What does “Bless Your Heart” really mean?


Several months ago a popular blog apparently set out to explain what the Southern expression “bless your heart” really means. Unfortunately it seems, to me at least, that this blog post was written by someone who speaks Southern as a second language and really doesn’t understand the nuances.

HeyYallI now feel compelled to speak because I actually overheard a checker at the Walmart in my very northern town telling a co-worker, who was about to move to Mississippi, that “when a Southerner says ‘bless your heart’ it means ‘F’ you.”

Um, no. It doesn’t. Not even in Mississippi.

To understand Southern speak you need to know two things. Southerners do not speak directly, which is sometimes confusing to Yankees – which to Southerners means everybody else. And secondly, Southerners are traditionally raised to always be polite, therefore we try to sound polite even when we’re being snarky.

As for “bless your heart,” on rare occasions you could receive a full-frontal “bless your heart” intended as a subtle insult or rebuff. This will likely only happen if you are whining about something minor, trying to sound like an expert when you’re not, or spinning a tall tale that stretches credulity. In such cases a Southerner will listen and nod politely and then possibly respond, “well bless your heart” with a knowing smile to the other people in the room. I emphasize that this use of “bless your heart” would be a generally rare occurrence and you’d pretty much have to set yourself up for it.

“Bless your heart” can also be a sincere remark of concern, often followed by, “I’ll put you on the prayer list at church.” If someone says they will pray for you, you can be assured it is not meant an insult with or without a “bless your heart.”

In my experience the most common use, by far, of “bless her/his heart” is to soften the edge of a less than charitable remark. This is always spoken in third person.

I’ll share an example of this usage in a comment made by a late aunt of mine – a molasses sweet Southern belle. I remember her once remarking, “She’s not what you’d call a pretty girl, bless her heart.”

This sentence has so many layers of meaning a diagram couldn’t do it justice. It’s a primer on Southern speech. She makes her point without ever saying the girl is ugly. This is a classic example of how Southerners speak in an indirect way, often describing what something is by saying what it isn’t.

Even that sounded too harsh to my aunt’s ears, so she softened it with a “bless her heart.” In this case “bless her heart” means the girl is homely but she can’t help it.

If you’ve ever wondered what Southern speak is all about, I hope this helps a teensy bit, bless your heart.





Who’s That With My Name?

Until I had a book published/about to be published, I had only ever Googled my name a handful of times. But once

A possible publicity photo of actress Vicki Fee from the campy 1966 movie, "Out of Sight."
A possible publicity photo of actress Vicki Fee from the campy 1966 movie, “Out of Sight.”

I knew my name was “out there” on blogs, online retailers, in reviews, and such, I started Googling my name more regularly.

Every time I Googled my name, someone else always popped up in the search results, as well. I spell Vickie with an “e” on the end. An actress, Vicki Fee, whose name is spelled with just an “i”, turns up on Google whenever I type in my name.

I naturally had a certain curiosity about her. Although she shows up in any Google search, there’s actually very little information about her.

She was born Astrid Allwyn Fee in Los Angeles in 1945 and died in Santa Monica when she was just 30 years old. Vicki with an “i” has only two screen credits listed in IMDb (the International Movie Data Base). She appeared in one episode of The Munsters, “Herman’s Sorority Caper” (Season 2, Episode 30), as the “first girl”. And she appeared as “Janet” in a 1966 beach/spy spoof movie titled “Out of Sight”.

My husband and I watched The Munsters episode she is credited in and still weren’t sure who “first girl” was. We also watched the movie “Out of Sight” and could only make a guess as to which girl was Vicki. While her character was given a name, no one ever identifies her by name in the dialogue. In the credits, her name is listed beneath Bob Eubanks, who doesn’t even appear in the movie, just his voice.

There is no photo included in her IMDb listing. The caption with the photo I’ve included here – the only one I could find online purporting to be of her – reads “possibly Astrid “Vicki Fee” Steele, daughter of actress Astrid Allwyn.” This picture appears to be a publicity photo for “Out of Sight”.

Her mother Astrid Allwyn had a distinguished career, appearing in films throughout the 1930s and ‘40s, including

A photo of golden age movie actress Astrid Allwyn, mother of actress Vicki Fee.
A photo of golden age movie actress Astrid Allwyn, mother of actress Vicki Fee.

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Follow the Fleet” and “Love Affair.” She played mostly supporting roles, often as the other woman, but did have lead roles in “Mystery Liner,” “International Crime” and “City of Missing Girls.”

Her IMDb bio says Astrid Allwyn married Charles O. Fee and decided to retire from show business to raise a family, which included Vicki and her sister, Melinda O. Fee, who also became an actress.

I still think about this woman with the name so similar to mine, who died tragically young, every time she pops up in my Internet search results. I wonder how she died and what her acting career might have looked like if she’d lived longer – plenty of actors have had inauspicious early roles. I place this photo of Vicki next to photos of her mom – of which there are an abundance – looking for a family resemblance.

For now, at least, she remains a mystery. As a mystery writer, it bothers me when I come across one I can’t unravel.

The Write Kind of Music

So with the first book I didn’t particularly have deadlines—other than those I imposed on myself. And for most of us, it’s all too easy to ignore self-imposed deadlines or extend them indefinitely. Having worked as a newspaper reporter for many years, I work best under the thumb of a real, no-fudge-factor deadline.

shutterstockDeadline920Now than I’m signed with a publisher, there are real deadlines for my books—dates on which I am contractually obligated to turn in the synopsis and the manuscript for each book and dates by which edits must be completed.

This is good for me. But it’s not always easy. I try not to procrastinate. But no matter how early I get started or push to reach daily word counts, it’s a race to the finish line. That adrenaline rush pushes me forward—that, and copious amounts of caffeine. And I need inspirational tunes.

Not songs to play while actually writing, but songs to inspire me to write. I rarely listen to music while writing. If so, it’s instrumental or sung in a language I don’t speak. Icelandic band Sigur Ros fits the bill.

The following partial playlist is my Rocky Balboa running up the steps music. Music to pump me up, energize me, motivate me, keep me running—or at least limping—to the finish line.

Top Five Inspiration to Write Tunes:

Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield

Everyday I Write the Book by Elvis Costello

The Book of My Life by Sting

Let the Day Begin by The Call

Paperback Writer by The Beatles

Cozy and Unashamed

My name is Vickie and I write (and read) cozy mysteries.

Not a shocking admission really, but enough to garner me a disparaging look or comment on occasion from some writers and readers of other genres.

Agatha_ChristieIn fact when I attended the Writers Police Academy in August, I sat next to a pleasant-looking lady at one of the sessions who asked me, “What kind of books do you write?” When I answered “cozy mysteries,” she replied, “Oh, I never read those!”

I know reading tastes are subjective, but she’s missing out on so many amazingly good books! Or at least it seems that way to me, as a die-hard cozy fan.

I first discovered Agatha Christie when I was about twelve. I imagined Miss Marple as my elderly aunt, whom I’d spent a few weeks visiting each summer in England. Her village life with its thatched roofs, roaring fire on the hearth and afternoon tea served in delicate china cups was a world away from my reality of asphalt shingles, rattling air-conditioning and a sweaty glass of iced tea.

For an awkward adolescent with her nose pressed firmly in a library book, sitting in Aunt Jane’s parlor and tagging along as she unraveled murder mysteries felt like the safest, most comforting place on earth—despite the fact that bodies were piling up in St. Mary Mead.

How does that make sense?

I believe it’s because before you read Page 1 of a traditional mystery—which vary greatly in their degrees of coziness— you have the assurance that the murderer will be caught and justice will prevail. That’s something we don’t always get in other categories of crime fiction—and seldom happens on the evening news.

I sometimes enjoy a good horror read, curled up on the sofa as the shadows on the wall grow darker and more ominous. Or having a thriller leave me breathless as our hero races across the globe, his life in peril as he tries to prevent an assassination or foil a terrorist plot.

But, I always come back home to the cozy, traditional murder mystery. It’s comfort food for the mind and spirit. It’s hot cocoa or mac ‘n’ cheese or chocolate cake. And cozies come in all flavors, from spicy and exotic to warm and familiar—romantic or humorous or paranormal, or maybe even all three at once.

My only complaint now that I’m writing cozy mystery novels is that I have far less time to read them.

Playing Cops and Writers

MascotI admit to having a certain amount of Nancy Drew envy growing up, what with all her exciting adventures in crime solving. But this past weekend, Nancy Drew would have been jealous of me!

I attended the Writers Police Academy in Appleton, Wisconsin. Law enforcement officers from different agencies, firefighters and emergency medical personnel train at the new, state-of-the-art Fox Valley Technical College Public Safety Training Center.

Last Friday, about 300 (mostly) mystery writers descended en masse on the facility. We came armed with notebooks, pens and lots of questions. We attended sessions taught by police academy instructors and special guest lecturers, including a medical expert in bioterrorism, a police sketch artist and a forensic psychologist who has profiled serial killers.

Of course, the hands-on classes were some of the most fun. I learned how to retrieve and develop fingerprints from various surfaces. (Fingerprints can be retrieved from cars that have been submerged in water. I never knew that!) I did a building search with a TeamWork (1)partner and I handcuffed a perp. (Actually, she seemed like a very nice lady, but I enjoyed slapping those cuffs on her all the same.)

So, take that, Nancy Drew! Although, I still envy her car a little. That blue roadster was pretty sweet.


Q & A with cj petterson

The Liv and Di page banner

A big welcome to fellow author and Sister in Crime, cj petterson, who’s visiting the blog to chat about her latest book, a romantic suspense novel titled “Choosing Carter,” which releases today (Aug. 17, 2015).

Choosing Carter coverVF: Choosing Carter features taut suspense and heavy action, with a sweet and genteel romance or what your publisher describes as “behind closed doors” sensuality. This is an interesting mix that I found very appealing. How do you achieve that kind of balance? Why do you think it works?

cj: I believe that less is more when it comes to romance. Readers’ imaginations are wonderful things, so I try to take the scene just far enough so imagination can kick in. Suspense works the same way. Action, however, is a different thing. Unless the reader has personally seen or been involved in a similar action taking place in the story, they won’t understand unless it’s fully described.
Like short stories, this is where the right words really matter and must do double duty. To quote Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” As to balance, I use the love scenes as the spaces where the readers can catch their breaths before the next action. Sometimes, I miss and there’s too much action…because I love, love, love writing those scenes.

VF: You grew up in Michigan and now live in the South. (BTW, I grew up in the South and now live in Michigan!) But the book is set in Colorado. There’s a strong sense of place in Choosing Carter. How and why did you select this setting for the book?

cj: I chose the Colorado/Utah area because I wanted the target of the terrorism to be in the center of the U.S., not the obvious big-city targets. The sense of place comes because I once spent five-and-a-half days white water rafting on the Yampa, the last undammed river in the U.S. (and despite having taken swimming lessons, I still didn’t know how to swim).
I also once spent two days on a doors-off Jeep Jamboree off-road adventure on the Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, sometimes driving over boulders as big as my living room!
It seemed natural to let my protagonist enjoy my adventures while she was in Colorado. However, just so you know, those adventures of mine were more than twenty years ago. I did hours of Google research to refresh my memories and even wrote to a white water rafting group that still plies the Yampa for more up-to-date information.

VF: Do you write in genres other than romantic suspense?

cj: I enjoy writing in multiple genres as well as nonfiction. In fact, one of my works-in-process is a YA fantasy and the other is a detective story that has, as do almost all genres, a side of romance.
I stumbled into the romance genre. Actually fell flat on my face there. Before I knew what I was doing, I entered a Romance Writers of America contest with what I thought was a wonderful love story. One of the judges wrote that when she got to the ending, she was so disappointed she threw the pages against the wall! I had failed to obey the cardinal rule of all romance stories…they MUST have a happily every-after ending or at least the promise of one.
Love stories don’t have that requirement so the protagonist and the hero in my contest story ended up very much in love but moving in separate directions — lots of love and angst, but no HEA. I changed the ending and submitted it to Crimson Romance, which published it in 2013 as Deadly Star.

In a “love will find a way” and “my brother’s keeper” kind of way, Choosing Carter is a contemporary romantic suspense novel set in the high mountain desert of Colorado. It is a high action story of how a woman’s idyllic trip with the man she loves turns deadly when she discovers that the changing face of terrorism never seemed as horrible as it does when the face she sees is that of her brother.

Choosing Carter is available on Amazon, click here.

Author “cj petterson” is the pen name of Marilyn A. Johnston. Marilyn is an award-winning writer whose short fiction and non-fiction stories have appeared in several anthologies. Her works-in-progress include another suspenseful romance, a mystery series that features detective “Jake” Konnor, and a young adult fantasy. A first-generation American, Marilyn was born in Texas to Swedish parents and takes her pen name from her paternal grandmother. She is a member of Sisters-in-Crime, SCBWI, and a charter member of the Mobile Writers Guild. She spent 25 years in the automotive industry and now lives near her sons in Mobile, Alabama.

Love Me Tinderbox

It’s Elvis Week in Memphis, or as the locals call it “Death Week,” when fans from around the world descend on the city. Activities culminate August 16, the anniversary of Presley’s death, with a candlelight vigil at Graceland.

For the most part Memphians lock themselves indoors with the air conditioning, while sunburned tourists mill about outdoors doing their Elvis thing. (Most of the uninitiated visitors survive, but EMTs stationed at Graceland for the vigil always have to treat at least a few people for heat exhaustion.)

If you enjoy people watching, snag a window seat inside an air-conditioned eatery on Beale Street during Death Week. You’ll see people of all nationalities — there’s generally a large contingent from both Japan and Germany. Even more fun, there are always a number of Elvis tribute artists, some who come for the competitions and others just making a fashion statement. One year, hubs and I had the surreal experience of standing in line on Beale Street for a Saliva concert at The New Daisy Theater, sandwiched between Goth teens and Elvis impersonators.

However, I wouldn’t personally recommend visiting in August when the average temperatures are in the mid-90s and the heat index soars over 100. If you’re an Elvis fan, I’d suggest instead a pilgrimage for his birthday (Jan. 8) when the average temperatures are 50ish. There aren’t as many special activities as there are in August, but there are usually a couple of special events. And year around you can tour Sun Studios, Graceland, the Lisa Marie, his birthplace in Tupelo, and tour — and even spend the night in — the Lauderdale Courts apartment where Elvis lived as a teenager.

If you still yearn for the unique spectacle that is Death Week, be sure to wear sunscreen and a hat, carry an umbrella for shade while you’re standing in line at Graceland, drink lots of water and take frequent rest periods indoors. The friendly EMTs will wave and say howdy, but they’d prefer not having to give you medical attention.

Southern Relativity

I recently watched one of those “finding your roots” type shows on TV and thought I’d take a minute to discuss the complicated matter of Southern genealogy.

FamilyTree_webBasically, it goes like this: Southerners extend the branches of the family tree to include any leaves, twigs or nuts that happen to brush against them.

For example, I tell people I have relatives in Chicago. My brother’s wife’s younger sister lives there. I like to refer to her as my sister-in-law, once removed. By Southern calculations we are blood kin, because both of us are “aunt” to the same children—who, by the way, are brilliant and beautiful because we’ve never had an ugly child in our family

My sister-in-law, once removed, whom we’ll call “Alyson,” since that’s her name, got married a little over a year ago. Her husband, whom the brilliant, beautiful children call “Uncle Mike,” got grafted onto the family tree as well. He’s now related to me by marriage. However, his parents, whom I met only briefly at the wedding—lovely people— would be considered distant relations.

How far do the branches on your family tree extend?

Merry Ice Cream Dreams

On a glorious day earlier this week, I met a friend for a picnic lunch in the harbor park down the street from where I live. After noshing on pasta salad and fruit we decided to treat ourselves to an ice cream cone.

I ordered a scoop of Amaretto Mackinac Island Fudge in a sugar cone. If you’re familiar with Mackinac Island you know they’re famous fA restored Merry Mobile ice cream truck from the 1960sor their fudge. (If you’re not familiar with Mackinac Island check out Geared for the Grave by Duffy Brown, which is set on the island—and a great read!)

The ice cream tasted good, even with the temperatures in Marquette hovering in the mid 70s. But it wasn’t nearly the food of the gods I recalled from my childhood in Memphis when the mercury in the thermometer during July and August would remain in the 90s—or higher.

I remember as a kid hearing the siren call of the tinkling bells ice cream truck music. I’d run to the back door to ask Mama for a quarter. (I seem to recall the prices ran from 15 cents to a quarter.) I’d run barefoot on the sizzling pavement, worrying that the truck would leave before I got there. It never did. I always struggled to decide if I wanted an Eskimo Pie or an Orange Push-Up Pop or a Firecracker Popsicle. My decision was often influenced by what the little redheaded girl across the street had purchased.

When I was little, the ice cream man in my neighborhood didn’t drive a typical truck. Merry Mobiles were round, canopied vehicles painted red, white and blue that rotated as they floated down the street like the circus coming to town. But nothing gold can stay. By the time my little brother came along, gone were the magical Merry Mobiles, replaced by ordinary ice cream trucks. I’m not blaming my brother, mind you. Just saying.

(A big thank-you to Kelly Jones for use of the photo. Kelly is pictured above in one of the original Merry Mobiles from the 1960s, which he has restored. You can see more photos, share and read memories on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/MerryMobile/174302215974453?sk=timeline)