Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ready, Set …Wait! 10 Tips for Getting Published

by Annabelle Robertson

“How can I get an agent?”

That’s what every wannabe author wants to know – the question posed most frequently at book-signings, and the one readers always ask published authors about. It’s an important question. You can’t get a book published without an agent, after all. Not really. And landing one – a good one – is no easy task.

But, for the vast majority of hopeful writers, asking about an agent is a bit like a new flute player asking how to get an audition at Carnegie Hall. It’s just way too early to be worrying about that.

Years before my book, The Southern Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You’ve Caught Your Man, was published, I dreamed of being a writer. I had been the editor of my high school newspaper, and I longed to be a journalist. Because we moved to Europe when I was 18, however, I didn’t go to journalism school (that's kinda hard to do when you don't speak the language). But during college and graduate school, however, I wrote plenty of short stories and essays. The A’s and professorial praise were enough to fuel my dreams.

I wrote about what I knew, as I was told to do. I’d practiced international law in Switzerland, working for the United Nations and as corporate counsel for an American bank, so when I began my first novel, my main character was an American lawyer from the South, who just happened to living in Switzerland.

Of course, I never thought I was Pat Conroy or Rick Bragg. If anything, I was afraid to write, for fear that I wouldn’t live up to the awe-inspiring Conroy- and Bragg-level standards. But, deep down, I knew I could probably write a book and get it published, if only I worked hard enough. How hard could it be?

A lot harder than I imagined.

I began by reading about 50 books on the writing craft – everything from dialogue and plot books to tomes on theme, voice and characterization. I highlighted the pages of these books and did all the exercises. Then I bought more. I was determined to make up for what I hadn’t learned at the University of Geneva.

Next, I taped a sign above my desk that said, “Writers Write.” And then I wrote. Five nights a week, from 9 to 11 p.m., and all day Saturday, every Saturday, I slogged it out in our crappy walk-up duplex in Decatur, which had no central air-conditioning. Week in and week out, I worked on that novel. I even wrote on vacation. In fact, I took vacations, alone, just to work on my book.

Two years later, I called my husband into my home office as I typed those greatly anticipated words, “The End.”

I was thrilled. I figured I’d have an agent within a few months – a year at the most.

It took me five.

What I didn’t realize at the time (although I had been told many times) was that no matter how talented a writer may be, every first draft – from every writer – is bad. Usually very, very bad. And mine was no exception. Author Anne Lamott, in her book, Bird by Bird, which talks about the writing life, calls them “shitty first drafts.” And, as any good writer knows, first drafts truly are. But we don’t really get that until we’re established. We novice writers think our work is pretty darn good, and we don’t want to hear otherwise.

For some reason, we tend to wear blinders – big ones – when it comes to our work. “Talk to the hand! I know it’s good. My best friend said it was!” We want to get to center stage as fast as possible, and we tend to believe, rather naively, that writing is something that can be mastered easily and quickly. As Rita Mae Brown says, however, “It takes as long to learn writing skills as it does to become a neurosurgeon.”

This, I have learned, is an understatement.

I know just how disheartening this learning period can be for writers. After all, I was there myself, not that long ago. But consider this: Your book must compete with the 200,000 others published each year, of which a mere one percent sell more than 5,000 copies. A full 98 percent of all books published, in fact, sell less than 1,000 copies.

So, to be a success (a task that has become monumentally more difficult in the past two years), your book simply cannot be mediocre. It has to be phenomenal. Not only that, but when it comes to wowing an agent, you’ve got one shot, and one shot only. Do you really want to take yours now?

Perhaps you do. You’ve work-shopped that manuscript (or book proposal) to death. You’ve rewritten your book, again and again. You’ve put in the time, and you know you simply could not make it any better. It’s ready to go and it’s very, very good – or so say all the non-relatives and unpaid friends who’ve critiqued it.

Well, if that’s your case, darlin’, and you’re pretty sure you’re ready for the big time, then congratulations for gutting it out. I have no doubt that with a little perseverance, we’ll soon be reading your book – and you can stop reading here.

For everyone else, I invite you to pull up a chair and pour yourself some sweet tea. Sweet tea is good. But experience is better – much better. And if there’s anything we Southern Girls like to do, it’s share our experience and hand out advice – especially if we can save someone a little heartache.

Here’s my take, for what it’s worth, on what you really need to do produce the kind of manuscript that will wow an agent:

1. Read books about writing. You can get them online, from the library or a book club. I joined the Writer’s Digest Book Club and, thanks to their generous “buy four get one free” policy, now own a small library of writing books that I still refer to. These books were not only great fun to read; they also fueled my inspiration, giving me lots of ideas about characters, plots, themes and other literary devices. As I read them, I not only learned to write. I wrote my book in my head.

2. Read books in your genre. If it’s Southern fiction you love, read everything written by the authors on this site. They are phenomenal. Then move onto the bestseller lists. Examine these books just as an editor would, studying their structure, style, content and voice. Successful writers will not only give you fresh ideas; they’ll also improve your vocabulary and teach you how books work – everything from characterization and the all-important plot arc to inserting back-story and that illusive concept of “voice.”

3. Hang out with writers. Writing is a lonely discipline, and you’ll need likeminded people to encourage and teach you what’s what. Visit bookstores, where you’ll find future authors lurking in the coffee shop or in front of the reference shelves. Check out the local library or the classified ads section. Run an ad. Go to author readings. And don’t be afraid to talk to published writers. I used to do that, and I made friends with some of the very writers I now count as colleagues. They helped me tremendously, and it’s wonderful to see them zooming to the top of the bestseller lists, many years after just getting published. Now, when people approach me, I merely see it as “paying forward” all the help I’ve received.

4. Attend writer’s conferences. You’ll learn lots about the craft and the business of writing, as well as the all-important publishing industry. You’ll also meet published writers who may mentor you and perhaps even give you a quote for your book someday – which agents and editors love. Network. Listen. Take notes. And learn as much as you possibly can.

5. Find or create a writer’s group. My group, which I formed after we all met at a local writing conference, consisted of four other writers at different stages of their novels. They taught me things I could never have learned otherwise, and pointed out mistakes that I should have seen in my work, but didn’t. They encouraged me, supported me and gave me wonderful suggestions – especially when I got bogged down. Our weekly evenings spent laughing, dreaming and scheming are, to date, some of my happiest memories ever.

6. Have your writer’s group critique your entire manuscript. Then rewrite the book. You need their objectivity (and they need yours). Be especially sure to take their advice when they’re all in agreement.

7. Give your latest rewrite to at least three other people who are not afraid to tell you the truth. These volunteers should not be close friends or relatives, who will be tempted to equivocate – and who will unconsciously read your speaking voice into the manuscript. They must be objective. Have them edit it, line by line, and provide a written critique (if they will). If their advice is vague, ask probing questions like “What did you like best?” “What did you have trouble believing?” and “What would you change?” Make rewrites accordingly.

8. Be open to criticism - very, very open. After rewriting my novel no less than three times, a published novelist (now a 10-time New York Times bestselling author on this site) read my manuscript and loudly pronounced me a “future bestselling author” to anyone who would listen. I was thrilled. But, before I could bask in the praise, she brought me back down to earth with a few “suggestions.” Those suggestions required yet another rewrite of my novel. But I didn’t hesitate. I went straight back to the drawing board.

When my author friend heard that I was rewriting the book again, her jaw dropped. “Do you know how rare that is?” she said. “For a wannabe writer to accept that kind of critique? Much less put in the work?”

“No,” I replied. “I’m just doing what you told me to do. I figure you know what you’re talking about.”

She laughed. Then she said, “And THAT is why you’ll eventually be published, Annabelle.”

She was right. Nowadays, I’m a fulltime journalist, so I get edited every day, and the thought of rejecting those edits seems pretty strange, indeed. In fact, because of my career, I now know the difference between a good editor and a bad one. A good one improves my writing. A bad one says, “Way to go.” The problem is, the better your writing becomes, the harder these editors are to find. Yet we still need them – all of us.

So don’t fight the critiques. Embrace them. And remember that most people who read our writing have a huge investment in our feelings. When they give us feedback, they’re trying to be sensitive, so they usually couch things in roundabout ways. This means that when they do tell us something isn’t working, it probably isn’t. In fact, the problem they’re describing is probably much, much worse than they’re even willing to admit.

Writing is a business, and if you want a career in the field (as opposed to that hobby that takes up all of your free time, pays nothing and bores your friends to death), you will just need to accept that there are certain requirements to succeed. Remember, no one is asking you to change the color of your hair. They’re telling you what you need to do to succeed in the industry of your choice.

9. Make sure it’s finished – truly finished – before even talking to an agent. Don’t make the mistake of baiting a potential agent (like I did), only to be forced to confess that you haven’t finished the book (unlike non-fiction, which merely requires a proposal, you have to have your entire first novel completed). If an agent likes those first three chapters, she’ll ask for the rest. If you can’t immediately provide that, she’ll likely lose interest – which will be difficult to snag again. Even if you do a rush job and finish, you’ll still be submitting your first draft.

10. Persevere. There’s an old adage that asks, “What’s the difference between a published author and a non-published author?” Answer: “The published ones didn’t give up.” So don’t give up. It will take time for that first book to shine. Juist remember: writers not only write – they keep on writing.

I never did publish that novel, by the way. That’s right – the one I wrote and rewrote so many times. The one I sweated blood over, put my life on hold for, bored my friends and family to death over. Never published. Nope.

Instead, I wrote, got an agent for and was fortunate enough to watch as three publishing houses fought for the rights to publish my non-fiction book, in what's known as a "bidding auction". I can’t tell you how thankful I am that that novel never saw the light of day, however. In fact, my editor recently asked me to send it to her. I've been a little busy with a thing called "divorce," you see -- not to mention single parenting. So I haven't quite finished my next book.

Annabelle Robertson, in the newsroom of The Item in Sumter, SC -
where she gets edited every single day.

After much hesitation, I pulled out my old manuscript and read the first few pages. Without pausing, I tossed the entire thing into the trash. I didn't even keep a copy on my hard drive. It sucked that bad.
It's amazing what a little decade will do for your perspective.

Annabelle Robertson is an award-winning journalist based in Sumter, SC. Her first book, The Southern Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Newlywed Years: How to Stay Sane Once You’ve Caught Your Man, won the USA Best Books Award for humor in 2007. Annabelle has gone back to the drawing board and is working on her first novel. Again.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

SUDDENLY I'm Wordless

This is my first post during the transition phase of A Good Blog Is Hard To Find. Karin Gillespie did such an incredible job founding the blog, promoting it, collecting authors, and trying to herd us. Now she has passed on the herding to the Great Pulpwood Queen Kathy Patrick who has taken the helm so that the blog would not die and writers everywhere would be forced to go to the page and write something instead of just watch reruns of The Price is Right. Kathy's first request has been for each of us to introduce ourselves anew so that new writers and readers will discover us for the first time or the thousandth time with a tad more insight. Which has brought me to the point of staring at the page with an a Mick Jagger lyric echoing in my head. Just that one line over and over. What I'm thinking is everybody in the territory of this good blog knows me. And like most misfit children (*see destined to grow up and become writers in small print) I could still look out the window on a rainy day and say - No one really knows me. Or just get lost in though between the raindrops and pretty much not have words to say.

But I'm here now and it's my day - bless those blog ladies who enforce deadlines - so I must do what writers do, I better go dig some words up worth your time and mine.
Let me see - what's in this box of me right now . . .

Well, right on top are the words I wrote for my last post that generated comments but also a lot of private direct emails about some of the obstacles we overcome as writers. It's still right here if you'd like to backtrack and find out a whole lot of details about the 'stuff' I've endured on the path to publication.   And here's the thing - if you think the following about introducing myself again - or talking 'bout myself  - is a tad too much. Seriously, check out that obstacles post again. Years of drought, hard knocks, and whole lot of lamenting have gone into this thing we call The Writer's Life that can look so glorious sometimes from the outside looking in.

Next up - the only superstition I have in this whole, entire world is about talking about a story, a novel, a character, a piece of dialogue before it is written down or when it is in process. That comes from my days of being an understudy, an apprentice, a student - of Dr. Yolanda Reed of the Loblolly Theatre fame. Don't talk it - write it. That being said, I've had the strangest character show up in my mind. She's an old rascal and keeps asking me in a none too pleasant voice, "Now, what do you want?"  As if I'm the one intruding on her world. (That's also a nod to my good friend the great author Charles McNair who said writing was a lot like controlled schizophrenia.)  So this woman is in my mind and she's watching me. She has a tendency to do that sometimes with one eye closed. I have a funny feeling if I don't talk about her that she will tell me some things to write down. I'll keep you posted on that.

I have two new novels brewing and words from each actually down on the page. Okay, make that three but that 3rd one I think better sit back and peculate for awhile before moving closer to the top of the pile. I'm running my fingers through those worlds, one set in Georgia and one in Tennessee. Both in timeless times you couldn't swear a date to. I'm determined in the midst of all manner of life happenings to commit to one of those stories and begin the completion of that novel on September 1, 2010 in a few days. You won't hear much more from me about those stories until one of them is completed besides a potential working title. Except this - no, I don't have a contract for that novel. No, I'm not submitting portions and trying to sell it in advance. No, I don't have time to write something big and full of wonder. And yes, I'm wild and crazy enough to lock myself in a room for hours and do it anyway. It's what we do. We are story people. This is our tribe. We write.

Speaking of tribe - I have the pleasure of attending the SIBA convention in Daytona in September and also presenting with buddy author Shellie Rushing Tomlinson. If you're attending please don't get away or lost in the busy without connecting or saying hello. Then it's only a few weeks before the tribe will descend on my hometown of Nashville for the Southern Festival of the Book including Ms. Tomlinson and the Pulpwood Queen herself Kathy Patrick who will be hosting not one but two panels during he festival.

I have the grand pleasure of having a new novel debut on my youngest son's birthday (which wasn't planned) September 7, 2010. The Miracle of Mercy Land will debut on 9/7/10 at 7pm at Davis Kidd in Nashville. It's a southern, mystical work that catches our main character Mercy Land in 1938 on the southern coast of Alabama. For a sneak peek at the first chapter check it out here.  I do so hope that you can join me for a little storytelling and a lot of fun if you are in the neighborhood. SNEAK PEEK

In other news a new non-fiction work, Praying for Strangers, An Adventure of the Human Spirit, will be published by Penguin/Berkley April 5, 2011. It's based on a resolution I had in 2009 to pray for a stranger each day. Funny thing was, it was a private issue and I never meant to tell anyone and I certainly never meant for it to turn into something public like a book or you can check out the blog and comments regarding the ongoing adventure at http://prayingforstrangers.com It really has been an adventure and the stories of the people I met along the way, and the experience of that journey is captured in the stories told. Please visit the website/blog and check in as the project develops a life of it's own.

One of my special labors of love is hosting and producing Clearstory Radio every Friday morning (soon moving to a daily morning slot) from Nashville at 107.1fm  The show features author chats, bits of book news and reviews along with fun musical interludes. (And if you'd like to be on the show please email me at river@clearstoryradio.com ) I've had the pleasure of featuring many of the contributors to A Good Blog Is Hard to Find, and recently featured a special salute to the blog and all that it has accomplished. To the past! To the future! To the now! Also - for those of you who have made it this far - if you know anyone really interested in writing and getting published please click the radio link to listen to last weeks program featuring an interview with author Michael Lister. I love the sage advice this man had to offer to those who dare to dream of having this wonderful, messy, mixed up life we call writing.

Oh - since this is a get to know me better blog post I think the best way you can know someone is by the company they keep and by that I mean what books they are hanging out with. This my real beside table. A strange collection of newly published books by friends, ARC's for review, recommended reads, small discoveries, recent buys and the ever faithful library last minute snatches - : The Improper Life of Bezilla Grove by Susan Greg Gilmore and The Immortals by J.T. Ellison. (Here's a photo where we converged on Susan's signings at DK) Mystics, Visionaries, & Prophets; The Wisdom of Donkeys (a delightful fun find); Counter Clockwise; Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders; Moving Toward Balance;  The Angel's Game; Cutting for Stone; rereading Carson McCullers, The Member of the Wedding and wading happily through the Sunday NY Times.

God bless you all. It's an honor to be in your company!


RIVER JORDAN is a critically acclaimed author, as she keeps telling her Mama who responds by saying 'Show me the Money'. She has managed to publish four novels by the grace of God, her husband's hard work and a touch of madness. She will begin  to complete a new novel Wednesday. She also may respond to an itch to return to the theater to sit quietly in the dark and watch the magic of words come to life on the stage. She still maintains her strange resolution to Pray for a Stranger each day except on Sundays when she takes a day off to rest and give thanks. And oh yes - to read. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Pulpwood Queen Celebrates her 54th Birthday with this message, EAT PRAY LOVE!

The Pulpwood Queen Celebrates her 54th Birthday with this book message, EAT PRAY LOVE!

Dear Readers of A Good Blog is Hard to Find!

Some time back I read the Elizabeth Gilbert book, "eat pray love" and was taken away by this young woman traveling to Italy to revel in it's food and language, visit to India to visit an ashram, and trip to Indonesia to reconnect with a healer from Bali.  Not a southern book, but a book that let this now southern woman travel to places she always dreamed.

Growing up a small town Kansas girl my mother instilled in me a love of travel from other countries by purchasing me this set of encyclopedias that came with a letter a month then a set of books on countries that came with stickers that you placed in the book.

That's not all, I received a world globe from Santa one year and a real adult Smith Corona typewriter with typing manual my fifth grade year. I did not realize it then but she gave me all the tools I would need to travel a lifetime of learning and writing to places I have never been able to afford to go.

You see unlike the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, I have never been able to take a year off to go find myself. But I have found myself indeed, first, through the reading of books and second, from writing my story of my life in books, "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life", Grand Central Publishing.

Because of reading and writing I have been able to travel places I never dreamed I would be able to go through my imagination and more recently, in actual traveling to the places I dreamed.

I could hardly wait for the eat pray love film starring Julia Roberts because I wanted to see visually the places that I had read. A bunch of us caravanned over to Marshall, Texas, one Sunday after church, to watch the movie and like the book, I became lost in the film.

Every year I have a birthday party for myself where I invite all my friends, not for the presents, but for their presence. Then it dawned on me as we were all sharing a meal after the movie, I announced to the group, I would have an EAT PRAY LOVE Birthday Party!

The Party is tomorrow night! I have invited all my friends but if you are in the area, come join us at our house which I call Grand Central Station. Yes, it will be crowded but everyone is all bringing an Italian, Indonesian, or Indian dish! I am tackling an assortment of truly exotic shish ka bobs! I plan to outdo my last year's theme party of "Julie and Julia" where I prepared Julia Child's dishes!

I have encouraged everyone to come dressed in a costume from one of the countries to put us in the EAT PRAY LOVE spirit! The incense will be burning, the candles lit, the festive party decorations, umbrellas, and paper lanterns will be on. My house is your house, so to speak.  And the one thing about the south is, we do know how to throw a party!

Email me at kathy@beautyandthebook.com for directions. I have learned that life is about not things, but about our relationships with others. For me that is God first, my family and friends and I invite you all is not to be here in person, in spirit!

Thank you for the tremendous amount of birthday greetings. I am humbled and greatly blessed by your enormous blanket of love.

My wish for all of you on my 54th year on this planet is to indeed EAT PRAY LOVE! You can find yourself too in the reading of books and in writing your story! I encourage you all to do so. It's all about the story folks and sharing that story with others. The story you do not record or write is a library lost to your family and friends. Besides, nobody can tell your story as well as you can.  And this blog showcases some of the best southern storytellers in the country, so don't miss and comment on a single day!

Big things are happening in the Wonderful World of The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs! Won't you join us on our mission to promote literacy! I have some big southern TRAVEL plans so check out our website often at http://www.beautyandthebook.com/, click on Pulpwood Queens on how to join our book loving fun! Follow along on my daily to weekly literary travels at http://www.pulpwoodqueen.com/ and this NEW blog site I am hosting, http://www.southernauthors.blogspot.com/ as a different southern author is featured every day for the Best of the South when it comes to reading! For an excellent book loving resource, check out http://www.readinggroupguides.com/ as I occasionally do a guest feature there and of course, I am now up on Facebook, at Kathy Louise Patrick, please friend me and for my unique southern Hair Salon/Book Store, Beauty and the Book, please fan me!

And now to truly celebrate my birthday, this video, which in my opinion is the #1 Best Southern Party Band EVER, The B-52's singing, "LOVE SHACK!"

Kat on a Hot Tin Roof, RUSTED!

Kathy L. Patrick

Hairdresser to the Authors

Founder of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs

Senior High Youth Leader for the First United Methodist Church AND

Literary Chair for The Rotary Club of Jefferson, Texas

Beauty and the Book

608 North Polk

Jefferson, Texas 75657






Thursday, August 26, 2010

“It Takes A Village”

It has been said that writing is a solitary experience, but I have found that when it comes to getting a book published and promoted it takes a village. When I wrote my first book I relied on stories about myself and others. It was a collection of stories about things which had happened to me, my friends and my family. If I hadn’t had the stories about my friends and family it would have been a very short book.

When I was writing these stories I had no idea they would ever be published. I was just getting them down for my family to read someday. That was good enough for me but it wasn’t good enough for my friend Ed Williams. He encouraged even demanded I make an effort to get them published. Ed had written a book titled SEX, DEAD DOGS AND ME and I guess he figured if he could get that wild a book published then me and my mild stories stood a chance too.

I did end up getting that book published, thanks to Ed, and then I entered the world of publicizing the book. This was the fun part because I like to talk and I like to schmooze and publicizing is talking and schmoozing. I also enjoyed it because it brought me into contact with other writers and that has been one of the best experiences of my life.

Here I was out trying to get somebody, anybody to buy my books and I was in proximity to writers like Milam Propst, Jackie White, Niki Collins-Queen and Ed Grisamore. I knew these people. I had read their books. They were stars in my local sky. And they were all nice to me and encouraging to me. I began to feel like maybe I would be able to join their group.

All of the authors I met were nice to me and encouraging. One of the nicest was Patti Callahan Henry. We met at the South Carolina Book Festival (my home state) and saw each other at different venues after that. Around this time I was asked to present at the Georgia Center For the Book. I called everyone I knew and asked them to show up, but since I live in Perry, Georgia and this was taking place in Decatur, I didn’t have many people to call.

The night of my presentation arrived and a few people showed up. I spotted familiar faces who mouthed “You owe me one!” Just as I stood up to speak a back door opened and Patti and her daughter entered. I was amazed that with her busy (and she stays busy) schedule she had come. When it was over and I thanked her for coming her answer was, “Did you think I wouldn’t?” That is the kind of person you want in your village.

In addition to writing books I review books and this has been a little awkward over the years. I am always honest in my opinions and that strikes some people wrong. I have even had some authors ask me not to review their books which I think is crazy as any publicity helps – good or bad. At least as an author myself that is how I feel. After all it is just an opinion.

Writing, reviewing, talking and schmoozing – it’s all a part of a wonderful career known as writing. Once you are published you get an entrance ticket to the wonderful world of writers. This literary world quickly becomes an additional village from which you can draw creative strength and personal enjoyment.


Jackie K Cooper is the author of five memoirs. His sixth, BACK TO THE GARDEN, will be published by Mercer University Press in the spring of 2011. He still depends on his “village.”

Where the heart is

I’ve been lucky enough in my life to live in several beautiful places. I grew up in Norway, which is considered one of the loveliest places in the world. Mountains, forests, fairytale landscapes with rocks and rivers—not to mention the coast, long enough to reach from Mexico to Canada and beyond.

From Norway I went to New York City, which may not have the reputation of being particularly lovely, but to someone who adores it, it has a beauty all its own. The skyline all lit up at night, the bustle of the streets, the people: all different shapes, sizes, and colors, in their different clothes. The different neighborhoods, with their different personalities. Rockefeller Center at Christmas, with the tree and the skaters.

My last stop so far has been Nashville, which is different again. There’s the Parthenon, of course, and the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Ryman Auditorium, the Opryland Hotel, the Belle Meade and Belmont Plantations... To me, the beauty of Nashville is all about buildings. And not buildings plural, like New York’s skyline. Buildings singular, one at a time. Gorgeous Victorian cottages, rambling Arts and Crafts bungalows, quaint fairytale Tudors with towers and points...

We’re talking about moving again, this time to Saint Augustine, Florida. The oldest town in the United States, settled in 1565 by Pedro Menendez de Aviles. Gorgeous little town with narrow cobblestoned streets, old French Quarter-style buildings made of coquina shell mixture, a fort guarding the harbor, and of course the beautiful Anastasia Island beach, with white sands and azure water. Dolphins breaking the surface on the intracoastal waterway, slow manatees bobbing, graceful sailing boat and—yes—some rather attractively muscled people in skimpy clothes.
Where I am is a big deal to me. What I see around me, what the place smells like, sounds like, feels like. How hot or cold it is. Each place is different, distinctive.

And it’s the same when I write. The setting becomes almost like a character in the book. Distinctive and different. And like the characters, it drives the plot forward. The fact that Waterfield is on the coast of Maine has influenced the kinds of stories I include in the DIY-series; there are subjects I just wouldn’t have been able to tackle had the books been set elsewhere. Smuggling, human trafficking, the US Navy, Marie Antoinette’s cats...

Same thing with A Cutthroat Business. Savannah Martin is who she is because of where she grew up; setting very literally influenced the character, and setting continues to influence the plot and background in that book, and in the ones that will follow. It’s all about the Southern setting, Southern mores, a Southern background.

It probably goes without saying that I also enjoy reading books with a distinctive setting, be it domestic or foreign, real or imagined. Elizabeth Peters’s Egypt in the last century. JD Robb’s New York City anno 2060. Lois McMaster Bujold’s planet of Barrayar. JK Rowling’s Hogwarts. Deborah Crombie’s London and Carla Neggers’s Boston. Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Miller’s Kill. Frank Baum's Land of Oz.

So what about you? Is setting important to you when you read? Do you have any favorite authors whose settings you enjoy? Have you ever read a book specifically because it was set in a certain place? (I have to confess to gobbling up books set in Cornwall. Comes from growing up on Daphne de Maurier, I expect.)

And how about when you write, if you write? Is setting important to you then, or can your books be set practically anywhere and not change appreciably because of it?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Bente Gallagher is the author of A Cutthroat Business, first in the Savannah Martin real estate mysteries (June 2010) and the Do-It-Yourself home renovation mysteries (three strong; DIY-4, Mortar and Murder, coming to a store near you on January 4th, 2011) written as Jennie Bentley. You can read more about her doings and undoings on her website: www.bentegallagher.com

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Julie L. Cannon

As I was pondering telling the story about how I became a writer, I went to my own website, to see what I’d written so long ago I hardly remember writing it. This picture of my two grannies standing with me in front of the fireplace made me smile because after my husband put it onto my site, I began to attract lots of visitors who aren’t my usual readers. Seems I had the words ‘hot’ and ‘grannies’ and ‘pictures’ all on one page and so when Google found these 3 words together, it lured folks to my website who were looking for some photos of hot grannies. I don’t really think Geneva Lewis nor Nell Lowrey are what these folks were looking for, but attracting new readers is a big part of this writing life. (Speaking of attracting readers, there’s a reason I had to make my middle initial so big up there in the by-line. If you go to my website, http://www.juliecannon.info/, and click on the link that says ‘What the L?’ you can read a story about a story in this crazy world of publishing.)

Still, I have to give my hot grannies some credit for my writing career. It was spending summers at their farms that inspired my first three novels. I grew up literally crossing off the days till summer when we’d head to my Granny Lewis’s farm in Monticello, Georgia, and my Mee-maw’s farm in Armuchee, Georgia. In Armuchee, there were tons of cousins and we’d ride horses bare-back through the fields, bale hay, shuck sweet corn, pluck blackberries, and hunt arrowheads along the banks of the Oostenaula River. In the evenings I’d listen to aunts and uncles and grandparents indulging in that wonderful southern tradition of oral storytelling. Their stories were truly stranger than fiction. At the same time my jaw was hanging open in amazement, I was also wanting to write them down. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was collecting memories for the time when I was ready to write about them.

My family likes to remind me that as soon as I was able to string words together, I was telling stories, and in grammar school I began writing them down into crude little books fashioned from construction paper. All my English teachers put encouraging notes on my report cards, and for me, a particularly nerdy child (all knees, elbows, eyeglasses, and braces) it was a way to shine. To hold my head up a tiny bit even if I was picked last for teams at recess and P.E. Basically anxious in social situations, one of my favorite things was to crawl off into a private nook and immerse myself in fabulous adventures, where there were no risks other than the hours flying by and my math homework left undone. A natural off-shoot of this voracious appetite and my love of story telling, I began to write even more, filling reams of lined paper with poems and short stories. In high school I became a contributor to a school sponsored literary magazine. I’m fairly certain that my social life was not enhanced by all my ceaseless reading and writing.

"Don’t worry, Julie," I consoled myself, "you can write books for a living." But then, for one of those reasons that is never quite clear, except to say that I was a good little southern girl who listened when folks told her you couldn’t make a living writing books, I entered the University of Georgia’s Journalism school to earn a degree in Advertising.

After graduation I landed in a string of torturous sales jobs, but I was a closet writer, capturing my ragged bits of history long-hand and then stashing it underneath the bed in Rubbermaid gift-wrap containers. Years passed and I married, and soon the first two kids came along. There were many part time jobs, with money and time always a scarce commodity, but perhaps the hardest thing was that my insatiable need to create stories did not subside.
I stole little "pockets of time" between chasing toddlers and dust balls to write. I wrote children’s books, as well as a novel. Impassioned, I began sending things off willy-nilly to publishers.

The first time I got a fat manila SASE back in the mail with a rejection form letter, I was just sure there had been some mistake. I did not yet realize that there is a lot of homework to be done before you submit anything, both on the writing itself and on how to write a query-letter with a synopsis of your novel. After four rejections, my dreams of publication faded.

Then, in October of 1998, my husband noticed an ad in a local magazine for a short story contest. It was co-sponsored by a small publishing house and had a cash prize. I fished a story out from my vast reservoir, dusted it off, and carried it in. One morning not long after that, the phone rang and an enthusiastic voice told me that my story had won. The first thing I thought of was the hundred bucks. I’d never received a penny for my writing! He asked me what else I was writing and I said I was writing this particular novel, when what I actually had on paper from it was a scene about an older widow who was on a man-hunt just months after her beloved husband was laid to rest. I had her cruising the frozen foods aisle of the super Kroger, looking for bachelors filling up their buggies with Hungry Man Dinners.

Now, here I’ve simply got to pause and give author Susan Gambrell Reinhardt credit for inspiring this scene (yep, she blogged right here on August 10th ). Susan and I were sorority sisters at UGA, and Susan is the one who discovered this particular venue for hunting men, way back in, oh, probably 1982.

Back to my story: my idea was to break my poor widow’s heart and let her find consolation and healing in her vegetable garden. I pictured Mee-maw’s garden in Armuchee, Georgia as I wrote the story. Mee-maw had been an avid gardener who worked out a lot of life’s troubles outside in the dirt.

Soon after they printed my winning short story along with the little bio, I ran into the president of Hill Street Press. "Bring us that novel you mentioned, Julie," he said. "We’d like to take a look at it."

"Fine. I sure will," I said calmly. But inside I was screaming "WOW! Here’s my chance!" I flew home and with the memories literally screaming through my veins, I spent every spare minute I could find writing in one corner of our tiny kitchen. I scoured my memories about time spent at my grandparents’ farms.

Happily, Hill Street Press published Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes in the spring of 2001. It became a southern best seller and they sold the paperback rights to Simon & Schuster, who released it in 2003. Simon & Schuster also bought my second novel, ‘Mater Biscuit, and then Those Pearly Gates. These three books, called the Homegrown series have become for me a celebration of the gifts of my rural southern heritage.

My fourth novel to be published was a stand-alone tale called The Romance Readers’ Book Club (Penguin-Plume, December 2007). Then came the Recession. The market plunged and so did book sales. I kept on writing diligently, finishing two more novels which I put in a drawer while I found some paid speaking gigs, taught some writing classes, and did free-lance editing. One day an agent in the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) approached me, telling me my stoires were ‘Organically spiritual.’ I knew that Christian Fiction was a very quickly growing genre.

A week ago today a FedEx truck pulled into my driveway and the driver lugged three boxes full of my new novel, I’ll Be Home for Christmas up the steps. This book is the first in a series that Summerside Press is calling 'When I Fell in Love.' I fell in love as I listened to Bing Crosby’s 1944 rendition of this classic song while I was penning a love story set during WWII. In addition to I’ll Be Home for Christmas, I’ve just signed a contract for a book set in Nashville, Tennessee, tentatively titled Twang. Twang combines the CBA with the CMA (Country Music Association).

You can read my story about changing genres in an article called Crossing Over on my website. I hope my hot grannies are looking down from heaven with smiles on their faces...

Julie Cannon makes her home in Watkinsville, Georgia, where she smiles when she sees this phrase embroidered on a little green pillow; ‘Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel.’ Her newest book I’ll Be Home for Christmas is now available. Visit her on the web at

Monday, August 23, 2010

I am a Southern girl. We have mud on our feet.-Tina Turner

I am The Cracker Queen. It says so in my book. I am an unabashed and unapologetic Southern woman. My people still drink liquor from an ol’ fruit jar. Still know that stories are everything.

My book, The Cracker Queen—A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life, tells how I came up on the wrong side of the tracks among hellions, heroines, bad seeds, and renegades—also known as Mama and ‘em. The real-life characters in The Cracker Queen are folks everyone can relate to, like my Crazy Aunt Carrie. She shot her first four husbands and went to jail for assaulting a police dog. You know the type; every family has one. No?

Anyhow, my book celebrates a different kind of girl raised in the South: a strong, authentic, fearless, flawed, resourceful, and sometimes outrageous woman. But the book is for anyone, not just Southern women. The deeper theme is a very human one: how to triumph through hard times and emerge with your sense of humor intact. After all, Cracker Queens know that she who laughs, lasts.


Southern Living (SL) ran a Q&A with me last year.  In an exclusive for readers of this blog, I’d like to share some of my responses that did not make it past the editorial board.

SL: Who’s the funniest person alive?
Me: Mama. She posts original sayings on her fridge. My favorite: “If it has tires or testicles, it’s gonna give you trouble.” (In retrospect, I guess that line wouldn’t go well next to a corn chowder recipe.)

SL: What about Georgia do people not know?
Me: It rained dead birds in my hometown of Warner Robins. 50,000 birds, 53 different species. (Okay, maybe dead birds don’t make for a good photo shoot either.)

SL: What is your biggest regret?
Me: Honey, Cracker Queens don’t have regrets!

SL: What talent do you wish you had?
Me: I wish I could time travel to a 1950 honky-tonk and hear Hank Williams.

SL: What’s your biggest fear?
Me: Playing it safe. Now that’s a scary thought.

SL: What’s your idea of happiness?
Me: An ample supply of books, a bottle of Black Bush Irish Whiskey, and a cat by my side.

SL: What’s your greatest success?
Me: When I make someone laugh. 

Lauretta Hannon is the author of The Cracker Queen—A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life and a commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, where her stories reach 25.5 million listeners. Her memoir was named one of the Top Twenty-Five Books All Georgians Should Read, according to the Georgia Center for the Book. She also offers writing seminars through her Down Home Writing School. Southern Living says she is “the funniest woman in Georgia.” Join the ruckus at thecrackerqueen.com.

Teachers have no idea how influential they are in the lives of some students. It's thanks to a ninth grade civics teacher that I became a writer. One day when I was absent she assigned oral reports on careers.By the time I got back, other students had taken all my preferred careers. I got sent to a box of booklets, and the only three booklets left were "Farmer," Mortician," and "Writer." I've always been glad I chose writer. I'd have made a lousy farmer.

What a revelation to read that writers spend their lives on research, telling stories, writing/editing, and talking with people about books. Next to reading, those are my favorite things to do. My gut feeling as I finished that booklet was not, "I want to be a writer," but "I am a writer!" I have never looked back. I chose a college with a good writing department and worked a year afterward to save enough to go live in a small Scottish Highland village for the winter to see if I had the discipline to write. I was delighted to discover that was still what I wanted to do. I was more delighted to get a guinea (about $5 in those days) for my first poem.

However, although I grew up in the South and have deep southern roots, I am not fond of Faulkner, O'Connor or Welty. They didn't write about southerners I know, yet a class on southern literature at my New York college convinced me some Northerners truly think southerners are uniformly weird, degenerate, illiterate, and/or retarded, based on those books and other literary depictions of us.

Granted, we southerners tend to enjoy the bizarre in life. We have few inhibitions about repeating crazy things our friends and family have done. We even repeat crazy things we ourselves have done--like the night I found myself riding through Atlanta with two men I did not know, at 3 a.m., wearing my pajamas.   

I love being a part of this collection of southern authors because in our various ways, we are educating the rest of the country about the rich variety of people who live down here. I've tried to do my part. In twenty southern mysteries and three southern novels, I've written about taxidermists, aristocratic old women, trailer trash, and blue grass musicians of international fame who live in a secluded mountain cove. My mysteries are set in Atlanta, Charleston, Jacksonville, Montgomery, and Middle Georgia, and I have tried to make each of those places and the people in them as real as I can to introduce my readers to folks they might like to know.

Recently I have put mysteries aside to write novels. Hold Up the Sky, this year's novel, is about four contemporary women who end up on a dairy farm in West Georgia one hot summer, and who have to learn the hard way that true strength for women comes not from independence but from interdependence. I think that's a lesson that applies to readers wherever they are. The book I just finished, Friday's Daughter, deals with a woman who has devoted her life to caring for her family only to discover at forty that the family never appreciated it. The story explores how one person's decisions about her own life can cause major changes in the lives of others. That, too, is not a uniquely southern theme, although the characters are Georgians.

I hope you'll visit me at my website, www.patriciasprinkle.com (it's temporarily out of order but should be up again within the week) and pick up some of my books. If you do, let me know what you think of them. I've written them for you.

And if you like, I'll tell you the story about that night when I rode through Atlanta in my pajamas . . .

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Writing To The End Of Time

Recently I opened up a writer’s workshop by asking participants, “Why do we write?” I’ve learned a great deal from these dialogues, but one answer in particular has stayed with me. An older man, who had arrived on a bicycle with plastic bags containing his lunch tied to the handle bars, raised his hand. “Immortality,” he yelled.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about that man. I find writing to be much like working out – something that I struggle with a good deal of the time, but also something I have to do. It helps me to keep balance in my life. Like the man from the workshop, I also write as a form of immortality.  When I was trying to get my first novel, A Place Called Wiregrass, published, I collected a drawer full of rejection letters. It was enough to drive a person to drink, or to at least ponder easier ways to be humiliated.

Then one day I received not one, but two rejection letters. The letters were from different divisions of the same New York publishing house – one from an editor saying that he loved the character’s voice but couldn’t relate to the story and the other from one of his colleagues saying that she loved the story but couldn’t relate to the character. I didn’t wince that time. I laughed. The light bulb went off. Writing is art and art is subjective. Whether my novel was read by anybody outside my circle, I was going to continue to write what I would buy and read. My hope was that one day, long after I’d left this world, somebody might find a dusty, mildew stained Kinko’s box with my work in it. The person would read it, might even enjoy it. A piece of me would remain. It was one of those mental breakthroughs that characters in short stories have right toward the end.

After twenty-six or twenty-seven rejections (who’s counting?) A Place Called Wiregrass finally got picked up by a small publisher. They hired a fantastic publicist. They put a nice cover on the book that caught the eye of a buyer at a big chain. And I jumped in the car and on my own dime, went from bookstore to bookstore in the southeast. Thanks to the independent stores that welcomed me and got behind the book, it became a Booksense selection. It won an award. A year later the rights to the book were purchased by one of the publishing houses that originally rejected it.

With all the talk these days about the struggles of publishing, I’m reminded that the business doesn’t get any easier. However, I continue to write. Writing helps me to make sense of life and if it provides entertainment to someone, all the better. But in the end, writing is a form of art. Whether we are a writer, editor, reader or all of the above – we come at it with different tastes and life experiences. Writing has lasted through the ages. Regardless if the words are read on paper or on a Kindle, the magical art of storytelling will be here long after I am around, that’s for sure.

Michael Morris is the author of the award winning novel, A Place Called Wiregrass, and Slow Way Home, which was named one of the best novels of the year by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the St. Louis Dispatch. A finalist for the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, he currently lives in Birmingham. www.michaelmorrisbooks.com

Friday, August 20, 2010

Why I love Southern novels – as reader and writer

Judy Christie
I like biscuits and books.
I hate hurry and worry.  
Our world would be a better place if everyone ate more biscuits, read more books, and quit running around like chickens with their heads chopped off.  Or, that's what I think anyway.
About ten years ago, I decided to slow my life down and enjoy each day more.  When I stopped living in a tizzy, I thought about that Southern novel I had always wanted to write. On my fiftieth birthday, I committed to write it -- a gift to myself.
The birthday cake got stale before I put fictional words on paper. With my old laptop booted up and a few days clear on my calendar, I thought back to all those wonderful Southern books I had read and what I liked about them – a sense of place, characters I cared about, humor, and not quite knowing what might happen next.
 I typed sentences. Deleted sentences. Typed more. (I was the state champion typist in high school, so the typing part was easy.) I read a lot about how to write a novel, talked to a good friend or two, and sorted through notes. I began to move to the fictional town of Green, Louisiana, where my writing journey intersected with the launch of the inspirational fiction line at Abingdon Press.
One year ago this month that first novel, “Gone to Green,” made its debut – with a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and a big hug to the FedEx guy who delivered the first copies. This month the second novel in The Green Series, “Goodness Gracious Green,” was released, and thoroughly celebrated at a big party on a very hot day. In February, “The Glory of Green” will be out.  Readers say they look forward to it – both for the story and because it will release in winter.
I plan to take readers back to Green three more times after that because there’s so much that goes on in a small southern town. “Rally ‘Round Green” is under way, also for release in 2011.
Grab a biscuit and think about the joy of the Southern novel.
            If you’re a reader, check out Southern writers – as different as the opinions neighbors have about the best kind of tomatoes to grow, and as alike as your family's dishes at Thanksgiving. If you want to write a novel, do it. Put those first scary words on the page. The “delete” key is a wonderful invention, but not half as much fun as the rest of the keyboard.
            If you’re a writer, find your unique voice. Stay true to who you are and the tales you want to tell.
           Happy reading, one and all! I’ll be looking for you down in Green.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes by Kristy Kiernan

Ahh, the Southern Authors Blog has a new leader, one we've not yet worn out with our schedules, and missing posts, and change requests, and technical questions…or, wait...was I the only one that high-maintenance?

(Dear God, did I run Karin off single-handedly?!)

Normally I, like so many others, hate change, but change can be good. It can shake up the people involved and make them reorder their own priorities--like paying better attention to a schedule, for example *cough cough* and even the topic, which, this time of change, happens to be a basic reintroduction of ourselves.

Change was afoot in 1999 when I finally decided to pursue my lifelong dream of making a living as a novelist. My grandmother had just taken her first serious fall as a result of the Parkinson's disease she had been diagnosed with five years earlier.

I stayed with my grandfather, Granddaddy, while she was in the hospital, and late one night we wound up have a rather serious talk. For a man who'd seemed like he'd done everything, Granddaddy had a lot of regrets, and the very last thing he said to me before retiring for the night, was that he was sorry he'd never written anything.

I felt as if someone had smacked me with a two by four while at the same time turned a cosmic Klieg light on me. I'd wanted to be a writer from the first moment I'd read CAT--written by my mother in the sand at the beach--and realized that all those letters could be put together to make actual words. 

And I wasn't going to be 80 years old and rattling, "I always wanted to be a writer," off as a regret.

I went home the next day and started my first novel.

It was awful. (No, really. And no, it will never see the light of day, but thanks for asking.)

I had plenty of failures, but we only have so much space here, so I'll just say that I wrote four novels, went broke, and sold my car in pursuit of my dream.

 And, at last, Berkley, an imprint of Penguin, published CATCHING GENIUS in 2007, just over eight years after that late-night conversation with Granddaddy.

And that sucker just took right off--who knew?


MATTERS OF FAITH followed in 2008 and won a Bronze Medal in the Florida Book Awards.

And BETWEEN FRIENDS was published in April of this year.

 Navigating the ups and downs of publishing has been the most difficult, most emotional, most devastating and delightful experience of my life. But I am doing exactly what I'd wanted to do since I was that little girl on the beach amazed at the words in the sand.

So change is good, and I'm satisfied that I'm going to have to really search my heart to list any significant regrets--though I suppose I'll have to wait until I'm eighty to see if that holds true, won't I?

Kristy Kiernan lives in SW Florida, where she still hangs out on the beach building sandcastles, occasionally bitterly regretting that she sold that car, and dreaming up new ways to bother her characters.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why Do You Write This Stuff?

Someone once asked me, “Why is it all your characters are so stupid?” The answer, although I didn’t think of it at the time, is that usually my characters are based on me.

I’m not saying I’m stupid – far from it. I’m extremely bright and highly educated. I have a PhD. I read books. Hell, I write books. Still, I do things that others might consider odd.

For example one time I came in the front door, and my wife asked me, “Where have you been?”

“Walking around the block,” I answered. I had some weighty matters on my mind that day, and I often find a stroll clears my head.

“Wearing that?” was Nancy’s follow-up query.

I studied my ensemble. A perfectly clean – well, almost perfectly – white terrycloth robe, cinched at the waist with a matching terrycloth belt. I also had on tennis shoes, but no socks.

“Please, tell me, please,” Nancy said, looking at the floor with a frown, and pinching the bridge of her nose as if she felt a headache coming on, “that you weren’t also talking to yourself.”

I considered. I probably had been talking to myself, but had no specific recollection. As I said, I had been wrestling with matters of weighty import, hence the reason for taking a stroll in the first place, and it seemed probable I had made my ruminations audible. Still. Talking to myself was probably overstating it by a fair margin; mumbling to myself was probably more like it. That being said, it must also be admitted that when dealing with complex topics, it is my practice to take both sides of the issue, to give every point a fair hearing. In the midst of a heated debate, I am prone to dramatic gestures, the better to emphasize a point.

Nevertheless, I did see Nancy’s point: a grown man strolling the streets in his bathrobe – reasonably clean or not – and talking to himself – be it ever so politely – is apt to raise eyebrows and attract the attention of passing patrol cars, especially if he is also gesturing to himself – even if it’s only in the give-and-take spirit of a free-wheeling debate.

Again, let me emphasize, contrary to appearances, I am not insane. I’ve never actually had a test to confirm this, but to the best of my knowledge, I am not insane. I just think differently. I do things differently.

This is why I write what I do. In my first novel, a mechanic believes that if he takes apart and rebuilds the same Corvette over and over again, saving the leftover pieces every time, eventually he’ll have enough parts to build an entire car.

I wrote this because it’s the sort of idea that occurs to me.

In my second novel, Paradise Dogs – due out this spring from Thomas Dunne Books, and a dandy gift for any occasion – the protagonist, Adam Newman, borrows a dozen loose diamonds from a jeweler. And loses them.

I wrote that because it’s just the sort of thing that would happen to me.

This same Adam Newman believes there’s a secret government project to dig a barge canal across Florida, and his son, the world’s least accurate obituary writer, is in love with his brother’s girlfriend, and…

Well, you get the idea.

These are the sort of people who walk around the block in their bathrobes.

Man Martin is the author of Days of the Endless Corvette, which won him Georgia Author of the Year in 2008. His next novel, Paradise Dogs, is due out this spring from Thomas Dunne Books. Visit him on the web at manmartin.net.

When Nashville Won't Let You Sing....

Almost 19 years ago I moved to Nashville to sing. I learned really quickly no one wanted to hear me. While back in SC in my small little hometown of Camden I could have been a superstar, in Nashville, well, not so much...  I found myself working in the parts department of a Heating and Air Conditioning Company in Lavergne, Tennessee. Yep, Like Shirley and Lavergne. I was the receptionist with a lady named Roz who chained smoked, cussed like a sailor and wore mink coats. (Why she has not yet been a character in one of my books is beyond my power of imagination...)

I made one of those 911 calls home to mom and dad, (who still love to hear me sing by the way) and told them if something didn't happen soon I was coming home. Little did I know that an article I had written about an organization called Mercy Ministries of America was being read at that moment by the President and Founder of the organization. She called me the next morning and told me that they were working on their Autobiography and had hired a writer but they just weren't happy with how the book was turning out. They wanted it to read like my article, so would I come help them finish their book. I said, "Nancy, I don't write."
She said, "Yeah, you do."

Through the years I've come to realize the power that we have to call people into their destiny. Because that is what she did for me. She also introduced me to the man who would be come my husband as well. For ten years I wrote for other people. You name it I worked on it: Allegory, gift books, self-help. Have story...will help! During that season I began to teach as well. I spoke at women's conference, at churches, and did some things for the Billy Graham Association and write songs. My husband was a recording artist at the the time, (that was as close as I could get!) and he would write the music and I would write the lyric. But I decided I wanted to write my own book. I wanted to write a non-fiction book that could really help change people's lives. Speak to them in their deep places. I found an agent in New York at William Morris, who had a connection with my husband's manager. And fourteen rejection letters later, on my first non-fiction book called "The Passage", I asked her not to send me anymore.

One day on my back porch I thought, wonder if I can write fiction. I had never written fiction a day before in my life. I had loved it. Consumed it. Hid books behind my text books in class. Had journaled extensively through college, even worked on a screen play, and had written some rather nifty poetry to a few guys I had crushes on in High School, but beside being able to tell fiction pretty well, I had never written it. So, sitting on my porch drinking a Coca-Cola I thought, "Well, if I write fiction where would I set it." I decided on Savannah. I had been there once. Thought it was beautiful, so it worked for me. Then I thought, "I could name the main character Savannah, and everyone could go around calling her 'Savannah from Savannah!'" And that is how my first book about a young woman named Savannah who grew up in Savannah, Georgia, moves back home after college and begins to write human interest stories for her local newspaper. And the first one she thinks is of human interest is about a rigged beauty pageant of which her mother is a former queen of.

The day I walked into the office of my publisher to sign our contract it was very bitter sweet. I thought, "Here I wanted to be known for books that changed people's lives and I'm going to be known for a book about a rigged beauty pageant where women tape their boobs and spray their butts. Not exactly what I was going for!

That was eight years ago. I have had five other fiction books come out, my latest which released this summer, called "Hurricanes in Paradise". Through the last eight years I have also still tried to get non-fiction published multiple times. I formed a ministry called The Whole Woman Revolution, where I lead an inter-denominational Bible Study here in Franklin and we do a VBS for Women event each summer. And so non-fiction has still been a dream.

However, three years ago I walked through the heartbreaking divorce of my 13 year marriage. I was devastated. I walked away from a new three book deal. Didn't speak or teach for almost a year. Basically did nothing but focused on my healing. In the middle of that a new blog came to life called Flying Solo. A blog for singles of all kinds, never married, divorced and widowed. One day my agent asked me if I would be willing to possibly pitch the journals from divorce for a book. I said, "Nope."
"But you're already putting your journey down on your blog."
"Still nope."
"Will you think about it?"
I did. And in December my first non-fiction book called Flying Solo: A Journey of Divorce, Healing and a Very Present God will release. How interesting that I tried all those years to get non-fiction published and it what ends up being a book is something I would have never wanted to walk through and a story that was never meant to be a book...

Life is sweet and full today. On April 10th, I married a precious man and became the bonus mom to five beautiful children. I had never had children and it had always been a desire of my heart. We're all acclimating...some days are more challenging than others...but in the middle of it all there is this beautiful tapestry of story. Our story...Each of us is always writing our story, whether on paper, or whether in the things we do, the words we say or the way we love. Thanks for giving me a few minutes to share mine...

Denise Hildreth Jones makes her home in Franklin, Tennessee where she loves a good game of Sorry, a good book, a long bike ride and a Coca-Cola. She lives with her husband, five bonus children and two shih-tzu's. (At least that's what she calls them on a good day...)

Monday, August 16, 2010


Since Kathy Patrick asked us to share our publishing stories—how we got started, and all—I’m going to do just that. If you’ve heard it before, sorry! But I love telling it, because it reminds me of how lucky I am to be sitting here, published, and participating in this blog! And yes, it’s kinda long, but hey, this is 10 crazy years we’re talking about!

When I was in my forties, and my kids were heading off to college, I rediscovered a dream I’d all but forgotten, to be an author. It happened quite by accident. You see, I went back to school, too, for a Master’s in Education because I wanted to teach high school English. After a decade in real estate, I wanted security, benefits, and summers off. But a funny thing happened, in the English class we did a lot of writing, and I just LOVED IT! I hadn’t written in a decade, since leaving a freelance journalism career for real estate. But suddenly, sitting in that classroom, writing those creative pieces, something lit up inside me! I was an eleven year old girl again, pecking away at my Dad’s old Underwood manual typewriter as I wrote my first short stories. Dreaming of being an author!

I switched programs and got into a Master’s in English with a concentration in Writing and in my very first class, I created Joanna Harrison, a corporate wife in a short story who runs away to Pawleys Island. Two years later, in 1999, when I wrote my thesis, I wrote 120 pages about a corporate wife who runs away from her life in NJ to start over on Pawleys Island, SC (exactly where I’d still like to run away to!). The Richest Season was born.

After graduating, it took 2 more years for me to finish the novel, getting up at 5 am most mornings and writing before work, and also on weekends. By August of 2001, I had a 500 page manuscript, with not just Joanna, the wife’s journey, but the corporate husband, Paul’s, transforming story, as well as that of an elderly woman, Grace, who gives Joanna a job. I was so excited! This book had everything I love in it, the beauty of nature, the need to get back to the simple things in life. Rediscovering our dreams after getting caught up in the busyness of life! (And I didn’t even realize art was imitating life, it was simply subconscious!).

Well, there wasn’t a happy, tidy little ending to my story. It got rejected for the next 5 years, again and again, and I shelved it 3 times! Now there were some good moments—I got some glowing rejection letters, the best one arriving on October 11, 2001, exactly a month after 9/11. She loved the book, but the publishing world was in flux. I decided to wait a while before trying again. Later in 2002, I had a very big agent call me on the phone! From her vacation home! She wanted the manuscript exclusively, and I was jumping up and down. Two weeks later when she called again, I heard the BUT before she uttered the word… “but I wanted some humor.” I was ready to bang my head against a wall. I had no idea chick-lit was becoming a hot genre, and that’s what agents wanted. Then another agent read my manuscript and asked me to (and I swear these are her words) “ditch Paul and ditch Grace, I just want Joanna.” I realized she wanted a romance novel. I wasn’t willing to give up what I thought were 2 incredible characters.

In the meantime, I kept hearing the same refrain from friends and relatives who were reading the manuscript in a fat 3 ring binder: Your book is wonderful! Why isn’t it published?

A milestone birthday came and went. I began writing another book, while still working full time as a realtor, and I was frustrated as hell. I began to do some soul searching.

I wanted to keep writing. I didn’t want to give up. But what defined success to me as a writer? To be read! And to move people when they read my work. I wanted The Richest Season to be out there in reader land, for people to know about Joanna, Grace and Paul, three characters who I believed deserved to live in reader’s imaginations. I wanted them to fall in love with Pawleys Island, as I had more than 20 years ago.

And so I decided to take one of the biggest gambles in my life: to self-publish The Richest Season. After all, I reasoned, if I could sell houses, which I’d done very successfully for nearly 20 years by then, I could sell this book!!!

I found a small print on demand publisher in California which I’d never heard of, and I was hoping no one else had either. I wanted the book judged on its own merits, not with the stigma I knew it would carry if the truth were known.

My self-published edition of The Richest Season debuted in May, 2006. I immediately orchestrated a book launch at our local college. I sent press releases to our local weekly, and our local radio station. I hung posters all over town. But the week of the launch I was a wreck. I was now feeling like a bit of a fraud. The local paper interviewed me, took a picture, and ran an article with the headline: DREAM OF BEING PUBLISHED COMES TRUE. I thought I would die from embarrassment! Obviously, that wasn’t exactly accurate.

The night of the launch, I was scared to death. I knew most people would have no idea it was self-published. I had no idea how many would show up. Despite a torrential downpour and with little parking nearby, I managed to fill the parlors. One of the first women who came in, who’d gotten the book online—the only place it was available-- hugged me and said, “I loved your book. I wanted to live it.” I went on to sell over 100 books that night. Needless to say, I was beyond thrilled. But still…there was that nagging feeling, despite what they thought: I wasn’t the real deal. I wasn’t a real published author.

I began pounding the pavement. Getting a bookseller to read a self-published book isn’t easy. The big stores and chains simply won’t. So I focused on the independents. I went into each store with shaking knees and trembling hands, as I brought a copy of my book to one store after another.

Then something magical happened. One bookseller loved it, and then another. They began to help me, recommending the book to their book clubs, asking me to do signings. I got up the nerve to call booksellers in other states. Tom Warner at Litchfield Books in Pawleys Island (my setting), loved it and said “next time you come down, we’ll have you for a signing.” I told him, “I’m coming later this month!” (I wasn’t actually, but after he said that, I knew I had to). The next thing you know, I’m on a Southern book tour, with stops at Park Road Books in Charlotte, and McIntyre’s Fine Books near Chapel Hill! I sent press releases to all the nearby papers and got coverage, because I was that squeaky wheel, who called and emailed until they responded.

I even went to a bookseller’s convention and walked the floor, handing out review copies to some surprised booksellers, as the big name authors signed at booths, with long lines, a very humbling experience.

The next eight months were exhausting as I continued to market my novel in any way I could, while still working. I racked up 25 signings, some library and senior talks, and met with nearly 40 book clubs in 10 states, many via web cam. Reader feedback was unbelievable. I sold more then 2,000 books, what some literary books do in a lifetime, I learned. In one indie, The Richest Season went on to become their top selling trade paperback for 2006, outselling The Kite Runner.

Needless to say, I was exhausted. I had no time to write, and booksellers kept saying to me, “You have to stop selling books out of the trunk of your car (I was supplying many on consignment) and get back to writing. People are asking for your next book.”

One night in November, I decided to search for an agent again. I sent out e-mail queries loaded with all my bookseller and reader quotes, newspaper reviews, and the fact that I had several thousand readers waiting for my next book. The very next morning I got a call from The Victoria Sanders Agency, asking me for an exclusive. I agreed. Eight weeks later they called, asking me to come in.

On the last day of January in 2007, after a harrowing trip into New York that included snow, ice and a train shut-down because of a terrorist alert, I was rewarded with a smile and these words from Victoria: “This is a wonderful book!” Validation! Finally!

But we still had to sell it to a publisher. I knew I was only halfway there.

Victoria asked me to add a few scenes early in the book, something I’d already been thinking about because of all my book club discussions. In April of 2007, with those new scenes added, she sent copies of the manuscript to major publishers in New York on a Thursday. The following Monday morning she called me and said “I think we’re going to have multiple offers.” I literally jumped up and down.

Shortly afterward, she decided to hold an auction for the rights to The Richest Season. It was an exciting and nail biting time, waiting for her call. When it came, I was thrilled to learn that Hyperion Books won, offering me a 2 book hardcover deal. This was it! After years of rejection, I was the real deal!

And the astounding thing was this. All during my low moments, and there were many over this entire journey, my best friend kept singing the Disney song, “When you wish upon a star…” I then learned that Hyperion is owned by…Disney!

Within a few weeks, Random House in Germany bought German rights in a 5 way auction, and Mondadori took it in Italy in a preempt. It’s now being translated into Spanish.

In June, 2008, The Richest Season debuted in hardcover, as an INDIE NEXT PICK. The following summer, my second novel, So Happy Together, also an INDIE NEXT PICK, also debuted in hardcover. Both are now out as trade paperbacks.

I’ve just turned in my third novel, The Book Lover, about a struggling independent bookseller who discovers…a self-published author! I don’t think there’s anything out there quite like it! It’s truly fiction, though I do use a bit of my backstory, but it tells the entire journey of how a book begins in an author’s head and ends up in a reader’s hands. And it’s got lots of drama, and some great characters, you’ll just love.

As I begin the first tentative steps into my fourth novel, there are still days I can’t quite believe it’s true, that I’m a real author. And I'd nearly given up.

My advice to aspiring writers with a dream is work hard, persevere, and BELIEVE!

Maryann McFadden lives in NJ, although her heart is in the Lowcountry of SC. She was a freelance writer for ten years, then sold real estate, before returning to writing, her first love. You can read more at www.maryannmcfadden.com