My Pal’s New Book: First Signed Copy!

The lunch at Roanoke College was–as always–dazzling. (Mary’s signing as I selfie–to create a verb.)

This is Mary’s first signed copy and it’s for my grandgirl. Yay!

Just had lunch with Mary Crockett Hill, one of my favorite people and a new member of the exclusive Roanoke First-Line Authors Club with her new book How She Died, How I Lived.

This is Mary’s second novel (the first co-written) and it’s a far more serious effort than the first. She says it’s for the older end of the Young Adult reading public.

The exclusive club (which I just created) includes Roanoke Valley writers–born here or live here–like Sharyn McCrumb, Roland Lazenby, Liza Mundy, Beth Macy, CeCe Bell, Rod Belcher, David Baldacci, Mary Bishop and probably a couple I’m leaving out, especially when you consider the size of the Roanoke Valley. This is categorized as a “rural” area. I’m glad to see Mary break into it.

She’s a fine writer (poetry and young adult fiction) who is teaching college kids at Roanoke College to write.

This, I think, is a breakout book for Mary, and I got her to sign a copy for my grandgirl, Madeline, for Christmas (the first copy Mary has signed, she said).

Incidentally, Mary’s poetry–which is adult–is written under her full married name, Mary Crockett Hill, while her YA signature is Mary Crockett. She says the adult stuff might be a bit risque for kids, so she differentiates.

Lunch at Roanoke College was–as always–superb. One of the best college lunch rooms on the planet. In fact our region has several of the best college lunch rooms in existence: Hollins, Virginia Tech, Roanoke College and James Madison are all famous for their food.

Work Can Sometimes Be Entertaining.

Fascinating day of work today. I got to sit in–as a fly on the wall–a meeting where a major international company was negotiating with an international supplier. The back and forth was riveting.

Before that meeting, I had lunch at a craft beer maker (I don’t drink, so my lunch was not liquid; it was a nice salad) with a CEO, a Volkswagen buyer and an engineer. They were–in order–Italian, Mexican and Turkish. The young Mexican talked briefly about never having seen–nor driven in–show and shared his concern, since it is forecast. The Turk with a completely unpronounceable name is an engineer who handles the quality control for company with the factory here. She is from a city of 4 million people, so our little town is pretty much a village to her. The CEO is a fascinating man who was doing a lot of first-person negotiating, very skillfully.

I don’t know if I learned anything, but I was certainly entertained.

Our Region Loses a Writer of Note

Donald McCaig: Gone at 78.

Over the weekend, our region and our country suddenly and unexpectedly lost one of its very good writers.

Donald McCaig, who lived on a sheep farm in Highland County (about 90 miles north of Roanoke), wrote what the NYTimes once called “the best dog book … since White Fang” by Jack London. He was born in January, 1940.

Donald was a novelist of note, also turning out Jacob’s Ladder  and Canan, which won awards, as well as Nop’s Hope. He wrote Eminent Dogs, Dangerous Men and a number of other works, including the most recent Ruth’s Journey: The Authorized Novel of Mammy from Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, about the eponymous literary character.

He loved writing about sheep dogs, which he raised, and the Civil War and he was a frequent contributor to NPR’s All Things Considered.

I met him a few years ago when I put together the book From Here to There for the benefit of the Virginia Museum of Transportion (I was on the board), a collection of stories from 40 Virginia writers with a theme or a mention of transportation in the essay or brief work of fiction. Donald wrote about his prized Dodge Powerwagon, a pickup truck that really and truly looks and acts like a pickup truck.

About a month ago, I had occasion to ask him for a favor: sign a couple of his books for my daughter’s birthday. She is a lover of dogs and I thought his Nop books would make her happy. He did and she was. He was most gracious in that.

I did not know Donald well, but my friend Anne Adams, publisher of the Recorder in Monterey, did and she adored him. But know him or not, I think many of us will miss him. We don’t have a lot of writers of his quality to spare.

The Weather Finally Wins This One

The leaves sprinkle the ground beneath my fig tree.

I’ve been nursing my much beleaguered fig tree for the best part of a year, hoping it would reach the levels of two years ago in its production and it looked like I had won. Until yesterday, when the temperatures in Roanoke fell to 28 degrees and did the poor guy in.

Figs are not native to our region (preferring Southern Europe and Northern Africa), so it’s a bit much to expect, but this tree is about five years old and though it appeared dead twice before, it has always come back strong. In fact, I’ve cut it off at the ground twice, thinking it dead, but it’s a hardy soul.

Now, though, the early winter and weird summer have been too much. I’m really sorry, too, because Margie and my friend Susan just love its figs.

As the Cubs used to say, “Wait ’til next year!”

Inside Mary Crockett Hill’s New Book

Author Mary Crockett (Hill)

My friend Mary Crockett Hill (writing as Mary Crockett) has her second entry in the Young Adult novel market and this one could well make a significant mark.

It’s How She Died, How I Lived and it is an important statement, especially in today’s world. It will be available for purchase Nov. 13 and my guess is Mary will be signing copies for the next couple of months.

The launch is scheduled Saturday, Nov. 24, 2 p.m. at Book No Further in downtown Roanoke, which has become Ground Zero for this region’s authors.

The story is set in our own corner of the world and Mary says it relates the experience “of a young woman who was targeted for murder by a casual acquaintance. While the narrator escapes that fate, another classmate is brutally raped and killed. Set in southwestern Virginia, the story centers on the cascading effects of an act of unthinkable violence in a small community, as well as the pervasive threat of violence that young women must navigate daily.”

Publisher Little Brown says Mary is “one of the most promising new voices in young adult literature” and I’ll enthusiastically second that. She is a fine writer, a mother of many, a professor of English at Roanoke College and a woman who understands the difficulties of growing up in a violent, divided country where kids get confused and depressed.

Mary explains How She Died, How I Lived thusly: “I was following the story of a young woman from my community who had been reported missing. When she was found dead, I felt… I think the closest word is gutted.

“I know it’s a story that plays out over and over again in our headlines–a young woman raped and murdered, left for trash beside the road. But somehow I felt all the outrage, all the grief for those countless acts of violence, in this one young woman’s death.

“I don’t know why it hit me so hard. I think the word ‘friend’ might have been used to describe the killer. He was her ‘friend,’ whatever that could possibly mean. She was kind to him, and he had used her kindness against her–to lure her into an isolated spot where he murdered her.

“How She Died, How I Lived is a story sparked to life by grief and rage. It’s also a story continually seeking the solace of healing.

“I had so many questions that I needed to write–about the far-reaching effects of violence in a community; about friendship; about how young women can face the world knowing with certainty that someone out there, given the chance, would kill them.

“This books doesn’t really answer those questions–but to my mind, it at least puts them out there. Which is about the best I can do.”

Pull Trump Coverage Where Unnecessary

Trump tries to shut down CNN’s Jim Acosta.

In just three days, following our nation’s election, the Trump Administration has fired its Attorney General Jeff Sessions (which would normally be a cause for celebration), appointed an ass kissing, neo-Nazi fill-in without Senate approval (which is probably illegal) and revoked a major news organization’s reporter’s White House press credentials for asking hard questions.

Sessions, of course, should never have been AG in the first place, but his replacement  is a hack whose primary appeal to Trump is that he believes Trump can’t be prosecuted or even questioned.

The removal of Jim Acosta of CNN may be at least as problematic as the AG mess because many White Reporters will likely be intimidated by the revocation. Like most reporters, WH correspondents live on the basis of contacts and many would certainly fear losing credentials and contacts–and therefore their jobs.

The major news outlets could easily respond by pulling their White House correspondents and rejecting the White House conferences in the press room (rare though they are) because they offer nothing of any value, except to show just how warped this White House is. But we already know that.

It would also be of great benefit, I think, to avoid Trump’s campaign events. There’s no news at any of them. We know exactly what he will say, exactly whom he will attack. He carries his speech from stop to stop. Why cover them? Use the reporters to cover the freakin’ news.

Gratitude Today: A Beautiful Fall

Roanoke from above is always a fresh sight.

We are surrounded with the foul smell of politics during this season, but I’ve found–as always–that if I simply turn off the television and walk outside, the air becomes fresh, clean, cool and thoroughly invigorating.

Margie and I went up to the Parkway yesterday (hiking is very difficult for her, so we simply drove and watched) to get a full dose of fall and the smells and colors renewed the souls of each of us. Here’s some of what it looked like.

You can see, hear and smell the light in the forest.

Mill Mountain’s overlook was crowded.

Margie and me on the mountain, looking pretty (especially me). Margie’s the one with two pairs of glasses on her head/face.



A Little Break for the Fall

Yesterday was such a gorgeous fall day that it was killing me to sit at my computer and work, so I took a break and went to the Roanoke River Greenway in South Roanoke.

It was a pretty walk, though not as gorgeous as the surrounding–higher and more colorful–mountains, which I will visit today and Sunday.

Here are some of the (enhanced color) photos I got while on my brief respite. The air is simply glorious.

Getting Rid of Robocalls: AARP’s Simple Defenses

One of the benefits of being an old man is membership in AARP and the rewards–sometimes not all that obvious–it entails. Here’s a good one I came across today: avoiding robocalls–4 million an hour in the U.S. with a cost to us of about $10 billion. Old people are especially vulnerable to scams for obvious reasons, but they (we) can be protected.

Here’s what AARP suggests and some of these are simple, free and easy to employ:

Here’s a list of do-it-yourself defenses [employed by the writer] that have dropped the automated and live spam calls received by more than 90 percent.

  • Answer with silence. When you say hello or anything else, automated voice-activated calls launch the robocall recording or transfer you to a call center, where a live operator angles for personal and financial information. But saying nothing usually disconnects these calls within seconds, with no robo-message or callbacks from that phony number. If it is an unsolicited “live” caller, wait for that person to speak to break the silence. If you don’t recognize the voice, hang up.
  • Try a “not in service” recording. Using a portable tape recorder and a microphone attached to a handset, I copied a “this number is not in service” message during a callback to a scammer’s spoofed number. Since it’s cued, I sometimes play that recording — again, saying nothing — when answering calls before they go into voicemail in hopes my number will be removed from spammer calling lists. So far, I have not gotten a single callback from those incoming numbers.
  • Trap ’em with an app. Smartphone users have plenty of options that flag and block some fraudulent calls and text messages. Some services are free; others cost a few bucks per month.

Customers of AT&T can use Call Protect, Verizon Wireless provides Caller Name ID, Sprint offers Premium Caller ID, and T-Mobile has Scam ID and Scam Block. You can also buy apps like YouMail and RoboKiller that will filter calls for a few bucks a month — or for free in the case of Youmail.

Another freebie for virtually every landline user: Press *77 to block “anonymous” and “private” numbers, then deactivate it anytime with *87.

To block individual numbers that get through on an iPhone, open the phone app, tap the circled “i” icon to the right of the spam number that called, scroll down and tap Block This Caller. For Android smartphones, open the phone app and tap the calling number, select Details, then Block Number.

  • Know which calls to avoid. The most common calling cons are pitches that promise to reduce debt and credit card rates or to get you preapproved loans; offer free or low-cost vacations, time-shares, home security systems and medical supplies; or come from government and utility company impostors.
  • A dropped or “one-ring” call is a common ruse to prompt a callback. Beware of area codes 268, 284, 809 and 876, which originate from Caribbean countries with high per-minute phone charges. 

Robocalls tend to be highest on Friday and Tuesday, and the most frequently targeted numbers are in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, New York City, Los Angeles, Houston, Birmingham, Ala., and Miami.

The Lost Days of Halloween

Madeline the cat holding her own cat and waiting for Trick or Treaters in the garage.

Oz and his buddy: Superheroes.

My grandkids are 13 and 7 and both are still into Halloween, though Maddie is reaching the age of uncertainty. She loves to dress up, but is not so enthusiastic about saying, “Trick or treat.” She’d rather be thought of as the adult accompanying her little brother.

It’s a tough age and I saw some of it at my house last night, where a couple of teen-aged girls–one who was probably Maddie’s age, but could easily have passed for 20–were uncertainly asking for candy, but also accompanying little ones.

I am one of those old farts who really misses Halloween of some years ago, the one where kids made their own costumes, paraded from 5:30 to 8 p.m.–mostly in the dark–to houses with lights on and asked for candy and cookies, much of it homemade by older homemakers who delighted in the children.

The two faces of the cat.

But this is a different country in so many ways today and it’s not always a better country. Halloween used to be the very exemplification of “neighborhood.” Kids didn’t pile into vans and roam from neighborhood to neighborhood where nobody knew them. They stayed close to home and were certain of a welcome at every house with a porch light on. Some of the families welcomed the children with elaborate decorations both inside and out and if Mrs. Wilson had some of her famous brownies ready to give out, you could be certain they would contain neither razor blades, nor marijuana.

I miss that. A lot.