9 Unlikely Things I Learned While Writing The River Maiden

One of the things I love best about writing is research. I'm a naturally curious person, so it's just the way I operate. It's one of the reasons that I fell into training in my corporate life. I just wanted to know how things workphone pics 232ed and I didn't mind explaining what I learned to other people. It struck me the other day when I caught myself reading up on the parking brake of a 1990 Honda Civic, that I've learned some unexpected things on my way to finishing this novel. There are the obvious things; Celtic lore, Appalachian culture and off the grid living. Naturally,  my Gaelic vocabulary has increased about ten fold.  there are also some unlikely things. These are things that I wouldn't have thought of until I got to that point in the novel, things that I probably wouldn't have Googled if I hadn't been writing this book.

1) The basic geography of Nova Scotia.

2) This looks like an awesome place to spend a summer vacation.

3) The little blue house on Ransom St. that I used to live in is no longer blue, no longer has a porch swing and has fallen even further into disrepair.

4) The basics of moonshining. I watched a lot of how to videos. Here's a relatively short one.

If you're interested in moonshine or moonshiners you should check out these videos about the late Popcorn Sutton who was part of the inspiration for the appearance and voice of Alex Budge.

5) How to malt barley and corn for making liquor.

6) Recipe for peach brandy.

7) The path of ocean currents from Nova Scotia to the Gulf of Maine.

8) The basics of disarming someone with a handgun. Just one of the many ways it pays to be married to a former Marine.

9) And, of course, this is the parking brake of a 1990 Honda Civic.

Favorite Literary Crushes - Darcy and beyond

By pure coincidence, today marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride & Prejudice, and just a few days ago I got word that Dermot Sinclair is the object of his first reader crush by way of one of the lovely folks on authonomy.com who has read the first three acts of The River Maiden. It's incredibly gratifying to have created a character worthy of a reader crush and since I've had a crush on Dermot for ages, it's nice to know I'm not alone.  41NDXC2JR4L._SL500_AA300_Of course one of my first reader crushes is Fitzwilliam Darcy. Because really how can a girl resist a guy that by turns calls you plain and refuses to dance with you, tells you your family is and embarrassment and then goes completely out of his way to fix things when your ridiculous sister practically makes your family untouchable all the while trying VERY hard not to seem in the least bit vulnerable and failing miserably until he says something like this.

"By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased." Oh, Darcy!

Of course, Darcy isn't just the romantic hero of Pride & Prejudice, and many adaptations since. He is all of the guys that look down their noses at smart, witty girls who don't quite fit in. He's the society that tries to tell us to be one way, because that's what's expected of us when all we want is to be another. And Elizabeth Bennett manages by persistently being herself and speaking her mind to bring him around to appreciating those very things that make her different and special. And he manages by being there when she needs him to show her that sometimes what society wants for you isn't completely intolerable.

I love Jane Austen with her sharp eye and witty pen. If there is a heaven for writers, I like to imagine Jane Austen, Johnathan Swift, Mark Twain and Dorothy Parker relaxing over a few drinks and having a great laugh over some of the more overwrought and self-important writers in literary history. My husband likes to sneer at my love for Jane Austen almost as much as he sneers at my love of romance novels. But, what he doesn't realize is that Austen's novels are just as full of social commentary as the Sci-fi and post-apocalyptic speculative fiction books that he likes to read. Same scathing look at society, just wrapped up in corsets and ribbons instead of gadgets and gun straps.

There are today on HuffPost Books two articles arguing the merits of the  two most visible actors to play Darcy in the last 30 years. There is of course Colin Firth who plays Darcy so well, he's done it in the BBC mini-series and in both Bridget Jones movies. There is also an article making a credible argument in favor of Matthew MacFadyen. This article has some good points, and had me wondering if part of my own preference for Colin Firth's Darcy wasn't wrapped up in my strong preference for Jennifer Ehle's Elizabeth to Kiera Knightly's. Still, it left me wondering about other people's preferences.

This naturally led me to wonder about people's preferences for OTHER literary crushes. Such as, Edward Rochester, or Heathcliff.  Click on each one for a list of actors who have played these roles. I was going to put lists here, but they're far too long.  I'm telling my favorites.  Which ones are yours (comments please)?

Fitzwilliam DarcyColin Firth. Period. End of story.

Edward RochesterMichael Fassbender, though if you haven't see the 1943 version with Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine and a very young Elizabeth Taylor you really should.

Heathcliff: I'm not really a Wuthering Heights fan, but I know Heathcliff excites a lot of readers, and audiences. I will suggest that you watch the delicious Tom Hardy in the 2009 TV movie version and then watch him in The Dark Knight Rises. I think you'll find a lot of similarities in his portrayals of Heathcliff and Bane.

If these guys don't float your boat, who is your literary crush. My other big two haven't been lucky enough to be in film yet, though Sony Picture TV is working on an Outlander TV series. So we may see Jamie Fraser on our TV screens before too long. Alas, I don't foresee a Lymond Chronicles movie or TV series anywhere in the future, though I think Francis Crawford would give James Bond a run for his money.

My Big Chop

Shortly after I graduated from college, I stopped by my paternal grandmother's house on my way to the beach and she asked me when I was going to cut my hair short, not if but when. The implication was that all grown women had to cut their hair short as some final rite of passage. Seeing as I inherited my curly hair from the woman asking the question, I thought it was kind of odd. At the time it just seemed a shame to me to cut those curls. They were part of who I was. I was Meredith, the one with the curly hair (I went to college with more than a few Merediths.) There was absolutely no question in my mind of ever cutting my hair short.  IMG_20130107_151923Flash forward 17 years and my attitude was very much the same. Sure I had cut it up to my shoulders occasionally, but when you're lucky enough to have curls like mine it just seemed a shame to cut them off. Until I realized a couple of weeks ago, that I wasn't really enjoying having my curls anymore. Here I was with curly hair down to the middle of my back, but I was pulling them up into a bun pretty much every day.  Hair that long takes work and curly hair takes work, and as a mom, I just wasn't putting in the work anymore. I was in a rut, and it wasn't just my hair. Lots of moms go through this. We get so focused on getting things done, and making sure everyone else is prepared for stuff that we don't really take care of ourselves.

So, I decided late last week to give myself a jump start, shake things up if you will. In my case, it starts in the form of a haircut. I know you're probably floored, right? But for a curly girl like me this was a huge change.

Let's start with a little background on my hair. First, I didn't have hair until I was about 2 years old. As you'll see if you scroll down to the pics, I've spent the last thirty-six years making up for that.  Once I started growing hair, it came in thick and curly. The trouble with that is that my mom's hair is straight. This means that the person most inclined to help a growing girl with grooming tips and the like, had no idea what to do with my curls. So, the solution when I was about 10 was to cut it off.  So my mom took me to her hair dresser, a really very nice lady who worked out of her basement shop and loved to chat with my mom while she cut my hair. This would have been a lovely Steele Magnolias kind of moment in a a girl's life, if the woman cutting my hair hadn't been telling my mother about how she needed EYE SURGERY. In my mother's defense she let the near blind lady cut her own hair too.  Thus began a rather strained relationship between myself and the haircare professionals of the world. Some have looked at my thick curly hair as their personal styling playground, some have just looked perplexed, and some have just completely half-assed it and cut it the way they would strait hair. Unfortunately, the result has been far more bad experiences getting my hair cut than good ones.

So, I was super careful this time when looking for a salon to cut my hair. I asked for recommendations. I checked Yelp and Google for reviews. And I settled on Salon 730 in Fredericksburg, mostly based on the reviews. Then there was the question of how to cut it. I had gone up to shoulder length in the past, but I was ready for something that required less maintance and more drastic. I wanted a pixie, a very short pixie. Now, I have two strikes against me when it comes to short hair. First there are the curls, and second I'm a big girl. So, while Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams might look amazing with their pixies, I'm aware that I'm not going to look like that. But I was ready to take a chance, and I'm glad I did.

20130107_110739So, I got up Monday morning and went to the salon. I told them what I wanted and they steered me to Kristen, who is not listed on their website, but who I can now recommend. I told her what I was looking for, showed some pics and warned her that I'd been burned in the past.  She completely understood and after making sure that I was sure about what I wanted to do, she put my long hair into two braids and chopped them off. Here's a picture of that carnage. We did the braids in the hopes of donating my hair to Locks of Love. Unfortunately, they do not take hair that has been bleached, and I did have strands in there that had been bleached.  Kristen thought they would take it anyway, but I called and confirmed after getting my hair cut that they couldn't use it. Bummer.

After a quick wash, Kristen proceeded to cut and style my now short hair into just what I wanted. She stopped and asked questions and verified what she was doing. She communicated with me while she was cutting my hair and not  about her need for eye surgery (Thank goodness), but about the change that I was likely to see with short hair and how to achieve that style on my own. It was absolutely the best experience I have ever had in a salon.

And, I'm truly happy with the result. I love the ease of it, and the fact that I need less of everything when dealing with my hair. Less time brushing it. Getting the tangles out of curly hair takes a long time. Less shampoo and conditioner. Less weight on the back of my head. I actually stepped on the scale the next morning and found that I had lost an entire pound. Yep, we cut off a pound of hair. Just less work in general. Plus, I can wear hats now! I was never able to wear hats before because they would never sit right over my curls.

I confess, there are moments when I miss my long hair a little bit especially when I feel the cold January wind on the back of my neck, but overall I'm very happy about this change. We also joined a gym last week, so who knows, maybe one change will snowball into more changes for the better.IMG_20130107_111543

Give back...My Hurricane Relief Pledge

I am an east coast kind of girl. I grew up in the Virginia Piedmont and now live on the inner edge of the Tidewater region just below the fall line of the Rappahannock. I like tall trees and walkways made of crushed oyster shells, and blue crabs. I like our history, the good parts that we're proud of and even the bad parts that we're not proud of.  I like to write stories about our history, more specifically our coast and as many people know living on the coast can be hard. My great Aunt and Uncle owned a condo at Fort Fisher in North Carolina, and I spent many a summer there playing in the surf and learning the history and legends of the area. It's those many summers that inspired my interest in the legends of the Outer Banks, and inspired me to write The White House and A Fond Kiss and the many other stories of the coast that are churning around in my head to be written in the future.  But like so many people along the Southern coast, we also dealt with our fair share of hurricanes. After getting hit three years in a row, my Aunt and Uncle sold their condo and our trips to the beach have gotten less regular. Hurricane damage is a fact of life on the coast.  Although it's something that our friends up north don't have to deal with as often. I think those of us who have been through this should stand up and help those who are dealing with it now.

So, I just made our family's donation to the Red Cross for storm relief. I encourage everyone reading this to do the same. In fact, here's the link to donate.

But I'm also going to take it a step further.

During my previous life as a corporate trainer, I worked for Intuit, the makers of Quickbooks and TurboTax (no, I will not help you with your bookkeeping or taxes). Intuit is a great company to work for because their Operating Values are as good as their products. One of the key Operating Values at Intuit is "We care and give back." Which means that they make an effort to contribute to the communities around their facilities and they encourage their employees to do the same. I've been away from Intuit for four years now, I don't even think about tax software outside of tax season,  and I couldn't tell you what the newest features of QuickBooks are, but that Operating Value is one that I will never forget.

With that said, I am pledging 100% of my royalties from this quarter to the Red Cross. That's right, 100% of royalties from Oct, Nov & Dec.

Admittedly, my books only cost .99 and I'm not exactly swimming in royalties. That's where you come in. If you've been thinking about buying one of my books and just haven't gotten around to it, now is the time. Tell anyone you know with an ereader, that if they buy my books, I will donate ALL the royalties to the Red Cross. This goes for all royalties from Kindle, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords.

In case you don't trust me. I will happily share pics of my sales reports and my donation receipt, once the donation has been made.

As I mentioned before, my royalties are not huge, so we've already made a personal donation to the Red Cross. If you want to be absolutely sure of giving more than the .30-.60 that I will collect from selling a book, then you too can make your own donation here.

Please keep all of the people affected by the storm in your thoughts (and prayers if you're a praying person) as I can assure you they are in mine.

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.


Remembering two icons

Although I grew up in Virginia, I am the child of Tarheels, and we always knew who our fellow Tarheels in the world were. I knew that James Taylor spent a good chunk of his childhood in Chapel Hill. "Carolina In My Mind" was a song that I learned at a very young age. I knew that Charlie Rose, David Brinkley and Jim Lampley (Class of '71, same as Mom) were all Tarheels. My father was in New Orleans in 1982 when James Worthy and Michael Jordan et al took the Heels to the National Championship, and I was on Franklin Street enjoying the bonfire in 1993 when we did it again. There have been many iconic Tarheels since the founding of the Old North State, but today I have to talk about two that have touched me the most and have shown the best of us to the world. They are Andy Griffith and Charles Kuralt. My appreciation for these men and their work probably makes me seem older than I am, but they are a part of the North Carolina that I knew growing up, and they both shared a skill at telling stories that speaks to the heart of a story loving Tarheel like me. 

I mentioned that I grew up in Virginia, but every summer for at least 2 weeks my brother and I were packed off to our grandparents house in Wake Forest, NC. Not to be confused with Wake Forest University, I mean the town of Wake Forest which is just north of Raleigh and when we were kids was little more than a stop on US Rt. 1. It's a very different town now, but back then it was a world apart from the Washington D.C. ex-urb where we lived. At Granny's we had air conditioning in only one room of our nearly 100 year old house. It was a town of shaded avenues and old homes, homemade peach ice cream and sweet tea and late night drag racing down Main Street. We even had our own fishing hole at my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Joe's house where we learned to fish with bamboo fishing poles. In short, it was a lot like Mayberry which wasn't always fun for us cosmopolitan Northern Virginia kids.

But every afternoon at 4:00 on the local UHF channel, there was The Andy Griffith Show. I rarely missed it. It helped me appreciate the simple goodness of where I was. It was a small town world free of fast food chains and smart phones and Starbucks, and in the 1980's it was a world that was fast disappearing. But the Andy Griffith show reminded us of the best of that world. Every little town in America had it's Floyd's Barber Shop, and it's fishing hole and soda fountain\drug store. It was a simple way of life that allowed the show's writers to distill things down to what's important. Even when the people of Mayberry got a little crazy and even if he got a little out of his depth, Sheriff Andy Taylor would always work his way around to the right solution with a patience and kindness that is sadly missing in much of the world today. Griffith used his incredible storytelling ability to create Mayberry and its people out of the the rural North Carolina where he grew up, but it could have easily been a small town anywhere in America.

I'm sure some folks will remind me that it was almost exclusively a white world on the Andy Griffith Show, and you're right. But we are talking about the 1960's here, and much of the South was still segregated. Although The Andy Griffith Show shied away from the racial issues of the day, it did however address many issues of the human condition and it showed a humanity in all its characters that is worthy of attention.  Andy Griffith showed similar grace in the rest of his career and life. One of my favorite roles of his is the cantakerous diner owner with the heart of gold in the film Waitress. He was curmudgeonly but sweet, much like a favorite great uncle. In fact, for many of us Tarheels he always sort of felt like a favorite uncle and I know I can speak for a lot of them when I say I'm so glad that we have his vast body of work to remember him.

I've been trying all day to sum up how I feel about his passing, but honestly it's been hard. I don't think I could say it better than my old  friend David Robinson.

Dear Andy Griffith,  Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your passing saddens me. You are my favorite television childhood memory. Strangely enough, withstanding my own fallible nature, you are part of what has made me a man. Your character in the Andy Griffith Show should be used as an example of what a man should truly be. With authority comes responsibility and that power should not be used without wisdom and intellectualism. Gentle but firm, righteousness without indignation, understanding without escalation.  You are my secret Mr. McBeevee and the silver dollar you've placed behind my ear are the values and lessons taught to me through your show.  No doubt there is special place for you in the heavens; you deserve no less. Good night, Paw. We will miss you. 

Another Tarheel who held up a mirror to America was Charles Kuralt, who died fifteen years ago tomorrow.  It seemed so fitting to me that the man who spent much of his career highlighting the best of the American individual passed away on the Fourth of July. From "Charles Kuralt's People" at the Charlotte Observer to his "On the Road" segments at CBS to his books, Kuralt brought attention to average or even forgotten people of America doing great, amazing or sometimes just crazy things. There was Levi Fischer Amish postmaster, Billy Bird Steam Train Engineer, and Joseph Charles cheerful waver. All of them ordinary American people doing extraordinary or  even simple things with passion. Without Kuralt to tell their stories, we probably never would have known about most of these people. But Kuralt had a knack for recognizing the sublime in these hidden people and bringing us their stories with a generosity of spirit that I think few journalists today can afford. He showed us that even those who seem the most ordinary among us have stories worth telling.

Whatever your feelings might be about Charles Kuralt and Andy Griffith as men, their work stands up as love letters to the American people; not people waving flags and singing jingoistic country songs on the Fourth of July, but real people going about their business making the most of the freedoms we have. These two great storytellers did what great storytellers do. They held up mirrors to our society and showed us our own beautiful humanity. Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you.

My love letter to a hunk of rust

I had planned to write a blog post about "Reminder" #2 from Strunk & White's An Approach to Style in which they say to "Write in a way that comes naturally." But I've got something else on my mind that would likely make my approach to that topic forced and unnatural. It's been weighing on my mind since I saw it yesterday morning, and I just have to vent about it. My Instagram followers (I'm "mrstoddard". Feel free to follow) are by now familiar with my love of crumbling, dilapidated, abandoned things. There is just something so evocative to me about an abandoned house or car that makes me want to speculate on why it's in such a state and who lived there or used it in its prime. These sort of daydreams are why as a child I loved long road trips and never minded just sitting in the back seat and watching the world through the window. I still love that.

One of the few things to love about where I live now is that it is rural and crisscrossed with narrow back roads that have been here much longer than the few highways that cut through the county. I would much rather take these back roads or even the near-mythical US Rt 1 to get where I'm going than get on I-95 and hurtle north or south at seventy plus miles an hour seeing nothing but trees and bridges.

So, my Instagram feed and my hard drive at home are full of pictures of the things I've seen on my back road rambles. There are houses being reclaimed by forests, abandoned furniture, bridges that no one uses anymore, and chimneys without houses attached. It was on one of these rambles that I came across Michaels Rd. This road is just barely two lanes wide and winds itself through tree farms and rolling hills. It goes from having a full canopy of trees to more open areas populated by a mix of well-cared-for homes and houses that have seen better days. For a nature/decay hound like me, it's paradise.

About halfway between the tree farm and where Michaels Rd runs into the slightly wider Bath Rd is a section of road about 100 yards long that is so full of delicious decay that I have on occasion pulled over and walked around taking pictures. There is an abandoned garage with a truck and farm equipment under a lean-to. Just past the garage is an abandoned bus parked neatly next to a stand of trees that shade it from view unless you know what you're looking for. There is also a rusting abandoned trailer barely visible that looks so plain and narrow that even in its heyday must have been a dismal place to live. On the opposite shoulder about thirty feet away sits an abandoned armchair. It's nothing special, a contemporary style wide cushiony chair with soft arms. If I saw it in the lobby of hotel, I would probably think it was outdated, but comfortable. Except it's not in the lobby of a hotel, it's in the grass by the roadside, so it's upholstery is stained with mildew and the filth that comes off people's cars or creeps up from the ground.

Just past the chair surrounded by high grass, is an abandoned car so close to the trees that it looks as if whoever parked it there had hoped that it would go unnoticed. The first time I drove by it, it reminded me so much of my granddad's '79 Nova that I had to stop and snap a picture. It was on a later trip that I came back with no children and got out to walk over to the car for a closer look. That was when I saw it. Downhill where the ground fell away from the shoulder surrounded by pine trees and high weeds was a car. I have no idea what kind of car it is I'm sure some car person reading this can probably identify it, but it's one of the those beautiful art deco style cars from the late 1940's with the smooth sweeping lines. The doors were gone and the trunk was askew, but beyond that it appeared to be intact. It wasn't wrecked or on blocks or hidden under a tarp or lean-to.    To my daydreamer's eye, it almost looked as if someone as enchanted with the countryside as I am had just pulled off the road to enjoy a few quiet moments under the pines and left it there.

My mind immediately began creating scenarios to explain this beautiful car in the woods. First, it was just that someone had pulled into the trees to enjoy their beauty. Maybe they had gotten out and walked through the woods. That area is full of wetlands and black bears. Perhaps the car's owner had wandered off and gotten mired in a swamp or attacked by a bear. On a more romantic note, maybe the car was pulled off the road to that spot for a lover's tryst. It was just far enough off the road that it wouldn't be visible to the average passing driver. Maybe they argued, and one left the other forever nursing a broken heart under the pines. Maybe another jealous lover had come upon them and done away with them removing their bodies, but leaving the car and whatever evidence it held to rot in the forest. My mind created pictures of people in post-war dress getting in and out of the car, leaning against the side, looking under the hood, dancing to Glenn Miller under the trees in the beams of the headlights.

Over the months that have followed my discovery of the rust bucket, I have taken pictures of it surrounded by fallen autumn leaves, covered in a blanket of snow, and amid the impossible green of spring weeds that flourish in our fertile central Virginia soil.    It's been the wallpaper on my iPad since I first spotted it. I love daydreaming about this car.

So yesterday I was tooling along down Michaels Rd. T was in the seat behind me working on her latest heavy metal hit on Garage Band on her iPod. I came around the turn past the garage and I was gobsmacked to find my favorite rust bucket suddenly sitting just inches from the pavement on the shoulder. I hit the brakes and pulled to a stop behind it, and just sat there.  My favorite pile of roadside detritus was no longer in its little space under the shade of the pines, but sitting in the stark sunlight where everyone driving by could see it in its naked, decayed state. Part of me wanted to cover it up with a blanket to keep away prying eyes. Another part wanted to go home and get a better camera so I could poke around through all its nooks and crannies documenting every rusty worn out inch and angle.

It suffered for the move too. The rear window that had been mostly intact now sat at a right angle to its frame. The front seat was ripped and the stuffing hanging out. I could also see what had previously been hidden by a tree trunk. The hood was gone and so too it seemed was the engine. This was possibly the most heart-wrenching revelation for me. Suddenly all my scenarios of how the car got into the woods were shot out of the air. No one could have driven it there with no engine. Suddenly, it went from a wonderfully evocative rotting car corpse to just another piece of roadside junk.

No doubt the owner of the land on which my rust bucket was parked is the one who moved it, and they're naturally within their rights. Still, I can't help feeling like they've robbed me. They've taken a favorite item from the virtual cork board of my imagination and dropped it on the side of the road like so much trash.  And no matter how I love taking shots of roadside trash (and I do), I couldn't help feeling crushed.

As a rule, I don't get out to take pictures when T is in the car, so I pulled around and snapped a few shots through my window making a mental note to come back this weekend when the kids go to visit my parents. Hopefully, it will still be there.

A couple of Updates to this post: First, I'm sorry to say that when I went back on Saturday without child in tow to try to take more pictures, the car was gone. Likewise the other car that reminded me of my Grandad's Nova was also gone. It appears that whoever owns that land is in fact cleaning it up.

Second, after perusing photos of cars all over the internet from that era, I can just about confirm that this is a 1940 Packard 110 Touring Sedan. Here's a link to an ebay auction for one that shows some good photos for comparison. In case you're unable to look at the auction, here is also a link to a photo gallery of Packards from the 40's. It doesn't have the 110, but it does have some pictures of the similar but slightly larger 120.  However, this is a match made by my untutored eye, so if you happen to be an expert in old cars and you think I'm wrong, please feel free to set me straight.

Out of the mouths of babes...

I sing a lot, not just in the shower but in the shower, the car, the kitchen while cooking or doing dishes, folding laundry, spinning yarn, just about anywhere. I've pretty much always been that way. Being a word nerd who loves to sing, I have a high appreciation for a well-written song. So, I tend to treat (they might call it something different) my family to a lot of Jackson Browne and Nanci Griffith among others. I even sang in a choir when I was younger. Although my husband says I'm always slightly off key, I don't think it's entirely unpleasant to listen to. Lately, like most folks I've found myself singing along to a lot of Adele, and my children have very patiently ridden in the car with me while I belted out songs like "Rumor Has It" and "Chasing Pavements". Today, as I was depositing my newly purchased fern on the deck  I was softly singing "To Make You Feel My Love" (Click Play on the video below and listen while reading the rest.)

I got to the line that says, "I can make you happy, make your dreams come true."

My daughter who is 5 was on the deck with me and interrupted, "Mom, is that song true?"

"You mean, can Adele make you happy and make your dreams come true?"


"No, baby, but she's very entertaining isn't she?"

"My dreams never come true." she said with bottom lip sticking out.

"Well, the only person who can make your dreams come true is you and it usually takes a lot of hard work."

When it comes to these philosophical parenting moments, I try to tell my kids the truth as I see it, and sometimes, it takes a little one's question to remind me of a truth that I aught to be acting on in my own life.  I've been feeling a little adrift for a couple of weeks on the marketing front and I really need to get back in the groove.  In fact, I need to get back in the groove on a number of things. I guess I've had spring fever or something because the last couple of weeks progress on everything seems to have slowed. My novel writing has been a bit like the Little Engine That Could trudging uphill to the end of the second act with agonizing slowness. I've let the frequency of my blog posts slip. I've only promoted my ebook shorts sporadically. In short, I haven't been making it happen. It's not like I haven't known this. I've been castigating myself the whole time for being lazy and unfocused, but it took the innate simplicity of a conversation with my five year old to snap me out of that self-defeating mode and make me get up off my duff.

So thanks, T, you're just the inspiration your mama needed today.