You may have heard, or maybe not yet, I was raised on a dairy farm. Actually, they sold the dairy part when I was about seven or eight, which was the first taste of store bought milk I’d had. The farm turned to beef cattle and tobacco after that. It’s a whole lot less explaining, however, if I just say: I was raised on a dairy farm. You get the gist that way.
Regardless, if you weren’t working on the farm, you were wasting time. I enjoyed reading. A lot. This was frowned upon. Our weekend getaways, when they happened, were fishing trips to a couple of ponds even further away from town. I would keep a book in my tackle box. This too was frowned upon.
So very likely from the early beginnings of preferring Anne McCaffrey anything to grading tobacco, I had no intention of staying around. Now Dad didn’t want me to be dependent on a man – but to avoid that, my career options were nevertheless limited to nursing (I can’t do needles; or blood; or organs; or teeth), teaching (I have no patience whatsoever), or clerical (I have no head for numbers or business).
Despite my dad’s wishes, I would go to college out of town. I would realize my dream of becoming a paleontologist, and I’d get out and see the world. To a certain degree, I did. (Not a paleontology degree, mind you, but still.)
This was “only” about thirty years ago. But after “disappointing” my father and leaving the farm, I assumed I had it made. (Apparently, all post-high-schoolers go through that. I have two teenagers of my own now, you see.) The world was my oyster, if you will. I was going to change society by my mere brilliant, stubborn presence within it.
Somehow, that didn’t happen. I worked in Human Resources for years. Fate has such a sense of humor. When I got out into the world, this is what I found. Other people viewed my type of heritage as somehow unworthy to be taken seriously.
Oh, hell no.
I may have resisted the dictates of farm life at every turn, but don’t go throwing off on how dumb we were, or backward, or uneducated, or ignorant. There’s a mountain saying: “You ain’t no better than anybody else. But ain’t nobody better than you, neither.”
Originally, I trained in radio and video editing (there went my paleontology career), so I got used to seeing the surprise on faces when people asked where I came from. But when radio and video editing couldn’t pay rent and buy groceries for the same month, I had to branch out. Soon after I noticed the surprise became enmity, and apparently if you graduated from a “southern” college, you might as well have not finished eighth grade as far as the large mouthed fish in the great big pond of Corporate America were concerned.
Know what? I took offense to that. After fighting tooth and nail to leave my rural existence, I ended up moving back to the farm. Now I proudly say – out loud – not only am I from the Appalachians, I also like to create stories from the deep, rich history most people overlook when looking at America’s roots. I discovered I’m not alone. And Southern writers, like Appalachian history and mystery, are coming into their own.
And something else. Corporate America views success in terms of income. (Don’t fall into that – But that’s another post.) Come to find out, my dad owned land all over the county. He was considered quite influential in the community. My uncle, went down to Georgia and opened a hardware store in a one-horse town. Millionaire. My grandfather’s brother dealt in land and cattle in three states. Millionaire. My cousin grew and sold flowers in north Georgia. Millionaire. I have friends who dig up rhododendron for a living – hot, steep, back-breaking work that puts you in the mountains for days on end. One put all five of his kids through college and when they graduated, paid cash for new vehicles for them as gifts. To look at them or talk to them, any of them, you’d never know it. Because that’s not what measures success around here. It’s how you treat people. And that’s why I moved back. So I could raise materialistic techno-addicted kids around the same people who raised me.
That’s what I got from moving out of my hollow: Seeing what I took with me – what it gave me – from outside the hollow. Hearing how other people assumed it was. And knowing they were dead wrong.
“Queen of the Hollow” is short. Too long to be flash fiction, not long enough for novella status. I wanted it to be longer, I truly did, but sometimes you just have to let the story make the decision. Actually, that’s what I always do. The stories and the characters make my decisions for me.
Are there unanswered questions and loose threads? Yeah, some.
Because I would like to see “Queen of the Hollow” be the first book in a series. We took a vote (me and the characters, mainly) and decided we all really liked the name High Lonesome for the series. It also happens to be the (fictional) West Virginian town in which their stories take place. More so, I have this dream of the series being “interactive” in that I would hear from readers about what they liked and what they’d like to see, and I could help paint this enigmatic world with a global perspective. I want to show what wonderfulness we have here; the legends, the magic. But I also enjoy learning about it, often times by looking at it from outside the hollow. That’s where y’all come in.
I hope you enjoy this short excerpt from Queen of the Hollow. (A short excerpt for a short story.)
She wouldn’t lie down. She told him she had no idea if she’d be able to get back up or not. Which was true. But she wouldn’t put herself in that position of submission with a tom here so close and her in her Heat cycle. That was just asking for trouble.
He kept his attention on her injuries, on wrapping them securely, on looking for her a crutch or a cane to help get up the stairs. She focused on his eyes and his lips. His eyes were the most beautiful she’d ever seen. They’d been dark brown in the store. Here they were the color of creamy caramel and it made her heart beat in her ears every time they met her gaze. His lips were dark and shaped with a stern current underneath, which looked positively suckable when he bit the bottom one in concentration. She wondered if maybe God had made them so dark so his teeth would shine all the more white when they flashed a quick smile. She bet his teeth were long and sharp when he shifted.