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 email@example.com to schedule a visit.
1,2,3: Book Expo America New York, NY
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.
Book signings are a great way for the public to meet authors and for authors to interact with their adoring (or not so adoring) public. Below you’ll find some of my “favorite” quips, comments, and questions from folks who’ve come either by choice or happenstance to my book booth.
“So, can I get this book online?” or better: “Is your book on Kindle?” Well, of course. But I’m the author right here, right now, set up to actually sell my books in person, so, you know, I can make a living. I even brought bookmarks and snacks! I can autograph your copy for you, and who knows? It might actually be worth something to you if …a). I become the next Harper Lee or E.L. James b). the book becomes an Oscar-nominated film or made-for-TV special c). I get hit by a bus and achieve posthumous acclaim.
“Is this the ONLY thing you’ve written?” Cue Harper Lee. I have serious reservations about Go Set a Watchman. I naturally lean toward the snarky side, so I have to “smile and wave” on this little gem as I silently ask the fine patron how many novels he/she has drafted, revised, queried, edited, revamped, published, marketed, and hauled over cripple creation all while teaching full-time, coaching, and raising four children. How fortunate that my sophomore novel is now in its final birth-throes. Woo hoo!
“I have a story. Will your publisher take me since he took you?” I just ignore the backdoor insult, gender bias, and assumption that publishing a novel is akin to obtaining a library card and head straight for their story. I’ll ask a couple of questions to determine (almost invariably) that their novel exists either entirely in their heads or has enough actual written content to fill 3 and a half post-it notes.
“Wow! You wrote this book? How exciting!” Sounds promising, as the patron cracks the spines on at least 3 of the novels and may even actually read the blurb on back. Meanwhile, she’s pocketing bookmarks and hitting the snacks/candy. She smiles her congratulations on such an impressive feat and walks away.
“Is your book any good?” I’ve gotten better at this zinger since my little project has won multiple awards (a little clout really builds confidence), but I started with stuff like “I sure hope so”, ” I like it okay,” and “I’m planning on sending it to Oprah”.
Many folks, of course, are gracious and encouraging at book signings. It’s great to be an author!
Sometimes, you just need a buttery homemade biscuit. Whomp biscuits, even the “good” kind, simply won’t do. You know what a whomp biscuit is, don’t you? It comes in a can and you whomp it against the countertop to open it up and plop those molded lumps of dough on the pan. 12 minutes or so later, you have a hot, sturdy biscuit. That’s fine…on a weekday before school when you want to put something portable in the kids’ hands. Whomp biscuits even taste pretty good–if it’s been awhile since you’ve had a real biscuit, that is.
What if I told you that fresh, from-scratch, flaky, homemade biscuits are not only possible, but practical? I’m talking one bowl, y’all. Maybe 5 more minutes, tops. What do you get? Pure pleasure that would make a pat of butter proud. Definite Mom/Wife of the Year points here…and without even looking at a rolling pin!
The trick is to go big and go ugly. What you’re making is generally referred to as a drop biscuit in the recipe books, but once you get this downpat, you won’t need a recipe or a book. Ugly biscuits are like poetry; you find a rhythm and a harmony of ingredients, then watch the magic happen.
Here’s how I make ugly biscuits:
I like a hot oven. Preheat to 450. In a bowl, put 2 hefty cups of all-purpose flour, a big tablespoon of baking powder, and around a teaspoon of salt. Add two-three tablespoons of Crisco (yes, the white stuff in the tub). Use a pastry tool or a fork to cut in the Crisco. It should resemble coarse meal. Go ahead, get your hands in there and feel it. It should be thick, but not greasy. Add a cup of milk and stir. You have to do this by feel. You might need a little more milk. Your goal is gloppy and elastic. Plop big heaping spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. They pile up like flaxen mountain ranges. You’ve got 10 solid minutes in the oven before you need to start worrying about burning the biscuits. Exact timing depends on how golden you want these glorious morsels to be.
The addition of garlic powder and shredded cheddar transforms these beauties into a quick, savory dinner biscuit if you’re not in the mood for breakfast fare.
So, treat your loved ones to some ugly biscuits. They’re quick, relatively simple to make, and will warm both hearts and tummies.
This is a decent compendium of tips for cycling with a very useful glossary of lingo. I found some of the tips to be repetitive and several that were just plain common sense, but overall, I feel better educated about cycling. As a newbie, I would have appreciated a section on shoe selection and an explanation regarding clipping in. I would also have appreciated links and/or anecdotes involving racing at the amateur level as well. Some pacing charts would have also been helpful so that beginners can gauge their performance.
This book succeeded in getting me fired up about riding and piqued my curiosity about races that may be held in my region.
We have a bit of a farm mystery on our hands. Daisy Daisy (Give Me Your Answer, Do), our cow, gave birth to a fine little bull we named T-Bone on July 3rd. She brought him proudly to the fence for a bit of a photo session the next day. We haven’t laid eyes on him since.
Before summer started, we had our pastures tilled and sowed with some sort of tall grass cows find tasty that also roots out some other kind of invasive problem grass we had. For those of you who don’t live on a farm, grass is not just grass. I would explain more, but, truthfully, I let Russ handle this department. Here’s what I do know: most of our pastures are six feet high in some sort of tropical looking long-stemmed grass that’s the stuff of nightmares.
If you’ve seen the movie Secondhand Lions, you get the idea. This tall vegetation provides the perfect cover for Daisy Daisy and little T-Bone. It also looks like it could house any number of reptilian terrors. I’m too stove up from that knee surgery to go on a calf-hunting exhibition, and with Daisy Daisy, it’s smart to keep a fence in between. I certainly don’t want to startle her. She’s got a wild eye and a tendency to charge.
So, is my succulent little T-Bone okay? I don’t know for sure, but I have a couple of clues from nature to put my mind at ease. Daisy Daisy hasn’t been carrying on. If the calf were lost, she’d be bawling. If the calf weren’t milking, she’d be bawling. No buzzards are circling the pasture. These are good signs. Until Russ bush hogs this pasture-turned-jungle, we’ll just have to keep a sharp eye out in hopes of getting a glimpse of our bovine friends.
You can’t be nasty-nice on a farm. Sure, we have those idyllic moments. You know, picnicking in the green pasture with cows lowing in the distance while the kids frolic after lightning bugs to capture in Mason jars. Watching the girls and dogs play chase on hay bales, jumping from bale to bale. Gathering eggs as the birds cluck happily. This is the stuff memories and movies are made of.
But the day-to-day caring for critters is a hands-on, no-holds-barred muck fest. So, today I’m going to show you a bit of the underbelly of farm living. Consider this a cautionary tale for jumping into the country side of life, or a glowing endorsement…that’s all up to you, gentle reader!
Poop happens. It happens every day. And when poop mixes with heavy rains, high heat, and humidity (June, anyone?) you get quite the fragrant soup. It has rained so much this summer that the poop of pigs who’ve been gone for two years resurfaced in their former pen.
The chicken pen is no place for flip-flops. See above.
All animals must be fed and cared for twice a day without fail. This means feeding in the rain, gathering eggs, letting the geese in and out, and trying to lure the runaway guinea back in the pen…that’s an ongoing project. A mudroom becomes essential; you can’t wear your chicken pen shoes to church!
Our fowl pens are sloped to help move excess water, mud, and poop. That means when you stand outside the pens to feed the birds you are standing on well-fertilized ground. See #2.
When it’s time to feed animals, you’d best not be dressed for your day job. Too many things can go wrong, and critters fling/splash/stomp poop. It’s just easier to do morning feedings in pajamas and shrimp boots.
Got children? Sex education occurs naturally on the farm. Jack the Ass, in particular, likes to air everything out on hot days. Captain Kirk, one of our roosters, has absolutely no shame (or bird species preference, apparently).
Animals die. If one of your children proclaims any given critter (duck/goose/chicken/cow) to be a favorite, you might as well hang a “doomed” sign around its neck. Accidents happen. Predators happen. Oversights happen. It can be grisly. It’s also a great teacher of responsibility, accountability, and natural order. As carefully controlled as you make the farm, “Wild Kingdom” events will happen from time to time.
Vacations take planning and help. The animals still need food and water while you’re away. You can’t just put a big pile of feed out there and tell them to ration it for the week! When it comes to taking care of animals, there aren’t days off.
At times poignant and at times comical, Paisley Memories traces the angst and gaffes of a high school drop-out thrust into the hard-knock world of survival. With her only support system buried and a special needs baby on her hip, an unwed and virtually penniless Tess travels to Florida in a beat-up old Thunderbird to grasp at an “anywhere but here” future.
Andrews creates a totally believable teen, struggling for a toehold amidst regret and despair. Tess wrestles with the idea of giving up her baby, vacillating between her own egocentrism and her view of her less than perfect child as a reflection of her less than perfect life. She is not the most likable character-petulant, selfish, and awkward-, but I found myself rooting for her to recognize her own worth and accept the circle of people surrounding her who teach her that picking yourself up doesn’t mean everyone is trying to knock you down.
This is a coming of age story artfully told with a colorful cast of characters. The pacing is quick, but not hurried, and the depiction of the psyche of the protagonist is spot on.
Philippa Gregory never disappoints! She is my go-to escape to the Tudor world author and I eagerly await each book. Having read several of her Plantagenet/Tudor novels, I am consistently drawn into the story and fascinated by the level of detail Gregory provides. Meticulously researched, Gregory’s work has the ring of authenticity without the dryness of textbook history.
The Taming of the Queen has readers immersed in the character of Kateryn Parr, last wife of Henry VIII. Any casual fan of Tudor history knows how this is going to go, but Gregory succeeds in creating a sense of urgency, intrigue, and struggle of conscience for Parr even in the clutches of a megalomaniac. I found Parr’s relationship with the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth most intriguing, as well as her devotion to theology in a most turbulent time.
I have my brand spanking new bionic knee! In the midst of all the hobbling, icing, medicating, and napping (unbelievable how much I have slept in the last two weeks), I’ve hardly been able to put three thoughts together, much less write about them.
A few days back, I was feeling energetic enough to make a small batch of peach preserves. I had everything going before I realized I didn’t have pectin. I may not have needed it anyway and didn’t bother to look it up. Anyhow, I switched gears, and cooked that goodness down so it could top some ice cream. Unfortunately, we were also out of ice cream that day. That was about all the disappointment I could stand for one day, so I popped it in the fridge and went back to my ice treatments and medicine.
That night I had a dream. Now, painkillers can bring on some pretty vivid dreams! I must’ve had that peach filling on my mind because my grandmother, who’s been dead these many years, suggested I make old-fashioned fried pies. Suddenly, I was transported to my childhood. I was standing by the stove watching my grandmother make this tasty treat.
When I woke up the next morning, I had it! Recipe, technique, grease temp, everything…just like I’d watched an instructional video. Russ took me to the grocery store (a story for another day, right there) and I patted that dough, filled it, and fried up those pies just as pretty as you please.
Remembering that old recipe and enjoying a fried peach hand pie was just like getting a hug from heaven!
With all the wet weather, everything on the farm is growing like crazy…including the stench emanating from the poultry pens. The birds were churning up mud like pigs in slop. They have a really nice setup, though.
Our flocks are protected from predators from land and sky, but the quagmire needed to be dealt with because we want our birds to remain happy and healthy. So, it was time to get to work. Here are some things I learned about farming through Operation Feather Ruffle:
Poop happens. It happens a lot. It happens so much you need wading boots.
Spiders like chicken wire, especially chicken wire “roofing”. I now understand why we don’t have a mosquito problem here at the farm.
Russ is a brave, brave man. There he was wrapping spiders on a hoe handle while wading through muck. When he came out of the pen, he had TWO spiders (the big, scary woods spider variety) on his head and a writhing staff of web and spiders.
I am a brave, brave woman. I VERY GENTLY knocked the spiders out of his hair and off his back. I did not run screaming from the Hoe of Terror.
Round bales aren’t wadded up; they are rolled tightly. Remember when you made snails out of modeling clay? That’s the idea. It takes A LOT of work to un-bale one of those puppies and they hold A LOT of hay.
You need gloves to handle hay. Well, I did. Russ just manhandled his way through this project.
You need strength to handle hay. All that pulling, squatting, lifting, and chucking makes for a great workout. My core was sore for two days!
Once you get toward the center of the bale, it gives off heat just like a little furnace.
Working with hay doesn’t get you dirty. It gets you nasty. I’m talking hose off before you hit the shower nasty.
Our chickens, turkeys, geese, and guineas now have clean, dry pens!