Friday, February 29, 2008

Ode to the Moon

By Annabelle Robertson

Just in case you were wondering, Satan is alive and well and living in California.

No, I'm not talking about my husband. (At least this week, anyway.) I'm talking about an evil being from Hell. One who possesses supernatural powers. One who fully intends to destroy me.

How do I know this? I know this because Satan has sent Moonpies to California.
Yes, Moon Pies. You know -- that gooey concoction that helps me hang on. (Don't even try and understand this if you haven't spent significant time in Florida. Suffice to say that Moon Pies -- much like faith, football and Yankee jokes -- are a Southern tradition.)

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that the United States Air Force, which we've somehow managed to join, probably just wants to be helpful by stocking our base commissary with comestibles from all around the world. You know, give everyone a little taste of home and all that.
Not that anyone in the military HAS a home, of course. "Home is where the Air Force sends you!" say these little signs that everyone likes to hang in their houses. "No, honey," I want to say. "Home is where the Moon Pies are."

As a result, we have every item imaginable on our commissary shelves. We have Marmite. We have "Bon Ami" jam. We have wasabi peas. We have Chef Boyardee.

And now, Moon Pies have joined the ranks.

But darlin', I can hear you saying. Aren't you just delirious with joy? Weren't you RAISED on Moon Pies and RC Cola? Don't they take you right back home to the South, each and every single time you bite into one?

Well, as my five-year-old would say, DUH!
I ADORE Moon Pies. I have dreams about Moon Pies. Moon Pies are one of the greatest inventions on Earth and just thinking about that melted marshmallow, mashed into soft graham crackers and covered in smooth milk chocolate makes me positively shiver in anticipation.

So happy, happy, happy, I have been. Yes, indeedy. Very, very happy - ever since I discovered those wonderful little Moon Pies waiting for me on the commissary shelf. And ever since that fateful day, about two sweet weeks ago, I have been devouring Moon Pies faster than a trick dog going after treats.

Which is precisely why they are a TOOL OF THE DEVIL.

I've been on a diet, you see. Not a big diet. Just a little one. A teensy tiny little ole' diet that involves no more than 1,200 calories per day, six weekly cardio sessions of at least one hour each, and an additional three weekly hour-long weight-lifting sessions with a personal trainer who makes Donald Rumsfeld seem like a really nice guy.

But this diet, it must be said, has been working. I actually wore a bikini to the neighborhood jacuzzi last weekend and I didn't even think about making a mad dash for my towel, upon exiting.

Of course, I have been on the diet for TWO YEARS. Two very long, very painful, stomach-searching years in which I have avoided all social events and gone to bed with my gut howling on more than one occasion. Many more.
But hey, my body fat is at 15%. I'm even contemplating lifting the ban on photo-taking.

Think I'm kidding? Ha. You should see my "before" picture.

Well, okay. There AREN'T any "before" pictures, because of the ban. But you can bet your sweet little fanny that there WILL be some "after" pictures. Not in the bikini, of course. And probably not in bright sunlight. But photos, nonetheless (even if they take place "after" a few drinks).

Photos which, it must also be said, need to be taken very, very quickly NOW THAT THE DAMN MOON PIES HAVE ARRIVED.
Bless their little chocolate hearts.

In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be driving around Southern California like Larry the Cable Guy, my glove box filled with Moon Pies, wearing the biggest cake eating grin this side of the Mississippi.

Annabelle Robertson is a fulltime freelance journalist and the author of The Southern Girl's Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You've Caught Your Man, which won the 2006 USA Best Book Award for humor.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Murder Your Darlings'

If I’d had any way of knowing the trauma that would ensue, I’m not sure I would have joined my husband at Lowe’s to pick a gallon of paint for our den. But it’s been one week and the phrase ‘Murder your darlings’ keeps zipping through my mind.
No, I’m not planning on doing away with my husband or my children. This phrase, from one of my writing textbooks, refers to editing, which can be a very painful process. It hurts. The words I write are like my children.
So is my collection of novels.
"Too many," Tom huffed. "You need to weed out." He was scowling at a bookcase he was attempting to move from the wall so he could begin rolling on swampwater green.
I fumed and clenched my teeth. Silently I began moving armloads of books to the dining room. Books were wedged spine to spine, shoved to the back of five wide shelves, on their sides six deep in front of these. My darlings.
Okay, I said to myself, after dozens of trips back and forth to the dining room. Maybe I do need to weed some. I bet folks at Goodwill need books. This altruistic thought helped.
I decided to do it slowly. I would never perform such a painful task in one gulp. First I sat down to categorize.
There were The Classics; Bronte, O’Connor, Faulkner, Welty, etc... These had to stay. There were Oprah’s Book Club Picks, some I did not really get into, but how could I let them go? Then, my most precious; Books Lovingly Inscribed From Fellow Authors. No way would those be leaving!
Next I made a stack of books I’ve Cherished, (practically memorized); White Oleander, by Janet Fitch; The Prince of Tides, by Pat Conroy; All Over But the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg, and many more.
I became overwrought with emotion, had to take a break for several days. Just thinking of weeding through the mountain of books which did not fit any of the above categories was agonizing. I know what goes into writing a book and it somehow felt mean to fling any of these volumes into the spot I’d designated "Murder."
So what if I hadn’t taken an interest in them before? What if they had spent years, unread, on my shelves? Maybe it wasn’t their time. We have different stages in our lives, and so many books I could not get into at one particular point later become my absolute favorites. My darlings!
One afternoon I thought I was ready. I sat at the dining table, took a deep breath. Hours flew by as I poured over the books. Dazzled by intriguing synopses on book flaps, I dove in and lost myself time and again. Finally I made a new pile - Read Soon.
One claimed to be "a story that crackles and sizzles like burgers on a red-hot grill." Another was called a "major addition to the canon of one of the world’s literary masters."
One book was so strange I laughed. The Dogs of Babel, by Carolyn Parkhurst, was about a linguist who comes home to find his wife dead and their dog the only witness. He proceeds to coach the dog to speak.
I fixated on each author’s photo, studying details of their lives; hometowns, education, jobs, kids . . . I read the praises to each author’s agent and publishing house.
In the end, after days spent agonizing, moving books into the Murder pile, then back to the Darling pile, I only got rid of 21 books. A teeny fraction of my novels. I don’t want to tell any of the titles for fear they are your darlings.

Julie L. Cannon
For more information on me or my books visit

Denise Hildreth

I had lunch with a friend today. I do this quite often. I’m supposed to be writing, but come eleven am, I’m thinking “pizza sure sounds good.” My sister-in-law is the perfect pizza woman. Then I have the fajita girl friend. She hates the onions so I always have to get them on the side. And then I have the “Lilliebelle’s” friend. This is my best friend, and this is the best girlie girl restaurant in downtown Franklin, Tennessee where I live. They have afternoon tea at two p.m. and the best crab quiche you’ve ever eaten. They have a hat rack in the back in case you forgot yours and on some afternoons you’ll catch mothers and their little girls having a tea party.

But today it was just a Greek salad at Panera and the company of a beautiful friend. There was one point after the my salad was finished that I fidgeted in my seat and thought, “Well, that’s done, guess it’s time to go.” That was when she began to tell me a story. A story about her. A story about her I’d never heard. And I knew instantly there wasn’t one other place in the world that I needed to be then fully present in that conversation.

So, I put my elbows on the table, rested my chin in my hands and listened to another piece of the heart and life of my friend. Her beautiful green eyes reflected the intensity of that childhood experience, even twenty years later. And my stopping to listen allowed me to enjoy this experience that I so rarely stop to truly experience. Almost an hour later we had both gone to two very deep places in our childhood that now affected our present. And we understood each other better. And I realized once again that friendship is about going to the deep places.

I’ve experienced recently the joy of a new friendship and the loss of a lengthy one. I’ve gone back to the place where you’re telling “your story” for the first time to someone and hearing theirs. And then I recently found that someone who I had a relationship with for thirteen years wasn’t willing to travel waters that posed a needed conversation. Forgetting that often it’s the challenging conversations in friendships that can reveal things about ourselves, and can take our friendship to an even deeper level.
Life can get so busy. The joy of relationships and discovery is still capable of becoming mundane and trite.

So, next time you’re sharing pizza, conversation and just each other’s company, linger a little longer after the check has been paid. Look into their eyes and listen to their story. Even if you think you know everything there is to know about them, you might find that there are amazing things yet to discover.

Denise Hildreth is an author of five southern novels, her latest is "The Will of Wisteria". She makes her home in the beautiful hills of Franklin, Tennessee. And loves a good coca-cola and lunch with friends.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Let's Hear It for Laughter

Patricia Sprinkle here, in case you don't recognize the picture. I saw that most folks have been putting glamor shots on these blogs lately, so I thought I'd show you one of mine. I'm the one in the mini-dress, at least two decades ahead of her time. Are those great legs or what?

I've been thinking today about how serious some folks are about the most amazing things. Maybe that's why I write humorous books. I find people so incredibly funny.

Example: My husband and I live two doors from a lovely walking trail. On Sunday afternoons we stroll along admiring plants and trying to identify birds by their calls. We meander for an hour or two while discussing our week, pausing often to look up at striations in a rock face or down into a rushing brook. As we walk, we play a game. We rate other folks on the trail by their Earnestness levels.

Our local joggers, bikers, skaters, and even walkers are amazingly serious about what they do. Almost all wear the intense look of astronauts stranded on a dark and distant planet who must come up with the formula for repairing the space ship before their oxygen runs out.

They frown in concentration as they glide along on skates or pump those bike pedals before an invisible panel of severe judges who apparently preside over our trail. One short glide, one weak pedal thrust, and wham! Instant expulsion from the Serious Exercisers Club.

All the while they are competing for those unseen judges, they are also whizzing past us, judges of their E - levels.
“There’s a nine,” we say.
“She’s definitely an eight.”
“Give her a twelve on a scale of ten.”

Each summer, the trail is lined with bushes heavily laden with fat blackberries. Bob takes off his hat and we fill it for a cobbler or to top our ice cream. Amazing, as crowded as the trail is, that so few people except us and our grandson seem to notice the blackberries.

Some folks are so serious about their exercise that they involve their children. Joggers push triangle strollers. Bikers pull kids in rickshaws. The kids are asleep or look utterly bored, but their parents can’t see that, so they wear the pleased, intent look of adults who are seriously multi-tasking: getting exercise while spending quality time with their kids.

Most of those who run, walk, bike or skate in pairs don’t talk to one another, but some do bring their cell phones to keep up with current events, business, and the status of their divorce.

We gave the twelve to a mother who was simultaneously jogging, pushing a bored tot in a stroller, AND conducting an intense conversation with her ex-spouse on her phone.

The odd part to us is, these people seem to think they are having fun. How do they look and act when they are serious?

Some Sundays I want to call, “Lighten up! Have you looked at your expression in a mirror lately? You aren’t training for the Olympics out here. We've got a blue sky here, a nice spring breeze, new wildflowers since last week, and fascinating rock formations. Forget staying in the zone. Look around you and smile. Can you remember the last time you laughed out loud?”

I don’t really want them to change, though. If they did, what would I have to chuckle about on Sunday afternoons? And where would I get characters for my books?

My tenth—and last—Thoroughly Southern mystery came out this month. WHAT ARE YOU WEARING TO DIE? is about the deaths of two young mothers in a small Georgia town that finds itself drowning in methamphetamine. Not a humorous subject, but I find levity can help the pain go down. One reader wrote, “I laughed and I cried.” What author could ask for more?

For more on my books, visit me at my website,

Book Festivals

The Big News

First, the big news: my new Avery Andrews book Hush My Mouth, the 4th Southern Fried Mystery, hit bookstores this week. Yeah! I got my first glimpse of it stacked on The Happy Bookseller’s table at the South Carolina Book Festival. Great fun.

Book Festivals

Not until I’d published my first book did I know the wonder of book festivals. How did I miss this? Now I’m a passionate fan.

Most book festivals are free. Many states host one. Lots of cities or libraries hold local ones. For readers, they’re all fun.

Festivals Big and Small

So what goes on at a book festival? The South Carolina Book Festival, which was held this past weekend in Columbia, is one of the best. For three days, readers, writers, and booksellers all mingled. They sat in panels listening to writers tell funny or poignant stories about how they came to write their books, or stood in line to get a favorite writer to autograph his latest book. Or drooled over goodies from a new Southern cookbook. Or browsed tables laden with books looking for new titles by favorite writers or for a new writer who will become a favorite.

Some book festivals are gigantic, such as the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. or the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Scotland. Others are small and intimate, like BookMarks in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

This weekend in South Carolina, I moderated a panel with memoirist Kim Sunee and Southern cookbook authors Nathalie Dupree and Sallie Ann Robinson. If you wanted to hear about how being abandoned as a child in a South Korean market led to a cooking memoir or the salacious inside scoop on mentions in Pat Conroy’s cookbook, you just had to be there!

Not surprisingly, mystery panels are perennial favorites at book festivals, as are cooking panels. What’s not to love? But lovers of books on history, romance, current events, gardening, or whatever else ignites passion will find plenty of delights.

I’ve met writers whose books I’ve enjoyed (such as a chance to chat with thriller writer Peter Abrahams about his children’s books or to spend an entire evening sitting next to mystery writer Nancy Pickard, one of my all-time favorites. [I have a photo of this -- but my eyes are closed and Nancy was cut out of the picture, so it really doesn't prove much of anything.]

Libraries also have festivals, some big events, some small and intimate. In Charlotte, the Novello Festival spreads its events over several weeks, invites the likes of John Grisham and Margaret Maron, and includes a special children’s event and local writers’ night.

The Center for the Book website lists contacts for most of the big festivals by both date and by state, but you may have to hunt for some of the smaller, local ones.

Visit the Bloggers

Want to try an upcoming book festival? Come visit The Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, Virginia, March 26-30, with me and blogmate T. Lynn Ocean. Walter Mosley and Jan Karon will be there, too – in case that’s a bigger draw for you.

Tell Us About Other Festivals?

Know a good local festival? Tell us about it in a comment below. Don’t keep it a secret!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Judge a book by its...cover?

First of all, I should say that I wouldn't want to be judged by my cover -- especially not today. I am at this moment supposed to be dressed for a morning event -- in the guise of my alter-writerly-ego N.E. Bode -- I'm wearing my 13-year-old daughter's sweater which fit with an awkward smushiness but was on a nearby chair when I was casting about in an attempt to get dressed and a pair of my husband's thin businessy mismatched socks back from the days -- seven years ago -- when he had a businessy job to go to. (He's been a stay at home dad for six years and now wears only baggy jeans and Red Sox t-shirts. It seems a good life, no?) My hair is straggly, still wet from a shower, and my make up resembles a face with make-up thrown at it from across a long room.

What does my cover say about me? I imagine the blurb of my novel appearance: "This book is messy, rushed. It's shooting for a youthful hipness, but comes up short, literally. It can't hide its tragic flaws even in a pair of imposing boutique cowboy boots. It's blurry and best read from across a long room." (I have hopes for the cowboy boots, but deep in my heart I know they will stink of a certain desperate compensation.)

Note: I'm posting a book jacket photo of a better day, a day with more effort and clarity, a day that required a good night sleep the night before. (And mainly because I like it when blogs come with photos and I don't know what else to post. )

Why the self-scrutiny? I've been looking at covers for my new novel MY HUSBAND'S SWEETHEARTS. Deeply engrossed, I find myself talking about fonts as if guests at a dinner party -- I find her a bit uppity. Isn't he stodgy? Do you think she's cloying? I'm up to my chin in it, once again. In other countries, book jackets aren't taken so seriously. There isn't a marketing discussion. There isn't study by the folks at the big chains. There isn't all of this pressure to find the cover that makes the right kind of statment -- conceptually as well as in all of its fonty and color-hue detail.

With different covers, I've learned different things. With Girl Talk, I learned that covers do sell books. With The Madam, I learned to always redesign if the major chains say redesign -- they're in the trenches, they know. With Lizzie Borden in Love, I learned that sometimes you have to just love the image yourself, truly. With Which Brings Me to You, that sometimes you just don't get top billing.

I wish I didn't get wrapped up in how my books get wrapped up, and yet I do, but I'm glad I don't get too wrapped up in how I'm wrapped up, because right now I'm out of time and I will, in fact, enter the world in this awful, awful outfit. Hopefully, we won't cross paths, but if we do, hopefully it will be from across a looooooong room.

-- Julianna Baggott, whose new book My Husband's Sweethearts will pub in August under the pen name Bridget Asher.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Okay, I'll admit this isn't a witty or provocative subject matter. But for anyone who spends a great deal of time keyboarding—read on!

I began freelancing more than 10 years ago, and using my laptop, happily pounded out endless newspaper articles. That was before my first novel published and I was writing manuscripts in addition to paid assignments. I loved the laptop portability and wrote anywhere: back porch, sofa, stretched out on the floor. Fast forward to a year and a half ago: my wrists, thumb joints, and forearms began to hurt, bad. Then came the prickly numbness. I massaged my forearms and bought wrist braces and a gel wrist pad. Soon I was dunking my forearms in a big pot of ice water, the same pot usually reserved for cooking pasta. When I made the trip to a recommended orthopedic specialist, he spent five minutes with me before declaring that only surgery would fix my carpal tunnel syndrome. Did I want to go ahead and schedule the first hand on my way out?

NOT! What a jerk, I thought. I figured that CTS would be the diagnosis, but I also assumed the doctor might offer options. Chiropractic or meds or something besides surgery. The thought of the down time, not being able to write, freaked me out. I went home and logged on. It was time to do some research.

In pain and frustrated, I tried various home remedies, such as flax seed oil to reduce inflammation. Some helped, but the pain and numbness continued, especially in my right hand. Finally, I got serious about WHERE and HOW I wrote. I bought an adjustable chair and a desk with a slide out tray for the keyboard. I elevated my laptop by putting it on top of a box. I never turned on the computer, not even to go Internet surfing, without sitting in the correct position at my desk: back straight, elbows bent at a relaxed 45-degree angle. The CTS symptoms subsided and became tolerable. But they were still there.

Then everything changed. I bought an ergonomic mouse and keyboard. Not one of those curvy things you'll find at Best Buy, but a true body-friendly variety. The left and right hand placement is split by about 7 inches from the index fingers, and the finger wells are curved. (Which makes perfect sense, since your fingers are different lengths.) My 3M mouse is like a joystick. (Which again makes perfect sense. Imagine shaking hands.)

There are several such keyboards on the market, so shop around before opening your wallet. Mine is a Kinesis Advantage Pro. When I first got it, I cussed like a sailor for the first two or three days. Then something clicked in my brain and my fingers started hitting the correct keys again. The carpal tunnel symptoms? GONE! Within a month after buying my keyboard and mouse, I became pain free. I also type faster, I think.

I'd recommend such a keyboard to everyone, and I can't emphasize this enough. Sure, I fondly reminisce about the evenings when I took my laptop to bed and, propped up on pillows, wrote until I drifted into dreamland. Sort of like an ex-smoker might think about their last pull on a Marlboro. The craving always remains. But just like quitting smoking, an ergonomic keyboard is just plain smart.

Happy Keyboarding,
T. Lynn Ocean
author of Sweet Home Carolina

and Southern Fatality (a Jersey Barnes mystery)

look for Southern Poison coming this fall!

P.S. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter by visiting . I look forward to seeing you there!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cooking really does Suck

I can’t cook. Pure and simple. Plus I hate it.
Thirty years ago I decided honor my parent’s anniversary with a partially home-baked cake, choosing Duncan Hines’ yellow mix for the base unit, topped with what I imagined to be made-from-scratch fudge frosting, worthy of my long-married, oft-suffering parents.
The suffering parts were due to the misbehaviors of their two teen-aged daughters, me and Sister Sandy, two years younger, who Mama says made her hair turn gray and gave her two blue bags beneath her eyes. Nothing like Crisco and sugar icing to make up for coming home drunk one night and passing out as Mama lectured on the dangers of drinking and how it could lead to an assortment of societal ills, including and foremost, unwanted pregnancy and life in a series of low-income rentals and trailer parks.
Guilt is why I didn't buy the icing already prepared, even though common sense would tell a 15-year-old kitchen virgin she has no business baking or topping anything whipped up from scratch.
I spent most of an entire morning working on this debut cake, and the house smelled like a bakery in high gear, giving off that warm, fuzzy everything-is-wonderful-in-life feeling. All was going beautifully until I scanned the recipe and found it called for three egg whites.
“Egg whites?” I turned toward my 13-year-old sister who followed me like a little puppy into every situation but trouble.
“The shell, moron,” she said and stuck out her giant front teeth the dentist kept promising her face would grow into. “Anybody could figure that one out.”
This didn’t seem right. “I don't think you’re supposed to stick the shells in with the sugar and Crisco, are you? I’ve never had a cake with eggshells in it.”
“Well, what other part is white? I told you to buy the canned icing. You have no idea what you’re doing.”
I did some thinking. If I hard-boiled the eggs, then I'd have a more edible egg white, and such was the route we took, followed by de-yoking and chopping the whites into the icing mixture. We were dismayed to see marshmallow-like lumps poking through the chocolate icing as we frosted the cake, and in the end, we trashed the eggy abomination and bought a Sara Lee.
Thirty years have passed and not much has changed in my kitchen. Often I find myself sitting at the rectangular oak table, once again choking on my own cooking, holding the Ragu-splattered recipe in hand and wondering, “Where did I go wrong?” Why is it the recipe never turns out for me, even though I read the directions to a T?
These rare forays into the kitchen typically occur when I tire of the cafeteria life and that prison-guard barking of one forced to choose a meat way too fast for the brain to register. It is on those occasions I produce my little-used Bi-Lo Bonus Card, go shopping and prepare optimistically for a normal meal: a meat and two vegetables. Sounds so simple.
I will, at this time, acknowledge that some women (and men) purely enjoy cooking, and may God love them and reward them in Heaven with top-of-the-line cookware and 24-hour access to the Food Network. The rest of us want to get on with our lives and are looking for the easiest ways out while still remaining alive and fairly healthy.
We’d rather not spend two hours a day over our ranges and sinks, unless someone special is coming for dinner and I’ve yet to meet anyone that special. I will, however, watch and enjoy the sassy cooking shows and vicariously produce major feasts courtesy of Emeril and Rachael Ray. I also love reading recipes in cookbooks and magazines, dreaming of the day I might actually concoct something that resembles the photographs of the delectable dishes.
This is as far as it usually as far as it goes unless a carcass that will fit in my Crock Pot is on sale at Bi-Lo. That’s not really even cooking since all you have to do is Stop, Drop and Roll it in salt and pepper, maybe add some chicken broth or Lipton Onion Soup mix and voila! The family’s happier than a preacher sneaking Bud Lites during a Dinner on the Grounds.
The good thing is, with Crock Pots, you can throw in raw and even unwashed, unpeeled vegetables and they come out tasting pretty good. If some potato grit ends up in someone’s mouth, you can pretty much be sure they’ll just think they chipped a tooth.
Whoever invented the Crock Pot gadget deserves the Nobel Peace prize. Maybe he or she can share it with the Tuna Helper inventor. More on the utter joys of Tuna Helper later.
On a recent night when I attempted a meal from ingredients on hand, my family mostly stared at the barely recognizable platter plop and pushed the dried-up, parched lasagna around on their plates.
An hour later I heard my husband pouring a bowl of Total, and it was then I decided not to cook from recipes again, but to remain loyal to those tried-and-true food companies that never let me down: Tuna Helper, Banquet, Stouffer's, Campbell's, Pillsbury and Betty Crocker.
I’ve learned how to take a tacky pre-made or boxed meal and class it up with cheese and a colorful side dish, one you don’t have to cook, such as a fan of raw fruits and vegetables. If you can draw a fan shape, you can arrange the carrots and strawberries (or any other fruits and vegetables) in this very fashion.
I’ve tried many times to evoke homemade smells in the home, going as far as putting a pan of butter and onions on the burner, letting them sizzle and spread that five-star restaurant aroma throughout the house. One can only smell a kitchen full of Taco Bell or KFC for so long.
The neighbors can see, too, if you’re always coming home with take-out and fast food bags, and they will talk behind your back no matter how Christian and decent you might think they are. In the South, and probably parts all over the world, being willing and able to cook remains a standard by which some measure decency.
This is one reason it’s a good idea to at least perfect a few doable recipes, such as a cake with chocolate icing, minus the egg whites.
It is my belief that anybody can learn to cook, and if not, he or she can at least get by without starving or completely toppling the government’s guideline and food pyramid. We can, with a few simple tricks, fool people into believing we know our way around a range and four burners and aren’t chained and locked to the microwave and Crock Pot.
I decided to write this book – a wild collection of food-related stories, culinary missteps, and dining disasters, including recipes at the end of each chapter - for all of my fellow cooking virgins, women who if given a winning lottery ticket, would hire a personal chef first and foremost.
Those things we once wished for: the hot boyfriend who used to be a Hollister model, the old man with a trust fund and weakening pig-valve heart, the tummy tuck and personal relationship with a discount plastic surgeon, would march silently behind the desire for magical skills from a personal chef, one who would do all our chopping, dicing, blanching, parching and poaching. He would also shop for the right ingredients and understand how to read recipes or deliver his own scrumptious signature dishes. It goes without saying we’d lose weight and look wonderful due to the combination of his ingredients, our increased heart rates from looking at him, and Omega 3 fatty acid selections he’d fix.
Those of us wanting a personal chef more than anything money could buy, wouldn’t care how the chef looked as long as he knew how to make our Pyrexes bubble. He could be real ugly. Dog ugly. Ugliest thing alive and weighing 400 pounds with a weenie the size of a miniature golf pencil. It matters not as long as he can wield and spatula, fill our pots and pans, and make mealtimes moments of joy, harmony and good health.
While we are dreaming of the day our chef comes in, this is the book for all of us who have felt guilty because our potholders don’t have the burn marks of real kitchen queen, whose pans aren’t scratched and half-scorched, whose Cuisinart has never been taken from the box and even sports the old yellowing bows from the land of Unwanted & Unopened wedding gifts, including Salad Shooters and Chop Wizards.
It’s for those who use our woks as potato chip bowls, who click on the blender only when Bacardi is involved and believe the person who invented Tuna Helper – particularly the creamy Parmesan style - should win the Nobel Prize for family harmony.
We are a group of human beings known as Kitchen Virgins, even though we may dabble and concoct the occasional meal when guilt slaps our conscience and our children say things like, “Chelsea’s mother cooks over a stove and says microwaves and fast foods are for lazy sloths and mothers on meth.”
“Well, Miss Chelsea,” I might (if pms’ing) retort, “has a mother who doesn’t have three jobs and a husband who won’t eat most of her meals. That snuffling hog she wed will gobble anything she throws on the table.”
I might be more inclined to cook, too, if my household members didn’t groan or complain of stomachaches every time I attempted a real meal. It might be easier to stand with flour and raw meat juices running down my forearms if in the end, someone would say “Hmmmm. Ummm” with every bite and talk about how delicious the food was.
Instead, I hear things like: “Mom, this chicken is so tough I need the electric hedge trimmers to get the gristle out.”
“It’s pure white meat,” I tell them. “No gristle. Best you can buy…Butterball.”
“My orthodontist said not to eat your meats,” my teen-aged boy once said. “No offense, Mom.”
I don’t get it. I used the only gadget besides the microwave I can work, the Crock Pot, which is designed to make everything tender and edible. Why, I’ll bet some people could take an old work boot, pour in some Lipton’s Onion Soup mix and it’d turn out tender as baby greens.
“Sorry, Mom,” my son has said more than once. “You’re a great mother, but Nana and Mama Peg are a lot better at cooking. Don’t feel bad. Everybody has special gifts.”
Oh, he’s mimicking me. I should have never given him the old “special gifts” speech when he brought home a few clunkers from school or was a bench warmer for the basketball team.
This is an excerpt from my new book "Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin," due out in late April from Kensington.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Guest Blogger: JT Ellison

Boys and Girls

I’ve never been much of a feminist.

Open my door, pay for my dinner, support me in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed – no worries on my end. I’ve always had a love affair with the male species, and a much more difficult time relating to women who thought I should be out there striving for gains for our sex.

This used to be especially true when it came to reading. I read men. It wasn’t a conscious decision, just a natural gravitation toward the sex I understood better. I was the ultimate tomboy. God forbid you try to get me in a dress. I had two older brothers who treated me like a boy – playing football, roughhousing, teaching me how to play poker. My dad worked for a huge aerospace company with lots of military men who treated me like an equal, not a child. I guess all that testosterone rubbed off. Plus, at an early age, it became readily apparent that I wasn’t going to be a sweet, petite little thing, but an Amazon, with broad shoulders and height that exceeded my father. It’s hard to feel girly when you top your classmates by a foot. Top it with my mother, who was the height of femininity yet never used her stunning good looks to get ahead, and I was hardwired to run with the wolves.

So how in the world did I end up with a female protagonist?

One of the beautiful things about launching a book is the questions posed by interviewers. For me, this forced introspection, the public delving into psyche, the attempts to understand the internal motivations behind my writing has led me to some interesting realizations about who I am as a woman, as well as a writer. In preparation for the questions, I asked some of myself. Most importantly, why did I choose to write from the female POV when all my favorite leads were male?

Taylor Jackson, my homicide lieutenant, is a lot like me in a number of ways. We have the same background, have the same physical attributes, the same no nonsense attitude toward life. But Taylor is an idealized version of me. She was born out of my own hero complex. Have you ever happened upon a horrible accident, a few minutes past the actual event, where people have already begun attending to the injured? Do you ever wonder what you would have done if you were a party to the accident? If you’d seen the car careen out of control, roll over, smash against a concrete divider, burst into flames – would you stop? Would you race to the car, risk your own life to rescue the occupants? If they were injured or bleeding, their heart and breath gone, would you lay them down, administer CPR, save their lives? And when the inevitable media came to the scene, would you stick around, allow yourself to be interviewed, or would you slink off, comfortable in the knowledge that you’d done all you could? Would you be a hero?
Taylor would. She wouldn’t hesitate. She’d risk herself to save someone else. It wouldn’t even be a conscious thought. She’d act. Immediately.
Would I? I’d like to think so. But until faced with the experience, do we really know how we’d react?

Once I realized who Taylor was, I knew she was my character. I knew intuitively that she had to be a cop, had to be a legitimate hero, someone who would undertake the risks we all avoid with enthusiasm. Who wouldn’t think twice about the danger. Because that’s what our law enforcement officers do – male and female. They put themselves second, reach into the abyss to make us safe. That selflessness defines Taylor. She gets to face the worst the world has to offer, isn’t overcome with emotion, doesn’t simper or faint. She’s rough and ready and willing to take it on.
I really didn’t want to fall into the trap of having a female character in a man’s job being harassed. If Taylor was as strong as I planned to portray her, she would have the admiration of the men around her. Like any strong, successful woman, there have been whispers in her past. But no one would dare do that to her face. It allows the story to move forward, the plot and pace to tear away unhindered. I wrote her in what some would call an idealist situation, but since I’ve only faced a few instances of being treated like a girl, it made more sense to me that she be treated with the respect she’s earned after thirteen years on the force.

I love having this character in my life. Where I started to get into trouble was when John Baldwin came along. My natural propensity toward testosterone made him the easiest character I’ve ever written. I was able to tap into his emotions, his realities, so much easier than I ever did with Taylor. It was an interesting dichotomy. Who knew that a woman writing a man would be simpler than a woman writing a woman?

Then I faced an ever greater challenge. My strong woman was in love. Inherently, she became weak, dominated, conquered. I had to fight tooth and nail not to let that happen. I hope the reader feels I’ve succeeded. In my mind, Taylor and Baldwin are equals in every sense of the word.
As I got deeper into my writing, I started seeking out women in the mystery field. What I found excited me. There were plenty of incredibly strong female protagonists, women who are written by women, women fictional and real whom I can admire. Tess Gerritsen, Laura Lippman, Karin Slaughter – all write with the ferocity behind their women that I so respect. Now I read just as many women as I do men, in all genres. When I tick off my favorites, the sexes are equally represented, and I’m comfortable recommending many of the female writers to male readers who would normally shy away because they can’t identify, or don’t think a woman can write an action scene. I’m here to tell you, we can. I write using initials so that the men who don’t know I’m a woman might just take a chance. I think they’ll be surprised.

Just keep opening those doors, boys. Strong women or not, we all want to be treated like a lady.

JT Ellison is a thriller writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Her short stories have been widely published, including PRODIGAL ME in the Killer Year anthology, edited by Lee Child. She is a weekly columnist at and is a founding member of Killer Year. ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS was her first novel in the Taylor Jackson series. Visit for more information.

Now THIS Is a Book Signing

by Mindy Friddle

The author spoke to a packed auditorium at the library. The local independent bookstore, The Open Book, was on hand selling his books--selling BOXES of them. After a glowing introduction from the director of the library--who had clearly read and loved the book-- the author spoke about the backstory of his novel, the setting, the inspiration, and how several of his characters were based on family members. When he read from the novel for half an hour, audience members--old and young-- were attentive, tittering and nodding, some of them following along in the books in their laps, their fingers moving along sentences.

When the author took questions-- dozens of hands went up-- discussion ensued for another half an hour. Readers recognized familiar landmarks in the novel, and wanted to know more about which of the characters were based on real people in town. A book signing followed. And what a signing! The line of people snaked across the auditorium, holding their books, waiting to talk with the author.

Stephen King? Pat Conroy? James Patterson? Dan Brown?

Nah. Tommy Hays.

Tommy is now a famous author around Greenville, SC. He grew up in Greenville and now lives in Asheville, NC. His novel, THE PLEASURE WAS MINE, was chosen as the first book for our community's "Amazing Read" program. You've probably heard of the "One City One Book" movement--from Chicago to Salt Lake City to Seattle.

If last month's kick-off reading was any indication, the Amazing Read is a success. Certainly, organizers have done an awesome job of promoting this community-wide program.

There are a dozen or so events lined up for the next several months, including:

  • a staged reading of THE PLEASURE WAS MINE at a community theatre
  • a public reading in spanish
  • a contra dance!
  • radio and television interviews
  • extensive newspaper coverage: full page features!
  • a county council proclamation
  • Alzheimer panel discussions (The nonfiction handle of the book is Alzheimer's; the protagonist struggles to care for his wife who has the disease.)
  • And-- cool, cool, cool-- through sponsorship funds, the library PURCHASED and GAVE AWAY more than 400 copies of the book.

Wouldn't it be awesome if every town and hamlet and city in the South had their own "One City One Book" program?

Mindy Friddle is the author of THE GARDEN ANGEL (St. Martin's Press/Picador) and SECRET KEEPERS (forthcoming from St. Martin's Press/Picador). She is founder and director of the Writing Room, a program for writers in South Carolina. Visit and her blog, Novel Thoughts.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Therese Fowler

New Author Spotlight

Meet Therese Fowler. Her debut novel Souvenir, which is out this week, has already created a lot of excitement. Souvenir is a March Book Sense Notable, a February Target Bookmarked Breakout title, a Featured Alternate Selection for Doubleday and Literary Guild book clubs, a Romantic Times Book Reviews Mainstream Fiction Top Pick, and is now or will soon be available in ten languages and eighteen countries.

A Midwest native, Therese transplanted herself to Raleigh, NC, where she lives with her husband and their four almost-all-teenaged sons, Visit her at

A Circus Life for Me
There's lots of talk in the blogosphere lately about fear and anxiety as it relates to the desire to write, in some cases, and to being a novelist in others. This is the yin (the dark element, the negative) to the yang (bright, positive) of being an author. Anxiety, depression, trauma, contrasted against joy and pride and pleasure. There can't be one side without the other, a truth that, if we embrace it, should help keep us in balance.

Balance: very important when you’re walking a tightrope.

I stepped out onto the tightrope in my first semester of grad school, fall '03. Being an eager sort and on a bit of a high because I, with my B.A. in sociology, had gotten into the English program—and not just gotten in, but won an all-expenses-paid teaching assistantship—I volunteered to go in the first round of critiques in my first-ever writing workshop. Which meant I needed to write a short story, fast.
At that time, my writing experience was limited to one short story three years prior, and one unpublished novel. I'd finished the novel in early '02 and had only tinkered since, but now I felt ready to write, ready to try short fiction again. I felt creative, inspired. Almost as if I was taking dictation, I wrote a first-person story narrated by a strongly disaffected Air Force pilot stationed in the Philippines in the late '80s.

Before I say what happened in that first workshop critique, let me set up an excerpt of that story: The narrator, Major Gary Reinhart, is in a dive bar in Angeles City, which is just outside Clark Air Base's main gate. The woman he still loves, but left because of the demands of his career, married his former AF Academy classmate; she and her husband have recently arrived there at Clark for a tour of duty. Earlier in the day, Gary phoned her and asked her to meet him, alone, at the bar. Now's he's waiting and wondering if she'll show.

[The door] squeaked open a minute later, creating a shock of sunlight that announced not Caroline, but a group of four energetic Airmen, MP’s, judging by their enthusiastic high-and-tight buzz cuts. My own ear-grazing hair, long by military standards, complied with Command’s recent suggestion that, given the political upheaval surrounding Marcos’ recent rescue by U.S. troops, it wouldn’t hurt us to look a little less G.I. Joe. I figured, if some Filipino approached me with an M-16, I’d trot out my fake New Zealand accent to go with my hair. They all liked New Zealanders; the Kiwis are the Swiss of the Pacific. G’day, mate; how about that Revolution?

These boys weren’t worried about hostile Filipinos. They swaggered in, rowdy and obvious, then the door snapped closed behind them and my eyes readjusted to the low light. I watched them overtake a set of rattan chairs and settle bar girls on their laps, looking every bit the conquering heroes.

Without their stripes and their weapons, the guys resembled, and acted like, boys I swam with on my high school team—except we could never get girls so easily. But then, we were teenagers in rural Illinois. These guys knew they would score—if you could call it that, but I was sure they didn’t recognize how this attitude degraded them.

Still, lowly swines or not, I envied them at that moment. Forget being twenty-four again; how about nineteen? How about nineteen and set loose in a land of cheap sex and cheaper beer, and few worries outside of being able to recognize a fake I.D. card when you saw one? Why hadn’t I taken an easier route? Why had I felt compelled to protect the country with an eighteen-million-dollar missile launcher, my patriotism so radical then that I sacrificed my soul mate, and betrayed my own soul? I drained my second bottle of beer and flagged the waitress. “Hey, Miss—another round, okay?”

By eight o’clock, I’d made the acquaintance of two new bar girls and six brown glass bottles, but Caroline still hadn’t shown. Bar girl number one, Luz, informed me that she had a third nipple in the center of her chest, and that she could reach her normal pair with her tongue. She offered to demonstrate, if I wanted to take her to a rental room across the street. Bar girl number two, Carmen, professed to being able to pick up a stack of fifty one-peso coins without using her hands. She, too, was willing to show off her skill, if I would provide the pesos. The girls compared talents, chattering on either side of me like the little monkeys that came to be fed in my backyard.

Heading into class the evening of the critique, I was a little anxious, but not awfully. The story felt pretty solid to me, and I was interested to know whether my classmates agreed. Workshop protocol was that each student, in turn, would highlight his or her response, noting strengths, weaknesses, areas of trouble, suggestions for improvement. The student whose story was being critiqued was not to speak until all the others, and the professor, were done.

It started well. I listened to one critique after the next, fascinated, taking notes, thrilling to praise, considering insights. Wow, I thought, this is a great way to learn! I’m so glad I decided to enroll in grad school. And then, I was ambushed.
My attacker, a middle-aged, rather eclectic sort of woman, a woman whom I liked for her unique qualities, a self-proclaimed former stripper who was now actively on the path to spiritual feminine enlightenment, began reading from the notes she'd written up. In essence: How could I craft such a demeaning, demoralizing story?! She was not only offended, she was terribly, sadly disappointed in me. Me, a person who she'd felt so positively toward in our first two class meetings.

She just couldn't understand where this story was coming from, how I could create such a narrator, how I could depict women in this way. She feared for the health of my soul, or something to that effect. I said nothing—was not allowed, by the prescribed course rules, to respond. But my face was burning and my heart racing—probably there was a throbbing question mark on my forehead that in today’s lexicon would show up as WTF?
She finished. If the professor said anything at all, it was nothing corrective, no guiding words for critiquers to, say, critique the writing, the effectiveness of the storytelling.

Well, in fairness, I guess that classmate’s response did demonstrate that the writing had been effective.
The next couple of students took up the matter: hmm, they mused, maybe there was some merit to those remarks. Maybe I shouldn’t have a narrator thinking this way, maybe the story was offensive to women. They hadn’t seen it that way themselves, but… I listened, dismayed. This was criticism of subject, not writing. A criticism of a fictional character’s experience and perspective—and, though they were less overt in saying so, of me, for representing it.

And then, while I was looking one way, I got attacked from a different direction. This classmate was a young Asian-American woman, very smart, shy-seeming. She was offended--but not because I'd demeaned women, generally; I'd demeaned Asian women. My characterization of the prostitutes had provoked her to write, by hand, a full page of small, closely spaced words lecturing me on the plight of Asian women and the disservice I was doing them, and how she felt I should rethink my story altogether. My saying that the prostitutes chattered like monkeys was simply defamatory. She was seriously disappointed in me.

Whereas I was entirely dumbfounded.

And dismayed. This was what writing workshops were like? A firing squad would be easier to take—at least the pain would be over with quickly!
Then another student took a turn. She liked the story. Thought it was really well written. Vivid. As good as anything she'd seen in a workshop before. After class she soothed my rattled nerves by saying, in essence, "Yeah, that sucked--but the great thing is that people were talking about your story like it was real."
(And may I just say, that story went on to be a top-five finalist in a statewide competition, then a runner-up in a national one.)
Though it wasn’t easy, I returned to class the next week, and the next, and then the next semester and the next. I kept writing and, unwilling to be otherwise, I continued to be eager about it. Writing excited me. Learning about writing excited me. My dream of being a novelist seemed more in-reach than ever.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my response to that first workshop critique was one of a handful of seminal moments in my life, up to now. My fate as a writer was being determined by my choosing to stay on the tightrope. To not only keep writing, but to keep writing the way I was compelled to. To face the yin—and there has been plenty of it, and will surely be plenty more—in anticipation of the yang—which has been and I hope will continue to be plentiful, too.

Embracing the truth about the yin and yang of writing (and life) has made me who I am today: a debut novelist whose book is coming out in ten languages to start, who’s been paid well enough to be able to write full-time, whose second novel is finished and under contract, and who gets notes from readers in the UK (where Souvenir came out last summer) who say my book has changed their life.

Something I wrote changed someone’s life?
It’s this humbling truth that I think about most, the yang that kept me from leaping off the tightrope when I got my first US trade review—a less-than-favorable one, an ambush. Before the second review came in (exceptionally favorable, that one) it was those readers’ words that reassured me I do have the skills to be in the center ring.
Yes, managing the writing life is like walking a tightrope, but wow, how exhilarating it is when you discover that you keep your balance and give the crowd what they came for. I can’t wait to do it again.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Your Heart’s Desire – a love note for Valentine’s Day

I don’t know about you, but for me, writing brings so much joy. It’s kind of like having children or marrying the love of my life. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but all the same, the best thing I’ve ever done. When you find something good, you want to share it with all of your friends. You say you wanna write? Then write for heaven’s sake! Time’s a-wastin’!

Now, many men and women have the desire to have families. However, it’s often a waiting game. When will God place that perfect person in your life? Not everyone who has the desire to have family will have it. Not everyone who has the desire to write will become published or a bestseller. Sometimes it just not God’s will. But perhaps there’s something else spectacular waiting as you travel along that journey—you’ll cure cancer or become the next President or travel the world. Perhaps the search will lead you down unexpected paths and bring you unexpected treasures. The point is: You don’t sit around; you DO something about it when God has placed a desire on your heart. The act of doing leads to something truly wonderful and often unexpected.

What goes for love and family also goes for writing.

I meet so many people who have the desire to write. Usually, it’s something specific on their heart—a family story or memoir or advice. These folks have something to say. The other night in my writer’s group, we had a new person attend, and at the end he told me I had the “gift of encouragement”. I told him I experience much joy from encouraging people who have the desire to write—to write! I do believe it’s a God-given desire. Now, like the family thing, it might not work out as you planned. You can’t force things, but you do the best you can. Maybe you ARE the next New York Times bestseller! Or maybe you write a single poem that only one other person ever reads, and it touches them. Maybe you keep a journal and through it, you learn much about yourself…and you grow. Or MAYBE, you begin writing, meet the love of your life in a writer’s group, and you live happily ever after, having kids, loving, writing…ahem. Okay. I might be getting carried away.

The point is this: You have a deep-seated to desire to…to what? To write? To paint? To start a business? To live happily ever after with the spouse of your dreams? Then get busy taking steps in the right direction. It’s what God asks us to do. He gives us the desire, we take the baby steps. Then, and I believe only then, will the true desires of our heart come to fruition, through Him.

You know, if I ever get tired of writing, or it becomes too much of a “job” that I don’t enjoy it anymore, I’d like to think I’ll quit doing it. I doubt anyone will get anything from my lackluster efforts. But right now, at this point in my life, my heart and soul is on my pages. Yes, I can hone my skills and get better at it. I can always improve, but my desire to write is off the charts! And that, along with my sweet husband and adorable kids makes life these days most interesting, often challenging, but utterly fulfilling. We work hard for the things we love, don’t we?

I encourage you, whoever you are reading this, do your best to fulfill your heart’s desire, whatever it is. Somewhere along the way in following your heart, you will figure out what you’re here for in this particular season in life. Your heart’s desire is not a destination. It’s a never-ending journey—and a strong clue to your purpose on this earth.

Nicole Seitz is the author of The Spirit of Sweetgrass and a second novel, Trouble the Water, which releases from “the big warehouse in the sky” TODAY and should be in stores by March 11! Trouble the Water is a very personal story of healing inspired by a beloved aunt. It was NOT the book her agent or editor wanted her to write, but the one that was on her heart to write at this particular time. So please, won’t you go out and buy it and prove her right?

Nicole has just completed her third novel due for publication in 2009. When she’s not writing or encouraging others to write, she’s painting the covers of her novels. Reach her at

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The TRUTH about Author Book Tours as told by The Pulpwood Queen!

What is it they always say, "The Truth Shall Set You Free"! I believe
that with all my heart so hear is my book tour story and I'm sticking to it!

"This is the day that the Lord hath made, let my sorry self try to do
good works", I said as I stumbled, bleary eyes and dragging tail as I
shuffled to make some serious coffee this morning. You see I just got
home from book tour. I have been waiting my whole life for something as
great as this, writing my own book, getting it published, hitting the
book tour trail. The experience has been life changing. I have never had
more fun in my life. I also have never gone so long without good sleep,
one pooped KAT!

You see this all began when my book, "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara
Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life" was published by Grand Central
Publishing. They wanted me to hit the road for book tour right after the
pub date of January 2, 2008. As I finished the last of my client's hair
on New Year's Eve, (I own a hair salon/book store in Jefferson, Texas,
Beauty and the Book), I realized that my dream of a book tour was about
to come true! A bunch of the Pulpwood Queens, Timber Guys and I went out to celebrate the New Year at Music City Texas then New Year's Day I
spent packing for what we called the "BIG, BLONDE, AND BEAUTIFUL BOOK TOUR"! I was going to be taking with me four of my book club members, Elizabeth Stokes of Palestine, Texas, Jean Wright of Linden, Texas, Kay Brookshire of Lake O' the Pines, Texas, and Joyce Smith, my neighbor
here just outside of Jefferson. I dubbed then the Pulpwood Queen Posse'.

Our Timber Guys, husbands, were laughing their fool heads off as we
crammed 24 assorted bags into the back of our recently acquired
Suburban. Suburbans are called "Texas Cadillacs" here in Texas. I mean
we were going to have to be on book tour for a month and a week for
goodness sake. Who knew what the weather would be like as we traversed
was it, ten states! As we pulled out of my driveway in Texas, there was
no looking back. We were girlfriends on the ultimate book loving road
trip! Kind of like Thelma and Louise and Joyce, Kay, Jean, Liz, and Kat!

Now there is no way I can cover the whole trip in this southern author
blog! But here to me are some of the highlights of our trip broken down
into the following categories; Riding the Roads, Bookstores, Authors,
and Girlfriend Weekend!

Riding the Roads!
You want to know what fun is? Take a road trip with your girlfriends!
What are you waiting for! Time is the essence! I have so many stories
from the road it's not even funny. But one thing happened on the road
that still cracks me up, ONE SMOKING GINA! At the very first of the
trip, we were just riding along, just minding our business when we saw a
PT Cruiser up ahead with "ONE SMOKING GINA" hand painted across the back
of the car. Nobody said anything as I started to pass the car but we
were all craning out necks to get a look see of the driver. As we pulled
along side, this grey haired bun, wearing woman whips her head over to
take a gander at us gawking girlfriends and I swear she had a cigarette
dangling out of her mouth that she had just sucked a three inch ash that
was about to fall off. We all just lost it as I go, "Yep, One Smoking
Gina." We were all laughing so hard, choking and driving, I told the
girls, "Look, look at that sign on the side of the Indian Nation
Turnpike." There up ahead was this sign that stated, "DO NOT DRIVE INTO THE SMOKE". Well, by then we were just beside ourselves, laughing and crying. I go, "Looks like One Smoking Gina is known in these parts." Now if you have no idea what that sign really meant, I'll tell you in my
next book as I am going to have to write a whole chapter on this
girlfriend book touring Pulpwood Queen Posse".

Years ago, Mary Gay Shipley, who owns and operates That Bookstore in
Blytheville, Arkansas, my mentor, and I tried to put together a
bookstore tour through the south. I cannot think of anything I would
rather do than visit independent bookstores. Well, I hit as many as I
could on this book tour and you can go to my official book tour blog
site to view them all at which has photos,
stories, news features, and more that continues if not daily, pretty
close. Each one could be a chapter in my new book but here's one story
that cracks us up as we hit Mary Gay's store in Blytheville.
We arrived a little late as crosswinds had as hanging on for dear life
as our Texas Cadillac careened down the interstate from St. Louis,
Missouri to Blytheville. When we pulled in a parking spot just off the
main street where Mary Gay's store is situated, the girls told me to run
on so I wouldn't keep the crowd waiting. Later Pulpwood Queens Jean and
Kay told me this story. Evidently after I ran to the store, 74 year old
Pulpwood Queen Joyce Smith followed wearing my faux fur leopard coat, my leopard Fat Baby Cowboy boots as her bunion was killing her, she had on her "Go to Town" big hair and tiara pulling my leopard printed suitcase
loaded with Raquel Welch Hair U Wear Put on Hair Pieces for the Big Hair
Makeovers I was giving away to a lucky girlfriend at a drawing at each
store. As she approached the bookstore pulling the rolling bag up the
sidewalk, head bent down to tackle the blowing gales of wind, a young
man approached her with a child up on his shoulders bundled for winter.
"Ma'am, ma'am," he cried as he met her and took her arm, "is there
someone I can call, there is not way you need to be out on the street in
this weather.". The girls told me that the look Joyce gave him had to
have been priceless. He thought she was a homeless woman and now Joyce is going to kill me for telling this story but what a story. We are
still laughing about it!

Now I know that my mission to promote literacy would have never come
into fruition if it had not been for the wonderful, fantabulous authors
that have graced our doors at Beauty and the Book. There stories have
changed out lives and to have the authors come to our book club meetings
and call our chapters brings the book to life when we feature a book
each month. Several of those authors have become more like family to me.
In fact, I have adopted them as my brothers and sisters. One in
particular is Denise Hildreth from Franklin, Tennessee who we stayed
with while in Nashville. Now this darling little spitfire of an author
is a trip. As we sped through Nashville on a driving tour given by
Denise she took us to the Parthenon. Yes, a complete recreation of the
Parthenon in Greece. Who knew? Not me, as we sped going the wrong way
into it's entrance. I calmly said, "Denise, aren't we going the wrong
way on a one way entrance." She whipped her little S.U.V. in a U e, and
we were parking before I could catch my breath. Denise may seem petite,
demure in person but girl, get that author behind the wheel and a whole
new personality comes out. She's a tiger!
Now you can view photos of Denise and the Pulpwood Queen Posse' at my
blog site,
Another highlight was our stay with my brother, yes, I adopted this
author as the perfect brother and he is, Michael Morris. His wife,
Melanie also is adopted as the perfect sister and you all, did she spend
all day fixing us up a feast. Now that day we began with a live
television morning show in Atlanta, Texas, went on to Addison, Alabama
where we did a morning television show, interviews for eight county
newspapers, one blog spot, a fashion magazine interview, another spot
for the evening news all with reporter, Theresa Shaddix who had just
crowned herself Head Queen of a new Alabama chapter. Talk about a woman who is a tornado for promoting literacy. All hail Theresa Shaddix! Then we went on to Michael and Melanie Morris's house to stay. They greeted us with open arms and terrific wine and appetizers! God Bless Pulpwood Queen authors, they are the best. We quickly caught up and then headed on over to meet Jake Reiss, the owner of Alabama Booksmith in
Birmingham, Alabama. What a bookstore and a splendid attendance
including Rhonda on her pink scooter who I knew from Southern Living
magazine. Again, those photos are posted at so
scroll down for the full story.
We all headed back to the Morris's for this incredible Martha Stewart
presentation of a dinner and gorged on her fine cuisine. I looked across
the table after the meal barely being able to keep my eyes open and
spied Pulpwood Queen Jean Wright nodding off at the table. We begged
forgiveness but excused ourselves from the fabulous table and Jean and I
stayed in Melanie's art studio. Divine and she even gave me one of her
incredible paintings which now hangs prominently in my great room behind the chair where I am writing this blog. I love you Michael and Melanie
and hope our paths cross again soon.

Girlfriend Weekend!
Nobody and I mean nobody can top our annual Pulpwood Queen Book Club
hosted Girlfriend Weekend. Two days of author panels, workshops, and two
nights of entertainment including our infamous "Ball of Hair", a dance
we hold as a celebration of authors, books, literacy, girlfriends and
BIG TIME FUN! Highlights this year was watching international supermodel and author, Paulina Porizkova's effect of being in my home town of historic Jefferson, Texas, population 2, 199. Timber Guys lives were changed and I look forward to the month we will be reading her book "A
Model Summer" this coming spring.
Again this will be a whole chapter in my next book because the event is
something I work on all year and this year it hit smack dab in the
middle of my book tour. I am certifiably insane to pull this off but I
did and BIG TIME my friends, BIG TIME.
The absolute highlight of this event was author, Debbie Rodriguez of
"Kabul Beauty School", (also winner of The Doug Marlette Award for
Pulpwood Queen Book of the Year) volunteering to do authors hair at my
shop, Beauty and the Book, prior to the "Ball of Hair". Somehow I got
caught up in to the backcombing big hair fray, I was only going to
unlock the shop for her to do hair and then my dear friend and fellow
stylist, C. Nelson Collier got lassoed into doing hair too. Then my
childhood friend, Heidi Teichgraeber, former Miss Manhattan/K-State and
my sister, Karen Penner of Karen Penner Designs got roped in to doing
the makeovers. You all what happened in my shop with my agent, Marly
Rusoff of Marly Rusoff and Associates and authors, Cassandra King, Judy
Larsen, Lynn York, Darnell Arnoult, bookstore owner and creator of "The
Book Report, Elisabeth Grant-Gipson (go to will
not stay at Beauty and the Book. I plan to tell the world in my next
book! The funnest time of my life and stock rose on hair spray that
evening. I was left with 15 minutes to get to my own event where I was
the host! What was I thinking! Mostly, you all live for that moment of
which I did BIG TIME!

Now there is so much more to this book tour and I plan on including
everything in my next book which I am calling, "The Pulpwood Queens'
Magical, Mystical Book Tours (armchair and otherwise)!" which will be my
stories of riding the roads with my authors and girlfriends, the stories
behind the stories of all our book tour adventures and I can hardly wait
to begin this writing adventure.

If you all can't tell that I love what I am doing then you all just
aren't right in the head. I love doing hair, talking books, helping
undiscovered authors get discovered in really BIG WAYS. I am living the
American dream and it's all because I am a reader. Now a couple of days
into my book tour I asked the girls, "Do you think anyone has ever died
from going on book tour?" We laughed but I couldn't help commenting,
"Think of the book sales! The publicity!" All I can say I tried my
darnedest and it's as I always say, "You can sleep when you die!" I
loved this book tour and seriously, I am beyond tired but it's the best
tired anybody could ever dream of. Grand Central Publishing made my
dreams come true by supporting this book tour for me! I thank them from
the bottom of my heart and I gave it my all as I call my editor, Natalie
Kaire, my publicist, Elly Weisenberg, her assistant, Darcey, Heusel, and
webmaster, Miriam Parker, my Publisher Pulpwood Queen Posse'.

I thank my agent, the best agent in the whole wide world, but more
importantly best friend, Marly Rusoff too for holding my hand along this
reader now writer's way. She is also the winner of a new award we will
be giving each Girlfriend Weekend. The Pulpwood Queen Literacy Award
which is an award given to an individual who has devoted their life to
promoting literacy. Congratulations Marly!

And now I thank all of you for making my life have a purpose and
especially the Pulpwood Queens! You all came out in full regalia to meet
me on the road and The Pulpwood Queens of Roarin' Red River even
followed me throughout the great state of Mississippi! You are the best!
It's reading folks, good books from good authors. God Bless You All and
say a prayer for my book tour recovery. This 51 year old bookloving
dreamer needs your prayers. Right now I have lost the juice in my
"Energizer" batteries and so need you all for a recharge, okay!

Tiara Wearing and Book Tour Sharing,
Kathy L. Patrick
"Hairdresser to the Authors"
Founder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs
Beauty and the Book
608 North Polk Street
Jefferson, Texas 75657
903-665-7520, official website, official blog site
P.S. I will be back in my shop, Beauty and the Book, February 12th for
those of you who actually can't believe I do hair. I'll leave the hair
dryer on for ya! Don't call me before then as in book tour recovery. You
can email me at and I will get back with you
as soon as I recover.
That night is our monthly book club meeting featuring Kim Sunee's "Trail
of Crumbs". Kim will be calling in, hopefully, for a teleconference if
she has recovered to from Girlfriend Weekend. Everybody brings a covered
dish and great recipes in Kim's book as you see she is also the Food
Editor for Cottage Magazine. Elisabeth and the Windows Book Shop crew
will be joining us so all I can say is bring it on! See you at the shop
and again God Bless You All on your Book Travels! XXXXXXXXXOOOOOOOOOOO

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Gift of Books

My son was seven months old when I gave him his first book. In spite of his tender age, it was not one of those cloth or plastic kinds made for babies, oh, no. The book was a beautifully illustrated and expensive edition of Beatrice Potter’s Tales of Peter Rabbit. Like most young, inexperienced mothers, I was convinced that my son was a genius. After all, he’d already said his first word, “light,” pointing to a lamp. Enough evidence for me—he was ready to read. I sat him down next to me on the sofa and placed the book into his chubby little hands. He examined it front and back, turning it every which way. He opened the pages and patted the pictures happily. Then, looking up at me for approval, he raised the book to his mouth and began to eat it.
It was an impulse I understood completely. There are some books so yummy looking that I would devour them if I could. For me, reading has always been a sensual experience. I lust after books. I love everything about them, how they look, how they feel, and how they smell. I love the heft of them in my hands. If I really, really like a book, I’ve been known to embrace it and pat its cover fondly. That’s probably why folks look at me funny when I’m let loose in a bookstore.
In selecting books for gifts, I look for the most delicious ones. I want any book I give to be treasured for years to come, to be so esthetically appealing that the recipient has the same reaction my son did. I’m not talking eye candy, or glossy coffee table show-offs. A gift book is one you want to sink your teeth into, literally and figuratively. Cookbooks, which I give as wedding presents, are the most obvious example. Because I enjoy both reading and cooking, the most luscious cookbooks are not just edible but readable as well. A perfect example is Frank Stitt’s Southern Table. But, try not to lick the pages.
Nature books tend to be especially scrumptious. When I gave the writer Anne Rivers Siddons a copy of Thomas Pakenham’s remarkable book, Meetings with Remarkable Trees, she held it up to her face and pressed her cheek against it. I’ve given Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, many times but always with a warning: Don’t overindulge. It’s so rich you should savor only a little bit at the time.
If time is a factor and I don’t have the luxury of browsing, sniffing, and feeling my way through the smorgasbord of delectable titles on the shelves, I’ve found the perfect solution. I give a copy of Book Lust by Nancy Pearl. The subtitle is “Recommended Reading for every Mood, Moment, and Reason.” I add “Hunger” to the list, and wish the recipient bon appetite!

Cassandra King
author of Making Waves, The Sunday Wife, The Same Sweet Girls, and Queen of Broken Hearts

Sunday, February 10, 2008

After-Game Snacks and You: What Every Mom Should Know Sarah Smiley

I've recently failed at a basic, even if it is relatively new, task of motherhood: after-game snacks. And I blame time — specifically having too much of it.

If you have a son or daughter involved in youth sports, you already know the pressure. After registering your child for a team, spending their college savings on a uniform and equipment, and the obligatory parent t-shirt that reads, "I'm [your child's name here]'s Mom," the next thing you're asked to do is sign up for snack duty. Yes, after your child has done an incredibly healthy thing such as run around a soccer field for an hour, he or she is apparently entitled to a sugary snack and drink as a reward. When I was a kid, "snack and drink" amounted to sliced oranges and cold water dispensed out of a large cooler and with paper cups that disintegrated in your hand after the sides collapsed on themselves. Today, "snack and drink" means cupcakes, full-size bottles of Gatorade, fudge-striped cookies, Doritos, Sprite, and sometimes, ice cream. Mothers have even been known to bring cellophane bags filled with candy, much like the goody bags children receive at a birthday party.

The tone (which is to say, the expectation) for snack duty is usually set by whatever the first mother on the list brings. Unfortunately, the first mother on the list is almost always the Team Mom (or someone else more organized than me) to come up with a list in the first place. This mother is, by default, apt to bring something fantastic for the after-game snack. (Although I'd be willing to bet it won't be sliced oranges, a cooler of water, and cheap paper cups.) What this means for you, the further-down-the-list mother, is that you will be looked upon with disgust, pity, and threats of Child Protective Services if you bring raisins and bottles of water for snack duty. Trust me.

"They've just played soccer for an hour, and she brings the raisins," the other mothers (who would have brought homemade cupcakes) will think.

I'm sorry, I strive to just get my kids to the game on time (and if their shoes are tied that’s a bonus). I wouldn't even know how to transport cupcakes without smashing them, and I certainly don't know how to bring ice cream and keep it frozen. But really, why do these kids need cookies, cupcakes and ice cream just because they've played a game? What happened to tousling their hair and saying, "Good job, Son. Now go take out the trash."

At a time when society is obsessed with the health and diets of children and an outstanding amount of children suffer from diabetes and obesity, I'm surprised that no one addresses this after-game snack phenomenon. This isn’t to say that I don’t have a theory as to why we aren’t talking about it, because I always have theories. My theory is that some mothers have too much time on their hands.

Do you realize that today mothers actually have more time than ever before? Think about all the ways in which our lives have become easier: dishwashers, fast food, microwaves, disposable diapers, washing machines. Time that my grandmother spent hanging up cloth diapers is now spent out-performing other mothers with after-game snacks. I can't help but think this isn't a good thing. The out-performing each other part, at least.

We simply have too much time today. We have time to worry about every sniffle and every statistic. We even have time to read and reread books about every developmental stage. "I didn't know about all these goofy things when I was raising kids," my 87-year- old grandmother, Doris, is known to say. "I was just doing the best I could." Doris was a young mother like me in the post-WWII era. Unlike me, she had very little time to worry about after-game snacks, or even sports, and certainly she didn't have time to worry about the developmental aspects of youth sports. My uncle and mom were playing kickball in the front yard while she hung clothes out to dry in the back.

I'm tempted to say Doris's way is the better way. I'm also tempted to take a stand against after-game snacks at tee-ball this spring. Yet, come to think of it, baking cupcakes for the soccer team might be annoying, but it sure beats the heck out of cleaning dirty cloth diapers and staying home all day to make meatloaf and wax the floors. Especially if no other mothers have to see my dirty floors and comment about how clean theirs are.


Sarah Smiley is the author of SHORE DUTY, a syndicated newspaper column, and of the memoir Going Overboard: The Misadventures of a Military Wife (Penguin/NAL, 2005). Read more about Sarah at