Wednesday Weirdness: Coon Dog Cemetery

20140805-221517-80117519.jpg

My husband and I are not dog people. This is kind of an accident of genetics and environment, because Southerners in general, and my family more specifically, are generally dog lovers. As I have been writing my Southern-fried Romances, I’ve had to include dogs – what kind of fish bait store doesn’t have a redbone or bluetick lying on the porch? So I’ve been researching and getting to know a little bit about the breeds (and mutts) popular down here.

In poking around the Internet, I ran across a weird yet cool site that is now on my list of places I just have to visit – The Coon Hound Cemetery in Colbert County, Alabama.

Coon hunting is a big tradition in the South, although not one that I’ve ever personally felt the need to participate in personally. But down here, you will find a number of gentlemen — and some ladies, too — who think of their coon dog as a member of the family. Back in 1937, Mr. Key Underwood certainly felt that way about his dog, Troop. They’d been hunting partners and best friends for over 15 years, and when Troop died, Key just couldn’t let him be forgotten.

20140805-221557-80157412.jpg

He took Troop back up to a hunting camp near Tuscumbia, Alabama, where they had shared some of their happiest times. Key buried his coon dog right there in the wilderness, and marked his grave with Troop’s name and dates. Key had no plans to establish any kind of cemetery; he just wanted to pay his respects to a special friend. But over time, more hunters honored their canine companions by laying them to rest near Troop, and the Key Underwood Memorial Coon Dog Cemetery began.

Nowadays, over 185 markers memorialize coon dogs such as Preacher, Smoky, and Famous Amos, and the cemetery has become something of a tourist attraction. But you Yankees and city folk needn’t think about asking to lay your poodles or bichon frises in the sacred ground of the Coon Dog Cemetery. As a former caretaker put it, “We have stipulations on this thing. A dog can’t run no deer, possum — nothing like that. He’s got to be a straight coon dog, and he’s got to be full hound. Couldn’t be a mixed up breed dog, a house dog.”

20140805-221711-80231450.jpg

20140805-221711-80231579.jpg

If you think your pet has the right coon dog stuff, you can apply for a plot via information found on the official website: http://www.coondogcemetery.com. And if you don’t have any plans this Labor Day, you might want to attend the annual Coon Dog Cemetery Celebration, which includes music, story-telling, and booths selling Official Coon Dog Cemetery Merchandise.

20140805-221918-80358748.jpg

Where I’ve Been and What I’ve Been Doing

20140727-215433-78873443.jpg

Been a long time, kids, but I can assure you that the work I wasn’t doing on the blog was more than made up by the hours and tears I spent on the latest iteration of my WIP. I can honestly say that I never have I ever worked harder – and more emotionally – on any piece of writing.

It all started a few months ago when I finished my latest Southern Humorous Contemporary Romance and sent it to my agent, the brilliant Allison Hunter. Allison liked it, but she made a suggestion: why not rewrite it into an Inspirational Romance?

Now, on the surface, that seems like a fairly straightforward idea. When you write about the South, you are going to be writing about religion. They don’t call it the “Bible Belt” for nothing. And as a believer myself, I always incorporate religious matters in my stories. To me, a fully-developed character has to have beliefs and practices, even if they aren’t a major discussion point. It’s background information that informs their actions and reactions throughout, just like their educational level, emotional outlook, and life experiences. So all I need to do is bump up the characters’ church attendance, tone down the love scenes, and lose the profanity, right?

Oh, yes, so you would think. But y’all know me, and you know that I can make a tempest in the tiniest of teapots. And, to tell the truth, theology is not a tiny teapot to folks here in the South. We take our religion seriously, and we don’t have much tolerance for opposing viewpoints. My parents’ church, for example — it never had much more than 100 active members, and usually had far less. But I can name at least three other churches in the area that were formed by breaking off from that congregation over theological arguments. That’s why, as you drive through the Deep South, you will find a church every mile and a half. We keep splitting and merging, like some kind of weird chemistry project, until we find a church that agrees with us on all the important points.

I grew up hardshell Baptist in the pine woods of North Florida. If you’ve ever been to a public event here in the Panhandle, you’ve probably run the gauntlet of the teenagers giving you Gospel tracts and inviting you to their church. That was me growing up. At certain times, with certain preachers, our church didn’t allow girls to wear pants, and teenagers were not allowed to swim with members of the opposite sex (a.k.a. “mixed bathing”).

I grew up, went to college, and did a lot of questioning. I married an Episcopalian and quite happily converted. Wear pants now without a second thought, and haven’t worried about mixed bathing in years. I am still, to my mind, a devout person, but my beliefs are miles and years away from my Baptist childhood.

So being asked to write an inspirational romance gave me visions of myself in heavy lip-liner and bouffant hair, with my mascara streaming down my face in the best Tammy Faye tradition. If I mentioned Elmer Gantry once, I mentioned it a hundred times. I just couldn’t see myself writing inspirational romance. I was ready to quit altogether. And several people close to me said that I should do just that — that anything else would be selling out.

So finally, I sat myself down and asked myself, “Self, what exactly is the problem here? You are a believer. You pray, and attend church, and you feel the presence of God in your life. Why can’t you write a novel where the main character does too?” And I answered myself, “Well, sure, I can do that, as long as the characters don’t have cheesy, mealy-mouthed beliefs that would offend me in real life. I can write someone who struggles with the whole good-and-evil issue, someone who wants to believe but has questions. I can write someone like me and my friends.”

And then, I started writing. As I wrote, I had to reassess all my beliefs. Why, in light of everything I see in the world, do I think God cares about us as individuals? What is the purpose of living a Godly life? For that matter, what is a ‘Godly life’? I couldn’t understand my characters and their actions unless I knew what they (meaning I) believed.

This was the hardest writing I’ve ever done in my life. Harder in a more personal way than any of the legal briefs and memoranda I’ve written, harder than any essay question on any exam. Every word in every scene was important, and each one had to be part of a cohesive belief system that I could live with.

It’s done now, and I’ve sent it out into the big wide world to sink or swim on its merits. I hope it will sell. I think it may be the best writing I’ve ever done. It’s certainly the most heart-felt.

I won’t deny my hopes for this book. I’d love for it to hit the NYT bestseller charts, and be a movie starring Keira Knightley and Henry Cavill, who would take me out for drinks before we hit the red carpet for our premiere. I’d love to go on Good Morning America and tell Robin Roberts (another good Southern girl) all about it. But even if none of that ever happens, I’m happy.

I wrote a book that people told me I could never write. I wrote it in a way that maintained my integrity. I used it as a springboard for examining my beliefs in a way I never had, and I am satisfied with the answers I found along the way. So whatever happens, I win.

(But a nice, 6-figure, 3-book deal wouldn’t hurt…..)

A Dream Deferred

One on my favorite poems, by the great Langston Hughes:

A DREAM DEFERRED

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Southern Weekend: Arabella’s Nanner Pudding

20140404-093533.jpg

Good Morning, my lovelies! It has been a month of Sundays since I wrote a post here, hasn’t it? I can only plead my commitment to getting the current rewrite of my WIP done (aka “the edits that would not end”), and trying to keep everything on an even keel in the home, family, and day job.

But excuses aside, I want to share something really important with you today, to kick off another Southern Weekend. As a true child of the South, there is nothing more important to me than the cuisine of my homeland. Yankees don’t seem to care as much about food as we do – I have yet to hear about the citizens of Northern states running decades-long feuds over the proper ingredients of their favorite foods, but it is a common thing in the South. Don’t ever put a Carolinian and a Texan on the committee to plan a barbecue, for instance.

Now, I agree with some of the people who hold strong beliefs about proper preparation of Southern specialities. I believe that grits should never be instant, that cornbread dressing does not deserve to be called “stuffing” and crammed up a bird’s butt, and that green Key lime pie is an abomination before The Lord. These are nonnegotiable positions, and I do believe that they are mentioned in the King James Bible — right after Jesus decreed that egg salad sandwiches are the official reception food of the Methodist Church.

But I am not a Luddite. I will accept modern innovations, and one of my favorite new-fangled foodstuffs is instant pudding. You can take a package of instant pudding and add it to a cake, put it in a congealed salad, or any number of adventurous uses. And while my Grandma Holley made her nanner pudding the old fashioned way, with cornstarch and milk, and lots of time over a hot stove, I use instant pudding to make something that I think can hold its puddingly little head up with pride. Here’s my recipe for nature’s perfect food, Arabella’s Nanner Pudding:

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, whipped up all fluffy

1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk

1 package instant pudding (banana is best, but vanilla if its all you can get)

3 cups of real cold milk (use whole milk – don’t try to cut calories by using skim — if you’re on a diet, just eat the banana plain and forget about pudding)

1 tub (8 oz) of Cool Whip

3 Bananas (really ripe, but not gone over), sliced into coins

Vanilla Wafers to taste (I use about 3/4 of a box of Nilla brand)

Take your whipped cream cheese, and beat in the Eagle milk, pudding mix, & milk. Then carefully fold in about half of the Cool Whip, followed by the bananas and some of the vanilla wafers.

Get a pretty bowl and line it with vanilla wafers. This is kind of tricky – you may need to put in some wafers & hold them in place with pudding in stages until you fill up the bowl.

Let it sit in the fridge for a good couple of hours. Have the rest of the Cool Whip available for people to top their serving as desired. (But, for the love of all that is holy, DO NOT put the Cool Whip tub out on the table – put it in a proper bowl, like a civilized person.)

Now tell me that ain’t some fine nanner pudding!

Skipping Midnight with Laura Kenyon

Good morning, all! I’m chatting with Laura Kenyon over on her Skipping Midnight blog today. Why don’t you pop over and see what we’re up to!
(And you might win a free book!!!)

http://laurakenyon.com/2014/02/19/arabella-stokes-lawyer-by-day-romance-writer-by-night/#more-1592

Friday Foto: The Miracle on Ice

20140214-074713.jpg
I remember exactly where I was – and I’m pulling for a repeat tomorrow!!!

It’s Yule, Y’all!

Merry Christmas from the Western Gate to the Sunshine State, where thousands live the way Millions wish they could!

20131224-072049.jpg

Thursday Thought: On Daughters

Thou art thy mother’s looking-glass, and she in thee recalls the lovely April of her prime.
– William Shakespeare

20131212-063956.jpg

Thoughts on the Winston Investigation

To quote Will Rogers, all I know is what I read in the papers. To be more accurate, I don’t know anything about the investigation into allegations that FSU quarterback Jameis Winston committed rape except what ESPN and social media tell me – and neither are particularly reliable sources.

But a lack of knowledge, as y’all know, has never kept me quiet. And here, I do feel that I have some comments to make from several perspectives.

I’m a woman, who had a minor sexual offense (not rape, thank God!) committed upon me back in college, and I cried with a sorority sister the morning after she was raped by the boy she was dating and a few of his frat brothers. We didn’t report it – back then, if you agreed to stay late at a guy’s house, well, heck, you must have wanted to have sex with every guy in the place. The 70s were an strange time.

I am also a lawyer, who has defended and prosecuted those charged with sexual offenses. I’ve seen photos of injuries so bad that the memory brings tears to my eyes these many years later.

But I’m a Seminole, too. Rabidly committed to all things Garnet and Gold ever since I joined the Jr. Seminole Boosters at the ripe old age of 7. I still have a photo of Lane Fenner’s catch – google that if you want to know how long I will hold a grudge when my team is involved.

So, given all that, here’s what I want to say about Jameis and his accuser:

I was offended by the media frenzy surrounding the Jameis Winston investigation, with people who really had no knowledge loudly proclaiming his guilt. But I am even more offended by the comments about the young lady now that State Attorney Willie Meggs (a very distant relative of mine, btw) announced there won’t be charges.

But remember, “unproven” is a result that only works in the Alice-through-the-looking-glass world of the law. In reality, the facts are the facts, whether provable or not.

Look – either A: she was raped, and there wasn’t enough evidence to bring her rapist to justice. That’s bad. Or B: she wasn’t raped, and someone – an attorney with her own agenda, perhaps – used her to make a false claim. That’s bad, too.

As for Winston, either A: he did it, and he is a troubled young man who will not be court- ordered to receive help he desperately needs. That’s bad. Or B: he didn’t do it and he has been drug through the mud and there will be an undeserved cloud on his reputation. That’s bad, too.

So, My Seminole brethren and sistern, let ‘s not gloat or rejoice. This is a sad, sad situation either way. Having been a 19 or 20 year old kid who made bad choices myself a long time ago, I can’t imagine the awfulness of living through what the media and the public have done with this.

And to those of you who still want to joke about the “Criminoles” from “Forced Sex University,” (I’m looking at you, Swamp Things), stop it. Because it’s either A: an unprovable yet horrible crime against a young lady, or B: an intolerable smear on a talented young man. And neither of those is funny.

Tunesday: Postmodern Jukebox

Good Morning, my lovelies. I’m typing away at my WIP during breaks at a conference for the day job, and realized that it has been simply ages since I’ve posted anything. My bad — I can write the stories or keep up with my social media, but not both. So I’ve concentrated on the WIP for a few weeks. Sue me if its a problem.

But in keeping with my practice of bringing you thoughts on a Tune for Tuesday (see how clever I am with alliteration?), I wanted to share an odd yet appealing set of songs with you today.

One thing I love is mashing up two completely contradictory concepts into a unique, creative whole. Pride, Prejudice and Zombies? Loved it. (Of course, once it’s been done, it’s no longer creative and unique, so Sense, Sensibility and Seamonsters, not so much.)

If you like those kind of weird combinations where good ol’ “A” plus predictable “B” give us an amazing X, Y, or Z, you need to meet the good folks of Post-modern Jukebox. One Scott Bradlee, a music and history buff, got the brilliant idea to reinterpret the ubiquitous pop songs we all love to hate in unpredictable ways. Ke$ha goes country, Lourde becomes a male Pierrot clown, and Bieber swings it ’40′s style.

I love everything I’ve heard by PMJ, but my favorite has to be their doo-wop cover of Miley Cyrus’s We Can’t Stop. It’s tuneful, soulful, and waaaay better than the original. Check it out here:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pXYWDtXbBB0&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DpXYWDtXbBB0