Writing in the ‘sweet spot’
By SANDRA BROWN KELLY
GLADE HILL -- Author-teacher Becky Mushko and husband John, a retired field engineer with General Electric, have found that sweet spot of life on a Franklin County farm between Union Hall and Penhook.
“This is the highest spot around here; I can talk all over,” says John, who in an aside admits he never told Becky just how suited the farm would be for his short wave ham radio.
Her response: “I don’t drag him to literary festivals.”
The writer and the technical fellow worked out a division of duties that has him making coffee in the morning while she feeds the animals. She next reads blogs, and John gets on the radio. “I once talked to a fellow who was on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.”
John worked on Polaris submarines but now enjoys time for his longtime ham radio hobby and the pursuits of a gentleman farmer. After all, he and Becky can hear the boats on Smith Mountain Lake from part of their property.
The couple owns 500 acres, 60 in hay and 400 in timber, and have the horses, dogs and square bales of hay requisite for such property. The dogs mostly are “off-road” adoptions meaning they came as strays, although she rescued the Catahooga hound Harley. Their land includes the homesite, a farm they bought on Turkeycock Mountain and the old homeplace of Becky’s family, which she inherited in 1969. The family cemetery on that property carries evidence of her humor, a tombstone engraved with her name (no date) that she bought as a bargain. Recently, robbers made off with the stone, but that’s probably many more stories.
The Mushko home is on four acres on Listening Hill Road, reached off Virginia 40 by way of Novelty Road.
“We used to pass this home and we coveted it for a number of years,” says Becky, who as Ida B. Peevish writes weekly humor columns for the Smith Mountain Eagle. She has published two books of her past columns. Her work demonstrates her comprehensive knowledge of the area and of human nature, and an enviable comfort in being herself. Mushko also as been a middle-school teacher, a Ferrum College English instructor and writer-in-residence for Roanoke County.
She retired from Roanoke City schools in 1997 after 26 years of teaching. Becky graduated from Richmond Professional Institute, Virginia Commonwealth University, and has a graduate degree from The Citadel. She serves as an officer in the Virginia Writers Club, Valley Writers and the Roanoke Valley Branch of the American Pen Women. She belongs to several more writing groups and serves on the board of the Rocky Mount Library Literary Festival.
She has won first place writing awards in the 2002 Sherwood Anderson Short Story Contest, 2004 and 2005 Lonesome Pine Short Story Contest, 2007 Virginia Writers Club "Back Page" Contest (Essay), and 2007 Virginia Writers Club Two-Tier Contest (Fiction) for "HotGuy16," which appears in this issue of Prime Living.
Becky also blogs like she’s on fire at her homepage, home.infionline.net/~rmushko. She would have everyone believe she is disorganized and languishes amid clutter. And, true, she does have five cats and will let a cat lay beside her as she writes on one of three computers. And, she had a lot of stuff in her house, but it’s beautifully placed and so comfortable looking in its place. The five trucks on the property, including maybe three in the garage, might be a tad cluttered.
Her latest literary success is an essay she contributed to Cup of Comfort for Writers, published in September by Adams Media. Mushko’s contribution was “Out of the Fog.”
The essay first version won second place in the 2005 Wytheville Chatauqua contest. Becky rewrote it and won the 2005 first tier of the Virginia Writer’s Club contest, but it only received an honorable mention at the statewide VWC level.
“Consequently, I rewrote the whole thing again, expanding it to include classroom visits that I make as a writer. I guess the third time’s the charm,” she says.
“Out of the Fog” is creative non-fiction. That is, I combined several classroom visits I’ve done into one in which I explain to a class how I write—cats on my desk and sometimes on my computer, the border collie under the desk, the Peaks of Otter that I see through my study window, my faithful eMac, my truck, my iBook, my general disorganization, my.“
The essay plays off her insistence that she revels in clutter and has this advice for writers:
“A writer should be able to see into the distance . . . or at least know it’s out there. On a clear day, I can see the Peaks of Otter. On a foggy day, I still know they are there. The same with ideas – somewhere in the fog and the clutter, the ideas are out there.”
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