Sunday, November 25, 2012

Compassion Will Be the New Lesson

View of my early spring garden 2011--beets and onions


The Telling that Changes Everything XVI.
April 8, Easter, 2012

It comes down to the I, the center
of my innermost being or soul.
You could say God.  It’s what I
know as God.  My father thought
my sixteen-year old quest to find
God would inevitably lead to
disappointment.  He wanted to
protect me.  He couldn’t.  I found
what I was looking for, by whatever 
name: that inside place where I 
learn and then tell what’s true.
Passion, with all its ways, starts
there–from our sensual beginnings
to our stubborn insistence on
compassion as a way of seeing
the world around us.  Ultimately,
it merges with our willingness
to die for how we see this life,
our fellow travelers, and our
beautiful blue-green planet.
This deep indwelling place tells
me I will live a long time, have
many losses, and yet survive
them.  I am to give everything
away, especially my love, my
way of seeing, the paradoxical
truth of transformation.  Death
is such a change, but so is life
eternal.  Nine years ago I had
a vision of my many unpublished
books when I saw those mature
trees scattered singly and in
groups around a farmer’s meadow.
Fifteen years after my last poetry
book, Beaver Soul, here comes
Killer Frost, about my love and
grief for ill-prepared students on
an historically black campus.
Americans are losing their prosperity,
except for the few, who gorge on
our misfortunes.  But Artemis
prepares her vengeance.  Neglected,
intelligent children turn to crime.  
The abused earth and seas rise
up to punish us.  Great suffering
lies ahead.  Will we learn?  
Compassion will be the new lesson;
the wisdom of the inner life, our
new solace.  Then we will live
again, find our exuberant joy to
watch this drunken, reckless spring,
which came too early but boldly
cast aside fears of the killing frost,
sent rain, bright sun to make a
green that floods earth and yearns
skyward into a pure, clear blue
from which sun pours down its
benignly indifferent golden grace.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Killer Frost--Reader Comments III

Fall colors from Sugar Loaf Mountain in Maryland, looking to woods.  Thanks to John Ewing.

Our frost came during a drought, so not such vibrant colors, and right here, not everything has yet been touched by that killer.

Meantime, people continue to send me their impressions of Killer Frost.  I've finished my fall readings and signings, which have brought many new readers close as well as many dear friends.  Now I'm resting from that, except for the radio show on WCOM 103.5 FM, local Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and Durham community radio the Friday after Thanksgiving, November 23, 6 PM, with Jackie Helvey and Valarie Schwartz.  A video will be available on Jackie's TV show website at, and you will be able to listen live on the radio from their website:


Marian Copeland, Pittsboro writer (in an email 10-23-12): It’s your fault I didn’t have any lunch!  I started reading your book this morning and couldn’t stop–didn’t want to stop–long enough to make myself some lunch.  It is SO good–I hope to be able to write half as well some day.  It’s amazing that you are able to create so many characters that are all real–I could clearly picture each of them, how they looked, how they carried themselves, how they thought.  You are a terrific writer.  I loved the book.

Pat Dawson, owner of Paperbacks Plus! in Siler City (in an email 10-23-12): Midway through Killer Frost I was sure I knew “who done it,” but still I was surprised.  You have woven a story on many levels.  The struggles of the students to overcome their initial reluctance for change, the struggles of the faculty to actually help, and the struggles to solve the murder.  Amongst all those struggles is the joy in coming to know your characters.  I felt that, by the end of the book, they were friends, and I want to know more about them and their lives.  Looking forward to reading the books that come before this as well as the ones after.

Marian Westbrook, Goldsboro writer (in an email 10-23-12): Judy, I’ve been meaning to write and tell you that I enjoyed reading Killer Frost.  You did such a good job developing the characters and the plot, as well as weaving in issues that you care about.  As a former English teacher at a community college, I could identify with some of the students’ deficiencies.  And the dialog seemed very natural.
The only quibble I had with the book was that things seemed to happen so fast, and Penny got pulled into the problems after being on campus such a short time. I think she goes only twice a week.  You did have Oscar confiding in her a lot, so that helped.  This is a minor complaint considering how good the book is.  Good luck on getting your others published.

Gloria Alden, mystery writer friend (in a comment on I enjoyed this book from beginning to end. Her characters were very real to me, and her plot was excellent, keeping me reading on to see what would happen next. I love to solve the mystery before the end and couldn't in this case even though the murderer was plausible when I found out who it was. I also learned things I didn't know, which is a plus for any book, in my opinion. I can't wait to read the sequel to find out what happens to Penny and her other ongoing characters.

Mary Susan Heath, Goldsboro writer (email of 11-7-12): I had a “milky drink” this afternoon when I needed a bit of comfort.  Although I got my own this time, I will never have a cup of hot chocolate or warm milk without thinking of Killer Frost, where the characters offer each other this refreshment, along with their empathy.

The commentary on academic responsibility for academically deficient students is certainly most timely.  But what I enjoyed most about the book were the relationships.  Any woman who has a daughter will smile when Penny recognizes that her daughter isn’t really asking for advice, but merely affirmation for what she has already decided to do.  Women will, of course, understand and relate to the daughter’s quest to create a “real” family for herself.  Then there is Penny’s dilemma with the men in her life and how she works that out for an interesting subplot.  A most interesting read!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Next Big Thing: The Sands of Gower

Photo of Three Cliffs Bay on the Gower Peninsula, near Swansea, in Wales.  Photo by John Ewing.


We mystery writers currently have a chain blog going.  Linda Rodriguez tagged me.  Check out her blog on her next big thing, Every Broken Trust, back on Sept 29:

The Next Big Thing for Judy Hogan.  

1.  What is the working title of your book?  The Sands of Gower

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

This is the first mystery in my series, written in 1991.  I hope it will be the third published.  Killer Frost (#6) came out September 1, 2012, from Mainly Murder Press.  I’m waiting to hear from MMP about #7, Farm Fresh and Fatal, which I hope to publish in 2013.  Then I’d like to get The Sands of Gower published as soon after that as practicable.

Since 1981 I’d been going to Wales every few years to take a writing vacation, away from my family and work responsibilities.  I’d range the footpaths on the Gower Peninsula near Swansea and write poems.  To rest, I read mysteries.  My Bread and Breakfast landlady, when I sprained my ankle in 1990 and was housebound, suggested I write a “murder.”  For fun I began plotting one.  Sands takes place in a fictional B &B modeled on Mrs. Merrett’s.  I wrote it in 1991.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?  Traditional mystery.

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Penny Weaver: amateur sleuth, mid-50s American poet–Sally Field.

Kenneth Morgan: Welsh police inspector, mid-50s, becomes Penny’s lover–Daniel Craig

Evelyn Trueblood: Bed and Breakfast English-speaking Welsh landlady of Penny’s; 75 years old–Judi Dench

Lucy Straley–local librarian on Gower peninsula, a rare feminist, friend of Penny’s, retired from Midlands, 65–Felicity Kendal.

5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your manuscript?

In the process of solving the murder of a German guest, American poet Penny Weaver and Detective Inspector Kenneth Morgan experience a powerful erotic attraction, and this, plus the British post-World War II continuing hatred of the Germans, complicates their investigation.

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I hope to have it published by a small press, ideally Mainly Murder Press.  

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?  Two months.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within the genre?

Agatha Christie and other Golden Age village mysteries for the plot.  For the erotic attraction, to Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Miller’s Kill series.

9.  Who or what inspired you to write this book?  I learned from the mystery writers, mainly of the Golden Age, which I began reading in 1980, after my first child went to college: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, Marjorie Allingham.

10.  What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

Readers of Killer Frost have been wanting to know more about how Penny and Kenneth got together.  I think the love story, as well as the anti-German and anti-Semitic themes will interest readers, too.  Perhaps also the coastal Wales descriptions and the cross-cultural conflicts, not to mention how poet Penny Weaver became an amateur detective.


Here are the writers to whom I’m linking.  Check out their plans for Their Next Big Things.

B.K. Stevens.  Story “No Good Deed” in anthology To Hell in a Fast Car, edited by John French and published by Dark Quest Books.  Blog at Untreed Reads:  Date: Between Nov 12 and Nov 18.  

Diane Vallere: Other People’s Baggage. Blog:  Nov. 12.

Karen Pullen: Cold Feet from Five Star, 2013.  Blog:
November 14.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Review: The Resurrection of Nat Turner: Sharon Ewell Foster

Winfield Farm in Randolph County, where the Churches believe that all farmers should do their own labor.


The Resurrection of Nat Turner: Part One: The Witnesses and Part Two: The Testimony.  Sharon Ewell Foster.  Howard Books, Simon and Schuster, Inc., New York, 2011 and 2012.  Part One: ISBN: 978-1-4165-7803; Part Two: ISBN: 978-1-4165-7812-3.  Paper $15.99 each part.
Sharon won the Michael Shaara Prize for Civil War Fiction for these books and attended the ceremony this fall at Gettysburg College.

My old World Book Encyclopedia from the late 1940s, which my sister won in a spelling contest, gives this info about Nat Turner, and from what I learned in American history in school, that was all I knew about Nat Turner:

Turner, Nat (1800-1831) was a Negro slave in Southampton County, Virginia. He persuaded many of his fellow slaves to rise up in revolt against their masters in 1831.  He was captured and hanged.

Sharon Ewell Foster has indeed resurrected Nat Turner, whom the slaves of 1931 in Southampton county, Virginia, called a prophet. He is like nothing so much as an Old Testament prophet, an 1830s version of Jonah preaching to Nineveh.  In his suffering and death, there are parallels with the death of Jesus.  Both parts of this story are essential to seeing the vision Sharon Ewell Foster has carefully researched and now presents in a deeply moving portrait of a figure who played a key role in the eventual emancipation of the American slaves.

When Sharon set out to write about Nat Turner, she didn’t expect to overturn the “knowledge” about Turner that had been publicly available before.  She didn’t expect the truth to take her in such a different direction.  She interviewed descendants both of former slave owners and their slaves still living in Southampton County, was given access to actual trial records and official documents.  She spent five years doing research.  

Using the privilege of a novelist, she paints all the events that led up to the rebellion and the massacre of fifty whites on the night of August 22, 1931. She goes back to the life Nat’s Ethiopian mother, Nikahywot, was living in the Ethiopian Highlands about 1798, when she and her cousin were captured by Muslims, sold as slaves, and taken in slave ships across the Atlantic Ocean.  Nikahywot ended up as the property of Benjamin Turner, and was given the name of Nancie.  

In 1800 she bore Nat, and his white father treated him better than most of his slaves, allowed Nat to learn to read and write.  His mother taught him Amharic, her native language, and her Ethiopian culture’s Christian heritage, and called him Nagasi, Prince.  When his owner, who had promised him freedom and had put Nat’s name on the deed to the Turner’s Meeting Church, died, Nat, at about age twelve, was sold away from his mother and put to work in the fields.  Nikahywot had kept telling him: “We are all captives, and you must set us all free. You must be brave and must remember.”

Nat learns, when Benjamin gives him a Bible and allows him to go to the Turner’s Meeting Church, that his mother’s Ethiopian Christianity (Pre-Roman Catholic) is the same as the religion of the white slave-owners.  This becomes his message: The Christian religion was being used to justify slavery.  Nat insists that God considers it wrong for one human being to own another. He cites the passages in the Old Testament.  To the end of his life, he is preaching that, if the slave-owners don’t repent their man-stealing, God will punish them.  God loves them, too, but he will not allow their shameful behavior to their fellow human beings to go unpunished.

I have read other books which took up the subject of American slavery, e.g. Toni Morrison’s Beloved, but none so vivid and harrowing as the portrait painted here.  I experienced the cold in the same way that I experienced hunger in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, to give one example.

All of us–black and white–need to know this history.  The Civil War is now 150 years behind us, but our American culture is still haunted by it and the terrible injustice that led to it.  As a nation, as a people, we are still having trouble with the concept that God (or whatever name we give the Created Order) loves all of us, rich, poor, black, white, all cultures and ethnicities, all kinds and conditions of human beings.  We still try to separate ourselves from people who are different and say we are better, we are “more” human, and they are “less” human.

It won’t wash, and ultimately, there is a price to be paid.

In Part I: The Witnesses Sharon uses the point of view of many of the key players around Nat Turner, and some who came later, like Harriet Beecher Stowe: Sallie Francis Moore Travis, who was Nat’s owner in 1831; Nathaniel Francis, her brother and one of the most obsessed and cruel slave owners; Will, a slave belonging to Nathaniel Francis, who had sold Will’s wife and baby daughter; auntie Easter, another of Nathaniel Francis’s slaves; Nat’s mother; and William Parker, the white lawyer who would “defend” Nat at his trial.

In Part II: The Testimony we learn up close how Nat feels and thinks, down to the pain he has in his feet as he walks barefoot through the snow (slaves had no shoes and inadequate clothing for the winter).  We also are with Harriet Beecher Stowe as she learns the true story from Will, who in 1856 is an escaped slave living in Boston.

I learned how the original confession of Nat Turner came to be written by the local slave-owners when the court case fell apart.  The truth burns through the pages of these books and will sear your heart.  Take your courage in both hands and read them.