Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fighting those ol' winter time blues - with the help of Willie

I am SO weary of winter.

Here’s the thing. I love snow. I love looking out the window and seeing everything covered with the pristine clear magic of snow. And if that was all I had to do every time it snows, I would be a happy girl. Just look at it through the window. Join Donald with taking little walkies with Harley and watch him romp through snow drifts with a big ol’ doggie grin on his face (Harley, NOT Donald - although Donald does like to romp). Watch him lift his face to the sky and blink as he catches snow flakes on his tongue. And laugh at him when he buries his head in it searching, I guess, for some kind of furry critter scent. Who knows what’s going through his mind? But he’s cute and he fills my heart with joy.

Harley does love the snow.

Those are some of the fun things.

As is watching out the window while Donald and Harley take off down the driveway in the snow. Taking off on a great dog & dad adventure. While I sit comfy warm with a book and some music, along with a cup of hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

Fun things.

But. Instead of being able to enjoy all the childlike fun things that come with winter in the mountains is the fact that, being grown-ups, we have to get-up, get dressed in winter gear and get to work. Some of the fun wears off all this fairly quickly.

So we plan and do things we love so as not to get those ol’ winter time blues.

Like go to concerts.

What can pull you out of a funk quicker than just about anything? Music!

And live music is the stuff that makes the world shine.

And if you’re lucky enough to have one of your all time favorite hero performers come to town, you just toss your head back, look at the skies and shout out a very loud, and very proud “Thank You, Lord!”

I adore Willie Nelson.

I’ve been going to Willie Nelson concerts for a long time. My first one was, I think, in 1972. Willie performed at the Georgia Tech Coliseum and sitting on stage with him was then Georgia governor Jimmy Carter, along with his wife Rosalynn. I was immediately converted from a person who liked Willie Nelson, to a life-long fan. And have since then, been to an additional 8 or 9 Willie Nelson concerts. As long as Willie is still performing, and I'm still mobile, I'll continue going to as many as I can get to.

This is a man with that indescribable something that puts a very few, very special people in a category that is impossible to fully explain. We mortals call it charisma. It’s some little spark and sizzle that bathes some people in a special light that most of us don’t have, but recognize as soon as we encounter it. It’s magic, pure and simple.

I have followed the magic of Willie for years and when we heard he would be performing in Boone I may have been the first one here to buy tickets.

The memories and stories of past experiences at Willie Nelson concerts aren’t ones I’m likely to share here. Suffice to say - I was younger then. Attending a Willie Nelson concert is an experience that includes loads more than merely watching a man perform on stage. It’s an adoring audience with faces upturned to a man they love. Truly love. He’s like the Pied Piper, and many’s the old hippie, or old farmer, who’s followed him across the country and back. When it comes to Willie Nelson, folks seem able to put background and politics aside in respect and admiration for a man who will stand by his ideals. Who will put himself on the line to fight for what he believes in - be it his music, or other men’s farms, or wild horses, or our country’s dependence on gasoline.

I attended one of Willie’s 4th of July picnics in 1983 in Hampton, GA. After treking to Hampton from Atlanta with about 20 other people, and spending the night in a hotel room I would not consider sleeping in today, we got up around 4 a.m. to be at the Atlanta International Speedway gates to stake our spot. Loaded down with blankets and coolers, we slowly moved with a few thousand other folks as close to the stage as we could get. Now, I don’t remember who all we saw that day - but I remember the show included David Allen Coe, The Stray Cats, Linda Ronstadt and a whole BUNCH of other people. A whole mixed bag of performers crossing genres and performing from 10 a.m. until Willie closed the show at 3 a.m. the following morning. I still have my T-shirt. One very similar to it recently sold on ebay for $36.00. Thirty-six Dollars! Man - I wouldn’t take a million bucks for that t-shirt! For real. As a matter of fact, I proudly wore it to the concert we went to last week. And I just know if Willie had noticed that shirt, it would have made him right proud.

This concert was different. Willie joined Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel to perform, in addition to some of his own stuff, some old Western Swing. People were still the same adoring fans. But we were all much more - in a word - sedate. Our faces were still upturned to this man we love, but we were gazing into the face of an older, wiser man. Our Willie has grown gracefully into the role of Shaman.

Willie Nelson turned 75 last year.

When I saw him last week, I saw all those 75 years in his face. It’s a face I love. I see wisdom, strength, humor, character, compassion and peace in that face. All the things you hear in his music. He’s a national treasure. And oh my. I enjoyed this show every bit as much as any I’ve been to. I yee-hawed through “Whiskey River” and “On the Road Again,” chuckled during his duet with Elizabeth McQueen singing “I’m Sitting on Top of the World,” and just boo hooed during “Always on my Mind.” And seeing Mickey Rafael up on stage next to Willie, still looking like a kid, still looking at Willie like a star struck kid - even after playing by his side for over 30 years, made me cry.

So it may still be the dead of winter. It may still be cold, with more snow yet to be had, but I have crazy, wild, fun, sweet and lovely Willie Nelson memories - old and new - and a whole big stack of his CD’s to help keep me warm. A husband who will sing Willie's songs to me, and a puppy who will bark along. Right on key. For real.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Linda Fairstein - Lethal Legacy Tour

Linda Fairstein is the author of the internationally bestselling crime novels featuring Manhattan's sex crimes prosecutor, Alex Cooper. LETHAL LEGACY, published on February 10th, is the eleventh novel in the award-winning series.

Fairstein, who lives in Manhattan and on Martha's Vineyard, held that same prosecutorial job for thirty years. She is also the author of SEXUAL VIOLENCE: OUR WAR AGAINST RAPE, which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

She's also a legal commentator for the major television and cable networks. Her website is

Linda Fairstein - Touring

I’m one of those authors who simply loves being on a book tour. My prosecutorial life (thirty years in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office) was as wonderfully collegial as I try to show through Alex Cooper’s relationships with her friends in the office and the NYPD. The writer’s life is often quite solitary – a really good day is when no one calls or shows up in the ‘bat cave’, where I hibernate to do my work. So I love the moment when the boxes of new books are opened (just two weeks ago, on February 10th) and they pop onto shelves in libraries and bookstores, while I get to travel around and talk to the nice people who love to read as much as I do.

This time, the meanderings have been especially delightful. The night before the tour began, the dazzling New York Public Library…the setting for Coop’s latest caper…feted me with a wonderful event and cocktail party. One of my favorite writers, the brilliant Anna Quindlen, interviewed me in front of a live audience – about both careers. It was lively and wonderful fun (and I think you can find it shortly on the website, as well as my own). Frankly, after all the deadly discoveries I made at that elegant library, I really wasn’t sure they would ever let me in the front door ever again.

I wrangled with Don Imus – which is always a hilarious experience for me; got bounced from the TODAY SHOW because A-Rod’s steroid story broke (grrrrrrrrrr – and I’m a Yankee fan, too); and have gotten a lot of media requests because of my legal specialties – sexual assault and domestic violence – so you’ll catch me commenting on many of the breaking news stories, with a bit of the book jacket showing on screen.

My first day is always in Manhattan, doing local media and bouncing in and out of bookstores like a complete maniac to sign copies and greet my favorite booksellers. A delightful aspect of this tour has been how many other authors I’ve gotten to hang out with in just these first ten days. The fabulous Karin Slaughter came to my first signing in New York (I think she’s smart and funny and a really fine writer)…so I dragged her to dinner later that night to celebrate the launch. Then down to Washington, DC, where my beloved friend Jane Stanton Hitchcock entertained me at home between signings. She is Alex Cooper’s great pal, Joan Stanton – and the author of wonderful books like SOCIAL CRIMES…and this coming summer’s perfect read – MORTAL FRIENDS.

Then it was off to Denver – a great book city and the chance to have my two grandsons be my valentines on Saturday night. At my signing at Murder by the Book, one of my ‘fans’ turned out to be CJ Box’s mother-in-law, so she didn’t even have to twist my arm to get me to buy his latest. Phoenix next – I just love the Poisoned Pen, and Barbara Peters has been one of my biggest rooters since the very first book in the series. She pulled out quite a crowd for me…also podcast on her site…and then, at dinner, Dana Stabenow showed up, so we got to talk crime all night – and Dana signed her latest for me – WHISPER TO THE BLOOD. Still a hoot for me to meet the authors whose books I love to read.

Less than twenty-four hours in sunny Phoenix, and on to the deluge that happened last week in San Francisco. At M is for Mystery, I did a duo event with Leighton Gage, whom I had not met before (but if you can catch him on tour…go listen – he’s so interesting and charming), and got on the plane with his second in series, BURIED STRANGERS. It’s quite a terrific tale…and for those of you who love to be transported to a new locale in your books, he gives us Brazil with a marvelous sense of place. In the audience at M was a debut novelist named Kelli Stanley, whose first book was the well-received NOX DORMIENDA – a long night for sleeping. It’s next up on my TBR pile and such fun to meet a bright young author who is already finished with her second manuscript.

I only had one weird moment on the trip (so far). After a night at the Poisoned Pen and a divine home-cooked meal by Barbara Peter's husband, Rob Rosenwald, I got to my very fancy hotel room. It was almost midnight, and I was unpacked and undressed when I noticed that the lock on my door was broken. Not only did the prosecutor in me freak out a bit, but this month, in the column that I frequently write for COSMOPOLITAN Magazine, the cases I used were all crimes that happened to women traveling for business - attacked in hotels. There was no one from maintenance around to fix the lock, and way too late to change rooms. If you could have seen me barricading the door with chairs and tables - well, it was quite a sight. Coop would have been much more fearless, I'm sure. Then I opened the mini-bar to shore myself up with a Dewar's, only to find that the turn-down service did not include a bucket of ice. I drank it neat...and it helped!

As I write this, I’m enjoying a two-day rendezvous at home with my husband, and will hit the road again this week for points south. I love meeting readers, talking about books, getting recommendations of what to read, and finding all these other talents along the way. Crime writers are all my muses, along with the librarians to whom LETHAL LEGACY is dedicated…and I will joyfully get on with my meanderings for the next several weeks. Hope to bump into some of you along the way. Thanks to Kaye for inviting me to her site!

New York Public Library Lions Patience and Fortitude. The marble lions were designed by
sculptor Edward Clark Potter and carved from Tennessee Pink marble by the Piccirilli Brothers in 1911.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named the Library mascots Patience and Fortitude for the attributes he thought every New Yorker should possess.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mary Jane Maffini - Here Be Dragons

Mary Jane Maffini is the author of the Charlotte Adams mysteries and two Canadian series, one features Ottawa-based lawyer, Camilla MacPhee; the other introduces failed romance writer and reluctant sleuth, Fiona Silk. In addition to ten books, Mary Jane has had nearly two-dozen short stories published. She is active in the mystery community and served two terms as President of Crime Writers of Canada. She lives and plots on the banks of the Rideau River in Ottawa, Ontario, supported by her long-suffering husband and two princessy
miniature dachshunds. She'll be MC at the Bloody Words conference in Ottawa this coming June and hopes you will come on up to see Canada's capital in a glorious season.

Here Be Dragons

I am so happy to be guest blogging on Meanderings and Muses. Thank you, Kaye, for the invitation to drop in.
While I'm here, I thought I'd share a little story which had a big impact on my life, luck, and perceptions of other people. For various mysterious reasons, it's been on my mind this week.

It was the dead of winter, 1986, the same year my mother passed away. My daughters and I had inherited her jewelry, some of which had been passed down from my grandmother. Every piece had more sentimental meaning than dollar value and each item reminded me of my mother, especially the dragon brooch, a gift from a special friend.

On the day I was to have the jewelry appraised for insurance, an unexpected meeting dragged through my lunch hour and threw my schedule off kilter. I couldn't make my appointment to meet the appraiser. I was leaving work that afternoon to fly out to Calgary on business and so I had to decide: Should I leave the little satin jewelry pouch in my office or my car or ship it with my suitcase or carry it with me? I opted to keep in it my purse. The trip was in March, a time when late snowstorms can surprise us.
Days later, when I arrived
home on the last flight into Ottawa, my car was buried in snow and it took me quite a while to claw the white stuff of my car, all the while freezing in my stylish grey suede boots. Meanwhile, the parking lot emptied and to my
astonishment, the lights in the airport seemed to dim. When I finally got into my not-too-reliable second-hand Mustang and started it up, I started to race for home. As I reached the far end of the parking lot, the Mustang sputtered and stalled. Remember, this was 1986 and cell phones were still the stuff of science fiction. I found myself at one-thirty in the morning, with nothing in sight but the ticket kiosk, with a non-performing vehicle. After giving it my best try, I realized the battery had given up the ghost. I struggled through the snow over to the ticket kiosk. A shifty-looking young man was lurking there alone. I asked if I could use the phone and he agreed, reluctantly and let me inside. I pulled out my wallet and found my roadside assistance card and called the Canadian Automobile Association. Forty-five minutes, they said cheerfully. Plan B: I called my husband. Sure, he said, I'll come and get you, but it will be about forty-five minutes. Not feeling welcome inside the kiosk, I staggered back to the car, raised the hood, and sat sulking. I had nothing to do but stare around at my desolate venue. After a while (it felt like hours) two more young men appeared out of nowhere and joined the first one. I had no idea where they'd come from, as the airport is near nothing at all. Had they slunk out of the woods? I did ask myself what kind of person hangs around a kiosk in an empty parking lot in the middle of nowhere. My heart started to race when I noticed them pointing toward my car. An animated conversation followed among the three. I could only track the gestures, not the words.

Shortly after, one of the young men left the kiosk and headed toward my car. He had wild black curls past his shoulders and sported a black leather jacket and skinny jeans. Cowboy boots, not winter gear. He was tall and thin as a sardine. He walked slowly and tentatively toward my car. I triple-checked that the doors were locked. By my calculations, I had thirty minutes left until either the CAA truck or my sleepy husband drove into view. As he approached, I had visions of the windows being smashed by a rock or a crowbar. I could see that he was
carrying something in his hand. I made sure my little pouch of jewelry was well hidden, but I held onto the dragon brooch. If attacked, I planned to stick him full of pinholes. It was the least I could do.

Eventually he reached the car, stopped, and bent down. He rapped on the window. I stared at him. He stared back at me and gestured for me to open the window. I cranked it down about a sixteenth of an inch and said, "Yes?" as if I hadn't been gazing, horrified, at his progress all that time and in fact had just noticed him.

"Excuse me, ma'am. Did you leave this over there?"

I flicked my eyes from his face to the item in his hand: my wallet, complete with credit cards, driver's license, ID and cash.

"Thank you," I said, opening the window three inches and accepting the wallet with as much dignity as I could manage.

"Thank you very much."

I was far too stunned to offer him a few dollars in return and to tell the truth he didn't seem to expect anything.

"You're welcome," he said with a nod and melted back toward his cronies.

I have felt grateful ever since, not only because I was not murdered and was also spared the aggravation of losing my ID and having my credit cards compromised and cash stolen, but mainly because I learned a major lesson about judging people by their appearance. I also learned that sometimes we limit ourselves through fear of events that never happen. I'll never know what became of that honest young man or why he was in such a desolate spot at that time of night or even what all the gesturing was about in the kiosk, but I learned that you just can't tell judge by appearances. Instead of the ten dollars that I should have offered, I've given this young man a free ride as one of my favorite fictional characters over the years. And in retrospect, I've appreciated the memory of how I felt, physically, watching his approach. Those reactions have come in very handy in the 'darkest moments' of my books. As for the dragon brooch, it still gets an outing whenever the stakes are high. I've learned that that pays off too.

Thanks for visiting with me on Kaye's excellent site. I wore the brooch for the occasion.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Patti Abbott's Friday's Forgotten Books

Patti Abbott has a wonderful thing she does at her blog, pattinase, every Friday. Its called Friday's Forgotten Books.

Here's my entry for Patti's Friday's Forgotten Books today.

My all time very favorite book ever is a forgotten book that keeps coming back to life like the Phoenix. Published originally in 1966, reissued in the 80s,and about to be reissued again by The Chicago Review Press. But. It isn't really a forgotten book. At least, not by anyone who ever read it. Its one ofthose books that once read, will become a book you'll push on all your friends and insist they read. And one reading is never enough. I can't even begin to guess or remember how many times I've read it. Or how many copies I've bought and given as gifts. FIVE SMOOTH STONES was written by Ann Fairbairn. The basic plot is a simple story of a young black child, David Champlin, being raised by his grandparents in New Orleans in the 60s. Going on to college with the help of an extraordinary man who befriends David’s grandfather, and then David himself. And finally, belatedly joining the civil rights movement. The premise sounds pat, over-done, formulaic, and sappy. However this book is anything but simple or formulaic or any of those other things. This is an exquisitely written, powerful story about love, honor, relationships and the willingness to stand up for beliefs. The relationship between the elderly grandparents and the young boy is one of the most touching story lines ever written. While David is a memorable character, his grandfather is even more memorable. An indelible character who will wrap himself around your heart and once there, will live there forever. As David's story progresses, we meet a host of some of the most enduring characters found in literature. Friendships are formed and forged that \will last a lifetime. We meet people who live honest, good lives with high moral standards, never faltering in their beliefs, or in their willingness to fight for those beliefs, or in their deep abiding love and trust in one another, during one of the most turbulent, heart breaking periods of American history. And topping it all off is a love story that will break your heart, and then have it soaring to the heavens. David Champlin and Sara Kent's story will never leave you. I dislike using the word "powerful" while describing a book, 'cause I think its overused and therefore somewhat lacking as a true descriptor, but I can't seem to come up with a word that works any better or even as well, so powerful it is. I'm going to do something a little different here, and refer everyone reading this to the reviews of FIVE SMOOTH STONES on There are, as of this writing, 91 reviews. 85 of which were given Five Stars. They've been written over a time span of ten years, and most of the people doing the reviews were people who did something I myself have done for years - seek this book out in any form available to buy to give to someone they care about. It was a groundbreaking novel in 1966, but one which, I believe, has stood the test of time, and done so quite elegantly.

Ann Fairbairn, whose real name was Dorothy Tait, was born in Cambridge, MA and attended the Leland Powers School in Boston. She worked in newspapers, television and radio and as publicity director for music groups. "Five SmoothStones" (1966), a Literary Guild selection in 1967, won her an enthusiastic following in the United States and abroad. She also wrote "That Man Cartwright"(1970), "Call Him George" (under the pseudonym Jay Allison Stuart in 1960), a biography about New Orleans jazz clarinetist George Lewis, and was in the process of writing a third novel at the time of her death. Fairbairn died apparently of a heart attack at age 70 in February 1972 (from the Boston Globe11/14/1994). Not much information can be found about this amazing woman who's life was threatened after writing FIVE SMOOTH STONES under a pseudonym. Oh my, how I wish she had lived long enough to have finished that third novel, and a fourth, and maybe even a fifth. I think she would have, over time, joined the ranks of great writers.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Waiting for Spring, and Where I'll Be . . .


Busy week at work here in Boone, but at least the weather has warmed up some - Hooray! I know it's only a temporary thing - it is, after all, only February. big sigh. But this is the time of the year I start pouring through gardening catalogs that have started arriving in the mail, and search on-line gardening sites. Some of them are impossible to resist. I always picture having a gorgeous flower-filled yard; color as far as I can see. Sadly, that is just not gonna happen. What we do have, thanks to Donald, who is the person who does most of the gardening at our house, is beautiful. Our peonies never fail to make me smile. The hostas get so huge here they're kinda scary. I'll do some gardening and weeding - but I'm not as fond of playing in the dirt as Donald is. Nor am I as good, or as patient, with it all. For one thing, living in the mountains presents a certain problem with digging - every small hole you attempt to dig brings forth huge rocks and boulders. Pretty daunting, and I'm pleased with what little bit of color we have been able to bring forth against the odds. The winters here are long, so when those first hardy little spring flowers start showing their stuff, I am a happy woman.

I dream of a steep bank full of day lilies, and wishing our bank where Donald planted an awful lot of day lilies a few years back got a bit more sun so they would spread a little more quickly than they have so far. Like Molly Weston's! I'm thinking a drive down the mountain to her family's place, Weston Farms, in Garner might just be on our list of places to go this spring. We'll see.

Preview Preview

In the meantime - Valentine's Day is coming up. I'm thinking a pretty pot of tulips sitting on my kitchen table might be just the thing. And another pot in the sunroom, and maybe even one in the bedroom. Can a girl have too many flowers sitting around the house? Methinks maybe not.

Friday I'll be stopping by to visit with my friends at the Stiletto Gang Blogspot. I don't know if you'll remember this, but those gracious women are partially responsible for Meanderings and Muses. My first ever blog experience was with them last July. Little did I know where that little piece about my efforts in quitting smoking would lead. I must say, I am happy and having an awful lot of fun on this little journey thus far.

I hope you'll drop by Friday to say hey to me and to the rest of The Stiletto Gang - they are a very cool group of women who also happen to be pretty terrific writers. Their mission is to bring mystery, humor and high heels to the world. Now how much better can it get than that??! See you Friday!

And . . . . don't forget! Next week's Meanderings and Muses guest is Mary Jane Maffini. I'll have her piece posted Sunday (2/15) afternoon or evening. Mary Jane and I are going to be roomies in Indianapolis for Bouchercon this year. Roomies are fun, but she and I won't be borrowing one another's clothes - the woman is perfectly adorably teeny! Teeny!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Julia Buckley - Best Friends: The Comrade Conundrum

Julia Buckley is a mystery writer who lives in the Chicago area. Her first mystery, THE DARK BACKWARD, was released in June of 2006; her next book, MADELINE MANN, received glowing reviews from Kirkus and Library Journal. Julia is a member of Sisters in Crime, MWA, and RWA. She keeps a writer’s blog at on which she interviews fellow mystery writers; her website is She is currently at work on a new mystery series featuring an amateur sleuth and English teacher.

Best Friends: The Comrade Conundrum
by Julia Buckley

My ten-year-old son is overly laden with best friends. The other day he was speaking of his friend J.T., whose name I hadn’t heard in a while. “Oh, you’re still friends with JT?” I asked (these things are subject to change rapidly in kid world).

“Oh, sure! He’s my best friend,” Graham said.

But a couple weeks later, Graham was speaking of his friend Christian, whom he also described as his “best friend.” In each case, he spoke with total earnestness, and I’m sure that in a way both boys fit the criteria.

I’m rather envious of the best friend concept–both of people who bestow the title with such ease and also of those who receive the honor. To be honest I don’t know if anyone refers to me that way, but I have never called someone the “best” of my friends. I don’t know whether it’s a natural reticence, or a desire to not offend other friends by singling out one as special.

The other problem, though, is that every friend is distinctive for a reason. Perhaps I’ve been deprived for a lifetime, but I never noticed the lack of a best friend. I only really think about it when other people introduce theirs. I think, “Huh–I wonder why I never had a best friend?”

As a kid I found plenty of friendships within my family, among my four siblings. My sister and I were two years apart and did most things together until we went to high school–at which point we developed our own circles. I had three friends named Kathy, ironically, who as a trio were my best pals, but I didn’t really call them that. Nor am I one of those wives who refers to my husband as my best friend, though by some people’s definitions I’m sure he is.

I guess “best friend” is just never a term I grew up with, so I never bothered to assign it to anyone.

I took a little poll of my family members.

My husband said that the last best friend he had was a childhood soulmate named Kevin whom he lost track of after high school and has never been able to find again. A long-lost friend . ..

My older son said that he has “lots of best friends,” but cannot really narrow it down–which means, to me, that he doesn’t have a best friend.

And of course my little son has a best friend, but the owner of that title is subject to change according to Graham’s largesse.

I’ve met people, though, who make best-friendhood sound so glamorous, so warm and wonderful, that I wonder at my own failure to pursue it. They’ll say, “Oh, this weekend I’m going to the movies with my best friend Jane,” or “I’m so excited about spring break–I’m going to Las Vegas with my best friend in all the world, Mary Kay.”
They toss the title around with the casual ease of someone who is confident in the permanence of that friendship, the wondrous bond of it.

So I’m curious to know, those who read Kaye’s blog: are you best-frienders? Or are you not? And what distinguishes one group from another?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Vicki Lane - Writing Appalachian

Vicki Lane is the author of the critically acclaimed Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries: Signs in the Blood, Art's Blood, Old Wounds, In a Dark Season (2008), as well as The Day of Small Things, a standalone coming in 2009.

A descendant of pioneer Floridians and Alabama farmers, Vicki was raised in Tampa, Florida. She married her high school sweetheart in 1963 and taught high school English at a prep school in Tampa. They should have been happy.

But in 1975, seduced by The Whole Earth Catalog and Mother Earth News, Vicki, her husband, two dogs, and their three year old son moved to a mountain farm in Madison County, North Carolina where they learned how to milk cows, butcher pigs, plow with mules, and raise tobacco. Twenty five years later and still on the same farm with the same husband, one more son, and many more dogs, Vicki remembered that she was an English major and decided to try her hand at a mystery novel.

Working from the premise ‘Write what you know’ she chose a middle-aged woman on a mountain farm as her protagonist and started writing. Five years later, Vicki’s first novel was published by Bantam Dell.

But wait! There's much, much more at and


Before I was published, a well known writer of Appalachian novels gave me a piece of advice – actually, it may have been more of a warning – don’t write about the mountain people in a patronizing manner. “We’ll come down on you if you do,” I think was what this writer said. Well, it scared me some and I tried very hard to make sure that the deep respect and admiration I had long felt for those tough, wise mountain folks who were my neighbors came through loud and clear in my writing.

Here’s the thing: a native Appalachian novelist can write as one whose family roots are deep in this region. I, on the other hand, since I’ve lived on our mountain farm for only 33 years, am a transplant -- one of those “damn Florida people.” I can’t pretend to know Appalachia as a native does but I can bring to my efforts at depicting mountain culture, the eyes and ears of one to whom Appalachia is utterly fascinating -- at times as familiar as the memory of my grandmother’s voice, at other times as indecipherable as a song in an unknown tongue, heard at a distance.

No, I can’t be a native, but even a transplant can put down roots that grow deep and take nourishment from an adopted home.

The Appalachian poet and essayist Thomas Rain Crow, in his lovely memoir Zoro’s Field, uses a term “the new natives.” This is his name for those who come to a place and “strive to work reciprocally and in balance and in harmony with the native people and the land.”

I like to think that that my protagonist, Elizabeth Goodweather, and I are new natives – we may be Florida people but at least we saw the error of our ways and moved to the mountains where we got to know our older neighbors and tried to learn from them, to work with them. Rather than sealing ourselves away in an
exclusive compound comprised of other newcomers, we tried to make a place for ourselves within the existing community.

And there was so much to learn from that community! Those folks who had lived on and with and by the land for generations had a wisdom that couldn’t be found in books. They were attuned to the weather, the seasons, the phases of the moon in a way that seemed almost uncanny to someone like me who’d grown up in suburbia where central heating and air conditioning made weather almost irrelevant and the moon was only occasionally glimpsed through a web of power lines and television antennas.

Like the song catchers who once roamed these mountains, writing down the old ballads and recording the old tunes, I listened and learned and remembered and often jotted down some of the wonderful things I’d observed. And when the day came that I began to write a novel, there was all this wonderful material just begging to be used– characters who became Miss Birdie and Aunt Omie, the landscape and life of the mountain farms and forests, the history of the region, and the language -- oh, the language like poetry!

“I wuz weedeatin’ in that ditch there and one a them big ol’ gorf rats like to run up my britchie-leg,” said my neighbor Mearl. Another lovely phrase rings in my memory from the time when, at the top of our mountain in October, we met a neighbor from down the other side. She and her grown son had been gathering apples from a volunteer tree there near the top. “We’re just walkin’ and feastin’,” she told us, smiling the sweetest smile and tossing away an apple core.

These mountains are full of stories. My first book, Signs in the Blood, opens with a scene described to me by a friend who was a home health aide – an old woman dying peacefully at home, surrounded by friends and family, a church choir is there singing, and two teenage grandchildren have just gotten saved in the kitchen. I wrote down the bare bones of this scene years before starting a novel. It was just too wonderful to take a chance of forgetting it.

Another story that I used in this same book is the tale of a young woman, who ran off with her boyfriend back in 1901, leaving her husband and infant behind. When I first heard this story, about thirty years ago, it was said that when the young woman came back for her baby, her husband locked her out and so she would climb up the logs of the cabin to look in the window and see her child. They said you could still see the scratch marks of her fingernails. This is the story that convinced the Big New York Editor who was looking at my manuscript to offer me a contract.

I tell people that my books are, in a way, a love song to the place I live. I’m trying very hard to write about a world that is fast slipping away. My husband and I were fortunate to have moved to our farm at a time when many people were still living as they had in the early years of the century, when there was no television, no internet, no cell phones. Instead, conversation, story-telling, and homemade music on the front porch were the entertainment. These people are the backbone of my stories and readers write from all over to say that they are reminded of their aunt, their granny, their great uncle, their childhood.

But I have to write about the changes too – the new people of all sorts who are moving to the area. Elizabeth’s world, like my own, is seeing an influx, for good or bad, of all sorts of pilgrims from all sorts of places – Florida people looking for cooler summers, Northerners looking for warmer winters, earnest organic farmers, telecommuters with jobs in far off cities, artists and artisans, New Age seekers, Latin American laborers, all adding spice and savor to what was once a dish with only one ingredient.

I remember back in ’76, being introduced to a young woman whose family had lived in the same community for seven generations. As I recall, she looked at me with a wary distrust, probably the same way the Cherokees looked at her folks when they first began to move in to the Cherokee’s hunting grounds. And it’s probably the same way, God forgive me, I look at some of the more recent newcomers to the area. And what changes are You going to make? the look says.

Not long ago I was talking with a lifelong resident of the area and the subject of her neighbor – another of those Florida people -- came up. “Him?” she said, “He ain’t showed me nothin’ yet.”

By their works shall ye know them, I think she was saying. And the fact is that many, many of these new people are enriching the mountains, bringing an energy and freshness of outlook to the on-going work. Those who do it best, listen to the long-time residents, respecting their wisdom and experience and hearing their concerns. Yes, Change is inevitable, but it can be done cautiously and respectfully so all that is good and lovely in the land isn’t lost forever.

Back when we first moved to the mountains, one of my neighbors invited me to go with her to Decoration Day at their family cemetery. A group had gathered there atop the gentle hill at the edge of our farm. It was a mild day, the first Sunday in June, under one of those crystalline blue skies that they say proves God is a Carolina fan. The invited preacher hadn’t been able to come, so some of those present took turns reading from the Bible or speaking a few words. And then Sylvie, another neighbor -- a short stout woman, known for her ability to outperform a man in cutting and barning tobacco -- Sylvie began to sing ‘Amazing Grace.’

Her voice was rough, with a heavy mountain twang, and she sang from her heart and her belly and her soul with the same strength she brought to the tobacco field. Her song was a shout, a statement of faith, a declaration of who she was and where she was – and an anthem for all who once were lost but now are found. It raised goose bumps on my arms and when the last fierce notes fell away, losing themselves in the trees and pastures around us, I was fighting back tears. I once was lost but now I’m found, I thought. Was blind but now I see. This is the place I’ve been looking for and here I am where I’m meant to be.

Amazing Grace – it’s here all around me in these mountains. And last year, when I was doing a talk at our local library, I got another taste of it. A woman, a native of many generations, brought up one of my books to be signed. She looked me in the eye and said, “We’re glad you moved here.”