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Monthly Archives: July 2015

Memory Monday-Kurt’s Motorcycle

Memory Monday-It’s a thing…

Memories are such funny things. With my family being so close, sometimes it is hard to know if I remember these things. Or if I think I remember because I heard the story so many times I’ve created the visual in my mind.

Mom tells a story about me going with Kurt for a motorcycle ride. She says she let me go with him because he promised to go slow. In her version of the story, she watched us from a window. She says all she could see was a blur going up the holler (hollow, if you’re into proper speech). Mom claims he was going so fast, my ponytail flying straight back behind me.

I have this image in my head of Kurt and I flying through the hayfield on a dirt bike as fast as it would go. In my mind, it’s a bright, sunny day and I’m throwing my head back and laughing. I imagine shouting at him to go faster. 

I don’t know if that happened the way I see it in my mind. I can’t remember getting on or off the motorcycle or where we even went. It’s like a snapshot in my mind of much younger versions of us sitting on a dirt bike in the middle of the hayfield. I assume it could have happened. Kurt and his brother David always had some sort of motorcycle or four-wheeler. I just can’t say for sure I remember that particular motorcycle ride.  It is just as possible I invented the memory based on hearing Mom tell the story.


The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla

The Patron Saint of Ugly by Marie Manilla

The Patron Saint of Ugly

An unlikely and unwilling saint? Aren’t they always? This story of a young girl growing up with a curse and a blessing who wanted nothing more than her privacy and the love of her family.

Why I read this book? Marie Manilla is a local author. Her work came highly recommended by mutual friends and acquaintances. The things that made this particular work stand out to me was the cover art and the West Virginia setting. While reading the book, I had the opportunity to attend a workshop given by Manilla called Monster Theory that explored the use of Southern Gothic and Magical Realism in literature.

What I liked about this book? Hands down: the characters. Everyone of them seemed to come off the page no matter how small their part or scene. The story is told mostly from Garnett’s point of view through a series of recordings for an archbishop interviewing her for possible sainthood. I found a set of reading group questions for this book and one of the questions suggested Garnett may be lying to the archbishop or an otherwise unreliable narrator. She isn’t lying or unreliable. Garnett tells her truth. Her truth may not be “THE” truth, but it how she perceived the things in her life. She maintains she is not a saint and not responsible for the healings attributed to her. She suspects her Nonna is actually responsible and also entertains the thought that the healings are because of environmental factors. Throughout the stories she records, she explains how she isn’t, and couldn’t be, the saint they claim she is. There is a universal quality to the characters that had me thinking thing like “I know this man.”

What I didn’t like about this book? The concept of Garnett narrating the story on a series of tapes took a chapter or two to get used to when I first started reading the book. Aside from that, the male characters seemed to be the most flawed and imperfect. The men in the story were completely overshadowed by the females even the grandfather who acted more like an impetuous brat than the patriarch of a family. While I don’t mind the feminist undertones of the book, I found myself hoping Garnett would have one positive male figure in her life. The closest she gets is a couple of butler types she meets and the bartender her aunt has a flirtation with at the end of the book.

Memory Monday-Are You My Mother

Memory Monday-Are You My Mother

Memory Monday-It’s a thing…

During our trip to the beach this year, Julie and I found a copy of Are You My Mother? and immediately began harassing Mom to read it to us. Mom dislikes that book and says it is because she used to have to read it to Julie multiple times a day. I don’t remember Mom reading it to me, but I do remember the day Mom changed her name and refused to tell me what her name was until I guessed it.

As a child, I used to follow my mother around saying “Mommy” over and over. At least according to her. I have no memory of this. She said the conversation would go something like this:

  • Me: Mommy.
  • Me: Mommy.
  • Me: Mommy.
  • Me: Mommy.
  • Me: Mommy. (All of these in rapid succession without giving her time to respond.)
  • Mom: What, Marsha?
  • Me: I don’t know.
  • Me: Mommy…

What I do remember is at one point, after nearly driving her insane I guess, the conversation changed. This is how I remember it:

  • Me: Mommy?
  • Mom: You say that so much I’m going to change my name and not tell you what it is.
  • Me: Mommy?
  • Mom: That’s it. I’ve changed my name and until you guess it, I’m not going to tell you what it is.
  • Me: Mae.
  • Mom: That is not my name.

I continued rattling off names and her replying “that is not my name.” I’m not sure how many names I went through before I remembered her reading Rumpelstiltskin to me. I guessed that name and that was exactly what her new name was.

I don’t think I ever followed her around saying “Mommy” after that.

A River Runs Through It

This post isn’t about writing. It isn’t about the process of writing or anything I’m writing or have written. It’s about the dang river that appears in front of my house every time it rains. At least every time we have heavy rains. If you’ve read my Memory Monday posts, you know I grew up […]

Memory Monday-At the Movies with Olivia

Memory Monday-It’s a thing…

In the summer of 1984, I was spending some time with my favorite aunt and cousins from my Dad’s side of the family. Aunt Vicki took Olivia, Christopher, and I to see a movie. We went to see The NeverEnding Story. It was awesome! In case you’ve never watched the movie, I’ll tell you now the rest of this post contains spoilers. You’re welcome.

That movie has long been one of my favorite, go to, will watch it again and again movies. I own my own copy to watch when and if I please. It never grows old for me. It has books, imagination, an awesome luck dragon, trolls, danger, and so much more. As a child with a wild imagination there couldn’t have been a more perfect movie.

The movie has one very sad scene. Atreyu has a beautiful white horse for a best friend. He and Artax start the journey together and nothing could be more precious than a boy on a quest with a white horse. Then the duo encounter The Swamp of Sorrows. As they cross The Swamp of Sorrows, they have to keep their spirits high or they will be pulled into the gross, yucky depths of the swamp. Things go alright for a little while, but then Artax has a few issues. Then poor Artax stops walking and sinks. Atreyu pulls on the reins and tries his best to keep his buddy from sinking into a murky death. The horse sinks up to about his neck, the screen fades to black, and comes back to Atreyu sitting on the edge of the swamp crying.

Now, if you’ve followed my Memory Monday stories, you may know my family (Mom’s side) are firm believers in tough love. If we had a family motto it would be something like: Life’s Not Fair, Suck It Up. As a child and well into adulthood, I didn’t cry during movies. Afterall, they were just movies. So I’m sitting there thinking about how much it will suck for Atreyu to have to walk everywhere now. I was probably still munching on my popcorn too. Then out of nowhere, Olivia reaches over and pokes me in the eye.

“Ouch! What’d you do that for?” I whisper to her.

“I wanted to see if you were crying and it’s dark in here.”

I wasn’t crying until she poked me in the eye!

I will say that as I’ve watched this movie as an adult, I’ve often wondered how the heck Atreyu made it out of the swamp. Surely if he watched his best friend and beloved horse sink and die, wouldn’t he also feel some sadness. In The Swamp of Sorrows, sadness and giving up are what kills you so just how did he make it out? Maybe he didn’t like that horse so much after all?

Memory Monday-Ice Cream Truck

Memory Monday-It’s a thing…

Living in the country all my life, there are certain things you learn to accept. You have to drive well over thirty minutes before you see anything resembling civilization. Chances are you won’t have any sort of pizza or food delivery. Any food you buy at a restaurant will likely be cold by the time you get home. There are quirky things, like ice cream trucks, in the city that you won’t often see in the country.

Except for a couple summers in the 1980s when we did have an ice cream truck in the country. I don’t remember much about the people who owned the truck. Someone in the family called the driver and his family “hippies.” I didn’t know exactly what that meant, and I thought it to meant “really cool people with a colorful ice cream truck.”

The first time the other kids and I heard the tinny, carnival style music we didn’t know what to think. Even Mom and Granny didn’t think there was an actual ice cream truck driving around the country side. We heard the music, and we all watched from Granny’s yard as the most wonderful thing in the world rolled by us. The next day, we were ready. Mom and Granny armed us with a couple dollars each and sent us outside to play. I think we focused more on listening for the truck than we did on anything else that day. With a large yard, huge hayfields, and a whole hillside for our playground, we opted to stay close to the house. As soon as we heard the first notes of the ice cream truck music, we all took off running toward the main road.

I imagine we looked like the little moles in a whack-a-mole game as we popped beside the main road. We each bought our ice cream and by that time, Mom and Granny caught up with us. They talked to the truck driver for a few minutes before we all headed back to Granny’s.

The next day, we waited for the truck again. This time when we heard the music, the truck was too close for us to run to the road before it passed us by. Then another awesome thing happened…the truck turned off the main road onto the dirt road that lead to Granny’s house. Every time the truck ran that summer and the next summer, the man driving would come over to Granny’s. Sometimes my cousins were there, sometimes they weren’t, but the driver never complained.

So folks, don’t take your ice cream trucks for granted. Somewhere there are little country kids just wishing they had access to an ice cream truck.

Why I Don’t Say Theater

Why I Don’t Say Theater

When writing in any capacity, the writer always has to consider voice. Voice can mean a couple different things to a writer. It can be the writer’s own style of writing, syntax, sentence construction, etc. Voice can also be the personas or characters in the story. As readers, we respond to these two concepts of voice and it can drive our love or hate for the characters, story, or author.

Over the past few months, I focused on reading and editing two my novels. During that process, I realized my writing voice changed from one novel to the other. It made sense, sort of, because of the stories. One story was first person narration from a fifteen year old girl and the other was third person limited narration from a thirty year old man. Those voices would obviously be different. Writers must be able to create distinct voices, several voices in fact, in a novel or piece of writing.

So what about in real life? Can writing influence the author’s causal voice, or speech? Can modifying your accent or dialect impact the author’s writing? A few months ago, I read a piece by C. Davis called “Appalachian code switching” on her blog The Homesick Appalachian and haven’t been able to get it out of mind. I thought about the situations where I code switch in my personal life.

Being a native to West Virginia, southwestern West Virginia, more than a few people have commented on the way I talk. Growing up I never noticed an accent (or dialect) because we all sounded the same. My travels were limited and people rarely moved into the area where I grew up. My first jobs were local dealing with mostly local people so I didn’t hear it there either. Sure, in high school my English teachers tried to impress upon us the need to speak properly, but most of them sounded like everyone else so lesson didn’t have the desired impact. I was probably in college before the stereotypes about “dumb hicks” and “hillbillys” hit me full force.

As an adult venturing farther north (still within WV, mind you), I would get comments about my “southern” accent. Then I headed west to visit a friend in Arizona. It seemed like every single person I spoke to made some sort of comment about my accent. I remember sitting with my friend and a group of his friends talking about movies and each time I said “theater,” a couple of the women giggled. Finally, one of them told me the way I said “theater” was cute. While on some level I knew she and I didn’t sound the same, her saying “theater” actually did sound the same to my ears as when I said it. She explained when I say it, it sounded like “thee-hate-er.” Once she sounded it out in that fashion, I could hear it myself when I said it. So I stopped saying theater. To this day, over fourteen years later, I only say theater when I absolutely have no other word to use in its place. When I say it, the shape of my mouth changes to compress the space inside my mouth, I tilt my chin toward my chest, and my brain focuses on saying it fast so I don’t draw out the “e” or add an “h” to the second syllable.

I grew up in a house where the accent was pretty strong. Somehow, I escaped saying things like “far” for fire, “worsh” for wash, and “tard” for tired. However, the word window does stick out to me. Most of the people I grew up around say “winder” instead of window; when I say window, on the other hand, it comes out “winda.”

In 2000, I worked in a call center and our quality reviews were done by people on the west coast. I remember my manager pulling me aside to go over my reviews and the reviewer wrote: “needs to sound less West Virginian” in the comments on one of my call sheets. My manager handled the situation well; she talked about annunciation and remembering my “g” on words that ended with “-ing.” In all fairness, I was dropping the final “g” and most of the time I still do. Even as I type this, in my head “dropping” was “droppin’,” but at least my fingers know to add that final “g.” From that point on, I attempted to sound “less West Virginian” when I was at work. A few weeks ago, a customer told said he didn’t think I was from WV or “you at least weren’t born there because you didn’t sound like other West Virginians.” Mission accomplished I guess. My day to day work requires me to communicate with people all over the world on phone calls, many of which I lead. It seems to go well for the most part. The odd thing? I find I stutter more on work related calls than I do in my personal, casual conversations. I wholeheartedly believe the stutter comes from my brain trying to tell my mouth not to be a West Virginian.

Realizing how often I code switch for work and during my travels, I couldn’t help think about code switching while I was editing my short stories and novels. As I read my own work, I don’t hear an “Appalachian” writer in my words. I don’t feel that sense of culture in my work. I hear a fraudster. I hear someone trying hard to be something other than what she is. I’ve lost my voice and I think it shows in my writing.

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