Chance Meeting Brings Friendship…and More!

Often you meet a person and don’t realize the impact they can have on your life.

I wrote the opening to this interview on May 6, the day after our Writers At The Bistro event at Horizon Bistro in Sparta. It was a short review of “From Lemons to Lemonade,” presented by NYTimes and USA Today best selling author, SE ‘Susan’ Smith.
As it states in the interview, the circumstances surrounding our first meeting make a great opening introduction. The audience got a good laugh at the telling. As I look back on the impact and potential for Alleghany Writers and our local writing scene, it is a prime example of “fate plays a hand.
Spending time with Susan since the event has been personally inspiring. This woman loves, loves, loves writing stories, and she has a keen sense for marketing that has taken her to the top of her category in the publishing world. Hearing her share the journey has me taking a closer look at how I spend my time. It has prompted me to refocus on the things I really love to do. I really love to write!  And it’s time to get out those notebooks with all the story ideas and get to writing. With the Alleghany Writers creative writing group up and running, I can shift more time from the organizing.  Or, as Susan put it, focus on “be-ing” instead of “do-ing.” Writing is hard work, but it’s joyful work, and I’m in need of some joy. Look for a more regular posting schedule in the future!


May 6, 2018

It was through a cosmic set of occurrences that I came to know author S.E. ‘Susan’ Smith and became immersed in conversation at her home on an afternoon in March. She shared the story of how she became an author and rose in popularity to become a multiple New York Times and USA TODAY best selling author. It was an inspiration…as a writer with a goal to be published, but also as a woman who has been at that place, the moment you make the decision to take control of your success and become the mistress of your own destiny.

A prolific writer with a mind for marketing. Susan has developed new markets with stories for teens and children, expanding the brand with plush animals, coloring books, tote bags, and other items.

Susan appeared May 5, on the Horizon Bistro stage in downtown Sparta to an enthusiastic crowd of readers and writers.  She brought her story of turning life “From Lemons to Lemonade.” She talked of the challenges, her inspirations, and gave us a look at the many ways readers help build the characters and story lines. As an example of her faithful fan base, there were readers who drove from northern Virginia, West Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma to see their favorite author and hear about the new stories she has coming in the next few months.

Thanks to Chef Garrison Wagoner, owner of the Horizon Bistro, for giving Alleghany Writers a spot on the Bistro stage. Susan’s appearance premiered First Saturday performances of Writers On The Bistro Stage. Check the Alleghany Writers Facebook page for our upcoming schedule.

While Susan takes time to speak with attendees, a group of her faithful fans distribute books and other cool “swag.” Susan admits to loving the goodies and makes sure there are lots of fun items to hand out at book signings.

Here is my interview with Susan, printed in the Alleghany News on April 25.

My adventure started with Cynthia Grant. Since she was home recuperating after foot surgery, I delivered promotional posters and handouts to her house for an upcoming Alleghany Writers event at the Library. As people came by to visit, Cynthia handed out the information. Surprisingly effective!
Cynthia gave handouts to Julia Simmons. Julia went for coffee at Sparky’s and heard two women talk about their recent move to Alleghany. She heard one woman say she was a writer. Julia approached, introduced herself as a friend of the Alleghany Writers creative writing group, and offered one of the handouts she picked up from Cynthia.
That person was SE ‘Susan’ Smith. Julia got her card, dropped it off with me on the way home, and I sent Susan an email that evening as an introduction to our group and to Alleghany County in general. There was a reply in my inbox the next morning, and by the afternoon I was sitting with Susan, her sister Linda, and Sirah the pup, overlooking a scenic view of Low Gap, and talking about writing. I doubt that a character from the worlds of S.E. Smith could have orchestrated a more serendipitous event!
As a fellow writer I understood her enthusiasm about getting stories out of her imagination and down on paper. Susan is immersed in her characters and their stories.… so are her readers!  The sheer number of published books and their popularity show her ability to engage readers in the worlds she creates. But, as I sit next to this very pleasant woman, dressed down for an afternoon of writing, and not appearing anything like someone who has been named multiple times to the New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author lists, my first question begins with the word “how.”  How did it all happen?
About her start in writing, Susan says, “The school district I worked for was reorganizing. I had been with them for 15 years as both a teacher and as tech support staff. One day they tell us ‘everyone is gone, you have to reapply.’

“I was rehired, but developed this rebellious mood of wanting to escape the ‘real’ world for a while. So I started to read. I soon found there were few stories with females who were strong, fragile, brave, scared, namely a woman who was real to me. And, I wanted to read about an alpha guy who was strong, vulnerable, willing to learn, and who wasn’t afraid to admit he was in love, even if he wasn’t sure what to do about it!”

Susan found the heroes and heroines in books couldn’t match the ones she created in her own imagination. “I thought about all the stories in my head and decided I could always write them down for my own pleasure.”

Her sister Linda encouraged Susan to send her stories to a publisher. She did, but received the, “thanks, but no thanks” response that often nips the budding novelist. Not Susan. She kept writing, just to see where the characters would go. The stories collected into a growing pile.

Eventually her sister encouraged Susan to publish so she could share the stories with friends. She was still working her full-time job, a job which now included eight schools, not just one.

“I took my courage and started researching. I found out about Kindle Direct Publishing, learned to do the covers, and late on a Sunday night, I hit the SEND button to publish the books I had written.”

Along with positive feedback came sales, and the book sales grew to the award-winning popularity she has today. It confirmed what Susan knew in her heart. There were people out there who wanted the same reading experience. Now the publishing world of S. E. Smith spans the genres of science fiction, fantasy, paranormal, and contemporary stories. They combine action, adventure, and romance with the themes of family, friendship and true love.  Her audience is world-wide, including adults, young, adults, and children.
How did Susan Smith get to Sparta? It’s another version of the story we know well. Looking for a mountain home to get away from Florida summers. Went from county to county. Nothing fit the bill. Their realtor told them about a home in Alleghany County. That home didn’t suit, but when they followed a “by owner” sign up the road, there it was. The home, the property, the view. Everything they wanted. Now Susan and her family are Alleghany homeowners and look forward to being part of our community.


Second Honeymoon Brings More Than Memories

When we visited Aruba on our honeymoon in 1993, I had only a hint of where our lives would lead. I knew I had finally chosen wisely, and now had my last and best husband. The years have confirmed this to be true.  I have been his navigator on road trips, first mate to his captain, and the one who held the stick when he measured out our new home site. All exciting adventures. Maybe not holding the stick, but definitely building a new house!

Island Time – Aruba, February, 2018

Over the years Melvin has always been supportive when it comes to my writing…my desire to work with writers, play with writers, and surround myself with writerly folk. He understands my passion for Alleghany Writers and the development of a literary community in our county. Even on our second honeymoon last February, he was happy to follow as I pursued the island writers of Aruba.

The following essay tells the story of what I found, who I found, and the impact of the experience. It was printed on the Op/Ed page of the Alleghany News, May 2.

Experiencing the Power of the Arts

When Melvin and I decided to spend our 2nd honeymoon in Aruba I became determined to connect with  local writers while I was there. My initial goal was to find Dan Putkowski, an American ex-pat novelist who writes about the island with an unvarnished view. But contact information was slim. He had no social media presence. Dead end.  His book, The Blue Flag, was fascinating and I knew I had to visit the setting, San Nicholas. I wanted to drive down the streets for a better look at the buildings and establishments he described. If I couldn’t find the author I could at least absorb the atmosphere that served as the backdrop for his stories, see how close the real thing was to what I imagined while reading.

When we arrived at the condo I pick up a local lifestyle magazine from the coffee table. Immediately my initial goal of finding a famous author was replaced with the desire to meet Maria Silva, the “PR Diva” of Aruba. The magazine pages told the story of her Poetry Nights and described how these literary events provide entertainment while fostering positive change on the island. The article celebrated ten years of “Poetry Night on Aruba,” and the success of “Poetry is an Island,” Aruba’s first poetry festival, held in August, 2017. I realized this was my opportunity to connect with the island writers, and to meet a woman who shared my mission.

We made the initial connection through Facebook and arranged to meet at Flor de Oriente, a recently remodeled rum shop tucked away in a neighborhood of Oranjestad, just past the rim of where cruise ship tourists drift. The distinctive block buildings nod to their Dutch heritage, colored in a deeper version of the usual Caribbean pastels.The outdoor bar area sits at the end of an open-air market space.

I wait for Maria and watch vendors wind down for the afternoon. My eye catches on a figure still full of energy, sorting through a rack of shirts and dresses. He is Nelson Gonzalez, contemporary artist and founder of the Art Rap Foundation. 

Nelson markets a unique line of hand crafted accessories and works to organize community art projects around the island.  He has represented Aruba in educational collaborations with countries like Cuba and Venezuela, and tells me of how the writing, music, and visual arts work together, opening doors for young artists, and building bridges through cultural arts. Does he know Maria Silva? Of course he does!

When Maria arrives, I find her to be a beautiful and charismatic woman, passionate about promoting the local writers and artists of the island. Venezuelan by birth, but firmly rooted in Aruba, Maria is the owner of Vibrations PR, and an organizer of local events. We sat outside in the always-present Aruban breeze and talked about all the ways writers add to the cultural development of a community.

“The intention of Poetry Night has always been to promote creative self-expression through the spoken word,” Maria explains. “When the event outgrew its first location it became a pop-up event. It moved from backyards, to vacant lots, to abandoned theaters, gaining followers every month.”

“Not just adults,” says Maria, “but kids and teens, too. As the audience grew, the usually conforming and predictable regulars evolved, and began to share a mix of rebellious and vulnerable thoughts with the audience.”

To celebrate their ten-year milestone, Vibration PR and BASHA Foundation joined forces to present Aruba’s first poetry festival, “Poetry is an Island” on August 27, 2017. While poetry was the main attraction, the event included a pop-up street fair, music, limbo dancers, and interactive games.

The festival was a definite success and audience members have already marked their calendars for August 2018. Maria Silva’s goal was to support and develop appreciation of the written word. The goal was reached, and more. The audience enjoyed quality entertainment, and the individuality of each artist in the community was acknowledged.

The value writers add to the community is universal, but it took a trip of 1700 miles to see an example of how local writers can enhance the cultural mix and add a certain dynamic to the community.

As Alleghany Writers wraps up our 3-days of poetry workshops with Ron Houchin I am even more convinced that Alleghany’s new interest in creative writing can move us toward a richer and more diverse community.

I watched Ron interact with students after the workshops, and overheard conversations during our workshop lunches and breaks. There was talk of history and famous poems, and how it’s possible to inhabit the poet’s frame of mind while reading. There were other conversations about how darkness can come to light and truth can be told through the words of poems and short stories. There was some pretty heady stuff happening in our small town of Sparta, North Carolina. I suddenly felt like Maria on that first Poetry Night in Aruba ten years ago. Full of possibilities.




On the Orangedale Road….

This story developed from journal notes taken during our recent trip to Canada, and time with our friends on Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. I’ve written several stories from this travel journal. On the Orangedale Road appeared in the Alleghany News November 8, 2017.


We turn down the Orangedale road. It’s the same sign. No real show of wear. But it’s only been five years. How much could change in that short period of time?

The curves. I remember those curves. Dodging the potholes. Making a game of it. Seeing how fast the old Silverado could go. The April night when snowflakes big as salad plates slid like wet meringue down the windshield as I crept across a one-car bridge with no side rails. This time Melvin drives, and I work hard to cram in as many memories as possible. I want to capture precious bits for future savoring. A little squirrel gathering nuts to relish in hibernation.

Around the last corner, bordering the property line we used to call ours, there is a For Sale sign.  I gasp. The road opens to a clearing at the water’s edge. The current owners have taken out the patches of scrub that blocked the full view of the lake from the house. They’ve etched a gravel path and created a boat ramp. The entrance to the inlet has been dredged. There is a mooring ball bobbing in the distance.

Taken on the day we closed on the property. It was definitely a “fixer upper!” We tore down walls inside and reconfigured the floor plan. Old siding came off, a new porch and deck went on. It went from a 3-bedroom ranch with an indoor pool and in-law suite to a 4-bedroom with a large master suite, spa bath, and new kitchen.

Melvin and I suffer pangs of jealousy. We wanted to do those things. They were on our to-do list. But in the end, we knew this was not our forever home. It was our adventure house, so we renovated, landscaped, and decorated, having lots of fun in the process.

We are hailed from the front porch of our former home and invited up. They are Carl and Teresa, a carpenter and a teacher from the Nunavut Territory, north of the Arctic Circle. Our adventure house has become their forever home. Besides the work at the shoreline there’s a new workshop partially constructed, and Carl has started to blaze a trail 80 acres back to a small lake on the property’s edge.

They are developing the land to fit their needs and enriching its contribution to the scenery along the Orangedale-Iona Road, a heritage road, (meaning dirt and gravel) which is the local route along the Bras d’Or Lakes shoreline.

Taken from the air soon after we took possession of the property.

It’s a road thick with maples, spruce, and white birch. Add a sprinkling of neat, little houses. I remembered that there was one particular bridge across a wide creek that always had someone fishing off the side, and dogs would bark at your passing car for the length of their property line. It was the unique character of this scenic road that first attracted us to the location.


We felt that same attraction on our first drive up Shawtown Road in Alleghany County, North Carolina. We had seen so many pieces of property. Some were obviously not right for us, and others were just not the perfect fit we were hoping for, but as the car wound up Shawtown we felt a spark. When we made the turn onto the worn-in tire tracks leading back from the road, we came over a little rise to a flat stretch of hayfield rimmed with evergreen, farmland in the short distance, mountains in the long distance. And there it was, the spot where we would build our forever home. Just as Carl and Teresa saw Cape Breton as the place to set down their roots, we knew this piece of Alleghany County was the land we wanted to shape into our senior nesting place.


And, what about the For Sale sign on the Cape Breton property? We didn’t ask. Maybe Carl is selling the acres just off the left side of the house. This land has the highest points, the widest views, and water access, which makes it very desirable. It’s only a guess. Could be that Carl plans to market the land to folks above the Arctic Circle. That would make sense. For people who live with a scant five months of temperate weather, Cape Breton’s warm summers, shouldered by mild spring and fall transitions, make the island look like the Canadian version of the Bahamas!

Mustang Sally

 My father bought the Mustang off the showroom floor. It was a 1964 1/2, red convertible, white interior, automatic. He said it was mine.

My dad, Oliver Rains, on one of his Sunday morning rides. It was never too early in the season to put the top down!

I was sixteen years old and not yet aware of the warning to, “read the fine print.” This particular fine print made it my car…except for Saturday and Sunday mornings when Daddy would be up at sunrise and gone until noon. So, the car wasn’t really mine. It was a time-share. But I soon discovered the benefit.  He always brought the car back spotless and with a full tank of gas.

Not until years later did I understand how my father had been enticed by Detroit’s answer to boredom. He fell under the spell of Lee Iacocca’s Mustang. Daddy was a white collar, middle class man in his 50’s. His mid-life crisis was as predictable as my mother’s menopause.  Ford was offering a remedy. In the mind of Oliver Rains, buying the Mustang was more than merely the cure for his middle-age malaise. To him it was almost practical.

Corvettes, Porches, and the like were out of the question. Too expensive. Too flashy. But how could you argue with a man who wanted to indulge his teenage daughter with a red convertible? She could drive herself to school. Run errands for her mother.  Genius! All he asked in return was weekend mornings to escape the humdrum life and hassles of the work week with a long drive in the fresh air and time to hang out with his buddies at the B&B Market or the little airport across the bridge in Chesapeake, Ohio.

I’ll never know what memories my father accumulated during his share of time in that car. Maybe it was the exhilaration of a top-down ride on the open highway.  Possibly it was just the free time away from four walls.  I do know that my share of Mustang memories from 1965 through 1969 includes rides to ball games and dances, drives to Myrtle Beach, and on one occasion a bit of small town thrill riding that included a bloody leg.

THE BLOODY LEG – a teenage adventure

My father lost his left leg to diabetes in 1965. He struggled with prosthetic limbs until he found one with the comfort and stability he needed. After he settled in with his new leg, the old leg was tucked away behind the door in the bedroom. One night, along with an accomplice who shall remain nameless, this spare leg made its way to the open trunk of the Mustang. We secured the thigh portion under the spare tire, and tied down the lid, leaving the calf of the leg, fully dressed in shoe and sock, hanging out in plain sight. Then we doused it with ketchup and drove around town to see how long it would take for the police to stop us.

We were pulled over on Fifth Avenue around 18th Street in front of Marshall University. The policeman said he, “wasn’t amused” by our little prank and gave us a stern talk about distracting other drivers and scaring children who might see a bloody leg dangling from the trunk of a car. There was no ticket. We went home feeling very successful. We had some laughs, a brush with authority, no one got hurt, and we made a clean getaway. For a weekend night in Huntington, West Virginia in 1965, that was pretty exciting!

It wasn’t until the next week that I was confronted by my father. He had been away on business when we pulled off our escapade, but word of the run-in made it back through his friend, the sheriff. First Daddy scolded, then he smiled, and then he reminded me that I was living in a small town. I had forgotten my father’s strong connections around the community and the fact that in their eyes, I was the teenage girl driving “Ollie’s red  Mustang.”

1969 – Holding Laura at our Detroit apartment. My father bought me a Dodge Dart that spring. “I’m not having my granddaughter riding around in a car that isn’t safe for children.”

The Other Mustang – 1997


My husband Melvin has many wonderful qualities. One of those qualities is his ability to build, tear down, and rebuild automobiles. He took the shell of a 1965 Mustang he found in an old barn and recreated my first ride. He scoured the internet and sourced everything from the white pony seat covers to the push-button AM radio. It was our runaround sunshine car for ten years.

In 1998. Kathie Grant Catlin riding shotgun, and Sue Scott McKee giving her royal wave from the back seat. We met to capture some of that Mustang fever from our high school days.

Back in the days of the first Mustang, this was my theme song. 

A Tribute to Anne

California, early 1940’s.

Remembering my mother,

Anne Draffkorn Rains,

on the day of her birth.

She was quite something,

and I mean that statement in all possible ways.




As I begin to write My Life In Horsepower, it’s appropriate to include a story from Mother’s automotive history. This memoir recently appeared in the Alleghany News, Sparta, North Carolina.

The Story of Big Blue

She was long and lean, and ran like the wind. Mother loved her. Daddy loved her too. She was a 1967 Chrysler Newport Custom.

Photo taken in October, 1988. Mother wanted to hand Big Blue over to me, but had to visit my house in Philadelphia to be sure the garage was suitable before she gave me the keys.

Daddy ordered the Chrysler the year I got married. He bought fleet cars from the dealer in Huntington, West Virginia, and told the owner he wanted something special for my mother. It was meant to soothe her mood in advance of my impending nuptials. Neither parent approved of my marriage for many valid reasons, one of them being I was only nineteen. Mother was distraught. Daddy was resigned, but both knew they couldn’t change my mind. To give her something to smile about, he ordered the car. Navy blue, black interior, black vinyl top. He called her, “Big Blue.”

I should note here that when my parents met in the 30’s, Daddy owned a little roadster convertible with a rumble seat. I’m not sure if it made him more attractive to her, but it sure didn’t hurt. It was a common bond. Mother loved the status and freedom that an automobile provided. Daddy just liked to drive.

Mother loved all material things, but especially cars. As a child of the Depression, owning a car was more than mere transportation. Many of her favorite stories included a car as one of the regular characters. “Pauline, Joe, and I took the Buick for a run up to the cabin.” Most old photos taken at outings included a vehicle somewhere in the scene. And so it became with Mother and Big Blue.

Blue took her through snowstorms that kept other cars marooned, and through rain storms that had other cars fishtailing off the pavement. She also transported visiting relatives to the funeral when Daddy died suddenly from a heart attack. Such was the partnership between my mother and that car, even at the age of 76, she felt the confidence to drive solo from Huntington to Columbus, Ohio, for regular visits after Laura and I moved.

Their partnership went on for years, but as much as Mother loved the car, she was also realistic. Blue was 18 years old now, and she decided only one of the pair could have chronic creaks, mysterious leaks, and trouble revving up in the morning.

She went back to the same Chrysler dealership, found the son of the owner who sold the car to Daddy, and drove away in a new Dodge Diplomat with all the bells and whistles. And Blue? She stayed at the dealership in storage as part of the deal…for free…for three years. Mother was a good negotiator.

Blue’s next home was with me, where she stayed until 2003. I took her on sales calls and country drives. After Melvin and I married, Blue went to car shows and rallys. She had a custom car cover and was always in a garage. I promised Mother I wouldn’t sell Blue while she was alive. I kept my promise. There was, however, no promise on who would be the next owner.

In the end, after 36 years of service to our family, I handed over to keys to three young men who talked about speakers in the trunk and flames along the sides. They said it was going to be, “one phat ride.” At that moment I heard the ashes in Mother’s urn puff, and felt Daddy do a twirl in his Indiana grave. I was reminded again of all the ways an automobile becomes more than just transportation, and how the love affair with automobiles continues because there will always be someone who loves the status and freedom, and someone who just loves to drive.

My Life In Horsepower

In the novel, A Man Called Ove, the lead character marks the phases of his life by the car he was driving at the time. For him it was always a Volvo, sometimes a sedan, or a hatchback, or a wagon.

My life in horsepower has not been brand loyal like Ove. I’ve gone from American to Japanese, to Swedish, then German, and back to American. My 2008 gold Subaru Outback was my most faithful steed, with  four-wheel drive that me feel fearless, and capacity that allowed us to pack it to the max. When Melvin and I left Cape Breton, the Subaru was packed up to the dashboard and hauled back to Georgia on a trailer behind the truck.

That was 10 years ago. With our future filled with daytrips, side trips, and long distance road excursions, Melvin decided it was time to trade. He wanted a little more comfort and a few bells and whistles, so the Subaru stayed on the dealer’s lot and the Ford Fusion came home.

With my new ride, Fonda deFord. Just like any other 4-door, white sedan, except Fonda sports the writer’s words of warning in the back window!


My biggest regret. I forgot to take the CD’s out of the player. By the time I realized it, the car was already gone to the next owner. So, a shout-out to the Saint Joe Class of 1965. Anyone out there willing to burn a set of the 50th Reunion mix for me?

Nothing can beat that hand-picked selection of music compiled by Dean Daniels, (grad by marriage to classmate Linda Kemper.) This group of CD’s is a time capsule of song capturing our days of house parties, school dances, and transistor radios tuned to WKEE Radio.  Ive been behind the wheel for over 50 years. Some of those wheels have been standard, some automatic. Some luxurious, some with jammed doors and may-pop tires.

But, no matter where I am and what I’m driving, when I hear Louie Louie, my mind circles back to the first Ford.

It was a red Mustang convertible, 1964 ½ .