Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How Other Writers Inspire Us--by Elizabeth Craig/Riley Adams

Most writers are more than just writers—they’re also avid readers.
When I find an author that I really like, it’s an exciting experience for me. I’ll go out and find everything the writer has written and buy it for my library. I’ll check and see if they have a blog to get their day to day observations on life and writing. I become a fan.

There are some authors that I’ve been a fan of for many years. Elizabeth George, M.C. Beaton, and Deborah Crombie are some of the authors on my favorites list, and I'll read their books over and over again.

Not only do I enjoy the escape that these authors’ books provide me, but I also receive a lot of inspiration from them.

How other writers can inspire us:

Favorite writers can inspire us by their productivity--especially if they have a lot of books on the shelves.

They inspire us by their ideas and creativity

They inspire us by juggling promo and writing

They inspire by their turn of phrase—their skill at the writing craft

They inspire us by creating characters we care about and want to learn more about.

They inspire us by making us look forward to their next book

They inspire us by creating a world that we long to escape to

My favorite writers inspire me to spend more time writing, work harder at the craft, and to strive to create a world and characters that are as engrossing as theirs.

How do your favorite authors inspire you?
Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams
Mystery Writing is Murder

Memphis BBQ series--Penguin Books--as Riley Adams
"Pretty is as Pretty Dies"-Aug 2009--Midnight Ink--as Elizabeth Spann Craig

True Crime in Nashville

by Bente Gallagher

Seeing as this month's optional theme is Author Friends, I'm gonna take the opportunity to introduce one of mine, and another Southern Author. I first met Phyllis Gobbel back in 2007, when she came to talk to our local Sisters in Crime chapter about her new book, An Unfinished Canvas, the Janet March story, written with Michael Glasgow.

We all told her she'd found her niche, that she should be writing true crime, and lo and behold, Phyllis listened. She's back, this time with A Season of Darkness, the story of the Marcia Trimble case, a mystery that kept Nashville enthralled for a lot longer than the decade it took to bring Perry March to trial for his wife's murder.

Without further ado, here's Phyllis:

My advance copies of A Season of Darkness arrived last week, and as all writers know, even when you’ve seen the cover and the page proofs, and you’ve read the manuscript until you can recite it, it’s still a rush to hold that book in your hand. This is not my first book, and, in fact, it’s my second true crime. But this time, something felt different as I flipped through the pages, from one familiar chapter title to another.

“Every Parent’s Nightmare” begins the story of nine-year-old Marcia Trimble who went across the street in February, 1975, to deliver Girl Scout cookies and never returned. Weeks passed before her body was found in her own neighborhood, in spite of search efforts unlike anything Nashville had ever seen, and it took thirty-four years to solve the case and convict her killer.

Doug Jones asked me to work on the story with him just after my first true crime, An Unfinished Canvas, was released. Someone had posed the question: "What’s your next true crime?” My answer was that I had no plans to write another “unless they solve the Marcia Trimble case someday.” I didn’t know that someday was close at hand. The man who would be arrested and convicted was already in the sights of the Cold Case detectives.

An Unfinished Canvas, which I wrote with Mike Glasgow, was based on another Nashville cold case. Janet March, a young artist, wife and mother, disappeared in 1996. Her husband Perry told those closest to them, including Janet’s parents, that after an argument, she just drove away. Though her body was never found, the long, tedious investigation led to the arrest of Perry on the streets of Ajijic, Mexico, where he had forged a new life. A decade after Janet’s disappearance, Perry was convicted of her murder.

Some of the same threads run through all true crime stories. Human behavior often demonstrates that truth really is stranger than fiction. And all true crime is steeped in heartbreak. The discovery of Marcia Trimble’s body on Easter Sunday was heartbreaking, and there was plenty of heartbreak as Janet March’s family had to come to grips with the facts that, first, she was never coming back, and then that they would never have a body to bury. Working on these two stories for five years, I have read a lot of true crime, too, and all of it boils down to the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the end, justice often prevails, but the ordeal takes its toll.

That moment last week, with my new copy of A Season of Darkness in hand, I thought of how Nashville reacted to Marcia Trimble’s murder, how the little girl seemed to belong to the entire city, and how the crime and the investigation changed Nashville. In 1975, Nashville was a city of neighborhoods where children roamed freely, rode bikes in the streets, went in and out of neighbors’ houses, and came home at dark. I remember the night Marcia Trimble disappeared, as do so many Nashvillians. “I helped search,” they'd tell Doug and me, referring to the days after Marcia’s disappearance when as many as a thousand volunteers at a time joined the official searchers from police divisions and rescue squads. “I remember that Easter Sunday when I heard the news,” they say. If you were living in Nashville in 1975, you remember, and you know it’s true what has been said so many times, that with the murder of Marcia Trimble, Nashville lost its innocence.

Doug and I worked hard to make sure we got it right. Still, there was a heavy feeling, holding our new book, knowing that the Marcia Trimble murder case is so much a part of the fabric of Nashville. Not everyone agrees with the police theory. In spite of all the answers we provide, there will still be questions. A lot of emotion is attached to this; certainly, I feel it. Every time I read the part where Virginia Trimble is out by the
streetlight at dusk, calling for Marcia, I am there again, in 1975, in that more innocent time in Nashville, and I yearn for an ending that allows Marcia to grow up, to never have a book written about her.

A Season of Darkness (Berkley) will be released December 7. Phyllis and Doug will sign books at Borders West End, December 8; Mysteries & More, December 11; and Sherlock’s Downtown, December 17. Follow updates on http://www.phyllisgobbell.com/ or join the “A Season of Darkness” group on Facebook.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

This Is The Day

This is the day the Christmas industry hath made. We shall rejoice and be tired. We brace ourselves for the coming weeks, for the impending bacchanal of emotion, stress, and joy. We accept that our nerves will become more frayed than the early-1990s garland moldering in the attic. As the holiday descends and threatens to eclipse our best seasonal intentions, I bring you respite: Some real-life levity from The Cracker Queen Book Tour.

Best/Worst Things Heard While Out Promoting My Book

-I want you to know that your book offended me greatly. I didn’t read it, but I saw some of that awful language you used.

-I could relate to so much of your childhood…my Mama shot at my Daddy, too!

-Could we hire you to write a true crime book for us? We read The Cracker Queen and know that if anyone can make a brutal murder hilarious, it’s you!

-Asked during a Q&A session at a civic club: Lauretta, Did you ever graduate from high school? (I must have made a good impression on those Kiwanians.)

-Asked during same session: This stuff you’re talking about can’t possibly be real, right?

-I just emailed my 850-page novel to you. I was hoping you’d take a look at it.

-Can you give me your agent’s phone number? I’ve completed six novels and am looking for representation.
Me: I won’t give you her number, but I do recommend that you read her online bio and learn about her interests first.
Oh, I don’t own a computer.

-You don’t look like what I expected…you don’t look like a Cracker.
Me: What’s wrong? I don’t look like I’ve just come in from cookin’ up a big batch of meth in the singlewide?

-I swear I’m not a stalker, but…

-I’m the one around here who should write a book because I’ve died three times; I talk to God; and I see ghosts.
Me: Hey, I have a title for your book—Dead. Dead. And Dead. (Lady doesn’t blink; in fact, she hasn’t blinked during the entire fifteen minutes she’s yammered at me.)

-I see your book is a memoir. Whose memoir is it? Is it a true story?

Then there is the email from the crazies. Here’s one of my favorites, reproduced exactly as sent.

Would you write a book for or with me about a group of family circumstances that occurred after a wedding at the convention center? In a nutshell, my husband’s cousin was extremely foul, immoral, and illegal in her acts at an after party, and the family has been dysfunctional ever since. Would you be interested in meeting with me? Everybody that we have talked to always says it would make a great movie for Hollywood.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming: Christmas to-do lists, shopping, and visits from trifling, coughing relatives. I invite you to be a true Cracker Queen this year and keep your sense of humor. All is calm, all is bright—my ass!

Lauretta Hannon, described by Southern Living as “the funniest woman in Georgia,” is the author of The Cracker Queen—A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life. She has also been a commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Lauretta offers seminars through her Down Home Writing School and She Who Laughs Retreats. Earlier this year, the Georgia Center for the Book named The Cracker Queen one of the Top Twenty-Five Books All Georgians Should Read.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


When I was a senior at the University of Georgia in 1984, I needed a bunch of P.E. credits in order to graduate. Probably I had been doing a little too much partying at the downtown Athens scene and not enough attending of classes. Nonetheless, I eagerly registered for a class called Fitness for Life; an intensive, multi-sport approach to physical fitness that would fulfill my P.E. requirement. I made a trip home to borrow my little brother’s ten-speed bike, got back to campus, laced up my Pumas, and prepared to get my body in top shape. Boy, did I have a surprise around the bend.

My class was biking down S. Milledge Avenue, sans helmets, when an elderly gentleman’s car slammed into me from behind. I don’t know if I flew up into the air and then hit the pavement, or just got struck, went limp, and lay motionless on the road waiting for the ambulance to arrive. I’ve got no memory until some sketchy images weeks later in a hospital room, and then mostly snippets of what my Mother and my best friend have shared with me. I do have a few hazy memories which take place later on in the physical therapy room of the hospital; learning to walk again between parallel bars, of squeezing sponges of water from one bowl to another. I can see bottles of phenobarbitol and hear admonitions to “Be careful, take things easy.”

When the hospital sent a brain-injury specialist to prepare my family for their new reality, I was oblivious to it all. One thing I really hate to ponder is my folks going over to the dorm to clearing out my room when they were finally allowed to take me home from the hospital. No telling what they found! Apparently my mother dwells only on the good things because she said so often as I mended, (and still says so much I get tired of hearing it), “Julie, you are a walking miracle! You should be dead, or at the best, a vegetable. God’s been good to you.”

Well, at first I was not so sure about all the ‘God’s been good to you’ talk. I was covered in scars; a long pink-white puckered one down my inner thigh, one along my spine, and a big shiny one on the back of my head (hairdressers wonder about it). My wrists would let me down when I tried to hold something heavy, like a skillet (which makes me think I must’ve landed on my hands). Trips to the neurologist, who hooked me up to various machinery, revealed a “spark” from the right front temporal lobe of my brain. I certainly wasn’t feeling the need to say thanks or even talk to Someone who would let all this happen.

Though I’d been raised by very devout, God-fearing parents who taught me the Golden Rule and carried me to church every time the doors were open, I had never had the time, nor the desire for any of that spiritual stuff. I did not want anything that got in the way of what I wanted to do. Life was all about me.

Months and months passed, years, and as I journeyed along in my recovery (particularly as I saw the drooling folks in wheelchairs in the neurologist’s waiting room) I began to see that I had indeed been spared, and that there was a greater power at work in me.

Now, I don’t believe God made that accident happen to get my attention. He didn’t say, “I think it’s time for Julie to appreciate her every breath, and love her neighbor as herself.” But I do think He allowed it, held me all the way through it, and taught me a lot because of it.

That experience taught me about cherishing the small things. I try not to take a lot for granted. I know life as we know it can be gone in one split-second. It gave me compassion for other people. Going through that valley, which turned out to be a fairly long, dark one, made me at last (I’m very, very stubborn) seek a relationship, a peace with God that I would not trade for anything in this world.

Sometimes it still hits me right between the eyes; I realize what a miracle it is that I still possess the mental clarity to tell the stories I’ve always loved to tell, that I’ve been given three children (and a husband), and the ability to walk through and enjoy this world, this life!

The bike wreck, the brain injury and my subsequent journey to recovery has to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through. But as many challenges as I faced, still face, it was worth it all. In an odd way, I’m even thankful for what became the pivotal moment in my life. I would not erase it even if I could. What it taught me is of immeasurable value. It literally changed my life.

A brain injury is a funny thing. If things are calm, I’m good. But when I am stressed, or tired, I am prone to what are called ‘spells.’ This is a spacey disconnect with reality, preceded by an unusual aura. Sometimes while I’m sleeping, I’ll even have seizures, and I absolutely HATE hearing about these, because most of the time I’m unaware of them. They are why I do not drive.

The Bible says to give thanks in everything (not for everything), which to me means to live with gratitude. So, I try to slow down and not stress, to take delight in the small joys of life. I covet the peace that comes from a grateful heart, and I’m very passionate about giving thanks, about trying to live with a spirit of gratitude.

I am a storyteller and I like what Donald Maass has to say about conveying our passionate opinions: “They are always stronger in the mouths of characters than in the prose of the author.”

One of the characters in my latest novel, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” is Mr. Tyronious Byrd, an aging black gentleman who’s caretaker of a tree farm in 1944 Georgia. Tyronious Byrd has gone through a valley of utter darkness, a time when his inner fortitude and all of his convictions were tested. It became one of those inward turning points for him, and now Mr. Byrd has things to say to a young man named William who struggles with polio and cannot serve alongside his peers in WWII:

“Now don’t go pityin’ yo’self, son. Seem ever’ day I hear about some mama or daddy getting’ a telegram say their baby ain’t coming home. Don’t be gettin’ jealous of nobody over there fightin’. Besides yo’ limp and a hand what gives you trouble, you an able-bodied man. Got this nice family business just waitin’ for you to take it over someday.”

Tyronious Byrd is an impassioned advocate of looking at the silver lining of every cloud. His faith in God’s plan is the force that drives him. He cleaves to the belief that giving thanks in spite of circumstances is a sure way to have peace. William complains to him that this is not an easy thing to do:

“Naw. It ain’t easy, that for sho’. But then ain’t nothin’ worth havin’ ever easy.” Mr. Byrd cleared his throat. “You recall me tellin’ you God ain’t never goin’ let you down? That whatever happen, He goin’ use it in His perfect plan?”

Even though William is doubtful, Tyronious Byrd cleaves to his convictions. He does not mince words. He speaks the truth as he sees it:

“Sometime when life give a person a hard blow, the Lord don’t reach down and deliver ‘em out of all they troubles. Sometime He give ‘em the strength to endure and overcome. Now I ain’t gonna lie t’ you, son. Sometime the nights still be lonely, and some days seem t’ go on forever, ‘specially in December, but even then I been able t’ find a peace and joy I ain’t never experience before my valley – on account I feel Jesus, the Presence, walkin’ beside me.”

Funny, but Mr. Tyronious Byrd, a minor character, became my favorite character. His story, in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” is about finding things to give thanks for even in the dark valleys of life. Finding joy and peace and a spirit of thanksgiving despite our ‘momentary afflictions.’ This is what I hope and pray this book brings into the hearts of readers this holiday season.


P.S. Last week I got an email from Teresa Weaver, editor of Atlanta Magazine. She was in Haiti with Habitat for Humanity. As I write this, Haiti is still reeling from a blow by Hurricane Tomas. This impoverished country was already fighting a deadly outbreak of cholera, and now torrential rains and heavy winds have displaced many from their homes. Teresa’s gift of time and labor, and the Haitians plight remind me to ask everyone to please lift up a prayer for the folks in Haiti while you’re feasting with family and friends today.

Julie L. Cannon is the author of five novels. Her latest release, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, was chosen as a Top Pick of Fall 2010 Releases by CBA Retailers & Resources magazine. She lives in Watkinsville, Georgia. Visit her website at http://www.juliecannon.info/

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How Does it Feel to Write a Novel

In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Richard Dreyfus – his brain bombarded by telepathic messages from alien vistors – begins obsessively sculpting a replica of Devil’s Tower National Monument. He doesn’t know that’s what he’s doing. He’s just eating supper one night and a lump of mashed potatoes strikes him as inexplicably compelling. He begins shaping it into something that conforms with an unknown thing he himself doesn’t recognize, adding more scoops of potatoes, shaping it more, examining it from all sides, adding more potatoes.

His wife, played by Teri Garr, looks on aghast. (No one did aghast better than Teri Garr.) She’s hoping her husband will just settle down and act normal and that when he scoops more potatoes onto his plate it will be in order to eat them. By the time she finally can’t take any more of this and leaves with the children, Dreyfus has moved way beyond mashed potatoes. There’s a truckload of fill dirt in his living room, which he is meticulously scraping, shaving, and piling into – he knows not what – but somehow he has faith it’ll mean something once he’s finished.

That’s how it feels writing a novel. There’s a lump of something that strikes you as intriguing: a juxtaposition of ideas, a snatch of overheard conversation, a man’s perplexed and frustrated expression on a subway, and you think – that’s interesting, I could do something with that. So you pile on more, you can never know exactly how much is too much, figuring, configuring, reconfiguring.  It’s not entirely random; you have some notion of where you’re heading, you have to. Even Richard Dreyfus knew he was building some kind of mud and rock tower. But you don’t really know what you’ll end up with; you just keep adding, shaping, and taking away, adding, shaping, and taking away until one day, you look at your novel in progress and discover, “By golly, I do believe there’s a theme.” You turn it over, and sure enough it is a theme.

You set deadlines, but that’s just something you tell yourself to feel better. Chaucer started writing The Canterbury Tales in the 1300’s and he hasn’t finished yet.

We might feel sorry for Dreyfus, losing his family, but we recognize that this mud and rock monolith in his room has become his companion. That’s how it is with novels. Not that I think my book is a person, I’m not deluded. But for the last two years I’ve spent a little time every day thinking about it – and only it. It’ll be with me for at least another year longer. (But that’s all, one more year tops. I’ve set myself a strict deadline.) The novel grows and changes under us as we come to know the form it’s taking. We’re not always happy with it, we resent it more than once, and we sometimes actively dislike it, but it’s always there next morning, and if we don’t like what it’s turning into, it’s only because we aren’t doing it right, yet. Sometimes an angry slash at it – take that, you selfish bastard, sucking up so much of my life! – and we do something in random fury just to poke at it – make the woman next door deaf, give the detective a French accent, slap the top off with a shovel – and the potential of it strikes us afresh, like seeing the wife whose loveliness you take for granted turned half profile away and remembering how shockingly beautiful she is. And you’re back at it again.

Anyway. People ask my process of writing a novel, but I think what they really want to know is how it feels to write a novel. It feels like that. A huge mud sculpture in the living room. The furniture shoved against the wall to make space. The hardwood floor, needless to say, permanently ruined. Your family, at best, tolerant. You do not know how much more effort will be required and you have already expended more effort than you planned, more than this project can possibly justify. You wonder if you’ll be required to bust out the ceiling before it is finished.

And each day it gets a little better.

  Man Martin's first novel, Days of the Endless Corvette, won him Georgia Author of the Year for 2008.  His second novel, Paradise Dogs, is due out Spring of 2011 from Thomas Dunne Books.  He is currently at work scooping potatoes onto a third novel.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I love reading all of the "What I'm Thankful For" posts that flood the Internet (and grade, middle, and high school classes) every year at this time. And there is no question that I have much to be thankful for in my life.

In fact, I think I try to vocalize that I'm thankful for the things I'm thankful for when they actually happen.

And so I tend to feel a little cranky about my thankfulness around this time of year--knowing that at some point someone is going to ask me what I'm most grateful for, and I'm going to have to come up with something all lyrical and poignant, and really, I never did like being told what to do or how to feel.

So you know what happens when the stubborn and childish and Southern feel cornered, right? We turn all smart-ass and look for the black comedy.

Which leads me, inexorably, inevitably, naturally, and predictably, to my own family.

There were a lot of memorable holiday family get-togethers while I was growing up. We had our share of drunk friends and/or relatives, and/or dogs and cats, and lots of recalcitrant food--turkeys with the giblets still in, ovens never turned on, apples pies eaten off the kitchen floor--but there are some moments during those long, long childhoods that stand out, and that give you a sudden insight into why your family works the way it does…or doesn't.

My grandmother was a clean, clean woman. And not adorably-quirky clean like Monk, but more like douse-you-in-alcohol-and-light-you-on-fire-to-get-rid-of-the-germs clean.

My mother, on the other hand, had an ink drawing of a wild woman with flowing hair and hippie dress hanging in the kitchen with the less-than-subtle title of "F@#K HOUSEWORK" (only the @ was a "U" and the # was a "C" [just in case you weren't clear]) in giant Gothic script under her breasts. There might have even been candles and small animal sacrifices under it, but I admit that my memory might be playing tricks on me with that one.

There were likely epic battles of will between the two women in the years before I came along, but things had mellowed to a nice, classic, comfortable passive-aggressive Southern mother/daughter kind of thing, subtle enough that it wasn't until I was about thirteen before I saw it ripen, split open, and rot over the course of a Thanksgiving dinner.

We'd, somehow, made it to sitting down at the table and passing bowls and plates, and my brother's face had morphed into that fascinating-yet-horrifying mask of desperate hunger that only fifteen-year-old boys are capable of, and the inevitable discussion of how moist the turkey was had begun.

I seem to recall that it started innocently enough, though I might not have been mature enough to read the little signs of strain beneath the compliments, but it soon deteriorated when my grandmother began expounding on how filthy turkeys were, how you had to clean them--no--scrub them, inside and out, several times before you cooked them…and then it happened: "Of course you wouldn't bother with that," she said to my mother.

Oh--the silence, so brief, so, you know…silent.

And then: "Oh no, we tie a rope to the turkey legs and drag it around the backyard a few times before we cook it," my mother said.

She was laughing.

The rest of us laughed.

Well, most of the rest of us laughed.

If there were Family Dysfunction lightbulbs, a 100 watt one would have gone off above my head for the very first time.

Just like that everything changed. My grandmother stood suddenly enough that her chair tipped over backward. Half of us scrambled to our feet, while the other half seemed to resign themselves. I was a scrambler, my brother was a resigner.

"Get out!" she screamed, raising her arm ninety degrees and thrusting her finger toward the door. "Get out!"

The laughter continued in its own strange, uncertain way, but my mother simply tilted her head toward her own mother with a secret smile and said, "Really?"

"Get out!"

"You got it." My mother stood and gestured me toward her. "Let's go," she said.

I immediately hustled around the table, but my brother wasn't going anywhere without some food, so he moved a little slower, grabbing a turkey leg and a couple of crescent rolls before my mother managed to get him to the front door. We left in a strange, jostle of a family huddle, my mother leading the way, me following behind with wide eyes, and my brother trailing, casting an occasional wistful glance over his shoulder at the pies sitting on the counter.

It wasn't until we were in the car that my mother began to laugh. It's entirely possible that it was hysterical laughter, the kind that masks or turns into tears, but at my age I only heard the laughter. And suddenly, magically, it was funny.

I remember that Thanksgiving with a grin. A smart-ass grin, but a grin nonetheless. It was dramatic, and pointless, and, I suppose, even sad, but it was also well-felt. By God, I remember that Thanksgiving.

That is what makes a holiday memorable. That is what makes a family. And that, in the end, is what makes a writer.

Kristy Kiernan is the author of Catching Genius, Matters of Faith, and Between Friends. She lives in southwest Florida, and she is completely devoid of family this Thanksgiving. Which, well might be really relaxing!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The World of Festivals

The World of Festivals

One of the great things about becoming a part of the literary community is being exposed to the wonderful world of book festivals. These are places where authors can meet and interact with the public, and can meet and interact with other authors. Two of my favorite “festivals” are the South Carolina Book Festival and the Dahlonega Book Festival.

The South Carolina Book Festival is a huge event. Paula Watkins who is the director of this event spends hours on top of hours making sure that she has the right balance of author speakers, panels, events, etc. She sends her invitations out early to make sure she gets the best of the best, and that means in relationship to her overall view of the festival.

When I go to Columbia, South Carolina to participate in this festival I am sometimes anxious and apprehensive. I know that I am going to see my southern author friends but I am also aware that I am going to be exposed to some more famous national authors. It was at the South Carolina Book festival I first met John Hart, Barbara Taylor Bradford and Sandra Brown.

Paula makes sure there are social events where we can all hang out and talk. Authors love to write, and most of the ones I know love to talk. It was at one of these social events that I first spent time speaking with Kathryn Wall and her charming husband Norman. It was also at one of these events that I first carried on a conversation with Sandra Conroy, Patti Callahan Henry, Dottie Benton Frank, and Karen White.

The burden of the South Carolina Book Festival rests on the shoulders of Paula Watkins and her staff. She is a dedicated warrior in the battle to bring people into contact with authors and vice versa. Are we fortunate to have people like her on this earth? You bet!

In Dahlonega the “Paula” is Sharon Bacek. Sharon is a dynamo who works tirelessly to bring her festival into existence each year. Somehow she manages to overcome every problem she and her group encounter. And this year they did it in the span of a few months. Even with this late start it was a wonderful gathering that those who were there enjoyed immensely.

The key word for the Dahlonega Festival is “warm.” The people, including Sharon, who meet and greet the authors and other participants, must be graduates of some professional charm school. When I attended this year the comments I heard over and over again were about how nice everyone was, and how gregarious they all appeared to be.
There is an intimacy to this festival that others don’t have. When you sign on to be a participant in the festival you become part of the family. You feel that warmth and solidarity in the common goal of getting to know the other authors and getting to know the audience members. While there you usually stay at one of the bed and breakfasts in the area and you become part of the community. It is a great feeling.

So when you are thinking about writing that great American novel and beginning a career in the world of literature; the fraternity/sorority of festivals is an added benefit you might not have known exists. It does and it is a place that will welcome you with open arms. At least that is my experience.

Jackie K. Cooper is the author of five Memoirs. The latest, BACK TO THE GARDEN, will be published by Mercer University Press in March 2011.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Author Friends and Favorite Authors.


Well, it said that the optional topics for this month are Author Friends and Favorite Authors.

Actually, this kind of shameless book promoting is disgusting to me. Way too pompous. Don’t y’all agree? Guess I ought to ask my author friend, Karin Gillespie, founder of this blog. Way back, she’d advise us bloggers, ‘Now, don’t be too blatant about selling your books.” But, recently another author friend of mine, Gail Karwoski, who writes children’s books, shook her head and admonished me about my reluctance in book promotion, saying, “Julie, even us artists have to eat!”

That was because I am what you’d call a reluctant hawker of my own books. Now, I can sell the heck out of someone else’s story. Just today I raved about two books to another author friend. I sent Susan Nees home with Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” and told her she absolutely must read Janisse Ray’s “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood.”

For those of you who know me, you know I struggle with Laliaphobia, a debilitating fear of public speaking, and in addition to this, it is extremely hard for me to pat myself on the back, to say, “Read this book I wrote. You’re gonna love it.” I was raised by parents who prized humility, who warned against being prideful, and never encouraged us four kids to applaud ourselves.

I’m trying to figure out what has possessed me today. Maybe heading through menopause has changed me (like it changed Evelyn in “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café” by Fannie Flagg, a wonderful and favorite book of mine) or, perhaps I’ve watched too many episodes of Snapped! Because when I pondered the topics, trying to think of talking about my author friends and my favorite books, my mind just went spinning off into SELLING MY NEW BOOK. Yes, I’m asking people outright to please buy my book, because if they don’t, I’ll be hunting a job. Seriously. Don’t smile. I’m not joking. I’ve got a mortgage due, along with a plethora of other bills, debts, and two kids in college and a 12-year-old with crooked teeth.

As an author, I know we have to participate in selling our books. I have this dog-eared notebook on which I’ve written MARKETING with a sharpie, and whenever I have a new book out (this in #5), I take a big gulp and ruffle through tattered sections of media contacts, on-line opportunities for promotions, speaking possibilities, etc…

But this time, when “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came out, I had a deadline for another novel (which I met last Friday!) and so it was easy to rationalize putting that notebook out of sight and out of mind. Also, I’d been reading this book by Donald Maass that said, and I loosely quote, “It’s word-of-mouth that sells books.”

I clung to that bit of Maass wisdom until, like I say, I snapped. Until it hit me over the head like a two-by-four. HOW is word-of-mouth going to happen if nobody ever first reads your book?! And CHRISTMAS books, it seems, have this teeny tiny sales window, from right around Thanksgiving until December something or other. Oh yeah, December the 25th.

Now, I honestly do love this book I wrote because my heart is inside of it. My favorite character is not Maggie, the heroine. I fell in love with Mr. Tyronious Byrd, the ancient black caretaker of a Christmas tree farm. I still cry when I read his story.

Speaking of stories, I have a story on my website called Crossing Over and if you go to my website at www.juliecannon.info you can click on it and read about how I left the ABA after my last novel, and moved to the CBA. Summerside Press, publishers of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” put a lot of faith in me (no pun intended) and gave me the song title made famous by Bing Crosby in the 1940’s to write a story around. They wanted me to write an ‘Inspirational Romance,” and I did, but they gave me so much leeway it turned into a story about WWII and Mr. Tyronious Byrd, too. When I told my minister about the novel, she said, “What in the world is an Inspirational Romance? Is that when he rips off the bodice, and underneath there are long-johns?” Not really. You’d be surprised.

So, I’m offering my wares to you today. Here’s the heart of “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” in a brief paragraph: It’s 1944 and Maggie Culpepper is furious at God because of her mother’s untimely death. She stumbles into a recruiting center and enlists in the U.S. Navy WAVES, leaving Watkinsville, Georgia to serve at a naval base in New Jersey. The proverbial boy-next-door, William Dove, whose battle with polio has left him physically unfit for military service, wages a war of his own from the family’s Christmas tree farm. William learns a priceless lesson about surrendering from the farm’s aging caretaker, Tyronious Byrd, who’s struggled through some dark valleys of his own.

If that didn’t grab you, it’s gotten a couple of honors: It’s in Nielsen’s ‘Top 50 Inspirational Titles’ this month, and it has been chosen as a ‘Top Pick for Fall 2010 Releases’ by CBA Retailers & Resources magazine. If that doesn’t convince you either, think about this: It would be a really CHEAP gift! With a cover price of only $12.99 at your favorite local bookstore, and on-line at around $8, there are no excuses. You’ve got lists of folks who you need to buy a Christmas gift for, right? You could do that AND feed a starving artist!

Whew. I don’t believe I’ve ever done so much shameless hawking of books in my entire writing life!

God bless you all and hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a beautiful Christmas - even if you don’t buy my book.

Truly, Julie L Cannon
Visit me at http://www.juliecannon.info/

Monday, November 15, 2010

Letting go of pictures...

    I had a picture once. Okay, twice. Okay, I've had tons. But my first one was the one all little girls have. You're going to grow up and marry your prince charming, have little dwarfs that serve you and create some beautiful babies. But it wasn't long before I realized what a disservice fairy tales had done to little girls lives. My friend and counselor told me "without illusion no one would ever get married." And I have to agree. There has to be some element of believing Prince Charming resides in that man you've encountered to actually get you down the aisle to commit the rest of your life to him.
   Almost three and a half years ago I found myself in a court room,  a judge declaring my thirteen year marriage over. There were no children to cherish and nothing left but the fragmented ruins of a horrifically broken picture. I pictured sixty years and grandkids on the front porch, and long winded conversations about how good life had been and how grateful we were that we had happened upon one another. But life would in no way turn out like my picture.
   I had another picture. A picture that I would become a non-fiction author. But the only thing that found me was rejection letter after rejection letter telling me that no editor thought it was worth publishing. The rejection drove me to discover what else was inside of me. And I discovered a beautiful gift of story. Fiction stories. However, the moment that I signed my first publishing contract for my first book "Savannah from Savannah" it was a bitter sweet moment. It was the death of a "picture" if you will.
    Interesting though how life when lived with a belief bigger than yourself and a plan bigger than our humanness can grasp the end of my marriage plummeted me into the world of journaling in order to heal. My computer became a tablet for my pain. My fingers would dance across that keyboard every day, some times multiple times a day to simply get out the hurt that rested in the soul of me. That was over three years ago. I am still writing down the journey of that healing.
      The healing that that journaling produced, in open prayers to God, was a story. My story. A story about my broken picture and the God who rescued me in the middle of my pain. A story that became my first non-fiction book called "Flying Solo: A Journey of Divorce, Healing and a Very Present God" to be released in January. This is a story I would have never wanted to tell. Producing a dream I had always had.
     I've often told people that closed doors are as much as blessing as open doors and deserve just as much gratitude. So, in this month of gratitude let me just say, I am so grateful even for the closed doors in my life and the broken pictures. Because they have allowed me to discover how beautiful God's pictures can be. Would I have ever wanted my marriage to end? Absolutely not. Would I have given up this story to have it whole and together? Absolutely. But that isn't how my story has been written. It has been written this way. And so I will choose to be grateful.
     Seven months ago I walked down the aisle to a beautiful man. A man who captured my heart and made me the "bonus mom" to five amazing children. I told him on our wedding day that we may not have sixty years together but I would cherish every day that we did. And choose to be grateful. In this season of Thanksgiving...in this time of remembering what we're grateful for. Take some time to recall the closed doors in your life that have led to some amazing discoveries. Life is full of fragmented and broken pictures...but it is also full of beautifully written stories. I will take the story I have been given over the pictures that I lost any day...They are mine and I am grateful...
Denise makes her home in Franklin, Tennessee with her husband and five bonus children and  shih-tzu. She enjoys a good book and Coca-Cola. And football- Yes South Carolina Gamecock football!

My Best Friends are All Adventurers

by Patricia Sprinkle

My friend Miriam once confided, "I always wanted to be an adventurer."

She and I recently returned from a five-week trip to India and Nepal. She wrote me a note afterward: "Thanks for the adventure of a lifetime."  It was. The real purpose of our trip was to teach creative writing for three weeks to middle school students in a small village school, but we can also check "Ride an elephant," "Visit the Taj Mahal," and "See the Himalayas" off our bucket lists.

Only recently have I begun to appreciate how brave we were. We went alone and made our own travel arrangements, staying in moderately priced hotels and hiring our own guides. Everything went exactly as planned except when our train from Agra to Delhi took us to a station across the city from our hotel. We will never forget our late-night ride through Delhi traffic in an auto-rickshaw, also known as a tuk-tuk. Most of the tuk-tuks we saw had some religious talisman swinging from the mirror or painted on the front. We know why. Riding a tuk-tuk through India's traffic does wonders for your prayer life.

Or maybe we weren't so brave. Maybe we were just finally having some of the adventures our favorite characters have been having for years. You see, Miriam and I are both avid readers. As I think about it, all my best friends are avid readers. Seldom am I with a good friend that we don't discuss at least one book.

     If people who read are adventurers at heart, that goes double for writers of fiction. We inhabit two worlds most of the time--the mundane world our bodies move around in and the far-more-exiting world our characters know. No reader enjoys an adventure in a book that the author hasn't already experienced, revisited, and honed down to its bare bones.    

Maybe that's why the authors I know are so enjoyable to be around. Every one of them is as interesting as the people s/he writes about. While the mystery writers don't generally go around killing people, the romance writers are seldom involved in torrid affairs, and the southern novelists don't spend their entire days drinking mint juleps and coming up with cute new expressions, they are all curious about life and aware that there are more things under the sun than any of us will ever comprehend. As the late Charlotte MacLeod once said, "Don't write what you know, write what you want to know."  Anybody who meets Charlotte's quirky characters will be astonished at how many things Charlotte wanted to know.

So let's lift a glass to readers and writers, people who know that life is short and ought to be lived to the fullest. As a note says on the bulletin board above my desk, "Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather let's skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, total worn out and loudly proclaiming, 'Wow! What a ride!'"

If your own life gets too dull, let me recommend a ride in Indian tuk-tuk.

Patricia Sprinkle is the author of twenty mysteries and three novels. Her most recent novel is Hold Up the Sky. A fourth, Friday's Daughter, will be released in March. 


Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Pulpwood Queen Bows to SHELF AWARENESS!

Dear Readers,

As always I have a lot of things to say when it comes to great books! I consider my mission in life helping authors get their books into the hands of good readers. I do this as it's just a part of who I am. Books saved me and to explain this you just have to read my book, "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life", Grand Central Publishing you can order from my website, http://www.beautyandthebook.com!

But what has happened in the last 24 hours has blown my socks off! First, I had the most incredible reception as I spoke by invitation from The Women's Council at The Dallas Arboretum yesterday. I think all the lovely ladies and yes, men too, came by to personally comment on my presentation and then they proceeded to buy every single one of my books. That made me feel pretty good since I had just received a notice from my agent that I had only sold 350+ books the last six months. I left that event on Cloud NINE! All the women told me they were roadtripping to my hometown, historic Jefferson, Texas. They just had to see my shop, http://www.beautyandthebook.com/!

So I woke up a little late this morning and scrambling to get all my postings and reminders done for today is the beginning of the first of the three book festivals I do, Books Alive at http://www.booksalivejeffersonfumc.com/! You have to see it to believe it! Please come, your life will be blessed and what a great gift to you and others. You see these books can be personalized by the author and make fantastic Christmas presents. I will even gift wrap for FREE!

But then something happened, I started getting a ton of emails on a Shelf Awareness feature that I was supposedly featured in today. I found the Shelf Awareness posting and as I read, I started crying because Robert Gray gets it. He understands exactly what I am doing and shared it with the world. Here it is folks, my story in his story. This is what my life is all about so sharing now with you below!

Make authors, books, literacy, and reading a big part of your life. Reading has taken me places I never dreamed and I am living proof that doing so leads to an authentic and purposeful, wonderful life! I am going into this weekend knowing that the next few days are going to get us all on the same page, that reading is important from THE GOOD BOOK to good books! Won't you join my reading life?

Tiara wearing, Beauty and the Book sharing,

Kathy L. Patrick

Hairdresser to the Authors

Author of "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life"

Founder of the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs





Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: Indie Booksellers & Publishers--It's About the Book

Earlier this year, when Kathy Patrick, owner of Beauty and the Book

, Jefferson, Tex., read and loved My

Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change

, a self-published

book by Sam Bracken and Echo Garrett, she did not hesitate to take the

next logical step and dye her hair orange.

Well, no, the story is not that simple, though Kathy's passion for this

book is a classic example of how, in our ongoing discussion about

independent publishers and independent booksellers, we might pause to

remember that sometimes it really does come down to the book.

Kathy loves books and authors and readers. Talk with her for a minute

and you know that if you know anything. Even a partial list of her

accomplishments in the book world is impressive: the Pulpwood Queens

Book Club


which now has 400 chapters nationwide; her book The Pulpwood Queen's

Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life; and her now legendary

Girlfriend Weekend

, an annual

convention hosted by the Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys book clubs.

I forgot to ask Kathy whether she plays poker, but if she does I suspect

she goes "all in" with every hand because that's how she handsells the

books she adopts. Traditional publisher? Independent publisher?

Self-publisher? Kathy's response is the same: Show me the book.

My Orange Duffel Bag is a perfect example. When co-author Echo Garret

sent her a copy, Kathy quickly realized it was "exactly the kind of book

that I want to get into the hands of readers, an incredible story but

more important, Sam Bracken is doing something proactive to help

homeless teens and those aging out of foster care. As the youth group

leader for my church, children are as close to my heart as authors,

books, reading and literacy. I am a firm believer that if we treat our

children as our most precious gifts, this world would become a much

better place."

Echo recalls the beginning this way: "We had a pilot program with the

state of Georgia to train 25 foster youth on the principles in the book,

and it had been tested in a school in Roswell as well. We printed 5,000

books in our first print run, and got our first shipment in May. I

happened to see a write-up about how influential Kathy Patrick is in the

book world, so I wrote her an e-mail, said a prayer and put a book in

FedEx to her. By the time I got back from the FedEx box, she'd already

written back, saying that our book sounded like exactly the kind of book

she looks for.

"The next night she called me and told me she was making our book her

November pick. We talked for an hour, and I explained that we were

self-publishing because we didn't neatly fit into the traditional realm.

Nobody knew what to do with us. But we knew where we were heading. The

more I told her about our crazy journey to trying to get My Orange

Duffel Bag published, the more engaged she became. I told her that we'd

invested a ton of our money and time and love and life into this

project. For us, it's a passion. We're creating a movement to help spark

literacy and positive change for kids that most of our society

overlooks. When she understood that we needed help selling the book fast

to pay for our printing bill, she declared that she'd dye her hair

orange if we sold 1,000 books in that first month. We did and she did.

Kathy was the first one I sent our full vision to. She believed in us

from the beginning. Having our vision validated by someone as

influential as Kathy gave us great courage that we were on the right

path. Now we've almost sold out of our first printing, and we've ordered

10,000 more books. We're on a rocket ride and the momentum is building


Kathy launched her national campaign for My Orange Duffel Bag on her

Facebook page. "It was kind of

a crazy promotion," she said. "We sold like 326 copies the first day and

made our goal after a week and a half. I was just a walking billboard

for the book. I didn't even know the power of Facebook until then."

Echo noted that while their agent had shopped the project to major

publishers and found considerable interest, "each wanted to turn it into

something very different from what our vision was." Kathy said she also

called some publishers, but did not have much luck "because they didn't

know what it was. Is it a book? Is it a journal? Is it a diary? Whatever

it is, it's a tremendous story. I just know that every time people read

it they call me."

Kathy's orange hair may have faded, but the orange book lives on, which

pleases her. "I'm a big believer that a book is not a six-week

commodity. Who made up that rule? I question everything. People either

think I'm an amazing innovator or a pain in the rump."

She also shared a story that occurred this week, which sums up nicely

what indie booksellers can do when they choose to make a book their own:

"A judge and his wife stopped by who had heard about me through their

Methodist Church in Canton, Tex. I took my youth group to help repair

homes and paint houses as part of U.M. ARMY project there. Anyway, they

stayed for two hours and when they left, they had decided to purchase My

Orange Duffel Bag for all their Christmas presents. As they were getting

ready to leave, this judge handed me his card and told me that if I do

indeed start my own Pulpwood Queen Publishing endeavor, give him one

week, and I will have all the investors I need. I am in awe of the

wonderful places books take me, so it just energizes my batteries and my

endeavors to help authors, their books, literacy and reading efforts.

Thank you Echo and Sam for letting me be a part of your book and it's

message. I have done nothing more than share a great read and it just

proves to me sharing a good book is a gift that keeps on

giving."--Robert Gray (column

archives available at Fresh Eyes Now

Friday, November 12, 2010

Best of Luck by Ann Hite

“Wow, you have the best of luck.”

I hear this more than I care to nowadays. My first novel, Ghost On Black Mountain, will be published by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, fall of 2011.

“What a dream come true!”

Now I don’t mind hearing this so much because yes this is the stuff of dreams, but in no way should this ‘living a dream’ idea be associated with the word easy. Ghost On Black Mountain is not my first novel. I spent five years writing a four hundred page epic story only to discover it to be so dry and without voice that I shoved it in a drawer to collect dust. Wasted time? No, I had to write the first book to find my way to the fictional community of Black Mountain.

So, luck? I don’t think so.

My journey to book publication began on a spring day in 2004. I was cooking supper when a character calling herself Nellie Pritchard began to speak to me. “Mama warned me against marrying Hobbs Pritchard. She saw my future in her tealeaves, death.” I wondered if somehow I had finally gone around the fictional bend and was hearing voices. I brushed the thought away but not before writing down Miss Nellie’s words. Those two lines would evolve into first a short story and then the beginning of my novel. Ah, but that was so far away.

The year I heard from Nellie Pritchard I had only begun to publish short stories, owned a dull novel—like I said shoved in the drawer—had no agent, and the idea that any writing in my southern voice was uninteresting. There was a time in my life when I was ashamed of my southernness—if there is such a word. I would have rather died than admitted my family came from the North Georgia Mountains. These were what I now call my smart years; the years I spent trying to outrun my roots. I wanted no part of tall tales, superstitions, and folklore. I think some of my attitude came from my grandmother, who was the first in her family to move from a rural farm to the big city of Atlanta. I stripped all traces of an accent from my words. I spoke only proper English. When I wrote stores, I never allowed my characters to speak as true southerners. Nope, these stories were the most intelligent pieces a person could read. But dry, Lord they were as dry as three day old bread. But Nellie wouldn’t leave me alone. She sprang in my head anytime she felt the urge. Finally I sat down at my desk and wrote a short story I promptly called Ghost On Black Mountain. Little did I know it would become the skin for my novel.

One Black Mountain story after another came through me as if I were channeling these strange characters. I mean really where did names like Oshie Connor and Hobbs Pritchard come from? A little over a year later I had a story collection that I packed away under my bed. No one would be interested in such hick town characters.

Then in the fall of 2006, during a moment of insanity or maybe inspiration, I registered for a local writing workshop. For an extra five dollars, I could submit the first five pages of my book to an agent. She would then give me her opinion. I turned in the first five pages of the short story, Ghost On Black Mountain. I think I must have been possessed by Nellie at the time. The agent requested my whole manuscript. Within a month she made a trip to Atlanta to deliver a contract. At the time I was too naïve in the ways of publishing to know this was highly unusual.

“Now you have to write a novel. You must write about Nellie and Hobbs.” She said to me over a cup of coffee.

Write another novel? Was she kidding? But I took the challenge and signed up for Nanowrimo—a website that dares writers to produce 50,000 words in the thirty days of November. I did. By early 2007 I had a rough draft. In late spring of the same year my agent began shopping Ghost On Black Mountain.

Luck? I don’t think so. I must stop here and tell of pure divine intervention though. Because had I succeeded in my wants, this novel would have been sold for what amounted to nothing.

My agent received a bite from a small publishing house here in the south. The acquisition editor had to discuss it with the press owner, but he wanted my book. They were looking for a new voice to put them on the map. There would be no advance only royalties.

Dear writers please beware of that awful need to publish your book. This desire is blinding at times.

Even though the whole proposition felt wrong—I mean I did deserve some money—I jumped in with both feet. I waited a month while the discussion at the small press took place. Exactly thirty days later, the editor phoned my agent and turned down the book. It seemed he couldn’t sell it to the press owner.

Devastation can be turned inside out.

I swore off those silly characters and went back to the dull book in the drawer. Of course Black Mountain had taught me much about voice and writing. I began to rewrite the dull novel, breathing fresh air into its lungs. A deadly quiet year later I submitted it to Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. In my complete shock, the new version pushed me into the semi-finials. This was the equivalent of making it to the last five couples on Dancing With The Stars before being voted out.

In the meantime my literary agency had signed on a new agent. My work was shifted to her. She was good with mainstream and literary books. Her enthusiasm couldn’t be denied. Dull book was shopped to all the major publishers.

“What ever happened to that novel about mountain people?” She asked me in an email.

“The deal fell through.” I didn’t want to think about it.

“Send the latest version over.” The new agent promptly ordered.

Within two months said agent had three bites on Ghost On Black Mountain. All major publishers.

On March 4, 2010 I received the call. “Simon & Schuster wants to offer you a deal.”
Luck. No. Six years of hard work is more like it.

In the years it took to sell my novel, I used marketing skills I learned from working at BP Oil. I published as many short stories as I could. I wrote book reviews and developed a relationship with a medium size press. The owner edited Ghost On Black Mountain in return for all the wonderful reviews I’d written for his books. I taught classes on voice. I put my writing and myself in front of anyone that might help make my dream come true. In short I never gave up. It was not an option for me. I took each and every opportunity that came my way.

So to borrow a terrible cliché: I made my own luck, sweetie.

Visit Ann at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Learning to Ride

by Cathy Pickens

What books or authors have influenced me? Call me impressionable, but too many to count.

My family still gives me a hard time about claiming I learned to ride horseback from reading Trixie Belden books. Despite their ribbing, the first time I got invited to go horseback riding, I knew how to check the saddle and which side to mount from. Trixie left out what could happen if a crotchety horse, anxious to get back to the barn after a day of trail-riding, decided the shortest path ran through an old apple orchard with low-hanging branches. I didn’t hit the ground, despite the horse’s best efforts. Sometimes, despite the best guidance, you’re on your own.

Then there was the obscure school library book that described how the ancient Egyptian mummification process involved pulling the deceased’s brain out through the nose. For some reason, that captivated my 6th grade brain and convinced me I wanted to be an archaeologist. My mom convinced me I lacked the patience for that and I moved on. But I’m still fascinated by mummies and science. I’m still not patient, though.

This desire to try things for myself reinforces the wisdom of school librarians who keep things like The Poor Man’s James Bond off school library shelves. I didn’t discover how to blow up my neighborhood or poison the water supply until I was old enough not to try it for myself.

Margaret Maron’s and Nancy Pickard’s books convinced me I could write about a place I loved, even if it wasn’t a huge city or a Travel & Leisure hot destination. Harper Lee showed me that family and home are treasures and that books can capture special and difficult points in time – and perhaps change the world.

Nancy Drew and her successors V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone told me and others that women could be tough and could make a difference … and kick some fanny when need be.

Some books have made me wisely cautious about walking down dark streets or taking stupid risks. Some have made me laugh at times when my heart might otherwise have broken. And all manner of books kept telling me that true love existed – which I can now confirm, having truly found it.

Books have connected me with other readers of all ages. Anyone who doesn’t believe books connect should conduct her own experiment: Just ask someone about what she’s read recently or about what he’s reading now. Among readers, the conversation will take off in unexpected directions. (If among non-readers, alas, draw on your deep reserves of sympathy.)

I’ve outgrown the need to experiment with everything I read. But books still influence me and still connect me to others. My agent recommended Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I’m still thinking about the messages in that simply complicated story about a retired British major and a Pakistani shop owner. I still delight in Flavia and her sisters in Alan Bradley’s mysteries. I’m finishing an advance copy of The Sherlockian (to be published in December) and liking where it’s taking me.

So, what are you reading now? What’s connected you? What got you up on the horse – and what almost knocked you off? It’s the gift-giving season. Pass those books and book recommendations on!

Pass the Salt, Skip the Lime

By T. Lynn Ocean

Mention tequila in a crowd and somebody is sure to relay an old tale from their college days that involves shots, body parts, and a massive hangover. What, you may be asking yourself, does any of this have to do with the writing process?

Nothing, really, other than you might can round up some excellent plot ideas if you're at a party while sober and observant. Parties aside, however, I recently did some research after a five dollar bet with a friend. Since holiday shopping season is approaching and you may have a tequila-lover on your gift list, thought I'd share…

According to some local Myrtle Beach eateries, (and remember that Myrtle Beach, SC is a tourist destination with some 1500 restaurants) tequila is no longer the slam-it-down-in shots that young drinkers used to party with. Upscale customers are now sipping the stuff, and taking the time to enjoy it. The tequila industry has done a better job of education, for starters. It's how they can sell a bottle of fermented cactus juice for upwards of $100, right next to the single malt scotches.

I spoke to a self pronounced tequila aficionado, and he tossed around adjectives that I'd previously only heard at wine tastings. He also said that the road to discovery

involves a lot of sampling. If you're game, first and foremost, MAKE SURE you have a designated driver! Start by selecting only those brands made with the 100% blue agave plant because they're the best and have absolutely zero added flavors, chemicals, or colorings. Next, you'll need to know the three basic categories of agave tequila:

 Blanco or silver - bottled immediately after the distillation process; clear in color with a strong flavor

 Reposado or rested - stored in white oak vats for a few months up to a year; pale in color with a mellow taste

 Anejo or aged - soaked in white oak vats for more than a year; varies in color with a woody, warm, unique flavor

I'm told that people who are knowledgeable about tequila will drink it like a wine snob does wine, and they've identified fifty unique flavors and aromas in tequila that include chocolate and cherry. Apparently, it all depends on the growing region and soil (just like grapes) and the barrels and aging process (just like wines).

Gabriel Hernandez, a local restaurant owner I spoke with grew up in Jalisco, Mexico, one of the country's main tequila-producing regions. He explained how 'estate' or 'micro' batches are made -- crafted by hand using old-style methods. They'll cook their agave in a wood oven, for example, and use a big well with a donkey going around to stone grind it.

Me? I won the $5 dollar bet. You? I've given you something to think about next time you've just finished that final manuscript edit and want to celebrate with a shot of something different. Just remember to sip it. Then try not to shake your head around like my Labrador does when he gobbles up a dropped lemon peel from the kitchen floor.

T. Lynn Ocean

Monday, November 8, 2010

Joshilyn Jackson: The Sacred Shelves

All the books on the pictured shelves below have three things in common.

1) I greatly admire the writing.

2) I have met authors of these books, and they all turned out to be kind and smart and warm, instead of only brilliant.

3) This particular book has been signed and personalized.

This month, we are writing about the authors who have influenced us, and these shelves hold the books of my heroes. These are the writers I admire (and in some cases, love) both personally and professionally. Some of my greatest literary loves do not appear *coughHavenKimmelcough* simply because I have never met them, or if I have, I didn’t have a copy of one of their books handy, and may I just say, *foul language redacted* about that, and hope that I may be better prepared next time.

The only writer on these shelves I never have met in the flesh is Vonda N. McIntyre. But I wrote her a rabid, weepy fangrrrrrl letter when I was about ten years old, telling her all my little dreams and scrubby feelings and ridiculous hopes about someday being JUST LIKE HER. And she wrote me back a really for true note in blue ink, by hand. MAD props to her. I ordered signed, personalized books off her website, and she is on that shelf forever.

I don’t read the books on this shelf; I have reading copies of most of them on the big shelves in the basement. I pick them up sometimes, on low days, and read the inscriptions. Here are some of the things they say. I’ll skop the nice stuff and go for the weird, and so I better not tell you who said what or what the context was, lest I lose friends. *grin*

“For Joshilyn, with whom I’ve argued the Jesus and the etc.”

“Never eat anything bigger than your head”

“Oh my dear! Oh Joshilyn! Oh Tulip! We must quite soon get drunk as little goats together!”

“Watch out for the cannibalistic shadow people”

“I would never admit it, nor would I put it in writing, but you may be my favorite person in all of Georgia, including Jimmy Carter.”

“Thank you for being my wallpaper.”

“While I write this, your own son is talk talk talking to me...”

“I do so enjoy our little rendevouses”

“Saint Flannery!!!!!”

“Dear Joshilyn with a silent H, I am sorry for all the cuss words in this book”

“I’m so glad you didn’t throw up on me....”

“*unreadable garble of letters* (That was illegible, wasn’t it? The last word is GEM)”

Who is on your shelf, be it real or imaginary? Who would you most like to have there?

New York Times Bestselling novelist Joshilyn Jackson lives in Georgia with her husband, their two children, and way too many feckless animals. Her debut, gods in Alabama, won SIBA's 2005 Novel of the year Award and was a #1 BookSense pick. Jackson won Georgia Author of the Year for her second novel, Between, Georgia, which also a #1 BookSense pick, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to receive #1 status in back to back years. Her third novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, was a Break Out book at Target and has been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction. All three books were chosen for the Books-A-Million Book Club.
Her latest, Backseat Saints (June, 2010), tells the story of Rose Mae Lolley, a fierce, tiny ball of war wounds who was a minor character in gods in Alabama. Her life changes dramatically when she meets an airport gypsy who shares her past and knows her future. The gypsy's dire prediction: Ro's handsome, violent husband is going to kill her - unless she kills him first...

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Recently I graciously received a starred review in Publishers Weekly for my most recent novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land. (To the anonymous reviewer – thank you! I am ever so grateful and pleased that the story spoke to you.) For some authors starred reviews seem to be a part of every release that they have, That hasn’t been my experience. And while I’ve been fortunate to garner a few critical kudos here and there, some novels seemed to have been flying in stelth mode going mostly unnoticed. Ah, balance grasshopper. It’s all about the balance.

And I imagine is that some readers who championed one novel will be curious why their favorite didn’t get a starred review or any notice but the latest one did. And granted, readers may love one novel that we’ve written and then not understand or embrace the next. It’s just the nature of storytelling. It happens to me all the time where I am breathessly in love with a particular book and can’t wait to get my hands on the writer’s next work only to feel a little let down. We bond that way with our stories, setting, and characters. And it’s OK!

Quick on the heels of my first Starred Review came a nice little One-star review on Amazon of same book (and that one-star not to be confused with the same as a Starred review. Much different. )Then I received another low grade reader review from a blogger. Sigh. Okay. So it was sent out to a whole lot of particular bloggers – about eighty, and a few didn’t care for it. I tried to visit them and write charming little notes that said, I get you. It’s ok. You don’t have to like everybody’s everything. And of course there are four and five star reviews and lovely comments to balance that out but here is the thing. What that Starred Review would have meant to me in my twenties is a far different cry than what it does today.

The wonderful Southern author, Terry Kay once told me, “Don’t read the reviews and don’t believe them. If you let the great ones affect you then you’ll have to let the bad ones do the same.” At the time I thought – what is he talking about???? But, Oh how right he was! The first nasty review (and yes, bless ‘em it was nasty) that I ever received on Amazon from a reader said something like - well, lots of stuff about me maybe writing the book on drugs instead of in seclusion as I “claimed” I had done. Excuse me? Do I know you? Have I brought calamity on your family? Has somehow reading something I labored over in love for hours, days, months, prayed over and wept over, ruined the rest of your life? OH -Nevermind, that this particular novel had received really nice reviews from everyone including Kirkus – that one mean and nasty review had me curled in the fetal position for awhile. But . . .

That was then. This is now. We all get them – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Rants, raves, and reviews. And then we get notes from readers who could care less about what any of the reviews said anywhere . They just appreciate the stories we write, and want us to know that. Our stories will sing to particular people – one novel to some people, another to a different tribe. We play out our words on the page and hope somebody finds them entertaining and good medicine to their souls.

Recently I’ve been reading Bookmarks Magazine. It’s a review magazine that summarizes many different recent releases and also promotes classics and some forgotten pieces. At a glance I can see that Nashville Chrome received four stars from the Dallas Times and two stars from – someone else and the source escapes me at the moment. I like the balance of this approach and it helps me see that everyone, the greatest and the least of these – can be cast in a glorious or disparaging light. Author and fellow Good Blog author Joshilyn Jackson does a great job highlighting this on one of her personal blogs, Faster than Kudzu. I encourage you to take a gander. She pulled some reader reviews for such books at Grapes of Wrath, To Kill A Mockingbird, and so on and beautifully illustrates that we might as well stay a little calm, a little peaceful, and just a tad untouchable where all those high and mighty or low and nasty reviews might come from.

And just in case a bad one gets under your skin and refuses to let go – may I recommend the wonderful book by Max Lucado – You Are Special. It’s a story about the Wemmicks who pass out stars to the bright and talented and dots to the misfits of their land. But one day a special girl learns not to let the stars stick to her anymore than the dots. In other words, not to be affected and defined by the opinions of others and in so doing to be soulfully warped in the process.

My starred review? I am thankful. For that one-star review from a reader who I think wished he could have made it no stars? Unruffled on my better days. If we embrace one we become bigger than we are and the other less than we were created to be. So I think I’ll keep Max Lucado’s little storybook at the handy. That and a personal favorite, Always We Begin Again – a great little book on humility and grace – and then just move on down the road. Writing all the way.

River Jordan is a critically acclaimed (and sometimes poorly reviewed) novelist. Her fourth novel, The Miracle of Mercy Land, a southern mystical work set in 1938 features a protagonist full of moxie and received a starred review from PW. Jordan’s first non-fiction narrative, Praying for Strangers, An Adventure of the Human Spirit arrives from Penguin/Berkley in Hardcover April 5, 2011. She speaks around the country on the “Power of Story,” and produces and hosts the radio program, Clearstory on 107.1 FM from Nashville, TN where she makes her home with her husband Owen Hicks, Titan the wonder dog, and Moses – a steely-eyed tabby and very, tough editor.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Writers and Readers Reach Out

If I knew a tricky way to get your attention and keep it, I’d be mighty tempted to employ it. Instead, I’m simply going to ask you to stop a minute, open your minds and your hearts, and consider doing something really special together this holiday season.

“I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”

For the last three years we’ve had a fall fund-raiser here at All Things Southern to benefit the less fortunate. (Last year the ATS porchers pooled their funds and dug a well in Africa in conjunction with the ministries of Life Today. “Our” well is giving and will continue to give life-sustaining water to a village of people for their entire lifetimes! The experience had an eternal impact on me. I’ve spent more than four decades on this planet taking water for granted, but one full year later I still can’t step in the shower without giving thanks for the blessing that flows at the touch of a button!)

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

In preparation for our 2010 drive, I was seeking direction and researching all the excellent programs we could work with and the endless parade of needs around the world when I became captivated with the longing to shoot for something bigger than ever, to use my platform here at ATS to touch as many lives as possible. The longing grew even as my pragmatic side continued to remind the dreamer in me of the challenging economic times we’re all facing. The dreamer won out. The vision became “Readers and Writers Reach Out”!

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Here’s the idea: While I’m grateful to the ATS porchers who have helped me raise money in the past, I’m literally supercharged with the realization of the exponential power to do something huge that’s represented by all the writers I’ve met in my travels over the past few years. Each of these wordsmiths has a circle of readers that enjoy his or her work and interact with them via their websites and blogs, Facebook and Twitter, book clubs, newsletters, etc. This year, throughout the month of November, and coinciding with the season of Thanksgiving, I’m asking these writers and readers everywhere to embark with me on thirty days of thankfulness. We'll multiply our efforts for the less fortunate! The initial recipient of our 2010 drive will be World Vision but through them we’ll touch lives all across the globe. All proceeds will go to this reputable organization, well known for its integrity, efficiency, and transparency, to be used where the need is greatest. Just think, if only ten authors were to raise a thousand dollars in each of their circles, we would raise $10,000 dollars in one month’s time. Could we do it? What if that was just a start? What if we could do so much more? Let’s dream together, shall we?

I hope to snag some media attention (beyond my own radio show) to help our efforts. If anyone has contacts or is willing to help in that area, let me know.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

I realize we shouldn’t need encouragement beyond the realization of how blessed we are, but on the other hand, a little incentive never hurt anyone and a bit of friendly competition is always fun. Towards that end, one of my radio sponsors, Jim Taylor Chevrolet and Ford out of Rayville and Ruston, LA has donated a brand new Ipad. The writer whose group raises the most money will be able to pull a donar's name at the end of the month and gift this reader with the Ipad along with our gratitude for participating.
Each author will collect donations from his or her readers and remit the final amount to me at the end of November. There are many ways to do this. You can put a donate button on your website, use a paypal link, etc. (Many of my readers like a physical address to mail a check or money order, too. Everyone isn't comfortable donating online.) We'll keep totals at the Facebook Author group. Your readers can make their checks out to World Vision.

So, come on, author buddies, we're almost a week into November but there is still penty of time to join me and get the word out to your people. It has been my experience that rather than being offended, your readers will welcome the opportunity to partner with you! Feel free to put our drive in your own words, or copy and paste this blog to your site. Then, a simple facebook status reminder here and there will keep it before their eyes. Just make sure to remind everyone that each donation made to Writer and Readers Reach Out is appreciated, regardless of size. I’ve no doubt the loaves and fishes will multiply when our hearts are in the right place! (I ask my readers to give just $10 each.)
“It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision.”

Should the quotes scattered throughout this blog sound familiar, there’s a good reason for it. They’re compliments of one of my favorite heroines, the late Helen Keller. It just felt right to invite Ms. Keller to share this journey with writers and readers. For it was the power of a word written in the palm of her hand that unlocked Ms. Keller’s heart and mind and subsequently impacted untold lives around the world!

Thirty days of thankfulness. It’s not a long time, but it’s a perfect time to join hands and do something grand, together.

“While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done.”

Should you have any questions or perhaps if you want further ideas of how to jumpstart your drive, please feel free to contact me at allthingssouthern.com or thru Facebook or Twitter. My social media links are on my website. I've also created a Facebook Authors Group recently, but please know that it is by no means intended to be exclusive. If you're a writer on Facebook, shoot me a note and I'll add you promptly. Many thanks to y'all. Let's do it up right, shall we?

*****Update***** My friend at Newsstar (Gannett paper I write for here in Northeast LA) was putting the Writers and Readers Press Release out to her colleagues today but I'm having her hold off to get as many of your names in the hat as possible.