Oh, Drumossie...

Oh, Drumossie...

I have to be honest. I didn’t think I would go. I know, for a Scotia-phile on her first trip to Scotland that sounds like sacrilege. Madness. How could I not visit the site of the final battle that sent my Highlander ancestors from Scotland to North Carolina? How can an Outlander fan not go to Culloden? But the thing is, I’ve seen so many battlefields.

I grew up at the nexus of the Civil War. My childhood home was just a few miles from the Chancellorsville battlefield where my own three times great grandfather was killed. My first apartment was on Hanover Street in Fredericksburg just blocks away from Marye's Heights and the Sunken Road. My family's favorite vacation spot when I was young was within sight of Fort Fisher at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Even today, I can't go to town without driving past the Stonewall Jackson Shrine (not memorial, SHRINE).  After about the hundredth time visiting flat empty fields marked by plaques declaring which general did what and how many senseless deaths happened right where you're standing, a person can become inured to that kind of thing.

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October Reading List

I LOVE October. The weather gets cool enough to make our cheeks rosy. The leaves start turning. Harvest/Celtic/Fiber festivals happen every weekend, and it all leads up to Halloween.  As t

he weather starts getting colder, it's the perfect time to wrap yourself up in a blanket with a mug of warm apple cider and read a scary book. I know the horror genre often gets labeled as pulp and not worthy of literary notice, but I think there is no social commentary quite like talking about what terrifies us. With that said here is my October reading list.


The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

One of my twitter people the other day asked twitter what the scariest books we've ever read were. Then on another forum today, someone asked what is the first "grown up" book posters ever read. I realized after a few minutes thinking that for me, these are in fact the same book.  You've may have seen the 1963 film, The Haunting, with Julie Harris or the more recent 1999 remake, but these movies have nothing on the book. Shirley Jackson was already known for terrifying short stories like "The Lottery" when she this book was published in 1959, but there is nothing more terrifying to me as the mind of Eleanor Vance and the tricks it plays on her.  The most incredible part of this story is that although she has some special abilities (I won't name them), there is something very human and familiar about Eleanor. She's that small, lonely, insecure part of each of us that we try to keep on the inside, and this book is what happens when that part gets stirred up and let loose.


The Mist - Stephen King

You hunker down at home as a thunderstorm rolls in. When it's over your little town is enveloped in a soupy, opaque mist that is filled with man eating monsters that scoop up your neighbors. Your job is to keep your son safe.  Need I say more? Sure plenty of other readers would pick different scary Stephen King books like The Shining or Pet Sematary, but as a mom the idea of trying to herd my children through this kind of situation is terrifying. King is such a pro at creating terror with what you don't see, and this book is a prime example of that.


House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski

I picked this book up after hearing a reviewer on NPR describe it at as "James Joyce and Stephen King meet at midnight in a clearing in the woods". Add to that the partial setting of a historic house in the Virginia countryside, and I was sold. I was not disappointed. In fact, my husband couldn't even wait for me to finish this book before he went out and bought his own copy. It's a labyrinth of psychological terror that is just too vivid and too good to be missed.  Don't skim, every word is worth it.  You might want to have extra bookmarks and post-its handy.



The Devil's Tramping Ground (and Other North Carolina Mystery Stories) - John Harden

As a Tarheel (in the diaspora) and a student of folklore, this book is right up my alley. The Devil's Tramping Ground is a round path in clearing in western Chatham County where nothing grows. Anything left laying across the path at night is found moved to the side in the morning. Legend has it that the Devil walks this path nightly pondering what mischief he will do. In addition to this legend, this book had other stories like ghost ships in the Outer Banks, the Brown Mountain Lights, and Theodosia Burr who may yet get a short story in Of Sound and Sea. Last but certainly not least the Disappearance of Peter Dromgoole who's story is mentioned in my novel in progress. You can see that the folklore of North Carolina has strongly influence what I write and some of it's just plain creepy.


The Ghosts of Fredericksburg...and nearby environs - L. B. Taylor

L. B. Taylor has made a career out of collecting and recounting stories of the paranormal from all over Virginia. If you like folklore and ghost stories I recommend any of his books. This one I find the most interesting and a little chilling because the stories come from my home town. There's a story about the church we attended when I was a child, another about the house across the street from my first apartment, and from local highlights like Kenmore, the Rising Sun Tavern, and Chatham. An area filled with as much history and war as Fredericksburg is bound to be loaded with stories and Taylor finds plenty. If you're interested in other parts of Virginia, Taylor also has books about Richmond, Williamsburg and multiple volumes of stories from all over the state.


In Search of Dracula - Raymond T. McNally & Radu Florescu

What would an October reading list be without at least one vampire book? Funny thing about vampires is that as fiction they're sexy and romantic and compelling, but when you look at the historical roots of our modern fictional vampires the reality is more terrifying and gory than any fiction. In this book two historians go in search of the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, and how the history of a Wallachian Prince struggling to hold onto power in his country evolved into the a legend of terror and cannibalism.  It truly fascinating stuff.


The Shape of Fear - Susan J. Navarette

Speaking of exploring horror fiction as social commentary, Susan Navarette does that very thing with an eye toward the late nineteenth century. I was lucky enough to take Dr. Navarette's class when I was in college and our examination of Dracula was nothing short of mind blowing. No one analyzes literature quite as completely as she does. I can't recommend her work strongly enough. If you're lucky enough to be a student at Hartwick College, you'd be crazy not to take her class.


A Fond Kiss

What with colds and stomach viruses, I haven't had much time to get work done in the last week or so. So, I will ply you today with a teaser from my upcoming novelette, A Fond Kiss. The ebook should be available soon. A Fond Kiss

“Mr. French, will you be able to visit your family before beginning your clerkship?” Mrs. Manney, as was her habit, made polite conversation while Minerva, bustled around the table serving dinner. This was the regular way of things at meals in the Manney household. Despite her northern roots, or perhaps because of them, Maria Manney was forever striving to outdo her southern neighbors in hospitality and elegance. Each day at the dinner table she set about providing her daughters with an ideal example of womanly behavior. She kept up a steady stream of pleasant if vapid conversation, diffused potential conflicts, and demonstrated impeccable manners for her children. The result of her hard work being that her children all had manners so fine that she never realized that they found her efforts at conversation to be a somewhat of a nuisance.

Charles cleared his throat. “I’m afraid not, ma’am. I will be starting in Philadelphia almost as soon as I arrive. I am told that the attorney I’ll be working with is a stern taskmaster. I doubt that I will have time to visit them before I become an attorney myself.”

“You should try to find the time, young man.” Dr. Manney’s gruff voice cut in from the head of the table.  Where Mrs. Manney ensured that meals were pleasant for everyone, Dr. James Manney ruled like a stone-faced monarch caring little for the opinions of the others. Although he never missed meals, Charles had always had the impression that his mind was frequently elsewhere, likely on his next business venture. Rarely did he allow himself to be drawn into the conversation, save the rare occasion when something caught his attention. “Family is important. You’ve been separated from yours for too long.”

“I have, sir, and I do miss them. However, my mother and I correspond frequently. She keeps me abreast of the news at home, and living with a family as generous as yours has prevented me from getting homesick.” He smiled around the table being careful not to let his gaze linger on Nancy too long.

The doctor merely grunted and returned to his beef. When the main course was removed and Minerva brought the dessert, the doctor picked up the subject. “I suppose a young man in your situation has to be willing to leave family behind in pursuit of professional success.”

Charles wasn’t sure how to respond to that. What had the doctor meant by ‘your situation’? He was rescued by Nancy who asked in seeming innocence, “You mean the way that you did when you moved here from New York, Papa?”

All eyes turned to the doctor to guage his reaction to this question. He eyed his eldest daughter for a moment one eyebrow cocked high.  “Hmph, indeed.”

“I do believe this pudding has been burnt!” Mrs. Manney burst in from the foot of the table. “Minerva. I have told you that I cannot abide an overcooked pudding.”

“Yes’m. Can I get you some of that cantaloupe?” the house slave deftly lifted the pudding from in front of the doctor’s wife and placed it on the tray of dishes to be returned to the kitchen behind the house.

“No, I believe I have had enough. Nancy, when you are finished I would like for you and Francis to walk with me down to the mercantile. I want your help picking some ribbon for the new bonnets.”

“Yes, Mama.” Nancy cast Charles a look as she lowered her head appearing suddenly very interested in her pudding.




At the sound of her footstep in the hallway, Charles stepped from his room and silently followed Nancy into hers easing the door shut. “I’m going to talk to him while you’re out.”  He whispered.

She took a nervous breath. “Should I try to delay us returning?”

“I hope there will be no need for that.” He took her hand in his. “I will give him the final progress reports on James and Julia, and that should conclude any work that I have left to do. Once I’m no longer working in the house, I don’t see how he can object.”

“I wish I had your confidence. I just don’t know how he’s going to take this.” She stepped away from him to her wardrobe to retrieve her bonnet and lace gloves from a top drawer. Charles was suddenly struck by the novelty of being in her room, of knowing in which drawer her gloves were kept. Had he not been so nervous he would have savored this small intimacy. “You’ve seen all the young men he’s introduced me to over the last couple of years.”

“I have," He refocused his eyes on her face. "And in a few years once I’m practicing law I’ll outshine them all. He saw enough promise in me to bring me here, surely he can believe in my future success.”

A sound in the hallway silenced them and they held their breath for a moment afraid of being discovered. It wouldn’t do to find the family tutor in Nancy’s room. They had managed to keep their romance a secret for over a year.

When she was satisfied that they had not been overheard, Nancy began fumbling with the tiny crocheted buttons at the wrist of one of her gloves. She made a guttural sound of impatience. “My hands are shaking. This blasted button loop is twisted!”

He took her hand and attempted the button himself, but his blunt fingers weren’t of much more use on the tiny buttons and the twisted loops that were supposed to fit around them. “How do you ever wear these things!”

“Charles, what if he says no?” Her voice sounded impossibly small. He looked up to find her watching him, in her eyes a blend of uncertainty, hope and fear.

“He won’t.”  He turned back to the button and finally managed to push the button through the tiny loop. He held her wrist up to show her. “See? It will work out.”

Her eyes began to get misty and she merely nodded and began fervently examining her bonnet.

He titled her chin up with his other hand and tried to sound more sure than he felt. “No matter what he says, we will be together. We were going to wait anyway until I am set up. If I can’t convince him now, then I will convince him then. I would rather leave here knowing that I have his blessing to return, but even without it I will be back for you. As long as I know that you believe in me, I can bring your father around eventually. You do believe in me, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Then that is all I need.” He lifted her gloved hand and placed a kiss just where the glove ended at her wrist feeling her pulse jump. “I love you. No matter where I go or how long it takes me to return you have to know that.”

She swayed toward him and leaned her cheek against his lapel. It was the most contact they had allowed themselves in their long but secret courtship. Charles fought against the urge to wrap his arms around her and simply hold her there until all else fell away. He had to satisfy himself with bending to his head to kiss the top of hers taking a moment to mark the lemony scent of her hair.

“Nancy!” Her mother’s sharp voice barked from the bottom of the stairs. They both leapt apart.

They said nothing more but sought courage in each other’s eyes for a few more heartbeats before Nancy opened the door just enough to slip outside. Charles stood listening to the silence in the hallway and staring at the door she had just closed. He muttered a quiet prayer to himself before slipping into the hall.

One of the best storytellers I know

I was driving home today wondering what I would blog about and lo and behold in my Facebook feed was a video posted by the local museum in my Mom's hometown. It's a video of my grandmother being interviewed by an elementary school student about her life growing up in the mill village. It took me back to when I was a little girl listening to the same stories. My granny loves to tell them, and though you only see a little of it here, she's a pro at building dramatic suspense. She also give us some clues why she loves to tell stories. She didn't grow up with TV or even the radio. She says herself that they used to read and tell stories. Story telling is an art that a few people carry on today, but it's easy to forget in the age of abundant content that most people of her generation had to make their own. I am inordinately lucky to have grown up with her perspective and her skill. Someday I will write a book about her but for now, I'll let you see for yourself. I'm off to call Granny.

You should also note the wallpaper in this video. It's a little faded, but so intricate and stunning. It was there when my Grandparents bought the house 50 years ago.

Also of note there's a picture of me from way back on the table beside the couch.

I have a confession to make

And I hope you won't take this the wrong way. I'm only half listening to you. It's not that I don't care about you, in fact I probably care more than the next person. But the fact is that while you're talking to me about; the weather, your job or your toddler's propensity for sorting his toy cars according to color, in my head is a whole other world. There a broad cast of characters is falling in love, catching a serial killer, or searching for the Holy Grail. They have lives and loves and histories that rival any of ours. This goes far beyond mere daydreaming. So if I seem a bit distant or respond in an awkward way, it's only because I'm caught up in the epic struggles going on in my head.

It's been this way for as long as I can remember. My parents will tell you stories of the whole worlds that I would make up as a child before I ever learned to read and write. I could shut myself in my room for ages and live out sagas of my own making.  I was and still am perfectly happy being alone. In fact, sometimes I crave it.

My AP History teacher in high school, upon hearing another teacher complain about me not paying attention in class was heard to say, "Well, Meredith has her own agenda." Mr. Ridgeway got it. He knew that even though I was sitting in his class and part of my brain was listening another part was in another world. He could handle the fact that on my desk was one notebook for taking notes and another for writing. Fortunately, I have run into a few people in my life who do get it. I treasure those people and occasionally give them my full attention. The part that was in class, incidentally kicked ass on the AP exam and got college credit for American History. Likewise the part of me that was present in my college classes made the Dean's List. Still, there is always that part of me that is in a cabin in the mountains, on a ship crossing the ocean, in Scotland/Mexico/Peru.

So, it's not that I don't like you or that I'm not listening, it's just that the people in my head are talking too, and sometimes they drown you out.

The Inspiration for "The White House"

Years ago on our first trip to Beaufort, NC my husband and I were sitting atop the rather conspicuous doubledecker bus that provided tours of the beautiful historic town. It was a hot July afternoon, and I'm sure we would have been more comfortable in the shade of the first level, but I'm a sucker for historic architecture and was willing to endure the heat to have an unobstructed view. At the edge of the historic district stands a 2 1/2 story white house with a 2 story porch on a slightly raised plot of ground, it's view from the street slightly obscured by trees. The vernacular architecture enthusiast in me identified the "hall and parlor" layout of the first story. It was also clear that this is one of the oldest houses we had seen on the tour. The tour guide called this the "Hammock House" for the slight rise on which it was built.  She also told us some of the many legends attached to the house that had been at that location almost longer than the town. The story that stuck with me the most was also the story that also was the murkiest without many supporting facts or specifics. The Hammock House first appears in a 1789 map of the coast and is prominently identified as The White House. However, it is believed to have been an old establishment by the time that map was made possibly dating back as early as 1713 when the town was first being planned. It is believed to have been an inn or ordinary. According to the earliest of the legends. Blackbeard was a regular guest, as the inn's location and Beaufort's deep natural harbor offered strategic advantages. On one occasion he is said to have brought his "wife" there on a visit. After staying at the inn for a few days, the pirate is said to have left and left his "wife" hanging from a tree in the back yard.

Of the many stories that I heard that day, this is one that sparked my imagination. I immediately began imagining scenarios that would have led to such cruelty, not that a notorious pirate would need much inducement to be cruel. What kind of woman must she have been? How had she come to be with Blackbeard? The story sparked so many questions that I had to learn more about the pirate, the town and the house.

In my research I discovered a couple more stories that further inspired me. Blackbeard's ship, the Queen Anne's Revenge, ran aground near Beaufort inlet in 1718. In 1996, marine archaeologists discovered a shipwreck near Beaufort Inlet that they are almost certain is the Queen Anne's Revenge. Some believe that Blackbeard grounded the ship on purpose as a sort of downsizing of his crew. I was fascinated by the idea of the pirate intentionally abandoning the ship that had served him so well and on the idea of pirate layoffs. What strategy would drive the pirate whose career seemed to be at it's height to jettison one of his most useful tools?

Another character that I came across in researching was Israel Hands, a person that not much is known about. As a writer that gave me a bit of freedom with which to flesh that character out. I also found intriguing, a story from Daniel Defoe's "General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates". During a card game, Blackbeard is said to have attempted to shoot another crew member, but hit Hands in the leg instead. When asked why he had done it, the pirate is said to have responded that “if he did not now and then kill one of them, they would forget who he was.” which is to say "the BOSS". This sent my mind down the line of questions about how a man maintained rule over a crew that at it's zenith numbered around 300 cut-throats. By all accounts, Blackbeard was notoriously ruthless, not just with the people of the ships and towns he terrorized but also with his own crew. We can only speculate that it was that kind of behavior that inspired loyalty out of fear, but also inspired the kind of pragmatism that cause Israel Hands to testify against the corrupt officials along the North Carolina coast who helped Blackbeard elude the colonial authorities for so long.

All of these different aspects of the Blackbeard and Hammock House legends went into the creation of my story "The White House". I have tried to weave these loose bits of legend into characters and a narrative that attempts to answer some of those questions inspired by what we know of Blackbeard, his crew and this one of his many wives.  Although the story is set in 1718, the questions that it attempts to answer about power, love and humanity are timeless.

The White House is now available via: Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Passionate Stitches

The striking young woman in this photo is my great great aunt Mattie Verb Minga. That's right her middle name was Verb, and it fit. Aunt Matt was a woman of action, a woman of passion. Sometimes it lead her in the wrong direction like marrying and divorcing the same man twice. Sometimes it lead her to great joy. When Mattie was in her forties and single she adopted the infant child of a cousin who had died in childbirth. Everyone thought she was crazy, thought the boy would need a father, wondered how a single woman working in the mill could support a child. But she did it anyway, and my cousin Gene grew up to be a well respected policeman, veteran and a great father himself.

Our family was large and tight-knit, as families that spend several generations in the same small town usually are. Still Aunt Matt was at every family function. Christmas, summer trips to the beach, anytime we all got together, someone went over to the little house next to the old company store to fetch Aunt Matt. For some folks we might do that out of a sense of duty. My great grandmother, Mattie's sister, did ask my grandmother to take care of Mattie before she died. But the truth is it was because we loved having her around. She's been gone 23 years now, but I can still hear her gregarious laugh. She always had a way of finding things to laugh about, be happy about, even in her late eighties when she rarely left the house. I remember going with my grandmother to visit Aunt Matt in her little house in the mill village and sitting on the ottoman next to her chair and watching her crochet. She was so practiced that she sped through the stitches and rarely had to look down at her work. Even late in life when her health was waning, she never stopped making things.

Aunt Matt's hands were never idle. My grandmother's house is full of things that she made from a plarn (yes, 1960's plarn from bread bags) rug on the threshold in the kitchen to a lace canopy and bedspread on the double canopy bed upstairs. Every Christmas the stairs are lined with crocheted snowmen, and Santa Clause dolls and the tree is hung with lace snowflakes and angels that she made. When my children were born I was gifted with jackets and blankets and hats that I had worn as a child that were made by Aunt Matt and that I am keeping for my grandchildren. She didn't just crochet. Here is a photo of her working on a quilt that spent years on my parent's bed and that I'm sure my mother still has. Aunt Matt was always making something, and everything she made was a beautiful expression of the love that she had for the people around her and of her passion for life.

I've made a lot of really beautiful things in my years as a crafter, but I don't think I've ever been more proud of the work that I've done than I was at Aunt Matt's 90th birthday party, an event so big that we held it at the church. I had made a pillow out of yarn that my grandfather had brought home from his job at the NC State Textile Engineering dept. It was just a big white granny square tacked to a big white pillow, but it meant everything to me as a crocheter and it still does. Now, whenever I finish a project, I can almost feel Aunt Matt patting my hand and laughing with joy the way she always did when we did something she liked.

Sadly, my cousin Gene passed away last November and his bright beautiful daughter years before that. The little house by the company store belongs to someone else now as the mill village is becoming gentrified. There aren't very many of us who remember Aunt Matt, but the beauty of the things she made and the abundance of her work will show for generations.

*This is a re-post of an article I wrote for a now defunct blog about my craft business.

Fiber in the Blood

This grainy photo is one of the few that I have of my grandfather smiling. It's kind of odd, because with his grandchildren he was often joking and laughing. But he didn't care for having his picture taken. He wasn't much for crowds or meeting new people. What he was was a good hearted, incredibly strong and smart individual but he didn't broadcast it. He just was all of those things and more.
My grandad was a weaver. He started working in the Glen Royal textile mill at the ripe old age of 12, and worked in textiles most of his life. He worked his way up to being a weaver at the Royal mill and when the mill closed he found jobs at other mills and eventually worked in the Textiles School at NC State. He found a home there and worked there even part-time after his retirement. Having worked to support his mother and younger siblings through much of the depression, he was always thrifty and as the textile students experimented with spinning yarns of different materials and textures, Grandad salvaged most of that yarn the would otherwise have been tossed and brought it back to my Aunt Matt and others who would find uses for it. To this day my grandmother, mother and I have cones and cones of yarn that was saved in crazy colors or unexpected textures.
I am not a weaver, but I have always been fascinated by the workings of large looms, their speed and complexity. There can be something hypnotic and fascinating in a well woven fabric. That's something that I'm sure I come by honestly. I was lucky enough to have my Grandad until I was an adult, and I wish every day that my husband and children could know him. The many photos of him unsmiling or looking away from the camera just don't show the kind of open-hearted goodness that he spread to those of us who knew him. I still feel it every time I feel thread slide through my fingers.