Tag Archives: creative non-fiction

“The spring has sprung, the grass is rizz. I wonder where them birdies is?” ~A.A. Milne


Tribute to Spring

Actually, the birds are singing away outside my door, but I like the quote and that’s how it goes.To declare the Shenandoah Valley in the full bloom of spring is a tad premature, but we are poised to burst forth. The early plants already are. And, like the happy kitty above, I say bring it on! This has seemed an exceedingly long and tiresome winter.

The report on the seeds I’ve started in my little greenhouse is that many of them are coming up, though not all. It’s said that parsley has to go to the devil and back again seven times (and he keeps some for himself) before those seedlings emerge. And I have more seeds I need to start. But I will. I’m using the large yogurt containers to begin the seeds and will transplant them into the small yogurt containers and whatever else I can find. I’m recycling, and we’re eating a lot of yogurt these days, also begging the containers from friends and family. If the cost of shipping were cheaper I’d ask you to mail me yours. 🙂
For The Love of Fur Babies--Beth TrisselAs to my gardens, before the snow that hit on Sunday and into Monday, I was able to work outdoors and pull a whole wheelbarrow full of overwintering weeds. Yes, they always manage to survive the harshest weather. I’m taking stock of what else made it through and considering which plants didn’t and should be replaced or grow something different in that spot. I am expanding my herbs, so look for more fragrance this year.
For those of you who love gardening and country life, I recommend my nonfiction book, Shenandoah Watercolors, was 2.99, now only .99 at Amazon. The book is also available in print with beautiful pics of the valley and mountains taken by my talented family. And Happy spring!

 

My Writing Journey and A Nugget of Wisdom–Beth Trissel


Why be a writer? Because you’re burning up with stories and ideas you just have to get down on paper (virtual paper these days) or you’ll go mad–probably are a bit crazy anyway. I have this theory about writers, those who are on medication and those who should be. I am, but wasn’t for years. Not until my breakdown right in the middle of Chapter Two of my upcoming release, Kira Daughter of the Moon. Took me years to finish that novel. *Note, it’s also essential to love chocolate and coffee, or in my case, Earl Grey tea. Writers function on caffeine. Avoid the whiskey.

In the beginning (about age twenty) I drew a picture of a clock with a dissatisfied face and angrily named it a ‘watch-gog’ because I felt that’s all I was doing, watching others live their dreams, and yearned to throw myself into a creative venture. But what?  All my family members were artistic and Lord knows I’d tried. Painting and drawing eluded me. I was no hawk-eyed photographer. I’d made some swell collages, but that didn’t seem enough. My arts and crafts weren’t as expertly done as others. Though, I must say, those tuna fish cans I decorated with Christmas scenes were charming.

Yes, I loved to write, since I could hold a crayon, and poured myself into poetry and short stories. Was there something more?  For the next twenty years I crafted pieces about rural life and gradually gained the seed of confidence to give myself permission to attempt those historical romance novels I so loved to read.  At long last, I’d begun. Could it be, was I actually a writer, and how would I know when I’d ‘arrived?’

Mountains loomed before me, and still do, with every new book. Publication, of course, was the ultimate pinnacle of success, but I discovered contests–some quite prestigious. If I excelled in those, not only might it pave the way toward my giddy goal but would lend me the credibility I hungered for. Certain I was ready for the initial launch, I entered my first RWA® Chapter Contest. While awaiting the results, I planned my acceptance speech for the awards banquet.  Whether they even had one or not, I don’t recall, but clearly remember sitting in utter bemusement holding those first score sheets. “You broke every rule,” wrote an equally bemused judge.

Rules???  Was Charles Dickens guided by rules, and what of Jane Austen? *Note to self, you are not Dickens or Austen, nor do you live in their time period. But that same judge tossed me a lifeline, “You have talent,” she said, “apparent in your beautiful descriptions.”

This at least was a place to begin. And so I did. With each step forward, there was always someone along the way to lend yet more constructive criticism which I balked at, but eventually accepted and grew from. Along with those beneficial guides were individuals who continually smacked me down. Most of them were called agents and editors. But I got back up, brushed myself off, and onward ho I went.  I cherished the good rejection letters, a personal note containing a high-five along with the inevitable ‘but.’ But, your work doesn’t—fill in the blank.

Yes, indeed, I’ve had hundreds of rejections over the years. To cheer myself up, I’d throw mini rejection parties (weekly) attended mostly by myself and the dogs. We jigged around the kitchen to lively Celtic music. Well, at least I did. They tolerated being leapt over in my spritely steps. Being on Riverdance was another dream, but I digress. (Often)

Back in the snail mail days, my dear hubby handed me my mail referring to these inevitable replies as my ‘Dear John’ letters. To gain the fortitude needed to open these dreaded missives, I inked the initials C. D. H. on the outside of my SASE which stood for Courage Dear Heart, a reference to my beloved Aslan from the Narnia Chronicles by CS Lewis. Later, I found it easier to be rejected by email, though not a lot. 

Eventually, after about ten years, I landed an excellent agent and thought this is it–I’ve arrived in the Promised Land! But no, not even she could sell my work to traditional NY publishing houses, no matter how much she extolled it or how many awards I’d garnered. They didn’t want stories set in early America.  Not sexy, not kewl.  Since when?

So my agent and I amicably parted ways and I spotted a new ship on the horizon, an untraditional publisher,  fast–gaining recognition, The Wild Rose Press. Right off, I was smitten by the name and their rose garden theme. Next to writing, my passion is gardening.  At the top of their homepage is a rose that looks very much like my favorite variety by English breeder David Austen called Abraham Darby. It was a sign unto me. I was forever seeking signs…must be my superstitious Scots-Irish forebears.  It’s also Biblical…

Many years and awards later, I have multiple books out with The Wild Rose, more releases coming this fall, and several self-pubbed titles. My best-selling novel, American historical romance, Red Bird’s Song, is the first book I ever wrote, oft rewrote, and the one mentioned above in that contest where I broke all the rules. 

I’ve learned so much in my journey, it’s difficult to know where to begin when offering advice to aspiring authors. One nugget I’ll share is to be specific in your word choices. Don’t ‘move’ across the room when you can stomp or tip-toe. Rather than a vague choice like ‘object,’ how about a dusty heap of bones? Anything that gives a clear visual will grab the reader far better than iffy imagery. Appeal to all five senses–make that six, and don’t neglect the deep sense a character possesses of what has been, is now, and may be.  Take care not to overuse words, expressions, descriptions, or words ending in ‘ly.’ No doubt you’ve heard this countless times, but ‘show don’t tell’ is vital. Keep any telling to relevant snippets interspersed with action and dialogue.

Most of all, write what you love and persevere. Learn from those helpful guides along the way. Keep on going like a sled dog in a blinding snow storm.  For years, that’s what I compared myself to. Remember,“You are not finished when you lose, you are finished when you quit.”

Did I ever threaten to quit?  Many times. And then I’d ask myself, what are you gonna do now.  Write, of course.  It’s what I do.

*Image above of me writing with some of the grandbabies beside me. Pic of my favorite rose taken by daughter Elise. The rest of the images are royalty free.

The Ghost of Christmas Past


When I was new and the world was young, at that wonderful age of six,  my younger brother and I celebrated our first Christmas in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia at the Churchman family home place where my Dad was born and raised.  Called Chapel Hill (all these old Southern homes have names) the gracious Georgian style house has been in the family since 1816.  In those early days, brother John and I had only just grasped the concept of Santa Claus because our family had spent the previous three years in Taiwan where my parents taught English and only returned to the states that previous summer.

Everything about an American Christmas was new and wondrous to us, especially the amazingly generous fat guy in the red suit who was just waiting to give us presents.  But it seemed that he required snow, the cold white stuff we had not yet witnessed, for sleigh travel with his flying deer.  A bit eccentric perhaps, but I was an imaginative child and willing to indulge him.  It wasn’t lost on us, though, that this weather phenomenon didn’t fall from a clear blue sky.

Our parents hadn’t made much of Christmas in Taiwan.  We were tiny tots and toys  scarce, the few there were being some that other missionary families shared with us from those their children had outgrown.  There were no toy stores in Taiwan then like there were here.  Chewing gum was a major treat.  We caught our breath at the delights we saw in the American shops.

Barbie dolls had just been introduced and I longed for one with hair to comb, an endless perfect wardrobe, and furniture of her own. John had his eye on a racing car set.  We’d seen picture books with Santa in them and there was always snow.  What to do, what to do?  Nothing but wait and hope.

The journey to Virginia began in the mountains of Tennessee, jolting along in our old Ford on Route 11 to Augusta County in the Shenandoah Valley.  Our grandmother, whom we all called Mommom, Aunt Moggie, Uncle RW and our five cousins awaited us on the family farm.

Dad spent what seemed like days in preparation for the trip, packing and repacking the car.  Finally we got underway.  I’m amazed as an adult to find that the trip normally takes about six hours, or less, because I have vivid memories of this ride going on all day and far into the night, playing ‘I Spy with My little Eye,’ and singing carols until we were hoarse and my parents must’ve been nearly half mad.

Mom taught us a song on the way about Santa, ‘You’d Better Watch Out,’ a worrisome ditty.  I wasn’t an exceptionally naughty child, but knew there were the occasionally times when I had been what, in some person’s minds, might be construed as bad. What if Santa, this wonderful provider, had seen me at less than my best?  What if I got switches?

My father told us about his Uncle Gus who’d received switches.  Horrors of horrors.  Deep down I felt it was no more than I deserved if my every move had been carefully noted. I hoped Santa was a forbearing fellow, but doubts lurked, a new worry on top of the snow thing.

Eventually we arrived in the Valley and the paved highway turned into bumpy dirt roads as we wound deeper into the country with its unique smells.  My father pointed out the lights of Chapel Hill glowing in the distance, then unbelievably we were driving up the long lane and the yard filled with family to warmly welcome the weary travelers.

The first night we went straight to bed.  I slept upstairs in the yellow room––every room has a name––with my two cousins, Margaret and Elizabeth Page.  In the morning, John and I got our wish.  We awoke to heavily falling snow, a magical world.  We went sledding down the lane, made a giant snow bunny with my father and had the time of our lives, clambering back into the kitchen ravenous and soaking wet.  We peeled off layers of pants––no snow pants back then––and took our wet clothes and mittens to hang them by the stove in Mommom’s room, before downing bowls of homemade soup.

The day before Christmas finally came and the old brick house filled with tantalizing smells.  The kitchen door opened periodically, the sleigh bells on it announcing the arrival of yet more friends bringing yet more gifts.  Friends, neighbors and family all exchanged gifts, even if it was only a plate of cookies exchanged for yours.

Presents were stashed in every corner of the front room, covering the old piano and stacked beneath, wrapped in paper and ribbons which I found almost too beautiful to bear. I knew there were some for me among them, that I was not in total reliance on Santa.  Even so, I longed to be kindly remembered by him.

As any child can attest, Christmas Eve is the longest day of the year and one in which we made extreme nuisances of ourselves, asking endless questions and climbing over and under the furniture to see which gifts were ours.  At last we gathered together in the front room in the presence of the magnificent pine decorated shortly before our arrival.  My uncle cut it from a nearby woods and I loved its fresh smell, also new to me.  A stern glance from him quieted us down and my grandmother read the Christmas story from The Book of Matthew.

The ancient story evoked a new found sense of awe at the holiness of this night as I gazed at the little wooden creche and the figures carved by my father.  I felt the love in the room and understood that it had something to do with this sacred child whose birth we were celebrating.

All right, Jesus loved me, so did God, but what about Santa? After all, he was the one to fill the stocking I’d hung carefully in between my cousin’s on the mantle under the portrait of our great-great grandmother.  All of our stockings had been knitted for us by an elderly relative and had a scene of Santa on one side and a reindeer on the other with little bells that jingled when I lifted it.  A reminder of his imminent arrival.

After the stockings were hung and The Night before Christmas read, we heard sleigh bells ringing far off in the meadow.  Good heavens, Santa was that close.  We tumbled over each other in our haste to get to bed lest the old guy should discover us still up and promptly leave.  Touchy fellow, peculiar ways, but ours was not to question why.  We scampered under the covers and did not dare to peep until dawn.

After that, it was every child for him or herself.  We launched out of bed, vying to be the first one to wish each other “Christmas Gift!” then paced about in acute impatience while the adults had a leisurely breakfast.  Who could eat at a time like this?  And dressed with slow, careful deliberation.  I was wearing the same clothes I’d donned two days ago.  As for bathing, only under duress.

We practically gave up all hope of ever seeing inside the front room and paced outside the closed double doors where no child could enter until everyone had gathered.  Mommom, her blue eyes twinkling, reported that Santa had come and relieved our troubled minds.  Uncle RW told us he’d seen reindeer hoof prints in the snow on the roof of the house.  Imagine that.  We never once questioned what he’d been doing on the roof.  Not that this would make the slightest difference if we eked out our days waiting in the hall.

Then, glory hallelujah, the family assembled and lined up according to age, as required by the law of our clan.  The all-important doors opened.  Great was our wonder.  There was the tree lit, the stash of presents sorted into individual piles, and the stockings filled.  Mine bulged with promise.  Praise be!  The old fellow was extremely tolerant.  I’d truly feared to see those switches.

It’s ages later now and Mommom has gone on before us.  Lining up outside those omnipotent doors with my brother, cousins, parents, aunt, uncle and her at the end is a distant cherished memory.  Christmas is a place I return to in my thoughts whenever I need the sense of joy and reassurance it brings.  And I remember that time so long ago when my brother and I despaired of snow.

*Pics of Chapel Hill

November Musings


Stone hearthMisty autumn day, cold rain falling, leaves scattering from the trees in a red-gold swirl.  The Alleghenies are veiled in the distance beyond the hazy hills above our meadow.  On my dining room table sits a box of tiger lily and tulip bulbs that need planting, should already be in the sodden ground.  I trust we’ll have some fine sunny days yet that may entice me out into the garden before winter settles in.

Daughter Elise and I ordered the bulbs back in hot, muggy August when fall seemed but a  dream of deep blue skies, crisp air, and glorious leaves.   Too fast it comes and goes, the wonder and beauty that lures us into those long dark months before the return of my beloved spring.  Not all the leaves are fallen yet and some vivid color remains on the trees, but not for long.  Still, there is much to be savored about every season and I shall seek for the joys in this one while bidding a wistful farewell to what has been a spectacular October.

campfireFor one thing, advancing November is what I call ‘the snugly time.’  For those of you with real fireplaces, I envy you.  There’s such primal satisfaction and comfort in the crackle of a wood fire, the orange glow of the flames and red coals,  the smoky scent.  I have a fireplace DVD, I kid you not, and an large electric space heater that looks like a wood stove with a fake fire in it.  But it gives out warmth and if I play the fireplace DVD while running the space heater/wood stove, at least it provides the feel of a hearth.  Certainly better than back when all I had was the DVD alone.  That emitted zero heat in this drafty old farm house.  My sister, feeling this was the height of pathetic, gave me the wood stove/space heater for Christmas.  We do have ancient chimneys here but none are safe to use.  Someday, someday, we shall build a new one.  But the farm has a way of eating up all the scanty funds before they stretch to include a new stone hearth.

iStock_000002286112XSmallI’d love a massive hearth such as I describe in many of my novels.  Hint, hint.  The Big Meadows Lodge up on the Skyline Drive has the most wonderful hearth in the world.  I could settle in for days and write in that cozy room with a superb view of the ridges and valley spreading out below.  On a clear day, you can see for miles and miles.  And when I’m up there before that hearth I am deeply content to let the rain fall and fog shroud the ridges.  A snug log cabin would also do nicely as a writers retreat.

As for one of the benefits of these darkening days.  It’s an excellent time for writing and reading, two of my most favorite occupations.    I need a new CD, something with an historic and fantasy sound, music that transports me from here to there, to finish writing my latest light paranormal novel.  Recent choices include the soundtrack from Prince Caspian, Lord of the Rings (all three of them) the latest Harry Potter soundtrack…I’m open to suggestions.  I love Celtic music, but own quite a collection of various artists and nothing I have seems to suit the mood I’m seeking.  On goes my search for the perfect music to write to.

*This is also a great time of year for making soup.

Old Time Apple Butter Boiling


Autumn leavesI love fall, always have.  It brings with it an excitement, a sort of energy, that recharges the land and a people grown weary of the stifling summer heat and drought that often accompanies it.  Change in and of itself is not necessarily good, but it can be.  I am resolved to make this a good fall, brilliant in worth, glowing with love and filled with promise.

In the Shenandoah Valley, autumn also means apple butter boiling.  My most outstanding memory of fruit butter making occurred years ago when my son was small and the girls not yet born.  My husband’s mother decided her daughters-in-law should have the rich experience of stirring apple butter and we gathered with her in what is now the basement of our garage apartment.

Before that it was a woodworking shop and even further back is where my parents-in-law ‘went to housekeeping’ as Mom Trissel calls it, in the days when they were first married.  They lived there for a number of months.  At the time of the boiling, it was a dimly lit room with a small wood stove and a brick kettle cooker behind it built against the chimney.

Apple butter boiling in an open kettleWe ladies spent the morning peeling and slicing up bushels of tart, red apples, then stoked up the fire.  Mom first sprinkled a handful of pennies over the bottom of the enormous old copper kettle to help keep the apples from sticking before we set the pot in a wide hole in the cooker.  She added spices and gallons of cider to the apples and we commenced to stirring.

Hours passed as each of us took turns at manning the long-handled wooden ladle.  The little room grew charged with the spicy fragrance of the aromatic brew.  We were sorely tired by the time it was pronounced done, but it was wonderful stuff.  Two saplings now grow at the back of our garage from the mountain of peels and seeds we tossed outside that day.  The trees are entwined together like lovers and have espaliéd themselves up along the wall to the roof.  Their abundant fruit is runty from lack of care but has an excellent tangy sweetness.

*Pic of apple butter boiling in a copper kettle, such as we used, over an open fire.

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For more on my work please visit www.bethtrissel.com

Rainbows and Promises


Third Rainbow picDreams do come true.  You just might have to take a few detours to arrive at rainbow’s end.  Unfurl your sails and follow a fresh wind.

To me, rainbows symbolize hope and the promise of God’s blessing, of good things to come.  Does anyone not like rainbows?  At dark times in my life rainbows have appeared just when I needed them.

This week, we had double rainbows three evenings in a row.  My daughter Elise took pictures of each one and this is her best shot.

Hold to your dreams and take heart.   Keep looking up.  That’s the only way you see rainbows.

A few famous rainbow quotes:

“That gracious thing, made up of tears and light.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“The smiling daughter of the storm.”  ~ Charles Caleb Colton

” Triumphant arch, that fill’st the sky when storms prepare to part.” ~Thomas Campbell

“God’s illumined promise.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

In My Garden~


Evening primrose (4)In my garden(s), a sea of herbs and flowers continually change with the season.  Some perennials are lost each winter and new ones are planted by my daughter Elise and me, others by the birds. I’ve a wild aster covered with small white flowers that blooms from late spring into summer, very pretty re­ally. I like white flowers glowing at dusk while all else fades.

Several plants reign supreme because of Elise. ‘Magic flowers,’ yellow evening primrose, occupy a corner at the edge of the vegetable garden. She rushes me out at twilight to view the wonder as they pop open, charged with fragrance. Hummingbird moths swoop in like little fairies to feed on the blossoms.

iStock_000001550421XSmallElise doesn’t like the bats that also come. I love the nighthawks that swoop and call in the soft summer evening. Dill is another favorite because black swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on its leaves and hatch into little caterpillars which Elise watches closely, puts some into jars and feeds until they make a chrysalis, then one day they emerge with wet crumpled wings and she releases them to the sky. I feel a bit like those uncertain butterflies, taking those first tentative flights.

This is an excerpt from my non-fiction collection about country life entitled Shenandoah Watercolors.

Rip Rap Hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains


“The quality of mercy is not strained,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath; it is twice blessed;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes…”

Shakespeare

The heavy rain has given way to a misting drizzle, but streams of water are pouring down from the hills, making new ponds and creeks. This late spring is awash in moisture and amazing after last summer’s searing drought. I am struck by the intense beauty around me, and I thought I was already seeing it, but it is so much more somehow. The grass seems to shimmer, yet there is no sun out today, and the meadow is so richly green it’s like seeing heaven. The barnyard geese are enraptured, as much as geese can be, with all the grass. If there is a lovelier place to revel in spring than the Shenandoah Valley and the mountains, I don’t know it. Narnia, maybe.

I’ve been thinking about my favorite places. The pool I like best lies in the woods near a place called Rip Rap Hollow in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A most splendid falls cascades up above, but I like the pool far more. We always meant to go back, but never have. The cold water ripped through me like liquid ice and is as clear as melted crystal. I could see the rocks on the bottom, some slick with moss, others brown-gold in the light where the sun broke through the leafy canopy overhead. Trout hid beneath big rounded stones or ones that formed a cleft, but the men tickled them out to flash over the flat rocks strewn across the bottom like a path. Drifts of hay-scented fern rose around the edges of the pool, warming the air with the fragrance of new mown hay, and made the shady places a rich green.

Now, that’s a good place to go in my mind when I’m troubled. The problem with cities is that people don’t learn what really matters, don’t really feel or know the rhythms of the earth. When we are separated from that vital center place, we grow lost. Sadly, most people will never know what they are lost from, or where they can be found.

http://www.bethtrissel.com/

Cat Tales



I’ve always had cats, an integral part of my world and our farm. Two reside indoors now; Minnie Mae, a funny little cat, and Percy, a manly tabby and our most recent acquisition. Percy is the ultimate lapcat who lives for cuddles. How can you not appreciate that sort of affection?

We fondly remember Gabby, a lavender Oriental Shorthair, related to the Siamese and just as vocal, and her chestnut-colored son, Pookah, named for the invisible creature that steals things. We used to call him “the paw” because of the way he opened drawers or cabinets and pilfered whatever he liked, usually hair thingies. He and Gabby were mad over scrunchies, and colorful bands that hold hair in pony tails.

Pookah was a gorgeous cat and an excellent thief, but he sucked his tail. Not very manly. A kind woman living in Florida sent us Gabby years ago to comfort the children after the tragic death of their young cousin Matthew. Gabby came to us on a plane, an odd infant highly unlike the barn cats we were accustomed to.

At first we didn’t know what to think of this little gray monkey forever disappearing into the highest cabinets or crouching on the tops of doors and wardrobes. Nor did we understand her peculiar cry, but once we learned to know her, we were hooked. That’s how we came by Pookah, the big-eared kitten we kept from a litter of three after we had Gabby bred to a fancy Siamese, Cappuccino. He wasn’t manly either.

Then there’s Minnie Mae, the tabby kitten-cat my daughter Elise and I raised from early infancy after her stray, airhead mother inadvertently left her in our care. She was so tiny she barely spanned my palm and is still small for a grown cat. Minnie Mae is a whimsical creature with a series of purrs. Elise calls the chirrupy purr when she scampers across the room, her ‘bouncing purr.’ Then there’s her inquiring purr, when she has a question, which is fairly often being a thoughtful, observant cat. Her excited purr hums forth when she greets us after a long absence, say overnight. She sleeps outside hubby and my bedroom door and eagerly awaits the dawn.

When I was a child I listened repeatedly to a favorite record that I still have about the adventures of Dick Whittington and his cat. Dick would exclaim: “Here comes Ripple Dee Dee! Oh, cat, I love you very much.” And I do. All of them.

For more on my work visit:
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Tell All To Turtles


Brilliant yellow gold finches streaked across the garden today and landed on the fence beside the hollyhocks. I love these birds, one of my absolute favorites. In midsummer, when the sunflowers bloom, they gather in chattering clusters to feed on the seeds. Their wings flash in the sun as they suspend on sunflower heads and peck away, and meticulously open each seed. I’ve never heard such euphoric birds, continually exclaiming over their finds. They have a lot to say and do not keep secrets well.

If I were to confide in birds, it would not be them, or to crows, loudly proclaiming the latest gossip. Warblers are fairy creatures, but not silent fairies. Possibly to wolves–no. They howl. Frogs croak and gribbit. Turtles are quiet. Tell all to turtles, then. Box or painted ones. Snappers are treacherous and would as soon bite you as listen.