Rocky is pleased to speak at area book clubs and civic meetings. During the school year (August-May), Rocky is available for late afternoon or evening book clubs/meetings. Summertime is more flexible! Contact Rocky at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a visit.
17, 18, 19, 20: AP Symposium Tuscaloosa, AL
18: SIGNING 4:30-5:30PM BRYANT CONFERENCE CENTER TUSCALOOSA AL
The Ballards live in the shadow of July Mountain. They are one step shy of overcoming the taint of poverty dogging the family since the Great Depression. During the excess of the modern 1980s, the Tennessee Valley still harbors a passing respect for the unexplainable and superstition. Roots cling to family trees like tendrils that tangle and tear to claim, not just birthrights, but bloodrights.
Folks tend to die around Little Debbie Ballard. She struggles to make sense of a world where the unspoken past and prejudice collide, where truth is no longer as simple as Daddy’s word, and cruel intentions transcend generations. Debbie must face the insidious legacy that haunts the women of her family, one by one.
Living on a farm is a real “Circle of Life” kind of experience. Papa from A Day No Pigs Would Die said, “Dyin’ and getting bornt is dirty work.” He wasn’t exaggerating. Raising animals, kind of like raising teenagers, can get downright grisly. I’m lucky enough to get to do both! Here’s what we have going on at Moore’s Creek Farm these days…
OUT of the Egg Business (at least this season): My chickens and laying ducks got plucked off one by one by a gang of renegade raccoons. The ruffians would lure the birds into sticking their little heads out of the fence, grab ’em, and start a sick game of tug o’ war. The poor victim couldn’t scream because of the stranglehold and would come out the other side of the wire dead, divested of its feathers, and ready for eating. At least that’s what the evidence points to. We do have the designated survivors sequestered in a pen-within-a pen setup; they are safe, but my egg business is kaput.
We aren’t ignorant folks, but it can be surprisingly challenging to thwart coons, snakes, foxes, coyotes, owls and the like. We plan to relocate the hen housing to an area on the farm where the predators will have to run the Great Dane gauntlet to have a go at the birds. This more open-concept design will sacrifice shade for our feathered friends, but should offer another layer of protection. I expect shiplap to be involved in the renovation.
We ordered a replacement flock of chicks. They will come by US Mail in cute little chirping boxes. The babies will stay in the barn nursery until they feather out and become big enough to start trying to kill each other in the small cages. The barn is relatively safe, but we must be careful not to leave the door ajar…that looks like an open invitation to a feast for rat snakes. With a little luck, I’ll be back to providing farm fresh eggs for multiple families by spring.
Ole Number 29: We have a resident artist here at the farm for a few months. He’s a gorgeous Black Angus bull with an ear tag that identifies him simply as 29. I am tempted to make a Weinstein joke here, but perhaps it’s too soon. You get the idea. Ole Number 29 is most assuredly serious about getting his job done, and he practices his…um…creativity with enough gusto for us to feel pretty confident we’ll have a couple of calves running around the farm before long. He’s friendly enough to come right up to the fence for a head-scratching, but I’m just going to let that fence stay right between us. I’m not sure I quite trust that glint in his eye.
Winterizing: Russ spent a good part of the day yesterday on the tractor bush-hogging the pastures. Next weekend, winter grass will get planted so that hopefully we won’t go broke buying hay for the cows and our guard donkey Jack the Ass. The way this usually works is that we spend a bundle to keep from spending a bundle. Once the seed is planted, that will cue the driest fall season in Baldwin County history. Nary a blade of new grass will grow and we’ll get to help support the haying industry…or we’ll get a gorgeous stand of green and the cattle will munch contentedly throughout the winter. It could go either way. That’s part of the fun and frustration of farming.
Fencing: One of my greatest pleasures living out here on the farm is the “chore” of checking the fences. My job is to walk along the fence lines of the pastures to make sure there are no security breaches. What it really is, though, is an act of love. Russ keeps a strip along all the fences mowed so that I have a clear path (and a jump on any snake sightings) as I walk. Naturally, he fixes any fence problems as he does this. What I get is a tour of the farm, a pleasant bit of exercise, and a daily reminder of the blessing of elbow room. Smart man.
Folks can take their McMansions, planned communities, and even their beach houses. Those are all great, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I have fantasized about each. But when I really get to pondering, there’s no place I’d rather be than right here, mad raccoon raiders and all.
Call it fate, or call it the creeps, but the idea behind Clemenceau’s Daughters emerged as I was thumbing through my great-grandmother’s photo album, trying to decide if I had the ambition to digitize a bunch of old photos of people completely lost to the collective family memory. I felt pretty guilty as I toyed with the idea of simply burning it, letting the dead stay buried and lost to time. Something just didn’t feel right about destroying it, though. I turned a page and startled, dropping the album as the hairs rose on the back of my neck. My daughter, pensive expression and devil-may-care stance, stared at me across a century.
I had no information about this girl whose uncanny resemblance to my Syd was enough to convince folks of the validity of reincarnation, or, at the least, the power of genetics. Gently, painstakingly, I pried the photo from the page in hopes of a clue. Scrawled on the back of the photo in my grandmother’s distinctive hand was the single word Jewel. I remembered my grandmother taking me to visit an ancient relative in what could only be described as a hovel. She lectured me on manners and not turning my nose up at Aunt Jull, whose poverty was by choice. I was just a child and found it inconceivable that someone could actually live without TV. I soon found out Aunt Jull also lived without indoor plumbing. It was like walking into another world.
Could this Jewel be the Aunt Jull my grandmother took me to see? The girl in the photograph did not reconcile with my memory of the old woman, pruny with age and ripe with the smell of snuff, so unlike my grandmother who left traces of Estee Lauder and talcum powder in her wake as I walked behind her. I recall little of that day except the having the vague sense my grandmother was making more of a pilgrimage than a social visit and that, somehow, I had been judged.
I called my father to ask if he remembered a Jewel. He was my best shot since everybody else on that side of the family is dead and gone. “Jull, you mean?” he piped up without hesitation, “Yeah, she was the old bag who talked to ghosts. Spooky as hell.” The hairs rose on my neck again.
That old photograph haunted me for weeks. If family resemblance can be that marked, what about personality? Was there anything to this macabre snippet of family lore? I started poring through the other albums I inherited from the matriarchs of the family. I ran across another photo of me as a little bitty thing standing in the roots of a storm-tossed, upturned oak. It towered over me, the naked roots twisting almost protectively in tendrils about a face that also echoed across generations. I thought about family trees and how death uproots us from our past. I thought about young Jewel, my Syd from another age, and what little was remembered of her. Could the two of them be connected in any way beyond blood?
Renae Clemenceau materialized and a novel sprang to life.
Clemenceau’s Daughters is available right here at rockyporchmoore.com or your favorite book retailer.
The tailwinds of Hurricane Nate whistle through the trees this morning, providing a rhythm section to birdsong and punctuated by the cymbal shriek of our guineafowl and the deep baritone bray of Jack the Ass. Aside from a forgotten wind chime, spread-eagle on the grass, all is as it should be on the farm.
What did we ever do in these situations before street-level radar and Jim Cantore? How did people know it was time to make a run on bread and batteries, or jump in their bathtubs (which should have been filled with clean water if they followed the hurricane preparedness guides correctly) when their cell phones screeched out yet another tornado warning? Who would have ever expected a hook signature or rotation in a hurricane without the good folks at the media to help us through the storm?
Now, I’m not going to pick on Jim Cantore. Any man who can juggle his pecs a la The Rock while spelling out potential doom is okay by me. I’m not going to chuckle too much at the local third string weatherman who spotted a waterspout (via the station’s remote camera, mind you) and gave us the play-by-play as it made its way to the beach, his tone more like that of a sports commentator calling a touchdown run as the thought of a future Emmy could be read on his face as plainly as the waterspout/tornado appeared on the split screen. That Emmy run dissipated as quickly as the waterspout when the station hit a rather unfortunate (for the weatherman) spate of tech issues. I understand the gravity of the situation, especially in light of recent storms, and I’m sure many of us here on the Gulf Coast are relieved that this one was a bit, well, overblown.
As we breathe a collective sigh of relief, I’d like to provide you with a light-hearted look at this dark and stormy experience.
Hurricane Preparations: You could smell the hope and teen spirit rise on Friday as 1800 cell phones vibrated simultaneously with the storm warning, causing the high school to register as an epicenter on the Richter Scale. “I’ll bet school will be out on Monday!” flew like a viral tweet across the campus, most likely perpetrated by the overwrought teachers.
The superintendent, who apparently has Jim Cantore on speed-dial, issued multiple cease and desist orders for the idea of closing school while simultaneously admonishing school personnel to keep the millions of dollars worth of school technology housed in classrooms high, dry, and backed up just in case the worst occurred. People started to worry that Friday night football might be cancelled. The superintendent wisely chose not to take the school system to Def-Con 1 until Saturday morning.
Closings: Social media lit up over the course of Saturday as Lower Alabama collectively rolled up the sidewalks and tucked in. APB’s of which stores had water and a well-timed truckload bread sale peppered Facebook. Hundreds of well-meaning citizens, including me, posted about how they were personally battening down the hatches. Then things got real. The churches started cancelling Sunday services. Nothing else was quite as effective in putting worry into the heart as the news that the Lord would be sitting this one out.
Hurricane Cooking: You never know if, when, and for how long you’re going to lose power during a hurricane, so it’s time to put on the feed bag. Hurricane cooking is second only to a good funeral spread, and with the news of no meeting on Sunday, I just threw caution to the wind. Hurricane cooking is defensive cooking meant to soothe the soul and the nerves, so I pretty much said to heck with health and stuck to a menu that completely ignores cholesterol warnings.
We feasted on bacon-wrapped Conecuh sausage bites kissed with brown sugar, spicy chili with a pone of cornbread, fried okra (hand-breaded, none of that frozen mess), and “Redneck” burgers. Crisco was heavily involved.
To take the edge off, I whipped up a pitcher of Hurricane Wine Punch. This is a sweet “nectar of the gods” kind of drink that somehow only tastes right if you keep it in an earthenware crock. You guys who know me understand that I’m not fond of measuring when it comes to cooking, but a number of my Facebook friends have asked for the recipe, so do your best.
Mix up about half a bottle of muscadine wine, a bottle of red wine, a jigger or two of Cat Daddy moonshine, a splash of lemon juice, about a cup of sugar, and some Milo’s. Squeeze a lime into it and let it set in the fridge for a couple of hours. It’s mighty fine sippin’.
I’ll be sippin’ some more today. You know, to take the edge off the upcoming school week.
Love Your Life is a comprehensive workbook for discovering your passion and actually doing something productive if not profitable with it. It is most decidedly not an “if you can dream it, you can be it” guide of feel-good psycho-babble. The text hinges on the metaphor of a master gardener; a metaphor that is, if you’ll pardon the pun, cultivated methodically throughout the book.
Straightforward and no-nonsense, Love Your Life calls for significant introspection as well as identification and mobilization of support people to help you achieve your goals. It proscribes a logical, measured process that is facilitated by the dedicated reader response space throughout the workbook.
Young engages readers with a practical voice that is never condescending. Furthermore, she does not pad the text with an exhausting litany of anecdotes/testimonials like many other books of this genre. I found it both useful and refreshing.
The Emperor’s Children is the most “adult” book I’ve read this year. Every character is mired in his/her own sense of inadequacies, be they real or imagined. From the self-possessed Marina who strives for a name beyond that of her famous father to the hapless Bootie, whose idealism threatens his own destruction, Messud presents a cast of characters varied and beset with personal demons.
Messud blindsided me by incorporating national tragedy in the plot line. I found myself hoping the characters would be able to shake themselves from their narcissistic stupor by the sheer force of history in the making. I wanted them to transcend an agnosticism that seemed as pervasive in this novel as Sunday-go-to-meeting in my own life.
I found the characters rich, fraught with problems of their own making, and multi-dimensional. The jacket calls this novel a “tour de force”. I usually scoff at such, but in this case, Messud delivers.
I don’t know what happened to breakfast. Somehow, in the hustle to slide in ahead of the morning bell, I lost it. Now, when I think of breakfast, it’s with that soft glow of nostalgia–sepia toned and crackled around the edges like the bone china gravy bowl Meemaw jokingly called her petite spittoon.
I see it in vignettes, me caught in various stages of childhood, like a collection of Polaroids. Little details of memory remain in perfect focus. Daddy joking with a faceless waitress that he likes his coffee like he likes his women: tall, hot, and blonde as Mommy grins and busies herself cutting my little brother’s pancakes, her brown hair tucked neatly behind her ear. Sawing into a slice of country ham at the Holiday Inn and trying not to slosh the redeye gravy into my scrambled eggs. Papa crumbling stale cornbread into a tall glass of buttermilk and declaring it better than a Coke float. Uncle LD slurping his coffee from a saucer while Aunt Kathryn sips daintily from a teacup, eyeing her starched tablecloth. Aunt Charlotte serving a plate of fresh-sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and my cousins acting as if that were typical breakfast fare.
I am always elsewhere in these breakfast musings, never at home. I’m sure we had thousands of delicious breakfasts growing up; my mother was a fine cook, but the only images from those days I can conjure are of me propped up watching Saturday morning cartoons with a Tupperware bowl full of Lucky Charms. It wasn’t until I was married that I could appreciate those Norman Rockwell moments as imitations of life rather than extensions of a Walton’s holiday special. It wasn’t that I had a dark childhood; it was quite the opposite, actually. I just have little if any recollection of gathering around the breakfast table as a family when I was a child because we were always on the go.
My kids, however, should have little problem reminiscing over the wonders of a table laden with biscuits, eggs, and bacon for days. Saturday morning breakfast is an event at Grandma’s house. It’s not unusual to have multiple members of the extended family there, and everyone is ensured heaping helpings. When our daughter is home on leave, she stays with her grandma to be sure she doesn’t miss out on the fun. All four of my kids have been known to snub their noses at my meals (some more frequently than others) to hold out for Grandma’s wonderful breakfasts.
I envy them those memories, but I don’t really feel short-changed. Grandma whipped up these moments for me, too. Breakfast is not really lost; it’s just been pre-empted by all my scrabbling to make a future, to make ends meet, to make “it” in a world where it’s getting harder and harder to gather round a table and slow down enough to enjoy the simple pleasure of a pat of butter sliding down a mound of steaming grits.
But, you know what? It’ll be my turn to be the grandma one of these days. I’ll be the one who gets to call time-out so my kids can build their tomorrow while savoring the flavor of yesterday. I’ve been well-trained. Breakfast, after all, is so much more than bacon.
I washed my vitamins down with a wine cooler yesterday. It was that kind of week…a week of ups and downs, wins and losses, sin and redemption. It was the kind of week where I added the being to the doing and came up a little short in every department. Some weeks go like that, I guess.
Wiliam Faulkner (oh, great bastion of positivity) echoed Shakespeare when he wrote that life is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”. He even wrote a novel from the perspective of an idiot–the trick to that one is to detect the real idiot. Now, we all know Faulkner knew a thing or two about writing and most folks can surmise that he washed his vitamins down with bourbon a time or two rather than a piddling wine cooler, but I’ve had a bone to pick with Mr. Faulkner ever since my Sewanee days sitting in the great Dr. Carlson’s lit class wrasslin’ with why on God’s green earth Faulkner would put TWO characters named Quentin in the same dang book.
Naive as I was at 18, I figured we were reading The Sound and the Fury primarily because it contains a shoutout to Sewanee’s proclivity for enjoying our tumblers neat. Thirty years later, the only thing I can choke down neat is Kahlua (in teensy sips, mind you…I’ve always been a lightweight in the adult beverage department if not on the bathroom scale), but Faulkner’s book filtered through Dr. Carlson’s perspective has stuck with me.
And here’s the thing: they were both wrong. I mean no disrespect, either to the Pulitzer Prize winning author or the best professor of my college experience, grad school included, but they’re wrong nevertheless. The jump line, Shakespeare’s bit, was the heart’s cry of an embittered old man broken by betrayal in every way you can imagine. It is both pitiful and piteous. It is wrenching, but it is not a metaphor for life as I know it.
I told the ghost of William Faulkner about it as I sat on the front porch of Rowan Oak just a few weeks back. I looked down his tree-lined front walk to the remnants of an English knot garden. I walked under his scuppernong arbor and sat on the stone patio he built for his daughter’s nuptials. Everything about that beautifully haunted place whispered a message of hope, not one of desperation.
As I type this, my Muse door is flung wide to let in the morning air. Thunder rumbles in the distance and the faintest cool breeze, laced with the promise of autumn, licks at my skin. Zeke, our old retriever, snoozes at my feet as the cattle low and a pair of hummingbirds dive-bomb the bottle brush in audible zips and tweets.
Yeah, sometimes I’m the idiot in my tale. Who, in their right mind, doesn’t recognize the oxymoron in taking your vitamins with a wine cooler chaser? Sometimes, like this week, my tale is full of sound and fury. I spin my wheels trying to get it all done, and for what? All my fretting signifies nothing. But sometimes, like right now with an overcast sky and a week looming ahead that is already busier than the last one I barely scraped through with my sanity intact, my heart becomes quiet enough to hear that still-soft voice.
That still-soft voice tells me that there is purpose, there is reason, there is peace. And, that, gentle reader, signifies everything.
It’s mid-September and I’m caught–even though I swore I wouldn’t let myself get this way again–in the vortex. It’s not a matter of poor planning. Those of you who know me well enough to forgive me for my quirks know that whenever someone comments on one of my “OCD” tendencies, I am quick to respond that there is no “Dis” in my order. Heck, I’m the kind of person who Facebook-bragged on having my meals planned through December 2018. It’s all right there in my datebook. I’m the kind of person who is working on hand-copying the Book of Psalms as a method for calming my mind. I figure those Benedictine monks may have been onto something way before Herr Gutenberg invented his printing press and changed the face of history.
I’m the kind of person who has lists of lists, organized for quick reference. It shouldn’t surprise you at all that I was that kid who memorized the Dewey Decimal System just for fun in the third grade. To this day, I highlight every word I look up in the dictionary and, yeah, I have argued vehemently over the necessity of the Oxford comma. The organizational strategies I model at school are far more valuable than either a passing appreciation of Harper Lee or the formula for cracking at least a 3 on an AP exam. One of my greatest points of pride is when my students realize that the skillsets I empower them with cross over not just to other classes, but to life beyond the hallowed halls of the school building. That, folks, is the difference between teaching and educating. LOTS of us are making it happen!
But, sometimes, like about now, I let the sound of my own wheels drive me crazy (nod to both the Eagles and my parents for raising me right musically). I get caught in the vortex of planning/teaching/grading at breakneck speed as I implement whatever the mandated “solution of the year” for getting standardized test scores up may be. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean that cynically. The point I’m trying to make is that I’m stuck in that lather/rinse/repeat cycle as we settle into the expected performance norms, which of course have shifted enough to make last semester’s objectives irrelevant. We are so busy with process that we overlook purpose. It’s not enough for me and it’s not enough for the kids.
The vortex is a powerful one that colors my attitude at home as well. I race home each afternoon just in time to pick up the girls from band/vet science/drama/orthodontist/???, try to get them to eat something besides chicken fingers, pitch in with farm chores, do laundry (talk about a vortex…I’ve been caught in that cycle since 1994!), and crash exhausted in bed only to crank it back up again at 5AM. I burn up my Saturdays catching up all I didn’t have time to do over the week and feel lucky if I have time to snatch a Sunday afternoon nap. We are so busy doing that we overlook the living. It’s not enough for me and it’s not enough for my kids.
So, it’s time for me to snap out of my “I’m so busy I feel like I’m drowning in to-do lists” pity party and slip that vortex. Perhaps you feel caught up in the “Wool Pooh”, too. If you’re also in that September riptide, you know you have to swim parallel to the “beach” until you escape, well, the suckiness of your situation.
We can’t drop our to-do’s. That’s just part of the fabric of being a grown-up, a teacher, a mom…or all three! Try slipping your particular vortex with a to-be list. What do you want to be this week? Write it down right there next to your to-do list. Itemize it! I want to be a cook, a voice of reason, a force for positivity, a road biker, a field hiker, a freakin’ Julio Jones of English (a former student paid me this tremendous compliment and I’ve been trying to live up to it ever since), a worshipper, a friend, a comforter.
PS, gentle reader: Bonus points if you can identify the source of the Wool Pooh reference!
Reader’s Favorite recognizes “Clemenceau’s Daughters” in its annual international book award contest.
The Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Contest featured thousands of contestants from over a dozen countries, ranging from new independent authors to NYT best-sellers and celebrities.
Readers’ Favorite is one of the largest book review and award contest sites on the Internet. They have earned the respect of renowned publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors. They are also fully accredited by the BBB (A+ rating), which is a rarity among Book Review and Book Award Contest companies.
We receive thousands of entries from all over the world. Because of these large submission numbers, we are able to break down our contest into 140+ genres, and each genre is judged separately, ensuring that books only compete against books of their same genre for a fairer and more accurate competition. We receive submissions from independent authors, small publishers, and publishing giants such as Random House, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, with contestants that range from the first-time, self-published author to New York Times bestsellers like J.A. Jance, James Rollins, and #1 best-selling author Daniel Silva, as well as celebrity authors like Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty), Henry Winkler (Happy Days), and Eriq La Salle (E.R., Coming to America).
“When the right books are picked as winners we pay attention. We will be spreading the word about Readers’ Favorite.”–Karen A., Editor for Penguin Random House
Readers’ Favorite is proud to announce that “Clemenceau’s Daughters” by Rocky Porch Moore won the Honorable Mention in the Fiction – General category.