Recipe: Deviled Egg Potato Salad

Who doesn’t love deviled eggs AND potato salad?  Exactly what I thought.  So how about potato salad made WITH deviled eggs?  I just made this recipe today, and honestly I don’t think I’ll ever go back to a traditional potato salad recipe again.  This dish serves eight and uses only two eggs, so you’re getting good protein but not at the expense of too much fat.  Light mayo helps to keep the fat grams down as well.

I like potatoes that are colored as opposed to white because they generally have more carotenoids and flavonoids (cancer-fighting substances) than plain white potatoes.  For that reason, I used Yukon Gold potatoes–their yellow flesh is tastier and healthier than their white-flesh cousins.  See this link for more info – World’s Healthiest Foods – Potatoes.   I also left the skin on to get more fiber benefit.

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart vegetable broth (I use the Better Than Bouillon brand)
  • 2 lb Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed
  • 2 hard boiled eggs ( * To make PERFECT hard boiled eggs with no gray/green ring around the yolk,  see my note in Step 2 of the Directions)
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 gherkins (sweet pickles), diced fine (or 1/2 cup of pickle relish)
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 2/3 cup light mayo
  • 2 tbsp yellow mustard
  • 1 tbsp hot pepper or cider vinegar or pickle juice (depends on your taste–I used the hot pepper vinegar)
  • Paprika

Directions:

  1. Boil the potatoes in the broth until done, 10 to 15 minutes
  2. While the potatoes are cooking, start the eggs.  FOR PERFECT HARD BOILED EGGS, put the eggs in a pot deep enough to fully cover them with water.  Bring the water to a boil, and let the eggs boil for 1 to 2 minutes (longer for larger eggs).  Then remove the pot from the heat, cover with a lid, and let the eggs sit for 10 minutes.  Then run cold water over them, and throw in a few ice cubes to ensure they cook no longer.  When ready, proceed as usual to peel the shell.
  3. Pour drained potatoes into large bowl.  While they’re still warm, add the garlic powder, onion powder, and salt and pepper to taste, and toss.
  4. Add the pickles, celery, and bell pepper to the potatoes and toss
  5. Dice the eggs and put them in a small bowl.
  6. Using a fork, smoosh the eggs until the whites and yolks are crumbly.  Add the light mayo, mustard, and vinegar or pickle juice, and mix well.
  7. Add the egg/mayo mixture to the potatoes, and fold it in until the potatoes are evenly covered
  8. Sprinkle paprika over the top and serve warm, or chill in the fridge to serve later.
  9. Makes 8 servings.

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Recipe: Brussels Sprouts with Pasta and Parm

As promised, here is my delightfully savory and healthy recipe using tender Brussels sprouts and heart healthy pasta.  My favorite pasta these days is Barilla White Fiber because one 56 gram (2 oz dry) serving has almost a quarter of the recommended daily fiber intake.  The pasta is low fat and has added vitamins and minerals to make it an all-round good choice of carbs.

Brussels sprouts add one of the most nutritious cruciferous vegetables to your diet and, cooked properly, load you up with vitamins and minerals as well as cancer-preventing substances.  You can halve small sprouts or quarter the large ones, but my favorite method is to slice the sprouts in even widths.  They cook more evenly and quickly that way; it’s important to not overcook Brussels sprouts because that robs them of their nutrients.

This recipe serves six if used as a side dish or four if a main entree.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 shallots, diced (can substitute one small onion if necessary)
  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and sliced
  • 1 cup vegetable stock, homemade or store bought
  • salt and pepper
  • 12 oz Barilla White Fiber spaghetti (other brands and other pasta shapes can be substituted)
  • 1-2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, freshly grated if possible
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil or parsley

Heat olive oil in a large pot or wok over medium heat.  Add garlic, shallots and sprouts, and cook until shallots and garlic turn pale gold and soften a bit.  Add stock and season with salt and pepper as desired.  Simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until Brussels sprouts are fork tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta al dente according to instructions.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of liquid.

Return pasta to pot.  Add the vegetables, additional olive oil to taste, and the 1/2 cup of pasta water, and heat on low heat for a few minutes.  Add cheese and herbs, toss to combine, and serve.  And enjoy a delicious dish that is good for your health.

 

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Switching Gears: Let’s Talk About Food!

I have been talking about the process of writing since I set up this website, and I think it’s time to broaden my topics to one of my very favorite things. Actually, it’s a combination of related activities–cooking, eating, and learning about nutrition.  It might help to briefly share some of my history and perspective.

I’ve always been an easy-to-please eater.  I like most foods, and although I appreciate a well-prepared meal with high quality ingredients, I have not shied away from pizza at the ballpark or lunch at the food court, if those were the best options available.

As I got older, I started getting more interested in what I was actually putting in my body.  Everything we eat and drink, and breathe for that matter, becomes a part of what we are.  It’s absorbed into our digestive system, our lungs, and our bloodstream, and it has the capacity to affect our organs, our skin, our hair, our eyes–everything that makes up our physical existence.  For that reason, it’s important to be aware of what we ingest.

That said, I’m not promoting that people outright shun pizza at the ballpark or tacos from the food court.  I’m a firm believer in “all things in moderation.”  Splurging for an ice cream sundae or a mushroom cheeseburger from time to time is not going to kill anyone.  But MOST OF THE TIME, we should be making an effort to eat things that have a positive nutritional effect on our bodies. For simplicity, my goal is that for every “splurge” meal I have, I will make a strong effort to ensure that all other meals for the day are relatively healthy.  Some days, everything I eat is pretty healthy, and on occasion, my intake for the day is not all that healthy.  But on average I’m sticking to my goal.

My eating habits have evolved a bit a couple of times in my life.  The first was probably when my husband Emmett and I started eating sushi, way back in the early 1990’s in a suburb of Atlanta called Morrow, at a place called Mo Mo Ya, which was a really great restaurant.  Sushi became one of my favorite meals, and I still try to have it once or twice a week.  It’s expensive, so you have to watch for deals, and at times you might find that some grocery stores have decent fare at decent prices.

The other big change to my eating habits started in 2003, when my mom had to have triple bypass surgery for blocked arteries.  For that surgery, the medical team essentially cracks open your chest to do what they have to do.  And while Mom made a full recovery and lived another four years, the indication was that one factor contributing to her problem very likely was diet.  In fairness, some of it likely was hereditary too, because practically all of my family on both sides have died from heart problems.  But the hospital staff guided Mom to a heart healthy diet to try to prevent or at least minimize further problems.

Well, warranted or not, that was when I decided that I was going to go to great lengths to avoid having to have MY chest cracked open.  So I decided to take steps, granted they were baby steps, toward becoming vegetarian.  What happened in 2003 was that I gave up beef that Christmas.  The following Christmas I gave up pork.  And two years later at Christmas 2006, I gave up poultry (it took me two more years because I loved turkey sandwiches!).  This change of habit also worked hand in hand with my spiritual development–I started studying Buddhism on my own in 1995 and had come to believe that killing animals for food should be avoided.  I also believed that factory farming was having an extreme deleterious effect on the environment, which means that at that time I had accumulated three reasons to not eat meat.

So I do not include in my diet any beef, pork, poultry, lamb, or any other land or air based animals.  However, here we are in 2015, and I have not been able to convince myself to give up fish or seafood, even though I do try to stick with fish that are being harvested in a sustainable way.  For example, I dearly love Chilean sea bass but choose not to eat it because it’s endangered.

To sum up, before I start launching into recipes and other food topics in my next blog post, I am now what I think would be referred to as a lacto/ovo/pescatarian.  Which simply put means I eat a vegetarian diet except for fish, eggs, and dairy, and even the dairy I limit to a certain degree because I drink almond milk instead of cow’s milk, and I try to avoid dishes made with heavy cream.  I do still eat cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt.

I would love to hear anyone’s comments on this post.  Talking about food and nutrition is one of my favorite things to do.  Next up for this blog is one of the best Brussels sprouts dishes I’ve tasted–it’s delicious!  And if you’re not a BS fan, never fear because I have all kinds of vegetarian tricks up my sleeve.

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Book Signing & Supporter Appreciation Tour

The Book Signings that Dad and Caroline and I held at City Hall on Friday, March 27, and at the Summersville Arena & Conference Center on Saturday, March 28, were a great success!  We were so happy to greet so many old friends with whom we laughed and hugged and shared a multitude of memories.  We were also thrilled to meet the new friends who dropped by and introduced themselves.

Thanks so much to all who stopped by to visit.  And thanks as well to all of you who could not make it and dropped a note of explanation.  We missed you but will catch you next time!

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May God Rest Pipina’s Soul

The magician’s magic became impotent because of the inevitable ravages of time.

Sadly, Pipina’s nearly 16-year-old body could no longer process food.  She was exhausted, almost constantly pacing during her waking hours, looking for what exactly I’m not sure.  On Friday, March 20, she passed on to a land where she could rest and dream about all the things she loved–her canine companions Bodhi and Big Papi, human companions Emmett and Alice, eating tasty morsels, sniffing flowers in the weeds of our back yard, loping her crazy, looping laps in the basement, and simply living a dog’s life.

Pipina gave us so much love and asked for nothing in return except a home, which we gladly gave her nearly 16 years ago when someone found her, a four-month-old puppy, wandering around lonely in a field near Charlotte Motor Speedway.  I will forever be thankful to the kind soul at the Speedway who knew Emmett, knew he was moving to Concord with his wife and pets, and took a chance on calling him to see if we could take one more puppy into our new home.

Pipina, you have my endless appreciation and love for the joy you brought to our lives.  I miss you terribly and hope our paths converge again some day.

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My Old Dog Taught Me New Tricks!

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Pipina, who will be 16 on April 1, 2015, has been with us since she was about four months old.  Okay, the date of her birth is fudged, as are the birthdays of our other two dogs, Bodhi and Big Papi, because they are all rescues and we can only estimate the actual dates of their births.  We try to pick holidays or memorable days so it’s easier.  So Pipina is April Fool’s Day, Bodhi is New Years Day 2007, and Big Papi is February 29, 2008 (Leap Year Day).

Pipina (also known as Pini and Pini-Pie) is a dachshund/beagle mix who was found wandering around in a field near Charlotte Motor Speedway.  My husband Emmett and I were just moving to Concord in 1999 when someone who worked at the Speedway called him to say they had found this little puppy and would he consider adopting her.  He said, “Tell you what, you call my wife and ask her, and if she says okay, then we’ll take her.”  When they called and told me the mixed breed they thought she was, I said, “Good Lord, a mix between and beagle and a dachshund?”  I could not image what she would look like.  But when they brought her over, just after we had moved into our new house with our three dogs and a cat, I fell in love with her immediately.  She looked like a baby fawn, and she had the sweetest demeanor of any dog I’ve ever known.  Most importantly, our inside dog Governor, a Yorkie-poo, loved her at first sight.

Pipina has been quite healthy and not much trouble at all her entire life.  We have always fed our dogs Science Diet in a mix that is about four parts dog food and one part people food–always quality people food, never fat trimmings or scraps.  We had not really shied away from giving them bites of cheese or pizza or spaghetti, though.  Not much, just a bit.  When Pipina was about 12 or 13, she developed a really bad case of pancreatitis. Her poop would be loose and wet, and at the worst, it had blood in it, which is very scary.  The vet advised a very plain, low-fat diet, like boiled chicken and rice.  We also around the same time came to realize the evils of rawhide bones, which had been a snack for our dogs for years.  Rawhide is extremely fatty and just plain bad for dogs, except for the teeth-cleaning quality.  We got rid of all the rawhide and switched to Nyla bones.

Pipina in the last couple of years has been very difficult to feed at times.  One day, she would be fine with chicken or turkey mixed in with her dog food, and the next day she wouldn’t touch it.  Nor would she eat just plain dog food.  She lost weight, which at first was intentional on our part, because the vet said she really should be around 25 pounds instead of the 31 or so she was at the time.  We got her down to 25 pounds but that coincided with her being more finicky and having more digestive problems.  She kept losing weight down to 22 and then 21 pounds.  We were faced with the tough balancing act of trying to get her weight up but not giving her foods that aggravated her pancreatitis (or whatever her specific ailment is).  What we found was that she really did not require a low-fat diet; her problem was dairy.  She could have no cheese, cottage cheese, yogurt, or milk.  She can eat eggs.  She can also eat beef, pork, poultry, fish, and it does not necessarily need to be trimmed of all fat.  It was the dairy that was the big issue.

But the problem was still not solved because some days she simply was not interested in the meat I had to offer.  In part, I learned that I had to rotate her dog food mixer.  After a few days of ground beef, she was tired of that, but turkey was good.  Or low-fat, all-beef hot dogs.  She seemed to demand variety.  When you see your dog, who is supposed to be 25 pounds to be at a healthy weight, struggle to maintain 19 pounds, you really try anything you can.  So some days, I would try six things before I finally hit on salmon, which she wolfed down, after rejecting shrimp, tuna, beef, pork, chicken, ham, and eggs.  It’s crazy.  If you hit on the right thing, she eats heartily, which is what lets me know she still has quality of life and makes me determined to keep trying.

Another problem is just getting her to maintain focus on eating long enough to follow me, holding her food bowl, to her eating spot.  If my husband walks from his desk to the den at the wrong time, she starts to follow him instead of me, even though I have the food!  Or if the other dogs start barking because the UPS man is parked outside, she might walk away from food.  (She can’t hear well enough to hear the UPS man herself, she just gets excited when she sees the other dogs barking and running around.)  I might have good enough luck to get her to follow me to where I set the food bowl, but then she walks up, sniffs, and turns around.  I cannot explain this, but often when she does this, if I close the two of us in her room and hold the food bowl chest-high for her, she will eat.  I know this is crazy.  I’m squatting down, holding her dog bowl at a friendly 45-degree angle, about four inches off the ground, and somehow that makes her comfortable enough to eat most or all of the food.

Last but not least, I have found that instead of twice-a-day feedings that she was accustomed to for many years, I now have to feed her three or four smaller meals spaced throughout the day.  Sometimes one of those feedings might be at 3:00 a.m., when she has gotten awake and will do nothing but pace, click-click-clicking her nails on the floor until she gets something in her tummy.  Hand in hand with this habit change is the fact that I now take her outside about five times a day.  The dogs have a room with newspaper down that they know is their “go-to place” if they need to poop or pee and cannot get outside.  Pipina was a model at using that room for about 15 years.  She now seems to have forgotten it’s even there about 90 percent of the time.  She rarely pees in the house, but it is not uncommon for me to find poop in the hall, maddeningly near, but not in, the dog room on the paper provided.

I write all this in the event it helps someone else caring for an old dog.  I think it requires great flexibility and the knowledge that just because your dog had certain habits for many, many years, those habits and her needs may change drastically in old age.  It can be frustrating at times to try to learn your old dog’s eccentricities, but when I see Pipina finish a meal, come in from the back yard, and run in looping, crazy, happy laps around the basement, I know all the effort is still worth it.

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Publishing the book “SUMMERSVILLE” – Part Two

In early November 2014, the permissions for reprints and for the personal information I wrote about Dad and Caroline and others were accepted, and LifeRich’s Content Review people provided their final approval.

Next up was Editorial Assessment, which I learned was something far different than I had assumed.  I thought they were actually going to edit my entire book, show me their suggestions, and then let me accept or reject the edits as I wished.  As it turned out, they reviewed seven of my 170 pages in a “sample edit” and reported back that they recommended a line edit, which is the least intense form of editing they do (good news for me because that means they did not believe the book needed a heavy edit).  They complimented my book and plumped me up on how promising it could be with their magic touch.  Problem was, if I wanted their editing, their lightest brand of review and revision, it was going to cost me an estimated $2,200.  Before submitting my manuscript to LifeRich, I had already paid my personal professional editor, Neva, $1,800 to do a full substantive and line edit.  No way was I going to pay that extra to LifeRich.  Fortunately, their sample edit noted the few things that they found offensive – my manuscript needed hyphens in adjectival phrases, numbers spelled out, page breaks for new chapters, a table of contents, em dashes with no spaces for parenthetical phrases at the end of a sentence – some really pretty minor stuff, and so I edited it myself.  Shit, I can do that!  For free!

(Disclaimer:  The fact that LifeRich was willing to do only a sample edit actually was in my Author Services Contract.  The contract noted that full editorial services would come at an additional cost, so it was my oversight and not a subversive move by LifeRich.)

That was mid-November.  By the time I completed the full edit and got my final version back to LifeRich, it was the Friday before Thanksgiving.  It took me a couple of weeks because I literally re-read every word of my book, and the effort was worth it – I think I sent them something like 35-40 corrections.  I sent the revised manuscript to my check-in coordinator, Barb, which is what I was advised to do by the rep for Editorial Assessment.  I heard back from Barb on the day before Thanksgiving, and she told me she had to send the package back to Editorial Assessment to let them close it out first.  Barb was very professional and helpful, but I wish her Editorial colleagues had just taken the next step without me having to go back through Barb, which simply ate up more time.

Anyway, they closed it out, and the next time I heard from LifeRich was on Dec 2.  I got an email from Elizabeth in Cover Copy and Polish, which is where they review and edit, as necessary, the text I created for the cover – essentially, the title, subtitle, and the blurb and author bio for the back cover.  LifeRich cautions that the process takes them seven to ten business days because they don’t show the results of their cover review until they share the mock-ups for the cover and interior design.  Which is the next phase in the process.

So I give them the benefit of the doubt and wait the ten business days, but by the time that’s up, I’ve heard nothing but crickets.  On December 16, I emailed Barb to ask what the next step is.  They must have had me circling in a holding pattern because Barb came back the next day to say she needs several things to move my process forward – a waiver for low quality images (imagine that, photos from the ‘60s and ‘70s are imperfect compared to today’s digital wonders), an author photo should I choose to provide one, any ideas I have for the cover, and any specifications I might have for interior design like font and spacing.  I got back to her same day fulfilling all her requests.

Barb promptly got back to me on the 18th to congratulate me on completing the submission process, thus opening the door for me to enter the production process.  I would be handed over to the design team and my contact will be Mary Wegener.  Amazingly, Mary got back with me same day, and she would prove to be almost superhuman throughout the rest of the process in terms of responsiveness.  I’ve been scrambling around in a dark tunnel, but blackness has given way to the first stages of dawn, where I can actually see the barest outlines of things, and I know that the light at the end of the tunnel is soon going to shine bright as day.

I will recount the remainder of the process in my third and final blog post on this topic in the next few days.

 

 

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Publishing the Book “SUMMERSVILLE”

My first contact with the publisher, LifeRich Publishing (an imprint of Reader’s Digest), was at the end of July 2014.  We exchanged a ton of information, the most important of which were the Author Services Agreement and my manuscript, as polished and dolled up as I could possibly make it, by mid August.  I had engaged my own editor, Neva Corbin, one of the most accomplished grammarians and English usage experts I had ever met.  After fifteen months of my own countless rewrites and revisions and her highly professional review, I felt confident I was submitting my best effort.

While I awaited LifeRich’s Content Review, I busied myself getting possible photos together for the book.  I submitted approximately sixty photos which, since they were mostly from my or my parents’ childhoods, were mostly old and grainy, you know, like the black and whites on Kodak paper.  My check-in coordinator kept coming back and telling me that some were unacceptable and others would work but may not print well because they were smudged or blurry or had some other defect.  I finally told her, “Look, these photos are from the 1950’s and 1960’s or earlier.  That’s what family photos looked like before digital photography.  I expect them to look like this.”  So I found twenty that were acceptable to her and went with that.

In early September, I got the results of the Content Review of my manuscript, which was primarily intended to ferret out possible instances of copyright infringement, libel or defamation of character, and invasion of privacy.  Because my book was to be a memoir (that is, not fictionalized at all), the publisher exercised heightened scrutiny.  I had used excerpts from articles from several newspapers and publications to support my story, primarily the parts about Dad’s political life.  I thought that as long as I properly gave credit and cited my references, I would be OK.  Not so fast, honey.  What they came back and said was that I could reprint someone else’s work ONLY with their permission unless what I was reprinting amounted to no more than ten percent of that work or four lines, whichever was less.  I had used a lot of articles from The Nicholas Chronicle (published weekly in Summersville since the 1880’s) so I carefully copied each excerpt into a Word file and sent that in an email to the editor asking for permission to reprint.  I ultimately got permission from the Chronicle and a couple of other sources.  For the other works of concern, I cut down the reprinted part to four lines or less and paraphrased as necessary to provide context.

In other cases, LifeRich was concerned about defamation or invasion of privacy when my story ventured into negative or very personal portrayals.  I ended up getting written, notarized permissions from Dad and a couple of other family members, and for others, I simply deleted the questionable part of the story or rewrote it to where LifeRich’s concerns were allayed.  That whole process did take quite a while though.  It was not until October 30, almost two months after I received the initial Content Review, that LifeRich sent my revised manuscript back for a follow-up Content Review.

Here’s a little of the back story though.  I was so frustrated with the amount of work I was having to do on the manuscript because I was ready to get this book published and move on to my next project.  I kept getting sidetracked with things like, what would my next project be, shouldn’t I be establishing an author platform, and so on.  I really had to keep pushing myself to go back through the entire manuscript with LifeRich’s Content Review commentary by my side, making sure that I picked up and addressed each and every instance that may give them heartburn.  Their Review did not consist of them meticulously reading every page and listing each item of concern.  They merely did a sample review and gave me guidance as to the type of things that were unacceptable.  It really was up to me to go through and identify the passages of concern and take appropriate action to fix them.  That made for some really tedious work for me.

In the end, though, I was surprised in a very unexpected way.  My revised work, even with deletions and rewrites I was initially loath to make, really was better than what I had originally submitted. I had gained a deeper understanding of what it truly meant to take a very hard look at what I had written.  Lesson learned.

 

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How the Book Was Actually Written, Start to Finish

When I started writing, back in May of 2013, all I had was the 3,500 word essay I had written about my sister Caroline’s adoption experiences and an outline that I built and framed around that essay.  The outline covered things like Mom and Dad’s childhoods, their meeting and marriage, starting a family, and so on.  I layered in events like how Dad got into politics and his early elections.  I moved on to political challenges he faced and his very real local successes that endeared him to much of Summersville’s populace.

I had two main sources for this part:  Dad and The Nicholas Chronicle.  I wanted color around everything.  What made Dad decide to run for mayor to begin with, what people or other obstacles got in his way, what were his first homes like, what did Mom think of Summersville, how did he ever decide to buy the big house we lived in?  I generally emailed my questions to Dad, and he emailed me back.  That was critical, because I revisited countless times what ended up being about forty pages of emails between Dad and me.

The Chronicle was also critical though.  As a memoirist, I was lucky to have a family that lived a very public life.  We had a bunch of clippings already saved–from when the hospital opened, when President Johnson came to town, when Summersville celebrated Bill Bryant Day–and all those were very helpful.  But as I constructed my story, I realized I had missing pieces of the puzzle and that if I had access to the Chronicle archives, I might just have a treasure trove of material that would be useful to me.  Imagine my disappointment upon visiting the Chronicle office and finding that they had bound copies but only back to the 1960s, and their store of those was spotty.  That’s when I found out that the West Virginia Archives and Library had on film practically every issue of the Chronicle back to its inception in the 1880s.  Even then it was not easy.  I had to compile my list of dates, periods, or years in which I was looking for something, and then Caroline and I hoofed it to Charleston to go research the film frame by frame.  By today’s standards, it was primitive, but primitive was better than nothing at all!

At other points in putting this story together, I realized I had missing pieces that neither Dad nor the Chronicle nor Caroline could help with.  For those, I’m thankful to Aunt Peggy and Aunt Patti, my sister-in-law Linda, Billy’s old girlfriend Marilyn, and several other kind old friends of the family who shared their memories.  For the remaining holes, I had to simply hunker down for some old-fashioned research.  That’s how I got the great context around Prohibition and the Mine Wars in West Virginia, the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and the supreme and selfless efforts put forth by Louise Bing, Jim Comstock, Dad and many other loyal West Virginians to procure a Lincoln statue for the Capitol grounds.

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Retro Post (final)

This is the last Retro Post.  I’ve gone back to early 2014, when I was in the middle of writing SUMMERSVILLE, and pulled forward a few blog posts that I had written about my process.  This one focuses more on how I was structuring the outline from which I would write.

SO WHAT WAS THE FIRST STEP FOR THIS BOOK? (Originally posted 2/23/14, edited for clarity)

 

I knew it was going to be primarily a memoir of my early life in the town where I grew up in West Virginia.  My family was heavily tied to local politics, and I wanted to focus on that aspect while also emphasizing the very privileged life I had.  We were not super rich, but we had a beautiful house, 60 acres, a pool, a barn, antique cars, a houseboat, and parents who, while not graduates of a four-year college, were very well educated and well spoken.  In turn, they wanted us to be well educated, well rounded, and well behaved kids.

As with every other upper middle class family in the world, having money did not mean you had life wrapped up in a pretty package filled with nothing but chocolates, roses, expensive wine, and all the admirers one could ask for.  We had challenges both political and personal, and although our struggles were not on the magnitude of poverty and oppression like some unfortunate souls face, they were keen and gut-wrenching at times.

I wanted to focus on the parts of my early life that shaped us as a family and as a part of the surrounding community.  In particular I focused on events that illustrated and provided insight into the deep political involvement, the privileges, and the passions that infused our emotional crests and troughs.  How did these things confront and define my family, forcing us to be humble and grow, no matter how painful, rather than hide from reality and stagnate?  How were our actions influenced by our geographical location in a small Appalachian town or by the social and cultural mores of the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s?

I let these questions guide me as I made an outline, which grew and changed over time, in fact which is still growing and changing as I near the end of writing and the beginning of editing.  It was a simple chronological listing of events that I thought relevant to the book’s mission, which I could then piece together the details of and mull over their place in the story.  The tough job of brutally cutting out what did not contribute to the mission, regardless of how brilliantly I had crafted the paragraphs, would come later, after the first draft was completed, during the long process of editing and rewriting.

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