Sunday, December 28, 2014

Review: The Body in the Goldenrod by Gloria Alden

The Body in the Goldenrod: A Catherine Jewel Mystery.  Gloria Alden.  Willow Knoll Publishing.  2014.  ISBN: 9781503175570. $14.95.  325 pp.

The Body in the Goldenrod, Gloria Alden’s fourth Catherine Jewel mystery is set at a Civil War Reenactment taking place at the Elmwood Gardens where Catherine works.  Very early we are introduced to the man everyone hates: Daniel Webster, who plays a Union Major, and we watch him being cruel to a new reenactor, Al Finch, fighting with the head gardener over where the port-a-potties should go, raging at his wife and throwing the food she’d cooked onto the ground.

A new African American family has moved to Portage Falls, and the major uses the N-word to the ten-year-old twins and their great grandmother and great aunt.  No one likes him.  Catherine is horrified.

It is Catherine who discovers his body after the reenactment, which of course, doesn’t use live ammunition, but someone did. She hates it that this is the sixth body she has discovered in less than six months.  She is also troubled by other signs of racism she has picked up among the folks in this formerly all-white town.  The Davis family has moved into the old Llewellyn place (Daylilies for Emily’s Garden), and Catherine offers to help LaVerne, the ninety-year-old grandmother and Claudia, her eighty-eight-year old sister move plants from their house in Cleveland to the new place.  Then she brings them the daylilies that had been ordered when Catherine had been working at the Llewellyn place earlier and helps them plant them.

Linc Davis, head of this new family, is to be the science teacher at the local high school, where Major Webster was the athletics coach and had found ways to insult him, too.  Linc’s wife Lizzy is a Cleveland lawyer.  They’ve moved to Portage Falls to provide a better place for their children and their elderly relatives to live. Even Linc comes under suspicion for the murder because he, too, owns a gun from that Civil War period, like the one that killed Major Webster.

Catherine’s friend John MacDougal, the town’s police chief, doesn’t have to scold Catherine much about staying away from the investigation.  Neither she nor MacDougal is keen on this investigation because they’re not sorry he’s dead, and they’re afraid to find the murderer among people they know and like. MacDougal’s interviews with suspects are less than enthusiastic.

John wants to see more of Catherine, but his duty as a police chief calls him away about the time things get interesting.  This slowly developing romance inches along but seems promising, if not too many murders get in the way.  

John’s mother Martha is having her own adventures with naturalist Bruce Twohill, which her son is having trouble accepting.  He doesn’t trust this younger man who is enamored of his mother. John has also hired the first policewoman who comes with a trained police dog.  Robin begins with a chip on her shoulder, but it doesn’t last very long with the humane ambience of the town and most of its citizens.  The main characters in Alden’s books are people we can enjoy and care about, and their dominant characteristics in this series are of compassion and kindness. Alden is very good at keeping the reader in suspense as to the identity of the murderer, and also in bringing to life new characters in each new book in the series.

If you like a good puzzle, likeable characters who come off the page, and very little gore and blood, plus have a fondness for gardens and growing things, you’ll enjoy Alden’s Catherine Jewel mysteries.

The others are: The Blue Rose, Daylilies for Emily’s Garden, and Ladies of the Garden Club.  Reading them in order is recommended.  You can learn more at 


Gloria Alden lives in Northeast Ohio where her fictional town of Portage Falls is located.  She's a member of Sisters in Crime and the Guppies (Great Unpublished, which now includes many published mystery authors).

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Susan Cotten: A Gift Among Us

GIFTS XXI. December 21, 2014

For Susan Cotten, Moncure Postmaster

(What the United States Post Office neglected to see when they reshuffled their staff and replaced Susan, her last day being December 22.)


Kindness was her ministry.  She invited
us into her “living room” Nothing we
asked was too much trouble.  She wrote
out the money orders and paid the bills
for elderly who couldn’t see so well
or write so well.  She reveled in little
children and dogs.  A dish placed low
held lollipops, and not only children
helped themselves.  Her smile of
welcome never failed even during the
pre-Christmas rush when hundreds
of packages flooded into and out of
our little post office.  She comforted
and scolded her carriers and joked with 
them to lighten heavy mail days.  We 
told her our secrets, knowing that Susan 
kept them and cherished each one
of us, no matter our clothes, speech
accents, skin color, or religious
faith.  Her philosophy was simple:
treat others as you would like to be
treated.  “We’ve lost our bank and
our beauty parlor burned,” she said.
“We need a place where we can talk
and learn who’s sick, who died, who
had a baby.”  Newcomers were
welcome, and she soon had them
looking forward to coming in to
pick up their packages.  Some of us
came in every day to say hello.
We didn’t need an excuse.  Susan
always wanted to see us, would
ask what we were going to do today.
If we were driving to Durham or
Virginia, “Drive safely.”  If we
didn’t turn up for a day or two,
she’d worry.  Were we all right?
She was our treasure, our secret
weapon against the ravages of time,
our battles with sickness and old age,
our comforter when life turned tragic.
She’d bring out our packages as soon
as she saw us walk in the door, and
she’d even package up birthday and
Christmas gifts in spare boxes or 
the right size flat rate, if we needed
her to.  Best of all, she’d tease us
about our foibles and laugh with us
when we confessed our foolishness.
She was infinitely more than our 
unofficial, undesignated, underpaid
postmaster.  She was the heart of
a small, often forgotten and neglected
community named Moncure, North
Carolina.  In Russia they call such
villages “deaf.”  Maybe because
you don’t hear from them much 
any more.  But Susan heard us.
Susan’s ears heard our stories and
comforted our hearts, lifting them up
with her smile.  Without Susan
we are bereft.


In the  January issue of Carolina Country, the publication of our statewide rural electric cooperative company, my article on how Susan Cotten  inspires me will appear.  Here is a sneak preview:



Susan Cotten lifts my spirits every time she has time for a chat in our busy Moncure post office.  Moncure, a village in largely rural Southeast Chatham County, is served by Central Electric Membership Corporation.  We’re very diverse here: old-timers, newcomers, African Americans, Hispanics, rich, poor, old, young, factory workers, artists, farmers.

Susan greets us all as if we were the most important people in her world.  She says it’s like having us come into her living room.  She teases those she knows well and likes to get us laughing–sometimes at ourselves.  She’s comfortable to be around, and she’ll ask, “What will you be doing today?”  

We customers end up talking to each other, either with Susan, or outside on the porch of the post office.  Susan told me that she doesn’t judge people by skin color, clothes, or lifestyle. She pays attention to how they act.  She treats us well because it’s how she wants to be treated.  If an elderly person needs help filling out a money order, she does it gladly.  She doesn’t want anyone to feel that it’s an imposition to ask for help.  “I’ll be old one day.  I’m already as ‘old as dirt,’ my son says, and ‘older than sand.’”

When I have a new book published, she celebrates with me.  One woman comes in to show what she got for her granddaughter’s birthday.  The toddlers who come in with their mothers know about the dish of lollipops Susan keeps for them.  Whether you’re buying one stamp or mailing a whole raft of boxes, Susan is glad to see you.  She’s a fund of information about things local, which houses are for rent, which businesses are going to fold, and which new businesses are coming to the area.

Susan moved to Moncure when she was four and met her husband, David, in the eighth grade at Moncure School, and except for three years, they have lived here ever since.  She says she couldn’t give advice.  “I can barely live my own life.”  Her philosophy is: “Do what you think is right, or it will come back and bite you in the butt. Treat people well, as individuals.” 

I find Susan rare in her openness to other people, her sense of humor and fair play, her living out, quite simply, the Golden Rule we all sometimes have trouble doing

Judy Hogan is a published poet, mystery novelist, and free lance writer.  She lives and farms in Moncure, near Jordan Lake.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

This River is Loved

This River: An Epic Love Poem was released December 1, and we celebrated with a book launch at my Hoganvillaea Farm on Sunday afternoon, December 7.  I want to say that This River is a visionary poem, and that I was fortunate for it to be chosen by a visionary editor, antoinette nora claypoole of Wild Embers Press of New Mexico and Oregon for their new Watersongs imprint back in August 2014.  Antoinette nora’s vision for the design of the book and its presentation was strong, and sometimes my vision of the book and hers clashed, but the resulting actual book is richer for her work, both in its imagery and its design, which are well-integrated with the flow of the poem.  We were also fortunate to gain permission from his wife Yevstolia for using Sergei Rumyantsev's study of the Volga River, which is normally on my wall in my computer corner.

When I described it as also a river poem, because I wrote the poem over time while sitting beside the Haw River above Saxapahaw and used the river and its life for imagery, antoinette nora said: “I know you like focusing on the environmental/river aspect of your story, but do you realize how the LOVE of another is what carries it?  It is Love which makes the river flow.  Without your love of Mikhail, there would be no river at all.  It is like that for all of us on this planet.  Without love, nature dies.”

Something else is happening deep inside me, so profound that I only begin to grasp it.  Because this long poem, in which I describe openly my love, felt taboo, I was afraid of people’s responses–generally–but, instead of being disapproved of for publishing it, I am being praised for the beauty of the poem and the beauty of the book design.

Two recent responses that said so much to made me feel very rewarded for trusting my words of love on the waters of the world:

“Thanks for sending me a copy of “This River.”  It’s a beautiful-looking book, first.  Then I read the introduction and was intrigued and moved, so I immediately and unexpectedly--since I was at work with mound of work stuff to address–started reading the poem.  I had to stop eventually, but I got a solid ways in and will return to it tonight.”
“I keep reading a couple of sections a night asking my disbelieving self if the next part will really be as great at the last.  Each time it is. This is a wonderful and amazing piece of work.  It is soul work and soul guidance.  I hope others realize how great it is.”

This River had been rejected by publishers many times, and yet antoinette nora accepted it at once when she received my query, and she soon revealed her love and enthusiasm, rare among editors, in my experience, even when they choose to publish your book. Then my women friends astonished me by their enthusiasm–the ones I asked for blurbs, Jaki Shelton Green, Joanie McLean, and Foster Robertson Foreman, and Sharon Ewing and Susan Broili, who agreed to review it.  You’ll find the blurbs in my blogs Oct 11 & 16, Nov. 23, and here’s Sharon’s review from the Dec-Jan issue of Chatham County Line:

Review of This River: An Epic Love Poem, by Judy Hogan, Wild Embers Press, Watersongs Imprint, 120 pp., $14.

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”  Muriel Rukeyser.

This quote was used as a T-shirt logo for the 1991 Women’s Narrative Conference, “Tell Me a Story That’s True,” held at NCCU. In the Preface to This River: An Epic Love Poem, Judy Hogan confesses her earlier reticence not in writing about taboo subjects but in publishing that writing. With the publication of this poem, she dares to share her experiences twenty years ago of acknowledging, accepting, and living with her unconsummated love for a married man and of her certainty that this love was returned. Living into this state was nurtured by her growing understanding of the Russian concept of soul, ДУША (dusha.) She also writes: “The love we felt and expressed covertly in letters was never consummated, but it became the fire that fueled our work together. We trusted each other. We argued and we adapted to each other’s cultures as necessary . . . Perhaps it was the largest passion of my life, after my desire to write. It is the time, however to share this whole story.”

This River is a series of thirty meditations written over a year and a half following the poet’s return from her first visit to Russia, a visit of only five days, but days that changed her life. The meditations, evoked by regular visits to the Haw River near the poet’s home in North Carolina, are the way she both nurtures and comes to terms with her life-changing meeting with her soul-mate and fellow writer, Mikhail, in the crumbling world of the Russian people as the USSR disintegrates. A life-long journal writer and close observer of nature, Hogan draws meaning and conveys it to the reader through metaphors that flow seamlessly from those observations. In a post-everything world, she is an unapologetic romantic: the natural world is alive with meaning for her, personification rises effortlessly, and she uses it unashamedly. Her opening line mentions a “resurrection fern . . . alive and well-watered” and we are launched. There will be death, but there will also be life. Immersion in the natural world both guides and consoles the poet. 

The central image of the poem is a river, but it is in many ways two rivers: the Haw River near the poet’s home in North Carolina and the Volga River that runs past the beloved’s home in Russia. Separated by thousands of miles, the rivers are joined by their eventual emptying into the ocean. Distance is overcome by metaphor. The river carries mud, but that mud nourishes the life along its banks, and when light strikes it, the river is golden. As the poet struggles to acknowledge and then accept a love outside her previous boundaries, the green of August yields to the ripe reds and yellows of autumn; but months later a no-show at the airport brings the outer world of physical realities crashing into her inner life – the poet’s understanding must grow, time and space take on new dimensions, work must fill the physical void.  Shared work and love stretch into a broad horizon, darkness of winter descends, but the poet sees the red glow in the darkening winter sky and holds on to her belief in the mutuality of love. 

The reader can revel in the rich imagery and language of this poem that reveals a complex inner life and know that the poet has faced herself honestly and overcome her earlier reticence. Her willingness to share that inner struggle with a personally taboo subject invites honesty from the reader and other writers. This poem ends, but the poem of her life will spill forth as long as this poet can put pen to paper.

The cover of This River, from an oil painting, “A Study of Volga River, Kostroma, Russia,” by Sergei Rumyantsev, a Kostroma painter and friend of the author, invites the reader to enter visually the world the poet presents through words. ”Heart Leaves,” an ink drawing by Mikhail Bazankov, who was  a trained artist before he was a writer, hovers above each meditation and draws the reader through the emotional course of the poem. Wild Embers Press has added another rich book to its Watersongs imprint.

This River: An Epic Love Poem will be available in December at Paperbacks Plus (Siler City), The Joyful Jewel and Circle City Books (Pittsboro). Judy will sign at Paperbacks Plus January 10, Saturday, 11-1 PM. She will read with Jaki S. Green at the Chatham Community Library March 11, 7 PM. 
Susan Broili promises her review for January, closer to the time of the Durham readings (Regulator Bookshop, Jan 21, 7 PM, and South Regional Library, Jan 28, 7 PM).

As Diane Winger wrote to me, a new book is a kind of birth.  This one had its birth pangs, but was well-worth them.  I realize I am now freed of certain deeply placed fears that some of my strongest feelings were unacceptable.  That self-doubt, which I hadn’t fully admitted to myself is now dissolving.  People’s responses have done that, and it’s still happening. I put part of poem three into my holiday letter, and it is stirring more than my holiday letter poems usually do.

Doug working on my computer.

For the launch a week ago, December 7, here at my home on my little Hoganvillaea Farm, Doug Williams came early to work on a computer transition he’s doing for me–a big gift.  Ted Bodenheimer, who took photos for two books I published under the Carolina Wren aegis back in the late 80s, A Living Culture in Durham, and Watering the Roots in a Democracy: A Manual on Combining Literature and Writing in the Public Library, agreed to take photos so these are his.

Left to right:  Judy, Doug, Carol, Billie, Ted.
Billie Hinton, a writer who lives a couple of miles away, came bearing flyers for our “No Coal Ash” fight and brought a delicious sweet potato curry, which we all enjoyed.  Carol Hay, who helps me so much by going over my mystery novels as a copy editor with her second pair of eyes to alert me to inconsistences and places that need work, came to pick up her pre-sale copy.  Later Billie’s husband Matthew, dropped by.

Left to right:  Judy, Carol, Matthew, Billie
We covered a wide range of topics: modern doctors and hospital experiences, staying healthy, horses (Billie and Carol are horse-lovers), the Middle East (Ted gave us an in-depth history); and my life for the last sixteen years living in an African American neighborhood and being supported in multiple ways by their kindness and protectiveness, known as “Miss Judy,” and sometimes greeted in the post office by folks I’ve never met, yet who already trust me.  Since I arrived in this little community, built around three rivers which converge here: the Haw, the Deep, into which the Rocky flows, to make the Cape Fear, which flows down to the coast at Wilmington, Moncure has suffered terrible pollution and has fought off a low-level nuclear dump, the transporting of irradiated nuclear fuel rods shipped by rail through our village, three landfills, terrible air pollution from eight factories, and now we fight both the fracking focused on our near Lee County neighbor, and two large coal ash dumps to be located within a few miles of us with an estimated 20 million tons of coal ash to be carried here by truck and train.

We ate, laughed, and I signed books.  Except for Matthew, the others had all taken classes with me and one who gave me a blurb had, too.  They are all good writers in their own right and very independent-minded truth-tellers.  It’s my privilege to be praised by truth-tellers.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Judy Hogan. 
Buy Link:

Sunday, December 7, 2014

No coal ash in our community

Truck transporting coal ash.  


We here in North Carolina, and specifically in Chatham and Lee counties, are being subjected to Duke Energy’s plan to dump millions of tons of coal ash waste in our communities, specifically in Brickhaven, near Moncure in Southeast Chatham and along Colon Road in northern Lee County.  We have organized and we plan to rouse public opinion against Duke Energy, our giant electric power company, the only one now in North Carolina, although they also have plants and coal ash problems in South Carolina and Florida.  

Our state legislature passed a coal ash clean-up law recently which allows Duke Energy to bypass any permissions from local municipalities, towns or counties.  They only have to obtain permits from our Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), which under this present Republican-dominated state government has not been taking care of the citizens of the state and our environment but satisfying the polluting corporations.  Witness how they have let the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) make fracking rules that fly in the face of any attempt to protect citizens from extremely harmful pollution.

Coal ash is also very harmful to human beings as it contains heavy metals and radioactive material, which fracking fluid has. Furthermore, moving coal ash several hundred miles presents additional threats of pollution, and storing it in landfills located in old clay pits from brick making and then lining them with plastic isn’t going to prevent the poisons from leaking and getting into ground water, surface water, and the air.  Sooner or later all landfills leak.  The ash should be turned into the solid salt stone and stored in huge concrete bunkers on site.  But the long and short of it is: We don’t want it in Chatham and Lee Counties.

Some of us are now working together to save our communities from this terrible strike against us.  Our strategy is to rouse public opinion.  What’s being done to us by an American public utilities company is worse than terrorism.  It is reminiscent of Nazi-ism, which also used large corporations to help them exterminate millions of Jews in the 1930s and 1940s.  Duke Energy’s actions suggest their mindset: Go after those who are different: the poor, the low income folks, the minorities, the gay.  Terrify them by polluting their environment and offering “jobs.”  Jobs that make you sick.  Jobs that are here today and gone tomorrow.  Separate those who might make allies of each other, reward the rich with more money and prosecute the poor if they object to being exterminated.  Use the “it won’t hurt me” psychology so that their neighbors will be afraid to get involved.  Twist the truth and make it slick.  Tell lies.  Corrupt the state government and run over the local governments to tie their hands since they’ve sworn allegiance to the state.  Violate the state constitution in the name of law. Our Goodliest Land is being poisoned, its citizens slowly but remorselessly sickened and killed off.

Plato said, “Truth is the best rhetoric.”  Citizens can afford to tell the truth.  Corporations can’t.  If Duke Energy couldn’t corrupt its employees to spew out their lies, if the public relations staff told the truth, we’d see a change.  Fear of job loss?  Of course.  What other weapon can be used to force basically honest people to tell lies, to soothe, instead of sounding a warning.  So we as citizens must be the truth speakers.  When the state is acting criminally, then the honest man or woman willingly risks imprisonment.  

All this torture and killing of Duke Energy’s customers for the sake of money! Whose money?  Our money.  Our rates are raised for corporate profits.  We pay and die.  A strange irony in a democracy.  Back in 1776 we promised ourselves that we would have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  That has been elusive for many American citizens over those centuries, and never so much as right now.  Somehow the polluting corporations gained control of the state government and feel free to dump their waste where we live and are now threatened with extermination.  If we don’t die of the heavy metals and radioactive material in coal ash and fracking fluid, our children and grandchildren will.

We can change this picture by speaking truth to power, as my dear friend Margie Ellison always said.  We can rouse public opinion. Our allies are each other.  We can refuse to be separated and disenfranchised.  North Carolina and our counties here in this goodliest land are where we live, work, and raise our children.  We will take center stage away from Duke Energy and its lies.  Truth wins ultimately.  Public opinion can bring a huge corporation to its knees.  They need our passivity and silence.  We will be activist and speak out through our words and our actions.  We will be Davids against the Duke Goliath.

Friday night in the Moncure Volunteer Fire Department’s meeting room I watched a transformation of a solemn, scared, angry crowd of thirty people become a community ready to give time and do work.  That’s the answer.  Helping and motivating each other. Hoping, trusting, and loving.  These are strategies Duke Energy never knew or has forgotten.

Mountains of Coal Ash