Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!!!

In honor of the occasion - and since I don't have a day-job I can talk about; I write full time, in addition to handling the kids, the dog, and the husband's real estate business - I figured I'd chat a little about my favorite spooky books instead.

To be honest, I've never been big on paranormal phenomena. Vampires are creepy, werewolves are hairy, and demons are scary, not to mention scaly, and as a mystery writer, I tend to think that evil is wrong, anyway.

I do, however, have a fondness for ghosts. Not because I've ever seen one personally. I haven't. I keep hoping that maybe one of these days I will - we vacation in St. Augustine, Florida, every year, and there's a restaurant there with a haunted ladies room (swear to God!) which I make it a point to visit - but so far, no dice.

But I do love a good ghost story. I even wrote one myself once. It was the second DIY book, called Spackled and Spooked. It concerned a supposedly haunted mid-century ranch where murder had been committed seventeen years previously, and a skeleton buried in the crawlspace, among other cool things.

One of my favorite ghost stories was released 43 years ago, back when I was but a gleam in my mother’s eye, practically speaking. Barbara Mertz, writing as Barbara Michaels, wrote Ammie, Come Home in 1968, and it has one of the most chilling examples of ghostly possession ever penned. Like all of Mertz/Michaels/Elizabeth Peters’s books, it’s also marvelously written, quite funny at times, and with a very satisfying love story or two.

Since we’re on the subject of Mertz/Michaels/Peters, she also wrote Devil May Care, and House of Many Shadows, and Witch, and The Crying Child, and a slew of others, all of which handle ghosts and spirits in various incarnations, and all of which are stellar. 

More recently—like last year—Jennifer Crusie’s latest, Maybe This Time, arrived in stores. She’s an autobuy for me, and you can imagine my excitement when I not only found the expected humor and fantabulous love story, but also ghosts and—yes—even an instance or two of possession.

Not that I have a particular thing for possession, you understand, but ghostly possession can be a lot of fun. To read about, I mean; like the ghost-sightings, I’m not so sure I’d like it if it happened to me.

And then there’s Lillian Stewart Carl, whose every protagonist generally deals with ‘ghost allergies.’ You can’t really go wrong with a Lillian Stewart Carl—she’s been compared to both Barbara Michaels and the brilliant Mary Stewart—but if I had to mention one book in particular, it would have to be Shadows in Scarlet, a paranormal romantic suspense romp in which Amanda, a tour guide at a historic home in Virginia, falls in love with the ghost of James Grant and ends up taking his spirit to his home castle in Scotland. I won’t go into details of the story, but it’s great, and even includes—for those of you who get off on that kind of thing—a ghost/human sex scene. There may be more of those out there, but this was the first I’d read, and quite well done, I might add. (And in case you wonder about the feasibility, as does a certain character in the book, to quote Amanda, who ought to know, “he had plenty of substance.”)

I could keep going, but I won’t. Instead, why don’t you leave a comment to tell me about your favorite ghost book, and help me add to the TBR pile.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Jennie Bentley is the New York Times bestselling author of the Do It Yourself home renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime, as well as the Cutthroat Business mysteries, written as Jenna Bennett. You can find out more about both of them at

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Golden Summer

Before I started my full time career as an attorney I had several part time or summer jobs. Most of them were fun including being a camp counselor for a few summers, working at the “Green Giant Cannery” for another, delivering dry cleaning another. But the one I remember best was the summer I worked as a rod man for the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

My father got this job for me the summer I was eighteen. I had just finished my freshman year of college and was home for three whole months. My stepmother was complaining that I should get a job somewhere where I wouldn’t have to live at home, but my father held firm and I stayed at home. This meant I would not have to pay rent and I could bank most of the money I earned.

The man I would be working for was named Mr. Hill. His assistant was a guy named Rick. They were a surveying crew and I was the person who was hired to hold the rod as they surveyed. Mr. Hill would pick me up in his truck every morning and then we could go pick up Rick and head toward the site of each day’s work.

Mr. Hill was a very kind and soft spoken man. He never fussed about anything and never got frustrated. He just did his job calmly and efficiently. Rick, well he was a different story. Rick knew a million stories to tell, which fascinated me. He also knew a thousand jokes. Some were a little off color but when he would get too extreme Mr. Hill would just say “Rick” and the jokes would get milder.

On the first day I asked Mr. Hill if we could stop so I could get a Pepsi and a pack of potato chips since I hadn’t had any breakfast. That automatically became part of our routine. At lunch time Mr. Hill and Rick had brought sandwiches to eat. Since I didn’t have anything Mr. Hill allowed me to take the truck and go get something to eat. The next day when it was lunchtime he said Mrs. Hill had packed some extra for me in his lunch sack and that continued all summer long.

It was a wonderfully hot, cloudless summer. My uniform was khaki shorts and a tee shirt. Most of the time I just wore the khaki shorts, and while I held the rod I got the best tan of my life. Since we walked from one area of surveying to another, except for moving to a new location, I also got in the best shape of my life.

When it rained the three of us would sit in the truck and wait out most showers. Rick would tell stories and Mr. Hill would add in a word or two. Me, I mostly just listened. I have always been fascinated by other people’s stories and I absorbed all they said like a sponge.

During that summer I was dating the cheerleader who I had been dating for a couple of years. I thought I was in love and maybe I was. At least I was for that summer. We saw each other just about every night and I actually had the money to pay for gas for my car so we rode and rode and rode. We also went to the movies or to parties with some of our friends.

Everybody needs a perfect summer like this one in their lives. It was something I definitely needed. I had been through some bad times since my mother died and this summer made me see that life still had some good spots.

I don’t think I ever saw Mr. Hill or Rick after that summer ended. The next summer I got a job in Washington State which pleased my stepmother so much. I was definitely out of the house. The cheerleader and I eventually broke up. The perfect summer lived on only in my memory.

There have been good times and bad times in my life. I have had some near perfect moments but that golden summer when I was eighteen stands out in my memory. It still brings me pleasure just to think about it.

Jackie K Cooper is the author of six books, the latest being BACK TO THE GARDEN. He also writes for "The Huffington Post."

                                                                                                                                          Jackie K Cooper

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Day Jobs of Our Lives

High school sculpture from last year
by Nicole Seitz

It's hard to write, as it's late, and my eyes are blurry after crying through the movie, Conviction. But, I'll press on. This month's topic is day jobs, or those jobs we authors do when we're not writing. I might have a word of inspiration on that. I am thankful for day jobs. They help to keep a writer grounded and humbled and actually living life instead of simply writing about it. Currently, my day job is teaching art to some amazing kids in a local Christian school. It's funny, but I never imagined I would ever be a writer, and I assure you, I imagined less that I would be a teacher. Yet, this is where I am.

How blessed can a body be.

Teaching is, well, sort of like having children--challenging, engaging, sometimes draining, oftentimes inspiring, and all the time worthwhile. Every day that I get to know the kids more, I care just a little deeper for them, even the ones who challenge me. They're all so unique, and although I could go on and on, I guess what I want to leave you with is this: did I mention I never wanted to be a teacher? How then, did God work it out so that I started doing something I would love this much? I don't know. Boy, if I could tell you I saw it coming, but I didn't. From this post, please get this: your best adventures may be coming, and they may not even be on your radar. Wherever you are, I hope you can find peace in that.

Actually, it was out of adversity that this new calling found me. The economy got tough. I needed to do something to augment our family income. I love kids. I am an artist. When I saw the part-time position open up, I thought, hmmm...maybe I could do that. Then I set out to knock on the doors.

God opened them.

I'd like to tell you how much fun I had last week doing acrylic portraits on the playground with my high school students. I'd like to tell you about the looks on their faces when we critiqued them on the wall, and then the looks on the second day when we did it again and critiqued once more. How much they had grown! My students are amazing. Few of them consider themselves artists or artistically gifted, and yet they are the hardest-working group of teenagers you'd ever want to meet. In one quarter, they have improved beyond what I could have imagined, and so we press on, trying more, challenging more, achieving more.

I am a better person for knowing these students.

Seeing these young people each week, breathing encouragement into their lives and they, life into mine, I am humbled when we are free to pray in the classroom. I thank God for placing them in my life.

I have absolutely no idea how much money I make...from my books or from my teaching. I never even look at the pay stubs and let my husband handle all that. Because even though I started teaching to help make ends meet, something miraculous happened along the way, and all of a sudden, my dining room table is covered with paintings and drawings by my lower and upper school students...I'm entering them tomorrow in the Coastal Carolina Fair Youth Art Show, and I don't know how my students feel about it, but for me, I am a very proud mama. Whether we come home with a ribbon or not, I feel like we've all won.

Find yourself a job that keeps you coming back for more. They are out there. It may just be something you volunteer doing, or do part-time, or do for free. Just find it. Ask God and he'll show it to you. He did for me.

And in case you think my whole life has been rosy and I've always done what I've loved doing, let me give you a little rundown of the jobs that came before "author" and "art teacher":

retail clerk
fast food clerk
VERY small-time print, runway and mannequin model
perfume spritzer
retail clerk again
Superbowl commercial transcriber
waitress again
television intern
t-shirt designer
freelance writer
freelance illustrator
telephone equipment salesperson
pre-press graphic artist
graphic designer
web designer
systems analyst
web designer again
design business owner...(I'm sure I'll think of more.)

May you find joy in every job you decide to do, and may you enjoy the stepping stones and the people you meet along the way.

I don't regret any of it. All the jobs before were preparation for doing what I love today. Even the one at Hotdog on a Stick.

God bless.
Nicole is not in this photo, courtesy of, yet she did wear this outfit, including the hat.
Don't you just love school
photos? Nicole never thought
she'd have to take one again.
When she is not teaching or spending time with her family, Nicole Seitz writes novels. She has five of them published and a sixth on the way (Jan 2012), BEYOND MOLASSES CREEK. She is honored to know all the hard-working people who write for this blog. Find Nicole at, on Facebook and Twitter.

What happened to the Yard Boy by Niles Reddick

That twelve-year-old yard boy is alive and well, except I've got about thirty five more years on me than when I pushed that red rusted mower around town cutting grass for elderly people. I hated mowing grass, the work, but I enjoyed seeing the result and loved the smell of freshly cut grass. I did a good job, too, except when I wasn't paying attention. One bow-legged neighbor came off her porch waiving her wooden cane at me and screaming, "Lyles, you're skinning the grass!" I couldn't hear her for the roar of the motor, except when the roar subsided because the lawn mower was choking on her thick grass, leaving a circular pattern next to her azalea row, but she said it again and again until I did. "I'm sorry," I said. I didn't like her calling me Lyles when my name was Niles and I wasn't sorry either, but it's the way my mama and daddy taught me, the way the school teachers told us to be, the way the preacher shouted we should be unless we wanted hell. I didn't want hell. I wanted that old woman's five dollars, I wanted to grow up, and I wanted to get the hell out of that town.  Thirty-five years later, I live twenty miles from there and I love to drive through there, though that house is now a parking lot, and it ultimately didn't matter if I skinned her grass or not.

Next, I was a custodian and hated that, too, but today I still love the smell of Pine-sol and pour it in all three toilets in the house, so the house will smell good when I come home from work or a trip.  Then, I bused tables, washed dishes, and tried to cook in a restaurant. I got "deselected" (new terminology in the corporate world) from cooking. I moved on to hotel clerk and even worked for the U.S. Air Force as a civilian while I was in college. When I graduated, I still didn't know what to do, so I went on to graduate school.
While I worked on my Master's degree in Psychology and even after I finished it, I tried to be a counselor. I didn't much want to listen to people's problems, really, but I did want to try to understand how they came to be so crazy: Why would you burn down your own house when it wasn't insured? Why would you hallucinate? Why would you have sex with animals? I often thought someone should just tell them straighten up, quit all the nonsense. When I told one fellow who had tried to saw his heart out that he should have probably come up with another method to kill himself like a shot gun, he told me I was crazy, that I was a counselor and shouldn't say that. I realized I probably ought to try something else.

So I went back to school for yet another degree and finally landed a teaching job. I really enjoyed teaching and still do. I could tell stories in class and write when I wasn't in class. At some point, someone talked me into trying an administrative job and it paid a lot more, so I took it and have been a college administrator and teacher now for around twenty years.  You'd think it would be stressful and boring, and it is sometimes. Some days I feel like sawing my own damned heart out, but the stories I hear are worth it: one student asked if he could fax a check to pay tuition (the bank would deposit a fax, don't you think?); one student wanted to have a grade changed because he just didn't like the F (well, now, don't we all wish we could just twitch our nose and make the bad go away? This entitlement attitude, by the way, will become a major social problem soon enough. How about me telling Harper Collins, "I just feel my book should be published because I just know it will be a best seller"? Think that might work?); one student got a F on a paper because the work he turned in was not his (he'd bought the paper and paid good money for it, so it wasn't dishonest). 

These are just drops in the bucket and why I believe higher education is an oxymoron, but it's all great fodder for fiction, and I don't think I'll ever retire. I think I'll just keep this day job. I don't think I could go back, but I do love where I've been and have no regrets. My all time favorite singer and philosopher Dolly Parton recently told the concert audience in Valdosta, Georgia that she was going to try to keep on singing and performing until she just dropped dead. I think I will keep on working and writing until I drop dead, too.
left, Audrey Reddick; center, Dolly Parton; right, Niles Reddick. Valdosta, GA; October 2011
Niles Reddick is author of a collection Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, which was a finalist for an Eppie award, and a novel Lead Me Home, which was a finalist for a ForeWord Award and was a finalist for first novel in the Georgia Author of the Year Awards. He is author of numerous short stories in journals and anthologies. He lives in Tifton, Georgia, where he works for Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. His website is

Monday, October 17, 2011

MY OTHER JOBS by Jackie Lee Miles

When I’m not writing I do various things like cooking and cleaning and laundry and grocery shopping. Very exciting, yes? But the job that takes all of my energy is property management. Twelve years ago we bought eight houses to rent. The market was ripe. Real estate was soaring. We’d make a fortune! As the years rolled on things looked pretty good, property values were going up, we were paying down mortgages, having good luck with tenants and estimated we had quite a bit of equity as a result of our investment.

Then the crash came. We should have seen it coming, but we kept thinking (early on) that it would recover. So we didn’t sell our properties. It would have been hard to, anyway. Even though the tenants were paying their rent on time, most of them tended to be very messy. It’s hard enough to sell a rental property, let alone one that’s in total disarray. In the end we were stuck with all of the houses.

Things got worse. Recently we found out we are “upside-down” on all of them. We owe more money for each and every one of them than they are worth. Yikes! What happened to our fortune? It went down the tube like it did for so many others. What makes it even harder is we no longer have good luck with our tenants.

Two ran out in the middle of the night without paying the rent. One of them owed for the month before as well. (I tend to listen to sob stories and commiserate.) If running out wasn’t bad enough, they left the houses in shambles. It cost a small fortune to get them back into shape in order to re-rent them. I also found out the newspaper ads, which used to be inexpensive were no longer inexpensive. They wanted hundreds of dollars to run a short one to entice new tenants.

I was able to get a contract signed on the one that had the most damage (after spending my children’s inheritance to get it in shape.) Finally, things were looking up! Not so fast. The very next day the air conditioner compressor conveniently located on the outside of the house was missing. The guy I hired to mow the grass and trim the bushes to get the lawn in perfect shape for our new tenant, pointed it out. To make matters worse the compressor had components that were no longer compatible with the actual air conditioning unit itself so we had to purchase the whole enchilada, to the tune of two and a-half-thousand dollars.

Recovering from that we discovered the roof of one of the other homes was beyond repair and needed to be replaced. Once we had that done, the front stoop and staircase of a tri-level collapsed (nobody got hurt, thank the Lord and all his angels.) and had to be rebuilt.

From there it was all downhill. Dishwashers, ovens, septic tanks, garage door openers and rotten siding took over. We were clobbered with repairs bills every time we turned around. All of this makes me very thankful that I have another job: that of a writer. I can bury myself in a story and pretend that my real life is not really happening. Just last week, a tenant called and told me her toilet was backed up and had flooded the bathroom floor.

“Don’t bother me, now” I told her. “I’m in the middle of a very important scene. Call me later when you finish mopping up the mess.”

She did call later. I called the plumber. It was her fault. She’d flushed a yogurt lid down the drain and it didn’t quite make it. We added the cost of it onto her rent and I went back to my manuscript, feeling ever so happy. Maybe things were looking up in the real estate market!

Well, I can always dream. In the interim, I’ll just keep on writing.

Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River, Divorcing-Dwayne, All That's True and The Heavenly Heart, which is available as an e-book. Write to the author at Visit the website at

Romance Bread and Butter by Peggy Webb

A psychic doing readings at a small conference I’d attended with my husband in Las Vegas once called romance my “bread and butter.”  Since I was writing full time, turning out four or five romances a year for both Bantam (Loveswept) and Silhouette (Special Edition), she was on the money.

As the years went by (twenty-six, to be precise), I turned my pen to murder and literary thrillers, completely forgetting that long-ago reading.  My romances vanished from the shelves, and my mysteries took their place.

 And then along came e-books.  “A passing fancy,” I said. “A drop in the bucket.” 

Before I could wrap my mind around this thing called e-publishing, the drop turned into a steady downpour and then a downright flood.  Writers, agents, publishers and booksellers started scrambling to find a firm footing.  Meanwhile, I had a backlist from Loveswept sitting on my bookshelves collecting dust.

Though I typically have to be drawn kicking and screaming into anything new, I am really thrilled at the chance to breathe new life into stories I loved writing.  While I continue to write books that readers can pluck off the shelves in bricks-and-mortar bookstores as well as purchase online, I am also bringing back my romance classics as e-books.

It’s amazing to see Touched by Angels and the sequel, A Prince for Jenny, hit Amazon’s Top 100. It’s remarkable to get letters from long-time fans who are delighted to see these classics back with great new covers and in a jazzy new format. It’s astonishing to read email from fans who have just now discovered me –  all because of this thing called e-publishing.

Though the challenges are great, the possibilities are endless. While I’m still learning to navigate the complicated e-publishing process, I’m delighted that I could write Christmas in Time, a time travel back to the Titanic, as a prequel for Only Yesterday, my classic time travel romance that weaves between the present and World War II.      

I’d love to chat with you today about e-books.  What is your reading experience with e-books?  How do you like to shop for books, to read them?  If you’re a writer, are you e-pubbing, either exclusively or additionally? Is it your bread and butter? Pour yourself a cup of coffee, pull up a rocking chair and let’s talk.

Best-selling author Peggy Webb has penned almost 70 novels in three genres – romance, mystery, and literary thrillers (written as Anna Michaels). She holds a Romantic Times Pioneer Award for her contribution to romance. Her classic, Birds of a Feather, is considered the first romantic comedy. Visit her at and  

Saturday, October 15, 2011

My Muse Wears Work Clothes

Granted, there's nothing particularly sexy about the image here, but that's exactly the point. We're supposed to be writing about our day jobs and or the biggest writing mistakes we've ever made. Let me combine both and come clean. I've got plenty of writing mistakes behind me, and no doubt, I'll probably have more ahead of me, but my biggest mistake, by far, has to have been my slow recognition of how to live with a flighty muse.

I fell in love with words and books as a little kid and the magic holds as much of a spell on me as it ever did. Even now, watching the letters group up into words and the words into sentences on this page pleases my eyes and settles my soul, only now I know there is nothing mysterious about the magic! I once thought of my muse as this elusive creature who must be cajoled into making an appearance. I had to attend to her every need with just the right coffee/surroundings/writing pad, etc.. Otherwise, like some spoiled prima dona, she might get offended and disappear as quickly as she arrived. There's a good country word for that sort of thing: bologna!

My muse wears work clothes. She has to, y'all. Deadlines call from every corner. Oh, yes, I love words and writing as much as ever, the process will always feed my soul. But if I were waiting on a flighty muse to show up and perform, I'd be dead in the water.

Like so much else in this life, success comes when one foot, or word in our case, is placed in front of the other, time and time again. I can't get the hours back that I've wasted in the past, waiting on my muse to show up and perform, but that's okay. Experience is, after all, a mighty fine teacher. I may have stumbled towards the understanding, but I've learned that my muse, she is me. I've taken the power back and it feels good. Who knows, if she's good, I may even treat her to a caramel macchiato!

Known as The Belle of All Things Southern, Shellie Rushing Tomlinson is a national best-selling author, speaker, and columnist. She and her husband Phil live and farm in Louisiana. Shellie’s Penguin Group USA release, Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On, was voted SIBA’s Nonfiction Finalist of 2009 by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. The sequel, Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy hit stores in May 2011 with a hearty endorsement from legendary comedian Jeff Foxworthy, a blurb Shellie adamantly denies purchasing.

Shellie hosts her weekly talk show ATS LIVE every Mon. evening from 5-6 PM CST on TALK 540 KMLB out of northeast Louisiana. The show also streams in real time on Shellie’s popular website, and podcasts there for listening convenience.  Shellie’s three minute daily doses of All Things Southern are carried by twenty-eight radio affiliates across the South.  Shellie writes a weekly inspirational feature in Newsstar, a Gannett paper serving the Ark/La/Miss and a monthly print and online column for Louisiana Road Trips.  Shellie is also blogging as the new Girl Friday at Southern Belleview Daily. Y'all come!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Pulpwood Queen DECLARES Don't Quit Your Day Job!

Everything good that has ever happened in my life is because I have been a reader.  Being a reader is a part of me as my slightly crooked front tooth, the fact that I bite my fingernails, and that I am slightly pigeon toed.  But I never knew you could make a living from being a reader, that came much later to me in life. All I know is what I have learned through my mistakes only now I use the word "discoveries.  Funny how that sounds so much better.  I have discovered you just don't quit your day job and for me that being a hairdressing bookseller.

When I was growing up education was always stressed in our family home.  I never knew what I wanted to be as all the things that interested me were things that I never dreamed you could make a living from, but I tried.  I grew up in the city pool, my dad managed it, so we kids were swimming as babies.  I eventually became a lifeguard.  Great job as you could work on your tan and get paid.  For me that was $2 an hour at the Eureka Country Club.  Sounds like not much but I could fill up my VW bug on three bucks, but that kind of job kind of peters out after college.  This was years before I learned their were professional lifeguards, okay, but the television series Baywatch made me realize that was NOT going to be a possibility.  I love art, creating, but everybody knows being an art major is the kiss of death as far as jobs are concerned.  So what do I do, I go to Kansas State University and become a Design major.  Well, you can dream can't you but it sure doesn't pay the bills.
After my second year of college my mother informed me I needed to get a REAL job to help pay my way through college.  So after checking out the job market for a two year college student I pretty quickly learned that cooking hamburgers at McDonald's, (they turned me down as being overqualified), I needed to get a serious career.  I dropped out of college and became a hairdresser.  Makes sense, right?  I know you are laughing.

No, seriously, becoming a cosmetologist was a legit way of making some big bucks.  Vidal Sassoon was on the rise and Farrah Fawcett had driven young girls in droves to salons to emulate that iconic cut.  I excelled at beauty school and became a graduate of Crum's Beauty College in Manhattan, Kansas.  This was to be a means to the end of me getting a REAL education.  I could work my way through college doing hair.

Fast forward to years of searching for my life work, in and out of colleges, seven to be exact to end up with my dream job of becoming a book publisher's representative. (You have to read my book to get the back story which will be mentioned up ahead). 

Ah ha, you could make a living from being a REAL reader.  Then I got fired, downsized, was how my boss explained it.  The big box chains had come in to independent bookstore territory and were shutting them down by the dozens including pretty much all in my four state client base.  I was back to square one.

That is where my book begins, "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life", my life story of how books have saved me over and over again.  My beginning chapter began with getting fired and I aptly titled the chapter, "When Life Hands You a Lemon, Forget Lemonade, Make Margaritas", well I paraphrased that chapter title as it has been some time, 2008, since that book was published.  I ended up going back to cutting and coloring hair.  Yes, that's right I opened my Beauty and the Book, the ONLY Hair Salon/Book Store in the country. 

So that's my day job, I do hair and talk and sell books!  I love it!  I have combined my two passions, creating art, (doing hair), and talking books!

Now my Daddy always told me it never hurts to learn a trade with your hands, that advice has served me well but it is books that have taken me all the places I never dreamed I would go.  Or the people I would meet...including Diane Sawyer of Good Morning America, see photo above.  You see my book club that I started shortly after I opened Beauty and the Book, The Pulpwood Queens, has become the largest "meeting and discussing" book club in the WORLD!  516 chapters, folks, coast to coast, everywhere inbetween and in over a dozen foreign countries.  Diane even asked me and my book club to help Charlie Gipson and her kick off their READ THIS Book Club on Good Morning America.  Who would have ever dreamed that this small town Kansas girl now an East Texan turned hairdressing bookseller would ever have that kind of opportunity.

Then I just recently was sponsored by Random House Publishing to film 12 episodes of an online book club talk show, Beauty and the Book,!  Who knew I would be flying to California to do shows with the likes of Janelle Brown, Lisa See, and Fannie Flagg, see photo above, and many more from my shop like, Susan Vreeland, Paula McLain, Karen Abbott, Anna Quinlen, and the like.  Oh, the places reading good books can take you!

Then I have this annual Pulpwood Queen Book Club Convention every year called Girlfriend Weekend.  The last two years have brought the likes of Pat Conroy, about fifty authors every year to this sold out venue, see photo of my Pulpwood Queen SIRENS of Katy, Texas!

We won't even mention or perhaps we will the Pulpwood Queen literacy adventures to Europe, trip to Monroeville, Alabama for the 50th Anniversary of "To Kill a Mockingbird", (my favorite book), or cruising to the Bahamas, and now our trip to England in December of this year with The Pulpwood Queens of Houston!

Now back to my day job, doing hair and selling books.  Running the hair salon part is easy.  I have a client base that is spread far and wide.  Authors mecca in to my shop and book club groups too.  We always have fun.  The book part is hard, no doubt about it. I learned right away that the only true books I sell are local, regional, and Pulpwood Queen Book Club Selections so that is what I carry.  But even selling those has become a daily battle.  With online book sales offering the moon and e-readers, my only course of action is hand selling big time.  Now I can talk books all day and night but I need people to come to my shop to do that so why not plan a literary road trip to my little ole independent bookstore/hair salon!  We'll leave the hair dryer on for ya and recently have become a jewelry store too!  We have many Pulpwood Queen branded items for sale.  I only sell what I truly believe in so I think my shop is the best kept secret in the country, perhaps the world afterall, we are the WORLD WIDE HEADQUARTERS OF THE PULPWOOD QUEENS!

Everything I carry I believe is a treasure.  This is my life's work creating beauty and sharing books.  I may never have known what I was going to be when I grew up but God did have a big plan for me and I know now it's all centered around Beauty and the Book!  So again, don't quit your day job, you never know where it may take you!!!
Tiara wearing and Book sharing,
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Friday, October 7, 2011

Keeping the Day Job

Man Martin

Terry Kay once told me there were probably fifty people in the United States who made their living soley as authors. I’ve thought about it some since then, and I believe he was overstating the matter by a wide margin. Almost all of us have day jobs by which we earn the daily bread; the nourishment we get from writing is of a more indefinable quality.

I myself am a school teacher, and it is work that is so emotionally and physically taxing that, in all due modesty, I sometimes wonder how I manage to be as productive a writer as I am. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to get a head start on me. This is no figure of speech. I get up to write at Five AM every morning. Oft times do I daydream of being liberated from the daily grind and being set free to write.

Here is a sample of my day. My first period is planning, which means I have time to grade papers and prepare for class; however, another teacher “floats” in my room – the school is overcrowded – so I have to take my papers and work in the library. Today however, I’m in the copy room – second period is a speech class – recently expanded to a whopping thirty-two students – and I’m Xeroxing materials for an upcoming series of debates. Third block is another planning period, but again, there’s a “floater” in my room, so I grade papers in the library until fourth period, which is my creative writing class. (Let me say, that making a serious writer teach creative writing to high school sophomores is a torture akin to making a devout Hindu oversee a stockyard.) Then fifth, sixth, and seventh periods I have World Lit (I’m a little unusual in that I teach three different classes each day). My sixth and seventh periods are somewhat behind my fifth because yesterday students were called out of seventh period to vote for homecoming court. Then today, during sixth period there was an unscheduled fire drill.

After school, I have tutorials that last until 4:30.

Suffice to say, work can be a real drag. Sometimes I can’t help thinking, is this really worth it? Wouldn’t my quality of life improve if I ditched my job and lived under an overpass, eating sawdust and drinking water from storm drains as I work on my next novel?

But then. Today.

We’re reading Animal Farm and a student – for obvious reasons, I can’t give his actual name – we’ll call him Jamar – a real knucklehead and a thorn in my side – constantly out of his desk, messing with the girl who sits next to him, making irrelevant and distracting remarks – today Jamar – and I’m not making this up – said in a voice of wonder – I swear to you, I literally saw a light bulb come on over his head – and I’m also prepared to swear on a stack of Shakespeare these were his exact words, “Those pigs are just manipulating the other animals for their own selfish reasons.”

After class I held Jamar back just a little after the other students. “Jamar,” I said, putting a hand on each of his shoulders, “Here’s your homework.” His eyes widened slightly. “You need to go home tonight and look up, ‘the Man.’ See if your picture’s there. Because you are… THE MAN!”

I figure I can keep the teaching gig at least one more day. I sent Jamar off to do his homework, and after grading a few more papers, I went home. I woke up this morning at 5:00 AM to write this.

When he's not teaching young'uns, Man Martin writes.  Booklist calls his current novel, Paradise Dogs, "simply brilliant," and the New York Post calls it "required reading."  His first novel, Days of the Endless Corvette, won him Georgia Author of the Year for First Novel.  You can see by his photograph that he is also devilishly handsome.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


by Susan Cushman

I love to go fast. I drive my car fast. I move quickly from room to room around my house, not wanting to waste time and always in a hurry to get to the next place, the next activity. One of my favorite movies is “Top Gun,” and I love this scene where Maverick and Goose talk about “the need for speed.” 

That said, the older I get the more I realize the truth to the old saying, “haste makes waste.” So… the “literary blunder” (the theme for this round of posts) I’d like to share has to do with being in a hurry

Recently I was director of the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop 
(September 23-25) and one of our speakers was Neil White. Neil is a close friend and mentor, and at one point during a session on the publishing process, he asked me to share my story of querying agents before I was ready—twice! Here are those stories. (da-dum! *Law and Order music here, please*)

My 36-page creative nonfiction (memoir) book proposal was polished and ready to go. The document included all the elements of a great book proposal—Chapter Outline, Author Bio, Marketing/Platform, Comparative Titles, and prologue and sample chapters. I had worked on it for months, and I had finished 16 chapters of the book, so I began to query literary agents. Of the 25 or so agents I queried over a five-to-six-month period, I received several personal replies, which was encouraging. Even some helpful rejections. But I blew it with two close encounters.

Literary Blunder #1:
A top New York agency liked the book proposal and asked for more chapters. I sent the next 50 pages of the book, and waited for their response. “The proposal was excellent, but the writing didn’t hold up. It just didn’t sing.”

Ouch! The manuscript wasn’t ready. I had revised it 5-6 times. Some of the chapters had been critiqued at workshops and by my critique group. But it still wasn’t ready. I was in a hurry to publish it and blew my chance with a really good agent.

Literary Blunder #2:

I spent some more time on the manuscript, polishing it until it “sang.” I continued to query agents, and this time another agency in New York was interested. And then it hit me: my memoir would be published. The public would read it. My friends and family would read it. Wait. Do I really want to do this? The reality was that I wasn’t ready to go public with some of what I had written. There were people who might be hurt by it. And so I apologized to the agent and told her I had changed my mind about publishing the memoir.

Who knows whether or not those two agents will give me another try when I query them to represent my novel. But you can bet they won’t hear from me until it’s good and ready. And since you don’t use a book proposal with fiction, the writing will have to stand on its own. It will have to sing.

In November I’m returning to the beach for another month-long writing retreat.  Last year I finished 10 chapters. This year I hope to complete the book and polish it ‘til it shines. I’d love to be ready to query agents in December. But if the book’s not ready, I’m going to try not to be in a hurry this time. Maybe my month at the beach will help me learn to slow down.

[P.S. I was so excited to see that Juliana Margulies won an Emmy for best actress in  “The Good Wife” after my last post here about what I learned from the writers' deleted scenes.  But I was more excited to see that the first thing Margulies did when she received the award was THANK THE WRITERS of the show, Robert and Michelle King.]

Susan Cushman has nine published essays, one novel and two memoirs tucked safely away in a drawer, and a novel-in-progress that she hopes to publish one day. In 2012, her essay, “Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow,” will appear in the second volume of the anthology, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, from the University of Alabama Press. Susan was Director of the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop in September. She was a guest speaker at the Boulder (Colorado) Writers Workshop in August. Susan blogs at "Pen and Palette." 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Where I'm from

Future writer in Sears polyester

I am from being the second daughter of a second daughter.

I am from a yellow brick house with a red front door; from a yard that grew cantaloupe and tap water that tasted like dirt at summer’s end.

I am from hand-me-downs and hand-sewn stuffed animals and kitchen haircuts and mortal embarrassment and wistful nostalgia.

I am from rock and roll while house-cleaning and silence while writing.

I am from the computer keyboard is my piano and though sometimes it sings, sometimes needs tuning, I commit to make daily music anyway.

I am from loving a great sweater.

I am from Kerouac and Hemingway and Carver and Faulkner and the college writing professor who caught me in the hallway after making an example out of my bad writing and said, “I’m not telling you to stop writing. I knew you could take it. Keep going.”

I am from ten years later bringing my first published novel and a grin that wouldn’t quit to that professor.

I am from making my house smell like autumn using the trick my mother taught me: pressing cloves into oranges until your fingers almost bleed.

I am from believing Prayer would make a beautiful name for a baby girl, but adoring the names my husband picked out.

I am from believing my dog is fur covered affirmation.

I am from a closet that belongs to a woman with a different life, where tailored business suits have given way to jeans and a faded Mickey Mouse t-shirt.

I am from pick up your socks, put away your backpack, stop annoying your sister, is it time for Chardonnay yet?

I am from contradictions and gentle critics and second chances.

I am from using my passport, but loving my own bed.

I am from the School of Mistakes is the best teacher and hanging that degree on my wall.

I am from by the grace of God, there go I.

I am from discipline and creativity and collecting every word inside a drugstore notebook.

I am from visiting Hotel Rejection and leaving the next day in a fast car with the sunroof open.

I am from having the windows open as much as possible and getting easily distracted by that squirrel on the fence.

I am from encouraging high drama and conflict on the page, but peace in real life.

I am from sitting in the elementary school car-line and watching hope in a backpack and pink socks sprint from the school door.

I am from searching twenty minutes for my favorite pen.

I am from being the mother of one girl who wants to believe in Santa Claus, but requests proof - and another who doodles on her notebook: Wonder + Believe = Magic and how does she know this already?

I am from faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.


p.s. – I am also from this announcement that just came out from Publishers Weekly  - Karen Harrington's SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, a coming-of-age story in which a precocious 12-year-old writes letters to Atticus Finch for help understanding her mentally ill mother, her first real crush, and life in her small Texas town, all in the course of one momentous summer, to Alvina Ling and Bethany Strout at Little, Brown Children's, for publication in Spring 2013, by Julia Kenny at Markson Thoma (World).

The inspiration for this post came from this poem: