Monday, November 30, 2009

A Sure Cure for Rejection: Get mad, Then Get Published
by Judy Lockhart DiGregorio

Anger erupted in me like hot lava when an editor critiqued my manuscript at a writing conference. His insensitive comments irritated me so much I fled home after the session, sat down at my computer, and literally pounded the keyboard as I began to flesh out an article rebutting each thing he said. My fragile ego couldn’t handle honest feedback.
I wanted to be petted and stroked like my calico cat. I wanted to be tickled under the chin. Instead, the editor had informed me, in effect, that my writing had fleas. To work through my anger and frustration, I wrote an article about the experience called “Feedback: Who Needs It?” In the article, I addressed each criticism and suggestion the editor had offered during my evaluation.
After I cooled down, I realized the suggestions he offered me were invaluable. They were specific. They were accurate. They were true. I needed to hear them.
After several rejections, I successfully sold the article to (, an e-zine for professional writers. Then I sent a copy of it to the editor, thanking him for the suggestions that had enabled me to publish the article. I was still a beginning writer, but I had already learned one lesson. Accept criticism gracefully and learn from it. I wanted to be the best writer I could be, but I could not improve without help.
I continued writing and submitting my work. During a particularly frustrating period, I received 27 rejection letters in a row. Finally, I received a handwritten note scribbled on the bottom of a form letter from an editor at Field and Stream. The note chastised me for not paying more attention to the magazine guidelines.
Under the note, the editor had scrawled a word that electrified me -- “Retry.” This editor obviously recognized my talent, even if she didn’t accept this particular piece. I kissed the letter reverently and stuffed it into my pocket. In my excitement, I pulled it out to read and reread.
Unfortunately, when I scanned the letter again the next day, I made a startling discovery. The scribbled word at the bottom of the page matched the signature block on the letter. It did not say ‘Retry.’ It said ‘Betsy,’ the editor’s first name. In my desperation, I had misread the editor’s handwritten signature. My hopes of fame and fortune popped quicker than a balloon.
After eventually publishing several articles in regional and local magazines, I lobbied the editor of our local paper to give me a humor column. I informed him that I was dependable, funny, and cheap. He didn’t care. I left him sample columns and visited him every three months. After nine months, he finally gave me a column -- to stop my visits, I guess. Unfortunately, he took another job after my column appeared four times. The interim editor cut back on local columnists so I was once more columnless.
When a new editor finally started work, I employed the same strategy I had with the first editor. Again, I had to wait almost a year. This time the editor offered me a humor column in the newspaper’s supplementary publication, Senior Living magazine. I accepted at once. The pay was low, but the exposure was high. Since the magazine was distributed in hospitals, fitness centers, credit unions, and hotels, it gave me a great deal of visibility and added to my writing credentials.
Today I am a humor columnist who has published over 300 columns in several publications including pieces in the Army-Navy Times, ByLine Magazine, the Chicken Soup books, and The Writer. I’ve learned quite a bit since that first painful writing critique many years ago. Now I’m much better at handling rejection and accepting criticism. Patience and persistence enable me to survive rejection and successfully publish in a variety of newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. You can do it, too.
Just be patient, be persistent, and be published!
Judy DiGregorio lives in Oak Ridge, TN. Celtic Cat Publishing published her collection of humorous essays, “Life Among the Lilliputians” in 2008. She is currently at work on her second humor book. Visit her website and blog at Parts of this column appeared in “The Writer” in April 2003.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

New Release - Saving Cicadas

By Nicole Seitz

I need to tell you about this little girl named Janie. She's eight-and-a-half, smart as a whip and loves her mama, even more now that Daddy's gone away. Her sister, Rainey Dae, is seventeen, has Down syndrome, and likes to Google. They both love bugs, and they're extremely close and protective of one another--sisters can be that way. And Mama works--hard--but Christmas is coming, and it never seems she has enough. And now, well, now, she's just found out she's pregnant again.

This can't be happening. But it is.

And so Janie and her sister Rainey and Grandma Mona and Poppy climb into the car with Mama for the last family vacation they'll ever have. Except that this isn't any normal vacation. And this isn't any normal family. These are the Macys. And there are family secrets to unearth. And difficult choices on the long road ahead.

A moving narrative about family, loss and longing, and the transforming power of truth, SAVING CICADAS is an eloquent reminder that life is a miracle—and even the smallest soul is a gift.

"well-drawn characters" — Southern Living

"will leave you awe-struck." — Beth Webb Hart, author of Grace at Low Tide, Adelaide Piper, and The Wedding Machine

"Seitz has a gift for creating wonderful characters, especially the young girls...this tale's spooky sweet dénouement includes a magical twist...marvelously memorable." — Publishers Weekly

"What a deeply moving novel! I literally could not put it down...I think the issues covered in the book …are so relevant to our society. The choices...seen from a child's perspective, was illuminating." — Valerie Jones, Fireside Books & Gifts, Forest City, NC

"a surprisingly creative tale that will leave readers guessing until the end." — River Jordan, author of Saints in Limbo, The Messenger of Magnolia Street, and The Gin Girl

"Plotted as tightly as a murder mystery--brings tears to a grown man's eyes." — Jim McFarlane, Fiction Addiction, Greenville, SC

"Resounding kudos to Charleston resident Seitz for penning a tale that spans Carolina towns, explores family ties, wrestles heart-heavy fare from abortion to the afterlife, and toys with magical realism." — Charleston Magazine

"do NOT miss this novel." — Fresh Fiction

Watch a short book trailer...with your speakers turned up.


Nicole Seitz releases her fourth novel, SAVING CICADAS, on December 1. Her daughter was the model for the cover painting. Nicole's other titles include A Hundred Years of Happiness, Trouble the Water, and The Spirit of Sweetgrass.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rewrite and rewrite and rewrite and ...

By Ad Hudler

True Story, sad beginning, happy ending.

Finished my first novel, Househusband, and tried to pitch it to an agent I'd met at The Sewanee Writer's Conference (Incidentally, this is a great conference to attend when you're seriously ready to sell a book … lots of great networking goes on here.)

Agent said, "Love the idea, too episodic."

So I rewrote it again, this time with what I thought was more plot.

Agent said, "Too episodic."

I rewrote it again.

Agent said, "Good luck."

More than a year has passed.

Finally, I contact agent Number Two, referred by a woman I jogged with while at the Sewanee Writer's Conference.

"Too episodic," she told me. "It needs … something."

"What?" I ask. "Just tell me and I'll do it."

"I'm not sure," she says, "but it's not ready. It needs ... something."

I rewrite AGAIN.

Agent #2 likes it a little better but still won't sign me on. "It needs something."

"What?!" I plead.

"Just ... something."

I rewrite it AGAIN, this time incorporating an entire new storyline dreamed up in one of my previously published short stories.

Agent #2 says, "Okay, I'll take it now, but don't expect anything big. It's tough out there."

Within 12 hours, we have five offers. The book ends at auction, and Ad gets a big fat six-figure advance.

So … don't give up, people. Rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. If someone says it needs to be rewritten, it probably does.

Ad Hudler's most recent novel, published by Random House, is "Man of the House." He blogs at and has an essay called "Tree Bitch," forthcoming in The Oxford American. He will be one of the featured authors at this year's Southern Voices event in Alabama.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Rejecting Rejection

by Zachary Steele

I made it through the entirety of high school without having to endure the potential tragedy of a date.

Now, in that, it might seem as though I celebrate that I escaped the awkwardness of a staggered and indecisive conversation over a delightful dinner at Taco Bell, or that I rejoice in the passing of another dance without collapsing in a heap atop the punch bowl by way of two very clumsy, and inexperienced steps, or even that I am proud that I never had to answer that terrifying throttle of Ahab's harpoon to the nerves, "Should I use my tongue, or would she slap me?" But that would imply a choice in the matter. Sure, I was the shy kid that would blush if someone next to me sneezed, but for the most part I gave gallant, if not altogether misguided, attempts at finding a girl who, "got me." The problem--the ultimate failing in this course--was that I spent those years of my life chasing after every single girl in the school that would rather have structured their weekends around delightfully dull dinners with their parents and younger siblings, than to have succumbed to my cherubic charm (absent the charm). It made for quite a run of rejection, to be honest. The kind that, more often than not, left me standing bewildered in a hallway of students, a mere bumper to the course, a potential ramp of skateboarding delight, wondering why it was that a slap to the face could make my feet hurt so badly.

The pure fact of it all is that rejection sucks. Sure, you can pick yourself up, you can tell yourself that they just didn't get you, and that someday you'll find someone to flaunt in front of the line of people that rejected you, and take the high road, give a simple raise of the brow, and maybe a knowing smile (which always works best with the tongue out, if you ask me), and you'll revel in your triumph, hand in hand with acceptance. But those words...those god-awful words, just never leave you.

"No, you're just really not cool enough for me."

"Yeah, um, I'm just not looking for you right now. Check back with me in a couple of years."

"You're a really great guy, and you have great potential as a companion, but I don't think you fully understand what dating is all about. Maybe you should be looking for someone with lower standards."

"You know, I might have gotten those messages, but I haven't really had a chance to listen to them. How about you call me in a few weeks, and, if I've had a chance to review your proposal, we'll talk then?"

"See, the problem is your pitch. If you had begun with the most important part--where you ask me out--I might not have lost interest so quickly. The whole, 'I've been thinking a lot about what to say,' bit is a horribly cliche start. It's the way these things work, though. I get so many offers each week, and I only have so much time to listen."

It's a tired, tired, um, tired...thing, but you carry on. You carry on because you're stubborn. You carry on because you just couldn't imagine another day without a companion by your side. You carry on because, well, because you're just plain lonely, and really want someone to share your time with. Mostly, you carry on because you refuse to be denied, and know that someday the right girl is going to come around, and that you will utterly, absolutely, and undeniably rock her world. You do this because the failure to do so, would mean the end of your dating life, which is something you just cannot allow.

But never mind that, we're here to talk about writing, which has nothing at all to do with anything I have thus far said. After all, people will always appreciate you for spilling your guts out on the computer tremendously more than they do if you do so in person. You need thick skin in any area of life that presents the possibility for rejection, but writing is pretty straightforward, and is unlikely to ever cause you pain, or grief, or to feel like your brains have just been sucked out through your nose.

For example, I was on the verge of snagging a literary agent once at the William Morris Agency, but was declined, after a thorough reading, not due to poorly written material, but due to problematic scheduling, and an untimely submission. See for yourself: "Though we appreciate, and value, your talent as a writer, we feel that your manuscript is just not right for our agency, or for the market at this time. Please consider us for future projects, however."

See? That's not a rejection at all, and sounds nothing like the rejections posted above! They clearly wanted to represent me, but were unable to because of the market. They just couldn't wait to read the rest of my work!

Earlier that same year, I had sent sample writings to the wonderfully compassionate, and caring, people at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. They were so very considerate in their attempts to encourage my writing skills, that they sent me a letter to my request that included the following: "Writing is a skill that we wish to harness, and cultivate, in each, and every, writer. We feel, though you do show great potential, that you would be best served to improve your skill further before applying again for Bread Loaf. Please consider sending us more material in a couple of years."

Again, such a willingness to lead me in the right direction! How can I feel anything but complete acceptance of my skill, and ability? Goodness knows, I might very well have languished in a perpetual state of un-improvement for years to come! Now I'm a published author! Thank you, Bread Loaf!

Sometimes--yes, even in the publishing industry!--the level of acceptance you receive from publishers, or agents, or editors, or the like, can be twinged ever so slightly with a heavy, yet suggestive, hand. You might even feel a bit put off by the words they have chosen, but rest assured that they only have your best interests at heart, and want nothing more than to see you in their fold, successful and happy! They try so hard to offer you their acceptance that they will chance to wake you from your blissful rest with a most carefully aimed bomb. For example, I sent a manuscript to Harper Collins many years ago, offering them the glorious chance to view a book I knew they would trip over themselves to purchase. What I received was a carefully worded letter, indicating that my work was such a stellar piece of art, that they wanted to ensure I knew how elated they were that such a young man (I was 18 at the time, and fresh off a new branch of female-induced rejection) had, "taken up writing as a hobby." Wow! What kind words! I mean, I'm sure that spell-check missed the, "hobby," part of that. Obviously, they meant, "career," but such are the follies of the computer age!

So, rest assured, dear friends of the craft, that rejection is not something you will ever have to deal with. Your best interests, and the cultivation of your art, will be coddled by those in your midst: by your friends, fellow writers, agents, editors, the kindly old lady in the cafe that threatened to beat you with her walker if you talked about your writing just once more, and so on. They want only to see you succeed. All you have to do is smile, and wait for the offers to pour in.

Just don't ask me for dating advice.

Zachary Steele is the author of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, and has been featured on NPR and in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Publisher's Weekly, and Shelf Awareness. He can be found boring the world with his thoughts on his blog, The Further Promotion of ME.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guest Blogger: Cathy Holton


My fear of rejection kept me from submitting my work for almost twenty years. Now when I talk to college creative writing classes I tell them, Don’t be like me; Don’t be afraid to submit your work; Don’t be afraid of criticism or rejection.

My son’s college punk band wrote a song with the hook, Here’s a thought; it’s just a thought. Go %@#! yourself! Now whenever I read a bad review, I sing this. Repeatedly. After that I log onto Amazon and read the bad reviews of some book I think is very well-written, a masterpiece, because this proves my point: no matter how good a writer you are, no matter how dedicated and conscientious and precise, there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like your work. Get over it. (Martinis help).

I do think that having someone you trust read your work is important, especially during the early stages of your writing career. But be selective. Know ahead of time what your reader likes to read (or write) because if you’re writing a thriller, it probably isn’t a good idea to give it to someone who likes to read (or write) romances. I’m generalizing here, of course. There are many readers (and writers) who cross genres all the time but you at least need to know something about their preferences and background before you hand over your precious creative endeavor.

And I don’t think it’s a good idea to show your work to a lot of people. If you’re lucky, you have one or two readers who you can trust to give you honest feedback. If you’re really, really lucky you have an agent and editor who can do this for you.

The main thing to remember about being a writer is to be persistent. You have to not let anything get in the way of the work; not fear of rejection, not laundry, not self-doubt, not procrastination. I get emails all the time from people who write, I think I can be a writer! What do I need to do first – write an outline, or just start writing? And I tell them, just start writing. Write everyday. Write when you’re sick, when you’re tired, when you’re hung over. It isn’t a glamorous job. If you don’t like spending a lot of time alone in a room dressed in your pajamas, you probably should do something else.

George Singleton, in his marvelous book Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds; Indispensable Wisdom and Cautionary Advice for Writers, writes – “Every writer who was meant to write, and who continues writing over a long period of time, will succeed.”

Words to live by.

Cathy Holton lives in the mountains of Tennessee. She is the author of Beach Trip, Revenge of the Kudzu Debutantes and Secret Lives of the Kudzu Debutantes, all available through Ballantine/Random House books. Her fourth novel, Old Money, is due out in the fall of 2010. Visit her online at and read her blog, The Surly Wench Journal at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Pulpwood Queen Declares NEVER, EVER, NEVER GIVE UP!

The Pulpwood Queens Speaks Out On Rejection!

I could be the poster child for rejection! I was the last kid picked during my elementary days for the softball team at school. I always came in dead last in the mile run we had to do for this President’s fitness plan in the sixth grade. I never made Homecoming candidate, let alone Homecoming Queen. I was not selected as cheerleader for cheerleading tryouts during my senior year. I did not even place in the Miss Eureka, Kansas pageant back in my hometown. But something in me, (I like to think GOD), told me that I had a talent for something and I should try everything at least once. I might fail but I think everybody should get big ole brownie points for at least trying.

So when I decided, I mean really decided to become a writer, I selected children’s books. I wrote seven in all and never even made it to getting an agent. I was a Children’s Bookstore Manager/Buyer at the time and strongly felt that I could write a better book for children than some of those that were being shopped to me from my book publisher’s reps.

I was wrong.

But I kept writing, I’ve written since I was a little girl. First, emulating Laura Ingalls Wilder as I too, in fact, had grown up on the prairie, the Flint Hills of southeast Kansas. I received my first Smith Corona typewriter that fifth grade Christmas and I taught myself to type with the typing book that came with it. I spent countless hours typing away about my life in the little house on Elm Street. But my dog wouldn’t die and I did not have to traverse swollen rivers to move. We literally carried boxes across the street and down the alley when we moved to our new home on Main Street.

I had discovered the downtown Eureka Public Library by then and Nancy Drew. I could write like Nancy Drew, if I only had red hair and a convertible AND a really cool dad who never lost his cool no matter how Nancy put herself in danger. Did I miss her really hot and attentive boyfriend too! I discovered boys around that time, secretively. The typewriter went into the case and I only drug it out for typing essays or later on term papers. Years passed……

In 2000 I opened the first hair salon/bookstore in the country, Beauty and the Book. All of a sudden, the press was contacting me. A combination hair salon, bookstore, this was newsworthy!
Then Oprah’s Oxygen network, then Good Morning America…. Then I got the call that would change everything. A southern publisher called me and ASKED ME if I would be interested in writing the story of Beauty and the Book, perhaps the story of my first year. Would I ever?

I always thought I would write as an adult the next “To Kill a Mockingbird”. I have been (secretively), working on that novel for years. A non-fiction memoir, well I never!

Then I got a call from my now literary agent asking if she could represent me? Me, the last kid picked in kickball, never the lead for the school play, but always cast as one of “dancers”!
I have to laugh now looking at the popularity of "Dancing with the Stars", but I digress!

After years of working on this book that would become “The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life” that was published NOT by a small southern publisher but a BIG NEW YORK publishing house, Grand Central Publishing. I debuted as a writer. I was an author, a published one. Hold please, I always faint on this statement…..

For those reading this, that was after I wrote, I think, about 30 revisions and six years. Don’t let me mislead you, the ONLY way a writer can do something that is really worthwhile is to work you little tail off. Yes, good fortune did fall in my lap but only after years and years of hard labor, blood, sweat, and tears. Did I mention also six years from start to publication?

Now in these dire publishing times, I can not sit, (on my throne as the Pulpwood Queen or), on my laurels though meager they may be. I am back hard at work writing my second book, “The Pulpwood Queens’ Guide to Reading and Writing for a Higher Purpose”!

The life lesson in this writer’s life story?

Never, ever, never give up. Keep working on your craft. Take every writing course you can and write. Write every day.

I still cannot believe I published a book. I put authors so far up on pedestals that they are to me in the same realm as the Gods and Goddesses of my junior high Greek mythology days in Mrs. Perrier’s literature class. What have I learned? I have learned that life is not just about a dream. Dreams are wonderful but dreams cannot come true unless you roll up your sleeves and go to work. Work makes life worth living and then makes your accomplishments have worth.

When my agent told me that my first book should be called, “The Pulpwood Queens Guide to Life”, I spit my coffee I was drinking all across my computer. Who me? I still have to pinch myself to believe that I wrote a real published book. I did and you can too but you will have to write and work for it.

One of my favorite stories is about Mr. Milton who invented the ant farms of my youth. He lived to be really old and became really successful. When asked about how he had accomplished so much success in his life he told the interviewer. “Success in life comes from perseverance. You never, ever, never give up and you will eventually succeed”. I paraphrased that story so may not be the exact words but you get my drift. Never, ever, never give up. You may not become a published author but the story you write or stories you write could be a library of your life to your friends and family. I just happen to believe that everybody has a story and now it is up to you to work on writing it the best you can to share with others.

I give thanks this Thanksgiving for God giving me the gumption to never give up. I have a whole bunch of other things to be thankful for too like all my relationships with the others. And isn’t that what writing is all about, a relationship with the reader. Think about that this Thanksgiving and also I give thanks to laptops. Because I can’t for the life of me understand now a single cursive word I have written and I thank God for Santa bringing me that typewriter that particular Christmas.

Love, the little “writer” that could,
Kathy L. Patrick
Author of “The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life”, Grand Central Publishing
Founder of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Books Clubs
P.S. Please comment and also check out the biggest author event I have coming up for our 10th Anniversary, it’s called Girlfriend Weekend Author Extravaganza on my website or email me at and I will send you the last working program, January 13 – 17, 2010!
P.P.S. The never, ever, never give up I know is incorrect English but as I the Pulpwood Queen, I live to break the rules, so that line stays.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Niles Reddick on Forgetting Rejections

Man, do I feel honored to follow Sharyn and Joshilyn, and while I won't write about my old dog Harper Lee who I keep thinking has got to die this year since she's 16 (and if she don't maybe I'll get into the Guinness Book of World Records), and I don't remember that I've ever been on a writing retreat and probably couldn't write a word if I was on one (though I think as writers we might could go on trips and call them retreats and write them off on taxes), I think I could say a few things about rejection because God knows I've experienced that plenty of times:

1. Give up the feeling! What does that mean? It's the moment you get an envelope (now it could be an email). You see the return address or the email address and you close your eyes like you are a child wishing on a star or praying Santa will overlook all those bad deeds. Then, you read it and you have that sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach, you have that frustrated feeling, and you just want to give up. You can't give up and know it, so move on beyond the feeling of it. I don't know if talking to yourself will help or not. It never helped me. It's like those imaginary friends kids had that I never had. It seemed rather stupid, but hey, if it makes you feel better, talk to yourself. Pump yourself up with all the Dr. Phil and Oprah pop psychology you can, or just quietly resolve to forget it, which leads to the next point.

2. Forget it because you will. It may take a few days or weeks or years, but once those rejections clog a file in a cabinet or a special folder in your Outlook mail, and you've finally published the book, you will have forgotten about those files of rejections. You might, however, go back to those files. I do. Read them again all at once and laugh. The form letters are the best, so Oxford appropriate. Once in a while, you have a publisher or agent who actually read your submission (10 pages, 20 pages, 30 pages, the whole manuscript if you're lucky) and comment and inspire you with a little hope. Sometimes, they even suggest revisions, which won't work at all. But sooner or later, you'll forget them because they aren't what is important---just like we forget what at one time were somehow meaningful events in our lives---age does that. A childhood friend of mine and I got together last year and talked, and in our 5th grade play, he thought he played George Washington and I played Lord North. I had it in my memory banks just the opposite. I asked my parents and they didn't remember either!!! I thought they were supposed to remember all those things for us! Then, I saw another old friend from high school in the courthouse and he remembered a drunken night a group of us had in Atlanta on a school trip. I didn't remember going. I emailed 2 other old high school friends (or should I say I face-booked them?). One responded I was there and the other one responded I wasn't there. The best example of forgetting is my trip last spring to Disney World. I got a good deal (I'm all about the deal) and stayed on one of the Disney properties (don't recall the name, but it looked like an Incan Pyramid). I was so worried that we would lose the kids or they would get abducted, and I would've worried about getting killed on the monorail, but that was before the crash, so it wasn't in my mind yet. Somewhere between the race cars and Dumbo, I noticed a family all wearing the same shirts---a loud yellow and orange that stood out in the crowd, and the memories of having been there with my parents, my two brothers, my sister, and my Granny Reddick, all wearing matching outfits my mother had made---a 70's blue paisley shorts and tank top sets--which looked good with our matching Jesus sandals--came rushing to my mind. I tried to call mom on my cell, to tell her she was a genius for thinking of matching outfits, that people were still doing this, but I was in a dead zone. When we finally got back to Georgia, we stopped by to visit them and I was so excited as I told her about the outfits, my memory. She told me I was nuts, that she'd never made us matching outfits, that my grandmother hadn't gone to Disney with us, and so on. I knew she had forgotten and felt sorry for her until I pulled the photo album and realized she was right. How could I have so vivid a memory that was so not true? So, who knows what reality is. You'll forget the rejections and it won't take Alzheimer's to do it. Stress will do it. Age will do it. I've heard or read (don't recall now), actually, that age doesn't do it---that if we are forgetful as we age, we always were that way, but forgot that we were and blame it on age. Whatever, the point is that you will forget! If you're like me, you'll forget the rejections and create memories of acceptances you remember but can't find.

3.Keep on keeping on after the rejections. It's so cliche to talk about the little train that could, but it's so true! To **** with the experts, keep it up. My first book, Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, took three years to finally get published. One publisher had it for a year and couldn't make up his mind, but I was trying to be ethical and not submit while he was considering :( (You ought to forget that, too, if you can.) And it was the little things that kept me trying. Elaine Fowler Palencia had inspired me to write the first book with a comment: "You should put these stories in a collection." And others were inspiring to me: Lee Smith, Inman Majors, Janice Daugharty, Sharyn McCrumb, and many, many more. Don't give up seemed to be the resounding message at events where writers spoke and where I listened. The second book, Lead Me Home, which comes out in February only took a few months to get published. I knew a bit more about who to submit to, how to sell it myself (if I couldn't get the agent), and it worked.

I know a whole lot less about reviews. I had a few with the first book and I guess there will be some with the second one. Most of them were good. One review had a smart alec comment and made me mad, but the overall review wasn't bad. Of course, that's the half-empty, half-full glass. It's mostly perspective. Sometimes the negative can do you as much good as the positive. You have no further to look than the politicians or actors for proof.

I guess in the end, it's having done it, the process, that mattered the most to me. I often find myself saying, "I don't know" when someone asks me a specific question about why I did something the way I did (Actually, it may be that I don't even remember having written it). It could have been done differently, I suppose, but at the time, it just didn't work out that way. Each experience has an effect and helps shape us in a different way, direction, and I suppose that's what the reviews and rejections have done and continue to do for me.



Niles Reddick lives in Tifton, GA with his wife Michelle and two children, Audrey and Nicholas. He holds degrees from Valdosta State University, the University of West Georgia, and Florida State University. Author of numerous publications, he was a finalist for an Eppie Award in Fiction for his collection, Road Kill Art and Other Oddities. He is currently Professor of Humanities and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton. Read more about his forthcoming novel Lead Me Home at or email

Sharyn McCrumb: Shaggy Dog Story

Four Christmases ago, when our dog who-was-older-than-dirt finally died, I told my husband that what I wanted for Christmas was a little cat-sized dog to keep me company in my office while I write. We went to the dog pound in search of a dust bunny with teeth, and found nothing remotely resembling such a beast. What we did find was a hulking Golden Retriever/Hound of the Baskervilles crossbreed, who could probably pull your tractor out of the mud. So we came home with "Pippin," which is just as well, because we have a large farm, and dogs that large seldom find homes because they do need so much space.

Pippin is still alive and well, and enjoying country life, but when his best buddy-- our other rescued dog-- died of cancer last year, I decided to try again for a mini-pooch. This time I found an ad in the newspaper for Pompapoos-- half Pomeranian and half poodle, and that was exactly what I wanted.

We brought her home on Halloween. She has a curly black coat, and she's about the size of a fluffy bunny bedroom slipper, maybe 5 lbs. Currently she is going by the name of Madame Pompapoo, while we debate the name issue.

She is very good about staying and snoozing next to my desk or on the sofa in the evenings. Our other dog generally ignores her, and the cats all stare at her pensively, as if trying to decide whether she ranks above them or below them on the food chain, and, if the latter, then what sort of wine goes with "Tribble." But no one menaces her. I think she is generally acknowledged to be a infant, and therefore beneath their notice.

Now we are dithering about what to name her. How does one choose a dog's name?

I have decided that dogs' name are the new Rorschach test. I think you can tell a lot about people from their choice of pet names. The least well-read and most unimaginative people I know call their animals names like "Spot" and "Midnight." (Although, this could also be an indication that they allowed the young children to name the pet. But I still think it says "unimaginative.") When I was three years old, I was given a teddy bear with a music box inside, to lull me to sleep at night. I named the bear "Chamberlain." And this was long before Wilt was a basketball star. A chamberlain is a servant of the bed chamber, and I knew this from the fairy tale books which were read to me. I still think that is a clever name for a three-year old to have come up with on her own.

When someone names their pet "Sarah" or "Emily" or "Bailey," I figure the animal is the new baby in the family, tail or no tail. People who pride themselves on being clever generally come up with literary or historical names (we have had "Griffindor," "Pendragon," and "Hillerman.") A lot of pets are named after people in show business: Dylan, Springsteen, Celine, Shania. Someone named a cat after me once. I 'm sure they meant it as a compliment. Although I thought their medication needed adjusting, I smiled and thanked them prettily. It's not my idea of a compliment, although I admit to having done the same thing myself. We have a big rangy yellow tom cat with a nose that takes up most of his face. He is sweetness itself to humans and other non-competitors, but a deadly hunter, ruthless to his peers. We named the cat after the NASCAR driver Clint Boyer. (I would describe Clint Boyer, but I believe I just did.)

The most popular dog names in the country for male dogs are an unoriginal collection of jock names: Max, Buddy, Jake, Bailey, Rocky, and Charlie. The most popular female dog names sound to me like "We really wanted a baby" choices: Molly, Bella, Lucy, Maggie, Daisy, Chloe, Sophie...

So what to name the Pompapoo?

My college-age daughter Laura was all for naming the puppy something deeply pretentious like Banrigh, which is Gaelic for "queen." (Although she would not dream of actually naming a dog "Queenie.") And in this family usually we do plump for literary names--having had a Griffindor, and a Martin the Warrior, and a Pippin. Then there's dubh sidhe, which means "black fairy" in Gaelic, but which would be pronounced too much like the word "douche," so scratch that.

I toyed with exotic names like Kurokumako, which is "baby black bear" in Japanese, or "Chantage," which is French for blackmail, and had she, in fact, been male, I would have used that name like a shot. I like the play on words, although the French would never get the joke. But then I started thinking she looks very non-regal and silly. Cassidy (caside) means "curly" in Gaelic, but it sounds like a Yuppie baby name. Sasha is cute, but for a French poodle/Pomeranian (i.e. German) cross, why choose a Russian name? Oh, and wait, Sasha is the name of a current First Daughter, isn't it? Well that would get me in trouble. Darn.

Whatever we ultimately christen her, my husband will call her "Mutt" forever, probably. And my son Spencer, the evil genius of the family, weighs in with snappy suggestions: "Ma Barker." (Get it?) Or "Nora Bone-steal." (N.B. He made those suggestions to annoy me, becaase he knew it would.) -- I think what you name your dog says a great deal about who you are, and where your interests lie. So perhaps my indecision is indicative of an identity crisis. I don't know who I feel like anymore. I used to be all for high-flown names, but now it hardly seems worth it. You end up having to spell it six times at the vet's office, and people always get it wrong or shorten it, so that our romantically named Himalayan cat "Dalriada" is invariably called "Dolly."

I read somewhere that animal owners (elderly people, anyhow) have lower blood pressure, because of the calming effect, so I hope that proves true of Mme. Pompapoo's effect on me.

But it's going to be a long, isolated winter, and I think... what's-her-name... will be good company. I have two novels coming out in the spring: a new Ballad novel called "The Devil Amongst the Lawyers," and "Faster Pastor," a comic Southern novel co-authored with NASCAR-ARCA driver Adam Edwards. Until their publication sends me out on the road, I plan to enjoy the solitude here on the mountain with the animals.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Joshilyn Jackson: Things to Do on Writing Retreat

We were supposed to talk about rejection, but I have been on retreat and missed the memo and came home and realized OOPS I AM UP. SO...I will instead tell you

Things to Do on Writing Retreat

1) Choose a bird totem. If your bird totem is spotted, this mean excellent word count Mojo and good plot idea Juju is sure to descend upon you. If you have even the most rudimentary understanding of Ornithology, you can stack the deck to CAUSE Mojo/Juju. I, for example was on retreat by the sea. I chose a pelican, so Mojo descended and dive bombed for fishes every four minutes.

My friend, an altogether ballsier object, chose Ravens. I thought she might be shafted, but apparently, the folks at this hotel drop bits of Raven approved sandwiches with promiscuous abandon, and the place was all OVER ravens.

2) Talk about people the other person does not know, because if the other person does not KNOW them, it escapes the Pernicious Sin of Gossip clause. I think. Well, maybe not. But MAYBE. I decided yes. The Pelicans backed me.

Sample conversation:
Me: Maybe she should try
Her: Oh NO! Never. She won’t go on the internet.
Me: You mean, she won’t go on the internet to look for dates?
Her: No. I mean…she won’t go ON the internet.
*baffled silence*
Her: Seriously, she has an iphone, and IT is willing to go on the internet, but she only uses the PHONE part.
Me: What does she think the i in iphone MEANS?
Her: Perhaps she thinks it is a personal pronoun.
*baffled silence*
Me: So…wait. Then I can BLOG this?
Her: Why not.

3) Discover lizards. We discovered MANY MANY kinds of here-to-fore unknown beach lizards, including, but not limited to:
Orange Head Lizard
Skinny Black Lizard with Daring Yellow Stripe
Too Fast To See Probable Lizard
Stupid Lizard Who Wants To Die in a Hot Tub (rescued!)
Frivolous Curly Tail Sprouncy Lizard.

4) Discover New Cocktails. I personally discovered a Pom Tree. It has about 90 things in it. All of them are good.

5) Take pictures of your glamorous view and text it to Patti Callahan Henry so she can text back that she hates you and then you can text back that you would love to talk more about this but the beautiful oiled cabana boy is ready to begin your poolside foot massage.

6) If you get really, really, really desperate, you can write.

The good news is?
We must have both been REALLY desperate quite a bit.
We both made massive progress on the books. I got 13,500+ words drafted, and I have a clear idea of where to go next.

Also? We saved a lizard. Total success.

New York Times Bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson lives in Powder Springs, Georgia with her husband, their two kids, a hound dog, a scurrilous Boggart-cat, one alive Beta fish, and a twenty-two pound, one-eyed Main Coon cat named Franz Schubert. She wishes their neighborhood was zoned for goats.

Her latest book is The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and Entertainment Weekly called it “a wild, smartly calibrated achievement." It makes a great hostess-best friend-teacher gift, and plus your mom told me she wants a copy, so you should definitely run right out and get a couple. Oh heck, get three, they are small.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Blessings of Rejection

Somewhere between my ears another book is rolling around picking up mass. If you need a visual think more along the lines of a tumble weed in an Old Western than a snowball headed down the mountain. (My muse has attention deficit issues.) I don’t know how it works for the rest of my more learned colleagues but in my head the story shares attic space with a half dozen other tales insisting upon their turn at the keyboard. That’s where it gets complicated and it’s precisely where my thoughts on reviews and rejection begin.

The book I mentioned, the latest one forming in my head, the working title is something like “The Blessings of Rejection” and if writing what you know is the maxim, I’m well-equipped to share the power of no. Let’s just say I’m blessed and blessed indeed. I have rejection and review stories that will make you laugh and cry, simultaneously.

For whatever reason, my lot in life appears to be doing what I’m told isn’t done. I’ve learned to simply sigh anytime someone says, “Well, Shellie, it’s not altogether impossible, but it’s really not done.” Experience has taught me that I’m about to throw another log in my little engine that can and go where wiser people have the good sense not to travel.

I seem bent on pursuing rejection from a host of different sources. Apparently I like my rejection variety style. One would think that after stacking up that magic number of rejection slips and getting a foot in the door with my first non-fiction book, and after having it do better than the wildest dreams of myself, my agent, and my editor, I’d be content to bathe my wounded oft-rejected writer’s ego in it’s modest success and stick to what’s working. But no, being rejected in one genre isn’t enough for my muse. She’s turning out children’s books, fiction, non-fiction, Bible studies, you name it she’s writing it, despite the well meaning and knowledgeable ones who insist that it’s hard, if not impossible, to cross genres unless you are a seriously big time author. (Hello John Grisham.) Sigh. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m finding it difficult to find CBA representation that’s willing to take on this horse of many colors, even though my precious ABA agent is willing to split the pie and share the responsibility and the rewards of my talkative muse.

The funny thing is, I’ve stuck around long enough to do some of those “not dones” and I know something about next to impossible; it’s still possible. Almost ten years ago now, long after I had tired of filing rejection slips away alphabetically, and before my first book deal with Penguin, I birthed All Things Southern, self-pubbed a few books of my own, and decided to approach the radio world about running my daily segments, (think a rambling female Paul Harvey.) I was told that Christian stations wouldn’t pick up All Things Southern because four of the five days were just good clean fun, but not inspirational. I was told secular stations wouldn’t pick up All Things Southern because one of the five days was inspirational. Sigh. Today my short taped segments air in more than two dozen markets across the South, on country stations, oldies, talk, easy listening, and Christian. I also have a one hour live talk show called All Things Southern LIVE. FYI, heavy metal stations haven’t picked me up, but who knows what tomorrow holds?

And now, a closing thought on reviews. Despite my obvious hard-headedness in the literary world, it should be noted that I really do know when to fold ‘em in other areas. Once, many years ago, I was holding my young niece in my arms during church. It was a beautiful day and the song service was extraordinarily uplifting, which I suppose encouraged me to forego my normal trepidation about singing in public as I can’t carry a tune were it deposited in my well-meaning hands. I was well into a robust hymn when sweet Blair took her wee head off of my shoulder, looked around for the offending noise, located it, and promptly whacked me in the mouth with her rattler. I have yet to contact a single person on music row.



Friday, November 13, 2009

The Changing World of Publishing

Okay, I am a troglodyte of technology. I have an iPhone and the bells and whistles remain virginal. I have an iMac and I can’t figure out how to delete files except from the desktop. The basic problem is—I don’t care enough to spend the time to learn it. In a day where there are 22 animals to care for, 4 dozen students whose work needs to be read and discussed, a book due, edits waiting, promotional ideas that need to be developed or canned, and a grocery list that is becoming a necessity instead of a “maybe I’d like that,” I don’t have hours to spend fiddling with a gizmo.

But I have been paying attention to the changes that technology has brought to publishing. Things happen fast and furious, but e-readers, price wars between and, shrinking shelf space—these are things even I can’t ignore.

Long ago, when the Internet first kicked into gear and e-mail was a black screen with white type and no illustrations, I worked in the PR office at a university. The advantage of this was a T-line connection to the World Wide Web. (I hope I am saying this right!)

I met a cluster of writers who had a unique and original idea. They called it The Author Studio (TAS) and it was a group of boutique publishers who would function, basically, as a collective. Each publisher would do his/her own thing, focusing on the genre or type of book that he/she loved best and wanted to publish. The WWW would make it possible for us, as a group, to direct market to our various audiences. Cross-pollination if you will (okay, I grasp farming concepts better than technology).

What an exciting and heady time. All of the TAS members were multi-published authors. It was not self-publishing or vanity publishing. It was a group of authors exploring the business of publishing.

I have always been a huge supporter of regional publishers. The potential for a publisher who doesn’t have the horrific overhead of a big New York office, who can focus on a few books and do each one with the love and attention it deserves—without expecting a 200,000 print run or paying huge advances that seldom earn out—it was a heady idea. This is such an opportunity to take a risk on a new voice or idea.

Unfortunately, I failed to take into account that not only am I a troglodyte of technology, I am totally incapable of attending to the necessary details of running a business. There were licenses, taxes to pay, so many things that made life a living hell for me. But working as a member of TAS, I produced two books. One was a comic thriller I wrote under the pseudonym Lizzie Hart, and another was a non-fiction “collection of memories” about a wonderful Mobile, Alabama writer named Eugene Walter. Rebecca Barrett co-edited this book, MOMENTS WITH EUGENE.

I’m very proud of both books, but I also have to acknowledge that I totally lacked the skills to market and promote these books. Web advertising wasn’t as easy as I thought. There weren’t the big search engines or viral communities. Distribution was a nightmare. Other members of TAS went into publishing with better info, better ideas of marketing, and better business acumen. Not surprisingly, they had more profitable results.

But what I got from the experience was, possibly, worth even more. I learned a lot about a business I love. And I never stopped believing in the power of regional presses.

I have the pleasure to be affiliated with two such regional presses today—both of them are run by people who have an eye for unique and original fiction but also that necessary ingredient of good business sense.

This spring, an anthology of short stories, DELTA BLUES, will be published by Tyrus Books, a new publishing company started by Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen, former publishers at Bleak House, another highly regarded regional press. They specialize in and have developed quite a successful reputation for publishing award winning crime fiction. With Tyrus Books, they’re spreading out into new areas. Check it out at

In DELTA BLUES, I took on a new role for me—that of editor. Wow. It was a terrific experience to be affiliated with some of the finest writers working today. You can check out the line up at

The book will be available in March 2010. And with this anthology, I’ve seen publishing shift into yet another dynamic. For every copy of DELTA BLUES sold, Tyrus Books is donating $1 to support literacy in my home state of Mississippi. This is publishing with a direct link to community.

The second press is Busted Flush (
owned and operated by David Thompson, one of the owners (along with his terrific wife McKenna) of Murder by the Book, a fab bookstore in Houston. Busted Flush has reissued out of print books that David and McKenna love, and they’ve also produced some original and highly regarded anthologies and fiction, among them the DAMN NEAR DEAD collection of “geezer noir.” I’m proud to have a story in the upcoming second volume.

I love this crazy business of publishing. At heart, I’m a writer (who had a great editing experience with DELTA BLUES). I’ve learned that I’m not an accountant or distributor or packager or artist. I’m a writer who has had the extremely good luck of experiencing publishing with such fine houses as St. Martin’s Minotaur, Tyrus Books and Busted Flush. I even had my moment of “total control” with Kalioka Press. (Trust me, this is something all writers dream about.)

I’ve learned my limitations in this business. What I love is writing. My joy is the story.

Now, if I could just work up that kind of enthusiasm to learn to use my phone. Can anyone offer tutoring?

Carolyn Haines is a former journalist who began her fiction career writing short stories. Her latest book, DELTA BLUES, is a compilation of stories which she edited, and will be published in March of 2010. Haines is an avid animal activist and cares for 22 animals: horses, cats, and dogs. Visit her on Facebook at or check out her website at and be sure to sign up for her newsletter.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Guest Blogger: Terri DuLong

The Agony of Rejection
Terri DuLong

My debut novel, Spinning Forward, was released on October 27 by Kensington Publishers. All of the excitement the past few months—seeing my book cover for the first time, making plans for my book launch, counting down the days till the release—allowed me to easily forget how I got to where I’m at. I have found myself making the comparison that the process leading up to a book release is much like birthing a baby.

You plan, you anticipate, you vacillate between happiness and fear and then, like childbirth, you somehow tend to forget all the pain that was required to make the birth possible. As an author, the pain I’m referring to are the rejection letters prior to my acceptance.

I honestly couldn’t tell you how many I received because after awhile it didn’t matter to me. All that mattered was that the letter in the mail or the email was not the much coveted acceptance letter. I did find the rejection process interesting though, in the fact that the letters themselves changed over time. At first they were the standard form letters, many times with the salutation of dear author making me feel like an invisible entity. And they would briefly state, this isn’t what we’re looking for at this time or we’re sorry but your story doesn’t fit our needs. No feedback whatsoever on my story or characters, leaving me in limbo and back to square one.

However, over time this seemed to change and I don’t have an answer as to what may have brought this about. But suddenly I was receiving replies to Ms. DuLong with a bit more information. Things like we loved your character development or interesting plot, followed by but your story doesn’t fit our needs.

Did I get disgusted, disappointed, frustrated, weary and impatient? You betcha! But—I never gave up. I can’t say for certain, but I have a feeling that twenty years ago I might have. But like the character of Sydney in my novel, I strongly feel that age and time simply makes us more tenacious and determined. I felt certain that I had a good story and that an agent or an editor somewhere would eventually feel the same way. And so, I kept sending out those query letters and getting those rejection letters back. Until one magical day.

I had pitched my novel to my editor at Kensington by sending a query letter and three chapters of my manuscript. That was in July. Knowing that a reply could take anywhere from a few days to God knew when, I pretty much forgot about it. I continued writing and continued sending out more query letters. And then five months later I received an email from my editor’s assistant saying they would like to see a full manuscript. Of course my initial excitement and thought was this is it! But then I came back to the real world and realized maybe not. Maybe they wouldn’t like the entire manuscript and I prepared myself for another rejection. The more time that went by, the more I was convinced the rejection letter would arrive any day.

But almost three months later an email from my editor arrived with the subject Good News and I opened it to discover that she loved my story and wanted to offer me a two-book contract and questioned if it would be convenient to call me later that afternoon. As they say, the rest is history.

Rejection of any kind is never easy. It goes against our grain as human beings. It raises all sorts of emotions. It makes us doubt ourselves and our abilities. However, one thing I can say with certainty is that I just knew in my soul that I had a great story to tell. A story that would appeal to women. And I also knew that with each rejection letter I had two options—I could either give up or I could keep sending out those query letters. And because I did believe in myself and my writing, I chose to keep sending them.

So that pain I mentioned earlier? Oh, it’s still there . . . but believe me, once the actual birth occurred, all of those rejection letters somehow faded to a very dim memory because the focus has shifted from what might be to what is!

Happy writing to you and remember—Believe in yourself and make great things happen!

Born and raised north of Boston, Terri DuLong now resides with her husband, two dogs, and three cats on an island off the west coast of Florida. You can visit her website at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some Things I Found that Day
Patti Callahan Henry

Last month I went crazy cleaning out closets and drawers in a house we’ve lived in for fifteen years with three wild children. Stuff. Lots of stuff. Of course I’ve cleaned out along the way; the crib, the stroller, stuff like that. But these were things I'd labeled “storage” and were still in “storage”.

Some things I found that day: My Brownie uniform; my breakup letter to college boyfriend; journals from middle school; letter from a boy I met on a cruise; daughter’s baptism dress, Precious Moments cross-stitched wedding present; wedding veil; a dress I smocked for my daughter (YES, I sewed and smocked a Christmas dress she never wore). There were many, many other things, which all made me pause and remember the different phases and seasons of my life.

Until today I haven’t given much thought as to ‘why’ I save these things (some of which I’d forgotten I’d even saved), why every time I find them I save them again and again. I’m not preserving them for when I die and my kids must go through my boxes and decide what to keep or throw away. No, I’ve kept them for myself, but why?

The Brownie uniform is proof of a part of my life of which I have absolutely no memory of being a part of. The college boyfriend’s letter is proof of my broken heart, and then there is the memory of going on a cruise after college graduation, and then the days I had only one child and she was baptized.

The journals are the best. For some reason I thought it was important to write down what I did each day. Roller skating. I hate Algebra. Church. Washed car. I wrote these things like I was stapling myself to life, making sure my days didn’t get away from me. I needed to put something in each blank space as if proof I’d lived that day.

The one thing all this ‘stuff’ in storage has in common: I barely remember that piece of my life it represents. I will bet that if I could be that seven year old in the brownie uniform I’d feel an emotion that seems so, so important. I’d bet that at that moment I’d believed that what I felt and saw were the most important things in the world, nothing would ever be different and my problems were the only problems that mattered.

When I wrote that letter to my college boyfriend, I thought I’d never love like that again; I thought my heart was permanently and utterly broken. When I was on that cruise, I believed that nothing could ever be that fun again. When Meagan was baptized I thought I’d never again love that deeply.

I don’t know why this is the way it is, why we forget what we know, but we do. Sometimes I’ll read a paragraph in a book I wrote and I’ll have no recollection of ever having written those words in that order. I have a friend who was cleaning out files and found an entire novel she forgot she’d written – I hate her for that. That’s a much better find than a break-up letter.

So why do I save some of this memorabilia? I think I save them for many reasons.
* To remind myself that everything does pass: the good, the bad, the sad, the glorious, the awful. It all passes and another day comes and then another day. We change and grow and life’s pages turn, sometimes these days go too slowly, and sometimes too quickly.
*Time is relevant. The days after that break up letter moved much slower than the days during the cruise.
*There are parts of my life I don’t remember at all, but they still make me who I am now. I want to always be able to see all the pieces of me that make me. I don’t necessarily need to remember that part of my life for it to have influence over my thoughts and actions. I like this reminder because it makes me aware of the fact that there are hidden things at work in my life. When I wore that brownie uniform I was still Patti, still me, and yet a me I don’t know at all. This is a mystery and I like to be reminded of that mystery.

Who I am now, she too will change. These feelings will pass. This day will pass. The sad will pass. The joy will pass. People will leave my life; new ones will enter. My kids will grow; I will become older; I’ll grieve; I’ll rejoice; I’ll weep; I’ll laugh.

I do know this: I also save all these things because there is this storyteller inside me and she likes to see the narrative arc of a story. She wants to look at all that has already happened and then ask, “Wow, I wonder what will happen next?”

Maybe that is why we as novelists write stories because not only do we wonder what will happen next but also because stories are permanent. Someone can read the book ten years from now and it will be the same story we wrote today. There is something about writing a novel or a story that has an intransience that not many things in this transient life have.

Once our life is lived, the story is told. There are many parts of our story that we don’t get to write – the beginning for example, but there are other parts we do get to write. And those parts, the ones we choose to write, do tell a story that is in many ways everlasting.

Maybe we save ‘stuff’ because we need to – every once in a while – stop in the middle of our story and look back, see where we’ve been, who we’ve been. These things, like chapters in a book, remind us of the pages we forgot we lived and help us live better now.

Once upon a time there was a girl named Patti Lynn Callahan; when she was seven years old, she was in Brownie Troup #345….

Patti Callahan Henry is a NYT Bestselling novelist. She has written six novels -- Losing the Moon; Where the River Runs; When Light Breaks; Between the Tides; The Art of Keeping Secrets and Driftwood Summer.

I discovered our Guest Blogger, Molly Harper, by chance. I picked up one of her books in the store and was completely captured by her hilarious, snarky voice. When I found out she was from Kentucky I knew she needed to guest blog,

Her “Nice Girls Don’t” series is about Jane Jameson, a single librarian in her thirties working in the small Kentucky town where she grew up. This "triple whammy of worry" has made her a permanent fixture on her Mama's prayer list. And despite the fact that's pretty good at her job, she just got canned so her boss could replace her with someone who occasionally starts workplace fires. She drowns her sorrows at the local faux nostalgia-themed sports bar and during the commute home, she's mistaken for a deer and then shot by a drunk hunter. And then she wakes up as a vampire.

Rejection Bites By Molly Harper

I was a late bloomer. I tried out for EVERYTHING in school- school plays, sports, cheerleading, choir, debate team, class president. And with anything and everything I wanted to try, my mom cheerfully drove me to the audition and waited while I fell on my face ... because I'm tone-deaf, phobic about public speaking and have the physical agility of a ham-strung moose.Dad said Mom should discourage me from auditioning so often because it was hard for them to see me fail in so many public and spectacular ways. (There was an incident involving a color guard flag connecting with someone’s head.) But Mom told him, "This is a learning experience. This is what will help her find her way in life."And it did. I learned what I was really good at, and it wasn't singing, public speaking or activities that involved hand-eye coordination. In the publishing world, new writers get rejected. A LOT. In fact, I'm convinced that the words, "new author" spark a Pavlovian "no" response deep within the cortex of agents and editors everywhere. After finishing the first book in my Jane Jameson vampire series, I sent query letters to about 70 agents. I was sent polite, but firm, rejection letters by a large majority of them before anyone expressed any interest.

In fact, I was still getting rejection letters from agencies after my agent, Stephany, sold the books.
The hardest part of receiving rejection letters was that most agents try to be kind when they're letting you down. Rather than starting their letters off with “Are you serious?” they go with "This just isn't right for us at this time." Or the famous “Your voice has potential BUT…” model. These letters give you that teeny, tiny spark of hope that keeps you going. You tell yourself that the agent didn’t call you a talentless hack, so you’ll just send out ten more query letters. When I was still querying, I wondered whether agents did that because they honestly wanted to protect my feelings, or because it amused them to know I would be harassing their colleagues next.

Of course, the nice rejection letters are still preferable to the letter I received that included the words “flaccid storyline” or the one that informed me that the market was overrun by vampire books and this particular agent wasn’t inspired to add mine to the fray.Rejection sucks. It stings. It sews doubt and reaps neuroses. It helps slough off your weak areas and find your strengths. It teaches you, refines you, sends you into the fetal position under your desk with a bottle of cheap wine. But you can’t take it personally. It’s your work that being’s judged and rejection not your personality. You can’t write the rejecting agent back and ask her to reconsider or refer you to another agency. You can’t tell her that when you see her in hell, you’ll be clutching big fat royalty checks. You suck it up, push on and keep going.

Just make sure you have plenty of cheap wine handy.

Molly Harper is the author of Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, Nice Girls Don’t Date Dead Men and Nice Girls Don’t Live Forever (coming in December). Visit her at or her blog

Friday, November 6, 2009


I once saw this commercial that showed an alligator meandering across the floor of an enormous and beautiful white room (furniture, curtains and all), and this lady was sitting on a divan with a bottle of lotion in her hand, and she was admiring her silky smooth skin. I didn’t write down what lotion she was hawking. I already had four bottles under my bathroom sink that hadn’t done any good whatsoever, so I didn’t care, plus I didn’t trust her. I figured she was getting paid so how can you count on her actions anyway. I did notice that the alligator didn’t eat her, which made it a pretty weird commercial if you ask me.

I’m thinking about this commercial because I’m reading the latest review on for my novel Cold Rock River, and all I can say is I will never buy that bottle of lotion even if I could find out which one it was that girl in the commercial on the white divan was using. I don’t want silky, smooth skin. I want skin like that alligator. I want skin that is incapable of any arrows penetrating the surface. I want skin that is impervious to any and all injury. I’m an author and I need skin thicker than cement. Skin like that should absolutely come with publication. You sign your contract and poof! your skin instantly turns to concrete. Done deal.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy and the reviews that eventually pile up (especially on can be injurious to one’s mental health. In my own case I was sailing along quite nicely, wracking up some pretty nifty five-star reviews and getting a bit overly confident (never get overly confident), and thinking that maybe I’d written a couple of books well worth reading.

That’s when you need to watch out. Smacko! Right in the kisser! It will get you: An uglier than ugly review that says your book is not worth buying. This is what one reader wrote about mine: After reading Dorothy Allison, Fannie Flagg, Alice Walker, Connie May Fowler, Rebecca Wells (which all deserve to be read, unlike this novel), this was a very contrived and poor attempt to do what these writers have already done.

Outch!! Didn’t their mother ever tell them if they have nothing nice to say not to say anything at all? Or at least to be gentle with whatever it is they are trying to say. Couldn’t this author have simply said she did not like the novel and found it lacking in what other southern writers have managed to do. Which might have caused some readers to order the book just to find out what it was that I didn’t do. One never knows. Which got me to thinking. Maybe her one-star ugly review is not all bad. Maybe it stands out among all the five-star reviews as a sour apple. That’s it. That’s what I tell myself. Look at all those other fabulous five-star reviews on Amazon and what they have to say. I start reading through the list of the titles just to be sure: Fantastic! Another winner! Breathtaking and mesmeric! Wonderful & riveting. An engrossing novel. Simply outstanding. An amazing book. I keep going. I find the ultimate title posted: I couldn’t put it down! I’m tap-dancing on the clouds. Forget the person who gave me one star and said I wasn’t worth reading. What do they know? Exactly.

That’s when I spot it—another review. It’s there among all the others. It says: Cumbersome and ultimately predictable. Ugh!! Those ugly words head straight to my heart. But, then I remember a favorite adage my mother used to quote about fooling people. I’m thinking that adage covers pleasing people, too. You can please some of the people all the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

If I’m going to keep writing I best remember that. But in case I forget, the next time I see that alligator commercial I’m going to call the station and see what kind of lotion they’re using on him. I might need some. His skin looks pretty thick.

Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Divorcing Dwayne, Cold Rock River, and Roseflower Creek. Look for her latest All That’s True in 2010. Write to the author at Visit the website at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rejecting the Rejecter...

The theme these days on "A Good Blog is Hard To Find" is rejection or critiques. Or both. I’ll start with rejection and maybe I’ll find a way to get to the other. By far the most difficult rejection I ever had was from an agent, and if I’d believed her, I would never have written another word. It was a rejection of stunning cruelty, but I rejected her rejection.

It was back in 1994. She came to see a play I’d written or maybe I’d sent her a query. Anyway, she wanted to meet for coffee. She had read and loved an early draft about growing up on the gridiron of college football. It was a kind of GREAT SANTINI from the teenage daughter's point of view.

She thought it needed a good editor, though, a freelance editor. I agreed. I had no idea how to shape this story of being a coach’s daughter into a book. I had bombarded my writing group with it for three years, and a shaky first draft had emerged.

So I took this agent’s suggestion and the editor she recommended. The editor was very reasonably priced, and it helped to have a careful reader who knew nothing about my life as a football daughter, who’d moved regularly with her itinerant coaching family in search of the opportunity to win ball games.

I also quit my job as an ESL teacher in East Los Angeles. I couldn’t write my novel, teach full time, and raise a family. Our kids were four and six. I worked on my novel, OFFSIDES, while they were in school and on the weekends. I revised the book for another year. I would write three or four chapters, share them with the editor, and she would fax back notes or comments or questions. It was long before the days of email. But I felt I was on the right track. Chapter 41 became chapter one when my alter-ego character decided she was not going to move to another football town again. The idea of beginning with a conflict was something new to me as I tended hang out in voice and scene without a lot of plot.

Anyway, after a year of revising and reshaping it into a book, I sent it back to the agent. She didn’t respond and she didn’t respond. Then one summer night in August I found it on my doorstep. She had mailed it back with a letter saying something to effect of “I don’t know what you did to your story, but it’s just awful. The voice is gone. And where is the dad?” Trembling, I looked at her notes in the manuscript. They had stopped at page 80. She hadn’t even read the whole book. Though, I’d taken her advice and the editor she recommended and did everything she asked me to do for more than a year, she had stopped reading on page 80.

Let's just say it was a grief-stricken Jack Daniels night, and I think I will just leave it at that. That is another essay. But this is how I rejected her rejection. A week or so later, a thought occurred to me while I was bathing the kids. This was the thought: “She is wrong. She is wrong. She is wrong.” And this was not denial speaking. I just knew she was wrong.

So I took the book, all five hundred pages of it, and I read it again with a cold editor’s eye, and I systematically cut one hundred pages. I was ruthless and killed everything that I repeated or did twice or hit the same note too long. I honed and sharpened and got to the point a whole lot quicker. I soon realized it was way too flabby, so I cut those one hundred pages. Then I sent it to another agent. That agent took it and she sold it to William Morrow within one month.

Six months later, Diane Keaton optioned OFFSIDES for a film with Jim Henson Productions and we spent the next three years in the Hollywood mill. That, too, is another essay. The New York Public Library named, OFFSIDES, one of the best books for the Teen Age in 1997. It was before the dawn of Young Adult, and my editor at William Morrow at the time told me, “If you publish this young adult, it will be the death knell of your career,” so it was published as literary fiction.

Sadly, nothing came out of the film and even though, OFFSIDES, had great reviews it went out of print within a few years. You can find it for a buck on Amazon. But that agent who rejected me contacted my screenplay agent at the time and asked, “Can I have her next book?”

I would see this agent from time to time at parties or literary salons on the West Coast. We were always very polite. I didn’t tell her I thought of tee-peeing her house or screaming like a banshee at her front door, because I didn’t do any of those things. I just repeated to myself. “She is wrong, she is wrong, she is wrong.”

Now I absolutely believe in readers and feedback and criticism to make a book better and stronger. I would be nowhere without my group of close and trusted readers in the early stages of a manuscript, who tell me truth. But I don’t believe in cruelty when a writer is finding the story and finding her voice. I was a young novelist, and it was my very first novel, and this agent had set herself up as a kind of encouraging mentor and then said, "Never mind." But it was probably the best lesson I could have learned - to trust my own voice and not to quit no matter what an agent had decreed.

And a word about critiques...I teach creative writing now at the University of Alabama Birmingham, and I have taught for years in freelance workshops, and I do writing workshops for kids in schools. I was lucky enough to have a professor in college who taught me everything I know about teaching because she modeled such excellent teaching. Her name was Mary Jane Harvill, and she made us believe in the possibility of ourselves as artists. It was an acting class – not even a writing class. But we had to go on stage and become these characters.

I played Blanche with a boy who would have made a knockout Blanche, and I definitely would have been a much better Stanley. But we had fun. Mary Jane made us laugh and find joy in creating characters, and even when we were awful, and we were awful, it was never about humiliation, but it was about being better – reaching down inside and finding something new to make the characters work.

I don’t allow my writing workshops to be anything but supportive and generous places to discover how to make the work better. We ask the hard questions, but I hope no writer ever leaves my workshop lacerated or doomed the way I felt that night when my first novel arrived on my doorstep like a body bag oozing failure.

It’s listening to the voice inside and keeping the critics at bay and revising and reshaping to find ways to make the stories sing.

Kerry Madden is author of the Maggie Valley Trilogy, published by Viking Children's Books. The trilogy includes Gentle's Holler (2005), Louisiana's Song (2007) and Jessie's Mountain (2008), set in the heart of Appalachia in the Smoky Mountains. Her first novel, Offsides, was a New York Public Library Pick for the Teen Age in 1997. Her book Writing Smarts, published by American Girl, is full of story sparks for young writers. Her latest book, Harper Lee: Up Close, published by Viking, made Booklist's Ten Top Biographies of 2009 for Youth.