Friday, September 23, 2011

Carolyn Haines: The Many Hats of a Writer

The path a writer takes seems fraught with potholes, hurdles, and sometimes steep drops off sheer cliffs. It’s peculiar, though. The things I view as “mistakes” aren’t always seen that way by others. Sometimes it’s a matter of perspective.

My agent, Marian Young, and I have discussed this, in regard to my writing career, at different points in time. We’ve worked together for the past 20 years, and she’s seen me through the joys of a book auction and movie option to the depths of depression when a phone call comes in with “your numbers aren’t great.” Trust me, in both instances, there has been much, much discussion, high-fiving, second guessing, and sometimes whining (on my part).

Marian Young
Marian has the experience of multiple authors’ careers to draw from. I have only my own, so sometimes my leaps of logic are not only startling, but downright wrong. Still, I do know there is one thing I would change if I could. I would learn about the business of publishing right from the get-go.

I’ve worked with publishers, big and small. I’ve been fortunate that my career has offered me this opportunity—to experience “bringing forth” a book with all types of publishers.

I read all kinds of books. My first love was short fiction, that cruel mistress that offers such exquisite pleasure and no chance of making a living for most writers. But I also love a chilling scary story, an intricately plotted mystery, an adventure, a gothic. I just love to read. I’m not picky about genre, but I am demanding about quality of writing. This attitude toward varied reading has bled into my writing, which is why I’ve had a chance to work with a lot of publishers.

But while I worked hard to be well read, I did not focus on the business of publishing and what came after the book was sold and out on store shelves. When SUMMER OF THE REDEEMERS came out from Dutton in 1994, I was totally unprepared to tour and “sell” my book. I suffered under the illusion that my job was done. I’d written the best book I could write, and now I had only to write the next book and wait for the royalties to roll in. Right.

Dutton sent me on book tour, and I tried hard. I was extremely shy, and I had no idea what the bookstore’s responsibilities were, nor what my own were. I had assumed there was some magic involved—that once I was published, the reading world would know all about my book. In my head, the process wasn’t about me, it was about the story I’d worked so hard to tell.

But that isn’t really how marketing a book works. It was agony for me to find myself in a strange city, going to a bookstore where everyone was nice, but I was just another in a long list of writers who had bled heart’s blood onto the page and tromped through the store trying to find an audience.

There were wonderful times and people. There is nothing more exhilarating than showing up in a store in a strange city where the staff has read my book and genuinely loved it. Life doesn’t get a lot better than that. But it was hard on me. I wanted to write—I loved my solitary time living in my imaginary world. Going public went against my nature. Though I do love to laugh and engage with readers, I had to learn how to relax and simply let it happen.

So when I finished book tour, I went home and started work on the second book, TOUCHED. I didn’t want to do TV interviews. I wanted to write, to tell the story that compelled me to do so. My job, as I saw it, had little to do with interviews and public appearances and airplanes.

What I didn’t comprehend was that promoting and selling the book had become part of the writer’s job. My job. Of course it has always been part of a writer’s job, but when Dickens traveled to America to promote his books, it sounded like an adventure.  When I traveled to strange cities, it was like prying an oyster out of its shell.

Had I understood the business of publishing and the relationship between author-publisher-bookseller a bit better, I would have more fully understood my role. Perhaps book tour would have been just as difficult, but I think not. I was a photojournalist for many years, and I never let my shyness stop me from getting a good picture. Because it was my job. I knew and understood what I was supposed to do, and I did whatever it took to get that shot.

I suspect that many writers know this. They look beyond the blank page and the process—sometimes joyful but mostly challenging—of filling that page with words that tell a story. I had to learn to do that by trial and error. I approached it by feel, rather than by logic or research. Because it was difficult for me and felt uncomfortable, I didn’t look at it head on, but rather with a shaded glance here and there.

Today, I really enjoy book signings and speaking engagements. I like writers conferences and giving talks and being on panels. Teaching has helped me overcome my shyness, and taking a breath and talking with readers has allowed me to see that the love of books we share overshadows everything else. Readers, booksellers, and writers love the written word and story. That gives us ample common ground so that we aren’t really strangers, just folks who haven’t met face to face. Yet.

I wish I had understood this sooner. But as they say (the all-wise “they”) things happen in the time they’re supposed to happen.

A native of Mississippi, Carolyn Haines lives in Alabama on a farm with her dogs, horses, & cats. Bones of a Feather, the 11th book in her Sarah Booth Delaney series, is now available.  Sign up for Carolyn Haines' Newsletter & feel free to visit her Website, along with her Facebook, Twitter, & Fan Page.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guides for Wandering Readers

by Cathy Pickens

One cold Saturday afternoon, I was browsing the aisles of my favorite local used bookstore when I overheard a young man approach the owner.  “I’m interested in reading some classics,” he said.

My ears perked up.  The way he said it hinted that he was just starting on this adventure.  I too had, not too long before, set about filling some of the embarrassing holes in my reading, so I appreciated the thrill of his search—and how daunting it could be.

He was dressed in jeans and a “Navy” t-shirt bulging with muscles, his hair close-cropped.  Home from deployment?  He came around the end of the stacks to where the owner had cheerfully directed him, and he stood there, staring at the shelves.   He didn’t pull a single book off the shelf.  He shifted from one foot to another, one hand jammed deep in his pocket, just staring.

After a while, he wandered off to another part of the store.  Then he left without a book.

I felt as though I’d failed a fellow seeker because I didn’t offer to help.  But I was just another reader, a seeker myself.  Who was I to intrude?  I had started with Jane Austen (because C.S. Lewis said she was the best) and suggestions from Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Novel.  How could I know what he’d like to read?

But it broke my heart.  I’m still haunted by that reader who didn’t find a book.

So how do readers find books?  Would-be readers are inundated with overwhelming abundance.  How to know where to begin? 

It got me to thinking about how I find books.  I spend far too much time in bookstores and libraries, for one.  I pay attention to recommendations from friends (particularly from other writers) and reviews from trusted sources in newspapers, magazines, and online—people whose tastes I’ve learned mesh well with mine and whose judgment I’ve learned to trust.  Shelf-talkers or displays in bookstores are other sources. 

But some of the best guides are librarians, those who’ve turned putting the right book in the right reader’s hands into a life calling.

That day in the bookstore helped precipitate this year’s Sisters in Crime Publishing Summit Report.  A SinC team met with librarians and those who provide books and services to libraries to learn some of their magic at the 2011 American Library Association meeting in New Orleans.  [The 2011 Summit Report is available now on the website:]

From Nancy Pearl, Joyce Saricks, Neil Wyatt, and others, I learned how to talk about “appeal factors” in books as a way to guide others to books they might like.  What experience is the reader looking for in a book?  How fast does she want it to move?  Does he prefer the tone dark or humorous?  Are deeply developed characters or beautiful language important?  Or do particular settings attract?

I learned what questions to ask, to guide my own reading and writing as well as to discover what others like.  I learned it too late to help the guy who was ready to read the classics, though.  I just hope he found someone to guide him … 

Which leads me to ask: So, what are you reading?  What would you suggest for others who share your tastes?

Planning a trip to Australia, I picked up one of Kerry Greenwood’s Phyrne Fisher mysteries and Arthur Upfield’s classic The Bone is Pointed, to soak up some atmosphere.  And I just finished Carson Morton’s first novel Stealing Mona Lisa, a caper set in 1911 Paris and based on the real theft.  How about you?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


What is it anyhow?

I'm inspired today by Kerry Madden's recent livejournal post about her Bug Man. I love how she hears what he says and translates it to the page. Even in a blog.

I hear voices all the time.  In my head, reading, listening, talking—I’m surrounded by voices just like Kerry’s Alabama bug man.

But I type the V Word with great trepidation. Because I'm struggling with a voice I can't quite hear yet.

I’m speaking now of a character’s voice in fiction, how to nail it, why to bother. Everybody wants to understand it. Hardly anyone seems to be able to truly explain it. For some it comes as easily as breathing, and that may go double for anyone writing a voice we’ve heard since we first tried to talk.

The Voice Thing hit me this week when I was I shopping in a large, non-descript department store in New Jersey. (So you won’t think the good folks of my adopted state of New Jersey are all this boring, this was not Snooki’s or even Bruce’s Jersey. This was middle-of-the-state, filled-with-transplants NJ.)

Here’s a bit of that conversation:

Woman on NJ cellphone: The service was beautiful. The people were happy. The sun was too hot but we brought out folding chairs.

See, that's just so deadly dull I almost couldn't type it without "revising." I listened as long as I could to that woman in the department store. Long enough to find out she was the Preacher at that funeral. Some preachers are better at things other than speaking, I guess.

 If I'd been eavesdropping in the Memphis Airport, a Jackson Piggly Wiggly, almost any other Southern place I've been in my life, the conversation would have sounded like this:

Woman on cellphone in the South: Honey, that service was just downright beautiful. You never saw such happy people. Uncle Joe looked like he could 'bout sit up and smile right out of that white satin lining the coffin. Uh Huh. Just beautiful, I tell you. But hot? Oh, lands, it was hot. And people- so many people. Had to pull out the folding chairs from last week's Dinner on the Ground so as to have a place for everybody. Didn't want them falling out from the heat, now did we.

If we depended on hearing voices like NJ Cellphone Lady to inspire us, I don’t believe anybody would read past paragraph one. Fortunately, most writers have better sense than to listen to lady preachers in the middle of a New Jersey mall.

I once heard esteemed editor—think Harry Potter— Cheryl Klein say “Voice is like air. You can’t do without it but nobody can explain it well.” (Or something close to that--I paraphrase!). The Voice is like air part made me sit up and listen. She’s written more than I can share and spoken about it often. But if you’re interested, click here for a quick run-down of some of her thoughts on Voice in fiction.

 We Southerners might have an advantage when it comes to hearing characters. First off, we share a language filled with words that defy defining. Nobody has to lean on dialect or improperly spelled words to convey the rhythm and sound and flavor of Southern speech. In fact, I mostly hate when that happens, don’t you?

At her website at, my writer friend Beth Jacks maintains an exhaustive list of words and phrases her readers tap into, comment on, and add to. Words long gone from contemporary speech most places. Corporosity and nary. Fixing to (wait, that one’s still in my vocabulary!). Swaney. A whole host of food items folks outside the South might not understand, including my own favorite road food: Nabs (No, that’s not somebody grabbing you.)

My own list of Southern Speak is endless, even after I’ve lived in the north most of my grown-up life. Words swirl around me like those Sunday dinner-time stories of my childhood.

When it came time for a character in my forthcoming novel for kids, set in Mississippi where I was “born and raised” to speak, and she said “Pure-D good” (try to get that one by a Yankee editor…) and doodlebugs and a lot of other things that sounded just right, I heard it so plainly her Voice just tumbled out.

I heard it because that’s all I knew growing up. But how do writers who’ve never lived in a place manage to nail the characters voices?

I asked my writer friend Kimberley Griffiths Little, whose second middle-grade novel,  set in the Louisiana Bayou country has just been published, how she did it. How she wrote so well of that place when she’s from the opposite side of the country.
Having an emotional core about a particular character or situation that is driving us to write that story will bring out the passion and natural voice that we possess. It’s easier to lose the self-consciousness writer within us when we are passionate about our topic… When I first visited Louisiana thirteen years ago, my heart pounded in a way it never had before. I instantly felt the power and the magic of the bayou/swamp country. I returned again and again, read everything I could get my hands on, visited every small town between Lafayette and Thibodeaux, museums, graveyards, old homes, researched at the State University, talked to folks in shops and restaurants and on the street, and ventured deep into the wilds.

I wrote with love and passion and authenticity... It took patience. But all good things do, and they are always worth it.

It’s tempting here to roll to the grand finale of this piece by saying something I hear in my head a lot. An English teacher of mine used to end almost every poem she read aloud to our class with “Truer words were never spoken.” She’d pause and look up to a ceiling glowing with fluorescent lights as if it were the Good Lord in heaven. If I ever create a character like that, I have her nailed. She’s in my head. Her short, punctuated sentences. Her eye rolls, her hand-over-ample-breasts sighs, her earrings—even her desk filled with books lined up in perfect rows. And her distinctive voice.

But I think Kimberley’s onto some true words. All good writing takes a lot of 
patience and hard work, among many other things. I imagine Kerry’s patiently turning over that Bug Man’s stories, listening to his voice in her head till he’s ready to spring forth on the page. 

 We all hear voices. With a capital V.

And for writers, that’s a good thing.
Truer words were never spoken.


AUGUSTA SCATTERGOOD reads and reviews books, works hard at perfecting her craft, and is eagerly anticipating the debut of her first middle-grade novel, GLORY BE, coming in January from Scholastic.

But right this minute, she's working hard at hearing voices.

Monday, September 19, 2011

More tips from TV

by Jenna/Jennie

Last month, I read Susan Cushman's blog on learning from the outtakes from the TV show The Good Wife - incidentally my husband's favorite, as well - and I thought of my own favorite TV show.

No, it isn't new. In fact, I'm probably giving away way too much if I tell you that it debuted in 1989 and lasted three seasons. Yes, I still love it, and yes, I do occasionally give myself permission to stream a few episodes on Netflix. It’s a damned good show, and it’s held up pretty well over the years, too. Historicals have a way of doing that, since they avoid getting dated by wardrobe and hairstyle the way contemporary shows do. (Consider that a free nugget of advice: don't date your writing by being too trendy. Unless you're e-publishing, and you're willing to rewrite frequently, avoid mentioning anything too pop-cultureish.)

My husband gives me a hard time about watching all the young man-candy, and I can sort of see his point, but the truth is, I’ve actually learned a few things I can apply to my own writing from watching those old episodes. And I’m not just talking about the idea I have for a wild west mystery.

When the idea for the show was first conceived back in the 1970s, it was focused on the character called The Kid. (No, he never did have another name. It became a running joke, all the way up until the wedding in the series finale.) In early 1989, when the pilot was filmed, the series still had that focus, and was supposed to be called simply The Kid.

But in picking up the series, the network decided that it should be about all the characters, not just one. The title of the show changed to The Young Riders and episode 2, which is called Gunfighter, was about another young man. And let me take a break here to say that in any group, real or imagined — be it the cast of a television show, the characters in a book, a bunch of kids on the playground, or coworkers in an office — someone’s gonna emerge as the natural focal point. It may take time, but it always happens. And it isn’t always who you think it is.

(Although in the case of The Young Riders, let me just express my incredulousness for one measly second and say that how the hell the producers expected to use Wild Bill Hickok as one of the characters and not have him take over, is beyond me.)

But that’s the second thing I learned. As writers, let’s not presume to think we know how things are going to turn out when we first start writing our stories. Let’s please keep an open mind as to how the story will develop, and which of our characters will turn out to be more important and which less so, because too much of the time, holding on tightly to our own ideas of what’s going on can prevent us from seeing a much better storyline opening up ahead.

However, sometimes we’ve already shot ourselves in the foot by that point, and we can’t take advantage of the new direction our work is going. We can’t let it develop naturally, organically, the way it should. And here’s why, again using The Young Riders as an example:

Everyone in the world, or at least in America, has heard of Wild Bill Hickok. He was a real person with a real history, one that many people are familiar with. And there were only so many changes the producers of The Young Riders could make to his character. They made him younger than he would have been in 1861, they gave him a job with the Pony Express that he never had, and they gave him a difficult family history. The Young Riders’ Jimmy Hickok can’t read, while James Butler Hickok was actually pretty well educated.

And here’s another thing: Already in the first episode, the writers set up a romantic relationship between The Kid — who was supposed to be the main character, remember? — and the only girl in the bunch, who was pretending to be a boy in order to keep her job. That relationship hit a snag in season 2. However, another of the boys had noticed the same girl, and we got a little bit of a romantic love triangle going. I’ll give you three guesses as to which boy it was, and I won’t hold my breath while you guess.

Jimmy and Lou — that was her name — had a hell of a lot more chemistry than Lou and The Kid ever did, and would probably have been very happy together, but this was where those problems cropped up again. The real James Butler Hickok didn’t get married in 1861, nor was there any way anyone would believe that the character as he was played would have left the girl he loved to scout for the Union army. Yet that was what Wild Bill did during the Civil War. It’s a historical fact. So a relationship that had such potential on screen ended up fizzling out into nothing. Because of inconvenient facts.

Now, I know that most of us don’t write about historical characters with real histories we have to work around, but the same issues can come up in our books, if we give out too much information too soon. Some of us plan out everything about our characters before we even sit down to write, and if we put too much of that information into our books before we have to, we’ve hamstrung our characters. On the other hand, some of us write by the seat of our pants, and just give our characters a background, any background, without much thought to the future. Sometimes, something wonderful might develop in book 3 of a series. But if we’ve already established in book 1 that the character came from elsewhere, the background was different, he/she doesn’t have any cousins, is the wrong age, can’t read... we’ve taken away the opportunity to benefit from whatever wonderful thing it is.

Obviously I’m not saying not to give out the information that’s necessary to develop the character. And part of the fun of watching 18-year-old Jimmy Hickok turn into Wild Bill is knowing what will happen to him later. But in the case of The Young Riders, it also limited what could be done with that particular character, and it can do the same thing to our characters and our books if we don’t watch out.

So that’s my bit of wisdom for the day. I’m off to watch some reruns of Firefly now. Research, you know. For that science fiction romance I might write one day.

And if you have any golden nuggets of knowledge gleaned from TV or movies, feel free to share!

* * *

Jennie Bentley/Jenna Bennett writes the Do It Yourself home renovation mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime and the Cutthroat Business mysteries for her own gratification. The 5th DIY mystery, Flipped Out, will be arriving in stores October 4th, while the 4th book in the Cutthroat Business ebook mysteries, Close to Home, was released September 1st. You can find out more about both series at 

Friday, September 16, 2011


by Julie L. Cannon

I tug on my yellow rubber gloves and read the directions on the back of the jug - “Apply in a thin layer to vinyl and wait 15 minutes. Scrub thoroughly.” Grabbing my sponge mop I begin this chore I’ve been putting off too long. What’s good is that hopefully, this will remove ten years worth of unsightly yellow Mop & Glo buildup while leaving my brain free to meditate on Man Martin’s suggested blog topic - What catastrophic mistakes have you made either in your writing or your career and what did you learn from them?

I call my husband as I am beginning my application in the corner where the phone is. I ask Tom, “What mistakes have I made in my writing career?” He takes great delight in giving me an earful about an obsessive-compulsive trait of mine which is the root of the second stupidest blunder of my writing career. Now that he’s filled my ear, and now that a major portion of vinyl is coated, I set my timer for fifteen minutes and head to the computer.

First I’ll share one mistake that’s always on tap. The dumbest thing I did, something that’s still following me around, is I negotiated the contract for my first book all by myself. No agent, no lawyer. Stars were in my eyes and I didn’t see the unfavorable option clauses which have tied up my livelihood for years. What I’ve learned from this blunder is that ideally, I should have found an agent who not only was head-over-heels in love with my work, but who would have negotiated a good and smart deal for me. An author’s first book sets the tone for his/her career in so many ways I don’t have the space to tell it all here. A savvy agent can steer you and your manuscript and your career in the right direction. I make it a point to tell students in my various writing workshops; “Don’t dare sign a thing until you’ve had a professional who is on your side read it over. You absolutely must have an agent who is well-versed in book contracts.”

Now for my husband’s idea of what I did wrong. I spent entirely too much time fretting over promotion for my first two novels, and not enough time with my fanny in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard. The minute those books were ‘released’ I became possessed, frantic. I poured over books on marketing, studied the internet about promotional strategies, obsessed on sales figures. It was as if the hawking, the selling was my all-consuming focus, and if I had any time left over, then maybe, if I wasn’t too exhausted, I would write a bit of fiction. I thought if I appeared on enough radio stations, sent galleys to enough magazines, talked to enough book clubs, drove to enough bookstores, mailed out enough bookmarks, appeared in enough parades as the Tomato Queen, I could generate sales and catapult my wares to bestsellerdom. 

I remember what this little old lady said to me at one of my book events way back – “Honey, you just need to write more of your sweet stories.” I think I was dressed like a tomato queen and passing out tomato seeds in packets that looked like the book cover of Truelove & Homegrown Tomatoes.
Do you think she had a copy of Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel on her nightstand next to her dentures and her Ladies Home Journal? What Donald says really sells books is . . . are you ready? . . . the magic of “word of mouth.” He claims it’s what’s between the covers that sells our books. We just have to write a compelling book.  

The challenge is that writing well takes time, lots of it. I can’t be constantly running all around the country trying to generate enthusiasm and hand-selling my books. I must focus my best energies, my biggest enthusiasm on the actual writing. It took Noah around 98 years to build the Ark, and I believe that to write a compelling story I need to stick to a plan that includes laying a good structural foundation. I must study the mechanics of good writing. So, instead of books on marketing, I read lots of ‘How-To’ books, and I study the bones of best sellers. I am eager to continually improve my craft, take my fiction to a deeper level. I want my stories to grip my readers’ imaginations in a way that will engender that critical ‘word-of-mouth’ element that sells books.

There are plenty more mistakes I have made along this writing journey. But it’s time to go snap back on my rubber gloves and add some elbow grease to that stripper. Then it is time to write.

Julie L. Cannon lives and writes off of Hog Mountain Road in Watkinsville, Georgia. Her latest release is I'll Be Home for Christmas. Her next novel, Twang, will be out in September 2011. Visit her website at to learn more about Julie and her books.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Weight of the Day

by Nicole Seitz

In our master blog calendar, my name was slated to post on September 11th. It's quite daunting. I'd like to write something underlined with the importance of this day, and yet, I feel I'll fall short. Nothing I could write could come close to the true weight of the day, what happened 10 years ago. So, I'll lighten up on myself and simply...write from the heart. Here goes.

I wasted time today. In light of Septemember 11th, this feels like a grievous sin. And it was so ridiculous how it all happened. Long story short, I didn't get gas when I should have and because I didn't take two minutes to turn right and go one block out of the way to get gas, I literally didn't get anything done that I wanted to. Ever had one of those days? I didn't get to the lighting place before it closed. I didn't get my parents' computer network working properly. I didn't get home in time before the kids and husband had already left the house.

By the time I arrived back at home with nothing in hand and really nothing accomplished, I felt nearly in tears when I didn't see my husband's truck in the driveway. I felt I had wasted all this time, but I knew I could redeem it...IF ONLY I saw my family.

When you're a parent or spouse and you've done nothing at all in your day, if you spend time with your family, you've done something with eternal importance. I understand that now. I have days when I simply don't get anything done, and yet, if I spend a little time with my family, investing in them, I have done something with true and lasting value. What a gift of redemption.

Last night I watched Dateline about the September 11th attacks. I wept as I heard the stories of survivors and stories of those who didn't survive. As I watched the images again of apocalyptic New York, gray and covered in ash, twisted metal, I re-lived much of what I was feeling that day 10 years ago. What I took out of it most of all is that family is truly everything, and yet, it's the thing we take most for granted. No one who lost a loved one that day knew the importance of the day or what it would hold.

Right now, my husband is downstairs watching a football game, and I can hear my children's laughter. But you see, I'm here, writing this blog post. And although I am grateful for the opportunity to be here in such amazing company of authors and have the opportunity to share my heart with you, I remain painfully aware that I have the opportunity to go down and spend time with my family, a privilege so many lost on that Sept. 11 of 2001. I'll be honest. There have been many days like today when a wrong turn leads me to missing out on the most important things in life--my family. This has been a hard lesson for me to learn.

Now for the tie-in with this month's suggested blog post: your biggest writing blunder. Here's mine. There have been days when my writing came first.

I began writing my first novel when I was pregnant with my second child. Soon after, I published, wrote again, published, wrote again, and on and on and on, all the time meeting with book lovers, authors, doing events, etc, etc, etc. The writing seemed to come easier to me than breathing. I spent so many hours at my desk on the third floor that my husband finally had a "come to Jesus" with me and let me know I was pretty much absent in my own house.

I hadn't realized I could be there--but not be there. It was a turning point for me.

Once I understood that I seemed to be putting my writing ahead of spending time with my family, something changed in me. My books were still very important to me and my readers, and meeting my obligations and contracts, but soon, on the scale of equity, family begin to weigh more and more until they rightly found their priority in my life as number 1 (just under God). Everything else was cake. How had I blurred the lines so much? How did I slide on that slippery slope? For you writers out there, I imagine you understand. The pull of the characters, the story, the novel, can be sirens to Odysseus. Especially when you're under contract.

I thank God for my husband who helped me see that time was passing and the words would always be there but the children would not. Now that I'm beginning to write my seventh novel, I can assure you the words are NOT always there--but that's okay. Truly it is. Right now, my family is so adorable, I could scoop them up and put them in a bubble. My daughter just lost another tooth. My son drew me a picture of a farmer with an apple tree. Life is so good, SOOO good, and I realize it. Now. I don't want to have to look back on things years later to realize how good I have it now. I want to appreciate it all and savor it NOW.

There are countless families out there who lost loved ones on 9/11 who would give anything just to have another moment with them. So, if you don't mind, even though my day seems wasted and I didn't get anything done that I wanted to (except for this post and mailing a package), I will not waste this day. If you'll excuse me, there are people downstairs who are worth more to me than my writing, more than this post, most than just about anything in the world, and God has given me another day with them. Can you feel the weight of that?

I cherish this day. I think I'll go waste a little time with some children and a handsome man. I might watch some football or play a board game. We might just sit there and do nothing at all, and that would be just fine with me. In fact, I guarantee it'll be the most important thing I've done all day long.

Nicole Seitz is the author of five novels, her next book coming in January 2012, BEYOND MOLASSES CREEK. She has two kids, a husband, a debonair cat, and a crotchety old dog with cataracts. She wouldn't trade any of them for the world.

Sticking to the Cemetery by Niles Reddick

Most of my writing experiences have been pleasant ones. Places where I've spoke or read and did book-signings, like the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tennessee, or the Cherokee Arts Festival outside Atlanta in Canton, were surprisingly fun. I enjoyed meeting folks, talking to people, answering their questions, and I always learn something. I don't know that I ever had any major mistakes, blunders, or even catastrophes with my writing (the occasional grammatical error that didn't get caught in drafts or galleys), but there have been times when I felt potential disaster was looming nearby and didn't know how to respond or what to say to others who asked me questions or made comments about my books.

The first time I recall this was when Road Kill Art and Other Oddities was first published. Somehow, readers tend to make a psychological connection with stories and characters and will often tell you their own stories at a book-signing event or conference. I recall one fellow coming up to me and saying he really enjoyed my stories and he had white-trash relatives, too, and then launched into some strange, and what I would consider, white-trash stories.  I was appalled. I had never written anything in my stories about white-trash anything and certainly nothing about my relatives or friends being that way (much of this collection was based on true stories, just embellished). I didn't understand the connection he'd made, and I really didn't quite know what to say other than, "That's great. You really ought to write that story yourself," and I was thrilled another person wanting me to sign her book appeared out of nowhere.

The second time I felt there could be a looming disaster was when I was speaking to a college class about writing, and the students had read a selection from my short story collection. One student wanted to know about my treatment of women in my stories, that it seemed as if I was making fun of women. For a moment, I said nothing. What I was thinking was, "You've got to be kidding me. First of all, you've only read one story, if that. Before you become a book critic, perhaps you should write something yourself." What I said was: "I feel I treated all of my characters the same way. Sure, I make fun of some of these eccentric women, but they are based on my family members and friends and I love them and admire their eccentricities, and I give the eccentric men equal time in the book, which you'll see when you read it."

The last time I recall the disastrous feelings looming was when Lead Me Home first came out a couple of years back. I had moved to Southern Georgia and had been on a couple of TV shows, in some area newspapers, and so on as part of the initial book splash. I don't recall which now, but one of the interviewers asked me where I got the names of my characters---the Peacock family---and I told him that I based the surname on my father's paternal grandmother's family, and part of the novel was set in the small town of Pavo (latin for Peacock) named for them and where they lived. Of course, I did this to honor them, in some small way, and I received letters and multiple phone calls from people who wanted to correct me about the geography of the area, the history of the town, people who wanted to know if I knew so-and-so, people who wanted to know if I knew this or that about my relatives, and so on. Of course, none of them bought the book to read! I was stunned. First of all, it was fiction and so none of these people were real family members (I honestly did not know one member of that side of the family) and even the locations in the book did not really exist but were bits and pieces of locations from my own experiences. Sure I had driven through Pavo in my lifetime, and it looked just like every other small, rural town in America. I did the best I could in responding to their calls and letters and after a month or so of the initial sensationalism, it wore off, thank goodness.  Next book, I'm sticking to the cemetery for names because those folks won't come after you like the live ones do. I do know, though, controversy can sell books, and I'm trying to come up with one that will help sell the next book!

Niles Reddick is author of a collection of Road Kill Art and Other Oddities, which was a finalist for an Eppie award, and a novel Lead Me Home, which was a finalist for a ForeWord Award and a finalist for first novel in the Georgia Author of the Year Awards.  He is author of numerous short stories in journals and anthologies. He lives in Tifton, Georgia and works for Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. His website is

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Convincing Vet Made up the Entire Story

A Veteran’s Journey Back Home: A story I had no idea was a complete lie until publication!!!

In January 2010, Andy Marlow entered the Veteran’s Restoration Quarters a broken man, his body torn and pieced together with plastic and titanium, his mind muddled with the alcohol he poured into his system to forget.
One of the big reasons those who fight for our country turn to liquor is to forget. A young man entering and battling a war can witness and endure too much.
I met Andy for lunch at the VRQ, a 7-acre, homelike center on Tunnel Road near the VA Medical Center. We talked over chicken, vegetables, mashed potatoes and iced tea.
The Veterans Restoration Quarters is a program of the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry that offers shelter to previously homeless veterans and helps them get re-established in the community.
Andy is an affable man who talks a lot and throws around his smile and laughter as if his life had been the American Dream. Not a nightmare from horrific circumstances.
This tall, lean man in the Rustler jeans with a silver-studded belt, hardly touched his food as he told a story almost hard to believe.
Yet all of it is true. Each of the more than 200 men housed here has a story, typically a brutal tale of misfortune after service to our country. They entered the military in their late teens, saw too much, and returned home craving substances to ease the mental pictures of war and the pain from rebuilding their lives.
Many, like Andy, carry metal and shrapnel in their bodies. They are too hurt to work, too mind-wrecked to care.
Andy is no exception. He was born and raised in Fairview, in a house the family kept for decades until the bank got it a year ago when Andy hit rock bottom and hit the bottle from the time he awakened until he crawled into bed at night, often a cot in the Buncombe County jail for a pair of DWI’s.
His life began unraveling as a teenage boy when he and his twin brother Johnny signed up with the Army. They joined the 101st Airborne, and at 19, were shipped to Vietnam at the end of March, 1966.
“We’d been there about a week when we got orders to take Hamburger Hill,” Andy said, his cheeks sunken from explosives ripping his lower jaw during combat.
The date was April 6, 1966. His original plan included college and a life in the country with his wife who was pregnant with their first son at the time of enlistment.
On that April day, his unit flew over the infamous Hamburger Hill, and fought to take Dong Ap Bia in the Shau Valley where one of the most deadly and well-known battles in Vietnam occurred.
Andy said there were some 258 men from the 101st and 82nd Airborne units. Only 38 survived that brutal battle, Johnny dying from a bullet through his head.
Andy caught a bullet in his shoulder, one of the lesser injuries.
“Only 22 are alive today,” Andy said, sipping his tea, pushing food around his plate. “I keep in touch with a few.”
After Johnny’s death, the War Department sent notices to the Marlow twins’ parents that both boys had been killed during duty.
“I got on a plane with his body,” Andy recalls. “Mom and Dad went down to Fayetteville expecting to pick up two coffins. When they rolled his coffin off the plane and I walked beside it, Mama fainted and Dad turned white as a ghost.”
Andy said he and Johnny were tight and looked exactly alike, except Johnny had a small black mole on his face. They often fooled dates, switching and pretending to be the other.
Losing Johnny tore Andy apart, but he returned to Vietnam, gaining medals and honors and fought as both a Green and Black Beret. He decided he’d go back to ’Nam for revenge.
“I was angry my twin was dead,” he said. “I wanted to kill every one of those Communists I could find. I changed. I became a killer.”
But other killers awaited him, ambushing the American soldiers and turning the country’s expected win into a bloody travesty.
On Oct. 15, 1973, as Andy and a friend simultaneously jumped out of a plane, the friend fell into a land mine which blew him to pieces, the remainder of fiery shrapnel ripping into Andy and, “nearly cutting me in two,” he said.
The explosion took out both hips, his lower face (now rebuilt) and part of his bowel. He had no choice but to come home, his body unable to withstand more fighting.
He arrived a hero in a patriot’s eyes, a baby-killer in protester’s eyes, and a well-decorated First Lieutenant with three Purple Hearts.
He returned to this area, started driving 18-wheelers and raising his four children with his wife and his mother in the family’s Fairview home place.
In 1975, knowing people in Texas, they all packed up and arrived there, Andy working on a ranch and finishing college at the University of Texas in Arlington where he earned a degree in bookkeeping and accounting.
He missed his home and came back in 1989, working through the pain from his metal hips for the United States Post Office for two years. His body couldn’t withstand the heavy loads, and he finally took advantage of his
Disability benefits.
For a while, life on the farmland proved quiet and healing. It all changed when his oldest son, who’d been in the National Reserves, was called to Kuwait in March 1991. Within weeks, a missile blew his Hummer apart and everyone, including his son, died.
Three months later, his wife endured a massive hemorrhage and bled to death due to undetected ovarian cancer, causing an ovary to rupture.
Two beloved family members dead within 12 to 13 weeks. Andy fell into a deep depression, finding temporary relief in liquor bottles, trying to block the pain with fifths of devils.
Morning, noon and night he drank, never becoming a wobbling drunk, but getting two DWI’s within a year.
The judge sent him to jail. This was home now.
A man who nearly gave his entire body and soul to his country, now slept in a cell, and in the meantime, lost the second most important thing besides family – the home place off Garren Creek Road. The bank took the house, and memories and heartache took Andy.
“I was in the bottle every day,” he said, standing and taking his virtually untouched tray of food to the trashcan in the kitchen. “I’d drink from 8 or 9 in the morning until 3 or 4 in the morning on my path to self destruction. I wanted to die.”
After landing in jail for his second DWI, a case manager arrived and the two began talking. He knew of a place where Andy could rebuild his life: The VRQ.
While in jail, he had a dream, more like a vision.
“I dreamed about what I was doing to myself,” he said. “I was brought up with religion and heard a voice saying, ‘Is this what you were taught? What you taught us?’ I woke up in a cold sweat scared to death.”
He had the chance to enter the Veteran’s Restoration Headquarters in Asheville, where men shredded by bullets and flashbacks, come to start over.
He never took another drink and his picture shines behind a glass frame on the Wall of Achievement.
“I’ve been here since January 2010,” he said. He’s even got a job as the coordinator of service hours for the men.
He often thought of the bank taking his beloved home, and his mother having no choice but to move into a nursing facility. The guilt of picturing her there plagued him every day.
On a good note, he’s once again enjoying relationships with his three living children.
“We’re close now, but not when I was drinking because that wasn’t me. I became something I didn’t like.”
Nothing short of a miracle unfolded when Andy fell on ice last winter and broke his leg. The VA noticed he was considered 100 percent disabled for more than 38 years, yet his pay reflected only 70 percent of the benefits in which he was entitled.
Andy adjusted his cap and ran his hand through his salt-and-pepper hair.
“I got $362,000 at one time for back pay,” he said. “That was 10 months ago.”
The first thing he did was call the bank. He asked what had happened to his mother’s house.
“I discovered it was going on the block the very next morning.
“I said, ‘Can I get the house?’ and they said, ‘If you have the money.’”
Andy paid the $31,750 and used more of his windfall to restore it and fix the place like it was in better days. He also bought land near the home and saved the rest of his money.
“I got Mom out of the nursing home and packed everything she had. She said, ‘Where are we going?’
“And I said, ‘You’re going home.’”
At 94, his mother still holds a sharp mind. Another woman lives with her and tends her physical needs. One day, when she passes away, Andy will go back home, too.
But not now. He loves the VRQ and helping men like himself rework their lives and move forward.
“I feel useful here,” he said. “I got back into church and am a mentor to a fellow trying to stop drinking.
“This is where I belong for now.”
Within moments after this was published, relatives and friends began a massive e-mail campaign. They told me Andy made the whole story up, that none of it was true. None of it!!
As a veteran journalist with more than 30 years experience, I couldn’t believe it. I had sent the story over to the VRQ for several officials to read.
They all “signed off,” on it.
After three days of trying to press Andy for documents, he cracked.
I felt like Nancy Grace. He admitted to making the entire story up. All of it.
I thought I would be fired from the paper. Instead, I wrote a long retraction and turned it into something positive, honoring vets who did serve and didn’t lie.
The lesson I learned was no matter how much you believe someone, always ask for records, and not just people who’ll “sign off,” on the material as truth.
I’ve never been more embarrassed.
This is one reason I prefer writing fiction. No one will call you to the gallows for not telling the truth.

Monday, September 5, 2011


When I received news that my novel Roseflower Creek was to be published, I got overly excited. And when the day arrived for my first booksigning I was still pretty much flying high. Not even the article I read about booksignings being a lesson in humiliation could dampen my spirits. It said if you’re an unknown author, usually only two people attend your event: your mother and the person who booked it. I arrived at the book store early and spied the stack of my debut novels prominently placed near the front door. A desk and chair awaited me. I took my seat and quickly realized the article I’d read was most likely right. No line appeared in front of me. Then something exciting happened. A woman walked in the front door, spotted me sitting at the table and approached. She said she’d be delighted to purchase a copy. Since I wasn’t expecting many people to attend a booksigning for an unknown author, I’d brought along a book to read so I wouldn’t feel so foolish sitting there by my lonesome. It was a copy of Terry Kay’s Taking Lottie Home, which had just been released. Excited that I would be autographing a copy of my book for the very first time, I quickly opened the front cover and wrote: In honor of the written word, and signed my name. The women tucked the book under her arm and proceeded to the check-out line. Shortly thereafter she reappeared at my table and explained that she wanted a copy of Roseflower Creek and handed the book back to me.

Imagine how silly I felt when I realized I’d signed Terry Kay’s Taking Lottie Home! I learned my lesson. I no longer bring a book to read at my signings.

During my book tour the following month I was slated to appear at three stores in North Carolina that were in cities close enough to each other that I could stay at the same Hampton Inn. I’d be there two nights and three days as I had one signing set up per day. The first event was at a Barnes and Noble and everything went very well. I even managed to sell a dozen books. The next day I arrived at a Borders store and discovered I was not scheduled to sign that day at that location. The young girl at the information desk said she’d call the manager and see if he could sort out what had happened. It wasn’t hard to figure out. This was Wednesday. I was scheduled to sign on Thursday. I’d mixed up the stores. I arrived an hour late to the signing I was to be at in the first place and had to explain I’d gone to the wrong store. I told a small fib to cover my embarrassment, exclaiming that I’d been to so many book signings that month my head was swimming and to forgive my confusion. I learned to be more careful when reading my schedule and it never happened again.

Several years later at a book conference I was presenting at, I drew a nice crowd and was prepared to do my very best in presenting Bring Your Characters to Life. During a short introduction of my publishing history, I was interrupted by a conference staff member who had an announcement to make. She stepped up to the podium, a stack of papers in her hand, and explained that several of the remaining sessions had to be reassigned to different locations (she gave no reason and I didn’t ask.) and she would be passing out copies of the changes. She picked up the stack of papers she’d brought with her and made sure each attendee received one.

Now I was ready to begin my presentation. I looked down for my carefully typed notes that had all the information I would be sharing clearly spelled out. I needed those notes because I have trouble memorizing and it was the only way I’d be able to follow through with my presentation. But, my notes were nowhere in sight! I searched through my handouts that I planned to pass out later, but they weren’t there either. I panicked. I’d never be able to do the presentation without my notes to guide me. I apologized to the class, explaining my notes had disappeared and perhaps the woman who’d arrived to hand out the conference changes had picked them up by mistake. I went looking for her, catching up with her at another session. Sure enough, she had my notes tucked at the back of her stack of papers. Thankfully, she hadn’t them out by mistake or I would have had to kill myself. So far I’ve never lost track of my notes again when presenting at book conferences, but I always bring along an extra copy just to be sure I have a back-up plan in place.

Any other authors out there with embarrassing events to share? I’d love to hear them. I won’t feel so alone in my stupidity.

Jackie Lee Miles is the author of Roseflower Creek, Cold Rock River, Divorcing Dwayne, and All That’s True. Visit the website at Write the author at

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Awesome Power of the Writer by Peggy Webb

In my twenty-six year career, I’ve made one literary blunder than stands above all the others: I unwittingly brought two dead characters back to life!  The blunder occurred very early in my career – not because I was a newly published writer, but because I had written a book, Donovan’s Angel, that I had no intention of turning into a series.

Stand alone books don’t require keeping a story bible that includes lengthy charts on all the characters,  their frequently used phrases, notes on the cars they drive, the houses they live in.  Stand alone books also don’t require long-term plans which detail how the series will play out. 

Several years after the book’s publication, I vaguely remembered that I had created several brothers for the hero, Paul Donovan. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to follow the Donovan brothers in a series?

Since there was no story bible, I scanned the book, and sure enough, there was Paul’s brother, Tanner, and the mention of other brothers whom I had not named. Perfect!

I immediately set about writing the second book in the series. It was such fun to give Paul and his parents a brief cameo. I thought how pleased the readers would be to know what had happened to these beloved characters in the intervening years.  

Sure enough, on publication of the second book of the Donovan Series, I got a phone call from a long-time fan.

“I adore this series,” she said.
“Oh, I’m so glad,” I said. “Don’t you just love Mr. and Mrs. Donovan?”
“Yes. But in the first book they were dead.”
 “How wonderful that I  have the power to resurrect them!”

I learned my lesson. In 2008 when I started writing the Southern Cousins Mystery Series, you can bet your britches I immediately purchased a little spiral bound black leather journal that became the story bible. It contains copious notes on Elvis (the basset hound who thinks he’s the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll reincarnated); Callie Valentine Jones, his human mom;  Lovie Valentine, Callie’s cousin who has had more boyfriends than Elvis has fleas; Jack Jones, Callie’s almost-ex; Ruby Nell, Callie’s mom who has a penchant for gambling on Callie’s dollar. All the major players in the series.

As Fayrene developed over the first two books into a major player, she got her own page. The story bible is an ever-evolving journal.  It contains plans for each book and each character.

Over the years, those plans have changed, so I’m constantly adding notes and ideas.  The story bible is written with a pen. Each year my scribbles get more jumbled and harder to read. Please don’t be surprised if Lovie’s tattoo moves from one hip to the other and if Mama’s red Mustang convertible turns blue.

I can’t claim perfection, and I certainly can’t claim a perfect memory, even of characters I’ve created. The main thing is for my readers to have as much fun reading the Southern Cousins Mysteries as I have writing them.

Publisher’s Weekly and Romantic Times love Elvis and the Tropical Double Trouble, the fourth book in the series, available now for pre-order and in bookstores September 27th!  If you’ve already started reading this series, I’d love to hear about your favorite character or scene, and what you’d like to see happen in future books. If you haven’t yet discovered Elvis and the Valentine gang, tell me about your most beloved series and why you enjoyed it.  

Peggy Webb is hard at work on the fifth Southern Cousins Mystery and invites you to enter the fabulous contest on her website – Prizes in the contest include a signed copy of Elvis and the Tropical Double Trouble, signed copies of select romances from her backlist, and a signed copy of her debut novel as Anna Michaels -  The Tender Mercy of Roses, hailed by Pat Conroy as “astonishing.”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Judging the Author by the Cover

We’re all familiar with the saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover” but in my hometown it appears that the photo on the cover of my book has generated quite a buzz.

This week while visiting a high school friend I was puzzled when she said, “Tell me about your marriage.”

After explaining how I met my beloved, and that we truly were a case of love at first sight, I noticed a frown lined her forehead.

My book...not my husband.

“So, your Facebook profile picture…what’s that about?” she asked.

“My profile picture is a copy of my book,” I explained.

Nodding she said, “I know it’s a copy of your book; but is that your husband?”

I wanted to say, “Duh, it’s a photo of Billy Albertson, you know, the man behind the title: In The Garden With Billy.

Growing up in a small town it was common to have this type of misinformation ripple through the community; but my friend is a jokester so I said, “You’re kidding me, right?”

“I’m very serious. All of Bryson City thinks he’s your husband.”

“Well, he’s not.”

“I’m just telling you what they think. You need to post a new photo…like now!”

Even though I was wasting my time, I explained to her that I don’t list personal information on Facebook. I never mention my beloved’s name or post anything that might lead someone to my home. Authors must do this. It’s a matter of safety and common sense. It is also a matter of respecting the privacy of my husband.

“No, I’m serious,” she insisted. “You need to go home and put his photo on your site. People are talking.”

I relayed our comical conversation with my mother, who of course laughed, until her tone became serious. “You know people have started treating me different since the book came out.”

"How so?” I inquired.

“I’m getting funny looks in the grocery store. I guess people do think that I’ve raised a gold digger.”

The Cracker Queen and Renea Winchester:
neither are married to Billy Albertson.

Next Friday I’m scheduled to return home and spend a little time with my parents. Currently, my profile picture is of me with Loretta Hannon, The Cracker Queen. The image was captured during the grand opening of The Hive. It was a glorious day.

(She's married also...and not to Billy Albertson).

Any suggestions on how to handle this small-town situation?

Renea Winchester is the author of In the Garden with Billy: Lessons about Life, Love & Tomatoes. A true-life tale of the last farmer in Roswell Georgia (who, by the way, is NOT her husband.)

Her next book titled: Stress-free Marketing: Practical Advice for the Newly Published Author will be released in October. This is a must-read for all authors whether self-published or represented by a traditional publishing house.