Hopefully this Bodes Well

I had a great meeting last night with a guy and then his wife joined us as we were finishing up and they were both so fucking awesome and the thing he wanted to talk to me about is super interesting.

Then I came home and got a big chunk of my chapter written. And I’m feeling really good about it.

And then my walk this morning with the dog went pretty okay.

This year was not easy and I don’t think I have ever ended a year feeling both, in so many ways, like I’ve made no progress and like I have gone through so much.

Granny Rat’s Tavern

Sorting through Provine’s papers at the TSLA, I came across a couple of descriptions of it from when it sold in the 1820s and 30s. Here’s what Provine thought he knew–it was a huge stone building with 14 fireplaces and a horse barn that was amazing. It sat six hundred feet south of the split of the Clarksville Pike and the road to Springfield (Whites Creek Pike), probably about where the Anderson-Garrett Funeral Home is. It was sometimes described as a “bawdy house” but more commonly was described as a tavern or an inn. The earlier seller had improved the access to fresh water on the property (if you look at a map, you can see that this would have been the challenge of the spot).

Just being generous, knowing that Elizabeth and Joseph certainly didn’t build a tavern together before they met and they both had a lot going on for which they are pretty publicly visible in 1791-1793, the tavern could not have existed prior to 1795. And it had to be complete by the early 1820s, the first time it sold.

So, last night, I had coffee with a dude who used to work at the Rock Castle. So, finally, I had a chance to pick someone’s brain about the logistics of building a huge rock structure out on the Middle Tennessee frontier and, in talking with him, I firmed up some of the problems I have with this tavern.

1. Where did they get the money to set this thing up? We’re talking a massive stone structure and a woman whose biggest claim to fame is being charged with bastardry and a man who had an employer. Neither of these people should have had the money to build what had to be among the largest stone structures in the area.

2. Where did they get a workforce to build it?

3. Provine finds evidence of Elizabeth having had children with this Bennett dude, this Hensley dude, Demonbreun, and then Deraque (and possibly a Cagle later on). This isn’t more men than Adelicia Acklen tried to have children with, but none of these dudes were dead when the other dudes came into the picture and no one dueled over her. As the guy I was talking to last night pointed out–that’s really weird behavior considering the circumstances. Unless Elizabeth already had a social status that gave her access to a lot of men but left them unsurprised when she got pregnant with someone else’s child.

4. But, even so, if Elizabeth had been a bawdy woman from the get-go, that would have given her her own spending money (thus explaining how she had the funds to buy Lot 45 from Demonbreun in the first place), but enough money to build the tavern?

I wonder what it would be like to get into the archives at Kaskaskia or St. Louis during that time period to see who up there was sending money down to Nashville. I suppose Demonbreun could have been something of a backer, but I think that the money and the labor must have come not from Nashville, where there’d certainly be more of a record of it being amassed, but from Demonbreun and Deraque’s contacts farther west.

I think my instinct to look at Rock Castle and try to judge the layout and set-up of Granny Rat’s Tavern is wrong. I probably need to know how buildings that size and for that use looked in the French territories nearby.

We All Have Different Ways

The dog is a master trash picker. But whatever he picks out of the trash, he just carries into the living room, like “Hey, guys, this is weird. Someone put this plastic wrap which still smells awesomely of meat in that plastic container in the corner of the kitchen, where you could barely smell it at all. So, here it is!” And then he sets it on the floor, like he’s arranging his space based on an aesthetics of smell. This is fine, except that he keeps digging my underwear out of the hamper and putting it around the house where he thinks it’s more aesthetically pleasing, which I find somewhat annoying. But it’s also why I just can’t think of my pets like my children. I mean, for one, if my kids wanted to put their noses in the crotch of my dirty underwear, I’d be disturbed. For another, I let new kitty pout outside two nights when it was below freezing.

He’s figured out that, if he pees when he’s outside, he gets a treat, so last night, he faked me out! He just lifted his leg and then set it back down.

He’s so different from Sadie. It’s hard to even explain. It’s just a completely different experience. I hope he’s enjoying his new life.

I have my three encyclopedia entries written. I’m going to let them sit until next weekend and then give them a fresh eye then. But, in general, they’re done. I got rejected from the last place I had anything submitted to, so that really does give me a clean slate for the new year. Nothing is out on submission. I can decide what I want to do with what next year.

I’d like to get a few hours of alone time to work on the Ben & Sue fix. I will just say this, this has been the book of obvious-to-others problems, from S. telling me I had the wrong narrator to nm being able to easily tell me what was missing, even though I hadn’t seen it. Once she said it, it was obvious.

The general problem is kind of two-fold. One is that we don’t see the extent of Moll’s inability to get her hands on meth in the past. She’s hit a kind of rock-bottom earlier, but not in a way that really makes her adjust her life. She needs to have room to adjust her life. The other is that we don’t see what’s at stake for Nashville if they buy into Moll’s dad’s plan. What would it mean, right at the dawn of the gilded age, for Nashville to give up the 20 years of progress it’s had and turn back to Lee’s fantasy? And then there’s a kind of minor issue of why/how Moll does what she does at the end for Ben and fixing the problem of Moll’s meth addiction gives me a chance to address that.

I think I can do that all in a chapter I’m informally calling “All the Places Moll Threw Up.”

Anyway, I’m feeling really good about that and I hope I can get a working draft by the end of the month.

And then what? I don’t know. I’ll try to find an agent. We’ll see what happens.

Return to the TSLA

I spent my morning at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, checking my research on my three folks for the Nashville encyclopedia. Everyone was in a good mood. All the staffers were cheerful and really helpful, so I accomplished a lot more than I thought I would.

And I discovered that Joseph Deraque twice petitioned the General Assembly to give him a little thank-you money for saving the city. They declined. I also got to flip through Paul Clement’s book which is, ugh, just so fucking amazing. I feel like we should give him a medal. Hell, we should let him petition the General Assembly for a little thank-you money!

Money Attracts Problems

I think it must be wild to have a baseline of so much money that a couple hundred bucks arriving at Christmas isn’t a guarantee that your car will break down or you’ll need to hire a plumber or the whole back of your yard will break off and go floating above the Fontanel and get you sued for blocking their view.

But, here in the real world. money ahead is money spent on a problem you just don’t know you have yet.

The Butcher’s car broke down on Briley. He is, apparently, out of oil. Which, you know, is no good. But the weird part is that there’s no evidence of a leak. Our driveway harbors no oil slick. The car doesn’t smell like it’s burning oil. The oil is just gone.

And whether the car can come back from being run without oil?

Who knows?

Many Things

I didn’t have my pre-Christmas bout of the blues, but I think I’m having them now, just over lunch. Am I doing the right thing? I don’t know. About anything. I just don’t know.

I’ve got to get to the TSLA and get that off my plate.

We got the dog one of those nose leads. He hates it, but it cures every problem I have walking him, so we’re sticking with it. He’s such a sweetheart. The cats still hate him, though. A couple of the Butcher’s friends came over with their kid. She’s gone from speaking on or two words that only her parents can really understand to speaking whole clear sentences overnight it seems. And she told the new kitty, “You can jump into my arms and I’ll catch you.” The new kitty didn’t believe her, but I was impressed.

My mom and I went Christmas shopping for my dad. One of the things I hate about Christmas is that my dad won’t tell anyone what he wants and then he acts all hurt–and I think is genuinely hurt–when he doesn’t get anything he wants. So, at Christmas, my mom had a million presents to open and the rest of us had like one or two. And it hurt my dad’s feelings that she didn’t have a million presents for him. Which I felt bad about, but, really, it’s his own damn fault for not telling anyone what he might like.

He also repeatedly tried to talk me into writing “real” stories about “real” things. And I laughed him off, because it’s ridiculous. But everyone wants to be the boss of everyone. Never doubt that.

Anyway, my mom. We’re shopping for my dad and she’s talking about how people have run him down to her before and how she hates that and has decided those people have small, boring lives. “I get to have Brent Phillips,” she said. “My life is never dull.”

My reader finished up this draft of Ben & Sue and I think she has figured out what’s not working with the last 1/4. I’m really excited. It’s like, duh, finally, I feel like I have some idea of what to do to make it work for me.

Big changes are afoot, things I don’t feel comfortable talking about here. But I’m trying to handle them gracefully. I’m just scared. I have to make some decisions. And other people have to make some decisions. And I have to hope our decisions all line up.

Brief Hibernation

Last night, I went to bed at 7 p.m. and woke up at 6:20 to walk the dog.

So, yeah, it’s been that kind of Christmas.

Stealing Quiet Moments

It’s just very loud when the whole family is together. Which I find lovely, but also somewhat draining. My reader is done with Ben & Sue and has–as seems to be the case with this manuscript–put her finger right on the problem which seems obvious now that she’s said it, but which I could not see myself. I want to be thinking about that as well as enjoying family togetherness, but that’s not how it really works with them.

We finally sat down to look at Sonnyboy’s vet record. It says he’s a lab mix, that he just got fixed, and that he was probably born in September of ’09. That makes him four. Their life expectancy is ten to twelve. So, that’s kind of a bummer. And yet, he should be someone’s pet. That’s the thing about him that, when you meet him, rings true. This is a dog who should be in a house and who should have people who love him. And we needed someone to love, so why not us? The time is always too short.

Anyway, we learned the hard way yesterday that him running through the house in big circles means he has to shit. And will do so in the house if you can’t see his clear signal. Okay, we got it, buddy.

Hello U.K. Fans!

Amazon has changed their payment policy. You used to have to earn some minimum before they’d pay you, but now they just pay you whatever you’ve earned in the previous sales cycle. I hadn’t sold enough in the U.K to warrant ever paying me in the long history of A City of Ghosts, so I wasn’t even aware that I’d had any sales in the U.K., but I’ve had a handful!

Which is weird and lovely. I don’t know how those U.K. folks even learned about my book, but I hope they liked it.

Does this Count as a Therapy Dog?

The amount my parents love animals kind of breaks my heart. They never smile so easily as they did meeting and hanging out with Sonnyboy. He’s pretty fantastic, it’s true, but the truth is that they’d be that way about almost any dog. Or cat. Or snake. Or goldfish.

So, we had a really nice evening just hanging out and talking and being charmed by the dog.

I have the first couple rows of the red afghan pieced together, too. It’s pretty marvelous.

The thing that’s bugging me about 2013 is that, even though it sure seems like the year of things I feel ambiguously about is over, it’s made it more difficult for me to trust the nice week I’ve been having. I feel like I’m being set up to be knocked down again. And I have to figure out how to let that go and how to just enjoy the nice times for what they are.

The cats continue to be kind of upset at us. But I think they’re figuring out that the dog is just a doofus. This morning, the three of them were in the kitchen together and there was some hissing, but no one ran. If they can just learn to stand their ground, everything should be fine.


Turns out that my parents are coming today, not tomorrow. I need to start listening to folks better. Oh, well, the bathroom is clean

Down at the End of Lonely Street

Most of my co-workers are out today. I’m done with everything I have to do and now I’m sitting around wondering how long I have to sit here pretending to be busy.

I’m also thinking about the future. And what people want from each other.

And what I want from the world.

And whether I’ll get it.

Everything Changes, But Not as Quickly as You’d Like

I’m a little money ahead going into the new year, so of course my check engine light has come on and both my fridge and my water heater seem to be leaking. I’d be bummed, but I have to admit, I feel really lucky that I got a little money ahead before this stuff happened. Though I was also hoping to set it aside to print the children’s book. Which, I’m hoping, is not going to be that expensive. I don’t know. Ugh. But excited ugh.

The trouble with signs and omens is that I never know how to read them. But I’d like to take this as a sign that the year of things I feel ambiguously about is over, from one dead of winter to the next.

My friend, S., has been waiting to hear about three things and yesterday, she found out that all three things are happening for her.

And the person who is reading the Ben & Sue project keeps emailing me just to tell me that she likes it so far and it makes me feel like maybe this will be the year I find an agent.

We Enter a Sucky Stage of Training

Day Seven: SonnyBoy is now feeling much more secure and much less anxious, thus meaning it’s time for Boundary Testing! Will I let him tug and tug and tug? Can he just wander off the road and drag me with him? Can’t he just paw the shit out of the Butcher? And what about chasing the cats? Isn’t that fun and cool?

And the reason this part is hard is that the desire to just scream “NNOOOOOO!” for like 26 hours straight is really, really strong. And yet, all that does is set a baseline of unhappiness. So, we’re both trying to remember to heap on the praise for good behavior so that the “No!”s sound like the necessary aberration they will come to be.

When They Are Who You Know They Must Be

This and this.

I have this fantasy that we can all just get along, that we can see people living different lives than us and say “Hey, butt-fucking is not for me, but you guys are obviously in love so, carry on, my fellow Americans!” Or maybe we say, “Oh, you know, I don’t really get the duck hunting part, but I get the part where the family clearly loves each other, so I’m just going to trust that the duck hunting is not for me but is not something I need to worry about.”

And I really like watching Duck Dynasty. I don’t need the Robertsons to be like me in order to recognize that they’re a loving family who’s living their values. But I do, in order to keep watching, need to feel like they respect my not being like them. And they don’t, so fuck ’em.

But I still fucking hate it.

Here’s another thing, and I admit that it strikes so close to home that I have a hard time thinking about it rationally. I get the idea of a man being the head of his household. Again, it’s not for me and not how I would organize my life or my family, but I get it.

Here’s the thing I don’t get. If you said to me, “Betsy, I’m putting you in charge of this group of people I deeply care about, some of whom are going to be incredibly dependent on you, and not only are you in charge of their physical well-being, you’re in charge of their spiritual well-being,” I’d be nervous as fuck and I’d be not only studying the guidebook, but I’d be humbled by the responsibility. I might fuck up but you know it wouldn’t be from lack of over-thinking every part of it. The weight of that kind of responsibility would weigh on me. And the weight of knowing that you’re going to come back and ask for an accounting of how I treated your loved ones? I’d be constantly going over the ways I’d fucked up in my head. I would strive so hard to be the kind of person who deserved the trust you showed in me and the responsibility you’d given me.

And you’re not God.

But I keep butting heads with this attitude that is all the “God put me in charge” with none of the commiserate “So, I should act like the kind of person who deserves this responsibility.”

And there’s fucking Phil Robertson talking about drinking and drugging it up and THROWING HIS WIFE AND KIDS OUT OF THE HOUSE. And then he finds God and now he’s all back in charge and the past is in the past. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that, in his worldview, he still has to be in charge. It’s how it works. But is there any sense of what a huge second chance he’s gotten? Any remorse for how that had to fuck up his kids? Any sense that, knowing he’s the kind of guy that could fuck up that bad, maybe he shouldn’t be too comfortable being seen as an authority on anything?


There’s no sense that Phil doesn’t think he’s got a God-given right to do whatever the fuck he wants, damn the consequences, and it’s cool, because that’s just how things are. No sense that he’s got a God-given responsibility that he has already royally screwed the pooch on once.

It doesn’t make me angry. It makes me really, really anxious. Okay, think of submission this way. We are trapeze artists. I am the leaper who tumbles through the air and you, my head-of-household partner, are the one who must catch me. I do what you say how you say to do it when we’re performing the trick (marriage in this analogy) because I need you to keep me from plummeting to the floor.

Phil dropped his wife and kids. They hit the ground. And, yeah, he recommitted to paying closer attention to the guidelines of trapeze use. But he dropped them.

Maybe being a little humble about whether the trapeze act is for everyone is in order, when you know what can happen when it goes wrong.

But, not just in Phil’s case, but in other cases, I see a lot of an attitude that, if the women and children fall, well, it’s their own faults or that’s what women and children do, so what does that have to do with the heads-of-household? No indication of the proper sense of fear you’d think a person in that situation would have, if they truly understood the responsibility that comes with the authority they want to have.


I wish I had something profound to say about Johnny Cash’s hum in “I Walk the Line.” But I don’t. I just love how it seems to sneak in there out of nowhere, like you think you hear something, but you’re not sure and then, mmmmmmm, there it is, loud and buzzy in your ear.

Santa is a White Person

It reminds me of all the heathens who sit around and argue about whether the Norse gods are white. Or the fits about Heimdall being played by Idris Elba. I mean, just ignoring the fact that St. Nicholas was Turkish, Santa is a legend. He can be whatever he needs to be to fit the story. I mean, Robin Hood is a fox, sometimes. You see a man in any story with one eye and a propensity for hanging himself, forget what skin color he has, you need to check and see if that’s the Old Man.

The Professor and I have talked about this some. I used to think that we could convince everyone to be more interested in justice and equality because it’s not like the privileged folks would be losing anything. They’d just be making room at the table for the rest of us.

But that’s not true. The truth is that, in order for equality to truly happen, a lot of people are going to lose shit. The idea that not only can you believe that Santa is only white, but that you have a right to a culture that agrees with you? That has to go. Just for starters.

Setting Less Ambitious Goals for the New Year

–I’m going to submit something else to Tor.com. I’m thinking of sending “Sarah Clark.”

–I’m going to rework the piece they rejected this year and try to find it a home.

–I’m going to finish revising “Allendale” even though nothing will come of it, just for my own sake.

–I’m going to do this kids’ book.

–I’m going to try to drag Project X kicking and screaming into the light of day.

–I’m going to try to find an agent for Ben & Sue.

Wow, well, my goals for 2013 include no new writing, except, of course, for October stuff. That is, seemingly, not good. I’m not a writer. I’m a reviser, submitter, and being-rejected-er.

So, I guess I need to set some real, actually producing content goals, too. But I also want to keep those small. Maybe just two new stories.