Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Help wanted: champion. Flexible hours, low pay, big returns.

Everyone should have a champion—someone who can help you professionally and who makes a point of doing just that. Vouches for you, opens the door.

When it comes to the writing life, which is both so disconnected from the (mind-numbingly boring) routines of the 9-5 world, and which also seems so dependent on subjective judgments of who’s good and who knows who, we can all use a champion.

So I thought I’d talk about one of mine.

My good friend, mentor and lunch buddy Marianne Gingher (who is also the author of an award-winning novel and short story collection, memoirs, and a forthcoming essay collection about the writing life) decided that I was the one to cover for her when she took sabbatical this spring from UNC Chapel Hill, where she has previously served as the creative writing director and where people seem to get really excited during ACC basketball, though this was a close-but-not-quite year.

With so little to keep me busy these days—two kids, writing, book promotion, various freelance projects, and helping my husband out with his software design business—I naturally wasn’t worried at all about teaching two intro fiction courses at UNC Chapel Hill an hour’s commute away.

I did the math. Two classes a week, 28 classes, 56 hours in the car. I was planning to get through an audio book or few. But I didn’t listen to even one. Why? Because I could sit in silence for an hour in the car. Silence. For an hour, each way. Did I mention kids? On Highway 54, which winds through farmland, I drove past a house that looked close to collapse yet someone had taken the time to paint the window frames a bright pink. This was the way I felt—listing, yet still flecked with color here and there, holding up in spite of the inevitable weight of things.

On Tuesday and Thursday mornings this spring, I navigated my car into some new world, completely different from the one I normally inhabit. I parked in a lot and took a bus to campus. The driver called a greeting to the students as they boarded. Some of them mumbled a response. Many didn’t, but the bus driver persisted, morning after morning. Sometimes I wanted to stand up and say, “Hey, someone said good morning to you! Don’t you know that’s a gift?”
But they didn’t, because they don’t know what it’s like to disappear yet. Most of them have come from homes where their every move was monitored, as mine was. They want to disappear! They haven’t encountered the deep disinterest of the world beyond campus. (Not to say that the world’s deep disinterest doesn’t yield some good material.)

But this was why I was worried, actually, about teaching college students. Not because of the commute, or how I would fit the work into my life. I mean, I love teaching. But would I jive with these people, who maybe didn’t understand how hungry you have to be?
Of course, they surprised me. Many, many of them had both talent and the will to work. Sometimes I saw the glimmer in a line (that bright defiant paint); sometimes it was an understanding of story which I wish I’d possessed then—and which I was thrilled to encounter. Nothing better than reading an assignment that turned into a story that makes you want to know what happens next.

I thought I would plow through audio books in my car and secretly hate my students. I guess I believed I’d already collapsed, given in.

But Marianne Gingher expected something else from me, which is what a champion is supposed to do.

Writing is a lonely business. You need people to look out for you, and you need to do some looking out. Who else has shown me this? Julianna Baggott, Julie Funderburk, Lynn York, Andrea Selch, Mary Ellis Gibson, to name a very few. Dangerous territory, naming names, because of all those you might leave out—but the first two are enormously talented writers whom I was lucky to meet in grad school and the remaining three comprise the writing group that was willing to take me in nearly three years ago..

I’ve often thought it would be nice if we could have a system of sorts for writers. Apprentice, assistant, associate, senior, etc. Wouldn’t that be nice? Pay scales and health insurance and such? We could even go on strike occasionally and hit the beach!

But writers aren’t team players. We don’t go for hierarchy unless it's working in our favor. Nevertheless, we’ll just have to link arms where we can, look for the door, guide each other toward it.

Quinn Dalton is the author of a novel,
High Strung, and two story collections, Bulletproof Girl and Stories from the Afterlife. Stories and essays have appeared in literary magazines such as One Story, Verb and Glimmer Train, and in anthologies such as New Stories from the South: The Year's Best. Dalton lives in Greensboro, NC.

Guest Blog: Bill Peach

Judging One's Cover by a Book

A recent poll by Associated Press/Ipsos found that one in four adults read no books in the past year. The books most often read were religious works and popular fiction. The poll did not indicate whether the same people read both. The poll found that people who do read average around seven books a year.

One would assume that a book of popular fiction should be read completely, front to back, and it would have a climax or some resolution at or near the end. Religion and philosophy offer more options.

I have stacks of partially read books with bookmarks marking my progress as of last sitting. Since I have not finished them, I do not know how they will end. These books have no plot, no suspense, no conclusion. To be honest, I am not certain if I read a complete book this year.

After the publication of Random Thoughts Left & Right, my wife told someone that I had finished my third book. Jokingly, the person expressed concern that I was a slow reader. Some of my partially read books have bookmarks in the first or second chapters. I am impressed when I watch a reader nearing the end of a novel of four hundred plus pages. Occasionally, I carry John Egerton's, Speak Now Against the Day, which he admits is too long at 704 pages but regrets that he left out two important chapters. More than likely, I will never finish that book but it continues to give me insight into an important period of Southern history.

I am neither voracious, avid, ravenous, nor insatiable. I am a slow reader. My passion is for learning, for which reading is a necessity. Reading takes us beyond our own introspective mischief and the triviality of casual conversation. Reading gives us exposure to persons who are more intelligent than our peers or us.

As a fashion accessory, a book serves a similar purpose as a laptop, Ipod nano, briefcase, bracelet, or dog. Last week, I initiated a conversation with a man carrying a biography of Albert Einstein. Validating my assumption that he was an academic, he turned out to be a university provost. Can you judge a man or woman by a book cover?

Do we choose our friends by the books they read? Do we make assumptions about intelligence, personality, moral values, religious and political preference by book titles? Yes, we do. Our associative conclusions may not always be accurate, depending on the reading diversity of that person. Titles by Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Jim Wallis, George Lakoff, or Christopher Hitchens can be indicators of one's belief system. Books by Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, or Barack Obama may suggest common interest or potential confrontation. Do we feel compelled to give advice and comfort to anyone reading a self-help book? Do we enjoin conversation with readers of romance novels, cookbooks, pet grooming manuals, military history, computer tutorials, or economic forecasts?

One can't always know whether the reader would welcome conversation or prefer being left alone to read in privacy. Books serve both purposes. One can avoid unwelcome advances or boring conversation within the covers of a book. Other readers welcome the shared experience of having enjoyed the same book as a bond almost without equal.

I felt such a bond as I watched a young man reading his Bible in a restaurant. With a yellow highlighter, he carefully marked specific verses. I assumed he was preparing for a Bible study group or Sunday School class. Later, when I walked past his table, I was surprised that he had highlighted the entirety of two opened pages. I wondered if that was his bookmark, measuring his devotion to a book that he would eventually finish.
I sat down and opened The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, with its subjects listed alphabetically, and finished reading the extended definition of Aesthetics. I may not finish this one this year.

Bill Peach is a member of the Williamson County School Board and a member, Hall of Fame of Williamson County Council for the Written Word. He’s written three books:
To Think as a Pawn (a three-act play), The South Side of Boston (a memoir) and Random Thoughts Left & Right (collection of essays and short fiction

Monday, April 28, 2008

Small Town Dying

By Michael Morris

Recently I traveled back home for the funeral of a close family friend. While the death was a shock, the way in which the community rallied around the family was not. As the south has changed and made way for residents beyond the Mason-Dixon Line, the one thing that has remained constant is how small towns unite around those who are grieving.

Within an hour of our friend’s passing, the citizens had sprung into action. Soon platters of fried chicken, bowls of casseroles and pans of pecan pie covered every square inch of the kitchen counter. Whatever the food item, every dish had one thing in common -- the adornment of masking tape with the owner’s name written in ink to ensure its proper return.

Watching the endless flow of townspeople enter the home to hug and cry with the family members, I suddenly felt great pride to be from this place. It’s in grief that the town shines the brightest. Silly disagreements or inconvenient slights are immediately tossed aside in favor of unconditional love and comfort.

During the visitation service the next day, those from various classes and races mingled in the funeral home to pay their respects. Of course every elected official in town made a stop too. If there is one thing that will cause a preacher or a local politician to lose his job, it’s the unpardonable sin of not appropriately acknowledging death.

Being away from my hometown for so long, I felt like an observer instead of a participant. I passed the time by looking through a scrapbook that the funeral home had placed on a coffee table in the lobby. The book contained thank you notes from family members who had hired the funeral home to assist in saying good-bye to loved ones. I was shocked to learn that some people I had known since childhood had passed away without my mama even calling to let me know. I was so wrapped up in reading the notes that I almost didn’t see one prominent elected official walk past.

She made her way to the elderly funeral home employee who was holding court in a winged back chair, thanking each visitor for stopping by. “Joe,” she said while using a remembrance card to fan herself. “Who else do ya’ll have down here that I need to know about?” Without getting up from the chair, the man pointed to a board that looked similar to ones I’ve seen at churches to record attendance. “What about Elmer Simpson’s sister? You seen her yet?” the man asked. The woman shook her head and said, “Oh gracious. Let me go.” And with that, she was off to comfort the next family and to certify her attendance by signing the guest register.

Friends of mine who live in different parts of the country are horrified when I tell them that in the world that I grew up in, making comments about the appearance of the dead is not only appropriate but also expected. My first real experience with this was twenty-five years ago when I accompanied my grandfather to a visitation service for a man whose family had once employed me.

My grandfather and I wove our way through the throng of mourners. When we reached the family, he leaned down so close to the open casket that I was scared he had lost his mind and was about to jump in. Then with all the enthusiasm he could muster he shouted, “Ohhh…don’t he look good. I tell you the truth, I hope they make me look this good when it comes my time.” Feeling my face grow red and wanting to melt into the floor, I nervously glanced at the man’s widow and daughter. I was certain that we would be thrown out and put on some sort of eternal list that would bar us from ever stepping foot inside the funeral home. But to my amazement, the widow and daughter offered broad smiles. The widow continuously thanked my grandfather and even gave an approving nod to the funeral director. It was then that I began to realize the complexities of ritual and the importance of having a good mortician. While I still can’t fully explain why we southerners continue to relish the pageantry of a funeral, I do understand that in an ever-changing world, the funeral speaks to our basic need to be part of a community and to cling to custom.

Driving home after the visitation service for my friend, I noticed several people I’d seen at the funeral home now walking along Main Street, eating ice cream and admiring storefront windows. Another group made their way into a café for supper. Death might be just another facet of life but in small towns across the south, death is turned into a full-blown social event. A southern death has its own set of rules to follow with penalties for those who don’t comply. If you still have doubt, then I have a list of defrocked ministers and former politicians you might want to call.

Michael Morris is a fifth generation native of Perry, Florida, a small town near Tallahassee. He is the author of the award-winning novel, A Place Called Wiregrass, and Slow Way Home, named one of the best novels of the year by the Atlanta Journal Constiution and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I have an agent! Somebody who believes in me. Well, in addition to my mother, that is. Her name is Rachelle Gardner—my agent, not my mother (her name is Lois). Rachelle’s with WordServe Literary and if you look on Google under agents that are incredible, you will find her. And she has a great blog. Check it out at My Blog.

Having no representation, I was sort of desperate, but not completely. I mean, I had an agent, once. She left the industry when she birthed two babies back-to-back at age thirty-nine. Personally I would have killed myself—I always left at least twenty-one months in between child tearing, ah, I mean child bearing, but we’re talking New York, so what can I say? They move real fast up there.

But that was then; this is now! And I’m in heaven. Rachelle is shopping my latest project The Heavenly Heart, which was inspired by an actual CBS News program where a man received his daughter’s heart. You can read more by clicking on this link: Saved By His Daughter's Heart - CBS News. Of course my story is fiction. The tagline is as follows: After a fatal accident, sixteen-year-old Lorelei Goodroe follows the lives of five people who receive her organs, including that of her father who gets her heart. Lorelei’s untimely demise has left her in turmoil. She finds she is unable to move on without first letting go. And letting go is the last thing on her agenda.

It’s kind of like It’s a Wonderful Life in reverse. Lorelei gets the opportunity to view her life as though she hadn’t died and makes some remarkable discoveries in the process.

While Rachelle and The Heavenly Heart make the rounds, I’m busy launching the first in my Dwayne Series: Divorcing Dwayne debuted April 1st. It features Francine Harper, who’s under felony assault charges for shooting at her husband Dwayne and his stripper/lover Carla from the Peel ‘n Squeal. Francine discovers her strengths and regains her dignity via a trail and many errors. Dear Dwayne and Dating Dwayne will follow.

In Dear Dwayne Francine’s not doing too well after the divorce. Her therapist suggests it might be helpful to her recovery if she pretends to write letters to Dwayne and gets everything off her chest. But it’s not her chest that has her worried. It’s her belly; she’s pregnant. And if that’s not bad enough, while divorcing Dwayne she had a fling with a Hollywood cad (as portrayed in Divorcing Dwayne). She also had a close encounter of the intimate kind with Dwayne during that same period. And wouldn’t you know? She’s expecting twins. WHO’S THE FATHER??? I should say fathers. But, not to worry, Francine’s now dating the mayor, a Danny DeVito-type character who Francine insists is good husband material, “even if he does only come up to my navel.”

In Dating Dwayne things don’t work out for Francine and the mayor. On their wedding night, in all the excitement, he has a heart attack. (Think Goldie Hawn in Private Benjamin). Soon Francine takes solace in Dwayne’s company. Good grief! Well, not good but, lots of grief. Ray Anne, her best friend since first grade says, “Francine, have you got a boulder in your head, or what?” Will the struggling new widow with toddler twins come to her senses or end up, once again, married to Dwayne?

You can check out my touring schedule by going to my website at Hope to see you! In the interim, please excuse me. I need to call my mother and let her know she was right. I do have some talent. It just took the right person to notice. Praise the Lord! I feel like Rodney Dangerfield. I’ll finally get some respect.

J.L. Miles is the author of Divorcing Dwayne, Cold Rock River and Roseflower Creek. Visit the website at

IT Happens
Patti Callahan Henry

IT happens. Of course I forgot IT happens. Like a fat, happy baby living in the oblivion of good times and a full stomach, I ignored the possibility in bliss. No, I’m not talking about Stephen King’s demon IT, I’m talking about something worse to a novelist – The Bad Review (notice the capital letters). This IT is a demon of another type – one that can eat the soul of a writer in a single moment flat. That IT. And not just any bad review, the “professional” (albeit anonymous) review. One that goes in trade magazines and on the internet for all your enemies to gloat over. IT.

There are the clichés to make us feel better when this happens; ‘you’re not a real writer until you get a bad review”; ‘the bestselling novelists in the world get bad reviews”; “it’s one review out of a ton of glowing reviews”. BUT the fact remains – the professional called your baby ugly, insulted your two years of heartbreaking work, and knocked the breath out of your belief that this book was really quite good. Suddenly we as writers question everything we’ve done, everything we’ve written, our purpose in life, even the fact that we write at all. Maybe its time to make cute little pot holders and cross stitch Precious Moment scenes. Maybe I should change my writing name, or take a year off and move to a monastery.


Of course one bad review should not make us question our life’s purpose or even the novel. Why does it matter so damn much to us? So, I ask myself (again) – why do I write? Back to that nagging and irritating question – again. I’ve been here before; the place where doubt and darkness seem more real than the light and goodness I know is inherent in the art of storytelling. This is a battle I’ve fought before and I’m not sure I can fight again.

Then I remember -- the writing life is not for sissies. It is for the brave heart, the individual willing to put their heart, soul and mind on the line for a story they believe is worth telling. Constant and unremitting approval should not be the goal.

If I write for approval, then a negative review should knock the wind out of me. If I write because I feel called to tell a certain story, then does this negativity matter? If my fulfillment in storytelling hinges on one opinion, then I’m now empty. If my fulfillment in storytelling comes from offering a moving story, and touching readers who come in contact with me and with the story, then I’m full of purpose and on a good day – passion.

I now return (as I often do) to something C.S. Lewis said, “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. ….To love is to be vulnerable.” I am going to take some creative liberty and apply that to writing – if you don’t want your heart broken, or your ego battered, then simply don’t write.

So what comes of it is this? It isn’t so much what the IT is in our life (we all have our own), it matters what we choose to allow IT to do to us and for us. Do we allow it to define us? Take us down? Or does our identity and strength come from another place than IT?

Easier said than done, I know.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Guest Blogger: Karen Harrington

Clinton may be related to Angelina, but YOU might be too.

The New England Historic Genealogical Society announced some interesting findings a couple of weeks ago.

Hillary Clinton and Angelina Jolie have something in common: they are ninth cousins. Author Jack Kerouac and Camilla Parker-Bowles, wife of England’s Prince Charles are also among her gene pool.

An auspicious family tree, nay, orchard, if you ask me. Lots of interesting branches.

But I am not shocked. In fact, I’d wager that at least one of the readers of this blog is my distant relative. (Hey, you want an author to write about our big, dysfunctional family, right?) This is all part of a concept known as pedigree collapse. Here’s how it works.

We all have two parents, four grandparent, and eight great grandparents. Let’s assume for the sake of math that the average generation is twenty-five years long. If we go back in time 1200 years (800 AD) each person would have 281.5 trillion grandparents. This calculation is done by reasoning the number of grandparents doubles every 25 years – and in 48 generations (or 1200 years) 281.5 trillion names would be on a person’s pedigree.

But in 800 AD, there weren’t even that many people in the world. How could any of us have that many grandparents? The answer: they are not all different people. Some names on your family tree would appear twice, or ten times, or even one hundred times over the years. Ancestors married their relatives throughout the years, knowingly or unknowingly. This was particularly common among royal families who were encouraged to marry other kinsman of royal blood.

This is pedigree collapse. So if you trace your family roots backward, you will find that it spreads out for several generations – and ultimately “collapses” back on itself, corresponding with the original size of the world’s population.

There are even some geneticists who believe that everyone on earth is at least a 50th cousin to everyone else. It’s no wonder we don’t always get along. Most families do not.

But, this is what makes the study of genetic inheritance so fascinating. The knowledge that gifts, talents – even dark traits like mental illness or disease – can be passed down from one generation to the next. This linking of one ancestor to another is the integral theme to my novel Janeology – where readers can meet eight of Jane’s ancestors as her husband searches her family tree for answers to her nature and nurture.

So next time you research your family tree, expect to find the unexpected. And for all you cousins out there I have yet to meet, Howdy!

Karen Harrington is the author of Janeology, the story of one man’s struggle to understand why his wife Jane snapped and drowned their toddler son. As prosecutors turn their focus on him, citing his negligence in protecting his children from their mother, he is forced on a journey through her family history in search for clues about Jane’s nature and nurture.

She has won numerous writing awards including recognition from the Hemingway Short Story Competition and the Texas Film Institute.

She lives in Plano, Texas, with her husband, two daughters and two sneaky dogs.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Rhythm of the Story

A few days ago I had the honor of sitting on a panel with fiction writers Darnell Arnoult and Robert Hicks and Martha Stamps, owner of Martha's at the Plantation restaurant, eatured at the Downtown Nashville Library. The subject was southern literature in all it's glory. Our wonderful moderator, Jeff Jacobs of the Borders Bookstores fame corralled us nicely and made us sound smart and thoughtful. (Okay, Robert and Darnell are smart and thoughtful anyway.) so we did a fine job of sharing stories not hogging the floor as ALL SOUTHERN STORYTELLERS, that being every man, woman, and half-pint child I know born and bred in the South is capable of doing. Shoving an entire crowd of people converging on a plate of fried chicken out of the way so they will hush up and let him tell his story! In the vein of NOT being a floor hog myself on this particular day I let one of the questions put to us go unanswered. Meaning I most likely looking liked an extra bump on a log for no good reason but I swear I was trying to mind my manners (so unlike me) - And so it goes.

Here's the question: "So, why is it with other writers from various points up north and beyond that when their novels or stories begin, they actually BEGIN, where as Southern writers seem to meander a bit and their stories start so SLOW?" (MY PARAPHRASE - FORGIVE ME JEFF)

Robert Hicks responded by telling a great story (as he is apt to do) saying that his stories start slow because he is slow himself (Which is soooo not true. The man's brain is lightning quick!) Darnell Arnoult answered the question with grace and intelligence and foresight. I kept my mouth shut sitting there thinking that was a really funny story and that was a really intelligent answer so what more is there to say?

But being that a few days have gone by and I still have this on my mind, this would have been my answer.

It's the earth. And that lazy old sun that got nothing to do but roll around heaven all day. That rhythm of the planets that sets the seasons in motion is something that Southerners and Southern writers are instinctively keen to. Just as you don't suddenly wake up one winter morning and open your window to discover - Why, it's SPRING! Because that's not the way that the earth rolls out from under us. But little by little, inch by inch, we feel it coming on. We smell the change long before it arrives. We have an awareness, this DNA in our bones, boiling in our blood, bless our hearts awareness of the seasons coming on and changing. Of babies being born and old folks dying. Of our dreams rising like smoke from the ashes. We know that life, and all the glory of it is transitory and bittersweet and breathtaking. We know it so much our hearts could break with the fullness and the loss of it.

So, it's not that our friends up North like New York and other wild exotic places are any less of the writers than we are. They are not. They are just different. We can color most of our 'Yankee' writer friends as down right brilliant in their execution of the written word on page. And yes, Robert Hicks, maybe we are a little special in that our brains just might work a little slower. I know when I read books like The Corrections I think - man, these folks are just so smart. And like I often say, when I read a writer from way up North I can hear their brains ticking. But when I read a Southern writer I can feel their heart beating. Slow, steady pulses that lead me into a deeper shade of life. At a pace that allows me to leave one world and enter into a place word by word, that will hypnotically reveal the glories waiting for me on the next page. Words that will seduce me so softly, or grab me so passionately, that time stops and I'm in the middle of the life my brother or sister has given birth to.

Why is Southern fiction slower, Jeff? Because this dance we call life is something so precious to us that we know the moments must not be rushed but savored. That the glow of a Grandmothers old wedding ring against her coffee cup at sunrise, throwing gold shadows against her well worn face, is worth slowing down to breathe in and take notice. And we help our readers step into a place where they can slow down and take notice, too.

So, we old Southern storytellers are always inviting readers to dance with us but just a little bit slower. Slow enough to hear the music, to feel the air move across their skin as they twirl one time through this earth - and to remember.

River Jordan is a storyteller of the southern variety and has been cast most frequently in the company of Flannery O’Connor and Harper Lee. Jordan’s writing career began as a playwright where she spent over ten years with the Loblolly Theatre group and received productions of her original works for the stage including Mama Jewels: Tales from Mullet Creek; Soul, Rhythm and Blues; and Virga.

Jordan’s novel The Messenger of Magnolia Street, (Harper Collins, Harper One) was published in January 2006. Kirkus Reviews describes the novel as “a beautifully written atmospheric tale.” The Messenger of Magnolia Street was applauded as “a tale of wonder” by Southern Living Magazine who chose The Messenger of Magnolia Street as their Selects feature for March 2006 and by other reviewers as “a riveting, magical mystery” and “a remarkable book.” Her first novel, The Gin Girl, (Livingston Press, 2003) has garnered such high praise as these words from Florida Today, "The Gin Girl is like crossing that deep, languid stream into the land of milk and honey. This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath."
Ms. Jordan teaches and speaks on ‘The Power of Story,’ around the country and produces and hosts the radio program, Backstory with River Jordan, on WRFN, 98.9 FM, Nashville every Saturday at 4:00 CST, .

She has just completed a new work of fiction and lives with her husband in Nashville, TN. You may visit the author at

Good Morning

Okay, I'm the official Blogger for the day. Hang onto your hats. I'm having a few technical converstion problems. Grab another cup of coffee and come on back. Words will be posted in mere minutes!

River Jordan

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Small Circle of Friends

When I was growing up in Clinton, South Carolina I was an avid reader. Lloyd C Douglas, Thomas Costain, Anya Seton and others were favorites of mine. They took me to worlds I could only imagine and introduced me to people who were a little different than the ones who surrounded my life. I could only imagine what these authors were like in real life. It never entered my head I might actually be a writer some day and meet some people who wrote for a living.

When I became an adult and moved to Georgia I started doing interviews for magazines. You can imagine my shock when I was actually asked to interview Stuart Woods. I had been a fan for years, and knew he was from Georgia, but to get to actually meet him. Wow! And then I met Anne Rivers Siddons. Things just got better and better.

The third author I interviewed was William Diehl. He was the one who influenced me the most and the one who became an actual friend of mine. Bill and I had a friendship until the time of his death, and I miss him still. He was one of the big influences on my life and especially on my writing dreams. He would re mind me he had not started his literary career until he was fifty so it was never too late for me.

When I finally did take the plunge and jumped into the waters of writing Jackie White and Milam Propst were there to keep me afloat. They were both authors who had been published by Mercer University Press and they urged me to take my stories there. I eventually did and the relationship I have found with Mercer has been a happy one.

Now as I began to go to book festivals and to have book signings I met more and more authors. I was surprised how supportive they all were. I never saw any angry competition, no backstabbing, no jealousy – it all was a climate of cheering each other on.

Now some of my best friends are the writers I have met. We correspond by e-mails, arrange joint book events together, and look forward to our meetings rare though some may be. It is a small circle of friends bound together by the mutual joy of writing, and there is always room for one more person to join.

I consider myself very, very fortunate to get to know people who are writers by profession. And it continues to amaze me to think that little boy from Clinton, South Carolina grew up not only to continue to love reading books but also to have the thrill of writing them.

The great thing about life is it constantly offers surprises. Anything is possible. One day you are reading books and the next day you are talking to the people who write them. If you are lucky enough to write some of your own then you have the chance to enter a small circle of friends who share your dreams.

Writers are the most supportive people in the world, or at least that has been my experience. I have found encouragement everywhere I have turned. I still rely on my writing friends to keep me motivated, keep me informed, and keep me in touch. The song says “I get by with a little help from my friends” and in the case of my small circle of writer friends, I surely do.


Jackie K Cooper is the author of four books, his latest is THE BOOKBINDER. In September 2008 THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS will be published by Mercer University Press.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On Not Writing

About six weeks ago, my husband fell seriously ill. It was a Sunday night. He’d been complaining all day about having a terrible headache. When I reached our family doctor, he said to keep a close eye on him. About 7 PM I went in to rouse him from a nap and talk about what we would do for dinner. He woke up completely disoriented and talking nonsense—Dr. Seuss words, I called them. Another conversation with our physician resulted in my calling EMS. The consensus was that he was having a stroke.

It turned out they were wrong, thank God. A viral infection—encephalitis, of all things—and his brain was swollen. After four days, I brought him home from the hospital, and the long road to recovery began. Just now, in the last week or so, he has begun to return to someone vaguely resembling his former laughing, wisecracking self.

Scared the hell out of me, I can tell you. It was the first time in our nearly 36 years of marriage that either one of us had spent a night in a hospital bed.

During his first days at home, he slept a lot in his recliner, and I thought I could steal perhaps a half hour at a time to catch up on my work-in-progress, the ninth Bay Tanner mystery. But what I discovered was that . . . I couldn’t do it. I reread the nearly 150 pages I’d already completed to get myself back in the groove, but the words wouldn’t come. For the past ten years I’d been able to slip seamlessly into that world of my own creation, to leave my den and my computer and follow Bay around Hilton Head Island and the rest of Beaufort County, South Carolina. I’d leaped into Bay’s head, seen the world through her lens, like a movie unwinding behind my eyes. But now it wouldn’t come.

I told myself it was stress, that in a couple of days things would get back to normal. But they didn’t. Time after time I sat and stared at the screen, unable to give myself over to a fictional world, even one of my own making. And then it dawned on me. Real life was very real at that moment. “The world is too much with us,” Wordsworth wrote, and that seemed to describe my feelings to a T.

I’d been one of those authors who earnestly declared to anyone who would listen, “I have to write. I just don’t feel complete if I’m not knee-deep in a project.” So much for that. What I’ve discovered over the past six weeks is that I can not write. I have more important things on my mind. I have serious responsibilities shepherding my husband back to good health. When all that’s straightened out, I have no doubt I’ll be able to get back to my usual routine. Until then, I’m not writing, and that’s okay.

We went to the park today and tossed a softball around. My husband wants to get back in shape for the senior league which will be starting spring practice next week.

And that’s more than okay.

Kathy Wall grew up in a small town in northern Ohio. She and her husband Norman have lived on Hilton Head Island since 1994. Her 8th Bay Tanner mystery, The Mercy Oak, will be released April 29 by St. Martin’s Press

We are still around

Sorry we haven't had posts for the last couple of days. Two of our bloggers had emergencies and we're unable to post.

Here's a little something on letting go of your first novel from your friendly blogmaster, Karin Gillespie

“I don’t think this is marketable,” said the literary agent who’d been assigned to critique my novel. The pages of my manuscript were returned to me with a rash of red marks, and my heart felt like it was splitting in two. I’d come to my first writer’s conference seeking representation and validation of my talent. Three years of labor had gone into my book. Had it all been a waste?
As the conference wore on, I met an assortment of dejected attendees: Authors who’d been trying to sell the same re-worked novel for years. Writers who had agents but hadn’t heard from them in months.
“You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than get published,” said a world-weary participant.
I felt the stirrings of a challenge. Determined to beat the odds, I took a long, objective look at my manuscript. The agent who’d read it was right. It wasn’t publishable, and I was going to have to start over from scratch.

My first novel came out of pure inspiration. Before I typed a single word of my second novel, I was determined to do my homework. I scoured bookstores, read publishing trades and studied bestseller lists. What kind of books were people reading? How were they pitched to agents? I immersed myself in the business end of writing, but also perfected my craft by joining a novel critique group and taking numerous fiction workshops. Soon I started hearing the voice of a young small-town woman in my head. Her name was Elizabeth Polk, and she worked in a dollar store. From my research I knew there was a market for Southern books based in small communities, so I began to write.
One year after my first writer’s conference, I submitted Bet Your Bottom Dollar to a New York agent, and she sold it to Simon and Schuster as the first novel in the “Bottom Dollar Girls” series.

We have training wheels and training bras. Why not a training novel? The truth is few “first” novels are sold to editors, but that doesn’t mean fledgling efforts are a waste of time. I learned much about pacing, plotting and characterization while I wrote my first novel, and eventually I came to accept my manuscript’s purpose as an extended exercise. Instead of trying to rework and polish my lump of coal, I let it go and went on to write a novel I could sell.
I’ve even taught myself to “let go” of my novels after they’ve been sold. It’s easy to get caught up in the promotion and excitement of a soon-to-be-published novel and neglect your writing. I allow myself a week to wallow in the joy of completing a novel, and then I start writing the next one.

Don’t let yourself get stalled by your first novel. Honestly access the marketability of your story. Where would it be shelved in the bookstore? What successful novels are similar to it, and how is your manuscript different from competing titles? Can you describe your plot in three sentences or less? Remember your novel is a product. The easier it is to categorize and summarize, the easier it will be to interest publishers. If it defies description or doesn’t fit into a particular genre it will be a hard sell.

First novels are rarely an author’s best work, and too often writers waste valuable time and energy trying to sell a novel that will never make the grade. You should be persistent in the publishing business, but you also need to know when to cut your losses. A superior and saleable second novel may be just around the corner.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Winter's Last Stand

(A picture from my neighborhood one of the last weekends in March)
This time last week I was sitting outside by our community pool, working on my new book, allowing my pasty white body to come out of hibernation. Today my roses are covered with sheets, my heat is back on and my body, well, let’s just say I’m wearing socks again and grateful for the corduroy pajama pants I just bought on sale last week. Didn’t figure I’d see them until next December, but at least they’ve made the fall back to winter not quite as traumatic.
So, as I look out over the hill that sits outside my office window here in Franklin, Tennessee, the smoky white clouds have overlapped to such a point that even the sun can’t wedge its way through. Winter isn’t going without a fight. And as I was sitting here pondering this blog, drinking a McDonald’s coke, thinking I needed to turn the heat up another couple degrees I began to think of all the things that don’t like to leave easily.
I thought of the lines under my eyes that the magic cream was suppose to have gone or at least “greatly diminished” in six weeks, which are still mocking me every time I smile. It has me contemplating what life would be like if I never smiled again. There are always options. I thought of the broken vase that I see at the top of my kitchen cabinet every time I go to get a glass that I’ve planned on repairing for the last three years that still sits there broken and should have been thrown out three years earlier. I thought of the blue wash clothes that are shredded now on each of their four edges, but still do the trick of washing my face each night, even though I refuse to allow guests to see them. Those things that hang on.
And I can’t help but dig a little deeper. I know this is probably suppose to be more of a lighter place for us, but I can’t think of this without thinking of other things that try to hold onto us too, If I’m being honest it’s been kind of a winter season for my heart. It arrived brutally about this time last year, about the time spring was showing up, winter slammed into me with the brutality of a blizzard. Now, a year later, I’m glad to say there are a few things that wanted to hold on, dig in and not let go. But I just couldn’t allow winter to have the final word. I mean even Santa Claus gets out of the North Pole one night a year.
So, when bitterness wanted to rob my heart of the ability to think spring could ever return, I just tugged at it harder, until that day when my heart actually had its first moment of feeling alive again. When grief wanted to take up residence and move into the guest room, I made it upstairs first and locked the door and told him, he could only have his season. And when fear tried to attach itself to my hip, I just put on another pair of jeans. And with each moment of winter’s brave and valiant effort, my heart just fought harder. And now, a year later, even though I can’t see my roses outside my office window for the Ralph Lauren sheet that is lying on top of them, I can see the incremental healing of my heart. And I know that winter would have stayed as long as I would have allowed. Bitterness would have lived in the soul of me until I died if I would have spent this last year rehashing my moments of hurt. Grief could have me still under the covers if I wouldn’t have made myself get up and realize the world wasn’t going to stop and I could join it or be lost in it. And fear, oh, he’s a crafty one. He would have whispered in my ear for the rest of my life if I had given him one moment of acquiescence.
But I had living to do. I had spring to tend to and flowers to plant. And I had summer to enjoy and tan lines to acquire. And I even had fall to appreciate and its audacious display of color. And I had living to live. And now, with winter only a shadow that I can see up the street I know that it will come again. Winter seasons just do that. But it never has to stay longer than necessary, no matter how hard it fights. And I also know that the forecast for Thursday is sunny and 72 degrees. And sister will be out there by that pool letting her white body blind anyone it needs to because she’s got some living to do.
(My friend Ashley on the left and me on the right being fully alive.)

Denise Hildreth is the author of "The Will of Wisteria" where she makes her home in Franklin, Tennessee enjoying the hills outside her office window, being a mother to her two Shih-tzu's and drinking Coca-Cola.

Monday, April 14, 2008


"Please come!" pled the email, "to my signing at the Barnes & Noble in Snellville on Friday, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m." Then my fellow author, J. L. Miles (Jackie, to me), added a one-word "sentence" that strikes terror into the heart of any writer embarking on a book tour: Mortification.
This word is one that my fellow authors and members of the Dixie Divas (Karin Gillespie, J.L. Miles, and Patti Sprinkle) and I have often whispered to one another as we tiptoe together toward the doorway of a library or a bookstore, trying not to notice the empty parking lot. It is shorthand for the fear that no one will come to your book event.
Mortification is also the title of a book by Robin Robertson, with a subtitle of Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame. These are authors who write about how miserably disillusioning certain aspects of their book tours can be; situations where at times the audience consists solely of the bookstore manager and the author’s mother.
"Of course I’ll be there!" I wrote back to Jackie. Her new book, Divorcing Dwayne was hot off the press. I was eager to read this new offering, but even if I hadn’t been, I would have gone to support my friend, because there is not enough space in this blog for me to tell you how much support Jackie has given to me over the years of my writing and publishing journey. She has inspired me, encouraged me, made me laugh, and also been there physically at so many of my own book events. I understood her fear all too well; her need of assurance that live bodies would be at her book event.
With hundreds of book events under my belt, many solo and many with the Dixie Divas, believe me, I have experienced my share of mortification. There are instances where I’ve driven hundreds of miles to a library, or a bookstore, with my well-rehearsed literary speech, a bookmark tucked into the scene I plan to read, my special signing pen in my tote bag, along with a bottle of water to cool my throat during my profound and entertaining literary talk, and my imagination overflowing with visions of my audience, my adoring crowd of fans, only to find that there are but three fannies in a vast sea of theater seats stretching out before me.
There can be any number of reasons the attendance at a book event is low or non-existent, mortifying to the author. Sometimes the event is not well publicized or even publicized at all, sometimes there is a conflicting community event such as Little League playoffs or a Miss Marigold pageant, sometimes it is the opening night of American Idol (this last one is the reason the host gave me for a disappointing crowd for my latest book, The Romance Readers’ Book Club.) Down South, holding an event on a Wednesday evening is a foolish thing, for that is family night at most churches.
Even authors who have books on the New York Times Bestseller’s List experience this phenomenon called mortification. I’ve spoken with big-name authors, and heard stories of big-name authors showing up for a book event where few or no one comes (I don’t want to name names for fear it might subject them to yet another moment of public shame).
But J. L. Miles needn’t have feared. I walked through the door of the Barnes & Noble at 7:00 p.m. and saw Jackie sitting at her signing table right inside the entrance. There were three ladies standing and talking with her, holding copies of Divorcing Dwayne. When they left she smiled and told me that before she’d even gotten to the store, they’d already sold a good number of books. There were only a few remaining copies on her signing table, so I grabbed mine and had her sign it quick.
I guess I should have known J.L. Miles and Divorcing Dwayne would have no trouble attracting customers. The blurbs on the back cover promise a hilarious romp through Pickville Springs, Georgia, and I have had a chance to read the first couple of sentences..."Me and Dwayne met at a pig-pull. I only married him once, but I ended up divorcing him twice - Dwayne’s a hard man to get rid of."
Julie L. Cannon, author of: Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes , 'Mater Biscuit, Those Pearly Gates and The Romance Readers' Book Club. Visit the web site at:

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Very Bad No-Good Lousy Dunderheaded Idiot Blogger

I'm going to say that Cathy Pickens -- blogger below -- is a GOOD BLOGGER! She's on time. I'm belated. She's got ghost stories. I've only got quirky stories. (And aren't we all just a bit fed up with quirk? Speaking of quirky, I'm going to post the cover of MY HUSBAND'S SWEETHEARTS -- this cover just landed on my doorstep this week.)
But, why, oh why, am I late?
I'm not a drunk. I'm not hooked on prescription drugs -- though I've made a list of which ones I would get hooked on if I were the type. I'm not living a dual life with a family in Florida and another in, say, New Mexico. (But isn't that a man-thing. You don't hear of women living dual lives, having two widowers show up at a funeral, etc ... Because? Because it's a bit much holding one family together, much less two.)
I could be late due to the fact that I have four kids -- ages 13-1. But I've kind of used them as excuses for so very long it's worn thin -- for the disastrous housekeeping, for the disorganized tax receipts, for my embattled appearance.
But the truth is that it's three season here in one. A. the pre-pub season. I'm trying to nail down articles in glossies to time with the pub of MY HUSBAND'S SWEETHEARTS B. the deadline season. I handed in book two this winter and was told it was 100 pages short of a final draft. That book was shipped out yesterday night, late, but heftier. and C. the grad student season. I teach at Florida State University's Creative Writing Program, and, well, 'tis the season that grad students hand me their theses and dissertaions, weighty tomes, stacked miles high, and I must read them -- without blurring them -- and be able to speak of them lucidly -- which prompted the list, rank-ordered, of prescription drugs I'd most like to get hooked on if I were the type.
This is all I'm going to write -- and perhaps it stands as a glimpse into the chaotic life of a writer, which may be of use -- a warning? -- to others out there.
Now, go read Cathy Picken's blog! See below.
Julianna Baggott's fifth novel, MY HUSBAND'S SWEETHEARTS, will be published under a new not-so-secret pen name, Bridget Asher, in August. She's also published three collections of poetry and writes under the pen name N.E. Bode, novels for younger readers.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


By Cathy Pickens

It’s spring, full of flowers and pollen and – at least in Charlotte – little green inch worms charmingly named “canker worms” that can devour entire tree canopies with the ease of a horde of seventh-graders in a bag of Doritos. [We won’t even talk about the palmetto bug I saw in a fabric store restroom this week, except to say it could have carried me off, had I not slammed the door and run. Roaches, by any other name and in any size, are my sworn enemy. Warning for those of you not from the South: palmetto bugs are the size of skateboards ... and they FLY!]

So, in the midst of a lovely spring, why bring up scary things, like bugs … and ghost tours?

Because springtime means the start of summer vacation planning and folks looking for fun things to do outside. And because tours of the macabre are more fun than flying roaches.

When visiting a city, I hope to find a ghost walk or mystery tour. Why? Because the scary stories often tell more about who we are and where we came from than traditional “history” tours.

I love these tours and the stories so much I wrote one for Charleston, South Carolina -- Charleston Mysteries, a mystery walking tour and quirky history of one of my favorite cities.

Our Denver Adventures

In Denver last month for the Left Coast Crime mystery fan convention, my husband and I signed on for two tours that showed a side of Denver the Chamber of Commerce might have preferred we ignored.

The first was a Denver crime tour, planned by Denver mystery writer Mario Acevedo. He’d done his homework – lots of it. We rode around in a wildly decorated “Prison Party Bus” [that you, too, can rent for your next Denver event] and visited famous sites such as the driveway where the original radio shock-jock Alan Berg was gunned down by white supremacists.

Our Denver weekend ended with a trip to the gorgeous Stanley Hotel at the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park – and the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. If you have the chance, take the tour the hotel offers, full of good stories and behind-the-scenes glimpses of this historic hotel. You can also visit it by watching the miniseries filmed on location (though not the Jack Nicholson movie, which wasn’t filmed there).

Why Ghost Tours?

Ghost stories are, after all, a rich form of folklore. In the hill country where I grew up, few grandmothers today warn their young’uns about ghost dogs awaiting them around the bend on a moonlit path. Why? Because few grandmothers these days walk down moonlit woodland paths on their way home from church of a Wednesday night. How would they have the chance to see a ghost dog, speeding along a four-lane highway in their Grand Caravan or their Buick sedan?

But in my grandmother’s time, ghost dogs roamed the hills, and people whispered about how, on one mountain, the very ground itself would crack and moan. Times change, but the stories left behind tell us a lot about that lost place.

In Columbia, South Carolina, we learned about grave hidden beneath the church when it expanded, a grave with a picture window in the top, and the trap door where the family could crawl under the church to visit. The fear of premature burial, the nearness and sacredness of the departed, are values that aren’t as easily nourished in manicured perpetual care.

In New Orleans, we were met in a bar by a Chapel Hill-trained historian who’d grown up in the Quarter. With a drink in one hand and a walking cane in the other, he regaled us with tales of scandal old and new. His perspective on New Orleans and Louisiana politics did more to explain, two years later, what happened post-Katrina than any number of newscasters.

Near midnight in Edinburgh, Scotland, led by a cloaked figure, we listened to our footsteps echo against centuries-old stone walls and imagined the terror of those who could only wait for the Black Death. We stood in the lamp-lit underground passages, surrounded by tales of the man who became Doctor Jekyll. Illness and madness have different explanations these days. Are we any safer?

Underground Seattle. A boat tour of haunted Chicago. Even the Spy Museum in Washington – okay, not folklore exactly, but fun and scary at the same time.

Your Favorites?

Do you have any favorite ghost or mystery tours? Good ghost tour books you’d recommend? Share them with us. And, as you plan your summer excursions, keep your eye open for an offbeat view of your favorite destination. The kids won’t be rolling their eyes about yet another boring history tour, I guarantee it!

Book Festival Follow-Up

Thanks for the comments on the last post asking for leads to area book festivals. Good suggestions! If you have any others, hit the comment button on the February archive or comment below.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Fame is fleeting and so are airlines

This is it. I’m done flying. Airplanes, once glamorous inventions, have turned into sky-bound nightmares.
Authors with books out sometimes must fly from one bookstore or gig to the next, and it can get old fast.
Last Thursday I boarded an aircraft that looked as if it had been recently pulled from a swamp and not washed for years. No name flashed on the tail. It must have been Cost-Cutter airlines, but was supposed to be a $1,200 flight from Greenville/Spartanburg to New York City via US Airways.
Thank the Lord I didn’t buy the ticket. I was featured for about three seconds on the Today Show after appearing in this month’s More magazine looking quite odd and in a squatting position as if I needed to pee-pee.
Soon as I boarded the abomination, a woman hollered that her seat was covered in “something wet.” I found my own cracked and filthy chair, and noticed two freshly chewed wads of hot pink gum by the seatbelt. Later in the flight, parched and starving, that gum began to look good.
After sitting on the runway for an hour delay – standard these days – the flight attendant made an announcement.
“This is a spare aircraft, and we apologize but there will be no beverage service onboard.”
For three hours, not a sip of water or a crumb of pretzel.
Same thing happened on the return flight. No beverage service - not even a pack of stale crackers. This is what twelve hundred big ones will buy you these days.
When I got home from the trip, Mama was reading the paper. She suddenly flung it as if something had attacked her.
“Did you hear about this woman in Vermont woman kicked off the plane for breastfeeding her child?” she asked. “Can you believe it?”
The incident occurred in 2006 on Delta Air Lines flight, which was operating from Burlington to New York City.
A 27-year-old woman from New Mexico claims she was discreetly nursing her 22-month-old when a flight attendant insisted she cover up with a blanket. She said she was seated next the window at the back of the aircraft and her milkers were not showing.
I couldn’t believe it. I thought we as a nation with laws on the books pertaining to the rights to breastfeed in public had gone beyond such extremes.
A ticket agent kicked the family off the flight. The poor mother said she didn’t want to make a scene and complied.
Now, granted some 22-month-old “babies” look like half grown kiddos, it’s not a shame and public disgrace to nurse one that age. If the child had been 5 or 6 and nursing with one hand and holding a Whopper Junior with the other, well…that’s different.
This was unreal. A mother wanting to give her child what pediatrician’s recommend, and a major airline booting them off the plane. Why, I’ve seen so much worse on airlines, including people making out in the back seats and getting rip-roaring drunk.
The mother filed a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, and following the news dozens of women staged a nurse-in at the airline counter.
Every year similar incidences crop up where women are nursing their kids and asked to leave. Seems more than a few people are put off by public nursing.
I remember when my daughter was about 2, and I was still breast-feeding and relatives, being proper Southern women, would question me constantly.
“When you gonna wean that child?” they’d ask a million times.
Finally, I had the perfect answer.
“When she can put four quarters in the Coke machine.”
Maybe that woman on the plane had no choice but to nurse, especially if the aircraft offered no beverage service.
I hope when my next book comes out, the people who want to hear me talk (I’m not sure why they would, but some do), I’ll be able to drive my old car with the one bad tire. Better than a plane pulled from a swamp and with zilch to eat or drink.

Susan Reinhardt is the haggard old author of four books, the last of which, "Don't Sleep with a Bubba" was named a January Magazine "Best Book of 2007." Her latest is "Dishing With the Kitchen Virgin," due any day like a late baby.
She is in this month's issue of More Magazine and was on the Today Show for 20 seconds of fame. Ha!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Me Of Little Footing

About two weeks ago, I fell down the stairs.

No, this isn’t an attempt at crafting some sort of post pre-modern hyper-literary memoir or novel. The sky didn’t open when I died, there were no best of times/worst of times, whatever the first line of Dave Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius is? Yeah, this wasn’t it, either.

I just fell down the damn stairs.

I don’t presume to have the sort of internet book-world blog-o-rama infamy (what I affectionately call “hood fame”) that would result in everyone being acutely aware of every move I make or every thought I think (I’m no Sara Nelson or Tao Lin, after all), but the number of folks who’ve come up to me in the past few days asking about my foot after reading the Wordsmiths Books blog post has been, well, kinda astounding.

Again, without actually feeling as though I have any sort of book-world hood-fame, a recap may be in order:

We moved Wordsmiths a block, from the secluded little buttside of the Decatur Square to smack-dab on it. I, being the type of person who is insanely, obsessively OCD (hence the “o” in OCD), decided I was going to move all my damn stuff my damn self, thereby eliminating that thing that happens when anyone else ever does anything I ever envision, ever (read as: screw it up).

I promptly screwed myself up, then. Fairly well,in fact. Carrying a box of galleys (damn you, free books! DAMN YOU, PUBLISHING INDUSTRY!) I managed to, for the first and only time in our 8 months inhabiting the deathrap-for-ADD-sufferers (me) that was the Old Post Office, miss a handful of steps leading from the office overhang to the bookfloor. I landed with my left foot curled underneath me, and suddenly found myself crying inadvertently for one of the first times in my life (worry not, mom, you still rank up there with catalysts for that!).

The entire mis-adventure of Russ and His Left Foot can be read, in bite-sized installments, on the Wordsmiths Books blog. That’s not what I’m here for. Reiteration, I mean. Trust me, I’m still bitching about my left foot.

Not to blow apart your dreams of my superhero-ness, but this photo in the AJC was entirely staged:

What you’re missing, just out of reach? Crutches. Also, Zach and John doing the actual heavy lifting work. I was just pretty enough for the picture, apparently.

As you can imagine, the task of watching from the sidelines as folks you work with 12 hours a day pack up and move a bookstore that you’ve placed your entire life’s livelihood on/in can be a bit, um, sleep-inducing (also, nerve-wracking, but watch here how I downplay that to allow for a good laugh at Russ, the gimp, managing to miss the entire arduous task of packing/unpacking a bookstore! As the kids say, LOLZ @ RUSS!). To keep myself awake (actually, to bide the time), I read. A lot.

Here, find 12-word book reviews of what I read to occupy my off-my-feet time:

Watchmen, by Alan Moore

Proof that, often, graphic novels are better at telling stories than novels.

The Misremembered Man, by Christina McKenna
Using remembered child abuse as a character lynchpin makes your novel crappy.

The Book Of Dahlia, by Elisa Albert
My current staff pick. Dark, biting humor and incredibly acidicly likable characters.

Deer Hunting With Jesus, by Joe Bageant

Finally, my redneck trailer park childhood spent in Marietta has intellectual context.

My Revolutions, by Hari Kunzru

Wasn’t going to like this, but the writing is taut and tense.

Band Fags!, by Frank Anthony Polito

Best young adult novel I’ve read in ages. Certainly the most authentic.

Me Of Little Faith, by Lewis Black

Lewis Black is brilliant, but spend your pennies on buying the audiobook


Mortarville, by Grant Bailie

A thoughtful narrative. Read this while my girlfriend shopped the farmer’s market.

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Reading this made breaking my foot entirely worthwhile. Splendiferous piece of work.

Writing this has made me realize one thing: the true “crises” in book reviewing? The lack of use of the word “splendiferous”. One day, when I run the NBCC, that’ll change.

“When”, you may ask (go ahead, ask, I’ll wait), “would you find time to concoct a plot to take over the National Book Critics Circle?”
It’s amazing what you find time to do when you’re ordered off your feet (foot) for a week.

Up next: Russ for president.

Russ Marshalek is the marketing director for Wordsmiths Books. He's also clumsy as hell. As an addendum, in the time between writing this and posting it, he fell again and twisted the same foot in the opposite direction. Fingers crossed that, tomorrow morning, this results in the most well-stretched left foot possible, and not another debilitating injury.

Friday, April 4, 2008

"Dangerous Unselfishness"

by Mindy Friddle

Today marks 40th anniversary of the assassination of U.S. civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.

Although I was just a three-year-old kid in South Carolina when he was shot and killed in Memphis, I grew up--like most of us-- learning more and more about the incredible impact he had on the South, on the country, on the world.

Several years ago, when I was participating in the Southern Festival of Books in Memphis, I stopped by the Lorraine Motel where he was assassinated. It was late, a summer night, and it was an eerie but stirring place, that motel with the old cars, the neon sign, the wreath--a site still emanating energy off the Richter scale of emotion.

Indeed, as I grow older, my admiration for Martin Luther King, Jr. grows, too. I am just beginning to realize the enormous strength it took to lead a nonviolent movement "behind the cotton curtain," to unite warring factions among and between the black and white communities, to take on unjust laws and a repressive government.

"Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness," he said, in his "Promised Land" speech.

And in listening to several of his speeches again last night--(His glittering eyes! His passion for the cause lights up his face, beams through the television, through You Tube, through the radio. Even the bites and clips on CNN make my eyes fill)--I am struck by his wisdom. The peacemakers and great thinkers in history influenced him: Jesus ("Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, and pray for them that despitefully use you."); Thoreau ("We can no longer lend our cooperation to an evil system."); and Mahatma Gandhi, whose example, according to the 1964 Nobel Prize Presentation Committee, "convinced him that it is possible to achieve victory in an unarmed struggle. In Gandhi's teaching he found the answer to a question that had long troubled him: How does one set about carrying out a social reform?"

Dr. King put it like this:

"Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force...I found in the nonviolent resistance philosophy of Gandhi... the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom."

Martin Luther King, Jr. was thirty-nine when he died. Thirty-nine! The strain of the struggle was already beginning to physically affect him. The medical examiner said he had the heart of a 60-year old man. But what a soul.

Join me in celebrating the life of a peacemaker:
Must-read MLK quotes. U-2's "Pride (In the Name of Love). watch "I See the Promised Land" on You Tube .

Mindy Friddle is author of the novels The Garden Angel (St. Martin's Press/Picador) and Secret Keepers (forthcoming from St. Martin's Press/Picador). Visit her website and her blog, Novel Thoughts.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Not a Blog Hog

Hi y'all,

It's Karin Gillespie again,and yes, I know I already blogged this week BUT here's the skinny. When someone forgets, takes sick or simply refuses to get out of bed, I try to put up an emergency blog or a guest blog so you'll have something to read instead of yesterday's blog. Monday was one of those emergency days but today is my official blogging day so I thought I'd talk about swimsuits.

Here goes:

You begin to hear the distant drumbeats in March, but by April the message is louder than a brass band.
Put down that leftover marshmallow Peep, back away from the chocolate bunny, it's swimsuit season! Yes, time to adorn that white, beached-whale body with tiny pieces of brightly-colored Lycra.

Swimsuit season is such a big deal in America that you'd think the United States was a small tropical island populated exclusively by surfers and beach-volleyball enthusiasts.

Women's magazines abandon celebrity coverage and devote entire issues to choosing the best swimsuit.Are you an eggplant? Wear a skirted suit with vertical stripes. An apple? Try a high-cut suit to show off your legs. A watermelon? Wear black and pray for rain.

The whole idea is to create elaborate optical illusions so people will be fooled into thinking you're a supermodel who subsists solely on carrot sticks and Evian water.

When their swimsuits fail to camouflage flaws, women begin to rely on other "helpers," such as barricading themselves with a fortress of ice coolers or covering up trouble spots with the use of strategically placed beach balls.The key is to stay in one place - underwater or spread out on a lounge chair. If you get up and walk, you risk thigh jiggle, a wandering swimsuit or an unflattering rear view. (Many women opt to walk backward into the ocean because of the last peril.)

I wore a bikini in my 20s, a tankini in my 30s, and, now in my 40s, I'm looking for a tent-kini.

"Where do Amish women buy their swimsuits?" I wonder.

To me a swimsuit is essentially waterproof underwear. I wouldn't prance around the neighborhood in my Hanes Everyday, so why should I parade around complete strangers in next to nothing just because there's a large body of water nearby?

Men, of course, have none of these worries. They don't fret about being apples or eggplants, they assume they are brick houses and strut around the beach accordingly. To them, swimsuit season means ogling season. Time to get out the binoculars.

If it were up to men, it would always be swimsuit season. Winter would simply mean fur bikinis or thermal thongs. In fact, men probably wouldn't mind if life was one big Charlie's Angels episode in which women did everything, including the occasional crime-fighting, in a bikini.

I finally garner enough courage to step a foot inside a swimsuit department and gaze at the racks of stamp-size suit options.

When the saleswoman asks me what kind of support I'm looking for, I say, "Steel girders."

I choose a few suits to try on but as soon as I enter into the dressing room, I hear the music from Psycho's shower scene in my head, and I slowly back out. I'm not remotely sane or thin enough to endure another swimsuit season.
"Where do you want to go for summer vacation?" my husband asks.
"Somewhere there isn't water," I say.

Next year, I vow I'll be ready for swimsuit season. I'll start exercising in December. I'll go on a rice-cake diet.

But this year, if you see me at the beach, I'll be the one in head-to-toe flannel, camped out behind a sand dune.

Excuses, Excuses

I thought I'd encountered every possible distraction from writing already. I mean I am high-level when it comes to making excuses to do something other than write. Sure, there are the old stand-bys, like suddenly remembering I have to email a few friends, or the bathtub soap holder needs immediate attention. Or somebody should finish off that bag of Easter candy I bought last week before it goes bad, and since I'm the only one here, well ...

All those are pitiful next to the current excuse. Actually, it's more like a semi-crisis. Right now, as I type, I add one more distraction to my repertoire and ponder its truth: It's mighty hard to concentrate when there's a turtle in your basement.

No, it is not a pet. No, it's not the size of those little-bitty painted ones like we used to get at the fair. Not even a small- to medium-sized one you pick up off the road and set in the grass so it won't get run over. This thing is huge. I'm talking Turtzilla Eats Nashville huge. A large wild, unknown, alien turtle is roaming around in my basement, uninvited, when my husband is not here to take care of it.

Maybe the turtle thought he was invited. I did have the outside basement door propped open. My two cats like to go out for fresh air, eat a little grass and then come in and hurl it on the living room floor. Come to think of it, that turtle is making my stomach feel kinda jittery. Anyway, technically it's my fault for leaving the door open. Now that I think about it, maybe I should go open it wider so he'll be sure and know how to get out. Hang on.

Okay, I went out the front door (darn right I'm not going back down there), around the house, and pushed the door all the way open. I could see him in there next to the cat litter pans. I ran around to the front, came inside again and went straight to the kitchen door to the basement steps. I'd say there are about twenty steps. There's no way he can climb them all and get in the kitchen. Especially since I locked the door. Just in case.

Surely the extra sunlight and the sound of the creek gurgling in the backyard will entice him out. Oh, dear. I just had a terrible thought. Sometimes when I hear running water, I have to go to the bathroom. And he was right by that cat litter. Hang on.

I'm back. I unlocked the door and yelled down the steps, "Don't you DARE pee in my basement!" I doubt it will help but I feel better. Wait. I think I hear my husband's truck coming up the driveway. Let me go warn him.

Ha. I should've known. I bet none of the married ladies reading this need a crystal ball to know how our conversation went. Something like this:

"Hey, babe. There's a big honking turtle in the basement, so watch out."

He laughed and gave me the eye. You know how they do. "Why didn't you pick it up and carry it out?"

"And get my fingers bit off?"

"They can't hurt you." More laughing.

It was at this point I knew the end of the story. It's the same ending, handed down through generations, when the wife tells her husband something is so, but the husband finds no such evidence.

"Honey, I didn't see a turtle. Maybe it was that old World War II helmet I got at the flea market, and the cats were playing with it, and you just thought it was .... "

"It was a turtle."

"You saw it move?"

"No, but ...."

"Were the lights on or was it dark?"

"Dark, but ..."

Oh, yeah. He thinks I'm nuts. Whatever. He'll come around when that World War II helmet chomps down on the toe of his shoe one day.

Until I have that peculiarly satisfying distraction to add to my list, I guess I'll get back to my desk and do some work. Don't worry. Every night when I'm done, I'll check the door to the basement and make sure it's locked until I know Turtzilla has gone back into the wild.

Mary's latest book, THISTLE & TWIGG, has been nominated for the 2008 SIBA Book Award for Fiction. She currently serves on the national board of Sisters In Crime and is vice-president of the Southeast chapter of Mystery Writers of America.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Seven-Pound Book

At a recent book signing, a woman was examining me and my new book. When found out I did the cover art as well, she said with disgust, "You write AND paint? Oh, I don't like you."

"Wait a minute," I said, "I can't keep house. I'm extremely messy. How's that?"

"That's better." And she smiled, feeling slightly superior at least in one area of our lives.

Well lady, here's another imperfection. I've gained weight. There. I said it. In the last four years, two children and three books, I've gained 7.3 pounds. Not the willy nilly weight that comes and goes easily, but the boy-this-is-stubborn-I-ain't-going-nowhere kind of weight. It SEEMS, and someone correct me if I'm wrong, but this writing lifestyle does a doozy on your hind side. Authors, can I get an Amen?

So here's the deal. I have this obnoxious Weight Watchers scale in my bathroom that tells you way to much information. It's digital. It's not one of those step on and step off things with the little red arm that points to your number. It's a bit complicated, and as such, I decided to leave the big red sticker on it that tells me how to work the thing. Lest I forget between usage.

I realized something this morning about that dad-gum scale. It's a whole lot like my writing process. Let me explain.

Step 1: Tap Here

You must tap with your toe the big red sticker on the glass scale. Tapping is crucial. It gets the ball rolling. Without the tapping, nothing happens. Same in my writing. I tap into two places, my head and my heart. Tap, tap. In my writing life, I "Tapped Here" a couple months ago after I turned in my last manuscript for a book that will be coming out next spring.

Step 2: Wait for 0.0
Once you've "Tapped here", you must WAIT for the digitized 0.0 to show up before you can do anything. If you get on the scale before the 0.0 appears, you will see this: ERR

ERR. This, to me, is the most maddening part of the writing process. The waiting. The false starts. The ERRs staring me in the face. I pray, I ponder, I pay attention to anything and everything around me, searching, squeezing, pressing my brain cells and my heart for that thing, that ONE thing, that is speaking to me the loudest. That story that I must tell and commit the next however-many-months to. This, I'm afraid, is when I also begin to eat. A lot. Not only am I trying to come up with an idea, I am out promoting my book that's just come out. Raise your hand if you know that authors eating out on the road is not good for the waistline. And for me, double whammy, when my brain is in search mode, it initiates a repetitive hand-to-mouth reflex.

Thank you Lord, I'm happy to say my scale zeroed out yesterday. Hooray! No more ERR staring at me, but a put-your-finger-on-it 0.0. I have my story idea. Angels are singing somewhere. It took a while, but Whew!

Step 3: Step On

Step on. Step on. Now is the time I can step on the scale and see my present and future. I see my weight, my body fat weight, my body fat percentage, my body water, and my bone density. Uggh. This is not such a good thing. Look at all the work I have to do in so many areas. I'll have to watch my calories. I'll have to exercise. I'll have to change the way I do things in order to reach my goal. I'll admit, it looks like a lot of work. Am I up for this challenge?
The scale is like my writing life, as I said. I see my goal with this new book. I must say, the challenge is steep. Look at all the things I have to do. In the next seven months, I will have to change the way I do things, get more disciplined, more focused with my time, with my energy. I'll have to pray daily for inspiration. I'll have to exercise my mind and my fingers. At the end of this book, I want to be 75,000 words heavier and 7 pounds lighter. The challenge begins today. I'm officially in mind/body training.

See, if I don't get a handle on this, I'm doomed. At this rate, I won't be able to get out of my seat in another few books. Writing is my passion. My life. I want to keep doing this thing that maddens me and gives me such euphoric joy. I do not, however, want to gain weight with each and every book I squeeze out.

The metaphor (scale to writing) is a little cheesy, I'll admit. Mmmm. cheese. But do any of you writers find that it's easy to ignore your body and your health when you're writing? How is it that matters of the mind and heart can make us stick our body on the bottom of the priority list?

My wake up call came when I stepped on my infuriating scale this morning and saw how much work I have to do in the next seven months. But if there's one thing I've learned as a writer, it's that the best things in life are worth fighting for. The harder it is, the bigger the pay off.

I'm up for the challenge.

If any of you writers out there would like to give me your tips on beating the bulge, I'd be much obliged. Please comment or send me a note at


Nicole Seitz is a South Carolina Lowcountry native and the author of The Spirit of Sweetgrass as well as a freelance writer/illustrator who has published in numerous low country magazines. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Journalism, she also has a bachelor's degree in illustration from Savannah College of Art & Design. Nicole hails from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina where she writes, paints her covers, and lives with her husband and two small children. Today she is working on her next book.

Trouble the Water
Nicole Seitz
Released March 11, 2008
Thomas Nelson
Trade Paper, ISBN-10 1595544003