Stalked!

 

cougarHave you ever been stalked? If you have, you know how scary it can be. If you think you haven’t, you may not even know that you have been stalked. Authors love to write about stalking because it adds tension in books, the same as in victims’ lives. People call it stalking because it is what animals do—they quietly, secretly, stealthily creep around looking for its target, at its target, salivating for contact with the target, and the victims (frequently) don’t even know it—until it’s too late! That is why you must be aware of stalkers at all times. Unfortunately, in a way, the victim must be constantly cognizant of her stalker to keep herself safe and informed about what the stalker is up to, planning, thinking, saying, doing. Because there are signs of trouble beforehand, and you must be aware in order to protect yourself.

 

Unfortunately, I have some experience with this topic. I’ve been stalked by two serial stalkers, upon whom I’ve had to call the police, by two men from previous relationships who didn’t want to let me go, and by a woman (who was married to a different man) who had an agenda to undermine my relationship with her ex-husband from whom she’d been divorced for over ten years. The first two were scary threats, and the last three were simply up to no good. But make no mistake about it, the latter category could always turn South, and that is the reason they should be monitored, too.

 

I didn’t understand stalking at first because I was a polite Southerner. Why on Earth would one want to be in the company of someone who didn’t want to be with them? Relationships are a two-way street, right? People tell you and give off vibes to let you know they don’t want your company. Stalkers—on the other hand—are socially handicapped and do not “get” those vibes, hints, or words. In fact, you can vehemently tell them to stay away from you, and they won’t because of one characteristic: Stalkers do not hear the word “NO”!

 

In fact, stalkers do not even recognize that they are stalkers. They have NO boundaries. The police can come. You can take out a restraining order. You can say anything to them to show your discomfort or fear of their behaviors, and it doesn’t matter. They are solely focused upon their agendas, unable to admit to themselves that they are, in fact, a stalker. Instead, they say they are around you to help you, to love you, to warn you about dangers, to simply talk to you, to spend time with you. Who wouldn’t want that, right? Wrong! They don’t recognize that you didn’t invite them to the movies—and they show up at the movies when you are there (WTFun?). They don’t care that you don’t go to their house to visit them—and they come to your house almost daily. They don’t care that you didn’t invite them to go shopping with you—and they show up at the mall or the grocery store or a restaurant (coincidentally) when you are there. And they ALWAYS have an excuse for their contacts with you and their behaviors toward you.

 

I also learned firsthand that the police can do little unless the stalker has threatened you. Unfortunately, stalkers are very good at what they do, and with a little information, like where you work, they can make your life a constant anxiety fest. After the initial daily stalking from a man we’ll call…I don’t know, say “Dan”, I would go for relatively long periods of time (a year or more) without ever seeing “Dan.” Then he’d show up in the mall and follow me around while the security guard yelled at him to leave me alone, and then “Dan” disappeared when I heard the police sirens finally arrive. I wouldn’t see him for another year, and then I caught him watching me with steely eyes from across the ice rink at a hockey game. Then I wouldn’t see him again for another year, until he saw in the paper that I was orchestrating the commencement exercises at the high school where I taught. By then, I’d hoped “Dan” was in my rearview mirror, but no. He spotted me at the North Charleston Coliseum at the graduation ceremony, and tried to get to me to through the crowd to “talk.” I had to fight the crowd to get to a security guard who whisked me away under the bowels of the coliseum and out a secret exit and to my car. Though that was now twenty years ago, he recently ran into my sister-in-law, and told her he was still in love with me. I still cannot let my guard down when I am in public.

 

In the spirit of the Me, Too Movement, where the perpetrator cannot explain away the unwanted, unencouraged sexual behavior, the stalker does NOT get to decide if what they are doing is stalking! Stalking is called by the victim, just like sexual harassment is called by the victim. If any person is showing up in another’s life and it makes the victim feel uncomfortable, she is empowered to call it what it is—stalking!

 

I said all that to say this: You can never truly let your guard down with a stalker. Be aware of your surroundings and the stalker’s “understandings” about you and his/her intentions toward you because even if you haven’t heard from the stalker in a while, he/she may still be watching you! My husband is a hunter (and yes, “Dan,” he owns LOTS of guns, in case you’re wondering), so I will use his analogy freely. While you are hunting a deer (going about your daily activities), be aware of the bear that has been following you for miles and you’ve never even heard a twig snap. By all means, in order to stay safe, know what your stalker is up to—in essence, stalk your stalker!

 

 

 

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Southerners and Our British Roots

Tea and silver
Recently the royal wedding triggered a line of thought that has been traipsing through my mind for many years, and that is the close connections between Southerners and the British. Of course we know that the South was settled largely by the British. Many of the plantations of the South were originally land grants from the kings of England. But even if you cannot trace your family’s history back to its British roots, you can trace some of the South’s culture back to the United Kingdom and, thereby, explain some of our…tendencies.
When visiting the United Kingdom last year, I was taken aback by the ubiquitous use of the word “proper.” There seemed a proper way of doing everything—as exampled always by the rules of royalty. Though much of the South has taken on a more casual way of living, make no mistake about it, doing things the “proper” way is still the preferred way to many Southerners.
First of all, we (who notice) are like the British in our formal behaviors and manners. Dining, sitting, introductions, decorating—all have protocol. Though they were too gracious to call us out on our American dining habit of switching our forks and knives when we ate, we caught the way the British looked at us. Though we eat with our forks upturned in our right hands and don’t ascribe to pushing our peas with a knife onto an upside down fork in our left hand, we have our own standards for manners when dining and interacting with others, and like the British, we would never call people out for putting their elbows on the table or for eating and talking at the same time. There is simply a way to behave in “proper” society, and then there is…the improper way. Though our “rules” may differ slightly, propriety is the overarching theme for both cultures.
Dressing for the British and for “proper” Southerners is a more formal affair, as well. The British love their tweed and wool from the Cotswalds, and we ladies from the South love our Lilly Pulitzer dresses, but what we both have in common is our united sense of dressing conservatively and well. We have a sense of what is proper to wear where and when. And though it’s not always adhered to, the rule in the South about not wearing white before Memorial Day and after Labor Day is still on the books for many in the old guard. Do I even need to point out our affinity for pearls? And nowhere is the similarity more evident than when dressing our children. We Southerners decorate our young children with smocked dresses, shorts suits and outfits made of heirloom stitching, and we slap bows the size of our little girl’s heads in their hair. We have a sense of fine fabrics, cardigans, and “proper” shoes for our little ones, as well. Just take a look at the royals—if you’re in doubt.
The foods and beverages we consume in the South have British roots, too, though some may not fully understand. Our meat puddings, like liver pudding and hog’s head cheese, have their beginnings in merry old England, where meat pies and puddings are staples. Have you ever eaten black pudding? In the South, we call it blood pudding. And do I even need to mention the connection we have with tea? It is an everyday staple for Southerners and the British. Though we have morphed our consumptions (sweet iced tea for us and cream tea for the UK), the unifying part is the tea.
Where do you think we get our love for hunting? That’s right, Great Britain! The list is long: Fishing is a religion. We look for occasions to pull out and use our best silver. We love our Southern gardens, Southern gates, and Southern architecture—all of which harken to the United Kingdom. Our churches and our faith are serious business. Like the British, we go overboard naming our children with family names. We love to decorate our homes with English antiques or antiques that embody British aesthetics. We name our houses, gardens and lands like the British-Middleton Place Gardens, Charles Towne Landing, and Drayton Hall, just to name a few.
I’m not saying that some of these influences cannot be linked to other regions of America, but the fact that the traditions are magnified tenfold in the South cannot be disputed.
To further my point about our connections, I can direct you to my favorite Southern magazine, Garden and Gun, which is planning a trip for subscribers to Great Britain to celebrate all the things we have in common. The South’s execution of some of these traditions may be slightly different; however, our connection to the British is undeniable. Southerners have British roots that have grown deep and wide in this warm Southern soil!

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Modesty in the South

As an author of Southern literature, I have taken upon myself to adhere to Southern social and cultural norms that prevail below the Mason-Dixon Line in my writing. I both imply and state blatantly those Southern realities in my novels, and, oftentimes, I enlarge upon those topics in blog posts, magazine articles and newspaper articles. I was born in the South, raised by Southern grandmothers, Southern aunts and great aunts, a Southern mother, and, of course, the revered Southern church ladies, and I received a proper education in modesty—church modesty, societal modesty and even family modesty. From early in my career as an educator, I was asked to officiate propriety at formal school events, like graduation, baccalaureate services, and many times, I was asked by my students to teach them about manners and propriety—the latter of which I declined for obvious reasons.

So, no matter the changing social values and mores in the rest of the country, true Southerners still value modesty. But what exactly is modesty, you ask? Merriam-Webster defines it as “propriety in dress, speech, or conduct.” The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “correct or socially acceptable behavior and clothes, representing traditional cultural values.” But the definition that I like best—and I can’t believe the English teacher in me is even mentioning this site (because years ago it was not revered)—Wikipedia defines it as “a mode of dress and deportment which intends to avoid the encouraging of sexual attraction in others.”

In a world inundated with Kardashians and Hollywood “It” girls and where showing your body has become more acceptable, whether you realize it or not, the old guard in the South still holds court on promiscuous behaviors and dress.

kate middleton

Kate Middleton is admired around the world–and especially in the South–for her modest, yet extremely stylish fashion sense.

Where the West Coast wears body bearing, low-cut dresses and high-cut shorts, the real South values demureness and pearls. We admire Kate Middleton, Emma Watson, Audrey Hepburn and Barbara Bush, to name a few. You must remember that the South was predominantly settled by the British, and we still adhere to a very formal program of behaviors, if truth be told.

 

From the time I was young, however, I could point to examples—even in the South—where people where immodest, but those were the people who always walked on the fringes of proper society. They were looked down upon, talked about, and were eventually—in effect—exiled from social engagements, parties and ultimately lost friendships because of their immodest dressing or deportment.

My examples are far and wide, and I could write a novel on the subject; however, a couple of personal examples stand out for me. When I was in college, a friend and I went to a party at a beach house on Folly Beach. Surely, practically any attire would suffice there, right? I was quickly informed by my friend when we arrived in our bathing suits and modest cover-ups that we needed to retire to restroom to “Southernize” out bathing attire with Band-Aids. What? “Yes,” she said. Her respectable Southern mother informed her that we needed to add Band-Aids under our already padded bathing suits to ensure that nothing pointed could be seen or inferred by the other people at the beach house. It was a subtle difference, but one that needed to be defined: What was acceptable ON the beach was NOT the same as what was acceptable IN the beach house around the ladies, their boyfriends and husbands. That lesson has served me well for MANY years after that day. What I may wear in my own yard, house and on my own boat, and around my own husband, I do NOT wear around others that may take my dress as immoderate.

Another early example came from my mother and her friends and dealt with one of my own dear friends who was breastfeeding at the time. Bless her heart, she was not from the South, didn’t have a Southern mother and didn’t know the rules, so, unfortunately, she thought it was acceptable to breastfeed in front of my father, brothers and other men who just happened to be around. Turns out it was not. My mother, her friends and others derided my poor friend and let me know in no uncertain terms that my friend was NEVER to be invited to any other social engagements. Though it was a shame, no one—including me—because it was ungracious to call her out—spoke to my friend about the way Southerners felt about modesty—especially in their own homes. Instead, she found herself OUT of their society.

Right or not, fair or unfair, sexist or not, I am simply blogging about what is, and it IS because we live in the Bible Belt, where myriad examples of the virtues of modesty are given in verse after verse. The lines of modesty in the South may look blurred—at times—especially to outsiders because of our mobile society and because people move below the Mason-Dixon Line and continue to behave the way they were taught in other regions. But make no mistake about it, modesty still prevails in the South, whether or not you understand or not, or choose to ignore it and be eventually, effectively ostracized. In the REAL South, people may as well call it the Modesty-Dixon line.

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The Camp Meeting in Swamps and Soirees

indian-field-st-george-1One of the unifying images and settings in Swamps and Soirees is the idea of Camp Meeting. Camp Meetings were historical gatherings that began in the late 1700’s during the Great Awakening. Francis Asbury, one of the founders of Methodism, travelled and preached at these ad hoc campgrounds as residents in the area gathered for a week-long revival of Christianity.
Through the years, the camp meetings morphed into something more than their strictly religious beginnings. At the inception, tents were erected for local residents to sleep in and rest between the meetings. Later, crude wooden structures were built to replace the fabric tents. These wooden structures were built with only a couple of feet between them, had dirt floors, an open floor plan and a loft for sleeping. Porches extended from the fronts with primitive benches under them, which encouraged folk to sit outside to socialize with their neighbors. Some families have owned these cabins for generations, passing them down to successive generations.
Initially, these “revivals” could occur at most any time of year; however, as they became annual gatherings, the meetings were organized around the harvest in the fall when campers could enjoy the fruits (and vegetables and meats) of their labors. There was always a pig or two sacrificed for the occasion. Many families even hired cooks that had worked the camp meetings for practically their whole lives. Camp meetings are known for their amazing Southern foods.
At the center of the circle of “tents” an open-sided wooden Tabernacle with simple benches became the central gathering place in the evenings for services. This Tabernacle was physically and symbolically the centralized reason for fellowship and a revival (or rebirth or an awakening) of faith for the entire community.
A fictitious camp meeting is a unifying motif in Swamps and Soirees. Through the novel, the characters look forward to the meeting, plan for the camp, and enjoy friends and family during the revival. It is also where some very important “events” happen that change the outcome of this inspirational story. I hope you enjoy learning about camp meeting as you read this funny, inspirational story of hope, love and courage!

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Beauty…In a Swamp?

After writing Swamps and Soirees, readers have asked multiple times, “Why did you initially decide to write about a swamp?” Well, there are several answers to that question. Some of the obvious answers involve my proximity to swamps. I was born in a small town that is bordered by a swamp. As a child, I remember myOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA grandparents taking me there frequently to fish or simply for visits to the peculiar wetlands. From my family’s lake house, we accessed the many cypress forests and swamps that bordered the lake upon which we played. And now, when I leave the isolation of my home to go nearly anywhere, I must pass through swampy environs. So, my exposure…my immersion—if you will—is complete, and in them, I find great beauty. But the reason I believe I get asked that question is that many people believe they are filled with great dangers—and they can be—in many ways, but there is also a pristine beauty that pervades those dangers.

If you’ve never been fortunate enough to spend time in a swamp, then you may be unaware of the enchantments they hold. Overhead, the sun gets blocked out by old oaks and tupelo trees, dripping with lacy, gray Spanish moss. Growing from watery foundations are ancient cypress trees with knees that reach up around them, seemingly gasping for breaths. Water lilies and exotic Southern flowers spring from the depths of the black waters below. Shadows and sunshine battle beneath the green canopy above in an attempt to win a war that is unnecessary because both are needed.
And if you’re a wildlife lover and you’ve never been to a swamp, well, you’ve missed the proverbial boat, then, now haven’t you? The first thing that might come to mind is that they are filled with all manner of ancient, dangerous beasts—the first on that list, of course, being the American alligator. And yes, swamps are filled with them…and snakes, and turtles, and eels, and fish, and leeches, and anything else that might find a home under the dark waters. Over the boggy lands around the waters, one can find bears, and boars, and deer, and raccoons, and squirrels, large, wild cats and foxes. With all the wildlife in the waters and on the soggy land surrounding them, we may forget to look up to see the amazing array of bird life—and it is amazing! In addition to the herons and egrets, many other species of birds—too numerous to list—find their home—their refuge—in the swamps that surround me.
Lest I forget, let me mention the history that still echoes though the old trees that emerge through the black water swamps. Our nation’s very freedom and independence was won on these watery battlegrounds. Ever hear of Francis Marion, The Swamp Fox? That whole episode is a book unto itself!
People come from lands far and near to visit our beautiful swamps—to touch their ancient, primordial beauty. Beidler Forest in Dorchester County, South Carolina, has miles of elevated trails through Cypress Swamp. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens has an entire area set aside to preserve these unique wetlands. In Moncks Corner, Cypress Gardens provide beautiful azalea gardens, filled with native species of flowers, trees and plants, interspersed among a Lowcountry swamp in Berkeley County, just outside Charleston, South Carolina. Sparkleberry Swamp, on the upper end of Lake Marion, offers a most picturesque, natural landscape of what a raw, untouched, undeveloped swamp is. Congaree National Forest has numerous canoe trails through its swamplands, and I have only begun to touch the many beautiful swamps that can be found in South Carolina. I shudder to think of the many outside my immediate area!
So, if you’re still asking why set a novel in a swamp, I would have to simply answer that swamps are filled with dark, danger and beguiling beauty, history and myth, and some of the people who live in and around them are unique in their character and appreciation of these special places. Swamps are the perfect places to set a novel about how peace and courage collide.

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Jane Austen and Her Southern Sister

 

DSCF2355Jane AustenWhat does Jane Austen have to do with the Deep South? Well, for me, everything! You see, I write Southern women’s fiction with romantic elements. What did Jane Austen write? British women’s fiction with romantic elements.

 

I fell in love with Austen’s writing many years ago when I was in college, studying to be an English teacher. Well, of course, I wished to teach her novels to the seniors in my British Literature class, and then it was only natural to see her show up again when I retired to write.

 

You see, Jane and I have similar interests. We both write about societies and cultures that wish for its members to…conform…and the heroines who wish to push back on those rigid walls to make a way for themselves to be the individuals that they are. Jane and I concern ourselves with the stories of women, primarily showcasing the friendships and ties women have with their girlfriends and family members.  The men in those women’s lives show up, but they are not the stars!

 

Jane and I love the little things in life. We write about the concerns of an ordinary day for our characters. For Jane, it was “tucking lace” on her sisters’ dresses, “taking a turn” on the dance floor, and finding suitable matches for her friends. For me, it is wearing the right clothes to an event, sharing Southern food with friends and family, and finding success in a career. Neither of us need big explosions, murders, car chases or improprieties in our novels. They are stories that are slices of our contemporary lives.

 

Austen’s use of biting irony, humor, realism and social commentary are extremely similar to mine—only I apply my wit and wisdom to the South, and she applies hers to England. We both love to slap silly, pretentious characters around and laud the ladies who work hard at being good, solid souls who simultaneously break social barriers while maintaining the greater collective good.

 

Even the titles we use echo one another’s. Hers are Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Love and Friendship, and mine are Bikers and Pearls, Sweet Tea and Time (and coming soon will be Swamps and Soirees and Fireflies and Lies). But don’t place us in a title category because we both break that, as well.

 

The last similarity is also our biggest difference, and that is our respective culture’s treatment of tea. The British place enormous significance in their tea, but it is served hot (and many times with cream). The South reveres its use of tea, but it is always sweet and iced! So, you see, Jane and I are sisters in the same writing sorority!

 

 

 

 

 

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Southern Front Porches

 

Southern Porches…

porch

My Southern Porch

 

 

Ahhh… What comes to mind when I think of Southern porches is a great, big…exhale. Porches in the South are magical; they are where people go to breathe—to let go their troubles by swinging in a porch swing or rocking in a rocker. One can rock and swing and release the troubles of the day. Porches are where people watch the world pass by on the street—to warm up…or to cool down. Passersby might seem to be in a hurry, but people on a porch are there to…rest…and watch…and release.

 

Southern porches are extensions of Southern homes. Most have a few necessary (and sometimes unnecessary) items on them, like chairs, tables, lamps, plants, rugs, wreaths, decorations and more. They can be of the hoity-toity variety with fancy pillows and trays of fine silver serving pieces…or of the…less refined variety that one can sometimes find in rural areas of the South, replete with old benches, grills and coolers that are filled with beer. No matter the decorating nuances, the same thing happens on most Southern porches. Life there is spent relaxed and easy. It is spent entertaining family and friends. And most times, you can find a few glasses of sweet iced tea, lemonade or—as I sometimes prefer with my girlfriends—wine. Sipping a beverage on an old porch is a Southern rite of passage, an act of friendship, and a way of telling those who visit, “You are welcome!”

 

My own introduction to the graces and hospitality of Southern porches happened at my grandparents’ home. The porch was where my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends hung out and talked and caught up.  As a child, I played in the yard under the protection of the adults rocking and watching over me. The porch was almost a symbol of security. If I became frightened of anything, it was to where I ran. The rails were like arms that surrounded me and kept out the dangers of the yard…and the world.

 

It was on an old front porch that I learned the art of storytelling. My grandfather spent enormous amounts of time, telling me tales—sometimes the same ones over and over. It was from him that I learned the ebb and flow of stories, the way to hook the listener (or reader). And now that I am an author, front porches figure prominently in my novels—as settings and as symbols.

 

If you haven’t relaxed on a Southern porch in a while (or ever…if you are of the Northern variety), do yourself a favor and find someone who would be happy to host you for a few hours on their front porch. Sit a spell and watch the world and your worries pass you by and experience some Southern magic.

 

Happy rocking, y’all!

 

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