Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring Zings My Muse by SUSAN REINHARDT

 Spring finally breezed into town like a bride-to-be, readying herself for a round of parties, the trees and flowers fancying up in all their colorful couture.
 It's hard to gaze outside and feel blue, especially when you drive by an old abandoned house, and out of nowhere, a circle of daffodils has decided to bloom in a spot where no one had invited them.
  Even the highways have turned from gray avenues of road rage to glorious streets lined in Bradford Pears, Forsythia and Cherry Tree blossoms, opening up as if to say a better world is coming.
   Spring is about renewal, cleaning garages, planning and eventually planting gardens.
  Winter is my season of gloom, when the bed looks more inviting than the task of getting dressed, putting on make-up, and going outdoors into bleak and cold rainy days.
  Rarely, do I exercise or do anything more than Computer Slugging in winter months.
  There's no excuse anymore. I am awakening early, to the music of birds and barking dogs, the sounds of mowers and mulchers – this grand chorus rehearsing for the months ahead.
   I sit on my deck with a cup of motor-oil strength coffee and listen to the conversations among birds, wondering what could possibly be so important to bring about such chatter.
   Even the crows, the loudest of all the birds in my woods, don’t annoy me as much as they once did. I call them the Rosie O’Donnell of birds because of their obnoxious cacklings.
    While life isn’t Easy Street right now, I'm trying to find pleasure in the smallest moments.
  Who says we can't take these tiny joys and inflate them into huge balloons of happiness? Or maybe contentment, if sheer bliss is stretching it a bit?  
  The trick is laughter or doing something nice for another person. It's finding friends who say the right things and do the outlandish. It's steering clear of whiners and grouches, people who pull us down with their black bricks of negativity.  
  I'm so grateful for my crazy sister who lives in Rich City, Ga. I call it Rich City, because frankly, everyone there is fairly wealthy.
 I can always count on her to lift what's heavy and trim off the weight of worry and angst.
  Last week, fretting my latest book wasn't going to sell, she called in the nick of time telling me she was in a bidding war on the UK version of eBay. Of all the things in this world to buy, she was dying for a possum fur coat. Possum!!! A road kill coat. More on this odd coat Sunday’s column. 
  "I have to have that coat," she said. "No one else could possibly want it more than me."
  She scored the fur, and called as if she'd just given birth to a healthy baby. In fact, I don't recall her being THAT excited over her sweet cherubs' births.
  With a sister like this, and the little snippets of glee around every corner that's decorated for the Spring Ball, it's hard to pout. My new motto is, "Be Happy, No Matter What."

  Susan Reinhardt's work can be viewed at www.susanreinhardt.com

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Nature, Writing and Vertigo by Anna Micahels

As far as I’m concerned, Man Martin said it all in his recent post here. “Southerner’s don’t just like Nature… We get down like dogs and roll in it.” (If you missed his post, scroll down to read it in full.) When he cited Mark Twain as a writer who got the relationship between Nature and Character and Author correct, Martin was once again dead center of the truth.

In my debut novel, The Tender Mercy of Roses, Nature didn’t simply appear as setting: it wound in and out of the characters’ lives, leaving a scented trail of roses you could smell across state lines.  And the roses weren’t intentional, either. There was not a single moment when I consciously decided to use roses in a symbolic and mystical way.  The roses simply happened - probably because I grew up on a farm, steeped in nature by long treks through the woods and across the pastures with my daddy. Or maybe because my own gardens were heavy with bloom and fragrance when I started writing the novel.  Or perhaps for no other reason than I let go and fell into the story.

Falling is an excellent choice when it means setting aside ego and control and letting the Great Unconscious Mind get about the business of writing.   On the other hand, falling is horrific when it means vertigo. 

That brings me to both an explanation and an apology.  Last week I was spun off the edge of the world into the painful free-fall of vertigo.  Though I’ll soon be one hundred percent Me again, I still feel the slight hitch of floating if I try to track a moving cursor for too long.  So please forgive the brevity and  leave a comment anyhow.  I’ll float by every now and then to answer.

My debut novel, The Tender Mercy of Roses (Gallery Books, hardcover) is now available for pre-order.  As the book tour develops, I’ll post the schedule on my website, www.annamichaels.net.  I look forward to meeting readers who can come.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to Fight Spring Fever & Get Some Writing Done--by Elizabeth S. Craig

I’m not sure if it’s warm where y’all are, but as I write this, it’s 82 degrees and breezy. Spring has sprung! (Well, at least it’s sprung temporarily—I don’t trust it enough to plant any tender flowers.)

I tend to spend even more time than usual looking out the window when it’s spring. We have several bird feeders in the backyard, and the birds are fun to watch—the cats love watching the birds at the feeders, too. We call it Kitty TV.

I think, actually, that I might have a touch of spring fever. It’s been a little harder for me lately to focus on my manuscript and my next outline. I’ve had to come up with some strategies to stay on track for my June 1 deadline.

Here are some ideas for curing spring fever…or at least working through it:

Unplug and write on paper, outside. I do take my laptop outside sometimes, but the glare of the computer screen makes it tough to read. Instead, I’ve been grabbing some paper and pencils and tried writing out in the hammock. (I don’t let myself get too far ahead without going back in and transcribing.)

Set a timer and get the writing knocked out in one big block of time—and have your outdoor time as a reward. If I’m trying this approach, it’s better if I close all the windows on my computer except for my Word program.

Need to exercise? Try writing in your head while taking a walk. It helps me when I get fidgety and sometimes I write better when I’m moving around. If I get a really great idea and I’m afraid I'll forget it, I use a voice recorder to record the idea (I’m nerdy like that.) Digital voice recorders are cheap these days, or you could download one to your smart phone for free. This way you’re doing something that’s good for you, writing, and enjoying being outside.

Don’t fight it. Another choice is just to give in to your spring fever. Change the setting in your book to spring and go outside and play—for research.

Is it spring where you are? How are you staying on track with your writing goals?

Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), and the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/NAL, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder, which was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers for 2010. Elizabeth Spann Craig (Riley Adams)
Twitter: @elizabethscraig


So we’re talking about marketing and publicity this month.
Now, there’s a topic that’s guaranteed to put gray hairs into a writer’s mane.

There’s an old saying that goes something like this: 50% of your promo works, but we don’t know which 50%.

And if we did, we’d all be sleeping better at night.

Here’s what I do know: there’s no magic bean. No special trick that’ll assure success. No single right way to do it. Twitter isn’t necessarily better than Facebook, or vice versa. Blogging works wonderfully for some people, but not so well for others. Some people really get off on doing booktrailers and skype interviews; other people avoid them like the plague.

You gotta find what works for you. Same as when you write, really. We all write a certain type of book, be it a romance, a mystery, science fiction or fantasy... or around here, a lot of just plain Southern fiction, it seems. You probably chose it because it interested you, it’s what you read yourself, and you turned out to be pretty good at it. You were probably better than you were at writing anything else. It was what suited your voice.

Has anyone ever heard a classically trained opera singer try to sing a pop song?

If you have, believe me, you won’t soon forget it. The singer might have the most gorgeous voice you’ve ever heard, lauded in opera houses across the world, but he or she can’t pull off a chorus of 'The Man in the Mirror’ without sounding laughable.

Because that type of song doesn’t sit well in that type of voice.

And it’s the same with us. We write what we write because it’s what suits us. It comes easy. It sits right in our vocal range.

We have to do the same thing with promo and marketing. Yeah, some people do really well with blogging. They have thousands of followers who hang on their every post and run out to buy their books the moment they appear in stores. Good for them. It makes perfect sense that if it works so well for them, we should do the same.


Maybe not. If blogging three times a week is agony, you probably shouldn’t do it. Why put yourself through that? You’ll hate it, and the fact that you do will come across, believe me. Find something else to do, something that works for you. Something you enjoy.

All promotion, marketing, and PR comes down to one thing, and one thing only: getting the word out. The best way to sell books, what we all wish for, is buzz. Word of mouth. One person telling another person, “This book is awesome; you have to read it!” And in our day and age, we’re lucky to have a lot of different ways to get that message out.

There’s Facebook and Twitter, Goodreads and LibraryThing. There’s blogging and there’s reviewing other people’s books, so that when yours comes out, you’ll already have built a reputation and people will want to check out what you’ve written. There’s free promo and promo you pay for, there’s internet ads and postcards you send in the mail. There’s press releases and free keychains. Conferences you can go to and online workshops you can teach. There’s literally a million different ways you can put yourself out there. The trick is to find what works for you; your personality and your budget.

And then keep doing it. Because at least 50% of what you’re doing works. You just won’t know which 50%.


Jennie Bentley is the author of the bestselling Do It Yourself home renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime. Book 4, Mortar and Murder, was released in January. You can find out more about Jennie and her doings and undoings on her website, http://www.jenniebentley.com/

Sunday, March 20, 2011

For Those About To Be Published For The First Time

A wee bit of advice from the Cracker Queen Road Tour...

-Be nice and humble. Whether you sell one-thousand or one-million copies, having a book with your name on it does not give you permission to be an ass. 

-Don’t get hung up on your sales numbers. That’s the publisher’s job. Do whatever you can to promote sales, but remember that authoring a book will bring so many other good things your way—things you can’t even imagine now—things that will happen for years to come. Your story is eternal.

-Support other writers, especially those who need mentoring, practical help, and encouragement. I love it that Pat Conroy, the Elvis of Southern Literature, is so gracious and generous to fellow writers. My mentor, Terry Kay, is just as kind. We should strive to be like them.

-When you’re feeling jealous about another writer’s success, remember that the marketplace is large enough for all of us. We’re all part of the same tribe. When one does well, we all do well.

-Don’t give yourself away. You won’t believe how often you’ll be asked to do events for free.  I get emails like this: 

Ms. Hannon,
We’d be so honored if you could talk to our high school seniors here in Peoria this spring. We can’t provide an honorarium or travel reimbursement, but the head of our English Department has a spare room and an amazing recipe for veggie lasagna (we know that you’re a vegetarian).

It would mean so much to the kids if you would say yes.

The Cracker Queen says HELL NO. I didn’t learn this lesson until a year after my book came out. I was so eager and excited and new at the author business that I said yes to anything I could possibly do. Some gigs ended up being worth it while dozens of others did not. Be strategic in what you do. I’ll always do some free gigs, especially for causes that are dear, but I’ve gotten smarter in selecting them--and dismissing others. Our work is devalued by society already; let's not contribute further to that mindset.

-Guard and enforce your writing time. It will be easy to get caught up in the new life your book will bring. I spent far too much time promoting my book in the first year and fell behind in my writing. I won’t ever do that again.

-Remember that you’re building a career that will reach beyond your first book. Much of the rules of kindergarten apply: be considerate, show up when you’re supposed to, and practice the Golden Rule.

Now go forth and make the tribe proud! 

Lauretta Hannon riffs on writing here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qm6KXKbopzY&feature=youtube_gdata and is the author of The Cracker Queen—A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life, named one of the Top Twenty-Five Books All Georgians Should Read. Lauretta supports fellow writers through her Down Home Writing School. More info at thecrackerqueen.com.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Effect of a Thunderstorm on Silver Queen: Writing About Nature

By Man Martin
Years ago I visited my friend Frank Cummings in Sandersville, Georgia where I was raised. “Durn rain last night knocked all my corn down,” Frank told me. Later his grown-up son arrived, and the first thing he said coming in the door, was, “Durn rain last night knocked all my corn down.” I envied them. They’d had an experience of rain I hadn’t. The weather for them was not small talk; it was an issue. They had a stake in whether or not and how much it rained. Rain to them was a like having a neighborhood giant: an unreliable and reckless, but not disliked, giant, friendly and essentially good-willed, but clumsy and prone to sudden tantrums. They had felt the damage, even temporarily, it could do to a patch of Silver Queen. They knew rain. I never wanted anything as badly as I wanted right then to have some corn planted so I too could talk about how the durn rain had knocked it down.

For Southerners – by whom I mean anyone from a largely rural area – nature has a meaning city-dwellers can’t imagine. In Manhattan, where the sun is rationed down one slice at a time through the skyscrapers, how could you know why spring is such a big deal? Oh, I’m sure they’re glad to see winter finished with and warm weather arrive. Central Park, I’ll bet, is beautiful in spring. But here in Atlanta, my heart rushes up when the dogwoods and azaleas break out and suddenly my own familiar street turns into a Monet painting.

Southerners don’t just like Nature; we soak in it. We get down like dogs and roll in it, which is fine, but as writers, we need to be highly conscious how we express this. Doing it the wrong way is, well, wrong.

For openers, here’s an example of some of Washington Irving’s descriptive writing from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

The wide bosom of the Tappan Zee lay motionless and glassy, excepting that here and there a gentle undulation waved and prolonged the blue shadow of the distant mountain. A few amber clouds floated in the sky, without a breath of air to move them. The horizon was of a fine golden tint, changing gradually into a pure apple green, and from that into the deep blue of the mid-heaven. A slanting ray lingered on the woody crests of the precipices that overhung some parts of the river, giving greater depth to the dark gray and purple of their rocky sides. A sloop was loitering in the distance, dropping slowly down with the tide, her sail hanging uselessly against the mast; and as the reflection of the sky gleamed along the still water, it seemed as if the vessel was suspended in the air.

Really beautiful, you’ll have to admit. The only problem is it’s not having any effect on anything. It’s just there as Ichabod rides to the Van Tassels. It doesn’t matter to him, and so ultimately – sorry Irving – it doesn’t matter to us either. All this gorgeous scenery – the lush gradations of light and color Irving pulls off – the bit about the sloop seeming to float midair – is just a backdrop, and since this isn’t a stage play but a short story, it’s not even a backdrop, but something worse: an interruption.

Maybe Irving’s point is that it doesn’t affect Ichabod, that he’s so absorbed by the prospect of all the good food to eat at the Van Tassels, that he doesn’t notice the heart-stopping beauty around him. Maybe, and if so, I’ll buy it. But later, Irving goes into another passage about the twittering of blue jays and whatnot that makes you want to scream, “Get on with it!”

For contrast, here’s how Twain does description in Huck Finn.

We spread the blankets inside for a carpet, and eat our dinner in there. We put all the other things handy at the back of the cavern. Pretty soon it darkened up, and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain, and it rained like all fury, too, and I never see the wind blow so. It was one of these regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash along by so thick that the trees off a little ways looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale under-side of the leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just about the bluest and blackest -- fst! it was as bright as glory, and you'd have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you'd hear the thunder let go with an awful crash, and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling, down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty barrels down stairs -- where it's long stairs and they bounce a good deal, you know.

Twain jokingly apologized that he could write only “one kind” of weather, but that kind he handles magnificently. I contend this is a much more effective passage than Irving’s and not just because something’s happening, either, although that’s part of it. The point is, something’s happening to Jim and Huck. Nature isn’t something over their left shoulder as they head downriver; they’re in the middle of it. They’re responding to it, and it’s affecting them. If anyone understands this, it ought to be Southern writers; Nature isn’t just a backdrop we ride past on our way somewhere – it’s the thing itself; it gets right in the midst of our guts and does stuff to us.

It’d be great to write a passage as gorgeous as Irving’s, but you could make a pretty good name for yourself as a writer even if, like Twain, you could only do “one kind” of weather. But it still isn’t enough to throw in a thunderstorm now and then.

You need to have some corn planted, too.

Man's second novel, Paradise Dogs ("Zany," Publishers Weekly, "Hilarious," Kirkus) appears in bookstores June 7th.  His debut novel, Days of the Endless Corvette, won a 2008, Georgia Author of the Year Award.
Visit him on the web at http://manmartin.blogspot.com

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How Green Was My Uterus--Recycled by Kristy Kiernan

DISCLAIMER: This is a blog post that I wrote years ago. I've been a bit under the weather and, frankly, that makes me cranky. But I've been sitting here, dutifully, eagerly even, waiting for inspiration to strike, and the only thing that's striking me right now is the craving for a long, hot, environmentally irresponsible shower. Which made me remember this blog post. And since I'm pretty sure I wrote it while rather cranky (no really...read it...I was quite clearly cranky), I thought it was appropriate. I'll be back to non-cranky originality soon.


I worry.

I do.

I worry about the environment. I am not immune. I'm not made of stone, people. I read the articles, I watch the news, I listen, intently, to celebrities like Jennifer Aniston tell me that my showers should take 3.2 seconds.

(Okay, as an aside on that one, you know why Jennifer Aniston can take 3.2 second showers? Because, unlike the average woman, she's had all the hair on her body lasered or waxed off, she has other people who dye [and therefore rinse] her hair for her, and has other various grooming procedures performed upon her by others in swanky spas rather than having to do it all herself in her freaking shower! She says she even manages to brush her teeth in the shower during that time. First of all, brushing your teeth in the shower is a stunning waste of water unless you're turning the shower completely off while you stand there, naked, dripping wet, and foaming at the mouth. Secondly, if you do everything you really need to do in the shower AND manage to brush your teeth in that short amount of time, well, I can assure you that something is suffering. I don't want to speculate on what that might be, but if I ever meet her I'm bringing along some extra Altoids and Summer's Eve. Wow, this kind of turned into a whole bash Jennifer Aniston thing, didn't it? Just to clarify, I really like Jennifer Aniston, I just don't buy the super short shower bit from any celeb [except perhaps Sting, because apparently he simply doesn't take them at all].)

Anyhoo, back to my environmental angst. So yeah, I worry about the things I'm doing to ruin our environment, and I beat myself up about the fact that the things I do to help are really pretty passive, though they're more than some people do.

First of all, I DO go through an astonishing number of little plastic bottles of Zephyrhills spring water. And don't tell me about how tap water tastes fine. Do you live in southwest Florida? No? Then shut it. If you do and you think this water tastes anything short of decidedly ass-like then you need to have your taste buds tested. (Another tip-off to being severely taste bud challenged: Do you think P.F. Chang's has great Asian food? Uh huh, that's what I thought.) So I go through a lot of the little bottles, which apparently really cheeses off one of my neighbors.

Now my neighbor hasn't actually confronted me on this little environmental horror-show of mine. I heard about it from another neighbor, who has her own environmental pet peeve (I don't know, something to do with fertilizer?). The thing is, I do at least recycle all the bottles. We have a giant, wheeled cart for recyclables that gets picked up every Wednesday, and anything that I recognize as recyclable goes right in, including the demon plastic water bottles. The cart is always full. Of course, I do know that if we ALL stopped buying the little bottles they'd stop making them and therefore the people who DON'T recycle them wouldn't have them to throw away and clog landfills and kill our planet and so forth. I get it.

Then there's the light bulb issue. I know I'm supposed to replace all my current light bulbs with the new Twistee-Treat ones. But, the thing is, my light bulbs aren't burning out! I fully intend to replace them, when they're no longer working. But it appears that I've gotten some sort of freakishly long-lasting light bulbs and ever since I knew I was supposed to replace them, not a single one has gone. I'm ready, I'm waiting, pzzzt damn you, pzzzt already!

And finally there's the laundry. I know I'm not supposed to wash anything in HOT anymore. The prevailing wisdom is that the energy used to heat the water to wash things on the hot cycle is wasted because things are perfectly fine and clean when washed in warm, and even cold. But I have a real issue with this. I AM washing my towels and sheets on Hot. I am. Bite me.

But, clearly, I feel defensive about all of this. I feel terrible, being a bad environmentalist and all. Drinking my water, not throwing out still-working light bulbs, washing stuff on Hot.

But then I realized something.

I had, yes, another epiphany. Wanna hear about it? Here it go:

So there I am the other day, standing in front of my washing machine, stuffing my sheets into its bleachy, steamy goodness and feeling pretty badly about myself as a human being, when it hits me (the epiphany, not the bleachy, steamy goodness):

I, in fact, am THE most environmentally friendly person I know. I am an ANGEL to our environment. I am considering putting myself up for the Ed Begley Jr. Award. I am a GODDESS! I want some recognition, dammit, some acknowledgement that I am doing THE most singularly generous thing for the health of our planet that I possibly can.


That's right. I'm almost forty-two. If I were gonna have kids, I'd have done it by now. I'm not having any. I'm not contributing to what the real problem is in our world...US. My righteous neighbors? Parents, all of 'em. Not of one, but of two, and three, and four kids. Go on, have another!

And it's not even a passive decision. I COULD have one if I wanted one (I think). I could have a whole passel. I could produce my own little nation of consumers if I wanted, but I am choosing not to. Oh, there are a lot of various reasons, but actually, yes, one of them is that I think we're over-populated.

So, hear this: I'm using the Hot cycle. And I'm going to drink my Zephyrhills. And I'll replace my bulbs when they die. And I don't want to hear a word about it. I'm not going to feel guilty. You have your kids, love them, enjoy them, make them into responsible humans. But don't even think about saying a word to me about my environmental choices.

Hey, I should get in touch with Jennifer Aniston, shouldn't I? She should feel okay about lengthening those showers; she doesn't have any kids either.

Kristy Kiernan lives in SW Florida. She is normally a ray of sunshine. Her latest book is BETWEEN FRIENDS, and you can hardly tell she's cranky at all when you read it.

Monday, March 14, 2011


“Back To the Garden”

My new book just came out. It is titled BACK TO THE GARDEN. It has nothing to do with gardening. I have tried to stress that at every opportunity I have been given to talk about the book. Still the title seems to have more power than I have.

Yesterday I got an e-mail from a company in Minnesota. They made bird houses. They wanted to know if I was interested in doing a tie-in with their product and my “gardening” book. They seemed to think bird houses and gardening manuals would go hand in hand.

Another company asked if I would be open to having a packet of seeds in each book, which would be provided by their store/company. “Your book could be a conduit to beautiful flowers sweeping the country,” they wrote. Who do they think I am – Johnny Appleseed?

I am not a gardener, have never been a gardener, and don’t want to start now. I don’t have anything against flora and fauna but I am not good with growing things. Even things that are grown elsewhere and then brought to our house, die. We had someone send us a plant a couple of weeks ago and when the florist tried to drop it off the plant put up quite a battle. It had its leaves wrapped around the door jamb and was holding on for dear life.

The plant lost. It came into our home and was placed on the kitchen table where it would get plenty of sunlight. We watered it, fed it, and did all the right things. We had funeral services for the plant this morning.

Growing up my mother would plant things in the yard. She had flower beds and other beautiful planty things. So I wasn’t raised to be a plant heathen. It just happened over time. Perhaps it was me marrying Terry that put the seal of doom on our future plants. She and I share a lack of love for gardening and always when she would try to make an effort it ended badly. She finally gave up after a particularly beautiful azalea plant withered down to its roots.

So here I am an author of a book titled BACK TO THE GARDEN. It is about the “garden of Eden” and not about “gardening.” I gave a talk a few days ago to a nice group of ladies. I stressed what my book was about and that there was nothing in the book about planting gardens or doing any kind of flower work. I vehemently stressed this as I read from different stories in the book.

When I had finished and was packing up to leave one of the ladies in the group came up to me to ask a question. “Do you have anything in your book about chrysanthemums?” she said. “I am always looking for information about chrysanthemums.”

She wasn’t kidding.

                                                                                                                                          Jackie K Cooper

Jackie K Cooper, author of BACK TO THE GARDEN, is surrently on the run. He is wanted for questioning in regards to the deaths of plants, flowers and shrubs

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hurricanes in Paradise...

      I'm watching the news this morning as a Tsunami sweeps over Japan and we're waiting to see what it might do to our own coastlines... The power of nature's storms. They can be breathtaking and horrifying all at once. They are powerful and have no concept of civility.

      The worse physical storm I remember was Hurricane Hugo. I lived through it huddled in the small hallway of my parent's home with my two brothers. I was in college at The University of South Carolina, and my parent's lived, and still do, in the small horse town of Camden about two hours inland. My older brother was a cadet at The Citadel and had come to Camden to seek refuge because Charleston was where the eye of the storm was expected to come through. Little did we know the impact we would feel from this powerful storm all the way in the inner sanctum of our state. Sometimes there is just no way of getting away from storms. They just kind of find you it seems.

I've learned life is that way too. Life holds within it storms. They are no respecter of person or address or occupation. They just show up. Sometimes out of the blue. Sometimes you can have a little preparation, but no matter how they come the wake is the same. And the impact on the heart can be as well.

When I was in the middle of writing my book "The Will of Wisteria", that was actually set in Charleston, I realized that my thirteen year marriage was going to come to a heartbreaking end. It wasn't part of the picture and it sure wasn't a storm that I was emotionally prepared for. The grief of that experience washed over with me in its rude and uninvited way. And left me in the middle of my greatest hurricane. I honestly didn't know if I'd ever have a creative idea again. Most writer's write from deep wells of inspiration. Visions in the soul. Dreams in the gut. But I had nothing in the soul but aching pain. And the only dream I had was the dream of not hurting...ever again.

     So, I walked away from books. I needed a respite. A place to heal the soul. I did write. Yeah, I wrote in my journal everyday. The only place I knew to lay the residue of my pain. But story...there was no story. Until I got an invitation from a friend to take a free trip to The Atlantis Hotel at Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I went. I may have been hurting but I wasn't stupid! And the first night, sitting there at dinner with three other single women, I knew I had a story. And the creativity in my soul roared back to life. For the next four days I absorbed every piece of the sights and sounds and smells and rhythm that is The Atlantis Hotel. And every morning, I would stare out at the massive ocean, and let the power of story wash over me, and the healing of the salt air make its way over my wounded spirit.

What I did know looking out at that massive ocean was one minute it could be calm and peaceful and the next it could level anything in its path. And that is the story I wrote. Stories of soul hurricanes and stories of real hurricanes.

The debris of my divorce ended up in a book as well. Those journals that I was writing, when I had nothing creative to write...well, they eventually became a book too. "Flying Solo: A Journey of Divorce, Healing and A Very Present God." A book about the figurative hurricanes that life sends out way. And how healing is available to us all. 

     For the people of Japan we pray for you today. We pray that as your people rise up from the rubble and devastation that you now know, you will discover the amazing strength that abides in your very core. In fact, we would never actually know the strength that is in the soul of us, unless the Hurricane had forced it to rise to the surface....May you find your Paradise in your Hurricane.

Denise Hildreth Jones' seventh novel "The First Gardner" will hit bookstores in August 2011. She makes her home in Franklin, TN with her husband and five bonus children. She loves reading a good book, drinking a cold Coca-Cola and every now and then she writes a few books...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring and Resurrection

After the coldest, snowiest winter I've ever seen in Georgia, we have experienced two weeks of warm sunny weather in the mid-sixties. First came crocuses, followed by daffodils.What a gift at the end of February!

Bird feeders outside my window swarmed with finches, chickadees, woodpeckers, and squirrels, and on March 1, the day my latest book came out, a brilliant bluebird spent part of the day and has come by several times since. I don't usually get bluebirds at the feeders, so that one feels like a gift from heaven.

For the past two days we've had rain--lots of gentle, steady rain. This morning I sat in the chair beside my bay window and looked out at budding butterfly bushes, black-eyed Susans, daisies, rose bushes, and--wonder of all wonders--a soft green sheen on my lawn.

We don't do grass. I can do flowers, but no matter what we do to it, the lawn has always reverted to a blend of crabgrass, chickweed, clover, violets, dandelions, and a big patch of ajuga. But this year I limed, seeded, and fertilized on a warm day, and who knows? Maybe this will be the year we actually get some grass.

I love this season, the resurrection of the world after a dormant season. I can feel my own sap beginning to rise, my spirit come alive again. Maybe it's because I grew up in the South near the Atlantic where we never got much cold weather, but when I went to a college up north, I used to basically hibernate during the cold months and then, when all my roommates were catching spring fever, I would get a burst of energy and complete all those papers I'd been putting off.

Spring isn't fully here yet, but as I sit at my desk watching Earth wake up and slip into fresh, lovely garments, I think of something Jesus once said about a child believed to be dead: "She is not dead, she is merely sleeping."    

Until she gets here, find a copy of a good book--maybe, even, Friday's Daughter--and hunker down. Resurrection is just around the corner.

Patricia Sprinkle is the author of twenty mysteries and four novels. Visit her at Facebook or at www.patriciasprinkle.com.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Publicity

by Cathy Pickens

This topic consumes writers.  And writers get plenty of advice from agents, editors, and others about what they need to do to promote their books:

“You have to have a website!”
“You have to do appearances.”
“You have to blog!” (Oh, wait – that’s what this is.)
“You have to hand out bookmarks, talk about your book endlessly to anyone who even looks as though they’re listening, and generally make people want to run and hide at the faintest sight of you.”

Nowhere on the “You have to” list do I find what I consider the most important promotional tips:
  • Be nice.

  • Write the best book you can.

Need specifics? 
  • Be a fan yourself.  Read other writers’ books.  Talk about their work, not just your own.  It’s a community and you are just a part.
  • When you visit a bookstore to do a signing, to sign stock, or simply to introduce yourself, buy a book.  Granted, you might not be able to do this in every store, but you certainly want to support the stores in your area that support your work.
  • Learn the gentle art of thank-you notes.  Offer a helping hand whenever possible to those learning the craft, to kids who love books, to libraries and bookstores and readers.  I don’t care if you did just win the Pulitzer Prize, no need to be a prima donna. 
  • Most important of all: Write the best darn book you are capable of writing.  Your readers deserve nothing less.

If any of the above suggestions mean you have less time to “promote,” so be it.

If you want more practical advice, I offer a commercial announcement: Sisters in Crime has recently published the third edition of Brazen Promotion for Shameless Hussies, available to members (membership is $40--and includes lots of other support for crime writers) for $1.99 download or $11.99 paperback.  See www.sistersincrime.org for information.

Or get Jeffrey Marks' book, Intent to Sell.  Both books offer loads of advice.

But I stick with my advice: 

Be nice.  Write good.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Nature Acrostic

I know firsthand just how rejuvenating nature can be for those moments when you feel stuck in your writing. So, in an effort to describe the benefits of getting outside to defeat writer's block, I decided to create an acrostic out of the word nature:

N is for all that you notice-- birds, skies, leaves, life. So much more than what can be discovered inside your own four walls.

A is for the aromas you encounter as you travel down a well-worn path-- the smoke from fires, a stalk of rosemary, the fresh-cut grass. Your senses awaken and so does your writing.

T is for timelessness. The eternal is so much more acute outside than it is inside. We feel a sense of fitting into a much bigger picture, and we know that our writing helps us make a mark beyond the little space our lives inhabit.

U is for unique vantage point. Somehow that difficult scene, that stubborn character, those impossible edits slide into perspective when we watch a squirrel scurry up the side of a tree, a hawk perch on a tree branch, eyeing us from on high with his look of pity. Our writing quandaries matter less when we're outside, away from the things that seemed huge moments ago. Sometimes-- the best times-- we stumble upon the answers to those writing problems even as we stumble upon a fern unfolding from its tight curl, a rock glinting with mica, a caterpillar making its way across a leaf.

R is for restore. Getting outside and breathing in the fresh air restores our outlook and makes us happier. We can come back to our manuscript with a new sense of purpose and sometimes a new take on something that moments before felt impossible.

E is for the earth God created. Since He is the Creator and we were made in His image, we can take heart that this means we carry that same impulse to create. It's part of our DNA. As creative beings, we can draw energy from the vastness and detail of His creation. Then we can venture home, sit back down and start creating again, taking delight in what it means to make something from nothing, to be part of a miracle of our own making.

Marybeth Whalen and her husband Curt have six children ranging in age from 18 to 5. She writes novels in her "spare" time. Her first novel, The Mailbox was published in June of 2010 and her next novel, She Makes It Look Easy, comes out in June of this year. She can be found at http://www.marybethwhalen.com/ where she writes a daily blog called "Cheaper By The Half Dozen."

Friday, March 4, 2011

Every Book Deserves A Party!

By Judy Christie
                With an acute case of Spring Fever and the launch this week of my third novel, “The Glory of Green,” I’m in the mood for cake.
                Amidst great ideas here about marketing and surviving as a writer, I offer an idea that isn't as lofty as some, but I promise it’s fun: Every book deserves a party.
  My CPA knows I’ll probably spend my last dime on a book launch party, and she shows up for the music and food. The Hot Dog Man and I go way back.  I don’t schedule an event until I have lined up the baker who artfully draws my book covers with icing (not that paint kind either; real icing).
                With the publication of my ninth book—three fiction and six nonfiction – I’ve learned how important  it is to celebrate this milestone and to express my immense gratitude to readers and kind souls who help me every day. 
                I got this idea from Carolyn See’s great book, “Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers.” (Yes, Carolyn is the mother of Lisa See, recently interviewed by the terrific Kathy L. Patrick.) If you haven’t read Carolyn's book, I encourage you to pick it up.
                As she says, “We throw housewarmings and birthday parties and baby showers and bachelor parties; we need parties when our book comes out.”
                A few tips if you want to add a party to your writing life:
                ** Focus on saying thank you to all those who encourage you  -- friends on whose shoulders you cry, the spouse who makes sure you have health-care benefits, the siblings who pre-order your books and all those nice folks who show up for you in life.
                ** Obsessing on how hard it is to be a writer is draining, so make the most of the good moments. If you haven’t had a book published, reward yourself for sending a manuscript off or getting an agent or coming up with a wonderful idea. Throw a party for a friend who has just finished a book or had one published or won an award or made a bestseller list.
                ** Don’t say you can’t afford it.  You can spend as much or little on a party as you want.  If nothing else, invite friends over for drinks and snacks. Have a potluck. Make cupcakes.
                ** Offer live music.  You can often find a local musician who is willing to play for a reasonable rate in exchange for you introducing people to his/her music, and there's more energy when creative people collaborate.
                ** Consider an offbeat location that fits your book. My “Gone to Green” party, celebrating my first novel, was at the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum.  My “Goodness Gracious Green” party was at the Pioneer Heritage Center, with a collection of great old buildings and tables set up under ancient oaks. I've had a party in the gathering area of my church and one in my office. 
                ** Give the party your personality. I display an old green typewriter, put flowers in old 7Up bottles and other flea-market containers, and use my collection of vintage stamped tablecloths.  (One of my biggest expenses is having them ironed. Much to my shame, I can’t get the wrinkles out.)
                ** Decide if you want to sell books at your party.  This has been the toughest question for me, and I’ve done it both ways. I didn’t start the parties to sell, but guests have asked me to sign at my events, and I always do now. It still sort of amazes me that people want me to do that. 
                ** Send invitations through the old-fashioned U.S. mail.  One of my favorite parts: Ordering stamps with my book covers on them. (www.stamps.com)
                ** I like to give guests a little gift, and I’ve tried all sort of things, even M&Ms with my book titles printed on them.  This time I’m giving away bookmarks that I – whose name has never been associated with the word “crafty” -- made with recycled objects, including discarded and torn-up library books.
** Try different things. Tomorrow I’ll gather with a group of friends and family, readers and encouragers, for a party at Barnes &  Noble in Shreveport, La.   As in the past, we’ll eat cake and I’ll give away presents. But this time I partnered with B&N to make the event a Book Fair for Common Ground Community, http://www.commongroundcommunityshreveport.com/ A portion of all sales will go to this nonprofit, plus people can buy books for children from a wish list. This idea came, by the way, from a reader.
If you’re in the neighborhood Saturday, 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., stop in and say “hey” and celebrate “The Glory of Green,” book 3 in The Green Series, with me.  And I hope you’ll send me an invitation to your book party! 
Would love to hear your comments and questions about throwing parties and making an enjoyable literary life. Have a great weekend.

About the Author: Judy Christie is the author of “The Glory of Green,” part 3 of a series set in the town of Green, Louisiana, published by Abingdon Press. The first two in the series are “Gone to Green” and “Goodness Gracious Green,” and "Rally Round Green" will be released this summer. She also writes the nonfiction “Hurry Less Worry Less” series, and her first YA novel, “Wreath,” will be out this fall from Barbour Press. She lives in North Louisiana. For more info: www.judychristie.com (She’s on Facebook and loves visiting with readers.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dolly Parton and The Pulpwood Queens

by Michael Morris

I’ve long said that Kathy L. Patrick, founder of the largest book club in the country --The Pulpwood Queens -- is the Dolly Parton of the book world. Like Dolly, Kathy loves all things flamboyant, has a sweet spirit and a passion to get people reading. During the weekend of January 13 -16, Kathy transformed Jefferson, Texas, into a book lover’s paradise and along the way raised $6,000 for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.

Kathy, who is also the host of the new internet program Beauty and the Book Show, brought together 400 club members from across the country. Her annual Girlfriend Weekend, celebrating its eleventh year, headlined authors such as Pat Conroy, Fannie Flagg, Jeannette Walls and Mark Childress just to name a few.

The three day, sold-out event included panels featuring authors who have been knighted by the head queen as book club selections. Singer/songwriter Marshall Chapman wowed the audience with a performance on opening night while a screening and discussion of Mary Murphy’s powerful documentary, Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird, rounded out the celebration.

Girlfriend Weekend lived up to the book club’s motto of living life to the fullest. A highlight was Saturday night’s “Hair Ball” where Pulpwood Queen chapters competed for best costume. Book club members and authors dressed as their favorite characters – everyone from Harry Potter, Anna Karenina and the head queen herself was represented. (Kathy just happens to be the author of The Pulpwood Queen’s Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide To Life.) The award went to the Pulpwood Queens of Houston – an amazing group of women who pulled off creative impersonations of the characters from Sex and the City. LeTricia Wilbanks from that chapter won the Big Hair Ball Award and here's the picture to prove it. Those Pulpwood Queens are a creative, fun bunch!

A former book rep who kept her cosmetology license, Kathy started the first Pulpwood Queen chapter in the beauty shop/book store she still operates in Jefferson. The group came to national attention when they launched Good Morning America’s book club series. Now their reach is expanding with an original book club show where Kathy interviews a different author each week. Just to give you an idea of the line-up, Fannie Flagg was the first guest. Check it out -- http://www.beautyandthebookshow.com/

If the enthusiastic crowd gathered at Girlfriend Weekend is any indication, Kathy L. Patrick and the Pulpwood Queens might just one day find themselves with their OWN network.

Michael Morris is the author of two novels, A Place Called Wiregrass and Slow Way Home -- a Pulpwood Queen book club selection. He resides in Alabama. http://www.michaelmorrisbooks.com/

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


I was ecstatic when I learned the topic of this month’s blog: Does nature play a part in your writing, or your process?

Oh yes, I couldn’t wait to shout! I immediately began playing with words, searching for just the right way to describe how a walk in the woods, simply breathing in the musty smell of earth, or watching the ferns and skunk cabbage beginning to poke through the dirt, can calm my overflowing mind. The same thing happens the moment the soles of my feet hit warm sand and the ocean stretches out before me. It’s as if a switch is turned inside me and pure joy courses through my veins.

And then the magic happens. My mind, relaxed, happy, and released from pressure, begins to create. Snippets of dialogue begin to write themselves in my head. A plot point is suddenly revealed. And a character’s back story takes on new life and meaning. Mother Nature does what I, in my hardest efforts cannot—She fires up my muse.

I was hoping that in this blog I might find the right words to convey what I love most about writing—describing Nature and hoping that my readers, too, will fall in love with the natural world and feel as much wonder as I have upon seeing a baby loggerhead turtle scurrying across the sand into the waves; or catching a glimpse of a right whale on the ocean’s surface, the most endangered large mammal in the world.

Then, too, there’s the beauty of my garden I need to include, my outright addiction to flowers—the colors, the intoxicating fragrances. How heaven to me is sitting outside at my patio table inhaling the scent of honeysuckle, birds nesting all around me, as I type away at a story on my laptop.

But I’ll have to think of just the right way to say it all at another time, when my brain is less tired, and when I have the time to give it my best---because Nature has just proved once again that just as we are in charge of our character’s lives, She is in charge of ours.

The baby granddaughter who isn’t supposed to come for a little while now, decided to show us yesterday that she’s just about ready. With a phone call just after dawn, all of my carefully thought out phrases and descriptions went right out the window as I raced to my daughter’s, and took over caring for my other three little granddaughters—5, 3 and 15 months. By last night, when I knew I really should get this blog started, because after a false alarm I realized today might be the day, I sat on the air mattress in her living room, my laptop on my lap, and...I was too exhausted.

And now, while the 15 month old is sleeping, and although I’d rather take a shower, here I am, once again amazed that just like we throw twists and turns into our own character’s lives, Mother Nature does the same to us. And just like our characters, we are startled, sometimes alarmed, but always transformed.
And in the end, there’s always some good material to file away!

PS. If this rambles, or if there are typos, please forgive me. In addition to a shower, I need some caffeine!

Maryann McFadden lives in NJ, although her heart is in the Lowcountry of SC. She was a freelance writer for ten years, then sold real estate, before returning to writing, her first love. You can find out more about her love of nature and wildlife in her novels, THE RICHEST SEASON and SO HAPPY TOGETHER. You can read more at www.maryannmcfadden.com