susan T. in St. Louis said: Do devastate and shatter us, your readers!  Those aren’t negatives!  You’ll keep us engaged and breathless, not smugly waiting for our own detective skills to prove us right!


From Aleen in Cedar Mountain, NC: I’ve read with interest some of the local sayings or expressions you’ve had sent in. I’d like to add one. Just before this house was finished, the contractor called one of the workmen back to re-do some work around the foundation. The mason got out of his truck with a thundercloud on his face, a big, surly guy. He was accompanied by a younger fellow, pleasant and polite, kid had a bad limp, appeared one leg was shorter than the other, he just hurried and gimped along fast as he could. I spoke to the grump, asking what I considered a civil question, he responded in an abrupt, curt manner.

The kid looked at me, smiled a kindly smile and said, “Ain’t he jest et up with personality?”

I could have taken that kid home with me.


                               The view from my workroom 



Marsh C. sent this great quote from Hemingway:

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that it all happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, the sorrow, the people, and the places, and how the weather was.  If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.” 


Recent Reads

Some books I’ve enjoyed

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union- Michael Chabon

The Well of Lost Plots – Jasper Fforde

Somewhere in the City –Marcia Muller

Relics – Mary Anna Evans

Listening Woman – Tony Hillerman



A new bullcalf – not yet a day old


Vicki’s Schedule for 2008

  In the spring, probably beginning in mid-February,  I’ll be teaching a 1o session class in Asheville on writing popular fiction. The class is offered through UNCA’s Great Smokies Writing Program. For more information contact Dr. Elaine Fox ( or see

 Tuesday, May 20 – In A Dark Season in bookstores everywhere !!!

 Friday, May 23 – Sunday, May 25 – WNC Woman Writers’ Retreat at Lake Logan. Presenters: Kay Stripling Byer, Lavinia Plonka, Peggy Millin, and Vicki Lane


That’s it for now. I’ll send along a Christmas/Hannukah/Soltice/mid-December greeting, once we have our tree up. I know lots of folks start decorating right after Thanksgiving, but it’s always been our tradition to wait till around the 15th -- mainly so that all the fresh greenery we bring in will last till New Year’s Eve.

Take time to enjoy the season!


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