Saturday, November 11, 2017

Batesburg Garden Club

TRIP TO 1857

Members of the Camellia Garden Club of Batesburg were a great audience for my presentation on November 2. I led us on a trip back to 1857 and St. Helena Island, SC. Much of my presentation was based on research I did to write the Westfall series of historical fiction novels.
Barbara Shealy (L) and Susan Shealy (R) hosted the club meeting.
A visit with our ancestors, at least for myself, makes us aware of the many advances that have been made. In just 160 years we have moved from horses and carriages to commuter jets, from letters to Facetime, from wood fires to central heat; from plagues to heart transplants; from wagon trails to interstate expressways. 
Me at the podium. Photos thanks to Amanda Ballenger
Try thinking of a kitchen without electricity, without lights or refrigerator, freezer, range or running water. Our ancestors had no boxed cereals or protein bars in their cabinets; nor frozen dinners and ice cream in a freezer. What storage they had for food was the occasional pantry and more often, a smoke house. Preparing a meal required hours of work in a kitchen and months in a garden or field. Such was life in 1857.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m ever more thankful for the nameless Americans who worked without recognition to build our cities and farms and provide the comforts of our everyday life. The quality of our American lifestyle is a credit to the creativity and work ethic of our forefathers.

The comforts we are afforded count for little without the bonds of love and trust. I appreciate that I had parents who loved and encouraged me. My mother, in particular, made sacrifices so that I might have a better life than she did. Because my parents are the past, the past is dear to me. My parents felt the same way once their parents were gone. And though I didn't live in 1857, I had ancestors who held that time to be dear because of parents who had lived then. I'm alive because of them, and I'm loved because they were loved. Exploring their world has been a fascinating project for me.
Mildred Shumpert Rawls, my mother

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Lexington County Museum


Last night concluded two candlelit nights in the yard of the Hazelius House at the Lexington Museum where I manned a table with copies of my books. My table was located near the tent where visitors checked-in for the Hunted History Tours (conducted by museum director J.R. Fennell).

My table with historical fiction novels
As groups arrived for the Hunted Tours, they passed by my table (many stopped to shop), picked up cookies and hot apple cider, and gathered at the bond fire. My sweater wasn't warm enough Thursday night, but a cup of cider helped keep off the chill. Last night wasn't as cold.

The heat from the bond fire was much appreciated
I was happy to discover that the volunteer working the ticket stand was Laura McMahan, another former Pelion School student. I hadn't seen Laura in years, and we did a bit of catching up on what we've been doing.
Laura (lt.) is a retired principal with Lexington One Schools
My sister Nila accompanied me and, as most writers know, every event is easier and more fun when you have somebody to share it. Nila was a great assistant.

I depend on my sister Nila often to help me out

A view of my table with the Fox House in the background.

My table with the Hazelius House in the background.

A crowd of visitors surged before each tour and then it was quiet with just the staff and myself. It was refreshing to be outdoors with the moon shining above the trees. Our voices seemed more calm in the candlelight... which added an aura of history. My thanks to Director Fennell for the opportunity to participate in the museum's Haunted Tours.

Monday, October 23, 2017

aiken, SC Indie Authors

Indie Authors Photos

Aiken, SC Library

October 14, 2017

On Arrival I met fellow author Gail Reed, who writes children's books. 
I met Gail at the 2015 Red Piano Too Art Show on St. Helena Island, SC.

Unpacking my displays and books. 

My display area was adjacent to that 
of Mike Lythgoe, who made a presentation on poetry.

Vicki Collins discussed how place enters into character and plot. 
a book that investigates the Appalachians in the media.

Will Jones talked about writing songs.

What did writer Linda Shaffer see? mmmm...

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October 14 Indie Author


To celebrate Indie Author Day, the Aiken Public Library is spotlighting local authors Saturday, October 14. I’ll be one of the indie authors signing books starting at 3:30 PM.

schedule of presentations

10:30 Poetry by Michael Lythgoe
11:00 Screenwriting by Justin Wheelon
11:30 The Path of an Indie Author by Bob Clark
1:00 Deeds Publishing by Bob Babcock
2:00 Writing About Place by Vicki Collins
2:30 Songwriting by Will Jones
3:30 Book Signings by local authors

The library is located at 314 Chesterfield Street SW in Aiken, SC (phone 803. 642-2020). If you’re in the Aiken area on October 14, come by and say “hello.” Better yet, come by and buy a book!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Augusta University, GA


Saturday I had a brief spotlight at the Berry Fleming Book Festival at Augusta University in Georgia. The Festival provided a podium and microphone for about a dozen of us writers to read from our books. I was scheduled at 12:36 p.m., but the program started late. I read “Cat’s Fur,” which was well received.
Diane Chamberlain
Throughout the day from 9:00 a.m. until 3:45 p.m. numerous programs and panel discussions took place in the University’s Jaguar Student Activity Center. DianeChamberlain, the keynote speaker, began the morning with a discussion of her writing life. Her presentation was a study case in how a personal appearance can attract devotees. How does one appear approachable but retain the air of celebrity? Appear amiable while being detached? Arouse enthusiasm while remaining calm and composed? Wish I had a film of her presentation.
William Rawlings, Jim Garvey, and William Okie
“Georgians Making History” was a panel including authors William Rawlings, Jim Garvey, and William Okie. It was interesting to see these writers but the take-away was minimal. Sometimes a panel works better if a moderator provides guidance with topics to discuss.
Moderator, Man Martin, Karen Zacharias, and James McCallister
“It’s A Southern Thang” featured authors Man Martin, Karen Spears Zacharias, and James McCallister. Seemingly “Southern” literature is something we recognize but have trouble defining. It’s the language, some say. It’s the location. It’s the story. Or, more simply, it’s the author’s home.
Stephen Corey
At 1:00 p.m. Stephen Corey, editor of The Georgia Review, read from his book of essays and talked about the Review. 
I (far left) pose with other authors for a group shot.
It was a day of literary events covering a spectrum of genres ranging from historical fiction to poetry to romance to mysteries to young adult and children. Each hour, there were four or five different programs taking place in numerous rooms of the Activity Center. It was an ambitious undertaking, and I hope Augusta University will make the Festival an annual event. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Steadman dove shoot


Cleaning doves after the shoot
This past weekend was the opening of dove season in South Carolina. My family has a long history in the outdoors as hunters and fishermen. Somebody always planted a field of grains to attract the birds, and many times it was Uncle Nelson.

More recently my husband Doug and his hunter friends have taken over this tradition. They began in the spring by planting a field of sunflowers and corn. Come harvest time, they bush-hog the plants disseminating the seeds, which attracts the doves. Unfortunately for the birds, by September, the hunters are waiting in the field for them to arrive and feed. 
Matt and the quarry
After an afternoon of shooting (and a visit from the game warden), many doves—didn’t count them—were brought in. The hunters plucked the feathers and took only the breast meat, which was divvied up. My husband makes a casserole of dove cooked with rice and mushroom soup and his friends like it.
Tony and Josh repair shotgun after the shoot

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Other Einstein


I’m surprised at the positive reception the novel The Other Einstein has received from reviewers. A number of them on Amazon have responded as if author Marie Benedict has discovered and revealed an historical truth. The novel purports that Einstein's wife Mileva was largely responsible for the theory that made Einstein famous. There is no evidence to support this. Benedict’s imagination soared on rumor and supposition. Yet, some readers have taken it for fact. This is one reason why many writers debate the issue of ethics in historical fiction.

Another troubling aspect of this novel is the political pandering to feminists in a most unpleasant way. Yes, women have been suppressed for ages, but our heroes are not those who wallow in being victims. What is there to admire in that? Where is the creative woman? The fighter? The strong character? The intellectual? Benedict attempts to make Mileva a genius equal to Albert, mostly with coffee shop conversations, but the tone of the life as it’s presented is not that of a person inspired by intellectual pursuits.

Given Benedict’s assumption that Mileva had strong family ties and a father who made sacrifices to see that she was given a superior education, it’s not admirable that she essentially dumped on him to have a fling with Albert. Being four years older than Albert, Mileva must have realized the possible consequences of an illicit love affair.

This book is an appeal to our baser emotions. The outcome is not that we like and admire Mileva as a strong woman. Instead, it arouses our anger and spite against Albert. Benedict manipulates the reader into wanting to take revenge on him. Strip him of his good reputation. Throw the bum out of the hall of fame.

Unfortunately, this book gives feminists nothing to cheer about. Instead of celebrating a woman of genius and vision, it turns into a whiny treatise on how badly Albert Einstein treated his first wife. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Photos-B&L Library

PHOTOS – Batesburg-Leesville Library

I was pleased with the audience at the Batesburg-Leesville Library for my presentation of “Death & Burial” Monday night. As was true at Pelion, the faces that looked at me were attentive and respectful, rather like the subject we were discussing.
Lindy introduced my presentation.

This is where patients were often lanced for bloodletting treatment.

It's gratifying to meet others interested in our history.
My thanks to Lindy and the library staff for their friendly welcome. Also, thanks to Rachel Oglesby for inviting me. Photo credits with appreciation to my friend Carole Rothstein.


Sunday, July 23, 2017

Death & Burial at Batesburg-Leesville


My next Presentation:

Death and Burial Customs in the Antebellum South
Monday, July 24, 2017
Time: 6 - 7:00 PM 

Location: Batesburg-Leesville Library
203 Armory Street, Batesburg, SC 29006
Ph: 803.532-9223
Admission: Free

I hope to see you there!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Photos, Death and Burial at Pelion


Death and Burial Customs last Saturday morning.
I explain how to spot the deceased person in a group photo.
As you might expect, audience participation on the subject of death is restrained.
The lady with her back to us told of dolls created to look like lost babies.
Drawing for the door prize. Librarian Shirley Sprenne with me.

My thanks to Librarian Shirley Sprenne for making the arrangements and for her hospitality. Thanks to Douglas Stanard for taking photos. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

death & burial in the antebellum South

 Postmortem photography was a thriving business in the 19th Century

Times have changed. Doctors no longer bleed us with leeches nor prescribe poisonous “blue pills.” We don’t drape crape over the mirror when somebody dies. We don’t sit up all night in the living room with the body. We aren't confined to solitude for months following a death.

I’ll talk about “Death and Burial in the Antebellum South” at the Pelion Branch Library. I hope to see you there. Here’s the time and place
  • Saturday, July 15 at 10:00 AM
  • Pelion Library, 206 Pine Street, Pelion, SC
  • Free and open to the public
 This is a postmortem photo. Can you tell which of the two is deceased?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

author talk


Last night I attended a talk at Lexington’s Main library by Lisa Wingate, author of Before We Were Yours. There were so many attendees that chairs had to be added to the room. Wingate discussed the background for her latest novel, a disheartening episode in Tennessee’s history. In brief, it was a time when a profitable business stole children and sold them to wealthy childless couples (Joan Crawford, for example). The operation survived for years because of the owner’s connections with influential political figures. Parents whose children were stolen never knew what had happened to them.

I enjoy writers who talk about more than their writing method. In fact, I left before the Q&A, in part because the first question was something to the effect of “How do you go about writing?” Perhaps every writer has to answer this kind of question, but I’m more interested in the subject of a novel than in the author’s approach to it — unless the speaker is analyzing the work of a writer other than him/herself. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

columbia II blog


I’m the guest blogger at Columbia II Writers Workshop this week. “The Role of Narrator” looks at one way in which writing is changing in the 21st Century. Our cultural absorption with self has given rise to contemporary narrators who focus on aspects of our inner life. This calls for some background in psychology, sociology, and philosophy to create interesting characters.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

anthology - The Human Touch 2017

3 Poems in Publication

The Human Touch 2017 is free and available to read online. It is the tenth annual literary anthology from the Anschutz Medical Campus community at the University of Colorado. The focus is on health issues and how we handle them.

My three poems that appear in the anthology are:
Grand Mal (page 58)
– on my uncle who died at age 17 from a grand mal seizure
The Separation (page 60) 
– on my father’s heart attack before the one that ended his life
Relative Inadequacy (Page 61) 
– on my sense of inadequacy following my father’s death 

thinking out loud


It’s easy to forgive yourself when you have the resources to repair the damage you’ve done. For instance, a wife can forgive herself for burning the dinner when she can go to the refrigerator and get something else to take the place of the burned dish. But if she’s in a circumstance where there’s nothing in the refrigerator, in other words she burned the only food she had for dinner, then it’s much harder for her to forgive herself.

Of course I’m talking about my own circumstances as a child. I have looked back at my youth and wondered why my mother didn’t do more to teach me to cook. One reason was that she couldn’t take a chance on my ruining whatever she had planned for supper. There was one plan, and without that one, there was no supper. Though she worked all day in a shirt factory and was obviously tired at suppertime, she invariably cooked the meal. My sister and I had the task of washing and drying the dishes, and I’m sorry to say we sometimes watched television instead of doing our task. I still regret that our mother sometimes awoke to a dirty kitchen to start breakfast.

It wasn’t only the limited resources for food that had an impact on our ability to forgive ourselves. With respect to farming, my father bought seed and fertilizer in the spring but could only afford to buy what he used to plant the crop. This meant that if my older brother, who helped with the farming, made a mistake that caused the loss of seed or fertilizer, there was no money to replace what had been lost. That is to say, the loss was permanent. It was a burden he had to bear. This situation made it hard for him to forgive himself. It was made even harder because of my father’s anger and disappointment. Obviously my father would have been less angry and less disappointed if he could have returned to the seed store and bought more.

This aspect of my upbringing is one reason I find it hard to accept my own failures. My husband angrily corrects me when I say something like, “I’m so stupid!” But when I make a mistake, it towers over me, as if something has been lost forever. 

Maybe I’m rationalizing, but I think financial hardship makes people unforgiving of themselves. This leads to an effort to be perfect, to never make a mistake. And it can spread into our expectations of other people. I set a high bar for myself. Not only for myself, but for others. This is something I've had to try to control. 
Farm house where I grew up.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

aiken garden tour

What I’m Doing Instead of Writing

The Aiken Garden Tour last weekend put my yard into perspective, i.e. underdeveloped. There were gardens on the tour that could easily cost into five figures. Really, a hot tub, pool, grill, and outdoor television! Though there were many varieties of palms, I’m still skeptical about whether they’ll survive a Carolina winter. What I liked most were the hideaways, secluded areas of the yard, and there were many of those, the concept being to divide a yard into numerous “rooms” with thematic greenery. So nice! 
A secluded corner where I stopped to rest.
As for writing, this year so far has been one of distraction. Thank goodness for my writers workshop, which gives me a deadline to produce six pages of prose. Typically, I’ll squander my time until several days beforehand and at the last minute work feverishly to get something presentable.

Do I have what it takes to complete the 17th Century French story I’ve started? From the experience of having written six novels, I know the discipline and daily grind it takes. As important, if not more so, is devotion to the story. There are times when my devotion flags. 
My sister Nila with outdoor furniture that looks indoor.

Friday, May 12, 2017


I’ve just run into Amazon’s heavy hand:
"Your review could not be posted.
Thanks for submitting a customer review on Amazon. Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines:

This is not the first time Amazon has refused to publish a review of an item I bought online. I can’t figure out what is offensive, especially given Amazon’s criteria. (see review below). I scanned the other reviews, and there's not one that mentions that the item is not refundable.

This is a reminder that Amazon puts its interests before that of the individual customer. I’ve said individual customer with purpose. Amazon is adept at figuring out how to please the generic customer. Outliers are another story.

I’m gratified that the European Union has tried to rein in Amazon’s aggression. Recently it put an end to Amazon’s insistence that e-book publishers give no other company better terms. And the EU is investigating Amazon’s 2003 tax deal with Luxembourg which unfairly allows it to pay lower taxes.

My Review as submitted to Amazon:
Buyers should be aware that this dress is shipped from an address in China and is not returnable. I am 5'5", weigh 130 lbs. and size 6 was too large. I requested a return with refund, but obviously I wasn't going to pay shipping costs to China. The vendor was responsive, but I had to settle for a percentage refund and a dress I gave to the Salvation Army.

Previously I also ordered a swimsuit not knowing that the vendor was shipping the item from China. It only seems fair that the product description contain a notation to alert customers when an item is not returnable.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Lake City SC artFields

Even in the barbershop

My visit to ArtFields last week was an eye-opening couple of days. For starters, I found out you can’t see all the art exhibits in two days. Secondly, I experienced art-fatigue (common in museums like the Louvre or MOMA).

Lake City, South Carolina, is proving that we look to more than football, hamburgers, and television for gratification. It took grunt work and dollars to showcase more than 400 pieces of art, including paintings, installation art, photographs, mixed media, sculpture and digital media. Every work or art was skillfully displayed.  

At the Welcome Center, I registered to vote on the art and cast 15 votes. Here’s a painting I consider a winner. It's huge, covered an entire wall/corner of the ROB (formerly a tobacco manufacturing building):

Robert Keith's Clifton & Drake
Illustrators don't get the respect they deserve. Some of the most endearing images are appearing in children's books. This is a shot of one window in an Alice Ratterree's composition that appeared at the Lake City Library.
Alice Ratterree's 24 Hours
A Crunch Lunch program on Thursday allowed artists about five minutes to introduce themselves and talk about the work they had on display—a great addition to the program. It was also a welcome opportunity to sit and rest for a spell.
Emily Clanton explains the unusual mushroom paint she used
Some artists (writers included) produce shocking, if not repulsive, work to get noticed and, given our media circus today, this ruse often propels them into the spotlight and can make a career. Vera Tracy's combination of sex and violence is an example.
Vera Tracy's Just One Gun (shown at the ROB)
I voted for several installation art pieces, despite my resistance to this type of art. Unlike most paintings and sculpture, installation art isn't usually possible in a home environment but requires the space of a museum. This is a photo of a free standing wall made of postcards by George Blakely. The art entry consisted of several walls making rooms of postcards.
George Blakely's Re-inventing the Landscape

I also voted for Sarah Mosteller's Hello, Society, It's Contrived To Meet You, which was a dress made of woven steel strings. Mark Woodward turned bicycle parts into a scene titled It's a Dog Eat Dinosaur World. This was displayed in a former livery stable now a spacious area for art. Yelitza Diaz took a literary icon and turned it into installation art titled The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Displayed outdoors on the lawn of the The Citizens Bank was a piece I wish I could have shared with my grandchildren. Vivianne Lee Carey's Cinderella: The Sequel is a dark concept with an ominous figure and a deathly looking carriage. 
My sister Nila stands between Cinderella and carriage
ArtFields was a great find for me. I can't wait to go next year!