Monday, September 26, 2011


Welcome back to Flowers on the Fence Country! Flowers on the Fence Country is big. It expands to include anyplace wherein resides one of my special Flowers. It encompasses Malta. New Jersey. California. New Zealand. Canada. Scotland. England. Anyplace where a special flower grows. One of my very special Flowers is found in Ohio. Her name’s Roseanne. Fancy that. How fitting. Roseanne Dowell.

Roseanne’s latest release, Connections of the Mind, is a first for Flowers on the Fence. Its first review. Again, how fitting, since the entire premises of this little private country of mine is connecting, place to place, person to person. Collecting the special.

Have you ever – well – just connected with anyone? I felt an immediate affinity for the characters of Connections of the Mind because of the heroine’s name. Roseanne Dowell christened the heroine of this book Rebecca Brennan. My beautiful twenty-seven year old daughter’s name is – Rebecca Branan Smith. (We tend to use our maiden names for middle names down South.) Now, what are the odds of that happening? So of course I had a vested interest in following Rebecca Brennan’s story.

Rebecca’s definitely connected with someone. And not by Twitter or Facebook, or for any reason so innocuous as announcing where he’s having dinner. Her life is now disrupted by a knowing, without knowing how, that somewhere, there’s a man out there in danger. Her visions indicate he’s in a dangerous profession, something in law enforcement, she’s sure. But this danger’s different. It’s personal. And so is her new mission. She has to find and save this man she’s never met, but knows in the depths of her soul. Her soul-mate.

This first review is thus concluded with the award of Five Flowers on the Fence for Roseanne Dowell’s Connections of the Mind. Which incidentally didn’t just, against astronomical odds, utilize my daughter’s name as the heroine’s, but also pegged my daughter’s husband’s profession. He’s law enforcement. He and the hero don’t have the same name, but they both have names starting with J. And my daughter and son-in-law are soul mates who met at the ages of 15 and 17 and never looked at another member of the opposite sex thereafter. Now, is that series of coincidences freaky weird or what?!

In celebration of the release of Connections of the Mind as well as Flowers’ first review, I invite you to an Author’s Roast. Author being roasted – Roseanne Dowell. Banquet attendees doing the roasting – Roseanne’s own creations, the heroines of her novels. Well, you know what they say. What goes around comes around. Maybe us writers should remember that.

Jordan Blake: Hi, everyone, Gail asked me to write something about my author (creator), Roseanne Dowell. Talk about paybacks. Now I’m in control. Wonder how she’s going to like that.

Rebecca Brennan: Wait a minute, Gail asked me to write something too.

Kate Wesley: Now just hold on a darn minute. Gail promised I could say something.

Elizabeth Ashley: Oh, dear, this is going to get awful confusing I’m afraid. Christine Rollins and I are supposed to say something about her, too.

Jordan: Well, it looks like we’re all going to have a say. What the heck, she controlled all of us long enough. Let’s turn the tables, ladies. What do you think? I’ll speak my piece and you can join in whenever you want to. Roseanne really isn’t that bad, I guess…

Rebecca Brennan: Oh really? Not too bad until she wants you to do something you don’t want to do that is. Do you know what she did to me? She put someone in my mind. Seriously! It drove me nuts. How would you like to feel someone’s pain? Scared the beejebers out of me with all those dreams and visions. Then she takes me to this town and makes me look for the guy. Someone’s trying to kill him and he comes after me, too. Not too bad you say?

Elizabeth Ashley: At least she didn’t take away the man you loved. Do you have any idea what that did to me? I was like a zombie for months. If it wasn’t for my aunt, I might never have recovered. How would you like being controlled by a father who should have lived in the Victorian Age?

Christine Rollins: At least she didn’t bring your ex-husband back into your life, just when you were starting over. I wasn’t looking for anyone. I was very happy with my life. Of course my friends and relatives had other ideas - all because of our dear creator. To them, life wasn’t complete without a man. And she involved my daughter. That’s right, my daughter. Roseanne actually sent my son-in-law’s uncle to live with them. Handsomest guy I ever met. We were getting along just fine until my ex showed up and asked for a second chance. Well what was I supposed to do? We’d been married a long time, he was the father of my children.

Kate Wesley: Oh no? Ha, she brought my ex-fiancé back just when my life was on the right track. I mean seriously, there I was starting my own business and bam, he shows up. As if that wasn’t enough, she threw this hunk into my path too. Talk about complicating my life. To make matters worse, there I was visiting my aunt’s grave and what do I find – a freaking dead body. I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

Jordan Blake: She sure likes to play with our lives, doesn’t she? There I was, minding my own business, preparing for a storm and a body washes up on my shore, alive but unconscious. You should have seen me rolling this guy across the rocks and up onto my deck so I could get him into the house. How does she reward me? He has amnesia. Doesn’t know a thing about himself. So there I am, locked in my house while a blizzard rages outside and the power goes off. Like I needed that.

Roseanne Dowell: All right, ladies. No fair ganging up on me like that and I’m not allowed to defend myself. Heck, I’m a writer, that’s what I do. What kind of story would it be if you all lived these boring, monotonous lives? I mean, come on, Jordan, you have to admit the guy was a hunk. And Rebecca, didn’t you have quite an adventure? How about you Elizabeth? At least you had his memory, right? Christine, what kind of fun were you having until I came along? Kate, heck, all you were doing was working. You all have to admit I livened things up for you. Hey, where are you going? Aren’t you going to answer me?

Huh, that’s the thanks I get for creating such interesting lives. If you’d like to know more about Jordan you can find the book at:

Rebecca’s story:

Christine’s is at:

And Elizabeth’s:

Last, but certainly not least Kate’s:

You can find out more about Roseanne at:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Are You Hungry?

Welcome back to Flowers on the Fence Country! Are you hungry? Well, then you’re in the right place. Actually, that’s not quite right. You would have been in the right place three years ago. Three years ago, before the beginning downswing in the economy and the summer when gas skyrocketed to over $4.00 a gallon (the first time, I mean) and stayed there until fall, before food prices blew the top of the roof off, the working folks of Jeffersonville ate breakfast and lunch at the Courthouse Café. The Courthouse Café occupied a prime piece of real estate in J’ville – right across from the Courthouse and right beside the local grocery store.

Meals were served cafeteria style. Judy, the head cook, stood behind the steam counter, spoons at the ready to dish out the patrons’ choice of one meat and three vegetables from that day’s menu. It wasn’t called all you could eat, but with the amount of food hitting the plates, it actually was. Everyday’s menu sported two meats and seven vegetables from which to make your choice, complete with either cornbread or biscuits. Homemade. With dessert (frequently homemade, though that wasn’t one hundred percent guaranteed). And choice of beverage. Soft drinks were available, but down here in Flowers on the Fence Country, most folks don’t even consider that any beverage but sweet tea (and I do mean sweet) is an option with either lunch or supper. Some folks even drink it for breakfast. Pam, Judy’s assistant, kept the kitchen moving, threw more chicken in the fryer, fetched and toted. Not only were the biscuits and cornbread homemade, no instant or frozen mashed potato would have dared show its face in that kitchen.

Lunch started cooking while breakfast was still leaving the kitchen short order style, frequently by means of the breakfast crowd sticking their head through the swinging kitchen doors and hollering out for two eggs, bacon, grits and a side of hotcakes. Or two sausage biscuits. Or whatever. Big pots of vegetables simmered on the gas range, liberally seasoned with salt meat, that staple of southern cuisine. Every day was delicious, but Thursdays were always Thanksgiving. Turkey, dressing, sweet potato soufflé, macaroni and cheese, broccoli casserole, peas, collard greens. If you weren’t in the mood for turkey, you could have fried chicken. Everybody was always in the mood for the dressing. That dressing was ambrosia from Olympus. The cooks tried on occasion, particularly in the heat of the summer, to substitute out the menu so that it didn’t just scream “Thanksgiving!” but it never worked. That’s what everybody wanted on Thursdays and that’s what everybody got.

Do I sound like I have more than a passing acquaintance with the Courthouse Café? That’s because I do. We’d bought a small business in town several years before. My husband had had his eye on the Courthouse Café for a while, but I’d managed to hold him down. “You’ll break your back to break even,” I said. “This is J’ville.” That worked for about a year. Then he called me up and announced he’d bought it. Well, the restaurant part, anyway. Not the building, he was just renting that.

I’ve always attempted to make the best of everything. And there was a lot of good in the Courthouse Café. I formed the habit of leaving for work early enough to run into the backdoor of the kitchen. First order of business was a hug from Judy and then a hug from Pam. Or vice-versa, depending on who was closest to the door. Then I’d head to the dining room and see who among the regulars needed a coffee re-fill. Grabbing my own coffee, it was back to the kitchen, where I maneuvered to the grill between Pam and Judy, both of whom moved in an intricate ballet between grill, stove, and refrigerator, frequently in time to the black velvet voices of Southern gospel playing on the radio. I’d soft fry an egg, sometimes two, grab a big spoonful of buttered grits from the pot warming on the stove (hot, cooked, fine-grained corn based cereal not generally well-known outside the South and usually truly appreciated only by Southerners), and add several pieces of the bacon standing ready on a corner of the grill. There’s something decadently luxurious about being able to just grab ready-cooked bacon.

Before I left, I’d fix my lunch. Why not? I was in a commercial kitchen, right? Fried chicken salads, sometimes. I’d throw some chicken fingers in the deep fryers and they’d be ready by the time I was done with breakfast. One of the legendary quarter-pound hamburgers, maybe. They re-heated just fine at lunch if they were fresh-cooked that morning on the grill. The fixings for a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. If there were no left-overs from lunch, then there was no supper waiting at home that night, but there most always was just enough for our suppers and for Pam and Judy’s suppers. It wasn’t enough to save, and our customers didn’t expect re-heated food the next day. We didn’t plan to ever give them any, either. I can taste that roast beef, those beef tips over rice, that spaghetti sauce, that fried chicken, those hamburger steaks now.

In the end, though, guess what? Randy broke his back and didn’t break even, though that had to do with the economy that summer more than anything else. The potatoes we used went from $19.00 for 40 pounds to $40.00 for 40 pounds. In the space of months. The rest of the staples followed suit. Between rent, food, utilities, payroll, taxes, we couldn’t raise the price of the plates enough to cover the costs of putting them on the table even though the crowds remained consistently large. The Courthouse Café closed its doors for the last time on August 31, 2009. A few hearty and optimistic folks attempted to start another restaurant in the building. They stayed only a few months each. We’d at least held out for year. Small restaurants are back-breaking, heart-breaking businesses. Y’all remember that the next time you’re in one. Even so, in more favorable economic times – say, even the ones in which Randy Branan in a fit of optimism had purchased the thing – I’m pretty sure it would still be open.

Times did change, though, and the restaurant did close. But there’s one thing y’all should have figured out by now about writers. We never waste anything. We never forget any experience. We remember bits and pieces of here and there, now and then. And we blend those bits and pieces into things we hope will be as special for our readers as they were for us.

So, even though the Courthouse Café is no more, other than in these pictures scattered around, it lives on as that glimmer of an idea, that glint in a writer’s eye, that will be seen somewhere, sooner or later. In the case of the Courthouse Café, it will be seen sooner. September 2012 as a matter of fact. Because it lives on as the model for the Scales of Justice Café which figures so prominently in the social life of Turkey Creek, Rockland County, Georgia, the fictional setting for Down Home, my crime thriller coming September 2012, from MuseItUp Publishing.
I hope y’all enjoyed this little tour of the two cafés, one real, one fictional, but both mine. Keep an eye out. There are still Courthouse Cafés scattered around the countryside to enjoy, right along with homemade biscuits. If you’re lucky, you can find one now and then. And if you don’t, well, there’s always the Scales of Justice Café. Coming September 2012. Y’all come back now, hear?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Origins: Another place, another time…

Flowers on the Fence Country is everywhere. It’s not limited in location and it’s not limited in the space-time continuum. Like Santa Claus, it’s everywhere. Always. For those who believe. And remember.

Take a journey with me, back to the early and mid-sixties. The South in the sixties, in which I spent my grammar school and early high school years, was in a state of flux. Many of the changes that were upon it were long overdue, but progress is a two-edged sword. The turbulence of the Civil Rights movement, the war in Vietnam, and the vocal shouts of the country’s protestors and demonstrators would eventually drag every sleepy little Southern town kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century.

However, even though Rowan & Martin regularly socked it to the country as Laugh-In looked at the news, while Simon & Garfunkel sang of their brother who had died so his brothers could be free, in my little world the projected high temperature for a summer’s day and price of milk – ninety-nine cents a gallon, as I recall – occupied more importance in daily life than did most of the revelations of Huntley & Brinkley.

By some quirk of heredity and temperament, I was truly “my Daddy’s child”. For this I’m thankful. In all honesty, my mother was at best bi-polar and at worst, sometimes frankly psychotic. And like Forrest Gump, that’s all I’m going to say about that. Consequently, I was Daddy’s shadow and had been since earliest memories, spending many delightful hours in his company. He was a construction foreman and a master carpenter. Weekends brought delightful inspections of the construction project he was supervising at the time. I walked on the long light poles of Macon’s Henderson Stadium while they were still lying on the ground and wrote on the chalkboards of many of the local schools long before students entered their doors.

We loved walking through the woods in late autumn and winter, when the air felt crisp and clean and snakes, though still possible, weren’t very probable. We loved to sit on the screened-in back porch and watch the lazy summer twilight come down over the back woods. Sometimes in the distance, the sound of the train whistles of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad cargo trains added to the magic. Those times were best of all when a sudden summer thunderstorm had cleared the heavy humidity from the air and given the hot, dusty ground a smell that no expensive cologne could ever hope to duplicate.

Our house was some miles outside of the mid-sized Middle Georgia city of Macon in a small country neighborhood of some four or five houses. We were perched on the banks of Stone Creek Swamp, and some half-mile or so behind the house ran beautiful Stone Creek. When I was about nine, a neighbor of ours, Mr. Emory Scoven, built a little dock over the spot where Stone Creek expanded into a small pond.

Mr. Emory was a retired railroad man and lived with his brother, sister, and sister-in-law, in the house next door to us, high up on a hill. I ran in and out of that house without knocking and with total impunity. Nobody knocked back then. Mr. Emory was a Pied Piper. Mine was an old neighborhood and though at one time it had been full of kids, I was now the only child in the immediate vicinity. My big sister told me that when she was little, her gang trailed after him like puppies as he worked in his yard and around the creek clearing. In my day, I followed him alone, but with no more devotion than had they. His railroad tales were as much a part of my heritage as the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm.

In the late evenings, after Daddy came home from work, he and I joined Mr. Emory at the dock and cast our lines into the leaf-brown waters of the creek. The three of us sat for hours in perfect contentment, talking or not talking, as the case might be, while the corks from our fishing lines bobbed on the water, a shot-gun always ready beside them. Even in Eden, one must be on the look-out for snakes, and I never went out the door in the summer without a warning following behind – “Watch out for snakes!” This is, I think, the big-city equivalent of warning children to watch out for cars.

That dock is my childhood. Daddy and Mr. Emory always sat on the little wooden bench affixed to the dock, and I always sat cross-legged beside them on the bare planking, occasionally slapping mosquitoes as they discovered my bare arms and legs. Each of us held a cane pole, because rods and reels were useless in the close confines of the creek and its small pool and would only catch uselessly in the brush and undergrowth of the creek banks.

I remember the sound of the frogs as dusk fell, and birds flying low across the pond’s clearing. Sometimes you could see the head of a water moccasin swimming across the creek further downstream, crossing a safe distance from the intrusion of the dock upon their territory.

Nothing else on God’s green earth feels like late evening in the spring in the Deep South. The air feels like velvet, light trembles off the water, birds fly overhead. The sounds of the frogs and insects make their own symphony. I have no pictures of that creek and dock to post. Digital cameras were far into the future. Children don’t think of such things as recording special moments on film. No matter. There is no way that any camera could have properly recorded those moments, those men, that place, that time. The photographs are in my heart. They always will be.

I know somewhere out there, they’re still fishing together on the banks of Stone Creek. I love you, Daddy. I love you, Mr. Emory.