Where The Red Fern Grows- A Review


On my version of Throwback Thursdays, I review a book that’s been around for awhile and tell you why you should read (or reread) it.

Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, was published in 1961, and introduced me to a world I had no idea existed.

I grew up in a fairly rural area in Pennsylvania.  My home was an old farmhouse without any kind of central heating system.  My bedroom had an electric light, but no electrical outlets.  We had a large yard that butted up to a forest.  I had heard that someone owned the land the forest sat on, but no one seemed to know who it was, so I spent my childhood roaming that woods.  I went to a regular school and had to walk a block to the bus stop in an area without sidewalks; I pretty much walked on the road to get there.

Where the Red Fern Grows is set in the Ozark Mountains, and Billy is a young boy who wants a pair of Redbone hunting hounds more than anything else in the world.  Billy and I had some similarities growing up; we both roamed the woods and spent much of our time barefoot.  However, while I went barefoot because I liked it, Billy did it because he had no shoes.  He doesn’t go to school, and when he happens to see a school “in town,” his mother gets weepy eyed because it’s her dream to send her children to a real school.

Billy’s world enthralled me as a child, and I’ve re-read this story countless times.  Although this is ultimately a sad story, it’s also life-affirming.  Billy wanted those dogs more than anything else, so he worked and saved to get them.  He lived a lifetime with those dogs, doing things he hadn’t dreamed of doing before.  It’s a story about ultimate friendship and sacrifice, about love and loss.

If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  I suppose it’s meant to be a kids’ book; after all, the main character is 10-12.  I don’t care how old you are though; this book will touch something deep inside you.  If you have read it, it may be time to read it again, or share it with a child.  Even though it’s set in a time and place many of us aren’t familiar with, there’s something timeless about the book.  I believe this is a book that should be placed proudly on your bookshelf and re-read every few years.  Pick a rainy day, curl up on your couch with a mug of tea and a box of tissues, and get reacquainted with this wonderful book.

5 Things Not to Say to a Writer

IMG_1253I have many wonderful and well-meaning friends.  That doesn’t mean that they don’t sometimes stick their feet firmly into their mouths.  I can’t speak for all writers, but I’m telling you what drives me crazy.  Someone has said each and every one of these things to me at one point or another.

  1.  “You’re a writer?  That’s cool.  I’m going to write a book when I have more time.”  No you won’t.  If you’re waiting until you have more time, you’re not a writer.  Oh yeah, I write because I have nothing else to do with my time.  As I sit in my mansion, watching my housekeeper, I twiddle my thumbs and say, “I’m so bored… what can I do with my time?  I know… I’ll write.”  If you’re waiting until you have more time, you’ll never do it.
  2. “Oh, well that’s an okay idea.  I have a better idea.  Why don’t you write about…?”  Your idea is not better than mine.  You know why?  Because I’ll actually write about my idea.  I have a great idea… calorie free french fries.  Oh, you mean because I don’t have a chemistry degree, it’s not a great idea, just a fantasy?  Thanks for your “wonderful” idea, but I’m probably not going to write about it.  I love discussing ideas, but dismissing my idea in favor of yours isn’t the way to start a discussion.
  3. After a friend read a short story of mine… “I don’t agree that the character is crazy.  I think that the character is more of a Cassandra-like person who is prophesying and no one believes him.”  No, the character is crazy.  I know the back story, even if I didn’t put it in.  I tell you in the story that the character is crazy, and why.  It’s okay to ask questions, to say that something is not clear.  But please don’t argue with me.  I lived with that character in my head for weeks.  If I say he’s crazy, he is.
  4. “That sounds like X movie, X TV show, X book.  Well, not really, but it reminds me of it.”  I didn’t read that book, see that movie, or that TV show. I didn’t get my idea for it from there.  There’s sort of a finite number of ideas, and I can pretty much guarantee that something in a story somewhere will remind you of something I’ve written.  Do you really need to tell me that?  It makes me feel like you’re not taking me seriously.
  5. “Why are you wasting your time?  That’s a lot of time for not a lot of money.”  Oh, and do you make money watching all those TV shows that apparently aren’t a waste of YOUR precious time?  Here’s the thing… I’ve been writing stories forever.  I wrote my first novel at 12.  Yes, it was awful, and yes, I’ve learned a lot since then, but the point is that if I’d be doing this anyway for free, why gripe about how much I make?  Of course I’d love to make a living doing it, but some things aren’t about the money.

My stories are really important to me, and I pour my heart and soul into them.  If I’m willing to share them with you, even for a little while, can you respect what I’ve done enough to treat it as such?  Writing is a passion, but it’s also really hard work.  Okay, yeah, it’s not hard work in the way that being a construction worker or firefighter is, but it’s still something I put a lot of time I didn’t have and effort into.  If you don’t like what I’ve written, that’s okay.  There are ways to say so that aren’t put-downs or dismissing.  “That’s really not my thing.”  “I didn’t understand why so-and-so did that.”  “The story seemed to drag in the middle and I lost interest.”  If you’re critiquing something someone else wrote, be specific and constructive.  I’ll thank you for it.