Monday, July 26, 2021

Interim Rector? What's That Doing in "The Botleys of Beaumont County"?


     A lot of the story in the novel takes place in St. Clement's Episcopal Church. In the South, that was the denomination of prestige and of the leading social class. That was a carryover from colonial days when the Anglicans dominated. These days the denomination is more progressive, but there still is the lingering aura of prestige in some parishes. 

     In a decently-run parish, the clergy serving is called the rector. An interim rector is not intended to be there permanently. He or she comes for a fixed period or to fulfill a task. Perhaps there has been a long-tenured rector, and a new face is needed. Or maybe there has been some upheaval, and someone has to clean up a mess.

     Enter Father Michael Bertoni, retired US Army chaplain. He is from Philadelphia, a member of another diocese, and comes to St. Clement's after Father Jonathan Stallworth protested changes in the denomination. Eventually, he joined a non-canonical Orthodox group and set up a chapel in town.

     Interims are not there to be popular, but to make some hard decisions and to clean things up. Some members of St. Clement's love him, others, like Eustacia Botley, do not.

     I have been an interim pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, usually in less tumultuous situations. Since we are partners with the Episcopal Church, I was going to be an interim rector in Pennsylvania, but later that week I learned I was being deployed to Germany. 

     Fr. Bertoni's sermons in the novel set the tone for what St. Clement's and its members need to be. What happens in the holiday services shows the tensions and the joys in the community. The main characters find out a lot about themselves there, and that carries over to their everyday lives. 

Friday, July 23, 2021

So Why a Cement Block Plant in "The Botleys of Beaumont County"?

    That is a good question. When I envisioned Beaumont County, I put some limestone quarries there, which are common to where I live now and where I used to live. Heavy industry would not work, and I wanted something other than agriculture.

    Years ago my father was a metallurgist, which was a declining steel industry in the US. He and a friend talked about setting up a business. Dad subscribed to the Wall Street Journal, adding to the newspaper clutter in the living room.

    One day he told me that he and his friend planned to start a cement block company in South Carolina. "It'll be something for you one day," he told me. My older brother's career was planned, or so they thought. But what to do about me? 

     I protested that I knew nothing about cement blocks. He replied I didn't have to. I did not tell him that I would NEVER live down there. 

    But I have since 2004!

   The plans did not come to anything. I would have managed things better than Dexter Botley, but not by much!

    Dad eventually became a foreman in an industrial cement plant near Philly. I worked there as a manual laborer after high school and during breaks from Penn State. That was the only time I benefited from nepotism. 

    Some of that experience shows up in the book, which will be out soon on Blurb. Very soon!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Introducing Jessica Sinclair Cavendish from "The Botleys of Beaumont County"


     Jessica has a lot going for her. Her students adore her, most of her colleagues admire her, her principal is another story. Her daughter Lauren earned a scholarship to the university that pays for most everything. That is good because Jessica's husband Randy has a hardware store in Marion that like the town, has seen better days. Their marriage is more like a partnership, but life does not always work out for people.

     The Sinclairs and the Cavendishes live in the Rivertown section of Marion. It is not a bad neighborhood, and the people there are mostly decent folks. But they are not, and never will be, "movers and shakers" in the community. No one from Rivertown belongs to the Country Club, but a few work there. Anyone wanting something more out of life has to leave the county, even the state.

     At the old Marion High School, Jessica and Slerd wanted to date. His family pressured him to avoid Jessica because she was "not of their kind." She was unable to leave when younger through no fault of her own. In her early 40s, she is professionally secure, but wonders what might have happened if she and Slerd could have become closer. Then the time comes when she no longer has to wonder.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Marion is not Mayberry!

      Andy Griffith based Mayberry on his hometown of Mt. Airy, NC. The TV version was a friendly place where everyone got along and life slowed down. Mt. Airy was idealized of course, but the town was probably not too far off the mark. What it is like now I cannot say. It is not too far off of I-77, which was not there when Andy grew up.

     Marion is a county seat in the southeastern US. It is set between the Atlantic coast and Piedmont. Williamstown is the cultural center of the state. The movers and shakers are there,m and venture out only when necessary. No longer the state capital, the city nonetheless exerts a major influence and lets everyone know it.

     Since Marion is in the hinterlands, it struggles. They have chosen to be a big fish in a little pond. Everyone gets along since everyone knows their place. People generally are kind to each other, but there are limits to the kindness. African Americans do not face overt discrimination; individually, they may become friends, but old tensions linger. Outsiders move in but experience the stigma of being newcomers who really of course have no roots.

     Things change in the first decade of the 21st Century. The Internet, talk radio, and combative politics wear down the facade of politeness. As the filters fall off, Marion and Beaumont County change for the worse. The question is whether the trend will be checked or allowed to continue, shattering the old ways. And what will replace it? What role will the Botleys have?

    Coming soon on Blurb!


Friday, July 16, 2021

Columbia, SC launch site for "The Botleys of Beaumont County" set

      Right now I am not going to reveal it, except to say that it is very accessible and welcoming!

     I need to get the books in hand. We are a few days from having it available. There will be a virtual event for that!

     More to come.....

Monday, July 12, 2021

Interview with Poet Kelli Russell Agodon

      One of the best things about being a poet is getting to know other poets. I am honored that Kelli Russell Agodon agreed to this interview. 

     1. What inspired you to be a poet? It could be someone you know or someone you read.

           For a long time, I didn't realize one could "be a poet." I'm not sure what I thought- that poets were dead or in Ireland, or that one may write poetry but didn't call themselves "a poet." At the University of Washington as an undergrad, I took a class from Linda Bierds and realized that one could actually be a poet in the world. She was the first person who suggested I send out a poem. Within the next year, I started to see myself as a poet and change my life over the next six years to follow that path.

     2. Where you live appears often in your poems. Have you lived there a long time? Why is place important to you?

          I was born and raised in Seattle and have lived my entire life here in the area- in fact, all of my homes are within a 30-mile radius as the crow flies- though now I am separated from Seatlle by a ferry ride and a floating bridge. The Pacific Northwest has always been my backdrop. As a kid, I hated it, Seatlle seemed so boring. I wanted to move to California where there were palm trees and warm beaches. Seattle became a little more interesting in the 90s with the grunge scene and as I've grown older, I appreciate it so much more- our seasons, the clean air, the evergreen, the hiking trails, the bodies of water with their orcas, porpoises, seals, and others. I feel this area knows me and I understand it in a deep way that I know no other place.

     3. Copper Canyon sounds like a wonderful publisher. Tell about your experience with them.

          They have been a dream to work with- every editor, publicist, intern, everyone on the team has been a joy and acts with kindness. Things are very well organized and I appreciated how much care my book received. I also see how everyone at Copper Canyon Press has a fierce devotion to poetry and making the world a better place with what they publish and with their action in the world. And because they are local and my editor, Michael Wiegers, is also a paddleboarder, I have been able to have meetings with him on our paddleboards, so that was an unexpected treat of being part of the Copper Canyon family!

    4. Two Sylvias Press fills a real need. How did it come into existence?

        Accidentally. Around 2009i, my friend, Annette Spaulding-Convy and I were coming back from Seattle on a ferry and we decided to publish an eBook anthology of contemporary women's poetry because there wasn't one in the world at the time. We created the anthology, then realized there were no poetry presses that had any idea how to do an eBook and the formatting for poetry was a mess back then. if you remember. So we thought-- we'll just publish it ourselves! And Two Sylvias PRess was born to publish that book.

       Once we had a press, we publish The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice and then reprinted some of our friends' poetry books where their press had folded. The next thing we knew, e had several titles and we just didn't stop.

     5. You devote a lot of your time to teaching and mentoring. How do you manage to nourish your creativity?

        Nature. Devoting time to myself for my own writing. Solitude. MEditation. Hikes and walks. Long hours of paddleboarding and observing the sea and local seabirds. Reading books. Napping. Keeping the kind and supportive people around me. Turning off my phone. Signing offline. Spend less of my time looking at a screen and more of my time looking at sky.

     6. Is there anything else you would like to mention?

        Just that I am raising money for the Skagit River Poetry Foundation by teaching a generative writing class where we will spend the afternoon writing poetry from fun and surrealist prompts. It's open to all levels of poets and you didn't have to know ANYTHING about surrealism, just come with a sense of adventure, openness, and play and we will write some poems! Also, everyone who signs up receives a copy of my new book, Dialogues with Rising Tides. Here's the link to learn more:


Keli Russell Agodon is the author of four collections of poetry. Her newest book is Dialogues with Rising Tides published by Copper Canyon Press. Kellis is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press, where she works as an editor and book cover designer. She lives in a sleepy seaside town in Washington State on traditional lands of the Chimacum, Coast Salish, S'Klallam, and Suquamish people where she is an avid paddleboarder and hiker. She teachers at Pacific Lutheran University's low-residency MFA program, the Rainier Writing Workshop. /


Genesis of the Novel

   Getting closer to the launch! About 40 years ago I started writing a novel. Parts of it appear in this one. There was a church whose pastor went off the deep end. I based that on a story I read in the Philadelphia Inquirer who claimed there was a weeping statue of the Virgin Mary in his church. There was a lot of excitement over that, and eventually, the bishop wanted to stop it. The priest then declared himself to be the true pope, and a week or so later also declared himself patriarch of Constantinople. He later went off with his followers somewhere.

    St. Clement's Episcopal church plays a major role in my novel. Especially in the South, this was the prestigious denomination. Years ago I met someone who told me when his career took off, he was invited to join the local parish. I have been licensed as a supply priest in a few dioceses, and know the lay fo the land, so to speak.

    Obviously, the Botleys have been long-time members of the parish. And it has had some excitement@

Interim Rector? What's That Doing in "The Botleys of Beaumont County"?

       A lot of the story in the novel takes place in St. Clement's Episcopal Church. In the South, that was the denomination of prestig...