Saturday, September 20, 2014

High Bridge Trail Is Nothing Special, but Farmville's Cool

Here's Leah and meah on the High Bridge near Farmville.
Lots of bikes out today.
Took a ride over to Farmville (with a quick Lynchburg stop to pick up Leah) to ride what I thought would be alovely High Bridge Trail, just outside town. Not so spectacular. Mostly, pretty boring.

It is a flat, short-ish trail with a high, long bridge as the goal. There is no scenery to speak of on the way to the bridge; just a well-kept, flat old railroad bed of a trail. One of the more boring rides around, I'd say. Even the bridge, one of the nation's highest-longest (though not one of the highest or longest, one without the other; it's 2,400 feet long, 125-feet high), is simply a flat, wooden bridge over a gorge centered in a flat countryside.

The real treat of the trip is the number of furniture warehouses in downtown Farmville (where I'd never visited, just driven through) and a great hamburger at Charley's Waterfront Cafe. This burger--the Waterfront--comes with three cheeses and carmelized onions--was so big at eight ounces, Leah and I split it, then split her cobb salad. We both had a great and plentiful meal.

The furniture warehouses will wear you out (maybe they're "wearhouses") because many of them cover three or four floors and each floor is huge. The selection is big, if not especially great in the bargain category, from what I saw.

Nice road trip, I thought.
The Waterfront is across the street from a furniture warehouse.
The bridge is the goal, but it's mundane.
The Appomattox is a dinky river at this point.
Leah watches me taking pictures below the bridge surface.
Leah and me at the landmarks plaque.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Photos from the Fall Forest Thursday

Mushroom eating an acron. Or something like that.
Here are some photos of the earth as it is from a short hike out near Hollins University Thursday. The woods are splendid in their detail.
Goldenrod makes a lot of people sick. But this bee likes it.
Pinecones are getting ready for Christmas.
Virginia Creeper is ready for fall.
Blue mushrooms are new to me. Can you eat them?
These red berries are all over the woods.
Check the spider web.
My turtle buddy was curious, but was more involved with his dinner, a worm.

Resting Next to an Honest-to-God Classic

I parked next to this 1955 (or so) Austin Healey yesterday at Vic Thomas Park and I did all I could to keep from drooling on it. This is a thing of beauty.

The AH is probably the most popular sports car in the history of Great Britain and it was in its golden age 1950 (when it was introduced) to about 1958. This model, to my mind, is the peak. Look at the way the windshield folds back when resting and soak up the beautiful design. Even the hood is designed beautifully.

Giving Back Those Pesky Roanoke Times Papers

This is a photo of several weeks' worth of those worthless "shopper" publications The Roanoke Times throws--uninvited--into my yard on a weekly basis. I have called and e-mailed complaints about the litter five times and have received absolutely no positive response. This morning, I took several of them back to their place of origin.

The arrogance of the deliveries is simply mind-boggling. I am told by one who works in the building and deals with this situation that my return of the papers is hardly an earth-shattering first. "People have brought entire garbage bags full of them and dumped them outside," said the Times employee. "We get this often."

It would seem to me that somewhere along the way somebody would get the message--especially the advertisers who are not getting a good reputation by supporting this outrageous behavior. I am also told, by the way, though I have not checked it out myself, that leaving these packages on our lawns without permission is legal. I am wondering if I start taking my garbage and leaving it at the entryway of the newspaper what the result would be legally.

In any case, I invite you to take your papers downtown, drop them off in the entryway of the paper and if anybody says anything, tell them to shove the paper where the sun don't shine.

Grandin Theatre To Host Beer Party (Kinda)

The Grandin Theatre has scheduled the showing “From Grain to Growler,” a documentary on the Virginia craft beer movement, Saturday, Oct. 18 at 4 p.m., part of a celebration in Grandin Village. It will be new general manager Ian Fortier’s first special event.

Says Grandin Theatre Foundation board member Richard Rife, “I think this event is indicative of the ways the Grandin will try to reach out and involve the community and invite patrons to regard the Grandin as more than just a place to see a movie.”

The documentary looks at the expansion of craft beer manufacturing since 2012, when the state passed a new law governing it. The event will feature the film, a one-hour tasting of local beers and a panel discussion featuring the filmmakers and some local craft beer makers.

Fortier says, “The explosion of craft beer brewing companies in the past few years has launched the Commonwealth into the positive national spotlight. This movement has a basis in agriculture, job creation, job retention, economic development, recreation, and secondary industries. We felt this film was an opportunity not only to celebrate the growth of this industry but also showcase some of our local brewers products, and stories.”
Tickets to this event can be purchased online at or may also be purchased at the box office. 

Rife says, “We look for it to showcase local craft brewers as well as educate beer lovers about craft brewing across the state. It should also bring new customers to our Grandin Village restaurants at its conclusion.” 

(I shot the accompanying photo at the Salem Red Sox ballpark a couple of years ago. Although I'm a recovering drunk and can't drink beer, I like the shot a lot.)

Photos: How To Eat Soup

The tofu pho soup served at the Hong Kong Restaurant at Roanoke City Market Building is so big and so hot hat I have do divide the serving, putting about half into a clear plastic "go" container in order to help the halves cool off.

Sophisticated Asian food connisuers eat this stuff with chopsticks. I'm not sophisticated, so I use a spoon and a fork. Together. I once watched the co-owner eat her soup with chopsticks, then, when the solids were gone, she turned up the liquid and finished it off. Like I'm doing here. Thought that was cool.

(Photos by Sonya Chappelear.)

Gratitude: In Scotland, a Democracy

Today I am grateful for:

Democracy in action. No, not ours. We don't even have a democracy (except with a capital "D," which is a misnomer). We have an oligarchy and it doesn't work, either.

The democracy to which I refer is the one in Scotland where yesterday a remarkable 85 percent of voters turned out to determine if the Scots would remain a part of Britain (they did by 10 percentage points). In America, a presidential election generally brings out half the voters (I think the other half are shellshocked by the TV ads and can't think straight).

In 1980, Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter with 27.3 percent of registered voters in his corner. Reagan--you probably don't remember--beat Carter with just 50.7 percent of the vote, hardly a landslide. In 1984, he won 58.9 percent of the votes cast (though he was still in the high 20s for overall registered voter support) and 49 states in a landslide election. Looking a little closer, that percentage is misleading.

Between 1840 and 1900 (when only males could vote and most of the time African Americans were not allowed at the polls), voting turnout was good: it fell below 70 percent once, and was more than 80 percent three times.

Today, though, with most of us absolutely fed up with not only our leaders, but our form of government, interest is difficult to drum up. In Scotland, where people still believe in their government, voters turn out--as they should.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tip for the Day: Working with an Editor

My friend Darrell Laurant, a newly-minted novelist and veteran journalist, asked me the other day to contribute suggestions on how to work with a magazine (or other publications) editor for a piece he is writing. Actually, he asked for me to list the things that piss me off. But I didn't want to do it that way, so I simply constructed 10 rules for working effectively with an editor.

Any of you out there who have anything to add or who disagree with any of these, let me know. I'd love to hear about it. Here they are:

Rule No. 1 for writers: There is not an "editor." There are "editors." They are as different from each other as writers or truck drivers or stock brokers or lawyers or waiters are. Each has a personality, a philosophy and a publication that harnesses her personal and professional skills to meet specific goals of the company.

Editors don't usually mangle your copy because they are rotten people. They do what the company requires and what their experience tells them is best for their publications. I was an editor for 30 years before getting out of the management/ownership end of the magazine business and becoming a freelance writer again. I found a world that was unfamiliar and a little scary. I had forgotten what I knew: some editors and publications are difficult. I had to adjust. To each one.

The 10 tips: 1.

Turn in clean, correct copy. Typos and incorrect information will get you sent to the woodshed. People's names MUST BE SPELLED CORRECTLY. There simply no acceptable excuses for a misspelled name.

2. Turn your work in on time. Early is good, but I have discovered that you can be too early (I tend to work fast and that has been a problem). If you are 20 percent early, depending on the publication, you're on the money and the editor will remember that when assigning again.

3. Be certain the assignment is clear up front because you will have to re-write, otherwise. If you can get the assignment in writing (I always did that as an editor), all the better. I often have a back-and-forth with the editor if something is not clear. Sometimes the editor doesn't know what she wants--or doesn't want--until she gets it. That can be maddening and creates extra work. If you are secure with that publication, tack on a surcharge if there is extra work.

4. Offer opinions and options if you have special expertise in a topic. Editors are generalists and, as such, are pretty smart. But they can't be expert in everything they assign. Your help is welcome to a good editor and it will put you in good stead.

5. Suggest, but do not argue. Editors often get instructions from executive offices to have a story done a certain way. If your suggestion countermands that, she will reject it. The rejection is not personal.
6. Be certain you know the publication's style before you decide that your personal style is acceptable. You need to be able to write the same story several different ways. Find the one that works best for the specific publication. That means you have to be familiar with the publication. For example, if you are asked to write a personal profile, see how that has been formatted and published in the past and replicate it.

7. Editors are busy--so busy sometimes that they miss important information, ignore important questions, fail to return phone calls and e-mails. Don't let those failures interfere with the quality of your story. Call or e-mail until you reach the editor if you have a question that will affect the accuracy or quality of your story. That is essential and if she's too busy, call her anyway. But don't call/e-mail for every little detail. You're being paid to make decisions. Make them.

8. When you turn your copy in, it is no longer yours. Accept that and let it go. Some editors will mangle it; others will treat it with great respect. Determine what your limit is on changes and make your decision on whom you want to work for based on that limit. It doesn't do anybody any good for you to pitch a fit over changes, though it is required that you stand up for the facts and that you fight to keep the editor from making your journalism a piece of shill for an advertiser.

9. Be certain that you get writers guidelines if the publication offers them. If not, ask what the publication's policy is on pre-press review. Having the subject of a piece read it before publication is standard procedure for some publications, is absolutely forbidden by others and sometimes it is inconsistently applied. Get it clear. Some subjects will not talk to you unless you agree to a review before publication. Tell your editor that and let her deal with it. She will make the decision and you will be in the clear.

10. Remember always that you are representing the publication that is paying you for your work. Dress well, be respectful and write your story with truth, not just with fact. If you are having trouble finding the truth, talk to the editor and get some guidance. Whenever you have an important question about anything having to do with a specific work, talk to the editor. She makes the decisions. Accept that, embrace it and get to writing.

(Photos: Getty Images,,,

Memoir Writing Workshop Scheduled Oct. 8 in Wirtz

Betsy Ashton
My pals Betsy Ashton and Judy Ayyildiz, both of whom have taught at the Roanoke Regional Writers Conference, have scheduled an all-day workshop in Wirtz (Smith Mountain Lake) Wednesday,Oct. 8 for those of you pondering writing your memoirs. Both--I can attest--are accomplished writers and excellent teachers.

Here are the details, provided by Betsh:

Judy Light Ayyildiz and I will present a writing workshop blending techniques of fiction and memoir writing at the 4-H Center in Wirtz. It begins at 10 a.m. and end around 4 p.m. The $40 registration fee includes lunch.

Judy Ayyildiz
Many of you are in book clubs with members who "have always wanted to write their memoirs" but who don't know how to get started. Others of you are in writing groups with similar members. Some of you work at libraries. All of you have friends who live in the Smith Mountain Lake/Roanoke/Lynchburg area.

 If this is something you would enjoy, Judy and I would love to have you. We have an event page on FB.

Throwback Thursday: The Clown Is a Clown

Elmo feeds me popcorn.
Getting drilled on the fire drill (I'm at left).
In about 1978 or '79 I was assigned by the features editor of The Roanoke Times to join the Ringling Brothers Circus, which was in town, to be a clown for a day. The editor said, "You are the natural choice."

This is one of my all-time favorite assignments because, frankly, it was, indeed, a natural for me. A clown named Elmo was assinged to teach me (I just know he loved that! Probably did something awful to get the assignment) and he did. The No. 1 rule? "Don't ever touch a clown if he's not expecting it." I had just touched him. I didn't do it again.

Elmo put on my makeup, reminiscent of Emmett Kelly, the sad sack clown once played by Henry Fonda in a movie.

During the course of the schooling, I learned to ride an elephant named Mollie (sweet little gal). We did the big parade at the start of the performance and then I dismounted and got busy with routine after routine. The one pictured above right right is a wild firefighting scene. I'm holding the newspaper for some reason. Don't recall why. Maybe it was predictive of what newspapers would become (oh, that's a cheap shot!).

I think what touched me as much as anything else during the hours-long performance was getting face-to-face with small children and really being  a clown. Then having them ask for my authgraph: "Danbo." Kinda like "Dumbo" only different. They laughed. I did, too.
Mollie and me ready to roll.

Gratitude: The Smells from the Kitchen

This is not my cauliflower, but it will look similarly when done.
Today, I am grateful for:

The smells from the kitchen. I grew up with a memorable smelling kitchen, even when we didn't have any food (which was fairly often). Mom knew how to cook for smell (bacon grease will make anything smell like a meal; the aroma of fresh, hot biscuits brings tears), but I don't follow her recipes, preferring food that won't kill me next week.

Right now, I've just taken out a tray of roast herbal tomatoes and put in cauliflower and cabbage (covered in high-end olive oil, garlic, parm, curry, onion bits and spices) to roast. Never roasted either before, but saw a photo of roast cauliflower the other day and set my goal. Looks simply wondrous. And the kitchen smells like my version of heaven.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Darrell Laurant: Retirement? Not This Guy

Darrell Laurant teaching at a Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.
My old friend and colleague Darrell Laurant, who retired from the Lynchburg News-Advance nearly a year ago as its metro columnist for the last quarter century, is having quite a bit of success as a writer of a different kind these days in his homestate of New York.

Darrell just finished his first novel, The Kudzu Kid, of which I have read about half. It's good and it's coming out soon. The book is about a journalist who leaves his job in urban New Jersey and winds up in Central Virginia at a tiny paper. He digs up a real scandal--one involving organized crime and a landfill--and works at revealing it. Good story.

Cover of Darrell's new book.
Other than that project, he's finding "retirement" the same way I found it: busy and fulfilling. He says, "I've got a contract to write a guidebook on publishing magazine articles (a kind of 'For Dummies' thing) by a small publisher in the UK." He asked that I contribute a list of things that piss me off as an editor (which I no longer am) and "I'll incorporate it into the book, and you'll be famous throughout the British Isles (yeah, right)."

Darrell is also "doing a book on Pierce Street in Lynchburg, another novel (Little Pink Houses, which takes Zoe [of The Kudzu Kid] to Key West in the middle of the AIDS epidemic there); a 100-year anniversary book about the Saunders Brothers Orchard in Nelson County (another contract job); an e-novel about fantasy baseball (The Last Supper League); this year's Lynchburg Life; a piece for America's Civil War magazine and a couple of editing jobs. Good thing I retired." Good, indeed.

Darrell, as much as anybody, is responsible for the Roanoke Regional writers Conference. He asked me about eight years ago to teach a class at his Sedalia Writers Conference in rural Bedford County and I was so impressed with its success in the isolated setting that I thought, "This will do well in Roanoke." It has. We are holding our seventh RRWC Jan. 23-24, 2015 at Hollins and all but the first have sold out. We didn't have a cap on the first one.

Darrell still laments "the rather unpleasant (and certainly unnecessary) end to my Lynchburg [newspaper] career," but says, "As you see, though, it actually turned out fine." Ending newspaper careers badly these days seems to be the rule rather than the exception, but in my experience, the people who have been sent packing have most often wound up in a better place. People like Darrell. And I'm damn happy for them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Macy's Book to Become Hanks Mini-Series

Beth Macy at the 2014 Roanoke Regional Writers Conference.
Looks like Roanoker Beth Macy's book Factory Man will become a Tom Hanks-produced television mini-series. Here's the report from Deadline Hollywood.

The report says, "CAA-repped Playtone is the go-to miniseries producer for HBO. The company was behind Band Of Brothers, The Pacific and John Adams, all Emmy winners for best miniseries. It also is producing HBO’s upcoming Olive Kitteridge miniseries; the Lewis And Clark mini, which is moving towards production with the recent casting of Casey Affleck; as well as the long-gestating followup to Band Of Brothers and The Pacific. The deal for Factory Man was negotiated by Davoli Law Firm and Foundry Literary + Media."

Barbara Kingsolver: An Impressive Talk at Hollins

Barbara Kingsolver (right, disguised as a farmer) and Hollins President Nancy Gray.
Barbara Kingsolver up close.
It simply did not occur to me that I would need both a camera and a note pad for tonight's Barbara Kingsolver talk at Hollins University's Theatre--which was filled to overflowing.

Overflowing, in this case, is a literal explanation. Hollins had to set up a room to televise the talk live in a nearby building because the crowd wouldn't fit. I got there early, but it took my pal Ernie Zulia (who heads the theater department at Hollins) to find me two seats. I was grateful he did. Barbara Kingsolver, the noted novelist and environmentalist, is as good a speaker as any writer I've heard.

She is natural, smart, funny, attractive (she looks like a literary Emmylou Harris, tall and quite striking) and a heck of a teacher. The note pad would have been good because every couple of minutes she'd easily speak a beautiful and instructive line (as when she said fiction is not like a purse, "You don't just throw stuff in that you might use.")

Kingsolver lives in far southwestern Virginia and raises Icelandic sheep ("This is how farmers dress when they're going out," she said). Her books concentrate heavily on what we are doing to the earth and what we should be done.

Her advice to writers was perfect. One young student asked her directly for that advice. "If you smoke, stop," she said, explaining that good writers have to grow up and in order to grow up, they can't die from smoking. I thought that was a pretty clear direction.

Before the talk, I had chatted with a young high school senior about what she would study in college. She said she was considering journalism. I told her that was absolutely useless, like a teacher majoring in education. I said she should concentrate in something that interests her, that she already knows how to write and should continue doing that, too.

Guess who said exactly the same thing 40 minutes later? Kingsolver said she has always written, but wanted to major in science in college. She used that knowledge and her natural interest in writing to get jobs interpreting what scientists said ... as a journalist.

I thought, at that moment, "I love this woman."

Wish you'd seen her. You would adore her, too.

Gratitude: Beth Macy's Literary Success

Today I am grateful for:

The recent literary success of Beth Macy, a colleague whom I admire and who is having spectacular success with her first book, Factory Man, now to become television miniseries. She's living the dream most of us who write for a living are content to imagine. She's hit a home run to win the World Series in her first at-bat in the Major Leagues. I don't know how else to say it, except with a sports metophor, which is precise.

Photos: Hiding Deep in the Woods

There's some pretty good-sized 'shrooms out there still. Cool, dark and wet will do it every time.
Like my shirt?
Another pretty day for a walk in the woods, so guess what I did. Yep. That.

Here are some photos of the small things we often miss when we simply bull through to the end of the hike without taking time to measure the mushrooms. Some of them are as big as my head ... certainly my foot.

Hope you can get out soon. It is simply lovely weather.

Fall's coming. Here's proof.
These little guys are well established on their log.
The colors sometimes simply stop me in my tracks.
More of the little guys peeping out in the dark coolness.

WooHoo! New GWLtd. on Peters Creek Rd.

The new GWLtd. on Peters Creek. The lot's nearly full. All the time.
No. I did not buy this. Wanted to, though. It talks.
Had no idea Goodwill Industries (GWLtd. to those of us in the know) had plans to expand yet again in the Roanoke Valley, but here it is, the new one on Peters Creek Road.

This one is only about a mile from the large Goodwill at the intersection of Peters Creek and Williamson Road, which apparently has closed.

There are racks and bins for Halloween.
The local daily last week went ape about the opening of yet another non-descript discount store near Crossroads Mall, but I saw not a word about this new GWLtd. My guess is the Goodwill store has far more customers and my observation is that it is less tacky, less seedy and has fewer screaming children in it (I visited the discount store over the weekend and didn't like it at all).

I think this makes eight GWLtd.s in the Roanoke Valley. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's a lot of stores and I rarely see one that doesn't have more business than any Penneys or Belks I might visit.
It's a big store with a lot of stuff in it.
Lady and gentleman look over the housewares.