Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What Are Authors Worth?

A few weeks ago I was contacted by an organization from my home state and asked to host a series of lectures by fiction writers. I was also asked to help line up the speakers. As I was talking with the “person in charge” I asked what the fee or honorarium would be. The answer was that the authors would be allowed to sell their own books.

I explained that in this day of rising fuel prices I didn’t think that would be adequate compensation. I suggested we pay one hundred and fifty dollars per person. Honestly you would have thought I suggested a hundred and fifty thousand. I could hear the gasp and intake of breath all the way from South Carolina.

Now why is this? Are writers not celebrities of a sort? Don’t they deserve to get a little recognition in a monetary sense for their accomplishments? I think they do. But even I must confess that I am a person who will go anywhere and everywhere to spread the word about my books. And I don’t usually get any compensation.

That is not to say I haven’t gotten paid in some instances. Sometimes I have been paid nicely. Sometimes I have not. I have spoken to groups and gotten a plant, a book weight, a pen set, gift certificates for everything from restaurants to video stores, and hand written thank you notes. You never know what you are going to get.

I think one reason writers don’t get paid is that most of us just feel so lucky to be writers. We still haven’t gotten over the fact that we are published authors. So when someone asks if we will speak to this or that group we just say sure and show up.

I have a friend who is an author and she decided to put her foot down and ask to at least get gas money. She said she got responses like “oh we can’t do that” or “do we really have to?” Mind now that she wasn’t asking for a fee, just for gas money.

Another friend of mine doesn’t mind doing these events for free but his wife pitches a fit when he isn’t paid. She says they don’t earn enough for him to make trips that don’t compensate him. He tried the old argument about selling his books there but she countered with the fact that sometimes he doesn’t sell very many books. That is true for all authors. Books sales are never guaranteed.

Then there are the writers who say that they don’t go anywhere without being paid. I don’t believe it. Unless they are on the level of John Grisham or Danielle Steel I think they take what they can get just like the rest of us. And if they aren’t offered anything they still go just to have a chance to plug their book.

For the upcoming event I mentioned I got the honorarium approved, but not without a struggle. It was like taking pennies from the poor. I felt like the meanest guy around, but then I thought about the poor writers who were going to travel a hundreds miles or more. They were taking their time and their talent to come and speak. That put some strength in my backbone and I stood tough.

Maybe some of you have the solution, or maybe you don’t think it is a problem. I would like to know what you think. Personally I think writers should be paid for their time and efforts but maybe I am just being miserly.


Jackie K Cooper's next book THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS will be published in September by Mercer University Press

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Please Don't Check Your Manners at the Bridge

Most of us who have chosen to live in popular vacation and resort areas like Martha’s Vineyard or my own Hilton Head Island or a host of others around the country probably began as tourists. My husband and I bought our first condo here in 1984, primarily as an investment, but also to have a get-away place when the northern Ohio winters became unbearable—which was pretty much an annual occurrence. And I have to admit that during those flying trips to recharge our batteries and soak up some sunshine, I never gave much thought to those who called the island home during the other 51 weeks of the year. We wanted to squeeze as much out of our precious few days as we could, and I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes we probably weren’t as understanding of the locals as we might have been. Okay, scratch probably.

Which brings me to last Saturday. But let me back up a little. On Friday, I sent off the manuscript for the next book in the Bay Tanner mystery series, Covenant Hall. I did my usual happy dance and looked forward to taking a month or so off before I begin the next project. I also had a list as long as my arm of things I’d been putting off while I reworked and massaged the ms. So Saturday morning we did some painting in the living room. When we finished, my husband suggested we grab a quick sandwich before embarking on the next item on my list. A fast change of clothes and five minutes later we walked into Wendy’s at Wexford.

Yes, that Wendy’s. What can I say? I’m a sucker for their chicken sandwiches.

Surprisingly, the place was jammed. Saturday is usually a quiet day on Hilton Head because it’s turnaround day—last week’s visitors are heading home and their replacements have yet to arrive. But apparently a lot of them had decided to linger on past lunchtime. Anyway, we finally made it to the counter after waiting interminably behind a whole crowd, a couple of families traveling together, whose kids couldn’t make up their minds what they wanted. Their bill came to over $60 which should tell you how much food we’re talking about here. But they finally finished, and just as I opened my mouth to place our order, one of the mothers popped back up beside me complaining about something missing from their five heaping trays. The poor little girl behind the cash register didn’t know what to do, but Mrs. Tourist Mom wasn’t about to be put off, so again we waited until she was pacified and finally moved off. No “Excuse me.” No “Sorry.” Nada.

Now I know how petty this sounds, okay? But it’s symptomatic of what happens during the summer around here. Tourists are the lifeblood of our local economy, and we welcome them with open arms. But it should be a two-way street. While everyone else is relaxing and enjoying their vacations, the rest of us have to get on with our lives. We have to go the post office and the grocery store and the dry cleaner. We have to drive to the dentist and get to church on Sunday mornings. During the summer months, we try to order our lives to take into account that we’ll have more than a million visitors before Labor Day. It goes with the territory of living in a resort area. Some of our friends actually abandon the island from June to September and flee back up North, but we stay because we love it here—the weather, the beaches, the natural beauty that drew us in the first place. And we want our visitors to love it, too. Honest.

But if you’re planning to be on the road this summer despite the bloated gas prices, please give a thought to the people who live in the town you’ve decided to visit. Try to remember that the same traffic laws you’re used to back home generally apply in a resort area. Making left turns from the far right lane because you’ve finally spotted the restaurant you’ve been hunting for isn’t a good idea. Even if you’re laden with folding chairs, blankets, coolers, and several excited, prancing children, ignoring the crosswalk to take a shortcut to the beach might not be a good plan. Keep in mind that not everyone you encounter has all the time in the world. Some of them have jobs to get back to and kids to get to a soccer game and errands that must be run. Pack your manners with your sun screen, and spare some sympathy for the people you encounter who aren’t on vacation.

Because sometimes, damn it, we just want a chicken sandwich.

Kathy Wall grew up in a small town in northern Ohio. She and her husband Norman have lived on Hilton Head Island since 1994. Her 8th Bay Tanner mystery, The Mercy Oak, was released in May by St. Martin’s Press.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Today is July 14th and the reason I’m writing this blog so early is because I’m supposed to be at Cocoa Beach on July 28th. Like an answer to prayer, a friend of mine who owns a condo there offered it to me and the family for an entire week! I imagine myself so busy frolicking in the surf that I’ll have no time to blog, so I’m planning to just find this on my laptop and send it off with the click of a few buttons.

I haven’t been to the beach in years. Guess you might call it a case of genteel poverty. One child is in college and my husband recently started his own business, and both of these require sacrifices.

A need to be at the beach every summer germinated in the days of my Georgia childhood. Come July my parents and us four kids would jump into our wood-paneled station wagon and head to Florida. Florida was another world, an enchanted place that made me want to hang on to every second so that our vacation would never end. When we’d spy the Florida Welcome Center on the side of the interstate, we’d sit up straight and eager. My dad pulled into the parking lot and was barely stopped before we’d jump out of the backseat and go tearing to the wall-sized rack of brochures about places like Sea World and Weeki Watchi, pictures of mermaids and Flipper gracing the covers. At the desk, a nice lady in a crisp white sleeveless blouse and a perky bouffant with little pincurls (this was the 60’s and '70's) would hand us each a plastic cup shaped like an orange, full of REAL Florida orange juice. Back in the car our saved up allowance dollars burned holes in our pockets. Soon as we’d checked into our hotel, we’d make a beeline to the nearest aqua-colored tacky souvenir shop and come out with bags full of over-priced conch shells, rubber alligators, dried seahorses, and shellacked sand dollars. But the best part by far was the sandy shores .... and the ocean.

I bet you’ve heard it said that the mind is the strongest organ when it comes to sex, and indeed, the mind is a very powerful thing in lots of aspects of life. There’s a story about this man in an Iranian prison who survived a long isolation by weaving a rug in his mind.
Well, I don’t weave rugs, but to compensate for my straitened circumstances of too much time with no trip to the beach, I have my own devices. Over the years I’ve constructed this elaborate selection of mental settings, and so around 11:00 PM each night, when I lie down in my bed, I choose the escape I desire, make that need, to go to sleep by. I have several favorite settings I’ve honed to perfection over the years; places like my memaw’s farm back in the 70's, some rather carefree days when I was in college and experiencing the accompanying freedoms of being on my own for the first time, and the beach. I mentally transport myself into these places using the five senses: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound. Until I’m there in that place. It’s kind of like a drug.

I don’t plan to use these settings in a novel I’m writing, they’re simply for me to BE in them. Speaking of being in a place, have you ever noticed that some stories exist in a vacuum? Lines are spoken without any description of setting. To me, that’s like going to a play, entering the darkened theater and taking your seat, and then never having the stage lights come on. I believe place is a strong force in a story, and it’s probably the first thing in every book I want to make clear to readers. Setting lends weight and substance to scenes, and I work to show what the landscape’s like; the color of the soil, the plants that grow there, how light would look in different seasons or different parts of the day, etc...

Mainly, though, setting takes people away, and isn’t that why we read? It’s crucial that the reader feels transported into the story. I want him or her to get lost in the world I create; to look up an hour, maybe two, later, and blink with surprise to see where they actually are.
So, I’m wondering if I can put my fantasy beach into words; which as a writer I should be able to do: I’m going to try to take you to Cocoa Beach with me: I love the very name Cocoa Beach. It brings images of Cocoa Krispies, of chocolatey-colored sand and frothy milk-white foam at the edge of waves which are rhythmically licking the sand as my footprints weave a pattern behind me. I feel the sunlight like hot honey on my skin, taste the salt of dried ocean on my lips, smell the coconutty sweetness of Coppertone sunblock, hear the raucous cries of seagulls circling. It’s my favorite time of day to be on the shore; when the tide is way, way out, and there are lots of little tidal pools, puddles in depressions of sand. Some are filled with little fish, darting. Some are warm, some coolish, but all shallow enough to be certain what is in there, and so I sit down in one that comes just to my ankles. I trail my fingers in the silky, wet sand. Strewn along the beach are transparent jellyfish lying prostrate, live starfish with all their dark little hairs on the underside. Looking over one shoulder I can see the tacky neon sign of Ron Jon’s famous surf shop, and if I look out beyond the surf toward the horizon I can see the masts of shrimp boats in beautiful dark geometric shapes. These make me sigh with pleasure to think of an impending visit to The Seafood Shack for supper; a plate of fried shrimp, hush puppies, a baked potato loaded with puddles of butter and sour cream, and an icy cold Coke.

I know I’m not alone. Have you noticed the plethora of beach scenes on book jackets these days? Look in any bookstore or through a recent book catalog and there they are, a long line of novel covers featuring bare female legs, toes buried temptingly in sand, diaphanous dresses fluttering in salty breezes, and beyond that...THE RIPPLING OCEAN.

I keep titles of books I’d like to write in my purse, and lately I heard an advertisement over the radio while I was riding in the car. I wrote down a phrase from the ad that really spoke to me, called to me with pleasant images of swaying palms and frothy surf: A REFRESHING

TROPICAL FLAVOR. But the more I ponder it, I worry people might think it’s a cookbook, and I also worry that I don’t really know any more about tropical stuff than what a roll of Tropical Fruits Lifesavers tastes like, but then I think maybe I can still use it if I just have this character who’s really pining to be there., who dreams so hard she mentally transports herself to the tropics while she’s doing something like scrubbing toilets, or paying the bills, or...

Julie L Cannon
You can read more about Julie and her books at

Friday, July 25, 2008

Memories of First Dates and Friday Night Football

I was in my boot camp the other morning, “Body by Bill” we call it. Should be called, “How many ways can I kick your booty!” But that’s another blog. So, I’m jumping rope when the song Maniac came on. Immediately I’m taken back to a theatre in a small city in England the summer of my thirteenth year when I saw the movie Flashdance. The cut out neck sweatshirt that Jennifer Beals wore changed my complete eighth grade wardrobe. Before I knew it Bill was playing the best of the eighties and I forgot I was working out. Instead I was immediately transported to Friday nights after high school football games, riding in my boyfriend’s baby-blue pickup truck, dancing in front of the mirror in my pj’s with a hairbrush for a microphone with my best friend. Wonderful nights. Good times. That’s the power of a song.
For about eight years I had the privilege of writing songs. And through those years I received countless letters, yes, actual things that come in the mail letters, about how those songs impacted people’s lives. Now, I have the privilege of writing a story. I say the word privilege because every time an e-mail comes and someone tells me how the laughed until the bed shook, cried until they were out of tears or wished there were more pages when they got to the end, I count it a privilege.
Every time I walk into a bookstore and see a book with my name on it I still don’t know how that was ever accomplished. I’ll reread a passage, remembering the moment I wrote it, yet still not knowing how something divine can blow into the heart of someone like me. There are days I don’t feel qualified. Moments I wonder if there will ever be another story inside of me. And then from somewhere deep and kind, the words flow across the page.
I will spend the rest of my life hearing Cherish by Kool and the Gang and remember the very first night Garland Greenway drove me home in his daddy’s car and my heart beat so fast I thought he would hear it. I will spend the rest of my life seeing C.S. Lewis’ The Problem with Pain and remembering how it walked me through the season of my greatest pain. I will spend the rest of my life remembering how Lord of the Flies introduced me to the power of story. And then I’ll remember, that somewhere, for the rest of someone’s life, my songs, or my stories will be a part of someone’s memories. And I will count that a privilege. We as writers may share our wit, our rawness, or our humanity. But the fact that someone is willing to give their time, their most precious commodity in this life to read it, well, that is a privilege.

Denise Hildreth makes her home in Franklin, TN where she enjoys long walks with her Shih-tzu's Sophie and Maggie, and drinking Coca-Cola with a good friend.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sister Sandy in Rich City, Ga. had a problem many parents face in the summer.
Her youngest son, Preston, 8, decided the saltwater pool in his backyard had enough chlorine that he needed no baths for the summer.
“I get clean in the pool,” he told his mother, who was trying to spiff the kid up for when her ex picked him up for a lavish vacation.
She had no trouble getting her teen to take showers. With Preston, nothing worked.
Then a wild idea zapped her.
“Everybody get in the golf cart. Wear your swim trunks,” she said, loading up her boys and entering one of those explosive washes where one can choose from a variety of cleaning, buffing and waxing options.
Sandy entered the stall, paid her $12 for the Super Soaker, Peel-the-Rubber-off-the-Tires wash with a wax job even duck feathers can’t match.
They slowly pulled up but nothing happened. The message flashed. “Back up! Back up!”
“This golf cart doesn’t weigh enough,” she told her boys. “Stand up and let’s jump up and down to get some weight on this thing so we can get our Wash and Wax.”
They did as told, to no avail. Sandy ate that $12 and decided to go across the street to the eight-bay, do-it-yourself wash.
“We were ready for our hot high pressure, touchless car wash. No brushes. Just a blasting with these jets,” she said.
“It may take the skin off your butts, but you’ll get a good bath,” she told her boys. “I can’t send you to your father smelling like our two dogs.”
She couldn’t stop laughing. I heard the boys squealing in the background when she called to report her latest outrageous behavior. Nothing had topped this since she spent $200 on a possum fur coat and wore it by the pool in her bikini, glass of champagne in her hand.
In the bay, she cranked the wand, the gun, and other apparatuses and proceeded to “bathe” her boys. Preston, being light of weight, nearly blew into the road. The soap sprayed, the gun blasted, then Sandy told them to work the lather in their hair as if it were a bottle of Pert Plus.
“You wouldn’t believe how clean they got,” she said. “Their hair had never smelled better. All we needed was some Armor All for their nails and one of those pine-scented things you put on the rearview mirror for their wrists.”
I called Mama that night to tell her about Sandy’s latest bathing routine. She was not amused.
“But Mama, don’t you recall Daddy sudsing by the pool every summer at out house?” She remained silent. The memories of my father, after swimming his laps, surfaced, and I recalled him with the hose in hand, a cake of soap and his triple-blade plastic razor on the table nearby.
He’d shampoo his hair, shave, take the soap to every part of his body, including the insides of his trunks, rinse, and be done.
“We ain’t right,” Sandy said. “Let’s just face it.”
Susan Reinhardt is the author of the newly released “Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin,” and the bestselling, “Not Tonight Honey Wait ‘Til I’m a Size 6.” She also penned “Don’t Sleep with a Bubba. Previously with Ethan Ellenberg, she is now at the Waxman Agency in NY,

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Summer Camp

by Cathy Pickens

Okay, summer’s half over, so what have you done for fun? When fall comes, about what will you write your “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essay?
True, you’re probably not going back to school and no English teacher is going to torture you by requiring an essay.

Still, wouldn’t it be fun to look back on your summer with the same happy-that-it-came/sad-that-it’s-passing sigh that you had as a kid?

So, when was the last time you went to summer camp? What?? It’s been years? Why?

It’s not too late. What would you like to do this summer? Trips to exotic locations? A pampered spa retreat? A challenging outdoor experience?

Yeah, that would be great. But mundane things like money, time, work and family commitments cut into that summer freedom we remember from childhood.

I started thinking about the magical taste that summer has when I began planning an MBA elective at Queens University of Charlotte on creativity for business. Why can’t grown-ups have the fun – and the benefit – of a summer camp, despite all their other responsibilities?

Sure, you say, that would be easy if I had unlimited time and money, but it’s possible even with limited resources. The limits can add to the fun and the challenge.

What would you like to do? Art camp? Music camp? Science camp? How about a trip to the library to get books on drawing or the latest on brain science research [The Female Brain and Brain Rules are great reads.] At the library, check out some classical music CDs. Head to the art store for a few supplies.

Check the listing at your area colleges and universities for noncredit courses – everything from ballroom dancing to landscape design to creative writing.

Or many cities have shops that offer courses on beading or jewelry-making, ceramic painting, photography … or pole dancing. Most are inexpensive and are taught by enthusiastic artists passionate about their subject and experienced at teaching it to others.

The hardest part for you will be narrowing down your choices.

Don’t live in a city that offers lots of options? Start something at your community center or church. Heck, check out Mindy Friddle on this blog, talking about starting The Writing Room in Greenville, South Carolina.

Create your own literature camp. Months ago, I embarked on a reading program – a sort of literature camp. I finished two Jane Austen biographies (one on audio from the library, while I was running my usual errands), re-read some Austen novels, checked out the BBC video versions, even read The Jane Austen Book Club.

Maybe for your literature camp, you might want to try a new writer. Someone on this blog? Check out his or her website. Try one of their books. That’s a summer camp that can fit into the crevices of a busy life.

In June, my husband and I went to Owensboro, Kentucky to watch mystery plays. I love mystery plays, starting with Agatha Christie. [If you can be anywhere near Owensboro next June, I would recommend that you check it out – great fun and a pleasant city to visit.] Click on Discovering New Mysteries

When we got home, I checked out some library books on writing screenplays and spent some time playing with ideas for writing my own screenplay. I haven’t written a play yet, but I might. And playing with the ideas was fun.

I also crocheted a purse. I saw the pattern in a store, bought three balls of yarn, and wrestled with a less-than-perfect pattern and my rusty needlework skills. After several months, I finished it. Maybe I’ll carry it. The important thing was that I challenged myself with something.

The real secret to summer camp? EXPECT to have fun. Attitude can make the ordinary an adventure.

What will you try? A new recipe? An elegant picnic for family and friends? Shag dancing with your spouse? Learning what your digital camera can do? Taking your children – or borrowing children – to explore something in your area that you haven’t visited before – a train museum, a park, a tea party café?

The possibilities are endless.

So what will you get for your efforts? Awakened brain cells, energized synapses firing, a proven way to stave off dementia, a new way of looking at things, a sense of accomplishment.
Heck, you’ll have some fun. And, if anybody asks what you did over the summer, make them so jealous they’ll want their own summer camp!

Monday, July 21, 2008



I just wanted to hang a picture. I'd been asking my husband to do it for weeks, and if I continued to ask, my request would soon be considered nagging. I decided to do it myself. With a deep breath, I found the padlock key and boldly entered his storage shed.

Once my vision cleared after whacking my head on the low entry overhang, I took inventory. Or rather, standing in place, I tap-tapped a 360-degree circle, like a ballerina in blue jeans and flip flops. There was so much stuff piled everywhere that I couldn't do much else. I found golf clubs, muddy work boots, truck parts, a variety of lawn equipment, and boxes. Lots of cardboard boxes. I just needed a hammer and a nail. The most primal and basic of tools.

Frustrated, I thought back to the first townhouse I ever owned, shortly after graduating college. My dad helped me buy it and as a housewarming gift, he gave me a toolbox. I was the proud owner of a new hammer, screwdrivers, self-adjusting wrench and the all-important needle-nose pliers. He'd included an 8-piece socket set and wire cutters. There were a variety of nails and picture hanging equipment and a magnetic stud finder. Dad had carefully selected each tool—all top quality stuff with padded grips and lifetime warranties—and packaged the lot in a bright red toolbox.

But I soon discovered that men didn't want me to have tools. A chemical in testosterone
must convince their brains that a woman can't possibly know what a wrench is, much less
how to install a showerhead. It seems that every male in my life—even neighbors and boyfriends—left my house with one of my tools. They'd craftily offer their help and then make off with my wire strippers or screwdriver. Many years and several moves later, I still had the bright red toolbox, its contents a mere shell of what they used to be. When I married, my husband appropriated the barren toolbox and stashed it away with all his manly stuff.

Standing in the shed, filled with nostalgia, I thought back to all the little projects I'd successfully completed during my single days. Between several moves, I'd hung plenty of pictures, sure. But I'd also put in new light fixtures, fixed a broken hinge on an oven door, installed a cable splitter, and put in deadbolt locks. Even as my tools kept disappearing, I managed to be my own handyman, or rather, handywoman.

Jumping off memory lane with a sigh, I was ready to give up my search for hammer and nail when a beam of light caressed something red. My toolbox, perched high on a shelf! I carefully maneuvered it down. With anticipation, I opened the latch and lifted the lid…only to find a stack of spotted, folded rags. RAGS!

I experienced an epiphany, right there in the middle of my husband's turf: PINK TOOLBOXES.

Why, you ask? Because a man won't go near a pink box—something they'd imagine to contain pretty-smelling bath products or frilly, spiky shoes. I think it's every woman's inherent right to have HER OWN toolbox, fully stocked with things like a cushy-grip hammer and shiny nails. Blessed little picture-hanging nails.

Just imagine, ladies: your own tools, waiting and ready at a moment's notice for those times when the belt rack falls off the closet wall or the icemaker gizmo gets jammed just before a dinner party. If a higher-up from Craftsman, Stanley, or Kobalt is reading this…think about it. A fully-stocked hot pink toolbox just might be your next best seller.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Zen of Mindy Friddle

Hint: You Just Walk the Path

My life continues to be enriched by reading novels that completely draw me into their worlds. You look up from the pages of such an absorbing read, startled to find yourself back in your own skin, as if you had been off somewhere else (in a Mississippi courtroom in the 1920's, say, or a post-Apocalyptic scarred planet), living another sort of life entirely. I think--I hope-- it's safe to say that writers start off as voracious readers first. We read for inspiration, for the bliss of an absorbing story, and, later, we read with an eye for craft.

I tell students this is the "feed your head" part of writing: a sort of intuitive trust that the right book by the right author will come your way for a reason-- for sustenance, to strengthen your talent, to teach you something about your own writing, help you get unstuck, show you what you need to know IF you're open to exploring, and IF you read widely and deeply.

Francine Prose (novelist and author of Reading Like a Writer) is adamant (in this interview) about seeking out what she needs from the "masters":
You can say, 'Look, James Joyce has written the greatest party scene that has ever been written,' or 'Tolstoy has written the most marvelous horse racing scene.' And if it happens to be that you want to write a party scene or a horse racing scene, you might want to go look and see how geniuses have done it and take a lesson.
Prose also said that, in a serendipitous fashion, the right book often finds its way to her at the right time and reveals something she needs for her own writing.

I LOVE the story of how E.L. Doctorow wrote Ragtime. He's one of my favorite authors; it's one my favorite books. It's a historical novel, full of pitch-perfect details, with a constellation of famous personalities (Houdini, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, just to name a few) alongside fictional characters. The research, I thought, must have been staggering. But, no. "When you’re working well," Doctorow said in a recent New York Magazine interview, "you don’t do research.Whatever you need comes to you."

Huh? Yeah. Case in point: In Ragtime, there's a scene where two characters (a father and a little girl) flee Westchester, NY on a trolley, making their way all the way to Massachusetts. A snag: After he'd written this scene, the author wasn't even sure if such a feat was possible. So, he got up from his desk at the public library, "and banged my knee on a book and looked down, and I picked it up. It was a corporate history of trolley-car companies. This is the way the book (Ragtime) was assembled."

In Zen-speak, I think this might be known as being in alignment with the universe, open to the present moment, and free from desperation and "grasping" that skews and distorts. In talking with my fellow writers, many tell me they've found the fastest way to get blocked and stymied in a work-in-progress is to consider the writing a means to an end (publication, best sellerdom, freaked out crazy deadlines, etc.) instead of focusing on the writing for its own sake. Richard Bausch, in an interview with Writer magazine some years ago, summed this up beautifully:
When I sit down to write, I'm not thinking about pulling stuff out of myself. I'm thinking about going somewhere, walking around, and seeing what I find. And there's never a time when I sit down and it isn't there. You just walk the path. There is a tremendous amount of work you can get done doing that. There's no part of that that's not fun. I never worry about whether or not it's good. I don't care, right then. I'm walking the path. I know that if I can bring enough attention to it, and be honest and open to it and not cheat it, it'll be fine. Whether it's the best I've ever done is not anything for me to worry about.

When you're in the zone, you're not even YOU, you're watching this story reveal itself (in hard glimmering icy plinks or long, luxurious warm rains-- the story is often fickle as the weather), and, then, somehow, you're writing it.

Which might explain the article I tore out of yesterday's science section of the NYT: "Tongue Orchid's Sexual Guile: Utterly Convincing." I'm in the midst of final edits of my manuscript and I've been stuck for a few days on one paragraph that just needed a little...something. So there, over my first cup of coffee, I found it: There's a slew of delicious, odd scientific facts stuffed into this article, one of which is the perfect missing detail for my scene about a presentation on orchids to senior citizens. I'm grateful, delighted, but not entirely surprised. I knew my little something would come. And in this case, it was delivered to my door.

Mindy Friddle--that's her, pictured at right, at the NY Botanical Gardens-- is the author of THE GARDEN ANGEL (St. Martin's Press/Picador) and SECRET KEEPERS (forthcoming from St. Martin's Press/Picador).Visit to read her interviews with authors, drop by her blog, Novel Thoughts. Befriend her on Facebook.

Chunky Monkey by Karin Gillespie

Writing, like most professions, comes with its shares of occupational hazards. There’s Amazon-itis, the compulsive checking of one’s Amazon rating—usually most severe in debut novelists but even the old saws can’t always resist a daily peek or two or three… or ten. Also the unhealthy pallor from staring into the blue glow of the cathode ray tube for hours on end. Not to mention the looming risk of carpal tunnel, and nightmares of being forced to write an entire opus with one’s big toe.

But the real bugaboo, the tragic little secret is that, after several years as full-time writers, most of us transform from being thin, neurotic artistic types to… how should I put this delicately?…downright robust artistic types.

In other words, we become chunky monkeys.

I’m speaking from experience. And I know I’m not the only scribe who has far too much junk in the trunk, a bit too much butter on the bean.

Fact is I no longer resemble my author photo--taken in those lean, hungry pre-publication months—and I refuse to replace it with a more true-to-life Jabba the Hut version.

The weight snuck up on me. I kept telling myself I was retaining water, or pre-menstrual or post-menstrual or that my pants had shrunk in the wash. Unfortunately denial finally had a head-on collision with reality and I was forced to go up a couple of sizes.

That’s when I tried to accept my bloat: So what if I’m a little round, I’d rationalize. Life is short! Who wants to give up red wine, chocolate and the occasional Krispy Kreme run? Bring on the BLT.

But in truth I was a fair weather friend of my newly “enhanced” physique. Some days I’d strut around like Jennifer Hudson with an Oscar in hand; most days I felt like the dumpiest woman on the planet.. There were times I didn’t recognize myself in photos. Do my arms really look like twin loafs of sour dough? When did I get that extra chin?

My weight issue started occupying far too much space in my mind. I was constantly touching my belly as a gauge. Am I having a fat day or a thin day? Would I ever lose weight? Where would I get the motivation?

It was an unforgiving hotel mirror that finally prompted me to take action. I had ways of tricking my home mirror (standing in front of it only while wearing head-to-toe black, high heels and Spanx) but this mirror bounced back my image just before I was getting into the shower… Enough said.

So I started a diet. Truth is I’m a pretty healthy eater. I love veggies, salads, fruit and fish. And I’ve always exercised, Most days I run four miles and two times a week I lift weights. But the combination of being in my mid forties, having a sedentary occupation, and coming from a less than svelte gene pool all added up to a couple of Michelin radials around my middle.

I decided to cut out all starches (except for fruit and yogurt in the morning to give me energy for my run) all sugars and… this was the hardest for me by far… all alcohol.

I LOVE red wine—how it smells and tastes—the way it looks in the glass like liquid rubies. I love the curve of the bottle, the wide-mouth goblets, the velvet feel of a Cab, the delicate bouquet of a Pinot and the slap-you-in-face, jammy taste of a Zin.

I thought I’d only last a day.

But here I am nearly THREE WEEKS later, and I’ve already dropped a size. (Not a real size mind you,. I went from a loose size eight to a tight size six. I’m five foot two and very fined-boned so a size eight is big for my body type.)

Do I miss the wine?

Every day when five o’clock rolls around the drum beats start up, growing more insistent with each passing minute; I swear I’m going to race to the liquor store, grab the first bottle I see (a screw top bottle; cork takes too long) and chugalug in the parking lot.

Instead I shush the drums and drink a diet Snapple instead. Eventually Dionysus’s siren song dies down.

I made a vow I’d go without the sauce for six weeks. When those six weeks are up, I’ll be less Chunky Monkey and more Skinny Minnie.

I’m hoping to lose ten pounds, and if I do…well, I will definitely drink to that.

P.S. One of my favorite reds is a Zin called Writer’s Block.

It’s about fifteen bucks and worth every nickel.

(Caution: Object in the box is much larger than it appears.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

11 tips for the debut novelist (Why 11? Because it goes to 11.)

"History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heart-breaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats."
-- B.C. Forbes

Where ever you are in your writing career, you have probably lived this quote. I’ve just been through my first 90-days as a published author and I can tell you this: I’m still living it. Maybe this first three months is like any new job. It’s a probationary period to see if you have the moxie to keep going. So I thought I’d tally a few things I’ve learned. Turns out, there are 11 key things I've learned that I do not want to forget.

1. Have courage. If you think you have enough courage from previously sending out query letters just to get published, think again.

2. Get bookmarks. This is your business card. ‘Nuff said.

3. Recognize that you are now a member of the great club called ‘published authors.” Many want to join. Few actually do. Remembering this along your debut journey will help support those days when your confidence wanes. (See #1)

4. Network on MySpace, the king of all social networks.

5. Be nice to EVERYONE especially bookstore managers. They are a tighter circle than you might think.

6. Ask your BFF to read your printed masterpiece for all the typos and errors you and your editors did not catch. Having your BFF do this job for you has three important purposes. One, you won’t have to go through the pain right now. Two, you’ll need that list should your masterpiece go to paperback later. Three, reviewing these errors in the harsh light of public humiliation will make you a human, seek-and-destroy missile of typos and errors.

7. Figure out how to flex your pitch to men and women. Men and women respond to different ideas. (Who knew?) And your book is no different. Take my debut, JANEOLOGY, for instance. Its initial incident involves a young, ill mother who snaps and drowns her toddler son. The question the novel asks is: What would cause a woman to kill her child? Following this question, the reader is instantly teamed with Jane’s grieving husband, Tom, as he finds himself on trial for failing to protect his children from his own wife. He and his lawyer look for answers in Jane’s family history so that they might use faulty genetic inheritance to raise reasonable doubt – a gamble for sure.

What I've discovered:

Women are turned off by the inciting incident. So then, the pitch becomes one emphasizing the family saga and exploring the cause and effect of nature and nurture.

Men are engaged by the legal ideas so then the pitch becomes one comparing this story to other legal thrillers with a unique emphasis on genetic inheritance.

8. Set guidelines about ‘TitleZ clicking’ else you become an addict of meaninglessness. I recommend twice daily visits. (If you don’t know what this refers to, you still have your sanity in check and I envy you.)

9. Learn to be a fearless asker. Ask for reviews from friends. Blog opportunities from strangers. Appearances at bookclubs. Just ask.

10. Have a sense of humor.

11. Heed the wisdom of my writing professor who once told me, “Many writers have talent, but few have the temperament to make a career of it.” (See 1-10)

For all you seasoned writers out there, what say you? What were your most important lessons learned as a debut author?


Karen Harrington is the author of JANEOLOGY (Kunati, April 2008) a novel BookList calls "Fascinating and much a character study as a legal thriller."
Stop by my daily blog and say hello or visit to read an excerpt and view the stunning book trailer for JANEOLOGY.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Heartbreaker Blues by River Jordan

I started out this morning before dawn. Sitting outside with coffee, tiki torches lit, waiting for the world to wake up around me. There's that fall wind in the trees thing going on and the birds are calling like crazy. A male cardinal lands a foot away and stares at me. Okay, I get it. Up to get birdseed. Scatter. Sit back down. Now, I am like Tarzana, the woods alive with scampering and scatterings and chatterings of all manner. The light is coming and the night is being peeled away, layer-by-layer, all too soon.

And then, for reasons that escape me, I'm thinking about a good boy that I done wrong. Just a nice boy that I had liked 'oh, so much' then had stopped liking for reasons I cannot remember that had nothing to do with anything other than being too young to be liking anyone and being at an age where Fickle is a four letter word. I had told him, Yes I'd go to his senior high dinner (dinner instead of a prom because his school was from back up in the woods and they weren't having a prom) And I bought a dress to go (a long green thing that I can now see made me look like Kermit the Frog) but somewhere between the buying of the dress and the wearing of the dress I fell out of like and the falling had a great, ugly resounding crash. I fulfilled my commitment as if it had been a cold business deal with a handshake. Not smiling very much. Not seeming to having a good time. And later refusing to join the groups of young couples that made their way to the beach to does young couple stuff. Drive around. Ride a few rides. Laugh a little. So for the remainder of the night my young date had to sail forth stag and I put on my pajamas and happily stayed home. Now, I look back and think of all the things that a penitent sinner might think of on their death bed. Or from the place of being a mother, a better human being, a grown-up, I think great cosmic thoughts like, "Oh, my." And, "Poor boy," and "Shame on me," for being whatever young, petulant age I was and breaking that boy's heart. And the only thing left to me is to lift up a small prayer of blessing over his life today. Something southern and simple like, "Lord, if that boy is still alive just bless him, bless him, bless him." So I'm now spiritual Tarzana surrounded by the torches and birds and chipmunks offering up prayers for this old beau.

And then immediately I flash forward a few years and think of another boy. One that I had a crush on the size of Texas. He used to stop into the drugstore where I worked selling lipsticks and gifts for the holidays and wrapping Christmas presents, and he would hang around and talk with me and my crush just knew no bounds. It grew everyday like the Grinch's heart until the glory, hallelujah of days when he finally asked me if I'd like to go out with him to the movies or some such thing. He could have said to walk his dog and I would have been nodding, "Yes!" I remember telling my mother about this upcoming event with great excitement. I remember buying a new shirt for the occasion. I remember him coming into the store that most anticipated high and holy day of 'the big date' and telling me as I stood behind the drugstore counter that he couldn't go (wherever) after all because his aunt had come to town and his mother said he had to stay home to visit. I stood there just wiped away. In a flash one big eraser had crossed the chalkboard of my happiness and then blam, happy dream date is gone. The disappointment lay in my mouth like bruised fruit. Tangible, overripe, sour. So later, at my mother's encouragement to help me over the hump of this teenage tragedy, I went out with a group of friends to the local Pizza place and who do you think I saw there sans the old aunt come to visit? That's right; it was His majesty with a group of laughing friends having a great, big old time without me. Two things happened at once. He broke my little heart and broke that crush thing right off of me at the same time, he did. And the only thing I can do when I think of him now is offer up that southern prayer saying, "If that boy is still alive, bless him Lord, just bless him," through slightly, gritted teeth because praying is not the first thing that comes to Tarzana's mind this time.

Which all makes a good case for not allowing kids to 'date' until they are thirty or married whichever comes first. And it also shows me from a long way off, something I couldn't see at that young state. Which is that from here I can tell who grew to be the stronger man. I can put those two boys side by side and I can tell you the one that was overlooked, was pushed aside, was the better of the two.

But now, surrounded by sunrise and peaceful morning, I realize that in our beautiful and broken human state we always manage to go through life hurting a few people and being hurt by others and sometimes the best we can do is to try to be decent, fair and truthful to that circle of friends and new found strangers that we're fortunate enough to meet. And to keep well the ones who know us with all our good, bad, and ugly, and somehow continue to make a choice to love us anyway in spite of ourselves.

And all I can say to that is Bless us, Lord, just bless us. Bless our broken and breaking hearts as we keep treading the daily waters of our existence.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Guest Blog

Warts and All

To Kill A Mockingbird is the kind of novel that all good southern writers read before they take on their own long efforts. It’s one of the books in the southern writers’ bible. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. So, a writer born as about as deep in the south as one can get, Macon Georgia—of course folks here in Georgia don’t count Florida, well maybe the panhandle— should have read this book, right? After all she has invented a world of characters using folklore, emotion, and downright southern history that inhabited her childhood. Of course she’s read the book. Wrong. I’m ashamed to say I never read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. I thought I had. I bragged I had read it, but the truth is I would have gone along in my lie, living a life of bliss, if not for leading a book club in the reading of this novel.

When several of the members asked what my feelings were on the book, I racked my brain for one original thought on the content, a thought not connected to the movie. After all I made an A on the paper I wrote in high school. My only answer could be that I was so young when I read it. How in the world was I expected to remember such a thing? I mean how many books do you think I’ve read since high school?

Of course I would read the book again. I needed to refresh my memory. I had a copy on my shelves gathering dust. I decided to lead the group in sections. We would discuss several chapters at a time. Our first assignment was chapters 1-7. Being the professional writer—with only a tiny affliction of OCD—I did my background research on the author, Harper Lee.

Up until that point, I had believed Harper Lee was dead. I'm not sure why I thought this other than she doesn't get mentioned much anymore. That's what I got for thinking. My first hit in my internet search took me to a recent Oprah magazine, where I found an article she had written about reading and writing real letters. She was alive and well. That should have been a sign that something in my memory stunk to the high heavens. If I didn’t know Harper Lee was still alive and I live right next door here in Georgia, how could I have read the book? How indeed?

I read the first seven chapters expecting to jog a memory. Instead I was taken into another world, a world much older than the south I remembered, but similar in so many ways. The voice was familiar like listening to my great aunt telling a story in her big living room, sipping ice tea from a jelly jar or lazy evenings, when I was kid, sitting in the front yard of my grandmother’s house, watching the sky come alive with orange, red, and yellow. It was so hot—most houses didn’t have air conditioning back then—the cooler evening air was welcomed, even to a young girl with tons of energy.

When I read about Maudie, the lady who lived across the street from Scout in Maycomb, Alabama, I knew I’d never read this book. How could I forget such dialogue?
“Miss Maudie stopped rocking, and her voice hardened. ‘You are too young to understand it,’ she said, “but sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of—oh, of your father.’”
For some reason I pictured a cliff note book thrown on the bed I slept in as a teenager. I didn’t read cliff notes! Not me, a writer to the bottom of my soul. Did I?
I drowned myself in the rhythm of Harper Lee’s language as if I might die that night and never know the end to such a beautifully written book. Maybe somehow things would change and Tom Robinson wouldn’t die before he had a chance to find justice. Movies never go along with the books anyway, right?
When I finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird, I was fifty years old, the same age as Atticus Finch, Scout and Jem’s famously old father. What I gained from reading this book as a mature adult—without some English teacher forcing me—is history and a reminder of a people nearly extinct now. Ms. Lee tamed my beloved south with all its beauty and flaws if only for two-hundred and eight-one pages.
What did the women in the book club think of a leader who claimed to know a book she never read? Well, I never told them. When they read this, my guilt conscious will be cleared. And like one of my dear friends always says, “I love my friends deeply, warts and all,”
The lessons in Harper Lee’s writing are timeless, and I am reminded she was a one book author, but my gosh, people, look at the book! What did I learn from my experience? I learned that with older characters like Atticus and me we have to be given some allowance on our memories.

Ann Hite contributor to Marlo Thomas' The Right Words At the Right Time II

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Promises to Keep

by Nicole Seitz (

I just dropped my kids off at a creative play summer camp. No big deal. Three hours in the morning to draw, pretend to be sharks and superheros...three hours for Mommy to get some work done. But alas, today, my three-and-a-half-year-old son was glued to my leg. I could not pry him off and walked around, stumbling, teetering like a weeble-wobble. Not only that, but I was parked in a spot that, say, maybe I shouldn't have parked in. I needed to drop the kids off and exit. Quickly. But this was not in the cards today.

After ten minutes or so, I resorted to what many parents lovingly refer to as "bribery". This word has such a negative connotation, so I prefer to think of it as "promises". A promise of something better. A reward. Sounds much more positive, more hopeful, less seedy.

It is HOPE that keeps us going when we feel like clinging to our mother's thigh.

Last night, I attended a talk and slide show by the amazing Brett Lott whose new book, Ancient Highway, has just been released. At the point for questions, I asked him how his faith plays into his storytelling. Lott said that as a Christian, his faith is all about hope, the promise of something better, and as such, his novels happen to be about hope. Not that they are all roses and happy endings, because life is not that way. But hope is a common thread in his writing.

I think people like to read books that have hope in them. We search for things to hope for. We like to believe there is HOPE at the end of the day. I think hope for something better, to be able to get through trials, is what makes life worth living.

Have you ever known someone without hope? Can you think of anything worse?

To lose hope, there is no use going on. Ah, but with hope, we can do almost anything. With the hope of finishing, feeling that satisfaction of having done it, I can and will meet my challenging next deadline for my fourth novel. Though some days are teeth-pulling, hair-graying, days of distraction and nothing on the page, I will persevere. The promise of what's waiting at the end is what keeps me going when my well seems dry.

I just hope my son has stopped crying by now and started enjoying his morning at camp. Sheesh, I'll pick him up in two hours now. Which means I only have an hour and a half to finish this post, write book four and paint a new cover for book three before I must leave for the store and get promised treats for my kids. Promises, I tell you. Not bribery, but Hope. I'm sure any good parent would do the same.

Hope is a lot like faith for me. My faith in God keeps me going when I'm low on gas. I know there's something better, something after, just around the corner. Sort of like a lollipop and the promise of the Aquarium. My son knows Mommy will keep her promises to him. He'll soon learn he can get through anything because there is someone out there who loves him unconditionally and will give him hope for something better.

So what are you hoping for today? Find something to hope for. Hold onto that hope. It'll keep you going through anything.

Nicole Seitz is the author of TROUBLE THE WATER and THE SPIRIT OF SWEETGRASS. Her next book, A HUNDRED YEARS OF HAPPINESS, is due out in March 2009. Today, she is busy writing her fourth novel and painting the cover for book number three. Contact her through her website:

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

I read six books this past week. That is what summer means to me, time to read. Though this season no longer means the lazy days of summer, I some how find the time to read. It's just that important.

When I was a child, I would hop on my blue Schwinn bicycle and peddle to the local Eureka Carnegie Library. It was cool inside especially in the basement where all the children's books were shelved. I would spend hours perusing the shelves, maybe for the latest Nancy Drew. I was on a mission to read the entire series or maybe I would be brave and go upstairs as I was reading all the Louisa May Alcott books. If I found an author I liked, I liked to read their entire body of work. I still do. Back home I'd trek with my basket full of books. I could hardly wait until I could get up in my tree house to read my latest acquisition.

Recently I read Doug Crandell's "The Flawless Skin of Ugly People" and his latest "Hairdo's of the Mildly Depressed" as my book club, the Pulpwood Queens are having a book launch for "Hairdo's". What struck me about Doug's work was his ability to write such truths about subjects that were not lifestyles of the rich and famous or beautiful, but real stories about real people that made you really think about what truth and beauty really mean. I love to read books written in perspectives I have never read of before. I also am driven to want to read man's books who took a dermatologist on tour with him for his first book. I wonder what he will take on him with book tour for "Hairdo's". Hmmm, maybe me? For those who are first reading this blog, I am a hairdresser/bookseller, NOT mildly depressed!

I also just finished reading "The Shack" by William P. Young, mostly because my Sunday School teacher, Bill Smith, gave it to me as he wanted to know what I thought of the book. I gave him "God for President: A Parable About the Power of Love" by Lisa Venable as I wanted to know the same, what he thought of it. Now I just finished "Sins of a Father: The True Story of Kitty Chappell" as she is coming in for the Christian and Inspirational Book Festival I run called BOOKS ALIVE! as a fundraiser for my church's mission and outreach programs. Kitty stopped by my shop to meet me this summer and give me her books. I thank God that authors take the time to bless my doors. I am always amazed at their stories. All three of these books you cannot put down and again they make you think and then of course, make you can't wait to discuss and share them with others.

I read Sarah Bird's "How Perfect is That" then immediately became engrossed in Janelle Brown's "All We Ever Wanted Was Everything". Both books to me are cautionary tales of the times we live in, too much, too fast, too soon, and then the price to pay. Both books made me madder than a wet hen when I had to put them down to do a client's hair in my hair salon/book store, Beauty and the Book. But then again, I just do what I always do after I begin their cut, color, or style, I rave on and on about the particular book I am reading until they break down to buy a copy. I have yet to have someone write or call me later to tell me I made a big mistake. Most of the time, I receive an email or call telling me they loved the book I recommended. What else could I suggest they read!

I wept as I began Kathi Appelt's "The Underground", a children's chapter book about an abandoned cat and her friendship with an abused dog. Suddenly, I was ten years old again reading "Old Yeller", "Bristleface", "Rascal", and "Mr. Popper's Penguins. I hadn't cried over a book like that since Jack died in the Little House in the Prairie books or even when I read as an adult Willie Morris's "My Dog Skip". Kathi is a storyteller extraorginaire. You must share this with your kiddos.

I loved Robert LeLeux's memoir of growing up in East Texas, "memoirs of a beautiful boy" and Jacque Couvillion's "The Chicken Dance" set on an island off the coast of south Louisiana. You may have never heard of either of these southern authors, but you better start reading as I predict big things for both of these authors!

At this moment I have seven stacks of books each a yard high and nearly as many books bags crammed with books setting by my wingbacked chair for me to read this summer. A dauntless task, hardly, I can barely stand to wait, just like I do for the first taste summer blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and tomatoes. A virtual feast is set before me. I plan to dine in style with long, cool glasses of iced minted tea, lemonade, and bowls of ice cream. With gas prices keeping us closer to home, there is no excuse for not taking a great trip by reading a good book. So far I've been to California, New York, North Carolina, to name a few and yes, even East Texas with my arm chair traveling of reading books. My NEW Head Queen of The Pulpwood Queens' of Anchorage, Alaska just sent me a treasure trove of Alaska goodies including a book and magazines on Alaska. I can't wait to read and travel there, I can almost imagine the arctic summer air.

Denise Hamilton's new book arrived, "The Last Embrace" and I'm taken back to old Hollywood. A subject matter that fascinates me beyond reason and just received Doris Day's new biography, "Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door" by David Kaufman of which I have just started and is it good. I had just finished, "The Loveliest Woman in America: A Tragic Actress, Her Lost Diaries, and Her Granddaugher's Search for Home" by Bibi Gaston which I found one of the most fascinating and intriguing reads ever.

Now wait, all those books do not add up to six books that I've read in the past week, they add up too.... Well, I never was good with math which reminds me of my favorite quote of all time, "The world is made up of stories, not atoms." to quote Muriel Rukheyser. Whatever they do add up to, all I know is that the correct answer is reading. Make this a reading summer, visit your local library or favorite bookstore. All the money you save in gas will profit you by learning more about others and even help you make some self-discoveries. The best trip I ever made was in reading a good book. I can share my adventure with my Pulpwood Queens Book Club members and YOU! Happy Tales to YOU and I would love to hear of your great book adventures too this summer. The best reads I have ever read have come from the recommendations of my reading friends. I would never have read "Memoirs of a Geisha" by Arthur Golden or "The Poisonwood Bible' by Barbara Kingsolver or "The Glass Castle" by Jeanette Walls if it had not been for authors, readers, and friends like you sharing their great reads. I hope you like mine and I look forward to hearing from you too!

Tiara wearing and book sharing,Kathy L. PatrickFounder of the Pulpwood Queens Book Clubs and Author of "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life", Grand Central Publishing

Sunday, July 6, 2008

They Spell "Krispy" "Crispy" up North, and other oddities

By Sarah Smiley,

From the way my southern grandmother has always talked, I thought men in blue uniforms with rifles might be waiting for me when I crossed the Mason-Dixon line on my way to Maine last week. It turns out, however, that the "Mason-Dixon" line is not a line at all. I looked for a bright red mark drawn across the earth, or warning signs that read "Go back Southerner," but I never saw either. I knew by instinct though that I should keep myself, as best I could, from saying "y'all." Just in case.

The only thing bearing any resemblance to a Mason-Dixon line, in my estimation, was long stretches of toll booths with people working in them who wanted my life savings. Apparently, in the North, you pay for everything, including the privilege to drive on public roads that have very few exits. In the South, blue reflective signs as big as small outhouses adorn the sides of highways to help drivers know which exits have a Waffle House, and which ones don't (answer: not many). You can also find Krispy Kreme, the Piggly Wiggly, and Whataburger this way.

Not only does the North not have many exit signs, they also don't seem to use "Ks" for "Cs." I've spent almost my entire marriage in Florida, where every time my husband sees an exit for Whataburger, he feels compelled to say "WHAT-a-BURGER," just like the commercials. When he joins me in the North later this fall, he might be slightly disappointed to realize that yelling "FOOD" and "GAS," as these things are called on the northern exit signs, won't have the same irritating effect.

But never mind, for a moment, what stores and restaurants the North may have, once you get on the many turnpikes north of Maryland, you might never get off. We have something similar to this -- something you enter and can't get back out of, all while continuously emptying your wallet for reasons you're not sure of -- in the South, but we call them "casinos." I got on a turnpike in New Jersey, shortly before Owen, 5, announced his urgent need to find a bathroom, and many miles later, I was in New York, still on the turnpike, still unable to find an exit.

This is right around the time that I was introduced to the concept of "speeding traffic." In the South, "traffic" means that your car doesn't move. In New York, "traffic" often means that hundreds of cars, all within a few inches of one another, travel not slower, but faster than the speed limit. And no one cares that you didn't realize the exit you were looking for is on the left, not right, until you are a quarter of a mile in front of it. Smiling out the window with a gosh-I-didn't-even-know expression doesn't help. In fact, I suspected that my Florida license plates were hurting my chances of getting across the 100-lane turnpike.

My grandmother has always, however unintentionally, made me think that northerners would be unfriendly. "Aloof" was a word I learned and associated with the North early in life. Yet on that road going through New York City, I learned otherwise. New Yorkers are definitely glad to speak to you, even if it means yelling through their closed car windows and making gestures with their fingers.

Then we entered Maine. It was as if we had crossed from one room in a house to another, and someone had just shut off all the lights in front of us. The smog and city lights of New York was far behind us, and even though we were still technically on a turnpike, there was only one other car in my rear view mirror. OK, so it was 1 o'clock in the morning, but still. The world literally seemed to slow back down. Giant fir trees flanked the sides of the road, and the stars shone down like tiny pin-pricks in the black sky.

At a gas station near Brunswick, I stopped to get a drink. I was thirty-three cents short. "Ah, don't worry about it," the clerk said. "It's on me."

"For real?" I said, still digging through my purse.

"What's thirty-three cents?" she laughed. "Go on now. Get on the road."

Farther down the turnpike, I came to the last toll booth I would pass through before getting to Bangor.

"How much father to Bangor?" I asked the attendant.

"About 88 miles," he said.

I took my change and got ready to drive off again. But the man stopped me.

"You going to be alright, miss?" he said.

I smiled and thanked him for caring. "Yes," I said. "I think I'm going to be just fine."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Old Pick-up's and Love By River Jordan

Mr. Wonderful would rather have just about anything than for me to give him a card. He's not too big on flowers either. Go figure. Our men, for the most part, are just wired a little different. Now, if the men are truly from the south, real honest to goodness, good old boys, what makes them tick is a whole lot different. Okay, it some aspects. Case in point. Husband used to have an old Ford pick-up truck. Now, just because I say old it doesn't mean that it's a backfiring rust bucket. That's just imagery wrongly grasped by people from other parts of the country who don't have a pick-up education. No, this truck was shiny and beautiful! Might have been one of the reasons I married him but then, I'm a car girl, a truck girl, an everything in between with wheels on the road girl, and I'll have to tell you about that later. Back to the truck.

Where love is concerned or something more commonly called wild attraction without logic or reason, the commercials tell us it's really very simple. A blond in a convertible. Hands down. Blonde, Convertible, - just add Man. Well, I got news for blondes and convertibles and it amounts to one little hyphenated word - pick-up.For reasons that escape me, perhaps my car being in the shop, I had once borrowed my husband's old pick-up to use for a week. Now when I say pick-up also don't imagine those sleek newbie's with the sticker price glue still reflected in the mirror. Nada. We're talking big tires, ladder racks, big old cruising bumper and Three (that's 3) on the column. In all my growing up young and single days, growing up on that beach where boys from Alabama and Georgia lived and breathed to get down and cruise searching for girls, girls, girls on the Gulf Coast, in all my days of driving anything, I have NEVER received the attention that I did from driving that Ford.

We're talking multiple men rubbernecking and missing green lights. And to watch a women even from a distance push in the clutch and shift on the column - oh my! You would have thought I was three Hollywood it girls and Maxim babes rolled into one. Now mind you, I was just in the right place - the south - and in the right package - not being one. I wouldn't suggest to a woman who was husband hunting in Boston to try this trick. But a word of advice for a woman down south that might be looking for love - Baby, go out and get you a PICK-UP TRUCK. Then get behind the wheel, put those sunglasses on and drive. As my Aunt Leaner used to say, "I ain't stupid and if I'm lying I'm dying." Just you wait and see what develops. Then get back to me with the stories.

Hoping you find love in all the best places - most of all right there in the middle of your heart.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Guest Blogger Keetha DePriest Reed

I live in Winona, Mississippi, a small town in north central Mississippi. I’ve lived here for three years and I love it; crepe myrtles line the main street that leads downtown, there’s a Christmas parade, and the whole town turns out for the Homecoming game each year. I love it, understand.

Yet when anyone asks where I live, I answer – without thinking – “I live in Winona, but I grew up in the Delta.”

I’m not sure why I feel it necessary to qualify a simple answer with that detail. Where I live now is a whole thirty miles from the Delta; the two places are hardly worlds apart.

Yet the Mississippi Delta is storied and legend, for both good and bad reasons. Some stories are exaggerated, others aren’t. I relate to and associate with it fundamentally. It’s a part of me in ways I don’t fully understand.

I doubt I’m unique in feeling this way. Belzoni, Mississippi, where I was raised, is home. It brings to mind those things that home means: ice tinkling in glasses on a weeknight at twilight as my mother gets dinner on the table, the way the elementary school classrooms smelled when the heat came on for the first time each year, windy afternoons in early spring in the backyard, playing kickball and looking for four leaf clovers, seeing the carved pumpkin on our front porch, Saturday drives to Greenville, the nearest town with a shopping mall, the school gym during pep rallies, long chlorine-soaked days in a swimming pool, discovering dried locust husks on the oak tree in the front yard, coming out the front door and walking to the church half a block away, roller skating on the front porch, chicken and dumplings for Sunday dinner, every Christmas morning, every first day of school.

The town where I grew up in the 80s is typical of many small towns of its day; cars left unlocked, children rode bikes all over town until the streetlights came on, scandalous gossip among the Baptist ladies would scarcely raise an eyebrow now, and a department store downtown and drug stores on two corners.

When I think of my hometown, I picture the downtown street, the Western Auto store where I bought jump ropes in elementary school, the newspaper office where I had cards printed for the Homecoming mums the Student Council sold, Miss Minnie’s Dance School, where I took lessons for more than ten years.

In many ways, my adopted hometown reminds of my childhood one. Some of the streets here are wide and lined with tall old oak trees. People are friendly and interested, as is typical of most small towns.

I’m raising a son here and it feels like home. Yet when I dream, they are often dreams filled with a weird mélange childhood and high school, of the yellow clapboard house on Pecan Street in that small Delta town. Those dreams make me happy and sad at the same time and they seem to give me plenty of material for writing.

Born and raised in the Mississippi Delta, Keetha DePriest Reed grew upin a family big on get-togethers, reunions, and food. She is theauthor of Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from Growing UpSouthern and More Culinary Kudzu: Recollections & Recipes from GrowingUp Southern. Keetha is a founding member of the Mississippi WritersGuild and is working on a novel.