Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Novel Idea by Susan Cushman

Best-selling memoirist Mary Karr  (The Liar’s Club, Cherry) spent seven years writing Lit and threw away 2,000 pages in the process of revision. She wanted to write it with all the art of a novel and not just “report the events.”  She succeeded, both commercially and with her work as an artist.  In a recent interview she calls memoir “an outsider’s art” and says, “It’s like little weird, crazy people carving the Lord’s Prayer in a grain of rice.”

That’s what I’ve been trying to write for the past four years. And of course I want it to sound like Karr . . . or Anne Lamott or Haven Kimmel or Joan Didion!  Francine Prose says Karr “alternates high lyricism with a raunchy cowboy noir.” Okay, I didn’t grow up in Texas so there won’t be any “cowboy noir” in my writing, but I’d love to combine a degree of lyricism with some gritty Southern spirituality.

Four years before I discovered Karr’s memoirs, I fell in love with Cassandra King’s autobiographical novel, The Sunday Wife. I met Cassandra at the Southern Festival of Books in Memphis in October of 2006 and she encouraged me to write a novel. I penned “The Sweet Carolines” in the next two months and sent it to a freelance editor. Her suggestions for reconstructing the novel were so massive that I just put it in a box on a shelf. It so narrowly disguised the true story that was begging to be told that I stifled the characters, not allowing them to take on a life of their own. My agenda suffocated them.

So I turned my pen to creative nonfiction, studying with the “Godfather” of CNF, Lee Gutkind, and also Dinty Moore, and honing the craft at numerous conferences and workshops. Monthly critique sessions with a writing group helped, and I began to send out personal essays for publication. Eight of those have found homes in various journals and magazines, including “Blocked,” which was a finalist in the Santa Fe Writers Project’s 2007 Literary Awards. A ninth essay—“Jesus Freaks, Belly Dancers and Nuns”—will be included in an anthology on Southern women and spirituality coming out later this year from the University of Alabama Press. (This will be the second anthology edited by Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed.)

But the memoir is stuck in the birth canal. I outlined it once and drafted sixteen chapters before I hit an emotional wall. So I started over with a different title and approach, but only made it to chapter four before hitting that same wall. It’s not so much that the painful parts of my life are too difficult to write about. It’s more that the people who caused the pain left others in their wake who might be hurt by what I’m writing. As a survivor of incest and sexual abuse, my purpose in writing isn’t therapeutic, it’s art. It’s a story wanting to be told and there are people waiting to hear it. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t write.

A few weeks ago I participated in a one-day writing workshop led by Margaret Love-Denman as part of the Oxford Conference for the Book in Oxford, Mississippi. In my one-on-one critique session with Margaret, we talked about the chapters of my memoir-in-progress. But we also talked about the art and craft of the novel. And then I came home and read her book, Novel Ideas: Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process, in which she and Barbara Shoup interview twenty successful novelists (including Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Larry Brown, Richard Ford and Dorothy Allison). They also include a meaty introduction and a few writing exercises in the front of the book.  What a treasure.

I took the book with me to the beach last week and devoured it. On my last day, I had a revelation.  I’m leaving the memoir behind for now. I’m still going to draw on memories from my own life, but instead of retelling an entire story, I’m going to try something Love-Denman and Shoup suggest in their book:

“To reshape real experiences for fiction, you may combine memories, break them up to use bits and pieces throughout the novel, or take one small kernel of memory and spin it into a completely imagined world.”

I’m going to write a novel. Wow. Seeing that in print is kind of like hearing yourself tell someone, out loud, that you’re going on a diet. Somehow you feel accountable. So there it is—on March 31, 2010, I’m beginning my fourth book. My second novel (two were memoirs). And maybe, just maybe, it will carry that kernel of memory into a world of imagination and brave characters and a plot that works. Taking a cue from Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, I’m thinking about weaving the fictionalized lives of two real women—one from fifth century Egypt and one contemporary Southerner—into a mystical tale of survival, spiritual healing and redemption. The fifth century Egyptian is an Orthodox saint known as Mary of Egypt. One of her two Feast Days is tomorrow, April 1, so as I begin this work I will pray, "Holy Mother Mary, pray to God for me." (This detail from an icon I painted shows Saint Mary of Egpyt. She is also commemorated on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent.)

I can’t wait to get started. I’ll keep you posted on the ups and downs. I’ve got my mojo on, but it’s always exciting in the beginning, isn’t it? Like a first kiss. Thanks for reading!

Susan Cushman lives in Memphis with her husband and her 20-year-old cat, Oreo. She has three grown adopted “kids,” an eight-month-old granddaughter (and another on the way) and thirteen Godchildren. A convert to the Orthodox faith, Susan paints Byzantine-style icons with egg tempera and teaches iconography workshops. Her essays have been published in First Things: The Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life, The Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Journal, skirt! Magazine, Southern Women’s Review, Mom Writers Literary Journal, and Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal. Her blog is Pen and Palette.

Don't judge a book by a....Facebook status?

by Karen Harrington

Recently a blogger got in touch with me after reading my novel Janeology and posed one of those questions which make me keenly aware that very interesting things happen after you release a book into the world.

She commented “I’m curious about something. I’ve gotten to know you a bit through Facebook and on your blog and was surprised by the dark subject of your book because your Facebook comments are always witty and fun.”

Talk about things that make you think.

Her curiosity got me to thinking about the whole nature of public perception as it relates to author blogging and Facebook updates. This is a fascinating area all by itself. For instance, one of my Facebook author friends met a girl, fell in love with a girl and broke up with a girl – and I read about the entire relationship life-cycle via his Facebook status updates. Reading the intimacies of his joy through heartbreak – one sentence at a time – probably caused me to make assumptions about his personality. By the time of the break-up, I was ready to flog the girl who broke his heart. She seemed mean and cruel while he seemed so sensitive and misunderstood.

Was this true? Maybe. Or maybe he was the jerk. Or maybe worse – a stalker! Only he knows. But his Facebook personality certainly made him sympathetic.

Now, this whole topic makes me wonder if a writer’s virtual personality necessarily has to match his/her writing themes. Do I necessarily need to post things about human nature and the dark nuances of humanity so you’ll know I write novels about troubled souls?

Perhaps I do, but the blog wouldn’t last for long.

When I was first published, I did whatever my publisher advised. If they said, start a blog, I did. If they said join every social networking site, I did. I thought I was blogging to sell books, but then I realized I was doing it for the sheer benefits of connecting with other people. A writer’s day is pretty solitary, but checking in with blog friends and Facebook pals is sort of like getting up and walking over to a co-worker’s cubicle and saying “Hey, did you get those TPS reports?”

So for this reason, I’ve created a blog that (I think) offers the kind of at-work discussion I’d like to have with you during a stressful day. Sometimes it reflects my writing themes, but mostly it reflects my writing struggles and my reading interests. When I take a break from writing a particularly emotional scene, it’s nice to switch gears and read a book review or write an opinion piece. Does this give an opposite impression from the themes of my writing? Well, yes. Only time will tell if that has an impact on my future readership. The novel I'm pitching now, Prodigal Son, is about the ripple effect hypocrisy has on a family after their patriarch, a famous mega-preacher, falls from grace. Will it sway readers either way if, after the book is released, I post on essay on why I think the Snuggie craze is hilarious? Maybe so.

I guess what I’ve realized about that reader’s question is this: Having a virtual personality is an interesting side effect of being a novel writer. And come what may, I’ll continue to do it because the social benefits are far greater than I could ever have imagined. (And where else can I write and publish my opinions the Snuggie?)

Karen Harrington is the author of the psychological suspense Janeology and the children's book There's A Dog in The Doorway. She can be found in Texas, writing, planting pink geraniums and awaiting that magical moment when a lovely agent calls and tells her Prodigal Son was the page-turner she's been looking for all year. Oh, and her witty blog updates can be found here.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hats off to Grandmothers

  Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about stories-- beginnings, middles and ends-- and my grandmother. Maybe it’s because this week would have been her 110th birthday. Maybe it’s that I’m beginning to be a grandmother myself. Then again, I really think it’s about all the things she taught me, and the stories she shared, that I still carry around.

Marrying a beloved only child of a very young mother is not a particularly auspicious way to begin a life together, but that was what my mother was handed. Given this vexing situation, Mama accepted her lot and mostly sallied forth. Not even when my grandmother built a little house close enough to ours that she could peer inside our bedroom windows should we not draw the blinds at night did my mother complain to my siblings and me. Grandmother loved to eavesdrop, listen in, give advice, needed or not.

But thankfully, most of my memories are from long before I became a teen who didn’t want anybody, much less a grandmother, to know if my lights stayed on past midnight. My best memories are of her reading to a much younger me, telling me stories, pouring over the aging reference books lined up child-high on the living room shelf right next to her glass bowl of Hershey’s kisses. To a curious child, the Book of Knowledge was vastly more interesting that my own mother’s stacks of decorating magazines.

Not only did she share her encyclopedias, she read to me from a fascinating picture book I still own, Children of the Presidents, claiming we were descended from William Henry Harrison. Never mind that he was possibly the least distinguished president ever to serve, or that he attempted little to change that, Grandmother was delighted to claim kin to anyone who showed up inside the covers of a book.

Like so many of the Southerners in my family, she was a storyteller, a singer of lullabies, a talker at bridge games, an exaggerator. She gobbled up series mysteries, Harlequin romances, and every best seller she could get her hands on, which inspired her and a group of women in our little Mississippi town to found the public library.  She taught Sunday school most of her life, forgetting more Bible stories than I’ll ever know. She worked side-by-side with my grandfather, mostly bossing him around and ruling the roost, often looking the other way at his shenanigans.

I once heard a social historian comment that my generation has more in common with our grandmothers’ generation than we do with our mothers’. While most of my friends’ mothers were what we now call stay-at-home moms, many of our grandmothers weren’t. Our grandmothers enabled future generations to vote, and my generation gave our daughters opportunities to choose.

Although my grandmother may never have carried a sign, she told me stories of women who did amazing things. Late at night, she’d whisper the saga of her own grandmother who had left a gentile Virginia life to follow her young husband to the wild Mississippi territory.

Some days Grandmother pulled out her “strong box” for me. She’d open the letter written by her grandfather from a Civil War battlefield. She’d carefully unfold his pardon for fighting in the “War Between the States,” a treasure passed down to her, now to me, soon to my own daughter. To her, no document, no book, no memory was without its story.

So hats off to Southern grandmothers who inspire grandchildren to make up their own tales. Happy birthday and thanks for all the stories.

Augusta Scattergood grew up in Cleveland, Mississippi, where her paternal grandmother Carrie Byrd Russel read Bible stories, fairy tales, and Uncle Remus stories late into the nights and never once rationed the Hershey kisses.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Books I've Sold and Other Elusive Numbers

By Nicole Seitz

My husband's favorite question for me when I walk in the door from a book event is, "How many books did you sell?" I CAN'T STAND this question. Makes me want to pull my hair out. Or his. Don't get me wrong, I understand that he's a number's guy, he likes statistics, figures and things adding up--but honestly, the numbers DON'T add up. Ever. Rarely have a done an event, whether in a book store or book club or speaking to an organization, where the number of books I sold actually made the event worth it, financially speaking.

It's not about how many books you sell. In fact, if you try to keep count, you'll have a hard time getting the gumption up to do it again the next time. Trust me on this.

You never know what you're going to get when you sign books at a bookstore, school, etc. I've sold over 150 books at one event. I've sold zero at another. You just never know. So why do you do it? you might wonder. I'm glad you asked. Here's what I tell my husband:

I do these events, not only because it's part of the job and good to get your name and face out there, but because there are people involved. Real live human beings. I sit all day long behind my computer, writing, researching, imagining fictitious characters and their worlds... It's a solitary existence. Occasionally I get a lovely note from a reader who enjoyed a book, and he/she tells me why. These notes are pure gold. I save them and stare at them when the going gets tough. But the book events take a lot of effort...traveling, packing up, slogging everything along. As such, they require more preparation.

Here's what I do. First, I pray on my way in the car. Yes, my Southern grandmother always told me to "go first class" when I drive, which, to you Northern folks means, "let Jesus take the wheel." Since he's already in the car, I choose to talk to him on my way to book events. I ask him to bless the people I'm going to meet. To give me the words to say. Occasionally, he really gets creative.

Recently, I was describing my four books to a lady and said of one, "This one deals with suicide. It's a book about learning to live again. A book about healing." Mind you, I NEVER mention that word, s-u-i-c-i-d-e, so as not to scare people off, but for some odd reason, that's the lovely way I described Trouble the Water. The woman looked at me, picked up the book and said, "This is the one I want. I've always been suicidal." Gulp. I signed it for her, and she looked at me hard as she walked away. To this day I pray for her healing. To this day I don't understand fully how I was prompted to say that word that resonated so deeply with her.

Another time I was in a bookstore and a woman walked by. I thought I knew her for some reason, so I said hello. She continued on, so I insisted, "Don't I know you?" We talked it over and no, we'd never met. Then she told me her name. It struck a chord with me. I remembered personalizing a book for that same name the year before. How did I remember that? It turns out, this woman had indeed received a book of mine from a friend. She said it had been especially poignant for her since she's a breast cancer survivor and Trouble the Water also deals with that. We'd never met, yet had some connection forged through a book. As if we knew each other. Goodness. Blows me away.

I could go on with the strange coincidences of book events, but I'll just say this: there are real live people involved. You never know about a word of encouragement you may give, the things people will open up about, the tears they'll shed, the laughs you'll share, the characters you'll see before you that may wind up in a future book...you just never know. It's give and take, this beautiful dance between author and readers, and sometimes, they don't even buy the book! Sometimes, they just talk. Or ask where the bathroom is, or tell you about a loved one. Or just touch you in some amazing way.

When my husband asks me how many books I've sold, I still cringe. I can't help it. "It's not about that," I tell him. Being a numbers guy and all, this book-writing business is all about the number of books I sell. It only makes sense to him. But being an author, I can assure you it's not about that at all. Sure, big numbers would be terrific, I won't lie, but if that's why you do it, you will be sorely disappointed in this profession. Being an author is about people, emotion, connections. It's about intangible things no numbers could ever quantify.

How many books will I sell at my next event? Don't know. Could be 1000. Might be zero. I may be able to count on my fingers, possibly my toes. But how many incredible book event experiences have I had since my first novel, The Spirit of Sweetgrass, came out in 2007? I don't know. Too many to believe. I stopped counting long, long ago.

Nicole Seitz is the author and cover illustrator of four novels. Saving Cicadas was an Indie NEXT List Notable (Jan 2010), a Pulpwood Queens Book Club Bonus Selection (Feb 2010), and a 2010 SIBA Book Award nominee. A Hundred Years of Happiness was a CBN.com Summer Reading Pick and 2009 SIBA Book Award nominee. Trouble the Water was chosen as one of the Best Books of 2008 by Library Journal and went into a second printing two weeks after release.

Nicole lives in the beautiful lowcountry of South Carolina with her sweet (and good with numbers) husband and two children. When traveling, she always goes first class. Find her at http://www.nicoleseitz.com/.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Once Upon a Time...

...there was a first sentence that killed any chance I ever had to find an agent.

It's an undeniable truth.  For all the work you put into that manuscript, for all the effort you pour into character, story, plot devices, twists, graphical oddities, and the like, you won't get a solid read without a strong opening.  You may feel, as you package that manuscript in a manilla envelope, and drop it off at the Post Office (hey, please allow me these simple rememberences, and don't remind me that my email inbox is the post office of the future...I'm not ready yet.), that you are a solitary voice on the way to a private meeting with the agent--or agents--of your choosing, but the truth is, you are but a shallow echo in the cavernous cacophony of potential suitors.  The agent simply does not have the time to meander, and suffer their way through every manuscript that arrives on their desk.  It boils down to what you present when the assumed Once upon a time is out of the way.  Hook them, or you're in the slush pile.

Seems a bit harsh, right?  Seems like they'll miss some true quality simply by stopping a few paragraphs into a manuscript.  And they do.  They miss quite a few.  They miss quite a lot.  They miss them all, and stamp them with, "Not."  Which is the reason why you have to invest so much into that intro.  You have to make them want to read on.  Sure, they might push forward if you display talent, and the potential to even things up as the book goes along.  That's the kind of work that can be molded.  But if you offer a generic peek into your world, or hand them a limp stick to walk through your path, they'll just toss you aside, and forget your name before they've properly let go.  They don't have the time for writers who won't invest the time in a few paragraphs that make their time worthwhile.  SEE?

You don't have to blow something up, or kill someone, in the first paragraph (though it never hurts, right?), but you do have to offer something.  Think of any time in your childhood when you had to ask mom, or dad, or grandpa, or whomever, for that big favor. That big request. That biggest of the big things that you wanted, or places that you wanted to go.  How did you present it?  Did you just run up screaming, "OHMYGODMOMIHAVETOHAVEIT!"  And if you did, it probably didn't get you too far.  Surely, some explanation would be necessary to woo her/him/them.  Or, instead, did you take some time to plan out the intro to that conversation, so that you calmly presented yourself more in the, "So, you remember that time you said I should broaden my spiritual horizons?  Well guess where Randy, and his family are going?" frame? A place in which the question was intriguing, and the answer was left dangling ever so slightly out of reach?  Well, your manuscript is what you want published, and the agent is your mom--far too busy to invest in lengthy discussion for something she's not likely to let you do/have, and unwilling to take your word for it simply because you're screaming at her about it.

Take the time.  Plan it out.  If your manuscript is solid, if it is strong, it will stand on its own (or can be worked through edits) if you offer a door worth walking through.  Work on the intro.  Find the interest.  Make it move in your hands, draw your reader (and, naturally, the agent) to the pages beyond.  It's the kickstart to the engine.  Make it purr.

Keep it reigned in, and don't let it get away from you.

The agent will love you for it.

Zachary Steele is the author of Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEO, and the forthcoming Flutter: An Epic of Mass Distraction, 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.

The Pulpwood Queen, the "Forrest Gump" of Book Publishing!

I have this uncanny ability it seems to me to be at the right place at the right time.  Remember Forrest Gump, the book by Winstom Grooms and the film?  Forrest would appear at the most opportune moments. The first time I really noticed this was when I stepped off a plane standing between what I thought were two of the ugliest guys I had ever seen.  Camera crews came swooping in and I was stuck between them.  I had just landed in Austin and was heading to Willie Nelson's Last Picnic.  I think I was around 19 or 20 at the time.  These reporters were shouting questions and I just stood there just like Forrest Gump, stuck.  I couldn't move forward and I couldn't move back.  Later I found out it was The Who!  Whose The Who I thought and was told, you ninny, that was Peter Townsend and Roger Daltry.  All I remember was their really bad skin and that Peter guy had a broken arm.  I know we made the nightly news and newspapers.
Years later, I got lost at Book Expo and went through a wrong door.  I entered a room packed to the gills with a line that ran all the way through the convention center.  I shockingly realized I was standing right behind Oprah Winfrey and wearing a really enormous hat.  I quickly turned to try to go back the way I came but the door had locked behind me.  All these cameras were flashing as I slowly moved along the wall trying to get out of camera frame.  I laugh to myself thinking who was filming this thinking, who is that crazy hat lady sliding across the wall.  I have many, many of these type of stories.  Yes, I can relate to Forrest Gump.
Flash forward to when I first opened my Hair Salon/Book Store, Beauty and the Book, I had scored a real coo by getting author, Cassandra King to come to my shop and visit my book club.  I had no idea that Cassandra had married New York Time's Bestselling author, Pat Conroy, I had just fell in love with her book, "Making Waves", about a young southern woman who had inherited her aunt's hair salon and home, a perfect read for my newly formed Pulpwood Queens Book Club. 
Anyhoo, Cassandra was talking to me about her story when I told her I was writing my own story, the story of Beauty and the Book and my book club.  I asked her who her literary agent was and she told me Marly Rusoff of Marly Rusoff & Associates.  I slapped my head and told her, "Are you kidding me?  I know Marly!"
Years ago when I was a Children's Book Store Manager and Buyer, I had met Marly per phone as I was trying my darndest to get Pat Conroy to come to Texas.  "Beach Music" had just been released and I was determined to get my all-time favorite author to come to East Texas.  Cassandra laughed her beautiful laugh and told me, "You do know I am married to Pat Conroy!"  Well, I just about croaked on the spot.
I shared my story on how I had met Marly and had actually worked with her quite a bit in bringing authors to that independent bookstore but lost touch with her when I became a book publisher's representative. She filled me in on all their lives, again a Forrest Gump moment.
Later Marly emailed me and as I was emailing her back, she called.  She had heard from Cassandra that I was writing a book and she wanted to represent me.  Ole "Forrest", a.ka. Kat could not have been more thrilled.  It was Marly who took me and my book proposal to the New York publishing houses to pitch my book.  She's the one who got me my Grand Central Publsihing book deal. January 2008, my book, "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life" was born!
When people say they can't thank their literary agents enough, I understand completely.  But we made a pact, Marly and I, no matter what happened regarding my writing, we would remain good friends.  Till the day I die, we will always be the best of friends.
Now Cassandra has been back to my shop and my events many times.  I even got sent one of Pat's best friends, Pulitzer Prize winner and author, the late great Doug Marlette.  Our brief friendship will always be one that I will treasure forever.  You see he was killed in a hydroplaning car accident.  Not a day goes by that I don't think of Doug and his incredible intelllect and distorted sense of humor.  I would never have met him if it wasn't for Cassandra and Marly and then this past year, Pat Conroy finally came to East Texas.  He not only came for my 10th Anniversary Girlfriend Weekend, he brought his author/daughter, Melissa Conroy, and his good friend and author, Janis Owens.  What wonderful, wonderful people and such wonderful books!  Life is good my friends.
I still keep pinching myself remembering what a time we had at my Pulpwood Queen and Timber Guy Book Club Convention which we call Girlfriend Weekend.  My life in books has come full circle but it's not over my friends.  The blessings I receive everyday all come because I am a reader.
So if you are a new writer out there, my advice.  Read.  Read alot.  The more I read the more the more great things happen to me. 
I was reading that day right before I got off that plane in Austin, probably why I was oblivious to being smack dab in the middle of the band The Who!  I was also reading that day I took the wrong door and ended up right behind Oprah at Book Expo.  Little did I know then that years later I would appear on her show!
Oh, I know you are thinking these were just random occurances, you were just lucky.  But like Forrest Gump, I believe that someone who is pure in heart in their passion, good things will happen to you.
You've heard the saying a kazillion times, "Run, Forrest, Run".  The Kat is saying "Read, You All, Read!"  my dreams have come true and yes, "Life is like a box of chocolates".  Somebody just gave me a big ole box!
Tiara wearing and Book Sharing,
Kathy L. Patrick
Author of "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life"
Founder of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Club
P.S. Come meet me in person as I will be at the Arkansas Book Festival the second week in April and then at the Alabama Book Festival the third weekend in April.  I can hardly wait to see who I will meet at these festivals.  Hmmm, perhaps Winstom Grooms!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Q and A With Sibella Giorello, Author of the Raleigh Harmon Series

Closing her assignment with the FBI's Seattle office, forensic geologist Raleigh Harmon returns to her hometown of Richmond, Virginia, expecting a warm welcome. Instead she finds herself investigating an ugly cross burning at a celebrity's mansion and standing in the crosshairs of her boss at the Bureau. And the deeper Raleigh digs into the case, the murkier the water becomes...until she's left wondering who the real victims might be.

To make matters worse, Raleigh's personal life offers almost zero clarity. Her former confidant is suddenly remote while her former boyfriend keeps popping up wherever she goes. And then there's her mother. Raleigh's move home was supposed to improve Nadine's fragile sanity, but instead seems to be making things worse.

As the threads of the case begin crossing and double-crossing, Raleigh is forced to rely on her forensic skills, her faith, and the fervent hope that breakthrough will come, bringing with it that singular moment when the clouds roll away and everything finally makes sense.

Tell us the backstory behind writing the Raleigh Harmon series. I've read you wanted to write a different kind of mystery.

When Raleigh Harmon appeared on the page, I'd been reading mysteries for many years. So many years that I was about to quit. The secular mysteries were too dark, too gratuitous about violence and death -- and boy, was I sick of reading about demented Christians. But meanwhile the faith-based mysteries didn't always reflect real life, whose harsh truths slapped my face daily as a newspaper reporter.The book I wanted to read was missing. So I decided to write it.Raleigh Harmon came along as a kickin' Christian. She knows evil exists; she doesn't flinch from reality; she struggles daily.But she knows God's in charge. And He's good.
So good He loves the bad guys, too.

The latest installment is called "The Clouds Roll Away." What's  the story behind the title?

In this series, each title reflects some spiritual hurdle that Raleigh's facing. As a geologist, she's literally grounded in nature. But as a
Christian, she's forever looking over the horizon line. That duality of earth-and-heaven is reflected in the titles: The Stones
Cry Out, The Rivers Run Dry, The Clouds Roll Away. This last title reflects the idea that God isn't visible to us except during mere moments of time, little slivers of life, when the clouds roll away and we get a glimpse of eternity -- right before the clouds
roll back and we're forced to continue walking by faith.

You're from Richmond and the series takes place in Richhmond but you now live in Washington state. What do you miss most about Richmond?

Actually, I'm not from Richmond. I grew up in Alaska. But I moved to Richmond to work on the daily newspaper. I discovered a second home.Now that I've moved back west, what I miss are the Southerners themselves.Each region of America has its strengths, but Southerners are the best story tellers. And the most gracious. That means when you're invited to
"supper," you get more than a meal. You receive these remarkable stories
filling your heart and soul.I also miss the accents, the shifting lyricism from Virginia to the Carolinas, from Alabama and Georgia to Louisiana. They're all beautiful. And they turn the simplest phrases into poetry.

 Both you and your main character Raleigh have backgrounds in geology. Any other similarities?

Mt. Holyoke College gave us the geology degrees.And we both love a great cheeseburger.

Do you outline your novels or are you more of an organic writer?

I've tried both methods, but fall somewhere in the middle. It's like planning a trip: Hang on to your itinerary but don't pass up
serendipity. That's where joy comes in, along with the supernatural guidance every writer needs for encouragement.

Who are some of your literary influences?
Since I was a science major in college, and pretty much a flunky in high school, I can't claim any notable greats for literary influences. But my grandmother was a librarian and funneled literature into me from an early age.
In the realm of mystery writers, my influences are the people who carved out the genre, paving the way for a protagonist like Raleigh Harmon. My personal favorites are John D. MacDonald and Ross Thomas and Dashiell
Hammett. More modern influences are James Lee Burke and of course the real trailblazer for female sleuths, Sue Grafton. I wish we could extend the alphabet for that woman.

Sibella Giorello began her writing career as a journalist. Her stories have won awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer. Her novel The Stones Cry Out won a Christy Award. Visit her at http://www.sibellagiorello.com/

Monday, March 22, 2010

Hoarding Pays

Instead of writing, I’ve lately been watching old movies and television shows. One reality show (and I have to question how realistic these reality shows are) was about hoarders, and I found myself fascinated with their compulsion to collect and save. They remind me of squirrels gathering nuts for the winter and of some of my family members on my dad’s side. They save newspaper clippings, pencils and pens, clothing, tin foil, and anything else that might come in handy later. Problem is that when later comes they still don’t use them.
Part of me knows I got the hoarding gene, too. Just last week when I was working on my dog’s new pen, I needed some stakes to prop up some two-by-fours I was using to frame the floor to pour concrete. Then it hit me. I had some old tobacco sticks I had been given from a friend of mine who was living on a farm in 1990 that I could use to plant in the dirt to hold up the wood frame. When I went to the garage to find them, they were gone. I panicked: “Had someone come and stolen my tobacco sticks?” I ran in and asked my wife. “Oh, we threw those out last year when we were cleaning the garage.” I stomped away, pouting, and it just reinforced my need to hoard. I could have used them. Sure it had been 20 years, but the time had come when I needed them. I ended up driving to Lowe’s to buy wooden stakes. Had the tobacco sticks still been there, I could have saved five dollars.
                When I read the topic for this month, I immediately thought I should quote some of the hundreds of emails I’ve hoarded on my pc (one reason it’s slow) from agents and editors I’ve solicited about my two books. Sometimes, I even queried them by email when their websites strictly prohibited such behavior.  I felt like the deviant teen that was sneaking a smoke or a drink when adults weren’t paying attention. Guess what? Some of those agents and critics emailed me back. Some of the hot shot New York agents fascinate me with their knowledge of the market, of what people want to read. One wrote, “If this was a Young Adult book, I’d be all over it.” Another wrote, “Your writing reminds me of the work of Clyde Edgerton---Southern humor---but that’s not selling now.”  Another wrote, “I’m swamped now; check back next year.” So, over two hundred queries later, I was without an agent and kept on submitting to publishing companies that would read manuscripts from authors without agents.
The deviant teen resurfaced, too, when it came to multiple submissions. I ignored their rules and submitted as many as I could. After all, I could always blame in on my heritage as a Southerner. Despite the fact we’ve entered the twenty-first century, much of the world still believes the people of the South are backwards. I learned that lesson about obeying the multiple submission rule the hard way with the first book, which I submitted to one publisher at a time. One small publishing company in Tennessee kept the manuscript for a complete year, and of course, when I would ask about an update, apologizing for bothering them (avoiding any word or phrase that might kill the hope of publication), I would get responses such as “It’s on his desk” (3 months), “He’s still considering” (6 months), “He’s been out of the country” (9 months), and finally “We’re sorry we’ve kept it so long, but we just don’t believe it will sell given today’s market” (12 months).
I don’t know that I’ve been the victim of literary snobbery. My first book Road Kill Art and Other Oddities had less than ten reviews, most of which were positive. I’m sure my university colleagues would scoff at such a story collection. The title alone would turn them off, them thinking Bubba had written another how to “fix” supper with the latest road kill. Of course, that thinking would be more closed minded than not, since the book wasn’t about that anyway. The writing probably wouldn’t have impressed the snobs either. I was never one for dressing up writing with multiple adjectives and run-on sentences when something could be said quicker.  I don’t believe you need to have the Oxford dictionary handy to be able to read a good book.  I’m not liberal enough for many of the critics. I’m just an ordinary middle-of- the-road moderate type thinker who doesn’t want to get way off into left field issues. Saving the mosquito population, the fire ants, or the gnats doesn’t appeal to me, and if those people had to live with them, they wouldn’t want them saved either.  
With the release of Lead Me Home last week, it’s too soon to tell what the reviews and critics might say. Whatever they say, I will save it and most likely use it to my advantage later.
My advice to writers and students when I give readings and talk about writing is to be persistent, know the rules enough to violate them, and don’t worry what others say. Sooner or later, everyone is six feet under and what someone thought of you and your writing won’t much matter anyway. Now that this is the second time in a week when my hoarding has proved useful, I’m going on a hoarding crusade, preaching the good news of saving. But just like anything else, moderation is the key.

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. He is currently Professor of Humanities and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton. Web Site: www.nilesreddick.com

Friday, March 19, 2010

Q and A with Jenny Gardiner, author of WINGING IT

Tell us about your latest release and the inspiration behind it.

My book is a memoir, titled WINGING IT: A MEMOIR OF CARING FOR A VENGEFUL PARROT WHO'S DETERMINED TO KILL ME (Gallery Books). Think of it as David Sedaris meets Marley & Me, with a deadly beak. It's about an African gray parrot with an attitude who arrived as a surprise Christmas gift the year we had our new baby. Life has never been the same.

The idea grew over many years. We got this parrot as a gift--my brother-in-law came back from Africa one Christmas with parrots for the family, and we ended up with the ornery one. And over the years, stories about her have become so legendary, she is such an entertaining thing (when she's not being vicious). I have written about her for my newspaper column before and people were so interested in her. At dinner parties, she becomes the focus of everyone's interest--we've had her now for almost 2 decades and people are always so entertained by her and stories about her, so I thought it would be fun to do a book. My sort of funny backstory is YEARS ago, I was sitting in a bat mitzvah, and I get really antsy when I'm a captive audience, especially when everything isn't in a language I can remotely understand. So when I was sitting there for like 3-1/2 arduous hours (it was a high holiday so they had a huge service with it), I pulled out a notebook and pen and HANDWROTE four chapters of what would eventually become this book...

What has brought you the greatest joy since you were published, and what has caused you the greatest angst?

I think just hearing from readers who have really enjoyed reading what I've written. I love to be able to entertain/divert/amuse people with my writing, to give them time to escape the everyday and just go somewhere fun or interesting for a while.

The angst just comes with the vagaries of the industry right now. What would have been published with ease two short years ago is being shunned with regularity now. It's very frustrating because so many authors know that they're writing wonderful books, but these books may never see publication because of so much uncertainty and financial instability, and of course the drastic paradigm shifts happening in the industry.But it's nothing any of us writers have a bit of control over, so I try to ignore it!

Tell us about your writing process. Do you outline or are you more organic?

I love that you call that organic. It sounds so much more deliberate and literary that way ;-). Yes I am very much an organic--i.e. seat-of-the-pants--writer. I have ideas, I sort of "noodle" them in my head for a while sometimes before I commit them to the page, but I do like to just sit down and type.

What is a typical writing day like for you?

There really is no typical day for me. I've got 3 kids, so I'm at the mercy of their schedules first. Ideally I am up before dawn and at the gym and home before 7, then get the kids off to school, then come home to write. In reality there are often so many things going on that it's not that simple. Long ago I adapted to that writing lifestyle and take my laptop with me whenever I know I'll have even an idle 10 minutes.

Do you have a vice that you’ve given up, but long to continue?

Currently I've given up Mint M&Ms for Lent. And while I know I can go back to them (while the limited supply lasts!) in a few weeks, I'm disinclined to because it was a habit I needed to break. I did that last year with Peanut M&Ms and it seemed to stick. Though I think I just end up trading one bad habit for another.

How do you promote your books? Are you going on tour for this book? Any upcoming signings?
With my first novel, Sleeping with Ward Cleaver, I actually won a publishing contract in the American Title III contest (sort of an American Idol for books). And I won that by surviving a 6-month period of online voting. What was wonderful about that was it really gave me a leg-up on marketing--particularly online marketing--a product that at the time wasn't even a tangible book one could buy. But I guess you'd call me an "early adapter" LOL to capitalizing on the internet as a marketing tool. So I do try to maximize my online presence as much as possible, especially because with a family it's hard to technically "tour" when book comes out. I do do plenty of appearances and signings, try to do as many book festivals as I can afford, and do whatever media appearances as possible.

I'm appearing on a panel and signing at the Virginia Festival of the Book, in fact, March 21. I've got a signing at Fountain Books in Richmond, VA, on April 8, and at the Barnes & Noble, Tyson's Corner, VA, on April 16. I'm also at the PennWriters Conference in Lancaster, PA in mid-May. We're setting up other events still.

What is the most difficult part of being an author?

The time it takes to market and publicize oneself. I don't mind marketing and publicizing, but I'd way rather be just focusing on writing books, and rue the day that this became so much more the onus of the author. I understand why it is that way, but wasn't it a beautiful thing in this country when those with an area of expertise were able to take care of that end of things, rather than nowadays when it seems that everyone is expected to do everything themselves? There was a time when people didn't pump their own gas--remember that? And you hired someone to come fix things, rather than trying to patch it together yourself. Ah, but I digress...

What do you love about being an author?

I love to write. I love to be able to make up a story that ends up being something with which others find entertainment/comfort/diversion. I love that as a writer I have the ability to touch other people, maybe bolster their sagging spirits even.

What's one piece of writing advice you've found valuable on your journey to publication?

Believe in yourself. This business can be demoralizing--it's all so subjective, so you have to trust in your gut that you're a good writer with a good product, one that just hasn't found the right editor yet. If you allow yourself to be dragged down by rejection, you'll only end up marinating in a gray fug of gloom half the time.

Jenny is an author from central Virginia. Please visit her at  http://www.jennygardiner.net/

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Joshilyn Jackson: 39 True Things About My Agent

1) His name is Jacques de Spoelberch.

2) You say his first name the same way you say “Jack,” but with a soft J. There is no ah or aw sound in it. Just a regular A. This is because it is the BELGIAN kind of Jacques, not the French kind.

3) You say his last name like a roll of thread meeting a grizzly: “Spool Bear.”

4) He is well over 6 feet tall in reality.

5) He is about 11 feet tall in my mind.

6) He is slim as a blade and he scythes through the air all decisive with his hair swept back in a dashing fashion; in New York I have to run to keep up with him.

7) It is not easy to run in the kind of shoes I like to wear in New York.

8) He is over 70 and has no intention of retiring any damn time soon, thank you.

9) I first came across his name in the Writer’s Market Great Big Book O’ Sprouncy New York Style Agents when my friend Lydia and I were querying for a series of children’s books we wanted to sell about the upright, virtuous and Victorian Mr. Bungaloo and his all-ID, no super-Ego dog Horace.

10) Lydia and I sent out 178 queries, and then, in about 3 months, got hit with a positive avalanche of NO THANKS and SUCK IT, NOT FOR ME notes that made us suicidal. The only agent who fell sufficiently in love with the project to take it on was Jacques.

11) It didn’t sell, and he was representing the project, not US, so that ended our relationship. But I came away respecting the hell out of him.

12) I also came away terrified of him.

13) Because he edited James Dickey’s Deliverance.

14) Because he had a rich deep voice that rolled out long fruited-brandy-coated sentences that included words like Prognostication and Effluvium with no provocation whatsoever. Just like, these were words he used as regularly and with as little thought as I used Kleenex.

15) Because he had a glamorous and gorgeous artist wife in South Norwalk and they had a million beautiful grown sons and kept those kinds of hounds that have the back hair that stick up.

16) Because he was golfing buddies with John Updike.


18) He met an acquaintance of mine at a conference once and from then on he referred her to her consistently as, “The emaciated yet still lovely Sharon.”

19) Years later, when I sold a story to TriQuarterly that caused three agents to offer my first novel representation, I told them all maybe and immediately called him to see if he wanted me. He was my first pick, because he had picked me out of the slush pile.

20) I was SO terrified of him that I had to drink two shots of Jack, neat, before I could dial.

21) He did not offer to rep my forst novel. Instead, he asked me to send him the magazine, saying in a voice that was too good humored to be withering, “Let’s see this short story that has apparently set New York on fire.” To this day I have that short story up on my website.

22) He loved it. He loved it so much he asked to see my novel.

23) That would have been AWESOME... if I had ever written such a thing.

24) I had a brand new nursing baby, but I found time to write the novel I always threatened to write because I knew HE was expecting to see it on a specific deadline. And I was scared of him.


26) When gods in Alabama launched in Birmingham he came down for the event and stayed at my parent’s house.

27) My mother keeps a VERY traditional (and by traditional, you understand I mean, HUGE) bridal portrait of me. It is almost as big as the actual me. It has a gold Louis the 14th frame. It dominates the room. My agent and his wife stared it, quite nonplussed, every time they passed it. Apparently Bridal Portraits are a Southern thing. They do not have them in New York. Or Belgium.

28) He did not sell my first novel. Though he loved it and believed in it and tried like hell.

29) He did not sell my second novel. Though he loved it and believed in it and tried like hell.

30) We ended up in a 5 house auction for my third, finally signing with the woman who is still my editor, 4 books later. That was a good day.

31) I watch my friends get agents who throw their novel at a few houses and if it fails to sell for gigazillions, the agent drops them and moves on, and it makes me weep with gratitude for the care Jacques took with me, reading editorially, encouraging me to write another book, telling me all the while he had such faith in my talent and we would try again and again until we found the right editor on the right day.

32) He and I have never had a contract. He told me what he would do, what he expected me to do, and we shook hands.

33) I have never broken any aspect of that deal and neither has he.

34) At first because I was SO FREAKIN SCARED OF HIM. (Deliverance...!!!)

35) But now I just love him. He is my good friend as well as my colleague.

36) He sent a novel of mine to an editor early in that particular book's shopping process, and some of the content REALLY hit her buttons. She rejected it with prejudice, in a very cruel note, the only rejection letter EVER that he refused to show me. He won my heart forever when he said, “I forgot one very key thing, Joshilyn, when I sent that particular manuscript to her...I forgot that she was SUCH a bitch.” He said this in his usual fruited-brandy, relaxed, confident voice, spreading his hands in polite apology for her failure to not be such a bitch.

37) I STILL love how he TALKS. He once got me on the phone after a weekend I had spent on a prayer retreat and greeted me by saying. “Joshilyn, how nice to catch you today in your state of considerable purity . . . “

38) He loves dessert. He will share his appetizer and his main course, but really, he wants you to get your own dessert. Paws off his.

39) He has my back. Always. That’s the best you can hope for in an agent.

Joshilyn Jackson lives in Powder Springs, Georgia with her husband, their two kids, a hound dog, a scurrilous Boggart-kitten, an unkillable beta fish, and a twenty-two pound, one-eyed Main Coon cat named Franz Schubert. She wishes their neighborhood was zoned for goats. Both her SIBA award winning first novel, gods in Alabama, and her Georgia Author of the Year Award winning second novel, Between, Georgia, were chosen as the #1 BookSense picks for the month of their release, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to have Number 1 picks in consecutive years. Her latest, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, was a NYT Bestseller. Her fourth novel, BACKSEAT SAINTS, launches June 8th.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Irony of Ironies

I understand why people send me their self-published books and manuscripts. I have a radio show, a publisher, and an agent. Surely I can help crack open the door, right? Oh, how I wish it were that easy! These fingers would snap and their publishing wishes would be granted faster than quick.

I feel their pain. I’ve lived it and I’ve got much more than a t-shirt to prove it. I have a library of “how to get published/write that winning proposal/find that agent” books. Trust me here, not enough years have passed to dull the memory of buying this one more book because surely it would hold the answer to cracking the code that is the publishing world. I just wanted someone to move over a tad and let me get a foot in. If I could, I’d be more than happy to scoot over for other aspiring authors.

The thing is, while I may understand why it's happening, I still shake my head at the irony of my making decisions for which I’m wholly unqualified. How is it that I’m now the one holding other people’s babies (for that’s what they are, you know) and deciding if I can risk mentioning this one or that one in my columns or on the air because I think it’s truly that good, without inviting another avalanche of books in the mail that I can’t possibly give the attention they deserve?

Some of you will say, “That’s easy, Shellie. Just make a blanket policy that you won’t review self-pubbed books and be done with it.” I could do that. I probably should do that. It’d free crucial time I could spend reading the ever-increasing pile of books I want to read, blurbing the books I’m interested in and am committed to blurbing, scheduling author interviews for the radio show and basically running the rambunctious preteen called All Things Southern—she’ll be ten years old next year! Oh, and getting my own manuscript turned in to my editor on time. (If you’re reading this, Denise, I’ll make it, I really will!) By the way, that list didn’t even mention my top goals of being the best wife, daughter, sister, mother, and grandmother I can be. If I fail at any of those none of this is worth it. None of it.

But the truth is, precisely because of our shared experience, (I have three self-published books in my history), I haven’t been able to draw that line. Instead, I beg patience from everyone as I “work my system” and try to get thru my reading list.

This afternoon I received yet another reader’s email with the familiar theme. “I’m trying to get published,” it read. "And I’m hoping you can help.” Here’s my open letter to that sweet girl, posted here for all the world to see. Maybe it will help someone else.

“Dear Aspiring Author, I do so wish I could make your dreams come true but the cold, hard, truth is that I can’t. I don’t have the magic key and I’m more than ever convinced that there is none. You told me you didn’t want an agent, that you wanted a publisher. I understand. I felt that way for the longest. I was wrong. I’d like to humbly suggest that you are, too.

Without an agent it’s highly likely that your baby will never see the light of day. Overworked editors simply can’t afford to scan anything that doesn't come to them through an agent, that all important filter. And here’s something you may find surprising. While they may have “accepted” my work, neither my agent nor my editor consider me qualified to discover other authors. They get nervous and downright skittish when I try. So, here's my suggestion, for what it’s worth.

Do your homework and find out which agents are representing works like yours. Prepare a proposal. (There is a ton of free info online and at your local library about how to write such a proposal.) Then—submit and polish and submit and polish to those agents until you get one. In the meantime, write, write, write, and then write some more. No, it’s not easy, but it can be done. Blessings on your efforts! I’d like nothing more than to see your name in print!


Shellie Rushing Tomlinson lives in Lake Providence, Louisiana with her husband, Phil. She’s the author of “Lessons Learned on Bull Run Road”, “’Twas the Night before the Very First Christmas” and “Southern Comfort with Shellie Rushing Tomlinson” . In 2009, her Penguin Group USA release, Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On, was a finalist for Nonfiction Book of the Year. She’s hard at work on the sequel: Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy. Shellie is owner and publisher of a website called All Things Southern and the host of daily radio segments and a weekly radio talk show, All Things Southern LIVE. Beginning March 18th, she’ll be touring with River Jordan on The Great Southern Wing and a Prayer Tour.

The Role of Editor

The Role of Editor
Carolyn Haines

I’ve been a writer for over twenty years now. And for the past seven, I’ve been a teacher at the University of South Alabama. But for the past year, I’ve been the editor of an anthology, DELTA BLUES, which will launch March 27 with a party in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Every new challenge brings a shift in perspective, and I want to talk a little about what I’ve learned in the last year as editor.

First, it was with complete humility that I accepted the “title” of editor for DELTA BLUES, when Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books offered it to me. We were at the Emerald Coast Writers Conference, and I’d heard of Ben and his partner Alison Janssen and the wonderful crime fiction they were publishing. When he asked if I’d consider editing an anthology of stories centered around the Mississippi Delta blues and a crime or noir element, I didn’t even have to think it over. “Yes!”

But I’d failed to take into account what the job of editor completely entailed. It is far more than making phone calls and soliciting stories (this was the fun part!). One of the best things about this experience was working with some writers I’ve admired for years—but also working with new voices, seeing stories snap into focus and new writers hitting their stride.

Because fools rush in where angels fear to tread, I brazenly asked John Grisham and James Lee Burke for a short story. I’d admired these writers for years. And while I was at it, I asked Morgan Freeman for a foreword. When I got a yes, I think I fully realized what I was undertaking. Charlaine Harris also said yes, as did Bill Fitzhugh, Les Standiford, Ace Atkins, Nathan Singer, Michael Lister, Tommy Franklin and his wife Beth Ann Fennelly, Dean James, Toni L.P.Kelner, Suzanne Hudson, Suzann Ellingsworth and Lynne Barrett. New writers—at least to the world of fiction—David Sheffield, Alice Jackson and Daniel Martine, gave me the honor of being their first editor.

These people trusted me with their stories. I’m still amazed. And gathering the stories was probably the easiest part.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the need for such extreme organization. Oh, my, goodness! This is such a weak spot for me. And to have 20 writers, each with his own way of working—and deadlines and contracts and…oh, my, goodness. I was terrified I would screw something up.

Yet we have come through that part,too. The book is edited and is at the printer now, and we will launch it with the party of the decade and the debut of our band, the Blues Muse, comprised of contributors to the book. We’ll play at 6 p.m., March 27, at Ground Zero blues club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. What a night that’s going to be!

I’m nervous about the launch. I have no musical talent, but I am driven, like a salmon pushing upstream, to be in the backup singers of the Blues Muse. For those who can attend the launch, be tolerant of a wannabe musician. Most of the band has real talent.

I have learned (or re-learned) some important lessons in this whole experience. I’ll pass a few tips along. Working with writers who take their writing seriously but not themselves is a joy. “I can do that” are the four most inspiring words in the English language. “I’ll help with that” are the second best.

While I am generally awful at attending to business details, I vow never to procrastinate about turning in paperwork again. Writers who attend to such make an editor’s life much more enjoyable.

Writers who take editing as a collaborative effort (and I have to say, I had such pros on this collection) are a jo
y. The quest for the best possible story, when shared with a talented writer, is a real high.

The contributors to DELTA BLUES have become a tiny community. We’ve shared a lot, and soon the book will be out and we’ll meet up at some booksignings along with way. I can only say that this entire experience has been a real honor for me. It’s made me a better writer, and I have a new perspective on a business that I love.

Learn more about the contributors by reading the interviews done by Priya Bhakta and Emily Bingham posted at

Carolyn Haines has been named the 2010 recipient of the Harper Lee Award. 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 www.facebook.com/Carolyn.Haines.of.the.Delta and check out her website at http://www.carolynhaines.com/. and be sure to sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A fiction writer's sense of place: Why I love where I live

This week, my daughter has brought home four friends from college (in Ohio) to enjoy the southwest Florida sun. In addition, my wife and I invited two of our best friends in the world, from Kansas, to join us. The more the merrier, right?

This is the time of year when Floridians open their doors for their friends and family who have been shivering up north for months. And it reminds me of the things that I love the most about where I live. Here they are, both the warts and the diamonds.

--Our Conch Republic dress code. We so worship leisure and comfort here that dressing up for dinner at a four-star restaurant means choosing the khaki shorts that have pleats. My executive wife loves the fact that she can go to work on most days sans hose.

--With surf shops, Trans Ams, flowing beer, and a plethora of tanned, tattooed bodies, Fort Myers Beach is the Gulfshore's Coney Island and a fascinating study of human sexuality and hedonism.

--Sunsets anytime, anywhere, though I am partial to the sharp-edged, hot-pink lozenges common in mid-winter.

--Dolphins in the bay. Pelicans in the air.

--All the fruit trees that grow in our yards: Mangos and cherimoyas and lychees, oranges, grapefruit, papaya and tamarind.

--Sanibel Island's bike paths, independent shopkeepers, shell-laden beaches and lack of neon. The slow, bumper-to-bumper navigating drives me mad, but the same collective attitude that eschews traffic lights also successfully won a fight to banish McDonald's from the islands.

--The fact that flip-flops can be worn anywhere. At a recent, formal bar mitzvah we counted them on nine young women. "But they’re nice ones," my wife whispered. "Look – leather. And those over there have rhinestones."

--The azure-and-emerald feathers I find on my street, shed by the noisy flock of wild parrots that resides somewhere in my neighborhood.

--Violent, humbling summertime thunderstorms with rain that can fill an overturned Frisbee in minutes and lightning so frequent and deafening and close it is hard not to think of it as a censure delivered from above. Also cherished: The humid aftermath of these storms, steam rising from baked asphalt, a sated frog sitting atop the hood of my truck.

--The Puerto Ricans and Cubans and Jamaicans who, with their happy, Spanish-language radio stations and royal-blue and pink and lemon-yellow houses and cars, give our region a feel of the Caribbean.

--Our population of interesting retirees whose lives have touched us in countless ways. Over the years I've bumped into the designer of the Edsel, a scientist from the nuclear project at Los Alamos and a former United Nations ambassador from France who sat near Nikita Krushchev when he banged his shoe on the table in anger.

--Flowering shade trees: The fire-red blossoms of the poinciana, the purple of the jacaranda, the orchid-like pink blooms of the kapok.

--Cayo Costa. The undeveloped barrier island north of Captiva, preserved by the state for generations to come, is one of the few places in Southwest Florida where the patient sheller can still stumble upon a perfect, large whelk or conch.

--Cocktails in the lanai, on the deck of the pool.

--Kayaking on any of our meandering waterways – the Orange River, Hickey Creek, the Imperial River – surprising an egret or heron perched upon the copper-colored root of a mangrove.

--A multicultural combination of restaurants that some cities twice our size can't offer … from the street-vendor tacos on Palm Beach Boulevard in Fort Myers to the fishy fusion offerings at Roy's in Bonita Springs. So plentiful are the options that when my wife and I begin the awesome task of winnowing through the choices we first ask each other, "Western hemisphere … Or Eastern?"

--What my family calls "water glitter," the way the bays and rivers and Gulf sparkle like diamonds in the mid-afternoon sun.

--Drinking a margarita or mojito beneath a chickee hut (a shelter constructed from tree limbs and palm fronds) at any beachfront hotel or restaurant.

--Direct flights and fast boats to Key West.

--The fascinating, tragic and grisly crimes perpetrated by a service-worker population living on the financial and emotional edge. Two that come to mind are the Fort Myers man who butchered his wife with a machete, and a mother, tormented by a belief that the plethora of palm trees around her were agents of the Devil, who shot her sons.

--Historic McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers, with its stately royal palms lining the road and the multicultural neighborhoods it dissects, where kids sell mangoes on the street and walkers stop to share stories about their dogs.

Ad Hudler's most recent novel is "Man of The House." Catch his blog at

AdHudler.com or follow him on twitter or facebook. He is feverishly working on a humorous memoir.