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?


Hell No, Dear Abby!

Dear Abby recently advised someone to provide a review of a self-published book that would get around the fact that the book was not worth reading. She said to use the words “a real page turner,” although the book was very poorly edited. “Reader in The Southwest” said the book was filled with misused and misspelled words, and punctuation problems. The writer had even switched the names of two characters. “Reader” couldn’t even force herself to finish reading the book, but her friend’s husband had written it and her friend had edited it. She felt it was too late to say anything negative about the book because it was already printed.

Photo by Lori Ericson

Photo by Lori Ericson

Dear Abby was being asked what to do in response to pressure to write a great review on Amazon. Abby advised her to find something she liked about the book and mention that it was a “page turner” because the reader did have to turn the pages.
I often take note of these Amazon reviews in determining whether or not to read a book. Giving a false review and misleading those who may purchase the book is wrong. If you’re not impressed with a book, don’t write a review.
I also think this issue speaks to the facts of self-publishing. If you can do it and do it well, make money from your writing, all power to you. But if you don’t get your work properly edited and just put it out there, it’s doing an injustice to all the self-published writers trying to do it right.
As a newspaper reporter for nearly twenty years, I’ll be the first to admit I need an editor and so does everyone. By the time I’m done even writing this blog, I’ll read back through it and find things that need changing. Sometimes I’ll make those changes and add in new errors. It happens, and it happens to the best of writers.
Mary Farmer at blogged recently about self-publishing being a business and the steps she takes to get a book out. She’s doing it right, not relying on just herself. She has beta-readers, editors and a publicist.
For all those self-published writers who are simply having a spouse or friend read through their masterpiece and then putting their work out there for the world to try to waddle through, I say keep it to yourself. I also say you deserve any bad review you get! I’ve become angry at being ripped off every time I’ve tried to read a book that I came to realize was not properly edited and not vetted by anyone with a good eye for detail. So far, I’ve simply not provided a review. With this kind of advice from Dear Abby, I feel that maybe it’s time to say what I feel as nicely as possible but honestly.
My first novel is my baby. It’s being read now by a series of editors with a publishing company. I hope every single wrong detail, misspelling and incorrect punctuation mark is discovered. I’ve spent more hours than I care to admit on this first book. I’ve rewritten, edited and ran much of the book through my writing group, but I know there are still things to find, fix and improve.
How do you handle writing a review for a book you found lacking?