Sunday, May 31, 2009
Friday, May 29, 2009
I like to call the first kind—the lucky ones and the second kind—the rest of us.
The lucky ones came from interesting, important families. They wrote their first novel at age six and their proud parents had it professionally printed and bound then gave signed copies away for Hanukkah bearing the note, With love from Our Little Writer.
The lucky ones received subscriptions to The New Yorker and Macbooks for birthday gifts. They did well in English classes and wrote poetry when the family dog died, unlike the rest of us who got subscriptions to People magazine, went to English class stoned and stepped over the dead dog for hours, refusing to believe our best friend was gone.
The lucky ones? They went to colleges their parents paid for and got MFA’s. They published stories and essays in collegiate journals and chained themselves to library carrels to protest censorship. They traveled in the summer to desolate places where they wrote thousand page manuscripts they later burned because they felt too indulgent. They studied with Pulitzer Prize winners who invited them to weekend long cocktail parties in the Hamptons, parties peppered with literati elite.
The rest of us went to cheesy junior colleges in Upstate New York, where we lived in houses we couldn’t afford to heat and took the easy courses so we could party most nights and still keep a job, because how else were you going to pay for Lambrusco and that case of ramen noodles? We bought legal pads and pencils and two hundred and fifty dollar cars because the best bars were across town and buses didn’t run after midnight.
The lucky ones got jobs in publication right away, or took posts teaching at real schools with credentials, or maybe spent a year in Prague then returned to a full ride at Breadloaf, after turning down Yaddo.
The rest of us ended up managing shoe stores or moving to California with our stripper boyfriends who drove Land Cruisers and kept giant pythons in glass cages.
The lucky ones wrote their novel in a single year, showed it to mentors who happened to be best-selling authors with high profile literary agents on their speed dial. They sent a query letter drafted over real Italian cappuccino then took a nap, only to be awakened by a phone call from Ms. Perfect Agent offering representation and the world, on a silver platter. During this call, words were dropped like magical, heart wrenching, masterpiece and poised for success. Before any papers were signed, word leaked out and a secret copy of the manuscript found its way to the desk of a renown NY literary critic who was so enveloped by the story that her i-phone went untouched for a record seventeen minutes. Within twenty-four hours, the lucky ones sold their debut novel for seven figures at auction, sealing the deal with both agent, editor and Steven Spielberg over champagne at Elaine’s.
The rest of us? After two babies, twelve moves, six jobs, and ten arduous years of work, after three novels, hundreds of agent queries, seven conferences, four pitch sessions, and three near misses, the rest of us might finally have found someone who gets it. Someone who sees what we see, someone who believes in our story, in our work, in us. Someone we might have stalked for years via the internet—it’s much less creepy that way—or in person under large hats and sunglasses at that conference in Florida, but never followed them into the restroom (on purpose). That agent may have been someone we were led to after an expensive visit with a Scottish psychic cat whisperer, a visit we would write off as research if we weren’t already in trouble with the IRS, an agent that actually followed through and sent an email asking to call.
And the next day, when the phone rang and you spit your coffee across the desk, you felt the pitter patter of your heart as he asked if the manuscript was still available, as he asked if you’d like to work with him, as he said that he thinks your manuscript has the potential to be a “big honking book” until you’re slapping the desk and screaming, “Yes! Yes! Yes!” not unlike your favorite Meg Ryan scene from When Harry Met Sally, except you’re not so sure you’re faking it.
And later, after we have pinched ourselves and hugged our dogs and posted updates on Twitter and Facebook and our blogs. After that?
The rest of us will finally call ourselves one of the lucky ones.
Linda Sands recently signed with Josh Getzler of Writers House to represent her novel,
We’re Not Waving, We’re Drowning, a work that’s been called The Hours in Savannah.
More about Linda:
Her website: http://www.linda-sands.com/
Her Blog: Another Good Thing
Linda Sands, Atlanta
Thursday, May 28, 2009
In a couple of weeks I’ll finish the new Ballad novel The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, which is set in the Virginia mountains in 1935, and features Nora Bonesteel as a young girl. Of all the characters I write about, Nora Bonesteel is the one that people seem most intrigued by.
The Sight is something that seems to run in mountain families, and in their counterparts back in western Britain. I decided to put Nora Bonesteel in the Ballad novels because of a publication party for one of my books at an Appalachian Studies Conference in north Georgia. That night we got around to telling the family ghost stories, and every person from the mountain region had such a story. My editor, from Tucson, did not. Charlotte told her, "You're from a big city, hon. Ghosts don't have call-waiting."
And he had the Sight.
John said, "I see you wearing a blue raincoat, kneeling in a field, and you’re very upset.”
“Nope.” I said. “Didn’t happen. And my raincoat is beige.”
Except that my old raincoat-- the one that I never wear except to dash out to the mailbox or something-- is blue. And at 7 a.m. the day after John called, it was drizzling rain, and some dogs got into our pasture and attacked our pet goats, Harvick and Kenseth. (I have got to stop naming animals after NASCAR drivers.) My daughter Laura saw it as she was driving down the driveway on the way to school, and she came back to the house and said, “We’ve got to get down to the field and save the goats!”
On the way out the back door, I threw on the old blue raincoat and ran for the barn.
One of the goats was mired in the mud of the creek, bleating pitifully, and we hauled him out and got him on the ground of the pasture, and (in hysterics) I knelt over him in my blue raincoat.
It had all happened exactly as John had described in the phone call the day before.
John never made any prediction like that again. But one time was quite enough. He was born on Lamma and died on the Winter Solstice, which, as a folklorist, he would have loved, but I miss him very much.
Every so often readers ask me: Do I have The Sight ?
I do have the Sight only a little, tiny bit: flashes every so often, but nothing to brag about. Here’s an example of my “powers.”
About ten years ago, my son’s pet hamster Emma escaped from her cage. She had been gone for days, and although we had searched all over the place, we found no trace of her. Then one night I was up in my study at 2 a.m. writing. There was no noise in the house, nothing out of the ordinary. And suddenly I had a strong feeling that I ought to go in the kitchen and look in the sink cabinet in a tall glass pitcher we kept down there. There was absolutely no reason for me to do that, but I had an absolutely compelling urge to check there for the missing hamster.
Before I could think better of this impulse, I got up from my desk, walked to the kitchen, and opened the sink cabinet.
Sure enough, Emma the Wayward Hamster had somehow gotten into the closed sink cabinet, and she had slid down into the tall glass pitcher, from which she was unable to get out. She must have been without food or water for two or three days by then, and she would have died had I not found her. I wasn’t even surprised when I found her. I just knew she was there.
So, that's my psychic gift.
Some people stop plane crashes. I save hamsters.
I have no plans to start wearing a cape and spandex, but thanks for asking.
Sharyn McCrumb, a New-York Times best-selling author, won a 2006 Library of Virginia Award and AWA Book of the Year for St. Dale, which was featured at the National Festival of the Book. A 2008 “Virginia Women of History,” McCrumb is known for her Ballad novels, including She Walks These Hills. A film of The Rosewood Casket is in production.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
I LIKE plot, you see, and plots, too.
Well. I guess you can color me the masses. Yes, of course I want the language to be interesting and the dialogue to ring true. Yes, I want multi-layered characters with flaws and strengths. I have no objections to imagery as long as it isn’t purpled out and focused on the landscape ---I lose patience quickly with OH THE DARKLING ROSE, HOW WITH OVERBLOWN VENOM SHE SPROUNCES THE SEX SHOOTS OF HER THORN LADEN AND MAY-BEGREENED FECUNDITY! But yes, you can tell me what the bush looks like, by all means.
Even so, all these things should be imbedded in a plot. Things should happen. People should kiss and shoot each other, hopefully within the same chapter. People should lie, and betray each other, and hope and try and fail and hide things and run around and yell and have vibrant make-up sex. When plot was out of fashion, as a reader I retreated into The Land of Penguin Classics until people started SNEAKING plot into good books again. As I writer, I never gave it up. Not even for Lent.
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming’s plot begins with a ghostly visitation from the spirit of a drowned girl who is floating in the backyard pool. My homage to plot began last week, when I decided to pick up Boggart, my smaller, yellower cat, and snoogle him. As I lifted him up and buried my nose in his warm fur, I discovered his armpit had become strangely pungent. In fact, it smelled like…armpit. Not even a cat armpit. Like a REAL armpit. The armpit of a hearty seaman with little access to fresh water, perhaps, or even a LUMBERJACK. It was very mysterious. Also gross. I called my husband over.
Me: Honey, I need you to smell the cat’s armpit.
Him: …um. No.
Me: But it smells weird. I need you to smell it. It’s kind of awful.
Him: All the more reason.
Me: *in reasonable tones* But I can’t figure out what it is that is smelling him up. Won’t you have a teeny whiff?
Him: No, thank you.
Then I chased my husband around the house with the cat, but Scott is bigger than me and stronger than me and faster than me, and eventually the cat lost patience with the joggling and squirmed until I let him down. He had also lost his (admittedly scant to begin with) desire to be smelled. I PRETENDED to give up. And launched a plot.
Here are some factors I had working in my favor. PLOT POINTS, if you will.
---My son is in Washington DC with his grandparents, touring the White House, seeing Obama at Arlington, visiting the spy museum, etc etc, so POOR Maisy, my youngest, with endless rain keeping the neighborhood kids indoors, has been bored out of her little wig.
---In order to keep herself entertained, 7 year old Maisy has spent all day, every day writing, choreographing, and practicing different SHOWS to perform when her dad gets home from work. We have had a wild west pony show, a Christian Music Concert, a Country Music Concert complete with CLOGGING and a big Big BIG JAZZ HANDS finish (which we caught on tape---OH DEAR LORD – SUCH AWESOME rehearsal dinner footage, delivered into our hands!)
Today, all on her own, she came up with the idea of a pet show. She made watercolor illustrations of each pet, and said she would deal them out like cards and whoever got that pet’s card would have to tell a STORY about them and do an interactive trick. For example, Maisy got Pookie the Beta fish, and she told s the story of picking him out, and taught us how to measure his food for her interactive trick…see where this is going?
I may have stacked the deck. Literally. IMAGINE my surprise when I got the BOGGART illustration. I just HAPPENED to then tell the story of the MYSTERIOUS ARMPIT SMELL, and after, as my interactive trick, I invited the WHOOOOOLE audience to come have a smell for themselves. Maisy was an enthusiastic participant, and she unequivocably declared the armpit to be “Yuckish.”
Under the gaze of his POOR daughter, left behind while her brother has a riotous pleasurefrest of grandparental spoilage in DC, her only solace the nightly shows she so meticulously plans and executes…what could he do?
“Well played, Moriarty,” said my husband to me, sotto voce, and bent his defeated head to sniff.
He didn’t know what the smell was either. *shrug*
Bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson lives in Powder Springs, Georgia with her husband, their two kids, a hound dog, a scurrilous Boggart-thing, two legally separated Beta fish, and a twenty-two pound, one-eyed Main Coon cat named Franz Schubert. She wishes their neighborhood was zoned for goats. Both her SIBA award winning first novel, gods in Alabama, and her Georgia Author of the Year Award winning second novel, Between, Georgia, were chosen as the #1 BookSense picks for the month of their release, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to have Number 1 picks in consecutive years.
Her third book, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, was a national bestseller that Entertainment Weekly called “a wild, smartly calibrated achievement." It releases in paperback today. It features a plot that does NOT involve feline armpits, and makes a great end of year teacher gift, and plus your MOM told me she wants a copy, so you should definitely run right out and get one. Oh heck, get two, they are small.
One day when I've gotten a large number of the projects/manuscripts/ideas/words out of my head that are presently demanding their say, I intend to write a book on the blessed power of "No." I feel sorry for No. It's a very good word with a very poor reputation. (I imagine No is probably very jealous of how much everyone likes Yes, but that's just me.)
I don't mean to brag, but I'm something of an authority on the word No. I'm talking serious credentials. I've heard more than my fair share of No, and I'm not talking about your standard No's. While I realize all writers are familiar with No, I may possibly have some of the best No stories ever recorded.
For instance, one fine day, prior to any sort of publishing success, I was sitting at my desk filing the most recent rejection slip, when I got an email response from a publisher. "Dear Ms. Tomlinson," it read, "thank you for submitting your work for our review. We are interested in publishing your manuscript." Well, yippy skippy! It had finally happened. Who to call? What to do? Alas, before I had time to strike up the band another note dinged into my inbox from the same editor.
"Dear Ms. Tomlinson," this one read, "I'm so sorry, but I've just noticed that I inadvertently made a mistake in my previous email. My letter was supposed to read, we are not interested in publishing..." Enough. You get the picture. I'm opening up old wounds here and they're all mine. For the record, I still think they should have had to publish my book out of nothing more than good manners. I mean, who forgets the word "No" (or any form thereof) when writing a rejection slip?
When I write my No book, I'll put that little tale in there, along with a ton of other rejection follies, but then I'll turn the page and the real story will begin. I will tell of what No did for me, how it taught me, goaded me, pushed me, and challenged me, and how it built a website called All Things Southern that not only became the tool that eventually saw the initial goal realized, but has since taken me on a journey I never could have foreseen had "Yes" come easy all those years ago. No, thank you.
All Things Southern, "Bringing you the charm and heritage of the South..."
Monday, May 25, 2009
ROSIE AND ZELDA
Animals play a big role in my life. They are friends, family, companions, a source of major activity, and the source of major expenditures. Because Alabama doesn’t have effective spaing/neutering laws, my animal count had risen to a precarious 21: 7 horses, 6 dogs, and 8 cats. Almost all of them are strays or rescue.
I’ve had cats and dogs all of my life, and I’ve never been in the position where I couldn’t impress on them the need to get along. A lot of people don’t believe cats and dogs can be compatible, but I’ve never found that to be true. But the quandary I found myself in for the last two years was two dogs that hated each other.
This is the story of Rosie and Zelda, once the best of friends and, finally, enemies to the near-death.
Zelda is a husky or a malamute, I’m not sure which. She’s a beautiful dog with an attention issue. She came to me as a stray, and she’s full of zany energy and hears only what she chooses.
Rosie was a rambling dog, maybe some pit and lab or retriever, that lived on my road, sort of. She dropped seven puppies on a neighbor and abandoned them. In fact, she didn’t like them at all. So when she showed up in my yard one day and wanted to play with Zelda, I didn’t see the harm. At that time, I had a red tic hound, Sweetie Pie, who had diabetes and other health issues (sweetest dog ever born) and Maybelline, a tall beagle (the best dog ever born). Zelda drove them nuts with her barking, yodeling, and demand for attention and action. Rosie was a perfect playmate. The neighbors, who were saddled with the puppies, were happy to give her to me. They knew I would provide proper medical care and loads of love.
The next three years passed without serious incident, until one day I went to the barn to feed the horses and left Rosie and Zelda in the back yard. Somehow, a fight started at the gate. I’d never seen such viciousness, and I’ve been around a lot of dogs. Zelda was greatly outmatched in size and jaw-power, but once I broke up the fight, she wasn’t one to let it go. They tied up again.
And the pattern was set.
Over the next two years, I brought in dog trainers and worked with the dogs using a number of different tactics. Whenever Rosie got a chance, she jumped Zelda and her intent was to kill her. Zelda, who is fast as greased lightning, wouldn’t run away. She always took up Rosie’s challenge, and she always got hurt.
I began to shut Rosie in one bedroom in the evenings and Zelda in another bedroom in the mornings. They could not be left out together, not even with supervision.
Maybelline (who is on the cover of CROSSED BONES) lived to be 17, and Sweetie Pie, who is the star dog of the Bones books, lived to be nearly 14. They both passed away, and I’d acquired a new pack of Katrina strays. Lucille is an elegant hound, Buster is a nub-tailed heeler/cur/roddie kind of dog, Leto is a black lab, and Goblin is…well, a goblin. Rosie got along swimmingly with these dogs. But if she saw Zelda, she would jump her.
Whenever I had to go to a book event or leave town, I lived in dread that the pet sitter would forget and leave a door open. Or that one day I’d rush out of the house to go to the barn for something and leave a door not closed firmly. While I adjusted to the tension, I kept looking for a better solution.
I wanted to find a good home for either Rosie or Zelda. But that is not an easy task to accomplish in a country where dogs and cats are too often treated like garbage and tossed to the side of the road whenever they become the slightest inconvenience. Why would someone want a problem dog when they could get a brand new puppy?
My ace in the hole was a wonderful friend, Sarah Bewley, who had visited my home and fallen in love with Rosie. The problem was that Sarah’s landlord didn’t allow dogs.
This past January, after months of balancing this circus, I accidentally let Zelda into the backyard while Rosie was still there. By the time I got the fight broken up, Zelda needed eight stitches, and she was traumatized. As was I.
I called Sarah and begged her to talk with her landlord. And finally, due to extenuating circumstances, he agreed.
This past Mother’s Day, Rosie left with Sarah. She has gone to Gainesville, to live as an only dog in a household where she will have only love and attention. And two humans all her own.
Giving her away was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I am so lucky to have found the perfect home for her. And a human with a temperament so well suited to taking on the task of a large dog with an aggression issue. There is a heart of calmness in Sarah which I think will sooth Rosie.
I have no idea what happened to create such animosity between the two dogs. The trainers I worked with could shed no light on the issue. But I do know that whatever it was, it was personal between the two of them. And in all the times I jumped into the middle of a dogfight that was terribly vicious, not one single time did either dog attempt to bite me or harm me in any way. If I had to use my fingers to pry Rosie’s mouth open, she never even hinted that she wanted to harm me. Her ire was reserved strictly for Zelda.
I can’t begin to tell you how lucky I feel that I could find the right home for Rosie, and that Sarah and Pat would take her. That I managed, for nearly three years, to avoid a deadly tragedy. That I never gave up on either dog.
This is not the happy ending that I envisioned for my two dogs. I had thought we would remain, until death, a pack. But Rosie has a new pack now. And the tension and potential for violence is gone from my home, though Zelda is plenty capable of stirring up trouble. She is a demanding spirit.
Only once before have I given up a dog that lived with me for any length of time. Maynard the Dobie went to live with the Datillos when I was forced to move into an apartment. Maynard had a wonderful life and lived to a ripe old age with a family with a large yard, cats, and a rabbit who was his best friend.
It is a hard thing, to let go. It’s a lesson I have to learn again and again, I’m afraid. But thank goodness that I have Rosie and Maynard to look back on. This is the happy ending that we don’t always get.
Friday, May 22, 2009
by Danette Haworth
Of all the things I get asked about writing, the underlying question is this: How do I get published? Here’s my answer: I don’t know! But I do know that hard work, dedication, education, and exposure can only enhance your chances of one day seeing your book on bookstore shelves. I met my editor at an SCBWI conference after I’d submitted for critique the first ten pages of Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning. A few months later, I received an offer, signed up with an agent, and now the little novel that I wrote in secret is available for everyone to read!
I’ve been writing stories and poems since I was little. Creative writing and literary analysis were my favorite subjects going through school. After receiving my degree in English, I paid off my student loans by working as a technical writer, a travel writer, and finally a freelance writer. I consumed writer’s magazines and literary journals, and I bought Writer’s Market religiously every year. My short stories made lots of round trips; I hated to find those manila envelopes addressed to me in my own handwriting. But along the way, some of those stories found new homes, and then more of them began to leave the nest.
A few years ago, my schedule opened up. I began to research markets in hopes of expanding my freelance editing work, but it hit me one day—Time to write your own novel!
It was a scary thought. Sometimes it’s easier to dream about your dream than to actually test it. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing a book; I just said I was working on various projects. I have a tendency to act out my scenes as I write them, so I yelled at my antagonist from my computer chair. I laughed; I cried—real tears even! Before anyone came home, I’d pack everything up, I wasn’t writing a book! But I’d think about Joshua, the main character, and his dog, Jack, all night long. When it looked like I was doing dishes, I really was running through the woods with my characters.
I spent countless hours on my computer researching agents, reading writers’ boards, and posting questions. I read books on the craft of writing and on how to land an agent. I discovered writer’s conferences. And I started on my next manuscript, Violet Raines.
Violet Raines was published by Walker Books, August 2008; The Hotel for Blueberry Goodness comes out 2010; and Me and Jack is due 2011, all with Walker.
Below are five quick tips that work for me, followed by lists of websites and books that continue to be helpful to me as I work to create fiction. You might find them helpful too.
Five Quick Tips for Writers:
Write. Don’t think about writing—just write, preferably every day. Like exercise, you prime the writing muscle by using it in a consistent manner, and you get stronger too!
Get qualified feedback. Join a critique group, post on critique threads, or pay for a professional critique, but get that feedback. You’ll find out where your strengths and weaknesses lie.
Submit your work. Don’t be afraid! And don’t be crushed—keep submitting.
Read published work in your genre. As a writer, you’re probably a reader too. The more you read, the more you will unconsciously pick up. It’s education through entertainment; the books you enjoy reading will teach you how to write that type of book.
Look for inspiration everywhere. I’m inspired by anyone who has a gift and presses it. Tears filled my eyes several years ago when I sat on the banks of Orlando’s Lake Eola and watched J.D. Webb break the wakeboarding record by jumping a 60’ ramp-to-ramp gap over the Lake Eola fountain. I can’t sing, but U2 and Adam Lambert blow me away! Good books inspire me, but so do underdog sports movies, and I don’t even watch sports! Watch someone else push themselves, and you’ll be inspired to do the same.
Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators
http://www.scbwi.org/ membership fee
Active site providing publications to assist the writer, opportunities for grants, and a forum, including a thread for manuscript exchange (on which you can post bits and pieces of your MS or even your query letter and receive critiques).
Verla Kay’s Website for Children’s Writers and Illustrators
Dynamic site including a variety of links, agent interview transcripts and a hot message board. Get your questions answered here, answer someone else’s question, or shoot the breeze. Also includes a thread for posting bits of your MS or query for critique.
Absolute Write http://www.absolutewrite.com/ free
Active site with loads of links, a message board with lots of categories, and a thread for critique.
WOW! Women on Writing http://www.wow-womenonwriting.com/ free
Informative site with articles that change monthly, a blog, and a quarterly flash fiction contest judged by some of the hottest agents in the industry.
Agent Query http://www.agentquery.com/ free
Plug in your genre and find the agent you need using this huge up-to-date database. Another plus: agent interviews and sample query letters.
Preditors & Editors http://anotherealm.com/prededitors free
Want to find out if an agent or agency is legit? Check it out on this free listing.
Agent and Editor Blogs:
Alice’s CWIM Blog, http://www.cwim.blogspot.com/
Bookends, LLC Literary, http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/
Editorial Anonymous, http://editorialanonymous.blogspot.com/
Firebrand Literary, http://firebrandliterary.wordpress.com/
Full Circle Lit, http://fullcirclelit.blogspot.com/
Guide to Literary Agents, http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog
Janet Reid, http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com/
Miss Snark, (Blog is retired, but check out the archives—excellent!),
Lit Agent X (Rachel Vater), http://raleva31.livejournal.com/
Nathan Bransford (Excellent! He also answers individual questions on his own thread on
the Absolute Write website.), http://www.nathanbransford.blogspot.com/
Pub Rants (Kristin Nelson), http://pubrants.blogspot.com/
The Rejecter, http://rejecter.blogspot.com/
How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey
How to Write a Children’s Book and Get It Published, Barbara Seuling
Beginnings, Middles & Ends, Nancy Kress
Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass
Children’s Writer’s Word Book, Alijandra Mogilner
Chicago Manual of Style
Current edition of Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market; any somewhat recent edition is also a plus because the articles are still relevant.
Any novel you love, because it will inspire you.
Violet Raines Almost Got Struck by Lightning, because I wrote it!
Good luck in all your writing!
Thursday, May 21, 2009
The assignment for bloggers this months is "How I got the call."
I got the call on a Tuesday morning at 9:42 a.m., according to the clock in my truck. It was my wife, at the vet's with our cat, Sophie. This was the fourth time we'd taken Sophie in to have a tumor removed from her rear leg.
"Dr. Golden wants to ... to take her leg off," said my wife.
"That sounds really expensive," I said.
"What are the other options."
"Uhh ... well ... putting her down."
We had had this cat for nearly 21 years. We got her at the Humane Society just before we were married. She grew up with our daughter, at first sleeping in her crib with her and then, later, in her bed. We moved this wonderful cat to five different states, from the subtropics to the winters of Minnesota and back again. She never complained, she always adapted. She was a true lady, always very clean and regal and well-mannered. She even endured five months in a cramped highrise condo.
That said, my wife and I have always rolled our eyes at people who treat their pets like human children. We love our animals, but we are true Darwinists; we would not, for example, put our dog or cat on anti-depressants, as my friend does.
So, when we were confronted with the decision of either cutting off Sophie's leg or putting her to sleep ... well, we had some serious questions to ask ourselves. But back to the call:
"I'll ask her how much it's going to cost," said Carol.
"Okay," I said.
Long pause, then she said, "How much is too much?"
"Carol! I'm not going to decide that! Don't put that decision on me!"
"Well, why should I have to decide?"
"Because she was your cat when we got married. It's your choice."
Later that day, when we both were at home, I noticed Sophie was absent. I was afraid to ask what had happened.
Finally, Carol said, "She's at the vet's having her leg taken off."
I breathed a sigh of relief.
"How much?" I asked.
"Fifteen-hundred," she replied. "And the funny thing was ... that was the limit I'd given myself when the vet left the room to go research the cost. So ... what was the magic number in your mind?"
"You won't believe this," I said.
So sweet Old Sophie had her leg removed, and she was with us for four more years, hobbling about and hissing whenever anyone walked by too quickly. When it was time to die, she simply stopped drinking water. I could tell she was tired and ready to move on. And my wife and I and my daughter all took her to Dr. Golden, who helped us lead our beloved cat into the next world.
I miss her.
>New York Post: Hudler's newest novel is "Required Reading"
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
PATTI CALLAHAN HENRY
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about love. With my new novel (DRIFTWOOD SUMMER) coming out in a week, this question keeps coming up: Why did you write about a bookstore on a beach? And I keep telling everyone it is because I love bookstores and I love beaches. Love? Can we really love a bookstore? A beach?
We don’t often ask ourselves WHY we love someone or something, we just do. Love that is – we just love. If I try and dissect why, the feeling or the knowing seems to move past me like fog. There is no real answer to “why”. But I have come to believe this – what and who we love helps define who we are.
For example: Why did I become a writer? I know the answer hides beneath the things and people I love; the deeper loves of my life. I grew up a bookworm; I love reading. I grew up hiding in libraries because we moved so much I didn’t have many friends: I love libraries. I love God, and doesn’t he use the word “word” to describe the Self he sent to earth? I love words – where they came from, how they sound, how they change when they are next to each other. I even risked friends by being a member of the Latin Club.
There are many more loves, yet they all add up to equal me. Who I am. And they also contribute to my upside down (or maybe it is inside out) way I look at life: others might interpret a novel through their life experience; I experience life through the stories I’ve read and known. Reading and words have changed the way I see life: Love does that.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Take last week, when I had the occasion to call 911. Don’t worry--everyone’s fine. I wouldn’t bring it up otherwise. However, when I made the call, I didn’t know that everyone would be fine. The operator, a calm professional, tried to coax a few words out of me, but I was initially unable to provide much more than my name and street address. Fortunately, the woman sent out an ambulance solely on the merit of my heavy breathing. And after a few minutes, my beloved regained consciousness and was able to coach me from his position on the floor.
Okay, so when it comes to improvised speech under pressure, I am a failure. But what about a more controlled situation? Say, the ability to speak one’s wedding vows. Due to the survival and complete recovery of my beloved, I will have the blessed opportunity to attempt this in a few weeks. I’m a little worried…
First, we’re having a heck of a time trying to find the right words. We’re both in our fifties, and frankly, most of the wedding vows that I’ve read don’t really seem fitting. Fortunately, there’s a great anthology edited by Robert Hass & Stephen Mitchell, called Into the Garden which has a great collection of love poetry and wedding vows from many cultures and religions. This is not only great reading, but it’s helpful. However, since my beloved and I come from different religious traditions, no single set of traditional vows seem quite right.
Many people now make up their own vows, but I just can’t picture us standing up in front of family and friends and promising never to go to bed angry, to drink in the sweet nectar of our years together… Yuck. We will cobble something together at the last minute, using the best old, traditional vows we can find. We are, after all, veterans. Corny as it sounds, we do know what it means to say for richer for poorer, and for sure, we know what it means to be together in sickness and in health (i.e. when I am tongue-tied and you are on the floor). Maybe these old words, the vows that we have heard in churches, in movies and even in soap operas can not be worn out. In fact, maybe they have been polished by their use, and when the time comes, they will slide easily off my tongue.
By Man Martin
I’ll leave legislation, acknowledged or otherwise, to our next president. The great world and wide has taught me my place. I’m not complaining. I don’t want to legislate in an unacknowledged or any other capacity. I’m happy with my lot in life. And I suspect that in whatever Star Chamber the true unacknowledged legislators of the world meet, they turn with a sigh from setting the price of petroleum, fixing all the presidential races, and determining library fines for the next millennium, and imagine, just for a moment, how glorious existence would be – if only they could write.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I was doing a little spring cleaning when I realized how crazy I must be. Every cupboard is stock full of things I’m afraid I’ll run out of. Take toilet paper, for instance. Every bathroom in our home, which is two and a half, but when it comes to toilet paper that half-bath counts as a whole, because it’s got to have toilet paper. So anyway, every one of those bathrooms has a roll on the holder and ten rolls in the cabinet underneath the sink. That’s so we won’t ever run out. When any under-the-cabinet-toilet-paper stash gets down to four rolls it’s time to replenish, so then toilet papers goes at the top of my grocery list.
Next we come to Tide, I always prefer that when I do the laundry. There is a large box in the laundry room and two extra boxes stacked in a cabinet in the garage, next to six boxes of Kleenex, two bottles of fabric softener, three boxes of cling free sheets, eight rolls of paper towels, two extra large bottles of Head and Shoulders for my husband, alright I admit it, I use it once in awhile myself. Next to the shampoo are three jars of Pantene Restorative conditioners, which I can’t live without or my hair looks like a broom that has seen better days. Parked next to the conditioners I have neatly placed three large plastic bottles of various hand and body lotions that all promise to keep my skin smoother than silk. When I’m replenishing hand lotion, I can’t ever decide which one I should try next, so I usually select three and go from there.
In the pantry I have several large cans of coffee on the top shelf and enough Cremora to serve every Starbucks customer who desires it for the next two years. I have back-ups on mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, grape jelly, strawberry jam, pancake syrup, spaghetti sauce (I always doctor up the store bought kind and pass it off as homemade.), and scads of soup. Five kinds of Campbell’s for every flavor they make. God forbid I should run out of Cream of Mushroom. I might want to make a tuna noodle casserole and then where would I be?
This predisposition to hoard extras of what I consider to be essentials is probably a sign of a serious mental disorder. And it probably runs in my family. My mother has the same illness. Her pantry puts mine to shame. Mine has enough to stock a mini-market. Hers could easily stock Kroger.
This problem definitely spills over into other areas of my life. If my car even approaches the half-full marker, I am at the gas station pronto. And my office closet is fully stocked with two and three boxes of everything, along with two cases of copy paper. I have eight boxes of large paper clips, two boxes of six dispensers each of scotch tape, three boxes of file folders and four boxes of pens. There is a case of Pendaflex folders and four boxes of various size labels along with a half dozen boxes of various size envelopes. Need I say more?
I probably need to call a psychiatrist immediately and make an appointment. But then all I could tell him is that I have a fear of running out of stuff. How serious can that be? It’s not like I harbor a secret desire to kill my husband or my mother, right?
Lately, I’ve noticed that I have a fear of running out of words. This is a much more serious problem than running out of toilet paper. I’m in the middle of my next book and middles scare the he-be-ge-bee’s out of me anyway. So now where am I? It’s not like I can go to the store and stock up on words. Each night when I go to bed, I do a word count of how many I’ve typed for the day. It always sends a shiver up my spine. Have I filled up my four pages for the day? Are they any good? Will I find enough for the next day? Is there a closet I can store them in while I sleep that I can raid in the morning and get a major head start?
I always wonder how other writers manage to put so many words on the page. Do they have a secret stash somewhere that nobody has told me about? Is their brain riddled with more words than they can possibly put down on any given number of pages in their lifetime? Do they have an endless supply from some part of their brain that automatically manufactures words while they sleep?
Hey guys, let me know. I’m sick of hoarding soup and shampoo and coffee. I’d love to find a way to hoard words. So let’s trade. I’ll gladly give you what’s stashed in my closets. I guarantee that you will never run out of toilet paper.
And now for my assignment: How I got the call. After my children left home I decided to try my hand at writing and signed up for a writer’s conference. I took along the manuscript I was working on to get it reviewed by a professional in the industry.
At the reception I literally bumped into Ron Pitkin, the president of Cumberland House Publishing. He was kind enough not to notice I spilled his drink and asked what I was working on. When I told him fiction, he promptly replied, “That’s a crap shoot.” Definitely not what I wanted to hear. I mean, I’d paid good money to come to this conference and he’s raining on my party, big time. “Well,” I said, “that’s too bad, because I have a dynamite opening line.” I was prepared to walk away, when he gently took hold of my elbow and said, “So what’s your opening line?”
“The morning I died, it rained.” Keep in mind this was long before The Lovely Bones.
“God! I want to see that book,” he said, doing an about face.
“Ah, I don’t have a book,” I said. “I have a great opening line and a hundred pages.”
He asked if I had it with me. “Of course. I’m getting it evaluated in the morning. It costs forty-five dollars.”
He told me to give it to him, he wouldn’t charge a thing. I immediately went to my room and brought back the pages. I had a prologue, and the last chapter and the epilogue along with the rest of it. It wasn’t finished, but I knew where it was going.
Mr. Pitkin thanked me and went on his way. Come Sunday morning with the conference over, everyone was checking out. I spotted Mr. Pitkin making his way toward me and thought, oh-oh, this is where he’s going to pull the rug out from under me and tell me to get a real job. To my surprise he handed me the manuscript and said, “I want this and I want it yesterday. Go home and finish it!”
I figured if I took forever to finish it he’d never even remember that he liked it. I stayed up and wrote around the clock for the next five days, took the weekend off, stayed up again and wrote around the clock for the next five days and sent it off to Mr. Pitkin. I marked my calendar for three months, thinking it might take that long for him to get back to me. I started in on my second book. Just like all the books on writing said to do. The following Friday evening my phone rang. I answered. A voice said, “This is Ron Pitkin at Cumberland House and we’re going to bring your book out in hardback.” I said, “Ya? And I’m the tooth fairy.” And I hung up on him. The reason I did this is that the only person other than my husband who knew I’d sent off the manuscript was a good friend of mine who can mimic any voice he’s ever heard. He’d been going to this conference where I’d met Mr. Pitkin for years and has heard him speak many times. It had to be this friend playing a joke on me. Not a very funny one either. I wasn’t amused.
I went upstairs to comb my hair and put some lipstick on. My husband was starving and wanted to go and get something to eat. Poor thing, he probably was starving. I stopped cooking when the kids left home and I took up writing. No sooner did I get to the bedroom when the phone rang. This one has caller ID, the others don’t. I leaned over and saw CUMBERLAND HOUSE flashing on the screen. I’d hung up on Mr. Pitkin for real!
I picked up the handset, leaned into it and barely whispered “Hello?”
“What’d you hang up on me for?” he said. “Ah, it’s a long story, a very boring story,” I said.
“Well, we’re bringing out your book in hard back and bumping back our memoir piece on Dale Earnhardt (he’d been tragically killed), to make Roseflower Creek the lead book. What do you think of that?”
I was hyperventilating and finding it impossible to speak. I did my best. “Didn’t you say fiction was a crap shoot?” I asked
“Yes—and it is,” he said.
“Then I think your crazy or my protagonist got herself a miracle. What do you think of that?”
Mr. Pitkin laughed and said he’d be seeing me. This is a true story and a pretty amazing way to get published. I feel very blessed.
Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River and Divorcing-Dwayne. Look for her next novel All That’s True in the spring of 2010. Email her at Jackie@jlmiles.com. Visit the website at http://www.jlmiles.com/
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
I was captured by the gypsies. Well, almost. I was six and they didn’t even know I existed but I was following them, captivated by the sight and sound of them and being carried away just the same. My mother happened to look out our third story window in Germany and could just make out my head bobbing up and down over whatever was growing in that field. The other kids had run with me after the cart, the animals, the wagons
– like something from another time, and then they had stopped and returned to the safety of home. But something about those bells pulled me farther and farther away as if I were under a spell. It was the calling of my mother’s voice over and over and over from a distance that finally made my feet to slow, then come to a full stop. I stood staring longingly as the gypsies disappeared. It was one of the first serious decisions I remember ever making -to stay. To choose family over wild adventure. I was such a quiet, safe, child that one would never have expected this from me. Which made the choosing so much harder. My true nature had surfaced sudden, fierce, and unexpected. A wild, gypsy child with a spirit of adventure built into her bones cloaked well in my silent, somber eyes.
Flash forward five years and I’m was back in America back in my hometown. I’m called forward to the teacher’s desk for questioning. My crime – creative writing. It appeared I had done exceedingly well on a written assignment. Suspiciously well. So the teacher felt that questioning my process, the origination of my thought pattern for the assignment, was in order. I passed the test and then the teacher called my mother to declare to her that I was a writer.
Twelfth grade found me sitting in a creative writing class elective with an angry substitute teacher in the middle of a wildly creative group of seniors who were just this side of out of control, and the substitute, (let’s just call her Miss Shady to protect her identity) yelled out – “How many of you plan to make writing your life and your career?” Before I realized it I passionately raised my hand. Then I realized out of thirty odd kids – my hand was the only one up in the air. Anger fortified, Ms. Shady who yelled, “Then what in the hell are the rest of you doing in here” (No offence, but true story) I didn’t bother to tell her that I sure didn’t think that the school board would approve the creative writing class for just one solitary student. Even one so dedicated.
A thousand words have gone by since then. Journals kept, plays produced, old stories written, and novels published. And still I wake up and think – Yes, I should have been a bush pilot. A truck-stop waitress. A nun, teacher, diplomat, missionary, moon-walker.
In short – the call starts all over again every day that I step outside the world, set my imagination free, and let characters pull up a chair and talk to me with little hope for major gain or commercial success. It comes because there's a story to be told and I'm the teller. It comes again every time I approach a deadline or face the blank page. When I search my heart in the dark for the meaning in this messy, writer life. As my talented friend Denise Hildreth would joke with me, “Sister, it ain’t easy.” And some days it is not. Some days it’s not easy to juggle being under the call while also being a human being with people in my life I love a lot and want to be there for. Or to make decisions that seem logical in nature while my soul beats to the tune of a strange language that only I can hear. It’s not the safest of worlds this writer business. No it’s not.
But oh – the goodness and glory of telling a story that a stranger will embrace from a faraway place and hold it to their chest like a lifeline. To write words that help people cry, or laugh, or sing. To illuminate this sloppy, beautiful life we have with the simple, profound connections we have to each other. Tis a Holy Mystery - that's what it is.
Just today I called my mentor, a strange ringing of the phone for her, and asked almost without hello, “How do I continue to tell the truth? I've got a character, I've got a place, but I've got a really bigger than me deadline?" And with all the wisdom she is known for, she quietly replied, “You simply say, Honey, I need you to talk to me. Then you listen.”
So I’m hanging up my bush pilot dreams and answering the call again. One word, one story at a time.
River Jordan is a southern storyteller and novelist. Her most recent work of Fiction - SAINTS IN LIMBO just surfaced this week and is available everywhere they sell good books. She lives in Nashville with her husband, Owen Hicks, their great, white 120 pound lap dog, and a stubborn cat named Moses. You may reach the author always at her website www.riverjordan.us
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Someone asked me the other day what it felt like to have five books in print. The answer I gave is “surreal.” It doesn’t seem real to me at all and I honestly think I might wake up some day and it will have all been a dream. I guess it’s because it wasn’t something I planned out as a career goal, it just happened.
Most people who know me tell me they never would have thought I would have written one book, much less five. It just wasn’t something that I ever talked about. Even after I wrote JOURNEY OF A GENTLE SOUTHERN MAN and got it published by Abique Books, I never counted on a second one.
When I got CHANCES AND CHOICES published by Southern Charm Press I never counted on a third book. I first contacted Mercer University Press about reprinting my first two books, not about printing anything new. When they asked for HALFWAY HOME I was shocked. Then they bought THE BOOKINDER and then THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS.
A few months ago I contacted Marc Jolley, Mercer University Press’ Publisher, and asked if he would be interested in my new book BACK TO THE GARDEN. I haven’t finished writing it but I have titled it. He didn’t say they definitely wanted it but did indicate an interest. I was a nervous wreck.
To say I am insecure about my writing is to say the sky is blue. In the past when people such as Jeffery Deaver, St John Flynn, Terry Kay and others have said nice things about my writing, I have mainly chalked it up to friendship. Even when people send me e-mails and say how much a certain story has meant to them, I appreciate it but I am not convinced.
Since I am convinced each book is my last one, I always get nervous when I approach a publisher about purchasing a book. I don’t feel really secure until the contract is signed. And even then I think some bizarre twist of fate could change things.
Of course the economy is doing its best to tamp down my hopes. I have too many friends who have not been able to get their latest stories published – and most of these efforts are very good. Publishers are cutting back and going with the “sure thing” authors they have.
I finally did get my courage up and approached Marc again a few weeks ago. He said the selection committee was meeting that week and he would know in a couple of days if they would buy my book. Two days later I got an e-mail that they do want it! Oh happy day! There were two stipulations: (1) they want this one to be forty to fifty pages longer than the last one – no problem, (2) they are not going to publish it until 2011 – I had asked for 2010. They said with the economy being what it is they want to get the maximum sales out of THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS. I can see their point.
So now I have a goal and that is to get the best book possible completed by July 2010. It really isn’t that far off. After this book comes out I will probably want to do another one and then this whole insecurity thing will start again. My writing career is only as secure as the next book that is purchased. Call me crazy but that is the way it is.
Jackie K Cooper's latest book is THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS. His next one, BACK TO THE GARDEN, will be published by Mercer University Press in 2011.
Friday, May 8, 2009
It wasn’t without reason. In fact, I had a very good reason. She’d been goading me for months with unswerving disobedience, blatant impertinence and full-blown temper tantrums.
One notable fit took place in the doorway of Big Lots. As she kicked and screamed from the floor, shoppers stepped over her, saying, “Oh, I remember those days.”
But weeks of ineffective time-outs and even spankings had put me at my parental wit’s end. It was Saturday, and we had made the dreaded trek to Wal-Mart. I had bribed my children with treats from that hallowed American institution, McDonalds. I had said no to drugs and limited myself to unsweet tea, which I had placed in the seat of the cart, next to the three-year-old. She knew better, but she waited until my attention was diverted and removed the plastic top. The tea ended up on me, her sister, our sweaters and my purse.
We trudged on. I navigated the teeming aisles with one child reaching for passing merchandise, the other jumping on and off the end of the buggy and both begging to purchase everything in sight. Finally, I found what I was looking for.
We made our way to the front of the store and began the interminable wait for a cashier. That’s when I made my mistake. I let my three-year-old hold the candles I was buying. It kept her quiet. And quiet, when it comes to preschoolers, is Valium to the soul – especially when you’re 45 minutes past nap time and facing the distinct possibility of another temper tantrum.
Finally, it was our turn. I reached for the candles, only to discover that my daughter had snapped them all in two. Worse, her face showed no remorse whatsoever. Worse still, I could tell that she was about to launch into the long-awaited hissy fit. That’s when I yelled.
Later, I apologized. I cuddled her and asked for forgiveness –which she granted, of course. Children are remarkably quick to forgive (a lesson we could all learn). But I still felt awful.
Then I met Grace Dibble Boyle. She lives here in Sumter, South Carolina, in a wonderful old home that once belonged to her grandmother. She hosts an annual Easter egg hunt – famous in these parts – where she serves old-fashioned food and teaches old-fashioned manners to the children. What many don’t know, however, is that Grace has lived through tragedy. Way back in 1984, one of her children drowned.
They were playing on the river bank. Grace was paying attention. But somehow, on that day, the unthinkable happened. Little Charles went missing. Minutes later, Grace found him floating, face down, in the water. They took Charles off life support and donated his organs. He was three years old.
Imagining the death of a child is excruciating for any parent – and hearing the details of Charles’ drowning was no different for me. I wept, and I wept profusely. But as I did, I felt something far greater than fear. I was gripped by the unmistakable sense that God was speaking to me. I had a three-year-old, and I loved her as fiercely and as passionately as Grace had loved little Charles. And there, but for the grace of God, go I.
The next morning, my daughter came over and hugged me. To my surprise, she looked at me with her big blue eyes and said, “Mama, I sorry I bwake your candles.”
One week after the Wal-Mart incident. One morning after I had heard Grace’s story.
Coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps the intervention of a sovereign God, who knows that we all need to learn and grow and change. And sometimes, that takes a little nudge.
I learned a lesson that day. I learned that thanksgiving – true thanksgiving – isn’t only for the holidays. It’s for every day. Especially days when we’re tempted to forget how truly blessed we really are.
Annabelle Robertson is the the author of "The Southern Girl's Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You've Caught Your Man." She is the editor of IRIS magazine and a reporter with THE ITEM newspaper in Sumter, South Carolina.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Tom sighed. I could imagine him frowning and shaking his head. “Julie, even a few hours is your time. You may as well go outside and follow Roxie around and pee in the road with her if you’re not gonna use this blog to sell books. The purpose of taking the time to blog is to SELL books!”
Well, I was a bit offended at his innuendo that being the neighbor’s dog was as productive as some of the time I spend here at my keyboard. Also, for me, it’s hard sometimes to merge that creative side of me, the “writer” who loves to tell stories, with the mercenary “author” who is supposed to be constantly hawking my books.
I thought and thought about Tom’s admonition. Was he right? Did I need to sublimely, or boldly weave stuff into my blog to get people to run out and buy one of my novels? Doesn’t getting “The Call” seem to indicate some sort of providential gift, a bequeathing of talent? And, if it’s a gift to you, shouldn’t you just share it, freely? When I hear “The Call” it sure sounds like all a writer/author has to do is “sit down, open up that vein, and let the words gush on out.”
But that’s not true. I know from experience. In fact, I get my feathers ruffled when I read articles about some author who is “an overnight success.” That’s because I’ve heard the real stories behind these stories, about the ten years plus spent studying the craft, writing and re-writing the novel, searching for an agent, waiting for an editor to bite, then re-writing again for the new editor, then and perhaps the most difficult, getting out there to market the novel. Personally, I know the emotional, the spiritual, the physical, the mental energy that goes into writing a book.
A line just zipped into my brain from this intense Bible study I recently completed on the book of Esther. The author of the study, Beth Moore, said, “Gift without grit is a pitiful waste. The blessed recipient is responsible for developing the integrity, humility, and work-ethic to know what to do with it.”
Gift without grit. The call without the balls (well, I don’t know what the feminine analogy ought to be), but she’s right, and Tom’s right. There’s no way I couldn’ve kept on, spending years and years writing novels, if I didn’t work at it and if I didn’t sell some books.
I’m absolutely positive that there are many fabulously gifted writers with partially finished novels, even completed novels, stuffed into their closets with their out-of-season clothes. These are people who got The Call, but either didn’t have the drive to carry it through, or sadly, the blessings of supportive folks behind them. An author friend of mine, Terry Kay, likes to tell groups of wannabe writers about a list of attributes a person with the call must possess. He talks about self-discipline, persistence, patience, and more. A person must develop a resilient ego in this business. You cannot be a fragile flower.
I got The Call early in life. I love writing stories. In my opinion, it’s the stuff a writer has to do from the left-brain that’s the hardest; writing compelling synopses to send out with queries and proposals, coming up with author bios, with “elevator pitches” to entice the media, of contacting radio stations, magazine and newspaper editors, bookstores...
Yep, you can get The Call, but it’s up to you (and Providence, I should add) to run with the ball. That sounds kind of dumb, but I’m running out of time; I’ve got to meet the schoolbus at 2:50 p.m. and then Sam will require my company. Below is what’s posted on my website about my call and my journey to publication, but after a quick read through I must say I don’t think I conveyed all the grit that went with the gift. Especially not all the sacrifices my husband, my kids, and even my parents contributed:
My family likes to remind me that as soon as I was able to string words together, I was telling my own stories, and in grammar school I began writing them down into little books crudely fashioned from stapled together construction paper. All my English teachers would put encouraging notes on my report cards, and for me, a particularly nerdy child (all knees, elbows, eyeglasses, and braces) it was a way to shine. To hold my head up a tiny bit even if I was picked last for teams at recess and P.E. In middle school I lived with a library book in my hand. Basically anxious and uncomfortable in social situations, one of my favorite things was to crawl off into a private nook and immerse myself in fabulous adventures, where there were no risks other than the hours flying by and my math homework left undone. A natural off-shoot of this voracious appetite and my love of story telling, I began to write even more, filling reams of lined paper with poems, haikus, and short stories. In high school (Cedar Shoals High in Athens, Georgia, class of ‘80) I became a contributor to a school sponsored literary magazine. One reason I had all that extra time to sit around writing was because no one ever asked me out on a date. I’m fairly certain that my social life was not enhanced by the fact that in addition to all my ceaseless writing, I raised chickens, and sheep, and showed 4-H beef steers (Perhaps had manure wedged up in the tread of my Pumas as I stepped into my classrooms). Still, I was a little sad that I turned no heads.
"Don’t worry, Julie," I consoled myself, "just follow your dreams. When you get out of here, you can write books for a living." But then, for one of those reasons that is never quite clear, except to say that I was a good little southern girl who listened when folks told her you couldn’t make a living writing books, I entered the University of Georgia’s Journalism school to earn a degree in advertising.
After graduation I landed in a string of torturous sales jobs, but still, I was a closet writer, capturing my ragged bits of history long-hand on clipboards full of notebook paper and then stashing them underneath the bed in Rubbermaid gift-wrap containers. Years passed and I married, and within three years the first two kids came along. There were many part time jobs, with money and time always a scarce commodity, but perhaps the hardest thing was that my insatiable and desperate need to create stories did not subside.
So I began to steal little "pockets of time" between chasing toddlers and dust balls to write. I wrote children’s books, as well as a novel. Impassioned and impatient, I began sending things off willy-nilly to publishers.
The first time I got a fat manila SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope) back in the mail with a rejection form letter, I was just sure that there had been some mistake. I told myself that obviously the editor had failed to read the manuscript enclosed, that probably she was on some strong type of allergy medicine when my package landed on her desk and would later regret her error when my work was accepted at the next publishing house. I did not yet realize that there is a lot of homework to be done before you submit anything, both on the writing itself and on researching the publishing houses. So, after this happened four separate times, "the wind was out of my sails" as Momma puts it, and my literary dreams faded once again.
Life went on and I continued to write and ferret my stories away, and then, in October of 1998, my husband noticed an ad in a local entertainment magazine for a short story contest. It was co-sponsored by a small publishing house and had a cash prize. I fished a story out from my vast reservoir, dusted it off, and carried it in. One sunny morning not long after that, the phone rang. I picked it up, settled it on my shoulder, following my third and last baby as he crawled around the house, and listening as the enthusiastic male voice on the other end of the line told me that my story was "head and shoulders above" the other 60-something entries. The first thing I thought of was the hundred bucks. I’d never received a penny for my writing! He proceeded to ask me for some personal information to print along with my story and I said I was writing this particular novel. What I actually had on paper from it was one scene about an older woman, a widow, who was on a man-hunt, just months after her beloved husband was laid to rest. I had her cruising the frozen foods aisle of the super Kroger, looking for bachelors filling up their buggies with Hungry Man Dinners.
My idea was to break this poor woman’s heart again and again, and finally let her find consolation and healing outside in her vegetable garden. I pictured the farm in Armuchee as I wrote the story. My Mee-maw had been an avid gardener who worked out a lot of life’s troubles out there in the dirt. I thought of the garden as the "southern gentile’s therapist," and I was calling this novel Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes.
Soon after they printed my winning short story along with the little bio, I ran into the president of Hill Street Press, co-sponsor of the contest. "Bring us that novel you mentioned, Julie," he said. "We’d like to take a look at it."
"Fine. I sure will," I said calmly. But inside I was screaming "WOW! Here’s my chance!" I flew home and with the memories literally screaming through my veins, I spent every spare minute I could find in one corner of our tiny kitchen, writing Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes out in long-hand. With each stroke of that Bic, I sought to enlarge my scene to novel proportions, and I scoured my journals and memories to find the right details: I recalled touching incidents, what was blooming or fading in the garden at the certain seasons. I smelled crushed tomato leaves mixed with warm marigolds. I let my heroine, Imogene, see the spiritual side of composting, which is that life springs from death. I figured that would cheer her up and give her hope, and so the seasons in the garden and her passage from grief to wholeness wove themselves together, and even I was startled by the insights I received. This was all well and good, but I did not want a serious, grief-riddled book. I also wanted to make people laugh. Imo’s man-hunt was fun and I also added a conversation between the ladies of the Garden Club about Viagra and I put in the ghost of a dead wife to interfere with one of her romances.
Happily, Hill Street Press published Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes in the spring of 2001. It became a southern best seller and they then sold the paperback rights to Simon & Schuster, who released that in August of 2003. Simon & Schuster also bought all the rights to my second novel, ‘Mater Biscuit, which became book #2 in what Simon & Schuster calls the Homegrown series. ‘Mater Biscuit hit the book shelves in April of 2004, and eager to preserve my recollections of a way of life that’s quickly evaporating, I sat down and wrote book #3, Those Pearly Gates, released in September 2005. The Homegrown series has become for me a celebration of the gifts of my rural southern heritage.
My fourth novel, a stand-alone tale called The Romance Readers' Book Club, Penguin-Plume, January 2008, is actually the second novel I started. It was tucked safely away while I wrote the second and third novels in the Homegrown series. Currently I am finishing up my fifth and sixth novels, tentatively titled Judas That I Was, and Roots in Red Clay.
As you can see, not all of the highways and byways of my writing journey have been smooth. Even publication itself was not some totally fulfilling and apocalyptic experience. I wasn’t miraculously transformed. Instead, the very first time I held one of my novels, I was filled with gratitude and humility at the thought of the mountains of support from my friends and family that such a venture required, most especially my long-suffering husband, Tom. There were many times I would have thrown in the towel were it not for his belief in me.
I’m often asked about where my story ideas come from and generally I tell them what I told you at the top of this story. But that is not the full answer. It is a very mysterious process, even to me, when something gets transformed from an idea or thought into a story. I firmly believe the aptitude to write is a gift and entrustment from God and I take very seriously the commitment to co-create stories He won’t be ashamed of. I love country music and I once read a comment from country great Merle Haggard about his music that struck me as how I feel about my writing. He said, "Music is a positive vibration that we all need. It comes through me and I believe it comes from God. The Lord is just using me as an instrument and I’m just doing the best I can to respond to what He wants."'
When I sit down to write, the story is the first thing on my agenda, but somehow my plots always seem to interweave themselves with spiritual themes - with many different angles of "the human condition" as it pertains to that mystical relationship between the Creator and the individual. I believe that I am seeking to find out truths myself
Addendum: I’ve currently got two complete novels with my relatively new agent (since October of 2008) and she’s got it out at a respectable number of publishers. In addition to these novels, I’ve written two fairly detailed synopses because one editor at a large publishing house really loved my writing, but wanted something with more “women’s friendship issues” woven into it. I decided to strike while the iron was hot and these went to my agent last Friday, so you know I run to my phone answering machine whenever I come in from anywhere, and I’m constantly checking my email in-box.
Well, I don’t know if this blog of mine is any more profitable that Roxie’s elimination schedule as far as book sales go, but I do know I’ve poured out my heart, and that’s the best this writer can do today.
Visit Julie Cannon's website at http://www.juliecannon.info/
Monday, May 4, 2009
How I got the call . . . My call has come in four parts: first, the call to write; second, the call to write mysteries; third, a call to pare down my life to only those things I can do well and most want to do; and fourth and most recently, a call to write books I've had on hold while I wrote twenty mysteries.
Until I was thirteen, I wanted to be a surgeon. At age five I designed a hospital that included a morgue in the basement. Apparently I was already planning to kill people.
In ninth grade, my civics teacher assigned us to report on a career and I missed (skipped?) class that day. When I returned, the medical field had been taken. I was baffled. "What else is there?" She sent me to a box of career booklets in the corner.
The Box had only three booklets left: "Farmer," "Mortician," and "Writer." I picked writer because I loved to read, but I thought writers were dead people. All the writers we read in school were dead.
When I learned that writers were actually living people who made a career of taking ideas and stories from their head and making them available to others--and in the process spent lots of time in libraries, got to travel for their work, and got to work at home--I had one of those aha! moments that go down to the pure core of our identity. My immediate reaction was not, "I want to be a writer," but "I am a writer!"
I have devoted the rest of my life to what Joseph Campbell calls, "following one's bliss." In high school I helped start a literary magazine. I went to a college that had a good writing program. After college I worked and saved for a year so I could spend seven months writing in the Scottish Highlands. The Highlands part was self-indulgence, but I did want and need an inexpensive place where I could isolate myself and see if I had the discipline to write and anything whatsoever to say. On the strength of a few sales over there, I came back home and have held mostly writing-related jobs ever since.
My second call came the year I got married. For years I had written stories, articles, and occasional short plays or poems, but my new husband looked at our budget after a few months and asked, "Why don't you write a mystery to pay for the ones you keep buying?"
Another aha! I discovered in my file cabinet a file nearly an inch thick labeled "mystery ideas." I had no idea I'd been keeping it for years. And I knew immediately what mystery I would write first. I had a former boss whom I disliked intensely. I would put a body in his basement. (Note: Mystery writers are the most well adjusted of all writers: if somebody annoys us, we either kill them or make them a prime suspect.)
But writing mysteries turned out to be too much fun. My Protestant ethic--and a few well-meaning friends--insisted that I write serious things primarily, and only write my mystery in spare time. It took me years to figure out that a deep yearning within us may indicate something we are created to do. In the process of figuring that out, I wrote a non-fiction book, Women Who Do Too Much. Writing that book, and meeting women and sharing stories as a result of that book, served as a third call: to focus only on those things that energize me, bring me joy, or I can uniquely do. Paring down life to the manageable has been a long but worthwhile process.
In twenty years I wrote twenty mysteries, two novels, and five non-fiction books. Occasionally a novel would float into the conscious part of my brain, but I'd jot down notes and say, "I'll write that later."
But in the past two years I've gotten a wake-up call. My mother has Alzheimer's. We had to put her in a memory care facility last year. I realized that life does not come with longevity guarantees. If I want to write some of the books besides mysteries that have been plaguing me for years, I need to get busy.
And so, last year, I retired in order to write. The novel I'm currently working on, Hold Up the Sky, tells of four strong women who discover through major crises in their lives that women's real strength comes not from independence, but from interdependence. It will be out from New American Library in March 2010. My call at the moment is to squeeze each of the books hanging from my writing tree and see which ones ripen into reality, as long as I am able to put a fairly coherent sentence together.
After that? Who knows what the next call may be?
Most of Patricia Sprinkle southern mysteries are still in print, as are two of her non-fiction books: Women Who Do Too Much and Children Who Do Too Little. Visit her and order books directly from Barnes & Noble online at www.patriciasprinkle.com.