Bett Norris

Perspectives

Till the Cows Come Home

The man who owns the land behind our little homestead is a cattleman and a farmer. In the eighty acre plot directly adjacent, he plants peanuts in the spring, winter grass, and in between the rotation of each crop, he turns his cows loose. The other day, he did something unusual. He let the cows out into the field of full grown grass before he harvested it. Usually, he will harvest, then turn the cows into the pasture to graze on the leftovers for a few weeks before he plants again.

This time, both the llama and the longhorn are with the cows, mostly Black Angus, with many young calves, yearling steers, one or two bulls, and the mother cows trying to ignore their still nursing babies to feed on the grass which is belly high.

We sit for hours on our back porch watching the cows migrate between the upper and lower fields, crossing through the small patch of trees that lies in a low pint between the two open fields. Sometimes they march slowly in a long parade close to the fence, and it takes a long time for them all to pass by in single file.

I have tried to get decent photos of this silent bovine parade, but the camera on my phone doesn’t zoom close enough. Yesterday, it was sunny and hot, and they all gathered in our woods and lay down for a morning siesta. Today, it rained and I only saw glimpses of them.

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UPDATE: The cows paraded past, and so this time I caught them on Video.

This was last year’s llama. I don’t know if the one we saw this morning is the same one. The llama is aloof rather than shy, and avoids the cows when possible. The longhorn is particularly impressive, with horns stretching out several feet. I don’t know how he traverses the woods, but he does.

When the cows come home to us twice a year, we are fascinated. I am so disappointed by the rain today which kept me from sitting outside to watch them.

Happy Passover. Happy Easter. Happy every day till the cows come home.

 

 

 

 

 

Spring

I hope you all are experiencing spring. Here at home, the trees are all green, the dogwoods and azaleas have bloomed, and it’s getting warmer each day.  When we lived in St Pete, on the coast, we didn’t get to enjoy the change of seasons. It was always green, always hot, sometimes less hot. Here, we have more deciduous trees, fewer palms, and we get just enough cold weather to know it’s winter. Spring and fall here are just wonderful.

 

Take a moment to watch the new book trailers that Bywater Books has posted. One for MIss McGhee and one for What’s Best for Jane. I suppose that it’s spring cleaning, to dust off these titles and make them seem shiny and new again.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAwJgkrB50U

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HvE6eFQqCT4

 

Have you noticed that I added a page for book clubs? I have reading guides up for both books. I am happy to speak with reading groups, in person or by Skype. Ask me, I dare you. I’m just crazy enough to do it.

While you’re still begging me for information, why don’t some of you go post a review of What’s Best for Jane on amazon and Goodreads. Do it now. Apparently, there is some huge advantage if a book gets 30 or more reviews. The reviews can be short, just a few sentences emphasizing how much you liked the book and how it changed your life for the better.

Okay, now. Let’s calm down and get active.

 

Writing Spaces

I was asked to write about my writing space. I use a table as a desk for my laptop. I cut the legs to make it shorter. I should say that my partner cut down the legs with her Dremel.  I do have an old oak desk in my office, saved from a thrift store. I use it to hold reference books about writing. I use the photos on the wall a lot. I stare at them. Most of them are old black and white shots of old people, grandparents, mother, father, all inspirational for me. Then of course there are books. I do have a Kindle, but I also like to have print books on hand. Two walls of my office are bookshelves. I like to write very early in the morning, before the world is awake, sometimes before I am fully awake. I once had a TV in the office and would listen to CNN as I wrote, but now, I can barely tolerate the news.

Most of the folders on the writing table behind the laptop are research docs. In the book I am currently working, I used ancestry.com to find out a lot about my family history. I have copies of old deeds, copies of census records. Photos of headstones. It’s amazing what you can find out by walking through old cemeteries. This work in progress (I never think of titles to my novels) is a sort of generational saga about two families, one once landed and proud, one hardscrabble, both reduced after the Civil War to identical circumstances. This book is in no way modeled after my own family, I swear. Really.

What I need in order to write is to be surrounded by books.

PS: At the top of the bookcase, you can see the silver bowl I won in an essay contest in high school. On the oak desk are books like Roget’s Thesaurus, The Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White’s Elements of StyleThe Copy Editor’s Handbook, a biography of Maxwell Perkins, Editors on Editing, Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway,  a book and characters and viewpoint, and a book on plot and structure.

 

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Bywater Books is Ten Years Old

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I moved to Florida to live with my partner Sandy Moore, who is an artist. That’s a very important detail, because having an artist with a unique understanding of the creative process led to my getting published. When I moved in, Sandy had converted a bedroom into a writing space for me. She accepted my self defined role as a writer. Her support and encouragement, her absolute belief in me, all that led me to New Orleans in May of 2004.

That was the first time I had ever been to a writers’ conference. I met Katherine V. Forrest in the ladies room. I went to panel discussions and listened to people like Jewel Gomez and Karin Kallmaker, and one of those panels was about editing. Kelly Smith was on that dais, and I took notes on what she had to say about editing. I was impressed. I decided that I wanted an editor like that for my book.

At another of those panel discussions, talking about the history of lesbian literature, a remarkable thing happened. On the panel were KVF, Jewel Gomez, and Ann Bannon, who wrote the Beebo Brinker chronicles. Katherine Forrest brought tears to my eyes when she paid tribute to Ann Bannon, stating that Bannon’s books had saved her life. I wanted to stand up in the audience to add that Forrest’s books had saved my life.

As the panel discussed the pulp fiction of the fifties and sixties, bringing us up to the present day, a new lesbian publishing company was formally introduced. Kelly Smith and Marianne K Martin stood up as Bywater Books received its first public acknowledgment. I made a promise to myself right then, that if I got my work in shape for submission, I would send it to Bywater. I wanted Bywater to publish my book. When they announced that Bywater would have an annual fiction contest, I knew I would whip my manuscript into shape and send it in.

The rest is history, you might say, if you hadn’t been taught to avoid clichés like the plague. In 2007, my first novel, Miss McGhee, was published. In 2011, my second book, What’s Best for Jane, was also published through Bywater. I am proud to have played a small part in Bywater’s beginning.

Kelly Smith, Marianne K. Martin, Val McDermid, and Michele Karlsberg have created a company that actively seeks out new writing talents, and Bywater has consistently published quality fiction. That is their brand, their trademark. Quality is Bywater’s thing. They published Joan Opyr, Jill Malone, Sally Bellerose, Hilary Sloin, Z Egloff, and Marcia Finical, who won that very first Bywater Fiction contest with Last Chance at the Lost and Found. Throughout the past decade, Bywater has added established, well-loved writers mixed in with their new discoveries, such as Elana Dykewomon, Kate Clinton, Ellen Hart, Val McDermid, Lindy Cameron, Stella Duffy, and soon, Baxter Clare.

Bywater searches for talent. They have been great at finding it. For example, Jill Malone’s first book, Red Audrey and the Roping, won the Bywater prize for fiction, was nominated for a Lambda award. Malone’s second book, Field Guide to Deception, won the Lambda award as well as several others. More recently, authors such as Hilary Sloin’s Art on Fire, Z Egloff’s Leap and Jill Malone’s newest book Giraffe People were selected by the ALA’s Rainbow Book List in 2013. This year, Hilary Sloin’s Art on Fire won the Barbara Gittings Literature Award from the American Library Association.

This is only a sampling of the award-winning books Bywater has published.  I am certain to leave out something, so I encourage anyone who loves to read and likes to support lesbian literature and small presses to  browse through the Bywater web site at http://www.bywaterbooks.com/. And if you attend any of the several conferences each year like Women’s Week in P Town, Saints and Sinners in New Orleans, the annual GCLS conference, April’s Women’s Fest at Rehoboth Beach, you should search out Bywater Books and chat with them, look at their books, buy a couple.

The very first book published through Bywater was Under the Witness Tree, by Marianne K. Martin. Next year, they will publish Tangled Roots, the long awaited prequel to that wonderful book.

So, cheers to Bywater Books, for hanging in there, for proving that good books can sell, and for finding and publishing new writers, as well as bringing established writers back into print.

The Wide World

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As you may know from Facebook, on Wednesday I got the truck stuck in deep mud in the front yard. Go ahead and laugh. Sandy did. We just left it there because we had appointments the next day.

We came home exhausted from the tests. I have never seen Sandy so washed out. I was hurting from twisting and turning on the Xray table, but my girl was simply used up.

Late yesterday, neighbor (former landlord) Larry showed up with Tyler. They asked for the keys, pulled the truck out of the mud, parked it nicely, and brought back the keys. I just love living in the country. People are so kind, and when they see that you need something done, they just pitch in and do it, if they can. That was one thing we didn’t have to worry about, and coming when we both felt so worn down, it was just a tremendous lift.

This morning there more than a dozen turkeys in the lower field. We stood and watched for a while. I wish I had a better camera so I could show you all.

Last week I had a meeting online with Bywater publishers and some other authors, all about marketing and promoting and things like that. I kept getting knocked off the meeting so I didn’t get notes on all of it. Apparently, I am supposed to be proactive and do some things.

Speaking of being proactive, we watched the SOTU the other night. I thought the president looked relaxed and energetic. I thought his message was simple and also energetic. If Congress can’t or won’t act, the president can go directly to business owners and mayors and governors and we, the people, can raise the minimum wage without Congressional mud wrestling. Easy peasy. I enjoyed the way he kept saying that if Congress wants to act, then they could certainly pitch in at any time. Boehner’s face kept getting longer and longer. The president just made a do nothing Congress irrelevant. Loved it.

So all our tests are done, and Sandy goes next week  to the specialist, when I hope we find out that she is going to be fine. Because soon it will be time to go fishing, and I need her to bait my hook. Not really. But she can tie hooks and leaders and weights and lures and all that important stuff, while I cast out and reel in. When she gets me all set up, Sandy then proceeds to catch the most fish.

Anyway, spring is coming soon, at least it is here in Florida, where temps will be back in the seventies by the weekend. Don’t hate.

My poor sister-in-law got stuck traveling from Birmingham back home in the storm, stranded for 2 days mid route because of icy roads and closures. She had with her her sister Donna and their father, who they were bringing home after successful cancer treatment and surgery.  They have finally made it home safely. So compared to folks around the nation, getting the car stuck in the front yard wasn’t such a big deal. We truly are blessed, and I feely doubly so because while our own troubles sometimes seem too much, it is good to know that other people are coming through much more serious stuff just fine.

I think of all the people affected by the storm, some maybe still without power and heat, some with cars still stranded on the highways. I think of those facing sub zero temps and who still follow the snow plows to get to work.

I think it will be 77 degrees here tomorrow, and I am so grateful. Also, it is good for a person like me to have Triple A, because you just never know.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 18 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Happy New Year, everyone. Make 2014 a safe, healthy, wonderful time. Thank you for visiting with me this year. I’ll try to keep you informed and entertained in the coming year as well. Ya’ll take care now.

Four Shopping Days Left

It has been a different holiday season for Sandy and me. At Thanksgiving, we were dealing with health issues and postponed the turkey and dressing, promising each other we will do it for Christmas. More health issues, with my hips and back feeling worse, probably due to the cold, and Sandy dealing with new medications. Getting older does have its advantages, though, and we are grateful for every day we share together.

I saw only one turkey in the field this morning. Usually we see them in bunches, sometimes a dozen or more together. I didn’t stay outside long enough to watch the four deer that run from across the road, through the neighbor’s yard, and over the fence to the woods behind us.

We lost our beloved Sketch a couple of weeks ago. Such a good boy. He lived a long life and was very much loved.

I got to share the joy of a close friend of mine, who can finally say she wrote a book, a very good one. More on that later.

So here it is, now only four days left until Christmas. May I remind you that books make great gifts? Books are the gifts that keep on giving. Shopping for books at local independent bookstores, online and brick and mortar, help support the local economy and do so just makes you feel good.

http://www.bywaterbooks.com/

http://www.bywaterbooks.com/bett-norris

www.charisbooksandmore.com

http://inkwoodbooks.com/

http://www.malaprops.com/

these are just a few listings. All of these can ship books to you from their online stores if they are not in your area. Get out there and shop for the best gift you can give, books. Easy to wrap.

 

 

 

 

Of course, there are local independent stores in your locations. Get out there and spread the pleasure of books. Spread the joy.

 

 

 

This is Different

ImageImageI have grieved, as best I could, for the loss of my mother, my stepdad, and my older brother. I kept something inside, holding back. I don’t know what, but something I wasn’t able to reach fully.

Our cat Sketch died this morning. He was about sixteen years old. This time, the grief was immediate and open, so much more open. All of the love came out.

I believe this is because animals love fully and openly, unconditionally. They don’t hold anything back. They simply love us. Because I loved Sketch the same way he loved us, I can mourn more fully his passing.

Probably everybody says this about their animals, but Sketch truly was a sweet and gentle soul. He was quiet and shy. He loved Sandy, who got him and Sister when they were just s few weeks old, more than anything. His complete devotion and trust with Sandy was a beautiful thing to witness. Maybe it was because she has a matching sweetness of spirit. But I never saw such a strong bond and connection between human and animal as between those two. Sketch would let Sandy do anything to him, brush him, clip his nails, clean open wounds, anything, without a sound. He just looked at her with so much love and trust.

Only in the past year or so did Sketch finally start to sit in my lap for petting and attention. I was worried about intruding upon the special relationship he had with Sandy. But he came to love me as a second to her, even nursing on my shirt sometimes like he did with Sandy.

Sketch was a big boy, a Maine Coon, and he looked regal as any lion. He was our sweet, sweet boy. That loving, gentle soul was loved as no other animal ever was. Sketch truly led a protected and a wonderful life. I can get out all my grief, and mourn him, and remember that trusting, loving soul certainly received all the love and care we poor humans can give.

 

I Changed My Cat’s Name, So What?

Can you take a photo of the night sky? I tried, but it didn’t show the brilliant display of constellations that I saw early this morning. I took a shot of the back yard instead.

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No matter what time I get up, and this morning it was at 4:30 am, the cats are there, waiting for me. Sketch wants out, but not before you put some food in his bowl and clean his litter box and then go with him into the great dark. Boo Boo is always ready to go out, and she doesn’t care if anyone else goes with her or not. She loves it outside.

I changed Boo Boo’s name. When we first got her years ago, I named her Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird. That name never really fit. So when we moved to the country, I changed her name to Boo Boo, and she seems to like that just fine. It’s after Boo Radley, you know.

Why is it wrong to change her name? She likes it, I swear she does. I call her Boo, Booby, Booby Trap, Boodles, And she likes them all. Who wouldn’t? Of course, she answers to none of them, and she understands that when I call “Scout” she must come at once. She doesn’t come at once, or at all, unless there are treats, but she understands something serious is about to happen when we use her formal name, Scout.

When I call her Booby or Booty she knows she is in for some conversation, which annoys her, but she gets petted, so she just tunes out my sweet talk so she can get her chin scratched.

Why is it wrong that I changed her name? I thought it appropriate that we moved to the country for the isolation, so she could take on the name of the reclusive, mysterious Boo Radley.

Celebrities change their names on a whim, don’t they? Example: Prince, or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or the symbol which stood for his name. Chad OchoCinco or whatever, that wide receiver who changed his name. Maybe he was a running back. Whatever. Wasn’t his last name Johnson? I don’t know.

The point is, my cat is not confused. She is secure in her identity, and she has adjusted to the name change just fine. It’s a lot more fun for me to call her now. “Booty! Booby! Booby Trap! Where are you?” Sometimes I call her Michael Buble.

Boo Boo is a tuxedo cat, black with white markings on her chest. You’ve seen them. She has  short legs, long hair,, with an Arabian horse tail that always stands straight up.

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And she has enormous green eyes. And she thinks very well of herself.

Why all this talk about my cat? Because yesterday was Sept 11, and I spent hours watching shows about the rescues, and it brought back memories.

And I would lots rather talk about the changes in my life, retiring from work, moving to the country, becoming more involved with my cats and my yard and my partner, just living in the moment, for the moment.

I think Boo Boo has adjusted just fine.

August 8, 2008

Last year at this time, I was very busy. I applied for a transfer to a new job, I was looking for a new house, a new place to live.

This year, I am settled in the new house in a new place. Settled in a way I haven’t been since August 8, 2008. My heart has settled, and I am at home.

I love my little mother and I miss her every day. Something has shifted since we moved, since I lost my job, found a new home, found a new beginning in our relationship that is slower, happier, more careful of each other and more carefree.

So on this day, the 5th anniversary of Mama’s death, I want to express joy.

Image These are the peace lilies I brought from St. Petersburg to the new house.  They are huge now, and always have three blooms, one for Mama, one for Jimmy, and one for my step dad, JC.  The roots have spread out here, and it is thriving.

ImageThis is Mama at Callaway Gardens. She really loved her yard and her flowers and plants. I recall many times following her around the yard with a bucket, a shovel, the water hose, fertilizer, doing her bidding. She loved digging in the dirt.

ImageThis is Mama at her grandson’s wedding. I don’t know why she had that little sideways grin on her face, but that is how I remember her expression, with that secret little smile.  You might say it made her look sneaky. Mama’s sense of humor was a little sideways and sneaky.

 

My whole life has been a conversation with my mother. Everything I have done, everything I have accomplished, all has been a dialogue with that old woman. An argument, a plea, a prayer to the court. I think this is a sad admission, that everything in my life has been an attempt to gain her approval. I loved that stubborn, hard old woman. That is not much of a surprise. Most children love their parents. They don’t know any better.

            The thing is, most children grow up and gain separation and distance and perspective. I never did. Today, I am an old woman myself, stubborn, but not nearly as hard as I should be. And I am still that child desperate to please a tired, distracted, worried woman with eight other children, hungry mouths to feed, mounds of clothes to wash, babies crying, dishes and floors and work. Why did I think I must?

 

“It’s not funny.” That’s what I have been saying to everybody my whole life, whenever something happens to me that could not happen to anybody else, whenever I say something and I am deadly serious but people laugh anyway.

 

 

Some things are just not funny, and it is mean, or at least rude to laugh.

 

Then there are some things that happen that are so mixed up and not right that the only thing you can do is laugh, I guess.

Like the time Mama pulled out her gun. I didn’t know they made pistols that little. It looked tiny enough to be a cigarette lighter, like the art deco table lighters they made back when. I had a collection of those once, lighters set in fine crystal, lighters shaped like golf balls in silver, table ornaments made to match with fancy cigarette cases kept on coffee tables. Everybody smoked. It was once fashionable and sophisticated.

 

When Mama whipped that little .22 five-shot pistol out of her purse, I thought she was pulling my leg, that it was really one of those cigarette lighters. But it was real. I was driving at the time, and I almost ran right off the road.

 

At one time, when cars were still a novelty and a luxury, people went for Sunday drives. That what Mama and I were doing, I assumed, until the pistol brandishing and the dancing on graves started. Mama bears grudges for a long time. The grave was that of a long ago schoolmate of Mama’s, a girl who had been mean to her, I guess. When we found it, out in the woods, in an untended cemetery on a bluff overlooking the Alabama River, Mama fairly cackled and did a jig right on the grave after I read the headstone to her.

 

Here’s why people laugh when I tell them about the pistol. Forgetting the context of the story, they laugh because Mama can’t see. So the fact of her carrying a sidearm for my protection is what made them laugh. It made me break out in cold, clammy sweat.

 

Now that Mama is gone, I often wonder what happened to the little pistol she kept in her purse along with her daddy’s old pocket knife, her nail clippers, tweezers, cigarettes, lipstick, wallet, Certs,  and all the other things that I would sometimes play with when I was a child. I should have kept on inspecting the contents into my adulthood, apparently. That gun had white fake pearl grips. It was cute. Wish I had it now to add to my collection of ugly table lighters. No one would know the difference.

 

My mother had an attractive death. Everybody said so. She died the way she wanted to die, just as she arranged, ordered, demanded. She wanted to die at home, surrounded and attended by all her children, and she did so.

            The fact that most of her eight children were not speaking to each other, and had no use for each other outside that command performance, lends definition to the role my mother played, that of matriarch and beloved center of a loving, healthy family.

            The fact that I was completely enamored of this view of my mother as centrifuge demonstrates the depth of my shock when I found out, after her passing, that it was not so.

            Mama had a sneaky, dry sense of humor. Many who have read her will would agree. Her gathering all her chicks to her breast for one final moment of forced togetherness was maybe a joke, her last joke. It was dark in her bedroom, lamp covered. We brought chairs in from the dining room. And coffee. We sat, wandered in and out, spoke in whispers, cried at times, in hushed reverence. Her sister Aunt Duck was there, with my cousin Christine. She was appropriately impressed, and said so to me later how beautiful it was, all of us there to witness.

            More than one person commented on our closeness as a family. Her eulogy remarked upon it, how we all gathered, at Thanksgiving, at Easter reunions, and how it was assumed we would grow even closer now, that Mother would want that and expect it.

            No such thing could be further from the truth. Earline knew, better than anyone, certainly better than I, that we only held together by her will, that it was her strength that drew us together, that we would not just fall away, but thereafter engage only in recriminations and snide communications, some of it held around an attorney’s conference table. Mama would have liked to be a fly on the wall at some of those sparse encounters. She would have grinned that sideways grin of hers, just like in the picture that now sits on my desk.

Mama was a guerilla humorist, sometimes being the only person who knew the joke, but that did not stint her own enjoyment.

David and Granny (640x480)

 

 

 

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