Friday, October 12, 2012

Eulogy for Julie Cannon

by Karin Gillespie

I think the key to making a story come alive is being willing to rip a page from your own life, to draw upon your deepest pain without flinching~Julie Cannon
Everyone who ever met Julie Cannon knew she was a true sweetheart, the type of person who diligently wrote thank you notes, never flipped a bird at anyone, and wouldn’t dream of sneaking fifteen items onto to the ten-item line at the Kroger. 

They also knew she was about as Southern as they come. Sometimes my Midwestern ears had trouble translating her heavy drawl.   I remember she said to me once, “I’ve got a craving for some machinites” and I said, “Say what?” And we went back and forth, and finally she showed me in the convenience store a box of Mike and Ikes.

Most folks were also aware she was somewhat of a homespun girl. She wrote her novels in longhand at the kitchen table; when she was in 4-H she nurtured a cow, and as a kid she loved spending her summers at her mee-maws’ farm in Armuchee, Georgia, saying:

“It felt like pure heaven as a bunch of us cousins rode horses bare-back down through the bottomland, plucking blackberries and hunting arrowheads along the Oostenaula River. In the evenings, I’d sit very still out on the porch, listening to my kinfolks indulging in that wonderful southern tradition of oral storytelling. Their stories were fabulous, truly stranger than fiction, and I was collecting them like lightning bugs.”    

She was also a devout Christian; she read devotionals every morning, and her last two novels were written for the Christian market, but lest you think I’m describing a scripture-spouting saint, “the gal” (that’s what her daddy called her) had a wicked sense of humor.

One of her characters in Pearly Gates was so afraid of becoming a church lady, she secretly entered an erotic bull-riding contest. Another character in Truelove and Homegrown Tomatoes trolled the frozen food section, looking for lonely, single would-be suitors with Hungry Man dinners in their buggies. And one of the funniest essays I've ever read is Julie’s reaction when she found out about another Julie Cannon who wrote lesbian romance.

In addition to her quick wit, she also was a wonderful mom to Iris, Gus and Sam, and a loving wife to Tom, and a dutiful daughter to her parents, Robert and Gloria Lowery, both who had to say goodbye to their dear child far too soon.

All of these qualities about Julie are amazing and will certainly be acknowledged at her funeral and in the minds and hearts of those who loved her. But I will remember her most for one singular quality:

That seemingly sweet girl, the one with the soft brown eyes and shy smile, was fierce when it came to her art.

She had dreams of being a writer ever since she penned “Mrs. Duck’s Vacation” in elementary school, and like all passions should, it tested her, and twisted her and made her regularly leap out of her comfort zones, like a shaky-kneed swimmer taking a plunge from the high dive.  

When Julie’s first novel TrueLove and Homegrown Tomatoes was published, she was shocked to learn that she’d have to speak publically to promote it. She was terrified of public speaking, but her love for her art won out over her fear, and she made herself learn to be a winning speaker.

She, Jackie Miles, Patty Sprinkle and I traveled the Southeast as an author group called the Dixie Divas and during a five-year period we must have done at least hundred speaking engagements.

Audiences fell in love with Julie because her sincerity always shown through her talks, clear as a coin in a fountain.   

Later, when authors were expected to be adept at social media, Julie, who barely knew a mouse from a modem, suddenly was friending and tweeting like a pro.

I’ve known Julie since 2004, and her career, like many writers, had its bumps and potholes and rocky spots. There were novels that didn’t sell, and sometimes novels that didn’t sell enough.

 Sacrifices were also constantly being made. She’d joke about her neglected house, saying, “Cobwebs dangle, dust gathers, and roaches remain in the spot where they perished days ago.”

She’d also lament about the frozen burritos she often served up for supper and how her husband Tom was a “reluctant patron of the arts.”

But never once did I ever hear her say, “I give up.”

True, she sometimes had her doubts about her calling.

Once she wrote this:

“I love writing, but there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes with this career. The paychecks are erratic. Why in heaven’s name do I keep on allowing myself to write novels?

To stay in a business which regularly does a number on a person’s self-esteem?.. Do I honestly have to do it? Does attention follow desire? Or does desire simply follow attention? Because I know I give it my utmost attention and perhaps it is one of those self-propagating things like whirlwinds of leaves. I go round and round with this question, but still don’t have the answer. 

At some point, I think Julie came to terms with her doubts and grew to believe God had given her writing talent as a gift, and it was her obligation to use that gift, and that when she sat down at her kitchen table she was co-creating with Him.  Every day before she wrote, she would pray: Lord, give me a heart to tell stories about Your goodness and the language to speak it well.”

I don’t know everything Julie was doing the last day of her life, but I can promise you that at some point she was scribbling at her kitchen table, because she felt alive when she wrote, and she wrote every day of the week except for Sundays.

She did not sleepwalk through her too-brief life. She was keenly present, telling her deeply held truths with her pen, using her gifts nearly every day, and now through the power of her words, she will always be alive. 

At first it was impossible for me to understand why Julie was taken away too soon; I know she didn’t want to go. She was in the midst of promoting Twang, and was looking forward to the release of Scarlett Says in Oct 2013. In light of all that, her death made no sense to me.

But then, like a character in a Flannery O’Conner novel—Flannery being one of Julie’s favorite authors—I finally got my moment of grace.

My guess was that her co-creator, her dearly beloved Father, had her in mind for even greater art on another realm, and decided it time to bring her back home for a new calling.

In fact, I’m sure that’s what happened.

I knew Julie believed deeply that God never takes away anything from his children without giving them something even more amazing in return.  I think she deeply understood that every tragedy and setback contains a blessing, even if we cannot see it right away.

This is what those of us she left behind must always remember, difficult as that might be. We were damn lucky to have her as long as we did.

Julie studied eschatology, which, in part, has to do with what happens after you die and whether or not the dead can communicate with living. She even wrote about it in Truelove and Homegrown Tomatoes.

On the day of her death, as I was weeping on my front steps, I noticed that, out of nowhere, a single perfect  daisy had sprung up in my lawn.

I think she is with us always, and that’s why I know that she can hear me when I say:

Good night, sweet diva.

I love you; you meant the world to me and taught me so much  about what it means to be a writer .

See you soon in the great book signing in the sky. I’ll follow the crowds to the longest line.

Julie Cannon died in her sleep on Oct 9. She was fifty years old.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Going Home to Jesus

By Man Martin

Kathy Patrick
Karin Gillespie
When I was seven years old, my mother told me that my dog Skipper had “gone home to Jesus.” Although no one explained this at the time, I have since realized that the Lord’s calling Skipper home had something to do with his penchant for biting strangers on the ankle without provocation or warning. Since that day, much in my life has gone home to Jesus: friends – human and animal – family members, personal possessions, youth, hair. This is the way of the world we live in: everything, no matter how dear, is only ours temporarily. Life isn’t a gift; it’s a loan.

Now it’s time to send “A Good Blog is Hard to Find” home to Jesus.

A sad duty, but not without some compensating pleasure. There are so many wonderful writers who have written for this blog, I cannot thank them all for fear of leaving someone out. Many of them I have met at book festivals around the South. I will say that writers are a special and wonderful breed, Southern writers in particular, and writers of this blog most of all. Unfailingly, the bloggers I have met have not merely talented, but gracious, warm, and generous. It is a pleasure to be associated with them. I have to give a special thanks to Karin Gillepie who started this all up, and to Kathy Patrick, founder and grand pooh-bah of the Pulpwood Queens who took the tiller when Peggy stepped down.

Thanks to them, to all of our writers, and to you, our readers.

And so, farewell.

Somewhere in heaven, I know, are five cell phones I’ve dropped in swimming pools, bathtubs and toilets – the Plymouth Voyager whose radiator cracked en route to Destin – about two thousand pairs of reading glasses I’ve purchased at the Dollar Store and later stepped on or mislaid – my dog Skipper – and my Granny Barr.

Who’s reading this now.

Man Martin, the author of Days of the Endless Corvette and Paradise Dogs, has many accomplishments in which to take pride, one of which will always be this blog.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Say It With Music

by Jennie Bentley

So we're talking about music on the blog this month. Since I live in Music City - Nashville, Tennessee - I guess that's something I should probably be able to talk about, but the truth is, I don't listen to music that often. Some authors I know can't write unless they have music spurring them on. I'm the opposite; I can't concentrate on my own words if someone else's words are in the background.

That's not to say I don't like music. I do. I just can't multitask when music is playing. I either listen to it - actually sit down and listen, to the exclusion of everything else - or I prefer silence.

The funny thing is, I married a singer/songwriter. That's how I ended up in Nashville in the first place. And I admire his talent. I really do. Even if, at times, I wish he'd just shut the hell up, because his screaming at the top of his lungs in the shower is distracting me.

Songwriting is a discipline I've never been able to master. I can write. Sometimes, my sentences even approach brilliance. Or maybe I won't go quite that far, but once in a while, I manage to string words together into something that makes me happy, maybe even a little delirious. Most of the time I just write plain sentences, though. They say what I want them to say, in the best way I can say it, and they're perfectly serviceable. But every so often, on a rare blue moon, the stars align and the words come together in a way that comes off the page.

That's how I feel about a really good songwriter. The words are perfect; the kind that give me chills when I hear them.

There are authors out there who can do the same thing, of course. A friend of mine is a great admirer of Tim Hallinan. I had the pleasure of meeting Tim at Bouchercon last September, and I can attest to the fact that he's a lovely, lovely man. He told me I don't have an accent, I have a "lyrical intonation." How can you not love that?

Anyway, my friend Beth says this about Tim's writing: "I know all those words. Why can't I put them together like that?"

That's how I feel about songwriters. I know the words; why can't I put them together the same way? Why can't I write something that makes people cry? That makes them smile and laugh and feel?

Here's one that speaks to me. I can't listen to this song without tearing up. I can play it three times in a row, and cry each time. As story-songs go, it doesn't get any better than this.

So what about you? Do you like music? Or lyrics? Do you have a favorite song that brings you to tears? Or a favorite songwriter? Or for that matter a favorite author whose words make you weep with joy?

* * *

New York Times bestselling author Jennie Bentley writes the Do It Yourself home renovation mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. Book 6, Wall to Wall Dead, will be released in September. As Jenna Bennett, she write the Cutthroat Business mysteries for her own gratification, as well as various types of romance - suspense, paranormal, and futuristic - for Entangled Publishing. Her next romance, Fortune's Hero, comes in November. You can find out more about her books and her personae on her website, 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Turtle Summer

By: Mary Alice Monroe
Every morning I gaze out at the sea with anticipation. My back pack is filled with supplies, my probe stick stands at the ready, and my team T-shirts and cap lay patiently in my dresser drawer. My annual season of being a “turtle lady” lays just on the horizon.

Loggerhead laying eggs
Every spring the sea turtles begin their long journey home for a new nesting season along the southeastern U.S. coast. The stretch of South Carolina shoreline that I am blessed to call home will soon welcome home caretta caretta, the loggerhead, who will venture onto the beach to give birth. And her arrival will mark the beginning of another turtle summer for me.

Available May 8th
My fellow turtle team friends and I like to bet when we’ll get our first turtle nest on Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s Island. The year I discovered our first nest of the season happened to be on May 25-- my birthday! I’ve been a member of this wonderful turtle team since 1999. My experiences inspired my first southern novel, The Beach House, in 2002, followed by the sequel, Swimming Lessons. And now, ten years later, Beach House Memories, the prequel of the series, is ready to make its debut on May 8th. This serendipitous timing of a new hardcover release with the start of a new sea turtle nesting season and the tenth anniversary of my first bestseller---makes this an extra special turtle summer for me.

A rescued hatchling in hand

It is an honor to share with readers the inspiration I’ve felt from being a “turtle lady” all these years and the life lessons the sea turtles have taught me. I hope through the pages of Beach House Memories, others will feel inspired by the turtle team characters of my story world and the real life details of the magnificent loggerhead that I am so fortunate to write about and share with the world this turtle summer.

What is one thing you're looking forward to that will make this summer season special for you?

Mary Alice Monroe is an award-winning, bestselling author of 13 novels and is an active conservationist. She lives near Charleston, SC. Her newest novel, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES is available May 8th. Visit her at

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Angry Bird Brain

Angry Birds by
Rovio Entertainment Ltd
I'm not sure what it is about my brain that makes me need to finish things. Not important things that keep the household running smoothly like doing the laundry or dishes, but more trivial things like a finishing a morning run without stopping, or completing a crossword puzzle, or killing just a few more pigs with Angry Birds.

Whatever this component is in my brain, I believe it is in high gear when I am writing a novel. Right now, I have novel characters that have become so real in my head, that I think about them when I'm not "with them" at my computer. I wonder what they're going to do next, and ruminate on what they've already done. They become as real as the young people I'm watching on American Idol week after week. I remarked to my husband the other night that I've watched these singers so long now I feel as if I know them somehow.

We went to the mountains last week for spring break. I wanted to write on the trip up, but the kids were in the car, so I opted to play games on my new gadget. I read first using my Bible app and made some very cool Biblical discoveries, then completed a whole crossword puzzle, a game of Sudoku, and several rounds of Angry Birds. When I got stuck on a level, I'd play over and over and over, determined to destroy their houses and kill those little pigs. "These are some smart pigs!" my family got used to me exclaiming. Finally, I had to flip that switch and let go of the pigs and the angry birds for a while. It took a minute or two for my heart to settle down and my temperature to cool.

The same thing happens when I'm trying to write a new chapter and crack its code. Sometimes I have to try over and over with different tactics until the chapter works. When it does, it's a feeling of immense satisfaction. It's clear to me, that writing a novel definitely uses that same Angry Bird component--the compulsive, have-to-keep-going-until-I-complete-this-thing part of my brain--and I'm grateful for it. I think it's a blessing.

So how about you? Do you have a teenager in your family who just can't stop playing video games or practicing basketball or doodling...or...fill in the blank? It might be a blessing in disguise. I have learned that God has wired me this way. I love to be fully engaged mentally. Now, I can either use this part of my brain for mind-numbing entertainment that gets me nowhere and helps no one, or I can use it for something worthwhile. My God-given stick-to-it-ness allows me to spend weeks training for a half-marathon or months in a fictitious world writing a novel. At Christmas-time I can complete massive puzzles of cats with a multitude of minuscule pieces...but I doubt that's ever helped anyone.

At any rate, I like this part of my brain. There is something there that produces euphoria, and although there is nothing scientific about this post, I'm guessing many of you understand and can relate to what I'm saying. It feels good to complete something, to work out long, complicated puzzles in novels, to solve the mysteries, to finally reach redemption for the characters who become larger than life. Before God flipped my switch and gave me my first novel, I wonder what I did with that part of my brain. Nothing quite as productive, I assure you. I think I watched a little too much t.v.

I wonder how you're wired. Have you learned to embrace that quirky thing about you and set it free? I bet if used properly, you could make a difference in the world somehow because God wired you that way. As surely as I write this, God is waiting to take your oddities and use them for his glory in a way that only he can do--only through you. All you have to do is ask him to flip your switch.

Nicole Seitz is the author of six novels, the mother of two adorable kids, and the teacher of about 165 art students. She lives with her family in the Charleston, SC area where she is currently working on her next book. Find her and her work at

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sweet Music Man by Niles Reddick

My father-in-law died after a short battle with cancer last month. Not only was he a great dad to my wife and her siblings, he was a great father-in-law and a great grandfather. He was truly a good man, even a great husband, four different times! He was a reader, appreciated a good book, and was a great storyteller. Things he did or said appear in both my books and I think he enjoyed the attention. Nonetheless, our own lives are now a bit more lonely, and naturally, I've become overly analytical about my own life and direction now. I find solace in music and I always have. Maybe it's because my mother loved records and played them when we were children---great music like Joe South, The Supremes, Kris Kristofferson, Tom. T. Hall, you name it. I learned to dance as a child in the 1960's, to do the twist, listening to 45's of Chubby Checker and Larry Williams' Short Fat Fannie and Boney Maronie.  Maybe I love music because I learned to play the piano and memorized many hymns in the Baptist Hymnal---Love Lifted Me, I'll Fly Away, Life's Railway to Heaven, Farther Along, When We All Get to Heaven, I Am Resolved, and so on. Maybe it's because I feel the poetry in lyrics and can relate to them, and it may be because I love to hear beautiful voices sing---Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Pink Floyd, CCR, The Indigo Girls, Joan Baez, The Beatles, Emmylou Harris, The Bee Gees, and who could forget Judy Collins and her Amazing Grace. My list of those singers I love could go on some time, longer than anyone would want to read. And what an honor to me when a singer gets one of my books---Tom T. Hall, Trisha Yearwood, Dolly Parton---and sends back compliments. It's like eating the best piece of cake you've ever had. For me, by the way, that would be Debbie Zimmerman's pound cake, a wonderful lady in Winchester, Tennessee, and she is a great singer, too.

Now, though, I think I love music and include it in writing because I really wanted to be a singer. I'm not too bad, either. I can harmonize well with Simon and Garfunkel and others in the car. I like to practice in church every once in a while and wonder what the people think when I belt it out. Of course, they shouldn't turn around and shhh me, since that wouldn't be good Christian behavior or Southern etiquette.  I want to be able to sing like those I admire, like my late father-in-law who had a beautiful voice and would on occasion spontaneously break into a hymn or a Hank Williams song. Recently, I had a story accepted titled "Drifting too Far from the Shore." It will appear in the Deep South Magazine in Louisiana soon, and the title came from a song written by the Georgia Yellow Hammers early in the 20th century. It was an old gospel song that Hank Williams recorded and was later sung by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner. I find inspiration in music and want to honor it and the people who sing it in my own writing. I encourage others to listen more closely to the songs---quit singing the wrong lyrics to the radio in the car and in the shower, look up the real lyrics, the stories behind them. For me, music gets me through life, gives me comfort, and gets me through long and sad days. We all have a song and we need to sing it while we can. It's life. My father-in-law taught me that, that sweet music man.
Bio: Hailed by Mid West Review as both an “intriguing and entertaining” novel, Lead Me Home is Niles Reddick’s first. He was a finalist for a ForeWord award in fiction and for the Georgia Author of the Year award for first novel. Niles is also author of a collection titled Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, which was a finalist for an EPPIE award. Reddick has published in journals such as “The Arkansas Review:  a Journal of Delta Studies,” “The Paumanok Review,” “Southern Reader,” among others. His work has also been anthologized in Unusual Circumstances and Southern Voices in Every Direction.  He is a former editor of the “The Distillery” and a regular contributor to the Southern Literary Review and "A Good Blog is Hard to Find." Currently, Reddick teaches and works in administration at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rebirth: Books and Gardens by Peggy Webb

Every spring I’m thrilled to see plants that have lain dormant during the winter burst into leaf and bloom.  Bulbs I had forgotten suddenly send up shoots, and I can hardly wait to grab shears and fill vases all over my house with the richness of fragrance and bloom. 

Just as spring brings new life to gardens and fresh enjoyment for the gardener, so have e-books brought a new outlet for books and fresh entertainment for the reader.  Not only does an author’s front list gain fans, but the backlist now has a venue.  Books that are long out of print and hard to find (sometimes very expensive, too), can be brought back to life with new covers, updated story and a brand new audience. Too, long-time fans can now enjoy the books in both print and digital format.

Before I wrote the Southern Cousins Mystery series, before I became Anna Michaels who writes literary fiction, I wrote romance.  Fifty-six, to be exact.  My earliest romances were published under the Loveswept and Fanfare logos with Bantam Publishing Company (now Random House). 

For the past year I’ve been bringing my Loveswept romantic comedy classics back to readers in digital format. It has been fun to edit these books, to re-acquaint myself with the characters, laugh at their antics and cry over their heartbreaks.

I’ve loved having control over everything, especially the covers. Three really good cover design artists have done some amazing covers for me. Pat Ryan did the ethereally beautiful covers for Touched by Angels and the sequel, A Prince for Jenny.  Marc Fletcher did the gorgeous cover for the time travel romance, Night of the Dragon.  Kim Van Meter designed covers for the five-book Donovans of the Delta romantic comedy series, as well as the knock-your-socks-off Witch Dance (romantic suspense.)

Altogether I have 15 titles from my backlist available as e-books.  Seven of them have been on the Kindle Top Seller list.  Donovan’s Angel, the first book of the Donovan’s of the Delta series, is now available FREE wherever e-books are sold.
As a bonus for readers here at the Southern Authors Blogspot, I’ve also reduced the price of Witch Dance to $2.99.  

Enjoy your spring gardens and your spring reading! I’d love to hear what you have in your gardens as well as on your bookshelves.

Peggy Webb, a native Mississippian, is the award-winning, bestselling author of almost 70 novels.  To find her backlist, go to, and .  When she’s not writing, she enjoys gardening and playing the piano.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Flight of Dreams

by Zachary Steele

 A little more than seven years ago I created a world. It happened without a bang, came without a word, and anchored itself into my mind with nary a concern for what it would do to my life. A forest evolved from darkness, mountains rose into view, the starry sky embraced a full moon that blanketed the lush terrain in a bath of iridescent light. I flew above it, gliding effortlessly, chilled slightly by the cool embrace of the night. Euphoria, giddiness, a certain boyish delight: they tempted me with recognition. I knew this place, though I had never before seen it.

The flight carried me beyond the forest, skimming the surface of a swiftly moving river, where I spread my fingers and trailed them through the water, gazing gleefully at the wake left as I zoomed forward. The forest returned beyond the approaching bank and I lifted once more toward the heavens. Though the sky invited me wholly, I chose instead to zag along the treetops, cutting in between gaps in the branches. I watched the forest floor, spotting life rustling below, my path all but forgotten, my trust in the guiding force complete and unwavering. I knew my destination. I knew what I would find.

When the forest thinned, the trees parting like open palms, the lush green turf broadened, expanded, and welcomed me into an open field. In the center of that field sat a solitary white crypt, tendrils of ivy coating one side of the gleaming marble surface, a faded iron door sealing the interior. I stood before the crypt, the weight of the moment abolishing my fears. I had journeyed to be here. Something magical awaited me. As if answering my call, the door opened, echoing through the field as metal ground against metal, as the hinges issued a squeal of protest. 

The light from within overwhelmed my vision, yet filled me with warmth. It invited me forward. And so I walked, stepping into the light and through the doorway. My feet, which only now I realized were bare, waded across the sandy floor. I paused, the certainty that what I saw, what lay before me, held the answer to my quest, the essence of my journey. Risen upon a slab, I gazed upon the white tomb with a sense of awe and wonderment, lost in the artistic swirls along the pristine surface, mesmerized by the depth of life I sensed despite the reminder of death it endowed. Only then did I notice the angle of the lid and the revealing glimpse it offered to the interior of the tomb. I wanted to know. I had to see.

I stepped onto the concrete slab, my eyes meeting the length of the tomb, then the smooth edge at the lip. Hesitantly, I forced myself over the edge, my heart racing, and peered within and saw nothing.

That would have been about the time the music slowed, the cadence of the choir drifting to an easy completion. I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling. I may have continued that stare for close to an hour, watching the images wash over me in a continuous loop. When I finally roused myself enough to gather my thoughts, I detailed the scene in a notebook. It would be the first account, in the first of many notebooks, regarding a world called Elysium. A world inhabited, created, and saved by a character known only as The Storyteller. Only recently did I compile the five notebooks of story into a massive file. By then I had already written Book One in The Storyteller series: The Heart of Darkness

A five-book young adult series--drawn from five notebooks full of research, character bios, locations, magical items, magical creatures, political landscapes, actual landscapes, and so much more. All drawn from countless hours of daydreaming. Daydreams drawn from a single flight above a single forest toward a single destination. A single flight drawn from one piece of music.

One song created a world.

It still haunts me.  Granted, I want it to. Give it a listen. Fly a while. You'll never be the same.

by Libera 

Zachary Steele is usually a lot funnier than this, but, oh well, what are you going to do, right?  He is the author of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction, and the forthcoming young adult series, The Storyteller. He has been featured on NPR and in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Publisher's Weekly, and Shelf Awareness, and can be found boring the world with his thoughts at The Further Promotion of ME, as well as the newly minted blog, Who is the Storyteller.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What's in Your iPod?

What's in Your iPod?
Man Martin

Walter Isaacson looked into Steve Jobs’ iPod while writing a biography on him, and what he found was Dylan, Beatles, and some selected Rolling Stones. I do not have cool stuff like this on my iPod. In the unlikely event my biographer would want to look in it, I shudder to think what he would discover there. In the somewhat more probable event that somebody mistook my iPod for his, I can imagine him shrieking and ripping the ear bud out in revulsion and shock.

I resisted for the longest time getting one of these devices, being a techno-troglodyte, by golly, and proud of it, the sort of person who secretly misses the whirr and click of a rotary dial phone. (And what’s with text messaging? Why does anyone need text messaging? You’re holding a phone.) But my daughter has persuaded me to begin running again and among the assorted paraphernalia of shoes and ibuprofen, I have acquired an iPod nano. Let me say, I love it. I’ve loaded it with all my favorite music, the sort of stuff that out of a decent respect for the feelings of others, I cannot listen to in the house any more than I would smoke cigars made out of old tires and bath-mats. But running along, with my ear-bud safely jammed in, I am in a private world of favorite music without giving offense to anyone; each song that comes up is like being greeted by beloved but half-forgotten friend.
This is music of simple, direct emotion, simply and directly expressed. It’s the sort of thing that actually sounds better on an 8-track. Take a lyric like: “I'll see you every night Babe, I'll woo you every day, I'll be your regular Daddy, If you'll put that gun away.” In two short lines Al Dexter tells not only of undying love but a reasonable desire for self-preservation. And when I get to the end of “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” my heart simply soars. (My wife says I’m just glad it’s over, but that’s not it.)
If someone ever does write my biography, I’ll have to buy a decoy iPod and load it up with Brandenburg concertos and Wagner, but this is the music that speaks to me; it’s the music I listened to as a little boy when I’d sneak into my mother’s record collection, old LP’s as shiny as a palmetto bug and 45’s with wide holes in the center that needed a special adapter to play. You’d set the needle on the groove, and there would come a short prelude of hiss and crackle and then a song would emerge, like “Cattle Call,” “the cattle are prowling, the coyotes are howling.” I grew up in small towns where cows were a familiar sight, but I would never have thought to describe their desultory plodding as “prowling” but no matter – when Eddie Arnold gets to the part he yodels, it just sends shivers up my spine. (Yodeling! Why aren’t there any more songs with yodeling?)
I will never - and never attempt to – convert anyone else to my taste in music. You can’t play someone a tune like “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and expect him to get how great it is when Vaughan Monroe sings, “all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw, a-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw.” A song about demon cows is flying through the air just silly, unless, like me, you’ve listened to it from the time your were five – and even when the radio was playing – and you were listening to – Dylan and The Beatles – that melody and those lyrics had sealed themselves into your bloodstream and were always in the background of your imagination, so that even at the age of 52, running beside your daughter who’s listening to more sensible lyrics like, “Me and Allah go back like cronies, I don’t got to be fake, cause he is my homie,” you can shiver at the dire warning, that unless you change your ways you’ll end up chasing “the devil’s herd across the endless skies,” and the childhood afternoon stuck inside during a North Florida summer squall comes back to you, and your heart beats at that same certain rate it did four decades ago.

Man Martin's first novel, Days of the Endless Corvette, won a Georgia Author of the Year Award.  His second novel, Paradise Dogs, was selected as "required reading" by The New York Post.  He is currently at work on a third.  He lives in Atlanta, where he writes, teaches, and jogs while listening to execrable country-western music.  He blogs at

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality

by Susan Cushman

The best piece of writing advice (the theme for this round of posts) I’ve ever received actually has two parts:

1.     Nothing is wasted, and
2.     Be patient.

Writing is hard work, as everyone knows who actually sits with their butt in the chair and waits—sometimes for hours, days, and years—for just the right words to tell the story they’re trying to tell. And even if you find the right words, you might discover that you’ve been trying to tell the wrong story. That has happened to me three times since I began writing seriously in 2006.

My first novel, The Sweet Carolines, is still in a box in the closet of my office. I think of it fondly, the way one remembers her first training bra, or maybe her first kiss. But the time I spent writing that novel was definitely not wasted. One of the minor characters later became the inspiration for the protagonist in my current novel-in-progress. And the feedback I got from two freelance editors at the time was much like what one might learn in an MFA creative writing program.

The next two books I wrote are both memoirs, also in the closet, but not because the writing isn’t good, or at least better than the first novel, but because I decided not to publish them. A New York agent was interested in one of them, but I had to apologize when I realized I really didn’t want to go public with some of the story, and couldn’t figure out how to edit out the parts I didn’t want to share without destroying the story. This is where Part 1 of the writing advice comes in.

In 2010 I pulled together an essay inspired by one of those memoirs, “Jesus Freaks, Belly Dancers and Nuns,” for inclusion in an anthology from the University of Alabama Press—Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality. This venue allows me to give a glimpse of that story without publishing things I don’t want to share. I’m so excited about Circling Faith, which just came out! I’m honored that my essay—“Chiaroscuro: Shimmer and Shadow”– is included with essays by Mary Karr, Beth Ann Fennelly, Alice Walker and a dozen other amazing women authors writing about spirituality. You can read more about this anthology on the site created by its editors, Wendy Reed and Jennifer Horne.

Part 2 is the hard part. I turned in my essay for this anthology almost two years ago. It’s sooooo hard to wait for that first book, or in my case, even the first essay to appear between the covers of a real book. These past two years have felt like an eternity! But I’ve been using them to write a novel, which I hope to complete in the next few weeks, actually. It was two years ago this month when I wrote my first post for A Good Blog, “A Novel Idea,” announcing that I was writing this book. And now Cherry Bomb is hopefully coming to completion soon. I know I’m going to have to strap my patience on for what could be a lengthy process of securing an agent, getting a book deal, working on revisions and eventually (hopefully) publication of Cherry Bomb. I’m glad for the experience I’ve had with Wendy and Jennifer working on Circling Faith.

(Wendy and Jennifer's first anthology, All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, includes essays by Sue Monk Kidd, Cassandra King Conroy, Lee Smith, Frances Mayes, and others. I met several of those ladies and fell in love with their writing at the 2006 Southern Festival of Books. All Out of Faith is available in hardback and paperback. The cover art on both anthologies is by Birmingham Artist, Bethanne Hill.)

Susan Cushman has ten published essays. She was Director of the 2011 Memphis Creative Nonfiction Workshop, Co-Director of the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference, and she is again working with Neil White and Kathy Rhodes to organize the 2013 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress, Cherry Bomb, made the short list for the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, which is associated with the annual New Orleans Words and Music Festival. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, she lives in Memphis and blogs at “Pen and Palette.” 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Do you write with vivid detail?

by Karen Harrington

“In all the major genres, vivid detail is the life blood.” 
John Gardener, The Art of Fiction

“Specific, concrete, particular details—these are the life of fiction.” 
Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A  Guide to Narrative Craft

“Be specific. Don’t say “fruit.” Tell what kind of fruit—“It is a pomegranate.” Give 
things the dignity of their names…" 
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bone

How to fill in the details of a story?

As I was considering this question, my five-year old was coloring in her Disney coloring book. I am in awe of how specific she is about coloring. How she will match the color of the necklace to the hem of a dress. No one taught her to do this. She just looked in her box of crayons and made her choices. To my word-loving delight, she asked me to read the name of each crayon color. Purple Pizzazz. Red Violet. Midnight Blue. Mango Tango. She was just as excited about the descriptions, too. (I'm the same way. The other day, I bought a nail polish called Back To The Fuschia, largely because the name tickled me pink!)

So it got me to thinking that writing the details of a story has a lot in common with coloring. You begin with the thick black sketch of an idea, and then you look in your box of crayons and begin filling in the image with your own specific idea of what colors should go where.

When I set out to write in vivid detail, two lessons come to mind that I gleaned in my college novel writing class.

1/ WRITE VERTICALLY - As a writer, I'm a sprinter. Most of the time, I can get that black sketch outline on the page with no problem. But to be a writer of details, which I believe is essential to good fiction, I had to learn to be a marathoner. My writing professor chided me for "writing horizontally." He said, "Write vertically. Slow down and write downward, really getting underneath the scene." Good advice. When I stop and linger inside a scene, I understand what it means to stay with a specific image or idea long enough to stretch it out from north to south, instead of being concerned with going so far east to west.  After many years of practice, I think I'm more conscious about writing vertically from the very start.

2/ CHOOSE DETAILS THAT REVEAL - The second lesson I remember about details was when my professor made an example of me in his class.  I'd written a scene about a housewife ironing that read something like, “She did her work in solitude, moving the iron back and forth as if it was her dance partner.”

Nothing brilliant here. But the lesson my prof illustrated was how this sentence made an inanimate object come to life, personified it in a way that suggested this woman might be lonely, how she might be underappreciated. This example has stayed with me to this day. I like noticing how characters, and all people, are constantly revealing themselves with objects and body language like my lonely housewife. Most writers I know collect details in a notebook for this very reason. For example, I recently noted the way a woman I know rubs her thumb across the cool metal of her wedding band. Why? To check if she’s still married? Or, to check if she’s STILL married? Another observation I noted recently was when I saw a happy, bouncy woman run up an hug another woman. From my point of view, the Huggee's arms stayed by her side as she was surprised by the action and wore an expression that suggested she wasn't a hugger, or perhaps, not a fan of the Hugger. Who knows.

So, do naturally write vertically or horizontally?
Do you keep a detail notebook?

I'm the author of JANEOLOGY (2008) and SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, due out in early 2013 from Little, Brown. Visit me at

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Best Advice

by Cathy Pickens

What's the best writing advice I've ever gotten?  In many cases, it's the same as the worst advice I've ever gotten.  For starters:

Write what you know.

Now, that's good advice.  I know about the Southern Appalachian Mountains, about being a lawyer and a daughter and a sister and an aunt.  I know where to find good food to eat (but not much about cooking it).  And I know I like mysteries.

But when told to write what you know, it's tempting to think you don't know nearly enough.  So you wander off to research all kinds of stuff that you'd like to know ... and that you would like people to think you know.

That can waste a lot of time and can easily get in the way of your story.

So I'd modify that advice a bit:

Write what you know ... but don't get lost on the way to your story.

The other useful advice I've gotten?  Ruth Cavin, my legendary editor, told me:

Write the book that's in you.

That's really good advice.  It might not be the book anyone else wants, but at least you'll be happy with it.  And Ruth, in all her years as a reader and an editor, had figured out that any writer's best book would be the one the writer wanted to write, not the one someone suggested she write or that the market was looking for at the time.

That's the gift of a writer's editor.  I'm very grateful for that advice.  Ruth also gave me another valuable piece of advice:

Walk beside your characters and listen in.

All good fiction (and most good nonfiction) starts with interesting characters.  Those characters bring with them the conflict that keeps us turning the page (whether we're reading that page OR writing it!).  We have to know them well -- and trust that they know the story that needs to be told.  We need to stay out of their way and not try to save them from their troubles all the time.

At the Apartheid Museum in South Africa.
And lastly?

Use the BIC method.

The only real secret to writing is ... writing.  (And, of course, reading.)  The BIC method is my tried-and-true, patented and registered method: the Butt In Chair method, with pen in hand.  Every day, whether I feel like it or not.

Inspiration ain't gonna chase you down in order to strike you.  You better be waiting where it can find you.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Keeping in Touch with Readers

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig
I was reading a parenting blog the other day for someone
who’s highly-regarded in that field. This blogger had an offer for a free PDF if you signed up for her monthly emailed newsletter. Sounded good to me. Typical promo.

I got an email back fairly quickly with the PDF attached, my name on the email, and what sounded like a personal note from the writer. Politely, I emailed back and thanked them and said I was looking forward to reading their PDF.

Later, I was checking my emails and found one from Yahoo Automailer with the blogger’s name on it. The email was an auto-response to my email. It apologized for the blogger’s inability to personally respond to emails…because she was writing a book (!) She even named the book’s title in the auto-response…clearly, it was an attempt to do a little promo while basically stating she had no time to respond to emails.

As you can imagine, I was completely flabbergasted. Reading and responding to reader emails, even banal ones like the one I sent, is one thing we should make time for! Why lose the opportunity to make a connection that might mean more sales or a recommendation from a reader to a friend?

It reminded me that, as a published writer (or, in this blogger’s case, about to be published), our primary promo duty is to respond to readers and allow them to find and contact us. This wasn’t the case twenty years ago, for sure. But in 2012 we need to be accessible and responsive.

Ways to keep in touch with readers:

By responding to email: Although email shouldn’t rule our life…it’s got to be dealt with. On busy days, to keep myself from feeling too stressed, I reduce the times I check email to once or twice. I give huge priority to anything from a reader…answering their emails as soon as I see them in my inbox.
You can create an email account that’s separate from your family email through a free provider (Google Mail, Hotmail, Yahoo.) Try a professional-sounding address like Your Name That way readers aren’t trying to reach you at .

A personal website or a blog
that functions as your home base. I could be argued out of the notion that this is a basic…but I really do believe it is. Even one page that introduces you in a basic, professional way works fine. Both Blogger and WordPress can provide you with a blog that’s also a website (with different pages for visitors to navigate to.)

Basic info to include: how to contact you (email), your genre, and what you’re working on now is probably good enough. You can put up a friendly looking picture of yourself or an image related to your book and call yourself done. If you’ve got a book cover and buy links already, then put those up, too. It’s just a way for readers to get an overall picture of who you are and makes you seem more approachable. 


A newsletter: I don’t have a newsletter for my readers (shame on me), but I hear that newsletters are fantastic ways of connecting with readers and letting them know what new books you’re releasing. The newsletter recipients have to subscribe to the newsletter, themselves. I’ve heard of some writers who just add anyone in their email address book to their subscribers list…we can’t do that. But a subscribe button in the sidebar of our blog or website is the perfect way for readers to sign up.
As a reader, do you ever contact authors whose books you’ve read? As a writer, how do you make yourself accessible to current or future readers?

Elizabeth’s latest book, Hickory Smoked Homicide, released November 1. Elizabeth writes the Memphis Barbeque series for Penguin/Berkley (as Riley Adams), the Southern Quilting mysteries (2012) for Penguin/Obsidian, and the Myrtle Clover series for Midnight Ink and independently. She blogs daily at Mystery Writing is Murder.
Writer's Knowledge Base--the Search Engine for Writers

Twitter: @elizabethscraig

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Augusta Scattergood welcomes Celebrity Guest Blogger: LESLIE DAVIS GUCCIONE

I'm delighted my friend and writing mentor, Leslie Guccione has agreed to be a Guest Blogger today.  Here's a bit about her amazing career.

Leslie Davis Guccione has published thirty-one novels for adult, middle grade and teen readers, as well as articles on the craft of writing. Her work has been translated into eight languages.
She has been a finalist and judge for the Romance Writers of America RITA awards.
Six books for teen readers feature deaf protagonists; one, TELL ME HOW THE WIND SOUNDS, has been optioned for television. Her works for young readers have been book club and readers’ choice selections as well as classroom required reading.              
In 2000 she took a break from fiction to teach, write articles on the craft and establish WORDS @ WORK, her manuscript review service. She is currently mentor and adjunct faculty member for Seton Hill University’s masters program: Writing Popular Fiction.

Leslie's latest novel, THE CHICK PALACE, was just released as an eBook. She's here today to tell us about this newest venture, answer a few questions, and to offer a bit of advice.

What came to you first about this story? A memory? A quote? Is it based on anything that actually happened to you?

Setting came first. A small NJ lake I call “Lake Allamuchy” in the book has been part of my family for 6 generations.  I knew it would be the perfect place to explore a long lasting friendship between Johanna & Lilly, my 2 empty-nesters with divergent backgrounds. I did, indeed, go south to college as a Yankee, having never been farther than my native Delaware.

My writer buddy Barbara O’Connor has an abandoned tree house where she and her funny next door neighbor were meeting occasionally. 
Their husbands named it The Chick Palace. Voila

Alas, That was the easy part.

 I needed a plot! I had Lilly forced to share her cottage~~with the husband she has divorced twice ”Ex-ex,” and his paramour, a hot NYC graphic designer. Funny & full of potential but the draft still needed some je ne sais quoi. Then my mother died. Quite unexpectedly. Dad gave each of us children a small amount of her ashes. That was my ah ha  moment; I’d found my hook for Johanna. She can’t bring herself to scatter her mother’s ashes as she deals with family issues and stews over her new role as “Materfamilias.”

The story and plot points are complete fiction. As an aside, however, the book is sprinkled start to finish with real episodes.  To name a few:
·      My brother really did embellish my sister’s Ken & Barbie.
·      While grilling on the patio my husband inadvertently smoked a massive black snake out of the cottage roof rafters & down onto his head and shoulders.
·      Dad really blew TAPS out the window one midnight when I lingered too long in my boyfriend’s car in our driveway.
·      Cottage living?  Indeed we still share flushes.

Was there any part of it that ended up on the proverbial cutting floor? Something you fought to keep in, and lost?

Plenty got cut~~all of it my rambling yet beloved flashbacks to Johanna & Lilly in college c.30 years earlier. I teach writing the novel and should have known better. My critique partners pounced and I reluctantly agreed, c.70% had to go. They helped me see more clearly & thus keep only the flashbacks relevant to present day action. 
(A plug here for the importance of cold readers & critique partners!)

The only thing that didn’t pass my agent was the word “bling” for splintered sunlight on the lake surface. I mention this because it’s the kind of minutia all writers deal with all the time. In the end, my agent won.

What's been your experience once THE CHICK PALACE hit the market?

Joyful tears and vindication! It had been rejected on the grounds that  characters on the “far side of fifty” are too old for today’s market. I revised and added a more substantial younger-characters subplot based on graffiti & sneaky behavior of my protagonists’ kids. But in the end it was chosen by B&N because they did indeed want to target “the far side of fifty.”

 This is my 31st book and first in this brave new techie world. My agent placed it with Barnes & Noble’s “Nook First.”  It debuted the day after Christmas. Thanks to their promotion and word of mouth, it spent 2 weeks in the top ten and even shot to #1 on the eBook best seller list. Heady stuff looking at The Chick Palace snuggled up to James Patterson, Ann Patchett, The Help, Heaven is for Real… . That translates to c.30,000 copies sold in 3 weeks.

I received a wonderful e-mail from the B&N editor telling me my sales confirm their belief that women’s fiction and mid-life women readers are a driving force in today’s market. It’s also marked as a staff favorite. (I repeat: vindication.)

After the January exclusive with B&N, it’s now at Amazon/Kindle and more widely available.

What have you done to promote it?

B&N promoted it heavily all month and I added e-mails blasts, the book cover as my Facebook profile, and daily blogs offering snippets, photos and links.

It never gets easier and the publishing sands are shifting beneath our feet as I type. From kid lit to adult fiction, you have only to follow the blogs, twitters, public events, &/or classroom visits of pros like Claire Cook or Carla Neggers; Brian Lies & Barbara O’Connor; new YA voices Kimberly Marcus or Jessica Warman to see how well-oiled promotion engines remain part of the writing life.
What's your fabulous writing advice for somebody just starting out? For writers with lots of experience? For someone thinking of giving up?

For those starting out I reply as a teacher of novel writing at the master level & a freelance mss consultant:

·      Read everything in the genre you write. 20 -30 titles for starters, published within the past 5 years.

·      I cannot emphasize this enough: Beware of the glorified ease of bypassing the agent/publisher/editor route and self-publishing instead. Whether eBook or hard copy, every manuscript benefits from~~demands~~cold reading and thoughtful professional critique.

·      If you go it alone, it’s worth your time and investment in a writers’ group (close by or online), writing conferences, &/or freelance manuscript consultation.

For those who’ve been in the game awhile: I share your exhaustion, elation, depression, determination. I spent the first 10 years writing to the market: 30 books for multiple houses from Harlequin to Scholastic. I’ve written as work-for-hire (a packager), a handful under other writers’ names, a few for existing teen series, five as Kate Chester for my own series HEAR NO EVIL.  My steamy romances paid the mortgage & consistently hit genre fiction bestseller lists. My single title books for kids won awards and are still used in classrooms.

Then the dry spell… .

I lost my Scholastic editor and could never sell them another story. The romance treadmill lost its charm and burned me out. I spent the next 10 years fielding rejections for my manuscripts from the heart. My pit bull agents (Denise Marcil and Katie Kotchman, who had not made a dime off of me in lo those 10 years) shook more publishing bushes than I knew were planted. We struck pay dirt last summer.

And a final bit of free, fabulous advice for inspiration I give to my students:

·      Read Andrew Scott Berg’s Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978), an expansion of his Princeton thesis and a glimpse of the industry we wish still existed.
·      Rent the DVD of Cross Creek (and watch the additional interviews), the somewhat fictionalized story of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.
·      Get yourself to her preserved homestead Cross Creek, FL for that matter. (Or Hemingway’s in Cuba, they tell me.)

Lilly has such a ring of truth to her. How did you, a non-Southerner, create such an honest portrayal?

Ah, “voice”.

I try to stretch myself as a writer & The Chick Palace was my first foray into first person point of view. Writing as Boston bred/New Jersey resident Johanna was easy, even if she had the tougher plot line.

As for Lilly! As a Yankee at Queens College (now Queens University of Charlotte) I was an observer. So much was new & exotic that impressions of what set “all of y’all” apart have stayed with me. As well, some of my dearest friends are southern transplants. Those TX, SC, MS buddies who write were invaluable critique partners. (I realize I paint this with a very, very broad brush). I think I ran every bit of Lilly’s dialogue past one pro or another.

Any tips on how you make setting work so well?

I have a reputation for vivid settings which I attribute to being a visual learner. My degree’s in art. I think visually; I gravitate to books with a strong sense of place and atmosphere.

I also attribute it to churning out novels while raising three children. (My protagonists have always been folks around me I could pester: pediatricians during all those visits, cranberry growers, sailors, boatyard owners, cops, firefighters…) 
I set my stories under my feet, atmosphere I know intimately:  “Lake Allamuchy,” NJ, the cranberry bogs of Massachusetts; the harbors of coastal New England; rural Chadds Ford, PA.  During our four years in Pittsburgh, I wrote my Hear No Evil series for kids (as Kate Chester) and my last romance Borrowed Baby as tributes to the city. (A fabulous place for intrigue and romance, by the way.)

Where's your absolute favorite place to write? 

I’ve had 5 residences and until 2 years ago it was always a dedicated office, first with a ten-ton IBM Selectric, then one or another PCs. I switched to a MacBook and the laptop now lets me write most anywhere, from my sunroom to, um, the bed I’m sitting in right now. (Adjusts pillows)

 Thanks, Leslie! We loved having you here. Come back soon!

Keep up with Leslie's informative and fun blogposts via  

Even better, click on over to Barnes and Noble or Amazon and order THE CHICK PALACE. You are in for a real treat.