Thursday, February 25, 2010

Q and A with Megan Crane/Caitlin Crews

Tell me a little about your book.
Pure Princess, Bartered Bride is the story of the arranged marriage of the ruthless Luc Garnier and the perfect Princess Gabrielle, and how they fall in love with each other despite that kind of beginning.

What got you writing in the genre in which you write?
I finally started writing romance novels years and years and years after I started reading them, and years after I was published, because I figured I had to at least TRY to write in my favorite genre. I have such high expectations about the romance novels I read that I had pretty low expectations about my own. I really didn’t think anything would come of the experiment. But it turns out that writing romances is almost as addictive as reading them!

Favorite thing about being a writer?
I get to make up stories in my head, and then tell them, and make my living that way. It’s more than a dream come true. And I don’t, in fact, need algebra, as I told my math teacher in high school long ago!

Least favorite thing about being a writer?
The blank page is usually filled with all my doubts and fears, and that’s not a whole lot of fun to sift through to get to the words I need to write. And you can never really take a vacation, because the work is always in your head. And I become a little bit of a crazy person as a deadline approaches. But I wouldn’t give any of it up.

Which comes easier for you - beginnings or endings?
Definitely beginnings. I like to launch myself into the beginning and write until I hit a wall, then go back and figure out what I'm doing.

How many drafts until the final draft?
I am one of those desperately linear writers, who can't go forward if I know what's behind me is a big mess. So I usually write the day's words, then set it aside to pick up and read the next morning. I revise it before starting the next day's writing. So when I have a full draft, it's usually pretty tight, and then I go over that at least once or twice. So... three?

What is one thing you’ve learned about the publishing industry since getting your first book deal?
There is writing, and then there is publishing, and there is only one part of that I can control: the writing.

What is your advice for those who looking to get their novel published?
Just write. No one can tell your story the way you can, and no one will get to read it until you write it.

What's your favorite food?
Chocolate. Seriously. I'm a complete addict. I like it dark, rich, and life-altering.

Do you have a muse, good luck charm, writing vice?
I am pretty sure my extremely fat and ill-behaved cats feel that they are both muses and charms; they are not. I don't really have either, I don't think. Though I have written every single one of my books on this very same desk, and I'm kind of attached to it, if that counts.

What's your writing process/writing environment like?
I'm pretty fierce about my daily word quotas, which are really the only way I can write as much as I do. (I wrote five books last year and will write at least four this year.) I usually write 2,000 words a day--although at a certain point last fall I had to write 3000 a day to hit a particular deadline, and I found that dizzyingly difficult. The internet is my greatest time-waster. I'm starting to use Mac Freedom to turn it off for stretches here and there, because I can't be trusted--and I will often look up to see that hours have passed and there I am reading Jezebel and hitting refresh on Twitter... Not good.

I have written all my books (I'm on number 15!) on the same desk, which I'm a little superstitious about these days. It's currently located in the office I share with my husband, overlooking a pretty sweep of trees and mountains and the Hollywood sign here in Los Angeles. It's filled with books and pictures, and somehow, helps the words come.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever gotten about writing?
Just do it. Just write. Everything else is smoke and mirrors.

USA Today bestselling author Megan Crane, a former Atlanta resident, has written five women’s fiction novels, many work-for-hire young adult novels, and five category romances (under the name Caitlin Crews) since publishing her first book in 2004. Her novel, Frenemies, was a BookSense Notable in July 2007. She teaches various creative writing classes both online at and offline at UCLA Extension's prestigious Writers' Program, where she finally utilizes her MA and PhD in English Literature. Megan lives in Los Angeles with her comic book artist/animator husband and too many pets. For more info visit her at or

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In Praise of the Good Literary Agent

by Patricia Sprinkle

Behind the pages of most books lurks an invisible presence—a midwife, a slave driver, a guardian angel—also known as the literary agent. I’ve had a three in my life, two excellent ones and another who would have made a better Chicago meat packer. I cannot thank my two good ones enough. The other? I suspected for a time that he had killed his boss and hidden him in the agency basement.

But a good literary agent? S/he is the person who . . .

. . . wades through dozens of bad manuscripts to find one that is publishable—if enough changes are made;

. . . finds tactful phrases to convince an author that those changes are necessary if the book is to sell;

. . . endures numerous publishers’ cocktail parties, luncheons, and conversations in order to pitch a book to the right person at the right place and time to convince an editor to read it;

. . . must persuade a writer that the advance is all s/he can expect in the current market, but keeps a hawk’s eye on contracts and royalty statements to be certain the author gets all s/he has earned;

. . . must harass the writer to meet deadlines and the editor to release the checks—and remain friends with both.

A good literary agent knows what a writer can do better than the writer does, presses for a long-range career plan when the writer is barely thinking of the next chapter, and is masterful at imparting bad news without breaking a writer’s heart, because a literary agent knows better than anybody—unless it is a writer’s spouse—how insecure and fragile a writer is, how little the writer believes in his or her own gift for words.

For all that, what does an agent expect? Fifteen percent of a writer’s income and perhaps an acknowledgment line in the book. It’s not very much.

Most readers will never know or care that the book would never have appeared if a literary agent hadn’t served as yenta to bring an editor and writer together, as midwife to persuade the author to push harder to birth the book, and as taskmaster to insure that the author’s royalties were paid in a timely fashion. But next time you read a good book? Be grateful not just for the writer and editor, but for the literary agent who brought them together.I lift my glass to mine. You know who you are!

Patricia Sprinkle’s new book, to be released March 2, is Hold Up the Sky, a novel about four strong women who meet crisis with courage and determination but discover they still cannot survive unless they stand together to hold up the sky.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Official Permission Slip for Your Trip to Joyful Kristy Kiernan

"Don't even bother looking at the Amazon rankings. It's a waste of time. They mean nothing."

"Just work on your next book."

"Stay off all those social reading sites. You can't please everyone, and you'll just get depressed."

"You can't tell anything from B&N's online numbers."

"Don't make yourself crazy. Just wait until your royalty statement comes in; it's the only thing that matters."

"Oh, yeah, nothing ever comes from the things you see on your website statistics. Don't waste your time."

"Oh my God, are you still looking at Amazon?"

"Don't even think about calling the Ingram stock line. It doesn't mean anything."

"You just can't worry about all of it."

"Don't read reviews…trust me."

"Get out of the house. Take a walk. Stop obsessing."


Oh, all such good advice, so well meaning. Sometimes it comes from a fellow debut author, but most often it comes from someone with a few books under their belt, someone who knows, someone who's been through it.

And here's what I--someone who has a few books under her belt, someone who's been through it--have to say to them: "Shut up! Seriously, just shut up."

Look, the fact is, they have already done this. They've already gone through the obsessions, the rapid fire clicking on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Google (even though you've set up Google Alerts for your name in quotes, your title in quotes, your title in quotes plus your name without quotes), Twitter search, Facebook Book Shelf.

Or, even worse, the people who are so assuredly giving this advice have ten books under their belt, and they never even had to contend with the sheer amount of information--accurate or not--out there on their first book, because their first book came out in 1989, or '92, or even '98.

But of course they know they wouldn't have wasted their time, of course they wouldn't have.

And I got all this advice. And, oh, I listened, eagerly, asking for more.
Tell me more, tell me what to do with all this anxiety, all this energy, all this jittery fear that has nowhere to go. Please, tell me what to do.

But of course nobody could babysit me, Barbara Kingsolver didn't volunteer to be my minder on this psychedelic debut trip, keeping me from hitting refresh, watching my numbers on Catching Genius go down and down, and so there's nobody there to stop me from doing any of the things everyone is telling me, sternly, to, by all means, NOT do.

And the more advice I'm getting to not do them, the more I'm doing them, and, the very worst part of it all is that I am so ashamed of myself. I'm so guilty, and I'm lying about how often I check for new reviews on reading sites, about the fact that my Amazon pages stay open constantly on my computer screen, that I'm calling the Ingram stock line a minimum of three times a day, Googling the business ISPs that show up on StatCounter, squealing when the New York Times or another known quantity pops up, keeping my new manuscript open on my computer, over top of the multiple pages all bearing the Catching Genius cover.

I feel as though I've been discovered doing something so untoward, so absurdly nasty, as if the entire publishing industry has caught me masturbating with one of my own novels. I am miserable with shame and embarrassment, sick to my stomach at the fact that I can't seem to let this all go as breezily as everyone else swears they have, and I wonder at their fortitude, wonder if I am not cut out for this business.

By the time Matters of Faith comes out, a little over a year later, I've calmed down, though I'm still keeping tabs, and I give myself the advice this time. I gear myself up for its release with stern internal lectures (keep your hands off it, that's dirty!), as well as reading over all the same old advice everyone is giving debut authors to NOT look at any of it, to not take it seriously, to not waste their time.

And when it came out, I went through it all again. Maybe without the same intensity, and perhaps I was far enough along in my career to know that I really wanted to get cracking on the next book, but…still…the siren song of the mouse called, the lure of Amazon, the speediest speed dial of Ingram.

And, again, the shame and embarrassment, and the wonder at my peers who never, gosh no, never looked at any of it, or seemed to worry about a thing, so blasé about it all, making me, by comparison, a privately quivering neurotic mess.

But about a month after Matters of Faith's release I…got tired of it. I was exhausted with the shame, and I could no longer quite figure out why everyone thought that all this concentrated energy was so wrong, why it was shameful, and why everyone seemed to take such satisfaction in telling me how little it all mattered.

Shame and excitement are pretty damn close cousins, and I realized that in buying into the idea that all of the natural enthusiasm for as much information as I could find about the books that I had slaved over for years was somehow wrong, and weak, and shameful, had robbed me of a good amount of the fun, healthy excitement of it all. I spent more time beating myself up for checking my Amazon rankings than I spent enjoying the fact that I had Amazon rankings to check to begin with!

Here's the thing: You're going to do it anyway. Yes, you are. And all those people telling you that they don't do it? They're liars. Okay, maybe not all of them. Maybe Joyce Carol Oates doesn't start her day by hitting the "Open All In Tabs" link to tile all her various Amazon, B&N, and GoodReads pages open (that would crash the hardiest computer anyway), but yes, I still do.

Granted, I don't spend much time on them. A quick check, and then I don't even look at them again until the next day, and of course the Ingram stock line doesn't even exist anymore, so there's that little obsession solved. But I still do it. And I'm not going to apologize for that, or hide it, or be embarrassed because some other author enjoys the feeling of superiority of having a much tighter rein on their neuroses than I apparently do.

How sad.

How dry.

How joyless.

I've earned the right to obsess about my books. That concentrated, jittery energy is excitement, and I'm not going to dampen that in order to impress anyone. And nobody gets to take it away from me, either.

So when I get questions from debut authors about Amazon rankings and all the various other venues in which they can fritter their time away, I tell them that there are other, more important factors, and that no, they don't really matter much, but that of course they're going to check, and to go enjoy it. Let that feeling in your belly be excitement, joy, happiness, not shame and embarrassment.

Shame and embarrassment aren't words I'm willing to associate with my life's work anymore.

So, go, obsess, and enjoy it, you earned that, you deserve it, and when someone rolls their eyes at your joy and enthusiasm for all the hundreds of inconsequential little pieces of this business, tell them that Kristy Kiernan says, "Cram it, joysucker."

Unless it's Barbara Kingsolver.

Then, you know, give her my e-mail address…I could use a blurb.

Between Friends, Kristy Kiernan's new novel, will be published on April 6th.

"Kiernan (Catching Genius) again demonstrates her ability to portray true-to-life relationships between women...With realistic dialogue and pinpointed emotions, Kiernan paints a persuasive portrait of the bonds between mothers, daughters, and friends in this inspiring, heartbreaking tale." --Publishers Weekly

Monday, February 22, 2010

Literary Snobbery

I’m about to get on my high horse and open a big can of intellectual whoop-ass on you, so be warned. (Sorry about the mixed metaphor.)

We live in an era when a sharp division has arisen between literary writers and genre writers. To some extent both sides look at each other with mistrust and some contempt. The term snob is more often applied to literary writers, but genre writers are just as capable of snobbery as anyone. I'm here to say you’re all a bunch of knuckleheads and tell you to get back to work.

Both terms “literary writer” and “genre writer” are unhelpful in themselves. What is all writing, but literary? It’s made of “letters,” right? And all writing is “genre writing,” that is, it belongs to a specific tradition or traditions. It reminds me of what Louis Armstrong said about folk music. “All music is folk music. Horses don’t play music.”

A literary writer generally means someone trained within the academic system. He may have an MFA or even a PhD, and has sat through numerous structured workshops. One of the first things he heard from his instructor and fellow students is, “We don’t do genre fiction.” The lesson that genre is off limits does not have to be repeated; it is given with such force that it is a rare writer indeed who attempts more than one genre piece in an academic workshop. The prohibition against genre is not as bigoted as it sounds at first blush; teachers don’t like it because 99% of student genre writing is so execrably bad. But then 99% of all student writing is execrably bad. What happens in a workshop is that after reading a given piece, the other students sit around and talk about it, and being college students, even graduate students, these readers like to have pretty high-toned intellectual discussions. To a large extent, this is what determines good literary writing; does it give educated readers something interesting to talk about? The danger for literary fiction is that it may do nothing more than provide conversation fodder for a very select group of academically trained readers.

The genre writer is shaped not by academe, but by the marketplace. This sounds crude and reductionist, but I speak as one who has the highest possible regard for the marketplace. The question demanded by the publisher of genre fiction is, “Will this book get people to buy it? Will they keep turning pages until they are done? When they are done, will they have an appetite to go out and buy another?” The danger for genre fiction is it may not be intellectually or spiritually nourishing, but merely appetizing. Kind of a verbal junk food.

Genre writers are apt to think of literary writers as pretentious and hoity-toity. Literary writers may think of genre writers as whores.

Here’s the point where I call you all a bunch of knuckleheads.

You’re all a bunch of knuckleheads.

No literary writer ever sets out to become one – not at first; nor does a genre writer decide, “Genre, that’s for me!” We place our own selves in little cubbies of genre writer or literary writer as experience and adulthood shape us. But the beginning of all writers is the same. We read something that keeps us turning pages, and when we are done, we have the wonderful sensation of having been changed by what we have read. We want to have the same experience again, and reach for another book. And we can imagine no higher or more delicious pursuit than creating the sort of stories that have meant so much to us.

There is nothing wrong with writing something intellectually stimulating. God bless anyone who inspires people to talk about books. There is nothing wrong with writing something that makes readers want to read more. God bless anyone who inspires people to read. You so-called literary writers, work harder to make your stories and poems more satisfying to the general reader. You genre writers, don’t rest on commercial success; strive to make your writing offer something richer than first it appears to do.

And all of you, get back to work.

Man Martin is author of the award-winning novel, Days of the Endless Corvette. His novella, Scoring Bertram Wiggly, is available exclusively for Kindle on, and his second novel, Paradise Dogs, is coming out Spring of 2011 from Thomas Dunne Books.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

When an agent genuinely believes in you...

I've written fiction for the last eight years. But only be default. I wrote fiction because no publishing house would take my non-fiction. Non-fiction was what I really wanted to write. I wanted to be known for books that changed people's lives, gave them principles for living. Instead, I ended up writing a fiction book about crazy southern people and rigged beauty pageants where women tape their boobs and spray their butts. Not actually the profound impact I was going for. So, once Savannah from Savannah was published fiction simply seemed to be where life would land for me.
I did try a couple times through the years to get a non-fiction book published from a Bible Study I had taught. But again, the rejections piled up and the fiction opportunities were the only one availing themselves to me. It seemed I was going to be destined to write about certifiable characters and southern settings.
But a couple years ago things changed. After thirteen years of marriage I walked through a heart breaking divorce. During that season I walked away from a new three-book fiction book deal and from all of the teaching that I was doing and plunged head long into the healing of my heart. And a big piece of that healing came from journaling my journey. Each day I poured out the pain in my heart, the joy of new discoveries and the fear of all of the unknowns of my new life.
As my heart began to heal I decided I would see what fiction was still inside of me. My agent got me a new fiction deal but at one of our lunches he asked, "Would you be willing to try to publish your journals?"
"Excuse me?"
"You've walked this journey in a beautiful way. I think people could benefit from how you've lived this out."
"Excuse me?"
"Is that a no?"
"My personal journals? The pain of my divorce? Let people read that?"
"You're already doing that on your blog for singles. Why not let's just pitch it and see what happens."
I had tried to get non-fiction published and now something that was never meant to be a book, that held my deepest pain and darkest places my agent was asking me to unfurl for someone else to peruse through. "I don't know if I can do it."
"Just think about it. I think it could be life changing."
About six months later I sat down with my old journals and began to see if I could form a story out of my outbursts of emotion. Four months ago I received an offer for my first fiction book. A book never meant to be a book. Flying Solo: A journey of divorce and healing with a very present God will come out in January of next year.
For almost twelve years I've tried to get non-fiction published. What will finally come out would have never been anything I would have wanted to go through or would have planned on sharing. But because my agent saw something in my journey worth telling, because he genuinely believed in what I had to offer, something my heart has desired for years is finally a reality. Everyone should be so blessed to have an agent like I do...sounds trite I know. But nonetheless true.
Denise Hildreth makes her home in Nashville, Tennessee with her two shih-tzu's. She enjoys good friends, good food and Coca-Cola and every now and then she writes a few books. "Flying Solo"

Friday, February 19, 2010

Q and A with Leonard Todd author Carolina Clay

Born in South Carolina, Leonard Todd was educated at Yale College and the Yale School of Art and Architecture. He is a former Fulbright Scholar to France. Leonard lived for many years in New York City, where he was a graphic designer and a writer. His writings include travel articles, short stories, and two novels for young adults, published by Knopf and Viking. Both of his novels, which were set in areas of the south that he knew well when he was growing up, were optioned for film productions.

Leonard's newest publication is an adult book, the true story of one of the most intriguing figures in southern history. It is entitled Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter, Dave. It was published by W. W. Norton. Newsweek, in a full-page review, called it “a fascinating account.” Publishers Weekly described it as “a sweeping tale of the South itself.” It was a finalist for the National Award for Arts Writing, given each year for the best-written book on the arts. It won the South Carolina Center for the Book Award for Writing.

What inspired you to write Carolina Clay?

Dave was an extraordinarily gifted slave potter who lived in South Carolina during the first three quarters of the 19th century. I first learned of him ten years ago, when I was living in New York City. I opened The New York Times one morning to find an article announcing an exhibition of his work. It described the handsome pots he had made and told how he had written original poems on many of them. Such writing by a slave was unheard of, because in South Carolina at that time it was against the law to teach anyone in bondage how to read or write. Dave even signed his work, taking responsibility for what he had done. At the end of the article, one final bit of information took my breath away: Dave's owners were the Landrum and Miles families of Edgefield, South Carolina--my ancestors. I had always had a vague sense that there were slaveholders among my forebears. Busy with my life, however, I avoided the issue. Faced, now, with a real person who had been owned by my family, I couldn't do that anymore. I visited the exhibition, where I saw Dave's impressive jars and jugs and churns. Though utilitarian, they were true works of art. I also saw that little was known about his life. In the weeks that followed, I was unable to forget this amazing man and my troubling connection to him. I decided finally to travel to Edgefield, where I had never been, to find his story. 2

Please give us a brief overview of Carolina Clay.

The book tells in detail of my search for Dave. I narrate it in the first person, describing how I piece together the events of his life. I follow Dave from his days as a young worker in the clay pits through his middle years as a master potter and on to his difficult life as a free man, always firmly setting the story within the context of South Carolina's turbulent history. Many small discoveries permitted me to do this: biographical details in his poems, his name on the voter registration rolls during Reconstruction, a mention of his wife in my great-grandfather's papers. Even with the information I unearthed, the archival record of Dave's life, like that of almost all slaves, remained sparse. I often had to make informed guesses about him and his family. Speculation can be risky, but I believe it worked in this case because I always told the readers what I was doing. In this way, they were able to join in my search.

What special challenges did you incur in the writing of Carolina Clay?

Finding the right tone for the book was a real challenge for me, especially when it came to describing the actions of my slaveholding ancestors. In early drafts, I judged them harshly. I slowly came to understand that my job was not to judge but simply to tell the story in a clear and unbiased way. Readers, then, could make whatever judgments they felt were necessary. An unexpected outcome of this was that my writing, freed from any agenda, became more powerful.

Has Dave's story changed you in any way?

Coming upon Dave's story in The New York Times literally changed my life. It gave me a subject I was passionate about, and it gave me a new home: A few months after I began my research, my wife, Laurel Blossom (a writer also, a poet), and I decided to leave New York and move to Edgefield, population 4,000. A leap of faith, it has turned out to be a happy choice.

Who are some of your literary influences?

I have been influenced not by individual writers but by a kind of writing: great storytelling. I can remember being completely caught up in The Secret Garden when my mother read it to me during my childhood. Later in my life, I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, Anna Karenina, White Mischief, The Architect of Desire. As a writer, I just want to tell a good story.

What's next for you?

While researching Carolina Clay, I discovered many fascinating characters among my ancestors. One of them in particular seems to be calling to me. I'm beginning to map out a novel based on his life before and after the Civil War. It's a very good story.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How Do You Write?

by Mindy Friddle
I'm diverging from the assigned topic this month. I don't worry about snobbery much anymore. There's too much to DO to worry about people's skewed perceptions!

This is a picture of my grandmother's 1940-something Smith Corona manual typewriter. It is in pristine condition, as is the owner's manual. Alas, the ribbon is not. No ribbons anymore to buy and replace it. The typewriter, itself, can fetch a princely sum on Ebay.

So, for Christmas she got an electric typewriter. Yeah, I know. I didn't think they made electric typewriters either. But they do.

I spent the afternoon trying to figure the #$@! thing my grandmother could type her recipes and lists and sympathy notes. When you get 85, you write a lot of Sorry for Your Loss messages.

I can't imagine writing on a manual typewriter. Or-- let me rephrase that-- I can't imagine editing on a typewriter. My process is fluid. That dancing cursor at the end of each word pulses and guides like a wee fairy. No more White Out.

Does form dictate content? After a visiting my grandmother, I started to think about how writing instruments affect how we think and write. Some writers I know write in longhand, then type up their manuscript on their laptop. I take notes by hand sometimes-- but I usually have trouble reading my own handwriting.Penmanship was never my thang, ya'll.
Think about it, though.

Quills to fountain pens to typewriters to electric typewriters to word processors to laptops. I wonder what and how we'll be writing 20 years from now. It boggles the noodle.

Nabokov chased butterflies
Talk about the gritty work of process... on the cogs and wheels of grinding out drafts...on HOW one goes about writing a novel [and an ode to the usefulness of index cards]:

Vladimir Nabokov, lepidopterist and brilliant writer, left behind an unfinished novel, The Original of Laura, when he died. It was recently published-- the fragments of it, anyway, as David Gates notes in his review in the NYT Book Review.

The most poignant detail is Nabokov's struggle to finish the manuscript, to capture the vivid vision of the novel --like one of his treasured, rare butterflies-- and splay it on the page: I kept reading it aloud to a small dream audience in a walled garden. My audience consisted of peacocks, pigeons, my long dead parents, two cypresses, several young nurses crouching around, and a family doctor so old as to be almost invisible...

The novel isn't even half-baked. Apparently, it's still clumps of dough. But fascinating to scholars and to writers who will seize the chance to muse over the raw chunks, and glimpse, perhaps, how Nabokov worked:
He would customarily 'envisage a novel in his mind complete from start to finish before writing it down' — on 3-by-5 cards, which allowed him to work on any section he wanted to, then place it 'in the sequence he had foreseen, among the stack already written.' A transcription of . . . handwritten notecards (complete with grammatical and spelling errors), [are] arranged in [this novel in] sensible, if debatable, order, but facsimiles of the cards themselves, perforated so they can be detached from the book and reordered by scholars who think they know better, or by general readers with time on their hands.
I think we might be using index cards a hundred years from now. The iCard maybe?

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. Follow her on Twitter @mindyfriddle.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What's in a name?

It's not that I don't follow directions well, generally speaking. It's just that somehow I haven't been able to settle in to write about the suggested topics the last few months. And really—can any of us top T. Lynn Ocean's or Cathy Pickens' hilarious and infuriating posts on the subject of literary snobbery? So, I'll digress.

My Bay Tanner mysteries are published by St. Martin's Minotaur, recently acquired by Macmillan, so I've been pretty interested in the latest brouhaha between the big "M" and the big "A", namely I'm sure at least a few of you are aware of the schoolyard brawl that resulted in ALL of Macmillan's books, both digital and print, being pulled from Amazon for the better part of a week. Oh, right, the listings were still there. You just couldn't BUY the blessed things.

I subscribe to several listservs—DL, MWA, SEMWA, MMA, SinC—and there was a lot of hand-wringing and flame-throwing going on about who exactly was to blame. The crux of the conflict, if you haven't been following it, was that Macmillan wanted to be able to set the price of its hardcovers, especially new releases, at something more than Amazon's standard $9.99 for download onto its Kindle reader. As a former businesswoman, I'm blessed—or cursed—with being able to see both sides of these opposing business models, so I'm not venturing an opinion on it either way, except to say that the poster on one of those listservs who blamed it all on "greedy authors" made me want to scream. Or run, laughing hysterically, out into the streets. It's just another one of those screwy publishing things that most readers don't understand—or really care that much about—and over which authors have about as much control as they do the weather.

Okay, that's the setup. By the end of that week, I was feeling battered and unappreciated and frustrated. None of those is an especially strange state of affairs for the mid-list author, I'd venture to guess. So when my husband and I left for church on Sunday morning, I was looking for a little solace and some time for quiet reflection. As we stood to greet those around us at the beginning of the service, I shook hands with a middle-aged couple and their teenaged son in the pew in front of us. Next to them sat a tiny baby wrapped from head to foot in pink, sound asleep in a carrier. I said something like, "And who's this little sweetheart?"

"Her name is Bay," the woman said, smiling.

Just then the organist began the intro the first hymn, and conversation ended abruptly. I managed to say, "I'd like to speak with you after the service," but I wasn't sure she heard me.

I spent the next hour with my mind wandering, I'm embarrassed to say, marveling at the serendipity that should have put me in the pew behind someone whose newborn happened to share a name with my main character. It's not a common name, but those kinds of things happen, I told myself.

At the conclusion of the service, the woman turned around and smiled. I said, "Hi. My name's Kathy Wall, and—" She cut me off.

"I know," she said. "I recognized you from your book covers. We just adopted our daughter. Her mother is from the Lowcountry, and we wanted her to have a name that would connect her to her heritage. My friends and I all love your books, so I decided to name her after your character. It's her middle name, but we're going to call her Bay." Before I could stammer out a single word, she produced a diaper bag with the name "Bay" beautifully embroidered on the side.

I tried to convey how honored I felt, how much her gesture had touched me, but I'm sure I made a complete mess of it. As we took our leave, she promised to send me some digital photos of the baby when she had a spare moment, which I'm sure won't happen for at least a few months. Newborns tend to consume every waking moment.

So to hell with Macmillan and Amazon and their squabbling. To hell with people who think authors are greedy and grasping and only out to make a buck. And to hell with being depressed by any of it. A sweet little baby girl named Bay has righted my world. Amen.

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 10th Bay Tanner mystery, Canaan's Gate, will be released by St. Martin's Minotaur on April 27.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Living in the Land of the Eye-Rollers, or Feel-Sorry-for-Snobs Month

by Cathy Pickens

As a teacher, aunt to five nephews, a mystery writer, and a Southerner, I can qualify as a minor expert as a recipient of derisive eye-rolling. You know, that gesture mastered by teen-aged girls, computer-savvy technoids, literary snobs, and other self-appointed holders of arcane knowledge.

Fiction writers who (1) write funny, entertaining books, (2) write in a genre, and/or (3) make money at their writing certainly receive their share of eye-rolls. I made my peace with not making the literary snobs happy (or any snobs, for that matter—but that’s another story). I happen to like mysteries, I like funny and entertaining books, and I like others who do, too.

The perils and pain of literary snobbery coalesced for me a couple of years ago as I traveled to an event with a woman who had been an English literature major many, many years ago.

“I don’t read mysteries, you know,” she said, as she chauffeured me to the out-of-town event. Can you hear the sniff in her voice?

“That’s okay,” I said. “You’ll live a long and happy life without mysteries.” I was just trying to make her feel okay about herself. I didn’t really believe that, but it’s what well-bred Southern women do—try to make others feel better about their poor life choices, like marrying the wrong man or only reading “serious” books.

That night during my talk, I asked the mostly female audience who had read Nancy Drew. Most of them raised their hands; their faces lit up, and they murmured and smiled with remembered pleasure. I noticed my hostess in the back of the room. Her hand was raised, but only to shoulder-height. She had a strange look on her face—befuddled and bemused and … I didn’t know what.

That night, as we drove home, she said, “You know, I read Nancy Drew when I was a girl. I used to go around the neighborhood looking for mysteries to solve.” She paused. Her voice became wistful: “How could I have forgotten that?”

She sounded so sad. How could she have forgotten that? That’s what snobs do to themselves—they make special rules about what’s important and, in doing that, limit their worlds … and their fun.

The rest of us can go around our neighborhoods looking for mysteries to solve AND read Anthony Trollope. [By the way, The Way We Now Live, selected by Time magazine last year as the #1 book to read, could have been written today … and is a wonderful read.] We can enjoy the symphony AND can eat fried chicken with our fingers. We can hike or fish or be proud of a nephew’s spitting-for-distance skills—or keep a lovely garden and out-do Martha herself in the kitchen. We can do things because we enjoy them, not just because someone else thinks those things are worth doing.

In short, we don’t have to worry about pretentious snobs. Because, fortunately for us, we haven’t forgotten! We can only feel sorry for those who have. Now, try not to roll your eyes.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Snobbery Lives

Snobbery Lives
by T. Lynn Ocean

Staying with this month's topic… Have you ever been the victim of snobbery… Hell, yes! Is there anyone out there—writers or otherwise—who hasn't? When it happens to you, depending on the Snobber (as opposed to the Snobbee), it can make you feel not like a doormat, but a speck of debris that has fallen off one's shoe and landed among the bristles of the doormat. Tiny and insignificant.

Here goes and no, I'm not going to give a name, so please don't ask. When my very first book, FOOL ME ONCE was about to come out in 2005, I was told by my editor to do anything I could to obtain jacket blurbs—you know, those terrific one or two-sentence testimonials that declare the book to be a fantastic read?

One southern author who was and still is a NYT bestseller was doing a book signing event at Waldenbooks / Barefoot Landing in North Myrtle Beach, not too far from where I live. (Note: this store, as have many Waldens, has since shut down). Anyway, it was a Thursday. Signing time: 11-2. My arrival time? Eleven thirty. The author's table? Empty. Yeah, there was a string of ladies, books in hand, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their favorite author. A few store employees milled about. The author's driver & media escort popped in every so often, just as unsure of her whereabouts as everyone else. Problem? Not only would I be late getting back for work, but I was out $25 plus tax for the hardcover. Worst part? I'd already read the book. I simply purchased another copy as an excuse to meet the woman in person and ask if I might send her a galley in hopes of obtaining a jacket blurb. (Keep in mind that my book was in the process of being published by St. Martin's Press…I wasn't some psycho asking to lounge by the author's private swimming pool over hand-rolled sushi and mimosas.)

To reiterate: I'm on my lunch break, I'd driven 15 miles, I'd spent $25, and I'd waited outside the bookstore, semi-pacing in the chilly weather, for 45 minutes. Just when I'm ready to give up and head back to work, I see the author rounding the corner… CARRYING A FREAKIN' SHOPPING BAG! Hello? She was scheduled to sign books beginning at 11:00 a.m. I suppose there weren't enough fans in attendance to suit her taste, so she went exploring the Barefoot Landing boutiques.

When her Highness finally settled in at her signing table, there were about 15 women waiting. I stood back, letting everyone go in front of me, hoping I could have thirty seconds of this author's time without pressure. Tacky, sure, to ask for a blurb during a book signing. But, WTF? As a brand new writer, you do what you can, recklessly, sincerely, hoping for a break. As this author scribbled something on my copy, I mentioned that I was a writer and was wondering if she may have time to take a glance at my current manuscript. If she liked it, could she send a blurb on to my editor at St. Martin's?

Her eyebrows immediately went tight and her mouth pinched. But then, another fan appeared behind me in line, a stack of 3 books gripped against her stomach. And the author's retort immediately morphed into a smile.

"Absolutely," she said loudly, between lots of bright teeth. "I'm always happy to help an aspiring writer. Anything I can do, sweetie," she drawled, scribbling something onto the back of a bookmark. "Send it here and I'll do what I can."

Energized, gripping the bookmark and my newly purchased hardcover, I made my way to the parking lot, formulating an excuse as to why I'd be late returning to work. Once back at work, I pulled the bookmark from my handbag to see what she'd written.

It was the name of her publisher. Not even an address, not that it would have mattered. With no agent, editor, publicist or other real contact, my blurb request (had I actually sent my manuscript) would have ended up in the recycle pile without ever having been forwarded. To anyone.

Gotta smile, I thought, a bitter taste in my mouth. Or maybe I was just hungry, having skipped lunch. Either way, lesson learned. Every single bestseller has to start somewhere. There's no need to be a nasty, self-centered bitch, out shopping for a blouse when you're supposed to be sitting at a signing table. But some authors will. They are the snobs who use the rest of us to feel better about their status in life.

The flip side? I've also personally met other bestsellers… Nora Roberts, Cassandra King, Mary Alice Monroe, Harlan Coben and Celia Rivenbark – just to name a few – who were down-to-earth, friendly, wonderful people. They probably remembered that they, too, started as an unknown author, trying to work their way up the list. Or maybe writing has nothing to do with it. Maybe they are just genuinely nice, enjoyable people to begin with. And the good news is, they're in the majority.

T. LYNN'S latest book, SOUTHERN PERIL (St. Martin's Minotaur) is available to order on Kindle, and at your favorite local bookseller or online retailer. See for more info.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Right Critique Group
By Guest Blogger Renea Winchester

Finding the right critique group is almost as important as landing an agent. The solitary process of writing permits authors to fall headlong into a deep, blinding love with their work. Those who weave words onto paper are often pregnant with multiple characters, giving birth to each one after months, or years of arduous suffering. With so much time and effort spent building this relationship, it’s almost impossible not to adore the people you create. Which is exactly why you need a critique group; even those who write the most perfect book filled with seemingly flawless characters can overlook minor faults.

Critique groups should contain fellow authors who are knowledgeable yet respectful of your work. The first time I braved a critique group was disastrous. The room was filled with twenty authors. By that I mean, “real” authors with PhD behind their name and multiple books proudly displayed on their shelves. At exactly 6 pm, stapled sheets of manuscript were launched down the table. I grabbed the pages and it began. Words, spoken aloud, tumbled about the room while I followed along, pen-in-hand, searching for a mistake. Three minutes later, the excerpt had been read. Two minutes of comments were allowed, then it was someone else’s turn.

This fast-paced reading bonanza continued until I thought my head would explode. The diverse group read screenplays, book proposals, works of fiction and non-fiction. Contrasting genres and subject matter force us outside our realm of expertise, which is an important task in order to grow as an author, but the quality of their work made me realize I was way out of my league.

My apprehension grew with each new critique. Even though everyone welcomed me, I lacked confidence. Instead of paying attention to the written words, my thoughts wandered. There was no way I would whisper a word from my lips. Instead, I wanted to bolt from the room, rush home and burn everything I had ever written.

It would be several months before I attempted another critique group. This time, only five authors met. I calmed my nerves and settled into the chair. The group leader explained the rules: read up to seven pages of double-spaced manuscript; listen to the responses; offer no defense; final decision and changes are your call. I nodded and focused on the manuscript given me by an elderly gentleman. When he had finished reading, he looked around the room waiting for comments. I noticed seasoned members of the group exchanged reluctant glances as if to say, “you go first, I went first last time.”

Finally, someone spoke. Using a soft voice, with eyes downcast, she pointed out minor errors, not mentioning what I felt were glaring mistakes. Suddenly, the elderly man slammed his fist on the table, loudly argued his point, and cursed. I’ve always heard how difficult it is to receive constructive criticism, but his outburst left me shaken. No one had to give me “the look,” I kept my mouth shut about his work, and mine.

Finally, I found the group for me, one with a balance of published authors and greenhorns; a group with a mixture of genres that stretches my creative muscle. The group has given me the confidence to finally read my work aloud, listen to their suggestions, keep the curse words to myself, and hopefully grow as an author.


Renea Winchester resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her work has been awarded the Appalachian Writers Association Award, and has appeared in numerous magazines as well as Chicken Soup Teens Talk High School and the Cup of Comfort Series. Her first book, In The Garden With Billy, will be released summer of 2010. Her story about Billy was aired on WABE 90.1FM. She may be reached at Her blog is

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Angling For Agents

Shortly after the birth of my first child 17 years ago, I decided to write what most writers dream about – that hugely successful, best-selling novel.
I’d take fiction writing classes and had been working for a few newspapers for about 10 years, and figured I was ready.
So I wrote. A page a day was the goal in order to have my blockbluster completed in a year.
In the beginning, as with any fresh project, the pages all but wrote themselves. At the end of the year, hammering everything out on an old world processor (there were no computers so to speak), I had the novel. Now what?
Oh, agents. This was a time when one couldn’t fire off fabulous e-mails to high-powered New York agents and get bites, just as one might while fishing the rough seas.
This was the era of buying a giant book of agents and diligently taking massive hours to write a query, a cover letter and mail the first 50 pages.
I must have spent a small fortune (enough for some Botox) at the Post Office.
“Wish me luck,” I say to my favorite postman. “Would you mind kissing this manila envelope for me, please?”
For weeks two things happened. Nothing. Or a slew of rejection letters, most of them of the impersonal kind with stamped signatures.
I persevered a while longer, and two agents told me they loved the first three chapters and wanted to see more. Oh, my gosh! Handwritten messages. I was about to be a star.
My book would sell millions, and this was before Oprah. I’d shine at the Oscars in a Vera Wang gown.
“Please sent the complete manuscript,” both my “courting” potentials said.
Courting is essentially what snagging an agent is all about. It’s like putting your profile on and waiting for the big payoff. Only this time, when weeks later the entire giant boxes containing my manuscript were returned, I got more bad news.
“The beginning was quirky and wonderful, but I felt the novel fell apart in the middle,” both agents said.
No point sending out a wobbly-middle novel again. Reminded me of my tummy jiggle. Weak in the middle. Nothing new there.
I shoved the heavy boxes under my bed and gave up my notion of wearing Vera. Instead, I delved hard into motherhood, continued writing for papers and magazines, and figured I’d never have a book published in this lifetime.
About 10 years later, that old dream of being published resurfaced. I read more books on how to write successful novels and this time, the Internet was my lover. I could find agents on the ‘Net who actually took the material electronically. No more forcing the postman to kiss my mail.
This second book was good. Not great, I later came to learn, but good. I queried about 12 agents and many wanted to see the whole book.
Two expressed interest in signing me, but they were moving at the typical New York sloth’s pace. So I pulled a fast one on the one I wanted.
“Hi So-and-So. I was just checking on the status of my novel because another agent wants to sign me, but you’re my first choice.”
“I’ll get back to you tomorrow,” he said with great eagerness. I doubt he’d read the book, and needed time for a speed read.
The next day, he and I hooked up. Just like on He became my agent for nearly five years and together we published three books. I now have a new agent, and it’s either me or the economy, but not much is happening lately.
One day, I tell myself, that novel will be published. Either with or without an agent, but I’m determined to do it.
In general, when asked by the public about agents, I tell them I believe they are necessary to facilitate deals and get the books in the stores. I still believe in agents, just as a child believes in Santa. There are always surprises just around the corner.

Susan Reinhardt is the author of “Not Tonight Honey Wait ‘Till I’m a Size 6,” “Don’t Sleep with a Bubba,” and “Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin.” Her new novel, “Chimes from a Cracked Southern Belle” remains in New York limbo.

Literary Snobbery--Dealing With It--Elizabeth S. Craig

Literary snobbery has been a topic on a couple of blogs lately, including this one. This anonymous post by Jane Genre both cracked me up and made me a little sad. And there was an interesting article on Fuel Your Writing about ways to find out if you were a literary snob.

Book snobbery is evident in some readers. It’s evident in some writers, too.

I’ve seen it a little, but it hasn’t affected me very much. I’m quick to chalk up the fact that not everyone shares the same reading interests. Wouldn’t it be a boring world if we did?

Variety of books is important. If novels are all literary fiction, or all classic lit, it might prove a real turnoff for less-experienced readers. Commercial fiction has its place.

I recently wrote a post featuring the New York Times profile of James Patterson. One of the interesting things he said was that he was trying to make reading more accessible and take the common reader into account:

“…If you want to write for a lot of people, think about them a little bit. What do they like? What are their needs? A lot of people in this country go through their days numb. They need to be entertained. They need to feel something.”

It seems to me that genre fiction bears the brunt of the snobbery. In particular, romance, science fiction, chick lit, fantasy, and mysteries.

Handling Literary Snobbery as a Writer:

Acknowledge their point…to a point. But remind them that not every reader is a good candidate for the classics or literary fiction. Don’t we want to pull readers in by any means possible?

Ask if they’ve tried reading your genre before—hand them your card, make it a selling opportunity.

Point out that it takes all kinds of books to make complete library.

Ignore it or laugh it off.

Ask if they’ve read books in your genre with good crossover appeal. If you’re really trying to make a convert (maybe this is even a member of your family), you could recommend books in your genre that appeal to a wide audience. Maybe this person will read the book, enjoy it, and expand into other books in the genre.

Recommend a different subgenre of the one you write. So maybe the individual dislikes mysteries. But have they tried all the subgenres? Maybe they don’t like thrillers but would enjoy cozy mysteries. Maybe they don’t enjoy cozies, but would enjoy police procedurals or noir. At the least, you’ve given them food for thought. Or you could recommend titles in your genre that are particularly complex or unique—The Dune series for sci-fi doubters, And Then There Were None for people who pooh-pooh mysteries. And challenge them to read them.

Tweak your presentation. Yes, you can be a great candidate to talk to book clubs—even clubs that specialize in literary fiction. I’m the first to tell book clubs that I have a ‘machine washable’ book—one that they should find fun, mentally puzzling, and entertaining, but that isn’t a lit fic, ‘dry-clean-only’ book that needs to be analyzed or picked apart. Instead, at book club meetings I’ve attended where my book was featured, I’ve concentrated on speaking about the creative process and what goes into getting a book published.

I’ll never forget seven years ago when I volunteered at the elementary school library. A second grade boy was checking out a couple of picture books and I said, as I scanned them, “These are great books.”

A classmate of his, a little girl holding some chapter books, looked over and sneered, “Those are baby books.” And the little boy looked absolutely crushed and ashamed of the books he’d just excitedly picked out.

And I said to the girl in a remarkably calm voice (considering how completely furious I was), “These are two of my favorite books. I bought them myself for my family and we read them every week.” And didn’t she just shut that sassy mouth right up?

The important thing to me is that there are choices out there. Sometimes I want a bit of literary fiction. Sometimes I’ll pick up the classics. But sometimes nothing suits me better than a wonderfully-written genre novel. Reading is all about the escape from reality. It doesn’t matter how we get there.


Elizabeth Spann Craig’s:
Blog: Mystery Writing is Murder
Riley Adams Blogs at: Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen
Pretty is as Pretty Dies—August 2009—Midnight Ink
Delicious and Suspicious (as Riley Adams) July 2010— Penguin Books

Monday, February 8, 2010

Guest Blog: Jane Genre

Literary Snobs? Get Over Yourselves

As a writer of commercial fiction, I’ve experienced my share of literary snobbery. I get a lot of prickly-pat reviews like this: “Although the novel is well-written and entertaining, it’s definitely not War and Peace.”

Once a friend even remarked to me, “Your books are fun but I know you’re capable of weightier work.”

Most people think writing commercial fiction is easy. They imagine genre writers dashing off their prose in a few afternoons (in between soap operas and game shows) while more serious writers spend years in windowless garrets, exchanging a pound of flesh for every word.

I think writers, like most artists, have a predilection towards a certain type of work. Sure, it would be grand to have my mug on cover of Poets and Writers, and to be reviewed by the New York Times, but I’m consistently called to write lighter works. When I’ve tried to get serious and literary, the results haven’t been pretty.

I am, however, determined to the best commercial writer I can be, so I recently enrolled in an MFA program. I was prepared to encounter some literary snobbery, but didn’t think I’d be consistently hit over the head with it.
During my first semester, certain instructors continually made unflattering and misguided comments about commercial fiction and the people who write it.

There was no subtlety about it and it definitely made me uncomfortable .

Having been in the pub biz for several years, I’ve developed a skin like a crocodile. Still it’s annoying to pay big bucks to have what you do continually dissed. Usually I get that sort of abuse free of charge.

I honestly considered quitting, but instead I forced myself to overlook the snobbery and learn something.
The program was informative and well-run. I’m sure I’ll be a better writer when I finish. Will I be the next PEN/Faulkner recipient when I graduate? Not likely. But that wasn’t my goal.

I hope my experience was some kind of freakish anomaly, and that literary snobbery doesn’t run rampant in most MFA programs. Why pit writers against writers? All writing, whether it’s commercial or literary takes tremendous skill. Not to mention few readers start out devouring Proust. Commercial fiction is often a gateway drug to more serious fiction. Certainly there’s value in that.

MFA programs are designed to create literary writers and that’s fine and dandy. But with the realities in the marketplace (literary mags closing their doors, short story markets drying up), it wouldn’t hurt to acknowledge that some lessons can be gleaned from commercial fiction (plotting, pacing). Additionally while many agents find literary novels tough sells, they are always looking for “upmarket fiction,” which is a hybrid of commercial and literary fiction.
I love the idea of commercial and literary fiction mating to create something wonderful. So here’s my message to the literary snobs of the world: Make love, not war. Recognize the worth and the skill that goes into all fiction.

Jane Genre is a pseudonym for an author of several commerical fiction novels.

Q and A with Dr. Jack Gresham
Author of 18 Billion

Tell us about your new book, 18 Billion.

18 Billion is the story of a nuclear threat against the United States by Afghan immigrants, who are Muslim. They plan to use the threat to rob the New York Federal Reserve Bank of its cash reserves and send that money to a Mohammed of Babylon, whom they believe to be the Mahdi. Mohammed, who is a proclaimed “man of peace” wants no part of terrorist activity and after receiving the money, seeks to return it to the United States without betraying the trust of his fellow Muslims. There is also the underlying plot of an international terrorist group that requires interdiction at multiple sites around the world, involving agencies of the United States government. At the end, Mohammed finds that he has used means of terror to combat terror. It leaves him in a quandary that he must somehow resolve by choosing one of two doors before him in the fulfilling of his life’s purpose.

What inspired you to write 18 Billion?

Islamic jihadists are a fact of life now as never before in American history. The book brings that home with a driving force. Yet, I am convinced that there are Muslims of noble character who are torn between allegiance to their faith and wanting to hold on to certain moral convictions not espoused by their kindred. This, among other things became a phenomenon to explore.

What sort of research went into writing this international thriller?

Primarily internet research of the banking industry, branches of government (both domestic and foreign), and media reports of terrorist incidents.

What is your process for planning out characters and events in your novels?

I primarily plan and document action scenes that will flow with the story; I then create characters that fit into these scenes. Many characters come from my own imagination; some characters are inspired (not portrayed) by people I have known and worked with over my lifetime. Into this flow, I often interject ancillary events and statements that are not necessarily associated with the story, but elaborate on a theme projected by the story.

Why did you choose 18 billion as the amount of money to be stolen from the United States Federal Reserve?

It is a sizeable, yet not astronomical amount. Also, there was the need to immediately transfer that physical cash accumulation overseas by air. It seemed reasonable. It was only after the book was published that a wise Jewish lady asked me the same question. My explanation did not satisfy her. She took a sheet of paper and wrote “18” and next to it wrote the two Hebrew characters that designated that number. She then told me that those two characters together could be literally translated as “life” with the parting remark, “I was sure that you knew.”

You mentioned that writing is your third life career, after being a pilot in the United States Air Force and an orthopedic surgeon. Was writing always an interest of yours or did it only come about after retirement?
I have, for as long as I can remember, been one to write down thoughts and experiences. I never thought of writing as a career or even for publication until recently, although the germinal seeds for this book surfaced in my life during my five-year stay in Saudi Arabia, 1980-85.

What tips can you give aspiring writers looking to create compelling fiction using real events?

Be careful to not portray a character of fiction as you might actually know someone to be. Do not be in a hurry to abandon a character in the heights of success or the throes of despair. Do not lose sight of the fact that what you are portraying must lie within the realm of possibilities.

Dr. Jack Gresham started his career as a jet pilot in the United States Air Force, before earning his degree at the University of Miami School of Medicine in 1961. He established a specialization in orthopedic surgery and spent five years in Saudi Arabia developing an orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation department in a local hospital. Before his retirement in 2004, Gresham went on numerous medical mission trips abroad to places such as the Ukraine, Brazil and Africa. He also recently completed a tour on the board of directors for the Learning Institute for Elders (LIFE) at the University of Central Florida. Gresham currently lives with his wife, Moena, in Orlando, Fla. For more information, please visit

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What We Give Back
Peggy Webb

I had intended to talk about some of my most interesting book signings, but last Saturday evening I changed my mind. While attending a charity fundraiser for the Northeast Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross, I had a chance to visit with a former student of mine. Viv is her name. She’s a lovely, vivacious woman who always came to class smiling.

“Class” was a six-week night course I taught last fall under the auspices of the Continuing Education Department of Itawamba Community College. I seldom take time from my own work to teach anything except the occasional hour-long writing workshop at conferences, but the time seemed right. After twenty-five years as a professional writer, I have a body of knowledge I wanted to share.

And so began my journey with twenty eager students, some of them young (in their twenties), some of them entering the golden years, and some of them full-fledged professors seeking a different creative outlet. I’m an off-the-cuff speaker, and I decided to teach the same way, first finding out the needs of my students and then tailoring my class to meet those specific needs.

All that sounds dull and technical, but let me tell you, it was anything but! I taught them as one writer to another. We learned and shared and laughed a lot. In fact, we laughed so much the custodian whose job it was to close the building at nine after our class often hovered in the hall so he could eavesdrop. He had so much fun with us that he not only made a pot of coffee for our breaks but came into the class to serve it!

I loved my students. Their eagerness and hope and talent – some lovely and raw, some already well-honed - energized me. I wanted to take them all home with me, sit on the front porch and talk about writing for days on end.

My students gave me phone numbers, crayfish (I’m not kidding), invitations to dine, offers to help (Travis, I still have your number in case I get stranded in the Atlanta airport again!), and a glorious sense of giving something back.

Through the years I’ve had a wonderful support group, from booksellers to fellow writers to family and friends. It felt wonderful to turn my dreams around and let them flow back into the community that helped me make them come true. I’m certain there is a more sophisticated way of saying that, but this blog is not about sophistication and sounding erudite. It’s about sharing hope. It’s about giving back. It’s about having a former student come to me at a charity event and say, “You turned my life around.”

Viv told how my students eagerly awaited each class, how it was the “highpoint” of their week, how they appreciated being treated with respect and how I helped them learn to love writing. Her praise was better than all the writing awards hanging on my office wall.
I’m sure many of you have experienced this same satisfaction, either as a teacher or a student. I’ve love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Any Given Day: My Personal E-Novel Conversion by Andy Straka

You can hardly scan the headlines these days without seeing some reference to Apple's announcement of its soon-to-come iPad and online iBook store. That is if you could tear yourself away from the many articles and discussions about Google, Amazon, the Kindle, and the future of e-book pricing.

Does anyone really know what all these developments portend for the future of book publishing?

I don’t have much in the way of answers, but recently I had an experience that might begin to shed some glimmer of light on the subject. More than just the future of publishing may be at stake. It's the future of reading.

I made this discovery while sitting on an abnormally cold Florida beach wrapped in an abnormal number of towels and sweatshirts the first week in January enjoying a great book—Dennis Lehane's The Given Day. Reading The Given Day last month amounted to a Rubicon moment for me. Not because the novel is such a powerful story (though it is) but because of the means of my reading it. I had purchased the book as an e-book file downloaded from the Amazon Kindle store, magically transformed into pixilated words and read via The Amazon Kindle Store Apple “app” on the three and half inch screen of my wife's touch iPod.

Impossible, I would have said just a few short weeks ago.

No way would you ever find me reading an entire book, let alone Lehane’s latest (that weighs in at 700 pages in paperback) on some puny little piece of plastic and glass no matter how sophisticated and easy to use Steve Jobs and his disciples have managed to make it. I’m an old school English Major book guy after all, who in his fifty odd years has probably read a couple of thousand books, all of them, in one way or another, professionally and sometimes even beautifully laid out and printed with quality ink on fine paper with attractive covers. Yet there I was freezing at the beach in Florida reading and actually enjoying an entire e-novel.

Here’s how it happened.

On the flight down to Florida from Virginia, the first few pages of reading on the iPod screen were painful. The screen only held a portion of each page of the novel with no page numbers in sight, it was sometimes difficult to orient myself within the novel—was I still at the beginning? Had I missed or skipped a chapter or page? I almost gave up and decided to stop by a good old brick-and-mortar bookstore and pick up a hard copy of the novel. I was doing this for pleasure after all. Who needed the aggravation? But I chose to persevere, and along about the beginning of Chapter Two something magical happened. The iPod disappeared.

Not physically, of course. But I had become so drawn in to Lehane’s story, so seduced by the power of his words that the physical means of reading them ceased to matter anymore. In other words, the small iPod screen with its touch-flash turning of pages, once I became accustomed to it, lost all significance in comparison to the story.

I’m sure I’m far from the first to have had this experience. Conversely, others may not find their attempts at reading e-books so ultimately enjoyable. But for a reader like me, learning to enjoy reading a novel on a screen was a revolutionary development. And I’m only one reader. If it can happen to me, could it also happen in fairly short order to millions of others?

I’m now actually looking forward to getting my hands on an iPad. Does this mean I plan to stop buying printed novels? Of course not. But now I have another option, another viable means of enjoying fiction. I’ve also thought long and hard about my reading of The Given Day. Was it just the fact I was reading Lehane that sold me on the new reading medium or might it just as well have been any other quality book on the market today? In an e-book marketplace do certain types of books inherently have an advantage over others?

I’ll leave the detailed prognostications and hand-wringing about such questions as well as other issues such as rights, royalties, and piracy to others far more qualified than I to assess.

It’s reading after all and not publishing that is the true life blood of writers. Reading in all its beauty, all its glory, and all its madness. Maybe there is only one question we should really be asking ourselves. Where will reading take us next?

All I know is that as far as I’m concerned we writers now have another vital tool to help get our stories into the hands of readers. And from where I sit that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.

Andy Straka is the author of the Shamus Award-winning and Anthony and Agatha Award-nominated Frank Pavlicek novels. A licensed falconer and co-founder of thepopular Crime Wave at the annual Virginia Festival of the Book, Andy is also the author of Record Of Wrongs, which Mystery Scene magazine calls "a first-rate thriller." The latest book in the Pavlicek series is titled Kitty Hitter (ISBN 1594148120 Cengage/Five Star $25.95).