Sunday, March 29, 2009

Author Spotlight: J.A. Konrath

J.A. Konrath ain’t Southern. Neither is his alter ego, Jack Kilborn. Konrath does, however, write a thriller series featuring a female police homicide lieutenant with the very Southern name of Jack Daniels. All of the books in the series are named after drinks that are made with Jack Daniels: Rusty Nail, Bloody Mary, Cherry Bomb, Dirty Martini and Fuzzy Navel,

Recently he’s branched off to write a horror novel called Afraid under the pen name Jack Kilborn. The excerpt is so scary you’ll be hollering for your mama.

Joe Konrath is also master at self promotion. His blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing, is a must-read for authors who want to make a lot of noise. He’s also written a free e-book for writers that’s invaluable.

Here’s a little Q and A with Joe/Jack:

Q. What is the elevator pitch for your latest novel?

A. You know, my father was an elevator operator, one of the last in Chicago.The job had its share of ups and downs. He hated it, because people really used to push his buttons. Finally, one day he got the shaft.But seriously, my book, Afraid, is coming out March 31. It's written under my pen name, Jack Kilborn, and is the most frightening book of all time. In fact, it's probably too scary, and I really can't recommend anyone read it.

Q. Why did you decide to depart from the Jack Daniels series?

A. The sixth Jack book, Cherry Bomb, comes out on July. I haven't departed, exactly. It's more like I'm taking a break to do other things for a bit.

Q. You're known in the writing world for your extensive promotion efforts. Did you have a background in marketing? What made you become such a heavy promoter right out of the gate?

A. I don't have a marketing background, though I've been asked that many times. I just use common sense, and try to do things that work on me. I think about what makes me buy books, and use those techniques.The reason I'm so into self-promotion is because it took me a long time to get published, and I vowed that if I ever got into print, I'd do everything I could to stay in print.

Q. You once visited 500 bookstores to promote your latest release. Would you do it again? Why or why not?

A. I'd do it again, if a publisher sponsored me. It's a lot of hard work, but worth it.

Q. How do you balance promotion time with writing time? Any tips?

A. Sleep is overrated.

Q. What's your number one promotion tip?

A. You have to be relentless and open-minded at the same time. Set goals, then try to figure out why you did or didn't reach those goals. Then adjust accordingly.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Review Editors: Wake Up and Smell the Evanovich

By Karen Neches

Every year Publishers Weekly puts out a list of the years’ bestselling adult novels. The list is interesting for several reasons. First off, it actually lists the number of copies sold. Unlike film studios, publishers are often coy about numbers of copies sold. (even to their authors). So it’s fascinating to see the actual numbers in black and white.

Another interesting point: Bestselling authors, who regularly make the Times list, have wide differences in their sales records. Janet Evanovich’s Fearless Fourteen sold 1,058, 427 copies in 2008, making her the sixth bestselling author on the list (John Grisham is number one.) In contrast, John Updike sold 101,000 copies of Widows of Eastwick.

Genre fiction dominates the list. Americans love their thrillers, mysteries and love stories. But, and no surprise here, they don’t buy a whole lot literary fiction. Salman Rusdie, Andres Dubus, Gerald Brooks and Jhumpa Lahiri made appearances (all sold less 300,000 copies) but that was about it.

Which brings me to the point of this essay. Publishers Marketplace keeps an archive of book reviews from newspapers across the country. Guess how many reviews there were of Fearless Fourteen, a novel that sold over a million copies?


In contrast, Enchantress of Florence by Salam Rushdie sold 105,512. It garnered a whopping 21 reviews.

I can already hear the outrage. Janet Evanovich is no Salam Rushdie. Maybe she isn’t. But over a million people in this country laid down money for her book. Not so much for Salam.

People have been lamenting the loss of book review sections in newspaper recently. Is it possible that these sections have dug their own graves by being too pretentious, and consistently ignoring the tastes of the average reader?

Imagine if entertainment editors ran their sections the way book editors do:

Yes, dear readers, we refuse to review the latest blockbuster action flick or romantic comedy because we’ve decided they’re too trite and commercial. Instead we’ll be devoting all of our space to a few obscure yet important indie films.

Way to kill that section.

Book reviewers might defend their choice of books, by saying, “Our readers are sophisticated. They don’t care about the latest Janet Evanovich.”

Good point. I’m not saying book review sections should ignore literary books in favor of popular books. I’m saying the reviewers are shooting themselves in the foot by refusing to give any ink to novels that people actually read.

If they reviewed popular novels, maybe, instead of turning off their core readership, (the lit snobs can just skip the Evanovich review) they’d actually gain more readers. And isn’t that what every editor is looking for? More readers?

I’m not trying to make an argument about the merits of literary fiction versus popular fiction. I like them both. But I don’t enjoy reading most book review sections because they’re too heavily weighted towards obscure literary novels. If I, a voracious reader of both literary and mainstream fictions, don’t relate to most book review sections, I’m wondering how many people do.

And while I’m on the soapbox, studies show more women than men read novels. (Big shocker, right?) Yet, women’s novels get short shrift in review sections. In 2008, major book reviewers deigned to review John Grisham’s The Appeal five times. Nicholas Spark’s The Lucky One also got a few mentions. Most heavy hitter women novelists did not.

So who are book reviewers trying to please exactly? THEMSELVES, of course. When it comes down to it, they did not become reviewers to critique the antics of Stephanie Plum. (Janet Evanovich’s popular protag, if you’re not in the know.) And that’s why these sections are disappearing.

If book review sections want to survive, the editors need to take into consideration what the American is actually reading, and not what they’d like them to read.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Joshilyn Jackson: Second Verse, Same As...crap I forgot.

I JUST finished writing a book. Less than a week ago, I mailed the file and landed it squarely in my editor’s e-mail box. It is a whole, done, finished, and irrefutably COMPLETE. You can tell because it has a page on the top that says, “BACKSEAT SAINTS, a novel by Joshilyn Jackson.” Under the title page are 500 MS pages with WRITING on them. The writing is chock full of characters who do things to each other and cause things to happen and by the end of the chain of events, the characters have all have been set free or ruined or killed or redeemed. The plot has both shooting and kissing in it, often within a few pages of each other, just the way I like it. At the bottom of page 503 is a space and then under the space in the center sits a single line that says, “THE END” --- possibly the two most GLORIOUSLY SEXY words in the English language.

SO you can see it is a whole book.


BACKSEAT SAINTS is, in fact, the FOURTH book I have written and finished and turned in. FOURTH. There were three before it. You can SEE in a PROVEN and TRUE WAY that there were three before it. Here they are on Amazon and B and N and at one of my favorite Indies, unequivocally EXISTING:

gods in Alabama

Between, Georgia

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

I have spankin-fresh papery copies of all of them RIGHT HERE, by my desk, in several different editions and in many languages. They are solid factual objects. If you threw one at someone, you could cause a bruise. Especially if you threw one in its hardback edition.


It is NOT.

And yet.

I have NO idea how to write a book.

Today I woke up, and by all reckonings I am ready to begin to write this next book. It is a book I have been thinking about on and off for several years now. I have characters. I have a setting. I have a terrible mysterious event that will set many wheels rolling off in unexpected directions. I have a vague idea of where I want most of my characters to end up. So. It seems LIKELY that it is time to get these people to stop free-wheeling around in my head and begin doing things inside my word processor.

And yet…I got up this morning and sat at my computer and opened up MS WORD, and there I sat. For two hours. Every ten or fifteen minutes I would accidentally hit my browser button and find myself playing PATHWORDS, and if the stupid new Facebook interface would have let me into Scrabble I have NO doubt I would still be there. After all, Scrabble is a lot LIKE writing a novel. You think really hard and then put words up on a screen. Same same all same.

The only difference I can see is, I REMEMBER how to start a game of Scrabble.

But I couldn’t get into Scrabble and I played all my matches on Pathwords and went back and stared at MS word for another hour. Then I found my browser had snuck open again and I tracked down multiple recipes for Crock Pot Chicken and/or Lamb Vindeloo.

I decided to change venues, and I went and sat in a coffee shop and stared at the blank screen of a laptop. My laptop is an invaluable writerly tool because it takes 300 years to load websites and it is incapable of running Pathwords. There is not much I can do on it EXCEPT write. SO I blogged. Then I waited 10 years for ICANHASCHEEZBURGER to load and chuckled at lolcats. Then I tried to get PATHWORDS to run.

Defeated by old tech, I opened MS word and stared and stared at nothing and before I knew it I started digging around in files with weird titles and I found a WHOLE FILE of saved things from a GATEWAY DESKTOP I had, like, fifteen years ago. My husband must have moved the files computer to computer, over and over.

I discovered a list of phone numbers from theatre friends from back in Chicago. Most of the numbers led to strangers, by now, but I had a couple of VERY weird conversations with people who were STILL THERE.

One went kinda like, “Hey! Yeah it’s Joshilyn. Joss. YEAH, that Joss. So… I am at a coffee house and I hate people who talk loud on cell phones at coffee houses so I have to be VERY QUIET but I had to ask…whatever happened to that GUY you went on that date with to the place with the really good Pad Thai and when you went outside under the streetlight he came in to kiss you and you saw a speck come crawling down his forehead and you realized he had LICE but by then he was kissing you, remember, and you didn’t want to be rude and shriek and say YICK LICE because you liked him? And you came home and called me screaming about how much bleach you could put in your bathwater without hurting your reproductive organs? Remember that? That guy? You do? Well…Did he die? I heard he DIED. Oh. Good. That’s a relief. Did you ever see him again? Like, SEE see him. You DID? Was it after he did all that shampoo stuff and the nit combing or did you not wait til he de-liced. De-Loused? Un-Liced? Oh. He shaved? Well….was he one of those guys who looks really sexy bald? Oh. It’s weird you saw him again because I remember you as being so anal. Like, I’ve always been a, ‘what’s a few lice between friends?’ person, but you were one of those GO AFTER THE CROWN MOLDINGSS WITH A TOOTHBRUSH kinda girls. So, did he always look a little bit LICEY to you, even bald? … I don’t know how a bald guy COULD still look LICEY, that’s why I am asking you… Oh really? When? That’s neat. Heh. SO, do you guys have kids? Wow. Two. Wow. Sorry about the licey thing I---- What do you mean you have to go? Hello? HELLO?”

I did all this because I have no idea how to start a book, even though, according to everything from GLORIOUS LOGIC to TINGLING INTUTION to the SCATTERED BONES of a virginal chicken that I slaughtered at dawn on the stump of a thousand year old cypress it seems perfectly plain and obvious that I AM CAPABLE OF WRITING THEM.

I just don’t remember how to start.

Pathwords anyone?

Bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson lives in Powder Springs, Georgia with her husband, their two kids, a hound dog, a scurrilous Boggart-kitten, a lone and lonely geriatric gerbil, and a twenty-two pound, one-eyed Main Coon cat named Franz Schubert. She wishes their neighborhood was zoned for goats. Both her SIBA award winning first novel, gods in Alabama, and her Georgia Author of the Year Award winning second novel, Between, Georgia, were chosen as the #1 BookSense picks for the month of their release, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to have Number 1 picks in consecutive years. Her latest, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, is a national bestseller that Entertainment Weekly called “a wild, smartly calibrated achievement.”

Monday, March 23, 2009

To Judge or Not to Judge by Carolyn Haines

The most recent accidental death of actress Natasha Richardson has been poked and prodded in the media to the point that I’ve been driven to write this “rant.” The media, in a growing trend, has displayed an aggravating tendency to gloat and finger point at the tragedy of others, particularly those in the public limelight.
Even more disgusting, this is done in the guise of “safety measures” or “public education.” Bull hockey. There is something unpleasant in those who assume an attitude of superiority because fate or life has spared them a taste of tragedy.
I’m speaking specifically about two news stories that I heard/read about Ms. Richardson’s death. One story noted that “had she been wearing a helmet” she might not have been injured.
Where, oh where did this pundit of probability get his information?
I would assume that this “reporter” could be raking in mega-bucks from the insurance companies if he could forecast and predict what measures will insure which results. But the truth is, no one can make such a statement, and even more important, no one should. This second-guessing is hurtful and wrong. And the tone of the report was clearly that someone had to be blamed.
While this might not seem to be an incident worth this amount of ire, it is bigger, and deeper, than this. What this TV announcer was, in fact, saying, was that an element of carelessness was involved in what I understand to be a highly unlikely accident. The implication was that the degree of carelessness was such that it might be criminal—on the part of Ms. Richardson? The ski instructor? The ski lodge? The ski slope? The weather?
Give me a freaking break here. All of us who pursue any activity at all assume some degree of risk. (And those who chose to sit in an armchair all day are also taking on risky behavior with a sedentary lifestyle.) Driving a car can be—and often is—a fatal decision. Crossing a street can be deadly. Teaching school where germs are prevalent can bring about serious illness. Or talk about high risk, what about a hospital stay?
When I walk out to feed my horses, I can be injured. Horses are flight animals, and if they’re spooked (by some goober in my neighborhood shooting a gun, perhaps) then it is possible that I can be stampeded or bumped or accidentally stepped on.
Do I gear up in Kevlar vests, football helmets and steel-tipped shoes twice a day every day when I feed? No, I do not. So if I get injured, feel free to point the finger of blame at me and do at least two oh-so-serious stories about how I could have saved myself from injury had I only worn a hundred pounds of protective gear. Or better yet, I could have hired someone to do this chore for me. (Now, I like this thought.)
The second story made me even madder. This one involved a so-called newsperson who noted that “had Ms. Richardson gone immediately to the hospital, she might have been saved.”
I doubt Ms. Richardson’s family has had time to read these asinine news stories, but just consider that they might have. Thanks a lot. Really nice work, there. I mean Wall Street has melted down, war crimes are being uncovered, there’s a lot of news out there to report on, but let’s ignore all of that and see if we can find some negligence in an accidental death.
Surely, had Ms. Richardson felt ill or even had a hint that something was wrong, she would have rushed to the hospital. Hey, when I was fifteen, I was run over by a hayride (not exactly what one would consider a highly dangerous activity, but what can I say, perhaps I should have chosen to roll string in the living room instead) and I got up and walked around and insisted I was fine. It wasn’t until half an hour later that I realized my leg was broken. And yes, eventually I did go to the hospital. Had I—or anyone else on the hayride—realized how seriously injured I was, I would have been rushed to the hospital.
Just because someone is a movie star doesn’t give the media, or the public, the right to judge every move he or she makes. I am sick of stories that pursue actors with emotional or personal problems. These poor people can’t even ride in an ambulance to the hospital without having it blasted on network news.
Why do we even want to know this information? What does that say about us? Is this some bizarre way to validate ourselves by comparing someone else’s bad fortune?
This judgmental attitude is incredibly unpleasant, and don’t for a minute believe that these stories about helmets are an attempt to educate the public in helmet safety or the need to rush to the emergency room (where you might contract some truly awful disease while you wait the necessary 6 hours to be seen) every time you have a bump. This is something else at work here.
Accidental injury and death are terrible, and family members who survive such tragedies will be asking what they might have done differently for a long time to come. That is the nature of grief and loss. But that is a private affair, and one that the news media or public can’t answer. Nor should we try.
What we should do is mourn the loss of a fine actress. And live life with as much care as possible--while still living.

House Browsing by Karin Gillespie

My mother and I went house-browsing last weekend, a far more leisurely pursuit than house-hunting. Last June, my home sold within a week, plunging me into the heady world of house-hunting or more accurately “house-stalking.”

I was so desperate for a new house that my pulse would go into overdrive and I’d scream “Stop!” every time I saw a sign staked in a yard, even though it only said, “We use well water.”

I much prefer the relaxed pace of house-browsing. My mother is toying with the idea of buying a new house, which gives her the luxury of turning up her nose at any little thing she doesn’t like.

“Vinyl flooring in the kitchen? “ she’ll say with a sniff. “I think not.”

We made the rounds of the open houses last Sunday, taking my fiancé, an accomplished cook, who tags along so he can peer into other people’s ovens. The first house, a fixer-upper cottage, had a battered sedan out front.

“Surely that’s not the realtor’s car,” my mother says.

“Can’t be,” I say, noting the sign out front. The listing belonged to a super-star realtors who, like Cher, Madonna, and Prince, is so famous she doesn’t need the nuisance of a last name.

“That’s the realtor’s car,” I say, pointing to a gleaming beauty parked further up the drive. We ooh and ahh over the automobile, which is so impressive, that if it had an eat-in kitchen my mother would have made an offer on it.

The door flings open and instead of seeing the super-star realtor, it’s one of her many underlings, an eager young thing who directs us to the guest book and hands us the information sheet on the house.

When we see the price, we raise our eyebrows and say, ”Hmmmm” which is code for “these people are out of their skulls.”

I turn to the realtor, and instead of asking the question that’s really plaguing my mind, i.e., “What were they thinking when they chose these living room drapes?” I ask a series of businesslike question, so she’ll know we’re semi-serious browsers instead of voyeurs, looking to kill time on a Sunday afternoon.

“How old is the HVAC system? Is this property built on a slab? Are the owners colorblind?

Oops. That last question just slipped out.

Mainly we look at houses in my mother’s price range, but we also get a kick out of touring the grand, palatial homes, just in case we win the lottery.

During the open house of such homes, the super-star realtor might even swoop in for a special guest appearance! And my mother and I strut around pretending that we can afford such a spread.

“Mummy,” I say. “Wouldn’t your antique settee look positively divine in the foyer?” or “Sub Zero is so last season.”

My fiancé, however, blows our cover by bursting in and saying, “Check out the fancy Viking range! I’ll bet its worth more than our whole house.”

We slink outside, waiting until we’re well out of earshot, and the sour grapes begin.
“Imagine the heating bills!” “Money certainly can’t buy taste.” “I wouldn’t have a house that big if you paid me.”

Friday, March 20, 2009


I’ve been thinking a lot about the BEFORE and AFTER. You know, those stories or pictures of the before and the after. About the HERE and then the THERE.
There is the quarterback who was a bag boy BEFORE and is a Superbowl star AFTER.
The pictures at the Dermatologist office of BEFORE the facial procedure and then the beautiful pictures of AFTER.
The story of the writer who wrote in a café and was on welfare BEFORE he/she became a bestseller with a movie deal and ten million copies in print AFTER.
The weight loss plan with the BEFORE picture and the AFTER svelte photo.
And best of all: the love story – the BEFORE they met, and then AFTER when she is in her wedding dress.
We love these stories, don’t we? But what about what is in-between the before and after? What is between the ‘here’ and then the ‘there’? The in-between, that’s what.

There’s the hours of practice, sweat, sacrifice and sprained muscles of the quarterback; the pain of the surgical recovery to look just like the picture in the dermatologist’s office. What about the writer who overcame her fear and wrote and wrote and wrote for ten years before she was willing to show her words to a single person, who then shot it down like a cheap clay bird in a shooting range?
And then there’s the woman who lost the weight because she actually didn’t eat the Easter Peeps (Can you tell what I’m fighting not to have for lunch?). And what about the story of the couple who overcame the fear and hardship to make it to the wedding altar? I think that sometimes we tend to ignore all the stuff in-between the before and after. We focus so much on result, on the after, on the there.

There is something a bit restless, maybe even scary, about the in-between places when we aren’t ‘here’ and we aren’t ‘there’. Sometimes we are forced into this place and sometimes we step willingly into this space. Either way there are gifts there; lessons and joy, I believe.

Maybe I’ve become too accustomed to the drive-thru window – I talk into the depersonalized speaker-thing and then get my hot food and move on with my life. This is so much easier than going to the grocery store, picking out the food, pushing my cart through the aisles while my ten year old throws in a box of Lucky Charms. Then I must unpack the groceries and cook the dinner – all that takes longer than the actual eating of the dinner itself. And don’t forget the clean up.

As in life, in writing: there is an in-between. I don’t get this glorious idea (aren’t all our books at their absolute best in the beginning? When they are a brilliant idea – the best idea we’ve had yet), and then wake up during a book signing for said book.
There are years of in-between: The writing part. The butt-in-chair part. The angst and fear and stuck part. The wonderful and terrible sentences part. The editing and the discussions with the editor, the PR and marketing and book tour and numbers-game part. There is just so, so much in-between.

But like the quarterback or the weight loss woman or the author, I’ve come to if not love, then respect the in-between. If we jumped right to the AFTER or the THERE every time, what would we learn, who would we be?

Yes, there are many days when I’d like to fast forward to the published novel, but it is in the writing that I learn – about myself, about life, about hard work, about what the story (and therefore my life) is REALLY about. The in-between part is where I find friends and allies, where I discover the just right word and the lost hours of immersing myself in the gift of words and writing.

How many things have passed me by during the in-between moments because I was focused on the after, on the there? So I vow -- or maybe that’s too strong a word -- I promise I’ll try and think about, notice and enjoy the in-between of everything. I won’t jump from the before to the after, from the here to the there of anything. Even when I must endure the harder and scarier parts of it all, I’ll stay right inside this space.

Maybe that’s why I love to read, why I love to write – the good stuff – the in-between stuff – is what the good stories are made of. Our stories.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Moving On

I’m moving. Of course, this is supposed to one of the five most stressful life changes. I’m also getting married just before my oldest child leaves for college to a man who changed jobs last month—so we’ve got a world of stress going at our house right now.

When I think about it, maybe the moving part of this life change should be the least of my worries. I do have a lot of experience. My family moved seven times before I graduated from high school, and since then, I’ve added to the number. I have gotten pretty good at the pure logistics of the job. It’s awful and back breaking, but that’s not what is difficult.

What’s really tough for me is the shifting—the requirement to go through all the things in my house. It should be easy, right? Take the chafing dish that’s sitting on my dining room table: 1960’s triangular serving dish, a multi-colored Mondrian design with a little stand for sterno. Should I pack it to go to the new house or does it need to go to Goodwill? I try to imagine how I might use it, and I can’t, but then I recall that this was my grandmother’s dish, the one that she used for oyster dressing on Christmas Eve and how there was at one time a matching platter that my grandfather broke while carving the roast at my brother’s first birthday celebration. And then I remember how my mother was all excited that day about one thing or another and poured my dad’s after-dinner coffee into his salad bowl, an act that has now become one of those stories that we share in our family over and over even though it is not really that funny, unless of course, you were there and were six at the time. I’ll end up keeping the dish, of course, but all of this reverie takes hours. Yesterday, I came upon a tiny jean jacket that was my son’s. One look at the embroidered airplanes, the little cuffs that belonged to the long-armed manboy who’s off to college in a few months, and I was off to the movies, watching a montage of his childhood as sappy as anything in “The Way We Were.”

Of course, it is just this process, this quest, that is one of the most important parts of writing—this business of finding objects in the physical world that somehow signify (even if we don’t know exactly what they signify and have to write all morning to get even a glimmer of an idea about it). I will just be happy to get all packed up and back to my desk, where I don’t have to wrap, pack and haul every memory.

Lynn York is the author of The Piano Teacher (2004) and The Sweet Life (2007). She’ll live in Carrboro, NC for another month or so and then move a mile or two into Chapel Hill. Her website is

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Balm of Spring
by Annabelle Robertson

Change is in the air. Can you feel it? The sun is warmer, the breeze is gentler and the sky has exploded into a bright-blue light. All around us are signs of the season, pushing their way through hardened ground, in search of life. “The winter is over. The rains have come and gone,” wrote Solomon, in his Song of Songs.

I moved to Sumter, South Carolina, late last summer, after three years in California. Six months pregnant and grieving my father’s death, I had left Atlanta in 2005 to join my husband, an Air Force chaplain so eager for his first active-duty assignment that he drove ahead, leaving me and our toddler to pack the house and say our goodbyes alone. California had topped my “Anywhere but There” list, but Santa Barbara’s rolling hills, balmy weather and ubiquitous wineries delighted the senses. I threw away the umbrella; I lived outdoors. I grilled fish on the terrace, grew tomatoes from March through October and donned sweaters against the evening chill. I ate oceans of sushi and practiced my Spanish. And I tasted wines – robust merlots, glorious grigios, heavenly pinots – all bursting with flavor from their sun-drenched vines.

But two babies, one book and the weight of a shattered marriage had taken their toll. I didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror, and it wasn’t the extra pounds confounding me. It was the person I had become. So I made the decision to hire a personal trainer, and do the work that I had long avoided. Two years later, after dropping several sizes and completing my first triathlon, I realized that I had bought into an age-old lie. What I looked like did matter. It revealed who I was. And it empowered me, for better or for worse.

Having finally conquered the scale, I knew I could overcome anything – including my darkest fears. Somewhere in the world was a life of warmth and kindness and goodness, and I had no option but to find it. Before packing the U-Haul that hauled me from married life to single parenthood, however, I saw the looming specter of winter. I had long dreaded its reckoning, its solitude, its isolation. And yet, I had embraced its bitter chill for 15 years. Winter had been my captor.

But as surely as the ice withers the autumn leaf, so did the sun begin to warm my frozen heart. Winter’s cold had soaked my skin, crept into my bones and installed itself into my soul. But along with the narcissi and crocuses, hope finally began to claw its way to the surface. As the first days of spring arrived, I turned my face toward the sun and heard the echoes of a thousand ancient voices:

There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded soul
There is a balm in Gilead, to heal the sin-sick soul

Spring. Life. Resurrection. I can feel it. Can you?

Annabelle Robertson is the author of "The Southern Girl's Guide to Surviving the Newlyed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You've Caught Your Man." She works as a reporter with The Item, an award-winning daily newspaper in Sumter, SC, and is currently working on a memoir.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


By Jackie Lee Miles
Sourcebooks bought Cumberland House, my publisher, and everyone, except those that were let go, of course, are very happy and excited. Lots of changes are in the air, some of them pretty amazing. That said there is one change that’s not sitting too well with me. First, let me explain. With Cumberland House I broke the cardinal rule. I wrote under two different genres. If you go to my website, it says Introducing J. L. Miles— featuring Southern Drama and Southern Sass.

Cumberland didn’t mind that I was splitting my readership and happily allowed me to continue my genre adventures. Sourcebooks doesn’t see it that way.

Sourcebooks likes the drama. They’re not so enamored with the sass. They want the Dwayne Series to go away. Divorcing Dwayne, the first book in the series, debuted April 2008. Dear Dwayne, the second in the series was to release April, 2009, with Dating Dwayne to follow. The series is centered around Francine Harper and her no-good husband Dwayne. In the first book, Francine is under felony assault charges for shooting at Dwayne and his stripper/lover Carla from the Peel ‘n Squeel. In the second book, Francine who is newly divorced, discovers she’s pregnant and is all set to marry the mayor, a Danny Devito type character who is good husband material, even if he does only come up to her navel. In the third book, newly widowed, Francine takes comfort in Dwayne’s arms. Good grief! Well, not good, but lots of grief. There’s a cast of zany characters to aid Francine in her search for true love, including her energetic and eccentric grandmother, Nanny Lou. There’s also her best friend Ray Anne, who upon discovering Francine is seeing Dwayne again, says, “Francine, have you got a boulder in your head, or what?”

Initially, I was told the only thing that would change would be the release date for Dear Dwayne. It was moved ahead to October. But after a major strategy session, it was decided that it was not in my best interest to continue to write down two paths. Now I must put Francine and her cohorts away. But it’s like taking them out in the backyard and shooting them. I’m just not sure how to let them go. They’ve been stumbling around in my head for the last three years. They’ve been cavorting around Pickville Springs, Georgia, where they reside, getting involved in all sorts of adventures on a daily basis for quite some time. They have conversations with me in my sleep. We’re talking “real” people here. Just how do I end their well-developed lives?

Well, to begin with, I’ve buried myself in new projects. I’ve finished The Heavenly Heart, which my agent is shopping. It was inspired from an actual CBS news program where a man received his daughter’s heart. After a fatal accident sixteen-year-old Lorelei Goodroe follows the lives of five people who receive her organs, including that of her father who gets her heat. Lorelei’s untimely demise has left her in turmoil. She finds she is unable to move on without first letting go, and letting go is the last thing on her agenda.

I moved onto to All That’s True and did a final edit. Andrea St. James’s (Andi for short) privileged life is interrupted in the fall of 1991, when she discovers her father is having an affair with her best friend Bridget’s sexy new stepmother. With an equal mix of joy and sorrow, the novel follows Andi’s poignant, yet amusing journey to young adulthood, where she struggles with the elusive nature of truth and the devastating consequences of deception.

Now I’m immersed in Radio Girl, the tale of a southern lass who marries and divorces all the men in her life and discovers they’re basically all the same man. All of this should be enough to keep me from grieving the loss of the Dwayne series.

Plus, in my heart I know Sourcebooks is right and on the correct path. They want to promote me as a serious writer. Not to say I’m a totally happy camper, but I’m getting in the swing of it. I’ve said goodbye to Francine and Dwayne and Ray Anne and Nanny Lou: It was nice knowing y’all! And I’ve developed a mantra to see me through: Onward and upward.

Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Divorcing Dwayne, Cold Rock River and Roseflower Creek. Write to her at Visit the website at

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lit Links

I have only one link this week but it’s a fun one. Worst book covers ever. (Don’t visit if you’re easily offended. )

Also one announcement:

Literacy Volunteers of Atlanta (LVA) and the Southeast Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers invite you to unleash your imagination and your culinary talents for the sixth annual Edible Book Festival on March 28, 2009, 3:00–5:00 p.m. For more info, visit:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Matters of Faith by Kristy Kiernan Wins Florida Book Award

I'm delighted to announce that Matters of Faith has won the bronze medal in the Florida Book Awards.

The Florida Book Awards, coordinated by the Florida State University Program in American & Florida Studies -- and co-sponsored by the Florida Center for the Book, the State Library and Archives of Florida, the Florida Historical Society, the Florida Humanities Council, the Florida Literary Arts Coalition, the Florida Library Association, “Just Read, Florida!,” the Governor’s Family Literacy Initiative, the Florida Association for Media in Education, the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, Friends of the Florida State University Libraries, and the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America -- is an annual awards program that recognizes, honors, and celebrates the best Florida literature published in the previous year.

I'd also like to congratulate the other winners in the category:

Gold Medal Winner:

John Dufresne for Requiem, Mass.

Silver Medal Winner:

Tony D'Souza for The Konkans

Bronze Medal Winner:

Debra Dean for Confessions of a Falling Woman

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Foreword to a Young Adult Biography on Harper Lee

“My needs are simple: paper, pen, and privacy.”
Harper Lee


When I was asked to write a young adult biography of Harper Lee for Viking’s UpClose Series, I set out on the task of trying to contact her through her agent in New York and her oldest sister in Alabama. A former colleague who had recently met her wrote her a letter of introduction on my behalf. I also wrote at least ten drafts of my own letter to Miss Lee. It’s a daunting task to write to such a beloved and passionately silent author, who has been known to respond “Hell no!” to interview requests, but I needed to make sure that Miss Lee knew about the biography before anybody else did. I wanted to tread with care and respect every step of the way.

When her reply came, it was short and succinct. She did not believe in biographies for those still living. She wrote, “I may be old but I’m still breathing.” She closed the note wishing me the best whether I pursued the project or not. It was disappointing but certainly not unexpected. She hasn’t granted an interview to discuss her work since 1964 and even turned down Oprah. I thanked her and decided to continue with the book anyway. Harper Lee’s was a story I longed to write.

I grew up in football towns across the South and Midwest. My father was a college coach in search of the opportunity to win, so we picked up and moved often. Alabama football legend, Bear Bryant, was one of our family’s patron saints. With each move to a new football town, I searched for a sense of home, and I found it in books. One of my most cherished books was To Kill a Mockingbird. The first time I saw the film was on the big screen at the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville. Each time I reread the book or showed my own children the film, I found home all over again. I could roam the streets of Harper Lee’s “Maycomb” and hear the voices of Jem and Scout and Dill calling to each other. I had a cousin just like sniveling cousin Francis. I beat up a boy like Cecil Jacobs.

My father even advised me to attend the University of Alabama, Harper Lee’s alma mater, in order to join the women’s golf team since I played on the boys’ team in high school. But I loved books and wanted to be an exchange student in England, so I didn’t play golf in college. Though I did study in England for a year at Manchester University.

On one of my research trips to Alabama, I took my nine-year-old daughter, Norah, and we arrived in Monroeville on an early Sunday evening in February. The old clock tower struck five on the town square while she raced around gathering the tops of pink, red, and white camellias that had fallen on the grass. With her arms full of flowers, she stopped and said, “This place is beautiful but it’s lonesome and sad too.”

Harper Lee wrote these words in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Real courage is when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” The more I began to work on her biography, the more those words began to haunt me. I realized I might very well be licked with my subject not willing to talk and so little published about her except for one unauthorized biography. So to find real courage to write this book, I knew I needed to go to Alabama to the heart of Harper Lee country. I wanted not just an understanding of the author but of her home and the people who knew her. It was the only way I knew how to write the story.

So in the spring of 2007, I attended the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery, and then took 1-65 South to Highway 84 West, eventually arriving in Monroeville. My sister, Keely, came with me the first trip to help with all the interviews and research. We went to the Old Courthouse Museum to research the archives and to study newspaper clippings, press releases, and photographs. I made two more trips to Monroeville during the course of writing the book for additional interviews, research, and school visits to do writing workshops with students as part of Alabama Voices.

I came to think of Harper Lee as “Nelle,” pronounced “Nail,” so in this book I refer to her as Nelle and occasionally Harper. As a girl, she hated it when people mispronounced her name “Nellie,” which was why she later chose to use her middle name “Harper” when To Kill A Mockingbird was published.

Many people declined to speak out of respect for her privacy, but others did want to share their stories. We found classmates, colleagues, and even Miss Lee’s older sister, Miss Alice Finch Lee, age 96, whom we disturbed at work where she was reading a law brief. Alice Lee is one of the oldest working attorneys in the United States, and she still goes to the office three days a week. She calls her sister, “Nelle Harper,” and she respectfully declined to grant us an interview.

All week long, Keely and I walked the streets of Monroeville and drove the back roads out along the Alabama River. In Wayne Greenhaw’s book, Alabama on My Mind, he wrote: “This is a beautiful, remarkable, complex country…Such names as Murder Creek, Burnt Corn community, Fort Mims massacre, Chief Red Eagle of the Creeks peppered conversations. The land was scarred with human tragedy.”

At the Old Courthouse, we climbed the worn pine staircase painted brown to the oval-shaped courtroom, of which an exact replica was built for Atticus Finch to defend Tom Robinson in the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird. We listened to the museum curator, Jane Ellen Clark, describe how some visitors walk inside and break down crying because of powerful memories evoked by the book and film.

The back-to-back interviews with the people of Monroeville lasted eight to ten hours a day, and what we came away with was a sense of Nelle Harper Lee as very much a regular person. She loves to fish and listen to gospel music in the little churches on the back roads of Alabama. She hates eggs, which was why she always skipped breakfast while a college student at the University of Alabama in the 1940s. She has great sea legs and enjoyed gourmet meals on the QE2 from England in the 1960s in the middle of a thunderstorm when most of the other passengers could barely stand to think of food as the ship bucked in the turbulent waters. She once waited for friends to meet her at the Russian Tea Room in New York City, sipping a martini and reading Eudora Welty. The evening later inspired a poem by Wayne Greenhaw. She adores young people and will always take the time to talk to them and listen to their stories and answer their questions.

A clerk at the Monroeville Post Office said five or six fan letters still typically arrive every week, usually from adults, and she picks them up herself if she’s in town. She spends roughly half the year in Alabama and the other half in New York, although lately she has spent more time in Alabama because of health issues and to be closer to her sister. All over town, folks described seeing Nelle Harper in jeans and T-shirts at Hardees, McDonalds, the Huddle House, and David’s Catfish. But the librarian of Monroeville, Bunny Hines, said it best when she described a lady from up North who came in and desperately wanted to send Harper Lee a bouquet of flowers. “She was so sweet, bless her heart, but I had to discourage the woman. Nelle doesn’t want flowers and fancy gifts sent to her. Nelle is just plain folks.”

Kerry Madden is the author Up Close Harper Lee to be published on March 19, 2009 by Viking, A Division of Penguin Young Readers Group. She is also the author the Maggie Valley Trilogy of novels for children: Gentle's Holler, Louisiana's Song, and Jessie's Mountain, (Viking Children's Books.) Her other books include: OFFSIDES (William Morrow) and WRITING SMARTS (American Girl Library). She has also written for the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Salon, LA Weekly, and Five Points: A Journal of Literature and Art. She does writing workshops for students around the country.

A NOTE: Beginning in the fall of 2009, Kerry Madden will be an assistant professor of Creative Writing at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

THE ART and AGONY of the Author Photo

The ART and AGONY of the Author Photo
(I usually blog about southern writing here but beggin’ your pardon, can I go off topic just a teeny weeny bit? Thank you.)
Who’s idea was this? This book jacket photo thing? This Press Kit thing? Do you know the agony that I’ve experienced from this? Okay – some of you do and some of you don’t. Let me make this clear. I don’t like having my picture taken as evidence by the fact that my hand is usually covering part of my face - even as a child. As a matter of fact, my mother in all her grown up glory decided when I was about five years old and still an only child prior to sister being born that the thing she needed to do was get dressed up, dress me up, and then both of us sit our dressed up selves down for our professional mother and daughter photograph in a real studio. I remember this moment clear as can be. The big empty room, the big lights, the shadowy man behind the camera that I SWEAR was saying something like, “Look at the birdie!” He squeaked horns, flapped his arms, stood on his head, told funny jokes – all to the no avail to my stone freezy five year old face that was not amused. Which of course caused my mother’s face not to be amused as this event was definitely not turning out as she had planned. And she had to pay for it plenty. She bought the pictures anyway. Maybe she had to. I must say our dresses looked very pretty. And so did we. In a stone freezy kind of face way.
Back to the Author Publicity Photo. First, we are supposed to look what???? WHAT I ASK YOU? Intelligent? Warm? Fuzzy? I look drunk and cock-eyed in most my pictures. Smarts doesn’t play much into it. We are supposed to look aloof like we don’t care - yet approachable. Loveable, and laughable and like we have a great sense of humor and would be somebody’s bestest great friend ever. We are supposed to be skinny, well endowed, muscular, healthy, snappy, snazzy, with it - and yet - above it all and removed from it. Like being on a pedestal with an apron on while baking cakes with the perfect hairdo. Oh wait – that was the 50’s.
I was once sitting behind two women at a book festival while we were all waiting for an author to come on stage and speak. When she did they opened her book to the author picture, gave one another catty looks and one of them said, “Not in a million years.” The other one lifted an eyebrow and nodded her agreement. I swear they did. I wanted to bonk their heads together like something from the stooges. (Sorry – just telling the truth.) Not on my account mind you but for dear women everywhere who are trying their best to take a photo that doesn’t make them look like Ronald McDonald on hormones.
This picture you see of me? Well, a dear, dear lady took it with me complaining, fussing, squinting, and shutting up just long enough for her to snap it. I had the most precious friend with me for moral support who was just behind the camera making smiley faces at me. It was taken three years ago. I kept promising the publisher to get a new picture taken and kept promising and promising and promising until they said – TOO LATE! And Snatched this one up as it was time to go to print. Okay, the the real life part is, I still own that jacket and wear it, and I do stand with my arms crossed a lot but I like to think I am much more approachable in a drunk –looking cockeyed kind of way than the picture suggests. Matter of fact, just me personally, it looks just a tad stand=offish of which I am not. I am shy and introverted believe it or not and on occasion will pull into my shell and slide along the walls of any public gathering trying to practice my invisibility skills.
Now plenty of my author friends have great author photos and great hair and great highlights. Denise Hildreth takes a glorious picture which is why she is in commercials in real life (really) and J.T. Ellison has killer hair just like her writing and Tasha Alexander just makes us all sick cause she’d look good on the 10th day of a 12 day flu if you took her picture wearing sweat pants that had been slept in for six months without seeing the inside of a washer. And Kathy Patrick just glows no matter what she’s wearing. But some of us cry, gag, and drag if we have to get in front of a camera. (I have literally called my mother crying because I had an interview with a reporter that day and they were going to take MY PICTURE AND PUBLISH IT IN THE PAPER.) Some of us really struggle to look relaxed or to look normal of which we are neither. This isn’t just a woman thing either. I have men friends who are authors and always struggling with their author photos, too.
They are supposed to look intelligent but not insane, virile but not viral. One particular man kept fussing over his picture in every book. You could tell it was driving him crazy. He kept saying, “You know you have to give the publisher a great photo but they don’t pay for a photographer or the studio!” Then he’d turn through his author photos and point saying, “Serial Killer. Serial Killer. Serial Killer. Ax Murderer. Serial Killer.” Don’t worry, I tell him. We all look a little dangerous when caught in an unforgiving flash.
So I ask you, dear readers please be gentle with us when you see those photo’s - even if they are backlit and we’ve had our dark circles and bloodshot eyes touched up a bit from all these deadlines and drafts. While you’re in a forgiving spirit, help us to forgive ourselves for being less than ageless, model perfect. And to remember that it’s not the size of the waist, or the bulge of the biceps, that lead a reader to drink in a story but the words we carve out one page at a time.
So, with a deep breath and a sigh of relief, let’s raise a glass, and offer a toast - and a smile!

River Jordan is a a storyteller of the southern variety. Jordan’s novel The Messenger of Magnolia Street, (Harper Collins, Harper One) was published in January 2006. Kirkus Reviews describes the novel as “a beautifully written atmospheric tale.” The Messenger of Magnolia Street was applauded as “a tale of wonder” by Southern Living Magazine who chose the novel as their Selects feature for March 2006 and by other reviewers as “a riveting, magical mystery” and “a remarkable book.” Her first novel, The Gin Girl, (Livingston Press, 2003) has garnered such high praise as, "This author writes with a hard bitten confidence comparable to Ernest Hemingway. And yet, in the Southern tradition of William Faulkner, she can knit together sentences that can take your breath." Florida Today Ms. Jordan teaches and speaks on ‘The Power of Story,’ around the country and produces and hosts the radio program, River Jordan Radio on 98.9fm Nashville. She has just finished a new work of fiction, Saints In Limbo, on sale May 19th, and lives with her husband in Nashville, TN. You may visit the author at

Monday, March 9, 2009

"God Bless the Independent Bookseller

Last Friday my wife and I drove to Topsail Island, North Carolina where I took part in a “moveable feast” authors luncheon. This event was sponsored by Quarter Moon Books. As part of the inducement to come to participate we were given a two night stay at “The Pink Palace” which is a bed and breakfast located right on the waterfront. Can you picture a scene right out of “Nights In Rodanthe”?

Lori Westervelt, a dead ringer for Jessica Lange, owns and operates Quarter Moon Books on Topsail Island. She came up with the idea of this authors event and has been doing it for four or five years. I don’t know about the other years but this year she had it down to a smooth, streamlined operation.

There are only sixty tickets sold for the luncheon. Ten people each sit at six tables along with one invited author. The authors, who have eaten earlier, rotate every ten to twelve minutes, After the authors have spoken at each table they move to signing tables where people can purchase their books.

The tickets to this event do not last very long. They are grabbed up as soon as they go on sale. Lori’s customers get first crack at them before they are offered to the general public. I was told that people as far away as Raleigh are now trying to get on the list for tickets.

This year the authors were Karen White, Susan Crandall, Nicole Seitz, Kathryn Wall, local author Richard Satterlie and I (me, myself?). The attendees asked intelligent questions and I hope we all gave intelligent answers. Most wanted to know how we got our books published along with what they were about.

All of the authors had a wonderful time and we did sell some books for Lori, which is as it should be. She had put a lot of time and effort into this event. She also has the support of the community and the “guest rooms” where the authors stayed were donated.

Independent bookstores are not having an easy time of it these days. Many around the country have closed their doors. In order to stay viable the owners of these stores have to become inventive in their ways of selling books. Plus their staff has to be personable and friendly and has to know books.

For authors, the reason we love independent bookstores so much is that they hand sell books. If they get behind a book they can win you over a ton of readers. They have their customers trust and that is an invaluable tool.

This “moveable feast” was a genius idea on Lori’s part. It gave the authors exposure and it gave the attendees a chance to go one on one with the writers. And while they were there they had the opportunity to buy some books and get them personally signed. It was win/win all the way.

Lori Westervelt is a thinker. She knew she had to do more than just open the doors to her bookstore. As they say in the play “Gypsy” she had to have a gimmick. “The “moveable feast” is her gimmick and it is a good one.

If you ever have the chance to attend this event you should do so. You will have great food, great company, and a weekend vacation at the beach. I loved it all!


Jackie K Cooper is the author of five books about living in the South. His latest is THE SUNRISE REMEMBERS.

Sunday, March 8, 2009


I’m sure several of my fellow- and sister-bloggers here will write something about the South Carolina Book Festival which took place in Columbia the last weekend in February. I saw many of them in attendance, and even got to spend time with some. I’ll leave it to them to comment on the nuts and bolts if they so choose because I want to talk about the people—the readers, volunteers, and especially the other authors who come together once a year to form a community that’s all about books. And kindness to strangers.

Jackie Cooper (another contributor here) and his wife Terry and I had a long discussion that Saturday night about this very subject. We sat in comfortable chairs in the lobby of the Columbia Hilton, sated thanks to a wonderful buffet that even included Red Velvet cake—hard to find anywhere outside of your grandmother’s kitchen any more. It was cold and nasty outside, but we were cozy and warm, sipping wine and chatting. I think it was Jackie who said something about how writers seem to be, generally speaking, a pleasant group of people. We agreed that there are certainly some egos sprinkled here and there, but that, for the most part, we’re a pretty darn nice bunch.

I can personally attest to that. I came to the festival as a visitor before I ever had my first book published. I followed it from a round building—can’t think of the name, but I believe it was part of the USC campus—to the fairgrounds and finally to the wonderful, modern convention center. Eventually I was asked to participate as a presenter, but even before that I was welcomed by just about everyone I encountered. I rustled up the courage to speak to writers whose names I recognized and many who were new to me. Almost without exception, I was gathered into the conversation and made to feel as if my two books, published by a small regional press by that time, made me a card-carrying member of the fraternity.

As the three of us sat there on that blustery Saturday night, worried about getting home the next day in the predicted snowfall, many authors stopped off to say hello. Some I knew, like Mary Alice Monroe (who told us a hilarious story about fly fishing with the interviewer from USA Today) and Marjorie Wentworth, the Poet Laureate of South Carolina, and T. Lynn Ocean who was worn out from line dancing at the party going on in the ballroom behind us. These are all women I know, though we see each other seldom, usually at events such as the festival, but we seem to be able to pick up right where we left off the year before. Others who stopped to chat were strangers to me, but not for long. Maybe it’s because we all share the same joys and worries—a new contract or lack of one, deadlines, reviews, sales numbers. Everyone commiserates and congratulates with equal feeling for the ups and downs of this precarious road we’ve chosen to travel.

And then there are the attendees, the fans of reading who braved near freezing temperatures and a frigid, driving rain to spend the day with authors, booksellers, publishers, and other book lovers. When I finished my first panel and returned to the main room to the signing table, I had a line waiting—folks who had either bought or brought copies of my Bay Tanner mysteries for me to autograph. For the published authors reading this, you’ll understand my joy. For those of you who aren’t, take my word for it—having a line is a definite trip!

All throughout the weekend, I ran across old friends from every facet of the business: the indefatigable Paula Watkins. who spends an entire year with her cadre of dedicated volunteers planning this homage to the printed word; Fran and Don, booksellers from Aiken; Ivy and Mac, book lovers from Bennetsville; Rod Hunter, my reprint publisher and his talented writer-wife, Gwen; Cathy Pickens, who moderated my first panel and who loves to rag gently on me about being a Yankee . . . I could fill up a couple of pages with the names of those people whom I may see only once a year, but whose kindness turned even those most dismal two days into ones of warmth and remembered friendship.

And every year there are new people to add their own special spice to the mix, like the young man with whom I shared a panel on Sunday who had been chased by Katrina from New Orleans to Atlanta, but who still wrote about the Big Easy with love and insight. And the woman who shared my table at lunch and talked about wanting to be a published writer. I commiserated about how difficult that is, especially in today’s economic climate, and urged her not to give up. We exchanged e-mail addresses, and I promised to give her what advice and help I could, because other authors had done the same for me back in the days when I was just a visitor to the SC Book Festival.

Maybe it’s something about people who love books, whether author, reader, librarian, bookseller, publisher, or volunteer. All I know is that I invariably come away from this last weekend in February in Columbia, South Carolina, with the feeling that I’ve spent a couple of days among old, cherished friends. It’s a wonderful gift, and I hope many of you will have the opportunity to share in the magic next year.

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 9th Bay Tanner mystery, Covenant Hall, will be released April 28 by St. Martin’s Press.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

How Long Does It Take To Write a Novel?

I’m the author of four novels. My first effort a female friendship novel called Bet Your Bottom Dollar went through several incarnations. (It used to be called Who’s Your Daddy, and was first set in a beauty parlor instead of a dollar store.)

I did so many rewrites on that novel, first for my agent and then for my editor, that by the time I finally finished, the sight of it turned my stomach. To this day I can’t bear to crack it open.

When it was finished but I thought, “It’ll never be that hard again.”

Writing the next two books was like sliding down a greased pole. They went so fast I barely remember writing them. Neither my editor or agent marked them up with their blue pens; they went straight to the copywriter.

I turned into a cocky little so-so. Thought I’d licked novel writing. Figured I could turn out a couple a year with my hands tied behind my back. I was Super Scribe!

Next I had an idea for a novel set in Heaven. Sat down to write. Figured it would take me six months max…. Two years later I was still writing. Ten drafts later, still at it. WOULD I EVER FINISH?

I did. But I didn’t feel like Super Scribe anymore.

Looking back, I figured out what happened. My second and third book were part of a series. I already knew the characters and the town they lived in.
But with the Heaven book I had to make up a whole new Universe. My heaven in Earthly
was a wee bit different from the one in the Bible. God was female and sounded like Bette Midler. Heaven was like Gatlinburg TN with Wrath of God miniature golf and Noah’s Ark River Cruises.

And the characters. I had to deal with a set on Earth and a set on Heaven. They took me on so many twists and turns it’s a wonder the book didn’t take five years to write.

After Earthly Pleasures, I decided to write another female friendship book.

In January 2007, I started GRANNY PANTY CHRONICLES, about an eighties girl band called the Bikini Panties. Twenty years later the women reinvent themselves as a middle-aged band called the Granny Panties.

Piece of cake. I’d done friendship novels before. I knew the middle-age territory all too well. Figured I could whip it out in six months or less.

Over two years later, I’m still working on it. I hope to be done in a month or so, but who knows? I’ve already undergone at least three major revisions and all those times I honestly thought I was finished.

The book has kicked my butt, but I hope, in the end it’ll be worth it. It just goes to show that we sit down and write a novel, we never know where it’ll take us and how long that journey will be. It reminds me of that saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”

Lit Links

Check out the nominees for 2009 SIBA Book Awards. Congratulations to our very own bloggers Kerry Madden, Karen Spears Zacharias, Shellie Tomlinson, and Kathryn Wall.

Agents are always giving writers dos and don’ts. One blogger turns the tables.

Below is a TED lecture on creativity from the Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

Karin Gillespie is the founder of this blog. Look for her posts most every weekend.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


This morning I drank some strong espresso and sat down at my computer. I was faintly shocked to find an email from the Bartow Georgia Friends of the Library. I opened all of my other emails and then, with hesitation, I opened it. “Dear Julie, I know it’s been ages and you probably thought we forgot about you!” read the first line. I let out a bit of breath. It sounded fairly cheerful, upbeat enough. Didn’t it?

Actually, I didn’t think they’d forgotten about me. I thought they’d written me off their list for being a shameless opportunist; a greedy author with a highly inflated ego. This was because on January 16th I’d opened the first email from the Bartow Georgia Friends of the Library. It was a warm note from their secretary, saying she’d read all three books in my Homegrown series and that she simply adored Imo, the main character. She went on to say, “Since you are familiar with Euharlee, I wanted to let you know that a new Euharlee Library has been built! It is quite nice with a lovely screened in back porch that faces the Etowah river. Our Friends of the Library board is currently planning events for 2009. If possible we would love to have you come speak/read this summer.”

Well, I love Euharlee, Georgia, a small rural community 45 miles NW of Atlanta. A place where the rhythm of life is still slow and where signs saying “Jesus and tomatoes coming soon” pop up on the roadside along about June. Euharlee is home to Georgia’s oldest covered bridge, as well as a restaurant that serves frog legs. But, more dearer to me still, it’s the setting of Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes, ‘Mater Biscuit, and Those Pearly Gates.

When I began the first drafts of my Homegrown novels, I set them in Armuchee, Georgia. The Oostenaula river, which flows through Armuchee, became as much a character as the people. The books are fiction, but like many writers, I have plenty of family things woven throughout, and the fact that I still have plenty of family members living in Armuchee made me think twice before those presses started rolling. I just didn’t want to have to defend myself or cause a split in the family tree. So, since Euharlee is a farming community as well, and since it is just 30 miles from Armuchee, situated along the picturesque Etowah river, it just seemed the perfect solution.

When I first read that request from the Bartow Friends of the Library, I immediately thought, “YES! By all means! You just name the date.” I’ve been told that creative folks are right-brained, and that the right side of the brain is random, intuitive, subjective, and “looks at the whole”. Well, the whole looked great. I love Euharlee, and I love libraries, and it sounded like a perfectly fabulous way to spend a Saturday (Euharlee is about three hours or so from my hometown of Watkinsville, Georgia). But, there was one problem with me jumping the gun. I don’t drive, due to a head injury 25 years ago, and I must rely on my husband to be a patron-of-the-arts. I prefer to ride with him when he’s a cheerful, willing patron-of-the-arts.

In fact, what stopped me from this knee-jerk “Yes!” response was the specter of my husband’s face hanging right above the keyboard. He looked exasperated. Now, Tom holds an MBA in Finance and he is a very analytical soul. He uses the left side of his brain very well. Logical, rational, objective, the man “looks at parts”. Tom looks long and hard at every single infinitesimal part. Parts I don’t even know exist! Which is why he has counseled me ad nauseum as to why I cannot continue to accept each and every invitation to book clubs, libraries, Red Hat clubs, university groups, etc... who ask me to come in the name of loving books. Lord knows I have done HUNDREDS of these events on my own dime. I’ve done it for the sake of Art. I’m a creative soul who loves to pour out and to give back and to encourage other people to write.

“You need to just tell them this is your JOB,” Tom counsels me often. “When they ask you to come, tell them you’d love to, if they PAY you.” I listen to him, but still. Every now and again I’ll wonder why I’m so reluctant to ask for compensation. Is it the southern female part of me that’s shy when it comes to talking about money? Still, it just seemed wrong to me to charge money (gasp) to come and talk to folks about my books. This gift I have is to be shared, and that urge down inside my soul is to freely squander, to spread the joy. In my mind, the word sharing connotes “free.”

Funny though, I have no problem with other authors asking money for appearances. I have one author friend who won’t go anywhere for less than $2,000. Nowhere. And the girl gets plenty of invitations! Another fellow author, also very well known, actually urged me last year to start asking for fees. He told me that us authors owed it to each other, that we needed to band together and demand fees when we went somewhere to speak. “After all,” he said, “it’s our time, and our time is money. That’s time we could spend writing.”

He’s right, of course, it truly does take time and resources from my family. Don’t get me wrong, I have gotten money, good money, from many libraries to come and speak/read. When they offer me a nice speaking fee plus mileage, up front, it makes it really easy.

For four long days I agonized over answering that email from the Bartow FOL. How would I word it, asking them to PAY me to come and help celebrate Euharlee’s wonderful new edifice filled with books? To the very setting of my novels? At last I composed what I thought surely had this undercurrent, this lining of selfish ambition. But, I swallowed hard and clicked “send.” Then I set about waiting. The days passed, turned into weeks. SIX WEEKS to be exact. I’d given up hope until today, sure that my greediness had made them aghast, made the lemon squares at their last board meeting stick in their craws (throats).

“Dear Julie, I know it’s been ages and you probably thought we forgot about you! Not so! We are still quite interested in having you come to the Euharlee Library and speak. We understand you need to charge a fee plus mileage and we would like to offer you ----$. In addition, one of our Friends board members has offered his home for you and your husband to stay in overnight if needed. It is a large, older home with a “B&B” feel to it. He’s a great chef, too!”

I knew what Tom was going to say when I called him at work and read the email. The satisfaction in his voice was unmistakable. “Great, Sweetheart! Why don’t we drop in and see some of your family in Armuchee while we’re up that way?”

Now, if Tom’ll suggest seeing my family, you know he’s pretty pleased. What is the moral of this little tale? I guess it’s that famous Proverb we’ve all heard: “Ye have not because ye ask not.” As far as doing something noble in the name of Art, for the pure selfless love of writing and sharing stories, there’s usually at least one soul at each book event who’s intent on giving up his/her day job and pursuing a career in writing. “Of course you can email me that novel/essay/short story/poem you’re working on!” I say to them, after listening to a nice, long oral synopsis. “I’ll be happy to read it and offer you some advice on editing or hunting an agent.” That always makes me feel better.

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

On the Right Path

Raindrops keep falling on my head—no, it’s snow, in Georgia! March 1 we had a snowstorm that lasted for hours. While it didn’t stick around long, it provided wonderment while it lasted. I realize snow doesn't sound exciting to folks who have shoveled for months, but for us down here, it was magical. Big heavy flakes falling, falling like they would never stop.

I am taking time to enjoy the miraculous and the wonderful more these last few months. Maybe because the news is so bad? To hear everybody moan and groan, you’d think none of us every went through any hard times before and we are entitled to much better things. Reminds me of the first year of each of my sons’ lives, when I was certain they were going to be under one forever, and I would never get past the “can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t do anything exciting” stage of motherhood.

Or it reminds me of 1989. That was the year my husband lost his job in April, and mine ended in October. For the next nine months we had little income other than the advance for my third book—and those who write mysteries know that didn’t support a family of four for six months.

But you know what? I learned some valuable lessons in that year.
I learned to appreciate my family and to know my real friends. They are the ones who happily came over to roast weenies and marshmallows over the sticks we collected from the yard and didn't complain we didn't serve wine. The people we could laugh with, cry with, and not have to pretend with.

Trite as it sounds, our family really did rediscover free ways to have fun. Bike rides. Hikes. Telling ghost stories in the dark. Swims after dinner at a free beach. Public libraries and festivals in the park. When that year was over, one of the boys said, “I think we laughed more this year than ever before.”

We learned how to squeeze a dollar until it squealed, and how to evaluate whether we really needed to spend it or could wait another day or two. We learned that most purchases can wait. I learned the pleasure of reading through a catalogue and filling out the order form for everything I wanted to buy, then tossing it in the recycle bin.

I learned to identify with people who live like that every day of their lives, who don't have a good job, who barely have enough to buy what they need and never have enough to buy what they want.

I learned how much I and my own circle took for granted that a gracious, plentiful lifestyle ought to be ours because we worked hard and "deserved" it. I learned how quickly that myth can dissolve. I learned the taste of shame when I couldn’t go out for lunch, and winced when friends criticized poor people who buy steak, because I was a poor people, and I'd learned that when you have very little, you need a treat now and then to remind you that you are still human.

I eventually learned that we were no less worthwhile as human beings for not having work or money. That was hard.

Even harder, but maybe most important, I learned I can survive fear. Waking up at four a.m. and wondering what we would do when the money ran out. Praying the boys wouldn’t fall and break a limb because we had no insurance. Worrying that my husband would lose heart before he found work. I learned that fear, like a broken heart, doesn’t kill you unless you let it.

One night I had what may have been a vision and may have been a dream. I was walking on a three-foot wide path between grassy meadows. Gradually the sides sloped until the path was six feet high, then twelve feet above the ground. I walked more carefully, aware I could fall off. Suddenly the sides sheered and I was walking across the Grand Canyon! My path ahead looked like a thread, and I stopped, terrified. A voice said, “It’s the same path.”

It is, you know. Hardship is part of the journey. We writers know that characters who don’t experience hardship and setbacks make very dull reading. In real life, too, tough days shape who we become and make us far more interesting people.

Would I want to relive that year? Doubtful. And yet what I learned and experienced that year is currently going into a novel called HOLD UP THE SKY, which is about four strong women going through really tough times, who learn that true strength lies not in independence but in interdependence.

This kind of economy is a real good teacher of that truth. So as you walk in the valley of the shadow where life is hard and the future uncertain, my hope is that you newly learn to appreciate those who support and love you, that you rediscover a few simple pleasures you've forgotten as you've kept up with the technological age, and that you learn your own worth is not tied to what you earn or do for a living.

My gift to you is what I know: It IS the same path.

Patricia Sprinkle

HOLD UP THE SKY will be released in March 2010 by Penguin Putnam. To read more about it, visit my website,