Sunday, April 17, 2016

Symbol for Our Forthcoming Blog

The Reading Boy

Boy reading book with pirate ship background

From the creative genius of N. C. Wyeth, American artist and popular illustrator of the 20th century, active until 1945 when he perished in tragic car-train accident. He took up residence at Chadds Ford in southeastern Pennsylvania and established the area as the home ground for son Andrew and grandson Jamie––a patrimony of great importance to American art today.

We here think this wonderful illustration depicting soaring imagination is a very fitting symbol. A symbol for this blog's interest in encouraging boys, the reluctant readers in most households, to learn the wonders of good and classic works.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

A Challenge

Model car atop books of Summers Run

"Reading is a gift. It's something you can do almost anytime and anywhere. It can be a tremendous way to learn, relax, and even escape."  Richard Carlson

Here at Along Cotton Road and our sister blog, A Feel Good Novel, we're issuing a challenge to readers and visitors to list cherished Books for Boys, and favorite "Feel Good" novels. 

Let's avoid the well-worn Harry Potter series and the Wimpy Kid phenomenon when making suggestions to get boys reading. Surely, there are works, new and old, that have been influential in providing boy readers with the grounding and role models that inspire.

As to "feel good" novels, let's hear from those of you who have enjoyed Jan Karon's Father Tim series set in mythical Mitford. Or, Rosamunde Pilcher's beloved novels set in Scotland or Cornwall.  Surely, there are others.

Please leave a comment or send an e-mail to with your recommendations.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"It's Downton Abbey without the tea!"

painting of dog and man on lane
So said a writer friend when comparing the television series with our novel, The Boys of Summers Run.

Well, perhaps they're similar in spirit. 

Like the popular British drama aired on PBS, The Boys of Summers Run is most certainly a feel-good novel. 

Things worked favorably for the characters depicted at Downton, much as most of us hoped. Tom Branson, the chauffeur turned-son-in-law-turned Downton’s land agent turned motor-car-dealer didn’t marry Lady Edith, but such may have been just a bit too tidy. 

His future seems secure. And hers as well; she’s a modern woman now, capable of standing up to her Wagnerian mother-in-law. 

"Working out" is a standard expectation for feel-good stuff. At least the ending is a hopeful note. Just as Downton's Grand Finale portrayed, the characters of The Boys of Summers Run take a turn for the better. 

Getting back to the spirit of the thing, we would point out Amazon, for instance, does not have a category for feel-good works. Religious, spiritual, Christian, Amish are the closest pigeonholes. Barnes & Noble used to have a listing for novels called, “Heartwarmers”. The bookseller still lists "heartwarming" books when one searches there, featuring casseroles, dogs, vintage tractors, kisses. I didn't see Jan Karon or Rosamunde Pilcher named. No official category at this time, apparently.

Goodreads is a service uniting authors and readers with an impressive list of categories. I counted at least 750. How creative was that brain-storming session where imaginations ran wild listing shelves of categories and variations. "Feel Good" is not one of them, however. Nor is "heartwarmer". 

Downton Abbey, Goodreads, and what I see being offered from Amazon and other book retailers prompts one to embark on those very useful reviews of one's objectives. 

Helpful is this summation of marketing by Tim Grahl, a familiar name to many concerned about good writing and good reads.  Tim says this of marketing: "It's creating long-lasting connections with people and constantly trying to add value to their lives." 

It's easy for one to regard traditional publishing today as bottom-line bottom feeders peddling low quality work to a public lacking discernment. Hyping mediocre and sensational work to a gullible public as if it doesn't deserve better: Am I being fair?

Nonetheless, I resent my work being ignored as too literary and not commercial. This warps the positive outlook I should cultivate. Can't go out there with that kind of attitude.

I know my writing could leave a beneficial influence on my readers and therefore must approach its presentation in that vein.

I'm not such an introvert I can't present (or in my darker moments, defend) my work and its values. So, I need to avoid and shed the script where marketing is an uphill struggle and unproductive given the trends and fads of today's publishing.

Rather, I need to revisit the promise I held for the work initially and consider it a beacon in a darkened world.

Says Tim Grahl: "You write to add value to people’s lives, and marketing is simply actively sharing that value with the world." 

We respond to good writing that prompts good will, whether it comes from Downton Abbey or The Boys of Summers Run. It's because such writing adds something positive to our outlook and attitude when we start our day in the morning.

Sunday, February 28, 2016


Have you noticed today, broadcasters, television and radio reporters, commentators or pundits will often describe something as "worrying"? Example: "The latest report is even more worrying." 

Or, one will frequently hear "worrying's" new synonym, "concerning" as in "it's very concerning." This is coinage at its worst. Bad habits, those of you who report or analyze the news.

"Worrying" sounds awkward. Why not use "worrisome"?

And, regarding "concerning," indeed, the word is more correctly used as a synonym FOR "regarding." 

Example: "concerning" tonight's agenda or "regarding" tonight's agenda. Furthermore, journalism friends, some of us think "concerning" should never be a synonym for worrisome. 

Why not use "disconcerting"? "Images from the scene are disconcerting." Or, "Of greater concern, are the graphic images."

Not, "The graphic images are concerning."
Your blogger's pet peeve for the week

Friday, February 5, 2016

As Was Their Habit

From our Aunt Bea's Plymouth Collection

     She shivered––not from the cool of the morning but rather the prospect of her daughter falling and thrashing about in panic out there. Though two decades has passed since her own dunking, the memory of the lake's limitless breadth and darkness endured.
      But, Jennifer possessed maddening confidence about these things. Such bravado her mother had to admire, though she still ranked waterskiing with rock climbing and certainly bungee jumping.
      Jenny stirred the golden water into a gentle meringue, skiing behind the boat of a new friend, a young man she'd met in the library several months ago. This, his first visit to the lake but he seemed confident as when they first met him at the Authors and Chocolates event, confident enough in these unfamiliar waters.
      He carved the broadest sweeps and Jenny trailed behind his craft, flexing in harmony with the chop off the water, her skis her wings. He called to her, using the electronic megaphone he brought with him this morning.
      He insisted on the megaphone as a key safety measure––one their daughter pooh-poohed but relented when her parents appeared so impressed with the precautions taken on her behalf. Thoughtful. Considerate. Responsible.  Good qualities. Approvable.
      "What are you doing?" Her husband sipped the morning coffee with a frown, letting his open newspaper brush the floor.
      "I'm riding with her," she announced, continuing to bend her knees as she stood between the open French doors. "See? I'm bouncing over the waves and the skis are going, 'ka-wumpf, ka-wumpf.' and I'm nearly breathless from the spray––oh!––it is so exhilarating." She sprung up and down, her legs remembering an old warm-up from their days at the rail, Miss Ballinger's ballet class.
      "Hah! I thought you were playing the cello."
      "Are my legs that bowed?"
      "Your legs are more supple than these football knees––creak with every bob she takes out there. "He settled into his favorite wicker chair. "But you, . . ."he folded his newspaper and creased it as was his habit. "You've always feared the water."
      "I prefer gazing at the lake, not swallowing it," she told him. "Learned my limitations, as you say."
      He scowled into his coffee cup."What am I drinking?"
      "It's the new brew I picked up yesterday. It sounded festive––'Caribbean Nights.'"
      He snorted and creased the paper again, to the page where a respected columnist held forth. "It's good," he said of her brew. "Glad it's not 'Sweepings Off the Jungle Floor.'"
      When she took her place across from him, she lifted her own cup and bestowed that "I-want-to-talk-about-something" smile upon him. The boat droned on, growing fainter with each sip. She cradled the mug, as was her habit, and watched him follow the column down until he signaled with a smirk of approval that this week's commentary was worth the effort of both writer and reader.
      Finished, he looked up at her over what he called his "Fessiwigs," the half-framed eyeglasses he now wore with greater frequency. "What?" he asked.
       "What do you mean, 'What?' ?"
“You know what.”
“Why, no, sweetheart.”
“The devil. What are you thinking?”
“You were smiling.”
‘I’ve been thinking.” She set her mug on the white wicker table between then and leaned towards him, cradling her best feature, that delicate chin where the mug had been. This, she knew, her most effective and characteristic “I’ve-been-thinking-and-I-want your-reaction” coquetry.
“All right then, about what?”
“About us . . . and them.”
“Yes, them. Mostly.”
“He’s being careful, just as you would. And I’m struck how . . . right she looks out there. On the water this morning.”
“She’s an athlete on land or sea.”
“And that comes from your side. My people were the painters and poets.”
“Artsy,” he offered.
“If you like. Refined.”
“Told y’ before. We Hanlons––we’re a race of brutes. Big, rough. Even our women were raw-boned––take my mother. Jenny gets her grace from your side.”
“What if I had been lanky and big-boned. Would you have married me?”
“Oh, lord.”
“Why bring that up?” He returned to his newspaper.
“Well? What?” She teased, cocking that eyebrow.
“How you do beguile.”
He flipped the paper out to leaf through its pages of state and national items, his least favorite sections read more out of duty as a decently informed citizen. He scanned the headlines, putting her off, his turn to tease. “Still at it?”
“I’d . . . just like to know.”
“We’ve been over this, dozen different angles.”
“What? Not this exact subject.”
“This, ‘would-you-marry-me-if?’ business.”
“Yes, but a girl likes to hear it.”
“Romance seems to be in the air,” he coughed and set his paper aside, leaned back, stretching until the wicker chair squeaked. “We had to inject some genes that would soften my side. Find a mate to whelp us some decent features . . . nice profiles and good markings.”
“Glory!” she laughed. “And are you through breeding the old bitch? Or do you need another litter?”
“Nah. She’s done her part.”
She picked up her mug, toasted him and he returned the mocking gesture. “It is good, Jack.” 
“What’s good?”
“‘Jungle Floor’.” She rose and took her pleasure from the lake now basking in the warmth of a midsummer’s day. The boat was returning and she followed its progress toward shore through the binoculars they kept close to the porch for bird sighting and deer watching.
“She looks like Angela out there,” she told him while keeping their daughter in focus.
“I’ve said so twenty times, have I not? Those two could be mother-daughter rather than aunt and niece.”
She lowered the big lenses to her chest. “Jenny could have children.”
“Jumpin’ the gun, aren’t y’?”
With the naked eye, one could tell the skiing was over, successfully, safely. And so, she trained the powerful glasses on her daughter first, now neck deep in the quiet water. then to the boat and the young man maneuvering to her side. He pulled her up and over, lifting her, soggy wetsuit and all, into its cushioned interior.
“Well,” the mother in her sighed.
“A relief. She looks  . . . radiant.”
“Quit spying,” he scolded.
“Not spying. Just gaining some . . . insight.”
“And you’re right––Angela is her spitting image these days. You can really see it in the morning light. Come see.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He waved it off, his typical gesture of dismissal.
“You’re being ‘grimcheux papi’ today.
“Just as Angela says. Your granddaughter knows you––”
“––What she knows . . . is all the claptrap the women of this family feed her.”
“Wasn’t that just precious, though, Jack, really? ‘Faux Grumpee’, a granddaughter’s assessment of her granddad’s  demeanor last summer? Oh, she has you figured, you and your veneer.” 
“Figured how to coax and wheedle and finagle, just like all the other females in this clan––”
“––It’s in the genes, dear. Those refined and sensitive traits we’ve supplied for the benefit of you brutish Hanlons.”
“So, now we can sire perceptive, intuitive, finely crafted . . . .”
“Works of art,” he concluded.
“Isn’t it wonderful? Jenny and then Angela and before then her clever mother.”
“Ten-year-old spouting off, trying to speak French. The language of diplomacy and all the more conniving––precocious little show-off.”
“Oh.” She screwed down her most exaggerated pout. “So mean and grumpee papi we are. Remember––?”
“––Chirpy grandchildren, today. What ever happened to ‘Should be seen and not heard.’?”
“That old saw went out with the wringer washer. Remember? ‘Now grandpa, we’re not going to be a grumpy granddad like you see on t. v., are we?’”
“Presumptuous little squirrel, her.” She caught the smirk he couldn’t hide.


The boaters were approaching the dock, and he glanced toward their arrival through the spokes of the deck railing. He sighed: how to react, how to regard this young man now in their Jenny's life?
“She could have children. Hmmm.” she said wistfully.
“It would be hard, love. Be a struggle for the both of them.”
“Yes, but she’d have us. She’s lucky we’re so close by.”
“And, . . .” he had returned to his paper, rustling it vigorously, “we’re lucky to have her.”
“What do you think?”
“What? Think what? Don’t get dreamy over there.” He could read her smile through simply hearing the undertone. No need to look up.
“They could get married, why not?”
“Dunno. He’d be taking on quite a load.”
“Well, it’s not like she’s dependent. She’s become self-sufficient basically. They could . . . thrive. We’d help.”
“Bridle that enthusiasm, girl.”
“There are hurdles, certainly. But they can be conquered. My goodness, look at all she’s done with herself. Out there today, waterskiing, for heaven’s sake. I can’t do that . . . but she can.”
He felt her reading him, luring him into some comment beyond a quick brush-off, some commitment which if not profound or enduring, would at least be important and positive enough for the both of them.
“You’re hopeful for her, aren’t you?” she asked.
“Of course. She’s as deserving as anyone, moreso than most. But there’s one thing we cannot give her, and that’s happiness with some good man.”
She scooted to him, wrenched the wicker chair around, and perched on its edge so their knees touched. Then she grabbed up their mugs of cold coffee, handed him his, and they clinked them together.
“Over the gums!” she piped
“Look out stomach,” he growled, voicing the line he was assigned. “Gol, you do get the bee in your bonnet,” and he swirled the mug’s contents, then swigged it all the way.
She jumped from her chair and ran to the deck’s railing. “Come on out! Come out to the sun,” she called.
“Yes,” he said and sighed flatly.
That she had returned to the French doors and waited for his compliance was fully expected. And he knew she would say nothing. She’d stand there, arms folded, leaning against the doorjamb, perhaps tapping a toe faintly. No escaping it.
“Now quit that spying.” He peered over his “Fezziwigs,” projecting he thought, his sternest expression.
She placed her hands behind her and leaned squarely against the door, that chin tucked under those soulful eyes. This gray-haired girl, he decided, remains as fully distracting as that night in the student union so many years ago.
He rose, tossed the sports section on the wicker divan for later and padded out behind her to greet the couple coming up the dock.
“He’ll have to get used to Ralph and Ralph to him,” he told her as they watched the young pair approach wth the big tawny dog at her side.
“Oh, that will happen. And Ralph loves boating, you proved that. I think they’re friends already.”
“Umm, not likely, pet. He’s devoted to one person and one alone. It’s their training.” He knew Ralph, her dog, could be offish, not threatening of course, but indifferent when others were around. His loyalty encompassed only Jenny, his mistress, not other members of the family.
And as Jack watched the trio climb the hill to the house, suddenly his throat grew tight and eyes welled.
How good and true was their daughter’s helper and friend! How deep its devotion and how inseparable they had grown over the years. And how observant of those ancient breeders to call his kind, “The Shepherd.”
For such was Ralph’s lot, guiding her up and down the steps of life, gentle yet firm and strong, her daughter’s constant companion. How willing to sacrifice a dozen, perhaps a hundred, more carefree dog lives than the one chosen by man for him. How easily he accepted the harness, the task hourly, daily, and how tirelessly he rose to her command.
My God, what fool could dare say animals have no souls?
He knew the wife at his side caught the tear glistening on that bright Sunday morning––he did not care––and when their daughter waved up at them, it seemed as if she could see again.
“How did she know to wave?” he asked, wiping his eye.
“She felt him wave.”
“He told her to.”
“No. She felt it. It’s instinctive.”
“Kind of a woman’s thing, I guess.”
“Yes, perhaps. Being blind helps.”
The young couple and the dog disappeared around the blue willow hedge that embraced the deck there. He told her: “Thank you.”
“For what?”
He didn’t answer.
“For what, hon?”
“I’d rather not discuss it right now.”

(When Aunt Bea and I called on the Hanlons one morning, they were leaving for a trip to visit Jenny and her new husband. This short story was developed from that brief encounter.
The dog pictured above could have been Ralph.) 


Monday, December 7, 2015

The Boys of Summers Run, a novel swimming upstream

The Boys of Summers Run is written for seniors . . . parents . . .  grandparents . . . middle-grade teens . . . and boys, likely the reluctant readers in most households.

The back cover reads:

Fatherless boys become the Four Horsemen of the Outfield

Autumn, and high above the fields and forests of his family's historic farm, Claude Kinkade surveys his life there thus far. His future in rural Pennsylvania remains cloudy. His mother's marriage may move him to the deserts of Las Vegas and far away from his beloved Little League Baseball team, the Panthers.

Worse, Claude's loyalty is spreading its cloak over Shadeland, his father's ancestral acreage. He senses his departed father's shadow following him as he becomes the "farm-boy-in-training" of Summers Run. Must he forsake the memories he yearns to make among the Clan Kinkade? Will Shadeland suffer in his absence?

"Runs" are the brooks and streams linking the countryside together in Claude's new world. Summers Run is one of these, and The Boys of Summers Run is a story of deep roots and timeless springs, nurtured by traditions of family and folkways. It describes the friendships only boys can forge while learning of life and loss, the triumphs and tragedies of it all. One unsolicited reviewer writes:

"I think this is the best book I've read in a long time. I enjoyed it because it taught so many lessons. . . . I would recommend this book for all ages."

Be aware Boys is not a sports story. Nor the typical coming-of-age account. It is a story of a family preserving the land and the values it is duty-bound to protect and honor.  

To order from Barnes & Noble: The Boys of Summers Run

From Amazon: The Boys of Summers Run

From IndieBound: The Boys of Summers Run

(IndieBound is a huge community of independent bookstores found in your hometown and on the street corners across the nation. IndieBound members offer all manner of book services, shipping, and ordering of ebooks for your tablets and readers or softbound versions for your nightstand. Patronize them whenever possible.)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Aunt Bea's Plymouth: "The Gad-abouts"

Somewhat strange, I suppose, for a twelve-year-old to tag along with his aunt as she made her rounds for the church. Yet, calling on old members and friends, new families fresh with babies or Beagle pups, farm folks and city dwellers––every visit made a memory for me.

One could peek down the hall or up the stairs of the homes we entered. I'd note the Victorian antiques or if the television was a DuMont, Philco, GE, RCA, Sylvania, or an Emerson. Then record what calendars or portraits hung on the wall, find the creaks in the hallway, smell the aromas that clung to the wallpaper. 

Church visitation was no respecter of persons: some homes reeked of old times and infirmities; others were upscale where finned Cadillacs were berthed and, on the Hi-Fi, lush violins played country club music to complement the plush draperies and polished heirlooms.

The Breathwaites lived close to the "fashionable" side of town and life back then. Often pictured in the Tribune, they could out-Carnegie Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People––a very popular book back in those days. They drove Buicks. A dignified Roadmaster sedan for Cecil; a smaller, sportier Century hardtop for Virginia.

We were ushered into the stone foyer just as Cecil's cousin was leaving, and my Aunt Bea was elected to negotiate an argument.

Yes, Cousin Jim told us, the elder Breathwaites were still holding forth on the family place. "Mom and Pop rent most of the land and pasture, and that's fine with me since I din't want to farm. And, . . . so here I am, trying to get these two down yonder to see 'em while they're still around."

"We're driving down soon's we can," Cecil laughed, embarrassed enough that even I could see it.

"That's what I heard the last time we had this discussion," Jim told us. "Every time we get into this."

"Jim," Virginia piped up, "we're busy people, just like you and Karen."

"I painted this house a year last summer," Jim told the both of us. "So I kept track of the to and fro around this place. Cecil would pull out, first thing in the morning. Then there goes Virginia, driving off. Cece comes back, then he leaves again. Virginia comes back. Cece drives back in, then Virginia takes off. Then Cecil takes off, and Virginia, in the meantime, comes back––"

Cecil shook his head and laughed, "Oh, Jimmy, now––"

"Y' might as well leave the garage door open––be easier. Needa traffic cop out here."

"Jim, we're social people––"

"Gadfly gad-abouts, I say."

"Well, you saw us on a Thursday and that's our busiest," said Virginia. "Miss Cotton knows all about how many things go on in this town." Jim started ticking off his fingers.

"They sing in two different church choirs, Presbyterian and Stone Methodist––practice every week for that. Then, Ginny plays the organ over at St. Paul's. They're both Gold Coaters, so have to get out and meet the tour buses comin' through. Then there's Rotary, and her garden club, Kiwanis, and the library board, something up at the college, and the Art and Book Guild, the Bird and Tree Club, the balloon fest, the pancake breakfasts––"

"And there's always work to be done and volunteers have to do it," Virginia pled her case.

'Well, Gin, let someone else take that stuff on." Jim scowled her way. "They pawn these jobs off on you two 'cause they know it'll get done."

"Jim, Ginny and I've talked about this very thing. We're going to bring the kids––"

"Dad's got four tracks for his trains now. Goes clear down one wall and around the corner, across the other. Mom's family tree quilt is done finally. Th' folks would be tickled to death to show those grandkids around . . . and get acquainted a bit."

"Yes, just as soon as they have a free weekend, we'll load 'em up––"

"Do it before they turn sulky, . . . couple pouty teenagers don't want to bother with us old duffers."

"We will, we will. We'll get it done."

Jim made his way to the front door of oak and wrought iron. "One of these days, Cuz, you're gonna get the call, 'The funeral's on Friday, hope yunz can make it.'" 

The cousins said their goodbyes, and Aunt Bea and I were ushered into a den cozy with tartan upholstery, bookshelves built into the pickled oak paneling and a robust rock fireplace, trimmed in copper.

Church stuff took up most of the visit and most of which I don't remember. I do recall, though, the bit about pouty teenagers and pawning jobs off on folks entrusted and known to get such done.