Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Magic of Story....Anna Michaels

Ink has been spilled, teeth gnashed and hair pulled out by the roots in pursuit of the perfect way to promote books. Blogging and websites and contests and book-signings have all been touted then trashed, embraced or discarded altogether.
It’s a worthy pursuit, this race to see if we, the writers, can latch onto the perfect way to make you, the reader, absolutely love every story we tell, every word we write. And yet, the most basic truth is seldom discussed - story. 
Story is the key.  If our stories are filled with lyrical beauty and great characters who feel so real to the readers they can hardly wait to turn the page and find out what happens next, word will get around. Agents and editors and marketing professionals will adore the book. They’ll want to position it well in the bookstores so it has the best chance of getting into the hands of readers. Reviewers will heap accolades on our darlings so readers will have an irresistible urge to see for themselves what all the shouting is about.  
And the readers – God bless them all! – will tell their friends, who will salivate to own a copy, perhaps find out where the author will appear next so that copy can be signed – a first edition, honest-to-goodness autographed novel that might someday be worth a hundred times the cover cost, or more. 
Meanwhile, there’s that wonderful story between the pages of a lovely book just waiting to entertain you for hours. The joy of it all!
While it’s a good thing to have a presence through websites, blogging, a Facebook page, contests and book-signings where we get to chat with and be energized by our fans, it’s always good to get back to the office cocoon where there is nothing except the writer, the characters, the muse and the story.  That’s where the magic takes place.
And if we write an enduring story, one that lives in the hearts of readers long after the last page has been turned, we should pat ourselves on the back and say, “Job well done.” We should take a bit of time off to go to the movies (I highly recommend Tangled.  LOVE that sassy horse, Max), sit on the porch swing, sip a glass of wine, a cup of tea, a milkshake, pick flowers for our hair, dance in the moonlight.  Even with snow on the ground. Especially with snow on the ground.
In what ways have you celebrated either reading or writing a good book?
Anna Michaels’ debut novel THE TENDER MERCY OF ROSES will be in bookstores everywhere May 17. She’s delighted to announce that early reviews are raves, and the book will be a Featured Alternate selection of the Literary Guild and Doubleday Bookclubs. Follow her at, on Facebook, and on her blog, Anna’s Magical Garden (on her website). She also wants to say that she has danced in the moonlight and it did wonders for her mood. Not to mention that it entertained the neighbors.    

Knowing What Trips Us Up--Elizabeth Spann Craig

Tuesday, I was going through my daughter’s weekly folder of graded school papers--parents are supposed to review the papers, help the kids with any problem areas, and sign that the folder has been checked.

Everything looked great until I saw a writing project paper that stopped my quick flipping through the pages. There were red marks all over it, which was unusual. And my daughter’s writing looked different.

She ordinarily has a fun and breezy writing voice. This writing was stilted and forced.

Even her handwriting looked different. It was very formal and stiff. There were perfectly-formed letters as if she'd tried to do calligraphy instead of the messier writing I see when she’s in the flow and is trying to put her ideas down on paper.

What on earth had happened?

I really didn’t want to approach her in a critical way (especially with this particular subject and coming from me), so I was just clearing my throat and figuring out what to say when she saw me holding her paper and burst into tears. Which was the last thing I wanted, of course.

They’d started a new creative writing program and the grading was going to be very strict, she said. She pointed out the rubric grid that was stapled to the back of the paper. The rubric was detailed, with four sections detailing what the paper would be graded on… from mechanics, to content, to neatness.

And she’d totally freaked out.

Honestly, it really had little to do with the assignment and a lot to do with her. I’m just completely delighted to see creative writing taught in public school at all, honestly. And it is time to really focus on getting the mechanics perfected….she’s nine years old.

For her, though, it messed her up to look at this rubric while she was writing. When I suggested that , in future, she make a rough draft first and then make corrections in the second draft, she was all smiles.

Apparently, she’s her mother’s child. :) It makes me freeze when I think too much about the mechanics of my writing while I’m being creative.

For other writers, it’s completely the opposite. Seeing all the typos and other mistakes in the first draft distracts some writers so much that they can’t move forward until the mistakes are corrected first.

There’s really so much advice out there on writing. Much of it is contradictory because it’s what works for that particular writer—and each writer is different.

I wish there was a faster way to know what works as a writer, but I know it took me ages to figure out if I was an outliner or a pantster, if I could research as I wrote or if I needed to wait, or if I should edit as I wrote or at the end.

I tried each method and just paid attention if it was a struggle or not. I noted if I stalled when it was time to write or if my writing was really unnatural and stilted—and then I tried something else.

I’m always looking for ways to be a better writer. And I think I’m still looking for ways to have a better writing process. I probably just need to stick with what works and leave it alone. :)

Have you learned what trips you up as a writer? And what works for you?

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams
Pretty is as Pretty Dies--Midnight Ink
Delicious and Suspicious--Penguin Books--as Riley Adams

Monday, January 24, 2011

Do The Hustle or Die in Oblivion

I’m just going to say it: writers are among the worst marketers in the world. Myself included. Despite spending my entire adult life in the marketing profession, I found the thought of selling myself to be repulsive and tawdry. Once I had the book deal, I wanted to be an “artist” and leave all the promotions to my publicist in New York. Luckily, it didn’t take long for me to snap out of that fantasy and realize that marketing is my responsibility. In fact, marketing is second only to the writing itself.

Agents and editors tell us that the most important skills writers can possess are the ability and willingness to publicize our work. But a lot of us do this half-heartedly or hardly at all. And the scary thing about marketing is that it’s worthless if not done properly. With this in mind, I’d like to give you some things to consider regarding marketing.

-Examine your attitude.
If you have any hang-ups about promoting yourself, you need to leave them at the door and get to business. Remember that you’re advancing your work, not “tooting your own horn.” It is about advancing your stories, your books, your creative output.

-Know thy audience.
We write in isolation, but we market to make connections with people. Our job is to get their attention and keep them engaged. Build a community around your stories. Keep that community happy and well-fed.

-Know your competition.
Study what competing writers are doing and make yourself distinctive in some way. Being different will make a difference.

-Build your brand.
I had a defined brand, complete with website, promo materials, and speaking gigs, five years before I even had an agent or a manuscript. I knew from the beginning that The Cracker Queen would present a model of Southern womanhood rarely articulated or celebrated.

-Look at your book as your product.  
Ask these questions about the product. Is it well-made? Is it compelling? Is it really ready for market? How will you spread the word about your product?

-Assess your marketing strategies.
Ask these questions about the marketing you’re doing. Does your marketing make someone give a damn about your product? Does it make them care and want to know more? Does your marketing have energy? Have you tested it on prospective readers and gotten their reactions? Have you mastered the tools of marketing? (If not, you might consider hiring someone who has.)

-It is a constant hustle.
You must never stop marketing. It’s entirely up to you to keep your work alive. No one else will.

-Don’t expect instant gratification.
Marketing does not typically yield instant results. Keep at it. The rewards will come.

My final four words on this topic are the most important and apply to both your writing and your marketing:

Lauretta Hannon is the author of The Cracker Queen--A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life. She is a shameless self-promoter, and you should be, too. During her tenure as a university marketing professional, she was nationally-acclaimed as the most award-winning marketing communications expert in higher education. Visit her at

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I was asked to write about a vocation I might have followed had I not been a writer. Writing about what I might do is a sneaky way of really writing about what I actually do. Which is write.

So here goes.

If I hadn’t been a writer, I’d have liked to be a musician. Be it known, I have absolutely no musical training whatsoever. My sister Chris plays the guitar and the piano, as does my brother Homer, although I don’t believe he’s done either in quite a while. I can’t even read music. I ache to read music. When one of my friends – multitalented rascals that they are – sits down to play piano or picks up a guitar and strums a few chords, I am so harrowed with envy, I can barely stand it. It hurts not to be able to play an instrument. I would give my left hand to be able to play, but then, without my left hand, I probably wouldn’t be able to play anyway.

But I’m not a musician, I’m a writer. Which is maybe just as well.

I get the feeling some of my colleagues are more ambivalent. Some, I think, would rather be in a movie than in print. They talk about being adapted for film as if this were something to aspire to. Not that there’s anything wrong with movies. I love movies. It’s just that writing uniquely accomplishes some things that movies can’t.

In movies, you get everything all-at-once. So in the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit, the first time we meet Rooster Cogburn, we see him silhouetted in the parchment-colored light of the courtroom. Tendrils of gray smoke – we don’t see the cigars, just the smoke – rest in the air as if hung there. We hear the shuffling and rustling of spectators. The occasional bump or scrape of chair legs on the floor. And Jeff Bridges’ magnificent rich gravelly baritone. We get all of this information simultaneously and I admit it’s pretty effective. No one sets a scene better than the Coens.

Information in a book isn’t given all-at-once, but comes in a stream, and a skillful writer, manipulates that stream, creating rhythms and patterns.

Here’s how the author of True Grit, Charles Portis, handles the same scene. Mattie Ross, the heroine, narrates, “I was surprised when an old one-eyed jasper that was built along the lines of Grover Cleveland went up and was sworn. I say ‘old.’ He was about forty years of age. The floor boards squeaked under his weight. He wore a dusty black coat and when he sat down I saw his badge was on his vest. It was a little silver circle with a star on in. He had a mustache like Cleveland too.”

A movie could give us the dusty black coat and the squeaking floorboards, but no movie can tell us that Mattie thinks of Cogburn as “an old jasper,” or that mentally she compares him with a familiar face in the late 19th Century, Grover Cleveland. And not even the Coen Brothers – and they are great – can give us Mattie’s syntax, those short declarative sentences that are as direct and straightforward as she herself.

Notice too, how Portis moves from the squeaks of the floorboards, up Cogburn’s black coat, to his silver star, where he lingers for an additional sentence, and finally to the mustache, bringing us back to Grover Cleveland.

If you want to compare the Portis to the Coen Brothers’ version I gave earlier in this essay, guess what, Chuckles. It’s still a written version! Do you think a film can tell you light is parchment-colored? That the smoke rests “as if hung there?” In the writing biz, we call these things metaphor and simile, and ain’t no movie can do that yet.

Portis’ version and my version are different; he starts with sounds and moves to sights, and I start from the other end, moving from lighting effects and smoke, then to ambient noises, and finally to Jeff Bridge’s voice. The cool thing is, or one of the cool things among a nearly infinite number of cool things about writing, is that if Portis, I, or any writer on the planet, tried our hands at the same scene, we would each come up with something different.

It’s all a matter of rhythm, you see, of pacing – the speeding up and slowing down of the information stream, the repetitions, the variations. It’s a lot like music, after all, come to think of it. Only music is more elegant. Writing builds its movements out of irreducible chunks of words and punctuation, clunky stuff, when you get down to it. Music works with notes, and notes themselves are rhythms; frequencies of vibration are the only difference between C Sharp and Middle C. To make art of pure rhythm, that is work for a great soul.

But I’m a writer. Maybe it’s just as well.
Man Martin's novel PARADISE DOGS is due out June 7 from Thomas Dunne Books.  His first novel, DAYS OF THE ENDLESS CORVETTE, won him a Georgia Author of the Year Award in 2008.  Visit him on the web at or

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Other Than Writing

“Other Than Writing”

I have often thought about what I would like to do if I wasn’t a writer/critic and the answer has always been something where I deal with people. The work I do now is fairly solitary and I would like to do something where I interact.

The first thought that comes to mind is being a waiter. You know working at one of those places where the same people come in to eat and you could get involved in their lives. I have always enjoyed hearing different people’s stories and I think if you are a waiter then you get to hear them all the time.

Maybe that is just the sitcom influence in my life but I can see myself as the waiter of wisdom. The people would come in, I would take their order, I would deliver their food and then they would tell me their problems. By the time they left I would have offered sage advice and all would be right with their world. Doesn’t that sound like a great life?

If I wasn’t waiting tables then I might like to sell clothes. Again it is that interaction with individuals that would draw me to this. It certainly isn’t that I have a great fashion sense, so I couldn’t be responsible for recommending clothes to anyone. I would let them make their own selections while I conversed with them about their world.

People would come in and spend money but they wouldn’t mind because the conversation would be so good. I wouldn’t mind standing on my feet all day because I would have such a sense of helping others. Sounds good to me.

In my youth I worked as a “rod man” for the South Carolina Highway Department. I did it one summer while I was in law school. The job required me to ride around in a truck all day with the highway crew, then we would stop and they would do their thing. Eventually I would move to a certain spot and hold up the pole or rod so that they could make calculations.

I did this in the South Carolina summer when it was sunny every day. I got a great tan and used my time on the job to dream up my future. The people I worked with were the nicest group of people you would ever want to encounter. I also think that was the year Glen Campbell had a hit with “The Wittchita Lineman” and I had that song in my mind as I stood in the sun holding the pole. It kind of romanticized it.

There are so many alternative live s we can imagine in our heads. I have played the “what if” game so many times, but nothing I ever imagined would be half as good as the life I live today. God has blessed me with being able to do the things I love to do and to give me an outlet for my creative feelings.

Maybe others would have been happier had they chosen another path, but I am happy with where I am and the road to how I got here. The world of food serving and clothes selling will have to do without me. I have found my niche and love it.

                                                                                                            Jackie K Cooper

Jackie K Cooper’s latest collection of stories, BACK TO THE GARDEN, will be published by Mercer University Press in March of this year.

Monday, January 17, 2011


In 1978 when I turned 16, I donned a lime green polyester uniform and began asking customers who walked into the local McDonalds; “Would you like fries with that?” Since that time, I’ve had a variety of positions in the food-service industry; from salad bar refresher at the Pizza Hut on Hilton Head Island, to sandwich preparer at Yogurt’s Last Stand, where I marveled over seeing my first piece of pita bread. I worked as a camp counselor for spoiled children one eye-opening summer.

From there I moved to several illustrious positions in telemarketing; selling portrait packages for Olan Mills, then magazines for DialAmerica Marketing. It broke my heart when I’d get caught on the phone with some lonely old person who wanted to chat for a long time. I’ve sold cosmetics at Eckerd Drugs, advertising space in a local newspaper, done down-and-dirty garden nursery work, graded essays from grade-school to high-school for the state of Georgia, painted cheerful little pink and green floral designs (which made me nauseous after five thousand) all over picture frames for a mail order decorating company, sold lingerie at a shop called The Bare Essentials, and on and on and on.

Most of these were before I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1985 with a degree in Journalism (emphasis in Advertising). With diploma in hand, my career dreams led me to the big city of Atlanta where I shared an apartment with another recent graduate. We set out with our portfolios underneath our arms and big aspirations in our hearts. Sadly, I didn’t land that dream advertising job and had to take yet another telemarketing position to pay the bills. Eventually, I returned home to Athens, Georgia and began to sell printing for a large commercial printer. So much for that bachelor’s degree.

After marriage, then came the baby carriage. Three of them. While I was chasing children, I was designing greeting cards and selling printing for my husband’s print shop. Looking back at the string of sales jobs in my past strikes me as ridiculously funny because I’m absolutely NOT the salesperson type.

There was one constant in and among this hodge podge of positions. I have an obsession, maybe affliction is a better word, and am forever scribbling stories. Since I could string words together, I’ve been writing - on looseleaf paper, in journals, in spiral notebooks, on the backs of bank deposit slips. I can write anywhere, everywhere. While working on one novel, one short story, or one poem, I am already planning, taking notes, and collecting metaphors for the next.

Mama says I was born telling stories, and writing them is a compulsion I can no more escape than my shadow. It is a fire burning in my bones, and about ten years ago, by the grace of God in one of those situations I couldn’t have dreamed up, a publisher decided to publish one of my novels. Currently I am writing like crazy to meet an April first deadline for my sixth novel, TWANG, set to come out this fall.

I love writing, but there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears that goes with this career. The paychecks are erratic, I work for the most part in virtual isolation, and I’m constantly plagued with anxiety over whether I’m doing what I ought to promote myself and my books. Why in heaven’s name do I keep on allowing myself to write novels? To stay in a business which regularly does a number on a person’s self-esteem?

I sometimes think about running away from this urge to write. Of giving it all up and going after something with security, some fellow employees. To supplement my income, I teach writer’s workshops and I have to admit, I love certain aspects of this. I love teaching and encouraging and working with aspiring writers. This makes me wonder if I ought to follow in my Daddy’s shoes and become a professor. The hours look good, the steady pay even better. There are benefits and retirement and fellow-professors to hang out with. So, I guess the job I covet besides being a writer is being a professor of creative writing.

Julie L. Cannon lives and writes off of Hog Mountain Road in Watkinsville, Georgia. Her sixth novel, Twang, will be out in September 2011. Visit her website at to learn more about Julie and her affliction.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

If I Weren't A Writer by Patricia Sprinkle

When I consider what I’d have liked to be if I hadn’t become a writer, I have a problem—I‘ve already been a lot of things besides a writer: an Avon lady, Kelley Temp, day camp counselor, cashier in a university bookstore, receptionist for a small seminary, part-time librarian, editor, denominational executive, director of religious education, hunger advocate, advocate for foster children, hospital patient counselor . . . .  And yes, I really am two hundred and three. I just wear my years well.

I’ve liked every single job I’ve had. I didn’t necessarily love all the people I worked with, and I liked some parts of the work more than others—like the parts where I interacted with people. That’s odd, since I eventually became a writer where I sit home every day alone except for my computer, and don’t even interact via Facebook very faithfully.

Writing, however, lets me be all those things and more. In past years I’ve learned what it means to be a dairy farmer, an international executive, a pecan grower, a blue grass singer, and a genealogist among other things, then I’ve sat at home and let my characters become those things.

Still, if I had become what my husband swears I’m best at, I’d be Fixer of the World. I’d go around to businesses and institutions to tell them what they are doing wrong and I'd convince them that they could make more money or make the world safer if they’d fix a few things. Never again would you have to listen to a long message on voicemail before you got to the place where you could choose one, two, or three. Clothing stores would have LOTS of clothes for short plump people (like me) and not so many for short skinny people, which is the kind they invariably have too many of at the end of the season. No more speed humps to jar your car's suspension system on streets where children never walk (since they are driven half a mile to school). Recycling would pay for itself and show a profit. High schools would put all their students in a huge babysitting room each morning and only permit those who WANTED to study to go to class, so the others couldn’t disrupt the teachers and slow down the learning process. Publishers would heavily promote new and mid-list authors and let those who already make big bucks pay for their own publicity. We would definitely live in a better world.

So if you want to vote for me for Fixer of the World, write it into your ballot next election year and I’ll give up writing. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll write a book about somebody who becomes Fixer of the World.

Patricia Sprinkle is the author of southern mysteries and four novels. Her newest, Friday's Daughter, will be out in March, 2011.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lessons Learned in Television Production, Characters, and Comfort Zones

P.P.P.S. Happy 2011! It's gonna be a great year.
by t. lynn ocean
I work as a TV producer with the bulk of what I create being paid advertising segments. Many lessons learned from the television business are fantastic for writers. Eliminating clutter, for example. When you're trying to cram a message into thirty seconds, you must choose your words carefully. And, while things are rapidly changing (clients love their new On Demand and hi-def advertising options), the golden rule for producing an effective ad hasn't. Get the viewer's ATTENTION, keep their INTEREST, create a DESIRE, and instigate a call to ACTION. Kind of like what a novelist hopes to accomplish, with the call to action being: tell all your friends what a fantastic read my book was so that they'll run out and buy it!

Last week, another good lesson occurred to me. We were doing a video shoot for a medical practice. The doctor had to speak on camera for 12 seconds. No teleprompter, but still, it was three short sentences. Simple, right?

We're talking a handsome, wildly successful man who cuts on people for a living. Good hands, nerves of steel kind of guy. But the instant the camera went on, he visually crumbled. Messed up his lines. Looked fidgety and nervous. Not the type of dude I'd want operating on me, if I didn't know better. The bottom line is that he was suddenly the focus of attention with the lights and camera and several pairs of eyes watching. He was completely out of his comfort zone and downright squirmy.

Pulling anyone—fictional characters included—out of their comfort zone can make for great comedy or drama. The hardcore fighter who is suddenly a single dad. The janitor who wins the lottery. The soccer mom who must land a plane or die. You get the idea. For the writers out there, comfort zones are certainly something to think about when developing a plot. And for those of you who aren't crazy about pounding out words for hours at a time, comfort zones are still something to think about.  Step out of yours on occassion and see what happens! 

Happy Reading, Writing, & Blogging to All,

P.S. The doctor did eventually relax and all was well, but I sure did get some great blooper footage.
P.P.S. I really do have a new book coming out soon – promise!

Monday, January 10, 2011

JOBS I COVET by Jackie Lee Miles

This month’s suggested topic is jobs we might covet other than that of a writer.

That’s an easy one for me. I want to be a marketing genius or a computer wizard. That way I could promote my books with great expertise, instead of laboring as to what to do to “get one out there.”

My inadequacies as a marketing professional go back to my childhood. At the age of seven, I convinced my mother I was destined to make lots of money selling Kool-aid if she would only provide it. I set up shop on a card table in front of our sidewalk. My mother brought out a pitcher of cherry Kool-aid. The sides of the container were dripping with moisture, so I wrapped my hands around the sides just to make sure. Yes, it was ice cold and ready for serving. My heart soared. I couldn’t wait for my first customer.

Unfortunately, we lived at the end of a very long street and didn’t receive much foot traffic in that area of the neighborhood. The only customers I managed to capture were my playmates that offered a penny for a cup of the delicious drink, when the asking price was five cents.

Deciding I would not let the problem of money discourage me, I persevered, waiting for the drivers of the droves of cars driving by to stop and replenish themselves. One man did and gave me a quarter. I rewarded him with not one glass but two, which he kindly drank and proceeded on his way. To this day I keep hoping he’s won the lottery.

My entire take for the day was thirty-two cents, which included the quarter I received from the kind man driving the car who stopped, along with five playmates who eagerly offered a penny for their drink, and a contribution from my best male friend, Eddie Schaeffer, who bought one cup, then coughed up another penny to get an extra serving.

The following morning my older sister Sandi, age nine, set up her own stand. She stated everything I had done was wrong, including giving my product away for a penny when I could have “had them walking up and down the block with signs pointing to your stand!”

She made signs on card board, that my daddy provided, that offered “Cool refreshments for 5 cents a cup”, and glued them to paint stir sticks.” She then invited all of my playmates who had so eagerly purchased my drinks for a penny a cup to walk the sidewalks from one end to the other for payment of two servings of her Kool-aid, which consisted of not one flavor (I had cherry the day before), but two, grape and cherry.

Her efforts were rewarded. She made two dollars and forty cents by the time she ran out of her third batch of Kool-aid. I’d been out-marketed.

Which brings me to where I am now: fresh out of ideas and amazed with what others are doing to get their books noticed. I am in awe of author friend Nicole Seitz’s remarkable interactive website, promoting her upcoming novel, The Inheritance of Beauty. She expounds on not only where she will be featured next, but offers any number of ways to win free books. That shouldn’t be hard for me to do, so I’ve written that option down in order to promote my latest novel All That's True. It’s the story of thirteen-year-old Andi St. James (I love young protagonists), who’s entire life is turned upside down during the first Desert Storm War when she discovers her father is having an affair with her best friend’s step-mother. To make matters worse, her brother has been killed in a freak hazing accident, which causes her mother to start drinking, all the while her sister is planning the Atlanta wedding of the year and is determined that Andi will be a junior bridesmaid.

Here’s the hype from the publisher posted on the back cover:

Andi St. James’ privileged Atlanta life is turned upside down after her brother’s tragic death. As the relationships around her crumble, Andi embarks on a poignant and sometimes laugh-out-loud journey of self-discovery, where she learns the devastating consequences of deception and realizes that making the most of what you’ve got is a big part of all that’s true.

I’m sitting here contemplating ways I can promote this book. If I were a marketing genius, or a computer wizard, my desk would be loaded with ideas, so many I wouldn’t know where to start. Not so.

Thankfully, my publicist has sent me an e-vite in honor of my first official appearance for ALL THAT’S TRUE (which is being released today, January 11th.) The e-vite is to announce that I will be featured at The Georgia Center for The Book on Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 at 7:15 PM with appetizers to be served by CHOPstix Restaurant. It’s all spelled out neatly on the card with a delightful rendering of the book cover and a not-too-bad photo of me.

CHOPstix is supplying the food because they are featured in the book during one poignant scene when Andi finds out what else her father is up to. I called the restaurant and pointed this out and announced that I would be reading from that portion of the book during my presentation and they were happy to provide food in honor of being mentioned. What a blessing. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this marketing thing, afterall.

But, sending out the e-vites is what has me worried. During the promotion for my last novel COLD ROCK RIVER, I eagerly sent out scads of emails which featured the cover and an invitation to visit with me the day it debuted at a local Barnes & Noble store. I sent this on-line invite to everybody in my address book. Two days later I was completely locked out of receiving and sending emails.

It took me a week to find out that the host considered me a spammer and it took selling my grand-children to get them to believe I was only an author trying to contact all of the people in my address book that had given me their emails addresses themselves to begin with.

This time I will send out only ten at a time. In the event you are in the Atlanta area on Wednesday, January 26th, please join me at The Decatur Center for The Book (Decatur Library on Sycamore Street, downtown Decatur, Georgia), for some great food from CHOPstix, along with a reading and some trivia on why I wrote this book to begin with.

I would love to see you! And it will encourage this frustrated author to continue to find ways to promote the written word, as I’m determined that this is the year I will step out of my comfort zone and go for it. Wish me well, and be sure and tell me if you’ve struggled with marketing and promotion. It’d be nice to know I’m not alone.

All great best,

Jackie Lee Miles

Author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River, Divorcing Dwayne and the newly released All That's True. Visit the website at Write the author at

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What's your calling for the year ahead?

             By Judy Christie, author of the Green series, including "Goodness Gracious Green" and the upcoming "Glory of Green"

           A year or so ago a wonderful book club invited me to visit.
          Eating snacks in a cozy living room, the conversation centered on two of my favorite topics – reading and writing.
            “I couldn’t write a book in a million years,” one avid reader said.
            “Oh, sure you could,” I proclaimed, placing my chips and dip aside, clearly indicating the seriousness of the topic. “Anyone can write a book.”
            I got wound up, as I have been known to do, about putting words on paper. I told her about keeping a notebook with me at all times, writing in a journal since I was nine, and the story ideas floating through my mind most of the time.
            She looked at me and shook her head, whether in pity or admiration I wasn’t sure. “Most people’s brains don’t work like that,” she said.
That was that.
I am a word nerd.
Apparently everyone doesn’t walk around dreaming up “what if” scenarios or imagining how an overheard conversation sounds as dialogue. Many don’t wake up eager to write in their journals while their brains are fresh or ready to get in a word quota for the day. Lots of people never scribble long letters to friends detailing, with hopeful humor, the intricacies of daily life.
 Some of us do.
Either way, it seems to me, is just fine, as long as you are doing something you enjoy, something you feel called to do.
I have a hunch that most people have words within them. Words waiting to get out in some form or fashion, whether the person considers himself or herself a writer or not. We are, I believe, the stories we tell.
 But, as that reader in the North Louisiana living room reminded me, writing books isn’t an assignment to be endured. It’s a gift.
Perhaps your brain works like that. Maybe not.
Whatever is there within you, don't squander it.
Roll it out, and see what happens.
During the last week of 2010, I stumbled upon an excellent small book that I recommend as you consider who and what you want to be in the year ahead, whether writer or something altogether different.
“The Echo Within,” by Robert Benson, subtitled “Finding Your True Calling,” is beautifully written and discusses how each of us is called to do and be certain things.
For me, writing is part of my call, of trying to be more of the person I was created to be.
            How about you?

About the author:
            Judy Christie is a writer, which still thrills her. At the moment, she is jumping up and down with excitement about spending time with readers and writers at the upcoming Pulpwood Queens Girlfriends Weekend in Jefferson, Texas. Judy is the author of the Green series, with "The Glory of Green" coming March 1, and the nonfiction “Hurry Less Worry Less” series, including “Hurry Less Worry Less at Work.” For more info, take a look at

The Pulpwood Queen says, "Pinch me, I'm dreaming!"

Dear Readers.

From top to bottom: Authors, Mark Childress, Sonny Brewer, Marshall Chapman, Fannie Flagg, Pat Conroy and Mary McDonagh Murphy

Yes, those are my Keynote Speakers for my 11th Anniversary Girlfriend Weekend which begins this Thursday evening, January 13 - 16. 2011 here in historic Jefferson, Texas.  Last night my husband, Jay, daughter, Madeleine and I took a break in preparations of the book club convention to go see the film COUNTRY STRONG starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw.  Though we enjoy those celebrities we truly went to see Marshall Chapman, as she is the headliner for our show on Friday night of Girlfriend Weekend.  Marshall portrayed Winnie, Gwyneth Paltrow's characters agent in the film in which she had a big presence. 

Will somebody pinch me, I do believe I am dreaming.  There is something hard to express about seeing someone you know and love on the big screen.  I mean, WOWZER!

Marshall is just one of the almost 70 authors coming in for my biggest book club convention I have ever done.  She has a NEW film. NEW CD Big Lonesome, and now a NEW book, They Came to Nashville!  How did I ever get so lucky?

AND you may not even know that Marshall Chapman wrote a song along with Kathi Kamen Goldmark of their experience of coming to my Girlfriend Weekend, I Want My Hair Considered, that I now have published at the beginning of my book, "The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life".

AND it keeps getting better and better, for the first time EVER, Marshall Chapman, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, I are going to sing that song at Girlfriend Weekend!

That is just a few minutes of a weekend that has now become the best bookloving party of my life! 

So, if you think reading is homework, or boring, or just not very entertaining then mark your calendar for the third weekend in January when I hold my Girlfriend Weekend every year!  You see this year we are SOLD OUT except for the Film Fest on Sunday, email for tickets!

The Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys Book Clubs who host this author extravaganza, their sole mission is to promote authors, books, literacy, and reading and have some BIG TIME FUN while we are at it!  I mean how many other book festivals can you go to where they have a dance that we call our "Great Big Ball of Hair" Ball which always has a costume theme for our Grand Finale.  This year IT'S ALL ABOUT THE STORY so everyone is to come as their favorite book character!

Go to to view the program!  All my life has been about books and it looks like for 2011, all the fruit of my labors will harvest a beautiful bounty!

Happy New Year and let's make this a year where it is indeed, ALL ABOUT THE STORY, and no better place to being to read those stories from than A Good Blog is Hard to Find!

Truly Happy Tales! 
Tiara wearing, Beauty and the Book sharing!
Kathy L. Patrick

Friday, January 7, 2011

Small Town Farewells

-- Michael Morris --

Recently I traveled back home for the funeral of a close family friend. While the death was a shock, the way in which the community rallied around the family was not. As the south has changed and made way for residents beyond the Mason-Dixon Line, the one thing that has remained constant is how small towns unite around those who are grieving.

Within an hour of our friend’s passing, the citizens had sprung into action. Soon platters of fried chicken, bowls of casseroles and pans of pecan pie covered every square inch of the kitchen counter. Whatever the food item, every dish had one thing in common -- the adornment of masking tape with the owner’s name written in ink to ensure its proper return.

Watching the endless flow of townspeople enter the home to hug and cry with the family members, I suddenly felt great pride to be from this place. It’s in grief that the town shines the brightest. Silly disagreements or inconvenient slights are immediately tossed aside in favor of unconditional love and comfort.

During the visitation service the next day, those from various classes and races mingled in the funeral home to pay their respects. Of course every elected official in town made a stop too. If there is one thing that will cause a preacher or a local politician to lose his job, it’s the unpardonable sin of not appropriately acknowledging death.

Being away from my hometown for so long, I felt like an observer instead of a participant. I passed the time by looking through a scrapbook that the funeral home had placed on a coffee table in the lobby. The book contained thank you notes from family members who had hired the funeral home to assist in saying good-bye to loved ones. I was shocked to learn that some people I had known since childhood had passed away without my mama even calling to let me know. I was so wrapped up in reading the notes that I almost didn’t see one prominent elected official walk past.

She made her way to the elderly funeral home employee who was holding court in a winged back chair, thanking each visitor for stopping by. “Joe,” she said while using a remembrance card to fan herself. “Who else do ya’ll have down here that I need to know about?” Without getting up from the chair, the man pointed to a board that looked similar to ones I’ve seen at churches to record attendance. “What about Elmer Simpson’s sister? You seen her yet?” the man asked. The woman shook her head and said, “Lord, no. Well, let me go.” And with that, she was off to comfort the next family and to certify her attendance by signing the guest register.

Friends of mine who live in different parts of the country are sometimes horrified when I tell them that in the world that I grew up in, making comments about the appearance of the dead is not only appropriate but also expected. My first real experience with this was twenty-five years ago when I accompanied my grandfather to a visitation service for a man whose family had once employed me.

My grandfather and I wove our way through the throng of mourners. When we reached the family, he leaned down so close to the open casket that I was scared he had lost his mind and was about to jump in. Then with all the enthusiasm he could muster he shouted, “Ohhh…don’t he look good. I tell you the truth, I hope they make me look this good when it comes my time.” Feeling my face grow red and wanting to melt into the floor, I nervously glanced at the man’s widow and daughter. I was certain that we would be thrown out and put on some sort of eternal list that would bar us from ever stepping foot inside the funeral home.

But to my amazement, the widow and daughter offered broad smiles. The widow continuously thanked my grandfather and even gave an approving nod to the funeral director. It was then that I began to realize the complexities of ritual and the importance of having a good mortician. While I still can’t fully explain why we southerners continue to relish the pageantry of a funeral, I do understand that in an ever-changing world, the funeral speaks to our basic need to be part of a community and to cling to custom.

Driving home after the visitation service for my friend, I noticed several people I’d seen at the funeral home now walking along Main Street, eating ice cream and admiring storefront windows. Another group made their way into a cafĂ© for supper. Death might be just another facet of life but in small towns across the south, death is turned into a full-blown social event. A southern death has its own set of rules to follow with penalties for those who don’t comply. If you still don't believe me, then I have a list of defrocked ministers and former politicians you might want to call.

Michael Morris is the author of two novels, A Place Called Wiregrass, and Slow Way Home, as well as a novella, Live Like You Were Dying. A finalist for the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, he now lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2011, A Year Of Hope and Thanksgiving

2011, A Year Of Hope and Thanksgiving
By Renea Winchester

Growing up in a small town in the western North Carolina mountains, I had the most improbable dream of becoming a veterinarian. I had an affinity for horses, dogs, cats, and the wild animals my dad rescued during the course of his day while working with the power company. At a young age I charted a career path. There was one vet in our area who, I reasoned, would be retired just about the time I finished college. With my mother's encouragement, I asked him if I could volunteer during the summer.

I was promptly rejected.

It would be the first of many.

The pain of rejection is something authors must endure. Our stories are rejected by agents, publishers, and sometimes the readers whom we adore. Still, we press on, driven by an inexplicable need to share the characters implanted in the chambers of our heart.

While the desire to write came to me as a teenager, it was quickly squelched when my diary was discovered, read, and distributed to fellow students. Writing returned and became a driving force in the 90's as I journaled my way through a divorce. With the encouragement of the great Appalachian Writer, Wilma Dykeman, I returned to writing. I soon became convinced writing was what God placed me on earth to do.

I'm thrilled to say I am a published author with one book and numerous articles to add to my bio. However, instead of this being an exciting time, I am concerned about the future of the industry. So are my colleagues. Publishing houses have compressed, rejecting seasoned authors and those new to the business who can't help but wonder, who will print my next novel ? Today, many successful authors have been rejected by their agents and dropped by publishing houses who have represented them for decades. So what should a newbie author, or someone hoping to get their book published, do?

Now that 2011 has arrived filled with as much uncertainty as the last many authors are wondering is this the year to consider a new career?

Perish the thought !

2011 isn't the year to return to school and become a veterinarian. 2011 is the year to reach out to readers like never before. Twitter, Facebook, and other on-line avenue do generate sales, but what about more personalized marketing? What about a personal invitation to read what you, the author, have worked so hard to perfect? I ask this question because I can't help but believe that social media has become a mosh pit of countless authors competing for readers.

While I don't have the prestigious title of "best-selling" author, my book In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life, Love & Tomatoes has been well received. Contrary to the belief that In The Garden With Billy was a "regional book," it crossed the Mason-Dixon line and spread across this country.

Kathy Louise Patrick recently said, "books are NOT six week commodities stories can be timeless if well written."

My publisher and I believed in the story. I contacted Independent bookstores who rejected me, but reconsidered once readers started asking for the book. I contacted the Atlanta Journal who initially rejected me but eventually ran an article in the Living Section about Billy. (Thank you AJC!) You see, I believed in the readers who have fallen in love with In The Garden With Billy. I knew there were many other good books on the market, but I also knew that if readers gave me a chance they would love In The Garden With Billy.

So thank you, to everyone who added my book to your reading list.

Thus I begin the year filled with hope that authors will embrace readers like never before, and that readers will give newly-published authors like myself a chance.

Renea Winchester is a two-time winner of the Appalachan Writer's Award for Essay. Her work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Georgia Backroads, Smoky Mountain Living and Long Leaf Style, Georgia Magazine as well as Georgia Public Radio 90.1 FM. She is a frequent contributor to Her memoir, In The Garden With Billy: Lessons about Life, Love and Tomatoes, was released October 2010, by Little Creek Books.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Relish Small Pleasures


Brand new year, brand new me! Year after year, I fall into that trap. I’m going to exercise, eat right, balance work and play, not overbook, not spread myself too thin. I’m going to really get serious about promotion, do it right, say exactly the perfect little thing on Facebook, answer all my fan mail promptly, be rigorous about sending thank you notes. I’m going to make a writing schedule and keep it. I’m not going procrastinate and end up writing seven days a week, fourteen hours a day to meet deadline.

Then, of course, real life happens and I get sick or somebody has an emergency or a party or a sob story. What will it hurt to fall off schedule just a teensy bit? Today, forget about resolutions and goals. There’s always tomorrow.

Not this year. In 2011 there will be no guilt-ridden backsliding for me. I’m not making rules and charts and maps for my life. I’m going to do the Zen thing and simply be. Like Winnie the Pooh, I’m going to happily ho-hum every day and relish small pleasures. Is there a cardinal swinging on the lady banks rose outside my window? Even if I’m in the middle of chapter six, I’m going to make a glass of iced tea then sit quietly on the front porch swing to see if he will fly underneath the porch, straight toward me. It has happened. And it’s a glorious sight. He appears to aim directly for my face, as if he’s trying to figure out what manner of large, drab creature is sitting there without singing. Then at the last minute, he swoops toward the right and I swear I can hear the whisper of wings past my cheek. Glorious!

Or is the sun calling my name? Is there a sale on roses where I might find the perfect yellow rose to plant outside my office window so I can enjoy a splash of joy all summer?

Have daffodils and tulips and forsythia and azaleas covered the landscape overnight, and are they simply crying out to be clipped and arranged in vases all over the house?

Is there a new jazz gospel piano arrangement I’ve been drying to learn? Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, played with those rip-your-heart-out blues riffs that set my feet to tapping and give me the absolute assurance that words and music both have the power to transform, and that, for me, they are interchangeable?

These are some of the many small pleasures I will relish in 2011. What are yours?

Peggy Webb is the author of the Southern Cousins Mystery Series starring Elvis, the basset hound who thinks he’s the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll reincarnated. Visit her at and on FACEBOOK. Elvis and the Memphis Mambo Murders is in bookstores now.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Relationships by Andy Straka

     Happy New Year!

     May you enjoy a healthy, peaceful, and prosperous 2011.

     In church this morning our pastor spoke about the role of relationships in our lives.  Relationships, he said, are more important than anything else. They are more important than money, more important than career, more important than education, more important than status or celebrity or whatever other yardsticks our popular culture happens to be pitching.  Our relationships with those around us and ultimately with our creator will be what define us in the end.

     I got to thinking afterward about the pastor’s sermon and how it relates to those of us who write.  What is writing after all but an intimate relationship between writer and reader? An invitation and an engagement.   A seduction, if you will.  A promise from the writer to the reader that what the writer has to say is important—you won’t be disappointed—and perhaps most importantly of all a means to follow through on that promise.

     The turn of the New Year is supposed be about resolutions and new beginnings.  Quite honestly I’ve never been too keen about the artificiality of making some sort of resolution based merely on a change in the calendar.  (I mean, aren’t we supposed to be thinking that way all of the time?)  But this year I’ve decided to make an exception.  My New Year’s resolution is pretty simple: to strengthen each of the relationships in my life, to become a better listener, a better husband, a better father, and a better writer, and to continue to reach out for new relationships through my interactions with people and through my writing.

     Those of us who write enjoy the privilege of being able to magnify our relationships far beyond our immediate circle of family and friends.  If you write, whom will you influence, and with whom will you gain a new relationship through your words today?  Someone young? Someone old?  Someone half way across the country?  Someone half way across the world?  Someone in the middle of the night even when you are fast asleep?

     That’s what I call leveraging the power of relationship.