Monday, August 31, 2009

If I Only Knew . . . by Patricia Sprinkle

I understand that people out there want to know about the creative process, and that I'm supposed to know how it works. To date I have published twenty-nine books and I don't have a clue.

Books, like children, get conceived in the oddest places. A taxidermists' convention, a writers' conference, forty feet below the ocean's surface, sitting in a prayer meeting listening to people gripe before they pray. Like with babies, conception is usually a surprise.

Also like babies, a book develops in stillness and darkness. I know it is down there. Sometimes I feel it stirring. I may even get a name for it or an idea about what kind of personality a character's going to have. I jot down notes like I wrote letters to my sons before they were born. Just as I stored baby clothes in a dresser, I store notes in one of a set of plastic boxes I keep on my shelf, each labeled with the name of a book awaiting the birthing process.

When a book feels ready to birth, I sit down at the computer and get exactly the same utter conviction I faced each time I entered a delivery room: I cannot do this!

Then, like the crowning of a baby, a scene breaks through, or a plot ending, and I start to jot down real notes. That can take two days, as in the case of WHO LET THAT KILLER IN THE HOUSE?, or twenty-three years, as in the current novel I'm writing, HOLD UP THE SKY. That novel has gone through two titles, two themes, and several revisions, and now only faintly resembles the book I intended to write, the one I scribbled notes for on somebody else's telephone paper. Since the paper was on a roll, long and skinny, I wrote the notes from the bottom up. I should have taken that as symbolic of the writing process for this one.

I don't have a writing schedule. When I'm working on a book, writing for me is like studying at college: what I am supposed to be doing whenever I'm doing something else. But just as I tried to order my children's lives to some extent, I order my plots. I was once on a panel with a poet who said anybody who outlines has an anal personality. I was next on the panel, so I started with, "Now that we know what kind of personality I am . . ." I do outline. I hate to waste time rambling through chapters I'll throw away. I don't always stick to the outline, but it gives structure to the book. And if I don't feel like writing the next chapter in order, I can skip ahead and write a scene that comes later.

Like any new mom, I also spend time getting to know my characters. I ask them questions like "What teacher do you best remember, and why?" "What do you treasure from the past?" "What do you keep in the trunk of the car?" I may not tell a reader any of those things, but I like to know.

Also like motherhood, authorhood has joys and parts nobody mentions. Once in a while a book moves so well I forget I'm alive until my feet fall asleep. Other times I slog through mud up to my chest, dragging a character after me. Sometimes I watch the characters do their own things. Sometimes I rein them in and insist they do it my way. I talk to people who are not there. I wake up in the morning muttering, "But she wouldn't use that word." I once read a chapter one to a writer's group two days before deadline and half-way through announced, "This chapter is awful. I have to rewrite it." They panicked, but I knew it was simply a matter of reversing the action. Writers begin to get a feel for those things.

So how does the creative process happen? Differently for every writer. Why do I keep doing it? Because it's unpredictable, often impossible, and fun.

Two of my Sheila Travis mysteries, MURDER ON PEACHTREE STREET and SOMEBODY'S DEAD IN SNELLVILLE ought to be reissued this fall. I hope you'll check them out.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Writing a Book the Mafia Wars Way by Kristy Kiernan

I've enjoyed reading about book signings this month. Everyone has their own take on them, everyone has their own reasons to do, or not do, them. Most of us have had a mortifying one or two, and have also had had the delightful one or two in which we sold out of books.

But I'm going to write about our alternate topic today, Your Writing Process, because I have a fairly singular view of book signings: I do them because there is no better way to thank the booksellers for what they do than to arrive on time, respectfully dressed, interact with their customers, and express my appreciation in person.

So, on to Your (My) Writing Process. This, too, is so individual, and I have all kinds of different processes for each stage of the book. Because I've gotten a fair amount of flak in the past couple of weeks over one of them, that's what I'm going to concentrate on in this post.

It has to do with...Facebook. Also known in some circles as The Most Evil Social Networking Site Ever Invented. Everyone seems to have strong feelings about Facebook. Despite the fact that I've been on it incessantly for the past several weeks, I don't. I can take it or leave it. Right now, I'm taking it. But I'm mostly using it for Mafia Wars.

Mafia Wars is a game application in which the player pushes buttons that say things like "Fight" and "Loot" and "Rob an Electronics Store." Depending upon how well you do those things, you're awarded various weapons, armor, prizes, cash, and titles, such as "Street Thug" and "Enforcer" and (my current title) "Consiglere."

It's silly. It's pointless. It takes little to no thought.

And that's why I'm playing it.

You see, I'm writing a new book.

This will be the seventh novel I've written. By the time you've written six full-length books, you begin to notice that you have certain routines you fall into on every book. And I have found that while trying to re-train myself to sit at the computer for long periods of time, I need something mindless and enjoyable. Because after the initial rush of getting my first scene down, I find that I am continuously distracted.

I want to do laundry. I have a sudden need to trim the orchids in the jasmine trees. The grout looks distressingly dingy. Coconut noodle soup at Thai Star calls to me. I will do anything rather than sit in front of that computer.

And if you want to write a book? You have to sit in front of the computer.* For long periods of time.

So, with each book I've had some little obsession that I use to keep me there. Some of my time wasters over the years?

  • Countless chatrooms and bulletin boards. Some were interesting, most were mindless chatter.
  • Solitaire.
  • Fiddling with website.
  • Minesweeper.
  • Free Cell.
  • Webkinz. (Yeah, that's right, Webkinz. You got something to say?)
  • Three Deck Spider Solitaire.
  • Four Deck Spider Solitaire.

And now: Mafia Wars.

I keep my skimpy manuscript open in one window, and my mindless entertainment of choice open in another, and if I get stuck on my writing, I do not move from in front of my computer to rearrange my storage containers. I sit there. I play my stupid games. I slowly ascend the levels, or rack up the points, or beat a previous time, and then I go back to my ms and stare at it for a while. I bounce back and forth, hours and hours go by, back and forth, back and forth.

And eventually, starting around the 6,500 to 8,000 word range, I find myself drawn to my ms more. The balance starts to shift. And somewhere around the 10,000 word mark, I find myself sitting there, WRITING, the entire time. Nothing calls to me but the story. Not the grout. Not the soup.** Not the game. I post a little farewell (as I did recently on Twitter), letting everyone know that I'm off the grid for a while, and I write my book.

But this time, with Mafia Wars, I'm getting a good amount of sass back from random corners of my world. And for a while I couldn't figure out why. Why is everyone bugging me about My Process? Why am I getting inquiries about why I'm robbing cab drivers in Cuba rather than writing? This is MY Process. What do you care?

Then I realized what the difference is. It's Facebook. Every move I make is broadcast. Nobody ever saw the insanity of Minesweeper. The bug-eyed concentration of Free Cell. The mind-numbing repetition of Webkinz. Those were all done in the privacy of my own little world. But with Facebook it's not even Mafia Wars that everyone is seeing. Even when I'm out of energy (in the game), health (uh, in the game), and stamina (in get the idea), I'm still ON Facebook, so I'm posting really fascinating*** status updates, and I'm replying to friends' really fascinating*** status updates. Suddenly, everyone can SEE, in up-close and disquieting detail, My Process.

And, apparently, some people don't approve.

So, here's what I have to say to them: It is, after all, MY process. Go enjoy YOUR process, and I will not bother you about it. I have written six full-length books in the past nine years. I can assure you, I'll do it again. And if you don't like my fascinating*** updates, make use of the "Hide" button and choose "Hide Kristy." If you don't like to see that I'm wishing for an Untraceable Cell Phone**** in Mafia Wars, then use the "Hide" button and choose "Hide Mafia Wars." If you just don't like me? Unfriend me.

Other than that, cut me some slack--I'm writing. It might not look like it to you, but it doesn't have to. Those books on the shelves didn't magically appear. I did actually produce them.

And I'm doing it again.

* No. Longhand won't work for me. If I wrote longhand I would just have to play tic tac toe, or sketch really bad profiles of women I don't know but who have perky noses and oddly swooping bangs. I actually have to sit in front of a computer.

** Okay, the soup always calls to me.

*** Fascinating is such a subjective term, isn't it?

**** Yeah, seriously, you got any extras?

Kristy Kiernan is the author of Catching Genius, Matters of Faith, and the upcoming Between Friends (April 2010). Feel free to friend her on Facebook and join her Mafia. You'll get a lot of writing done.

News in the Southern Book World

Don't Forget the Decatur Book Festival Labor Day Weekend

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival Presented by DeKalb Medical’s (DBF) rapid ascension to enormous popularity has made it a launching pad for a wide range of authors, from the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning, to the new and aspiring. This year, new books will pop up at DBF like mushrooms after a spring rain.

The festival will be held Labor Day Weekend, September 4-6.

“We’re excited that so many amazing authors have decided to launch their books at the festival,” said DBF Executive Director Daren Wang. “It really speaks to how much we’ve grown in just three years.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Robert Olen Butler launches Hell at the festival. In this highly anticipated novel, an unfortunate evening news presenter finds himself in hell, where he encounters an interesting assortment of characters, including William Shakespeare, Humphrey Bogart, and many popes and U.S. presidents. All the street names in hell are variations of Peachtree. Butler will present Sunday at 1:15 p.m.

Jon Scieszka, who has been selected as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for the Library of Congress, will be launching the newest book in his Trucktown series, Trucktown Truckery Rhymes. He is the author of several acclaimed children’s books, including The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales. Scieszka will appear Sunday at 1:30 p.m. on the Children's Stage, and Saturday at 3:00 p.m. at The Escape for "Guys Read," a conversation with teenagers.

Acclaimed leadership author Alan Deutschman launches his newest book, Walk the Walk, Sunday at 5 p.m. Deutschman authored the popular Second Coming of Steve Jobs, which was renowned by leaders all over the nation.

Judy Schachner, creator of the Skippyjon Jones series, will launch the latest addition to the series, Skippyjon Jones, Lost in Spice. On Sunday, she will host a mariachi brunch for kids at El Tesoro at 10:30 a.m. followed by a promenade to the square. Tickets to the brunch are available through Little Shop of Stories.

Loren Long will be launching his new book, Otis, in grand fashion with a tractor themed children’s parade around the downtown Decatur Square Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Parade master Long’s Otis is about a little tractor who befriends a calf. All are encouraged to march in the parade wearing farm-friendly apparel or costumed as farm animals or machines.

Multi-talented novelist, poet, composer, essayist, composer, journalist, and documentary film-maker Philip Lee Williams will launch The Campfire Boys at the festival. Williams, soon to be inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, will speak Sunday at 12 p.m. Former NFL superstar turned leadership speaker Karl Mecklenburg is launching his new book Heart of a Student Athlete: All Pro Advice for Competitors and Their Families. The ex-Denver Broncos team captain will talk about his book Saturday at 11:15 a.m.
Charlaine Harris is launching the book she co-authored, Must Love Hellhounds, at DBF and Dragon*Con. She'll speak Friday at Dragon*Con, then (courtesy of them) she’ll appear at the festival Saturday at 10:00 a.m. with vampire fiction master Chelsea Yarbro.David Fulmer also brings a first to DBF this year. Saturday at 5:30 p.m., he will present the first public reading of his play, Storyville.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Decatur Book Festival Presented by DeKalb Medical is the largest independent book festival in the country and the fourth largest overall. This year, more than 300 authors and tens of thousands of festival goers will crowd the historic downtown Decatur Square to enjoy book signings, author readings, panel discussions, an interactive children’s area, live music, parades, cooking demonstrations, poetry slams, writing workshops, and more. For more information visit .

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Book Signings

Let’s admit it, for most of us, book signings are pretty damn foolish.

Signing one of my books increases its market value, by, oh, say, approximately… zero. Maybe if I were John Grisham or Steven King, my scrawl on the title page would fetch a princely sum, but I am neither of those people. Last time I checked I am also not Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Mark Twain, or Madonna. Not once has the president suggested sending out Man Martin autographs as a way to stimulate the economy. There is a reason for this; my signature except at the bottom of a personal check has no monetary value whatsoever. So given this, why do authors bother with signings? Why do readers and bookstores bother with them? Many readers fondly imagine writers are a breed apart. We live colorful lives, they think; they imagine us bleary-eyed and unshaven, working at a wobbly table, temporarily repaired by squeezing a copy of The New Yorker under the short leg, quaffing coffee as thick as tar from a chipped mug, staring at a blank page in mute fury before howling to the sky, “Why must I endure this torture that some call genius?” Our conversation is bright and sparkling, filled with bon mots and adverbs. We are dysfunctional and bitter, but our spouses love us anyway for our talent; we sulk and rage; we are frequently drug addicts, alcoholics, or worse. We smoke unfiltered French cigarettes and eat brie.

Meeting an actual writer, captive and on display at the local bookseller shatters this delusion.

The real deal turns out to be a poor doofus no more glamorous than your average gutter-guard salesman and a good deal more tongue-tied, sitting at a table stacked high with books and wearing the terrified will-you-be-my-friend? grin of the kid everyone picked on in third grade.
At book signings I invariably wear expensive blue jeans, a colorful starched button-down shirt, and a black jacket. This is how readers think writers dress, and it’s the least I can do not to disappoint them. It is pure costumery, of course, the standard uniform of male writers everywhere. If I attend a book signing with other writers and happen to forget my black jacket, at least I know someone is bound to have an extra one lying around somewhere he can lend me.

If people knew the way writers actually look, they would probably give up reading altogether.

I’m writing this blog – right at this moment – in my traditional writing wardrobe. Boxer shorts. Nothing else. Please do not envision this; it will only give you nightmares.

There are no French cigarettes anywhere in the house. I do drink my coffee strong. But my wife does not love me for my quirky genius. She loves me because she loves me, and my quirks she puts up with. Mine are not interesting quirks, either. They mostly involve spilling things and leaving other things where they don’t belong. My work habits are predictable. My life, for the most part, is sober and happy. I save my money and I floss. I pay taxes. I go to church and vote. I have two daughters, a mortgage, a dog, and chickens. I do have chickens. That’s something.

Not that being shockingly ordinary will prevent me from going to book signings. Hell, it’s like I always say, “I will cross a busy street against traffic for the chance to meet just one reader.” Sometimes a bookseller will apologize for a sparse turnout, and I’ll reply, “If the only one who shows up is a stray dog, then, by golly, I’ll pet the dog.” And I mean it, too. I put on my writerly black jacket, blue jeans, and button-down shirt, and sit at my table of books grinning like a fool until they throw me out. And I do my dead-level best to act like the exotic Faulker-Twain-Hemmingway bigger-than-life real-live celebrity author that people want to see.

And if someone is gracious enough to ask me to sign a book, I will whip out my marker andscrawl any sentiment that comes into his head. I just wish it meant more.

Maybe I’ll start signing, John Grisham.

Man Martin was selected Georgia Author of the Year for his novel, Days of the Endless Corvette. His current novel, Paradise Dogs, is represented by the Fairbank Agency. His commentaries can be heard on GPB's Georgia Gazette.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why I Love Book Signings, No Matter What

I just finished a marathon 6 weeks of travel up and down the east coast doing signings and luncheons for my second novel, SO HAPPY TOGETHER, which debuted last month. It was exhausting! And exhilarating! The turnouts were atrocious! And astounding!

And so it goes if you want to get out there and promote your book.

After living the sheltered existence of me and my laptop for most of the year, I love getting out and meeting people. I love to hear reader's responses to my writing, my characters, my plot. I've given up trying to write while touring, or signing, because I just don't have the energy for both. I give these events my all.

And go in with an open mind.

Maybe it's because I did so many book signings when I self-published my first novel, THE RICHEST SEASON. I had no expectations. After all, how many people go to signings for a self-published book?

But I had some pretty good events. I worked them. I brought copies of reviews, I chatted up my book, or anything, with customers, and I tried on my own to get as much PR from local press. I also e-mailed anyone I knew in the area, letting them know I'd be at a nearby store.

I still do as much as I can to bring people in to my signings.

My events this summer ran the gamut from sold out (with over 100 attending) to selling just one book. For the typical store signing, I find the booksellers are sometimes more anxious than I am. Usually they start by explaining that you can never tell how many might attend.

And I end up assuring them that I'm prepared for anything, and if we sell one book, I'll be satisfied. Then they share stories of authors who've gotten huffy because of poor turnouts, and I can tell they're grateful I understand. And I really do.

For twenty years I sold real estate and when I held an Open House, I'd advertise, put out signs and balloons, and do everything possible to get people in the door. But sometimes no one showed up. If it was really nice out, people would rather do something else. If the weather was awful, well that might keep them away, too. You couldn't MAKE people walk through the door. And it's the same with book signings.

But I know one thing about booksignings, they are totally worthwhile, even if you don't get a great turnout. Because it's not just about the event.

It's about the bookseller being invested in selling my book, both before, during and after the event. Because once they read your book, they're on board. And then when you meet, you get to make it more personal.

And of course, leaving signed books in the store afterword is a big plus. As my publicist once said "a signed book is a sold book," so I love it when we end an event with me signing a stack of books for them to sell in the coming weeks.

And they usually do, as my follow-up e-mails from them have proven.

Maryann McFadden's second novel, SO HAPPY TOGETHER, debuted in hardcover last month. Her originally self-published first novel, THE RICHEST SEASON, debuted last year and was just released in trade paperback. Both are published with Hyperion Books.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Book Signings That Rock

by Mindy Friddle

Since our proposed topic is the good, the bad, and the ugly of book signings-- I thought I'd concentrate on the good. I mean, enough with the bad and ugly already, right? I don't know about you, but I've had it with that phrase "in this economy." Yeah, it's challenging out there-- but there's good stuff going on, too--inventive, creative events. Especially with book signings. Lately, I've attended or been part of a number of readings and book signings that had something in common: these were successful author events part of a reading series. Groups of readers showed up and bought books.

One example: Litchfield Books' The Moveable Feast, which features literary luncheons with authors at restaurants on Fridays. Tickets are usually $25 each. Books are sold at the luncheons and at the bookstore afterward. I've been honored to do to the Moveable Feast twice as an author-- and both times were fantastic: a roomful of attentive readers.

There are also library-sponsored readings: the Georgia Center for the Book is, again, masterful at organizing author events and cultivating groups of readers who attend and buy books.

There are scads more-- savvy bookstores and libraries and colleges who put together author events that pretty much guarantee that readers will show up. The key, I think, is that they bring the readers to you, the author...they help build a community of readers and writers.

So maybe you live in a place that has no reading series? No author luncheons? No way to bring authors and readers together? Consider starting one. Really! In our community here in Greenville, SC we have a reading series called The Reading Room, sponsored by the nonprofit Emrys Foundation, featuring regional writers who are published and read nationally. We invite [and pay modest honoraria] to poets, novelists, and essayists of the Southeast to read from their work, ask questions of them, and enjoy fellowship with other friends of the arts. [A bookstore is on hand to sell their books.]

And local independent bookstore Fiction Addiction is launching a NEW luncheon series here called Book Your Lunch providing "the ultimate food for thought" with a wide range of authors -- from mystery writers, to award-winning regional novelists to nonfiction and cookbook authors. The series kicks off Sept. 1 with debut novelist Amanda Gable, author of The Confederate General Rides North.

Hey, you can even host readings in your home! [see Poets & Writers article: "thanks to a growing trend in grassroots marketing and publicity, writers in the San Francisco Bay area are reading to packed houses—literally.]

Necessity is the mother of invention-- that old saw is apt. It sure sharpens the entrepreneurial spirit.

Mindy Friddle is the author of THE GARDEN ANGEL (St. Martin's Press/Picador) and SECRET KEEPERS (St. Martin's Press). Visit and her blog, Novel Thoughts: On Reading, Writing & the Earth to read excerpts from her novels, interviews with authors, book reviews, and random musings.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Just Do It

On Monday of last week, I sent the manuscript for the tenth Bay Tanner mystery, Canaan’s Gate, up to my editor in New York. I came in almost two months ahead of deadline, and let me tell you the happy dance for this one lasted a long time.

During the month of July, I cranked out an amazing number of words, completing and revising the novel in a flurry of daily output that astounded even me. I pretty much adhered to Cathy Pickens’ BIC (Butt in Chair) philosophy while I made my dazzling dash to “The End.” Truth to tell, I didn’t have much choice. Yes, it flowed. Hell, it gushed, like a mountain stream in full spate, and I had to hold on for dear life as it dragged me along. What a rush!

I have no idea how or why this happened, at this time, with this book. I’d love to think I can replicate it, but who knows? We always seem to be looking for rules, for structure to define this writing life, something we can pass along to those seeking to follow in our footsteps. But maybe the truth is that it’s every woman for herself. I don’t suppose that Rembrandt and Picasso shared the same process, yet each managed to paint some pretty nice pictures. Perhaps we ought to quit trying to quantify what we do, to establish a best practices manual as I used to do in my previous life as an accountant. Maybe we just need to stand back, get out of our own way, and let it roll.

Keep in mind this could just be the I-finished-the-book-early euphoria talking. Even though I usually take at least a month off before beginning a new project, I’ve already written two chapters of the next one in the series. It may be that I’m afraid to lose the momentum. Chances are I’ll lose it anyway. It’s a capricious gift, this writing thing. It can be uplifting and shattering, glorious and depressing, inspiring and draining—all at the same time.

All you can do is go with the flow, whether it’s a raging flood or a pitiful trickle. Because if you want to be a writer, you have to write. As Nike keeps reminding us, just do it.

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, was released in April from St. Martin’s Press.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Creative Secrets

from Cathy Pickens

Over the next few weeks, some of us will be blogging about our writing process. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished teaching a summer course on the creative process in the MBA program at Queens University of Charlotte. Imagine, 25 business students exploring their creative process.

For many years, I searched for a magic potion, spell, or bullet that would enable me to be creatively productive every day. One that would guarantee the words would flow as if by magic.

What I learned was that, although it is magic, the secrets are much more plebian and ordinary than I’d imagined.

With much reading on topics such as “flow” (that mystical period of being so lost in a project, you lose track of time) and the creative process, I found the first simple secret. Simple shouldn’t be confused with easy, because I still have to force myself to do it, some days. But the secret itself is simple.

I call it the BIC method. It’s a guaranteed, sure-fire, psychologist-tested (by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi) method for achieving flow, that wonderful state of creative nirvana.

Are you ready? BIC stands for Butt in Chair, Bic (or pen or keyboard of your choice) in hand. Same time, same place, every day. That’s it. Simple – though not always easy.

Doesn’t matter if you feel like it or not, if you know what you want to do or say, or not. You show up. No use expecting the muse to show up uninvited. If you aren’t in your accustomed place, she might visit with something special for you and, when she can’t find you, fly on by and give it to someone else.

Some days, the words come, the writing goes well. Other days, I have to laboriously drag each word from the end of my pen. Hardly seemed worth writing on those days – until I discovered another secret: when I went back to re-read the first draft, I could never tell which pages I’d written on the good days and which I’d written on the hard days. Every page needed that next stage of re-visioning.

Which leads to my third and final secret. Many people see creative people as silly, carefree, even undisciplined. Creative people do know how to play, they often enjoy their “work.” But they also know it is hard work, and it requires discipline.

To complete anything – and then to polish it until it shines … and then to start all over again demands discipline. I’ve met lots of talented, successful writers. I’ve never met one who doesn’t work at his or her craft. But I also appreciate Stephen King’s admission in On Writing: he enjoys every stage of the process. Of course you should enjoy it, at every stage, even when it’s hard.

You choose to do the work, commit to the discipline, show up and sit your butt in the chair. You can enjoy it – it’s your choice. No better secret than that.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tips for Signing When You're Not Yet a Bestseller

Tips for Book Signings When You're Not Yet a Bestseller
by T. Lynn Ocean

In keeping with this month's blog theme, my 1 ½ cents worth…

Bring your own water (or vodka martinis disguised as water if you have a driver). Most booksellers take good care of visiting authors. But then there was the time I was signing at a chain store—after driving 4 hours to get there—and asked for a bottle of water. They wanted $2 and change. I had no cash. They wouldn't take a card for anything under $5. In the name of superior service, they handed me a urine-sample-sized cup of tap water.

Don't wear white. Booksellers will set up a beautiful display table complete with a tablecloth and signage and then roll out the grossest, most stained, dirtiest chair on the planet. Plus, you may have to cart your own bin of books out of the back room.

Remember your happy place and be prepared to go there. Yeah, you may have travelled at your own expense through tropical-storm strength rains for a day only to discover that the bookseller mistakenly advertised your event for the following week. Or somehow returned the supply of books they'd just ordered for your signing. Or that the annual downtown street fair ended an hour ago and all the people have gone home.

Resist the urge to retort. Just smile and be nice when shoppers make tactless/absurd comments such as, "I've never heard of you," or "Did you write these books?" or "Are they free?" Also, it's a good idea to know where the nearest public restroom is. Inquiring minds will want to know.

In all seriousness, I do love to meet and chat with readers. I think all authors do. But be forewarned: book signings can be hit or miss as far as foot traffic and book sales. If you're signing and find yourself in the midst of a 'miss', don't fret. Every signing event is an opportunity to meet the people who are your lifeline: the store owner or manager and employees. They are the people who—if they love your books—will recommend you to their customers and book clubs.

Good Luck & Sign On!T. Lynn Ocean

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Keeping Up with the Story Bible

Peggy Webb

Starting a new book is like going somewhere I’ve never been and meeting new people. In the beginning, I have a sketchy idea of who my characters are; but as the story unfolds, I get to know them as well I as I know my best friends.
Some would call that kind of writing organic. Others would call it seat of the pants. I simply call it having fun. I love it when my characters surprise me, and they do that with a regularity that keeps me eager to sit down and write.
When I wrote the first Southern Cousins Mystery, I turned Elvis, Callie, Lovie and the whole Valentine gang loose and let them surprise my socks off. And I kept notes. In a spiral bound, leather journal. A page for each character, a page for each recurring setting, a page for Fayrene’s malapropisms.
I knew that in subsequent books I’d be revisiting these characters, these places. And I wanted to get it right. I wanted Callie’s eyes to be brown in every book and Elvis’ ears to be mismatched and Lovie’s house to be pink.
I finished book one and wrote book two. So far, so good.
Then new characters started popping in, and old ones kept surprising me. In book one I didn’t know Mama had a 1930s cigarette holder and that she smoked when she wanted to aggravate her family. I didn’t know Uncle Charlie was going to hire an assistant who had one blue eye and one green. I didn’t know Bobby’s blue eye would be psychic.
I kept the journal - now known as the story bible - beside my computer so I could take notes. The characters outgrew their pages. Since I was jotting notes in long hand, I drew arrows and wrote things such as cont’d, see back page, go to other section.
I’m now on book four, and my characters continue to be feisty and unpredictable. It takes combined acts of Congress and God to decipher the story bible. What does Leonora, tart w/Shih Tzu mean? What about first boiled peanuts then pickled pigs’ lips? Was Bobby’s psychic eye the left one or the right?
Okay. So writing a series with continuing characters requires a bit more discipline than I’m accustomed to. Even with a story bible (especially my story bible), it’s still possible to miss some of the details. Maybe Bobby’s psychic eye will move around. Maybe Leonora is not important and who can spell Shih Tzu anyhow?
The main thing is this: I’m having fun with the series and I hope my readers are, too.
What is your series reading/writing experience. Do you send an author Godiva chocolates for keeping all the details straight? (Now, that would inspire me!) I’d love to hear from you.

Visit Peggy at Her lastet novel Elvis and the Grateful Dead will be out Oct. 1.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Signings Are Boring And Stuff

One of the topics Karin suggested for this go-round is "Book Signings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". My thoughts? Really, how UGLY can a book signing get? There was an episode of the beloved MTV high school drama My So-Called Life where the character of Claire Danes makes the statement “asking ‘how was school?’ is like asking ‘how was the drive-by shooting?’ You don’t really care how it was, you’re just lucky you survived.” (I’m probably misquoting here, but you get the point.) It’s always shocked me how similar an approach many authors I know take to booksignings. The disdain goes beyond fear, beyond hate, to a point of disgust that circles back around to fear and then, ultimately, to some sort of weird fight-or-flight response that causes cold sweats and nausea.

I’ve never understood this. At all. I mean, for every instance like those recounted in Mortification, there’s an instance like the release party for Kate Christensen’s awesome summer read Trouble that I attended a few months back, where it’s basically a drunken love-in. In fact, in this economy (aren’t you tired of hearing that cliché?), in these times (aren’t you tired of that one, too?), it would seem any book store still choosing to be brave enough to host readings and signings will also, in fact, throw their neck/back out in an attempt to create a fun, or at least successful, event.

Because, I mean, let’s get to the real nitty-gritty of it: at the core? Book signings are pretty damn boring, aren’t they? I’m not talking about ye olde sit-and-signs, where an author is plopped at a picnic table and told “SIT!” for 45 min/an hour/e-freaking-ternity and then left to hawk books like they were bootleg tickets outside a concert venue. No, we won’t talk about those because, for the love of god, who still does that? It’s embarrassing for everyone-the author, the staff of the book store, the poor people approached by Lady Jane St Stevens, whose new book Jenny Pink and Her Fabulous Friends is sure to crack the Times, sure it is, and you should just gobble it up and read it right now and won’t you buy two copies to give to a friend and who should she personalize it to?

Yeah. Desperation smells bad, but on an author, all wild-eyed and sell-crazy, it smells worse.

But no, I mean the actual author event, reading/speaking/q&a/signings-they’re all actually sort of boring, sort of self-gratifying, really, when they’re fairly cut and dry. Because, honestly, it’s you, Mr/Ms AuthorPerson, talking for like an hour about “craft” and “meaning” and all the other stuff when actually you want a drink, the audience wants a drink, you want to shut up, and the audience wants you to shut up.

As such, I’ve compiled a brief list of 10 ways to spice up your next book signing. I am also not accountable for anything resulting from trying these:

1)Show up early. Really, really early. Take the stage, if there is one. Take the mic, if there is one. If not, just stand. Begin reading from page one of your book. Don’t stop til you’ve finished. Ignore any and all conversational attempts made during this time period. Should you finish your book, close it, look up, say “thank you “ and leave, regardless of time.

2)Put a live squirrel in a paper bag. Set it next to you as the bookstore’s event coordinator introduces you. Before you begin, say “oh, my squirrel!” Release it from the bag. Don’t acknowledge it again.

3)To every book event you ever do, ever, carry a copy of Apocalypse South, the single worst book ever written. Read from it lieu of anything else.

4)Show up drunk. (I think we’ve all seen this one done. It actually works better if you bring the booze for all to share. I, personally, only do deal with book events drunk. I mean, uh...)

5)(This one requires some pre-arrangement, and honestly, hun, if you’re only famous in your own head it won’t be funny) You introduce the store’s event coordinator. The event coordinator reads from your work, takes your q&a and, if you’re really gutsy? Signs books in your stead. Watch the collectors lose their minds…in a bad way.

6)Call your family during your reading. Like, literally stop everything to do it. I have seen this done ONCE, and by a very, very famous fantasy author, and he was actually charming enough to pull it off.

7)Constantly refer to things your “friend Ernest…oh you know, Hemingway?” would tell you.

8)Constantly refer to things your “friend Ernest…you know, Goes To Camp?” would tell you.

9)Announce on-stage you’re quitting “the literary rat race” to “focus on cooking”. Produce a tube of raw cookie dough. Eat it entirely. Leave the store.

10)Stage a fist-fight with a friend planted in the audience. This actually reminds me of a story Jennifer Finney-Boylan has in Love Is A 4 Letter Word, so obviously it works.

BONUS: 11) Run into the store 25 minutes late, completely naked other than blackberry jam on your chest (regardless of your gender), screaming “SORRY I’M LATE I WAS FIXING MY CAR.”

To any bookstore lit event coordinators out there who take issue with my suggesting authors try these things, please email all complaints to Complaints will be addressed in the order they’re received.

Russ Marshalek is a freelance book publicist and lit event coordinator, operating as RussCommunications, in Astoria, New York. His fledgling personal website is here, and his neglected blog is here. He really likes you!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How Do You Write a Novel Again? By Karin Gillespie

One of our topics for the next cycle of blogging at “A Good Blog is Hard to Find” focuses on the writer’s process. I just started a brand-new spanking novel, and after having written seven, I always think the same thing: How the heck am I supposed to do this?

Do welders have such silly, insecure thoughts? Auto mechanics? Doctors? How would you feel about lying on an operating table and having a surgeon say, “Sorry. I’ve taken out several appendixes but for some reason yours confounds me.”

It’s ludicrous that I’m so leery and unsure of this new novel because while I was writing my last novel, it was hustling me like a streetwalker.

“Unload that tired biddy of a novel,” it cajoled. “I’m shiny and young. I’m the one who’s going to win you the Pulitzer or at the very least four stars in Romantic Times

But now that this new novel and I are finally alone, I’m feeling nostalgic for the one that came before it. It’s done after all and isn’t just a bunch of goobledy-gook in my head that I can never successfully transfer to paper. The honeymoon is over even before it’s begun. What had I possibly seen in this tart?

This time, I decide, I’m going to be a serious, organized writer and outline the new novel with Roman numerals as proper writers do. None of these wild goose chases of past novels. No discarding of hundreds of pages until I finally find the thrust of the story.

Unfortunately as I sit at my computer, I experience severe and debilitating outline block.

Time to change tactics.

Forget the outline, I say to myself. You’re an organic writer. Your words and ideas need to have free range like chickens from Whole Foods. Let them frolic across the page.

But I don't feel like I'm frolicking. I feel like a cat coughing up a hair ball. I try to remember Anne Lamott’s invaluable advice in Bird By Bird: Give yourself permission to write crappy first drafts. (She uses a more colorful word than “crappy.”)

My aim is to get the story out there. No point in primping the prose. Who knows what part of my work will be thrown into the dumpster to fester with the fish heads?

In several months I’ll have ninety to a hundred thousand words-- mostly unusable words--as if a can of alphabet soup exploded on the page. But at least I’ll have something to edit.

Editing’s my favorite part. I become obsessive. I might do fifty or sixty edits. This takes several more months. When I finally finish I imagine my prose sings like Pavarotti. I’ll put it aside for a week or so and discover it actually sings like American Idol contestant William Hung’s rendition of “She Bangs.” So I re-write some more.

Finally I send it to my beta reader and she says: “This is promising for a first draft. Maybe you should rethink the characters, plot, and possibly the setting. But other than that…”

Self-loathing sets in. I drink red wine and try again. And again. God as my witness, next time I’ll definitely outline.

Did Isaac Asimov go through this with all 500 of his books? Why can’t I be one of those people who say writing books is like taking dictation from the universe?

Maybe when I write novel number nine….

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Writing Life

by Zachary Steele
Author of, "Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO"

I haven't been writing for the entirety of the limited experience that I call, "life". I mean, well, obviously I wasn't writing in the womb, nor did I pop out with pen and paper and get to scribing my experiences in utero. I suppose that would have been quite the story, if not, an altogether painful experience for my poor mother. So, what I mean to say, is that, though I may have spent the majority of my capable time on this earth writing, I have some lingering years remaining that offer no insight whatsoever into my life as a writer.

What is that supposed to mean? I take it to mean that I need more coffee.

The thing about life, see, is that life, in and of itself, is a story. Not the words you put on paper (or screen in this modern age), or in the ideas floating about the nether regions of your mind, plucking you awake at the most obscene hours of the night, but in every aspect of every person in every day that you live. Writing is, more or less, the centrifuge to the swath of stories we swim through on a daily basis. I've been told many times that, "there is no story that has yet to be written," and to some degree I get the concept of that statement. To some degree, yes, the stories that are written are nothing more than variances of stories that have been around for centuries. Stories that your grandfather told you on cold nights by the fire, stories that you heard while eavesdropping on that squabbling couple in the cafe, stories that were chipped in tablets and handed down (or succinctly dropped on the floor and cracked into peices by that snarky caveman-esque editor with no appreciation for the man-mammoth-woman love triangle). But in each familiar story, in each tale that rings of familiarity, there in a unique perspective, a unique slant, something that only happened that one time.

Oddly, it took me a while to see this. I had to actually look up from the page, so to speak, and take a nice long look at the world. I had to see how, in its persistent way, that life prodded the art of storytelling. Sometimes, as a writer, you become a bit insulated. A bit protected from reality whilst you delve into the preferred insanity that is your chosen world of fantasy. It's safer there. You can do what you want. You can kill someone, feel remorse, and move on without consequence. You can encourage affairs, you can win the lottery and stick your tongue out at the world, you can rule the moon, you can take the fragile psyche of a beaten soul and thrash it upon the ground like a small child who is curious to see what happens to the turtle inside the shell once it is broken. But you're safe because it isn't real. It's just a story, and they are all just characters bent to the will of your madness.

I heard it stated that every writer has within them a musician wishing to break out (actually I ready that today from a source I'd rather never listen to again, but I liked it, so now it's mine...bwahahaha!), and I have to agree. However, it would be irresponsible to music to claim that it resides within any one person. Stories, music, dance, painting, sculpting, they're all art. They're all the same. They are all the fabric of life. They all flow. And not one is inspired from within, nor do any reside there. Life is the art. Life is the song. Every life is a story, and in turn, every story is alive.

Ok, so the idea is a touch out there. It's as inspired as it is insane (though there really isn't a difference...all artists are insane with inspiration). It's something out of a Russell Crowe, or Dustin Hoffman-type movie, but it's true. It's so very easy to forget that your little experiences, your seemingly insurmountable trials, your possessed frustrations are shared by all of those around you. We all feel a bit like Truman, trapped on the stage, the world as our audience...every so alone in our experiences. But the world is replete in repetition, and in shared experience. No, the mind of that person next to you is not yours, and their similarities are not as yours, but their story is like your story, only in variation, and that variation is enough to make it unique. We are bound by what we are: living creatures who wander like mobile trumpets, blaring our stories for the world to hear. You only have to listen.

Life is everywhere. So are the stories.

Go find them. It isn't hard. They are waiting for you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Something In The Stars

There must be something in the stars tonight. I'm vacationing with my wife and six children on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Midnight tonight just so happens to be the best time all year to watch the annual Perseid meteor shower and what better place to watch a meteor shower than at the beach?

It brings to mind another Perseid shower thirteen Augusts ago when my then ten-year-old son Chris and I were spending the night on a lake in Maine. We were on a guided canoe trip with a handful of fellow alumni from my alma mater Williams College--mostly adults and a couple of teens. I'll never forget lying along the lakeshore beside the overturned canoes that night, the chill of the Maine August closing in around us like a cloak while we all stared skyward in wonderment.

That's not the memory that brings a smile to my face, however. What I remember more than anything else is the image of my precocious son, by far the youngest on the trip, regaling us adults with his extensive knowledge of the solar system and planets, and, of course, meteor showers. "Did you know," he nodded sage-like, "that on average ten people are killed or injured every year by falling meteors or meteor particles?" No, we didn't know that. "It's true," he assured us. We were duly impressed.

Therein began a serious discussion among the adults about the potential dangers posed by such falling objects and how most of the poor individuals who died must be off in Siberia or Africa or some other far-flung place. This was an educated group, mind you, although there were no actual scientists or astronomers among us. The discussion went on for a couple of minutes until my son finally leaned over and whispered in my ear. "Dad," he said, smiling. "I made that part up!"

Everyone laughed, of course, when Chris's ruse was revealed and no one thought the worse of him. In fact, we marveled at how easily we'd all been taken in by a bright ten-year-old. Since then, I've often thought about that night and what it means to tell a good story. Was it just our naivete, the right combination of circumstance and imagination?

There's magic in storytelling, I have no doubt. Or maybe it really is just something in the stars.

Authentic Southernism

I've been thinking a lot lately about what makes a Southern book authentic. I suppose that I can blame my job. I have the most wonderful job in the world. I really do. I'm the managing editor of a regional Southern magazine, Longleaf Style.

In our articles about life in our neck of the woods, Northeast Alabama, we try to not be cliché about the South and our selection of authors has to be grounded in authenticity. And, so in this quest for authentic Southernism, I’ve asked myself lately, “Theresa, what does it really mean to be authentic in Southern literature?”

Does it mean the dialect should break every grammar rule in the book? Does it mean there has to be at least one reference to plantations, white columns, cotton picking, fried chicken, okra, humidity and race relations? Does it mean that somebody has to be done wrong to be appreciated? Does it mean validity comes from dysfunction and survival?

I’ve written about my clear-cut infatuation with Kathryn Tucker Windham in previous posts, but I've also come to appreciate Daniel Wallace, Rick Bragg, Mark Childress, Fannie Flagg, Alex Haley, Willie Morris and Diane McWhorter after features in the magazine.

From them I learn of the people who influenced them and how they are able to capture the small details about Southern life in unexpected ways. In getting to know the authors and the stories behind their books, I’ve also discovered that authenticity is not forced. It just happens. Southern authors don’t just wake up one day and decide to be Southern.

For the most part they are writing about their life. In their books you will find pieces of them sprinkled throughout. They shine a light on our culture and world, sometimes on things we would rather keep hidden in the dark. The classic writing advice “Write what you know” might work for a lot of people, but it seems that most Southern authors “write who they are.” And, that is why as we read and re-read Southern books, we feel like the authors and characters are part of our family. We see ourselves in these books. That’s pretty darn authentic if you ask me.

So, I pose this question to you. What is it about Southern literature that makes it authentic to you? Surely I'm not the only one that has put down a book after rolling my eyes too much from reading the Southern cliche's, which caused me such strain that I had to make a pitcher of sweet tea to regain control of myself.

Additional Note added after I had a cup of coffee and looked at my calendar: Speaking of Southern authors, today is the release of Pat Conroy's latest book, "South of Broad." I'm sure I join many others in looking forward to reading it!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Q and A with Murray Tillman author of Meet Me On the Paisley Roof

Trussell Jones has a problem. He is crazy in love with a beautiful girl named Ellen. The problem? He has no car. His stepmother, who believes that she is spiritually connected to Queen Victoria, won t let him drive. Furthermore, she is afraid Trussell is trying to kill her. Not to be overlooked is the fact that Trussell is being pursued by a gang of armed redneck motorcycle hoods, while his neighbors are preoccupied with changing visions of St. Francis. Just another heartwarming tale of a boy in love with a girl? Hardly. This delightfully quixotic coming-of-age story, set in Columbus, Georgia in the 1950s, truly has something to shock and beguile even the most jaded reader. Its irreverent protagonist will take you on a road trip of hits, near misses, twists, and sudden turns that ll set you on your ear. You ll be unable to put the book down, until you reach its charming yet totally unpredictable conclusion.

What’s the backstory, i.e., reason for writing, behind MEET ME ON THE PAISLEY ROOF?

When I was in the seventh grade and later as a teenager, I was madly in love with a beautiful girl in my school who, I thought, viewed me as a pest. Civilized contact with her (as in a conversation), I reasoned, would lead to rejection so I did, as the sixteen-year-old Trussell did with Ellen in the book, "kicked up a lot of dust around her."

Also during those years, I had wonderful friends with whom I shared many nocturnal adventures, problems in our family lives, and dreams about the future.

I studied piano very seriously for a while and adored listening to the Classical and Romantic repertoire, if not on a record player, then in my head. Trussell tries to explain this strange habit to Ellen.

So the story comes from a well of feelings about my teenage years: a seemingly impossible love, friends who love, support, and test one another, music that would send your soul soaring, and the utter frustration of having to deal with challenging events without having any experiences to fall back upon, emotions so intense, so alive, that I can feel them today, a half-century later. I wrote the book to share those feelings, expressed humorously, in a fast moving story.

Although you've written textbooks, you've come to novel writing rather late in life. What prompted you to finally write a novel?

I would prefer to change the phrase "rather late in life" to "later in life". That done, let me say that being a professor at a major university today requires one to be a writer in your areas of specialization. My fields were educational psychology and instructional technology, areas in which I did research, taught, and wrote -- research articles as well as books.

So, I was quite busy with a fulltime academic career as well as raising a family. The issue is time, but not just time alone. It is in having enough blocks of time to concentrate on the scene at hand and in keeping all elements of the story in mind as the story develops. In short, my muse is
fickle, and she requires large chunks of time before she will appear. No weekend gigs for her. I had to wait for retirement.

What was the most challenging part of writing MEET ME ON THE PAISLEY ROOF?

That's easy. All of it.

Just look at the Acknowledgements section of the book. I mentioned six individuals, each of whom made major contributions to the book and who also encouraged me to continue. You may infer that I needed lots of help, and you would be absolutely right. (As you can see, even my children were involved.)

Why? It may be that my previous writing experience had prepared me to present information in a logical, orderly way. But, how do you, as novelists do, help the reader find a satisfying emotional experience as they read the text? Now that's a big one.

To be more specific, I initially focused on character development and attention to details (be specific, the writing gurus say), the result being that I overwrote the scenes and neglected plot. At one point the manuscript soared to 127,000 words. Howard Berk, a former Hollywood scriptwriter and novelist at UGA, brought me back to earth.

Not only did I trim 27,000 words, I had to write new chapters as required by my increased attention to the storyline. Later on, my wonderful editor, Gus Gedatus, helped me put the finishing touches on the entire story.

Who is your favorite character and why?

My favorite character is Ellen. The reason is simple: my wife would kill me if I said anyone else.

But hoping that she will not read this (Ha! She reads and edits every word I have ever written), let me tell you about Mr. Childs, a construction foreman. He is the father of Cassidy and Ronnie, teenage friends of the story's narrator, Trussell.

Mr. Childs has the potential to be, as one of my friends said, a hero or a villain. Here is one quick example. Mr. Childs wants to show Trussell how it feels to fire a shotgun. So they go to the back of the house where Mr. Childs produces a loaded shotgun, then demonstrates how to hold the weapon properly, and then fires a blast out the back door into a large mound of dirt. And why was the large dirt pile there? Mr. Childs had, on his own initiative, recently bulldozed his wife's vegetable garden in order to build a fallout shelter.

On one hand, Mr. Childs wants Trussell to learn about shotguns and acts immediately to "help" him learn. On the other hand, Mr. Childs is firing a deadly weapon within the city limits, easily alarming neighbors who hear the cannon-like noise that shotguns make. On one hand, Mr. Childs wants to protect his family from the devastation of nuclear war, but on the other he didn't discuss the matter first with his wife, who lost her garden.

And so it goes with Mr. Childs, trying to be helpful to his family and Trussell, yet often skirting the limits of reason, if not the law, to do so.

What is your writing routine like?

I write at a computer keyboard. Since I play the piano, moving my fingers across the keys is second nature to me.

I prefer to write during the morning but am on call from my muse at any time. Once I sit down and start writing, I don't know when I'll get up. If I have written two or three decent pages by noon, that's great. If not, I'll take a break, and come back until by the end of the day, I have those two to three pages. My goal, then, is to produce two to three pages a day.

But sitting down to write is not the only aspect of my routine. Visualizing before writing is also part of what I do. I usually try to visualize a place, a scene where the action occurs. In addition, I like to take a large sheet of paper and sketch out various actions of the characters. I draw lines, make circles, whatever it takes to focus my attention on what the characters might do and identify the nature of the conflict or connections being made.

This is not quite an outline of the scene. It's just a rough map or sign posts for me. I don't know everything that's going to happen, and I don't want to. It happens when I write. Then, I find out.

What are your top five favorite books?

I have several different areas of interest in which I read, ranging from the air and naval campaigns in the South Pacific during World War II to early Christian history and, more broadly, the quest for spirituality. Let me stay within the fields of Southern literature and writing, however, to address this question.

I grew up in Columbus, Georgia, in the shadow of Carson McCullers. She attended the same high school I did, although many years earlier. One of her English teachers was still teaching while I was there.

I place McCullers three works The Member of the Wedding, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe at the core of my favorite novels. And yes, they epitomize to me what Southern writing is all about: all roads lead to the human heart. That journey involves trying to understand beauty in ourselves and in others and learning what truth this beauty, or its absence, conveys.

On a more technical note about writing, I must cite the book by Brenda Ueland titled If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. Her thoughts were really more about the nature of consciousness and creativity than the "act of writing." I could not have made the transition from a technical/scientific writer to a novelist without her.

So how did I reduce a 127,000-word manuscript to 100,000 words? I tried to follow what longtime editor and author Sol Stein says in Stein on Writing, a book whose ideas can cut like a knife through the fudge of excess verbiage. His companion book How to Grow a Novel is equally informative.

That last book, number six, I provide at no extra charge.

Murray Tillman is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia and formerly Chair of the Department of Instructional Technology in the College of Education. He has authored several texts that assist teachers in using instructional design tools and has developed training manuals and courses for businesses and human service agents. Murray is a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College and the University of Georgia. Visit him at his web site.

Friday, August 7, 2009

If I Become A Famous Author

by Karen Harrington

After viewing this video, I had to wonder: What would I do if become a famous author?

1. For starters, it's very vogue to have someone pretend to be you on your Twitter account. A famous author can't be bothered with telling you what she had for breakfast or that the dog just yacked on the carpet. So I'd hire someone to do that for me.

2. I would build a dream library with green carpet, lots of over-stuffed leather chairs and a latte machine. The room would have huge windows looking out over some body of water.

3. It would be fun to have bobble heads of my book's characters made. Then, everytime I doubted my writing ability, I could ask one of them if I was great and they would nod YES in unison.

4. I would get other famous authors to autograph their works on individual Kindles. Yes, right there on the screen.

5. I would host a dinner that other famous authors would attend annually. Stephen King would sit next to Nicholas Sparks. Anne Rice next to Elizabeth Berg. Elmore Leonard would sit at one end of the table and give everyone cool names like Mr. Pink and Velma Treadway. John Irving would be at the other end of the table and he'd lead the discussion about the plot holes of lesser books.

So if you become a famous author, what will you do?


Karen Harrington is the not-so-famous author of Janeology. Read an excerpt at http://www.karenharringtonbooks/.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Details, Details (or What Sno-Cones Have Taught Me About Writing)

By Augusta Scattergood

Photo credit: Scott Keeler, St. Petersburg Times

This season’s blog theme is What Writing Has Taught Me About Life. No, we don’t have to do the assignment. We can blog about anything that catches our fancy. After all, it’s not 8th grade math class. But I was always a bit of a teachers’ pet, even did the extra credit stuff. So I take these “voluntary” assignments seriously.

But not too seriously. So in honor of summer, I’ve turned my assignment around.

By the time I took to writing professionally, giving up another career to write, I had already learned a lot about life—and not from writing. So today I’m thinking instead about what life has taught me about writing.

Specifically, what eating Sno-cones teaches me about writing fiction.

Stay with me here. By studying Sno-cones carefully, I understand the importance of detail, the use of emotion, the seriousness of research, and the tricks to finding the perfect image in every word. And getting it right.

First off, is it Sno-cones or Snow Cones or Sno-balls? (Or some might make a case for Italian Ice, but if we are setting the story in the South, they would be dead wrong.)

In Mississippi, where I grew up, kids ate Sno-cones, spelled like that. And I didn’t think much about it. Then a couple from New Orleans opened a Sno-ball (spelled like that) stand a short drive from my Florida neighborhood. My transplanted Louisiana relatives were ecstatic. I was confused.

These Sno-balls looked like the summer treats of my childhood—the paper cups, squished to overflowing, that turned to soupy liquid when most of the ice is munched away. But then the proprietor of the Sno-ball stand asked if I wanted cream on top. Cream? On a Sno-cone? No, here they’re selling Sno-balls and sure, I’ll try the cream.

So right off the bat, Sno-cones have taught me the importance of research and fact checking, even in fiction. Not to mention spelling. Most of the time, you can’t fool your readers with mistaken details. Especially if the details are part of their history.

Now I’m working on a kids’ novel set in Florida, in the summer. Small-town Florida, a place where kids ride their bikes to the Sno-cone stand. Where they drip orange and purple all over their white shorts, just like my friend Eileen remembered when I asked around for Sno-cone stories.

Life— in the form of a frozen treat-- teaches me that memories are an important component of fiction.

Remembering in all five senses makes a scene come alive. The cold sticky colors dripping down an arm as we squeezed the paper cup. And white shorts, the worst thing to wear while slurping a Sno-cone. Watermelon and cherry and banana— whether the Sno-cone flavorings actually smell like the fruit they are named for, they taste that way and they evoke a scent. So I’m having my character eating a cherry Sno-cone, always my favorite.

Hot nights under the summer sky, Little League games at the park, the sound of the bell on the truck, the worry over the quarters—saved to pay for a lemon Sno-cone— that slipped through the pocket and are gone forever. Memories seep into stories and emerge as something else, another thing life has taught me about writing.

So I’m including a cold summer treat in my story, and I’ll get the details right. I’ll have to think about what to call it—a Sno-cone or a Sno-ball— but a few more trips to my new Sno-ball place, and I should have it all figured out.

Augusta Scattergood blogs about writing, book reviewing, and the occasional Southern food item over at Her childhood Sno-cones were enjoyed in Cleveland, Mississippi. She now reads and writes from St. Petersburg, Florida, and Madison, N.J.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Recipe for Writing

by Nicole Seitz

The other night, I dreamed I was standing in front of a classroom of teens, telling them about everything I've learned about writing. About being a writer. I've just finished the first draft of my next novel, and I find that I always learn new things while writing a book, or else my old beliefs are reaffirmed. It's all a great learning experience--the struggles, the joys, the pressing forward. After writing my fifth book, I've learned quite a bit more than I knew when I was going into this career. So if I had to give some advice to a writer just starting out, what would it be?

I tried to remember what I was going on and on about in my hazy dream the other night, to no avail. And then last night I was rereading my manuscript, exhausted, and couldn't muster any other thoughts but sleep. Sadly, this morning, I'm all about the coffee and we're out of it. So I was thanking Heaven when I flipped open the food section of the newspaper today and saw that there's a movie coming out about Julia Child and a woman who decides to go through all 524 of her cookbook recipes. There, on the second page of the article, were the words I've been looking for...and Julia was a chef, not a writer. But you see, writing is just like anything else in, loving...I think you'll see.

In Julia's words:

"Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it."
I will second that. If you are not passionate about writing...if it does not fill that deep pit that continually needs filling within you, you might want to look elsewhere. If you think you're going into writing for any of these reasons: money, status, sex (hee hee, sexy authors), or doing something easy -- you will most likely burn out at some point.

"I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate."

I was 32 and pregnant when I got the first inkling to write. I thought writing a novel would be an impossible undertaking. My first basically wrote itself. Up till then, I just read a little and admired writers from afar. Sometimes people fall into that thing they were made to do after they've already done so many other things that just didn't satisfy.

"The secret to a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know they're right if you love to be with them all the time."

Just yesterday I was thinking how writing is like a marriage. You find a man you love, you get skinny, you plan for the wedding, dream about it at night, then you have the big glorious event...and then...and then, you're married. For the rest of your life. No more weddings, just the ups and downs of day to day. So much like writing. I thought when I got that first book published and in hand that I would have "made it" wherever THAT was. Little did I know that it was only the beginning. I had to live day to day with the writing now, the pressing for words, having them flood me at inappropriate times, being frustrated when I didn't know what in the heck they were doing, being scared the writing was taking me away from other important things like exercise, sunshine...and then, every now and again, I get a tiny little wedding moment. Much like marriage. You must love this person you're with forever. Same goes for writing. Find ways to keep the love alive even when it's hard. If you're truly passionate about it, you won't let the small things turn into burnout.

"Being tall is an advantage, especially in business. People will always remember you. And if you're in a crowd, you'll always have some clean air to breathe."

This is inspired, Julia. I am not tall by any means. I'm 5'3" and three-quarters, thank you. But this quote refers to writing as well. Do you want to be tall, original, and stand out? Or do you want to write the same thing someone else is writing? Sure, you can make a living, writing to formula and putting out things you know will sell, stuff just like everything else. Hey, I'm not against money, we all need to make a living. But to feed the SOUL, that deep pit that needs filling over and over, I say rise above. Do something different, original, be true to yourself. It's the only way to have fresh air wherever you're standing. Otherwise, there's hot air and back draft all around. After a while, you'll need to take a bow, step out of the room and breathe again.

For new writers out there, God bless your journey. For others who have been around a while and feel the pounds and wrinkles of a long writing marriage, I wish for you fresh wind in your sails. Always try to remember why you fell in love in the first place.


Nicole Seitz is the author/cover artist of three novels and lives in Charleston, SC with her husband and two kids. Her latest book, A Hundred Years of Happiness, was inspired by her stepfather's service in Vietnam and the Vietnamese seafood restaurant she once worked in. Her next book, Saving Cicadas, is narrated by an 8-year-old girl whose single mother finds herself pregnant again, and in her dilemma, hauls the whole family into the car for the last family vacation they'll ever have. Through the eyes of innocence, Janie must learn the truth about the people she loves the most and the difficult choices grown-ups make. The book is available for pre-order and hits stores December 1.

Find other Seitz books including The Spirit of Sweetgrass and Trouble the Water (Library Journal's Best Books of 2008) plus her artwork online at

Monday, August 3, 2009

Guest Blog: Sang Pak author of Wait Until Twilight

Before I begin, my thanks to Karen for lending me some time on her turf. She’s creating some good karma. Having said that…my first novel is coming out this summer and maybe out by the time you read this. It’s entitled Wait Until Twilight. It’s a southern gothic/coming of age tale but it was the southern aspect that seemed prominent while I wrote it. All the elements are there. The country roads, hot humid summers, the kind of rundown beauty one might imagine of a small southern town. But the one thing I shifted into an alternate reality was the language. I instinctively kept the drawl scaled down even though from an experiential reality, and if anyone has spent time in the rural deep south they know the drawl is thick and it’s real. I think it reflects the “Southerness” in me. Being Korean American, I don’t think that would register immediately. Even the drawl I used to have growing up has faded after many years of living overseas and far away from the American south. But if one listens closely it’s there. After a few beers it becomes even more prominent.

To be honest with you, if one writes southern dialog with a true drawl, it can read like Faulknerian or Mcarthian hieroglyphics for the uninitiated. Something to be occasionally deciphered. Yet, even the dialogue in the most inveterate southern writer belies the drawl that’s found in the rural south. They are all toned down. This of course is because novels are reflections not of the actual world but the inner world of the writer that has been cultivated from the totality of their experiences and their desire to express this. This includes everything they’ve read, whether the bible or the works of Shakespeare. It all influences the writer. And this can be seen in the dialogue of the southern writer. I think if I’d stayed in the south instead of leaving after high school, the dialogue I wrote would have probably contained a much stronger drawl. Again it would have most likely been instinctual.

Being raised in the south is a very specific experience. No doubt even more specific for someone of Asian descent. But the interesting thing about the south is that for all the complexities many of which are dark, at its heart it is welcoming. And for anyone spending their formative years in those welcoming arms it’s impossible not to walk away with an implicit understanding of the southern heart and mind….and tongue.

Visit Sang at Wait Until Twilight releases tomorrow.