Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Is It Blood or Fire

Back when I was struggling to make it as a young author, I launched two books under two names---Mary Alice Monroe and Mary Alice Kruesi.  The premise behind this poor advice from my agent---that at the time seemed like a good idea---was not to confuse the readers because I had sold two different kinds of books to two different publishers.  The Monroe name was used for books considered  Women’s Fiction.  My married name, Kruesi (pronounced as “cruise-ee”), was used for my fantasy novels.   I still can’t believe I agreed to do such a thing, considering that my own family members still sometimes misspell my married name.   

There I was with two contracts with two separate publishers. Sounds like a happy problem, right?  Be careful what you wish for.  I was committed to writing two novels in one year.  At that time, I was also a young mother of three children—fourteen, eight, and six years old.  It was a lot for any author to take on, much less a new one.

One day I burst into tears, sure that I was going to fail as a writer, as a mother, and pretty much as a human being.  So I picked up the phone to call my friend Nora Roberts.  Who else would better understand my dilemma of writing two books a year than America’s favorite romance writer with a solid reputation of churning out wonderful novels at rapid-fire pace? 

From a professional standpoint, Nora has no compassion for excuses or laziness.  She is well-disciplined in the craft, writing at her desk for eight hours a day, seven days a week.  And she expects others to do the same if they are serious about making it in the writing world.  As my friend, she also understood how hard it was to try to find the time to write while raising young children.  Nora offered me the greatest writing advice I’ve ever received—and now I’ll share it with you.

Nora told me how, when her two boys were young, she put a sign on her home office door that stated in big, bold red letters, IS IT BLOOD OR FIRE? IF NOT, GO AWAY! 

What Nora taught me that day was that a successful writer had to have enough respect for her time and craft that she wouldn’t let trivial distractions interfere with serious work time. Once the author was committed, she had to buckle down and see the project through without tears or excuses.  Though, chocolate and French fries were permitted.

The advice reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s admonishment in her book A Room of One’s Own:

    “A woman must have money and a room of her own to write fiction... So when I ask     you to earn money and have a room of your own, I am asking you to live in the presence of reality, an invigorating life."

That very same day I wrote the message in red magic marker on an 8X11 sheet of paper and slapped it on my office door.  My children thought it was funny at first and ignored it. Were they surprised when I firmly ushered them out of the office and closed the door in their faces!  I played fair.  At the same time I established a writing schedule that began the moment they went to school and I turned off the computer at three o’clock when they returned home. For years, my youngest thought it was very special to come into my office when he arrived home knowing I was waiting for him with my full attention.  He’d sit on my lap to tell me about his day.

My children learned to respect the sign after some trial and error, and a few tears.  But that simple sign gave me the balance I desperately needed in my home life and budding professional career.  It set boundaries, both physically and emotionally.  The process taught me how to respect the craft of writing, my writing space and time, and it taught my children to respect it also.  Mom’s business meant business.  And yes, I finished two books that year.  (I can’t say I’d do it again.)

Writing this blog entry today makes me realize that I’ve slowly slipped away from this discipline as my children left home.  I am at the office every day, but I take for granted my free time and allow phone calls, drop-ins, even pets to disrupt my schedule.  For 2012 I’m resolved to re-establish those precious writing hours that ban all outside distractions-- unless it’s blood or fire.  It’s time to put that sign back on the door!

Mary Alice Monroe is the NY Times bestselling author of more than a dozen novels.  Her new book, BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES, prequel to her Southern hit THE BEACH HOUSE, will be released May 2012.  Learn more at   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I Ran Off with the Circus

by Nicole Seitz
Some of the most unexpected blessings of my entire writing journey have been the people I've met and friendships formed along the way. Not something you'd expect to hear from a girl who, on her kindergarten report card, had "Cannot throw a ball" and "Does not play well with others."

I've come a long way, baby. My husband makes this puppet-moving-mouth movement with his hand when I talk too strangers. I like strangers. They're strange, just like me. And over the past several years, strangers are becoming my fastest, bestest friends. Let me explain.

Ringmaster, Kathy Patrick
 Last weekend, I ran away to the circus. Really. If having the time of your life, dressing up in costumes and laughing the nights away with a bunch of clowns and animal tamers is the circus, then I'm not lying. I am still riding high after an amazing trip to Jefferson, TX, where every year the Pulpwood Queens book clubs congregate to party down at Girlfriend's Weekend. Kathy Patrick, friend to all, is the mastermind and Energizer bunny behind all of this. She was probably the girl in kindergarten that everyone fought to sit next to. She is a magnet for good times and fellowship, and people flock to her and the the quaint historic town of Jefferson.

This was my third straight year of attendance, and for me, it just keeps getting better and better because of the PEOPLE! I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed visiting with friend Shellie Rushing Tomlinson (author of SUE ELLEN AIN'T FAT, SHE JUST WEIGHS HEAVY). We met three years ago at the same Jefferson Convention center--I was dressed as a cicada Barbie with wings and she was a rainbow. We just hit it off. This time, we sat talking in Beje's Diner with Christian karaoke going on in the background dressed in pink prom attire. It was just what we needed.
Me, Shellie, Lisa Wingate, Carla Stewart, Marybeth Whalen

I also got to spend time with other amazing authors and friends, River Jordan, Michael Morris (I bought his wife's painting in the silent auction), Karen Harrington, Kathryn Casey, Marybeth Whalen, Lisa Wingate, Carla Stewart, Judy Christie, Marcia Fine...okay, I'll stop here, because the list is just too long, but you get the point! And I haven't even mentioned the Pulpwood Queens who have touched my heart year after year!

Jimmy Moomaw, author of

In addition to some old friends I've made along my writing journey, I got to make some new ones. I cannot name them all, but let I'll give you some highlights: driving author Robert Hicks (THE WIDOW OF THE SOUTH) around and around between Shreveport and Jefferson, missing my turns because he's such an amazing storyteller. Being outfitted by the lovely Pulpwood Queens of Eureka (and Woodlands) in a pink prom dress, gloves and silver shoes. Staying at the Benefield House Bed and Breakfast and being spoiled by sweet owner Donna. Visiting last year's bed and breakfast, Steamboat Inn, just to visit with those sweet owners. Meeting Jimmy Moomaw, who turned 75 years old with us and told me to buy her book "Because it's really good. No crap." I liked her frank style and the way she boogied on the dance floor so I bought that book and cannot wait to read it. And how could I forget talking about how I missed my family back home with author William Torgenson (LOVE ON THE BIG SCREEN), and learning he turned sentimental on me and went to call his own family after our chat.

The point is, I never knew playing with others was so much fun. What was I afraid of before? What's amazing to me, is that when it comes to a love of books, people seem to be able to reach a deeper level of intimacy quicker, and therefore, the relationships seem more meaningful. I have become more open to others because of writing my books and I've learned to reach out and truly connect. Of course, I realize there is a divine hand at play because the connections seem so poignant and perfectly timed. All in all, I am blessed with many people I truly care about now, and that is a far cry from the girl who, not so long ago, liked to keep to herself behind a computer screen. I'm fairly sure when I'm too old to remember any of the titles of my books, I'll still have some of these friends around to haunt me with freakish photos from our weekends in Jefferson. Knowing me, I'll just invent my own past and convince myself I really did run away to the circus. And you know, that doesn't seem like such a bad way to go.


Nicole Seitz's latest novel releases on January 31, BEYOND MOLASSES CREEK. She is the author of five other novels and often paints elements of her book covers. She lives in Charleston, SC, with her sweet family. Visit her web site at or find her on Facebook and Twitter.


Pulpwood Queens of Eureka, Pam and Heidi

Monday, January 16, 2012

"I Wish I'd Written that" by Niles Reddick

The interesting thing about writing advice is that there is always someone willing to give you some and often it's the same old advice---be persistent, don't give up, write what you know, keep a journal, do more research, get in a class. And so on. It's the superficial stuff of groups and conferences. I hate to admit to cliché, but I have probably said it to audiences and students myself. There is, however, a grain of truth in all of it and following it can be helpful. For me, all of it was helpful at some level, but the most helpful information came in remarks about my second attempt at a novel from a writer who was gracious enough to read my manuscript and offer comments and suggestions: Lee Smith.  Yes, Lee Smith, one of the great Southern writers.

I'd first attempted a coming-of-age story, hammered out on a Brother typewriter in a garage apartment in Carrollton, Georgia. It had some good stories and I pulled it last year when I felt dry of ideas and reread it to see if I could get anything. I couldn't. Then, I had attempted a novel, written in Tallahassee, Florida, in Word Perfect, and told through the perspective of cars. Yes, cars!!! Lots of good, old cars---the Bel Air, the Bonneville, the Skylark. I'd thought of them as reflecting the personalities of the family members who drove them. I like to think once in a while that I was ahead of my time with the cars idea given the success of the animated films. The "cars" attempt was better than my first attempt, and I had some good stories, lines, characters, description, and dialogue. 

I'd traveled to Raleigh from Tallahassee to interview Lee Smith. Once on the North Carolina State campus, where she was writer-in-residence, I found the English department and sat outside Lee's office on the glossy wooden floors. When I heard the hall door shut, I noticed a woman wearing red shoes, a red rain coat, and sporting a red purse. "Hey," she said. Not only was I honored to have interviewed her, I was honored when the interview was accepted in an anthology.  Near the end of the interview, Lee asked me about my writing and said she would be glad to read something of mine. I was honored. Back in Tallahassee, I quickly bound my "Cars" attempt and shipped it off to her.

Within a couple of weeks, I had a package. Amazing! Editors, agents, and publishers take six months to a year or more sometimes to get back to you, and one of best Southern writers had only taken two weeks. Sure, there were writing and notes all over the manuscript---grammatical notations, suggestions, and I had anticipated that.  But other comments caught my eye. They stood out to me, like cake at a child's birthday party, and I devoured them one by one and went back and read them again and again. I showed my friends and professors. One comment in particular stood above all the others: "I wish I'd written that." I didn't breathe for a bit. I couldn't believe my eyes. A famous author was envious of something I had written. It was a moment of both validation and motivation.

As the years passed, and I wrote stories for journals and finally a collection of stories and then a novel, and as I received hundreds of rejections from agents, editors, and publishers, I often went back and read Lee's comments or reflected on them to keep me motivated and I am forever appreciative.

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

My Writing is Taking New Turns and I'm just Flicking the Blinkers

My writing has taken odd turns since the economy took its downward spiral.

A novel I loved, as did my former agent at one of New York’s biggest firms, thought it would go to auction – that heavenly place writers dream of landing.

Instead, “Chimes from a Cracked Southern Belle,” landed in the rejection pile of about 10 publishers and my young agent just gave up.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard about writing is, “never give up.”

I knew the novel was good enough for publication, so I sought a smaller press and we are working on it now. The process is slower, more personal than with the big New York houses, but I’m just glad to get the thing on paper and draped in an adorable cover.

It may not be a big-time hit, but it’s my “baby” and I had to bring it into the world, whatever way possible. Some of my writer friends are going Indie or doing E-books.

The smaller press seemed a better fit for me at this juncture.

The best advice is to write EVERY day, to read in the genre in which you love to write, and steal tricks from the best authors out there.

Currently, besides all the wonderful books by the bloggers on this site, I’m loving Billie Letts, and am studying her style and how she puts it all together like a wonderful quilt.

It’s just as important to learn from books as to enjoy them. By reading, we absorb more about how to write great dialogue, how to plot and how to entertain and inspire.

My only problem is I have a troubled family member who needs a lot of help, and his issues drain me. Most of my reading lately is Al-Anon material. But heck, there’s even some good writing in these self-help books.

Recently, I had a unique opportunity to collaborate with 11 other (some famous) authors to write a spoofy serial novel for one of the country’s top bookstores – Malaprop’s in Asheville. We each wrote a 6,000-word chapter and it’s almost in publication and getting great reviews and press.

The point is, I’m not the star of this book, but a mere contributor. However, this will get my work “out there,” and that’s another bit of advice for writers. Do what it takes to get your name floating in literary circulation. We didn’t get paid, but when Charles Frazier wrote a glowing review of the book, that seemed good enough.

Make time each day to write something pretty, to read something interesting, and to take good enough care of yourself physically and emotionally to keep the Muse fed and fueled.

Susan Reinhardt is author of the best-selling “Not Tonight Honey, Wait Till I’m a Size 6,” and three other humor books. She is also a Sarah Palin impersonator and stand-up comic and public speaker.