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.