Friday, October 30, 2009

The Universe is On Your Side by Mystery Blogger

Every morning I get a note from “the universe.” I’ve always had this idea that life on Earth was like an extended Outward Bound program. Just an exercise, really and not to be taken too seriously. I also enjoy the idea that all sorts of angels and other cohorts from “the universe” are watching us, cheering us on and giving us a leg up when we need it.

Anyway, that’s why I signed up for notes from the universe at TUT Adventure’s Club. I get one each weekday morning in my inbox, and while I know they are written by Mike Dooley, the TUT founder, I like to think of them as messages coming directly from my own personal angelic cheering team. Time and again, my note from “the universe” is exactly what I need to hear that day, I thought today’s note was especially appropriate for writers:

“Any attempt to measure one's progress in life with an assessment of their present physical surroundings, or even a panoramic glance at their life and times to date, is just plain "whacked." The reason being is that each journey, kind of like a haircut, should never be fully appraised until it's complete. Otherwise, one might mistaken a miracle-in-the-making for a setback, loss, or the "wet-look."
Your cosmic barber and de-whacker, The Universe

Lately at A GOOD BLOG IS HARD TO FIND we’ve been talking about rejection and reviews. Every writer is going to face scads of rejection along the way as well a lot of criticism, some useful, some not so much. But what we all have to remember is both things are just part of a rich and ultimately satisfying journey of growing into the writers that we ultimately want to be.
Don’t isolate an instance of rejection (or even a spate of rejections) and let it make you feel less than fabulous. Instead try to see rejection or criticism not as a stop sign, but just one of many signposts on your way to the bestsellers’ list or whatever your benchmark for writer success might be.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Guest Blogger: Jennie Bentley

As a published writer, I often get asked how long I’ve been writing. The honest answer to that, of course, is ‘forever.’ The alternative answer is about four years, from the time I decided to get serious about getting published until now. I started the manuscript for “A Cutthroat Business” in 2005 and finished it in 2006, found an agent that same year, and by 2007, I had a three book contract with Berkley Prime Crime. For the past couple years, I’ve been busy cranking out a book in the Do-It-Yourself home renovation series every six months while trying to find “A Cutthroat Business” a home. Which—hallelujah!—we have finally done, and it will be in stores everyone in June 2010.
The whole process went rather fast, and I only sent out 42 queries before I found an agent, so I can’t really claim to be an expert on rejection, even with the dozen or so no’s from big houses that “A Cutthroat Business” had to endure before we placed it with someone who loves it the way we do. Still, there’s a short period in my past I don’t talk about often, mostly because thinking about it makes me want to kick myself. Hard.
Once upon a time, back about ten years ago or so—before I had kids—I thought I wanted to be a romance writer. Largely because someone had told me it was ‘easy’ to get published in romance.
I’ll take a short break here, to let you wipe your tears and catch your breath from laughing yourself hoarse.

Yeah, we all know it isn’t ‘easy’ to get published in any genre, don’t we? I was young and naive, though, so I believed it. I joined RWA, I joined my local organization (the Music City Romance Writers), I entered their annual contest, I won their annual contest... it all seemed very—dare I say it?—easy. So I thought to myself, maybe I should just send out a query for this book while I’m at it. Now that it was a contest winner, and everything...
I should perhaps mention that at this point there existed no actual book. The contest called for the first chapter of a romance. I was just dipping my toe into the water and hadn’t started writing anything yet, but I wanted to enter the contest—it was a chance to let someone other than my reluctant husband read my writing—so I came up with an idea and two characters, and wrote a first chapter. I didn’t do anything more with it, just wrote it, entered it in the contest, and sat back and waited. By the time it won, I still hadn’t written another word of the manuscript. But when I got the idea to query, the guidelines on the publisher’s website said to send a synopsis, so I wrote one. For the book I hadn’t written. And then I sent that out—mentioning the contest-win in the query letter, of course—and sat back to wait some more.
Stupid much?
In retrospect, the most amazing thing about the whole situation was probably that I got a response at all. And not only was it a response, but it was a two page, personalized response, detailing everything that was wrong with the plot of my (non-existent) manuscript and making suggestions for what I could do to deal with the problems.
Sounds great, right? I had an editor at the biggest publishing company in the world liking my synopsis enough to provide two pages of personalized feedback. I should have been dancing.
You’ve already guessed what I did, haven’t you?
Yep, you’re right. I did... nothing. I put the letter into the rejection file that I had to make especially for it, I ate some ice cream, and I stopped writing for a few years. Yes, I started having kids right about then, so I had an excuse, in all the diaper changes and middle-of-the-night breast feedings, but the real reason was that I’d been rejected.
I can laugh about it now, because I know that a two page personalized rejection letter isn’t really a rejection at all. And I can laugh about it because things worked out anyway; I made it into print a few years later. It wasn’t the end of the line for me. But it’s a sour laugh, because I also realize that I could have been published eight years ago if I’d just taken the time to familiarize myself with the business I was so eager to enter. Just a little bit of research, and I might have seen the rejection letter for what it was: an opportunity, a foot in the door, and not much of a rejection at all, really.
So there you have it. The story of my first rejection. The moral of the story being that it helps to know what you’re getting into before you’re putting it out there.
And that’s the view from this writer’s desk.

Bente Gallagher is the author of the Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime under the pseudonym Jennie Bentley, and—come June 2010—the Savannah Martin real estate mysteries from PublishingWorks as herself. As of right now, Jennie is the only one with a website:

Guest Blogger: Laura Benedict

The first non-academic criticism of my writing was scathing, and it came long before I became a published novelist.

My Prince Charming had whisked me away from the fleshpots of St. Louis and my corporate job at the Mega Beer Company to settle with him on his family’s dairy farm in West Virginia. “Write,” he said. “Let’s make your dream of being an author come true.” What a sweetheart he was, and is.

I’d never lived in the country. Every time I stepped out our door to plod—in my spanking new LL Bean boots—through the muddy yard to the car, or shut the bedroom window against the odor of the aged cow manure that had been spread over the cornfield a few hundred feet from the house, the theme song from “Green Acres” started up in my head. No lie. But I wasn’t miserable. It was an adventure, and I came to love the place—especially after I dug and planted my own flower garden, had a baby, and broke my arm crashing into our storm door as I was running from a feral bitch whose puppy had strayed into our yard. We were there six years, and I’d move back in a heartbeat.

Along the way, I tried to make sense of the unfamiliar culture around me. Having grown up in Louisville, Kentucky, I knew southern, but not country. So I wrote essay after essay about my new life. The men in the area particularly puzzled me. They called me “ma’am” a lot. At first it freaked me out, but now I kind of miss it. The essays eventually got picked up for radio by WVTF, the NPR affiliate out of Virginia Tech that covers vast parts of Virginia, Tennessee, and West Virginia.

One of my favorite essays to write was about the evening that Oscar, a neighbor, came to inquire if any of his cattle had wandered through a busted fence and onto our farm. My husband was upstairs, and I’d just gotten out of the shower, and put on a robe. When I answered the door, there was Oscar. “Have you seen my cows, ma’am?” he said.

The situation was funny. And vaguely mortifying. Particularly because Oscar was kind of cute, and was known to be a bit of a flirt. But everyone knew he adored his wife and eight hundred children, so it was a safe kind of funny.

Here are excerpts from the letter that a Mrs. M. C***** sent to the radio station in response to the essay:

“Dear Laura, [note the inappropriately familiar tone] I am seated at my word processor, still nauseous from listening to your essay on public radio….It is obvious that you have taken text from an x-rated adult movie, though I am quite sure that you are much too well bred to have ever seen one, and therefore have not the vaguest idea of what it all means. Your line of getting out of the tub to answer the door, finding a Nordic man stripped to the waist and fresh from sweat, gives you away….Of course, you continue your ego-massaging essay, never considering that your audience may be able [sic] ascertain that sexual fantasy is not only the domain of junior-high school girls, or that your transparent whiter-than white exterior sugar coat of social elite is cracked; your ridiculous fantasy of self-aggrandizement shows, and while it may be the stuff of lady-like wet dreams, it is not entertaining or enriching to your listeners.”

She goes on to make mention Freud stroking his beard and smiling. I think the station’s news director was right to call her on all the sexual subtext in her own letter when he kindly wrote a response in my defense.

There’s one thing I like about this letter: Mrs. M. C***** doesn’t hold back on the moral harping. She gets right in there and calls me names. She’s so delightfully personal and insulting! I like to take this letter out and read it when I stumble onto some squealy Amazon or blogger review. A puny “not recommended” or “will not read anymore from this author” can’t compare to “self-aggrandizing” or “…sugar coat of social elite is cracked”—it doesn’t even matter that I’m not even sure what she means. It’s just darned creative, don’t you think?

But, seriously—Keep in mind that people are always the stars of their own shows. Their criticism—educated or not—usually has way more to do with them than it does with the work they’re criticizing. Remember that, and you’ll be able to laugh at the worst that the Mrs. M. C*****s of the world can fling at you.

Laura Benedict is the author of the thrillers Isabella Moon and Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts. Sometime after Halloween, the second volume of Surreal South: An Anthology of Short Fiction, which she edited with her husband Pinckney Benedict, will be available from Press 53. Now when she writes essays, she calls them blogs and posts them at Notes From the Handbasket and Wardrobe by Sam.

Monday, October 26, 2009

If Rejection Didn't Hurt, It Would Be Called Candy -- by Kristy Kiernan

The topics this cycle on A Good Blog Is Hard To Find are "rejection" or "bad reviews" (which are one and the same as far as I'm concerned). Or, as writers prefer to think of it: re-DEAR-GOD-HOW-CAN-YOU-POSSIBLY-HURT-ME-LIKE-THIS-jection, with the attendant wailing and gnashing of teeth. And I assure you, I could teach a class on rejection. I even have an inspiring story, one that will likely make you shake your carpal-tunneled-claw at the sky and vow, "If Kristy Kiernan can do it, then so can I!"

But the thing is, little that I say is going to actually change how you feel. You're still going to feel like crap when you get a rejection from a magazine, or an agent, or an editor. And you're going to feel depressed and hurt when you get a rotten, barely literate review on WeRead, or an "I can't believe that ANY woman would ever enjoy this" one-star on Amazon, or a "Meh" on Goodreads, or an "I couldn't even bring myself to finish it" on LibraryThing.

And you will read everything you can about rejection and bad reviews, and you will take those pep talks to heart, and you will repeat them fiercely to yourself at four in the morning, and you will hear them coming from your own mouth when someone offers you sympathy, or empathy, or is even passive-aggressively trying to make you feel bad. And you will assure yourself that you BELIEVE them. And maybe you do.

But it won't change how you FEEL.

And I've gotten to the point that I actually don't think you should change how you feel about things. I have come to believe that you should embrace all the insanity rather than fighting it. (Stay with me here.)

See, it's all about time management.

As an example, let's condense the time you spend on one rejection/bad review over the course of two months:

The Rejection/Bad Review Comes In

Minutes spent barely breathing before finally reading it = 3

Minutes spent repeating everyone's words of wisdom as you read it = 7

Minutes spent rereading and seething = 237

Minutes spent re-repeating everyone's words of wisdom as you reread it (seething) = 311

Minutes spent kvetching about it to friends and family = 172

Minutes spent finding and reading more words of wisdom about rejections and bad reviews = 117

Minutes spent calling other writer friends to subtly induce them to make you feel better = 108

Now, here's the really important part--

Minutes spent feeling badly about yourself for feeling badly about things that everyone's words of wisdom tell you that you shouldn't feel badly about = 124,917

Do the math. It's just not efficient to try to NOT feel hurt.

Look, you are going to feel badly. You can be brave as you want and you can spout back all the words of wisdom that you want, and tell me how you're fine with it, and you don't even READ reviews, but…I know you read the reviews. And I know you're not fine with them.

I also know that you're brave. And I know that a lot of those words of wisdom DO make you feel better, and that your logical self knows that these words are true.

But what's illogical to me is that we often spend more time beating ourselves up for feeling badly that someone said awful things about something we so earnestly worked on to make as good as we possibly could. It hurts. And it doesn't matter that it's a professional review (Kirkus is evil and snarky, the Times is elitist), or an amateur review (what do I care what some hick in **** thinks? They gave Mama's Big Blue Wig five stars…loser), or a big agent (I didn't want to get lost in a giant agency), or a small agent (I'd never even heard of her before), or a major house (they only publish pabulum for the masses), or a specialty house (they couldn't get me into the big box stores anyway).

It still hurts.

Rejection HURTS.

If it didn't hurt, it would be called candy.

So? Feel the hurt. Go ahead. Here's the big secret: You're going to anyway.

Bring on the hurt. Live it, feel it, and feel okay about it hurting. Stop wasting so much time making yourself feel badly about being hurt and denying that you do. Don't obsess, don't be a narcissist, but acknowledge that yes, you read it, and IT HURTS.


You don't have to admit it to me, but at least admit it to yourself.

This is an inescapable part of this business. INESCAPABLE.

And the time you spend in the hurt isn't the travesty. The travesty is the time you spend beating yourself up for being human. You're a writer because you feel the need to address being human in some way, so cut yourself a little slack and free up some writing time by being honest with yourself.

Go forth.



Then write again.

Kristy Kiernan lives in south Florida with her husband, who always thinks she's brilliant, and even when he doesn't, he never puts it in writing. She did not wallpaper her guest bath with her rejections. Instead, when she was published, she threw them away, without fanfare. The hurt went with them.

She is the author of Catching Genius (2007) and Matters of Faith (2008). Some people did not like them.

She has great hope for Between Friends, coming in April of 2010, but she's pretty sure that someone isn't going to like that one either.

Accepting Rejection

As a writer, you always have to remember that rejection is not personal, reactions to work are subjective, and just because one magazine rejects a work does not mean it is “bad” or that no one else would be interested.
Take for example, this recent rejection I received.
“After reviewing your work, we have concluded you must be a terrible human being. Your writing made us feel all oogy inside, and we could not eat for several days. Never, never send anything to us again. We strongly urge you give up writing and follow less morally-offensive pursuits: electric-chair upholstery, perhaps, or asbestos-packer in a munitions factory.”
You see how tricky rejections can be; they’re so tactfully worded, it’s hard to tell what editors really think. Some journals, of course, are more straightforward; I would consider very closely before resubmitting anywhere that has responded with death threats or packages of anthrax.
Of course, everyone gets rejections – it’s part of the game, and you have to develop a thick skin about it. Ernest Hemingway collected a suitcase full of rejections before selling his first story. This may sound like a bizarre exaggeration, but as a big-game hunter and world-traveler, Hemingway may have used extremely small luggage. Also, the size of his rejections may have been bigger than average; if he submitted to magazines for the visually impaired, for example, they may have been sending out rejections the size of roadside billboards.
The key thing is not to get discouraged. Even William Shakespeare received rejections. Many people don’t know this, but Shakespeare was very unhappy as a playwright; what he really wanted was to be a poet, but he just couldn’t break in. This typical rejection is stored in the National Museum of London: “Bill – About your latest poem. Afraid it’s not for us. I think it was something about the title. ‘18.’ I mean the name doesn’t say much, does it? And didn’t you just submit a sonnet called ’17?’ The part about darling buds of May was okay, but the part where every fair from fair declines left us stumped. We’ve also noticed all your poems are fourteen lines. Looks like you’re in a rut, pal. Maybe bust out with a fifteen-line sonnet once in a while – or thirty lines. Try something new.”
Some writers I know actually collect their rejection letters. A friend of mine thumb-tacked his rejections to a bulletin board over his desk. When the board crashed to the floor from the weight of the thumbtacks, he began tacking them to his wall. Eventually the entire house was papered with rejections, the foundation began to sink, and the CFO of the Thumbtacks International, Inc., reported record-breaking profits, all traceable to a single purchaser living somewhere in Georgia.
And then, just when my friend was about to give up hope of ever selling anything… one of the rejection slips caught fire, the heavily-papered walls burst into flames, and his entire house burnt down.
My friend wrote a story about the experience.
It was rejected.
Man Martin is author of the award-winning novel Days of the Endless Corvette. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Nancy and his chickens, Patsy, Loretta, and Sorche.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Addicted to Facebook!

I was that person who when they first heard about Facebook said, "You people are crazy! Who in the world would care what you are doing? Who would read that stuff? Obviously you people have no life. Well, hang around me for a while and show you what work looks like." Oh, yeah, those were all of my self-righteous thoughts when I first heard the about the world of Facebook. I entered if because of sheer peer-pressure. Yes, you would think that at 40 the days of peer pressure would be over, but obviously they are still alive and well and I am pathetic to resist them. (That might need to be my next visit on my counselor's sofa...just saying.)
I quickly found myself engulfed in the vortex. I had taken the red pill and I was loving it. I reconnected with my best friends from every school I ever attended. And my daddy is a pastor, so there are tons. I found old college friends, high school friends, middle school friends and elementary friends. I found out that two of my best buddies had lived in my same city for years and we never even knew it. Just had dinner with one the other night. I get to see their children. Get to hear their latest adventures. And found I am ridiculously interested in their status updates.
I have found Facebook to be an amazing world of marketing opportunities as well. If I put up a new post on my blog I tell them. If I'm working on a book edits I share it. If I'm bowling with my nieces I update it. But I've found something else in Facebook. I've found that very often I'm so consumed with what the next update will be, making it smart, or witty, that I am missing the moments I'm actually living in.
The last couple years for me have been about learning to be present. Present in conversation with my friends. Present in the experiences that I am experiencing. Present in the moments that God has given me to live and enjoy. And something about the perpetual need to "update" my moments had me missing out on my moments.
Now, don't get me wrong, I still "update" myself. Still read other's updates as well. But what I don't do is miss a moment that I'm living so that someone else can experience it with me. They can experience it once I'm through, or I can tell them about it before I go. But life, to be truly lived, needs a person truly present in the living of it. And so that is where I find myself today. Present.
In a few minutes I'm going to make myself present in my book editing process. Tomorrow I'm going to make myself present at a movie with a friend. Sunday I'm going to allow myself to be present in the sermon my Pastor will preach. And no more am I going to allow the distractions of life to cause me to miss living life.

Denise makes her home in Franklin, Tennessee with her two shih-tzu's Maggie and Sophie (Independent and Co-dependent). She loves good food, good movies, cold Cokes and every now and then she writes a few books.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Q and A with Donna Bell, author of the Ladybug Farm series

What was the inspiration for your Lady Bug Farm series?

The story was inspired by my real-life adventures when I moved from the city to the rural Blue Ridge Mountains and began to restore the 100 year old converted barn in which I now live. This book is the closest to real life I’ve ever written-- almost everything that happens to the ladies of Ladybug Farm has happened to me, or to someone I know.

You've written over eighty novels. What's your process and how long does the average novel take you to write?

I spend a lot of time thinking about the book before I’m ready to sit down and write it. Because I’m a very visual person, the story comes to me in scenes. I know the opening scene, and the ending scene, and I have an idea what has to happen to move my characters from the beginning to the end. I also know the point of the story– what it is I’m trying to say– before I begin. I usually write the first couple of chapters before I actually start to outline the plot of the story, and throughout the writing process I take notes on upcoming scenes or lines of dialogue as they occur to me.
Every book is different in terms of how long it takes to write. A YEAR ON LADYBUG FARM took two years to develop and eight months of dedicated writing time. The sequel, AT HOME ON LADYBUG FARM, took half that time. My writing day is usually about five hours long, but when I am on a tight deadline, or when I’m really caught up in a story, it can stretch to twelve or fourteen– thus shortening the time it takes for me to produce a book.

Your first novel was published in 1982. What changes in publishing have you seen over the years?

Wow! That could be a whole essay. When I started publishing (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth) publishing companies were run, for the most part, by people who knew and loved books. Today, publishing is run by people who know and love business. As a consequence, everything is geared toward the bottom line with very little understanding of how books are read or what the bottom line really means in the world of books. Less and less marketing is done by the publisher for books they acquire, series are canceled within months of release if the first book doesn’t show a profit, publishers are willing to invest virtually nothing in building a writer’s following because it’s cheaper to simply find another book to plug into the midlist slot. The most dramatic changes have probably occurred in the last ten years, with massive consolidation and reorganization of publishing houses, and more and more really good writers competing for the few spots left on publishers’ lists. On the other hand, the internet and POD publishing have made it ridiculously easy for anyone, qualified or not, to publish a book, so that being a published author doesn’t have quite the cachet it once did. And I do believe the most dramatic changes in the business are yet to come, most likely within the next five years.

What's your best craft advice for writers?

My best advice to writers is to read everything you can get your hands on. Read what you like and what you don’t like. Read your competition. Read the bestseller list. Read out of your genre. Read inside your genre. No writing class, workshop, conference, critique group, coach or editor can teach you as much as you can learn by simply reading, and opening your mind to what makes a good book.

What books do you have on your nightstand right now?

RELENTLESS by Dean Koontz
HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY by Audrey Neffenegger
THAT OLD CAPE MAGIC by Richard Russo
SOUTH OF BROAD by Pat Conroy
SOUL OF A DOG by John Katz
on my Ipod as an audio book EVIDENCE by Jonathon Kellerman

Who are some of your influences?

My job as a writer is to absorb everything I encounter, process it, and return it to the world in the form of a story. I therefore have to say that everything I come across influences me to some degree.
If you could go back in time and give yourself some advice at the beginning of your career, what would it be?
I think one of the most important things I could advise myself would be to keep a healthy distance between the act of writing and the demands of publishing; to beware of allowing the business part of publishing to strip away the joy of writing.

Donna Ball published her first book in 1982. Since that time she has written over eighty works of commercial fiction under pseudonyms that include Rebecca Flanders, Donna Carlisle, Leigh Bristol, Taylor Brady, and Donna Boyd. She is known for her work in women’s fiction and suspense, as well as supernatural fantasy and adventure. Her novels have been translated into well over a dozen languages and have been published in virtually every country in the world. She has appeared on Entertainment Tonight and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and has been featured in such publications as the Detroit Free Press, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, and even T.V. Guide. She is the holder of the Storytelling World award, 2001, the Georgia Author of the Year Award, 2000, Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Awards for consecutive years 1991-1996, the Georgia Romance Writer’s Maggie Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times, among others.Her most recent titles are the Ladybug Farm series: A YEAR ON LADYBUG FARM (March 2009), AT HOME ON LADYBUG FARM (October 2009) and LOVE LETTERS FROM LADYBUG FARM (Fall, 2010). She is also known for The Raine Stockton Dog Mystery Series: SMOKY MOUNTAIN TRACKS, RAPID FIRE and GUNSHY , and, under the pseudonym Donna Boyd, THE PASSION and THE PROMISE. All are now in paperback in bookstores everywhere.
You can keep in touch with Donna through her blog,, or her website,

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On Handling Mindy Friddle


Avoid looking for it.

Stop Googling yourself! Especially late at night when you think no one is looking. You won’t go blind or grow hair on your palms—well, probably not—but it’s habit forming…and after a while, the thrill is gone, anyway. Save your blocks of isolation for writing--not reading about your writing.

Don’t take it personally. What other people think—critics or neighbors—is subjective. Your book, your work, has its own life, its own fate, its own loves and enemies. Your book is not you.

Review books that deserve praise. On blogs, in newspapers. Post glowing five-star reviews for books that deserve it. You’ll send out positive waves. You’ll find out how subjective reviews are—from the reviewer’s side.

All publicity is good publicity. A fellow writer told me that once, and I agree. What’s worse than a scathing review? No reviews. None.

Keep your sense of humor handy. Laugh at the darkness, the hostility, the disappointment, the snarks, the mean spirited.

Be grateful for the positive reviews, the readers who take the time to let you know a book of yours transported them.

Appreciate the reviews that aren’t positive, but are instructive and fair.

I think Aristotle said it best : “Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

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.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Back at it

When I first began writing my Bay Tanner mysteries, I had this na├»ve, Youngblood Hawke sort of notion of how my life would change once I found a publisher. Not that I envisioned moving to New York and taking up the swinging life or anything like that. No, I’ve been blissfully married to the same man for nearly forty years and firmly planted in my adopted South Carolina. It was more the idea of it, I guess. The notoriety, the excitement . . . maybe even some money. It’s a long story, but I got disabused of those notions pretty quickly. Not that I haven’t done just fine, thank you very much, but the reality is a far cry from the fantasies I entertained back in the day.

I’ve just finished the revisions for the 10th installment, Canaan’s Gate, to be released next spring. I’m expecting the dreaded copyedit in the next couple of weeks and girding up my loins for the grammar and punctuation battles. In the meantime, I’ve been “on the road”—regionally, anyway—and that’s what engendered this post.

I had no idea when I first stepped foot onto this path that so much of my time would be taken up by talking. In the past few weeks, I’ve done thirteen presentations, from luncheons to radio interviews to working with school kids, with one more to go by the end of the month. I have no idea how many words I’ve spouted during these gigs, but I have a feeling the number might rival a couple of full-length books. The necessity of getting my face in front of the world came as a complete shock to me in the beginning, although I’ve sort of come to terms with it after nearly ten years. What I never counted on was how much time and effort I would expend on this unexpectedly large part of the authoring process.

I love to write. It’s my joy. I lose myself in creating stories and characters. I almost never rise from an hours-long session at the computer without a smile on my face and a deep feeling of satisfaction. I’ve learned to embrace the necessity for personal appearances, and I almost always enjoy the interaction with other people who love books. But I’m always yearning to get back to the writing. Always.

Thankfully, the promotion machine is winding down—until next spring, at least. I’ll be traveling to Ohio to the Buckeye Book Fair in Wooster on November 7, and then it will be just a couple of signings here and there. Today I opened the file with the first two chapters of the eleventh Bay Tanner mystery and read over my notes on the plot. I’m itching to tear into it. And I will. Time to get back at it. Time to write. Hallelujah!

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. Look for Canaan’s Gate in spring of 2010.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Traveling in the Time of Swine

by Cathy Pickens

A couple of days ago, I waited for the elevator at the Hyatt Regency in Indianapolis as a new arrival to the hotel asked a waiting couple about the mystery convention. (Bouchercon, of course, the world’s largest party for mystery fans.)

“I hear Lee Child was just in the lobby,” he said.

“Oh, yes. And Michael Connelly is here. And Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, lots of great folks.”

“Wow,” he said.

Wow, indeed. That sounds like a really great conference to attend, I thought. Thanks to the swine flu, I was in self-quarantine on the 9th floor, sneaking out on the occasional food run and staying away from anyone who would want to talk … too contagious for that.

If I couldn’t hang out with cool writers and fans, at least the swine flu gave me time to read … and to mull on Karin’s suggestion that we blog about book reviews. The topic made me smile because I hearkened back to one of the reviews for my first book, Southern Fried. Back then, I didn’t know where the Contra Costa Times originated – I had to look that up. But the newspaper had reviewed my book, and my publisher had sent me a copy of it.

The review started something like this: “How do I hate this book? Let me count the ways.” And the reviewer proceeded to number the ways. I was laughing out loud when I handed it to my husband to read.

He looked at me, shocked. “You’re taking this awfully … well.” He probably feared I was having some kind of breakdown.

“If it was the only review I’d ever gotten, I wouldn’t think it was funny. Here’s someone who doesn’t know or like the South but at least isn’t damning with any faint praise.” If it had included the name of the reviewer, I’d have written a very nice thank-you note. That’s what well-bred Southern girls do, after all.

That was also the day I realized that all those rejection letters writers collect while they are working to get publishable (a very different goal from “working to get published”) serve a purpose: they get us ready for the real world, where not everyone is going to like everything we do.

To be fair, I’m not compelled to buy every book I pick up in a bookstore. Some books invite us on some days and not on others. Some books invite us not at all.

In the age of the Internet, all of us have the power to share our favorite books and favorite authors with a wide audience. Book review pages at major newspapers are drying up at an alarming rate, but online sources, online book outlets, word-of-mouth, your local library … whatever the outlet, pass it on. You can’t imagine how helpful that is in keeping the authors you love on library and bookstore shelves.

If you like a book or an author, tell others. Of course, life is short, so count the attributes of the ones you love. Remember what your mama said, if you can’t say something nice …

Oh, my latest read? Mayhem in Mayberry, by Brian Lee Knopp. A real private investigator who really knows the Southern Appalachia where I grew up. Quite a storyteller, especially if you like true crime.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

With all the glowing and fantabulous rejections coming in, my ladyhood flew out the front door on a cloud of cussing.
How is it these hotshot editors could say such nice things about my new novel, and then turn around and conclude: “Too bad. I really wanted to fall in love with this, but in the end, I just didn’t connect.” Connect, my ass. Take that for ladylike.
This wave of rejections is what I’ve come to expect from my agent since the economy tanked last year. I enjoy the art of blaming my lack of sales on the recession. Even my agent, with only three big houses left to try, isn’t sending the manuscript back out just yet.
It’s as if she’s waiting on the right moment or the right person. She tells me New York’s purse strings are tight, and if you’ve birthed a book that didn’t do well – as was the case with my last - it’s even more daunting.
Why, I wondered, can’t they go by the sales of my first book, which did so much better?
Maybe I need to become more of a real lady. Seems these creatures of the feminine world are snagging book deals as if fishing in stocked ponds.
If I were a true lady with crumpets and wads of money, I’d fly up to New Yawk and hawk my wares over $80 fruit salad plates. I could charm those stiffs with my lovely, slightly hicky Southern accent and before they could blink, they’d buy my new book.
For most of us it doesn’t work that way. I’ve never had the chance to charm my way into a plump book deal the way an author friend of mine did. Why, soon as she hit the editors with a suffocating blast of Ladyhood, she found herself and her proposal in a heated bidding war. Ah, what a dream.
This was about 10 years ago, and she strutted and flirted and batted her Lancomed eyes to the tune of a $600,000 advance for a first book. Some people have all the luck.
I feel as if mine is running out, and selling my quirky novel is a dream on hold, as if suspended from air with no safety net below.
If only I could sit back patiently, let another year of near poverty go by, and hold my head up like a real lady.
Like my wanna-be writer friend Mindy. Mindy Green of Greensboro, Alabama, said it took 38 years, but the Lady title recently crowned her curls. A group of men at a soda fountain told her they wouldn’t talk dirty in the presence of a lady, meaning Mindy.
She was floored. “I used to think the fairy would come and whack you upside the head and, Poof!, you’re crossing your legs every time you sit down to keep that penny between your knees,” she said in her drawling, Alabama accent.
“I’m new to this lady stuff, and I think I got my title by default since I have all these kids (five) running around and fighting, and I still find myself cussing like a sailor. I’m not sure ladies do that.”
Mindy is an outdoors woman who likes to engage in “dude” things like firing off shotguns and playing sports. She’s not the kind you picture in pearls and petticoats, sitting on her columned veranda drinking mimosas. She’s more the kegger-type gal.
Even so, she’s a great woman, lady or not. And since she plans to wear pearls on Halloween, she’s hoping to keep her “Lady” title, which we all know requires pearls, soft speech, charity work, memorization of “Miss Manners,” and pretending not to like sex.
I got to thinking about Mindy’s new ladyhood and wondered when the fairy would
peck on my door for a full-time priss pot gig of drinking tea and hosting parties with matching dinnerware, crystal and delicate cucumber sandwiches.
“I’m a lady?” I dared ask a trusted friend. “Ladies seem to do well and even get book deals in weak economic times.”
“No,” he said, and I was taken aback. “You’re a girl. They’re far more fun, anyway.”
If only my agent would invite me to break bread with these editors, I could try to pull the whole lady thing off. I’d wear my matching purse and shoes with the best of them. I’ll bet New York editors would really dig the matching purse and shoe deal, and maybe I could let it slip that my undies also matched my bra. Pure class.
Perhaps a Yahoo poster put it best in describing the art of Ladyhood.
“A lady exudes confidence. A lady would never betray her word. A lady would never do something to look cool. A lady will always be the most sought after object.”
See there? Sought after object, which can only mean New York editors cannot possibly resist a true Southern lady or her much-beloved and much-rejected manuscript.
The moment has come to match up the clothes and ask for face time with the few editors still “on the fence.” Boy, I hate that term and all it’s come to represent.
Sign me…A lady in waiting.
To read more of see videos, go to or

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One of our bloggers had a last minute conflict and the guest blog coffers are empty. Please check back with us on Thursday morning.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bad Reviews by Karin Gillespie

I’ll never forget it so long as I live. I was about to embark on my very first ten-city book tour when I went to Amazon and, lying in wait like a black widow spider, was my first customer review.

"Karin Gillespie should be boiled in oil for writing such a terrible book. I will NEVER get back the four precious hours of my life I spend slogging through her deathless prose. Was her publisher on crack? Burning’s not good enough for this book. I want to tear it to pieces, page by abysmal page, and then feed it to an alligator.”
Perhaps I exaggerate. The review wasn’t quite that scathing but it was bad enough that I wanted to call in sick for my book tour, fearing I’d be met by torch-carrying, pitchfork waving, angry mobs. Obviously I’d managed to write the world’s worst book.

Never mind that I’d gotten a starred Kirkus just a few weeks earlier. Clearly my crack-crazed publisher had bribed the reviewer. All of the praise and kudos I’d received up until then had been expunged from my mind. All I cared about was what Edna Bledsoe from Backwater N.C*. had to say about my book, and Edna, bless her pea-picking heart, hated it.
That was over five years ago. Five years ago and several bad reviews later, I’m actually grateful to dear old Edna. If I ever ran into her, instead of wringing her neck, I might actually hug it. Looking back on it, I actually appreciated a little skin-thickening right out of the gate. Bad reviews are like chicken pox: Best to get ‘em over with early in the game less they turn into shingles. I know some writers that published two or three books before they had an encounter with their own Ednas, and it wasn’t pretty.

I’ve never responded to a bad review, much as I’ve been tempted. Nor do I ever read a bad review more than once. (Good reviews, on the other hand, I read hundreds of times and recently had an especially good one tattooed on my bicep.)
I’ve learned to completely ignore the mean-spirited reviews. People who attack the author just aren’t worth spilling tears or swilling whiskey over. I’ve even got to the point where I welcome the occasional poor review so long as the criticism is constructive, and if you believe that I’ve got some swampland I’d like to sell you.

Actually, every bad review stings for a little while but I do occasionally learn from them, and I’m grateful to anyone who has taken the time to read the book and comment on it. Authors might not like bad reviews but there’s something even worse: No reviews whatsoever.

How about you? If you’re an author how do you cope with bad reviews? I’d love to hear.

*Names and place changed to protect the ingrate… I mean the innocent.

Writing Process--from Original Idea to Completed First Draft

I’m just starting work on the second book in the Memphis Barbeque series for Berkley Prime Crime. This will be my 5th WIP. (I have three books out and two completed books under revision.) I don’t know exactly where the book is going to end up or the journey it’s going to take me on. But I do know the process that’s going to get me through it. First drafts are so much easier when you’ve figured out your own personal process for going from start to finish.

I may not know exactly where my plot is going to go, but I can precisely picture myself writing different parts of the book: doodling out ideas to take me through the first half of the book, frowning at the middle and then smiling when I know who my second victim will be, and the end where I stew over my ending (because the endings are tough for me. I have a method for my beginnings, but the endings I haven’t pinned down.)

When you have a process that you automatically follow, you don’t ever have that worry “will I ever be able to finish this book?” That’s because you’ve done it before and it becomes almost rote.

Each person finds the process that works best for them. This is what works for me:

Listing favorite elements to include. I love it when you have a subplot that ends up affecting the outcome of the main plot. I love it when I’m reading a mystery and the suspect I’ve pegged as the murderer ends up being the second victim. I love reading books where a character’s personal failings affect the way they absorb information or gather it. I love plot twists.

Gathering snippets of ideas. Not all the ideas will make it into the book. I’ll have names, personality traits, personality conflicts between characters or the sleuth and a suspect, bits of dialogue, ideas for scene settings, etc. I’ll list these brainstormed fragments in a Word file I call “Random” with my WIP’s name on the front.

I have a vague idea where I want my plot to go, but I do use mini-outlines for just a chapter, page, or even scene. Big outlines, for me, tend to make me feel constricted. But I like to write a scene knowing exactly what I want to get out of it: is this scene mostly for comic relief and a chance for the reader to get to know my protagonist a bit better? Fine…but the plot still needs to be advanced in some way. I sketch that out on paper.

Sitting down and writing my personal goal each day. My goal is usually a page goal or a word count goal, but sometimes is a timed goal. I write straight through.

I write straight through, but—if I run into a snag that’s sucking up too much of my time and creativity, I treat it like the SATs—skip it and move on to the next scene or chapter.

I don’t revise as I go. It makes me feel like my WIP is awful, every time. Instead, I finish my goal for that day, then make little notes for the next day: this is where I left off, this is where I need to pick up, this is the scene I need to start with today. This keeps me from reading the previous day’s info to see where I left off.

I don’t mess around with research on the first draft. If I open an internet browser, I may as well just kiss off any writing for the rest of the day. Instead, I mark the part of the text that needs research or changes in any way (a character name change I want to do, etc.) with *** and then move on. Later, during revisions, I can do a Word search for *** in my document and get right to the spot that needs work.

I keep writing.

I finish my first draft.

How does your writing process go? What works for you?

Elizabeth Spann Craig:
Blog: Mystery Writing is Murder
Food Blog: Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen
Pretty is as Pretty Dies—August 2009
Memphis Barbeque Series (as Riley Adams) May 2010

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Balancing Act
Peggy Webb

As a writer, I am constantly trying to balance writing versus promotion, holing up in my ivory tower/office versus hitting the circuit of booksignings, lectures and writing conferences. For me, the choice is always difficult. I’m an extrovert who loves meeting people, discovering new places, taking the podium, giving interviews, networking with fellow writers, chatting with agents, editors, booksellers and librarians. Plus, I hate saying no.

Fans energize me. I always return from a tour with a renewed excitement for telling stories, stringing together the perfect words, diving deep into the psyche of characters and bringing them to life.

I can hear your wheels turning. If traveling is so wonderful, what’s the downside?

Promotion outside my hometown means logging miles behind the wheel of my Jeep or in the air, my long legs cramped into a space too small as I inhale the stale, germ-laden air of fellow passengers. Interminable waits in airport security lines, hotel check-in lines, cab lines. Often returning home with a stubborn virus that refuses to leave for six weeks.

Travel also means crunching more writing into less time in order to meet deadlines. It means stopping a story in mid-stream, leaving behind the high energy that flows between author and character when the writing moves smoothly from one day to the next, and then trying to recapture that same mood, that same energy, days later.

Travel can also mean high stress and drama. On a recent trip to New Hampshire, I was scheduled to fly home through Atlanta the day the city flooded and shut down its airport. Plus, I was very sick from an airborne virus I’d contracted on my initial flight through Boston. Stranded along with thousands of other passengers who had missed connections in Atlanta, I did some deep thinking.

It seems to me the choice is not always about promotion versus writing: it is also about giving myself permission to simply be. I am more than a writer. I am a woman who loves sitting on the front porch swing in the warmth of an October sun, watching a cardinal swing on the branches of the Lady Banks rose that festoons the white porch columns. I love making green tea chai or hot chocolate from scratch then curling up with a good book for a few blissful hours. I enjoy sitting at the keyboard of my baby grand playing blues or Broadway show tunes or the haunting old spirituals such as Give Me Jesus.

I’m trying to learn when to say yes and when to say no. I’m trying to achieve balance not merely by weighing writing versus promotion, deadlines versus travel, but by putting myself into the equation, by adopting a Zen-like approach that allows time for meditation, simple pleasures and simply being.

I’d love to know how other writers achieve this balance. I’d love to hear how fans feel about meeting authors, both your old favorites and the ones you’ve newly discovered.
And I’d love for my guardian angel/spirit guide to talk a little louder so I’ll know how to make the perfect choice.
Elvis and the Grateful Dead on sale now. Visit

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Good Branch Is Hard To Find--From The Perch Of Harris Potter

Here’s what I like about you humans.

Every time my hunting partner takes me with him to a library or a bookstore, you not only seem surprised you usually smile and fawn over me like I’m the wild kingdom’s answer to Bono or something. Pretty rich. It sure beats the jack rabbit out of hugging a cold branch and tucking into the trunk of an evergreen—or if I’m at home in my native digs, a desert sororo cactus—after dark.

I’m a four-year-old Harris hawk. If I don’t say so myself, I look pretty cool up close. Sleek profile. Black, brown, and white plumage, tufty soft to the touch. Definitely no vegetarian—not even an omnivore—but I hope you won’t hold it against me.

My hunting partner Andy calls me Harris Potter or HP for short. I’m pretty happy that I ended up with Andy, in spite of the corny name. He flies me all the time and we go hunting together—or rather I do the actual hunting. The best part is I make Andy do the grunt work, beating through the thorns and thickets like some sweaty maniac down below while I soar deftly overhead or move from tree top to tree top keeping an eye on things, waiting for the moment when it’s time to make my move. I pity the poor guy, stuck like that on ground, but at least he always makes sure I don’t go hungry, whether we catch something or not. Then, to top it all off, he sometimes bundles me into my cozy box and whisks me off to play the rock star in front of a bunch of you folks.

Is that a sweet deal or what?

Andy likes to prattle on about birds of prey and conservation and the important role I and my compadres play in the environment, but I know that you’ve really showed up just to see how cool I am. Andy’s written this awesome series of private eye novels with hawks and falcons in them too—at least that’s what most of you say when you talk with us. He’s even figured out how he can sign one of his books for someone while he keeps control of me on his other gloved hand.

That’s the only part that’s bugging me really. When does yours truly get to start signing books?

If we could only figure out how to keep the ink from gumming up my talons………

Predatorily yours,
Harris Potter

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Rick Bragg's new book: "The Most They Ever Had"

By Theresa Shadrix
Anniston, AL

Today Pultizer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg kicks off his national tour for his new book, The Most They Ever Had in his hometown, Jacksonville, Alabama. Rick will always be a hometown favorite and I think it's because he gives a voice to people who never even knew they had anything worth hearing.
If you are not too far from Jacksonville, Alabama, the book signing is tonight (Oct. 7) at 7 p.m. at the Leone Cole Auditorium, Jacksonville State University. Admission is Free. Copies of The Most They Ever Had will be available for the very first time. MacAdam/Cage published the title and cost per book is $23.

Rick tells all about the book in this interview with Lisa Davis, features editor for The Anniston Star, Anniston, Alabama. The old photos of Jacksonville are also worth a gander too. Just follow the link at the bottom of the story.

Theresa Shadrix is managing editor of Longleaf Style magazine.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Uncertainty of Writing

by Karen Harrington
author, Janeology

Recently I was reminded of a vignette cited by writer Barnaby Conrad. After attending a bullfight, Conrad eavesdropped on a conversation between matador and reporter. The reporter asked, “How did you come to be a bullfighter?” And the matador replied, “I took up bullfighting because of the uncertainty of being a writer.”

I don’t know if that sentiment makes me laugh or sigh. Does this mean there is less chance of being hurt in a bullring than in the world of letters? I suppose you could argue that by the end of a bullfight you are guaranteed a definitive outcome. But after months or years of writing a manuscript, there is no guarantee of anything, save the satisfaction of completion.

Whether you are a matador or writer, one thing is clear: it takes courage and little dose of insanity to do either.

Now that I’ve been published and seen my idea go from spark on a sticky Sticky Note to Barnes & Noble bookshelf, I have a larger, perhaps more realistic view of the process. I’ve been immersed in the business side of the process and seen first-hand how subjective the landscape of bookselling can be. But that doesn’t deter me. If anything, coming full circle in the writing-to-publication journey reminds me of how very rewarding it was (and is) to have those days where I say, “Wow, this story is something I would like to read!” or “I can’t wait to see what will happen next.”

All said it takes a special brand of courage and moxie to go the distance as a writer. Whether you are honing your first work in progress or you've sold ten best-sellers, I think it's still worth remembering that you've set yourself apart from the pack just by entering the ring. So I thought I’d conclude this article with a list of writers who forged ahead despite the uncertainty of the profession.

The list is compiled from Michael Larsen's book, Literary Agents.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck was returned fourteen times, but it went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

• Norman Mailer's The Naked and the Dead was rejected twelve times.

• Patrick Dennis said of his autobiographical novel Auntie Mame, "It circulated for five years through the halls of fifteen publishers and finally ended up with Vanguard Press, which, as you can see, is rather deep into the alphabet." This illustrates why using the alphabet may be a logical but ineffective way to find the best agent or editor.

• Twenty publishers felt that Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull was for the birds.

• The first title of Catch-22 was Catch-18, but Simon and Schuster planned to publish it during the same season that Doubleday was bringing out Mila 18 by Leon Uris. When Doubleday complained, Joseph Heller changed the title. Why 22? Because Simon and Schuster was the 22nd publisher to read it. Catch-22 has become part of the language and has sold more than 10 million copies.

Mary Higgins Clark was rejected forty times before selling her first story. One editor wrote: "Your story is light, slight, and trite." More than 30 million copies of her books are now in print.

• Before he wrote Roots, Alex Haley had received 200 rejections.

• Robert Persig's classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, couldn't get started at 121 houses.

• John Grisham's first novel, A Time to Kill, was declined by fifteen publishers and some thirty agents. His novels have more than 60 million copies in print.

• Thirty-three publishers couldn't digest Chicken Soup for the Soul, compiled by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, before it became a huge best-seller and spawned a series.

Write on!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Who Moved My Stickie Note...

by Augusta Scattergood

When I first started writing with a serious intent to make something of it, I had a post-it note stuck on my computer. On it I’d printed four capital letters:
. Under the P, I wrote PLAN and under the L and O, I wrote LOTS and OF. The T was for TENSION. I’m not sure where I first found that acronym, but I saw it every day, every time I turned on my computer to check email or search for a recipe. Or to try to write a story.

I read it as I laboriously slogged my way through my first mid-grade novel. And while that manuscript searches for a publisher, I continue to hunt for my elusive plots.

I’ve since learned that not just fiction needs a plot. All sorts of non-fiction writing needs beginnings, middles and endings, not to mention some of that all-important tension to make its story worth listening to.

I grew up in a family of storytellers. Often the most interesting parts of their tales were the people (characters) and the places (setting). My grandmother and her Canasta partners talked about parties and church and who they’d run into at the corner grocery. My father told us about his fishing buddies on Lake Beulah and the pre-dawn coffee drinking group from the Chat ‘n Chew, a colorful bunch if there ever was one. So my head is filled with funny places and even funnier, more interesting and cleverly named people. My dancing teacher was once a Rockette. The bishop who ate Sunday dinner with us always wore Weejuns under his cassock. My great aunt Dorothy, who hailed from Boston, ate butter on her rice and might as well have spoken a foreign language.

Since I’d never been much farther than my Mississippi hometown, Memphis to the dentist, my grandmother’s house or the Gulf Coast for summer vacations, their stories were exotic and fascinating.

But the sagas told round the dinner table that had us on the edge of our seats actually had a beginning, a middle, an end. Rising tension and conflict, in addition to those fascinating, funny characters. And those are the stories I remember. Like the time my dad, who was a small-town country doctor, was called to a friend’s house out by the highway for an emergency. The emergency was that they’d found an injured fawn on their property. Since our little town had no veterinarian, he hustled on out, brought the fawn into his clinic and set her broken leg.

Certainly, that fawn story qualifies as PLOT. Lots of tension: The baby deer’s mother close by, watching carefully, the life or death nerve-wracking ride into town in the back of a pickup truck. All worthy parts that made us sit on the edge of our Sunday dinner table seats till we heard the happy ending.

My stickie note disappeared in a recent move. I was particularly fond of my neat block printing and the faded turquoise blue of the paper, not to mention its well-worn edges that showed it lived on the desk of a real writer. But even without the reminder, the phrase lingers. Stories are not just about fascinating characters and interesting places, great dialog and description. Something needs to happen. Get those characters fighting. Plan Lots of Tension.

Augusta Scattergood blogs about writing, book reviewing, and children's books over at Her childhood dining room table was in Cleveland, Mississippi. She and her post-it notes now reside in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Madison, N.J.