Book of Words: “If the Creek Don’t Rise” by Nancy Hartney

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. Included here, following a short review, are a few interesting words I found in If the Creek Don’t Rise, Tales from the South by Nancy Hartney.

Eighteen stories make up If the Creek Don’t Rise, each offering a glimpse of the deep south. They speak to the hardness of life, the goodness of life, and both the blessings and cost of love. What’s special about the stories in Hartney’s collection is her ability to layer in complexity in so few words. Complexity in the characters, complexity in the relationships between the characters, and complexity in the details of setting a scene. The tales come together quickly with careful precision of a truly talented writer who provides a satisfaction for the reader unheard of in most short stories. Think I’m kidding? Check out the short “postcard vignettes” where Hartney tells a story in just a few sentences.

One of my favorite tales in the book is King David and the Bookstore. I love the reminder of the goodness we gain for ourselves by being kind to others, and the thought of what missives we may leave behind to change another’s thoughts of our memory. Hartney’s expert weaving of words maximizes the emotional impact of her storylines. I loved the compassion I couldn’t help but feel for the plight of a prostitute and a man she befriends and loses in The Trickster. But every story pulled me in. Good writing makes for mesmerizing reading.

Reading If the Creek Don’t Rise makes me want to pick up Washed in the Water, Hartney’s first short story collection. Both of Harney’s books are published by Pen-L Publishing, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Just a Few Words from If the Creek Don’t Rise:

Withers: noun. Plural. The highest part of a horse’s back, lying at the base of the neck above the shoulders. The height of a horse is measured to the withers.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 3: From separate vantage points they watched the jockey carefully balance his weight above the withers, grab a handful of mane, and will himself one with the chestnut colt for the thousand-pound jolt out of the gate.

Shedrow: nounA row of sheds; especially referring to a row of barns for horses at the start of a race track.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 5:  After the final race, with the track emptying, Lady shuffled toward shedrow.

Mucking: noun. Dirt, rubbish or waste; Farmyard manure, widely used as fertilizer. verb. (muck up) informal. Mishandle (a job or situation); spoil (something)

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 23: Up every day before 4:00 a.m., Belle struggled to keep her grooming, rubbing and mucking covered while she tended Charles Allen.

Pirogue: noun. A long, narrow canoe made from a single tree trunk, especially in Central America and the Caribbean.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 38:  Kenetta Broussard, an olive complexioned girl-woman, had grown up on the edge of Chokeberry Bayou poling a pirogue through cordgrass and across open channels, first with her father, and later, only the hound.

Patois: noun. The dialect of the common people of a region, differing in various respects from the standard language of the rest of the country; the jargon or informal speech used by a particular social group.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 39: While they worked, in his soft patois, he explained the shallow-water pathways, great blue herons, bull gators, and water moccasins.

Coquina: noun.1. A soft limestone of broken shells, used in road-making in the Caribbean and Florida. 2. A small bivalve mollusk with wedge-shaped shell which has a wide variety of colors and patterns.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 99: Before Jackson could respond, a grey Blazer crunched across the coquina shell parking area.

Minced: verb.1. Cut up or grind (food, especially meat) into very small pieces, typically in a machine with revolving blades. 2. Walk with an affected delicacy or fastidiousness, typically with short quick steps.

If the Creek Don’t Rise, Page 143:  She minced into the church meeting hall behind her sister and waddled toward tables groaning under casseroles, whole hams, deviled eggs, and baked sweet potatoes.

 Definitions are typically fromThe New Oxford American Dictionary.

Nancy Hartney, author and poet

FULL DISCLOSURE: Nancy is a beloved friend. We share a writing critique group, a publisher, and a love for the craft. She’s also a recently retired librarian for the Fayetteville Public Library, where both my daughters were lucky enough to work part-time as library pages while students in Fayetteville, Arkansas. But don’t let that diminish a word I’ve said about this fantastic storyteller or you’ll miss out on a great reading experience.


“The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of full meaning. Given that, why in God’s name would you want to make things worse by choosing a word which is only cousin to the one you really wanted to use?” Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft


What interesting words have you taken note of lately?